Monday, October 22, 2007

Thunder Bluff

In the dark times, when some tauren began to heed the evil whisperings that came from beneath the earth (or so the legend goes), Kana, the daughter of a great chieftain, sought out the Earthmother so that the tribes would be saved by Her grace. Kana was accompanied only by her three faithful animal companions: a cougar, an eagle, and a kodo.

Though the shamans could easily communicate with the spirits of the world (which is also the Earthmother) Kana wanted to speak directly with Her. Kana traveled for years until she finally reached the part of the world first created by the Earthmother. Kana and her friends remained there for five days and five nights, none of them speaking a word.

Moved to tears by her vigil, the Earthmother spoke to Kana. The spirits of the earth raised the ground on which Kana and her companions stood until they towered over the land. Then the Earthmother told the tauren princess that the tribes only needed to return to the ways of the ancestors. The Earthmother blessed Kana with an aura that would let all who heard her know that she spoke the truth.

The great mesas of Thunder Bluff (the central mesa and the three smaller ones around it) are a testament to Kana’s faith. As it is also the first part of the world created by the Earthmother (sung into being with Her voice of thunder), it is the holiest site of the tribes.

Entry to Thunder Bluff is provided by two great lifts, one on the north side of the Main Rise, and the other on the southeast. The lift is another example of clever tauren engineering. Each lift has a wooden compartment large enough to hold two fully burdened kodo. When passage to the mesa-top city is requested, a team of harnessed kodo in the city proper pull the compartment up via a stout rope. These kodo wear blinders at all times so that they do not become spooked. Kodo are fairly placid animals, but the extra precaution is wise.

Amazing though it is, the lifts underscore the fact that Thunder Bluff is not located in the most convenient location. There has been some talk about turning the great central tower (which contains a spiraling ramp that connects to the three levels of the Main Rise) into a zeppelin dock. The elders do not yet see any need for this, though I imagine that a zeppelin dock will become a necessity as Thunder Bluff grows in importance.

Thunder Bluff itself is more like a large trade meet than a real city. As was explained to me in rural Mulgore, Thunder Bluff has a very small permanent population, but is always crowded with visiting artisans who trade news and wares. The United Tauren Tribes do not levy any tax on peddlers. The only form of tax in the nation is a kind of work tax, which is expected rather than demanded. Tribes volunteer some of their people to join the Horde armies, or to work on infrastructure. Shirking this would be seen as shameful. Tauren society is still adapting to money, making normal taxes pointless.

Nakwa Windhorn was a young tauren woman who spent her days weaving packs and bags to sell to the travelers who daily pass through Thunder Bluff. Nakwa was a permanent resident of the city, as she was the daughter of an Honor Guard brave, the city’s elite defense force. As her surname indicated, she was of the same tribe as Shaya Windhorn, the shaman whom I had met in Camp Taurajo. Nakwa had met Shaya, but did not know her very well. The Windhorn Tribe is large enough to be split into two separate bands. Nakwa’s traditionally wanders the northern Barrens, while Shaya’s is in the south. However, a friend of Shaya’s was still considered a friend of the tribe. Nakwa invited me into her shop, a tent of beige kodohide decorated with traditional Windhorn patterns. She insisted on giving me tea, which I accepted.

“So you have lived in Thunder Bluff since its founding?”

“Yes. I have truly been blessed, and I thank the ancestors daily.”

“Has the pace of city life been difficult for you?”

“Not so much. It has been harder for the older tauren, I think. But Thunder Bluff is much different from Orgrimmar, of which I have heard great deal. We are not hemmed in by walls, and instead see the boundless glories of the Earthmother.”

“How does Thunder Bluff get enough food?”

“Visiting tribes always have food for trade. I think the thing that makes it hardest for tauren to live here is the fact that they cannot go out and hunt. One does not need to hear the spirits to know that if all of us in Thunder Bluff went out to hunt, we would soon run out of quarry.”

“In human lands, people from small villages who move to large cities often say that they feel crowded and trampled upon. That humans care less about each other when there are too many in one spot. Do you think this is the case with the tauren here in Thunder Bluff?”

“I have to answer that question with care, for there is still much that we do not know. There has never been anything like Thunder Bluff in tauren history. I will say though, that I do not feel cut off or distant. Neither do most tauren here.”

“Why is that?”

“Because we still have our spirits. There are nine Windhorn tauren in Thunder Bluff, but though we are far from our tribal kin, we are still with other tauren. After all, do we not live in the United Tauren Tribes? On festivals we go into the spirit lodges of the city and the shamans send up dream-smoke and speak to the spirits. The same happens among the nomadic Windhorn in the Barrens. Sometimes I can even see the face of the chieftain in my dreams, and I am again on the great, dry savannah. Living in Thunder Bluff is like being part of some kind of Thunder Bluff Tribe! We try to have knowledge of each other, and we praise the Earthmother together.”

Given that each tribe has unique customs, having members of so many different tribes living in one area seems as if it would be problematic. Yet it is not. The tauren in Thunder Bluff shun pride. Customs specific to tribes are adapted or modified in such a way that they do not interfere with the other tribes. Changing the customs is not considered offensive to the ancestors; after all, the ancestors would not wish to cause strife between the tribes. The celebrations that are revered by all tribes are held in common in Thunder Bluff. Thus, the communal spirit of the tauren is maintained.

The mesas of Thunder Bluff are connected by great suspension bridges that seem to defy reason. Newcomers are often fearful of crossing them but the inhabitants of the city do not even give it a second thought. Though they look flimsy, they are solidly constructed. Built to tauren standards, they can easily accommodate the other races of the Horde.

The bridge entrances on the Main Rise are in two-story wooden halls called tohado, which translates as spirit gate.

“The Main Rise is a place for the tauren tribes. But we remember that the other three rises exist to honor the kodo, the eagle, and the cougar. Those rises are closer to the spirit world. The tohado is like a gateway. That is why they are made from ritually cleansed wood, culled from the sacred mountain forests,” explained Hattuck Ragetotem, an elderly hunter.

I met him outside the Thunder Bluff inn which, somewhat oddly, is also a tohado. Visiting tauren almost always stay at the home tents of others of their tribe that live in the city. Thus, the patrons of the inn are usually non-tauren. The inn is not very lively.

The inn connects with Hunter’s Rise, the mesa of the cougar. The other tohado on the lower section of the Main Rise connects with the Spirit Rise, which is a place of honor for the kodo beast. The Spirit Rise is the great center of shamanism for the United Tauren Tribes. On it, small tents and huts cluster around a great white spirit lodge. A shaman sat outside an entrance to the lodge when I visited, enjoying a cool northern breeze. His face darkened when he saw me.

“The Poisoners make their home in the caverns below, undead. Follow the path down the side of the mesa to reach the Pools of Vision,” he said, in a voice of restrained anger.

“I beg your pardon?” I had no idea of what he was speaking.

“My apologies, undead. I forgot that the official term for your organization is the Apothecarium. Shall I show you to their base?”

“The Apothecarium has a base here?” I was incredulous.

“You have not heard of it? They have made their home in the Pools of Vision for more than a year.”

“I did not know this. I am not a friend of the Apothecarium.”

“I see.” I do not think he believed me.

The shaman was named Kelom Mistrunner. Selected by the elders of his tribe to represent the Mistrunner spiritualists in Thunder Bluff, he was under a great deal of pressure to fulfill his tribe’s expectations. He explained to me why the Forsaken would be allowed to create an enclave in such a sacred place.

“Those not of the Shu’halo sometimes underestimate the strength of the Earthmother, and the spirits of nature. Thunder Bluff—particularly this spot, where Brother Kodo once stood—is too strong and holy to ever be contaminated. Please do not misunderstand me; I do not mean to say that the Forsaken taint all that they touch or see. Merely that those afflicted with undeath are not part of the natural order.”

One could argue that Thunder Bluff, with its tauren-built tents and huts, is equally unnatural. I remained silent, however.

“The power of the Earthmother to heal is greater than the powers of the unnatural to corrupt, in other words?”

“Yes. We are part of, and dependent on, the spirits of nature. But the Earthmother is greater than all that walks, whether on hoof, foot, or fin. Goblins and demons could scourge all life from this world, uproot every tree, shatter every mountain. But when they are gone, the Earthmother’s seeds of life will remain deep in the secret places of the earth. One day they shall sprout, and forests and prairies will again cover the world. If the Shu’halo fall today, they will return at that future time.”

“Nature shall abide?”

“Without a doubt.”

“Why were the Forsaken given a base on the Spirit Rise? I would think the Main Rise would be a more obvious choice.”

“You do?” His voice was extremely suspicious. “They are here because they wished to be out of the sunlight, and the Spirit Rise is the only one with a cavern. Also, it is better for the spirits to deal with the Forsaken than for the mortal tauren to do so. The spirits are stronger than we.”

“What do you mean ‘deal with’ the Forsaken?”

“The spirits will ensure that no arcane accidents happen. Your mages are a dangerous bunch, and your warlocks even more so.”

An older tauren stepped out from the lodge. He appraised Kelom and me before speaking.

“Hello, traveling Forsaken. What brings you to the Spirit Rise?” he inquired.

“This Forsaken is a wizard named Destron. He says he is not of the Apothecarium.”

“Why are you here?”

“He is asking questions, Wise One,” interjected Kelon.

“Young shaman, I asked Destron. Your enthusiasm is commendable, yet patience and prudence are also important,” he chided.

“My apologies, Beram.”

“It is the nature of youth. Speak with the spirits a while Kelom. I find that their wisdom can often sooth the soul. Destron, would you care to come inside the shaman’s lodge?”

“If I may.”

“Of course, come in,” said Beram.

There is very little actually inside the lodge. Braziers of smoldering incense release puffs of scented smoke. Shaman rest within, engaged in quiet discussion or meditation.

“I apologize if Kelom caused offense. It was not his intent to do so, but he is still a young brave with all the fire of youth. Tranquility comes with wisdom, and I have little doubt he will one day be a great shaman and an asset to his tribe.”

“No offense was taken. If the Apothecarium was Kelom’s only previous encounter with the Forsaken, I cannot fault his suspicion.”

“You have come to learn about shamanism?”

“I have.”

“Good. Among the Shu’halo, it is the duty of a shaman to learn things. Perhaps you are a bit like a shaman among the Forsaken?”

“I’m afraid I cannot make any such claim. I cannot hear or speak with spirits.”

“Do not be so sure of that. Perhaps you need only to listen more carefully.”

I had been wondering if there was any conflict between the shamans and druids of the tauren. The two roles overlap to some extent, and they also differ in how they see themselves in relation to nature. The druids consider themselves to be nature’s special guardians, while the shamans act as intermediaries. The shaman’s task is much broader, covering a wide variety of social aspects. Beram bore no grudge against the druids, though some of his peers did. The opinion of an individual shaman generally reflects that of his or her tribe’s.

“The spirits have no objections to the druidic path, so how can I condemn? Our ancient ancestors counted druids among their number, and they are indeed wise. Some doubt the druids, thinking them tools of the elves, but I have faith in Archdruid Hamuul Runetotem. He will maintain the ways of our people. Besides, the Kaldorei have great wisdom. Our two civilizations could learn much from each other.”

Beram also explained about the difference between nature spirits and the elementals. Unlike spirits, elementals have long been known to the races of the east. Water elementals were a common sight in Dalaran, as were (to a lesser extent) earth elementals. The conjurers of old Stormwind made a pact with some of the elemental beings, and managed to transfer this agreement to the mages of Dalaran prior to the Second War. The elementals that I studied were not of this world, however. Instead they hailed from some abyssal plane of which even the archmages knew little.

“The elementals are not truly spirits. I shall explain it as such: when lightning strikes a dry forest, spirits of fire spring forth from the union. They wreak great devastation, but it is merely the way in which the spirits cleanse nature. Deadwood and underbrush are cleared out in such a conflagration, allowing new plants to rise. The spirits of the old trees accept that their time is up, and return to the great cycle of being. Likewise, the fire eventually burns itself out or is otherwise extinguished.”

“The spirits are simply guiding the course of nature.”

“They are the course of nature. A fire elemental is different than a spirit of fire. For a fire elemental does not burn in order to cleanse; it burns so that it may set the entire world ablaze. Elementals seek to perpetuate their element at the exclusion of others. This is why elementals have always fought each other. They are selfishness and arrogance incarnate, and shamans will have no dealings with them.”

“How do they fit into the tauren cosmology?”

“Some say that they are spirits who were led astray by the dark whispers that once tempted our people. Other stories tell of wicked forces that were banished by the Earthmother. None know for sure, and it is one area in which shamans should not seek knowledge. Those who attempt it usually go mad.”

“In the past then, I take it that some shamans made this attempt?”

Beram paused for a moment.

“A few did, yes. In their madness they infected many of our best and most noble braves, until we had to bear arms against our own people. You have no idea what a terrible thing that is for us, for one tauren to spill the blood of another. Yet it was necessary.”

“How long ago was this?”

“Too many generations past for any tauren to know for sure. We call it the Sorrow War, for sorrow was all we could feel in victory. After that conflict, the centaurs stormed into our lands and we did not find peace until the arrival of the orcs.”

“Did any of these renegade shamans survive?”

“None can say, though some think the survivors went to the dark lands of the south. It is something I am satisfied not knowing,” he said, with finality.

The tauren are loathe to speak of the Sorrow War. All the records are deliberately vague, possibly indicating a truly horrific level of strife. A few records make mention of those renegade shamans worshiping the Stonemother, a sort of perverse reflection of the benevolent Earthmother. The Stonemother is never mentioned by name among the tauren, who if forced to speak of her will call her Old Stone Face or the Mountain Woman. Even those euphemisms are considered dangerous to utter. Where the Earthmother is caring, she is cruel; while the Earthmother adores all of Her creatures, the Stonemother demands a world of endless grinding rock.


“I used to love water, yes? Cool and wet, so good after a hot day, yes? No more. My hand knows water, but can only feel the memory.”

The Pools of Vision are a fitting place for the Forsaken. Situated in the water-sculpted caverns of the Spirit Rise, strange vapors swirl through the subterranean air, masking the residents’ ragged forms. The tauren avoid the place, rarely venturing inside. They say the dark whispers of old can still be heard in the cavern’s echoes, and that hideous insect faces look out from the mists and the pale pools lit by clusters of phosphorescent fungi.

I stood next to a horribly decayed Forsaken woman, little more than a skeleton, who sat in a moldy corner of the cavern. Sheets of parchment lay scattered around her, each one packed with tiny diagrams and script almost too small to be legible, the products of a troubled mind.

“A cure’s what they say we search for, yes? So they say. I don’t remember much, but I still know a bit of the old alchemy, yes? Here I write, all I know about the strange plants they give me.”

She was called the Scrivener, a deranged Forsaken whose uncanny alchemical expertise made her useful to the Apothecarium.

“Is all the research here devoted to a cure?” I asked, not really expecting a coherent answer.

“I don’t know about what they do, I only know about what I do. Sometimes orcs and bull-demons come in here bearing strange plants that I’ve never seen before, and I cut up the plants and look at them and mix them yes? I do not leave the caves, for I can no longer recognize Dalaran.”

“Dalaran? You mean Thunder Bluff?”

“Dalaran, no, Dalaran. That is where we are, I think, yes? I dream it is the old days, but perhaps I am dreaming now? Maybe the cure is simply waking up, yes?”

I sadly wondered if she had been a fellow student of mine, back in old Dalaran. If so, her mind and body were too decrepit to recognize.

“The Scrivener works best alone, I think. If you need something you’d do better elsewhere,” came a grim, stentorian voice.

The speaker was Thurston Xane, one of the leaders of the local Apothecarium. Thurston had once been a respected mage in Dalaran, though I had never met him in life.

“The bull-men say that they placed us among the spirits for our own protection, but those are lies,” laughed Thurston. “The tauren are a superstitious bunch and they fear these caverns. They hope that the spirits in here will strike us down.”

“Do you have much contact with the tauren?”

“Very little, thankfully. Occasionally the Grimtotem Tribe will send someone over. The Grimtotems are the only ones of those beasts that I can stand. They persuaded Thrall to let us join the Horde.”

“Why are they so fond of us?”

“They aren’t fond of us! They hate us, and we hate them. But we both understand the value of allies. The Grimtotems want elves, centaurs... basically every non-tauren off of this continent. I’d rather have the cows take Kalimdor than let it fall to those sadistic elves. The tribes will not pose much of a threat to us.”

“The tauren are our allies,” I pointed out.

“You are very naive.”

“Oh? How much of Kalimdor have you seen? Do you even leave this cave?”

“I’ve seen enough, and not when I can help it. You can see how much hate the living have for us with even a casual observation. Don’t tell me you’ve been welcomed by the tauren; I know that’s a lie.”

Perhaps describing the tauren attitude towards the Forsaken as welcoming would be inaccurate. Still, I had been treated well and at least tolerated. Some individual tauren had been very kind. Trying to talk sense into a bigot is usually a fruitless and exhausting task, so I changed the subject.

“So the work here is done for a cure?”

“Some of it. That was one of the agreements we made to get this station here. Usually we let Forsaken like the Scrivener work on a cure. She knows a great deal—I think she might have been Ellina Mallory in life—but her knowledge is so scattered in the ruins of her brain that she’s not suited to serious work.”

Ellina Mallory had been one of the leading alchemical researchers of pre-Scourge Lordaeron.

“Then what sort of research is done here?”

“Poisons and plagues. All for the Horde of course,” he chuckled. “Only fools seek a cure. We could return to life but there would be nothing left for us. How can I ever again look my daughter in the eye, when she tried to kill me after I became Forsaken? Any of the friends or family that you have from life are the same way Destron, never forget that! Plead all you want, they’ll still burn you at the stake. A cure will not return what we’ve lost. Power is all that we have left, and I intend to exploit that fact.” Thurston’s tone had turned from arrogant to defeated.

“Please leave me be Destron. I find that my appetite for conversation has vanished,” intoned Thurston. His skinless shoulders slumped in defeat.

It came as no surprise to me that all of the Forsaken in the Pools of Vision are there on the orders of the Apothecarium. As a result they had created a tiny Undercity in Kalimdor, a place where they could seek warmth in bitterness and hatred. I quickly departed and returned to the Main Rise.

The next night, many of the local shamans went up to the upper level of the Main Rise and conducted a ceremony that lasted until dawn. They lifted their deep voices in a solemn chant, accompanied by stately drum beats.

Before this ritual began I noticed the preparations undertaken for it. In an attempt to learn more, I asked a brave about the ritual’s purpose. The defense force of Thunder Bluff consists of warriors called bluffwatchers. They hail from all over the tauren lands, and are often related to the speakers of their tribes. I spoke with one Kadoha Ragetotem, who kept watch on the Spirit Mesa.

“You’ve come at an interesting time. There will be a great speaking tomorrow; that is when all the Speakers gather and try to decide the best course for all of the tribes.”

Speakers are the representatives that the tribes send to Thunder Bluff. All tribes have one speaker, something that has proven problematic when a tribe is divided into two or more bands.

“I take it then that the ritual is a sort of preparation for it?”

“The shamans are beseeching the ancestors for wisdom.”

“How often is a great speaking held?”

“Um... at least once a year. But if something important comes up, we might have it more than once. We had an emergency great speaking after Proudmoore’s attack.”

“Do you know what sort of issues will be discussed in this meeting?”

“I can only speak for the Ragetotem Tribe. My father, the speaker, will take our concerns to the other tribes.”

“Are you at liberty to explain the concerns of the Ragetotem Tribe?”

“There are no secrets at the great speaking. The Ragetotems, as you may know, count many great warriors among the ancestors. Even today the tribe values martial skill more than any other tribe. And of course, we are obligated to help our orcish allies. Yet some of the tribal elders are uncomfortable with the idea of fighting the Kaldorei. After all, we do not really have any quarrel with them. Many think that the orcs should shut down the Warsong Lumber Mill that has been the source of so much strife. Some are afraid that the braves who fight alongside the orcs become too warlike. We can’t withdraw all of our braves; nearly everyone realizes that would be cowardly and ungrateful. The elders merely wish to decrease the number of warriors that are sent to the front.”

“So the tribe wishes to back off from the Horde’s military activities?”

“That is what the tribe has decided in the last tribal council. I do not agree with them, but I was in the minority.”

“Does your tribe permit disagreement?”

“I’m not sure I understand your question. All tribes must. That is why tribal councils are held, and why the great speakings are so important. Every tauren has an opinion. We all share it and hope to persuade others that our way is the wisest. If we are not successful, we must back down.”

This impressed me. It is common mistake to think of the tauren as being total conformists. While the decisions of the tribe are the ultimate authority, individual tauren are free to challenge it at any time, so long as they do so in a respectful way. Voicing extremely unpopular opinions can lead to a degree of ostracism, effectively silencing the more radical opinions. Nonetheless, the tauren do have a fair amount of tolerance for dissenting voices.

“Why do you disagree with the Ragetotem’s stance on the issue?”

“I have fought in Warsong Gulch. I learned to depend on the orcs as brothers. The ones I knew almost seem like they are part of my tribe. The Time of Peace is a very strange one. Everything is changing, and that terrifies us. It terrifies me! I think that, just as the different tribes make up the United Tribes, the United Tribes are merely one part of the Horde.”

“Do many tribes advocate weakening ties with the Horde?”

“That is hard to say. Some tribes change their minds with the seasons, so to speak. It’s fair to say that some are distrustful of the orcs, and the Ragetotem are among them. We had no problem sending braves to the front when the Horde fought the old enemies of the Shu’halo. When the orcs ask us to fight their enemies, we are reluctant to return the favor.”

“What will you do if your tribe decides to reduce the number of braves sent to aid the Horde?”

“I will request to be sent to Warsong Gulch. This request will probably be granted. Whatever my opinions though, I must follow my tribe. I am they, and they are me.”

While the tauren are rightly considered a stalwart part of the Horde, they are more conflicted than many outsiders realize. Some believe that gratitude to the orcs trumps all other concerns. Only the most jingoistic tauren think that their people had any chance of surviving the centaur onslaught without aid. Others, while acknowledging the vital role of the orcs, fear that consorting with non-tauren will undermine the tribal ways.

Tauren critics of the Horde most often point to the Forsaken as a prime example as to why the tauren should minimize their involvement with their allies. Some are even distrustful of the orcs. One shaman has been quoted as saying: “The orcs once embraced demons, and even today tolerate warlocks. When have the humans, our supposed enemies, ever dealt with demons on such a scale?” The orcish propensity for aggression (and also the individuality in orcish society) is seen as very dangerous.

The Ragetotem are by no means opposed to the Horde. They are simply cautious and conservative. This is troublesome for the Horde, as the Ragetotem Tribe produces arguably the finest warriors of the tribes. Much like the less influential Runetotem Tribe, they see no reason to make war on the night elves. A few of the more provincial tribes wish to withdraw from the Horde entirely, and exist as a neutral (albeit Horde-aligned) faction. Fortunately, only a very small number of tauren support such a radical solution.

Many of the younger tauren who have spent time with orcs have come to see the orcs as a fellow tribe. This is not to say that they see the orcs as fellow tauren. They do regard the orcs as steadfast allies. While the orcs have a dark past, most orcish shamans look up to their more experienced tauren compatriots. Tauren elders are uncomfortable with this cross-cultural exchange, not wanting the orcs to get too close.

I watched part of the great speaking, which took place in an outdoor amphitheater. Representatives from the 37 tribes of the United Tauren Tribes (the Grimtotem is the only tribe that is not a member) sat on wooden benches and made their voices heard. Presiding over it was High Chieftain Cairne Bloodhoof. Cairne is the first high chieftain, and has proven very shrewd when dealing with the other tribes. He also acts as the Bloodhoof speaker.

The great speaking had a relaxed, almost tranquil, air. Voices were never raised and everyone waited for their turn. Great speakings are held in public view, so that nothing can be hidden from the people. Those watching do not interrupt, even when hearing someone with whom they vehemently disagree. Viewers with objections must take them to their own speakers for the next meeting. As one would expect, the great speaking is conducted entirely in Taurahe so I could not understand a word of it. As such, I only watched it for part of the morning.

I must say that I am extremely impressed with the tauren governmental system. It allows for free expression and disagreement, and tries to prevent any one tribe from gaining too much power. That said, it is a very new government, and there will undoubtedly be pitfalls in the future.


A terrific rainstorm hit Thunder Bluff in the pre-dawn hours the day after the great speaking. The shamans rose early to conduct the rituals associated with rain. I spent most of the day at the inn, drinking bowl after bowl of hot tea. The tauren have a bewildering variety of tea and each tribe has at least one unique herbal mixture. The various nuances of flavor were lost on me so I satisfied myself with a powerful earthroot-based mix brewed by the Bloodhoof Tribe. The tauren reserve alcohol for ceremonial occasions, and it is considered bad form to drink it at any other time. Tauren wine is made from fermented kodo blood and is not popular with the other races. Coffee has also failed to make much of an inroad in tauren culture.

Raindrops drummed unceasingly on the wooden roof of the inn as the day wore on into evening. When the sky darkened outside, I was approached by a hulking tauren wearing armor of the orcish style. He asked me if I had ever been to Kargath before, and I told him I had. This tauren was Pahataw Wildmane, a warrior who had only recently returned to Kalimdor from a long sojourn in the Badlands of the east. He remembered seeing me in Kargath.

“The Badlands are a good place. You can hear the whistle of the wind spirits as they swoop through the gullies and flats,” he said.

“How did you end up in the Badlands?” I asked.

“I think my time as a suttaqua wanderer instilled a restlessness in me. I had walked all over Mulgore, but I found no mate among the other tribes. Thrall wanted warriors of all the races to build Kargath, and I requested leave to do so. The Wildmane elders were happy to grant it, and so I went.”

“Was it a difficult adjustment?”

“Many tauren say that it is. Most in the Eastern Kingdoms find it difficult. I myself can’t say it was easy, but I was truly at home in the Badlands. The people of Kargath are almost like a tribe for me and I count orcs, trolls, and a few Forsaken among my brothers.”

“Why do you think you adapted better than other tauren?”

“I was never much good for the Wildmane tribe. I’m strong, as you can see, but my mind is strange. The elders warned me that I was in danger of losing my soul to rage. Their fear was not unjustified; they are the tribal elders after all. I often quarreled with others of the tribe. I bore a terrible love of battle in my heart—in truth, I still do—and I was far too fond of my ability in the same. Whenever we clashed with centaur I would claim credit for victory, even though I was not the only tauren fighting. I knew it too; I knew I wasn’t the only one, but there was a raging voice in my heart that told me I was.”

“Please do not take offense, but would it be safe to say that you felt individual pride?”

Pahataw sighed, and then, unexpectedly, laughed.

“Yes. You Forsaken sometimes have a way of cutting straight to the point, which can be a good thing. I felt pride. I was not beneficial for the Wildmane Tribe as a result. My mother warned me that if I could not control my anger I would one day become an exile. The, uh, ‘Kargath Tribe’ if you will, saved the Wildmane from having to deal with my problems.”

“Are there many other tauren in your position? That find themselves at odds with their tribe for pride, or some other issue?”

“It happens. All tauren can, on some level at least, sense the spirits. Some are better at it than others. I’m not very good at it. I know that there are spirits all around me but I cannot feel them the way other tauren do. I am even distant from the Wildmane ancestors. Maybe I am a hadoham, one of the spirit-blinded.”

“I’ve not heard of the hadoham before.”

“They are tauren like me.”

Hadoham are different than exiles, I take it?”

“Much different. Hadoham sometimes become exiles, but most do not. Sometimes they learn to see the spirits, and become respectable members of the tribe. Very rarely, their spirit-blindness lets them see the world anew, and they do great things. There are tribes that describe the great tauren hero, Sesquan the Kodo-Tamer, as having been a hadoham. So kind are the spirits that even the spirit-blind may rise to greatness. Most hadoham are too selfish for that. Only a few become okomee, but not many are ever very helpful members of the tribe.”

“Why do you think hadoham exist?”

“The elders say that children not born from a stable union can become hadoham; thus, the hadoham might bring particular shame upon the parents. This is another reason that it is good for the tribe that I stay over in Kargath. A Forsaken told me how humans, both living and undead, can start believing strange things and go insane. I think the hadoham are like insane tauren. Not like the exiles, who are truly bereft of their spiritual connection and completely deranged, but still a bit mad.”

“You seem to have adjusted rather well.”

“Of course. I have found a tribe of fellow madmen!” he laughed.

If what Pahataw said about the hadoham was true, it sheds an interesting light on tauren psychology. Personality traits like ambition, selfishness, and pride are (in either perception or reality) a kind of madness. Yet his description of Sesquan the Kodo-Tamer (who as his name suggests, was the first tauren to tame a kodo) as a hadoham reveals that such madmen are also the innovators of tauren society. This is not really so different from human civilization, where the great thinkers and inventors are sometimes believed to be slightly mad. It is just more extreme among the tauren.

During my time in the tauren lands I had heard a great deal about the Grimtotem Tribe. The Grimtotem is the sole tribe to have flatly rejected the Horde. Not only are they unaffiliated with the United Tauren Tribes, they are openly hostile to it. There have been reports of pitched battles in the wilderness between Grimtotem fanatics and Horde warriors.

Even with all this, the United Tauren Tribes is reluctant to declare open war against the Grimtotem Tribe. Some of this has to do with the fact that the Grimtotem were so instrumental in the epic Battle of the Red Rocks. The Grimtotem Tribe had traditionally been the most determined foe of the centaur.

The state between the United Tauren Tribes and the Grimtotem is one of near-war, a bit like the relationship between the Alliance and the Horde. While the orcs and trolls consider the Grimtotem as enemies, the tauren do not. Making matters even more confusing is the fact that the otherwise xenophobic Grimtotems are among the strongest proponents of Forsaken entry into the Horde.

The Grimtotem Tribe split from the rest of the tauren because the Grimtotem refused to honor the orcs. After the Battle of the Red Rocks, Magatha stated that Kalimdor could only go to the tauren. After all, it was the tauren who had fought for Kalimdor all those thousands of years. No orcs had fought in the Battle of the Red Rocks. She believed the spirits were on her side. However most of the other tribes were offended by her rejection of the orcs, seeing it as supremely arrogant.

While most of the Grimtotem Tribe is scattered across Kalimdor, their leader, the Elder Crone Magatha Grimtotem, lives in a kind of house arrest on Thunder Bluff’s Elder Rise. She ended up there after personally leading a failed attempt to stop the creation of the United Tauren Tribes. This gesture nearly led to war, but Magatha ordered her braves to stand down, ostensibly to preserve peace.

Magatha Grimtotem cannot take place in the great speaking but her influence should not be underestimated. The Grimtotem ancestors are regarded as heroes by even the staunchest tauren loyalists. Tribes inclined to traditionalism heed her words, even though they shun her methods. What is especially bizarre is that Magatha has not been singled out and blamed for the entry of the Forsaken. Criticism for that action is more often directed at Cairne, despite his opposition. Even today I am not entirely certain of why this is so. Magatha and her tribe are not even part of the Horde.

Magatha Grimtotem resides in a small tent on the perimeter of the Elder Rise. She is surrounded at all times by a group of bristling, black-furred Grimtotem braves. Members of the Grimtotem Tribe customarily dye their fur black, commemorating the ashes of the old world destroyed by elven magic in the Sundering.

I saw Magatha, but did not actually speak with her. Instead I spoke with Rahauro Grimtotem, her aide.

“The wise Elder Crone apologizes for the fact that she cannot make time to hear you. The affairs of the tribe lay heavy on her shoulders, especially when she is so isolated from the other Grimtotems. I shall help you as best I can.”

“Thank you. What inspired the Grimtotem to reach out to my people?”

“It would be arrogant for us to claim we were the only ones to see the plight of your people. Many wise shamans felt the pain of Lordaeron’s spirits, even here in Kalimdor. Magatha is simply the most vocal proponent of the Forsaken. Her wisdom swayed many others.”

“Cairne was not in favor of this alliance, correct?”

“Cairne is very wise, and very kind. Yet he is too easily convinced by Thrall. The ancestors of all tauren, not just the Grimtotem Tribe, are deeply concerned about the orcs. Their ways are not our own yet they already live among us. Truth be told, they are more akin to centaurs than to tauren.”

“You believe that the orcs are a threat to tauren tradition?”

“They are a threat to our connection with the spirits. The ancestors are wrathful and dark omens are plentiful. That is why there are now so many hadoham; orcish selfishness and brutality lead young tauren astray. Magatha remains faithful to the tauren ways and she will not allow us to be corrupted.”

“What do the Grimtotems want to do with the orcs?”

“Many want them dead. Magatha herself is quite merciful, but it is hard for her to spread this feeling of mercy among the tribe. Our braves see Magatha, rightly or wrongly, as a prisoner of the Horde and act accordingly. If she is released there will be a quick end to the violence, but Thrall’s lies go far.”

“Magatha herself does not wish for the orcs to be killed?”

“She merely believes that they must be kept separate and out of Kalimdor. We’d be quite happy to help them fight for land in the Eastern Kingdoms. But Kalimdor is the part of the world where the spirits are strongest; we must preserve it, and the ways of the tauren are the only ones with any chance of success.”

“I must say I’m surprised that you allow the Forsaken on Kalimdor. We’re even farther from tauren cultural standards than are the orcs.”

“The Forsaken have no interest in Kalimdor. Magatha has spoken with emissaries of your Dark Lady, and they say that the Forsaken have no permanent interests outside of Lordaeron. The orcs and trolls come here and build cities. There is not a single Forsaken town in Kalimdor. The Forsaken are quite different from us, but they respect this difference. The orcs and trolls do not.”

The Grimtotem support of the Forsaken is very clearly based on convenience; they have no real fondness for us. Magatha’s hostility towards all non-tauren will not lead her to embrace the free dead. I almost certain that Magatha’s desire to return to her tribe is in order to more effectively lead it against Cairne. Releasing her will lead to strife, not peace. Fortunately Cairne Bloodhoof is far too canny to be tricked by such an obvious ruse. At the same time, if Magatha convinces enough of the other tribes, Cairne’s opinion may not matter.

Rahauro had cited the orcs as the cause of the rage among the ancestor spirits. This brings up an interesting point, namely that the spirits are sometimes very cryptic. The shamans have come to accept this and simply try to interpret what the ancestors truly mean. When contradictions or disagreements arise, the shamans meet to decide what to do. The Grimtotem shamans are the exception, as they are quite certain they know what the spirits want. To the Grimtotem shamans, their certainty is not arrogance. They accuse the other tribes of putting the desires of the Horde ahead of the needs of the spirits.

Not far from Magatha’s tent are the headquarters of the tauren druids. The tauren never forgot that druids had once been among their number. However, druidism fell into disuse after the Sundering, and druidic ancestor spirits proved either unable or unwilling to teach their art to subsequent generations. Thus, the new druids are accepted among the tauren as a resurrection of an ancient tradition.

Most tribes are still a bit cautious about the druids. The shamans gave their approval to the burgeoning movement, acknowledging ancestral druids, but no one is quite sure how they will fit into tauren life. As such, only a few tribes allow any of their members to join this renewed movement. The unforeseen result is that the druids of Thunder Bluff all come from a small number of like-minded tribes, creating a tightly-knit bloc of influence.

“The tribes have judged us as useful, and for that we are grateful. We stand by the shamans in the protection of the balance,” stated Teonuk Runetotem. He had been one of the first of Archdruid Hamuul Runetotem’s followers.

“How do the druids differ from shamans?”

“The shamans seek counsel from the spirits, to learn what is troubling them and the world. The druids, in turn, work to correct the problems that scar this world. The shamans are like the eyes and ears, and we druids are like the hands. We need each other to serve the Earthmother. In truth, many shamans were gladdened at our arrival, for together we are better able to do Her work.”

“A shaman told me that nature is stronger than any other force, and that it would outlast any attempt to destroy it. Do you think this is true?”

“Ah, that is one area of disagreement between us. The shamans are quite wise but they sometimes overestimate the strength of the world. I have no doubt that nature would shrug off the atrocities of the Venture Company... but the Burning Legion and Scourge are terrible things. Perhaps the shamans are right, and indeed I hope they are. Nonetheless I think it is fair for the druids to consider themselves the protectors of the natural world. Perhaps the Earthmother sees the druids as necessary in this age.”

The orcs (and the tribes most closely aligned with them) have expressed suspicion in regards to druidic loyalties. They fear that the tauren druids are too friendly to the Alliance, particularly the night elves. I asked Teonuk about this.

“We would not be druids had it not been for the kindness of Malfurion Stormrage. The druids of the Shu’halo are indebted to the night elves, and we could not in good conscience condemn them as enemies. At the same time it is the orcs who saved the tauren. The loyalty of the Runetotem Tribe must go to the orcs before it goes to the Kaldorei. This does not mean we desire to fight the Kaldorei. This fighting is dangerous anyway; there are things much worse that wait to destroy this world,” sighed Teonuk.

“Would you say that the druids wish for the Horde and Alliance to join forces?”

“The druids do not say anything. You must remember that there are representatives of seven tribes among our ranks. These tribes tend to agree, but each one of us must ultimately serve the tribe before the druid organization. I’m sorry for changing the subject there; I merely wished to be sure you understood.”

“You needn’t apologize.”

“I do not think the Horde and Alliance can join forces for some time. While we are grateful to the night elves, all Shu’halo are deeply disturbed by the activities of the dwarves, who blast great wounds through the earth. I have similar doubts about the humans. Anyway, the tribes are starting to become more hostile to the elves.”

“Why do you think this is?”

“In times past, we thought of the night elves as almost like spirits. Now we know that they are not spirits. The tauren wonder why the elves never helped us fight the centaurs, even after we aided them in the War of the Ancients. The grievance of the tauren is a legitimate one. To be sure, a few individual elves did make war against the centaurs but they were few and far between. The elven chieftains never sent their sentinels to the aid of our people.”

“Why didn’t they?”

“Different elves say different things. It is usually said that the elves thought it more important to protect Mt. Hyjal. This is not a very convincing answer though.” Teonuk shrugged.

“Do you think that they simply did not care?”

“It would be wrong of me to impugn them with callousness. They did teach us druidism.”

“What do you think of the division between the Horde and Alliance? Do you think it can be closed?”

“I do. With respect to Thrall, I am not sure that it is accurate to describe the world as a division between Horde and Alliance. Rather it is between Life and Death. Here in Kalimdor, the tauren, the orcs, the trolls, and the night elves all revere the natural world. We heed the spirits when they speak. In the Eastern Kingdoms, death rules. Dwarves, gnomes, and humans are avaricious and care little for the balance. Worst of all are the Forsaken who themselves are a mockery of life. Like the Scourge that spawned them, they corrupt the world.”

“There is no evidence of that we bring the same taint that the Scourge does,” I argued.

“Pardon me, Destron. I do not mean offense. Yet your apothecaries research plagues and poisons. When something dies, it is meant to return to the earth. You have not done that.”

“Not through any choice of our own.”

“Again, forgive me. I simply state the truth. I say this in order to serve the Earthmother and the ways of the Shu’halo. But perhaps there is great selfishness among the Forsaken. Why else would you still cling to your mockery of life. A cure does not seem likely in the near future and I do not think many of you are interested in a cure. Do you not think it would be better if your race simply destroyed itself?”

For a moment I could say nothing. Teonuk had condemned me as an abomination. In his eyes, the spirits demanded that the Forsaken commit suicide as a favor to the world that rejected us. After a few seconds, I thanked him for his time and left the Elder Rise.

I tried to suppress my rage and was mostly successful. I reminded myself that many tauren had been kind to me. But I could not help but wonder if most thought as Teonuk did, and were simply too polite to say so. Perhaps pride was the only thing that kept me from going to the Pools of Vision and telling Thurston that he had been correct.

As any reasonably well-informed individual could tell you, there are more than a few tauren that have befriended Forsaken. Seeing things in a clearer, more objective, light, I understand that while most tauren do not trust the Forsaken (with some reason), only a few hold to the vicious position advocated by Teonuk. Ona Wildmane, herself a druid, had been quite friendly to me back in the Barrens.

Two days after my experience on the Elder Rise I purchased a wyvern flight to the Crossroads. I tried to think of what I had enjoyed about Thunder Bluff. I find the governmental organization of the United Tauren Tribes to be quite admirable. They are a race on the ascension, finally free of the centaurs, but they face many trials. I wonder how the deeply communal psyche of the tauren race will adapt to the tumultuous modern world.


  1. Again, interesting and multilayered. I also like how Destron does have his ocassional moments of weakness/ not completely unjustified rage at the world, it makes him very likeable in the way of... not being a perfect, holier-than-thou protagonist but someone with not only imperfections, but something more complex than that, which is a struggle to live up to his own standards and concerns and a state of never quite having all the answers.

    All too often, authors envision characters based on some attitude, concept or belief they're supposed to embody, and create their journey around streghtening, proving or changing that belief to a certain other, when life contains alot more ambiguity than that.
    I strive to bring that out in my works, although I yet hope to become as good at writing as you.

  2. Thanks. Using a Forsaken protagonist did present certain challenges, since they're not the most sympathetic group (though they were a bit more sympathetic in Vanilla/BC WoW).