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She felt good. Although the last meal – the human she caught about a week ago – was relatively small, she was still full. In the meantime she slept a lot, so now she was brimming with energy. She decided it would be good to scout the whole western slopes of the mountains – to discover the exact locations of as many human settlements as possible, as well as the best places for ambush. And by the time she would have finished that, slowly and without hurrying, a few days would pass and she would be hungry again. And she'd catch new prey, of course. She rejoiced in advance.
After passing through her long tunnel, she reached the exit and discovered it was night-time. But at least it was cloudy and the white dots were not visible in the sky. Their light was faint, but there was something about it that made her very anxious. She shuddered every time she set her eyes upon them; she hated them.
The area around the exit was barren, without trees, and the terrain was relatively flat: the rocks were quite smooth, so it was easy to walk on them. But because of her impaired night vision, she thought it would be best to wait until morning before starting her descent. A nocturnal trip through the forest, whose edge was about quarter of a mile lower, wouldn't be simple, and she was not in a hurry. So she laid her big body on the ground, having decided to take some rest. Everything was quiet, and the mild wind was blowing.
And it was the wind that brought her the awareness. The scent! The scent of humans!
The breeze was coming from the southwest, so she concluded they had to be settled to her right. Based on the intensity, she judged that they were not very far and that there were several humans. It was a very surprising discovery. They hadn't been coming here for a very long time; she didn't really know how long because she didn't care for counting years. She only knew that it must have been centuries, expressed in humans' time units. And maybe even more. Their coming here was something very unusual.
She was surprised. Astonished. And then the shock turned into rage. Arrival of humans wasn't just very unusual; this was very arrogant. This was her territory! How dare they come here?! Well known hatred flashed inside her. It mattered no more that it was dark and that she couldn't see well. She turned towards the direction in which the scent was the strongest and started to go down.
Galador felt someone was shaking his shoulders. He blinked, but even when he opened his eyes, everything was still dark. Dazed and still half-asleep, he didn't understand anything.
"Galador, it's your turn for guarding," a low Borlas' voice informed him.
He fully awoke in the very next moment and things became clear. Everything was dark because it was night, and he remembered all the events: searching, and then setting camp on the mountain. So, obviously came his turn. That was, his and someone else's, as two of them guarded simultaneously. He rubbed his eyes. It was so comfortable and warm in the sleeping bag, and he really felt like sleeping more. But then he shook his head and quickly rose. There was no point in delaying – it was not that he could have got away from this duty.
"Little nightly delights, ha?" he muttered, taking his sword-belt and bow.
"Of course, there's nothing better than taking guard-shift in the dead of the night," Borlas replied with a smile. "Isilmir and I just returned, and now it's yours and Calion's turn."
"Everything all right out there?" whispered Galador.
"Yes, everything is quiet," confirmed the older ranger.
Galador discerned Borlas' silhouette going towards his place in the camp, and then he headed towards the guarding position. Now, in the darkness, it was a little more difficult to find the way among the trees than it was in the beginning of the evening, when they picked the place for guarding, but he managed to reach it. He covered the southern side of the camp, the one towards the Pass, while Calion went on the opposite side.
And how else would it be than fine, he thought. Even if there were orcs around, surely they wouldn't lightly attack a group as big as ours. He watched the surroundings. It was dark, but he managed to see differences in hues and he discerned the shapes of bushes and tree-crowns around him. But sight was not his primary sense now; if there was no moonlight, rangers mostly relied on hearing during their night guarding-shifts. From his several earlier experiences, before the War, he knew that orcs weren't adept in silent moving. So he listened carefully, and he believed he would hear them in time – if there were any around. Which, on the other hand, he did not believe.
The time was passing slowly, and his greatest problem was boredom. Everything was quiet; there were no animals nor any other living beings around, and the night was silent. He became sleepy again, but he did his best to remain awake and cautious. For most of the time, the only sound he heard was his own breathing. Now and then he heard Calion's sign which told him everything was fine, and he answered the same way. Rangers had several sorts of whistles – mimicking bird-song – that they used for letting others know if everything was all right or there was any danger.
The night slowly went on, and Calion's and his own whistles were always the same: everything was just fine.
Enemies. Somewhere on the slopes, quite near, were the enemies. Humans. Surely those from Gondor; highly unlikely that they were any others. And Gondorians were the allies of the elves. Odious enemies, all of them. She wanted to destroy, smash, kill them. To devour them. Yes, they were so tasty...
But only a few steps later she stopped; she had to restrain emotions and not let rage blind her. Your night vision is not as it used to be, she reminded herself. Before any action, she first had to find out how many humans were around, and only then would she figure out what to do next. She stopped and waited until the heat of her fury cooled down, and then she continued – now very slowly.
A step, then halt. Another step, halt again, then listening and sniffing. Little by little. She put her legs on the ground very carefully. Thanks to this slow rhythm, she managed to go forward without stumbling and almost noiselessly. As she advanced, the scent of humans told her which direction to go.
Soon she reached the forest edge. She carefully sniffed the air again. The smell was strong, and she concluded that there might be as many as ten. She knew that this time it wouldn't be easy to catch any of them. She was not in full strength as in the past, and fighting ten swords would be risky. Actually, this was the situation in which it would be wisest to turn around and go back.
But with every next second her wrath grew. These humans had to be punished for their arrogance. If she could somehow isolate one or two of them, it would be easier...
And while breathing in their scent, her hunger awoke too. Suddenly it no longer mattered that she had eaten only a few days ago. Delicious smell aroused her appetite, and all she wanted to do is to catch fresh meat. And then she decided. She'd try to approach them quietly. If circumstances really turned out to be too unfavourable, she wouldn't risk a fight and wound, but leave. But if someone is separated from the group... well, in that case, everything was clear. That someone would pay. She moved forward and stepped into the sparse forest.
Galador whistled again, messaging Calion that everything was fine, just like he did a few times before. Then he tried to estimate how much time had passed. He finally decided that their shift would last for about half an hour more. He knew that dawn was near, and that he'd have no opportunity for resting after this. But he just shrugged. It hardly mattered. This wasn't the first time that he had lost some sleep because of keeping guard, and certainly was not the last. Besides, he thought that they would be near the foothill by the next evening, safe on their territory, and that he'd sleep through the whole night; he'd have a good rest then.
The sound was so low that he wasn't sure if he had really heard something, or it had been just his imagination. He even thought it might be the noise of the branches swaying in constant breeze. But he stood still and closed his eyes, focusing all his attention to hearing, and turned to the direction from which he thought the sound had come. Moments passed. Nothing.
Probably just the wind, he finally concluded.
This time he knew he was not wrong. Something did make a sound. It was very low, but something obviously passed over there, near the forest edge. His thoughts raced. He knew that one orc might move silently. Two – possibly, but unlikely. More of them – absolutely not. And because of that, even though they were not far from the Pass and Mordor, he didn't think he had heard the orcs. He was more inclined to think a small forest animal was passing – perhaps a rabbit or a weasel.
Absolutely sure he was not wrong, he headed towards the sound. He unsheathed his sword, just to be on the safe side – in case this turned out to be some bigger carnivore like a wolf. He also thought there was no need to report about this in the morning. This was a forest, and different animals lived in the forests and passed around, didn't they? It had absolutely nothing to do with their mission and safety.
Completely convinced in his conclusion and abilities, he slowly strode among the trees... so convinced that everything was fine that he hadn't even thought necessary to inform Calion about his leave.
She stopped. In fact, her progress was very slow anyway; most of the time passed in halting between two steps, so that she could remain as quiet and imperceptible as possible, and in order to discern the objects around her. But now she stopped because she noticed something was going on.
Her nose discovered a change in the spreading of the scent, her ears noticed barely audible noises, and very slight but still perceptible vibrations in the ground confirmed the discovery. Someone was walking towards her.
She grinned victoriously. If some reckless human specimen separated from the group – and all signs suggested exactly that – her task would become much easier. It was just what she craved. She would catch the prey and wouldn't risk fighting a big group.
Torn among hatred, hunting excitement and reason, she shortly considered to go down to the whole group – after catching this fool – to kill more of them and provide more food for the following weeks. If they were sleeping in their camp, maybe it wouldn't be too dangerous for her; maybe she could kill most of them even before they reached for their weapons. But in the end, reason prevailed. You don't see well. You couldn't walk noiselessly through the forest. You don't know the number. And you didn't survive all these millennia by being thoughtless, girl, so go on the same way.
And so the decision was made. She'd catch the prey, swiftly and quietly, and drag it to her lair, where she'd hide. Surely, another opportunity to hunt humans would come again soon; the scouting she had planned earlier would simply be delayed a few days. And she always had game at disposal, just like she had it in all the previous years. She would surely catch some deer or other animal, and wouldn't be hungry.
She froze, not revealing her presence, and squatted next to a big bush. It didn't cover her entirely, but the bush large enough to hide her completely probably didn't exist at all. But motionless as she was, her legs pulled close to her round body, she looked like just another bush in that darkness. And she waited.
Galador progressed quite slowly. Every step or two he stopped and listened, and then went on. As he went further from the camp he noticed the trees were sparser, but he wasn't surprised – they knew they were near the end of the forest anyway. A glance towards the sky told him it was still cloudy.
The surrounding was quiet and he stopped in one moment, wondering if there was any point in continuing. He thought that by now the animal causing those sounds was maybe far away. He stood and observed the darkness of the forest around him, already half-decided to go back. But after a few moments he heard something again – and again he thought of the animals. He didn't think it could be orcs.
The probability that orcs are near is approximately the same as for the arrival of the oliphaunt, he laughed inside. This is surely something harmless for us, but now that I came this far, I'll go to check. Although, he doubted he could spot a forest animal in this darkness. And it wouldn't be easy in the day either, thought crossed his mind, because all of them had much better senses than he did and he was sure they'd run away in time, alarmed by the arrival of some big creature. But he wanted to check the area in front of him, to be sure that he left nothing to chance.
He went a little more forward and found himself on a small circular clearing about ten feet wide. On his right, at the edge of the clearing, he discerned one tree; watching the two black bulbous shapes in front of him, he concluded that those were big bushes. A little further he noticed another silhouette of a tree, and that seemed to be the end of the forest.
When he came closer to the bushes, his nostrils discovered that something in close proximity smelled quite badly. Therefore, he assumed that the noises he had heard earlier came from some bigger carnivore – perhaps a wolf or even a bear – and that there was a rotting old quarry nearby. Probably right here, in these bushes in front of me. He decided to check this part of the terrain before returning.
He held the sword tightly in his hand, ready to react instantly if it turned out that the owner of the quarry was hidden in the bushes too, and continued to walk forward.
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