Grasha, Agrat’s mother, changes a lot through the narrative. I wouldn’t describe her as naive to begin with, but she is trusting, and she fundamentally doesn’t know much about the world around her. And how could she? The Blackskulls simply don’t interact much with outsiders. After her exile, she gains new experiences that question her tribe’s practices. As she ages, her bitterness and regret start to really eat at her, especially in old age as Veiadokuur becomes more and more unstable. But she’s headstrong and stubborn. It’s probably a gene the Uthordars pass down.
In this short story, I wanted to learn more about Grasha’s family dynamics and who she is as a person. I also wanted to explore the Blackskulls and the Seers of Geldorg, and figure out more about the human-instigated war in the region. She’s quickly become one of my favorite side characters in this, and she’s arguably the most badass character I’ve ever written.
This’s a long one at about 11,100 words. I was tempted to break it up into three parts for ease of reading, but there was a natural break in the narrative that made splitting it into two parts feel more natural. The second half will be posted on Friday. As always, thank you for reading!
Word Count: ~6700
Warnings: Descriptions of gore and some brief sexist language.
Lukal, born and raised in the northwest quadrant of Veiadokuur, had never seen such a massive sky. Growing up in Kilverud territory, surrounded by mountains, made for a sky more like a ceiling. It existed only over your head, with snowy peaks to hold it up and keep it there. But here, she looked left, or right, or ahead and behind, and there was sky. Clear blueness, dotted with sickly, white clouds. Like a dome decorated with paint. It left her feeling claustrophobic. All this open, flat space with no true boundaries or landmarks overwhelmed her. She wondered how the Blackskulls made and traveled that territory.
And it was that tribe that caused the other part of her anxiety. She’d heard the stories—everyone had. Humans might see orcs as a conglomerate of savage, cruel people, but orcs new better. Only the Blackskulls fit that bill. They were isolationists, and completely self-sufficient. Arrogant. Hateful. They believed themselves “true orcs,” and that all others were mistakes of the gods. Tales of Blackskulls killing outsiders on the spot, or leaving unworthy infants in the wild, or beating “blood traitors” to death made up Lukal’s complete knowledge of them. Her heart beat faster than her horse’s hooves. She was terrified. Who wouldn’t be The one rule most every orc knew was that the Blackskulls were bad news; a scourge to be avoided.
But these days, desperation dictated their decisions. Willowleaf’s genocidal army marched on without any signs of slowing. Rumors of young mages being used in the south spread around. The Seers needed help. They knew that the Blackskulls, legendary horse tamers and breeders, commanded a superb cavalry. Their warriors on horseback outnumbered and outranked the human army’s mounted soldiers by a landslide. Having them fighting with the Seers could erode the onslaught, and slow it to a halt.
So the Seers sent her, Lukal, as a courier to the Blackskulls. Her mission—to convince the Blackskulls to fight alongside the Seers—made for a heavy burden.