4. A Taste for Flesh
"He had better remember the food—skai! The great fool," Nazluk muttered to himself as he stalked into the large foyer. He gave the rug that had tripped him earlier a wide berth. He'd not thought to watch for danger underfoot when entering the house itself had been so simple: he had only to take advantage of an open window to find himself in the dubiously pleasant surroundings of a large Elven dwelling. Now as he prowled through the lower levels he found everything around him sleek and silken: glossy wood furnishings, woven hangings and more bloody carpets out to get him.
Nazluk hawked and spat on a beautiful tasseled affair, deriving a sense of vindictive satisfaction. Then, in marked contrast with this bold display, he approached the stairs with a cautious step, his eyes fixed on the dark upper level and glittering with suspicion. He held his knife at the ready as he made his ascent.
Once there he cased each room with brisk efficiency. There was no one on the second floor—he established this quickly, brusquely opening wardrobes and checking under beds before thrusting his arm beneath each mattress for a rude grope. This was an act that often brought reward searching the homes of men, who were so distrustful and so protective of their belongings, but it yielded him nothing here. The Elven sleeping chambers were all together functional and spare after the opulence of the lower level. The disparity galled Nazluk. He vented his frustration on the third bed with his knife, viciously shredding the pristine counterpane and the white sheets and mattress underneath. The door to the fourth room he flung open with a curse, expecting another dead end.
Instead, a slanting sunbeam through an open window flung up a prismatic dazzle that made Nazluk shut his eyes with a snarl. Opening them, a slow smile spread his thin lips. On the bedside table a bright array of trinkets were arranged in a pretty display that warmed his wicked heart, and the dresser against the far wall was laden with more of the same.
"Now that's what I like to see," Nazluk cooed as he picked up a bright silver mirror. He smirked at the two mismatched eyes, green and yellow, smirking back.
She had gleaned every precious thing to be found in the kitchen, yet still she went from cupboard to cupboard, trying to seem as if she were searching. There was nothing else, but she was buying time, desperate thoughts rushing through her mind. She dared not attempt escape—his eyes had not left her for a moment. She had established that her sister was nowhere in the kitchen, but that meant Veisiliel must be somewhere in the rest of the house, undiscovered and still possessed of some chance at escape. Eleluleniel had to protect her sister's odds. She could do nothing about the other Orc who had stalked off, but she had to keep her monstrous guard distracted in the kitchen.
As she continued to open and close various drawers, she expected him to challenge her at any moment, to offer violence or threat. At some point he was going to realize she was stalling, and she was fearful of that discovery.
If she had known his thoughts she would have been mortified by her own transparency. Kurbag was not a fool and could see the quick darts she made were to no purpose. He did not call her on them, fascinated by her anxious flitting as she opened drawers and closed them again. She moved like nothing he had ever seen. Her feet never seemed to touch the floor.
Then his stomach growled. The Elf faltered briefly and he knew she had heard it too, and he knew the purpose to which to put her. She had faltered but regained her bearing, moving to another cupboard that she'd opened twice before: he stepped forward and caught her wrist as she reached for it. "Stop that," he said. Her face flashed toward him, eyes bright with fear. Her wrist was little more than the circumference of a twig. His grip tightened. "We need food," he said.
"I can get bread for you," she said quickly, trying to pull away from him. "There is honey…fruit…." The Orc was looking at her as if she had grown a second head. Perhaps she had not used the right words—perhaps she had just said something ridiculous in Common—
"Not bread," he said, still staring at her. "Meat. Flesh. We don't eat that other shit."
She flinched at the word he used but nodded quickly. Meat. Very well, she would get him meat. Then her heart sank as she spied the pantry door behind him and had a horrifying realization. Playing hide-and-go-seek, the pantry had always been Veisiliel's favorite place to hide: it was dark and cool, and there were low-lying shelves beneath which she might easily tuck her small body. Eleluleniel thought she knew now where her little sister had hidden herself, but the realization caused her not relief but dread. Her family ate little meat, and what they had currently was preserved and resting on shelves in the pantry. "I—"
He saw the sudden change in her eyes as they fixed on something over his shoulder. Still holding her he turned and noticed the door behind him. "What's in there, then?" he asked. He turned to see her shaking her head, eyes wide with alarm.
"No," she said. "There is—" He released her and she caught her wrist, feeling how his grip had bruised it, but she could not think about that now, terror driving out any thought of discomfort as he started toward the pantry door. "Wait! Please!" His back was to her. He had his hand on the doorknob. Fear made her unmindful of the danger, and she ran forward as he turned it.
Kurbag opened the door. It cast a rectangle of light across the floor of the little pantry. He saw shelves laden with various goods—hard cheeses, bread, vegetables, fruits both fresh and dried. The room was dark and cool. It smelt of herbs.
A small gasp to his right: he looked to find the Elf girl standing at his elbow, staring into the pantry interior. He was surprised she should have come so close.
Veisiliel…little sister, where are you? Eleluleniel's eyes darted back and forth, scanning the interior of the pantry, but she did not see her sister. A darkness out of the corner of her eye: the Orc was beside her, watching with disquieting intensity. She froze for less then a heartbeat; then she was moving again, quickly, words coming out of her mouth. "I will get your food," she said, and though it frightened her to enter that small room with the Orc at her back she did so, hurrying to the shelves in search of salt beef and pork.
Kurbag watched as the Elf retrieved proper food from the shelves. He wrinkled his nose at a cut of beef she carried out. It filled his nostrils with a smoky smell: aged meat, and not normally to his taste, but heartening after some eighteen hours' deprival. The Elf was not moving lightly now, or quickly. The thick slab was too much for her but she gasped and maneuvered it up over the edge of the counter and turned again in the direction of the pantry. Kurbag stood in the doorway, leaning against the inner frame. He had not moved since first he opened the door and he did not move now as she slipped through; she gave him as wide a berth as possible in that small space, pressing close against the other side of the entrance.
Her family kept little meat and she had gleaned what there was on the lower shelves. In the dim light of the pantry she could find nothing more at first—then she perceived the dark bulk of a large ham on the uppermost shelf. Eleluleniel stared at it helplessly. It was huge and, more to the point, out of reach. Biting her lip, she cast around for something on which to stand. Her eyes lit on a wooden stepping stool standing in the corner—in a flash she had picked it up and carried it over, stepping onto the stool and stretching her arms toward the shelf. The tips of her fingers just brushed the paper wrapping. She made a muffled sound at the back of her throat.
Kurbag straightened, his tall form filling the entrance as he stared at the Elf standing on the puny stool and straining for something out of reach. Her arms were pale and slender. He remembered the shifting of the bones in her wrist, the quick pulse of her vein beneath his palm. He stepped into the pantry.
The little light in the room diminished. Eleluleniel did not notice, absorbed in the task at hand. It was not safe, what she was doing, but she swallowed and stood a-tiptoe and caught at the edge of a lower shelf, praying that it would not give and send her tumbling to the pantry floor. The girl's weight was less than she thought and with her other hand she was able to pinch a fold of the paper and tug the ham a bare increment toward her.
Jewelry rasped across the surface of the table as Nazluk swept it into the pillowcase. Brooches, beaded bracelets, Elven finery—he knocked it all into the improvised sack with a careless motion of his arm, and shook it to make sure its contents fell to the bottom. It felt…not heavy, but heavy enough considering what filled it. Nazluk had not looked closely beyond ascertaining there was, in fact, gold; there was silver and crystal as well. Closer examination could come later: for now, he stuck with the healthy philosophy of thieving all that glittered.
He cleared the dresser with the same economy of movement as he had the bedside table. A few stray pretties bounced on the floor and Nazluk dropped immediately to snatch them up, the breath coming fast and eager between his thin lips.
He was feeling smug and all together pleased with himself when he left the room, but the swagger left his steps when he stopped at the top of the stairs. He thought he had heard something.
When Leni sent her into the house Veisiliel had not meant any mischief. She only wanted to add a postscript to her letter. She knew that she was not supposed to go into Papa's study when he wasn't there, but the note she planned was brief. She only meant to clear a little space at his secretary; she did not see how one pile of documents leaned precariously near the edge. She squeaked and was on her knees in a flash, gathering pages together and arranging them as neatly as she could, but she knew her father would see that they had been disturbed…and he would know just who had done it.
It was not fair, she thought unhappily. Such a little note she thought to make. She had not meant to make a mess.
A few belated sheets were still drifting lazily to the floor when she heard the noise out in the foyer—a creaking sound, like a window being opened or a shifting floorboard. Leni must have come looking for her. The Elf child stood and faced the door to the study, still partially ajar. She knew that she would be found out and that it would go easier on her if she confessed right away. Still she hesitated, for it was not happily she arrived at this decision. It was guilt, then, and fear of rebuke that saved her life. As she hesitated she heard a faint cry from another part of the house—then a crash in the other room, a voice raised in anger, and the voice was not her sister's. She delayed no further, running to the door and peeping round the edge. In that moment the monster of a thousand bedside tales became real to her.
When the Orc stormed into the kitchen she obeyed her first instinct, pulling the door immediately closed and running to hide in a corner between her father's secretary and the wall. After taking up this hiding place an eternity seemed to pass, an eternity in which she heard many things but did not know what she truly heard and what she merely imagined. Once through the muffling wood she heard evil words spoken in a harsh and unknown tongue—Nazluk, though of course she did not know this, before he ascended the stairs.
Since then, though, all was quiet. It was the quiet that got to her. In the quiet all she could hear was herself, and the voice that was herself said she could not stay here where she'd only be discovered. Said they would come and find her, even here. Monsters would not heed her father's dictates. The study was not off-limits to them.
Where were they now? For all she knew, they were not even in the house anymore. And what of her sister? Where was Leni?
It was quiet now. So quiet. She stood and she went to the door. She put her ear to the door and she listened. She stood there long, biting her lip, and her hand rested on the burnished doorknob till the cool metal took on the warmth of skin and she could not bear not knowing any longer.
She opened the door.
The angle was impossible. It was too high and too heavy. She had brought it to the edge of the shelf, but there was no way she would be able to lift it down. Her fingers whitened on the edge of the shelf. Eleluleniel lowered her head as she caught her breath and tried to figure out what to do.
Something rough brushed the side of her thumb. A heavy hand had come to rest beside hers. She recoiled as if from an adder—did not have the space to jump down from the stool but in a jerking movement twisted to face the hand's owner. The Orc was an indistinct outline against the light of the pantry door, but the green glitter of his eyes was readily visible. No Elf's eyes were that color. Even on the stool as she was he stood taller, and he was so near that his breath was falling against her brow, stirring the loose strands of her hair.
"I am going to fall," she said, a note of fierce warning in her voice, though she knew it meant nothing as a threat. He didn't say anything, leaning forward instead. She gasped and pressed back against the lower shelves, felt the edges digging into her back as he reached up and lifted down the heavy ham like it was no weight at all. He shifted it under one muscular arm and continued to stand there, hemming her in. "Let me down," she whispered. In response he reached forward and fingered a lock of her hair. She flinched as he lifted it in a feathered spill of pale color. "Please."
For all that he had not hurt her, she was becoming increasingly frightened of him. She had found him silver, she had found him food. She did not know what more to offer him. Her heart was pounding in her ears. If he kills me in this place…Horrible images came to her mind of her father finding her body, or her sister finding her body…or worse…their father finding them both—
Do not think it! Do not think it!
She trembled as calloused fingers brushed her jaw.
There was a harsh exclamation in the other room, coupled with a child's shrieking. Kurbag's head jerked away, and his hand clamped down on the Elf girl's shoulder. She cried out as he yanked her down from the stool, pulling her after him.
In the large foyer Nazluk had a terrified Elf child by the elbow. As Kurbag entered his eyes widened at the largeness of the room. He had raided his share of men's homes but had never seen an expansive interior such as this. He did not have time to marvel for Nazluk was thrusting the little one forward. "Look what I found," he sneered. "Another of the little maggots!"
She was a pretty thing with dark hair, and she cried out when she saw Kurbag's own captive, reaching for her pathetically. "Leni!"
"Muinthel!" The older girl made a sudden attempt to break free of his grip but Kurbag held her fast. She subsided, looking at the other Elf and speaking in soothing tones: "No dínen, Veisiliel. Garo hîdh."
"Nin naegra, Leni," the child whimpered.
"Iston, gûr vuin. Boe i min beren—"
"Shut up!" Nazluk snapped, giving the little one's arm a vicious jerk. She yelped, and the elder moaned as if she were the one to whom he had done it. "No more of that filth, you hear, or I'll give you worse!" The sound of their fey speech enraged him.
"Where was she?" asked Kurbag.
"In that room behind me." He gave the older Elf a dangerous look. "Funny you didn't see fit to mention this one, eh? How many more of you are there, hmm?" She stared back at him, trembling—annoyed, he twisted the little one's arm behind her back. Both girls screamed. "Answer me!"
"Stop it, there is no one else! I answer truly! Leave her be, she is only a child!"
Nazluk's teeth were bared in a savage grin. "Truly? No more of you? Are you sure?" He increased the pressure. His victim shrieked as he came near dislocating her shoulder.
This sent the older Elf into a frenzy that took both Orcs off guard. "DO NOT HURT MY SISTER! DO NOT HURT MY SISTER!" With a sudden desperate effort that belied her previous docility she tore free of Kurbag's hands, rushing Nazluk. He was so startled that he actually fell back a pace. "DO NOT HURT MY SISTER! DO NOT, DO NOT!" the Elf kept screaming as she struck at him blindly. There was no method to her attack—every blow was wild, driven by pure terror. Once he got over the initial surprise he pushed back savagely. She fell against Kurbag, who caught her arms; as soon as she felt herself imprisoned again the nature of her cries changed. "Veisiliel, noro si!"
In the sudden struggle the younger child had gotten free. Nazluk snarled and went for her but she was already opening the front door—before he could reach her she had run out of the house.
It was a short flight, for Veisiliel did not see where she was going. Her arm and shoulder burned with pain. Blinded by tears, she fetched up against something unyielding: a hard body, standing in the road that ran before their house. Strong arms came down to clasp her. She wailed and tried to pull free but the arms held firm. Voices spoke over her, and in her fear she did not immediately realize that they spoke in her own tongue. "Little one, what has happened? Why do you cry out?"
"She has been hurt! Look at the marks on her arm."
"Who has hurt you, child?"
She looked up at the two Elven scouts who stood over her, clad in the green raiment of the forest patrol. She looked up at them and opened her mouth, but no speech emerged. She turned and would have pointed back the way she had come, but it was the arm that had been abused and she could not raise it.
It was enough. They could all of them see the dark figure that slunk back, hissing, into the house.
"FUCK!!" Nazluk pulled the door closed but found no means of locking it. "Bloody fucking Golug door!" Turning, he grabbed the pillowcase of loot he had taken from upstairs and swung it over his left shoulder. "We go now, out the back."
"Back door's open," said Kurbag, "and the food's there too."
They kept close together and they watched the windows on either side. In the kitchen Kurbag pushed food and silver from the counter into a sack while Nazluk kept a tight grip on the Elf. She was whispering to herself, eyes cast upward and entreating. He slapped her, nothing like what he really wanted to give her at that moment, but it was still enough to make her squeak.
"Stop that!" said Kurbag. "Let's stay focused."
"I'm focused all right!" growled Nazluk. "You mind what you're about, yes?"
He held her tightly from behind, a wiry arm across her breastbone. Eleluleniel sagged a little in his grip, stunned by the blow. She was thirty-three years old, barely adolescent as her folk reckoned it, and never before had a hand been raised to her in anger. She could muster no outrage. With Veisiliel's escape all the wind had gone out of her, replaced by emptiness and a creeping dread. Veisiliel was safe but she was not. And she was on her own now.
They held her closely between the two of them as they exited the kitchen door, weapons drawn. Outside the sun was bright and the incongruity of birdsong filled the air. They were approaching the cover of the trees. Eleluleniel, realizing this, tried to dig in her heels. She had a sudden premonition that if they reached the trees she would never see her family again. The slighter of the two Orcs struck her again. "Don't," he said harshly, "or you die now." No pretence she would not die later. He looked at her with eyes slit against the daylight, and the ugliness in his face made her shrink away from him as much as his hand on her upper arm would allow.
The taller Orc only grunted, but she felt his fingers tighten. She knew that he too would not hesitate to kill her and she did not struggle further as they hurried her into the trees.
Muinthel! No dínen, Veisiliel. Garo hîdh. "Sister! Hush, Veisiliel. Be calm."
Nin naegra, Leni. "He is hurting me, Leni."
Iston, gûr vuin. Boe i min beren— "I know, dear heart. We must be brave—"
Veisiliel, noro si! "Veisiliel, run now!"
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.