15. Orc, Orc, Uruk
The next day they started early and walked into the early afternoon. More trees, and the ground was fairly level, but the travel was harder on Maevyn than it had been the day before. She was stiff and sore and every step made her wince. Some of her blisters from yesterday were broken and bleeding—she could feel them rubbing against the thin soles of her shoes and she wanted to whine and complain, but didn't want to be smacked. So instead she kept her mouth shut and glared: first at the ground, then at the Orcs. And then she glared at Leni.
Unlike the ground, which was inanimate, or the Orcs, who ignored her, the Elf girl eventually noticed. Turning puzzled eyes on Maevyn, she said, "What is it?"
"How come you don't look one little bit tired?" Maevyn demanded crossly. "Don't your feet hurt?" She had always been an active child, but living in a small community as she had, an extended hike such as the Orcs would do was strange to her. Also, this morning there had been no reason to spare her arms and shoulders, and she was thoroughly laden with packs. Her back protested under the load.
"I have become accustomed to it," said Leni. "We do a great deal of walking. And it is better than some other things. At first, I hated it because it took me further from my home. But since there is no way home for me now, I…I have grown to like walking. I see new trees and new creatures, and in seeing new things, I may forget. And the more walking now, the more energy spent, the less likely later…."
She didn't finish, but Maevyn took her meaning and made no comment, comforting or otherwise. She did not like to think about what Leni alluded to—it made her want to hurt something. Hurt Kurbag, but he was too big. Hurt Leni, though it wasn't her fault.
That morning, she had hurt Leni anyway.
It had been a bad night.
After Grushak, Leni came to her and gave her water, which she drank of deeply, saying nothing. Leni had led her, unresisting, to the bed of furs they shared, and there had held her, making quiet, meaningless sounds of comfort. Maevyn had lain stiffly in her arms for a time, but not a very long time. She was a child, and tired, and it did not take her long to fall asleep.
With sleep came dreams.
She knew that she was dreaming. She had never known she was before, not during the fact, and such lucid dreaming was novel to her. A voice spoke to her out of her belly, and she knew that it was the voice of the liver she had eaten. It should have been ludicrous, but she felt awed as she listened to it speak. "Dream, little daughter of the One," it rumbled. "All who eat of me will dream, for such are my properties. Heroes will have visions, and the wicked shall know terror. Yet I do not punish or reward, for there is no judge but Ilúvatar. I am but the agent of dreaming, and you will find the dream of your heart through me."
She looked and saw through her blouse and through her skin to find the walls of her stomach grown transparent, and the contents of her stomach being slowly dissolved and digested, while the piece of liver floated in this disgusting soup, shiny and dark and seemingly unaffected by the acid in her stomach. Fascinated, she poked at her belly but her finger only met with the fabric of her blouse, and the translucency was gone.
"Can I dream whatever I want?" she asked.
"You can dream what is in you to dream."
"Then I wanna fly."
Suddenly a thousand thousand needles were bursting through her flesh in a thousand thousand needle-sharp points of exit. They shot out all over her body, covering her with a thick bristle of pinions. She screamed, not in agony but in terrible joy, as she vaulted into the air and continued to transform. Her fingers grew into long arching sickles flapped with webs of skin as her arms became wings. Her legs shrank and doubled up under her, while her arches of her feet bent and then broke, her heels and toes curling tightly as her feet became claws. She whooped and swooped on the air, cavorting on the currents with the instant effortlessness dreams confer.
And then, below her, she saw a small shape. Immediately it awakened a hunger in her, and without thinking further she dove at it, talons extended—was nearly on it when she saw that it was her brother, staring up at her out of enormous eyes. She pulled up at the last minute, fierce heart pumping blood at an accelerated rate, talons clutching and grabbing at nothing, filled with a high terror at what she had so nearly done.
Nearly done. Hadn't, though. She had realized in time. Sisterly smacks and childish roughhousing aside, she could never really hurt her own brother.
"Demmi, look!" she cried, sweeping low again, making broad circles over him. "I'm an eagle!"
"No you're not!" he shouted up at her. "You're not an eagle, you're an Orc!"
"I'm not!" she cried indignantly. "Take it back!"
"Yes you are! You killed the eagle! You ate its liver!"
"They made me eat it!"
"Did they make you like it?"
"Shut up!" she yelled. "I could kill you!"
"So kill me! Go on and do it, Orc-brat!"
She screamed with rage and dove at him again, and again she pulled up just in time, beating her way into the sky. Demmi was a doll figure below, yelling taunts and mean things up at her before another figure came and silenced him for good. She could not see the Orc, but it was Grushak, she knew it. He had killed her mama and her da, and now he was killing Demmi for the second time. She would have dived at him but instead she flew upward, ever upward, and she realized with horror that she had lost control of her wings, and they were bearing her toward the burning sun.
She was not an eagle. She was not an Orc. She was a terrified child, and in her fear she had forgotten her own name.
She awoke with a jolt, her whole body jerking with it, before she realized that she was awake. Her throat felt tight and uncomfortable, and she swallowed, and the last scrap of dream veil floated away like a feather of ash at the edge of a burning zone. Her tongue scraped thickly, dryly over her teeth, and her eyes fluttered behind sticky lids that would not open, gummed as they were with the sediment of sleep.
Lying there, eyes shut, mouth full of the sour taste of morning, she became aware of quiet breathing next to her. Leni was still asleep, and her body, where it curved against Maevyn's side, was warm. It felt good. Maevyn pulled away, then forced herself to relax. It's not her fault, she thought to herself, as she had thought before, and made herself inch close again. It's not her fault. Her eyelids cracked tentatively as she turned to look at Leni….
And looked into the face of a dead person: slack, pallid, eyes wide and glassy and staring.
—oh no oh no no no please no, oh please please please please please—
Maevyn shrank away, her mouth working frantically, the strangled noises of nightmare springing unbidden from her throat.
Sense, abruptly, came to Leni's eyes and they blinked at her. Maevyn uttered a little shriek. Leni's eyes widened at the younger girl's distress and she sat up. "What is it? What is the matter?"
Maevyn stared at her, paralyzed with fear and astonishment. "You—I thought—you looked…you looked like you were dead!" she finally managed.
Leni was offended. "Well, I like that! You are not particularly pretty when you wake up either, I will have you know."
"But…but it wasn't th—" Maevyn sputtered. "It was horrid! You were just…laying there, and your eyes…they were open!" And it had been like that moment, that horrible horrible moment in the clearing, when she found Demmi staring with his eyes like glossy beads….
"And?.…Oh. Oh." As Maevyn gawked at her, Leni began to laugh. "Oh no. Oh Maevyn, I am Elf. It is simply our way. No, no, dear heart, there is nothing wrong: we all sleep with our eyes open. Oh, you poor silly girl, you have worked yourself into a fret over nothing." She laughed again.
For a second, maybe two, Maevyn's confusion wavered in the direction of relief. A mistake. A simple mistake, that's all it was, and Leni wasn't dead at all. But faced with the Elf maiden's amusement, feeling ridiculed, and still haunted by Demmi's lifeless gaze, her eyes narrowed. Who was she to make fun of Maevyn, to make light of the fear that had hammered in her chest? Who was she to laugh? And what might have been relief turned instead to anger. "Shut it! You just shut your mouth! It's not funny. You don't know what it looked like!"
Leni smiled. "All right, I am sorry, I did not mean any harm." As Maevyn continued to glare at her, the smile faded. "Please, I am sorry—do not be angry with me. I did not mean to give offence."
That stupid, stupid way of talking Leni had. I did not mean to give offence. So clipped and perfect. Well, she had, and who did she think she was, anyway, talking like that, like she was out of some ballad or tale? Just because she was an Elf. Well, she was no better than she should be. Letting herself be pawed over by Kurbag. Letting him do it to her the way a dog humps a bitch, or a ram a ewe, only worse, so much worse. Playing the ewe to an Orc. And she could look at Maevyn as she was doing now, her pretty face stupid and puzzled, as if it were Maevyn doing her wrong….
Leni was no longer laughing. "Maevyn…." she said softly, her voice concerned, and put her hand on Maevyn's shoulder.
Maevyn knocked it away, giving the Elf a savage look. "Don't touch me," she hissed, and Leni yanked her hand back as though it had been burned.
Though the specter of Maevyn's violent reaction still hovered between them, this was the first that they had spoken—really spoken to each other, in sentences larger than one word—since that morning. Leni seemed glad that they were talking again. "You will become accustomed to all the walking. You can't very well do otherwise. They will see to that."
"Well, they stink," muttered Maevyn. They were toward the back of the group, with only Hrahragh behind them, and he was so quiet that she had forgotten him. Remembering and looking back quickly, she saw him looking over his own shoulder in a similar fashion, keeping a flanking eye on the territory they had already covered.
Maevyn did not have Hrahragh's knack for walking and looking backwards at the same time. She tripped suddenly and would have fallen if Leni hadn't caught her arm. Maevyn heard the sudden snort behind her and her face burned, knowing it was at her. She wanted to shrug Leni's hand off but remembered that morning and let it stay until the Elf removed it of her own accord, satisfied that Maevyn's balance was restored.
"They do not like the walking either," said Leni with rare archness. "The sun hurts them. At least it does the Orcs—the Uruk-hai, not so much."
"The Uruk-hai. They like the sun well enough." She inclined her head towards Shrah'rar and Grymawk, who were walking up ahead of them, their words unintelligible to Maevyn but their tone clearly complaining. "The Orcs, they favor the dark. The sun burns them. It is something they do not like about Bragdagash's leadership, that he will have them walking in the daylight that they so despise. He will sometimes appease them by changing the hour of encampment and the hour of departure so the journey is in partial darkness. Then it is I and the Uruk-hai who must stumble and stub our toes for a time."
She laughed with wry humor, and Maevyn laughed as well but was confused. She was fated to remain so longer, as just then Bragdagash called another day's halt.
Stopping where they stood, all busied themselves with pitching a fresh camp. The Orkish chief told Leni not to bother digging a pit for the fire. "That means we will not be staying here," she told Maevyn as he walked away. She added, "Most glad I am of it, for this ground is hard and packed. Though not so bad as yester-night's, which was very stony. Did you notice?"
Maevyn had not. There had been other things on her mind, and she had not yet developed the eye for these things that Leni, by necessity, had.
As the two unrolled their bedding for the night, many hours early but not wanting to do it later, she took the opportunity to ask about her point of confusion. "What were you saying," she asked, "about Orcs and Uruk-something?" She looked around her. "I thought they were all Orcs."
"They are all Orcs," said Leni. "Some of them are Orcs and some are Uruk-hai." Seeing Maevyn look at her blankly, she explained, "Uruk-hai are Orcs. An Uruk is a special kind of Orc."
"But I thought you said the Orc word for 'Orc' is 'Uruk'?"
"It is. Well, perhaps I should say, it was. Once 'Uruk' meant any kind of Orc. But now it generally refers to those made by Curunír, for fighting during the Great War," she explained.
"I thought Morgoth made the Orcs," said Maevyn, who decided to ignore the newest reference, to this 'Curunír' person, entirely.
Leni nodded. "That is what the Eldar say. Morgoth made the Orcs from Elves, and then Curunír made the Uruk-hai from the Orcs."
"So an Uruk isn't an Orc, then?"
"No, no, no." Leni had that face people get when they are trying to explain something they have long understood without ever having it explained to them to begin with, and which therefore seems too simple to require explanation at all. "Look, all Uruk-hai are Orcs, but not all Orcs are Uruk-hai."
"Oh, all right. So if all Uruks are Orcs, and if the Uruks were made from the Orcs and the Orcs were made from Elves, does that make Uruks Elves?" Maevyn flinched at the expression on Leni's face. "Or...or not...?"
Unbeknownst to both girls, Orcs of both breeds were looking in their direction in annoyance.
"The first Orcs were created from Elves. The relationship ends there," Leni annunciated slowly and clearly. "The Uruk-hai are Orcs that were changed by Curunír, but they are still considered to be Orcs, just a different kind."
Maevyn scratched her head. "Are the Uruk-hai the same as Uruks or are they something else?"
Frustrated, Leni dropped her face in her hands. In a faint and muffled voice: "'Uruk-hai' is a plural of 'Uruk', so you do not say 'Uruks' to begin with. There are no Uruks, there are Uruk-hai. 'Uruk' used to mean any kind of Orc, but now it only means the special kind created by Curunír."
Maevyn turned all of this information over in her head. It was very confusing, but she thought she was starting to understand what Leni was talking about. "Let me see. So when 'Uruk' meant 'Orc' all Orcs were Uruks and all Uruks were Orcs, and now some Orcs are Uruks but not all of them are, and the Orcs that are Uruks are called 'Uruk-hai'?" Surprisingly, saying it out loud, it actually made a little sense.
Leni, on the other hand, looked at her in a blank fashion. "Maevyn, I have no idea what you just said."
Suddenly something grabbed Maevyn from behind. She squawked in surprise as she was yanked unceremoniously to her feet. Wrenched around, she found herself confronted with Hrahragh's ringed face. Gripping her with one large hand, he brought his other hand up to thump himself on the chest. "Uruk," he growled. Catching her shoulders, he turned her forcibly to look at the very large Orc called Mushog. "Uruk." He turned her again to face some of the other Orcs. "Orc. Orc, Orc, Orc, Orc," he barked, jabbing an index finger at Shrah'rar, Pryszrim, Grushak, Rukshash and Grymawk in rapid succession.
He turned her again. "Orc," he said, pointing this time at Nazluk, who, startled, defaulted to the sneer that was his favorite expression. Maevyn didn't have a chance to see as she was roughly turned to face Bragdagash. "Uruk."
Another jerking revolution and she was facing Hrahragh again. Orange eyes peered down at her. "Understand?"
Rigid in his tight grasp, she nodded her head quick. He released her and Maevyn sat abruptly, all the strength gone out of her legs. "Well," she heard Leni remark hesitantly, "it was shorter than mine, but it was an effective explanation…."
The Uruk grunted. "Why say many when three words do?"
-.-.-.-Curunír. Saruman's name among the Sindarin.
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.