Atepa rushed to the elder's hut. He stopped near enough to speak without shouting, but not so close as to loom over the bull seated just outside the entrance.
Atepa was far from winded – the Tauren have a legendary endurance – but his dark grey fur was slicked with sweat. "Elder Tal-ee," he said, careful to attach the Taurahe suffix for "honorable". "I have just heard news from the Brokenhorn tribe to our East. They say that Grom'tuk is coming – that he is coming here."
Elder Tal casually drew another deep puff from his long oaken pipe and then let it drift out of his enormous nostrils just as slowly. Only when the smoke had drifted away did he reply in his slow, deep voice, "I do not recognize this name. Should I know this Orc?" His eyes did not look up to question the younger bull.
"Grom'tuk is no Orc. He's a Tauren; war hero that was raised by Orcs."
Atepa was trying to assert his dominance by making the elder ask him questions, but Tal would have none of that. He was quite content to sit in the shade all afternoon and smoke his pipe, while he waited for the middle-aged bull to explain why this visit was so significant.
Lakaho, a younger bull who had joined the tribe last year, approached and stood respectfully behind and to the side of Atepa. Lakaho was always quick to be involved when something important happened. He was eager and driven. His aspirations to lead were well known.
When Atepa could take the silence no longer, he lowered his head slightly and continued. "It seems our young Brick met the warrior in Orgrimmar, and told him to come and live with our tribe."
Tal waited for a while, and only spoke when he sensed that no more explanation was forthcoming. "And this distresses you, Atepa? A hero of the Horde, living among our people?"
It sounded so disgraceful, when the elder put it that way.
"Well," Atepa mumbled, questioning himself, "to some extent, yes." He set his jaw resolutely. "We know nothing of this man. You know that I hold the Orcs in the highest respect, but can you imagine one living among us?"
The bull gestured around the peaceful village. Some children played, a couple of women were baking bread, but the other Tauren rested in the shade, waiting for the hottest part of the day to pass. There was no bloodlust to slake here, no conquest to be made, no empire to be built. The Tauren were quite content to roam Mulgore with the seasons.
"A Tauren raised as their battle champion?" Atepa continued. "He could be a crazed killer. Do you want such a man living among us?"
Tal thought a moment before standing. The elder was a big man, but then again, all Tauren are. At nine feet in height, he stood only a couple inches above the other two.
"Brick has gone to serve the Horde," Tal said in an unhurried tone, "but this is still his home, is it not?"
Atepa nodded. "Of course, elder, he will always be welcome here. We all hope that the war will end soon, so that he may quickly return home." It was clear from his expression that he could not see how the loyalty to one of their own would extend to a stranger.
Tal put a meaty hand on Atepa's shoulder. "So, do you really believe that Brick would send a 'crazed killer' to live with his family?"
"No, elder," Atepa said. He hung his head slightly, in shame. "But this stranger could still be trouble. How will he fit in?"
Tal smiled. "I have had the honor to see many calves born to our utankan. I have had the joy to see so many children grow up into fine men and women." He seemed momentarily lost in thought as he reflected on his memories. He looked over at the younger bulls. "There have been some rascals, I will admit." Tal lowered his head and grinned wider. "If I recall correctly, you were quite the trouble-maker yourself, Atepa."
Tal clapped Atepa on the upper arm, in a friendly way. "Come, my friends," the elder said. "Mulgore is open to all Tauren, and I will be proud to share my home with a Tauren who has served the Horde with such honor." He put his mighty arms around the shoulders of the other two and lead them slowly east. "Let us be the first to greet this Grom'tuk to our village."
Lakaho grinned wide, happy to be included in a welcoming committee. Atepa did not seem cheered, but he was slow to warm to any stranger.
"You are so quick to watch for trouble," Tal said to Atepa, "but surely you can see the good that could come of this."
Atepa thought as they walked across the village. "Well, in a couple of weeks it will be time for us to move on to Stonebull Lake." He glanced at the other two bulls. "Another pair of hands and a strong back are always appreciated when traveling across the hills."
"And it would be good to have a war hero with us," Lakaho piped up, "should we ever be raided by centaurs."
Tal sighed and shook his head. It seemed so obvious to him, but then again, Tal was always more sensitive to the emotional needs of his people and less concerned with the more mundane details of day-to-day life.
"When we gather together in the evenings, and share our dinner around the campfire... have you not noticed the silence?" He looked at one and then the other. "No stories are told. No laughter is shared."
The younger bulls nodded.
"The people are sad," Lakaho offered.
"Even though we are proud that they have gone off to serve the Horde," Atepa offered, "everyone misses the youngsters."
Tal nodded and smiled, happy that the other two could finally see the importance of this event. "I think that this could be just what our utankan needs. I'm sure this Grom'tuk has traveled far and wide. He must have many stories to share. I think our people will celebrate this. They will look upon him as something that the Horde has given us back after all the sacrifices we have made."
Atepa nodded his big, shaggy head. "I suppose it could be a good thing," he agreed.
"And if he's a war hero," Lakaho interjected, "well, I'm sure he will be very popular."
Lakaho thought ahead, as he often did, to late summer and the rut. The bulls, although normally in full control of their actions, lost themselves to their instincts in the rut. The men grew agitated and fights would break out. Soon every bull would wrestle and battle to show that they were the biggest and strongest.
The cows would act like they didn't care – at first. But soon they would be overcome with the same instinctual thrill. The largest and toughest bulls would win the most matches – and consequently, the most cows. The smaller and weaker bulls would have only their bruises to keep them company through the autumn nights.
"I'm sure the women will be very taken with him," Lakaho grumbled. He had liked his prospects up until just now. He was growing larger and stronger with each passing month, and he imagined his elders as growing older and weaker. In his mind, he tallied the number of breeding-age cows in the utankan, and tried to factor in the effect that a war hero might have on his chances of winning mates. It didn't look good.
The other two bulls grew silent as well, while they too considered the possibilities.
"How many mates did you win last year, Elder Tal-ee?" Atepa asked. It was a mark of respect to ask, but he hardly needed to – every male in the tribe was well aware of the scale of the elder's success.
"Eight," Tal replied.
"Well, I'm sure our new war hero would never try to take mates from you," Atepa fibbed.
Although normally forthright, Tauren bulls traditionally talked about the mating season in a circuitous manner. Ever uneasy about how it made them change, they would act like the cows were divided up in a civilized way. From the way that they spoke, one would think that they split up the herd with discussion and debate.
This could not be farther from the truth. Any male who thought he was strong enough to defeat Tal would be quick to challenge him. They would all love to win so many mates.
"But I took only four mates last year," Atepa explained, "I have no intention of splitting them with this newcomer, war hero or not!"
"Well, I only took two!" Lakaho grunted. Despite the small number, he knew that this was still something to be proud of. For some to have so many, most of the bulls were left with none. "I certainly do not intend to share my cows." The younger bull looked even more angry than usual.
"That must be him," Tal interjected. The other two looked where the elder was pointing.
There in the distance was a kodo unlike any they had ever seen. The gigantic beast was armored in metal and covered in spikes and blades. Perched high atop the enormous creature was an armored giant.
The three stared in silence as the mounted figure approached. It was easy to imagine the fear that the enemies of the Horde must have felt when Grom'tuk rode into battle!
When he was a respectful distance away, the rider pulled the kodo to a stop and dismounted.
Surely that cannot be a Tauren, the three thought as one, even the Taurens of legend could not have been so big!
The giant stretched his arms and casually removed his helm. His black horns were short and rounded, but there was no mistaking the nature of man inside the pile of armor. His fur was dark brown and the steel loop in his nostrils glinted in the bright, summer sun.
The giant Tauren left his mount behind and strode slowly toward the trio.
"Perhaps we have been too hasty," the Elder said quietly. "This man has dedicated his life to service of the Horde. We should be thankful to him, for the freedom we all enjoy."
The other two bulls looked at the elder, their eyes wide and jaws still agape.
"I suppose that I could share some of my mates, with this man," the elder continued. "In fact, I think it would be an honor to do so."
"I think you are right," Atepa added. "We should not be so petty and possessive. I could share some of my cows with him as well."
The two older bulls turned to look at the younger one. He had not said a word, and instead had stripped away his soft buckskin vest and breeches. In only his loincloth, he stood his ground. He flexed the muscles in his broad chest. He snorted and tore at the grass with his hooves.
Tal and Atepa's eyes went wide. They moved their bodies in front of the young man to block his view of the giant that approached them.
"Son. Son," Atepa said putting a large hand on the boy's shoulder. "You do not want a piece of that man, I assure you. He could knock you clear into next month."
Tal nodded. "There is no need for this, Lakaho," he said. "I assure you that no one doubts your strength or your bravery. But do not play the fool. You too can share your cows."
"He can have both of my cows!" Lakaho snorted dismissively. With wild eyes, he looked from one man to the other. "I just want to make sure he knows that I'm a bull!"