The Customs and Culture of the Northern Orcs   
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Introduction. Whilst it is commonly held that any dispute arising between orcs is settled instantly and with severe violence, recently an hitherto unknown practice has been observed in the Heaths of Eph’denn region of Northern Sarvonia, the extreme southern limit of Osther-oc territory: A researcher working for Azhira Styralias on the relationship between the Kaaer'dár'shín tribe and the northern orcs was witness to this fascinating event and dispatched a report back to her by horse-messenger immediately afterwards. The report is presented here exactly as it was written by the researcher. (Researcher: 973VAL, Report No. 1347/22, Date: 19th Sleeping Dreameress 1668 a.S.)

istress Styralias, I have today been witness to the most remarkable event I think I have ever seen. I am sure that no researcher, even you yourself in all your travels, will have come across such a rare thing as this. I shall endeavour to describe it to you to the best of my memory, so that you may see for yourself what excites me so.

As you are aware, I have been following the northernmost boundary of the Themed’lon Forests for several weeks now researching the Kaaer'dár'shín/Osther-oc relationships in this volatile area. The Kaaer'dár'shín guide you recommended, Varek, is, as you said, an excellent companion, and has afforded me a view of this region which would otherwise have been hidden from me. His knowledge of this area, its people, and of their daily lives is, in my humble opinion, unsurpassed.

However, this is all by-the-by and of no real import to my tale, which I feel certain will be of great interest to you and make an excellent addition to your presentation to the Compendium keepers.

This morning, as I was packing my traveling kit ready for the day's ride, Varek appeared breathlessly out of the small copse of trees we had camped beside, urging me to hurry, as “Friend tell Varek big fing in north. We can 'urry.” While I stood trying to decipher his strange dialect, he was all the while stuffing his few belongings into his pack, and pressing me to do the same. It was obvious that something had stirred his excitement, so I hurriedly finished packing my horse and set off after him across the fields to the north.

When I overtook him a few minutes later, he had calmed down sufficiently to explain in simpler tongue where we were going. Apparently, he had taken a walk into the trees to relieve himself of some great burden, where he chanced upon a local man of his acquaintance. This fellow, having heard of our presence in the area, had come seeking him with some information, in the hope of receiving some small consideration. After convincing the man that I was unable to offer any such token, but assuring him that if the information was as important as he professed it to be, then Mistress Styralias would be sure to hear of his valuable assistance (it never fails to astound me how many hitherto firmly locked doors your name provides the key to!), the man told Varek that a duel was to be fought at the place where the Kharim River divides into its East and West branches, just west of Eph’Denn, and north of K'taaj. He did not know the precise location of the duel, but suggested that we cross the river and look towards the Heaths, as this was the most likely place. It was to take place before the sun reached its full height on this very day.

Here, Varek stopped talking, but kept glancing sideways at me, as if he had some secret to tell and he was just waiting for me to ask him to reveal it. I decided to allow him his small victory and told him that if that was all, then I could see no point in rushing like this, as petty feuds between locals held no interest for me.

With a small smile on his lips he said “What, even if the duellists are a pair of Osther-oc herdsmen?”

I could not believe my ears! Two orcs were to fight a duel? Never had I heard of this before. I pressed him for more information; what reason lay behind this duel? What were Osther-oc doing this far south? And, more importantly, why had a duel of this kind never been reported before?
Alas, he could not furnish me with answers to any of these questions, or to any of the many more I asked him during our journey.

Presently, after an uneventful but exhausting ride of some three hours, we came upon the village of K'taaj which lies at the great fork in the Kharim River. All seemed normal, the inhabitants were going about their business in the manner of village-folk everywhere, there was nothing to suggest that anything unusual was afoot. There was, however, a noticeable orcen presence, but I was surprised to see that the locals, whilst not being overly friendly to them, were not treating them with the hostility we have come to expect from the Kaaer'dár'shín. Seeing my puzzlement, Varek explained that during particularly harsh winters, the nomadic Osther herdsmen were forced further south than usual seeking food for their cattle, and this brought them into contact with the northernmost Kaaer'dár'shín. While at first this had led to much fighting and death on both sides, over the years these two enemies had come to tolerate one another, perhaps realising that the harsh conditions they both endure as a fact of daily life was enemy enough . He told me, much to my disbelief, that so used to each other had they become, that the one almost seemed to rely upon the other for their survival in these extreme conditions, the Osther herdsmen bringing furs and rare jewels from the north to trade for tools, salt and cloth from the south. These clans of herdsmen are seen by those Osther-oc who live further north as almost a separate group from themselves, failing to understand why they find it neccessary to involve themselves with the Kaaer'dár'shín . They call them "M'ogm-oc", a derisive term for their nomadic habits, or "Ch'ron-oc", an even worse insult which suggests that they are no better than the vermin they choose to do business with.

We had by now ridden to the far side of the village, and Varek stopped outside a grim-looking dwelling made up of animal hides hung over a wooden frame. Thick, oily smoke curled sluggishly from a hole cut into the top of what I hesitantly thought of as the roof. The stench surrounding this hovel hung in the air like a warg fart, assailing my sensitive Caltharian nose and seeming to seep through my thick fur coat and settle itself onto my skin, making me itch all over. I was, to say the least, hesitant when Varek announced that we should have something to eat while we learned more about the coming event. He tied his Landesh to a pole outside the entrance and stooped inside.

I cannot adequately describe the sights, smells, and tastes I was subjected to during our brief stop in the latrine Varek called an inn. Suffice to say that when I have recovered from the experience, I shall forward a report to you as usual. My guts are dancing a jig now, as I think of it.

Varek spent much of the time inside the bromer talking with a burly Kaaer'dár'shín man who I assumed was the owner. By the time he returned to me, I was more than ready to get outside to breathe fresh air again and, as it transpired, to heave-up the greasy whatever-it-was that I had been served inside. Whilst I relieved myself of the contents of my stomach, he explained to me that a duel was indeed scheduled to take place today, at a place just to the north of the village, a couple of straals across the Kharim River, and the two combatants were members of Osther herding families. One of the families had lost their entire herd to the ice-storms on the journey down from the southern Caaehl Mountains. The other family had arrived at the Heaths of Eph’denn the week before with only a handful of their herd still alive, and had settled just across the river from the village to let them graze and regain their strength while they waited out the worst of the winter weather.

Two days ago, they realized that one of their herd was missing, and while searching for it they came upon the recently arrived family camped not far away. Hung from racks around their camp were the freshly butchered remains of a Baneg. Knowing that the family had arrived without a herd of their own, they immediately accused them of stealing the beast. The head of the herdless family denied any wrongdoing, claiming that the carcass was one of their own animals which they had found buried in the snows to the north of their camp, and they had dragged it back to butcher and salt it ready for their journey back north, hoping to trade the skin, horns, and hooves for some provisions to help them on their way. This claim was rejected with a snort from the angry herdsman, who demanded the body of his beast back, or a duel to settle the matter.
Fearing for the lives of his family if the meat was taken from them, the poor herdsman was left with no choice but to fight, and so a duel was called, and both families returned to their camps to prepare.

This is where Varek’s knowledge of the matter ended, and I still had not found answers to the many questions I had posed on our ride to this remote village. We resolved to find some Osther tribesman who would be prepared to trade us the information I sought, for nothing is gained for nothing from an Osther, or as Varek would say, “Tek nuffin' fer nuffin' from oc.”

As Varek knew these people far better than I, and was able to speak their tongue, I thought it easier (not to mention safer) to let him find us someone prepared to instruct us in the mysteries of orcen duelling. He said that he knew of one who may help us, if he could be found, and set off into the crowds to seek him out.

Presently, he returned, pushing his way through the throng, with the smile of success on his lips. The orc he presented to me, (an old, weather-beaten fellow with a broken tusk and long plaits of grey hair reaching down his back) said he would tell us what we wanted to know. All he asked in return was that I report what he said honestly, and that I ask you, Mistress Styralias, to remember his name the next time you are in this area, and that you come to share a meal with him and discuss your researches. His name was Ba’kal, and I agreed to his requests. I hope this was not too presuming on my part, my Lady?

He has lived in the area for many years now, the loss of his family during the trek south, and an injury to his leg which left him unable to walk for much distance leading him to stay in the village, where, from what we later learned, he is well thought of as a wise and loyal resident, who’s opinion on village matters is often sought and respected.

Even though he has been separated from his people and culture for many years, he is still fiercely proud of his heritage, and takes a keen interest in any news from his homelands brought down by the Osther herdsmen every year. It transpires that he is a keen student of Orcen history, customs, and culture, and not having a written language of their own, he is keen to see all this knowledge preserved for future generations before he dies.

NOTE: This fellow is an invaluable source of information on all aspects of the Orcs, and I strongly recommend that you dispatch a researcher forthwith to record his knowledge. He is intelligent, friendly, and very keen to talk.

Offering us to sit with him while he talked, Ba’kal removed a battered clay-pipe from his boot, and began to pat himself all over, as if looking for something. Varek, realising what the old orc was up to, pulled his pouch of pipeweed from his belt and offered it to him. He took it without so much as a nod and helped himself to a generous pinch, which he proceeded to roll into a tight ball between the palms of both hands. After stuffing the ball into his bowl with a thick thumb, he again began patting himself and searching his pockets. Varek tossed his flint and striker to the orc with a small grin on his face. After drawing furiously on his pipe for a few seconds, he slipped the flint and pipeweed into his pocket, blew several impressive smoke-rings, and began to speak. (Although Varek translated the old orcs words for me, I have taken the liberty of further translating his dialect so that you may read through this converse without recourse to your own translating parchment.)

“So, young sir, you wish to know more of the old ways of my tribe, eh? Well, first let me say that what I shall tell you has been told to no other white-skin, in my knowledge, and I only trust you with this because I have heard many good things about your Mistress Styralias and the fair manner in which she speaks of my people. Besides, I grow old, and the time when I shall at last go to sit with K’ahn’uck grows ever closer, and if I don’t make sure that the old ways are remembered, then who shall?

I expect you have many questions fighting to be asked, yes? Well, mayhaps my words will benefit you more if you ask them as we watch the fight. Come, walk with me and I shall tell you a little of the history of the Khq Ar’Dok, which in your tongue means ‘The fight of two’.


Choan of Orc

View picture in full size  Picture description. The famous female military warlord of the Osther-Oc, Choan of Orc. Picture drawn by Bard Judith.

Many years ago there was in my tribe a great female warrior named Choan. She was a ferocious fighter and her very name struck fear in the hearts of all our enemies. I have heard of late that Mistress Alysse has been writing of her deeds, and this gladdens me greatly, for she is worthy of remembrance.

Under the leadership of Choan, our scattered people came together into a powerful army, capable of defending our territory against any foe. She realised, however, that our numbers were not great, and that each battle we fought would reduce our count so that soon we would not have sufficient numbers to repel attacks. At this time, also, there was much unrest between the recently joined clans, and many of our people were being killed by their supposed brothers.

Choan called a great meeting of the elders of all the clans within our tribe and told them that if we were to survive then we would have to stop wasting strength and lives on petty feuds and instead unite our efforts in defeating our enemies. She knew, though, that in the times between fighting, warriors can become restless, and restlessness leads to ill-temper, and this ill-temper needs to find release ‘ere it turns into violence against the wrong person. To this end, she told them, she had devised a way of deciding any dispute within the tribe. These are the original rules of Khq Ar’Dok, as told to the elders by Choan herself, and they still hold today as they did then, although there are now many different interpretations of them, some even allowing the deaths which Choan had sought to avoid.”

If any clan should have issue with another, or any individual have grievance against his neighbour, then in the presence of others they must call for Khq Ar’Dok, and state their case for this claim.

The one who has claim made against him may then dispute, and some effort must be made to settle the matter by discourse, again in the presence of others.

I f no accord can be reached, then the claim for Khq Ar’Dok must again be made, and the two sides must withdraw to their camps to prepare.
Each side will have two moonsets to make whatever preparations are needed before the fight, with the duel taking place when the sun reaches its height on the following day. During this time each combatant must employ a person to represent them in any meetings with their opponent before the fight. It is their duty to try to reach agreement without recourse to Khq Ar’Dok.

If these attempts fail, then on the morning of the day after the second moon, a field of combat must be agreed upon by both sides, which is nearer to neither one camp nor the other.

A circular arena of no less than ten peds across and no more than twelve must be prepared on clear ground.

Any witnesses to the duel must stand around the edge of this circle and must step not a single foot inside. At the appointed time, both fighters must enter the arena from opposing sides, wearing no more than a loose cloth around their waists, and walk to face each other in the centre of the circle. No weapons must be carried.

Each fighter will be accompanied by the person selected as their spokesman, whose roles will noiw change to that of judges of the Khq’Ar’Dok.
Using his right hand, each fighter shall grip the inside of the right arm of his opponent, near to the elbow.

The judges will then each tie a leather thong of no less than three fores length tightly around both gripped arms, and each shall check the others bonds for honesty.

The spokesmen shall now remove themselves from the arena, and return with a weapon of their employers choice. These shall be placed on the ground behind the fighters, no more than one ped from the arenas edge.

Both judges will now take up positions facing each other across the arena, at a point directly facing each other and between the two fighters. Their role is to ensure fairness during combat.

The winner of the duel will be the one who can, using any means at his disposal, take his opponent across the arena and gain his own weapon. Once the weapon has been used to cut the thongs which bind them together, the winner is decided and the conflict is deemed as settled.
Once the winner has been called, no further issue can be allowed by the loser, unless a separate matter arises, but not within one full moon after the first Khq Ar’Dok.

“As I said, young sir, there have been many different accounts of these rules since Choan first spoke them, but these are the true words. As they are given here, they allow for as much bloodshed as any orc can deliver upon another using only one hand and no weapon. Wise indeed was Choan when she gave these rules, for they allow each man to exhaust his anger against the other, but ensure that death is unlikely.

Over the years, many corruptions have been seen to the true rules. For example, when two fierce warriors meet on the field of Khq’Ar’Dok, it is not uncommon for them to end the matter not by the severing of the bonds which tie them, but by killing their opponent. I have not heard of this for many years, though, and I can but hope that this practice, which goes against all that Choan taught us, has fallen into disfavour.

These days, the Battle of Two is used more as a sport between clans, with each having their champion. When a bout is called between two clans, they come together in a great gathering, and there is much drinking, feasting, and singing between the two. However, as you shall see today, there are still those who seek to live as our ancestors did, and that is no bad thing, if you will allow me my opinion. Now, I must speak with the elders of the two clans here and seek their permission for your presence at the fight. I suggest that you do not go any nearer to the arena until I return.”

Having been engrossed in the old orcs tale, and scribbling furiously in my notebook, I had failed to notice that we had arrived at what I realised was to be the arena for the fight. A large, circular space had been cleared of rocks and I counted at least fifty or sixty orcs stood around the boundary of this space, some talking loudly to their neighbours, others stood silently looking at the crowd gathered around them. Small orcen children were chasing each other around and between the legs of the adults, one of them earning himself a clip around the ear when he ran between his fathers legs without ducking far enough. I spotted several groups of boys engaged in mock Khq’Ar’Dok battles, pulling and twisting each others arms to the cheers of their friends. Varek, as I should have expected, had wandered off towards an Osther female who was sat stirring the contents of a large pot hung over a fire. Even though I had been left alone amidst all these orcs, the only human in sight, I felt strangely secure. At no point did I feel in danger, even though I was becoming increasingly aware of a multitude of eyes looking in my direction. They seemed to regard me more as a curiosity than a threat, which given their size and numbers, and my lack of weapons and fighting prowess, was probably a fair assessment of the situation. As I continued to watch the gathering throng, I realised that there were a large number of Kaaer'dár'shín spectators gathering, like myself, at a discreet distance from the arena. This suggested to me that they had attended events like this before, and were aware of the boundaries set by the Osther elders.

Presently, Varek returned with Ba’kal hobbling along beside him. Varek had a large bowl of neep stew in his hand. His capacity for eating never fails to amaze me, considering he is such a slight fellow.

Ba’kal told us that he had sought permission from the clan elders for me to attend the duel. He had told them of my acquaintance with you, Mistress Styralias, and of my role in chronicling the history and customs of their tribe. After much discussion they had agreed to my presence, but asked that I stay back from the arena, using a large boulder nearby as my vantage point. He had agreed to this request on my behalf. He asked that we make our way over to the rock immediately, as the bout was about to begin, and the elders would hold back the fighters until we were in position. He excused himself from accompanying us, but his injured leg prevented him from climbing. He would join us after the bout was over, when we could further discuss the event over a drink or two. I got the distinct feeling that it would be at my expense, but so eager was I to gain more knowledge from him that I agreed immediately. You will find the resulting conversation listed under “Sundries” on my expenses sheet.

No sooner had we seated ourselves atop the boulder when the noise of the crowd below began to die down. On both sides of the arena, orcs were straining their necks around to try to catch a glimpse of their fighter. Almost exactly at the same time, two large, almost naked orcs emerged from shelters behind the crowd on opposite sides of the circle. I could see that they were evenly matched in height and size, so the contest would be decided on skill. I made a mental note to ask Ba’kal what happens if one opponent is much bigger than the other. Surely Choan had made some rule on this matter?

Each duellist had with him his spokesman, who proceeded him as they made their way towards the circle. As they reached the edge of the crowd of spectators, a small passageway opened up in the crowd to allow them access to the arena. As they passed between the gathered throng, some orcs called out what I imagined to be words of encouragement to their man. Once both fighters had entered the clearing, the crowd closed the gaps behind them and once again fell silent. I spotted several small groups of spectators on the edge of the crowd quietly talking and gesticulating towards the duellists before swapping small handfuls of something. Varek told me that they were more than likely betting on the outcome of the fight. Gambling has apparently become very popular amongst the northern orcs, and a contest such as this was obviously too good an opportunity to miss. Some could even be seen dashing between those spectators stood around the circle, and the Kaaer'dár'shín who were stood some peds back from the action.

By now, the four orcs were stood facing each other in the centre of the circle, with the spokesmen in front of their respective employer. A short conversation passed between them, which from Ba’kal’s description I knew to be the final request to settle the matter by discourse. This request obviously failed, as the two spokesmen stepped aside and the fighters altered their stance into what Ba’kal informed me later, is the traditional posture for this moment; bent forward from the waist, legs slightly bent, the left hand resting on the left knee, right arm held out to the side with the hand spread wide, head raised to allow them to stare straight into the eyes of their opponent.

At some unheard signal, both orcs swung their right arms with considerable force until with a loud SLAP! they had a grip on their opponents right forearm, just below the elbow. The force of this first blow is used by the duellists to test the strength of their foe, it being considered a small victory to land the harder strike.

The fighters used the next few moments whilst their spokesmen prepared the leather thongs to bind their arms together to flex their fingers, trying to gain a better purchase on their opponent.

When both were satisfied with their grip and positioning, the spokesmen approached and began to bind their arms together with the sturdy leather thongs, weaving them intricately around each other in what I am told is a traditional pattern, passed down from the times of Choan. I regret to inform you, Mistress Azhira, that I neglected to enquire as to the purpose or meaning of this procedure. Perhaps I shall make a return to this village in the future, to enable me to discover the answer from Ba’kal.

Immediately they had finished this task, the spokesmen checked each others knots to ensure their tightness, tugging on them and turning them to remove any perceived weakness. When they were satisfied that all was as it should be, they took their leave of their employers and made for the edge of the arena. They returned after a few moments, each carrying the weapon of their employers choice (in this case they were an Ashz-oc Kle’Vaar and a traditional bone-handled Osther-oc shortsword). These were then placed, as I had been told to expect, behind the combatants at a distance of one ped from the edge of the circular arena. The spokesmen now took up positions facing each other across the width of the arena, at a point where one could see the other directly between the two duellists. Their roles would now change to that of judges, ensuring that the rules of combat (which must be agreed by both parties at some time before they enter the circle) are observed.

It was at this point, Mistress Azhira, that the signal for the duel to begin was given. I witnessed the whole brutal, bloody battle, which lasted quite until the sun had moved low in the sky, each orc gaining the upper hand in his turn, before relinquishing his advantage to the other. Suffice to say that a winner was eventually decided, more by exhaustion than overwhelming strength or tactics, and the sight of the bloodied loser being helped to his feet by the victor, and then embraced and toasted by him was ample evidence to my eyes that, as we have long suspected, there is much more to orcen relationships and culture than has previously been thought.

After much consideration, I have decided not to include a description of the fight, as my main concern was with the reporting of the events surrounding the duel, including the history and rules of engagement. To sully this with gratuitous tales of bloodletting and violence would, I feel, lessen the impact of the discovery of orcen duelling, turning it from the important revelation it undoubtedly is into just another grisly occurrence of orcen violence.

I hope this report may be of some small assistance in your continuing research, my Lady.

I remain, madam, your obedient servant, Ishmael Valaire, Caltharian

P.S. If it may please you, My Lady. After the bout was finished, we made our way back to the village with our new-found friend and sat with him around a fire, where he answered many of my questions regarding the relationship between his tribesmen and the Kaaer'dar'shin. As I thought the report regarding the duel to be of the utmost import, I dispatched it to you as soon as I had completed it, even before the ink was dry!

I shall forward another report containing all the information I obtained from Ba'kal during our interview as soon as I have had chance to translate it. I pray this doesn't cause inconvenience to your presentations to the Compendiumists, Madam.

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