The Emir Voi Taan, Champion of the Faithful, combed the dust and sweat off his tired mount as the distant drums thundered and echoed through the canyons of the Southron Waste. Near at hand was his lance’s scout, Bohl, an exile from the Steppe Folk.
Sighing with fatigue, the Emir turned to his comrade. “The Orcish drums again. How long before they attack again?”
“Milord, you know little of the Orcish way of battle. Those are not the drums of war,” replied the taciturn exile.
The Emir was surprised. “So, we aren’t in danger, after all?”
“You misunderstand, Excellency. The drums in the hills are the drums of fellowship. Tonight the tribes make alliance. Our danger is much greater than you imagined.”
The Voices of the Spirits
The Orcish tribes of the wastelands believe that musical instruments each have their own soul, summoned patiently from the realm of spirit by the “spirit caller” shaping the instrument. An Orcish artisan will spend endless hours perfecting the tone of his instrument, crooning a soft summons to the capricious realm of the spirits in the hope that his instrument will house a powerful spirit. The appearance of the instrument means nothing to many of these careful craftsmen. Some of the items they craft look crude, others are covered in intricate detail, but their tone and timbre are all the spirit caller will notice. Before any of these instruments can be touched, one of the “Shon Bukai” (“Shamans”) of the tribes will inspect it carefully. If the spirit that was called will bring danger to the tribe, the instrument is burned before it can do any harm.
The Music of War
In the lands of men, all most people know of Orcs are tales of war and rapine, the legacy of centuries of war and hatred between their races. They think of the Orcs as crude and without culture, a people possessed by hatred and lust for destruction: When the music of war fills the land, the reasons for these old tales is made clear.
The drums of war are among the most valued possessions of any tribe. Like other Orcish instruments, each has its own unique name and spirit. The shon bukai carefully note the spirit associated with each drum, only permitting those with the appropriate spirit to be played. The responsibility of choosing the best instrument before a battle is one of the highest honors offered to a shaman. A shaman who fails his tribe by choosing instruments with the wrong spirit may be cast out by his people, sent into the wasteland as an exile.
Although many have heard of the dreaded war drums of the Orcish tribes, they have another instrument played only on the eve of battle: Only Orcish warriors of proven mettle are permitted to play the “D’Shurzurum” (“Thunder Caller”). This unusual instrument is played by pairs of Orcish warriors, with one turning a flywheel and the other fingering the strings. In many ways, it resembles a hurdy-gurdy, with a long, narrow soundbox holding several strings that are pushed against the rosined flywheel. Over six feet in length, one end of the instrument is made up of a shield-like resonating plate. The continuous rumbling vibration of this instrument is deeply disquieting to many other races, and has been known to drive besieged enemies mad, unable to sleep or keep food down.
The Music of Celebration
Orcs are known for their powerful drums of war, but they actually have a variety of instruments used for different occasions. Tribal gatherings often feature a type of pipe or flute, generally crafted of bone and played by the older females of the tribe. The drums used in these celebrations are those that bring a spirit of energy and joy, filling the bellicose folk of the tribes with a spirit of harmony. The warriors of the tribes know from the instruments chosen whether they are permitted to fight among themselves or whether that is discouraged at the celebration. They welcome opportunities to fight in front of the tribes, as daring or successful warriors are rewarded for their displays of valor. The passing of the seasons is also celebrated, with the instruments summoning the tribe’s protective spirits to prevent illness or hunger in the coming season.
The Music of Council
When the leaders of different tribes or villages meet in council, a constant drumbeat echoes around them. The spirits communicate to the elders through the music, giving them wisdom and judgment to carefully guide the tribe’s affairs. At the end of the council, the decision of the leaders is communicated through the music played. If the leaders cannot come to agreement before the musicians tire, it is considered a very bad omen and the instruments are locked away for a year to punish the spirits for their intractability. Few of the Orcish leaders are willing to go an entire year without the guidance of the spirits, so they make every effort to reach agreement before the drummers’ strength fails them.
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