Mother of Isengard
2. The Secret Army
Night was falling, the sun burying itself behind the southern peaks of the Misty Mountains, and long shadows creeping over the Fortress of Isengard, when Old Yabbe roused her weary bones from the sleeping couch.
“Boy.” She rasped, pushing aside the luxurious furs, and reaching out a gnarled foot to kick the golden-haired youth curled up on the rug. “Awake now.”
“Yes, mistress.” His reply was sullen and he rose only slowly, yawning and stretching long limbs clad in expensive silk. Tugging sulkily at the slave’s collar about his neck.
She sighed inwardly. It was always the same with these horse-boys, never mind how young one got them. Beautiful to look at and, given the right aphrodisiac, virile in bed, but ever with proud, stiff necks. For a few weeks they would be cowed and willing, but always too soon would come the insolence and rebellion.
Crouched by the doorway, her orc attendants had also seen the boy’s reluctance, and the familiar look of disenchantment on their mistress’ face. Dark tongues licked over snarled yellow teeth in hungry anticipation. The old woman was starting to tire of her latest pet, and when she did, she would give him to them. They rubbed their misshapen hands together greedily, and cackled quietly to themselves. There would be sport, and a feast.
Having bathed and breakfasted, Yabbe hobbled through from her finely appointed inner chamber to her workroom, leaning heavily on her stick. All around were wooden tables crammed with herbs and powders. Minerals and precious substances from all corners of Middle Earth sat in jars and leather bags, while leaves and flowers from far away valleys and forests hung in bunches from the ceiling. Cauldrons and crucibles, flasks and bottles, held liquids and potions for all manner of purpose. To increase desire or to deflate it, to bind in love or engender hate, to beget children or abort them, to heal, to sicken, and to kill.
“Mistress.” Her orc slaves gathered expectantly, fawning and slavering in their eagerness to please her. And she was pleased. For once she had been a slave to such as these, toiling endlessly in the seeping darkness under the Misty Mountains. But no more. For fate had led her to a great treasure, given her the wit to recognise it and shown her the way to Isengard where for twenty years it had brought her wealth and power.
‘Aye, but what now?’ A voice whispered in her head. ‘For you have nearly used the last of it, and despite all your efforts, you cannot make more.’
‘Ach!’ she dismissed it. For there was time yet before more was needed, and even if she could not find the secret, she had had twenty good years. Aye, and nearly forty before that, since the day she crawled away, aged and broken, hoping that death would find her.
She looked round at her servants, eager and obsequious, their keen eyes and dark, twisted faces watching her expectantly, and a fond smile came to her withered face.
“Come then,” she croaked, shuffling towards the door, a slave scuttling forward eagerly to open it for her. “We have much work to do today.”
They stepped out onto a wooden walkway above the heat and hubbub of the Birthing Pit. The air was filled with the stench of smoke and decay, the rough stone walls reflecting the red light of a thousand brands and everywhere, clambering up ladders and scurrying across planks, were orcs. An army of them, all at her command, all busily readying everything for this most important event.
“Mistress Yabbe.” The overseer lurched up to her, a grin on his grotesque face.
“Lor.” She greeted him respectfully. “Is everything ready?”
“Yes indeed.” His red eyes glinted expectantly, and his long teeth shone in the firelight.
“Excellent. Have someone send to The Master.”
He nodded assent and, having snarled a command to the minion at his shoulder, he turned and walked slowly with her towards the steps.
“Looks like it’ll be a good clutch.” He hawked and spat heartily, “Perhaps even the best we’ve ever had.”
Yabbe chuckled hoarsely, “You say that every time, Lor.”
Saruman the Wise pushed open the doors of his council chamber, and stood forth upon the balcony of Orthanc to view his kingdom. His white robes caught the last of the sun’s light, fracturing it into tiny fragments of colour. The smell of smoke was acrid in the air, and he lifted his long face to breath it in with a great satisfaction. The cacophony of forges and workshops that rose to greet him was music to his ears.
Isengard never slept. By day and by night his people toiled, their effort bent to his will. Slaves and freemen; labourers and artisans; miners and armourers; smiths and animal masters; cooks and laundresses; field hands and herdsmen; and above all, soldiers. Day by day his army grew, both in strength and in numbers. The dark Haradrim from the south and east, lean and hungry for land; the wild men of the mountains, ignorant and savage; the ambitious and disaffected from the cities of Gondor. Mercenaries from all corners of the world, greedy and ruthless, and Orcs. Orcs from beneath the Misty Mountains, cowardly and unreliable individually, but massed in their thousands, a terrible and unstoppable blight. Uruks too, great black Orcs from Mordor, proud and fierce, and oh so very useful. But never to be trusted, for they had another Master before him.
At the thought of Him, Saruman gave an almost imperceptible shudder and suppressed the urge to look round. The Palantir, the Seeing Stone, was safely covered, He was not looking. The reach of Sauron was very long, and the power of Mordor very great - and yet it was not complete. All was yet to play for, and there were many secrets still to be kept.
Secrets. Yes. The secret of the Ring and the search for it. The race for it. For he that found it first might name himself Lord of the World. And a secret army. An army such as even Sauron himself had never conceived.
“My Lord.” His servant’s voice was low and soft but perfectly clear. “Mistress Yabbe has sent to say that the birthing is about to begin.”
“Excellent.” Saruman withdrew into his chamber, drawing the doors closed behind him, and pausing only to take up his Wizard’s staff, he strode unhurriedly from the room.
Supporting her aged frame on the strong shoulder of a young orc, Yabbe made her way laboriously down the wooden steps to edge of the Birthing Pit. There, in the warm, wet mud that was the belly of Isengard, slept its children. Fully grown now, and ready to be wakened. Painfully she crouched to examine each one, pushing her wasted hands carefully through the sticky ooze to run them over the slick surface of the moist sac beneath. Feeling the fine, strong bodies, pulsing with new life, writhe and twist under her touch. Timing was critical, many of the first had been torn from their earthen womb too early - with terrible consequences. Death and deformity for some, while others had been perfect in body but damaged in mind, insane and untameable. But now the technique was perfected. From the meticulous preparation of the growing medium, through the selection of sire and host, then careful nurturing of each tiny new life, until after months of succour - fruition.
“The Master comes.” Lor hissed from behind her, and she straightened slowly to watch the wizard Saruman make his way down the long ramp towards them. He moved effortlessly, gliding with long, unhurried steps, his white beard and flowing hair a centre of calm power amid the filth and clamour of the huge cavern. A good master he was to those who served him well, rewarding them with gold and slaves, but to those who failed him he was merciless. Yabbe was high in his favour, for without her secret the army could not have been bred, and yet, when it was gone, what then? She pushed aside the worry, she was too old to care, the future would bring what it would, for now it was the time to bring forth the children of Isengard.
As he crossed the gallery above the Birthing Pit, Saruman looked down at Yabbe with well-concealed distaste. It galled him a little that such a filthy decrepit old hag should have stumbled on the secret he had sought for so many years. But it pained him more that with all his wisdom and lore, he could not explain it. Simple earth, that was all it was, and yet there was something special, something magical, about this particular dirt, gathered from a damp and stinking cave beneath the Misty Mountains, that had enabled him to at last achieve his aim.
A tiny ironic smile touched the corner of his quiet mouth. Orcs and Men, the two species filled the world with their progeny, rutting and breeding like rabbits - but not together. The differences between the two species were just too great. Orcs had no need of females among themselves, but could not be bred with man nor woman, neither after the manner of Orcs nor the manner of Men, though they gave themselves eagerly to the task of trying. Only the chance discovery of this base, yet potent, soil, and the hand of fortune that had guided its bearer here, had allowed the coition to be successful. And successful it was, beyond his wildest dreams. So as he looked down at the wizened old crone, he felt his irritation subside, for she had served him faithfully, and without her the new warrior sons of Isengard, his fighting Uruk-hai, would never have been born.
“My Lord,” her voice was as aged as her body, “They are ready.”
He gave a single grave nod, “Begin.”
Yabbe withdrew to the top of the stairs. Birthing was always a dangerous time. The newborn were very strong, and in the shock and confusion of their awakening, often violent. Lor began to direct his underlings, and with busy hands they cleared away the mire from about the first opaque sac, its occupant a dark shadow already moving within. Slitting the membrane they hastily dragged it free before leaping backwards.
A dark-hewn and mighty head lifted itself from the birthing mud, and with a great rasp took its first ragged breath, burning lungs and intoxicating blood. Eyes opened beneath the heavy brow, yellow and gleaming, and as the pain of new light struck them, the mouth uncovered its jagged fangs and snarled its first wordless curse at the world. Another breath was all that was needed to galvanise the powerful muscles into life and they lifted the great body, broad and strong, tall as the tallest man and dark as the night, to stand in magnificent defiance, filling the cavern with a roar of anger and exaltation at being alive.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.