Many sloppy tents scatter this encampment. Banners with the Lidless Eye fly high above the ground. The camp is sectioned off, it seems, into areas for the officers, shamans grunts, and even slaves. A large army outpost is this, hundreds of bodies keep this war machine running under the will of the Dark Lord.
At this time, the camp stands nearly bare of activity. The suns rays send the smaller Orcs to hide within the comfortable shade of the tents, while only the larger officer Orcs who can withstand the harsh orb's light are about doing their business. Fires are burnt low, and some Orcs are strewn about, passed into grog induced sleep by labor from the night before. For now the army rests, but when the Sun goes down all must beware!
The uruk camp is bustling with activity, even in daytime, thanks in part to the deep shadows cast by the dense boughs which turn even the midday into barely more than dusk. The camp is sprawling and large, no doubt a great fighting force is gathered here. It is set to the side of the old road, with many tents lining the relatively clear roadside, then fewer and fewer, fading into dark and impassable depths of the forest. The road is heavilly guarded on both sides of the camp.
The wind and snow have delayed their journey as Zhamik's two messengers push on hard for the orc camp to deliver the message they have been charged with. The horse's chin hairs are covered with a thick layer of frost as the two riders push them almost to the breaking point in their efforts to get more speed out of them. "We should be seeing the camp soon,"Semi calls back to his companion. I think I can smell it now." And indeed the horses are showing signs of reluctance to continue, that has nothing to do with their fatigue for Semi's horse's eyes are beginning to roll and he sidesteps more the closer they get.
The gruff Malzerleg steps in, comparable to any orc in the camp. Sniffing in distaste, the scarred warrior is at an astonishing 5'10" (for Easterlings), along with a wide thickset frame. "Ah, damn it, I thought this was an easy mission." A few orcs give him a snort. "Perhaps we'd get some food." His horse acts similarly, the brown shaggy pony neighing nervously.
Pacing around camp, beating a random snaga down to his place, Stragen grumbles at his duty. Why does he have to be the one to greet humans? Why does he have to keep snaga in place, especially when he was punished for using his own methods? "I better get something out of this," he grumbles to himself as he backhands another snaga away from him, feeling a bit better.
The guards farthest from the camp, the lowly snagas fated to die at the start of an enemy attack and alert the main guard with their death screams, jump up from the log felled across the road, at the sound of horse hooves. In the commotion of hoarse whispers, cursing, and shoving which follows, the snagas seem to split into two groups. Some are eager to run to the camp to warn their superiors, and be first to perhaps earn a favor of a Dog. Others would rather eat the horses and kill their riders before said Dog lays a claim to the choice cuts.
Seeing the commotion at the edge of the camp, Stragen pounds over as angrily as he possibly can. Pulling his scimitar, he waves it at the lowly beasts,shouting, "Out of the way, snaga! The first to get in the way will taste my blade!"
Stragen tears apart the blade named 'Gimb-Hosh' from its mother shieth.
The snagas part before the Shaman in fear, although those who wanted to alert the camp still jostle for the place closer to the powerful orc, to be the first to report to him.
The riders, messengers of the King, are stopped by a bunch of snagas at the outer perimeter of the orc camp. Whatever enthusiasm the snagas might have had for the fresh meat is dampened when the Shaman orc arrives to check out the commotion. Saved from the unruly mob, the messenger's fate rests on his decision, apparently. A snorting laugh, as Demi urges his horse closer with a dig of the heels. "If they do, there is an old saying. I do not have to outride the orcs. I just have to outride you." Despite his joking manner, his fingers play near the hilt of his scimitar as he draws near the encampment, eyes setting as he prepares to face orcs and who knows what else.
Semi's eyes scan the crowd of orcs before him and his hand is never far from his battle axe as he glances at his companion and their horses comes to a stop in front of what appears to be a leader. The horse moves restively, obviously frightened and wanting to move away, but the old warrior restrains it with a sure hand as he waits for the orc to some closer.
Moving closer to the horses, Stragen's one eye that still works darts back and forth between them and the throng of snaga rapidly. One steps a wrong way, and a quick hack from Stragen's scimitar takes the creatue's arm off. Other snaga rush it and feast. Stragen hisses at the rest in warning.
Moving closer to the riders, he squints at them with his eye, still holding the scimitar. He nods off back toward the camp and says a single word, "Come." He then turns and waves his scimitar and parts the snaga like an experienced pathfinder in a jungle.
The snagas part before the shaman and the messengers who follow him, and close their ranks immediately after the horses, casting wary glances at the Shaman, and almost clawing at the hind legs of the last horse.
Semi recoils in horror as the snaga is rapidly reduced to pieces. He nudges his horse with his knees at the urging of the creature in front of him and finds it difficult to make the animal move, so he dismounts pulling it unwillingly along after the orc and waving to the other rider who has accompanied him.
A third rider, trailing a short distance behind, nudges her horse forward quickly. Not anxious to be left behind any more than she had been. Her horse too is reluctant to move and she follows Semi's lead to dismount and pull her horse along by the reins.
As the procession reaches the main guard, made out of bigger uruks, a stoky broad-shouldered uruk-hai steps in front of them, "Halt! Who are these, and where are you taking them?"
Stragen eyes the larger Uruk intensely, "Messengers, for Warmaster," he says coldly at the larger uruk. Stragen starts to shove on by to lead them into the camp without awaiting an answer.
Demi pulls hard at the reins, muttering something in Logathig to soothe the horse, and dismounts as well, his nose wrinkling at the sight of a snaga casually slain. He leads his horse, following Semi.
"We are messengers from his highness King Zhamik, of the Easterlings," Semi calls out, "My companions and I," he indicates with a hand as he turns, "have an urgent message for Mordor. I must speak to your commander right away," he says, trying to make a show of bravado.
The hai considers the small group, then nods, but still does not take his clawed fingers from the hilt of the scimitar, "Take them to the Warmaster then, he be the one to hear them". Not the most senior orc in the camp for sure, he must have few ranks above him, likely including the one he calls "the Warmaster".
Stragen stops, turns around, and looks at the horsemen. "Come, this way," he then turns around and begins to walk toward an area that has a few more armed uruk than outside the camp. Holding tight to the reins, Leka follows quietly, waiting for her turn to deliver a message.
Semi exhanges a glance with his fellow messengers, and then follows, still having to pull the horse along - obviously not wanting to leave his precious mount for a minute. He waits until the others are abreast of him and whispers so that only they can hear, "Watch what you say. We are treading on dangerous territory here."
Demi grunts, nodding a silent assent, as he hauls his horse forward, staying close.
The group is passing through the area of the camps set aside for the fighting uruks. More disciplined that the snagas, they stay to their tents, knowing better than to stand in the way of the shaman, but many eyes gleam from the shadows with hunger or anticipation.
As the group is taken farther into the camp, the tents become sparser, and better mended. Their owners, orcs of higher ranks, are the commanders and seniors here in the camp. Perhaps in one of these tents is the "Warmaster" the orcs spoke about.
Closing in on a small group of tents with a number of particularly large and well armed Uruk, Stragen mutters without stopping, "Almost there."
The few guards who followed the group from the very edge of the camp are quietly falling behind the group now, and exchange wary glances. Anyone who had witnessed how bad-tempered orc commanders can be would not be surprised by this.
The appearance of larger orcs as they move deeper into the camp does nothing to allay Semi's fear, and his hand moves to his back to loosen his axe for instant use should it be necessary. As they pass an area of cook fires the horse begins to shy violently away from what seems to be parts of a human body and it is all the old warrior can do to pull it back to him with soothing words, so they can continue on their way.
Leka's eyes go wide in fear at about the same time the horses begin trying to bolt. Its all she can do to control hers, and herself while she waits.
Stragen seems oddly unconcerned with the larger Uruk around the area. He walks up behind a particularly large one and clears his throat, "Warmaster, messangers are here."
Another quick jerk of the reins keeps Demi's horse in line, but he does nothing to conceal a brief curl of the lip, his steps hastening as he passes the cookpot.
A tall uruk, black as soot, and wearing the finest armor Mordor can produce, bars Stragen's way, "Stay where you are if you value your life. Who are you to bother the Warmaster? What do you want here?"
Not budging an inch, nor changing his expression, the shaman continues on rather bluntly, "Messangers to see the Warmaster have arrived."
Leka looks back over her shoulder as the orcs talk to each other. She seems to be measuring how far they've come against how fast it might take her to mount and run.
Semi waves his fellows closer and straightens his bearing as he looks the Uruk in the eye. "We are messengers of the Easterling King Zhamik," he repeats in as strong a voice as he can muster. "We request audience with a representative of Mordor."
Neither of the two orcs appear willing to budge, but the huge black guard dispatches another, almost as big and well armored, to the tent. The Warmaster must indeed be quick to anger, for the guard, big and strong as he is, walks slower and slower as he approaches the tent, and even raises his hand to shield his face, as if against cold wind, before cautiously calling out at the entrance, "Mess.. messengers from the , ahem, K-K-K-King of the East, to see t-t-the W-w-w-war-m-m-master". His voice raises to a wince, most unbecoming and odd for such a bulky body.
Per Semi's motion, Leka moves as close as she can. She looks to her fellow messengers at the sight, and sound, of the large orc suddenly so afraid. She begins to tremble slightly herself.
Demi, too, moves close to Semi, straightening to make a show of courage, as the large orc approaches.
A darting nervous glance is given to the other Easterlings, as Semi observes the obvious reticence of the Uruk to approach the purported tent of the warmaster. He quietly lets out an oath in Ghejuran slang, "Curse the day, I was late for training," he says under his breath. He half turns towards the others and whispers, "You see the way he's acting? The leader must be that much worse than the rest of them."
The heavy curtain which hangs over the entrance to the tent billows and flaps aside, revealing only impenetrable darkness inside the tent. The big uruk who delivered a message stands at attention next to the door, perfectly still, not moving a muscle; he appears to be frozen.
At first it seems that the darkness is leaking out of the tent through the open door, as if the tent was filled with tar. Then the moving shadows gain a shape of their own, a shape of a tall man who steps out of the tent. It is nothing more than a silouette, a black void filling the outline of a man. Still, a man it must be, for he speaks in a human voice, althouh distorted almost to the point of being a hiss, "Who seeks the Warmaster?"
Even the once arrogant an brave Stragen is compelled to move away when the tent opens and reveals what is inside. Backing off much like the snaga to him before. His eye follows along, though not directly at the figure.
A wave of bittern bone-chilling cold seems to float out of the tent towards the three messengers as the dark one emerges from it - it is a cold that penetrates and burns the soul.
On seeing the dark figure before him Semi's eyes go wide and he drops to his knees, nerveless fingers letting go of the horse's reins, "R-r-reprentatives of the great King Zhamik of the Easterling allies Lord," he stammers and bows his head, not daring to look at the horrible visage.
Demi, too, falls forward, to his knees, bowing his head, as his horse behind him shrieks in terror, rearing high away from the dread figure that steps from the tent. He is more than content to let Semi speak.
A light gasp escapes the young nikud as the man? comes towards them. "By the Great Eye" she whispers backing into her already nervous horse. He stomps wildly, pulling at the reins and she has yank hard to make him stand still and not leave her behind. Regaining control, she sees Semi on her knees and does likewise.
The Warmaster walks toward the group, the last of the shadows swirling aroung him trails behind, as if unwilling to completely separate from the darkness inside the tent. The black outline suggests that the man is wearing long robes which cover him from head to toe. A hood is on his head, but there is no face under it, not even a glimmer of the eyes is revealed in its shadows. Instead, the bottomless void stares down at the kneeling messengers. The voice still hisses in the ears, but it seems now barely an unnecesary echo of a larger and louder voice which speaks within your head, a force which compells your reluctant mind to form words, "What does the King seek with Mordor?"
That Semi chances a look as the fell figure approaches is a big mistake, for there is a void where the face should be, and he grips his ears and shakes his head a little as the voice seems to pierce the very fibre of his being. A warm trickle of urine runs down his trousers as he literally wets himself in fear.
"Audience with you great one, to bring a c-c-c-omplaint from his royal highness."
Leka closes her eyes tight, literally shaking with fear. She opens them again slowly, not daring to look up. She merely waits for her turn to deliver a message, and probably hopes she's able to leave afterward.
"A complaint?!" The short exclamation stings and snaps at your ears like a whip. "Speak then, what grievances do our allies send with you in the name of your King?" The Warmaster seems to cast a shadow in every direction at once, and it's hard to say where the black robes end and the almost as dark shadows begin. The shadows flow and swirl aroung him slowly, and the guard orcs, even in distress as they are, take great care to stay out of the black man's dark aura.
Stragen backs off sharply at the burst of shadow. In his haste to back off, he trips over a stool and falls over backward. He remains there, tumbled over a stool, watching the events.
Demi continues to kneel, cringing slightly at the exclaimation, remaining silent.
Semi would prefer not to speak with all the orcs surrounding him, but death is just as sure to go back without delivering the message. He flattens himself on the ground so that he is prostrate on the ground in front of the Warmaster, "The orcs Master, our allies.., they have been killing and eating our warriors. I have brought those who would tell you of their predations, my Lord. I myself interviewed an Arban of our cavalry who testified that she suffered two attacks. I will tell you my story and then let the others also bring forth their evidence, my it please you," the old warrior stammers.
Leka cringes more than slightly. She sags down, just short of curling into a ball on the ground behind the others. Her trembling continues as she tries to breathe somewhere in the vicinity of normally.
The shadows suddenly withdraw into the dark shape of a man, and, instead, an invisible but equally perceptible wave of chilling cold rolls away from him. "Killing the allies without cause is forbidden by the edict of my Lord. I will hear your witnesses, and the names of the accused. Send for Shagrat!" The latter is spoken in a higher, shrill, voice, and evidently not addressed to the messengers, for, when none of the guard uruks move, the shadows suddenly coil arough one of them like many lashes. The uruk takes off in a mad dash.
Abject terror fills the young nikud as words spill out of her in a rush. "And his .. that woman. The King's lady friend. They killed her and ate her dead. And others with her." Leka's words stumble out of her.
"Another nikud dead ... dead.." Demi quavers, adding to the tale.
"And what redress do our allies seek for these crimes? What price does the King place on the life of his woman?" asks the Warmaster coldly.
Semi's mouth is suddenly dry and he shivers violently from his supine position in front of the black warrior as its unearthly voice penetrates the silence that has fallen on the orc camp. He closes his eyes, struck dumb with terror for a minute.
Finally, he nods at the words of Leka, "The Arban told me she saw an orc wearing the scimitar of the woman. She attempted to buy the blade back but was attacked and almost killed by an orc named Ku'urdan. A priest of the Great Eye dragged her unconscious body out of harms way. This same Arban had a valuable battle horse squashed flat by a troll name of Rugog, who insisted that she treat his wounds," Semi adds. "Our king seeks the heads of those responsible, Lord," he finishes with a quaver.
Leka nods quickly, making a motion across her throat. "Heads, yup. Wants their heads. He was in a fury he was. Said her loss cost him a lot, he did. Heads heads. Yup."
"Heads ..." Demi echoes, still grovelling.
Leka looks at the other two and realizes something's been left out. "Oh, and that Troll done the killing and this orc name Vazog. He was giving the orders as I was telled it. And then that one who took her scimitar after they was done with her, he was Kuur'dan I think they said his name was."
The feeble light which manages to penetrate the canopy of the old forest suddenly dims even more as a shadow of the Warmaster's raised hand falls onto the messengers, "You spoke of killing and eating. But you name the warriors and accuse them of killing a horse, or refusing to part with a blade! Is that what you came to me for?" The shadow deepens, and presses like a great weight on your shoulders and minds.
"N-n-no your Lordship," the Arban almost died and the other Easterling apparently found her way into the cookpots of the orc camp," Semi confirms. "Plus there were reports of other attacks."
Leka is nearly in a ball again, trembling. "I think there was more to tha...that.. woman, sir. She was ... King had lots of womens. In his palace. She wasn't from the palace, sir. She was from town. A whore they said. But King called her in a lot. And she got rich fast. We thin... some of us we think she was special somehow but ain't sure what and how."
The Warmaster makes another step forward, towering above the supplicants, who are now engulfed in his shadows, Darkness flows out of him freely, and into the heads and bodies of the messengers, "Yes... in your minds, I see these names... Cowards! Even now you are afraid to speak these names. Mordor needs strenght in our allies. Perhaps, your fear of their names can be eased if you watch them die?" The orc guards, never a shy bunch about killing, flinch and cower at these words. "If you are strong enough to watch, you can carry their heads to your king. If you still remember the way or his name".
"As for the woman...", the Warmaster continues, and, for the first time, there is a hint of emotion in his twisted voice, a cruel amusement, "... I can bring her back. Would your King like that?"
Semi rises slightly from his prone position by pushing himself up with his hands, "I do not fear them, my Lord," he says bitterly. "It will give me pleasure to watch them die. I am a warrior for the Eye, I have fought many battles for the great one under our king Zhamik's banner," he says in a stronger voice.
For the first time, Leka looks up. "Back? But she was et?" Seeing Semi rise, she rises as well. Curiosity greater than her fear now apparently. "How you gonna bring her back if she was et?"
Still on the ground but bent over with his head inclined, Semi trembles at the great Dark Warmaster's words, knowing all to well that the king would not be pleased with what the dreadful figure proposes. "The heads," he manages to say, "We were commanded to return with the heads."
"How?" A small whirlpool of darkness coils around the woman. In it, fleeting and grotesque, raise visions of ghostly apparitions, skeletal bodies with hollow eyes, tormented spirits. Putrid stench of rotting flesh and desperate disembodied wails assault your senses.
The girl screams and sinks back to the ground. "No, no. The King he wouldn't like that. No." She starts to cry. "We just wants the heads and be out from here." She whines.
Semi looks back at the girl as she begins crying, "Silence woman!" he spits out, "Show your mettle!"
Cowering on the ground, Leka tries to stop crying. She hugs her arms to herself, bending so far over her head touches the ground. "I'm trying. That woman, they said she fighted like a man against that troll. I can't can't ...do ... do that. I'm sorry Semi. I'm trying."
Semi gives her a dark look, his fear of the figure towering over them making him desperate, "Pull yourself together!" he hisses at her. "You'll kill us all!"
The shadows once more withdraw into the black void, the dim light feels like blinding midday sun by comparison. The Warmaster stands silent, for a while. At last he speaks, "The two you have named will be punished. When they are brought before me, you will be summoned... to watch." As on a cue, the tall uruk guard stirs and barks orders to his orcs, "You will escort the messengers out and guard their camp. Any worthless snaga who raises a claw at them is to die. If the messengers die before the Warmaster summons them, so do you!"
Stragen stands up from his position and rushes to the messengers and prepares to assist in the escort out of the camp.
Leka scrambles back to her feet and grabs back her horses reins. She nods like a fool at Semi's words. "Quieting down now, sir. Right now. I'm all right now, sir."
Semi can scarce believe his ears and he blinks in wonder from his position on all fours, for the evidence that he had pretty much resigned himself to death is painfully obvious on his face and the boneless way in which he struggles to his feet - staggering for a minute and shivering with the cold damp that has penetrated his cloak. "Hold your peace woman!" he hisses a Leka, "It seems we will live to see another sunrise, though your cowardice will be reported to the king." He bows deeply to the Warmaster, "We are your servants Lord, as we are servants of the Great Eye."
The orcs assigned to guard the visitors appear to be about ready to jostle and shove them away from the Warmaster's tent. The black man turns around, in a flowing motion which seem to distort his shape until he is solid again, standing with his back to the messengers. He walks toward the tent, and merges with the black night within it.
Running out ahead of the messengers, Stragen grasps his scimitar tight to wave it at snaga to clear the path out of the camp.
Leka wastes no time getting her horse pushed around to face the other way. She looks anxiously at Semi, remembering at least the proper order of things.
"Get on your horse!" Semi urges the frightened girl, "Let's put some distance between this camp and ourselves." He takes the reins and attempts to swing up onto his horse but the animal shies away from him now. He curses and pulls it around, mounting stiffly and urges it to a trot and casts a frightened look back at the camp as he wends his way out through the many orcs and tents.
Somehow, the girl's horse seems to have just a bit more courage than the girl. It stands stomping, as she swings herself into the saddle and prepares to ride