Maevyn, coughing, reached up weakly and caught at the Elf girl's hand. Eleluleniel helped her up out of the water. "There now, do not look at any of them, just come with me and we will get you dried off," she said. Maevyn was in no condition to deny her. Hurriedly the Elf girl shepherded the dripping child away.
"STUPID Mushog. Why'd he have to go an' do that for?" Maevyn said, her voice muffled. Leni had her kneeling at the edge of the river and was cupping handfuls of water over her hair to rinse out the silt. As Maevyn knelt there, staring down at the water with her wet dark hair dripping around her face, she dwelt angrily on the injustice she had suffered. Tossing her in like that hadn't even gotten her clean like he said it would. If anything she was even dirtier, river muck in her shoes and on her legs and on the hem of her skirt, and she felt as if half of the river were sloshing around in her eardrums. Whimpering, she pawed at her right ear like a dog.
"It pleases him to be cruel. Keep still, there is dirt at the back of your neck." Leni sighed. "If only we might hang up your clothing so it could dry out…but…" She did not continue. Around them the trees were green and thick with summer foliage, and birds sang somewhere close by, but they could also hear the brutish voices of the Orcs back the way they had come. Leni had said that they should not go out of earshot.
Maevyn turned her head, casting a pitiful look over her shoulder. "Couldn't we just do it anyway? It isn't like they're here to see. And I'm cold…" For all the warmth of the summer air, Maevyn was shivering in her wet garments. She made a move to shrug out of her blouse but Leni put a hand on her shoulder, shaking her head. Maevyn subsided unhappily. "I hate this."
"I do not like it either, but that does not change the way things are. Come now, lean forward again. There is still silt in your hair."
Frowning, Maevyn faced forward again and look down. The trees came right down to the edge of the river here, and they were at a bend so that even though she could still hear the Orcs from time to time if they raised their voices to one another, they couldn't see her or Leni and she couldn't see them. That was just fine by Maevyn. If he was here right now, I'd smash his stupid face in, she thought, imagining how she would serve Mushog for the way he had treated her.
Of course, she wouldn't. They could do things to her, do things to Leni, and she couldn't do anything back to them. Not yet. Nor could she disobey them, not directly. If Grushak himself were to call for her to come back right this minute, she knew that she would do so. There was no other choice—none that would not get her hurt, or dead. Knowing that made her even angrier than Mushog throwing her in the river: the sense of her own helplessness was infuriating. She was no better off than Leni, not really. Not where it counted.
She glared down at her reflection as it wobbled blackly on the surface of the water, but she couldn't keep glaring for long because she could see Leni's reflection as well. The Elf girl looked calm and untroubled that moment as her face bobbed over Maevyn's in the water, all of her attention on the task at hand. It wasn't always a look that Maevyn got to see. She kept quiet for as long as she could, until the blood was rushing to her head from keeping it down so long. "I'm getting dizzy," she announced.
"Then I have very good timing," commented Leni. "Up you come." She slipped her hands under Maevyn's arms, helping her sit back. "That is better now, is it not?"
Maevyn opened her mouth to answer her but sneezed instead, suddenly and loudly. She hadn't realized it was coming and the unexpectedness made her laugh.
Leni did not. "You are getting sick!"
"No I'm not. I sneeze all the time without being sick. I only ever get sick in the winter." Maevyn wiped her nose with the back of her hand, hoping she looked confident when she said it. This was not an argument that would have worked with her mother.
"Oh." Leni looked dubious. "I suppose I must rely on your judgment. I have no experience in these matters." Maevyn cocked her head and Leni explained, "My kind do not become ill. That is to say…there are those Elves who have become very sick from poisoning. But we do not suffer from the illnesses of Men and beasts."
"You mean you've never had a cold?" Leni shook her head. Scandalized, Maevyn burst out, "Now that's not fair—everyone gets colds! Why should Elves be any different?"
"We were made so?" Leni offered. She had to repress her laughter at the younger girl's outrage; she had the feeling that Maevyn wouldn't appreciate it.
Maevyn looked sulky anyway. "I don't see why you should get everything," she complained. "You live longer, you don't catch cold…"
"Yes, I am very fortunate," said Leni with faint sarcasm. At the same time Maevyn's sneeze still had her worried. "We really had better get you dried off. If I had been thinking, I would have brought one of the bed-furs with me for you to wrap yourself in." She hesitated, then stood up. "Stay here for now and I will be back in just a moment."
"Are you sure?" Maevyn did not like the idea of Leni going back alone. What if Kurbag delayed her or one of the others decided to pick on her again?
The Elf girl shrugged. "I think it should be all right. I shall slip out to the packs and slip back again, quickly as I can. Just wait here." She turned and started back.
Maevyn watched until she didn't see her anymore. Then she watched some more. When Leni didn't come back she sighed and slumped a little where she sat. So they'd gotten her, then. But the voices that she heard through the trees didn't sound especially boisterous, so whatever it was that delayed the other girl wasn't anything too bad. She hoped not, anyhow.
Looking down at her muddy knees, Maevyn frowned. Well. Here was something that she could do something about, at any rate. Getting up, she eyed the water dubiously: after her close encounter with the river she felt wary of the water in a way that she hadn't before. Still, it wasn't like she was planning to jump in, just rinse off her legs a little. Pulling off her shoes and lifting her skirt up over her knees, she stepped down into the shallows, kicking either leg slowly through the water. The dirt loosened and swirled away with the current. She lowered her skirt so that the hem touched the water and began scrubbing the folds of it together. She hoped that Leni would return with the fur; otherwise she was just getting herself wetter to no avail. Though at least her clothes would be cleaner…
She was just turning around, ready to climb up onto the shore again when something caught her eye. The bank was lush with plant-life: ferns and other green growing things that grew low and thick-spread near the water's edges. Spumes of green leaves brushed the surface of the water, creating gentle ripples. Several yards down the bank the brown branch of a fallen tree extended into the water, cutting its surface at a jagged angle. What had drawn Maevyn's attention was a kind of dull metallic flash a few feet out into the water.
The little girl's eyes gleamed in responsive interest. Glancing back one more time to see if anyone was coming, she began to wade along the edge of the bank, carefully making her way toward the log.
When she reached the place where the log crossed the water she put her hands on it to brace herself and looked toward where the flash had come from. A thinner branch forked upward from the main branch some six feet out over the water, and at the crux she saw what appeared to be a knot of gray wire that had been affixed to it. The wire knifed down into the river at an angle, cutting into its own reflection in the water. Maevyn knew at once that this was what she had seen: the sun glancing off the dull metal wire at just the right angle to catch her eye. But what was it there for?
She looked around as if she would see whoever it was that had originally tied the wire out here, then threw her leg over the branch. Sitting astride the fallen log, Maevyn rubbed her hands together. She didn't know why she did this but it seemed the thing to do. If she'd bothered to think about it she would have remembered that this was what her da had often done to gear himself up at the start of a task. Placing her hands before her, she leaned forward, flexing her fingers.
Across the river a kingfisher trilled: a continuous throbbing note. Maevyn scowled, tongue wedged in the pocket of her inner cheek, and began scooting forward along the log.
On the other side of the river bend, Eleluleniel had been spotted almost the instant she approached the packs. "Oi, Squeaker, bring us some grub! Starvin' over here," came a volley of voices, and she found herself drafted into fetching food for the snaga Orcs, who were still relaxing in the shade.
A clutch of them were playing at dice, including Pryszrim, who was so hopeless at the game that even Shrah'rar couldn't be bothered with cheating him. He hunkered low, totaling up his points out loud while the others watched with flattened ears and bored expressions on their faces. "Three, three and four…four and eight…and two make…"
"Oi, can't you hurry it up?" asked Grymawk. "I'm going to grow old and die before it ever comes round to my turn again."
"You just shut up, Grymawk," said Pryszrim. He paused. "Where was I?"
"Four and eight and two," droned Nazluk, rolling his eyes.
"Oh right." He hunkered forward again. "And three, and three…and two…"
"Don't you lot ever tired of playing at that?" asked Grushak. "I can stand a fifteen minute bout here and there, but you've been at it longer than that now. And I never thought it was your sort of thing."
This last comment was directed at Nazluk. He looked confused, then indignant. "I'm not playing! But I can't very well help hearing them, now can I?"
"And two…and two…" Pryszrim was muttering under his breath. "And two…"
"Make six!" Nazluk exclaimed, turning on him. "Two and two and two are six! For fuck's sake!"
Pryszrim cowered, dropping the dice. "But what about the eight from before?" he whined.
"What eight from before?" Nazluk snapped at him.
"I don't know! I can't remember! Why did you have to interrupt me, I was almost at the end!" Pryszrim was whimpering, a terrified blank look on his face. All of his careful sums had gone entirely out of his head.
"Oh, that's perfect, now you've made him lose count!" said Shrah'rar. "Now we're going to have to start the whole bloody thing over again. You and your fucking mouth, Nazluk." He glared daggers at the larger Orc.
"Why should I care? It's a stupid game anyway," said Nazluk, glaring right back.
"Oi! Don't make me separate you two," rumbled Grushak. There was a mocking glint in his yellow eyes.
Nazluk snorted at that but settled back on his arse anyway. "Where's that worthless Elf bint, anyhow?" he complained. Then he heard her soft tread and turned, narrowing his eyes at her. "Moving a little slow, are we?" he asked, his voice quiet but pregnant with evil.
"I had to look among the packs," she said carefully in response. They had been in a jumble, suggesting that others had been poking through them at some point earlier, possibly looking for the meat then. While there was plenty of flesh, she was looking for the dried tough jerky that did not have to be cooked and which the Orcs tended to like as a snack.
"Feh. It shouldn't have taken you that long," said Nazluk, his eyes narrowing further.
She didn't say anything to this. He was right: it hadn't. Food was not all that she'd been looking for. She did not say this, holding out a scrap of meat. He snatched it from her in annoyance.
"Ha, I rolled a six!" said Grymawk, looking pleased, then regretful. "Too bad we're not playing at Six Horseman."
"I like Black Riders more," said Shrah'rar. "Six Horseman leaves too much to chance."
"It's still the harder game, though," said Grymawk. "I think that Six Horseman came first. Black Riders is just an easier version."
"Black Riders…why's it called that anyhow?" asked Pryszrim.
"Why are you so ignorant?" asked Shrah'rar, bestowing a withering look upon Pryszrim. "It's because of the whotchercallits, the Nine, those cunts that were His favorites during the War."
"Ai! Don't call them that," said Grymawk, looking alarmed.
"Why not? They're gone now, right? Can say what we like about them now, can't we?"
"I don't care," said Grymawk, shivering. "I've heard too many stories about those fellows. And everyone always said it was bad luck to talk dirt about them, that they would know about it. Can't break old habits."
"Aye?" Shrah'rar gave a shrug. "Well, can't wake the dead is what I say. Here, Squeaker, I'm thirsty. Fetch me a skin of beer, eh?"
"Me too," said Grymawk.
"And me!" Pryszrim looked hopeful. "Do we have any bread?" This last drew the usual round of catcalls from his fellows.
Eleluleniel, who had been hoping to get back to searching for something Maevyn could throw around herself, sighed, turned and started back toward the packs. She did not notice Grushak's eyes on her. "Hey," the big Orc said abruptly, "Squeaker." She paused and looked at him and he gestured for her to come closer. She did so, eyes lowered. Grushak wasn't someone who generally gave her trouble, but she had a healthy fear of him anyway. "Where's the Brat."
"She is not far."
"She still wet?" Eleluleniel nodded. "Bring us drink and then go fetch her something she can dry off with. Stupid if she takes sick after Mushog's little prank." Surprised, Eleluleniel looked up at him. Grushak's eyes narrowed. "Well, go on then."
Eleluleniel could hardly believe her good fortune. Outwardly, she only nodded briefly before she went to the packs.
Grushak watched her go, then turned his head to look in the direction of the Uruk-hai sprawling in the sun. He scratched his jaw briefly before reaching for his shirt.
Bragdagash was on his back, arms behind his head, lazily enjoying the chance to cool his heels. It wasn't often that they came across an obscure stretch of river like this. Rivers were often frequented by Men: fisher-folk, or travelers, whether on the river or along it. Not that Bragdagash and his lads tried overly hard to avoid Men: they relished a bloody bout as much as the next self-respecting Orc. But fighting was one thing, a casual dip in the drink another. Bragdagash didn't care for the kind of interruptions men brought when he was taking a bath. There were other times they'd come on stretches of water like this that he had, reluctantly, chosen to pass on by. Man-smell or signs of trapping along the banks, lines rigged up at the water's edge, old fishing pots and such…these were warnings that he heeded. The others grumbled sometimes, but a joke on their chief's part or, if that didn't suffice, a flash of his fangs was generally all it took to keep them in line.
It was his job to think about these things, after all. His responsibility.
There was a rangy insinuating smell in his broad nostrils and he didn't have to look to know what it was: Mushog, sprawled in the grass not far away. He didn't say anything but someone else did.
"Phew! You're fine one to talk about reek, Mushog. Maybe someone ought to toss you in the river." Despite his words, Kurbag didn't actually sound disgusted. It wasn't dirt that Mushog smelled of but his own unadulterated musk. Bathing had only made it stronger.
"Smell like rutting horse," Hrahragh put it aptly from Bragdagash's other side.
Mushog laughed. "Hurr. Flattery will get you everywhere, friends." His already rough voice was somehow rougher, breathier. There was the faint but unmistakable rasping sound of grass on skin.
Bragdagash glanced sidelong to see exactly what he suspected, that Mushog had rolled onto his belly and was rocking his hips lazily against the sun-warmed earth. "Dig a hole first, why don't you?" he said dryly.
Mushog grinned and ran his tongue over his teeth.
A shadow fell over Bragdagash as something interposed itself between him and the bright sunshine. He looked up at the one standing over him. "Yeah?" said the Orc chieftain agreeably.
"Boss." Grushak looked mildly uncomfortable as he stood over the Uruk. A sliver of sun was peering over his right shoulder. For all his bulk, Grushak was no more partial to sun than any of the other snaga Orcs. "We keeping camp here tonight or we movin' on?"
Bragdagash pulled an arm from behind his head and scratched his jaw, thinking about it. "Not by the water. Somewhere nearby, just a bit more sequestered. We'll pick up and shift when the sun is behind those trees."
Grushak grunted, looking at the trees on the far bank. "Fair enough." His eyes dropped to the leather pack that lay near Bragdagash's head. "So then. How is the little brood anyhow?"
Though the sun still dripped its gold, the air seemed suddenly cooler. Bragdagash frowned. "…Fine."
Grushak nodded, his face impassive, but Bragdagash could sense his amusement. "Good to hear, Boss," was all he said as he lumbered off.
Still frowning, Bragdagash reached behind him and caught hold of his leather pack. Hauling it over, he wedged it comfortably between his arm and his body. He closed his eyes again, then opened them, turning his head to squint at Hrahragh, who was lying near him in the grass. The Uruk was looking at him—more specifically, at the pack that he held cradled against his side. Bragdagash's arm tightened. "What," he asked flatly. He already knew what was coming.
"Nothing," said Hrahragh, still looking at the pack. He flicked his orange eyes up at Bragdagash. "Mother."
Bragdagash gritted his teeth. Hrahragh's tusks showed in a slow grin. He himself was not laughing, but that didn't matter. Bragdagash could hear the sniggering behind him. He turned his head, glaring at Mushog and Kurbag. "Why don't you get it out of your systems, then?" he suggested in a dangerous voice.
"Finished?" he demanded, sitting up and settling the pack firmly on his thighs.
Mushog looked at Kurbag. "I can think of a few more—how about you?"
Their chieftain growled ominously and they both subsided, smirking.
The eggs of eagles have this in common with those of other birds: they require warmth and protection. Orcs are poor substitutes for the comforts of parents or nests, making likelier predators than protectors. Bragdagash was neither happy nor comfortable playing at clutch mother, yet that was exactly the role in which he had found himself, nursemaiding the eggs he'd had Grymawk steal from the eagles' nest five days before.
Keeping them warm wasn't a problem; his own powerful heat took care of that. Transportation was trickier: at first he had rigged up a kind of crude sling in which to carry them nestled against his muscular body, but the jokes that the others made had gotten to be too much for him. Grymawk's initial solution, keeping the eggs in a pack thickly lined with feathers and rags that served both to cushion and to insulate them, had finally proven the best. Grymawk, in fact, had seemed to have the right idea about a number of things, but Bragdagash knew his lads and, while he had a healthy respect for their abilities, he also knew their limitations. Grymawk was the smallest of his Orcs and not someone who could be expected to protect his precious cargo from the rowdiness of the others. On the other hand, there was no one among the larger Orcs whom Bragdagash trusted to be gentle with them.
That left only himself, and that, unfortunately, meant a steady stream of gibes at his expense. Only his size and authority afforded him any protection.
"The joke's wearing thin, lads," he said, giving Mushog a particularly pointed look. Mushog was the most frequent offender.
"What? He started it!" Mushog protested, pointing at Hrahragh.
The other Uruk only shifted comfortably on his back, a faint smile still lurking at the corners of his broad mouth.
Technically Grushak had been the one to start it this time. Bragdagash narrowed his eyes. "I don't really care who started it, I'm finishing it." He looked around at each of them in turn to emphasize his point before settling back again. It was different now, though. The grass that had felt so good beneath his back was coarse and ragged now, and the sun, which had given him such pleasure, was behind a cloud. Bragdagash glowered up at the blue sky and thought that, had he realized in advance all the trouble the eagle eggs were going to cause him, he would never have sent Grymawk after them to begin with.
The kingfisher bobbed on a low-hanging branch, a blue jewel of a bird with a rosy belly and a sharp black beak. Its head swiveled constantly, sharp black eyes darting between the two-legger on the far shore and the water beneath. It was watching for the tell-tale glimmer of a fish, but the activities of the girl on the other side of the river distracted it. Trilling, it hopped further along the branch.
Maevyn was over the river, her lower legs hanging in the cold wet. She'd knotted her skirt up over her knees so the hem wouldn't trail in the water, and the rough bark of the old log scraped her skin. It's just like climbing a tree, she told herself firmly. It was climbing a tree, really, just outward instead of up. Still, she avoided looking down, keeping her eye on the shining wire where it bit into the branch jutting up just a few feet in front of her. She did not want to think about the current, though she could feel it against her legs. It was not strong but she was leery of the deep water and the pull of it made her nervous.
Suddenly, behind her, she heard her name being called with quiet urgency. Unable to turn around, she called, "I'm here." There was silence for few moments. She could hear the rustlings of something moving through the undergrowth on the bank behind her. Then:
"Maevyn, what are you doing? I told you to stay where we were," Leni called in an anxious whisper.
"You didn't come back," said Maevyn. "Anyhow, I wanted to see something."
"Come back before you fall in." The Elf girl's arms were full of the thick fur that she had carried back. Casting about her, she found a spot covered with springy moss and quickly laid it down.
Maevyn ignored the order. She had reached the branch now where the wire was tied: not even knotted proper, just twisted around the limb. Locking her legs tightly round the log, she continued to hold on with one hand, bringing the other up to touch the wire. It felt taut against her fingers, and she could feel the faint thrum through the metal of the the river's current, tugging at the wire and whatever it was attached to.
"Maevyn," Leni called again, standing where the log bridged earth and river. Then she hesitated. "What is that?" Her eyes also had caught the faint gleam of the wire.
"I dunno." Maevyn tugged on it experimentally. Holding tighter with her legs, she took her other hand from the log so that now she was gripping only with her knees. Catching at the wire with both hands, she began to pull. There was little give at first but she pulled steadily and gradually she felt whatever it was at the other end beginning to come free of the river's mucky bottom.
"Oh, be careful…"
"I'm being careful," she said, aggrieved. "It's heavy though." She gritted her teeth, gathering loops of the wire about her hand as she slowly drew up the object.
A second two-legger had appeared on the far side of the river, but the kingfisher ignored them both. Below the branch it perched on it had spied the quicksilver flash of a tail. It was still for a full second, then pitched itself down into the water, clearing the surface a bare instant later with its catch fast in its beak. Landing on a different branch, the bird's head bobbed with the thrashing of the fish it had caught; with an expert snap of its head the kinfisher slapped the fish against the bough, repeating the act until the minnow's struggles weakened. Pitching its head back the kingfisher gulped down its dying meal, then flew away.
Below the green water, Maevyn could see the wobbling dark shape of whatever the thing was approaching the surface. "Here it comes," she muttered. There was a loud glub as it came up out of the water. She pulled hard: it was much heavier now that it was out of the water, but she kept winding up the wire and presently the object was in her arms. She did not examine it in great length, not immediately, for Leni was calling for her to come back, and Maevyn herself didn't feel comfortable where she was. Holding her prize to her chest, still unable to turn around, she began to squirm backwards to shore.
Five minutes later she sat bundled in the musty fur that Leni had brought, studying the curious contraption resting on her lap. It was wrought of sturdy wire mesh and was collapsible, or at least it would have been if it weren't for the two heavy stones inside. "Someone put these in here to weigh it down," she said.
"Of course," said Leni. "It is a trap of some sort, for catching fish." She had wasted no time in stripping the other girl of her clothing and now she was wringing out Maevyn's wet skirt, twisting it repeatedly in her slender hands. First she twisted one way, then another, and then she shook it as if she were airing it out, and then she hung it over a shrub next to Maevyn's blouse. She had little hope that it would dry fully before Maevyn had to put it on again, and there would be nothing they could do about the wrinkles, but it was still better than nothing.
Maevyn continued to examine the trap. Knowing what it was in no way diminished her curiosity. She had not lived near a river in her old life, had never fished, and she was not familiar with such things. "So the fish swim in through this part, but then…but then, then don't they just come out again?"
Leni came and sat down beside her. "No, here." She put her hand on one end of the trap, near Maevyn's own hand. "You see how it is wide here at the mouth, and then it tapers inward? It is easy for the fish to go in but harder for them to go out. Because of the way that the wires twist inward, you see?"
Maevyn understood, looking at the cruel sharp ends curling in at the mouth of the trap. She pushed her fingers through the mesh and touched the metal tips and found them very sharp indeed. "So they scratch themselves up if they try to get out. And they just swim around inside the trap until the person that set it pulls it up again." Not smart enough to realize a few scratches were better than what was in store if they stayed where they were. "There are no fish in it now. Maybe they swam out after all?"
"Or perhaps it was only laid in the past day or so."
Maevyn knew the Elf was wondering the same things she was: wondering who it was that had set the trap, and when they had done it, and where they had come from, and when they were coming back. It gave Maevyn a weird feeling too, and she realized why. This was the first sign she'd seen of other people since the Orcs had taken her from her village. Aside from Leni, at any rate, and Leni didn't count: she was in the same situation Maevyn was. It was strange, this far away from everything Maevyn had ever known, to handle something come of her own folk. More than anything, though, it made her feel excited. Someone had set this trap and left it, and someone would probably be back.
"Wouldn't it be fine," she said, looking around as if that someone were there to hear them, "if the person who put this here came back now? Or if we stayed here until they did, and…" Maevyn traveled off. From around the bend came the sound of Orkish laughter, carried faint but clear and raucous on the water. They'd want to pick up and leave soon enough, and they would find the two girls in short order to take them when they did. Even if someone were to come, what chance did one person, or even several, stand against ten well-armed Orcs?
"It is probably better to throw it in again," said Leni. She took the trap but held it as if she couldn't quite bring herself to do so.
Maevyn didn't want to either. The trap had filled her with hope, and with the delicious sense of private wisdom that their captors did not share. Surely it was an opportunity of some kind if they were only smart about it. "What if we put something in it? Something for the person to find."
Leni looked thoughtful. "There is nothing with which to write a message," she said. "And the water would ruin it if there was."
Maevyn wasn't thinking of writing. She didn't know how. "More rocks, maybe. They may not say anything but they'll show we were here, or that someone was at any rate." Thinking of it made her eager. Holding the fur bundled tight around her she got up and started looking for likely stones. Leni did not, and Maevyn ignored her as she stooped repeatedly to pick up stones, mildly irritated that the Elf girl wasn't helping.
Leni only continued to sit with the trap in her lap and that thoughtful look still on her face. At length she stood, setting it to one side, and went into the trees. Returning with a slender stick, she stooped beside the fallen log and began to make careful marks in the exposed earth beside it.
Maevyn kept gathering her stones but glanced at the Elf girl from time to time. After a minute or so she drifted over. Picking up the trap she dropped her stones into it with a rattling patter, then stood squarely behind Leni and looked down over her shoulder. "What are you doing?"
"I may not have paper or pen, but I can still write after a fashion. Perhaps, if the fisher comes back, he will see this message…at least, if he does not step on it and the rain does not wash it away." She pressed harder with the stick as if to ensure against this.
"What does it say?"
"I am writing our names. Eluleniel and Maevyn were here this day: Eleluleniel, daughter of Fírhador and of Thalawen, and Maevyn…Maevyn, what were your parents' names?"
"So I may write them."
"What good's that gonna do? They're dead, they're not gonna hear about it." Maevyn's voice was flat.
Leni glanced up at her. There was pity in her eyes. "All right," was all she said, and went back to making her marks.
Maevyn waited for a moment. "What are you saying now?"
"I write that we are held by Orcs, and how long we have been held. I write that we travel with our captors, and the direction in which we travel…And now I am writing all of it again, but I am writing it in Cirth instead. I am writing in as many ways as I know how so that whoever finds it can read it one way if not another."
"It says all of that?" Maevyn was very impressed. She looked more closely at the marks Leni had made, but they remained mere scratches in the earth. "What if they can't read at all?"
Leni shrugged. "Then I will have tried, at any rate." She murmured aloud what she had just written: "…are held against our will…" Then smiled with sudden mischief. "And I write that we are sorry about filling his trap with stones."
Muttering, embarassed: "I can empty it out again…"
"No, do not." Leni looked at her directly, and her face was completely earnest. "There nothing to say when this person will be back, or if he will see my message. You were right. Anything to show we have been here."
Maevyn's ears reddened at the warm approval in her voice.
Her clothes were damp when she put them on again, but at least they weren't soaked, and they'd been warmed almost to skin temperature under the sun. When she and Leni returned to the impromptu camp Maevyn was relieved to find that the Orcs had also dressed in the meantime, with no naked bits to be seen. The sun had reached the far bank now, and Bragdagash had given the word that they were to move on.
In the business of picking everything up again there were few jokes made at Maevyn's expense. Rukshash referred slyly to her "little dip in the drink," and Grymawk remarked, without a trace of sarcasm, that it had made a definite improvement. "At least now you don't stink as much," he said and seemed oblivious to the glare that Maevyn gave him in return.
As for Grushak, he called her over and, when she was within reach, caught her by the arm. "Shut it," he said when she protested, and patted the material of her blouse front and back in an unhurried way. She squirmed beneath his heavy hand and he grunted. "Dry enough, I suppose. Next time, don't be so clumsy."
Her mouth opened, any number of indignant words springing to mind—Clumsy?! I didn't fall in, he THREW me…!—but she held her tongue.
Grushak gave her a sardonic smile that showed he knew exactly what she was thinking. "Good girl," he said, and began buckling the various packs and supplies onto her back. He did not stint, bringing her right to the limit of what she could feasibly carry and still walk at the same time.
She'd gotten used to this over the past few days but she didn't like it any bit more than she had at the start, standing tense and sullen as he loaded her body down. This time she comforted herself with the thought of a trap filled with smooth pale stones submerged in a green echoing silence, and the memory of Leni's mysterious markings by the river. She stood and then she walked, and with all that she carried of Grushak's she carried that knowledge as well, and it went some way toward lightening her burden. Leni labored under her own encumberance but as they walked the two girls would looked at each other from time to time with the shy pleasure of a secret shared.
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.