Two years into an unsteady truce with the Crown the orc warlord Urbuchek maintains his claim to unite and rule the orc tribes of Cormyr as the Baron of the Stonelands.
While Urbuchek has not yet attained the barony, the Crown has bestowed upon him the title Lord of the Pass of Ruin and vested him as the King's Lord of that territory.
And while the newly appointed lord faces the challenges of ruling an orc horde he must also contend with the old hatreds both within his tribe and without.
Elsewhere in the kingdom a new banner has risen in defiance of the Crown's truce with the orcish warlord. The Knights of the True Dragon call for all true Cormyrians to wear scarlet, in protest of the peace.
While tensions remain high between Cormyr and the orcs sworn to Urbuchek, a rival challenges the Warlord by orcish tradition for the right to rule the horde. Gravely wounded in the duel it remains to be seen whether the Lord of the Pass of Ruin will survive, leaving the future direction of the horde uncertain.
Will the orcs betray the truce or will the Cormyrians?
Following the meeting with the Warden and the Swordcaptain Fenrul made his way out of Eveningstar.
The scout nodded to the guards as he passed through the gate, making his way north into Starwater Gorge and towards the Stonelands beyond. It wasn’t long before he passed the Gates of the Triad and the fortification raised in haste there. Fenrul glanced at the Purple Dragons stationed at the gate as they spoke quietly with the squires of the order, clad in black and white, exchanging gossip, morsels of food from their campfires, and here and there a flask to help fend off the chill of the Storm Horns.
Fenrul took precautions to avoid being seen, moving slowly and quietly past the gates and into the gorge. Crossing frozen streams the Royal Scout took care with his footing, watching out for slippery rocks, dangerous ground covered by snow, and Ettin spoor alike. He moved through the rugged terrain until he found a sheltered vantage point that would serve well. Then the vigil began.
Ettin prowled the gorge by night. As all giants, the two headed brutes required a vast quantity of food to sustain them. Driven by hunger, they sought wild goats and unwary travelers. Fenrul hoped no one would brave the gorge that night and cross paths with the two-headed giants. He didn’t want the burden of leaving honest travelers to such a fate on his conscience.
The sun was high the next day when the small entourage came into view. They were afoot and the going would be slow. The Warden’s green and yellow heraldry was a stark contrast to the bleak landscape. His companions were few.
He knew the orc that traveled alongside the Warden: Vudash, the Warlord’s ambassador…convicted and punished in Suzail for murder. Weren’t the gods queer?
A Purple Dragon was among them, or at least one who bore the shield while wearing a uniform that wasn’t regulation. The mismatched colors stood in contrast to the snow and stone nearly as much as Lord Wyvernspur’s.
There were two large women. They were hardy, not soft to the scout’s eye, and armored as well. One wore a long black skirt which didn’t seem very practical for the wilderness. The other wore bright mail beneath a coat of cadet with a long tail at the waist.
Fenrul did not see others he expected: the Lordmaster of Alizarin from Shallybrook; the dwarven mage rumored to have taken an orcish lover; the fallen paladin from the Old Empires; and the other orc and human crossbreed.
The troupe wasn’t difficult to follow, contrasting with the surroundings. They gilded themselves with magic as well and made little effort to keep their voices down. Intent on their journey they didn’t seem to notice as Fenrul emerged from cover and trailed them. The journey crossed the gorge and continued on to the Stonelands.
On the far side of the gorge they stopped to hunt large bear that dwelt in the snowy trees nearby. The bears put up a fight but were overcome by the three armored warriors before being skinned and butchered. The travelers stowed the meat in bloody canvas sacks and were well on their way before Fenrul emerged to survey the carcasses left behind.
The Purple Dragon broke company and diverted his path. The scout observed the divergent courses for a short span before deciding to continue on with the Warden’s company. As expected, the Warden and his companions made their way to the Pass of Ruin where they were met by the orcs standing watch at the border. There was a parlay and the travelers were allowed into the Pass.
The scout knew better than to follow. The Pass was overcrowded by the massing horde of the orcish warlord Urbuchek. The last report estimated the orc numbers to rival thirty thousand, with perhaps half of that number being males of fighting age and strength. The scout would be discovered in the Pass. While the treaty between the Orcs and the Crown might protect his person, the mission offered little allowance to be observed.
Night would fall soon and Fenrul couldn’t chance being seen by orcs ranging out of the Pass. The humanoids could see better than men in the dark of night thanks to the underground habitat their kind preferred. To negate the disadvantage the Scout sought a place to lay low and keep watch.
Fenrul found one of old Emperel’s caches in the nook of a crag. The natural shelter was too shallow to risk a fire but it would shield him from the wind. Settling back into the cover of the nook, Fenrul relaxed and chewed on the iron rations stowed away by the legendary scout so long ago. Fenrul wondered how many times Emperel Ruousk had sheltered here and what had occupied his thoughts.
There would be little rest. During the night, Fenrul heard the passing of orc hunters nearby. He could smell their stink and hear their crude, guttural speech. The scout was accustomed to being alone but in the desolation of the Stonelands in near proximity to enemies he’d hunted for a lifetime, the feeling of loneliness was magnified several fold.
Selûne was well past her zenith when the Pass of Ruin came alive with fire. The horde was assembling, bearing torches, stone, iron, and steel. As they massed together, Fenrul could hear their harsh, collective voices in the distance. The Royal Scout had seen the horde send out war parties from the Pass on several occasions but none had been a match for the one assembling before his eyes.
The mouth of the pass was choked with them, as Fenrul crept out of the nook for a better view. Using old techniques, he estimated their number from what he could see. The count rose rapidly…hundreds…a thousand…more. Amidst the massive mob rose the banners of tribes, chieftains, and champions. Some of the totems he knew but there were others he hadn’t seen before. Above them all rose the banner of Urbuchek, the Warlord of the Pass of Ruin.
Was he still alive? It was not known. The Royal Scouts hadn’t found any signs to confirm whether Urbuchek had survived an orcish duel for the right to rule the horde. Lady Caladnei’s War Wizards had attempted their scrying but the magic failed to penetrate the depths of the layers beneath the Stonelands Pass of Ruin. Whatever the outcome, the horde had remained intact in the months following the duel.
Fenrul watched for several hours as the war party continued to assemble, their ranks swelling with warriors, hunters, shaman, and young orc bucks eager to prove themselves. The scout’s estimate rose to five thousand before the orcs marched. To call the movement a march was a misnomer. It was more of a surge. The orcs flowed from the Pass of Ruin as an angry tide, a force of nature.
The war party, or better said, the horde, surged north towards the Peaks of Despair. The Royal Scout had to break cover and run a parallel course with the orcish tide to see what was to come. Being out in the open Fenrul kept alert to his surroundings. Crossing paths with outriders or skirmishers of the horde might be a fatal error when orcish blood was hot, no matter which colors he wore.
The movement of such a force cannot be concealed and the Zhents were ready. Fenrul felt a shock in the ground as the orc mass struck the Zhentish line. The Zhents would meet the orc savagery with discipline, fortifications and defensive measures planned out well in advance. The Zhent priests had their dark gods with them, the mages had their dark arts, the soldiers had heavy mail, enchanted steel, and armored horse.
It didn’t matter. The momentum of the orc horde washed over the Zhent lines as a storm wave over a sandcastle on the Dragonmere shore. The fury the orcish horde unleashed was terrible to behold. The carnage and butchery during the hours that followed were staggering.
Eventually the Zhent rallied, bolstered by reinforcements from Darkhold. Better organized than the orcs, the Zhentilar managed to divide the orc horde into smaller mobs where the humans could concentrate their counter marches. Then the Zhents released a brutal weapon of their own against the orcs. Orcish conscripts were released against Urbuchek’s warriors. They were clad in Zhent mail, branded by the tattoos of Zhentish gods, bearing enchanted steel, and summoning a bloodlust from within to match that of Urbuchek’s warriors.
The tide of battle turned back and forth for hours. The outer gates were taken by orcs, reclaimed by the Zhent, and retaken by the orcs over and again. Zhent soldiers and orc warriors perished by the hundreds and eventually thousands. The Peaks of Despair reeked of fear, blood, urine, and loosened bowels. Voices grew hoarse and confident, determined orders became desperate shouts and savage, unintelligible sounds of those striving to merely survive amidst the field of slaughter.
Urbuchek’s banner still fluttered, tattered in the midst of the fray. The standard bearer could be seen holding aloft the banner with one arm while fighting with the other, her arm bloodied past the elbow.
Then, in the distant heights behind the broken Zhent walls a silver light burned. There wasn’t a sound. It seemed as though the battlefield had become silent. The light burned bright enough for a moment that Fenrul shut his eyes tightly and still it burned through his eyelids. Shielding his eyes with one hand, the Royal Scout opened his eyes again and tried to blink the spots away. The sound of battle resumed, assaulting Fenrul’s ears with a clap of thunder.
When he could see clearly again, Fenrul noted that the silver light faded but could still be seen if one knew where to look. On this battlefield, everyone had seen it and knew where to look. The scout could see Zhentilar units breaking from the fighting to make their way to the source of the silver light.
The contest continued for the remainder of the day in a stalemate. Bands of warriors on both sides withdrew to catch their breath, leaving the field littered with the bodies of the dead and dying. Then after a short time, the forces came together again in a renewed clash of arms.
As dusk began to fall the tide turned once again. The interior lines of the Zhents were crushed by new pressure managed by another mass of orcs appearing from the northeast and full of the same vigor and fury the Urbuchek horde demonstrated at the beginning of the contest. The Zhent forces caved in and withdrew.
For many the flight proved fatal as the orcs were compelled to hurl themselves forward harder, faster into the broken Zhent lines. The survivors who reached the Zhentish temple begged and pleaded for sanctuary from the green-skinned tide that had claimed the battlefield. The temple’s massive doors opened briefly allowing the foremost of the Zhents inside.
When the orcs neared the temple however the doors were sealed once again, shutting out the Zhent soldiers remaining on the temple steps. The Zhents who tried to surrender were given no quarter.
The orcs began besieging the temple but the dark gods of the Zhentarim unleashed their wrath. As the orcish horde reeled beneath a divine onslaught fresh Zhent forces arrived once more from Darkhold to the west. The orcs held for a time but began to withdraw to the Pass of Ruin, giving ground beneath the renewed Zhent defense.
The discipline of the orc withdrawal was something new to the scout. In all of his years of fighting orcs he accepted the impulse of raid and flight to be the way of these creatures and often the path to victory for the defenders of human settlements. Once the orc surge had run out of momentum the brutes would turn to disorderly flight.
Fenrul glanced back towards the Pass of Ruin and saw the reason. Resembling a line of ants returning to their nest, a long string of orcs moved slowly southward from the Peaks of Despair. Moving for a closer look, the scout made out orcish females and younglings, elders, and injured warriors. They stretched for miles across the harsh terrain.
They were shielded from Zhent pursuit by Urbuchek’s horde. Behind the orc withdrawal the Peaks of Ruin were littered with dead and dying by the thousands.
The scout began making his way back towards Eveningstar, trying to get his head around it all.
Last Edit: May 29, 2021 13:30:16 GMT -5 by DM Hawk