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Hope for the Uruk: 7. Conclusion
Hasufel, bored with the length of this leavetaking, shifted restlessly, and began to dig a small hole with one hoof. I stilled my mount, gazing at the retreating backs of my guests as they walked into a brilliant sunset. I would not, I thought, see Elrond or the Lady again; and I had a confusion of feelings about that. Frodo too seemed to me marked for an early departure from Middle Earth; and for him I felt a distant sadness. Already he seemed to have gone beyond the reach of my sympathy or help.
I raised my elfstone-brooch into the light of the sun, by way of farewell, as the party dwindled into the distance. All the people I’d been closest to – save one (save two) – were leaving. And in the meantime, I would never be alone again, surrounded as I was by knights, squires and soldiery. Here they were at my back, even now waiting on my word. We might make camp, I thought, returning to Isengard in the morning, when I could resume my neglected quest for any evidence of Isildur. Or I might do what would clearly be expected – hasten back to Edoras by the most direct route into the arms of my newly-wedded wife.
“Ohtar – tell the men we’ll make camp. There’s a south-facing dell about a half-league away.”
My young squire passed the word, and soon I began to hear the muted sounds of riders preparing to move off. I turned Hasufel’s head from the vast spaces beyond the Gap of Rohan. We walked the horses along the foothills of what, northwards, would become the Misty Mountains, keeping an easy pace, in a loose grouping which could fan out to sweep, or close in under attack, as circumstances dictated. Unfortunately I no longer rode in the van, but at the centre surrounded by loyal knights all sworn to protect me.
Twilight deepened, casting the hills into shadow. When Hasufel spooked, I thought for a split second that he had hit a rabbit hole, before a shout ahead alerted me.
Instantly the riders closed in and surrounded me. Only by standing up in the stirrups was I able to catch a glimpse, through a thicket of raised spears, of what the fuss was about.
The betraying movement had come from the mouth of the very dell we’d been aiming for. I could just make out the big figure in the shadows by the white markings on its face, and by the slow waving of some kind of cloth tied precariously to a spear-butt to form a makeshift banner. Then one final gleam of the dying sun caught a flash of green on the fabric, as the Uruk walked slowly into sight.
“Wait!” I yelled, recognising with a jolt the leaf-brooch of a Lorien cloak, “Let me though!”
“But my Lord …..(2) “ began one of the young blond Rohirrim in my party.
“Let me through!” I repeated impatiently, “That’s a signal for a parley.”
“But we don’t …. TALK to Orcs, My Lord!”
“We don’t kill Heralds either, Gymer. Now, for the last time – get out of my way!”
I forced Hasufel through an essentially non-existent gap in the wall of riders ahead of me, my knees gripping his sides like iron, and my hands tight on the gathered reins. Horses spooked to either side; and Gymer’s snub-nosed face veered from the edge of my vision as his mount half-reared.
I reach the lead-line of our formation, and moved between the levelled spears of my knights. Now I could see clearly, unimpeded by my over zealous henchmen. The Uruk was advancing slowly on foot, waving the makeshift banner and bellowing unintelligible words. I raised one hand, and halted my troop.
“Ohtar! Attend me please. I’m going ahead. Have your sword ready and stay behind me. I want two men for escort – yes; you and you. The rest stay back!”
“But My Lord … !
“Gymer! That’s enough. Stay back! There are four of us; all armed. We ought to be a match for one Uruk.”
Ignoring murmurs of “what if it’s a trap?”, I walked Hasufel cautiously forwards, my escort pacing me.
“Truce!” the Uruk was bellowing in execrable Common, “Which one’s da King?”
“Here!” I said, “What do you want, Orc?”
“Come to bring yer honour-guard. And” he mumbled reluctantly, “to ask for ‘elp.”
“Where are they? How many? What sort of help?” I barked, although most of me was screaming a question about where the grey cloak had come from.
He blinked. He was one of Saruman’s new breed of sun-resistant Man-Uruks. The markings on his forehead were the remains of the White Hand badge.
“Got eight of us dat’s fit. We’re camped down dere. Need a healer. ‘Ear tell you’re one.”
I dismounted, hearing behind me a low protesting mutter from all those within earshot. The Uruk towered over me for a moment and then, to my astonishment, went down clumsily on one knee and laid his curved sword at my feet.
“What’s your name, soldier?”
“Mauhúr(3) . From Isengard. Got two of us. Me and Plurtz(4). Da rest are from all over.”
“Mauhúr!” screamed Gymer, who had somehow managed to get himself to the front of the troop. I want him, My Lord! He .. “
“I’d really rather you didn’t, Gymer. We all have old scores to settle. If I can put mine aside, then so can you.”
The man subsided, muttering in Rohirric. I turned back to Mauhúr.
“You can see that this isn’t going to be easy for any of us. You’d best lead on. Ohtar – send torches up here and ask the vanguard to light theirs too.”
Thus, following Mauhúr and escorted by torches, we entered the dell where Pippin had once gazed into the Palantir of Orthanc. We found a small fire in a far and shaded corner; and the makings of a bigger camp already set up for us under the hawthorn where we had rested on that memorable night nearly five months earlier.
“We laid da wood for yer,” explained Mauhúr, “but we needs yer over our camp, Sharkū(5) .”
What did you call me?”
“Sharkū.” He repeated patiently, “Dat’s … old-man …. umm … Fadder, in your tongue. Name of Elders … leaders … wid us – always.”
“I’ll come. I shall bring Ohtar and the escort.”
But at this, my whole troop raised a shout. I should not trust ANY Uruk! I should not trust THIS Uruk particularly. I should not venture into an Orc-camp in such a foolhardy manner. I should remember Isildur, my forebear, who did not take enough care when travelling, after a big war was presumed over. I should not trust Uruks! Was I … came a whisper from Gymer’s direction ….. a fucking Orc-lover?
I hastily remounted Hasufel , so that I towered over Man and Uruk alike. From this elevated vantage, I could see a small group of Orc-figures gathered around their distant fire.
“You, you, you and you – start the fire here! You – I want water boiled in a large cauldron as soon as possible! You, you and you, are in charge of the horse-pickets. Get to it! Now – any sergeants and commanders-of-ten – to me! GO!!”
The riders dispersed, as any well-trained troop would do automatically on receiving orders. I was left with maybe a dozen officers; older men who had risen as far as they were able; and younger men still hoping for further advancement. It was this group I had to catch and hold – now, before dissidence became something bigger.
“You men can come with me to the Uruk camp. I want them treated exactly as you would treat any defeated Haradrim or Dunlendings – do you understand? We’ve won this war – at great cost to ourselves. Now it’s inevitable that the defeated enemy will start suing for pardon – Uruks no less than Humans. These people are more foresighted than most of the Orc tribes. They’ve noted how the wind’s blowing. Let’s see if they can make good on their oaths.”
I could tell this was making somewhat reluctant sense to some of the older men. They hated it, but were prepared to let it run. They were tired; they’d been at war all their lives. They’d tolerate me and my newfangled ideas for now. And they would reserve the right to turn and savage me the first time anything went wrong. The younger ones were, at worst keen to ingratiate themselves; at best willing to try. I had a ragged consensus, and would have to do the best I could with that. I formed them up into ranks, and made my way over to the Orc camp.
“Shagrat,” I thought, “what have you dumped on me here? This is going too far, too early in my reign. I could end up dispossessed and dead because of you.”
At this depressing point I found myself at the other side of the clearing. Eight figures stood as I approached, and gave several diverse forms of salute; from the fully-extended right arms of the White-Hand Uruks, to the somewhat equivocal two-fingers-to-the-temple variety favoured by the smaller breeds.
“We got as many as could ‘ear da call and wanted to come.” explained Mauhúr, “Dis ‘ere’s Plurtz. Dem two’s bagronks(6) from outa Lugbúrz. Coupla night-maggots from da mountains over dere. Dem udder two is just Snaga.”
“I want everyone’s proper names by daybreak. Not the Snaga and bagronk sort. The ones you all remember from the days-before - at the Waters of Awakening.”
As one, they hissed, covering ears with claws.
“Who needs healing?” I shouted, ignoring their reaction, but resolved not to be moved on this point. If this unpromising bunch were really after redemption, we would have to start somewhere.
Mauhúr, recovering first, waved me on beyond the fire.
“Over dere. You – Snaga – show da Sharkū. And do anyfink ‘e asks, or I’ll ‘ave yer innards fer supper!”
The two smallest Orcs arose, snarled a couple of sub-vocal obscenities in Mauhúr’s direction, and gestured me rather rudely to follow them. I stepped around the fire in their wake, and nearly stumbled over what I took to be a heap of boulders on the ground; which groaned feebly.
“Garn! ‘E’s still alive!” said one of the Snaga, “Can’t ‘ave much blood left in ‘im now. Gorn a reely funny colour, ‘e ‘as. You ‘eal ‘im, King, an’ we’ll know yer a proper Sharkū. Otherwise – ne’mind what ole Mauhúr says, we’re orft. Hey – you – Shagrat – wake up! ‘E came – just like yer said ‘e would!”
“Stop that!” I shouted, as the Snaga delivered a hefty kick by way of a wake-up call, “Go and get my Squire. I need lights to work by, and hot water. And I’ve no Athelas. Someone must find out where it grows.”
“What – no stinky herbs, little King?” asked a faint voice at my feet.
“I wouldn’t need any if you hadn’t left your ointment and Orc-draught in my room.” I bent close to whisper, “You should see what the ointment did to that ring you carved on my chest!”
“Can’t wait …. “ but his voice faded into a rather fearsome choke. He coughed up something, spat, and added, “Ointment … no fucking use any more. Must have …. Hands of a King …. healer.”
Clearly he was raving. He must have overheard Ioreth’s oft-repeated saw. I squatted at his side, laid a hand on him anyway, and encountered a shoulder, its once-heavy musculature much reduced.
“They’ll bring torches soon,” I said, “then I can see to work. How deep is it?”
“Went in … lung. Should be fucking dead. Can’t …..”
“Can’t what, Phuineöl?”
“Die. But can’t … fucking live like this. Must ….. you’ll heal me, little King, won’t you?”
Privately I doubted whether my skill was sufficient. I was not Elrond, although he had taught me all I knew.
I had even more doubts once the torches came. The arrow had taken him a bare inch from the heart. My squire came into the light, followed by the two Snaga lugging a steaming cauldron.
“I hear you were asking for Athelas, Sire.” Said Ohtar.
“Yes. Kingsfoil. Could you recognise it?”
“Of course, Sire. I’m Bergil, son of Beregond of the G … White Company. I brought you some of the leaves when you healed the Captain of the Black Breath.”
“Bergil! Of course. Thank the Valar! Do you know the places it grows in? If you find some, bring as much as you can without damaging the roots. Take an escort with swords and torches – Gymer should know the terrain around here.”
“Yes Sire.” he was gone on the word, leaving me to deal with a dying Uruk who, it appeared, was unable to die.
“Well – put it down!” I ordered irritably as the two Snaga hovered over us swinging the cauldron so that the precious water slopped over its rim.
They did so; then squatted down practically under my chin, eyeing me avidly and clearly expecting me to wave a wand or shoot blue fire from my fingertips for an instant miracle-cure.
“Move back! And roll him over onto his side. I can work better that way, and he can breathe easier. Do it gently! No claws or booting allowed! What are your names, by the way?”
One of the Snaga pouted at me. With a jolt, I realised I was knowingly looking at a female Orc for the first time. The male – surely her twin? – scowled.
“Oi, you worms,” came a wheezy whisper, “do as the Sharkū fucking says! They’re Zirak and Zigil, little King. Usually called Zak and Zig.”
“Farkin’ shut it, Shagrat!” screeched the male, “At least our Mama named us! An’ you owe us! Oo’s been eatin’ they maggots off that farkin’ wound for the last farkin’ week, eh?”
“Just MOVE him, will you?” I shouted, “And I’m TIRED of your Orc-talk! Shut the fuck up and let me work!”
They snarled a bit (purely to save face, I thought), but finally managed to get Shagrat rolled from his belly to his side. I took up a cloth, dipped it in the cauldron, and began (for lack of any better remedy) to wash the fearsome wound just below his shoulderblade. Zak and Zig settled at my side, their wide snuffly noses following each movement of my hand so closely that they were almost wiping them on Shagrat’s back.
“What happened, Phuineöl?” I asked, mainly to distract him from the continual drip of congealed matter from the wound.
“Aaah … that’s good, little King. Feel …. Could sleep now …. “
“No! Stay with me .. with us, Phuineöl. Where did you go? I couldn’t find you on the stairs or on Pelennor.”
“Fucking Cupcake ….. arrow burned inside me. Took my heart and made me .. fucking remember things. You kill him, little King?”
“No. But we parted with things unspoken between us. He will return if his Lord will allow.”
“Fucking arrow melted.”
“What? Like a Morgul-blade?” I was interested, “Legolas must have known more than I credited him with. A Morgul-blade makes you into a wraith, doesn’t it? I wonder what Elf-shot does?”
Shagrat coughed, hawking up more congealed blood.
“Makes me Legolas’ sex-slave for life?” he suggested in a feeble attempt at sarcasm.
“Unlikely; or you’d be crawling after him straight into Fangorn. NOT a route I’d recommend. The Huorns know their own strength now; and they’ve some very unpleasant ways with stray Uruks!”
“Dem’s true words, Shagrat.” rumbled a voice from the darkness. I looked up, startled, to find Mauhúr squatted just beyond the torchlight. Other indistinct Orc-shapes sat or lay behind him.
“Tell da Sharkū what he asked!” commanded Mauhúr.
“Says who?” snarled Shagrat weakly.
“I do!” I intervened hastily before this promising exchange burgeoned into a full-scale offensive, “And don’t you dare ask - `you and whose army?’ – because I’ve got several of those as well. So explain – how do you come to be in a dell in North Rohan when I last saw you pitching down some stairs in Minas Tirith?”
“Went up the fucking White Mountain, didn’t I? Followed your scent all the way up to the snowline!”
“The old Hallow, where I found the White sapling? How did you …. ?”
“Stopped bleeding when the arrow melted. Just all this black gunk in my throat, Thought I’d walk till I died. Look at Anor …. But ….. went away before I saw the sun.”
“Thought I was being pulled back to the old Black Pits. But not cold this time … burning. Saw my own body below … Mauhúr – you fucking know what that means?”
“Yah! Means da Black Pits and da Nazgûl playin’ wid yer! Then – new body – spawn again, or mebbe new-built like dis one I got.”
“Right! But not this time. Not. This. Fucking. Time. Pulled into grey … like cloud, like lakes maybe. Cool. An’ a Voice, Mauhúr. Voice like … water falling over stone at Cuiviénen – remember?”
A low assenting murmur came from every Orc there.
“Voice said to me - `Phuineöl. So you have come to Me at last. You might have come before!’ And I said - `No, Lord. I was constrained elsewhere!’ (Somehow, you have to talk fancy in That Place!)”
He paused, spat again and ran his tongue over his dry lips. Mauhúr snatched a water-skin from the nearest Orc and stretched a long arm to Zak.
“ ‘Ere – give ‘im da water, Snaga. Was it da Lord, Shagrat? Was it Mandos?”
Shagrat took a sip, then a long swallow before replying. Amongst the eight listening Orcs, there was not a sound.
“He didn’t fucking introduce Himself. But ….. yeah. Yeah, I reckon it was. Otherwise, why am I back here in this same fucking crocked-up carcase?”
“So why ARE you?” asked Mauhúr reasonably.
“ `Cos He fucking told me to.” replied Shagrat in some desperation, “Said I wasn’t even fit for The Halls yet. Told me I had to get you lot to listen to me first. Told me to go back and fucking try again – all of us had to fucking try again. `I can offer only the same battered body’ He said, `but remember – the hands of the King are the hands of a healer and so shall the rightful King be known’. That’s the last fucking thing I heard before I woke up back on that fucking mountain. Then a fucking great Eagle came …. “
“Gwaihir!” I cried, “Only he could carry your weight, Phuineöl!”
“So he fucking gave me to understand!” said Shagrat huffily, “Poncy old queen! Claimed to have carried all the notables in fucking Middle Earth in his time – Mithrandir, the Ringbearer, you name it! Anyway, here he brought me; and told me to …. make contact … y’know Mauhúr – put out the thought-call, to anyone who’d heed it. Told me the King would be along too sometime. The old sod was right at that! The rest of this lot showed up in dribs and drabs. Ugly, ain’t they? But the buggers kept me alive until you showed, little King, so I guess I owe them!”
“An’ doan yer farkin’ fergit it, Shagrat!” screeched Zig, but his sister gave his long ear-tip a vicious twist and he subsided with a yowl.
“ `E’s seen Mandos! Even them maggots you ate is sacred!” she whispered like an overboiling steam kettle, and Zig went rather quiet.
“Fuck off, you Snaga!” said Shagrat, embarrassed, “I wanna talk to the Sharkū.”
“What is it?” I asked quietly once the twins had extricated themselves and shambled off.
“I …. Nothing! Just didn’t want them fucking around any more.” he replied with a blatant change of mind.
“Where’s that boy?” I spoke my worry aloud at last, “He’s had enough time to crop o whole meadow of Athelas!”
“ `The HANDS of a King’ He said to me. Never made mention of any stinky herbs, little King.” He sniffed deeply, “Dawn’s coming soon. Think I might stand to greet it at last. Mauhúr! Here – Mauhúr! Help me! I wanna see the fucking sun for the first time!”
“No!” I protested, horrified, “You still have a hole in you! All I could do was keep it cleaned and stop you falling into a death-sleep. Wait for the Athelas!”
“Little King,” he said gently, as if to a child, “I started healing as soon as you touched me. Mandos promised – and he don’t renege! Boys!” he shouted, “I could eat a fucking horse!”
“Not here in Rohan you couldn’t, Uruk!” said someone, “But we’ve some cold venison or new-killed coney over here.”
Peering beyond the half-circle of light from the cressets, I realised that my whole troop had been quietly gathering, listening and waiting throughout the long night. A man shouldered into visibility bearing a large oval platter of cold cooked and raw meat, which he dumped into the midst of the Uruk-hai.
Hardly daring to look, I moved the cloth from the wound on Shagrat’s back. There was barely a dimple in the skin to show where it had been. I gasped suddenly as a wave of weakness took me; and that – more than the visible evidence – convinced me that my healing power had been used to its absolute limit. I felt worse than I had done after wrestling the Palantir from the control of the Dark Lord.
Helped by Mauhúr and Plurtz, Shagrat surged to his feet as I slumped down, drained. My last sight, before exhaustion and imperative slumber took me, was of three dark figures limned in fiery light as the first fingers of sunlight touched the eastern hill, topped it and found them standing there.
* * * * * *
I awoke in an unfamiliar bed, and immediately closed my eyes again with a groan at the sight of myself reflected in a huge circular mirror set above me in the ceiling.
“Ain’t that just Something?”
“Where am I?” I asked faintly and unoriginally.
“Tower of Orthanc, little King. This is the master-bedroom.”
“Master … you mean Saruman …..?”
I opened my eyes again. The mirror was still there, this time reflecting Shagrat’s unlovely features at its periphery, as well as my own.
“Wonder if Mauhúr knows what he used it for?” surmised Shagrat in a tone of feigned disinterest.
“I don’t want to speculate right now. Are we alone?”
“Yeah, romantic, ain’t it? I wouldn’t budge, see; and since they all seem to think I’m some kinda fucking angelic emissary, they let me be. There’s guards outside the door though; and that boy of yours isn’t too far away. And I wouldn’t trust that Fangorn not to be peering in the window. So …. “
“So, that’s the lot of a King.” I said resignedly, “People everywhere, all the time.”
“The Dark Lord would’ve sent them all off if he wanted privacy.” Shagrat pointed out.
“The Dark Lord also didn’t care who knew what he was doing! I can’t do that, Shagrat. You know that. It was you who gave some anonymous questioner a rather masterly summary of what difficulties the King was about to face, if I recall.”
“Ah-har har. You remembered that! Thought I was being so fucking clever! Didn’t know I’d dug a fucking great pit to fall myself into, did I? Never been in love before.”
“So you’ve come back from the Halls of Mandos in order to tear me in half? Did He know?”
“Yeah. Yeah. I reckon He did. And I will, little King, make no mistake. I’m not so fucking redeemed that I can do all this heroic sacrifice stuff. “
“Just tell me” I said faintly “that you didn’t pull the Luthien option with Mandos. Just tell me I don’t have TWO immortals giving up their immortality for me!”
“No, little King. I need – we all need our time with Mandos. I just bought another lifetime, that’s all. What are you going to do about us … about me?”
I sat up slowly. I’d had all night, whilst he told his tale and I tried to keep him alive, to think this one through.
“I need food and drink. I’m completely burned out. But I’ll answer your question first before all the squires and guards come rushing in here. Is there water?”
“Yeah. Here ..”
He leaned over to hand me the goblet, and I was able to catch him with one swift kiss, as well as to snare the water before he spilled it. He jinked back like a startled maiden, which made me laugh so much I almost choked on the water anyway.
“Now, you listen well, Shagrat. The Sharkū is speaking! I want this honour guard of yours in shape quickly. I want all of you back at Minas Tirith by the time I return there from Edoras with the Queen. I want you fitted with some sort of uniform – it can’t be the winged helmets; that would look silly on your people, and make the real guards think they were being mocked. Then I want you to accompany me when I go down-river to treat with the Corsairs of Umbar. An Uruk honour-guard would be just their mark! It should impress them enormously. I shall arrange it for sundown – then your night-eye people can be there as well as the rest.
“After that – you’re going back to the Tower of Cirith Ungol. You can go via the road by Minas Morgul, not up the endless stair. I want it invested, made habitable, and the pass cleared. You’ll have to work with Faramir’s people for that – but I want that Spider out. Then – that’s your headquarters. You continue searching for any of your kind who want to join you. You report regularly on whether the plains of North Mordor are becoming habitable and fertile. You make your own treaties about trade and food – without depleting people, or their stock. And one more thing, Shagrat – one very important thing!”
“I want one room in that tower made fit for a King. I want it ready at anytime when I might …. shall we say … wander a little eastwards from a visit to Ithilien, or take a detour on a state visit to the ex-slaves at Lake Nurnen. Any time, Shagrat. I already have a reputation for turning up unannounced when least expected. So don’t you forget it. Well, those are my terms of service. It’s not going to be easy – the Spider alone could be a fatal prospect, but I can’t think of anyone better qualified to deal with her. Are you going to accept them, Captain Phuineöl?”
“You’re saying ….?”
“I’m saying I’m consenting to have my life torn in two by you, you cursed ruffian. You understand of course, that the other half of it isn’t your business. I want to hear no more talk about Cupcakes. There’ll be enough of them around me at court. Your business is to obey orders, look to those you’ve called – because they’re going to look to you; and have me whenever I’m there to be had. And keep your mouth shut about it! Well?”
“Oh, Mandos! Yeah, of course. That’s my clever little King “
“Good. Now come here and kiss me properly before you open up that door. Varda, but I missed you! It’s a shame we can’t do this mirror business here – but sometime we will. I promise! Just think, Phuineöl, I can spend a whole lengthy reign working out how to arrange trysts with you – all over Middle Earth!”
(1) Celeborn’s words: The opening words of this chapter, spoken by Celeborn, are taken direct from ROTK, and belong to Professor Tolkien.
(2) I should credit Richard Carpenter, scriptwriter supreme, for some of the words spoken here by “Gymer”. If anyone remembers the 1980s tv series Robin of Sherwood, this is a tiny crossover-moment
(3) Mauhúr: is a character from Canon, appearing briefly as the head of Ugluk’s reinforcements who tried to attack Eomer’s trrop and prevent them from massacring Ugluk’s party.
(4) Plurtz: Please consult the invaluable http://fade.to/orcgasm (Fanfiction Section: Happy Fic Guide), which explains why it is essntial to have an Uruk with this sort of name in any reputable fanfic.
(5) Sharkū: is the Orkish word that Professor Tolkien translates as “old man” when applied (in reduced form as “Skarkey”) to Saruman by his dependents at Isengard. But if Orcs were tribal when left to themselves (as is hinted in The Hobbit and LOTR), then “old man” might also have the connotation of “tribal elder” or “father” of the tribe. I have used it in this sense here, and added a hint of shaman or medicine-orc too. Both Saruman (as a possible geneticist and Uruk-breeder) and my main protagonist (as a healer) would thus qualify for the title as leader AND shaman.
(6) Bagronk: is a Black Speech word meaning “cesspit” (as translated politely by Professor Tolkien. Mauhűr and company would probably say “shitpit” or “craphole”). It’s taken from the curse of the Mordor-Orc in TTT.
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