Another Blackskull tale, this time about Agrat’s namesake. I plucked this out of the longer narrative to share online. This is another one that I should have included more about what the legendary Agrat actually did during his time a-wanderin’, but as I wrote it, I worried it would distract from the rest of the narrative too much.
For context, Agrat here has just come out to his mother, Grasha, about being transgender. He wasn’t certain whether she’d take his feelings seriously, so he’s feeling pretty ashamed and embarrassed about himself. Both of them were exiled from the Blackskulls, Grasha’s tribe, because the Blackskulls carry some nasty cultural beliefs about racial purity, and Agrat’s a half-breed. For all their faults, I still enjoy writing about the Blackskulls and who they are as a people
Originally Posted: September 28, 2016
Word Count: ~1600
“Come,” Grasha said, and opened her arms. Agrat stared at her a moment, then crawled up to her. She hugged him tightly. “I should have seen this long ago. You are my son, Re—no, you need a different name. Do you have one in mind?” He widened his eyes.
Just like that? So easily?
His mind spun a bit before he thought back to his dreams and fantasies. He’d tried on a few different names and none really fit him perfectly, but one cropped up a little more frequently.
“Helmun,” he said. Grasha stared at him and rolled her eyes.
“That’s a human name,” she said. “You’re more orc than human, kaluk.” Agrat set his jaw forward.
“I’m half, though,” he said.
“You’ll figure it out someday. And either way, orc names are better,” she said and grinned.
“Then you tell me some good names,” Agrat said. Grasha thought back to Blackskull stories and legends. Naming a kid after mythological figures usually came across as a little pretentious when children were still infants, but they did make for good names for anyone who needed a new one. Grasha knew lots of orcs from her tribe who felt the same as Agrat, and many of them borrowed names from their favorite heroes or heroines.
“There’s Rokag, the horse-tamer, which could be fitting, but Rokag wasn’t a man or a woman. Then there’s Tudak and Karok, the twins where one was the smartest and the other was the strongest. You know about them, right?” she said and scratched the back of her head. He nodded. “Have I ever told you about Agrat the wanderer?”
“No,” he said and shook his head.
“Sit down—we can cut your hair while I tell you the story,” she said. “At this age, a boy ought to have shaved sides.” Agrat eagerly pulled out the leather ties keeping his long hair back in a braid. He mostly looked forward to not having to worry about either of the Jacobsen’s boys tugging him by it anymore. Grasha spread a cloth underneath him and got out a sharp blade and a pair of scissors. She started by cutting off Agrat’s braid. His head immediately felt lighter.
“So, Agrat was a Blackskull, of course,” she said. “Long, long ago, before Bakthua plucked his own eyes, Rek’gor was experimenting with her powers. She liked to test herself, see what she could and couldn’t do—remember how she made the green orcs?” Agrat nodded quickly. “She sometimes spoke to the Blackskulls and asked if we wanted anything special. We asked for strong, loyal animals to ride, and she turned dogs into horses. We asked for a way to make birth pains easier, and she made a type of thistle with black flowers. When we needed more food so we could grow big and healthy, she gave us all sorts of plants and animals. But things were pretty… consistent. Unchanging is a better word. This was before she got her third eye, so there were no thunderstorms, and the weather was always perfect.
“There was one Blackskull who got bored with things always being the same, and he wanted to see new and exciting things. That was Agrat. He wanted to feel new sensations, like heat or cold, and he wanted to see all kinds of colors. He wanted to explore the land, but everything was the same everywhere, so there was no point in it. So, one day while Rek’gor was visiting the tribe, Agrat challenged her. He told her, ‘Rek’gor, I bet you can’t do one thing that will change everything else about the world.’
“The other Blackskulls got upset with Agrat—they said he was being ungrateful when Rek’gor was always so generous, and they knew he was kind of an impatient type who made snap decisions. You know what I mean—he fired his arrow off before taking aim. But Rek’gor liked the challenge and took him up on it. She said she wanted three days to come up with an answer, then she returned to the divine world to make her plan.
“During those three days, the other Blackskulls shunned Agrat for his disrespect. He didn’t care, though—he was too excited about what Rek’gor would do. On the second day, Rek’gor hadn’t come up with anything, so she spoke to Geldorg and asked if he had any ideas. Geldorg pointed out that whatever her one thing is, it doesn’t have to change everything else at the same time—she could use the passage of time to do that. So, Rek’gor thought about it again, and came back to the Blackskulls and to Agrat.
“She waved her hand, and she tilted the world. Everyone felt it beneath their feet—it was like a great rumble, and some people toppled over—but nothing happened at first. Agrat told her she lost the bet, but Rek’gor told him to be patient and wait.
“So he waited. A few days later, the leaves on the trees started changing color, and the air turned colder. Animals behaved differently, and new plants started growing. Everything was new, and Agrat conceded his defeat—happily. He looked at everything and saw what other altered things he could notice, and then he realized that even more things were changing. Some animals suddenly had white coats, and the trees lost all their leaves. It got terribly cold, and the Blackskulls started wearing fur to keep warm. Plants didn’t grow and animals hid away. But do you know what shocked everyone the most?” Grasha looked at Agrat, who pondered it. Half his head was shaved now.
“The snow, right?” he said.
“Yup, that’s exactly right,” she said and continued. “When the snow came down, everyone was worried. They thought this was what it would be like forever, so they exiled Agrat. So, he was an exile, too—like us. He left the tribe and explored the world, moving from north to south and east to west. Agrat saw all sorts of things—he met green orcs, and even dwarves and elves, back when they were still around. He saw a huge part of Veiadokuur before it was even Veiadokuur.
“But the Blackskulls were suffering, and Rek’gor did not know how to fix things. She didn’t really want to fix things, either—she was proud of her work, and she had faith that we’d pull through and adapt just fine. She came back and helped however she could—by making animals have thicker coats, or by making them fatter and better to eat—but we still didn’t know what to do. We relied on her for a long time, and then, suddenly, everything started to change back. It got warmer, and people celebrated, but then it got too hot. Plants died from lack of water in the heat, and people couldn’t bear to do anything because they got exhausted so quickly. Again, Rek’gor helped us, and we relied on her once more.
“Just as the leaves began turning brown again, Agrat returned—he wasn’t supposed to, being an exile, but he accidentally came upon the Blackskulls again. While he was away, he learned that if you went south during the cold months, it was warmer and even temperate—and the opposite when it was too hot. He returned and showed the Blackskulls where to go during the year so we could live where there was plenty of food, and where the weather wasn’t too extreme. We no longer had to rely on Rek’gor to live, and we could take care of ourselves again with Agrat’s help. So, that’s why we move around when the seasons change.”
“That’s amazing,” Agrat said, his mouth hanging open. “But what happened to Agrat? Did the Blackskulls take him back?” Grasha nodded and dragged the edge of her knife across his head to get that last bit of fuzz.
“Well, sort of,” she said. “The Blackskulls told Agrat that he could return to the tribe in exchange for everything he did for them. He refused, though. They were shocked—since the Blackskulls no longer stayed in one place, his wanderlust should be satisfied, right? But Agrat told them that he would be making the same trip, year after year, and never see anything beyond that territory. So he told them no, and he left. Nobody knows where he went, or for how long he wandered. Some say he’s still around, turning over every pebble he can find or looking at the branches of every tree, and that you’ll run into him when you most need help if you’re lost. Some think he wandered right into the divine world before he even died, and now he explores that, instead.”
“So what do you think?” Agrat said. Grasha pondered it and sighed through her nose.
“Well, I think he saw everything there is to see, and that he rests now in the communal pool with all our tribe,” she said. “Nobody lives the same life forever.”
Grasha wiped stray hairs from Agrat’s shoulders, neck, and back. She pulled the hair on the top of his head back into a short, stubby ponytail, and tied it with a leather string. The sides of his head were smooth now, and showed off his dark skin. A shiver ran down his spine.
“How’s that?” she said, and showed Agrat his reflection in the mirror. Agrat grinned around his tusks—still growing larger every day—and touched the sides and back of his head.
“I look awesome!” he said, and Grasha laughed.
“So, you choose a name?” she said. He nodded.
“I wanna be called Agrat,” he said. Grasha smiled.