21. Battle by Night
"Thorin Stonehelm and King Durin *1 have driven them from our ancient cities and, allied with the Rangers, destroyed their great warren near the High Pass." he explained. "But they're like rats, always finding new holes to hide in. Still there are fewer than there were." he smiled kindly on Merry and Pippin. "Nothing for you to worry about, young Hobbits, you handled those Moria rats well enough."
"We'll be all right once the fighting starts." Merry answered.
"It's the waiting I hate." Pippin added.
"Me too." Boromir agreed absently. His eye, scanning the rolling scrubland below the wall, caught movement - quickly resolving into hundreds of dark, scuttling forms. He drew his sword. "Here they come!"
The Orc army was made up entirely of small, twisted creatures like those who had inhabited Moria. Their charge was met by a hail of arrows, from Legolas' bow of Lorien and short Ranger bows and the seven foot steel warbows of the Dunedain, nearly halving the number of the oncoming host. The remnant swarmed up the smooth stone wall and over the battlements.
Boromir swiped off the first head to show itself above the ramparts, kicked a second Orc off the wall, skewered two more. Yet even as he fought a detached, portion of his mind - the part of him that was Captain not just warrior - observed and judged and didn't much like the conclusion it drew.
Nor was he the only one to see it. Gimli spurned aside the body of the last of the Orcs and glanced up at him. "That was too easy."
Pippin looked startled for a moment, then thoughtful.
"You're right," Merry panted, "it was."
Legolas frowned as he wiped the black Orc blood from his long knives. "A fient?"
"A test rather, to judge our resolve and the strength of our defense." that was Aragorn, striding down the wall to join them, trailed by Faramir and Arandil - the latter more than a little pale.
Boromir turned one of the bodies over with his blade and pointed. "See how white and unmarked its skin is beneath its paint? A hatchling."
The King nodded grim agreement. "It would seem some one among our enemies has the power and the skill to breed Orcs."*2
"Draugoth?" Faramir asked, but doubtfully.
Aragorn shook his head. "No, the Wolf-lord is incapable of such subtle arts. More likely some Black Sorceror among the Hill Folk."
"That explains their numbers." said Gimli.
"These were a sacrifice then." from Legolas. "The next attack will be the true one."
"A smaller force perhaps, but more dangerous." Faramir agreed.
"Not necessarily smaller." Aragorn said quietly, looking over the parapet at the body littered terrain below. "It all depends on how many of these new Orcs they have." Turned back to his companions. "Had I an unlimited supply of battle fodder I would use them to tie down the defenders and concentrate my most effective soldiers at a single point."
Pippin grimaced. "That's our Strider, always looking on the bright side."
But Merry shook his head. "Orcs aren't that smart."
"Uruks may be." the King contradicted. "And do not forget these are being directed by Men."
"I can guess where they will concentrate their real warriors." Faramir murmured, leaning against the battlements beside Boromir.
"As can I." his brother agreed with a glance over his shoulder at Aragorn, deep in conversation with Gilvagor and the Warden of Caur Amrun. "No chance of persuading our liege lord to withdraw to the inner Keep where he will be safe?"
"None at all. He is very like you in some ways."
Boromir looked at his brother in genuine surprise. Aragorn had often reminded him of his father, and of Faramir too, but never himself. "I see no likeness."
Merry, on his other side, snorted. "I do!" and Pippin laughed agreement.
Faramir straightened suddenly. "Here they come."
This time it was not easy. The smaller Orcs were older, experienced fighters, and led by a number of the hulking Uruks.
Through the melee Boromir caught occasional glimpses of Aragorn, cutting down enemies left and right. and shook his head at himself. He'd forgotten just how fast and lethal his King could be, no need to worry about Aragorn. He tried to keep track of the Little Ones but quickly lost them in the swirl of larger beings. He could only hope they would be all right.
Merry dispatched his fourth Orc and looked around panting. The fighting had moved down the wall a ways leaving him in a little pocket of peace, littered with bodies - mostly Orc thank goodness. Then he saw he was not alone.
One of the big Uruks, blood running freely down its right side and leg, picked itself up. Merry crouched down but the Orc didn't turn his way, its attention was fixed on the struggle going on down the wall. It looked around for a weapon, picked up one of the great steel bows, pulled an arrow from a body near its feet and drew.
Merry followed the Uruk's fixed stare to where Boromir was fighting with another of the Great Orcs. No! Not again!
He hurled himself at the creature, knocking it off its feet, the bow and arrow flying from its hands. Merry stabbed blindly, in a panicked fury, it was some minutes before he realized the Orc was dead.
"Merry?" it was Boromir, sounding alarmed. "Are you all right?"
The Hobbit staggered to his feet, covered in black Orc blood, and quavered unconvincingly; "Yes, yes I'm fine."
Boromir looked from him, to the bow and arrow lying near the Orc's hand and guessed what had happened. "And so am I, thanks to you, Merry." He put his hand on the Hobbit's shoulder and felt it shaking with silent sobs, and got down on his knees to put his arms around Merry and hold him close as he cried over what nearly happened just now - and what had happened twenty years before.
*1 This is *the* Durin, the Father of the Dwarves, he returns in troubled times to defend his people, (kind of like King Arthur). This was Tolkien's own idea not mine.
*2 Orcs do reproduce sexually but can also be created - as by Saruman - in a Frankenstein-like process from body parts, (yeck!). Animated, or so it is claimed, by the Power of Morgoth still abroad in Middle Earth even though he himself is imprisoned in the Void. This is most emphatically *not* canon, (though based on what we see in the movie).
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