13. Elven Grace
It was difficult for the cord and the shaking of her hands, but she covered herself as best she could. Pushing the skirts of her dress down over her legs, she was horribly aware the entire time of the Orc lying by in the dark. If he was still awake, though, he gave no indication of it, and he did not stop her when she squirmed off of the pallet and onto the bare hard earth. She lay there as far from him as she dared, terrified of him but frightened also of the others that she could not see. Too frightened to make any attempt at escape, and how far could she have gotten, bound and surrounded as she was?
Hysteria beat within her like an unvoiced scream, and if she did not contain it it would break her. Worse, it would rouse Kurbag again. Pressing her fists to her eyes, Eleluleniel felt tears starting behind the heels of her palms. She swallowed hard, willing them gone; she would sob herself sick at this rate. Yet she felt bewildered and betrayed: she had trusted him, or started to. How could she have been so stupid?
I told him my name. How could he hurt me again, when I told him my…
The tears continued to come despite her efforts. She pushed her face into the crook of her elbow to stifle them.
She did not sleep again. She was aware of every sound, every shift of Kurbag's body not three feet from her. The barest change in breathing was enough to see her stiffen, fearful of another attack. Long hours passed in this way, and when morning came she was exhausted.
The outlines of sleeping figures formed first, slowly in the gathering dawn. Then came the gradual articulation of several faces in the growing light. It was a clearer picture than the flickering campfire had shown the night before: rough mottled skin and broad cruel mouths, misshapen foreheads and lower jaws. They were faces unlike any Elf's, immeasurably ugly and cruel, their features wholly ungentle even in sleep. Eleluleniel stared at them, unable to look away, almost too tired to be afraid. When the first of them woke he did so grumbling, rising up and lumbering off somewhere she could not see. He was gone for a few moments and when he came back he found the same place as before but did not lie down immediately. He knelt and fumbled and she saw him produce a dark swathe of something that he pulled over himself before he fell back to sleep.
The morning light was blue and chill. The realization of day approaching brought her no comfort. As others among the Orcs awakened in their turn she closed her eyes. It was a feeble defense but it was all she had. She lay listening to the sounds of them as they began to move about, some wordless, some exchanging snatches of guttural conversation. These were the creatures that would kill her.
The sun was slanting throught the trees when Kurbag stirred. He woke to a sense of great well-being, nostrils thick with the smell of other Orcs, body thoroughly rested after a solid night's sleep. He would have been content to lie like that but the urging of his bladder prompted him to rise. Sitting, he caught sight of the Elf girl. She had squirmed away from him at some point in the night and lay well clear of the sleeping pallet. She lay very still but when he put his hand on her arm she flinched. Satisfied, he patted her arm and got up to relieve himself.
"Slept long enough, have you?" came Bragdagash's voice. The chieftain was sitting over by the remains of the fire. He grinned at Kurbag over a hunk of charred flesh from the night before and bit into it, tearing away a piece in his strong jaws.
Some of the others were also up and mucking around by the fire. One of the goblins had a long stick, which he was using to trace idle pictures in the ash. He looked up, casting Kurbag a dirty squint. "Oi. You woke me up last night, you rotten bastard."
"And good morning to you too, Shrah'rar," said Kurbag, smirking as he passed them by. He was feeling good just now: better than he had for some time. It was good to be with the others again, to enjoy the security of larger numbers and the company of his kind. It made him feel more certain of himself.
"Eh Kurbag, watch your step. Someone's got the runs," Bragdagash called after. Unless they were planning to stay at a given site for more than a few days in a row, Bragdagash rarely bothered ordering anyone to dig a jakes, they just made a point of crapping a sensible distance from camp. Stepping in something nasty wasn't a problem: they could easily avoid it with their sense of smell, and if you did step awry it was simple enough to scrap your boots off against a rock or the rough bark of a tree.
Turds were one thing, though; the shits were another. Kurbag watched his step.
There was a place where the trees grew more thickly and the sun did not pierce their cover. He stopped there and did his business. Fastening his trousers again after, he heard a bird twittering off somewhere in the greenery. It stopped suddenly in mid-trill and a hush descended on the forest. Kurbag's fingers paused, then returned unhurriedly to the task at hand. He gave his laces a final cinch before turning to go back.
Abruptly he feinted left. He felt the displacement of air to his right and a heavy blow clipped his shoulder. Dropping down, he lashed out with his foot. The first kick hit nothing—the second caught his attacker in the shin. It did no damage but did establish where the enemy was. Kurbag rolled sidelong, avoiding an iron-shod boot aimed at his kidneys. Throwing his arms out, he caught the other fellow's leg and yanked him off balance. His attacker swore loudly and went down, and Kurbag quickly squirmed forward, pinning him. "Missed me that much, eh?" he panted.
Mushog grinned up at him. His fist crashed into the side of Kurbag's head. Kurbag shook his head, dazed; Mushog pushed him sidelong, quickly moving to pin him in turn, but the half-Uruk recovered and grabbed his arms. They grappled together on the forest floor, vying for dominance.
It was not a quiet fight, broken with grunts and sharp curses, particularly those of Kurbag, who felt like he must be rolling over every rock in the immediate vicinity. He was the more skilled of the two fighters, or thought he was anyway, but Mushog was that bit heavier and he had Kurbag under him at the moment. "You rutting bastard," Kurbag hissed up at him as the other Orc laughed. He grabbed Kurbag by the throat, ready to slam his head against the ground, but Kurbag snapped his skull up into Mushog's with an audible crack.
Clapping a hand to his forehead, momentarily unseeing, Mushog made a highly undignified sound, somewhere between a snarl and a whimper. It was easy for Kurbag to roll him off and pin him again. This time there was no resistance: his last move had knocked any further fight from Mushog's brain. When Kurbag told him to give he yielded.
"Shit," said Kurbag, sprawling on the Uruk's chest. Now that they weren't trying to kill each other, he felt safe enough taking a breather. "You don't do things halfway, do you."
Mushog, hand over his eyes, grunted affirmation. He groaned suddenly. "Aunnnngghh…I have to puke…"
Kurbag got clear hurriedly as Mushog scrambled up onto his hands and knees. He was, indeed, noisily sick. "Bleeding Eye…"
Mushog spat a few times before kneeling back, eyes shut, squeezing the bridge of his nose. "Fuck, but you've given me a thumping head."
"Whose fault is that, then?" He stood, not offering Mushog his hand. From past experience it was just as likely that the other Orc would try to pull him off balance if he did. Mushog clearly wasn't in the mood to renew their fight, though, taking another moment to get up. "How much of that is last night, anyway?" Kurbag asked him as he rose, looking none too steady on his feet.
"You insult me. I barely had a skin."
"Oh aye? I put the count at three—and I'll wager you had a fourth for breakfast by the smell of your breath."
Mushog guffawed. "Haw. That's medicine! Does you good to start the morning off with a little nip."
"Ah, right then, I'll remind you of that the next time I see you pissing blood." Mushog punched his shoulder and Kurbag punched him back. "Why don't we get some real breakfast, eh? I saw Braggy eating something. Made me hungry." He turned, starting back toward the fire.
Mushog only stood where he was, scratching his neck. "Mmmm, yeah…it's no wonder you've an appetite, the morning after."
"That's what the snaga were saying this morning. Saying you shagged the Golug last night. While we were all asleep—garn, Kurbag, couldn't you have waited? I thought we were mates!"
"It's your own fault for not waking up. How do you think that would serve you if we came under attack?" As Kurbag scoffed, though, he thought about the Elf. The others assumed that she was dead, and he hadn't said anything to make them think otherwise. He felt oddly reticent on the matter, and why that was he didn't know. She was his prize after all.
"Skai, you're just changing the subject." Kurbag turned away from him again. This time Mushog followed, lengthening his steps to catch up. "So tell me, did she struggle? Was she very tight?" He leered. "I only want to know what it's like to do an Elf. They said she screamed like anything."
Kurbag shrugged. "Perhaps you'll catch one of your own sometime and find out."
"Bastard." Mushog said more and nastier in this vein, but Kurbag only chuckled.
They were rejoining the others now and a number of heads were turning to look at them. "Oi. Back at last, then?"
"That was a longish piss," said Bragdagash dryly.
Grushak chuckled. "Sure boss, long for a piss. If that's all that went on."
"I reckon they were off shagging in the brambles," said Pryszrim outright.
Pryszrim was stupid; nevertheless, laughter attended his theory, and Mushog's own laughter was the loudest. "Yeah, that's right. He had an itch and only I could scratch it!" He grabbed at Kurbag's arse.
"Piss off," said Kurbag, snickering as he knocked Mushog's hand away. "What's there to eat?"
Of comparable age and constitution, both Mushog and Kurbag possessed hearty appetites and fell upon what they were given with great vigor. Kurbag in particular had not forgotten the periods for which he had gone without in the past few days. He had eaten well the night before and he ate with the same energy now, polishing off several pounds of flesh. As he ate he listened absently to what was said around him.
"We'll need to cover a lot of ground tomorrow," Bragdagash was saying. "I wasn't planning on staying two nights in the same spot so you can expect to be making it up."
"Slavedriver," said Iggrut.
"Nothing." Bragdagash gave the green-skinned snaga a look. Iggrut smiled innocently.
"It's fair enough," said Lagdush. "I never like staying in one place for long anyway."
"Give it another twenty miles as we've been going, then turn south again," said their chief. "That should put us right…Eh Nazluk, you've decided to join us?"
"With all the noise this lot makes, I had no real choice," Nazluk said dryly. "We move again tomorrow, then?"
"Mm." Nazluk was circling the fire and the Orcs who sat around it, evidently looking for a comfortable spot to sit. Drifting behind Kurbag he looked down at the half-Uruk with narrowed eyes. "So then. Kurbag. Were you planning on feeding your pet this morning?" Caught in mid-gulp, Kurbag accidentally swallowed the wrong way. Nazluk said, "It's only that she's not been fed, and she's probably thirsty as well…" He took a seat as Kurbag continued to cough and choke.
The others were too busy laughing at Kurbag at first to register the sense of what Nazluk had said. Mushog thumped him on the back while Rukshash snickered. "Bit off more than you could chew, eh lad? Drink something, that'll help it down."
Kurbag couldn't answer, not because he was still coughing but because of the enthusiastic pummeling that Mushog was giving him. "Stop it," he managed at last. Mushog got in a final whack before he left off.
"What was that you were saying then? 'Kurbag's pet'?" asked Lagdush, looking at Nazluk. The other Orc was reaching for a drinking skin and didn't answer.
"That little Elf piece he brought back with him," said Iggrut. "Eh Nazluk, but you must have been sleeping sound. She got done for last night."
Nazluk, swigging his beer, gave Kurbag a deadpan expression. "Unh…" said Kurbag, shifting uncomfortably. "She didn't, actually."
"Well then what was all the noise about, then?" complained Shrah'rar. "It sounded like you were banging her to me."
Several of the snaga were nodding, clearly witnesses to Kurbag's late-night tryst. The others looked confused and interested. Nazluk had begun smirking faintly.
Feeling cornered and a bit resentful, Kurbag got up. He left the fire and went to the slight figure of the Elf, who lay deathly still beside the sleeping pallet where he had left her only a short time ago. She squeezed her eyes tight when he reached down, as if she thought this would protect her, but he caught her by the arms, pulling her upright, and as he dragged her toward his fellows she gave up the pretense and stared at the ground, anywhere but at him or the others.
He stopped short of the fire. There were mutters of surprise and several of the Orcs got up to come and look. As they approached Kurbag let go of the Elf abruptly, stepping back in wordless permission. She made a frightened sound and tried to pull away, but their hands were already on her and there were more of them than her. Motivated by curiosity as much as anything else, they handled her freely, and while they did not hurt her they were not overly gentle either. Kurbag watched, not saying anything. His scent was on her and it was strong, giving the truth to his words.
"But she should be dead then," someone said.
"You would think so, wouldn't you," said Nazluk.
Mushog was confused but not one to pass up a jibe at Kurbag's expense. "You sure you put it in her, friend? Maybe you missed." He continued slyly, "Or you did something else wrong…"
Kurbag scowled at him. "I know where to put my dick, right? I fucked her proper."
"Both times, I'm sure," Nazluk agreed placidly.
Bragdagash, who'd been keeping quiet, frowned at this. "You did her before?" He didn't say anything further, but both Kurbag and Nazluk knew what he was thinking. He was wondering why Kurbag hadn't mentioned this.
Kurbag, for his part, didn't know either. He was annoyed at himself for not doing so because it looked odd now, like he had kept it back on purpose. "'Course I did," he said. "That first night when we made camp, I did her then. Why wouldn't I?"
Bragdagash settled back, still frowning a little.
"I know it's strange. I was surprised too after. I'd always heard the same about Elves, but I guess you can't believe everything." He was remembering before, when he had talked to the Elf girl, and the things he had always heard that she had confirmed or disproven. "We hear these different things and they don't all make sense alongside of one another, right? Can't all be true. I'm thinking that story about them dying after is just that: something that's been said a lot but isn't so."
But Rukshash was standing a little distance from the Elf girl and he was shaking his head. "You're right in part, lad. There's plenty false is said of them. But that one I've heard from those who would know, and seen myself as well. More often than not, the light goes out of their eyes before a fellow's even spent."
"Well this one's still here," said Lagdush, who held her at that moment. His broad hand covered her small breasts.
Rukshash looked at the Elf girl thoughtfully. There was white-eyed panic in her face: she looked ready to die of fright. "It's strange enough to be sure. She's just a titchy little thing. There doesn't look to be anything out of the way with her."
She tried to twist away from Lagdush but the archer's grip was sure. He held her firmly despite her struggles. Orkish laughter greeted her efforts at escape and the wide eyes that she cast at them and at Kurbag. He stared back, then redirected his gaze at Bragdagash and said a little gruffly, "Anyhow, that's all I know on the matter."
Kurbag's defensiveness hadn't escaped him, but there was nothing insubordinate about it. The Elf thing was odd but Bragdagash's experience with Elves was limited; longevity wasn't usually a concern with captives anyhow and the point would soon be moot. "Fair enough," he said. "I don't see that it matters much either way, only if something's strange say so next time, eh? I don't like surprises."
The Elf girl was still straining in Lagdush's grasp. He let go of her and she fell forward, landing painfully on her knees and the sides of her hands, for with her wrists bound she could not catch herself properly. Lagdush and the others roared. She had fallen at Rukshash's feet and he threw his head back, hooting with laughter. "Well here's one tale disproven, they certainly aren't graceful!"
Eleluleniel knelt, body hunched over her hurt hands. She had torn her skin on the ground and it burned like fire. Gasping, she held them tightly to her chest, rocking back and forth.
The old Orc in front of her was still chuckling. "Come now, girlie, up you get. Let's see some more of that Elven grace." He got behind her and put his arms around her, pulling her upright. Standing, they were the same height. He clasped her shoulder, looking her over with faint lechery. "I like them with more flesh on their bones, but you're not a bad catch. Wager you're a sweet little ride."
"Bah, you old fucker, you can't barely even get it up no more," jeered one of the others.
The old Orc grinned. "And do I care? I've seen more snatch than you ever will, Iggrut. Anyhow, I can make a special effort if I really want to."
He was squeezing her shoulder. There was something uneven about the pressure of his hand. Eleluleniel stared at it, realizing with slow horror that it was missing several fingers. The thumb and forefinger were intact, but the middle finger was less than a stump and the other two were gone entirely. Something very straight and very sheer had sliced through the Orc's hand at an angle, and the skin had grown over puckered and shining.
Rukshash noticed the direction of her gaze. His grin widened. "Nice, isn't it? It was a gift to me once, from one of your kind." He made as if to brush his ruined flesh against her cheek. Horrified, she jerked away from him.
"Ooooooh, she don't like that!" The skinny arm of one of the smaller Orcs wrapped around her waist, uncannily strong. "Wants gentle treatment, she does." It licked its lips at her, thrilled by the fear it saw in her face. Eleluleniel was terrified, but not of the goblin. Kurbag stood behind it and his eyes were fixed on her. She tried to pull free but the goblin held her fast, snickering: "Now don't be like that, I'm just being friendly." But it must have seen that she was looking past it, for it turned its head. Its squat body slumped at the sight of Kurbag, and it yielded her up with obvious disappointment.
He came close to her and she stared up at him, unable to move. His mouth opened, but if he spoke to her she could not tell, for he had put his hand on her shoulder and when he did that it was like there was a howling in her brain and she could hear nothing else. He tugged her against him in a clear gesture of ownership. She swallowed against the ominous response of her innards; she would be sick…but there was nothing in her body to bring up. Beyond the sullen wave of nausea, goblin voices, dark and eager:
"—cleave her now?"
"Mind yerself, lad. That's Kurbag's look-out."
"Here Kurby, you up for it then?"
Kurbag didn't say anything. Something jagged was digging into Eleluleniel's ribcage. She did not have to look to know what it was: one of the mail pieces appended to his leather clothing. There was another at eye level. It was dark and the edges were crumbling and brittle with rust.
"Ehhhhhh. Fuck this shit—nothing's happening. If we're not getting a piece of it, I'm still hungry." There were voices in agreement. Food enough to be had, and there didn't look to be any sport yet with the Golug. Denied that, their thoughts returned to their bellies.
But Kurbag still held her, and his claws pricked her skin. "Come on," he said to her in his rough voice, and there was an edge to it that brooked no opposition.
He took her apart from the others, and he used one of the drinking skins to rinse the blood and embedded grit from her hands. Then he started to give her what was left. She wouldn't drink at first, but he pushed his thumb into the corner of her mouth and it scared her. She opened her mouth quickly and water spilled over her teeth and down her throat. Thirst rose up suddenly within her, making her swallow in quick hard gulps.
He held the skin to her mouth until it was empty. "More?" She shook her head. He grunted, then looked at where her hands lay in her lap. He put his own hand on them and she flinched. "If I untie you, you won't run."
"I will not run," she whispered.
"They'll cut you down," he said, looking at her with narrowed eyes. "Don't run."
She sat very still as he undid the cord, and with the smell of his seed there was the smell of her fear. He leaned in. "Stop it," he said. "I'm not doing anything to you."
She pulled back from him. "I will. I will stop. What do you want me to stop doing? Only tell me."
He stood up, looking down at her, then left to rejoin his fellows. She heard them greeting him in a friendly way as he sat with them. "Eh, Kurbag. Won't she run off if you leave her like that?"
"Nar," he answered. "She's no fool. She knows what'll happen if she does." "Awww. The poor little thing," Nazluk said. He was looking straight at her, and there was a cruel smile on his face. There was also challenge. She knew that he wanted, more than anything, for her to run. It was what she wanted too. And if she ran they would cut her down, and she would die here in this place. There would not even be a grave. They would strip the flesh from her body and no one would ever find her bones.
I will not run, not now, when they are only waiting for it. That way is death. Elbereth help me. There has to be another way.
She turned from them and stared at the torn skin of her hands before turning them over. Veisiliel's kiss was fading. Several days had passed since her sister left it there, and Kurbag had rubbed it when he rinsed her hands. Eleluleniel covered it and then uncovered it again and pressed it to her mouth. "Help me," she whispered against it as if it were the charm that would send her home.
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.