The Lone Drow

      part 2 of Hunters Blades series by R. A. Salvatore / Fantasy / Science Fiction

The Lone Drow
Prelude

"The three mists, Obould Many-Arrows," Tsinka Shrinrill shrieked, her eyes wide, eyeballs rolling about insanely. She was in her communion as she addressed the orc king and the others, lost somewhere between the real world and the land of the gods, so she claimed. "The three mists define your kingdom beneath the Spine of the World: the long line of the Surbrin River, giving her vapors to the morning air; the fetid smoke of the Trollmoors reaching up to your call; the spiritual essence of your long-dead ancestors, the haunting of Fell Pass. This is your time, King Obould Many-Arrows, and this will be your domain!"

The orc shaman ended her proclamation by throwing up her arms and howling, and those many other mouths of Gruumsh One-Eye, god of orcs, followed her lead, similarly shrieking, raising their arms, and turning circles as they paced a wider circuit around the orc king and the ruined wooden statue of their beloved god.

The ruined hollow statue used by their enemies, the insult to the image of Gruumsh. The defiling of their god.

Urlgen Threefist, Obould's son and heir to the throne, looked on with a mixture of amazement, trepidation, and gratitude. He had never liked Tsinka - one of the minor, if more colorful shamans of the Many-Arrows tribe - and he knew that she was speaking largely along the lines scripted by Obould himself. He scanned the area, noting the sea of snarling orcs, all angry and frustrated, mouths wide, teeth yellow and green, sharpened and broken. He looked at the bloodshot and jaundiced eyes, all glancing this way and that with excitement and fear. He watched the continual jostling and shoving, and he noted the many hurled insults, which were often answered by hurled missiles. Warriors all, angry and bitter -  as were all the orcs of the Spine of the World - living in dank caves while the other races enjoyed the comforts of their respective cities and societies. They were all anxious, as Urlgen was anxious, pointy tongues licking torn lips. Would Obould reshape the fate and miserable existence of the orcs of the North?

Urlgen had led the charge against the human town that had been known as Shallows, and he had found a great victory there. The tower of the powerful wizard, long a thorn in the side of the orcs, was toppled, and the mighty wizard was dead, along with most of his townsfolk and a fair number of dwarves, including, they all believed, King Bruenor Battlehammer himself, the ruler of Mithral Hall.

But many others had escaped Urlgen's assault, using that blasphemous statue. Upon seeing the great and towering idol, most of Urlgen's orc forces had properly prostrated themselves before it, paying homage to the image of their merciless god. It had all been a ruse, though, and the statue had opened, revealing a small force of fierce dwarves who had massacred many of the unsuspecting orcs and sent the rest fleeing for the mountains. And so there had been an escape by those remaining defenders of the dying town, and the fleeing refugees had met up with another dwarf contingent - estimates put their number at four hundred or so. Those combined forces had fended off Urlgen's chasing army.

The orc commander had lost many.

Thus, when Obould had arrived on the scene, Urlgen had expected to be berated and probably even beaten for his failure, and indeed, his vicious father's immediate responses had been along those very lines.

But then, to the surprise of them all, the reports of potential reinforcements had come filtering in. Many other tribes had begun to crawl out of the Spine of the World. In reflecting on that startling moment, Urlgen still marveled at his father's quick-thinking response. Obould had ordered the battlefield sealed, the southern marches of the area cleared of signs of any passage whatsoever. The goal was to make it seem as if none had escaped Shallows - Obould understood that the control of information to the newcomers would be critical. To that effect, he had put Urlgen to work instructing his many warriors, telling them that none of their enemies had escaped, warning them against believing anything other than that.

And the orc tribes from the deep holes of the Spine of the World had come running to Obould's side. Orc chieftains had placed valuable gifts at Obould's feet and had begged him to accept their fealty. The pilgrimages had been led by the shamans, so they all said. With their wicked deception, the dwarves had angered Gruumsh, and so many of Gruumsh's priestly followers had sent their respective tribes to the side of Obould, who would lead the way to vengeance. Obould, who had slain King Bruenor Battlehammer, would make the dwarves pay dearly for their sacrilege.

For Urlgen, of course, it had all come as a great relief. He was taller than his father, but not nearly strong enough to openly challenge the mighty orc leader. Add to Obould's great strength and skill his wondrously crafted, ridged and spiked black battle mail, and that greatsword of his, which could burst into flame with but a thought, and no one, not even overly proud Urlgen, would even think of offering challenge for control of the tribe.

Urlgen didn't have to worry about that, though. The shamans, led by the gyrating priestess, were promising Obould so many of his dreams and desires and were praising him for a great victory at Shallows - a victory that had been achieved by his honored son. Obould looked at Urlgen more than once as the ceremony continued, and his toothy smile was wide. It wasn't that vicious smile that promised how greatly he would enjoy torturing someone. Obould was pleased with Urlgen, pleased with all of it.

King Bruenor Battlehammer was dead, after all, and the dwarves were in flight. And even though the orcs had lost nearly a thousand warriors at Shallows, their numbers had since swollen several times over. More were coming, too, climbing into the sunlight (many for perhaps the first time in their lives), blinking away the sting of the brightness, and moving along the mountain trails to the south, to the call of the shamans, to the call of Gruumsh, to the call of King Obould Many-Arrows.

"I will have my kingdom," Obould proclaimed when the shamans had finished their dance and their keening. "And once I am done with the land inside the mountains and the three mists, we will strike out against those who encircle us and oppose us. I will have Citadel Felbarr!" he cried, and a thousand orcs cheered.

"I will send the dwarves fleeing to Adbar, where I will seal them in their filthy holes!" Obould went on, leaping around and running along the front ranks of the gathered, and a thousand orcs cheered.

"I will shake the ground of Mirabar to the west!" Obould cried, and the cheers multiplied.

"I will make Silverymoon herself tremble at the mention of my name!"

That brought the greatest cheers of all, and the vocal Tsinka grabbed the great orc roughly and kissed him, offering herself to him, offering to him Gru-umsh's blessing in the highest possible terms.

Obould swept her up with one powerful arm, crushing her close to his side, and the cheering intensified yet again.

Urlgen wasn't cheering, but he was surely smiling as he watched Obould carry the priestess up the ramp to the defiled statue of Gruumsh. He was thinking how much greater his inheritance would soon become.

After all, Obould wouldn't live forever.

And if it seemed that he might, Urlgen was confident that he would find a way to correct that situation.
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