Word count: ~2000
Warnings: None in particular.
Rokag’s parents trusted Rek’gor completely, as all orcs do. They handed her their little loved one and Rek’gor embraced the child. Rokag stopped whimpering, warm and comfortable, and looked up into the goddess’ eyes.
“You wish to be stronger, don’t you?” Rek’gor said, speaking to Rokag’s heart of hearts. “Strong you shall be, young one. You can be anything you desire—here.” She touched Rokag’s chest with her great palm. Rokag’s skin darkened to the color of the most fertile soils, and after just one day, vitality flowed through the small one’s body. Rokag’s mother and father wept and thanked Rek’gor, who was only pleased to give their child health.
But something else changed about Rokag. Some days, Rokag looked like a girl. On those days, half of her hair was shaved, and the rest long and flipped over onto her left without either of her parents grooming her. Others, Rokag looked like a boy. When he was a boy, he pulled his hair back into a small ponytail and kept his sides smooth. But most of the time, Rokag shifted too often for his or her parents to get used to one way of addressing Rokag, except by first name and “they.” The rest of the Blackskulls followed their lead. “They” was simple, and made sense, and far easier than “he or she” or calling them Rokag all the time. Still, Rokag’s parents wondered why their child existed like this. They asked Rek’gor for her guidance. The sister scratched her head, shrugged, and said, “Perhaps it’s what they desire.” Shortly after, Rek’gor gained her third eye—and, well, you already know what happened from there.
Rokag’s parents raised their shifting child the best they could, trying to keep up with Rokag’s ever-changing mind. Once, Rokag lived as a boy for many months, and their parents thought, “Finally! Our child has settled on being our son.” But the very next morning, Rokag greeted them with ill-fitting, girls’ clothing on, and said, “Mother, father—I need new clothes.”
So their parents stopped waiting for Rokag to choose. They anticipated that Rokag would never be constrained or satisfied one way or the other, and accepted Rokag as just themself—Rokag. Everything about them was dynamic. The way they spoke, the things they liked, even the way they decorated their hair or face changed daily—if not more often.
But there was one part of Rokag that never changed. They always loved riding horses. Each day, Rokag picked one horse from the herd, and rode it for miles across the plains. Even the strongest-minded, stubbornest of steeds never disobeyed them. Whenever an orc had a problem with a particularly troublesome horse, he would ask Rokag to ride it. By the time Rokag finished, the horse was not broken—no, the horse was just eager to follow directions. Rokag never struck or raised a hand to any mount they took. They spoke in gentle tones to the big creatures, and they listened. It’s even said that Rokag could cure a sick or wounded horse with their touch and a single word.
But nobody is perfect, including our legendary ancestors. There was one horse who resisted Rokag. Born on a stormy day during spring, the young stallion had pitch-black fur and a stark, white mane like a bolt of lightning. When he ran on a sunny day, his hair reflected light and made it look as if he was made of rain. During stormy days, his great hooves pounded puddles up from the ground, and surrounded him in a cloudlike mist. Already a legend among Blackskulls, the fearsome beast only became more famous when Rokag chose to make him their chosen steed. But he refused to be ridden, and reared up each time Rokag approached. If he didn’t trot away, he snorted and tossed his head, pranced and dodged every attempt Rokag made to touch him. They set their mind, and Rokag went to the encampment’s center to tell everyone, “That horse will eat from my hand and allow me on his back by sunset today!”
And Rokag would try, day after day, to tame that horse. They named the horse Tuluk’rag—stupid beast—for the way he seemed to openly mock the young orc. At first, Rokag tried to earn his favor by bringing him sweet treats made from sap or sugar, or crunchy vegetables. But Tuluk’rag snorted on the gifts, flared his nostrils, pinned his ears, and turned up his nose. Then, he’d stick out his tongue—as if the smell alone made him gag. Rokag knew the stallion was smarter than most horses, and tried to reason with him. They promised him to take him on grand journeys, and seek the finest of mares for his eventual offspring. Tuluk’rag’s ears flicked at the mention of mares, and he trotted towards Rokag. With a tusky grin on their face, Rokag gingerly reached beyond the fence for the horse’s muzzle. Tuluk’rag slowed, and Rokag leaned far over, balancing on their waist. Their fingers brushed his soft nose—and Tuluk’rag tossed his head and galloped away. Rokag stumbled and waved their arm to try and grab at his haunches, but their fingers slipped through Tuluk’rag’s tail, and they fell forward onto their face. Rokag got up and spat dirt from their mouth while onlookers pointed and laughed.
It took some time for Rokag to swallow their pride and resort to sneakier methods. They thought, “This stupid beast has tricked me too many times, now—I’ll take every advantage I can.” One morning, Rokag waited in the bushes for Tuluk’rag to come. The stallion took no notice of them as he walked by, munching at the grass. Rokag crept forward, slowly, slowly, so as not to disturb a single leaf. They got closer. Tuluk’rag kept eating with his eyes half-closed, confident in his solitude. Rokag jumped onto Tuluk’rag’s back—of course, without a saddle—and gripped his mane. Tuluk’rag’s eyes widened, he whinnied, and he kicked himself off the ground. He bucked and thrashed, and Rokag’s hands slipped. They crashed onto the ground. Tuluk’rag slammed his hooves on either side of Rokag’s head. He turned his head and glared at them with one dark eye. A chill snaked down Rokag’s body and their hair stood on end. The stallion snorted in their face, turned, and galloped away. Rokag stood and brushed dirt from their bloody elbows, and stared after the beast.
At first, Rokag interpreted Tuluk’rag’s reaction as a warning—don’t be cowardly. But as time passed, they grew ever frustrated with their failure, and tried again and again. Each day, Rokag would sneak up to Tuluk’rag once again, sometimes from the back, sometimes from the front, and try to jump on his back. When they were successful, Rokag held tight, prayed to the trinity—and flew backwards, land on their ass, and skid into the dirt. It took no time for Tuluk’rag to learn to anticipate these attacks, but he allowed Rokag to creep up to him, if only to give them a lesson in pain shortly later.
Rokag came out of these attempts with more than a few broken bones. When Rokag waited to heal—for they weren’t so unwise to try and ride such a stubborn beast with one arm or one leg working—their parents begged them to give up. Friends and other family also told them it was a lost cause, a foolish whim, a mindless attempt at recognition.
“You have all the horses in the herd under your thumb, ready to follow you at a moment’s notice! Why do you also this one?” they said to Rokag. “Stop being greedy, and stop upsetting Rek’gor even more with your unnecessary suffering!” But Rokag shut their ears to their words.
Ever angrier with Tuluk’rag’s refusal to submit, Rokag made the terrible decision to go back to him only a day after healing from yet another broken wrist. This time, they did not sneak up. They stood in front of Tuluk’rag and locked eyes with the powerful beast. He looked right back, and seemed to scowl, if horses could do such a thing. Rokag set their jaw and bared their tusks, and stepped closer. They said aloud, “Fellow Blackskulls! Today I will break this horse. This Tuluk’rag will obey me, Rokag the Rider, by nightfall.”
The Blackskulls gave them not a second glance, already knowing exactly what would happen. Rokag ran towards Tuluk’rag with a yell, swerved to his left, and grabbed him by his thick, flowing mane. Tuluk’rag whinnied and bucked and tossed his head, and yet again flung Rokag off. This time, however, Rokag landed in a pile of sharp, rusty tools. Hammers fell and clonked their head, nails pierced their skin, and a set of tongs flew high into the air, and landed perfectly around Rokag’s neck. They embedded deep into the earth, pinning Rokag to the ground. Already weakened and pained from being tossed, Rokag could not get the tongs off their neck. They coughed as its rusty sides pressed into their skin.
Tuluk’rag saw this and galloped over. He stood over Rokag, who was certain he would crush them beneath his giant hooves. But Tuluk’rag leaned down, bit the iron tongs with his front teeth, and yanked them away. Then, he did something no horse has done or will do again: He kneeled, closed his eyes, and prayed to the lovely goddess. Despite their flaws, Tuluk’rag respected Rokag’s tenacity and grew to cherish the young orc, stubborn and foolish as they might have been. Perhaps he saw himself in Rokag, and thought of them as a worthy rival.
Rokag’s body filled with Rek’gor’s devotion and love for all living beings, and their wounds healed. They stood and, with shaking hands, touched Tuluk’rag’s muzzle. The big horse closed his eyes and pressed his face against Rokag’s chest.
“You are far wiser than I, noble creature,” Rokag said in a soft voice. “Thank you. I will not try to ride you again, as gratitude for this mercy you’ve shown me, and respect for your grace.” And Rokag turned to leave.
But Tuluk’rag bit their tattered shirt and pulled them back. He stood sideways and looked Rokag in the eye with a snort. Rokag watched a moment. Tuluk’rag pounded the ground with one hoof and lifted his head. Hesitatingly, Rokag stepped closer, and petted his neck. Tuluk’rag did not move. Watching his face and his body language, Rokag climbed onto his back. Once they were balanced on the horse’s body with a firm grip on his neck and belly, Tuluk’rag galloped into the fields. Rokag the Rider wept and cried out with joy.
So Rokag the Rider took the horse as their own and renamed him Thak’rag: Guiding Beast. They never broke Thak’rag or ordered him around, but rather asked him if he would take them somewhere. If Thak’rag felt like it, he would allow Rokag onto his back, and they would leave together.
The team of orc and horse journeyed to faraway lands, helping others, serving the gods, and battling fearsome foes until the ends of their days. They lived long lives, and went on many adventures to share.
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