Recap: Ever since Amon Hen, the female Uruk (also known as “she”), has been lugging the sick, tired, and often delusional Merry and Pippin toward Isengard. Now, however, with the Rohirrim closing in for battle, the orcs are beginning to get nervous.
Dedication: I dedicate this chapter to Nienor Niniel, whose impassioned comment helped inspire me to take up my keyboard again. You were my first commenter ever, and you’ve made my life so much brighter. Thank you.
Contained within this humble tale,
Are orcs and men and terror’s gale,
Land, and settings, captives, time,
And of all, none are mine!
Disclaimer, pt. 2:
Tolkien imagined the night and fog,
Tolkien engineered mucha the dialogue
The pace could not quicken much more. Even she knew that. Already the slender shadow of steeds was parallel with the Uruks, a malicious hand gloating over its prey before ripping out its throat. The horses of Rohan, and upon them, the hunters, illuminated by sunset’s fading cascade til they were glimmering ghosts, crowned in scarlet and burnished gold. They should have closed in by now. Were they so unsure of their strength that they dare not fight, afraid of falling too soon? Or were they . . . could they possibly be trying to run them down, force them to exhaustion like some terrified prey until they begged for any end to the tortures of fear and fatigue? Oh, she would have fun with this lot. The fools. They were so sure their intended kills were weak, would submit like Morians cringing in the sunlight. She scowled, contempt was laced with anticipation. When her blade left those arrogant horse-boys in a mound of faded, bestial groans and cooling blood, they could be sure of death.
The air was empty, the only sounds of shoes and hooves battering the earth, and the occasional startled gurgle as some “brave” silhouette detached itself from the riders, shot, and returned to the line, always riding abreast of the Uruks, always riding out of range. Cowards! They fought like vultures, constantly watching for an opportunity to swoop in, swallow a hunk of vulnerable flesh, and then retreat before anything stronger than they could attack.
Her knife scraped against her arm, begging for slaughter, and she smiled. It would not have long to wait. Night was approaching, sweet as death, and ahead lounged the forest, its twisted mass large upon the horizon. Once that hulking tangle was reached, her feeble adversaries would be trapped, helpless, as their prey, whom they had thought so weak, bared its claws. Yes, they would regret underestimating the fighting Uruk-hai, underestimating her. Even a Morian or Sauronite, when trapped between life and death, could fight, but Uruks? Those pitiful humans would be annihilated by sunrise.
Another arrow melted the darkening air, and another snaga fell. Already night had begun, and the world grew fangs. Any half-intelligent creature could live in an environment of sunshine and dew, but when it came to surviving under the hushed danger of the midnight sky, only the strongest spirit prevailed. That did not extend to Morians, who clung to the black slime of their caves, more afraid of what lay without than within, but for those who thrived when day crumbled, cowardice was not an option.
Unless, of course, you included this motley collection. Bodies were pressed thickly around her, marring her lead and view, and she noticed with disgust that some of the smaller orcs were panting, dry tongues lapping the breeze like ragged dogs pleading for safety. Through the moving streaks of the blotched masses, she could only snag glimpses of the riders’ movements. It was enough. The horse-boys were gliding forward, smooth shapes in the wind, to encircle them. Ah, so they were going to do more than just tag along. Good. Let them come.
“Halt!” Ugluk roared. She had never seen this jumbled rabble stop so quickly. Perhaps fear would slam some sense into it after all. “We’re staying here for the night. Let the horse-boys attack first. They’ve surrounded us, and with those filthy rides of their’s the line’s too thick – for now. Wait `til they lose a couple. Then we can have some fun.”
“The wizard’s protege has flowers in his blood.” The mutter was not meant to be overheard, but the Sauronite should have known it would be. Flowers in the blood? Ugluk? This orc that had shuddered as his neighbor jerked under an arrow dared compare Ugluk to an elf? Sure he could be a bit hesitant at times, and she definitely would have killed those scouts, but he was no weakling. This one didn’t even have the strength to face death. He was already groveling, a poisoned rat writhing on the ground, eyes large with pleading and liquid fear. Moans issued from his mouth, contorted in desperation, words slurring and low.
“Please . . . please . . . I didn’t mean it, I didn’t say it!” His eyes were sparks in the wind, flicking from orc to orc to the Riders in the distance, to the forest, to Ugluk . . . and then the glow of fire was extinguished and he crumpled, facedown in the earth like a motionless pile of ash, resigned to being blown away and forgotten. All stared at him in disbelief. For a Morian to beg for his life – that was usual, commonplace. This – Sauronites were supposed to be annoying, arrogant, and too easy to kill, but never craven. This – this was absurd! To change from scorn to basest submission so quickly . . . could terror of a fight have flown so completely into his heart? Then again, he could just be another example of the inability of this lot to do anything useful. She growled at him. Imbecile didn’t deserve the effort of wiping his foul blood off a blade.
“Run.” Ugluk snarled, advancing to him. “Take on the Riders, if you’re so bold. Prove that the chosen of the Eye can do more than squirm in the dirt. Go on!” He kicked the prone figure, and it clambered upward, hope and reason gone, gaze wild. Suddenly it laughed, tones high, unnatural, riven with madness.
“All right. All right, elf-son, I’ll go. Go right on through the horse-boys! And when I get back to Mordor, Sauron will hear of this!” Jogging toward the edge of the hillock, he turned.
“Come on. Come on. We can make a run for it. Or we can fight. Fighting, running, the forest isn’t far, not far at all. How hard can it be? Not hard, not hard, easy even! Just a run! Come on!” At this a few started uncertainly toward him, swayed by the confidence of his lunacy, one here, two there, timid wraiths slowly changing alliance. Traitors. Yet with battle so near perhaps it would be better to lose them. Then they were off, a clutch of twenty or so dashing for the forest’s embrace. The Riders watched, amused, then a few rode after them, and the cries that followed indicated that the renegades had not lasted long. Only three orcs returned, smeared with oozing blood and gashed by stick, stone, and spear. They would be of little use, and, receiving a nod from Ugluk, she killed them. Then, licking the stains from her knife, she joined the others in setting up camp.
Receiving a nod from Ugluk. As if she needed his approval before slaughtering those three defectors. Oh, he was the leader, and she owed him her allegiance, but she’d been awfully subservient lately. It’d been too long since she’d last fought. She couldn’t afford to appear weak now, of all times. If she did . . . well, she’d be like those halflings as they struggled in the hands of the enemy. Where were those bedraggled rats, anyway? Not again! Why did she even want to know? They’d already lost any possible entertainment value. She shouldn’t even be thinking of them! No wonder they thought her losing her touch, with her mind always slicing at that subject. She growled at Grishnakh, hulking opposite her, and he backed away, panic springing to his eyes. Perhaps not quite losing her touch.
“Well, here we are,” sneered Grishnakh, glowering at her from the safety of distance. “Fine leadership! I hope the great Ugluk will lead us out again.”
“Put those halflings down!” What? Glancing in the direction of Ugluk’s yell, she smirked. Apparently, having received no instruction, those in charge of the captives had continued lugging them about. How did these Uruks survive training? “You, Lugdush, get two others and stand guard over them! They’re not to be killed, unless the filthy Whiteskins get through. Understand? As long as I’m alive, I want `em. But they’re not to cry out, and they’re not to be rescued. Bind their legs!”
After glaring at Grishnakh once more – she would rip that filthy snaga apart soon – and noting with pleasure his anger at being completely ignored by Ugluk, she strode to the halflings. As much as she hated having to supervise them once again, the idea of these incompetents in charge of them was abhorrent. They’d either escape, be rescued, or die within the first ten minutes, and their “guards” would probably still be wondering how to use the rope to effectively secure them.
“Give me that,” she commanded. Snatching the coarse coil of the rope, she strung it around the smaller one’s legs, yanking tight the knots until he gasped in pain. Good. He would not flee again. Then hauling him over to his fellow in a small hollow, she relaxed her stance, amused at how the orcs around her prepared themselves for battle – smashing together their swords and straightening their armor in audible clanks as if sound alone would fell their foes.
” . . .have to.” A whisper by her feet. The smaller captive was speaking to his companion. At it again. Didn’t he ever shut up? Shooting a kick into his side, she was rewarded by silence. Appeased, she looked across him to the land below, alert for any sound – whether from her charges or from the enemy. The night was thick, choking the expanse between the two camps. Only the soundless flaring of flame emphasized the knowledge that the Riders were still there, waiting, worms pretending to be wolves as they circled their intended. Beyond, not three furlongs from where she stood lay the forest, mocking them, an unreachable shelter.
There were no stars tonight, or if there were, they were a black so deep it reflected red into the shrouded sky, swathing the air in dusky blood. The other guards were restless, shuffling their knives from one hand to another, testing the blades with their fingers and sucking away the black blood when the true metal sliced their flesh. At last one, exasperated by expanse of minutes already spent fighting nothing, grumbled:
“They’ll wait for the Sun, curse them! Why don’t we get together and charge through? What’s old Ugluk think he’s doing, I should like to know?”
She didn’t listen to Ugluk’s reprimand. There was something wrong in the darkness on the east side – she could almost discern shapes moving . . .a clump of orcs shuffled into sight and she relaxed. These fools were incompetent, but they were near enough to the border of camp that even they could tell if there were any . . . surprises headed their way. A small noise, its origin indiscernible, and her attention was tossed back to her charges. The captives were still, yet their faces, coated in dirt and old sweat, betrayed no signs of sleep. Such fearful little creatures, and yet as she sneered, only weariness touched their upturned eyes. Terror could only rule a mind for so long before it collapsed, and these two apparently had reached the breaking point.
The smaller turned away, and for a second she thought he couldn’t bear her gaze any longer. Then he began to struggle with his bonds, wiggling to find a position where he could raise himself up. The measly efforts were in vain – especially since he appeared desperate to keep his hands in place – and all he managed was to lift his head from the ground, shaking the bedraggled curls in a fruitless attempt to free them from their mats of dirt. As she watched this ridiculous ploy to achieve some dignity of appearance, large brown eyes latched onto her black ones. How dare he look at her that way – challenge inscribed on his face, taunting her to pretend he was too weak to flee. She allowed only her mockery to reflect back on him, and he fell back, unable to hold out any longer. The larger one nudged him, silently giving him both friendship and a warning to be careful. They could not be permitted to have contact with each other! The wooden brush of sound as she slid her fingers down her knife handle sprang to the air, and the halflings froze. Ah, so they did have some survival instincts slinking behind those limp exteriors. She would watch them more closely from now on. If the smaller one’s glare had been any indication, another foolhardy escape was not inconceivable – especially since he was near his companion. Of course they would be caught, but with the Whiteskins so near and the snagas bungling matters even more than usual, it might be distracting enough to offer the enemy a chance. Glancing up to ensure the other guards were properly attentive, she saw it again – movement in the blackness beyond the east end of camp. This time, though, the shapes were hurrying away, and the form and motion belonged to no orc. Rebelling captives or no, she had to get over there now!
Sudden clamour jarred the stillness of the sky and she knew she was too late. A young Uruk was already jabbering to Ugluk about an attack made by a small group of the Riders creeping up and killing a few orcs on the outskirts before hastily retreating. By the White Hand! Could these idiots get any clumsier? They had those horse-boys within spitting distance and yet they hadn’t even noticed until it was too late. Now she, Ugluk, and the rest would have to rush over to stop a stampede, leaving the halflings unguarded. They couldn’t escape, but unless the orcs on this side were smarter than those on the other, it would be very easy for another band to sneak them away while she and the others were distracted. Another band . . . or that back-stabbing meat-stealer, Grishnakh. No. She’d have to stay.
“Go ahead, Ugluk. I’m staying to guard this end of the perimeter. I don’t want any of those filthy Riders getting through.”
He barely acknowledged her comment, focused on reaching and calming the sizzling turmoil exploding on the east end of camp. As she expected, the other two guards kept pace with him. Swiveling her gaze outward, she surveyed the blackness around her, piercing it for any sign of approaching hostility. The halflings would be safe from a second capture. She had suffered too long under their endless prattle and dead weight for it to be otherwise. They would reach Isengard alive.
Perhaps, if their tortured bodies were thrown to her after questioning, she should not entirely break them. They had shown themselves adept at warding off orcs before (albeit orcs who were on strict orders not to kill them) – perhaps they could be taught to fight. It would be quite amusing to watch one of them conquer someone twice his size. True, they were weak, limp, delusional little creatures, but they were also defiant, and defiance could be molded. Ferocity was in part a learned trait, after all. And they were alone. It was hard to learn survival if you weren’t alone. Only fools quailed at loneliness . . . no. Only fools suffered loneliness. They would learn that, or they wouldn’t be worth the filth they wallowed in.
Something on the edge of her vision. Whirling her head westward, her eyes punctured the night, chasing the elusive phantom.
“Skai!” She hissed. It was almost impossible to see through that foggy darkness, and . . . wait. Ha! There, crouching, not a dozen yards away, was the lopsided form of a Sauronite, clutching two smaller bundles fiercely. Two very familiar bundles. So Grishnakh had decided to steal the halflings – must have grabbed them as soon as she moved to the border to search for Riders.
There would be no problem with the enemy sneaking through; she was not the only watcher on this side of camp scouting for horse-boys, and for once the posts had been filled by Uruks proficient in scouring the night. That they had not noticed Grishnakh wasn’t surprising – it’d only been luck that she’d seen him – and they weren’t looking for other Uruk-hai leaving camp, so if she were subtle she wouldn’t be spotted, but no Rider would get through. Still, she would have to kill Grishnakh quickly – no doubt the enemy, elated over their success on the east end, would attack this one next – hastening back with the captives before trouble arose. Smiling, she touched her blade and slipped after him. Time might be short, but he would not escape her knife this time.
Lily’s Note: Merry Christmas, everyone! Sorry for getting this out so late – it took an English teacher, your kind comments, and a desperate desire to not just stop it so close to the end to finally convince me to start up again. Please send nifty comments and criticism to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember: only you can tell Lily that she’s done something horribly wrong. Thanks, and may the Shire be with you!
A Note on Language:
“Flowers in the blood” is a rough translation of a really bad insult in the Black Speech meaning “elf”, or “elf-like”.
“Skai” is an exclamation bordering on expletive.