"I hate orcs."
"You've mentioned that."
"I suppose I have," Aica said. She glanced around the dark forest. "Well? Where is he?"
"He's probably just late," Ringe soothed.
"Then he's going to get his head cut off! I don't tolerate lateness!"
"My apologies," a slimy voice hissed. A hunchbacked orc stumbled out of the forest and into the light of the moon. "Greetings, Shriekers."
"Well?" Aica snapped. "You said you had information."
"I always have information for the great servants of the mighty Eye."
"What is it?"
The orc glanced from side to side, then leaned close as if what he was going to say was a great secret. "There is a certain group of persons who have left the Mines of Moria and kin of mine, regrettably alive. They also killed the balrog."
"I heard about that. Morgoth wasn't happy."
The orc chuckled nervously. He didn't believe the first Dark Lord was back, but he'd give no indication of that to the Shriekers. "These persons carry an item of great power. The One Ring."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. I have very good sources."
"So do I, and they haven't said anything about that."
"Perhaps the Shrieker should choose her sources with more care," the orc suggested.
Aica snarled and started to draw her sword, but Ringe laid a hand on her wrist. "Where are they now?" he asked.
"They have recently left the shelter of the Goldenwood, riding down the river in boats. They stay to the western shore, wisely, but we will soon catch them."
"Make it sooner," Aica snarled. "Whatever happens, don't give these people up. I want each and every head, and everything they've got on 'em. That means no looting!"
"I will pass along those instructions to my subordinates."
"Good." The orc turned to go and started to limp back into the forest. "Hey!" Aica called after him. "What's your name anyway? I like to know the names of the people working for me."
"Grishnakh, Shrieker," the orc said. "And I am the orc who will deliver the Ring to you."
Grishnakh disappeared into the forest.
"Do you think he'll find it?" Ringe asked.
"No," Aica said.
"Do you think he's even got the right people?"
"Maybe. I don't know." Aica grinned. "Good thing the wizard's dead, huh? No more Maia on their side, unless you count that bird-charmer, what's-his-name."
"That's the one. Don't have to worry about him though. Probably run into the east soon enough." Aica called to the Fell Beast and jumped on its back when it arrived.
"Where are we going now?" Ringe asked.
"I don't know. Looking around. Actually, I think we need to make a stop by Isengard. Saruman's been growing a bit too big for his britches. He's up to something."
"Besides conquering Rohan?"
"Yeah," Aica snarled. "Makes me suspicious, that. How'd he get an army big enough for it? Sure, there're plenty of Dunlendings, and Rohan isn't as strong as it used to be, but it's a big place, and he's talking about wiping them off the map. You'd need a big army for that."
"Maybe he recruited some orcs from the Misty Mountains."
Aica snorted. "Don't be a fool. Those orcs are firmly under the heel of the balrog. At least, they were until the balrog died. This plan's been underway for months. No, can't be them. Besides, last I heard, the mountains're emptying. The orcs are leaving their dens for…somewhere else."
"Why're they leaving?"
"Who knows and who cares? Maybe they'll take care of Mirkwood and Lorien for us."
Ringe watched the east as they rose into the sky. It was probably his imagination, but he thought he could see little dots streaming out of the Misty Mountains, all heading for Mirkwood.
Without the balrog to lead and intimidate them, the orcs were lost. Khamul had found many just sitting in their tunnels or wandering aimlessly. It had been simplicity itself to round them up and lead them out.
Khamul felt more like she was herding sheep than gathering an army for a devastating attack on Lothlorien.
"Come on, you maggots," she snapped as she led the orcs out of the mountains. More were joining even as they descended into the valley. She intended to go to Mirkwood first and pick up a few more, but considering the slim pickings there, she might as well just take a stab at Lorien.
"Where are we going?" one orc asked.
"Right now, Dol Guldur." Unless I change my mind. "Then we're going to attack Lorien."
"Death to the elves!"
The train of orcs, and the occasional goblin mixed in, stretched for quite the distance. Such a shame it wasn't as wide as it was long. Khamul would've felt a lot more confident then. As it was, they far outnumbered the elves, but every elf was worth at least ten orcs. Did they outnumber them that much? Khamul wasn't entirely sure.
Khamul and the first section of the army arrived at Dol Guldur almost a week after they'd left the mountains. The gates opened for the Nazgul, but after that, Khamul didn't see so much as a sign of the two orcs who lived in the abandoned fortress. The rest of the army trickled in over the next few days. There were so many that they all didn't fit into Dol Guldur, many having to camp outside in the dangerous forest. A few were lost to the spiders and wargs, but most survived.
"I don't like this," Khamul muttered, staring out the highest window at the army crammed inside and outside the walls. Sure, there were a lot of them, but against Lorien? There was a ring of power there, wielded by one of the oldest elves in existence. The chances against something like that were slim at best.
A shadow fell across the army and Khamul looked up to see a Fell Beast coming in for a landing.
"Not on my army!" Khamul bellowed and sprinted out of the room, hoping to mitigate the damage.
As it turned out, only a dozen orcs were killed by the landing and the Fell Beast's hunger. Still, that was a dozen too many for Khamul.
"What're you doing here?" she roared, not caring who it was.
"Hello!" Ancalime said, waving and smiling as she slid off the creature.
"What are you doing?" Khamul hissed between clenched teeth.
"I just wanted to say hello."
"You've said hello. Now get out of my sight."
"What're you doing?"
"Planning an attack on Lorien."
"Oh, that sounds exciting. How are you going to do it?"
"Throw everything I've got against them and see what happens."
"Will it work?"
"No. Galadriel's too strong. If Sauron was here with his Ring, then sure, I could do it. But not like this."
"It's very boring everywhere else," Ancalime said. "No one wants me around and all these exciting things are happening."
"I thought you said it was boring."
"Oh, it is. For me anyway. Everyone else is very busy. Yanta and Metima were up in Dale the other day, getting the Easterlings together for an attack against the dwarves. And Aica's been talking with orcs about some travelers, and Melkor's been hanging around Minas Morgul…" Ancalime sighed. "Everything's happening everywhere but where I am."
"Why don't you stay here for a while?" Khamul suggested. "Who knows? There's a lot of stuff to be done in Dol Guldur, so maybe you could run the army for a while."
"What? Really?" Ancalime beamed. "You really think I could do it?"
"Sure. With a little practice, I'm sure you'll do great."
"But I've never fought before."
Khamul clapped Ancalime on the shoulder. "First time for everything. Now, how about we go inside and warm up? You can tell me all about those magnificent creatures, the Fell Beasts. Particularly about how you ride one."
"Oh, that sounds so nice," Ancalime said. She smiled. "You know, I always knew you had a good heart, Khamul."
Not so nice as you might think, Khamul thought with a smile as she led Ancalime into the fortress. Sauron thinks he can shut me out of the great battle for Middle-Earth by keeping me here, eh? Well, with a little training, I think Ancalime'll be ready to take on Lorien while I…well, while I get involved in whatever Sauron and Morgoth don't want me to.