theWarlords of Chaos
by Robin Gordon
SNOTRAG THE GREAT
Copyright Robin Gordon, 1993/2004
They did not speak again until they reached a ring of great stones on the shoulder of the mountain. In the hollow within stood tents made of the same lustrous, grey fabric as the Elven tunics, though of stouter weave. From outside the circle the camp was invisible. Once inside it seemed a cheerful place. Jellybean noticed that on every rock in the circle there crouched an Elvish archer. No-one could approach unseen.
Amphibolas led them to a tent, and there, to Jellybean's joy and Frobisher's great satisfaction, they were given food to eat.
"It is merely waybread," said Amphibolas apologetically, "for we must travel light."
"It's supersonic wizard," cried Jellybean.
"Smash-on superdelectable!" was Frobisher's verdict.
Amphibolas left them to eat and went to make his report to the Lady Doria Vignifica Myopapetia Imrahil. He returned to find the two boys sighing with satisfaction.
"Elvish waybread makes Scotch eggs look pretty sick," Jellybean told him.
"Scotch eggs are ozard muck beside such lush scoff," was Frobisher's opinion.
Amphibolas bowed slightly. "I am honoured that you approve our humble camp fare," he said solemnly, "but now you must prepare to meet the Lady Doria. I have told her of our adventures and she is curious to see Children of Men.
"Oh gosh, is she?" said Jellybean. "Then I suppose we'd better look slippy and come along. I say, she's not one of those haughty females who look at you through lorgnettes and make you feel about two inches high, is she?"
"I do not know what a lorgnette is," said Amphibolas, "but the Lady Doria is no would-be-great lady who delights in making others feel small. She is a princess of the Elves, and all who see her love her."
"Oh well," said Jellybean. "Might as well get it over with. Come on, Frobi."
Frobisher looked distinctly unhappy and hung back.
"I SAY," he wailed in his most capital-letter voice, "I DON'T SEE HOW WE CAN POSSIBLY GO AND SEE A PRINCESS DRESSED LIKE THIS!"
He waved his hand vaguely around his waist and over his legs.
"Oh gosh, no!" cried Jellybean, suddenly remembering their lack of trousers.
"Ah!" said Amphibolas. "My deepest apologies, Jonathan Laurence Bennett and Jeremy Frobisher. It would indeed have been discourteous of me to bring you before the Lady Doria lacking those accoutrements of honour which you have lost in your struggle with your Orcish captors. What can I have been thinking of? Please forgive me. I will make amends."
He gestured rapidly to an attendant, who disappeared and returned soon after with two others.
"Your state of deprivation is soon remedied," said Amphibolas.
The newcomers bowed then knelt before Jellybean and Frobisher. Swift and skilful hands took the measure of their waists. The newcomers conferred briefly with Amphibolas, left the tent, returned, knelt again before the boys, and fitted them rapidly with belts, scabbards and swords.
"These are Elvish blades," said Amphibolas. "True they are but daggers, but they are the right length to serve you as swords. Now let us go to the Lady Doria."
"OH GOSH! OH GOLLY! OH FISH-HOOKS!" wailed Frobisher.
* * * * *
Amphibolas conducted them to a tent no different from the others. Inside, upon a folding stool, sat the Lady Doria. In the red-gold light of the setting sun her grey robes glistened like precious metal and her grey eyes shone.
Jellybean and Frobisher knelt before her.
"So you are the Children of Men," she said in a pleasant, musical voice.
"Yes, so please Your Majesty," answered Jellybean.
At this phrase the Lady Doria began to laugh. Jellybean looked up, caught her eye, and could not help joining in.
"I am no majesty," she said, "only a lady travelling in the hills. Amphibolas has told me how you came here, and how you were captured by Orcs, but I would like to know if you saw anyone else on the mountain."
"Only the Arachnoid and the Orcs, and Amphibolas and his Elves," answered Jellybean.
"The one I seek," said the Lady, "is no warrior. He is but a poor, gangrel creature, a misshapen child. Someone hardly worth mentioning. Did you not see any such?"
"No-one," replied Jellybean.
"Perhaps he went through the portal into our world," suggested Frobisher.
"At least he may be safe there if he did," said the Lady with a sigh, "but, as for you, you cannot return that way at present. If you will travel with us, we shall take you to my father's stronghold in the forest, and then, if ever the mountain is clear of Orcs, and you wish it, we will bring you here again."
"Oh thank you!" cried Frobisher. "I'm not really blubbing," he added, "it's just that my glasses got steamed up when I came into the tent."
What might have been said next is unknown. Suddenly loud cries came from the sentries. The whine of arrows was heard, and the clamour of harsh Orc voices.
Amphibolas strode to the door of the tent and drew his sword.
"Orcs!" he cried.
Arrows! Cries! The clang of sword and axe on mail and shield! Harsh shouts! Battle cries and screams! Havoc and hubbub!
An Elf fell dying at Amphibolas' feet. "Orcs," he gasped. "Passage under rocks. Coming." He breathed his last.
Then the Orcs were upon them. Scimitars and spiked helms glinted under the setting sun. Evil grins were all around them, foul words and the stench of unwashed filth.
The tent was trampled down. The Elvish guards were scattered or lay dead. The Lady and the boys stood back to back, sword in hand.
The Orcs sniggered and drew closer. One sprang forward, the same ugly brute whose nose Jellybean had bloodied with his boot. He lunged at the Lady from one side, trying to take her unawares, but Jellybean swung his sword and cut him on the arm.
"Take that, Snotrag!" he cried as the Orc howled and jumped back.
The Orcs screeched with rage and surged forward. Jellybean's sword flashed back and forth. He slashed and cut and lunged, as he had often slashed and cut and lunged in his swashbuckling fantasies, but this was more like a nightmare. The whole of his sword, blade and handle alike, ran with blood - and he was sure that most of it was his. He was forced back against Frobisher and the Lady, he felt himself sliding past them, struggling to keep his feet. Their formation was broken. As soon as they were forced apart they were doomed. A dozen Orcish blades would strike each of them in the back.
Jellybean slipped and fell. The Orcs howled their triumph - but at that same moment horns blew and the Orcs were swept away on an Elvish charge. Jellybean struggled to his feet and wiped the blood and grime from his eyes. The Orcs were gone. The Elves were returning, grim and weary, but victorious.
The Lady stood beside him, her beautiful silvery dress now red with blood. He too was drenched in it, but, apart from a couple of scratches, unwounded. He looked around for Frobisher. Surely the silly duffer couldn't have got himself killed. There he was, on his knees, slumped over the body of a bloated Orc, and jerking spasmodically.
As Jellybean watched the bespectacled schoolboy made another effort - and this time succeeded in pulling his sword from the bloodstained corpse. He turned and looked at Jellybean with an expression of amazed horror.
"I k-killed one," he said, and was promptly sick.
"Ugh!" cried Jellybean and jumped back to avoid it. That saved him. A jagged stone whizzed past his nose. He sprang round. On a rock stood the foul Orc he had called Snotrag.
"You've won vis time, Fing," it yelled, "but you ain't seen ve larst o' Snotrag ve Great!"
An Elvish arrow struck against the rock, but too late. Snotrag was gone.
"They'll be back," said Amphibolas grimly. "We must get you away, My Lady."
Turning to his followers Amphibolas gave rapid orders. Swiftly they searched the camp. Dead Orcs were dragged to one side. The bodies of five dead Elves were placed on a pyre made of the remains of the tents and burned.
"We prefer to bury our dead," said the Lady Doria, "but in the circumstances cremation is all we can manage."
"Better that," said Amphibolas grimly, "than to leave them to the Orcs."
The wounded were placed on stretchers saved from the wrecked tents, and in the Lady Doria's own litter, while she went on foot with the other Elves. Scouts went on ahead to spy out the land, but of the Orcs there was no sign.
"Are they preparing an ambush?" Jellybean asked.
"They may do so," replied Amphibolas, "but I think not. If they were coming back for us I think they would have been here by now. They're vicious brutes, and only too eager to start a fight, but they hate being beaten. Their leader may try to rouse them again, but I think they'll probably skulk for a while."
They made good time down the mountain and soon came to the rock-strewn desert at its foot. The going was easier there, and they marched all day as fast as the stretcher bearers could manage. In their growing confidence that they had escaped the Orcs they forgot that other enemies patrolled the desert - until a plasma-bolt stuck a rock just to their left.
They scattered and scrambled behind boulders. Jellybean peeped out. Looming over the rocks he saw another of the gigantic spider-machines.
"Wh-what is that thing?" he stammered.
"An Arachnoid," replied Amphibolas. "A machine of sorts. Its masters are inside it and it bears them where they will - like the Lady Doria's litter, but it needs no-one to carry it. It moves by itself as if it were alive."
"It's spivish ugly," said Jellybean. "Who are its masters?"
"Scorpionids," replied Amphibolas. "If you think the Arachnoid is ugly, what would you think of them? They are vile, poisonous and disgusting - and they too have masters. On the backs of some of these venomous pests ride hairy blobs like bloated purple spiders, the Tyrantulas, hate-filled commanders of the Scorpionid swarms, urging on their slaves to kill and destroy even at the cost of their own lives."
"Gross!" murmured Jellybean.
"I say," wailed Frobisher, "that ozard Arachnoid is searching for us."
It was true. The Arachnoid was systematically patrolling the area, turning over rocks and stones. It was drawing nearer all the time. Its outward sweep passed much too close for comfort. On its return they would be discovered and annihilated. If they fled they would be seen and a plasma-bolt would end their adventure.
"The Lady Doria must escape," said Amphibolas grimly. "Two Elves will go with her. There is a chance they will not be seen if the rest of us stay here and keep it busy."
The Lady opened her mouth to argue.
"That is an order!" Amphibolas rapped out. "I am captain here and my command is from the King!"
"Very well," said the Lady, and melted away among the rocks with two Elves.
The Arachnoid turned. It was approaching again.
"If only we had some rope," said Jellybean.
"Elves always carry rope," answered Amphibolas.
"Lush! If we can snare one of its legs we can bring it down."
The eyes of Amphibolas Elrohir gleamed. He muttered quickly to the Elves near him. Stealthily the trap was prepared: a noose held ready by Elves sheltered in a ring of rock.
The Arachnoid drew nearer. Its huge foot descended just outside the ring. Then another massive leg began to probe the rocks. The trap had failed.
Jellybean groaned, then a sudden idea came to him. He lobbed a stone so that it rattled against a nearby boulder. The Arachnoid stopped and swung ponderously towards the noise.
Jellybean lobbed another pebble.
The Arachnoid lumbered around. Its massive leg was heaved away. Its immense body pivoted, and another great foot crunched into the sand beside the watching Elves - right in the trap!
The Elves heaved on the rope. The noose tightened. They made the end fast around a rock and scattered. Then an Elf popped up - and disappeared as the Arachnoid fired. A hail of arrows clattered against the spider-machine's armoured sides. Now at last its masters knew where the Elves were. The mighty war-machine swung towards them, lunged forward, lurched sideways - and fell with an earth-shattering crash.
"Wizzo!" yelled Jellybean.
"Superradioactive!" squealed Frobisher.
"Take aim!" shouted Amphibolas.
"Ugh!" wailed Frobisher.
"Gross! Sick!" gasped Jellybean.
From the fallen war-machine came creatures, nightmare creatures, like gigantic leathery insects or scorpions. Hundreds of them came pouring from the hatches, like ants scurrying from an anthill - only these were huge, ugly and stomach-turningly disgusting.
They walked nearly upright on two pairs of back legs. One pair of their arms was equipped with vicious, snapping, crablike claws, and the second pair had hands which held guns. Their shiny abdomens ended in curved tails with cruel stings.
All this Jellybean saw in an instant as he gazed transfixed, too horrified to move.
"Down!" yelled Amphibolas. He grabbed the boys and pulled them down beside him. Jellybean felt the heat of the plasma-bolts as they flashed past only an inch above his head.
The Elvish bows twanged and arrows sang. Dry, rattling screams rose from the Scorpionids, but on they came. Arrows and plasma-bolts sped back and forth. The Scorpionids had the deadlier weapons, but the Elves had the advantage of rocky cover, and the Scorpionids swarmed on as if mad with rage, trampling over the corpses of their fallen troops and heedless of the arrows.
"We are running out of arrows," said Amphibolas to the boys. "Save yourselves if you can."
But before the last arrows were fired the filthy tide of Scorpionids ended. The Elves and the boys emerged from their shelters and surveyed the battlefield.
One Elf lay dead, but the area around the Arachnoid was thick with the leathery corpses of Scorpionids, and here and there lay the bloated, purple, hairy bodies of Tyrantulas, some still twitching.
"Keep down!" ordered Amphibolas. "There are still living Scorpionids and Tyrantulas inside the Arachnoid, and who knows what other enemies may be near? Let us move away as quietly and unobtrusively as possible. We must find the Lady Doria before any harm befalls her."
Cautiously they crept from rock to rock, expecting at any moment to feel the blast of plasma-bolts. All seemed quiet around the stricken war-machine. Then, suddenly, the air erupted into harsh shouts and yells.
Orcs were swarming over the rocks all around them.
The Elves drew their swords, and so did Jellybean and Frobisher. There was no room to use bows, and in a hand to hand fight the Orcs were bound to win by sheer force of numbers.
"We shall sell our lives dearly," said Amphibolas. "Farewell my friends. I do not know if we shall meet again in the heaven of the warrior Elves or if a different place is prepared for the Children of Men."
They waited grimly in the shadows as the Orcs swarmed on. Over and around the rocks the rabble scrambled, cackling triumphantly. Jellybean saw Snotrag urging them on. A blind fury seized the boy and he raised his sword to attack. Amphibolas grabbed his arm.
"Wait!" he hissed.
To Jellybean's astonishment the Orcs surged past without seeing the Elves and hurled themselves on the fallen Arachnoid.
"They have only room in their minds for one thought at a time," smiled Amphibolas, "and just now that thought is plunder."
Hammer, axe and club crashed against the monster machine. More Scorpionids appeared from inside, firing as they came. Orcs fell. One died in screaming agony, pierced by the venomous sting of a furious Scorpionid. But as fast as the Scorpionids came, the Orcs crushed them, striking with their axes, hammers and clubs, smashing with their morning stars, slashing with their knives, and stamping on the bloated Tyrantulas with their iron-shod boots.
Then they ripped the Arachnoid apart and carried off metal plates, spikes and rods.
"Wiv all vis gear," yelled Snotrag, "we'll be ve greatest gang wot ever was. We'll bash up all ve uvver Orcs till vey join us, ven we'll smash ve Elves. Yeah!"
"YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!" they yelled.
"An we'll get vem Fings an' eat 'em!"
YEAH! EAT 'EM! YEAH!"
"An stick veir 'eads on poles!"
"I'm ve greatest! Oo am I?"
"Yeah! I'm Snotrag ve Great, I am!" snarled the ugly Orc.
"Oh Spiffychuffs!" murmured Jellybean sarcastically.
"Come!" whispered Amphibolas, and the Elves and boys melted quietly away into the shadows.
They hurried on, leaving the boulder-strewn desert behind, and approached the river. There, in the shade of a copse of tall trees, the Lady Doria and her companions were waiting.
"We never thought to see you again," she cried joyfully. " We heard the noise of battle and thought you must all have been destroyed."
"Not us but the Arachnoid," replied Amphibolas, and he told her briefly about Jellybean's plan and the fall of the war-machine.
"We must press on as fast as we can," he concluded. "The Orcs will be busy for a few hours making weapons and armour, but then they will come searching for us again. Their new leader seems to have taken a dislike to the Things, as he calls these Children of Men."
"I can't say I feel exactly friendly towards him," said Jellybean.
They travelled as fast as they could, but progress was slow. There were still wounded Elves to be carried on stretchers or on the backs of their comrades. Some of the stretchers and the Lady's litter had been lost in the skirmish. The Lady herself tramped beside Jellybean and Frobisher. She seemed undaunted by hardship.
"My people insist on carrying me in royal state," she said, "but really the litter is no loss. It was too cumbersome even to use as a stretcher for the wounded. We are better without it, and I do not begrudge its tattered hangings even to the Orcs. There are worse things to lose than litters."
"Yes," said Frobisher bitterly, "like trousers!"
"I do not know what these things may be of which you speak," replied the Lady Doria.
"Oh gosh!" wailed Frobisher, blushing rosily. "They're things that you wear, well not you but we do, I mean boys - no I don't I mean Children of Men and if you lose them everyone thinks it's spivish funny, not that you usually do except in comics unless you're a colossal sneak or something but Jellybean said Parmenter and his gang were Gene-Stealers and I thought he meant jean-stealers because he once hid Wyndham's for a joke and Wyndham missed the strawberry jam but we've lost ours and Amphibolas gave us swords instead and there'll be a most terrific hoo-hah if we go back without them ..."
"Oh shut up, Frobi," interrupted Jellybean. "We probably shan't ever get home anyway and we don't need trousers here Elves don't wear them: they have tunics and either tights or bare legs."
"Ah," said the Lady Doria, "I think I understand. In your world you wear breeches to cover your legs, like the Dwarves do."
"Are there Dwarves here too?" Jellybean asked.
"There are," replied the Lady sadly, "and once our two peoples lived in peace and friendship."
Here Amphibolas interrupted. "The Ford of Assic is beset by Orcs, My Lady," he said. "We shall have to turn aside and make for Ibran."
"Whatever you think best, Amphibolas," replied the Lady Doria, and the company turned leftward, making up-river to the next crossing place.
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