The Sieve

Excerpt from the transcript of “A short lecture on Orcish culture by Distinguished Professor Dunstan Clayborne.” Audience questions are recorded in a heavy hand.

“There is no single event more revealing of Orcish culture than the tournament of the Sieve. It is simple and brutal, which should come as no surprise. Sieves always take place at great clan gatherings, which can draw as many as fifty thousand orcs. They are held in dirt amphitheaters, great sloped bowls of earth with large pits at the bottom. Young orcs are tossed into the pit until the crowd decides that there are enough, and they fight until the crowd decides that they should stop. There are usually between three and ten—usually with one survivor. The survivor receives no prize, except the privilege of wearing a brand, a circle with a number of crosshatches through it. The lines in the crosshatch signify the number of opponents that the survivor was placed against. A Sieve is a breathtaking display of carnage. The slain are left where the fall. New contestants fight standing on the corpses of their predecessors, and a long Sieve can fill the twelve-foot deep arena to the brim, leaving the last contestants fighting level with the audience, standing on a mountain of the dead.

It seems wasteful to kill so many simply to satisfy the blood lust of the crowd.

Orcs do not view it so, and its purpose goes beyond simple entertainment. Orcs experience unique social concerns due to their rate of reproduction. Your average orc litter is two to six young every six months. This, combined with the fact that they reach maturity at the age of 8, makes their rate of population growth roughly 30 times that of humans. A clan can outgrow its ability to produce food in a few years. Many of these orcs die early from starvation, neglect, and violence. Many more die in early adulthood in the constant warfare between clans. Usually, this inter-clan conflict is enough to strike the balance.

However, even orcs cooperate from time to time. Alliances between as many as a hundred clans can form for many reasons and last for decades. This lowers the death rate and threatens all of them with starvation. The Sieve lets them control the population and keep the peace between the clans.

And how do those young orcs feel about this?

Oh, they look forward to it. Each of them is convinced that they are mighty and terrible and will surely be victorious. They don’t really understand the odds, and any attempt to explain to them exactly how poor their chances are is viewed as a sign of weakness. Showing weakness to orcs is dangerous.

What useful information can we draw from this?

Well, to begin with, never get into a fistfight with an orc bearing the mark of the Sieve. Remember that the winners are entitled to wear a brand. This crosshatched circle marks an orc not only as stronger and faster than most, but also more experienced in the quest of survival.

Also, it is considered good form for chiefs to throw captives, slaves, and dangerous creatures into the Sieve. Many travelers and adventurers captured by orcs have ended their lives as part this tournament. In the unlikely event that they survive, they are branded victors and turned loose into the general anarchy of orc society. These rare victors are treated as honorary clan members.

Last, the large clan gatherings are attended by merchants of many races and cultures. Trading with orcs is chancy, but it can also bring great riches to the daring. Orcs place little value on gold and don’t understand our fascination with it. They gladly trade it for steel and other practical items. Any merchant who wishes to attend these events should know the significance of the Sieve and know to stay away. Sometimes, the crowd will identify an outsider as a threat and body surf him into the pit.

How do you claim to know all this?

Ah someone who didn’t read the briefing. (At this point the distinguished professor lifted his left sleeve to reveal a crosshatched design of purple burn scars). Any other questions?

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