Norvolk, The Great Stone City of the North, was an unparalleled monument to the strength and pride of the Tavi people. How sad it is, he thought, to watch it crumble into The Northern Sea. Not from battle, but from neglect by the ungrateful Vohdish Lords of the South, who share neither the Tavish ancestral pride, nor any motivation to take part in the preservation of the Tavi people, yet they presume to govern Tavish lands.
Ulf looked out over the South road. His eyes wandered to the edge of the wall atop which he was stationed. A few more bricks had come loose under the slapdash wooden frame he and the other guards had hammered together in a feeble attempt to secure the decaying walls around the ancient city of Norvolk. He pulled the hood of his cowl up over his once-shaven head, which now featured a short, brown stubble, as did his face. He stroked his newly forming beard, and sighed. The wall was a fitting monument to the crumbling company of rangers guarding Norvolk, and the people they feebly endeavored to protect.
The Vohdish Lords in their great southern cities once sent enough supplies and silver to keep the rangers well equipped to protect Norvolk. In the past six years, however, the support had all but vanished. Makeshift equipment was common among the guards. Standard-issue armor bearing the Norvolk insigna was valuable in its rarity. Most men among the company had made, purchased, or (most commonly) stolen an alternate raiment by now. There were never enough arrows. Bowstrings, if they broke, had to be fixed by the guardsmen themselves with whatever material was available; there were no fletchers or weaponsmiths willing to stay in the North any longer. None had the money, even fewer had the desire to stay in a crumbling, impoverished city.
The walled-in city life of the Vohds, thought Ulf, is ill-suited for Tavish men.
Norvolk, once a central port for Northern Sea travel and Vohdish-run trade, had been all but abandoned by Southern money. The land had been ravaged by decades of Vohdish Imperial business interests, and the Tavish men were no longer a self-determined bunch of farmers, like their ancestors were. The Tavish North had become reliant on Vohdish silver, which had rapidly dried up when profits and taxes had become too slim for the satisfaction of the lords and merchants of the South. Now, the children of Tavi, and their walls, crumbled.
Ulf meandered Northward atop the eastern wall of Norvolk. As he reached the North end of the wall, his gaze wandered out onto the waves of the Northern Sea. His mind drifted across to the Far-North, the frozen lands from which is ancestors originated, and the tales his father had told him, passed down from the first Tavish pilgrims who built Norvolk, of the pale-blue-skinned Yolkan beast-men who emerged from beneath the frozen ice to terrorize Tavish men.
The Blue-Eyed Orcs had followed the Tavi to these new lands centuries later, apparently having been able to rediscover sea transport on their own since the Tavish ancestors had left. The War of the Snow Beasts, the story of how a joint pact of Vodish and Tavish warriors fended off waves of Orcish invaders, had been mandatory reading in Vohdish Imperial schools when Ulf was a boy. Since then, small bands of Snow Orcs had sometimes attempted to raid Norvolk over the years, but no Yolkan piracy had been heard of in decades.
Just then, Ulf noticed a speck on the horizon. Something on the sea just barely visible in the distance. A ship? Yes, now he could see the sails. It was neither Vohdish nor Tavi in design. It's sails were smaller than Vohdish ships, and it was taller and less rounded than a Tavi vessel. The keel curved upward at the prow and, lashed onto the wooden stempost that protruded forth in front of the vessel was a large skull of a creature that Ulf did not recognize. It looked vaguely humanoid, but it was perhaps four or five times larger than a man's skull, and its teeth were massive and pointed.
It was a Yolkan vessel, filled to capacity with Snow Orcs.
As the ships drew closer, Ulf ran to the viewing scope mounted at the edge one of the watch towers along the north side of the wall. He could see that it was heavily decorated in animal furs. There was no visible banner being flown. Massive, smooth, tusk-like objects were lashed along both sides of the ship's hull. From the tusks hung a variety of cut stones and chiseled animal bones. The passengers and crew had skin of pale blue, pointed and outward-flaring ears, and wide, flat, up-turned noses with large, forward-opening nostrils. Their pointed teeth would often protrude from their lips slightly, even when they weren't speaking.
As the strange vessel passed by a sea-watch tower (closer than was safe), many of the pale beast-elves opened their mouths to bare their sharp incisors at the Tavish guards stationed at the watch. Some orcs pounded their chests and shouted, roaring with their hands out to the sides, or up to the sky. Once the ship passed the tower, they turned to one another, patted one another's backs and shoulders, some bumped chests, and many were laughing.
Ulf watched through the scope as the frightened watchman in the tower's mid window vanished, then reappeared on the roof and frantically yanked the rope to ring the great alarm bell. In moments, the shore was drowned in a cacophony of various bells from all directions as, one by one, all watch towers whose bells had not fallen into disrepair followed suit.
In moments, Ulf and his comrades had assembled at the base of the city's walls, just up the hill from the shoreline, with various scavenged weapons at the ready. Free men, civilian residents of the city, began to emerge from the gate, carrying pitchforks, woodsmen's axes, large pieces of broken wood, inherited family swords, and anything else that could be used to defend themselves and their families. Such was the way of the Tavi.
The large group of Tavish soldiers and citizens, commoners and tradesmen, crowded together behind the defensive formation of guards. All clutched their shields and weapons, or nocked their arrows, watched the Orcish ship, and waited.
The foreign vessel ran aground on the shore about a hundred steps down the hill from the group of Tavi. Pale blue bare feet, some wrapped with skins or leathers or furs, splashed down into the shallow water as the invaders disembarked.
Ulf realized that none of them were armed. Many were in rags. Some wore the worn tunic and trousers of a laborer. All were adult males of warfighting age.
One particular Orc caught Ulf's eye. Above and below his left eye was a thin blue scar. Darker blue warpaint pigment outlined it, making it stand out. The eye itself was deep red. His remaining iris was the usual pale blue of the children of Yolkan. His red eye seemed for a moment to flair and flash orange and yellow as he, near the front of the group, approached with his gaze locked on the gathered Tavi. His expression was a twisted and bestial version of grim determination. The group of Orcs stopped a dozen steps down the hill from the Men, and they gritted their teeth and stared intensely.
The sound of hoof beats began to grow louder from behind the group. At the right flank of the Tavi militia appeared the regional Lord of the Northern province, a balding and fat Vohdish man, along with the Tavi Jarl of Norvolk, a stocky man with a close-trimmed beard, and a single Matran witch, whose bright yellow elvish skin contrasted with the ornate blue and gold robes of her position as regional advisor. All were mounted on horseback.
The Vohdish Lord faced the militia and spoke so that all could hear. "Guardsmen! Please, these are not our enemies. Lower your weapons and welcome these new arrivals to Norvolk! They are not invaders. We have invited them! Please, step aside and allow these poor, impoverished folk through the gate.
For a moment, there was no motion. Then, the citizens and guardsmen began looking at one another, unsure of what to do.
The Tavi Jarl stroked his bald head with one hand as he spoke. "Honorable guards! Brave men of Norvolk. Stand back, and allow these poor, desperate families to enter Norvolk, and begin their new lives." He paused. Then, when nobody moves, said in a slightly squeakier and angrier voice, "that is an order! Stand aside!"
Slowly, reluctantly, the crowd of the Tavish Militia lowered their weapons and moved aside.
The eye-scarred Orc looked at Ulf as he passed and briefly bared his teeth and growled, eyes flashing, then smirked sickly. The large, hairy Orc next to him laughed as they passed. Other orcs pounded their chests at nearby men, or growled through clenched teeth at no one in particular.
The Jarl of Norvolk stroked his beard nervously and tried to seem authoritative. "Alright, company! Back to your posts. Go on, now. Back on the walls!"
The rangers returned to their posts, muttering their surprise and telling stories about the Snow Beasts. One man had heard tales of a Yolkan pirate raid as recently as last year, but couldn't remember where. Another man said his grandfather had personally killed dozens of them during the mainland Yolkan invasions. All wondered why the warlike bestial folk were arriving now as peaceful settlers.
Ulf returned to the viewing scope atop the wall and aimed it at the sailing vessel the new arrivals had beached. He watched as a group of Vohdish workers, dressed in tunics bearing the seal of the Imperial Vohdish capital city, prepared the ship to cast off as a pair of well-dressed Matrans supervised nearby, one muttering as the other fervently scribbled on a parchment.
The wood of the vessel, Ulf realized, was not of this region, but was Matran in origin. The islands of the Far-South, the native lands of the Matran elves, was the only land that supported trees that gave wood of such rich golden-brown. One such wooden beam, bent and shaped into place on one side of the transport, bore the Matran national insignia, which had apparently been scorched into the wood with a branding iron.
The supervising Matrans watched as the newcomers' vessel cast off into the Northern Sea again, this time half-full of Vohdish workers. Seemingly satisfied, the two supervising elves trudged the short distance to the Matran witch, the well-dressed regional advisor, who took the parchment and glanced at it nonplussed before tucking it away, pulling her horse around, and riding hard down the South road.