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1
Part 1

THE LAST STAND
by Soledad


Disclaimer: The characters, the context and the main plot belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly admire. I’m only trying to fill in the gaps he so graciously left for us, fanfic writers, to have some fun.

Author’s notes:
This is a bookverse fic, which means that the Uruk-hai were bred and born the natural way (or what counts as natural for Orcs anyway), instead of in mud pods. I used a great deal of original dialogue from the chapter The Uruk-hai of TTT. My intention was to show basically the same events from the enemy’s point of view.

All the non-canonical Orc names are courtesy of the Barrow-downs name generator and therefore fake, of course. I just typed in names like First Guard, to get something that sounded remotely Orcish. The Orc-cake rahdak – although with a different spelling – is the invention of Enros and was mentioned in her story One Dark Night.

Beta read by Lady Masterblott, whom I owe my never-ending gratitude. All remaining mistakes are mine.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


~~~

So it was that they did not see the last stand, when Uglúk was overtaken and brought to bay at the very edge of Fangorn. There he was slain at last by Éomer, the Third Marshal of the Mark, who dismounted and fought him sword to sword. And over the wide fields the keen-eyed Riders hunted down the few Orcs that had escaped and still had strength to fly.

TTT – Chapter 3: The Uruk-hai (p. 73)


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
They had been running across the green fields of the Horse-lords for what seemed eternity – ever since they had slain the great warrior from Gondor. Uglúk had grown worried as they proceeded. He did not trust the little swines of Lugbúrz, least of all that Grishnákh. He knew the other Orc would take the precious prisoners and vanish with them over the River, to Lugbúrz , if given a chance, to be rewarded for the valiant deeds of the fighting Uruk-hai, in which he had no part.

Uglúk hated and despised both the Orcs from the northern Mines and those from Lugbúrz. He was the leader of the Uruk-hai, chief servant of Saruman the Wise, proud bearer of the White Hand that gave them man-flesh to make them grow strong. He was stronger, better and smarter than those tunnel-rats. He would not allow them to betray him.

But he had to be careful. The green fields of the Horse-country were dangerous; full of well-trained warriors, the enemies of his lord. He and his troops had come out of Isengard to capture the Halflings and to bring them to the White Wizard. Alive and unspoiled – those were his orders, and it would have been easier to fulfil them without two bands of treacherous, filthy fools trying to get their greedy paws on the prize. Still, he could not afford to have the same swines in his back, not when they could be detected by the horsemen any time.

He already had to have some of the Northerners slain, and they had run quite a long stretch when, in the early night, the scouts came back at least. The slim moon was already sinking westwards, and they had just reached the edge of a cliff that seemed to look out over a sea of pale mist. Somewhere nearby, there was a sound of falling water, and Uglúk knew they were near the ravine that would lead them down to the plains.

Lugdush dragged one of the small mountain-maggots before him and Uglúk glared at the puny scout in the twilight with disgust.

“Well?” he demanded. “What did you discover?”

The smaller Orc cringed in fear. Good. They should fear him.

“Only a single horseman,” the scout all but squealed, “and he made off westwards. All's clear now.”

“Now, I daresay,” Uglúk snorted. “But how long? You fools!” He gave the scout a vicious kick in the ribs and heard the crunch of breaking bones with satisfaction. “You should have shot him. He'll raise the alarm. The cursed horse-breeders will hear of us by morning. Now we'll have to leg it doubly quick.”

He did not tell the others about the vision he kept on having ever since they had captured the Halflings. That would have been to reveal a weakness, and any weakness would mean a quick death by the hands of his own lads. The only thing the fighting Uruk-hai respected was strength – they were bred for it, and Uglúk himself was the result of generations of careful breeding. He was meant to be stronger, better, faster than other Orcs, even those of his own kind. He was meant to sire an even better generation, once this fight would over.

He could run day and night without sleep, without tiring. The only thing he could not shake off were those strange images in his mind – some kind of dark foreboding. ‘Twas not a bad thing altogether, as it often served to warn him of impending perils, but it could be… unsettling. Like right now, when he kept seeing that smooth, ageless face, framed by long, auburn hair, with very bright, green eyes searching for their trail tirelessly.

He knew that they were being hunted, and he knew that at least one of the hunters had to be an Elf. He had never seen an Elf – they had become rare in this part of Middle-earth, save in the Golden Wood, where no Uruk-hai in his right mind would set foot. At least not yet, not ere their numbers had grown large enough to overrun those cursed Elven archers who could hit the eye of a bird from a hundred steps in nighttime. Not ere Saruman had grown strong enough to crush that Elven sorceress ruling over the woods.

But he could feel them Not many of the Uruk-hai had this ability. They had been bred away from their roots too much for that. But a few still had, and Uglúk was one of those few.

He had felt the Elf near Rauros already. He had also recognized the Elven arrow sticking out of quite a few of his fallen lads. The thought of having an Elf on their trail gave him an uneasy feeling. Not that he would be afraid of a single Elf – not until he was within the reach of that Elven bow anyway – but he knew they could not shake the Elf off as easily as thy would shake off any Man. The senses of Elves were keener than even those of the Orcs – they would never be able to fool them.

Therefore, they would have to settle for speed.

Unfortunately, even some of his own lads were growing impatient with the whole affair.

“We have had enough of lugging the prisoners about,” growled Lugdush. “If we have to climb down, they should use their legs, too.”

“They would escape in the moment we freed their legs,” one of the guards protested. “They might be small, but small creatures are tricky.”

“They’re not the only ones,” Lugdush grinned evilly. “Besides, there are ways of paying for tricks that they won’t like, and those still won’t spoil their usefulness for the Master.”

Uglúk eyed Lugdush appreciatively. She was admirably ruthless, even for a female, although no-one but another Uruk-hai would have been able to guess her gender correcttly; mayhap not even another Orc. Mayhap he should consider breeding with Lugdush, once this fight was over. She had excellent traits and a good bloodline. They could spawn truly outstanding offspring together.

Now, however, he had more urgent plans to make. He needed speed and had to humour unwilling followers. Not that his own Uruks would turn against him, at least not as long as he did not make any mistake, but he had to keep the Northerners and Grishnákh’s filthy lot under control somehow.

The others kept arguing, and tempers were getting high already.

“There's no time to kill them properly,” said Lugdush, trying to quench the bloodthirst of the others. “No time for play on this trip.”

“That can't be helped,” scowled Grúbburz, a rather unsavoury fellow, whom the others just called the Gasher. “But why not kill them quick, kill them now? They're a cursed nuisance, and we're in a hurry. Evening's coming on, and we ought to get a move on.”

“Orders.” said Uglúk in a deep growl, annoyed that not even his closest company could understand the importance of their mission. “’Kill all but not the Halflings; they are to be brought back alive as quickly as possible.’ That's my orders.'

“What are they wanted for?” asked Bâshdûl, a particularly nasty female, who had earned herself the byname ‘the Slobberer’. “Why alive? Do they give good sport?”

“No!” Grothrásh, one of the largest of the entire Uruk-hai band answered in Uglúk’s stead. “I heard that one of them has got something, something that's wanted for the War, some Elvish plot or other. Anyway they'll both be questioned.”

Uglúk rolled his eyes. Of all people, it had to be Grothrásh to eavesdrop on his conversation with the Master. Bad enough that Grothrásh was an idiot; the lad could not keep his mouth shut, either. But he was one of their best warriors; he could not afford to leave him behind.

“Is that all you know?” said Bâshdûl petulantly. “Why don't we search them and find out? We might find something that we could use ourselves.”

“That is a very interesting remark,” sneered the low, whiny voice of Grishnákh, the leader of that cursed band from Lugbúrz. “I may have to report that. The prisoners are not to be searched or plundered: those are my orders.”

“And mine too,” replied Uglúk, not liking a bit that the miserable excuse of an Orc was trying to take over control again. “Alive and as captured; no spoiling. That's my orders.”

“Not our orders!” said one of the Northerners belligerently. “We have come all the way from the Mines to kill, and avenge our folk. I wish to kill, and then go back north.”

Uglúk smiled menacingly, his fanged teeth glinting in the red light. Some of the Northerners cringed and scurried out of his way.

“Then you can wish again,” he growled. “I am Uglúk. I command. I return to Isengard by the shortest road. If you don’t like it, no-one forces you to stay. Go!”

The Northerner glared at him, full of hatred.

“If I had my way, they were dead now,” he said, “and so would you. You Uruks always do as if you were something special, while you’re naught but the muckrakers of a dirty little wizard.”

Uglúk threw back his head and laughed – it was a terrifying sound, and not for the prisoners alone. He could see the Northerners cringe again, and even the lads of Grishnákh – short crook-legged creatures, almost as broad as they were tall, their long arms hanging almost to the ground – backed off carefully. There was something to say about being a big, black Uruk, larger even than Men; their mere size could frighten the smaller goblins into obedience. Well, most of them.

“A little wizard?” repeated Uglúk, still chuckling so evilly that some smaller Orcs from the North shuddered. “You fools! You don’t know what you’re talking about. But you’ll learn soon enough. There’s no escape from Isengard; and if we bring the White Wizard what he needs, soon all these lands will be under his rule and we’ll grow strong on the flesh of horses… and even better.”

“You are very sure of yourself, Uglúk,” snarled Grishnákh, “but you are not in Isengard yet. “And since when is Saruman the master or the Great Eye?”

Uglúk showed his fangs in a mirthless grin. “Not yet. But he will, one day.”

“We’ll see it,” spat Grishnákh. “We’ll see it, you fool!” he waved his own followers around him, muttering under his foul breath in the language of the Black Lands. “Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai.'

The others growled in agreement, and soon fell into a heated discussion that sounded in Uglúk’s ears like snarling and cursing. Unlike other Orcs, the fighting Uruk-hai of Isengard only used the Black Speech when dealing with their inferior kin. Among themselves, they used the language of Men – well, at least a modified version of it, one that was full of words from various Orcish dialects but at least still a much more advanced tongue.

Once again, Uglúk cursed the fates that forced him to work with these rats, but he had no other choice. Not ere they reached Isengard. There he would have the chance to repay them properly. Now, he had to speed up things, unless he wanted to wait here for the horsemen.

“Very well,” he gave in reluctantly. “Untie the legs of those midgets and give them some brandy to get them to their feet.”

Lugdush grinned and cut the thongs round the smaller Halfling’s legs and ankles, dragging him up by his hair. The small creature fell onto his face again, to the great amusement of the gathering Uruks, his legs still numb. Lugdush swore and thrust her leather-covered flask between the Halfling’s teeth, pouring some of the precious brandy down his throat reluctantly. The rabbit-like little things were no worth the good stuff she would have preferred to have for herself, to drive the soreness from her own limbs, but it was a necessary sacrifice.

And it worked just as it was supposed to. The Halfling could stand on his own mere moments later, giving his capturers angry looks, which earned another bout of giggling from the Uruks.

Uglúk nodded, satisfied. “Now for the other!” he said. “And waste no more time, we have to go on!”

Lugdush walked over to the other, still unconscious little midget and kicked him in the ribs – carefully, only to wake him up, without causing any serious damage. The creature groaned but did not move.

“Bring him here,” ordered Uglúk. “Lemme see that wound of his.”

Lugdush picked up the Halfling and threw him before Uglúk, pulling him into a sitting position and tore the bandage off his head. Uglúk examined the gash on the Halfling’s forehead – it did not look too bad. A shame that he had had to kill that idiot Gâbhâk for damaging the prisoner. The fool had been a damn good fighter. Alas, Uglúk had to set an example if he ever wanted to get the prisoners to his Master in one piece.

“He’ll live,” he judged. “Gimme the medicine!”

Lugdush handed him the wooden box, and Uglúk smeared the wound with the dark salve. He knew it would heal by the time they reached Isengard; old Grúbkhash’ medicine always did its work nicely.

The Halfling seemed less convinced about the usefulness of Old Grúbkhash’s healing salve. He cried out in pain, feeling the burning of the salve in his wound and struggled wildly but futilely in Lugdush’ clawed hands that held him down. That amused the other Orcs to no end; they clapped and hooted.

“Can't take his medicine,” jeered Bâshrat, a very old warrior (for an Orc anyhow), who was not called ‘no-tooth’ without a reason; his widely open mouth resembled a dark cavern, filled with filthy things. “Doesn't know what's good for him. Ai! We shall have some fun later.”

“Much later, I daresay,” growled Uglúk, flashing his own respectable fangs at the toothless one. “We don’t have no time for sport now. Krumkû, cut his leg bonds and drag him to his feet. We must leave here at once.”

His first guard – as he wore the rank of a chieftain, he actually had several, this one happened to be a female one, and fierce enough to be nicknamed ‘the Horrible’, even among her own kind – obeyed swiftly. The Halfling stood, after a drink of precious brandy forced down his throat, looking pale but grim and defiant. One had to give the little rabbit some credit. He might be a fool but he was certainly no coward.

Which would make his… questioning the more fun, once they had reached Isengard. Krumkû would have the time of her life with him. She so loved that sort of job.

“Now then!' said Uglúk, dragging the little fool away from the side of his even smaller friend; they were actually babbling about bed ad breakfast! “None of that! Hold your tongues. No talk to one another. Any trouble will be reported at the other end, and He'll know how to pay you.”

“You'll get bed and breakfast all right,” Krumkû added with a gleefully evil grin; “more than you can stomach, little rabbits.”

“Keep an eye on them” growled Uglúk in a voice long enough that only his own followers could hear. “Don’t let any swine of Grishnákh come near them!”

Krumkû nodded and ordered a dozen or so of her best lads to surround the two Halflings and separate them from each other. They began to descend a narrow ravine leading down into the misty plain below. Reaching the bottom, they stepped on to grass. Uglúk took a deep breath. They had come to level lands, which meant that they could now run faster and easier.

Unfortunately, so could the horses of the Mark.

“Now straight on!” he shouted. “Lugdush, take the lead, you know these fields best. Keep west and a little north. All the others, follow Lugdush.”

Some of the Northerners seemed to be scared by the sight of the wide, open lands, where they could not hide from the sun.

“But what are we going to do at sunrise?” one of them asked; a small, scrawny creature, not worth to be called an Orc. Uglúk gave him a disgusted glare.

“Go on running,” he spat. “What do you think?”

“Maybe he wants to sit on the grass and wait for the Whiteskins to join him for a dance,” Krumkû suggested, obviously delighted by the idea of tossing the Northerners to the Horse-lords.

“And let them point the horsemen in our direction?” snorted Uglúk. “I don’t think so. No, we must stick together.”

“But we can't run in the sunlight,” the Northerner protested weakly.

“You'll run with me behind you,” Thraknazh, Uglúk’s second guard threatened him darkly. “Or you'll never see your beloved holes again.” And, to give his words some more weight, he swing his many-thonged whip menacingly, making the small Orc jump.

Uglúk shook his massive head in exasperation.

“By the White Hand!” he growled. “What's the use of sending out these half-trained mountain-maggots on a trip of such importance? Run, curse you! Run while night lasts, or you’ll get a taste of Thraknazh’ whip.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
That got the smaller Orcs to their feet at once, and the whole band began to run with long, loping strides that are the wont of Orcs. They kept no order, aside from Uglúk’s well-trained people. The Northerners and those of Lugbúrz were thrusting, jostling and cursing, and more so when the whip-thongs of Thraknazh licked along their legs. That way, they were able to keep a great speed, yet Uglúk was still not happy. He kept on seeing the keen face of the Elf, bending over their trail and running after them, too lightly even for the grass to bend much under his feet.

They had made about a mile from the cliff with that forced speed, when the land sloped down into a wide shallow depression. The ground here was soft and wet, making their iron-shod feet sink, and mist lay there, pale-glimmering in the last rays of the sickle moon. The dark shapes of Lugdush and her immediate followers in front grew dim, and then were seemingly swallowed up.

“Ai! Steady now!” shouted Uglúk from the rear. “Don’t lose sight of the peak, lads, or we won’t find you in this cursed fog, ever!”

The same thought must have leaped into the smaller Halfling’s mind, too, for he dived out of the reach of his guards and swerved aside, headfirst into the mist. Luckily, he could not jump very far, so he was still visible, lying sprawled on the grass.

“Halt!” yelled Uglúk. The mere thought that they could have lost one of their prisoners made him furious. “Don’t let him escape!”

There was, for a moment, turmoil and confusion. The Halfling sprang up and ran. But Thraknazh was already running up and wielding his whip with a surprisingly loose wrist for a big, black Uruk.

The little midget could only halfway stifle a cry as the whip-thongs curled around his legs, stopping him abruptly.

“Enough!” shouted Uglúk running up to grab Thraknazh’ arm as the whip-master prepared for the next move. “He's still got to run a long way yet. Make 'em both run! Just use the whip as a reminder.”

Thraknazh nodded testily; he was no fool, thus he understood the importance of speed. He would have his fun with the miserable little creatures once they reached Isengard. Oh, he would have so much fun! He and Krumkû made a great couple, not only as breeding mates but as questioners, too. There had not been a prisoner yet that would not sing like a nightingale when they questioned him.

Not that any Uruk would really care for birdsong, of course. The comparison originated from their Master, who had some interest in living creatures, for reasons they could not understand. But again, understanding was never required of them. Just obedience.

Yet Uglúk was not comforted by the thought of their Master’s stronghold. They were still too far from its safety – and the prisoners were causing trouble. That could not be tolerated.

“That was not all,” he snarled at the cowering Halfling, fighting very hard the violent urge to rip out all of its limbs, one by one. “I shan't forget. Payment is only put off,” he grabbed the short, curly hair of the midget, yanked it up to eye level, and then dropped it roughly. “Leg it!”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The chase went on for a long time. They ran and ran, swift-footed Lugdush on the peak, the Northerners following, driven by the whip-thongs of Thraknazh, who made no true difference, whether the slow ones were Orcs or Halflings. He handled his tool of discipline cunningly, and Uglúk felt pride watching him.

The other Uruk was nearly as tall as he was, with a wide chest and broad shoulders, his dark skin gleaming with sweat, his matted hair covering his back, giving him an even more ferocious look. That was what a fighting Uruk ought to be like. Maybe he should make Thraknazh Second Guard. Let him take over for Gâbhâk, the unlucky fool, permanently. With a mated couple watching his back, Uglúk would have no reason to worry about his position. Neither Krumkû, nor Thraknazh would allow the other one to kill the chieftain and step into his place. Competition between mates was a powerful thing – and very useful for him.

On the second night, another turmoil began to grow among the cursed Northerners. The constant murmurs among them swell up to an angry clamour; many of them were demanding a halt. The Uruk-hai troops closed up to the prisoners, forming a protective circle, and Lugdush came running back, angry about the tarrying.

“What are you waiting for?” she shouted. “We must go on, lest we shall be caught, you cursed fools!”

“They can’t go on, not right away,” Krumkû jeered. “Their tender limbs can’t take the hardness of the path, the poor little maggots! I say let’s leave them behind for the horsemen to play.”

“No,” said Uglúk, albeit reluctantly, for the idea was tempting indeed. “There’s safety in numbers. And the prisoners need rest, too. A short one. Let us rest and eat while we can – we shall go on, soon.”

They all collapsed on the stomped grass. Uglúk ordered Gâshag, one of his more trustworthy followers to feed the prisoners. The little midgets needed their strength to go on later. It was morning already; the tall peaks of the mountains looming ahead were catching the first rays of the sun. On the lower slopes before them there was a dark smudge that Uglúk knew to be a forest… and not one he would have liked to enter, if not necessary.

Lugdush lowered herself next to him on the bank of the swift, narrow river. She offered him a piece of thick, crumbling rahdak cake and her flask of brandy.

“You’ll need your strength,” she said. “The mountain maggots and the cursed fools of Lugbúrz are stirring trouble again. You must be swift and strong to kill them before things turn… ugly.”

Uglúk accepted the sweet, sticky treat – it was not only delicious, melting on his tongue most pleasantly, it also could give strength for many hours. They said Elves had something like that; one of the snaga had once found some waybread by one of the fallen archers of the Golden Wood. But it was a hard and dry wafer, the snaga had said, and tasted like dust, almost suffocating him.

It surprised Uglúk, however, that Lugdush was willing to share her precious resources with him. He told her so. The female gave him a fanged grin and shrugged those broad, magnificent shoulders of hers.

“I prefer you as chieftain to other candidates,” she said. “With a new one, I’d have to fight for my position all over again. It’s better for me if you stay in command.”

Uglúk grinned back. “I know how you could strengthen your position further,” he said. “I wanna breed with you, once we are back in Isengard.”

“A good choice,” Lugdush stretched her luscious, gleaming black body provocatively. “But wouldn’t the wizard mind if I were with cubs and could not serve as a tracker for a while?”

“He wants us to breed,” Uglúk shrugged. “We want to breed, too – I see no problems there. Besides a good shag always boosts the morale among the troops, and the wizard knows that.”

Lugdush grinned from ear to ear, turning to all fours and wiggling her firm rump invitingly. “Wanna boast my morale now?”

Uglúk would have been willing to do so during their short rest. Unfortunately, they were interrupted by more shouting and debating among the troops. A quarrel seemed on the point of breaking out with the tunnel-rats again. Some of them were pointing back away south, and some were pointing eastward, while Thraknazh was wielding his whip and Krumkû played with her long knife – absent-mindedly, it seemed, but Uglúk knew better.

Gâshag and Krumluk had already planted themselves firmly in front of the prisoners, ready to kill anyone who tried to grab them, and now Baghâk and Skraluk were running up to their aid, as well as the toothless old Bashrat and Ghashur who was almost as huge as Uglúk himself.

Uglúk jumped to his feet with an impatient growl. ‘Twas time to deal with these maggots, but by the White Hand, he was growing tired of them. They had just robbed him of the most perfect rest a fighting Uruk could hope for.

“You want to go home, to your smelly holes?” he growled. “Very well; leave the prisoners 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.”

We’ll look after it,” Krumkû corrected, trying the razor-sharp edge of her knife on one long, bent claw. “The fighting Uruk-hai shall do the work, as usual.

“If you're afraid of the Whiteskins, run!” added Uglúk with a feral grin. “Run! There's the forest,” he shouted, pointing ahead. “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 into the others.”

After a great amount of cursing and scuffling, most of the Northerners broke away and dashed off, running wildly along the river towards the mountains.

“How many are gone?” asked Uglúk, barely concealing his disgust.

“Over a hundred of them,” reported Thraknazh. “Only a few scouts remained with us. Not that the others would ever get out of the forest alive, of course,” he added with a broad, decidedly unpleasant grin. “I’ve heard the trees are… less than hospitable over there.”

“Good riddance,” growled Uglúk. “Now all we have to do is to deal with Grishnákh and his rabble.”

“I’m not sure about that,” said Lugdush, looking uneasily southwards.

“I know,' growled Uglúk. “The cursed horse-boys have got wind of us. But that's all your fault, Snaga,” he added, glaring at the small scout who was, once again, cringing with fear. “You and the other scouts ought to have your ears cut off.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Krumkû shrugged. “We still have a score, a score of Uruk-hai, not some pathetic mountain maggots. We are the fighters. We'll feast on horseflesh yet, or something better.”

“If our ‘friends’ don’t get us into trouble first,” snarled Skaithak, also known as the Crippler.

Uglúk shot him an unfriendly look. Of all his underlings, Skaithak was the only one who could threaten his position. That miserable excuse of an Uruk could never have slain a Man face to face but was very good at killing and maiming anyone from behind. Including his own kind. And he was very talented in kissing up to the wizard. Both were skills that could prove very useful, given the right circumstances. Which was the very reason why Uglúk always kept a watchful eye on Skaithak.

At the moment, however, he was forced to agree with his main adversary. Seeing the rabble of Grishnákh returning – and a couple of score of them at that – he almost wished the horsemen had arrived before them. Almost.

“So you've come back?” he asked, stepping forward to meet Grishnákh, who involuntary backed off a little. “Thought better of it, eh? Or were you scared away by a few stray rabbits?”

“I've returned to see that Orders are carried out and the prisoners are safe,” scowled Grishnákh.

“Indeed?” said Krumkû in a menacingly sweet tone. “But will it be safe for you? I doubt it. Very much.”

“Besides, it was waste of effort,” said Uglúk. “I'll see that orders are carried out under my command. I always have. And they always were.”

“Mayhap he came back for something else?” said Krumkû sweetly. Uglúk shrugged.

“What for? He left in a hurry to save his hide, didn’t he?”

“Mayhap he left something behind?” suggested Lugdush with gleaming eyes. “Or he will, very soon? His head, for one thing?”

“I left a fool,” snarled Grishnákh. “But there were some stout fellows with him that are too good to lose. The ones that would not let their females order them around.”

“Our males follow us,” corrected Lugdush, “because we are better in finding the right way. You’re babbling about things you don’t understand.”

“Don’t I?” riposted Grishnákh, showing his fangs. “I knew you and that fool Uglúk would lead them into a mess. I've come to help them.”

If he wanted to impress the bigger, stronger Orcs, he was sorely disappointed. All the Uruk-hai surrounding their leader were howling with laughter at the mere thought of them needing the help of Grishnákh and his band.

“Splendid!” laughed Uglúk, tears of merriment in his eyes. “But unless you've got some guts for fighting, you've taken the wrong way.”

“Wasn’t Lugbúrz your road?” asked Bâshdûl with false innocence. “The Whiteskins are coming – since when are you so eager to fight them?”

“And by the way – what's happened to your precious Nazgûl?” added Uglúk. “Has he had another mount shot under him? Or has that Elf got him now, for a change?”

“Now, if they'd brought him along, that might have been useful,” commented Thraknazh dryly. “If these Nazgûl are all they make out, that is.”

“You think?” asked Uglúk in disgust. “What good have the wraiths of Lugbúrz done to us? What can Nazgûl do at all, aside from making Men wet themselves with fear?”

“Nazgûl, Nazgûl,” Grishnákh shivered and licked his lips, as if the word had a foul taste that he savoured painfully – to the great amusement of the Uruk-hai, who, unlike lesser Orcs, had no fear from the wraiths. “You speak of what is deep beyond the reach of your muddy dreams, Uglúk!”

“Enlighten me, then,” said Uglúk with a broad grin, folding his arms across his massive chest. “What is it that your precious Nazgûl make out? For what I’ve seen so far isn’t much to speak of.”

Grishnákh’s eyes rolled backwards – it was a strange picture of hatred, rage and panic.

“Ape!” he snarled fiercely. “Ah! All that they make out! One day you'll wish that you had not said that.”

“So, will I?” grinned Uglúk. “And why’d I do such a thing?”

Grishnákh looked around to make sure his own people couldn’t hear him – showing any weakness would have been just as fatal among lesser Orcs as it was among the Uruk-hai. But right now, he needed Uglúk on his side, at least until the threat of the horsemen was over, so he tried to make the bigger Orc understand.

“Listen to me, you fool,” he hissed. “You ought to know that they're the apple of the Great Eye. We can’t afford to make them angry. But the winged Nazgûl: 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.”

“You seem to know a lot,” said Uglúk suspiciously. “More than is good for you, I guess.”

“Perhaps those in Lugbúrz might wonder how, and why,” commented Krumkû wryly.

“You think you could hide anything from the Great Eye?” replied Grishnákh with a derisive snort. “I was sent, I tell you, because I am trustworthy. And trusted.”

“If Lugbúrz trusts you, then they are greater fools than I’ve ever thought,” said Uglúk. “And in the meantime the Uruk-hai of Isengard can do the dirty work, as usual. But not for Lugbúrz; forget it. We fight for the White Hand, not for your precious Red Eye.”

He turned away from the band of Lugbúrz and looked at his own people. “Time to run again, he said. “Gâshag, Krumluk, pick up the prisoners. Krumkû, Thraknazh, get the lads going. Lugdush, take the lead and let’s leg it.”

The two that he had named seized the little midgets again and slung them on their backs. The two guards formed the troop to start off again – which required quite a lot of whip-handling from Thraknazh’ side, but happened quickly enough to satisfy even Uglúk. Ere he would start after his troop, he turned back and shot a malicious look at Grishnákh.

“Don't stand slavering there!” he gloated. “Get your rabble together! The other swines are legging it to the forest. You'd better follow. You would never get back to the Great River alive.”

“Right off the mark!” added Thraknazh, swinging his whip in obvious delight. “Now, damn you! I'll be on your heels.”

TBC

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