Characters: Mary, Jalissa, Althaea
Location: Orc Lands
Jalissa says that Aunt Althaea and I like to bicker, the way I see it Althaea just refuses to admit when I’m right.
One small favor, she understands that I don’t want to hear about her father, ever. If I never see his desiccated, deceptive, devious little smirk again it will be too soon. He has made a life out of manipulating those around him and I will not suffer his arrogance.
After leaving Overlook we traveled into the Stonehome Mountains, past the Monastery of the Sundered Chain and skirted around the large peak called the Hammer. Jalissa wanted to climb to the peak to keep us “too out of breath to argue.” Althaea didn’t see the point of exhorting that much physical effort for little reward and I was anxious to continue on to the secluded monastery where I was raised.
Just a few miles beyond the Hammer lies the monastery of Avandra. It overlooks a harsh valley of craggy rock and perpetual wind and snow. It looked much like I remembered it but I found that I had no nostalgia for the place. It was home. But it is no longer. It feels somehow like it is steeped in betrayal and deception.
Althaea says I’m just being petty.
Father Garak greeted us in the way he greets everybody, by throwing a party. I did not feel in a celebratory mood but it is very much like a priest of Avandra to behave such. Garak told me that Bain left them almost immediately after I departed. He knew not where to. “Bain never cared for the monastic life,” he said, “I don’t think he even much cared for Avandra. He only stayed because of you.”
Because of his guilt, more like, but I didn’t correct him.
Jalissa says it’s just as well. She’s convinced I would have killed him if he’d been here. She might be right. I still don’t know what I intended. Thinking of him makes me feel at the pocked scar above my brow where his hook gouged me while sparring.
Now I feel nostalgic. How does that work?
We didn’t stay long. The village of my nativity lies across the Orclands and will be inaccessible once the fall snows set into the pass.
Seeing the Orclands I begin to understand why they so frequently try to invade the Elsir Vale. It is a desolate and sparse country that breeds hard people and harsh cultures. Seeing Bordrin’s Watch as we passed out of the mountains I can also see why they have never been successful. It is a formidable fortress and one that seems capable of holding back the hoards of the Abyss if necessary.
Jalissa says it is a giant symbol of the dwarves overcompensation. She thinks they build such magnificent strongholds to remind themselves they are no longer slaves of the giants.
Althaea says they just don’t bother thinking up more efficient ways.
We are a small group so crossing the Orclands while avoiding roving bands of Orcs proved reasonably simple. There are few trees of any significant size and the visibility is quite clear for miles once we found our way to the top of one of the tall sandstone bluffs. I begin to see a kind of beauty in the wastelands and the lizards, small and quick, have beautiful scales that blend into the browns and dull greens around them. They are so quick and cautious.
On our third day, however, we encountered a band of Orc slavers. Althaea said that we should remember that it is their culture. Jalissa did not speak but she is nearly as zealous as I when it comes to not suffering captivity. She has been on the receiving end twice and I believe she will die before letting it happen again.
I find that I am incapable of seeing people with their freedom taken away. The only thing that infuriates me more is seeing people who do not strive for their freedom.
As Avandra’s Hammer I will see people freed. Even if the slaves are other Orcs.
Jalissa and Althaea stayed in hiding while I approached the camp. A scout spotted me and I killed him, caving in his skull as he charged me. Soon I was surrounded by grunting, gray-skinned Orcs. They took my weapons and armor and locked me in one of their slave pens.
There I spoke with the slaves, told them that they should be free. The response was one of disinterest from all but one. They seem to be all of mixed race parentage.
One woman named Thera watched me until the other slaves had wandered away. Thera is half-Orc and half-elf. She is strong and fierce and wanted freedom. I told her of my desire to take away any who would come.
On the morning of the next day Althaea and Jalissa came out of hiding while the camp slept. Althaea surrounded the camp with summoned monsters while Jalissa lit up the early morning with holy light.
Thera and I climbed the fence of the slave pens. When other slaves spotted us they set a cry such as I have never heard before. It sounded to my heart like a hopeless envy that made me pity the poor creatures who are so broken they cannot even seek their own freedom.
The first squad of Orc guards that came running I burned with my breath and Thera attacked them while they were surprised. She seized two spears from the orcs and became a whirlwind of blood and blades.
She grinned when they were all dead, showing the small tusks in her lower jaw that were hidden with her mouth closed. She was trained to fight for entertainment by the tribe where she was born. When she got good enough that she started winning they sold her.
Using the spearhead of one of her new weapons we smashed the locks to the slave pens and threw open the gates. The slaves regarded us with hatred but a few of them looked hopeful enough that they ventured forward.
Once they started to move toward freedom the flood started. Halfbreed orcs poured from the slave pens, dirty, almost naked and completely unarmed they tasted freedom and became savage in their thirst for more.
I saw three women tear an Orc slaver apart with their bare hands and found I felt little need to stop them in their zealous rage. There is no mercy to be had for those who would willingly deny another creature her freedom.
Jalissa found us as I stood with Thera in the midst of chaos and carnage watching slaves beat and destroy their slavers. By that point we were both covered in spattered blood and exhausted beyond words. Jalissa had found my armor and other gear and I thanked her for them.
Jalissa thought it amusing that I had found a friend in an Orc camp. She said she shouldn’t have been surprised.
Althaea found us while I was donning my armor and feeling the familiar heft of my hammer once again in my four-fingered grip. Her only comment was, “Now we should go. These savages you have unleashed will only spare us until they have no other enemies.”
I took exception to her choice of word but saw the wisdom in them. Thera, seeing nothing for her there, followed us, her two Orc spears still clutched in her fists. Over the next week we traveled quickly across the bluffs and mesas of the Orc lands. Thera showed us how to find small streams in the seemingly dry wilderness.
As we approached the mountains on the far side my heart began to fear. I could already see snow on the passes and I wondered if I really wanted this anyway. I have been gone my entire life. They would not know me. Would they even want me? My mother, Nathyra, has never sought me out in eighteen years. Perhaps she is dead? Perhaps they all are. Perhaps she has forgotten me? Perhaps we would all be better if I never returned to that village. I seem to have survived just fine despite constant betrayal from both of the men who raised me.
Aunt Althaea asked me why I was so anxious. She says she can tell because I snarl silently when I am anxious, baring my teeth at my nervousness as if trying to intimidate it. I suppose she is probably right, this time.
I told her I didn’t want to meet the mother who gave me away and never came looking for me, but I feel like I have to.
She nodded as if she understood but I don’t see how she could.
My concerns proved unnecessary since the mountain pass turned out to be completely impassable due to snowfall that had piled to higher than my head in the drifts. Thera felt that we could continue, push through the snow, burrow like moles in the frozen white. It seemed foolish to continue so we turned back.
Althaea mentioned that the city of Sayre lay just to the south of us and she had long wished to witness the famed university there. I believe she wanted to assure herself that the Eladrin University of Corellon in the feywild was superior but she did not say it.
It took us two days to reach Sayre, following the curve of the mountains until the ground leveled out into a river valley spotted with cultured farmlands.
Sayre itself is a beautiful city. The focus of the University here is that of art and that focus shows in the city itself. Sculptures and stained glass dot the streets. Even the carriages are carved In great detail.
Not far from the University we found a small place called The Tankard of Ink, Bede Proprietor, Bear Claws, Beer, Bed and Breakfast. The name amused me because of my former companions and we took rooms at Bede’s. Bede makes flaky and sweet pastries that seem to melt when in your mouth. However the man cannot cook a meal to feed a hungry gnoll. His food is atrocious and his daughter, Buttercup, is nearly as hopeless. I offered to cook for him while we stay and wait out the winter. He seemed grateful for the offer, though Thera is the only one who actually eats my food. Althaea says I make it too spicy and Jalissa says she prefers food that does not leave her able to breathe fire.
I find this role is peaceful. I am not good at remaining complacent in domestic pursuits for long but for now I feel as if I can forget that I have been betrayed and abandoned in so many ways. Sometimes I can even abandon the guilt I feel that perhaps I abandoned my friends in the Bear Claws in the same way when I left them so abruptly. I hope they can forgive my need to seek my own way. I hope I get the chance to ask them.