Results 1 to 7 of 7

Thread: [AAR] An Orc's Tale (Third Age MOS AAR)

  1. #1
    joerock22's Avatar Leader of Third Age HS
    Content Director Citizen Gaming Staff

    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Connecticut, USA
    Posts
    4,888

    Default [AAR] An Orc's Tale (Third Age MOS AAR)

    Title: An Orc's Tale
    Author: Maltacus





    This will as the name implies be the bloody tale of the orc Malthur. He lives in Mordor in the Third Age mod with the Massive Overhaul Submod 1.6.2 + all the other changes I have made privately to my own installation. They are mainly new unit cards and unit statistics, and of course the portrait of the protagonist.

    Usually the stories I have published in forums have been found to be exceedingly long so this time I will try the opposite and post the story in smaller bits at a time.

    The episodes will be named in the following manner: "Chapter X - X" where the last X is the latest episode of the chapter. We start at Chapter I - I.

    About the mod: Third Age takes place in the Lord of the Rings World and feature most of the starring factions of that universe. Sauron is most fittingly featured using the pope mechanism of Medieval II and his minions can attempt to persuade their master to call an invasion against enemy cities which is the reinterpretation of the crusade mechanism of the vanilla game.

    MOS is a compilation of a lot of submods which has gone on for quite some time now. It is rich in scripting but also offers the player the option to use or not use many of the features which I personally find very commendable.

    Campaign and Battle difficulty is set to Very Hard which in Medieval II means that the enemy will get a bit of a morale bonus in battles.

    Happy Reading!


    Chapter I

    Chapter I - I

    Gorgoroth. What a snotfilled sack of snagas maggot eaten heads of a pile of troll dirt that left you here in charge of this no good pack of slugs of a pathetic excuse for even the weakest of builders! The Uruk overseer kicked a nearby black stone in frustration. Nearby the stunted working orcs toiled with picks and shovels to keep the road between Barad Dur and the great mountain clear of the ash and stone that the mountain regularly would throw out in rumbling heaps of fire. The work never ended and never lightened.

    The uruk angrily drew out his sword on a whim. Like that was of any use here! Why did he even carry sword and shield around any more? His dagger was enough to cut the dusty filth of maggot eaten grey gravel that went for bread in these parts and whatever scraps of leathery meat that might be found after the regular troops had had their share. Now, that would be the place to be posted, one of the great fortresses perhaps, or the towns and outposts south around the lake Nurnen where the great rows of supply wagons of food came from. Or maybe join a raiding party and see some of the outside loot and enjoy fresh meat for a change. He suddenly knelt down and rammed the blade deep into the ground. There! There it could stay for all time for all he cared! And if any of those useless maggots would even think about standing up to him he would tear its arm of and beat it to a pulp with it! He needed no sword to keep those wretches in line!

    He looked up as he thought of them. One could never leave the lot unwatched for long, always some new mischief brewing as soon as you turned your back on them. If it wasn't some new way of loitering or sneaking off from the digging it was gossiping like aged humans from the south. And if anyone higher up would hear a whisper of that it would be short work to find the responsible overseer to blame. And this latest talk, then! Minas Morgul itself, assaulted by those accursed Gondorians! Stormed, some said. Under siege, according to others. No, the Nazghul drove the enemy away. No, they fell into an ambush. No the Gondorians had all gone mad from the foul sorcery of the town. Damn it! It was hard enough to find trustworthy information even for him.

    Apparently some filth of a captain named Himdir had fought his way to the fortress of a city and for some reason he could not fathom it was defended by a rabble of stinking rats with just about only the general and a company of the city's armored spearmen being properly equipped.




    Minas Morgul lies deep in the dark vale that leads to the pass above it, the smaller entrance to Mordor with the hag of a spider lurking in the tunnels below. The fortress itself is high and mighty enough but offers not too much in the way of defenses for a small force.




    Ufluk, the talentless scum, retreated to the inner walls almost as soon as the enemy showed their snouts near the gate. Probably saved his hide. He had two banners of the little archer scouts that plague the land like some vermin someone has yet to step on, and these were sent to the walls to hold their positions and support the boys down in the yard.




    They soon had a lot to busy themselves with as our fine guests from across the river hurried inside. Mostly motley levy but also some stinking regulars from Pelargir or whatever other places their damned fleet uses as the home base. Burned like anyone else, though.




    Believe it or not, the little buggers even managed to rout a couple of sallies to the wall with their flaming arrows. Only good thing coming from serving under the gaze of that chilling tower that looks over the whole place.




    While our boys inside busied themselves with the growing attacks the tardy reinforcements from Cirth Ungol were marching downhill to make themselves useful. The road runs around the whole city and then to the causeway to the front gate so they sure took their time getting there. The Gondorians sent a pitiful weakened cavalry banner against them but that was too little to stop even that ragged bunch.




    While the pressure was building in the courtyard the archers had more fun with the occasional militia trying their luck on the rooftop. Why the enemy sent such badly equipped weaklings to do something that important beat him. Can't have valued their skins too much at least. Not even much of a distraction.




    Now, these armoured spearmen were the best troops Ufluk had, good uruks with some fancy black plating. It's said that number one himself set up the regiment, as a mockery of the human elite that guarded the fortress ages ago. Ain't that petty? Whatever they are supposed to mimic, these boys held their position for the whole battle and let the archers cut down and rout enemies in droves with their arrows around them.




    In the end, there were just about a dozen left, huddling together with their shields up and spears out. Now, that's true fighting spirit! And equally bad generalship.




    Now, however they managed it, our reinforcements did at last arrive and pushed their way through the shaky remnants of militia on the causeway that had spent themselves running from our arrows inside, and then pushed in through the gate.




    Last to fall were some accursed elite archers with biting great swords too, and the spear hurling infantry from the Pelargir fleet. Both being infamous for their troublemaking.




    How could this happen, then? Because the black land had borders without any sort of scouting nowadays, worse than in many years but at least before the enemy stayed away from Mordor since the big ones kept low. No longer. And that filthy river was offering them free transportation because those lazy sods of the south, that treacherous cowardly pirate scum of Umbar, just sat in their harbours eating figs or raiding fishermen further south. Little help did one have from the likes of them! Ancient Gondorian descendants they were, too, many of them...

    If anyone more competent made the call the land would be swept clean of these rebels and troublemakers, Minas Tirith sacked and the corsairs put firmly in line. Someone sensible of the ever vigilant Uruks, yes why not Malthur himself? And here he was, wasting away overseeing the road leading up to that dusty old cave in the fire mountain and patrolling the road between here and Barad Dur! He turned angrily away from looking up towards the mountain top...and immediately tripped on the sword hilt now firmly lodged in the ground. The cursing and swearing echoed far and away.

    Still, an idea was beginning to take shape in Malthurs head. A blurry and unfinished one but growing clearer each moment. Outward security measures were not the only one being insufficient these days. Perhaps the inner ones might be bent a little as well, for the greater glory of Mordor of course.



    Chapter I - II

    Two days later an opportunity presented itself. As always, the road was frequently travelled and one smaller war party of whipped scouts with a whipping commander soon came running into view. Malthur hurried down to halt the newcomers.

    "Hold up there!"

    The leading orc put up his fist and the trail of panting smaller orcs stopped, breathing heavily and only welcoming any moment of rest.

    "What's the meaning of this!?"

    "I was going to ask the same! What's your name and number?"

    "I am Ugdush! Commanding the third banner of the second regiment of Seregost! Heading for Durthang. And who are you to question me, you little worm?!"

    "What do you expect?! You're late! I expected you a long time ago."

    "Ah! What can you hope for, with these sorry rag-tag louts!"

    A safe bet, Malthur thought for himself. Orcs were always late for one thing or another, and always angry about it and a bunch of other things. Now he just had to keep the momentum.

    "Now, then, might I ask what the hell you are doing here?"

    "What do you mean!? This is a the road to Durthang and I am marching my unit there, you fool!"

    "Then why didn't you turn north two miles past? The main road is blocked, idiot! Rockslide. We've only dug out a narrow little trail yet. There's a reason you are later than you should have been, because a large column of supplies and more from down south will be passing here and they need the road cleared without any others meeting them. So you were supposed to get your maggots past using the small north trail!"

    "What are you babbling about? North trail?"

    "Didn't you see the scouts I posted? The trail runs around the mountain area, rocky and long but safer from blocking. Then it turns west again."

    "Stinking filth! I met no one!"

    "The lazy sods must have crawled away and slept then. I'll rend the skin from their bones once I find out who, but you have a bigger problem. You're going to be a day behind, at the very least. I don't fancy being in your position if any of them Nazghuls decide to look into the matter."

    The mention of the wraiths was a sure a way as any to get a surly orc in an even worse mood. The captain Ugdushs eyebrows lowered as he racked his brain with the unpleasant prospect of having the wraiths sniffing about, as the orcs would put it. Ill appreciated were they, while feared and perhaps respected in battle for the way they struck terror into the foe. But in Mordor they were the nightmare of nightmares for any commander with a suspicious record to show. Malthur continued his ill boding speech.

    "Heh, so you are in a bit of a fix now, Ugdush, aren't you? I suggest you find that trail soon."

    "Then send some guide with me!"

    "Now listen here! I have already wasted time I don't have on you and your sorry pack! I don't have men to spare and even if I did I wouldn't send them off on their own so they can just run away afterwards like the rats you should have met evidently did! But if you want to go look for the trail I suppose I can keep an eye on your boys here while you're away."

    "No bloody way. I'm sending some scouts of my own."

    "Your choice. They can hardly miss it. Two or three miles from here on your left obviously. But now that you're here, why don't you and your watching thugs go get some rest and refreshments from over there, behind that outcropping? You look like dirt."

    "Huh, we might do that, actually."

    The three orc officers strolled away in the pointed direction. Malthur watched them closely and immediately waved to the nearest of his workers.

    "Go get two dozen of the boys with their tools here at once. Then you will lead them to behind that outcropping over there, where you will find three big fellows waiting for you. Beat them to pulp and bury the bodies deep. Or eat them if you feel like it but hide the rest well. There may be some returning scouts from the east in a while, you may deal with them in the same way. And not a word to anyone ever about this, or I'll flay you alive and roast you over the flaming mountain itself!"

    The subordinate orc recoiled slightly when hearing the orders but a dangerous, hungry glimmer sparked in his eyes too, and he scurried away without question. Malthur also hurried away, down to the road where the scout detachment rested.

    "Up with you, you lazy slugs! Break time is over and now it's on to Durthang at double pace or you will feel the sting of my whip! Formation!"







    Chapter I - III

    In the gloomy fortress of Durthang, the sentries reported that an approaching column of troops was sighted. Ladok, the commander of the place, walked down to inspect the newcomers at the gates. He was an enormous uruk, towering over almost any other orc, and stubborn to the core if not too crafty. In a way, the ideal subcommander and deputy. Durthang occupied the northern end of the pass between Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow, and the inner ridge, Morgai, being something of the last defence of Mordor against attacks from the west. From the fortress ran two important roads, one east down towards the centre of Mordor and one south to Cirith Ungol and Minas Morgul. Durthang was in this way ideally suited as a training and marshalling ground, far away from the main routes in and out to not be in the way but quite close should the need arise for quick reinforcements. Lastly, the mountains around it were home to no small number of troll cages and pens. In time, their inhabitants might make their dreadful contribution to Mordors ultimate victory.

    "Halt! Who goes there?!"

    "Malthur! Commanding the third banner of the second regiment of Seregost."

    "Seregost, eh? You're late, scum! You were supposed to be here a day ago!"

    "We were waylaid by some rabble near the mountain! They got Ugdush, our commander, and some of the boys in the front before we drove 'em off!"

    Ladok regarded him coldly for a while.

    "So, you know Ugdush at least. Good enough. Get your unit into the west wing to camp. Then come up to the tower and report to me."



    Ladoks quarter was a circular room with stashed weapons, ancient loot and other useful things. He was looking out of one of the narrow openings that counted for windows when Malthur entered.

    "Tell me about them rebels on the road then. Numbers? Armament? Origin?"

    "Some smallish sniveling types, with tools and smaller arms, perhaps some bows. Don't know where they come from but they seemed familiar with the ground so I suppose they've been nesting there for a while. Crap, you expect the roads in the bloody middle of the country to be clear, what, just about in front of..."

    "That's gonna be hell to explain later. But this is Lagruds turf! Stinking idiot, he is supposed to keep watch from his little camp and make sure these things do not happen!"

    "He in charge of that big camp next to the road here?"

    "Huh. And in charge with overseeing the roads and the rest of the dusty plain of his for that matter."

    "You want something done you need to do it yourself." Malthur shook his head as in disgust. "Maybe that's the solution?"

    Ladok looked suspicious.

    "What are you babbling about?"

    "What I mean is, if this Lagrud can't manage the roads the task should go to someone more competent. Someone in charge of a proper fortress and not some little mudcrawling maggot of a forsaken camp who could only find his way to the cooking huts by the smell of them."

    Ladok looked thoughtful but didn't seem to disapprove. Malthur continued.

    "Besides, is there not something to be gained in it too? To be the decisive commander who stamps out these rebels? Might even make Durthang and it's chief wield influence even on the plains so to say."

    The chief of Durthang looked even more thoughtful.



    Chapter I - IV

    Near the foot of Mount Doom, orc archers were spreading out with their officers behind barking orders. They formed a wide line and moved slowly forward, all scouting for the bandits they had been told to find. Most looked only tired but some stared warily at every cliff and stone that could hide an ambusher.

    The overall commander of the expedition was Grat. He eyed the newcomer and guide Malthur with suspicion.

    "So this is where your precious little robbers would nest, is it? I don't see a thing for my part."

    "You approach with a line that can be spotted from a mile away, not even bothering to take cover, and you blame me if you find nothing? Is that a head on your shoulders or is it a sack of dung?"

    "Why you miserable little..."

    "Give me twenty lads who can march without tripping over themselves and I'll chase those scum out, right into your arms here! Just hold and remember to aim towards the enemy."

    Grat pondered over the proposition. On the one hand, the possibility to be done with this worthless assignment as soon as possible. On the other, the risk of getting rid of that upstart piece of filth that thought himself some kind of commander just because Ladok had sent him along to act as a guide.

    Grat took no risks, though. He called up all the other officers to make sure they overheard who gave orders to who.

    "Lads, I'm sending the rookie around with twenty men to see if he can chase those maggots out into our line as he claims. So hold your positions and wait for the sounds of uprooted little rebels, yes? To your places!"

    The twenty archers in the vanguard waited uneasily for the new officer to order them out. To them, one barking Uruk was as bad as the other, especially since this one in his new armour and the Durthang insignia and new spiked helm covering his features was indistinguishable from any other, not to mention from any former orc commander that might have marched from this place earlier.

    "Attention! As you may have heard we have the glorious task of getting into that nest and luring them out. Nice, huh? We follow the road and then enter the hills from the north, to flank our supposed foe. You will split in four groups of five, sweeping a lane each from enemies. Middle man scout ahead, left man left and right man right. The other two scout in between. You find anything, you keep your mouths shut, stop, hide and signal for assistance. I want every enemy dead after the first volley, do you hear me?! No screaming for help and no one gets way. Move out!"




    Chapter I - V

    A hole it was in the black of the night. Darkness deeper than the darkness, and an unseen gaze sweeping over chilled onlookers that most of all wished to crawl away and hide.

    Behind him rode two dozens of guards in plate armour of ancient design and masklike helmets. They were not there for safety but to carry out the lesser tasks of their lord, whose only visible armament was a wide black cloak along with boots and gauntlets that protruded from under it. Immortal and older than most living things and indeed most cities and nations of Middle Earth, he had little need of a bodyguard. Few things escaped him in the district he held responsibility over and those that did counted themselves lucky. The unauthorized expedition from Durthang was not among those.




    "Bring me the officers engaged in this...expedition."

    Khamuls unseen glare froze the bone and the soul of all he questioned. Through their stuttering answers he learned that Ladok had ordered the expedition. Or if he had received orders from somewhere? No, he would never listen to advice from others. No, he didn't do anything he wasn't told to.

    Who had taken part in the attack? Some usual officers no doubt. And that newcomer, who acted as a guide. Sent to draw out the foe, indeed? Apparently cleared the place thoroughly with just his scout group. Did he have something to do with the expedition apart from having reported the attacks to start with? No, not as far as anyone knew. Why would Ladok have listened to him? What about the authority of Lagrud? Oh, that...the good people of the stronghold just did as Ladok told, the great lord Khamul must understand.

    The archers of this Malthurs group were not special in any manner, they just happened to be ordered that way. By Grat. Yes, everyone heard that. Grat's idea, it would seem. Yes, they had found some rebels, and surprised them completely. No survivors, as per Malthurs command. Yes, he had probably commanded smartly. Split his group in a somewhat tactical way. No, he hadn't done anything that seemed suspicious since. Handled a portion of the watch in Durthang without complaint. The lads said he reported on time and kept his mouth shut otherwise.

    And so Ladok was attempting to outmaneuver Lagrud, was he? Growing a bit too fast here in Durthang, aren't we? Not good enough, just running the fortress for the great eye? No, that was not the case, the good lord must not think. Never. It was Ladoks idea. Nobody knew anything about his plans. Or...maybe heard something once. Yes, lord Khamul shouldn't think all in Durthang to be disloyal dimwits. Oh, no. Actually, one could never be sure about that Ladok. Big fellow with big thoughts and big ambitions. Too big for his place. They said he wanted to be master of the Black Gate as well. Of all of northern Mordor as one great district. No, he probably had his sights set on Barad Dur. Might even have wished to oust lord Khamul and his mighty kind from their fine city.



    As it happened, Khamul did look out of the same window as the rooms former master once the last visitor entered.

    "Soo...the newest of officers approach. I trust the assignments have been to your liking?" The nazghuls metallic voice was barely above a whispering hiss.

    "I serve the eye in what way is required, lord."

    "That you do. As do Ladok, who will now be dragged in chains to the courtyard. There he will be slain for all to see and his head mounted as a fine warning for anyone even thinking of stepping out of line in this little hole. So will he serve the eye in the capacity that he is fit for."

    The orc chieftain remained silent.

    "Will it be your head that keeps him company soon? What do you think, orc?"

    "I think that you have more important things to do than listening to my opinions, lord. I am eager to get to work."

    "The whole fortress is filled with treacherous curs who could not remember their place if their lives depended on it. They will have to be kept in line and away from causing further trouble. Your only redeeming feature is that you have served the shortest time and therefore may seem less implicated to the outside if nothing else. You assume the position of overseer of Durthang from now on. The rest of the officers remain. They will not obey you wholeheartedly of course. Especially not since your first assignment as overseer is to prepare an expedition east. Twelve companies, of bow and sword. That you will lead into the deserts."




    "With respect lord, what good is an overseer miles away from what he oversees?"

    "Little. So you will do well to leave such tasks in the hands of more immediate assets. The great eye will not tolerate failure, regardless of the excuse."

    The orc kept staring silently with his eyes hardly visible through the eye slits of the helmet. Khamul continued.

    "Make no mistake, Malthur, you will never climb higher, nor will any of those who succeed you. You will all be made examples of for all to see and remember the old overseer of Morgai who believed he could overreach without the eye noticing it. All who look upon you will know that they gaze upon the weakest and least among chieftains and why it is so."

    "And what would the eye have of this low and ill reputed servant then?" asked the orc with a barely concealed sarcasm.

    "The variags are unruly. Tribute is flowing but it is too little and too uneven. They don't hold the great eye in such regard as would be wise of them. They will be shown the error of their ways. Five columns will sweep through the land with specific goals each. You will command the southernmost. Your mission is the town of Ammu Khand, close to Mordor. Take it, and make sure the people know what is expected of them."




    "And does the eye expect them to...live?"

    The nazghul regarded him with its invisible cold stare for a moment.

    "The aim is to ensure tribute and the pacification of the region. However, you may dispose of any unruly elements as you see fit. They will learn to fear the eye or know the price of disobedience."

    The orc chieftain bowed and left the room.




    Chapter I - VI

    They were screaming. Raising their shields and weapons. Banging them together. The sunlight glittered in all the metal and shone on the fine armours and helmets. Ammu Khand would not fall soon with such a force mustered! It had taken every bit of sharp objects in town to equip the militia but it had surely been worth it. The filthy orcs would surely think twice about rushing in once they got closer with their rams. The wall was just a palisade but at least stopped a head on charge and when the foe tried to squeeze through the openings they would be surrounded and cut to pieces from all sides!

    Ilg of the militia fumbled with his large shield and spear while waiting. It was exciting and frightening at the same time but he had complete confidence in his towns lord. Someone that high and mighty would not fall to these bandits. That was how the world was made, it was, as sure as the rise of the sun.

    "Stand still! Take deep breaths, you need to conserve some strength." said Od next to him.

    "But I'm so thrilled! We'll slay those monsters and then we will be like heroes!"

    "We need to slay them first" Od retorted, and continued in a hushed voice "and it doesn't look that good from where I stand."

    "What?"

    "They're waiting us out. Look at it. We have nearly no bowmen, and the enemy is just standing there, taking their time."

    "That's good, ain't it? They're frightened!"

    "They're smart. They know that they're dealing with militia unused to long battles and able to keep up a short burst of bravery but lacking the guts for a drawn out contest. Since this banging and shouting started, it's our men that's been tiring themselves out, mark my words."

    Ilg looked around. That couldn't have been true, could it? The stout folk of Ammu Khand would not give in like that, used as they were to work long days in the sun. He looked around more closely. Was it as much clamour now as earlier? Maybe quite not. Some men were drinking from their water skins already. Could Od be right? Ilg walked backwards so that he came a bit higher up and managed to glimpse over the palisade. The orcs...were sitting on the ground. Or most of them at least. Some were walking around, apparently distributing drink and some food among their ranks. The human militia on their hand were still waving their weapons and shouting, with hoarser throats, dreading the absence of their sound as if it would signal the end for them all. Ilg slowly started shaking his head.

    Then the cry came in from further to his right side.

    "Fire arrows!"




    Ilg could not breathe! He was being pressed by bodies from every side and could neither turn around nor move. The remnants of the militia cowered around him, keeping their shields up and involuntarily staggering back into one another as if searching for some measure of safety. Orcs swarmed around them, no, it was more like a black lake of orcs rolling over them like a sandstorm, blanketing every open spot of the streets. Ilg could only turn his head but knew there was only walls behind the humans. He should have run when Od said so earlier, even if Od had been hit by an arrow and stumbled shortly after trying to get away from the walls. The orcs had not killed him but the panicking militia had trampled over him and many others in their flight back to the town square where they had reformed. And now Ilg would suffer the same fate. If only he could get back and turn and maybe he could scale that wall? Maybe the orcs did not have any bowmen here, or they had run out of arrows? Maybe the other side of the house would be empty and he could get away now, or hide until the night?




    The orcs suddenly roared an indistinguishable war cry and charged. Someone behind Ilg faltered, and Ilg too lost balance. He stumbled and fell to the ground on his back just as someone stepped on his leg. He heard the bone snap and could not think as the stupefying pain hit him.




    Chapter I - VII

    Shagrat, lieutenant of Malthur, marched arrogantly across the still very bloody town square. Something smelled delicious from the cooking pots outside. Malthur greeted him by tossing him the helmet of the fallen enemy captain, all gilded steel.

    "What do you make of this, eh?"

    "What do I make of what? It's a bloody helmet."

    "And what does it tell us? Read the signs, Shagrat, and tell me."

    "Huh...so the wearer was rich, then. Since the scum was lord of this little pile of dirt of a maggot nest I wouldn't be too surprised. Can we go get some eating done now, captain?"

    "Idiot! Do you have slugs nesting in your head or what is wrong with you!? The lowliest snivelling little tracker could tell me more. Look at it!" He pointed angrily at the helmet again. "The steel might be decent underneath, or at least passable for this land. That gold is not. No smith that clumsy can afford the material needed for covering a whole helmet in gold like that, and none would hire one so clumsy if he was rich enough to buy the gold needed. Get it?"

    The Uruk lieutenant stared back at him blankly. Malthur shook his head in disgust and kicked him hard in the stomach. Towering over the knocked down orc he continued. "These amateur smiths and little worms of pretender princes have neither wits nor bits to buy the material needed to craft armours like that. That tells us one thing. They. Found. It. Get up, and get the shiniest batch of prisoners you can find here. There's gold in these hills, and we're going to find it."



    Malthur stood seemingly casually and picked out dirt from under his nails with his dagger, or perhaps it was more like a very short sword. He had never been able to understand this. Of all things to be frightened of, humans would pick this ludicrous gesture to shiver from. Ah, well, all the easier to intimidate the pack.

    "You." He pointed at the foremost of the prisoners brought forward. "There is gold in these lands. More than is expected in a small hole like this. Where does it come from?"

    "We....we ain't got no gold, lord, I swear..."

    Malthur lashed out with his dagger in the blink of an eye. The prisoners speech faltered in a gurgling of blood as he collapsed with his throat cut.

    "I will ask again. Once. Where does the gold come from?"

    The mines lay southeast of the town. It was really more of a series of holes but the gold vein seemed to continue downwards. It had been discovered less than two years ago and the lord of the town had been intoxicated by his dreams of a prosperous future for the town and especially himself. The smith who made the clumsily ornate armour was among the fallen in the battle. It was a couple of weeks track to the mining grounds.

    "See, Shagrat? Something to dig up from this maggot nest after all." He turned towards the unfortunate Khandfolk. "You lot will accompany this lieutenant of mine and the fine gentlemen of his guard to this mine of yours. For your sake I hope it really is two weeks from here, or you might find out just how hungry my boys can get from a hard march in the sun."




    Chapter I - VIII

    The town of Ammu Khand was quiet now. It's inhabitants hurries to and fro, going about their daily business as quietly as possible. There wasn't so many as one might expect but on the other hand there were a lot more of the black armored orcs than one would have guessed from looking at the town. The shadow of the sharp mountains of Mordor, jagged compared to the rounded ones further east, loomed darker than before over the town.



    Orcs patrolled the streets, stood guard at town squares and gates and the wall, and on the whole made their presence very much known and felt. Regarding the latter, there was in a sense one exception. The grim captain of the occupation force walked surprisingly quietly through the streets, the same being true about his two bodyguards.

    "Inspeeection!" he barked, coming up close behind two sentries that had slackened in the shade next to the western gate.

    "Huh? Chief! Nothing to report!"

    "That so? Big surprise there, ain't it? Keep your eyes with you!" he growled and swatted the sentry on the helmet with his gauntlet, producing a ringing sound like a small bell.

    "Aaaoh! Aye , chief!" the unfortunate orc yelled and kept shifting his gaze in confusion, wondering how his day had taken such a bad turn.

    "Like our new boots, do you? the orc captain asked maliciously, and lifted his boot, with double layers of sheepskin tied to it underneath as an extra sole. "Might make our infantry be able to visit a town at night without waking up every defender within the nearest ten miles. In the meantime, you runts can focus on keeping watch instead of listening for the steps of an officer."

    The inspecting captain continued his tour, leaving behind a trail of straightening and stammering guards, eyeing their surroundings nervously.



    The central square proved to be more difficult to approach undetected, with open street in every direction. Something more would be required.

    "Here, give me your helmet, and walk in front of me casually like you're off duty" he said to his bodyguards, lashing his own helmet to his belt. The bodyguards complied, but still were so unused to behaving "casually" when patrolling that the result came to resemble a bad actor trying to look relaxed or someone trying to falsely pretend nothing was wrong. The effect was in fact quite comical, Malthur thought, but it would have to do. They approached the town square and the chatting soldiers that did not seem to recognize them as their talking continued. One of them even waved lazily. Malthur did not recognize that one but the other two he knew were called Caillagh and Alwyn. They were coming close enough to hear the conversation.

    "...bloody crafty, with those fire arrows" said the wave man in a guttural tone.

    "He's a devious one, I heard he just walked in and talked himself to control of all of Durthang, all sneakiness" said Caillagh.

    "No, it was one of them wraiths who put him in charge, apparently the old guy was being topped off and Malthur somehow had the quick wits to come out of that as new boss" said Alwyn.

    Malthur contemplated using the same approach as previously, but on the other hand it might be useful having some in the lower ranks that did not hate you completely. Still, he would like them on their toes lest someone would came up with any unhealthy ideas for troublemaking, even if they were unlikely to be s coming from such, should we say, people "less than nimble intellectually". He would settle for a compromise here.

    Malthur waited until they had passed by and just out of sight. Then he quickly changed back to his own helmet.

    "You're damn right, so you better keep your eyes open so you live long enough to remain in this noble company for some more time! For I am both crafty, witty and devious!" he roared and tossed the startled debaters a half filled wineskin taken from the loot of the town.

    His companions chuckled at the expressions of the confused town square sentries but the uncommonly merry gathering was interrupted by a runner hastening towards them.

    "Chieftain, a company or so on foot's approaching. It looks like it might be Shagrat's raiders."



    The eastern gate was a mess of excitement with babbling and shouting mingled. The Uruk guards had to wade through the commotion using the flat sides of their swords to clear a path for their captain. The exhausted foray party panted with red tongues hanging from their mouths and leaned on their knees in the merciless sun, even though it was still morning.

    "Hey, Shagrat! Dug something up lately?"

    The dusty orc looked up and grinned trimphantly. He gestured to his closest guards, one which was carrying a heavy sack.

    "They had a shiny little hoard just waiting for us. Oh, and some dutiful workers too, not expecting us. Damn, you should have seen the look on their faces when we stormed in!"

    "Good. Send your boys to the cook pots and follow me. We have some things to talk about."



    Later the two orc commanders stood alone up in a watchtower. Malthur turned to face his lieutenant.

    "Last time I looked, I seemed to spot a number of prisoners marching with you. Humans, it might have been. Does that ring a bell?"

    "Oh, those, hehe! We decided to lighten our load on the way home. And fill our bellys at the same time. As you said we could, of course, captain."

    "As I said you could, provided the journey there took longer than two weeks. Did it? For if so, you've sure been running on your way back here."

    "Ah, no, but what good were they now that we had found the place? Me and my boys were getting scorched, captain! You think the path here through the cliffs has been hard? That is nothing compared to that sea of sand and rocks out there!"

    "Aye, that sure must have tried your tempers, mustn't it?" The captains voice had become deceptively low. That sort of low that boded quite ill for the one addressed. But either the sun and heat or the long track had dulled Shagrats senses of immediate danger that usually were present.

    The hit sent him flying across the platform of the tower and crashing into the wall behind. Shagrat crawled up with his head ringning and spitting blood. Malthur had backhanded him with his armoured hand, wearing his full armour at all times as was his habit, including the heavy gauntlets he favored.

    "Be thankful, Shagrat, that killing you would seem outward as a concession towards our prisoners and undermine my authority here. As would demoting your worthless hide once we were still here. Be thankful for that whenever you feel the urge to disobey my orders again. Now get out of my sight, maggot."



  2. #2
    joerock22's Avatar Leader of Third Age HS
    Content Director Citizen Gaming Staff

    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Connecticut, USA
    Posts
    4,888

    Default Re: [AAR] An Orc's Tale (Third Age MOS AAR)

    Chapter II

    Chapter II - I

    Siege warfare was never the orcs favored strategy. Just as much as their foes treasured their stone walls and majestic display of craftsmanship so did the orc accomplish little in either fortifications or the art of breaking them down. Whether it was the infighting, the impatience or the sheer cowardice deterring them from even contemplating serious attacks against well defended targets, never did they manage much when they were not under the command of a greater will than the common chieftain or captain. Yet now, all of that was about to change. Timber rolled in from the east on wagon after wagon, sturdy wood of the eastern lands that would not break or grow weak from the extreme climate of Mordor. Iron and stone flew in a steady stream from countless mine shafts and the toll of innumerable thralls burying into the mountains for material.

    At the foot of the Morgai mountain range all of it gathered. Clumsy wheeled catapults and slimmer but more complicated ballistae along with the enthusiastic orcs set to crew them. For while lazy and notoriously untrustworthy, almost every orc shared an eagerness and a fascination when it came to machines and devices for the wreaking of havoc and destruction. Even more so when it came with the possibility of doing it from behind the ranks of someone else.

    Great shooting ranges were dug out and crude targets mounted for the practice of the crews. Day and night, the air was rent by the creaking o wood and rope and the crashes of stones upon the ground and the mountainside. Under the watchful eyes of the Uruk overseers it happened that some of the lesser orcs distinguished themselves and were given the command of a smaller unit. A command that had its own dangers.

    The dreaded overseer of all Morgai and lord of the fortress of Durthang invoked fear whenever he showed himself. The sight of his spiked helmet was the signal to hide as best one could and otherwise strive to perform exceptionally well. As he entered the campsite it was the sight of him that opened a path between the crowds before anyone had given the order, and not the sight of the enormous creatures following behind his bodyguard. His will was the only law known for the time being and all the lesser commanders hurried like mad to obey his summons. Without stopping to look at anyone, he turned towards the practice range where the catapult crews now hastily gathered before him.

    "Crew captains, listen up! Each of your companies will be assigned two trolls. I don't care what trolls you get but you better do that. You have until we march out to teach them to handle a catapult - moving, loading, aiming, firing. How you do it is up to you. You'll want to put your brave little hearts into the task, for when the time is up one of two things will happen. Either the trolls handle their task and you get a place as company commanders in my army. Or the trolls mess up something and I will use your heads as ammunition or let the trained trolls eat you, depending on how well the other groups have done. Any questions? Didn't think so. Get started!"



    Chapter II - II

    Under his helmet, the orc eyes blazed with the unseen anger that would be directed towards each and everyone close by in Durthang these days. HE had brought the Variag town down. HE had discovered the hidden gold caches as a neat bonus on top of it all. HE had organised the expedition and its supplies through trackless wastes, circulating repairing crews and water carriers up and down the long column and scouts ahead of it that had at last been berated into doing a half descent job of not only watching for enemies but also for steady and stable ground where the wagons could continue.




    And then, after reaching the road west into Mordor, the soulless and eyeless stare, there to greet him. Endless questions and accusing implications and always that cold gaze through his very bones, making even the sunlight seem faded and sending shivers through his body despite the heat. The retainers were trying their best to give a similar impression in their metal masks, but could not match the presence of the unliving wraith, as much as their contempt for the orcs was visible for all to see.




    That had been but the beginning though, lasting only until Khamul drew a thin dagger with a grinning skull decorating the hilt. Two of the Numenorian guards kicked out his legs from under him as their master swiftly cut the straps of his armour and seams of the clothing underneath until his upper body was bared. The dagger was a Morgul blade, Khamul remarked, which had the repulsive ability of seeking out the heart of its victim on its own accord to some extent. Thrusts would seem to penetrate deeper and easier in that direction, even if that effect was usually less noted since the only known wielders were the nazghul, who could more often than not pierce whatever armour and flesh they wished thanks to their unnatural strength. A Morgul blade would also splinter on occasion, leaving a smaller piece in a wound that would slowly eat its way towards the heart.

    "Let's see what truths and lies we can discover beneath the surface..."

    Khamul had almost seemed amused as he hissed out the remark. As much as something not living could seem anything. His first thrust pierced the shoulder, leaving a flesh wound that would ache tenfold from Malthurs head twitching in pain and cold from the following ones. Khamuls second pierced the chest, scratching against a rib and holding still as if contemplating whether to bore right through it or not. Again and again he stabbed, always making a show of examining the tip of the dagger as if to see if any part had broken off and remained in the wound. Cold gripped the orc and his breathing was a labored struggle while limbs burned and lost their strength and then sensation. It was impossible to say for how long it went on, not least since the repeated questions and comments always circled around the same subject like a perpetually turning wheel. For whatever reason, the nazghul finally tired, or if it had been Malthur that had passed out from the loss of blood.




    Slowly regaining consciousness, his first sight was the blistering sun and the second was that of Khamul adressing a large crowd, made up of nearly all of the officers of the orc horde. He was hanging limp between two of the black Numenorians of Khamul who held him up between them as the nazghul adressed the crowd.

    "Commanders in the service of the great eye: I have reviewed your latest "achievements". Pitiful. For now, the dark lord will show you mercy, as responsibility does not lie on your shoulders alone but more so on your commander. You will prove yourselves worthy of some of the spoils under captain Shagrat now. Under his command you will march to Cirith Ungol, taking up your duty as garrison troops. Leave the wounded and the weak. March!"

    The pathetic scum had cheered and with hitherto unseen speed hurried into line, not even looking at their former captain. The only spectator was now Khamul and his guard.

    "You still have your orders. Lead these sorry remnants back to Durthang...overseer. I am sure the entire fortress is awaiting your return with anticipation..." the nazghul hissed and made a mocking bow as his retainers laughed with hollow and mirthless voices, dropping the orc unceremoniously into the sand.



    The orc chieftain shook his head as to shake off the memory.

    "But you did not kill me Khamul, did you? You went through all that trouble to humiliate a captain instead of picking another one and sparing yourself the trip to western Khand. Did it please you that much, or do you find yourself so short of able chieftains these days?" he whispered to himself. "Whatever reason it was for, you will regret it one day..."




    There would be need of able commanders soon enough if the recent rumors held any truth. Gondorian raiding parties were seen closer to Minas Morgul yet again and even scouts from the men of Rohan, Gondors northern ally, patrolled the land. The newcomers were holding the defenses of the river Anduin, so the scouts said, but for what reason? Gondor was mustering its forces further south, on the plains of Ithilien bordering the lands of Harad as well as Mordor. Would they strike at Minas Morgul another time? Did they intend to sweep through all of Ithilien north to the Black Gates?





    A small explanatory game note

    Spoiler alert: You do not at all have to read this to understand the story, I just wanted to include a bit of explanation for those who are interested in the progress of Malthur from a gaming perspective. So don't read it if you think it would subtract from the feeling of the story.

    .
    .
    .
    .
    .

    So, those ""#%&`wraiths! Since Sauron is the pope, he also has inquisitors - the servants of Sauron, appearing like ringwraiths - making life miserable for his minions. The inquisitor characters work in the following manner: If a province has a lot of heretical religion, inquisitors may appear and start hunting down heretics (rebel priests). However, in true inquisitorial manner, they hunt everyone else as well and attempt to have them burned alive publicly. If a character, general or otherwise, has low piety he or she runs increased risk of being killed by the inquisitor. If he survives, he usually receives a trait that he passed the trial, like Malthur did.

    But that litle scum attacked again, and killed Malthur on the second try! What the f!"#¤%¤!? He had already been found innocent! Ne bis in idem, damn you!*

    So Malthur had to restart the campaign at Durthang. This is what you get for opening the game with an unusual move... Ringwraiths, you will burn so much for this...

    *"Ne bis in idem" means something like "not the same thing twice" and is commonly considered the latin translation of the juridical principle of not having anyone stand trial or be punished for the same crime more than once.

    Chapter II - III

    Insects. They looked like bugs crawling and climbing down the winding stair and the mountain slope underneath it far, far below Malthurs vantage point. Orcs and trolls and piece after piece of siege machinery, lifted down using improvised cranes and platforms on the few larger flat spots along the great stair. Beams, barrels of smaller parts, wheels, rocks to load the catapults with, spears to load the ballistae. It had been thought ludicrous but he had done it! He had made an army climb down the mountains with their artillery in their pockets, not to mention passing right under the very nose of her. Indeed, that had been a concern fervently voiced by the loudest of critics, until Malthur had given the very same individuals the important task of making sure she was distracted. He hoped she had enjoyed the meal.

    Malthurs army, he did have an army of sorts now, was in truth one gigantic siege regiment. He held no illusions that that had not been the main reason why it had been sent to the Morgul Vale, something which would have undoubtedly made any other orc forget any notion of bringing artillery with them. Deprived of their greatest asset, it would have been a lackluster victory or a disgraceful defeat waiting downhill. But not now...

    A runner made his way up close to him, panting from the climbing.

    "Chief, we have nearly all catapults on the ground. Where shall they be assembled?"

    "Nowhere. Form up along the road to march out as soon as the rest is on the ground."

    "Uh..."

    A harsh glare silenced the whatever doubting comment the scout could have been about to voice. Malthur sighed and began walking towards the stairs. Explanations, explanations, those were the fate of all who had to work with underlings bereft of vision or wit enough to recognize the superior planning of their betters.



    "Company commanders, to me!" the orc chieftains voice thundered as he reached the last step of the stair. "Now, I hope you have all been told to form the column along the road, otherwise old She will be getting even fatter tonight!"

    "Chief, are we not to use the artillery?"

    "Sure we are, but not from here."

    The blank stare meeting him annoyed the chieftain to no end.

    "THINK, maggot! What is out there?" he grunted and pointed out west beyond the vales entrance.

    "A meekly force, about two hundreds reinforced by some five hundreds. Sure, we can smash them, but why not soften them up a little before?"

    "Which we will, but again: not from here. Pay attention! That is a raiding party, a blocking force preventing scouting patrols from reaching the river and the roads south. When we start flinging fire they will turn and bolt to warn the other whiteskins and huddle up in their stone cities somewhere behind. I would have them run into Mordor instead, so here is what we will do: We march out of the vale, taking the abandoned northern trails through the forest, coming out behind the whiteskins. Then we assemble these pieces of junk and start the fun."

    The other orcs looked at each other for a moment but some, and soon all, quickly remembered to nod.

    "What of the road, ain't it supposed to be broken down and abandoned as it is?"

    "I've never heard nobody give a damn about it. Since when should WE depend on broken roads or hidden trails for our defence?! We are the Uruks! We serve the great eye! We ATTACK, we do not defend! Now, move out."




    Chapter II - IV

    Malbeth of Dol Amroth surveyed the road ahead of him once again. He was commanding half a thousand of Gondors armies, many hailing from Dol Amroth like himself. Their mission was simple enough, to watch the road ahead of them fro large enemy movements, and they were aided by his deputy Himdor ahead with 230 men as a vanguard and first line of scouts. There had been reports of movement out of the Morgul Vale the whole day before but apart from skirmishes with orc archers no attack was coming. What were they up to? For the tenth time this day he wondered if the right thing to do would be to send a rider back to Osgiliath but for the tenth time he admitted that he did not know what to write. That he had a bad feeling and had reports of uncounted but apparently very unnerving masses of enemies doing nothing in particular up ahead? Even with the recent sightings of orcs in the forest north of them it was not something that would convince anyone of anything.

    The sky was cloudy but it did at least not rain. Yet. Suddenly he heard thunder, a loud bang from somewhere behind him. It did sound quite close...was that screaming? Could it really had struck someone in the camp?

    Malbeth turned his horse around. It was not thunder.

    "To your posts! Form up, Gondorians!"



    Himdor ran. His armor weighed him down. His mail was a net that caught his limbs and pulled at the opposite direction he would have them move. The fine, even artful, work of a master that it was, forged by a craftsman with possibly decades of experience, for the people of Gondor still lived far beyond most other men and the forging was one of the few professions that had not entirely degenerated since the days of Gondors full might, before the plagues and the infighting had left its old borderlands easy prey for Easterlings and Southrons. Himdors helmet was strong. It's crest was reinforced, offering the drastic yet potentially life-saving ability to absorb a blow by tilting the head slightly forward, supposedly catching the force on the helmet and the extra padding underneath that spot. It weighed his head down and strained his neck. His breath was caught by the cheek guards of it, and he could not seem to ever inhale enough air with each breath. The greaves fitted his calves flawlessly, or at least they did some years ago, and now he felt them like stones on his feet. Bent and formed into an artistic wave-like top, he had always admired the skill it must take to make the different parts of an armor piece and make them work together. Much like an army should. But now this army was fractured, and one of its hands hurried too late to help the other hand and the head and heart of the army. His breastplate shone like the sun itself under his meticulous care, with the light reflecting off the smooth surfaces, never offering a single point where an opponents blade could hit properly but dooming it to glance off with spent force. It represented the ultimate proficiency of the master armourer, with no flaw and no weak spot left open. And it hung so heavily from his shoulders and back and made it so hard to take another mouthful of air.

    They were nearing the main encampment, at last. There was a repulsive smell off burning in the air and smoke rose over the treetops. Beyond the coming ridge was only flat ground for half a mile and then they would be there to help Malbeth. It was just short, short climb left. Himdors legs trembled from the effort but he stumbled one more step ahead, and another, and another, and the he was over the ridge. If only the downhill slope would carry them all the last bit on to the camp for the final charge into the enemy. Surely the orcs would be exhausted by now and easily routed when faced with a new force. And then they could regroup and rest and Himdor would demand that forward scout forces would be made up exclusively of the light infantry instead.

    And then the sky rained fire.



    Orcs scurried across the camp like an unruly colony of ants. All carried various pieces of loot or were going back for more. Their chieftain oversaw it with a satisfied glare. He had only had to behead a dozen or so of the most insubordinate pillagers, clinging to the honoured tradition of keeping all they could find for themselves. Now it was being neatly assembled in different growing piles sorted by the type of loot, ready to be used and distributed at his command alone.

    "Not bad, not bad..."

    "This will fetch a mighty shiny price back home, won't it chief!?"

    "Damn right...hold up! What's that you're dragging over there?"

    "This be some stinking Tark armour. Looks like it was with one of them high Tark folk here. Much good it did him..."

    "That so? Bring it here! Is the thing intact?"

    "Would think so. Damn hard to hack through, this stuff. Me and some pals tried once after that mess in the wraiths tower. Broke our flaming swords, we did! Flaming ridiculous!"

    "Wash the human stink out of it and bring it to my tent. I want a closer look on this swordbreaking wardrobe of theirs."

    The armour in question was indeed intact. It was certainly of superior quality compared to what the orcs could hope for. Mordors smiths could be skilled enough but the endless numbers of the Eyes armies meant everything had to be focused on massed production over any fancy craftsmanship. The only exception was the Black Numenorians who had their own human smiths tending to armour and weapons.

    In fact, that suit of plate didn't look too bad. If one dyed it black or covered it with leather or hide it would pass as any other orc armour. Some straps might have to be loosened a bit, well, maybe two bits, but otherwise that could actually be made to fit. But not the helmet. That looked flaming stupid. And it would be far too tight over the ears.



    Now, these puny excuses of a vanguard had come from somewhere south. That he was certain of. It was something with the river city that just screamed "SHUT" these days. Maybe it was the strawhead banners that were seen flying. On the other hand, the Tarks and the strawheads were supposed to be allies. But there were still no sign of tracks going west. They turned south, further into the forests of Ithilien, following the road that went along the huge river. It was time to send out some scouts here and there.




    Chapter II - V

    The castle of Ostithil had never been a major stronghold for Gondor. The castle had been constructed during the golden age, after Saurons fall and the Last Alliance. In those times the threat was bandits or renegade orcs left from the scattered hordes of Mordor, and the surrounding wilderness had been a blooming farmland. Then came the long decline and waning, with plague forcing the population to abandon the castle and surrounding areas and corsairs from the south raiding the coasts. Ostithil fell into ruin and only birds nested inside its walls. Only under Denethors reign had the place been reclaimed, now by the Gondorian army to be used as a forward gathering point and fortified camp. In a few years a small village of workshops and quarters had sprung up and lately a strong wall had been added around it all. The wall was still made of wood. though, and the garrison was small. It had served its part so far.

    Ostithil guarded the border where the highlands of central Ithilien would flatten into the lowlands of the south, which even further south gave way to meadows and steppes as Gondor became Harad. The ground around the castle was open for the most parts, a remnant of the farms that had once occupied the area, and the ground was dry and hard. It was good ground for marshalling large forces, and to lead mounted forces in a battle.

    On the rooftops and towers stood several scouts, of which one was Bregil, the son of the castellan Beregond, and his lowborn friend Pip. They had viewed the large black army with equal parts contempt and fright.

    "They are so many..."

    "You're such a craven, Pip, those are just orcs. My father will smash them, he will."

    "Those things at their stone slingers are no orcs. I saw them earlier. It's trolls! They stand twice as tall as a man. And are stronger than a dozen. And they eat people. I've heard about..."

    "Like you'd know anything about it! Listen, I heard from one of the scouts that the archers captain said that there are Rohirrim hiding in the forest on the other side! Then, when those orc scum has set themselves up the riders will sweep them off, and my father and his men will sally out and fire arrows into their backs from the other side when they have been hit by the riders!"

    "Those trolls will just laugh and grab for their horses I think. It's like a big feast for them, like midsummer."

    "Hey, are you on our side or what!?"

    "What's wrong with you, course I am! But that's not gonna matter if the trolls eat us."

    "Can you quit yapping about your stupid trolls for just one day? Didn't I tell you that my father is down there with the garrison, preparing to go out and rout the enemy? And the riders are led by a great hero of Rohan. They won't lose to some simple orcs! Or some stupid trolls!"




    Now was heard the sharp horns of the Rohan riders, and a large cloud of dust and the beating of many hooves heralded their charge around the west side of the wall. But a large part of the contingent was actually dismounted, as the Rohirrim had been sent to Gondors aid as a garrison force in the first place. The riders stormed onward to great cheers from the walls, seeking to hit the enemy as soon as possible and fix his attention so that the rest of the force could march up and fire at the disorganized remains. But the orcs were not a ragged pillaging band sent to harass some outlying farms. Even worse what that the many ballistae that stood in front of the orcs acted as effective impediments, especially so since the orcs had the habit of mounting large wooden shields on the front of their artillery pieces, with spikes on top of those.

    "Breg?"

    "Yeah..."

    "Shouldn't our men be sallying out now?"

    "Yeah... Maybe they just wait for the riders to disorganize the enemy more..."

    "Breg?"

    "Yeah..."

    "Aren't they getting surrounded out there? And where are the footmen?"

    "There! But they are turning towards the walls instead! What are they doing!"

    "Look! The trolls!"




    The orc chieftain surveyed the bloody remains of the Rohan riders. It was a hopelessly inferior force. None the less, they had stormed into his ranks without hesitation and indeed managed to buy their comrades some time, which the latter then had squandered by neither attacking nor using the time to make a run for the river or the forests. It was a futile gesture of defiance from the enemy, but he could respect the courage of the strawheaded leader and bodyguards.

    His troops were rearranging for a new clash or to storm the castle. Malthur waved the closest captains to him.

    "Have the lads settle down and take turns watching the castle. There won't be any new sally now that they've realized their precious cavalry was no match for us. Two companies stand guard with the catapults, have the rest set up a camp on the eastern side of the walls and get some fires up. I don't know about you lot but I'm in the mood for a bloody feast!"

    "As you say, chief!"

    "We'll do, chief!"

    "Why are we moving to the other side, chief? I mean, with the meat piled up nice and easy down here?"

    The orc chieftain smiled a wicked smile.

    "Feel the wind. It's been blowing from Mordor for four days now. I want each and every whiteskin in that tower to feel the delicious scents of our dinners roasting while they wait for our catapults having them join their pals. Let the wind carry the sweet aroma of their impending destruction."

    "Aye, chief!"

    "Once everyone's fed and watered, continue bombardment and start burning the place down. Aim for the courtyard and the houses closest to the castle. See if you can make the smoke drive them out."

    "We're not gonna seize the place, chief?"

    "This motley pile of gravel is near useless. We're too far away from any of our own and it's too small and weakly fortified to make a suitable supply camp. It's as unworthy as it's garrison."

    Looking over the battlefield again the orc chieftain felt his mouth water. He could already imagine the smell of meat roasting over the fires.




    They were shouting. Bregil couldn't understand why they were shouting. They should be at their posts. They should defend the walls. They should defend his fathers castle. But they just stood in the courtyard, or rather the open square before the castle, and banged at the door and shouted things about Gondor and his family and the loyal defenders of the keep. They were cowards! And Pip was hardly better.

    "Breg! We've gotta do something! Look, someone's locked the gate! We must tell your dad or someone!"

    "No, we mustn't! Shut up, Pip."

    "But look down there! They are dozens! Maybe hundreds!"

    "Yeah, like we need a hundred more mouths to feed! Is that what you want, Pip? Starving because we let in some hundreds more unwashed peasants from the north. You don't know anything about sieges, do you Pip? It's all about the food and water in the end."

    "What's wrong with you?! There are people down there! Our own people, Breg! And allies who came to save us. The riders fought bravely."

    "Then they should go man the walls and save us!"

    "That's really the real point, isn't it? "They should" and "them". Not "we". Because you and all you highborn think you are above everyone else and should have all done for you by others. And others don't really matter because they are just tools for you. Isn't that right, Breg?"

    "Shu...shut up! That's traitors talk, Pip!"

    "What're you gonna do, lock me out with the rest of the common soldiers? The rest of our soldiers that you and your father and your family just have BETRAYED!"

    Bregil really only meant to make him be quiet for a while. He really just wanted a little rest from everything. And make that stupid lowborn show some respect. Here he was, being friends despite being of a proper family and what did Pip do to repay his kindness? He should have broken Pips nose, that was no more than he deserved. He just didn't mean for Pip to spin around and stumble over the crenellations. He looked down on his hand. There was blood on it. Maybe he had broken Pips nose after all? If so, Pip must be alive. Otherwise he would be dead and the dead could not have their noses broken. Bregil repeated the thought in his mind with every step he took towards the wall. He peeked over the side, and there was Pip! He was lying on a sloping roof underneath, holding on to some edge of the roof, looking dazed and exhausted.

    "Hold...hold on, Pip! I'll get someone!"

    Pip seemed to move a bit. It looked like he was attempting to shake his head.

    "No...get...rope... Do...yourself..."

    Bregil realised that he didn't know where to find rope. Nor did he know how to tie a good knot with the rope he didn't know how to find. Then suddenly the castle shook and the sound of stones crashing onto stones and the smell of something burning was everywhere, so much closer than the horrible smell in the wind that had been there since just after the battle. Bregil looked down again.

    Pip was gone.

    Bregil looked up and out towards the wall. There weren't any defenders on it. There was only fire.




    Bregil suddenly wished his father would open the doors. Even if it was bad for the supplies. Even if they were no more than lowborn. He just didn't want to hear them screaming.






    Chapter III

    Chapter III - I

    Beyond the great river lay the old city of Pelargir, the most important base of Gondors fleets. From the window of one of the city's towers a shape of uncommon height turned to look back into the rest of the room. In it where four more Gondorian commanders, seasoned veterans all, along with himself. They were seated along a table covered with maps and some of the later reports and notes about details of their coming campaign. It was a room for planning and council, secluded with only one stair and as well guarded as anything could be these days. The assembly would not let too much be seen through their facade of militaristic self control, but it was apparent that they were hoping to begin whatever it was that the meeting was for. As to humor them, steps were heard through the door and the two last partakers entered.

    The tall officer eyed them with a satisfied glance and gestured towards the table.

    "Ah, Aravir, Cirion, take your seats."

    He then turned towards one of the other occupants, a young Gondorian with a worn face of someone quite older.

    "We will begin this meeting with a thorough briefing of what has transpired so far and the situation as it stands. First, I would ask you to tell us all the whole story as you previously told me, Daugon. Take your time and omit nothing, feel free to call for refreshments if you need to."

    Daugon took a steadying breath and began to speak. The room was dead silent apart from his voice.

    "I was a sergeant in the army of lord Dinethor of Amon Eithel. As you no doubt know our objectives were to hold Tir Ethraid and the river against the Haradrim, while providing a marshalling ground for reinforcements coming from Pelargir and further west. To that end, we had to hold a fairly broad strip of land, allowing our reinforcing armies some space to retreat from any approaching enemy force without marching right into the other. The idea...was that our gathered strength would allow a stronger and successful surprising push north to retake Minas Morgul. All this while our allies of Rohan held the river up north.

    The army as a whole was organized in three parts, the southern watch guarding the bridge at Tir Ethraid and the town itself, the northern watch and the main contingent in between. The plan was of course that the latter would support each of the other two and for them to hold until assistance could come through. As such, we were fairly well supplied with balanced forces all over to counter all kinds of enemy compositions. At least we thought so when he struck the northern watch.






    Chapter III - II

    "The commander was Glarion and he took up positions just as the books and protocol teaches. Cavalry covered the flanks and the centre was reinforced to allow a bit of reserve troops to be ready should any part of the line be breached. Most was militia but he had one company of seasoned citadel guards as well to strengthen the resolve of all around them. But since he lacked missile troops save for a company or so he would make a showing of his grand army and thus keep the orcs at bay until reinforcements arrived. It was just that the orcs did not give a rotten piece of anything about protocol. They rolled out catapults.




    I don't know how long it took but the survivors claim that just about every flaming rock was hurled towards the middle where Glarion stood. And he just stood. And stood. And he was struck down and burned for all to see as his bodyguard were cut down by the rain of fire.




    The army stood bravely for a while until it disintegrated."

    The rest of the gathered winced at the thought and the full meaning behind the sparse description. It was by all means not unknown nor uncommon to face fire in the many battles against Gondors enemies, especially at sea, but to have an entire army crushed by it was yet unheard of. Daugon continued.

    "We did not know all of this then of course - I was serving in the middle army that was supposed to have helped out - but what I have told is what we pieced together afterwards. The army had readied itself and was about to march out when the first survivors appeared. They looked terrible! Blackened by sooth in some cases and terrified and disbelieving. They hurried along the road or through the plains around it, which were thankfully easy to cross with the sparse vegetation and lack of swamps and rivers.

    We stopped in our tracks, not knowing what to do. The news of an army destroyed by raining fire did sound ludicrous and I confess that I as well dismissed it and thought the routers fools or cowards and that they had concocted some wild tale to excuse themselves. Our commander was Colfinnon who decided to hold position and send out scouts. And here was the most unbelievable thing - they rode ahead as fast as they could along the road to where the northern watch had been encamped. They ran into more routers and expected the vanguard of the enemy at any time. But none came to meet them."

    "And where had they gone?" interrupted Aravir, with an impatient tone. "Pardon me for speaking out, lord, but this tale is becoming quite hard to believe."

    "Aravir, show patience." said Cirion. "The man has been through a lot. It's no wonder if his story would baffle us who has not seen what he has." he added with a compassionate look in his eyes."

    "And you will do well to remember not to speak out of place as well, Aravir." admonished the leader of the council. "Only because I had similar trouble believing it at first will I tolerate this misstep. Daugon, forgive my impatient captain here, please continue."

    Daugon looked at the table in front of him for a while before starting to speak again.

    "Unbelievable. Unthinkable. That's what we said too. Things like this could simply not happen, could they? And when they did happen none knew what to do because of that. That came later. When they appeared right next to us the next day at dawn."

    Even with their commanders reprimand fresh in mind the rest of the gathering cast doubtful glances at the narrator.

    "There is a smaller wood close to that field, east of the road, isn't it?" The speaker was a seasoned, lean and weatherworn Gondorian in a naval captains garb.

    "How would you know that, Istdor? I thought you had only had eyes and ears for the sea since the world was made" the leader of the meeting remarked with surprise.

    "I grew up there, in the now forgotten time Ithilien was safer. When it was lost I had no home to defend so I turned to the sea. My ship is my home now, my fleet is my fief."

    The tall Gondorian nodded to Daugon as to ask him to continue his tale.

    "Yes, they had come through the woods. During the night they had marched south parallel to the road after hiding for the better part of the day after the battle with Glarions vanguard. Then they would have crossed the last stretch over open ground during the latest parts of the night where all watches are less vigilant."

    "And those cursed orcs have their night eyes like cats!"

    "So they came at us, at dawn, before we had the opportunity to gather our full strength together.




    "Lord Colfinnon was no fool though, and we took up a position close to the top of a nearby hill. It would cover us from most bombardment by their catapults. Then we would hurl ourselves over the top and on to their lines before they could work too great an evil with their siege machinery. And there we stood, again, just like Glarion had done, and waited. Our scouts on the top of the ridge reported great movement but as the sun was still low the northern side still lay shadowed and it was hard to spot anything with certainty.

    As the time passed we were starting to hope that our friends under Arador would be able to catch up. Time was working for us. With two armies we could crush those beasts between us. Then the sun rose higher and we saw the bulk of the orc army, not north but west of us, having circumvented our shielding hill. We were hearing a great deal of noises and banging of wood against wood which we could not comprehend. Admittedly, even Lord Colfinnon was puzzled and we did not react with proper haste. It turned out that the orcs had been assembling their artillery pieces."




    "Assembling? In the middle of a battle?"

    "Not in the middle of it, think of it, they held the initiative there."

    "They must have marched through the woods in that manner, there is no way you can roll catapults through a forest. But why would they wait until after rounding the hill to do it?"

    "They must have known that they had the advantage of surprise and our men would wait to attack given the previous defeat. But what I don't understand is how that artillery could be built out of nowhere like that."

    "It can be done. Think of how quickly a ships crew can patch up a punctured hull or in the worst case mount an emergency mast."

    "By orcs?"

    The conclusion left an uncomfortable silence among the gathered. Orcs did not do these things. Orcs did simply not act in this way. Again, the leader of the meeting motioned to Daugon to continue.

    "After the initial volleys, the whole orc army advanced. We braced ourselves, thinking the time had finally come to do proper, honest battle. The first line was spearmen, with metal clad shields and what looked like fairly heavy armour, not the usual rags of the orcs. They stood in a loose formation, covering behind what little stones or bushes they could find. Our archers shot at them but wasted many arrows due to their thin formation. Just as we thought they would get ready to charge they stopped again. This time, their volley ripped through our ranks like a farmer ploughing the earth, tearing up huge gaps in our ranks. The centre had both stout mariners of Pelargir and even a company of the Fountain Guard, but none of them could resist flames and hurled boulders better than any other man.




    I served on the left flank and I was able to escape thanks to that. We were not the most targeted but as the line buckled and companies routed and rallied we had our fair share of fire. We lost our commander and then decided on our own to make a ruin for it.

    I know we betrayed our oaths and should have stood and fallen. But then, I'm in good company seeing as a third or so of the army made it out together to meet up Aradors advancing relief army.

    Arador, in any case, was quite shaken by the state of our sorry lot and the rapidity of our defeat. He still pressed on though, and might have though he would take an exhausted orc horde unawares. The trouble was, loading a catapult isn't nearly as exhausting as swinging a sword while expecting to be hacked apart the next moment. The orcs were ready, I have been told, and just waiting for more of us to march into their maws."




    "Thank you, Daugon." the assembly's leader said. "As I have heard your tale twice now I can answer whatever questions my captains may have, and you may leave and please have whatever we can produce in terms of meals and refreshments."

    Daugon rose and bowed, walking stiffly down the stairs.

    "Now, the rest I have from Dinethor, lord of Amon Eithel, who as you know held overall command of the southern Ithilien army."





    Chapter III - III

    "Where is lord Dinethor? I have been told that he did face the orcs in a terrible battle but still lived to tell the tale. Yet nobody seems to know any details."

    "All will be explained, Cirion."

    "Yes, please forgive my impertinence."

    "Indeed, Dinethors fate is not to be shared with anyone outside this present company. The reasons will become quite clear. But first, I should continue where Daugon left. Arador did find the orcs ready for him, now occupying the hill and ridge that they had so neatly circumvented early that day. Seeing their line of spearmen unsupported by archers in the front Arador reacted according to protocol and paused to let his archers do their work. Unfortunately his force was like the others severely outmatched in terms of ranged capabilities.




    Arador himself fell to a bolt from a ballista. So did his second and third in command, having taken up their prescribed stations next to him. Without proper leadership, fear was infecting the army and none had the stomach to sound the advance against that imposing hill. Casualties were mounting and everyone covered behind their shield waiting for the flames to stop raining.

    It was a disaster, no, this was nothing else than humiliation.




    When the orcs eventually charged and scattered the remains less than 400 escaped of an army of over 2800. The enemy casualties were by all accounts negligible, probably no more than four dozen.

    Dinethor, meanwhile, had been readying his southernmost forces near Tir Ethraid. He was met by the scattered remnants of his three northern armies. He has assured me that he did not for a moment disbelieve them, their despair was so profound and so sincere that it dispelled all possible doubt. He marched his men north immediately, with little hope except for revenge for the great shame suffered at the orcs hands."

    "But why didn't lord Dinethor call for reinforcements, now that he had had word of the magnitude of the threat the enemy posed?"

    "That he should perhaps had done. But far easier is it to realize from far away than in the moment, when the failure overwhelms you and the men under you. Dinethors force was the core, with the highest proportion of professional troops, seasoned regulars with good equipment. They marched swiftly expecting battle to be joined soon but found the orc army returning north again. Dinethor sent word for the few settlers to prepare to evacuate Ithilien in case he would fail and continued north with all speed, to catch up with the orc at every cost, to the point that he did not even stay to retake the burned shell of Ostithil that now served as an enemy encampment. And eventually they did, or if the orcs had been reinforced and turned south again. For whatever reason, both armies met in the highlands north of Ostithil.




    The highlands are as you no doubt know quite barren, with only grass and stubby bushes growing, between the occasional valley with a stream and trees around. On one such stony hill the orcs held the high ground but this actually worked in our men's' favor. For the hill was so steep that their catapults could not aim at our men below and even their archers had great trouble to aim properly, letting many arrows fly inaccurately from the sky.

    Dinethors cavalry managed to surprise the orcs and initially charged the catapults and scattered the orcs manning them. However, they soon came upon those manned by trolls, and orcs with axes and long hammers surged around them. To make matters worse, the catapults themselves acted as an effective barrier, impeding the advance of half of the companies.




    Further down, our infantry marched up in a dense column, which worked well now that they could not be hit by the enemy artillery. Dinethor had many mailed infantrymen and troops from the fleets in Pelargir and from Lossarnach, seasoned marine infantry and city guards. Their advance was a slow grind upwards, bleeding with each step, but so did the foe. Orcs with axes and bows blocked the trail, aided by the great trolls. but our men cut a path up to the plateau.




    Here the resistance stiffened and Dinethor sent his reserve cavalry and his bodyguard to break the orc lines. Their infantry was spent and almost broken, and some of them indeed turned and ran from his wrath."




    There was a deep silence in the room. None of the listeners had heard how the story truly ended.

    "The enemy then withdrew his archers, keeping our men occupied with the trolls meanwhile. A few of them seemed more eager to close in than others, it would seem that not all are trained for handling their catapults. Their strength was terrible and Dinethors ranks were thinning out dangerously. Still his men stood fast against Mordor and our own archers were sending torched arrows against the enemy, hoping to make the trolls run amok. For a time it seemed that our force might still break through but then the arrows and the clubs of the trolls were thinning out our lines more and more. Our push had lost its momentum in the blood and dirt on that now very slippery slope.




    Even in defeat, our soldiers held together to the last. For myself, I believe this to be in no small part due to lord Dinethor still being alive. But they were taking grievous losses and being forced down the hillside step by step. Lord Dinethor attempted to cover the retreat as best he could but he had his horse cut down under beneath him and fell to the ground with many wounds, being dragged along by the orc chieftains bodyguard.




    With the army broken, the enemy ran down some of our men that were retreating but luckily they lack any cavalry and their trolls, while fast, were exhausted. Dinethor has told that he was dragged to the orc chieftain himself."

    The listeners shifted uncomfortably. The notion of having a senior commander taken captive was something unheard of for decades, let alone by filthy orcs.

    "This chieftain is of course of colossal interest to us given the grief he has inflicted upon our people and our lands. I am therefore very glad that Dinethor choose to accept his offer."

    "What are you saying!? My lord, pardon me, but I know about lord Dinethor, he would never..."

    The tall officer nodded with a grim expression.

    "Contrary to previous battles, where thankfully few of our men ended up as prisoners, the orcs did spare them this time. Their chieftain sent four of Dinethors closest retainers yet alive with demands of gold for the lives of the prisoners."




    "How would they do that!?"

    "Treason!"

    "Flaming curs!"

    The collective outbursts earned each speaker a disapproving glance.

    "Have you not already grasped, gentlemen, the magnitude of this? Have not Daugons tale left at least a speck of impression on your minds that this is something we have not seen before? Be thankful that we have the knowledge that we do, and that 151 of our brothers could return home. Besides, would you rather this army was known but as the ghostly bringers of fire that it had so far been? Dinethor, while he failed, did prove that whatever the novelties of their organization and tactics the enemy is still just orcs and trolls and they die like any other."

    "With all due respect, my lord, is this perhaps not colored by the wishful thinking of the defeated?"

    An odd smile seemed to twitch in the corner of the lords mouth.

    "If our side is not to be taken as a credible source, what would you say about the other ones opinion, Aravir?"

    "Please, I do not follow you at all, my lord."

    "Believe it or not, Dinethor actually spoke of the orc chieftain commending the viciousness of our men, speaking with what seemed like pride and admiration of the fact that over 500 of his men lay dead, even though it had come at the cost of above three times that number. In his words, he was pleased to have found a whiteskin worth fighting and would not see such an opportunity wasted.

    But Dinethor is not a cur, nor a traitor, that can be flattered or intimidated by mere words. However, he did out of pride and defiance declare who he was when brought before the chieftain, and the chieftain argued that only by accepting the offer of ransoming would he be able to save the people of the now exposed and defenseless Amon Eithel from complete destruction. None other of the prisoners with ties to the town had the rank and influence that would be required to convince the people of the necessity to abandon their homes and flee west and north to Gondor proper. So Dinethor in the end sent trusted companions to ask his kin in Amon Eithel for the gold to ransom him and his men from the orcs. And that they did."




    "I do not know all that took place and what was felt or heard by those who were there. It is not my place to judge them. But whatever we may think of lord Dinethors actions it is a relief that the town was saved, for the men and women of it should not suffer for the deeds of another."

    A round of approving nods and murmur seconded the statement.

    "A noble sentiment, Cirion. Alas, it is already too late for that. Whether it was due to carelessness or treason, or simply the sight of so many families leaving hurriedly, word spread to the Haradrim tribes of the south and seeing how little of our troops were in the area a band of the Southrons mounted an attack one night. The few defenders were cut down. The town was looted.

    Dinethor arrived with a handful of retainers a few days later after hard riding and was greeted with nothing but the despair and shame of the ruined town. Do not judge Dinethor harshly. Thanks to him, we know what we are facing. And for whatever faults of his, the man has suffered enough.

    Now, it falls to us to avenge our fallen and remove this blight upon the world that takes the shape of an orc!"

    "Yes, lord Duinhir!"





  3. #3
    joerock22's Avatar Leader of Third Age HS
    Content Director Citizen Gaming Staff

    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Connecticut, USA
    Posts
    4,888

    Default Re: [AAR] An Orc's Tale (Third Age MOS AAR)

    Chapter IV

    Chapter IV - I

    It was not a bad idea. Not in itself. The camps palisade was covered on the outside by densely packed earth, occasionally held together by hollow wicker pillars to give it more stability. On the inside, wooden beams set up at an angle towards the wall gave it increased support. It was in the middle of winter, or at least what was winter up in the White Mountains and the north, and after experiencing the frost of the last two nights the men had poured water over the wall which had frozen and made it even harder to dig apart or set on fire. It had been the source of much grumbling but now more than one could be found glancing at it with a proud look.

    Cirion paced restlessly along the outside of the wall. It covered a sizeable area, twice as large as the usual Gondorian camps. The camp was situated on a ridge and the ground sloped down on this northern side, which was the longest. The rectangular elongated shape allowed the defenders to take full advantage of the ridge and could also enable them to move troops from one end to the other and concentrate their forces at any location without showing it to the enemy outside. It was not a bad idea, either.

    Cirion and Aravir held command of one half each of the camp, leading a sizeable army each. It was a moment of glory for him, no doubt about that. Yet he could not dispel the doubts about whether this would not end in an inglorious and futile death as well.

    Passing the northwestern corner, Cirion nodded to the sentry. There were lookouts posted at intervals, all according to the military protocols, and scouts out in the countryside. Any orc horde should be spotted well in time for the defenders to be prepared, and then have terrible time hurling itself against the walls. There it was again. Orc horde. After the terrible testimonies of the survivors they had shared, how could this be? How could Duinhir be so blinded and how could Aravir be so thick? This was no orc horde! It was an army, more disciplined than anything seen in centuries, it was something new! Was Cirion the only one who had been listening? And while the improvements to the strategy and the encampment were all good ideas, it reflected such a fundamental and terrible ignorance of the enemy's abilities. That thing out there was not something that would be defeated by doing the same things as had been done before even better. When faced with a superior foe, you had to do something new!

    Cirion turned to follow the southern wall. It was supposed to be of equal strength as the northern one, but Ciron knew it was just slightly thinner, lower and less thoroughly built. It was just as with all the other signs. They did not take this seriously enough. As if the orcs would not have the wits to move to the southern side? Why even bother with a southern wall in that case? Or why not have just a palisade if you thought the mere look of any kind of wall would deter them from moving their catapults around? Coming to the southern gate, Cirion nodded to the guards.

    "Still no word of Duinhir?"

    "None, captain. A courier did arrive close to an hour ago but did not appear to bear dire news judging by his demeanor. You will find him near the command tent I think."

    "Very good."

    Duinhir, holding overall command, was not here. What a twisted jest it was. To Amon Eithel he had gone. Amon Eithel! A provincial small town in the disputed nothingness that was Harondor, the borderlands between Gondor and Harad. With neither resources nor strong fortifications or strategic position to warrant even half the attention that was now lavished on it. All for the fact that Dinethor, the brave and stalwart commander who even Cirion agreed had given his all, hailed from it and had seen it ruined as a final act of torment upon him. It was not completely without reason, certainly not. Some kind of ofrce needed to patrol the southern border to watch for more Haradrim surprises and prevent any such incursions to jeopardize the operations of the larger and much more important northern army sent to face the orcs. But not a third of the forces, including the commander and several of the most elite troops, not least among them the archers of the Blackroot Vale, which could possibly prove to be of key value for bringing down those trolls!

    Maybe, just maybe, Cirion thought as he walked up towards the command post, the orcs will do everything we hope and will sit on their asses waiting for us to gather and assemble at our own sweet pace. Maybe...

    The courier was a middle aged, short and broad Gondorian showing clear traces of Lossarnach blood. He saluted as Cirion approached.

    "Captain, I was sent from lord Duinhir to report that Amon Eithel has been reclaimed. The army has detached parts of it to watch the border while the main force march north."

    "And how soon can they be here?"

    "Twelve days at most, captain."

    Twelve days... Twelve unsure days of dreadful waiting at best. At worst...

    "Thank you. We will be happy to join forces with Lord Duinhir. See yourself to the mess tents and get yourself something to eat."

    Cirion spoke absent-mindedly. Something had caught his attention. A patrol was riding in from the northern side, with great speed. Too great. From the distance he could not hear their calls to the guard at the main gate but he hardly needed the confirmation that quickly followed with the ringing of the bells in any case.

    "They're here..."



    Chapter IV - II

    The ball of fire rose like a tiny spark far away. It turned towards the spectators and appeared to hang still on the wall that was the cloudy sky, not really moving but growing in size. Then, as if deciding that it had become great and terrifying enough, it started its descent, as if eyeing the ground for an unfortunate prey to fall upon. Finally, as it closed in, its speed appeared as if multiplied and it crashed with terrifying force into a stand of spears next to a tent. It went up in a cascade of flames, and burning fragments sprayed nearby tents which started to smoke uncomfortably much.

    Cirion willed himself to look away from the spectacle of falling fire. It was transfixing, no, it was simply hypnotic.

    "Put that tent out! And clear that lane of debris!"



    Fire breaks were maintained between the blocks of tents, kept clean of everything that could catch fire by the efforts of the soldiers on watch. The rest were catching some uneasy hours of rest behind the wall, propped up against it like travelers seeking shelter behind a large rock or a fallen tree.

    The walls did their part. Unfortunately, nothing could prevent the orcs from simply overshooting the wall and set the tents, supplies, wagons and whatever else they could hit on fire inside the walls. The position on the top of the ridge ensured that any projectile passing over the wall had a good chance of hitting the ground rather than overshooting the camp. Cirion considered briefly whether it would have not been wiser to position the camp on a downward slope for that reason, but then scolded himself. He was thinking like the rest of his commanders. The enemy would only have to move to a different side to be able to fire directly into the hillside with nearly no chance of missing.

    New volleys soared over the walls. Cirion watched for new fires to put out while catching the sight of messengers relaying news along the wall. Since they intended to keep as few as possible out in the open, messages were delivered from hand to hand among the soldiers huddling behind the wall. At least we do not shout our letters out, Cirion thought ironically, like a twisted version of the children's game where a group of them relay a message by whispering it to the next to see how distorted the message will finally become when reaching the last one in the chain. The letter from Aravir was short.

    "Meet me at the gate after sunset. Those artillery crews should have a harder time picking a target by then.

    Aravir"

    Cirion eyed the message again and wondered if Aravirs western side had fared as badly as the eastern one. In the corner of his eye he noticed a group of soot-blackened soldiers carrying a pair of stretchers towards the medical tents. Cirion noted with a sickening realization the blackened stump hanging limp from one of them which had hours ago been the leg of the unfortunate man. Suddenly it occurred to him that this was indeed odd to bring the wounded back when the healthy crouched behind the walls for cover. Why did they keep doing that? He had given no specific orders about it, he realized, nor regarding the supplies and camp followers. Couldn't they think for themselves? He breathed in to call out an order to move them all when he felt and heard a new volley of fireballs passing over the wall. Close to him. Too close.

    The medical tent!

    Cirion closed his eyes, knowing that all hopes and prayers for a near miss were in vain. He heard with heart wrenching clarity the impact, the initial smash of the boulder against the cracking tent poles and the ground, and the ignition of the flammable substances it was impregnated with, now reacting with the fresh dose of air that had come in contact with more of the thing after the impact sent it splashing around, and the cries of terror and anguish of the luckless soldiers burning to their deaths, wounded and caretaker alike.

    Aravir had better have something good to share.




    Chapter IV - III

    The firing had died down now. There was only occasional shots, still enough to keep everyone on edge and keeping them all from a good nights sleep. However, the darkness hid perfectly the black armour of the orcs and they had sent forth archers that scouted in the dark, their night vision making it easy task, and would shoot at anyone showing their silhouette against the light of a torch or the dying fires from the tarred boulder and debris set aflame by the previous bombardment. There had only been a few men hit by arrows but their presence added yet another thing to watch for and worry about. It was depressing, how downtrodden the Gondorian spirit had become. Usually, the camp was supposed to be lit up from the torches at the prescribed interval, signifying that this was the army of the realm bringing light into the darkness and not the other way around. The present state felt like fugitives hiding in the shadows, scurrying from cover to cover.

    Cirion was making his way along the wall with two bodyguards, one going ahead and one behind holding a shield on his right arm against any unseen arrows. They passed the breaches after waiting to listen and look out in the darkness, Cirion running first across, to take advantage of the surprise. So far, neither he nor his retainers had been shot at but the whistling of arrows could be heard now and then, invisible in the night.

    The gate was at a small decline, a kind of hole which would make an enemy breaching it have a difficult time pressing forward up the slope if the defenders held with sufficient numbers. It also made it somewhat more difficult to hit with a catapult than the rest of the wall. It was a good place to meet. Aravir was waiting with a dozen of guards. Cirions mood brightened somewhat. It was good to see the others alive, despite all that had happened.

    "Cirion. How have you been?"

    "We...have more cooking fires now. And you?"

    Aravir looked into his eyes and nodded grimly, confirming the grave situation that they both tried to maintain control over in their minds.

    "They have hit us hard initially. I think they put much effort into breaking down the morale of our men with this initial firestorm, so they may entrench themselves outside and set up their encampments unmolested." Aravir continued.

    "Well, I can not argue with the effects, however much I would like to say that our men are eager to retaliate with righteous fury. The morale is shaky, to say the least."

    "None of us were prepared for this, that is true. What do you think their next move will be?"

    "As you said, fortification. Then they will continue their barrage tomorrow and the coming night until our walls are completely broken. By then our men will have had close to no rest for over two full days and who knows how much of our supplies will be left? Then the trolls will come for us."

    "Come, I want to show you something."

    Aravir signed to one of his guards who approached them carrying a sack. He emptied it upside down, the contents proving to be seemingly uninteresting pieces of wood.

    "Wood, Aravir?"

    Cirions skepticism was written plainly in his features and caused Aravir to almost smile.

    "Wood indeed, my good sir. No, listen, I know this might sound far-fetched but I have a conclusion I want to share. You were always the better of us at reasoning about things. My men have been able to find these remnants of the enemy projectiles, shattered as they were but not drenched in flaming liquids like the ones earlier today. You see where I'm going here?"

    Cirion nodded slowly.

    "So I reason to myself like this; why do they start throwing pieces of wood at us? They must be after the resin of the pines outside. That stuff can burn even before you cook pitch and stuff from it, and if they had been slicing up enough trees early today they might have been able to cut and prepare these smoldering wooden stubs to throw at us. Still enough to set our tents aflame but they wont do too much against the walls anymore."

    "I'm with you there. They're conserving their stones now, and preparing replacements from the material at hand."

    "So, you see?! They are running out! We've outlasted them, Cirion! The scum thought they could break us with this night of burning hellishness and damn it, we have been bloodied but we ain't broken yet!"

    Aravir was good at this, Cirion knew. He could see soldiers from both of their companies standing straighter and nodding.

    "It will take more than that to bring us down, captain!"

    "Come morning, we will show those monsters what true Gondorians are made of!"

    "They'll taste our steel!"

    "And bloody choke on it!"

    Cirion suddenly had an ill feeling about the situation. They were all acting as if something had been decided, in everyone's heart at least, and now only awaited the confirmation, not to say formality, of an explicit order to carry it out. He looked at Aravir, who thrived seeing his men's confidence rise as they did seeing his. That was Aravirs great strength, his ability to inspire. Not by words, but by his presence and the absolute conviction is his voice when he had set his mind upon some grand enterprise. But now his strength was betraying his reason.

    "Aravir, I agree with you about the orcs conserving their ammunition. But I'm not so sure about the conclusion you come to. How do we know they have run out of their normal stones? Wouldn't it be prudent to save enough to repel a sally if you were in the orcs' position?"

    "Perhaps, yes, but as you agree they have put everything they have in their initial push to utterly shatter us tonight."

    "No, I am the first to agree that they have almost succeeded with doing that, but that is not the same as them having used up every last stick and stone to do so. We don't know anything about what reserves they might have kept."

    "You give them far too much credit, Cirion, they are creatures of a single mind, they set their thoughts on one and only one thing at a time..."

    Cirion despaired inside. Not this. Not this again. This scourge, this sickness of his people! They had lost half their camp, by all that they held sacred what would it take to make his people take these orcs seriously?! Over four crushing defeats had been inflicted by this very foe that now laid siege to them and still they turned themselves blind to all things but those that fit their predetermined conclusion that the orcs were mindless savages that would be swept away if only good honest men would just spit in their hands and get to work. What in all of the world would it take for them to learn?



    Chapter IV - IV

    Dawn was breaking. The time of the orcs was passing, the time of men arriving. Or so we would like to think, Cirion said to himself. He was standing on a small platform behind the wall closest to the gate, a risky position but one that allowed him to view the field outside and sign and signal to his officers further back. Aravir and his men were lining up now, pressed together to find as much cover as possible. Cirions half of the force was waiting further away, dispersed to lessen the impact of bombardment. He was moved by their determination. After enduring that indescribable night, they still lined up to do their duty and would stride out in the face of an enemy commanding mountain trolls. Maybe Aravir had been right after all. Cirion had tried to dissuade him for almost an hour, then leaving the meeting with an angry confirmation that he would do his part the next day and even managed to steal a few hours of sleep. It was astounding what one could get used to, sleeping through fire falling from the sky as if it was mere thunder in the sky.

    The passage through the gate was the most critical moment. If the enemy had ammunition left the gate would be their funeral pyre. Of course it was not the whole force, just enough to fix the enemy's attention. The bulk of their army would sally through the other gates and then form up in front of the camp and attack immediately after that. They had debated gathering behind the entire camp but one way or another the army would need to approach the orcs and the safest way would be in a scattered way, but not so close as to provoke a charge by their trolls against one isolated group. It was a complicated move, coordinating the movement of three separate groups, but if it worked the enemy would not have little time to fire before they were ready to charge ahead. Once they had reached the infernal machinery the Gondorian numbers and equipment would decide the battle.

    The militia hurried through he doors, throwing frightened glances to their sides and ahead. The regular troops were steady, but walked with haste still. Their armour made them feel safe but their rationality ensured them they were not. Still, the sky was quiet. The morning was misty but surely the sounds of the rallying of Gondorians would be heard. Cirion saw the advance guard form up. They were ready. Now they just had to await the reinforcing columns from the sides. Still, the morning was eerily quiet.

    Cirion had started to count the time but had been interrupted thrice by the preparations of his own half of the force, reinforcements to sally out once the gate was secure and there was space enough. He suspected he would have reached several hundreds by now, but there was the tramping of the other two columns! They marched with pride around the camps corners like a parade and linked up flawlessly with the centre. His mood soared. Maybe Aravir was right after all. They had not been fired on. Perhaps the orcs had run out and were even breaking the siege? Now came the orders for the general advance. Horns were sounded among the companies, and the rest remaining behind the walls took it up as well. The Gondorian army marched forward.

    Orcs rose from the ground.

    It was a loose line of spearmen, Cirion could see. They had shoelds of medium size, and seemed covered head to toe in armor. Anything else was hard to make out at this distance. The troops outside hesistated for a moment but then raised shields and marched on with determination. They would sweep away those few adversaries in minutes, thick armor or not. Why were they there, Cirion wondered. They would only halt the enemy for a short time on their own. What would be the point of sacrificing a company for that?

    The answer came to him as the first fireballs rose through the air.



    Cirion heard yells of dismay and fear, fury over the disappointment. Aravir bawled orders to continue and waved the formations ahead with his spear. It was time for Cirions reinforcements to sally out to reinforce, and he raised his hand to sign for an advance. Still, he hesitated. This was wrong. The orcs had not been surprised by the sally, in fact they had surprised the sallying garrison. Still they had waited until the garrison had come clear of the gate, where they might have crushed all units coming through it out...or in.

    Cirion hurled every curse and insult known to him at himself. The orcs had spotted their scattered advance, and therefore waited until they had gathered again in one spot. And if, if Aravir could not break through now, his troops would rout in panic and trample over each other to reach the closest gate, the central one, blocking the way for Cirions men and each other. Then the orcs would fire into their backs...

    What if he sallied out quick enough? No, just one or two of their catapult companies could keep the gate under continuous fire. His troops would never make it out in good enough shape to be useful. They depended on Aravir closing in to silence that artillery first. Then he must hold off the trolls until Cirion could reinforce him.

    The militia was breaking through the spearmen now. But there were terrible, burning holes in their ranks. Cirion could smell the flesh burning now. The mist was lifting, being driven by a light breeze. He could see the orc army now, impeccably ordered among the sparse trees ahead of Aravirs forces. The trolls towered over the rest of them.

    They would never break through this. Cirion lowered his hand.







    Chapter IV - V

    The night was not dark as the black of an autumn night, more of a dark blue. The moon shone faintly over the treetops but Cirion still felt as if he was alone with his little patch of light from his torch in a world of dim forms and void. Was this how the dwarves felt, alone in their tunnels and shafts? He remembered every ghost story and frightening tavern patrons tale of the orcs night vision, eyes of cats and ears of foxes, smelling the fear of a lonely human. But he was still also far too close to his own lines. The soldiers were loyal but no simpletons. He was not were he was supposed or expected to be. That was damned true. He was not at all supposed to be out here, no good Gondorian should! It was a waste of good men's lives and when left with no way out, who could blame a capable man for forging a new path, the only path, out? Was it not truly the men who put their subordinates in such impossible circumstances who should be held accountable for the consequences?

    The day should have come with relief, but all had turned to despair now. The mist had cleared completely and the field, littered with burned and crushed bodies, was mercilessly visible. Cirion had dispersed his half of the force along with what remained of Aravirs, to decrease the impact of the catapults. Aravir was gone. Cirion missed him deeply. Aravir would have known what to say. He would have known how to set an example that restored the spirit of the camp. Aravir got things done and Cirion knew what things to do. That was how it should have been. If Aravir had only listened to him. Or if he had only thought about this. If that would have mattered? The orcs had catapults and ammunition and plenty of it and that was that. Which Cirion had also warned about. Although, if they had sallied out through the other gates and retreated? Could they have done that? Maybe. But they would have been caught in the open by those long-legged trolls. And been without supplies. But if Duinhir was close, they would only need a few days rations each.

    Cirion mentally pushed all thoughts out of his head. Or at least made an attempt. His mind was going around in circles when he should focus on the situation at hand. He had rallied those few that still showed any sign of spirit and the few horses, his own Stripes included, not injured or frightened into uselessness and organized a sortie to scout the surroundings. If there was anything Mordor lacked it was cavalry, and if they just kept their eyes open most should be able to avoid the enemy patrols. Most of them Cirion had sent south to determine where Duinhir was and bring the news of what had happened to him. The lesser part he had sent nort and west towards the enemy, with orders to scout the positions and for signs of reinforcements. He himself, along with the fewest, had fanned out east, with Cirion taking the northernmost trail.

    It would bring him dangerously close to the enemy positions.

    The road turned coming around a small hill with rocks and scattered pines. It would do, Cirion thought. The rocks would make a better cover than the trees and the ground would be easier to clear. He now had to make the first hard choice of the night; bring his horse with him, risking injuries from a misstep in the dark, or leave Stripes at the foot and run the risk of discovery from the whinnying that the loneliness and the sounds of the forest would surely provoke. Cirion decided in favor of the former. Dismounting, he squinted his eyes and attempted to make as good a guess as possible of where the path held the least of sharp rocks and treacherous holes and slopes.



    Chapter IV - VI

    The flagpole was the easiest part. Binding two branches together with a cord was the most menial task imaginable for the lowest of camp followers and even in the dim light it was something he could do properly without thinking. The painting was the harder thing. Cursing himself, Cirion had realized that he had brought no paintbrush or anything else to serve in ones stead. After trying in vain to carve the odd tree branch into a useful tool he had settled for cutting a part of his cloak and rolling it around a short stick, serving as the crudest of pencils. Although, considering the motif in this case, crudeness was not out of place.

    North of the small hill were a small plain with bushes and shrubberies. But it was flat ground. On the other side, further north, were another hill without trees with dense forest to the east side. Cirion choose to follow close to the rim, but not the highest path lest he would be seen against the sky. It was almost peaceful. There would probably be trails to be found in the daylight here, and birds to be heard. Ithilien was a fair country. It was a country worth protecting... Cirion stopped. He had not yet gone anywhere else than into the wilderness. Should he turn around? He could still go back... Back to what? Certain death, no doubt. He would never see Ithilien again, or any other part of the world. No, he would not give in to that. He would live.The road was close now. It was deserted, of course. Anyone with the slightest sense would have left before those damned orcs came.

    There was a rustle to his left. Something whished in the air and impacted on Stripes. The horse stumbled and cried out in pain, making it a few steps more before falling. Cirion threw himself out of the saddle and nearly made it. His right leg got caught on whatever is was in the dark, and he felt something hard of the saddle bite into it. Worse, the sudden stop jerked him off balance and he landed heavily with the air knocked out of his lungs, instead of rolling to deflect the force of the impact.

    Shapes in the dark approached.

    Cirion felt something smash into the back of his head. It was not enough to knock him unconscious but the pain made his head spin and he collapsed to the ground. He felt sick and imagined his helmet ringing like a bell. Strong arm heaved him off the ground and started to drag him along the road into the dark. Cirion turned his head to the left and could see more of the dark shapes. They were orcs, carrying bows and clad in black or dark grey plate armour of some sort. His guess would be that they were uruks, the strongest and darkest of the orcs of Mordor. There were perhaps a dozen standing guard near the road.



    Cirion had counted to four hundred and seventy when they arrived at the orc camp. Its sides were marked by tangled fences and ditches, far from the stout palisades and moats of a proper Gondorian camp. However, it seemed as it some of the siege machinery and what seemed like timber or spare parts were stored along the perimeter too, acting as improvised walls. Cirions captors dragged him with his feet bouncing against the ground towards the middle, where some tents were set up and torches were erected. The smell of cooked meat was notable. Cirion did not want to guess what kind of meat it was. As if by an invisible sign, the two orcs dragging him let go of his arms and he fell with his nose into the ground. Cirion clenched his jaws and crawled back up. He would not face the orcs prostrated on the ground like a slave. Another uruk in black armour stood before him. He had a shield hanging on his back, and carried a sword and daggers in his belt. Otherwise his amour was similar to that of the scouts except the helmet which was slightly lighter and metallic rather than black. It had a row of spikes protruding out of it. The orc chieftain, as Cirion guessed he must be, motioned towards something on the ground and Cirion turned his head to see that there were some thick logs set up, no doubt acting as benches. He sat down, warily eyeing the orc who now began to speak in a deep voice. It was the common tongue, and understandable, although without any beauty of a human voice and melody.

    "You, my friend, are lucky I have wanted guests from your fine camp for a long time. I think we will have plenty to talk about, in fact I am quite sure about that you have many things you would like to share with me. Is that not so, whiteskin?

    "Why do you call us that? Shouldn't it be pinkskin, or brownskin, if you refer to the men of the south?"

    The orc chieftain let out a deep laugh.

    "HA! Of all the things to say! Is that what you have been yearning to ask one of the hated black chieftains if you ever met him? Look around you then, whiteskin, and remember what kind of company you're in. Believe me, when your people are close enough to see clearly, there's naught but white left in 'em. And now, I believe it's my turn to ask, and your turn to answer. We would not want our conversation to end too quickly, would we?

    "Wait, wait now... I did not come here as a scout, I came to treat with you. Look at my banner! Didn't your sentries see it?"

    The orc made a sharp gesture towards of his retainers who presented the black cloak painted with the eye of Sauron, except in white paint instead of the customary red of the dark lords servants. The orc chieftain laughed again.

    "Hohohoha! But pardon me, brother and kinsman, for I thought for a moment you were of our enemy! Say, what tribe is it you belong to, the blind eye? The eye whites? The dark lord must be flattered to be portrayed like that, mustn't he? The chieftain continued laughing.

    "In any case, it did still work since I am here and wasn't shot."

    The orc eyed Cirion with what seemed to be an amused look.

    "A word of advice, whiteskin, if you want your banner to be first someone sees you should garb yourself in something else than polished plate that shines from a mile away. Also, my scouts don't stand in the middle of the road, they watch from the sides, so holding a flag in front of you all the time won't do you much good. But as I said, they had orders to bring me a guest. And now, what can you tell me about your esteemed friends back at your camp? How many are there left inside, for example?"

    Cirions mind raced. Here it came, the point where he would have to tread on a slippery line between withholding and revealing too much of his knowledge.

    "Our side took heavy casualties, that is true. But you did spring your trap a tad bit early, I must say, and only caught the vanguard, the arrow fodder. Or catapult fodder if you like."

    The orc made a show of mock bafflement.

    "Is that so? It appears I have been outgeneraled, it does, by you fine fellows in the camp then. So tell me, what is your next master stroke? I suppose the crumbling of your little walls is just another clever ruse, to goad careless little uruks into some heinous trap?"

    "Actually we don't need one. Duinhir, lord of Blackroot Vale, is on his way and will be here in perhaps as little as a day. We "fine fellows" just need to stay put until he charges from the rear to squash you like an overripe plum against us."

    A cold and contemptuous glare revealed how much impression Cirions threat had made.

    "If you wanna try to bargain, you better learn how to lie without smelling like a whelp who's just stolen the biggest grease stick he could carry. As for your little lord, I know he will come. I know also that he will hurry, trying to save your sorry lot from roasting in the fireplace. So much in fact, that he might not be too careful about who or what he runs into on the road to get here. So before I spit you over the fire here and then burn down your pathetic little palisade, is there anything else you have to say, whiteskin?"

    "You...you are wasting your time! Why do you want to spend your shots on tearing down reinforced field fortifications when you could have the army out in the field just like the van? I can give you that. For a price. What do you say?"

    "I say that you bore me, whiteskin. I will broker no agreement with you, you little maggot, unless you cough up something better than those fancy tales. Go back to your camp and await the end that is in store for you. However, if the remaining army sallies out and if the captain then would keep it stacked in the centre to the point where I don't have to waste as many of my shots on that scum as I otherwise would, that captain would do well to keep his right wing weak and stay with it. The he might live long enough to surrender to me. Now get the hell out of my camp!" the orc chieftain growled and waved with his gauntleted hand as if entirely dismissing the most unimportant of matters.

    Cirion walked out of the camp with a knot in his stomach, between rows of orcs that eyed him maliciously and jeered, with looks promising both swift deaths for him and a tasty meal for the orcs, but he was not stopped. They will breakfast well enough on Stripes, Cirion thought bitterly as he trekked back through the woods the same way as he had come.




    Chapter IV - VII

    It was easy to lie. Cirion had never lied for real since he was a child, not counting occasional half-truths to defuse a socially awkward situation. But this was an all-out deception, with his life at stake. And...he just had to tell the truth about the ambush and about the road he had taken on foot back, omitting the smaller details about where and in whose company he had been in between. His men nodded to him, showing their condolence over a comrades rotten luck and the loss of a trusted mount. Cirion burned with shame inside. It was for the better, he told himself. At least some would be able to be saved now. He straightened and called out to his officers to gather around him.

    Then he gave the order to break camp.

    The preparations went surprisingly well. Only a few ballista bolts flew into the camp and none were killed although two were severely maimed. Perhaps the orcs had spent their ammunition after all, or perhaps they were so lulled by the failed sally and , by all means, his own pitiful appearance before their chieftain that they did not deem the increased activity worthy of any greater concern. Had he fooled them, Cirion asked himself. Was his traitorous night visit what really had been needed to deliver them all? He would not have to be a traitor! He wasn't! He could hold his head high, really, among the other captains of Gondor and fathers and mothers of the realm would thank him for their sons' lives. Now the south and east gates were opened.

    The pikemen were the advance guard. They could form a dense spear wall to keep the enemy at bay while the rest of he army deployed. The professional cavalry followed, ready to strike at advancing elements of the enemy that would stray ahead of his formation. The came the militia regiments, his stout countrymen who had taken up arms for others when danger threatened. The sun shone and the snow glittered like glass. If there ever was weather that was the humans and not the orcs it was now. Cirion briefly conjured a vengeful image in his mind of uruks sweating under the sun and squinting their eyes, blinded by the light from the sky and the snow. The army was out now. The infirm and the most necessary supplies followed, coming out into the middle of the formation. Still no sight of the enemy. They would make it out of this!

    Cirion saw the vanguard lengthen their stride to scout ahead of the army and be able to give the followers more space. They were coming up on the large ridge south of the camp, a nice plateau with a fine view of the northern road. Cirion saw them halt and form up. It was a bit early for that, he thought. Then he noticed the outriders galloping back, far too fast...

    "Nooo..." Cirion whispered. He looked around. They were still in a column but not terribly strung out. They could perhaps make it back to the fort. And then what? No, there was no use going back.

    "Form a line!" Cirion shouted and spurred his horse.

    The right wing. The right wing, he had said.



    The lead element of Cirions army was a company of marine archers of Pelargir. Along with a small group of rangers they were the only missile troops he had to contend with the Orcish artillery. The enemy lead element were the armoured spearmen that had blocked Aravirs army. Cirion thought it incredulous that they would consent to take up the same risky, no, suicidal position as in the previous battle.

    He reined in along with his bodyguards of a dozen riders, so few were there in his force. The main cavalry push should come from the left, where the regular Gondorian cavalry had taken up position. Fireballs were crashing down into the pikemen and militia in the centre now. They left deep burned tracks in his ranks, like wagons in a muddy road or a farmers plow in the earth. Men walked over or across the sizzling corpses of their friends, sometimes even family. Militia regiments tended to be divided together based on their origin and many units took pride in representing their town or their village in the struggle for Gondors survival. They were losing too many...

    Now the cavalry charged. A second line of spearmen braced but without the help of a densely packed formation they were run over. At the same time, the main enemy formations let loose showers of arrows, hundreds of the black clad archers targeting the horses that were without armour. The charge faltered and lost its momentum. Scattered riders and riderless terrified horsed crashed into the catapults and orc infantry. Cirion sighed. The cavalry was the best striking arm they had. He looked out over the infantry, hearing the screams and the crashes of boulders falling into the ground. It was too far to shout and too slow to send an officer but he raised his spear and waved it forwards and backwards to his side as a sign that they must spread out. He saw some soldiers here and there look up towards him and point and shout to their comrades around them. The companies started moving... Backwards. They shuffled back faster and faster and not to the side. Then one turned around, Then the next, and the next. The companies at the front wavered, and the panic spread outwards from the points of origin. Now the first soldiers started to run. The rear ranks melted as the soldiers left, seeming as if bricks gradually transformed into grains of sand. The rout was a fact.

    Cirion bowed his head and shook it. The fools. Maybe they would stand a better chance making it home alone like this. But the wounded would not.

    This was it. Cirion turned to his bodyguard.

    "We are done here. Ride and take what wounded your horses can carry behind you. Ride and warn lord Duinhir of what's coming."

    "Captain, what about you?"

    "I have one last ride left here today. It might even buy you some time."

    Taemes, the grizzled commanding sergeant of the guard, rode forward.

    "With all respect, my captain, were you go so will we."

    "Taemes..."

    "Besides, a lone rider will not give them pause. A dozen may, though. It will be something of worth to give our lives for. It has been an honour, captain Cirion."

    There would be no other way out of this, Cirion saw. He nodded and turned his horse.




    Chapter IV - VIII

    100 paces. 90 paces. 80. They were raising their bows. 70. Cirion straightened in the saddle. His mount hesitated but the instinct to run with the others was stronger. 60. He pulled the reins towards him. He was dropping back, falling behind the others. 50. The horse slowed down and turned its head angrily left and right, scared and frustrated of the situation as well as not being allowed to follow the rest of the herd. 40 paces. Now the orcs let loose their volley. Cirion saw his brothers in arms fall and smash brutally against the ground as their unarmoured and terribly vulnerable mounts were shot down underneath them. He reined in completely, his own horse shuddering and eyes shifting this way and that in fear. Not knowing anything better to do, Cirion dismounted. The enemy was closing in on him, bows raised. Cirion swallowed and unbuckled his sword belt. He lifted the scabbard up in the air for all to see, then slowly lowered it to the ground. Then he continued towards the enemy, leading the horse instead of riding it and hoped it would be enough to show his peaceful intentions.

    "I am Cirion! I have met with your chieftain, and would speak with him ag..."

    Cirion had no opportunity to finish the sentence as an Uruk fist knocked the air out of his stomach. He staggered and leaned forward from the impact, only to be met by a knee in the chest that knocked him backwards down on the ground. Two uruks promptly lifted him up by his arms and started to drag him back to the rest of the orcs. A familiar voice greeted Cirion as they neared the black lines of infantry.

    "Well, well, aren't we about to make it a habit of dragging lost strays into our midst? Let him go, boys, I know this one. My esteemed guest graces me with another visit."

    Cirion, for the second time since the day before, crawled back up from the ground. The orc chieftain continued his mock welcoming.

    "Last time I believe we spoke regarding this little affair on the fields here today which I must admit has been concluded amiably, while admittedly not in the way I planned. So, do we have more business with each other, whiteskin?"

    "You...you got what you wanted. You have the field. Now let me go."

    The orc let out a laugh.

    "Who's stopping you, whiteskin? You have my most humble and express permission to leave!" he said and waved magnanimously with his arm across the field. "Truly, the glorious nation of Mordor thanks you for your assistance!"

    Cirion paused. Now what? Was the orc just toying with him or did he really intend to let him go like that? More importantly, did he even have anywhere to go?

    "Not too eager to part ways yet, huh? Intending to sign up for the army? We do have some open spots presently."

    Cirion felt almost as if he was watching himself from a distance as he took a breath and opened his mouth.

    "Yes. Yes, I'm joining you."

    The orc chieftain stopped, baffled by his answer, the same being true about the nearest orcs who had listened to the conversation with much amusement. Then he let out another booming laugh.

    "Excellent! Welcome aboard, whiteskin! However, we can not let just any one fortune seeker join our glorious company. Have to keep the standards up. So I will require a tiny bit of a test of your seriousness here. Come on!"

    The orc gestured for Cirion to follow. They walked just a short bit to where Cirions comrades lay dead along with their horses.

    Only, Cirion saw now that they were not all dead.

    Taemes.

    He had a sickening feeling of what awaited him.

    "So! A minor task not new to a seasoned veteran like yourself! Finish him."

    Cirion could not think. Taemes was barely conscious. His armour seemed to be staved in, in some way. His face was bloody. But Taemes was Taemes. He was a man to look up to, he had been duty and loyalty incarnate. He had followed Cirion to the death. He had deserved better. Cirion could not will himself to move.

    He felt someone come up closer to him from behind.

    "You're running out of time, whiteskin" the orc chieftain almost whispered. "If it helps you, do you think the man would prefer a clean cut or to end as the plaything of my boys for knowledge of your armies whereabouts? Or by roasting in his own armour for their amusement?"

    Cirion shuddered, as if having just woken up. He was ready to threw up. He looked again at Taemes, then he closed his eyes and took a step forward. Then another one.

    Taemes still had his sword and knife in his belt, having fallen before he had been able to use his lance. It was a quick act. Cirion hoped it was quick. It could never be called clean. Then he fell over and threw up all he had ever eaten in snow. He vaguely heard the orc chieftains laughter.

    "That's more like it! Fall in line, whiteskin recruit!"

    Cirion turned around and grasped a handful of snow. He took a bite of it and spat it out, hoping it would clean his mouth somewhat.

    The orc chieftain gestured towards the army which was preparing to move back to the camp. The majority of the orcs were busy looting the dead and stripping the human corpses of clothes and armour.

    "Feel free to join our grand feast to celebrate these victories. But, oh, it occurs to me that we have little need of a cavalryman for the moment. So I'm afraid that you will have to use those legs in the future." With one swift motion the orc chieftain drew his sword and sliced through the throat of Cirions horse. It whinnied in terror and collapsed to the ground, the life flowing out and seeping into the snow. "Besides, I have been told that your kind might not favor the main dish of tonight" the chieftain concluded.
    Cirion wished at that moment that he had just charged to his death with the others. If only not to have to hear that abominable laughter.

    "Who are you?"

    The orc chieftain turned around.

    "I am Malthur!" he said, suddenly without a trace of cheerfulness or taunting.

    "I am Cirion." And I have survived, he added to himself.

    "Cirion." the orc nodded. Then, as if something immensely amusing had occured to him, he added: "My own Black Numenorian!"



    Cirion did not know what that was supposed to mean. He had no blood ties to the houses that became the corsairs of Umbar as far as he know and he was quite sure no orc would have the slightest interest in the ancestry of Gondorian houses. He knew only that he was alive and he did not intend to give up yet. Even if it meant spending the day butchering the carcass of his horse with a belt knife looted from the corpse of his former brothers in arms.




  4. #4
    joerock22's Avatar Leader of Third Age HS
    Content Director Citizen Gaming Staff

    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Connecticut, USA
    Posts
    4,888

    Default Re: [AAR] An Orc's Tale (Third Age MOS AAR)

    Chapter V

    Chapter V - I

    Malthur watched the columns of orcs and trolls tramp beneath the stone he was standing on. The snow was beginning to give way to spring mud. It would slow them all down but his enemies equally so. Perhaps their cavalry could use it to their advantage if the followed the untrodden plains beside the roads but they could not do much on their own when he had trolls to counter them. Besides, his infantry had proven that they could handle cavalry, at least if they had the catapults and ballistae to take cover behind.

    It was three weeks since the battle against Cirions army, as he liked to call it. He had expected this Duinhir to appear by now. It was about time they acquire some new meat... In place of a good battle with the Gondorian chief, Malthur had settled for at least raiding their southern outpost in Ithilien, Tir Ethraid. The town would hold supplies that he was starting to need desperately. They might also use it as a camp when awaiting reinforcements and ammunition from Mordor. There had been some costs and while Cirions people had apparently underestimated his supplies of stones the battles had taken their toll.




    Tir Ethraid had wooden walls. It would not stand long against catapults. The trick would be more in the manner of taking the town before some would-be hero of the garrison thought of torching the supplies. There would always be the garrison in itself of course, but such meat did not last long, as welcome as it was.

    A larger part of the defending force had been crushed a couple of days earlier in the field. They had assaulted the orcs position from a disadvantageous upward slope where they did neither have the benefit of cover or a particularly good line of fire.




    After the grand success earlier this meager siege was unsatisfactory. Malthur would have much preferred going on chewing off chunks of Gondors finest, but he did not have the resources yet. And the goal should be Minas Tirith, not these worthless plains. If anything, they could try leveling Osgiliath completely and roll the stone into the river to cross on. Then his catapults could show those Pelargir maggots who was master of the place. On the other hand, being stuck as some kind of coastal patrol while all the others had the plunder wasn't a very attractive prospect.

    The town ahead was ringing bells and sounding horns. Worthless. What were they expecting, that an allied army nearby would be too lazy to spot the orcs on its own? Much help one would have from such allies! It would only be a matter of hours now. The catapults were already assembled and were being rolled in the front towards the walls. The crews had orders to focus on one section of the wall exclusively and the infantry to advance on the sides of the corridor of fire, without stopping. With a bit of luck the enemy would be excited about the chance to shoot a few arrows into his infantry and not take their time to fall back and scorch the earth, well, scorch the granary at least.

    That granary. There should have been wagonloads being carted to him since long now. Bread and biscuits from the lake Nurnen where countless thralls tended the fields with the ashes of Mount Doom usually falling like a gentle rain from the sky. It was said to make the earth better for planting things, stupid as it sounded. Malthur didn't really care, as long as the fruits of the labor ended up under the gaze of his quartermasters. But that was the thing not happening at present. He had sent five waves of messengers north to request supplies and reinforcements. Nothing had come back.




    Chapter V - II

    Tir Ethraid was in shambles. The town had not been leveled to the ground or burnt, but the aggressive search for food and ransacking by the orcs had damaged most buildings and the sturdier ones had been stripped for spare material for the catapults and supply train. The inhabitants that had been spared, or perhaps it would be more aptly called saved until later, huddled in the far side of the town and watched with growing relief as the orcs packed their belongings to march out. The army would march north again, and root out whatever little filth of bandits or deserters that prevented the messages and reinforcements to come through. There was a peculiar whiteskin expression for this sort of thing that Cirion had used once; getting to the bottom of something. Malthur thought it was a flaming stupid thing to say for a people who prided themselves of being such great seafarers. They would want to avoid ending up on the bottom at all costs, wouldn't they?

    The first part of the road would be safest, both because they had travelled it recently and because the terrain was open, with only a smaller hilly area on the northern side to hide in. Then they would pass yet again into the mixture of woods and meadows and grassland where Malthurs army itself had used the cover to surprise the enemy before. There Malthur would send out patrols of about half company strength to scour parts of the surroundings. If they brought up nothing the army would continue further north to Mordor if that would be what it took to link with the reinforcements.



    The first batch of scouts had ranged a days march ahead before returning. They had nothing to report. The land was empty, and quiet in an eerie way. They had found the encampments of some of the former scout patrols but all were deserted. Two of them did however look turned over even if someone had hastily tried to set thing in order again. Either brawls had broken out, or someone had wanted to make their sudden appearance and disappearance go unnoticed. Malthur pondered over the reports. He would have to be patient to find this unknown foe and not rush into something he hadn't noticed. But the same foe was most likely faster than the orcs too, and with some decent knowledge of the land. He had to keep sending out scouts even if they would walk into traps.

    The next group of scout parties departed with the same instructions, range ahead of the army for a day and then return. They were in the woods now, with bushes and undergrowth masking the surrounding, and trees obscuring the view in most directions.




    The land held some plentiful game, the orcs could see and smell, frequently coming upon tracks and trails of a deer or a hare. The deserted Ithilien had neither humans nor orcs hunting or driving the beasts of the forest away by settling and cutting it up for timber and land. Many birds were also heard. The orcs generally cared little for animals, except those they could get their hands on to slaughter or press into their service as mounts or pack animals. The northern orc tribes had riders of great wolves and wargs among them, but the beasts had never been able to thrive in Mordor, whether it was the hot and dark climate or the ashy dust of the air they could not stand. For that reason, the orc scouts paid little heed to the birds as they called to one another, coming steadily closer and closer, surrounding their inexperienced prey.



    Among the long lines of marching troops, the absence of a scouting party or two was not really noticed yet. But the chieftain and a group of subordinate Uruk officers conferred a bit away from the ranks, visibly dissatisfied with something. No matter, the assembly apparently concluded, there was always another scout party to send and find out what had happened.



    Further away, one of Malthurs patrols passed a slope lined with bare stones and the cracked cliff. The orcs had walked for long hours seeing naught of the mysterious enemy and the initial nervousness was beginning to give way to boredom and the dull efforts of a long march and watch. The patrol walked in a column, keeping watch ahead and to both sides. Opposite the cliff were low bushes and deep grass. As the patrol passed halfway past the cliff, there rolled a stone the size of a hand down the side.

    The lead orc immediately held up a clenched fist, the rest of the patrol stopping and turning downwards the surroundings with wary glances. The next stone was the size of a head, and was hurled down rather than rolled. A figure in a dark grey hood was momentarily visible above the line of the cliff. The patrols captain barked orders, and four of the scouts broke off to climb the slope a bit to the side, the rest nocking arrows and searching for yet more foes among the rocks. Just as the advancing four had begun their climb, more cloaked figures rose, but from the bushes and the grass instead of the cliff side. Their mantles of grey were adorned with grass, leaves and branches, forming a simple yet obviously effective camouflage. With the precision from years of practice, they raised large bows, drew back and loosed a volley. Every arrow found its mark, most of them piercing the mail and crude plate of the Orcish mail shirts and hauberks.




    It took half a day for the scout patrol to be missed. It took another half for the news to start a riot. Some said it started near the cookpots, others that a group had gotten their hands on some strong drink, wherever they would have got that. Still more claimed it was an argument between returning scouts sent out to look for the patrols, or between guards at a gate. What all agreed upon, however, was that by the coming dawn there were exactly four dozen orcs slain in the brawls or by Malthurs guards. The army marched on north and west in search of its tormentors, demoralized but cowed for the moment.





    Chapter V - III

    "Cirion! Get over here!"

    "Yes?"

    "Talk to me, whiteskin. What kind of flea-ridden pile of maggot is this out in the woods? You know them, you have to have some bloody guess about who's doing this. And how do we get our paws on those goat lovers?!"

    "Having trouble in the woods?" Cirion replied, having difficulty hiding his smug tone.

    "Nice of you to catch up, whiteskin. Out with it. Who are the and how do we nail them real good?"

    "It would seem Duinhir has come at last."

    "And that's supposed to illuminate me how exactly? What's with this Duinhir then and how do I make him come out and play with me on the field?"

    "Duinhir is not some common captain. He's the lord of the Blackroot Vale. It is home to the fiercest rangers of all Gondor. You've met them when forced into the confines of a conventional army, being just one bow company among the others in the lines. Now you face the beast in the wild, free of fetters and free of rules. Think your men are prepared for that?"

    "My men are prepared to gut any and all whiteskins they can, regardless of allegiance, if nothing happens quite soon. So why don't you drop that secret pleasure act and get to the point before that happens, now?"

    The words were spoken calm enough, almost quietly, in what Cirion had had by now dubbed the tone of Malthur, deceptively quiet.

    "Duinhirs men are irregular skirmishers. Irregular does in this case by no means equal unprofessional. They disrupt enemy communications and supply lines, seeking both to impede his - our - progress and create fear and discontent."

    "Like making that rat pack wet themselves at the sight of a deep forest?"

    "Yes. That's how the rangers work. Make the enemy reluctant, crouch behind his shield, avoid going to far from camp. That way, Duinhir can cover much more ground than he really has men for. And we will be easier targets, huddled together as we try to stay clear of the deep wilderness."

    The orc chieftain looked thoughtfully across the camp.



    "Attention, you fleas!" the chieftain barked in front of the scout parties captains in front of him. "Right, so far the enemy, whoever he is, has been having the time of his life playing with our foray parties at his whim. The pride of the dark lord, aren't you, you maggots? But this ends now! If we need a hammer to squash that irritating insect then a hammer we will bring! We will send out double scout parties this time. Four parties to range ahead in the usual way, four to follow them. Those who follow will stay within hearing and smelling distance of the leading party but no closer. If the lead party is attacked they will fight their way out and report. Failing that, which I suspect given the last days flaming pathetic feats of ours, the second party will be able to investigate and report back. To that end, the second will no, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, engage the enemy except if attacked. If so, you will put a third of your force to delay the enemy while the rest scamper back to report. If you would spot the attacker and he has destroyed the first party, the same third will track the enemy while the rest report back. Is that understood?!"

    "Aye, chief."

    "Yes, chief!"

    Fear of the commanders wrath kept any of the scouts from lagging behind, but those in the first line eyed the surrounding nervously, feeling more than a little that they were running to their doom that had already been determined.



    They were in a clearing in the woods. A younger oak to their right spread its branches over the open ground, but otherwise there was just the grass and small bushes and the wall of leaves that was the wood behind. The clearing was at the end of what was almost a trail. To one side was hills with more and higher bushes, to the other a stream that had dug deep through the ground over the years, behind which was thicker forest.

    The orc patrol poured out in the clearing. The closeness of the forest oppressed them, seemed to wish to come ever tighter around them and swallow them. Although they did not enjoy the sun, they welcomed the open space. All slowed down and stopped, as if having reached the unanimously agreed upon goal. Their commander looked around with suspicion. There would be some good spots here to get fires going and have warm food for a change.

    Then the trees started falling over the trail that was barely a trail. And the arrows started falling on the clearing that was not a place of rest or respite.






    Chapter V - IV

    While bleeding, the orc army made its way north and west, both making its way home and being lured towards the coast by its relentless enemies. The coarse laughter and Boasting that characterized all orc forces that camped died out and mistrusting orcs glanced ever around them. Once, an arrow had flown right into the camp itself. None had been hit but the archer had been seen, a cloaked ranger that was gone as quick as he had appeared. Of course, that had sparked an outrage and some dozen orcs had rushed after, frantically wishing to capture the ranger they had for once seen. And just as predictably it had been a trap. First the orcs had given chase, running themselves exhausted in the daylight that they despised. As they finally realized that none had their enemy in sight and that they were about to lose sight of each other in the woods, the impetus crumbled and one by one the pursuers turned back, becoming the pursued. It was not long before the first fell with an arrow in the back of the head, having taken his helmet off in the unbearable warmth of the sunlight. The others stood for a moment without being able to decide whether to resume the pursuit or continue back. As another one fell the latter alternative found favor and a quick march turned into an exhausted sprint, and in the end a panicked rout. None could tell the size of the enemy force pursuing them.

    When the state of the returning orcs became clear, their chieftain pushed the closest sentry out of the way and grabbed his bow in the same motion. Quickly nocking an arrow, he let it loose point blank against the closest spent scout.

    "Shoot the cowards down!" he bellowed, the grim order quickly followed, disregarding the panicked yells of the former comrades.



    Cirion turned around in disgust, and also slight bafflement at the uncompromising brutality. If this kept going on, the orcs would do the work for them and Gondor could really just sit back and watch. Too late he realized that his thoughts were all too plainly written over his face.

    "Something of particular fun today, whiteskin?"

    "Nothing more than usual" Cirion quickly replied, thinking frantically about a way to divert a conversation that promised to be dangerous.

    "Well, I have an even funnier thing for you to think of. When my boys here realize that the enemy will kill them before I do, they will sooner or later mutiny and sneak back to our holes and walls in the mountains. When that happens, someone like me can expect a knife in the back. Someone like you though...how long do you think it will take you to die if they were to string you up over a fire and roast you until your armor turned red and burned through your clothes and skin?"

    Cirion grudgingly had to concede the point. Without the protection of Malthur he would be left to the patience and mercy of a lot less crafty and imaginative kind of orcs, with all the increased likelihood of groundless violence and cruelty that followed. Malthur continued speaking.

    "Find me a way to crash the day for Duinhir. What does he want to achieve on a large scale here? He's stalling, and wearing us down by all means, but that's that for now."

    Cirion hesitated. He had to come up with something.

    "Well...in all likelihood Duinhir does not have enough men to engage directly, in a field battle. Otherwise he would risk a lot with a lengthy strategy of attrition as it makes it more likely every day that you will receive reinforcements."

    Malthur nodded, as if acknowledging the conclusion. Cirion continued.

    "As he is understrength, he must seize the advantage in other fields. That is what he is doing now, in mainly three ways. First, his rangers is keeping their eyes on us and where we go. Secondly, they prevent us from scouting and finding out where Duinhir has his camp and masses his troops. Thirdly, they maintain the moral advantage by inflicting constant casualties and denying us any opportunity for a decisive battle or even a smaller victory."

    Cirion worried that his short analysis might sound too pompous but was again surprised to see the orc chieftain seemingly consider what he had said, but the cold eyes where very hard to read, even without the shadow of the spiked helmet that obscured them.

    "When you first visited our camp you were looking for us, but you still did not spot a single one of my sentries, right?"

    "And I'm no ranger."

    "And just how superior are those at night, really? Are they elf-scum, who can see like us in the dark? I think not."

    "I've never met an elf."

    Cirion was getting the feeling that Malthur had gotten something out of their talk. He didn't really know what, but whatever it was it was likely to be a bad thing.



    The next day the scout parties went out at sunset instead, and the army started moving at the same time, instead of making camp for the night. Later that night, a long ranged patrol returned, with bent backs but eager eyes.

    "Chieftin! We found something!"

    "So I see, maggot. What, apart from the mud you've rolled yourselves in?"

    "We did as you say, chief, and kept tabs on the boys before us. And they were sure done in by those stinking cloaked whiteskin swine! But we lay low, and we sniff them out in the dark later, and follow them trails. And we come upon their camp, we do! A hidden palisaded place, it is. We can go there and whip them now!"

    Malthur shook his head dismissively.

    "No we won't. They will hear us and run away. But now we know where they are, and somehow, somewhere, this Duinhir must have patrols and messengers going in and out. We'll surround him, and when it's dark, we strike at his messengers, and his rangers, and let them try to spot us without the sun to help them.




    Chapter V - V

    The tense situation continued without much development for a couple of days more as far as Cirion could tell. The tensions had calmed somewhat with the rumors spreading about the enemy being revealed and the expectation that the army would soon undertake some sort of great attack, or rather hunt, that would catch them once and for all. The following morning, a scout patrol reported something back that warranted a runner sent for the chieftain, who waved Cirion over as he passed the human portion of the encampment.

    Cirion had initially been surprised to find fellow humans in Malthurs army. The thought that anyone would freely spend time in company with such loathsome creatures as the orcs he found to be incomprehensible, until grudgingly admitting that his current position could be said to be that of someone doing just such a thing. And furthermore, the others were even less free than him, being little more than thralls that carried supplies and repaired broken equipment, which was always plentiful. The characteristic laziness of the orc could - evidently - be tempered and beaten out by a determined commander in the heat of battle but they remained ill suited for craftsmanship that required patience and attention to detail. Orcs slaved in the massed labor industries of Mordor that focused on quantity over quality, with simple and numbingly repetitive tasks for each that left as little need and room for independent thinking as possible. The human workforce and the few more reliable orcs maintained the smithies and workshops, and humans tilled the crops around lake Nurnen in southern Mordor and carted the grain north.

    Malthur had a few dozen with him that kept to themselves as much as they could, going about repairing the things thrown to them with downcast eyes and hidden grudges. Cirion made camp next to them for lack of a safer place to rest. They did not welcome Cirion but would at least not spit him over a fire at the first opportunity. The orcs viewed them with contempt but accepted their presence, much like they viewed the lowliest and weakest of their kin. It was the ultimate insult among orcs, Cirion reckoned, to be considered equal to a common human.

    "Chief, they dug up these from that scout" the subordinate orc announced while holding forth a couriers bag and pointing towards one of the directions in which scout parties had sallied.
    Cirion was confused by the direction, as it was right behind the orc army.

    "Let's take a gander, shall we?" Malthur grunted with a surly lack of enthusiasm.

    The bag contained some pieces of dried meat in wrappings - sloppy, Cirion thought - but also a typical roll of papers in the common waxed cylindrical case. Malthur waved him forward.

    "Let's hear the poetry of your countrymen, recruit. And take your time. It would be unfortunate if we found you had forgotten any passage..."

    Cirion took the paper. His throat was dry, he noticed. One more step down into the abyss of treason, a voice shouted in his mind. What has to be done to ride out the storm, another voice retorted.

    "It's a requisition order. It specifies that the recipient, who is not named, which is a common security measure, is to provide a moderate amount of supplies at a certain date...16 days from now I think. Shall I name them explicitly?"

    "Sod it."

    Cirion was struck by how overlooked this shortcoming of the orcs was. They could read, some of them, but their reading and writing was as crude as their speech, even when they used the common tongue, or rather their perverted version of it. You would just have to keep using the most complicated and academic terms you had, and messages would become twice as hard to interpret by the enemy. Except for the black Numenorians and other high ranking humans in service of the black tower, but the orcs did most clearly not wish to bother them if they could avoid it. Cirion took up the requisition order again. He could not deny a lingering professional curiosity about what kind of force would need these supplies. He had spent enough time with quartermasters to be able to guess that with decent accuracy. Cirion took a closer look. This did not seem to make sense. Grain for three weeks for a company, dried meat or salted for one, spare weapons and parts for four months, wagon parts for a year? The list went on. It did indeed not make sense. The text did not shed any light on it either. The Cirion realised what he held in front of him. He went numb, and cold. The cipher. Duinhirs cipher.



    Chapter V - VI

    Gondor had used ciphers and hidden messages for long periods in the past. The practice had fallen out of favor with internal struggles and betrayals, being an unpleasant reminder of the darker and shameful sides of humans. It was also complicated to use on a broad scale without either risking that some link in the chain forgot or misinterpreted something or that code keys and translations fell into enemy hands. Besides, the simple minded, if savage, orcs that tended to plague Ithilien were until recently considered too primitive to mandate that kind of secrecy. Duinhir had revived the practice as part of the campaign against the new orc army. Cirion and the rest of the captains had rehearsed the simple mechanic of it time and time again. No written key was ever to be made, to eliminate the possibility of the enemy intercepting and understanding the messages. Seeing the cipher here, Cirion was certain the recipient was a captain with an independent command like he and Aravir had held. Also, the captain would be someone operating under Duinhir.

    Cirion pocketed the message, his mind heavy with the decision. Tell or not? He would be influencing events to come in a great way now, more than before. The orcs, and particularly their loathsome chieftain, would benefit. That was indeed bad. Alternatively, the army could possibly be surrounded if this was some sort of new and better scheme conceived by Duinhir. If the orcs were cut down or slowly shot and whittled down by ambushes, they would surely slay Cirion rather than let him escape back to Gondor. And if Malthur would for some reason ever find out that he had withheld the knowledge the outcome would be the same, undoubtedly. Still, was it worth the risk of altering the fortunes of the war so? On the other hand, nothing had sufficed against the enemy so far. Why would it suddenly change? It was no point clinging to false hopes - superstitions, even. It was a time of troubles and each man had to fend for himself as best he could.

    "Chieftain!"

    "Hrm? What about, whiteskin?"

    "There may be something more to this message."

    The orc chieftain walked back, somehow towering over everyone despite not being of exceptional stature.

    "Spit it out. What are we looking at?"

    "The numbers make no sense, for a mere requisition order. But they fit a cipher, a code that was taught to me and the other captains. It is simple, based on a set of basic commands and meanings communicated by numbers in a certain order."

    Cirion explained how the cipher worked and how the limits and simplicity also made it easy to remember without any written form. The chieftain listened with what for once seemed like interest, but also a great deal of skepticism.

    "And so, what news does this little requisition order really bring us, then?"

    "It tells the recipient that Duinhir is using stalling tactics - not seeking a decisive engagement but drawing us in, or north as it is now. Said recipient is supposed to use the opportunity to secure various locations in the south... They are a couple of roads I recognize, some fords and...a town."

    "Which town?"

    "Tir Ethraid."

    Malthur whirled around on the spot.

    "Company captains, assemble!" he bellowed, and the cry was taken up by those who heard it and spread through the camp.

    There were a bit over a dozen captains. Cirion recognized most of them but were, to put it mildly, not one to count them among his friends.

    "Alright, shut your jaws and listen. The bloody Tark high command has been kind enough to share their plans with us through a cooperative little messenger that passed by lately. It seems this flaming little trip through the woods is something of a feint while the real push is coming in the south to take back that backwater dung pile of a town that guards the fords south. So we will turn right back and damned quick too. At best, we catch the little whiteskin army before they reach the town, otherwise we trap them inside and burn the place down. We will march hard this time, along the roads and with minimum rest. I will not wait for stragglers so you lot better keep your stinking units up to it."

    "Eh, chief, where did you get hold of this? Not meaning to disrespect b...

    "Which you just did, maggot, so count yourself lucky that we're out in the field and short on company commanders for the moment. But let's hear our new soothsayers own words, shall we? Step up and enlighten my captains about your kins fancy tricks, recruit!"

    Cirion had a profound sense of unreality washing over him as he stepped forward. Here he was, trained and educated in Gondorian tactics, teaching intelligence warfare to a bunch of savage abominations in service of Gondors eternal enemy. He doubted that they would be a very receptive audience, though. As he had predicted, the reactions were less than appreciative.

    "How do we know this is right? They might be pulling us from one end to another, to stretch us thin in this damned forest and cut us up piece by piece, I say."

    Malthur nodded.

    " Always a risk. But this makes sense. We've crushed them in the field all the time, even Tarks are bound to learn some time. Killing our patrols and destroying supplies is the only way they can beat us, and if they take that town and other camp sites and holds they can more effectively bleed us dry here in the woodland."

    "I ain't trusting any word of a whiteskin 'less it's beaten out of 'em!"

    "Yeah, why don't we start roastin' him a bit and see if there's any truth to it?"

    Malthur looked at them with contempt.

    "And just how much will you find out when he starts to sputter out the name of every town in Gondor, do you think?"

    "Well, he'll tell the truth eventually, won't he?"

    "No, he'll tell us what he thinks will make us stop. So we might as well pick what we think would be the most probable target and go for it, and save time."

    "Have ye gone soft, chieftain?"

    Malthur whirled around and locked his gaze on the leery captain, who felt the others edging a bit away from him, as if wanting to stay out of the way.

    "No, I've gone smart. That's why I am chieftain, and you are a sniveling maggot who will do what I say. Otherwise you, like the whiteskins and those scouting cowards might find out just how soft I have gone..."

    The onlookers hooted and laughed while the orc captains eyes narrowed but he remained silent, well aware of the unsteady ground he was treading.

    "Turn the army around! Back to Tir Ethraid!"




    Chapter V - VII

    The first unit in the column was the Uruk archers, scouts and vanguard combined. They could more easily deploy than halberdiers and make the most of a good spot compared to the swordsmen. Half of the heavy infantry followed, being ready to reinforce the vanguard fairly quickly. The trolls occupied the middle of the column, not because they required a lot of protection but since they had little affinity for spontaneous disciplined actions when under attack, and would be quick to drop their burdens and charge if they faced an ambushing force. In a regular battle, they had a clearer task to occupy their limited span of attention, and that intellectual deficiency could actually be beneficial, as they were too focused on their task at hand of loading and aiming to spare much attention for the rest of what was happening. The same thing was true for the battle trolls to some extent, as they required careful supervision and clear and most of all loud commands, preferably not more complex than "move" "wait" and "smash". Trolls were followed by the most of the supplies, followed by the rear guard with similar composition and of course inverted disposition as the van.

    The march followed the flat ground close to the great river, which had turned rather steady after a few days of frost, being in what would count as winter in this southern climate. It was comparable to a road, and had less woods to pass through. Perhaps because of the open ground, or the urgency and haste with which the army marched, or due to the fact that only a few rangers had been seen the last days, neither the vanguard nor the rest of the column paid as much attention as they should, and their thoughts were turned to the inland wood and not the river. It was too late to realize the mistake when Gondorian horns sounded, signalling that the enemy was already waiting for them further ahead.



    Cirion had seen the orc chieftains malice, mockery, cruel cunning, intimidation and downright iron fisted tyranny, but until now he had not been aware of the orcs capacity for completely infernal fury. Malthur walked towards him with the lengthy stride of a mountain troll it seemed and swatted aside a halberdier with his shield without even noticing, sending the other flying backwards to the grounds. Cirion was searching frantically for something to say or do to keep himself from his path but before he had time to utter a word he felt his throat grasped by the black iron of Malthur gauntlet.

    "Care to explain this coincidence, you little ?!" he grunted and hurled Cirion down unto the ground. The air was knocked out of his lungs and Cirion gasped, trying in vain to form a retort before Malthur boot forced the air out of his lungs again. "Is this your fine plan, maneuvering us into position for your precious rangers to strike?"

    Cirion pushed with both hands, trying to edge the orc foot away so he could speak.

    "It is...not...rangers..."

    Malthur kept staring coldly at him, watching him struggle with most of his weight that was leaning on the foot on Cirions chest.

    "Come from...river! Landed...beach..."

    At last the orc chieftain leaned back slightly, taking some of the weight off Cirion.

    "Speak, you maggot! What's a flaming beach got to do with it?"

    "Istdor...fleet commander. His fleet must have landed the army. This is...one of the few places you can quickly land a huge force from the river. Open ground...and no sand banks in the river blocking the ships like most other places..."

    "Pathetic. Why then, would those sailor scum not just anchor further out and row longer to any spot on the shore?"

    "We...Gondor...have too small rowboats. It would take too much time to row back and forth from the middle of the river and people get lost there too. Besides, at this time of the year it's cold out there, damn it! You don't drag out a landing in enemy territory if you can avoid it!"

    "So, the whiteskin's showing some guts, huh?"

    Malthur finally stepped away from Cirion, and turned around on the spot. Cirion dropped back on the ground, panting with exhaustion and staring at the sky with unfocused eyes. He heard the orc chieftain bawl angry commands at this captain or that.

    "Form ranks, maggots! Line up the ballistae, infantry behind them! Gather the catapults at this hill! Trolls to the back, archers to the front! Push those Tark worms back into the river! Attack!"






    Chapter V - VIII

    For the fortunate orc selected to load and operate the ballistae, life was often a tiny bit safer than the rest. When another was sent to skirmish enemy formation at close range or storm forward into waiting lines of armored infantry, the ballistae was meant to exchange their fire from a relatively secure distance. The sight of burning palisades and foes also inspired enough cheer that they would enjoy some measure of respect despite their less than heroic role. But when they found themselves in the front and the enemy did not wait patiently to be cut to shreds where they stood, the position of artillery crew suddenly seemed like the poorer choice and more than one eyed the thick armour and long pole arms of the heavy infantry with longing. When the line of shouting humans with shields raised and swords brandishing grew clearer at close distance, more than most decided that they would spend this particular battle among the infantry instead.



    Malthur was furious. The battle had turned into a mess and a protracted slugging match where infantry lines had connected all along the width of the field and his catapults stood near useless, having only the scattered enemy archers to fire at. To add to the stinking day the halberdiers were too far behind the ballistae as well and the light Gondorian infantry surged in between them and then spread out in a full line, instead of being halted and funneled through the space between the pieces.

    The Gondorian levies wore round wooden shields, steel helmets and leather armor, wielding swords. The infantry from Pelargir was much the same, except for the elongated and narrower shields and the light mail shirts that reinforced their armor. At the Gondorian center was as usual a couple of companies of regular infantry, with pikes and heavy mail, and behind them all the hated Blackroot rangers. The orcs infantry held but the casualties were mounting compared to the more favorable battles when the enemy had stood still and allowed himself to be crushed by bolts and stones. Malthur looked again. Where were those catapult crews? He would flay them all when he found out!

    A great howling interrupted him. The mountain trolls, the close fighting unit of those creatures, had smashed into the enemy right flank. While the militia was being tossed and kicked apart like dolls, the trolls were shot by the rangers behind, and occasionally one lucky militiaman would manage an effective blow. Some of the trolls had already fallen. Was that the general idea? Without the trolls, Malthurs army would be easy to ride down if the enemy could get around the siege engines, and there would be little heavy infantry left to deal with cavalry after this battle. Damn it, it was the orcs who were supposed to wear the enemy down in that manner!

    There! The stunted orcs crewing the catapults were running towards a hail of arrows, coming from some group behind Malthurs lines. How had they gotten there? Had his scouts kept such a bad watch that they could go around the entire army at will? Flaying would be to good for them! No, those must be the rangers that had trailed the army for days. So, this was their game. Bleeding him of the most important parts to leave the army being little more than the common orc rabbles that had raided Ithilien. Well then, in that case it would not do to leave out the best parts of the bite this ranger scum thought they could take out of him.

    "Catapults! Cease firing!"

    The order was only heard by the nearest of the loaders but they signed to the rest that there was something more important to focus on near them.

    "Drop the slingers for a while and go out and smash those Tark bowmen on the hill behind us! Hunt them down!"

    "CHIEFTAIN CALLS! WE SMASH!"

    With a deafening roar, over forty mountain trolls rushed forth with clubs, rocks and bare fists. The rangers of the Blackroot Vale fought to the last man, but face to face not even they were a match for a troll. They wielded their greatswords masterfully, dodging the swings of clubs as best they could, but sooner or later everyone would make a mistake and after the first blow, there was no second chance.

    Duinhir was with his men. He was older than most, but he was still an imposing figure, broad, swarthy and grim after long months of deaths and losses. He fought with desperation and bitterness this day, holding his rangers together under the overwhelming onslaught. Always back to back and shoulder to shoulder, the finest of Gondor ended that day, giving their lives to delay Mordors armies so that others, perhaps, could reap ultimate victory from the bloody seed of their sacrifice.







    Chapter V - IX

    To the victor go the spoils. The ancient truth of soldiers and crooks alike, Cirion thought. In this instance the difference between the two kinds was also indistinguishable. Orcs spread all over the battlefield and looted corpses as well as hacked off chunks of meat, bringing it to spontaneous fires to cook or grill over the open flames. The hunger had made them frantic, and undisciplined. Even the human contingent took part in these grisly deeds but they restricted themselves to the dead horses and the food supplies that had been salvaged. It was not much, for the army of Duinhir had not had time to unload the majority of its provisions. Malthurs army was hungering, and discipline was breaking down when every member considered the enemy at long last beaten and themselves deserving a good long meal well earned.

    Malthur knew all too well that was not the case. The Gondorian other army, possibly the last one of Duinhirs forces, was marching steadily towards Tir Ethraid while his lazy slugs were sitting down feasting and sleeping. He needed to get the army moving again. Once it was on the move, it was always so much easier to direct it where you wished. Far more complicated was that he needed the army to move fast and soon, which meant with the lightest of packs and only the barest of supplies. And here was a field of meat waiting to be gathered and cooked and feasted upon. He needed to get the army packing, and the slothful damn sods would only move to eat. There was always the chance that lopping the heads of a part would make the rest fall in line but that could take time and a lot of fighting and beating and such methods did at one point become risky. That point was reached by now, Malthur determined. Besides, he was after all short on men.

    His train of thought was interrupted by the hurried approach of one of his captains, Muzul, that commanded a company of the heavy infantry.

    "Chieftain! The boys are just scattering to eat and sleep like some lazy swine! I mean, you can see that, so...what are we gonna do about...uh, what are your orders?"

    Malthur was about to offer a sharp retort but held up. The captain had after all shown some initiative. Perhaps he could prove useful now?

    "And what about you Muzul? Haven't you thought of carving yourself a nice steak for tomorrow too?"

    "Grabbing the meat someone else has just carved is faster. They can take the time to slice another bite."

    Malthur chuckled quietly.

    "Right then, let's get this lice-ridden slug nest up and kicking, shall we? Gather a couple of dozen of your unit and have them bring those flaming deserters here. Tell them that we're going to gather up all this fine meat properly before it starts to spoil. That should get them listening."

    "Aye chief! You lot, come with me!"



    Malthur was quick to the task. The grumbling and red-eyed uruks and other smaller orcs that Muzul kicked up and sent to him were immediately dispatched to bring up a large part of the mostly empty supply wagons. They were all moved next to the field, where a few wagons with spare stones and pitch and oil for the catapults had been left. Others were assembled in their respective units, which in most case were of only partial strength. Malthur directed them to start gathering and chopping up meat to fill this wagon or that, all systematic and without any hesitation and seemingly following a clear plan. The mood brightened somewhat, as everyone could see the wagons slowly but steadily filling with fresh meat for the coming days. Along with sending newly roused units to gather more meat Malthur would on occasion call up a unit and send it off along the road with orders to start constructing one or another part of a new fortified camp.

    "Keep in mind, we don't want those Tark armies that are left down south to come up and be able to just walk in while we have dinner. I want a good ditch and palisade on each side, and towers at the corners and gates. And you will keep patrolling the area, if there are any of those rangers left in the woods."



    During the evening, more and more of the companies were sent away to the camp site. Muzul was organizing the moving of the wounded and most of the camp followers when Malthur summoned him.

    "Seems like we have got the slugs moving for now."

    "Aye, chief. I'll have them throwing up the camp walls in no time!"

    Malthur shook his head.

    "I have no need for that camp. We are not going to stay and get fat here."

    Muzul looked at the chieftain with confusion and wariness. Malthur continued.

    "We won't be able to bring that load of meat with us either if we intend to catch up with that Tark force, which I damn well do. So here's what you're going to do. Bring a few of your best boys here, some who can do as they told and keep their jaws shut about it. See to it that someone that we can manage without accidentally trips with a torch next to that wagon with ammunition, and that the meat wagons are left close enough to catch fire. And I don't need to add that I want our little troublemakers silenced the moment they are done. Do that quickly, but make sure everyone still around here sees or hears it. Everyone in the camp must know what has happened and there must be no doubts about it. Understood?"

    Muzul recoiled a bit, but seemingly in surprise rather than repulsion. He saluted and waved to his closest subordinates.

    Less than a count of four hundreds later, Malthur heard angry shouting and arguing from the wagons. Suddenly the darkness was lit up by a sharp light, as wood and oil burst into a mighty flame. More shouts and sounds of fighting could be heard, and shouting that shifted into yells of pain and fear.

    "Not bad, Muzul...not bad at all..."



    Rumor spreads quickly, even compared to a hurried march by a determined uruk company. A mob was forming near the entrance to what was going to be the fortified camp. Tired and dismayed, the common orc soldiers demanded answers while their officers bawled commands to get back to work while at the next moment harshly question the closest newcomer about what was going on. If one had superior night eyes, which orcs did, one could spot a faint glow in the dark far away, about the place where the battlefield was. The orc chieftain walked quickly through the crowd and up to a small mound where he was somewhat visible and able to address most of the crowd.

    "Listen up! Some stupid rats tripped over at the wagons and managed to set a wagon with oil and pitch on fire! The flames spread and nearly the whole damn supply is bloody ashes!

    There was a storm of cries of outrage and roars along with angry murmur and banging of weapons against shields. It took a long time for Malthurs bodyguards to make the worst shouters shut up.

    "We have a simple choice! We move or we starve! Gather all of the remaining meat you can, and pack it with you. We will force march with only the most essential gear, no wagons, only the artillery. We will catch that Tark army before Tir Ethraid, and then we will have a bloody good feast!"







    Chapter V - X

    Thirst. Malthurs head was filled with the word, the feeling, the need of drink.

    He had been wrong. The army could pack what they needed to eat for a few days, but they had not the water they needed. And neither did they have the time to search for a lake or river, lest the Gondorian army ahead would escape their grasp. In these southern parts of Ithilien, the springs were few and far between for the landscape was already giving way to the open ground that would become the plains and steppes of Harad. He had lost scores to the thirst and the sun, always despised by the orcs and always a torment without ample food and drink to give you the strength to stand it. The stragglers were left as they were, he hadn't even bothered to make examples of them. Some might catch up later, but probably not.

    The uruks marched with heavy steps, struggling forward. The lesser orcs dragged themselves along, wheezing and panting with hanging red tongues. None cared about formations or scouting, only the road and the sun and the thought of fresh meat and water at the march's end.



    Pilimor, captain of Gondor, steered his horse to a hill beside the road. For the tenth time today he imagined seeing distant shapes coming up behind them. He held no illusions that they were the last. If Duinhir had been successful he was sure that he would have heard of it several days ago. It had been a hasty message delivered by an exhausted courier that had told him to make all haste towards Tir Ethraid and take it back to hold against the enemy. Duinhir would attack to buy him what time he could. His gamble had failed, but it had been worth a shot, Pilimor still thought. Duinhirs plan had been to lure the orc army into the wilds while Pilimor led his force to strike at any outlying camp and outpost far away from the armies, denying the enemy shelter after shelter until dissent and starvation would force them to retreat. Then Duinhirs rangers would torment them for every step back.

    But something had not worked out with the strategy. Pilimor didn't know what. He admitted to himself that both he and his people probably knew less about the orcs than they would care to admit, and had allowed prejudice and tradition to fill the spots that their experience, or lack of it, left open. The catastrophic early battles and the dreadful encircling and siege of Cirions and Aravirs combined army had proven that. Pilimor held few illusions as to his chances to achieve victory on his own now. But he would not relent. He would push hard and take that orc nest that the town had turned into, and he would make them bleed for it and then he would torch it before seeing it back in enemy hands. Even this enemy that seemed to defy every rule of conventional warfare would crumble after that. Then others would come to finish what he had started, no, what Duinhir had started and he continued, and Gondor would endure.

    Gondor would endure and remember them.



    One last hill. One last step. Water. Meat. Blood. Rest. One last step. One more breath...



    Pilimor had lost count of how many times he had gazed back. He should be riding backwards, he thought dryly. At one time he had imagined seeing something move over this hilltop or that. But he was experienced enough to recognize when he was starting to see things that weren't there, and when it was time to trust in others eyes along with his own. That would be Gondors strength. Her people fought for one another and not to grab the heaviest sack of loot like the orcs or southrons did.



    Malthur had not even the energy to kick the panting scout in front of him that couldn't find his breath to report. He caught the eye of the subordinate orc and pointed south towards the nearest ridge that the road passed over as if to ask. The scout nodded, drawing wheezing breaths, and pointed in the same direction, as if to confirm. Malthur straightened with his back aching and shoulders stiff and numb from the weight of the plate and held up his fist for the nearest part of the marching column to see. It took a long time, long enough to provoke a violent response under usual circumstances, but at last the column came to a halt. Malthur pointed ahead, to the right, to the side of the wood that grew next to the road and the open fields on the other side. The column started to move again.



    The fore riders said that Tir Ethraid was near. It was not in sight but it was less than a day ahead. Out of the woods where rolling hills and ridges littered the plain, almost like the sand bottom of an ancient sea. And over those ridges rolled death in a black mass, round the forest and intercepting their course, battle line formed and artillery deployed.

    Pilimor glanced at his lieutenants. He nodded at them.

    "For Gondor."

    "For Gondor."

    Gondor would endure.





    The last of Pilimors men had scattered, a third, half a thousand. The rest were slain or lay dying on the field, only left with the hope that they would end before the first orc reached them. Malthur had descended from the ridge and stood among several hundreds of the remaining parts of his army, which now only numbered around a thousand, having paid for the victory with two and a half hundreds, almost all of them infantry. Malthur stopped for a moment, letting it drag out for a bit, and then drew a deep breath and shouted as loud as his dry throat would allow.

    "Well, looks like meat's back on our menu, boys!"

    With cheers, mad roars and hoarse cries of triumph the starved horde threw their equipment aside and gave in to their hunger. On this field, none bothered to cook any meat, nor to make sure it's owner was definitely dead. Only the chieftain contended himself with hacking off a slice of tender, bloody flesh from the nearest cleaner whiteskin and started to walk determined towards the area where the Gondorian commander had been stationed. He knew there had to be something here, something that they would have wanted to keep from him. The Gondorians had not had time to burn it, he had kept his eyes on their commanding staff. In a sturdy leather cylinder, Malthur found what he hoped.

    The map was a sturdy booklet containing a large scale general map of a region, such as Ithilien, followed by a few more detailed ones of specific parts of the region, such as the plains of southern Ithilien, the central parts along with Osgiliath and the Morgul Vale, which the Gondorians knew precisely from the ancient days when it was Minas Ithil, and the northern parts bordering the marshes and the road towards the Black Gates. Not only the lay of the land and the towns were featured but also what seemed to be small notes about suitable camp sites, seasonal obstacles that were likely to hinder one path or another as well as pieces of advice about crossing various types of terrain. All scribbled in the language of the humans, but that would not be a problem as Malthur had access to a human interpreter these days, he thought with a wicked grin. Dragging that pathetic whiteskin along might have proven just what was needed to tip the scales in his favor here in the south. Or rather in Mordors favor, as a dutiful commander should send the map immediately to his superiors to be used in accordance with the wishes of the great eye. An obedient commander would waste no time letting the maggot dung of Nazghuls and their bootlickers enjoy the spoils of his labours.





    Chapter VI

    Chapter VI - I

    Malthur looked down at the marching columns with satisfaction. New, fresh and eager ranks of uruks marched along with the old catapult crews and old and new trolls. It was a sight far from the half-starved and ragged army that had marched back north a month before after the last battle near Tir Ethraid. Not only had they resupplied and rested, but the morale had soared when they had finally made contact with Gorbags reinforcing column from Minas Morgul. All knew that at this time no force outfought, outmarched or outmaneuvered Malthurs army, limited as it might be but with the striking power far beyond its numbers. Its configuration was also changed. The ballistae were gone, being replaced by a larger number of catapults and heavy infantry. Orcs in mail armor with axes gave way to uruks in black plate with swords and halberds. He had a new full company of the Morannon guard too, to hold the line wherever he needed to buy time.

    Malthur rather liked Gorbag, despite him serving at the city of the wraiths. Their mutual contempt for the unliving masters served to bridge the gaps set up by their different positions. He didn't really trust him of course, nor did he know the whole truth about why Gorbag had appeared here and now. Malthur would bet his boots that the wraiths were involved to some extent, but that was about as obvious as betting that the ashes from Mount Doom were involved in the dark clouds that perpetually covered the northern parts of Mordor. Speaking of which, Malthur noted that Gorbag was indeed approaching, flanked by a few of the black plated spearmen that guarded Minas Morgul, the heaviest armoured of all orcs in Mordors service.

    Malthur tossed a skin of wine towards Gorbag, who caught it in one hand. He had little fondness for human stuff but drink was drink and it was readily available. Gorbag sat down next to Malthur against the hillside overlooking the road.

    "Chieftain."

    "Chieftain."

    "What's happening?" Malthur asked deceptively lazy.

    "Yuh, that's sort of where I was getting to. You know, I'm in a flaming fix thanks to you, you stubborn sod. You were supposed to be dead, you know." Gorbag replied, but not in a hostile tone that matched his words.

    "Oh, really? I'm devastated to disappoint you, of course. Who are the other goatlayers that has such faith in us?"

    "They're...ah...sod it, I think you can guess."

    "Black cloaks and big boots, sitting on their fancy horses looking down all day?"

    "Yuh, those."

    "Flaming cowards. Why can't they crawl back down to their rotten graves and their worms any day?"

    "Dangerous talk."

    "Like stumbling around in the woods here with those damned Tark archers hiding under every stone is any safer? Alright, let's hear the whole miserable story. Spit it out."

    "Well, yeah..." Gorbag took a deep swig "...me and my column were supposed to mop up remaining whiteskins up and down the eastern shores. Whiteskins that were supposed to have destroyed all our armies in the area earlier. Especially so since no reinforcements were sent south - we all lay in wait holed up at the Vale."

    "Curse those stinking maggot scum traitors! We were getting picked apart, damn it! You didn't even send any messengers, did you?"

    "Hey, don't pin this on me! I had nothing to do with that! Those bootlickers of scouts around the Vale only answered to the wraiths so I don't know nothing about who sent what message. But are you really surprised? Thought actually never crossed your mind that the higher ups weren't that eager to see you make it out of the woods alive?"

    "Eh, I reckoned those rangers had every trail in their sights or something. Didn't really bother with messages until they begun waylaying all my patrols. You mean the unliving wretches were sitting and hoping we would be nailed good even before those cloaked...those OTHER cloaked scum had begun having their way with us?"

    "Quite flaming so. Lost count of all the enemy armies you waded through already? Your boys've grown famous. Some aren't too eager to see an orc in that kind of position. Thinks that might be giving other people the wrong ideas. Thinks it might be convenient if some of us didn't make it back."

    "Dangerous talk." Malthur took a deep swig.

    "Dangerous talk." Gorbag swallowed an equal mouthful.

    They drank in silence for a moment until Malthur resumed the conversation.

    "What now? Back to Mordor and the boot over our heads?"

    "I guess so. Now that you lot aren't so dead as you were supposed to I suppose everyone should be trudging home."

    "Not too glorious, that. Or too much loot to be had."

    "Nah. But what're you gonna do?"

    "Say, your orders, what were they again?"

    "Can't hold our drink, can we? Haha! What is this stuff anyway? It's not common whiteskin drink?"

    "It is. With a bit of our own booze mixed in it."

    "Ha! Cheers! Anyway, my orders were to clear out any remaining enemies in the area. The area being pretty much all of the woods here down to the steppes and the southrons."

    "Then those orders should still stand, shouldn't they? Only now as you have found me 'live and kicking you can hand over command to me and report back for other duties bearing this good news. And if the wraiths are displeased you can always say that the rogue Malthur nicked your entire column and made off. Cheers!" Malthur tossed Gorbag another wineskin.

    "Cheers! Wouldn't that be a sight! But who's left to hunt down? Haven't you sent every last Tark scurrying home?"

    "There's one last piece left. It's over there!" Malthur pointed out towards the southwest, towards the river.

    "And you're gonna swim out to 'em or wha'?"

    "You could say I have an...appointment with them. I have got my hands on a neat little invitation..."

    "Yuh, that's the Tarks, righ, polite flaming sods...even 'en we mail...nail...tho'sche maggots... Cheers!"

    "Cheers!"



    Gorbag grudgingly opened his one least bleary eye. He had just started to decide whether he could remain on the spot or if the sun was getting too disturbing already when he noticed how quiet all was. Too quiet.

    Gorbag rolled around and up in one motion. Sure, he was still half drunk and his head thundered like a smiths hammer on the anvil but he was an orc captain and none survived long enough to reach that position without a substantial dose of suspicion and caution. He squinted and looked around. His bodyguards were still drowsing. He should have them flogged, but for the moment he was more concerned with the rest of his force. There were only a third left.

    Malthur. That damned flaming rebel had really done it and stolen himself a whole new damn army. Just like he had suggested, the miserable sneaking rat! Great. Just flaming great. It was flaming worthless.

    Gorbag suddenly caught sight of something on the ground next to him. It was a good deal of wineskins, probably a dozen or so. And there was a great chunk of meat lying next to them. It even seemed to be warm still. That meant some of them couldn't have gone very far. He should be able to catch up with them if he roused his guards now and set out at the double. On the other hand... Gorbag looked down again and picked up a wineskin.

    After all...that could perhaps wait a day or two. There would be plenty of time to catch up with that flaming soldier-thieving brigand later. Flaming cur. Gorbag downed a mouthful. It was in fact flaming hilarious. He wondered where Malthur was going. What was it that he had mumbled about? Something about the river. And a Tark horde that he claimed to know where it would appear. How the hell would he know that? Gorbag took another swig. Flaming ridiculous.





    Chapter VI - II

    The night was dark and foggy. The ship was a cold, damp place to be, and navigation at this time was dangerous at best. The ships of the fleet were anchored, though, and the Anduin was still and quiet. Or at least mostly quiet. The order was out to make ready for landing and on half of the ships Gondorian soldiers and militia was preparing to embark the smaller rowing boats that could take them ashore. Muffled muttering and cursing was heard, but none raised his voice and they climbed down the rope nets and ladders with determination. This was not a hastily thrown together new army, but a bloodied and grim company of survivors of the calamity that had befallen Ithilien. Istdor viewed them with respect. He was not one to start hoping easily, having always been somewhat reserved and eager to act rather than talk, but he saluted their will to make another effort. The force that now disembarked under his command was all of the hale, well, reasonably hale, survivors from the battles with the Orcish monster that now terrorized Gondor. They had elected to stay rather than retreat, to make one final push to rid the world of that terror.

    The first half of the force, all that could fit in the rowing boats, was led by the captain Colfinmen, a former company commander under Dinethor of Amon Eithel. It was a good choice, Istdor thought, as Dinethor had been able to inflict the most severe harm unto the enemy in a pitched battle, even though Duinhirs tactics had been the better choice in Istdors opinion. Unfortunately the sack of Amon Eithel had been publicly known and it was whispered that an ill fate awaited all who would face the orc tyrant, and that no course could for long prevail. Istdor despised such prophesies, but he could argue that things so far had not done much to encourage anyone, to say the least.

    With Colfinmen was two companies equipped with dismounted catapults from the larger warships. Now the enemy would have a taste of his own brew. If o part of the army fortified a hill along with that artillery, the rest could spread out and harass the foes lines with archers while cavalry watched against quick sallies. And if the worst should happen and they had to retreat, this shore would be the gathering point. It was unremarkable from land, its lack of sand banks and underwater rocks further out being unknown to the landlubbers. But just to be safe, Colfinmen had orders to march inland for a couple of thousand paces and set up camp on high ground there. Then Istdors half would be on their way to land after him.

    The boats were off into the mist. Istdor waited, standing motionless with his thoughts drifting back to better days. Even to the war council in Pelargir when Duinhir presented the plans to destroy the orcs. It had been a moment of such strength and cooperation, of mutual trust and energy. It seemed so long ago now. Duinhir was gone, caught at last in the open with his peerless archers. The promising captains, such fine lads, Cirion and Aravir, holding their camp heroically without aid. War had robbed Gondor of them all it seemed, the future generation that should have been there to lead it to greatness again.



    When the first rowing boat came back, Istdor sighed with relief. He did not need to ask to know that the landing had gone as planned. The oar strokes were steady, telling of calm and concentrated rowers as sure as listening to their breathing next to them would. Istdor turned and signed to the ships captain.

    "Prepare the second wave. We disembark immediately."



    The beach lay in between two low ridges. The country sloped very gently down from both sides. It was both good and bad. On the one hand, it was harder to spot anyone in between from far away. On the other, if someone actually went up on one of the heights the view from there was very good. Of course that did not matter now, as the fog was still deep and the dawn was still half an hour away. It was no mean feat, Istdor thought, to land with an army in the dark of the night, form up and be ready to march out in a blink.

    Even in the calm, the contact of the boats with the sand of the shore triggered the burst of movement and action that was always the case. It never differed. All the time sitting and waiting and wondering if this shore would be the one that turned into an ambush and if the enemy was far away or waiting with a small force, or an overwhelming one, all the anxiety was a relief to cast off and drown in sudden explosive action. Once it was time to unload the supplies and other cargo, the extra energy had usually dried away, Istdor dryly remarked in his mind.

    A light breeze was starting to blow. The sun was almost visible and it promised a beautiful day. Perhaps a day of hope. The sea had always sheltered the free peoples from orcs and other foul creatures, and the dawn and day was always the time of men rather than the light-hating enemy.

    Istdor took the time to look around at the surroundings. The fog was liftning from the meadows around them. Were it not for all the noise from the unloading of their cargo and the forming up of the army it would have been a rather peaceful site. He viewed the northern slope again. Something in the mist had caught his attention. He squinted his eyes. Something among those low trees.

    A very, very uncomfortable knot had been tied in his stomach. Now Istdor could see that he was not the only one staring at the mist. Were they all imagining things now? He rather hoped so. Otherwise...

    A slight gust of wind created a rift in the mist. The sight caused the men next to Istdor to murmur and point, and more joined them, having forgotten their chores for the moment. He had to have mistaken, he had to. This could not be.

    Then, as if to convey that the sky had now had its fill of taunting them, the sun rose ever higher and the breeze increased, and out of the mist came the dreaded silhouettes of catapults, infantry and the towering, horrifying mountain trolls.

    Istdor felt as if all fire he had ever had inside him flickered and died at that moment. He had had one chance and he had squandered it. He had led them to their doom.

    "Formations! Form up, Gondorians!






    Chapter VI - III

    A captain has three duties that count. The rest is either means of fulfilling the three or superfluous details.

    Protect the crew.

    Protect the ship.

    Save everyone else.

    They are, in that order, the only things that matter in the situations where the captains title and authority truly matters. All else is pointless ceremony, petty and shallow. Anyone who will not do his uttermost to fulfill those obligations is a disgrace to the vessel he commands and the title he bears, and no real man at all.

    Protect the crew. The position was untenable. They would be crushed by the prepared artillery. Istdor signed to his officers.

    "Turn about and move it a thousand paces back, and be quick about it! I don't care if the lines tangle, they must get out of the fire!"

    Protect the ship.

    "Signal the boats to retreat out and warn the fleet! We have no chance to embark again here, we make contact again with the fleet near the beaches further south, which they must keep their eyes on!"

    Save everyone else.

    Istdor sighed. Around him was chaos as the infantry was turning and sprinting, boat crews hurrying to their oars and the quartermasters and their marooned deck hands stubbornly trying to gather up what little of the supplies they could carry on them.

    "Leave it!"

    "We can take some with us, captain! We can't run or fight on empty bellies!"

    "You can't take anything with you if you're dead! Leave it! Colfinmens unit will provision us!"

    Istdor hurried with them after the infantry. Colfinsmens half had been the vanguard. They had not brought many supplies with them except for tools and materials to fortify their position. Colfinmen had been supposed to cover Istdors deployment, not the other way around. But the orcs had outmaneuvered them once again and struck at their soft belly, quite literally in this case.



    They were at least not too fast, though, Istdor noticed. The Gondorian infantry outpaced the enemy, who followed in a controlled manner, keeping their formation. They would have some time before the enemy caught up. They had to use that time wisely. In fact, it was rather simple. They had to get away from the orcs and they had to retake some of the supplies. So the first measure had to be to retreat further from the shore and lure the orcs away from the discarded baggage.

    "Commanders! Turn the army east, by a quarter of a turn! We will link up with Colfinmen at the road!"

    East over the waves of grass the ship of men now steered. Istdor waved and nodded to the rightmost two companies, which broke off south. He hoped they would be able to stay out of sight.

    The army was coming over a taller ridge now. Istdor took the opportunity to climb a rock near their path and looked west. The orcs were steadily following, in formation and prepared. Their ranks was a carpet of black, crude and misshaped swarthy shapes that blighted the countryside. But what was that... That was a taller shape, even if it was hard to make out in the distance. Istdors eyes had been the best on every ship he had served on, but a lifetime of wind and sun had taken its toll even on him. There...he could see the strange orc again. He had grey armor, not black, and he was tall. Was he one of the accursed men who served Mordor? Probably, but there was something with him. Something that had made Istdor think of something. He just could not put his finger on what.

    He could not stay where he was any longer. There was an army to save.



    Colfinmen had taken up position on a hill with excellent view west. His force had been alerted and was waiting in formation. Istdor ordered his force to spread out and combine with Colfinmens, and then walked straight up to see the other commander.

    "You heard about the landing?"

    "Yes, my lord. They were waiting for us, all the time?"

    "They must have been. They let you walk past, even though they could have smashed you at the shoreline, and allowed me to land as well. They want to catch us all here and cut us off from our retreat."

    "Makes sense."

    Istdor viewed his sparsely spoken colleague inquisitively.

    "I mean, that is the kind of strategy that they were reported using before, isn't it? Like when they besieged Aravirs and Cirions army and let them take the time to walk into the trap properly before closing it."

    Istdor did barely hear him, for his thoughts were racing back and around and around to that moment early in the night.

    "Istdor waited, standing motionless with his thoughts drifting back to better days. Even to the war council in Pelargir when Duinhir presented the plans to destroy the orcs. It had been a moment of such strength and cooperation, of mutual trust and energy. It seemed so long ago now. Duinhir was gone, caught at last in the open with his peerless archers. The promising captains, such fine lads..."

    No...

    Not him... Not him.

    Istdor ran. He stumbled, he was deaf to the shouts of his men. He was blind to everything but the next hilltop. He must reach it, climb it, spy from it, he must see, he must know...

    He sensed younger and faster men catching up and slowed down. He would not reach the hill if they thought him mad. Glancing sideways, he saw their worried gazes but they followed him as a retinue still. There was the hill. He must know. One more step, and another...

    The orcs and trolls were still too far away. Istdor sighed.

    The first thing you could see as a thing of its own in the black mass was the trolls. The second was the catapults. Thirdly, different companies and units were becoming visible. Then the different armament of the orc infantry would become possible to discern.

    Istdor suddenly realized that he had lost count of how long he had stood and watched in that same place. He took in all of the picture of the orc army advancing in the midday sun. There came halberdiers, archers, swordsmen. Catapults manned by orcs and those manned by trolls. Clusters of trolls on their own with only their giant clubs, hardly even needing a weapon to wreak havoc among enemy ranks. Istdors eyes darted from one to another, black helmet after black helmet... Where had he seen him before? Was it a specific company? Not with the bowmen, he was sure of that.

    Istdors retainers were watching the sides, nervously shifting this way or that, clearly displaying that they thought it high time to fall back. He took no notice of it. He was, admittedly, transfixed by the sight of the orc army. Their order was almost immaculate. The speed was not bad for a force with field artillery rolling with them. But he could not see what he searched for.

    Istdor felt a hand on his shoulder. As if from a great distance, he heard the call for them to go back. He lingered. He could watch for a little time more.

    The archers were spreading out now, perhaps wary of Istdors group signaling an ambush. They were almost in range. A brave fellow grabbed him across the chest and started to drag him backwards from the hill top. Istdor struggled. He had to see. A group of the orc archers appeared to make ready their bows. Istdor sighed, and let go of the struggle. He would let the others lives go to waste just for his own sake.

    Walking back with heavy steps, Istdor turned around to look one last time before they descended from the hill. Just one look.

    Then Istdor saw him. Close to a company at the back, possibly the orc commanders.

    Time stood still and Istdor perceived nothing but the other one with the rest of the world as a blur around the tunnel of his sight, but in it he saw with every bit of clarity of his hawkeyed youth.

    Not him... That compassionate soul, concerned for a tired stranger telling a hard to believe tale. That noble heart, not wishing to condemn Dinethor based on rumors and unproven claims.

    Not him...



    Istdor had known it deep down. There was in truth no other explanation. The orc chieftain was good, no doubt about that. But nobody could appear everywhere at the exact right moment by being a good field commander.

    Betrayal. It was not the first time in Gondors history. But it was the first time as far as Istdor knew that someone would sell them all to an orc. It was...degrading.

    Colfinmen approached, staring at Istdor with a frown that said a lot of his thoughts about his private scouting sortie.

    "What the hell was that supposed to be, my lord, if I might ask!?"

    "Colfinmen, I have learned something. Something that I must bring to the ears of Gondor."

    Colfinmen stared quietly at him for a few moments more.

    "You know that we can't outmarch them. Not forever. We must stay together to keep them from sending the trolls running in and butcher everyone at will, and that will make us slower. Besides, we have almost no provisions."

    "If we can lure them here, I have a plan for that. And we don't need to outrun them indefinitely, only so we can make it to the next shore and signal for the fleet."

    "Won't do, captain. They are closing in on us."

    "We just need..." Istdor sighed.

    "A head start. I know that too, captain. I ain't blind." Colfinmen sighed too, then straightened his back and seemed to grow solid, to a rock in the ground. "I will give you the head start you need. I have my own catapults, or your ships, rather, and those mongrels wont like to march their precious trolls too close until we are silenced."

    "Don't... Don't throw away your lives without a reason. You take what supplies we have left here, and you pack it with you and make a run for it when they come close. Take to the woods and split up. They can't take you all."

    "Those of us still standing by that point, that is. There will be raining a lot of fire here today before we are done... Make it count, captain. Protect the crew."

    "Protect the crew."

    Colfinmen was turning around, seeming to Istdor now as a statue of stone, immovable, solid as the mountains.

    "Catapults! To me! Let's give those beasts a taste of their own brew today!"



    Malthur smiled viciously under his helmet. This had been a good fight. It had not been the largest battle, but it had challenged him. The enemy artillery had indeed posed a threat even to his trolls and he had been forced to take special care to spread his own artillery out to aim the maximum number of pieces against each of the Gondorian ones that came into ranger. Needless to say, his crews had won the duel. The infantry had held a hill to their right meanwhile, discouraging the enemy from making any sudden charges, and luring him to focus his attention on the infantry while the trolls bombarded him.

    Still, there were too few enemies here. The bulk of them had got away for now. But he would hunt them down. Not even rangers would stop him from that. He was just about to give the order to disassemble the artillery to march quicker when he noticed scouts running to them from the rear. It was odd, running in this sun. Something was going on.

    "Chief! They have taken the shore again!"

    "What?! Who?!"

    "Those Tark footmen! They came around from the south, two companies strong at least, and chased us off away from the coast. They seem to be retaking their food and such at that place!"

    Malthur silently applauded the human commander. It was a sound plan, distracting him here while the rest made off and took back their provisions. He also cursed himself for not having burned those supplies earlier during the day. Sloppy. Now they could have a long march ahead of them. But they had marched before, and not all the woods in Ithilien could shelter the one that Malthur marked as his prey. For the second time, Malthur breathed in to order the army on the move when he was interrupted.

    "Chieftain! Riders be comin' up on us from the north! They're a host o' them!"

    "Who are they?! What kind?"

    "Heavy plate, chieftain. Black horses. They look like the ones...the ones that ride with the wraiths..."

    Malthur saw from a distance how his infantry parted, giving way for the riders, indeed not showing any will to remain close. He looked intensively for their captain, burning with hot fire at the thought of the wraiths. But the leader was no wraith.

    A tall and evil shape, mounted upon a black horse, if it was a horse, for towering and horrible it seemed and its head was a mask of horror, more like a grinning horses skull than a living head and flames burned in its eye sockets and nostrils. The Lieutenant of the tower of Barad-dûr he was, and his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: 'I am the Mouth of Sauron.' But it is told that he was a renegade, who came of the race of those that are named the Black Númenóreans, and he entered the service of the Dark Tower when it first rose again, and because of his cunning he grew ever higher in the Lord's favour; and he learned great sorcery, and knew much of the mind of Sauron, and he was more cruel than any orc. He reined in his horse in front of Malthur and his captains, measuring them and let out an echoing laughter.

    "Is there any in this stinking rout with authority to answer to me? Or indeed with wit to understand me?"

    Malthur discreetly counted the bodyguard and took note of the Black Númenóreans armament. They were the best equipped troops of Mordor, but they were still only men and their horses had little protection. He did not doubt that they would make an impact when charging, but trapped they would be easy to unhorse, especially for the trolls. Perhaps seeing or guessing the chieftains thoughts, the Mouth of Sauron continued speaking.

    "Malthur, Malthur, what did you think? Did you believe yourself out of the great eyes sight? You are nothing, overseer, not worthy of the time of those better than yourself. Did you believe you could somehow go as you pleased just because some farmers ran before your little fire sticks?"

    Malthur remained silent, his eyes deep pools of darkness under his helmet.

    "It is time you relearned your place, orc. Or someone would perhaps be given the pleasure of reminding you of it..."

    "A wiser man would have shut up by know, Tark."

    The rider looked around, hissing with malice, but continued his speech.

    "I serve the great eye! Raise steel against me and it will be a nazghul you see riding into your camp next time!"

    "A little skittish, aren't we? Why don't you get out of my camp and continue serving somewhere out of my sight before one of your lackeys does something very foolish?"

    "The eye has orders for you, Malthur! If you still claim to have any measure of loyalty to the Dark Lord, that is! The corsairs of Umbar do not display the fervour that we would have them. The fleets of Gondor and her allies sail unhindered. March to Umbar and bring them in line. Show the Haradrim that crossing the Dark Lord is death!"



    Malthur watched the last of the horses disappear behind a ridge. He pondered the orders delivered by the little Tark maggot. He had been tempted to give the order to butcher them all, but he suspected that there was a grain of truth hidden somewhere in the threats of wraiths. The Black Númenórean had after all found his camp uncomfortably fast and his army was not the easiest to hide.

    Umbar. It was the real capitol of the Haradrim even if their chieftain sometimes resided elsewhere. Umbar held the fleets, the slaves, the loot gathered through centuries of pillaging...

    If Ammu Khand had been farfetched then Umbar was ludicrous. The deserts of Harad were said to be without end and only fit for snakes and scorpions. And the Haradrim were said to be unbeatable in their home terrain. It was a sensible plan, Malthur admitted. He would be lost in the deserts and any reputation would die a mundane and unremarkable death with him. And his army would soften the Haradrim up for the bootlicker hordes that would follow.

    On the other hand, if anyone would ever find a way to the gilded cities of the southrons...

    He smiled and produced the rod-like leather case he always kept on him these days and opened it. Harad was large, no doubt about that, but not large enough to be entirely without trails. They seemed to follow what had to be rivers, and those rivers would have dug out ravines. Ravines meant shade.

    Indeed, if anyone would ever find a way to the gilded cities of the southrons...then it would be him!

    "Form up, you maggots! Prepare to march south, to riches beyond imagining!"



  5. #5
    joerock22's Avatar Leader of Third Age HS
    Content Director Citizen Gaming Staff

    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Connecticut, USA
    Posts
    4,888

    Default Re: [AAR] An Orc's Tale (Third Age MOS AAR)

    Chapter VII

    Chapter VII - I

    Imlad Carnen, the winter of 2985

    How did it come to this? How unimaginable was not this a year ago? The gravity and temerity of the situation overwhelms me. I can not think, nor sleep, nor eat, even discounting the manner of the thing that counts for food among my dear hosts. The thoughts spin and drive me spinning, locked in my own minds whirls of thoughts. No, away with that. I will rise from this. I must reorder my thoughts. I will remember these days, and while I do not dare trust my minds abilities at the present I will write down what important events passes by. This will be my journal, of my travels with the evil of our time, to whom I do now count. Ink and paper I am well supplied with, for I am alone in this company to care about such things.

    I write at the town of Imlad Carnen in the Near Harad, the northern south so to say. Why is an army of light-hating orcs in Harad? To the studied mind, the question immediately divides into two questions. The first is why the army was ordered here, which is easy enough to answer. The only power that can rival Gondors on the seas is the corsairs of Umbar, the descendants of traitors and rebels of Gondors own fleets in ancient times that deserted the kingdom. Without Umbar, Mordor can not control the Anduin, and can not cross the river at Osgiliath without expecting to come under terrible bombardment from the ships, for the river is still deep near the ruined city as it was in ancient times when its docks were a wonder to behold. And the corsairs have now proven unreliable, which should not come as a great surprise, so the dark power of Mordor will need to make an example of them or their city to bring the rest in line.

    The second question is why the menace that goes by the name of Malthur accepted the orders, for while they are rational given the strategical context, they are suicidal. An expedition into desert territory without an experienced logistical corps of caravan masters, horses, mules, wagons, even engineers for passing riverbeds, defies every military logic. Malthur surely knows this. And he equally surely does not submit eagerly to his superiors. I have witnessed him practically stealing command of a substantial amount of reinforcing troops on at least one occasion and I can't believe he has risen to his position without having committed similar acts in the past. I have myself witnessed the malice and fury that he is capable of, and to have seen him bow to these orders from his superiors, despite bullying the fallen black Numenorian lord that conveyed them, so seemingly obedient does not make sense.

    I will put my thoughts on this matter in print for I believe the answer to prove of great importance for events to come. The minor matter of why the envoy was spared a treacherous death, which I know that Malthur would be fully capable of ordering, is in itself easily enough explained by the decision not to fully rebel against his superiors, at least not yet if he harbors such designs. If the enemy is not to be slain, there is no point in antagonizing him into attacking you. The greater matter is why the orc chieftain was capable of tempering his rage enough to actually do that. One explanation is of course that the dark lord hold his servants in such thralldom that his control is absolute when it needs to be, despite their hatred for one another. Or, essentially the same, that the black Numenorians represent a superior whose power not even Malthur dare defy directly. Another explanation, which I for now consider more and more likely, is that Malthur was ordered to go where he himself had been planning to go. Perhaps not now, and probably not to carry out the will of Mordor, but eventually getting his claws on the riches of the land. It is said that great trade flows through the cities of Inner Harad, but I find that unlikely among such a savage and barbaric people. Umbar, though, would certainly hold the loot stolen from hard working Gondorians throughout many years. And where else could great plunder really be gotten more easily? Gondor proper can not be taken without great cost and danger, not with her fleets unchecked. North of Mordor - which discounting everything else would bring Malthur back under the gaze of his dark masters - lies trackless wastes east of the Dead Marshes, until you would eventually reach he men of Dale and the dwarves far north, or the kingdoms of the easterlings south of the Sea of Rhun. Set against those alternatives, Harad might start to look more appealing. It does mean, though, that Malthur thinks he can defeat the climate, the absence of logistical support and the Haradrim in the field and in their walled cities.



    The army of Malthur in any case struck the Imlad Carnen at night, rolling forth their siege machinery before the defenders had time to react. The local lord, Kirkuk, had summoned a reinforcing host of his fiefs and called in what favors he could. It had not been enough for a prepared battle in daylight and it was even less so now. Imlad Carnen fell after two salvos of the catapults had reduced its wooden wall to splinters. It was looted, which was no more than the knaves deserved, raiders and pillagers as they themselves were, as the men of southern Gondor could attest to.



    Come morning, the reinforcing army had formed up to assault their town instead of its besieger that they had not expected yet in some days. They held the hills but not the means to take advantage of them. An often misunderstood advantage in the field is that of holding the lower ground. Surely, it is disadvantageous for one who will have to climb the slope sooner or later. But if you hold the advantage in ranged power the enemy must come to you or suffer from the decision. And if the slope is steep, or bulges outward from the hill, it will provide cover from the enemy's rear ranks. If the slope bulges inwards towards the middle of the hill, however, it is the best ground for missile troops. Assaulting down such a hillside, against an enemy that is strong in ranged weaponry, will be a costly affair as the defender can easily shoot straight into your troops over the heads of his infantry in the front ranks. The effects of assaulting downhill into a rain of burning stones requires no further explanation. Suffice to say that the host of Kirkuk ceased to exist that day.







    Chapter VII - II

    The road west of Imlad Carnen, the winter of 2985

    With time left to think, I doubt and I drift back in thoughts of past events. Did I make the right choice? Of course not. The right choice would have been to stand and die for nothing in that forsaken and unaided encampment. But more to the point, did I make the wise choice? Seeing now how the orcs have passed into the lands of our other enemies I can not help but dwell on the futility of it all. Gondor gave all she had at the moment, and it still did not suffice to stop Malthur. Dinethor broken, Duinhir slain, the rangers hunted down. Aravir. And all that time, could we have just stood by and let them pass, destroying the Haradrim for us? Not to mention letting the orcs walk to their doom in the deserts of inner Harad. For all his tricks, I can not believe even Malthur can make it through such a lifeless place. I gather from talk in the camp that he has once before commanded an expedition into such territories but that can't be comparable to this hideous realm.

    Should I have made an attempt? To jump on him with a stolen dagger and try to get it through his throat before anyone blinked? Perhaps. The odds are not good though, and to myself I must admit that he unnerves me to no small deal and my hands are not as steady as I would have them be. And I did not do what I did to die a stupid death. There has to be another way.

    It was not the right time to strike out earlier. Then the orc army would stay or split all over Ithilien, ravaging in completely. Now it continues past, spreading its destruction to the knaves and thieves of the south instead, and that is worth a lot of sacrifices that shall never be mentioned in any song or tale. At least that is what I tell myself. Besides, how much difference did my actions make? The Blackroot rangers allowed themselves to be caught and Duinhir wasted them in open battle. Had he not done that, he could have won. And if he went into pitched battle to save that southern column in the cipher Duinhir was a complete fool, throwing it all away for naught. If his stratagems were right they would work even despite breached communications, and indeed be able to adapt and take advantage of such an event! Not be upturned by it. The hope that Duinhir would pull through was folly for his plan was flawed and a false hope to cling to. At least that is what I tell myself. So I remain here, an unplayed hand and a hidden hand. I bide my time and learn what I can of this new enemy, unlike the past ones. One day I shall make this worth it, I vow to myself, and see more of my people delivered than my betrayals may have doomed. A forgotten hero I will be, unsung and unknown, doing what is needed in dark times. That I tell myself.

    No, away with all this! Whatever will be my part in this, I can not play it while dwelling on the past! I shall focus on the matters at hand. To that point, let me recount the clear, objective facts regarding the current situation and the enemy of our time.



    The Orcish armies are constituted mostly of ill-trained rabble, savage but not brave, which we have broken countless times with our endurance and our discipline. Their lower ranks wear armour of hide, leather or crude mail augmented by clumsy plates. The gear is produced en masse, mirroring the troops that use it. A few companies are better equipped, the garrisons of the Black Gate and Minas Morgul. The weapons are varied but almost always of poor quality, due both to the lacking craftsmanship of the smith and maintenance of the owner.

    Most dangerous are the Uruks, the tallest and strongest of the orcs we know of, making up the smaller elite of Mordor, in strength and discipline as well as armour and weapons. They wear chain mail covered in plates, helmets of descent quality, and are armed with bows, swords and shields, and arguably most dangerous, halberds and similar pole arms. Worse, they work with unity and cohesion, following the orders of their captains and know how to control themselves.

    The orcs of Mordor have to my knowledge no cavalry in their armies, apart from the few Black Numenorians that ride as the dark knights of the land, far above the petty and wretched orcs. What they do have instead, is the trolls. Giant lumbering beasts, nearly as fast as a rider and many times as strong. Their hide is comparable to the strongest leather and more, and the huge clubs will stave in plate without difficulty. Like the impact of a falling tree, their swings can not be defended against in a practicable way save evading them. Regularly pitted against the enemy's finest, his heavy cavalry or a generals retinue, the trolls are not the spearhead so much as the battering ram of the Orcish hordes.

    Of artillery they, and the commander of this present host in the most particular way, possess access to lighter ballistae and catapults, simple yet effective constructions. The thing that sets Mordors artillery apart from their opponents however, is again the trolls who have been trained to handle the catapults, operating one in pairs. Their superior strength allows them to move those things with astounding speed.





    Malthurs methods of adapting to the hot and dry climate have been typically brutal and simple. The entire remaining population of the town has been taken as prisoners and slaves, to be driven before the orcs with the promise of anyone unable to keep pace being considered cattle to be slaughtered. The southrons carry the most of the food supplies - dried meat and fruits, and hard bread - but the orcs keep the water among them, in their own water skins and loaded on pack animals and wagons taken from the town. That effectively hinders most escape attempts since only enough water for the day is distributed each morning. Only a few of the tribesmen have the knowledge of streams and wells close by to have any hope of surviving if they make it past the orc scouts eyes and noses. The degraded and twisted logic of the orcs is that either their thralls will survive, bearing the provisions for them, or they will succumb and serve as food themselves.

    Not all of the Haradrim are as badly treated, though. Some offer their skills more liberally to Malthurs army in exchange for better treatment and more water. Malthurs "own" supply train has swelled and the new arrivals have been instructing the orcs in the arts of efficiently drying meat and fruit, although the orcs have an almost comical aversion to the latter and preference for the former. They also teach how to wrap oneself in loose layers of clothing to keep the heat and sun out, especially urgent among troops foolish enough to wear black armour! The trolls look absurd in this respect, draped in entire tent canvases taken from the many nomadic vassals of Imlad Carnens late ruler. In addition to such survival skills, Malthur is of course as usual eager for information about the coming towns, roads, tribes and Haradrim hosts that the army will come upon.

    The most repulsive of the collaborators are the ones that have taken up the task of acting as the spies, guards and enforcers of Malthur among the other southrons. They are given some armament, but only wooden clubs and staffs, and report to their own leaders who in turn report to the orcs. It is a prudent precaution from the orcs' side, minimizing their need for moving among their oppressed and risking a knife in the back. Furthermore, as I have no doubt that Malthur has counted upon and perhaps even planned, the fact that southron is pitted against southron divides the camp and uprisings or massed escapes become so much harder to instigate and see through undetected. Furthermore, he has allowed some remnants of town elders to form an informal ruling council among the thralls, but filled with an equal share of tribesmen and previously unremarkable individuals that the orcs have appointed. The result is a mock ruling body at which some of the resentment can be deflected, which due to the divided leadership structure is unsure of itself and divided and therefore largely impotent and no great threat. I can not help but note that whether or not it is his plan, Malthur is sowing the seeds of long times of internal strife in Harad. And that can hardly be a bad thing.




    Chapter VII - III

    Malthurs camp north of Gobel Ancalimon, the spring of 2986

    Gobel Ancalimon is the capitol of Harad, as close as you can get. It is a common misconception that Umbar holds that title, the corsair nest further south. Umbar is the largest and richest of Haradrim cities but it is too far from the central plains and steppes, both in miles marched and in the Haradrim heart, to claim such preeminence. Umbar is to Gobel Ancalimon something of what Pelargir and Dol Amroth are to Minas Tirith, a competitor and rival but also the great harbor of the realms fleets and therefore valued allies. Here most of the different tribes and different nations of Harad are represented, owing to the fact that all major trade routes of central Harad converge in or around the city. The coastal road winds up from Umbar passing here a bridge west of the city, meeting the road of sands from the central plains and deserts further east and the northern road on which we have marched here from Imlad Carnen to the northeast.

    Also, a not insignificant trade route go by ship from the port towns west, often jokingly called "New Umbar" and "Little Umbar" while the proper names are Gobel Mirlond and Ramlond. The river and wind has carved a broad valley that goes east to west into the sea and straight north following the river next to which has even smaller woods near it, protecting the surprisingly lush lands in between the plateaus to the north and mountains to the south that lead to the southern deserts. The current season is dry but the late spring is said to blossom with shade and fragrance welcoming every traveler. And they are many, traders and artisans congregating from all of Harad, dusty haulers bringing good from the river ports and local caravans even, that traffic the road to the closer Ramlond.

    The position of the Orcish army and the circumstances surrounding me may baffle those unacquainted, for far from engaging in a campaign of extermination Malthur has opened negotiations with the council of Gobel Ancalimon attempting to obtain the bloodless surrender of the city, having promised safe passage and continuation of trade, save with Umbar, should they yield. The army of Malthur has set up a fortified camp near the closest ford in several miles, a sound defensible position in many ways. The lords of the land and the lord of Harad as a whole, the Grand Serpent Khuzaymah, are nowhere to be seen. However, the orc scouts report that massive Gondorian armies are gathered on the western plateaus.



    As I mentioned, the land is not yet the desert that I had expected to encounter, but land that is green and growing, with fresh rivers even if they dig very deep into the sandstone. The trees and plants are adapted to the heat with massive roots that keep the water from the sun, and tough leaves that are narrower than northern trees but does not dry as easily. It is not impossible to picture the place as blossoming and well organized and tended to in ancient times before the rebellions.

    It is not without difficulty that I have come to accept the fact that there may be more to Harad than the corsairs and common raiders. It is indeed a different land but can barbaric customs simply be different?

    They are slavers. The presence of slavery is ingrained in every aspect of the society. But there is more to it than one is led to think. A slave can be the lowest of the low, like my poor countrymen chained to the corsair galleys. But slaves can also rise in respect from his master, and for lack of better word, rank, and be entrusted more important and healthier tasks, serving then as more of a trusted handmaiden or banner man of the master. Given the uneven distribution of wealth and unforgiving living conditions of this land, slaves of the wealthy fare much better than free men of the poor in most cases. Indeed, a slave runs the risk of being beaten, even maimed or killed, without reason. But what laws protect the free from the same kind of fate? In Gondor, a large enterprise like a farm, a ship, an inn or a trading house may change owner. Where will the workers go? What are their prospects if not to stay and do the same tasks for the new owner? Where else can they start a new life? Gondorians may not be beaten by any would-be master but that alone is not the same as being free either.

    Adding to the complexity of Harads slave system is the institution of slave contracts. Slavery can be conditioned, which depending on the contract turns it to more of indentured servitude, serfdom or even employment. A free man may sell himself as a slave for a set time, with the profits from the sale and his labor being shared between him and a slaver. Typically, such contracts forbid the mistreatment commonly associated with slavery. The temporary slave may allow himself to be sold to new masters, under the same contracted conditions, with the chance of further shared profit from the selling. Likewise, the local authorities tend to sell criminals and other real or imagined troublemakers as slaves temporary or permanent, which adds to their coffers as well as removes the individual from the rest of society. The opposite can also happen, although it is not as common. A wealthy slave owner may choose a particularly trusted slave and free him to oversee a farm or a trading post. Without contacts or ties to rivals, and perhaps with the gratitude to his former owner, such a fellow is unlikely to betray him or embezzle too much, at least initially.

    Most respect is given to the slave soldiers. Bought from far off lands as boys, they are trained, indoctrinated and drilled by well established slavers in schools and barracks, becoming obedient and disciplined soldiers, guards, bodyguards or pit fighters that have known no other life and know no other goal than to carry out their orders. The elite of Haradrim warriors, the so called serpent guard, include a portion of these kinds of slaves, bought and then freed by the chieftain they protect, whom they will serve without question. If the chieftain maintains an inner circle of trusted guards, it will surely be made up at least partly of this kind of soldiers. Assassinations are a constant in Haradrim politics, and both those that carry them out as well as those that watch against them are required to be of absolute loyalty. There are fewer women that rise as slaves, not for lack of female slaves nor for lack of desire to do so, but because they have more to gain by obtaining their freedom and will thus strive to do so as quickly as possible if they can rise to prominence. Succesful Haradrim women may be respected as traders, artisans and innkeepers, as well as the shadowy businesses of courtesans, spies and hired murderers. Poisoning in particular - well known among this cruel folk - is a feared trade of the latter, of course only known by rumor and legend as no assassin worthy of fame would be caught in the actual act.

    Again, back to matters at hand. The Gondorian armies. They are, as I understand it, marching parallel to Malthurs army but are not attempting to engage him. It is prudent, given our shameful record against him, no doubt about that. But there is also the chance that they are not at all after the orcs, or has not even counted upon their appearance in Harad, which one can hardly be surprised about. If so, their target is a Haradrim city or other strong point, which would likely be the port cities in the bay. If they can be eliminated or captured, the corsair fleets will have much more difficulty operating close to Gondorian coasts. I do not know whether to call this wise or foolish. On the one hand, it is a sensible thought to focus on the one threat you can do something about presently, in this case the enemy fleets. On the other, it may put them precariously close to Malthur and his artillery. But if one has to throw even more good men into the fire then I guess Harad, where the orc is at his weakest, should be as good a place as any. If that would come to pass, would Gondor be spending her men saving the corsairs that prepare to plague her coasts? The thought is twisted.




    Chapter VII - IV

    Malthurs camp outside Gobel Ancalimon, the summer of 2986

    The heat. It is not suffocating but it is numbing. The sun beats upon your head like a mallet and even thinking clearly can be arduous. There is room, and energy, for one thing at a time. I find myself longing for the nights just like the orcs do. But they must still fight at daytime, and patrol, and intimidate the Haradrim so as to make their continued presence known and feared. The sun does of course not serve to make them more reasonable than otherwise.

    Malthur stands outside Gobel Ancalimon now as a besieger and has set up a fortified camp around the city with trenches and palisades cutting off the routes for quick sallies. There is a tense calm before the storm now, for he does not yet move to a full fledged assault to take the city, but to heighten the pressure and the intimidation. Yesterday, the catapults began bombarding the walls next to the northern city gate. The garrison manned the walls but once the cracks started to spread the climbed down and pulled back before the breaches occurred. Malthurs archers snuck in and manned one of the walls looking for sallying troops but none came. The orcs reluctance to attack is unusual but I suppose that being so far from your own supply lines every measure should be taken to win by negotiation and fear rather than actual battle. If the city surrenders it will send a powerful message spreading through the many traders travelling from it and many more may be much more inclined to follow the example and reach an accommodation with the orcs. So here we sit and wait, staring at the silent holes in the wall and broken battlements.


    It has been a week since my last entry.

    Many things have taken place during that time. I find myself writing fervently to depict some of them all but I must keep it orderly. Let me first devote some lines to the effect the siege has proven to have on the city of Gobel Ancalimon. The inhabitants are traders, artisans, businessmen. They have bided their time, keeping negotiations going and watching for weaknesses and oversights as keenly as the shrewdest of mercantile sharks. The inhabitants, though, are also Haradrim. They have not been idly watching. Meanwhile the position of the besieger, while one of seldom seen richness and comfort, has become increasingly unstable. Trade does flow as people say, and it has its own cycles and wanes and waxes. But it depends on a great deal of things much more concrete, on caravans, ships, gold, routes, stores and warehouses. Take away the stores and markets and trade will find another route or form. But not without a great deal of burdens on the merchants and all who support or depend on them, and not before provoking a great deal of enmity among those of that profession.
    Malthur correctly calculated that the trade routes could be redirected through his camp rather than the city. He was wrong in his assumption that his camp could accommodate the demands of that. He also severely underestimated the resentment that would spring from this.

    By the end of the week Gobel Ancalimon was under siege but so was the orc camp. Far from forcing the city to act Malthur had forced himself to act if he would stand any chance of wresting the peoples support away from the lords of Gobel Ancalimon. Time had run out.

    The storming came from the east, rather than the north where the wall had been torn down. Starting during the night, Malthurs catapults broke through there just as easily, while the defenders had to keep reserves to guard for a possible attack through the previous openings. At least , that is what conventional military thinking would dictate. The city guards did no such thing. A smaller force was holding the eastern gate initially but they were shot and cut down in the morning.


    As the sun rose higher and the heat rose with it, the orcs prepared to move further into the city to seek out the remaining guards and commanders and take control of all strong points. Gobel Ancalimon however, is not so much a city as a winding maze of tight streets, narrow to keep the sun away. The buildings are brick or clay walls with few, narrow windows and flat roofs since there is no need to deflect rain or snow. This makes the city as habitable as possible during the hot periods. It also makes it extremely easy to turn the entire place into a mass of miniature fortresses.

    Now add sand.

    Everyone takes sand for granted. It is everywhere, it is hard and it gets into your clothes and hair and food. It covers the streets and it whirls up in your face when the wind is strong. But sand can be melted into glass if one has the great furnaces for such industry. Cooked in a simple kettle on a rooftop it will not melt, but it will heat up until the air above it dazzles and each grain is hot enough to burn its way through your skin. Clothing and leather will eventually burn through as well if not soaked, and ring mail has just far too many holes to avail against such an attack. Your best hope apart from wet cloth is a broad shield or expertly crafted and fitting plate armor. Malthurs orcs possess neither.

    As for me, I did not take part in the attack but I have pieced together enough from what I have heard retold and many times cursed in the camp afterwards. As the orcs divided into columns and made their way through the confusing blocks of houses and stables and warehouses, no resistance was shown initially, but all doors remained shut and barred. Then, when the larger part of the army was inside the maze, horns were sounded and the Haradrim attacked. On every roof or upper floor a kettle was stewing, cooking the sand and dust of the streets into glowing grains of torment. Not only the garrison but seemingly the entire population rushed out on rooftops and even balconies and poured and threw the stuff among the orcs down on the streets. Using cooking pots and skillets, they could sprinkle the sand over a wide area, hardly enough to kill anyone but causing searing pain and chaos everywhere. The orcs discipline fragmented. The bolder ones, with the most level-headed captains, divided into groups that broke into the houses to find the barricaded Haradrim. That task was not always easy though as many houses, with space always being in short supply, had not stairs but simple ladders to the upper floor, ladders that would be pulled up to protect against robbers during nighttime, or now against invaders during war. And through the hole in the upper floor, more sand could be poured down on the orcs downstairs.

    Now, with the orc army writhing in pain and thrashing in rage, came the real Haradrim counterattack. Rocks replaced sand, and arrows, pots of oil, and fire. Never too many in one spot, but everywhere and nowhere, the entire city united against the orcs. Under the barrage, orc discipline finally fragmented totally and Malthurs army was in retreat. Luckily for the orcs, they managed to keep themselves together enough not to panic and rout completely, where a lot would have trampled one another and expired in the masses of soldiers running into each other and clogging every narrow passageway.

    If only temporary, Malthur had finally been beaten back in an open battle.

    I am almost starting to like this country.

    The trolls had not taken part in the attack, and their presence outside the walls probably did its part to spare the army from a Haradrim sally. While the trolls could perhaps have smashed the houses and its defenders to bits, they could just as well have smashed the orcs in maddened rage from all the heated sand and arrows. For all their might, the trolls have their limitations. The commander must take good care when and where to send them in, for they will not be called back before the enemy is beaten once they have engaged. With trolls, you win or you die.




    Chapter VII - V

    Malthurs camp outside Gobel Ancalimon, the summer of 2986

    Following the repelled storming a number of events took place which I consider worth mentioning. First of all, Malthurs forces withdrew to their camp and fortified positions around the city, but with far less eagerness and vigilance than before, and it was shamefully obvious that the Haradrim elite inside and outside had the opportunity now, if not before, to coordinate and cooperate. Furthermore, if the resentment from the locked out merchants had been pressing before, it now turned into open hostility. Caravan masters withdrew, prices rose to the skies, even raids against the orc camp where the northern Haradrim slaves were kept became frequent. Here near the river and their kin, the prospects of a fugitive was many times better than out in the badlands we passed. Many took that chance, but few made it through.

    Seeing the enemy given pause, and their kinsmen rising against him, the city's lords joined forces, or more correctly joined coffers, with the outside merchants and acquired themselves some reinforcements. Rarely far from gold or petty lords, mercenaries abound in Harad as well as in many other dark corners of the world. This one was a captain called Ahraz, hailing from Khand south of the Easterlings lands next to the sea of Rhun. Ahraz had a swift, light force that quickly marched around the city and took the lightly defended southern side, furthest away from Malthurs camp. The cheers were still ringing from the walls when Malthur marched his army across the river and around, avoiding the walls to come straight at Ahraz. The hired captain had the opportunity to cause most severe difficulties for the orcs and undermine Malthurs position and gradually erode his army's morale and discipline until the orc chieftain would be forced to retreat.

    Instead, Ahraz stood his ground and fought.

    Before the southern gate, he sat upon a great war horse with spear in hand and his own army elevating theirs, and the city garrison cheering and marching out through the gate to bolster the ranks. Together they had the advantage in numbers. As if that would help. And on the other side of the field, the trolls loaded their catapults, orcs ignited the oil, and death rained upon the tightly packed, unprotected, easily incinerated fools who had squandered their opportunity in such an incompetent, no, criminal, sacrilegious manner. Not even, not even Aravir did something so overconfident. Damn him, Aravir did not know. He couldn't know. But this Ahraz, he had every opportunity to find out how Malthur fights, how he crushes any assembled enemy. If he would still do something like this, he and all his host deserve nothing but shame and defeat. Of course, that is also what they received before the gates of Gobel Ancalimon.



    While the pathetic southrons crowded the southern gate, fleeing in terror from the flames and the roar of the mountain trolls, Malthur left a token force with half of the artillery and marched again back around the walls, to the eastern gate that still lay in ruins. Once again, the orcs stormed inside and took control of the walls. Meanwhile the Haradrim had regrouped at the central city square and the bolder companies now sallied against the orcs, desperate and seemingly having forgot all about what tactics had actually achieved something in the last battle. It is not uncommon, this stupidity and desperation, the want of imagination that is created by misfortunes. Addled by the not long ago unthinkable reality of defeat, the mind leaps to any rash action that offers an escape from such thoughts, into mindless, heart-stirring action. Such as rushing madly at armored infantry while archers loose volleys from above and beside.




    Chapter VII - VI

    Gobel Ancalimon, the summer of 2986

    Not all of the defenders rushed at the orcs when they entered the city after Ahraz folly. The part that stayed inside huddled among the buildings and on the walls recovered their wits and manned the houses and improvised fortifications again. However, this time the orcs did not oblige them. Clearly Malthur must have given up the hope of taking the city in any manner resembling order and concern for unnecessary damage to the city itself. Now there were no columns of infantry marching into the winding streets. Instead, fire rained over the city.

    Faced with the alternative of standing their ground in a fire pit the remaining garrison rather soon formed up and assaulted Malthurs position again. Twice did the lightly armored raiders throw themselves against orc plate and halberds, conveniently using the ruined gatehouse for shade. They fought fiercely but this was exactly the kind of confined battle a light raiding and skirmishing force would want to avoid at any cost. When night came, the city was yielding, and garrison as well as inhabitants were fleeing out of the other gates and breaches in the wall from the earlier bombardment. Gobel Ancalimon had fallen, and Malthur had driven a wedge into the middle of the Haradrim.


    I admit being curious about the so called grand serpent Khuzaymah. Where is he? Surely a ruler should be much weakened by the loss of his capital! Malthur has, as far as I know, not learned anything new of his whereabouts. There are in my opinion three or four main alternatives. First, he may of course be waiting further ahead with a larger force that he has gathered in the hope of relieving the capitol, perhaps with contingents from Umbar or the deserts further south. It makes sense in a way with the way the Haradrim are divided into factions, or perhaps rather classes, with the coastal cities and corsairs, the mercantile cities along the main roads and the tribesmen living away from those. One could not gather all these into an army too quickly. One alternative explanation on the other hand, is that internal division is at work but making his slitheriness less inclined to intervene. If Khuzaymah is siding with a faction hostile to Gobel Ancalimon, he might think himself able to ride out the storm and strengthen his grip on Harad in the process, while a rival faction bears the brunt of Malthurs wrath. Lastly he might of course be dead, but in that case we should have heard about it and someone else, or more probably some dozen else, would have stepped up to fill the vacant position.

    While I amuse myself with such speculation the orcs pass the time with more down to earth pleasantries. They celebrate the victory with food and drinks as much as humans do, as usual in a cruder way altogether. And also, like humans, the orcs have the occasional taste for carnal celebrations of happy events, in which case their festivities are indeed down to earth in the more literal way.

    For those oblivious to the nature of our enemies, I would like to remind them that the orc is not a creature created from nothing by the dark powers of the world, but a mere mockery of man or elf, a perverted and degenerated parody of them. The orcs have life and multiply in the same manner as the other races, and they have their own bonds of blood and kin, but ever marred by their twisted and dark nature. There is absolutely no beauty in their shallow bonds to one another, nor any finesse in their courting, or whatever one would call it. I have had ample time to observe this aspect of their nature as Malthurs army, like other orc hosts I presume, include both male and female orcs. I refuse to call such base and beastly creatures men or women. The dark lord is evidently without qualms about sending female orcs out to fight, although they are not as numerous as the male ones in the orc armies. Of course it makes little difference to their enemy as one is as ugly as the other and as eager to hack your head into bloody pieces.

    The one and only redeeming feature of the orcs is, I believe, that they are less likely than the southrons and easterlings to shame and ravage our women in the lands they plague. The orcs view humans as enemies to be slain and tormented or cattle to be slaughtered and nothing more. Among themselves, they have no such qualms but are not quite as eager to force themselves on another as their brutish disposition would suggest. In my view, that seems to be the effect of both a lesser interest in such activities than other races in general, and their complete disregard for anything that is beautiful and graceful in the world, as well as their possession of neither. The orcs breed when their masters command it, and they breed fast, but that is not their highest wish and pleasure as I suppose might be said of my own race. Furthermore, at least among those in Malthurs host, any orc attempting something too forward would be more than likely to have a dagger in the gut soon after, and so would do well to either keep to itself or leave any victim dead and buried just to be on the safe side. The latter of course interfering with the orc chieftains prerogative of cleaving heads from shoulders to keep the wretched pack in line.



    Chapter VII - VII

    Malthurs camp north of Gobel Ancalimon, the late summer of 2986

    Again, much has transpired in a short amount of time and I have learned a great deal of things that may or may not prove of crucial importance some day in the future.

    Malthur had the Haradrim reeling after Gobel Ancalimons fall. Yet he marched back, towards Imlad Carnen, the way he had come. I do not know why but of course suspect that something, be it news, summons or suspicions, must have called him back. West of Imlad Carnen were reinforcements waiting, encamped and panting after a sweaty trek through northern Harad absent Malthurs level of adaptations. I am the first to admit that the dynamics of orc politics are beyond my areas of expertise but I am led to understand that Malthur and the commander of the reinforcing force, one Gorbag, share some sort of agenda or at least understanding, as much as such notoriously unreliable creatures as orcs can.



    Malthur is no exception to other military commanders in that he must to some extent rely on subordinate officers to carry out his will. Each company or similarly sized logistical unit, up to just over two hundreds, has a captain with the authority to direct the unit as deemed necessary and is capable of independent actions. A halberdier company is required to hold its portion of the line or advance and strike its designated target, but it is up to the captain to order the unit to fall back or step forth or to broaden or narrow the formation. The wrong commands can easily lead to disaster even if the company never changes its place on the field. Repelling a charge, for example, with the weapons raised for marching and standing before a line of artillery is a serious mistake if one could choose to form up behind to use them as cover with a wall of spear tips pointed forward.

    These captains seek to rise to the position of chieftain. That means that they must balance their need to carry out their orders impeccably and their need to see Malthur fall so that they can take his place. The chieftain must in turn balance between providing the captains with the information, recognition, resources and independence that they require to be an effective force, and to keep them from becoming so secure, influential and successful that they would seriously consider stabbing him in the back. The current predicament has benefitted Malthur in this respect since being surrounded by hostile forces makes it a bad time for mutiny and only the chieftain would appear to master the foreign conditions in the eyes of the common orcs. Especially among the uruks, the orc elite, Malthur has built a solid base of respect which no subcommander will manage to erode without a severe misfortune striking the expedition. Evidently not even the resistance of Gobel Ancalimon was not enough for that.

    Of his subordinate commanders Malthur rely the most on Muzul, the pale-skinned captain of one archer company which also serve as the chieftains enforcers of what passes for law and order among the orcs. I resist the word trust, as I sincerely doubt the chieftain would harbor that sort of feeling for anyone. Malthur, Muzul and Gorbag did meet in a smaller council, or at least sharing of drink and tales, where I was summoned to give account of Gondors view and knowledge of the lands further south, along the coast beyond Gobel Ancalimon, as well as the corsairs that nest there. The situation was as with other such occasions surreal. Being present there, I had ample opportunity to study the chieftain’s act. I do not understand exactly what Malthurs game is but some things stand out as particularly noteworthy. He is presenting and depicting me as a greater source of information about Harad than what is true, though I do not know why. I do however know that Malthur has someone or something else that has guided him south so far. If I had to speculate I would say that he took something from us, and that he did that after the defeat of Duinhir. Otherwise it would have been a sensible choice to march south to lure the rangers out from the forests and its hiding places, but that alternative was never mentioned.

    Furthermore, apart from the theatre of misleading, Malthur evidently considers my presence safer than a subordinate orc, which is logical in one way since I will not likely be tied to a rivalling orc faction but at the same time absurd given the orcs view of other races. Thanks to that I was not ordered away but remained to hear the orc leaders’ conversation about the object of the expedition. I findit of such particular interest and importance that I will attempt to narrate it word by word here, as I pride myself with always having had a fairly good memory. I will retell it as close to the real thing as I can so as to make the account as accurate as possible.



    Chapter VII - VIII

    Malthurs camp north of Gobel Ancalimon, the late summer of 2986

    Account of the conversation between the orc chieftains Malthur and Gorbag, with orc captain Muzul being also present


    The forces of Mordor are divided. Malthur is ill liked by several superior commanders but his remarkable successes and the amount of resources invested in his elite army has made them almost forced to continue supporting his campaign in some way. Their tool appears to be the orc chieftain Gorbag in particular but he is clearly less loyal to that cause than they must have expected. In typical Orcish fashion, it is not so much wanting to see Malthur succeed as to see the mutually hated overlords fail, if he can get away with it.

    “I tell ya, chieftain, you’ve gotten us all, us all uruks, into a bloody great fix, you have. Them higher people back home are looking at everyone sideways these days, like we’re all in some rebellion pact with each other.”

    “So what else is new? But why send you out if they think us all crooked?”

    “I get out of their way, and they can keep everybody in the dark about you while still not having anything to do with you flaming rebel curs should anything turn out to go wrong. But some things are still leaking out, as they always do.”

    “And they have you to inform them of my moves and thoughts too, eh?”

    “Course. What did you expect?”

    Malthur regarded Gorbag silently for a while while he returned the stare. It seemed like Gorbag at last felt obliged to say something more to explain himself.

    “You’ve got yourself to blame since you were the one who made off with my flaming army! What do you think my choices were then, you piece of filth!?”

    Malthur then sat strangely silent. Then, of all inconceivable things, his mouth seemed to be twitching. The murderous fiend was sitting and laughing quietly at it all. Muzul and Gorbag looked incredulously at him, Gorbag more openly so. Then the latter threw his wineskin at Malthur in irritation but Malthur just seemed even more amused and caught it in the air with apparent ease. He picked up another one, fuller, and tossed it back to Gorbag who had begun laughing on his own at the stupidity of it all, at least I think it would be of that.

    “Poor captain Gorbag, having to deal with such rebel scum as myself!”

    “Heh, on the other hand, everyone hates you more than the rest of us, so at least you’re good for something, you flaming thief. What’re you up to now, anyway? Gonna keep chipping away pieces of these snakes’ lands ‘til your hairs grey?”

    “The master spy probing, eh?”

    “Shut it.” Gorbag answered and took a deep swig.

    “Well, I’ve gotten a taste for the place. I think I’ll keep chasing those desert rats before me ‘til they turn to sea rats, which I have been told swim in gold and float in pearls. Sounds like it’s worth a visit.”

    “As expected, I guess.”

    “So? What about yourself and your sorry wheezing lot? Why are you here, apart from wishing to join my illustrious companies and wish us safe travels?”

    “The usual. We’re supposed to follow and mop up the sand snake remains after you’ve softened them up. Then put the finer loyal sand snakes back in place and go home. Flaming stupid expedition.”

    “What the hell are you talking about!? Explain yourself, you flaming fool!”

    “So you haven’t caught on to that yet? Looks like Foulfang is running a tighter shift than I thought. He’s here, you know, in charge or claiming to be in charge in any case.”

    “Wait, you mean this mouth black tark? Foulfang…suits him.”

    “That’s him, right. I am the mouth of the dark lord and whatever… He has kept us back to let you do your thing alone and meanwhile he has struck some kind of deal with the big snake, Khuzaymah I think he’s called.”

    “Yeah, that’s him.”

    “So, as far as I get it there are three kinds of the sand snakes. The big snake leads his most loyal tribes from the inner deserts, the poor and hardiest warriors. The ones you have struck are the fat ones, the traders and city snakes. And the third part are the sea snakes down south. So the big one, he’s bought himself some more time on the throne. He would be going straight to the cook pots for not keeping those corsairs in line and forcing us to march here to remind them of their place. But he’s made some kind of deal with Foulfang and gets to keep his throne in exchange for holding back his loyal warriors while we discipline the rest of the sand snakes, which he had failed to do himself. Bet he gets rid of a great deal of his own enemies at the same time.”

    “Flaming little snake maggot ! This wasn’t the plan! We can take them, I tell you! We can take it all, and have the stinking sea snakes serving properly instead of being some kind of lazy flaming leeches like now.”

    “Yuh, maybe. But that takes time and it’s you doing it so you would get the credit. Now Foulfang gets the credit because the changed plan is his plan.”

    “And I bet he’s yapping all he can about my boys being able to smash through the snakes just because he had dealt his deal with the big snake?”

    “Pretty much.”

    “That’s the flaming other way around! They come crawling to beg only because I brought them to their knees!”

    After this point the discussion became so full of insults and derogation that I will not bother recording it in detail. Malthur is in any case clearly bent on pushing through to the corsairs and take Umbar despite the machinations of this Mouth of the dark lord.Gorbags troops are reinforcing him and if the predictions prove correct there will not be much resistance to be expected before we reach the coast. Is this my fate, I wonder? To see Malthur rise to fight his own side?

    Whoever it will be that feels the full force of Malthurs army, I pity him. With Gorbag arrived not only troops but a sizeable amount of siege machinery, new spare parts for catapults and wagons and last and most terrible a great force of new trolls. These are even hardier and tougher than the usual mountain trolls, and clad in horribly thick and heavy iron plates on their chest and arms and head, wielding giant iron maces rather than clubs. I confess that merely watching them makes me shudder and imagine the sickening ways they could beat you to a bloody pulp. Among the orcs, these battle trolls are known as Olog-hai.

    Malthur at this point completed the final restructuring of his army, creating what would be his ultimate evolution of the uruk and troll force. It is constituted of four companies of heavy infantry and archers, all uruks, eight companies of troll catapults which make up its main striking arm and lastly the generals retinue and three companies of troll infantry as a mobile force. The signature formation is to divide the force in two equal halves, each becoming a miniature army in itself. The outermost flanks are guarded by the Olog-hai, the strongest troops of all, while the central, adjoining, flanks are held by the less armoured mountain trolls and the generals guard. Between these the heavy infantry takes position with archers behind them and catapults further back. Since the army is split, there will always be one half that has a good line of fire against an enemy, no matter how he may deploy his troops. Either one half will be able to shoot raking shots lengthwise across the formation or both will be able to shoot diagonally through the center of the enemy infantry where the general is most often positioned and the formations are deepest.

    To counter such a disposition one would of course wish to isolate one half before the other one can come to its assistance. But in the event of a massed cavalry assault - where the orcs may be inclined to use a more defensive formation in the first place - the catapult crews serve as four companies of mountain trolls in close combat which is a harsh predicament to face for any force of riders.

    On the plains of central Harad, this completed formation would be tried out against one of the Gondorian forces that had been trailing the orc armies.

    Their commander was a fool, and marched right into the jaws of the dragon.







    Chapter VII - IX

    Malthurs camp on the road between Ramlond and Umbar, the late summer of 2986

    Ramlond, the southern of the twin port cities in the great bay leading to the road and river towards Gobel Ancalimon, fell easily. Whether he was part of the last scattered remnants of the central mercantile factions that the chieftain Gorbag described or an abandoned corsair lord, the towns ruler Pharazon ended without aid from whatever allies he might have had.

    That ominous name is one that is not easily spoken without deeper thoughts. It was Ar-Pharazons folly and fall that dragged the great Numenor with him under the waves. Likewise, his was the kingdom and the armies whose very sight convinced the dark lord that in contest of arms he would be without hope of victory, and could only succeed by treason and deceit.





    Today, things are almost the other way around, as the corsairs are trying to buy Malthur over, but failing. Their representative, far too arrogant to hope to achieve anything, has been visiting the camp a couple of times, seemingly oblivious to the risk he is running of ending up as a tasty meal for his hosts. The thought of Malthur switching sides is rather interesting, though. At best, it would spark some sort of civil war between factions in Harad and make them destroy each other while the trolls withered down under the sun and heat.





    As we have trekked along the coast, the climate is far more pleasant. Wind and rain drift in from the sea, and water the otherwise very hot plains between the sea and the mountains. The mountain range force the sky to give up what water it carries with it and on the other side, there is consequently nearly waterless desert and the tribal Far Harad begins, trackless waste where only the native warbands can survive.

    There are lots trees and even woods along the coastal road, and not just bushes and the odd shrunken tree as before. There is not so much undergrowth though, not at all like the woods of Ithilien and Gondor. It has been said that the wood near Umbar is ill suited for building ships, so the corsairs mostly depend on timber bought from even further south, or taken from captured vessels. The ground is however rather fertile and together with the rains makes the land fitting for raising crops. Umbar is more or less self-sufficient when it comes to food and most other basic necessities. The mountains are mined for sparse metal and for marble, which they use to commemorate their unjust gains by building palaces and towers in honour of this or that pirate lord. Apart from that there is a large industry of fine textiles as well, also bought and worn by those same robbers.





    We have camped on a ridge where the “northern mountains” as they would be called here turn to hills and cliffs out along a peninsula protecting the great bay of Umbar. The valley before us is crossed by lots of caravans going along the coastal lands and to the settlements and towns further out, where many shipyards are. Beyond is another ridge and beyond that is the plain with the city itself. There lies another peninsula, creating the smaller, inner, bay of Umbar, making it the superb harbor that caused the city to be built and prosper from the beginning. What a glorious place it could have been under Gondorian rule, as it once were.

    After the grand but sorrowful victory of the last alliance Gondor grew and prospered, but plague came and our people fell in droves. Then strife and feuds and wars between our kin, and the rebels took the greater part of the fleets of that time, from its port in Pelargir, and sailed away. They fled to Umbar and from that time it was ever a nest of traitors and corsairs, at war with Gondor but especially so with Pelargir for which they held their greatest resentment. Those days are long gone and not a single ship from that time survives. Gondors shipbuilding has waned like all other things of glory, and the corsairs turned from the ways of constructing strong ships of war to faster crafts for raiding and overtaking other ships, relying on the ferocity of the crew more than the strength and armament of the ships. We will soon see what such vessels can do against the artillery of an army on the shore, if they can get close enough at all. For Umbar is a vast city and the walls to the east can not be defended from the sea, even from a ship anchored right next to the shore. Walls, and the promise of swift retribution sailing up from the sea along the rivers, has dissuaded the central factions of Harad, and the tribes of the deserts have no siege weapons up to the task. Malthur is not hampered by any of those things.





    Chapter VII - X

    Malthurs camp outside Umbar, the autumn of 2986

    Umbar. We are finally here. The home port of the hated corsairs. Their fleets are essential to the objective of the orcs campaign so let me elaborate somewhat about their characteristics.


    The corsair ships carry armament to clear the decks of enemy vessels – fast, easily reloaded ballistae that can be operated by one or two sailors – and a few longer ranged pieces to fire the grappling hooks at them. Some have reinforced their bow to create a ram but the tactic of ramming and sinking an enemy is not popular for there is little use in having the loot end up under the sea. Ramming a weaker spot such as the rudder can however disable the foe without sinking him, and also demand much less of the lightly reinforced corsair ships. With the triangular sails they can handle themselves well with the wind against them as well as with them and are highly maneuverable.


    The vast majority of Umbars fleets are of ships built in this manner. When the orcs arrived and began to surround the city their patrols and camp was frequently attacked by these fast raiders and their crews. Both sides suffered losses until Malthur had managed to fortify the shore on both sides of the city. Walls of earth and timbers – the latter perhaps unsuitable for large ships but sufficient for field fortifications – and thick roofs covered with wet hides protected the orc archers and the catapults from the quick volleys of the corsairs. And despite their speed, it wasn’t long before some of them caught fire from one of the expertly aimed catapult shots. The orcs bolted together crude gates of wood that they could shut before a catapult emplacement when reloading, to lessen the losses from the ships smaller ballistae. Only the less valuable lower ranks would now be exposed to the danger, but not the valuable trolls.

    When the attacks and the repelling of attacks from the sea had almost ceased, Malthur went to work on the walls. Now when the ships kept out of range the orcs felt more confident detaching catapults from the coastal defenses. Like at Gobel Ancalimon, they attacked several sections of the wall, and even such sturdy construction as that of Umbar would eventually crumble under the barrage of so many rocks. Tall and high and thick it was, but not of the same Numenorian craftsmanship as the outer walls of Minas Tirith, which are unbreakable by all known siege machinery.


    The garrison had to defend a vast area of the wall, with many openings and weak points. Not only would it stretch his resources but also burden his mind, for the soldier or town guard could not know from where the storming would come and all you do not know is that much more uncomfortable to think of and harder to prepare for. Even a desperate defense where there is no way out and no other option has a certain calm about it, simply by being predictable.

    On a dreary, dark day the orcs came. There was no subtlety or secrecy, for the catapults unleashed their rain of flames against the area near the eastern gate for hours before, and if anything it was a demonstration of how confident and unstoppable Malthurs army would be when they gathered and formed up in plain sight, in impeccable order with black banners rising over a black forest of metal. Because of the bombardment, the garrison had abandoned the wall, hiding further inside to cover from the catapults and prepare a counterattack or lure the orcs into traps and ambushes.

    Horns were sounded and Malthur sent forth his archers, and with them a great number of slaves and lower ranking orcs from the supply train, carrying bundles of wood and grass drenched with oil, of which there is plenty to be procured in Harad. If there was any quick attempt to stop them by the defenders I do not know, but the archers were with them to stop such a counter. The wood they piled up against the buildings close to the gate and tossed them up onto the flat roofs. As the carriers retreated, the orc archers lit their arrows aflame and fired a volley, igniting it all. Despite the dark clouds there had been no rain the last days and the wood caught fire easily, but there was still a dampness in the air and the fire burned with a dark and stinking smoke, as when forced to make a fire with damp firewood in autumn or winter.

    Now the garrison must have truly been unsettled, when the orcs seemed not even to wish to take the city but simply burn it to the ground. Also, the dark smoke began to obscure the air as the fire slowly spread, slow because of the wet weather. But Malthur did not attack the gate nor continue bombarding the city. The formations turned on the spot, south, and began their march at such speed as none would expect from orcs in such heavy armament. Hardened by the endless miles trekked through Harad, and now without the hated sun to torment them, the orcs moved like a hideous black tide along the city wall, to the breach at the southern gate.

    The walls of Umbar were taken without a single arrow being fired.


    Malthur ordered his infantry to take positions along the wall and block the main street from the central square where the corsairs would be gathering. The walls would prove just as good for defending against attacks from inside the city as well as outside. For a couple of hours there was a curious calm as the corsairs put out the last of the fires and gathered, while Malthurs artillery and it’s escorting infantry caught up at the south. Again, bombardment began, and houses caught flame. Whether or not he was pressed by this new reminder that the orcs could and would torch the city in time, the corsairs attacked. Not only the true ship crews, but also warbands and levies from the surrounding countryside. They met the uruk heavy infantry below the gate, putting spears and leather armor against halberds and plate. It was not a wise decision. All the time, the uruk archers on the wall had a perfect view and the lightly protected, massed horde was an archer’s dream of a target.


    Not all the enemies were so badly protected. The lords of Umbar did as well as other cities field their own serpent guard, the Haradrim bodyguards and elite soldiers in heavy mail and plate armor. On the battlefield they serve primarily as lancers, faster than Gondors knights and the finest medium cavalry one could wish for. Their shields are small, made for quick parrying of an enemy’s even quicker blade, but leaving little protection from arrows, and their horses are by far too inadequately armored to endure in the protracted melee that ensued near the gate. While the rest of the garrison wavered and broke, the serpent guard fought to the last. It was brave, impressive and useless.


    When the battle had finally ceased the street was buried in bodies and soaked in blood. All was red or painted with red, as the colour is also the most favored among the southrons. The orcs would not show any dislike for the sight though, apart from cherishing the thought of the grand feast that all the human meat could make. On Malthurs command they formed up in columns to march to the interior of the city and root out the last of the resistance.


    In the city’s central market square awaited one last surprise though. The Haradrim commander had remained with a token bodyguard, and some last companies of infantry, odd half-orcish beings that we know as nothing more specific than “troll men”, and also some artillery taken from the greatest of the ships. He probably regretted not having remained in the square and let the orcs come to him, where his catapults could have devastated the attacker coming through the narrow streets. Now was his last time for such parting gifts.


    But Malthur was not so foolish as to walk into that. His infantry turned on the spot as the catapults were being aligned to fire, and marched back behind the cover of the houses. From another side came a roar that shook the ground and the blood-freezing Olog-Hai rushed in and closed the distance before the catapult crews had time to aim. The last of the garrison ended smashed and torn to pieces by the twenty-two armoured mountain trolls.


    Umbar had fallen.


    Chapter VII - XI

    Malthurs camp west of Gobel Ancalimon, the autumn of 2986


    The loss of their capital did not mean that the corsairs were powerless, far from it. They still maintained control of the northern peninsula of the bay and the lands south of the city, with fortified cities and most of their shipyards. They could pose a serious threat to any invader seeking to occupy the region, as they could strike anywhere in moments compared to a landlocked army. The greater loss were the treasury, for Umbar did indeed hold the most of their wealth. In mansions and vaults the lions share of all their ill-gotten spoils had rested under armed guard. Through the hints and mutterings of turncoats and prisoners one could learn that various corsair lords had begun to move their treasures onto their own ships but the lord of the city had banned the practice, correctly assuming that it would weaken the owners resolve to defend the city. Since the lord of the harbor, as the real title of the office is, commanded the garrison he had the manpower to enforce such edicts.

    I mention this schism partially because it came to play some role in the negotiations between Malthur and the corsairs after the city was taken. The pirate lords, always seeking to gain the most by doing the least, opened with blaming the lord of the harbor for the lamentable misunderstandings that had led to this unfortunate and mutually detrimental situation and so on. Surely the two wise and powerful parties now assembled could devise a beneficial solution and let the destructive events come to a halt before future calamities engulfed them all. The tirades were surely tiring to listen through, as I was commanded to be present when the negotiations took place. I am not sure why Malthur wished it so, perhaps to display me as a prisoner trophy or perhaps simply to confuse the corsairs.

    Malthur in any case countered by just as readily feigning disinterest in the matter. Here he was, a good commander doing his duty and being sent to this forgotten end of the world, having to chase some pathetic bands of thieves dressed like walking tents when he and all other dutiful servants of the great eye should be marching on the Tark cities where the true fight would be. He sure did not want to remain in the south any longer than he had to.

    The excitement of the enemy representatives was quite embarrassing to see. Does excess wealth always turn men into such weak-minded fools? Now they got to the real point of the negotiations – the gold. Since the two esteemed parties were of similar mind, should they begin making arrangements for the return of the mighty orc army north? The great lords of the sea would of course be more than willing to provide them with supplies of whatever kind they required. And since this unnecessary conflict was now a thing of the past surely the items temporarily confiscated by the grand Malthur would be returned?

    I must say that I was quite interested by this point. Malthur did not disappoint and continued in the same manner, commenting on how the treasures would slow him down on the road but what could he do, a mere general just following orders? So he would have to bring the goods north so that they could be used to finance the war efforts should the need arise, and if there was anything left once the conquest was complete he was sure it would be returned to the lords of Umbar. They would just have to call upon the overseer in charge, who would be easy to find…in Pelargir.

    The haggling and slithering continued for a while but the message was clear. The corsairs were broke, and they could either chose to join with Mordors armies and strike at the Gondorian fleet directly and maybe receive some of their wealth as compensation, or they could resume their customary raiding and start building up their fortunes again in the traditional way, which would distract and divert the defending fleet all the same.

    The negotiations were concluded without any treaty or agreement but when Malthur departed soon after no attempts were made to stop him or attack the supply train with the riches taken.

    The trek north was comparably uneventful. The weather was calming somewhat as summer had turned to autumn and the enemy was by now far too intimidated by Malthurs force to pose any serious threat. Near Ramlond a half-panicked band of raiders commanded by a brigand or corsair called Sakalkhór sought to waylay him and make off with some of the rumored corsair treasure, but the orc scouts spotted them and Malthur proceeded to bombard them to ashes. He is known now as the Lord of Terror among the Haradrim, an epithet that I unfortunately find all too accurate. Can anything stand against this monster now?

    Gobel Ancalimon is surrounded. The Gondorian armies that occupied the northern Harad coast and trailed Malthur during the advance south in the spring have moved south and encircled the city, patrolling the countryside and cutting it off from supplies. The garrison is strong though, and the walls have been repaired. Gondor controls the two main bridges west and east of the city. If Malthur can be lured to one and assaulted when making the crossing, perhaps he can be seriously hurt. But they are too few, far too few… Orc scouts report reinforcements coming from the north, probably having guarded the road against their orc counterparts.


    If my countrymen can not stop Malthur here he will come for Gondor. Maybe at once, maybe after settling the score with the black Numenorian overlords of his. And the corsairs sail for her coasts as well, there is no point in hoping otherwise. The campaign south has neither weakened nor disrupted the enemy, on the contrary he is now more united than in many years. And the sky will still rain fire on all that stands against the dark lord. What have I done, to have been a part of this, to have made this come to be!? My people! My poor people!


  6. #6
    joerock22's Avatar Leader of Third Age HS
    Content Director Citizen Gaming Staff

    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Connecticut, USA
    Posts
    4,888

    Default Re: [AAR] An Orc's Tale (Third Age MOS AAR)

    Chapter VIII

    Chapter VIII - I
    The two volleys of fire rose so seemingly slowly in the air, as they always seemed until the tarred and oiled rocks were starting to descend against you. One from the orc army straight ahead that would hit his companies from the front and one from his left that could impact lengthwise into a formation and be far more devastating. Captain Naeron of Gondor wondered if he should turn and swing his army to aim between the two hosts? But it was about time to think of such things now. In the distance he could see Amon Eithel. He cursed that little town now, for it had indeed been nothing but a curse for Gondor, lying here far too far south to be sensible, with little to gain from crop or vineyard that could not be gotten elsewhere without presenting your bared throat to the southron raiders, or the orcs for that matter.

    The orcs had shattered the siege of Gobel Ancalimon and one half of the force, divided in two armies of about two and a half thousands each, that Naeron belonged to was trailing the orcs north as they tried to reestablish contact with the rest. The other half of the southern armies were somewhere west of the orcs, but Naeron believed they had been more scattered by the initial attacks. His own reinforcements would be less than a day away he believed, and if it wasn’t for Amon Eithel he was sure he could have maintained a distance to the enemy and found them. Then they could coordinate their actions. Or could have coordinated their actions, for the battle had not gone well and they had not even engaged the enemy line yet.


    Duinhir had ordered that Amon Eithel should be retaken, and it had diverted troops from the north when the damned orc chieftain made his second major attack. All because of some sentimental idea that because it was Dinethors residence and Dinethor had bloodied the orcs the most the town was important beyond all reason. The result was the disasters that had plagued the entire year 2985 with massacre after massacre until Istdor had finally saved the last remnants of the Gondorian armies from yet another humiliating defeat.

    Beyond the orc army the little town could be seen. Its wooden palisades would not survive for long. Unfortunately, the town was still better than a camp in the middle of the steppe and it had been garrisoned and used as a supply base by Gondors armies in Harad. Its captain, Bregdor, had just over 1300 defenders with him, a strong force in a fortified position but more trapped than protected now. They needed to move out and most of all move the wounded and infirm out now, while he occupied the attention of the main orc army.


    Chapter VIII - II
    Bregdor, castellan of Amon Eithel if such a grand term could be applied, angrily ordered a group of townspeople with their wagons and packs to get out of the way. What were they thinking, trying to leave the towns walls now with an enemy army in sight? Had not the army of Gondor proven worthy of more trust than this? The commoners should show some faith, you had to be able to rely on people this close to the enemy lands. It was not like in western Gondor where he had been posted for most of his career, where the occasional poacher and bandit gang was the only danger, apart of course from the men getting sloppy with too little to challenge them. But he was the man for keeping the shift tight and see to it that orders were followed, Bregdor, a captain you could depend on to follow orders and stand by the rules. That was the problem these days - that people did not do what they were assigned. Everyone had to shoulder the burden they were assigned in life and show a little trust. That is what had made Gondor great, you trusted in the steward and the lords, you trusted in your commander and did your part. Victory and prosperity were the rewards.

    The orcs were setting up their encampment east of the town. They had not surrounded it, that was true, and they seemed mostly concerned with defense instead of making sure the town and its garrison was shut in. But Bregdor would not be tempted. He would hold his position and his lord would relieve the garrison and lift the siege. That’s what Gondors lords did, if you just did your duty and knew your place.


    The first bombardment came in the evening. The simple watchtowers near the gate and the walls next to them were hit and gave way. That was not a big setback, the enemy was after all in sight already, to say the least, and the wall was only an obstacle, not a key in the defense. The true wall was the garrison itself and they remnants of the wall would break up orc formations when they came to storm the gate. Then Gondors infantry could counterattack. It was simple, really, and it was according to tried and tested military doctrine that had served Gondor well.



    Bregdor moved a couple of infantry regiments to the town square to be ready to counter an assault of the gate. The casualties were unsettling and the square was not protected from the artillery outside the walls. The lookouts had reported that the orc catapults were very close to the wall now and it was in a way a tempting target for a surprise attacks. But the barrage was so constant that he did not see how they could come close with enough strength to gain the upper hand in a melee. Those trolls were said to be very strong and hard too. No, it ws the right call to stand their ground inside, enduring until help would come. Night was almost upon them, but the next day would bring relief. Their lords would see to that.




    Bregdor fixed his eyes on the horizon. He could see far from the house he had climbed onto but even so it was hard to make out anything clearly. The air was so thick with smoke and hot air from all the fire. Was it not something that moved over there? Those faint shapes, had they been there before? They seemed to be moving in the dazzling air.

    "We will be relieved..."

    Now the trolls had encircled the last defenders and were eating their way through to the middle, there was no other word for the way they grinded down the stout Gondorian companies.

    "Just hold on for a short while longer. Help will come. Our lords watch over us. We must have faith...

    The fighting broke off into a disoriented melee as formations broke and each soldier attempted to fight his way out in whatever direction. But it only served to make the bloody work easier for the foe.

    "We followed orders. The lords watch over us! They watch! They..."

    An Uruk arrow felled Bregdor and he slid down from the rooftop and fell on the square in front of the bloody armoured trolls. As their feast began, smoke rose steadily during the coming windless day from the burned houses, telling even such distant spectators as the Gondorian reinforcements of the end of Amon Eithel.




    Chapter VIII - III

    Word soon reached the northern neighbor of Amon Eithels end. Nindad Estolad was the largest Gondorian settlement south of Anduin, from where one of the main roads south began. The place was a natural point for a settlement, where the river running from Tir Ethraid in southernmost Ithilien joined the Anduin and formed a large bay, ideal for mooring a large number of ships relatively well protected from harsh weather. Only the exposed position on the wrong side of the great river and the lack of nearby forests with good timber had prevented the place from growing into a massive shipyard. The bay was treacherous, though, with sand banks that shifted over time and shallow in many places so that great high seas vessels could not enter without risk. Along with that, the currents were shifting and treacherous where the two rivers met in the bay. Therefore Gondor had chosen Pelargir to be the home port of her navy, where the river ran deeper and steadier.

    The town itself was built on low hills a little south of the bay for the lower ground was swampy and would be flooded in the spring when the Anduin ran especially swift. The higher ground was an asset in times of war as well, but with an enemy well supplied with siege weaponry the marshy ground may have been the better defense. As the middle of the autumn passed, the first refugees from Amon Eithel reached Nindad Estolad and added their tales to the reports of scouts and sentries that had watched from afar. Not only the orcs but Haradrim raiders were on the move again, riding up through Ithilien and harassing the Gondorian troops in the region, having forced Gondor to devote a large force to check them. One that would have been much needed to keep Nindad Estolad safe.



    Malthur stared intensely at the scout. He had started to get used to his subordinates cowering in terror, to the point here he almost welcomed someone with the spine to meet his glare, like Muzul and some half-dozen other captains. The report was quite incredible, though, so the sniveling maggot might have his reasons to shiver.

    “WHERE have they gone, then?”

    “Uhm, some of them tark archers still hide in the houses and one of us caught an arrow, see, but they be a decoy, and them other tark, they be setting up the camp in the marshes by the big river. They have patrols out and we cannot get close, but we can spy wood walls and wood roads through the swamp so they can move quick.”

    “So, they’ve been planning this for some time, huh… Can the catapults make it through the swamp to firing range?”

    “No chief, too heavy. We were sinking with the boots most times so not even heavy troops will make it through that with any speed.”

    “Figures. Muzul! Set up the catapults and burn down the damned town to start with. Take a band inside afterwards and see if there’s anything worth taking, but don’t hold back on the fire for the sake of spoils. We have more than enough to last us for months.”

    Malthur arbitrarily ordered a camp to be set up. This would be a long-winded mess. What were the whiteskins up to? They holed up on the eastern side of the bay, where there was neither hills nor trees, but only that unsteady ground. Sure, that would delay him but he would find a way through eventually. But he didn’t like having the fight near the river. It disturbed him. That large mass, it whispered of evil towards all orcs and waited to drown them if it could. No orc he knew of had any fondness for the rivers or the sea.




    The smoke from the still smoldering ruins of the town obscured the next morning, mixed with the common mist from the river. The orcs camp was ready, lying next to the hill with the town and at some distance from the river. Malthur was calling his captains to a war council. He had a fairly clear idea of what would need to be done but it never hurt giving the pack the impression that they were of some importance, and occasionally they coughed up something half sensible. He had included Cirion but he was starting to tire of the tarks recent surly mood. That whiteskin maggot had apparently grown comfortable with Malthur chewing up people he didn’t give a about anyway, and wasn’t too keen on him turning back to smashing the tarks. Well, that resentment might still provoke something useful, who knew?

    “So, listen up you louts. As you should know by know if you’ve been paying attention to our scouts the whiteskins of the town are holed up in the swamps and marshes next to the small river here. We don’t know if they wait for reinforcements from the big river or something else. The swamp’s too wet for catapults and trolls, and heavy troops move like slugs. The whiteskin’s position’s fortified with wooden walls and such and they are likely adding more as we speak. Any bright ideas?”

    “Night attack. We surround their camp in the darkness and attack with a broad line.”

    “Worthless. We’d need to bring rams, lots of them, to make it work and then we’re back to siege weapons in the mud, you idiot! Besides, the whiteskins will hear us from miles away and even the last stretch closest to the walls will be a bloody mess. They are going to have good positions for their archers among those walls.”

    “Spoken like a flaming tark yourself. Where’s your spine, coward?!”

    “Where’s your wits, maggot?!”

    “Break it off! Let me hear something with a pinch of sense in it for a change.” Malthur glared irritably at the captains.

    “Why do we need to storm the place at all? They’re trapped. They’re not going anywhere and we can wait ‘n starve ‘em out.”

    “That can take flaming months. You want to sit here for months staring at the water, go ahead.”

    “And where are you goin’, then? Off to some little fun trip when the job got too boring for ya?”

    “I – chief, what are the orders?”

    Malthur grunted. At least some of them remembered who was in charge, but he would have liked some more wit inside their heads.

    “We’re not going to stay here for months, that’s for sure. But I’m flaming not leaving that little dung heap untouched just because we’re in a hurry. I want those tark scum burned when we’re done, so cough up something better!”

    “Can we lure ‘em out, then, and tear them up in the open?”

    “Now we’re talking! But they are a cautious bunch and we don’t have any tark prisoners or such to bait ‘em, but feel free to dress up and call to them for help!” The chiefs comment was followed by some good-natured and some malicious laughs. “More! Keep the ideas coming, you witless maggots!”

    “The real fix here is the ground, right? If it wasn’t for the flaming swamp we would have torn them apart by now.” The captain that had spoken was Lugduf, the youngest as far as he knew and head of a portion of the catapults. He had done his job so far but had little influence and respect. The artillery crews rarely had.

    “Figured that out already? Smart!”

    “Screw you. What I’m saying is, why can’t we do something about it? If the whiteskins fortify, so can we. Then we fight on steady ground and they are done for.”

    “Have you looked at that marsh!? It’s flaming huge, it’s gonna take months finding timber to build all ‘round it, you fool!”

    “Well, why don’t you go out there and start chopping then, so you can make yourself for a change, you filth!?”

    “Why, you pathetic little…”

    “SILENCE!” Malthur bawled at them but did not rise from his seat. It seemed like it was time to make a decision. “You lot don’t impress me much, but Lugduf came closest to something making sense here. Bring rocks and wood to the closest part of the swamp, and start laying down some solid road and platforms for the catapults in firing range of the enemy palisades. We can take stone and timber from what’s left of the tark town, the walls were left largely intact.

    “Chief, the tarks are gonna notice this for sure. Won’t they be massing to that one portion of their wall when they see us sieging it?”

    “And since when is tarks gathering and massing within firing range, front of our artillery instead of spreading out, a flaming problem?”

    “Er…heh…I see what you mean there, chief.”

    “Caught on, at last? Only took you too long time. Let the whiteskins come! Let them see us and shiver and come to stand in line to be torn to pieces! Lugduf! You’re in command of the sieging. Requisition whatever the hell you need but the catapults had better be firing when I come by to inspect, got it?”

    Walking out of the tent, the orc chieftain suddenly remembered the days of overseeing the road workers in the middle of Gorgoroth. Here he was, years later and chieftain over Mordors mightiest army, and yet still commanding a flaming road building rabble!


    Chapter VIII - IV
    The cries from the shore awoke Cirion early in the morning. He felt stiff and cold after the heat of Harad, despite the autumn being neither gone too long and the weather being mild this far south in Gondor. The wind blew from the east, dull and dry.

    “Sails!”

    “Chieftain, boats on the river!”

    Cirion rolled out of his blanket, having slept under a piece of canvas next to one of the supply wagons. Had he been dreaming? No. Boats?

    He rubbed his eyes and squinted in the light, irritably thinking that he was acting like an orc, overly sensitive to the meagerest of sunlight.

    The road from the town on its hill turned several times on its way down to the shore, descending down grassy slopes and next to eroding cliffs closest to the shore. Malthur stood with several uruks and lesser orcs, probably scouts of some kind, and stared across the bay. Small white sails were approaching, keeping out from either shore. They had to be fishing boats or something of similar size, possibly small time traders as well. Were they trying to rescue some of the trapped people, or were they here to scout or bring news?


    Cirion began to regret letting curiosity get the better of him and going down to the shore so quickly. With the dull daily routines and dreary turn of events of the campaign as they were moving north he would have welcomed anything to take his mind off the misery but in this case he probably shouldn’t have been so hasty. Maybe he shouldn’t have gotten near the orc chieftain at all at this moment. Just as he was about to turn back his worries were confirmed.

    “Ah! Cirion, our whiteskin councilor! Come forth! Clearly you are as captivated by this flaming little rafts as the rest of us and eager to tell us why the hell they are here and how the hell I will burn them up as quickly as possible!

    Cirions mind raced. What could he do? What answer would make things as little bad as possible? If he could fool the orc chieftain into thinking that the boats were naval vessels, now that might distract the orcs and force them to spend their energy on…what, really? He did not know. Could he cook up a tale of a clearly planned relief that the boats would be scouting in preparation for? Hard, but maybe not unthinkable. Then what?

    No. Enough with all lies and deceit for the sake of it. He did not know what to do. He could not read the orc chieftain like that. The only thing he did know was that those boats were not crewed with soldiers but with Gondorian common sailors and fishermen. A Gondorian soldier did not use his people as a distraction or a bait. A Gondorian soldier protected his people.

    “They are local craft I think. Those are unarmed small trading or fishing boats, they’re no threat to you.”

    “I find that hard to believe. What are they doing here, in that case? Fishing under the nose of the enemy?”

    Cirion wondered if the orc was just playing with him, but to tell the truth he had little choice but to play along in that case. Suddenly he was filled with disgust about the orcs and all they stood for and of himself. Those desperate sailors in the bay were a hundred times more worthy than him.

    “They are here to rescue their kin! A strange thought it must truly be for you people, who see only a new back to stab when you look around among your fellow orcs!”

    Malthur seemed taken aback for a moment. Then he almost seemed to chuckle a little at Cirions outburst.

    “Well! Of course! But more to the point, whiteskin, why are those brave flaming heroes in the middle of the bay then and not sticking close to the friendly shore to keep as far away from my catapults as they can? Seems to me, that they might be doing a bit of scouting after all, wouldn’t you say?”

    Cirion cursed inwardly. He was trapped again between revealing information he did not want or risk consequences that may prove even worse. There was nothing to do about it now though.

    “They have to sail in the middle because the bay is filled with sand banks and they change shape and drift over time. Only the middle part is safe until you reach the harbor or some other known place to drop anchor or go ashore.”

    The orc chieftain eyed the bay again, with intense eyes focusing on the small vessels. Cirion felt the now very familiar uneasiness rise inside him, racking his brain with questions of what Malthur had really gotten out of his information.



    It was the second day after the first boats had been spotted. Cirion could see Malthur walking around barking orders closer to the shore, sending runners and groups of workers and soldiers hurrying in different directions. He knew nothing of what the orcs were up to, but he knew that they were up to something and that this something could have very much to do with what he had revealed to them.

    As far as he knew, the orcs continued to crawl closer to the Gondorians in the swamp, slowly building a road of rocks and sand and logs across the mud that would give way to the watery swamp. The palisade of Nindad Estolad was steadily disappearing but there was something more than the road that received a good deal of timbers since this day. He could not for his life guess what Malthur was building, though. Perhaps a new camp for the orcs, anticipating a counterattack? Not that there seemed to be any army close by capable of beating them back, but at the same time Malthurs reinforcements were limited and did not come in a steady stream, so he would want to avoid fighting unless it was with as many advantages as possible.



    The orcs did surely fear water. But they feared their commander even more. Cirion had been puzzled when he first saw orcs and the human workers north of the town wading into the water with logs and planks and stone. When the first parts for the bridge had arrived from the other parts of the camp where they were being assembled he had been surprised. Of all crude things the orcs might build, a bridge was amongst the last. Some of the most unlucky had the task of paddling simple rafts back and forth to bring new parts and material further out, together with that which was brought along the bridge, or whatever it was. So far it was a pontoon bridge growing out of the shore, kept in place by poles driven into the soft bottom of the bay. What was it for? Was Malthur going to build some sort of fortified harbor?

    When the rope was being gathered on the shore Cirions surprise had started to turn into uneasiness, and then into worry. There was nothing strange with rope in itself. Every army needed it for tents, for loading goods, for siege machinery, for a great deal of mundane things. The orcs had restocked their supplies of this commodity in Umbar like everything else they thought they might need, and of course it was plenty to be had from the shipyards west of the city. But while moderately thick rope was used to build everything from tents to the bridge now being constructed, the thickest and heaviest kind had some very specific uses. Twined and twisted, it could power a catapult, although the orcs favored counterweights instead to supply the force needed to lob a stone far enough. Mines and mills could need such gigantic lines for the heaviest mechanisms and a few times he had seen them in cranes used to bring materials to the construction or repairing of large buildings. But their best known appliance, among a people of seafaring traditions, was as the anchor cable of great ships.

    Cirion eyed the middle of the bay. There weren’t any sand banks there but how deep was it? Not deep enough to allow naval vessels to navigate safely. Was it deep enough to prevent an attacker from anchoring a pontoon bridge across it?

    He wished the little fishing vessels would make haste. They needed to bring his people out of that marsh and they needed to do it soon.


    Chapter VIII - V
    It was just a skeleton of the boat left. The mast was just a stub. The stern was blackened but intact, but the bow was nothing but a few disfigured beams, like the rib cage of some marine creature washed up on the shore. The charred body inside was definitely human though. The sailor must have been hit by an arrow, there was no other possible reason why he wouldn’t have jumped from the flames otherwise, and hopefully he had died before the flames got to him. Hopefully. The sailor had done what he could to save his people. He had failed, but he had tried. There was no shame in that. Indeed, that was a man a hundred times worthier than he. Cirion quietly raised his hand over his chest and saluted him. It felt right, in some strange way.

    Cirion looked up. The orcs were loading another batch of crates on their rafts. The crates were crude and hollow, filled with stones. When dropped in sufficient number they acted as anchors for the pontoon bridges parts further out where poles could not reach the bottom without being so long that they would have to be either unstable or far too heavy to work with. They had bolted together more rafts. It must have been from one of those, tied to the bridge to act as a watchtower, that the little fishing boat was shot. As far as he could tell, the bridge covered half the deep area of the bay now, allowing two men to pass each other but otherwise having little in the ways of protection for anyone on it. Perhaps it was the orcs characteristic lack of concern for their troops showing, just like when Malthur had used a loose line of spearmen to draw the enemy into catapult range and linger there, but Cirion was becoming more and more convinced that the main function of the bridge was to keep the boats from reaching the trapped soldiers and townspeople. He stared out at the mouth of the bay. He couldn’t see any sails. They knew they could not reach his people in the marshes.



    It was two days since the bridge had reached over the deep part. It was now a great wooden boom that together with the sand banks effectively blocked the inner bay for practically all vessels. No boats had come since then. A few sails had been spotted in the distance but not approached. Still the orcs were building, on several sites next to the shore. Perhaps they wanted to be as prepared as possible for the last stretch, if they really were going to conduct a seaborne assault. The siege on land crept closer too, step by step into the watered ground the log road grew and the catapults rolled ever closer, the armored uruks marching right behind them. That orc captain in charge, Lugduf, seemed to be making good time.

    What would he had done in the Gondorian commanders position? Of course given his particular history the first answer on anyone's lip would be to repeat his last actions as the Gondorian captain that he no longer could call himself. But apart from that, if he had to hold such a position? They had to buy more time over there in the swamps. That would mean getting further from the lumbering siege force under Lugduf. But it was easier thought than done, no doubt. Even if the townspeople were unarmored they had to carry heavy loads of supplies and the nights were getting colder. With the wet mists and watery ground it would not be long before sickness overtook many if they moved further into the swamps beyond the campsite they had no doubt spent some time preparing. Besides, there was no telling where one might find another beach suitable to land on, which in the long run presented their only hope for rescue. Cirion realised he was speculating. He didn't know nearly enough about the swamps and mires in this part of the realm to make a remotely reasonable guess.



    Two more days were about to pass since the closure of the bay, or more precisely the inner part of the bay. Feeling that he was slowly going insane Cirion had made it a point to find out as much as he could about what the orcs actually were building. He knew that he put himself in danger by doing so, there was always a risk in straying to far from the chieftain and his bodyguard and among less disciplined elements that might feel like taking out their rage of whatever of the innumerable things the orcs raged about on the closest human at hand. But the army was too busy for such distractions it appeared. The orcs had indeed built a good deal more rafts. The were spread out along the shore between the boom and the main camp near the former town. Would Malthur actually dare a waterborne assault? No, Cirion would not repeat that old mistake. Of course he would dare it, and of course he could make his army do it in some way. The question was if it would be worth the risks, with Lugduf having nearly reached the townspeople's fortified camp by now. Cirion actually doubted that, but why then was Malthur gathering those rafts?

    What the hell was that on the water? Cirion shielded his eyes from the afternoon sun. Then he ran towards the shore.



    Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three... Cirion lost count of them but none the less, twenty-three sails were at the mouth of the bay. What kind of vessels were they, and what were they trying to achieve? They had to know the boom was there.

    Now he could make out the types. About half were small time trading vessels or larger fishermen. The other half were a motley collection of traders of medium size, but Cirion knew such vessels could have quite a shallow draft for their size, built to run cargo close to the coasts from city to city. But one vessel stood out. It was no merchant. It was a great naval vessel, of the largest kind, the Alcarondas or "castle of the sea". With high and thick freeboard, raised fore- and aft-castles like towers, she was the pride of the realm and a match for anything that sailed out of Umbar, provided she could catch it. She was not slow, but her sails were cut for making the most of when she had the wind with her and she could neither sail nor maneuver well without it. What was her captain thinking, going into such a narrow confine as this bay?


    But Cirion had been mistaken. He could see now two more vessels, rowed sloops ahead of the Alcarondas and towing her which kept her course true and her speed up. The sails were hauled as close as practicable to lend some aid to the rowers but it was clear that they did the most of the work. The merchant vessels had veered to the side, keeping as far north in the bay as they dared, far away from the orcs.

    The wind seemed to grew in strength somewhat, as if wanting to aid this incursion, and soon the ships were within bowshot from the bridge. But no uruk archers defended it, having retreated to the shore after a mere glance at the might of this opponent. Shouts could be heard and the rowers increased their pace and all three vessels were picking up speed. From the massive bow the two towing cables stretched and creaked, having until then been somewhat slackened.


    The rowers were perfectly synchronized, to the point where they could just as well have been two many-armed sea monsters having taken command of the sloops. On a second command, the pace increased even more, and then even more. The speed of the ship now inspired nothing but awe, and Cirion had the time to wonder what must go through the luckless enemy seeing such a nightmare overtaking his own vessel. At least on land, the castles stood still. On land, they did rise over you as some old dragons jaw about to crash down on your ship and devour it.

    Three ship-lengths from the boom the rowing sloops broke off to either side, untying their cables as they veered away from the path of the Alcarondas. The great ship glided through the water, carried by its own momentum on a course to ram the obstacle at its weakest part.




    Chapter VIII - VI
    The wood did not crack, but splinter. Cirion could hear it well. It was a sound of weaker wood being crushed and it was fittingly accompanied by the rupturing of rope as the anchor cables, already stretched by the wind which pulled the pontoons inward, that could not endure the impact. Dried and weather-bitten planks and poles from a small towns palisades and houses was no match for stout oak, reinforced by carefully tarred steel on the forward side, driven into it by the weight of the Alcarondas.

    The two halves of the boom were pushed outward and forward from the bow of the ship, the anchors dragging along the bottom where the cables hadn't torn. One of the sloops followed the Alcarondas, it's crew receiving a pair of lines from the ships crew and coming up on the side to help the greater vessel turn. Cirion could see her already shifting and reducing her sails to slow down and help the rudder work. The other rowed sloop was attacking the broken up boom. With several anchor cables cut and with the northern third of it on its own the construction was pitifully vulnerable to the assault from a maneuverable boat and the axes of its crew. More cables were cut, and next the many layers of rope that held two pontoon sections together, allowing it to follow with the waves to lessen the risk of damage from rough weather. A large section of the boom broke free and was starting to float towards the innermost part of the bay and the mouth of the river, the wind currently being stronger than the current.

    Cirion felt himself smiling. It was odd. When had he last done that? He could not remember. He could see the other ships nearing slowly, having already hoisted their sails. With just a bare, bare minimum of fortune the orcs could be held off long enough for the townspeople to embark. They couldn't be multitudes like the people of cities like Dol Amroth, and merchant vessels could take a perplexing amount of cargo for their size. Now, with the sloops to help them maneuver and so short a distance to cross, they would hardly need any provisions and could load more people than would be safe under common circumstances. Cirion decided that he could do with some bread and drink, even the stale and dull kind that he had to make do with these days. He would bring his spare cloak that he used as blanket as well and sit down to watch the sun set over the bay and his kinsmen in the distance across the bay. For once, Malthur would not despoil the day.

    As he thought about the orc chieftain, Cirion looked around for him. He wasn't worried, not really. There was no way Malthur could turn this around. There. The orc was standing on the shore along with a group of captains, seemingly giving orders. He looked collected, but that did not say much for Cirion knew that he was capable of great focus of his wrath even when he was furious. He shook his head. No, he was just being paranoid. Now he would get his cloak.



    The evening passed without incident and the orcs made no visible attempt to reclaim or repair the bridge or otherwise attack the Gondorians. Cirion sat up until the sun had almost set and watched the ships in the distance and what he imagined must be the people preparing to embark the next day. Despite the warming sights, sleep did not come quickly and he dreamt of something unknown threatening, watching and casting its shadow over him. When he awoke it was still dark, not yet dawn and the air was thick with mist, wet and sticky. He wondered if he could roll over and go back to sleep but he was too cold, and something gnawed at his mind. He could not put his finger on what it was. It was something like a hangover after a fine and very late feast, when the bleak daily routines came back pounding on your door. Sighing, Cirion rose and wrapped his cloak tight around him. He saw movement ahead of him and squinted in the dim light. Orcs were hurrying to the shore. What did that mean?

    Cirion followed them to the slope next to the sand and rocks bordering the water. There were a lot of movement on the shore and he could hear the splashes from the orcs rafts as well. It seemed as if they were doing something with the bridge, were the orcs dismantling it? For some time he could not make more sense of it but the fog was lifting and the wind was starting to increase and Cirion could see further. The bridge was intact in itself but the orcs seemed to be removing the rope for the anchor cables. That made some sense of course, the thick rope was precious for an army relying so heavily on siege equipment. But something felt wrong. Why were they bringing the poles used for fastening in the shallow water ashore as well? Cirion walked closer, straining to hear what was going on. He could not distinguish among many of the orcs, one hateful grunting sounding much like the other, but he recognized Muzuls voice, Malthurs second in command and seemingly most trusted captain. As much as orcs trusted anyone, that was.

    "Right lads, hold it steady! Steady! So! Better! Come on then, you slugs, tar it up!

    Tar. What the hell was going on?

    Orcs were scampering out on the bridge, held steady mostly by other orcs pulling a couple of lines tied to the shore end of it. They carried with them the cauldron-like pots used for the tar when the army prepared the catapults flaming ammunition. Some of them, in characteristic impracticalness of the mindless thrall, started pouring the tar on the bridge closest to the shore, even before the orcs further out had completed their task. More pots were being handed out from further inland. It seemed that some large enterprise was in motion. Now Cirion could smell the characteristic scent of the tar in the air. Soon large parts of the boom had been covered in thick string of tar and the orcs hurried ashore, taking care to avoid the unpleasant substance. Muzul was shouting new orders.

    "Don't slacken off, maggots! Are the poles up on the right side? They better, or I will have your filthy hides! Now, nice an' steady, let it slip out!

    Cirion noticed that the ropes were not tied to the boom but ran around poles on it. Now when the orcs let go of one end the pontoons, let loose from the anchors and poles on the inner side, started to drift out into the bay, like a gate hinged on something further out. As if to confirm his line of thought, Muzul spoke to the orcs returning from the bridge.

    "Are the lazy maggots ready out there?"

    "Aye, and we cut the rope almost through and tarred soaked it in tar we did, so they just have to tickle it to break through when it's time."

    "They better, if they know what's good for 'em!"

    Cirions mind was working now, his reasoning part drawing conclusions on its own while the rest of him felt a cold dread creeping up. The boom was turning now slowly, and would do so until it was lying parallel to the orcs and Gondorians' sides of the bay. Then someone further out, who must be in one of their rafts, would cut the other end and the boom consequently would drift with the broadsides first. And the wind carried it east...

    "A pretty sight, ain't it?"

    Cirion twitched and his cold neck muscles strained from the sudden jerk. He had been so lost in thought that Malthur had appeared behind him, his heavy footsteps and his bodyguards sounds dampened by the wet.

    "And it's gonna get even finer. Watch."

    "Muzul! Are you gonna light that campfire up this year or what!" Malthur bellowed to his captain but in a good-humored tone. Muzul looked around.

    "I was thinking we wait 'til its straightened out?"

    "Nah, it's enough as it is. Doesn' matter if one end hits them before the other, it might even cut 'em off if the outer end comes at 'em first."

    "Yes, chief. You there! Light it up! And don't miss now, you filthy rats!"

    Uruk archers waited around several fires. They now each ignited their arrows and took aim at the pontoons. Most of the arrows hit, and after a second volley Cirion could see fires spreading despite the lingering mist.

    "The boys out there on their little raft will have a little surprise now." Muzul did not sound particularly concerned.

    "Heh, that's right. Well, now they will know for sure that it's time to cut the cables..."

    "Is Lugduf ready?"

    "Eager as a warg. If not, he'd still have one hell of a wake up call when he sees this little torch."

    "Not to mention the tarks. Ha!"

    "Hehe... Ah, Cirion! Come here!"

    Malthur seemed deceptively cheerful. Cirions mind was grinding. They were sending a gigantic wall of flame against the Gondorian ships, anchored near the shore and perhaps already loading up with goods and people. If it did not burn out before it had drifted across the bay, and if the mariners in their fast sloops could not catch and tow the wretched thing away, if the crews could not get their vessels out of the way...

    "What do you think, whiteskin? Will this be enough to catch our hated enemy?" The tone was venomous and it was crystal clear that Malthur was aiming a kick at Cirion resentful behavior lately with this reminder that Cirion after all marched under the banner of Mordor and nothing else. Cirion felt his heart beating. The burning pontoons had not reached the far shore yet. It was not over.

    "The wind is yet weak. There would be a poor mariner that could not out-navigate a drifting bridge."

    Malthur nodded, with demonstrative thoughtfulness.

    "My thoughts exactly! But luckily we have prepared this nice little bunch of rafts as well! It is high time to launch them, wouldn't you say? See, we learned to keep track of the wind when chasing your little ranger fellows in that cursed wood on the east side of the river. Helps to know if you can count on catching the scent of ‘em or not before they nail you into a bramble twig. And it turns out that the wind comes from the west here as well as there right after it’s lightening up.”

    Cirion knew he was right. Apart from the White Mountains that acted as a northern border there were not much in the way of hills or highlands to obstruct the wind in Gondor. The sea breeze blew from the west in the morning most days, and carried the scent of water even into Minas Tirith. It was another reason why the dawn and morning was so appreciated and filled with hope and encouragement.

    “Now, I ain’t no master sailor but as far as I am aware, if the wind blows one way, stuff on the water will float that way.”

    The orc chieftain pointed to their right, towards the inner bay. In the mist could be seen the lights of fires disappearing as the rafts the orcs had been building during the last days were drifting across the bay. Cirion could hear his heart, and his breath. He wondered why the orcs didn't. Those rafts, could the mariners dodge them all? Could their fires last across the bay, in the fog, or would they burn out in time?


    Had this cursed, damned, fiendish murderer known all along that Gondor would send a fleet to try to rescue her people in the marshes, or had he merely prepared for a likely eventuality? Which was worse? Cirion could not stop his breath from quickening despite standing still. This was intolerable, unbearable, the world did not deserve to have to breathe the same air as that monster!

    "Of course, the whiteskin sailor boys may be able to handle the little torches on the lake..."

    Cirion very much doubted that. The rafts were not connected to each other like the remains of the pontoon bridge but each would have to be collected and towed away individually, if that could be done at all with the burning tar. And the merchant vessels were spacious, not fast and nimble.

    "...but I would hazard the guess that the good citizens of the swamp might find that quite interesting to watch. So interesting in fact, that Lugduf and his lads can sneak in, in the meantime!"

    The orc was right about that as well. Some soldiers would keep watch dutifully, professionals and veterans among the militia. The greater part would be busy loading the ships and their hearts would be into that, thinking of safe shores and warm beds across the river. Then the rocs would take it all away. Their hope stolen, despair brought to them for the sake of it. His breath sounded as a smithy's bellow. He could not see his left or his right.

    "In fact, we reached firing range about yesterday, but why hurry? Now, we had the time to add a few ramps for those rock lobbers. Maybe they can reach all the way to the bay, in fact! Ain't that an exciting thought!"

    So he had managed that as well. Balls of fire would rain across the palisades of the Gondorian camp, spreading panic no doubt as they came out of nowhere. And a hastily erected wooden wall in swampy ground would not last long against neither catapults nor even a crude battering ram. Did it matter what you did anymore, would that hateful malicious thing always win? Cirion felt himself take a step forward. Curious. Why had he done that? Was there any reason for it that mattered? He was busy just trying to breathe properly. He took another step. His eyes saw nothing but Malthur, with his back turned on him.

    He thought of the first rafts, coming in sight out of the fog. He thought of the first flaming rocks, falling eerily out of the obscured sky.

    His hand was seeking his belt on the right side. His hand found the dagger he carried. The dagger that had claimed the life of Taemes. No, the dagger with which he had murdered Taemes.

    Time had slowed down. Did it even flow? He could see the rust stains of Malthurs chain mail that covered the lower back, the slight bending of the rings on one side. He saw the drops of water on the iron plates that added protection to the orcs neck.

    He felt his hand grasp the hilt and draw the dagger out. He felt his left hand grasp it on top of the right. It was a soldiers dagger, straight and pointed, made to penetrate armor. It was a good and artful piece of craftsmanship made by good and honest craftsmen. It was worthy of a better hand to hold it.

    He could not hear anymore. He would soon be out of time when his heart broke his ribcage and when he ran out of breath.

    Bent rings. On the side of the spine.

    One more step.

    His shoulders tensed, to give his arms solid support to work with.

    His hands tensed, digging into the daggers haft.

    His arms came forward and he drove them on with his legs and his back.

    He felt the tips connect with the mail and come through. He felt it stop and slip on something, and it screeched like metal tearing against metal. Slowly, as when one blinks many times and sees something happening as if it was shown on many pictures, he saw his dagger as it kept gliding sideway into the mail, widening it. Under the black and filthy rust glimmered steel.

    Gondorian steel.

    Good and artful piece of craftsmanship made by good and honest craftsmen.

    The orc chieftains reflexes reacted, and he turned his upper body so it angled away from the dagger while in the same motion slashing backward and downward with his other arm and knocking it off course.

    Cirion staggered and lunged forward with his right leg to regain his balance. He heard or felt something moving behind him. All went black.


    Chapter VIII - VII

    "Spread out! Form lines!"

    The air was tense. The dusty road just southwest of Tir Ethraid shook under the boots of thousands of uruks and dozens of mountain trolls. Malthurs army was coming to lines of battle with the routine from years of campaigning. Further back, out of sight for some time, was Gorbag with yet another reinforcing column. They would not be able to assist before the days business was settled anyways. Was that intentional?

    The orc chieftain barked at some too slow archers to get to their places and then turned his thoughts to Gorbag again. He had been even more brooding and troubled since they rejoined forces several days ago. While being suitably impressed with the sight of Umbars treasures and the heavily laden columns of supplies and other loot, and as eager as ever to share a drink, there was something more that hung over him than last time. No amount of goading could get it out of him. Now, black banners had been sighted and a good deal of riders as well. They were Haradrim, most of them, the scouts said but some were dressed all in black and with heavier plate than the serpent guard. Malthur was sure of what that meant. Black Numenorians, and the wretched little maggot dirt flea of a mouth in command of them no doubt. And the Haradrim would then consequently be the Grand Flaming Worm Khuzaymah, too cowardly to defend his lands and preferring to lick the boots of Foulfang in exchange for Mordor butchering his rivals at home and letting him stay on the throne.

    So Malthur had formed battle lines. If there was some sort of foolish trap set by Foulfang he would not be caught unprepared, and the little snake could sweat at the thought of Malthur actually attacking. Perhaps he should. He despised that creep, like all the black tarks that claimed to be anything else than tarks, and turncoat tarks as well. But not even his trolls could match the speed of a scared horse, so it was likely that some of the riders would escape north and tell of what had transpired. Would his influence be enough to handle that? Possibly. Pin it on the Haradrim having attacked, infighting in the other force that he came to assist against? It could work. It would not work because the lie was believable or not, it would work if the liar was powerful enough for the listener to turn a blind eye to the possibility that it was a lie and that it would be called out as such. Truth belonged to those strong enough to claim it, like any other loot.

    The other army, they were after all not the enemy quite yet, had not formed up for battle but stood more as if on a parade ground or inspection. The scene gave the impression that they were waiting for something. What could that be?

    For a moment, Malthur feared that he had let himself be lured into an ambush. Was that deceptively unprepared army ahead the bait? Could the Haradrim have some hitherto unseen reserve, the last strike of vengeance of the southrons? The ground around was hilly, there was ample opportunity to hide large forces. Could Gorbag be in league with them, was that why he was staying back and brooding? Perhaps he should reform to a square in case of attacks from the flanks or rear...

    No, enough. If there was an ambush they would be crushed like any other flaming weakling they had faced. He was getting twitchy. Truthfully, he had felt damn jumpy ever since the cursed whiteskin took that stab at him. Owing his life to tark plate did not sit well with Malthur. He had underestimated the whiteskin. If he hadn't kept his armor concealed and the thrust had come in a place with just the standard uruk mail and plate...

    "Chieftain, look! Riders on the ridge behind the army ahead."

    Riders in black. How many?

    Why did Malthur suddenly feel cold with the scorching sun high in the sky? And why did it seem to shine lesser...



















    Chapter VIII - VIII
    The lead black rider had flung back his hood, and a crown of steel he bore, but between rim and robe naught was there to see, save only a deadly gleam of eyes. The chief of the ringwraiths, who in ancient days came north with the purpose of destroying the Dúnedain in Arnor, seeking hope in their disunion, while Gondor in those times was still strong. The lord of the land of Angmar of old and the city of Minas Morgul of present day, he was known as the witch-king, and few beings in Middle Earth spoke the name without fear, fewer still would stand and abide even the rumor of his coming.

    The other army parted without any command before the black riders, who rode on without so much as turning to look at them. Malthurs blood rushed through his veins as the full meaning of the situation presented itself all too clearly. There rode Khamul and the rest of his hated spectral kin. He would give the command to fire, but how did you slay what had no life to start with? But then what? He hadn't intended to turn his back on Mordor and the dark lord, but rather continue to lead his army and preferably do so without the flaming interference and intrigue by maggots like Foulfang. So, he would receive the wraiths and present to them how a real army of the eye looked, not the motley rabble that they themselves had to make do with. And also surround himself with archers with flaming arrows prepared, just in case... Now, he should order the halberdiers to form lines along an impressive lane in the middle of his formation, where the archers would wait around him at the end as an honour guard, with braziers or torches for them to make it look ceremonial...

    The witch-king screamed.

    It was a sound that went through the ears, heart and bones of any who heard it, chilling hearts and sapping limbs of strength. Weapons were tumbling from numb hands and the uruk ranks, veterans all, shuffled back and crawled, seeking nothing more than to hide and cower from the noise. The orders died on Malthurs lips. It was not Khamul that was the great danger here.

    Unseen cold eyes looked down upon him as the wraiths rode forward, the witch-king first among them. His voice was a whisper, if a whisper could echo in your ears and drown all other sound, that was.

    "KNEEL."

    Numb as he were, Malthur still managed to glance to the sides quickly. His best troops were shying away, frightful and quaking. He would have no help from those blasted cowards. He felt his own fear, but along with it was the burning hatred for Khamul, the wraiths and their black Numenorians. He could not lift his hand without shaking but he could think. This was not his time, they were too strong. The orc chieftain knelt.


    "THY ARMIES MARCH HEAVILY LADEN WITH TREASURE, SLAVE."

    "Treasure taken from the insubordinate corsairs, now taught their place under the heel of the great eye. My army has carried out its orders, and neither the heat nor the southron snakes have stood against me, lord."

    "INDEED, THE MEN OF UMBAR ARE DRIVEN BY THEIR NEED FOR GOLD AND THEY ARE NOW DRIVEN TOWARDS THE ENEMY AGAIN. YET NO NEED IS THERE FOR YOU TO HOLD ON TO IT ONCE IT WAS REMOVED FROM THE LORDS OF THE CORSAIRS. RELIEVE YOUR COMPANIES OF EXCESSIVE LOAD.

    "By custom, my men and I would be allowed fair share of the plunder, my lord, would we not? We have marched many miles and paid in blood and flames for this loot. The proper way would be to let the lads have their share and present the rest to the great eye upon marching back into the black land.

    "THE SPOILS OF WAR DO NOT CONCERN YOU, SLAVE. YOU ARE INSIGNIFICANT, A SPECK OF DUST BLOWN BEFORE THE EASTERN WIND, A FLAKE OF ASH FLOATING ABOVE THE FIRES OF THE DARK LORD."

    "So are we to dump it all on the ground then?"

    "THE SOUTHRON LORD WILL RECEIVE YOUR EXCESSIVE ITEMS. MAKE YOUR COMPANIES READY FOR A SWIFT MARCH, ABSENT REST OR RELIEF. THE ARMIES OF THE DUNEDAIN PRETENDERS PREPARE TO CROSS THE RIVER FROM PELARGIR AND MARCH UPON YOU HERE. YOU WILL NOT BE DIVERTED. YOU WILL OUTMARCH THEM NORTH, AND YOU WILL STRIKE THE HEART OF THE ENEMY. GONDOR WILL FALL.

    Gorbag had been right, and more right than Malthur had thought possible. That flaming serpent! He would have nothing to show when returning, his command was running like sand through his fingers, the wraiths would be the ones leading the glorious advance west and stripping him of all but nominal command. Meanwhile the forced march would no doubt antagonize his troops and erode his position as chief if he wasn't watchful. How could he get out of this damned thing?

    "The whiteskin fleet will block our crossing of the great river. How shall we counter it, my lord?"

    "THE FLEETS OF THE CORSAIRS WILL FORCE THEM TO REMAIN TO GUARD THEIR SOUTHERN FIEFS AND A NORTHERLY WIND BLOWS AS WINTER IS COMING. IT WILL NOT AVAIL THE MEN OF GONDOR. MARCH HARD, AND YOU WILL MAKE THE CROSSING IN TIME. MARCH TOO SLOW, AND YOU WILL DIE.

    So the wraiths were well informed, or thought themselves so. Malthur did not actually know how well the corsairs had obeyed the great eye once he had left Umbar but left nearly destitute they had after all little choice but to resume plundering.

    "ONCE THE RUINED CITY IS CONQUERED, YOU WILL FORTIFY IT AGAINST ATTACKS FROM THE RIVER. MARCH, SLAVE. DRIVE YOUR ARMY NORTH."



    Winter was approaching. Even the mild southern Ithilien felt it, the rain turning to snow some days and the ground covering with frost. Yet it would melt a day or two, and the roads were broken up by the freezing and then melting to mud, after which the rains and then the iron clad feet of the orc broke it up even further. Malthur would march across the countryside whenever possible, but the recent years of warfare had driven every farmer or woodcutter out and the woods were spreading and blocking fields that had before been open. Thick bushes and saplings a couple of years old were taking over what had been crops and even villages.

    The supply wagons sank in the mud and the trolls slipped as they hauled the catapult parts. Orcs cursed and shouted, driven day and night with insufficient breaks for rest, cold bread and meat and colder tents, soaked through.

    Behind rode the ringwraiths at the head of Gorbags army and other troops of Minas Morgul. Malthur had discreetly let scouts fall behind and keep their eyes on the other force. The wraiths marched them fast with lighter packs than his and no siege train, and spread companies thin in a line to clear out any stragglers or deserters from Malthur. The effort was no doubt as much a message to him as a real effort to catch those that fell behind. Do not deviate. Do not even dare to think about disobedience.


    After passing the ruins of Ostithil, now used as a small supply depot, the highlands of central Ithilien awaited. Roads were no longer mud, but water, washed away by numerous small rivers and springs from the hills. Campsites became especially crowded as even ground was harder to find. At best, one could secure a spot where the water ran around and your tent kept somewhat dry, at worst you woke up in an overflowing ditch.

    Worse than all the rigors of the march, however, were the repeated and pointless inspections. Every day now one of the wraiths, but of course most often Khamul, would ride slowly along ranks of coughing and exhausted uruks, distributing insults and making a very visible show of ordering Malthur to fall in line with the rest and criticize one detail or another with his or his units appearance or conduct. The orc chieftain was sure that he had seen Khamul absently touching the hilt of a dagger once or twice, recalling the torment he had endured under the wraith after the raid against Ammu Khand years ago.

    Worst of all, the thing was working. Malthur could see his authority withering every flaming day. Especially since the inspections had not started until they reached the highlands and a long and dreary march had turned to outright unbearable, it created the impression that Malthurs leadership would in some way be responsible for the hardships and his superiors then forced to intervene because of it! Adding to that impression was the fact that the wraiths would actually take their time to question his captains about whatever problem this or that particular company had encountered. It did not matter how unfounded the complaint. An infantry company too tired from always marching in the back? It would be sent to the front, no questions raised about how the catapults would be able to handle the back position if infantry could not. The supply wagons too loaded and stuck in the ground? Someone else's troops would have to carry part of the load on their backs instead. All at the whim of the nazghul, and absent regard for the army as a whole. Not only was it transforming Malthurs disciplined troops into bootlickers and flatterers trying to slither their way out of their tasks, but it also undermined his entire organization and caused the army's condition to deteriorate further and quicker too.

    The end of the cursed march could not come fast enough.



    The orc chieftain splashed through the mud at the rear of the columns, where supply wagons and guarding infantry struggled to escape the mire that had once been a road. He passed narrow carts pillaged from the tark settlements, cruder wagons of Mordor as well as the broad but deceptively light ones from the south, all in a disordered mix loaded with multitudes of supplies. He noted that given the opportunity he would reform the entire operation before the next march and divide wagons according to types rather than have them remain with those who had managed to procure them.

    Among the last trailed a smaller wagon, loaded not with goods but a single passenger with his hands tied to the sides, slumping down with his head hanging. A small group of the human thralls accompanied it. The orc jumped up upon it and grabbed the prisoner by his hair.

    "The honourable host of Mordor bids thee a good morning, whiteskin! I hope you have enjoyed your rest for the day will no doubt be long. Beyond the ridge ahead lies the great river and the ruined city. Beyond, the white tower. Rejoice! We are going home at last!"

    The prisoner mumbled something only he could hear. The orc chieftain pulled himself closer and continued, voice filled with malice.

    "Care to know the flaming best bit of it all? All scouts report the river to be practically undefended. We will cross it. We will tear you. We will break you. We will burn you. And YOU. WILL. WATCH."



    Chapter VIII - IX

    "What is it?"

    "The ridge, my lord, the southern. We are seeing movement here and there, it has been going on for a few hours now."

    "What did the scouts report?"

    "Nothing. None has come back."

    Widfara shielded his eyes from the bleak sun. The view was as still as any other day. It was easy to let worries and fear get out of hand so close to the black land behind the mountains but neither should one be dulled or bored by the constancy of the threat that it represented.

    "Send out a full patrol, with scouts spread out behind it. Send it in an arc from the north, in loose formation."

    Widfara commanded a pitifully insufficient force, just a little above two hundreds to hold the ruins of Osgiliath. The main part of the Rohirric force in charge of holding the ruins and the island of Cair Andros just north of it was further away, poised to counter orc preparations to cross the river at the marshes north of the island. It was slightly far-fetched, given the orcs aversion to rivers, but commanders had finally learnt not to underestimate the orcs, or at least their lords. The strongholds near the river would have to be manned to appear more heavily garrisoned than they were, a task which they were now used to. Watch fires burned in every tower, banners were carried by every little tent and the guards on duty never ceased joking about their guarding involving more marching back and forth than an actual march, especially since the Rohirrim were a people of riders rather than footmen.

    Osgiliath was the capitol and crown of Gondor in its golden age. Flanked by Minas Anor and Minas Ithil, the towers of the rising sun and the sinking moon, it lay superbly accessible both from the sea and land and connecting the west-east trade routes and the sea. The farmlands of Pelennor on its western side and forested Ithilien on the eastern brought grain and timber, and ships and caravans brought everything else one could think of. The great buildings rivaled in splendor Numenor itself, yet spared the sickly obsession with the dead who were honoured, but whose concerns did not outweigh those of the living. For many centuries the realm had prospered, until plague depopulated the city and civil war, orcs and easterlings sapped the strength of the kingdom. Minas Ithil fell to the witch-king and Gondors people looked to Minas Anor as their new capitol, becoming Minas Tirith, their fortress on the mountainside, safer than the exposed valley which had now been opened to the enemy. Osgiliath withered to a city of ghosts and empty rooms, and a city of ruins. Gondor held it yet, but as a bulwark only. It had never been meant to be the strong point of the defence, and the buildings that still stood tall were open and inviting, not like the fortified homes of Minas Tirith.

    After the eastern bank of the Anduin had fallen to the orcs the steward of Gondor had ordered the construction of a great wall around the fields of Pelennor, the great plain of crops, orchards and gardens outside MInas Tirith. After great toil, the wall, Rammas Echor, stood ready, with gates north, south and east towards Osgiliath, anchored on rivers north and south and forming a wide, but not excessively fortified defense. The walls had few towers except near the gates, and they were not nearly as thick as those of the white city, and certainly not with the same strange outer aspect that made the outer wall of Minas Tirith nigh impregnable for conventional siege weapons. Rammas Echors strength lay instead in the proximity to the city and the great fields just beyond it. An enemy would be broken up, stalled and occupied with breacing them. Meanwhile, the Gondorian army could mass behind them, in impeccable order on the open ground, and prepare to attack the foe that came streaming through the breaches. Minas Tirith was so close that the city could support and reinforce almost any point of the wall in little time.

    Widfaras second, Leofara, their names likeness always a source of jokes, suddenly turned next to him. Widfara looked up and saw him stare intensively towards the ridge.

    "What...good fathers of old!"

    From the ridge soared a ball of fire, arcing high and visible to all and crashing to the ground near the road leading to the fallen gates on the eastern side of the city.

    "Ever the damned showman..." Leofara said quietly.

    "What do you mean by that?"

    "I was there near Ostithil. I was one of the few that got away. It was the same thing there once the castle became surrounded. Showing his might, making them afraid and transfixed by his displays of the trolls and his fires." Seeing Widfaras worried but still doubting frown he added with grim certainty: "Yes. It is him."

    "But there are many orcs with siege weapons these days and this is a city after all. It could be some other force."

    "In itself, maybe. But think of the past months, my lord. No word or sign of the Gondorian armies sent south? No sight of the fleet? Our scouts gone? No, my lord, he is here."





    Chapter VIII - X

    Malthur put his foot against the chest of the dead mountain troll and strained. The sword embedded in it was stuck. He tried another angle, and managed to move it an inch. Pushing back the opposite way dislodged it a little bit more. There. Now he could pull it out. The hilt was wrapped in metal thread, the hilt gilded and the welded blade decorated with runes and lines like flames or serpents. Its balance was flawless, but the great length was uncommon among orc infantry and would take some time to get used to. It was a grand trophy, and a blade worthy of its wielder it had been.

    The yellow-haired garrison had waited until his uruks were close, the rushed out on balconies and roofs with bows in hand and also let boulders and indeed parts of the roofs themselves fall down on his infantry. The streets were much wider than Gobel Ancalimon in Harad so the effect was not nearly as devastating, but it created disorder among his ranks. Into that the yellow-hairs captain had charged, at the head of two dozen heavily armored riders. The bravery was invigorating! That was a whiteskin worth killing! Malthur could see that there were no troops behind the generals retinue but his infantry was falling back, taking shelter behind rows of halberds. He turned, slightly irritated, and waved a company of mountain trolls forward, the armored Olog-hai. Their roars echoed from a side street but the yellow-hairs did not flee. Even more remarkable, they managed to keep control of their mounts and form up to charge the trolls head on, their captain at the front. A troll to his right met the mounts charge with an uppercutting swing of its spiked mace, but the moment before it connected with his doomed horse he had stood up with one foot on his saddle and jumped, carried forward by the momentum of the charge and driven his sword into the throat of the troll.

    One puny human had alone slain a mountain troll.

    The monsters were supposed to be nearly indestructible, their skin thick enough to turn away arrows and the ludicrously thick plate and sweeping swings of their giant maces and clubs making closer assaults doomed from the start. But that yellow-haired captain had done it, although he was quickly trampled into the ground in the melee that followed. None of his retainers had managed the same, but neither did the troll company hunger for more blood and battle as they usually did. They limped.

    The orc chieftain ignored their disappointing groans and signed to the uruk regiments. Iron-shod feet moved across the old market squares, the shadows of halberds and helmets crept along the withering walls. Black streams of orcs were pouring out from under ancient vaults and lining up to cross the bridges that still stood, memories of a time long gone when such a sight would have been unthinkable.

    The ruined city was taken.










    The ruined city was lost.

    Leofara averted his gaze and looked upon the few survivors and those unfortunate enough to be ordered away to spread the warning of the lost battle, if it could indeed be called such. Like himself. He knew Widfara expected him to go north to warn their people and use his knowledge - how pitifully small it really was - to see that they understood the full magnitude of what was coming. It was the right thing to do, it was his duty. It was Widfaras duty to give the command. And he hated it.

    "Kinsmen, we make for Cair Andros. Our people will gather there, the river and the steep slopes will be our best defense for the moment."

    "What about the white city? Nothing stands between it and the enemy now."

    "Gondors reinforcements march from the south. I do not know how far they are. They speak of a great fleet of corsairs that harry their coasts and prevents them from ferrying their armies up along the whole of the great river and many must be left behind to protect against the black fleet. Those who can will reach Mundborg and the fields of Pelennor from the south, along the road from Lossarnach. By then, we join them from the island and converge upon the enemy on the plains."

    If the orcs haven't claimed the river crossings and fortified them, Leofara thought. If the enemy hasn't taken the time to man the Rammas Echor to use it against us. If Cair Andros isn't under siege by then. If Mundborg still stands at all.

    "Hamar, you must ride to captain Nirdir. We cannot delay them here any longer. Lord Denethor must do what he can with the men that could be gathered by now."

    "What shall I tell him?"

    "Osgiliath has fallen. Widfara is dead. They are coming."

  7. #7
    joerock22's Avatar Leader of Third Age HS
    Content Director Citizen Gaming Staff

    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Connecticut, USA
    Posts
    4,888

    Default Re: [AAR] An Orc's Tale (Third Age MOS AAR)

    Chapter IX

    Chapter IX - I

    Nirdir, captain in Gondors armies, looked up at the looming battlements above him. The mighty works of Gondors latest generation, the great circular wall around the fields of Pelennor. It was almost eerie, being on its outside, right underneath the dark murder holes where boulders and oil could be rolled and poured down on the luckless soldiers caught underneath. Like him. He wondered if the men waiting outside the far greater walls of Minas Tirith felt the same. How odd it was to be on the wrong side of their defenses when the enemy was approaching.

    Widfara had warned them of the orc siege engines. While the walls themselves were not vulnerable the city behind them could be set aflame in the worst case and the gate, however strong and masterfully forged, was the weak point of any wall. They were also the core of the orc chieftains strategy so far. If he encircled the city and entrenched himself with those catapults, the reinforcing armies might not even be able to reach the city, and the gate could be barricaded against with palisades, stakes and trenches to prevent the garrison from sallying.

    Denethors answer was bold. Bold, and brilliant in Nirdirs opinion. The ruling steward of Gondor was not like other men of this age. While all too spent and watered these days, by some chance the blood of Numenor ran nearly true in him. He has long sight, perceiving, if he would bend his will towards it, much of what is passing in the minds of men, even of those that dwelt far off. It was difficult to deceive him, and dangerous to try, as that orc filth would soon be taught. The steward was a masterful man, both wise and learned beyond the measure of these days, and strong willed, confident in his own powers, and dauntless. A man to follow in times like these. He was proud, but this was by no means personal for he loved Gondor and its people, and deemed himself appointed by destiny and duty to lead them in this desperate time. Nirdir knew well how the steward eschewed personal comfort, to the point where he would walk and sit and even rest clad in mail under his robes, so as not to grow frail and weak with age. Denethor would lead them from the front, in this most important and desperate moment. Nirdir would do the other half of the task.

    Instead of attempting to destroy the entire enemy army, Nirdir would engage it and pin it into place with his infantry. The horsemen, few and precious in Gondor, would then skirt around the enemy lines and strike at the siege engines and supplies, setting them aflame and cutting ropes whenever possible. Denethor would then come from the other side, the northern part of the fields where he was waiting with most of the garrison in the shadow of the city walls, hopefully hidden from orc eyes just as Nirdir hopefully was, on the outside of the Rammas Echor. If they could cripple the artillery of the enemy, the city would stand proud, bloodied but proud, when the relief came from the south and from Rohan, whose riders had been summoned by the beacons ranging across the white mountains and by riders bearing them the red arrow, the ancient sign of distress and imminent war.




    Chapter IX - II

    The last days had held promise of snow but the ground was yet damp and muddy, and a wet fog rose as in every morning the last months. Nirdir shuddered in his saddle, wondering if he should have ordered them to dismount to warm up by walking. The column followed a road, going between crops and soon it would take them through orchards. He knew every step by memory. Especially the smallest orchard to the right. He had raided those trees one summer long, long ago, and nearly had his ears shouted off him when he got caught one time. The next summer he had worked up the nerve to offer apologies and to work, and gotten a handful of coppers and a delicious pie, and more importantly a warm glance from the eldest girl of the family. The summer thereafter he had gotten kisses... Now the orchards were empty and the people were gone, walled up inside the city, or trekking east to hide in the countryside or Dol Amroth. The crops would be trampled by iron shod orc feet and trees cut and broken, if only for the sake of ruining them. This was surely the autumn of the realm, in every way. But no, he would make sure there would come a spring as well. Nirdir shook his head and peered forward in the grey. He knew his scouts should have reported if they saw the orcs or Denethor but he wanted to be sure anyway. His column was now almost east of the great gate of the city. They should ideally be more south, but the roads forced them to make this turn. After a mile east the orchards would give way to crops again and they could turn to the right to come up the orcs from the southwest. Nirdir was about to signal the column to turn when he heard hoof beats ahead. One of the scouts.

    "Captain, the stewards force is in position and ready. We will have to decline south quickly to get into our position."

    "Very good. Tell the steward that I will turn right immediately. We will split up and trek trough the trails and small roads between and across the orchards and form up on the other side."

    "As you command, captain. Be advised, we believe we have spotted the main enemy force."

    "Believe? You do not believe about such things, boy. You are sure or you make sure you see what you think you see."

    "The others are out there confirming. There are lots of orcs, and at least some trolls too, but they are in many places and we can't see the main column."

    Nirdir sighed inwardly. With an effort, he kept his features calm.

    "That's because there is no marching column to see! That orc chieftain did not cause us such grief by acting like a green weed. He is coming across the plains in battle formation, spread out and slow and steady. Men! Double pace! The foe is in sight!"

    Nirdir watched the youth spur his horse and disappear in the mist. He really, really wanted some visibility now. The morning was long gone, the mist should be lifting soon. As to answer his requests, he felt the wind increase and a raindrop clicked against his plated shoulder.

    Great. Torching siege equipment in late autumn mist followed by rain. But there was no way to call it off now.



    The boots of the infantry made wet sounds when the companies hurried out of the narrow paths and small roads through the trees and formed into a line. Nirdir kept glancing nervously around but no surprise bombardment came. They were not detected yet. They could not see Denethor but his scout reports placed the steward to their northeast, above the main road to the city while they were themselves now below it.

    "There!"

    "See them!?"

    "Quiet!" Nirdir hissed at the closest noisemakers. They would not get a second chance at this and timing would mean all. They had to close fast, before the orc catapults could trace them and crush them with their fire. He knew that many of the militia and not too few of the regular troops still clung to the hope that this would work out as a hit-and-run attack and they would be able to disengage and make it back in the mist to the city once they were done. He didn't blame them. You clung to what you had and whatever let you get on with your duties. And maybe they would prove to be right. The orcs had not many light troops and no riders, all reports agreed on that. If they could just lure them all to block his attack on the front lines by their initial ferocity, the riders could sweep in and finish their job in moments.

    Now. The forest of pole arms appeared for a moment, and there was a huge shape, a troll or a catapult, This was it, they were finally here. Now he could see the enemy better. The line was long but not so deep. He thought he could see reinforcing infantry behind as well, those would be the orc archers shooting from behind their heavy infantry. His own troops were lighter infantry mostly, with sword and shield. Light infantry needed to use their mobility when facing heavy infantry, overwhelming a small area with superior numbers. He would first send in a third of his infantry to pin the enemy. Then, as the orcs turned their attention to those spots, another third would charge at the other areas that became exposed. Now a disordered melee would ensue where pole arm ranks could not support one another. Finally, Nirdir would put his last third to use where the enemy buckled and punch through to the archers and force the enemy to commit their trolls. Then the cavalry charge and retreat.

    "For Gondor! First detachment, advance!"



    Nirdirs infantry hit the orc lines in three places very close to each other. It was not optimal but an easy mistake to make. It was natural to draw close to ones supporting units and seek flank protection. He could aim the second thrust at the flanks instead. Meanwhile the first cavalry squadrons were lining up. Nirdir had high hopes for his professional cavalry from Dol Amroth, that had marched further back. The city had a proud tradition of a small but well drilled cavalry, the crown of which were its heavily armored knights. Nirdir had with him squires in training and regular cavalry, in mail coats and no barding for the horses. They had to hit fast and withdraw to not entangle themselves in wasteful close fighting.

    Just as he was about to send in the second detachment of footmen, Nirdirs second-in-command Peliras noted a messenger speeding towards them and after looking at where he was heading from called out.

    "Captain!"

    "What?"

    "On our left, there is another force beyond our wing! We have only engaged part of the enemy front!"

    Nirdir let out a foul string of cursewords. Meanwhile, the messenger caught up with them and reined in, seeming as out of breath as his mount.

    "Ca...huff...captain Nirdir! The orcs have infantry outside of our wing, and they are engaged by what we assume is the stewards force. The orcs seem to have turned to present their front towards the steward, though, and we can see catapults closest to us!"

    Nirdir cursed again. Focus. He needed focus. His own part of the battle had just begun but they were never the less firmly engaged and would not be able to disengage without serious losses, nor reposition all to Denethors part of the battlefield without considerable delay. Besides, the enemy half, or however large the part he had engaged was, would not let them move without interference.

    "Nirdir." Peliras was a long time comrade and only addressed him without title on private occasions or in the direst of circumstances. "There is no good option left for us here so let's not waste time looking for it. Do we push here or attempt to help the steward?"

    Peliras was right. He had to make a decision. The steward would be counting on them. The catapults there might be just as accessible as they looked. He had already sent his infantry. They waited for reinforcements any moment. A Gondorian commander did not send good countrymen to die as a hopeless and wasteful distraction. And Denethor had engaged the enemy first, which could have lured a larger portion of the orc reserves there.

    He had a duty to his steward. He was responsible for his men. He had a duty to his steward to be responsible for his men.

    "Peliras! We split our forces - take the right wing here and four more infantry banners and press them, and look for any opening to the artillery. I will take the rest beyond our left to relieve the steward and engage those catapults."

    "We are too few for that! We have to focus on one point, we can't do both and still press effectively!"

    "We stand a greater chance to find a weak point if we strike at more parts of the foe. Our cavalry has the advantage of speed, they can find it."

    "We stand a greater chance of creating a weak spot if we focus or forces. We were fooled by the mist just as much as the orcs were. Accept that fact and salvage what we can from it - pick one or the other and let us go for it! But don't do this, captain. Your decision is an honorable one, but I much fear it will doom us all."

    "You have your orders, Peliras. Carry them out."

    Nirdir watched Peliras ride out and bowed his head. Peliras was likely right, tactically speaking, Nirdir thought as he raised his arm and signed to the third detachment to turn and move out as the remaining reserves of the second detachment surged forward. But there was no other way he could do this.





    Chapter IX - III

    "Muzul, report, you rotten worm!" Malthur barked.

    "The whiteskins have my lines encircled, chieftain! The flaming tarks are everywhere! There were first those that came up from behind but now I have foot and horse from the new bigger force as well coming up on my catapults!"

    "Yeah, poor little you! My heart grieves for your damned predicament. Listen up! My right flank guard will tie up those riders - they are bound to charge any time now and that is the most likely gap in our lines - and you are to move the troll crews to the front of the catapults so they have those between them and tarks! And if you have any left that ain't engaged you send them out to catch and surround any riders on your right!"

    "That's already done, chief! Sending out the trolls I mean, the attack is weakest there."

    "Figures. You start from there, work your way here with the troll crews once you've routed those flaming nuisances! I'll be keeping this maggot dung at bay 'til then. You keep your Olog-Hai with you to block the riders of their first force if they hit the right flank. And find that tark commander and bring me his filthy head!"

    "On it, chief!"

    In the middle of the rain and the slowly dissipating mists stood Malthur, in the middle of blood spraying, weapons clashing and cries of pain and fear, and fear disguised as rage. He imagined his counterpart on the other side watching as he did. This was a new breed of whiteskin captain, he faced someone not afraid of taking a chance and sacrificing his troops to win. It was not the largest enemy host but it was well led. It was distinctly similar to the battle against the ranger commander Duinhir, and had the same initiative as shown in the assault by that captured whiteskin lord, Dinethor or something, and by the seaborne army that slipped his grasp when Foulfang interfered. Good. It was too bloody long time since he had a worthy foe to battle.

    The whiteskin vanguard, or whatever it was, had struck from his right and Muzul had turned about on the spot facing his rear. It had been well enough so far but with the main whiteskin army coming from the left and spreading out along the lines They were now hitting Muzul in the read, although not with much strength so far. Meanwhile, the vanguard was spreading out and pinning Muzuls infantry, the front line that faced the rear now, and risked coming around Muzuls left and attacking Malthurs rear. It was a good tactic, the battle was a mess and he had no time to drench them in flames before the whiteskins were upon them. Malthur applauded the attempt, but unless there was a third whiteskin force the enemy had too few troops to make this work. Both sides were spread thin now and a battle of attrition would favor the orcs, with trolls and heavy infantry facing off against swordsmen and unbarded cavalry.

    Although, what if the third force was really out there, and what if it indeed consisted of the southern whiteskin armies? Could they have slipped past somehow, ferried despite the corsair attacks, to catch him here and now trapped inside their circular walls around the plain? They would run into the wraiths army. If it was still there... What if they would draw back just now, to let him be chewed up before sweeping in to deal with the remaining enemies? Typical of the flaming wraiths!

    No. Now he war really getting paranoid. If the wraiths wanted him gone they would have charged in and cut him down, with the filthy cowards of his army cowering in fear around them. Or removed him from command. It would make no sense to toss away his army in the process.



    Malthur was surrounded. They had done a neat job in that respect. But it was a net with rips and tears in it. His trolls were not contained on the right half and Muzul was sending them to new targets. On his own left he had his archers concentrate their volleys on Gondorian riders that fell back to reform and charge again. The whiteskin archers rained arrows on his, and it was grueling to not return the favor in kind, but his troops maintained their discipline. The heavy infantry was fragmented but held, locked in its place. On his own right wing things looked better. Muzuls trolls had drawn the foes attention and his flank guard of Olog-Hai was unengaged for the moment. Malthur could see professional enemy infantry meeting Muzuls trolls and sent orders for his own to charge the enemy flank. That would be the opening. Four troll companies against one of humans. Then he could use that opening to work his way along the infantry line and roll up the enemy front.

    The battle formation with one half turned to face the enemy had been needlessly complex, a simple wedge would have been much more efficient. Whether open or pointed towards the enemy, the V-like formation was almost always a guaranteed success, being easy to change and to shift between offense and defense. He had been too caught up in that flaming idea of two halves of the army operating independently, but even so they should have made use of something more compact to keep all the riders out. Malthur resolved to fortify the camp and siege lines outside the city a little more than planned. It didn't hurt to be prepared, especially not when you had others to make the preparations for you. His troops had been slow and lazy when responding, and would still need some good deal of kicking and whipping to get back in shape he could see.



    Perilas lay dying. He knew that. His left leg was numb and senseless but his hip hurt like there was a fire inside. He could barely turn his head to look at what was happening around him. His infantry had broken, at last, but they had made him proud before the end. Militia and yeomen standing up to heavy halberdiers, orcs or not, and those monstrous trolls. What a waste, still. The fog had lifted now and the rain ceased, but there was smoke in the air. Something burned somewhere.

    Perilas thought of Nirdir. Nirdir had been wrong, but they had made one hell of an effort. He hadn't expected the militia to last so long, or the riders to be so persistent. Perilas quietly forgave his friend. Maybe there hadn't been any good choice this day. He could see shapes moving far too his side. He rolled over - how it hurt - and saw that they were militia archers and footmen. They needed to get back behind the walls, but they were exhausted and broken. If some of the orcs, like their archers, had more strength left they would be easy prey in this state.


    Could he do it? Perilas grasped for something to lean to. He could see a spear shaft a few steps away and started to crawl to it, noticing that he was starting to feel very cold. The day was going to be clear and perhaps there would be snow the next time the sky turned cloudy. He raised himself to kneeling, hanging on to the wooden pole.

    "Come on, you filthy vermin! Get over here and finish it! I am Perilas, you flaming curs! Come out and face me!"

    He had to hang on so long as he could. But he was growing so cold. Those damned orcs had better have heard his tirade. He didn't know if he had the breath for another. He was so very, very cold.


    Chapter IX - IV

    There was a cold breeze blowing this day.

    Up among the peaks of the White Mountains it blew up and brought with it snow and ice to hurl out across the lowlands below. The ground turned hard and stony where the wind touched and muddy tracks became as small mountain ranges and ridges upon which wagons would slide and shake. Snow fell upon Minas Tirith and Pelennor and buried the sad sights of the war that had reached the capitol. Orcs shivered as they replaced shovels with pickaxes to dig their entrenchments and field fortifications around the city walls. Further out east, the gale met the reinforcements under the ringwraiths command that made their camp close to the Rammas Echor and at a safer distance from unexpected sallies from the city gate.

    The snow fell on the frozen victims of Mordor, its enemies and its thralls alike, who lay as they had fallen. Humans in mail and shields clashing against orcs with plate and halberds. On both flanks were horses and riders broken and torn apart by the huge maces and clubs of the Olog-Hai. Stretched thin on every part of the battlefield the human armies had the orcs surrounded - surrounded but not squeezed hard enough to break. When the day grew longer and fatigue made feet unsteady and arms shaking, uruk armor and cohesion had held out, and the savagery of trolls know not such obstacles as exhaustion or dismay.

    The snow fell on the tracks of the few militiamen that had made it to the gate and the tracks of the orcs that had pursued, only to turn away towards where a frozen shape hung from a spear shaft, clinging to it with dead and freezing hands.



    The orc army was ready. For days they had fought a battle from afar against the ballistae and catapults mounted on the city walls. Orcs set fire to all they could inside and Gondorians crushed whatever they could reach outside. Many catapults had been lost and many emplacements had been destroyed. Now, all of the orcs artillery was ready in one unbroken line before the city gates.

    Malthur felt like he could feel the fear of the city. It trembled before him, prey ready for him to take. For all its high walls, Minas Tirith would not stand against him any more than the villages, towns and cities he had broken before, and her defenders would not succeed where so many before them had failed. He hungered for it. Here was the ultimate prize, the dream of any uruk to take. And it would be he and no one else who took it! He had built his army and drilled it through years for this moment. He had forged it into a construct of fire and blades that grinded everything and everyone in its path to blood and dust. Not even the traitorous, double-crossing, spiritless cursed wraiths had been able to undo it. He would not allow it, even if he had to slash the heads off half of it in the process.

    "Fire."




    Chapter IX - V

    "I tell you, it's like them mining wretches do it. You pour cold and you pour hot over it all after each other and the rock cracks and gets brittle like iron you cool too late."

    "You fool, it's bloody freezing here! That little heat from our boulders ain't 'nough to heat a thing, it's the pounding that's gonna break those doors!"

    "You calling me a liar? You calling me a liar, you creep!?"

    "I'm calling you a fool, but clearly that's beyond your flaming comprehension."

    "Why, you little..."

    "LUGDUF! Get your stinking units in order! MUZUL! You are supposed to keep the maggot-eating dunghill swine in line! Make an example of those idiots, I want them flogged in front of the city gates they so eagerly debate!"

    "Aye, chief."

    "Will be done, chieftain."

    Malthur angrily turned his gaze to the side to watch for more jesters ruining his moment. He would have no more of that on the day of his supreme triumph. The splitting headache from the sun as it was mirrored by the snow was quite enough. He had by all means allowed the experimental bombardment with barrels of water against the gate to have it freeze over the night, then fiery boulders against some parts of it and then cold water again, but anyone in the army should be instinctively aware of the fact that there were two things only that broke enemy gates as well as enemy armies - the chieftains commands and the orcs obedience of them.

    "It's giving way!"

    "The gate!"

    "Keep firing, maggots!"

    "There it goes!"




    "OLOG-HAI! Into the city! The more whiteskins you catch, the more you get to eat!"

    "SMASH THEM DOWN!!!"

    The ground shook under leathery feet and mountains of iron plating. The Gondorian defenders were pulling their troops back along the wall but at some point they would have to cross the streets to reach the second city gate. On that street the Gondorian rearguard stood their ground, stubborn mailed infantry from Lossarnach armed with two-handed axes. They bit deep into the troll skin as heads were beaten to pieces and limbs crushed by troll maces.


    Turgon of the second bow company of Minas Tiriths militia ran as fast as steady as he could behind the one hundred and twenty-two of his colleagues that tried to keep up their pace and at the same time not lose their footing on the slippery and icy stone. His helmet and mail shirt usually drew out all the heat he could muster but now he found himself sweating like it was summer. Time and time again he turned his head to see sometimes nothing and sometimes the huge shapes that were hunting them. If anyone fell, he would not rise again fast enough. Next to the street were snow that none had had the time to spare to see piled up in the assigned spots or sometimes against the houses for added insulation when the winter was very harsh. The chase went ever upward, with pockets of militiamen shooting from rooftops or balconies, and small forces patrolling the inner walls. So few of them there were now, after the terribly bloody battle against the besieger that the steward had led them to. It had been a gamble and Gondor had lost it. Now they had to fall back to some place where so few could make an effective defense.


    Fear stole the strength of a man when he needed it the most. When it became great enough to overpower his stupidity or his bravery, it had become great enough to turn his legs numb and his hands to tremble uselessly. Breath came in short, uneven and insufficient gasps. So quickly the thick winter wools, the hard helmet and the unreasonably heavy chain shirt weighed you down until it was a wonder you could do anything more than crawl on the ground.

    They must go up, up and further up. From one end of the city and then to the other did Turgon have to run in his chain shirt so they could reach the third level, for the fashion of Minas Tirith was such that it was built on seven levels, each delved into the hill, and about each was set a wall, and in each was a gate. But the gates were not set in a line - the Great Gate in the city wall was at the east point of the circuit, but the next faced half south, and the third half north, and so to and fro upwards, so the paved way that climbed toward the citadel turned this way and that and then that across the face of the hill.


    Turgon nearly ran into the ranks in front of him. Why had they stopped now on this platform? He could hear faintly the arguments up ahead, apparently the captain Noruinivnir had halted his company and was ordering them somewhere.

    "...and I don't give a damn what you think of this, sergeant, you are going to hold this passage until the battlements are dismantled!"

    "We have trolls at the most a minute behind us! There is no hope at all to hold long enough! And even so, what then!?"

    "Haven't you listened!? We break the battlements above and let the boulders rain on those trolls, pushing them back and letting the holding companies..."

    "...whatever bloody pulp is left of them..."

    "Letting the holding companies fall back before we drop even more of the wall to block the street entirely! That is how we hold out until the reinforcements from the south arrive! It is the only way!"

    "Urgency does not equal feasibility. I will station my men on the slope but I consider myself holding until we are all forced to retreat behind the fifth gate."

    "We retreat only when I give the..."

    Noruinivnirs voice was suddenly drowned by the dreaded howls of the Olog-Hai. They had to move now! Why weren't those swordsmen giving way? Archers should stand behind swordsmen to shoot, not the other way around! They had to move!


    A troll had pushed Turgon and half a dozen more out of its way without taking notice of them when they charged the Gondorian formation, or more accurately mob since all had ebecome disordered and intermingled with each other trying to form up and unconsciously get as close to the street leading upwards as possible. Another troll stepped on Turgons arm and crushed it. His pained screams caused a third to look down briefly and stab at his chest with the spikes of its mace, silencing his screams with the blood that filled his punctured throat and lungs.

    The captain Noruinivnir fell back with the remaining swordsmen when the lines were broken through. They were trapped against the wall opposite the streets and there would be no escape. The last riders they had tried to force their panicking mounts forward one last time. The Olog-Hai had waded in blood but even they tired in the cold and dry air and their movement were slow. They could not defeat the battle trolls but perhaps there was a chance for some of them to sneak through and make it up away to the next gate. Noruinivnir looked out between two trolls but suddenly realized there was nothing but more of them behind. Where had they come from? Then he realized that the orcs had their catapults operated by such beasts and their chieftain must have sent the crews inside as reinforcements. Just as Noruinivnir was struck by the realization his feet were swept away by something he could not see and the next moment he was trampled by the enemys reinforcements as they rushed in to finish the surviving Gondorian swordsmen.


    Yet while her defenders faltered the walls of Minas Tirith would withstand the orcs that day. The fifth gate revealed an almost unbelievably sharp slope, quite impractical and unusable by wagons. In peaceful times, there were elevators and cranes constructed against the wall on wooden frames to lift goods and construction material further above where new wagons and hand carts would load them to bring everything further up. Now there was no trace of such things, the timber used for palisades or spare parts for the city's artillery. And orc catapults, even crewed by the massive trolls, could not be rolled up along the icy and slippery street, the beasts feet finding no point offering support as they strained to push the large contraptions.

    Uruk archers and halberdiers covered the sixth level unto the next gate, where even the heaviest of axes made little impression against the steel covered oak timbers. Numenorian craftsmanship, while on a decline as in most areas, still stood proud.


    Malthur received the reports of the situation in the city with his usual collected wrathfulness. A setback it was, but it would only be temporary. All the gates on the lower levels were permanently eliminated, either shot to pieces by heated rocks or simply torn and lifted off their hinges and thrown to the ground by trolls. The immediate matter was how to fortify the sixth level in case of the, admittedly unlikely, event of a Gondorian counterattack. In addition, the lower levels of the city might be used for quartering his troops to get away from the biting cold on the plain. And the outermost city wall was of course anothe rline of defense against any enemy reinforcements.

    As Malthur deliberated such details, he caught sight of a group of riders on black horses trotting closer from the east. The plate armor of the retainers and black cloak of the leader left no room for doubt as to their identity. It was not their witch king, nor was is Khamul, but the voice was almost as dead and hollow and still caused his blood to turn cold and his old scars to ache again.

    "OVERSEER. THY FAILURE SHAMES THE DARK LORD."

    Even Malthurs self-restraint in the presence of his tormentors was not unlimited.

    "Failure!? We have them! WE. HAVE. THEM! The last gates will break from a simple ramming, it is just the matter of having it lifted up to that cursed street!"

    "SILENCE, ORC." The last epithet was delivered with a vehement sneer that told all about how low the speaker regarded each and everyone of the race. "REMOVE THY WEAK MINIONS FROM THE CITY. THOU WILL SEE THEM ENCAMPED ON THE PLAINS EAST OF THE WITCH-KINGS FORCES WHERE YOU WILL CONSTRUCT THE EQUIPMENT YOU LACK TO FULFILL YOUR ASSIGNED TASKS."

    "Leave the city!? You mean abandon all we have gained today, for no reason!"

    "SILENCE, SERVANT. MIND THY PLACE OR THOU SHALL BE REMINDED OF IT. HAVE YOUR RABBLE SWIFTLY MOVED OUT OF THE WAY FOR OTHER FORCES WILL TAKE CUSTODY OF THE CITY."

    Malthur suddenly understood the game behind those illogical orders. He turned about. Sure enough, there was the witch-kings orcs marching towards him. They would line up to be ready to march into the city and hold the lower levels while he built siege equipment that could be assembled on the spot once it had been carried in parts and pieces to the upper levels. That would prove no great difficulty. But once his army marched out between leering hordes of ringwraith bootlickers it would appear as nothing short of a defeat with his forces leaving the city bloody after todays battle. And then naturally also appear as if the wraiths marched into it to salvage the situation! All he had regained of order and discipline the last weeks risked being washed away in this tide of humiliation. And the ringwraiths would be there watching expectantly for any pretext of removing him from command and label him traitor and rebel. Malthur clenched his jaws until his teeth were grinding against each other and faced the ringwraith again.

    "It will be done."





    Chapter IX - VI

    The snow had melted and the ice let go of its grip of eastern Gondor. The plains were once again bare and wet. It was a morning four days after the city gates had been stormed and once again black armored uruks marched under the great gatehouse of the outer wall. The orcs under the ringwraiths direct command manned the two lowest levels of the city but had shown little interest in keeping and securing the upper parts, or been held back deliberately. Houses and wall points were manned and patrolled well enough but it was clearly with defenses in mind and not to keep the enemy restricted. It was thus no surprise for Malthurs vanguard to encounter a Gondorian raiding and scouting party when they moved in to retake the third and fourth and fifth levels.


    Battle trolls were once again spearheading the assault and siege crews followed bearing parts of battering rams that could be assembled on the spot once they had been carried, dragged and lifted by ropes past the slope behind the fifth gate. Four large beams formed a frame with wheels upon which the whole contraption rested. Three pairs of wheels gave it mobility. To the frame where also three pairs of vertical beams fastened and strengthened by a matching number of angled such that connected at the center of the frame. From the vertical beams hung the ram itself, a large log with a sharpened and steel-tipped end. All those parts could be bolted together on the spot and taken apart for another climb should the need arise. Trolls crewed the ram with no protection for themselves, but had little need for it since the sixth gate lay almost undefended.


    Before the sixth gate lay a small town square, a place for limited commerce and for shoring up goods and supplies before having them carried further up or lowered by the cranes near the fifth gate. Now there was an eerie stillness about the place and only the grunts of the Olog-Hai and the creaking of the crude timbers of the ram were heard. When it was in position the trolls needed no handles but grasped each one of the beams from which the ram hung and heaved in unison back and forward, facing away from their target to add their back strength to the movement of the arms. Here the trolls were built in a somewhat different manner than orcs or humans, and more easily moved with their upper back in aid to their arms. Hence they favored wide swings in battle not only because it let them hit more of their prey most times than an overhead strike downward. The impacts of the ram grew from a heavy knock on the doors to crushing and cracking sounds where materials broke apart.

    Metal straining and bending, wood splintering, the doors groaned and lamented the steady pounding they endured. In the middle, an iron bar bent inwards, the wood cracked. Another one over it gave ground as well to the ram, whose tip was now visible through the hole. The trolls howled with excitement and the rammers increased their pace, fueled by the prospect of breaking further into the lair of their tasty prey.


    Long forgotten smiths and carpenters had fashioned and crafted the doors with minute care and pride in their trade. Not only strong but easily operated despite their weight and adorned with figures and patterns hammered and engraved into the metal surface the doors had been a source of much pride and endless hours of oiling, furnishing and careful repairs over years, decades and centuries. It was indeed a strong obstacle, with ironclad timbers that defied all sorts of blades and axes of an assailant. But for all the strengths it had open and even ground outside it and no beams braced it against a rams heavy impacts. The legacy of generations of craftsmen and builders cracked, bent and splintered in the end.


    Above the winding stairs and streets no rams could be rolled but the gates were smaller still and the gate vaults could not accommodate doors that were thick and heavy enough to withstand troll hammers and maces, nor the unhinged log from the battering ram carried by them. Orcs flooded the stairs and towers, cutting down disheartened defenders that were falling back at every turn.

    So high up the top of the mountain slope was visible and green patches of moss and grass clung to the bare stone. No real defenses were built in such directions, for hat foe would scale the very mountainside? Only one road led up to the courtyard before the stewards hall with the white tower of Ecthellion that had so long been the pride and hallmark of Minas Tirith. In those halls had generation after generation of stewards ruled Gondor after Eärnur left the realm without an heir when he at last answered the Witch Kings challenge and rode through the gates of Minas Morgul to duel the ringwraith. Never again was he heard or seen outside and the stewards ruled until a king would return. Their rule went unchallenged, for while many could lay some claim to the throne the memories of kinslaying and inner strife lay heavily on Gondor and none wanted to risk more of such disasters.

    Weak and strong, wise and rash, stewards saw Gondor wane and wax, giving ground to retake it and then be forced back again. Many losses and many gains there were, but ever the white tower stood unbroken. Ever did Gondorian faces look over the battlements in defiance towards the east. Until now. From the highest level were for the first time seen enemy banners, the red eye and wholly red flags and pennants, Malthurs signal that the way to the citadel was clear and the last gate breached.


    In the back ranks of the orc army there were eyes with hunger in them, eyes with hatred for the tark city, eyes with fear of the next orc that would pass and eyes with leering malice towards them. And one pair of eyes with utter despair in them behind, for the first time in months, unending tears running freely for Minas Tirith and all of Gondor that had fallen for the orc chieftains hand. The weight of his colossal failures and monumental betrayal held his chest in a grip that seemed likely to just squeeze him to bits like the hideous trolls any moment. He hung from his chains that tied his arms to the cart, ignorant of how the shackles grinded against his arms in that position. Let it all end now. He could hear the steps of iron-shod uruk feet. Perhaps that would be his end.

    A gauntleted hand gripped his one arm roughly and he could hear metal clattering against each other. He realized that his right arm was free and almost fell down from the lack of support. With his head slumping forward he could see black plating before him. His left arm came free and he fell down on his knees and hands on the cart, breathing heavily.

    "I am sure you have realized that your city is taken by now, whiteskin." said the most hated voice.

    "Have you come to finish your work, fiend? Get on with it, then."

    The orc chieftain leaned in closer.

    "Finish it? Far from it. Do not think I would let you off that easily, you backstabbing coward. Though you showed some guts at that moment I guess, it is truly a pity you could not have summoned that up earlier, then you could maybe have put up some flaming resistance in the first place."

    "Then what the hell are you here for?"

    "As I said, I intend to repay you properly for all you have done. I will set you free. And I know you fully well enough to know that you won't bring yourself to end it for there is always the so small a chance that you could find some pitiful tarks to give your...valuable...aid, and neither will you ever let yourself forget just how much you yourself contributed to all this, or just how close you think you were to finish me off and prevent it. And that, my friend, I do believe is worse than anything I could do to you." Malthur said and indicated the city walls where smoke and hideous banners defiled them.

    The orc chieftain grasped him by the collar and seemingly without effort hurled down on the muddy ground. With filthy earth in his face and the cold eating at him anew he could hear the familiar mocking malice in the orcs voice.

    "The proud armies of Mordor thanks you for your services, Cirion."



    On the very courtyard, beneath the sacred White Tree itself, the last defenders made their stand, having rolled out the trebuchets from the battlements to form a crude wall behind which they took cover. Aradors best troops, professional soldiers of Dol Amroth, braced behind their shields together with the remaining militia companies of the city. The torrent of iron and leathery skin that was the Olog-Hai washed over the forerankers who had taken up the position just behind the beams of the siege machinery to stab from the cover.


    Blood splattered over the ancient stones and covered the mountain trolls. In his reckless frenzy, one of the middle trampled a swordsman in blind rage and proceeded to attack the next enemy with a mighty goring of his head, crowned with a horned helmet. The enemy on the receiving end was the White Tree itself, where the troll had now embedded himself in its trunk.


    Behind the trolls crept a worm of metal and spikes, the uruk infantry that was catching up at last after their own climb up through the city's winding streets, having broken into barricaded homes, towers and isolated strongholds along the way. They ended any Gondorian that still drew breath after having been knocked out of the way by the charge and onslaught of a troll mace. Before the gate of the Stewards Hall, the last of the white city gave up their lives and died in a broken mass.


    Minas Tirith had fallen.





    Chapter IX - VII


    ...make no mistake, Malthur, you will never climb higher, nor will any of those who succeed you...

    ...all who look upon you will know that they gaze upon the weakest and least among chieftains and why it is so...

    ...let's see what truths and lies we can discover beneath the surface...

    ...you were supposed to be dead, you know...

    ...it is time you relearned your place, orc. Or someone would perhaps be given the pleasure of reminding you of it...

    ...a strange thought it must truly be for you people, who see only a new back to stab when you look around among your fellow orcs...

    ...you are insignificant, a speck of dust blown before the eastern wind, a flake of ash floating above the fires of the dark lord...

    ...march too slow, and you will die...

    ...march, slave. Drive your army north...



    The courtyard did at first lay eerily still. Moments after the last Gondorian had fallen orcs and trolls looked around at each other in search of new enemies, not crediting their senses yet. Had they really done it, taken the tark city from where the enemy had always come after them? Then the momentary tension ceased to grip the most careless or arrogant, and they relaxed their hold on weapons and breathed out, shouting profane insults at enemies no longer present, or laughing madly at having made it through a siege that could have been infinitely more costly. As orcs always tended to do, many started to eye the fallen foe with the look that humans would cast on a plate of freshly baked pies.

    Uruks closer to the path up stood at attention suddenly, and ripples of orcs scrambling to form up formed from that part of the courtyard. Between ranks of quiet halberdiers entered the chieftain with his bodyguard marching behind. There was no way of telling what his demeanor was like behind the spiked helmet and none really wanted to find out that much. Ever quiet, Malthur marched across the stones until he reached the piles of fallen next to the white tree, now cut and desecrated, and the Gondorian trebuchets. He bent down and drew his dagger, cutting in some way at a body close to him. Still the orcs were quietly murmuring, anticipating but unsure. Rising and stepping up on one of the siege weapons platform, Malthur held up the breastplate he had cut loose from one of the humans and then tossed it out over the crowd.

    "Dinner plates!"

    He swept out his arms as in welcoming a party of guests and presenting to them a table filled to the brim with delicacies.

    "Meat!"

    He pointed towards the white tree of Gondor and the trebuchets.

    "Firewood!"

    The orc chieftain smiled, triumphant and menacing, at his orcs and trolls.

    "What are we waiting for!?"


    It was a feast like no other and never heard of. Trolls waded in delicious raw meat, taking bites here and there or stuffing themselves as full as they could. Orcs lighted fires randomly all across the yard and roasted freshly cut meat on sticks and broken spears and anything else they got their hands on. Drinks had been sent for as soon as the red banners were raised on the walls. They had broken the ancient enemy, the iron-clad, cold-eyed, sharp-steeled tarks. The silent terror that each orc of Mordor shared was that those tarks would one day stand outside the gates and overseers or nazghul would stand behind them with whip and sword in hand, driving them forward into pitiless sharpened steel, glimmering so that ones eye hurt and gazes filled with contempt and hate. But now they were broken and beaten, now their tower was beneath the great eyes gaze and dominion. And deepest, deepest down that thought was not a little bit terrifying in itself. But in the moment, such thoughts were washed out with great swigs of orcish spirits and drowned in the greatest chunks of meat that one managed to bite off.

    Least fortunate in the gathering were those few scouts that Malthur had posted on the top battlements to keep an eye on the plains around, not completely necessary as many of the orcs strolled to the rim of the courtyard to have a look at the lands they considered themselves to have conquered. The fields of Pelennor, the disheartening great river, smaller woods and fields south and east where the more rugged Lossarnach began.

    "What are those?"

    "Must be Gorbags rabble."

    "Nah, them lot was the other way..."

    "The nazghuls army, maybe?"

    "Make way! Out of my path with you!"

    Muzul, still diligent as second in command, pushed his way to the wall.

    "Those aren't any of ours, boys. They must be the tarks from the south we have been racing against to get here before they could sneak in and man the battlements."

    "Ha! Let 'em come!

    "We'll show 'em some bloody defense of this tower, we will!"

    "Time to teach them a lesson 'bout how it's supposed to be done!"

    The outbursts attracted the attention of more of the orcs and also their captains. Muzul found a heavy hand grasping his shoulder and turned around angrily, but stilled himself as he met Malthurs dark gaze.

    "Muzul, gather up the meat you can and distribute it among everyone to carry."

    "What...I mean, what for, chieftain?"

    "We are going to move out."

    "Why!? What the hell's going on!?"

    "Call it prudent caution. I would prefer to be wrong but I'm sure none of us will be that damned lucky today."

    "I still..."

    Malthur turned around angrily and to Muzuls eyes he could might as well have grown to twice his size, so unexpected was the grimness and hatred he sensed in the chieftains countenance. This was not the time to second-guess.

    "NOW, Muzul."

    "Will do. Will do!"

    Had Muzul looked over the wall in that moment he would have seen runners scrambling up the pathway, panting and with legs shaking from the climb. Uruk sentries watched with contempt but let them pass. On the edge of the courtyard could be heard screaming and chattering as the runners evidently demanded entry. Malthur shouted out and waved at the guards to let them pass though. It was with the greatest difficulty that the first one could form words.

    "Chi...chie...chieftain...they...they calls all out! Them...them...th-th-the...the w-wraiths! All are to form up...on the plain before the gates!"

    Muzul scratched the back of his head. Malthur had been right again it seemed. What was this about?



    It was with considerable despondency and reluctance that Malthurs troops marched out. The casualties among the orcs had been minimal but most trolls were wounded, while not fatally, and it would greatly slow them down the coming days. But most of all it was profoundly wrong to leave the safety of the walls and the untouched treasures that awaited the victor inside the vaults and the large tower.

    Outside were the armies under Gorbag assembled south of the city walls, and the witch-kings main host stood before its gates. Now they stood in marching formation but Malthur was not unaware that their front was still aligned so that he would have to march before them, in a far too obvious likeness to the previous exit out of those gates.

    Before the orcs there rode forth black numenorians on their warhorses, not in pairs or dozens but in squadrons. In their middle they had parted, and the sky darkened and the light faded before the ringwraiths unseen gazes.

    Malthur had the time to think that the next time he would appear on a throne borne by the trolls, only to spare himself from having to look up at anyone that was too lazy to use his own legs. Then cold grasped his heart and he felt the wraiths gaze upon him. He sighed and forced his stiffened limbs to continue marching before their crowned captain. He hoped his bodyguards marched impeccably, otherwise he would flay them afterwards if they made a fool of him now.

    Malthur knew with certainty what he could expect, but he found himself burning inside still when the witch-king spoke.

    "VANGUARDS OF THE ARMIES OF GONDOR HAVE CROSSED THE RIVER FROM LOSSARNACH SOUTH OF THE WHITE CITY. YOU WILL MARCH OUT AND DESTROY THEM."

    "We have just seized the greatest flaming fortifications on this side of the huge river! Why the hell would we move out in the open from such a position!?"

    "ARE YOU QUESTIONING THE WILL OF THE GREAT EYE, SLAVE? IT WOULD BE UNFORTUNATE IF I HAD TO WASTE TIME ON SELECTING ANOTHER COMMANDER WHILE KHAMUL MADE A PROPER EXAMPLE OF YOU."

    "We will march out and crush the whiteskins, then."





    Chapter X

    Chapter X - I

    The land was burning. Not just houses or patches of grass but the plain itself, the southern quarter of Pelennor had been devastated and was black with ashes and soot, with twisted remains of trees, cottages and the grisly and blackened dead of both sides. The smoke had rose high, thick and stinking from the damp ground, and the sun shone less than it should. The orcs chieftain had held nothing back, as if seeking to set fire to the world itself. That was of course not within the reach of even such a prominent warchief but the combined effect of oil, pitch, tar and less known and even more lethal substances gathered over years of campaigning was a devastation of fearsome proportion. Men and horses shied away from his wrath, and Gondorian captains forsook the hope of ever relieving their capital, surrendering to the idea of the homelands complete defeat. North the combined Rohirric forces huddled in the castle of Cair Andros.

    Trolls with clubs and maces marched alongside black plated uruks on the road that went from south to north under the walls of Minas Tirith. Other orcs stared at them, with contempt, awe, fear and jealousy. There was no mistaking the assuredness and swagger of Malthurs uruks and deep down everyone knew that it was not without reason. But those same uruks and to a lesser degree trolls were also branded as outcasts and something of renegades, publicly scorned by the wraiths and in bad standing with the rest of the dark lords servants. A wise orc kept its distance from such kin, expecting something bad to come out of it all and hoping to not get caught up in it, and to be there when it was over to pick up the spoils.

    In a long column Malthurs army marched with the chieftains bodyguard close to the front. Uruk archers made up the vanguard as usual. They soon reported that large forces were deployed next to the city gates and the crossroads, similar to when they had marched out. Immediately forward of them were a company-sized group, though. They bore better than average plate armor and shields with a grinning white skull over a likewise white crescent moon. Malthur recognized the emblem of the orcs stationed permanently in Minas Morgul, the mark being a mockery of the tarks who had called the place the moon tower or something of that sort. Leading them was a shorter orc with a pointy nose and darting eyes, with the habit of tilting his head downward so that he looked at others from under his eyebrows. Malthur thought his appearance reminded him mostly of an overly aggressive rat, like many of the stunted archers that were usually given scouting duties. A nasal voice completed the likeness.

    "Stop! Halt! Who goes there?!"

    Malthur did not stop, nor did he in fact make any sign of having heard the question when he continued marching ahead towards the orc patrol. Their leader cried out again, clearly less reassured this time.

    "I said: who goes there!"

    Malthur was still marching ahead, seemingly intent on marching right over him.

    "I am Lorg, captain of this post, and I demand you state your name and number and rank!"

    "Halt column!" Malthur suddenly held out his arm and barked at his troops, with the cry being repeated down along the ranks. The chieftain stepped forward

    "You are not welcome here, little overseer. Why not crawl back into Mordor while you let those who are actually trusted do the work of war? We don't need your rabble anywhere here, you see."

    "Why not get out of my way, worm?"

    "You can't touch me! I am under the nazghuls themselves commands!"

    "Just as we all are, then. Unless you would suggest that the wraiths do not have control over their armies? Is that what you are saying, little maggot?"

    The other orc stared at Malthur but did not form any retort.

    "So perhaps you could direct me to a real commander here for I have no patience for sniveling little Morgul bootlicker rats! I am going into the city so either get out of my way or try to stop me."

    Lorg hesitated, looked around himself and licked his lips, walking backwards. When he had put a few ranks between himself and Malthur he frantically cried out "Seize that rebel! Now!".

    Malthur made no reply but held up his raised fist. As one, the first line of uruk bodyguards raised up their shields and put one foot forth, ready to brace against a charge. The Morgul orcs running forward stopped in their tracks, hesitant. They looked to one another and back over their shoulders. They had not come to fight, they had come to stand guard, beat up the odd suspected culprit and help with bullying other orcs. Usually, the skull and moon of their shields were more than enough to let them get away with such. Now for once it clearly wasn't. But neither were Lorgs company ready to accept the fact that another uruk company would attack them openly - knives in the dark and murders in dark corners were the common ways of the enthralled orc of Mordor. And so they did neither thing, and hesitated too long.

    Lorgs eyes darted left and right, searching for reinforcements or for an avenue of escape. Then suddenly he drew a knife from his belt and threw it at Malthur quicker than anyone could react to. The orc chieftain instinctively turned his head to the side to let the helmet block as much as possible, but Lorg was not as skilled or steady as he was fast, and the knife bounced with a clattering against the orc chieftains chest plates. Malthur looked down unimpressed, secretly well aware that the armor he wore resisted steel much sharper and attempts far more determined than that. Then he lowered his fist, and his uruk bodyguards advanced.





    Chapter X - II
    The uruk bodyguards advanced in a controlled walk, neither charging nor bothering to lock shields. The arrogance in their calm was unsettling in itself and once they reached the first of the guards of Lorg they cut them down as they went with swift thrusts. The few who stood their ground were swiftly overwhelmed and the rest routed. Behind them, Lorg had raised the alarm and commanded more orcs to join his company, but in the confusion there were no real line of battle formed and pockets of orcs started to give way and panic on their own. Malthur advanced undeterred, even to the point where he risked being surrounded had the foe been more courageous. But the swift attack hit the enemy morale so much that he could press on and the other orcs trampled one another to get away or were pushed into the countless moats and sharpened stakes that were erected to protect the siege lines.


    Then horns were sounded from inside the city and hoof strikes against cobblestones were heard. The witch-king rode out along with the other ringwraiths and his scream caused weapons to fall from cold hands and every orc that heard it cowered in fear.

    The spectral, otherworldly scream was followed by a metallic echoing commandment that rang in the ears. It was as if one had stood in a ravine even though there was only open ground. It cut into the ears, split the head like the worst of aches.

    "CEASE -EASE -ESE...!"

    The witch-king looked around and inhaled audibly and irritably.

    "BRING FORTH THE FOOLS WHO CAUSED THIS."

    Malthur was stepping forward and making his way through the uruks that had pulled back at the ringwraiths command.

    "OVERSEER. THY LACK OF CONTROL IS YET AGAIN APPARENT."

    "MY lack of control!? It was that flaming traitor filth Lorg that attacked my unit! I have been forced to defend myself from that seditious rabble!"

    "WHERE IS HE, THEN?"

    "I have not seen the scum. He must have been slain or trampled or he has crawled down some rat-hole to shiver."

    "CONVENIENT FOR YOU."

    "Convenient!? I..."

    "SILENCE!"

    There was a moment where both looked wordlessly at one another. None ever knew if the witch-king made his decision then and there or if it was something long since coming no matter what had happened. Neither does any tale tell if Malthur had truly expected what was to come.

    "YOU HAVE PROVEN YOUR LACK OF WORTH FOR THE FINAL TIME, SLAVE. THY ARMY WILL BE DISBANDED, SPLIT INTO GARRISONS. YOU WILL RETURN TO THY ASSIGNED POSITION AS OVERSEER OF DURTHANG, ABSENT RECOGNITION OR SPOILS, ABSENT ANYTHING THAT YOU COULD POSSIBLY USE TO RISE ABOVE YOUR PLACE AGAIN."

    The orc chieftain stood very still. His eyes were not really visible under the shadows of the helmet, and his posture betrayed nothing except that he was clearly anything but relaxed. After a moment that doubtlessly felt longer than it was he spoke with a calm that did not quite hide the burning hatred underneath.

    "The white city will be exposed without my forces to keep it secured. Its defenses are in ruin. We should deploy the catapults along the battlements and stockpile the ammunition across the city."

    The witch-king regarded the orc chieftain with his cold gaze for a moment, perhaps seeking an ulterior motive for the suggestion. Thinking that the pathetic orc perhaps hoped to return to good grace or was just seeking an excuse to get rid of the cumbersome equipment for the return journey, the witch-king assented.

    "SEE IT DONE."



    It did probably come as a surprise to even the most contemptuous rival just how vast the supplies of Malthurs army really were. Throughout Ithilien, Near and Far Harad, Umbar and Mordor they had collected every liquid that could be carried that could be set ablaze. Barrels, jars and crates, the containers were as varied as the content. In Mordor the dark lords thralls and disciples took wicked pleasure in discovering ever more hideous weapons of war, and among the corsairs the value of incendiary bombardment against enemy ships was just as well known by all as the importance of the tar and pitch for maintaining their own vessels. Oils of all kinds were carried among the trade routes across the inner of Harad and the woods in Ithilien could be harvested for vast quantities of sticky and flammable liquids as well as timber. The catapults themselves were easy to dismantle and mount on the walls and towers by their experienced crews, even those set up on the uppermost levels. Minas Tirith bristled with fiery defenses, seemingly eager to prove that her new shape could rival even a dragon in destruction, should any enemy be foolish enough to come close.

    All the time, Malthurs army was consigned to camp on the plain outside the city. No meat was sent to them, although Malthur had ordered the battlefields south harvested for those of the dead not burnt completely to ashes. Nevertheless it underlined the fact that the army now seemed to be finally and irrevocably cast out since news of the witch-kings orders had spread fast. The prospect of breaking up into garrison units reawakened the older division and insecurity that had plagued the army during the tormenting march north from Harad under the ringwraiths command. What companies would be posted where? Could an orc captain obtain the favor of someone in power there? Would it be possible to distance oneself from Malthur and his falling star before he dragged them all down with him?

    Possibly the clearest sign of them all that this was final was the demeanor of the chieftain himself. He was not seen barking orders and cutting heads as had been the case during previous periods of unrest, but kept mostly to his tent, with the guard under Muzuls command doubled just in case. Likewise, the ringwraiths were also mysteriously absent from sight, where most had expected them to take the opportunity to undermine Malthur further. Perhaps they considered him finished for good already and not worth bothering with, but there were whispers about strangely vague but urgent orders that had come from Barad Dur itself recently. It concerned the looting of the white city, where the taking of any jewelry, such as rings, had been strictly forbidden, together with the destruction of Gondorian books and parchment. Those who claimed to have any insight in it all described the ringwraiths as busy with turning the Gondorian stewards archives and vaults over, but what items or information they were searching for none knew, or dared pretend to know.

    Under these circumstances, it was little wonder that the orc chieftains order to break camp and march outside the gates of the walls around Pelennor and await him there caused much confusion and dark glances. Wild thoughts that he would somehow sell them out to the wraiths to save himself or even darker ideas coursed through the minds of uruks and common servant orcs, but the shadow of Malthur still lingered over them all and there were none that dared to be the first to disobey.

    Thus did Malthurs army march away from their greatest prize and victory leaderless and in infamy, facing a future of hardship and misery.



    Chapter X - III
    Malthur glanced down from the wall at the neatly ordered barrels and stacks of weapons below. The catapults beside him could be loaded with the rocks next to it in an instant and they in turn could be set aflame quickly as soon as someone carried one of the barrels of oils, pitch and tar up to the walls. Those were placed in long, straight rows along the walls and streets. Only thing that marred the perfection of order was the broken battlements, the reminder of his catapult fire during the last assault. Here next to the great gate the enemy had actually put up some resistance before his trolls leveled their towers and chipped away the top of the wall. Now, a careless fellow might slip and fall down, either outside or inside as the hurled rocks had torn down both the outer and inner battlement. Or someone could drop something. Right on the barrels below. But surely no one would be that careless, he chortled with a grunt. That would be just as bad as if someone would have cut the rope of the two nearest catapults. He took a deep breath and squatted down, grasping the large stone. Heavy things, these, but that's what you have the trolls for after all. He let out a growl and staggered closer to the inner edge of the wall. There, now that stone lay quite near the edge, broken as it were. Sloping slightly downwards. It would just take a kick to push it over the edge, most likely.

    "Curse your flickering form of a spineless traitor, witch- of a maggots nest! GRAAGH!"

    The sound of breaking barrels was so much alike the sound of enemy artillery pieces breaking from bombardment. The sharp crack could be heard across the whole battlefield. Good times...

    A torch was lit nearby each firing position, always illuminating the wall and ready for quick use in the event of a siege. Disciplined. Ordered. And so wasted now that the new garrison spent their time feasting on the spoils of war that his boys had rightly earned! Faithless scum! What a nice irony if the Gondorian army had managed to break through right now and marched in and gutted all those careless louts. Although the nazghul would likely be a bit harder to cut apart. Not the easiest thing, killing someone who was already dead, or whatever it was they were...

    "A pity you did not have a proper funeral pyre built for you in your time, oh mighty lord. But worry not, it's never too late..."

    Malthur flicked the torch over the edge of the wall. He took a breath. Then another one.

    The wave of heat hit him like a wall. Sometimes when one stood next to a catapult the sensation of a burning rock passing next to your head could invoke something of this feeling of the air being on fire. But this was of course the fire of at least a hundred rocks together, along with the soaked firewood of barrels and spare parts.

    The uruk chieftain chuckled and threw the rope over the wall, fastened on the sturdy rock protecting defenders from incoming arrows and bolts. He glided down in an instant and hurried away from the walls.



    The smoke rising from the other side of Rammas Echor, the outer wall around Minas Tirith and the surrounding Pelennor Fields, soon upset the encamped army. Some wondered whether they should go back and find out what was going on. Others argued that if it was an attack they had better either get far away from the walls or claim and fortify them themselves. Squabbles were growing to rioting when a deep calm started to emanate from the center. The commander was back, marching through the gate in the wall to meet up with his captains. He beckoned them to follow and continued to ascend a supply wagon so that at last nearly everyone could see him. Only the most suicidal orc would continue the infighting by now, and no such orc had survived this long in Malthurs army. One look at him told that the times of crawling and flattering before any other commander were over. The iron hand of the chieftain gripped the army again, and any foolish enough to dispute it would end up shorter.

    "Where.. where to, chief?"

    "I tell you, I've had enough of Mordors dust and ashes for a long flaming time! Gondor and Harad lies broken behind us and I say, it's time to establish ourselves somewhere, with no big bosses clawing at the greater share of the plunder all the time! If anybody disagrees he is free to go back to the Nazghuls. They can be found in the pyre right behind me! Otherwise, prepare to move out! We march north!"







    The End.


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •