Children of Hurin
3. The View from Thangorodrim
By the time the winter was over, Dairuin had learned to walk. Once that happened, most of the children completely ignored their mothers and spent most of their time prowling the chamber looking for something or someone to attack. It was lucky for Saruman that the babies were as tough as they were or he would have lost half of them before they were weaned.
Lu thought at first that the babies left their mothers because they wanted to be with their own kind, but after watching a while, she decided that they were simply not comfortable around other living creatures. It was rather like watching a cage full of wildcats; they had no notion of how to deal peacefully with each other. Every encounter led to a fight, even between mother and child.
Soon she no longer had time to watch the others. She had enough to worry about. Dairuin had decided he liked the feel of the coarse cloth and if he could get his hands on it, he would latch his claws into it and wrestle it like a cat with a ball of wool. She’d saved almost all the cloth she needed for a new shift when he tore a hole too large to mend right in the middle of one of the shirts. She’d had to sacrifice the largest piece she’d saved to replace it. With the spring planting about to begin, there would be no more sewing for months, but she thought she could cut a replacement from the last length she’d been given and still meet the quota. If Dairuin tore another piece, she wouldn’t be able to make her new shift until after the harvest.
The next time Dairuin reached for a piece of cloth, she snatched him away and set him down on the other side of her. He shrieked and began scrambling back to his prize. When she moved him away again, he slashed at her with his claws. She threw herself backwards, eyes filling with tears. No, she thought, he can’t be like that. I can’t survive if he really is nothing but an orc. He sprang at her again, and she dodged out of the way. Remembering how Tirga had held off her baby, she reached in behind him and got a handful of the back of his shirt. He kept swinging and screaming “Bad, bad, bad mama!” but his blows couldn’t connect. The bleeding began to slow, and the drops welled up as round and red as currants before they slid down her arm. She watched numbly as they formed and fell. It was better to think of the pain in her arm than the one in her heart.
Eventually his rage passed, and he subsided into tired whimpers. She pulled a scrap of ruined linen from under her pallet and wrapped it around her bleeding arm, keeping a wary eye on her son as she did. Then as he had always done, he reached up for her. Cautiously, Lu picked him up. He sighed contentedly and laid his head on her breast. He dozed on her lap as she rushed to get the shirt done, and when he woke, it was as if the attack had never happened. As soon as he opened his eyes, he smiled at her and within a minute or two, he was begging for a story. She hid the shirt away before he could fly into another rage and started to recite what nursery rhymes she could remember.
“No, do right!“ he ordered. While she was still puzzling out what he meant, he climbed onto her lap and wrapped her arm around his waist. “Story,” he said with satisfied nod. She bent to hug him and drop a kiss on the top of his head before continuing with the rhymes. He was not turning into an orc, no matter what the others said.
The incident set the pattern for their days together. When she had to keep him from something he wanted, he attacked with all the violence that a creature so small could muster. She learned soon enough to watch for the first hints that he was getting tired. All the babies she’d known before had turned cranky when they were tired or hungry, so it was not hard to see why the Orc in him emerged most strongly at those times. If she caught him in time, she could head off the rage. The rest of the time, she learned how to keep him from injuring her. Still, he was hers, not some anonymous half-orc’s and certainly not Saruman’s.
Dairuin was fascinated by every finger game and nursery rhyme she could dredge up from her memory. He struggled hard with the words since his mouth was not shaped for clear speech, but he was speaking in complete sentences long before the others his age could do anything but scream. What he still loved best, though, was to listen as she told stories. By then, she had told him the Narn i Hîn Húrin so many times that she was certain he had learned bits of it by heart. He was hers.
As she smoothed his hair, she caught Tirga looking at the two of them sadly. The other woman must have noticed that he was still affectionate long past the age when most of the babies turned entirely vicious.
“Don’t get so attached, Lu” said the Dunlending with uncharacteristic gentleness. “You know nothing good‘s going to come of this, don’t you?”
Lu nodded and bent forward so her hair made a dark curtain around her and the baby. In its privacy, she struggled to will away the tears. It was past denying now that though he was a joy to her, he was not what Saruman required. He was going to die and there was nothing she could do to save him. “I know,” she murmured, “but as long as he’s still alive, I’m going to do everything I can to make him happy.”
She heard Tirga sigh. “Oh, Lu, that wasn’t what I meant! Well, never mind. I suppose you’ll just have to see for yourself.”
Lu shrugged the comment away. Someone or another was always trying to tell her that he was only an orc, but she knew better. It baffled her that they couldn’t see it for themselves.
Once Dairuin could get around on his own, he began to explore the chamber like the other babies. Lu never let him go far. Three or four of the oldest children had become a menace, and they would have made short work of him if they caught him where she couldn’t reach them in time. It finally caught the guards’ attention the night one of the older ones attacked the slave who was carrying in the soup kettle.
The child had hidden among the women who were lined up for the food. As the slave passed with his eyes on the ground to avoid tripping over any of the half-orcs, the child hurled himself at the slave’s arm, biting and gouging. The slave shrieked and dropped the soup and the child turned to pounce on the spill. The mother tried to right the pot before all the soup was lost, but her child snarled and drove her away from his prize. Tirga shouted something in her own tongue that Lu was sure had to be an obscenity, kicked the child away, and set the kettle back on its legs. By then, most of the soup had already run into the gutters beside the central aisle, and none of the women were hungry enough yet to consider eating anything that had fallen in there. The children, though, snatched up as much as they could and stuffed it into their mouths.
Tirga gave the slave’s injury a quick look, and as soon as she saw that the child’s teeth and claws had missed severing an artery, she snarled, “What were you thinking of, dropping your guard around them? They’d kill you for that food if they knew how! Now we’re all going to have to go without dinner, thanks to you.”
The slave, shaken and still bleeding, backed away apologizing. The guard only grinned as he watched, and Tirga snapped at him, “You won’t be smirking long if that little monster manages to kill one of Sharkey’s pet half-orcs.”
The next morning a group of soldiers came to take the oldest children away. The girls went to a different breeding den, and the boys to the training barracks. Lu couldn’t decide whether she was more relieved or upset. Dairuin was safer for the moment with the older children gone, but it hurt to be reminded that she would not be allowed to keep him much longer.
As the strangers walked up and down the aisles, the children who were old enough to run fled. They had already seen enough of what went on in the dens to know that when those in power paid attention to the slaves, it normally ended in pain. They scattered, trying to hide under pallets or behind the workbox. Dairuin whimpered and threw himself at Lu, trying to burrow his face into her shoulder. She cuddled him close and rocked him a little. He gradually stopped whimpering, but would not raise his head.
One of the other children bumped against her just as one of the soldiers grabbed him. Lu looked up. The soldier holding the struggling child was Wulfstan, one of the most brutal of the guards, and he was staring fixedly at Dairuin. Without turning away, he handed the child he’d caught to one of the other guards. Lu looked around, trying to see what it was that caught his attention so. It didn’t strike her for a moment because it was so ordinary, but finally she realized that out of all the children who were old enough to walk, Dairuin was the only one that had run to his mother when he was afraid.
Wulfstan stared at Lu and the baby till she was nearly ready to scream, then shook his head angrily as if to clear it and stalked off.
Lu looked to Tirga for an explanation, but the other woman only shrugged. “I don’t know what goes on in his head, and I don’t want to. But he’s interested in you and the baby, and that can’t be good. Be careful!”
Lu took the advice to heart, but days passed and nothing else happened. She pushed the concern a little farther back in her mind and went on. Not long after midsummer, Tirga’s baby was taken to the training barracks and they began trying to breed her again. When the guards took Tirga off to the side chamber, Lu squeezed her eyes shut and tried to cover her ears. But at the worst of it, Dairuin woke and began to cry. She held him tight, wishing she could block the sounds, but not able to give up the comfort of his touch.
On her return, Tirga gave Lu a swat on the shoulder that was half-chastening and half-consoling. “Don’t take on so,” she insisted. “We don’t have it bad here, considering.”
Lu raised an eyebrow at the red marks that were deepening into purple on Tirga’s face and arms.
“Really,” said the Dunlending. She looked hard at Lu‘s baby and something seemed to dawn on her. “Oh, that’s right! It won’t be long till it’s your turn again. Well, don’t work yourself into a crying fit over it. Nobody wants to be with an orc, but Sharkey doesn’t let them get too rough with us. And there’s things you can do to get them off faster. I’ll teach you if you like.“
Lu nodded, but couldn’t repress a shudder. Tirga made an exasperated noise and said, “They rape the other slaves too, and those poor bastards usually end up dead or maimed. It’s kind of a good joke on the orcs, if you want to look at it that way. I don’t think they can mate at all without a little torture to get them going, and Sharkey only lets them hurt us just barely enough to get the job done. All they get is a really bad lay, and as long as we keep turning out these little monsters for Sharkey, we get enough food and don’t have to work ourselves to death. We could do a lot worse than this around here.”
“And much better at home.”
Tirga was momentarily stricken silent. “No,” she finally said with studied casualness. “It would be worse at home. We all worked till we dropped and got barely enough to survive. Then the house burned down and we lost even that. If it hadn’t been for this place, my parents would have had to sell all of us. Even after the slave dealer took his cut, they ended up with enough to give my sisters a little dowry and still buy some seed corn and an iron cooking pot. Maybe it doesn’t seem that way to you, but this is much better than watching my little sisters die, and not much worse than the sort of brothel that would have bought me in Dunland. These...things aren’t my real children, my sisters are. If I have to screw orcs to save them, then that’s what I‘ll do.”
Even after nearly two years in Isengard, Lu had a hard time imagining anything that could be worse than life in the breeding pens, but Tirga clearly believed what she said. Well, she’d never believed anything as dreadful as the last two years, either, so perhaps she simply lacked imagination.
“I have been keeping an eye on them, just as you said. If it had not been for your orders, I would have culled this one already.”
Saruman frowned. If the situation was as bad as Wulfstan claimed, that would make the second time in a month that one of the half-orc and human crosses had had to be culled. There were so many benefits attached to that cross that he had meant to have his entire army of such soldiers, but it began to look as if he would have to settle for uniformity instead. Breeding the women to full orcs gave a predictable result, but without the cunning and discipline that more human blood allowed. “Show me. Perhaps we may still be able to salvage it.”
Wulfstan stopped in the doorway and said softly, “There it is. As you can see....”
Indeed I do see, thought Saruman. The miserable little beast sat on its mother’s lap, and she seemed to be telling it a story, and the creature was listening enthralled. Saruman shook his head. He had hoped that this one in particular would have proven dependable, and given him a creature with the soul of an Orc in a body that could pass for a Man of Gondor. Still, with enough attention, there might be hope of remaking it into an adequate soldier at least.
The woman finished her story and tried to put the child down for a nap. It went wild, doing its best to injure her, but she got it in a hold where it could do her no harm and kept it there till its rage trailed away into sniffles. Then to his surprise, she gathered the creature close. “Better now?” she asked, and it nodded and lay its head on her shoulder.
“I nice to Mama,” it murmured drowsily. The woman smiled and rocked it until it fell asleep. She laid it tenderly on the pallet and covered it before reaching for her sewing.
He moved silently into the room and looked more closely at the mother. With this woman and a few others, he had planned to breed servants of undoubted loyalty who could move unnoticed through Gondor and Rohan. There were still a few of the quarter-orcs that might prove reliable, but the rest had shown an undesirable softness.
Still, he might find some gain in this apparent failure. To be able to produce the daughter of a noble house and offer her back to them so debased that she would choose her half-orc child over them...that was an unexpected bounty. Much could be made of such a revelation at a well-chosen time. If Gondor someday chose to pit its armies against him, he had a weapon available that would utterly crush one of its captains. He smiled.
In the meantime, there was much to be done. He called to Wulfstan, and the woman looked up.
Saruman! What is he...no! It can’t be time already.
He saw recognition in her eyes, and a flash of despair before her face went blank. Yes, this was the one who had retreated into madness. No matter. If she did so again, she would lose some of her power to wound her father, but by no means all of it.
“Wulfstan, from now on, you will take the infants from their mothers as soon as they can be weaned. They must be raised from the earliest possible moment to the service of the White Hand. This rate of failure is completely unacceptable, and cannot be allowed to continue.” He caught the woman’s gaze before he continued. “Take this one away and see to his training. Call him...hmm, Urgakh will do. Make a proper Orc out of him.”
He’s going to live, he’s going to live! But why? Saruman doesn’t do anything out of kindness. There has to be some other reason.
Ah, there was the surge of emotion, quickly suppressed, that he had hoped for in the mother’s eyes. “Yes, I have plans for this one. Perhaps you will see him again someday. Would that please you?”
What can he be planning? If I get what I want, it’s only because it suits his purposes. He would never offer that much unless there was some benefit to him. Oh, Valar, don’t let it be something unspeakable, because I don’t think I have the strength to refuse. Not if the price is Dairuin’s life.
He saw suspicion grow in her eyes and continued in a more persuasive tone. “Do not be so alarmed! I only want what is best for your child. Nowhere in Middle-earth will he find himself more valued. Surely if you love him, you must want to find a place where he will be useful and respected. So he will be within these walls, and your love for him need not be hidden.”
He’s right, Dairuin is wanted here. There’s nowhere else he can go, and Saruman does deal fairly with half-orcs. Maybe I was too suspicious, seeing dreadful plots where there was only the need of a good army. He said we could be together, that I wouldn‘t have to pretend not to care about my own baby. What could be the harm in that?
The woman said nothing and her blank expression slipped only a little, but Saruman was entirely satisfied with what got past her guard. He motioned to Wulfstan to take the child. It began to shriek for its mother as he carried it away, and the mother went rigid in the arms of one of the other slaves. Yes, her father would regret it if he ever tried to oppose Saruman the White. He must see if the same could be managed among the Rohirrim, where it would be of more immediate use. Had Erkenbrand a daughter?
Dairuin! Oh, don’t take him away! Why is he taking Dairuin away if he wants us to be together? He’s lying; it doesn’t make any sense unless he’s lying. ‘What could be the harm?’ If there were no harm in it, he wouldn’t have needed to fill my head with rubbish.
As Saruman walked away, Lu began to shudder against Tirga’s shoulder. She had seen a look like that on her brother’s face when he was fishing, after the bait was taken and the hook set. Saruman had the only bait that could draw her now, and he meant to use it. She had no idea what his purpose was, but it was sure to be something terrible, and how could she fight against something entirely unknown?
She doubted she could defy him for long; she was no Húrin. How was she to bear the view from Thangorodrim?
“Then Morgoth cursed Hurin and Morwen and their offspring, and set a doom upon them of darkness and sorrow; and taking Hurin from prison he set him in a chair of stone upon a high place of Thangorodrim. There he was bound by the power of Morgoth, and Morgoth standing beside him cursed him again; and he said: ’Sit now there; and look out upon the lands where evil and despair shall come upon those whom thou lovest...with my eyes thou shalt see, and with my ears thou shalt hear; and never shalt thou move from this place until all is fulfilled unto its bitter end.’
And even so it came to pass; but it is not said that Hurin asked ever of Morgoth either mercy or death, for himself or for any of his kin.”
The Silmarillion, Chap. 20 “Of the Fifth Battle”
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.