11. Soft touch
Faramir saw that his tears were falling into the bleeding wounds, the still-bleeding wounds, on Shagrat’s neck. The Uruk servants of Mordor, as he should well have remembered, could prove quite difficult to kill.
“Shagrat?” Faramir said tentatively, his heart in his mouth. He thought he saw the slightest flicker of a response.
“Shagrat, stop it,” Faramir said, and shook him, gently, insistently. “Shagrat. Stop it. Stop it now. Stop playing dead, Shagrat.”
After a long, long pause, Shagrat opened his one remaining, primrose-yellow eye. “I said you never were the marrying type,” he muttered faintly, and closed it again.
Beside himself with immoderate joy, Faramir gazed down at the prize he supported in his arms. Shagrat, still wrapped in Faramir’s cape, was balanced precariously on the saddle ahead of him, leaning back against his shoulder, dozing as they rode. All that was visible of the object of Faramir’s affection was a chewed-off pointed ear and a mottled expanse of flaking scalp. He leaned his face against it, happily breathing in the familiar smell of Shagrat – although, at the same time he was aware that there was also a clear, quiet part of his mind, set apart, and weirdly detached from the turmoil of passionate emotions that were surging through his breast. That part of him was wondering, serenely, if on some level whether he hadn’t - as more than one of his royal aides had insolently suggested - run quite barking mad.
Oh, there had been a certain amount of kerfuffle, back in the town, all right. Faramir’s horse, for example, had not wanted Shagrat anywhere near it, and had shied and pranced frantically, behaving almost as outrageously as the rest of Faramir’s retinue had, when they’d realised that their royal lord and master was deadly serious in his plan to acquire a stray, ailing Orc. Shagrat, showing a flash of his old, uncompromising military spirit, had subdued the horse by grabbing it by the ears and snarling into its face until it had quietened somewhat – but as he had fainted clean away again immediately afterwards, this strenuous effort had cost him dearly, and done nothing to substantiate his reputation for ferociousness. And Shagrat’s prospective owner, the town Councillor, had also begun to complain vociferously about his ‘rights to the Orc’s carcass,’ which he said he’d paid good money for, until Shagrat, reviving in Faramir’s arms, challenged him to -
“Blinkin’ well come and take it off me, then!” At which the Councilman (instead of ‘routing the Orc,’ as might have been expected, given his earlier opinions on the subject) had scurried back a full twenty feet and hidden himself behind a stack of ale-casks.
Faramir eventually negotiated - by flinging it at the man’s feet - a fair trade with the Councillor; his bejewelled dagger for the Uruk, an arrangement which seemed to please all parties, with the possible exception of Shagrat, who had stared open-mouthed at Faramir, for some reason rendered temporarily speechless by this turn of events. That had given Faramir the opportunity to heft the Orc up onto his saddle, and make a hasty exit.
Then they had ridden back to the main road, and had been following it for some time. Shagrat was not by any means a natural horseman but eventually, weakened as he was and exhausted as he had been by his earlier exertions, he had settled down. After falling into a fitful sleep, he had come to rest back quite unconsciously against Faramir, though the first occasion of his waking had been notable for the violence with which he had started up and pulled himself away, as if he was expecting cruelty and punishment. He woke again, jerking forwards reflexively, and it was only Faramir’s left arm, which rested in a protective hold across the Uruk’s chest, that prevented him from falling off the horse entirely. After a moment he sat back again, uneasily.
“This horse of yours,” muttered Shagrat. “I don’t know a lot about horse flesh, but it’s a battle-charger, isn’t it?”
Shagrat made a mournful noise in the back of his throat. “I was afraid of that.”
“What difference does that make?”
“Well, first off, you threw away your wedding knife. And then – then there’s the thing with this blasted great horse.”
Faramir asked him, what about the horse.
“You – you do realise you rescued me off of it.”
Faramir had some small idea what Shagrat was implying, but he did not reply.
“Some might say you revived me with a kiss and then –“ Shagrat broke off. Faramir wasn’t certain, but there seemed to be a slight flush of heightened, ruddy colour showing across Shagrat’s sallow, sunken cheeks. He wondered if it was even possible for Orcs to blush.
“Some might say that after you kissed me, you swept me up and carried me off on a white horse,” Shagrat blurted out. He clearly was extremely embarrassed. “I’m not saying that’s how it was, but that’s how it might have seemed. To some people.”
“Your point being…?”
“And, on top of all that, it’s what those lackeys were calling you. ‘Your Highness this, your Highness that.’ You’re a Prince,” Shagrat choked out faintly. “Think about what you’ve done. It just doesn’t look right. Not for a man in your position.”
“You must realise, Shagrat, that you are in no position to complain about any of that. You yourself used to be shut up in a Tower, held by dark enchantments, and I think you’ll find that under the circumstances, a Prince is about the only kind of person who’s ever likely to be a suitable companion for you. This state of affairs,” Faramir added, “isn’t entirely without precedent.”
Shagrat did not appear to have a ready answer for that, and contented himself with scowling down at the ground for a while as they rode. “What happens now?” he asked at length.
“Shagrat, this is the point at which we ride away together, off into the sunset,” Faramir told him. “It’s what you have to do, in tales where love surmounts every obstacle, conquering all and so forth. It’s terribly traditional, you know.”
“Love?” Shagrat muttered under his breath, incredulously. “Tradition? Sunset?” He paused for a long moment. “But, Goldilocks, I’m an Orc. It’s not gone noon yet. And it’s raining.”
Faramir glanced back over his shoulder to where the rest of his party were deliberately hanging back, riding at some distance behind them. He gazed down at Shagrat, studying the numerous scars and blemishes on the Orc’s blind side, wondering how such a fell creature could possibly be expected to join the Royal household in Ithilien. And what of Eowyn? Faramir’s wife had not yet formalised their permanent separation – what if she experienced a change of heart, and decided to return to him after all? But then, Faramir thought of how he’d felt when he thought he’d lost Shagrat, yet again, and he tightened his hold round the Uruk’s waist quite unconsciously, pulling him closer in against his chest, squeezing him, until at last the old Captain was forced to wheeze out in protest.
“Trivial details,” Faramir told him, decisively. They rode on into the brightening morning.
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.