Two Sides of a Coin - The Ambush

author's note: This is a tale concerning the fate of two men in the War of the Ring; an Ithilien ranger and a Southron, to be precise, who under the harsh circumstances must learn how to get along. Now I do not own Middle Earth, and anything I disclose concerning Southrons in this chapter is drawn from The Lord of the Rings. Mumak (with the plural mumakil) is a common word among the men of Gondor and Harad meaning "Oliphaunt", for those who might be confused.

"Tis said that there were dealings of old between Gondor and the kingdoms of the Harad in the Far South; though there was never friendship."
-Two Towers

It was dawn in the Ithilien glade and the sky was sickly pale, which did nothing for the rangers' moods. Troops almost begrudgingly scraped their way through the dry brush and fastened themselves to the dirt. Many were positioned behind a hill at the East end of the glade. On the West side was another hill, and a few troops warily made their way to that side of the field. Cutting right through, between either slope, was a broad highway: the centerpiece of the trap.

As soon as they were positioned, the men flattened themselves to the earth, but Ladril remained upright. He craned his neck over the crest for awhile to see the men ready themselves on the other hill, but more importantly he wanted one last look at the highway.
"Ladril, get down!" one of the rangers hissed.
Ladril finally tore his gaze away and slumped down with the other men.
"You will not miss anything boy," A ranger smiled. "They won't be coming for a while."
Ladril tried to stem his eagerness. "I was merely looking for the surest way down the hill, Silorn, so I may be swift when I run at the enemy."
"I think you will fly over this hill before you'd bore your feet with running," Silorn chuckled.
Ladril made no reply, but rather strained out for one last glance: the glade now gave an orange glow as light pierced between the mountain tops, and the pebbled highway shone with a snarled grin.
Suddenly the Captain approached from behind, and Ladril hastily drew himself down. The Captain gazed over his men, and encouraged the sleepy troop by saying "Very soon, men. Very soon."
Ladril gave an impatient huff, at which a ranger quietly mocked "Is it custom for boys barely entered into the service to be so unnerved?"
Silorn shot him a glare, signalling the ranger should not press that matter.
The wait continued, the cold silence only broken by the occasional stifled yawn. Then suddenly a noise was heard from down the highway. The noise slowly grew, until it became a discernable rhythm: a rhythm of marching feet; a rhythm of clanking spears; the rhythm of an army.
Ladril squeezed the hilt of his sword. A battalion of Southrons was now marching down the highway with little heed: supposing perhaps that the dark mountains looming across the Eastern sky would ward off any wary troop of Gondor.
They will be proven wrong. Thought Ladril with a smile. All the rangers became one loaded spring as the Captain raised his hand for the command.
Suddenly a noise erupted that was completely unexpected. It rang in the air like the blaring of some wild horn, and the rangers spun this way and that to find its source. But soon all realized the cause of such a noise, and it rang out again, as if to confirm itself.
"Mumak," The Captain muttered. "They brought a mumak with them."
Whispers rose among the troops, but Ladril managed to hear the Captain say "This changes everything."

When those words finally sank in, Ladril immediately jumped from his position and nearly slid back down the hill face, heedless of any hunched ranger in his way. He marched straight up to the Captain, who was in council with other men. "This changes nothing!" The soldier nearly spat. "This changes nothing!"
"Ladril, we have been preparing to attack a horde of Southrons," The Captain said calmly. "But this has turned out to be a ready adversary, with a mumak at their disposal! I am not leading the men against so large a beast."
"Will the Ithilien Guard then abandon its duty, when the enemy holds but a slight advantage?"
"A slight advantage!" The Captain was beginning to lose his patience. "Ladril, do not let your personal loss blind your better judgement!"
"What better judgement have I than to avenge myself?" Ladril almost cried out. "What better judgement, than to go forth and cause that the Enemy shall not secretly steal any more lives in our own land?"
"Despite Ladril's fiery mood, what he says holds truth," Silorn said, as he came up behind the boy. "If this Southron army is allowed to go unchecked, we will only suffer more loss. Ladril does not want (nor I, nor any of the troop) the same incident that happened only days ago to happen again."
The Captain considered this a moment, looking from Silorn to Ladril, then to the rest of the men. Now the sound of the enemy's march was growing louder, and soon they would be in the glade.
"Would that Captain Faramir were here," The Captain muttered.
"He would indeed have the strength and means to defeat such an adversary," An elder ranger advised. "But he will not issue from the City nor take command of Ithilien for seven days yet. We must rely upon our own strength 'til that time."
"Very well," The Captain sighed. "But if that beast is set loose and charges our lines, we are to immediately withdraw."
The others hastily agreed, and soon all were positioned and ready on the side of the hill. A few minutes, maybe less, were all that passed before flanks of Southrons could be seen coming along the highway. They began to pass through the glade and between the two hills, with flag bearers marching ahead. Each banner bore a black serpent on red cloth, and the warriors donned bronze plates and hoops of gold in their ears. Dark was their skin, and their snarled hair boasted a great matter of beads and trinkets stolen from the dead of their enemies.
"Heathens," A few rangers muttered as they watched the procession march by. Soon the middle flanks were passing through, and it was time. No sign of the Mumak could be seen as of yet, but the Captain wasn't going to waste another second watching for it.
The rangers tensed, swords were quietly drawn, arrows were quickly strung, and all eyes watched for the signal. The Captain steadily raised his horn, and after a moment of baited breath, he sprang the ambush.

The Horn of Ithilien broke the silence of the morning, and the troops from both sides of the highway leapt forth and released a volly of arrows. Many Southrons fell to the earth immediately dead, and the rest scattered with bewilderment. The troops of Ithilien now raced down either hill, and met the enemy on the road with swift and deadly strokes.
Ladril, nearly blinded with a delighted fury, ran his long sword through many Southrons as they tried to regroup. Already the dead where beginning to pile up, with little loss on the rangers' side. The Chieftains of the Southron army cried out orders to the flanks down the highway, and to the surprise and great concern of the rangers, those flanks were clearing off the road, not closing in to fight.
The fear of the troops was confirmed with the braying of a monstrous beast. The whole earth seemed to shake as a tremendous mumak raced along the newly cleared road and made straight for the rangers. Right behind the mumak the Southron flanks regrouped and made their charge. This was all done far too quickly for the rangers to make a retreat. The beast bowled right through the battlefield, and made a wide turn to charge back again. The rangers tried to fire arrows, but the flanks of Southrons were already upon them. Ladril in the heat of the fighting saw the mumak start its second rush: gold bangles hung about its fiery eyes, and a black, massive war-tower rocked upon its back.
Ladril gaped, and his sword went limp; but suddenly a group of rangers called his name.
"Ladril! Grab a bow, man!"
The ranger turned and found three men grouped together fitting their arrows. With his head spinning, Ladril managed to pull out his bow and pluck an arrow from a dead Southron.
"The target is the eye." One man said calmly when Ladril joined them. And steadily the four rangers took aim at the swiftly approaching monster, though Ladril could not stop shaking.
The morning sun cast its light on the bangles about the mumak's eye. The rangers used that for their target, and fired.
Despite the awesome odds, the target was hit. The beast let out a shattering wail and swerved suddenly to its right.
"Retreat now! Retreat!" The Captain cried. And with renewed vigor most of the troops managed to throw off the onslaught of Southrons and retreat back up either hill and into the woods.
Ladril also was cutting down the enemy and making his retreat when he heard sudden shouts of terror behind him. The mumak was now swerving madly around the highway, and was bowling through rangers and Southrons alike. Suddenly it turned too sharply to support the weight of its war-tower. Like a tree hewed in a forest, the beast made a sound descent and crashed into the earth. Ladril managed to escape being crushed under the monster's frame, but he couldn't escape a ridge of the war tower. The black, heavy wood came down and pinned him flat, and he remembered no more.

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