Treed: 11. Strange Overtures

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11. Strange Overtures

A pop from the fire made Kurbag look up.  A log had shifted, sending up a flurry of sparks.  Through the flames, against the rough-hewn side of the gully, dark shapes roiled and twisted.  He stared for a moment, transfixed; then he growled and looked away.  Just the shadows of the hanging tree roots.  He had noticed the effect earlier: it was disquieting, but nothing more.

He looked down at the Elf again.  She was still weeping but more softly now, her sobs replaced by shallow, shaky inhalations.  Her face was turned toward the ground.  "Come on, get up," he said.  "I told you.  I'm not in the mood."

She didn't respond at first but the creak of his leather jerkin as he reached for her got her moving.  Pushing herself up awkwardly into a sitting position, she ran the back of one hand across her tear-stained face.

Kurbag grunted, settling back.  "Long night ahead.  Got to stay awake, keep my eyes peeled."

She nodded.  She was not looking at him.

"You thirsty?"  She shook her head.  He shrugged and undid the drinking skin at his belt.  Swallowing a mouthful, he sighed and settled back.  "Plenty of water, though I could do with something stronger.  Wish those bastards hadn't taken all our booze.  Food too, curse them.  We're in near the same shape that we were before." He paused, a thought coming to him.  "I guess you're probably hungry."

"I am, a little," she said softly.  It was an understatement.  Had she been human she would have been starving.  Being Elf, she was not so quickly incapacitated by hunger, but she was young and had had nothing but water since the morning of the day before.  There was a restless gnawing in her belly.

"Well, once we've rejoined the others they should have some food.  If we really leg it tomorrow I expect we'll catch up to them before the day is out."

She was holding her hands fisted in her lap; feeling her nails biting into her palms, she forced them to relax.  She was still wary, but all he was doing was talking.  His conversational turn was confusing to her, his words almost meaningless in the aftermath of her earlier panic.  I'm not in the mood, he'd said, but what if that changed?  He'd said that he could smell her fear; did he realize she was afraid now?  Was that why he kept talking to her: trying to put her at her ease?  Letting her guard down was the last thing she wanted to do!

Kurbag was aware of the Elf girl's fear.  As close as he was, there was no missing it.  He didn't care so long as she didn't start shrieking again, and was just glad she didn't seem to have woken Nazluk with the fuss she'd made.  Kurbag was not inclined to hear more of that one's sarcasm.  In any case, he did not want to fuck the Elf.  All he wanted was to talk.  He would have spoken to Nazluk if the other Orc had been awake, but Nazluk was asleep.  The Elf was not.

"Can you see in the dark?" he asked suddenly.  She stared at him and he placed a finger under one eye, tapping.  "The dark," he said.  "Can you see."

"No, I…I cannot."

"Me either."  He said it thoughtfully.  This was one matter on which he envied the snaga Orcs: there were many times when he had thought it would be useful.  "What would you do, then, if you could see in the dark?" 

"I…"  Thoughts were coming to her of flight, of running from him, impractical thoughts born of fear and confusion and pure exhaustion.  She tried to will them away.  She could not say these things out loud, but she had to say something: he was watching her in the firelight.  "I do not know," she said, and then, slowly, "I would go out into the garden at night.  I would walk out to the kitchen garden and wait."

"For what?" 

"For the rabbit to come," she said.  It was as if she saw it as she spoke.  "It comes in the night and eats the lettuces.  We find the ragged leaves in the morning and know that it has been there.  My mother has stood outside and watched for it at night, but she has never seen it."

Kurbag grunted noncommittally.  "That's not surprising.  It probably doesn't come because it can smell her."

"That is what my—what my father says."  Eleluleniel felt a lump in her throat to think of him, as she had felt to think of her mother.  She swallowed.  "But I wonder if, perhaps, it is only that she cannot see it in the dark.  Perhaps it is in the shadow of the trellises, waiting for her to go inside again.  If I could see in the dark, perhaps I could see it there."

"And then what?"

"And then I would see it, and it would not know that I saw it, and it would not be afraid."

Kurbag waited, but she didn't offer any more.  "Well," he said matter-of-factly, "that's not much, is it."

She closed her eyes.  She could feel her heart hurting in her chest.

"I mean, if I could see it and it couldn't see me, I'd make short work of it," said Kurbag.  "Rabbit is good eating when you can get it." 

He said more then, but she was beginning not to hear him.  Though his words in no way soothed her, she could feel her senses dulling: they had walked many miles that day and the strain had taken its toll.  She made herself listen to Kurbag in case he said something important, made quiet noises at those times when he seemed to want some kind of reply, but was unable to do much more.  There came a point when she was leaning over her folded arms, her body bowing slowly forward.  Then her head snapped up: she made a strangled sound and held herself tightly, staring at him.  Kurbag was studying her with an unreadable expression.

"Tired, huh."  Turning from her, he fumbled with something: she could not see what at first for the obstruction of his body.  Then he stood, the sleeping mat unrolling to the ground as he did so, and let it drop.

She stared at it, immobile.  Memory flooded her of the hard thin pallet, of him pushing her onto it.

"Go on then. Unless you want to sleep on the ground."  He sat, looking at the fire, but something made him look at her again.  She was staring at him with eyes that seemed to take up half her face.  She hadn't moved.  "What?"

"Why are you giving this to me?" she asked in a queer voice.

He blinked at her, wondered if she was being stupid on purpose.  "Won't be doing me any good tonight, will it?  Come on, I thought you were tired.  If you don't sleep now you'll just be tripping over your own feet later."

She hesitated a moment longer.  Then she reached over and touched the edge of the mat, rubbing the material slowly between her fingers.  Evil associations aside, it posed her no threat in itself.  It was rough and it was not clean, but it was better than bare hard-packed dirt.  Her eyes fluttered toward Kurbag again.  He had shifted his gaze back to the fire, its flickering light kindling little green flames in his eyes.  There was a kind of brooding half-frown on his dark face, as if his thoughts were elsewhere.

Looking back at the pallet, Eleluleniel swallowed and felt a pricking in her eyes.  They were already sore from weeping but exhaustion mingled with indecision was bringing her to the brink of tears again.  She blinked hard, willing herself not to cry.  He said he did not want to.  He said so.  And she was tired, so tired.

Pivoting her body onto the pallet, she sat balanced for a moment on one hip before, carefully, she laid herself down facing away from him.  She lay with her knees bent, her arms folded across her chest, and tired as she was, she lay stiffly for a time, for she still feared another assault, even after what he had said to her.  But it didn't come and it didn't come, and gradually her limbs loosened as she slipped into the dark labyrinth of sleep.

Kurbag, for his own part, watched the fire and the writhing shadows of dark tree roots through its dancing flames, and thought of what the morning would bring.  The Elf didn't figure in these ruminations, for Kurbag had meant it when he said he wasn't horny.  Under other circumstances the nearness of her, the scent of her distress might have stirred him, woken his hunger, but this night he was too uneasy in his skin to think of rutting.  He didn't like the place they were camped, its dark trees rearing blackly overhead; didn't like their twisting roots, the shadows at their base.  It was more than just creepiness.  Backtracking Dushgar's band had brought him and Nazluk once more within spitting distance of Golug territory.  Sitting in this dark cavity of earth, he felt isolated and exposed.  Vulnerable to attack.

Talking was a way to take his mind off the matter and pass the time; then too, Kurbag was sociable by nature.  Yet the Elf had been all but falling asleep in front of him, and if she didn't get any sleep she would only be clumsy and foolish in the morning.  So, not thinking too deeply about it, he had given her his bedroll and let her be.

Now as he sat he became aware again of the sound of her breathing, quiet, rhythmic, fear-smell just a memory.  It was obvious that she was finally asleep.  Knowing this, he turned his head and looked his fill.  She was good to look on.  He made no move toward her at first; then he leaned over her slowly, shadow falling across her luminous form. 

He was startled at first by the sight of her blue eyes gazing into the middle distance - thought she must be awake after all - but her gaze was too steady, her breathing too regular.  It piqued his curiosity.  He held his hand above her shoulder, thinking to jog her awake, to ask if sleeping with open eyes was a peculiarity of hers or if it was characteristic of all Elves, but waking her, he knew, would set her to shrieking again, and then she would lie awake and fearful for hours.  Instead he brushed her arm with the side of his thumb.  She did not wake but made a soft unhappy sound, and her pale brow knotted in her sleep.  He ignored it, resting his hand on the softness of her upper arm, and marveled at the texture of her skin.  He thought that he had never felt anything so smooth.

-.-.-.-

In dreams she ran.

She ran barefoot through a dark forest, and the earth beneath her feet was hard and cold.  Trees rushed past on either side, tendrils of mist curling through obsidian trunks.  All of the trees looked the same, and they blurred into one another so that there was no way to tell where she was, or how far she had come.  Once she thought she heard the sound of drums.   She did not know if they came from before or behind her, but she could feel the beat of them in her body: a queer five beat pattern like nothing she had ever heard before.  As suddenly as they had risen they faded again and there was nothing, not even the sound of her own footfalls, not even the sound of her own breathing as she ran.

Sometimes as she ran she thought she saw something keeping pace out of the corner of her eye. Maybe it is the rabbit, she thought, but she could not remember what rabbit and the words, as they went through her head, were only so much nonsense.  She would look and see nothing, and then she would know that she ran alone and it had always been so.

She did not know what she was running from, or what she might be running toward. She felt as if she ran in place. She thought, It may be I shall run forever.

Yet even as she thought it her surroundings seemed to blur and recede.  She blinked…

…and found herself lying on her side, her hands curled close to her chest.  The fire was little more than a smear of char, a few sullen embers still glowing in the black.  It was morning and her mouth was as gritty and dry as the gully in which they had spent the night.  When she lifted her head the stale smell of the sleeping mat clung to her hair and she could feel the imprint of the coarse material on her cheek.  Neither sensation was a pleasant one, but somehow at that moment they were tokens of reassurance. 

He had not hurt her again.

"You awake?"

Though he spoke suddenly she did not shy from Kurbag's voice.  Of course: he still maintained his vigil.  Nodding, she sat up, brushing her loose hair away from her eyes as she turned to face him.  The Orc was sitting just as he had been the night before, cross-legged, hands on his knees.  She wondered, first in silent amazement, then tentatively aloud, if he had stayed sitting like that all night.

"Nar.  Had to get up a few times, didn't I? Walk around, get the blood moving.  Don't like it when my legs go dead." He stood, kicking one foot as if to illustrate his point.  "You need to piss?" She shook her head.  "Well, I do.  Come on."

Since there was nothing for it she stood and did not protest his hand on her elbow as he steered her around the smoldering remains of the fire.  They passed Nazluk both ways, going and coming back: he was lying on his own pallet, coiled still and silent as a snake, and she was careful not to walk too close.  Kurbag, noticing, shook his head.  "You won't wake him, poor bastard.  He's been up two nights running.  Be better when we've joined the others and can both catch up on our sleep.  Pissy as he's been, it'll do him good."

"He does seem…cross," she ventured.

Kurbag snorted.  "That's one way of putting it.  I think he's happiest when he has something to complain about.  There are those times when he's half pleasant, but that's usually because he's asleep."

This made Eleluleniel laugh.  It wasn't a big laugh, but it was sudden and uncontrived, and it took her by surprise.  Then Kurbag laughed as well, and something inside her stirred with quick-dart suddenness.  Sharing laughter: that meant something, surely.  It was like permission to hope.  He could have hurt her again in the night, but he had not.  He had spared her, had even given her his own mat to sleep on.  He had been kind.  Perhaps her tears of the prior evening had touched him: perhaps he had spared her out of compassion.  It was more than just a reasonable explanation.  She wanted to believe it.  She wanted to believe that he would let her go.

Neither she nor Kurbag saw Nazluk stir at that moment.  They did not see his eyes open at the sound of unexpected laughter, or the look of surprise and rising fury that showed briefly, nakedly, on his twisted face.

-.-.-.-

A sound night's sleep had not sweetened Nazluk's disposition any, and nor did discovering that the Elf was still alive and with them for the immediately foreseeable future.  He did not comment on this fact, but his ill temper found other avenues of expression.  Kicking dirt over the remains of their fire, he made terse comments about the lateness of their departure.  "We could be an hour's journey from here if you'd woken me sooner," he said, looking up pointedly at the bright patches where the sun shown through the leafy canopy.

"I thought the extra kip would do you good." 

"Is that it, really?  Or is it that you were otherwise occupied?"  He dropped into a knee-cracking squat that made Kurbag wince.

"'Otherwise occupied'?  What are you going on about?"  The half-Uruk was completely baffled.

Nazluk did not respond to this.  Grabbing one end of his sleeping mat, he began to roll it up with angry methodical movements.

Kurbag realized that he wasn't going to get any sense out of Nazluk in his current mood.  He stared down at the snaga Orc's bent shoulders and back, feeling annoyed.  "Did you wake up on a rock or something?  Look, I thought you could use the sleep – I didn't realize you would be so testy about it.  My mistake then, let's just not go on about it."

Nazluk snorted, standing up.  He shouldered his pack.  "Quite right," he said coldly.  "We've wasted enough time this morning as it is."

It wasn't often that Nazluk would, in fact, drop a subject he was genuinely angry about, and Kurbag expected him to return to the matter with further vitriol as they walked. At the very least he expected sarcasm and snide commentary. Nazluk kept quiet, though, and Kurbag was relieved.  If it wasn't up for further discussion then it wasn't really that important, to his way of thinking.  Sometimes Nazluk was just tetchy.  At any rate, he was keeping quiet now so Kurbag felt free to forget the matter. 

It was otherwise for Eleluleniel.  She might not have understood what passed between Nazluk and Kurbag, but it was easy to see that Nazluk was angry, and unlike Kurbag she could easily tell that it had to do with her.  She knew it in the sensation of Nazluk's eyes burning into her back, his silence as he walked behind her.  He did not drive her and rail at her as he had the day before but his silence was no less disconcerting. She resisted the urge so far as she was able, but there were those times when she would look back, only to find him staring at her, eyes bright with baffled hate.  The anger that flared up in them at those moments quickly saw her facing forward again.

It was Kurbag who led to begin with, but it did not stay that way.  He began to have difficulties following the trail and when progress became halting it was Nazluk who came to the fore.  Nazluk could always find something: a boot print, whole or partial, or a broken leaf where rough bodies had pushed past.  Yet signs like these were decreasing.  The terrain was changing as they went: the ground becoming harder, the plant life scanter, and soon Nazluk too had to pause and puzzle over provenance.  At one point he half-knelt, fingering the curving edge of a shallow cut in the earth, while Kurbag stared down over his shoulder and fidgeted over the time it was taking.

"What do you think?" Kurbag asked finally, deciding to risk his annoyance.

Nazluk was silent at first.  "Grushak, would be my guess," he said at length, drawing out the words like he didn't want to commit himself.  "He's heavy, and his heel is broader than the others."

"Any idea how long ago?"

"I'd say if I had, yes?" He planted his hands in the dirt and brought his face nearer the ground.   "If there were a scent," he muttered, "but there's not a bloody whiff of them…."

"We won't make time by talking about what's not there," said Kurbag.

Nazluk snorted and knelt back.  "For once you're right." He stood and cringed involuntarily as he stepped out of Kurbag's shadow, for there were fewer trees now to shield him from the sunlight.  "Let's keep moving."

They did not make a midday stop, for it was Nazluk who set the pace now.  He didn't want to take the time, and there really wasn't any need.  They had no food, water they drank from leather skins as they walked, and they did not need to rest their legs, for both Orcs were inured to long hours of travel.  It was not so for the Elf who traveled with them.  She had neither their strength nor their endurance, and she had had nothing to eat for two days.  I will not fall, she told herself, though her head was swimming and her legs were weak as water.  She had told Kurbag she would not be clumsy if he untied her.  She did not want to be bound again.

"Kurbag," Nazluk said in deliberate Orkish, "she's falling behind."

Kurbag looked back.  He grabbed the Elf's wrist, giving her a hard pull so that she gasped and half-stumbled, half-ran to keep up with his longer strides.  "She isn't now," he said.

"You said you would gut her if she slowed us down, yes? Look at her.  She can't keep up with us.  What good does it do, towing her along like that?"

Kurbag grunted.  "Weren't you the one talking about rations?"

"Then why not kill her now and provision ourselves with her flesh?  It would be the work of a minute if you let me do it.  I'm faster with a knife than you are."  Stumbling beside Kurbag, oblivious to what they were saying about her, the Elf girl clutched at her right side.  She made no sob, but there were tears of pain in her eyes.  "Look at her.  She's weak.  She can't keep up.  We've no food, and you waste water on her that we can't afford to spare."

"We have water enough."

"Not for long.  We were fortunate to stumble across that stream yesterday.  We can't always trust to luck.  Eh?"  He looked back at Kurbag with narrowed eyes.  "You understand what I'm saying, yes? We have to think ahead."

"I am thinking ahead."  Nazluk snorted and faced forward again.  "Oi!  I am!" said Kurbag sharply, giving the Elf another yank.  He lengthened his step until he was side by side with Nazluk, looking down at him as they walked.  "Listen, we do have water enough for now.  We aren't starving, so we can wait to butcher her for a time longer.  We don't know how far we are behind the others.  Kill her now, she's a burden.  Why carry her in pieces when, alive, she carries herself?"

A long pause followed this.  "There may be some sense in what you say," Nazluk muttered.

"It's a convenience," said Kurbag.  "So you can stop going on about it.  I know what I'm about."

Do you, Nazluk thought but did not say out loud.  In fact, he did not open his mouth again for some time.  When he did it was purely with regard to the business of tracking.  He did not speak of the Elf or cast any further glances her way.  Kurbag had made it clear he was not ready to hear reason and attempts at persuasion had only made him stubborn.  Leave it, then.  Nazluk was no fool to belabor a lost point.  Kurbag would come to the same conclusions on his own, or Nazluk would watch for his own chance with the Elf.  There would be no need for persuasive arguments over a corpse.

-.-.-.-

It was evening before he could be induced to halt.  Even then he would not sit but walked rapidly back and forth, eyes fixed in the direction in which they were heading, nostrils flaring as if he were afraid that he would lose the scent.  There was a scent now: faint, but one that both Orcs could smell, and Nazluk was convinced their band could not be far ahead. 

"Oi! sit down, will you?  It's making me dizzy, watching you pace like that," said Kurbag as Nazluk passed him by yet again.

The other Orc shook his head.  "I don't like delays.  Not when we're so close."

"If they're as close as you think then we'll be reaching them soon enough.  Here!"  He tossed Nazluk a drinking skin.  "Put water in your belly."  That stopped Nazluk from pacing at least, but he continued to stand as he drank.  "It wouldn't hurt you to sit a spell.  You'll be wearing through your boot soles at this rate."

"I'll rest when we've rejoined the others," said Nazluk.  He walked away to stand under the far trees, clearly uninterested in further words with Kurbag.  Kurbag shrugged and drank deep of his own skin before offering the rest to the Elf. 

They were sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree, a venerable forest giant that must have fallen some four or five seasons before, for the wood of it was worm-eaten and crumbling and thickly grown with moss.  Eleluleniel felt faint as she watched Kurbag drink, and when he handed her the skin she took it without thanking him, without even thinking, she was so thirsty.  There were barely three mouthfuls remaining; she held the last behind her teeth for several seconds, trying to make it count. 

"You're quiet," said Kurbag as he took the emptied skin from her.  "You had more to say earlier." 

Of course, he'd not said much to her either.  The pace that the two Orcs had set was not one conducive to conversation.  But they weren't moving now and he was looking at her expectantly.  Tired as she was, she cast about for some plausible topic.  "Do you think that you will find your fellows soon?"

Kurbag nodded.  "Aye, no reason we shouldn't, we're close enough.  And Nazluk's bent on it."

She looked to where the other Orc stood like a skinny shadow under the trees.  "He does not like me," she said softly.

He laughed.  That was an understatement if ever there was one.  "He's not partial to Golug.  And he thinks you're holding us back."

"And he is angry at you for it, because you bring me.  He would rather I was left behind."

Dead, eaten and shat out, more like.  He did not say this out loud.

"And, perhaps…perhaps he is not wrong?" she went on tentatively.  "I am not as fast as you are.  You could probably go more quickly without me.  If I were gone I would no longer be a hindrance, and Nazluk would not be so cross.  It would be better, would it not? for you to let—for you to leave me behind?"  She looked at him hesitantly, hopefully as she said it but shrank at the dark look that passed over Kurbag's face.

He was annoyed to hear the same points repeated so soon after justifying himself to Nazluk.  "I know enough to do what needs doing," he said shortly, and the Elf dropped her gaze quickly, staring down at her hands.  Eyes following hers, Kurbag's anger faded.  "What is that, anyway?"

"What?"

"That mark."  He had noticed how she would touch it from time to time, particularly in moments of fear or confusion.  She covered it instinctively but Kurbag took both her hands in his, prizing them easily apart.  Drawing her right hand toward him, he scrutinized the dark stain on her knuckles.

"It is nothing," she said.

"It's no birthmark."  She tried to pull out of his grip but Kurbag held fast, tracing the irregular outline with his fingertips.  Writing is not a common occupation among Orcs and he did not recognize ink when he saw it.  All he could think was that it was some sort of bruise.

"We're burning daylight," Nazluk's voice intruded.  He had approached without either of them noticing and stood close by, watching what went on with narrowed eyes.  "Of course if you wish to travel by night it is fine by me, but I should think you would prefer some light to walk by."  Kurbag let go of the Elf's hand and she snatched it back to her chest.  She rose shakily and Nazluk glared at her.  "Let's go," he said to Kurbag, and then they were moving again.

Nazluk could not drive such a hard pace now as he had before.  He tried at first but gave way sullenly to Kurbag's growling.  They moved in twilight now and it was not so easy for the half-Uruk to see.  Another hour and it was quite black, and then they were reliant entirely on Nazluk's eyes, for his vision was keen even at night.  He continued to lead the way, finding some small satisfaction in the stumbles and low curses behind him.

That was a bad time for Eleluleniel.  She could not see in the dark anymore than Kurbag could, and she did not have his keen sense of smell as compensation.  All there was for her were touch and hearing.  Hearing availed her little for she only heard Kurbag's rough breathing and occasional muttered Orkish and not much else.  Touch was pain: the grip of Kurbag's hand, the scrape of his iron-shod boots at her heels.  He was walking with her thrust before him like a shield in the darkness, and sometimes he would tread upon her.  After the third or fourth time he pushed her forward and held her that way, at arm's length. 

She walked stiffly, fearful that she would trip, unable to see more than two feet in front of her as she was.  Worse, she might walk into Nazluk and she knew that could well prove fatal.  She feared Nazluk, his anger and his knives, and even Kurbag's rough mutters for her to move faster, the painful constriction of his grip on her shoulder, wouldn't make her pick up the pace.

"Have her walk behind you, Kurbag," she heard Nazluk say somewhere up ahead, his voice exasperated.  "That way makes no sense."

Kurbag grunted irritably but he stopped, pulling her back.  She felt his hands pass over her as he walked around her, and then his hand was on hers.  Pulling it to his hip, he placed her fingers over his belt.  "Hold on," he said.

He was no longer holding her but she dared not think of running.  Kurbag said that he could not see in the dark, but she knew that Nazluk could; then too, she held on because there was nothing else that she could do.  At that moment, whatever else Kurbag was, he was the only real and certain thing in her blind world.

It was still nightmarish and stumbling progress.  Her tongue cleft to the roof of her mouth, and she closed her eyes: it was no difference whether they were open or closed in this impenetrable shadow.  She began to feel as if her mind were deserting her.  Thought was no more help than sight.  All she could do was put one foot in front of the other, holding as tightly as she could to Kurbag's belt.

"Not far now," she heard him say and thought he was saying it to her.

"No," said Nazluk. 

Then both Orcs stopped in their tracks.  She opened her eyes. 

At first she saw nothing and thought that Nazluk must be uncertain of the way.  That idea brought terror.  If he was lost then they were all lost, all three of them, and they would be trapped in this darkness forever.  But as they stood there her eyes began to adjust somewhat, and she began to perceive dim forms.  She gasped suddenly.  A black shape had moved in the tree ahead of them.  She would have thought she had imagined it, only Nazluk uttered an ugly word in Orkish.  The shape moved again and an answer came in kind.  Kurbag spoke as well and the thing descended, hanging briefly from a low branch before dropping to the ground before them. 

For a few seconds it was lost in undifferentiated darkness, and then the shadow stepped forward.  It was like a misshapen child, wide-shouldered, large-headed: a squat twisted something with red eyes.  She could not distinguish any other features beyond its general size and shape.  It came closer, addressing Nazluk and Kurbag in the same guttural tongue they used with one another, and its tone as it looked over the three of them was one of surprise.  Then the goblin-Orc swung a long arm, skinny and strange, as it turned and hurried before them.  Nazluk and Kurbag began at once to follow, and Kurbag's hand caught her wrist as he pulled her after him.  She could sense his and Nazluk's excitement: a high feral gladness that both shared in equal measure. 

All that Eleluleniel could feel at that moment was a sick scared feeling, like a heavy stone in her belly.  It only grew heavier as she saw the dim red glow ahead in the trees, the silhouette of their small guide showing blackly against it as it moved toward the ominous light.  She did not want to go anywhere near that glow: even the black trunks of the trees seemed menacing against it, and if Kurbag hadn't been gripping her at that moment she might well have bolted.  Though she stopped short of outright resistance her feet were dragging as he pulled her forward.

It was a fire, much larger than the one that Kurbag and Nazluk had made the night before, and a number of Orcs sat around it.  They looked startled, hands going to their weapons as the smaller Orc who was leading burst upon them, gabbling what Eleluleniel could only assume was a hurried explanation of their arrival.  Then Kurbag and Nazluk stepped out after him, and on seeing them the entire band came to their feet, and there rose among them a furor of surprise and glad shouts.

In the sudden tumult Kurbag let go of her wrist.  Not knowing what else to do, she caught helplessly at his belt again and kept a white-knuckled grip on it, staring down at the ground.  Around her she could see the dark legs of the Orcs who hemmed them in.  The sudden press of bodies unsettled her, and her tender ears were overwhelmed by the clamor of their voices.  They did not speak entirely in Orkish, she could tell that some of what they said was in Common as well but she could not understand any of it.  Even had they spoken entirely in Common she would not have been able to understand for their harsh speech and the way they all spoke at once.  Well did she see the truth of the name her folk assigned Orcs: the glamhoth or "din-horde" of history and legend.

Then the voices stopped.  She looked up to see one of the Orcs, the largest, had raised his hand.  This was evidently what had made the others fall quiet.  The Orcs immediately in front of Kurbag and Nazluk yielded space for him to approach.  He was tall and broad-shouldered, powerfully built, with an ugly face and hard dark eyes, and there was something disturbingly familiar about him.  He had that about him, she realized, that reminded her of Dushgar from the day before: that same combination of size, authority and imminent danger.  She had been frightened then and she was frightened now for the way this Orc stared, though his eyes were on Kurbag and Nazluk rather than her.  He came close and in the quiet Kurbag spoke up.

"Hullo, Bragdagash," he said.  "Sorry to have kept you waiting."

"You piece of shit," said the big Orc in a harsh deep voice.  Eleluleniel's heart failed her at this but the Orc uttered a great laugh and clapped Kurbag violently on the shoulder.  Kurbag bore under it, grinning widely, and the other Orcs laughed as well.  "You cocksucking son of a whore.  Sorry to keep us waiting indeed.  Well, you are two lucky sods and no mistake.  Hoi, lads!" he shouted, stepping back.  "Let's get them down by the fire!"


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.

Story Information

Author: The Lauderdale

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: General

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 07/23/11

Original Post: 06/29/06

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