Children of Hurin
5. Her Master's Voice
Isengard, morning of March 2nd, 3019
Lu had never become accustomed to being in Saruman’s presence. He had summoned her dozens of times over the years but it had never become an everyday occurrence and it always unnerved her. At first, she had been brought before him alone, but after a few years, Dairuin was usually summoned along with her.
This time, she was once again alone in one of Orthanc’s upper chambers with only her fears to keep her company. The thought was almost enough to make her laugh; dread was a very loyal companion these days.
The chamber held little besides bookshelves and a chair and a table strewn with maps and notes. She’d been left alone in that room more than once, but she had never looked at the papers again after she pulled out an ordinary-looking ledger and found that it listed scalp bounties paid in the previous month - five silver coins apiece for an adult of the Rohirrim and three for a child. Had Saruman paid for the slaughter of her friends too? The reawakened memories had driven her to the edge of collapse: screams filling the glade, the warm smell of entrails, and the orcs moving among the dead and dying, laughing and collecting trophies.
Apart from the papers, the only thing to occupy her while she waited was the window, and it did have an excellent view. The fields where she’d worked after Dairuin was born were long gone now. The last time she’d had a chance to look down from here, there had still been a swath of fruit trees and tilled ground along the road from the gates to the doorway of the tower. Even that was gone now. Until Mithrandir arrived, that corridor had been carefully maintained to preserve the illusion that nothing untoward was happening in Isengard. Now it seemed Saruman had decided there was no longer any need of secrecy. No one came to Isengard anymore except as an ally or a prisoner.
The half-orc army whose existence she’d guessed at so many years before was now a reality. From the window, she could see them down below looking small and harmless from this height, but as busy and numerous as ants while they loaded the packs and readied their weapons. Her two younger sons were undoubtedly down there somewhere. They, at least, were exactly what Saruman had hoped to produce. Whether her daughter fell in gladly with Saruman’s will or fought it, she had no idea. All Lu knew was that she was somewhere in the breeding dens, turning out still more half-orcs whether she liked it or not.
Isengard was full to overflowing with orcs, half-orcs and troops from Dunland, and the place hummed with a tension that was impossible to overlook. The slaves had never been told directly of Saruman’s plans, but by now everyone knew that the next few days would see the war move out into the open. What that meant for her and Dairuin was still a mystery, and in Isengard, surprises were never a good thing.
They were still no use for any of their original purposes. Neither of them had ever heard the so much as a rumor of any other use that might be planned for them, but whatever Saruman intended seemed to require that mother and son should remain close. That thought made Lu excruciatingly nervous. The wizard wouldn’t encourage their love unless it was to his advantage somehow. If she had any honour or even any sense, she should push Dairuin away and thwart whatever it was that Saruman was planning. Well, she’d never had much sense, and honour and nobility were not virtues that held up well in the dens, especially not when set against something as precious as her child’s love.
She didn’t want to be party to whatever evil Saruman had planned for them, but how could she resist when it probably meant rejecting Dairuin? It was possible that she might be a hostage, but in fifteen years, no one had given any hint of knowing who she had been before. Even if Saruman had heard the tale of the slaughter by the stream, she doubted anyone could be certain about which of the young women she had been. She and her friends had all been dressed in plain, sturdy clothing suitable for a walk in the woods, and she was not the only girl in the party whose body would never have been found. She had thought as she watched Eilinel and Celosiel die during the journey that there could be nothing more terrible than their deaths. Isengard had taught her how much she had been mistaken; they could have lived instead.
She shook her head hard, still not willing to look too closely at those memories, even after years immersed in the horrors of Isengard. That glade was the bridge between the two halves of her life, and it was hard enough to survive on this side of it without remembering too much of what had gone before. Her earlier life was gone, and so were the years of careful preparation in Isengard.
War was almost upon them and the training and provisioning of the troops had taken on a frantic urgency. The valley was covered in haze regardless of the weather, and a layer of soot quickly settled on anything left outdoors. The forges ran constantly to turn out more weapons. They were dreadful shoddy things by Dairuin’s account, apt to break under even a middling blow, but Isengard had them by the cartload.
“Sharkey goes for quantity, not quality,” Dairuin had told her one day at mealtime. He waved one hand back toward the training field, now packed with warriors. “With them, too. All he needs from half-orcs is a little skill with weapons and a will to tear apart every living thing in sight. If five or ten of us die to kill one man, well, he’ll still have the numbers on his side, won’t he?”
Judging by the horde getting ready to depart below her, he had not been exaggerating.
“It will not be long now,” said Saruman quietly from behind her.
She jumped and spun around to curtsy deeply. Sometimes Saruman treated her almost as if she was a colleague rather than a slave, but she had learned that it wasn’t safe to rely on that leniency. “You wished to speak to me, sir?”
“Yes.” Saruman went to the window himself, turning her back to look out again. “The time for preparation is at an end. Already armies are on the move, driving events to the conclusion I have long foreseen.” He looked over at Lu, compassion clear on his face. “Soon you will be free of the prejudice that has trapped you here. You will no longer have to hide the love that binds you and your son together.”
She smiled and nodded. Her smile widened as an image rose in her mind of a tidy little village she’d never seen before. She was walking across the market square with Dairuin beside her. The brilliant sunlight of a midsummer noon shone on the stone cottages, with their well-scrubbed steps and window boxes full of marigolds so that the flowers seemed to glow from within. The villagers noticed them but went calmly about their business, inspecting the goods and dickering over prices. No hands went to swords and no cruel words were spoken as they passed. The people nodded in greeting and one stallholder called out a cheery comment that made Dairuin laugh. She was so enthralled by the picture that it took a moment to drag her attention back to Saruman.
“Such a world is close, Lu, very close,” Saruman continued, still watching her. “You can help me bring it about, if you will.”
“Yes, of course I will!” The village was still clear in her mind and more real than Orthanc itself and she longed for it more than she had desired anything in years.
Saruman smiled indulgently. “Your enthusiasm does you credit. Then listen closely and I will explain your part.
“I am certain you have noticed that the war we have expected for so long is finally upon us. For the moment, our part is against the Riders of Rohan, but Théoden has little will to fight and Théodred ...no matter. Rohan will soon fall, and we will move south.”
“South?” she asked, confused. Till now, Saruman had spoken only of Rohan and the lands to the north. He had never shown an interest in conquering Gondor, only in preventing it from interfering with his plans for Dunland and Rohan. She knew by now what forces he could muster very nearly as well as he did, and he did not have an army sufficient to conquer Rohan and Gondor both. If Saruman’s troops were going south, he had to be expecting aid from....
Saruman, watching her closely, said, “I can well imagine what you have been told about Mordor, Lu, but it is not true. Sauron has great power, and so his enemies will call him cruel and despotic rather than admit that he is mightier than they are. For those who are wise, there will be many benefits to his rule. I know you are not one to rush into error; your prudence will serve you well in this. Do not allow silly nursery tales to cloud your judgment! We have a chance now to bring peace to these lands for the first time in your life. It would be unthinkable to let the chance slip away only because Gondor uses Mordor as a bugbear to frighten little children into obedience.”
He drew her back to the table with its litter of maps and spread out one of Gondor. Giving her an assessing look, he said, “If we were to move down the coast rather than through Anórien, which fief would we enter first?”
Lu felt her throat tighten. She knew right down to her bones that what Saruman said was wise and true, but still...Mordor! She had to swallow hard before she could answer.
“Anfalas, if we go around Andrast. Pinnath Gelin, if we go through the Pass.” Even after fifteen years, she shuddered, remembering her last trip through it.
Saruman nodded. “And there you may help me both to achieve a victory and to prevent unnecessary loss of life. Your father, Lu...”
Without any intention on her part, a tiny whimper escaped. The wizard patted her hand reassuringly. “I have known since you first arrived who your father is. I have no wish to slay him or his people, none at all, and in that you may aid me. Hirluin the Fair has fallen under the influence of diehards and fools. He is ready to throw away his life and his people’s lives to oppose powers he can never hope to defeat. I have seen the forces of Mordor and they cannot be defeated by any army in Middle-earth.” The wizard’s gaze lost focus and he smiled very faintly. “No, not by any army.”
Then he seemed to recollect himself and continued, “How much better for everyone if Hirluin understood his error before those lives were lost! There you can help me, you and Urgakh.”
“What must we do?” asked Lu, a little hoarsely.
“You need do very little, I think. Your father and your brother only fear what they do not understand. Once they have seen the affection between you and your son, they will realize that they fear to no purpose. From that point, I have every chance of persuading them to set aside a mistaken cause that is already lost.”
Lu nodded slowly. It made sense. Father and Hathaldir were reasonable, caring men. They would not let Pinnath Gelin be laid waste if there was any alternative. Once they met Urgakh, they would see that he was a son to be proud of, and that Saruman could be a generous master. Pinnath Gelin would be saved, and her family would be whole.
The wizard smiled. “I knew I could rely upon you to do what is best for your family and for Pinnath Gelin. I must see to the ordering of the troops now, but I will send Groblug up to take you to your new work crew.” He looked back over his shoulder as he left the room. “It will not be long now. Give Urgakh the good news when you see him.”
Then he was gone. Lu closed her eyes and smiled. The two of them would be able to save Pinnath Gelin from terrible and unnecessary carnage. Then she would see her family again and introduce Urgakh to them. They would be startled at first by his appearance, but in no time, they would see her son for what he really was and learn to love him as she had. She would have what she had never thought to have in this world - her whole family together and happy. The thought of that made her feel satisfied and...
He’d done it again, hadn’t he? Her mind was awash with the misty warmth that she had come to regard as Saruman’s signature. What had she agreed to this time?
She’d learned years ago that she could not keep Saruman from toying with her thoughts, and she had eventually stopped trying. The harder she fought the interference, the more skilfully he had used the enchantment of his voice. Even though half of his mind had always been on some other matter when he spoke to her, she could not shake off the compulsion while he was there. Once his attention was elsewhere, though, she had found that she could go back and winnow his thoughts out of hers. What Saruman put into her head always seemed a little...sweeter, perhaps? than what grew there naturally, and he’d certainly given her enough opportunities to study the difference.
That charming village scene, what of that? She never let herself think of such things. Surely it had come from him, but it somehow didn’t have exactly the right flavour. He’d never sent her such an intense and detailed vision before. Other times, he’d convinced her she saw bright sunshine, but it had never been this real before. The skin of her cheeks had even felt a little tight, as if she was beginning to sunburn, and Dairuin had had a definite door of sweaty orc. Saruman had never put in any of the unsavoury details before. Had he learned more about the way her mind worked? She went over the scene again. It still didn’t feel like Saruman’s work, but he’d clearly been aware of what she was seeing. She gave up on that part and considered the plan instead.
On that, Saruman’s mark was clear. That blandly perfect family reunion was impossible to square with her father‘s quick temper or Dairuin’s melancholy or her own habit of pulling back into herself. If the three of them ever did meet, the result would be anything but sweet and mild.
Father would never accept a half-orc grandson. He’d always been so proud, so careful of all the details of protocol. Though he was more usually known as Hirluin the Fair, she’d heard “Hirluin the Hairsplitter” more than once from the local gentry when he‘d pushed them to the limit with his finicking attention to every detail of conduct. He hated to be taken for a yokel, and he’d always gone to great lengths to ensure that no one from Minas Tirith could fault his or his family’s refinement. Meeting Dairuin - dear uncouth half-orc Urgakh - would destroy him.
In his anguish, it would be all too easy to provoke her father into a rash attack. The mountains were Gondor’s guardians to the north, and if Saruman could bring his army through the pass and establish an outpost in Pinnath Gelin, Gondor’s least costly defence was lost. She had half-listened through enough of Hathaldir’s lessons on strategy and tactics to know that there were very few places between Isengard and Minas Tirith where a much weaker force could hold off an invading army for long. The best place to make a stand was at the pass. Once the enemy crossed the mountains, the people of the Outlands could do little more than harry them as they passed.
She fell back against the wall. All Saruman had to do was produce her and her son at the appropriate time and turn the full strength of his voice on her father and brother. He wouldn’t even have to be there himself. Gossip among the guards said that he could use one of his minions as a conduit for the power of his voice, and that he had done just that in Rohan. Where there was any opening at all for him to exploit, Saruman could seduce even the strongest. Her sudden reappearance with a beloved half-orc son would give him that opening against her family. By the time they realized their thoughts were not their own, there would be tens of thousands of orcs camped in Pinnath Gelin.
She might resist when Saruman turned his attention elsewhere, but what could she do? Once they knew she still lived as Saruman’s hostage and would not repudiate her son, the damage would be done. The damage probably had been done fifteen years ago when she fell in love with her baby. If she didn’t fight somehow, she might as well declare herself Saruman’s loyal slave in truth, but she could see no way to change what was already done.
Out in the corridor, she heard the heavy tread of the orc who was supposed to take her to her son. She pushed herself away from the wall and settled her face into the chilly impassivity that was her habit around the orcs. The only blessing she could see was that Saruman must be certain that she was entirely under his spell. He would never have moved her to Dairuin’s crew otherwise. It was little enough hope, but perhaps there was still something they could do to avert the disaster.
As you probably noticed, what Saruman tells Lu of the planned attack on Gondor doesn’t sound much like what actually happened. Since this takes place before Saruman’s defeat and before Aragorn revealed himself to Sauron through the palantir, I assumed the plan at that time might have looked very different. If Saruman had had the easy victory he expected in Rohan, it might have seemed reasonable to attack Gondor from the north as well, particularly if he thought he could get a foothold there at a fairly low cost.
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.