Download full image

Part Two


… I am done…

"Chief Hellscream?"

… end it…

Grommash Hellscream opened his eyes. His tent was empty, as it always was, yet his arm was outstretched across his animal-skin bedding, trying to embrace someone who would never lie there again. As it always was.

From outside his tent, once more, "Chief Hellscream?"

He grunted and relaxed. That voice had spoken outside of his dreams after all. "Enter," he said.

A Warsong armorer stepped inside. "Chieftain, the raider Riglo has insulted me. We wish to prove ourselves in mak'rogahn."

Grommash blinked the sleep out of his eyes. "You both fought last night," he said.

"Against others. But he has questioned my honor, and I will prove him wrong. No longer shall he speak of…"

On and on. Minutes passed.

Grommash rubbed his forehead and finally interrupted. "Fine. You may fight. When the sun sets—" He looked through the parted tent flaps. Night had already fallen. He had slept through the day. "No, prepare yourselves now. Wait until I arrive to begin."

"Yes, Chief Hellscream." The armorer left.

This is the problem with peace, Grommash mused. Plenty of his Warsong had not been born into the clan. They had flocked to Hellscream's banner in search of war and glory, and for a time, they found both. Now their enemies were defeated. Even rival orc clans were slow to make war upon one another, thanks to Gul'dan and his warnings of an external threat. Until the clans decided how to combat that threat, there was nothing to fight. Some found it difficult to fill the time.

Mak'Rogahn. It was never meant to settle petty insults. Grommash let out a long breath and rose, buckling on his gauntlets.

"Fools," he whispered, and immediately regretted it. They were not fools. No more than he. He understood the quiet chaos of peace, the way the past could press down on an idle mind. Regrets could sicken a warrior's will, if left to fester too long.  Regrets are a weakness, Grommash reminded himself. There was no room in the Warsong for weakness, not even in its clan chieftain. The pleasures of even a meaningless fight would clear his head.

…give me the warrior's death I deserve…

Gorehowl, the axe of the Hellscream lineage, lay next to his bedding. It had not drunk anyone's blood in far too long, and it was unlikely to do so tonight. Hellscream snatched it up anyway and stalked through the camp to the fight pit. A crowd had already gathered—not the entirety of the clan, of course. Only a tenth of a tenth of their number had yet returned from the season's hunting, and only some would care for what happened in the pit. Still, there were enough to surround the ledge and block his view until he reached the chieftain's seat. The armorer and the wolf master were down on the pit floor, ready to fight. They saluted him.

The crowd fell silent. "Normally there are words to say, but you've heard them all before," Hellscream said, allowing a bit of an edge to creep into his voice. "Only those with a true will of iron may call themselves Warsong—"

…don't you see it's too late?…

Hellscream's voice shifted into a growl. "But you've proven your worth before. Prove it again. Begin!"

The two orcs leapt at each other, striking and grabbing and twisting and tearing.

The crowd roared and clattered their weapons together, loud enough to drown out that other voice, the one heard only by the chieftain, crying out from his memories.

Grommash sat and folded his arms, setting his axe across his lap. A few minutes later, the wolf master put his fist onto the armorer's temple, hard, and the fight was over. The victor strutted around the pit, basking in his clan's adulation. The other lay unconscious.

All in all, quite ordinary. But they had lived up to the Warsong standard. "A good fight. No surrender. Honor to the wolf master for victory, and honor to the armorer for the will to fight to the end," Grommash said. "Drink your fill tonight. You both have proven you have a Warsong's heart."  For the eighth time in two weeks, I suspect.

Two orcs lifted the armorer free of the pit and lightly slapped his face until he woke up, groggy but in good humor. No broken limbs to mend, not this time.

The crowd milled about, eager for another bout. Grommash agreed. One fight was never enough to quiet the past.

Grommash raised a fist, and the crowd turned to face him. "Who else?" he asked. "Who else will show me a Warsong's heart tonight?"

Several in the crowd raised both fists, bellowing for Grommash's attention. One orc shouldered his way through the crowd and jumped down into the pit. "I will!" he shouted.

Grommash smiled.  The others ask. He acts. The chieftain couldn't immediately recall the orc's name, and the few torches around the fight pit didn't illuminate him properly. Grommash squinted, searching his face. Strange. There was a familiar shape to him, but the name simply wouldn't come.

Uneasy whispers rippled through the crowd.

"Who is he?"

Nobody knew. The murmurs spread.

Something was wrong. Grommash leaned forward and stared.  Many things were wrong. Manacles linked the strange orc's wrists together. His garments were nothing like what Grommash had ever seen, not in cloth or in cut. The dark shadow covering his jaw wasn't a short-shorn beard but a tattoo, a  chieftain's tattoo, elaborate beyond belief.

The crowd shifted uneasily. Soon silence fell over the Warsong, and those with weapons at hand grasped them firmly. The orc stood tall and proud in the pit, a slight smile on his face, enjoying their confusion.

Grommash lowered his hand to Gorehowl's shaft. He had learned to trust his inner voice, and right now it was shouting that this orc was dangerous, an outsider, one who did not belong here. An assassin? If so, he was a bold one, or a stupid one, to step into a pit surrounded by armed Warsong with his hands chained together.

An anticipation of violence fell over Grommash's mind. It had been too long since his axe had a drink.

Yet that same inner voice… it piqued his curiosity.  Why does he look so familiar? "You claim to possess a Warsong's heart?" Grommash asked.

"I do," the orc said in a strong voice, speaking to the crowd as much as to Grommash.

"Tell us your name."

The orc lifted his chin. "I come to you as a stranger and nothing more."

Grommash studied him quietly for a moment. "You have no clan, stranger? No heritage? No name taken from tales of your astonishing battlefield victories?" He let a little contempt show, and tense laughter floated about the crowd.

"Tales are words, and words are wind," the stranger said. "Only deeds prove what's in the heart."

"But even a short tale or two can answer certain questions." Grommash gestured toward the stranger's manacles. "Which clan did you anger to earn those? And when did you escape? Is there an army of pursuers at your back, stranger, preparing to fall upon my camp?" He turned his gaze toward the crowd and made no attempt to hide his anger. "And how did he get into my camp in the first place?  Who among you was responsible for watching the night but instead chose to watch the pits? Show yourself!" His full-throated roar echoed across the rows of Warsong tents. The crowd's laughter vanished.

Four orcs shuffled slowly to the edge of the pit, the soft sounds of their movement deafening in the silence. Their faces were pinched with worry, but they held their heads high and identified themselves by name. Grommash let them stand there, waiting, until beads of sweat formed on their brows.

"The heart of a Warsong means nothing if you have the brains of an ogre," he said in a soft voice. "You allowed this one to enter our midst. It is only fair that you share this stranger's fate, whatever it may be. Do you agree?"

They murmured, "Yes, Chief Hellscream."

Grommash kept his voice low. "Then join him." They hesitated but jumped down into the pit without protest. The stranger stepped back, giving them room. They shot hateful glances at him. He returned the looks without blinking.

"Stranger. You claim no clan?" Grommash asked.

"As I said, my heart is Warsong. But I have no clan," he said.

Grommash rubbed his chin. "Does that explain the markings? You have no clan; therefore, you are your own chieftain?"

Laughter traveled through the crowd again. The stranger didn't smile. "It is a mark from a different time. A scar. Nothing more."

"My Warsong do not answer my questions with riddles and evasion, stranger, and you are not skilled enough at either to impress me," Grommash snapped. "Answer me plain. Why are you here?"

The stranger smiled. "You are the second person to tell me that today." He lowered his head for a moment and gathered his thoughts. When he raised his eyes, the smile was gone. In its place was absolute conviction. "Grommash Hellscream, I have traveled far and sacrificed much to stand in front of you. I am here to defy what fate has dictated for you and all orcs."

"Which is?"                               

"Slavery. The loss of our souls and everything that makes us great," the stranger said with finality.

The crowd of Warsong looked at Grommash, seeking his reaction. He didn't make them wait long.

He laughed. Loudly. Explosively. The tension broke, and all the Warsong roared with him. Even the orcs in the pit joined in. Only the stranger remained impassive.  I actually believed him dangerous, Grommash thought ruefully. When the wave of amusement passed, Grommash stood up, Gorehowl held loosely in his grasp.

"Some might want you dead for those words, stranger. Myself, I find no honor in killing lunatics," Grommash said. To the chastened orcs in the pit, he said, "Take him to the blacksmith's tent. Get his chains off, give him a meal and a skin of water, and escort him away. You won't be punished further." The four orcs relaxed. "Perhaps you are not fully to blame. If you had seen him, you might have killed him, and the spirits protect fools. Send him off and take the lesson to heart. No more lapses."

The four orcs in the pit closed in on the stranger. "You think I'm lying?" he said, stepping back.

"No," Grommash said gently, "I think your mind has been harmed. The Warsong do not surrender. For us, slavery is the  one fate we know we will never face. Even in defeat, even when captured, we resist until we die."

One of the guards in the pit grabbed the stranger's arm. The manacled orc set his feet, clasped both hands together, and swung. His fists met the guard's jaw, throwing him back. The others moved in hard.

"Stop!" Grommash bellowed. They halted. "Stranger, you test my patience. Warsong mercy does not extend far, even for fools."

The stranger refused to back down. "The path to the Warsongs' slavery will not come from war or defeat. Your fate will be accepted freely and gladly," he said, raising his voice, "and it will be  you, Grommash Hellscream, who will insist on being first to tie yourself to the orcs' new masters. The rest will follow. We will never recover."

Dead silence greeted his words. Only the slight rustling of the breeze on the Warsong's tents and the crackling of the lit torches around the pit offered any sound at all.

Grommash's last traces of pity were long gone. "Your prophecies are absurd. And now you have insulted my honor." His eyes hardened. "But as you said, words are wind. Only deeds matter. Have you heard of mak'rogahn, stranger?"

The manacled orc tilted his head and moved his mouth, sounding out the words.  Duel of will. "I know of mak'gora. I know it very well. Is this much different?" he said.

"Mak'Gora is a fight to the death," Grommash said. "Mak'Rogahn is how the Warsong prove their worth. They enter the pit and fight, only stopping when their bodies fail. There is no surrender. No mercy. Only a pure display of the will to survive any hardship and endure all pain. Those who give up are exiled.  That is how you can prove you have a Warsong's heart. Our clan will never tolerate weakness again."

"Again?" the stranger asked.

… give me the warrior's death I deserve…

Grommash ruthlessly squashed the memory. "If your words are true, fight. Show us your honor."

The stranger considered his restrained hands for a moment. "I accept."

"Excellent. Mak'Rogahn is not meant to be a fight to the death, but accidents happen," Grommash said. "You have insulted not only me but all Warsong. Perhaps you four in the pit would like the chance to defend our honor."

"We accept!" they roared back without hesitation. The stranger's eyes widened slightly.

"Begin," Grommash said mildly, sitting back in his seat.

They did.