Sunday, October 21, 2007
The lush Echo Isles shine like emeralds in the light of the morning. I sat at the prow of the sleek goblin merchantman, observing the sun’s rise into the clear air. I looked forward to at last seeing the rugged land of Durotar. Shared by the orcs and trolls, it is perhaps the most important region in all of the Horde territories.
Until recently, the Echo Isles served as the home of the Darkspear Tribe. A renegade witch doctor somehow forced them to leave, and they resettled on the mainland. The story always seemed peculiar to me; I could not understand how one witch doctor, even a very powerful one, could expel the Darkspear Tribe from the Echo Isles. Even if the trolls could not best him, surely the armies of the Horde could.
“The witch doctor is Zalazane,” said Redok, who was adjusting the sails as we spoke. “And I reckon he must have fearsome power of some kind. I traded with the Darkspear back when they lived in the Echo Isles, and I remember coming ashore one rainy day to be greeted by a bunch of spears thrown in my direction! Killed one of my deckhands too,” he shook his head.
“They were just regular spear throwers?”
“No, actually their aim was terrible. It’s amazing they were able to skewer poor Gizzle the way they did. They couldn’t hit anything else. I couldn’t figure out why the trolls would attack me or, if they did, why they would do it so badly. Master Gadrin in Sen’jin told me that they were bewitched trolls, made vicious, but slow and clumsy.”
“Do you know why the Horde doesn’t just reclaim the isles, if the defenses are so weak?”
“Ah, you should ask the trolls about that. I gather that the real reason is some kind of tribal politics.”
We made landfall on the rugged shores of southeastern Durotar at sunset. The hollow booms of drumbeats reverberated down the beaches as Redok tethered his ship to a crude dock, next to a small fleet of troll canoes painted in stripes of bold color.
“I think we might have arrived during one of their festivals. It’ll be safe enough to leave the cargo on the ship. Come on, let’s go up,” directed Redok.
We hiked inland and soon saw a cluster of huts in a copse of palm trees. A ring of torchlight burned in the center of the village, and green smoke drifted from the flames.
“Looks like they’re celebrating the birth of a new troll,” said Redok.
“You recognize it as a ceremony for such?”
“It’s the green smoke. Green is the color that represents the south, and the south means birth and newness. They say that the trolls first came from the island of Zandalar far to the south. They also use green smoke for the new year, but it’s way too late for that. You know, I just thought of something. Wait here, don’t go close to the village until I come back and tell you it’s all right.”
“Is something the matter?”
“I don’t know how well the Darkspear would react to a Forsaken coming into a celebration for a new birth. You’re part of the Horde, so there shouldn't be any problems, but it’s probably best that you wait.”
And wait I did. Redok and his crewmen walked off to the village while I rested within sight of the shore. Night came, the skies of Durotar turning a faded violet. Though night, the air and the red earth stayed warm with memory of the day’s heat, and the air lay dry and still over the dirt. The drumbeats slowed down as the moon made a languid ascent, its bright face reflected on the sea’s dark surface.
After some time, I heard voices. Redok and a troll walked coming towards me.
“You can come in now Destron,” called Redok.
“Sorry you had to stay out here. But it would have been a bad omen for Zhad to have been born with an undead present. Nothing personal against you, those are just our ways,” apologized the troll.
“That is all right. As a guest, I must respect the customs of my hosts,” I said.
“You’re welcome here. We’ve had some Forsaken in Sen'jin, none of them ever caused trouble, we don’t really mind. It’s just sometimes we can’t have them around. I’m Len’lo, a hunter of the Darkspear.”
Len’lo guided me into Sen’jin, the air laden with the smell of roast pork. Carousing trolls wore green paint on their faces and bodies, sometimes drawn in the forms of ancient Zandali glyphs. Posts throughout the village are topped with soughan skulls, the earthly remains of the tribe’s fallen. Stylized representations of Bethekk (the Primal Loa whose totem is the panther) guard Sen’jin, their wooden forms slathered in bright green paint for the festivities. Among many other spheres, Bethekk is the goddess of mothers. That particular aspect of Bethekk is associated with the south and the color green. Some of the trolls gave me hard looks as I went through the village, and one warrior began to berate Len’lo in Zandali. Len’lo held up his hand in warning, and responded sternly.
“Do not worry. Little Zhad is already inside the mothers' house; you are not breaking any rules,” Len’lo assured me.
Len’lo took me to a large wooden house with a roof of beach grass and palm leaves. Lit braziers in the shadowy interior cast light on walls covered in white markings that looked like ghostly faces. A pile of soughan stared at me from one corner. A winding staircase went outside and led to a tiny hut on top of the large house. It was to there that I was led.
“You’ll stay here. Sorry if it's small, but I don’t think they’d like it if you stayed in the main part of the common house.” He pointed below, to the large hut.
“I will be fine here.”
I slept on a hide mattress and awoke with the dawn. The light revealed the crimson desert of Durotar, and a hot wind blew eddies of dust on the ground below. The day starts early for the villagers of Sen’jin, with the fishermen casting off in their canoes in the pre-dawn hours. Others go to work in the vegetable gardens, where the trolls grow the cassava and yams that are a staple of troll diet. Much like orcs, trolls require a regular intake of meat to stay healthy. However, their carnivorous needs are more easily satisfied than those of their orcish brethren.
Redok, as a respected outsider, spent the night in the hut of Master Gadrin, the headman of Sen’jin. When a troll allows an outsider to stay in his hut (even an outsider who is known to the populace) he essentially advertises his power. This invitation announces that he is so mighty, he does not fear letting an outsider into his home. The fact that Redok is not even the same species accentuates this benefit. As an undead, I am associated with too many taboos and bad omens for even the most daring troll headman to accept into his house. My membership in the Horde (which is essentially like a larger tribe) did allow the village as a whole to accept me. This is why I stayed at the top of the common house. The system stands in contrast to that of the forest trolls, who traditionally keep dedicated guesthouses. The great tensions between the tribes in the northlands prevent the sharing of private huts.
Throughout the day I attempted to observe without being obtrusive or inconvenient. Some of the trolls were actually quite friendly, and greeted me in Orcish, though others were visibly distrustful. I was puzzled by the size of the Darkspear Tribe’s population. Sen’jin is large as villages go, and there are other Darkspear settlements in Kalimdor, not to mention all the Darkspear trolls who live with the other Horde races. A middle-aged troll woman was able to explain this to me as she pounded yams. Her name was Shoka.
“Many of the trolls here were not born of the Darkspear tribe. My husband was once a warrior of the Bloodscalp, but he became weary and angry at our Gurubashi masters, and we left.”
“How many trolls here were not born of the Darkspear?”
“Don’t know for sure, but we also have Skullsplitters and Gurubashi here. That’s why there are so many trolls in the Horde. Though tribes can get pretty big even without other people joining up. Most here were born of the Darkspear.”
“Is it common practice for trolls to change tribal loyalties?”
“Oh no! Not at all, that’s a very bad thing to do. But our case was strange. When the Gurubashi first started culling our young, to get sacrifices for the Soulflayer, our priests spoke out. They said the Loa would not approve such a thing, and that we blasphemed against them. But then the chieftans were bewitched and they followed the ways of the Gurubashi without question. The Darkspear were the only tribe to escape, and they gave the rest of us sanctuary, so long as we promised to follow their ways without question.”
“You consider yourself a Darkspear then?”
“They accept us. Their men hunt with ours, and their women work with ours.”
“Have the Darkspear ever given you trouble for not being born a Darkspear?”
“They have accepted us. No tribe has ever accepted so many of another before. That is all that matters.”
A while later, a native Darkspear I spoke with said that the Bloodscalp, Skullsplitter, and Gurubashi expatriates must prove themselves to the Darkspear to be accepted, even if they were already respected among their own group. Jungle trolls are no strangers to violence, but their variety of tribal warfare is more ritualized than the all-out extermination attempts seen among the northern trolls. Hence, the jungle tribes were better able to band together. Zul’jin’s unification of the forest tribes is yet another testament to his nearly godlike leadership, a quality legendary even among the Darkspears.
A village council was held that evening, and much to my surprise I was allowed to intend. Len’lo did warn me to stay silent, for non-trolls are prohibited from speaking during councils unless specifically permitted to do so. As I did not speak Zandali, there was little I could have said.
The common house teemed with Sen’jin’s inhabitants by sunset. Tribal elders, premier warriors, and a priest stood in a circle at the center. The trollish audience sat on the floor around them, divided by age group: youth, mature troll, and elder. The women of the Darkspear tribe also make their presence known, occupying the eastern section of the common house in a similar age-based division. The jungle trolls were never as patriarchal as the forest trolls, and Thrall decreed that Darkspear women had the same rights as orcish women. Discrimination still exists, though in a more subtle form.
Older trolls placed candles within the soughan skulls, the sockets glowing red in the twilight gloom. The priest stood up and spread his lanky arms akimbo, speaking in a deep and commanding voice. From the folds of his multicolored robe he produced a gilt-edged soughan.
I soon deduced that the holder of the soughan commanded the floor and could speak without interruption for a few minutes. A wizened and elderly troll near the staircase kept time with an hourglass-shaped wooden object filled with pebbles. The cessation of rattling from the interior meant that time was up. The speaker would then pass the golden soughan to the troll on his left, who could either take it or pass further on. Once a full circle was made, the audience erupted into fevered discussion.
Whatever was said during the first circle had been quite inflammatory, as the common house soon rang with angry jeers and taunts. The chatter fell to a handful of charismatic members of the village audience who argued in hard-edged voices, before the old timekeeper stood up and banged a drum. Then the circle of eminent trolls in the center resumed speaking, with the permission of the soughan. The cycle repeated twice more before the meeting was adjourned. Night had fallen by that point.
I asked Len’lo what happened during the meeting. I inferred that there were two main factions; one led by Master Gadrin, the other by an ambitious young shaman called Veyd. Master Gadrin’s body language and tone suggested that was on the defensive.
“Tell me, Destron, how much are you knowing about what happened on the Echo Isles, and the witch doctor Zalazane?”
“I know that he forced the other Darkspear off of the islands. Actually, I was wondering how he had been able to do that, and why his actions have gone unpunished.”
“He caught us by surprise, and bewitched many of our best warriors. Their souls are no longer their own, trapped in cursed soughan carried by the witch doctor. Believe me when I say Zalazane will be killed for his crimes. The question is whether or not we go back to the Echo Isles after he is gone.”
“What are the arguments for and against?”
“Master Gadrin and his friends want to return. They think that the Darkspear are of the jungle, and in the jungle they should stay, even though the Echo Isles aren’t really anything like Stranglethorn. Master Gadrin fears we will become too much like the orcs. Not to say that he disrespects the orcs, but a troll must be a troll, if you follow my meaning.”
“And those who wish to stay here?”
“They want to have a bigger voice in the affairs of the Horde. Already, more orcs, tauren, and even Forsaken like you come to our village. We think we can learn much from the orcs, and they can learn from us. There’s a very clever and well-spoken shaman named Veyd who says so. He and a pair of hunters from our village went to Warsong Gulch in the north to fight the elves, and made much honor for themselves. The orcs have much esteem for Veyd, and so do his companions, and the spirits. He’s catching up to Master Gadrin.”
“Would it be possible for him to become the village headman?”
“That is what he wants. To do that, he must challenge Master Gadrin, and the villagers will judge both to see who is a better leader. This is called a Challenge of Ascension. It would be riskier for Veyd than it would be for Gadrin though. The rules are that if the challenger loses, he is banished from the village and may never again set foot within. If the headman loses, he just has to step down.”
“I see. Do you wish to stay here on the mainland?”
“I do. Back in the Echo Isles, we drifted from the Horde. The trolls in Orgrimmar became great and respected, but we let ourselves be forgotten. Some trolls turned to dark ways, like Zalazane. I knew him when he was still part of the tribe, and he did not want the trolls to lose their way. Much like Master Gadrin.”
“Do you think that’s a danger? That you would lose your culture?”
“Not really. We are too different from orcs to ever become them. Different races, after all. The reason I want to play a part in the Horde is—have you been to Stranglethorn?”
“So you’ve seen the ancient ruins of the Gurubashi. Why do you think we trolls now live in villages? We bicker and fight in our rude huts in the shadow of a grand history! Is that not shameful? We were great once, and I think we can be great again. But we need guidance. One day, I want to look upon Sen’jin, and see a great ziggurat of stone, covered in pictures, rising up where we now stand. I want to see troll craftsmen and scholars who all the world envies. It was once like that, and I know it can be that way again. All we must overcome are thousands of years of brute savagery.” He smiled wryly at that.
“I would like to see that too,” I said. “The old troll cities are still spectacular.”
“Indeed they are. Already though, many Darkspear are suspicious of the cities because of what happened in Zul’gurub, with the priests of the Soulflayer. I can’t blame them, but they need to look farther ahead. To this day I don’t understand why it is that my kindred care so little about their history. I speak of this to the other Darkspear, and they just shrug and say that their fathers lived as hunters, as did their father’s fathers. But our older ancestors lived in palaces and gardens.”
“Do you think Orgrimmar is a step in this direction?”
“Very much, yes. The trolls there are very intelligent, very wise. Arcanists aren’t much trusted by the Darkspear; most see them as a necessary evil. That is why most of the troll mages live in Orgrimmar. Mages will be a big part of our future, I am thinking.”
I stayed in Sen’jin Village for two more days. Redok left the day after the village meeting, returning to Ratchet. At the communal dinner that night, Master Gadrin brewed a great cauldron of black coffee shared by the entire village and drank from small calabash gourds. Master Gardin alone sipped his from a tiny porcelain cup, the white surface spotted with brown stains. The orcs apparently disdain coffee, but the trolls greatly enjoy it.
Shortly before dinner on my fourth day, I witnessed a confrontation between a fisherman and a hunter. The angler had mocked the hunter’s prowess, throwing the hunter into a rage. I remembered how in the Revantusk Village, the visiting orcs had their hands full trying to prevent such quarrels from turning into lethal duels. Fortunately, the Darkspear are less touchy about matters of honor than the forest tribes, and have a novel way of dealing with such conflicts.
A number of villagers gathered around a great bonfire in the village square. The mood was festive. The two trolls involved in the conflict stood next to the fire, dressed in elaborate ceremonial garb. The ancient timekeeper that I saw during the council meeting was also present, and after saying a few words (which inspired laughter among the viewers) backed away.
The hunter then began to speak in a mocking tone at the fisherman, continuing for minutes with barely a pause. The audience guffawed at the hunter’s comments, while the fisherman withstood it with a sneer. Once the hunter finished, the angler retorted in a similar fashion. When he was done, a broad grin spread on his face and the audience clapped. The hunter looked slightly dismayed, but soon regained his composure. They went back and forth like that as sunset darkened into evening.
A young troll woman sitting at my side leaned over to me, perhaps sensing that I was not familiar with Zandali.
“They are making fun of each other,” she said, before falling into a burst of giggles at a particularly cutting remark from the hunter.
“That’s how disputes are handled?”
“Usually. More serious cases, there might be a hunting competition. But we all prefer these.”
Once the sun disappeared into the horizon the angler stepped up his tempo and volume. The hunter’s poise was visibly shaken, and he began to stumble over his words. The fisherman emerged as the winner, besmirching the hunter’s honor.
“Now Zan’do, the hunter, he must bring in a good quarry, or do something to get his respect back. Otherwise we will all make fun of him,” the woman explained. Her name was Tyja.
A quick glance at Zan’do revealed a bestial scowl on his face; he looked like he wanted to physically attack his opponent.
“Zan’do looks upset.”
“He’s always angry. It makes him fierce, but also makes his tongue clumsy. See, if you get angry about others making jokes about you, you probably won’t be too good at besting them with words.”
“What about those who aren’t very witty? Do they have any defense outside of an insult contest?”
“A troll can get respect in other ways. But we will mock Zan’do until he does, for he was humbled by an angler! If he doesn’t calm his temper, he’ll just make a fool out of himself again.”
“Did you know that the forest trolls resolve disputes with duels to the death?” I asked her.
“No! You’re joking, right?”
“How do they survive? They must be killing each other all the time! I’m not too surprised though; the Amani tribes are all savages. Zul’jin should have come down to Stranglethorn, and lived with civilized trolls like us.”
I found myself admiring certain aspects of the Darkspear Tribe, particularly the way they use debate to solve intra-tribe problems. Likewise, there is at least some degree of democratic institution, as seen in the village council. I think it is entirely possible that the Darkspear will one day build cities even greater than those of their ancestors.
The orcs came into this world as mindlessly violent savages, a fact that will perhaps forever taint their image. When one thinks of an orcish homeland it is difficult to envision anything more than a series of armed camps, like what I saw in the Burning Steppes. Durotar is entirely different. Patrolling warriors are a common sight on the road (for Durotar is still a rough and dangerous land) but simple peons are much more frequent. They go about their business in the same way a human peasant might. Most kept their distance from me. While common enough in Orgrimmar, Forsaken are rarely seen in the southern or central parts of Durotar.
Durotar itself is both harsh and beautiful. Blooming cacti and blue sage flourish in little coves all through the jagged red canyons and cliffs. Great trees with deep roots suck out moisture from under the stony ground, their white trunks guarded by sharp thorns. The soil of Durotar is not receptive to agriculture, but small orcish farms continue to grow near the occasional well or oasis. The peon farmers are proud of their work, though they lack the confidence of the Barrens' homesteaders.
The recent history of Durotar is not without its share of bloodshed. Orc warriors fought a savage campaign against the local quilboar, who are an extension of the Razormane Tribe in the Barrens. Marauding centaur war parties bring ruin to remote farms, though they are thankfully few in number. The Horde in Durotar fought its greatest battle against the forces of Kul Tiras, who erected a small fort called Tiragarde Keep on the eastern coast. Orcish forces harrowed Tiragarde a month before the Battle of Theramore, but its ruins still maintain an ominous vigil over the main road. It is said that some of the human soldiers survived by fleeing to the mountains, and return to their old headquarters to plot against the Horde.
I arrived at the orcish town of Razor Hill five days after leaving Sen’jin. Razor Hill is full of young warriors eager to prove themselves. As such, it has a reputation of being something of a wild town, even by orcish standards. Orcs who attain the rank of warrior train in the Valley of Trials at the southwestern corner of Durotar. Most warriors then attempt to join a war-pack and serve in the battlefields of the Horde. Despite being in the heart of orcish territory, danger is never too far from Razor Hill; inexperienced warriors find myriad opportunities to prove their mettle.
Instead of joining a war-pack, some warriors choose to travel freely around the world. This echoes a pre-corruption tradition of young orcs learning independence and gaining wisdom through travel. However, they are still expected to contribute to the Horde in some way, usually by helping the Horde in the lands that they visit. These independent warriors are somewhat romanticized by orcish culture, and are admired for their courage and initiative. Going alone is obviously a very risky venture, and many do not survive. Naturally, this only serves to make their role more glamorous.
“I used to worry that we wouldn’t have enough warriors in the Horde, because so many would go out on their own to seek honor. But going alone is a hard way to do it, and most realize they aren’t cut out for it by the time they get to the Barrens, so they return and join a war-pack.”
I was speaking with a graying warrior named Nok’mar in the Razor Hill Barracks. The barracks are in constant activity, as it must train and house the transient army of novice grunts that forever lives in Razor Hill. Nok’mar was an adolescent warrior when the Horde had destroyed Stormwind City, back in the First War.
“During the First and Second Wars, orcs were born into clans, correct?”
“Yes. I was part of the Bleeding Hollow Clan, the son of Vog’mar the Hateful, who slew many humans. I honor him as my father. After Thrall built Orgrimmar, the warriors were put into the new war-pack system and I ended up in the Ebonflint War-pack. A lot of old grunts from the Bleeding Hollow and Blackrock ended up in either Ebonflint or Redeye, mixed together.”
“Do you know many of the warriors of the Bleeding Hollow Clan from the old days?”
“Some. Too many of them have gone to the ancestors since the wars. Perhaps it is for the best, as we had much innocent blood on our hands. Make no mistake, Destron. The honor I have today came from helping Thrall build the new Horde. The only thing I have from the First and Second Wars is shame, and the spirits will decide if I have made up for it.”
“You should be proud for helping to create this new society,” I offered.
“I’m just a single orc. My pride is for the orcish people, not myself. Perhaps it’s just because I’m an old warrior with time on his hands, but I can’t help but complain about one thing in the Horde: the peons! Mind you, I’m not saying that it should be like the old days. But the peons are far too arrogant for their own good, and we can’t teach them humility like we could before! Well, we can and do, but you can be shamed for it if a shaman catches you. I think it’s more of a shame that peons would think to be our equals, and many other warriors feel the same way.”
“Thrall has done much to help the peons.”
“He has... personally I think it’s more because of those tauren. They are worthy fighters, very honorable, but they’re a bit too kind-hearted for their own good.”
The castes of peon and warrior can sometimes overlap. A point of contention in Razor Hill is the smithy, an open-air pavilion on the north side of the town. Retired warriors traditionally occupied the role of blacksmith, but the lead weaponsmith in Razor Hill is a peon named Uhgar. His skill at weaponcrafting is only one reason for his position. The sheer number of warriors in Razor Hill necessitates a large staff of smiths to maintain and replace equipment. Uhgar’s talent for logistics and organization is what makes him so invaluable, despite his peon status. Some warriors support Uhgar’s efforts.
“I am a fighter,” stated a Tigerclaw grunt named Skurm. “My father was a peon though, as was his father before him. The fact that I am a warrior does not mean that I can dishonor my peon ancestors by sneering at the peons of today.”
The Tigerclaw War-pack is one of the strongest advocates of peon rights, though they still believe warriors deserve the most esteemed position in society. The Tigerclaws are one of the naval war-packs, acting as skilled crewmen and marines (peons fill the rank of the unskilled in the orcish navy). The navy in general tends to be more supportive of the peons. This is also true of aerial war-packs like the Skyfang and Gloryflight, who have no compunction against renting wyverns out to peons.
Around half of the smiths subservient to Uhgar fought as warriors in the past. Uhgar’s control over them is nominal, for if he appears too commanding the friendly war-packs would probably withdraw, or at least minimize, their support. Even when giving directions and orders, Uhgar is forced to take on a very respectful air.
The laziness exhibited by the warrior-smiths prompted Uhgar to take peons as his apprentices. Controversy soon followed, though the Tigerclaw War-pack provided invaluable moral support to Uhgar. While not normalized, most orcs can at least cautiously accept the idea of a peon blacksmith.
My second day in Razor Hill was spent with the peon swineherds who live just outside town. Their life is laborious, though at least relatively secure. Many of the peons are actually hostile to Uhgar.
“Warriors protect us! Uhgar doesn’t give them honor like he should. His pride makes the local warriors think we’re all like him, but we aren’t. We’re just simple orcs, and we give honor to those who have earned it.”
This is in sharp contrast to the peons in town, who are usually quite fond of Uhgar.
“I’ve seen how Uhgar works, and he is very respectful towards the warriors. It’s not as if he dishonors them, he just makes sure they know what to do. No one is saying that peons are above warriors, least of all Uhgar! But there is honor in what we do, because Thrall said so. Some of the warriors, and yes, some of us peons too, are just a little slow to get the message,” argued Tona, an orcish woman who made crates and barrels.
Even with the presence of rambunctious young grunts, Razor Hill is usually quiet once the sun goes down. The warriors make their homes in the barracks or in small wilderness camps and are expected to be in their beds immediately after dinner. Razor Hill’s first years saw problems with drunken and overly aggressive grunts causing trouble for the peons at night. At first they were only scolded for their actions, but the situation changed after an inebriated warrior accidentally killed a peon. Thrall demoted many of Razor Hill’s military authorities and sent them to isolated places like Azshara or Desolace for not maintaining discipline. The grunt that did the deed was stripped of all his honor and was exiled from the Horde, along with those with him at the night of the killing.
Older grunts act as guards during the night, as they are trusted to behave themselves. Being in the center of orcish territory is no excuse for lax security. Aside from the possibility of attack from quilboar, harpies, or even human raiders, there is a much darker threat whispered about in the conversations of local orcs. The orcs are reluctant to speak of it, but many believe that some among their number have returned to demonic masters. Such an act, which undermines all that the Horde has fought for, is regarded as a deadly insult to the orcish race. The authorities in Razor Hill work to ensure that the demon cults will not gain any kind of foothold in the area, and they accept the task with relish.
Looming canyon walls flank both sides of the road north of Razor Hill. Crude paths wind up the walls at regular intervals, leading up to ledges or small caverns. They exist to provide shelter against flash floods. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is the length of the canyon, which does not end until four-and-a-half days away from town.
Central Durotar is a maze of treacherous gulches and cliffs, all manners of danger lurking in their recesses. In the first years of Durotar’s colonization, the Harpy Queen known as Bloodfeather led the assorted matriarchies in a war against the orcs. Bloodfeather had been slain by Rexxar, the Champion of the Horde, but the tenacious Dustwind Matriarchy continued to plague unguarded travelers and caravans taking the canyon road. Further police actions by orcish warriors drove the Dustwind harpies deep into the winding passages of Razorwind Canyon, but signs suggest that they are returning to their old hunting grounds. While it is unlikely that the harpies are numerous enough to pose a threat to Razor Hill, travelers are advised to exercise caution. Failing that, they are told to demonstrate the might of the Horde to any harpy foolish enough to attack.
No harpies troubled me on my journey. Orgrimmar sends a constant stream of goods and warriors down to Razor Hill in order to strengthen the orcish presence in central Durotar. A fair amount of traffic is commercial in nature. Though difficult for humans to conceive, the orcs are quite familiar with commerce. Demonic corruption squelched their mercantile instincts, but the ancient orcs would trade and barter with each other and the draenei. Nothing resembling a merchant class arose until Thrall established the new Horde.
I met an orcish warrior woman named Kadra Stormblade two days after leaving Razor Hill. A Redeye warrior, she was one of the first orcs sent to Tarren Mill, where she earned honor fighting off human partisans. Her efforts helped bring security to Tarren Mill, and the pack elders told her to go back to Durotar in order to train new warriors. Her time in old Lordaeron made her comfortable around the Forsaken.
“None of the Forsaken thought it odd that an orcish woman would raise her sword in anger. But some of the orcs think it very strange,” she said.
“Is this the first time that women could become warriors?”
“Not exactly. On Draenor, before the corruption, many women were skilled in the ways of war. Usually they stayed in the villages to defend the young and infirm against enemies, but there are many stories of warrior-wives charging into battle alongside the menfolk. Nash’dra the Swift is one of the great ancestor spirits; they say she stood on top of a mountain of dead ogres at the end of a day’s battle.”
“But this stopped after the demonic influence?”
“Then, they treated us like chattel. Even before the corruption, a woman’s status was tied to her husband’s. If he were a warrior, then she could also fight. If he were a peon or a shaman, she existed to serve him. That is again the state of our world.”
“There were no female shamans before the corruption?”
“There were a few, and they could select fine warriors as mates. But they were the only exception to the rule.”
“Do women warriors have to be married to other warriors?”
“I am not married. I am expected to one day marry another warrior.”
“You could not marry a peon?”
“There is no law saying I can’t, but my elders would frown on it. Marrying a peon would place me above my husband, and then they would all forget my skill with the sword and think of me as a wife who has forgotten her place,” Kadra sighed.
“Do you think that most orcs have taken Thrall’s beliefs to heart?”
“Some have. Some have not. Many say they share his beliefs, but in their hearts they hunger for power. In truth, I have felt very confused ever since I returned to Durotar. I liked many things about the Forsaken. Maybe you take it for granted, but I had never seen a group where skill was all that mattered. No one cared about what a Forsaken was in life. But humans, living ones, aren’t like that, are they?”
“Humans have a stratified society as well, though it is different from the orcs'. A peasant can conceivably do quite well in life, if he has skill, luck, and perseverance. Better than a peon could do. At the same time, most humans still believe in noble bloodlines. I’m happy to say that the nobility has been in decline for centuries. You know what nobles are, correct?”
“I do. Some of the Forsaken complained about how useless the nobles were in life,” she laughed.
“Nobility is an astonishingly obnoxious institution,” I agreed.
“Orcs will never have nobles. It’s silly to have them; the child of a great warrior could easily be weak, or a coward. Orcs are not like humans, living or undead. And I do not think we can or should ever be like the Forsaken. Though I admire much about the Forsaken, I was disturbed by the selfishness I saw in many of them.”
“It is a problem among my kind. The Forsaken work together only because they have common goals.”
“You speak wisely of your people. Even at Tarren Mill, many of the Forsaken bore no real love for each other, or for the visiting Horde warriors.”
“When I was in Tarren Mill I saw several examples of companionship between orc and Forsaken.”
“Some did. The Deathguard tends to be more accepting, perhaps because they too are warriors. But the common people did not give me any special honor, even after I fought to defend them against the humans! A Forsaken blacksmith, who had never wielded an ax in either life or death, sneered at warriors who demanded that he repair their equipment. He charged us, and worse, treated us no better than he would a peasant. I could not believe it!”
Clearly, Kadra and I had come to different interpretations of the same events in Tarren Mill. I saw Forsaken and orcs working together in relative harmony and even camaraderie. She, on the other hand, felt appalled by what she saw as arrogance among the noncombatants. Hypothetically speaking, if the blacksmith she spoke of were still human, he would have certainly not charged her any more than he would the normal garrison troops. Likewise, he would have been deferential to her. For most orcs, that would be enough, though others might expect servile behavior. Unfortunately, the blacksmith chose to adopt the selfishness common to many Forsaken.
“The Forsaken do not think of themselves as a true nation, I think,” she continued. “They work together only to kill their common enemy. But once the Scourge is gone, and the Alliance defeated, what will happen to them? No honor keeps them together!”
“I do not know what will happen. Forsaken groups like the Apothecarium and the Defilers have a greater sense of cohesion, though they are exceedingly unethical. I suspect that they will only be able to create unity as long as they are able to fulfill their desire for vengeance.”
“Why do the Forsaken hold so much hatred? They are very similar, I think, to the orcs of the Old Horde.”
“We hate because we were robbed of our lives and hunted by those who once called themselves our friends and family. The physical qualities of undeath cause discomfort and physical alienation. I cannot truly describe it; no one can.” I felt a dull anger, but suppressed it. Her question had been a fair one, after all.
“From where you see it, do you think the orcs will become more like humans and Forsaken? Selfish, and without respect to the old ways?” she asked.
“I would not think so, if for no other reason that the orcs are an entirely different species. If an undead state similar to my own was inflicted upon orcs, I imagine they would still not be the same as the Forsaken. I do believe that there is a degree of liberalization in current orcish society, but that hardly means it will become a copy of the human nations. That is simply my theory though. I’m hardly an expert.”
“Thank you. The human ancestor spirits do not seem to care about the human race very much. But the orcish ancestors expect us to make them proud, to continue the ways of honor. If we ever did become like the humans, they would abandon us, and we would die.”
“But you do support Thrall’s measures?”
“I do. Change is to be sought as long as we maintain honor. Our Warchief will not lead us astray, and the shamans will listen to the spirits. I myself do not know exactly what changes should be made, but I am still learning of our world. Maybe one day in the future I will know, and can impart my wisdom to my people.”
Kadra’s story about orcish warrior women underscored the fact that most of Thrall’s reforms are traditional rather than radical. Many of the new Horde’s policies are an attempt to return to the old ways and wipe out the cultural deviations that existed under demonic influence.
Not all of the reforms are so conservative in nature. More knowledgeable orcs usually admit that there is a degree of human influence in modern orcish society. Some observers overstate this fact; the orcs had already begun to use agriculture and currency before they ever came to Azeroth (in those areas, some influence may have come from the draenei). Thrall’s system of written law, his prohibition of blood feuds, and the standardization of the Orcish alphabet are all elements borrowed from humanity. The Orcish alphabet is a prime example of such, containing letters adopted from the Common alphabet.
I still doubt that orcish society will ever become a duplication of the human nations. The differences between orc and human go much deeper than culture. Much like the night elves or gnomes, the orc psyche is fundamentally different. Orcs are, by nature, more aggressive than humans. Perhaps as a natural counterbalance, they also tend towards a more communal mindset, though the concept of individualism existed (to varying degrees) in orcish culture long before their arrival on this world. The rules of honor play a vital role for orcs and their society would probably collapse without it. Similarly, there must also be an outlet of some kind for aggression. The current state of conflict in the world gives an easy outlet, but it remains to be seen how the orcs will react to a time of peace. With the Burning Legion and the Scourge threatening existence itself, such a time may never arrive.
The two of us reached a small roadside cemetery five days north of Razor Hill. At the time of Durotar’s founding, the region around the graveyard played host to several pitched battles against quilboar and harpies. Orcs built the cemetery to house the remains of the warriors who perished in those conflicts. The gravestones are large and uncarved pieces of rock. Implements and totems decorate the areas around each grave, mostly as symbolic gestures. In many cases, a small memento (such as a finger bone or tooth) is taken from the corpse and preserved by the family. This remnant is believed to facilitate communion with the spirit of the fallen.
Personal graves are exclusively for warriors and shamans. Peons are buried in unmarked lots, usually in spots of some spiritual significance. Those areas are often furnished with emblems of family and village, in order to collectively honor the dead peons. Though not warriors, they are still ancestors and thus considered worthy of a respect not necessarily granted in life.
Kadra stopped at a grave marker at the edge of the site. A spear leaned against the stone, and a grisly pile of quilboar skulls rested on the mound. A name was painted on the gravestone, reading “Skol the Spearman, Warrior of the Bleeding Hollow Clan, Slayer of Quilboar, Honorable Orc of the Horde, Son of Grol, Grandson of Skurd.”
“This is the grave of my father. A pack of the pig-men ambushed him, while he was on patrol with other warriors. They say he killed five of them before he fell,” said Kadra.
“How old were you when he died?”
“Merely ten. In truth, I did not know him well. His spirit was nearly crushed by the human camps, and I do not recall him saying more than a few words to me until Thrall freed us. He was born anew when that happened, and taught me a bit about honor before he died. His was a good death.”
Kadra whispered what sounded like a prayer and then took out a small, sharp knife. With it, she slit her left palm, and spread the blood across her hand. Then she pressed her open hand onto the dirt.
“I do this to show that his blood lives on, that he has not been forgotten.”
She stood in silence for a few minutes longer. The sky above turned a soft amber color as the sun sank to the west, and a warm wind rushed across the desert. The only sounds came from the wind and the rustling fronds of a nearby palm tree. Finally, we left and headed north to Orgrimmar, the mighty capital of the Horde.