Portrait of the Artist As a Practical-Minded Orcish Soldier, Not Actually The Artist At All
The First Part: Shovel
"All hail Moragor Thundercall, hero of the Horde!" they say. I ride through the streets of Orgrimmar atop my trusted worg companion, Kranok, the titanium plates of his armor gleaming in the warm sunlight. It is an exceptionally fair day, and the wind brings the scent of roasted boar, freshly brewed ale and honeyed breads down from the awaiting banquet hall.
"Moragor!" the grateful people shout, lifting on high their offerings; the finest cloth, glimmering jewels, elegant blades. I make a show of turning these down.
"The safety of our people is all the thanks I need," I explain, bowing my head. Yes, right now, they are all my people. My children. When I step into Grommash Hold moments from now and offer the head of Arthas to Thrall, I shall stand not even as his equal, but as the mighty Warchief's better. I know he will kneel to me in reverence. It will all be perfect.
Or rather, it would, if I were Moragor Thundercall, hero of the Horde. As it happens, I am Gurk Orlak, Dung Shoveler of the Horde. I have the crucial task of, you guessed it, shoveling up the waste our lovely, slobbering worgs drop in the makeshift stables here at our forward camp in the scenic Dragonblight. My captain, a stuffy Blood Elf named Siras Pallium believes me uniquely suited to this job as I apparently exhibit some immunity to this job's usual perils.
"It has come to my attention, Gurk, that the scent of worg manure would neither improve nor damage your natural odor," is how he put it, I think. However it happened, I've been working the position since we first set up this ramshackle base about two months ago. I think I may be due for promotion, perhaps to Lord High Executor...of Dung Shoveling. Yes, I will take the worg stables and make them like unto a fiefdom of feces: a fiefdung.
I lapse into that particular daydream maybe four or five times during a given day of duty. It ranks among my three most frequent daydreams along with the hero thing, and the dream where I'm friends with this Eredar barber and I make meat pies from bits of hacked-up Scourge. Since the entirety of my day is spent cleaning up after the cavalry, it's really more fitting to divide time up based on what I'm thinking instead of doing, and those dreams make up three fourths of my time. The rest consists of trying to muster up the confidence to demand my due respect from the captain. I try to make him seem less intimidating by imagining him in a dress, but that doesn't really do much more than concern me, because he seems to cut an equally fine figure in both spiked saronite and fetching fuschia felt.
"I am the greatest dung shoveler this land will ever know!" I will say, voice booming with a confidence that shakes the very resolve of the Scourge surrounding us, with a power that ripples over his tasteful dress. He will pat out the wrinkles and ruffles awkwardly, apologetically, curtsying to me.
"Of course, Lord Orlak! All praise to he who wields the Cleansing Spade, for it is hefty indeed!"
A smack on the back of my head awakens me from my reverie, and I am back at our delightful little post, in the stables. The many offensive odors of unkempt battle-worgs flood my nostrils again, and I see the dopey grin of the one whose open palm tore me from my world of triumph.
"Hey, Gurk, where were ya?" the pleasant, vacant face asks.
"A bold, proud new world, Nerosh," I tell him. Nerosh is a Mag'hari Orc with brown skin and a black tail of hair woven tight from the back of his head, the roots of which actually penetrate into his brain, interfering with its function and making him ever so tragically...dumb.
"Uh, yeah," he says, not really sure what he's agreeing with. "So, listen, captain says a new guy's comin' in soon, some big famous lieutenant from Agmar's Hammer. I say we have ourselves a little drink and get a look at 'im. Never seen a hero before!"
I should be insulted, and I am. Never seen a hero? Why, what other sort of orc could do what I do with such dedication? Surely, after such a remark, the worgs will not begrudge me a drink to ease my nerves.
"Sounds good," I say, setting my shovel up against one of the stable doors and following Nerosh out into the cold. The sun is bleak overhead, cold and crystalline. I lower my gaze for just a moment to look at Wyrmrest Temple. Its gilded domes glisten even in the weak, pale daylight, and though it is five miles away, we still live in its shadow. I've always hated that damn building, and I stop to shake my fist at it. Nerosh gives me a questioning look and shakes his head.
"Why do ya always do that? You got something against the dragons?" he asks.
"Other than the fact that they do not use their vast, godlike power to clean up any mess other than the ones they cause, but expect us to take their orders and help them with things they could solve just by taking a deep breath? Well, quite frankly, they all have mug problems."
"Mug problems?" he puzzles, and for a moment I think I see that worg-tail of hair take a long draft from his skull.
"They are ugly, you see," I tell him.
"Hey, and who says scribes aren't good in wars? You could talk the Scourge back into their graves!"
I wince a little at that, the whole scribe-somehow-became-manure-manager thing is still tender for me. You ask ten people, Horde or Alliance, what they think when they think of Orcs, whatever moral judgements they may make, they all seem to agree that your typical Orc is composed of rippling muscle with thick, pulsing veins. That is not me. I am as thin as an Orc comes, really, but apparently I had something worth noticing, because I was taken not long after my birth as slave and student to a scribe at the Arathi internment camp where I was born and raised. Under a harsh mentor I learned my letters. When the uprisings and the Third War had played out, I studied hard. Not more than a year ago, I finished my training. I can write fluently in six languages. I have a masterful grasp of many histories. I told the Captain on my first day. I got the shovel.
"Aw, toughen up, I didn't mean nothin' by it," Nerosh says, slapping me on the back hard enough to smart through my leather tunic. We walk from the stables to the palisade wall, ascending the ramp onto the high planks to look out over the snow fields. Miles of snow in every direction, as always: snow, ice and rock. Further out in every direction, there are terrible things that hate us and want to claw, stab, smash, burn, rot or eat our faces and, quite possibly, the rest of our bodies.
As we lean over the wooden wall, he looks over his shoulder to make sure the captain isn't watching, then reaches under his furred cloak to pull out a ragged skin, handing it to me first. I remove the cork and take a swig of the foul grog inside, letting the burn take my mind off other things. What other things? I don't know. My mind is off them!
I wheeze and tear up a little, and hand the skin back to him, nodding approval before I look back out over the snow. The only actual dirt visible in this graveyard is the sad little road we keep dug out from the front of the camp for the couriers to come and for the riders to head out for patrol. Sometimes, all of us here at the camp hate that road more than we hate the Scourge, because it's where all our contradictory orders come from.
Oh! While Nerosh is going cross-eyed from grog, let me tell you a little something about this camp. We were set up here not long after a victory over a local pack of Magnataur and their kobold friends. We're on a small hill, the thirty of us, overlooking some of the Scourge digging operations, the ones they get their dragon bones from. We were set up by a joint order from Overlord Agmar and Saurfang the Younger, and so we take orders from both of them. Here's the problem: they're both of equal rank, and they each send us different, contradictory orders. How do we cope? Well, I have to give it to the captain on this one, he came up with the perfect answer.
"The solution is simple; we do nothing," he said.
"Nothing?" all of us asked.
"Nothing. One set of orders very specifically directs us to attack the Alliance outpost east of us, while the other suggests we establish cooperation with them. To fulfill one would be a direct violation of the other, so we do neither."
Instead, we return the couriers that come with a message that politely informs both leaders that we have seen Scourge movements in the area and are surveying them. Survey duty really amounts to sending the worg riders for a joy ride around the hill and staring out from the walls, though to be fair, the Scourge certainly do move from time to time. It is certainly something you could say that they do.
"Watch duty, huh?" a deep, rough Tauren voice asks from below. Huun, our resident healer, waves at us and approaches. It's a relief that he's coming, because as nice as he tries to be, Nerosh is not a dazzling conversationalist by any means, and Huun is a good deal brighter.
"Seeing anything interesting?" he asks when he reaches us. Truth be told, I am not a diligent scout. I've taken my eyes off the endless white carpet, and try my best to mask my relieved surprise when I focus upon it again and find it exactly the damn same as before. I scan the horizon for something to kill time over, and find a familiar-looking creature not too far north, shambling around near a huge boulder.
"Hazi's at work again," I say, pointing at the thing.
"Still? Poor bastard," Huun grumbles.
Hazi, you see, used to be our engineer. He was quite a Troll, he was. Diligent, even-handed, thoughtful, deliberate, precise and sympathetic. In short, he was all the things the rest of us aren't. That was before we put the finishing touches on the camp's defenses about five weeks back. The actual planned layout of the camp calls for some additional walls and posts out from the base of the hill where the boulders provide good defense points. Hazi, being the hard worker he was and is, goes out early in the morning to take some measurements, make a few charts, and near as we can figure, a lone ghoul gets him, he kills it, but he's blighted. So, now he's a dead Troll engineer, and having a hard time letting go of the engineer part. He's presently looking up and down the boulder, scratching at his ragged little chart paper, then shambling over to the next boulder. He gets into it, he does, feeling the boulders with his rotten hands, trying to figure out how sturdy, how dense it is.
Nerosh and Huun and I watch him do this every day. It's relaxing in a strange way. He's gone, but not entirely. I think to myself that if he can carry on in death, Hazi will always be there to give us a little bit of peace and predictability in the face of this war. Yeah, whatever you may have thought, most of us soldiers would sooner be bored than dying in glorious battle. Most of us. I hear the jarring sounds of armored mounts; three worgs approaching on the road. The one at point looks suspiciously like my trusty Kranok! Atop his back, what looks like titanium statuary sits with a power and tension that's oppressive to look at.
"Is that the new lieutenant or a monument?" Huun asks, looking at that metal-covered monster. As the three worgs and their riders come further up the hill, the captain barks at us from below.
"You three, if you're not doing anything useful, open the gates for them. If you are doing something useful, shut up, because you're lying, and open the gates for them!"
We three exchange glances and head down, unbarring the gate and drawing it back, the riders barreling on through right away. As they dismount, the leader makes straight for me, worg in tow. His stride is powerful, his black-and-gray armor brutal and mighty, vastly more impressive than the captain's. A vicious axe, about as big as me, hangs on his back. This orcish colossus of steel descends upon me and hands me his worg's reins without a word, turning to the captain.
The mastery of it all! The aura of power and assurance! And is he a mind-reader? How did he know I was the worg stabler? His two comrades, a pair of Forsaken clad just as royally, pass their worgs off to Nerosh and Huun, then turn to follow their friends. Well, that's one out of three. Not bad! We take the worgs to the stables cautiously, slowly, as the lieutenant speaks to the Captain with urgency and a mighty voice. What about, we do not know, but surely, it is something heroic.
When we get to the stables and have found room for these three regal-looking hounds, I nearly spit up in my own mouth.
"Did you see that?" I shout. Huun and Nerosh look surprised, and they step back from me. "He and his worg and his friends there were wearing enough Titanium to pay off an entire Goblin regiment for a year!"
"Hah, jealous 'cause you've gotta wear leather and swing a cobalt axe like the rest of us?" Nerosh tries to joke after he thinks I've calmed down, and he nudges me in the ribs with an elbow. This is a terrible mistake, and I shove him away and storm out of the stables. I am mad as the Nether and I'm not going to take any more of this hero nonsense. I'm going to march right over to that lieutenant and suddenly Huun's strong hand has gripped my shoulder and locked me in place.
"Nuh-uh. None of that," he says, turning me to face him.
"When you are a serf in my grand fiefdung, you will rue the day you interfered!" I snarl, well beyond being cogent.
"Right. So, what's got you all up in arms?" he asks.
"Heroes," I tell him, without even waiting for him to finish.
"Heroes? What does that mean?"
"The ones who think we should kiss their hides for cleaning up the messes they make. The ones who always have to change things. Ones like our new friends."
"Gurk, I think you're taking this a lit—"
I shake my head and sigh, looking at the lieutenant and his aides talking with Captain Siras, and even he seems to be irritated by this glorious champion, though he likely does a better job hiding it. Other soldiers from the camp are walking away from their duties to gather around the new lieutenant and fawn over him, and I really just want to hold my familiar shovel again.