9. The Morning After
If he dozed at some point Nazluk was not aware of it. He kept his watch as the night wore into the early dawn hours and the heavy dark began to lift. Beneath the trees he could not see the stars wink out one by one. He could not see the sun either but knew the sign of its rising as a slow glow began to suffuse the surrounding trees. Somewhere a songbird made its morning trill, hailing the dawn. Nazluk stood, idly scratching the rough skin at the back of his neck as he faced the eastern perimeter of the little clearing. "Ho, you stinking daystar," he said, and laughed softly. "Can't find me here."
Nazluk had always considered sunrise a personal affront. Sunlight aggravated his eyes and skin, making him squint and smart. It forced him to slink in shadow and shade; it limited his movements. The sun also favored enemies: day was the province of nasty Man-people and wretched Elves. Sun was no friend to Orcs…save possibly the Uruk-hai, and Nazluk was none too fond of them either.
Kurbag was half-Uruk and Nazluk had odd feelings about that: at once sneering and strangely wistful, though he would never have admitted the latter to himself. He couldn't help but wonder what it was to walk freely in the sun, to bask in its warmth. For all that Nazluk hated sun he liked its warmth.
The night had been a mild one—they'd made no fire, wanting to be able to move in a hurry if it became necessary, but there'd been no need for a fire anyway. That was good. He would not have to worry about putting it out, kicking dirt and gravel over the remaining embers. Camp would be simple to pick up this day. They were traveling light…though not so light as they had traveled yester-morning. Nazluk smirked to think of the fine trove he and Kurbag had brought away from the Elf-home. Stretching, he brushed grit from his arse and strolled into the outlying trees, unfastening his breeches as he went.
The half-Uruk was still sleeping when Nazluk returned: a dark recumbent form beneath tall tree-shade, breathing deeply. Nazluk thought of waking him but decided their departure could wait a while longer. In an immediate addendum he told himself he would not spend another night on guard. If they did not find the others before evening came it would be Kurbag's turn to keep the watch. He had a perfectly good nose and ears, and the lack of sleep was starting to tell on Nazluk—there were dark semi-circles under his eyes and his ears were beginning to droop.
Kurbag made an odd snorting sound and turned onto his side, causing Nazluk to squint. Fuck, but that one could sleep deep. As he looked in Kurbag's direction he also noticed the crumpled form beside him. Nazluk's lip curled and he stalked over to look down at the body: the Elf-girl of the previous night, used and finished now. She lay on her side, eyes glazed and lifeless, wrists still bound before her. Her dress was hitched up over her waist, her thighs smeared with blood and dried black spunk. They would leave her behind them when they broke camp: carrion she was now, food for whatever beasts should chance upon her when they left.
Food. Meat enough they'd brought away with them the day before, but as Nazluk's stomach rumbled the look he gave the dead Elf was freshly speculative. Elves were good eating from what he'd heard, but he wasn't sure if his stomach's reaction was due to genuine interest or revulsion.
Only one way to find out.
Nazluk knelt beside her, drawing the knife at his hip. His nostrils flared—he could smell Kurbag's heavy musk but he could also smell Golug, and it was not a smell to his liking. Curiosity was a demanding master, though, and he put his free hand on one smooth haunch to steady the carcass for his knife.
The consequences of this simple action took several years off his life. What should have been cold flesh contracted beneath his hand and the dead Elf's eyes shot wide open. A long moan escaped her lips. Nazluk gave a strangled yelp and toppled backwards onto his arse. He scrambled to his feet, his heart beating wildly and angrily at the source of his sudden surprise. "Bloody fuck! Kurbag!"
The larger Orc woke blinking, his dark features stupid with sleep. "Huh? Wha'?"
"That…bloody Elf…is alive!"
A hand on her hip brought her back to the world with a rush like being born, returning with unchecked velocity from a dark place far away. The light was an assault on her eyes, and she cried out beneath the sudden weight of her flesh.
In tales sleepers wakened do not realize where they are or recall recent events. It takes them a moment to remember. For Eleluleniel, there wasn't a second when she didn't know where she was and what had happened. There was a raw angry ache between her legs and inside of her, and she did not have to pause to remember.
Why am I alive? she thought.
Then: It does not matter. They will kill me now.
Over her a rapid exchange was taking place, largely one-sided and strident, and she recognized the voice of the Orc who had hit her and had hurt Veisiliel. She cracked her eyes against the morning light to see him gesticulating at the taller figure staring down at her. The sight of the second Orc made her squeeze her eyes shut again: still she could him emblazoned in her mind.
He cannot see me, she told herself nonsensically, I am not here, I am not here…
Suddenly she was being yanked to her feet. The slighter of the two Orcs had her by the front of her dress. He was growling something in her face, something that she did not understand. She did not know their language. She shook her head helplessly and he hit her. "Stop!" she cried. "I do not understand!"
The Orc sneered. "Don't understand, eh? Yes, I imagine you wouldn't. Stupid twat, why aren't you dead? There is some Golug witchery here, yes?" His Common was difficult to understand; his intent, however, was clear enough as he produced a knife, brandishing it before her eyes. "Is it proof against a blade, I wonder…?"
"Oi!" A sudden rush, a black spiral as the knife was knocked away. Pain wrenched through her shoulder as she was jerked from her tormentor's grasp, to be confronted instead by the one who had raped her, by the face that had gone from savage to stupid over her, those same brutish features overlain now with a kind of vast bewilderment.
Eleluleniel did not see this. All she saw was a wide mouth, a slick tongue passing over yellow teeth…feral green eyes, fixed and unseeing…leathery gray skin creased in a savage rictus as he grunted over her….
"No," she gasped. She struggled and, with an impossible burst of effort, managed to pull free. Kurbag made no attempt to catch her. There was no need. Without his strength to support her, the Elf girl wavered and fell, weak as a newborn foal.
Kurbag's sudden intervention had startled Nazluk into momentary silence. Regaining his tongue, he snarled and folded his arms across his chest, speaking in Orkish: "Fine then, you do it. You brought her in the first place, you kill her."
"But she's supposed to be dead already." The half-Uruk was still staring down at the Elf girl. "Isn't she?"
"Supposed to be but clearly isn't." Nazluk prodded her roughly with his boot. "Maybe the little slut wanted it, hmm?" He said it contemptuously but knew it for a false conclusion. He knew the sounds of pain and terror when he heard them, and he had heard them aplenty the night before. Kurbag, however, looked thoughtful, as if giving the notion due consideration. Nazluk rolled his eyes. "In any case, we need to be rid of her. So long as she's alive, she may draw more of her filthy kind upon us."
"You weren't worried about that last night…."
"She was supposed to be dead by morning!"
"But she's not." Kurbag dropped into a low squat over the Elf girl, rocking a little on his heels as he looked down at her. Her face was pressing into the grass and as his shadow fell across her she shrank further in on herself. Her head was in the crook of her bound wrists, her fists clenched over it, fingers curled tightly into her palms. He leaned forward and touched the back of one hand, fascinated to see how it tightened further.
"She may die yet," he said at last, standing. "Let's get it together if you want to be moving."
Nazluk stared at Kurbag over the prone body of the Elf, the dumbfounded look on his face almost comical. "You're not going to kill her? You're just going to leave her here?"
Kurbag sat on his bed roll. He grunted as he reached for one of his boots. "I didn't say that."
"Well you're not bringing her with us! Didn't you hear what I said? There might be more of her kind after us. Gorthaur's balls, I'll kill her if you won't." Exasperated, Nazluk picked up his knife again but made no move to use it. Kurbag had fixed him with a warning look.
"Bugger you, Nazluk. You said she was mine to kill and she is. Anyhow, I don't think she's dangerous."
"You don't think at all!" Nazluk snapped. "She'll only slow us down."
A shrug. "So if she does I'll gut her. Come, I've already got my boots on in the time you've spent bitching at me. Tend your own business and let me keep mine." Kurbag turned his back on Nazluk as he began to roll up the sleeping mat.
Angry but impotent, Nazluk hissed and whirled on his heels. He knew that the upshot of this was only delayed, that the Elf would be dead soon enough. Nonetheless he swore under his breath as he gathered up his belongings.
The arguing between the two Orcs had stopped for a space. They had been at it for nearly an hour: mostly the Elf-killer, in a tone that alternated between coaxing and sarcastic, before the taller Orc responded with enough heat to quell him for a time. Now they traveled mostly in silence, and any words they exchanged were brief and, Eleluleniel thought, carefully neutral, for all that they were in a tongue she did not understand.
She walked with her eyes on the ground at first. The ground was uneven beneath her feet and she was frightened of falling with her hands still bound before her; she was even more afraid of locking eyes with her captors or of doing something else to draw their attentions. The Elf-killer, she knew, was eager to be rid of her. His fellow seemed of a less murderous disposition, but she had another reason to fear him now.
The more afraid because he had let her live and she did not know what to think of her reprieve. She had lain in the grass fully expecting to be killed, but when he put his hands on her it was to raise her up, to give her water as he had the night before. She was afraid to drink, remembering what had come after, but all he did was draw her up and set her on her feet. "Walk," he told her and she obeyed, though movement deepened her hurt, had even made her bleed. She had felt it beneath her dress and been ashamed.
Her wrists were still bound before her, and as she walked they slid back and forth across her belly. Her lowered eyes fixed upon her hands. They seemed somehow alien, as if they were not a part of her body. There were grass stains around the fingers, and a dark mark across the knuckles of one of them. She stared at it and wondered for a moment what it was before she recognized Veisiliel's kiss. Tears blurred her vision, and in that moment's distraction her foot caught on an unseen root: she cried out and stumbled forward. He had half-turned at the sound and, horrifyingly, she fetched up against his leather-clad side. At once she wrenched her body away and would have overbalanced were it not for his hand on her elbow, keeping her from falling.
"Oi. Watch yourself."
"Idiot!" snapped the Orc behind her. "Will you not kill the little bitch and be done with it?!"
His fingers tightened as he raised his eyes to glare over her shoulder. "Will you not shut your mouth lest I shut it for you?"
He was holding her trapped between them. The other Orc had come up close behind her and she could feel his angry breath on her neck. The proximity of both made her skin crawl: she thought that she must surely scream. What came out of her mouth instead surprised her. "Please," she said to the gray hand that gripped her elbow, "untie me." Their focus on one another had loosed her tongue, and they must also have been surprised for they stopped arguing. Wetting her lips, she said, "If you untie me I will not be so clumsy, I know that I will not. Please untie my hands. It is hard for me to walk with them bound." She raised her head as she spoke, making herself look in the eyes of the one who held her.
"You should be glad of walking in the first place!" snapped his fellow.
"What have your hands to do with it?" he asked.
His eyes were unnerving but his grip relaxed the barest of increments: she could feel it, and the illusion of ground gained heartened her. At the same time she hesitated, searching for the words to explain herself. "They help my balance, and allow a means of support, and of catching myself if I fall. And the rope hurts my skin. Will you….Please untie me." She hated herself, for she felt as if she were begging. And yet she spoke in the most level voice she could: it was plain truth she uttered.
"'And the rope hurts my skiiiiiin'….Poor wretch, how it suffers. I know! We could cut your hands off! Would you prefer that? Or would you rather we break your legs?" offered the Elf-killer maliciously.
She made herself ignore him. "Do you think that I will run if you untie me?" she asked the tall Orc.
"Won't you?" he asked in return.
Have a care! Oh have a care, Eleluleniel, lest you trap yourself with falsehood. "Where is there for me to run?"
A snarl from behind. "Kill her, Kurbag. Kill her, or gag her again, but shut her up. Just because I must smell her doesn't mean I have to hear her."
"Don't listen then, if it bothers you so." He looked at her thoughtfully. "I suppose it makes no great difference." His fingers tightened on her elbow again and she gritted her teeth as he drew her toward him. Lifting her bound wrists, he held them level with her head as, with his other hand, he began to pick apart the knotted cord. This elicited a torrent of angry Orkish from behind her, which he ignored beyond a muttered, "Nadal goj-lat, Ologru."
She held her ground while he unwound the last of the cord from her wrists, forcing herself to stand docilely when she wanted nothing more than to yank away. She knew that that would be unwise. "Thank you," she said to him.
He was pulling the cord through his fingers again as he had the night before, looking at her as he had then, but then he turned. She had barely time to realize this was the sign for them to start walking again when a vicious shove came from behind, followed almost immediately by a second.
"Enough of this, you little worm, move! Go on, go on."
Gasping at the sudden onslaught, she managed somehow to maintain her footing and to walk quickly forward while the other Orc drove her viciously from behind. Even as she clenched her jaw under his abuse, she risked a glance down at her hand and at the splash of ink there. She covered it with her other hand and imagined that she could feel it beneath, like a faint whisper of comfort against her palm.
Nadal goj-lat, Ologru. "Shut your mouth, troll woman."
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.