History of the forest tribes
Orcs were the first known inhabitants of Virmor, or Viruhk in the orc tongue, but their lack of a written history makes the records of their early days there sketchy at best and the written accounts kept by the lorekeepers of the Circle of the Open Palm are only myths. Nor is the orcish memory of the old world entirely reliable, as many of the stories which did exist were lost or forgotten during the wars with Old Agryos – vanished along with the storytellers.
The myths that have survived speak of various origins for the orcs depending on which tribe is being spoken of. In most there is an old world, which the orcs leave or are lead from by various mythical figures (depending on which tribe is telling the story). Sometimes the world or land is left due to it being overrun by evil and therefore destroyed by either its own inhabitants or the wrath of the spirits. In others it is a paradise, and the orcs are banished due to breaking some taboo or disobeying an important law. In some myths there is no old world at all, and the orcs emerge from holes in the ground or from the ocean.
By most accounts the orcish way of life in Virmor changed very little prior to their introduction to the Agryans. However, there is some evidence that this may not have always been the case. Old Agryan records speak of strange, giant earthworks in the shape of odd glyphs in the lands where Melia would later rule. In the forests to the north there were also odd ruins, larger and grander than anything the orcs that the Agryans met seemed capable of building, and in the place where Aspatria would be later built there was a large stone circle, raised around the bones of a monsterous dragon.
The Old Agryans explained this away by various means. Since it was clearly not the orcs who could have built these wonders, a mythic precursor race was invented at the time to explain away the grand buildings. Both Old Agryan historians and fiction writers made much of this idea, creating some lost tribe of Anaturu who had paved the way for the Agryans by settling Virmor, creating a grand human empire which fell into decay and was usurped by the barbaric orcs. The stories fabricated around this idea used it as both a warning to the Lost Tribe's descendants, the Agryans, and a validation of the Agryan conquest of Virmor.
Orc legends are for the most part silent on the historical details surrounding the ruins and mounds. Certainly there are no mention of humans prior to the arrival of the Agryans, nor any other race such as the elves which might have built such creations. Most of the ruins were at sites considered to be holy or spiritually significant, but it is uncertain whether this was the case before they were built. Many did indeed turn out to be places where leylines ran strongly or crossed, but alas this also meant that many ruins were torn down before they could be studied properly in order to accommodate Agryan gates.
Closer to the modern day, and verifiable through Calandorean records, is the arrival of a small colony ship in 1389 BC from the then relatively new country of Calandor. The orcs which met this ship were not especially welcoming; though certainly curious about an outside world which they had had no idea even existed. For their part the elves were more than happy to move on, as Virmor was a land strong in magic and therefore a great risk to those prone to attunement. A small town was founded at the site, but was later abandoned entirely in 1380 BC when the fears of attunement turned out to be well founded.
The Coming of Humanity
The first arrival of the tribe of Agryos was in roughly 700 BC, on the east coast of Virmor. The orcs in the area were at first curious but then for the most part ignored the newcomers, who at that time were small in number and seemed to pose no threat. Skirmishes only started when the humans started to push westwards and expand into orc territory. A tragedy later highlighted by others is that, if united, the orc tribes would have quickly wiped out the newcomers who they vastly outnumbered and – in the early days at least – matched in magic.
However, the tribes were not united, and the Agryans used this to its fullest potential. In the early days temporary alliances were made, then exploited, then betrayed for greater gain. As more sites of importance were taken the orcs did start to unite, with closely allied tribes working together, but before this could be taken full advantage of the turning point of the war happened.
The site that would later be named Aspatria was taken in 540 BC after a long and bloody battle between the armies of Agryos and three orc tribes who had been tasked with guarding the holy site. Upon taking it the Agryans discovered a deep valley fed by five rivers, filled with silver ash trees. At the centre was a great stone circle, and jutting from the ground were the mighty silver-tinted bones of a dragon. When the Agryans investigated, along with the bones they dug up many small nuggets of a substance similar, but of far greater importance.
The Agryans had discovered truesilver.
The Age of Humanity
Once this discovery was made it was only a matter of time before the orcs lost the rest of the lowlands, being driven back to the cold south and the mountains. A few small clans lingered in human lands for a while, fighting desperate guerrilla wars as they refused to retreat with the others, but these were sooner or later wiped out by the Agryan forces.
After this Old Agryos entered its golden age, and the orcs entered one of the darkest periods of their history. War never ceased between the tribes and the human invaders, but it was one that the orcs would never again have an advantage in. Their spiritual magics were no match for the wonders that the Agryans could create via Artifice, nor the battlemages and armies they could field. Increasingly the orcs were pushed back to the wild valleys, the isolated mountains, the barren coasts of the west – all the lands that were either too desolate to be any use to the Agryans, or too far away and difficult to conquer to be worth the effort.
Eventually these desolate, wild places were all the orcs had left as a stalemate was reached. The Agryans could not fully conquer the mountains or tundra, nor were they particularly inclined to waste much effort on such areas. In return the orcs stayed hidden and, for the most part, learned not to provoke their neighbours unless they wished to face bloody retaliation. In modern times this attitude is remembered with shame, but then it was a matter of simple survival. The few tribes that remained had no room to spare for pride with their very existence on the brink, and though a few bolder or more foolhardy clans continued their raids into human lands most simply retreated and hid.
In 11 BC the first mention is made of the one who would save the orcs from extinction. A small clan in the valleys near Aspatria are said to be the first to meet what was then only a sombre and withdrawn young orc with haunted eyes, who asked to be taken to speak to their elders. What was said in that meeting can only be guessed at, but it convinced the elders to send word to the surrounding tribes, who in turn came to meet the newcomer.
The orc spoke then of his dreams, visions of a coming threat to great it would crack the very land of Virmor asunder, a force so terrible it could not be stood against nor bargained with but only fled from. Though the elders were sceptical at first, the quiet and awful conviction in the stranger’s voice convinced them that this was no mere joke – either their guest was utterly mad, or the inhabitants of Virmor both human and orcish faced utter annihilation. When questioned the orc stood and swore on both his own soul and the greater spirits that his visions were true, an oath potent enough to convince those present of his sincerity.
From this beginning the stranger sent out messengers from the clan calling a gathering together in a hidden place deep in the mountains. Most refused at first, but the stranger was persistent – those that could not be persuaded by messengers alone were visited personally, and it is an oddity that each of these ones ended up going to gathering after meeting the young orc. Whether they were bullied or begged into attending is unknown, but after a year of work the unthinkable had happened.
A greater gathering was called – the first one in orcish history, where representatives of nearly every tribe of the time came to listen to the stranger’s visions. The gathering marked the beginning of the legend of the stranger, who afterwards would be called Balar the Uniter. After being met with mistrust, disbelief and hesitation, Balar rose and by means of ritual combat forced those clan heads present to join him in his plan. It was simple enough – the coming disaster was too big to fight or endure, so it would have to be fled. His visions had revealed a land over the northern ocean where the orcs might find refuge, and that would be where they went.
Exodus and Cataclysm
In the event this was far easier said than done. Other than fishing coracles, the orcs had no boats, nor any supplies, nor even indeed any experience in sailing at all. Any large gathering was a target for Agryan raids, and once afloat the makeshift fleet would be prey to the Agryan navy as well as the hazards of the open sea.
One by one Balar resolutely dealt with these problems, organising small groups to gather lumber and cache supplies, and capturing Agryan fishing boats to use as a basis for the orc fleet. All in all the process took nearly nine years, in the later stages of which it is said the Uniter grew increasingly frantic and desperate as the visions grew more horrific and more frequent. By the time the fleet was ready in 1 BC stories speak of an orc still young but grey before his time, grown gaunt and grim by the endless nightmares of the coming disaster. On his insistence the fleet set off in the summer of that year, trusting in the good weather to make the journey an easeful one.
It was not – but neither did it fail in its endeavour. The journey was long, and the hazards were many, but the rag-tag fleet carried on northwards doggedly for several months until a day in early autumn when the sun rose in the south. Several thousand miles away, the Cataclysm had struck, but in their journey the orcs managed to avoid the worst effects. All that the bemused onlookers were aware of then were rippling colours in the sky and a terrible noise, then a slight swell in the ocean beneath them that raced out in all directions before the waters grew calm again.
Shrugging and continuing on, the orcs made landfall on Ilmarin in 1 AC by modern reckoning, just as winter was threatening. They were hungry, tired, sick and bewildered by the new lands they found themselves in, and the elves of which only their oldest legends spoke of who came out to great them.
Balar was one of the first to speak to these elves, eventually managing to talk directly to the king, Kelros. Aware that in order for his people to survive they would need the good will of these strangers he offered an alliance in exchange for lands of their own. The elves eagerly accepted, and the orcs were shepherded north. The majority, a more conservative faction, chose to settle in the Whispering Woods and would later be known as “forest” orcs. In these the seeds of a later schism were sown, as Balar and his more radical minority chose to settle in the Iron Hills, forsaking the traditionally druidic way of life that orcs had previously preferred.
The Years of Blood
Despite this rejection the orcs of the Whispering Wood remained loyal to the Uniter throughout the years and wars that followed, not in the least because Balar himself demanded it. And in those early days the debt to their elven allies was still fresh within the minds of all orcs; made especially so when the Agryans arrived in Ilmarin soon afterwards like a plague. In the face of this old evil it was imperative that the orcs remain both united as a people and in close alliance with Calandor, and so Balar had relatively little difficulty in persuading even the forest orcs to follow him, and they swore an oath to follow him until death.
The orcish grip on the Iron Hills and Whispering Woods was consolidated; the ogres and dwarves who threatened the territories driven away. Wars were fought alongside the elves, and the tribes flourished together even in the face of threats such as the formation of New Agryos and – to a lesser extent as it turned out – Peredur. Yet one orc could not keep the tribes united forever, and here the flaw in Balar’s vision was uncovered.
For Balar abdicated in 82 AC, at a great age even for an orc, and disappeared from history. His grand-niece Goruja took his place, but despite being a brilliant leader in her own right she was not the Uniter, and it was the Uniter that the forest orcs had been loyal to. Grumblings started to be heard that they had paid their dues to both the elves and their sister tribes, that Balar had never intended them to become vassals or even (in whispers) slaves. Surely they had shed enough blood, shown enough loyalty to repay their new home in the Woods. Surely they did not have to fight forever.
The final split came in 94 AC, during the Agryan invasion of Peredur. Goruja issued a summoning of the tribes in order aid their southern neighbours and technical allies. It was the final straw for many of the conservative factions in the Whispering Woods, who had swallowed the continued alliance with the elves of Calandor out of old loyalties. To come to the rescue of humans – humans descended of the hatred Agryans – was another matter entirely. The tribes of the Whispering Wood gathered in secret, then as one refused the call to war. It would be the last act of true unity they would show together.
If there were any who might have reconsidered, their choice was sealed upon Goruja’s death during the liberation of Peredur in 97 AC. The orcs of the Iron Hills blamed what they called the cowardice of their forest neighbours; the orcs of the Whispering Woods retorted that this was only what was to be expected when one allied with humans in a war not their own. The schism became permanent, the tribes rendered asunder through bad blood and bitterness. The Uniter’s vision had failed.
A Retreat from the World
In the following years the orcs of the Whispering Wood retreated ever further from the international sphere, content to live and let live. All efforts of the various warchiefs after Goruja to reunite them with Forged were rebuffed, though it must be said that some came closer than others to succeeding. The civil war in the Iron Hills, the Grey Plague and the War of Agryan Aggression nevertheless passed them by almost entirely, much to their own gratitude.
Though still technically allied with the elves, the forest orcs rarely answer calls to war unless they see it as absolutely necessary, and those that do are not a united force. Bad blood continues between them and their cousins in the Iron Hills, mutual accusations of forgetting their past abounding between the two in insults. To the orcs of the Whispering Woods, the Forged have forgotten all it means to be orcish in their quest to achieve a place in the modern world. They have pandered too much to humans and elves, forgetting the ways of the spirits in their drive to modernise and war constantly. What price does survival come at, if it is at the cost of the very soul of orcdom?