Uruk of the Ash

An ethnography

Nînglu: Brackish Waters

The Nînglu, or Brackish Waters region, is the name for the densely-forested land in the southwest of Garmadh, that stretches from the foothills of the Ash Mountains to the silty Nînglu Bay. Four great rivers cut swaths through the marshes and forests:

  • The Sâr Hul, or Bitter River is the most eastern river, and the second longest in the region. It begins at the base of the volcanoes in the shadow lands to the north, courses through the Sea of Ash, and all the way down to Nînglu bay.
  • The shortest and swiftest river is called Mât Hul, or Death River. It is named such because it flows out of a cave on the southernmost tip of the Ash Mountains to the west and takes a rather straight course to the sea.
  • The Ronkûrz Hul, or the Deep River is always cold, and it is the widest river in Garmadh.
  • The longest river is Glokûrrshum Hul, or Eel River. Its width and winding course through Taushau forest makes it an excellent trading route river. It is on this river that the growing Dalgathu sits, called Jackals Town by those who speak the common creole of man. This is the only thing resembling an uruk city inon the entire continent. Dalgathu is known for its ships and its steel, and often trades with the human city of Iz to the south or raids settlements all across the sea.

Between the Bitter and Death rivers is a land of tall grass, which fades into the Sea of Ash to the west. The nomadic Horseskull tribe– whom the Many Lashes clan of the Ash Tribe often clash with over territorial disputes– traverse this grassland on the back of dire boars. To the east, on the other side of the Death river, the Taushau forest begins.

The Taushau forest stretches from the western side of the Death River, across the Deep River, past the Eel River, and begins to thin out less than a day’s journey on the other side. Taushau is a forest that grows in volcanic soil, which makes this a frustrating forest for a few reasons. First, the rocky forest floor is hard and uneven, making it difficult to traverse with any speed, and near impossible to break ground with pick or shovel. Second, the mineral-rich soil feeds the thick moss that covers the forest floor, smothering out the sound and giving the forest its Uruk name—Taushau translates to Silent Trees. Third, the rich deposits of magnetic iron in the volcanic soil render compasses useless, making it incredibly easy to get lost in. The tattooed and hostile Stained tribe camp in this forest, raiding caravans and waging war on other tribes.

Taushau forest and the foothills of the Ash Mountains are also riddled with caves. In fact, the geologists of Bright Mountain claim that the largest natural cave systems in the known world stretch beneath Garmadh. The Pale tribe dwell deep within these labyrinthine caves.

Closer to Nînglu Bay, there is a stretching expanse of marsh. These marshes trickle in towards the mainland, especially along the Eel River. The Stench tribe, who cover themselves in the marsh mud to engage in guerilla warfare, live on stilt-homes in the lonely marshes.

Anatomy of the Uruk

While the uruk have many, many behavioral traits and physical characteristics in common with that of mankind, and they are even capable producing fertile offspring with humans, they are classified as a different species for good reason. As such, they have some notable physical differences.

For one, despite the comparative brevity of the uruk life, the uruk have a surprising vitality. Their strength is, on the average, incredible. They have a relentless endurance, and can run faster, jump further, swim longer, and climb higher compared to the other great sentient races. They also have remarkable natural healing, and appendages that are severed from the uruk body may continue to “live” for a few minutes, giving a greater opportunity for re-attachment with competent healing magicks. This remarkable natural healing lead some medical practitioners and evolutionary scientists of the past to wonder if perhaps the uruk are not distant descendants of trolls. While this theory has been discredited in recent years, it’s easy to see why the scientists of yesterday thought this way; the same wound that leaves a human off the battlefield for months may be healed in a fortnight by an uruk.

Furthermore, the uruk also have, as a race, a greater resistance to disease than humans or elves, and seem to shrug off infection of any kind, suggesting a complete immunity. Uruk have been documented to live in extreme weather and temperatures, from icy tundras, to blistering deserts; from frozen peaks, to barren wastes. Indeed, the uruk call home those unforgiving places where humans do not dare to settle, let alone tread. It is clear that they possess a mighty constitution.

Other anatomical discrepancies include different colored skin, canine teeth, fewer bones, some skeletal cartilage, pointed ears, nictating membranes, differently-functioning tear ducts, and vertical pupil slits.

Uruk skin comes in a variety of colors. By far, the most prominent uruk skin pigmentation is green—ranging from dull to vibrant— followed by tan, and then gray. The pigment in an uruk’s skin is largely determined by where they call home. Uruks of the forests, jungles, grasslands and swamps are more likely to be some shade of green. or brown. Likewise, uruk from sandy deserts, canyon deserts, mesas, steppes, prairies, and bogs may be varying shades of brown. Uruk from the Garmadh Desert, that great bowl of ash, are gray. The Many Lashes clan of the hishthai, or uruk of the Ash tribe that I study, belong to this category.

The teeth of the uruk are different from that of mankind as well. As uruk are carnivores, uruk teeth are all canine. The upper fangs are more triangular, and the bottom fangs tend to be sharper and more prominent, giving many uruk a bit of an underbite; a feature which is exaggerated to excess in racist caricatures in human media. Interestingly, uruk teeth are inset in the gums rather than affixed into the jaw like humans. They are also replaced one at a time every few months throughout life, like that of sharks. It is common to witness an uruk spitting out a shed tooth, and is considered good luck in uruk culture to lose a tooth.

Uruk are known as difficult to kill (at least in part) because of the fact that their skeletons are a mix of bone, cartilage, and connective tissue. Cartilage is both flexible and durable, and about half the density of bone. This means uruk who take blows that would shatter human bones may continue battle.

Uruk ears are pointed and larger in proportion to their face than that of humans, but smaller and less moveable compared to the ears of elves, the hob, or the lesser goblinoids. They have the ears of a predator, rather than that of prey.

Uruk have a nictating membrane. This is a translucent third eyelid which blinks from the side, protecting the eye in varying environments (e.g. from the dusty atmosphere of Garmadh, providing some sight underwater in swamps, etc) and providing extra moisture in conjunction with their tear ducts. This is why uruk do not cry; their nictating membranes prevent them from doing so. Uruk have vertical pupil slits because they are crepuscular (or nocturnal, as in the uruk of the gothuzg region of Garmadh).

With their aggressive speed and formidable strength, their incredible vitality, their nocturnal vision, and their razor-sharp teeth, it is no wonder that uruk are depicted on human stages across the world as menacing and savage attackers.

Weather of Garmadh

The weather of Garmadh is exceedingly dry. It rains less than 20 kingfingers a year, so one can be reasonably certain that it will be dry on any given day. However, when it does happen, precipitation comes in the form of a violent, sudden storm. Perhaps this is the reason the Uruk word for “volley” is the same word they have for “rain,” batar.

I discuss thunder and its origin myth in another chapter; bumbullaum is both the name for thunder and for the hero-spirit, the thunder-drummer.  If talking about lightning as a noun, or the sound that it makes, uruk use the word zagur. The action of striking something so hard that it thunders is zagr-. Uruk do not actually draw a distinction between lightning and thunder, in the same way that humans don’t draw a distinction between, say, clapping hands and the sound of a clap.

Moz is the Uruk word for the black wind of Garmadh. It’s hot, and dry, and carries with it ash and black flies, forcing uruk to bundle up in linens to help them breathe. Regardless, a common health problem among the Ash Tribe comes from inhaling this ash, meaning they often cough up black mucus. The flies too, are dangerous. Related to horseflies, they feed on blood, and attempt to eat the flesh of the living when in a frenzy.

Sometimes uruk call this same wind ânud. This term simply refers to its direction; the west wind. This wind is extra hot, as it blows across the notoriously volcanic Ashen Mountains, across what the uruk call “The Master’s Lands.”

Due to this toxic connotation of the wind of Garmadh, uruk use the words, moz and ânud, to refer to the gas they pass for comic effect.

is another word for wind, or gust, or breeze, but pu (without a circumflex) means mouth, so pû has the added connotation of breath. This is because uruk believe that all of weather is magic, and is caused by the breath of the spirits.

The Uruk have a few different words that refer to different kinds of storms. Satug, for example, refers to the common dust storm, sat being one of a few words for the ash and dust in the atmosphere of Garmadh. Pogalm is the word for a hailstorm, which are nowhere near as frequent, only happening a few times a year. Furtun is the word which refers to the rainstorm.

Dushtala refers to all storms; the typhoons which sweep up from the south, or the tornadoes that touch down like black fingers across Garmadh. Dushtala literally translates to “magic/spirits above,” which belies the uruk spiritual outlook of weather.

The violence and ferocity of Garmadh storms doesn’t make the weather any less sacred. Whether the rain comes with violent winds, or in the form of hardened hail the size of a toddler’s fist, it doesn’t matter. The water brings life, and shortly after a storm, the “wasteland” is in bloom.

In fact, it seems as if weather is viewed in a spiritual way because it is so violent and unpredictable, while still nourishing the world. The uruk outlook views the world as a chaotic place, a place that is constantly changing, a place of constant war. Blood eagles hunt their prey, and their prey fight to avoid being eaten. Vultures, jackals, and dire boars fight over carcasses. Plants grow spines and poison to keep from being eaten. Even at the lowest level, ants wage campaigns against giant termites and other ants. At the highest level, everything must fight the elements. Thus, the uruk fear and respect the elements as a high spirit, the highest form of frûm.

Cultural Memory

The uruk with a long, bitter grudge is a popular trope in fictional works. This archetype can be found in the play Lawrence of Garmadh, operas like Horde at the Gates, and such recent novels as The Grat and I. It’s a popular, dramatic trope, and one that is useful for building a growing tension towards a heightening conflict.

And perhaps it has some basis in uruk culture. The uruk live short lives, and their individual memories tend to be crystal clear. Long term, the uruk people have a strong storytelling tradition, and because they put all of these stories to music, the uruk people pass these stories down with ease. They have a deep sense of cultural memory.

When a clan betrays another clan, this isn’t easily forgiven, nor easily forgotten.

The Many Lashes (Gashu) clan, for example, hates the Tearing Through (Khoras) clan. According to long song, the Khoras disrespected a chief of the Gashu 20 years ago, refusing to offer the chief’s elite warriors and retinue grog when they visited, as is custom. The Gashu raided the Khoras in retaliation, beginning a war between the two clans.

None of the chiefs or warriors involved in that original diplomatic gaffe still live, and while the war has officially been called off, there is still a smoldering enmity between the two clans. Neither clan has forgotten– and these clans are part of the same tribe! Imagine how long an intertribal grudge can last, or an interracial one!

The interesting part of these grudges is that the uruk speak as if this happened to them. To them, because they devour the flesh and consume the spirits of their warriors, all warriors are the warriors who came before them, so they make no distinction in time between past and present.

Altercations like these are never forgotten within the lifetimes of the parties involved. Their warrior spirits are consumed and carried on by their offspring for generation upon generation. Thus, to make an enemy of an uruk is to make several lifetimes-worth of enemies.

Curses, Threats, and Insults

The uruk are not known for cultural euphemisms. They are known for being blunt. If they do not like you, you will be the first to know it.

I have already written about common uruk curse words, and how they have turned curse-singing into a beloved cultural pastime. Here, I will describe some curses that I have heard in their curse songs lately.

Tramub dghûlatub.

This translates to something like “I will rape your people’s spirits.” However, there is a tightly packed cultural meaning going on here. The word dghû, as I have covered, means “spirit,” but it can refer to anything from souls, to ghosts, to gods. Uruk do not particularly differentiate. Thus, this could mean “I will rape the ghosts of your people,” to “I will rape your people’s gods.”

Tramub matumblordlab.

The word matumblord literally translates to “death weepers,” but means mourners. The suffix “lab” functions as a 2nd person possessive pronoun. Tramub means “I will rape.” Thus, this threat means “I will rape those who will mourn you.”

Mikborku talûn-karkûbat loiklatubishi

Here, we see another instance of a rape threat, but this one comes after death, and not at the hands of an uruk. Mik means “small,” and borku means “beasts,” so mikborku is “vermin.”

Talûn-karkû means “semen,” but its literal translation is penis [vulgar] butter. Here, it is conjugated as a verb to mean “will ejaculate,” and loik-latub-ishi means “corpse-your-inside.” Thus, “The vermin will ejaculate in your corpse.”

Htol dalgath

This one is quite straightforward. It means “Go have sex with [vulgar] a jackal.” As we have covered in the chapter on outcasts, dalgath literally translates to “trash dog,” and is the brand that all outcasts are marked with. Thus, this can mean “go have sex with [vulgar] a jackal” or “go have sex with [vulgar] an outcast,” who are stereotyped to carry diseases.

Omshumlatub kul bagronk

This particular insult is an attack on one’s omshum. The omshum, of course, is the matriarchal leader and mother of the clan. Insulting an uruk matriarch is an efficient way to start a fight. This insult translates to “Your matriarch is a cesspool.” Bagronk is a common swear, and it refers to a dungpit, a cesspool, or any disgusting mess.

Skraghfraiz omshumishi

A skragh is eighty, a symbolic number among the uruk that serves as a placeholder for “many.” Fraiz translates to “feet,” or “legs.” A skraghfraiz, then, refers to centipedes. Omshumishi means “in your matriarch.” Thus, this one translates to “centipedes in your matriarch.”

Lat bâluz bagbaurishi omlab dhurz plaskomlatub snaguzat

This insult is particularly packed with cultural signifiers, so we will explicate this piece by piece.

Lat means “you.” Bâl is “to be bred,” and uz is a suffix for past tense verbs. Thus, lat bâluz is “you were bred.”

Bagbaur means “anus [vulgar],” and “ishi” is, again, “inside.” Thus, lat bâluz bagbaurishi is “you were bred anus [vulgar]-in.”

Omlab is “your mother,” meaning making the meaning of lat bâluz bagbaurishi omlab “You were bred anus [vulgar]-in your mother(‘s is implied).”

Dhurz is “because,” and plaskom means “fissure, crack, cave, or abyss.” Plaskomlatub means “her fissure,” implying that the uruk’s mother’s vagina is large enough to be considered a fissure.

This insult wraps up with “snaguzat.” This is derived from the same root as snaga, which is slave, but it is used in its verb form. Uzat is a past tense conjugation, so “was slaving,” or “was laboring as a slave.”

Thus, the total explicated literal translation of this insult is, “You were bred anus[vulgar]-in your mother(‘s) because fissure-her was laboring as a slave.”

In other words, this insult means “You were bred in your mother’s asshole because her cave-like vagina was too busy being abused as a sex slave.”

I know of no culture that has more savage curse words than the uruk. They take a deep sense of cultural pride in this, and I must admit I take notes with a degree of delight when copying down these savage insults.

Battle Ecstasy

Human military accounts of campaigns against “marauding orcs” invariably mention the wild way that uruk fight. They describe it as a “savage fury,” or a “barbaric rage.” These human accounts describe the uruk warrior’s howling, their immense strength, their gnashing of teeth, the foam flecking from their mouths, and how these uruk warriors indiscriminately hacked down anyone in their way; friend or foe.

What these accounts fail to mention is that this wild method of fighting is actually deeply spiritual, and considered a state of transcendence for an uruk warrior

I have heard of human indigenous tribes undergoing a similar sort of battle-fury. What the uruk call hûr, some human tribes might call “going berserk,” or “running amok.” Though these are described by their practitioners in different ways.

Going berserk, as the seafaring human tribes of the north describe it, is more of a bloodlust that overtakes a warrior on the battlefield. The warrior sees only red, and when they “come to” after a battle, they are covered in blood. Warriors from these tribes interpret this as their god of war borrowing their bodies for a time. This event is seen as a blessing.

Running amok is different. To the human jungle cultures of the south, an individual is sometimes possessed by an evil rakshasa, or tiger spirit, and watches helplessly as they slaughter anyone in their path. This does not take place on the field of battle, and is looked at as a temporary curse.

The uruk call their trance-like battle state hûr, which translates to battle ecstasy. To an uruk warrior, battle ecstasy is a kind of spiritual enlightenment that takes place under immense duress. Typically this out of body experience occurs in war or duels, on the field of battle. However, uruk may also experience hûr: hammering at their forges; playing war drums or singing myth-songs; hallucinating on entheogens; while receiving scars; or any number of exceptional spiritual circumstances. It also isn’t uncommon for mothers to tap into hûr under the intense pain of childbirth.

Regardless of where, when, or why, during hûr an uruk appears berserk on the outside. However, on the inside, the uruk has transcended. They view themselves from an almost third person perspective.

My adoptive father is Hûrtab kul Shau, an ex-explorer and guide for the Peregrine Society. He’s also part owner of the Shau Tribe, an organization that provides a home for those with uruk blood. He was raised in a traditional uruk clan, and earned his name for his hûr. His very name translates to “His Battle-Ecstasy is Silent.”

I asked my father once what battle-ecstasy is supposed to be like. He told me, “No-feel pain. No-feel anything. No-think. Thinking is lake-calm. Thinking is air-mountain. Thinking is no-wind, no-cold, no-hot, nothing. Emptiness. Nothingness. Living death.”

I asked him if this serenity was true for all uruk. He said yes, on the inside. Apparently, he earned his name because his outward hûr is calm.

I saw Hûrtab enter hûr once. When I was little, he and my adoptive mother took some of my brothers and sisters and I to a ball game. Afterwards, a small mob of drunk human men accosted us, mocking us. I remember they called us a family of “rapeborn.”

My father reacted slowly. I remember it seemed so fast, but so lazy. He seemed half asleep to me, and he made no sound as he forced their legs to crunch backwards with his bare hands. I still remember their femurs stabbing out of their skin like jagged, white prison knives. Many of the men were down and screaming on the ground. I remember the sight of their blood mixing with the wet garbage in the gutter. The rest of the men fled.

While the quiet hûr of my father is unusual, other uruk warriors attest to the calm they feel on the inside. It’s this uniting sense of calm in the face of carnage—because of carnage—that uruk warriors culturally define themselves. This is why hûr also has the ideas of bravery and courage wrapped up in it.

I asked Agon Ashtu, the Many Lashes clan shaman, about hûr. What he told me was really interesting, and belied a cultural view starkly different from modern human society.

Babies born blood-in. Ones old die blood-in. Life-all is fighting, conflict, destruction, struggle. Life-all is war. World is battlefield. Everything dies so everything lives. This is lifewar.

 Elves say ‘Harmony-in live. Peace-in life.’ Bah. Stupid. Child thinking. Elves live trees-in. Elves carve trees, kill trees. Elves kill plants, plants die, devour plants. Elves kill deer, deer die, devour deer. Everything dies. Everything is devoured. Everything devours. Everything devours everything. Life devours life. Life-all is struggle.

Uruk devour. Uruk devour beasts, devour insects, devour warriors. But, beasts devour uruk. Insects devour uruk. Warriors devour uruk. Sun too devours uruk. Sickness too devours uruk. Time too eats uruk. Life-all is struggle. This is lifewar.

When uruk has battle-ecstasy, uruk is lifewar, and lifewar is uruk. Uruk becomes lifewar-same. Uruk and lifewar are one.

Thus, by tapping into their hûr, or battle-ecstasy, uruk are tapping into the huge, uruk-cultural and spiritual concept of lifewar, or slaiumazauk. This worldview stands in direct contrast to that of the modern, civilized human view. Modern civilized humans tend to view the world in terms of good versus evil, law against chaos. The uruk do not see these things as opposing forces. Uruk see no distinction between life and destruction. Instead, they view them as the same thing; lifewar.

Uruk Humor

Today I’d like to talk a little about uruk humor. Here, I have translated three jokes in the Uruk language. The first is a simple pun:

Mat sharasnaga baaku?
Sharasnaga bagu!

“Why is the manslave humiliated?”
“He is covered in excrement!”

This joke is quite unusual in that is a pun. In general, uruk humor is driven by ambiguities, or story-based, as homonyms and homophones in Uruk are rather rare. The pun here relies on the words baaku, or humiliated, and bagu, or excrement. The words for humiliated and excrement are very phonetically similar.

It’s important to note that often, in day-to-day language, most uruk do not necessarily to use the word kul, or “to be.” Thus, this joke literally translates to

“Why manslave humiliated?”
“Manslave shitty!”

When native uruk speakers learn the common creole of man as a second language, they often forget to use the word “to be,” and are mocked for being stupid. This is a cultural misunderstanding. After all, aren’t most sentences understood perfectly, despite the lack of “to be?”

In general, if a word can be omitted in everyday speech, it is. Uruk believe that the listeners must take a more active role in listening, and to use some words is to insult the listener’s intelligence.

Here’s another joke:

Golm shakgrîg sharadorr shapat maukur-ûr
shatûp-izg kârtab ânghâsh-ir!

I offer to make the manswine a sword to duel with
So I crush his head on the anvil!

Uruk jokes and speech tend to be told in the present tense, unlike human stories and things, which are told in the past. This belies an interesting cultural perception of time, where everything is always in the process of happening now.

Uruk is also much more “stripped” as a language. Because it is designed to be rather vague (while the listener fills in the spaces), this means that the vast majority of uruk jokes rely on ambiguities.

Here is the literal translation of the joke, for linguistic understanding’s sake:

Offer-i forge manswine sword duel-with
Crush-i head-its anvil-on!

The third joke is something of a story in three parts. Here is the first part of the story in uruk, a translation in the common tongue, and then a more literal syntax:

Uruk skât utot-golog-u.
Uruk gashn, “Thrak âps izish-u!”
Golog gashn, “Nar-brus-izgu âps!”
Uruk tram golog, ghâsh utot, skât.

An uruk goes to elven village
The uruk says “Bring meat to me!”
The elves say “We have no meat!”
The uruk rapes the elves, burns their village, and leaves.

Uruk goes village-elves-to.
Uruk says, “Bring meat me-to!”
Elves say, “No-have-we meat!”
Uruk rapes elves, burns village, leaves.

This joke plays on the cultural enmity between uruk and the elves. In the same way that human jokes may pick on a particular ethnicity, or class, or religion, or group of people with a similar hair color, the favorite cultural punching bag for uruk is the elven race. This joke paints elves as spineless, helpless vegetarians.

Ârshu uruk skât utot-golog-u.
Uruk gashn, “Thrak âps izish-u!”
Golog gashn, “Nar-brus-izgu âps!”
Uruk tram golog, ghâsh utot, skât.

The next day, uruk goes to elven village
Uruk says “Bring meat to me!”
Elves say “We have no meat!”
Uruk rapes elves, burns the village, leaves.

Days, uruk goes village-elves-to.
Uruk says, “Bring meat me-to!”
Elves say, “No-have-we meat!”
Uruk rapes elves, burns village, leaves.

Note that in this second part begins with “Days.” Ârsh means “day,” and the –u suffix pluralizes it. The literal translation is “Days,” but many uruk use this word to mean “tomorrow.”

This joke in uruk follows the rule of three that jokes across many cultures follow. Obviously, the first step of the joke establishes a story, the second part of the joke establishes a pattern, and the third part of the joke breaks that pattern in a surprising way:

Ârshu uruk skât utot-golog-u.
Golog gashn, “Brus-izgu âps zârsh!”
Uruk gashn, “Utot-golog-naga thrak âps izish-u. Thrak grog izish-u!”

The next day, the uruk goes to the elven village.
The elves say, “We have meat today!”
The uruk says, “The other elven village brought meat to me. Bring me grog!”

Days, uruk goes village-elves-to.
Elves say, “Have-we meat today!”
Uruk says, “Village-elves-other bring meat me-to. Bring grog me-to!”

The uruk favor violence in their stories and humor. I once asked Agon Ashtu why uruk have this cultural obsession with violence, and, in true uruk fashion, he answered in a myth.

“Uruk made ash-of, smoke-of. Father is fire and shadow. Fire eats, consumes, spreads. So does uruk.”

Uruk Falconry

In human societies, falconry has always been a venerated tradition of the ruling elite. To the uruk of the Ash tribe, falconry is just as venerated a pastime. However, any warrior uruk can undertake this hobby.

In uruk, the word gîrakûnu refers to birds of prey, such as hawks, falcons, and eagles, and a gîrakûnog can be translated to mean falconer… but uruk almost invariably use the blood eagle for hunting.

The blood eagle, known in scholarly circles as aquila sanguineus, is a large bird of prey that nests in high ridges and cliffs throughout Garmadh. Their territory can cover around 200 squared km. Females tend to be considerably larger than males, and are thus preferred by uruk falconers. A full grown, female blood eagle is usually a meter or so tall, and the largest recorded wingspan was around 2.34 m. They can weight between three and seven kg. They can fly at around 280 kph, and blood eagles may live until they are 30 years old or so.

Blood eagles are crepuscular, meaning they are most active in the twilight hours. They are also known for being quiet, as they do not often cry or call out. On the rare occasion they do communicate, the call of the blood eagle has often been described as a “squeak,” or “puppy-like,” despite their formidable appearance. The diet of a blood eagle consists mostly of small mammals, like groundhogs, rodents, and young deer, though they have also been known to hunt foxes, young wolves, wild dogs, and young humanoids.

Blood eagles mate monogamously and lay four eggs, with an average of two eggs surviving to be hatched.  The birds earn their name for their dark crimson plumage– matching the red cliffs of Garmadh– with black markings on their napes. Adolescents typically have white markings on the tail and wings.

The uruk of Garmadh have used the blood eagles to hunt, perhaps since before recorded history. Owning one, and training one, is an immense source of pride for a tribal uruk, and the blood eagles have come to symbolize the freedom and power of the warrior spirit.

There are three ways for an uruk to capture a blood eagle:

  • The simplest way is to find an eagle who has engorged themselves on a kill, and is currently too bloated to fly well. An uruk on the back of a dire boar can easily run them to exhaustion as they attempt to take flight, only to land and try again, eventually  capturing them by hand.
  • The second and most common way is to lay a trap. An uruk hunter lays meat out as bait and a net is rigged to be pulled with a rope from a distance. If the uruk falconer has a friend who already has an eagle, they often tether that eagle nearby to attract other eagles, and make them think the kill is safe to feed on.
  • The third and most dangerous (yet perhaps most rewarding) way is to scale a cliff face to steal eagle chicks from their mother. Obviously, the parents do not like this, and try to knock the climber down from their ascent with their powerful wings. Despite the danger, some uruk still attempt this method, as all agree that the younger an eagle is caught, the more loyal it is, and the easier it is to train.

Training and “owning” a blood eagle is a very time-consuming process, lasting around three span. It takes a high degree of trust between handler and eagle. Most uruk only have one eagle for this reason. Through training, the eagle imprints its handler, and will remain hostile to other uruk.

Training takes about threespan, and begins with “breaking in” the raptor. First, as soon as the eagle is caught, it is fitted with a leather hood. This hoods blocks out all light, effectively blinding the eagle, and depriving it of its keenest sense. Once the eagle is taken back to camp, the eagle is tethered to a perch in such a way so that it falls every time it tries to fly away. Eventually, the bird becomes so exhausted that it will eat out of the hunter’s hand. After the bird is broken in, a hunting excursion is planned. A bird needs an older, more experienced bird to help train it, and since uruk can usually only handle one eagle at a time, this means another uruk blood eagle handler must come along. This is often a form of bonding among uruk warriors.

Blood eagles are doted upon and treated quite well. At firstwake, the eagle is given water through a reed straw from the uruk warrior’s own mouth. At the end of each wake, the eagles are massaged until they fall asleep. Eagles are fed from a specially made bowl, used specifically for hand-feeding eagles. They are fed strips of meat which have been rinsed of blood. Amoz, the tribe’s resident expert falconer, tells me this is to keep the eagle blood-thirsty.

Every autumn, the uruk eagle handler takes a day to slaughter and dry the meat it will feed their eagle throughout the winter. This meat is hung and dried in a small tent built for this purpose. After the meat is dried, it is kept in a pouch hung around the uruk’s waist. The meat must be accessible so that the bird can be lured away from its kill, so that the pelt isn’t ripped to shreds in its talons.

Once a week, eagles are fed dietary pellets. These are formed from the down of cat-tail reeds, as a substitute for the fur they would eat in the wild. This helps absorb fat, and the eagle coughs it up the next day.

The equipment for blood eagles is often exquisitely crafted, and a gift for one’s eagle is considered great frûm. For example rûp, or leather straps attached to the eagles legs, are padded with felt to prevent chafing and always worn, even in flight. Often, small ornaments dangle from the rûp, often carved from animal bone. The hoods are also finely made, and the stands that eagles perch on tend to be made from scrimshawed antlers.

Hunting takes place all year round, excluding the spring. This is to give animals plenty of opportunity to give birth and raise healthy young. Blood eagles are used to hunt a variety of small game. This includes rabbits, foxes, wild dogs, marmots, wolves, and even young wargs. The fur from these pelts is often used to line winter clothing. Hunting is always done on the back of a dire boar. The hunter wears thick leather gloves and special wooden perches that attach to the dire boar saddles. This is because blood eagles can be quite heavy, and it can be exhausting to lift them while riding.

The uruk hunter rides to a high hill overlooking a wide valley, sometimes sending a young uruk into the brush to flush out game. The eagle’s hood is lifted and the eagle is released. The eagle soars high, spots prey, and then glides in for the kill. Unlike falcons, which break the neck of their kill as they dive-bomb their prey, the blood eagle languidly glides in and overpowers its prey through brute force. The blood eagle tends to kill its quarry by piercing its heart with its dagger-like talons. The hunter must immediately ride down the hill and distract the bird from the kill with some of the meat in the hunter’s pouch. After the hunter guts the animal, the eagle is rewarded with the lungs of its kill, which is prized.

After an eagle has hunted for 8 years, the eagle is released from its service. In the Many Lashes clan, the best falconer is Amoz, or He of the Wind. One day, I was talking to Amoz, and he noticed that a great blood eagle was circling above us in the sky. He told me it was one of his old eagles. I didn’t believe him, but he whistled, and the eagle flew down and lighted on his arm! I couldn’t believe it.

 

 

Uruk Hell

There is no figure more prominent in uruk myth song than the dark one. Venerated by some as a father figure yet feared by all as a malevolent entity, the dark one is the only god, I am told, that every tribe of Garmadh believes in, and perhaps the only entity in uruk myth that may be considered a god in the classic human sense.

This figure goes by many names. Uruk call him drau throquog “Shine-Devourer,” gothdur “Archmaster,” narbugud “Nameless,” bûrgulu graug “Shadow Shepherd,” and of course, simply bûrzgoth, “the Dark Lord.” Many stories surround this figure, but the uruk never use his name, always use a different moniker, and the stories are only told on particular nights. I am told that this is because they are afraid they might accidentally call upon him.

They do often talk about—and swear upon– this figure’s fortress, which is viewed by the uruk in a similar way to Hell, in human myth. This fortress is called Ân Narkû, or Ânarkû, which translates to “Never Sun,” implying the sun has never known this place. According to uruk legend, it lies deep beneath the surface of darkest part of Garmadh, in the shadows of the four volcanoes called the Master’s fingers.

Every story involving the Dark Lord contains only pieces of a description of this place, so that coming up with a full description feels like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. From the stories I have been told, this is what I have come up with:

In a massive, subterranean cavern beneath the volcanoes, there is a great, roiling lake of slime. In the middle of this lake, there is an island. On the island sits the walled fortress of Ânarkû, carved from a stinking black stone that drinks torchlight and seems to bleed when touched.

A bridge juts out from Ânarkû like a gruesome tongue, spanning across the bubbling lake and connecting the fortress to the Black Gate at the shore. This bridge is lined with statues of great, strange creatures. Their alien faces sit upside down on vulture-like bodies, and they sit atop pedestals. They perch above all who cross the bridge, and one feels like a mouse caught in a snake’s glare when one passes beneath them.

The Jaws is the second jagged gate one must pass through, on the other side of the bridge. It spreads out from the high, spiky battlements that surround the island, rising cliff-like from the lake of slime. Every surface of these battlements is carved with strange hieroglyphs from some forgotten time. It is said the Uruk pictograms derive from these.

Beyond The Jaws is the courtyard. The Eye of Fire tribe, the old priests of the dark one, still dwells in this courtyard. A great black spire thrusts from the courtyard into the air. Its base twists like the roots of a swamp tree. Its top is like a crown of thorns. Strange lights flicker from the murder holes of this tower, and shrill chanting can be heard from within.

The courtyard holds great doors that lead into the fortress, which descends like an inverted, labyrinthine ziggurat into the oozing stone. Down, down, down it descends. The fortresses tortuous corridors wind past old barracks, halls, workshops, forges, and sanctuaries to horrible insectile figures praying, anointing, and harvesting the flesh of a world of carrion.

The uruk of the Master’s tribes refuse to go to the nethermost level of this ziggurat. Horrid columns snake up from the floor and disappear into the murk above. Massive suits of spiked armor line this blasphemous hall, holding instruments of torture and death, and wearing spiked helms like the skulls of Outsiders. Corridors disappear between each grinning gargoyle. Some lead to the surface of the desert. Some lead to laboratories, war rooms, ritual rooms, or pits impossibly deep. Still others lead deeper down, to places more unknown and unforgiving. Mysterious clanking, scratching, and gibbering can be heard as echoes from these.

At the far end of the execrable hall, there are massive columns, carved to mock the faces of martyrs dying in agony. The throne of the Shine Devourer sits at the base of these columns, like a tarantula in a deathcurl.

Here is where the stories veer from each other. The Iron Tusk tribe says the Dark Lord is gone from this world entirely. The Blackfinger tribe says he still stalks the lowest halls in his madness. Some gobelin tribes swear that his corpse sits in his throne, dead yet dreaming, waiting to awaken once more. The Ash tribe says he was decapitated with a silver sword, a stake driven into his crusty heart, his tongue cut from his face, his corpse dragged into the sun, and his body burned… but that his body disappeared. The Ash tribe fears that he may be born again one day.

 

Outcasts

Clan affiliation has its benefits. Being in a clan offers protection from raiders, greater chance to survive the harsh elements of the wasteland, and emotional support, greater variety of goods, and a range of resources. However, clan politics can be notoriously difficult to navigate, and some uruk are outcast from their tribes. These uruk are called dalgag, which means something similar to garbage person.

It would be fair to say that the tribal uruk fears being outcast more than they fear death. To the uruk of the Ash tribe, death means having one’s flesh devoured by one’s loved ones and having your spirit live on through them. To the same uruk, being outcast means losing frûm, and being cut off everyone they have ever loved. Worse, when the outcast uruk dies, they are eaten by ants and worms, and their spirit must be devoured by many creatures until they can be consumed by a warrior again.

But how does someone become an outcast? In theory, uruk who have been cast out from their clan have committed some grave taboo or crime, and they no longer have frûm. The very act of challenging these frûm-less uruk to a duel in retribution would result in the challenger losing frûm, so the frûm-less uruk are banished instead.

In practice however, outcasts are often victims who have simply gotten on their chief’s bad side. A bitter chief might send the poor uruk on doomed missions or tasks that they will certainly fail at, until the uruk messes up enough to be cast out of the clan, with nothing but the clothes on their back, ten nights’ worth of rations, and a small sack of supplies.

The outcast is branded with the sign of the dalgath, garbage-dog, or the jackal. The imagery is clear; the jackal is a packless dog, and scavenger of the wastes. This sign is burned into the fleshy part of their axe hand, where the thumb meets the palm. Any uruk who sees this mark will know that the uruk they are dealing with is unscrupulous, so other uruk will consider them untrustworthy.

Life for the outcast varies. Many die in their first year, either from thirst, starvation, the elements, or natural predators. Still others are killed outright by uruk raiding parties for sport. However, many outcasts do survive, and some may even prosper in their new lives.

If the outcast is a nashok, they may be abducted by a small uruk clan. These clans are often desperate for healthy mothers. She will experience the life of a sex slave for a 80 turns of the moon, but eventually be accepted, finding herself in a position of power as a nashok of a small clan, or even clan matriarch. Nashok may also attempt to join their old mother-clan, the clan they were born into before they were “raided” in the wife-stealing ritual.

Warriors sometimes manage to carve a life for themselves in the caves of the high hills. Some with well-known skills establish themselves as artisans or merchants for many clans in the area. If the warrior was well known, and it is clear that they were banished for political reasons, they may allow themselves to be captured and enslaved by another clan, eventually being accepted among their ranks. This is very dangerous though, as they are also likely to be cut down as a coward.

Sometimes, it is simply a matter of patience. If it was obvious to many within their clan that an uruk was banished for political reasons, the outcast simply has to wait for a regime change. If the chief has made many political enemies (and exiling people wantonly is one way to do that), then it really is only a matter of time before the old chief is killed in a duel. The new chief may remember them, and accept them willingly.

If a lot of uruk have been banished in one area, and they have enough nashok, sometimes they get together to form their own clan. This clan may seek retribution against an old chief, like the uruk legend of the Jackal Chief. The budding clan may also move to an entirely new area to start a new life.

Finally, many banished uruk make their way to the human city of Iz, to settle in the tent district. That part of Iz is full of uruk with the mark of the jackal, forging a new life as laborers, servants, bodyguards, artisans, and guides.

The guide who led me here, Nâkhûrz the Greedy, was an outcast who currently lives in Iz. He was banished from the Many Lashes clan for stealing an axe, which is a high crime. He led me into the Many Lashes spring lands and then left me, knowing that if they were to see him again, they would kill him on sight.