Price of experience
"The messengers have done their best, but the news is not good." He said without preamble. "The Navarr no longer wish us to be here."
A rumble passed through the circle, but nobody interrupted.
"They require that we leave Therunin, and trek across their Empire to the far north - to the cold mountains - there to be consumed by the orcs of the Imperial tribe."
One of the councillors spoke, her voice flat.
"The orcs of the Imperial tribe do not want us. They are not of our tribe. It is known."
The chieftain nodded. It was known.
"They require us to submit to their tribal spirit. They require us to abandon the Forest. They require us to embrace the ancestors of the Imperial people."
An angry rumble now, a susurration of whispers.
"They will give us a year, and then they will no longer offer us sanctuary from the Druj."
He spat as he named the tribe of tyrants, the people of the scorpion. Many of the warriors outside the circle did the same, as did a few of the elders.
"They say that there will be no more charity. We must pay for our place among them with magic and trade goods."
One of the elders stood up and addressed the chieftain.
"We told them we would fight the tyrants with them? Protect their forest from the people of the scorpion? Trade with them - trade our knowledge of the Druj and trade meat, furs, and wood with them?"
"Yes. The totem speaker told them all this in Autumn."
The elder sat down again.
"What choice do we have?" asked the chieftain. "The totem speaker says that there has been no reply from the south, but we must move. We cannot stay here. We cannot return north, we will not diminish and we cannot fight. What choice? We must move."
At that moment, a new figure stepped into the clearing. Flanked by four warriors, the orc moved with a casual confidence, her face hidden by a midnight blue cowl. As she walked, her staff jingled with silver bells."There is ... another possibility," she said calmly, smiling toothily beneath the hood.
During the Summer Solstice 380YE, the Imperial Senate declared that the Empire was no longer at war with the orcs of the Great Forest. A little over a month later, an army of around two thousand orcs, along with what appeared to be the majority of their tribe, emerged from Hope's Rest and established a camp in the Lower Tarn Valley. They came, they said, at the invitation of Caerwyn Summercrow, then Senator for Therunin - although she has now been succeeded by Willa Wintervigil.
War weary, but armed and armoured, the battered army protects the tribe as best it can. In the months since, their situation has remained precarious. The Empire has invested some funds in supporting them, but the situation is not sustainable. It is complicated by the fact that the Great Forest orcs appear disinterested in becoming part of the Empire, and that there are among them an unknown number of briars, believed to be associated with the heretics of Dourfell Keep.
The orc army is depleted and weakened by repeated engagements with the Dawnish and with the cruel Druj. Without land they are unable to replenish their warriors, even with monetary support from the Empire. At the same time they seem loath to attack and seize land for themselves. There have been negotiations between representatives of the orcs and the Navarr, but they appear to be going nowhere.
Rumours suggest that shortly after the Winter Solstice, the Great Forest orcs began to make preparations to break camp - and only a last minute communication from the Navarr (or perhaps The Throne, depending on who is telling the story) prevented a potential escalation of the situation that might have seen open conflict between the tribe and the Empire.
The chief of the Great Forest orcs is young, but is advised by a council made up of old and experienced orcs. They have repeatedly avowed they have no interest in being absorbed by either the Navarr, or the Imperial orcs. They claim that their cultural heritage stretches back centuries - they claim to have ancestors that roamed the forests of what are now Therunin, the Barrens, Brocéliande, and Highguard long before the Terunael placed one stone upon another to begin their cities. Some of them have laboured under the yoke of the Druj, forced to serve and fight for their wicked masters. Others lived free in the forests of Brocéliande for a time, returning to join their fellows only when the Barrens was briefly liberated from the tyrannical Druj.
Much of this information comes second-hand, from brokers in Therunin who have had limited contact with the orcs. They say that there is a growing sense of frustration among the people of the Great Forest - a sense that they were offered sanctuary and are now being treated like unwanted guests. It is hard to say where this bad feeling may lead.
The orcs of the Great Forest have firmly rebuffed attempts to introduce them to the Way. They have their own religion, it seems, and while they are not interested in discussing it, those Therunin Navarr who have dealt directly with them have managed to glean a few details. Like many orcs, they hold their ancestors in particular reverence. At the same time they also seem to revere or even worship invisible spirits that they believe live in the forest and protect them from the Howling Abyss. They refuse to talk about these spirits, but they claim they are the "children" of the Great Forest - the single woodland they claim once stretched across the entire area now occupied by the Empire, as far north as the borders of Otkodov.
As well as orcs, the Great Forest tribe is accompanied by perhaps a hundred and fifty humans of obvious briar lineage who are not Imperial citizens. There is little doubt that these briars are representatives of the anarchists of Dourfell Keep in the Barrens - descendants of the murderous heretics who attempted to claim the Barrens as an independent briar "kingdom" during the reign of Emperor Ahraz. With Druj domination of the Barrens all but complete, it is speculated that they are the only surviving members of the cult. Regardless, it is unlikely that they are friends to the Empire and their presence among the Great Forest orcs may be cause for concern.
The situation in Therunin appears to be moving towards some sort of crisis.
Supporting the army
For the past six months, the Empire has been providing them with 50 thrones each season, allowing the army to maintain its current strength. All the problems previously mentioned still apply.
A place to live
The Great Forest orc tribe has reached the limit of their ability to sustain themselves in their current location. There have already been a few minor conflicts with the steadings of the Tarn Valley - although there has been no bloodshed frustration is growing on both sides. There are still opportunities to cede territory to the Great Forest orcs, but even if the Imperial Senate takes such a step they would still need to support the Great Forest orcs army if they wish it to continue as a viable military force.
Since the peace treaty of Summer 379YE, the Thule orcs of Otkodov have been foreigners, able to claim a wary welcome within the borders of the Empire. A delegation of Thule has made their way to Therunin, apparently specifically to talk to the Great Forest orcs. The exact details of their discussion are not known to the Empire, but there is some evidence that they have invited the Great Forest orcs to join the Thule hegemony.
The patience of the Great Forest orcs is nearing its limit. There is talk of a "letter" (or perhaps more than one) that has brought things to a head - and the Great Forest orcs are again making preparations to leave their camp and begin moving. Local scouts suggest even though their army is depleted, there are no forces in Therunin at the moment capable of stopping them should they wish to move - or of offering a coherent defence should they be planning to attack.
If the Great Forest orcs attack Therunin, it is unlikely they would be able to make any significant territorial gains before the Summer Solstice. Even if their intentions are not hostile, so many orcs (and briar allies) on the move would be very disruptive to life in Therunin.
The Great Forest orcs are making one final effort to reach an accord with the Empire. They hope to avoid a repeat of the chaos caused by the failed peace treaty of Summer 379YE, but there is nothing to suggest the situation can be salvaged. Still, they have declared that a small delegation will visit Anvil on Saturday evening, to talk to their hosts - and also to speak with Skywise Fal of the Imperial Orcs.
It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.William Blake