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3
Part 3

THE LAST STAND
by Soledad


Author’s notes:
For disclaimer, rating, etc., see Part 1
It wasn’t my original intention to give other Riders than Éomer an appearance. But poor Gárulf wanted a small credit, just this one time, and we all know that Éothain likes to make himself look important.

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


~~~

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)


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

PART 3

They did not have to wait very long. Soon, a sudden outcry on the east side of the hillock alerted them that something was wrong. Uglúk dashed off to see what might have happened… and cursed violently. Half a dozen dead Orcs from Grishnákh’s rabble lay in a bloody heap on the grass.

“It seems that the ‘watchers’ chose to rest pleasantly, instead of actually watching,” commented Bagdreg with a scowl.

“It also seems, though, that the filthy Whiteskins won’t just wait for the dawn and let us rest,” added Thraknazh grimly. “Some of them must have ridden in close, slipped off their beasts, crawled to the edge of our camp and killed these cursed fools. Some watchers indeed.”

“Well, that can’t be helped anymore,” said Uglúk with a shrug. “We better prepare for an attack, though.”

Thraknazh ran off, wielding his whip generously, not caring whom he happened to catch with the cruel thongs. A little pain was always good to keep the lads on their toes. In a surprisingly short time, he got the troops in an acceptable shape, even the thrice-damned rats of Lugbúrz. Then he looked around in suspicion, realizing that he had run into a lot less resistance than expected.

“Where is Grishnákh?” he asked.

There was a moment of awkward silence, then a hideous, shivering cry could be heard – the final shriek of a dying Orc, if they had ever heard one. After that, everything fell in silence again – until someone began to screech.

“The prisoners! They’re gone!”

Uglúk dashed over to where he had left the prisoners to Bâshul’s care. To his utter dismay, the Halflings were indeed gone, and that useless female lay on the ground, dead. Killed by a dagger of Lugbúrz, by the design of it.

“That was Grishnákh.” Uglúk gritted his teeth. “That cursed rat’s stolen them away. And we can’t follow him and kill him.”

“No need for that,” said Azdreg. “The Whiteskins got him. That shriek before came from him. He’s been ridden down and killed by a spear, just outside our camp.”

“And the prisoners?” asked Uglúk darkly.

Azdreg shook his head. “Gone without a trace. Perhaps the Whiteskins took them; not that they’d be of any use.”

No, Uglúk thought, the horsemen would not know what to look for. No-one but the wizard himself knew. And Uglúk, of course, who was privy to more of Saruman’s secrets than the wizard would guess. Saruman was cunning, but not as cunning as he thought of himself. Not cunning enough to hide his secrets from an inquisitive Uruk-hai.

Alas, that knowledge helped him little right now, as he had just managed to lose the very thing the wizard had been looking for. Not to mention that they were still sitting in a trap. In a trap, from which there was no escape without help from outside.

New yells and screeches, coming from the right, outside the circle of the Whiteskins’ watch-fires, from the direction of the ominous forest woke him from his dark ponderings. Thraknazh came running back again, his yellow eyes gleaming in excitement.

“Mauhúr has arrived,” he reported, “and is attacking the Whiteskins. This is our chance to break out! Now!”

Uglúk nodded his agreement and shouted a few well-placed orders, but he was trying in vain. Everyone grabbed their weapons and run off to launch an attack, disorganized and with the utter lack of any discipline. With the exception of the well-trained score of the Uruk-hai, of course. Or what was left of it anyhow.

Still, for a short time, Uglúk actually hoped that they would be able to break through. Until he heard the sound of galloping hooves, that is. Apparently, the Whiteskins were not willing to let anyone get off, and for that, they even risked to be shot by Orc-arrows.

“They are drawing their ring closer around us,” said Azdreg. “We won’t be able to get away… the cursed horses are swift. Even swifter than we are.”

“What about Mauhúr and his lads?” asked Uglúk, with a growing feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach.

“A company of the horsemen rode off to fight them,” Azdreg said grimly. “I don’t like this, Uglúk.”

“Neither do I,” replied Uglúk, “but it seems attack is not an option right now. How many of Grishnákh’s apes got slain just now?”

“A dozen or so. And if the Sun rises….”Azdreg trailed off. There was no need to say aught else. They both knew what to expect. The night was already old. It would not last much longer. In the still unclouded East the sky was beginning to grow pale.

“’Tis very quiet,” growled Uglúk after a time. “I can’t hear the fighting anymore.”

“Me neither,” replied Thraknazh glumly. “It seems that Mauhúr and his lads have been killed or driven off.”

“He wouldn’t back off,” Uglúk closed his eyes briefly; the loss of such a valuable ally was devastating. “If the fighting has ceased, they are dead.”

“And so will be we, in a very short time,” said Thraknazh. “When the Sun rises, the maggots and the rats from Lugbúrz will be useless. And there aren’t enough of us left to fight off such a large company of horsemen. You know that as well as I do.”

“Of course,” Uglúk nodded. “But we’ll give them a good fight. We must keep them busy here as long as we can, kill as many as we can. The females need a good head start. They’re all that will remain of us after this day. Them, and the cubs in their bellies.”

In that very moment, over the Great River, and the Brown Lands, the red glow of dawn rose, like the fire of the deep furnaces. All around the knoll, the great horns of the horsemen sounded, one answering the other, and there was sudden movement beyond the watch-fires. Warhorses were neighing, and suddenly the horsemen burst into song in their own language – a slowly rolling tongue that the lesser Orcs did not understand, but the Uruk-hai, schooled by the White Wizard and taught anything that might be of use, did.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!


Thusly the horsemen sang, as their forefathers had sung this same song for years upon years, way back when they had still dwelt at the sources of Anduin, in the far North.(1) For they were a fell people, and the battle rage burned hotly in their hearts, as it had burned in their ancestors from the very beginning of their kind.

Unlikely as it seemed, the fire of the song touched something deep inside Uglúk. He came from a bloodline that had been mixed with that of the horsemen, when Saruman had begun breeding the new generations of Uruk-hai. He felt no more kinship with the filthy Whiteskins than he felt with the cursed Elves – and yet, strangely enough, the rakish singing of his enemies gave him some much-needed strength. It filled him with a fire he thought already quenched.

The Sun crept higher upon the eastern sky, its beams stretched high above their heads like an arc of fire – like a bad omen, foretelling their fate. The song died down, and a great voice rose among the horsemen, crying in their ancient tongue:

Arísath nú Rídend míne!
Théodnes thegnas thindath on orde!
Féond oferswithath! Forth Eorlingas!(2)


With that final, resounding cry, the horsemen charged from the East. The light of the red dawn gleamed on mail-shirts and spear-heads like freshly spilt blood. Uglúk took a deep breath, his broad chest filling with anticipation. If this was to be his last battle, he was ready to go down fighting – and taking as many of the Whiteskins with him as possible.

The mountain-maggots and the rats of Lugbúrz lost it in the very moment of the attack, of course, shooting all the arrows that remained to them randomly. And not hitting anything but the mail-shirts of the Men, from which every arrow sent from such great distance slid down harmlessly.

The bowmen of the Uruk-hai, led by Ashluk, the best archer among them, waited for orders, their great bows drawn, their arrows nocked.

“Kill their horses first,” ordered Uglúk, “so that they won’t be able to trample us down. In hand-to-hand combat it’s us who have the advantage. We are stronger than them.”

The bowmen nodded and released their iron-headed arrows. Several of the magnificent horses were hit; they reared and fell, rolling in the dirt and throwing down their riders. Some of the others could not stop in time and stumbled over them, breaking their legs.(3) A few of the horsemen fell from the saddle, the arrows of the sharp-eyed Ashluk finding their way between mail-shirt and helmet and piercing the Men’s throats unerringly.

And yet their line held on up the hill and over it, both horses and riders unwavering, and then they wheeled round and charged again. Most of the Northerners and the cowards of Lugbúrz – those who were still alive, that is – broke from the sight of a living wall of armour and spearheads moving against them. They made the futile attempt to flee, running off into different directions, but mostly away from the forest where Mauhúr and his troops had found their deaths. The horsemen, though, seemed determined not to let them escape. They broke their line, always three or four of them following one of the fleeing Orc groups, pursuing them one by one to their death.

“Now might be our time,” said Uglúk. “There are only three of them in our way. Move, ‘til the rest it busy with hunting down the maggots!”

The diminished group of Uruk-hai had held together in a black wedge, driving forward resolutely in the direction of the forest all the time. Now they leaped into swift speed, straight up the slope, and charged towards the watchers. The Whiteskins had keen eyes and good ears, but the Uruk-hai moved with the shadows still lying low near the ground, and when one of the watchers spied their movement, it was already too late for them.

“Gárulf! Watch out!” the young Man cried out, ere Ashluk’s arrow pierced his throat.

The Man in the middle hesitated no longer than a heartbeat, but that was enough for Grothrásh to ram the horse of the third watcher on the right with the full weight of his huge bulk. The horse – a smaller and lighter one than the warhorses of the Mark usually were, though apparently one of fiery nature – could not withstand the impact. He stumbled and reared, and threw off his very young rider. The Slaughterer leaped over the horse and cleaved the head of the young Man in two, bone and helm at once.

The Man named Gárulf, desperate to save his young comrade and maddened by his own failure, urged his warhorse forward with a shrill cry. “Forth, Hasufel!”

As if understanding the words, the great, dark-grey beast reared up onto his hind legs with a loud neigh and then brought his front down on the Uruk-hai before him. The hooves hit Grothrásh square on the chest, breaking his ribcage with a sickening crush. The Man leaned over the horse’s neck, turning his spear around so that the head pointed downwards, and grabbing the hilt with both hands, he rammed it down. There was a short, harsh scream, and in the next moment the loyal, slow-witted Slaughterer was dead.

Uglúk howled in rage. First Mauhúr and all his lads, and now Grothrásh, his closest ally and supporter… even if he managed, by some miracle, to escape, he could never re-gain his former powers. But now was not the time to mourn about lost rank among his people. Now they had one simple goal left: to survive. Snatching the spear of a fallen rider, Uglúk grabbed it and rammed into the chest of the Man named Gárulf, piercing chain mail and flesh and bone with such brutal force that the spearhead came out again on the rider’s back.

The Man fell from the saddle, and the horse, frightened by the smell of his master’s blood, fled screaming, the smaller, lighter mount in his trail. Uglúk looked down at the broken body before his feet and watched the Man die.

It felt unspeakably good.

But the younger Man’s outcry had already alerted the other Whiteskins that something was amiss on the outskirts of the forest. The hooves of the huge beasts were thundering around them already, and soon they were overtaken and brought at bay at the very edge of the dark, looming woods that could have been their only way of escape.

But there was no escaping for them anymore. All but three of his lads were already dead, mayhap a handful more had managed to slip through the circle of the riders and were now trying desperately to run away. He could recognize the trusted Azdreg among them, and also Thraknazh, the whip-master. The urge of survival was finally overwhelming even the deep-rooted loyalty to their chieftain.

Uglúk blamed them not. He would have done the same, if he had been in their place. And if he could keep the Whiteskins occupied just a little longer, if he could give them a head start, mayhap they could make it.

Flanked by Krumghash and Skarburz, the only ones left to watch his back, Uglúk turned to face his enemies, seeking for a way to delay the inevitable, to buy his escaped lads more time to flee. Counting on the Whiteskins’ weird sense for what they called ‘honour’ could work, he decided.

Looking over the disturbingly similar-looking Men – tall, long-limbed and yellow haired, every single one of them, with ice-blue eyes and pale faces, in burnished shirts of mail and light helms upon their long braids – he picked out one of hem whom he thought to be the leader. The Man was taller than all the others, and a white horsetail flowed from his golden helmet as a crest.

“You,” he growled in the tongue of the horsemen, “are you the leader of this band of rebels and murderers?”

As surprised as the Men were to hear their own tongue from the mouth of someone whom they considered an evil, ugly monster, their surprise quickly turned to anger about the wording of the question. But their supposed leader silenced them with a raised hand.

“What if I am?” he asked, and Uglúk recognized the strong, clear voice that had given the great battle cry at the beginning of the charge. He was a magnificent male example as Men go – almost as broadly built as an Uruk-hai, and even a little taller.

“Then I challenge you to a sword to sword combat,” said Uglúk. “Just you and me – or have you not the honour your people boast about so much to fight the chief of your enemies?”

Using the stilted speech of the Whiteskins was hard for Uglúk, used to the harsh, clipped style of his own race. But he could do it, if he had to, and this was the only way to make the Man listen. It was not so that he would have the chance to worry about possible headaches later.

“Why would I wish to do so?” the Man asked. “We have beaten you already, and we can shoot all three of you comfortably. Why waste my time and take any risks?”

Uglúk shrugged his massive shoulders. “I thought the horsemen of the Mark were supposed to accept a honourable challenge.”

At that, the Men laughed and gave him disgusted looks.

“You are not willing to accept a challenge from this… this foul creature, my Lord, do you?” asked the rider on the leader’s right. “It only wants to buy some time for its band – which we should be pursuing right now.”

“That might be,” said the leader, “but a challenge is a matter of honour, Éothain. It cannot go unanswered.”

“Honour,” the other Man snorted, his eyes glowing with hatred. “Orcs have no honour, my Lord! They are rabble, vermin, naught else.”

“Mayhap they truly have not,” replied the leader. “But we do – or, at the very least, we should – have. Even towards an Orc.”

“I’m not just any Orc,” snorted Uglúk, feeling righteously insulted. “I’m Uglúk, chieftain of the fighting Uruk-hai, Captain of Isengard and First Warrior of the White Hand.”

“You have grand titles in these days,” the leader of Men shook his head in amusement. “Very well then, be it as you wish. I, Éomer Éomundsson, Third Marshal of the Riddermark, accept your challenge.”

With that, he dismounted, throwing the bridle of his great war stallion to the other Man, namely Éothain, and drew his sword.

Uglúk was a little stunned. He had not expected to face a kinsman of the old King himself. Besides, the name of Éomer was known in Isengard, and he was said to be a fierce warrior. But Uglúk had no worries for his own fate. He knew that neither he nor Krumghash or Skarburz would leave this place alive. The Men would not let escape them, even if he could best Éomer. All he could do was to buy some time for the others.

“We should capture them, my Lord,” said the Man named Éothain. “They must know things about Isengard and its strength that could be valuable for us.”

“Nay,” replied Éomer, “they would not tell us a thing. They might not have honour as we understand it, but they know obligation, I deem. Or if not, the wizard surely has cast a spell upon them.” He turned to Uglúk, his long sword gleaming. “Well then, Uglúk – let us bring this to an end.”

Uglúk grabbed his broadsword and leaped into attack without any forewarning. If he wanted to stretch out this combat as long as possible, he needed to take the lead. This served to his advantage, as he kept gaining ground on the Man, and drove him half round the open space near the woods, on which they fought. The circle of horsemen did not move, watching the perimeter and their prey, so that Krumghash and Skarburz would not escape.

Both Uglúk and Éomer strove to fight with their backs towards the raising Sun, so that it might shine full in the face of the other; and so several quick wheels were made for the purpose of gaining this position. Uglúk had the advantage of greater strength and longer arms, but the Man was strong and skilled, too, and a great deal faster. He began to tire, and the dreadful feeling of approaching death grew in the pit of his stomach again.

The fight was long and merciless. The desperate thrusts that were frequently aimed on both sides would have revealed for even an untrained audience that they wanted but one thing: to kill each other. At first the riders tried to urge Éomer on, but one by one, they fell into silence, mesmerized by the grim and determined struggle before their eyes. Uglúk felt his sword arm getting heavier and heavier, and he knew it would be over, soon.

Éomer made a lunge at him, all of a sudden; he barely managed to raise his sword in time to counter the attack. He leaped back, for the first time since they had begun, to gain some breathing space. But at this moment, his foot slipped on the blood-stained grass, and he stumbled forward towards the Man, who swiftly met his chest in the fall with the point of his sword and ran it through the body. It happened so quickly that it barely hurt at all.

Uglúk made one feeble, convulsive struggle, as if attempting to rise, but he knew it was over. He fell back onto the grass, now slick from his own blood that was pouring from his wounds in abundance, and for a fleeting moment, he wondered what might happen to Orcs after they died.

He felt a cool touch upon his brow and, opening his bleary eyes for one last time, he saw the face of his enemy leaning over him.

“You fought well,” the Man said with something akin respect in his voice. Uglúk let his leaden eyelids fall shut again.

“Finish it,” he growled, not wanting to see how his last two lads, the only ones who had stood on his side ‘til the end, were slain.

He thought of Lugdush and the cub in her belly that would, perhaps, continue his bloodline; of Krumkû and the other two females that were, hopefully, in safe distance by now. And of Azdreg and Thraknazh, who might escape, after all, and protect the females and the cubs, once they were born.

He did not even feel the second strike that freed him from his broken shell.

Then when they had laid their fallen comrades in a mound and had sung their praises, the Riders made a great fire and scattered the ashes of their enemies. So ended the raid, and no news of it came ever back either to Mordor or to Isengard; but the smoke of the burning rose high to heaven and was seen by many watchful eyes.

(The Two Towers, Chapter 3: The Uruk-hai, p. 73)


~ The End ~

~~~

End notes:
(1) I simply assumed that Éomer’s song on the Pelennor Fields was not an improvisation but an old battle tune.

(2) Quoted from HoME 8 – The War of the Ring, p. 389. An early version of Théoden’s battle cry. As above, I assumed it was a time-honoured one, used by all the King’s knights.

(3) Éomer tells Aragorn in “The Riders of Rohan” (TTT), that they lost fifteen men and twenty horses in this battle. It makes sense for the Orcs, IMO, to try and get rid of such a serious disadvantage.


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