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Goblins, Orcs and Uruks of Middle-earth
“The Orcs have run before us, as if the very whips of Sauron were behind them.”
LOTR: TTT B3 C2
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The Orcs of Middle-earth were ever apt to evil. On their own they tended to gather in small groups or clans, living in the wild and raiding the settlements of Men or Elves for food and slaves. They often lived in small crude camps or dwelt in caves and rough-hewn forest dwellings. Sometimes they would gather together around a large or powerful orc leader, forming larger communities, mostly settling in mountain caverns or tunnels. These orcs could raise large raiding parties making use of wargs as steeds to attack outlying villages and smaller towns for gold, precious metals and slaves to work their forges and dig their tunnels.
In times of War when either Morgoth, Sauron, the Witch-king or some other powerful lord called them forth to battle, they would fight to avenge past grievances with the Elves, Dwarves and Men of Middle-earth. They could be easily marshaled into vast armies that were ferocious in battle, driven by the dark will of their masters.
Orcs hated the sun and could not tolerate its direct rays upon their skin. They traveled and hunted by night and so their eyes became keen in the darkness, with a sense of smell akin to the wargs upon which they rode.
For the most part orc clothing and armor was rough hewn, cobbled together from booty taken in raids or made of skins of the animals they ate. Their weapons were often crudely made, but cunning and deadly. However, in times of war they were said to be clever and skilled in the making of ironmongery, forging swords, scimitars, knives, shields, helms and armor, often at the will of their masters.
Orcs as a general rule, ate whatever they could find. Hunting animals and curing the meat for long journeys or raids. However, no orc would flinch at the thought of eating their enemies killed in battle or those they kept as slaves. They often captured prisoners, which they made terrible sport of before killing. They were cruel masters and any slave of an orc was lucky to suffer only a short life at the hands of an uruk overseer. In times of great hunger they would even eat their own kind, usually killed in battle, during a dispute or vying for dominance, they saw no reason to waste a good meal.
During the War of the Ring most orcs were held under the dominion of Mordor, though some fell under the sway of different powers.
`They are coming! ‘ cried Legolas. ‘We cannot get out,’ said Gimli. `Trapped! ‘ cried Gandalf. `Why did I delay? Here we are, caught, just as they were before. But I was not here then. We will see what —-‘
Doom, doom came the drum-beat and the walls shook.
‘Slam the doors and wedge them! ‘ shouted Aragorn. ‘And keep your packs on as long as you can: we may get a chance to cut our way out yet.’
`No! ‘ said Gandalf. ‘We must not get shut in. Keep the east door ajar! We will go that way, if we get a chance.’
Another harsh horn-call and shrill cries rang out. Feet were coming down the corridor. There was a ring and clatter as the Company drew their swords. Glamdring shone with a pale light, and Sting glinted at the edges. Boromir set his shoulder against the western door.
`Wait a moment! Do not close it yet! ‘ said Gandalf. He sprang forward to Boromir’s side and drew himself up to his full height.
‘Who comes hither to disturb the rest of Balin Lord of Moria? ‘ he cried in a loud voice.
There was a rush of hoarse laughter, like the fall of sliding stones into a pit; amid the clamour a deep voice was raised in command. Doom, boom, doom went the drums in the deep.
With a quick movement Gandalf stepped before the narrow opening of the door and thrust forward his staff: There was a dazzling flash that lit the chamber and the passage outside. For an instant the wizard looked out. Arrows whined and whistled down the corridor as he sprang back.
‘There are Orcs, very many of them,’ he said. `And some are large and evil: black Uruks of Mordor. For the moment they are hanging back, but there is something else there. A great cave-troll, I think, or more than one. There is no hope of escape that way.’
‘And no hope at all, if they come at the other door as well,’ said Boromir.
‘There is no sound outside here yet,’ said Aragorn, who was standing by the eastern door listening. `The passage on this side plunges straight down a stair: it plainly does not lead back towards the hall. But it is no good flying blindly this way with the pursuit just behind. We cannot block the door. Its key is gone and the lock is broken, and it opens inwards. We must do something to delay the enemy first. We will make them fear the Chamber of Mazarbul!’ he said grimly feeling the edge of his sword, Andúril.
Heavy feet were heard in the corridor. Boromir flung himself against the door and heaved it to; then he wedged it with broken sword-blades and splinters of wood. The Company retreated to the other side of the chamber. But they had no chance to fly yet. There was a blow on the door that made it quiver; and then it began to grind slowly open, driving back the wedges. A huge arm and shoulder, with a dark skin of greenish scales, was thrust through the widening gap. Then a great, flat, toeless foot was forced through below. There was a dead silence outside.
Boromir leaped forward and hewed at the arm with all his might; but his sword rang, glanced aside, and fell from his shaken hand. The blade was notched.
Suddenly, and to his own surprise, Frodo felt a hot wrath blaze up in his heart. `The Shire! ‘ he cried, and springing beside Boromir, he stooped, and stabbed with Sting at the hideous foot. There was a bellow, and the foot jerked back, nearly wrenching Sting from Frodo’s arm. Black drops dripped from the blade and smoked on the floor. Boromir hurled himself against the door and slammed it again.
`One for the Shire! ‘ cried Aragorn. `The hobbit’s bite is deep! You have a good blade, Frodo son of Drogo! ‘
There was a crash on the door, followed by crash after crash. Rams and hammers were beating against it. It cracked and staggered back, and the opening grew suddenly wide. Arrows came whistling in, but struck the northern wall, and fell harmlessly to the floor. There was a horn-blast and a rush of feet, and orcs one after another leaped into the chamber.
How many there were the Company could not count. The affray was sharp, but the orcs were dismayed by the fierceness of the defence. Legolas shot two through the throat. Gimli hewed the legs from under another that had sprung up on Balin’s tomb. Boromir and Aragorn slew many. When thirteen had fallen the rest fled shrieking. leaving the defenders unharmed, except for Sam who had a scratch along the scalp. A quick duck had saved him; and he had felled his orc: a sturdy thrust with his Barrow-blade. A fire was smouldering in his brown eyes that would have made Ted Sandyman step backwards, if he had seen it.
`Now is the time! ‘ cried Gandalf. `Let us go, before the troll returns!’
But even as they retreated, and before Pippin and Merry had reached the stair outside, a huge orc-chieftain, almost man-high, clad in black mail from head to foot, leaped into the chamber; behind him his followers clustered in the doorway. His broad flat face was swart, his eyes were like coals, and his tongue was red; he wielded a great spear. With a thrust of his huge hide shield he turned Boromir’s sword and bore him backwards, throwing him to the ground. Diving under Aragorn’s blow with the speed of a striking snake he charged into the Company and thrust with his spear straight at Frodo. The blow caught him on the right side, and Frodo was hurled against the wall and pinned. Sam, with a cry, hacked at the spear-shaft, and it broke. But even as the orc flung down the truncheon and swept out his scimitar, Andúril came down upon his helm. There was a flash like flame and the helm burst asunder. The orc fell with cloven head. His followers fled howling, as Boromir and Aragorn sprang at them.
Doom, doom went the drums in the deep. The great voice rolled out again.
‘Now! ‘ shouted Gandalf. ‘Now is the last chance. Run for it!’
From The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in the Chapter ‘The Bridge of Khazad-dûm
Captured by the orcs at Amon Hen Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took described their time upon the fields of Rohan in the Red Book of Westmarch.
Pippin lay in a dark and troubled dream: it seemed that he could hear his own small voice echoing in black tunnels, calling Frodo, Frodo! But instead of Frodo hundreds of hideous orc-faces grinned at him out of the shadows, hundreds of hideous arms grasped at him from every side. Where was Merry?
He woke. Cold air blew on his face. He was lying on his back. Evening was coming and the sky above was growing dim. He turned and found that the dream was little worse than the waking. His wrists, legs, and ankles were tied with cords. Beside him Merry lay, white-faced, with a dirty rag bound across his brows. All about them sat or stood a great company of Orcs.
Slowly in Pippin’s aching head memory pieced itself together and became separated from dream-shadows. Of course: he and Merry had run off into the woods. What had come over them? Why had they dashed off like that, taking no notice of old Strider? They had run a long way shouting–he could not remember how far or how long; and then suddenly they had crashed right into a group of Orcs: they were standing listening, and they did not appear to see Merry and Pippin until they were almost in their arms. Then they yelled and dozens of other goblins had sprung out of the trees. Merry and he had drawn their swords, but the Orcs did not wish to fight, and had tried only to lay hold of them, even when Merry had cut off several of their arms and hands. Good old Merry!
Then Boromir had come leaping through the trees. He had made them fight. He slew many of them and the rest fled. But they had not gone far on the way back when they were attacked again. by a hundred Orcs at least, some of them very large, and they shot a rain of arrows: always at Boromir. Boromir had blown his great horn till the woods rang, and at first the Orcs had been dismayed and had drawn back; but when no answer but the echoes came, they had attacked more fierce than ever. Pippin did not remember much more. His last memo was of Boromir leaning against a tree, plucking out an arrow; then darkness fell suddenly.
‘I suppose I was knocked on the head,’ he said to himself. ‘I wonder if poor Merry is much hurt. What has happened to Boromir? Why didn’t the Orcs kill us? Where are we, and where are we going?’
He could not answer the questions. He felt cold and sick. ‘I wish Gandalf had never persuaded Elrond to let us come,’ he thought. ‘What good have I been? Just a nuisance: a passenger, a piece of luggage. And now I have been stolen and I am just a piece of luggage for the Orcs. I hope Strider or someone will come and claim us! But ought I to hope for it? Won’t that throw out all the plans? I wish I could get free!’
He struggled a little, quite uselessly. One of the Orcs sitting near laughed and said something to a companion in their abominable tongue. ‘Rest while you can, little fool!’ he said then to Pippin, in the Common Speech, which he made almost as hideous as his own language. ‘Rest while you can! We’ll find a use for your legs before long. You’ll wish you had got none before we get home.’
‘If I had my way, you’d wish you were dead now,’ said the other. ‘I’d make you squeak, you miserable rat.’ He stooped over Pippin bringing his yellow fangs close to his face. He had a black knife with a long jagged blade in his hand. ‘Lie quiet, or I’ll tickle you with this,’ he hissed. ‘Don’t draw attention to yourself, or I may forget my orders. Curse the Isengarders! Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai’: he passed into a long angry speech in his own tongue that slowly died away into muttering and snarling.
Terrified Pippin lay still, though the pain at his wrists and ankles was growing, and the stones beneath him were boring into his back. To take his mind off himself he listened intently to all that he could hear. There were many voices round about, and though orc-speech sounded at all times full of hate and anger, it seemed plain that something like a quarrel had begun, and was getting hotter.
To Pippin’s surprise he found that much of the talk was intelligible many of the Orcs were using ordinary language. Apparently the members of two or three quite different tribes were present, and they could not understand one another’s orc-speech. There was an angry debate concerning what they were to do now: which way they were to take and what should be done with the prisoners.
‘There’s no time to kill them properly,’ said one. ‘No time for play on this trip.’
‘That can’t be helped,’ said another. ‘But why not kill them quick, kill them now? They’re a cursed nuisance, and we’re in a hurry. Evening’s coming on, and we ought to get a move on.’
‘Orders.’ said a third voice in a deep growl. ‘Kill all but not the Halfings; they are to be brought back alive as quickly as possible. That’s my orders.’
‘What are they wanted for?’ asked several voices. ‘Why alive? Do they give good sport?’
‘No! I heard that one of them has got something, something that’s wanted for the War, some elvish plot or other. Anyway they’ll both be questioned.’
‘Is that all you know? Why don’t we search them and find out? We might find something that we could use ourselves.’
‘That is a very interesting remark,’ sneered a voice, softer than the others but more evil. ‘I may have to report that. The prisoners are not to be searched or plundered: those are my orders.’
‘And mine too,’ said the deep voice. ‘Alive and as captured; no spoiling. That’s my orders.’
‘Not our orders!’ said one of the earlier voices. ‘We have come all the way from the Mines to kill, and avenge our folk. I wish to kill, and then go back north.’
‘Then you can wish again,’ said the growling voice. ‘I am Uglúk. I command. I return to Isengard by the shortest road.’
‘Is Saruman the master or the Great Eye?’ said the evil voice. ‘We should go back at once to Lugbúrz.’
‘If we could cross the Great River, we might,’ said another voice. ‘But there are not enough of us to venture down to the bridges.’
‘I came across,’ said the evil voice. ‘A winged Nazgûl awaits us northward on the east-bank.’
‘Maybe, maybe! Then you’ll fly off with our prisoners, and get all the pay and praise in Lugbúrz, and leave us to foot it as best we can through the Horse-country. No, we must stick together. These lands are dangerous: full of foul rebels and brigands.’
‘Aye, we must stick together,’ growled Uglúk. ‘I don’t trust you little swine. You’ve no guts outside your own sties. But for us you’d all have run away. We are the fighting Uruk-hai! We slew the great warrior. We took the prisoners. We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand: the Hand that gives us man’s-flesh to eat. We came out of Isengard, and led you here, and we shall lead you back by the way we choose. I am Uglúk. I have spoken.’
‘You have spoken more than enough, Uglúk,’ sneered the evil voice. ‘I wonder how they would like it in Lugbúrz. They might think that Uglúk’s shoulders needed relieving of a swollen head. They might ask where his strange ideas came from. Did they come from Saruman, perhaps? Who does he think he is, setting up on his own with his filthy white badges? They might agree with me, with Grishnákh their trusted messenger; and I Grishnákh say this: Saruman is a fool. and a dirty treacherous fool. But the Great Eye is on him.
‘Swine is it? How do you folk like being called swine by the muck-rakers of a dirty little wizard? It’s orc-flesh they eat, I’ll warrant.’
Many loud yells in orc-speech answered him, and the ringing clash of weapons being drawn. Cautiously Pippin rolled over, hoping to see what would happen. His guards had gone to join in the fray. In the twilight he saw a large black Orc, probably Uglúk, standing facing Grishnákh, a short crook-legged creature, very broad and with long arms that hung almost to the ground. Round them were many smaller goblins. Pippin supposed that these were the ones from the North. They had drawn their knives and swords, but hesitated to attack Uglúk.
Uglúk shouted, and a number of other Orcs of nearly his own size ran up. Then suddenly, without warning, Uglúk sprang forwards, and with two swift strokes swept the heads off two of his opponents. Grishnákh stepped aside and vanished into the shadows. The others gave way, and one stepped backwards and fell over Merry’s prostrate form with a curse. Yet that probably saved his life, for Uglúk’s followers leaped over him and cut down another with their broad-bladed swords. It was the yellow-fanged guard. His body fell right on top of Pippin, still clutching its long saw-edged knife.
‘Put up your weapons!’ shouted Uglúk. ‘And let’s have no more nonsense! We go straight west from here, and down the stair. From there straight to the downs, then along the river to the forest. And we march day and night. That clear?’
‘Now,’ thought Pippin, ‘if only it takes that ugly fellow a little while to get his troop under control, I’ve got a chance.’ A gleam of hope had come to him. The edge of the black knife had snicked his arm, and then slid down to his wrist. He felt the blood trickling on to his hand, but he also felt the cold touch of steel against his skin.
The Orcs were getting ready to march again, but some of the Northerners were still unwilling, and the Isengarders slew two more before the rest were cowed. There was much cursing and confusion. For the moment Pippin was unwatched. His legs were securely bound, but his arms were only tied about the wrists, and his hands were in front of him. He could move them both together, though the bonds were cruelly tight. He pushed the dead Orc to one side, then hardly daring to breathe, he drew the knot of the wrist-cord up and down against the blade of the knife. It was sharp and the dead hand held it fast. The cord was cut! Quickly Pippin took it in his fingers and knotted it again into a loose bracelet of two loops and slipped it over his hands. Then he lay very still.
‘Pick up those prisoners!’ shouted Uglúk. ‘Don’t play any tricks with them! If they are not alive when we get back, someone else will die too.’
An Orc seized Pippin like a sack. put its head between his tied hands, grabbed his arms and dragged them down, until Pippin’s face was crushed against its neck; then it jolted off with him. Another treated Merry in the same way. The Orc’s clawlike hand gripped Pippin’s arms like iron; the nails bit into him. He shut his eyes and slipped back into evil dreams.
From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the Chapter ‘The Uruk-hai’
It is written in the Red Book of Westmarch, that the hobbits Frodo and Sam walked the dangerous ways of Mordor and encountered Uruks along the way.
Mordor-dark had returned, and the watch-fires on the heights burned fierce and red, when the hobbits set out again on the most dangerous stage of all their journey. They went first to the little spring, and then climbing warily up they came to the road at the point where it swung east towards the Isenmouthe twenty miles away. It was not a broad road, and it had no wall or parapet along the edge and as it ran on the sheer drop from its brink became deeper and deeper. The hobbits could hear no movements, and after listening for a while they set off eastward at a steady pace.
After doing some twelve miles, they halted. A short way back the road had bent a little northward and the stretch that they had passed over was now screened from sight. This proved disastrous. They rested for some minutes and then went on; but they had not taken many steps when suddenly in the stillness of the night they heard the sound that all along they had secretly dreaded: the noise of marching feet. It was still some way behind them, but looking back they could see the twinkle of torches coming round the bend less than a mile away, and they were moving fast: too fast for Frodo to escape by flight along the road ahead.
‘I feared it, Sam,’ said Frodo. ‘We’ve trusted to luck, and it has failed us. We’re trapped.’ He looked wildly up at the frowning wall, where the road-builders of old had cut the rock sheer for many fathoms above their heads. He ran to the other side and looked over the brink into a dark pit of gloom. ‘We’re trapped at last!’ he said He sank to the ground beneath the wall of rock and bowed his head.
‘Seems so,’ said Sam. ‘Well, we can but wait and see.’ And with that he sat down beside Frodo under the shadow of the cliff.
They did not have to wait long. The orcs were going at a great pace. Those in the foremost files bore torches. On they came, red flames in the dark, swiftly growing. Now Sam too bowed his head, hoping that it would hide his face when the torches reached them; and he set their shields before their knees to hide their feet.
‘If only they are in a hurry and will let a couple of tired soldiers alone and pass on!’ he thought.
And so it seemed that they would. The leading orcs came loping along, panting, holding their heads down. They were a gang of the smaller breeds being driven unwilling to their Dark Lord’s wars; all they cared for was to get the march over and escape the whip. Beside them, running up and down the line, went two of the large fierce uruks, cracking lashes and shouting. File after file passed, and the tell-tale torchlight was already some way ahead. Sam held his breath. Now more than half the line had gone by. Then suddenly one of the slave-drivers spied the two figures by the road-side. He flicked a whip at them and yelled: ‘Hi, you! Get up!’ They did not answer, and with a shout he halted the whole company.
‘Come on, you slugs!’ he cried. ‘This is no time for slouching.’ He took a step towards them, and even in the gloom he recognized the devices on their shields. ‘Deserting, eh?’ he snarled. ‘Or thinking of it? All your folk should have been inside Udûn before yesterday evening. You know that. Up you get and fall in, or I’ll have your numbers and report you.’
They struggled to their feet, and keeping bent, limping like footsore soldiers, they shuffled back towards the rear of the line. ‘No, not at the rear!’ the slave-driver shouted. ‘Three files up. And stay there, or you’ll know it, when I come down the line!’ He sent his long whip-lash cracking over their heads; then with another crack and a yell he started the company off again at a brisk trot.
It was hard enough for poor Sam, tired as he was; but for Frodo it was a torment, and soon a nightmare. He set his teeth and tried to stop his mind from thinking, and he struggled on. The stench of the sweating orcs about him was stifling, and he began to gasp with thirst. On, on they went, and he bent all his will to draw his breath and to make his legs keep going; and yet to what evil end he toiled and endured he did not dare to think. There was no hope of falling out unseen: Now and again the orc-driver fell back and jeered at them.
‘There now!’ he laughed, flicking at their legs. ‘Where there’s a whip there’s a will, my slugs. Hold up! I’d give you a nice freshener now, only you’ll get as much lash as your skins will carry when you come in late to your camp. Do you good. Don’t you know we’re at war?’
They had gone some miles, and the road was at last running down a long slope into the plain, when Frodo’s strength began to give out and his will wavered. He lurched and stumbled. Desperately Sam tried to help him and hold him up, though he felt that he could himself hardly stay the pace much longer. At any moment now he knew that the end would come: his master would faint or fall, and all would be discovered, and their bitter efforts be in vain. ‘I’ll have that big slave-driving devil anyway,’ he thought.
Then just as he was putting his hand to the hilt of his sword, there came an unexpected relief. They were out on the plain now and drawing near the entrance to Udûn. Some way in front of it, before the gate at the bridge-end, the road from the west converged with others coming from the south, and from Barad-dûr. Along all the roads troops were moving; for the Captains of the West were advancing and the Dark Lord was speeding his forces north. So it chanced that several companies came together at the road-meeting, in the dark beyond the light of the watch-fires on the wall. At once there was great jostling and cursing as each troop tried to get first to the gate and the ending of their march. Though the drivers yelled and plied their whips, scuffles broke out and some blades were drawn. A troop of heavy-armed uruks from Barad-dûr charged into the Durthang line and threw them into confusion.
Dazed as he was with pain and weariness, Sam woke up, grasped quickly at his chance, and threw himself to the ground, dragging Frodo down with him. Orcs fell over them, snarling and cursing. Slowly on hand and knee the hobbits crawled away out of the turmoil, until at last unnoticed they dropped over the further edge of the road. It had a high kerb by which troop-leaders could guide themselves in black night or fog, and it was banked up some feet above the level of the open land.
They lay still for a while. It was too dark to seek for cover, if indeed there was any to find; but Sam felt that they ought at least to get further away from the highways and out of the range of torch-light.
‘Come on, Mr. Frodo!’ he whispered. ‘One more crawl, and then you can lie still.’
With a last despairing effort Frodo raised himself on his hands, and struggled on for maybe twenty yards. Then he pitched down into a shallow pit that opened unexpectedly before them, and there he lay like a dead thing.
From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the Chapter ‘The Land of Shadow’