The howl had been sounded from the Lonely Mountain in the east to the fringes of Mirkwood, the shadowed forest that few were brave enough to enter, even with the ancient enemies fading from power. From youngsters whose ears had but lately been dried enough to stand away from their heads, to old gray crones who had seen the elves and not been afraid, every vol and garmer had come to meet in the glen that night. Mithikursh, the Sekrahc of the southern caves under the mountain, had called all the Wargs of the region together to handle the growing enemy forays into Wargish territory.
“They killed our pups,” one young Sekra of northern Mirkwood wept inconsolably. “All nine. I want to see those murderers where they belong: with T’sheckna.” A growl was entering her voice. Although she, like most living alphas, could not directly call down the merciless thunders of Nyrasgarm, it was not wise to stand between a Sekra and the killers of her children.
“You shall have your vengeance, Sekra Sivdochi,” The old sliver alpha who had called the meeting of the packs lowered his ears and head in sympathy for her plight. “All our dead shall be avenged, and we shall see whether these heartless zwiero enjoy having their garms raided in return.” He showed his upper teeth briefly in a smile that was nothing that could be considered pleasant.
“But there will be pups there, father!” A young gray and black spoke up, licking his muzzle in regret for having interrupted his elder, but standing and posturing fear all the same. “Pups and mates who will cry out for retribution if their families die!”
A larger, darker littermate knocked the offending speaker off his feet before their father could deliver more than one disciplinary bite to the younger brother’s ears, but the older sibling gave a slight nuzzle to the yearling after the gray Warg whined contritely and rolled to a belly-up position. The younger wolf’s tail was still tucked firmly between his legs, even after Sahnchanc regained enough bravery to roll back over and lie flat on the ground at his brother’s side.
“They cannot call upon the Eastern Goddess, my son,” Mithikursh answered more softly, seeing his younger son’s angst. “They do not know her power, or that of the Triforce. And the gods cannot blame us for calling down their vengeance upon such murderers and land wasters. They do not obey our laws, therefore they must be driven from our homeland.”
“Nor do the orcs,” Sahnchanc had muttered this comment quietly, but his father had earned his name of Silver Hunter and supposedly could hear a single insect in the meadow in a neighboring territory while he was asleep deep in the caverns. Mithikursh’s proverbial hearing easily detected the yearling’s grumbling.
“Aye, and nor do rats in the caves, but we must tolerate them, and use them when we can, as the orcs are too numerous for even the united packs to drive them completely out of our garms. I say we use one evil to defeat another, and send our ‘narishi’* to eliminate the human threat.” The gray Sekrahc let his tongue slide over his exposed lower canines in humorless mirth, spitting out the vulgar orc word. “Once both packs of zwiero lie in ruins, desecrated so that not even the crows shall have enough mercy to touch them, we can drive out the last of these cursed orcs as well as the men who have ransacked our land, killed our children, and driven the game away that we might starve.” There were many murmurs of approval at this last statement, as all the packs had suffered damages from the Twisted Ones as well as the woodsmen.
The humans eliminated packs and their territories systematically, as if the Wargs were prey animals and the bipedal packs were starving. At one level, the young wolf that had risked his father’s anger by speaking out at the council could respect this. The men were enemies, but ones who had a certain amount of honor. They did not respect Wargish customs simply because they did not understand them.
The orcs, however, had no excuse. They had lived in the territories of the packs for as long as the oldest white-muzzle could remember, and yet they still blatantly disrespected social mores. They had often tortured and killed young wolves, burning their remains to keep them from the blessed T’Seer, the crows who carried the dead to Nyrasgarm in the east, until the twisted goblins had realized that they could profit more from the Wargs while the wolves lived. Since then, they had slunk around hunting packs, stealing their rightful kills like so many bears or wildcats. There were even some packs, half destroyed between humans, orcs, and the betrayers, the elves, that had debased themselves enough to become orc slaves, bearing them on useless murdering rampages.
Sahnchanc had heard his pack’s elders considering such a slavery last winter, during the famine. He whined aloud simply remembering that dreadful council. Fortunately most of the pack leaders were like him, and preferred the relatively quick death of starvation to the slow ripping apart of all the pack stood for. His elder brother was among these supporters of freedom, bringing up the treachery of the former masters of the Wargs as well as the evils of the orcs.
Gonaki knew no more than the stories of his elders, the same as Sahnchanc, but he had fought elven scouting forays and considered himself an expert on zwiero. The black Warg approved of the betrayal, to some extent, as it had given the wolves their freedom, and was the first step toward establishing their hard won culture.
Sahnchanc disagreed with his littermate on this point, but Gonaki had always been the bigger, stronger sibling, and Sahnchanc respected him, besides. ‘Naki had always supported his littler, quieter brother, defending him from their father’s increasing bouts of bad temper, and Sahnchanc used his great mind to help support the black wolf in turn.
But there seemed little either brother could do under these circumstances. Mithikursh had made up his mind, and no one short of one of the gods could change it. The Sekrahc had been uncharacteristically quiet during the council that winter, Sahnchanc remembered. At least his father had not capitulated to those fools who would surrender themselves absolutely to the orcs.
Mithikursh could not discuss his plans with the other pack leaders any further that night, however. The sentries howled a warning that something had climbed into the trees. One would normally expect the scouts to be able to spot a spy long before it entered the Wargish council’s range, but tonight’s blunder was understandable considering that everyone was eager to find a way to get rid of the invaders.
Suddenly, burning pinecones began to fall from above, one of them striking Mithikursh himself in the nose. “What did I tell you, Father?” Sahnchanc stood as chaos began to reverberate around the glen. “The gods will not stand for the eradication of one of their species. Just as they protected us from the holocaust of the elves, so will they protect the humans from this senselessly overblown vengeance of yours!”
“Kindly refrain from rolling any further in that pile of orc dung,” the big black Warg knocked his brother out of the way of another flaming missile. “Outraged religious righteousness does nothing to improve your smell. There are zwiero up there, tossing fiery sticks at us. Now follow me, I smell orcs coming up quick, and this will not be a good place for free-thinking Wargs in a few minutes.”
* * *
[*Narshi- allies, friends in Black Speech]