16. Alas, Poor Forod
It was dark, and the sleeping Orc camp was still and quiet. Near one dark bulk the Elf girl slept as well, hands curled close beneath her chin. In that whole place there were none awake, save for the trees who watch always. Now they spoke with one another in the soundless speech so few apart from them may understand.
…poor child…poor little one…
…she cannot stay here…something bad will happen…
…yet it will go ill with her if she tries to flee…
…it may be he will free her…
…trust not in the Orch…he has lied before…
…hope not in that…she cannot wait for that…
…something bad will happen…
…if she stays…
…something bad is going to happen.
Eleluleniel's eyelids fluttered. Without any other movement she came to full wakefulness, listening with all of her body. In her dreams she had seen herself sleeping and heard the trees speaking overhead. Now she did not hear their speech but she felt their unease with the simple understanding born to any child of Elves.
Had the trees been speaking or had she only dreamt it? Did it matter if she had? What they said was true.
Something bad is going to happen.
Kurbag was lying close by. She could hear him snoring low behind her. Then she heard him stop, heard the soft squeak of leather, and knew that he was moving. Swallowing down her fear, she turned onto her back as quietly as possible so that she could see what he was doing. He had rolled onto his side facing her, no longer snoring, but his eyes were closed and his mouth hung open. There were crumbs of dried spittle at the corners.
Lying on her back, she looked sideways at him and then up, up at the shadowy mass of leaves overhead. Dawn was coming, and early morning would see the whole camp awake and watchful. If not now, when? she thought to herself. Then: I will do this.
She sat up slowly and took a careful look around. There were several of them lying about the sooty circle of the extinguished fire, bellies up, while the rest slept further out as Kurbag did. They slept in the same dirty clothes she had seen them in during the daytime. Some slept uncovered while others lay beneath rough pelts pulled up against the coolness of night. Covered or uncovered they were all of them ugly and absurd, slack faces and drooling open mouths like a tableau from a child's bedside tale.
Like Lúthien before the throne of Morgoth, when she placed him and all of his creatures under a sleep. Or Beleg when he rescued Túrin from the drunken Orc camp. Or that old children's song of Demaerion Half-Ways…the one in which he drugs the goblins and steals their shoes…
Remembering these snatches of story was some help in curbing her fear. She was gathering the courage to stand when her gaze passed over one of the recumbent Orcs. His eyes were open and looking back at her, eyes fixed and unblinking as those of a sleeping Elf. But Orcs do not sleep with their eyes open.
Nazluk uncurled and sat up, stretching his body in a languid, unhurried motion, and smiled at her. His mouth smiled, but his eyes held all the warmth of a serpent. Lifting one hand, he made a flourishing, expansive gesture, one that needed no explanation.
Go on then. Try it. Leave if you want to leave so badly.
For a moment she could only stare back at him, her immediate plans for escape in shambles. He did not want her there, but this invitation to go was mockery. She knew that he would kill her if she tried. Finally, lying back unhappily, she turned on her side and stared into the trees.
As for Nazluk, he felt very good. Seeing the Elf girl's furtive movements when he opened his eyes had been unexpected. Perhaps, if he'd been thinking more clearly, he should have closed his eyes again before she realized he was awake. Let her put some distance between herself and them, and then roused the others with news of her escape. Or he might have risen and followed after her by stealth, cutting her down once she was in the trees. If he killed her legitimately, while she was trying to get away, Kurbag would hardly be in any position to gainsay him.
Nazluk drew a slender knife from beneath his sleeping pallet and began to clean under his nails with it, glancing up every so often at the Elf girl's back, the outline of her shoulderblades through the soft material of her dress. Thinking of the dismay that had been on her face, his smile widened. No, he felt no regret. The Golug lived but her position was far from favorable, and he had a very good feeling about the day ahead.
Generally when Bragdagash called an extended march he could expect groans and protests, good-natured or ill-tempered depending on how his lads had slept, the terrain they were expecting, the state of the weather. This morning it was different, for when the Uruk chieftain gave the order to fall in the Golug stood in Kurbag's shadow, timorous and silent beneath the eyes that watched her. Some looked surreptitiously, glancing nervously over her as if she were an alien object with unknown, possible dangerous properties. Others stared outright in baffled hunger or resentment, or both.
It wasn't like the day before, when the others had first found the Golug still alive. There had been surprise and confusion then, but mostly joking and a keen sense of anticipation. They were expecting a show, and they knew it wouldn't be long before they had one. But Kurbag hadn't delivered. Now it was Day Two, and their allotted rest and relaxation was behind them now, along with any immediate chance for sport. They had ground to make up, and there was one more in their company than they had been expecting.
Bragdagash look at the Elf girl, his ugly face inscrutable, and then his eyes flicked toward Kurbag, and then he directed his gaze to the larger group. "Got all your shit then? That's good, because we're legging it. You lot've had it easy. Gonna be covering a lot of ground to make up for yesterday." He started off at the head and the others fell in line behind him. Calling back over his shoulder: "I think it's only fair to warn you that I didn't have breakfast this morning. No stragglers, unless you want your name to be Lunch."
Normally this gibe would have netted a good laugh. Today the response was quieter as more than half the Orcs present looked at Kurbag's Golug. Up at the head of the column Bragdagash himself did not look back, but he kept stock of the muttering he heard behind him.
Surprisingly as the hours passed the Elf did not fall behind. Kurbag was keeping to the middle of the line, and the girl was cleaving close to him. Perhaps she was fearful of the other Orcs who watched so closely, and of what would happen if she fell within their reach. But there was something else the smaller Orcs soon noticed, and this became the subject of a rapid exchange between them: whispered, in rapid Orkish, so the subject in question would not hear or understand.
"What in fuck?"
"What is it, Shrah'rar?"
"Look at her feet."
"What about 'em, then?"
"Can't you fools see without my having to say?"
"See? No footprints! I'm telling you—"
"Come off it, Shrah'rar, the ground is harder here…"
"Horseshit. Kurbag's making marks."
"Kurbag is built like a sodding house. Try another."
"Grymawk's making marks, then."
"I am not!"
"Why ain't she leaving tracks? Is she lighter than Grymawk?"
"P'r'aps. She don't look it, but…"
"Could be. She's skinny enough. Not like Grymawk—"
"I'm fine for my size!"
"No one's saying you aren't. Quit being a snaga."
"Why ain't she leaving tracks?"
"—too fuckin' weird."
"…m-maybe she's a ghost?"
This last was uttered by Pryszrim and prompted such a volley of jeering and abuse that the entire column slowed as everyone stared at them, and Bragdagash asked irritably if they would care to share.
"It's just that Pryszrim's an arse, boss," explained Iggrut, and the matter was dropped. Not by the snaga Orcs, however, who continued to argue the matter, albeit more quietly.
Rukshash, who was some small distance behind them, was not part of the conversation. Nonetheless he could hear snatches of it in passing. He did not see the proof of what they said; by the time he reached the place where the Elf had trod, four noisy goblins had beaten that path before him. Still, it was no more than his own experience told him of Elves: eerie and fey, but wholly in accord with what she was. Little enough trace her kind leaves of their passing, for their step is light. It is said they can cross even fresh fallen snow without breaking the crust.
The Orcs kept moving through the long morning and noon, deep into the afternoon. It was surprising how well the Elf kept up, and irritating to Nazluk. Had she been laggard it would have made good ammunition. He would have been even more annoyed had he realized that he was partly responsible. For Eleluleniel the march was hard but bearable compared to the brutal pace she had endured those first days of captivity, when her captors had sought to put as much distance as possible between themselves and Elven pursuit and when Nazluk had driven her and Kurbag on their third day of travel.
Bragdagash was not under the pressures of escape or catching up to a lost Orc band. He only wanted to make up the miles they had missed on the day before, at a speed he deemed reasonable for his lads. He made no allowances for the prisoner who travelled with them—like Nazluk, he would have liked it well had she been obviously struggling or unable to keep up at all. When he finally called a halt for them to take food and rest for a time, he eyed her briefly. It would have made things simple for him if her weakness were an obvious hindrance.
She looked proper fagged, but not like she was going to keel over any time soon. He decided to leave it. "Be a half-hour breather, boys. We'll be marching into the dark hours, so anyone who needs to crap best do it now."
A good half of the band had already dispersed, presumably for this purpose; the others did not need to be told twice. Bragdagash sought out a place to take his own advice before returning to the collection of abandoned packs. He wasn't surprised to see that one Orc was already back there waiting for him. Rukshash was sitting on a discarded bedroll, and he stood up when he saw Bragdagash coming back. "Moment of your time, Braggy?"
"What's on your mind then?" said Bragdagash, walking over to join him. Rukshash gave a cursory glance over his shoulder and Bragdagash nodded. "Right, somewhere more private."
"Oooh chief!" said Rukshash with a coquettish show of surprise. "Never knew you fancied me! But do we really have time for that?" Bragdagash chuckled as the two of them walked away together to a more secluded place in the trees. Once there Rukshash's demeanor changed as he became more deferent. "Here now, Braggy," he said softly, "I didn't like to say anything before now, and you may not feel it's your place no more than it is mine, but it might be one of us ought to…well. Kurbag's not showing any initiative to make an end of her, so I'm just wondering if it wouldn't be best for one of us to take care of that little Elf piece. Discreet-like, if you know what I mean. It doesn't have to look violent."
"Why do you say that?" asked Bragdagash.
"Eh…" Pressed for his reasoning, the old Orc looked reluctant but went on, "It's not me saying this, mind, but only some of the lads. They've gotten it into their heads there's something funny about her. Something queer, like it might could hurt us. I'm not saying that, I'm only saying that some of the others are, is all."
"So that's not what you think, then?" At the shake of the head that he received, Bragdagash pressed him: "Then what do you think?"
Rukshash stopped hedging and spoke directly. "Skai, I think she's queer too. There's nothing natural about her still being around—what is it, four days after Kurbag first tupped her, and him having her again more than once? Mind you, I don't think she's more than some kind of fluke, and I don't think she presents any hurt to us, little slip of a thing like that. Only, having her around is bothering the others, and they think she might be putting some kind of a witching on Kurbag."
"You don't think she is?"
Rukshash scoffed. "Nar. Any witching on Kurbag, he's put it on himself without no help from anyone else. He's like a lad I remember back during the War. Big Uruk, tall as you please and not someone anybody in his right mind would mess with. But he found a little kitten somewhere—"
Rukshash laughed outright at the look on Bragdagash's face. "Oh aye, you heard me right. It was after we had hacked our way through a tark outpost in Ithilien. Guess some of those soldier boys were keeping it for a mouser or some kind of lucky mascot. Little luck it brought them, but it surely charmed old Forod. He took that little creature with him everywhere. When it wasn't tucked in the collar of his tunic it was," he patted himself on the shoulder, "up riding, like so. Who would believe it! A big fellow like that, ugly as a horse's backside, thought nothing of ramming the butt-end of his pike through some poor snaga's gut if he took a disinclination to the fellow, and all the while this little bit of fluff was perched up there by his hairy ear…
"You want to talk about morale issues? No one could say Forod wanted for balls or pure viciousness when the situation called for it, but this baby-cat of his was reflecting on the rest of us. Making ALL of us look bad. Who can take a fellow like that seriously? And yet there was nothing would make him get rid of the thing: not jeering, not straight talk, nobody could induce him to give it up."
"So what happened?" asked Bragdagash.
Rukshash shrugged. "Who knows? We were on a march at that point. Hard march, long miles in bad country, some skirmishes with Wild Men, and all of us hungry and bone-tired. It happened some time during the night, while Forod was sleeping the sleep of the dead with that little kitten curled up on his chest – I'm not making this up, mind, that really is the way the two of them would sleep. Only this time, when he woke…
"Could be the kitten ran off in the night. Could be some of the lads took their opportunity while Forod was out of it. Rations weren't so good, and we were all of us hungry." He said it as if with deep regret, but there was a wicked gleam in his eye.
Bragdagash, who had been keeping it together manfully as Rukshash told his tale, began to snigger, at which point Rukshash gave up the pretense and joined in with hard, harsh caws of laughter. Between chuckles Bragdagash had the rest of poor Forod's story out of Rukshash. It did not end happily. Evidently Forod had not taken the loss of his pet well. He had raged endlessly when he discovered it missing, railing against his travelling companions, and only dire injunctions from their lead officer had saved some of the smaller Orcs that Forod suspected from being gutted. After that the Uruk became unsociable and suspicious of the others, while they became equally wary of him.
"After that it was only a matter of time. We had an engagement with another lot of Gondorian soldier boys and, picking up the pieces afterward and counting up the fellows who'd left us for the Dark Lands, we soon found that Forod was one of our casualties. Funny thing was, some of the wounds on his body didn't look like they were made by Man-weapons. Gondor's boys carried smooth swords, clean and straight. These wounds, the edges were more irregular. Looked almost as if they had come from blades of Orkish make, if you catch my drift."
"So you figure Forod was done in by one of his own shield mates?"
"All speculation after the fact, innit? He had some normal-looking wounds as well. Could be one of those tark soldier boys hacked into him enough to slow him down, and some clever Orc came on him after in the confusion, decided to finish the job off proper. But who can say for certain? It may be that even the fellow who gave him the finishing cut ain't sure his was the one to do it, all these long years later." He smiled slyly as he said this.
"Why you wicked old goblin," said Bragdagash, tremendously amused. "You tell an ugly tale, old one, but you tell it well enough. Here now, do I have to worry about Kurbag with a dangerous bastard like you around?"
Rukshash affected an air of hurt. "Pugh, what a thing to say! I like Kurbag, he's a good lad. Just needs someone to look out for his best interests, is all."
"Yes, well, I reckon I have Kurbag's best interests at heart myself. But you've said your piece and I'm glad of it, and we'll leave it there for now. I've got my eye on the situation." His voice was mild for an Orc but nonetheless signaled a close.
The old warrior scratched his armpit comfortably, seemingly serene in the face of Bragdagash's faint warning. "Ah…I'm sure that you do, boss. Pays, though, to remember that you're not the only one. And while we're having this pleasant conversation there are others chatting it up as well."
The Elf did not have to ask for privacy this time. Kurbag, anticipating her request, had stopped near a briar large enough to afford some concealment. While she stepped behind it he looked back the way they had come but saw no one. Not that he really expected to see anybody. It was a modest enough bank of time that Bragdagash had given them all, and they would have better things to do with it than following Kurbag and giving him grief. Still he waited with his eyes on the way they had come until the Elf had finished her business, before he attended to his own.
When he turned again, lacing himself up afterward, it was to find her gazing in the same direction. "We won't go back just yet," he said. "I've a mind to take my break away from those assholes."
"They will not expect you?" she asked, looking at him.
He shrugged. He really didn't care. "Still got a good fifteen minutes, I should say. I'll spend it how and where I please."
A quarter of an hour. That was not very long. Nevertheless she screwed up her courage and turned to face him directly. "Will you let me speak to you?" she asked him.
Looking faintly amused: "I'm listening."
She took a step toward him. I know he will not listen to me, she thought. It will be nothing I have not said to him before, and it will do me no good to repeat it. He does not hear what he does not want to hear. It was strange – strange, and disheartening – to talk to someone in a language that both of them knew and yet find that he would not or could not understand her.
She brought her closed fists to her chest and took a deep breath. "Leithio nin," she said.
Kurbag blinked and shifted his stance. There was no recognition in his eyes, but there was curiosity and she would use it. She spoke as carefully and clearly as she could. "Ab leben oer ieston doled na mâr nîn. Sad hen al-nín. Gen a vellyn gîn goston. Adinnu mabennich o lam nîn, a cenin hi achen be edhellen: Anno dulu enni. Leithio nin."
He had watched her intently as she spoke. Now he waited as if to see whether more was in the offering before asking what she'd said.
"I said, 'You asked me before about my Elven speech, so I speak to you in that way. Give me my freedom. Let me go.'"
He scratched the back of his neck, looking at her. "Is that all you said?"
It was not. She repeated herself, translating her Sindarin faithfully, word for word. As she did so she looked into his face for some clue as to what he was thinking.
What Kurbag was thinking was of the way her speech lilted in his ear like a song, fey and fair. He was reminded of the garden where first he had heard her singing, seen her kneeling with her trowel. "They'll notice if you don't come back with me."
"You could tell them that you...that you slew me." It would be a lie, but he was an Orc, and it would not be her lie.
His response was blunt. "They would wonder where the meat was. Someone would go looking. And where do you think you would go anyway?"
She did not know, and she would not have told him if she did. "Something bad is going to happen," she said softly. The trees had said so. Even if they hadn't, she knew that it was true. She could feel it coming closer, like some rough beast watching in the shadows.
"Well," he said. "That's vague. Covers a lot of territory, doesn't it."
Eleluleniel's shoulders slumped. What was there to say that she had not already said? She had known that it would do no good, but she had hoped. She had hoped.
Studying her, Kurbag raised his fingers to her jaw. She flinched and stepped back from him; lifting her chin, she watched him warily. He cocked his head, his brow knotting. "What are you thinking when you look at me like that?"
No lying. "That I do not want you to touch me."
He exhaled through his nostrils, a huff of hot damp breath like a horse. "Just a little thing you are," he muttered. "I could circle your waist with my hands." She tensed but he made no move to carry out the thought. "Best stick close. You may not be safe otherwise."
Safe? She felt a kind of half-crazed laughter bubbling up inside. She wanted to ask him how he defined the word. Instead she held her tongue, following as he led her back to the others. The trees said I cannot trust him. If anyone is to help me I must be the one to help myself. But it was five days now and so far her best hope had been that morning: a narrow window of opportunity from which Nazluk had barred her.
Then you must watch for another, she told herself, but there was a heavy sick feeling in her stomach. She had a foreboding that there would be no further chances.
The march, when they continued it, was tree-covered but uneven, with slogs uphill and down, treacherous roots curling underfoot and sudden outcroppings of stone. On the one hand it wasn't always easy going; on the other it was an engaging terrain that made them pay attention to what they were doing. This included their captive. Eleluleniel had never seen country like this before: all of her life had been spent in the green wood where her parents made their home, where she had been born and her sisters before her. What she knew of the outside world came from books and adults and from letters from Rivendell, and these had generally focused on other concerns than regional topography.
Here were plants she had never seen before and mottled rose-colored stone, songs of birds she did not recognize. The trees overhead were broken here and there with blue sky, bright sunshine slanting down on silver lichens and blue-green moss. This displeased the smaller Orcs, who grumbled and lowered their heads and pulled their packs up on their shoulders to shield their necks, but the Elf saw it all in a kind of wonder despite her continuing apprehension. How vast the world was. There was beauty everywhere.
If Nevhithien was here she would be writing all of this down. Every blade of grass, every flower and fern. She would be so busy staring down the length of her pen, she would not even see where she was going. I wish…
The thought died there. She could never wish for her sister to be in her place, not even for a moment.
They came to a place where the trees ended at the top of a stony slope down into a long ravine. The goblins complained of the sun, and the Uruk-hai were also annoyed, for the going was treacherous with rocks that slid or skittered away underfoot. But there was nothing for it, so they started down. The Elf girl moved as carefully as any of them. Though her tread was light she was still fearful of the steep descent. She stumbled at a little at one point and Kurbag looked back over his shoulder. Taking hold of her arm, he tugged her forward to walk in front of him.
This simple action did not go unnoticed; behind them, Nazluk smiled with private satisfaction. What he saw others saw as well.
At the base of the ravine the Orcs did not immediately resume their march but paused to confer. Not all of them liked the idea of traveling in an open gorge in daytime, but Bragdagash and Lagdush had both been this way before as part of separate bands, and Lagdush backed the chief up when he called it a smart route. No men in these parts, for stone is not hospitable to farming, and marching through the defile itself would be a time saver, cutting through the mountainous terrain in which they traveled. If they kept moving they could be out by nightfall. That sounded pretty good to the others, and they fell in line again. There was room enough they might have gone several abreast, but the ground was uneven underfoot and so single-file was the way of things.
There was no telling who really started it. It began as a discordant humming that several of the Orcs took up, with little differentiation between them. Over the buzz Lagdush was the first to lift his rough voice, raising it in song.
"Down past the sea of Núrnen
In the shade of Orodruin
I knew a lad, Yashaga,
Who was born to wrack and ruin."
Mushog joined in with the others following after, including Kurbag, who sang enthusiastically:
"The bitch who whelped him whelped her last.
She cried, 'There's no more room!'
Yashaga did not care for that.
He tore apart her womb.
Yashaga, fucking hey!
Ya hoi ya harri hey!"
The voices of the Orcs were guttural and raucous. She was not able to understand all of the words, for which she could only feel gratitude. What she could understand was bad enough. Tilting back her head, she looked to the sky that ran like a seam of solid turquoise high above them. The angle of the sun was such that it did not shine directly into the canyon. A passing cloud, the blackness of a bird…she longed for something, anything to interrupt that opaque sky.
"When he was six he killed a bear,
When he was twelve a dragon.
He wears its claws around his neck,
Its skull became his flagon.
He plays his music on two pipes
Made from its horns an' all,
And on his back he bears the sack
That held its scaly balls.
Yashaga, fucking hey!
Ya hoi ya harri hey!"
Stoney walls on either side, Orcs before and behind. There were eleven in the band all together, but their harsh voices echoed and reverberated, their metal-shod boots rang on the stone, and the walls flung back the sound of it magnified. Eleven Orcs became a hundred and eleven, and walking single-file only preserved the illusion. Lagdush's brawny body blocked Eleluleniel's view of the Orcs in front of him, and she would not look back at Kurbag or the Orcs who marched behind.
"When he was eighteen Gorthaur said,
'Bring me that Orc Yashaga.
He'll lead my armies into war,
The mightiest of snaga.'
Yashaga laughed and cursed at him,
He pissed in Gorthaur's Eye!
Yashaga is the only one
To make the Dark Lord cryyyyyy—"
Kurbag, for his part, was enjoying himself. It had not, up to this point, been a good day. Mushog, normally a mate, had been monosyllabic that morning, answering anything that Kurbag said to him shortly if at all, and this had made Kurbag short with him in turn. Kurbag wasn't completely clueless. He knew Mushog still had a hair across his arse over that snub the night before. So maybe Kurbag hadn't been as friendly as he could have, but honestly, Mushog had seen the mood he was in—surely saw what he was dealing with now, for that matter, what with Nazluk and the other snaga Orcs trying to get a rise out of him and Bragdagash aiming looks at him all day.
Despite his words to the Elf about wanting to take a break from the others, maybe it would have been better to seek a few minutes with Mushog. Put things right between them and even get his thoughts on what was going on. What good is a buddy if you can't talk to him about shit like that?
Focusing on something other than his frustration, belting out a good marching song in company with the others, just felt really good at that moment. For all its roughness Lagdush had a good voice, the best of any of them. Kurbag certainly couldn't carry a tune and Mushog was even worse. Hearing the Uruk's cheerful tone-deaf shouting behind him made Kurbag grin and sing even louder.
"So now Yashaga's twenty-four
And over twenty stone.
It takes four lads to lift the axe
That he hefts on his own.
His eyes they are two burning coals,
Broad are his hands and shoulders.
His dick it hangs down to the floor,
His balls are fucking boulders!
"I sat and drank with him one night,
I thought that I was able.
Yashaga downed twelve drinking skins:
He drank me 'neath the table.
I woke up with a thumping head,
A-muttering his name.
My coin was gone, and my arsehole
Has never been the same.
Yashaga, fucking hey!
Ya hoi ya harri hey!
They broke off with a final shout and a mingled burst of hooting and laughter. Kurbag turned his head and grinned at Mushog, who grinned back in that open-mouthed way that showed all of his teeth. Nothing threatening about it: just high spirits, no apparent rancor. So maybe now they were friends again and later, when the time came to make camp, they could sort it all out between them. Maybe they could talk about the Elf and what Kurbag should do to put himself back in Braggy's good graces, without feeling like he was caving to Nazluk. So far the best he could think of was doing what the Elf kept asking for and letting her go. Ridiculous as it was, he still found himself thinking about it. He could only imagine how Mushog would laugh…
"Let's do 'Gorthaur's Other Eye,'" someone was saying.
"Nar, 'The Elf-Bitch Queen of Gondor'!" another countered.
Lagdush was evidently taking requests. "Who else for 'Elf-Bitch Queen of Gondor'?" It must have been a rhetorical question because he didn't wait for anyone to respond but promptly launched into the song:
"Oh her legs are white as lilies but they're scarlet in-between—"
"Hi! Shut it back there!"
Lagdush shut up and they all clattered to a halt as Bragdagash, at the head of the line, thrust his arm into the air. The snaga Orcs stuck their heads out at the sides, trying to peer past their larger comrades, but the ravine took a bend where Bragdagash was standing and they could not see through stone. At that moment he was the only one who could see what they had stopped for.
It was a pile of scree that towered well above his head: a jumble of fallen stone and slag that filled the striated walls of the pass. "We have a complication, boys," he called back dryly. As the others pressed in behind him they all groaned and complained at the sight of the rock slide. He gave them a minute or so to get it out of their systems before urging them forward again ("Yeah, I know it's a bitch but we're not going back…just suck it up, come on…") and they started to assail the treacherous mound of rubble.
"What's that you're muttering, Nazluk?" Iggrut asked.
"He's holding her hand again." Nazluk shifted his eyes toward Kurbag, who was indeed helping the Elf girl mount the stones.
Iggrut yelped and snarled as a cluster of rocks gave way beneath his feet, almost taking him with them. "Wouldn't mind a little assist myself," he said sarcastically, glaring up at the half-Uruk's back. If Kurbag heard he was ignoring them.
"Well, you won't be getting it," said Nazluk. "He has no eyes for anyone but her."
"Bad luck, I call it," Shrah'rar muttered. "These rocks shouldn't be here. They weren't here before – that's what Bragdagash and Lagdush said. It's a bad job."
"What, and you think that's because of her? It's obvious they've been here for some time now," said Grymawk.
The other Orc shrugged. "Still think she's bad luck."
Grymawk cursed and pulled his hand back. He had cut his palm on a jagged stone, and as he examined it beads of black blood welled up from under the leathery skin. Well, she certainly wasn't good luck, that's for sure.
It was hard going and tedious, for they all carried heavy packs and they had to take great care going up and coming down again on the other side. Still they made it over without any major misshap, outside of Pryszrim, who took a tumble near the base and fetched up in a dazed heap on his back. He had landed near Grushak, who was shaking grit out of his boot. Putting it on again, he picked the other Orc up and casually dusted him off, a process that for Pryszrim was like being buffeted by a tree. The dust it sent up made several of them sneeze.
"Good job, lads, but this has cost us time," said Bragdagash, looking up. He could not see the sun from here, as he hadn't since they first began their march through the ravine, but the quality of light was changing. "Give it a minute's walk and then we'll hump it."
"Aa-owww, my arse!" complained Mushog, who had just taxed muscles in his legs and backside that didn't normally get much use.
"I'll massage your pretty arse cheeks later with my own hands, Mushog. For now, move!"
Bragdagash was true to his word, the part about speeding up anyway. They had just time to accustom their legs to level ground again before he moved them into a brisk trot. The defile was wide enough here that they could move in twos. Threes, in some cases: the Elf was jostled between Kurbag and Iggrut, who leered sidelong at her. "Hi, Lagdush," he called, "why don't you take up that song again? Make the running easier!"
"Not for me it wouldn't," Lagdush called back pointedly, but he caved in to further appeals from the others and his own vanity. "Awright, awright then, since you're begging for it, here's the Elf-bitch Queen 'erself.
"Oh her legs are white as lilies but they're scarlet in-between
And her mouth is just as scarlet if you follow what I mean
And the crack that's at her back is always wide and welcoming,
She's the wide-arsed Elf-bitch Queen of Gon-dor…"
Eleluleniel's mouth was dry, her eyes blinking in the dust of the ravine. She was tired and somehow the thudding of the earth beneath her feet caused a numbing sensation to spread through her whole body. Even the vile song of the Uruk and the shouted accompaniment of his fellows seemed to die down as she slowly grew inured to the noise around her.
Then she felt a sly hand on her bottom, moving down over the back of her thigh. She shrieked and pitched into Kurbag, who cursed and thrust her sidelong, holding her at elbow's length while he turned his head to glare past her. "Iggrut! Fucking knock it off!"
"She's a clumsy one, ain't she?" huffed Iggrut cheerfully. "Best look that she don't trip you."
"You little shite—!"
"Oi, pick up the pace, you're slowing us down!"
"What the fuck, Kurbag…"
"…She's the whisker-humping
Wide-arsed Elf-bitch Queen of Gon-dor…"
Spray of goblin spittle on her neck; Kurbag and Iggrut were shouting at one another, and it felt as if Kurbag would crush her shoulder in his angry grip. She stumbled, and then stumbled again, and was horrified by the treachery of her own feet, which would surely call down the wrath of the entire Orc band upon her. And then she realized that it wasn't her: it was the ground itself that was shaking underfoot.
The alarm went up from all of them, shouts of warning as fear replaced the anger of a few seconds before, and they were not jogging anymore but running, smashing up against one another to escape the cascade of debris. One of the goblins got under Kurbag's feet: Eleluleniel saw Kurbag draw his foot back and literally punt the smaller Orc forward. Something hot spattered the side of her face, and a heavy stone struck her between the shoulderblades. It would have knocked her down if the press of bodies hadn't held her upright. She could no longer see for the thick yellow dust that billowed up, obscuring everything. She could not hear her own coughing for the roaring in her ears.
Suddenly she fell sideways as the bodies gave way to her right, where Iggrut had been. She staggered blindly in the gritty smut, separated from the band of Orcs. Threw her arms out, reaching through the dust, and encountered nothing, no one.
Alone. She was alone and she felt nothing but panic. Freedom was no comfort in this place, for she would surely die amid the dust and falling stone.
Eleluleniel faltered and slowed and stopped, pulling the neck of her dress up to cover her mouth and nose, trying to carve out a space of silence in the desolation. She could not hear herself, but she whispered into the material of her dress. "I commend me…" she whispered, "…I commend myself t—"
Two strong hands caught her, lifting her up. Two strong arms clasped her tightly. "Hold on," his voice said, and she did so, clinging onto Kurbag for dear life.
Leithio nin. Ab leben oer ieston doled na mâr nîn. Sad hen al-nín. Gen a vellyn gîn goston. Adinnu mabennich o lam nîn, a cenin hi achen be edhellen: Anno dulu enni. Leithio nin. "Let me go. After five days, I want to go home. This place is not mine. I fear you and your friends. Last night you asked me about my tongue and I cry to you now in Elven: Give me aid. Let me go."
Thanks, as ever, go to Navaer Lalaith for her assistance with Elven translation. There is no known word for "to ask" in Sindarin, so she advises that mabennich ("you asked") is a reconstruction from Quenya's maquet- and therefore iffy.
"—ai, shakamubi!" Literally: "rock fall" (shakamub + bi).
And yes, I wrote "The Elf-Bitch Queen,"
I wrote "Yashaga" too,
But if you quote them back at me
I'll beat you black and blue…
If you want, you can sing the former to the tune of "The Phony King of England" from Disney's Robin Hood. As for "Yashaga," eh, I don't want to give the tune for that. It is too ridiculous.
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.