Telennor stalked through the shadows silently,
creeping from tree to tree as he followed barely visible tracks
deeper into the forest.
Trained by the Dunedain’s best trackers in Fornost, his
wilderness skills were matched by few that he had met. Although he was not a Ranger
himself, the Eriadorian’s natural abilities had impressed the
Rangers enough to allow him to train with that elite group, and he
had studied with them for a full three weeks.
Telennor had chosen to supplement the skills he learned in
the north with other skills gained far to the south in the city of
Tharbad. The evil
nature of that city had made him uneasy much of the time, and
horrendous crimes witnessed during the day were often magnified by
his dreams in the night.
However, for days he had stomached the place - just long
enough to learn as much knowledge as the experienced thieves and
assassins of the city were willing to share. And for the right amount of
gold, they were willing to share quite a
His Ranger-provided skills with herblore, tracking, survival,
and travel allowed him to move freely in many outdoor
skills he had gained in Tharbad gave him the ability to move even
more silently, deal devastating blows with a light weapon, use
vicious poisons, and conceal himself even in open
Well-equipped and highly trained, he had taken a contract
from a wealthy merchant in Bree who wanted to end a series of
attacks on his wagons.
The man knew of a secret route leading from Bree to the east,
bypassing several of the most dangerous sections of the East
Road. However, several
of his drivers, which always traveled alone to reduce the chance of
the path being discovered, had been murdered recently. One survivor had reported
that a solitary orc was responsible. The orc had struck from the
shadows, and only the fact that his horse had caught the creature’s
scent and panicked had saved the man and his
After swearing to keep the path’s location a secret, Telennor
had set out in search of the creature. Success would mean a nice
reward from the merchant (both for the task and to ensure his
silence). Failure would
mean that the orc had probably just returned to whatever hole it had
crawled out of in the first place.
He traveled without a mount to reduce the signs of his
passing and to allow him to more easily move through the difficult
terrain that bordered the path in most places. All of the attacks had come
among the forested hills through which he
Late in the afternoon, he had finally found tracks of his
foe: light impressions
in a sandy patch in the trail.
Clearly the orc was attempting to disguise its passage
through the trees, but his new skills allowed him to follow the
tracks with only limited difficulty.
Strangely, the orc had little regard for the difficulty of
the path it followed.
In places it had climbed over boulders rather than move
around them. In other
locations it had moved through sharp thorny bushes that could easily
have been avoided. Once
it had even climbed up a steep cliff that could have been avoided by
moving a few dozen paces in another direction! Unwilling to risk losing the
tracks, Telennor had followed in the orc’s
After several hours of this, Telennor was beginning to grow
footsore. However, the
signs of the orc’s passage appeared to be much more recent,
indicating that he was gaining on his victim. Soon he would be able to
slay the orc and return for his reward.
He had little concern over defeating the orc in battle. Ideally he would be able to
sneak behind his target and slay it with a single thrust of his
dagger, but he was not worried about being discovered. He wore armor of thick
leather, difficult to penetrate by the short blade the orc
reportedly carried. If
it came to trading blows, he knew his advantage in size and reach
would help him to victory.
All he had to do was catch up to the beast.
Well into the night he followed the telltale traces left
behind by the orc. In
many places it seemed as though the orc was going to extreme pains
to hide its trail:
patches of sandy soil bore only the faintest impressions from
its booted feet, it had skillfully covered footprints in the muddy
banks of streams, and once it had even climbed into the trees and
moved along the branches to avoid a particularly grassy portion of
its path. However, at
other times it seemed to be quite careless by comparison: a dislodged stone among a
pile of boulders that otherwise may have caused Telennor to lose the
track, a branch broken in the middle of a part of the forest
carpeted with thick moss, a scrap of cloth stuck to a thorn along a
Luckily for Telennor, the full moon made it possible for him
to move at a fairly rapid pace, and he continued to gain ground on
his prey. However, the
orc’s trail continued to meander somewhat randomly, and at times
Telennor thought the orc was actually trying to find the most
difficult path to travel.
His legs began to ache from the strenuous course, but he
forced the discomfort from his mind and focused upon the trail.
Finally, only hours before dawn, at the base of a short but
steep cliff, Telennor realized that his target had climbed the rock
face only moments before.
A wet spot on the earth, barely noticeable in the moonlight,
was warm, nearly hot, revealing that the orc had urinated there only
moments before. He must
have barely missed catching sight of it. Scanning the wall of rock,
he noticed a scrap of leather stuck to a protrusion a little above
Seeing that the climb would be an easy one, he pulled his
long dagger from its sheath and began his climb with the blade
between his clenched teeth.
He moved slowly, seeking to remain as silent as possible to
surprise the orc which he hoped was at the end of the fifteen-foot
Only a few feet off the ground, however, he felt a brief jab
of pain between his shoulder blades. Immediately his legs went
numb and he lost his purchase on the rock and dropped to the ground,
landing with his face in the dirt.
Rough hands rolled him onto his back and he stared up into
the evil eyes of an orc.
“Fool!” the orc snarled out in the language of men as it
kicked away Telennor’s fallen dagger. Telennor realized he
couldn’t feel anything below his neck, and his arms failed to
respond to his wishes to draw his
The orc continued, “You men sit around your little Bree and
create legends of yourselves in your stupid minds.” It licked blood from its own
Telennor’s mind raced, searching for a way out of his
“You learn a few skills, practice a few tricks, and think you
know it all.” The orc
did something with its blade, below Telennor’s field of vision.
Telennor tried to raise his head to see what the orc was
doing, but he lacked the strength.
“You think that you are stronger. That you have better
weapons. That nothing
can defeat you.” The
orc tucked something pale and cylindrical into a pouch at its
side. Dark liquid
dripped from one end.
“Your arrogance defeats you,” it went on. “Did you think it was your
skill that allowed you to track me - an orc in the night? I could have hid in your own
shadow, as foolish as you are.
Did you ever think that you were never the
Telennor refused to believe the orc’s words. Most likely the creature’s
random path had accidentally led it to Telennor’s back. Pure luck, unfair as it was,
had led to his downfall.
“Did you like your walk, human? Did you even stop to wonder
why I climbed those smelly trees, or crossed those disgustingly
clean streams? Did the
thorns scratch you as you pushed through them with that armor of
The orc was just rambling, Telennor thought. It had probably just been
looking for some signs of some homesteader or traveler lost in the
woods, eager to prey on the weak. He watched as the orc
rummaged through his pack, scattering his belongings on the
“You didn’t even look behind you. I was standing there as you
sniffed my piss. All
you had to do was look around.
I might have even spared you if you had. Maybe I would have thought
you weren’t as stupid as you acted.”
This had to be a lie.
Telennor knew he would have noticed an orc standing nearby in
the open. It had
probably been hidden in the trees until he started his climb. The orc used its knife to
cut at something near Telennor’s belt.
“You are blind, even for a man,” the orc snickered. “I had to cross your path
four times before you noticed my tracks. I had to move a broken
branch to where I was sure you would see it.”
Telennor watched as the orc emptied his coin purse, full of
gold from the first installment of the merchant’s
“Want to know what you did wrong, stupid one?” The orc stood above him,
Telennor just stared blankly.
“First, your armor is too heavy. You were easy to follow
until I decided to toy with you. Next, you’re pack is too
large. You bent and
broke many branches with it.”
The orc ticked off fingers as it
Funny, Telennor thought, I didn’t think orcs could
“Next, you were carrying a full coin purse. Have you any clue how loud
that is? Every fool
knows you should wrap your coins to keep them silent. I use a nice elf-skin,
He had no trouble picturing the orc stripping the skin from
an elf’s body.
“And last, you’re just loud. You splashed in the
streams. You knocked
rocks off the cliffs.
You made more noise than an angry squirrel in the trees. A Southron oliphant is
quieter moving through the bushes.”
Telennor closed his eyes. He just wanted the orc to
stop its taunting and finish the job.
“Thanks for the finger and the gold. Now I don’t have to wait for
any more of those wagons.
I’d kill you for dinner, but I’m afraid I’d get some of your
stupidity if I did.”
Telennor knew the orc was about to kill him for sport
instead, but at least now he knew what the first object the orc had
put into its pouch was.
“I’ll even let you live. Maybe some healer will find
you before you bleed to death or some animal eats you. I think death would actually
make your life easier, and there’s no fun in that. This way you can breed, and
I can hunt your children someday too.”
That’s its game, then. It’s going to go sit and
watch as animals eat me alive.
The orc muttered under its breath as it walked
To Telennor’s ears, it sounded like “Stupid
Late in the morning, when the sun crested the low cliff near
where Telennor lay and its light struck him full in the face, the
man woke. Amazed that
he still breathed, he nonetheless was not encouraged by the
fact. He was still
alone in the wilderness, far from the merchant’s trail where he had
started. Now the only
thing he could foresee was that he would be awake when the animals
finally came to tear him apart. He began to cry, and tears
dropped from his closed eyes.
His head rolled to one side as he
Hours later, his tears dry, he finally opened his eyes
again. There, not a
hundred paces away, was a small cluster of homes surrounding a
modest church. The
nearest thatched hut was only fifty steps away. Smoke rose from cook fires
in several of the homes.
So it was, that with the small yell that he was able to
muster, that Telennor was saved. The priest of the church had
some knowledge of healing magic and was able to remove the wound
that had paralyzed him, restoring control of his body.
The orc had toyed with him. Even as Telennor had hunted
it, the orc had led him to the very outskirts of a village before
striking him. This
close to the homes, there was no risk of wild animals coming to
finish him. Adding
insult to injury, the settlement was only a stone’s throw from the
East Road, demonstrating how far he had been led
Two days later Telennor set off westward along the road. Having been provisioned by
the villagers, he bypassed Bree entirely. Undoubtedly his story had
been carried there already, and he couldn’t face the shame. He had been toyed with
completely, his confidence utterly destroyed.
The tale, he knew, of his night’s ordeal would spread across
the western lands. He
would never again be hired for lucrative contracts. He would be the laughing
stock of every alehouse he entered.
Later, Telennor built a small home in a tiny village to the
west of the road to Fornost.
The residents there knew his story but were considerate
enough not to mention it in his presence. He sold his sword, dagger,
and armor to a young man traveling to Fornost to train with the
Rangers, seeking his adventure and
He bought a few hens, a cow, and some sheep, and lived
quietly. He never
visited Bree or Tharbad again, and on the rare occasions he went to
Fornost, he kept his head covered with a dark hood and finished his
business as quickly as he was able.
Regardless, every appearance brought retellings of his story
in every tavern and inn in the city. Each departure was followed
by laughter and ridicule which, thankfully, he usually didn’t