6. Odd couple
“But I don’t even have yellow hair,” Faramir protested again, under his breath. Shagrat had at one point asked for his name, and Faramir had duly given him a false one, but as the Uruk seemed unwilling to address him as anything other than ‘Goldilocks,’ he couldn’t see why the Orc had asked in the first place. And they were most definitely not, Faramir reminded himself, having a domestic argument. It wasn’t that they were living together, in any real sense. Circumstances – circumstances engineered, admittedly, by Shagrat - had thrown them very much together, but that was all.
The Uruk eyed him balefully. “Look around you, Goldilocks,” he said. “You’re in the Land of Shadow now. You are aware of that, am I right? I haven’t seen anything as bright, or as clean as you in all the time I’ve been here,” the Captain added, “and I’ve been here an age.”
Whether they were co-habiting or not, the young Gondorian and the Uruk had fallen easily enough into regular, day-to-day routine – albeit after a somewhat shaky start.
The first few hours of Faramir’s confinement in Shagrat’s apartments – for the Uruk had commandeered a set of rooms for himself, an interconnected suite which occupied the entire uppermost level of the Tower – had passed without event. The Captain had pointedly ignored him, as if he was in some way embarrassed by Faramir’s presence, and the young man had whiled the time away by passing through agonies of apprehension, uncertainty and dread.
“Captain Shagrat,” Faramir had said, his words ringing out suddenly, breaking the silence. Shagrat, who had been pacing restlessly, crossing and re-crossing the tiny floor-space in his rooms, stopped short, evidently much surprised to hear Faramir addressing him in this manner. “Captain Shagrat,” Faramir repeated, having decided that anything was better than not knowing his own fate, “may I ask you for your intentions towards me?”
“Well stone me,” the Orc replied at length, “if you don’t have the prettiest set of manners I ever heard of. You keep on with your ‘Captain’ me this and ‘Captain’ me that, I’m sure we shall get along just fine.”
Shagrat had gone on to explain his intentions, saying it would be useful for an officer in his position to have a resident assistant, a batman, if Faramir liked, to help him with certain personal and domestic duties, about his quarters. This assistant would, as Shagrat said, act as a buffer between the Captain and the rank-and-file – Orcs who Shagrat loathed and despised (“those Snaga! Maggots!”), and with whom it was clear that he was keen to avoid all unnecessary contact. Faramir could, amongst other things – and it was becoming obvious that Shagrat was making these duties up as he went along – fetch meals and so on for Shagrat from the communal mess. Shagrat’s imagination failed him completely at this point and his voice tailed off.
“And I could – help keep your quarters in order, perhaps,” Faramir suggested. He cast a doubtful eye about Shagrat’s rooms, which were basic in the extreme, sparsely furnished to the point of being almost empty.
“Yes!” Shagrat guffawed, a little too heartily. “We shall get along famously.”
Shagrat’s next actions however, gave the lie to this statement entirely. Night was falling, and as it grew darker and darker in the unlighted apartment, the Orc’s demeanour began to change. Slowly, he began to relax and the restlessness and anxiety that had been in his manner disappeared, only to be replaced by a fixed and hungry watchfulness that seemed to signal a quite different set of emotions – a kind of motivation that Faramir really couldn’t bring himself to accept. He felt the intensity of Shagrat’s gaze on him, even through the dark, and he stirred uncomfortably, pulling his ruined shirt closed across his chest. In one or two quick strides, Shagrat was up and standing over him, and had him pinned in place.
“What are you doing? I’m a prisoner of war!” Faramir cried.
“Hold still a minute,” Shagrat muttered, “just want to have a look at what I’ve got myself.”
Faramir wriggled in Shagrat’s grasp, in a half-hearted attempt to break free. He could have wrenched himself away easily enough, but couldn’t tell how Shagrat might have reacted to that. Faramir was unarmed; severely disadvantaged by the pitch darkness around them, and moreover the Orc, who could obviously still see him quite clearly, had already proved himself to be even more hot-tempered and impulsively violent than the rest of his kind. And as Faramir was all too aware, there was not really any place that he could run to, in any case. “You’re holding me hostage!” he protested, weakly.
“No, Goldilocks,” Shagrat growled back at him, “I’m not. You’re free to go any time you like. You might not get far, but you’re welcome to take your chances downstairs with those Snaga maggots, whenever you care to try it.” Still holding Faramir down with one hand, he moved his face close in against the young man’s chest and armpits, sniffing deeply, and apparently drinking in the scent of his sweat and his skin. From time to time Shagrat’s tongue flickered out to take a taste, and though the concept of being held in place in the dark and licked by an Orc was dreadful in the extreme to Faramir, to his horror and confusion the sensation itself was not…wholly unpleasant.
“I would never make it past the Black Gate,” he gasped.
“That Black Gate, Goldilocks, was built by your lot with the express purpose of keeping the likes of me safely contained,” Shagrat said. “Now you’ve wound up on the wrong side of it, you’re stuck fast, here with a pack of filthy Orcs. I wouldn’t give two straws, not for your chances of making it out again alive. So you’d better keep on the right side of me, if you know what’s good for you.”
Shagrat leaned his shoulder against Faramir, using his weight to pin him against the wall. He moved his free hand down to Faramir’s groin and began rubbing him, fingering him through his clothes. To his disgust, Faramir felt himself beginning to respond to the pressure and friction of the Orc’s touch, a change that was immediately noted by Shagrat, who began manipulating him with even greater enthusiasm. Faramir tried with all his might to stop his body from reacting, and failing utterly, felt wretched, shameful tears, starting to prick at the backs of his eyes.
“Don’t,” he muttered in deep distress, speaking to himself as much as to Shagrat, “don’t.”
To Faramir’s extreme surprise the Orc let go of him at once, pushing him aside and snorting in disgust. With a snarl he withdrew, and Faramir heard his footsteps clattering away from him in the dark. Exhausted from tension, fear, and lack of food, Faramir sank to the floor, drawing his knees up to his chest, and he stayed huddled there, for the rest of the night. The very worst thing of all, he’d been appalled to find out, was that there had been a part of him that - hadn’t wanted Shagrat to stop.
After this inauspicious set of first impressions however, the Uruk, conspicuously, had not laid a hand on Faramir. He would be absent for much of the day, leaving Faramir alone in his rooms, where there was very little to occupy the young man’s time. There was nothing for him to do but to stare out at the view, and even then there was not much to see apart from the sick, yellow cloudbanks that hung in a permanent, low-lying haze all about the borders of the Land of Shadow. The view of the blighted sky was at least a little better than the hideous sight of the ground around the Tower, however. In that place noisy Orc battalions were continually marched and drilled up and down over the ash-black clinker soil that made up the Mordor plain. Faramir’s brief trips downstairs to the Orcish barracks, were also, for the most part uneventful, and marked as Shagrat’s personal property as he had been, he was on the whole, left severely alone. All in all then, in his solitude, Faramir quickly came to anticipate – look forward, even, to Shagrat’s return in the evenings, for the Orc was company of a sort, if nothing else, and certainly, he was always keen to want to talk. He would keep Faramir awake long into the night with endless questions about his life and experiences in the White City. At first, Faramir had suspected that the Orc was trying to extract information of tactical value from him, but it soon became clear that Shagrat’s interests in Gondor began and ended with, and were entirely restricted, to the subject of Faramir himself. The result of all this was that after the first day or so, Faramir found himself adopting a semi-nocturnal pattern of activity. The Uruk did not possess a bed and seemed to require very little sleep. When he dozed - and he never seemed to take more than a light catnap, he did so from a sitting position, on the floor, his back against a wall, and with one hand permanently resting on the sword-hilt at his belt.
And he was in the habit of bringing Faramir – gifts. A supply of candles and lamp oil at first. Black bread, and, when he noted Faramir’s reluctance to consume the shreds of nameless dried flesh that were the Orcs’ usual provender, a haunch of smoked venison, with the hoof still attached to it. He brought wine from Ithilien; a ranger’s blanket roll - the rusty blood-stains on it faded and old - for Faramir to sleep on. It was something like being wooed, albeit in a macabre and grisly way, and although most of Shagrat’s attempts at good humour at best misfired, and at worst were downright ghastly, he did at times behave towards Faramir in a way that, if it had come from almost anybody else, would mean that he was pathetically eager to please.
Nor did Shagrat’s obvious partiality for his new companion go unnoticed in the Orcish barracks.
Early one evening, Faramir made his way downstairs to the Orcs’ communal mess-room. Shagrat, like the rest of his kind did not use water to wash, but even Uruk-hai Captains needed to drink from time to time, and a large stoneware jar full of water was kept in his quarters for this purpose. The murky contents of this vessel were stagnant at best and though Shagrat appeared to able to drink from it without suffering any ill effects, Faramir had taken it upon himself to refresh their drinking supply every day or so from the storage tank that served the rest of the Orcish troops.
There were two Snaga-Orcs, shortish, snaggle-toothed creatures, each standing at about a man’s shoulder-height, loitering near the water cistern when Faramir arrived. The first Orc, the smaller of the pair, nodded insolently at him, in sneering acknowledgement of his favoured status, and stepped aside slightly to let the young man past. The second Orc, however, stayed put, and extended its arm across the narrow corridor to block Faramir’s path. With surprising strength for a creature of such a size, it twisted its claws into Faramir’s shirtfront, and dragged him down, till his face was level with its own.
“Take your hands off me,” Faramir told it evenly, without resisting. He had learned that Orcs, though they rarely chose to speak it, did in general understand the Common Tongue. The Orc, looking mightily amused, chuckled noisily and pulled him even closer.
With great agitation, the smaller Orc prised its companion’s clutching hands away.
“Leave it, mate,” it whined at its companion, “leave it. S’not worth it.” It sidled in between Faramir and the other Orc, and began backing away from him, pushing its companion along behind. “No harm done, eh?” it gulped, nervously. “We’ll just be off on our way, all right? Like I said, no harm done.” At the smaller Orc’s insistence, the pair moved off a safe distance away from Faramir. Then they stood still, muttering to one another, casting surreptitious, backward glances at him.
It always took some time for Faramir’s vessel to be filled by the slow trickle of water from the cistern, and he leaned nonchalantly against it, to wait. He wasn’t sure if scruples about eavesdropping on other people’s conversations could possibly apply to a couple of Orcs, but couldn’t help that these two had chosen to hold a conversation well within earshot of him, so he listened, intently. Although Faramir had picked up more than a smattering of Black Speech during his time in the Tower, he still understood more of the language than he could himself speak, and found that he could make out more than a little of what the two Orcs were saying. Faramir’s saviour was explaining the situation to his companion. They were obviously gossiping about Shagrat.
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