Bryn ignored the shouting, and concentrated on her opponent. She ducked under the oncoming Marcher's swing, and then rammed her shoulder into the young lads stomach sending him sprawling into the dirt.
The boy fell clutching his stomach, winded so bad he could hardly breathe. Could be a rib or two broken maybe. He was no threat now and she ignored the voices telling her to crush his skull with her flail.
"Get her! Get her!" the screaming was so loud she barely heard the voice warning her to raise her shield and look to her rear. She glanced back over her shoulder to see a giant of a man pounding towards her, more in pursuit behind him. They'd be on her in a moment.
She broke into a run, feet pounding the dirt, heart booming, desperately trying to outpace them. "Run! Run!" the shouts urged her on. They were gaining on her by the moment, and the suggestion that she should split their head open with her axe wasn't helping. "Run! Run!" they shouted again. It was the only option left to her but she looked frantically for some opening as she tried to outpace her pursuers.
Then she saw it - a thin white circle drawn in lime and ash on the ground. She increased her speed, if she could just reach it...
...the weight of her pursuers fell on her like a falling tree, smashing her to the ground and pinning her there. Stars exploded in her head and for a second she thought she was falling into the abyss. She tried desperately to hold on, but a heavy leather boot crashed down on her forearm rendering the whole limb numb, forcing her to drop what she was carrying. For a moment she just lay there panting in the dirt... it was over... she'd given it everything but she'd failed. Her ancestor screamed at her to draw her scram and gut the Marcher standing over her before he could finish her off but she didn't have any weapons and her arm was good for nothing.
The Marcher reached out a hand to pull the orc up by her one good arm. "Nice one Bryn - you ruddy nearly made it! You alright?"
She couldn't tell if the pounding in her head was from the blow or just the shouts and cheers of the crowd as they urged on those still running. There was blood running down her skull when she'd split the skin on the rock her head had bounced off. Her dead arm hung by her side, throbbing painfully as the sensation came back. There was a bruise from old Roddy Gallow's boot already swelling beneath her tunic.
"Bloody brilliant." she grinned. They were still a goal up. Everything to play for...
The situation in the Mournwold remains difficult - there is a large population of Jotun thralls occupying key regions in the territory, Green March, Southmoor, and Chalkdowns. Many of the Marcher inhabitants of the Mourn seem to regard the Jotun as neighbours - or even friends - after a fashion. There is clearly an increasing flow of trade going back and forth - which might technically have been illegal before the Senate declared them to be foreigners, but given the aid the Empire distributed to the thralls to help them survive the Winter, nobody was making an issue of it.
The Jotun claim ownership of some of the most prosperous farmland in the Mourn, an inconvenient fact that has some very significant consequences . Despite this, the Empire has recently elected to recognize them as foreigners effectively making it illegal for anyone to attack them or for the Military Council to send a force to drive them from their land.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Imperial Synod have authorised two priests, Sister Meredith of the Marchers and Bloodcrow Losak of the Imperial Orcs to travel to the Mournwold to spread the Virtues to the conquered Jotun thralls.
The Marcher Assembly sends Sister Meredith with 50 doses of liao to the orcs of the Mournwold to bring them to the Way of Virtue. We encourage the Virtuous folks of the Mourn to support these preachers and ensure their voices are heard.Bethany, Winter 381YE, Marcher National Assembly, Upheld 72 - 10
The Imperial Orc Assembly sends Bloodcrow Losak with 50 doses of liao to preach to the orcs of the Mournwold and bring them to the Way of Virtue. We encourage the Virtuous people of the Mourn, orc and human, to support these preachers and those of the Marcher Assembly.Bloodcrow Losak, Winter 381YE, Imperial Orc National Assembly, Upheld 61 - 0
Working in tandem, the two priests have recruited dozens of like-minded individuals and equipped with a combination of liao, anointings and hallowed items they have spread out to proselytise the Jotun living in the Mourne. They find the people here surprisingly familiar - it is not hard to imagine that they have lived their entire lives next to the Marcher folk - they are much alike in mindset and lifestyle. They are a hard-working, industrious people, passionate about their livelihood and their lands. Some even enjoy playing foot the ball with their neighbours.
The most striking difference is that these people seem innately peaceful. They possess no weapons beyond tools of agriculture and appear to have forsworn violence in some way. Other than this more than a few priests report that it is easy to forget you are not talking to a Marcher when conversing with them. Buoyed up by this connection, the priests turn the conversation to matters of virtue and faith.
The response is surprisingly positive at first. While a number of Jotun thralls blame the Empire for the curses that killed so many, the memory of that deed has been tempered by the aid that helped them survive the winter. When the priests bring news that the Mournwold thralls have been recognised as foreigners, granting them many of the same legal protections that their Marcher neighbours enjoy that is particularly well received. It is clear that many here were expecting to be forced off their land and the news that that will not now take place brings a great sense of relief.
So many of the orcs are initially happy to spend what time they have spare listening to the words of those who have come to preach. From there though progress becomes more tricky. In recent years when missionaries took the virtues to the Lasambrians, the use of liao to create powerful auras attracted the attention of the southern orcs. But these people have lived alongside the people of the Mourn for many years and while liao was in very short supply, they understand a little of what is involved. Some of them have attended Marcher congregations from time-to-time for various reasons, and they have held conversations with the Marchers about their faith. As a result they are surprisingly well-informed - they don't know the virtues - but they know of them.
War is a thrice-ploughed FieldMarcher Proverb
Sadly that preparation doesn't make them any easier to convert. Over the next few weeks, everyone attempting to proselytize the Jotun thralls provides similar reports. At first the thralls seem to show an earnest and genuine interest in the virtues - they listen when the virtues are explained - they ask sensible and perceptive questions that show they clearly understand some of the essential ideas. But as priests try to explain more about the Way and the doctrines of the faithful, then almost inevitably they begin to lose their audience.
Sometimes this is expressed only by a sudden loss of engagement; a family might suddenly suggest that they have work to do and must be off - and no there is no good time to continue the conversation. Those are the best cases. Many times the thralls become visibly agitated by the words of the preachers; one priest reports a grown man reduced to tears by a sermon. Nobody was ever able to find out why; apparently he fled the area afterwards and was not seen again.
Easy come, worth lessMarcher Proverb
Sadly the most common response is that the thralls become angry with tempers running short. Violence is rare, these people seem deeply peaceful by nature, so there does not appear to be any danger. But priests report entire crowds turning hostile - people who were keen to hear what they had to say growing suddenly outraged and confrontational. It is difficult to find out why since the priests are invariably driven away by the shouting and physical aggression of the crowd. It really is quite perplexing.
By the season's end the report is mixed. The people here are genuinely interested in the virtues, it is clear that they could be converted to the Way. But something is holding them back - some aspect of the sermons delivered is causing a deep and profound agitation among these people. Rather than engaging with the virtues as first seems likely - they are passionately rejecting them. If this problem can be overcome then it is certain that these people will eagerly embrace the Way but it is absolutely clear that it will not be possible to convert these people unless this problem is resolved and thus far all attempts to discover what is going wrong have completely failed.
All is not lost however - one of the de facto leaders of the thralls is a timber merchant called Sigdór who lives on the edge of the Greensward. Another is Hamma the Lame who owns the massive Eversweet Orchard farm. The thralls claim that their leaders are the Jotun jarls - but in practice it is clear that Sigdór, Hamma and a handful of the other prominent thralls have significant influence here in everyday matters. Sigdór has been away to the west, but having returned to the Mourne just recently he has indicated that he plans to travel with Hamma to Anvil to talk to the Empire there.
Word is sent ahead that Sigdór and Hamma are seeking an audience with Bloodcrow Losak and Sister Meredith in person - along with any other priests who wishes to talk to him. Neither has had a chance to hear any of the sermons but both are clearly keen to talk about matters of faith and hear what the Empire and its priests have to say.
Hamma has apparently been invited to meet with General Will Talbot, the Advisor for Orc Affairs, Bloodcrow Yargol, and the orc General of the Winter Sun, Bloodcrow Morghur, so they suggest that one or more of these people might also wish to be present. When advised that such prominent individuals will be occupied with matters of Imperial state they seem largely unconcerned, explaining that they are primarily coming to talk to the priests and suggest that the generals or the advisor could send a second to talk on their behalf.
It is now clear that if the Empire can take advantage of this opportunity to resolve the apparent problems. If they can convince Hamma, Sigdór, or both to adopt the faith then many of the other Mournwold thralls will convert - but if they cannot find a way to persuade them then no amount of mandates or liao is going to succeed.
Sigdór has sent word to ask if he and Hamma might meet with Losak and Sister Meredith and any others who are prepared to talk to them at 1pm on the final day; they have been advised to head directly to the Hub and wait there.
Only a civil tongue buys cheap apples.Marcher Proverb