Chapter 1: One
There was moisture on the ceiling. As he watched, it condensed, and dripped down the wall in a rivulet. It didn't make it far, only a foot, but a second droplet collided with it, and pushed it down a little more. Over the course of ten minutes, by his reckoning and the rate of dripping water, there would be a puddle on the floor.
A wet spring, perhaps, he thought. This has happened more than once. Moving carefully, because any sudden movement caused the guards outside his cell to spring into action, he shifted the bucket. It was reasonably clean, this time, and even if it wasn't, the water was too valuable to waste. Something my father taught me: any resource that is rare and precious shouldn't be wasted, no matter how it's collected.
Soft, human-woven cloth pulled across broad shoulders tightly, revealing a hard ripple of muscle that had not been diminished by captivity, and greasy, black hair swung across them. With little thought to hurry, he stretched, though not to his full, impressive height. His kind was not meant to be held within feeble human walls, and yet--
"Settle down now," called out one of the guards. He turned his gaze towards the human. The guard was young, and nervous, gripping his sword a little too tightly. The human's armor was a little too well-polished to have seen any real combat. He smirked, feeling his lips pull across the tusks that protruded from them. "I said settle down!"
"That's enough, Sebastian," said a quiet voice, and his gaze shifted. Watery-blue eyes looked him over once; this human dressed foolishly, wearing garments made of material better used for blankets and standards than clothes. A real warrior wore metal and leather. From behind the speaker, brighter blue eyes peeked out, framed by light blonde hair. "Doomhammer."
He shifted to stand, and though his shoulders were stooped, he still was taller than the man before him. "Princess. Terenas."
"Right then, out you come," the human guard said, stacking bluster on top of fear. His hands shook as he unlocked the cell door. Doomhammer shuffled out of the cell, his feet bound together. Terenas turned, and the guards led Doomhammer through the corridors. Over her shoulder, Princess Calia -- the only one of his usual retinue he bothered to use a title for -- peered at him. He met her gaze, and unlike the guards, she didn't flinch back. She never did.
That one will be a warrior, or a fine mate to one, he thought. He watched as Terenas put his hand on her shoulder.
"You may stay as long as you are quiet," Terenas told her. "If he frightens you, don't hesitate to say something."
"I will, Father," Calia promised, and glanced behind her again. "I'm not afraid."
Terenas led the way to a small chamber, an interview room rather than the torture chamber he'd assumed was coming.
Interesting. Probably because he doesn't expect a girl to actually want to watch torture, Doomhammer thought. I suppose weeks of roundabout questions still isn't enough, and they want more. The guards forced him into a chair that creaked. Princess Calia was offered a seat in the corner, as she had been during their previous sessions, and Terenas sat across from him.
"Dismissed," the king of Lordaeron said, startling both Doomhammer and the guards. This was new. Once they left, he met Doomhammer's eyes squarely. "Now, it begins."
~ * ~
"Father! Father, did you see it?" Orgrim cried. "A dragon flew over the village!"
His father, Telkar Doomhammer, warrior of the Thunderlord clan, smiled and nodded towards him. "They're restless today."
"The Gronn are hungry," remarked Leoroxx of the Mok'Nathal. "When the Gronn hunger, the dragons fly."
"Is it true, Father?" he asked, looking between his father, who stood tall and proud, with his mace resting against one shoulder, and the half-ogre who was even taller than his father, and seemed nearly as tall as the sharp peaks of the mountains.
"The Gronn are the natural hunters of the dragons," Telkar agreed, though he frowned at Leoroxx. "We need to meet with Fenris. Something stirs."
"What--" Leoroxx began, and Telkar shook his head slightly. He frowned up at his father. "Rexxar."
"Father?" called a soft voice. Even though Rexxar was a full three cycles younger than him, as a half-ogre he was still far larger, and a worg pup snuffled at the large, muscular arms that held him.
"Take Orgrim to visit the Den Mother," Leoroxx said. "We'll join you later."
Rexxar hesitated. "Yes, Father." He gestured to Orgrim, and looking back once at his father's troubled expression, he followed.
"Don't you want to know what they're talking about?" Orgrim asked softly. Rexxar stroked the pup in his arms.
"We'll get into trouble," Rexxar said softly. "Father always knows when someone is listening. The animals warn him."
Orgrim gave him a disbelieving look. "You're just afraid of being in trouble."
"I'm not, I want to know too," Rexxar retorted. "Father's been saying the stars look bad for two or three risings of the Red Son, but that doesn't mean it isn't true."
"Coward," Orgrim taunted, and moved towards the direction of the meeting. I'm not going to be afraid.
It only took a few moments for Rexxar to join him, the pup left to find his mother. "Am not."
Orgrim grinned. It wasn't difficult to find the meeting of the elders. Fenris Wolfbrother sat at the camp fire, one large, green hand stroking over the head of a great worg. From the shadows in which they hid, Fenris' eyes gleamed, the reflection of red flickering within dark depths. Telkar sat by Fenris. Orgrim knew that his grandmother was the daughter of one of the previous chieftains, and by both right and blood, his father had the right to sit at the Chieftain's side. Leoroxx stood, and several of the other clan elders sat around him. Leoroxx was frowning.
"What have you seen, Telkar?" Fenris rumbled, forcing all other voices to be silent. "Leoroxx tells me that something has happened."
"I bring news from Shadowmoon Valley. The great mountain called Demon's Heart has erupted." Orgrim's eyes widened, and Rexxar shifted beside him. "Chieftain Gul'dan of the Stormreaver clan calls it a sign. He's named the volcano the Hand of Gul'dan."
"Outrageous," muttered one of the elders. "A sign of what?"
"No one knows, but he claims he's been having visions," Telkar continued and snorted. "Visions. If he has visions, why does he not tell us where the draenei are hiding, or how they poisoned the world?"
"Careful, brother," Fenris said warningly. "That's shaman talk. You know the teaching has been forbidden."
"Forbidding it doesn't change the truth," Telkar argued. "The world is dying, and the shamans always claimed they knew the truth of it."
"Not even the stars can tell us what caused Draenor to die, only that She is in agony and has been for a long time," Leoroxx said sternly. "If the shamans had answers, they would have told us instead of giving us false hope. I dislike Gul'dan, but if he claims to have visions... he is the first to have them in a long time."
"You spend too much time with Garad," Fenris said coolly to Telkar as Leoroxx withdrew from the fire. "You should be more careful."
"His father was a shaman, one of the last," he said. "It's in the Shadow Wolf clan. He thinks--"
"Enough," Fenris commanded. "We will discuss what the volcano means at Oshu'gun, and Telkar... be very careful. The Shadow Wolf clan's land is far from here, if you will take my meaning."
"Yes, Chieftain," Telkar said reluctantly. Orgrim hesitated, watching the expression on his father's face.
"We should go, before we are caught," Rexxar said quietly, tugging on Orgrim's arm.
"You were to be with the Den Mother," Leoroxx said from behind them, his voice low with anger.
~ * ~
"That was the first time I'd heard the name Gul'dan," Doomhammer finished, and coughed lightly. His throat was dry. "Leoroxx and my father punished us for spying on them, but there was little they could do. They could not erase the words from our minds."
"You had no idea that he intended on invading our world?" Terenas asked, his brows creasing into a frown. Doomhammer cleared his throat again.
"I was a child," Doomhammer said. "I was not ignorant, but it was impossible to know what someone's intentions were from so far away. Gul'dan didn't often come to Oshu'gun, not until..." He frowned.
"Until?" Terenas pressed. From behind the human king, he saw Calia move up, and offer him her drinking flask. Her father frowned. "You'll lose that."
"It's alright, and he'll need to drink to keep talking to us," Calia said softly, and nudged it forward. "Go on."
Doomhammer took the flask from her hands, and took a swig to drink. It tasted sweeter than any other water he'd tasted, and he realized it was clean. As he drank, he noticed that Calia wore gloves made of thin white fabric, and trimmed with something fancy. Lace, I think they call it. I wonder why. If it was fastidiousness, it didn't seem to show through the rest of her manner. Could it be something else?
Terenas made a noise in the back of his throat, calling Doomhammer's attention away from Calia's hands, and back to him. "Tell us of Oshu'gun."
~ * ~
"That girl keeps staring at you," Orgrim pointed out, nudging at his friend. Durotan looked up, and saw nothing but a crowd of bare, orcish shoulders.
"No one's there, Orgrim," Durotan replied with a weary sigh. "I swear, you have girls on the brain now. Ever since Ekria started smiling at you every time she brought you another ale."
"It's a nice smile," he said, a touch of defensiveness in his tone. "I'm surprised you've noticed, your head is always in the clouds, it's a wonder the Blue Lady hasn't chosen you as her next mate."
"I've been busy," Durotan grumbled. "Between you and Grom, you never let up about girls and mating." He gestured to the tall, skinny warrior, talking to one of the women carrying a basket. As they watched, Grom leaned closer to her, and she smiled at him, her teeth flashing in the sunlight.
"They're smiling," said a soft, childish voice, and it caused both Orgrim and Durotan to turn. There was a chill across his back, as if a cloud had passed over the sun. Before them stood Gul'dan. He was a chieftain of a clan known as Stormreaver, called so because his conclave of warlocks had tamed a storm, ripping it apart to offer bitter rain to nearby clans, and even though it stung as it struck flesh, it had been a welcome blessing. At the warlock's side stood a girl-child, and were it not for the precise words she spoke, Orgrim would have believed her just old enough to toddle. Instead, she looked around with sharp eyes that were pale, pale gray instead of dark brown.
"They're smiling because they're being foolish," Gul'dan said sharply. "Do not act so foolishly when you are grown."
The slap rang out across the Oshu'gun plain, and now everyone was staring. The girl held her cheek, and where Orgrim expected her to bawl, she had only tears prickling in her eyes, controlling herself well enough to prevent all but the tiniest noise.
"Come, Garona," Gul'dan barked, and he whirled, his dark robes fluttering behind him, and the orc girl followed obediently. Once he retreated to his tent, there was a low buzz that rose over the encampment.
"Who was that?"
"Why was he here?"
"What was she saying to him?"
"Well, that's killed the mood," Grom observed sourly. "It'll be another year until I see Grootha again."
"It would be easier if you picked someone from your own clan to moon over," Durotan muttered. "What was she showing you, anyway? It looked like weaving."
"It was," Grom said, almost smugly. "She's a fine weaver, and a warrior besides. You are going to get stuck with the weakling, even if she is pretty now. If I weren't committed... and she wasn't my cousin..."
"What are you talking about?" Durotan asked, and Grom laughed.
"You'll see," the taller warrior promised, and Orgrim's gaze went back to Gul'dan's dark tent.
There was something wrong with her, Orgrim thought. There was something very strange about that child. I simply cannot put my finger on it.
~ * ~
"That poor girl," Calia murmured. "Hitting her, just like that."
"Do not feel too sorry for Garona, Princess," Doomhammer warned. Ignoring her father's annoyance, he took a careful drink. "She is nothing but trouble, from the moment she came to Oshu'gun. Where she goes, darkness follows. She was, as I learned, Gul'dan's pupil."
"She was a warlock?" Calia frowned.
"No, what she was in many ways was... worse. She was his messenger, and the extension of his will." Doomhammer's expression darkened. "His spy, and his assassin. She wouldn't hesitate to kill you, or anyone else."
"Garona Halforcen is known to us," Terenas said angrily. "She tricked Llane Wrynn into trusting her, and then she murdered him. Do not speak of her again."
"But, Father," Calia protested softly. "It might be important--"
"No," Terenas said firmly. "We keep this strictly to information that we can use. That's enough for now. You have practice, don't you?"
"Yes," Calia sighed softly. "My harp won't wait." Terenas stood, and signaled Calia to follow. The king of Lordaeron rapped firmly on the door, and guards appeared immediately to let them out.
"Take the orc back to his cell," Terenas said. "Give him an extra half ration."
"Father," Calia protested softly, and while Terenas held up a hand to silence her, he acquiesce with a sigh.
"A double ration, then, until the next time we speak." Terenas gestured for his daughter to move forward, and Doomhammer allowed the humans to take him back into his cell. As he thought, water was collecting in the bucket he left, and it was bitter-tasting compared to the water within the flask, but he drank it anyway, and waited for the promised meal to come.
Sebastian grumbled about it, shoving it towards Doomhammer, and even though it lacked flavour as so much human food did, there was a small gift in this one: a pastry. This he set aside, promising that he would eat it later, with some of the sweet water. In the mean time, he consumed the rations, eating steadily. Human food was decidedly bland, and soft.
It is better than starving, he thought later as he contemplated the pastry. Orcs had neither the resources or the patience to make such treats, and most that came across them quickly became fond of the treats that contained all manner of sweet things, fruit of various sorts, or cooked red beans that didn't exist on Draenor. I--
"Princess, you can't be here," Sebastian said, startling Doomhammer out of his contemplation.
"My father trusts me," Calia said, her voice quiet but firm. "Please, just let me speak to him alone."
"We'll be just down the hall if he causes trouble," Sebastian said. "Be careful, Princess."
"I will be," Calia said, and Doomhammer moved to the door. "Orgrim?"
"That is my name, yes," Doomhammer replied cautiously. "Why are you here, Princess?"
"I have a blanket," Calia said, and she held up an edge to the tiny window of his cell. "But I wanted you to tell me something."
"What is it you want to know?" the former Warchief of the Horde asked warily.
"Why do you hate Garona Halforcen?"
"Oh," Doomhammer said, anger tinging his voice. "Let me count the ways."
~ * ~
"She's watching you, Durotan," Orgrim pointed out. The young chieftain of the Shadow Wolf tribe looked over. The shadows were empty, but that was less of a surprise than it should have been.
"The Spook watches everyone," Durotan replied wearily. "Particularly me. Draka thinks it's funny, but the last thing I want is to have Gul'dan's Fist paying attention to me."
It had been years since that fateful day in Oshu'gun, the same day that Draka had fought another woman for the right to be Durotan's mate -- Orgrim himself had never gotten much beyond smiling, and Grom had selected Grootha of the Shattered Hand as his own mate the next year -- and since then, Gul'dan had introduced Garona to the chieftains.
Gul'dan claimed she was clanless, and her face and eyes were odd, softer and rounder than could be attributed to her youth. As she grew, it was obvious that Garona was only partly an orc, and this other made her different. Gul'dan had her deliver messages for him, but what became as obvious as her heritage was that she was a spy. Those who spoke without discretion when she was suspected to be near found themselves harshly punished, sometimes even killed.
"Do you think she... knows?" Orgrim asked quietly. "Father has spoken more loudly lately of the old ways."
"I hope not," Durotan said honestly. "It's hard enough convincing those outside my clan of my grandfather's dream."
"Shh," Orgrim said. "The meeting is starting." It was rare for orcs to meet outside of Oshu'gun or in battle. Most orcs had little patience for words, but when Gul'dan spoke, more and more were listening. He has gifts. The ancestors speak to him. They speak to hardly anyone any more.
"Friends. Warriors." Gul'dan began smoothly. "Over the past years, the ancestors have granted me visions. They have not forgotten us, despite what some... others have said. It has been too long since the orcs have worked together. Instead... we have fought. We have declared war on each other, torn at each others' throats."
"We are warriors, we don't suffer fools," barked Chieftain Fan'gor, of the Great Sands clan. "If you expect us to act like milking cattle--"
"No," Gul'dan said, and set a hand on Garona's shoulder. She was crouched at his side, like a hunting dog, and while she was still, her strange, gray gaze remained focused on the rival chieftain. "I expect us all to act like warriors."
Fan'gor growled low in his throat.
"What is it you have to say, Gul'dan?" asked Kil'rogg Deadeye, and Orgrim turned. Deadeye had once been a shaman, and the already venerable orc leader had denounced shamanism when the elements had abandoned the orcs. Now he was a warlock like Gul'dan, though he remained practical and steady like the earth he'd once revered.
"Draenor is dying," Gul'dan said simply. "It is rejecting us, the way a wound rejects infection. We need to find a new place to live, to raise our children." He raised one eyebrow in Durotan's direction. The youngest of the chieftains present -- one who had yet to sire a child -- gave him a stony look in reply. "I, however, have seen our salvation. In my dreams, I went walking through the Twisting Nether, the aether that holds our world and cradles it here. In my wandering, I found another being that will help us. Together, we have opened a portal between Draenor and his world, which he calls Azeroth, and he invites us to see it. He claims there are vast fields of green, skies of blue... water that does not burn to touch or drink. There are trees, and... there are beings there. Soft, pink-skinned beings he calls humans. He says they are weak, fat and poor fighters."
"Where is the warrior challenge in that?" Telkar demanded, and Orgrim looked to his father with a start. "You claim that we must speak as warriors, and now you want us to fight what... things that are weaker even than the Draenei? You know nothing of being a warrior."
"Peace, Doomhammer," Fenris murmured, and his wolf growled softly. "Still, he makes a good point, Gul'dan. If they are weak, it makes for poor fighting."
"They are not all weak," Gul'dan said, his tone slightly brittle. "There are warriors enough to slake your thirst."
"What would a warlock know of weakness?" Telkar demanded. "How do we know that this being you've communicated with isn't simply lying, leading us into a trap? You claim the ancestors speak to you, but you're no shaman."
Gul'dan's eyes narrowed. "Shamans are--"
"The shamans once worked to protect the orcs and their lands," Telkar spat. "What can you claim to have done?"
"I am trying--"
"What does Ner'zhul think of this?" Telkar demanded. Orgrim couldn't draw his eyes away from his father, the gleam in his eyes. His father drew the Doomhammer and pointed at the warlock. "Your own mentor was a shaman, Gul'dan, and where is he now? Does he sit on his hands while you declare his kind to be anathema?"
"You overstep yourself, Telkar," Fenris said warningly. "Don't--"
"Ner'zhul has left this in my hands," Gul'dan replied coldly. "He remains in Shadowmoon with his clan, doing his duty, unlike you, Thunderlord."
A shiver went down Orgrim's spine. You only use someone's clan name when they haven't done anything to earn a name of their own yet. He--
"You're a treacherous dog, Gul'dan," Telkar snarled, pointing at the warlock. "If you claim to know so much about the ways of warriors, meet me in a challenge on the battlefield."
Gul'dan smirked. "A warrior uses whatever weapon is on hand. Challenge accepted." He lifted his hand off of the half-orc girl's shoulder. "Garona."
She moved. Small, thin limbs shifted from a crouch to a run, her path taking her to Telkar. He watched his father open his mouth, to laugh at such cowardice, and then she struck. A weapon, too long to be a dagger but too thin to be a sword flashed out, cutting a line along Telkar's arm. He bellowed, and shifted his grip, swinging the Doomhammer at her, and she spun along the line of his arm, moving with the blow so it never touched her, and with a lightning strike she struck at Telkar's spine. His armor absorbed much of the blow, but she was behind him, and any movement only caused her to circle.
"Garona, finish it," Gul'dan commanded. She made no sound, but her blade flashed twice, and Telkar screamed in agony, falling to his knees. Blood sprayed from his severed calf muscles, and his great, jagged mace fell from his hands, unblooded.
"No!" Orgrim cried, staggering to his feet. Durotan grabbed his arm, and on his other side, Fenris and his wolf gripped him. "Father!"
"Garona," Gul'dan said again. Their eyes met, and Garona's gaze was cold and flat. She spun her blade in her hand, and drove it into the back of Telkar's neck. Black blood spurted over her hand and wrist. The warlock smiled coldly. "Come." The half-orc moved to his side, her weapon wiped down and put away in an instant, though the red-tinted sunlight caught the steel of her blade. It was an odd gray-blue, but that mattered little. Orgrim tugged away from those restraining him, and ran to his father.
Father, I'm sorry, Orgrim thought. Just beyond his reach lay the Doomhammer. He looked towards it, and up at Gul'dan. His chest burned with hate. I will kill both of you, you--
"Take it," Garona said, startling Orgrim, though her voice was low. "Take it and challenge me, Thunderlord. I won't fail. I don't ever fail."
"I only have one name for the likes of you to call me, spook," Orgrim growled, and took up his father's weapon. "I am Doomhammer."
"Don't use that stupid nickname," Garona replied sharply. "I--"
"Enough," Gul'dan said, and the half-orc immediately fell perfectly silent. Gul'dan looked to Orgrim with something akin to pity, mixed with smug triumph. "Your father's death is unfortunate, but he did challenge me, and my weapons are well-honed." He squeezed Garona's shoulder. "Now, then. Shall we discuss my Great Portal without... interference?"
~ * ~
"I'm sorry," Calia whispered. The blanket moved between them, slowly and carefully. Doomhammer noted it was a thick blanket, well woven though plain. "It must have been very hard for you."
"I was a warrior, Princess," Doomhammer rumbled, and wrapped the blanket around himself. "So was my father. At least he died in battle. Many of Garona's opponents died in their sleep, or with their backs turned."
"Like King Llane..." Calia murmured. "Poor Varian."
"He was here, wasn't he?" the former Warchief asked, considering her. Her head was bowed with the weight of memory.
"Yes," she replied simply. "Lord Lothar brought Prince... King Varian here. He wasn't quite old enough when he came to be part of the fighting, so he was in the nursery with Arthas and I."
"Arthas?" Doomhammer asked. "Your brother?"
"Yes, he was very young. He's six now." She smiled warmly. "He's so bright, too. He's already pretending he has a sword and can go around slaying--" She reddened slightly. "Monsters."
"Orcs, you mean," Doomhammer corrected, a deep rumble in his throat. There was no denial from her. "Your father asks many questions, Princess. I answer them because there is no reason not to, and I do need to eat. Why does he ask these questions?"
"We want to know more about the orcs," Calia replied. "We need to know more."
"I would have thought the Spook would have told you all you needed to know," Doomhammer growled. "She certainly likes to talk when it's to save her own skin." Orcs bleed black. She bleeds gray.
"The Alliance doesn't trust what she told Sir Lothar," Calia said simply. "They want anything they haven't proven for themselves to be verified by another source."
"Another orc source," Doomhammer snorted. "To what end?"
Calia looked behind her for a moment, and Doomhammer couldn't see anyone through the opening. "I don't know if I should tell you."
"Who else will I tell?" the orc Warchief snorted.
"That's true, but... Father will tell you at the right time. You should be surprised when it happens."
Doomhammer opened his mouth to argue, but the insistence in Calia's tone brought him up short. "Very well, then I have a question for you, Princess."
"Oh." She blinked at him in surprise, as if astonished that he found something of interest. That much nearly made him laugh. "You may ask."
"Why do you wear gloves? The ones you wear would not keep you warm, and if you feared me, you wouldn't be here." He watched her expression shift, and he frowned a moment. "Calia?"
"It hides the scars," Calia whispered. "I... I've always been told not to be ashamed, but people ask questions, and it's easier to let most assume I wear them because I'm delicate. It's actually very hard to go about life wearing gloves!" There was a hint of hysteria in her voice. "It's as if my hands are always a size too big, no matter how thin the material is."
"Calia," Doomhammer said commandingly. "Let me see." She hesitated, and then the gloves came off. She held her hands up to the cell's window. There were long thin scars on both palms, and along her fingers. His eyes widened, and took her hand in his, examining them. "Knife scars, from long ago. Were you attacked by one of my warriors?"
He felt her flinch, but she didn't pull away. "No, I... I got them protecting Arthas. When we were both younger. He was..."
"If you were attacked, but it wasn't by orcs... who would have struck at you?" Doomhammer asked, frowning.
"I have to go," Calia said, taking her now-shaking hand out of his, and sliding the gloves back on. "Enjoy your blanket."
Doomhammer watched her go in silence, and moved to the corner of his cell. He took the blanket in his hands, and arranged it around him. Doubtless, the guards will be angry that I've upset her. He frowned, remembering her reaction. It must be something that frightens her more than anything, if she feels as if she can't speak of it. Hm.
No recrimination came from the guards, however, and as they moved back into place, grumbling softly, he settled down to sleep.
Chapter 2: Two
Wet spring gave way to cool summer, and there were no more visits. His rations remained doubled, and he learned in time from the overheard conversations that his day guard Sebastian Valonforth had an older brother, was newly married, liked cheese and hated the damp. His wife worried about him being a prison guard, and the weather, and how their son would fare with the orcs still in the hills.
Well enough, Doomhammer thought wearily from his corner of his cell. He'll fare well enough, because the Horde wouldn't be foolish enough to--
His head came up. Calia walked quickly through the corridor. He shifted so that he could see her better, noting the distress on her face. His eyes narrowed.
She's been crying. Something must have happened, Doomhammer observed.
Sebastian echoed the silent question, and Calia waved him off. "I'm here to speak to our prisoner."
"Without your father?" Sebastian said. "Is that a good idea--"
"I'll be fine. He won't harm me," Calia said, a hint of steel in her voice. "And Father is busy with Lord Prestor besides."
"The noble from Alterac?" Sebastian commented, and rapped sharply against Doomhammer's cell door. He stood, and shuffled to the door. "No trouble for the Princess. You hear me, orc?"
"None," Doomhammer said, his urge to bridle at the human's tone tempered by the expression on Calia's face.
"It was bad business, Alterac," Sebastian continued, prompting Doomhammer along the corridor. "Treason and all that, selling out to the orcs like cowards--"
"It's over now," Calia said, putting a halt to it. Sebastian opened the door to the interrogation room, and made a noise of protest when she dismissed him. "As I said, he won't hurt me. Please stand guard."
Doomhammer watched as doubt warred with loyalty, before Sebastian saluted and left the room. The rulers of Lordaeron are strong enough to command, even as young as Calia is. Gul'dan would never have been able to control the likes of her. He sat in his chair, and watched her arrange her skirts to sit properly. "What happened? You're upset."
"I'd like to know more about the time after you came through the Portal, before the war truly began," Calia replied. Their eyes met, and the war of their wills was barely fought before he lost.
"After my father's death, I left the Thunderlord clan, and lived with Durotan and the Shadow Wolves," Doomhammer explained. "Meanwhile, Gul'dan grew powerful. He used everything he could to further his own ambitions, and that included the Spook."
"Garona," Calia murmured, considering. "And this was when you began to establish settlements in Azeroth?"
Doomhammer pulled a face. "Yes."
~ * ~
"What do you think?" Durotan asked, hefting his axe. Orgrim looked at him, and then the village. From the Swamp of Sorrows had come the mud that they had been fashioned into clay, and built numerous rounded buildings, though in many places, the water would seep in. Makeshift drainage had been constructed to attempt to keep the village's land dry. There were dozens of buildings, including a great, ugly, misshapen heap of a Chieftain's hut. It was practically home.
"It's named Stonard," Orgrim snorted. "What's the next one going to be named, Rockard?"
"I didn't pick the names," Durotan said stiffly. "And I'm not naming the next village. Blackhand has moved on ahead to found the next one. Knowing him, it will sink back into the swamp."
"No doubt," Orgrim agreed. He looked up at the sky. It was raining again, but the orcs reveled in it. The rain here didn't burn, and didn't hiss when it struck the plant life that thrived in such wet conditions. There was plenty of water here, and while the orcs shied away from the coastline, the shallow water within the Swamp was safe enough. If we were to live here, it wouldn't be so bad. "The scouts have come back. There's another human village not far from here."
"We'll have to be on the lookout, then," Durotan said wearily. "Gul'dan claims they're worthy fighters, but..."
"Not in the villages," Orgrim agreed. "The Draenei at least had their element-magic. These humans are pathetic. Maybe if we're to move west and north, but not here."
"West and north would bring us under the gaze of the Ivory Tower," Durotan muttered. "The human traitor claims that land as his domain."
"We'd not need to go near Karazhan, just through the pass," Orgrim pointed out. "That's another's concern. How is Draka? Her injuries..."
"Draka is well enough," Durotan said, his expression shifting. "The necrolytes think that she will recover. The shock..."
"I'm sorry," Orgrim said, and meant it. "If I'd known, I'd never have suggested she scout the ruined temple."
"I know," Durotan replied. "None of us knew, it was so early. There will be other children. For now, she's been told to rest and recover. One of them suggested that she shouldn't fight again until her fertile time is over."
"And what did she have to say to that?"
Durotan gave him a toothy grin, dispelling his frustration and distress. "She bit him."
Orgrim barked out a sharp laugh. "I expect nothing less of her. Do we know what's past Deadwind Pass?"
"Human farmlands and some of their great cities," Durotan said. "But that's information from Karazhan's master, and not our own scouts. No one's gone that far. Not yet."
"Maybe we should send one of ours then," Orgrim commented. "We could suggest it to Deadeye the next time the chieftains meet."
"Blackhand will snort and scowl. He wants to be the one to fight the first real humans on this world." Durotan shook his head. "How he's managed to actually fulfill his ambitions, I'll never know. I didn't think Stonefist could absorb Great Sands and Thunderfury, but he did it."
"Maybe he has hidden depths, like the Devouring Sea," Orgrim suggested, and their eyes met. They laughed, and Orgrim looked around. "I will give Gul'dan this. This place is what he promised."
"True, but there is still something that concerns me," Durotan said, his voice lowering. "Have you been through the Portal lately?"
"No," Orgrim said, frowning. "Why?"
"The last time the Spook came to deliver word from Draenor, she mentioned that some of the area on this side around the Portal is changing," Durotan said carefully, and Orgrim stiffened. "The plant life is dying off."
"That could just be because of all the people walking down from it," Orgrim growled. While Garona had never acted as overtly as she had the day Telkar had died, Orgrim still found her very existence uncomfortable. Fortunately, she only appeared as Gul'dan's herald, since none usually spoke or touched her. "And she could be lying."
"Enough, Durotan," he replied stiffly. "I must go."
The swamps were dark and beautiful, and for the moment, he wanted nothing more than to lose himself within them.
~ * ~
"She was right," Calia said softly. "Lord Khadgar built Nethergarde to observe the energy that was leaking through the Portal from Draenor into Azeroth... the Black Morass is no more, and there's a visible line where the damage stopped."
"It may surprise you, but a lot of us just didn't want to think about Draenor," Doomhammer replied wearily. "At the time, many of the warriors were less interested in fighting and more interested in creating homes for their families and finding food for them. Most of those that had come through weren't looking for any great conquest, despite what Gul'dan believed."
"Gul'dan believed that they all wanted what he wanted, or didn't care," Calia observed, and Doomhammer nodded.
"They wanted to find a place where they wouldn't starve," he continued. "Even Garona could not stem the tides of dissent. Blackhand controlled the warriors that did want to fight for the most part. When they moved past Deadwind Pass, into Darkshire, they encountered the first of the human knights. Gul'dan hadn't been lying when he said there were worthy enemies for us to fight. Blackhand's warriors lost, badly. There were victories, and I'm sure that you humans know of them. We slew one of your chieftains... the king of Stormwind. He was caught in ambush that I recall."
"King Adamant," Calia recalled. "Lord Lothar told us about it."
Doomhammer nodded. "We thought it would be the end of it. We expected the men of power to scrabble over the power to leave and we could take everything. We were wrong."
"Succession is usually well in hand as long as the king has an heir, or two." Calia looked down at her hands. "Though you only need one as long as nothing happens to the first."
"While having sons and daughters is important to us, it is not birthright that determines the leader of a clan. Personal strength is important, and a chieftain will choose their successor if they have the chance."
"I suppose the same was true with humans, long ago," Calia mused. "After all, every Tiran merchant has a little pirate in them, and every Arathi lord a little highland berserker."
"And Lordaeron?" Doomhammer asked, curious. Calia smiled at him.
"The Menethil line spent five hundred years conquering their neighbours and expanding their lands until we were forced to stop," she replied.
"You were defeated?" Doomhammer asked, giving her a curious look.
"No," the Princess of Lordaeron said. "Our neighbours had us sign truces in exchange for trade agreements and other political considerations." She spread her hands. "It was to our advantage, from what I understand, to sign. Certainly, what we share with the elves and the dwarves is wonderful, not to mention our agreements with Dalaran, Kul Tiras and Stromgarde."
"Your people are bold, Princess," Doomhammer remarked, chuckling and shaking his head. "You will make a fine Queen."
"Our succession is by preference patrilinear," Calia said, bowing her head. "My brother will rule Lordaeron when he's old enough."
"Foolish," Doomhammer rumbled. "To place such faith in an untested child."
Calia sighed softly. "You said that Chieftains are chosen for their personal strength. How was it done for the Horde?"
"Incorrectly," Doomhammer growled.
~ * ~
"My fellow warriors," Gul'dan called over the loud, angry crowd. "I know that you are disappointed."
"Disappointed?" cried one of the Laughing Skull warriors. "We have fought these puny humans and we have lost! Their knights have crushed us!"
"Crushed us, you mean," Deadeye said with a low growl. "As if you cowards have even seen the human warriors in combat."
"Are you claiming we have never fought the humans?" the Laughing Skull warrior snarled, his hand going to his axe. "Perhaps your one eye is going blind!"
"Hiding in the forest and running while we engage them doesn't count as fighting, Mok'thar," Deadeye said with contempt. "Jorin would make a better fighter--"
"Enough!" Blackhand said sharply, and both orcs turned to stare at him. Blackhand's posture and tone were aggressive and quelling, and were it not for the fact that Orgrim was watching, he might have missed the surreptitious glance in Gul'dan's direction. His mood soured further. "Gul'dan is speaking, you will all listen."
Gul'dan smiled coldly, and nodded to him once. "Thank you, Blackhand." Garona crouched behind him in the shadows, seemingly unbeknownst to him, but the gleam of the firelight was enough for Orgrim to catch her rolling her eyes. He forced his gaze back to Gul'dan, not wanting to have even this moment of camaraderie with the Spook. "It is times like these I can truly see why we have failed to take Stormwind."
"And why would that be, Chieftain?" Draka asked sharply. Gul'dan and Draka had quickly come to despise each other, which only made Orgrim like his friend's chosen mate more. Draka had proven her combat prowess again and again by defending the orc villages from human knights, along with her battle sisters, which made her opinions impossible for even the warlock to ignore.
"That reason would be, Shadow Wolf," Gul'dan began, "that unlike the humans, we do not stand united. We have many, many chieftains here, all good men, but that is not enough. We must fight with a single, driven purpose, to crush the humans out of hand."
"We need a leader," one of the Dragonmaw muttered, and Orgrim's eyes widened. This was Zuluhed. He wore his hair in an elaborate weave of draconic bones and teeth. He had come from Shadowmoon Valley, unabashedly wearing the trappings of shamans, those who had been forbidden from their reverence of the spirits and elements. It appeared that Zuluhed did not care, and the strength of personality that he wielded discouraged comment. At his side hung an object, something like a draconian eye, set in gold. Staring at it for long periods of time made one become lost in its sightless gaze, and Orgrim shook himself, paying attention to Zuluhed's next words. "Someone who can unite all the orcs. A War Chief."
"Someone meaning you?" commented one of the Bonechewers sourly. "I don't think--"
"It should be a great leader of men," Gul'dan interjected smoothly. "And this is not something that is decided easily, and without consulting the rest of the Horde, including those who remain on Draenor. We will call together the chieftains and find a suitable person to lead."
"A suitable man you mean," Draka muttered, but quietly, because Durotan looked intrigued. "What is it, my mate?"
"Think of it, love," Durotan murmured in reply. "A united orc race? No more clan wars, and everything will be like the gatherings at Oshu'gun."
"That's very optimistic of you," Orgrim commented. "Do you think it will work?"
"I think we can try," Durotan said. "I think it's worth it."
"That's good to hear," Gul'dan broke in, and Orgrim gave him a hard look. As he watched, he saw Garona melt out of the shadows, to kneel at his side. Her eyes fell first to Durotan, and then to Orgrim. He clenched his jaw.
"I bring word from Karazhan," Garona said, making no mention of her presence earlier. "He has more information about the troop movements."
"Tell me," Gul'dan commanded. "Come." He turned, making his way back to his tent, and Garona followed obediently without a look back.
"I don't know which one of them bothers me more," Orgrim growled. The rest of the gathering separated, and Durotan offered Orgrim a measuring look.
"I would say Gul'dan should bother you more," the Shadow Wolf chieftain remarked quietly. "All things considered."
Orgrim shot him a dirty look. "So, you're supporting this Warchief idea?"
"It's not exactly what Father wanted, but it's close," Durotan said with a sigh. He dug his hand into the ground below them, picking at the soil. "This land is so rich. This is worth more than whatever gold or other wealth that Gul'dan has promised us. If we could work together..."
"But he wants to conquer the humans," Orgrim argued. "This new Warchief won't want to spend the rest of his life farming."
"That depends on who the Warchief is, doesn't it?" Durotan said quietly and stood. Orgrim watched as his friend walked away, and exchanged a look with Draka.
"If he becomes Warchief and he tries it, they'll kill him," Orgrim said quietly. "They want blood. The humans have defied us for too long."
"He's a dreamer, my mate," Draka replied. "If we can win, this will be over, and then we can make a home for ourselves, and our children."
"Not right now, but it will happen. In the mean time, I must prevent Durotan from committing political suicide." She stood as well, and he marveled at her confidence. Some moons brought heavy bleeding, causing Durotan to worry and Draka great pain, but she remained unbowed. Once she left, Orgrim watched over the great fire, waving off the youth usually in charge of such things.
If it were another time, if we were another people, Durotan would be the greatest leader of all, but... He shook his head. Draka is right, in this state, a bid for Warchief from the wrong person would be as effective as throwing yourself down on your own axe.
The distant sound of Blackhand's roughly barked orders reminded him of the look the chieftain had given Gul'dan. Gul'dan will want Blackhand to lead, because he is a tool, and Gul'dan's tools are... His expression twisted with hate, and the next log that hit the fire threw up sparks. And yet, if we do not do what Gul'dan wants, we die. Like my father did.
Within the fires, he could see Durotan's face, twisted with agony and slick with his own blood, Garona standing over him. He closed his eyes, banishing the premonition. No, I can't allow that, but Durotan will never believe me. This dream of unity is too precious to him. I am only a warrior now, clanless. I can attend the meetings at the chieftains' suffrage, but I cannot stop Blackhand. The only thing I can do is protect Durotan from my father's fate. He bowed his head. I must support Blackhand, and to Durotan... it will be betrayal. He hunched forward. Spirits help me. I am so sorry, my friend.
~ * ~
"It was Blackhand, in the end. Stormwind's soldiers drove us back to the Dark Portal, and we called the other chieftains, Ner'zhul, Grom, Fenris, Tagar and Kargath, to the meeting," Doomhammer said, naming those chieftains Calia might recognize. "When the time came, while some of the chieftains either put in their own bid or supported Durotan, I supported Blackhand, and so did the majority. I believe Durotan understood what I did, but he was... distant. We did not spend long evenings discussing the future and staring into the fire after that."
"I'm sorry," Calia said softly. "It is never easy to arrange yourself against those you care about most."
"No," Doomhammer replied. "Blackhand claimed the great, dark mountain as his own, naming both it and his new clan Blackrock. It was the Blackrock clan that would dominate the wars. He took in warriors from all clans, for all reasons. He could not refuse me. Blackhand's clan had always required the support of the clanless to give it strength against the great, old clans like Bleeding Hollow or Warsong. I don't know if Durotan ever understood that."
"You were a sleeper agent," Calia commented, and Doomhammer glanced up at her. "You were lying in wait for the right time, and if Blackhand was a worthy leader, despite your fears, you would need to do nothing. If not..." She raised her hand, making a simple, striking motion.
"You are far too young to be so clever," he muttered, and was surprised to see her sharp, intelligent expression twist into something far more bitter.
"Old enough to be married off," she replied sharply. "But too young to have my opinion matter."
I must let her speak, Orgrim decided. If she wants to talk about what brought her here now...
"Father has entrusted me with so much, but not this simple control of my own life, and it isn't fair. I wouldn't choose irresponsibly, but I hardly know him." She clenched her fists, and Doomhammer took one of her hands, and uncurled her fingers.
"Who?" he asked simply, and pressed her hand flat to the table, and then did it to the other.
"Lord Daval Prestor," Calia replied, taking a deep, calming breath. "Father and the others are looking for another leader of Alterac. After Alterac's betrayal, their leader was arrested and sentenced to house arrest pending an investigation. Much of Alterac was ruined when we took the war there... it's still in a state of unrest and destruction."
Doomhammer nodded slowly. His bargain with Perenolde had been as much because the human had been a coward and sought an out to a war he felt his allies could not win. Calia knows this, but she does not accuse me of anything. He offered her a slight smile as encouragement, and while she did not smile back, she did nod.
"Some believe we should allow Perenolde's son, Aliden, to rule, and others believe that we should simply parcel it up and give it to the most worthy. There were arguments until Lord Prestor arrived. His claim comes from being an uninvolved member of the royal family that has supported the Alliance in the past. My task was to find out more about his activities, look through records and manifestos, but now... now Father seems perfectly content to believe anything he says, and so do the rest of the Alliance."
Odd. Terenas is usually more cautious, Doomhammer thought as Calia's expression shifted from reasonable calm to angry and hurt.
"As a sign of good faith, I'm to be married to him. I don't like him, Orgrim," she said urgently. "I don't like how he smiles at people like he knows all their secrets. I don't like how he makes everyone, even Admiral Proudmoore, even Lord Graymane all dance to his tune. I'm not even sure what his tune is, but I fear he means no good. Under his influence, Father has banished the representatives of the Kirin Tor and Quel'thalas to the outer estates and won't let them in. We need Dalaran. We need all of the Alliance nations, not just the ones filled with stubborn, frustrating human men."
I hate him, Doomhammer realized abruptly. Not because he's left me in this dungeon while my people are scattered about Lordaeron, lost and alone. Not because his Alliance defeated my Horde. But because his daughter would rather rant to me than be ignored by men who should listen to her because her insight is invaluable. Shaking himself to attentiveness, he met her eyes. "Princess. How long do you have?"
"Less than a year, I think. Father seemed eager, but Lord Prestor believes I'm too young yet." She shivered a little. "I'm afraid. He's going to take me away from everything... from Arthas, from Lordaeron, from..." She met his eyes. "From you. If Father's plan is to succeed, we need to know everything. Sometimes, I wonder if Father's forgotten it."
"He wants you to lead the Horde again." His eyes widened, and she continued. "It wouldn't be to our advantage to commit forces to hunting down the rest of the orcs, not when we have so much rebuilding to do. If someone... you... could lead the orcs, and take them out of Lordaeron... take them somewhere, anywhere... both sides would gain. There could be peace after so much war. We wouldn't feel like a sword is hanging over our heads, waiting to drop."
"A bold plan," Doomhammer rumbled finally. "But you haven't recruited me for anything yet, Princess."
"No, but that will come in time," she replied, and their eyes met. There was quiet strength behind the look, and determination. "You're not a foolish man, Orgrim Doomhammer. You know what's best for your people."
"If I knew that, why would I be here?" he asked, a touch of his own bitterness in his voice.
"Perhaps the Light granted you the will to lead your people through peace as well as war," Calia argued.
"I don't believe in the Light," Doomhammer said flatly. "It's a human religion."
"As we are taught, the Light is for everyone," Calia replied evenly. "You may not believe in the Light, but It believes in you."
"I must go, they will be looking for me." She stood, and moved to the door. She unlocked it adeptly, and he had little time to think about her words before the guards came to take him away.
The will to lead my people... and what manner of leader am I?
Chapter 3: Three
It was going to be another one of those meetings. Orgrim was no shaman, and no warlock, so the spirits did not speak to him, but he knew it. He made his way through the thick crowd of orc bodies -- chieftains and their retinues -- feeling each jostle against his black and gold armour. His people were not thin, small and pale like the humans, but even so, his target was a head taller than many of the others, and the black line of his jaw set him apart.
His quest was successful, but it would appear he wasn't alone.
"It's good to see you again." Orgrim embraced Grom briefly and the Warsong Chieftain grinned.
"It's good to see you!" Grom replied enthusiastically, pounding Orgrim's shoulder in a manner that made his mostly-healed wound twinge.
Durotan nodded to the Warsong chieftain, but offered no such greeting to Orgrim, and it made the now-familiar ache in Orgrim's chest just a little more painful. I am doing this to save your life. I wish you would not hate me for it.
It had been some time since Blackhand had been named Warchief, time that Orgrim had used to rise in the ranks under the ever-watchful eye of Gul'dan and his agents. Time that Blackhand had used to consolidate and strength, time that they had used to attack the humans in a series of daring, brutal strikes, the latest of which was met by a squad of humans in thick metal armour, and astride large, nimble animals they'd learned were called horses. These knights had blocked one of their major offensives, and left Orgrim with a serious injury. The ache of the sword wound was less than that of the loss of his closest friend. Durotan had been cool and remote since Blackhand's appointment, and that made Grom's enthusiasm all the more difficult to deal with.
"Look at you, an officer in Blackhand's army!" Grom flicked at the braid along the side of Orgrim's rare armour, and out of the corner of his eye, Orgrim saw Durotan look away. "And now he has an announcement for us."
"He does," Orgrim replied wearily. "I'd be curious to know what it is. I don't believe he does motivational speaking particularly well. That's your job."
Grom snorted. "It's a Warsong trait, to inspire for war. You're certain you don't know?"
"No, he's kept it secret. I'm supposed to be conducting the honoured chieftains to the meeting," Orgrim replied. "In absence of finding one, I'll escort you."
Grom chuckled, and punched his shoulder again. "Portal duty isn't the same without you."
"You mean it's actually interesting instead of the dull task of watching the sands gather before the ramp?" Orgrim asked dryly, leading Grom towards the meeting area. It was not Oshu'gun, but the urgency of this meeting superseded tradition.
"You laugh, but while you've been playing with these humans, the dragons have flown, and the gronn are on the move," Grom replied with mostly good humour. "That old friend of your father said--"
"The stars have spoken. Everything is in motion," Orgrim murmured, ignoring the flood of painful memories that came with even thinking of such simple days. No. Things were never simple.
"Yes, how did you know?" Grom snorted. "Vague prophecy aside, something is stirring. Some of the herds have been active. We slaughtered them, and while the meat was greatly valued, some of the scouts mentioned they were distressed, as if they were chasing something."
"Or they were fleeing from something," Durotan commented quietly, and Orgrim turned to him. "They could have been fleeing from something that terrified them more than the gronn or our own hunters. It's in the quality of the meat." To the curious stares of his friends, he added, "My father taught me that."
"He would know," Grom said. "He was a--" Orgrim's elbow caught him in the ribs. "Wise man."
"He was," Durotan said. "Have you seen my mother?"
"Not recently," Grom said. "Runners go back and forth from Nagrand, and they say she is well, though I haven't had the chance to see her personally. She's doing good work, the pox--"
"I know she is," Durotan replied, his tone just a touch curt. "We should see what Gul'dan wants."
"You mean, Warchief Blackhand," Orgrim said quietly, a hint of caution in his tone.
"I mean that when Blackhand opens his mouth, Gul'dan speaks," Durotan replied sharply, and moved away from him.
"Don't say it," Orgrim growled, and Grom's black-tattooed jaw snapped shut. The Chieftains began to filter in, taking seats in a rough semi-circle while women and slaves served them. As Blackhand's second, Orgrim stood by his right side, and Blackhand offered the assembled crowd a grin. Blackhand's children stood around him: the twins Rend and Maim to his left, sharing ugly grins and slightly dull looks. Standing just behind him, looking almost as if she hoped the flickering darkness would devour her, stood Griselda. Orgrim gave her an encouraging nod, and she smiled back at him faintly. Gul'dan stood slightly apart from Blackhand, clearly close enough to give silent orders, and naturally, Garona was his shadow. Trying to ignore the Spook, he turned to Griselda. "Interesting announcement?"
"I don't know what he's planning, just that we needed to be here," Griselda whispered back. She gave him another hesitant smile. "Have you recovered from your injuries?"
"My... oh, yes," Orgrim said. "I'm surprised you remember, that was nearly two weeks ago."
"My brothers mentioned it, they said it was a very great battle," Griselda said. "Are the knights of Azeroth as fierce as they say?"
"One wouldn't think of it to look at them," Orgrim commented. "The humans look weak enough outside their armour, but these men are strong and worthy." He nodded in the direction of some of the Laughing Skull warriors. "A bit too worthy for some."
Griselda smiled. "A day doesn't go by when one of them comes to complain. My father is thinking about displaying their skulls around his tent as a warning to others."
Orgrim chuckled politely, and Griselda laughed as well, though a hint of fear sparked in her eyes. He frowned, and opened his mouth to ask what was wrong when he was drowned out.
"Hear me, warriors of the Horde!" Blackhand cried. "From our wise men, our warlocks and our necrolytes, I have a gift for you. I will leave it to Gul'dan to explain his vision."
"Thank you, Warchief," Gul'dan said. "I look upon you, warriors of the Horde. l see those who have fought against the humans long and hard. Humans that, by all rights, should have been crushed under orcish feet." The assembled chieftains murmured dangerously. "The humans have a secret advantage, one that has kept them strong, and I have searched for a way to overcome it and now, I have had a powerful vision. This vision has revealed to me that we have been missing an important tool to defeat the humans. I am upset that this was not revealed to us sooner, many warriors could have been spared. Nekros, bring it forward."
The young warlock moved forward, carrying with him a large, metal chalice, beaten together by orc blacksmiths out of various spoils claimed from the only villages they had taken so far. Within the chalice burned a dark, poisonous liquid. A breeze caught the scent as Nekros stopped, and Orgrim nearly gagged. From the reactions of those around him, he was not the only one. Faces twisted in disgust, though some seemed just as curious as they were repelled.
"Our ancestors have given us a great gift that will assist us in our fight against the humans. It has the name demon's blood. It will make our warriors stronger, faster and more dangerous. It will hone our minds until they are like axes." Gul'dan smiled. "That is, if our chieftains have the courage to seize it."
"This is what the ancestors want?" frowned Kilrogg. "It seems... unusual. Dishonourable."
"Is it dishonourable to sharpen our axes instead of relying only on crude cudgels?" asked Grom, smiling slowly. "No... this is a weapon."
Gul'dan smiled slowly, and something gleamed in his eyes. "Yes, Grommash Hellscream, this is a weapon. Will you be the first to take up this cup?"
Some of the other chieftains murmured, as if to object, but Grom strode forward. "We have suffered long and the ancestors have seen it! With this, we will crush our enemies and see them driven before us! They will beg us for mercy that we will not grant! For the Horde!" As Orgrim felt the words stir something within him, Nekros stepped forward, offering the Warsong Chieftain the cup. A hush fell over them as Grom took a sip. The liquid was thick, and dribbled along his chin like spilled blood. He handed it back as he began to shudder. Orgrim shifted to help him, but Gul'dan made a motion of swift, decisive silence.
"How do you feel, Grommash?" Gul'dan asked softly.
It took a moment for Grom to open his eyes, and when he did, they gleamed red. Grom threw back his head and unleashed a hell scream that seemed to shake the very sky.
Gul'dan smiled, quite pleased. "Who is next?"
Blackhand sat back, smug. Slowly, Nekros passed among the chieftains, offering the cup to each in turn. Each chieftain took up the cup and drank from it, shuddering and trembling at the power it offered. Durotan was somewhere in the middle of the group, and when Nekros reached him, he held out the cup with a slight smirk. Durotan slapped the chalice from the warlock's hand, causing him to cry out with a start.
Durotan turned on the others. "Are you all insane? We have had drugs before. Plants that make some swift, or numb from pain. Do you not remember those who writhe and die in agony because of it? This... this demon blood is no different!"
Grom laughed sharply. "It feels like no drug I've ever seen. It speaks to me, Durotan, as a warrior. To all we warriors. Why are you afraid?"
"I'm afraid because of what this will do to us. We started a war we cannot win and now we must drug ourselves to achieve victory? We have taken this part of the land, let it end there. Let us bring the others and close down the Portal. We don't need to war. We have a home here."
"You filthy coward!" Blackhand roared, and in the firelight, his dull black eyes gleamed with red. "You fear death!"
"I fear the death of our people, of our spirituality and our beliefs," Durotan said coldly. "Have we not already forbidden shamanism, a tradition far older than the warlock and necrolyte magics that dominate us now? The shamans would never have agreed to this."
"Do not speak of the shamans," Gul'dan hissed. "You foolish, ignorant child."
"You must have mistaken me for someone else," Durotan said, turning on him. "I am not one of your pawns, Gul'dan. One of your tools. Hear me, all of you. We do not need this poison. We do not need this demon blood. All we need is to grow strong as a people, to not be obsessed with destroying these humans. It does us no good. It does not nourish our children, or feed our mates, or build us homes." He looked at each of the chieftains, some of whom had already accepted the gift and the others who still waited. "What we have always believed is that there must be victory or there must be death. Well, we have not been given victory, but we have been given death." The word rang out over all of them. "The death of our spirit as free men and women, and are instead shackled to that." He pointed at the fallen chalice. "I want no part in it, and neither should any of you."
"Fool," Gul'dan hissed. "You defy the will of the ancestors? The will of the Warchief?!" He made a single gesture. "You are not worthy to be the chieftain of the Shadow Wolf tribe, Durotan, son of Garad."
There was silence, and it prickled along Orgrim's back. If he spoke now, if he embraced Durotan again, that would be the end of it. He wanted to, though, so very badly. The shadows moved, and immediately, he looked to Gul'dan. Garona remained in the shadows, her expression of neutrality fighting against distress, and he dismissed her. What mattered to him was that she was not the one planting a dagger in Durotan's back. No, the one that moved behind Durotan was Draka. She put a hand on Durotan's shoulder. She looked to each of the chieftains with a contempt that was nearly chilling.
"You are wrong, warlock," Draka said, spitting the word. "My mate is wiser than you. You have been blinded by this power, and if he were to be blinded by it too, only then would he be an unworthy chieftain. Do your worst, Stormreaver. I will stand by him until the end."
"As will I," said another voice. This was Drek'thar. Born blind, he had been sheltered, much like Draka, from a harsh existence that would otherwise have taken his life Orgrim knew he was wise, if not ill-tempered, and had been the student of the Shadow Wolf Greatmother, Kashur, until her death, and the title passed to Geyah. Now, the white-eyed orc stood by Durotan fearlessly. "And I would like to ask which ancestor was foolish enough to give you this advice."
Gul'dan hissed in anger, but the Shadow Wolves were massing. He glanced down at Garona for a moment, evaluating. The assassin's reply was a single, slight shake of her head.
"You will be punished for defying the will of the Warchief," Gul'dan hissed. "You are not welcome within the Horde. This gift will unite the Horde in the way that no other could. Not you, not your precious shamans, no one. All will be one until the leadership of Blackhand of the Blackrock clan."
"Under your leadership, perhaps," Durotan growled, though around him, some of the other chieftains bristled. Durotan had gone too far.
Orgrim tensed, shifting to intercept the blow, and within Gul'dan's shadow, Garona tensed as well. I won't let you kill him, Spook, Orgrim thought. Not another innocent man, and not my best friend.
The moment stretched, and the muscle of Gul'dan's jaw twitched and tensed. Finally, Gul'dan spoke, his tone icy with barely concealed rage. "Get out. Leave this place. The Horde need not such traitors as you."
"We will be more than happy to leave your dark reach forever," Durotan snapped, and turned, striding away. For a moment, Orgrim longed to follow in his proud footsteps, and give up on his plans.
He didn't even look at me, Orgrim thought as Gul'dan fought to regain control of the ceremony. He didn't think I would help him. He didn't think I would even speak up. That burned more than demon's blood ever could. While Gul'dan snapped at Nekros to bring more of the sacred liquid, Orgrim withdrew from the gathering, looking for Durotan. The Shadow Wolf camp looked like a kicked nest, with people rushing back and forth to pack their things.
"We're going north," Durotan said, calling out to those who were moving back and forth rapidly. "We'll be cutting through the mountains and skirting the human settlements."
"There are good things in the north," Drek'thar insisted. "I--"
"Durotan," Draka said, and the Shadow Wolf chieftain turned. For an instant, there was hope. Orgrim frowned slightly, and that expression melted away into anger.
"Does Gul'dan want to make sure we're truly going?" Durotan grated out. "I assure you that we are."
"I didn't come on anyone's behalf but my own," Orgrim replied. "Durotan..."
"They will destroy our people," Durotan said. "Perhaps they already have. Gul'dan would have us embrace the demons."
"I don't like it either, Durotan, but we--" Orgrim began, but Durotan cut him off.
"There are a lot of things you claim to not like," he shot back. "If it bothers you so much, come with us."
Orgrim closed his eyes briefly. Would that I... "You know I cannot."
"Then keep your likes and dislikes to yourself," Durotan said. "You don't dislike the state of things enough, but you will. Gul'dan has only begun his reign of terror." He turned away, and Orgrim's heart sank. The Shadow Wolves murmured amongst each other, but Durotan pointedly ignored every utterance. The camp was disassembled in a matter of minutes, with anything that could be left behind discarded in favour of speed and light travel. Orgrim knew that Blackhand's forces would be taking anything they could salvage, and Stonard would be his once again.
"Be careful," Draka said to Orgrim, her voice low enough to startle him. "Durotan is not wrong, but I know what this costs you. May that price not be too high."
"That is what remains to be seen," Orgrim murmured back. "Be careful, and be safe."
"Spirits watch over you," Draka replied, and went to join her mate. Durotan led the Shadow Wolves away without looking back. Orgrim watched them depart, alone in the darkness. Stonard felt haunted and empty as the last bobbing pack disappeared over the horizon.
He turned, and Griselda approached him, within a double arm's length. "Is it over?"
"Yes," she replied. "All the other chieftains have accepted Gul'dan's boon."
Then it isn't over, Orgrim thought wearily. It's only just begun.
~ * ~
"You need to use your whole mouth," Doomhammer instructed. "And put your lungs into it."
"Diaphragm," Calia said absently, and tried again. He found himself impressed by the sound she was making, though her pronounciation was a bit off.
"What's the difference?" he asked as she began to recite the Oshu'gun prayer.
"Your lungs simply hold air," Calia said. "Your diaphragm is a muscle." She put a hand over her stomach. "It is what gives your lungs more room for air, and it helps produce the volume of sound. You need to exercise it. If you use your throat too much, it strains your voice."
"Ah, human learning," Doomhammer said. "We assume the spirits of air fill our lungs. If we're willing to admit to believing the elements work with us and not against us."
"It's entirely possible that they do. Spiritual belief and science can often lie side by side, different and yet similar. Like hands." She held up one of hers, her gloved fingers splayed. Automatically, Doomhammer's hand went up, and against hers, it seemed to eclipse it in size and overwhelm it in colour, but the force with which she met him was equal.
"Where did you learn about diaphragms and lungs?" he asked after a moment, and she drew her hand away.
"My music tutors," Calia replied. "They taught me all kinds of things to strengthen my diaphragm so that I wouldn't hurt myself while singing."
"You sing?" he asked curiously, and she nodded.
"I also play instruments. Nothing I could bring down here... but..." She offered him a smile. "I could sing for you."
Doomhammer sat back with enough force to make the human furniture creak. "You would..."
"There is no point to having a voice only to remain mute," Calia said primly. "I am not as bad as you fear."
"I fear your guards interpreting it as a very odd call for help," Doomhammer said, but he smiled in return. "Sing, if it pleases you."
"It does," Calia murmured softly. She stood, and took a step back. Her hands came up, clasped, and Doomhammer watched in fascination.
My own ability to sing is normally limited to drunken caterwauling, but this--
The first note she sang drove all thought from his mind. This song, from what ability to interpret the human tongue still remained, was a simple one, about a homeland far away, a loss and a need so profound that it struck him deep. Distantly, he registered that the guards had ceased their soft conversation and it seemed like the very walls of this miserable place were drinking in the sweet sound.
For his part, he let the music pass over him in a wave. It reminds me of home, Doomhammer though, closing his eyes. He remembered the day his mother died along with the rest of her hunting party to the Gronn. He remembered the first summer he'd been to Oshu'gun, meeting Durotan, meeting Garad. He remembered his father's strength and pride. He remembered...
"Orgrim?" Calia asked softly. The song had ended, but it stayed with him, deep within his heart. She moved forward for a moment, and touched his shoulder lightly.
The simple gesture broke him from his reverie. "Princess, I have never heard the like."
She smiled at him in return, and sat back down. "I still have a great deal of work to do, some of my notes fall flat, and if I haven't had the chance to keep up with my circular breathing, I run out of air too--"
"Princess, trust me," Doomhammer broke in gently. "Even if any of that were true, you still sound better than I ever could."
Her cheeks reddened. "Perhaps I can sing again for you, when there is more time."
"Your father keeps you busy," he observed.
"My brother does," Calia corrected. "We have to arrange tutors for him of course, he's got so many things to learn, and there are fewer people to teach him."
He nodded once in acknowledgement. "He will have at least one fine teacher."
"I will try," Calia agreed. "Uther has been screening some of the candidates, but he wants my opinion." She stood again. "I must go." He watched her go, and had to be prompted by the guards to rise and return to his cell.
~ * ~
"It's an impressive beast, isn't it?" Orgrim murmured. Griselda nodded a little, her eyes wide with wonder.
"But won't it be terribly hot to live inside a volcano?" she asked. Behind her, one of her brothers snickered, and the green of her cheeks darkened to black.
"No," Orgrim explained. "Or rather, not very. We've harvested a substance called Dark Iron from around the mountain." He let his hand rest lightly on her back as he led her forward. "You see here and here, this dark metal? It insulates us from the heat of it, and then we only occupy the upper spires. Well, for that reason and another reason."
"The small folk that live under the mountain," Griselda noted. "What did Garona call them, dwarves?"
"Yes," he grated, but moderated his tone, it was not Griselda's fault that he twitched to look behind him whenever the Spook was mentioned. "Dark Iron Dwarves, led by the Thane Thaurissan. Some of the Twilight's Hammer have found something to fascinate them down there, but for the most part, the dwarves want nothing to do with us, and we with them."
"Was there an offer of alliance made?" Griselda asked. "It seems as if they might be willing, if we could--"
"Bah," Rend said strongly. "They do not respect our strength, so they are unworthy. They hide in the bottom of their mountain like cowards. The Horde doesn't need weaklings, sister."
Orgrim led Griselda a few steps forward, and touched her chin briefly, so she met his eyes instead of studying her dark leather boots. It angers me that Blackhand never nourished your intelligence, and instead made you to feel small and foolish. "An offer was made, which is why I can say with confidence that they want nothing to do with us. We waited for a full three days and nights, and the only response was for us to leave Thaurissan -- the city -- and return to the surface. We may find other allies, or we may not. For the moment, the only other race that we've met besides the humans are the goblins. There were other beings, but they retreated into the jungle from our footsteps, and the goblins speak very quickly. Even the-- even Garona has a difficult time interpreting their words."
"What was the jungle like?" Griselda asked, and Orgrim took distinct pleasure in the bored looks of her brothers as he led the Blackhand children through the halls of the mountain their father had named Blackrock.
"It was not simply a jungle, but a multitude," Orgrim said, chuckling. "Stranglethorn Vale, stretching from the border of Duskwood to the tip that holds Booty Bay, the goblin port-city."
"Ugh, goblins live by the sea?" Maim cut in. His twin elbowed him sharply.
Ah, so they are listening, Orgrim observed smugly. Well, then. "They sail the seas, but their true home is Kezan, an island further west in the Great Sea. They claim to have port cities all over the world, even on other continents."
"What's a continent?" Maim asked, and growled at his brother's elbow.
"A large land mass that covers much of a world," Orgrim replied, and offered Griselda a smile. She smiled back at him, the light in her eyes that signified she could have answered that question made his stomach flutter a little. "The eastern lands are divided in three rough parts. The southern part is named Azeroth, like this world, the middle part is Khaz Modan, and the top part is often referred to the Eastern Kingdoms. The northernmost continent is Northeron, or Northrend. They have legends of another continent, which the goblins claim to have settled on in some places, called Kalimdor."
"We will take all of it, for the glory of the Horde!" Rend barked, and his brother echoed his cry.
Griselda gave only a token cheer, and her expression was unenthused. "So much information," she murmured. "Where does it all come from? Surely not the human prisoners..."
"No, much of this comes from Karazhan, or the goblins, what we could extract from them that was not lies, proposition or exaggeration," Orgrim replied. "The traitor gives us information in bits and pieces. Some of it is very... random." Like information about unoccupied lands hidden in snow-covered mountains. One would have to be truly desperate to live in such a place.
"A valuable gift, more valuable than if he simply swept away our opponents in a great sweep of magic, robbing our warriors of blood and glory," Griselda replied, and Orgrim had to stifle a chuckle. The mutterings behind them had ceased almost instantly.
"That it is," Orgrim agreed. None the least of which is because it annoys Gul'dan not to get what he wants from Medivh.
Orgrim led the Blackhand children through Blackrock Spire, the name they had given to their fortress. Only the first floor was complete, the Dark Iron taking a great deal of time, effort and indeed blood to manipulate into the correct shapes. The halls were long and echoing, and each room had an extra-wide doorway and frames that arched to impossibly high ceilings. They had anticipated housing many warriors here while they concentrated their forces in a downward march past the red-ridged mountains and the human township of Lakeshire. It had since burned, just as Darkshire had fallen, and both Duskwood and the Redridge Mountains belonged to the Horde. Orgrim had seen some of the refugees streaming towards their capital city, and some of his warriors had wanted to cut them down. He had ordered them to let them go.
They have known for years that we are here. Let the survivors spread the tales of terror and violence. They will do our work for us, Orgrim had said. And there is no honour in slaughtering women, children and cowards.
"Ah, here they are," Blackhand said. Almost immediately, Griselda seemed to shrink, and Orgrim saluted and covered a frown.
"Father, your fortress is glorious," Rend said, and Maim nodded. "We will crush the humans."
"We will," Blackhand agreed. "Go and stake your claims for quarters, and meet me in the War Room." His dull, red eyes lighted on Griselda. "Orgrim, if you wouldn't mind."
"No, Warchief," Orgrim replied and saluted, indicating that Griselda should follow him.
Out of her father's purview, Griselda relaxed a little, though attempts to draw her into conversation failed. Orgrim found the room he had chosen for her, and opened the door to the out of the way, near bolt-hole of a chamber. The room contained a small but sturdy bed, carefully protected from the heat by sheets of Dark Iron, personally selected from the stores of materials used to construct the rest of Hordemar. There was a chest in one corner, similarly protected, and a small bookshelf made from the dark, twisted trees found in the Swamp of Sorrows. On the shelf were a few, thin tomes they'd acquired from raids against human towns, and a handful of scrolls tucked into one corner. Orgrim had made his selection based on what he knew of her, and was gratified to see her smile in delight.
"What are these?" Griselda asked curiously, reaching to touch one of the scrolls. "It doesn't feel like skin."
"The humans call it paper. They use it to write on with inks or pieces of carbon." Orgrim watched her pick up the scroll and unroll it. "Do you like it?"
"It's a map..." Griselda breathed. "Where did you get this?"
"I scavenged it from the information Medivh gave us. I believe that land is called Westfall. Another human farming land, but to the west." He moved forward, carefully, and put a hand on her shoulder. "I thought you might like it, and it's not something your father or brothers would give you."
"No, it's..." Griselda set the scroll down carefully. Hesitantly, she took Orgrim's other hand and squeezed it. "It's perfect, thank you." She looked up at him, and their eyes met. He leaned forward, and their lips met in a soft kiss. He moved the hand on her shoulder down, stroking along her back and then wrapping his arm around her waist. He inhaled, and there was her scent, of book dust and sweat. The fluttering feeling in his stomach returned. When he thought to withdraw, Griselda pressed into the kiss a little more, and he smiled.
Chapter 4: Four
The memories of Griselda were hard ones, even now. It hadn't been long enough. They hadn't been together long enough. He missed her still, even if--
"You must miss her a great deal," Calia said, echoing his thoughts. Doomhammer frowned slightly. Calia was playing with the hem of her glove, something he recognized as a sign of nervousness, and it made him frown all the more.
"She was a good woman, when circumstances allowed her to be," he replied. "Most women within the Horde are bolder, or they were. We needed our women to be just as fierce as their mates, because they had to defend their homes while their mates were out hunting or making war. A woman with a strong warrior's spirit would birth good warriors, and teach them just as much, if not more, than their fathers. Griselda was encouraged to be meek. She valued scholarship but was discouraged from ever using or showing what she knew. I believed what we had was special. She was willing to share what she knew with me, and I was willing to listen to her. We were..."
"Is she waiting for you?" Calia asked, and the fiddling grew more distinct.
"Only at Oshu'gun, if she forgives me," Doomhammer replied, and she gave him a startled look. "After that day, it became more or less known that I wanted her as a mate. Some believed it was to curry even more favour with her father, because why would I want one such as her--" He shifted, the bitterness in his voice had made Calia frown in turn, and he sighed. "Spending time with her made the stalemate we encountered less unpleasant, but I was still frustrated by it. About three years after the ceremony with the demon's blood, Gul'dan sent the Spook to Karazhan to try and find out why we could not breech their defenses, even so empowered."
"I've read some of Archmage Khadgar's journals, he's been publishing them sporadically through the library in Dalaran," Calia commented. "He's been so busy with Nethergarde..."
Doomhammer made a sound. "She was away from us, and that was what mattered to me. Time passed and she did not return, not until..."
"The assassination," Calia finished. "But there must have been a great deal that happened between those two events?"
"There was," Orgrim agreed. "Blackhand's methods became increasingly more brutal. We were already fighting a war for dominance of Azeroth, so it was not a bloodless war, but some of our warriors balked at this. They began to wonder why we did not do as Durotan said... and they were silenced. Some by Garona before she left, others by her brethren, the assassins that Gul'dan employed to stalk the shadows. A few managed to escape, but not many... and it's doubtful they've survived alone in the wilderness. We're not loners by nature, Princess. Orcs need other orcs. To live in isolation is a fate worse than death."
Calia gave him a searching look. "Most see the Horde as nothing but a mass of green death."
He smirked. "But you know better now."
"I have a differing opinion to that of my peers," Calia replied, looking up from her nervous fiddling, and gave him a look that was half-challenge. His smile grew wider. "Did you have children?"
"No," Doomhammer said abruptly.
"Orgrim..." Calia said softly, and reached out to touch the back of his hand. "What happened to her?"
"It was my fault," he said, the warmth of her touch bringing him back. "It was..."
~ * ~
"There is something important that we must discuss," Griselda said, settling back into his arms. Orgrim kissed her bare shoulder, rubbing his tusks against her skin. She made a slight noise, somewhere between gasp and moan, and then gripped at his hand tightly. "It's important."
"Of course," Orgrim said, and regretfully withdrew his mouth. He watched as Griselda shifted around, admiring the soft curves of her vibrant green body. Of course, his mate's body was only one of the many things he admired her for. Right now, what was important was the serious look on her face, the way her eyes searched his expression. Satisfied, she nodded to herself.
"It's about my father." Orgrim frowned, and any good humour he'd felt earlier vanished. "You must have heard the complaints."
"I have," Orgrim replied gravely, and fought down the hint of a rumble in his voice. "There have been many doubts about nearing our goal. Once we lost Rockard, they started coming more regularly."
"They aren't just complaints, Orgrim," Griselda said, and her hands twisted at the woven blanket. "People have a right to worry. My father kills people who complain to him. Their skulls adorn his tent. I fear he will make a throne of them, like the primitive Blood God of the trolls."
"It isn't unusual for warriors to take trophies," Orgrim pointed out, but his stomach sank with unease. He too had seen the skulls, and heard the rants at length about the lack of faith, of the cowardice of some warriors.
"It's unusual for this level of dissatisfaction to go unanswered," Griselda argued. "If a chieftain is terrible, then others will rise up and displace them but not with Gul'dan backing him."
"Gul'dan and Blackhand are powerful, but their power also comes from the chieftains that support them," Orgrim replied grimly. "If the chieftains are unhappy, they would have spoken up." And if they had, I would be overjoyed... because then I would know who to speak to.
"Would they?" Griselda asked, watching him closely. "After Durotan--"
"Do not speak to me of Durotan," Orgrim rumbled. "I did what I could to protect him from himself, and he threw it back in my face." He could remember the whispers after Durotan had left, that he was no less shadowed than Gul'dan, betraying his blood brother for power. His fingers twinged as his hands tightened into fists, and he forced them to relax. He would not speak to Griselda with clenched fists. Not now and not ever.
"Regardless of what happened between the two of you," Griselda interjected, and there was a faint hint of disapproval in her voice, which made him bristle. "People are still afraid. We are no longer the disparate clans, we are a united Horde... a united Horde crippled by fear and incompetence."
Orgrim got out of bed, fighting down the urge to throw the blanket. The air was chill, and the floor warm. The oddest of contrasts that did little to help his mood. He began to pace, his skin crawling.
"What would you have me do? Condemn myself and my Warchief with me? Give up the fight for our people?" He turned to her. Her expression had twisted into disbelief and a touch of disappointment, which only made him more frustrated.
"Not give up fighting, but if the Horde could be turned by a different hand--"
"Do you have any idea how many people watch me? Who think that Orgrim Doomhammer will falter and turn his back on the Horde?" His eyes narrowed. "Is this a test?"
Griselda's eyes widen, and disappointment melted into shock and outrage. "What?!"
"Is this a test of my loyalty?" Orgrim demanded. "I thought better of you, Griselda."
She shook her head disbelievingly. "I thought better of you, too, Orgrim."
"Then we were both wrong," Orgrim muttered bitterly. Jerkily, he retrieved his pants from where he'd discarded them hours earlier. Hours before this conversation, and the sinking feeling in his stomach. "Tell your father that I am no traitor."
"M-my father..." Griselda shivered, and it was only narrowly that Orgrim resisted the urge to reach for her. "You..."
"I am his second in command," Orgrim said with flat finality. He put on his boots next, cramming his feet into them. "I have work to do."
Damn the shirt, Orgrim decided and stood, striding over to the door. "That's my final say on the matter." He jerked the door open, and slammed it behind him. He didn't want to hear her cry.
Immediately, the heat assaulted him. Griselda's room was quite cool, he'd seen to that. Outside of it, it was oppressively hot, even if Hordemar was largely complete. The city within Blackrock Mountain was in the uppermost spire of the mountain and open to the air in some desperate attempt to make things a touch cooler. It was also farther up than the Dark Iron Dwarves were usually willing to venture.
"Did you finally get tired of her?" Orgrim half-turned, and ground his teeth together as he saw Rend moving towards him. Rend smirked. "Or did she grow a spine and kick you out?"
"It isn't any of your business either way," Orgrim replied curtly. "Has your father returned? There is much I would speak to him of."
"He is in residence," Rend said, his tone mocking Orgrim's precise, tight tone. "Go on up, Doomhammer."
Orgrim nodded to him, and began to walk quickly, making a detour to retrieve a shirt before heading to Blackhand's audience chamber. The audience chamber was a grand thing, larger than any tent could hope to be and far more extravagantly decorated. As Griselda had mentioned, skulls of orcs, along with those of humans and a few dwarves, adorned the omnipresent spikes. Blackhand sat on his bone and metal throne drinking a strong fire-whiskey.
Jhenna once told me they call it rocket fuel, and use it to power their machines, Orgrim mused, recalling his time with the goblin and her people. Orgrim wondered idly how it was that Blackhand didn't stumble drunkenly into the spikes he loved so much. Impaling himself would spare me a great deal of trouble in getting rid of him. Blackhand gestured him forward. Perhaps that's why he needs the skulls, Orgrim thought darkly. "Warchief."
"Ah, Orgrim!" Blackhand said. "We are making good progress!"
I suppose that depends on your definition of progress, Orgrim thought sourly, in little mood to play at loyalty, despite his words to Griselda. Or perhaps, because of them. "Progress, Warchief?"
"Yes, yes," Blackhand said. "Gul'dan has promised me that we will weaken the humans' defenses shortly. Come, come." He gestured towards Orgrim and he approached.
Orgrim's gait was stiff with wariness, but there was no deceit to Blackhand. No double-speak, and no distrust. Just the same arrogance as always. He's being unusually subtle, unless Gul'dan suggested it... but Griselda hates Gul'dan. I don't understand... unless he has hidden depths. He bit back a chuckle. Only the twins make Blackhand look nuanced and deep.
"What amuses you?" Blackhand asked, beady red eyes studying him, and Orgrim sobered.
"Nothing, just... thinking of something Griselda told me." Orgrim studied the Warchief of the Horde carefully as he frowned, slopped a little alcohol on himself, and wiped it away before taking a generous swig.
"Griselda... she is, frankly, a disappointment," Blackhand said, and belched.
That is because you're an idiot, Orgrim thought, and waited.
"She has no fire, no spirit. No matter how much you put into her, eh?" He slapped Orgrim on the back, and Orgrim winced internally at his blatant crudeness.
This is the man we put in charge of the Horde, Orgrim thought with disgust. Blackhand began to detail Gul'dan's next, great plan. Something about seizing a holy site, but all of a sudden, he heard nothing but Griselda's voice. 'A united Horde... crippled by fear and incompetence'... could it be...
Blackhand was still talking. Dimly, Orgrim realized that he preferred it when Gul'dan was feeding him information, because at least then he said his piece and shut up. Drunk and on his own, he rambled. If she wasn't spying for Blackhand, if she actually meant to support me... maybe she knows whom I can approach without... without them thinking I'm a spy for Blackhand! He struck his forehead with his palm, and ran it over his features. Orgrim, you're a fool... oh, spirits of the ancestors, I swear that I will speak nothing but kind words to you if you get me through this idiotic meeting and get me to her swiftly.
"You look like you need a drink," Blackhand commented and belched.
"Maybe later," Orgrim muttered. "I'll go right away and speak to our warriors."
"Good, good," Blackhand said, and slapped him roughly on the back.
"Yes, good," Orgrim agreed, and quickly left. The path back to Griselda's room seemed twice as long as it had leaving it, and far more fraught. Orgrim grabbed at stray thoughts, trying to put them in some semblance of order for his apology, which would involve a great deal of groveling. I have to hope that she forgives me. I have to hope and believe...
Orgrim came to her door and knocked. "Griselda... are you there? We must speak." Silence. He knocked again. "Griselda, I'm very sorry, if you would just open the door--"
"She's not there," Rend said, and Orgrim turned. The Blackhand twin smirked at him. "She just... ran off. She seemed pretty upset."
"Where is she?" Orgrim asked. "Do you know?"
"She's probably sulking or hiding somewhere," Rend said, shrugging. "You know how she is. Don't you have something to do?"
"Yes, but I need to find her," Orgrim said. "Excuse me."
Rend shrugged again, and Orgrim turned on heel, trying to think of all the dark places that Griselda could be hiding. In a huge mountain full of people, the odds of finding her were not good, but he had to try. I must try.
~ * ~
"She's gone, Doomhammer," said one of the scouts, eying him nervously. "She took a worg and rode south."
"I see," Orgrim said, rubbing his hand over his face. "She has a few hours' head start, but--"
"The humans are in the south," Blackhand rumbled, and Orgrim turned, trying not to wince.
I'd hoped to keep this quiet, Orgrim thought. His own search had yielded nothing, and his meeting with the warriors had been rushed in an effort to spend more time looking for Griselda. I didn't think she'd leave... "Yes, the humans are in the south, but that doesn't mean--"
"She knows of our plans!" Blackhand shouted, the sound causing the very stone to vibrate. "Treasonous bitch--"
"She wouldn't betray us," Orgrim protested, even as the words felt hollow. "She wouldn't--"
"Griselda did sound upset," Rend said, his red eyes gleaming. "And she's been sniffing around the other chieftains lately. Probably looking for something."
"Why would she do that?" Maim wondered. "She's Doomhammer's mate."
"Maybe she wanted something more," Rend said, smirking.
Orgrim longed to slap the smug expression away, and settled for seething in his general direction. I hate you. I want to kill you with my mind.
"When we go south to Northshire, we'll find her," Blackhand growled. "And when we find her, the traitor will die. No one abandons the Horde! No one!"
The proclamation echoed across the less than hallowed halls of Hordemar, and in the darkness, Gul'dan smirked.
I just have to wait a little, Orgrim thought. If I leave now, I might find her, but we'll both be hunted down. If I wait until after Northshire falls, Blackhand will be too drunk on his own successes to realize that we're gone. I just need to determine where she might have gone, which means I need to get back to her room-- wait. Westfall. She has maps of Westfall, I gave them to her myself, and it's well out of the way of any conflict. All I have to do is track her down... there are only so many places to hide. Then I can apologize. He began to smile slowly. Everything will be alright.
~ * ~
Orgrim had been a warrior for many years. He had seen things, and done things, that were not good. They were not clean. They were not kind or right. But, of all the things he'd done, this was what he was ashamed of.
There had been children in Northshire. Old men and young women. Boys with arms too thin to hold a sword. Solemn-eyed holy men and women bearing tomes instead of axes. Clerics, they were called. They reminded him, oddly, of shamans. That made it hard to raise the Doomhammer against them, even as the others mocked his reluctance.
The Abbey, as they'd learned it was called, burned. Flames licked along the sides of smashed windows, once covered in coloured glass and now as desolate and empty as plucked eye sockets. There had been plenty to burn, libraries full of books and scrolls. Some of the warriors took perverse pleasure in destroying it, and as little as Orgrim liked it, it was what he'd wanted. What he'd waited for, especially since his suspicions about Griselda's flight to Westfall had been confirmed. Someone's claimed they saw her with some of the ogres that have run off, maybe she bribed them. He was eager to be on his way, but he had to be careful.
Quietly, while many of the warriors were busy celebrating their 'great victory', Orgrim slipped off to where the worgs were being stabled in a rough pen. He would have to travel in darkness, but it would take time to reach Westfall, time that would put distance between himself and the Horde. I can come back, Orgrim reasoned. We both can, and then--
"That was fast!" Blackhand said, and belched. "You found her?"
"She did not disguise her trail, Warchief." Orgrim paused, and moved towards the sound of the voice. Blackhand had claimed one of the huge chairs from within the Abbey before it had been set afire, and was sitting in it now, drinking the sacramental wine. The one speaking to Blackhand was a thin orc, almost underdeveloped, clad in black, his face half hidden by a cowl. He held a sack in one hand, and as Orgrim watched, he placed it at Blackhand's feet. "While the army traveled, we moved swiftly, covering as much ground as we could. Grandmaster Gul'dan's gifts to us were particularly useful. We caught up with her in some kind of mining cave. The ogre renegades were killed as well. It is unlikely that they will oppose him again."
"I don't give a damn about the ogres, 'cept the one she was bedding." Blackhand grinned, and Orgrim felt his stomach sink. Blackhand reached out to open the sack, and pulled something out of it. He knew the long, slightly curling black locks of hair, the delicate and yet firm structure of the cheeks, chin and nose... and had they not been staring in horror, blank and yet terrified, he would have known those eyes.
There was a rushing in his ears, like the rushing stream of water they'd had to wade through to get here. He could remember the way the water had gotten into everything, how miserable it had been, but it had been worth it, to get closer to her. He would never see her again. Not living.
His mate was dead, and even though he couldn't hear it, he could see Blackhand toasting her death. His daughter's death. Anger welled in him, deep, primal and raw. He felt as if his chest would burst as his grief sought to escape. He would kill Blackhand, rip out his heart and-- The assassin bowed briefly and left Blackhand's side, and a tremor went through Orgrim. This assassin had murdered Griselda, and he would be the first to pay.
The figure in black headed away from the celebration, closer to the sleeping quarters, and Orgrim followed. He was not quiet. He didn't care. It didn't matter. Only the rage mattered.
"Can I help you, Doomhammer?" the assassin smirked. Orgrim struck him, fist striking jaw with a sickening, satisfying crack, knocking him down. Orgrim fell on the assassin, and blocked his every attempt to draw a weapon with another blow. Bones cracked and snapped. The assassin attempted to cry out for help, and Orgrim punched him in the throat. His cries choked off as Orgrim's hands came around the murderer's neck.
"How can you help me?" Orgrim growled, leaning into it. "You can help me by dying, you worthless piece of trash!" The assassin choked out a protest, and when he thrashed, each attempt weaker than the last, Orgrim pressed his thumbs into the other orc's throat. When he died, Orgrim scrabbled at the assassin's throat. I'll rip it off. Your head. Griselda's head. Her sightless eyes, and her voice, eternally silenced, urging him to do something. Urging him to stop the murder. To take a stand.
He would never hear her voice again, or see her smiling face. No, only the grisly trophy this filth had brought back to her murderous, heartless, worthless father. If only he had done something. If only he had listened.
He tilted his head back and howled at the uncaring sky and its dispassionate, blue and white moons. He howled, and no one heard.
~ * ~
"It was my fault," Doomhammer muttered. The weight of the shackles was all the heavier as he buried his face in his hands. "If I'd listened to her, if I'd not cared more for my own life than doing what was right, she might be alive. She--"
"Orgrim." Calia's voice cut through a mire of darkness. It was not quite gentle, but firm enough to startle him. "Don't you think Griselda also had a part in her own fate?"
His shoulders tensed, and he felt something warm against them. "Are you saying that it's her fault?"
Calia shook her head. "Listen to me. Griselda chose to speak up against what was wrong. She chose to take her concerns to you, and she chose to run. Those things took a great deal of courage. It is easy to stand up for yourself with an army at your back, and a blade in your hand. It's much harder to do it alone, and sometimes, all you can do is run and try to survive. For all of the stories about heroic stands and courageous warriors, it can be difficult to relate to when you're delicate and small."
"She was braver than her father and brothers ever gave her credit for, and stronger," Doomhammer said. "But if I had--"
"She was, and it diminishes her to make it about what you've done," Calia said gently. "She made her choices. So did you. So did Blackhand. We all make our choices in life, some good, some bad, some seeming right at the time but wrong in hindsight. Griselda became a casualty of war, a hero who fell due to the orders of a corrupt ruler."
Orgrim could feel the warmth spread along his shoulders and down his back, and realized with a start that Calia was rubbing his back. As he shifted to sit up, he noted the white pools of her lace gloves on the table, and started. He felt as if he'd missed something crucial, but he had to think about the words that accompanied her touch. "How can I forgive myself? I understand that she made a choice, but it still hurts."
"Accept that it happened and learn from it," Calia said softly. "Take heed of the counsel of others, even if you would not otherwise want to hear it. Live believing in your path and your choices, and the paths and choices of others. At the end, when you go to your ancestors, do not do so with regrets."
"Calia, you--" The bells were ringing, loud and frantic. Doomhammer remembered them distinctly from the siege on Lordaeron, they had been audible. "Is someone attacking? It can't be the Horde, they--"
"Your Highness!" Sebastian cried out frantically, and the warmth was gone. With speed that no longer surprised Doomhammer, Calia was away and pulling her gloves on neatly. "Your Highness, you must come away from there. It's--"
"Tell me," Calia said sternly. "I must know."
The door came open, and several guards came in to claim Doomhammer. "The Portal has opened once more. Archmage Khadgar came up from Nethergarde, and the... the orcs took the Keep. Nothing could stop them."
"So, they're not attacking here, then," Calia said, sweeping a stern gaze over all of them. "Why are the bells ringing?"
"It's only a matter of time," one of the other guards said, and cuffed Doomhammer roughly. "Damned orcs, haven't you killed enough innocents?" Doomhammer grunted, and the guard struck at him again, slamming an arm into his back. "Damn beasts!"
"That's enough, Randall," Calia said as the guard wound up. Doomhammer had to twist to see it, the small hand on a larger, armored wrist, restraining him. The guard -- Randall -- paused visibly. "Take him back to his cell, and I will speak to my father."
"Princess, he's one of them," Randall protested. "If he breaks out--"
"That is not your decision to make, or mine," Calia said, her tone measured and even. "It is the King of Lordaeron's. Orgrim Doomhammer is his prisoner. Go on now."
The guards saluted creakily, and dragged Doomhammer away. He twisted in their grip, not to break free, but to catch a last glimpse of Calia before she disappeared through the door that took her out of his world of narrow cells and twisted corridors and back into her own.
What are they doing? Doomhammer wondered, and recalled what Calia had told him about Terenas' desire to see him lead the Horde. Will he call upon me now? Would I do it? He paused. For Terenas... no, but for Calia...
The door slammed shut, and the world was again smaller than it was.
Chapter 5: Five
EXTRA WARNING: This chapter contains particularly nasty violence and torture.
As I mentioned in the original Livejournal posting of this chapter, this was incredibly uncomfortable for me to write.
"We have a war to fight, Doomhammer," Deadeye said without preamble. Orgrim nodded, and paced around the great fire he had built up for the occasion. Most of those that were here were members of the Blackrock Clan, lone warriors like Varok Saurfang who had joined the clan to be a part of something greater, or members of less popular or powerful clans like Kilrath and Yiriv, both warriors having tired of the Laughing Skull's weakness and cowardice. Having Kilrogg Deadeye here was something of a surprise, as Orgrim had thought he would not be receptive to his ideas, or that he would seek to usurp the Warchief himself.
He had taken a risk and sent a messenger back through the Portal to the Warsong and Thunderlord clans. Too many chieftains would throw in their support with Blackhand and Gul'dan, but there was still hope. It was what he needed to believe. It wass what allowed him to carry on.
"I want to wait for the others, but there isn't time," Orgrim said. "I'll speak to Grom and Fenris separately. Brothers, the reasons for this meeting should be clear, but to reiterate: Blackhand is incompetent. He can win when the victory is easy, and can speak when Gul'dan puppets him. We have been here for nearly fifteen years. Long enough for children to grow into warriors and warriors to grow into elders. We were promised much, but the great, unspoken promise we were given was hope. Hope for the future, for our children. That our children would not grow up starving, or sickly. That there would be more for them than endless conflict. Blackhand will never fulfill that promise. He is incapable of it. We, as a Horde, deserve more, better."
There was murmuring among the listeners and Orgrim's gaze swept across them. Some, like Saurfang, listened raptly, while others whispered furtively. One of the warriors, Eitrigg, sat up with interest. Deadeye considered Doomhammer. "Who do you propose to lead them? Yourself?" There was less than polite disbelief in his tone. "After--"
"Yes," Orgrim said firmly, and the conversations ceased abruptly. "There may be others who are older, or wiser, or stronger... but if they were going to raise their hands against Blackhand, they would have done so already, and it... needs to be me." He flexed his hands, and they curved, almost naturally, into a choking motion. It hadn't been long enough since the night he'd learned of Griselda's death. He wasn't sure if it ever would.
"Is this about revenge?" Kilrogg asked, studying Orgrim with his one good eye. Orgrim laughed sharply.
"Would you respect me if it wasn't? Would you respect me if I let my mate's murder go unavenged?"
"No," Kilrogg said amiably. "I simply wish to know if you've thought this through. Gul'dan will never let Blackhand fall."
"We need to separate them," Orgrim said. "Gul'dan spends more and more time in seclusion. Once he locks himself away, we have a short period of time to strike. It will be a hard fight. We have seen the warlocks and the necrolytes. We have seen the twisted creatures they summon, the fire they call from the sky. We must charge them swiftly and disable them. Whether this happens before or after we fight Blackhand depends on how deeply they dig their refuse holes."
"Which they already lie in quite deeply," Varok rumbled. "We have lost too many sons simply throwing them at the humans' defenses. I, for one, have had enough."
"As have we all," Eitrigg said, bowing to Orgrim. "I have sons. They are warriors and proud ones. We all would die in the name of the Horde, for the future and the children. If it were my sons that were sent to die by those too incompetent to lead... it would be a hard day."
"No one wants to lose their children to pointless warfare," Orgrim said, and clapped them on the shoulder. "He would think differently if he lost one of his idiot sons." Rend in particular had inherited his father's baseless cruelty, and no one had been surprised that he'd already lost an eye quarreling with one of the warriors who nearly died for his foolishness. He was blindsided, Orgrim thought grimly. Bastard deserved it.
"He's halfway to being blind in truth," Kilrogg said, giving them both a stoic look. Chastened, Orgrim and Varok both bowed to the elder chieftain. "Speaking of being blind... has there been word from the Shadow Wolves?" There was no accusation in the question, simply curiosity. Orgrim appreciated that.
"No, we have no idea where they might be, and I have no network of fiends to find them for me." Orgrim sighed. "If there is time after Blackhand's fall, I will send a runner north. Perhaps there will be signs of their passing."
"Indeed," Kilrogg said, and rose stiffly. "Call upon us, and we will do this thing. For the future of the Horde."
"For the future of the Horde," Orgrim agreed, and Varok and the others echoed it. For the future Griselda will never see.
~ * ~
The chains made a scraping noise as he paced, and broke the monotony, but not the fear. It had been weeks since the sounding of the bells, weeks since Calia had come to his cell. Weeks since Doomhammer had heard any news of the Horde. The bells had not sounded again, and it would have been easy to imagine that it had simply been an overreaction, that someone had panicked. If it hadn't been for the guards, one might even have believed that.
Easy enough to believe if it weren't for the guards.
The dungeon had always been well guarded, and plenty of guards had been all too happy to come by his cell to glare at him and make sure that, while being chained and confined, he was not attempting to invade Lordaeron. Some of the guards had even implied that he should be grateful that he was being kept locked up instead of being summarily executed, as if they had any notion of what being a prisoner meant and how captivity was torturous and humiliating under most circumstances.
At least, until the Princess began her interrogation, Doomhammer thought, which brought him around to more immediate concerns. Since Calia's last visit, the guards had thinned somewhat though they made up for it by being twice as abrasive, as if it were his fault somehow that there were fewer humans to go around. There were roughly a third as many guards as there had once been, and they glared at him more frequently. It was Sebastian who waved off some of the gawkers, informing them that Orgrim was not particularly troublesome in a manner that would be almost insulting, if it weren't so intriguing. He had not expected anyone to defend him, much less the young guard who had once yelled at him for daring to move in his cell.
"Come now, man," he heard a voice say, smooth and dark. "He's just an orc. Surely you could use the extra coin."
"I'm sorry, m'lord," Sebastian replied with a certain level of servility he didn't use when addressing the Princess of Lordaeron. "But Her Highness said no one is allowed access to the prisoner. Security issues, you understand."
"Do you who I am?" the man said, his voice a low and dangerous purr. Doomhammer shuffled a little closer, trying to see through the window.
"You're Lord Daval Prestor of Alterac," Sebastian said, and Doomhammer's eyes narrowed. "Nonetheless, m'lord, I'm under the Princess' orders. No one is to see the prisoner."
Doomhammer shifted, craning his neck, and just briefly, he caught sight of an impeccably dressed man with dark hair and a neat, well-trimmed mustache and beard. Their eyes met, and in the darkness of Prestor's gaze, there was something more... something like fire. Doomhammer shuddered, and moved back from the window. There is something about him. Something familiar and yet totally alien. How can Calia be married to... to that?
"You're right, of course," Prestor said, a hint of a smile to his tone. "You must obey your... Princess."
"Thank you, m'lord," Sebastian replied, his relief palpable. "Have a good afternoon."
"Oh, I will," Prestor replied evenly, and Doomhammer felt a pressure lessen, a pressure he hadn't originally realized had existed.
Doomhammer moved back to the rough bench on the far side of his cell. What did Prestor want with me? Why not simply ask Terenas? Not that he's shown his face down here for years. He paused. There was one way to find out the answer: ask. He cleared his throat with a low, rumbling sound that would have once sent his guards into a fit of panic and blustery bravado. Now, there was simply a shuffle of metal against stone.
"Yes, orc. What do you want?" Sebastian asked. Again, Doomhammer was struck by the familiar contempt of his tone, as if he were saying 'we know you aren't much trouble, so what is it?' and again, Doomhammer wondered if he should be insulted or not.
Not right now, not when I need answers, Doomhammer thought. "What was it that lord wanted?"
"He didn't say," Sebastian said. "But it's Her Highness' orders that no one else is to see you but her, and the king, of course. You know."
I do know, Doomhammer thought. "Where are the rest of the guards?"
"Some of them have shipped out, others are still being processed," the human replied. "Your kind are causing big trouble, as far north as Dalaran and Kul Tiras. Don't be getting any funny ideas. Nasty red banners or no, Lordaeron won't fall."
"Red banners?" Doomhammer asked sharply. "What symbol is on them? A mountain?"
"A great face," Sebastian said, and shifted. "Now then, what's all this?"
"Most orc banners have faces on them," the former Warchief of the Horde said, reining in his patience. "Was the face a grinning skull? Chewing a bone?"
"No, a big mouth, open wide," Sebastian said, and Doomhammer sat back heavily. "Do you know it?"
"Warsong," Doomhammer whispered softly. "Grommash Hellscream, what are you doing now?"
~ * ~
Spread the word, the assault on Stormwind comes.
It was conventional wisdom that assaulting Stormwind was suicide. The human capital bristled with soldiers, and they used every possible advantage they had. The bridge could be collapsed in the face of serious assault, and the gatehouses had series of portcullises that could be slammed down to isolate pockets of warriors while they poured oil and lit them aflame with arrows or explosives.
Assaults from the warlocks were equally useless: Stormwind had powerful mages, well-trained and highly disciplined compared to Gul'dan's band of misfits and psychopaths, working well with each other to maintain shield against magical assault. Then there were the snipers. Orcs hunted with bows, and used them to fight, but it was nothing like what the humans could bring to bear. Sharp-eyed and dangerous, the snipers could take out choice targets, like banner bearers and necrolytes, dropping them before they could rush out to help their fellows. Attempts to sent assassins after the snipers failed time and time again, as it seemed that the snipers, too, had bodyguards, invisible and yet deadly.
The orcs had lost countless soldiers to fruitless assaults on the walled city. It was easier to attack the more vulnerable farming communities and villages. More rewarding to take their lumber camps and unleash their frustration on the trees. Northshire Abbey, their previous conquest, made for a poor fortress, but it was their closest permanent holding and Gul'dan claimed it held things of interest to him, which was why he had claimed it in the name of the Stormreavers.
For those whom Orgrim had not entirely convinced that Blackhand was mad, this ill-conceived assault on Stormwind was the turning point. This venture was pointless and Blackhand wanted them to die. Oddly, the plan was for them to attack at night, and they were to await a specific signal.
"Wait for the bells," Blackhand had said. Gul'dan had been present then, smirking to himself as if he knew so much that he would not share with mere warriors, and Orgrim hated him all the more. Orgrim had known that this was the time and the place to put an end to Blackhand.
As a member of Blackhand's command staff, he could be at Blackhand's side if he chose -- which he usually didn't -- and could send Rend and Maim to other parts of the battlefield. Gul'dan was not present, having excused himself to withdraw to his sanctum within the Abbey for some kind of arcane experiment, and had taken many of his warlocks with him. Orgrim could hardly believe his fortune: this was what he'd suffered in silence for so long to do. This was what he'd lost Durotan and Griselda for.
Let me not waste their lives, Orgrim thought, though he had little use for the spirits now. Petty, perhaps, but he would never be a shaman. Barad's dream was dead. He nodded briefly to Varok as they mounted for the so-called great assault.
Blackhand favoured wolfriders. He enjoyed the way they would crash into enemy lines, snapping at the humans' horses, even though they were less effective against the now well-armoured targets. The scent of wolf was heavy in the air as they watched the humans' gates.
The walls seemed no different than usual: well guarded, well defended, with lookouts that covered blind spots created by corners, overhangs and the shadows of walls. There was a stir of restlessness along the front lines as they waited, and waited, and waited still.
"What are we waiting for?" growled one of the warriors, and Blackhand cuffed him sharply.
"We await the bells!" Blackhand snarled. "Silence!"
His order echoed across the lines, and seemed to stick and linger long past when sound had any right to remain. Orgrim made a point of watching the walls, and more covertly, Blackhand. For his part, Blackhand was simply waiting eagerly, like a child awaiting his first hunt. Orgrim's hand gripped the handle of the Doomhammer tightly, and waited. Always, it was waiting.
The silence was broken by the bells.
Metal rang against metal, hard and frantic, and the sound came first from the great Keep, and then was taken up by each bell tower across the city. Fire bloomed. Orgrim had heard those bells before, they warned of an attack.
"We aren't attacking," Varok murmured at Orgrim's elbow as the humans rushed about frantically. Not towards them, but inward. That perfect defense and perfect coordination was broken. "What's going on?
"I don't know, but this is the time," Orgrim hissed back, and nodded towards Blackhand.
"Now is the time!" the Warchief of the Horde crowed, unaware of the danger he was in. "Attack! Attack!"
"It is," Orgrim cried out. "Attack!"
Swiftly, Orgrim swung at Blackhand, his mace crashing into Blackhand's shoulder. This was not quite enough to unseat him, though Blackhand did cry out in pain, rage and surprise. Varok, however, moved in low to cut the saddle of the worg. Scenting blood and imminent death, the worg bolted, dropping Blackhand to the ground. For a moment, Orgrim stood over him, and savoured the sweetness of it. The confusion and betrayal.
"Is this what it was like for her?" Orgrim demanded. "The daughter you should have loved, the one you bullied and then murdered?!" He swung down from his worg. "Well?!"
"Traitor..." Blackhand said, and made to draw his axe. Orgrim brought his mace down again, crushing the metal of his shoulder plate and breaking the arm beneath it. "I knew it!"
"You... know... nothing!" Orgrim shifted his grip, and brought the Doomhammer across to strike Blackhand's face, crushing bone and tearing flesh. The crack that came with it was satisfying, less so, oddly, than when Blackhand fell bonelessly. "Fight me!"
"He's... dead, Orgrim," Varok said, pointing at the unnatural tilt of Blackhand's neck.
Orgrim roared, and pummeled at Blackhand. "Get up! Get up and fight, you damned coward!" He was to have no vengeance, no purgative battle. He howled in rage as Blackhand lay dead, beyond his reach. Snarling, he stooped to seize Blackhand's axe, and put all his weight and rage behind the blow that separated the former Warchief's head from his shoulders. He held it up, still stuck in its distinctive helmet, and cried out, "Warriors of the Horde, heed me!"
All around him, the minor skirmishes and battles for dominance ceased. All eyes turned to Orgrim, and what he was holding.
"Blackhand is dead! He was an incompetent fool, who led us into fruitless battle again and again. We are better than that! We are orcs! We are Horde! We do not need Blackhand and his sycophants! We will fight and we will win! We will take lands and homes of our own, and shake loose the dust of Draenor. We will--" Behind him, a half-dozen more fires bloomed behind Stormwind's walls. It was as if they were under assault by an invisible foe. "Look how our luck has changed without Blackhand! The humans' very city bows before our might. Without Blackhand, without the warlocks, without tyranny... we will take our enemies' greatest city... for the Horde!"
There were those who objected, either to him or his words, but it mattered not. Far more roared in delight. Blackhand's head would be preserved for the inevitable battles to come. For now, Stormwind had bared its throat to the Horde, and like worgs on the hunt, they would attack.
Perhaps the spirits are with me after all, Orgrim mused briefly as they poised to strike.
~ * ~
The city had fallen with so little effort that it seemed laughable that they'd ever feared it to begin with. Without the snipers, without the mages, without bars of steel to lock them down, they had crashed through the city. Some edifices, made of stone, had been resistant to flames, but had been damaged by smoke. Far more, though, had been made mostly of wood, and those had crumbled, the metal braces tarnishing and glass breaking. The city was methodically and viciously sacked, and every vaguely valuable thing within it was taken and distributed to the warriors.
The humans had fled the city as the orcs were slowed by their desire to savour their victory. The ships in the harbour had taken as many people as they could away. Not ships for war, but ships for trade or exploration, they had floated low against the ocean. The streets, crowded by orc warriors and the canals, swollen and choked with dead bodies and other detritus, were all but impassible. Stormwind, even in its death throes, still defied them.
There had been pitched battles everywhere, what remained of the army was desperate to stand and fight against the orcs while their fellows retreated. Orgrim's standing orders involving the dead was to see them burned, as warriors, because he was willing to be magnanimous in his victory, as odd and unexpected as it was. He carried Blackhand's head about like a prize, even as it began to stink. That there had been no word from the warlocks in the face of this was... odd, at best. They had not been seen since before the battle, and that worried Orgrim, though worry transformed into wariness very quickly.
"We're going to investigate Gul'dan's tent," Orgrim ordered, gesturing to two of the warriors. "Meshag, Arlak, come with me. Varok, oversee the investigation of the human Keep. The rest of you, we need the canals cleared if we're to have any hope of getting clean water."
"Yes, Warchief," they chorused and went about their respective tasks. Orgrim rode out to the encampment, frowning.
Orgrim had never liked Gul'dan's tent: it was covered in runes, each symbol painted with a substance that was a little like ink and a little like blood. Orgrim frowned at them, and attempted to read them, but the longer he stared at them, the more his skin began to crawl and his stomach knotted with unease. He forced himself to look away and return to the task at hand. Orgrim entered the tent, gesturing in the two warriors as well. They let the tent flap fall closed and spread out. Within the tent was a pallet in one far corner, a small altar, inscribed with more runes, and a chest.
"You'd think that a Chieftain would have more possessions," Meshag noted, and Orgrim couldn't disagree.
He must have moved it all to Northshire Abbey, Orgrim noted. There must be something of worth still here.
The three orcs spread out and, over the course of a few minutes, had searched through Gul'dan's things with ruthless efficiency. When it was clear that Gul'dan's underclothing was unpleasant smelling but not noteworthy, Orgrim moved on to the altar.
He ignored the strange, tingling sensation as he crossed over the protections and examined what lay on the altar: a knife, rusted with blood, a crystal, dull and lifeless, and oddly, a necklace. Orgrim frowned, and turned it over in his hand. The cord had been snapped, and the charm was silver and simple, a flat disc inscribed to symbolize the twin moons of Azeroth. Orgrim thumbed over the charm. Who does this belong to..?
Orgrim turned, and just then, the tent flap opened. He turned towards the sound, and in stepped Garona the Halforcen. Orgrim noted absently that she was wearing clothing he usually saw on humans, and carried something wrapped in cloth, stained with red, human blood, instead of the murky black of orc blood. What was more important to him was that she was, for a bare moment, surprised and off-guard. That was the only thing he needed.
He lunged across the tent and struck her, his fist crashing into the side of her head. She went down, the bloody bundle tumbling from her arms. His heartbeat pounded in his ears as he remembered the way his father had looked when he died, the way Griselda's eyes had been so blank and unseeing, representing all of those that Garona had murdered. That Garona had not killed Griselda was so unimportant and so distant belong to another world. He withdrew his hands from her neck -- hands that he hadn't quite realized had closed around her fragile mortality -- and snarled. Too easy. Too simple for you.
"Warchief, you should kill her now," Meshag said. He eyed Garona with plain distaste. "If she wakes, she will murder you and warn Gul'dan of our plans."
"No," Orgrim growled softly. "Blackhand died too easily, and we need answers. Where is Gul'dan, what is he planning? We take her to the dungeons of Stormwind. She will tell us what Gul'dan has done."
"And perhaps she will tell us what she has done," added in Arlak. He stooped to pick up the bundle, and unwrapped it. Sitting within the bundled cloth was a heart. "I think it's from a human."
"She will answer every question we have," Orgrim growled. "Let's go."
~ * ~
Orcs seldom used dungeons to hold prisoners, in the rare occasion that they took them. On Draenor, food had been too scarce to keep feeding those that didn't do something of use, and on Azeroth, once prisoners had been interrogated, usually swiftly, they were executed, again, for the sake of expediency more than any specific malice.
Humans, it seemed, would hold people for extended periods of time in dungeons. Orgrim didn't know whether the prisoners in the dungeon had been kept there for punishment or interrogation, but all that mattered to him were the chains. They were heavy and made of iron, stronger than rope or wooden stakes, though it never would have occurred to Orgrim to use iron for anything other than weapons or armor. The fact that they were wasting precious resources on something so minor just proved that the humans were wealthy beyond words.
One thing Gul'dan didn't lie about, Orgrim mused, though even thinking of the warlock made him tighten his grip on Garona. She made a brief noise, and then a much louder one as he threw her bodily into the cell. She was restrained: chained hand and foot, and both sets of chains were linked by a third, slightly longer chain. He had seen her move, her tricks and her speed. He would take no chances. Never again. "Get up, Spook," Orgrim growled at her still form. "I know you can hear me."
"The things you know," she mocked. Her voice was hoarse and dry, and she looked at him. There were bruised smudges under her eyes, and she used her limited range of movement to rub at her arms.
Are you uncomfortable, Spook? Are you in pain? He smirked at her. Garona glared back insolently.
"I'm surprised I'm alive."
Orgrim took a step forward and backhanded her, the blow cracking across her jaw. "Keep your cursed mouth shut unless I ask you a question." When it appeared as if she would ask again, he struck her again. She was in pain. Good. She was afraid. Good. He rained blows upon her, each more satisfying than the last, but kept the presence of mind not to kill her. When his arm tired, though he was far from satisfied, he began. "What is Gul'dan planning?"
She glared at him, flexed her swollen jaw, and said nothing.
"What were you carrying when you came to his tent? Who did you kill?" Orgrim demanded.
Far from cowed, she remained silent, glaring at him as though she would like to strike him dead. He grabbed the chains and lifted her up, throwing her into another wall. There was a sick crack, and from the way she curled, he had broken some of her ribs. She made no noise, though.
Unnatural creature, Orgrim thought with disgust. "You open your mouth unbidden and keep it closed when you are asked questions. You were poorly taught, Spook."
She spat blood at him.
Orgrim strode over to her and grabbed Garona's left hand as he crouched, pressing his knee against her ribs. Finally, a reaction: she grimaced briefly. He looked down at the hand he had seized, and snapped one of her fingers. "What is Gul'dan planning?"
She gasped, the tiniest of sounds, and he shifted his weight. Once the noise had escaped, it was harder for her to hold back the pained cry that was building. He broke another finger, and another, and leaned more and more heavily into her ribs. He could hear the bones in her ribs shifting and she cried out, louder now. Orgrim shifted his grip to her wrist.
"Tell me," he growled, his voice low with menace.
Garona made a hissing noise and a faint spray of blood escaped her lips. "Ffffffffff."
Orgrim pulled back, just a little, listening.
Orgrim roared and struck her arm, breaking it. Her next cry was far more shrill. He slammed the battered limb into the ground, once, twice. Each scream got louder.
"It ends when you answer me," Orgrim growled, punctuating his statement with another slam. "What is Gul'dan planning?"
"Ssss," Garona hissed, and he made to slam her arm again. "Shadow C-council."
Orgrim froze. This was not a curse that he knew of, so it must have been information. He was almost disappointed, but he did stop. "What of this Shadow Council?"
"It... is Gul'dan. And Gul'dan... is it. Warlocks, necrolytes. Allies of his. They meet and conspire." Garona's breathing was ragged and uneven, but no more blood bubbled up as she spoke. Again, he was almost disappointed, but again, he was getting what he wanted, finally.
"What do they conspire to do?" Orgrim asked. At her hesitation, he grabbed her uninjured arm and she flinched. Good. Be afraid. Griselda was afraid.
"It is already done," Garona gasped out. "Gul'dan made deals... with demons."
"Demons don't exist," Orgrim growled, and gripped her arm more firmly. She gritted her teeth.
"You're a moron," Garona hissed back. "I will... spell it out for you." She paused, and while Orgrim held her arm tightly, he didn't increase the pressure again. "Demons have been destroying Draenor since the warlocks gained power. They poison the world, draining it of all life."
"The shamans did that," Orgrim said, frowning. "They said so--"
"Who do you think said so?" Garona demanded, and shifted in his grip. "The warlocks. The ones responsible for it, and the necrolytes. The shamans could have stopped them, but now it's far too late. There's no saving Draenor."
"What does this have to do with the Shadow Council, Spook?" Orgrim growled. He pinned her arm more firmly, and she flinched, trying to arch away from him.
"The warlocks and necrolytes are the Shadow Council. Gul'dan leads them. They want to use all of the Horde to conquer Azeroth. Blackhand is a... good tool."
"Blackhand is a dead tool," Orgrim grunted. "I lead the Horde now."
"Gul'dan would never let you--"
"Gul'dan has done nothing," Orgrim told her, and smirked at the look of incomprehension. "He disappeared not long before the battle for Stormwind, and hasn't been seen since. What is he doing?"
"I-I don't know," Garona said, and cried out as he increased the pressure on her good arm. "I don't! I expected to find him in his tent!"
"And I expected you to be with the human traitor," Orgrim replied, and watched the way her expression crumpled, the raw emotional pain that statement had evoked. He liked it. "Tell me why you're here."
"The Old Man... Medivh... is..." She twisted her head to the side, and Orgrim twisted her wrist between his hands. "He's a demon! He's possessed by the lord of the Burning Legion!"
"The Burning Legion... an army of demons. Medivh was possessed by their leader, he helped Gul'dan open the portal to Azeroth. Medivh promised him this world in exchange for... something."
"I don't know. He didn't trust me with it."
"No one with sense would trust you." He noted the way she flinched. "So why did you leave the traitor?"
"He was attacked... or confronted would make more sense. Medivh is -- was -- part of a mage circle called the Guardians of Tirisfal. The Tirisfalen empowered him, and the previous Guardian, Aegwynn, was his mother. She must have realized what he was doing, and she came to stop him. I saw her later... she had been banished from his sight and couldn't confront him again."
"What is the purpose of this mage circle?"
"...to prevent the demons from invading again."
"What a magnificent job they have done. If this Medivh betrayed his people, he and Gul'dan are much alike."
"If I wanted your opinion, Spook, I would beat it out of you. I don't. The Warlocks are the Shadow Council, is that correct?"
"Yes and no." She winced as he twisted his grip. "The Shadow Council holds many... Warlocks, Necrolytes, former shamans... even some warriors. There are different circles. They are all marked, because once you join the Shadow Council, you never leave it."
"Marked how? Where?"
"Back of the head, under the hair line." She gasped as he yanked her head around, finding the shadow of a symbol under the thick mane of hair. He touched over it briefly. "The Warlocks mark us."
"Who marks the Warlocks?"
"And who marks Gul'dan?"
"Why would Gul'dan need to be marked? He is the Shadow Council. His loyalty isn't in question."
"To the Shadow Council, no. To the Horde..."
"The Horde is his tool. Blackhand was his tool." She sneered at him. "You will be too."
Orgrim snapped one of the fingers on her good hand. She cried out, writhing on the floor. "What were you carrying when we found you?"
"Something... for Gul'dan..."
He snapped another finger. "It's a human's heart. Whose?"
"Ahh! May the demons take your soul!"
Another. "They've glutted themselves on yours, Spook. Whose heart was it?"
"Llane! It was Llane..."
He paused. "The human warchief? He is dead?"
"They call them kings..." Orgrim bent, but didn't break, one of her fingers. "Yes, he's dead." The admission seemed to bring her more pain than anything else, and Orgrim frowned.
"Why didn't Gul'dan send an assassin earlier if it was that easy to end the war?"
She lunged at him, brought up short by the knee at her ribs. "Fuck you!"
Orgrim backhanded her, the blow rocking her backwards. "Why?"
She spat at him and struggled, and Orgrim squeezed her broken fingers. She screamed.
"Why?" Orgrim demanded. "Why now and not earlier?"
Orgrim paused. "Trust?"
"H-he didn't trust anyone to get close to him t-that wasn't already an ally." She shifted in pain. "No assassin w-would have gotten c-close enough. Until n-now."
"Llane trusted you? What a fool..."
"He was a better man than you will ever be!" She gritted her teeth as he bent her arm past comfort and well towards breaking, though he didn't take the last step.
"He's a dead man and a fool, and I'm alive," Orgrim said shortly, and then dropped her arm. He ignored her as she whimpered, and then stood up. He strode out of the cell. "Gul'dan will soon learn that I am no tool. Thank you for your cooperation."
The warriors standing by straightened immediately. "Warchief, what news?"
"Meshag. Arnak. Alert the others. We ride for Northshire Abbey. Gul'dan will be there."
"And the Spook, Warchief?"
"Leave her to rot. She won't survive the night." He let the door slam behind him heavily, sealing Garona's fate.
Chapter 6: Six
EXTRA WARNING: This chapter contains even more torture, and angst.
Doomhammer jerked awake with a start as the tumblers of the lock of his cell door clicked open. The guard pulled the cell door open. This was not Sebastian, but one of the night-shift guards, and he was not alone.
"So, this is the beast." The voice was smooth, dark and there was something about it. Something in the hint of mockery in his tone. Prestor. Doomhammer narrowed his eyes at the human noble, who in return smiled at him, as if he were laughing at a private joke.
"I can't keep this open longer than a few minutes, m'lord," the guard said. "Are you sure you want to go in alone?"
"Just keep an eye out in the hallway, and you'll have earned your gold." Prestor's smile broadened, and it was as if his mouth was all of a sudden too dark and too wide. Something about it made Doomhammer shiver with dread.
You're only a human, Doomhammer thought as the Alterac noble stepped into the cell. Your kind have not been easy on me, but you will not break me.
"Won't a proud orc warrior stand and meet his fate?" Something about the way the question was asked, as if Prestor was mocking all the parts of him that mattered, made Orgrim cast aside his blanket and stand. Prestor's eyes went to it and his smile widened, stretching just past amusement and towards sadistic glee. "Very good, you still know how to take orders."
"What do you want of me, human?" Doomhammer growled and squared his shoulders. "Have you grown so bored of court life that you feel the need to come to--"
Prestor's fist lashed out and pain exploded along Orgrim's jaw, his arms coming up too late to cushion the blow. He staggered backwards, nearly tripping over his water bucket. The human advanced on him and struck again, and Doomhammer now bent double, the blows taking him across his stomach. What..?! He fought to suck in a breath, and his mind raced. How can he be doing this with his bare hands?
"I thought your kind felt no fear," Prestor mocked. "The vast orcish Horde that spilled across this land and burned cities in their wake. Where is your fire, orc?"
The fire was in Doomhammer's chest, and he forced himself to stand upright. He would not let this human mock him, he would not--
Another rain of blows forced him to his knees, and his rage built, fueling the fire within him that was rage and broken ribs both. Thinking of his ribs reminded him of his injuries, and each one stood out in stark relief, not serious but instead merely cripplingly painful. He was bleeding, his skin split from the pressure, and while the bruises were sure to ache, there were no broken bones, no splinters from beneath his skin. Prestor had done this with his bare hands, and a sensation of dread grew as he realized that he was being toyed with. He could do worse if he so chose.
Prestor laughed, a hard, cold thing, edging on madness. "Your whole race is on its knees. It serves. Demons… or dragons… it matters not which."
Doomhammer swung his bound hands at Prestor, the shackles giving weight to an embarrassingly weak blow. "We… are not… slaves!"
Prestor struck him across the face with the back of his hand, and it gave Orgrim brief satisfaction to hear Prestor growl in pain as his tusks caught the human's hand and tore. Satisfaction gave way to crippling pain as his mouth burned, and the scent of burning flesh filled the air. He fell to the ground, writhing and scraping at his mouth. Prestor took a step back, glaring at Doomhammer with searing hate.
"So, Calia Menethil's pet has some fire left," Prestor hissed. "You won't for long." Prestor kicked Orgrim in the ribs, and he felt them strain but not break. "When Calia is my wife, you will never see her again--"
"She… will… never… marry… you!" Doomhammer cried. "Terenas will see you for what you are."
"Terenas sees nothing but what I want him to see," Prestor said, aiming a second kick slightly higher. "No one does."
Doomhammer cried out sharply, and curled. "Calia doesn't. She sees right through you."
Abruptly, the blows stopped, and all Doomhammer could hear was the sound of his heartbeat, throbbing across a dozen wounds. The scent of blood -- his blood -- was strong. He drew in a breath, waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop. Anticipation of the next part of an already bad situation. That's what Calia said it meant, but I'm not sure what that has to do with shoes--
Prestor leaned in low, pausing with his lips by Doomhammer's ear. This close, the scent of blood did not quite mask the scent of sulphur and brimstone. "When Calia is mine, and she will be mine, I will destroy her mind. She will be a perfect, compliant puppet. She will not see anything that I don't want her to see." Doomhammer's mouth opened, ready to express rage and denial, and Prestor pressed a hand to his side. Within moments, Doomhammer felt a searing, terrible heat and he writhed, crying out incoherently in pain. "You, however, will be dead, because Calia will see your injuries and give her entire game away. She will not be able to hide her activities from Terenas, no more than she could hide them from me. Then you will die, for your failure as a Warchief, your failure as a friend, and your failure as a useful tool. Die well, orc."
Doomhammer's struggle to deny his words was lost when his vision went white with agony and then dark.
~ * ~
Northshire Abbey loomed on the horizon. Since Orgrim had last seen it, it had changed little: no efforts had been made to repair the broken gates, nor reinforce the fire-weakened walls. The scent of stale, burnt wood still lingered in the air. Orgrim made a face.
"Did Gul'dan never clean?"
"Warlocks always stink," noted Varok. "At least his scouts will be crippled by the fact they cannot smell us coming."
Orgrim couldn't help but grunt in agreement, impatient as he was to ride forth and do battle with the warlocks. The information he'd extracted from Garona was troubling him, and he turned it over in his mind. He'd known Gul'dan was treacherous and dangerous... but the leader of a secret organization? Could it be true? There was only one way to find out.
"Be cautious," Varok warned their assault group. "You have seen the power the warlocks can bring to bear, and now they will be using it upon us. Move with care, and do not leave a warlock alive."
"For the Horde!" The warriors' cry was muted but no less fierce than if they'd shaken the heavens with it. Orgrim gripped the Doomhammer tightly.
"For the Horde," Orgrim echoed softly. One thing that could be said for his interrogation with Garona was that it had calmed him. Lashing out at her, at seeing her broken and helpless felt good, his hate cleanly directed. Far better than the too-quick end of Blackhand, but now... now it was time to kill Gul'dan, to bring his plans to ruin.
The orcs surged forward, destroying what was left of a low, stone wall. Scouting had reported two guards, one in the ruins of the Abbey's garden and the other patrolling along the pond's shore. Kilrath moved forward swiftly, taking the guard with a brutal blow to the head. Kilrath let the guard fall, kicking him briefly against the rotting, punctured gourds, the last remaining victims of Gul'dan's attack.
"Clear," Kilrath said, and approached one of the windows. "Warchief, come look at this."
Orgrim swung down from his mount and moved to the window. Inside it was dark, and stank of burning herbs, blood and filth. There was also no sign of the warlocks. "They're here. They must be. They can't disappear into thin air."
"If they have no defences then we can proceed," Varok said and nodded to Eitrigg, who returned from the pond with only a few spots of blood on his hands and armour that bore witness to the second guard's death. "On your command, Warchief."
Orgrim straightened and moved to the doors, hanging haphazardly off their hinges. He peered past them into the darkness for a moment, and seeing nothing, he kicked the doors to splinters that scattered around him, heralding his arrival. "Follow me."
It grated at Orgrim to have to check each room when he wished to move swiftly, but check them he did. So many of them were empty, and in places there were still guttering candles and the remains of food left behind. He frowned at the waste but moved on. What's going on here? The other warriors spread out, and occasionally he could hear someone grunting as fist impacted with flesh. As Orgrim followed the hallways he came out into a huge, open room. He saw long, wooden benches, splintered and ruined, pushed up against the walls, which were painted with images, and Orgrim paused for a moment.
Some of the images were of winged beings, reaching down towards people that raised their hands. With the wood and the flickering of dim candles, it looked as though the humans were trying desperately to escape a fire, and the winged being could only take a few. A tremor went through Orgrim briefly, and he tore his gaze from the walls. Nine warlocks were kneeling, seemingly locked in meditation around a dais, and on the dais was an orc, lying with his arms folded over his chest.
Is he dead? Orgrim wondered. He moved forward, looking over the warlocks. They did not seem to be mourning, but instead... They are trying to wake him. I can't have that. Orgrim raised his weapon, smiling coldly. He believed he recognized the orc right in front of him as one of Gul'dan's cronies. Teron Gorefiend. It is time to die. He brought the Doomhammer down, and the back of Gorefiend's head exploded, appropriately, with gore. The warlocks broke from their trance, crying out in fear and anger. Orgrim's hammer came around, crashing into another's jaw, and then another. Varok and Kilrath surged forward, cutting through the warlocks like so much cattle.
It was over in moments. None of their dark spells were cast, none of their dark rituals worked. They were simply orcs, helpless without their leader. Orgrim stepped over the cooling bodies towards the dais, and took a step up. In the darkness, Gul'dan was old. His face was worn and scarred, and there was a mark below one of his eyes. His hands, hands that had once called for Telkar Doomhammer's life with no more than a gesture, had scars on them, and his fingers were stubby and curled with age. Old, but still dangerous. He's not helpless, even in his weakness. Orgrim's hands firmed around the handle of the Doomhammer.
What do you know? Orgrim wondered. What secrets are locked within your head? Garona's answers had only brought about more questions, questions that burned across his mind. If I could wake you, make you speak...
"Warchief?" Varok asked quietly. "What are you waiting for?"
Orgrim turned, and his gaze caught on the paintings of the humans, reaching towards salvation. His men were watching him, waiting. He lowered the Doomhammer. "Find a stretcher. Tie him up, we bring him back to the human city."
"What?!" Eitrigg's voice echoed, and the images of the humans seemed to waver. "He's a warlock, Warchief. He deserves death."
"We need answers from him," Orgrim growled. "Bring him. Dispose of the rest of this... trash."
Eitrigg growled and stalked from the room. Varok frowned, but saluted Orgrim. "You heard the Warchief!"
We can always kill him later, Orgrim thought. His so-called Shadow Council is gone. As he strode away from the images of humans, he caught an image out of the corner of his eye. He glanced at it, and shuddered. A red, horned being with huge wings and hooves like a clefthoof and one large, taloned hand that reached out, almost as if beckoning to him. Tempting. Is that a demon? Orgrim wondered, briefly. Why would humans create such a thing? In the firelight, the demon's eyes seemed to sparkle. He turned away, but a black mood began to overtake him.
The demon, it seemed, was an omen. Upon return to Stormwind, Orgrim learned that Garona Halforcen had broken out of her chains, broken out of her cell, killed two guards and escaped. In his mind, the demon mocked.
~ * ~
Voices. Doomhammer could hear voices, just too low to make out. His hands and legs twitched, trying to find purchase to crawl away. No. Not again.
He could smell his own fear-stink and it shamed him. His side did not burn. Instead, it felt dead. Lifeless. Did Prestor cripple me? Did he--
The cell door opened. "Come along now, orc, the Princess doesn't like to be kept--"
Calia's voice. Even frightened, it was still beautiful. Musical. "When Calia is mine, and she will be mine, I will destroy her mind. She will be a perfect, compliant puppet. She will not see anything that I don't want her to see."
"Ca-- Ca--" Doomhammer's voice was weak to his own ears, his mouth flaring in pain.
"I have to get Lord Uther," Calia said, her voice shaking. "He's dying. Sebastian, don't let anyone--"
"No," Doomhammer forced out. Prestor's voice, hot and stinking against his ear. "Calia will see your injuries and give her entire game away."
"Orgrim?" Calia asked, and moved into the cell, ignoring Sebastian's noise of protest. She knelt and carefully took up one of his hands. "Orgrim, you need help."
"Yes," Doomhammer agreed. "Not... not th- the paladin. You. Just..." You need to be safe, Calia. If he thought the words hard enough, perhaps she would hear them. Instead, one of his fingers curled, and as she held it up, he touched her cheek briefly. Calia nodded.
"Sebastian," Calia said, her voice sharp with authority. The guard snapped to attention immediately. "What I need here is cloth of any kind, and bandages. I'm going to need a blanket and a set of clean clothes. Ointment and..." She glanced at Orgrim's waste bucket in distaste. "Clean water."
"Princess, you're going to have to come out of there," Sebastian said, his voice shaking. "It's not safe--"
"He's not going anywhere like this," Calia replied sharply. "Hurry... before anyone else comes down."
Sebastian saluted smartly and left. Calia held his hand and Doomhammer took in a deep, rasping breath. "It... was..."
"Don't try to talk, you're in pain," Calia said softly. "I'll take care of you, I've done some supplementary reading--"
"Prestor," Doomhammer wheezed and Calia froze.
"Daval Prestor," Calia repeated. "He did this to you?" Doomhammer made a low, hissing noise in acknowledgement, and then another as her grip tightened. "He's a monster."
"I'm... monster," Doomhammer admitted. "Deserve... worse..."
"No," Calia said, her voice angry denial. "You made mistakes, Orgrim. You're not a monster."
"Hurt... you... through me." Doomhammer's finger twitched again, brushing against her cheek.
"He won't hurt you ever again," Calia promised. "And he... won't hurt me. Not everyone is so enamoured by him. I know someone I can send my research to." Doomhammer's face attempted curiosity, hurt, and he winced. "I feared that with Father under Prestor's influence, it would only be a matter of time before I was ordered to destroy my work. I couldn't allow that. I've made copies, just in case, and I've sent one to someone I believe I can trust. His name is Krasus Goldenmist, and while the name isn't likely to be familiar to you, he was our war liaison with Dalaran. Prestor's influence has caused Father to alienate Dalaran... there must be a reason. Prestor must not want Dalaran to be involved. Regardless of the specific reason, Daval Prestor cannot remain in Lordaeron any longer."
Doomhammer nodded slightly, though it made him dizzy. Darkness was rising and he didn't fight it. Calia was safe, that was all that mattered to him. He let it embrace him.
~ * ~
Memories flitted in and out, laced with pain. Waiting. It was all about waiting. In Stormwind, he waited for Gul'dan to wake up. He waited for more supplies. He greeted Rexxar, leading the ogres in support of the Horde. In Lordaeron, he lay against a cold floor, stinking and weak. Unable to do anything other than be tended like a child. He could feel hands move him and lift him a little. The panic that arose when he heard the door to his cell creak. Calia's voice, calm and soothing. Her hands, moving over his bare, broken body.
Shame crawled over him in both times. In the past, the shame of letting Gul'dan live. Remembering the hostility from some of the warriors. In the present, of being weak and broken before this human, this Princess... it was wrong to think of her as a child. Young, yes, but not a child. She had described her brother... he was a child, playing at war. She was not, immersed as she was in politics. He let his mind drift, not knowing when he would wake.
~ * ~
"Let me lift your head a little," Calia said. Doomhammer nodded, though he felt dull, lifeless. Broken and shamed. A pad of cloth moved under his head, lifting it a little. Calia's hands were on him, cleaning the burns around his lower lip where his tusk had cut Prestor's skin.
Calia was not wearing gloves. Stained and unimportant, she worked barehanded, and sometimes he could feel her scarred fingers, working to clean and disinfect his wounds. He sighed softly. Immediately, she looked into his eyes. "Princess..."
"Hush," Calia said softly. "It won't be long now."
"You should leave me," Doomhammer whispered. "I am... not a warrior."
"I will not hear it, Orgrim," Calia said, swabbing his lip. "This is not a war. This is not a warrior's arena. This was torture. This was intimidation."
"He wanted to shame you," Doomhammer said. "He wanted Terenas to kill me."
"Under Prestor's influence, it might be something that he'd do," Calia admitted. "Father is not himself, but I will not allow you to give up. That would give Prestor his victory. He wanted to shame you as well."
"I have nothing left," Doomhammer said. "Nothing except this." His hand came up to touch her briefly, and Calia paused to grasp his hand in hers. "You have the scars of a warrior."
"They are my shame," Calia confessed. "I hide them because I'm ashamed, and afraid."
"Why?" Doomhammer asked softly. Calia smiled a little, and thumbed over his hand. "Can you speak of it?"
"It is... hard," Calia said. "I will do it, for you. Only a small number of people know this story... Father, Uther... King Varian and Squire Bolvar. I don't think even Arthas..." She took in a breath and began. For years, Doomhammer had been the storyteller, his recollections rough and rife with old pain. Now that it was Calia's turn to tell a tale, her voice was soft and melodious, unbroken by the hurts of years gone by. "My mother never loved Arthas or I. I wanted to believe it was my fault. Mothers should love their children. It was what I was taught by our servants and by my father. He told us that she did love us, in her way. He has not told that lie since... the siege."
"Our siege?" Doomhammer whispered, and Calia nodded. "Princess, I'm sorry."
"Shh," Calia said, and she pressed a scarred finger to his lips. Around his pain and humiliation, the sensation calmed him. It was a princess' will that he be quiet, and so he would be. "I will not condone the deaths of thousands, but war is not waged bloodlessly. You couldn't have known what the bells would do. You've heard the siege bells, they warn the people of what's to come. They move into the inner parts of the city for shelter. You can hear the bells no matter where you are. We could hear them in the nursery. Bolvar, King Varian, Arthas and I. We'd been confined to the nursery when there were no meetings because we couldn't be underfoot and it was safer. The ruler of a nation in exile and the heir to another." She smiled. "And their minders. We were so exhausted... Bolvar almost had to carry me to get me into bed, and Varian did carry Arthas and put him in his little bed... I'm sorry, Orgrim. It's hard."
"I am in no hurry," Doomhammer murmured against her finger. "Speak as you will."
"I know how to tell a story, and this... isn't it," Calia said, shaking her head a little. "While we slept, my mother came into our room. I... heard her. She was talking about the noise. The bells. She always used to complain when Arthas cried or made noise. She was saying it was his fault. She had a knife, and she attacked him. The first cut... it didn't cut as deeply as she wanted, and he... he started to scream... and then I did. I had to stop her. I had to protect Arthas... all the while she screamed that he was a monster. That I had to let her do it. I wasn't very strong, and she was... mad. Utterly mad. I had to grip the knife by the blade to stop her."
"Arthas stopped screaming. I was afraid he was dying. Bolvar and Varian came in and saw my mother... Bolvar ran out to get a guard, someone... the castle was under siege, but he managed to get my father, Sir Lothar and Lord Uther very quickly. They came. They took the knife away from my mother, and I couldn't feel my hands. I was so afraid... I thought I would be crippled. I would never be able to make music, but more than that... I thought Arthas was dead. I thought he had been murdered because I didn't protect him."
"No," Doomhammer said. "Only one person was to blame for this."
"I know," Calia whispered. "Lord Uther tended to Arthas first and healed him. Arthas was sick and in shock, but he woke up and began to cry. I've never been so happy to hear him cry." Calia was crying too, and Doomhammer brought his fingers up to brush at her tears. The motion made his arm ache but he ignored it. "Father took him and he held him. Varian said something about my hands, and I was so afraid... but Lord Uther healed them. He told me about ointments so that I could avoid stiffness. I could feel. Father thanked me for saving Arthas. He held me, too."
"What happened to your mother?" Doomhammer asked, and Calia shuddered. He thumbed her cheek, being careful not to let the ragged edge of his nail damage her face.
"They took her away and locked her in a tower," Calia whispered. "Later... sometimes, I would visit her. To see if she was better. If she'd changed. She was calm some days. She'd try to convince me to let her out. That she only wanted what was best for me."
The thought of asking Calia to let him go had crossed his mind more than once, and he believed he could make a reasonable argument in his own favour, but at her words any desire to ask for his freedom suddenly died on his lips. "And on the other days?"
"Some days when I went to see her she would scream from the moment she woke up to the moment she finally fell asleep. She would scream about the bells, and Arthas, and Father. She would go on and on about how she hated us all. Eventually they moved her to Grandfather's estate in Tyr's Hand. Once... once we didn't have orcs to worry about." She took a deep breath. "I started wearing the gloves after I didn't need the ointment afterwards. I... I didn't want people to ask questions. One can presume that a princess is delicate and needs to wear gloves. One gossips about why a princess has such ugly hands."
"You have beautiful hands," Doomhammer said roughly. "They have strength and your valour has been marked upon them."
Calia smiled. "You honour me," she said. "You help to give them worth by marking your honour next to mine."
Doomhammer opened his mouth to claim he had no honour, and realized that, despite the emotional trauma that came with telling her story, Calia was manipulating him. She was playing him as she played one of her instruments, plucking through his emotions and beliefs until he was playing her tune. "If I deny my own honour, I deny you yours."
"Yes," Calia said simply, and returned to cleaning his wounds, though she stopped when he made a noise. "Orgrim?"
He'd laughed. "I was just thinking of something."
"What were you thinking of?" she prompted gently, cleansing one of the splits along his arm.
"I was thinking that Daval Prestor was a fool to draw your ire," Doomhammer said, still chuckling. He winced. "And I was a fool to draw his."
"You were a victim," Calia said, a hint of reproof in her tone. "You were not a fool."
"Not at the moment, but I was," Doomhammer said, the admission coming easily and with less pain. "I let Gul'dan live."
"Why?" Calia asked as she worked. Doomhammer sighed, and winced.
"I needed information. Garona's... torture was not enough. I needed answers, so I waited. Three months for the humans to go north and rally the other human nations."
"Father did that," Calia murmured. "Sir Lothar convinced him and Father convinced the others. The elves were reluctant, they joined when the trolls captured a cadre of their rangers. The Ranger-General is very protective of them."
"Windrunner, isn't it? A woman?"
"Sylvanas Windrunner, yes," Calia agreed. "The elves joined us, and the trolls joined you. You had ogres and goblins as well."
"The ogres came thanks to Rexxar," Doomhammer said. "His father was angry. He said the stars did not speak well of such involvement. Leoroxx was right. He usually was."
"It was hard for Father to convince some. The Gilneans and the Alteraci. Greymane and Perenolde both denied the danger for a long time."
"Perenolde. I remember, he was something of a coward," Doomhammer said, grunting as Calia applied more ointment. "Like Gul'dan."
"Did you learn much from him?" Calia asked and Doomhammer sighed.
"Relatively little," Doomhammer said. "He told us of the Shadow Council and his conspirators, most of which were dead. When he stopped having useful information and I thought to kill him, he... bribed me, to my..." He bit down on 'shame'. "He had a weapon that we could use against your Alliance. A weapon of horror."
"The dead knights," Calia said quietly. "The dark ones."
"Gul'dan called them Death Knights," Doomhammer agreed and shifted in pain. "Abominations. It required the sacrifice of the necrolytes, the spirits of the dead warlocks and the bodies of your Knights. As Teron Gorefiend was the first warlock I killed, so too was he the first to arise, powerful and full of hate. They did their job very well... and compromised everything I'd believed in by being allowed to come into existence in the first place."
"You made a bargain with the Devil," Calia said. Doomhammer frowned.
"What is a 'devil'?" he asked.
"Before the Light was followed in Azeroth, they had an old religion... one with a God and a Devil. The God was good and pure, the Devil was evil. He was known for tempting good men and women with what they believed they wanted instead of the God, who only gave them what they needed. A Devil's bargain is when a man or a woman asked for something they wanted, but the Devil would always find the worst ways to fulfill such a promise. Often, they would pray to the God to help them, and he would send an angel to the fields of the damned so that if a person truly repented their foolishness, they could be saved."
"I have seen such a thing before, in Northshire Abbey. It was in the room where we found Gul'dan when he slept." Doomhammer sighed. "I gave in to temptation."
"There are some who would condemn that," Calia said. "But I have never believed in this Devil, or this God. I believe in the Light, in compassion, tenacity and respect. The path towards virtue is a constant one, not to be taken away or granted, but one of self-discovery." She smiled, and in between touches, she brushed her finger against his lips. Tentatively, he kissed at the tip of her finger and she smiled more brightly.
"You are too good," Doomhammer murmured. "Too forgiving, too willing to help me correct my faults." His good mood faded. "Like Durotan. I saw him. He came to warn me."
"Warn you of what?" Calia asked, and her hand shifted, so that he could kiss and touch at her fingertips more readily. He distracted himself with this a moment before replying.
Chapter 7: Seven
This is it, Orgrim thought, reclining back on his furs. In weeks, we will be at Lordaeron's gates. There is so much to prepare, so much to--
The guards were making a fuss, growling and posturing. In the years since Orgrim had seized control of the Blackrock clan, those who were loyal to him remained, and stayed loyal, and those who openly disliked him, like Rend and Maim Blackhand, had taken themselves elsewhere. He'd heard Rend had seized control of Blackrock Mountain. I wish him his joy of it, and the Dark Iron Dwarves, Orgrim thought as stood and pushed the tentflap aside. It was near nightfall, and flames flickered in campfires. At the edge of the camp, he could see several guards arguing with figures too hidden in shadow to see.
Orgrim growled, took up a torch, and marched towards the edge of the camp.
"--you cannot expect the Warchief to--"
"Orgrim." The Warchief's torch brought two figures -- three! -- into sharp relief. There stood Durotan, son of Garad, clad in furs and adorned in blue and white. Across his stomach was strapped a basket, and inside was a swaddled infant, the blanket that kept the child safe also blue and white. At Durotan's side stood Draka: unbent, unbowed, with that same proud, flashing gaze. It had been years since he'd seen them, too many years, and here they were...
"Durotan," Orgrim said, and he felt no shame at the way his voice choked. "Guards, stand aside. Let them in."
The guards, grumbling, did so and Durotan and Draka walked into the camp, their eyes darting everywhere, examining every shadow. Orgrim threw his torch back into the main fire and it flared.
"Things have changed," Durotan said quietly. "You are well organized, the Blackrock clan tightly knit."
"It has been a challenge," Orgrim said. "But the war... well. It has brought some close and driven others away." He opened his tent, and gestured them inside. Durotan and Draka followed. Draka made a low noise, and Durotan unstrapped the basket, handing it to Draka. Immediately, she took the child out of the basket and unwrapped the blanket. The child opened their eyes, revealing a gaze that was both bright blue and slightly unfocused with his waking.
"My son," Durotan said, and there was quiet but fierce pride in his voice. "Only a moon old, and we have not yet named him."
"He will be the only one, I think," Draka said, and put her finger against the infant's lips. He began to suck hungrily and she chuckled. "Yes, you want to eat, I understand." She set the child in her lap and began to unstrap her breastplate.
"The birth was difficult," Durotan said to Orgrim, watching his mate and son with a tender gaze. "But the Spirits brought them both through."
"The spirits?" Orgrim said. "Durotan..."
"There are spirits here," Durotan said, and now he looked to Orgrim, holding his gaze. "Different ones from those of Draenor. They do not hate our people. They can be appeased, bargained with. They can help us. They have helped us. Drek'thar knows. He learns more of them every day."
"The spirits have forsaken our people," Orgrim said. "The warlocks--"
"Have you not ever wondered why the warlocks would say such things?" Durotan said. "They are the ones! They are the ones that did this to our people. They are the reason why our world dies."
"How..?" Orgrim asked. "What force could do this?"
"The demons," Draka said quietly, her voice full of venom. "The demons sapped the life from our world and the warlocks helped them. Drek'thar has seen it. Their poison is leaking into this world as the warlocks' power grows. Through the Dark Portal, Draenor sucks the life and spirits from this world like a leech sucks blood from a wound."
What have we done? Orgrim stared at Durotan, then at Draka, and his gaze fell to the child, this tiny, orc child, born to this world. How many more had been born on the road north? In the crowded ships, in the camps? For what purpose, what reason? "What have we done?"
"We were misled," Durotan said quietly. "We were lied to, over and over again. Drek'thar said... the spirits say that Gul'dan still lives. Is this true?"
"Yes," Orgrim said. "Yes, I... he had information. He... he had ideas. We have conquered much of the human and dwarven lands. The dragons do their work well."
"At what price, Orgrim?" Durotan's voice was as intense as it was quiet. "The cost of your soul? The souls of our people? We do all we can to purify ourselves of the demonic taint, but it cannot be completed until there is a way to break the tie between orcs and demons."
Orgrim's memories flickered back to the human paintings. "We cannot break off. If we do, our people will be slaughtered. We burned one of their cities, and conquered and seized many more. We bargained with a human who cared more for his own life than those of his allies and they invaded one of their own nations. Draenor is dying. There is no place left to go but forward."
"The spirits will know a way," Durotan said. "There may still yet be hope for us." He reached out and gripped Orgrim's arm tightly. A feeling of familiarity, of fraternal connection flooded into Orgrim. Immediately, he reached back, gripping Durotan's arm and then pulled him into an embrace. Durotan murmured his name as they hugged.
"I'm sorry, my friend," Orgrim said, his voice rough with emotion. "I should have listened to you. Both of you."
"I'll thump you later," Draka commented, and shifted her son's angle slightly. "Finish hugging Durotan, he's missed you."
Orgrim did. "You must stay, both of you. We have to tell... we must tell everyone."
"We cannot," Durotan said with regret. "We must return to our home. It's not far from here, though the Alterac mountains are treacherous to those who don't know the way. We hide in a valley with the grace of the spirits and our own companions. The frostwolves of Alterac have accepted us. We have taken them as our totem." He unclipped one of the charms and showed it to Orgrim, the worg white where it had once been black, on a sky of blue instead of a field of green. "We are the Frostwolves now. You will be welcome among them when the time is right."
"Stay just a little while," Orgrim urged. "To rest, for... for the child's sake. May I hold him?"
"When he has finished being the greediest little orc," Draka said, chuckling. The child unlatched briefly to offer his mother a baleful stare. "Oh, don't give me that look, we took so long because you were always hungry, my love and my heart." She gently raised him to her shoulder and rubbed his back. "You will be such a big--"
The belch from the child was loud enough to startle them all, including the child. Durotan smiled, and reached to take his son, offering him to Orgrim. Gingerly, Orgrim took the child. His face shifted into something like a smile.
"I'll have to change him," Durotan said quietly. Orgrim glanced first at him, and then down at the child. "Trust me, I know that look."
"I see," Orgrim said, not wholly certain he wanted to keep holding the child, though he did anyway. "Do you have a name?"
"We have discussed several," Draka said. "Some better than others, but Durotan had something he wanted to ask you. Go on."
"I wanted to know if you would allow me to name our son after your father," Durotan said. "Telkar was a good and brave man, and it would be a good omen for our son. The spirits have made much of him."
Orgrim's mouth worked for a moment. When Griselda had been murdered, he'd given up so much hope, and one of those things had included family. If Durotan chose this name, it's about more than a name... it's about being a family. He cupped the back of the child's head briefly, and felt those solemn, blue eyes stare at him. "Yes, of course. I will not be able to go to the naming ceremony, there is too much to do here. We push for the human city of Lordaeron. If we don't advance, they will. Perhaps, after that... after that we can find a way to end the war without slaughter." He lifted the child -- Telkar, son of Durotan -- up, and briefly touched his forehead to Telkar's. "Would you like that, little one? Nephew of my heart? To live in a world without war?"
"I think he will like it a great deal," Durotan said with a smile. "Brother."
"Stay long enough to eat and rest," Orgrim said quietly. "I wish to get to know my nephew."
Draka smiled. "I think we have the time for that."
Morning came all too soon. There hadn't been enough time to tell every story, but there had been enough time to tell Durotan and Draka of Blackhand's death, and Griselda's. His brother and sister had mourned her along with him, and he had allowed himself to weep, to unbottle the emotion that he'd kept inside since her murder. It had been good to be held, to not be the Warchief for a short while. It had been good to play with little Telkar, to see his gaze follow a finger, to count up each toe and finger.
At the edge of the camp, Orgrim embraced Draka tightly. She hugged him back and thumped his back twice. "Do not be so grim," she said. "There will be time."
"Yes," Durotan said, and he gave Orgrim a hug, though it was somewhat awkward around Telkar's basket. "More than enough time."
"I'm sending some of my men with you to make sure you make it through the mountains with no trouble." Orgrim nodded to a pair of Blackrock guards. "The humans may have patrols." He smiled. "Soon, we will not need to worry about them."
"No," Durotan agreed. His voice lowered. "Beware Gul'dan, Orgrim. He will not let you get away with this. He had done too much and gone too far to allow his plans to be stopped."
"Oh, I know," Orgrim growled. "I will find him and finish the job I started years ago. He should be joining us for the siege, I will deal with him after that. Take care, both of you." His lips curved in a smile. "Spirits watch over you."
"And you," Durotan said, and Draka echoed it. Durotan whistled and a pair of huge, white wolves bounded over the hills, nuzzling against them both. Orgrim shook his head ruefully as they departed and the Blackrock guards hastened to follow.
He took in a deep breath and relaxed. Everything will be put right.
~ * ~
"We planned much for the siege," Doomhammer said quietly. "We sent scouts and prepared teams. As much as we could mobilize, we threw it at this city. I remember... we saw it, and it seemed so... quiet and peaceful. We were confident. Too confident, in many ways."
"Many of our cities had fallen to the orcs," Calia said, gently cleaning the burns on his side. Doomhammer winced anyway. "I read the reports."
"I did not... succumb to much of the bloodlust that tainted us, but many did. It drove them with whips and brands. It helped us win many battles, and ultimately, caused us to lose the war."
"Barely," Calia said, her hands steady. "We thought the walls would fall. They did in some places, and we did everything we could to build them back up."
"It was a struggle, every step of the way. One of the chieftains broke and ran, hurtling past the places the scouts confirmed were safe. After that, we had to attack, and we fell into many of the traps you laid for us. You were also very coordinated, very powerful in subtle ways."
"We were desperate," Calia whispered. "I remember... if Lordaeron fell, it would crack the Alliance in half. Too many people looked to my father for leadership. He's not a soldier, but he commands respect."
"I do not like your father, but I do respect him," Doomhammer grumbled. "Underestimating him -- or you -- is dangerous."
Calia smiled. "Thank you. There is something that my father once taught me. Some men wield a single sword and can threaten people with it. Others, with the raising of a hand, can wield one hundred swords, as well as the hearts behind them."
Doomhammer grunted as Calia cleansed his side. "Or you could wield the hearts and swords of a hundred men and threaten others with them."
"Of course," Calia said lightly. "It's good to remind people that you have the emotional hearts of some, and the physical hearts of others. Love is a better motivator than fear. When people are afraid, they can simply be made to be afraid of other things. When there is love, there is hope, there is bravery."
"The Horde was motivated by many things... fear was one of them. Fear of returning to Draenor. Fear of losing. Fear of Gul'dan and his warlocks." He scowled and then winces. Calia frowned for a moment, applying bandages to his side. "I was not sufficiently wary."
"The warlocks were assigned to assault from the water. They were known for breaking storms and bending them to their will, and we believed they could do it here. I had not had personal contact with Gul'dan for some time, but I despised him, and he despised me. I didn't think it was unusual... not until the Stormreavers and Twilight's Hammer clans did not arrive. When we could not counter human and elven sorcery with their magics, foul and tainted as they were. I sent warriors after them to find him, to punish him and bring me his head. They did not return until we were already in retreat. After we'd lost the siege and... other things."
"Other things?" Calia murmured, and looked up, and the distress on her face was a mirror to Doomhammer's own.
~ * ~
Orgrim was exhausted. His arms and legs shook, and his hands were numb. They had lost. They had been on the edge of victory and they'd lost. It was hard to say how long it would take for the humans to regroup and chase them, to hunt them down. Damn Gul'dan! Damn Gul'dan and his arrogance!
There had been no word back from Orgrim's force sent to pursue the renegade warlock and his clan, and now that he'd realized it, now that he'd seen Gul'dan's treachery, he could see where Gul'dan had pulled forces, mostly warlocks and the death knights, away from the front. The ogre chieftain Cho'Gall was missing too. Rexxar, battered from the weeks of the siege, had no insight, and was mourning the loss of his brethren.
At least there's still the Frostwolves. At least I still have that. He groaned softly, and began to remove his armour, piece by piece. He began to wash his hands, the crusted red giving way to vibrant green.
"Warchief," said a voice. It was one of the scouts, and Orgrim looked up, frowning. The scout was shaking.
"Speak," Orgrim said shortly. He's afraid... why is he afraid?
"We have... found something. You must come."
Orgrim grunted and rose, pulling on a tunic. If the humans wished to shoot him because he chose not to armour himself, then so be it. The scout waited at his tent, and hurried along. Orgrim made a quick gesture, and two of his men got up to follow, though their steps had a hint of weariness instead of caution. The scout led them through the forests to a clearing.
"We... were looking for the humans, and we found..." The scout gestured expansively. "We found this."
The battle was over, but it was not altogether old. The scene, two dead Blackrock guards, sprawled face down, partially eaten by scavengers and left to die. A discarded basket, ripped open. Weapons that looked familiar, wooden and bone charms, painfully familiar, ground into the dirt. Blood, so much blood, spilled everywhere.
"There's... there's something else," the scout said, breaking the silence. "Here."
Someone had built a fire. Not merely a fire, but a funeral pyre. It was long cold, the wind taking some of the ashes and leaving others. Runes had been cut into the trees, scarring them, marking the names of the fallen. Durotan. Draka. Another symbol, meaning 'unnamed'.
Not unnamed. Telkar. Orgrim's chest began to heave. "Check the bodies. Look behind their necks."
"Now!" The orcs scrambled to obey. Orgrim turned, his mind churning. "Well?!"
"There's some kind of mark here, a tattoo. I've never seen it."
"The Shadow Council marks their own," Garona had told him, her voice mocking even in pain. The Shadow Council.
Orgrim screamed. The sound tore its way out of him like a living thing, a wounded beast. He screamed until the sky could hear him. "Gul'dan! Murderer! Traitor! Betrayer!"
The scout backed away, fearing retaliation, and the other two warriors had to control themselves not to flee. Orgrim raged, striking out at the trees, the rocks. I let him live! I let Gul'dan live! I--
As abruptly as he'd begun he stopped, falling to his knees, scrabbling at the bloodstained dirt. "I left them to die." If I'd killed Gul'dan then... they... He shuddered. One of his fingers found purchase on something solid. Through a haze of rage and loss, he saw that it was Durotan's wolf charm. He began to weep.
~ * ~
"Gul'dan betrayed our people, but I betrayed my friends... my family," Doomhammer said. He felt Calia's thumbs move against his cheeks, wiping away the tears. "Little Telkar would never grow up to see a world without war. It's hard to say how many others left after that. Some broke and ran to hide in the hills, others came with me as we fought a retreat. We pretended at pride, at honour, but in truth, we were being hunted and hounded."
Calia moved one hand to take his again, and this time it was her lips that touched against his fingers, softly and tenderly. "Once the Alliance got its momentum back, it didn't dare stop. They feared you if you ever brought another force to bear against us. Lordaeron nearly shattered."
"We made a stand at Blackrock Mountain. Rend gloated. He was afraid, though. We all were. Do not ever let anyone tell you that orcs feel no fear," Doomhammer said, his fingers moving against her lips and cheek. "It is a lie. Orcs feel all the things humans do and when they do not they are not orcs at all, but possessed, mad things. We fought."
"The Lion of Azeroth met your call," Calia murmured. "Poor, poor Varian. Lord Lothar was like a father to him. Tell me truly, was it ambush? It was claimed so by some, though never Lord Turalyon."
"No," Doomhammer said. "I had guards but I didn't allow them to engage. I'm not certain what I hoped would happen. If I died, my people would fall. If I won, I could, as you've said, gain momentum. I expected Lothar's death to intimidate your people, to break them as Llane's death broke Stormwind. I... underestimated you all. It's a fault I have. You are all steel."
"Lord Turalyon is not a man easily broken," Calia said. "I hope that he returns from Draenor safely."
"No, he-- what?"
"I haven't been able to visit you because of other, urgent business."
"Sebastian said the orcs had returned. How?" Doomhammer watched her face intently.
"After you had been defeated and the Horde scattered, Archmage Khadgar and a team closed the Dark Portal and destroyed it. A Keep was built on the edge of the damaged lands to watch over it. Recently, a little while before the bells, the portal opened again. The orcs rode forth and took Nethergarde Keep. The clans you've mentioned, Bleeding Hollow, Black Tooth Grin... and your friend's clan, the Warsong."
"Calia, you must believe me, I have no notion as to how they could have done such a thing," Doomhammer said urgently. "They have no way to contact me and I wouldn't..."
She kissed his fingertips. "I know. I know. The orcs struck at Stormwind, Dalaran, and Kul Tiras. The Warsong fight like demons in the hills. An elite force was sent through the portal, led by General Turalyon and Archmage Khadgar to find out who or what opened the portal and close it. We've had no word. People are afraid, though I've studied the intelligence reports... this isn't an invasion, Orgrim. It's... too scattered in places and too focused in others. I think they're looking for something. I'm afraid they've found it. Do you have any idea?"
"No," Doomhammer said. "I have no notion as to how the portal was opened or how it could be closed. If anyone knew, it was Gul'dan, and he is dead. I have seen his skull myself, and unless your mages can extract information from it..."
"I don't believe that they can, but it's worth keeping in mind, wherever it is," Calia replied, smiling a little. "Prestor has been pushing for your execution. Father might concede. I don't know. Father is still holding onto a shred of hope that he can make peace work, but it's a forbidden topic with the latest invasion. I had to see you, to see if there was any way..."
"He will harm you if he marries you," Doomhammer growled. "He'll take away everything that makes you who you are. He is powerful and dangerous. He could be some kind of warlock."
"He won't," Calia said. "I will be fine. Your life is in danger." She squeezed his hand, and he squeezed hers back. "I'll save you, I promise."
"Calia... is my life worth..." Is it worth your death? Is it worth exile? Is it worth separation from the father you love and I hate? Is it worth being parted from your little brother, whom you sacrificed so much to save?
"Yes," Calia said quietly. "Orgrim, I--"
Footsteps, though they stopped a respectful distance away. "Princess Calia, my shift is ending. When the night guard arrives..."
"I cannot be here, I know." Calia let Orgrim's hand go, folding it with care over his chest. "There is more clothing here, and more water. You'll need to clean up when you recover. The blood..."
"I understand," Doomhammer said, though he lay there as Calia gathered up the stained cloths and the dirty water. Her gloves disappeared into the pile. He switched to orcish, and his voice was rough with emotion. "Go well, and know that you take my heart with you."
"I do know," Calia replied in kind and stepped out of the jail cell. The sound of it locking was loud and Doomhammer closed his eyes.
~ * ~
Weeks passed, and each day seemed longer with the solitude. Without Calia's strength and confidence, Doomhammer wavered. Cleaning the blood from his cell reminded him of his weakness. Changing his own bandages was awkward, tedious and painful. The burn on his side had blistered and was healing. The rest of his wounds had faded, and he began to move about his cell, stretching until his muscles pulled.
Sebastian let him do it. Sebastian seemed more anxious about other things, his family and his king than one orc, almost but not quite forgotten.
Calia did not come herself, but there were always signs. Fresh bandages, a regular supply of clean water, better food. Winter was coming and with it a cloak, thick though plainly woven. Touching it reminded him of the way his fingers had felt against her lips, and hers against his. It inspired him to get up every day and walk, even a little, to circle his cell and stretch to its limits.
Sebastian would have mentioned a wedding, Doomhammer thought. If she...
He closed his eyes. He didn't want to think of it. Not now, not ever.
He heard the outer door open and looked up. He saw Sebastian rise and then bow deeply.
Terenas. Doomhammer's eyes narrowed and he moved closer to the window of his cell. Terenas had been confident and strong the last time he had been here, nearly three years ago. Now he looked both aged and manic, as if driven by something. He was, for the purposes of Doomhammer's interests, alone. No Calia... but no Prestor, either. Instead, a tall man stood at his side, his eyes green and narrowed. He wore gleaming, silver armour and a book chained at his waist. He was weaponless, but the mailed gauntlets of his hands promised that he didn't need one. Paladin.
"Your Majesty, Lord Uther," Sebastian began. "I was not expecting--"
"Stand aside, man," the paladin said, his voice clear and still youthful. "We have to read the pronouncement."
"Pronouncement?" Doomhammer growled, and Uther glared at him.
"Silence, orc," he said sharply. "King Terenas speaks."
The king speaks and the wind blows, Doomhammer thought sourly but waited. Is this freedom?
"Orgrim Doomhammer, former Warchief of the orcish Horde," Terenas began. "On this occasion, the seventeenth day of Early Winter, you are hereby sentenced to death by hanging for crimes against humanity. May the Light have mercy on your soul."
"You..." Doomhammer began. "You came all the way here, yourself, to tell me that the last four years of my life have been a waste!" Doomhammer's voice rose. "What of your plans for peace, human?! What of your plans for the orcs?!"
"The war with your people is over," Terenas replied coldly. "There can be no peace, only restitution and compliance. Alive, you are a symbol. Dead, there will be no question. The Horde is broken."
"The Horde was never about me!" Doomhammer cried. "It was never about any one orc. Did Calia never tell you--"
"Calia's observations are biased. She has worked very hard, but in the end, she does not rule Lordaeron. She does not lead the Alliance. I do." Terenas glared at him. "My decision is final."
"Answer me one question, human," Doomhammer said, his voice a snarl. "Where is Daval Prestor?"
"Do not speak that name!" Uther cried, and made to strike between the bars. "That man is a traitor--"
"Uther, enough," Terenas said, and his watery blue eyes studied Doomhammer coldly. "He has disappeared. What do you know of him?"
Doomhammer laughed in relief. He laughed and he laughed, and neither Uther's angry cries nor Terenas' demand to be silent could stop him.
Eventually, Terenas and Uther left, sweeping out in anger and frustration, and Doomhammer sat down. So, this is the end, is it? So be it. If this was to be his end, then this was the time to sort himself out. In many ways, telling Calia his story had been cleansing. He remembered the parts of his past that shamed him as well as the parts he'd been proud of. His dead, Griselda, his father, Durotan, Draka and little Telkar, were arranged before him. He could admit his folly and ask their forgiveness. So too could he see his enemies: Blackhand, Gul'dan. Terenas Menethil and Anduin Lothar. Daval Prestor. Garona.
He rubbed his hands over his face, feeling the scarring from Prestor's burns. Of all of them, Garona was the most complicated. He had a right to hate her and he still did... but Garona had, in her way, changed him. When he had beaten her, tortured her in his hate, and then left her to die. She had escaped, killed his men... but she was likely dead.
"I... regret what I did," Doomhammer murmured aloud. "I regret that I used torture to get information from Garona. I regret that I was so vengeful as to leave her alive so that she could suffer. To your enemies, mercy."
The words did not quite lift a weight from Doomhammer's shoulders, but in a way, it made him feel better. All there was left to do was wait.
It was difficult to sleep or eat. The food still came and night still fell. At any moment his life could end, at any moment, Terenas would return with guards. He would be dragged from here, past the torture chambers, up the stairs and out into the light.
Should I fight? What could it hurt? I would rob them of the satisfaction of executing me, but... He shook his head briefly. Will Calia be there? Will he make her watch? His heart ached. I should be brave for her sake.
Eventually, Doomhammer drifted off to sleep. Each noise woke him, from the restless patrolling of guards to the sounds of water dripping into his bucket. When the guards finally stopped their patrols, he slept more, his mind drifting between thoughts as a leaf in the wind. There was a scraping at his cell door. He ignored it.
I need to sleep, I can't keep--
His cell door creaked and his eyes snapped open. A faint stream of light fell across him and he sat up. He saw no guard. There was no noise at all, even the dripping water was muted. What's going on here?! "Calia?" His voice was strained and quiet. No answer. He shifted, limited by his chains. Should I run? I won't get far with these--
Something cut the light, an object that slid across the floor. Again, Doomhammer saw nothing outside his cell, but what had been given to him... A key. The key was crude, made of the same metal as the shackles. He picked it up, fumbled it briefly, and then held it tight. He could feel the L of Lordaeron press into the palm of his hand. Quickly, he inserted the keys into the shackled on his ankles, then the ones on his wrists. As they fell away, his heart soared.
I can be free. I don't need to die here, I can leave... how much time do I have? How many guards are there? He glanced over the things in his cell. He scooped up Calia's flask and looked between the blanket and the cloak. He could only carry one easily, and the cloak would be of more use. He pulled it around his shoulders and began to walk, each step hard against the cold prison flagstones, but each step carried him towards freedom. The next door was open, and then the next. Doomhammer glanced down both hallways and then up the narrow stairway that would take him to the next floor. He moves carefully and quietly, even as the cold bit at his feet.
Freedom, Doomhammer thought, and the word kept him warm, it kept pushing his aching limbs further. Freedom. He stopped at a landing, attempting to catch his breath. From the landing, he could see a door that would allow him to continue upwards, and hallway. He put his hand on the door and found it locked. He attempted the key, though its shape did not come close to fitting into the keyhole. The hallway, then. If I come across anyone...
He would need to kill the human guards. There was no way around it. He steeled himself and began to move. Here, doors were closed and locked, providing no cover. The notion set his nerves on edge, but he continued. Finally, at the end of the hallway was a door, slightly ajar. Doomhammer glanced inside briefly and froze.
Neatly arranged on the floor were his armour, his weapon and a pair of boots. Doomhammer made a choked noise in disbelief. How is this happening? To whom do I owe my soul? Is it Calia? If so... why did she say nothing to me? He moved forward, discarding the cloak briefly to pull his armour on. It fit loosely in some places where he'd lost muscle, but that would change once he was free. He would walk every day and treasure the freedom to do so. He crammed his feet into boots, welcoming their warmth, and then fit the Doomhammer into his hand. It felt solid and real, proof that this was no dream, no fevered imagining.
Now, where do I go? Doomhammer wondered. He heard a noise and turned sharply, his hammer at the ready. Another door was open, just a crack. Smiling, he took up his cloak again and threw it on, covering himself completely. There's always an answer, isn't there?
Doomhammer moved through the door, and it led out into another hallway, and then another, and still another. He growled in frustration. Am I to be stuck in here, I-- He saw another door and went to it, nearly falling as he made to take the next step. The air was sharp, cold and stinking. A figure, draped in cloaks, pushed a wooden cart filled with garbage. Others stood huddled in doorways. No one looked at him, and it would seem, no one cared.
This is it. This is freedom, Doomhammer thought and hesitated. I will not be able to say goodbye. I will not see her again. He sighed, his breath pluming out. If I remain I will die. It's back to the cell. There is no world that I can live in that would allow us to be together, to walk these streets... not yet, at any rate.
He nodded to himself once and stepped over the threshold, closing the door behind him. I can go to Alterac. I can look for the other orcs. I can... I can make them stop. I just need time.
Briefly, he put his hand over his heart. Live honourably and well, Calia Menethil, and know that I leave my heart with you. For a brief moment, he felt as if he was being watched and he looked around, but no one's gaze was remotely close. Paranoid. No one is there. Tugging the cloak a little closer around him, he began to walk.
Chapter 8: Epilogue
Since Doomhammer escaped, Calia had been anticipating this day.
Calia Menethil sat at her desk, rubbing her eyes. Her vision was beginning to blur with exhaustion, but there were more reports. The lights guttered, and Calia glanced up at them. I could have sworn…
"How long have you been at this?" The voice was youthful and male, and Calia banished exhaustion to smile.
"Arthas, how long have you been home?" she asked, rising. Her back protested and she winced. Arthas offered her his hands and hugged her tightly once she made her way around the desk.
"Not long, our training exercise ended early." Arthas smiled with a hint of smugness to it. "Not much point in continuing the exercise when the other side is thoroughly beaten."
"Congratulations, may you have been magnanimous in your victory," Calia said, leaning into her brother's chest. She did not consider herself to be a small or delicate woman -- and being nearly thirty, claiming to appear girlish was laughable at best -- but her brother was tall, muscular and broad, an exemplary specimen of royalty, manhood and paladinhood. He made her feel at once both very small and extremely protective. You're not a little boy any more.
Arthas grinned and stroked her hair. "I may have told them that they had no chance considering the team I had on my side, but that's only the truth."
"Arthas," Calia said reproachfully. "They're all on your team."
"Not when we're being graded," Arthas said cheerfully. He took half a step back and studied her. "Sister dear, you look exhausted. When was the last time you slept?"
"Sometime after midnight bell, last night," Calia said. And I was up at dawn with the reports.
"Mmhmm, and when did you wake up?" Arthas said chidingly. "I know you, you haven't changed at all. Come on, I'm home for a few days, and I think you should let the reports sit for now. I want you to spend time with me."
"Of course, Arthas," Calia said, smiling even as she imagined the piles of reports breeding out of her line of sight. Arthas offered her his hand and she took it, his hand enfolding her gloved one. She let Arthas' chatter about the training exercise fill her thoughts, pushing out all manner of negative thoughts. Father isn't well. Lordaeron is struggling. The elves may be withdrawing from the Alliance, and if they do, how will we feed our people? There are rumours about the Camps--
"--wedding." Arthas paused. "You aren't listening."
"I… I'm sorry, Arthas." Calia sighed. "I have a lot on my mind."
"You're not supposed to," Arthas said. "You're supposed to be paying attention to me, because I'm full of sunshine and hot air, and I worry about silly things like my sword swings and Intrepid's hooves."
Calia opened her mouth and then closed it. Arthas was teasing her. He'd taken to doing that, some time during the process of passing from the little boy she'd raised to the man who decided she needed taking care of. "Intrepid's hooves are serious business. You don't want him to go lame."
Arthas' smile flickered for half a moment. "No, that would cause an accident." He took her hands and squeezed them. "I asked when we were likely to have a royal wedding."
"The Proudmoores haven't contacted me about future arrangements," Calia said. "I imagine that once your studies are complete, they'll want to finalize more. We've got some years yet. Jaina's an Archmage now, so--"
"I know when mine will be," Arthas said gently. "I meant yours."
"Oh." Calia blinked a few times, trying to gather her thoughts like so many wind blown leaves. "Well, I hadn't given it much thought, if any."
"Why not?" Arthas asked, smiling. "Didn't you have a whole stream of suitors banging at Lordaeron's gates?"
"Not quite," Calia said. "Galen was very sweet, but I don't think that Thoras will be a particularly… pleasant father-in-law." Calia's eyes closed briefly, and with the wave of exhaustion she felt, she also remembered the loud, angry departure of the nation of Stromgarde from the Alliance. "As for Tandred…"
"I'm sorry about that," Arthas said. "I didn't think…"
"It's not your fault," Calia said, and she squeezed his hand. "Besides, if I truly wanted to marry him right now, I would have found a way, but that's not why I'm still here. I'm still here because I want to make sure that Lordaeron is ready for you by the time you're crowned king. I never wanted you to give up on your dreams of being a paladin."
"And what of your dreams?" Arthas said, his gaze filled with concern. "What about all the things that you've wanted to do?"
Calia smiled, and she squeezed his hand again. "I've done what I wanted to do. I've wanted to see you grow up safe and happy and you have. I want Lordaeron and its people to be safe and happy and… for the most part, that's happening too. There's a lot to do, but I believe it will happen, in our generation, or in that of your children."
"That's all still about Lordaeron, or me," Arthas said. "What about you?"
What do I want? Calia wondered. It wasn't an easy question for her to ask herself, and she closed her eyes, thinking back. She remembered when her father used to take her to meetings. She remembered being very small, being tucked into a chair, piled with an absurd amount of cushions so she could see over the great table. She remembered the polite -- and not so polite -- remarks of her father's officers about the presence of a child. She remembered her father telling them to consider her the newest, youngest but by far not the least wise member of his council, and how some of them had laughed, while others had taken her seriously, even as there had been a hint of mockery in their acceptance.
She remembered being carried from those meetings in her father's arms, as she murmured facts about grain shipments and news reports. She remembered being trusted, valued and precious. She remembered wanting to be king -- queen, as her father had corrected her -- and to be at the head of the table, controlling the meetings and preventing idiots like Lord Garion from talking for hours on end.
Even after Arthas had been born, that dream had not died. There had been Queens of Lordaeron. Some good, some bad, just like the kings. Then… then the war, then the siege, and Calia could remember the discussions as to whether or not it might be safer to send Arthas away. It had been Prestor that had convinced her father that Arthas was the only appropriate future ruler of Lordaeron. It had been Prestor that had pushed, and pushed, and pushed--
Prestor was gone now, but his influence remained. Her father would not speak of a time when Calia had been meant to be Queen. He would not speak of some of his projects, like the Doomhammer project. Calia's eyes squeezed closed. Four years. Four years of interviews, of research, of cross-referencing with every source we could find… and then in the end, Orgrim escaped. Escaped and is still held up as one of the greatest threats to true freedom so that the drums of war beat on and on. We were so close. So close!
"Calia?" Arthas asked softly, worried.
So close to never having to worry about keeping several hundred thousand orcs fed and penned. So close to not being slave owners. So… so… close.
"Calia, speak to me. Please."
Orgrim, I'm sorry, I tried… Calia's head bowed, and she felt tears running down her cheeks, swift and silent.
"Calia, I'm sorry, I didn't mean--" Arthas pulled her close, holding her tightly, rocking and murmuring soothing nonsense, just as she'd once done for him when he was still small. Calia leaned into his chest and cried.
I can't tell him, she thought miserably. It's not fair, and it's not his fault. He was so young, and he didn't know... he's only a little boy. Calia shuddered, and tried to find her voice again. She wanted to reassure Arthas that he was alright, that he was safe because she would protect him. Instead, all she could do was cry.
"You need to rest, Sister," Arthas murmured, and Calia felt herself shift. Arthas lifted her in his arms and carried her. Calia thought to protest, but like so much of the later stages of her life, she let herself be carried along. "You sleep. You sleep as much as you need to. I'll take care of everything."
But wasn't I just taking care of you? Calia wondered, and let exhaustion take her.
~ * ~
I don't understand this at all, Arthas thought. He picked up one stack of papers, reading through them. Are these... grain reports? Why is Calia reading these? Were these numbers explained in the books she sent me? No wonder she looks so tired all the time.
The memory of Calia's reaction to what had seemed like a simple question made Arthas frown. He considered himself to be close to his sister. While some might feel embarrassed to admit their fondness for their older sibling -- Light knew, when Tandred Proudmoore was brought up, Jaina always had an embarrassing anecdote to share -- Arthas felt no such emotion.
Calia's been there for me since... forever, it seems. He only had vague memories of his mother, and even then, there was nothing warm about any of them. His mother was the pale-eyed, thin stranger that would stare at him. Calia was the person he associated with his earliest education. She had taught him how to read, write and figure between her own lessons until he was taught by his own first private tutor. I think she was the one who found my first tutor, as well, Arthas mused. Certainly she worried enough about him, she didn't want me learning from someone who would go too easy on me or too hard. He smiled, remembering his first day of lessons, and more importantly, the hand that had held his when he was led to the school room. He remembered his first pony, and how cleverly Calia had hidden her intentions from him -- well, clever when one was only six -- and how he'd cried and fussed when the pony of his dreams hadn't come with them back to the palace.
Light, I was such a little brat, Arthas thought, his smile widening. I don't know how she didn't drown me like a sack of kittens. I don't have half her patience. Patience reminded him of tenacity, and tenacity reminded him of his duty here. I'll keep at it. For one day, Calia will rest and relax, and I'll show her that I've learned well from her. There has to be something that I can understand in all of this mess--
"Your Highness, morning reports for-- oh!" The maid bobbed a curtsey, managing not to upset the tea tray she held in her hands and Arthas smiled at her. She blushed, and Arthas reminded himself sternly that he shouldn't be unclear, and that his best smiles were for his fiancée, not for maids. "I was expecting Her Highness."
"I'm taking over for the day," Arthas said. "Put the tray..." He cast his gaze about, but the maid seemed to find a place to balance it with much greater ease. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Your Highness," the maid said with another curtsey. "Her Highness takes the defense reports with her morning tea."
Defense reports, aha! Arthas thought, and fought the urge to grin at her. Something I can understand. Instead of a grin, he gave her his most serious, most mature look. "I'll take those."
He scooped the reports up from the tea tray, ignoring the soft sigh from the maid and the sound of the door closing. He sorted through them briefly by provincial seal, and paused at one from Hillsbrad. Hillsbrad? Could it be trouble with the orcs? His good mood faded as he fit his finger under the flap and broke the letter's seal. He opened it and began to scan the contents. As he read, he began to grin.
This can't wait, Arthas thought. Calia has to hear this now. Abandoning both the tea tray and the paperwork, he hurried out of his sister's office, narrowly avoiding bumping into one of the stacks of books. Getting to his sister's room was a matter of minutes, he knew the shortest distance from almost anywhere: he'd spent a great deal of time going to his sister's room, whether it be to seek comfort or to listen to her sing. This time, I'll be the one to reassure her, and she'll have one less thing on her mind.
Arthas rapped on the door sharply. "Calia! Calia, wake up, I have something to show you!"
The door opened moments later, and Arthas recognized the somewhat disgruntled look on her face from his youth. He beamed at her in return. "Arthas? What is it? What time is it?"
"Early," Arthas replied. "I'm sorry, I said you should rest and I meant it, but this is too good not to be shared."
"What is?" Calia said, still sounding disoriented, though her eyes fell to the letter clutched in his hand. "What is that?"
"A letter," Arthas said proudly, as if he'd invented it. "From Marshal Redpath in Southshore. He reports that, while there's been some trouble in the Camps -- nothing the Silver Hand can't take care of, I promise -- there's a confirmed sighting... Orgrim Doomhammer has been killed by Lordaeron's soldiers."
Calia stared at him wordlessly, unblinking.
"Of course, his co-conspirators took his body, and more than a few brave fellows fell defending the good people of Lordaeron, but finally we don't have to be afraid that--"
"Arthas." Calia's voice, her tone, stopped Arthas cold. "Let me see that."
"Of course, Calia," Arthas said, holding the letter out to her. "Are you--"
Once she had the letter, Calia retreated into her room, and the door closed with a sharp noise, and immediately afterwards, it locked.
"Calia?" Arthas called, and banged on the door with his palm. "Calia, what is it? What's--"
There was an anguished sound, utterly broken and miserable. Arthas slammed his shoulder into the door and struck it twice more. The sound was swallowed by the heart-wrenching sobs. Arthas' heart twinged and his hand rubbed over it absently. Calia?
He'd never heard her cry like this. Not last night, not in all of his nearly two decades of life. He put his back to the door and sank down, listening helplessly as his sister cried. I don't understand this at all.
~ * ~
"Someone has to clean out Orgrim's tent," Grom said roughly. "It should be you, he named you Warchief."
Thrall stared up at the orc he'd come to consider as his older brother. He still felt raw from grief, and it was just... business as usual? How? Why?
"He would want you to be the one to keep that which was valuable to him," Drek'thar said. Thrall immediately turned to the elder shaman and offered his arm in support. "One less casualty than we believed. Wise Ear lives."
"I'm glad to hear it," Thrall murmured. "Why me? Grom was his friend, and there were others--"
Drek'thar poked him, and Thrall made a point of wincing as if he'd been struck. "And you are his heir. You are the Warchief now. Go to his tent and clean it. You may choose to claim it now, but it must be reborn into its new purpose."
"Very well, teacher," Thrall said, gripping his arm as he flagged down Drek'thar's assistant. With a heavy heart, Thrall went to Orgrim's tent.
Grom had complained more than once how spare Orgrim's tent was, and that a Warchief was granted far more leave to decorate. Thrall could hear Orgrim's words, that a Warchief should not elevate himself so far above his people that he forgot his purpose. Grom had grumbled, and Orgrim had shrugged, and told Thrall that Grom was hopeless.
That memory was one of the things that Thrall had to pack away neatly as he took down the few decorations Orgrim kept up, like a worn, dirty charm. What is this? A bear? A wolf? It looks like it's taken more than its share of spills in the mud. Thrall tucked the charm into a pouch before looking through Orgrim's clothes. These would need to be distributed amongst the villagers. Or claimed for myself, though I'm taller than Orgrim. He used to tease me...
Another memory, this time of Orgrim poking fun at his height, wondering what the humans fed him to make him so huge. Thrall had ducked, blushed and stammered, and said that it might be all of the porridge they ate. Porridge reminded him of a different story, of Tari. He smiled. I'll see her soon, at least, and I can tell her about Orgrim once she's free of Blackmoore. Once we're all free. Amongst Orgrim's clothing was a cloak. Thrall remembered it, Orgrim had used it to hide his identity from a young, foolish orc who had only thought he was fitting in with his new family, in his new home. Thrall shook his head at himself. I was such a child then.
The cloak was carefully folded, and it might be given away, or he might keep it. Orgrim's camp gear was next, and most of this could be given to others. That was simple, but here... Thrall frowned, picking it up. A metal flask, tarnished now, but once... Thrall traced his fingers delicately over the intricate carvings. This is human make, something like what Langston might own. Thrall opened the flask and sniffed. No alcohol, and he knew its scent all too well. The flask was dry, as if nothing had been in it for a long time. Why keep such a thing if you aren't going to use it? Perhaps it's a spoil of war? I'm surprised at him, he chides others for such things. Thrall hesitated, and put the flask with the cloak.
Orgrim's bedroll and blankets were, again, easily folded up and set aside for needy clanmates, and that left the wooden box. Thrall remembered making it. He remembered where all the flaws were, all the places he'd cursed his most potent curses, trying to make the box perfect.
No one is perfect, Thrall, Orgrim had told him, taking the box from him with gentle hands. No one and nothing. It's not about perfection, but about knowing how to find beauty in the flaws of another, even yourself. He laughed. Especially yourself.
Thrall could remember that even as he'd made light of his own wisdom, he'd looked... sad. Perhaps it was one of his father's sayings, or something my father told him. It would make sense. As Thrall picked up the box, he heard it rattle, and he opened it eagerly.
The box only contained two things, an old, weathered scrap of parchment and a key. Thrall reached to touch the parchment and hesitated. He feared that he would tear it. Finally, after a moment he gingerly pushed it flat. The writing was faded and the features of it mostly obscured, but it had been a map, once. Squinting, he could read the human writing. W-E-S... and the rest is blurred, and there's another marking here... if these were orcish symbols, they'd be illegible. There's something to be said for writing things out one letter at a time. R-O-O-K. Rook? Like the chess piece? Or... brook, of some kind? Not an uncommon naming scheme. Thrall carefully put the scrap back, wondering at it as he picked up the key. It was crude and made of iron, unremarkable except for the L that was stamped onto the side of it. What... is this?
"It's the key to a jail cell, Warchief." Thrall started and swore, half-turning before smiling. "I'm sorry, did I startle you?"
Thrall shrugged ruefully. "I'm sorry, I should be used to how quiet you are, Akia. Did you say this was a jail cell key?"
Akia nodded, and knelt at the entrance of the tent, seemingly unwilling to move in further. The shadows of the tent made her grey eyes seem like pools of blackness, and the lines of her face seemed more deeply etched. Thrall thought that such always made her look older than her years. She held out her hand, and Thrall gave her the key. Akia's head bent, and her dark hair, tied back in a braid, shifted against her shoulder like liquid darkness. "The king of Lordaeron has his own personal jail where important prisoners are kept, did you know?"
"No," Thrall admitted. "It wasn't something I cared to look into." He blinked. "Orgrim said he was the king's prisoner once, for years after the war. He didn't like to speak of it."
"Few enjoy being a prisoner," Akia said, turning the key over in her hand. "He didn't tell you how he escaped, either."
"No," Thrall said. "Only that the rumours, should they reach me, that he butchered dozens to get out of Lordaeron were untrue."
"He was correct, they spread rumours to make sure everyone understood how very, very dangerous Orgrim Doomhammer was, and why they must never stop hunting him, never stop pouring funds into the army," Akia said. Something flickered behind the shadows of her eyes. "He had a fearsome reputation. They will rejoice to hear that he has fallen."
Thrall growled. "Orgrim was a good man."
"No," Akia said, her gaze arresting Thrall's. "He was a man. All men have good and bad in them, particularly one who lived as Doomhammer did. Perhaps you will too if you live that long."
Thrall opened his mouth to protest, and remembered Orgrim's own words about perfection and flaws. "If this represented his time in jail, why would he keep it?"
"Perhaps to symbolize his final victory over the humans, particularly Terenas," Akia said. "Or perhaps..." She fell silent, turning the key over in her hand.
Akia handed him the key. "Perhaps there was something about his captivity he considered worth remembering, even if it was painful. There's a lesson in that, Warchief. That all lessons, no matter how personally painful, are worth remembering."
Thrall studied Akia's face, and considered what he knew of her. That she was a talented scout, utterly silent until she wanted to be heard... and halforcen. His eyes flicked to the red tattoo that marred the soft green of her face. How many painful lessons have you learned, my friend?
"I will consider your words," Thrall said. "Thank you for telling me."
"I live to serve, Warchief," Akia said. Before Thrall could protest at the formality of her words, she retreated out of the tent. Thrall sighed, and turned the key over in his hand, just as Akia had done.
There are so many things I wish you'd told me, Orgrim, Thrall thought, hoping that Orgrim's spirit could hear him. There are many things that I wish I'd told you. I hope I'll learn the right lesson from you, but I promise you this... I will create a world where orcs are not prisoners. I will create a world where our people are free. Then people like you, and I, and Akia, and all the children that will be born can live in a world without war, without hate, without fear. Would you like that, my friend? I hope that you will.
Thrall's fingers closed over the key and he clenched it tightly, and felt the engraving press into his palm. The time was coming to fight once more, to fight for peace and freedom. He would be ready. Around him, the spirits swirled, whispering things into his ears. He smiled.