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The True Nature of Orsimer

Tags: #Karver  #Lore:Orsimer 
  • September 16, 2016

    You'll probably ask right now why I'm doing this, because you certainly know everything about tribal Orcs and their Strongholds. Orcs are simple, they are beasts, they are badass because they have Old Orcs looking for a Good Death and other stuff. But I think you don't know everything. The Orcs and their ways might seem simple to you, but trust me when I say that there are quite a few nuances and details you might not know about.

    So, let's start at the beginning, with Trinimac.

    Orc lore begins with Trinimac, Hero-God of the Aldmer, Champion of Auri-El. I don't want to spend too much time on this part, so I'll just provide you with the basic information.

    At that time, there was a schism among the Aldmer, when a dissident group of Aldmer decided to follow the Daedra instead of Auri-El and the Aedra. They called themselves the Velothi - after their leader Veloth (later becoming Chimer, then Dunmer) and they left for the land of Morrowind. Trinimac tried to stop them, but Boethiah intervened.

    The most common "story" is that Boethiah tricked Trinimac to walk into the Prince's mouth, then Boethiah spoke in Trinimac's voice to his followers, while Trinimac was changed in the Prince's insides and then Boethiah defecated him. The dung became the Daedric Prince Malacath, the patron of the spurned and ostracized and the keeper of both the Sworn Oath and the Bloody Curse; his followers were changed into his image, thus becoming the Orsimer - "Pariah-Folk", also known as Orcs. So yeah, Orcs are Elves!

    Note that Malacath himself in the TES novel Infernal City said that this story is far too "literal minded". Orcs themselves have their own version of this story.

    An age ago, a cult of Elves left the Summerset Isles, abandoning their kin to follow Veloth, a pathetic tool of Boethiah. Trinimac confronted Boethiah for this trespass and was challenged to battle. Trinimac was about to strike a mighty blow when Mephala appeared and stabbed him in the back. As Trinimac kneeled, wounded by Mephala's treachery, Boethiah gloated and cast a terrible ritual to scar and twist his appearance, then cast him to a place of choking air and ash.

    Trinimac, enraged by his failure, was reborn in blood as he sliced open his own chest, tearing the shame from his spirit. Mauloch, the God of Curses, rose from the ash and cursed Boethiah for his malice.

    On that day, Mauloch spoke the Code to his faithful, and swore vengeance against those who would break it.

    So, the Aldmer became Orcs, but I would like you to understand that this hasn't been known throughout Tamriel for very long, it's actually quite new, because 250 years back, Orcs were considered Goblin-Kin, sometimes even as a beast race, just like the Khajiit and the Argonians. Gortwog's Orsinium has changed that view, but because it was when the Warp in the West occured, it is quite possible that the resulting Dragon Break changed Tamriel's populace's perception of the race, as though they always knew they were Mer, not Goblin-Kin or a beast race. Or there might happen something after the Alliances War that made people think of Orcs as monsters again.

    The True Nature of Orcs / The House of Troubles / Mauloch, Orc-Father


    Code of Malacath

    Traditional Orcs are followers of the Daedric Prince Malacath (sometimes known as Mauloch, Orc King, but I don't want to delve too deep into that here. You might want to check the other discussion about the differences between Malacath, Mauloch and Trinimac. And from Malacath comes the Code of Malacath, the Holy Bible of Stronghold Orcs.

    The Code of Mauloch is an unwritten code of rules and honor. You might think it's just a simple code, but for tribal Orcs it's really the Holy Bible of their lives. It covers how they should act, the governing system of their society, and even punishments for crimes. Most people don't realise it, but the Code of Mauloch is life for Orcs. Note that the Code isn't a manual that tells Orcs how to solve every situation, it merely shows the way. Just as the Code is a set of unwritten rules, it is full of unspoken exceptions. So let's take a closer look at those unwritten rules.

    1. Do not Steal - This one is quite simple. Just don't take the property of others (at least, while they still breathe). Taking the property of the dead is allowed for one simple reason; if you have managed to defeat or kill your opponent, you've proved you're stronger than him and thus you deserve his possessions more than him.

    2. Do not kill your kin - This can mean two things. Either Malacath doesn't approve of Orcs and Strongholds warring with each other, or maybe killing a fellow Orc basically means weakening your tribe. I would like to think it's both.

    3. Do not attack without cause - This one is rather tricky. Orcs value strength and honor; they are violent race, but how can that be if they have this rule in the Code they follow? Well, it mostly means that you don't attack innocent people - villagers and such - because that would be weak. Attacking an unarmed opponent is weak. You are free to defend yourself of course. And there are of course insults to honor, which is the next rule.

    4. Insults to honor must be avenged - You simply don't go and tell an Orc, to his face, he's a coward, a liar, weak, a green pig or anything else. If you do that, you'll end up in a pool of your own blood, either dead or with several bones broken - depending on the Orc's mood in that moment. Strength and honor is everything to Orcs.

    5. Those who break these rules must pay the Blood-Price - Blood-Price is the very simple way in which Orcs punish those who have committed crimes against the Code. You either pay a certain sum of gold to whomever you offended or you'll bleed until the offended is satisfied that you've bled enough. When it comes to the other races, it might be possible - depending on the severity of the crime - that the offended might ask for all your blood. And that's not what you want.

    6. Do not rely on others to solve your problems - The Code of Mauloch is what makes Orcs strong and it forces them to solve their own problems. Someone stole from you? Don't go to your chieftain, whining, but solve it. Catch the thief and make him pay the Blood-Price. Another thing is disputes. Do you know how Orcs settle their disputes? By fighting. Whoever wins that fight is proved right beyond all doubt.

    7. Recognition that to die in combat pleases Malacath - You would be surprised, but in this Orcs have a lot of common with Nords and their Sovngarde. Orcs believe that if they die in battle, their soul will be taken by Malacath into his Realm of Oblivion, the Ashpit, into a place they call the Ashen Forge, a place where they can drink and fight until the end of times.

    8. Respect for forging and blacksmithing - There's a reason why Orcs are called the best smiths in Tamriel and it's because they depend on their own made weapons. Every Stronghold is built upon a mine, so they can supply themselves with their own weapons, which are similar to their wielders. Crude, lacking elegance, but compensating that with endurance and pure simplicity. An Orsimer's weapons are meant for one thing: violence, reflecting their makers.

    9. Traditional roles of a clan's chief and his wives - I would explore this further in the discussion, giving it more detail, but for now I'll say this: The chief is the Alpha Male of the Stronghold, the strongest one and to keep the blood of Stronghold strong, he is the only one allowed to take wives and to reproduce.

    10. The tradition of selection of a new chief through challenge and combat - This means that whoever wants to be the new chief has to defeat and kill the old chief in combat. Usually it's the son of the chieftain who challenges him because he's one step ahead in the "evolution", but nothing says that a brother can't challenge the chieftain as well.

    Mauloch, Orc-Father / Varieties of Faith: The Orcs / Code of Malacath , Code of Mauloch


    The True Nature of Orcs

    To better understand the Orcs you have to realise they are the outcasts of Tamriel. The Bretons and Redguards fear them so much, that from time to time they band together to bring the Orcs to their knees. The Dunmer enslave them because they don't consider them to be different to the beast races of the Khajiit and Argonians; the Orcs are just beasts to them. To Nord they are an inconvenience that scars their beautiful land. To the Altmer and the Bosmer,  Orcs are just another race of goblins.

    I won't lie, the Orcs certainly did some harm to the other races in the past. 2920, Hearth Fire, Book 9 shows that Orcs often raided Breton villages near the Wrothgarian Mountains, then there is the fact that Orcs waged war with Nords in Skyrim, because it seems that the Orcs were there first and the Nords pushed them out. They also allied with the Nords to invade the ancient land of Resdayn to battle against the Chimer and the Dwemer.

    That's why we worked with the Redguards to raze Orsinium to the ground. That's why we burned down every Orc stronghold we could find and stamped on the ashes—because we knew the Orcs would get back up again. We knew the best we could do was just delay them. - Orcs? Could Be Worse

    And why is that? Because the Orsimer know that they are outcasts; they embrace it and turn it into strength. No matter how many times you bring them down, they will always get back on their feet, stronger than before.

    You have to understand that while other races consider them barbaric and savage, Orcs on the other hand consider the other races, and their civilization especially, a plague. Civilization inevitably breeds corruption, greed, poverty and sickness. To the Orcs, their Code and their way of life are pure. They struggle to survive in a hostile world only with their strength and honor.

    You must think that all the talk about strength is just some Malacath's bullshit, that he wants them to be strong. But the truth is they have to be strong, to endure, to survive in a world where almost every society sees them as dangerous savages.

    That's why every Stronghold Orc is trained to fight from early childhood; he learns to work the forge with a hammer, to hunt, and even to mine precious ore from the earth. Orcs know that one day someone will try to stomp on them, so they're preparing themselves to show them how true Orcs face death. With a weapon in hand and a battle-cry on their lips.

    They are warriors by nature, they look down upon everything that they associate with civilization. Killing from the shadows, sneaking and stealing, using magic (though Skyrim indicates that wise-women know some - more on that later) and using poisons.

    Do you know how Orcs hunt? They tire their prey, as clear proof of their endurance and strength. And don't be mistaken, Orcs fight very brutally and dirty, but they don't attack unarmed opponents; they always give their enemies a chance to fight back. How else would they prove their strength?

    The reason why Orcs are called the most violent race is because that's what they are. Their disputes usually involve lot of fighting.

    "It makes it very hard to have a civil discourse on anything of substance, because sooner or later someone reaches for something heavy or sharp to use to punctuate their particular point of view." - The Chronicles of King Kurog: Book VI

    So Kurog doesn't explicitly say that they reach for something heavy or sharp against themselves, it might be only when they're arguing with other races, but I would like to say it's possible that one Orc stabs the other. They are hot heads, we know that. But I would like to point a few things out here.

    Tribal Orcs have slightly different priorities to a common Orc mercenary. Their first priority is the Code of Mauloch, strength and honor. Their second is their Tribe and after that they think about themselves. So while Kurog says one thing, the 2nd Rule of the Code says "Do not kill your kin" and add to that that Orcs care about their tribe more then about themselves.

    What I'm trying to say is that to kill an Orc from your tribe means you're weakening your tribe. You'll have to pull your share plus the share of Orc that has been killed.

    And this brings me to the famous Berserker Rage of Orcs. Many people think that during this state, Orcs blindly charge into battle, ignoring wounds and dying a glorious death. That's bullshit, only Old Orcs do that. If this was pulled off by a younger warrior, it would mean that he's weakening his tribe, but when an Old Orc, who is expected to find Good Death, does that, it's alright.

    Orcs? Could Be Worse , Orcs of Skyrim , Orcs: The Vermin Among Us , The Pig Children , Leonce's Journal , The Orc Song , Why We Fled , Watcher's Report , Old Orc Sayings About Shields , Orcs: Monsters or Misunderstood? , War of the First Council


    Stronghold Hiearchy

    I would like to start with Strongholds themselves here. Orcish strongholds are fortified fortresses, their camps, that are usually built near mountains pretty much all over the Tamriel, not just in Wrothgarian Mountains or Skyrim. But why always near mountains? Because their strongholds are built upon veins of rich metals. Ebony, Orichalcum, these are the metals Orcs look for when looking for a good place to settle down. They are heavily dependant on these metals, because they don't trade with outsiders; they make their own weapons and to do that they need Ore.

    Notice that every Stronghold has a Longhouse. A Longhouse is a building where the chieftain and his closest live and sleep. It usually means him, his wives, wise-woman and a few of his children. Skyrim really didn't bother making other buildings for Orcs to sleep in, which is kinda stupid, when you start counting them. There's usually 10 Orcs outside, chief and his closest, and maybe another 5-10 Orcs inside the mine. That makes 20-30 Orcs per stronghold, depending on it's size. They have to sleep somewhere, right?

    Stronghold must have its forge, and it must have its warehouse. Notice that Orcs use cellars as a pantry, to keep their food cool. Orcs are hunters, so meat is quite often on their menu, but that doesn't mean they can't grow their own food, or domesticate animals. Skyrim strongholds show small gardens of vegetables and domesticated goats, kept for milk, probably.

    Also, Stronghold Orcs are not very fond of outsiders, but if one proves his strength and honor, he might be given entry. In Skyrim, if one of the Orcs associated with Strongholds (be they an ex-stronghold or from there) likes you enough, he/she will send a word around strongholds, gaining you entrance.

    To be honest, this is very "gameplay-ish" to me. Knowing the Orc culture, I imagine that you can be called a friend by some of the Orcs and get the permission to enter Strongholds from him, but how would the Orcs know you are a friend? I imagine there would be some ritual scarring or burning, hard to say, but that way anyone could be recognized as a friend of the Orcs. (There is also that Blood-Kin thing, but more on that later)

    As for the hierarchy, it might seem simple, but there are a few interesting nuances.

    The Stronghold is ruled by a chieftain, who is the strongest male of the tribe, and only he is allowed to take wives. This ensures that his offspring will be as strong as him or stronger. Wives are "bought" from other strongholds, the payment probably being in furs, weapons or ore.

    The second option is that wives are "sold" by other strongholds to forge an alliance with another stronghold. The Chieftain doesn't have to pay for them, they are given to him.

    This ensures an alliance between strongholds, because this way, all Orcs are pretty much related somehow. Strongholds are one big family, full of the chieftain's uncles, aunts, siblings, step-siblings and offsprings.

    You might think that wives are pretty much only that, wives to keep chieftain's bed warm, but I would like to point out The Chronicles of King Kurog: Book V, which explains that it isn't like that at all. It is true that the chieftain is the ruler of stronghold, but it's his wives that actually run the mundane matters of stronghold, while the chieftain usually supervises from distance - which basically means he's slacking his arse off. The chieftain takes matter into his own hands only in times of war, when his words are as sacred as Malacath's.

    There are several roles in Stronghold:

    • Chieftain - Alpha Male of the Stronghold, chosen by challenging the previous chief and killing him in combat. Only he can take wives.

    • Forge-wife - Usually the best smith in the Stronghold, in charge of mining ore, smithing weapons and training other Orcs in the art of smithing.

    • Hearth-wife - Wife that handles cooking, preparation of the food and keeping the stronghold clean. It's probably the hearth-wife who takes care of the domesticated animals and gardens.

    • Hunt-wife - Makes sure that the Stronghold is supplied with fresh meat and warm furs, probably in charge of hunting parties. I imagine she has to be the best hunter in stronghold, because the task of teaching other Orcs all things assocciated with hunting falls upon her. The Chronicles mentions that Hunt-wife is usually the most influential and powerful of all wives.

    • Shield-wife - Wife that is probably the closest to chieftain. She can serve as his bodyguard, standing by his side in battle and shielding his weapon side - thus the name shield-wife. Shield-wife is also in charge of training other Orcs in the art of war, often spars with the chieftain, and, if the chieftain isn't present in war time, she is the one in command of the stronghold.

    • Wise-woman - Mother of the chieftain, advisor in spiritual matters, teaching Orcs about Malacath. She could be considered a guiding hand behind the chieftain's throne, because for the Orcs, the words of Malacath are sacred and the wise-woman is there to spread those words. She is probably the stronghold's healer, because Skyrim shows that every wise-woman had alchemical knowledge and at least some portion of magical talent. Because Skyrim shows the wise-women as chieftain's mothers (or step-mothers) I have two theories as to how they become the wise-woman:

    1. The First option is that once the wise-woman dies, chieftain will start looking for a new wife among the Strongholds. This female must have some magical ability, most probably trained by the wise-woman of her tribe. Once she marries the chieftain, she will be the new wise-woman of her new tribe

    2. The Second option is that the chieftain marries a female with magical talent who is then trained by his wise-woman, thus the female would be the "wise-wife" or something like that. That potentially means two wise-woman in one tribe - a teacher and an apprentice.

    Notes on Orichalcum , Orcs of Skyrim , Code of Malacath , Code of Mauloch, The Chronicles of King Kurog: Book V


    City Orcs

    Now, one of the important aspect of Orcs is that some of them decided not to live in Strongholds. I've talked before of how Orcs consider the Code their first priority, their tribe the second and after that themselves. Well, the city Orcs are those who decided to put their own welfare before the tribe or even the Code.

    They leave Strongholds to carve their own path in the world, bringing their traditions with them or completely discarding them. You have to realise that a City Orc is an Orc who can be anything. Anything he decides to be and more importantly, what society allows him to be. Most become mercenaries or blacksmiths in other foreign lands, but merchants or thugs are not off the table. As I said, they can be anything.

    As for the level of their traditions, they are individuals. They might follow some of them or none of them. They might pass it on to their children or not, thus every generation might know less and less about their traditions, becoming fully integrated into the society they decided to live in.

    There are a few examples of when Orcs return to their Stronghold, and it is up to the chieftain to decide whether they should be accepted back or not.


    Traditional Customs

    • Wedding - The Chief can marry multiple wives; it isn't actually said whether there is any ceremony, but I guess there is. There is also one thing that isn't very clear. Does a chieftain pay for his new wife or does the wife has to pay a dowry? Wraith's Wedding Dowry  suggests weddings happen precisely at midnight and that the female has to pay a dowry, yet this source is about City Orcs in Morrowind, so it might not be that reliable for Tribal Orcs.

    • Funeral - While popular lore would have us believe that Orc's remains lie where they fall, it isn't exactly true. They might leave the dead where they perished for a few hours, so that family members could pay their respects and then they burn the body. For their revered heroes, chieftains and other important figures, they perform a ritual known as the death-forge. There isn't much detail on that, but the ash of the dead is then used for creating a weapon, probably because Orcs believe that the hero's strength would pass on to that weapon.. - Strange Rituals of the Orsimer

    • Afterlife - For the Orcs that revere Malacath, the afterlife promises rewards of immortality, abundant food and drink, and constant battle deep within the Ashen Forge. The Ashen Forge is in Malacath's Plane of Oblivion, the Ashpit, and this afterlife is somewhat similar to Nordic Sovngarde in it's take on eternal battle and refreshments, but there is one thing. Orcs believe that the Ashen Forge is the place where they throw their grudges to be heated, melted, and eventually forged into the next generation of mortal Orcs. - On Orcs and the Afterlife

    • Good Death - You've met Old Orcs right? Orcs' belief that they have to be strong actually translates into growing old too, respectively: Age brings weakness. Orcs don't want to be weak, so they leave the Stronghold in the search of their Good Death while they're still strong. They want to reach Ashen Forge, they don't want to die in bed, old and weak. Skyrim: Old Orc

    • Blood-Kin - This relates to other races, because some can earn an Orcs' respect and through some ritual they can become a member of their tribe. That's what blood-kin really means. It's either what Orcs call each other, or maybe City Orcs, but it means that someone else becomes part of their tribe. - Code of Malacath


    Final Words

    I would like to thank several people for helping me with this, telling me what they think, and those are namely: Phil, Lissette, Mirric, Lee Fiskilis. Thanks, guys. And thanks, Kael, for your correction

  • September 16, 2016


    o kêy