Warlords of Chaos
by Robin Gordon
HUNTED BY ORCS
- Auksford, 2004 -
There is no room in an Orcish head for more than one thought at a time - in fact so limited are the brains of most Orcs that even a single thought cannot survive there long unless it is shared by a whole gang. It is this singlemindedness that makes them so dangerous when they come under the influence of an obsessive leader.
Individual Orcish grievances died away after a few scuffles and one rather more violent fight in which a couple of Orcs on the losing side were killed and two or three more wounded. Only Snotrag, muttering "We're gonna get vem Fings an' stick veir 'eads on poles," did not forget his one great thought - and other Orcs took it up, so that his muttering grew to a general grumbling, and the grumbling grew to a furious rumbling, then out of the passage the Orcs came tumbling and began casting about, seeking their foes by scent, running on all fours like animals, with their noses pressed to the earth.
Long they tracked their foes, running on all fours like hounds, though not so swiftly, through the great forests that cover much of the land between the Red Cliff and the Grey Mountains - and, as hounds on the scent bay, so the Orcs called to each other. At length the Company of the Belt heard them, at first far behind, but coming ever closer.
"We'll get 'em! We'll get 'em!"
"We'll stick veir 'eads on poles! Yeah!"
"Creep up on em!"
"Yeah! Yeah! Vey won' 'ear us! Get 'em!"
"Yeah! We'll get vem Fings an' stick veir 'eads on poles!"
Nearer and nearer drew the clamour of the Orcs as the four companions pressed on towards the Grey Mountains. With the scent fresher now in their nostrils the Orcs began to urge each other on with even louder shouts. Then suddenly other voices joined them. Orcish threats and snarls rang out, weapon clashed on weapon, and harsh triumphant cries mingled with shrill squeals of pain.
"What's happening," Jellybean asked.
"I think Snotrag's gang have run into a rival band of Orcs," answered Amphibolas, "and when Orcs meet strangers their first instinct is to fight.
"Lucky for us," said Jellybean.
"Then let us press on to the Grey Mountains!" cried Oggi.
Behind them, in the forest, the noise of battle ceased. Orcs lay dead or dying. The survivors sprawled on the ground or drank from puddles. Now that the fight was over they had already forgotten its cause and were as willing to be friends with their opponents as their allies.
"Wo'choo doin' 'ere, ven?"
"Arter vem Fings, inn'we?"
"Dunno. 'E wants veir 'eads."
"Stick 'em on poles."
"Wo'choo wan' vem Fings' 'eads for?" they asked Snotrag.
"We're gonna get vem Fings an' chop off veir 'eads and stick 'em on poles!" snarled Snotrag. "We're gonna get vem Fings an' chop off veir 'eads and stick 'em on poles! We're gonna ..."
It was not long before even the dullest of the rival gang had grasped Snotrag's ambition. Being Orcs, they heartily approved of it. Hurting, wounding, torturing, maiming, killing - these were the simple pleasures of life in which Orcs delighted. Sticking severed heads on poles was an interesting variant they had not yet tried.
"Yeah!" they cried, "Stick veir 'eads on poles!"
The scent was quickly found, and the reinforced Orcish gang took up the pursuit once more. As the Companions of the Belt began to climb the foothills of the Grey Mountains they heard again the hunting cry of the Orcs.
"We'll never make it to the Shepherds' Pass," growled Oggi. "We'll have to go over the peaks.
"Lead on then, friend Dwarf, and we will follow," answered Amphibolas.
Jellybean and Frobisher said nothing. Their legs were heavy as lead and their heads were swimming. Nothing seemed quite real any more. They had not had enough food or sleep for days, and they were hungry and exhausted.
They were cold too as they climbed out of the forest. The mountain slope rapidly grew steeper, until they had to use their hands to haul themselves from rock to rock. Chill winds cut through the cold air, and the boy wished they had warmer clothing than shirts and underpants.
A harshly jubilant clamour of triumph burst out behind them. Jellybean looked down and saw the Orcs burst out of the trees and begin to scramble up the first of the rocky slopes. He was too far away to pick out Snotrag, but among the squat figures he saw two who carried poles from which flapped his and Frobisher's trousers.
Then, suddenly, falling stones were all around him. He pressed himself as close as he could to the cliff face as rocks and stones came trundling and bouncing from above. A heavy boulder struck the ground just a couple of feet to his right, then went crashing onward to the trees below.
"These stones are not just falling," shouted Oggi. "There is malice behind them! Trolls! There were rumours that they had been seen."
"Have they been sent by the Warlords?" Jellybean asked.
"Nay," grunted the Dwarf. "They are an ancient people of our world, banished long ago to the Blizzard Mountains in the far north."
"Many things have gone amiss in Iltuvion, as the prophecies foretold," said Amphibolas.
More stones rattled around them.
"We must find shelter!" cried Amphibolas.
"There is a ledge below that overhang," called Oggi. "Come on!"
They struggled on, flattening themselves against the cliff as each new barrage clattered down upon them, and at last found shelter on the ledge. Boulders, stones and pebbles came rattling down, then glanced off the overhang and bounced harmlessly away from them. The shower of missiles stopped and they could again hear the snarls and howls of the eager Orcs.
They were trapped. They could not go on, and the Orcs were drawing nearer.
"Why don't they throw stones at the Orcs?" demanded Jellybean.
"They can see that the Orcs are hunting us," replied Amphibolas.
"They will only attack if the Orcs carry on up the mountain," said Oggi.
All the time the shouting, snarling Orcs drew closer.
Now Jellybean could see Snotrag in the lead, grinning as he led his gang towards their prey and pointing mockingly at the two poles which held the Things' trousers and would soon carry their heads.
Jellybean's rage overcame his tiredness, and an idea flashed into his mind. He had seen that the level ledge jutted out to the left beyond the overhang. As the Orcs reached the last slope below the Companions, he suddenly darted out into the open.
Instantly the rain of rocks and boulders came crashing down from the Trolls on the upper slopes. Jellybean sprang back at once, but the Orcs were caught unprepared. There were so many of them that it was impossible for the stones to miss. Howls of rage rose from the furious hunters as they scurried for shelter.
The respite was brief. On came the Orcs again. Jellybean got ready to make another dash, but Amphibolas stopped him.
"Even against Trolls a trick like that will not work twice," he said. "They will know where to aim and have their stones ready."
"Is there nothing we can do?"
"You have done enough, Jellybean," answered Oggi. "Now it is our turn."
"Oggi and I have loosened this boulder," explained Amphibolas. "Your daring escapade gave us just enough time."
"Here they come!" roared Oggi.
Elf and Dwarf together heaved. The massive boulder rocked, swayed, then overbalanced and thundered down the slope taking a minor avalanche of lesser rocks and scree with it. Screams of terror rose from the advancing Orcs. They scattered in howling fear. By some strange chance the great boulder, deflected by irregularities from its downward path, seemed to pursue with deliberate aim one in particular: Snotrag. Jellybean and Frobisher cheered it on as the fleeing goblin, too stupid even to get out of its way, strove his utmost to outrun it.
"Run, Snotrag!" yelled Jellybean. "You'll be squashed like billy-ho!"
"Supersonic!" shouted Frobisher. "The squashfulness will be terrific."
"It's coming for you, you goofy wimp!"
But the boulder did not squash Snotrag. At the last moment he turned aside, leapt wildly over a rock and a bush, then rolled and skidded down the slope and and fell with a squelch into a patch of bog.
"Yo, Snotrag!" howled Jellybean. "You should always wear a mudpack. It suits you."
"Get vem Fings!" raged Snotrag. "Kill 'em! Stick veir 'eads on poles!"
"Yeah!" chorused the Orcs, and on they came once more.
"Oh fish-hooks!" gasped Jellybean. "I was enjoying Snotrag's downfall so much I quite forgot our deadly peril. Now we're really in a hole."
"We shall sell our lives dearly," said Amphibolas. "Draw your swords, friends!"
"Wait! Wait!" roared Oggi. "Look! A hole! A hole! It's a ventilation shaft. We must be above the Dwarvish city under the Grey Mountains. Help me, Amphibolas! We must widen the entrance. Clear away these stones."
"Jellybean and Frobisher will help," said Amphibolas. "There is work for my bow."
As the boys hauled out the stones that had fallen into the entrance to the shaft they heard again and again the twang of Amphibolas' bow and the choked-off howl of its Orcish target.
"The way is clear!" cried Oggi. "Come! we must slide down. I'll go first. Be ready for anything! There may be Orcs below."
Oggi disappeared down the shaft, then Frobisher. Jellybean followed, and he heard Amphibolas behind him. The darkness was total. The shaft slanted steeply down and was hewn smooth. They sped, sliding and lurching, swiftly into the unknown heart of the mountain, and fell in a gasping, bruised and breathless heap, one on top of the other. Jellybean could see nothing. All was black.
"Do you suppose we've gone blind?" quavered Frobisher.
"There is no light down here," replied Amphibolas reassuringly.
"We must feel our way," said Oggi. "Hold hands so no-one is lost."
They joined hands - Oggi, Frobisher, Jellybean, Amphibolas - and groped their way along the tunnel. It seemed to curve slightly, but none knew, not even Oggi, if it led to safety or new danger - or if it was blocked and led nowhere at all.
Behind them a sudden clamour sounded along the tunnel: the snarling of Orcs. They had found the shaft and followed.
"Perhaps they'll miss us in the dark," whispered Frobisher.
"Orcs need no light. They hunt by scent," replied Amphibolas. "In this total darkness there is no hope for us."
"There is hope," growled Oggi. "See, there is light ahead."
The boys saw nothing, but the eyes of Dwarves, accustomed to their underground delving, could see a little by the merest glimmer, and the eyes of Elves, the keenest in all creation, are almost as good in all but the blackest of darkness. Clasping the hands of the still blind boys, Amphibolas and Oggi dragged them onwards round the curving tunnel.
They came to a junction, chose at random, and hurried on. Behind them the clamour of shouting, snarling Orcs drew ever closer.
"Though these are Children of Men," grunted Oggi, "yet they are still children. They are tired, and in this near darkness they are blind. We must carry them."
So Frobisher climbed on Oggi's back, Amphibolas took Jellybean on his, and they went on, ever on, making better time, but seeing no end to the everlasting tunnels through the darkness beneath the mountain - and all the time the noise of hunting Orcs drew closer and closer.
Suddenly the confining walls of the tunnel were no more. The companions found themselves in a vast gloomy space. Jellybean and Frobisher felt the blinding dark lift slightly from their eyes.
"It is one of the great halls," panted Oggi. "We have come at last to the living quarters."
"I should not like to live down here in these darksome holes," said Amphibolas.
"These were not darksome holes," replied Oggi, and in his tone there mingled reproach, and pride in his city, and sadness that it was so far fallen from greatness. "These halls were filled with light from great windows high on the mountain side ..."
But before he could say any more there sprang out from the tunnel they had just left the clattering, howling, shrieking mob of Orcs.
"Follow me!" cried Oggi and raced across the gloomy hall, through a low archway and into another passage. Amphibolas followed, but then disaster struck. Jellybean, riding on the tall Elf's back, was too high. His head struck the keystone of the arch. Stars exploded in his brain, and he fell unconscious.
* * * * *
Jellybean awoke with a headache. He pressed his hands over his eyes. There was silence. Nothing was to be heard. He moved his fingers slightly and opened his eyes. He jumped in fright. Black bars in front of his eyes? No - light between his fingers.
He moved his head and tried to sit up. He felt sick. His head hurt. He was dizzy - but there was light. It came from somewhere high above, and, as it grew stronger, he saw that he was in a vast circular hall with many passages leading out of it. From one his friends and the Orcs had come, but where they were now he could not tell. Killed probably. Frobisher's head was probably stuck on a pole for Snotrag to gloat over. His body and those of Amphibolas and Oggi were probably roasting over a fire - unless Orcs ate their meat raw.
Jellybean gave a gasping sob and covered his face with his hands again. He was alone in an alien world, trapped beneath the mountain, and, if there were any way out, it could be found only by leaving the light and going through the dark tunnels. He might as well lie where he was in the dim light until he starved to death - or was found by Orcs. Would it be better to take his sword and kill himself straight away while he still had the strength?
He moaned again, then caught his breath. He had heard a sound. Not Orcs. Something was moving stealthily round the edge of the hall, keeping in the shadows - something with bare feet, he thought - something that made a gulping, swallowing sound as it came. He eased his Elvish knife from its scabbard and lay still, pretending to be unconscious or dead. Whatever it was might pass by.
It did not pass by. It came up to him and touched him.
"What is it, Precious?" it whispered. "Not Orcses, is it? No, but not Elveses neither. Is it ... is it good to eat? We wonders, yes we does. Is it good to eat? Gollum."
The creature sniffed at him, and Jellybean had suddenly had enough of playing dead. He sat up and brandished his sword. The creature sprang away.
"You!" snapped Jellybean. "Come here!"
To his surprise the creature obeyed.
"Does it mean us?" it said. "Yess, yess, we's coming. Don't hurt us, Precious. Gollum. We'll be good, yess, we will, oh yess."
"Who are you?" demanded Jellybean.
"Us? Nobody. We lives here. We doesn't do no harm, does we?"
"Have you seen my friends?" said Jellybean. His voice lost its peremptory tone and he almost sobbed.
"What's friends?" the Gollum-creature asked.
"An Elf, a Dwarf and a boy like me. They were ... they were chased by Orcs."
"Orcses! We hates Orcses. Are there Orcses here?" hissed the creature and began to back away, making swallowing noises as it went.
"Don't go!" called Jellybean in a panic. "Don't leave me!"
"Come! Come!" hissed the Gollum-creature.
"Where? wailed Jellybean.
"Our den, yess. We has a den, Precious, all ours, where the nasty Orcses can't find us. But we finds them, oh yes, Precious, and we squeezes them ... and then we eats them. Ssshrrrgh!"
"Find my friends," said Jellybean fiercely, "and you shall have as many Orcs as you can eat." He brandished his little sword.
"Put away the sharp thing, Precious," whispered the creature. "Don't hurt us. Put it away. Nassty sharp thing. Put it away and follow Precious. All safe and sound, there's a good little fellow, gollum."
Jellybean hesitated a moment, then put away the sword and followed the creature. He had little chance to see it clearly, for it led him quickly to a gloomy tunnel. It seemed to be of about his own size, or perhaps slightly bigger. It was difficult to tell, for it seemed all bent and hunched as it shambled and scurried along, turning sideways to watch him and make sure he followed, so that it moved more like a crab than an Elf, Dwarf or Man.
Its head, hands and feet seemed too large for its thin body and its spindly arms and legs, and its voice was distinctly odd. It wasn't musical like the voices of the Elves or gruff like those of the Dwarves. It wasn't powerful like the voices of men, or clear like those of Jellybean and Frobisher. It seemed cracked and uncontrolled, croaking and squeaking by turns. It reminded him of something, he wasn't sure what, but the main thing was: it wasn't an Orcish-sounding voice. So Jellybean followed.
The creature led him along a narrow dark tunnel whose walls dripped moisture. Here and there some movement of the earth had brought the roof down and they had to climb over piles of rubble. It was so dark that Jellybean could no longer see the creature and he began to be afraid it would abandon him to die in the dark.
"Where are you?" he called.
"Sh! Sh! It mustn't make noise. No. Gollum. There's a pretty Precious, yess."
"I can't see you."
"Here we are! Here we are! It must hold handses, yess. Hold handses, Precious."
Jellybean shuddered as he felt the creature's great ungainly hands grope over him in the dark It found his arm and clasped his hand. He half expected the cold grip of a reptilian claw or the clammy squeeze of an amphibian, but the creature's hand, though hard, rough, cold and damp, seemed much like his own.
"Follow Precious!" it croaked and pulled him onward.
Soon after that they came to a major roof-fall.
"We climbs, Precious," whispered the creature. "Yes, we does, up high, ever so high, and then we squeezes through a little hole. No more nasty Orcses. Orcses is too fat, hahaha. Come on, oops-a-daisy, yess, oops-a-diddely-daisy-pops, Precious."
Jellybean climbed in the dark, and he felt the Gollum-creature pulling at him. He hated having its hands anywhere about him, but he hated even more the thought of being left to die in the dark, so he followed the creature when it disappeared into a narrow hole at the top of the fall.
It was darker than dark. It was like burrowing through the earth. It was like being buried alive. Then the creature's hands seized his arms and pulled. Jellybean gave a gasping cry.
"No! No!" hissed the creature. "Quiet! Orcses mustn't find our den. Look, Precious, look. There's our little den, gollum."
"Where?" said Jellybean.
"There! There! Across the water. Follow Precious!"
It grasped his hand and pulled him through the gloom. His feet suddenly splashed into water and he stopped. The creature pulled at him.
"Silly! Silly!" it hissed. "Water doesn't hurt. Come and see our den."
Jellybean went on. The water was shallow. His shoes and socks were wet, but it came no higher than his knees, and, if it had not been so dark, might have been no more terrible than the Ford of Assic.
Beyond the water was another rockfall, and behind it a flickering red glow.
"Wh... what?" stuttered Jellybean.
"It's our little fire, Precious," chuckled the creature. "We keeps it burning, yess, gollum, we never lets it go out. It keeps us warm when we're cold. We're so cold, aren't we Precious? And it talks to us when we're lonely, gollum. And it roasts our food for us, y-e-sss."
Please remember that this story is copyright. See Copyright and Concessions for what uses are permitted.
Title page and contents
Robin Gordon's homepage
Send an e-mail to Robin Gordon