Orcs in the Korokhurmagh

This is a previously unreleased excerpt from the newly released full edition of A SEA OF SKULLS, which is now available in an ebook edition at the Arkhaven store.

Lugbol growled and slapped at one of the forest’s infernal insects that was busily engaged in biting his left bicep. He crushed it under his horny palm, felt a pop, and looked down to see he’d smeared his own dark green blood along with the remnants of the bug that had bitten him across his upper arm. He shook his head, knowing that the bite was going to start itching momentarily, then slapped fruitlessly at another one that had just bitten his calf.
“I don’t remember them being this bad before,” he complained.
“They had all the dead to feed on then,” Ghurash replied. Even though it had been less than three weeks since they’d fled the dark shadows of the Korokhurmagh, already the denizens of the forest had all but picked the thousands of dead bodies clean of flesh. They were rapidly approaching the western edge of the great wood and soon they would be encroaching on the true Man lands, not merely the pillaging the small villages and hamlets that had been carved out of the trees by the lesser tribes and clans.
The Hagahorn’ugh had been cocky and full of contempt for the martial abilities of the Szavon’agh as they passed through the burned-out remains of the villages overrun by Zlatagh’s army, but they gradually fell silent and their mood turned grim as they began to come across one large-skulled, thick-boned skeleton after another. There were few Man skeletons, and the bones of those they encountered were eagerly snatched up and divided among sqwaaks and younger kors seeking clubs or remains to decorate their armor.
More than a dozen fights broke out over the Man bones, the worst of which began when a boar rider commandeered a large thigh bone another kor had intended for a club, then cracked it open and sucked out the marrow. By the time Lugbol and Karnuhg, one of the cavalry grun-kors, managed to put a stop to the fracas, four mountain orcs and two Black Fists were dead, and another Hagahornu was so badly wounded that he ended up in the cookpot that evening.
The kral chewed him out for the needless death of his orcs, of course, but Lugbol had the sneaking suspicion that the older orc was secretly impressed at how Lugbol’s veteran kors managed to more than hold their own against the bigger mountain orcs. In fact, knowing that Lugbol, being Goghu and half the size of his Hagahornu officers, could never pose a threat to his rule, Nekheru had proven increasingly inclined to give his new hadvezer more responsibilities as they marched through the forest toward the Man lands. In addition to commanding the light infantry and the goblin cavalry, Lugbol was now serving as the liason between the farkh’agh and the various shugaba’ugh and grun-kors whose kors had the annoying habit of feasting upon their fellow marching companions whenever they couldn’t find adequate meat to sate their appetites.
Two large goblins, wearing the ornate headgear favored by their shugaba’agh, approached him now, escorted by a nervous-looking bodyguard of twelve lightly-armored yellowskins carrying pikes. Lugbol groaned. Given the angry expressions on their hook-chinned, hook-nosed faces, he had a pretty good idea of why they were coming to see him, even though they were attached to units outside his command.

“What you want, little farkh’agh?” Ghurash demanded of them.
“We want yez bloody hadvezer to help us!”
“Or what?” the orc snapped, looming dangerously over both of them. They might be big for goblins, but the grun-kor could still easily snap their necks in his powerful hands and all three of them knew it.
“Or there won’t be none of us left to do no more fighting for yez.”
“Or maybe we’ze start sneaking about and slashing throats,” added the other shugaba, darkly.
“Hold up,” Lugbol broke in. “There ain’t no need for that kind of talk. Yez been having trouble with some of the kors?”
“Hadvezer!” Both goblins had the sense to thump their chests as they addressed him. “It’s more the koruts, sir. They been riding up behind the march and grabbing stragglers. Between us, we’ze lost eighteen in the last two days!”
“Why are you talking to me? I ain’t yez commander.”
“No sir, but we heard you made yez kors stop chowing on yez farkhut’ugh. So we thought maybe you could tell them to leave our goblins alone too.”
“I got no swang with the cavalry, except maybe the wolfriders. Yez wants to do something about the koruts, yez gots to talk to the kral or to Hadvezer Boghrul.” He wasn’t optimistic about their chances. Boghrul One-Eye, the senior cavalry commander, was so ornery and sour-faced that he made the Hagahornu kral look like a flirtatious young kwee by comparison.
“We tried that,” one of the goblins said. “Well, the farkh’a afore me did. Boghrul smashed his head in, then had him spitted and roast for his grun-kors’ supper.”
Lugbol nodded. He could see why the two farkh’agh were reluctant to request a second hearing with the hadvezer. And while Nekhuru wasn’t likely to harm them, he also wasn’t going to upbraid one of his most senior officers for what, from the orc perspective, was no more a crime than picking a berry from a bush. The idea that the berry might protest its ill-treatment wasn’t so much as irrelevant as ridiculous.
On the other hand, Lugbol was fairly certain that they were going to need the clever farkh’agh for more than their ability to keep orc bellies filled with bloodbread and the occasional serving of fresh meat once they exited the woods and encountered the Man army that was sure to be waiting for them, so he figured it would be a good idea to keep them from deserting en masse if he could.
“I can’t do squat for yez, understand? Yez ain’t my kors. But I can tell yez that the way we kept our farkhut’agh out of the cookpots is that I told their shugaba’agh to make damn sure they was keeping my kors happy with whatever meats and berries they could find, right? Ain’t nobody likes eating that bloodbread yez is carting around; tastes like faszhek tree bark. But yez hands over a deer or some rabbits, that’ll be enough to keep them from eating goblin for a day or three, especially if you make the bread from the squeezings instead of cutting yezselves.”
“How we supposed to hunt for critters when we’ze doing everything we can just to keep up with the march?” one of the goblins demanded. “It’s all very well for the wolfriders to run down some meat; they gots to keep their wolves fed anyhow. But we can’t be expected to do more than we’ze already doing!”
He had a point, Lugbol had to admit. Except for a few of the officers, the goblin infantry was weighed down by the strange devices called krobb’ugh, which were a sort of miniature wagon that rolled on a single wooden ball and was dragged behind the goblin to whom it was attached by a wooden rod that served as a yoke. The wagon, or drag-pack, was made of rigid leather, and could be turned into a backpack by removing the yoke. Most of the krobb’ugh were filled with the root-flour from which the goblins made the bloodbread that fed the army; but while the bread kept their bellies full enough, it wasn’t enough to satisfy the average orc’s appetite for flesh of one sort or another. And since a full krobb weighed more than the average goblin who was dragging it did, there was no way the infantry could both march and hunt.
He sighed. “All right. I’ll see what I can do. But I ain’t promising yez nothing, understand?”
“Hadvezer!” they chorused, thumping their chests appreciatively.
“Get off with yez,” he growled.