1. The tale of Grûgishl the Orc-maid
An unexpected sound, enough to wake him up; Aragorn lies heart pounding, trying to work out what it was, but the night is silent again, and with a shrug he attempts to go back to sleep. Rather than drifting off again, as soon as he tries to turn over, he is jolted further awake when he feels that there are restraints on him. He tries to breathe as if he is still asleep, mindful of the sound that had woken him, while he works out his situation.
It's dark enough that he can't see where he is, but he soon establishes that he is lying on a thin, lumpy mattress. There is a rough blanket thrown over him, and he is bound hand and foot to a metal-framed bed. He has a bad headache and an unpleasant, musty taste in his mouth. The air is stale, with a sour dampness to it that suggests some kind of cellar or cave. All of that is odd in itself, but does not explain how…
Wait, what is that? He is certain now that there is someone in here with him and he strains to listen for any sound that may reveal more. Are his fellow Rangers playing some kind of prank on him? If so, he'll…
Suddenly, he hears footsteps and someone, carrying a lantern, steps into what faint light there is in the room or cellar or whatever it is.
He tries to find out whether he has any weapons on him, but all that he learns is that even if he does, he can't reach them, and that he is tied to that bed really tightly. He winces at a creak from the bedframe. He hopes the Orc didn't hear it, but the creature turns, and quickly closes the distance that separates them.
As a hand moves towards him, he struggles against his bonds again, straining in vain to break free. The hand hovers over his neck, and he has all too near a view of almost claw-like nails that he knows can tear out his throat in one slash.
To his surprise, while he is yet preparing for a hopefully quick death, the hand moves slightly up and – almost tenderly – moves aside a stray tendril of hair from his forehead. A face slowly comes into view, and he tries to turn his head away from the stench of rotting meat that is the Orc's breath.
"You are awake, tark," a rough voice snarls.
He doesn't respond. It is obvious that he is awake, and he doubts his gaoler is interested in conversation. Still expecting a sudden demise at the Orc's hands, he can only stare in silent shock when the Orc asks if he is thirsty.
"Are you thirsty?" the Orc asks again. When he shakes his head in denial, the creature adds, sounding almost solicitous, "But you must drink, tark. You're sick and you must drink water, or you won't get well."
Again, he can only stare in shock. Did an Orc just express concern about his wellbeing? His confusion becomes even greater when the Orc places that razor-clawed hand on his forehead, and states that he is feverish.
He can only agree with the creature's diagnosis. In addition to the wrongness of being bound to this bed and apparently being cared for by an Orc, he does have that not-entirely-there sensation that usually accompanies a fever.
"I will wash you with cold water to bring down your fever," the Orc growls, and stomps off, out of the room.
He awaits the Orc's return with trepidation, while trying to think of any explanation for his situation. He doesn't remember being captured, he doesn't have any wounds, and he can't imagine that he was taken that easily.
There the creature is again, with a battered pewter bowl filled with water that looks none too clean. A dirty grey rag hangs over the edge of the bowl. The Orc sets down the bowl on a rickety low table, that Aragorn hadn't realised was there.
The Orc dips the rag in the bowl of water and pulls off his blanket, mutters "Oh, that won't do," and goes off again. The creature comes back almost immediately, carrying a long knife, and quickly starts to cut his clothing off him.
Aragorn cannot help flinching as the back-edge of the knife slides over his skin.
The Orc stops immediately and turns to face him. "Why don't you trust Grûgishl when she's helping you?"
Surprised, Aragorn stammers the first reply that pops into his mind. "Grûgishl? That is a very pretty name." His captor is female? He doubts it makes much of a difference to his predicament, until he realises that he is chained to a bed, and by now as good as naked. Her appreciative expression as she looks him over convinces him that yes, this can get a lot worse.
Meanwhile, Grûgishl ducks her head and flutters her eyes at his words. "Do you really think so?" she asks, before continuing to sponge him down with the filthy rag that she brought. She growls every time he tries to edge away from her touch, so he forces himself to lie still.
"You're very pretty yourself, for a tark," she says in a low voice that he suspects – nay, fears – is intended to be seductive. "Don't worry about your fever, or about anything else. Grûgishl will look after you, and hug you and pet you until you're well again."
Eventually, he has been washed to the Orc's satisfaction, and Grûgishl wrings out the rag over the pewter bowl. "I'll bring you some water to drink," she growls, and steps out of the room.
He tests his bonds again, but there seems to be no hope of escape. Grûgishl is gone a long time, and after a while he yawns. He tries to stay awake, but is overcome by weariness.
Eventually, he wakes up again, this time in full darkness. He still has an unpleasant taste in his mouth, and his headache has grown worse. He seems to be alone.
Slowly, relieved, he realises that Grûgishl must have been a dream. His memory of the previous night – he assumes it was only one night – slowly comes back.
He is at the Ranger post in Tharbad, and Elladan and Elrohir had unexpectedly arrived the day before. A few of the Rangers had gone out to gather mushrooms to supplement their dinner, and they must have picked some poisonous mushrooms along with the edible ones.
In the morning, no one will admit to remembering their dreams – their hallucinations, to put not too fine a point on it – so Aragorn feels he can safely claim that he doesn't remember either. Elrohir's look whenever he meets his brother's eye makes him doubt whether the twins believe him, but at least he has kept his mind to himself. Or has he?
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.