Orcs have long been sighted in the wilderness surrounding the Iliac Bay, especially in the mountain ranges of Wrothgar and the Dragontail. Scholars have put forth hypothesis after hypothesis to explain why the beastfolk so stubbornly persist in Tamriel’s northwest while being far more rare, perhaps even extinct, elsewhere in Tamriel. However, such epidemiology is merely an ivory-tower abstraction that serves little use in the day-to-day affairs of avoiding or killing the foul creatures.
I am no warrior myself, merely a humble scholar of Bretony and now Cyrod, but I have accompanied many an expedition into the field to study the Orcs so that we might better learn to resist and overcome them.
In Hammerfell, the Orcish population stays largely to the Dragontail mountains, as the province’s fertile rim is firmly defended by an entrenched Redguard population and the interior desert of the Alik’r far too inhospitable for even the frighteningly-hardy monsters. I have received reports from the occasional party of Redguards venturing into the Alik’r (deliberately risking one’s life appears to be a rite of passage and mark of bravado in every culture’s youth) stating that traces of Orcish passage have been found, so perhaps the beasts roam the sands as well, but as they are so rarely encountered, such is merely a curiosity.
The Dragontail Mountains themselves provide a somewhat less hostile environment than the Alik’r, and was one of the first places to which the Orcish horde fled when the Ra Ga’da first chased them out of the shore in the First Era. Much as waves break upon cliffs, so too did Yokuda’s Warrior Wave break upon the mountain fastnesses to which the Orcs ran. The Orcs dug themselves into the stones and have refused to be harried out, though continual and nigh-ritualistic strife between the tribes and the Redguard warrior bands of the surrounding kingdoms has kept their numbers small and their axes sharp.
The Orcs of Dragontail have never had an opportunity to build a city such as Orsinium even once, given the persistent raids between both sides. Rather, the bands of Orcs, which almost never exceed two hundred strong, roam the mountains, following wildlife including herds of mountain goats, sounders of wild pigs, and even aurochs and chulls. They have constructed numerous small holdfasts scattered throughout the mountain range, at which they will stay for a time to breed, recuperate, and gather resources before striking out into the wilderness again.
The Redguards have made something of a science of following the roving patterns of each band, and make sport of targeting specific tribes at specific times while avoiding any others. The most prized achievement, of course, is to strike out for the heart of the mountains, seeking out a large clan and either decimating it if the warriors wish to practice combat, or taking prisoners or goods if they wish to practice stealth, and then returning to their city undetected.
The largest and most long-lived Orc clans have even been given names by the Redguards, some of which I have listed here for reference:
The Sea Pigs, also called Or-sea-mer or Shorks (a bad portmanteau of Shark and Orc), depending on whom you ask, display a rare quality of their kind – namely, an affinity for water and claim the shoreline of the northern Dragontails and live in caves along the coast. They like to prey upon passing ships, and have developed various flippers which they can attach to hands and feet to swim at great speeds. As they possess neither the equipment nor the capability for constructing ships, they swim to their prey, board, and capture the ship, then bring it home by deliberately dashing it against the rocky coast. Once the ship is broken, those who remained on shore come out to scavenge. Despite the danger of Sea Pig attacks, sailing close to shore is still necessary as the Iliac’s frequent storms are far worse on open sea, and when the Shorks are inland, there is no risk other than the well-charted rocks.
The Stone Skulls claim the Dragontails just south of the coast down to about the latitude of Kozanset. Exact demarcations are impossible, as the Orcs know no borders and territory is enforced only when two bands collide. The Stone Skulls earned their name from their custom of constantly striking their skulls with rocks, beginning when they are about five or six. The constant barrage of light, but consistent, blows causes small fractures at the impact site, and the bone grows back thicker to compensate. Over the years, these Orcs develop massive, thick skulls, eschewing helmets in favor of the armor they so brutally force themselves to grow. They also greatly enjoy headbutting their enemies, striking with sufficient force to break bones in the victim.
Whether this custom reduces their intelligence or not is difficult to say, as Orcs display little measurable qualities of this in the first place.
South of the Stone Skulls roam the Dusky Tuskies. They are largely average for Orcs, though with brown skin rather than green, and their teeth grow to be unusually large. Tusks from these are prized by the Redguards, and commonly made into drinking vessels.
The Sand Snakes inhabit the desert near Dak’fron and, interestingly enough, worship Boethiah rather than Malacath or Mauloch or Malak or however any of the savages unusual and well-trained enough to pick up a pen spells the name of that troublesome prince. They attack the other Orcs as viciously as they attack Hammerfell, gaining them some measure of forebearance from the Redguards. After all, watching one’s enemies take care of themselves is as hilarious as it is useful.
The Wind-Walker clan is perhaps the farthest-roaming, and is difficult to pursue as they eschew use of the holdfasts the other tribes have constructed over the centuries. They are almost continually on the move, and leave little trace of their passage. Most Orcs have stamina to rival horses, but these in particular have been known to run for days on end without relent and still be in fighting shape on arrival.
The Falling Rocks live in the highlands near Ephesus, and earned this particular moniker for exactly the reason you would expect. They like throwing boulders at things.
The Dust Demons are the most feared and reviled troop. No Redguard has ever survived a confrontation with them, and we only know of their existence from attacks that have happened when all the other large gangs were known to be elsewhere. They burn anything they don’t pillage, and presumably take prisoners, but these have never been recovered. Little is known of their migratory patterns, but they seem to avoid other warbands, so the presence of other Orcs, though of course an unwelcome blight in itself, at least serves as assurance that the Dust Demons are somewhere else.
The Wrothgarian Orcs are more (in)famous than their Dragontail cousins, most notably for their muleheaded stubbornness in continuing to build Orsinium in the same location time and time again, each time drawing the Redguards and Bretons to burn and raze it. Orsinium is in a good location: defensible valley, arable land around them, quarries close at hand, but their insistance on attempting to build a large fortress rather than wandering as in the south prevents them from leaving, and they never have enough time between raids to actually accomplish something.
There are smaller clans throughout the Wrothgarian mountains, and as a whole they are far more settled than the nomads of the Dragontail. They have even been able to domesticate the wildlife there, and herds of enormous shaggy centipedes, rock-skinned cattle, and sky-drakes are common sights on the horizon. How the Orcs manage to hide them from Breton raiders is something of a mystery, but hunters have never had much success against the Orcs’ flocks. They have also managed to cultivate wild grains, though as plants cannot be driven, these fields are burned far more regularly.
Due to the geologic differences between the two ranges (the Dragontails are far more craggy, arid, and bare than the Wrothgarians, which have been weathered extensively and are smoother, shallower, and more arable), the Orcish populations are very different. Wrothgarian Orcs tend to congregate far more, and tribes grow massive and widespread. Although the population in any given location is not likely to be very large, allegiance between settlements is far stronger than that in the Dragontails, where the bands actively avoid each other.
One interesting development by the Wrothgarian Orcs is, surprisingly enough, soap. They were the first to discover how to render fat in such a way to create soap, though they did not initially use it for hygeine as do humans, but rather coat themselves with it before going into battle to make themselves slippery and to mask their scent. Soap quickly spread throughout Wrothgar when it was discovered that those who used it were less likely to die of contagion and its utility in combat was also proven.
Lastly, due to their more sedentary nature, the Wrothgarian Orcs craft their own metal weapons and armor in far greater numbers than do the Dragontail Orcs, which rely on scavenging for the most part as their own works are largely of stone and wood and bone. This has given the Wrothgarian Orcs a deadliness that is not to be underestimated, as though they lack the metallurgical refinements of modern craftsmen, there is nothing to dismiss about a muscle-bound brute wearing far more metal than an average human warrior can carry in full charge. Run or get out of the way; an Orcish Juggernaut stops for nothing.
Wrothgar's notable tribes are:
Khomokh: Primarily herdsmen and farmers, the Khomokh are reputed to be the first to invent soap. They are the most nomadic of the Wrothgarian tribes, only settling to winter in Strongholds before wandering again come spring. They frequently raid Breton farms and pastures, but generally avoid villages. The Khomokh are excellent with camouflage and see nothing dishonorable about hiding and waiting in ambush.
Garitag: Controlling the area's richest mines, the Garitag are excellent (by low Orcish standards) craftsmen and metalworkers. They make weapons and armor to trade with the other clans, and often serve as mercenary troops for the Khomokh in exchange for food. They tend to live exclusively in mountain Strongholds, striking forth to raid throughout the region and returning home before armies can be mobilized against them. Breton troops have often destroyed their fortresses at not-insignificant cost, but they have proven difficult to stamp out entirely.
Lastly of the major clans is, of course, the Dokkaz, who stubbornly refuse to abandon their dream of an Orcish city. They are already well-known enough that writing about them further would serve no purpose, but it should be noted that while attacking them is incredibly easy (they are ALWAYS in that valley of theirs), it is likewise incredibly costly.
There are, of course, numerous smaller tribes, offshoots, and outcasts wandering the hills as well, though these are too numerous and small to account.
Although Orc-hunting is not as much of a sport in High Rock as it is in Hammerfell, the Breton armies are no less assiduous in hunting them down. Wherever the Orcs are permitted to roam, they are a threat to civilized life and must be held at bay. They are without argument uncivilized, simple brutes, but they should not be underestimated, as many a man, confident in his modern armor and weaponry and training, has discovered.