Honey off a thorn
Out of the blue, Eft put his fork down and said:
"I'm thinking of leaving the Legion."
Silence. Yantl and Kejek stared at him. The silence became awkward. The boys paid no attention to the adults discomfort. Roj poked Darrin in the ribs and the two fell to giggling.
"Right you two horrible little beasts," growled Yantl, standing up. He scooped a boys up easily under each arm. They mock-struggled, as he carried them across the kitchen to the back door.
"Off you go. Go and run off some of that badness before bedtime, but I want you back before the sun has set and you're not to go into the woods is that clear?"
The two boys nodded solemnly for a moment and then ran off into the afternoon sun in the direction of the woods. Yantl watched them for a few moments, shaking his head slightly, and went to rejoin the other two. He left the door open - sound carried well and if they got into trouble they'd yell.
"What's brought this on," Kejek was asking Eft as he came back. There was an edge of concern in her voice. Eft was clearly regretting saying anything, looking away from her. Yantl squeezed his shoulder as he passed, gave him a reassuring wink. Sitting down in the chair recently vacated by Darrin, he started to spoon cold mash onto his plate.
Eft collected his thoughts, tried to explain.
"It's been coming on for a year or more," he said, haltingly. "Since the boys came. I hate leaving them. I hate the thought of not seeing them again. I hate the thought of not seeing this place again."
He gestured around the cabin. They'd built it together when they first came to Skarsind. Then he bowed his head.
"Oh this is going to sound stupid but... I worry about the damn goats. I lie awake at night when we're on campaign worrying about the damn goats and whether they're getting fed and milked properly. Goats! Dammit what's wrong with me."Kaja and Yantl exchanged a look. This sounded serious.
According to the most reliable Imperial histories, this summit will mark the sixtieth anniversary since the beginning of Thrace's slave uprising. The armed revolt that began in 322YE lasted for two deadly years before the slaves were able to force the Empire to recognise the virtue of their cause and grant them freedom.
Freedom meant acceptance as a nation of the Empire, but without land they had little choice but to embrace the identity of their twin legions. In the decades that followed the Imperial Orcs marched, camped, and fought together forming a bond that soon came to define them. Those who joined the Imperial Orcs had few choices beyond a life of service in the Imperial Orc armies. As a result loyalty to their legion became one of the defining traits of an Imperial Orc.
But in 379YE the senators of Wintermark begin the process that would see Wintermark relinquish their long history of ownership of the territory of Skarsind so that the land might be granted to their homeless allies in gratitude for the return of the Crown of Three Tears.
Now as the Imperial Orcs slowly begin to settle their new homeland, there are a growing number of orcs who seek to join the nation who have never served in the legions. Facing difficult choices, the egregores of the nation have asked the Imperial Orc Assembly to guide the nation on whether they should reach out to embrace these newcomers or remain pure and stay loyal to their traditions.
The romantic view of the Imperial Orcs - that they are all the direct descendent of those who fought in the uprising alongside Thrace has never been fully accurate. Nobody is sure now how many orcs marched to Anvil alongside Emperor Ahraz, but even the largest estimates put their numbers at thirty thousand at most. Thousands more were brought to the orc camps at Anvil to join the armies only after they had been freed - but were never a part of the rebellion itself.
Not all of these freed slaves joined the Imperial Orcs. Most orc slaves in Wintermark chose exile for example, traveling north or west to their former homes in the barbarian nations. Others simply became free, choosing to live as foreigners in the nations that had once held them captive. At least one large group, over a hundred of the so-called Unbroken, hired a vessel from Sarvos, sailed east, and were never heard from again.
Nobody really knows what happened to those orcs that didn't become Imperial Orcs - but what is not disputed is that the Imperial Orc egregore, Grud the Unchained bonded the rest to the new nation. While some in the Empire openly worried about the growing military power of the Imperial Orcs - which soon outstripped many less martial nations - the reality is that the problems caused by the rebellion would likely have been even more severe had Grud and the other Imperial orcs not persuaded most of those who had been freed to join them
In the decades that followed, numerous sporadic groups of orcs opted to join the nation of the Imperial Orcs. Some were little more than bandits, who embraced a chance to join the Empire rather than face the alternatives. Just as with any other nation, what mattered to the egregores who tested them, was not who they had been but who they would become. Anyone who genuinely wished to embrace the Imperial Orc way of life and to accept everything that came with it was permitted to join.
Identity and Purpose
One of the crucial tests was what loyalties an orc displayed. Until very recently, most Imperial Orcs lived in an army camp associated with the Winter Sun or the Summer Storm - or were at least connected to one of the two. Loyalty to the nation, to the Empire, to fighting in their name soon became central to the Imperial Orc way of life - with battle seen as a spiritual experience by many. A life lived in pursuit of war became a central part of who the Imperial Orcs were. Even those Orcs who lived as Reavers could not escape their nature; a mercenery, after all, is still a solider.
But even then, all Imperial Orcs were already much more than just soldiers. A passion for literacy had already begun to flourish in the nation along with the ideal that they should be proud of the place they had won as law-abiding citizens of the Empire. The goal of securing a land of their own gave the orcs purpose, a cause to rally around as they fought campaign after campaign. The goal of securing a land of their own gave the orcs purpose, a cause to rally around as they fought campaign after campaign.
The egregores chose to accept all those who embraced this way of life and who committed to serving the plan, and until recently that was largely uncontroversial.
And then they were successful. Skarsind was assigned to the Orcs, and at last - at last - the Orcs had a homeland. Members of the nation have gathered their belongings from all over the Empire and travelled to Skarsind to put down roots. The army camps are smaller, less full than they used to be.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the Imperial Orc way of life is that some of the orcs coming to Skarsind have no interest at all in the legions. They appear honest and express a desire to serve the nation and the Empire - but they are not soldiers and never have been. They earnestly support the plan - they want to work hard and prosper here. And in principle they support the armies - but they lack any experience with war and more than a few seem to have little interest in it. They have no appetite for the struggles of the past - their eyes are fixed instead on the future.
Not all of these orcs have been accepted into the nation. The egregores of every nation make decisions about who is eligible to join - the Imperial Orc egregore is no less discerning than any other in that regard. Suggesting that every orc should join the Imperial Orcs simply because they're an orc is an easy way to start a fight in a Skarsind tavern. Nobody would dream of suggesting that every human citizen join the League simply because they're human, but visitors to Skarsind rarely stop to consider that until it's pointed out to them - sometimes with a fist or two.
The nature of the egregore magic is not just to accept those who perfectly embody the spirit of the nation, but also those they see have the potential to do so. But in recent times people joining the nation have faced resistance from other Imperial Orcs even after they have been accepted by the egregore. Former members of the Hierro and the Liberated, the former Jarmish slaves who were emancipated in Sarvos, have all struggled to find acceptance. The Foreman of the Mines of Gulhule specifically refuses to allow any Orc citizens to work in the mines of Skarsind, despite requests from the Liberated and other groups. When representatives of the Jotun thralls came face to face with members of the Imperial Orcs, it was clear neither side saw any affinity in the other.
Gaining Skarsind has wrought many changes for the Imperial Orcs. Now, six decades after their long journey began, the spirit of the egregore is seeking an answer to the question of the Imperial Orcs existence. This is not about the past, it is not about who they were - but about who they are and what they will become.
More than just posing this question, the egregore has asked the Orcs to find an answer and then use the power of the Orc Assembly to spread it across the nation. Having first spoken to the orcs who rarely attend Anvil if ever, they have identified three possibilities for the Orcs at the summit to consider, each styled in the form of a mandate that could be spread across the nation if authorised by the Assembly.
Any of these mandates would resolve the potential conflict within the Imperial Orc nation about their identity and provide renewed focus for a generation to come. It would also help the egregores to provide decisive guidance to the civil service on Imperial Orc cultural traditions which is important for clarifying how elections are carried out.
The Imperial Orcs an Anvil could be unable to come to a decision - or indeed they could decide that no mandate is appropriate or required. In which case the current status quo will continue for the foreseeable future. As ever the civil service will update this list with additional mandates suggested by citizens eligible to raise them, provided the wording of those mandates would be materially different to the ones listed below.
Regrettably - because of the huge complexities involved in matters of faith and identity - the civil service are unable to provide any additional guidance on what the full consequences of these mandates might be.
War is in our Soul
The Imperial Orc nation are the Companions of Thrace. Those who fought alongside Thrace represent the true ideals of the nation - and only those who have war in their soul are fit to join us. We spend XX with 25 doses of liao to tell everyone that the Imperial Orc nation is no place for those who do not embrace the life of the soldier.Imperial Orc Assembly Mandate
This mandate would encourage the Imperial Orcs to look to their history and ensure that nobody was allowed to join the nation unless they met the purest ideals of what it meant to be an Imperial Orc. Only those orcs who had war in their soul would be eligible to join and it is likely that only those who traced some ancestry back to Thrace would be interested in doing so.
Some of those who have already joined - such as the Liberated and possibly some of the Hierro would leave if this mandate were passed and in future the egregore would be unable to bond orcs to the nation unless they were absolutely committed to the lifestyle of the soldier, either as a member or the legions or in support of them.
Building a Nation
The Imperial Orc nation are the Heirs of Thrace. We are the inheritors of the dream that he fought for - building a nation where orcs may prosper. We spend XX with 25 doses of liao to urge everyone to welcome any orc who is prepared to serve our nation unstintingly.Imperial Orc Assembly Mandate
This mandate would encourage the Imperial Orcs to look to the future and the attempt to build a new nation in Skarsind. It would encourage a broader definition of who is fit to call themselves an Imperial Orc and would serve as an open invitation - even to those who have been previously rejected. While few expect the Jotun Thralls or the Great Forest Orcs to travel en masse to Skarsind unless something significant changes, it is likely that some among their number might well seek to make a home here.
The mandate would not simply allow everyone to join the Imperial Orcs. Those who sought to join the nation would still need to be loyal to the core, proud of their place as citizens of the Empire and determined to support it and their nation. They would need to understand that life is precious and that all orcs have just one chance to make their mark. But the egregore would bond any orc who sought to serve the nation loyally if they believed demonstrated all these qualities.
An alternative mandate was suggested by Irontide Lok.
The Legions are the Heart and Soul of the Imperial Orc nation. They fight for the Empire and to crush its enemies. All Orcs must serve either in or to support the Legions. We send (named priest) with 25 doses of Liao to urge everyone to welcome any orc who is willing to serve our Legions, our nation and the Empire unstintingly.Synod Mandate, Imperial orcs, Irontide Lok
The civil service suggest that this is broadly similar to the previous mandate but with a key difference: it defines the Imperial Orc nation as fundamentally martial in character, rather than as the heirs of Thrace. While it encourages a broader definition of who is fit to call themselves an Imperial Orc, it also reinforces the idea that the legions are at the heart of the nation. One likely outcome of this would be for the method of appointing a senator to shift away from the current model toward a model where only those with a commitment to the martial heritage of the Imperial Orcs would be trusted to participate in the elections - most likely meaning those who lead a military unit.
Life is Precious
There is one other mandate that has been requested by Anka Fleshbinder. Anka is an exceptionally old Imperial Orc and although she claims never to have met Thrace, she was well into her middle years when the rebellion began. She has never wielded a weapon, but served with distinction in the First Legion for many years as an apothecary and bonesetter. But she is most well known for her skills as a midwife and parent - having raised a dozen of her own children and countless orphans to adulthood - including many human children.
The Imperial Orc nation are the Heralds of Thrace. Any who have war in their soul are fit to join us - provided that they fight to make every life count. We send XX with 50 doses of liao to tell everyone that our nation can be a home for soldiers of any species who understand that life is precious.Imperial Orc Assembly Mandate
This mandate underlines an ideal of the Imperial Orcs as a nation of people devoted to the life of the soldier, but Anka goes much further that no part of the traditions of the Imperial Orc nation demands that those who join it be orcs. That the nation should be open to any who are committed to the life of the soldier, for whom war is in their soul, but who ultimately fight to preserve life.
At no point in Imperial history has a human ever successfully joined the Imperial Orcs or an orc joined a human nation. Since the rebellion the nations of the Empire have operated on the belief that orcs and humans are fundamentally different. But as the experiences fighting against the Jotun in the Mournwold show, not all the Empire's enemies take the same approach.
If such a mandate were passed it does not automatically follow that it would be possible for a human to join the Imperial Orcs. An egregore can only accept someone into their nation if they recognize a kindred spirit - someone who can adapt to embrace the essence of what it means to be part of that nation and someone who could be readily accepted by other members of it.
Nothing can change that. But the egregore exists to embody the collective will of the nation - if it were possible for a human to join the Imperial Orcs, then a mandate like this would be an essential first step.