The squad of twelve Ithilien rangers moved like wraiths through the thick woods about a mile to the west of the mostly abandoned Southward road, their moccasined feet making little or no sound on the forest floor. During the past week they had traveled nearly fifty miles north of their hidden base at Henneth Annûn. Usually, their purpose would be to observe the enemy and gather intelligence. This time, however, their mission was to hunt Orcs.
Faramir led the column stealthily through the undergrowth at the eastern fringes of the woods. The men moved along in single file at ten-foot intervals. The Captain suddenly crouched behind bushes at the southern edge of a scrubby field. At his silent hand signal, the men immediately lay low to the ground. Their blackened faces and dark clothing blended closely with the forest floor and surrounding vegetation, making them all but invisible to the casual eye.
The squad was nearing the northern limits of the Ithilien woods. This was the third such field they had encountered that day. Faramir motioned for his chief scout to join him. The lad seemed to emerge from the earth itself as he rose and moved soundlessly to the Captain’s side.
“Yes, Captain?” the scout whispered, taking cover behind the bushes.
“Find us the best way around this field,” Faramir whispered back. “Watch for signs of Orcs.”
“I’ll be right back, Captain,” Pocosin replied. He carefully removed his bow, quiver and other meager equipment, taking with him only a blackened dirk and tomahawk. Seconds later, he noiselessly disappeared into the brush.
Faramir smiled wryly as the woods seemed to swallow the scout without a trace. “That lad is good,” he thought admiringly.
= = =
Pocosin had tried to join the rangers three years earlier, when he was only fifteen. The older men scoffed, thinking the boy overeager, foolish or both. “Too young,” Faramir had said tersely. “Come back in two or three years, boy.”
But Pocosin had an older advocate in the in the person of his Uncle, Goleck Dune, a middle-aged soldier who had served under Faramir for nearly a decade. “Give the lad a chance, sir,” Dune insisted sternly. “I’ve frequently visited his folks on their farm near the River Serni. They’re good people. His father taught him more wood lore than most of your men know. The boy is also quite strong for his age and faster with a knife than you can imagine. All he needs is a little training to bring out his best qualities.”
Reluctantly, Faramir signed the boy on. It quickly became obvious that Pocosin was a natural woodsman. His skills as a scout were recognized by the more experienced rangers even before his training was completed. Some claimed in awe that the boy could read signs on bare rock. Moreover, Dune had not exaggerated the boy’s skill with a knife.
About a year later, Pocosin was allowed to accompany scouting parties on intelligence gathering missions into the Ithilien woods. On one such foray, the group was forced to tangle with a slightly larger enemy force. Pocosin slew his first two Orcs at close quarters with the skill and coolness of a professional assassin, showing neither pride nor distaste for the accomplishment afterwards.
= = =
Faramir awoke from his reverie as the bushes parted a few yards away. Pocosin moved in a silent crouch to where the Captain waited.
“Orcs, sir,” the youth reported, “headed this way. I counted ten. They appear to be intent on crossing the open ground to reach the Southward Road. It’s plain from their speed of travel that they’re heading home.”
“How much time do we have?” the Captain whispered.
“Not much, sir. They should be crossing in front of us at any moment.”
“They’ll probably head north as soon as they reach the old highway,” Faramir decided. “Our only chance for an ambush is right here.” He signaled for the nearest ranger in the column to join him. “Pass the word down the line that we’re setting up an ambush along the wood’s edge,” he whispered as the ranger knelt beside him. “Uncase your bows and quivers.” Word was quickly passed by hand signal.
The rangers moved with grim silence as they set aside their cloaks and strung their bows. Sword belts were tightened and quivers adjusted as they stealthily took up their positions behind whatever bushes or boulders would give them the best field of fire. A few rangers hastily added more lampblack around their eyes to reduce the sun’s glare.
Pocosin did not make any preparations of his own. He did not yet have the strength of a man and his lighter bow had only half the range of those of his fellow rangers.
“Stay beside me, boy,” Faramir said in a low voice as he moved forward to a better spot. He drew several arrows from his quiver, placing them point downward against the fallen tree he had selected for his position. The men around him did likewise. Within a minute or two, all were in position.
They had not long to wait. A line of ten Orcs appeared at the field’s western edge, moving in single file at an easy trot. They were also carelessly spaced too close together, confirming Pocosin’s suggestion that they were all too anxious to get home and had thrown caution to the wind.
“Damn!” Faramir whispered harshly. “The blighters are out of range.” Indeed, the Orcs were passing about two-hundred fifty yards from the rangers’ place of concealment.
“Not so, Captain,” Pocosin replied. “We have a slight breeze at our backs. I calculate the wind’s speed sufficient to put the enemy just within the range of our strongest bowmen.”
Faramir mulled the situation over quickly. The line of Orcs was rapidly nearing its closest point to the rangers’ hiding place. “Give me some elbow room, boy,” he grinned. In one smooth motion he rose, drew his bow back to its maximum, and loosed a brilliantly orange-fletched arrow──the signal for the others to open fire.
* * *
The Orc Lieutenant set a steady pace for the line of troops behind him as he moved along at an easy lope. Theirs had been a scouting mission all the way to the banks of the Anduin where they had spied on the numerous Mannish settlements along its eastern banks. They had encountered no bands of rangers, which was just as well. After a month in the wilderness, they were tired of rancid pork and in no mood for getting into a brawl.
The Orkish leader confidently led his band across a wide, scrubby meadow. Ithilien rangers were wont to ambush companies of Orcs in such places, but he wasn’t concerned. The lack of contact with Ithilien’s fighting men these past few weeks had convinced him that rangers had withdrawn from this theater for a while. Besides, he was well-acquainted with the Ithilien longbow. He deliberately guided his group away from the nearest tree line, knowing that the Orcs would be out of range of even the strongest archer that might be concealed there.
It came as a complete and sudden surprise when an orange-fletched arrow narrowly missed his head and imbedded itself in the ground several feet away.
He immediately crouched for cover in the tall grass. The others, having seen the arrow, momentarily halted their strides in confusion──a fatal mistake!
“Let’s get out of here!” one of the Orcs at the rear of the group shouted as a dozen steel-tipped arrows landed among them. Another Orc rose to feet to comply, only to fall with a strangled cry as an arrow passed through his throat.
A second fusillade of arrows whistled downward. The lieutenant growled in apprehension as another arrow narrowly missed him. The missile was fletched with the greenish gold feathers of wild turkeys, a sure sign that his column was not being targeted by a band of hunters or farmers, but by experienced rangers.
“Run for the highway, lads!” the lieutenant shouted. “Scatter to the east! We’ll regroup in the woods!”
* * *
“They’re taking to their heels, men!” Faramir shouted excitedly as he reached for his fourth arrow. “Let’s give them another volley!”
One of the last Orcs in the fleeing group halted in his tracks as the last fusillade whistled downward on the unfortunate enemy. For several seconds he looked back the way he had come, then thought better of it as three or four rangers enthusiastically nocked more arrows and let fly at this last target. The panic stricken Orc took little time in joining his fleeing comrades before the missiles could find their mark.
“It doesn’t look as if we did much damage, Captain,” Pocosin observed as the last Orc fled from sight, “although I’ll bet that every one of the buggers pissed in his loincloth.”
“True,” Faramir smiled. “We won’t be seeing that band of Orcs around here again for a while. It does no harm to put a good scare into the enemy every now and then. You were quite right about the breeze and the range,” he added. “I won’t forget that.”
“Shall we pursue them, Captain?” one of the rangers asked.
“That would probably be a waste of time,” Faramir replied. “The blighters are probably halfway back to the Southward Road by now. We’d burst our lungs before we caught up with them. Let’s go see what we’ve got for spoils, men. Three of you stand watch here. The rest, spread out and stay sharp!”
Half the advancing party nocked arrows, the rest drew their swords. It took them but minutes to arrive at the spot where the enemy had been struck. A trail of camp gear, personal possessions and weapons lay scattered on the Orc’s route of flight.
“The cowards dropped all their stuff,” one of the men chuckled as he prodded the dead Orc with his sword point. They quickly went about retrieving their arrows and the Orcs’ things as three of their number kept watch.
“Good shot, Captain!” one ranger called out in admiration as he picked up an unusual spoil. “This must have been what that last Orc was looking at before he fled. He probably dropped it as that last volley struck.”
“I can’t say that I blame him,” Faramir said, examining the trophy. He slung it over his shoulder, a one-of-a-kind souvenir that would elicit many an interesting comment around the rangers’ campfires. “Let’s head back to the woods, men. We’ll save whatever of this stuff we can use and bury the rest.”
In a trice, the place of ambush was picked clean of anything useful. The dead Orc was left for the vultures.
* * *
Faramir studied a series of maps in the flickering light of oil lamps suspended above his desk. The Captain’s office was a small chamber carved from living rock, one of dozens in the cave complex of Henneth Annûn. He looked up as the curtain covering the doorway rustled softly.
“Captain, am I disturbing you?” came a familiar voice from the darkened hallway.
“No, Pocosin. Come right in. I could use a bit of distraction about now. I’ve been poring over these maps and planning strategy all morning,” he said, motioning the youth to a chair next to the desk. He noticed immediately that there was something pressing on the scout’s mind. “What’s wrong, Pocosin? Have you received bad news from home?”
“No, sir,” the youth replied, blinking back tears, “but home is what I’ve come to talk to you about. I want to see my mother and father again.”
“Are they ill?”
“I don’t know, Captain. I certainly hope not,” he sighed fretfully, wringing his cap. “They’re both nearly illiterate, as are my brothers and sisters, so I don’t get letters from home.”
“How long has it been since you’ve seen your family?” Faramir asked, setting the maps and charts aside.
“Nearly two years. I’ll be eighteen next month.”
Faramir sighed as he considered the situation. He had intended to send Pocosin on one of the scouting missions he was presently planning, such was the value of the boy’s skill. But his heart melted at seeing the lad so overwhelmed by homesickness.
“Well, you’ve been a good boy,” Faramir said, then silently cursed himself for his lack of tact. “You’ve been a good man, Pocosin,” he said, correcting himself. “I’m going to grant you two month’s furlough.”
“Thank you, Captain,” the scout said brightly, much relieved. He waited anxiously as Faramir wrote a brief letter and affixed it with his official seal.
“Take this pass to the Field of Cormallen,” Faramir said, handing the document and a small purse of coins to the young ranger. “It will provide you passage on one of the ferries to Harlond, and thence on one of the river barges to Linhir. There should be more than sufficient funds in the pouch to get you home from the port.”
“Thanks, Captain,” the scout said, rising to his feet. “I’ll speak highly of you when I see my folks again.”
“You can do better than that,” Faramir grinned, taking an unusual object from a nearby wall peg. “I never did thank you properly for the splendid work you did on that foray ten days ago. You might as well take this home with you. It will look good over your father’s mantelpiece.”
Pocosin immediately recognized the one-of-kind souvenir Faramir had taken from their recent ambush site. “Are you sure you want to part with this, Captain? That was the best bowshot I’ve seen in my entire life.”
“Everyone in Henneth Annûn has seen it by now,” Faramir chuckled as he placed the object into the scout’s hands. “I’ve already told the story more times than I care to think about. Besides, that was a terrible bowshot. I was aiming for the Orc, not what he was carrying on his back.”
* * *
Goleck Dune and several men were busily skinning and cleaning small game on one of the camp tables when Pocosin came striding eagerly down the stream path. The ranger immediately set aside his knife and wiped his hands on his jerkin as he came forward to shake his nephew’s hand. “You don’t have to say a word, Pocosin. I can already tell, from that look on your face, that the Captain said you could go home for a spell.”
“You’re right, Uncle. He granted me two month’s leave. I’m off right now for the ferry. But that’s not all,” he added, proudly showing off the special souvenir. “Look what the Captain gave me.”
Dune’s eyes widened in appreciation, as did those of the men behind him. “That was quite generous of the Captain. I didn’t think he’d ever part with a rarity like that.”
“You can tell it’s Captain Faramir’s arrow,” one of the rangers said eagerly. “It’s got his mark on it.”
“Well, I’m off,” Pocosin said, shaking each fellow’s hand. “I’ll see you all again in two months.” He set out with an energetic stride down the stream path, the strange souvenir bumping rhythmically against his side──a Mordor Orc’s black leather quiver transfixed by Captain Faramir’s arrow.
* * * * *
Disclaimer: This is fan fiction based on the world and characters created by J.R.R. Tolkien. I make no profit from it of any kind.
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