Treed: 19. Treed

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19. Treed

The half-Uruk prowled around the gutted holding, taking care where he put his feet.  The others had left a considerable mess behind them: pieces of crockery and broken furniture strewed the floors of the lower level of the main building, while the upper level stank of blood and fear and death.  It would have gotten him hard if he hadn't been so focused.

Bragdagash had let Kurbag off guard duty when the little dispatch of raiders returned.  The first thing he'd done was back-track their scent, finding his way to the place they had hit.  It was getting late, and what with the foul weather and being inside and all, it was difficult to see.  Kurbag had not inherited a regular Orc's keen night-vision.  Nonetheless, scent revealed a scene as vivid as any he might have seen with his eyes.  Here was where they'd made first kill.  Here they had entered the outer quarter where the men were waiting—waiting, only to have the shit kicked out of them.  Here was the innermost apartment where the women were shielding their youngsters when Bragdagash and his lads burst through.  And here the smells became a confused medley: heavy, heady.  Appetizing.

Kurbag shook it off and trotted down the stairs again.  He'd just ducked up for a peep, really; he knew that what he was looking for was not here.  Not in the main building.

He found it in one of the outlying sheds.  The door was off its hinges, but with nothing of interest to an Orkish raiding party within the interior was relatively untouched.  A few desultory chickens were roosting on top of a feed bin when he pushed the door open—he knocked them aside with a casual swing of his arm and they flapped off squawking.  Kurbag lifted the heavy lid easily, took a whiff of the contents and promptly sneezed.  Wiping his nose ferociously on the back of his hand, he felt around for something in which to tote the grain.


She was still heaving, even after her stomach had brought up all of its contents and that sour taste burned away everything else.  She continued to do so until her vision was swimming and her belly cramped with exertion.  She thought she was done when she finally stood again, but then she heard them laughing around the fire and the reflex to gag returned.

When she tried picking up the kindling her hands trembled so badly that she dropped it all: the wood only slid out of her grasp.  Her arms might have been boneless for all the good they did her.  In that instant she despised her body, hating her own flesh with a purity of loathing beyond anything she felt for the Orcs.  The intensity of this sudden wave left her spent and despairing.  It was no good.  It would never be any good, and nothing was ever going to get any better.  She looked at the wood she had dropped with a dull eye and picked up a piece, turning it over and over in her hands.  Then she let it fall.  There was a heavy sound as it struck the ground, but she didn't hear.  She was already walking away.

She walked slowly and steadily at first, thinking that any second one of them would shout after her, bark an order for her to come back; that one or more would give chase.  But none of them did.  Steady and slow until she was out of sight of the campfire, and then until she could no longer hear them.  And then she began to run.

She ran until her dress no longer whipped around her legs but clung like a second skin.  She ran until the trees on either side were a blur and all of her breath was gone, and her lungs and heart were afire.  And kept running till the fire had burnt to ash.

Only then did she stop, turning and crumpling against a black tree trunk, and she wept into the rough bark.  "Where am I going?" she sobbed.  "There is nowhere for me to go.  There is nowhere for me to go."  She had wanted to run for so long, and it had taken running for her to realize this: there was nowhere, no haven.  There was no road.  She was lost in a forest of strange trees many miles from her home, and many miles from anyone who could help her.  And in any case, who, helping her, could fail to revile her?  She would be shunned.  Even her own family would look on her with revulsion.  "I am fit for no one's company," she whispered.  "No one but…"

And she uttered a choking cry, and fell to her knees, and it was worse in this position, for Mushog had made her kneel…and she felt again the stony ground beneath her knees; felt again his fist in her hair, holding her head in place…and again she was gagging, and she fell forward onto her hands, dry-heaving over the dark earth.

They had ruined her.  They had ruined her.  And now she had nowhere else to go.

"But I cannot go back!" she wept.  "I cannot—not to that.  Oh Elbereth, help me.  Take me away from this place.  Else make of me some other thing.  A tree, a stone, a snail….Take this from me, I cannot bear it.  I cannot bear myself…."

A faint tremor passed through the tree beside her.  She raised her head and looked on it, blinking tear-filled eyes.  "Are you Huorn?" she asked softly.  A tendril of regret was all the reply.  The tree was tall and broad of circumference, but it was a tree, nothing less, nothing more…and it could offer her only its sympathy.  She nodded.  She hadn't dared hope, not really.  Brushing her hand against its rough exterior, she whispered, "Thank you."

Rising slowly she leaned into the hard tree trunk with her shoulder.  She was weary beyond measure.  "I do not know what to do," she said, sighing.  "Perhaps I will stay here.  Or I may wander on through the wood.  They will come for me sooner or later.  They will see that I am gone and come hunting.  They may kill me."  In a low voice: "I am afraid to die.  After all that has happened…afraid.  Is that not funny?"  She gave a mirthless laugh, and felt pain to do so.  Her jaw ached from the Uruk's usage.

The tree's comfort enveloped her in a gentle nimbus, leaving her nearly undone.  Real kindness: not like Kurbag's strange overtures, but a concern that truly had her good at heart.  "I will not forget, my friend," she whispered.  "I will think of you, whatever comes.  Wherever it is I go."  And for some time she rested at the tree's side in silence.

But the communion between the two was broken as the forest took alarm and the outlying trees broke into anxious murmuring. 

…comes…he is coming…

…comes for the singer…

…comes for the Elf child…

…who comes…


"No," she whispered.  "No…I will not…I cannot…"  Fear made a fool of her: a foolish child.  He was coming for her, but she would not let him take her again.  She would not go back.  The tree was tall and broad.  It was long since Eleluleniel had climbed a tree, but she climbed this one, gasping as she dug her slender fingers into its wrinkled skin and pulled herself up, up to the first level of branches and then hand over hand beyond, high as she might go.


"We circled each other.  He made a feint.  I blocked with my shield.  Yes, I carried a shield in those days.  It was standard issue for us grunts: small, round, and bloody useless for close combat, but this time it served me well.  I snarled at him.  He backed up a step.  So that was good...he knew I meant business!  Just then—"

"Oi Kurbag, where've you been?" Lagdush interrupted this gripping narrative.

Kurbag hefted the purloined burlap sack.  "Around."

Mushog, not entirely soused but feeling no pain, gestured enthusiastically.  "Siddown, siddown.  Rukshash is telling his eye-story again."

"Oh yeah?  Which one?" asked Kurbag, scanning past the little group around the fire.

"Skai.  'Which one,' he asks, as if I told a different story every time," Rukshash grumbled.

"It does change a lot in the telling," said Pryszrim.  Rukshash pinched him savagely and he yelped.  "Ai!  Why do you do that to me?" he whined, rubbing his arm.

"Because I like to hear you squeal, pig."

Shrah'rar and Grymawk both snorted—Pryszrim gave them an angry look and they laughed outright.

"Why aren't you sitting?" Mushog asked Kurbag plaintively.  He patted a space on the ground beside him.  "Share a skin with me."

"That's all right…I've something I need to take care of first," said Kurbag vaguely, sidestepping his fellow Orcs.

"I'll just bet you do," Mushog snickered.  "Try a change of position!  Your dick will thank you for it."

Kurbag grunted, only dimly registering the Uruk's words.  He didn't see Squeaker anywhere, and he had sudden misgivings about the time he'd taken at the farm holding.  When he got to the trees at the edge of the clearing he snuffed around a bit, and his suspicions were confirmed when he nearly stumbled over a discarded batch of firewood.  The Elf who had gathered it was nowhere to be found. 

Dropping the feedbag, he had enough sense to keep his cursing quiet.  "Fuck.  Fucking fuck," he muttered as he looked behind him.  The others were all laughing at some joke of Bragdagash's—all but Nazluk, who'd been appointed night shift when Kurbag stepped off guard duty.  The sour Orc was ensconced where Kurbag himself had been keeping watch all day: on the far side of camp, the same direction Kurbag had just come from.  No way had Squeaker broken out on that side—she'd've been nabbed before she got ten yards, and Nazluk would have told the whole band.  Instead no one seemed aware of the disappearance but Kurbag.

"And it's gonna stay that way," he told himself fiercely as he struck out after her.  There was no way any of the others were going to find out about this—he'd never live it down.  Well, who would have expected her to run after all this time?  Kurbag thought of the sack of grain he'd filched and his anger grew exponentially.  "Damn Elf.  I got her fucking food for her too!"  He was snarling as he tracked her scent, following her fear and the smell of her sweet flesh.

The further he went the angrier he became.  The darkness did nothing to help his humor, nor did the roots he kept tripping on.  When he bashed his shoulder he was sore and paranoid into the bargain.  Swearing as he stumbled again, he drew his sword and menaced the trees around him, not caring if he looked a fool.  "Back off," he snapped, not sure to whom he spoke but meaning it.

There was an eerie hush, and Kurbag slowly realized that the trail ended here.  He looked up.  It was night and his eyes were an Uruk's at night, but she was readily visible in the branches of the tree above him.  She glimmered even in the darkness, poignant and fair as a fallen star.  Kurbag, who did not think in such poetical terms, still caught his breath at the sight.  It almost made him forget his anger.  Almost. 

"I don't know what the fuck you thought you were doing, but you can come down from there," he growled, sheathing his blade.  "Right now."

She didn't move.

"You know, it's a damned good thing the others haven't noticed you gone.  If any of them had caught you pulling this shit they would have killed you out of hand.  You're lucky I'm not so sensible."

She didn't move.

"Get out of the tree, Squeaker.  I'm not telling you again."

He saw her shake her head.  "I cannot," her voice came faintly.  "Please.  Please do not make me."

He exploded then, beating his fist against the tree as he swore horribly and heaped threats upon her.  When he finished she was trembling and crying under the barrage of abusive language, but she only continued to cling where she was and to say that she couldn't come down.  "'Can't'?  You mean won't!" he snarled.  "You want me to come up after you?  Is that it?  Squeaker, if you make me come up there, you are going to regret it."

"Please stop!" she wept.  "I cannot come down.  Please, just leave me!"

His anger was exacerbated by fear that any minute somebody might blunder onto this embarrassing scene.  The others were busy with their own pursuits and probably thought he was still screwing the Elf somewhere, but at some point they were going to notice how long he had been gone.  And if they discovered the reason he would never hear the end of it.  Kurbag did not plan on losing face amongst his fellows.  That was not going to happen.  "You brought this on yourself," he growled, grabbing the rough trunk and beginning to work his way up the tree. 

It was not a smooth climb.  He had no experience with this sort of thing and his progress was awkward.  Though rage propelled him upward, he did not like to put distance between himself and the ground; his talons were of some help piercing the thick bark but that did not mean a half-Uruk belonged in a tree.  When he had hauled himself into the first level of branches he crouched in the crux of a sturdy bough, peering down nervously.  Rising, he hooked his arm over another branch for support and looked up, narrowing his eyes.  Squeaker was staring down at him, her face white and drawn: when she saw the expression on his face she pressed closer to the tree.  Muttering obscenities, Kurbag went back to climbing.


…child…he is in my branches…

She clung to the tree, her face against its trunk.

…little one, little one…I cannot protect you…

She could feel the tree's distress.  Had it been Huorn it would have cast her pursuer off by now and crushed him.  Because it was not Huorn, it could employ only those little acts of defiance any tree may muster: the subtle roil and twitch of bark, the barest shifting of branches.  But Kurbag did not have the perception she did.  He attributed that slip of the foot to his own awkwardness; that branch had not moved, he had only fumbled.  These were inconveniences, not enough to distract him from his grim purpose.  Not when he was as angry as he was.

And he was angry.  She could feel it, and she was afraid.  She had mounted as high as she might and dared no further, knowing the slender limbs beyond were too frail.  Kurbag, some fifteen feet below her at this point, was far larger than she and a clumsy climber, but he was still closing the gap between them.  She could feel his wrath rising as a tangible heat, like a hot breath on her legs.  He had brutalized her but he had not vented his anger on her before, and she was still shaken by what he had shouted from the base of the tree. 

She wondered how, after all that had happened, she could still be stunned by harsh words.  Somehow the Orc had continued to deceive her, else she had deceived herself.  She must have trusted him on some level, still nourished some faint hope.  What hope?  That he might see her in her tree and walk past?  That he might yet be moved by her pleas?  Not likely.

There was sudden quiet below her.  He had maintained a steady, bestial snarling ever since he'd started climbing, so the silence was strange.  Blinking swollen eyes, she turned her face away from the tree and looked down.  He was feeling deliberately of the branches around him, searching for the thickest available.  There was a look of deep concentration on his angular features.  Grasping the base of one bough, he pulled himself up another level.

…ah…said the tree…I…

There was a cracking sound, and both Orc and Elf cried out as the branch Kurbag stepped onto gave way. 

Eleluleniel closed her eyes, feeling ill.  When she opened them he was still there, limbs locked around the trunk in a death grip.  "Fuck," he gasped.  "Fuck, fuck, fuck…."

"Please stop," she said softly.  He ignored her, gouging deeply into the tree with his claws and hoisting himself up that way, with no more care for branches.  "Please," she said again, knowing it was useless.  And then he was at her feet, and he was breathing shallowly and quick.  "…please…" she whispered as he drew himself, impossibly, fully level with her, and she shrank away. 

That was when he hit her.

It was a hard heavy blow with the back of his hand.  If it had been his closed fist he might have killed her.  As it was, she saw a bright explosion of light: she lost sense briefly, and her hands went slack.  She would have fallen if he hadn't caught her arm, snatching her against him roughly.  She could feel him trembling just as she was trembling, and she heard a strange rattling sound that she realized was the sound of her own teeth chattering against each other.  There was a taste of blood in her mouth.

"'Please'?" Kurbag was saying. "'Please'?  You little idiot!  What did you think was going to happen?  Did you think that I was playing games?"  He continued to tremble with what she thought at first was fury, but when he didn't hit her again she realized.  He was afraid.  No, not even afraid: terrified.  His whole body was quivering with it.  At first she was utterly bewildered—what did he have to be frightened of?  Then she heard him mutter, "Oh fuck, how far up are we anyway?  Oh fuck." 

He groaned, and somehow that sound restored her to a strange semblance of calm.  Her own trembling slowed, and the agony in her cheek dwindled, dying to a painful but bearable throb.  She listened as from far away, with a kind of detached interest, to the dialogue he was having with himself.

There was only one way he could go, of course, but that branch snapping had shaken him badly, and there was also the Elf girl to consider.  She was quiet enough for now, pinned unresisting against his chest, but he didn't know how long it would be before she launched into another of those unnerving crying jags to which she was so prone.  He had made this climb to fetch her down—now he had her and he wasn't sure how to do it.  Couldn't use his arms to hold her and climb at the same time.  Couldn't have her follow, or he'd just be in the same position as before, with her not coming down at all.  The only way he could see was to have her go first, and so he spoke to her tersely.

"Listen, Squeaker.  Listen carefully, or I will break your neck, I swear I will.  Do you understand what I'm saying?"  She didn't say anything and he gave her a rib-buckling squeeze.  "Do you?"

"Yes!" she gasped.  "I understand!"  And added something that he could not hear.

"What was that?"

"I said—" she made a hiccupping sound.  "I said I thought you were being rhetorical."  And laughed: a high, tremulous bubble of laughter.

Annoyed, he gave her another squeeze.  "When I am being rhetorical I will let you know," he growled.  "I want you to go down ahead of me.  I want you to climb a little way at a time.  On my say-so, and when I tell you to stop, you stop, got it?" 

"I will stop when you tell me."

There was a brief silence. 

"Well?" he said impatiently.

She met his green eyes with her own pale blue gaze.  "You have to let me go." 

His right arm still held her pinned against him.  With a final growl of warning he released his grip on her waist and she turned toward him, now studiously avoiding his eyes.  Carefully she began to descend, following the tree's silent cues.  To a resentful Kurbag she seemed to move with all the weight of a leaf in branches that protested his own bulk.  "Stop," he snarled shortly.  "You wait right there," and began to feel his own way down.  It was a much slower process for him—he could feel the branches he chose creaking dangerously beneath him, and this made his choices hesitant and tense.

Then it began to rain.  It was as he met her midway that he felt the first fat drops and cursed.  He had been focused on climbing and had certainly had no eye for the heavens or for the changing cloud cover.  It was not a hard rain, but already the branches were becoming damp with it—slick and treacherous to his nervous sense of proportion.  "Far enough," he muttered, "that's far enough," and wedged himself into a sturdy nook.  Squeaker was standing beside him wordlessly, her feet planted on a lower branch, her slender arms around the trunk of the tree.  Taking her elbow in a firm grip, he drew her onto his hard thigh. 

She sat there silent and seemingly tractable, though he could feel the stiffness of her body.  Was she uncomfortable?  Good!  Yet he didn't think it with the same degree of satisfaction that he would have felt barely minutes before.  The worst of his anger was curbed now, replaced with a grudging resignation: they'd neither of them be moving any time soon.  At least the others wouldn't be abroad in this mess.  They'd have bedded down out of the damp by now, not sparing a thought for him and Squeaker beyond maybe a dirty joke or two.  Fine by him!

Eleluleniel, unaware of his thoughts, hung her head as she listened to the tree's quiet murmuring.  Its broken bough ached and it was dismayed by the continued presence of the Orc in its branches.  "Sorry," she said, "I am sorry…."

"I'll just bet you are," Kurbag muttered behind her.  She flinched but did not correct him.  His arm around her was not painful, but she knew that it could be if he was provoked.  "Why'd you run, anyway?" he went on.  "How far did you think you were gonna get?"

"…I did not think ahead."

He snorted.  "I'll say.  That was some plan, Squeaker.  Find a tree and climb it, huh?  Really clever." 

The rain continued to fall.  Kurbag, sitting with the Elf girl on his lap, studied the web of glittering droplets that was her hair.  While the rain steamed off his hot slate-gray hide it collected on the exposed skin of her pale shoulders and neck in little beads.  As he watched, she shivered and raindrops ran off in shining rivulets.  "You cold?" he asked.  His tone was no longer sarcastic.  She shivered again and he muttered something about her taking sick.  Having nothing with which to cover her, he slid his other arm around her as well and pulled her against him, calloused fingers knotting over her belly.

Her kind did not become ill easily, and Eleluleniel had never heard of an Elf dying from fever, save it be a fever bred of poison.  But Kurbag's heat penetrated even the thick leather he wore, providing some relief against the chill night air, and she had nowhere else to go.  The crude metal affixed to the front of his jerkin hurt her: she shifted fitfully and he loosened his grip enough to let her find a less uncomfortable position. 

When she was settled again he grunted.  A particularly large rain drop had struck his ear, causing it to flick irritably.  "When is this gonna be over?" he said under his breath.

"I was wondering the same thing," said Eleluleniel quietly.

"Were you.  Hmm."

Not about the rain, though.  "What will happen when the rain stops?"

Kurbag heaved a sigh.  "We go back to the others, and they don't hear a word about this.  I'm sure as fuck not saying anything, and you won't either if you know what's good for you."  Not that he could see any reason why she would.  It wasn't in her interests, and she said so little now as it was.  Barely even spoke to him anymore.  This was the most that she had said in a while.

"And then...?"

"And then march, most like, though Bragdagash may wait for things to dry out a bit.  Usually likes to make tracks after we hit a place, but rain is always a good cover.  So we march, or we lie up for another day and then march after that.  You know.  Business as usual."

She knew exactly.  Days and nights following in their succession: always the marching, and after the march… She lowered her head.

"You know we're going southerly, right?  We've veered north for a few days now, but that's where we're working our way, is south.  They say it doesn't rain down there, or else that it does but for weeks on end so that everything rots.  I asked Rukshash which was true.  He says it depends on where you are.  There are Orc-friendly Men down there, and Men who hate us, and that depends as well.  Haven't heard there are any Elves, but maybe…"

She considered his words.  She did not think it likely.  She had never heard that there were Elves in the southern lands.  "Will you go even unto Khand?"

He shrugged behind her.  "South of the Nurnen and into Harondor.  I don't know after that.  It's not my country and I only repeat the names I've been told."  There was a brief silence, and she could sense his eyes upon her as he studied the top of her head.  "What do you know of the south?"

Quiet demurral.  "I should know more, but I only remember Khand.  And what my sister said, about the stars.  She said that they are different there." 

"Your sister?"  An image stirred in Kurbag's brain: a small girl with terrified eyes and long dark hair, black as a raven's wing.  "The little one?"

She shook her head again, staring into the outer dark.  "No.  My older sister.  She is very clever.  She has memorized whole maps of Eriador and Rhovannion, and not only the lands of Elves and Men but of the heavens as well.  There is no star she does not know."

"Is she pretty like you?" asked Kurbag.  

The Elf shuddered, hard enough that he yelped and gripped her tighter in response.  "Oi, Squeaker!  Have a care, eh?  We're high up," he said in a strangled voice.  She subsided but it was a while before he himself could relax.  In the meantime he tried to calm his nerves with further conversation.  "What is it she said, then?  About the stars."

Rain slid down Eleluleniel's face.  She was thinking of Nevhithien busily spreading out one of their father's charts, weighing it down with whatever was to hand: an inkpot for one corner, a biscuit plate for another, impatient fingers smoothing down the rest.  'Look at poor old Túrin, turned on his head!  Menelvagor is transposed, and Helluin is above him.  This is what happens to our stars in the southern skies, Leni, at least those that do not vanish entirely.  But in their stead new stars appear, and whole new constellations…' 

She felt a kind of grief to think of her sister, as though she were remembering someone who had died.  Only Nevithien was not dead but very far away, and Eleluleniel would probably never see her again this side of the sea. 

But Kurbag was repeating his question, and she answered him as best she could from the shadow of her grief: "They change the further south you go, and some you cannot see at all.  The northernmost stars are no longer in view, and the rest are upside down.  But there are other stars we cannot see from here, and the sky is all alight with their shining."

Kurbag listened to this doubtfully.  Stars they couldn't see?  The night sky turned around?  It all sounded very odd, and more than a little unlikely.  He said as much, but Squeaker's response wasn't particularly satisfying.  It was what her sister said, she told him, and she did not entirely understand it herself.  "Huh," said the Orc, and he tilted his head back and looked up through the branches at the night sky overhead, ignoring the cold trickle that ran down the back of his neck.  "I guess it's not so strange at that," he said after a moment.  "We can't see our own stars just now, but they're still there."

His words kindled a little flame inside.  Unmindful of Kurbag's uncomfortable bulk she craned her own head back and stared up into the heavens.  "That is true.  They are only obscured by cloud," she murmured.  "They are just behind the rain."


The rain faltered and finally ceased altogether as the heavy clouds moved on, and the stars appeared in their thousands, and Kurbag gave her the word to start climbing down again.  He was restless and irritable from their long stint in the tree, and eager to plant his boots on solid ground.  She descended carefully and when she reached the bottom he uttered a sharp command to stay where she was until he had reached her.

Eleluleniel waited at the base of the tree, peering up through its branches as she scanned the sky again for her star.  She could not find it now among its fellows, but she knew it was there, for she had seen it from Kurbag's arms: the first little star peeping through a breach in the clouds.  It vanished soon enough, but she had searched for it and at length it had reappeared in a small dark patch of sky where it shone as yet alone, remote and distant, burning with a cool clear light.  The patch widened as the rain slowed and others also began to peer through, their numbers gradually increasing, but still she watched her little star.  In truth she was unable to look away from it, it was so keen and bright and far away.

Of course she had to at last when Kurbag told her to start climbing, and now she could not find it again.  There were many more stars now and they filled the sky: stars in their myriads, stars beyond counting.  She watched and thought she might weep from their beauty.

"'Sky piss.'  That's what Mushog calls rain, and he's not far off," grumbled Kurbag.  He swung down clumsily from the last branch, landing heavily on his feet beside her.  Crouching a moment, he ran his hands over the wet grass and rubbed them together before wiping them on his trousers.  Some of his previous anger had returned: he was cold and damp and sore and stiff, and as he straightened he glowered down at the Elf.  "Don't you ever pull that shit again.  Do you hear me?  That was more than just a nuisance."

She nodded, and he squinted at her in the dark.  Putting a hand on her shoulder, he stepped in close, peering down at her face.  "Skai.  Look what you made me do," he muttered at the livid welt on her cheek.

They picked their way back through the trees, crept into camp like thieves or bandits, the half-Uruk's hand tightening on her wrist every time he thought she was going to make a sound, though in truth she was quieter than him.  For all of their skulking the others stirred, and one of the snaga Orcs roused long enough to aim a crude gibe at them, which Kurbag ignored.  It took some time before he found his gear: stowed beneath a tree where one of the others must have shoved it, for neither he nor Eleluleniel remembered him leaving it there. 

He had not slept with her for some nights now.  It wasn't that he spared her his touch, only that he did not make her lie with him afterward, giving her a fur in which to enfold herself while he slept on his pallet.  This night there was no proffered fur.  He lay with her locked under his arm, and she did not cry but turned her head, gazing up at the sky and the stars.  They were the stars that shone on her family and home and the familiar wood where she was born, the same stars from which she had been taught her constellations as a little child, and which she had pointed out to Veisiliel in turn.  Somehow it was comforting that these same stars shown on her here in a camp of sleeping Orcs, so far from her old life.

These stars…

They are the stars that have shown on Elves for thousands of years, since the first wakenings by Cuiviénen.  They were appointed by the Starkindler herself, sown in the heavens before the First Age of the world.  They have shown in good times and in evil, and on darker things than this, yet they shine undimmed.  Day will bring harsh voices and the cruel laughter of Orcs; night will bring its attending torment but it will also bring the stars…

Are stars enough?

The question rose unbidden, indefatigable, and she pondered it in her heart.  The answers she arrived at were not comforting.  Now the stars were beautiful, but she foresaw nights when that beauty would be hollow, when the solace that they offered would seem trifling and cheap.  They spoke to her of peace and a serenity that could bear all things, but she foresaw an hour in which that serenity was transmuted to purest indifference.  The stars shed their light on good and evil alike; they sailed above all shadow forever, untouched and unspoilt.  They were not troubled by the sorrows of Elves or Men.  They knew nothing of pain.  What did stars care, any more than stone?

Yet will I look on them, thought Eleluleniel.  They are distant but they are fair.  Now I look on them and they ease my heart, and there will be nights like that as well.  It is little enough that I should look at them. 

It is little enough that, for those times when they suffice, I have the stars.


"Are you Huorn?" she asked softly.  The precise nature of Huorns is unknown.  They are believed to be trees that have grown Entish or Ents that have grown treeish, or possibly both.  Leni has never encountered a Huorn.  She knows of them from history and legends.

"Look at poor old Túrin, turned on his head!  Menelvagor is transposed, and Helluin is above him."  Menelvagor is Sindarin for "Swordsman of the Sky."  We know this constellation as Orion.  In Middle-earth it is held to represent Túrin Turambar, an ill-fated human warrior of the First Age.  Helluin is Sirius, the Dog Star, and is located at Menelvagor's foot when viewed from the northern hemisphere.

"There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach."  (The Return of the King, Book VI, "The Land of Shadow")

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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