This poem is spillover from the March 6, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by minor_architect, meeksp, kelkyag, eseme, mdlbear, and rix_scaedu. Based on an audience poll, it has been sponsored out of the general fund. You can read more about the series Sort Of Heroes on the Serial Poetry page.
It had all seemed like a grand adventure
at first, the beckoning of the minion call
and the discovery that he, Taro the clerk,
was the first to respond.
The wizard had welcomed him
with a red uniform and a leather book
in which to keep accounts and staff rolls.
Taro had relished the sense of belonging
that grew stronger the more men arrived.
Then things went sour, like wine turned to vinegar.
New minions made trouble in the village,
and instead of enforcing discipline like a proper overlord,
the wizard waved it off. Taro found himself
keeping accounts that nobody cared about,
let alone paid. The men grew restless,
yet more kept arriving all the time.
The wizard lost himself in drink,
and when Taro tried to rouse him,
responded with a ruthless list
of all the clerk's supposed faults.
Taro flinched and retreated, having heard
that catalog of flaws from his own family.
It was not as if the wizard couldn't order
from the same list, he thought grimly.
So when the prophecy began to float around,
Taro did not bother to point out
that there was no seer in the tiny village of Whinton
and that someone had obviously gotten it elsewhere.
He let the wizard make plans that would clearly fail
if they were even implemented in the first place.
He waited, curling himself around his regrets
and the itch that this service could not quite scratch.
Then the heroes came, although nobody
realized it until the telling-spell revealed
that weird slop of good and evil around them.
Taro had lost his taste for adventure,
so when the fight broke out he simply dove for cover.
The clerk found shelter under the furniture
but the conjured smoke still choked him
and the summoned wasps still stung him
and the troll stepped on his hand and bruised it badly.
He felt the squealing snap as the minion call collapsed,
going out with the wizard's life
and leaving Taro as hollow as he'd been before.
His body protested as he crawled out
from the shattered remains of the writing table.
Taro looked at the wincing young peasant
and assured him that the spraining hex had only
struck a glancing blow which would do no lasting harm.
He thanked the startled troll for putting a stop
to the wizard's ill-fated efforts.
Taro thought it impolitic to mention
that they had clearly followed the minion call
and not some heroic prophecy.
He did not inquire if they felt
as wretchedly lonesome as he did
nor remark on how the telling-spell
had given such an oddly mixed response.
Yet the troll suddenly startled as if hearing a call,
then advised Taro to visit someone called the Myrklord.
The peasant nodded, and added directions
to the Tourmaline Tower that sounded as if he'd been there.
Taro slunk out of the boarding house with them
and was unsurprised to find Hicket hiding in the yard,
doubtless worried that his orcish heritage
would provoke the villagers into attacking him.
Taro couldn't blame the poor fellow -- he'd gotten into
enough trouble himself just for being civil to the wrong people.
Taro envied the heroes their easy camaraderie.
Not everyone managed to make friends across racial lines
or find a place where you wouldn't be beaten for doing it.
Whinton had not impressed him with its tolerance.
Still, when he saw Hicket's huge eyes watching him warily,
he sighed and offered his cloak for camouflage.
Taro was genuinely shocked when Hicket removed
his own brown shirt to hide the clerk's scarlet uniform.
None of the red shirts had fit the big quarter-orc.
It was a tense, miserable skulk
through Whinton to the lesser gate,
but the peasant hero surprised Taro there.
He gave the guard a cheerful greeting,
tossed over a flask of stolen wine, and said something
about having hired a new pair of woodcutters.
And the guard simply waved them through the gate!
They made a cold camp in the dark,
having no other choice, and moved on at dawn.
Then the heroes led them to a crossroad,
pointing Taro and Hicket to the Tourmaline Tower
before resuming their own journey. Perhaps
the new overlord would have fewer flaws than the last.
Taro gazed at the distant mountain where the tower stood.
He honestly expected Hicket to turn and go the other way
as soon as the heroes were out of sight.
Instead, the big quarter-orc pulled him close
and wrapped the cloak around both of them
as they walked through the thin mizzling rain
toward their future.