When Maevyn awoke the next day dawn's gray light was pale behind her eyelids, and the temperature, though not uncomfortably cold, was slightly lower than it should be inside the house. "Somebody put the roof back on," she muttered, and turned over. A hand touched her shoulder, then shook it gently. "Aw, I'm tired, Mama, let me sleep longer."
"I am sorry I cannot let you sleep, Maevyn, but you have to wake up now."
That wasn't Mama, that was Leni. Leni? Maevyn sat up abruptly, blinking at the Elf with pitiful bewilderment. She remembered everything.
"Poor Maevyn, you are so tired. Still, rise you must. Morning is upon us, and we have tasks to do."
Maevyn sighed but got up. "I'm sorry about last night."
Leni's whole body stiffened. "Sorry about last night?" she said in strange voice.
Maevyn squirmed with embarrassment. "Uh-huh, you remember. When I..." she trailed off, not wanting any of the Orcs to hear her. They might even have heard her crying last night. What a dreadful thought. It would be awful to have broken her vow so soon after making it. She looked at Leni and mimed rubbing her eyes.
"Oh." Leni nodded. "You should not feel bad about it, Maevyn. You were so very unhappy." She extended her hand towards Maevyn's shoulder. "I know how you must—"
"So what are we doing?" Maevyn interrupted, shrugging away from the proffered gesture. If Leni were to keep speaking to her so gently she was worried that she might break down again. She knew the Elf meant to be kind, but it was a cruel kindness.
She was surprised at the response she got. "We are making bread," said Leni, turning away.
Maevyn followed Leni to the pit of glowing embers that had been the fire. Five Orcs lay beside it—two stirred a little in their sleep as the two girls approached. Maevyn's stomach responded queasily as one turned over. Otherwise, they appeared dead to the world. Leni, beyond moving so as to avoid their dark forms, ignored them. "We will wait to bank the fire." Forgoing the nearby pieces of kindling, she began resting stones on top of the other flatter stones that she had used to cook on last night.
"We're making bread without an oven?"
The Elf girl shrugged, a down-to-earth gesture that seemed incongruous with her ethereal loveliness. "With no oven, that is the only we can make bread, is it not?" she said with a teasing smile. "Yet here, look, you see how I am forming a little cave with these stones. This will be our oven."
Maevyn was interested. "Can I do it?" she asked.
"If you like." She hovered briefly, making a few noises of encouragement as she watched Maevyn arrange the stones to create a sort of hollow as she had seen Leni doing. After a while Leni told her to stop. "That is good. Now we will grind the cornmeal Pryszrim gave me."
She drew Maevyn over to a relatively flat stone that she had dragged beneath one of the trees, onto which she had upended the partial contents of a bag of cornmeal. She took one rock and handed Maevyn another and showed her how to grind it. As they worked, Leni explained that meat dominated the Orkish diet, but that they enjoyed it well after the spoiling point. In fact, a great deal of the stuff that they ate would make she or Maevyn sick, and so Leni often had to find or make and horde edible foods for herself. She had experimented a little with drying strips of meat to make them keep for longer periods, but without any kind of seasonings to mix in the crudely made jerky was foul stuff.
"Also, some of the Orcs decided they liked it and so I am only able to keep a little for myself," she said, making a face. "But only Pryszrim likes bread—the others think him very strange for this—and so he is the only one I have to worry about when I make that. He brings me the grain for it or Kurbag does, when there is a raid, and then if I am careful I can make it last. I hope you will not be too disappointed," Leni interrupted herself abruptly, stopping to look at Maevyn. "My bread is not good like lembas. I never learned how to make lembas and I had to guess at how to make this."
"I don't know what lembas is," said Maevyn.
She was only dimly listening to Leni's words. Most of her concentration was fixed on the rock in her hand and the cornmeal she was grinding relentlessly under it. The task was a new one to her and the repetitive motion should have been dull and boring. Instead, it was oddly comforting. There was a tightness in her shoulders and upper arms that felt good. In the past when she had gotten blisters climbing trees she had complained and whined about them, even going so far as to ask her mother for ointment despite the scolding she knew would come with it. Now she could feel blisters forming on her palms and the undersides of her fingers and didn't care as she scraped and crushed the cornmeal to powder. The pain was, in some strange way, satisfying, as was her sense of the rock's punishing force under her hands, grinding and grinding against the cornmeal and the flat surface of the stone beneath it.
Bragdagash was talking with Hrahragh and Mushog a brief distance from camp. "We'll stay here another day's breather—the others need it, and you two could stand to benefit from it yourself. Then we'll make for those peaks Grymawk sighted. I have to say, I'm not sure what I think about those wing folk he saw flying."
Mushog spat. "Skai, Chief, Grymawk's an archer and he's got good eyes, but he's not got an Uruk's sight in daylight. Probably just saw some sunspots and mistook them—"
Their leader shrugged. "Be that as it may. On the one hand it'd be safer without, but if there are eagles I can think of some interesting possibilities...well, enough of that for now. Mushog, go relieve Grushak, will you? It's getting on to daylight proper, and he ain't had no sleep since yester-morning. I'm going to go seek out Kurbag." Mushog nodded and set off. Bragdagash started walking, gesturing Hrahragh to follow him. "Oi, Hrahragh Ten-Knives, you terror of villages. Fancy some breakfast, do you?"
The other Uruk licked his chops and nodded. "Have a hunger." He grinned. "Have a greater thirst."
Bragdagash chuckled. Hrahragh was a late addition to their little band, joining within the past year, and his broken speech had earned some mockery in the beginning. Hrahragh's intelligence, though, was above average, his thought processes quick but thorough. And his sense of humor was as sharp as the throwing knives that were his favored choice of weapon. When a comeback could be either an amiable retort or an uncomfortable introduction to a well-placed blade, with no warning of which to expect, the mockery had ended quickly.
"So that's the way of it, then. Beer makes the best breakfast." Bragdagash came to a standstill as they reentered camp. "Hey Kurbag, can you get your pretty arse over here a moment?" He cast his eyes around for the half-Uruk, then paused abruptly. "What the fuck is that?"
Hrahragh looked in the direction Bragdagash was looking. It was the dark-haired little one with the all-seeing eyes, sitting with the Elf girl under a tree. "Man-brat," he said with a shrug. "Grushak brought her."
"You mean it's been here since yesterday? I must be losing my sense of smell. I never even noticed it." He laughed. "Heh. No wonder Grushak didn't want to go on duty last night."
"Eh?" The big Orc had just entered the clearing. His eyes, while still seeing, were decidedly bleary and he scratched his ear in a morose way. "I what?"
"Your little toy over there. Though it's a bit small to offer much sport, isn't it?"
Grushak looked at the child, who had picked her own head up and was staring back at him. He narrowed his eyes at her, closed them, grunted, said, "Fuck it, I'm not dealing with that one now," lumbered over to a comfortable place beside the remains of the fire and fell asleep almost instantly.
Maevyn lifted her head, recognizing Grushak's familiar rumble. He and two taller Orcs were looking at her. She spared these others barely a glance, beyond noting that one was the biggest Orc she had seen yet and the other was the Orc with the piercings from yesterday. Instead, she glared at Grushak. There was a hard throbbing at the back of her skull and the rock felt hot under her burning hands. She wanted to throw it at him as hard as she could—instead she squeezed it tightly, feeling its unyielding rough surface press into her palms. The rope burns on her wrists itched resentfully.
The Orc glared back at her, his yellow eyes unhealthily pinkish with broken blood vessels. His nostrils flared. He closed his eyes, grunting and muttering something briefly, then went over and flung himself down beside the fire with a heavy thump. Within minutes loud snoring began to come from his direction. The other Orcs that had still been dozing started waking up with cross mutterings and evil glances at Grushak's sleeping bulk.
Maevyn looked down again at her cornmeal, feeling her body relax and hating it for having been so tense in the first place. She wasn't afraid of him. She wouldn't be afraid of him.
Eleluleniel's body had also gone quite still. When the little girl had been brought to the camp the day before, the Elf's heart had leapt up within her. She wasn't alone! She wasn't alone anymore! At the same time, she knew that Maevyn's security was the opposite of ensured. Grushak had brought her back for amusement, and Eleluleniel knew the usual end results of Orkish amusement. She had seen them before.
She remembered a scant few weeks before when Mushog had carried back a concussed man in the garb of a ranger. She had begged to have the man's tending and had given him water. He'd been tall, well muscled and fair, yet with his head in her lap had seemed weak as a baby, cracked lips moaning around the mouth of the drinking skin. He hadn't lasted long—they came and took him away from her, and Eleluleniel had turned her face away from what they did to him beside the fire, on that night in that anonymous place so many miles away. "Only fit to die," she had heard Mushog laugh between the ranger's endless cries of pain and the hooting of his tormenters.
And she had wept bitterly, pressing the heels of her hands into streaming eyes, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs. And I, and I. Only fit to die. Only fit to die.
Only she hadn't died yet. The moon had waxed and waned thrice over since her capture, and every night its cold face had seen her in the company of the Orcs, had seen Kurbag using her and the others using her as well, and she hadn't died. And the ranger had been warm one evening and cold by the following morning, a used and mutilated corpse, and still she had been alive. Eleluleniel Undying. What had become of Middle Earth when a strong man, violated, passed away and a small Elven girl lived, and lived, and continued to live? She was sick of it, sick of all of this, and yet she had not been released. Not after the first time Kurbag had despoiled her, not after every brutal time he had forced her since.
Truly the ways of the Valar were inscrutable. She had come to doubt in them. Not in their existence, for that was unquestionable—rather they must be indifferent to her suffering, else why had they not invoked the death that was her due? Her people died when they were taken against their wills. It was the common wisdom; it was what happened in all the tales and ballads. Her older sisters had shivered to relate and she to hear, with oh! such thrilling sympathy and sorrow! the legend of wicked Eöl and the poor forgotten sister of Aredhel, or dark-haired Ninaelwen who lamented her ravishment in exquisite metrical rhyme before nobly forgiving her ravisher and passing away under the stars.
All the beautiful tragic tales.
Eleluleniel had learned the truth behind the delicate phrasing and high-flown euphemism of the stories. There was nothing romantic about rape. It was ugly: an offence upon the body and the soul. It was agonizing: the physical pain of the act, terrible as it was—and terrible it was—was secondary to the pain in her soul. The pain of knowing a living being could be robbed so utterly. That her body was so weak as to avail her nothing. That she could be humiliated and reduced in such away, becoming only a receptacle, something to be used by her captors as they pleased, relieving themselves in her like a privy. That she could be so unbelievably, unbearably befouled.
And she would think of herself of a mere few months before, mouthing along wide-eyed to the stories, and she would hate that younger self whose avidity trivialized the horrors to which she listened. And yet what could she say to rebuke the younger Eleluleniel, who was so innocent, so pure, who didn't know the true extent of the evil that existed in the world, who didn't have the scum of her defilers gumming her inner thighs, corrupting her innards? What might that young maiden say to her, the older Eleluleniel with the hollow eyes and tangled, dirty hair, the ragged clothing, the smell of the Orcs and their usage clinging to her? She would doubtless turn away in fear and disgust, and how could Eleluleniel blame her? So young—so young and pure. So unprepared for the fate awaiting her.
Maevyn with the flinty eyes. She was young too, and innocent…insofar as a child who has known the destruction of her home and the murder of her kinfolk can be considered innocent. She made Eleluleniel think of her own little sister. Veisiliel had been the first to call her Leni. She was a bare twenty years of age, not even as big as Maevyn. Veisiliel's tongue was sharp like Maevyn's, full of questions and opinions. So often she had exasperated Eleluleniel, taking her older sister's things without leave and hiding them to make Eleluleniel threaten and beg to get them back.
Maevyn made her think of her sister, and it distressed her to imagine Veisiliel here with her amid such dreadful company. And yet she was so guiltily, sinfully glad of the human girl's presence...and so distressed, knowing that the child would, in all likelihood, be taken from her and she would be alone again. Grushak would have his bit of fun—Maevyn would die from a whipping, hopefully quickly, or he would throw her against a jagged rock or cut her with his sword, or beat her to death with his heavy fist.
Eleluleniel knew that the chance of Maevyn's survival was small. She would live only if she made herself valuable to the Orcs beyond the temporal pleasure of her torture and demise. Eleluleniel had been overcome with relief when Grushak cut Maevyn's bonds the previous evening and allowed her to help the Elf. She was pleased again this morning when Maevyn had so willingly employed herself with making bread. She was an amenable child, then, one that would perform useful tasks. Yes, make yourself helpful, dear heart, make yourself worthwhile. Show them that you are better kept alive. Eleluleniel had tried hard not to think about how unlikely it was that the Orcs would want to keep two slaves in their company; tried not to remember that her own presence among them was an exception and far from the rule.
Now, as Grushak and Maevyn stared at one another, captor and captive, predator and prey, she wondered in frozen silence whether all of her hopes were about to be cut horribly short.
It was a brief exchange, barely a handful of seconds in duration. And yet it seemed as long as a lifetime to the watching Elven maiden. When Grushak cut the staring match off, choosing to set aside his entertainment in favor of sleep, she let the air out of her lungs in a long sigh. Looking at Maevyn, she saw the tautness leave the child's body and gladness filled her own heart. A few more hours, then, at least. From the sound of Grushak's snoring, most likely the rest of the day.
She leaned over and tapped Maevyn's shoulder.
Maevyn started at the unexpected touch and looked Leni, who laughed. "I think you have vanquished your cornmeal," she said, pointing to the supply of finely ground powder. "See? Flour! And now we are ready to shape it into dough. Look you." She took a drinking skin and wet her palms with the liquid in it, then took up a handful of the flour and began to play with it. As she formed a thick gray-colored patty she nodded for Maevyn to do as she had done.
Maevyn took the drinking skin and wet her own palms with it, then went to work. She quickly found that making and working the crude dough was quite pleasant. It bothered her that the stuff felt a little runny, though, and when she said this Leni told her to add more flour. The dough became thick and gooey. She kept adding more flour and more of the liquid stuff until there was no more flour left, only a mass of dough. At this point Leni told her to stop because they needed to grind more cornmeal into flour.
The process went on for a while. Forming her dough the second time, Maevyn was troubled by the bits of grit she noticed in it, pointing them out to Leni. "Isn't this bad?"
"It cannot be helped," said Leni. "It is the grinding that does that—some of the stone is chipped away and gets into the flour. I do it as well—it cannot be helped, this is what we have to work with. If you find an exceptionally large chip you should remove it, but you will not be able to get it all out and ought not spend too much time trying. Only remember to chew carefully when you eat the bread later so you do not damage your teeth. But you should do that anyway—I am not good at baking and my crusts are nearly as hard as stone themselves!"
Maevyn laughed. Surreptitiously she tore off a piece of the dough and popped it into her mouth, squooshing it around behind her teeth. She had done this several times already, making faces at the coarseness of the flour and the nasty flavor. Without butter and salt and other ingredients, Leni had explained, it wasn't going to be good-tasting bread. All the same, the bitter sourness of the dough that had made her grimace before was starting to become appealing. Maevyn swallowed the lump of dough. She was hungry.
And thirsty! She hadn't had anything to drink since yesterday, when the Orc with the helmet nearly drowned her. She had already smelled the contents of the drinking skin and wrinkled her nose with dismay, but the bread was starting to grow on her and the stuff in there was the same as the stuff in the drinking skin, right? She smelled again, took a sip...and started coughing and choking uncontrollably.
Leni quickly stopped what she was doing and started thumping her on the back, her small fist making a thwocking sound between Maevyn's shoulder blades. "Maevyn! Maevyn, are you all right?"
"...it burns!" gasped Maevyn, holding out the drinking skin. "It burns, Leni!" And so it did—burned her mouth, burned her throat, burned her chest.
"You drank some, didn't you? Poor dear, you should have asked me for water—I have some if you would like."
Maevyn was spitting, trying to get the vile taste out of her mouth. "GAH! I'm gonna die!" Surely she was going to burn up from the inside out. What a horrid way to go, her guts eaten up with acid! And she hadn't even had her vengeance yet! Stupid Grushak!
"What goes on?" An Orc came over, drawn by Maevyn's yelps of astonished agony.
Leni responded distractedly, "She drank some of your beer. She is not used to it."
The Orc looked bemusedly at the sputtering child and the Elf girl pummeling her. He dropped into a squat, the loose ends of his knotted loincloth swinging between his muscular thighs, and stared at Maevyn.
She quieted gradually as the sensation in her mouth and throat died away to a distant tingle. The awful burning in her chest of a few seconds before became the most pleasant, soothing feeling: a warm melting glow in her belly that rapidly spread through her whole body in a golden nimbus of well being. As she relaxed she became aware of her surroundings again...and of the tall heavily pierced Orc that crouched directly in front of her, looking nearly eye-level into her face.
He studied her briefly, then flashed a surprising grin. It certainly couldn't be described as a friendly grin, exposing as it did a pair of yellow tusks curving upwards as long as her middle fingers, but there wasn't the tacit threat that seemed to go with Grushak's smile. "Funny little snaga," he remarked. "Too strong for you, huh?" He laughed, stood again and walked away.
"What's that supposed to mean, 'snaga'?" muttered Maevyn with a couple residual coughs.
The danger over, Leni patted her shoulder gently. "'Snaga' is their word for 'slave.'"
"Slave!" Maevyn practically squealed. She didn't know which made her more indignant—what the tall Orc had called her or the weird, inexplicable smile on Leni's face.
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.