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And from the Plateau of Gorgoroth he did stumble, bloodied and broken, through the lightless
. Smoke riseth behind him, as well as the dying cries of tens of thousands of his kind, who thus were being swallowed back into the earth, which claimed them with great vengeance and anger. valley of Minas Morgul
Blind with the urge to survive, he did not see that he had passed from the valley. His vision was trained on his feet and the ground thereof, and he did not notice the change from barren, sharp rock to tall swaying grass and soft yellow sunshine. Somewhere in a large green field the world swimmeth in his sight, and he fell limply in it, unconscious. Eth.
HE CAME to squinting. The sun was directly overhead. He hated the sun. He opened his eyes slowly, his hands over his face, and said, “Grrrachth!” which meant nothing. He had Grass in his mouth.
He rolled over with a sustained grunt and spat it out. It was attached to a fair-sized glob of dirt.
Noises: the sound of metal clanking on metal, horses snorting, the footsteps of many nearby.
He stopped spitting and hacking and tried to come up to his hands and knees to take a look around, but stopped when his back flashed agony along with his left knee and ankle.
He still had dirt and grass in his mouth. And some up his nose, too.
He licked his tongue up and down his sleeve, and tried picking the dirt out of his nose, which only pushed it farther up. He went to curse under his breath in his native Black Speech, but stopped, confused. The words … he knew them, but something—not the grass—kept them from his tongue.
He made another push and got to his hands and knees. With pain spiking through his body, he very cautiously grunted and groaned his way towards the sound.
He had passed out on a small knoll. At its summit, and back on his stomach, he parted the grass to the degree he thought wise, and looked.
It was the army of Gondor!
They marched in a single wide column left to right for as far as he could see in both directions, maybe a hundred yards away. The horses snorted, and the men’s armor clinked, as did their weapons, but no one spoke. Their faces spoke of exhaustion and relief bought and paid for in blood. Blood his kind was responsible for spilling.
If they spied him, they’d kill him.
He dropped back to his stomach and breathed as shallowly as he could. It was all he could do to remain still: fear screamed at him to crawl away, and when it was safe, run, run, RUN!
But he knew he couldn’t. He probably couldn’t even walk. His back, knee, and ankle … felt broken. He wasn’t sure. Worse, he wasn’t sure how he’d been injured. It had all been a blur.
He’d lain next to an ant hill. Ants crawled on him and made him itch. But he dared not move, even when some started biting.
Did he hate them—men? Sure. But enough to kill them?
Despite being born and bred to kill them and swarm madly over the lands of Middle Earth, he hadn’t actually killed one. He’d stayed alive by resourcefulness and cunning, and by pretending to be a hardened killer. But then, when the slaughtering got underway, he would be conveniently somewhere else. No one of his kind had ever noticed him; they were too busy spitting things like, “He looks frrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrresh! Why don’ts we eat him?”
If these men discovered him here, would he make a final stand and try to kill as many of them as he could before the inevitable happened? Did he have it in him? Or would he merely lie here prone and let them skewer him?
Prone, oddly and macabrely, sounded better.
They didn’t even look all that appealing, despite the yawning, biting emptiness in his stomach. He’d eaten man-flesh in the past. It wasn’t all that. He’d passed more often than not when a fallen soldier was feasted on. At least at the beginning. As the war dragged on and resources dried up, hunger pushed him to join in. But he took no real pleasure in it. Not like his comrades, who couldn’t seem to get enough of man-thighs and man-breasts and man-buttocks.
He glanced over his shoulder, grateful. That hateful sun was finally setting. Not a single cloud had passed overhead this entire miserable day.
And then he started.
The sun was setting!
Men didn’t march in the night—not unless they absolutely have to. He had learned that in basic training, which was little more than being whipped to hurry here and there, and sergeants screaming, “DON’T YOU KNOW THIS IS WAAAAAAAAAAAR?”
Men didn’t march in the night! And there were still many hundreds of them filing past! They’d soon set up camp! If he didn’t get off this knoll right now, it was a sure thing he’d be discovered!
Grunting and swallowing back squeals, he eased himself very slowly off the knoll. This made the ants on him even unhappier, and they bit him without mercy, making him slap at himself to get them off.
The sun was almost down when he got to a cluster of half-dead scrub hanging over a shallow gorge with a quietly gurgling creek at its bottom. He was filthy, and his clothing was damp, and bugs of various kinds crawled over him, some of which he ate. He didn’t stop at the scrub, but tried to get to the water, which was maybe ten or twelve feet down. He lost his footing and dropped hard on his butt, which hurt, but not that badly, for he had landed in tall grass. He cursed in the language of men (which was strangely easy to do), then twisted about and dipped his face full in the stream and drank his fill. He came up and wiped his chin and looked up at the pink light draining into a steely deep blue. He heard talking and laughing, and grunted up against the gorge, which was less rock than loose earth held precariously in place by wiry foliage and fungus.
After a time, and with great effort, he pulled himself to the lip and looked.
Sure enough, the army of Gondor was setting up camp. At the top of the knoll, where he had been, were sentries and several tents lighted from within. Someone was strumming an instrument, and fires blazed with groups of soldiers sitting around them. He could smell cooking, and his mouth watered.
He had been very lucky—twice. He had avoided being slaughtered, and then swallowed by the vengeful earth itself (!), and now, as he clung to the side for his life, a third stroke of luck: the escarpment to his immediate right shielded him from view from the four or five soldiers who’d discovered the creek and were filling flasks and wiping dirt and blood off their faces.
He held on, the strength in his forearms failing by the second. The earth beneath his fingertips started giving way, and he clutched wildly for the grass an inch or two farther on, his cheek cemented against a damp ball of fungus, his eyes wide with terror. He breathed heavily. Against every effort not to, he squealed.
The men suddenly stopped talking and washing. He heard weapons sing as they were pulled from scabbards. One of them said: “Did you hear that? It sounded like an Orc! C’mon!”
This was the end for him. He knew it. He knew he didn’t have the fight in him to face them bravely. He’d die squealing and skewered.
They were twenty feet away, then ten, then …
A horn sounded.
“That’ll be the lieutenant,” said one. “C’mon.”
“What about the Orc?”
“Ah, it ain’t an Orc. Probably just a wild boar. We’ll come back in the morning and get ‘im!”
“Let’s get up the hill, boys. The lieutenant will have our asses.”
“I don’t see why. He’s got enough ass hanging off him for an entire platoon!”
They laughed, then turned around and left.
When he was sure they were away, he released his grip and fell back to his butt, where he lay heaving and utterly exhausted.
He shook weakly. Stars twinkled cold and distant overhead. The night was total. Aside from the fires of the men’s camp, nothing could be seen. The occasional waft of food tempted his nose and made him shake more. He was starving.
He turned over and crawled back to the stream and drank. He wasn’t thirsty, but the water sated the gnawing in his stomach, if only for a little while. He got to his knees, biting back squeals, then to his feet. He couldn’t straighten up, and his left leg felt like it had been crushed. He had to put all his weight on his right, and that made him totter and fall to his side.
He wasn’t going anywhere. Possibly forever.
What was scariest was that he increasingly didn’t care if it wasforever.
He lay there and stared up at the unreachable stars, and knew that he’d still be here in the morning, and the men would likely discover him, and that would be that.
He had to pee. It took some doing to get on his side. Finished, he didn’t bother closing his breeches.
He knew he could sleep, and eventually he did. It was sleep that came with utter fatigue, not to mention mounting apathy for his dire state. The entirety of his kind was gone, swallowed by a world contemptuous of its existence. It was obvious he wasn’t meant to survive, to live. The world had spoken—and it was men it favored.
He gave a final hiss between his teeth, and growled in their language: “If ya don’t wants me, then come and gets me.”
He hoped the soldiers heard. He didn’t care.
With that he fell asleep.
He woke with the hateful sun in his eyes and a young human female staring down at him.
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