1. The Ambush
Written for the LOTR Community "Show, Don't Tell" challenge.
There had been no movement in the brush or among the trees for quite some time, so the small flock of birds returning late from further south settled in the limbs of a stand of tall elms, most chattering as they tried first one roost and then the next, until at last all seemed satisfied for the evening. The woods went quiet as the light slowly dimmed behind the looming grey clouds that covered the sky.
A dog fox, resting in the mouth of his den, watched the birds as they flitted from branch to branch, but lost interest when it became obvious that none intended to alight upon the ground and that they intended to sleep soon. He rested his muzzle on his paws, and his eyes went half closed as he gave a slight snort. The breeze, which had been mainly from the east, changed, first coming from the north and then the west. As the clouds began to break apart the fox raised his head, his ears suddenly pricking alert, his nostrils flaring at the foul stench of approaching orcs. It gave a warning bark, and took cover under the nearby spreading roots of an ancient beech that raised its limbs over the forest track, watching to the east where the Moon was rising over the shadows of the Ephel Duath. Alarmed, the birds rose from their resting places, calling out their fear and displeasure at being driven from their chosen copse, heading north and west, closer to the river. The fox watched the way along which the evil creatures were likely to come, its presence but a frail protection for its mate and kits somewhat further from the two-foots' way, unwilling to retreat too much further.
A rook rose cawing from the undergrowth, and foraging conies dove into whatever holes they were closest to. A frenzied crashing amongst the brush near the beech marked the flight of a young wild pig as it caught the scent of the oncoming intruders and panicked.
Then, briefly, all went silent again. There was a shrill cry of a jay, and a momentary movement in the brambles adjoining the road, and then----
Tramp, tramp! Tramp, tramp! Tramp, tramp! Tramp, tramp! Crack, crackle, snap!
The orcs pushed past overhanging shrubbery from a narrow track, growling and complaining as they made their way onto the broader path. A tracker came first, his nostrils quivering as he tried to sort out the scents about them. He was followed by eight smaller orcs in mismatched armor, two carrying small bows and the rest armed with crude scimitars. Behind them were sixteen uruks, three of them archers and the rest carrying both pikes and blades. A uruk thumped one of the shorter fighters with the shaft of his pike, and all in the party went into a grudging, wary silence. They turned southward and began moving forward, slowly, watchfully. There was a grunted command given in the Black Speech, and a general wordless acknowledgment as the troop gained confidence and began moving rapidly southward.
Another alarm call from the jay, and the orcs stopped in their tracks, looking about to see the bird fly.
But what flew in that moment was aimed at them, not taking wing away from them! Seven orcs looked down in shock to examine the arrows that had appeared to sprout from their bodies, and five of them toppled in the next instant. There was the growl of a badger, and another flight of arrows took them, causing five more to fall at least to their knees, if not flat upon their faces! Only one of the orc archers was still standing, but stood confused, unsure as to where to aim his arrows. One of the pikemen hurled his weapon in the general direction of the source of the arrow that had taken the orc who'd been marching next to him, but it bounced harmlessly off the trunk of one of the elms.
They heard a shrill whistle from the west side of the path, and all turned that direction, their scimitars raised. But then armed Men leapt down from behind the rocks on the eastward slopes, taking them from the rear. The fight was swift and fierce, and in moments all of the orcs were lying upon the ground, the Men stepping back and wiping their blades clean as they surveyed the results of their ambush. As a shorter Man turned his masked face toward one of his fellows in unspoken question, however, one of the apparently stricken orcs jumped up unexpectedly and sought to take him with as much surprise as had been given its own squadron. But it had not taken two steps before it fell, an arrow in its throat, its intended target turning toward it with some surprise, his sword already lifted defensively.
The hidden archers stepped out of their hiding places, and stood in the darkening roadway. At a gesture from their captain each Man stooped over one of the prone orcs and delivered a blow from which none would be able to rise, then moved on to strike another, pulling their arrows out of their victims as they could.
Ten Men gathered at the last about their captain, who released his mask to smile at the rest in approval. He pointed southwesterly, and all nodded their understanding before melting soundlessly into the bushes and trees that bordered the pathway.
Soon all was quiet and still once more. At last the fox stirred, slipping from its own hiding place down to investigate one of the bodies lying on the pathway. It sniffed at the corpse, then recoiled at the reek of the spilled black blood. At last satisfied that the orcs were indeed dead, it lifted its leg defiantly and marked the closest one with an indicator that this land was both occupied and defended. Satisfied that no other fox would trespass on its claim, it returned to its former place at the mouth to its den, relieved to hear the gentle sound of nursing kits within and the panting of its vixen. No further danger threatened its family this night!