Mother of Isengard
4. Fresh Blood
“No!” Tulûk roared. Tearing himself awake. Ripping his mind free of the dream, dragging it up from the dark mire of ancient memory. His great frame shuddered and sweat beaded on his heavy brow.
“Not me.” He fought to regain command of his wayward breathing, wiping the sweat from his swart, scarred face. “That was not me.” He tore aside the heavy fur coverings and rose to his feet. Broad feet planted squarely on the cold flagstones, he sucked in lungfuls of the bitter evening air, feeling his body still and the power return to his muscles.
“I am of the Fighting Uruk-hai.” He growled, clenching his heavy fists, relishing the strength in them. “I feel no pain. I know no fear.” No fear of anything that walked the earth. Only the fear that lurked in the deepest pits of his own mind.
“That fear is not mine.” He tried to recapture the elusive blood-memory, to see it again, to look out from those long-dead eyes. “That was not my defeat, that was not my pain and I shall not fear to face it.”
But it was gone, a dark shadow fading back into the blackness of immeasurable years. One of the oldest memories. Those were the ones with the fear and the pain. The newer ones were bright with blood-lust and battle-fever. The memories of his sire, and of his line back into the dark mists of time. Orcs all.
His human blood carried no memories. But it spoke to him in other ways. Spurring his mind and stirring his thoughts. Driving him always with restless dissatisfaction and fearless curiosity.
He stretched his great limbs, easing the stiffness of sleep from his muscles, then with a groan of satisfaction relieved himself noisily into the pot.
“Muuk!” He shouted for his servant as he readjusted his loincloth. Immediately the heavy door opened and the old orc limped in.
“Master.” Broken yellow teeth grinned in a dark, seamed face. Muuk’s hair was grey and thin, and he bore many marks of old battles. His sword arm was a ragged stump above the elbow, and a shrunken socket gaped where once his red right eye had shone. But his tattered ears were heavy with victory rings, his remaining eye was bright and his shield arm still strong. At his snarled command two slaves scuttled in. Snaga. The lowest of the Orc castes. Serfs, witless cravens with neither skill at arms nor in craft. Yet even they had a place in Isengard, even they had tasks to fulfil.
One hurried to bring Tulûk a heavy jar of water, while the other removed the soil pot.
“Will you eat now?” Muuk asked and Tulûk grunted assent as he lifted the jar and poured the icy contents over his head with a growl of pleasure.
The water cascaded over his dark head and thick neck, shining on the muscles of the shoulders and chest, bathing the ridged scars on face and arm. The long hair clung to the straight back, and the iron ear-rings shone blackly. The mighty arms too gleamed with smithwork. The left carried his personal wealth - gold and hack-silver. While on the right, an iron arm-ring denoted his allegiance to the Sur-ghâsh, the Legion of the West Quarter, and two bands of gold his rank as Sergeant. But there was no ring of clanship, for the Uruk-hai were a new race and their loyalty was to Saruman alone.
Tulûk dragged on his leather tunic then ate quickly of the bread and meat that the slaves brought. Today he would have his pick of the newborn, fresh recruits to replace the attrition. Birth brothers. Wild-eyed and raw, full of anger and lust, just as he had been ten short years ago. To be honed by him into fearless and disciplined warriors, fit to march into battle with his troop, to spill blood with them and share the flesh of their enemies. The weak and the unlucky would die in training. The unworthy he would kill.
The last light of the day reflected redly from the tops of the dark spike of Orthanc as Tulûk stepped out onto the wooden gallery above the great arena. Like most of the others in the fortress of Isengard, his living quarters were in the mighty ring wall. One hundred feet high, one hundred and fifty feet thick, and formed from solid rock, it enclosed a great circular basin almost a mile in diameter. Thousands of windows were set into the rough stone, and behind them rooms of every shape, size and function. At ground level, store houses, stables and mess-halls. Above them, reached by wooden galleries and stairs, were barracks and living chambers. Torches snapped and fluttered in their thousands and everywhere was the clamour of activity. At dusk, as at dawn, all of Isengard was abroad. Orcs and other night-folk waking from their rest as those of the day finished their work.
Tulûk’s corporal emerged from the barracks accompanied by two warriors, and followed him wordlessly as he strode along the gangway and down the stairs. The arena was busy but the workers and slaves needed no warning to make way for the Uruk-hai, who were well known for their long knives and short patience. Many pits and caverns were delved in the ground of Isengard, some dark and narrow, others wide maws, red with fire. From some came forth metal, from some stone. Workers went into them all. The one they sought stood in the very shadow of Orthanc itself, and from it came forth new life.
As always it was the smell that came to him first, up from the deep cavern that sheltered the Birthing Pit. A smell as familiar to him as that of his own sweat, and yet still thrilling him with its echo of the new. Behind him the others were also silent as they made their way down the long steep earthen ramp, for all were returning to the place of their birth. All scented the rank comfort of the seeping womb that had nourished them, heard again the harsh clamour that had been their cradle-song. Felt once more the pain and terror of awakening. The stabbing of light at their eyes, the burning of air in their lungs, the fear, the confusion and the anger. Bright red rage suffused with raw joy at being alive.
As they neared the bottom of the ramp they could see the new recruits already waiting, kept roughly in line by vigilant overseers. They would have been fed their first meal. Always the flesh of men, so that ever after they might crave it. And under the ready lash they would have tasted their first pain at the hands of another.
“Sir.” The overseer greeted him respectfully, and Tulûk accorded him the same wary courtesy. The thick leather lash that hung at the orc’s belt was not likely the same one that had stung Tulûk into wakefulness, but the hand that wielded it was. And although the Uruk had long since learned the necessity of order, the memory of that first pain still burned bright.
He looked along the ranks of the nameless as they stood, proud and sullen, similar yet not identical, though they shared both sire and host.
“A full complement?” he asked the orc.
“Less only one.”
The overseer twitched his head in a gesture of negation, eyes flickering briefly towards the back of the cavern. Darkness covered the pit there, a black oubliette where even the bravest of the Uruk-hai would fear to look. A repository for the damned, those misshapen in body or deformed in mind. Food was given to them, from time to time, and some lived, their haunted howls rising unheeded into the noise of the Birth Chamber.
Tulûk felt his skin shudder and turned silently to walk amongst the newborn, eyes and hands raking over the shining bodies, seeking out the strongest. Looking hard into each face, into every baleful eye. Strength he needed and courage, but also obedience. With these he could build a soldier, a loyal and fearless warrior, the weapon with which the White Hand of Saruman would dominate the world.
A curt nod here and there, then Corporal Shart and the overseer would cut out the chosen one, separating him from his fellows. Half a dozen would be enough to fill the four empty places in his barracks. Growls of protest and mutters of incomprehension ran through the group, few having mastered their memories enough to form words.
Tulûk stopped before a large Uruk, taller than he was by an inch or two, and of great size. Some commanders would never choose a soldier stronger than they were, knowing they risked losing a challenge, but Tulûk knew that it was more than just strength that made a leader. His troop was the best because he chose only the best, and accepted only the best from them, and from himself. The youngster lifted his lip in a snarl, defiance bright in his eyes. Dark blood clotted on the broad shoulders where the overseer had enforced his will. He would be trouble this one, but a fine warrior. Tulûk stood for a moment in thought, then nodded decisively, a hint of a smile twitching his mouth. Hadn’t he been just such a one ten years ago.
“Right then!” the overseer motioned with his whip. “With the others.”
The young Uruk growled in response but moved obediently. Good.
“Tulûk!” A familiar voice boomed from above them, and he looked up with pleasure to see a broad-faced Uruk striding down the ramp towards him.
“Marath!” He lifted both arms to grasp the shoulders of the other in greeting. “Well met, my brother!”
“Sha!” barked the other, returning the embrace, “You’ve beaten me to the best of them again.”
Tulûk laughed. “Good hunting in the horse-lands I see.” Fresh blood encrusted a new victory ring in his brother’s ear, and his left arm was heavy with wealth.
“Aye.” Marath grinned, “Plenty of fighting, and rich pickings in gold and women. Just what I want to keep my boys happy!”
“You lucky bastard, we’ve had nothing but mountain patrols for months now.”
Marath glanced over at the waiting recruits. “Have you lost many?”
“Three to Rangers on the western slopes,” Tulûk grimaced sourly, “And one young fool who decided to challenge Shart.”
Marath replied with a snort of laughter. Shart was shorter than most of the other Uruk-hai but his shoulders and chest were massive. He was famously unbeatable in unarmed combat. “I’ll bet that fight didn’t last long!”
Tulûk could not help but grin, “It took him less than five minutes to break the maggot’s spine.”
“Looks like you’ve picked a good bunch of new ones there.”
“Aye.” Tulûk nodded, “Though I’d better get them back to the barracks before they get bored and start causing trouble.”
“Good hunting, brother.” Marath’s eyes were serious. Of the dozen who had shared their Birthing, only they still lived. For the first years of their life they had fought in the same troop, side by side through training and battle alike, and the bond of blood between them was very strong.
“Aye brother,” Tulûk returned, “And to you also.”
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.