This entry is part 31 in the series Orcs & Elves

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I’ve got so much campaign prep to get done that if I don’t do it here, I’ll never get it done in time…
   A triple-sized serving of the Orcs and Elves series today, to make up for missing last week, and to wrap up the Clan Wars plotline.
   I explained what had occurred to destroy last week’s posting in a series of comments attached to the then-most-recent article, but for the benefit of anyone who didn’t read those, here’s what happened.
   After working all day – well, as close to it as my physical condition permits – I was about half-way through Chapter 80 when the combination of time, infirmity, and exhaustion caught up with me and my creative juices just stopped flowing. For various reasons, I knew that I had to get to the end of what is now chapter 86 in the course of the next two parts of the series, and to ensure correct continuity, I had to at least have them outlined in pretty solid detail before I could commit to the content of Chapter 79, especially the dates and lifespans.
   I returned to working on it on Tuesday Night, and in one burst of sheer creativity, I finished Chapter 80 and wrote everything that now comprises chapters 81-86 as a single massive chapter. And then had a systems crash in the middle of saving the updated text. I tried everything that I could to recover the lost data, even searching for ways to do a memory dump, but to no avail.
   I got up early Wednesday, and working from a backup of everything that I had done on Monday, I was able to reconstruct in detailed note form everything that had been lost, in the process plugging a couple of logic holes and breaking what was a monster chapter into the five that it now occupies, from memory – a task that took almost as long as writing it in the first place had done. But by now it was too late to publish it, I had to start work on the article for Thursday – which was delayed and compromised by a blackout. The payoff was that it was a breeze to convert those notes into finished text.
   There’s another reason for the extra-large post this week, which I’ll get to in a concluding footnote.

Of course, I still have notes that didn’t get used in the course of the series. The Warblade and Clan Shaman of the Burning Swords don’t get named until Chapter 79, for example. I had the names all along, it just never became important.
   More significant is the role of Yurtrus, Orcish Goddess of Death and Decay, mate of Baghtru, and since it’s what inspired the whole interpretation of the “stupidity” associated with that deity, which is explained in the course of these chapters, it’s worth noting. Medieval cities tended to have very poor waste-disposal systems – they were unsanitary to the extreme. And if any race could find a way to raise the bar of “extreme” in this context, it would have to be the Orcs, who had naturally immunity to diseases and poisons. Orcish cities would therefore be a breeding ground for pestilences of the worst kind, uninhabitable by anyone but Orcs. Parts of this came out, parts were hinted at, but the obvious logic of one of the patron deities of cities being Yurtrus was never made clear, it simply never seemed to fit.

Unexpectedly, what began as a blend of footnote and afterthought has become one of the most complete and compelling parts of the narrative – originally just three chapters, it mushroomed by more than twenty. Does that mean that I embraced my inner Orc?
   In the process, a lot of what were originally just vague notes – “Verde discovers the truth about his quest”, for example – became clarified by situations and personalities.
  I hope my readers have enjoyed it.

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A couple of reminders that may be useful:
Directions in Fumanor are Sunset, Sunrise, Dexter (90° left of Sunrise), and Sinister (90° right of Sunrise). Modern maps are usually drawn with Sunrise at the top, but when the terms were coined, the practice was to make Sunset the dominant direction. Orcs count in base five, ie 1-2-3-4 fingers, 1 hand=5, 1-hand-and-one=6, and so on through to 4 hands and 4 fingers, which is followed by 1 fist=25. Orcs cannot count higher than 4 fists, 4 hands, and 4 fingers = 125, they have to group larger numbers into groups or units that can be counted on this scale.

Chapter 78

Clan Wars XXIII: The Resumption of Normal Hostilities

Corallen illuminated the rim of the portal, and one by one the triumphant survivors passed through. The moment before they entered the passageway back to the doomed city of the Mailed Fist Clan, the Elvish God clouded their memories of events. They would still remember that they had achieved a great victory at equally great cost – of the nine who had dared the Lair of the Hidden Dragon, only five were returning – and would remember what needed to be done next, but not why. The weapon arm of the three Orcs who had struck the fateful blows against the chains that had bound their enemy in slumber had begun to tingle, and the strength in those limbs was fading. In the days that followed, the wounds would with and become diseased – a noteworthy event for a race that had never succumbed to such illnesses before – and the disease resisted all curative blessings. When the trio grew feverish, the decision was made to amputate the rotting limbs. Fortunately, this drastic action, another imitation of human practices, served the immediate need, but they would never be as capable of their former roles in their native societies again.
   They returned to a ruined city; every structure save that of the tower itself had been demolished, reduced to rubble, some of it completely covering the entrance. It took them almost eight hours to dig their way out of the debris. After reporting to the young Clan Chieftain of the Red Eyes, they collapsed in exhaustion.
   The next day, Garunch and his counterpart from the Mailed Fist Clan and old friend, Kudja, supervised a mass prayer to Gruumsh of all the Shaman of the Red Eye clan, beseeching him to tear open the earth beneath the tower and let the river of melted rock beneath well up through the crack to seal the tower for eternity, making it as close to a monument of solid rock as the Orc-God was capable of achieving. First then summoned the power and craftsmanship of the God Of Elves to finish the monument, polishing, carving, smoothing, and inscribing it in Orcish to commemorate the fallen city and the dictum of Gruumsh as reinterpreted by the Burning Eyes and Mailed Fist clan: no Orcish community greater in number than 4 hands of dwelling clusters would be permitted, and no such collection of dwellings to contain more than 4 fists of Orcs, numbering all from eldest to newborn – in other words, the largest permitted communities were to number 2000 Orcs. An exception was declared for Moots, when a temporary gathering of 5 fists of clusters would be permitted (10,000 Orcs) – but these dwellings must be temporary and completely destroyed or removed at the end of the Moot. Even these were barely enough for the Clans to bring a single leader and escort to a moot.

But there was one individual ‘present’ whose memory had not been clouded by Corallen, nor is it clear that he would be able to do so if he wished to attempt the deed. He was completely unaware that Lolth had been present at the fall of the Hidden Dragon not merely by proxy (in the form of Ambassador Tathzyr) but more directly through the spiderweb mirror he had carried in his pouch. She had heard it all, and did not like what she had heard. The destiny that Corallen sought to ensure had spoken of a day in which Elves, Drow and Orcs would unite to threaten the Chaos Powers directly; since she had expressly forbidden any congress with outsiders save that personally directed by her, and she had no interest in exposing herself to a direct threat by the Chaos Powers, this mandated that her children would one day supplant their love of her for another, as she had long feared. Once again, she realized that she would need to intensify her search for a new populace to rule, one which could never rebel against her; in the meantime, this mooted alliance must be rendered as improbable as it sounded, and placed as distantly into the future as she could possibly contrive.
   It was a simple matter for her to “clear the memories” of her Ambassador, filling his mind with her version of events, and to instruct him to reveal that “discovered truth” to the Orcs. With the Orcish threat and potential of the city dispersed, she had no further need of an Ambassador to the Orcs in any event, though she would keep the now-trusted Tathzyr in place as an agent within the court of the newly-dominant Orcish sub-nation, the clan of the Burning Eye.
   As instructed, Tathzyr went at once to Kurvath, the young Clan-chief, and told him that his mistress had removed the clouds placed on his memory by Corallen of the Elves and revealed to his memory that the entire Clan-War had been the result of an Elvish manipulation of the Orcs. Long ago, they had awakened a sleeping power that was too great for them to control without great bloodshed and loss of life, and so they had – under the direction of Corallen – carefully crafted a deception to cause the Orcs to suffer and die in their place.
   This deception contained just enough truth to completely convince the newly-elevated and yet-to-be-confirmed Clan-Chief, who immediately gathered two fists of Warriors and confronted First and the rest of the Elvish Band. The Huyundaltha were detained and condemned to death, but Second had learned much of Orcish customs during his brief stay and was able to invoke a custom designed to permit defeated clan-leaders to end conflicts without one side completely killing the other. Because the Orcs were celebrating a great victory, and because they had decided that the Elves were their enemies in that conflict, he was able to demand Banishment from the Orc-lands for himself and his companions. Although Kurvath was furious over ‘the deception’, Tathzyr convinced the Orcish leader that it was better to send the Elves home with a warning to stay out of Orcish affairs or face eternal enmity and utter ruination. This was Lolth’s subtle way of warning Corallen that she knew of what she saw as ‘his machinations against her’, and would oppose him at every turn.
   Kurvath relented, and grudgingly granted the Elves the minimum time permitted under Orcish Custom to depart; when the sun had travelled across the sky the width of his First, any Elf in the Orclands would be considered fair game, and his hunters would be dispatched at that time to pursue those fleeing with all the relentless indefatigability at their command.

Thus ended the first great alliance between Elves, Orcs, and Drow, with a restoration of the Status Quo between the three races, but its effectiveness would serve as a Harbinger of the future. While the tale would degenerate over the centuries amongst the Orcs, reduced to myth, anecdote, and custom, Lolth would remember it, and would devote herself to preparing against the day her children rebelled against her rule; Corallen would remember it, and devote himself to safeguarding all three races (from the shadows if necessary), even if that meant that some won temporary victories over one of the others; and there was one other.
   Careful to let his face reveal nothing, First framed a silent communion with his Deity. Since his return from the Lair of the Hidden Dragon, he had been by withdrawn and uncharacteristically silent, feigning a spiritual wound as deep as the physical wounds of the Orcs. With Ambassador Tathzyr squirming under the direct scrutiny of his Mistress, the deception had been accepted without question; even when he and his fellow Huyundaltha had stood accused of being the architects of the misery of the Orcs, he had remained mute. Now, in the silences of his mind, he finally broke that silence. “Great Corallen, Father of all Elves, I must advise that you have failed. My recollection remains clear and my memory of events remains unclouded. I have played my part in furthering your intent as best I could while amongst the Orcs, but now I must have your guidance. What am I to do, now that we return as promised to our homeland?”
   – You have played the wounded spirit perfectly, my son, and I am well-pleased with you. I wondered how long it would take you to broach this subject –
   “I bask in the warmth of your praise, My Lord, but praise answers no questions. I beg for your enlightenment apon my path henceforward.”
   – The tasks that lie before me are many and arduous, and it is possible that I will prove insufficient to their measure. If that should transpire, there must be a way for the truths which have been revealed to you to find their way to the members of the Great Alliance that is to come. Your continued memory is a safeguard against mischance, failure, and chaos. The path to the fulfillment of the prophecy is yet unclear; I must prepare as many avenues to the ultimate victory as I can conceive –
   “If one may remember, why not all? Is not the prophecy complete? We had an alliance of Orcs, Elves, and Drow – and I marvel that I was a part of such an unprecedented event – and there was, too, our hidden ally, the Verdonne – a ‘walking tree’ exactly as foretold – and by undoing the schemes of the Dreamer, did we not threaten the supremacy of the Chaos Powers? And more, did we not forge the bonds of mortality apon them? Where one has been ended, all others become vulnerable, though it take centuries to accomplish the inevitable.”
   – There was more to the prophecy, my son. Some could not be translated by the Orcs, some was cast in languages that do not yet exist and remain impenetrable even to me. No, the true Great Alliance lies in the days to come; your victory lies in setting feet apon paths not yet perceived, and that alone is enough for now –
   “Then the clouding of memory of the other participants was to permit Lolth to serve your needs in restoring relations between the races to what they were?”
   – Exactly so, for there were two cloudings of memory each, and not one. Each of the participants beyond yourself retains part of the truth, enough to prepare them for when the time is right, and these will linger, passed down through myth and race memory from parent to child amongst the Orcs. Lolth, too, remembers, and will unknowingly instill the key fragments of memory in those of her servants who need to know. And you shall perpetuate your own memories against the day when these preparations come to fruition. This was necessary, for should any remember completely, the Chaos Powers would be aware of events and would move to block the path to success before all is prepared for them. All will have their parts to play in making what remains only a dimly-perceived future opportunity for victory, and eventual success is not prophesied – but neither is failure –
   “Then I ask again for your guidance. What must I do, now?”
   – Apon your return to your homeland, you will remake the Huyundaltha, establishing a secret order within their ranks. That secret order shall be tasked with the protection of the One who bears the truth, even should all Elvenkind fail and perish from the World. That one shall bear the title of First, which you have made a name of great honor. And you will cloak the secret task of that order in the guise of the restoring of the Noletinechor, the Guardians of all that is Elvish – a role that is now expanded to include the training of the Huyundaltha. The Order of The Noletinechor will be an elite within the elite. This is a task that will consume the remainder of your days, and at the end of that span, you may pass to the Heavenly Isles content with your life’s achievements. This is my will and my instruction –
   “It will be done, My Lord, to the best of my abilities. It might be well if these others who shared in self-imposed Exile were the first members of the reborn Noletinechor, for in truth, we have all seen enough of War that none will think it strange that we choose a more peaceful role in life.”
   – That would be well. Shared experience is ever a bonding agent. But understand this: you are the keeper of the secret; it would be most unwise to expose yourself in addition to the demands of leadership of those who protect that secret –
   “Second has stepped forward to act as spokesman after I seemed to withdraw. I will appoint him as leader of the Noletinechor.”
   – A wise choice. Put these decisions into action, and I will know that the path into the future is well-cared for. I leave you with this thought, to engage your mind in the quiet times when these deeds are accomplished: Chance favors the opportunist, but none are so vulnerable to the control of chance by the power of destiny. In that thought lies the key to this victory over the Powers Of Anarchy and Destruction. I have always known this fact; now they have learned it, too. It will be a central influence on the shaping of the days to come; learn this lesson well, that it may bring enlightenment to you and those who follow you as First. –
   Straightening from his bowed and stooped position, First looked around at the others in his company, seeming to throw off his solemn and withdrawn mood. Noting that the Elves had just passed the traditional boundary that the Orcs held to be the border of the Orclands, and that they were safe from pursuit, he spoke to his companions. “Our Lord has need of our services, but before I may reveal to you his requirements, I shall require oaths of service and fealty to his cause from you all…”

Chapter 79

Orcish Victory Songs

And the fates of the other individuals whose lives were swept up in the Clan Wars?

The Red Eye Clan:

Tathzyr lived out his life under the intense scrutiny of his Mistress, who trusted him and his unorthodoxy even less than she trusted most of her children. The strain prematurely aged him, and his life came to a close a scant century after the fall of the Orcish City. His family, too, were marked with the taint of suspicion, and his male descendants were favorite choices for sacrifice in Lolth’s name thereafter.
   Kurvath went on to become as enlightened a leader as the Red Eyes Clan had ever known, laying the foundations of a unified Orcish Society, drawing apon the harsh lessons of disunity and Clan War.
   Lukzal, eldest child of Kyrd, The Usurper, lost his preeminence amongst the warriors with the loss of his weapon arm, but this bothered him not. Events within the Cavern beneath the Oracle Of Gottskragg had awakened his mind to a larger reality in which the power of strength of arms was a very small thing indeed; he entered the Priesthood, and despite coming to this path relatively late in life, the same determination that had led him to prominence as a Warrior and an ability to see through complexities to the simple truths at their core more than compensated. He would become one of the greatest Clan Shamans in Red Eye history, and would be a staunch supporter of Kurvath for the remainder of his days. In the process, he would revise the belief amongst his race that a maiming was the end of usefulness to the Clan.
   Garunch was already elderly for an Orc when he participated in the raid apon the Hidden Dragon. He survived but a handful of years thereafter, devoted single-mindedly to grooming his hand-picked successor and most devoted student, Lukzal.

The Mailed Fist Clan:

Clan-Chief Agronak never fully recovered from the loss of prestige that accompanied the destruction of the city his ancestors had helped found. Although his followers held him blameless, and even revered him for safeguarding the lives of his clan through extraordinary challenges, his leadership was reduced to timidity. In time, his son would challenge his rule and force him to retire.
   Goral yielded his position as Warblade, and devoted his remaining days to a quest to find and tear down the Oracle of Gottskragg, but even though he was given descriptions to where the explorers of the Mailed Fists had encountered it, he could never find it. He blamed this failure on Elvish Deception, and would rail endlessly against ‘pointed-ear treachery’ to the point where even his most supportive kin thought him addle-minded on the subject.
   Goral’s Mate chose the name Enkarapra, which was Orcish for “Abandoned Child”. Although proud of being granted a name, and of her role in preserving her clan, it was a bittersweet reward for her, for though her husband had survived, his obsessions effectively widowed her. Her simple wisdom led her to be granted a position on the Clan Council, and she was always a welcome guest in the home of Agronak, but this was poor compensation for the loss of loving husband.
   Kudja, who had sacrificed his arm to preserve the existence of his clan, felt humiliated at being left out of the great quest that he had helped to engineer. Compounding his humiliation, he was revered as a folk hero amongst both his own clan and the Red Eyes; their celebrations of his deeds whenever he chanced to be nearby kept the emotional wounds burning fresh in his spirit. While he recovered physically, his mind was never quite right thereafter; he threw his remaining days into an obsessive need to drive the bugbears out of Mailed Fist territory with a cruelty and ruthlessness that was utterly uncharacteristic of the enlightened person that he been previously. No victory was sufficient to restore his pride, and eventually he took one desperate chance too many and was killed in a hopeless raid. Ironically, his sacrifice was instrumental in uniting the Red Eye Clan and Mailed Fist clan in the bonds of mutual peace, securing the prosperity and safety of his Clan; doubly-ironically, his obsession would yield a bitter harvest and be responsible for as much misery for his race and clan as that which it had prevented, re-unifying the Bugbears and triggering a second Clan War against the Bleeding Swords.

The Bleeding Sword Clan:

In every war, there are winners, losers, and victims. Some winners achieve greatness, others are transformed by their experiences into something greater than they could ever have achieved before the events that marked them, and some pay a price for the victory. If any group can be singled out as the victims of the Clan War, it is the Bleeding Sword Clan. Reviled by the Red Eyes for their treachery, condemned by the Mailed Fists for unleashing the Bugbears, and despised by all three for their leader’s cowardice in remaining behind and cowering in safety when the call to battle was sounded in the clan wars, they were left friendless and mistrusted in a hostile situation of their own making.
   Most despised of all was Morbag, the Clan-chief held most directly responsible for these failings, which went against all the precepts of Orcish Society. When the other Clans met in moot to settle their differences, he was unable to attend, surrounded by a wall of Bugbear-claimed territory, earning him further contempt for not even making the attempt. A messenger from the Mailed Fists, as the closest thing to a neutral party between the betrayed and betrayers, had braved the dangers to command his presence at the moot, and even survived to bring word of the Clan-Chief’s refusal to even attempt the journey. His name became a curse throughout the rest of the Orclands, and it became popular sentiment that it was the Bleeding Swords who were the Bugbear’s allies, and not vice-versa.
   Spared some of the acute disrespect and anger of the other clans was their Clan Warblade, Drash, who had led the invasion of Red Eye territory, and who was killed by the Red Eye’s troglodyte allies. Nevertheless, it was popular sentiment that he should have challenged the cowardly and treacherous policies of his Clan-Chief and that he had failed in his duty to do so. The claim of wrong-doing at the instructions of a superior became known throughout the other Orc-Clans as the Drash Excuse, and all Orcs were taught that resorting to it indicated guilt of a crime as great as the misdeeds themselves. “I was only following orders” is an admission of criminal guilt in Orcish Society, and that principle is enshrined in the name of the deceased Warblade.
   Vaaga, the clan Shaman, was held to be largely blameless. With no authority to challenge the Clan-chief, and convinced in what he was doing by falsehoods of sufficient quality to have deceived the other Clan shamans, it there was nothing that he could have done to avert disaster. Nevertheless, the name was considered to be bad luck by the populace thereafter, and became a metaphor for helplessness in the face of impending disaster.
   Surrounded by enemies, Besieged by hostile forces, and held in contempt by their own kind, the Bleeding Swords were the only clan not singing Orcish Victory Songs at the end of the Clan Wars.

Chapter 80

The Tranquil Years

For most of the peoples of the world, what followed were three centuries of relative peace and prosperity. The reasons for this have been the subjects of endless speculation by theologians and philosophers; what is clear is that by the end of what has become known as The Tranquil Years, the various races had come to regard the social and political conditions under which they lived as natural and normal, no matter how great a shift they represented at the commencement. Patterns had become established, and memories of the past had faded.
   The consensus amongst the learned was that for some reason, the Chaos Powers had been thrown into disarray by the defeat of their puppets in the Elven Lands, which was itself but the final act in a failed attempt to achieve their goals through acts of genocide against the worshippers of the Gods.
   Humans still thought of themselves as the centre of creation, and few of these learned individuals even know of the events in the Orclands, never mind paying them any regard. They continued to form Kingdoms and Empires and play political games with each other, and considered those games to be the most important events in history.
   The Elves welcomed back the Huyundaltha who had entered voluntary exile, and accepted their story that they had been receiving instruction and training from Corallen, and contented themselves with expanding their forests. The restoration of the Noletinechor as a sect within the Huyundaltha was seen as a return to normality by the bulk of society; the Huyundaltha had been created as an act of desperation, and represented a deviation from the true purpose of the Order. While the Huyundaltha would remain the Elves’ front-line defenders against their enemies, their true purpose was to preserve Elvish Society. Not to shape it, or direct it, but to encapsulate and sustain it in a world where practicality mandates the compromising of ideals. Ellionara, who secretly bore the title of First, made it the Noletinechor’s public mission to find ways of bending the forms and expressions of Elvishness to necessity without sacrificing the quintessential philosophical foundation of Elvishness itself.

   Ellionara thought long and deeply about the parting words of Corallen, and everything that he had experienced in the Orcish Clan Wars, and in the Dwarfwar which had preceded it; he absorbed all that he could learn of human theology, the only one which acknowledge the Chaos Powers, and winnowed through it, discarding self-serving human perspectives and rationalizations, expanding apon the results with his own experiences. Had he published his findings, he might well have been regarded as one of the greatest philosophers ever produced by the Elvish Race; but he kept his own council, and contented himself with being ready to pass his writings on to his successor when the time came.
   His reflections penetrated and punctuated the limited human concept of “Chaos Powers”. These beings were not truly Chaotic, but were expressions of a fundamental incompatibility with structure. They did not desire destruction, they demanded isolation from the impinging of external stimuli apon their personal universe of experience. This left them inherently unstable in any collaboration or cooperation, fighting their own natural instincts. The fact that they were able to unite at all was proof that they had been ‘contaminated’ by order, and were at war with their own propensities; even if they were to succeed, they would remain unsatisfied. They could never go back to what they had been.
   And that, even more than the mere imperative of self-preservation, was why they had to be opposed the last breath of the last living thing. It could be argued that they had the right of prior claim over all existence, and if a void could be created that mimicked the state of existence they desired, a peaceable settlement might have been reached with them; but with that flaw in their nature, this would only delay the inevitable and enhance their destructiveness. They would no longer have anything left to lose, existence would be intolerable to them, and they would be willing to trade their own destruction for the destruction of everything that vexed them – which was, quite literally, everything.
   And that small contamination with order made them all the more dangerous. It gave them the capacity to cooperate with each other to at least some degree, it gave them the capacity to comprehend the world around them, and the capacity to plan intelligently; and with each step, each failed scheme, the capacity for an orderly response in service to their natural anarchy would grow within them. They would learn from every failed encounter, and only grow more dangerous with time. But at the current time, the races in opposition were like babes at arms in comparison; the only hope for success was for them to learn from every encounter as well, and to learn faster and better than their enemy. The Gods, Corallen included, had the power to forestall the enemy, but not to defeat them; their primary task was to draw the attention of the enemy until it was too late.
   Ellionara realized early that it was most unlikely that Ethraztia had told the Chaos Powers the details of his vision of the future. At best, he would have told them that he saw the future; but in order to do obtain that ability, he had embraced the order within and around him, which would have made his presence uncomfortable to his fellows. They would have avoided him as much as possible, having no idea that they were vulnerable to destruction by virtue of the contamination of order, and presuming that this was an advantage that they could exploit until the day of their final success.
   The loss of that ability would have two effects on them, and the combination explained the Tranquil Years. First, they would have learned that there was an advantage to be had by embracing, rather than avoiding, the Order within their anarchy, harnessing it to their own goals; but that would take time. When next they struck, they would be ten times as dangerous, and infinitely more subtle. Second, they would have to come to terms with the fact that embracing this advantage would also embrace the vulnerability and mortality that came with it, and that would encourage them to adopting a more covert and indirect role than they had done in the past; but proxies and lieutenants take time to train, and the Chaos Powers would have to come to terms with the limited lifespans of their recruits. It would undoubtedly take them time and a few false starts to get that right.
   Ellionara spent much of his time coming to an understanding of Corallen’s cryptic final words, and the more time he spent on that task, the more importance he attached to them. The power to direct chance that the Verdonne had shown was the Key; not only would he travel back and forth through time ensuring that chance worked to bring about the opportunity for a direct attack on the Chaos Powers, bringing together the right people with the right potentials and capacities, but he quite literally held the one power to which the Chaos Powers were most innately vulnerable. And yet, Verde’s capacities were not infinite, while those of the enemy he faced were, or were close to it; he would need to husband his resources for those key moments, and influencing just a few key individuals and outcomes throughout history.
   His first priority would have been to ensure that the circumstances arose which had set him on this course in the first instance. That would require ensuring that the alliance that had brought him to a full understanding of his power and his destiny would have to be ensured and preserved, and the confrontation with the Hidden Dragon was a key element of that requirement; and more importantly, the knowledge, wisdom, and insight that Ellionara was cultivating and preserving was also essential to setting that destiny in motion. It was, or would be, in order to recover that knowledge that the Unlikely Alliance – what had Verde called it, “Tajik’s Misfits”? – would deliver Verde to the one that held the keys to Verde’s understanding of his destiny. Whatever was needed to ensure that the “Misfits” were the people required to achieve that, in the circumstances that required it, would be done. Verde’s task was, without doubt, the most cold-blooded and cold-hearted that any being could willingly undertake; if need be, tens of thousands or more would be killed to deliver the messengers to the message. Only once that self-fulfilling prophecy was complete could Verde use whatever power he retained to strike against the real enemy.
   And he could not be infallible; he was mortal, and as capable of misjudgment and error as any other mortal being. While he could use his powers to ensure that such errors were not fatal to his cause, to a certain extent anything less than fatal error would need to be tolerated; chance still favored the opportunist, and the Chaos Powers, the would-be nullifiers of existence, were nothing if not masters of opportunism. Whatever the final confrontation comprised, it would still be a desperate confrontation, with everything to play for.

Dwarves had long memories, and they were of an increasingly solitary and belligerent bent. They wanted to be left alone, mistrusting every other race, and they wanted it with an aggressiveness that posed ongoing risks for the Drow, who the Dwarves had particular reason to hate. Lolth knew that their numbers would increase more rapidly than those of Her followers, and was disinclined to be over-reliant on those followers to begin with; She resolved to be even more ruthless in expending those followers to achieve her goals than ever before, but they could do nothing if the Dwarves invaded her realm or sealed off the hidden entrances that led directly to her hidden tunnels and caves.
   The Minotaur servants of the Orcs were as ill-used in the confrontation with the Hidden Dragon as anyone else could claim to be. While their lives may have been those of indentured servants, they were not poorly cared for under the Orcish regime; but they had been persuaded, compelled, by the dream of liberty into throwing that away. When it was revealed as a chimera, they were trapped with – they thought – all hands raised against them. When a Drow carried to them an offer of Sanctuary.
   Lolth’s plan was to use the Minotaurs to bar the Dwarves from the surface by infesting their upper tunnels with the Minotaurs. She correctly surmised that the Minotaur and Dwarvish cultures would cross-pollinate; the Dwarves would react to this invasion with hostility, the Minotaurs would assume that the Dwarves wished to re-enslave them, and in order to protect themselves would adopt a martial culture of their own. Eventually, a stalemate would be achieved, which would bar the Dwarves from accessing the raw materials they needed to expand their realm; this in turn would force them to limit their population to a manageable number.
   Of course, this risked turning Dwarvish hostility toward her children below; to combat this, even while the Orcish Clan Wars were underway, Lolth had sent Drow Envoys rescue some of the Troglodytes attacked by the invaders from the Bleeding Sword clan, and had “given” them the tunnels that led from her realm to that of the Dwarves to inhabit, escorting them into position through the direct Drow tunnels. In this way, she sought to ensure that no-one living in the tunnels had scope for expansion save her own followers. To ensure her own safety, she clouded their memories, having learned to do so by closely watching Corallen in the cavern beneath the Oracle of Gottskragg.
   This situation quickly degenerated into a messy three-way conflict between the Dwarves, Minotaurs, and Troglodytes, with each side gaining ascendancy over the others in some parts of the underground realm, and taking members of the other races as Slaves. But Lolth’s goals were achieved, as they kept each other far too busy to worry about the Drow beneath their feet.
   Nor was this the only dispossessed group with whom Lolth established relations in this time. The others were the Trolls, who Lolth offered protection if they would guard the surface entrances her people employed against Elvish incursion. For a relatively small investment in effort, Lolth persuaded others to secure her borders for her, then used her new-found ‘party trick’ to make the participants think it was their own idea to do so. It matters not what you promise if the other party cannot remember the promises to hold you to the agreed-upon terms.

It was in the Orclands that the greatest turmoil persisted during the “tranquil years”, where life was not tranquil at all. To the contrary, in Orcish history, these were the Decades of Blood. Central to the turmoil were the Bugbears.

Chapter 81

The Decades Of Blood I: Empire Of The Bugbears

Bugbears have never been known as the most pious of races. They have no trouble believing in Gods in the abstract, but have conceptual problems translating that faith into any sort of real expectation of influence, interaction, or concrete reality. Even when one of their gods was standing right in front of them, or so it seemed, they had difficulty believing that the Divine Being was capable of more than what the physical reality appeared able to do, like any other concrete being, and their shamans struggled to invoke more than the most basic of blessings or healing spells. Their society is one bound apon the concept of obedience to the stronger – and of constantly challenging that ‘stronger’ to prove that they are still capable of enforcing their commands.
   When the minion of the Hidden Dragon first came amongst them and commanded them to breed beyond the capacity of the lands in preparation for a campaign of glory and conquest to come, once they had established that the minion had sufficiently great personal strength to force them to his will, they were perfectly willing to obey. Three generations of Bugbears sprouted like weeds in a field, and only their traditional tribal structure and practice of abdicating authority to the strongest whenever two came in contact with each other kept the peace in their numbers as they were reduced to the edge of starvation by their swelling numbers. Although it had not been realized at the time – the full scope of the Hidden Dragon’s machinations was still being discovered by the Unlikely Alliance – in order to achieve the staggering population levels revealed during the Clan Wars, the intervention in the society of Bugbears must have been the true beginning of the Clan War. If Ambassador Tathzyr’s “opportunist” assessment is accepted – and it accords with everything known or believed about the Chaos Powers and their natures – it is likely that the Hidden Dragon did not know at the time to what purpose this army was being raised; it was simply an opportune resource to cultivate and have on hand.
   The very nature of Bugbear religious fidelity makes this a rational choice, since they are not prone to asking deep or awkward questions once authority is established by simple force of arms. The minions of the Hidden Dragon could afford to make mistakes and correct them without significant impact, could practice and perfect their impersonations until they got them right. Gradually, they would have worked their way up to more discriminating and independent audiences – the Minotaurs, and then the Orcs themselves.
   So it was that when the Bleeding Swords concluded their bargain with the Bugbears, expecting a yield of a mere thousand or perhaps two, the Bugbears had both the capacity and incentive to stream into the fertile central Orclands in numbers measured in the hundreds of thousands. These forces were confused and scattered by the transformation of their Deity into what in their eyes was a demonic entity. There had been little interaction between the Bugbears and Minotaurs, and what interaction had occurred was not of a nature to lead to any understanding of Minotaur theology; the Bugbears simply would not have cared about the subject. This left them incapable of associating the apparition with Minotaurs, and ironically left their assessment closer to the truth than that of anyone else at the time.
   But they were too significant in numbers to be cowed for very long; and the lack of depth to their faith also reduced the impact of their disillusionment. Heresy only matters to the pious.
   By the time of the conclusion of the Clan Wars, two fingers out of every hand’s worth of the Orclands had been occupied by the Bugbears. These lands were barely sufficient to sustain the excessive bugbear population. Half of this territory had been captured from the Mailed Fists, the other half was former property of the Bleeding Swords clan that had been captured by the Red Eye counter-invasion and liberated by the Bugbears – who were not inclined to go anywhere.

When the armistice between Red Eye and Mailed Fist clans was confirmed following the return of the Unlikely Allies from the temple of the Hidden Dragon, most of the remaining members of the Red Eye clan’s armies returned to the lands they traditionally claimed. The surviving Bleeding Sword invasion force, already disrupted and reduced to unsteady morale by the guerilla tactics of the Army Of The One Eye and their Troglodyte allies, were ground into hamburger by weight of numbers, more proficient combat tactics, and sheer ferocity, until they were forced to flee. Perhaps the greatest differential were the differences in morale; where the Bleeding Swords army was divided, uncoordinated, and ranged from nervous to near-panic, the Army of the One Eye were united, coordinated, and left confident by a great victory. The outcome of this encounter between Orcish Armies was not all that surprising, and generally all the returning victors had to do was show up to put the invaders into a forced retreat – if not an outright rout.
   Cities may have been forbidden by the Divine Edict that they had agreed to regard as genuine, but that did not mean that the Mailed Fists abandoned or forgot everything that they had learned by imitating humans; immediately the Red Eye clan had quit the field in victory, the Mailed Fists had begun to construct a string of fortified villages surrounded by palisades and prepared defensive trenches. In time, the dimly-remembered events of the Clan War would color even Orcish attitudes toward the Mailed Fists patron Deity, whose policy of putting all his (metaphoric) eggs into “one basket” (one city) became symbolic of foolishness; the most intellectual of the Orcish Gods would become known to the population as the most stupid.
   Long before that perception spread throughout the population, however, the remnants of the Bleeding Sword Army fleeing from the wrath of the Red Eye clan found themselves trapped by this line of fortified emplacements. With the Elvish Forest and impassable mountains occupied by belligerent Dwarves and Desperate Minotaurs on the one side, a hostile army at their rear, and these fortified positions before them, they had no choice but to turn to the Sinister and race for the coastline, then to attempt to cross the hostile territory down the frozen coastline, short of food and ill-prepared for the conditions. Along the way, they had to cross the lines of Red Eye soldiers stretching to the coast, engaged in carrying rubble from the fallen cities of the Mailed Fists (as Gruumsh had commanded them to do) – a task they were quite happy to set aside in order to pursue the hated would-be invaders of their homeland. Past this series of death-traps, they came to the vast territories occupied by the Bugbears, but the latter dislike coastal regions, and provided that they starved themselves by staying away from the more temperate regions where food could be obtained, they were relatively unmolested; conditions and nature picked them off, there was no need for an army to do so. Few survived to return to their clan.

High summer of the following year saw the long-awaited Moot which formalized the peace terms between the Red Eye and Mailed Fist clans, and acknowledged and enshrined the bonds forged in blood and shared battle between the two clans. The Bleeding Swords leaders declined to send representatives, earning them the contempt of the rest of Orcish Society, but they were being squeezed between two populations of Bugbears and their former prosperity was a distant memory. It had only been a matter of time before they defaulted on their agreement with the Bugbear mercenaries they had engaged to fight on their behalf, and the Bugbears had turned on their former allies; they were now overrunning and enslaving them, one isolated household at a time.
   After five years of constant assault, the Bleeding Swords were reduced to small pockets of Orcish culture. That year, the Bleeding Swords swallowed their pride and begged the Red Eye and Mailed Fist clans for aid, a request that was summarily rejected.
   Two fists of years after the end of the Clan War, the last of the Bleeding Sword homesteads was overrun, and the entire Sunset region south of the fortified villages of the Mailed Firsts became one continuous Bugbear Feudal Empire.
   This empire was inherently unstable, in a condition of perpetual imminent collapse into anarchy that never quite fell apart. First one tribe would become ascendant, and then it would fall, its authority successfully challenged by a subordinate, who would then take its place as the rulers of the Empire (or a region within it), only to be challenged in its turn. The only marked change in their rather sloppily-defined borders came as the Bugbears withdrew from the coast; Bugbears swim quite badly when their fur becomes waterlogged, unless they have the chance to protect it by coating themselves in animal fat. Consequently, the Bugbears have never liked the sea, and avoid coastal regions whenever possible.

Chapter 82

The Decades Of Blood II: Kudja’s Raiders

Ironically. one of the unifying forces that helped hold the Bugbear Empire together were the ongoing attacks by Kudja’s Raiders, which comprised dispossessed Mailed Fists from the sunset regions of their former clan territory. They did not mind overly if the Bugbears had conquered and humiliated the Bleeding Swords, but were intent on liberating those territories that were formerly claimed by their clan. Kudja himself was a folk hero amongst his people, and this crusade had considerable popular support as a result.
   Now, Kudja was a high priest, who had risen to become the ultimate spiritual authority within his clan, the former Clan Shaman. Even reduced to one arm, it might seem surprising that the Bugbears could seriously oppose the forces, both temporal and spiritual, that Kudja could put in the field, and certainly when he began his crusade, Kudja expected the Bugbears to be easy prey; his first recruits were gathered to serve as bodyguards to protect him while he did the ‘real work’ of pushing back the Bugbears. Earthquakes, Pillars Of Fire, and withering storms were amongst the tools Kudja could call apon. If need be, he could raise a volcano beneath the feet of the invaders, shift the courses of rivers, or rain fire from the clouds; how could the Bugbears hope to stand against such might?
   It came as something of a rude shock for Kudja to discover that the indifferent faith of the Bugbears was sufficient to enable them to resist the effects of his most potent spells, imperfectly and inconstantly, but enough that his campaign was not the inevitable and assured victory that he expected. A compounding of overconfidence in his divine abilities, obsession with his mission, and his desperation to repay the faith placed in him by his fanatically-loyal followers, lead Kudja into an ongoing series of narrow escapes and improbable victories. These heroic exploits, exaggerated by those loyal supporters, only reinforces his folk hero status amongst the Mailed Fists, so he was never short of willing recruits and supporters willing to donate food to maintain his crusade against the usurping Bugbears.
   It might have been possible for the Mailed Fists to reach an accord with the Bugbear Empire, had they been willing to accept the status quo as a reality, but the esteem in which Kudja and his crusade were held squandered any opportunity for peace. Time and time again, Kudja would lead his forces in an incursion into the Bugbear empire which would savage one targeted tribe or stronghold only to be driven back when his divinely-granted spells failed him; and, it must be stated, Kudja was no great military tactician. Several times he was captured by his enemies, only to be rescued in daring raids in which his forces traded their lives for his liberation and the continuation of the struggle. Between the dishonor of the Bleeding Swords and the obsessive irrationality of Kudja’s raiders, it should not be too surprising that the Bugbears declared themselves the enemies of all Orc Clans.
   After four fists of years mauling the Bugbear boarders and singlehandedly creating a no-mans-land between the Empire and the Orc Clans, Kudja engaged in one raid against overwhelming odds too many, and was slain. The Bugbear who achieved this victory changed his name in celebration to Urka Priestkiller, and became the first Bugbear in twenty years to become High Lord of the Bugbear Empire unopposed – for all of a year. With Kudja’s passing, the spark of obsessed inspiration went out of the raiders, and their numbers began to dwindle. Slowly the Bugbear borders were secured, and then they began to exact their revenge; over the next 30 years, they overran the fortified villages and townships of the Mailed Fist clan. If they had still possessed their fortified cities, these might have held out long enough to become rallying points, but they were long gone, and no village can support the same levels of protection that city walls afford. The Mailed Fist captives that were taken when their townships fell were executed or enslaved.
   It is often said that Pride goes before a fall, and so it proved for the Mailed Fists. Sure that they would eventually prevail against the Bugbears, so slowly were their enemies proceeding, that they stood alone until the last possible minute, accepting only token reinforcements from their allies in the Red Eye clan. Only when they were reduced to a single stronghold did they reluctantly accept that they were insufficient to the needs they faced; a rider carried word to their old friends and allies in the Red Eye clan, begging for help. Unlike the similar call three Orc Generations earlier by the Bleeding Swords, the Mailed Fists and Red Eyes had established respect for each other and even some limited intermarriage; the Red Eye’s army was gathered and marched as quickly as it could be raised, but it was still too late to save the final refuge of the Mailed Fists.
   Now the Bugbears changed tactics unexpectedly, revealing that the decades of internal struggle had left marks within their society, as well; with the last of the fortified villages overrun, they did not stop to consolidate their conquest, as they had after each previous victory; instead they rushed forward to confront the Red Eye army directly.
   The ferocity of this attack forced the Red Eyes, caught unprepared and out of position, into a defensive battle, trading lives for space, and eventually halting and beating back the advance. Year after year, the Empire would engage the Red Eyes in battle, penetrate deeply into their lines, and be driven back – but each time, they would halt and hold firm just a little deeper into Orcish territory. The Bugbear Empire continued to expand, step by step, year by year, as inexorable as the coming of winter.

Chapter 83

The Decades Of Blood III: Strategies And Armies

A century of unremitting warfare took their toll on Orcish society. Much of the progress toward culture that had been achieved was lost; the education of the young became ever-more-confined in scope, the average age of their commanders slowly fell, and the people stopped thinking beyond the next year’s battle. Despite this cultural decline, some advancements took place and became entrenched, most notably those which yielded improvements in efficiency. For example, they had discovered the power of numbering in units of ten, and the use of simplified basic arithmetic that it permitted. Then, too, the Red Eyes had learned from the fate of the Mailed Fists, and from the now legendary exploits of the Clan Wars, though these were now shrouded in myth. They might have been the most culturally insular and intransigent of the Orcish Clans, least willing of all to change their traditions, but even these will bend when enough of those traditional roots are eroded; with two-thirds of their territory forfeit, and the last year’s bugbear incursion halted only fifty leagues from the Clan-Chief’s stronghold at the foot of the mountains, they evolved a desperate, enlightened, and progressive four-fold strategy.
   As was their tradition when faced with the need to accomplish multiple objectives, they divided their Army and tasked each with the single-minded achievement of a single objective.
   The Army Of The Skull was tasked with emulating some of the tricks of the Mailed Fists, constructing defenses and trading their lives to slow the incursions of the Bugbear Marauders, buying time for the other armies to achieve their objectives. The new front-line was their responsibility.
   The Army Of The Moon was tasked with providing offensive counterstrokes to harass and further delay the enemy, supported by the Red Eye’s troglodyte allies, then falling back to prepared positions that were being dug into the foothills. With mountain strongholds held by allies at their backs, they were the Rearguard.
   Ambassador Tathzyr had remained with the Red Eyes at his Queen’s instruction since the fall of the Orcish Cities. In that time, he had helped to educate several receptive officers and warriors in the tactics of stealth and subterfuge. Now near death from premature old age, he nevertheless lived long enough to see those special pupils gathered together into The Army Of The Night Crow, charged with scouting the enemy, functioning as spies deep within their territories, and recruiting slaves within each Tribal Kingdom of the Bugbear Empire to serve as a fifth column and resistance.
   And finally, a select band showing sufficient leadership potential and tactical expertise were formed into the core of the Army Of The Open Hand, their purpose to recruit Allies.
   Each of the three Great Orcish Clans had been socially advanced over the others in it’s own way. The Mailed Fists had excelled in agriculture, domesticity, philosophy, and the intellectual pursuits, especially architecture; the Bleeding Swords had been the most culturally advanced and most adept at making alliances and treaties, the most able to see things from an outsider’s perspective and adjust their own thinking to take advantage of that perspective; and the Red Eye had excelled in remaining true to their cultural heritage and roots, were the most Noble of the clans, and – while not as adept at forging alliances – had proven their capacity for fidelity to such alliances as they had formed over the centuries. The Orcs of the Red Eyes had long recognized that as a cultural strength of their clan, and now they determined to use it as a weapon against the invading Bugbears by recruiting allies into the Army of the Open Hand and welding them into a strike force of diverse abilities.
   In overall command was Kazbran, Warblade of the Clan, responsible for coordinating the activities of the four armies and orchestrating those activities into an overall campaign. It was he who had made the intellectual leap required to seek allies from amongst the other races that surrounded the Orclands.

One by one, members of this fourth force went forth at great risk to themselves and sought out the populations of the neighboring regions, bargaining with them for aid in repelling the Bugbears, and one by one they returned to report varying degrees of success, each now tasked with the responsibility of serving as liaison and overall commander of the troops they had recruited. Each had been given strict negotiating parameters and a free hand within those limits, ensuring that whatever the price demanded, it would be within the capacity of the Orcs to pay should the campaign succeed.
   The first recruits to the Army Of The Open Hand were 2312 Ogres under the command of 35 Ogre Magi. These were soon joined by 431 Black and Green Trolls, each a small army in their own right. Although the Gnolls declared themselves officially neutral (they shared a border with the Bugbear Empire, after all), 1655 Gnoll “irregulars” chose to take advantage of the opportunity for looting.
   In light of the century of good relations with the Red Eyes, and in return for the Orcish promise to serve her in a future military campaign of her choosing, Lolth sent 2400 Drow archers, 3600 swordsmen, 600 mages transformed into Dryders, 4500 of the Giant Spyders of various kinds, and fifty priests to heal the wounded but not take part in combat.
   But not all the recruiters were successful. The Elves refused the entreaty. The Goblins were inaccessible, blockaded by the Gnolls. The humans were unreachable, their Kingdoms and Empires lying beyond the Elven Forest or through more than 1000 miles of Goblin territory. Dwarves were unobtainable, access to their subterranean kingdom blocked by Minotaurs with neither love nor trust for Orcs; these were not even contemplated as potential allies. Together with the Army Of The Open Hand that had recruited them and the surviving members of the Army Of The Skull as they fell back to their prepared positions behind the lines of the Army Of The Moon, these became the Army Of The Five Hands – one hand for each of the Races allied (treating the Dryders and Spyders as part of the Drow contingent).
   The Bugbears had strength of numbers, strength of position, and only the Trolls could match them for physical force, one-on-one (though the Ogres came close).
   The recruitment and assembling of these forces took ten years. In the interim, the fecundity of the Orcs was their salvation. But slowly these forces were gathered behind the protection of the Army Of The Moon to strategize and develop coordinated tactics while awaiting intelligence from the Army Of The Night Crow. When those long-awaited reports finally began to reach the Clan Warblade, they transformed the nature and conduct of the entire war.

Chapter 84

The Decades Of Blood IV: The Fall Of Night Campaign

Ogres are simple creatures. Ogre Magi were intelligent, educated, oppressive, and barbarous. Bugbears were merely savage – smarter and more cunning than Ogres, but simpler and more brutal – but they smart enough to adopt good ideas from whatever source they derived.
   Starting with administration of the hunting and herding, captured Orcs of the Bleeding Sword clan had slowly insinuated themselves as the administrators of the households, controllers of the supply lines, dictating strategies and tactics and logistics. Bleeding Swords had become the powers behind the thrones, pampered and preened, feigning subservience, and using their Bugbear ‘Masters’ to exact revenge apon the clans that had spurned them in their time of need. These were the true unifying force that had held the Bugbear Empire intact in the face of its innate propensity to collapse, for more than a century. The true slaves of the Bugbear Empire were captured Red Eye and Mailed Fist clans, Orcs who had been subjugated – in some cases – for generations.
   Peace between the Bleeding Swords and the other Orcish clans had not been established because the former had not attended the Moot where the Clan Wars had been ended. To the Red Eyes and Mailed Fists, this was considered irrelevant, because the Bleeding Swords had been wiped out by their Bugbear ‘allies’; now it was revealed that all this time, the Bugbear Empire had simply been the weapon with which the Bleeding Swords had perpetuated the Clan War against the rest of their race.
   Simple plans for a single thrust through the heart of the Bugbear army to capture the current Great Lord of the Bugbear Empire, Ruckal The Strong, and force the Bugbears to give up their captured territories as the price of his release, were replaced with a far more subtle and sophisticated strategy that drew apon the individual strengths and abilities of the allies and the vulnerabilities of the disposition of the enemy forces, which were concentrated most strongly in the front lines.
   The Ogrish instinct for engineering was turned to the construction of great ships, taking advantage of the thin Bugbear forces along the coastal regions. While these were under construction, the Army Of The Night Raven worked to fulfill its mandate to recruit the slaves of the Bugbear Empire into a fifth column. Much of the overall strategy was modeled on the slave revolt of the Minotaurs a century earlier, and the dimly-remembered events of the Orcs slave revolt against the Ogres centuries earlier.
   All proceeded according to plan, which was a first in the history of conflict. Gruumsh clearly smiled apon their endeavors.

   When the ships were complete, they were used to ferry alliance forces to selected staging points up and down the coast. From these staging points, each force from the Army Of The Five Hands struck inland to capture key points, isolating one Bugbear tribal kingdom from another, and slicing the Bugbear Empire into smaller factions.
   At a prearranged time, those Orcish Slaves in each Bugbear tribal Kingdom who had been recruited into the Army Of The Night Raven emulated the Minotaur revolt, slaying the Bleeding Sword ‘heads of households’ before fleeing toward these rendezvous points. At the same time, Ogres and Trolls disguised as Bugbears through Ogre Magi and Dryder magic, and bearing the colors of a neighboring Bugbear tribal Kingdom, staged from the strategic positions they had established, with Gnoll irregulars in reserve to fend off any attempts to cut their lines. When these thrusts were fully extended, they withdrew under cover of Drow bow-fire, hopefully having been reached by the fleeing Army Of The Night Raven. When they had returned to the forward positions held secure by the Orcs and Drow, the entire force would retreat to the initial staging positions along the coast, leaving the path clear for each tribal Kingdom to turn on the neighbor who they thought had attacked it.
   The key to victory was the Army Of The Night Raven; the Bleeding Swords ‘administrators’ would have been able to reassert order and prevent the Empire from devolving into ten, twenty, even thirty simultaneous civil wars that would eviscerate it. Most of the members of this fifth column were killed by outraged Bugbear “Lords”, but many were liberated. The fifth column was under no illusions about their chances, but the chance of freedom was worth the risk of death, as the Orcs had learned when they had been subjugated by the Ogres centuries earlier, and the slaves themselves had been awaiting an opportune time to again strike for their freedom. Plans and techniques had been passed down from slave generation to slave generation under the very noses of their slave-masters, who had grown complacent. Each household’s slaves knew which of their numbers could be trusted, who had become soft and compliant, and who were pampered collaborators and could not be trusted. At the right time, there were a series of ‘accidents’ that left the overseers without their cadre of stool pigeons and informants, followed shortly by the actual revolt which left those overseers dead.
   Any tribal Kingdom that showed signs of restoring internal order were subjected to a fresh strike by the Army Of The Five Hands, bolstered by the abandonment of disguises which enabled the use of more direct magic against the enemy, but it was hoped and expected that nine tenths of the Bugbear Empire would destroy itself while leaving the majority of the Five Hands forces intact, bolstered in numbers by escaping members of the Army Of The Night Raven. These would then sally forth to occupy defensive positions and consolidate the recapture of the Orclands, and so it proved.

With their supply lines cut, the front lines of the Bugbear Army had no choice but to retreat, harried at every step by the Army Of The Moon and the Troglodyte allies of the Red Eyes. By the time they reached the lands that the Bugbear Empire had settled and not merely captured, the Army Of The Five Hands had fortified, and the Bugbear forces were trapped with nowhere to go, just as the Bleeding Sword’s original Army had been at the end of the Clan War. The plan had been to employ Orcish fecundity to reinforce each defensive position annually, while the returning army was trapped between hostile armies and facing the onset of Winter. With each passing year, the Bugbear army was lured deeper back into the heart of their former Empire; each mile of regained territory costing lives, while fresh forces were put in place to both front and rear. Priority was given to the killing of any Bleeding Sword accompanying the Army, which degenerated with every step into a rabble as the cohesion that sustained and administered it was cut away or starved out, one slice at a time. Thirty Orcs dead for each Bugbear was a net victory for the Orcs. Eventually the Bugbear Army fell apon itself and collapsed, the survivors fleeing as a rabble.
   The Fall Of Night campaign was a slow grinding away of an overwhelming force that was never permitted to come to grips with its enemies. It took twenty years to complete from the day the first ships sailed, and it cost over two million dead by the time it concluded, more than a century after the ‘official’ end of the Clan Wars. One quarter of the fallen were Bugbears, 475,000 were Bleeding Swords or slaves which were killed by their Bugbear “Masters”, and one-and-a-half million were Orcs killed over the 150 years of the conflict that followed the end of the Clan Wars. Only then did the Tranquil Years at last descend apon the so-called Fallen Races.

Chapter 85

The Decades Of Blood V: The Price Of Virtue

Victory in the Fall Of Night Campaign was not purchased cheaply. Bugbear numbers were reduced to less than one-third what they had been prior to the intervention of the Hidden Dragon, and the Orcish population was a tenth of what it had been prior to the Clan Wars. In its own way, this was fortuitous, for the promises which had secured the services of the Orcs’ allies in the Army Of Five Hands represented a heavy burden to shoulder.
   Gnoll opportunists had consumed the sunset third of the original Bugbear realm all the while proclaiming their official ‘neutrality’, and had begun to harbor their own dreams of conquest and looting.
   The Sunrise third of the former Bugbear realm, and the adjoining Sunset third of the original Bleeding Sword territory, was given by treaty to the Ogres, who settled in the mountains to the Dexter and only emerged from their hidden valleys to hunt.
   The Dexter Third of the territory that had once belonged to the Mailed Fists, and which contained the paths to the Elven Forest, was given to the Trolls, the first time this simple race had been given a homeland of its own.
   Between the Troll-lands and the Ogres lay the forested mountain passes that led to the Drow and the most sunset-facing of the Dwarven tunnels; this region was given to the Drow, who turned it over (per Lolth’s instruction) to the Spyders to further isolate the Elves and Dwarves, and to place a barrier between the Orcs and the Elves; the prophecy of the Oracle Of Gottskragg was ever-present in her mind. She did not know what turn of events would lead to her children turning against her, but any barrier that could be placed between the races of the prophesied alliance might serve to delay the day.
   The mountains to the Dexter of the former Red Eye lands were offered to the Troglodytes, including those fortified valleys that had been refuge to the Ogres, but they only wanted the tunnels below the rocks and to be left alone; those mountains and fortified valleys were left unclaimed, for the Orcs did not want them.
   Even ceding more than a full third of the former Orclands to their Allies left the Orcs with too great a region to administer. Communities were isolated, and the survivors of the great clans fractured into many smaller clans over the years that followed. They would not reunite as a race until the Drow demanded, in Lolth’s name, that they pay the price of the aid that she had granted the Orcs in this struggle, some centuries later, when the world was a very different place. Orcish society became a more uniform blend of the three former clans; fortified villages surrounded by cultivated farms, in the manner of the Mailed Fists, and herds in the way of the Bleeding Swords, and from which they hunted the wilderness which surrounded their communities as had the Red Eyes.
   So few in number were the surviving Orcs, and so isolated from each other, that they were unable to mount any coordinated defense when one of the human Kingdoms, searching for room in which to expand, discovered passes that could be made traversable into the fortified valleys that had once served as refuges to the Ogres, and descended from the mountains past the tunnels of the Troglodytes onto the great coastal plains of the Orclands.
   These were humans who had grown used to a general peace over a span of nearly 250 years, and while they looked apon the Orcs with contempt as primitives, it was easier to give them a wide berth; the reduced Orclands were still sparsely populated in comparison to their potential, and there was plenty of room for everyone. In time, these human communities even dared to tentatively trade with their Orcish neighbors; thus were the Orcs exposed directly to human culture, human theology, and human politics. There were things they liked about their new neighbors, and things that revolted them, but on the whole, they got on. And so the Tranquil Years rolled on. Amongst some Orcish communities, their Gods came to be seen as one pantheon amongst many, while others abandoned their own Gods in favor of those worshipped by the humans.
   But Chaos never sleeps for long, and the Orcs failed to recognize that in embracing community with their new human neighbors, they were left vulnerable to the tribulations and vagarities of human society…

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The Return of the Ongoing Elvish Glossary

  • Alkaith: Curved 14-inch dagger favored as a weapon and general cutting tool by Elvish Spellcasters and some High Elves.
  • Arnost: Simple Speech (Modern “Common”, a human tongue)
  • Arrunquessor: Plains Elves
  • Ayer: Nuthanori word meaning “Squat”. Mont Ayer is the name of one of the two peaks that define the traditional elvish lands.
  • Calquissir: High Elves
  • Ciltherosa: A variety of tree which grows very tall before erupting into successive crowns of branches of diminishing size which arch and curve horizontally.
  • Comesdhail Osfadara­ Litrithe Congress Of Spellweavers
  • Corellan: The First
  • Drow: “Those Who Dwell Apart” (in Nuthanorl). Added to Ogre by the Drow with the meaning of “Smart”.
  • Ellessarune: The “Shining City” of the Tarquessir, home of the Elvish King and capital of the Elven Lands to this day.
  • Eltrhinast: “Guiding Spirit”
  • Elvarheim: “Blessed Leafy Home”: The Elven Forest, homeland of the Tarquessir and the centre of Elven Power in modern times
  • Gilandthor: “The Gathering”, the formal title of the Elvish Council.
  • Hithainduil: High Elven Language
  • Huyundaltha: “Masters Of The Ondaltha” (literal), “Bladedancers” (colloquial). Formerly Noletinechor, now Guardians Of Elvish Society.
  • Illvayssor: “The Other”, a mythical race
  • Infelstreta: “Demon” in Hithainduil.
  • Isallithin: “The Sundered”, a name applied to Aquatic Elves
  • King: A human title interpreted by Elves as “speaker to others” and defined as such within their language.
  • Lesiatrame: “Bright Ego”, a deprecating term used to describe Human Gods, rendered suspect during the commencement of the third Great Dwarfwar.
  • Magi: A corruption of the Zamiel word “Machus”, which means “of the wise.”
  • Magfelstreta: “Devil” in Hithainduil.
  • Mithryl: the Elvish name of an extremely fragile metal given in trade by the Dwarves to the Elves. The word is imported from Dwarven, who in turn obtained it from the Zamiel Tongue name of the metal, “Mithral”. “Mithryl” means “Moonsilver” in Elven. The word also enjoys popular usage as a metaphor for a treasure found which appears initially worthless.
  • Mithral: the Drow name for Mithryl. A literal translation from Zamiel is “Shadowsilver”.
  • Mont: Nuthanori word meaning “High Place”. Used human-style in the naming of Mountains.
  • Noletinechor: “Lore Shields”, an elvish historical vocation, and a secret order withing the Huyundaltha who mask their activities under the cover of this historical vocation.
  • Nuthanorl: Low Elven Language, Common Elven
  • Ondaltha: A two-weapon combat style based apon Elvish Dance, practiced exclusively by Huyundaltha.
  • Osfadara­ Litrithe Spellweaver, literally ‘Weaver of Harmony’.
  • Sarner: A human abbreviation of the Hithainduil word “Saranariuthenal” which means, literally, “Swift and Wide”. The River Sarner runs through the central valley of Elvarheim.
  • Siurthua: Tainted
  • Tarquessir: Forest Elves
  • Thonsutriane: “Dark Egos”, a deprecating term used to describe Chaos Powers, rendered suspect during the commencement of the third Great Dwarfwar.
  • Thuyon: Nuthanori word meaning “Tall Spires”. Mont Thuyon is the name of the taller of the two peaks that define the traditional elvish lands; Modern Elvarheim lies between the foothills of Mont Thuyon and the River Sarner.
  • Verdonne: “Quickbranch”, an artificial race created by Elves to be “The Guardians Of The Forest”.
  • Zamiel: Drow Language

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The Orcs and Elves series is taking a break for most of the next month, when Campaign Mastery is hosting the Blog Carnival. The subject is “Location, Location, Location” and it kicks off on Thursday with a rare double-post…

When it returns, “The Politics Of Heaven” come under scrutiny…

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Orcs & Elves Series:
  1. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 1
  2. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 2
  3. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 3
  4. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 4
  5. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 5
  6. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 1-4
  7. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 5-10
  8. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 11-14
  9. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 15-17
  10. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 18-20
  11. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 21-23
  12. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 24-26
  13. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 27-28
  14. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 29-31
  15. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 32-36
  16. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 37-40
  17. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 41-43
  18. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 44-46
  19. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 47-51
  20. Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Orcish Mythology
  21. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 52-54
  22. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 55-58
  23. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 59-62
  24. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 63-65
  25. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 66-68
  26. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 69-70
  27. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 71-73
  28. Who Is “The Hidden Dragon”? – Behind the curtain of the Orcs and Elves Series
  29. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapter 74
  30. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 75-77
  31. On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 78-85