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The first step into Mordor, the second
The two shouts came simultaneously one from the soldier on the left, and another from the soldier on the right side. Faramir, who was in the centre of the first row, was just lifting his gaze; just as the alert cries echoed, with the corner of his eye he noticed movements on the upper slope, and at the same time he heard the sound of the arrows from above.
Orcs! The mountain was full of orcs, positioned on the slopes around and above the tunnel.
"Pull back!!!" he shouted together with Haldar in the very next moment. But although all the rangers moved immediately, the arrows were faster than they could be. Sounds of their impact and one painful cry were the sign that at least one had hit the target, and Faramir cursed the orcs. "Pull back, quickly!" he shouted one more time. He didn't want a battle. He didn't manage to see how many orcs there were and he could hardly ask them to stop releasing the arrows until he counted them. There could be five dozen. As well as five hundred. And in case of the latter, the only thing to do was to retreat and to hope that the orcs wouldn't pursue them.
One orc jumped in front of him and Faramir quickly cut him down, and then the next one. He retreated and several seconds later he was at the exit again. The rangers stood side by side and held the formation, fighting orcs who rushed towards them.
The limiting factor was the width of the tunnel. Only the first five rangers the first row could fight simultaneously, and it was their task to hold the black tide. Not one single ranger from behind them could approach and fight. However, at least one positive thing in that situation was that the same constraint applied to the orcs too: not more than five or six orcs could fight, either. However, Faramir was not afraid of their individual skill but the overall number. The orcs were no match to professional soldiers, but as one fell, another would take his place. If there were enough of them, they could exhaust his squad and overcome it by sheer numbers.
"Pull back!!!" he shouted.
He fought with all his strength and cut down the orcs attacking them. Soon they were deeper in the tunnel again. Faramir saw the ranger on the left fell down, but stopping to grieve was not an option; the new opponent was already in front of him. Torches from the background lit the orc's face for a moment and Faramir saw the wild hatred in his eyes. The orc lifted his sword, but wasn't quick enough. In the very next moment he fell.
A ranger from the back filled the empty position in the first line and the fight continued. At the same time, they retreated. Then Faramir heard a loud guttural shout in the Black Speech; he didn't understand, but the orcs halted, and then turned and ran towards the exit.
Why? he wondered. Did the orcs' commander judge that the rangers were too skilful and that he was losing too many of his fighters? Or was he simply content that he prevented the intruders from entering his territory?
"Let's go deeper inside," he said to the men around him. They walked backwards, and Faramir observed the exit all the time; silhouettes of the orcs were outlined in the grey circle. As the distance increased, they looked smaller and more blurred.
Many thoughts whirled in his mind. Most important of all was concern for his men. He had to find out how many had fallen, as soon as possible; later, he would have to take care of the bodies. At the same time, he made a mental note that more squads should come here and clear the area. But he would deal that later; now he thought of the wounded, orcs and spider.
Then he noticed the new activity at the exit, and then came the arrows.
"Shields up! Retreat!"
The web in the main tunnel was ready. Out there in the front, around the exit, sword clashing echoed, and she only had to go a little bit to the back and continue to execute her plan that was, to block the way. But she stopped. Another thought came to her mind. Risky. But possible, because the rocks were ready, and she thought she had enough time to pile them up.
In spite of the risk, the thought just wouldn't go away nay, the excitement inside her kept growing. She felt as if the idea was screaming "Fulfil me, fulfil me!!!".
Do I have enough time?
Her heart beat faster and faster.
And so she didn't go back to the spot where she would put the rocks, but remained waiting behind the web. She would not only imagine the beautiful sight that was about to happen. She would see it in person. She was bursting with joy.
She listened, silent and invisible for those on the other side, felt the vibrations, and what she discovered was very satisfying. Great, excellent... The humans retreated. Straight into her web.
The steps were closer and closer, and the scent more intense. Dim light was nearing the web and passing through the small openings in it, and she concluded the humans had carried the torches. But at least it was the ordinary light not at all like that which almost destroyed her sight three years ago.
A little more, just a little bit more... Her blood heated up with impatience and hunting excitement. For a long time, she hadn't done anything this big and thrilling. She had already forgotten how great the feeling was. She almost wanted to tear down the web and jump on them, full of energy and will to fight. But she was aware it wouldn't be wise and restrained herself.
They come, they are here...
In the next moment one body was caught in the web, and a blink of an eye later, another. The web started to swing forward-backward, and the two shapes began to scramble frantically. Of course, she knew their attempts were in vain and she grinned. No matter how hard they tried, her net didn't loosen even the tiniest bit; there was no escape from it. Not for anyone, not ever. Then the loud shout echoed, and no more prey ran into the trap.
Gondorians, caught in the web. The most beautiful sight.
She jumped into action the very next moment. Her sting plunged into one body, and then into another. She wanted to make sure her prey would remain fresh. Then she turned and hurried to the tunnel towards her lair without looking back, because it was high time to do it. There could be no more delaying. So she didn't wait to see how the humans would stop to move and finally become limp.
She swiftly reached the pile of rocks she had set at the tunnel's widest point and started to put it in the middle of the passage. After closing the retreat line the humans would be trapped, and the only escape would be the exit straight into the orcs' squad.
The orcs were not very precise, but they didn't have to be. For them, it was enough to simply release the arrows to the interior; as the rangers were forced together in the tight space, the probability for the hit was quite high. The rangers had to counter at once.
"Archers, into the first row!" shouted Faramir. Yes, he wanted to retreat to safety, but had no intention to leave the orcs unpunished; he wanted them to feel the taste of the arrows too. And he had no doubt that his men were much better archers.
Walking slowly backwards, the rangers in the first row held the shields up, and as each archer was ready to shoot, they moved them a bit, just for a moment, to enable aiming. Soon the orcs' arrows stopped coming.
And then, a few yards further in the background, the loud order echoed.
As he was withdrawing, Faramir ran into the soldier behind him, and the one from the front row bumped into him. Faramir wondered what could have happened that the stopping became more important than retreating into safety. He swiftly got through the crowd to the last row, looked around, and...
...and remained frozen in place. In front of him there was the big dense web closing the whole width and height of the tunnel that, just a few minutes ago, while they walked towards the exit, was not here. Which meant that the spider somewhere in the vicinity. Somewhere very close, in fact. And they weren't aware of it at all. They had no idea where the creature was hiding.
The thought was very disturbing.
But that was not the worst. Two rangers were in the web. They scrambled with their full strength but in vain it seemed as if, with every move, they got even more entangled, that the sticky creation was swallowing them more and more. And while the sound from behind his back told him that the arrows battle was continuing, the sight before him became even more dreadful. The movements of the two rangers suddenly slowed down. In the torch-light, Faramir saw their eyes widen and their mouths open, but no sound came from them. They finally became still and remained hanging, seemingly lifelessly, and their eyes stared vacantly into space.
Everyone just stood and stared in shock for a few more moments, and then the nearest soldier moved closer to the two unfortunate rangers. He swiftly turned to Faramir.
"They are still breathing. They are alive," he reported.
In that moment Haldar arrived and stood next to Faramir.
"Why aren't we retreating any more? The orcs could" Captain stopped in mid-sentence, in the moment in which his gaze moved from Faramir to the web, and when he saw what had happened. He stared wordlessly for a while, and then shook his head. "Oh damn..."
Faramir moved quickly. "Haldar, supervise the actions of those in the first row. Let them continue to shoot the orcs." He, on the other hand, had to save these two. No matter of the ongoing arrow-battle, no matter what would happen later, he just couldn't let them like this.
They couldn't do anything with swords and their own muscles, and he knew the fire was the only remaining chance. He also knew they'd have to be very quick when the fire reached the unconsious rangers. He made the plan with the men around him, and then they took their positions in front of the web.
Eru, please, make this work.
Faramir and another ranger stood in front of the two caught in the web. Faramir gripped tightly the left forearm of the man the only part of his body not entangled. Then he gave the sign to two rangers with torches, and they lit the web. At the same time, Faramir started to pull the captured ranger, and the soldier next to him did the same.
The fire swallowed the web quickly just like in both previous situations. It quickly caught the whole surface of the web, and the part of the web between the two caught rangers burned out too. Faramir and the others readily caught the two limp bodies that, now freed from the web, had started to fall towards the ground. The fire spread to them too, but all the rangers covered them with their own bodies and extinguished the last flames with their weight.
Lying on one ranger, choking and catching his breath, Faramir's heart beat wildly. But he breathed a sigh of relief. We made it. They saved the two of their brothers in arms from that horrible trap.
The smoke hadn't yet dissipated completely and Faramir coughed, but he gritted his teeth and forced himself to get up. He quickly looked around, judging the situation. A little bit of the web remained on their clothes both of the saviours and the two men on the ground. But those were just a few small clumps here and there, and not very sticky any more because they were partially burned, and he concluded they wouldn't constrain their movements. Anyway, the cleaning of their clothes would have to wait for better days.
"Quickly! Let's retreat a little more!" Faramir shouted, although to his own ears he didn't sound as loud as he wanted; the smoke still scraped his lungs. But he hoped that most men had heard him. "We must take care of the wounded, and we can't do it under fire of arrows!"
The order was conveyed all the way to the first row, and the whole group moved towards the interior, going further from the orcs and their arrows. But only fifty feet later, they had to halt again. A big heap of rocks stood in front of them. They tried to move it, but most of the rocks were very heavy. And from what they could see, there were many, because moving some of them only revealed more rocks in the back. The way was blocked.
"Cursed creature, looks like it blocked a big part of the tunnel! You spawn of Morgoth, if only the whole mountain crashed on you and squashed you..." growled Faramir, clenching his fists. He began to understand this situation was not a mix of coincidences. It was obviously a result of thorough planning. The creature pulling the threads both figuratively and literally was successful not just for being a big and strong hunter, but also for being intelligent too.
But then his gaze fell on the two rangers next to him. They were young he thought they were hardly older than twenty. And although in the dim light he couldn't see their expressions very well, he realized they were nervous. And he thought they were scared too, albeit they evidently tried to hide it. He couldn't blame them; considering their age and three years of peace, this might have been the first skirmish, and everyone was afraid the first time. Me too, he remembered. And not just the first time; no battle had ever left any soldier indifferent. Everyone wanted to live.
He took a deep breath and regained control.
"Report! How many wounded? How many dead?" he asked.
Three men were missing, and Faramir assumed they were killed in the beginning, near the exit, and that their bodies still lay there; they would have to retrieve them later. He tightened his lips, but didn't let the emotions overcome him. He would grieve later; now was not the right moment. Now he had more urgent tasks.
Two men had shallow cuts on their hands, while one had a deeper wound on his leg; he limped. Aranir, one of the oldest and most experienced in the squad, carried some of the healing equipment; he wasn't as skilled as those working in the Houses of Healing, but he had basic knowledge. He immediately started to clean the wounds to prevent infection.
It was not difficult to calculate: except for the two who had been captured in the web and currently lay unconscious, three missing and the limping man, there were thirty-four men ready to fight. They couldn't stay here long, blocked and trapped, and they had to break through to the outside. He could only hope that there weren't too many orcs.
Faramir cast a quick glance towards the exit. He could not see it because of those standing in front of him, but he actually didn't have to see it to know that the night would come soon. In complete darkness they would have no chance, and they had to act now. But at the same time, he had to come up with the good plan; rushing headlong into danger would not save them.
He tilted his head, thinking. Yes, he was much younger than the oldest rangers in the group, but he had a lot of experience, too. His mind searched for the solution and found it. He remembered. The Northern base. Now we could again
"But what happened to them...?" asked one of the rangers who observed the two fainted men; his voice sounded very puzzled. For a moment, he diverted Faramir's thoughts from planning. The eyes of the two unlucky men were now closed and they looked as if in very deep sleep.
Faramir then heard another voice the hobbit Samwise's that suddenly surfaced from his memories. "And then I heard the orcs saying that the spider could give a special sort of poison. The victims become immobile and incapacitated, and in that way the spider stores them for later. And if we take the example of my master Frodo, we see that the effect of the poison abates in time and the victim wakes up."*
He turned to the ranger who had asked the question. "They are only poisoned and paralyzed. They will wake up. I know it because I heard it first-hand," he said shortly, not wasting time to explain the details. They had to hurry the night was near. His thoughts returned to the orcs and the battle they had to win. Just before the soldier's question, he remembered a situation from about ten years ago, which also included a squad of rangers he had led, the orcs and two caves. Although the configuration of terrain was different then, there were some similarities to present circumstances and Faramir quickly made a plan in his head. His gaze passed over the men surrounding him, and stopped on Valantur. Yes, that is correct, he nodded, remembering. He was there too.
"Valantur, do you remember the assault on the Northern base and our counter-attack?" Faramir asked the other man.
The ranger was motionless for a few moments, and then his lips slowly curved into a smile. His eyebrows rose, and his eyes shone. "Oh, I certainly do." Valantur's gaze remained fixed to him, and Faramir saw in the man's eyes that he was starting to envisage how to perform the same breach here.
"Yes. We will do the same now," Faramir said. In the previous situation they had more space, and he knew it would be very dangerous now especially because they didn't know how many orcs waited for them. But that was the best way. The only one, in fact.
In a few sentences, they explained the others what to do, and in the next two or three minutes they performed all the necessary preparations. Finally, when they were ready to start, Faramir turned to Duilin, the man with injured leg.
"You could not follow our pace and could not fight. We will leave you one torch. Your job is to keep these two safe. When we finish with the orcs, we'll come back for you," he said firmly.
Of course, he was aware that much could go wrong and that, if the orcs were too many, he wouldn't be able to keep his promise. If they were all killed, the three they were leaving behind would be an easy prey for the orcs. On the other hand, if the orcs really were too many, one limping soldier could hardly prevail in the forthcoming battle, and final the outcome for the handicapped three would be the same.
I will hope for the best.
It was obvious that Duilin wasn't glad he had to stay; even with the injury, he would surely prefer an active role. But he just nodded. "Understood."
Faramir turned to the squad, that was ready and impatient.
* [Sam listening to orcs talk.]
"Garn!" said Shagrat. "She's got more than one poison. When she's hunting, she just gives 'em a dab in the neck and they go as limp as boned fish, and then she has her way with them. (...) Nar this little filth, he'll wake up, in a few hours; and beyond feeling a bit sick for a hit, he'll be all right. (...) And of course, beyond wondering where he is and what's happened to him."
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