PoTM: Chapter 31, Our Eyes Once Were Blinded

  • The Code of Malacath:

    A Sellsword's Guide to the Orc Strongholds


    Amanda Alleia



    "No one bests an Orc."


    I don't need you to guess how many times I've heard that boast in some dingy tavern or screamed at the top of the lungs by some fellow sellsword with too much fire in him. But I'd be lying if I said the Orc Strongholds don't take those words as law. There are few places where Ms. Alleia would tell you that "tradition" and the "old ways" makes for a better fighter, but with Orcs it seems like staying true to your ancestors is the path to victory.


    Let me start a few steps back. The Orc Strongholds have existed as long as the Orc race has, according to them. They're armored camps in the least, and fortresses at the most. Every man, woman, and child inside the walls is trained from birth to defend it. All their weapons and armor are smithed right there in the stronghold, all the food is hunted down by Orc warriors and brought back to be eaten by everyone who lives there.


    They follow no laws, save their own, an unwritten set of rules called "The Code of Malacath," named after one of their gods, who is sometimes called Mauloch. Most of it's pretty simple, don't steal, don't kill, don't attack people for no reason (although there seems to be a big list of exceptions). But Orcs in the stronghold don't have jails for their criminals. They have Blood Price. You either pay enough in goods for your crimes, or you bleed enough that the victim is satisfied. And Orcs, I don't need to tell you, have a lot of blood.


    The Code also sets up who runs the stronghold. The toughest male is usually the Chief and makes decisions and decides when the Code of Malacath has been satisfied. All the women are either the Chief's wives or his daughters, with the exception of the wise woman, who handles all the spiritual matters and healing needs. Matters of grave dispute are handled with short but violent fights, and those who don't get along with the Chief are usually forced out of the stronghold to live among the rest of us. An Orc grows up being told to fight for everything, that if something is not worth fighting for it is beneath the Code.


    Orc Strongholds don't like strangers, used to living on their own like they do. Ms. Alleia knows what she does because so many Orcs leave the strongholds to become sellswords or soldiers, and a few pints of mead gets them talking about home. I hear that sometimes an Orc will make a non-Orc a "Blood-Kin" and that person is then allowed to live in the stronghold as one of the clan, but I've never heard of that actually happening.


    For all their strange rules and traditions, the Code of Malacath does breed a culture of determined warriors. They're focused in ways that the average sellsword isn't. They don't hesitate to draw weapons and settle matters openly, and I think that's the real difference between the stronghold Orcs and the city Orcs. Imperial Law allows you to settle fights through the Emperor's men, but the Code of Malacath demands you settle your problems yourself, a fine way of thinking if you're leading the mercenary's life.

    Grulmar stared at the entrance to the sewers, feeling the rank smell blow in his direction and he shook his head. “Why would anyone want to live here?” he asked the bigger Orc standing next to him. His uncle.


    Lorbulg just growled at that and that was the only answer Grulmar was going to get. His uncle apparently was an Orc of few words.


    The fourteen year old Orc would never have expected such a surprising twist of fate. He had been very young when he was kidnapped and met Lorbulg, his kidnapper, for the first time. His uncle used him as a bait to lure Yamarz into a trap, so that he could humiliate him. And not long after that, Lorbulg nearly brought the complete destruction of Largashbur when he had pointed an army of mercenaries in the tribe’s way.


    Now he was about to take care of Grulmar. Two exiles from the same tribe, uncle and nephew, together against the world. Lorbulg would teach him how to survive, and if Grulmar had any idea what that meant he would probably run. But he didn’t.


    “Why would anyone want to live here?” Lorbulg suddenly repeated Grulmar’s question with a snort. “Throw away the shackles of pride, revel in humiliation, cast away what it means to be human - or Orc, or elf, it doesn’t matter. Venture where only rats and cockroaches dwell and those still human won’t follow - but beware the things living in the dark, for they are the same as you. Rats. Beasts. Monsters. To live in the dark, ankle-deep in piss and shit, embracing the humiliation, makes you free.”


    Grulmar looked up and he saw Lorbulg’s face twist into another face, with black eyes forged of curses, and mighty bone protrusions on his forehead.


    He heard something snap in the distance, something crumble under the words of a hurricane and he saw the sickly green skies above him clear up, the tentacles hanging from the clouds vanishing in trails of smoke.


    “You’re back,” Grulmar murmured, looking into Lorbulg’s eyes that weren’t really his. “I’m not scared of you anymore.”


    “Good,” the bigger Orc grunted with a thunder. “Fear is a weakness. Weakness is the opposite of strong. And all I ever wanted from you was to be strong.”


    “Strong?” the Orc runt snorted. “Yet you made me weak. The weakest of my tribe.”


    “It’s only in moments of weakness when you can find your strength,” the one speaking through Lorbulg murmured. “What do you think the Code is for? It is just a crutch, telling you how to be strong when you feel weak.”


    Grulmar shook his head, pointing in the distance. “His grasp is fading, isn’t it? That’s why you are back, because someone is disrupting the Mask’s magic. Dispelling it.”


    “Yes.” He paused, sneering to the distance “And also because you summoned me here,” the bigger Orc shrugged. “It is just now that you’re starting to comprehend the events that lead you where you are now.”


    “You pushed me in Lorbulg’s direction. Or pushed him in my direction.”


    “Yamarz failed to make you strong. He was weak. But Lorbulg? An outcast of outcasts. He was always the strongest. Who else to teach you how to be strong then him?”


    “Tusk you. Tusk the Code. Tusk all that. Why me? Why did you need me strong?”


    “For the same reason I want all Orcs to be strong. To defy Him. He pulls, so I have to push. I push and He has to pull,” Lorbulg growled with suppressed anger. “I showed you the way! I gave you my words! And yet you still insist on building cities of stone, worshipping echoes. For every step you take, you take two back!"


    Grulmar grew silent for a moment, looking at the dark hole in front of him, leading to Riften’s Ratway, to the shock of cruelty awaiting him there. “All you did was to show us how to stand still. Stagnate. Without at least trying to move forward, we would die off, and can you blame us for moving backwards when it is the only direction we can go?” Grulmar shook his head, his mind pushing back against that which was wearing Lorbulg’s skin. “And all that for what? To grow our grudges? Our hatred? Our...pain?” he raised his voice, thundering through the dream.


    And his answer was silence.


    And pain.


    Lorbulg was never particularly cruel to Grulmar. No, the wounds he inflicted came from the place of indifference. Lorbulg threw him into darkness so that Grulmar could see and feel the horrors lurking in the dark corners of every soul and it was up to him to crawl out of there in one piece. Because someone guided Lorbulg to do it...


    The Ratway. Tunnels crawling with the worst of the worst. Killers. Rapists. Madmen. All that waited for Grulmar down there. Pain.


    “I am scared, uncle,” he mumbled, rubbing his arm.


    Lorbulg who was Lorbulg again snorted. “Deal with it. I’ll see you at the Flagon. Or maybe not.” He then pushed the runt towards the entrance and turned around, walking away.


    Grulmar stared after Lorbulg, at his broad shoulders. He knew Lorbulg had a reason for all this, that he was doing it for Grulmar’s good. But so was Yamarz for most of Grulmar’s life and how did that work out?


    I am scared, the little Orc repeated in his mind, entering the darkness with a sigh. Did that mean he was a coward, acknowledging his own fear out loud? Maybe Lorbulg was of the mind that Grulmar was a coward and this was a test.


    But what greater act of courage is there beside admitting that you are scared? Give the fear a name, give it a shape and smell and you will realise the fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in your own thoughts of the future. It is a product of your imagination, causing you to fear things that do not exist at present and may not ever exist.


    Fear was a choice. And if it was true, then Grulmar chose to be afraid, but he walked into the shadows of Ratway even with his fear consuming him, because motivation was something capable of pushing through that emotion. And Grulmar not wanting to fail Lorbulg was a powerful motivation


    He followed the wall with his hand as he walked down the stairs, towards the warm light of torches on the walls. He moved slowly, hearing voices coming from the tunnels ahead of him. Whispers. Sometimes a scream. Mad laughter.


    Sounds carried strangely through the tunnels. He could swear the sounds were distant only to take a turn and nearly bump into several men hunched over a campfire. They didn’t see him and he quickly retreated, holding his breath. He knew it was better to avoid them, his time on the streets teaching him as much. The streets teaching him about the cruelty of the strong, of the ruthless.


    So he took a different turn, where darkness ruled because someone extinguished all the torches and lanterns. Or didn't light them up.


    Some things weren’t allowed to live in the light of the day. Some things were just too broken and twisted to walk under the sun, and what was interesting was that more often than not,  those things locked themselves up on their own. Burying themselves, to stay away from the hope.


    But why?


    Grulmar was young, but he still understood more things than anyone of his age should, and he knew that hope was too heavy a burden to carry around. It made people think they were weightless, that they could fly when in reality, it was dragging them down, and when the realization comes, when the hope dies, it becomes a fall into an endless pit.


    It was better not to hope.


    A sudden clink of a metal sounded through the tunnel and Grulmar screamed in pain as something grabbed his leg. Needles penetrating skin. Jaws burying into flesh. Teeth scratching against bones. He fell on the floor, and whatever was holding his leg wasn't letting it go. He moved his hands towards the leg and felt metal closed around it. A trap. A bear trap, just like those he had seen in the forest, placed by human hunters.


    For only they could be so cruel to the animals they were hunting. Metal jaws to sever the muscles and break the bones of their prey, leave them crying in pain and despair until the hunters would find them and put them out of their misery.


    And Grulmar was now such an animal. He felt his mind slipping, tears rolling down his cheeks, as the jaws made him bleed.


    “Fly. Fly in the web,” someone - or something - murmured from the darkness and Grulmar tried to force the jaws open. But he wasn't strong enough and the pain was forcing his mind into retreat. “Fly kicks her legs. No more buzzing. No more buzzing! Bzzzz,” the voice crept closer. “Fly little fly, fly...NO! No more flying, little fly!”


    And Grulmar’s  mind slipped away.

    The Orc woke up, blinking into the dizzying light of torches. His leg felt numb and he realized the ceiling above him was moving. Or he was moving. His head hurt and he hissed when he felt an open wound on the back of his head.


    Someone was dragging him by his healthy leg and he tried to focus his eyes on the figure. It was a skinny man, maybe a Nord, with a disheveled beard and hair that looked like it was ripped out from his skull at places.


    “No, no, no. No fly, no fly. Piggie, green piggie,” the man was mumbling. “We've never ate a green piggie before, no we have not. How does it taste, we wonder? Maybe like a chicken? Or maybe it's sour as spider eggs, yes, spider eggs. No! Those made our stomachs hurtzes! Spider eggs are bad!”


    The leg that was caught in the bear trap was hanging limp, free of the trap now, and the Orc tried to move it. He felt pain, but he also was able to move it, though probably not to stand. Frantically, Grulmar began trying to reach for something, to stop the man from dragging him wherever he wanted to eat him and the man suddenly turned. “The piggie squirms, oink oink. Can you squeal piggie? You better not squeal. Someone might snatch you, and we want you for ourselves.”


    Grulmar’s hand found a stone, sharp, most likely a broken piece of the wall and he threw it at the man. It hit him in the face and he released Grulmar’s leg from his vice-like grip. The Orc began crawling on all fours, away from the man who screamed in pain.


    “You swine! You liar! The piggie has betrayed us! You lied, you said the piggie wouldn’t struggle!” the men kept shouting and Grulmar looked over his shoulder to see the man was now running after him.


    The Orc took a sharp right, into a dark tunnel. He crawled until he realised it was a dead end and he whirled around, noticing the dark shadow of the man standing in the entrance to the tunnel, the light of the torches behind him making him nothing but a silhouette. “Oink oink, little piggie,” the man sneered as walked towards Grulmar.


    The Orc pushed himself against the wall. He could feel a draft on his leg and he leaned forward, his hands searching over the floor, feeling iron bars between fingers. He could feel that one bar was missing. The hole was wide enough to push himself through and he quickly began squeezing himself in between the bars, legs first. The man was approaching more quickly now and Grulmar was already shoulder-deep in the shaft, his legs hanging in the air beneath him.


    And he let go just before the man reached him.


    He was falling and then he hit the ground, screaming in pain when he landed on his hurt leg.


    “Liar! You liar!” the man shouted from somewhere above him and Grulmar quickly began crawling through the darkness, to get as far away from the man as possible.

    It could have been hours or maybe even days before he finally emerged from the tunnels, crawling into a cistern with water. It took him few moments to realize it was some kind of tavern - one of those places where people went to drink alcohol. Someone lifted him up by his collar and he looked into the face of a big Nord with ginger hair and beard.


    “Look at what’s come crawling from the Ratway!” he shouted towards the other people sitting at the tables, drinking. “That’s one big cockroach!” Laughter.


    “He came here to see me,” a growl sounded from around the corner and the Nord turned, taking Grulmar along with him, and the Orc runt could see Lorbulg sitting at the table with another human, full tankard in his hand.


    “This?” the Nord holding Grulmar raised his eyebrows. “You keepin’ pets now, Lorbulg?”


    “Yes, that, Brynjolf. So put him on the ground, the runt can walk on his own,” the big Orc bared his tusks. Brynjolf shrugged and dropped Grulmar on the ground.


    “I wouldn't be so sure. Looks like the Ratway ate him and and then spat him out,” the man sitting next to Lorbulg chuckled. A bald man with weary features.


    “Walk over here, runt,” the Exile ordered and Grulmar, battered and bloodied, began crawling towards the table. Lorbulg’s fist hit the table with a loud bang and the runt stopped with wide eyes. “Did I tusking tell you to crawl? I said walk. So walk!”


    Grulmar grimaced and pushed himself up, standing on his healthy leg. He took a first step and yelled in pain as his leg exploded in agony. He fell on the floor, feeling tears rolling down his cheeks again.


    “Lorbulg-” The man started.


    “Shut up, Delvin!” the Exile interrupted him. It was a mere whisper, but even that coming from that big Orc could silence everyone in the room. And everyone’s attention in the strange cistern-tavern was already fixed on the scene in front of them. a fourteen year old Orc, bleeding from cuts and bruises, trying to get back on his feet. “Walk over here, runt,” Lorbulg repeated.


    Shame. Humiliation. Grulmar could have been standing naked in front all of those people and it still wouldn't help. Their gazes were fixed on him, seeing through the skin and flesh, seeing his bared soul and it was theirs to decimate, to destroy. ‘Weak,’ they were saying with every flicker of their eyes, with every frown. ‘Weak.’


    Grulmar pushed himself to his feet and fixed his gaze on Lorbulg, clenching his jaws. He stared into those red eyes, reflections of his own eyes. Into the swirls of the black ink under Lorbul’s skin, marking him as an exile. Just like Grulmar. And he could see the corners of Lorbulg’s mouth twitch, only a little, but it was there.


    Grulmar took a step, gritting his teeth as he put his weight on the hurt leg for a mere second, quickly shifting his balance back to the healthy one. And he repeated that process. Pain was assaulting his senses, tears were streaming from his eyes and he could barely see where he was going.


    And then he stood by the table, his gaze still locked with Lorbulg’s. The Exile snorted, looking at the human sitting next to him, raising his eyebrows in an unspoken question.


    “Alright, alright,” Delvin threw his arms up in surrender. “He's tough, we can all see that. Good material. We’ll get him sorted. I'll go tell Mercer we have another rat to take care of and hope he’s not going to rip my head off.” The human got up and walked into the back of the tavern.


    Everyone was still staring at Grulmar and Lorbulg and the smaller Orc threw all the people a nervous look. The Exile smirked at that and turned around in his chair. “Anyone got something to say?”


    Suddenly everyone was looking everywhere but at the Orcs. Some were quickly reaching for their tankards, some began speaking all of a sudden, continuing a conversations that didn't exist before. All that because Lorbulg ‘bared his tusks’ at them.


    “That's respect, runt,” the big Orc murmured, pulling Grulmar a chair, forcing him to sit while keeping eye contact with him. “They don't have to like you. Just make them fear you.” He then paused, snorting to some kind of inner joke only he could understand. “Do you hate me now?”


    Grulmar didn't answer, he just stared at the big Orc. Truth was he wasn't sure how he should answer, because the answer was as elusive as the nature of the stars, even to him. The lessons Lorbulg was imprinting into Grulmar’s mind might have been cruel, but he never laid his hand on Grulmar. Not like Yamarz.


    “It doesn't matter,” Lorbulg waved his hand. “Not to me, at least. You just make sure you understand this lesson.” His arm drew a big circle around the cistern, his eyes narrowing. “Nothing in here or in this world comes for free. Everything must be earned. Everything has a price. What you don't earn, you don't deserve. So from now on, unless you pay in sweat and blood, you don't deserve anything.”


    And Grulmar nodded.


    Everything has a price.



7 Comments   |   The Long-Chapper and 8 others like this.
  • Caladran
    Caladran   ·  March 23
    Man, Orc lessons are cruel! Though, I'm glad Lorbulg was there to show Grulmar the way, even it's cruel one.
    • Shadow Arm
      Shadow Arm
      Man, Orc lessons are cruel! Though, I'm glad Lorbulg was there to show Grulmar the way, even it's cruel one.
        ·  March 23
      Lorbulg is hardcore. Actually, so hardcore he scared the other Orcs so they kicked him out.  There's got to be something really wrong with that guy when even a race of outcasts outcast him :D
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  January 5
    Malacath is a sick tusker. Having a race of pariah folk following him isn't enough, no, to make him happy you need to be the pariah among pariahs, the ultimate pariah. The hipster of pariahs who can outdo anyone on just how pariahry they are. Great chapte...  more
  • Hworra
    Hworra   ·  January 3
    I think I might possibly like these little backstory tidbits even more than the main plot. Lorbulg and Grulmar have really interesting interactions, especially when the former is drumming Machiavelli into his little runt nephew.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  December 7, 2017
    I really like how you use PoTM to go back to key events in Grulmar's life. Events that have huge significance. Always great to read Lorbulg and see interaction between the Thieves Guild and Grulmar. Fascinating glimpse into Grulmar's past. 
    • Teineeva
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      I really like how you use PoTM to go back to key events in Grulmar's life. Events that have huge significance. Always great to read Lorbulg and see interaction between the Thieves Guild and Grulmar. Fascinating glimpse into Grulmar's past. 
        ·  December 8, 2017
      Absolutely, you're doing a great job Princess, that's a very dark interpretation of the ratway and one that I have to agree with. That place is creepy as fuck, let alone to a 14-year-old runt. Also, Lorbulg is scary.
      • Shadow Arm
        Shadow Arm
        Absolutely, you're doing a great job Princess, that's a very dark interpretation of the ratway and one that I have to agree with. That place is creepy as fuck, let alone to a 14-year-old runt. Also, Lorbulg is scary.
          ·  December 8, 2017
        Thanks, guys. I always thought Ratway should be more creepy, basicaly another city under Riften, full of twisted and cruel people. Some of them should even hang around Flaggon, the Guild keeping order there I think. Just never made sense the Flaggon would...  more