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We went through that Gondor patrol like a blade through a baby's neck. That easy, it was.
They weren't expecting us, see? Still reckoned they owned the New Lands, down to the river. They'll learn. Meantimes, all we have to do is lie in wait and pick 'em off when they make a slip. Just the way we like it.
I hooked up the leader and took a sniff at him. There was blood running down into that filthy face-hair of his, warm and oozing, and I felt my belly rumble. But the big bosses wanted one kept back to talk.
Nidrak came up from my blind side, which is something I don't take from anyone but him, and took a look at what I'd got. The Man-thing wriggled and mewed a bit, and I squeezed it harder until it went limp and started on one of those thin screams. I licked my chops. I couldn't help it.
Nidrak grabbed me. "Orders is orders..."
He was a fine one to talk. He had even less control than I did. He was practically drooling, himself.
But he was always a right belly-crawler and lickspittle, cringing like a whipped snaga at the say-so that comes down from on high - mostly, that's me. That's why I keep him around. While I'm top, he'll follow.
This time, though, we had orders from On High to keep one of these tarks back for questioning, and he'd have slit his own belly just to fawn up to those. Or grabbed onto his commander, which some might reckon worse.
The back-hander I gave him all but ripped his ugly ear off. "Orders is orders... and you stay away from the prisoner, got it? No-one takes a taste until we get back and he's done with -"
You'd have thought even one of those Man-things would have had some gratitude. I mean, I'd just given the order that would keep his hide in one piece for days on end, which is more than he'd have got from the rest of our patrol I can tell you. But no, he takes that moment to jump up and make a run for it.
I stretched out a long arm and gave him a good one in the head with the back side of my blade before he'd got three strides. He went down like a log. Stinking noisy log, though. There was a dent in his skull the size of your claw, and he was making a thick snoring sound.
Looked like I'd broken this one. I glanced round to see what else was left. Not much. Bitgrag had one that was still moving, though.
"Bring that over here, Bitgrag. We need one that talks."
He gave me a dirty look from between those tusks of his, but he did like he was told. We all knew the orders. Too bad he had to miss out on a meal.
The new prisoner didn't have any face-hair. Young and tender. It wasn't making any noise, just shaking all over. I lifted it up to take a look and its head flopped back. But it wasn't dead, because I could see the pulse moving in that neck... see it quiver softly as it swallowed...
That was it. Just too much to take. My jaws moved almost despite myself, and there
was sweet, hot blood between my teeth, the taste spurting suddenly rich as the
Man-thing's throat tore out - and incredibly, one last gift, it was still moving, still
tender and living and afraid - and then the final indescribable crunch of the
Well, like I said, that was it. Not much talk left in that one. Bitgrag and his boys weren't best pleased, of course, on account of how I'd quoted orders on them just to get a juicy mouthful away from him - or that's what they said it looked like - but by the time I'd laid claw-stripes into the hides of the first few to wag their tongues I had things in hand again.
That left us to go back to number one. He was still breathing at least.
Don't get me wrong, us true-breds can eat anything if we have to - not like these puling, finicking Gondor-men - but none of us would chow down on roots and leaves until our bellies were flapping against our spines. This one hadn't had a bite of meat in days. Phaarrgh. He reeked like some rumble-belly ox.
I rammed a healing-draught down him - waste of good stock - stuck a patch over that skull-hole of his and reckoned he'd last out until we got back. The rest wasn't my concern. I slung him over my back and made off sharpish.
So did the others who had any sense. Bitgrag and the rest stayed behind to finish the meal and suck the bones. We weren't half a mile gone before we heard the sound of the other Gondor patrol coming down on them.
Like I said to Nidrak, those City-men always run their patrols in pairs.
Looks like Bitgrag did, too. Pity, that... I don't think...
I had half a mind to turn back and go over the pickings - Bitgrag had a big amulet-bone round his neck I'd always fancied, and the Gondor-men's gear was better than ours; catch the Big Bosses spending on fancy helms or breast-plates for the filthy rank-and-file! - but there was a big smoke going up back there, so I reckoned that other patrol must have cleared things out and set a fire to it. Can't bear to let us get a look-in. Typical tarks' trick.
We were heading back for base and about one day into the mountains when the prisoner woke up. We soon had him ready to talk. He was practically begging for it.
Well, actually there wasn't too much point in him talking to us, on account of the high muck-a-mucks back at headquarters would want to hear it from his own sweet lips, but he was so eager to spill his guts by then we hadn't the heart to stop him. It was just a bit of fun. A bit too much fun, maybe, 'cause he died on us.
It was that dent in his head, I reckon. We barely even touched him, really.
Anyhow, we'd wasted all that time, plus we were short Bitgrag and his lot, so we weren't too happy. There's only so much you can do on a dead carcase, though, so I took the rest out on Nidrak. We were going to chuck him down the ravine, after, but it turned out he was still alive, so I kept him on. Like I said, he's a born toadlicker. When you're short of an eye it helps to have a second-string follower around.
Got one souvenir out of the whole slime-ridden mess-up, anyhow. That leader of theirs, he had six fingers on the one hand. Born that way, it looked like. One of their freaks. So I took off the extra finger as a keepsake, like that amulet-bone Bitgrag used to wear. Got it here - see? - strung up with a bit of cord, on account of it's getting a bit loose...
How can I prove it's a sixth finger? Because I'm telling you - see? You trying to say you want to make something of it - well, do you? Do you?
That's a bit more like it. I thought not...
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