Krotrag sneered at her as she shoved the rest of the orcs away and approached him. “No meat left. You’ll have to settle for bread.” A grey piece, more pitiful even than the bit she’d given to the halfling was thrust at her. “Next time don’t come late.”
A threat growled up her throat. How dare he? Slitted eyes swept meaningly to his knife, dulled by chopping flesh, a piece of worthless metal next to her dark beauty. She slipped her claw against its smooth metal, and it trembled, anxious to jump in piercing glory to her hand. He noticed. “He was in line. I can’t save meat. If you want to argue it out, he’s over there.” She glanced at the stooping snaga singled out from his fellows by a gently quivering finger.
“A Sauronite, Krotrag?”
“He was in line!” He called himself an Uruk? He actually looked afraid. No wonder he was landed with the job of doling out food. Large enough to intimidate the maggots and slouching Sauronites, but even those puny Whiteskins could probably outfight him. His spilled blood wasn’t even worth the casual effort of slicing. The Sauronite, on the other hand, must not be given the opportunity of gnawing her meat. Tossing her hand forward, her sliver of bread rammed through the air, smashing into Krotrag’s face. The filth nearly lost his balance, stumbling backward in an army of crumbs, greasy armor sliding aside to reveal the large hunk he had been saving for himself. Reaching over, she flipped it into her hand and sauntered over to the one who believed he could deprive her of meat.
His head uncoiled upward, brought to the attention by the ominous approaching of her iron footsteps and she snarled.
“I believe you have some meat of mine, snaga.”
“I have no meat of yours, White-Hand. I am Grishnakh, and what flesh I have is my own.” His tones slinked around her ears, intertwined with evil and silent politeness that challenged her to battles with language more slippery than steel, and fights sharp and brief. She would not yield. Who did this snaga believe he was-Saruman himself to cross her? It’d be entertaining proving him wrong.
“Your own, snaga? Who carried the meat here? The fighting Uruk-Hai, and we still kept in front. Your own? Why you can barely shift your own flesh forward for the miles we cover with our packs and supplies.”
“You’ll curb your arrogance when we get to Lugburz. The Eye has no time for a filthy wizard’s beasts of burden. You’ll wish you’d traveled lightly.” The sneering words held menacing confidence, but she noted with pleasure that his undertones of control were fiercely grappling with slimy anger.
“You mean kill the captives and drop the bits for the horsemen to find? I don’t think this Eye of yours would like that, snaga, especially when he hears the word from Saruman.” She smiled as his nostrils pressed themselves to his cheeks only to blow out again in fury, and lips twitched in utter hostility, unable to form words. The idiot actually thought they were going to Mordor. “You stupid maggot. Isengard’s our road. What, you think we’re going to trek across desert and marsh just to inform your pitiful master that we’ve followed orders? Of course, if you wanted to tell him, you’re free to do so. Just don’t give me my meat. You can hop all the way to Mordor, spouting enough blood for every hunter to follow. Being such a strong Sauronite, you can easily traverse any obstacles with only an arm and leg.”
The threat whispered in the air, weaseling in swift, scorning flight to his ears and as his glare bared seething teeth his eyes betrayed that he knew the peril was real. “Do not threaten me.” Silky voice, ominous insinuations, but that touch of fear that made it all in vain. She lent her palm to the lightening sky, waiting for the meat to be reluctantly put into it. He would regret defying her, but for now this was enough. The rough piece remained in his grasp. Slowly, mockingly, he tore into it– then his feet rose beneath him and bore him swiftly into a clump of assorted orcs. Surprising he’d managed to still put up the facade of a walk at that speed. Not that he had to hold it up long. She snatched the words “Lugburz” and “cursed Uruks, leading us into this trap” before the bundle of fools up and ran to the East, perhaps thinking they’d find safety there. The disgusting, insolent, arrogant, elf! How long did he think he’d last? He’d return, and then she would have fun with him. A long, drawn-out, torture chamber of laughs. After the knife.
Slignikh had been quite talented with the knife. He’d been the first snaga she’d ever seen who could play so many different varieties of the same game with any creature that forgot to stray in the opposite direction. She’d even heard rumours from the other Uruks that his abilities might have surpassed Ripwarg’s at one time. He’d believed it. He’d never known Ripwarg.
The black night slapped dark iron scales on the trees and bushes, blending them into metallic conformity, pierced only by a hissing fire. Twigs cracked to lifeless, broken scraps under her careless feet as she strolled to the figures. One shone with death, only a murky mix of hope and despair sustaining it through one terrible moment after another, voice outshouted by the soft grumbles of fresh leaves as they were jostled by a breeze. Still the voice continued to quietly rasp, refusing to release the slip of hope that forced it to try and make its agony shriek in an unending tale of suffering in the possibility that if it liberated its pain to the wind there would be none left. The other silhouette hunched in concentration, teeth ensnaring more light that its bloody dagger. It grunted at her approach but refused to otherwise acknowledge her presence. This was a new experiment, and Ripwarg, despite realizing that she was only there to learn and eventually become better than he, dove still more deeply into his work. Let her try and beat him, and he’d show the world that Ripwarg was still the best. No one could compete with him. And so, in the fluttering light of the fire she taught herself from a silent tutor, and applied her lessons to not only play, which she had little time for, but also for fighting. Few employed this trick of transforming light pleasure to more useful pastimes, helping her to become better than all the others. Almost all others.
Shards of argument started to rise up and fit together, and the memory slunk back to its place. No, Slignikh had never known Ripwarg. And if Grishnakh decided to return, the meat-stealer would wish she never had.
The Morians and Sauronites were gesturing frantically to the swiftly approaching thread of horsemen. Complaining, of course. As if they could fight when it came to it. They’d probably hide under a rock and let the Isengarders do the work. Cowards. Disgusted, she glared at the conversation that rushed to her ears.
“Lleave the ccappttivesss, I ssay,” ventured one, “they’rre jjusstt exxttrra wweightt.”
“For the horsemen to find?” The responding Sauronite swiveled his eyes nervously around the rabble, hoping for approval.
“Wwe ccouldd kkilll them.”
“Why are we going to Isengard anyway?”
“Lugburz would be better. We should have aimed there in the first place. Grishnakh was right.”
“Asss llong asss wwe gett awway ffrom the horsssemen, aand rrevvenge ourssselves, I’lll headdd annywwhere.”
“Anywhere but into battle!” A Sauronite laughed. She snorted. As if the speaker would ever go into a fight himself. He had enough clean scars to show that he was the recipient of too many a joke.
“I sssttill sssay wwe lleave the ccappttivesss.”
“Very well,” Ugluk declared as he marched up, intimidating the whining so much that even the air stopped echoing it, “leave them to me, then! No killing, as I’ve told you before; but if you want to throw away what we’ve come all the way to get, throw it away! I’ll look after it. Let the fighting Uruk-Hai do the work, as usual. If you’re afraid of the Whiteskins, run! Run! There’s the forest,” he blazed, claw an arrow toward the dark smudge, “get to it! It’s your best hope. Off you go! And quick, before I knock a few more heads off, to put some sense in the others.”
She leant aside as the chaotic, rambling flurry of Morians fled by, dashing toward the mountains. Let them run. At least now they wouldn’t have to put up with their incessant whining and complete lack of endurance. Perhaps they would even distract the horsemen, leading them from the Uruks’ trail, assuming the fools got off track, which they would.
As she watched a particularly frantic snaga slammed into Nikdag. Normally he’d be upon the offender in a clumsy, stumbling instant, making another indelicate kill, but now he only stared off south, unsure, uneasy. Such anxiety was awkward for him, but the strain was eased by at least a dozen other pairs of troubled eyes that flickered from hostility to an uncomfortable feeling of almost . . .fright at the swarming black of advancing horsemen. What had they been trained for? They’d seemed confident enough when fighting before. Did they think that a ragged cluster of soft horses and softer men couldn’t be slaughtered by the pride of Isengard? Of course, if the fools got so wrapped up in fear that they let themselves be cut down, let the fighting Uruk-Hai become weaker than the filthy halflings they bore, then they’d lose. Had they run all this way to melt into idiots a Morian could beat?
“Now we’ll deal with Grishnakh.” Ugluk was firm, confident. So there was one more who had some sense in him. Boldly incredulous stares shot toward him. “I know,” he growled in anger at their despicable temerity, “the cursed horse-boys have got wind of us.” One of the scouts seemed to gather some relief at this comment. Surprising he wasn’t dead. Ugluk noticed. “But that’s all your fault, snaga. You and the other scouts ought to have your ears cut off. But we are the fighters. We’ll feast on horseflesh yet, or something better.”
Squishy turf groaning under the faint pounding of merciless shoes rose quietly from the East, and she turned. Grishnakh and the rest of the Sauronites were returning already, shields slapping wildly through the air as the garish crimson eye painted on them stared aimlessly at nothing and everything. The idiotic audacity. Too bad Ugluk would probably be the one to kill him. Still, although he liked blood as much as anyone else, he didn’t fight much. No one seemed interested in challenging him for the leadership, and he didn’t seem about to execute any who could aid in battle. Understandable, but stupid. Grishnakh was too slimy, too haughty to be allowed to live. Not only did he have the heart of an elf, and treachery to match, but he had influence among the Sauronites. If he was presumptuous to steal her meat and then run off at the first sign that he might actually have to fight, then Isengard knew what he might do when actually in combat. Probably surrender to the horsemen and then betray them all.
Crooked arms, mottled with faded green and dark purple, swung wildly into view as Grishnakh approached. Ugluk strolled over to him. “So you’ve come back. Thought better of it, eh?”
Grishnakh’s snarl was annoyingly condescending. “I’ve come to see that Orders are carried out and the prisoners safe.”
Come back to see that orders were carried out? He, who wanted to head to Lugburz, came back to see that orders were carried out? “Ha!” Her laugh barked out, snapping the air. Ugluk appeared to agree.
“Indeed! Waste of effort. I’ll see that orders are carried out in my command. And what else did you come back for? You went in a hurry. Did you leave anything behind?”
“I left a fool.” Anger gushed and bubbled through Grishnakh’s voice at being treated this way, “But there were some stout fellows with him that were too good to lose. I knew you’d lead them into a mess. I’ve come to help them.”
“Splendid!” Ugluk was laughing at Grishnakh, to the snaga’s fury. “But unless you’ve got some guts for fighting, you’ve taken the wrong way. Lugburz was your road. The Whiteskins are coming. What’s happened to your precious Nazgul? Has he had another mount shot under him? Now, if you’d brought him along, that might have been useful-if these Nazgul are all they make out.”
“Nazgul, Nazgul,” Shuddering terror zipped through Grishnakh at the memory of the word. What kind of idiot was afraid of a word? “You speak of what is deep beyond the reach of your muddy dreams, Ugluk. Nazgul! Ah! All that they make out! One day you’ll wish that you had not said that. Ape! You ought to know that they’re the apple of the Great Eye. But the winged Nazgul: not yet, not yet. He won’t let them show themselves across the Great River yet, not too soon. They’re for the war-and other purposes.”
She snorted. Sauron probably just didn’t want to embarrass himself by showing off useless servants. Not that he hadn’t already done so with the Sauronites. Pathetic how they threatened with nothing but weak flesh to back themselves up.
“You seem to know a lot,” remarked Ugluk. “More than is good for you, I guess. Perhaps those in Lugburz might wonder how, and why. But in the meantime the Uruk-Hai of Isengard can do the dirty work, as usual. Don’t stand slavering there! Get your rabble together! The other swine are legging it to the forest. You’d better follow. You wouldn’t get back to the Great River alive. Right off the mark! Now! I’ll be on your heels.”
Grishnakh glared, but threw his long limbs into a swaying run. He looked almost like a Morian when running-like he’d prefer to use both arms and legs to propel him along through caverns. Disgusting. Didn’t even have any spirit-just fell back in line as soon as he saw the shadow of a threat. Yes, he would be fun to kill. She glanced toward the captives, dashing confusedly between the worlds of suffocating slumber and sluggish, terrifying consciousness. Despite their rest they still appeared too exhausted to keep up at the pace they would have to go at. The Uruk-Hai would have to carry the weaklings again. Not that many of her companions looked up to it. Why had they even come? They couldn’t fight. If the Whiteskins caught up and those disappointments were still carrying the captives, the halflings would be stolen in an instant. Saruman wasn’t going to be deprived of his bounty just because these idiots didn’t have endurance.
Shoving through the mass of orcs to get a better look at the despairing figures, she eyed them again. The jabbermouth she’d been carrying seemed to be getting some of his strength back, exchanging nightmare delusions for whatever reality might bring. The other was still entangled in sick blackness, face colored only by smears of dirt and old blood. She might as well take him. At least in that state he might not talk on about nothing the whole way. Scooping him up roughly, she adjusted him on her back. His sunny vest was coarse with dirt, and she smiled slightly. He’d seemed almost cheerful, speaking to his companion as Ugluk had stood him up. Like the vest, though, they’d break him. Perhaps he was broken now-they were weak enough-but he didn’t seem it. She’d find out when he woke.
Hello, all! Sorry for taking my own sweet time in getting this one out–my school is run by homework-obsessed Uruks, , and I was victim to writer’s block. As always, constructive criticism would be very welcome, especially as I’m drawing near to the conclusion. What am I doing incorrectly? How can I improve? Thank you very much.