Lu nodded her understanding and the girl continued, “He still gets visitors now and again that wouldn’t like what he’s up to, so the slaves and the half-orcs and the armories are all tucked away down here where nobody’s going to see.”
It had worked, Lu thought. There had been no rumors of anything untoward going on at Isengard. She looked down at her baby and idly stroked his cheek. Even if she could walk out the gate carrying the proof in her arms, who would believe her? Saruman the White was a wizard of great power and respect. The implications of such a person secretly breeding monsters were more than she could bear, so she thrust the thought away.
The baby gave her one more sleepy smile before he dozed off in her arms and her eyes went wide She’d never been able to see the resemblance people claimed to find between infants and their elders, but those were definitely her brother’s dimples in her baby’s face. The likeness was startling. Maybe she could name the baby after him...no, under the circumstances, Hathaldir would hardly see that as an honor. Dairuin. That was better; one companion of Barahir for another. She would name him Dairuin.
As soon as the overseers noticed that the wall was gone, they expected her to join in the work. She did as she was told. With no shell around her mind, pain was immediate and frightening, and the work could hardly be beneath her anymore. The wheat was ripe and all the slaves that could be spared were busy with the harvest. The women who were not near term were led out into Nan Curunír, to the fields outside the walls of Isengard.
The baby, riding in a sling on her back, squalled at his first venture into daylight but soon settled. Lu looked around, squinting in the light of a cloudy morning. She had wondered why the handful of guards felt safe giving dozens of slaves sickles but once her eyes adjusted to the brightness, she understood. The cliffs ringing the Wizard’s Vale were nearly sheer. She looked up and down the valley, thinking that the smaller streams that fed into the Isen might have cut side valleys into the walls, through which more than water might go. But though she saw several small streams, all ended in high waterfalls. Apart from the Isen, none of the valleys feeding into Nan Curunír came within a hundred feet of the plain where she stood. The only way out was south, down the Isen and past the guards at the narrow mouth of the valley.
And if by some miracle she did escape, what then? There was no place for Dairuin outside Isengard, and she would not go without him. Even if she had been willing to leave him, there was no place in her old home for a ruined noblewoman. It would break her family’s hearts and their pride to see her this way. They would be kind; it wasn’t in their nature to be otherwise, but what could they do with her except keep her hidden away for the rest of her life? The despoiled maidens in the old songs always conveniently died, but even when she had not meant for it to do so, her body seemed bent on surviving. This was her life now, her name had always been Lu, and her baby was all the family she had. She settled him more comfortably against her and turned back towards the fields.
By midmorning, her hands were raw and sticky with fluid from her burst blisters. She could not seem to get the angle of the sickle right no matter how she tried, though it looked like such a natural motion when the other women did it. Several of the women glared and cursed at her for knocking down so much grain. When the water bucket went around at midmorning, Tirga elbowed her aside as she reached for the dipper, saying, “You were more use when you just sat there like a lump. You drink last, if there’s any left. No use wasting good water on somebody who thinks she’s too fine to work.”
Lu winced. She had no idea what to do with a sickle, but she had been raised from infancy to know the uses of social power, and that at least had not died with the girl she used to be. Tirga was very young, but most of the others liked and respected her. Only once or twice had Lu heard anyone mention Tirga’s ancestry, though the better-born among the Dunlendings often claimed heavy features like hers were only found in the lower classes and proved they had Orc blood. Lu couldn’t see a difference in appearance between the two groups, but the Dunlendings took it very seriously. If Tirga decided to gain ground with the better-born women by setting them all against the outsider, then Lu would be in trouble.
‘In trouble‘, she thought, marveling at the absurdity of it. Being a breeding slave in Isengard is not ‘in trouble‘? She started to giggle and quickly smothered it when Tirga stared at her. It wouldn’t do to antagonize the Dunlending.
She noticed Tirga watching her closely through the rest of the day. The next morning as Lu struggled to wrap her blistered hands with a rag torn from the baby’s swaddling, the other woman came over.
“Here, you’ll never get that tied by yourself.” She quickly wound the scraps of cloth around Lu’s hands and tied them off. Lu must have been giving her a strange look, because she glared and said, “You may not be able to do much of anything, but at least you kept trying yesterday. I suppose it’s not your fault you’re so useless, and who knows, you might learn.”
Thinking of all the things she learned and wished she hadn’t since her capture, Lu was hard put to suppress a bitter laugh.
The longer she was in Isengard, the harder it became to keep herself from putting the pieces of Saruman’s plan together. The number of women in the dens continued to grow, and when they went out to the fields, they passed small groups of half-orcs training for battle. One rainy day while the baby napped, her curiosity got the better of her. She picked a bit of charcoal out of the fire pit and started figuring on the stone floor of the den. The babies grew much faster than humans, the rate depending upon the amount of Orc blood. At two months, Dairuin was beginning to sit up and had discovered that he could travel by rolling. Others with more Orc in them grew even faster. The female half-orcs would surely be bred as soon as it was physically possible. Tirga was proof that Saruman had no reservations about very young mothers; this was her third baby, and Tirga thought she hadn’t yet turned twenty.
So if she started with the number of women she knew were already in the dens....The number that she reached in the end was so startling that she thought she must have misread it in the dim light. She checked it twice before she could believe. Some of the women had laughed about Saruman’s half-orc army as they passed the training field, but in ten or fifteen years, it would be no joke. She hastily scuffed out the numbers with her bare foot.
That night as she lay on her pallet, she tried to distract herself from following her calculations to their logical conclusion by whispering stories of her past to her son. But in Isengard, things like listening to the music at a Midsummer fair or sailing toy boats down a stream seemed as unbelievable as the wildest traveler’s tale. Her words sounded like lies in her own ears, and she had to stop. Finally, she remembered the Narn i Hîn Húrin. She had hated the tale passionately when she had been made to read it as part of her Sindarin studies, but now it was the only thing that did not seem like a joke in the worst possible taste. Dairuin seemed to like the rhythm of the words, and listened with his eyes fixed greedily on her face.
Gradually, she learned more about the people who shared her prison. Most of the women in the slave dens were Dunlendings - surplus daughters of the poor, or the women of defeated rivals who had been sold to Isengard. Saruman was offering a good price for healthy young women. Tirga was appallingly proud of the amount the slave trader had given her parents for her and would boast of it, given any encouragement.
No one knew for certain what Saruman was offering the Orcs to induce them to bring undamaged women to Isengard, and no one really wanted to find out. Whatever it was, it persuaded at least some of them to keep their female captives alive and comparatively well until they could reach Isengard. Most of the women the Orcs brought in were from Rohan. Lu suspected that even the most enticing rewards could not restrain Orcs for a journey much longer than that. If there hadn’t been so many Men in the party that stumbled across her and her friends picnicking by a mountain stream, she doubted she would have survived. Even so, it had not been enough to save Celosiel or any of the others. Just for a moment, she could see plumes of blood in the clear water and hear... no, she wouldn’t think about that. The others were dead and she was alive and that was as much as she could bear to remember.
The overseers, like the women, were mostly Dunlendings. There were a few Men she thought might have been from Rohan or Gondor, but to her surprise, there were no Orcs among them. While the overseers were playing dice one evening, she asked Tirga about it. Tirga looked a little startled to hear a question from her, but answered readily enough. “No, no Orcs in here. I hear they tried letting them come in here to breed at first, but there were always fights and a couple of girls got hurt so bad they miscarried. Even Sharkey can’t scare them enough to keep them in line when they get all excited. We have mostly fellows from home as guards and they aren’t too bad.”
Since one of them had opened his trousers in front of her and ordered her to suck him, Lu couldn’t entirely agree. Still, he was less revolting than an Orc, and she knew by now how much worse it could have been. Her shock, disgust and ignorance made her awkward, but he had only cursed her stupidity rather than punishing her lack of skill. The men were under orders to do nothing that might get the women pregnant with a human child or that might endanger a half-orc already conceived, but some of them could be viciously inventive within those boundaries.
“Our fellows like a bit of fun sometimes, but mostly they just want to stay on Sharkey’s good side. Those others, though....” Tirga shuddered. “Watch out for them. They’re as bad as the Orcs, maybe worse. Orcs are cruel, but that lot’s smart and cruel.”
The warning came a little late, thought Lu, fingering her nose where it now veered to the right. There were a half-dozen or so men from Rohan or Gondor who had signed on with Saruman looking for a place that tolerated a level of brutality unthinkable in their homelands, and they made the most of it.
She herself had become a favorite object of speculation among the women. Her appearance did not match the images the Dunlendings had of people of Rohan or of Gondor. The Dunlendings were certain all Rohirrim were blond and everyone in Gondor was black-haired and very pale. The un-Númenórean brown hair that had embarrassed her all through her childhood was a blessing now. It inspired the others to spend hours concocting unlikely tales of illicit affairs and scandalous offspring, which she always made a great show of ignoring while she listened avidly. Those stories were as close to amusement as anyone ever got in Isengard.
Until she mastered the dialect of the slave dens, she rarely spoke. Her speech would have told the Dunlendings nothing, but one or two of the guards might have been able to recognize her accent. Everyone was sure she had been raised a lady, because her hands had been soft, pale and unmarked, and everyone had noticed her struggles with the reaping hook. Beyond that, no two theories agreed. She enjoyed the absurd ones, but serious speculation about her past made her uncomfortable. She was born here in Isengard. Whatever happened before, happened to someone else and ought to remain decently buried.
Whenever she had a few moments to herself, Lu surreptitiously watched Tirga and the others with their babies. She was not just imagining that her baby was different. Tirga’s baby was a bit older than hers, and had a full set of sharp teeth, which he was not at all averse to using. He bit or clawed almost every time he could reach some part of the Dunlending’s body; he would nurse only as long as he was desperately hungry, and as soon as the edge was off, he attacked. Most of the other babies barely tolerated being held, and would stiffen, scream and struggle if their mothers picked them up.
Any doubts she had disappeared. Dairuin was different from the others. He howled when he was put down, and when she picked him up, he’d nuzzle against her and tuck his little hands into her armpits. Like the others, he grew and matured faster than a normal baby, but there in his face were her brother’s eyes with their mismatched brows. The shape of his head and his jagged teeth made it clear what his father was, but the other half, the stronger half, was hers. She smiled and walked her fingers up his stomach to brush his nose and he giggled. When she moved her hand away, he called out “mama” and caught at her wrist. She sat back in astonishment. None of the others his age had spoken yet, and when the older ones spoke, their first words were usually demands for food. Delighted, she repeated their new game.
“Don’t waste your time on that little monster,“ said one of the other women, when she noticed what Lu was doing. “They get meaner as they get older, and if somehow he doesn’t, he’ll end up in the stew pot with the rest of the culls.“
Lu looked questioningly at Tirga, who jerked her head towards her own baby. “This one wasn’t too bad for the first month or two. They probably want to hurt you at that age, but there’s not much they can do about it.“
“Is it true what she said about the culls?“ whispered Lu as they went back to work. She wasn’t sure which frightened her more: that he would turn as vicious as Tirga’s baby, or that he wouldn’t and he would die for it. She hugged Dairuin close and he fussed a little, wanting to go back to their game instead of into his sling.
Tirga nodded curtly. “I worked in the kitchens here for a while. The orcs think the culls are delicious.“
“But those could be their children!“
“I don’t think Orcs like half-orcs any better than Men do. We wouldn’t think twice about doing away with a half-orc brat, and Orcs are nowhere near as squeamish.“
“Well, they won’t get Dairuin. There has to be some way to....” Her voice trailed off as she noticed Tirga’s peculiar expression. “What’s wrong, Tirga?”
Tirga had turned red from holding her breath and she gasped a couple of times before she could speak. “You named the little bastard! You actually named it!” She looked away, her shoulders shaking with smothered laughter, but recovered enough to catch Lu’s hand as she turned to stalk away. “Ah, I shouldn’t have laughed so soon after bad news, should I? No place like Isengard for tossing your manners into the cesspool. It was just the thought of naming them. It’s not like they’re real babies, after all. They‘re Saruman’s, not ours. He decides if they live or die, and what they‘re going to be called. When they go to the training barracks, they get a name in the Black Tongue and they forget you ever existed. Don’t waste a name on any of them.”
Lu kept her mouth tight shut. Tirga was wrong. Dairuin’s name wasn’t wasted, and he wouldn’t forget her. As long as he lived.
When the harvest was over, the slave women were given the task of sewing and knitting for the soldiers and slaves of Isengard, and that went no better. She couldn’t knit. It was a skill for cottar’s daughters and her mother had certainly not included it among the needlecraft she had been taught.
Lu had thought that sewing, at least, would present no problem. That belief lasted until the overseers brought around the work allotment. It was afternoon and most of the babies were napping. They slept more than Lu thought human babies did, thank the Valar, or there would have been no hope of keeping up with the work. At the rate the babies grew, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that most of them did very little besides eat and sleep.
The burly Dunlending who had accosted her earlier tossed a length of linen onto her pallet and said, “There, make yourself useful for once. That’s for two soldiers’ shirts.“ As he moved on down the row doling out bundles of cloth, Lu picked up the piece and looked at it in consternation. It could not be possible to cut one shirt for a grown man from so little cloth, let alone two. And she’d seen the soldiers training while they went out to the fields; half-orcs, most of them, and the proportions she had learned for a man‘s shirt would never work.
Tirga noticed her shock and said, “What’s the matter? You can sew, can’t you?“
“Of course I can!“ said Lu, stung. She had been accounted a skillful needlewoman, and had been very proud of her tiny, even stitches. Being forced to use any of that skill for Saruman’s benefit suddenly struck her as a terrible affront. She snapped back at the Dunlending. “Nobody ever thought I might need to know how to cut an orc’s shirt out of some paltry bit of sackcloth.“
As soon as the words were out, Lu cringed inside. She’d given anyone who still needed it proof that she came from a good family, and probably insulted Tirga into the bargain.
But Tirga only looked at her oddly for a moment. “Paltry, is it? It’s as good a piece of cloth as I ever saw when I was a girl. And there’s enough there to give you a start on a new shift for yourself if you cut it right.”
Tirga gave Lu’s shift an appraising look. It was the same one she’d been captured in and worn ever since, cut of a broad piece of finely-woven linen, and now ripped in several places and stained with blood and other things that it was better not to think about. She had considered trying to scrub the stains out, but she had no other clothing. The thought of stripping off the filthy shift in full view of the guards so that she could wash it was more than she could bear. If she had a spare shift, she could finally clean the old one. She was suddenly desperate for a bit of that coarse cloth.
Tirga glanced back at her own pallet, where her own baby was mercifully asleep. A similar piece of cloth lay at the foot of the pallet, and the concern on the other woman‘s face made Lu realize that Tirga would have little chance to make up the time she lost teaching her plain sewing. The Dunlending shot a nervous glance after the guard and said in a quiet, hurried voice, “They aren’t going to give you anything to make a new shift, so you’d better pay attention. Here, look....”
The Dunlending laid out the two lengths of fabric side by side before she went to the overseer to borrow the scissors. Kneeling down, she quickly folded and cut the cloth, then passed the scissors to Lu and ordered her to do the same. The layout was fairly simple, though Lu could see that the clothing would fit closer than she was used to, and seemed to have an inordinate number of gores and gussets. Lu cut her own cloth, earning an approving nod from Tirga. “You’re not as stupid as you look, are you?”
Lu shook her head. “Not anymore.”
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.