Hundreds of years ago, the Gaellen Pact invaded the Kingdom of Kaerok. It was defeated.
After seven years of war and pillage, the Gaellen Pact’s forces were broken on the field of battle, and tens of thousands of Orcs, Ogryn, Lizardmen, and Skinwalkers were scattered throughout the continent of Anhelt. But not all of these Gaellens were warriors. For many of the Gaellen Pact, the invasion of Kaerok was not simply retribution for the Red Crusade, but also a reclamation of what they believed to be their ancestral homelands. Anticipating a glorious victory and the purge of every Human in Anhelt, dozens of Gaellen clans sailed to Kaerok in their entirety, families and children travelling alongside hosts of warriors. When the Gaellen forces were broken, these innocents were exposed to the wrath of the Banner Lords and others and were forced to flee alongside their routing defenders.
None of the Gaellen Pact races suffered that fate as much as the Orcs. Nearly every Orc clan had sailed to Anhelt as part of the invasion, and each clan had to find its own way after the Pact’s defeat. Some managed to negotiate with Banner Lords too weakened by the war to fight them, but most were forced to hide on barren lands or in choking forests. As centuries passed, these isolated clans set about doing what they did best: making do with what they could get. But once the Banner Lords recovered from the Gaellen War, they found even this meager peace intolerable.
It was into this world – a world growing ever-smaller as Banner Lord knights raided every Orc clan they could find – that Artak was born.
Artak was the son of Turan, his clan’s warlord – a title that did not fit the Orc well, as he was famous among the clans as a peacemaker. Despite increasing provocations from the local Kaerok duke, Turan refused to allow any of his warriors to retaliate, instead granting humiliating concessions to the duke’s knights. It earned Turan the nickname ‘Peacelord’, a name which Turan himself laughed off, but which boiled Artak’s blood.
Then, one day, the duke approached ‘Peacelord’ Turan with an offer: fight alongside the duke’s forces in a dispute against a neighbouring Banner Lord, and the duke would recognize some of Turan’s territorial claims near one of his cities. Artak begged his father to refuse, arguing that the duke could not be trusted, but his father was blinded by the promise of a permanent home.
Artak’s instincts were right. The duke’s forces spent the Orcs’ lives cheaply, sending them to the worst of the fighting and to do the dirtiest deeds. The duke won his war, but more than half of Turan’s warriors were killed. Worst of all, when the King of Kaerok came down on the duke for fighting in his own realm, the duke blamed Turan’s clan for instigating the fighting. The duke cast out Turan and his people, breaking his promises and stripping away his land. With his forces depleted, Turan was in no position to resist. Artak was forced to watch his once-proud father wither away to a shadow of who he once was, before the ‘Peacelord’ finally succumbed to illness less than a year after the clan was forced to flee.
It was a betrayal that Artak would never forgive. Not long after assuming the title of warlord, Artak sent messengers to every other Orc clan he knew of, calling for a grand gathering – ostensibly an opportunity for trade and competition, but Artak had a far greater hope in mind.
Almost every clan agreed to meet, such gatherings had been called before, and they were an ancient tradition. While Artak’s people enjoyed the games and traded with the other clans, the man himself addressed the other collected warlords. He shouted the injustices that his father had suffered, and the uselessness of appeasement – the Banner Lords would take until the Orcs had nothing left at all, as ‘Peacelord’ Turan had been forced to learn. Artak claimed there was no bottom to the greed of Humans. And so he presented an alternative: war. Bloody vengeance, exacted on the entire realm of Kaerok. Not every warlord agreed, but none stood against him, and so he walked away from the gathering with an army of revanchists.
Artak’s army fell upon Kaerok like a plague, slaughtering any who dared to oppose them. The Orcs cut a bloody swathe through the Banner Lords, achieving success after success, and that led to even greater numbers joining them. All Artak’s victories – all his righteous anger – only made it more difficult for him to swallow his pride when his son, Galek, dared to push for mercy to be granted to the Humans.
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