The crowd was loud, and in orcish fashion, it was constantly teetering on the edge of a riot. Every orc jostled another orc in the tight quarters of the rocky defile, and every orc so jostled shoved and pushed right back. Even Dorral did his share of pushing and shoving; any orc who didn’t push got pushed, and Dorral knew that it wasn’t a good idea to be the only orc who got pushed and didn’t push back. His blood simmered with adrenalin, and he hoped that this “Truthspeaker” that Korb talked about in such glowing terms would come before the first fight broke out. Korb said that he was a stirring speaker, but this crowd was already stirred more than enough.
The crowd had just started to get rowdy enough to make Dorral start feeling around with his feet for a good-sized rock, when suddenly the shoving stopped and the roar grew to deafening proportions. Every head turned to face the lumpy boulder that acted as a makeshift podium for occasions like this. Fists rose in the air, and cries of “Truthspeaker!” echoed off the walls of the defile again and again. The group of sixty or seventy orcs sounded like five hundred as the Truthspeaker mounted the podium.
He didn’t look like much, to Dorral’s eyes. Dorral had never been the biggest or the strongest orc; his family relied on numbers as much as strength or skill to keep the bandits away. But this Truthspeaker looked like he could barely fend off a goblin raider. From the way Korb had described him, Dorral had imagined some sort of massive, broad-shouldered war chiftain who could snap the neck of a troll with one meaty fist. Yet the crowd chanted his name instead of bouncing rocks off his skull. It made Dorral nervous. He felt like the other orcs, the ones who had seen the Truthspeaker talk yesterday, knew something he didn’t.
The Truthspeaker stood on the podium for a long moment as the chants grew louder and louder, before finally raising his hands in the air. The chant stopped so quickly that Dorral’s ears rang with the silence of it. Then, after a pause that felt like an eternity of tension, the Truthspeaker finally began to speak.
“We are all the children of the One God!” he shouted. His voice boomed down the narrow valley, rolling like a thundercloud gathering strength. “Long before the First Age, before the race of Man awoke, our ancestors strode the world in glory!” The cheers of the crowd punctuated each sentence like an exclamation. “And we stood high in the favor of the One God. We stood as his chosen people. Do you remember it now, the name we once answered to?”
Dorral knew, but something in his heart made him still his tongue. He had no great wish for this Truthspeaker to notice him. He hadn’t felt a shove or a push since the Truthspeaker had began to talk, and the lack of it felt like the silence before a storm. He let Korb shout the word that echoed inside his head. “Elves!”
“Elves!” The Truthspeaker’s words sounded like honey, sickly sweet and dripping, but Dorral could hear the sting of bees behind them. “We have heard of elves. How could we not? They were once our brothers, our sisters. We know the legends of their boundless compassion, their sage wisdom, their bottomless love. We have all heard of the elves.” His voice trailed almost to silence, so soft that Dorral strained even to catch their echoes. “But who here has met an elf?”
The crowd erupted into guttural laughter. Dorral laughed too, at the thought of an elven rider trotting through knee-deep mud in the arse-end of the world to visit them. He’d heard of them, of course; there were always stories of raiding parties that had been driven off by elves, or elven sorties down past the border to punish over-bold raiders. But no elf would dare to venture this far south. Even if one found the courage, they had nothing the elves would want.
“Of course not!” the Truthspeaker shouted, and now the bees were stinging in earnest. “Their boundless compassion faded like the morning mist on the day the sun turned its eye from our features! Their bloodless features grew paler yet to behold our darkened skin! Their refined and delicate stomachs grew sick at our newfound hunger for meat! Our brothers…our sisters…our kinfolk! They saw our transformation, and the elves, with all their sage wisdom…they deemed it ‘corruption’! They deemed it ‘defilement’! Their bottomless love turned to scorn in he span of a single heartbeat!” His voice went from an angry shout to a calm, matter-of-fact tone. “Elvish fathers abandoned orcish sons, elvish mothers discarded orcish daughters. Corrupted and defiled we may be, but we can hold our heads higher than that.”
Dorral almost laughed again–he’d seen his mother abandon two children on the rocks rather than waste food nursing a sickly infant back to heatlh–but something told him to take a look around first. He glanced left, then right, and saw nothing but rapt and spellbound stares. The orcs in the crowd no longer saw a skinny little runt who could barely fight a goblin. They saw an ancient lineage, tracing back to the glory and majesty at the dawn of time itself. A proud heritage cruelly mistreated and neglected by their proud and arrogant cousins. The laughter died in Dorral’s throat as he realized that if it escaped his lips, the crowd would tear him limb from limb.
“And such was the shame of the elves at our imperfections that they punished us for their sins!” The Truthspeaker was in full flow now, his voice painting a picture that the crowd stepped into gratefully. “Did their elders and sages help us? Did they cure us? Did they give us even the hollow gift of pity, a place at the foot of their table?”
“NO!” The crowd shouted with a single voice. Dorral was grateful that nobody could hear him; his voice seemed to have died of fright.
“No!” the Truthspeaker responded. “They drove us from their shining cities! They expunged us from the land of our birthright! They drove us from their sight, lest the eyes of the elves be blighted with even a single reminder of their secret shame!” The crowd howled in anger; if even a single elf had found himself in the valley at that moment, a thousand deaths would not have been enough for him.
“But there are eyes other than the elves,” the Truthspeaker whispered, his voice somehow carrying over the din. “Our elvish kin have banished us from their sight, the eye of the sun now sears our skin…but there is an eye that watches us still. An eye that never blinks. The eye of one that has never forgotten his children, that has never wavered in his devotion to us…even as the elves and their lackeys, the dwarves and the men, tried their best to destroy him for it! But though they weakened him greatly, they could not destroy him. His burning eye has waited for ages to pass, for the elves to grow complacent and forgetful. And now, they have grown soft and decadent, lazing in their gilded towers, resting on their hoarded treasure that is ours by right…while we have become many! We have become strong! We have become mighty!”
The crowd’s roar was a palpable thing now, shaking Dorral like an earthquake. “Now, my friends, my brothers…now is the time for us to take back what is ours! Ours by right!”
“Ours by right!” the crowd cried back.
“Ours by birth!”
“Ours by birth!” the crowd cried back.
“Ours by blood!”
“Blood! Blood! Blood!”
“Now is the time, my brothers. The Burning Eye has opened at last…and his light will lead us from this cursed place to the shining heights of glory once again!” The Truthspeaker held both his hands high over his head, and between his cupped hands, Dorral could see a shimmer like a haze of heat over the mud flats on a summer day. It was faint, almost incorporeal, but Dorral knew it for what it was. A lidless, burning eye. Dorral felt like it pinned him to the spot. It stared at him and him alone, like it knew what he was thinking. Perhaps it did.
Dorral returned home that night and cleaned his sword, ignoring the questions of his family. He had never been much good with it, but he felt certain that he was about to get far too much practice.