2. Old time’s sake
“How are they treating you?” Faramir asked at length, keeping his tone brisk.
“Mustn’t grumble,” said Shagrat, and with some effort, he clambered awkwardly to his feet, swaying slightly as he stood upright. He was favouring his left leg heavily, and seemed unable to rest much weight on his right foot. Faramir, who was intent on searching Shagrat’s face, feeling, as he looked at him, a bewildering mix of combined eagerness and loathing, did not notice any of this.
“He fleeced you,” Shagrat said. “That doorkeeper. I’m not usually worth half that. Not even a tenth as much - and that for an entire bleedin’ audience, to be honest. He took you for a soft touch, you know.”
Faramir nodded, his attention still fixed fully on the Uruk. Shagrat seemed so very much older, than he had done before. Somehow, more vulnerable. Easily breakable, and the realisation of that unnerved Faramir more than he cared to admit. “I’m not concerned about the doorman,” he said.
“You’re a man of means, now, eh?” said Shagrat.
Faramir nodded again. “In many ways I am. Yes.” His situation had changed drastically since he’d last seen Shagrat, and then had been radically altered once again, a rather short time ago - but this was not a subject he had yet spoken about with anyone, least of all a Mordor Uruk.
“Did you see it when that blasted mountain went up?” Shagrat said, suddenly. “Talk about fireworks. Never seen anything like it. Lit up the whole sky for a day and a night. But later it – it loused the weather up something rotten, didn’t it?”
“No,” Faramir replied, “I did not see it myself. I was – indisposed.” While Mount Doom, the volcano that Shagrat was talking about had been erupting, Faramir had been lying in a fever-haze of delirium, caused by the injuries he’d sustained during the siege of Gondor. Recollections of that time were still excruciatingly painful for him.
“Don’t want to talk about old times?”
“No, I don’t,” said Faramir, with some feeling. Possibly it had been a mistake for him to think of raking over past, unfortunate events. “Perhaps it would be better if I go,” he said.
“Wait a bit, won’t you,” Shagrat said, “I’ll be for it if the Gaffer thinks I’ve been upsetting the paying guests. They’ll be knocking off for lunch in a minute. Maybe - maybe we could have a proper talk then,” he added, hopefully.
“Won’t they be coming in to feed you as well?”
Shagrat smiled at him oddly, not replying, and shook his head, jerking his chin at the doorway behind Faramir. Fully absorbed in revelling in the compelling – repulsive – presence of Shagrat as he had been, Faramir hadn’t noticed that the burly Doorkeeper had stepped up again, and was standing at his back.
“What are you up to this time, Captain fucking No-Mark?” the Doorman spat at Shagrat. He strode across the room and kicked Shagrat’s right leg out from under him. The Uruk fell down, clutching at his injured limb.
“Are you giving this nice gentleman any of your fucking lip?” the Doorman picked him up, grabbing a handful of the rags at the scruff of Shagrat’s neck and shook him. Faramir winced to see the once-proud Uruk Captain hanging limply in the Doorman’s grip. He appeared to be too weak to resist, and shortly the Doorman threw him down again, in disgust.
As the Uruk floundered at his feet, the Doorman kicked him once, then twice. Shagrat tried to protect himself by rolling into a ball. Faramir stared on, shocked, completely at a loss, and the Doorman struck Shagrat again.
“That’s enough!” Faramir heard himself blurting out. The Doorkeeper paused for a moment, looking sharply at him.
“I paid for time alone with this miscreant,” Faramir said, putting every bit of stately authority he had in him behind the statement. The Doorkeeper, though he did not seem particularly impressed by this shrugged his shoulders, and aiming a last, hefty kick at Shagrat as a parting shot, sauntered out.
Faramir bent down to help Shagrat up, and after a moment’s hesitation, the Uruk, very surprised, took the hand that Faramir was offering him. Stumbling slightly, he leant a little of his weight against Faramir, who recoiled from him at once. Shagrat went down again, gasping in pain.
Faramir knelt beside him. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“Not too steady on my pins,” Shagrat muttered, not looking at him.
Faramir reached over to tug the rags that covered Shagrat’s right leg aside, and saw that his upper ankle and the lower part of his shin had been broken and were setting themselves poorly, twisted out of line. The flesh there was deeply scarred, and was dark with blood and inflamed-looking. Irritably, Shagrat twitched his garment back into place. Faramir noted that the index and middle fingers of Shagrat’s right hand, like his right eye and ear, were also missing, cut away at the first knuckle and the quick, respectively.
“As you see, a few pieces of me have been whittled away since last we met,” Shagrat said, very dryly. “For my sins.”
“For your sins?” Faramir exclaimed. “It seems a wonder, then, Shagrat, that there remains anything of you left at all.” He paused. “What happened?” he asked.
“Fell on a bear trap, late last Autumn,” Shagrat replied. “It never did heal right. Hurts a bit in winter, now and again.”
“Only in winter?” Faramir said.
Shagrat grinned at him, or at least moved his mouth so he was showing all his teeth. “No use in complaining, is there?” he said.
Faramir stared at the battle-scarred old Uruk in dismay.
“Changed days, eh?” Shagrat said.
Despite all that had been done, to his land and his countrymen by the servants of Mordor, Faramir could not help but feel a flicker of pity, on seeing the plight of his former enemy. Appalled, he stamped down on the emotion at once, feeling shocked at his own weakness. He knew he had no excuse for lingering here in conversation with this evil, unnatural creature. He realised that he had sought to assist Shagrat, and had even intervened, trying to protect him – slipping easily, so very naturally, back into old bad habits. Faramir knew only too well the folly that resulted from thinking of Orcs and Uruks in terms of anything other than the Enemy. This could not be allowed to go any further. He stood up hastily and turned away from Shagrat, preparing to leave.
“Goldilocks,” Shagrat called after him, breaking off quickly and biting his tongue. Faramir stopped short, just inside the doorway.
“Faramir,” Shagrat muttered, “I mean, ‘Faramir’.”
“What do you want?” Faramir said, over his shoulder.
“Lend me your arms, eh? Faramir? Just for – old time’s sake.”
Faramir turned back to him. Old time’s sake.
“Lend me your sword,” Shagrat said. “Two minutes, that’s all I need.”
“If you think I’m going to help you, in some ill-conceived escape plan –“
“No,” sighed Shagrat, interrupting him, “two minutes is all I need to fall on your sword, Goldilocks, so’s I can finish myself off. You can watch me do it if you like,” he added, a little desperately, when Faramir did not reply. “Look - you can hold the blade steady for me yourself, if you want.”
Faramir watched him for a moment. The Uruk seemed deadly serious. “Out of the question,” Faramir told him.
“Pass me that side-dagger you’ve got on your belt, then. I like the jewel-encrusted hilt, by the way. It’s very shiny. Nice.”
“It was a wedding present,” Faramir replied, automatically.
“A dagger, as a wedding present?” Shagrat began, incredulously. “Everyone knows knives are bad luck. Who would want to give anyone a dagger for a wedding present? Unless – ah. Dwarves. Some short-arsed king-under-the-mountain would do it. Am I right?”
He was quite correct, but Faramir did not reply. He sat down next to Shagrat again.
“So, you’re married now. You surprise me.” Shagrat said, easily. He paused. “Tell me, who have they married you off to, Faramir?” he said. “Which noble maiden of Gondor finally landed you? Funny that. You always said you never thought Gondorian girls had enough get-up-and-go about them.”
Thinking about his wife Eowyn, Faramir winced again, inwardly. She’d had enough get-up-and-go about her, all right. Soon after their woefully brief honeymoon period had ended, she’d gotten up and gone, straight back to her peoples’ homeland in the North. An inability to withstand the rigors of the Gondorian summertime climate was the official explanation for her absence, although Faramir suspected that the real reason was something rather different.
“My bride is not from the realm of Gondor,” Faramir said. “In point of fact, she hails from the principality of Rohan.”
“Rohirrim?” Shagrat spluttered. “You haven’t. Well you know what they say about the people of Rohan. They do it with horses, you know. They all do everything with horses, you must have found that out by now.”
Faramir smiled thinly, not really listening to what Shagrat was saying. He was concentrating all his attention on keeping an even, open expression on his face, because Shagrat had always been able to read him, just like a book.
“And you’re a family man, these days, are you? Pipe and slippers by the fire of an evening, and all that, eh?”
Tersely, Faramir asked Shagrat what he could possibly know about ‘all that’.
“Well, I –“ Shagrat began, uncertainly. “Well I don’t know, really, but I did see this woodcut, once. Patrol got it off the body of one of those Tark ranger –” he broke off, looking uncomfortably at Faramir. “Never mind about that,” he muttered, clearing his throat uneasily, before continuing. “‘Someone To Come Home To,’ the picture was called. Lamplight in the window, and not being on the outside, looking in. It looked sort of – bright. Warming. And it made you feel - I don’t know.”
If Faramir’s memory served, the sight of lamplight through a cottage window had in the past made the Uruk-hai of Mordor feel like doing not much more than breaking the window and looting the premises, murdering any Gondorian occupants all in their beds, and then using the lamp oil to set light to the building on their way out. He said as much to Shagrat.
“You do have a point,” Shagrat admitted, grudgingly. “I’m not saying you don’t. But that’s not what I meant.”
“So how about your old man,” Shagrat asked after another uncomfortable moment’s silence. “How’s old Denethor, ex-Steward of Gondor getting on with his second favourite son’s lovely bride. She is lovely, is she, Faramir? They did give you that much, I hope -”
Faramir leapt to his feet, propelled by rage and anguish, and grabbing Shagrat by the throat, thrust him bodily back against the wall. “You will not speak of my late Father!” Faramir hissed at him. “His name sits ill on the lips of a creature such as you.”
“I did hear a rumour he’d passed on,” Shagrat replied, in a strangled voice. “Can’t say I was sorry to see him go. Never knew him in person of course, but I saw clearly enough the effect he’d had on you. I’m glad you’ve settled with someone nice, Faramir. Someone who’ll be willing to put you first, for once.”
What was the use in pretending? Telling Shagrat could not conceivably make the slightest difference to Faramir’s situation, one way or the other. “She’s left me,” he said simply. “It’s common knowledge that she married me, only because she was unable to secure the affections of – of someone else.” In a way it was a relief for him to say it out loud, at last.
“I knew it,” Shagrat muttered, in triumph, seemingly quite unperturbed by Faramir’s hand, which was still squeezing hold of him round his neck. “When you didn’t have a go at me for that dig about horses, that was when I knew for sure. You and me both know that you, Goldilocks my friend, are not exactly the marrying kind.”
“What – kind - of person, then, would you have me be, Shagrat?”
“Your own man, Goldilocks,” Shagrat replied, “but then, you already know what I think about that.”
His anger deflated, Faramir let go of Shagrat. The Uruk sagged back against the wall, panting for breath.
“So we can’t talk about the War, your old dad, or that runaway wife of yours,” Shagrat said. “That doesn’t leave us much, so how about we talk about your dagger instead. Please, Faramir, give me a loan of that. ‘Cause I want out. Give me an ending with a little bit of dignity, at least. I can’t very well carry on in this state, can I?”
Faramir shook his head.
“You wouldn’t – you couldn’t leave your old Shagrat, stuck in a fix like this, could you? Come on, Goldilocks. I always said you were nothing but a soft touch at heart.”
“Our actions, and all the choices we make, have consequences,” Faramir told him, stiffly. “Over the years, you, Captain Shagrat, have made an unconscionable number of bad decisions. You are now going to have to learn to live with all of them.”
“Choices?” Shagrat muttered, “now, how do you work that one out, exactly? No, Goldilocks. That won’t do. You know you still owe me from last time.” Shagrat stared hopefully at Faramir for a while, but at last his face fell as he realised that Faramir had no intention of helping him. On seeing his dismay, Faramir felt another odd, unwarranted twinge of guilt – which, hurrying out of the tavern’s back room, he quashed, immediately. Before too long, however, the Uruk seemed to have recovered his spirits somewhat.
“How about a loan of a bleedin’ penknife, Goldilocks, hey?” Faramir heard Shagrat shouting across the Tavern courtyard, as he made his way back to his rooms.