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The Hunter ~ May 2003


            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 lot.


            His Ranger-provided skills with herblore, tracking, survival, and travel allowed him to move freely in many outdoor environments.  The 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 terrain.


            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 cargo.


            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 walked.


            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 footsteps.


            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 game trail. 


            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 his reach.


            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 climb.


            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 sword.


            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 dagger.


            Telennor’s mind raced, searching for a way out of his predicament.


            “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 hunter?”


            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 yours?”


            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 ground.


            “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 payment.


            “Want to know what you did wrong, stupid one?”  The orc stood above him, staring down.


            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 spoke.


            Funny, Telennor thought, I didn’t think orcs could count.


            “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, myself.”


            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 away.


            To Telennor’s ears, it sounded like “Stupid Bree-dweller.”


            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 whimpered.


            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 astray!


            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 fortune.


            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 hear.

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DISCLAIMER: The following material is based on the Arda presented by MUME rather than Tolkien. As a result, there may be large differences between the two. Please forgive the author his (rather extravagant) poetic license., 2003, View Site Credits. Give us your Feedback.