Monday, October 22, 2007
The transition from the Barrens to Mulgore is a subtle one. Walking down the sloping road, one sees patches of green in the dried and yellow fields all around. Clusters of pale yellow flowers grow amidst the grass, and the stunted trees of the Barrens give way to towering pines and firs. Five days west of Camp Taurajo, I looked out to see a majestic green sward all around me, and I knew that I had arrived in the tauren homeland.
I had taken a wyvern flight to leave Orgrimmar, as I did not wish to tramp through Durotar and the Barrens a second time. Some have said that wyverns dislike carrying the undead, but if this is the case my mount was too professional to show it. For two weeks we soared in the warm air above eastern Kalimdor, surveying the harsh and magnificent desolation below. It was always a thrill when High Hope (the wyvern) spotted a gazelle on the ground below and swooped down for a well-deserved meal.
I spent only one night in Camp Taurajo before setting off to Mulgore. The living often need a few days to recuperate from a long flight, but I do not suffer from that disadvantage.
The tauren believe that the Earthmother created the world out of the Mists of Dawn, in an era they call the Time Before Time. In that blessed age, the tauren roamed the plains in peace with the spirits. The legends dealing with the Time Before Time are primarily explanations of the natural world: why the snake has no legs, for instance. Some of these stories show a remarkably sophisticated insight into the workings of Kalimdor’s ecology.
Then, dark entities beneath the earth told the tauren of wickedness, and some fell under their sway. The Earthmother blinded Herself in grief, casting Her eyes (An’she, the sun and Mu’sha, the moon) into the sky. Yet, ever the loving mother, She still listens to the prayers of Her children.
Legends differ on accounts of what happened to the tauren that fell to corruption. Some say they were struck down so that they could not hurt anyone else. Conversely, they may have been forgiven and cleansed by the Earthmother. Others maintain that they degenerated into lesser beings like quillboar. The more conservative tauren tribes say that the wayward tauren of old became dwarves, humans, elves, or even trolls.
The Time Before Time gave way to the Age of Memory, when the tauren learned the ways of survival. It is there that the myths first mention Cheyowattuck, a demigod who was a combination of tauren and stag, and taught the early tauren the arts of druidism. The druids of Thunder Bluff make a convincing case for Cheyowattuck being the same entity as the fallen Cenarius. However, many tauren disagree with this notion, believing that Cenarius was an imposter or child of Cheyowattuck, and that the real Cheyowattuck still lives.
The myths of the Age of Memory (which can be divided into the Time of the Hunt, the Time of Strife, and the current Time of Peace) are collectively referred to as the Hunters' Cycle. Such stories usually deal with the folk heroes of the various tribes. It is also when Mulgore is first described as a specific region. Some accounts place the entirety of the Barrens as being a part of Mulgore, though nearly all are content with the current geographical boundaries.
At some point, the centaurs ravaged their way into the tauren homeland. Tauren histories are impossibly vague in regards to exact dates, and the Kaldorei records say little of the horse-men. It is not even clear if the centaurs attacked before or after the Sundering. Regardless of the of the centaurs' origins, they visited great woe upon the tauren and rendered much of Mulgore uninhabitable. It was not until the arrival of the orcs that the tauren were able to reclaim their magnificent homeland.
I walked through Mulgore for three days without encountering anyone, hearing only the wind as it rustled through the verdant grasses. The sky in Mulgore is crystalline in its clarity, as great and boundless as the firmament above the Barrens, but without the dust and haze.
Towards the end of the fourth day I did spot a cloud of dust at the edge of the horizon, growing with the setting of the sun. I soon saw that it came from a small tribe of nomadic tauren. Great kodo beasts lumbered up the road, carrying collapsed tents and pulling supply wagons. Most of the tauren rested among their goods in the wagons, though the tribe’s braves were mounted on riding kodos. The tauren had suffered the attacks of the centaur for too long to let down their guard, even in Mulgore.
The caravan stopped when at some distance from me. Tauren clambered out of the wagons, pausing to help the elderly, infirm, and very young. The braves were already setting up shelters for the night. One of the braves remained mounted and rode towards me. He waved his hand in greeting, and I returned the gesture.
“Hail, traveler. Clearly the spirits have guided us to one another. Do you follow the spirits?”
“My understanding of the spirits is limited, but I follow them to the best of my ability.”
“Then we shall consider you a guest.” Like many nomadic societies, the tauren place a premium on hospitality.
“You have my gratitude.”
“We are the Whitefeather Tribe. From which tribe do you hail?” He paused, before speaking again in a less formal tone. “I’m assuming you are Forsaken. However, we always ask.”
“You would be correct. My name is Destron Allicant. May I ask yours?”
“I am Tondalo Whitefeather, of the Stonehoof family.”
“Do tauren take the tribal name as a surname, rather than the family name?” I asked. He seemed a bit surprised by the question.
“I see you are a curious one. That is often a good quality. You see, the individual is lesser than the family. After all, the family is made up of several individuals united by blood and honor. In turn, the family is lesser than the tribe. Everything I do is reflected on the tribe and family; I would insult those closest to me if I elevated my family above my tribe.”
“I see. What about the ancestor spirits though? Are they regarded as part of the tribe, or as part of the family?”
“It’s hard for me to explain that. Suffice to say that all ancestors are respected. All tauren agree that it would be prideful to only serve your own ancestors. I myself am merely the honored son of the Stonehoof family, though I am a fully-initiated brave in the Whitefeather Tribe. Oh, do you know what it means to be an honored son or daughter?”
“I do not. Please explain.”
“When a tauren comes of age, he or she embarks on the Great Hunt. Tauren in this stage are called suttaqua. The Great Hunt exists so that young tauren may fully understand the ways of their people, and their own place in this world. The Great Hunt is also a time to learn of tribes beyond one’s birth tribe. When a young tauren is visiting with other tribes, he or she may find a mate. It is not unheard of for a tauren to marry within his own tribe, but it is not common.
“Whether it happens during the suttaqua stage or afterwards, to marry someone of another tribe the tauren must prove himself to the people he seeks to marry into. If the attempt succeeds, the tauren is accepted as an honored child of this family. The tauren adopts the family name, for to do otherwise would be ungrateful. Then, and only then, may the marriage be conducted.”
“What of his birth tribe and family?”
“He shall continue to honor them by following the ways of the Earthmother. He will use the name of his birth family and tribe among those who know him. When meeting strangers, only the name of the adopted tribe is used.”
“I take it then than you originally came from a different tribe?”
“I did, though it would be improper for me to speak its name. I am, after all, a Whitefeather. If you really must know you can ask Chief Eyanak Whitefeather.”
“Only if you feel comfortable with me doing so.”
He shrugged, but looked doubtful. I elected to content myself with the mystery.
“Are all tauren married in this fashion?”
“Most, though not all. After all, if one does not find a mate in another tribe, that is no reason to not take a lover and bear progeny. We encourage every tauren to take a mate from a tribe besides their own, but it would be cruel and foolish to force the matter.”
"I see. I apologize if I've kept you from your duties."
“You have no need to apologize. If anything, I should be grateful to you for providing me an opportunity to relay the wisdom of those who came before us. The Whitefeather Tribe regards the Forsaken as the friend of a friend—namely the friend of the orcs—and you are welcome to stay with us. But you must respect our ways.”
“Of course. Thank you for inviting me.”
“It is the way of the tauren.” With that, he guided me into the camp. Word of my arrival spread quickly, and I was soon surrounded by curious tauren. Most had never before seen a Forsaken in the flesh, and only four of the tribe could speak any language besides Taurahe. Caution tempered their curiosity. Guest or not, I was still a rotting mockery of life and not part of the natural order so loved by the tauren.
The deep booms of tauren drums sounded out when the sun disappeared over the horizon. Barely audible over the percussion came the atonal singing of a tribal shaman.
“What is the purpose of this rite?” I asked Tondalo.
“To say farewell to An’she, the golden eye of the Earthmother. The sun, as you know it. Also it is a greeting for Mu’sha, Her silver eye, the moon. Mu’sha works harder than An’she, for Mu’sha must penetrate the darkness of night. This makes Mu’sha weary, so it must sometimes close itself. This is why some nights are moonless. Such nights are ill-omened, and the tauren do not hunt or conduct war during the moonless dark.”
The tauren observe ceremonies for nearly every natural and social event. There is not a single day that goes by without a ceremony of some kind. Soon after the Greeting of the Night, the folk of the Whitefeather Tribe gathered around roaring cook fires for dinners of dried kodo meat. Tondalo introduced me to his family. His adoptive mother and father were both present, as were his wife and younger brother-in-law.
Tondalo himself had three children, only two of whom were present. The eldest daughter was participating in the Great Hunt as a suttaqua. The Stonehoofs (the elder ones in particular) seemed a bit uncomfortable at my presence. I suppose having an ambulatory corpse as a dinner guest can be unnerving. I attempted to make myself unobtrusive. Later, I apologized to Tondalo for my disruption, though he insisted I had no reason to be sorry.
Drums picked up again as supper came to a close, starting as a slow and steady beat. Three spectral figures moved to the center of the camp in a sort of shuffling dance, raising their arms in the air in tempo with the beat. They were clearly tauren, though white feathers and brightly-dyed kodohide ornaments covered every inch of their bodies, even the horns and tails.
Upon reaching the middle of the camp the trio spread out in a circle, facing the assembled tribe, their movements quick and sharp like birds. The drums picked up the pace, and the dancers’ speed increased in time. The hollow whistle of a bone flute pierced the beat of the drums, distinct and complementary.
From the corner of my eye I saw a tauren, immense even by the standards of his race, stumble out of the crowd. He was dressed in a filthy fur robe and moved as if inebriated. This tauren approached the three dancers, his steps uncertain, and was rebuffed when he got too close. He then went towards the crowd, tripping on his robe and acting confused. The audience laughed at his antics, as if he were a court jester in old Lordaeron.
The drums beat faster and faster, becoming a constant stream of percussion. The robed tauren again approached the dancer, making pleading motions while they ignored him. He finally fell to the ground in dejection. Then the drums stopped, and all was silent, the air still with expectation. One of the dancers stepped out from the circle and produced a headdress of white feathers from within the costume. This headdress was placed on the robed tauren’s lowered head, who then rose to his feet and bowed to the dancers.
The drums returned, booming slow and solemn as the dancers retreated into the darkness. The newly crowned tauren stood to his full height and cast off his robe, revealing a magnificent vest of decorated kodohide and feathers. Then he too walked away.
Tondalo explained what I had just seen.
“It was a reenactment of our first chief, Kittemuck Whitefeather. He was entranced by a beautiful air spirit while he was on the Great Hunt, and pleaded that she become his mate. For years he tried, enduring trials and humiliation until he was delirious from hunger and exhaustion. At last the spirit and her sisters took pity on him, and gave him a chieftain’s headdress as consolation. They told him to treat his people with the same dedication and love that he had shown them.”
“How long ago did this happen?”
“Who can say? It is not important. The current chieftain of the Whitefeather always plays the part of Kittemuck in the story. The one you saw, stumbling about like a fool, was none other than Eyanak Whitefeather.”
“I find it interesting that the chieftain would not object to other tauren laughing at him,” I commented cautiously.
“They laugh at both him, and at Kittemuck. How could it be any other way? A chieftain must not become proud. The tribe does not exist to serve him; he is only the first among equals. That is the importance of the story. The chieftain must not forget that he is only one. And we must not forget that even a lowly tauren can become great.”
“That is very wise,” I said.
I took leave from the Whitefeather camp the next morning. They were headed to the southeastern Barrens, where they traditionally hunted during the autumn and winter. I thanked Tondalo, and wished him good fortune.
Three more days through the open prairie brought me to Bloodhoof Village. Contrary to what its name may imply, Bloodhoof Village is not the ancestral or current home of the Bloodhoof Tribe (though many of that tribe do live there). It is named in the honor of Cairne Bloodhoof, the High Chieftain of the United Tauren Tribes. After the tauren’s epic victory over the centaur in the Battle of the Red Rocks, the great shamans reported a vision telling them to set up a permanent village in honor of the Bloodhoof Tribe. As it was with the permission of the spirits, Chieftain Bloodhoof could accept without seeming arrogant.
The founding of the village was indeed a momentous occasion, being the very first permanent tauren settlement built in an unprotected area. As little as ten years ago, Bloodhoof Village’s location would have doomed it. Now it thrives, acting as one of the end points in the Bloodhoof—Crossroads trade route. As is often the case with tauren villages, there is a large transient population. Wandering tribes set up shop in Bloodhoof Village for a little while, trade, and then depart. The Whitefeather Tribe had done that shortly before my arrival.
The tauren have even adopted a limited degree of agriculture. Fields of wheat and corn grow on the edge of the village, and mills (built to resemble eagles, so as to respect the spirits of the air) grind the produce into flour. The agricultural area extends to encompass much of the southern bank of the great Stonebull Lake. I learned more about the farms from a tauren woman named Sanda Dawnstrider, who acted as a kind of agricultural shaman.
“After the Third War, the spirits of the earth gave us permission to grow things from the land. The spirits rankle under the weight of the great farms seen in the east, yet they knew that the armies of the Horde needed food and kodo beasts in order to conduct war against the Burning Legion.”
“Have they given you enough?”
“They are the spirits,” she shrugged. “Some land is untended and exists for kodo grazing. Other parts nurture the green spirits to produce corn and wheat.”
“Who owns it?”
“Uh... the Horde, effectively. The great tribes show their gratitude to the orcs by sending tauren to work on the farm for a season or so. No one tribe owns it, as the farm is for all the Horde.”
“Is it kept in good condition?” In any human city, areas held in common usually fall to bad upkeep. Sanda gave me a strange look.
“Why wouldn’t it be? It is a gift from the Earthmother to the Horde. Tauren work there to help our braves and the warriors of the other Horde races. It would be terrible to let it fall to ruin.”
“I apologize, I was merely curious. Are the workers paid in honor? Or do they get material goods?”
“They are paid some money, which they can then turn in for goods at the trade tent. Most tauren do not use coins. A copper disc is of scant value in the real world. Our way involves bartering, which is fair for both parties.”
The tauren concern for the natural balance does not always sit well with the other races of the Horde. One critic of the policy was Rodok Blackspear. Rodok was an old, foul-tempered orc who had lost his right arm and eye in the Third War. He stayed in Bloodhoof Village as a Horde representative.
“The spirits must be respected, but they are not our masters. The tauren must learn to be stronger, to not be so timid in regards to the spirits. The orcish ancestors would laugh at us if we acted that way!” he fumed.
The farm laborers themselves place great import on their work, despite the fact that they are only paid a pittance. Some of the younger ones have become quite fond of money.
“Money is good, I think. After a week of work I am paid a silver piece, and I can use this any way I please. The spirits of the shining metals give great freedom to those who serve them,” said an enthusiastic farmhand named Heon Dawnstrider. He was not related to Sanda; they were merely of the same tribe.
Agriculture has the potential to completely overturn tauren society. Their strict adherence to custom may worsen the effect. That said, it is possible that agriculture may never really take hold of the tauren. Even if it does, there is no reason to think the tauren would then develop along the lines of human or orcish societies. The tauren are inherently less selfish and more conservative than the other races. They are almost the polar opposite of the goblins. The close bond that the tauren share with the spirits is another factor, one for which I still have so little knowledge that I cannot make any prediction with confidence.
I arrived in Bloodhoof Village a day after the arrival of the Timberhorn Tribe, a small tribe that travels between Stonebull Lake and the Windfury Ridge to the north. The Timberhorn laid out their camp east of Bloodhoof. Many of their people spent time in the village proper, sampling the wares, making new friends, and reconnecting with old ones.
On the second day I met a young tauren mother taking her little son through Bloodhoof Village. The child’s left leg was misshapen, and he could only walk with great difficulty. I wondered how the disabled fared in tauren society. Nomadic people seldom show kindness to those who cannot keep up. The humans of ancient Arathor were particularly brutal in such a regard, just as the modern orcs ostracize such individuals.
To find out more, I asked an old tauren woman who lived in Bloodhoof. Her name was Ahja Bloodhoof, and she held an esteemed position in village life, regarded as being particularly wise.
“The orcs are a great people, young Destron, but they are different from us and sometimes let their warrior spirit get the better of them. All tauren life is a blessing. To leave behind one of these little ones for mental or bodily weakness, which after all they did not choose, would be to insult the Earthmother and the ancestors in the worst possible way,” she explained. We sat in a brightly decorated tent, drinking strong Mulgore tea.
“Does this cause a problem for the tribe? Do not the weakened take more resources than they can give, or slow down the tribe? Please do not think I am criticizing; your way is right. I am simply wondering.”
“Ease your soul, Destron. I can sense you are a curious one, and I will not grow angry at you for asking questions. First, one never knows what a tauren might someday give. Perhaps the spirit of a great shaman lives within a twisted body. The tribe must take care of its own. It is better for us to die together than to live alone.”
“Are disabled tauren allowed to marry?”
“Assuming that children can come from a union, yes. It is sometimes harder for a weakened tauren to impress a mate, but it does happen. Love is stronger than a twisted hoof,” she smiled.
“Do they still participate in the Great Hunt?”
“The rules may be altered to better suit their abilities. We have special ceremonies and tasks for the weak.”
“So a tauren is always assured protection and belonging in the tribe?”
“No, not always. Those who transgress our ways must be chastised. Unity is our strength. We are loathe to do it, but a tribe may even expel one of its members for a particularly heinous crime.”
“What happens in such an event?”
“The exile is cast out from the tribe. The horns are etched with the markings of pride. His spirit will never join the honored ancestors, and he will exist forevermore as a mournful ghost upon the winds. As I said, we do not wish to do this. But in the event of a murder, or certain kinds of blasphemy, it is the only answer.”
“What happens to the exile’s family?”
“As long as they had nothing to do with the exile’s transgression they are not punished. But they may not help him in any way. They will be killed if they do.”
Roiling black clouds loomed over Mulgore the next day. A fierce, blustery wind sliced its way down from the north, bringing flecks of precipitation. The entire village came alive, tauren retrieving goods from the outdoors and taking them into the tents.
“Have you seen a Mulgore storm before, Forsaken?” asked a burly tauren hunter.
“Then you are in for a fine time! After today, the greatest eastern storm will seem like a summer breeze!”
In the distance I heard the rumble of thunder, as if nature was backing up the tauren’s claim.
Though the kodohide tents are more than adequate protection, I took shelter in the Bloodhoof inn, which is made of stout timber. Calling it an inn is a bit of a misnomer; it might be more accurately termed a guest house, as there is no charge for staying.
The rain crashed down on the roof of the inn, water hitting wood with the force of a hammer. Some of the tauren inside let out cheers when the storm first broke. The inn soon became a warm, cozy place for the tauren to speak and rest while rain and lightning lashed the world outside. I rested my bones next to a flickering brazier near the back of the inn, content to watch the happiness that was all around.
A matronly tauren sat near me accompanied by five children. One of them was an orc, whose parents were accompanying some braves on a scouting mission. The orcish boy’s eyes looked alarmed by the fierce storm, though he did an admirable job of concealing his worry.
“Mother Timberhorn, the lightning will not hit this inn, will it?” he finally asked.
“Fear not, young Trag. We are all safe here.”
“But what is protecting us?”
“The great totem poles all over the village. Do you know the story Proud Arrow and Swift Lightning?”
“I do not.”
“Then I shall tell it to you. Once, in the Time Before Time, there was a great archer of the earth spirits named Proud Arrow. All that walked respected his skill with his fearful copper-headed arrows. It is said that he could fire ten of his arrows before the first had even hit its target.”
“Wow!” gasped Trag.
“But he grew proud and careless. Proud Arrow began to shoot down the eagles, beloved of the storm spirits. This angered the great Chieftain of the Air and he sent his son Swift Storm to speak with Proud Arrow. Swift Storm rode in on a kodo made of storm clouds, and spoke in the roar of thunder. ‘Why do you poach the eagles? Are you not satisfied with the beasts of earth?’
“Proud Arrow laughed, and said: ‘I have hunted all the beasts of the earth, and there are none that can escape my arrows. I searched the sky in hopes of finding better quarry, but so far I have been disappointed.’
“This only made Swift Storm angry. He shined so brightly that even Proud Arrow was frightened, though only for a little while. ‘Very well then, son of the Chieftain of the Earth. Let us have a contest. In two days we shall meet on this field, to see who is truly the best archer. Our quarry shall be the pebbles of the field: whoever of us can strike the most between sunrise and sunset shall be the victor.’ And with that, Swift Storm departed.
“Over the next two days, Swift Storm danced with the other spirits of the air and communed with the Earthmother. Proud Arrow spent this time boasting of his skill, until even the Chieftain of the Earth began to hope Proud Arrow would lose the contest.
“Finally, the great day came, and Proud Arrow met with Swift Storm on the barren fields when it was still dark. When An’she, the glorious golden eye of the Earthmother, peeked over the eastern horizon, the two opponents set off! Proud Arrow’s arms moved faster than whirlwinds as he fired arrow after arrow into the sky. No one before or since had ever seen a single archer unleash such a great volley. In seconds, hundreds of his copper arrows soared free, and fell to the miniscule pebbles below, each one sure to hit.
“Proud Arrow laughed, thinking his skill would scare off Swift Storm. Then the sky filled with a terrible brightness and thunder, so strong that Proud Arrow’s left eye was blinded and his left ear deafened. For Swift Storm had responded with arrows of his own, carried on shafts of lightning. The lightning struck down each of Proud Arrow’s projectile’s before they even hit the ground. In fact the lightning arrows had broken right through the copper arrows, striking the pebbles below.
“Proud Arrow fell to his knees and begged forgiveness. Swift Storm, who was wise as well as skilled, granted it. Yet ever after, when Swift Storm sees metal, particularly copper, he strikes it with his arrows of lightning. And you see, whenever the tauren make camp, they raise up a great copper rod, sheathed in wood. That way, the lightning of the storm will hit the metal and run harmlessly into the ground.”
“What happened to Proud Arrow?” interjected Trag.
“He became wiser and humbler. But he would always be fearful, which is why copper is a weak metal. His arrows were no longer so great, which is why we now make our weapons out of iron. Now do you know why we need not fear the lightning, so long as the storm is placated with copper?”
“Yes. Thank you, wise one.”
Lightning rods are immeasurably valuable in a place as storm-prone as Mulgore. That the tauren invented it independently (in the east it was invented by the gnomes, and quickly spread) is another sign of the race’s surprising knack for engineering.
I must confess that seeing the closeness of the sheltering tauren filled me with an embarrassing level of jealousy and rage. Though I strive to distance myself from the base emotions that afflict so many Forsaken, I am not strong enough to completely avoid them. The tauren gathered in that warm hall had a powerful spirit of community, one stronger than the Forsaken will ever know. Over the course of the day I began to slip into a cold rage directed towards all that lives. I again felt the desire I had upon awakening, to inflict my suffering upon the innocent, whose comparatively joyous lives appeared to mock me.
I realized the dangers of such an attitude, and took steps to correct it. The storm continued on to the next day and I volunteered to go outside and ensure that everything was in order. Labor returned me to a more stable frame of mind. I must still ask the reader’s forgiveness for this lapse.
The storm ended abruptly in the late afternoon. The rain ceased, and the skies soon cleared, treating the people of Mulgore to a glorious sunset, the rosy light reflected upon the glimmering prairie.
It is difficult for one accustomed to the tidy farmlands of old Lordaeron to accept the vastness of Kalimdor. Though the Barrens are much larger than Mulgore, the latter’s verdant plains and clear skies create an achingly majestic tableau. I could almost sense the Earthmother’s gentle gaze upon my own desiccated form.
The tauren revere and respect nature. They do not (as some naive humans claim) regard it as a steadfast friend. The tauren are ultimately a pragmatic race. They seek to maintain their harmonious existence with nature because they are obligated to it. After all, the Earthmother (who essentially is nature) gave them life. Yet every tauren child knows that terrible suffering that can be inflicted by wild animals and natural disasters. The tauren are far too wise to regard nature as benevolent. While the Earthmother loves them, they must still work to survive.
The Kodo Run is one of the most important events in tauren culture. It is not a scheduled event, and it has been said that some tauren go their entire lives without seeing one. As the Kodo Run is essentially a mass hunt, it is only undertaken when the population of wild kodo becomes too great. Even then, it must first be approved by the local shamans, who will meditate on the matter for three days and three nights.
A number of tribes (always at least two, but never more than four) gather in an area where a kodo herd will arrive. At the right time, a number of hunters from each tribe go out to harry the kodo and separate some from the herd. These unfortunate beasts are then driven off a precipice. The tauren immediately set out to make use of the corpses; when they are done, only the hearts are left behind, buried deep into the earth.
I found myself riding among the Timberhorn Tribe, who were to take part in a Kodo Run along with the Skychaser Tribe, both tribes headed to the boundless Golden Plains in northern Mulgore. I had asked Chief Kono Timberhorn for permission to witness the Kodo Run, and was astonished that he allowed it. I could watch the hunters take part in the Kodo Run, so long as I did not touch any of the beasts
My companion for the week-long journey to the north was Tehat Timberhorn, a hunter and the patriarch of the large Whitehoof family. Tehat was much more worldly than most tauren, and was able to explain why I was allowed to come.
“The Timberhorn were nearly all dead when the orcs came, our greatest warriors slain by centaurs and quillboar. We, more than any other tribe, owe our existence to the Horde. When the call came for warriors to defend the Forsaken town of Tarren Mill, many Timberhorn stepped forward, myself included,” he explained.
“You have my thanks. Did none of you feel doubt about helping the living dead?”
“We certainly did. But it would have been the worst pride to set ourselves above our allies. Though we may not always agree, we are part of the same Horde. We could not allow our allies to be destroyed. So twelve great Timberhorn hunters sailed the Great Sea. Seven of us returned, wiser than before. I have no regrets, and though some Forsaken disturb me, there are others that I regard as friends. Perhaps I will be able to count you among that number.”
“I would be honored.”
“I say truly that none of us would have returned had it not been for the efforts of Deathguard Murdren Fletcher. My tribesmen were scouting the area near Tarren Mill and we took shelter in a barn. A pack of human soldiers found us. Deathguard Fletcher saved our lives, risking his own existence to ensure we returned safely. Later on he saved my life again, though he died in the process. I honor his spirit, as do all of the Timberhorn.”
The Timberhorn Tribe took a brief detour to the Red Rocks in order to pay their respects to the tauren warriors who died in the founding of Mulgore. The Mulgore campaign is an oft-overlooked theater of the Third War, though it was instrumental in the shaping of modern Kalimdor. Only around a third of the tauren tribes sent warriors to the Battle of Mt. Hyjal. The other tribes had not yet encountered the orcs, though some were at least aware of their existence.
What was undeniable was that Thrall’s early battles against the centaurs in the Barrens had sent the savage horse-men in retreat. The tauren tribes, the Grimtotem foremost among them, rushed in to fill the gap. The millennia of persecution suffered by the tauren fueled them in their relentless attacks against the centaur. Their rage culminated in the Battle of the Red Rocks, fought only a week before the Battle of Mt. Hyjal.
Tauren forces swept into Mulgore from the north and south. The centaurs of the Magram and Gelkis clans (who were then the dominant forces in Mulgore) retreated to the hillside fastness of the Red Rocks. The centaurs sacrificing their mobility was an inconceivably stupid blunder, and it would cost them the war.
The Battle of the Red Rocks lasted for two days, though it was more accurately a steady series of bloody skirmishes fought in the area. At the end, when tauren braves cast down the last centaur banner, the Red Rocks more than lived up to their name. The victors celebrated but also retrieved the bodies of the dead tauren and placed them on the elevated tombs customary to their race. Today, the spot is covered in these tombs. The flesh has long since rotted but replicas remain on many of the platforms, consisting of decorated kodohide skins stuffed with scented herbs and the bones of the fallen. Perhaps as many as a third of the bodies are of the Grimtotem Tribe.
I kept my distance from the Red Rocks at the Timberhorn Tribe’s request. I did witness the tribe leaving offerings and conducting rituals to honor the dead. All tauren revere the site, even those tribes like the Timberhorn that did not take part in the battle.
I found it peculiar that the Red Rocks were not defended against interlopers. Many tauren believe that the spirits of the fallen are greater than any earthly defense. Tehat voiced doubts about this belief, but he was in the minority.
As the tribe marched across the Golden Plains, Tehat asked me many questions about the Eastern Kingdoms. His relatively brief time there had served to pique his curiosity and he was fascinated by the history of the human kingdoms. Tehat found it amazing that the humans were able to survive despite the endless conflict that pitted them against each other. In turn, he answered some of my questions about the relationship between the tauren and spirits. I did not understand why the tauren had such an exclusive deal with the spirits of nature. Tauren society was and is largely dependent on their dealings with the spirits, but this is not true for the other races. The humans, elves, gnomes, and most dwarves are unaware or indifferent to the spirits. Even the orcs and trolls are more distant from the spirits than are the tauren.
“I myself have pondered this. Among all shamanistic races, the shaman is an intermediary between the people and the spirits. The shaman asks questions, so that the will of the spirits may be known, and explains the needs of the tribe to spirits. For instance, an orc or troll that shows awareness of the spirits will become a shaman. Other orcs and trolls do not have the same awareness. But we, the Shu’halo, the tauren, are different. For all tauren are aware.”
“In what sense do you mean aware? Could not someone who has just seen a shaman in action be considered aware?”
“I am not referring to seeing the spirits when they are made manifest. Some human mages—Forsaken, more accurately—told me of how mages have a sixth sense. That they can somehow feel the existence of magic. The tauren are the same way with spirits. I do not think there is any way to adequately explain it to someone who does not have this awareness. When you look out upon these plains, you probably see grass and earth. When a tauren sees the Golden Plains, he can sense the great work of the Earthmother. How the spirits of life nestle in the living earth, nurtured by rain brought by the spirits of sky and water. Most orcs and trolls cannot see this; no humans or dwarves can. Perhaps they were once able to do so, but the spirits hid themselves from their eyes, for they were not appreciative enough.”
“Then what differentiates a regular tauren from a shaman?”
“The shaman is trained to be even more aware. Not all trolls and orcs can become shamans; nearly all tauren have this capability. Of course, only the most able actually reach this position. Still, all have the potential. The shaman is not just aware of the spirits: he can speak with them and understand them as well.”
“I see. Normal tauren cannot speak with the spirits?”
“Speak, no. Though in cases where the land has suffered great abuse, the spirits will be so outraged that this anger will be noticeable to all tauren. Particularly sensitive tauren may even feel a kind of rage. The pain of the Earthmother is also our pain, just as no child can ever allow its mother to suffer.”
“Is the Earthmother the greatest of the spirits?”
“Ah, in a sense. You see, all things have spirits. A single tree has its own spirit. Just as a tree is a part of nature, perhaps a reflection of the larger natural world, the spirit of that tree is a reflection of the Earthmother.”
“The Earthmother is the collective force of all spirits?”
“No, no. Not quite. My apologies; the tauren often have difficulty explaining this. The Earthmother is all around us. The spirits reflect Her, but are not Her. Do you understand me?”
“I think so. I know that animals have spirits, but what of sentient beings? Are they also reflections of the Earthmother?”
“They become so upon death, when they travel to the spirit world. While we live, we are in some ways farther from the Earthmother than the kodo beast or pine tree.”
“Why then, did the Earthmother create the tauren?”
“The spirits are both part of Her, and separate from Her. She does not have the same bond with the spirits; if She did, it would basically be selfish and contrary to the ideals of the Earthmother. Love is for the tribe, or the community. Thus She created the tauren, that there might be those whom She could love.”
Among humans, the idea that the spirits were both part of but separate from the Earthmother is a paradox that would invariably create schisms. It also seems contradictory to legends that involve spirits like Proud Arrow and Swift Storm quarreling with each other. The tauren are content to accept the mystery. I pressed Tehat for more information about this paradox, and he responded by saying that it was unknowable and ultimately unimportant. What matters is that the Earthmother does exist, and does love the tauren.
Most evidence suggests that the tauren connection with nature is biological, rather than psychological or cultural. Perhaps then, seeing themselves within the larger whole of nature has given rise to their fundamentally communal and conservative society. Without a doubt, the tauren tribe is a social unit of incredible strength. The spirits can also provide resources that other races must work to attain through physical or arcane means. At the same time, such a rigid outlook may become a significant hindrance for the tauren in the future.
Having two tribes rendezvous at the right time and place in the vastness of the Golden Plains is a rather daunting task. To get around this, the tribal shamans communicated with one another by sending messages through the spirits of the air. The two tribes met on the third morning after the Timberhorn departed the Red Rocks. Both tribes spent the rest of the day in a variety of solemn rituals. Tauren braves donned kodohide robes and marched in a slow procession, chanting words of sorrow. This was to provide a sort of funeral for the spirits of the kodo beasts.
I actually did not see the kodo hunt. While the Timberhorn accept the Forsaken, the Skychaser Tribe does not. A Timberhorn shaman apologetically explained that he could not force the issue, though I would be permitted to see the aftermath. I agreed to stay behind as I did not wish to trouble my hosts, who had already been very accommodating.
The hunters departed in the dark of the early morning. The rest of the tribe remained with their wagons and tamed kodo, waiting for word of the hunt’s success. A feeling of eager anticipation filled the air. Shortly after noon, a young tauren spotted a ghostly wolf bounding across the plains, transforming into a tauren shaman upon reaching the camp. Like druids, shamans are also capable of shape-change, though shamans are limited to the form of a wolf. It is the only animal spirit with which the shamans have sufficient connection.
The shaman shouted out and the tribes cheered. The tauren immediately set off to the west, and I followed, soon seeing the bodies of at least 30 kodo beasts crumpled beneath a great cliff. Hunters stood in a circle around the bodies, chanting a haunting ode of respect. When they were done, the other tauren moved in to make use of the kill.
While such mass hunting may strike some as wasteful, the tauren use nearly every scrap of kodo available. To do less would be to dishonor the spirits and doom further hunts to failure. As I have mentioned, the tauren only conduct hunts at times when it does not upset the natural balance. Their inborn connection with nature may help them determine when such times arrive.
Tradition set aside the next two weeks for celebration, and I could not hope to catalogue all the ritual dances and songs conducted in that time. At the end of the second day, I stood at the edge of the Timberhorn camp, watching the sunset. There are few natural sights more spectacular than the setting sun as seen from Mulgore. The great sky turns into a brilliant canvas of red, pink, and yellow. I stood with Tehat and a few other braves. Tehat had been one of the hunters, and I congratulated him on his success.
“Someone approaches,” said Tehat. He pointed at a nearby hill where I could see the figure of a tauren shambling towards us, his steps slow and awkward.
“That’s not one of the hunters is it?” I asked.
“No. All of the hunters are in camp. I suppose that might be a suttaqua. Let us welcome him.”
We went towards the approaching tauren. Getting closer, I saw that he was in a miserable condition. His fur was filthy and matted, and his clothing in tatters. He muttered some Taurahe words in an exhausted and whimpering tone.
Tehat gasped, and lashed out with the butt of his spear, striking the stranger. The stranger collapsed, dark blood flying from his nostrils. Tehat struck again, while the other braves snarled.
“What’s happening?” I demanded.
Tehat yelled at the wretch and pointed to the wilderness beyond the light of the camp. The tauren slowly got up, still begging. A stone, thrown by one of the other braves, struck him in the eye. He wailed in pain and began to run away, mumbling and crying. I was stunned by the vicious reaction.
“That was an omokee. An exile,” hissed Tehat.
“One who has been expelled from the tribe?”
“Indeed. We could see by the markings on his horns. Doubtless he wished to partake of this feast. The exile’s sense of entitlement is sickening; for all their crimes, they see themselves as worthy to take from a hunter’s prize.”
“He looked hungry.”
“I’m sure he is. Just as I am sure he has done something terrible. Do not presume to judge us, Destron. That tauren you just saw was almost certainly a murderer or a traitor.”
“But how can you be sure?”
“Easily. He was exiled by his own tribe! The tauren are not like humans, who cast aside those anyone that they dislike. We only expel those who have done terrible deeds. The omokee have been abandoned by the spirits. Their crimes are evident in the etchings on their horns, and in their madness. Nearly all of them go insane, for tauren cannot live without spirits.”
“What will happen to him?”
“He will die, and forever haunt the winds of the lonely places. It is what he deserves.”
The communalism of the tauren has its dark side. While it is hard to be expelled from the tribe, those who become exiles are truly cursed. None give them a second chance, and most die of exposure. Just as Tehat had said, many are hopelessly mad. Sages have speculated that the individual tauren’s awareness of the spirits is facilitated by the communal soul of the tribe. Cut off from that, the spirits are beyond the reach of the omokee. There is no brutality too terrible for the exile to suffer, as he is outside of the community. The tauren are no more immune to cruelty than humans or orcs.