1. The Road to Isen
Ilrhenir lay there pretending to be asleep, or unconscious rather, considering the beating he’d just received from the horrible creatures who had him captive. Over the last day and night since his capture, he’d discovered that they tended to ignore him after they thought he had lost consciousness. But given a single hint that he was waking, they started in again on the torment, even whilst he was being marched straight through what his pitiful little map had once indicated was the Gap of Rohan.
That is, before they had stripped him of his map along with all the rest of his belongings.
In fact, he had been robbed of everything but his threadbare shirt, leather jerkin and simple brown breeches. Even his shoes were stolen, making the march they kept up, that much more miserable in the cold of late February.
He lay as still as the radiating pain would permit, fighting the urge to find a position that hurt less on the cold, rocky ground. It was difficult to do with his hands bound before him and his bare feet numb with the cold, but eventually he was able to block out his body’s numerous complaints. And as he metered his breathing as best he could to emulate sleep, he pondered the last several weeks since leaving Bree.
Ilrhenir stifled a sob as images of his mother, Jenna, flooded over him. Some memories were calming and maternally warm, some indicative of her last horrible few hours of life. He had been surprised, since her death, to find the happy memories more painful than the mournful ones. Too much of a reminder of a woman who deserved a beautiful life but was instead granted one cut short by poverty and violence. But though she had lived a harsh existence, she was a soft spoken, gentle natured woman. Small in frame but giant in spirit and he missed her with an ache that blinded him to the physical pain of the wounds inflicted by his current predicament.
As oblivion claimed him, he wondered if she was at peace. And for the first time since her passing, he sincerely wished he’d joined her that night in her eternal rest. The bone deep weariness that seemed to wick into his very heart from the abuse of his captors didn’t seem to abate with just sleeping, and Ilrhenir realized with grim satisfaction that the torment could not go on indefinitely before some serious injury caused him to join her in her mortal slumber.
Despite the pain from the previous night’s abuses, Ilrhenir had slept soundly once he had succumbed, not harried by a single evil dream in his exhausted state. So it was a shock to be woken by an explosion of pain in his ribs and a foul voice grunting at him from above in a language that crudely mimicked his own. The creature drew back its thick iron toed boot to kick him a second time. “On yer feet, pretty man-child! The White Hand will want ta have a look at ye soon. So up with'e!” The monster grinned cruelly with sharp, yellow teeth and hard, luminescent eyes.
Ilrhenir rolled slowly to his knees, apparently a bit too slowly. For the beast suddenly grabbed him by his jerkin and hauled him to his feet, pushing him forward. His breath still driven away by the force of the kick that had woken him, he stood there gaping, trying to force air back into his lungs, and by the time he drew his first fiery breath he was already marching.
Throughout the day, Ilrhenir was guided north and east. He traveled on and the hours melted away in one long blur of discomfort. And finally, one of the creatures pressed a black leather wineskin into Ilrhenir's swollen hands, instructing gruffly for him to drink. He did not immediately notice the creature offering the drink, for he was dazed by the harsh march, as well as a lack of any real nourishment since his capture. His amassing injuries and the cold that soaked up into his legs from the frozen ground beneath his bared feet only added to his distracted haze, and Ilrhenir had only just realized that they’d called a halt when a dizzying blow upside his head sprawled him on the ground and brought him round to the fact that he was being spoken to.
“Drink, you maggot! Or I’ll lay into ye proper!” The creature again pressed the skin to Ilrhenir.
Ilrhenir stared owlishly for a moment and then, suddenly thirsty beyond measure, he took the skin and rabidly pulled the cork on it, tipping it back and gulping thirstily. He choked and gagged as, instead of water, a bitter, burning liquid scorched a path down his throat, stealing his breath away.
As he coughed and sputtered, hot anger rose in him at the laughter of the foul creatures. Ilrhenir had endured enough and now his fear and hurt were buried behind the sting of one final blow to his dignity. At least if he angered them enough, he might goad them into killing him swiftly, before being taken to meet this heinous ‘white hand’ they had spoken of. Ilrhenir stood up suddenly, not associating the renewed strength in his limbs with the dark, burning liquor, and he flung the wineskin back at the creature before him. He swayed for a moment, but met the creature’s gaze and growled aloud. “What was that awful, foul brew?! Is it not enough that you steal from me, steal me in truth? Then beat and taunt me at every turn?! Now you must poison me as well?!” Ilrhenir stood there, burning them with his grey gaze, his back straight and his chin raised proudly, his chest heaving and his black hair flowing in the chill, February wind. And for a moment the orcs all stopped.
Then, simultaneously, they all burst into rolls of cruel laughter. One of the largest ones, the leader from what Ilrhenir had been able to tell, hauled up from his seat and tossed aside some dried bit of unidentifiable flesh, charging upon the youth before Ilrhenir could think to move. A thick, greasy claw grabbed Ilrhenir by the front of his stained leather jerkin and shook him with such bone-jarring hardness that his ears rang and wavering spots took up in front of his eyes. “Look’en what we got here lads?”, The grayish monster growled amusedly. “The pretty little whelp’s got some stones, he has! Saruman will see to those though! Have‘im squealin’ like a fresh-cut piglet!” And all of a sudden, Ilrhenir felt the narrow pressure of the edge of a blade press up against the tender flesh between his thighs. He ignored the fear that rallied behind his quickly abating rage, meeting the monster’s gaze, nearly gagging at the stench of the fell creature’s breath as it brought Ilrhenir nose to nose with it. “Unless ye be unfond of them there”, and the blade hiked painfully higher. “Then best ye remember that until Saruman has ye, I do. And I’m over fond of sport, I am. So behave.” And with that, the beast leaned in and drug his slimy, black tongue along Ilrhenir’s cheek, causing the youth to gag and shudder in renewed disgust.
The big orc dropped him, chuckling cruelly, and no sooner had Ilrhenir’s legs set upon the ground then they gave out underneath him. Waiting to pounce, the other beasts then set upon Ilrhenir and he was subjected to another round of torments. The pinching and kicking and scratching all blended together in a blur of agony overtoned by seemingly endless taunts in the creatures’ strange and ugly tongue. A welcome darkness threatened, but the burning liquor staved it off, and no matter what they did this time, Ilrhenir remained awake.
The inability to escape into oblivion in combination with the strange burning of the brew pounding through his veins soon overwhelmed him and for the first time since his capture two nights ago, Ilrhenir allowed himself to weep. This only encouraged the orc’s evil ministrations and sometime during their ever worsening barrage, a vicious kick landed solidly on the back of his head and an excruciating light exploded into Ilrhenir’s misery, leaving his world swimming in a hazy fog that throbbed in his mind to the beat of his racing heart.
Wakefulness was heralded by a clamorous agony in his head that had almost reached the auspicious status of music. Ilrhenir was sure a pain this loud had to be able to be heard all the way to the stars themselves. He would have vomited but for the blazing weight still in his belly that seemed to sit there like a hot, lead ballast.
Moments passed and he dimly realized that part of the cacophony was indeed without his mind. The dozen creatures who had kidnapped him were surrounded by many more of their unwholesome kind and an animated argument had broken out in their midst. He laid there praying that they would kill each other, if only so that he himself could lie there upon the ground and die in relative peace, free from their loud, growling and barking voices.
Eventually, when Ilrhenir did not die, he reined in his disappointment and experimentally opened one eye to see how late in the day it was and where they had stopped. He was sure that he had probably been thrown, like a sack of grain, over one of their foul shoulders so that their journey north could continue, and he might as well mark his location if he could. A few seconds of painfully bright sunlight burning into his skull, and the swirling images confusing his senses told him that he had either been deposited on some churning hell or his brains were a bit scrambled from the last kick of one of the iron-shod monsters. But all in all, he thought the sun didn’t look much higher in the sky than it had when they were beating him earlier. He doubted they had gone very far at all since then.
Ilrhenir laid there for quite a while as the argument broiled on amongst the beasts. He was unable to move beyond shaking, and so hurt and cold that he didn’t really care to continue trying. After a length of many minutes passed, his body seemed to give up it‘s battle to register through pain, the tally of its injuries. An illusion of a comfortable warmth eventually spread over Ilrhenir and it was long before he vaguely acknowledged a claw cuffing his cheek, followed by muttered curses spilling forth as more of the unknown liquor was poured down his throat. For a moment it seemed all very far away, before the concoction again lent a certain unnatural strength to his limbs.
“C’mon you worm. It’s south now, and probably the stew pot for ye.“ Ilrhenir heard the creature growl, and before he was fully aware of it, Ilrhenir was staggering on unsteady legs, glaring unfocused at an orc he didn‘t recognize, his body a wild mix of coldness and liquor induced febrility.
The passage of the rest of the day was unmarked by Ilrhenir. He did not even acknowledge that indeed the company of orcs was no longer heading northeast but south now. Ilrhenir was wholly unmindful of anything but the fact that they now kept so fast a course that the usual tauntings of his captors were absent. He was too far gone on the liquor and his own weariness to acknowledge anything other than the reprieve from fearful attacks and the intense desire to lie down.
The day did pass, despite his disregard, and when Ilrhenir finally realized that darkness had fallen it was only because the dizzying motion of their march had stopped and the cold within him had intensified with the failing of the sun.
The force of orcs were passing out an evening meal and some creature or another handed Ilrhenir a wad of dark, hard bread and a tin of stale water. The bread he clumsily stuffed down the front of his jerkin in case he managed to free himself, wincing mildly as he remotely realized that several of his nearly unrecognizable fingers must be broken. The cup of water he gulped down in a single, huge swallow.
For a while, Ilrhenir looked at the battered tin cup in his bound hands, abstractly wondering at the fact that he saw two of them dancing before his wavering vision. And then he just collapsed over sideways, laying his head upon the cold ground and reaching around to draw about him the missing threadbare cloak that had been stolen from him days ago.
Ilrhenir was resting peacefully, sure that he could hear Jenna's sweet voice, when quite suddenly, one of the creatures loomed in front of him, seeming to weave in double before Ilrhenir‘s distorted vision. The youth focused hard, realizing that there was actually only one snarling nightmare kneeling there and that it was the leader of the orcs who had captured him, and right about then he was violently rolled and pushed prone on the hard rocky ground. The sharp, uneven surface bit into his face as Ilrhenir struggled as best he could, panic and confusion overriding his fatigue. But every bite, scratch, bruise and break he already possessed was screaming at him as he wriggled helplessly under the odorous weight that was now pinning him across his shoulders and knees. A familiar filthy claw wrapped itself over his mouth, muffling his outcry before it could utter forth. Terror locked Ilrhnir's mind as he felt the creature's other hand slither roughly over his backside, searching greedily for the waist of his breeches.
An oily, grating voice hissed in his ear, the fetid, moist breath almost driving away his senses. “We’re off to meet a force of those horse fucking Rohannian bastards at the Fords of Isen. No time to take ye to Saruman now, Piglet. So I gets my sport after all.”
And just as the grasping hand found his waistband and was yanking viscously at his breeches to get them down over his hips, the heavy force pinning him down disappeared.
Despite his impairments, it was only a moment before Ilrhenir righted himself and was skittering backwards, ignoring the waves of lightheadedness and nausea sweeping over him. He backed straight into several orcs who grabbed him and restrained his weak struggling.
One of the new beasts, the one who had yanked Ilrhenir's assailant off of him, was scrabbling about trying to keep purchase over the orc that had seemed bent on his usage. The wrestle was short as others joined the fray, and eventually all was settled. Ilrhenir watched in horror and shamed satisfaction as his assailant was stripped and beaten for the delay he’d caused the company of orcs.
Ilrhenir had barely managed to tear his gaze away from the limping mass of beaten orc that had so nearly ruined him when nearby, harsh words were loudly barked in their guttural tongue, and the march was resumed. Ilrhenir, still dazed, was hefted up and thrown unceremoniously onto a cooking supply wagon, his hands tied above him to the back of the seat brackets by the creature who now had charge of him. He stared at the green-skinned, diminutive orcish mess officer, who chuckled and sneered as he tightened the ropes binding Ilrhenir’s discolored, nearly useless hands to the wagon. “Ole Spurgitz almost had use of ye did he? Ha! Don’t ye be gettin’ too comfy here. Twas only our need to press on as saved yer scrawny hide. I get half a moment and I’ll be about the same. I Likes my man-flesh tenderized afore I cooks it, I do.” And having secured Ilrhenir's hands, the orc then took a moment to grope crudely at Ilrhenir, leaving him shivering from more than just the cold evening air.
Despite the alarming circumstances, Ilrhenir felt a skewed sense of gratitude for the near tragedy that left him tied, albeit uncomfortably to the wagon instead of plodding along miserably on foot. And soon Ilrhenir was taking advantage of his new position, sleeping restfully amid the kegs and pots and utensils and dried foodstuffs. Again, his dreams were sweet rather than foul, images of warm, maternal arms wrapping around him and a soft mellifluous voice guiding him. Ilrhenir imagined he sat and chatted with his mother under the eaves of a low hanging cherry tree in the pink bloom of late spring. And while he slept, his injuries troubled him not.
When the morning broke, Ilrhenir actually felt some small bit of rejuvenation. The throbbing in his head was somewhat lessened, the aches in his body had died down to a mere roar that he was actually getting used to, and a small reserve of strength pooled in his abused limbs. Today he would either escape or die trying.
Ilrhenir glared up at his bleeding, inflamed wrists and blackened hands tied to the wagon, wondering the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of his escape. Perhaps Ilrhenir could get the orcs to let him toilet, which the youth needed dearly, and then he would attempt escape. But when he looked for the cook to insist on being set free to see to such needs as he had, Ilrhenir found he was alone on the wagon.
His ineffectual strategizing was interrupted when a sound in the distance redirected his attention and that of the entire camp.
Though he had never heard it before, Ilrhenir knew it at once to be a horn, a battle horn. It had a deep, rich sound that quickened the sluggish blood in his veins, just as he had always expected it might, back in the days when he had sat at the feet of some town skald in Bree and listen to the tales of distant heroes and their deeds.
It sounded again, thrice more, courageously battling the unwholesome monotony of the morning enemy encampment and it was like the breaking of a spell. Suddenly voices rang out, some of them orcish, some of them human, and to Ilrhenir’s surprise and horror as well came the sounds of great wolves, howling in anticipation of blood-spill. All of them were clamoring a call to arms against the source of the inspiring battle horn.
Now Ilrhenir struggled and craned his body trying to get a view of where he was for he did not remember wolves or men from the blurry images of the previous day. And when he finally was able to twist into an upright position, Ilrhenir's heart sank into a deep, numbing, black hole.
He was tied to a mess wagon in the midst of an giant army entrenched. Countless monstrous visages with pikes and black shields bearing the standard of a white hand, spread out in trenches like concentric scars upon the countryside. Ilrhenir looked further, for as far as his eyes could reach through the vale of morning mist that still blanketed the world about him and all he could see were trenches. His hopes sank as he realized that he would not be able to escape, surrounded by a force this massive. Well then, he thought, I will try, and at least I would meet my death on my feet and not underneath some rutting abomination.
Ilrhenir squinted at the horizon eastward, fighting to clear his blurred vision of the world. Eventually, in the distance, he saw rise out of the thick morning mist, a silver snake of a river that slithered across the countryside bearing down from the north, curving off south of them, traveling into the west until it disappeared from view. Ilrhenir was amazed that they had come all that way in the previous day and night’s travel. Remembering back to his poor scant map, he was sure that the armies of the White Hand were, by his estimation, waiting in lay for some dark battle a mere several leagues north of the Fords of Isen.
There seemed a moment of frozen time to Ilrhenir when he lay there and pondered how best to proceed. And then, the far-off horn blasted again, waking him from his reverie and rousing in him the wish to join those in the distance that came to meet this fell force that held him prisoner. Ilrhenir was no warrior and he had no hope of escape anymore, but somewhere in him stirred the desire to at least die with purpose. In Ilrhenir, awoke the angry yearning to die cutting at the horrid beasts who had tormented him, who had ended his road to reach the city of Minas Tirith and find the man who had unknowingly sired years agone. His mother had bid him do this one last thing in her few final hours of life and these beasts had robbed him of his right to honor her wishes. Ilrhenir knew he would never find his father now, but he was determined to meet death like a man and not some wretched, defeated animal.
It was not long ere Ilrhenir imagined he could just hear the far off clanging of weapons if he strained his ears and he struggled with his bonds, oblivious to the state of his hands or the damage he added to them.
And as the hour rolled on, he began to see a distant line of black, a great host approaching from the west side of the Isen, and suddenly, Ilrhenir realized he did not know if those who sought to fight these monsters were any better, whether they were friend or just more foe. He decided it was too late to ponder on that and in the end, it mattered not. So he kept his plan, in place; to be ready when any minute opportunity showed itself for his freedom.
The young sun shone down upon Ilrhenir but still leant him no warmth and he lay there dazedly for a while, resting from his efforts and distracted from the distant battle with trying to determine just how ruined his hands and indeed the rest of him was. By now, he was weak, and sick, and a fever very separate from the one induced by the orcish liquor began to rage within him, creating a blessedly detached sensation in Ilrhenir. And so he renewed the struggle with his bonds as though his pain belonged to someone else, but still, Ilrhenir made no progress loosening the ropes that tied him so cruelly.
His thrashing about eventually caused Ilrhenir to inadvertently nestle down amidst supplies he had been thrown on top of the night before, and suddenly a sharp pain pricked his side. He looked down to see a small patch of crimson spread at his waist where he had squirmed down through the pile of miscellany to slightly impale himself on a long, ugly butcher knife. He gasped loudly and rolled off the blade, continuing to writhe about, struggling franticly now against the ropes. Suddenly Ilrhenir heard someone approach and he instantly stilled himself, hoping to master his heavy breathing before the nasty creature mounted the back of the cart and found him awake and trying to escape.
As the back of the cart sagged with the weight of the vile creature, Ilrhenir felt his heart leap into his throat. It was the mess cook returned, and it was only a mere moment before the creature scrambled along the piled supplies and was straddling Ilrhenir’s hips. One, sound slap across his face cracked the morning air, stinging Ilrhenir's eyes with it's force. “Open yer eyes, filth! I knows yer awake.”
The orc ran it’s hands roughly down Ilrhenir's torso, popping the toggle buttons off his jerkin with its claws and reminding him of every last grievance along his body. When the soiled claws reached his newly injured waist, Ilrhenir bit back a yelp. The orc looked down and grinned sadistically, grabbing him over the red stain and squeezing. Ilrhenir kept his eyes shut, but his visage twisted in voiceless agony. “Common, you worthless blight! Sing for us.”, it growled lowly, squeezing the wound at Ilrhenir’s waist until tears leaked a trail down the youths dirty, battered face, but even then, only the barest of squeaks uttered from his tight lips.
The orc grunted in rage and reached around, drawing a crude dagger. In an instant, the blade was at Ilrhenir’s throat, pressing sharply under his jaw. Ilrhenir made no noise save the sucking in of his last breath and he held perfectly still, waiting for the sudden sharp ache that would herald the venting of his life’s blood onto the cart where he lay pinned. But instead, the orc suddenly slashed at the rope bindings that secured Ilrhenir to the wagon seat and flipped Ilrhenir’s flailing form over one of the smaller kegs in the back of the cart. Too stupid or too invested in his violence, the orc was oblivious to the fact that with the last of his panicked wits, Ilrhenir had somehow managed to snag the knife that had punctured his waist. It was grasped tightly in one of his half ruined, but free hands .
The orc quickly cut at the waist on Ilrhenir’s breeches and yanked them down to his thighs, leaving a shallow gash on Ilrhenir’s back where the knife sliced not only the waist-tie on his garment but Ilrhenir’s flesh as well. And as the vulgar beast gripped his backside, digging its claws into the tender flesh of his cheeks, Ilrhenir swung back blindly and somewhat clumsily with the hidden blade, investing it with all his rage and fear and very nearly the last of his strength.
Relief and an odd curiosity peripherally flooded his mind as the blade stopped with a thud, deep in the orc’s tough hide. Time, which had only moments before seemed to pass in a violent whirl, now seemed strangely still and a single last grunt from the orc echoed like an avalanche in Ilrhenir’s ears as he yanked the blade free. Suddenly, the beast fell dead against him, and he lay there for a moment, still pinned over the keg, unsure of how to proceed and half unbelieving the opportunity before him as the rank, sticky flood of orc blood washed over his back.
Precious moments went by before Ilrhenir’s thoughts finally left their entranced dervish to rejoin him in the present. Ilrhenir struggled, aggravating his hurts into a symphony but he eventually was rewarded when the rancid body rolled off of him. Free of the dead monster, he was suddenly taken with the urge to be rid of the gore fouled jerkin and tunic as well. So Ilrhenir cast down the knife and stripped off the garments in maddened haste, as quickly as his swollen, senseless fingers could rip them off. It was only then that he realized his ruined breeches had slid down to his ankles. He had no time or inclination to repair them. He was free and in his wild mind the garments fouled by his captivity were better left behind anyway.
Peripherally, his thoughts fell on the fact that he was attracting the attention of orcs in the surrounding trenches. And Ilrhenir, now overcome with the horrific dread of being recaptured, took up the knife again and leapt off the cart, oblivious to his nakedness or the jarring pain of the leap. And before the graceless orcs could climb from their trenches he was off, the rush of freedom and consuming panic driving Ilrhenir heedlessly across the pitted terrain towards the horizon, the east, where the sun had risen two hours gone and from whence he had heard the call of the horn.
Though time seemed to freeze for Ilrhenir, the morning and approaching noontide came. Ilrhenir continued to weave frantically across the trench-lines, and all the while he dodged thick orcish arrows and the well hidden, long chasms of pike-armed orcs spanning the green waiting to skewer him, but none pursued him afoot.
Ilrhenir now understood that the plan was to shoot or impale him before he reached the approaching horsemen giving chase to a much smaller troop of retreating orcs only a handful of miles ahead. They intended to do this without disclosing their exact numbers or position by actually giving him chase. And many times they came close to spitting him on their pole-arms or dropping him dead with an arrow shaft twixt his shoulders, but ever he wildly dodged, running on spirit alone.
The sun hung just at midday as he reached and passed the last of the hidden dugouts, and he felt a mad joy leap into his breast at seeing human faces. But his joy was short lived as he felt the sting of an arrow-tine slicing past his brow, leaving a burning wetness at his temple that made his stomach roll. Ilrhenir fought the shadows chasing his consciousness, hoping to reach the human riders. To him they seemed beautiful. They were tall and doughty men who were fair and fierce as the summer sun, riding upon the backs of great grey steeds that appeared to trample the chill vapors and mists beneath their mighty hooves. But daylight wavered in his sight and the pounding in Ilrhenir’s head no longer set a pace for the rhythm of his limbs.
He faltered and fell, just as the retreating orcs flooded past him, hounded close by the fair cavalry. He would have warned the riders of the enemy entrenched behind him, but for the cold ground rising up to meet him so quickly. Ilrhenir's eyes closed and he only had time to ponder that at least he would be trampled underneath the great grey horses a free man, and then he surrendered to the dark.
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.