Authors: Jeremy Laszlo
Two more nights and days passed, and food was all but gone.
Fights had broken out amongst some of the clans over the scarce rations that
remained, and Gnak knew that it was the sign he had been waiting for. Ordering
that the center of camp be deconstructed, he had several cooking fires lit.
Then, with the permission of his greedy little ally, he ordered the slaughter
of fifty of the goblin king’s boars. The rest of the beasts were brought into
the camp and put under guard.
As the night progressed, Gnak ordered that the meat be
cooked slowly, its scent carried upon the swirling breezes caught up in the
slopes around them. Within an hour the nearest camps began to take notice. It
was still another hour before Gnak received word that one of their neighbors
was demanding that they share their food. He of course declined, saying that
any chief with half a brain would have brought enough food for their own camp.
It was only minutes later when the charge came, but Gnak had left an open path
from the edge of camp all the way to the food. He alone stood between the enemy
and the meal.
Just as he expected. Orc pride meant that the strongest Orc
had to lead the charge. He was large, just as large as Gnak, with nearly black
skin and long thick tusks that jutted from his mouth like twin ivory spear
tips. He was thickly muscled, though his skin was not tight, showing the
obvious signs of starvation. But even deprived of nourishment, the Orc was not
about to give up.
On the opposing chief came, with his captains behind him.
Fools. Gnak watched them come and, stepping aside, he dodged the spear that
could have impaled him had the chief running towards him been more accurate.
Perhaps it was his hunger that slowed him and caused his aim to fail.
Regardless, Gnak waited until the last second, pulling forth his blades and
clashing with the enemy chief, shouting a challenge to the chief he struggled
with. Then the reality of the situation was revealed.
Bursting forth from both between the tents and within them,
Gnak’s Orcs and goblins penned in the invading clan. From behind the charging
Orcs, more goblins closed in on them. They had the enemy surrounded. Had it not
been for Gnak’s challenge, the Orcs would have fought to the death simply
because pride told them to do so. But challenging their leader for his title,
they were suddenly remiss to follow an order that might not be withstanding in
the moments to come.
Clashing with his foe, Gnak was driven back by its momentum
alone, and ducking low, he used the same momentum to his advantage. Grabbing
the Orc’s thighs, the opposing chief tripped bodily over him, going headfirst
into the soil behind Gnak. Recovering quickly, Gnak turned and sprang at the
starved chief, punching him in the face, dislodging one great tusk as the large
man’s lights went out. Literally.
Backing away from the Orc, its essence in his grasp, he
kicked the man, who was frozen upon all fours. His foot connecting under the
chin of his foe, it drove his head back with a crack that reminded Gnak of
stepping on a dry twig. The Orc crumpled, and Gnak roared. It would have been a
flawless victory, but unfortunately three of the Orc’s captains immediately
sprang forward, looking to claim the title for themselves. Two fell nearly
immediately to members of his clan, but still one managed to slip past the
Gnak, staring the approaching Orc in the face, dropped his
weapons, daring the attacker to do the same. Orc pride did have its uses. On
the Orc came, dropping its own blade, roaring as it leapt through the air in an
attempt to land atop Gnak and drive him to the ground. Instead, Gnak dove
forward into a roll, his assailant careening above him. Spinning, he rose again
as his opponent charged anew. Dodging a blow the Orc threw with his fist, Gnak
did not see as the Orc’s leg lashed out, kicking the side of his knee, causing
it to buckle. Gnak fell to the ground before his opponent. The fight was over.
Looking up as a blow was cast down from above, Gnak
instinctively reached up and caught the Orc’s fist in his hand. The attack
ceased. Growling, Gnak rose, careful to disguise the pain shooting up his leg
lest another take it for weakness. His opponent remained unmoving.
“Know this,” Gnak shouted. “Chief Gnak warrior of Goddess
Ishanya. Have magic. Take life.”
Looking out over the crowd, he could see a few that appeared
as if they could spring at him any second. He reached down and retrieved one of
his blades. Turning, he thrust it into the chest of the Orc he had removed the
will from, and hurriedly cut a hole in the still living Orc’s chest. Ripping
away the flesh, he showed those who watched the still-beating heart within the
cavity he had created. Reaching in, he tore out the pulsing muscle as blood
poured from the wound like a crimson waterfall. In that same instant, he
returned the will to the now dead Orc and held its heart out to offer it back
to him. The Orc registered the still beating heart and looked to the gaping
hole in its chest. Its mouth falling open, it screamed a terrible scream, blood
pouring from its lips, and Gnak turned again to face the Orcs gathered, though
only for a moment.
“Gnak give life too,” he told them. “Have much power. Gnak
now you chief. You now Gathos clan. Fight Gnak… Gnak make you this,” he said
pointing to the now gurgling Orc who refused to die.
After he had decided that none would try to challenge him,
at least not immediately, he ordered the Orc be bound and staked where he now
stood, as a reminder to those who he had just become the chief of. He ordered
the newcomers counted, and the smartest among them armored with the few pieces
of armor Gnak had in excess. Beyond that, he ordered that the newly acquired
clan-mates be fed first, claiming that no real chief would let their people
starve. If nothing else, the newcomers wholly agreed with his final sentiments.
Over the next week Gnak and all of his troops, both Orc and
goblin, gathered in the center of their now expanded camp every night, and
prayed to Ishanya over the heartless and rotting Orc who as of yet still clung
to his mock life. Gnak told his people that Orcs needed to change and adapt if
they were to survive. He tried to show them that there was more to life than
just pride and honor, though explained that both were good and right, in
moderation. Beyond that, he supposed that word of his abilities spread amongst
the clans nearest his, for no other attackers came in that week.
He spent time each night learning the names of his captains,
and speaking to both the goblin king and Bota about the battle to come. During
the day, when he was alone in his tent he spoke to Jen, telling her about the
happenings in the camp, but she did not speak back. Though her absence saddened
him, it seemed that those closest to him in camp were beginning to come around.
Their daily talks became more and more about how to spare lives instead of
Two full cycles of the moons had passed when, without
warning, the chief of another clan and two of his captains strode into the
Gathos camp. As instructed, the trio were put under guard and brought to face
Gnak before the makeshift altar to Ishanya that had been erected over the
previous months. Gnak watched them approach and was appalled at what he saw.
Before him three withered specimens of his race came, each
thin with sunken eyes and swollen abdomens. They were ill, it appeared, and in
such condition would not survive long. He was surprised other Orcs had not put
them down yet. Before Gnak the three Orcs strode, a small shred of pride
remaining in their stride. But before him they each fell to their knees.
“Mighty Gnak of Gathos, we Chantuk. We small clan. No many
left. Me chief. Me Pantak. Big chief send no food, many weeks. Gnak clan
strong. Good food. Gnak good chief. Pantak ask Gnak take Chantuk clan. Give
clan. Take as Gathos. Feed. Make strong.”
Gnak watched as all three bowed their faces so low as to
touch the soil with their tusks. From the corner of his eye he could see the
goblin king peeking out from his tent, nodding in approval. It was no matter.
Gnak would not let them starve. But he required something from them in return.
“Look me, Chief Pantak,” Gnak began. “Gnak take you clan,
Pantak no chief no more. Maybe Gnak make captain. Maybe no. Chantuk clan must
do like Gathos. Be Gathos. Learn Gathos. This I order. If yes, I take, I feed.”
“Yes, Pantak say good,” the Orc said, rising back to his
knees to look Gnak in the eyes.
“Ishanya say unite Orcs. Save Orcs. Gnak save Chantuk clan.
You pray Ishanya,” Gnak demanded, and stepping aside he pointed to the altar
Upon their knees the three delegates of the dying Chantuk
tribe prayed to Ishanaya, as Gnak sent his captains and a contingent of troops
to gather the rest of their clan. As it turned out there were barely two
hundred left, and again Gnak ordered the slaughter of more boars. Though he was
slowly building his clan, even the boars were fading at an alarming rate. If
something did not change soon, he would be forced to take drastic measures in
order to sustain his people.
Each night thereafter, he led his people in prayer to
Ishanya, and asked that she bring them change. With each new addition their
prayers became louder, and after just nine more nights, it seemed she had heard
them. Change had come.
The sun still blazed in the sky outside when Gnak was roused
from his bed of furs. A great roar sounding from all around him broke the
relative silence, to then echo once again off the mountains behind. Springing
from his bed he rushed outside, forgoing even his armor to see what had caused
the commotion. Following the gazes of his people, he looked out across the
valley below them to the highest point upon the opposite, cliff-like wall. Atop
it stood near a hundred of the armored humans, all atop the great white mounts
they rode. Behind them, and to either side, tents were being erected in a tight
row, obscuring just how large a force was marching to the field. Damned smart
Over the following hours the human camp grew and grew. Rows
of tents obscured nearly the entire face of that highest point across the
valley. Humans could be seen running this way and that, and before long a
perimeter of fires and guards were set as hundreds of eyes looked back across
the great void at the Orcs and their allies. Gnak was filled with anxiety.
Rushing back into his tent, knowing everyone outside was
distracted, he pulled forth Jen’s orb from his body and called to her softly.
“Jen, Gnak want talk you.”
“What about?” she answered immediately, as if she had been
awaiting his call.
“Humans come. Big war soon. Many die.”
“It can’t be stopped?”
“No way, Gnak see.”
“Then you have to do like Ishanya told you. Do what you can
for the Orcs. Keep them safe so you can bring them together and make believers
“Gnak know this. Not know how,” Gnak said, sounding as if he
were on the verge of defeat.
“You can’t save them all, Gnak, and to save some you might
have to make sacrifices.”
“What sacrifices? Kill humans for Ishanya?”
“No, not literally, Gnak. You might have to sacrifice pride
to save them.”
“Run away? Gnak no can run. Orcs no trust weak chief.”
“Not run away, but perhaps be slower than the rest to rush
into battle. Let others take the brunt of the damage.”
Gnak thought it over a minute and then grinned into the
“Is good plan. Make clan wait. Just small time. Let others
in front. Gnak like.”
“I am glad to be of service, chief Gnak,” she replied
playfully. “How comes Ishanya’s desires?”
“Gnak have three clan, make one. Grow double, grow more.”
“More than double? That is good news, Gnak.”
“Yes is good. Gnak must go now. Need make plan with
“OK, Gnak, keep yourself safe. Remember, your life is
precious too. Maybe even more precious than others.”
“Gnak remember. Gnak fight smart. No like Orc.”
Jen did not reply back. She had again gone beyond his reach.
But the conversation had made Gnak feel more at ease. He had a simple plan to
help spare the lives of his troops, and he had Jen’s belief in him that he
could do what it was that he sought to.
Turning, he strode to the flap of his tent, and poking his
head through he told the captains outside to gather their peers as well as Bota
and the goblin king for a meeting. Ducking back inside, he waited nearly an
hour for all to arrive. The camp had grown so much it was becoming more
difficult to locate one another.
“All here know what Ishanya want Gnak do. All here know Gnak
want save Orc, make Orc better. Gnak want save goblin too. Troll too. Ishanya want
Gnak make better. Bring many clan, make one. Many race one camp. Gnak want this
He paused for a moment, letting his words sink in. All in
his tent were smart. They understood what he meant even if their whole lives
had been the opposite. He hoped he could rely on them when the time came that
he needed to.
“To save many, Gnak have plan. No send, fight fast. Like go
join big chief, Gathos go slow to fight. Let more clan go first. Gathos go
last. Few die. Less die make Gathos strongest clan. Gathos make strongest, be
easy join more clans. See Gnak plan?”
It really was simple. Delay when attacking to let the other
clans take the brunt of the damage. There was no pride in it, but eventually,
taking the least casualties, his clan would become the strongest. Already they
were twelve hundred strong, and over six thousand with the goblins. If he could
gather another clan or two to his cause he would be strong enough to challenge
any other, except perhaps the clan of the big chief. But that concern would have