Eighth day of Sunmonth, twenty first hour and thirty. Fourth day of the sack of Holmhaven. Coming back to barrack and pallet after a trash shift. Lifting the spindly, hair-covered corpses of Uuhlz on a pitchfork, tossing them onto the bonfires in their biggest city's plaza. Hundreds of the creatures dead in the final assault–squads of Orcs were driving hundreds more away chained, for slavery in the mills and mines back west. More squads collecting Uuhlz heads and stacking them round the gates. Piles of their hideous fish-belly faces and pointed ears. The boys sang the old work-songs as we worked, deep and spirited. They laughed out loud, simply from being alive after so much killing. A few Uuhlz (Elves, they call themselves) sung out a high wailing song to mourn their city, tearing at their yellow manes. Some boys got fed up with the noise and beat them into silence with rough green fists.

The city smells of fear, middens and burning, like any city after a siege. Neat little wooden houses are half razed; white stone and spires turned black from smoke. It'll all be rebuilt, before Orcs settle here, with breweries, sewers, prisons and factories. The Elves crammed their balconies with flowering plants, for their alien reason. The Warlords have set up command in the central keep–this morning, they ordered all those plants thrown down to the streets and burnt. Couldn't see the point of that.

I know no Orc soldier can keep a record like this, not lawfully. But I can't talk to anyone; they'd not understand if I tried. Last night I was drinking five hundred-year Elf wine like cheap rotgut, with some boys from the unit. They were roaring with mirth, every one. But the longer it lasted, the more weary, silenced and angry with something I got.

The name's Gazza. Lieutenant in the Spear-Splitter army of the Orc Empire; been in the Spear-Splitters since my warrior-age. Born in the Western Lands, fought in the War of Return–the years it took to wrestle half the Great Land from the Elf nations had more killing in them together than a hundred Holmhavens. The scar from my right eye-tusk to the bridge of my snout was from that too. But then there was the Peace, the first in Orc history. Two years without war, before an Elf army of horsemen and archers swept out of Rumahon, this eastern forest country. That's why we're here now, sitting on their gutted city.

They hadn't a hope of driving us back to the sea and the Western Lands–they just killed every Orc in every town they could sack, and freed their Elf slaves to kill more of us. Slave revolts flared up in districts all over the Empire. The Gutripper and Shield-Breaker armies put those down, with a few mass hangings–no point in wasting slaves without need. It only took the Spear-Splitter army to corner the Rumahon incursion and put it down. We trapped them in a bend of the Ox river, and took the desperate charge of their cavalry on our pikes. Then we pounded through the storm of arrows, trusting our battle armour until we reached their lines and cut them down. Rozzag, my comrade since Warrior-age, got stabbed in the neck. I stuck the Elf who killed him a second later. As it bled out, I actually seized its neck, and ask why did his race hate us this much? Its teeth were horribly thin as it grinned. Eyes obscenely big and bright, like an insect.

"Because you hate the Light. And the Light hates everything you do. Your malice, your pride–"

"What Light? Your God? I don't know your God!" The creature gave a hacking laugh.

"How could you know God…? You're monsters. It's our duty to wipe you all out–"

Rage suddenly choked me, and I chopped through his head.

–0–

We'd come to the Great Land, conquered all the Elves' mudhole countries we could reach. Made them slaves, but gave them industry, paved roads and proper laws–civilisation with a purpose. The Rumahon incursion made the High Warchiefs decide that it wasn't enough; there had to be a final demonstration to bring the Empire a final Peace. They sent the Spear-Splitter and Limb-lopper armies into Rumahon a few months later. We spent weeks tramping through those guuing forests, getting picked off by archers that vanished into shadow, ambushes and traps. We kept burning down every town in our path, and herding all the Elves we found into prison camps. Finally the Rumahon Elves pulled all their villagers back into Holmhaven, their great city from the past age, with stone walls.

We spent a month blasting those walls with trebuchets and siege cannons, until we had practicable breaches. Then we charged up the hills of gravel in our heavy plate–the elves on the walls had shiny, ornamented armour and delicate blades. Orc swords are dense folded steel with a shallow curve; ugly weapons for chopping torsos in half. Our people are born to war; we make the best weapons. Elves still fought hard; the weight of arrows and blades sent some of us tumbling down the breach. But we threw the last defenders from walls running with blood, and streamed down to the city.

The War of Return had been a war to bring peace. Orders had always been to accept surrender and spare the unarmed (not that all the boys followed orders, or always got a flogging when they didn't). Orders for Holmhaven were to kill every Elf big enough to hold a weapon, and make final Peace through fear. Us boys who lived to clear the top of that wall truly hated every Elf in the world, by the time we reached their city. We hated the High Warchiefs for sending us all this way to storm another dirthole monster-den. If the Elven God had even appeared to our faces, we'd have hated him too. We were happy to follow our orders, and kill them all. Jacko and some other boys struck a war-song as they killed; a song of death and metal with few lyrics anyone could sing in cold blood.

Our squad was clearing the South-West plaza. We'd broken into one of those wooden buildings they call churches, taken all the gold and silver things we could find and thrown everything else over the floor. I was ready to beat feet, when an old Elf in a white robe stepped out and stood before the door. He'd been hiding in a cupboard; we wouldn't have found him, and he hadn't a chance of holding me back. He didn't even seem to be thinking of that; he was just standing, in my way, looking me in the eye. He really didn't seem afraid, as if there was nothing I could do to him, or he really expected me to stop.

I drove the butt of my sword into the creature's ugly head, throwing him aside, and rushed out. The squad followed me. It's certain that someone else killed that Elf before the dawn. But I don't know why I didn't. I broke the order to kill every adult. But it still doesn't feel wrong. When killing all those Elves and burning them is right, what is wrong? Can we even talk about that, when Orcs have killed Elves for hundreds of years and Elves have killed us, and none of us seem to have a choice about it anymore?

No, it's right. The Elves we killed died with honour, weapons in hands. A just, final demonstration of what the Orc Empire will do for the cause of Peace.