His Now tastes sweetest in the instant before it leaves his mouth.
It's Grymawk who goes first, crossbow loaded and cocked. The others follow but he pays no mind, all his focus on what lies ahead. He shoots the first dog before it can sense them, toppling the animal sidelong. The second just has time to lift its head, utter a hesitant growl that cuts off with the arrow in its throat and then it is down and Grymawk is still moving, dispensing silence with a happy purpose. He doesn't even break stride at the still-warm corpses: jerks the arrows out on the go. Keeps moving, eyes peeled for his next target.
Ten feet and frantic barking tells Nazluk that Grymawk finally missed one. Five feet and answering barks take up the alarm throughout the village. No more skulking: Nazluk runs now, knife in either hand—
Yes, that's right, we've fucking come. Come greet my knives, they're hungry!
At the second hut a door crashes open, a man's strong voice comes from it, and Nazluk veers toward the silhouette. He's light with laughter when he sees the tark carries no weapon: sings "Die now!" and slams into the man with all the force at his command. His blades, of course, precede him.
"Gut them! Bleed them! Turn them into meat!" Is it Pryszrim who shouts it, or one of the others, or does he only think he hears the words? His mouth is open: spray of blood across his face, salt and iron on his tongue, the tark falls under his blade and he stops his headlong rush to hack at the body again and again.
"Come on, lad!" Rukshash's blue eye dancing laughter calls him back. "Will you let those night-blind Uruk bastards beat you to the spoils?"
Panting, Pryszrim leaves off his butchery, runs on in the giggling snaga dark.
There are times when Kurbag wishes he could see in the dark. Now would be good, for instance, as he squints around the hovel. He's about to leave when he sees a shadow shifting out of the corner of one eye. He turns and, briefly, they stare at one another, the tall half-Uruk and the young tark woman against the wall.
If he could see in the dark he would have seen the knife. He's ready for it anyhow—often they have knives—but when she realizes she won't catch him this way she makes to use it on herself, nearly succeeding. "None of that," he says and catches her wrist, squeezing until something breaks.
He kills her in the end, but this way he's more than a minute about it, standing with her slender neck clamped in the crook of his right arm, waiting for her body to slacken: holds her with an almost-gentleness until the breath fails her and the strong heart finally stops beating. When she is dead he lays her down, starts undoing her dress. It has little metal clasps. Frustrating as they are, Kurbag can feel their fineness beneath his calloused fingers and is pleased.
Rukshash slips behind the crude huts with his good ear pricked till he hears promise, waits in the shadow of the worn thatch, watching. Scrabble scrabble from within, dirt dislodged from the outer wall. He counts the seconds till a shard of bone breaks free into the outer air and jerks quickly from side to side, widening the hole. He expects a woman to emerge, or a child, but it's a toddler pushed out instead: a puling brat not two years old, thumb lodged firmly in its mouth. Its eyes widen at the sight of Rukshash. Smiling, he puts a finger to his lips, waits for the one who sent the baby through to follow.
The boy has dark fuzz on his upper lip. Half-way out when he sees the Orc bending over him, he sobs and starts to squirm back, but Rukshash already has him by the hair. Jerking the boy's head back, he saws through the lad's windpipe with the ease of many years' practice.
Not far away, the little one is plopped down in the dust, eyes creased, mouth parting around its thumb in one long wail. Rukshash clucks and goes to it with his red knife.
Here's a fight! A veteran of the Ring War: one who hasn't beaten his sword into a ploughshare. But the man is older now, the sweat standing on his brow. He knows he is going to die. The Orc is toying with him at this point, slowing its blade to match his faltering strokes. All the man can hope is that, while the beast is playing, his family can make their escape.
Grushak smiles. Beyond the man he sees three figures running, quicksilver in the night. "Mir dafrim, sharku, but now it ends." He sheathes his weapon in the warrior's gut.
The man stumbles, mouth opening and closing, fingers trembling over the long rip in his belly. Strong hands catch him, lay him back: the earth receives him like a pillow. Above him the Orc is speaking: "…track them down too, soon enough. Never fear." It wipes its wet blade on his tunic. Looks down at him and smiles and—improbably, in the midst of battle—undoes the front of its breeches. The man feels impossibly tired. He stares past the Orc into the stars and the void beyond the stars, thinking only, It is true.
We all die alone.
How many Men inhabit this village? Hrahragh counts five in one hut, three in another. They shout and fight or weep and flee, but fight or flee, he kills them.
He throws a woman against a wall, holds her by the throat and fucks her. He makes it fast for there is more killing in him, and Pryszrim is hovering close by, eager for Hrahragh's seconds.
Later Grushak will ask "How many?" and he will say a number, but it will not be true. Five and three make nothing when daggers add them. It is all subtraction in the end.
Mir dafrim, sharku, but now it ends. "It was good fun, old man, but now it ends."
I wanted to write about the raid but was having a hard time doing so. Then I wondered how it would read if it was told in drabbles (one hundred- and two hundred-word increments) from each Orc's point of view. Except for Grushak, who wouldn't fully cooperate.
Enormous thanks to pandemonium_213, whose suggestions dramatically improved this chapter.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.