1. Audience with an Uruk
They were baying for its blood and even at some distance from the settlement, their howls and cries, and the noise from the angry lynch mob that had gathered inside the city gates was clearly audible. The racket abated somewhat as royal procession made its way closer, and by the time their horses were clip-clopping into town across the market square, most traces of the earlier hubbub had all but vanished. News of their impromptu approach had doubtless preceded them.
Much as he would have preferred to avoid the ceremony of a formal reception, Faramir, Prince of Ithilien realised that this would now be quite impossible. A number of local dignitaries, among them the Mayor himself, were standing in line in the middle of the town square, waiting to welcome him.
An unseasonably mild and damp spring was the cause of Faramir’s unscheduled visit to the town. The state coach, a conveyance in which Faramir was now obliged to travel whenever he was in pursuit of his official duties, was lying broken-down on the rain-rutted roads, at least ten miles behind them. The vehicle was bedecked with velvet upholstery, stucco mouldings and varnished woodwork to a most impractical extent, and Faramir had not been at all sorry to escape from its ornate excesses. Breghaus, one of Faramir’s most trusted aides was explaining their transportational difficulties to the townsmen. He greeted Faramir formally, as the Prince approached.
One of the members of the welcoming committee started visibly, on hearing Faramir addressed by his royal title. The townsman’s first impression had been of a pleasant featured, if nondescript-looking young man, too careworn to be a person of note, and as such, he had overlooked Faramir completely. Surreptitiously, he now eyed the unlikely Prince of Gondor up and down, noting the simple cut of his clothing, and taking in dirt of the road that lay on Faramir’s mud-bespattered leggings and his plain, woollen cloak. Faramir had seized the chance offered by the faulty state coach as an excuse to travel as he once had done, riding on horseback, and to dress himself in the garb he had worn as a Ranger in Ithilien. It was, however, beginning to occur to him that in his comfortable riding-clothes, the figure he was cutting could be said to lack certain elements of princely dash and panache. Having a lifetime’s worth of experience behind him at mostly failing to make the grade, Faramir stood up straighter and squared his shoulders a little, reacting quite unconsciously to the disapproval he had detected in the Burgher-master’s gaze.
“It seems our visit to your town falls alongside a festival, or some day of celebration,” Faramir said, mainly to break the awkward silence that had fallen around them. “We heard no small commotion from some distance away!”
“Stage-managed, your Highness,” one of the dignitaries told him. “The situation was always well under control. It was the work of that man there.” He indicated short, red-faced individual, who was lingering a short distance from the welcoming party.
“He is naught but a travelling showman, my liege,” the Mayor blustered hurriedly. “A purveyor of freaks and oddities. He has a brightly coloured bird, that speaks with a man’s voice, in a heathen language of the Southern Lands. And a monkey, from the dusky jungles in the East, which dances on a chain. The Barker peddles simple tricks and amusements, made for simple folk. He is a harmless visitor.”
Parrots that talk and trained monkeys, thought Faramir, without much interest. “I believe I heard mention of an Orc,” he said.
Uninvited, the Barker, who had been watching – and apparently eavesdropping, from across the marketplace, sidled closer to the group. “Genuine Orc straight out of Mordor,” he said. “I’ve got one of them big soldier-Uruks from off of the Black Gate. Little piece of modern history. Could be your last chance to see one, guv’nor,” he said, obsequiously addressing Faramir himself. “It’s getting so there ain’t very many of ‘em about, these days. Floor show’s tomorrow night, in the tavern, if you’re interested, Sir.” He pointed to a large, slightly dilapidated hostelry on the other side of the town square. It was the building in which the royal party were planning to spend the night.
Faramir had not seen an Orc close-to since he had been the leader of an ill-fated sortie out against the Enemy more than 18 months previously, during the Siege of Minas Tirith. Scouting parties still occasionally reported distant sightings of Orcs, and Uruk-sign from the farthest reaches of the Southern Mountains, and by all accounts the great beasts seemed continually to be on the move, always heading south and east. And as the Barker had correctly noted, since the end of the War and especially after the Great Winter that had come after it, even these reports were becoming more and more scarce.
Faramir had to admit that his curiosity was piqued. There was, however, no use in considering it. His party would be moving on the following morning, and there could be no delay. “I would be most interested in seeing your exhibit,” he told the Barker, “and I thank you for your offer. But I must decline it. We will be leaving before tomorrow night.”
“Seeing as you’re a gentleman of taste and a connoisseur and what have you,” the Barker said, “if you was to come back a bit later on, kind Sir, I’m sure we could arrange for you to step in with my Orc for a minute, to have a look. I’m sure we can work something out. Just give me an hour or so, to get him settled down and such, all right?”
“Orcs. A scourge and a pestilence,” one of the Burgher-masters spat, as the Barker hurried away to make ready for Faramir’s visit. “Every last one of those filthy, despoiling creatures ought to be routed out. For the sake of Gondor!” The speaker was the same man who had registered doubt and incredulity over the disparity between Faramir’s travel-stained appearance and his exalted royal status. Faramir shot him a sharp look. Orcs had indeed been a scourge and a pestilence for many decades, throughout the border region that lay between Gondor and the Land of Shadow. The War had however been over for some time, and a call to control Orcs at this stage was very much akin to closing a stable door after the resident horse was long gone. But evidently feelings still ran high; though Faramir knew that this particular remote, south-western corner of Gondor had never directly been affected by Orcish activities. Faramir sighed wearily to himself. He supposed that an upswing in misplaced nationalistic feeling would always have been an inevitable consequence of the return of the King.
The Mayor of the Town and his welcoming committee were politely concerned that a visit from Faramir to the Barker’s exhibit might be seen as inappropriate, but as Faramir appeared to be set on the idea, in the end they were reluctant to try too hard to dissuade him. Moreover, the royal party’s unexpected visit had thrown the town councillors into a frenzy of excited disarray; being eager to show their town off to its best advantage, they had an ad-lib schedule of entertainments for the rest of the afternoon and evening to plan. Faramir being otherwise occupied for an hour or two would be something of a godsend to them.
So, at the appointed time, Faramir made his way to the Tavern. He was met by a beetle-browed, heavy-set fellow – apparently one of the Barker’s employees - who had the look of hired muscle about him. He accompanied Faramir out through the alehouse kitchens and into the Tavern’s rear courtyard, to where the Orc was residing in a securely locked, but otherwise ramshackle lean-to. The Tavern’s back room was obviously more often used for storage purposes. There was an unhealthy chill in the air, and it stank of dampness and mildew, the mustiness probably emanating from the half dozen or so empty, mouldering ale casks that were piled haphazardly just inside the door. A single, tiny, square window under the eaves of the roof let in almost enough light to see by.
Noting that the wooden floor was rotted through in many places, Faramir trod carefully as he entered the stock room. The Doorkeeper followed him closely. As Faramir’s eyesight adjusted to the gloom, something he’d taken to be a loosely piled heap of rags and rubbish that was lying against the back wall shifted slightly, revealing itself to be the Orc – a large Uruk Orc, in fact - that he had come to look at. The Orc raised itself up to bask briefly, warming itself in a stray ray of sunlight that was beaming half-heartedly in through the cobwebbed windowpanes.
Faramir took one look at the storeroom’s lonely occupant and experienced a lurching sensation of heart-felt joy, mingled with overtones of absolute, screaming horror.
“Leave us,” Faramir told the Doorman, abruptly.
The Doorman blustered that it wouldn’t be safe, it wouldn’t be right, for him to leave a customer alone with a vicious, dangerous, untrustworthy Orc.
“I’ll pay extra,” Faramir said, staring with fixed intensity at the Uruk. He handed his coin-pouch to the Doorman. “Take whatever you think appropriate.”
A quick clinking sound accompanied the partial emptying of Faramir’s purse. It weighed considerably less when the Doorman returned it, but Faramir did not notice. He would not have cared even if he had done, for he was fully absorbed in studying the Orc.
His right eye was missing. On that side, four great, parallel scars scored down the Uruk’s face and neck perhaps explaining that loss, and the empty eye-socket had become skimmed over by a flat flap of skin. A piece of his ear was gone too, and his long nose looked as if it had been broken again and reset carelessly at some point. But still the profile was unmistakeable. He was much thinner, and even lankier than Faramir remembered, and even though he’d always had a haggard, world-weary sort of a look about him, overall, the years had most definitely not been kind. Just now he looked ill, he looked tired, he looked gaunt.
“Shagrat,” Faramir said.
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.