1. The Memory Of Trees
Many thanks to tanis for beta-reading this piece.
- The Memory Of Trees -
Aklash crawled away from the battlefield, clawing at the earth, hurting it - hurting it as much as he hurt, a primitive, vindictive revenge against the pain that rippled from the jagged wound in his abdomen. He dragged the weight of his body, arms aching, the edges of the cut chafing against half-buried rocks, and his dark, dark blood seeping into the earth.
The cries of his brethren were dying behind him; it was good, for they served to cover his own escape. Soon they were nothing but a weak, distant wail amidst the shuffling of the vegetation. Aklash knew the name of the tall, frail and useless stems that he was crushing in his wake - grass. You could not eat it, it did not burn well or have any other use that he knew of. It swayed before his eyes, obstructing his view, and he swatted at it with one hand; but it only rocked further, unconcerned by his struggle and anger.
Tall shapes loomed above him, rising from the earth, hanging over his head. Aklash looked up, searching the dark, strong pillars for defiance or threat; but nothing moved. Perhaps it waited? He could not know and, just to be sure, he reached out to touch the dagger at his waist. His muscles still held strength; he was no easy prey. He crawled further. Agony seared through his abdomen and he clenched his jaw, his powerful teeth grinding together - just a little longer. Not far, now. Not far, and you are safe. All the others are dead, you alone are alive. Alive! The shadows swam before his eyes. With a grunt Aklash pushed onto his arms, pulling his body forward and over the slope that marked the entrance to the dark domain. He cursed, spitting blood onto the ground, as he slid over a gnarly thing that emerged from the ground on his left, crawling over the earth and then plunging back into the depths beneath him.
His arms started to tremble, his breath was ragged; Aklash knew he had to rest. He rolled onto his back, dagger at the ready in case someone had followed him, but the path he had laid was empty, only darkness behind him and the ever-swaying grass. No white-haired riders had dared follow his trail, nor was the breath of air tainted with the smell of elf or man or dwarf. Aklash lowered his weapon, arm burning with the mere effort of tightening his fingers around the handle, and allowed himself to lay back.
The thick pillars seemed to surround him, towering above his body like the bars of a cell - Aklash remembered his cell, back in the Black Tower. He had shared one with seven of his kind, whose names he had not cared to ask for or remember if they were given. In the first week after his birth, he had killed three - he could still taste the thick, iron-tinged blood on his lips. Flesh had given in under his bite, squirting blood into his eyes and nose, and he had roared his victory with his mouth full. He was the strongest of them all.
Then came the shackles, and foreign hands wrenching his jaws apart, pulling his lips up to examine his teeth and scratching his gums with their claws; he had tried to bite, terrified deep down inside that they were after those fangs that ensured his survival. A sharp, stinging thing had bitten into his back, and the sudden sensation of cold left by the torn off skin had quickly been replaced by fire - that moment had marked his discovery of the whip.
He had learnt to please the whipmaster, remembered the words that expressed what was expected of him, straining his throat to push them out in a pitiful attempt at speech. He fought well, beneath the shadow of that whip, and had earned a cell of his own.
It was different, here - the bars were irregular in shape and spacing, they seemed to bend towards that opening high above, sprouting appendages towards the sky. Aklash tilted his head. This cell lacked symmetry, unlike the simple, functional stone chambers of Barad-dûr. There was no logic here to rest the mind, only chaos - Aklash despised chaos, despised the absence of discipline and order.
There was no order here.
He growled in disdain as the sharp-looking things on the branches moved with a gust of wind, belying their menacing, weapon-like appearance. They moved swiftly, lightly, each of them seemingly with its own mind. From the depths of his weary mind, a word surfaced - trees. They were trees. They had branches and leaves.
"Le-lea... Leaves," Aklash forced out, strangely pleased with himself.
He coughed, blood bubbling up in his throat and threatening to smother him. Aklash forced himself to breathe, concentrating on the slow, controlled intakes of air that would seep past the blood and into his lungs. The pain in his abdomen rolled over him again, like a poison spreading in his bowels. Aklash clenched his jaw once again, careful to keep his breathing steady. It will soon be gone, he told himself, body tense against the agony. Almost gone... Gone. He stared straight ahead, into the sky, and felt a surge of satisfaction when the pain subsided - he was strong. He had triumphed over it.
His eyes were tired from trying to follow the branches through the tangle they formed above his head. It was a mess, unsupervised and wild... And free. The trees grew untamed here, they drank the water below the earth and ate... whatever it was trees ate. Aklash wondered briefly if there were tree-masters with whips who could beat them into growing straight - if there were, they were doing a shit-worthy work out of it.
Then he wondered what it would feel like, to be free, with no whipmaster, no other orcs around, no tower to guard or enemies to kill. If he could have a corner of his own where no-one would find him.
Aklash realized that would feel good.
He lay there for a moment. The ground was soft beneath him - the grass was soft, he corrected himself - and he liked the sensation. Perhaps that was what grass was good for - it did have a purpose after all.
It was quiet, too. Aklash did not know quiet very well - where he had been born and bred and trained, thousands of orcs had skulked, screeched and shat by his side, an ever-present and swarming crowd. He'd been surrounded by eyes and claws and teeth, fought against the others to prove his worth or defend his meat, killing and ripping and howling in a mixture of rage and joy - he was alive, and strong! Here the air was silent and still, and cold. Strange smells wafted to his nostrils - the woods smelled of water and of green things. There was an undercurrent of something rotting, too - that smell was vaguely familiar, though this one seemed different as well - sweet, spicy... Aklash frowned as he remembered the word - mould.
He remembered it all better now - the trees. He knew they had names, but did not know which ones. He had never needed to know, never even thought about wanting to - but now he wished he did. Something stirred within him, something unspeakable - he knew no words to describe the sensation. Aklash knew anger, he knew hunger, thirst, envy and fear. What he felt now was nothing like those gut feelings he was accustomed to. His heart felt heavy in his chest, as though someone had punched through his ribcage to crush it in his fist. His throat was tense, his guts twisted awkwardly, a ridiculous little lurch. And then there was this feeling of wanting to belong in this place...
Forest. That was the name.
Aklash knew how orcs had come to life; they had come from elves, who had been made stronger by the Dark Lord through the test of pain. Those who had survived had sired stronger beings, unfearful sons who had devoured their fathers. And now, many generations after the First orc, what elven weakness could still run in his veins?
The leaves rustled in the wind, and Aklash found himself listening to their voices. Perhaps those memories had not all been destroyed. Perhaps they had waited for their time to resurface. Only hours before he would have despised it; now he was pleased. Perhaps he did belong in here after all. Perhaps the forest would take him in, protect him, an orc?
Could the trees remember him, just like he remembered them? Could they feel him dying, did it make them... sad? The clearing where he lay was still, and this counted as friendly in his eyes. The forest did not want to hurt him, despite everything he had done. He had cut trees down, obeying the orders of his whipmaster. He had run his blade into their white, stringy flesh, pulled them down until he could tear them out of the ground. He remembered the sound - a deep, low rumble that had shaken his insides - as the tree had fallen, like the groan of a dying animal.
Could the trees know he regretted slaying their kin?
"I am... Aklash," he gurgled, blood rising into his mouth. "I follow... orders. I... fight. I am.. was... strong. " Aklash smiled in the darkness - he was dying after all. At least he could go quietly, unlike the shrieking, thrashing ones he had left behind. The trees watched him, but they would not finish him off.
They had forgiven him.
"I remember... the trees," he whispered. "I belong here."
The leaves rustled; the grass bent. In the silence of the night, beneath the trees, the forest claimed him as its own.
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.