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    Posted: 05 Apr 2015 at 19:01
Blood Reavers
From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, recounting the Council of Illyria's negotiations with the Orcish tribes, in the year 1018. 

We had sent word of our approach before we reached the city of Gajik Hinor, and the War-King, Tlachcog, greeted us formally that evening. They showed us to a great table in the gathering-square of their city, where we were sat on leather-backed thrones and presented with dish after dish of barely-cooked meat. 

Their warriors danced to honour us, dressed in cloaks and head-dresses of bones and feathers. As they danced they cut their own forearms and thighs with stone knives, so that their blood rained onto the flagstones, and as they span and jerked spatters of blood arced out from their arms. Their blood flecked our clothes, our faces, and our food. It was hard to eat heartily. 

War-King Tlachcog said that he was pleased to receive us; he said that he would always entertain noble envoys who showed respect to the might of his people. His Majesty's envoy, Lord Asmund, asked if the War-King had been offended by discourteous emissaries of late. The Orc gestured to our seats; I looked at the leather upholstery more closely, and saw that one of the chairs had a Dwarven tattoo. Unfortunately, Lord Asmund did not take the hint. 

Lord Asmund offered a toast, to “the friendship between the mighty Blood Reavers, and the King of all the land, King Sigurd.” The Orc did not raise his drinking-horn in reply; instead he asked, “If your King is lord of all the land, do you think that includes our lands, here?” Lord Admund tried to evade the question, but Tlachcog pressed him, and he conceded, yes, King Sigurd was lord of all the lands, including these. The Orc did not raise his drinking horn for the toast. Indeed, he did not speak again all evening.

That night we were awoken by roaring and screaming. The Orcs of the city had gathered outside the palace, where our lodgings were, and warriors crashed into our room, knocking us all aside as they seized Lord Asmund. They blocked the doors after they had dragged him out, and we cowered, bruised and bloody in the dark, while their people howled and screamed outside. We could not tell if it was a party or a riot, but it lasted until nearly dawn. 

In the morning the noise abated, and a slave was sent to fetch us. Our horses had been assembled, one of our supply wagons drawn up at the head of them, and on it was what looked like a funeral bier. Laid out on the cart, surrounded by stone weapons and pots of food, covered in a feather cloak, was what looked like the body of Lord Asmund; this was how they laid out noblemen for burial, I believe, but it was not quite Lord Asmund's body. 

They had taken our lord and removed his skin, in one piece. They had stuffed his skin with clay and dirt. “If you come again,” Tlachcog told us, “we can talk of friendship. We can talk about alliance. We can talk about waging war, together, on our enemies. But never ask for our land. This is all of our land that you will ever get from us. Now take it back to your King, as a gift, that he will understand the terms of our friendship!”

Gajik Hinor [Blood Reavers]
Atop the vast walls, Orc guards stare out to the west, hoping that Northmen or some other foe might be foolish enough to approach. In the temples, warriors train, their practice both martial discipline and pious prayer. This city is the military heart of the Blood Reavers, where all pray for war, for victory, for glory.

Gajik Serun [Blood Reavers]
In the heart of Ursor, Gajik Serun imagines itself the religious focus for the Orcs of the north east. Visitors, at least pious Orc visitors, are welcome here, but should mind their tongues: a visitor who offends the warriors who stride through the city streets can pay for his offence only by offering his own slave or servant as a sacrifice to the temples. And the warriors are proud, and the temples numerous, so that a visitor might soon run short on servants.

Gajik Festral [Blood Reavers]
Gajik Festral is a city of blood and snow. Its huge walls are slick with ice, the steps of its temples sticky with the blood of fresh sacrifices. It is said that the Oracles of the Blood Reavers live here, dreaming the dreams which Orcs have in the face of the frozen north – harsh dreams, of slaughter and conquest and cruelty.


Crimson Skulls
From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, recounting the Council of Illyria's negotiations with the Orcish tribes, in the year 1018. 

Three previous emissaries from His Majesty had reached the border cairns - where bloody mortar fixes the skulls of slain foes on piles of sacred rocks - and had waited there to speak to the Crimson Skulls. All three had waited for several days, and had then been attacked. 

My lord, Asmund, was keen to take a more confident approach. We waited at the cairn only until Orc scouts appeared on a nearby hill. Then he ordered that we pack up camp immediately, and proceed into their territory, without invitation or permission. But some of the porters and animal handlers refused, saying that this would offend the Orcs, and begged to be allowed to remain there, until invited to proceed. 

Their fear was understandable. The Crimson Skulls are the last remnants of the great Orc uprising of 986, who survived the great defeat, retreated to the mountains, and there rebuilt their forces. They are never friendly, and are often murderous. And so Lord Asmund conceded that they might stay if they wished. 

So, leaving these few behind, most of our group continued for some hours, until we were met by a warband. The biggest of these Orcs approached, and demanded gifts. Lord Asmund presented him with fine cloth, which he trampled into the ground, before demanding more. He then gave the Orc a pair of swords, which the brute gave to his henchmen before spitting at Lord Asmund and then demanding yet more gifts. 

We were getting nowhere. But I noted that one of my lord's bodyguards, a hulking red-headed veteran, was beginning to bristle with rage. I proposed to Lord Asmund that this bodyguard now take up negotiations. The lord agreed, and his bodyguard stepped forward. The warband demanded tributes from him, too, but he was in no mood. He seized the lead Orc by the throat, and lifted him from the ground, screaming of what he wanted to do to the disrespectful cur. 

His suggestions were, at best, anatomically unlikely, but the stream of inventive abuse lasted long enough for the Orc to turn pale and gasp hopelessly for breath. The bodyguard dropped him in a pile on the floor, and demanded back the swords, which were duly handed over. 

After that, the mission progressed smoothly. The warband's leader, staggering to his feet, said that we could proceed, and we gave him again one of the two swords in thanks. Thereafter, we just told the Crimson Skulls that the bodyguard was our leader, and we continued through a series of encounters and negotiations in a like manner. We met aggression with aggression, but were careful not to cause offence or lasting physical damage. Lord Asmund was tactful enough that he never suggested that the Crimson Skulls should bow down to the rightful King of Illyria. 

Although his commission had been to secure the submission of all the Orcs, they would not have agreed, and we would have lost our lives for offending them. Instead we strove to establish a kind of respect, and as we began our journey out of their lands, we congratulated ourselves that we had survived the mission without loss of life. 

Our celebrations were premature. At the border cairn, none of our porters and animal handlers awaited us. Their camp was wrecked, and we found several brutalized bodies, the others having fled (we prayed) or else been dragged off as slaves.

Madh Kala Uruk [Crimson Skulls]
When the tattered remnants of the great Orc Uprising stumbled into this ruined citadel, they did not expect to stay for long. But their allies had abandoned them, and few Orcs wished to rally to a lost cause. So they rebuilt this stronghold, an in the last decades their fame – for ferocity, for zeal, for cruelty, for aggression – has spread. Young Orcs have flocked to the fortress, dragging slaves with them, and now the Crimson Skulls flourish. Their stronghold is not a welcoming destination for an Elven trader, to be sure, but Orcish visitors find it welcoming and invigorating, although violent, even by Orc standards.

Fah Strigz Doraz [Crimson Skulls]
The leaders of the Crimson Skulls were young warriors when the great Orc Uprising was crushed in the year 986. Now grizzled veterans, they have rebuilt the decaying stronghold of Fah Strigz Doraz so that it might repulse any assault. They think that they are still at war with the humans, and that they must avenge the treasons of those, such as the Pax Orcana and the Sundog Gith, who they say have deserted the great cause of the Uprising.

The Crimson Skulls are not coy. They growl that this city will be at the forefront of the next great offensive. But what is not clear is when such an offensive will come, nor who the target might be – they have so many enemies to choose from.

Marauding Skullsplitters
From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, recounting the Council of Illyria's negotiations with the Orcish tribes, in the year 1018: 

Our arrival at Kala Mahlarg bode ill for our venture. A large detachment of Skullsplitters greeted us some miles from the stronghold, and simply seized us. Hugely outnumbered, we were obliged to let them disarm us. They then ripped our clothes from our bodies, put ropes about our necks and wrists, and dragged us to their fortress. 

We were hauled into the great tower at the heart of the stronghold, and pushed into the audience chamber. The ropes were removed, and we were shown to chairs. When we were hesitant to sit, our captors just shoved us down into our seats, and thrust goblets of wine into our hands. The wine was very good, probably Elven, and certainly stolen.

Their leader reclined on his throne, sprawled on a bear-skin rug. He sucked wine from the fingers of an Orc female, and two Halfling slaves massaged his feet, as we sat naked and battered before him. The scene was perversely disturbing. At length, he dismissed his minions, and began to chat with our own leader, Lord Asmund. It was as if he had not noticed our condition, or perhaps expected his visitors to be naked and bloody. 

When Lord Asmund raised the question of our reception, the leader shrugged off the question. Of course we had to be dragged in like that, he said. He was always reminding his warriors that the other races exist solely to be enslaved by the might of the strongest Orcs, and as leader of what were, manifestly, the mightiest Orcs, how else should lesser races be brought before him? Our entire arrival had been a show, to impress his thugs, but now, he said, we should discuss business. 

He asked if there were enemies that His Majesty, King Sigurd, would pay him to crush. He asked if there were wars that His Majesty wanted to see ‘stopped’, which, we deduced, would mean his bloody intervention, and so amounted to the same thing. He talked about the brave forays - what we would call lawless looting - of the warbands that answered to him; I think by this, he was trying to ascertain how much he had angered King Sigurd to date, and so how much further he might push his luck. He discussed which communities might have suffered recently or be in difficulty, which, I suspect, was his way of probing to find out who was weak, and might thus be easy prey for his raiders. It was somewhat like having a quiet chat with a wolf who is calmly discussing which of your sheep, or which of your children, he might get away with devouring. 

In the end he thanked us for our visit, and called slaves to clean our wounds. He had new clothes brought out to us, some with small holes and bloodstains, but all of fine quality. He said that we would be free to leave, quietly, out of sight of his warriors, early the next morning, and he offered us a gift. He said that each of us could take one slave from his private stock, as a sign of his goodwill towards the Council of Illyria. 

We had the evening to discuss the Orc's offer. Some of our rougher bodyguards speculated that there might be attractive women in the slave pits, who might show gratitude if rescued. One of the grooms suggested that there might be sick and feeble captives, who would die if we did not save them. Another asked if we should choose holy men and women. I pointed out that these suggestions missed the purpose of the Orc's offer. This was not a gift, but a test, as we would show our nature in our choice of slaves. Therefore, we should choose slaves that the Orc would choose, so that he saw us as like him, strong and worthy of respect. 

Our only option, I said, was to take soldiers, bandits, cut-throats, and any men of imposing size and firm build, that is to say, men who would make good warriors. We should show that we valued strength, that we prized cruel warriors, because if that were how we thought then we would not be easy targets for the Skullsplitters' depredations. The groom was aghast, saying that I was suggesting that we should save the most morally unworthy and abandon the most needy. I agreed, that was exactly what I was suggesting. But we were not there to save a score of sickly people. We were there to strengthen a vulnerable Kingdom, and upon our mission more than twenty lives depended. 

Lord Asmund agreed with my advice. The next day we left with a group of the nastiest men I have ever spent time with, killers before their abuse by the Orcs and now the equal of any greenskin in cruelty. The groom did not speak to me again. I understand why, and every day I pray the gods will forgive me for the advice that I gave, even if I was right.

Kala Mahlarg [Marauding Skullsplitters]
Like many a stronghold across Elgea, Kala Mahlag has huge walls, stout watchtowers and vigilant gate guards. But still, visitors can expect an unusual reception. Some Hubs' gate guards will question each new arrival. Here they will punch, kick or spit at each new arrival. If one is an Orc, the best thing to do is to punch back, harder, for in that way one wins immediate admission. Humans and Dwarves might benefit from a more measured response. If one is an Elf... well, no sane Elf would wish to enter the Skullsplitters' lair.

The first letter of Saxil of Tundale, diplomat, from his mission to the Parvacones. 

To My Lords of the Council, honoured gentlemen, greetings. 

It is with regret that I inform you that my mission to investigate the fall of Caer Arodd will take much longer than expected. I will not be returning this summer. 

The initial reports are accurate. An alliance of Kobolds has crawled from its warrens, and overwhelmed this ancient Dwarven fortress. And all theories point, as was suspected, to a subterranean invasion, with the creatures having broken through into Dwarven mines beneath the city, and swarmed up from there. The stoutest Dwarven walls, which have held out the surface races since the First Age, were useless against a horde which swarmed up from below. 

We have been camped outside Caer Arodd, which the Kobolds now just call Our Great Mountain Home. 

We have not yet gained entry in any diplomatic sense. Soon after our arrival, the Kobolds ambushed and kidnapped a foraging party from our camp, and we were forced to ambush one of their patrols in return, then effecting a prisoner exchange. The men we regained have described something of what has happened to the city. 

Both above and below ground, the Kobolds have ransacked everything. They have dragged all that they could find, be it furniture, wagons, firewood, rubble - anything that they could move - into a small number of buildings and into a few of the underground chambers. Now these rooms are packed so densely that a normal-sized person could not get inside. Only a Kobold, or one the size of a human child, might squeeze in, and it seems that the Kobolds themselves live in these densely packed spaces, having formed tiny, cramped rooms amongst their loot. The other buildings and chambers, many of them mighty testaments to the genius of Dwarven architects and engineers, are now abandoned, used for nothing except as latrines. 

The Kobolds often come out to see us. Sometimes they will try to trade. Sometimes they try to steal from us. Sometimes they come to simply gawk. One group came for no reason, it seems, except to throw dung at us. 

It is certainly possible to trade with these creatures. On our first day, they eagerly came to greet us, bearing what looked like broken parts of some incomprehensible Dwarven machine. We deduced that these mechanisms might have been pumps, originally used to prevent flooding in the deeper mines, but the Kobolds had ripped them our piece by piece in their looting, and so broken them. They came to us with these fragments, to trade, and were very keen to swap them for some of our crossbows. 

Since then, we have seen them struggling to understand some winches and pulleys on the walls, and it seems that they are developing a fascination for such Dwarven inventions. Since then, we have started to trade regularly for small items. 

However, these trading exchanges have not led to any more significant dialogue. No leaders have come out to speak with us. Those who do visit have refused to carry messages back to their leaders, nor even to say who their leaders are. None seems interested in explaining why they attacked the Dwarven city, nor what they plan to do now; I suspect that they do not know, nor care. If there is a coherent plan at work, if there is even an identifiable leadership in place, I have yet to see any evidence of it, and I expect that it will take me some time to learn anything significant. 

We can survive until winter, foraging to eke out our provisions, and so I shall stay here until then in the hope, however unlikely, that I can gain some slight understanding of the motives and motivations of the Parvacones.

Great Mountain Home [Parvacones]
The Kobolds have ransacked this once-great Dwarf citadel, building dens in Dwarven houses, dragging machinery from the mines to be prodded and played with and torn apart, and turning shrines into latrines. Visitors should always be on their guard, as the Kobolds are wild and unpredictable: their speech makes little sense, and they can swing from curiosity to violence without apparent reason.

Pax Orcana
From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, recounting the Council of Illyria's negotiations with the Orcish tribes, in the year 1018. 

At the opening of the banquet, a huge Orc, his face scarred from battle, one eye missing, stepped into the hall, and bellowed, "All rise! Rise now, in ****ing respect for his Ma'sty, the mighty King Ehrgrak the Refined! Now rise, you scum!" 

The tone was surprising, but many of the Orc warchiefs present took some persuading: I noticed that warriors had been placed behind many of the greenskinned dignitaries, to prod, slap and in one case, manhandle the recalcitrant Orcs to their feet. 

With all standing, Ehrgrak strode forth. He was clad in rich-dyed silks, and sumptuous animal furs, and in his hand he carried a golden sceptre. Stepping behind him, a slave held a velvet cushion, upon which lay his majesty's battered and chipped battle axe, a cruel and ugly weapon, with a worn leather grip and dried blood still on the blade. 

A red carpet had been unfurled for Ehrgrak to walk down, and musicians began to play a solemn march. It took me a few seconds to recognize the music. It was the same Battle March which had been played at the coronation of our own great King Sigurd, but I will confess that I had never before heard in played on Orc War-Drums and animal-horn trumpets. When I had heard it before, there had been a more of a recognizable tune. 

At the end of the red carpet, two slaves lay prostrate for His Majesty to step upon when mounting his throne. This throne was built in Orc style - huge, and raised some way off the ground. It seemed to be made from the skulls of fallen foes, except that in this case the skulls seemed to be made of gold, and the whole thing was adorned with coloured ribbons and with flower garlands. I wondered for a moment if the skulls might have been fake, but on reflection no one becomes lord of an Orc alliance without killing a lot of enemies; applying gold leaf to real skulls would have been cheaper than commissioning replicas. 

We sat, and began to eat. The food was generally standard Orc fare, being mostly huge slabs of fresh-killed meat, but in this case with the addition of rare spices. The cook, it seemed, had decided that it was more important to use lots of spices than to use them well, and much of the meat was very highly flavoured. The Orc sat beside me was equally dismissive of the food, but for different reasons. 

"Tastes like fire! Good! But too much cooked! Needs more blood!" 

I looked at my dining companion. He had a robe of the finest wool, dyed a deep scarlet, and with intricate silver embroidery. I recognized the exquisite craftsmanship as Elvish. But this wonderful garment had been altered, with the recent addition of fur trim, which I suspect was probably rat skins, sewn on with little care. All about me was evidence that Ehrgrak was trying to drag the Orcs up out of the muck to live like more cultured races. But he has a long way to go before his followers can really pass for civilized people.

Urukonium [Pax Orcana]
Within living memory, this site was a lowly stockade, garrisoned by a gang of bandits. But then King Ehrgrak of the Pax Orcana decreed that the Orcs would henceforth become Civilised, and he decreed that as such they should have a Civilised city, a capital which would equal any Human, Elven, or Dwarven city in its grandeur and splendour. The city, he said, would be called Urukonium, and he decreed that it would stand here. And to ensure that he was perfectly clear, he ordered the resident bandits slaughtered.
Visitors report that, although the city has certainly grown swiftly, it does not yet live up to the King's original vision.

Bandarius [Pax Orcana]
With walls fifty paces thick and steep slopes to the river on two sides, the Orcs' stronghold of Bandarius is unassailable. Once a simple slave market, this is the birthplace of King Ehrgrak of the Pax Orcana, and it is now one of the two Hubs which he controls.

From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, diplomat, 1018. 

Among the more brutal races of Illyria, the taking of captives is an extension of diplomacy or commerce. Orcs, for example, see any captive as a fairly-won prize, as a slave, and they are often open to selling their slaves. Even a simple human bandit will calculate a ransom when considering seizing prisoners. I expected the Gnolls to be the same. I was wrong. 

When I heard that some merchants had been seized by the Skarakar Gnolls near to where we were camped, I was confident that I might effect their release. So, I took my bodyguards and our scouts, and followed the warband's trail. 

Gnolls are not easy to find. They make few permanent settlements. Most move in warbands, each group guided by the dreams and visions of a priest, carrying nothing but some rags and furs to sleep under, and some trappings of their religion. Some say that these creatures are nocturnal, but having had to sleep in the wilds myself, and seeing how little they carry, I suspect that they simply find it easier to sleep in the warmth of day and to keep moving when it is coldest. 

In any case, due to the skills of my scouts, we found their camp two evenings later, and spotted a group of scrawny but armed Gnolls, possibly hunters, heading out. We waited for half an hour, so that the hunters would be far away, and the camp therefore, with fewer able fighters, and then we approached, expecting to haggle for the merchants' lives. 

What we found was a kind of feast, or a ceremony. The Gnoll priest sat on a fallen tree, flanked by wooden idols of long-clawed and fanged figures, presumably their gods. His head lolled to one side, saliva dribbling down his shoulder and his eyes rolled back in his head. The warriors staggered around a fire, by which a clay pot steamed, dipping their talons into the scalding stew and licking the muck from their claws. Having taken a dose of this concoction, the warrior then staggered across to where the prisoners lay in bloody piles, ripped a limb or chunk of flesh from a prisoner, took a mouthful, and hurled the main part on the floor at the feet of the priest. Already the bloody pile by the priest, a jumble of arms, feet, intestines and ribs, was nearly as large as the pile of remaining prisoners. 

There would be no talking to these creatures. The priest was in a trance, the warriors were in a frenzy, the prisoners were mangled. I would have retreated, but my bodyguards had other ideas. They attacked, as one, without orders. 

Some of the Gnoll warriors turned and roared when we attacked, one seizing a huge axe which she swung in wide arcs. The others were too incoherent to even notice as my bodyguards ploughed into them. The priest, the warriors and several Gnoll children were slaughtered in seconds by my men, but the one who had managed to get an axe stayed upright for a full five minutes, attacking as if berserk all the time, splintering shields, killing three of my men, chasing the others around the camp until at last two men hacked at her from behind and brought her down. 

The merchants were dead. I gathered up what we could from their bodies, to return to their kin, which was grisly work. My scouts pored over the Gnolls' stew and the ingredients which remained, and suggested that these were generally poisonous, or at least likely to unsettle the mind. 

From the scraps around the camp, it seemed that apart from meats (rabbit, deer and Kobold flesh were found, plus the merchants), these mind-poisons were the Gnolls' main food. It seems unlikely that they would ever be in a state to be reasonable.

Scaravar [Skarakar]
It is rumoured that Scaravar is some sort of capital for the Gnolls, perhaps the seat of a King of sorts. Visitors have seen no evidence of this – just lots of hovels, so densely packed into the small fort that they seem to be piled atop one and another, inhabited by creatures who veer unpredictably between indolence and sadistic violence, whose communication amounts to little more than a series of grunts and growls. Most visitors learn not to ask questions. If the Gnolls tolerate, or perhaps ignore, their presence, then there is no need to rile the creatures with questions, especially since the beasts are just as likely to respond with lethal violence as with an intelligible reply.

Karakar [Skarakar]
Gnolls who find travellers in the wilderness will regard them as fair prey, to be mutilated, killed and eaten, not necessarily in that order. But if travellers walk up to the gates of their stinking strongholds, they regard such arrivals with bemusement, not hostility. Visitors say that the Gnolls of Karakar barely spoke to them, but left them to wander the stronghold unmolested. Most people would rather not put such stories to the test – few would choose to journey here.

Sma Uruk
From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, recounting the Council of Illyria's negotiations with the Orcish tribes, in the year 1018. 

Our host explained that the Sma Uruk measure their age not in years, but in Lives. Our host, war-chief of a small Hobgoblin settlement, had brought us to see the Proving. We had missed the first few days, when young Hobgoblins, at their seventh year, stand in the pit and face a wild dog, and had arrived as the last of the fourteen year-olds faced down a slave - in this case, a Dwarven woman who had been given a woodsman's axe with which to defend herself. 

I was appalled but tried not to show it. The Sma Uruk, who were given their clan name, which means Little Orc, as an honorific, due to their bravery when they fought alongside the Orcs in the great uprising of 986, value strength above all. They have no space in their hearts for compassion. I asked where the captive came from. 

"A raid. Took many prisoners, for the Proving. 

A dozen other captives had already died in the pit, as victims for the young Hobgoblins to prove their prowess, and this Dwarf woman was the last. This is what a Life meant for the Sma Uruk: when they said that someone had lived for three Lives, they meant that he had survived three bouts in the pit, one bout every seven years. To live was to kill, to prove one's strength. 

Everyone expected the young Hobgoblin to triumph over the Dwarf. They stood about the same height, but she was thicker at the belly and he broader at the shoulders. More than that, he was a Little Orc, she just a fat captive, and his fellows had already dispatched the others of her ilk. 

When his cudgel came down across her collar bone and she crumpled to the ground, he clearly thought it was over, and turned his back on her to roar his victory and bask in the applause of the crowd. But the Dwarf woman stirred. Perhaps she had thoughts to avenge the others, perhaps her family, who had already been butchered. 

Something gave her the strength to get back to her feet, raise her axe, and bring it hard down across the Hobgoblin's skull, splitting his head open and spattering brains and blood into the already gore-soaked mud. 

I retched, and looked to see if my host had noticed. He was too busy cheering, celebrating, and howling in praise of the Dwarf prisoner. As she sagged back to the mud, the crowd was cheering for her. 

"Uruk! Uruk! Uruk!" She had won a bout in the Proving, so she was, in their eyes, worthy, and her strength was to be celebrated. More than that. To them, the Proving had made her an honorary Orc. 

Several Hobgoblins came forward to help the Dwarf away, and two more dragged away the body of her opponent. I asked what would happen to the Dwarf. I assumed that they would keep her as a slave, but supposed that with a shattered shoulder she would be useless, and so wondered if they might just kill her. 

"She do what she wants!" our host replied, as if it were the only possible answer. "She has won. Is Uruk. Is no slave now!" 

Then the next stage of the proving could begin, when Hobgoblins facing their third Proving would fight. Two Hobgoblins, presumably each now twenty-one years old, stepped forward, well-armed and armoured. At this stage the warriors were not fighting easy opponents, such as animals or prisoners. They were fighting each other. 

This was how they ensured that their tribe stayed strong; the strong simply kill the weak. I looked at our host, who was perhaps fifty years old, and was suddenly much more afraid of him, to think what callous brutality had kept him alive through half a dozen such bouts.

Thop Fatoft [Sma Uruk]
This is not, as visitors to Orc lands would expect, a hive of loutish violence. The Hobgoblins are quieter than most of their kin. Drunkenness is rare, and brawling rarer still, although brutal murders are not unheard of.

Visitors report that the highlights of Thop Fatoft are dog-fighting, the local speciality dish of Trost Kohr (literally, 'steaming offal'), and the annual Proving. It is not a destination for those with with delicate sensibilities.

Saxil of Tundale, writing of the events of 1009. 

Throughout the morning, Lizardfolk arrived, each the head of a gathering of families and individuals, approximating to what we might call a Tribe. 

Each was therefore a warrior, but also a chieftain. 

Any who thought himself worthy wandered onto the flagstones in the garden, and paced around for a few minutes. If any greater chiefs thought him or her unworthy, they would stride out to confront the interloper, and drive him or her away. All morning, chiefs came onto the flagstones, and were either faced down, or else meandered around for a few minutes before retiring to the shade of the lawns and trellises which surrounded the flagstones. 

No words were spoken. 

At last, at noon, as the sun beat down on the flagstones, the discussions began. One after another, a dozen Lizardfolk wandered onto the flagstones, and started hissing what they knew of the new human village, and of the raids that their people had made on the settlers. Some described where it was. Some said who had settled or hunted there before. Some described how they had raided the humans. Another described what the trade value was of the loot which could be had from the humans. There was no order to this, and the discussions went on for hours. As far as I could tell from my translator, they simply stated facts. No arguments or requests or persuasions - just facts. 

As each spoke, the others would laze in the shade, or, if they became drowsy, sidle into a sunny patch to wake up. Each speaker would start slowly, becoming more active and twitchy, speaking more rapidly, until, discomfited by the relentless heat of sun and stone, they retired to the shade. 

The intense heat in the centre of the garden, with the exposed flagstones burning in the unremitting sunlight, acted as a natural timer for discussions, for, although the Lizardfolk love the sunlight, even for them the searing heat was uncomfortable. 

At last, no one further came forward, and all stared at me with unblinking eyes. 

I stepped into the centre, the ground so hot that the leather of my shoes' soles began to singe, and as sweat soaked my clothes, and I shifted from one burning foot to the other, I tried to explain why they should leave the settlers alone. I tried arguments which would make sense to a human, saying that the settlers were no threat, that they would be good for trade, that they would provide diplomatic links to more distant powers. 

I tried arguments which would make sense to an Orc, saying that they had strong allies, that they might appeal to better-armed humans to protect them. 

But I could not think like a lizard, and I was young and foolish thinking that I could talk to them as if they were men or Orcs. 

I left the flag stoned area, and the Lizardfolk wandered back, one after another. My translator told me that, swiftly, they agreed that I had said that the settlers were weak, but might become strong; nothing else that I had said had made an impression. 

Then for the next two hours, they discussed whether or not they should kill me. I was clearly a weakling and unimportant, but if they let me go I might warn the village, yet if they killed me, then stronger humans might come looking for me. They discussed my fate without regard to my presence, without sentiment or emotion, as if it were the most casual discussion. 

Eventually they decided to keep me in the city of Ssaharin for three days, so I could warn no one... while they massacred the settlers.

Ssaharin [Sslipentin]
Ssaharin is the stronghold to which the Sslipentin come to swap food and goods, and so it is like a market to them. It is where their chieftains come to discuss and debate, and so in a sense, it is their Senate or Council place. Travellers who have been once or twice say that the stronghold has most of the features of a real city, but that everything is simplistic and primitive. More frequent visitors smile that things may not be as simple as they seem.

Sundog Gith
From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, recounting the Council of Illyria's negotiations with the Orcish tribes, in the year 1018. 

In the great Orc uprising of 986, these Goblins, who had then been a slave race in thrall to the Orcs, were guilty of the most bloody atrocities: when the Orcs faced defeat, their Goblins, sensing weakness, turned on them, and, in contrast to the Orc practice of taking foes as slaves, the Goblins, who now call themselves Sundog Gith, had no desire but to slaughter their former masters. We were not inclined to proceed into their lands without an invitation, and for two weeks we sought permission to enter and to speak with their leaders. 

At last, they invited us in, as peacemakers, or so they said. When they had come to these lands, after the uprising, they had displaced a number of small Orc clans, and the resulting feuds had simmered ever since. 

Then one Orc clan sent champions to challenge the Goblins to a duel, for ownership of a hill village. The goblins, though barely five feet tall, all bone and sinew and each weighing no more than a third of the weight of an Orc, had inexplicably accepted the duel, and we were to provide guarantees of fair play. 

We set up camp in the Sundog Gith's territory, at the foot of the hill on which the disputed village stood. A dozen Orcs soon approached, swaggering in chainmail and bulky leather armour, brandishing huge axes, boasting loudly of their might and confident of victory. A small group of Goblins came an hour later, dressed in rags, their skin smudged with black tattoos, cruel curved knives at their belts, all silent, their eyes glittering. 

The Orcs cleared a large circle, removing scrub and marking a boundary, to make a duelling area, into which their largest champion strode, swinging a battle-worn axe. She was joined by the Goblins’ scrawniest recruit, his curved dagger brand new, and the black tattoos which covered his body still puffy from having been so recently applied. The Orcs stood and cheered. The Goblins wandered away, disinterested. 

The fight lasted a few minutes. The Goblin dodged skilfully, and slashed the Orc several times before being caught off-guard and disembowelled with one stroke. The Orcs roared, trampled the body of the fallen Goblin, shouted insults at his kin, and retired to their baggage to find ale with which to celebrate, cheering that they had won back their village. 

The Goblins skulked a little way away, and I went to find them, to ask if we should give their champion a proper burial. "Not our champion. You'd know... if you could read." 

Read? "You stupid human. Stupid like Orcs. The tattoos say to the gods he comes to join them." 

I asked their leader what his tattoos said. "That I will kill Orcs. Many Orcs." 

So, what of the body? "We do not death pity. Five hundred winters we slave to Orcs. We not afford to care. Not afford to pity our dead. Orcs, humans, elves, you can afford pity. Orcs took that from us." 

So what should we do with him? "You look hungry. You want the meat?" 

I declined the offer to eat their kin, but went away to bury him regardless of their callousness. 

When we had finished burying the Goblin it was dark. The Orcs had got drunk, and then fallen strangely silent. Up the hill, an orange glow began to light the hilltop as flames started to dance about the wooden houses. We went to find the Orcs, who lay motionless on the ground around their baggage. Goblins stalked around them, their feet red with the Orcs’ blood, looting the bodies. 

One of them looked up and told us, "Tell Orcs, they can have the hill. Their champions, all dead. Will be easy to kill the others. We take the hill back next year." 

What they omitted to mention was that the next day they told the Orcs that we had turned on both groups and had killed the Orc champions, and the Orcs believed them. We fled as fast as we could. That was as close as we got to diplomatic contact with the Sundog Gith.

Votar [Sundog Gith]
The most remarkable landmark in Votar is the Temple Of The Dead. It is built entirely of skulls (Goblin skulls, animal skulls, Human, Ogre, Elf... anything but Orc skulls), and is built to honour the spirits of all those, of any race, who have died in combat. Visitors may find it strange that Goblins would honour the spirits of other races... and even animals, even Elves, but the Goblins do not see why this is odd; in death, all are equal.

Uruk Vadokan [Sundog Gith]
Uruk Vadokan translates roughly as Make Orcs Die Painfully, and from the iron spikes on the stronghold's gates, to the severed heads which hang above the doors of the houses, everything here seems to celebrate cruelty.

The detail that most often shocks visitors, however, is that when someone dies within the city walls, there is no ceremony, no mourning. The Goblins do not grieve. Rather, they simply hurl the corpse over the city wall, to be eaten by animals.

Zau Brulk
By Sanir Di'qualinin, High Archivar of the High Kings court, Secretary of the Royal histories society, Magistrate of Pelimont. 

As anyone will tell you, Trolls are a barely intelligent species. 

They are rarely found in packs larger than 10 and they will eat anything made of flesh, no matter its state. 

The only exception to this rule is the Zau Brulk, literally translated as "Black Arm-weapon". 

Although contact with this unlikely circumstance - Trolls with cities - is relative new, there have been rumours about this "tribe" of trolls for centuries. 

They have been known to trade with other Greenskins, and we know from the Orcs of Pax Orcana that they have done so for as long as they can remember - but being un unreliable source of information on history (they are Orcs after all) we simply cannot know the absolute truth. 

Now, even though this may look like a scholarly opportunity to learn about a species we know very little about, I must caution you: 

They are very hostile to any non-Greenskins and the rites and trials any non-Greenskins have to go through to be "accepted" by these "creatures" are (in my humble opinion) more than they are worth to gain some little needed information about their society structure, which - by the graces of the Gods and our Glorious Monarch King Sigurd - wont exist for much longer.

Olog Ha [Zau Brulk]
Olog Ha does not seem a welcoming place. The Trolls here are huge, rough brutes, constantly fighting with their neighbours. The stronghold is an ugly, hulking place, with no luxuries. Perhaps least appealing, the Trolls have a taste for ritually mutilating their visitors. But the location, in central Tallimar, certainly has an appeal, and the Trolls keep the market here very well-guarded.

Olog Rraus [Zau Brulk]
Olog Raus is at the heart of Troll territory, where the tribe first settled, and where the skull of their first leader is still venerated in a rough, mud-built temple. Courageous merchants praise the huge fortress as a safe base for trade, but it is not a place which all would dare visit. When veteran travellers explain “It isn't so bad – the trolls only cut you up the first time you go there,” most people conclude that one visit would be too many.

Edited by GM Rikoo - 16 Apr 2015 at 20:32
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