Following the scuffle with the Elf, Iggrut was feeling very self-satisfied. Once out of shouting range with Kurbag he grinned and showed his prize to the others. It was, so far as they could tell, only hair, and had no special luster such as Grymawk had described, though it was certainly pale. "You were wrong, Grymawk," said Iggrut.
"Maybe I was and maybe I wasn't," Grymawk said, handling the lock of hair and examining it closely. "Might be because you cut it off her…" He shuddered a little and pushed it toward Pryszrim. "Brr, I don't like touching it. Feels like cobwebs."
Pryszrim took it gingerly but when it wasn't sticky he rubbed it between his fingers and sniffed it. "It doesn't smell bad anyhow," he decided.
Iggrut scoffed. "It smells like Elf," he said, taking it back. "Not a scent to my liking." But he fashioned the lock of hair into a little knot and fastened it mockingly at his belt, like a battle trophy, and very handsome it looked. It was probably the closest he would ever come to a trophy of that sort. There weren't so many Elves as there once were and it wasn't often you ran into them. Knotted at his belt like this, it occurred to Iggrut that others wouldn't have to know how he'd actually come by it. He imagined himself showing it off at some other time and place, with none of his present band around to gainsay him.
See this? There's an interesting story behind this one. Came from the head of a Golug warrior. You don't believe me, just touch it – run it through your hand, like. Feel that? Isn't that fine?
Smirking a little at this fantasy, he thought to himself that it might be even more convincing accompanied by a finger, or better yet, an ear. He'd have to take the opportunity when it presented itself, when the Elf wench died.
Off keeping company with Lagdush, Mushog was caught on the prongs of his own horniness. He complained of it at some length to the other Uruk, who had heard it all before and so was not as sympathetic as he might have been. "Poor you," said Lagdush with heavy sarcasm. "You think you've got it worse than the rest of us?"
"Maybe," said Mushog in all seriousness. "…Yeah. Yeah, I want it worse. I was born wanting it, I want it so bad my whole body's throbbing, when I sleep at night I dream I've turned into one giant aching cock…" As he spoke his hand drifted down to cup himself through his breeches.
"You dream you're a dick?" Lagdush laughed outright at this. "You'll have no argument from me! Just a cock or did you also have balls?"
Mushog scowled. "Fuck you, Lagdush. I suffer and all you do is make fun."
"Well what do you want? I'm not about to bend over for you. Now if you were to drop your breeches for me—" Mushog's lip curled and Lagdush snorted. "There you go, then."
"But shit…" Mushog was sulking, a particularly ugly look on an Orc. "It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't know there was twat nearby."
"Why don't you ask for it, then?" came a voice. They turned to see Nazluk approaching at a casual pace. There was a bland look on his face. "It's Kurbag, after all. You're both friends, yes? Or do you think he wouldn't share?"
Nazluk was deliberately keeping any trace of sarcasm out of his voice. He settled his shoulder against a tree, maintaining a companionable distance from the two Uruk-hai as he waited for them to process what he had said. Mushog cocked his head a little, bemused, but Lagdush was the one to speak first.
"I wouldn't if I were him," said Lagdush. "Wouldn't share, I mean. If she were a Man-person I might, they're more durable, but Elves don't lend themselves to that sort of thing."
"Most of them don't, to be sure." Nazluk nodded agreement but allowed his eyes a quick flicker toward Mushog.
His words, predictably, were a cue for the Uruk. "This one's held up well enough, though, right? Kurbag's had her twice now!"
"Third time's the charm. You'd likely be the one to do her in," Lagdush said dryly.
Mushog, taking this as a compliment, looked smug. Knowing he needed to get them back on track, Nazluk mused, "One, two…yes, it's been twice now. Doesn't seem particularly fair, does it? But she's Kurbag's to do with as he sees fit, hmmm…well, maybe he'd let you have a go if you asked him."
It was reasonable enough, of course, but it was the doubtful way he said it that Mushog didn't like, as if asking to fuck the Elf would only make him lose face. Kurbag was a mate, after all. Mushog shouldn't have to ask.
That's given them something to think about, Nazluk thought afterward, a tight smile at the corner of his mouth. Played right, Mushog was one of the more suggestible members of their band, and very predictable when you knew how his mind worked. Lagdush was more stolid, less quick to anger, but he had a sullen streak a mile wide when he felt he had a grievance. His snit over Dushgar and the other band was only case in point. And Lagdush had two balls and a dick in fine working condition. He might act like it didn't bother him now, but give him another day and the Elf not dead, he'd be as randy as Mushog.
Of course the scenario Nazluk preferred had the Elf dead before the coming of another dawn, but he'd been surprised twice already on this score. He did not intend to be surprised again. Three mornings had come and gone, each finding the Golug still alive, and he was prepared to entertain a fourth if he had to. Better to build the others up carefully. They were still assumed that she was just going to die: captives of their band never lasted long, lingering a few days at most before they succumbed beneath repeated torment or were finally dispatched by their tormenters. So it would be with the Elf as well. She would expire soon enough, or Kurbag would kill her.
Nazluk had also believed this in the beginning. Unlike the others, though, he had enjoyed the dubious pleasure of the Golug's continued presence for several days now. Miserable quivering creature that she might appear, she hadn't died yet, and she didn't look ready to drop of her own accord any time soon. Why should she start playing by the rules now?
More questionable than her persistence was Kurbag's own conduct, his failure to dispose of her. If his treatment of her were more brutal Nazluk wouldn't have been concerned, but there was little of cruelty in Kurbag's manner with the Elf. Beyond fucking her he seemed to view her with curiosity and a strange sort of interest that set Nazluk's teeth on edge. Nobody else might see it, but Nazluk's brain insisted something very queer was going on.
Being pushy with Kurbag, trying to force him on the matter, had been a misstep on Nazluk's part. It had only put the other Orc's back up, made him stubborn. Nazluk could not afford annoying the others in the same way. Better to take a light touch: an opportune word here, a mild comment there, such as he had used with Mushog and Lagdush or with the others that morning over breakfast. It shouldn't take more than that, especially since, as he told himself, they were bound to see what he already saw.
That business with the Elf's hair, for instance. That had not been his doing, but nothing could have better served his ends. It wasn't Iggrut's place to mess with the little wretch, nor any of the other Orcs for that matter, but Kurbag's response had been perfect. He had not gone to rejoin Lagdush and Mushog or to engage with any of the others. Instead he had become defensive. Even now he remained with the Elf, scowling at the snaga Orcs whenever any of them ventured near, as if he expected them to have another go at her the minute his back was turned. This attitude of Kurbag's needed no comment. It didn't strike the right note at all, and if he kept it up he would do his own cause as much harm as ever Nazluk could hope for.
All he needed to do, Nazluk reasoned, was just sit back and watch.
Dinner that night was entertaining. Iggrut still wore his knot of Elf hair at his belt and kept directing impudent looks at Kurbag, which Kurbag pointedly ignored, and at the Elf girl, who did not see them but only stared down at the folds of her dress. This did not discourage Iggrut, who continued to smirk, fingering the knot conspicuously. At length he succeeded in capturing Mushog's attention.
"What's that you have then?" asked the Uruk.
"Bit of hair from Kurbag's Golug. Pretty, isn't it?"
Mushog's eyes widened. "Ehhh? Garn! When'd you give him that, Kurbag?"
"I didn't," said Kurbag irritably.
"That's not a bit fair! We're much better mates than you and Iggrut are. I should get one too!" Mushog reached for the Elf.
Kurbag sat ramrod straight. "Oi. I'll do it, right? Just give me a minute." He drew his knife and indeed, one minute and one startled Elf girl later, Mushog had his lock of hair. This triggered a volley of similar requests from the others, which Kurbag handled with short shrift. "Enough's enough," he said. "You can talk to Iggrut or Mushog about it, I'm done."
"Feh, you're no fun," said Rukshash. "Give us a look, Mushog!"
Kurbag didn't much care whether the others thought him fun or not. He pushed his knife back into his belt brusquely. Beside him the Elf sat with her clenched fists in her lap, still trembling after the blade, not looking at him or at any of them. He did not look at her either but was keenly aware of her and her silence all the same. At that moment Kurbag just wanted to be off away from the others: take the Elf out into the dark and fuck her under the trees. The sudden rush of angry arousal made him shift a bit. Rukshash, who was sitting nearby, grinned at him, and Kurbag scowled.
One of the goblins was talking about the weather, wondering how the sun was likely to behave on the morrow. "Who cares under cover like this?" asked Lagdush, who had little empathy for snaga grievances about sunlight.
"Can't count on trees forever," muttered Grymawk.
"Scared of a little sun? You're free to walk in my shadow," Mushog teased him.
Grymawk gave him a withering look. "And have you farting in my face all the while. No thank you."
This drew laughter from the others, including Mushog. "Skai. You love every minute of it!"
"What, that reek?"
"When Mushog makes wind, squirrels die and little birds fall out of their nests," Rukshash intoned darkly.
"Leaves shrivel and stars go dark," said Grushak.
Mushog was still grinning, but not so widely as before. "Right, that's—"
"There's the answer, you see. We'll aim him at the sun: one good shot and the sky would turn black."
"He'd blast it right out of the sky!"
Mushog protested over the hooting. "Oi! That's enough! Hear you fuckers talk—you think your farts stink less than mine?" His gaze fell on Pryszrim, who was still giggling and who happened to be holding the second lock of Elf hair. "Give that here," Mushog growled, snatching it back. Crestfallen, Prysrim stared at his empty hand.
This provoked new mischief from Iggrut, who was still playing with his little knot. "Eh lads," he said, twisting it around his crooked finger. "What does an Elf fart smell like, do you suppose?"
Kurbag lifted his head, giving Iggrut an annoyed look, while across the fire Nazluk looked up with a calculating glint in his eyes. Quiet enough till now, he had become utterly still and watchful. Kurbag wasn't facing him at that moment and none of the others noticed Nazluk's change of manner. They had turned their attention on the Golug.
"Do they fart, d'you reckon?" someone wondered.
"Must do, mustn't they, from time to time. Got the same bits we have."
"Not all the same bits," said Pryszrim. "I mean, that one doesn't."
"Ooooh, figured that out, have you?" Grymawk mocked him.
"Eh, Kurbag." Lagdush leaned forward, inviting his fellow Orc's confidence. "Does your Golug fart?"
Kurbag, who had been glaring at Iggrut, now stared at Lagdush. "Why ask me?"
"Er, well," said the Uruk. "Figured you would know, wouldn't you? Being as you've had her to hand an' all…"
"Well, I don't. I've not been paying that kind of attention to her, so I really have no idea."
Was that a defensive edge to Kurbag's voice, or only wishful thinking on Nazluk's part? No matter. He knew the right moment when he saw it. "Really?" he said now, as if surprised. "I would have thought you were an expert."
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Kurbag in annoyance.
"Oh, nothing. I only mean that, associating with her as you have these past few days, it makes sense that you would pick up a few things about the Golug-hai and their nature, yes? Some things the rest of us might not know."
As if Iggrut weren't bad enough…so now Nazluk was getting into it again, eh? Kurbag uttered a low growl. "I don't know what you're getting at, Nazluk, but I wish you would speak your piece plainly and not play your sneaking word games on me."
Nazluk looked confused. "Hey? What is it I said that was so sneaking?"
"You know what I'm talking about. Quit saying I'm…" He trailed off, unsure of how to continue. What word had Nazluk used? "Associating," said Kurbag.
The others were watching closely, interested to see where this was going. Fireside interest levels always went up if a fight looked imminent. Nazluk glanced at them as if for guidance. "Eh…I didn't know there was anything wrong with the word associating. I only mean you've been around the little Elf wench for a while now and so you might know more about her kind than we do. That makes sense, doesn't it? I wasn't trying to imply anything, if that's what you're thinking. Really, what else would I mean?"
He sounded genuine, but Kurbag saw how Nazluk's eyes slid ever so slightly sidelong, where the Elf sat by in her cocoon of silence.
She heard the things they said. Of course she did. There was no way not to hear them, not unless she covered her ears outright, and that would only invite more of their attention. But nothing said she had to listen. The conversation around her, what she understood of it, alternated between disgusting and cruel, so she escaped it as best she could by searching for something else to focus on instead. Food, at first, but food was all too easy. Hunger was always with her, a restless animal twisting in her belly. It made the thought of food a kind of torture, and she fled old memories of bread and milk.
So strange, what the mind in flight will linger on. By an Orkish campfire, in the company of Orcs, she found herself thinking of her sister's sleeve, torn in play not many days before. The last time she plied her needle had been wholly perfunctory, her overwhelming feeling exasperation.
"Veisiliel, why can you not be more careful with your clothing?"
Had she known it was for the last time, she would have done things differently. She had chosen red thread to repair the red fabric, to hide both the tear and its mending. Now rather she would have chosen the yellow of marigold, and covered the entire sleeve in tiny tight cross-stitches. She saw it lying across her knee, clear as anything. How beautiful it was! As if the red sleeve had been dipped in golden pollen.
Brushed with the dust of flowers….
A hand clamped down on her left shoulder, forcing her brutally forward, wrenching her from her pathetic fantasy with a gasp. She thought at first this was some punishment for having her own thoughts, for daring even so small an escape. But Kurbag's anger was directed elsewhere. "You can just fuck yourself," she heard him snarling. "I've told you once: she's mine to do with as I please, and it's not your place to interfere!"
There was the heat of the fire somewhere just in front of her, terrifyingly close, but before she could try to struggle back from it or even cry out, Kurbag was hauling her upright. Her vision blurred, she had the brief but vivid impression of many eyes watching, any two of which might have belonged to the target of her abuser's anger. That was all the time she had to look, for Kurbag didn't waste another minute before yanking her roughly about face and frog-marching her out of camp.
"Dunno what he's up to," he was grumbling furiously. "Why must he always be playing games?" She could not see where she was going and it quickly became obvious that Kurbag couldn't either as he stumbled along, growling imprecations in the dark.
"Oi, Kurbag!" The voice came from close behind them. "Kurbag…oi! Hold up just a tick, eh?"
Kurbag fell silent and they stopped as the sound of following footsteps and violently snapping twigs came close behind them. Beneath his hands, Eleluleniel turned her head to see the figure of a tall Orc hard by in the gloom. "What do you want, Mushog," asked Kurbag shortly.
Mushog spread his hands. "Nothing, nothing. Only you're pissed at Nazluk, right? I can see why: I don't know what he's done this time, but he's a cunt. It only makes sense you'd be sick of him when it was the two of you on your own. Three stinking days! Must have been hard, him up your arse every waking minute."
Kurbag grunted. "You're right about that."
"Anyhow, it's no good letting him under your skin. No one's going to listen to him when it's just him talking. Only if you let him get to you and it looks like there's something for him to be talking about—"
He broke off as Eleluleniel choked back a sob of pain: Kurbag's claws had just bitten reflexively into her shoulder. Mushog's eyes flicked toward her and in that glance she saw plainly enough what was in them. It was not Kurbag's claws that prompted her flinch then.
"What do you mean, 'something for him to be talking about'?" Kurbag demanded.
"Well there isn't anything, of course," Mushog covered none too smoothly. "That's just what I'm saying. Just some snaga bastard mouthing off, right? Nothing to let yourself be bothered about. You don't have to listen to Nazluk's shit. You have better ways to spend your time." He paused, moistened his lips before continuing pointedly, "Maybe…while you're at it…you could use a mate, right? Just to have someone to talk to an' all, maybe share a bit of sport. Spend some time with, while you take your mind off Nazluk's bullshit."
He looked at Eleluleniel again and she cringed. There was nothing subtle about Mushog and it was obvious enough what he was after.
It was obvious to Kurbag as well. And while under other circumstances he would have been amused, maybe even invited Mushog along, at that moment it was just an added level of annoyance. "You know, I'll think about that," he said coldly. And, turning his back on the other Orc, he pulled the Elf girl after him.
Without any deflection against the thorns and other hazards of the undergrowth, Kurbag soon developed a more careful pace. It was still dark, but not so bad he couldn't make his way comfortably enough if he took his time. Once he told himself that, he found he didn't stumble so often. Not so for the Elf, who continued to falter and to drag her heels behind. It wasn't so surprising: she had to have guessed why he was taking her so far into the woods. He might have saved himself some trouble, doing her closer to camp, but the business around the fire had him out of sorts; he wasn't in the mood to give anyone a free show, and that included Mushog.
Especially not him, great bloody fool that he is. Coming after me like that…
At that moment Kurbag couldn't have said who he was the more pissed off at, Nazluk or Mushog. "Stupid bastard," he muttered, stopping at last and shoving the Elf against a tree.
For Eleluleniel, the scenario had become horribly familiar. He kept her pinned with the pressure of his greater bulk, hauling at her clothing and then his own, and paid no attention to how she fought him. She gave it to him with both fists, shrieked at him to stop, but she might have been beating at a mountain for all the notice he took of it. All he did was cover her screams with his hand.
When he took it away long years later, her mouth was as wet as her eyes. She slipped from his grasp, clutching at herself and breathing in hard gulps to keep from drowning.
What had seemed forever to her had been very quick for Kurbag. Fastening his breeches again, he wondered why it hadn't helped. Why he still felt aggrieved. He had only to look at the Elf slumped against the tree to know the answer. This was why things were so complicated, and it was why they would remain that way, so long as she was there.
Putting his hand around her neck, he pushed her back against the rough tree trunk. She caught at his wrist, eyes darting over his face. He looked at her closely, saying nothing. She mouthed a "no" that the constriction of his hand preventing her from voicing; her fingers were digging into his wrist but with barely any nails to speak of, she couldn't even break the skin. Sighing irritably, he released her and started to walk away. A few steps and he turned, only to stare at her again.
"Whuh—why…" Her voice sounded strange and guttural. Eleluleniel swallowed, still feeling the choke of his hand on her throat. "Why do you keep l…looking at me."
"I'm wondering if killing you isn't simpler."
A sob escaped her, a wretched sound that welled up out of her even as she fought to stifle it. A second followed, and then a third.
Kurbag studied her as if she were doing something terribly interesting that merited scrutiny. "I didn't say I was going to."
"But you are guh…going t-to…"
He did not respond to this, only watching as she struggled to gain control of herself. "What's the Elf word for asshole?" he said after a moment. When she didn't answer he asked her again.
Eleluleniel closed her eyes. Taking in a ragged breath, she let it out again. "We do not have such a word," she answered wearily.
"No? Aren't there any asshole Elves?"
"We do not use such words for others."
"So there are, and you just don't call them on it," he hazarded.
She shrugged, and wished she hadn't. Her back was bruised and throbbing. Kurbag stepped in close to her and panic caught her, but he just leaned his shoulder into the tree, his body bare inches from hers. Her skin crawled with his nearness. Before, when he had violated her, at least he hadn't insisted on talking to her afterward.
"Nazluk," said Kurbag, drawing the name out in a meditative way, "is pissing me off right now. You wouldn't know that, not understanding our speech." He paused but she said nothing. Interpreting her silence as he chose, Kurbag went on, "Well, he is what you might call an asshole, and a right prick into the bargain. He's squeezing my balls, and I don't like it. I'll take orders from Bragdagash, and I'll hear advice from a mate, but this constant prodding and poking and lighting of little fires beneath my arse to make me jump…I won't jump for him. I won't."
With all his talk of don't and won't, she wondered what it was he expected her to say. She cast her eyes low, avoiding his gaze. "What will you do," she asked, staring at his boots.
He grunted noncommittally, looking down at the top of her bowed head. "It's my choice, I'll make it on my own terms. Not Nazluk's place to tell me what to do with my own business, nor anyone else's." A wisp of her hair was caught against the wrinkled bark of the tree. He took it between thumb and forefinger, absently winding it around. "He wants to see you dead, and I am ill-inclined to give him anything he wants just now."
Then she lived on sufferance, as a way of spiting Nazluk? That might keep her safe for now, but it could not last forever.
"If you let me go, that would displease him as well." Her voice held little hope. She expected him to make short work of the suggestion.
But Kurbag didn't say anything. He was quiet for so long that at length she raised her head and looked at him, to find him watching her in the dark. "You're persistent," was all he said, but he continued to look at her as if in thought.
Mushog was not very talkative after he came back to the fire. It was obvious that his run after Kurbag hadn't gone the way he wanted. This left Nazluk feeling vindicated, though he didn't say anything. That would be highly unnecessary, and might even be overkill. He knew that Mushog would be chewing over his words from earlier, and they would make bitter digestion of an evening.
Nazluk was not the only one with an eye on Mushog. Bragdagash had kept out of the conversation earlier, watching instead to see how things played out. Never one to be highhanded, he preferred not to wade into this kind of thing unless there was a real need. Mushog's miffed libido wasn't justifiable cause by Bragdagash's standards, but he was already suspicious of something more at play, and Mushog was not the only one he was watching.
Kurbag had not come back yet when the others began turning in for the night, and there were jokes at the expense of their absent teammate, some envious but others mocking. Iggrut had coined the phrase "bitch-flight" to describe Kurbag's dramatic departure earlier, and this was pretty funny stuff to a band of mostly inebriated Orcs. But even joking trailed off in the face of comfy bed mats and an early start in the morning. Some dropped right off while others tended to sundry matters before they bunked down. Grushak was sitting on his as-yet unrolled sleeping pallet, sorting through his packs. Better to make sure everything was in place now—it made one less thing to do in the morning.
"Hoi. Grushak." He looked up to find Bragdagash looking down at him. "Take a minute," the Uruk said, and walked away.
Grushak glanced at the pack he held between his knees. Refastening the flap and putting it aside, he got up to follow.
In the dark beyond the circle of firelight and the immediate sight and hearing of others, Bragdagash didn't take long getting to the point. "I want your thoughts."
"What on, boss?"
"This Elf thing. I'm not thrilled with Kurbag's attitude."
"Hmm. Seems to me it's as much a matter of Nazluk's attitude as Kurbag's."
"You don't think he has a point?"
Grushak looked amused. "Nazluk? Hurr. He's usually got more than one. I'm happy if I know what any three of them are at a given time."
This made Bragdagash snort. "I guess that's true enough. And it's certainly clear he and Kurbag are at odds with one another: have been since they came back. I've no mind to interfere in squabbles between my lads. They're big boys: they can clean up their own shit."
"But this Elf thing bothers me as well."
Grushak frowned, a frown that said he didn't like it either, though he didn't say so out loud. When he spoke his words were measured. "His own business. Said as much by the fire, and he has the right of it. It's custom, and not Nazluk's place to meddle." Scratching his head, he added slowly, "Of course, it's not always enough to leave it at that. One fellow's business is his own, but when it starts becoming everybody else's, well…"
"Then it's another animal all together." Bragdagash looked thoughtful. "You think it's at that point? I should make it my business?"
Grushak shrugged. "See what the morrow brings. This Golug, she's a delicate little thing. I know she's past the due date, but odds are still good she don't see sun-up tomorrow, and that takes care of that. No fuss no muss – and none too soon, if you ask me. I've found out something about myself, boss. I don't like the smell of Golug while I'm eating. It gets into the food."
Bragdagash chuckled. "Yours too, eh."
Grushak smiled, but it was a humorless kind of smile. "I will tell you something else, and without you asking me first. If I were Kurbag, we wouldn't be having this conversation. No games past the second day. I slit their throats when I'm done with them."
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.