A ZEST FOR BLOOD
Evening of November 7 - Morning November 8, 3019
By five o'clock, Maugoth Vartang's hunting party has made six miles east of Minas Artano. The hounds, in full cry, have the scent and bay as they trail the scent of Vardamir along the road. Then another mile down the road, the hounds lose the scent, where it mixes in with the smell of orc patrols and the hounds sniff the road, trying to pick up the trail again. Vartang rises high in his stirrups. "I think they have stayed with the road and not gone to the open countryside, so we will wait a bit and give the hounds time to make sure. Bring me a torch!"
One of his lords complains, "I would rather sit before a roaring fire than out here in the middle of the road. The evening is cold and the snow comes down again!"
Vartang laughs and holds the torch higher over his head, "My lord, let us travel yet two miles on the road. Then we will have the servants search for kindling and dry wood. There, we will rest and make merry for a while, my lords. Let the servants bring up victuals and drink. We will save time by eating on the trail."
The hounds once again find the trail and they lunge against the leashes of the huntsmen. The dogs, a blend of wolf and hound, drool, their tongues hanging out, as they strain against the leather ties.
By eight o'clock that night, the hunt party has traveled ten miles, but this time the hounds move away from the road, following the trail of Vardamir. "They go this way!" the huntsmen shout.
The hunt party follow the hounds as they veer off the road. Then the dogs travel a distance off the road. Then start swinging back towards the road, the master huntsman holds the torch down low to the snow and says, "Look, they rested here a while and then it seems they moved back towards the road."
The complaining lord says, "Maugoth Vartang, can we not stop here and rest a while? We have come ten miles."
Vartang says, "We are halfway to Osgiliath and you want to rest now?"
"Yes, I do," the lord says, "I am tired. My backside hurts. I am not used to so much riding in one night. Let us camp here for a few hours, or I will turn around and go back. I own the hounds!"
Vartang lowers the torch down. "Then have it your way," he says, "We will camp here tonight. Let the servants gather wood and build us a fire."
Hours later, the clear call of a horn sounds through the early morning darkness, announcing that it is time for the camp of the hunters to awaken for the day. Lord Duranth, whose complaints were all too common to Vartang during the journey, sits up abruptly on the blanket that he had spread upon the ground the evening before for a bed. "What is that terrible noise!" He puts his hands over both ears. "Not that, not that," he groans, "I had hoped never to hear its like again. I am no longer in the army and do not need to answer its summons any longer!"
He stands to his feet as a frightened servant nearby throws a blanket across his shoulders. He looks to the servant with simmering eyes. "Where is Vartang?" he says coldly. "I must protest!"
"Master," the servant's voice trembles. "He is now at this moment talking with his other lords."
"Then lead me to him, you worthless scoundrel! I should have you lashed for your simpering tongue, dog of a slave!"
"Master, master, I am sorry!" the slave quails in fear and puts his hands over his head to shield it.
Lord Duranth, three of his servants following behind him, stomps to where Vartang stands talking by the fire.
"Vartang," he says icily, "Why must we be called upon to ride so early? We are lords and accustomed to riding at our ease!"
Vartang, a cloak and blanket wrapped around his shoulders and a wine goblet in his hands, says, "My lord, have a goblet of wine, and you will feel better. One should not start a day without first having a drink."
A servant rushes to Lord Duranth with a wine goblet. Grumbling, Duranth takes the goblet from the outreached hand. "Vartang, why must we get up so early? This is a hunt, sport, not a military venture! Let us enjoy it as we venture and take our ease as we will."
"I think it is somewhat more than that, Lord Duranth. I suspect knavery of some sort here, and we must start early, before the scent grows cold."
"Start early if you will, Vartang, you were always quick on the trail for blood and the sport of man hunting appeals to your insatiable lusts. But as for me and my party, we shall return to Minas Artano and sit by the fire while you drench the snow red with blood."
Vartang laughs. "Indeed, Lord Duranth, 'tis true I like my sport and it brings me great pleasure when I have concluded a successful hunt, be the prey stag, boar or man. Go then, and let you and your nobles rest in sloth about the hearth. Remember Vartang, out in the cold, upon the hunt while you hold the warm slave wenches pressed tightly to your chest."
Lord Duranth turns away from Vartang and makes his way back to his section of camp, muttering under his breath. "Maugoth Vartang - I do not know whether he loves his wenching or his blood more."
By seven o'clock in the morning, those remaining on the hunt turn back to the main road and the hounds are once again set free and are soon in full cry on the trail of Vardamir.
The faces of the nine dead orcs gazed unseeing into the snow that now mounded over their frozen bodies. The ruins of Osgiliath lay silent now, all evidence of the shed blood of men and orcs lying hidden under the snow. A few blackened stubs of logs lay scattered around the perimeter of a depression in the snow, the only evidence that life had been there the night before. As though to protest the eerie silence, a northern wind began to pick up and crept moaning around the ruined columns and towers of Osgiliath.
About a half a mile down the road to the west, the faint mid-morning light casts a blue shadow behind the headless body of Pizgal Burzash, covered beneath a mound of snow on the road, its severed head lying a distance away, a look of terror frozen upon its face. Deprived of warmth and the dark blood, the lice that had once infested his body are now frozen to the skin beneath his armor.
A passing patrol plowing through the snow heading east from Minas Artano is the first to discover the body of Pizgal Burzash. Gloved fingers paw through the snow covering, and soon, the frozen face of Pizgal Burzash comes into view. "Garn, there's been bad trouble 'ere," an orc soldier exclaims.
The Pizbûr (sergeant) looks down at the gruesome sight. "Bad trouble indeed. The 'Igher Ups won't like this one bit!" The Sergeant looks behind and his keen ears pick up the sound of horns and hounds coming towards them. "We're in luck, lads, someone comes from the City."
Maugoth Vartang, discouraged at the inability of the hounds to pick up the scent in the snow, was just ready to call a halt to the hunt and turn back to Minas Artano when he saw the patrol ahead of him on the road. "Send a rider forward and see what this may be up ahead!"
He halts his horse and waits, the steed's breath turning to vapor in the coldness of the air. "An ambush!" he shouts, when word arrives back to him of the finding ahead. "Who would dare ambush a patrol of Mordor!" he says as he receives word of what lies ahead. The cavalryman gazes at him, a look of bewilderment upon his face.
The hunters press forward, the hounds and their handlers traveling behind the party. The hounds walk with heads hung low, their tongues lolling from their mouths as their handlers' faces show defeat.
The orcs press ahead of the party and soon another dead orc is found in the middle of the road. "Go back to the City!" Vartang shrieks to a waiting messenger. "Give word to His Majesty what has transpired here and by my order, dispatch a hundred of my cavalrymen and two hundred uruk-hai to meet me in all haste in Osgiliath. If I am not there when the troops arrive, they are to pick up our trail and follow us."
To another courier mounted on a swift horse, he bids, "Ride to Minas Morgul and bring me back word that the prisoner Ceolwulf has been delivered up to the guards who were to take him to Lugburz. If I am not in Osgiliath when you come back, you are to pick up the trail and follow us." To the waiting patrol of orcs, he commands, "Go ahead to Osgiliath and break a path through the snow for us. When you are there, search through the ruins to see if there is more of this devil's work to be found."
A look of fierce rage on his face that reddens his swarthy features, Vartang glowers down at the Sergeant. "We are tracking an escaped slave," he says, "and the hounds have failed us in the snow. Do you have any trackers amongst your company?"
The Sergeant looks up at him, a leering smile on his face. "Aye, shakh, that we do, two of the best to be found in all the land. They can follow a week-old trail through the rain."
Vartang looks down at him, a look of disgust upon his features. "I highly doubt that, but I will try them anyway. By the authority given unto me as the Steward of Forogondor and as General in the Army of Mordor, I am attaching them and all your company to my search party." He looks back to the handlers of the hounds, "And take yourselves and your worthless baying hounds back to your kennels!"
Hours later, a search of Osgiliath reveals the other nine dead orcs. "Treachery, treachery!" cries Vartang. Though much fresh snow has fallen, still indentations in the snow tell the tale that there were not two horses here, but three. Vartang says, "I suspect this was an ambush planned by Vardamir to take the criminal Ceolwulf from the hands of our guards. But why are there three horses, not two? They have had help in this infernal work, and I suspect I know who! A purse of gold to the lads who first find them and slay them in the snow! Let the hunt resume!"
Return to Third Age - The Aftermath
Return to Index