“Are all ogre-kin so…rough-spoken?” said Captain Sarovy as the door closed in Magus Voorkei’s wake. He wiped the page they had been discussing with a rag, but the flecks of spittle from the half-ogre’s awkward speech still stippled it.
“Not in their own language,” said Scryer Mako, reclining again in her seat. “Gheshvan is rather made to be spoken with tusks. None of those pesky m’s and p’s.”
“Unfortunately I do not understand Gheshvan,” said Sarovy, and sighed. “Perhaps it is just as well that we have yet to conquer Gejara. I can not imagine how they would manage to communicate within the strictures of Imperial.”
“It’s not like the only people in Gejara are ogre-kin,” said Mako. “I went there for my journeyman studies, and honestly it’s only about….ten percent full ogres, maybe another forty percent various shades of ogrekin. The rest are either thin enough bloodline-wise that you can’t tell, or just plain human.”
“And they live together peacefully?” said Sarovy, frowning.
The Scryer smirked in response. “You think that because your completely homogenous society can’t manage to work together without strangling each other, that other mixed societies would have even more trouble?”
“Well, yes. Look at Keceirnden or Andrisden.”
“Keceirnden, well, what do you expect? And Andrisden is just a mess because of you stiff-necked Trivesteans challenging people to duels over ridiculous things.”
“And the Amands’ tempers—“
“Well that’s not the point, sir.”
Sarovy arched a brow, but before he could comment on her elusion of the subject, she said, “They’re peaceful because they’re mixed, not despite it.”
“Not at all. You know that ogres originally came up from the south, right? Across the lands that are now Yezad and Padras and Illane?”
“And that the whole way, they basically mashed everyone flat and made slaves of them, and then they went into the eastlands before the Rift rose and they ruled all that? Including our people?”
“Not my people. They did not come into the plateaus.”
“Well, whatever. They ruled everyone who didn’t run into the mountains or the desert, oppressed them, all that. And then one day us humans rose up and overthrew them with wraith-learned magic, and drove them into the north.”
“Well, most of them escaped through the top of the Heartlands into what’s now Krovichanka, north of Daecia. All bogs in the summer and ice in the winter, and further north the taiga and then the tundra, where none of the human armies had any interest in following them. They ran off to be free and barbaric up there, and we forgot about them until they came down periodically to raid.
“The ones who got forced northward on the west side of what’s now the Rift—which back then was more like a big gap between Varaku and the Khaeleokiel range—had a nasty dilemma though. After all, the only gap in the west is the Pinch, that little canyon between the Khaeleokiels and the Thundercloaks. And the Pinch was guarded by wraiths who hated ogres. So when the western ogres were forced north, they were nearly annihilated as they went through the Pinch, both by the wraiths in the hills and the humans at their back.
“Beyond the Pinch is the land we call Gejara now, but back then it was a sparsely populated tribeland. Herders and some farmers, not very militant because the Pinch had always kept people south from coming north, and in those days the north itself wasn’t very dangerous. They were terrified of the ogres of course, and hid in the woods as the ogres were driven through. After the ogres came a lot of the humans, though, and once they had chased the ogres far enough, they decided that they could claim this land as their own too.
“So these new invaders took over all the original tribesfolk’s homesteads and herds. They didn’t understand the land though, or revere the local spirits, so in short order the crops the original tribesfolk had planted started to wither and the herds started to die. Meanwhile the tribesfolk were still hiding in the woods, and the ogres had not managed to go very far north—back then, they were very sensitive to cold, and winter was coming on at that time.
“Both the tribesfolk and the ogres were starving, and the invaders were confused by the sudden downturn of their local fortunes but determined to build outposts and garrisons and the like here, so they could continue to hunt the ogres into the north. So as winter drew down, they all knew that something had to be done, but only the original tribesfolk had a plan.
“After communing with the spirits, they managed to steal back what little of the herds and crops remained, and as a tribe they approached the ogres who had huddled into a pitiful refugee camp in the middle of a freezing swamp. With that meager food, they enticed the ogres to meet with them and got their agreement to help take back the tribesfolk’s land from the invaders, with the understanding that the ogres would be allowed to settle among them. Though there were not enough ogres and tribesfolk combined to threaten the invaders, they performed a ritual prayer to the spirits that night—specifically the Winter Graces—to aid them in their quest to retake their land.
“Now, the Winter Graces might sound nice, but they’re embodiments of the harsh nature of the north. Specifically, they’re the three deaths most common in winter: the Pale Child, the Wide-Mawed Crone and the Abductress. Cold, starvation and disappearance.
“And the Winter Graces, who were not usually prone to grant requests, came to their aid because for once it was not asked of them to pass by a house or village, but to enter.
“Through the winter, then, the tribesfolk and ogres did what they could to stay alive and roust small pockets of the invaders, while the Winter Graces moved among the bulk of the enemy soundlessly, untouchable even by arcane magic, to take victims wherever they cared to find them. Even though the invaders were being supplied from the south, they found their food stores either stolen or devoured; though they built with heavy timbers and high-peaked roofs, they found their homes filled with snow in the night, fires extinguished. And though they tried to stay in tight groups, tried to keep everyone accounted for, there were always hunters or soldiers or sentries who went missing in the quiet of the night—whether from their posts at the fringes of the captured territory or from their very beds.
“By the first thaw, the exodus through the Pinch had nearly drained the invader-population, and it did not take much effort for the ogres—who had been fed and sheltered by the tribesfolk—to threaten the rest into fleeing. Not much fighting was required. By true spring, the land beyond the Pinch belonged to the tribe again, and they fulfilled their agreement with the ogres as they started to build new settlements; the ogres would live among them as kin and kind, to help keep the invaders at bay.
“After all, the southern humans were not content for having been pushed back. They came in force at the start of summer only to find that this time the heights of the Pinch were manned by tribesfolk archers and ogrish rock-hurlers, and that the ground of the valley just beyond the Pinch had become a dire morass due to the spring melt from the Thundercloaks and Khaeleokiels. Between the arrows, the rocks, the mire and the insects, the invading army was devastated and withdrew, only to return in later years to be defeated again.
“Over time, it became known that the land beyond the Pinch was dangerous to all humans, and that the people in that land were all monsters of ogrish blood who communed with evil spirits. In truth, though they kept garrisons at the Pinch, the tribes had started to adopt some of the ogrish ways—for you’ll have to remember that at the time they were driven north, the ogres had been the masters of a vast and decadent empire which a historian might see as the first proper sentient civilization on the world’s surface. Thus, strange as it may sound, the refugee ogres civilized the tribesfolk and taught them to build cities, to expand their agriculture, and to craft and enjoy the finer things in life. While the southern empires were destroying each other, devastating vast swaths of land and annihilating each other’s centers of culture, the land that would soon be called Gejara was silently building itself into a pastoral spiritist haven.
“After the Great Wars of Empire, when battle-magic was banned, Gejara was one of the few lands where refugee battle-mages could flee without being turned over to the Silent Circle, which had formed in that age precisely to make sure that battle-magic could never be harnessed again. Many of those refugees gathered in Gejara’s cities, and when the Silent Circle came to the cities’ leaders and asked that they turn over the battle-mages, they were mildly ignored. When they demanded instead, they were thrown out.
“In that age, the Silent Circle was just beginning to gather its power and influence, and was meant as a governing body over mages but not a military order of any type, so they could not declare war on Gejara like they would have wanted. Instead, they sent arcane assassins after the battle-mages sheltering in Gejara.
“After destroying a few, though, they found that their assassins ceased checking in. They had simply…well, vanished.
“I’m sure you can understand how.
“And so it went, with the Circle always trying to harass Gejara only to find all its agents either disappearing or defecting to Gejara’s side—for then, as now, as ever, the Gejaran cities have always been willing to take in and naturalize refugees. And as they had absorbed so many battle-mages into their ranks, so they began to spread the practice of arcane magic among their people, not as a replacement for spirit-worship and spirit-magic, but as a complement to it. Something that none of the other tribes managed to do successfully.
“As it stands now, Gejara has mildly resisted all of the Empire’s incursions into it, both through massive force of arcane magic and spiritist power, and through diplomacy and trade. Their people come and go freely through the Pinch, and they have a wonderful relationship with Averogne just across it to the south, but they strictly monitor every person coming north—in the nicest way possible, of course.
“Though people do still vanish.
“The original ogrish stock was almost completely integrated into the Gejaran bloodline, I think. Not many ‘full’ ogres left, at least not from the ones that first met the tribesfolk, but over the years the Krovichankan ogres have migrated westward periodically—sometimes trying to raid Gejara, sometimes establishing trade—so their hardier breeds of ogre have also influenced the population. That’s why you’ll see a variety of skin-tones among ogre-blooded Gejarans: olive-tan for the Leshya-Naanja, the original Gejaran ogres who barely have tusks now due to interbreeding with humans; reddish for the Voryeshki who dominate the taiga and tundra; and a few very dark Ghesjek who live in the Forest of Night where it covers the northern slopes of the Khaeleokiels.
“They have fantastic collegiums up there now. I’m not sure if I would call them the best in the world, or second best—after all, I haven’t seen the entirety of the world—but in many ways they’re better than the Silent Circle’s, because we lost so much irreplaceable knowledge when we annihilated the battle-mages… Not that we regret it, since it was their power that blasted Aervach into a desert and led to the sinking of Lisalhan, but still. They remember much of what we have lost, and will only teach it to us if we renounce citizenship in the Empire and join them. I wouldn’t do that—wouldn’t leave my people—so I was only allowed in certain places, to watch certain classes at work.
“But let me tell you, their cities… I don’t know if you’ve seen Valent, but what we have in Valent with the constructs and the artificed towers and cleaning slimes and warded roofs and teashops and just the relaxed academic atmosphere…
“They have that everywhere. And they send their students out to all corners of the world to unearth knowledge both new and old, to try out different techniques and innovate and sometimes outright steal, and then they bring it all back and examine it and adapt it to their land and culture. Without fighting about it tooth-and-nail, but calmly, mostly in leaflets and printed publications.
“Oh, the printing… I rather miss all the printing.”
As Scryer Mako lapsed into dreamy-eyed recollections, Captain Sarovy steepled his fingers and looked to the door. He had rarely given much thought to Voorkei’s origins beyond the obvious bizarrity of his ogre blood, but knowing all this…
It certainly did not make him feel better about having that mage assigned to his company.