Chapter 4
The Ghost Army

AT 1082 (AZ 1454) - Summer
The Shade's Forest, The Darklands

The war-bands were assembled, their warriors all eager to be blooded. No fear of death and doom would deter them. Such concerns were for cowards and the old. That is what they would say, but only because they were fools.
Between the Monarch Lich's command and the lusty eagerness of the Orghim warriors, no heed would be given to Orguz's concerns. At very least, Orguz would not lead his people blindly against an unknown foe. Scouting was largely unknown to Orghim. Victory by wile was deemed inferior to victory by sheer valor and so Orghim warriors would always charge headlong into whatever enemy they faced. It was why the cost of victory was always so steep, if victory even came at all.
Orguz did not choose the bravest or the strongest to go scouting but rather those with enough love for their own lives to not rush madly into the enemy camp. Leaving nothing to chance, he sent five scouting parties. If at least one succeeded in spying out the enemy and returning back to him, it would be enough.
For a few Orghim lightly encumbered, the journey to Dan Drakhmot--what the humans once called Oris--was about three days each way. It was not until the eighth day when the first scouting party returned.
The leader of the scouting party was a hunchback named Orgdith. He was not fit to be a proper warrior, but he was clever and more nimble than any would expect for one deformed as he. He was stubborn as well. He survived three days after being left exposed to the elements as an infant. Unlike most Orghim, Orguz could see the usefulness of a creature like him.
Bowing as best as his twisted back would allow, Orgdith said, "We have returned, Khrom."
"And well you have come, Orgdith, son of Orgud," Orguz replied. "What has become of the other scouting parties? Do you know?"
"I know not, Khrom," Orgdith said. "We alone return. Orgwid was torn by beasts on our return."
"Then give me your report."
"Dan Drakhmot is overrun by the humans."
This much Orguz already knew. At least they were not already on the march. It would give his people a little more time to prepare. First he needed more information.
"What are their numbers?" Orguz asked. "What arms do they bear?"
"Many tens of hundreds, maybe even a hundred hundreds. I have never seen so much white."
"What white?"
"Clothes, tents, banners, all white," Orgdith said. He swept his hand over his face, saying, "Faces masked in white like ghosts. A ghost army."
Such talk would quickly sow the seeds of fear in the weak-hearted. Orguz had to put a stop to it before it could spread any farther.
"They are flesh and blood," he insisted. "Their white will soon be stained red."
"With their blood or ours, Khrom?" Orgdith asked with a sardonic grin.
"Mind your tongue, Orgdith, son of Orgud," the King warned. "There are those who would tear your flesh for such words."
Orgdith merely shrugged.
"Some, perhaps, but not you, Khrom. You are too wise to deny the truth of my words. What are wood and stone and bone against iron hide? Will not the skin of beasts be pierced by iron bite? Let the ghost army fight the land. Let the land kill them."
Orgdith spoke wisely. It was a pity the narrow prejudices of their people would make them never lend ear to one such as he. They were all the worse for it.
"Would that I had a hundred of your like, Orgdith, son of Orgud," Orguz said, "but the war-bands thirst for blood, even if it is their own they drink. It is the will of the Khrom uKhrom."
It turned Orguz's stomach to refer to the Monarch Lich as 'Khrom uKhrom'. It was an epithet normally reserved for the Great Ancestor and it felt like blasphemy to give it to anyone else, but none of their gods, their ancestors, nor all the spirits could protect them from the Lich's wrath. To that end, it was not incorrect to say that the Monarch Lich was their god now.
Orgdith scowled and said, "Death is all the Death-speaker seeks. Our death, the humans' death, all death."
"Your sharp tongue will be the death of you yet, Orgdith, son of Orgud," the King said wearily. "You have done well. You are dismissed."
"Life to you, Khrom," Orgdith said with a bow as he and his fellow scouts withdrew.
It was a foregone conclusion that the war-bands would go to their deaths. The only question was if their deaths would mean anything, if their sacrifice could at least spare the lives of those left behind. This was all the strategy Orguz could craft, to merely limit the totality of their doom. The Iron Crown never weighed so heavily on his brow.