Impendix VI: The Morakh

After the sack of Eremis, the children of Morak were never again united in one cause. For it was the Destroyer who had brought them together by the thoughts that he put into their hearts; and they had failed him. As a weapon, they were too blunt and brittle for his purpose. They had destroyed the city, but not the nation; many of the Färinoth were slain, but many yet lived, though scattered over many lands, and they would not be taken at unawares again. From that time the Destroyer cast aside the creatures he had tempted into his service, and minded them no more. Not one of the promises by which he had seduced them was ever kept.

When they saw how they had been cheated, the Morakh loosed all the rage and violence that was bred into their nature. The empty city they smashed into rubble, defiling the ground and cursing all the land of Ereph. No child of Dân dwelt ever again by the waters of Drath Erem, and the River of Spirit ran untravelled to the sea. In later ages a few rash wanderers dared disturb the sleeping wrath of Eremis, and if ever they returned to the lands of the living, they brought back tales of ghosts and ghouls, fell spirits and foul lights, and their faces were marred by a horror that they could neither tell nor forget. Even birds and beasts kept far away from that unclean place.

Few of the Morakh were slain in the taking of the city, but many in the aftermath. It is told in the Gremni that a swift winter and a hard fell then upon the Southern lands; and many more of the host of Ghrenduz perished of cold and hunger, for they had assembled in haste and without thought of provision. Some have seen in this the Destroyer’s own hand, a final stroke of contempt for his broken weapon, sending deep snows and howling winds from the edge of the Void. It was long believed that all the kindred of Morak had perished in that winter; but it was not so. A few survivors there must have been, for they returned long after to trouble the world again.

How that generation outlasted the winter, what evil fare they fed upon and what tainted draughts they drank, no living wight desires to know. There was food enough if they ate their own dead, or the dead of the city; and the Morakh in later times have not disdained to take such meats at need. By the time they came into tales once more, they had wandered far from the defiled earth of Ereph, and taken up the mode of life that they have kept ever after when subject to no power but their own.

The old houses, brought together by one master and dispersing at his death, could not endure among the dangers of the wide world. Now that the Morakh were scattered, they were forced to cling together in such strength as they could; but no bond weaker than blood could constrain them to do so against their nature. The sons of one father would form a hunting band, and with their females and children they made a troop, or sivbadh. (The speech of the Morakh was ever corrupt and changeful. Sivbadh is the name recorded in the annals of Drath Selin; it means ‘a division of sons’ in the Morak dialect best known to the chroniclers there.)

Each sivbadh dwelt together in a cave if one could be found, or in huts of stones or wattle roofed over with hides; and when food grew short they abandoned their place for one not yet despoiled. They hunted for food when they must, and scavenged when they could; their bellies were inured to foul meats and foetid waters, like the vultures to whom they were likened by other peoples. When they met another sivbadh, the two troops fought until one side fled or was slain. Sometimes one sivbadh would raid another to steal weapons or females, but there was no trade between them, nor any bond of friendship. When they chanced upon a settlement of another race, they robbed them if they could, slaughtered them if the victims were few enough, or else retreated far into the wilderness. Never would they face a foe that exceeded their own strength.

Within the sivbadh, the strongest brother would claim the females as his own, and get as many children on them as he could. Many of these died in the first year of life, and yet more in childhood by the mischances of the wild or by the wrath of their elders. The leader was to his children no father but a master, cruel and capricious; what little care was vouchsafed to them came only from their mothers, and if the mother died, her brood were not likely to live. Few young Morakh grew to full manhood, and still fewer to womanhood, for they had small regard for their females. Still the sivbadh would number more womenfolk than menfolk, for the males seldom ceased from fighting, and it was a rare Morak who saw his fortieth year. Death by old age was unknown to them. An old Morak died when he could no longer hold his own in a fight. As for the remaining brothers of the band, they lay with the leader’s females in secret if they could, or slaked their lust with captives or lost women; or one might challenge the leader if he dared, and kill him or be killed. When the leader could not hold his place by strength, and his brothers were too few to sustain his rule, his sons overthrew him, and the rule of the sivbadh passed to the next generation.

These customs did not make for any great increase of the people. Many a sivbadh was lost by warfare or fratricide, or the sterility of long inbreeding. Those fared best who lived nearest other peoples, Färinoth or Vardéni, or the Bazakoi of the mountains; they waxed fat on the stolen fruits of their neighbours’ toil. Then a sivbadh might grow beyond the power of one Morak to hold in thrall. When there were fifty or sixty in a troop, a second brother, or a precocious elder son, would claim half or a quarter of the females for his own, and found a new sivbadh beyond the hunting range of the old. In this way the Morakh multiplied wherever they could live by robbery; but when they were made to live of their own, they dwindled or died out.

Of useful arts, in those days, the Morakh knew little. They were quick to learn the use of weapons and the craft of making them, but they had not yet come by the lore of metalwork. Nearly always a sivbadh would make their camp where flint was not far to seek. They spent much time knapping flints into big heads for spears, or little ones for arrows: all made with great skill, but all alike. In later times, they began to steal metals from their neighbours, and in the craft of the swordsmith they came to swift mastery. Still later they learnt to mine and smelt ores of copper, tin, and iron, though the heavy labour they left to slaves. In other crafts they remained unlearned, deeming it shameful to make with their hands what might be won as spoils of war.

It was seen from the beginning that the Morakh had little sense of beauty. They drew no pictures, carved no images, sang no songs. The only tales they were known to invent were the lies by which they put blame on another for their own misdeeds. Alone among the Children of Dân, they had no interest in adorning their persons, but wore such rough gear as would protect them against weather or war.

Their pleasures were such as the beasts know, eating and procreation, but also the joy of battle and the delight of the kill. They made no jests, but laughed at the suffering of their foes. The same Morak who jeered and strutted his victory on one day, deeming himself a lord of the earth, would whine and grovel in the dust if the next day brought him defeat.

Either because they cared nothing for beauty, or by reason of the curse the Destroyer had laid upon them, the Morakh became fearsome of visage and uncomely of form. Their foreheads were low, their jaws large, their teeth strong and yellow; their bodies were broad rather than tall, hairy and unclean, and their skins ranged in colour from sallow to umber. They bore wounds with indifference and scars with pride; for it was not bodily harm that they feared, but defeat and abasement. A Morak warrior grew hideous by his victories, and was feared and envied the more for it.

In their dealings with one another, they were cruel, treacherous, and hot-tempered, being too short-sighted to know the rewards of forbearance or self-restraint. The stronger obtained the obedience of the weaker by fear of naked force. Some, by superior cunning, set their fellows against one another, or laid plots to bend their wills; but this was a dangerous course, unless the schemer also excelled in fighting. A strong and clever Morak generally came to rule over his sivbadh, but a weak and clever one soon learnt that it was better to feign stupidity and work his schemes when no eyes were upon him.

Such was the life of the sons of Morak, from the time their old master cast them aside, until a new master came to make them once more the weapons of another will. But that is a tale for another time.

Comments

  1. Wendy S. Delmater says:

    Like Tolkien’s orcs in that they are cursed and distasteful, and yet unlike in their not banding together. Interesting. I wonder what will happen when the Morakh get that new leader.

  2. Stephen J. says:

    I’d want to feel sorry for the Morakh, if I didn’t feel sorrier for their victims. This is the anguish of contemplating certain types of evil.

    An excellent passage of exposition. I look forward to more.

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