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She was lying and thinking.
Her hunger was quite satisfied. That human she caught two days ago easier than she expected, because he separated from the group was big and would keep her full for at least ten more days. And he was very tasty; that was the youngest and freshest human flesh she had tasted since... well, very long ago. She couldn't remember since when.
But she was not. She was also restless. And furious. That day when she caught the human, when she returned a little later to check the first part of the tunnel, the remaining wisps of smoke told her that other humans had been impudent enough to enter her home. She couldn't tell why she had set the rock to block the tunnel while carrying her prey. It was not that she had been scared of several men; even now, when her strength was diminished, she believed she was strong enough to defeat... well, up to five or six men. After all, it turned out she was still able to move that rock, although it was more difficult now than once. The dull pain from the old wounds, that just didn't pass, dulled the peak of her strength too. The wound inflicted with the elvish weapon would hurt forever, obviously. Oh, where were now the days when she could overpower ten opponents at once?
Indeed, where were the old days? Long ago, in the beginning of her life here, humans couldn't even find her; she took care of that, using rocks to hide the entrance. And as they couldn't find her, they couldn't explain the disappearances. So in the end they started to fear this area so much that they stopped coming here altogether. Oh, how she laughed at them! She was the absolute ruler of the pass and even the Lord of Mordor paid respect to her. And now?! Now those few humans dared to enter her home. The whole world turned upside down. How she hated them! Them, and the elves, and everyone...
She had stopped hiding her entrance long ago; there was no need for it. And now her home was discovered. Even if she immediately covered it with rocks, it wouldn't help; humans now knew where to look. If many of them returned, they would simply move aside the rocks and enter. So now she regretted putting the obstacle in the tunnel. In that moment, she only wanted to eat in peace, thinking it would be better not to risk a fight if there were too many men. But now she was angry with herself for not ambushing them. I should have been smarter and realize the consequences of their discovery. They would not be able to surround me in the tunnel, and I could have overpowered them. I should have killed them all, preventing them from returning and talking about me, she raged.
She rose and started pacing around. Her biggest cave was slightly oval, about hundred feet wide and a little longer than that. She passed several circles, and the air was filled with her angry hissing and the sound of claws scraping the stone. After few more circles she stopped next to the passage leading towards the main tunnel. She looked into the darkness of the tunnel, but in her thoughts, she saw much further both towards the slopes, and towards the future.
Humans would return, she was sure; they obviously became very arrogant in this new age. But they would regret it.
When Faramir got up, it was still dark. Although he tried to leave the bed as silent as possible, Éowyn heard him and awoke. He convinced her not to get up to see him off, and to sleep more instead. After refreshment and a quick breakfast, he took all his gear and rode out.
The eastern sky, above the mountaintops, slowly became brighter. It was a clear morning, and it was still chilly. While riding down the slopes of the hills, his gaze wandered from one horizon to another. A thin haze rose from the Anduin. The green crops stretched on the wide area between the river and Emyn Arnen, as well as northwards from the hills. In front of him, Vinhir was slowly waking from sleep. He noticed a few dots of light in the windows, and discerned moving around the houses; the people started their first morning tasks in their gardens and stables.
He reached the settlement in a few minutes, and the Rangers' base was a quarter of an hour of riding away. Leaving Vinhir behind, he looked towards the west. He could not see Minas Tirith, several miles distant and hidden at the foot of the mountain. But another sight captured his attention just as he knew it would. Sunrays lit up the top of Mindolluin and the mountain shone as if its highest slopes were made of silver and gold. This was not the first time he observed the tops of the White Mountains shining at dawn, but every time the beauty left him breathless. While he rode, he looked more towards the mountains than on the road in front of him.
A squad of forty rangers with Haldar at the front waited before the fort, and they continued to ride together. The day passed peacefully; they had a break at mid-day, and then went on towards the north. Late in the afternoon they neared the Crossroad, and continued on a little more to the foot of the mountains. It was the perfect location for the camp: flat, and with rich meadows for the horses. Further to the east the terrain started to rise, and the terrain become more impenetrable. The plan was to continue on foot.
About ten boys between fourteen and sixteen followed the squad. They were still in the process of training and they would stay there with their instructors; they'd learn different rangers' skills and take care of the horses by the time the squad returned.
Men sat around several fires, talking and joking. After supper, Faramir approached Haldar to determine the details for the next day; two of them sat a little further from the others.
"We can follow the road up to Minas Morgul," Faramir said, pointing towards the mountain while speaking. "After that we can leave the road and climb the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, which is the route the hobbits took. From what they said, the pathway after the Stairs leads directly to the spider's tunnel."
Sitting next to him, Haldar nodded pensively. "That must be the path we reached in our search, only I didn't know it existed, then. I thought that, as we approached from the north, we would have to descend through thicket to reach the road, which I knew was situated a little lower than our position. But in the end the search led us in a different direction."
"Yes, I remember you reported about it on the first day. If we followed the road all the way to the Pass, that would be the easier way, and maybe it really is possible to climb from the road through the thicket to spider's lair. But maybe it is not," replied Faramir. "As you didn't inspect it, we don't know how steep the terrain between the road and the lair is, nor if it is passable. So I think that it is better to take the route that is checked. According to the hobbits, the Stairs are very steep on some sections, but if we are cautious, we should be able to pass."
Haldar's face frowned slightly, and it seemed he was thinking. Then he turned to Faramir.
"It is about fifteen miles from here to the Pass, as the crow flies," he finally said. "But we'll walk much more than that, on a difficult terrain. It is possible that we won't reach our goal before tomorrow evening."
"You are probably right." Faramir nodded. "If it turns out that way, we will not enter after the whole day of climbing. We'll go in the day after tomorrow."
Haldar then frowned even more. "I hope we'll find that creature soon, without entering Mordor..." he muttered. "And I hope we won't lose anybody else."
Faramir hoped the same. He, too, was haunted by faces and names of the men he had lost, although now, three years after the war, the ghosts of the past didn't haunt him so often anymore.
"We will do our best. We will resolve this," he said softly, but also convincingly. Then he put a hand on Haldar's shoulder and smiled. "And now let's join the others and cheer up with them."
Haldar seemed to hesitate for a moment, but finally he nodded. "Let' go."
Unlike her morning's mood, when she was frustrated and angry, now she felt good. True, it would be even better if the orcs' group she had found was bigger, but even this meant a lot. Her eyes shone, and she grinned inside. Her plan, formed while she frantically paced her chamber in the morning, was now fulfilling just as she envisioned it.
The night had just fallen. She sat at the edge of the orcs' camp, waiting for them to get ready to go. She grinned again. Stupid. The best word to describe them. They really were stupid. But they would also be useful for her, and only that mattered.
In the morning, after she concluded the humans would return and after devising the plan, she went out through the eastern exit and entered Mordor. She then turned northwards and searched for most part of the day, because the orcs learned they had to keep off the pass. Although she had been careful not to be seen by bigger groups, mostly hunting lone wandering specimens, the orcs had obviously realized that the area was dangerous. Not that it had saved them, though. To catch the prey, she had been crossing great distances if necessary, and today she also travelled many miles before she found what she had been looking for: the orcs' camp. But this time, she didn't see them as food.
This was the dwelling place for about two hundred wretched creatures. They had just a few ragged tents and wooden shanties which looked like they would crumble down if only someone sneezed on them. The cubs were skin and bones and their clothes hang on them, and the adults didn't look much better. She wondered what they could find here. Some meagre plant or root? The eastern slopes of the Mountains of Shadow were quite barren and sterile. Did they have to go over the sharp mountaintops to catch animals in the forest on the other side? Probably. And maybe not all of them returned every time from those dangerous trips over the treacherous terrain. But she didn't really care.
Stupid, she scoffed again. When they saw her coming they grabbed the weapon, but she bespoke from afar that she was coming in peace, and she started her story. It was so easy to persuade them. "Evil Gondorians banished you from your side of the mountains, from the land that was rightfully yours. They were killing you mercilessly. They doomed you to this miserable life. But now is the moment to revenge and take back what is yours! And I'll help you with that!" Just a little sufficed just those few sentences and she won them over. The males seized their swords, grinning and shouting. "You will follow me, I will lead to the place where we'll make the ambush. You will taste human flesh again." The mention of food fell on fertile ground. No more persuasion was needed.
Stupid. But that was not their only weakness. She assumed they were not very efficient, unfortunately. From her long memories, she knew that the orcs were less skilled fighters than highly trained Gondorian soldiers, and she could not imagine these feeble scrawnies would be a match to true soldiers. But she cared not how many of them would perish. All able-bodied males started to prepare for the quest, and in the end about eighty gathered.
She could only hope that there wouldn't be too many Gondorians and that the orcs would be good enough reinforcement for her. She hoped that together they would be successful; she was afraid there was no time to look for more orcs, elsewhere over the mountains. And if there would be too many Gondorians... well, she'd think about that problem if it happened.
Better anything than nothing. She could have as well been unlucky in her search, and it that case, she would be alone; it would be much more difficult that way. The plan started to unfold, after all. She was satisfied.
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