Warlords of Chaos
by Robin Gordon
HORSES, ORCS, SNOTRAGS ...
Copyright Robin Gordon, 1993/2004
The next day the five companions approached a herd of horses. They stopped some distance away. The horses were nervous. They had several times been attacked by Orcs.
Gollin watched them, and chose from among them a magnificent, silvery-white stallion.
"You have chosen well," said Amphibolas. "He is a fine horse. Wait here, all of you, then, when I signal, Gollin can come forward alone."
Amphibolas walked slowly towards the horses. They moved away, equally slowly, pricking their ears and flaring their nostrils. Amphibolas turned slightly as if to walk past them. They watched him suspiciously but made no move. After a while he stopped. He called to the horses, and they seemed to relax when they heard an Elvish voice. He moved towards them again, stopping whenever they began to move away, and calling from time to time in a soft musical tone.
After a while he was strolling quietly among the herd, gradually moving towards the silver stallion, Gollin's horse. Amphibolas stopped a little way from it and spoke quietly. The horse watched suspiciously but allowed him to approach. Amphibolas still moved slowly and gently, murmuring softly as he moved, until he was standing close beside the stallion. Still he made no move to touch it but talked quietly while the horse listened. From his pocket the Elf brought out an apple. He laid it on the flat of his hand and held it out to the horse. The animal sniffed it, then gently took it between its teeth and ate it. Still Amphibolas murmured. At length he put his hand on the horse's neck. The animal flicked its ears but did not move. Amphibolas murmured again, and again the horse relaxed and allowed him to touch it.
At last Amphibolas beckoned gently with his other hand and Gollin came forward leaving the other three to watch. He moved slowly, as Amphibolas had done, and murmured gently to the horses as he passed them. They had largely overcome their fears and allowed him to walk through the scattered herd without moving away, as they had at last allowed Amphibolas, and as they had always been used to allow the Elves in the past.
When Gollin came up to his horse it looked at him without fear and seemed to be listening to what Amphibolas was saying to it. Gollin, too, murmured quietly, and produced an apple from the bag he carried on the belt at his waist.
"On the flat of your hand," murmured Amphibolas, "so that he can pick it up without biting you."
Gollin held it out, and the animal took it delicately and then allowed him to stroke its neck.
"Will you help me mount?" murmured Gollin to Amphibolas.
"It may be too soon," replied the Elf softly, "but, soon or late, it must be done."
He stooped and made a stirrup of his clasped hands. Gollin put one foot in them and then swung himself on to the horse's back. For a moment he sat in triumphant elation while the horse was too surprised to move. Then it began to rear and buck. Gollin clasped its flanks with his knees and knotted his fingers into its mane. Amphibolas murmured soothingly, but the horse had no time for him, and he had to back away as it plunged and reared, trying to throw off its unaccustomed burden.
Then, suddenly, it shot off like an arrow from a bow, far across the plain. The other horses scattered and fled. Jellybean, Frobisher and Oggi rushed to join Amphibolas, but as they gazed at the bolting horse they knew they had no hope of catching it.
"There goes our newfound prince," groaned Oggi, "with the Belt of Bollin and the Jewel of Ilirion."
"Go for help!" ordered Amphibolas. "We will follow him. We may at least find him if it throws him off. He may not be badly hurt."
"Fat chance," thought Jellybean as he set out with Amphibolas and Frobisher to follow the horse.
Although they never thought they would see it or Gollin again they saw them both in the distance. The horse was still galloping at full speed - and Gollin was still hanging on. Onward went the Companions, heartened by this sight.
"At least he's not dead yet," said Jellybean.
"My father says,"observed Frobisher, "where there's life there's hope."
"Hope indeed," cried Amphibolas, "for Gollin may yet win his horse."
They trudged on, and again they saw the horse, moving more slowly now, and with Gollin still clinging on. It was moving in a wide arc and seemed to be gradually turning towards them.
"Come on, you hairy weeds!" yelled Jellybean as they hurried toward the distant rider, but scarcely were the words out of his mouth when Orcish voices began to yell close by.
"It's vem Fings!"
"Geddem! Stick veir 'eads on poles!"
It was Snotrag and his gang.
"Yeah! Yeah! Kill 'em!"
"Vere's an 'orse."
"We'll 'ave 'orsemeat!"
"Get vem Fings!" insisted Snotrag. "We can eat ve Fings!"
"Less 'ave 'orsemeat!"
"Get ve Fings!"
The Orcs divided. Half, led by Snotrag, surrounded the Companions. The rest rushed off in pursuit of the exhausted horse.
"Gotcha!" Snotrag gloated. "An I'll tell yer wot we're gonna do witcher. We're gonna take yer back ter ve mahnting an we're gonna cut off yer legs, an you can watch us eating 'em. Ven we'll cut off yer 'eads an stick 'em on poles."
"Remember the words of Frobisher's noble father," murmured Amphibolas to the downcast boys. "While there's life there's hope."
"Ain't no 'ope for you," sneered Snotrag. "Tie 'em up!"
Rough hands seized them and forced their arms behind their backs. Then screaming Orcs came crashing panic-stricken into Snotrag's band.
"T's a monster! 'S a monster!" they cried.
Then, suddenly, with a thunder of hooves a horse and rider were upon them. Orcs were trampled. Others were slashed and cut by the rider's sword. Some fell dead, the others fled. The Companions were free, and with them stood Gollin and the horse.
"What happened?" cried Jellybean.
"Where have you been?" exclaimed Frobisher.
"How did you do it?" demanded Amphibolas.
Gollin told them. The horse had galloped off with him, probably hoping to outrun its strange new burden. When it had begun to tire he was able to turn it in a wide circle and head back towards his friends. Still the horse had fought him, until, when it was so tired that it could only walk, it had at last begun to obey him.
At this point of utter weariness the Orcs had attacked. Despite its exhaustion the horse snorted and kicked out in mingled fear and rage. Gollin drew his sword and urged it forward at the attacking Orcs. When they saw him on its back they thought he was a new kind of monster with four legs, two arms and two heads, and they fled in terror.
Gollin, so enraged that the foul brutes should dare to kill horses, urged his mount after them and succeeded in cutting down a couple. The horse, suddenly aware that, with his new master on his back, he could attack and put Orcs to flight, forgot his tiredness and charged again. Orcs were trampled beneath his hooves and others were wounded by the flashing sword of Gollin. The panic-stricken Orcs fled back to Snotrag, and a final charge routed the whole gang.
Exultantly the four Companions set off for the Dwarvish citadel. It was not long before they met Oggi and a crowd of Dwarves, hurrying to the rescue as fast as their short legs could carry them. They were astonished and delighted to see Gollin riding his horse and looking every inch a king.
When they reached the Lone Mountain Gollin dismounted and tried to lead the horse into the citadel. It refused to go. It had never been inside any cave or enclosure, and it would not enter.
"Tie it to a tree," suggested Oggi.
"No," objected Amphibolas. "If the Orcs came in the night it could not escape."
Gollin sighed. "If the horse will not come inside I must let him go," he said. "Perhaps he will stay close by."
He patted the horse one last time, then turned and went into the citadel.
The next day Gollin could hardly eat his breakfast he was so anxious to get out onto the plain. He was ready and waiting when the time came to open the main door. Jellybean, Frobisher, Amphibolas and Oggi went with him.
There was no sign of the horse. Gollin's shoulders slumped and his face crumpled.
"Don't blub!" Jellybean thought, glaring at him fiercely, willing him to hear the unspoken thought.
"Precious wants his horse," murmured Gollin.
Don't call yourself Precious" Jellybean burst out. "You're not a baby, you're a warrior prince."
"I am Gollin, son of Bollin," said Gollin through clenched teeth, "Gollin the Horse-Tamer. I will find my horse and tame him again - and again and again until he knows me. Come on, you hairy weeds! Don't hang about like crumbling, prehistoric ruins!"
He led them across the plain to search for the stallion. Amphibolas climbed onto an outcrop of rock to look around. His keen Elvish eyes could recognise as horses what the Dwarf and the boys could only see as indistinct dots in the distance. The Companions set out towards them. As they came near, the horses looked up suspiciously, twitched their ears and moved away.
"Wait here," ordered Gollin. He could see the silver stallion in the midst of the scattered herd, grazing quietly.
"Shall I go first?" enquired Amphibolas.
"I will tame him myself," answered Gollin, "or at least I'll have a bash at it."
He moved forward again towards the great silver horse. A foal kicked up its heels and scampered off to find its mother, and the stallion lifted its head and looked hard at Gollin.
"Here, boy," he murmured. "Come on! Come on, you hefty wizard, spivish wonderful, super smashing priority horse."
The stallion pawed the ground, neighed, reared on its hind legs, then, to Gollin's great surprise, trotted over to him and rubbed its head against his shoulder. He patted it, fussed over it, held out the apple he had brought, and, while the horse ate his offering, swung himself onto its back.
Jellybean was astounded. So was Frobisher. Things like that just did not happen. They watched as Gollin swung himself aboard his charger. The horse stood like a statue for a moment, then it took off like a rocket and sped into the distance.
"Here we go again," said Jellybean. "Come on, you chaps. Let's go and rescue the feeble suet-pudding."
Before they had gone a dozen yards the horse reappeared, making straight towards them. Horse and rider thundered past only a few feet away, slowed, made a tight turn, and fell into step beside them.
"How was that?" called Gollin. "Hefty spivish decent, I call it."
"Can you actually make the horse do what you want?" cried Frobisher in amazement.
"Course I can, you bogus oik," replied Gollin, and he demonstrated: walking, trotting, turning, stopping.
"Catch yourselves horses, you hairy weeds!" he cried. "Let's go hunting Orcs!"
"Not I," chuckled Oggi. "You need long legs to ride a horse. I prefer my own two feet."
"Come on, Jellybean!" yelled Gollin. "Choose yourself a horse."
"I'd like to," began Jellybean, "but ..." He paused. What excuse could he give? That he'd promised his dying mother never to ride because his grandfather had been killed in a riding accident? That the Headmaster of Bunbury Court had made him swear a solemn oath to ride no other horses but those from the school stable?
"But I can't actually ride," said Jellybean, deciding suddenly to tell the truth. "I've only been on a fairground pony, and that was quite small, and there was a man leading it."
Gollin burst into laughter. "You bogus oik!" he cried. "You incredibly bogus, radio-active suet-pudding! You told me how wizard it is to ride a horse, but you can't do it yourself."
"Well," said Jellybean, "it is wizard, isn't it?"
"Prangish rare!" cried Gollin. "You ought to try it sometime, you impossible weed. Tell you what," he added, swinging down, "why don't you ride Duril?"
"Gosh! May I?" exclaimed Jellybean.
Duril, for so Gollin had named his horse, had other ideas. He backed away and turned round and round whenever Jellybean approached. Amphibolas tried, with the same result, but, when Gollin wished to mount, Duril stood still and seemed proud to have his master on his back.
There's only one thing for it," said Gollin. "I shall have to catch and break in some more horses so that you can each have one."
"Gosh, thanks!" chorused Jellybean and Frobisher, while Amphibolas bowed slightly in acknowledgement and smiled.
Over the next few days Gollin mounted, rode and tamed three more horses. None resisted him as long as Duril. His talent as a horse-tamer was phenomenal. He had inherited all his mother's Elvish skill with animals as well as his father's Dwarvish obstinacy and refusal to be beaten. Jellybean, Frobisher, Amphibolas and Oggi watched with admiration, and Duril, the silver stallion, watched with disquiet and disgust as Gollin rode and tamed the new horses.
Jellybean took the first, a smallish, brown mare, who let herself be ridden and guided about the plain as if she had been bred and trained in a riding stable. He called her Matron because something about her eyes and her expression reminded him of the matron at Bunbury Court.
When they returned to the Dwarvish citadel that night Matron allowed herself to be led inside, and Duril, who hated to be parted from Gollin, followed. The next day a horse was found for Amphibolas, and then, a couple of days later, one for Frobisher. After that the friends practised their riding on the plain: walking and trotting in close formation, and galloping, wheeling, charging, getting to know their horses and how to control them.
Once they saw a party of Orcs sneaking out from the Grey mountains to spy on the Dwarves. Instantly Gollin ordered a charge. The four Companions thundered towards the Orcs, brandishing their swords and shouting wild war-cries.
"Gollin, Lord of horses!"
"Bunbury Court forever!"
"Ow! Yaroo! Not so fast!"
That last cry was Frobisher's. he still hadn't quite got his seat, and a charge at full gallop was giving him something of a jolting.
The Orcs didn't wait to hear what the ferocious horsemen were shouting. With wild squeals of terror they took to their heels and fled back to their holes beneath the Grey Mountains. The four Companions returned home in triumph, and no more Orcs came out of the mountains before the Dwarvish army was ready to move.
The army was split into two battalions. One, led by Roggi, advanced on the Grey Mountains to attack the Orcs, then retreated before their furious onslaught. When the Orcs turned from their pursuit the Dwarves advanced again, and again the Orcs drove them back. Snotrag the Great was here, there and everywhere, urging on his horde, and beside him were two orcs carrying the banners of Snotrag, poles from which flew Jellybean's and Frobisher's jeans.
"On, you maggots!" snarled Snotrag. "We'll 'ave Dwarfmeat for supper. Forward! Attack! Smash! Kill!"
The Orcish horde pressed on in pursuit of the fleeing Dwarves, but that was exactly what the Dwarves intended. Oggi's battalion was waiting, concealed behind a bulging buttress of rock, and now they charged, taking the surprised Orcs on the flank, while Roggi's battalion suddenly turned to confront their pursuers.
The Orcs were in chaos, for those behind cried "Forward!" and those ahead called "Back!", and those in the middle were pushed and shoved and trampled on while the vengeful Dwarves set to work with their battle-axes to separate as many Orcish heads from Orcish bodies as they could.
Whenever a gang of Orcs managed to fight back, a new terror struck. The enemy had a troop of the strange, unknown monsters, the four-legged, two-armed, two-headed warriors who fought with both hooves and swords. If the Orcs had not been so terror-stricken they might have killed or maimed the horses and captured their riders. Instead they screeched with fear, fled, and were trampled or cut down. Snotrag, their leader, up on a rock, out of harm's way, screamed with fury.
"S'not monsters, you maggots! 'S Fings on 'orses! Kill ve Fings! Stick veir 'eads on poles!"
"There's Snotrag!" yelled Jellybean, and the Companions turned their horses and began to cut their way through the seething mass of Orcs towards the Orc leader. Snotrag's cronies saw them coming and promptly deserted, only to find that they had leapt from the frying pan into the fire. The horsemen surged past the rock, attacked the fleeing Orcs, and snatched from them the Orcish banners.
The battle was coming to an end. Dead Orcs lay all around, and a few dead Dwarves too. Snotrag stood alone on his rock. The surviving Orcs were limping and scrambling away up the mountain-side.
"You ain't won yet, you 'orrible Fings!" yelled Snotrag. "I'll 'ave your 'eads on poles! You ain't seen ve larst o' Snotrag ve Great!"
"Why do you call yourself Snotrag?" demanded Jellybean, his clear young voice resounding over the silent battlefield.
"You gave me ve name!" jeered Snotrag. "Dinchoo know Orcs don't 'ave names till veir enemies gives 'em one? Only terrible Orcs 'as names like Snotrag."
The fleeing Orcs had reached the safety of the mountain caves, and they turned to watch their leader's defiance of the victorious foe.
"Do you know what a snotrag is?" called Jellybean. "It's this!"
He ripped his jeans from the Orcish flagpole and rummaged in the pocket. He pulled out a grubby handkerchief and flourished it mockingly.
"That's a snotrag!" he yelled. "Do you know what we use it for? This!"
Then he put it to his nose and gave a tremendous blow.
"That's a snotrag!" said he.
The Dwarves began to laugh and jeer. "Snotrag! Snotrag! That's a snotrag!"
Snotrag screamed with rage and called on the Orcs to attack again. They made no move.
"You cowardly maggots! You scum! I'm your leader! I'm Snotrag ve Great!"
At this the Orcs began to laugh and jeer. "Snotrag!" they howled. "Snotrag! Snotrag! That's a snotrag! You're a snotrag!"
Snotrag snarled and spat, and the Dwarves and Orcs laughed all the harder. Jellybean blew his nose as noisily as he could, and the furious Orc bounced up and down, gasping in impotent fury.
"Get lost, you big wet lettuce!" yelled Jellybean, and Snotrag, giving up at last, flung down his scimitar and shield, leapt from the rock, and scuttled off up the hill-side, while the other Orcs sniggered and the Dwarves roared with laughter.
"I think," chuckled Gollin, wiping his eyes, "that we may have seen the last of Snotrag the Great."
The Orcs fled into the tunnels beneath the mountains, while the Dwarves set to work to clear up the battlefield. They fetched brushwood to make a pyre, and piled onto it the bodies of the dead Orcs, but the bodies of the fallen Dwarves they laid together in a row to be carried back to the Lone Mountain for burial.
As dusk fell they lit the pyre, and by its flickering light the funeral detachment picked up the corpses of the fallen Dwarves and set off for home. With them went some wounded warriors, and the banners of Snotrag the Great - much to Frobisher's distress.
"I was looking forward to putting my trousers on again," he wailed. "I still feel silly dressed like this."
"You can't possibly wear them in this state, you hairy goon," said Jellybean. "They're stinking with ozard Orcish filth."
"They're not so bad," objected Frobisher, but even he had to admit, when he took a closer look, that their sojourn among the Orcs had not exactly improved the jeans. Fastidiousness overcame his modesty, and he agreed to send the revolting objects to the Lone Mountain for a thorough wash and to march on bare-legged into whatever perils the war might bring.
"Don't worry, Frobi," grinned Jellybean. "If you're killed in battle we'll send for your trousers so that you can have a decent burial."
"Gosh, thanks," said Frobisher with deep sarcasm.
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