Maevyn shuddered in the beech roots.
The tree was large and old and the first place she had turned to in her fright when she realized that home wasn't safe. At the same time, it was very near the edge of the woods and so not far from the village. If she were to look out through the roots at the entrance of the little hollow under the tree and through the green ferns that shielded it from sight, she would have been able to see her house where it stood up on the hill. Hidden as she was from sight, she was still terrified of discovery. She could smell the sour stench of her own vomit from where she had been sick again in the grass, less than a few yards from her hiding place. She could only hope that the bad things that had killed Demmi wouldn't smell it too and come looking for her.
There was a high thin scream up the hill. It could have been her mother. It could have been a neighbor. Maevyn put her hands over her ears to block out the sound. Whether she listened or didn't listen, though, the scream went on. Maevyn scrunched back further into the root system under the tree. Dirt crumbled under the neck of her blouse and down her back. She closed her eyes tightly. A few errant tears squeezed out from under her eyelids and she felt the hot saline on her cheek. And as she sat there she became aware of something long and flat and hard pressing against her rump. She reached down and picked it up to see what it was.
It was a knife.
Maevyn squeaked and dropped it, scrabbling backwards further into the roots, continuing to scramble even when she was back as far as she could go and her fingers were only churning at soil. More dirt crumbled down her back. The roots around her seemed to twist and contort themselves into threatening shapes. The darkness became claustrophobic and choking. She had the terrifying notion that she was being buried alive. Buried alive.
Taking in a deep breath, she tried to get herself under control. She couldn't let herself go crazy. If she kept scrambling around like this she would bring all of the dirt and stones overhead down on herself, or her struggles might be heard. Her heart was pounding. She needed to find something else to think about.
She focused on the knife. Slowly she forced herself to reach forward. Picking it up delicately, she examined it in the dim light. Her first thought had been that it belonged to one of the bad things. Now, though, as she squinted, she recognized the sharp blade, the small hilt with the strip of leather around the grip. It was the knife Da had given Demmi for his birthing day. But what was it doing here? Demmi must have left it. Then that meant Demmi must have been down here at some point too.
At any other time she would have been furious to discover that her little brother had invaded and co-opted her sanctuary and hidden his playthings inside of it. But Demmi was dead, and she was not. And the knife was here.
Maevyn's lower lip trembled in the dark. She held the knife by its grip. She touched the tip of its blade lightly with a single finger. It didn't break the skin, but as she rested her finger on the hard sharp point and felt the pricking sensation, she knew that only an increment of pressure would bring blood. That knowledge comforted her. The knife was sharp.
She crawled to the opening of the little hollow and looked out. Smoke was rising on the hill. The air brought her the smell of burning thatch. The bad things were up there, but she was down here. And she had the knife.
Slowly she crawled out of the beech roots and started up the hill.
She didn't know exactly what it was she was doing, but she did know that she had to get up there: had to see if her parents were alive. Deep down inside, she knew that they were. What else could they be? Not dead, surely. Da was probably fighting with the bad things, and Mama—Mama was frightened but she was holding her fear in check, trying to calm the other women. Mama never lost her head. She was always in control of the situation, no matter what. Or maybe they were tied up somewhere. Maybe all of the villagers were being kept somewhere, tied up with ropes and with no one to help them. Well, in that case they would need her, wouldn't they, her and her little knife, to cut their bonds and to free them so they could escape or even stay and drive the bad things away.
The memory of Demmi dead in the woods whispered unbidden into her brain, and she pushed it away ruthlessly. Demmi wasn't dead. He was unconscious, lying in the clearing. His slashed stomach, his hanging innards, they were just something she had somehow panicked and imagined. Demmi wasn't dead. Maybe he wasn't even in the woods at all. Maybe it had been a dream. Maybe all of this was a dream. Yes, that made sense. But it all felt so real!
Then again, she reasoned as she approached her house and saw that the door had been torn off its hinges, that was the way it always was in dreams, wasn't it? Things felt so real that they were unreal. That was why everything felt so very intense right now. Why the smoldering houses nearby made her nose itch and her eyes water. Why her heart was beating so hard in her chest that it hurt. Why when the ragged endless screaming from inside her house broke off abruptly, the ensuing silence was the loudest thing she had ever heard in her young life.
The knife nearly slipped from her suddenly nerveless fingers but she swallowed and gripped it tighter. She stopped and looked at old Threnoch's house, which was the house nearest theirs and the only one of which she had a direct view. She saw nothing moving, only the tendrils of soft gray smoke, the waves of heat that made the blue sky over it swim and wobble and shimmer. In front of her, the interior of the house was dark. Firming her resolve, Maevyn entered.
Step one. Da was laying on the ground, his body nearly cut in half. Maevyn had never seen so much blood in her life. She would have retched again except there was nothing left in her stomach. Her father was quite dead.
Step two. Mama lay in an odd position near the back of the hut. Her dress was ripped down the middle and her bared legs lolled open. The slash across her throat gaped like a second mouth, blood still gurgling out of it.
Step three. It was an Orc. What else could it be that stood near her mother? Maevyn had never seen an Orc before, but now suddenly the monsters from the stories she had heard all through childhood became real to her. It was as tall as a man, and that was only slouching. It was nearly half a man's height in width, all muscle, and its massive shoulders were protected with iron-studded leather. A black curved scabbard hung on its broad back, and in that scabbard was a massive sword. It wasn't pushed in all the way and a few menacing inches of exposed metal showed over the top of the scabbard. The Orc was facing away from Maevyn, going through the oak chest where Mama kept the bridal gifts from her handfasting with Da. It pulled out yards of the fine soft linen woven by Grandmama and great-Grandmama before Maevyn was born. Tossing aside the yellowed fabric like trash, the Orc grunted as it lifted up a bright silver cup.
Another step. A fifth. A sixth. And then she was charging, and there was a horrible sound coming out of her mouth, and the knife was raised in her hand, and the Orc had half-turned towards her, and she could see its yellow eyes—
Grushak heard the soft sound of the little running feet, the high, strangled cry, and he turned to see the enraged man's child coming for him. Instinctively he held out the hand holding the cup. The blade glanced off the cup and gashed the back of his hand, provoking a roar of pain. The girl stumbled but continued forward under the power of her velocity, and he went on turning as she ran past him. She nearly hit the wall but twisted aside at the last moment, facing the Orc.
"Shit-fuck!" Grushak swore. Stunned that the little beast had scored him, he examined the damage to the back of his hand. The wound proved to be superficial, barely more than a scratch, although black blood oozed from where the skin was broken. The cup had dispelled most of the stab's force and his tough hide had also helped to protect against the worst of the blade's sharpness, or she might have actually severed the tendons in his sword hand. As it was, he hadn't even dropped the cup. The vessel itself was dented, though, diminishing its value. Glaring, Grushak turned his eyes on the girl. "Man-brat," he growled.
She was small and spry, and her dark hair fell loose around her head. What struck him most, though, was the look on her face. He felt the twisted grimace that turned his features into a horrifying mask of Orkish rage such as he often saw on his fellows. She didn't quite have the teeth for it, but the rictus of her face was nearly a rival for his own. The familiarity of the expression took some of the edge off his anger. After all, she would be dead in a moment anyway.
He tossed the cup aside. "Give me the knife."
She glowered at him, breathing heavily.
"Give me the knife," he said again, his guttural voice dangerous but amused.
She shook her head no, raising her weapon a couple inches.
He took a step forward.
At this point she charged him again, knife held in a stabbing position. He dodged to one side and knocked it out of her hand. It flipped through the air end over end to land point-first in the wooden floor with a solid "thwock," trembling where it struck. She started to dive for the knife and he kicked her legs out from under her. She hit the ground hard but continued to reach for the weapon. He walked around her complacently and kicked it out of her reach. Drawing his scimitar in an easy over-the-shoulder gesture, he slammed it into the floor inches from her reaching fingers, simultaneously barring her path to the knife and disarming himself. He didn't care about that, though. What need did he have of a sword? The man-brat was small and easily dealt with. Besides, it was much more entertaining this way.
Absently he licked the gash on the back of his hand as he waited for the girl's next move. Even after he had slaked his battle lust and spilled his seed in the dead man's woman, the taste of his own blood excited him. He would enjoy toying with the man's child before he killed her.
Maevyn stared at the Orc's sword, which was sticking out of the floor in front of her. It was as tall as she was and stood between her and the knife. Her eyes flicked towards the Orc and she rolled to one side quickly. Scrambling to make it first to her knees and then to her feet, she stood with her shoulders hunkered forward and glared at the creature. It only watched, not making a move towards her. Maevyn thought it might be smiling but couldn't tell: its wide mouth appeared misshapen by its large fangs and sharp teeth. She wanted to kill it. Knowing, though, that there was no way she could reach the knife without the Orc grabbing her, she backed up a couple steps, then turned to run.
She had already discovered that the Orc was faster than it looked, but nothing could have prepared her for the immediacy of the grab. A huge hand fastened on her shoulder, yanking her backwards. She yowled, twisting and squirming violently, but was unable to break its grip. It pulled her roughly against its stomach, its arms, each thicker than her waist, holding her firmly. She strained until her whole body ached but she was pinned fast and unable to move at all, except for her legs and feet, which kicked fruitlessly an inch or so above the ground, and her head, which she pressed back against her captor's hard chest in a vain attempt to push her body away.
The Orc's response was to begin to clamp down on her in a slow squeeze. She couldn't even gasp as she felt the air crush out of her, felt her face grow hot. She remembered once when she had innocently tormented a beetle in her younger years, pressing a twig against its back to keep it from moving so she could admire the shiny bronze wing cases. The beetle had tried to continue about its buggy business, its tiny legs churning in the dirt. She remembered how, fascinated, she had slowly borne down with the twig and how the bright shell began to split...
Her ribs were buckling under the pressure. She went limp. The squeezing stopped when she did so. Gradually the bear hug loosened until she was dangling, gasping, from the Orc's arms.
Maevyn could hear its heavy breathing even over her own, could smell its rankness: blood, sweat and grime. She was quite still, rapidly turning over ideas for escape. The Orc stood still as well, its mental processes unknowable. Then it opened one arm slowly, still holding her tightly with the other. Heavy knuckles brushed against her cheek. She made a move to bite but the hand pulled away before she could do so. Abruptly, it cuffed her. The blow was a gentle one on the part of the Orc, which meant that Maevyn's head was not concussed but only knocked violently sideways. Waves of pain washed through her skull and she nearly passed out. She struggled to stay afloat rather than slip below the level of consciousness.
"The man-brat smells frightened," came the Orc's voice a short distance above her head. Its tone was as pleasant as one of its species could sound. Still holding her, it turned and walked over to Demmi's knife and picked it up. Maevyn stared at the knife, unable to take her eyes away as the Orc hefted it a number of times, testing the weapon's balance with exaggerated care. Then she closed her eyes as the knife approached her face. Her jaw clenched as she felt the sharp tip prick her cheek.
She was trembling.
"Ve-ry frightened." The blade moved downwards slowly, defining the shape of her jaw, stroking her throat: light as the flutter of a butterfly's wing against her skin. She let out her breath as the knife left her throat, then caught it again as she felt it touch her left eyelid instead. Her eyes closed, she could nonetheless see an angry red dot where the tip of the blade was resting.
"Lovely lovely man-brat," crooned the Orc as it held the knife to her eye.
That was when Maevyn knew she was going to die, and that she was going to die painfully.
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.