The Last Moot
Nurok Thriceblooded paced impatiently around the hearth of the great hall, eager for the yearly moot to begin. The farseers had predicted a summer of great fortune for the orcs after a bitterly cold winter. A fierce storm had already delayed the arrival of many of the chiefs and now precious raiding days were slipping away. Horns had heralded the arrival of the last two chiefs in Khongorin nearly an hour past, yet neither had made their appearance in the great hall. The other gathered chiefs had already begun to partake of the roasted boar and ale laid out around the hearth. The lot would soon devolve into a rabble of armored drunkards if the moot did not begin soon. At last, the oaken doors of the hall creaked open and a line of orcs streamed in with an armored stranger at its head. There was no sign of the missing chiefs.
“The moot is for blooded chiefs only!” Nurok shouted, his anger rising from this new delay.
The stranger gestured to one of his retinue, who threw a damp sack onto the ground in front of Nurok. A pair of heads rolled out onto the floor of the hall; the missing lords at last made their appearance.
“I claim my place at this moot by bloodrite.” The stranger responded, slowly removing his helm. Though he had the stature, he was no orc. Braided black hair flowed past his shoulders and his skin was a blueish hue Nurok had not before seen. The gathered chiefs sat in stunned silence, save for one.
“I will not have some foreign intruder sit in the moot, let alone one who defiles the bodies of my blooded brothers!” barked Skulur Ironheart, rising to his feet. “I challenge this whelp to his possessions by bloodrite.” The other chiefs cheered and beat their chests, eager to see the famed Skulur strike this fool down.
“I second the challenge.” Irdel Shatterspear set his ale aside and joined Skulur before the stranger. There was no turning back from the bloodrite now.
“Let us not delay then.” The stranger turned and gestured towards the door. Skulur pushed past the intruder and grabbed his war axe from the rack beside the entrance. He raised it over his head, shouting “My tribe shall grow strong indeed this day!”
The crowd in the great hall flowed out onto the square before it, eager to see Skulur put an end to this intrusion. The gathered orcs formed a ring around the combatants, jostling to get a spot at the front. Skulur faced the crowd and pumped his fist in the air. The stranger strode to the opposite end, retrieving a long poleaxe from one of his retinue. He turned slowly and adopted a fighting stance.
Skulur let out a war cry and the fight commenced. He charged the stranger and raised his axe to strike. He brought the axe head downward as he drew near, but the blow was deftly parried. Skulur’s foe shifted to the right, allowing the orc to go past. Skulur turned, the edge of the ring now immediately to his back. He had to raise his axe quickly to deflect a thrust at his head as his foe advanced. Their weapons clanged as Skulur parried the thrust off to the side. Skulur tried to use the opening to advance, but his enemy retreated back towards the center of the ring, thrusting the point of his weapon towards Skulur’s chest with each step. Skulur dodged the attacks and swung his axe upward, trying to catch the shaft of the poleaxe. The metal of their weapons clanged together and the head poleaxe was momentarily lifted into the air above Skulur’s right shoulder. Sensing his chance to get inside of the reach of his opponent, Skulur spun with the momentum of his swing and prepared to strike again. Instead of an opening, however, he was met with a crushing blow from a mailed fist to his brow. His foe had retained grasp of his weapon with one hand and readied a punch with the other. The crowd jeered at the honorless blow. Dazed and with blood welling down from his brow into his eyes, Skulur swung his axe wildly. His opponent deftly sidestepped the attack and drove the point of his poleaxe into Skulur’s chest. The force of the blow punctured the rusted iron plate of Skulur’s armor and buried the point up to the axe head. Skulur let out a gasp of shock, falling to his knees. The once boisterous crowd fell deathly silent.
The stranger slowly withdrew his weapon and towered over Skulur. Skulur tried to summon the effort to stand, but only managed to cough up blood. The stranger raised his weapon and struck again, plunging the spearhead into Skulur’s neck. Skulur’s body went limp and toppled to the ground. Irdel Shatterspear ran to the body and knelt beside it. Even a cursory glance confirmed that Skulur was no more. Irdel Shatterspear solemnly drew a dagger from his side and slit his own throat, paying the penance of a failed challenge.
“Let this be the end of bloodshed this day.” The stranger turned and addressed the crowd, “I was sent here with greater purpose than to claim your wealth by bloodrite.”
“He is the god Kir’ul sent to lead us!” one of his retinue shouted above the murmuring of the crowd, “It is as the great prophecy foretells!” The reaction of the crowd was mixed; some scoffed, while others inched closer to get a better look at the stranger. Yet more looked over to Nurok to see his response.
“Uluk Farsighted, what say you?” Nurok gestured towards the shaman lurking at the edge of the crowd. The ancient Uluk hobbled forth from the crowd and approached the stranger. Uluk circled him slowly, inspecting every detail and running his hands along the plates of his armor.
“Who are you, stranger?” Uluk continued to circle, “What brings you to the great moot of Khongorin?”
“I am the Shard of the great god Cyrell. A great darkness is brewing in this world and I have been sent on a sacred mission to restore the light. If this world falls, then all shall be plunged into darkness.” The stranger responded in measured tone, “The strength of your people is renowned even in amongst the gods. It is here that my work will begin.”
“Are we just to bow to your will, then?” Nurok questioned, his voice booming for all to hear, “It does not take godly power to kill a few orcs.” Several chiefs in the crowd shouted in support, though others remained quiet, the defeat of Skulur still fresh in their minds. “The farseer portends a prosperous summer for our people, yet there are no omens of your arrival,” Nurok continued, “We have gathered here in Khongorin to raid, not to kneel to some new king. This nonsense has delayed our raiding long enough.” Nurok turned and began to head back to the great hall. Others began to leave the square as well amidst murmurs of dissent.
“I challenge you, Nurok Thriceblooded, to your possessions by bloodrite.” The Shard’s declaration silenced the crowd. None had been so foolish as to challenge Nurok since his blooding. So legendary was his prowess and leadership in battle that nearly a third of the chieftains were sworn to him. With the Shard now holding the loyalty of four tribes himself, the future of the orcs of Khongor hung in the balance.
“Who amongst you will second his challenge?” Nurok turned and addressed the Shard’s followers, “None of you would dare face my in battle. Do you think your false god will fare any better?” The crowd stayed silent.
“I shall support his challenge.” Nurok watched in surprise as Uluk moved to stand beside the Shard, “The gods will grant providence for the orcs in the coming days. By one means or another, they have brought us to this moment. I have lived long enough to know not to stand in their way.”
“Sarag, fetch me my arms.” Nurok ordered to one of his nearby tribesmen. Sarag sprinted back towards the great hall to retrieve Nurok’s weapons. He returned swiftly, bearing a large round shield and a war hammer. The crowd began to recede from the center of the square, again clearing space for a duel. Nurok strapped on his shield and hefted his hammer, swinging it slowly to remember its weight. The Shard stood in the center of the square, waiting for Nurok to approach.
Nurok studied his opponent for a moment. He had seen enough of his skill and speed in the duel against Skulur to know this would not be as easy as crushing a horselord whelp. In a flash, Nurok sprinted forward, trying to get within the range of the poleaxe. The Shard jabbed the point of his weapon forward, forcing Nurok to shift his shield to block it. The blow slowed Nurok’s charge and bought the Shard time to sidestep away from the arc of Nurok’s hammer. Nurok set his feet and turned to aggress again, only to have to immediately raise his shield to block a vicious overhand strike from the Shard. The axe blade bit deep into the rim of Nurok’s shield. Nurok tried to pull his shield off to his side to draw the head of the poleaxe away from his frame, but a mighty heave from the Shard instead tore the shield from his grasp.
Nurok was taken by surprise. There were few orcs that could match his strength, let alone best it so completely. He was vulnerable now without his shield and assumed a defensive stance. The blows came quickly now from the Shard; it was all Nurok could do to shunt them off to either side. So swift was the flurry of blows that there was no opportunity to counter. Nurok retreated slowly, hoping his opponent would tire himself swinging such a heavy weapon. If anything, the strikes began to get stronger and each drew closer to landing.
Nurok reached out in desperation with his left hand, hoping to catch the shaft of the weapon before it struck. He managed to grasp it a foot below the axe head, but even with all his strength the blow came down, hacking into his left pauldron. Nurok felt the axe head bite into his shoulder, but at last he had an opportunity to strike. He swung the hammer forth with his right hand towards the side of the Shard’s chestplate. For a moment, it seemed the blow would land, but the Shard yanked down hard on the shaft of his polearm, sending Nurok sprawling into the dirt. The axe head slid free and Nurok could see the blood pouring forth from the hole in his armor.
Nurok dragged himself to his feet just in time to deflect a thrust aimed at his neck. The point of the Shard’s weapon skittered along Nurok’s steel chestplate before pulling back. The Shard attacked again, this time a heavy overhand blow. Nurok held up the shaft up his war hammer to block it, but the Shard’s strength was too great. Again the poleaxe found its mark, striking Nurok in the right shoulder. His war hammer fell to his side as his arm went limp. The Shard lifted his weapon free of Nurok’s shoulder and retreated a few steps. Nurok tried to reach down for his weapon, but his arms hung lifeless at his sides. He stumbled and fell to one knee. The Shard towered over him and raised the poleaxe to strike. The blade swung down, catching Nurok in the neck and sending his body sprawling into the dirt.
The Shard’s followers knelt before him and began to chant, “Kir’ul! Kir’ul!” Others began to join them and soon the shouts of the assembled orcs rang loudly into the sky. Destiny had come for the orcs.