ugger,” thought the
half-orc as, not for the first time that day, he sank shin-deep into a cold
puddle, more mud than water. Leaning one hand against a nearby tree he
lifted his foot and wrenched off his filth-caked boot. Raising it to
eye-level and tipping it slowly, he watched as the brown sludge drained out
and splashed onto the ground at his feet. Pushing his huge green hand down
into the boot, he wiggled his fingers around in search of his scrunched-up,
sodden sock. Looking up into the gloomy sky and poking his tongue out of the
side of his mouth seemed to help, as he was soon pulling the dirty grey
article from its hiding place in the toe of his Wison-hide Ranger boot (A
snip at only 19Erg 99San, from Max & Spankers Emporium, functional footwear
for discerning adventurers). Dragging the sock wearily onto his blistered
and bloody foot, he wasn’t in the least surprised when his toes ripped
straight through the end.
As he stood up after wrestling his boot back on, he heard the mournful “Caw!” of
a solitary Corbie a time-tick before he felt the unmistakable ‘Splat!’ on the
top of his head. He sighed. “Bugger,” he thought to himself again, and his
already drooped shoulders seemed to sag even more.
The cool Steve "Harleyrider" Jackson aka Tharoc
Just then, his travelling companion emerged from the undergrowth beneath the
trees beside him, her rain-drenched fur hanging in tattered clumps and knotted
with weeks-worth of grime, leaves, twigs and some small, suspicious looking
things with far too many legs. The large, black warg glared accusingly at
Tharoc, rain running in rivulets down her snout and dripping slowly from the end
of her nose.
“”Whaaaat?” asked Tharoc, his shoulders hunched and his arms outstretched.
Valkree continued to stand, squelch, and glare.
“Ok, ok, I admit it. A’hm lost, alright? There, I said it. You ‘appy now?”
The Warg half snorted, half sneezed, shook herself vigorously (showering Tharoc
with yet more dirty water), and turned back into the undergrowth.
“OI! A’hm talkin’ t’ you, y’igrant lummox……..” He left the path and began
pushing his way, cursing, through the bushes and brambles.
As he followed after Valkree, Tharoc’s mind began to guiltily wander back a few
weeks, to when he had decided that he had had enough of rising each morning at
stupid-of-the-hour to spend all day toiling in the local blacksmith’s forge. He
craved adventure. He craved excitement, but most of all, he craved a nice comfy
chair to sit in whilst he was doing it!
He began to search the dusty tomes in the library of the local monastery, and
eavesdropping on whispered conversations in the town’s less-fashionable inns and
taverns, hoping to garner some clue as to where an enthusiastic amateur
adventurer could find a place to… well, adventure.
For weeks they had tramped across the region, looking for someone, anyone, who
would show them the way. Many times he thought he had found the ideal
starting-point, only to discover at the last moment that a hefty up-front fee
was required if he was to join this party, and being the frugal chap his Mother
had raised him to be, that would never do.
And that was how he came to be here, cold, wet, filthy, hungry and very, very
lost. He had heard rumours of a strange land to the south where adventure and
excitement awaited anyone who cared to visit. Many wondrous races, creatures and
plants were to be found there, and much of the land remained unexplored.
Apparently, they were always in need of eager volunteers, the food was good, the
ale strong, and the company comfortable. And all for the princely sum of
So, Tharoc and Valkree had set-off in search of this wondrous land, not knowing
exactly where it was, nor what it was called, but happy and confident that they
would soon be tracking down some rare blood-sucking insect, or forging new paths
across uncharted wastes in this amazing new place.
“Oh, we found plenty o’ blood-suckin’ insec’s, alright,” he thought, scratching
at the numerous red bite-marks on his arms, “an’ as fer forgin’ new paths, well,
a’hd give anyfin fer a paved road right now. Or even a stony one. A’hd even
settle fer a dirt track, s’long as it weren’t muddy.”
Just then, as he dragged himself painfully through a particularly thorny bush,
Tharoc spotted Valkree. She was stood at the edge of a high cliff just beyond
the fringe of the forest. She seemed to be transfixed by something below.
“Whats’it girl? What’ve y’found?” The Warg turned to look up at the Orc and
flicked her tail briefly from side to side before turning back to look over the
When Tharoc reached the cliff’s edge and saw what it was that had his friend so
transfixed, his mouth fell open and he raised a finger to point silently at the
sight before him. There below them was the place they’d spent the past weeks
searching for! There were the wide expanses of well-tended fields, lush with
fruit and vegetables. Beyond that, in a secluded orchard were the
sinister-looking greenhouses he had heard so much about. And here, at the head
of a large town square, surrounded by neat cottages, shops and ale-houses, stood
the widest, tallest, most important looking building he had ever seen.
Built from huge blocks of stone which seemed to reflect the light back on the
viewer a thousandfold, it’s many towers and turrets topped by rich, red tiles,
and two massive, carved wooden doors stood as silent guardians of the knowledge
contained within. As he watched, a steady stream of people, many of them
carrying huge bundles of parchment under their arms, scurried in and out of the
doors, moments later to re-appear in one of the multitude of elaborate windows
which peppered every wall of the structure. This was the fabled University
Library of Lorehaven, repository of all knowledge in the land of Caelereth!
His awe-struck reverie was interrupted by Valkree, who had begun to make her way
down the steep cliff towards the town below and had barked up to him to follow
“See, ah told yer ah’d find it, di’nt ah? Stick wi’ me kid, an’ yer won’ go far
wrong,” said Tharoc, enthusiastically.
Valkree shook her head, growled to herself, and carried on picking her way
between the massive boulders littering the steep slope.
Less than a half-candle later, they arrived at the edge of the town, and began
to walk, as casually as an orc and a warg can, towards the square they had seen
earlier. As they walked, Tharoc smiled at everyone and greeted them with a
cheery “’Allo, there,” or “’Ow d’ya do?” Most of them, turning to respond in
kind then seeing just what it was, hurriedly darted into the nearest doorway and
slammed it shut behind them. Shawled women ran out of houses and dragged curious
children back indoors. Shopkeepers put up ‘CLOSED’ signs as he walked past.
“S’funny,” he said to Valkree, “ Ah wonder wot’s up wiv ‘em? “
Valkree stopped, looked wearily at the Orc beside her, at his mud-caked and torn
clothes, his face, bloodied from the savage thorns of the bushes in the forest,
but most of all, at his size. At nearly two peds, one palmspan tall, and two and
a half pygges in weight, Tharoc was an imposing figure in any language. Looking
like he was fresh from the battlefield did little to soften his image. Neither
did the row of throwing-knives strapped across his broad back. And, to be fair,
thought Valkree, neither did the fact that he had a very big, very hungry warg
at his side.
As they walked along the now deserted streets, the University loomed ever larger
before them, and soon they entered the square facing the huge portal to this
place of learning.
As he stood looking up at the building, Tharoc heard the sounds of talking and
drinking, and smelt the unmistakable aroma of roasting meat! He turned to
whistle for Valkree to follow him, but too late, she was already padding her way
across to the far corner of the square, where a small group of people were
gathered around a crackling fire.
As Tharoc neared the group their conversation slowly petered out, until the only
sound was the crack and pop of the burning logs. Every member of the group was
looking at Tharoc with an uneasy interest. Fingers toyed warily with the hilts
of swords whilst both parties eyed each other nervously. Suddenly, a figure
began to push its way through the group of adventurers, and the orc picked up
the familiar aroma of hot kragghi broth, an orcen dish usually too spicy for the
likes of these folks, and something he hadn’t tasted since leaving his home in
the Prominent Mountains, all those months ago.
A friendly but serious-looking woman appeared from between two of the figures
before him, carrying a tray containing a huge bowl full of the broth, a
fresh-baked loaf of golden rain bread, and numerous chocolate-covered sweets,
the like of which he had not seen before, but which looked, and smelt,
delicious. Under her arm, she carried a bladder of strong dwarven ale.
“Welcome, traveller,” said the woman, her voluminous skirts billowing around her
legs as she fussed about, clearing a space at the table. “You must be hungry?
And thirsty, too, no doubt? Well, come on, tuck in! Oh, I’m Judith, by the way,
from Bardavos. I’m the Masterbard around here, and chief cook and bottle-washer,
as well, it seems”. She looked witheringly over the top of her closer-up lenses
at the others. “So, tell us about yourself, and your travels. How did you happen
upon our little gathering here? Erm, and is your warg safe? I mean, does she
Tharoc looked down at Valkree and ruffled the fur atop her head, “Nah, she’s
alright, ain’t ya girl?” The warg just sat and stared at the whole woolly boar
which was roasting over the fire, grease dripping in sizzling droplets into the
flames. “Oh, my, where are my manners!” gasped the woman, and cutting a whole
rear leg from the boar, she threw it to Valkree, who caught it smartly, her tail
Tharoc sat down on a spare stool and began to hungrily slurp his broth, tearing
large chunks from the loaf and mixing them into the hot, spicy liquid. A sudden
gust of wind, accompanied by strange squawking made the orc turn in his seat.
“What the…… Ye Gods….” The sudden commotion was caused by the arrival of another
traveller, this one sat astride an enormous gryph. The rider jumped easily to
the ground, stroked the neck of his mount and whispered some strange sounds into
its ear. The gryph squawked and settled down by the fire, eyeing Valkree and the
half-eaten haunch in front of her. Valkree growled softly and threw a massive
forepaw across the meat.
“Greetings, all. Sorry I’m late, we hit a little rough weather over the
mountains. Who’s the green fellow?”
Tharoc offered a greasy hand, “Tharoc. Tharoc Wargrider, of the Ashz-oc tribe.
Pleased t’meet yer, ah’m sure.”
Nsiki took the proffered hand, or rather, he put his hand inside the Orcs huge
fist and hoped he wouldn’t squeeze too hard. “So, what brings you to these
parts, eh?” The assembled group turned as one and looked at Tharoc, expectantly.
Now, many months later, Tharoc sat at his desk in the tiny attic of mistress
Azhira’s lodgings, putting the finishing touches to his latest Compendium entry.
His mind had begun to wander, and his thought’s had turned back to that first
meeting with the folk who were to become his good friends, and the many
adventures he had shared with them.
There was Masterbard Judith of Bardavos, who first took him in hand and guided
him gently through the do’s and don’ts of researching for the Compendium. It was
she who had given him his first position, as apprentice in the greenhouses,
although he sometimes wondered whether he had done the right thing in accepting,
especially since he met Mira and his ‘experiments.’ Ah, Mira. What can one say
about Mira? Well, quite a lot, actually, but most of it is unprintable here!
However, in fairness, he had proved himself to be a patient and inspirational
teacher, and his theories on experimental herbology were fascinating.
Then there were the Mistresses Alysse and Azhira, who had taken him on his first
real expedition, a trip into the far northern territories. It was the place he
felt happiest, being of northern descent, and he had decided to remain up there
as a roving researcher for his two tutors, both of whom he admired and respected
Nsiki, he of the strange tongues and flying lion-type things, now there was a
character! He actually thought he could talk to the animals! Imagine that. Mind
you, that Garrett was nearly as bad. He/she thought he/she was ‘at one with the
wolves’. Well, loopy he/she may be, but Tharoc liked him/her, and had just spent
several weeks in the frozen wastes of the Icelands Peninsula, and the Peninsula
of Iol, researching, for their joint project, the White Warg, or Eanian Warg, as
he had discovered it had been re-named. In fact, that was the very report he was
preparing now, but he didn’t think he/she would mind if it was another day
There was Irid, who never seemed to tire of slapping people around the head with
large, wet fish. He had never found out why she did that. Or why she carried
large, wet fish with her at all times… All he knew was, it hurt! And he couldn’t
think of Irid without also bringing to mind the infuriatingly cheerful Rookie
the Brownie. She was a feisty one, that. Valkree had taken an instant liking to
her, which was the cause of much amusement to him as Rookie herself was less
than impressed by the warg's constant attention. Tharoc himself had grown very
fond of Rookie, and he always saved his biggest smiles for his littlest friend.
Someone else Tharoc was always glad to see was the dwarf Mannix, because he was
in possession of culinary skills which were the equal of Judith’s, and he always
carried a tray of some new delicacy with him!
Image description. One of our resident orc's creations, the
Forget-Me-Nut. We made sure to put the picture in here to make clear that
this nut is not forgotten... Picture drawn by
Then there were Coren, Deci and Gean. Tharoc was always hesitant to join in
conversation with these fellows, not only because they always seemed to be
measuring him up for a hole, but because they used long words and talked about
things which made his head hurt. Still, Gean was quite handy to have around when
you needed a tune to lift the spirits. And he wrote good limericks, too.
And who could forget the enigmatic Talia, whose knowledge of this world and its
peoples seems to know no bounds. Oh, and the elusive Dru, who was once a
seemingly permanent fixture around the forums, but who has, sadly, been
distracted by other-wordly events of late, as has Arch-commenter Smee, last
heard of doing battle with the Daemons of IT and their fiendish Firewall spells.
And finally, there was the Great Sage himself, our Lord Artimidor, may the
blessings of the Twelve be upon him, and may he ever have ink in his quill
(pauses momentarily to bow reverently in the direction of Lorehaven). Never had
he met any single person with as much knowledge jammed into such a tiny head.
Well, it was tiny compared to his own, leastways.
These were his friends. Each one of them the foremost expert in their chosen
field, and each one, to a man (or woman), ready to share that expertise with
even the lowliest of researchers, and he would gladly stand beside any one of
them in battle. They had laughed together, broken bread together, wept together,
and suffered hardships all, but one thing remained constant throughout. Their
help and support, whatever may come, and he was pleased by that, and grateful
All this thinking of his friends had led him to recall the many mis-/adventures
he had had since he arrived in Santharia. He had seen things he would never have
imagined possible, met strange people, fascinating creatures, and vicious
man-eating plants. Usually in Mira’s greenhouses. And usually when he wasn’t
He had held discourse with the dread Assassins of Marmarra upon the merits (or
otherwise!) of their “fluid” battle tactics. Tharoc thought fluid to be a
too-generous description, and preferred instead “fully-adjustable”.
He had revealed the hitherto unknown intricacies of orcen duelling, ancient
rules set down by the great General Ch’oan herself before she relinquished her
command and became a reclusive healer and carer of the sick and needy.
Risking life and/or limb, he had travelled to the very edge of the sinister
Mists of Osthemangar to observe the wretched existence of the undead
Cha’Morta-oc, scoured the midden walls of Sarvonia’s less salubrious inns and
cully-houses to find amusing and insulting odes, attended inauguration parties
for barbarians, Kyranians and Brownies, he’d even been invited to the
magnificently impressive Brownie Council Tree. Shocking his fellow researchers
with the contents of the Bawdy Bard’s Songbook had amused him no-end, as had his
stint as Navigation Officer aboard the good ship Santh Trek… Ah, good times,
All these things and more he had experienced in the half-year since he arrived
here. What, he wondered excitedly to himself, lies await for me in the next
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