4. The Barker’s tale
Faramir digested all of that, in silence.
“He says he was some big-shot in the Black Army but I don’t know if I believe it. Hasn’t much about him that I can see, and to tell the truth, he seems a sorry, broke-down sort of thing to me, no matter how good he’s been for business. You know, if that’s the best they could muster up on their side, well, it’s no wonder things worked out as they did, is it?”
Faramir felt a strange spark of indignation on Shagrat’s behalf to hear him dismissed like this. But then, he reflected, the Barker had never seen the old Uruk Captain in his prime. Faramir’s Shagrat, a version of him as he had been, more than twenty years previously – the Shagrat who still lived on, in Faramir’s memory - would have had a few things to say about that, and Faramir smiled inwardly, thinking about it. Shagrat had proved himself to be, in the end, not much more than a paper tiger, at least where Faramir was concerned. But he had always dealt with public slights to his dubious - and frankly, worrying – notions of personal honour in no uncertain, permanent, and very violent, terms.
Early next morning Shagrat watched, squinting in the watery sunlight, until the last of the horses from Faramir’s party had been saddled up from the stables adjoining the Tavern. Up until the end, he’d thought there was a good chance he might see Goldilocks again. Shagrat didn’t hope, exactly, for anything, very much any more, but all the same some part of him, a part that actually, he’d thought was long gone and forgotten about, had been looking out for Faramir, wanting to talk to him, one last time. Shagrat snarled disgustedly under his breath, cursing himself for being a starry-eyed fool, as he realised he’d been waiting for the young man, all through the previous day and night. Now it was obvious they were gone for good, and the Orc sagged down from the painful, tip-toed hike he’d been holding while he watched the Tavern courtyard through the stockroom window, and eased himself stiffly on to the floor. Bill Chard, the ill-tempered doorman, had with the money he’d taken from Faramir, embarked on a drinking session of truly epic proportions, a mammoth bender that had begun the afternoon before and lasted well into the night. He had not of course bothered to check on Shagrat in the meantime, with the result that the Orc had not been fed or watered for quite some time. His right leg was throbbing viciously again and he was feeling feverish, and deathly sick.
So, in the end, Goldilocks had swanned off and left him to it – just like last time, Shagrat reflected bitterly. After Goldilocks had first gone away from him, all those years ago, Shagrat had been left to make his explanations as best he could to the lieutenants of the Dark Fortress of Barad-Dur. His chief Inquisitor, one of the lesser Nazgul, had been vicariously thrilled by Shagrat’s memories of his time with the young Gondorian, and also vastly amused by the notion that a hardened Uruk Captain could have lost his head so completely over nothing more than a mildly appealing human. In the interests of not much more than simple titillation, then, the Nazgul had allowed Shagrat to survive his punishments - but in running and replaying the Uruk’s recollections of Faramir over and again, the wraith had by accident or design stripped away every bit of sweetness from his memories, till every one of them was used up, and completely worn out. Seeing Goldilocks again had brought all of it back, though, as clear as day, and now without the slightest effort, Shagrat was able to recall exactly how things had been; he could summon up every detail of how the young Faramir had looked and smelled and tasted. He could remember precisely why he’d reacted to the young man as disastrously as he had done, and desperately, Shagrat tried to suppress the debilitating rush of fond affection for Faramir that threatened to overwhelm him. It was a truly preposterous idea, unnatural and depraved, to think that such feelings could possibly exist in an Orc.
If only, Shagrat groaned to himself, if only it could just have been clean and simple, straightforward, lust.
The months of rain in the mountains had caused a land-slide, that had blocked the main road south and west, so that the members of the Royal Party were forced to cut short their visit to the outlying provinces of Gondor. Consequently, Faramir found himself once again approaching the town where he had happened upon Shagrat, not much more than a full day after his party had first left it. They had reached a crossroads, several miles out from the City Gates when in the distance, coming towards them, Faramir recognised a collection of brightly painted wagons and beribboned livestock, the bells on their harnesses jingling faintly in the damp morning air. Such a rag-tag assemblage could only belong to Shagrat’s Barker.
Faramir’s heart leapt as he rode on to meet them. He very much wanted, but at the same time didn’t want, to see Shagrat again. He quickly scanned the makeshift procession that was trailing out along the road behind the Barker. With a growing feeling of dread, he realised that Shagrat didn’t seem to be a member of their party.
“Where’s your Orc, this morning,” asked Faramir. He put a heartiness into his voice that he didn’t particularly feel as he searched the sad little caravan of cages and animals up and down. There seemed to be nothing there that could be large enough or even the right shape to contain Shagrat. A sensation of cold fear began to creep into Faramir’s breast.
The Barker snorted in disgust. “He’s back in that last town we stopped over in, or whatever’s left of him is.”
“You all right, Sir?” the Barker added, with some concern. “You turned white as a sheet there for a minute.”
Faramir waved his questions off. “What went on?” he asked, his tone forced.
“A washout, from start to finish, is what,” the Barker said. “Trapper brought a fresh-caught wolf for me yesterday afternoon, and I thought I’d put him in with the Orc. Bit of a novelty act. Orc would’ve beaten him eventually, but it should have been a right spectacle, and no mistake. Spectacle! Hah! Folk coming to an Orc-baiting don’t pay good money to see an Orc speaking to a wolf in some funny language and then lyin’ down quietly with his neck exposed, like what my Orc did, last night. Bleedin’ washout is what it was. I had to get the dancing bear out quick.”
“The wolf killed him, then.”
“As good as,” the Barker said. “As good as. There was still a bit of life left at first light this morning, and when we were leaving, he begged me to finish him off. Though I was in no mood to do him any favours, not after what had gone on, I can tell you.”
“But he’s not dead,” Faramir said.
“Oh, he will be by now,” the Barker replied, “don’t you worry about that. I sold him to one of them council chiefs, and he had all kinds of plans - trophy-taking of some sort, I shouldn’t wonder. Even with what I got for the dead weight, I’ve still lost a packet on this. I’ll be steering clear of Orcs in future. Too much of a damn nuisance – beggin’ your pardon, Sir.” He took his leave politely, and Faramir watched dully, as the caravan moved off on its way.
Faramir stood by the side of the road, holding the reins of his horse and staring straight ahead, feeling numb with shock. Shagrat was dead. The hood of Faramir’s cape fell back, and soon the driving rain began to flatten his hair to his scalp, while rainwater trickled unpleasantly down the back of his neck. Faramir didn’t notice. He kept staring into space, somehow finding himself unable to focus on anything other than the horrible thought that Shagrat was - dead. After a short time, one of the royal aides rode up beside him, and eventually his solicitous enquiries brought Faramir back to himself a little. Without a word, the Prince of Ithilien swung up into his saddle and spurred his horse away. Faramir covered the four or five miles between the crossroads and the town at a flat-out gallop. He barely slowed as he clattered into through the Town Gates, and his horse skidded on the rain-wet cobbles, and almost fell, as Faramir reined it to a stop in the square outside the Tavern.
Faramir leapt down. There was a group of people sitting at one of the tables sheltered by the Tavern’s wooden veranda. They were having a morning drink and watching the rain. Among them was one of the councilmen, the royal-sceptic, and would-be router of Orcs, from the previous day.
“What have you done with the Orc,” Faramir barked at him.
“We left the carcass round the side,” the Councilman said. “Our plan was to have him strung up at the crossroads, just outside the town gates. It should make a good warning for all the rest of those vermin to stay well away. We’d have done it before now, but the rain held us off.”
Faramir sprinted the short distance to the midden at the back of the Tavern. Shagrat’s mortal remains were slumped untidily there, on one side of the rubbish-pile. He had been stripped to the waist, but even the few clothes he’d been left were now hanging half-on, half-off him. He was dreadfully emaciated; there was not much left of him other than skin and bone. Faramir fell onto his knees in the mud and pulled Shagrat partway up into his lap. The Orc’s neck was encircled by ragged, bleeding wounds, and the body felt cold, but was not yet stiff. Faramir wrenched his cape off over his head, and carefully enshrouded Shagrat with it.
The Councilman, now protected from the rain by a heavy waxed cloak and galoshes, arrived shortly afterwards. “With all due respect to your royal person and so on my Lord,” he said, “I don’t see what you’re so upset about. It’s only a dead Orc.”
Faramir snarled at the man, startled to hear himself spitting out the few words of Black Speech – dreadful profanities, all of them – that he’d acquired years previously, during his stay in Mordor.
The Councilman fell back, open-jawed with shock.
“I don’t expect you to understand,” Faramir told him, clutching Shagrat close. “But this Orc is my Orc, I tell you. He’s mine.”
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.