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The Duke had asked me to be his liaison with a clan of orcs that had recently been raiding his border to the north. I had asked if it would be both wiser and safer to eliminate them, but he explained to me that this tribe was different. He said no more on the issue, except I may be one of the first to experience the evolution of a species, an change that disturbed him deeply. This did not sit well in my heart, but he is my lord, and his will is my direction.

I took a squire to help with my supplies, and to watch my back. His name was Amar, son of Shiel. Amar was about twenty years in age at the time, tall and lean, and a capable shieldman. I recruited him, because he knew when to keep his mouth shut, the first requirement of a diplomat.

We crossed the tracks of an orc hunting party half a day from the Duke’s border. The hills were rocky, and the mountains loomed nearby, but orcs are not a subtle folk, so tracking them was not difficult. I felt it would be safer to follow them, and observe them before making an attempt at contact, so Amar kept the horses a safe distance away, and I walked ahead.

An hour after we found the orc trail, we hear drums echoing off the rocks and boulders of the jagged hills. It was calm, communicating, which worried me. I was confident that it wasn’t a warning, as it was not frantic, and orcs tend to react quickly and harshly, and my squire and I were still alive at the end of the second hour. The drums never stopped.

I reached the top of one stony rise and peered cautiously over the lip. I spied a small camp fire with three burly orcs squatting around it. They were being raucous and loud, apparently unaware that they were being followed. I turned back to let Amar know to keep his distance, but to my horror, I saw he already was aware the orcs were nearby. They were much closer than even I knew. Amar was wide eyed with fear between two orcs holding spears.

A blur of motion caught my eye, though I heard only the rustle of wind upon spars grass. I turned in time to see leather armor and green skin, before a meaty hand slapped me across my face and knocked me to the ground. My arms were jerked back and cinched painfully together with a leather thong. The orc that had caught me threw me over his shoulder like I was a boy. Then, he waked down to the fire. I noticed then that the drumming had stopped, although it had been replaced with a pounding inside my skull.

“Others?”

The large orc’s voice was deep, with an even deeper accent, but I understood what he meant by the one word. The world had stopped spinning, and I could see Amar was unharmed, though bound as I was. There were six orcs guarding us, though I suspected there were others in the hills keeping watch. The stealth they employed bothered me to no end. These were brutish, savage people. It was not in their nature to set a trap like this one. And then I realized they were not fighting among themselves for the loot. The fact that I was still alive, being questioned rather than tortured, came as even more of a shock.

“No,” I said. “Only my squire and I. We come as envoys from the Duke of Burningham.”

“Huh?” asked the large orc.

“He is speaker for his chieftain,” said a smaller orc.

“uh,” grunted the large orc. Apparently, they still chose leaders by physical power, though that was not really comforting, considering the evident discipline. Usually, the stronger ones just bullied weaker orcs into following orders, but I saw no evidence of that.

“He yours?” asked the large orc, pointing towards Amar.

“Yes,” I said. They took me down fairly harshly, but they seemed to be treating my property very well. I suspected that if they thought Amar was my property, he might be treated better than myself. This comforted me as he was my responsibility, after all.

“You want talk to Dark One,” said the large orc. I wasn’t sure if it was a question or not.

“If he is your chieftain, then yes,” I said.

The large orc hollered to one of the smaller orcs who carried a large drum. The large orc told the smaller one to start drumming, but I was not sure what the message was. The little orc sat down and pounded out a message, quickly and efficiently, then waited, as if in a trance, for the reply. Eventually, we heard drums, the drummer interpreted for the large orc, and it was confirmed. The ‘Dark One’ was coming.

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