Chapter 15: Army
When they left Narat’s room, there were nine members of Clan Cave Panther. An hour later there were fifteen members. Kharf and his five followers joined. At first they didn’t want to, but when Urnarat challenged Kharf for leadership of his band, and beat him handily, breaking the larger uruk’s arm in the process, they changed their minds. When Urthorn waded into a couple of uruks who thought they would help their boss, and knocked them silly, without even breaking a sweat, they changed their minds. When Kharf saw that the uruk he had known as Narat, but who now insisted that he be called Urnarat, had a magic ring, and when he was told he could have one too if he swore the oath, he quickly decided he’d rather switch than fight, especially since fighting didn’t work. When Urcaryx healed his broken arm with magic, he was totally won over. Urkharf became sixth in command right behind Urnarat.
There weren’t enough rings for all the Uruks they met to have one. She only had about ten left. “We need another way to seal them into the clan,” Calyx told Rose and Arrth. Kharf and his uruks had all been part of the Rat clan. They all had rat tattoos on their shoulders. Looking at them gave Petal an idea. “Let us just mark them with the Cave Panther symbol.”
“We don’t have ink or a tattoo artist,” said Arrth. “Tattooing every uruk we win over could take a long time.”
“We could brand them,” suggested Thorn. “Make one of these rings red hot and it would leave a nice image burned into their hides.”
“That would hurt,” protested Arrth.
“Yes, it would hurt a lot, but uruks can take pain. Let us make it a point of honor for them.”
Rose grinned, a grin showing plenty of tusks. “I like this plan a lot.”
Urkharf’s troops were scheduled to be the first to be branded. Urthorn told them it was the beginning of a new honor—and they would be the first to experience it. When she said that, Rokko, Ugly, and Snarg, that is Urrokko, Urugly, and Ursnarg demanded that they be branded first. Who would be honored with the Cave Panther brand first threatened to turn into a fight until Urarrth came up with the idea to have a contest for the honor. The strongest uruks would be marked first. They found a table and chairs in Kharf’s quarters and settled down to the fist thumping game. Each contestant sat in a chair, put his elbow on the table, and grasped the other one’s fist. Whoever drove the other one’s hand to the table first won the match.
One of Kharf’s uruks tried to cheat by lifting his elbow off the table for better leverage. Thorn knocked him out with a flatlings blow of her axe. When he woke up a few minutes later, he learned that he had come in last. No one else tried to cheat.
Urrokko won the strength competition. Arrth had created a branding rod with a copper cat head ring wedged and impaled on the point of a dagger. Urcaryx used a Call Flame spell to create a magical flame that burned in the air just above her palms, greatly impressing all the uruks who had never seen one of their own wield magic before, They would have been maddened and outraged if they had known she was really a high elf, but the illusions that enmeshed Rose and her comrades were perfect. The uruks saw only other uruks, a bit strange, but that was to be expected from an unknown clan. They believed, and their belief strengthened the illusion.
“Where do you want your brand of honor, Urrokko?” Urarrth asked.
“Put it on the back of my right hand.”
“That is an excellent place. It will give you extra power in that hand and arm.”
Urrokko grinned, and made a fist.
Arrth pushed the glowing ring firmly into the uruk’s skin. Flesh singed and sizzled under the heat. When Arrth pulled the brand away, a glowing red panther head marked the uruk’s hand.
“Does that hurt?” asked Urroz.
“It hurts like fire,” Urrokko answered, “but it is a good hurt.” He grinned savagely and held his hand up for all the other uruks to witness. They could still smell the burned flesh where the ring had marked him, and to see the fiery red cat-head against his greenish brown skin seemed a mark of great power.
“Hail, Urrokko!” yelled Urthorn. The rest of the uruks joined in the cheer.
Urarrth heated the ring again. The second strongest Uruk was one of Urkharf’s warriors who now took the name of Urgroo. He wanted the brand in the center of his chest. He growled a bit when the glowing hot ring sizzled into his flesh.
“Hail, Urgroo!” cried Urthorn. All of the uruks cheered him. He looked very pleased with himself., although he did splash some water on the new brand as soon as he could.
The third uruk let out a yelp of pain when the sizzling metal burned into his chest. All of the other uruks laughed, and silently vowed that they would not disgrace themselves.
“I give you a new name,” declared Kharf. “Your name is now Yelper.”
“His name is Uryelper,” declared Urroz. “He bears the mark and is now a member of Clan Cave Panther.”
“Hail, Uryelper!” shouted Urthorn. The other Uruks joined in the cheer. It hadn’t been that much of a yelp after all, and they weren’t all certain they could bear the pain without yelling a bit.
In fact, two others also cried out in pain. They got to retain their own names however. The name change joke was only funny once.
When they had all been branded, Urroz made them swear loyalty to their leaders on pain of death. Urnarat’s men swore the oath again, and with great feeling. The ritual, the pain, the cheers of the other uruks—these were great things. They began to feel that they were part of something larger than themselves.
“What band shall we take next?” asked Urrarth of his new lieutenants.
“Darrho thinks he is something special because he has eight followers. Let us offer him the honor next,” suggested Urkharf.
“Yes, Darrho needs to learn this lesson,” agreed Urnarat. “Do you know where he is?”
“It is his time to kill skwawgs at the Carrion Pits.”
“Then let us go help him, and give him the chance to join Clan Cave Panther.”
It took almost an hour of marching to reach the Carrion Pits. As they marched they encountered a giant purple gakk. It looked something like a sixteen-legged spider crossed with a lizard and a centaur. Its mouth was perfectly circular and emitted a purple vapor each time the thing breathed out. Each leg was tipped with a dagger sharp claw. It didn’t roar when it attacked. It burbled, but it was a very loud and frightening burble. Any ordinary squad of uruks would have turned and fled when meeting such a creature, and the slowest of them would have been its dinner.
“Skrraggggggg!” bellowed Urarrth, pulling out his broadsword and charging at the monster. A bolt of flame sizzled past him and set the creature’s head afire. Urthorn was half a step behind him on one side. Urroz was on the other. All the rest of the uruks charged as well.
They rolled over it like a tide. Urarrth chopped the flaming head in half. Skimmies chopped, spears stabbed. The uruks cut its many legs out from under it. Urkharf leaped on its back and drove his great war spear through it so hard that the spear head grated against the dungeon floor. In less than thirty seconds the mighty gakk was dead and carved into a dozen pieces. Not a single uruk had taken as much as a scratch.
“Hai, glarr k’gatt!” bellowed Urthorn. She had begun to relish her new-made role as cheer leader, and played it for all it was worth.
“Hai! Hai! Hai!” The dungeon echoed with the bellowing of the frenzied uruks.
“Glarr k’gatt!” (Clan Cave Panther) shouted Urthorn.
‘GLARR K’GATT! GLARR K’GATT! GLARR K’GATT!” It took several minutes for the cheering to die down. Darrho and his warriors heard echoes of it, but not clearly, all the way in the Carrion Pits.
“Urkharf, you did well,” said Urarrth. “You shall carry the gakk’s head impaled on your spear as a trophy to show Darrho the might of Clan Cave Panther.”
The big Uruk lost no time in recovering the gakk’s head and impaling what was left of the burnt thing on his spear. He beamed with pride.
“Urkharf! Urkharf!” shouted the Uruks.
“Urarrth was first in the charge against the gakk,” shouted Urroz during a pause in the cheering.
“Urarrth is Da Boss!” bellowed Urokko
The uruks stamped their feet, and Ursnarg even did an impromptu dance of victory. “Urarrth! Urarrth!” chanted the uruks.
“Let us continue,” said Urarrth. It took ten minutes, but he got the group moving again. Urnarat led the way with Urkharf right behind carrying the trophy. The uruks chanted as they marched. “Urarrth! Urkharf! Urarrth! Urkharf!” It made a good marching beat.
Ten minutes later they reached the Chamber of the Carrion Pits. It was a large open room with a dozen shallow holes dug into the rocky floor. A horrid stench rose from the pits, but the uruks paid it no mind. The smell had grown stronger as they approached, giving Rose and her friends a chance to get used to it. The stench sickened the elves and humans in the party, but they tried to breathe shallowly through their mouths. This was no time to show weakness or grow ill.
Darrho and his warriors stood around two of the pits and speared giant dungeon rats on their long spears. The shafts were eight feet long and bound with iron; the blades were tempered iron and two feet long with broad leaf-life cutting edges. The rats ranged in size from a mere foot long to those the size of hunting hounds. Dozens of them had been slain and stacked in a hill of repulsive meat off to one side.
The Clan of the Cave Panther marched into the Carrion Pits room chanting. The hunting uruks stopped what they were doing and gaped in wonder and dismay.
“Join our clan or die!” said Urnarat.
“What clan? What is going on?” asked Darrho, somewhat intimidated by this display.
It took only one fight to take over Darrho’s group. Urkharf had the honor of showing Darrho that Glarr k’gatt was undefeatable. For a few moments it looked like Darrho was the better fighter as the two mighty Uruks thrust and countered with their spears, but Urcaryx surreptitiously hit him with a sleep spell. Darrho only dozed for a second, but the lapse was enough to allow Urkharf to swing his spear butt around in a vicious crack into the side of Darrho’s head, cracking his skull, and knocking him cold. He went down hard and fast. Clan Cave Panther roared their triumph.
Darrho’s uruks quailed. In a fierce society they had never seen such ferocity. By their own savage rules Urkharf was now their boss. They expected Urkharf to finish off the fallen Darrho, but he didn’t. Instead, one of the strange new uruks, she who was known as Urcaryx came and healed him.
It took much longer to explain that the members of Darrho’s band were now members of Clan Cave Panther. The Cave Panther uruks proudly showed off their brands. Darrho’s uruks were greatly impressed. “Dat gotta hurts a lot,” observed one. “Dat hurt like fire,” said Urokko, “but is a good hurt dat makes us stronger.” With a choice between joining such a mighty clan, or becoming carrion themselves, they all chose to join. Clan Cave Panther gained nine new members and now numbered twenty-four. It took some time to brand them and swear them into the clan, but in a little over three hours they had finished Urdarrho became an officer and got a ring. His minions got branded and cheered.
“I am getting hungry,” said supreme boss Urarrth. “Is there some place in these halls to eat?”
“We can take the meat to the Eating Place,” said Urdarrho. “The death dwarves will make it fit to eat.” They were speaking Common since that was the language of the Boss, and that took a bit of explaining also.
“Yes, let us go there and hope that Bjeggok is there. It is time for him to die!” said Urarrth gravely.
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