The place you called home
Valak stood with his spear before him, unmoving. He had kept the same position since noon, sweat running in rivulets down his face. Two thousand spears stood in a broad circle around him. The only sound was the slow beating of the drum, the Speaker of Totems pounding out the slow heartbeat of the nation. Beyond the great ring of spears the rest of the tribe, and the elders, rested in the shadows beneath the great marsh trees, watching and preparing meat and fruit for the feast to come.
As the sun touched the horizon, the Speaker of Totems suddenly fell silent. Shaking with exertion, Valak raised his spear in a smooth motion, reversed it, and drove it point-first into the soft ground with a warcry that tore his throat, left him leaning on the haft of the spear, strength fled from his body. Behind him he heard the voice of his great-grandfather, speaking words of wisdom, but he was too exhausted and suddenly too drained to make out the words. He took comfort in them though - his tone was not angry, but resigned, gentle.
A thunder of answering cries. Each warrior in the ring roared as they thrust their own spear into the soil. Some of them fell to their knees, others leant against their companions for support. A storm of wings from the rushes, as dozens of pale marsh birds, startled by the thunder, took flight, scattering feathers and shadows.
Silence. Valak struggled to catch his breath, as his strength slowly returned to him. He had pins and needles, but he could not afford to show weakness at this time.
"I am here," he said, as loud as he could. The spears echoed his words. "I am no longer a hunter of enemies, but a hunter of beasts. My warspear stays here as a promise, that when the leaves turn red I will return."
The murmured words bounced back and forth around the spears, sussuration, some voices stronger than others. The ceremony complete, he stood a little straighter, throwing out his arms.
"We are here," he said, with more confidence. He could feel his great-grandfather's hand on his shoulder, giving him strength. "This will be our place, at least until the season turns and the leaves change. We shall make a home here, beneath the trees."
A ragged cheer, and then the Speaker of Totems began to beat out a more energetic rhythm. The people came out from among the trees, many of them bearing garlands of leaves and vines. They helped the warriors to shed their armour, cast aside their shields, laid the wreaths upon them, and passed gourds and buckets of water and rough beer, and platters of food around.As the festivities began, Valak looked off across the lake to wear a massive white heron was eying him grumpily. He smiled, tired, but happy, already beginning to think like a hunter and a chieftan rather than a warrior. "We will do well here, he thought. "For a time, at least, we will do well here." And then his wife was there, laughing, and embracing him, and dragging him through the forest of abandoned spears to sit in the cool shade beneath the trees of their new home.
- The Orcs of the Great Forest will live as guests of the Empire in Therunin, primarily centered in the Lower Tarn Valley.
- The Great Forest Orcs have chosen to disband their army.
When the Great Forest Orcs left the Barrens, they came as a people fleeing the Druj with a greatly depleted army. They sought an alliance with the Empire hoping for a home with the Navarr in Therunin. Inititally they hoped that the Empire might grant them a region of their own in which to dwell. With such a homeland they could have begun to rebuild their army and be ready to retake their homeland in the Barrens.
Eventually it became clear that such a request was impossible. The Empire are prepared to allow the orcs of the Great Forest to dwell within Therunin provided that they are willing to help defend it - but they will not cede a region the ancient forest. The orcs are clearly disappointed by the outcome, but their mood is one of resignation rather than anger. They seem to accept that in the end they simply asked for too much and offered too little.
Without a homeland, the survival of their army remains precarious. If the force were to face the Druj in such a state, then any significant losses would cause the army to break and be destroyed. Faced with such a threat the elders are forced to accept the inevitable and take action to protect what remains of their people.
In the weeks following the Summer Solstice, the orcs voluntarily disband their army, casting aside their war spears. Near half of the two thousand warriors ceremonially cast aside their role as warriors and defenders, and shift their focus toward building a new life for themselves and their people in Therunin.
If diplomacy is the art of persuading others to act as we would wish, effective foreign policy requires that we comprehend why others act as they do.Madeline Albright, US Secretary of State
The Spears of the Pine
- Even without an army, the orcs of the Great Forest maintain a cadre of warriors.
The Great Forest Orcs have named Chief Valack as their liason to the Imperial Military Council. He may be contacted by Winged Messenger at the Great Forest Encampment, Lower Tarn Valley, Therunin for the time being. Valack has sent messengers to inform the Military Council that he is creating a map showing the disposition of the Mallum as his people know it, and expects it to be ready for the Winter Solstice. These maps will not be sufficient to allow Imperial magicians to scry the territories, they are an outline at best, showing the names and locations of the Druj territories. They will make it easier for the Imperial Senate to build a spy network in the Mallum if they choose though. They also promise to deliver as much information as they know about the Druj armies - although Valak cautions that such information is several years out of date.
While the Great Forest Orcs have disbanded their army their warriors do not abandon their weapons or their armour. Half choose to maintain combat readiness, guarding their people from the dangers of the forest of Therunin - which is, after all, a Navarr territory. Giant insects, alligators, and the occasional vallorn spawn threaten the orcs just as they threaten their human neighbours. These warriors call themselves the Spears of the Pines.
Calling the Spears of the Pines
As long as relations between the Great Forest Orcs and the Navarr remain cordial, and the orcs continue to live in Therunin, any Navarr general who is fighting in Therunin can call for the Spears of the Pines to fight alongside them. If they do so, a band of orcs and briars with a fighting strength of 1,000 will fight alongside that general in the coming season. To call the Spears of the Pines, the general need merely mention that they are doing so in their orders. Further, if any Navarr army is fighting to conquer the Barrens, they may likewise call for the Spears of the Pines, again by mentioning the in their orders. The Great Forest Orcs will only fight alongside Navarr armies in this way.
For purposes of rituals such as Bound by Common Cause, a warband of Spears of the Pines qualifies as seven military units.
The Holt of the Oak
- The Orcs of the Great Forest offer to construct a fortification of weirwood in the Lower Tarn Valley, to help protect Therunin.
- The fortification would require a Senate motion, 80 wains of weirwood and 20 thrones, take a year, and be garrisoned by the orcs.
- The fortification would not count against the Empire's limited number of commissions, and would have no upkeep for the Empire as long as the orcs remained.
The Great Forest Orcs claim to have great skill working with wood and seem keen to put their skills in service to protect the Empire. They have offered to oversee the construction of an effective fortification, using weirwood rather than the traditional white granite. They propose that the fortification would be sited in the Lower Tarn Valley but stress that it would serve to protect the whole territory if it were attacked. If built, it would not only function as a fortification, but any Spears of the Pine who were not supporting a Navarr army would default to using the fortification.
Obviously they have neither the weirwood nor the money needed to build such a thing. But after some discussion the civil service confirm that they do possess a number of skilled builders and that the proposal is sound - architecturally at least. If the Senate were to grant legal permission and the senator who passed the motion provided 80 wains of weirwood and 20 thrones, then they could construct a fortification in the Lower Tarn Valley. Crucially, with the Great Forest Orcs able to oversee the construction, it would not need oversight by the Empire's engineers and thus would not count against the Empire's limit of commissions.
Although they cannot afford to build the Holt of the Oak, they can spare the warriors to garrison it, so the Empire would not need to support the fortification (saving 10 Thrones each season as long as the Great Forest Orcs continued to support it). While the treaty remained in effect, the fortification would be identical to any regular Imperial fortification in practical terms. Any Imperial military unit could still choose to support it in the same way as any other fortification built by an allied force in the Empire, but it would be occupied and defended by the Great Forest Orcs.
Such a plan is not without drawbacks. The Great Forest Orcs are adamant that the work will be a gift to the Navarr, when the Orcs leave for the Barrens once again. But it is the job of the civil service to consider what other eventualities might occur. If the treaty were broken and the Orcs were motivated to try and seize the Lower Tarn Valley... then any fortification controlled by them would take no part in the initial fighting. But if the worst happened and the Orcs did somehow manage to consolidate their control of the region then the fortification could be quickly turned against the Empire.
The Lodge of Yew
- The Navarr National Assembly may encourage the herbalists and business owners of Therunin to offer aid to the orcs of the Great Forest.
Most of the Great Forest Orcs apothecaries and physics have been killed, lost in battle to the Druj (or in some cases the Dawnish). Those that survive have been forced to abandon their herb gardens to the Druj and now they have used every herb they possess to keep their people alive. Despite their best efforts, many of their people are still in need of medical treatment and without it they are unlikely to survive the coming winter. Some have attempted to buy what supplies they can from the Navarr who live in Therunin - but they lost what little wealth they once possessed when they fled the Barrens.
The sorry truth is that any Navarr herbalist who looks to trade with the Great Forest Orcs is certain to find themselves losing out as a result. These people simply do not have the means to pay for what they need - there is nothing to be gained from helping them. The sensible thing would be to leave them to their own business - most of them will survive and within a few years they should be established enough to prosper by themselves.
But a few guides point out that hoarding wealth is not part of Prosperity. They urge the Navarr Synod to consider the virtues and take action. At their request, the Imperial civil service calculate that the following mandate would be effective.
The Navarr assembly send NAMED PRIEST with 25 Liao to urge Navarr apothecaries, physicsks and brokers to share what herbs they can spare with our guests and allies.Synod Mandate
If this mandate is enacted, every herb garden in Therunin will produce two less herbs than normal (chosen randomly) for the next year and every business will produce 36 less rings. But the resulting generosity will be sufficient to ensure that no orc dies from wounds that might otherwise have been healed or for lack of herbs to treat them.
The Bounty of Reikos
Following request by Yosef of the Shattered Tower, the civil service has prepared two additional opportunities, related to the suggestion that the people of Reikos could offer support to the Great Forest orcs. While the Highborn have traditionally had little to do with these orcs, the people of Reikos have a shared experience of being oppressed by the Druj.
One option would be for the Imperial Senate to pass a motion, similar to that used to distribute the contents of the Imperial Breadbasket, distributing the bounty of the Gardens of High Chalcis to the Great Forest Orcs. This would see the great work provide no benefit to the herb garden owners of Reikos for the next year, but would provide the orcs with a generous supply of herbs, more than enough to ensure that where no unnecessary deaths. This exceptional act of generosity, would also create an unrivaled opportunity for a closer relationship between the people of Reikos and the orc of the Great Forest.
The Highborn assembly send NAMED PRIEST with 25 Liao to urge the apothecaries, physicks and benefactors of Reikos to offer charitable aid to the orcs of the Great Forest in Therunin.Synod Mandate
Alternatively, the Higborn National Assembly could pass the above mandate to encourage the people of Reikos to offer succour to the Great Forest orcs – but after years of occupation the population of Reikos is still significantly lower than that of Therunin so the burden of charity will be more tightly focused. If enacted, every herb garden in Reikos will produce three less herbs than normal (chosn randomly) for the next year, and everby business will produce 48 less rings. Though not as effective as redistributing the bounty of the Gardens of High Chalcis, the Great Forest orcs would still be supported allowing for the Highborn of Reikos to forge a better understanding with the orcs.
The Song of the Great Forest
- The Orcs of the Great Forest have offered to work the Thimble for the Empire in return for a share of its bounty.
The Great Forest Orcs are expert tenders of weirwood trees. When they dwelled in the Barrens they worked the weirwood groves in the Heart of Peytaht producing a steady stream of valuable timber to help the Barrens. The Orcs speak fondly of these groves, it seems that they possess some value to them beyond the wealth of the trees themselves, and they long to take them back. For now though, that resource languishes in the hands of the Druj - leaving these skilled craftsmen with no wood to work or work to perform.
Their shaman and totem-speakers have asked the Empire to consider the proposal that their woodcutters would work the trees in the Thimble for the Empire in return for a bounty of four wains of weirwood each season. Doing so would mean that the entire cost of running the Thimble would be negated while the agreement was in place - but the output of the grove would be reduced by four wains per season. They Orcs could then use the weirwood they gained to create herb gardens and similar of their own in Therunin.
A few kind brokers have tried to explain to the Great Forest Orcs that their offer isn't commercially viable. That the sale price of weirwood is higher than the value of their labour. To this the orcs have only shrugged. It's not clear if they fully understand the complex economics involved - or if they just don't care. Whatever the case they ask that the Empire consider their proposal.
The running of the Empire's bourse resources follows strict constitutional and legal rules. It would require a suitable Senate motion to authorize the Great Forest Orcs to work the groves and claim the timber - but due to the nature of the seat's election, such a motion could only be passed this season - so that any change took place while the Thimble was up for election at the Winter Solstice.
- The Imperial Conclave may choose to help the Great Forest orcs expand their understanding of magic.
The Great Forest Orcs lack skilled magicians and ritualists. In fact they possess only the most rudimentary magical training and some of their best magicians are barely a match for the children in the Academy. It appears that when they laboured under the Druj, what little magic they possessed was stripped from them. The Druj it seems will tolerate their subject nations learning some of the more simple battle spells and little more. In total they have only a few dozen rituals - none of which surpass Imperial equivalents - most are far worse.
From interactions with the Navarr, they slowly become aware that the Empire's magical learning exceeds their own as the light of the sun exceeds that of a candle. They ask those magicians they talk to how they came by such mastery of magic and seem awed that the Empire has instituted schools and libraries to spread this learning across the land.
Eventually the inevitable question is put to the Navarr. Would the Empire consent to let the Great Forest Orcs access this great storehouse of knowledge and learning? Would they allow the young magicians of the nation to learn what their own children learn? Could their shamans be allowed to access these mystical libraries?
The Great Forest Orcs clearly have no concept of what the Empire might charge for such a thing - but they scrape together all the wealth they can amass which amounts to 13 mana crystals, 7 ingots of Beggars Lye, and a single ring of Ilium. Apparently this great treasure has been in the nation's possession for a generation - carefully hoarded away from the Druj. They offer this bounty in exchange for access to Imperial Lore while they dwell in Therunin.
There would be no financial cost to the Empire to grant access to their ritual magics, but the civil service advice caution. The Empire has a treaty with the Great Forest Orcs, but treaties have failed before now, especially in recent times. If the Orcs are granted access to Imperial Lore there is no way to limit what rituals they might acquire. While they are hardly likely to become the equal of the Urizen in a few short years... they are going to use that access to acquire rituals that they have never had access to before. Once that happens there is no simple way to take the lore back short of extermination. And worse, if the Orcs return to the Barrens... there might be nothing to stop the Druj enslaving them again - and taking that lore for their own - just as they did before.
To share Imperial Lore with the Great Forest Orcs would require a suitable Declaration of Concord by the Conclave. If successful, the bounty of mana crystals, lye and ilium could be the subject of a Declaration of Endowment at the next summit. In return the Orcs would gain access to many useful rituals such as Blessing of New Spring or similar that they could use to prosper as they settle in Therunin.
What people have the capacity to choose, they have the ability to change.Madeline Albright, US Secretary of State
Any Imperial character is free to create stories of interactions with the Great Forest Orcs if they wish, as long as they bear certain considerations in mind.
The Great Forest Orcs are centred in the Lower Tarn Valley, but their people will spread out throughout Therunin over the coming months into every region that is not occupied by the Vallorn (every region except Greenheart and Sweetglades). They will not build permanent settlements outside of the Lower Tarn Valley unless explicitly invited to do so by Navarr steadings. Their hunting parties will, however, be encountered in all parts of the territory.
Whenever they are encountered, they are guarded but cautiously friendly to the Navarr. They are cordial to Imperial Orcs, in all ways treating them as equals. With representatives of other nations, they are cool and aloof and will not voluntarily spend time around them. The exception is the Dawnish - it is clear they have little love for them. They abide by Imperial law as they understand it, and they do their level best not to infringe on Navarr hunting grounds uninvited.
They have no interest in the Way, and no interest in sharing their own philosophy save to speak in the broadest terms about ancestors, spirits, and their concept of the Great Forest - that all the woodlands that currently stand in Imperial lands and in the Barrens were once part of a single immense forest that stretched across the entire land long before humans arrived, and will one day reclaim that land.
The briars who live among them rarely leave Lower Tarn Valley unless they are part of a large orc hunting party. They avoid contact with Imperials for the most part; although some of them appear to be working to help the Great Forest Orcs understand the Empire their information is somewhat patchy and out of date. They, likewise, have little interest in the Way - but Navarr who visit the Great Forest Orcs quickly learn that these briars honour the same virtues as the Empire ... but unfortunately they also honour the false virtue of anarchy. While they are careful never to speak of it to Imperials, some of them can occasionally be heard referencing it among themselves.
Volfe of Ashenhall, the Archmage of Spring, successfully raised a Declaration of Dissemination in the Imperial Conclave to have a ritual text for Rivers of Life created and bequeathed to the Great Forest Orcs. The ritual text has been provided to the orc magicians. The results remain to be seen.
The Navarr National Assembly passed a mandate charging Tynan Lonestriker to urge the people of Therunin to share their herbs and supplies with the great forest orcs. If Tynan provides the required 25 doses of liao, this will impact the herb gardens and businesses of Therunin as detailed above. At the same time the Imperial Senate voted to amend the use of the Gardens of High Chalcis, to redirect the bounty of herbs they provide to support the Great Forest orcs. It is not entirely clear what will result from taking advantage of both opportunities, but it is certain that the Great Forest will have more than enough herbs for their needs in the coming year.
The Great Forest orcs have also been given permission by the Imperial Senate to take over the operation of the Thimble. This has several effects. It removes the upkeep of the Bourse seat, but it also allows the Great Forest orcs to claim a portion of the weirwood produced to allow them to establish herb gardens and farms in Therunin. This reduces the amount of weirwood received by the Navarr custodian of the Thimble by 4 wains each season.