Hurrak and Tomlan settled down companionably on the worn blanket. The orc lass had a half of sausage in a crusty cob, while the human boy was enjoying a whole corn cob dripping in butter. Both were infused by the illicit thrill of being allowed to stay up so late. A frisson ran through the other watchers, each with their own little part of the hill staked out for friends and family, as the first glimmering off to the north-east indicated the show was about to begin. There was an appreciative gasp from those who hadn't seen it already when the shaft of light erupted over the Ore Hills. Both Hurrak and Tomlan had seen it before, however, and were more interested in eating their late supper before it got cold.

"What do you think tis for," asked Hurrak through a mouthful of meat and bread. "All this carry on?"

"I heared it were about the miners," said Tomlan, and then swore under his breath as hot butter stung his thumb. He shifted his grip on the corncob. "That it's a secret signal to them to rise up and... you know. Rise up."

Hurrak was sceptical. "It's not very secret, is it?" she pointed out reasonably. There was another gasp from the gawping crowd as the light formed into an immense, shirtless, figure with golden curls.

"Granda Elphick says that back in the day, back when he was young, all the miners across the hills were part of it. A conspiracy to make the Marches change how they chose their Senators." He paused, trying to get loose a bit of corn kernel that got stuck between his front teeth. He continued speaking, a little indistinctly, round his finger. "Mind you Granda Mason said he was an idiot who didn't know what he was talking about and now the pair of them aren't talking to each other again."

He nodded over to another blanket where two old men were pointedly ignoring each other. In the sky, the phantasmal figure struck the hillside with its mighty pickaxe. There was a noise like thunder.

"Imagine if we were right there," said Hurrak. "I reckon that noise would throw you ten feet or more!"

"My cousin Morris went up there to look last night, said that when you get closer its like a rainbow. You can't actually get to where it is. It's just... in the air. Something like that. That's what cousin Morris said."

They continued to watch, finishing their supper.

"My Granda says its about us." Hurrak spoke slowly. She only had one granda; Tomlan had head his mother telling his auntie that her other granda had died in the war of curses. "That it's about telling us we're not welcome and should go somewhere else."

They both considered this for a minute or two. "Where would you even go?" asked Tomlan after a while.

"My sister says we could go to Tassato. They'll take anyone in Tassato. I hear they never sleep there, and there's wine in the river. Can you imagine?"

Tomlan could not, in fact, imagine. The display was nearly over - it only lasted a handful of minutes. The giant figure stood majestically against the night sky, one hand on his hip, gazing toward the horizon.

"Anyway, I think they're all wrong," said Tomlan. "It's obvious what it's about. You've only got to look at it. Whoever made this really loves that big man. I mean you can see why. Look at him."

"He's very pretty," said Hurrak, unconvinced. "But I heard Uncle Casta saying it had to mean something because there's no way that thing took less than forty whole mana crystals to make and nobody spends that much on a pretty distraction."

"What do old people know about love?" said Tomlan, giving the giant figure his full attention. "And anyway it's a very pretty distraction."

Hurrak laughed at him and he blushed and stuck his tongue out at her. The man faded away, leaving a weird sigil hanging in the air.

"What is that sign," he asked. Hurrak frowned.

"It's one of the old runes, I think," she said. "I don't know which one. I'd have to ask Uncle Hasta, he'll know."

With the image finally faded, the adults continued to talk and eat, and occasionally someone from one blanket would wander casually over to someone else's and exclaim about how nice such and such a dish was, and would they like to try some of this. The gentle hubbub of late-night conversation was almost restful.

"Still. Forty crystals of mana," said Hurrak after a little while. "You could buy a whole farm for that!"

Tomlan shrugged. "Some people just live in a different world to the rest of us, I suppose," he said.

And then they both fell silent, and sat quietly together under the stars, in the manner of young people everywhere who know that if their parents realise they're still there, they'll be sent to bed.
Bringing People Together.jpg
Sometimes you just have to sit back and look at the flowers. And maybe wonder how long it would take to dig them all up and put something useful in their place


Every night after the Spring Equinox, a glowing vision assails the people of the Mournwold. On the stroke of midnight a beam of golden light pierces the sky, erupting out of the heart of the Ore Hills and visible to varying degrees across the territory, depending on location and weather. The torrent of light swirls and writhes, and out of it bursts a giant gleaming figure dominating the sky. They appear to be a heavily muscled man, stripped to the waist, their taut muscles outlined by bands of gleaming gold. Their hair shimmers, a golden fleece of curls shining like the light of a new dawn, their eyes pools of azure fire. A flaming brand in the shape of crossed shovels blazes across their right forearm. The words “Mine” and “Free” burn brightly across their knuckles as they raise their fists before them, and thanks to some twiddle of the magic everyone knows those words are there and what they say, even if they shouldn't by rights be able to make them out. The moon and the stars are still barely visible through the vision; it's a thing of air and fancy.

With casual grace the figure plucks a flaming pickaxe from out of thin air, places a foot upon a nearby hill, and takes a mighty swing. The pick smashes into the hill with a mighty, although harmless, flash and thunderous roar that shakes nearby trees, terrifies animals across the Ore Hills, and wakes people from theirs lumber as far away as Sarcombe. The figure stands, slinging their mighty pick over one shoulder, and resting one hand on their hip. They gaze out over the horizon, then in a flash the figure disperses, leaving a flaming rune of Feresh hanging in the sky that slowly fades to embers and scatters on the wind.

It's a bit of a five-days wonder, as these things often are. Folk with the leisure to do so visit the Mournwold from Mitwold and Upwold to gawk at the giant, half-naked, idealised miner. They're mostly not farmers because most of the farmers are too busy with their farms to go traipsing to Mournwold for a light display, but their money spends just like anyone else's. Obviously, after a week or so people who actually have to get up early for work in the Ore Hills grumble about the thunderous detonation at midnight ruining their sleep. Shepherds and cowherds complain about it bothering their animals, although by all accounts both goats and pigs simply ignore it. After six weeks or so the magic obviously begins to fade and break down a little; the figure becomes more indistinct, the thunderous noise of the pick striking becomes more muted, it becomes harder to make out what is written on the image's knuckles. A week before the Summer Solstice it's little more than a suggestion of a giant man in the sky.

While it's there, though, it inspires a lot of discussion about what it means. Without context, it's easy to project. There's three main schools of thought.

Mine Free

  • For some the image is a reminder of the troubles that threatened to tear the territory apart prior to the Jotun invasion

The fact the figure is clearly a miner and has "mine free" tattooed on his knuckles serves as a reminder that, before the Jotun invaded, the Mournwold was on the verge of a localised civil war. The Mournwold has always been known for its mines, unlike Upwold and Mitwold which are known for their farms, and Bregasland which is known for both its farms and its peculiar standoffish people. Like neighbouring Kahraman and Tassato, the Mourn is riddled with rich veins of green iron, and other valuable metals. That metal, and the mithril of the Singing Caves in particular, was vital to the protection of the Marches, going to support both their armies and the weapons and armour wielded by their yeomen. Knowing their worth - or having an overblown sense of their own importance depending on who you asked - the miners of the Mournwold increasingly chafed at the fact that they could not have a direct say in the nation's politics.

The tide of dissatisfaction ebbed and flowed, moving beyond complaints into open confrontation, especially between the farmers of wealthy Chalkdowns and Freemoor, and the mine owners of Ore Hills and Southmoor. One storied event took place after a poor harvest in 326YE finally ignited the long drawn out conflict. In late Autumn a violent mob descended on the lowland farms and raided cattle and grain in a manner reminiscent of a Feni attack. The magistrates were quick to respond, arresting the ringleaders and in some cases executing the worst of them. The people of the Ore Hills still sing sad songs about this great "injustice" - much to the chagrin of the farmers of Chalkdowns and Freemoor. After the uprising, the Mourn was quiet again for a few years, but in 347YE and 348YE the grumbling began to become more pronounced again, and there were early signs that things might be about to get out of hand again, but "luckily" the Jotun invasion put a decisive stop to the matter.

With the Jotun gone, the people of Mitwold and Upwold (and Bregasland) might have thought the matter closed. But it isn't. Not by a long shot. There are still people in the Mourn who don't talk to other Mournwolders because of what happened in the Ore Hills Uprising (or the Southmoor Uprising, or the Nasty Miner Business). There's residual bad blood not just between miners and farmers, but within the two sides between miners who disagreed with the push for enfranchisement, or between farmers whose sympathies lay on different side of the argument. And, with this giant figure in the sky wielding a pickaxe, those rumblings are getting a little bit louder.

What's to be done?

  • The vast majority of the Marches has no interest in giving the vote to anyone else
  • There is a hare-brained plan that suggests finding a suitable exemplar to hang the virtue of fighting for mine owner votes on might help
  • A Mournwold mine-captain named Jedediah Boon is being looked to by some of the mine owners and miners to lead the charge

They're still only rumblings, though. Some of those who want miners to be able to vote in the Senator elections see the figure as a rallying cry; a sign that they have support. Others look at its chiselled good looks and flowing locks, and count it a mockery. Is it urging people to combine their forces to demand recognition, or is it telling them they should be happy with a pat on the head from their "betters" (something guaranteed to anger a Marcher).

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to mine owners becoming stewards is that the Marches, on the whole, doesn't really have any. Not outside Mournwold anyway. There's a few here and there but the power in the nation lies with the farmers, and always has done. The monastery, the landskeeper circle, the market town all have a role to play in the politics of the nation - anyone who claimed Marcher politics are "simple" is a fool or takes you for one - but the miners are not really a presence outside the Mournwold. There is no clamour outside the Mourn for miners to be recognised, and even within the territory there are plenty of people very happy with the status quo. A statement of principle last year asking the people of the Marches to consider why only farm owners had a say in the politics of the Marches divided the assembly but was narrowly defeated. Arguably the priests were in line with how the majority of the Marchers outside Anvil view the subject. Arguably, even if the Assembly were united behind the idea of giving miners the vote, there's a good chance their own people would just reject it. It's too big a change to come out of the blue.

On behalf of Jedediah Boon of the Ore Hills, we, the Marcher National Assembly know the importance of Marchers working their land and ask the nation to consider why only farmers are allowed to vote in our nation's elections while those who otherwise work the land - miners, foresters, herb gardeners - cannot.

Meri, Marcher National Assembly, 384YE Spring Equinox, Upheld (62-52)

But facts in the head can't hold a candle to belief in the heart. Courage and Pride know what they want, and damn what reason says. Unhappy grumbling doesn't just go away, and it seems that one of the people at the forefront of the grumbling is the fellow named in the statement - Jedediah Boon of the Boon County Miners. They're known to be a regular attendant of Anvil, where the decisions are made. A lot of the old mining households respect him and his kin - they were some of those who stayed as thralls rather than leave their mines. They're known to have the dirt of the Ore Hills under their fingernails, and its stone in their bones. After a bit of arguing and a pretty conclusive fist-fight, some of the other mining captains have a ridiculous suggestion for Jedediah. It probably won't work, but it's a start.

That idealised golden-haired figure on the hillside? That's nice but its not a Mournwold miner. But there are real Mournwold miners out there, genuine heroes who strove to have the folk who dug beneath the earth stand shoulder to shoulder to those who dug in the earth. Most of them were executed in 326YE but their legacy remains sixty years later. If that legacy was recognised... or better yet recognised then that might be the little pebble that gets the whole hillside moving. It certainly can't hurt. But it would need to be done properly. So they suggest that Jedediah pull all the strings he can and get either the Minister of Historical Research or the Lepidean Librarian to examine the events of that rebellion, and the Courageous, Proud, Loyal people who led it, and reveal their names to the whole Empire. And then, get one of the Virtue Assemblies to recognise them for their virtue, and the General Assembly to agree, and then get someone to create a true inspirational location and then...

The plan slightly trails off there, it has to be said. But there might be something there. Because right now, there's nothing to hold up the roof, nowhere to hang the lantern, no crack to get the end of the pick into. Not unless people are prepared to take the kind of direct, impossible to ignore action they took in 326YE, of course. And this time somehow not all get executed.

I know people think it's funny, but the next person to say "They're not your hills they're Ore Hills" like it's funny is getting whacked with a shovel.

Hap the Soft


  • The Mournwold Thralls aren't sure what to make of the giant figure

The other group of people who have been discussing the giant image in the skies over the Ore Hills are the former Jotun Thralls. Or the Mournwold Orcs, as they are increasingly calling themselves; those who remain have chosen to stay and try to join the Marches so they're largely abandoned a label that describes them in terms of who they were, not who they are. Some of these Mournwold Orcs look at the idealised, very human, miner standing proudly over the Ore Hills, and they wonder a little. Is this a message meant for them? Is this a roundabout way of saying they aren't welcome here and never will be? "Mine" can have a possessive meaning after all.

Most of the Mournwold Orcs don't think that way. They've seen the concessions the Marchers have made for them. They see things like the creation of the Bailiff of the Downs as proof positive that some Marchers at least want them in their nation. They point to the way orcs and humans work together to carve the incredible Black Canal into the very face of the Marches to link Mitwold and Mournwold together, and their own part in creating it. When work is completed in a few months time, it will be a triumph both people can share. Those orcs who went to Anvil during the Winter Solstice confirmed that, at least on the surface, there is a place for them in the Marches. And when Eisa Winterborn came raiding over the border, orcs and humans worked together to turn her back. Some of the younger Mournwold Orcs even fought, a fact which fills their parents with trepidation, but which can't be taken back. They're set on a road now that ends in the ultimate victory, or the ultimate failure.

To be a Marcher is to accept Imperial law. The Marcher assembly is working towards accepting the Mourne orcs as Imperial citizens, but feel that we cannot protect them from accusations of heresy. We look forward to discussing our ideas with a ghodi, this would greatly assist our efforts.

Sister Meredith, Spring Equinox 385YE, Upheld (Greater Majority 140-0)

Yet the Mournwold Orcs can't avoid listening to the news coming from the far east, brought by merchants and traders, of the way the League is treating the Apulian Orcs, of the enthusiasm those people have for the Sand Fisher sept. They can't help but hear stories of the Great Forest Orcs who've moved to Hercynia and Miaren, and the welcome they received from the Navarr. It's been a few years now, they've put their best meal on the table and thrown open the door and yet the party doesn't seem to be starting. Some of them are starting to question if it ever will, in their lifetime. They can't go back to the Jotun - that sheep's been sheared and the fleece is on the floor. Their choice, characterised by their resistance to Eisa Winterborn and her warband, means many Jotun will treat them like oathbreakers if they try to go back to a nation few of them even remember with much affection. They're all in... but some are worried that this new apparition means the Marchers are starting to get cold feet.

What's to be done?

  • A delegation of Mournwold Orcs will attend Anvil on Friday evening
  • Hap the Soft, one of the spiritual leaders of the Mournwold Orcs, will be accompanying them but may need some time to recover

The big stumbling block seems to be religion. The Mournwold Orcs won't give up their belief that they reincarnate (with caveats), and the Marcher assembly seems to think it impossible for them to join while they are clearly in defiance of the Doctrine of the Howling Abyss. The problem appears insurmountable. Mind you, as Hap the Soft (one of the leaders of the Mournwold Orcs) points out, that particular Doctrine is barely five years old and what's been tangled in haste can always be untangled in time. How much time is the question. It's easy to slip into a comfortable status quo, and right now the status quo is that the Mournwold Orcs and the Mournwold Humans are neighbours, and may often be good neighbours, but the fences between their farms are tall and the gates are watched carefully.

We rejoice that orcs of the Mournwold wish to join the Empire. Vigilance demands that they must understand our Way, and the religious laws to which we are subject before they join. Let us resolve to teach them, especially our understanding of the orcish soul.

Brother Geoffrey Orchard, Winter Solstice 384YE, Upheld (Upheld 111-0)

The Marchers have asked for a godhi to come to Anvil, and as Hap says it would be rude to let a little thing like the fact they don't have any stop someone at least heading down to talk about the soul. When someone points out he was the one who said they might bring some godhi to Anvil in the first place, he gets embarrassed and changes the subject. He has however volunteered, being an elder orc whose people think them wise, to accompany a small delegation. He's coming at the invitation of Sister Meredith, but is particularly interested in meeting Brother Geoffrey Orchard who made a statement of principle last Winter - upheld by the Marcher Assembly - in which he offered to teach the Mournwold Orcs about how the orcish soul works.

The delegation is expected to turn up at Anvil very early on Friday, with several of the orcs who visited in Winter expected to attend. Hap will accompany them unless the strain of the long journey from Mournwold proves too much; if that happens he'll arrange another time during the Summit that he can make. He's not holding out much hope, apparently. His people will not abandon a belief that is so foundational to who they are, and they won't lie about it. While the Imperial Synod holds the Imperial Orcs understanding of their own souls to be true for all orcs, he can't see any way ahead - but he's patient. "You don't plant in April and harvest in May", he says pragmatically.

A Busy Time of Year

  • Young people from the Mournwold are planning to travel north as itinerant labourers, visiting farms in Mitwold, Upwold, and even Bregasland in search of work
  • For the first year, a significant number of younger Mournwold Orcs are discussing making the same trip

While the great and the good meet at Anvil, there are a number of Mournwold Orcs who have more practical concerns. A new generation of orcs who've never been to Jotun lands is growing up in the Mournwold alongside Marcher neighbours. With Summer at its height, and the Autumn harvest just around the corner, there are a number of young people among both folk who are chafing a little at being cooped up in familiar surroundings. It's not uncommon for young people who are feeling in a bit of a rut working their family farms to leave their homes during the Summer and Autumn and go and work someone else's farm. In good years, the practice ensures that there's plenty of labour to go around, and helps the often slightly parochial Marchers to journey more than a few miles from the place they call home. It's also often seen as a way for people to have a chance to get up to the kinds of foolishness that helps a young person turn into an adult. It also just happens to provide reasonably priced surplus labour and keep folk from getting up to too much mischief. "Idle hands grow a fresh crop of trouble" as the proverb goes.

This year, perhaps thanks to the subtle influence of all that Autumn magic that's knocking about, a lot of Mournwold folk are talking about heading to Mitwold, Upwold, and Bregasland and taking a look at their northern neighbours, and earn a few crowns in the process. For the first time, a significant number of young Orcs are discussing taking the opportunity to go with them, or to try out the tradition for themselves. This could cause problems. While the orc labourers on the Black Canal have gone some way to introducing people in Mitwold to the idea of Orcs working alongside Marchers, this would represent an unpredictable mixing of Marcher Human and Mournwold Orc. With the best will in the world, there's likely to be friction. Here, at least, the Marcher National Assembly could weigh in.

Part of Sister Meredith's statement says that "the Marcher assembly is working towards accepting the Mourne orcs as Imperial citizens." If that is still the case, and the assembly is prepared to deal with the consequences, they could support and encourage those young Orcs looking to get out of the Mournwold and see the rest of the Marches.

The Prosperous are not selfish, and the Proud proclaim their virtue by actions not words. Let every Marcher yeoman and steward welcome the Orcs of the Mournwold, and treat them as they would any other young Marcher seeking hard work and fair pay. We send (named priest) with 75 doses of liao to ensure everyone knows that it is our Ambition to make one people out of two, and a job that never gets started never gets finished.

Synod Mandate, Marches National Assembly

If this mandate is enacted it won't be a panacea; there will inevitably be some friction between Mournwold Orcs and humans who know only the Jotun and the Imperial Orcs of the Sunstorm sept. More pragmatically, though, the Orcs will work just as hard as their human neighbours will. There's plenty of work to go round - the practicalities of restoring Bregasland in the wake of the Jotun invasion will see to that. The orcs will get to know the Marchers of the north, and vice versa.

But there are two caveats. A mandate like this will tell the people of the Marches that they are working to bring the Mournwold Orcs into their nation for good or ill. It might set them at odds with the rest of the Synod, or at the very least make it clear that they intend to pursue a change of doctrine in the General Assembly. And of course, there's the other traditional outcome of those months young Marchers spend working other farms; they might well not want to come home again.

If the mandate isn't enacted, then the older Mournwold Orcs will gently suggest to their young people that this isn't the year for them to go travelling. Maybe next year. Maybe.

As always, this mandate is only available during the Summer Solstice, and any Marcher priest (or Highborn priest drawing on the partner of greatness) can suggest alternative mandates.

Not Just Dour.jpg
There's nothing like a grand spectacle to bring people together. Possibly to have an argument about whether the spectacle is any cop.


  • A small number of people believe the magical figure is related to an epic tale of love

The Marchers are a notoriously practical, down to earth people, but they are still people. When news of the giant figure appearing in the Ore Hills spreads, people come to see it, and a very small number take an entirely different view of it. Noting the obviously intentional beauty of the figure, they assume that this actually has nothing to do with miners, or with Mournwold Orcs, but is about something much more ephemeral. Love. There's absolutely no evidence for this beyond what the heart knows to be true, obviously. Yet within a month, the first lurid ringblack tales are being churned out of the printing presses in Tassato purporting to tell the real story of the tragic golden-haired miner of the Mourn. They have ridiculous titles, and nobody takes them seriously. Just like nobody takes the songs - mostly repurposed traditional tunes with altered lyrics - seriously. But a few people find a deeper meaning in the poor, tragic miner of the Mourn and wonder who the people involved are, and why this particular image appeared where it did. The most popular opinion, needless to say, is that the lovers are star-crossed Marcher and Dawnish yeofolk. It's likely nobody will ever know the truth... and perhaps that's for the best as it would certainly prove more disappointingly prosaic than what these romantics have created for themselves.