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My name is Thrall. The word means "slave" in the human tongue, and the story behind the naming is a long one, best left for another time. By the grace of the spirits and the blood of heroes before me that runs in my veins, I have become Warchief of my people, the orcs, and the leader of a group of races known as the Horde. How this came to be, too, is another tale. The one I wish to set to parchment now, before those who lived it pass to dwell with the honorable ancestors, is the story of my father and those who believed in him; and of those who betrayed him and indeed, all our people.
What might have become of us had these events not unfolded, not even the wise shaman Drek'Thar can say. The paths of Fate are many and varied, and no sane being should ever venture down the deceptively pleasant one of "if only." What happened, happened; my people must shoulder both the shame and the glories of our choices.
This is the tale not of the Horde as it exists today, a loose organization of orc, tauren, forsaken, troll, and blood elf, but of the rise of the very first Horde. Its birth, like that of any infant, was marked by blood and pain, and its harsh cries for life meant death to its enemies.
For such a grim and violent tale, it begins peacefully enough, amid the rolling hills and valleys of a verdant land called Draenor. . . .
The heart-beat rhythm of the drums lulled the younger orcs to sleep, but Durotan of the Frostwolf clan was wide awake. He lay with the others on the hard-packed dirt floor of the sleeping tent. A generous padding of straw and a thick clefthoof pelt protected him from the chill of the bone-cold earth. Even so, he felt the vibrations of the drumming travel up through the earth and into his body, as his ears were caressed by the ancient sound. How he longed to go out and join them!
Durotan would have another summer before he would be able to participate in the Om'riggor, the rite of adulthood. Until that much-anticipated event, he would have to accept being shunted off with the children into this large group tent, while the adults sat around the fire and talked of things that were doubtless mysterious and significant.
He sighed and shifted on the pelt. It was not fair.
The orcs did not fight among themselves, but neither were they particularly sociable. Each clan kept to itself, with its own traditions, styles and manner of dress, stories, and shaman. There were even variations of dialect that differed so much that some orcs could not understand one another unless they spoke the common tongue. They almost seemed as different to one another as the other sentient race who shared the bounty of the field, forest, and streams, the blue-skinned, mysterious draenei. Only twice a year, spring and autumn, did all the orc clans come together as they were doing now, to honor that time when day and night were the same length.
The festival had officially started last night at moonrise, though orcs had been gathering at this spot for several days now. The Kosh'harg celebration had been held on this sacred spot in the land the orcs called Nagrand, "Land of Winds," which lay in the benevolent shadow of the "Mountain of Spirits," Oshu'gun, for as long as anyone could remember. While ritual challenges and combat were not unusual during the festival, true anger or violence had never erupted here. When tempers flared, as they sometimes did when so many were gathered together, the shaman encouraged the parties involved to work it out peaceably, or else they were to leave the holy area.
The land in this place was lush and fertile and calming. Durotan sometimes wondered if the land was tranquil because of the willingness of the orcs to bring peace to it, or if the orcs were peaceful because the land was so serene. He often wondered such things, and kept them to himself, for he heard no one else voicing such odd ideas.
Durotan sighed quietly, his thoughts racing, his heart thumping in answering rhythm to the voice of the drums outside. Last night had been wonderful, stirring Durotan's soul. When the Pale Lady cleared the dark line of trees, in Her waning phase but still bright enough to cast a powerful light that was reflected on the blankets of white snow, a cheer had gone up from the throat of every one of the thousands of orcs assembled wise elders, warriors in their prime, even children held in their mother's strong arms. The wolves, both companions and mounts to the orcs, had joined in with exultant howls. The sound shivered along Durotan's veins as the drumming did now, a deep, primal cry of salutation to the white orb who commanded the night skies. Durotan had glanced around to behold a sea of powerful beings raising their brown hands, silvered in the light, to the Pale Lady, all with one focus. If any ogre had been foolish enough to attack, it would have fallen in a matter of heartbeats beneath the weapons of this vast sea of single-minded warriors.
Then had come feasting. Dozens of beasts had been slain earlier in the season, before the winter had set in, and dried and smoked in preparation for the event. Bonfires had been kindled, their warm light merging with the fey, white glow of the Lady, and the drumming had begun and had not stopped since.
He, like all the other children lying on his clefthoof pelt, Durotan sniffed dismissively at the term had been permitted to stay up until he had eaten his fill and the shaman had departed. The shaman of every clan left, once the opening feast had been consumed, to climb Oshu'gun, which stood careful watch over their festivities, enter its caverns, and be advised by the spirits and their ancestors.
Oshu'gun was impressive even from a distance. Unlike other mountains, which were irregular and rough in their shape, Oshu'gun erupted from the ground with the precision and sharp point of a spearhead. It looked like a giant crystal set into the earth, so clean were its lines and so brightly did it glisten in the sun- and moonlight. Some legends told that it had fallen from the sky hundreds of years ago, and it was so unusual that Durotan thought those tales might be right.
Interesting though Oshu'gun might be, Durotan always thought it a bit unfair that the shaman had to stay there for the entire Kosh'harg festival. The poor shaman, he thought, missed all the fun. But then again, he suspected, so did the children.
During the day, there were hunts and game playing and retelling of the heroics of the ancestors. Each clan had its own stories, and so in addition to the familiar tales Durotan had heard as a youngling, there were new and exciting adventures to listen to.
Entertaining as these were, and as much as Durotan enjoyed them, he burned to know what the adults discussed after the children were drowsing in the sleeping tent, after their bellies were stretched full of good food and pipes had been smoked and various brews had been shared.
He could stand it no longer. Quietly, Durotan sat up, his ears straining for any sounds to indicate that anyone else was awake. He heard nothing, and after a long minute, he got to his feet and began to move slowly toward the entrance.
It was a long, slow progression in the darkened tent. Sleeping children of all ages and sizes were sprawled everywhere in the tent, and one wrong move could awaken them. His heart racing with excitement at his daring, Durotan stepped carefully between the only faintly glimpsed shapes, placing each large foot with the delicacy of the long-legged marsh birds.
It seemed to take an eternity before Durotan finally reached the flap. He stood, trying to calm his breathing, reached out
And touched a large, smooth-skinned body standing right beside him. He jerked his hand back with a surprised hiss.
"What are you doing?" Durotan whispered.
"What are you doing?" the other orc shot back. Abruptly Durotan grinned at how foolish they sounded.
"Same thing you are," Durotan replied, his voice still soft. All about them, the others slept on. "We can either keep talking about it or do it."
Durotan could tell by the size of the faint shape in front of him that the orc was a large male, probably close to his own age. He couldn't place the scent or the voice, so it wasn't one of the Frostwolf clan. It was a daring thought not only to do something so forbidden as to leave the sleeping tent without permission, but to do so in the company of an orc not of his own clan.
The other orc hesitated, the same thoughts no doubt running through his head. "Very well," he said at last. "Let's do it."
Durotan reached out again in the darkness, his fingers brushing the hide of the flap and curling around its edge. The two orc youths pulled back the flap and stepped out into the frosty night.
Durotan turned to look at his companion. The other orc was brawnier than he, and stood a bit taller. Durotan was the largest of his age in his clan, and unused to others being taller than he. It was a bit disquieting. His ally in mischief turned to look at him, and Durotan felt himself being assessed. The other nodded, apparently satisfied with what he saw.
They did not risk words. Durotan pointed to a large tree close to the tent, and silently the two headed for it. For a moment that was probably not as long as it felt, they were in the open, exposed to any adult who chose that instant to turn his head and see them, but they were not spotted. Durotan felt as exposed as if he were in bright sunlight, so powerful was the moon's glow reflected off the crystalline snow. And surely the sound of the snow squeaking beneath their feet was as loud as the bellow of an enraged ogre. At last they reached the tree and sank down behind it. Durotan's breath misted as he finally exhaled. The other orc turned to him and grinned.
"I am Orgrim, line of Telkar Doomhammer, of the Blackrock clan," the youth said in a proud whisper.
Durotan was impressed. While the Doomhammer line was not the line of a chieftain, it was well known and honored.
"I am Durotan, line of Garad, of the Frostwolf clan," Durotan replied. Now it was Orgrim's turn to react to the fact that he was sitting with the heir to another clan. He nodded approvingly.
For a moment they simply sat, reveling in the glory of their daring. Durotan began to feel the cold and wetness seep through his thick hide cape, and got to his feet. Again, he pointed at the gathering, and Orgrim nodded. They carefully peered around the tree, straining to listen. Surely now they would hear the mysteries for which they both hungered. Over the crackling sound of the huge bonfire and the deep, steady beating of the drums, voices floated to them.
"The shaman have been kept busy this winter with the fever," Durotan's father, Garad, said. He reached down and petted the huge white wolf who was drowsing by the fire. The beast, its white coat distinguishing it as a Frostwolf, made a soft crooning sound of pleasure. "Soon as one of the younglings gets cured, another falls ill."
"I am ready for spring, myself," another male said, standing and tossing another log on the fire. "It's been harsh with the animals, too. When we were preparing for the festival, we had a hard time finding clefthooves."
"Klaga makes a delicious soup from the bones, but she refuses to tell us what herbs she uses," a third said, glaring at a female who was nursing an infant. The female in question, presumably Klaga, chuckled.
"The only one who'll get that recipe is this little one when she comes of age," Klaga replied, and grinned.
Durotan's jaw dropped. He turned his head to stare at Orgrim, who wore a similar expression of stunned dismay. This was what was so important, so secret that the children were forbidden to leave the tent to listen to it? Discussions of fevers and soups?
In the bright light of the moon, Durotan had no trouble seeing Orgrim's face clearly. The other youth's brows drew together in a frown.
"You and I can come up with something more interesting than this, Durotan," he said in a low, gruff voice.
Durotan grinned and nodded. He was certain of it.
The festival lasted for two more days. During the daytime and at night, when the two would sneak out together, they challenged each other to different contests of skill. Racing, climbing, strength, sure-footedness everything they could think of. And each defeated the other almost as if they had planned on taking turns. When, on the last day, Orgrim loudly called for a fifth challenge to break the stalemate, something inside Durotan made him speak.
"Let us not perform common, ordinary challenges," Durotan said, wondering where the words came from even as he uttered them. "Let us do something truly different in the history of our people."
Orgrim's bright gray eyes gleamed as he leaned forward. "What do you suggest?"
"Let us be friends, you and I."
Orgrim's heavily muscled jaw dropped. "But we are not of the same clan!" he said, in a voice that indicated that Durotan might have proposed a friendship between the great black wolf and the mild talbuk.
Durotan waved a dismissive hand. "We are not enemies," he said. "Look around you. The clans come together twice a year and there is no harm in it."
"But . . . my father says it is precisely because we come together so seldom that the peace is kept," Orgrim continued. His brow knotted with concern.
Disappointment colored Durotan's words with bitterness. "Very well. I thought you braver than the others, Orgrim of the Doomhammer line, but you are no better than they timid and shy and unwilling to see beyond what has always been done to what is possible."
The words had come from his heart, but had Durotan calculated them and honed them for weeks, he could not have chosen better. Orgrim's brown face flushed and his eyes snapped.
"I am no coward!" he snarled. "I back down from no challenge, you upstart Frostwolf!"
He sprang on Durotan then, knocking the smaller orc off his feet, and the two pummeled each other until the shaman needed to be brought in for healing and lecturing on the inappropriateness of fighting in a sacred space.
"Impetuous boy," scolded the head shaman of the Frostwolves, an ancient orc female they called "Mother" Kashur. "You are not too old to be beaten as a disobedient child, young Durotan!"
The shaman who tended Orgrim muttered similar displeased sounds. But even as blood streamed freely from his nose, and as he watched the shaman heal a wicked gash on Orgrim's brown torso, Durotan grinned. Orgrim caught his gaze and grinned back.
The challenge had begun, the final challenge, so much more important than races or lifting stones, and neither was willing to admit defeat . . . to say that a friendship between two youths of different clans was wrong. Durotan had a feeling that this particular challenge would end only when one of them was dead . . . and perhaps not even then.
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