Lurkh fell with a grunt, his face slamming into the rock as the man behind him slammed into his back. There was a sharp crack as his nose broke, and he roared out his agony, muffled by the dirt in his mouth. He fought and wrestled with his captors, throwing out his powerful arms into their faces and flailing his legs wildly. They shouted and fell, but more and more came to take their places, and soon he was overwhelmed. One with long gold hair and a green cloak held a knife to the Uruk's throat while three more bound his arms and legs. The black blood pouring into his mouth from his broken nose tasted foul, and he spat it into the man's face with a grunt of defiance. The man cried out in revulsion and fell back, wiping his face furiously. But a replacement was there, of course. A hundred men and more, all binding one Uruk. Disgusting odds, but he knew he deserved it.

"Feldmarshal Isendohtor!" One of the many men standing around the captive called into the throng. "A captive!" This man was obviously a leader of some sort, judging by his ornate cloak pin and horsehair-crested helm. Lurkh watched him closely, his eyes narrowed. The man had had no part in the actual capture, but had berated his men to try harder even as they fell back from the strength of the Orc's limbs. And now he took the credit. This one bore surveillance.

Lurkh chuckled to himself. Still thinking like an Uruk captain; soon enough, they'd kill him. They might torture or interrogate him first, but eventually he'd die. There was no other fate for his kind at the hands of the Free Peoples. The Free Peoples took their captives and killed them! For some reason, he laughed. The Free Ones and their captive ones, let go into the utterly free realm of death! He found the thought hilarious, and his thick gravelly laugh, made thicker with blood, rang out over the hum of voices around him.

The Rohirrim looked at him, lying there, bound and laughing. To them it was a harsh snarling roar, and they stared at him apprehensively. "What's it doing?" one whispered to his companion. The other shrugged. "Who can tell with an Orc?" he murmured back, his face full of disgust as he watched the creature on the ground before him. "They don't think. They don't feel. They live only at the will of their leaders."

They spoke in Rohirric, so Lurkh had no idea what they were saying, but their faces spoke more than their tongues. He glared back at them with his narrow yellow eyes, and they quickly looked away from his evil gaze. They feared him, even when he could not move; they feared him even when they outnumbered him a hundred to one. And with good reason. He was so tall he was almost Manlike, and his arms were thick and powerful. His skin was black and mottled, and what hair he had was lank and stringy. With a broken nose and spattered with the blood of their dead companions, he was a fearsome sight even bound.

The sun was suddenly blocked by a huge figure, tall and muscular. A long green and gold cloak covered the person's back and his helm was covered with a huge horsetail. The cloak and horsetail waved in the wind, and the sun glinted off his sword as he drew it and raised it to strike...

Lurkh closed his eyes and winced involuntarily, waiting for the final blow... but none came. As seconds went by and no steel sang, he cracked one eye open and squinted against the sun.

It was no man towering over him, but a woman. She was stern and somber, but her strength was obvious, and her poise showed confidence and power. Lurkh found himself almost envious. These Men followed this mere woman because they trusted her. His own minions had obeyed him out of fear. That was the law in Mordor; if you were the biggest, strongest, and cleverest, you held the power. Here, it was ability to lead. There were probably several in this gathering more powerful then she, but she knew what they wanted and needed, and so could lead them.

Feldmarshal Elye Isendohtor'slip curled in disgust as she surveyed the bloody, bound creature before her. Why she had put her sword down, she did not know; this beast had killed so many of her companions, slain others she would never know, defiled Middle-earth with its mere existence - and yet, she had stayed her sword. She looked down at her sword Dreamstar, pondering. But only for an instant.

"Who are you?" her voice was asclear and sharp as Dreamstar's edge. It held authority, and compelled you to answer.

Through the blood in his mouth, Lurkh spat back, "Why didn't you kill me?"

Isendohtor heard only a gurgling snarl. "Do you speak a proper tongue?" she demanded slowly, in Common.

Lurkh spoke in slow Common as well, trying to get around the black liquid. "Yes. Why... didn't... you... kill me?"

The Feldmarshal saw the problem. "Sit it up and let it get spit out the blood. Someone, get a rag to mop it up." Two of the men still holding onto Lurkh's arms yanked him up roughly, like a child who couldn't sit on its own. Lurkh made sure to cough up the blood right at Isendohtor's feet, glaring at her without fear. He said nothing as a makeshift poultice was applied to his nose, and only grunted slightly with pain when deft fingers set the bone back in place and the bleeding slowed, then stopped.

"Now," declared Isendohtor, speaking slowly still. "Answer me."

"Why didn't you kill me?" Lurkh repeated for the third time, this time angrily. This wasn't right, they weren't supposed to be healing him, they were supposed to slit his throat and be done with it. That was what always happened with these disgusting Free Peoples.

Isendohtor looked again at Dreamstar. "I ask the questions, Orc!" she snapped. Then, she paused and said angrily, "You killed my people in combat, in a fair fight. By rights I should kill you, but to do that when you are bound and unarmed... that would set me lower even than you. And there is nothing lower than you." Lurkh ignored the slight and grunted.

"Then kill me now. Do it. If you don't do it now, you'll only do it later, when I'm not ready to die."

His voice still sounded like unintelligible grunting, even when speaking Common, but Isendohtor was growing used to the peculiar quality. "You are filth," she spat, "but I cannot kill you now. You are our prisoner."

There were many cries of protest from the group. The man with the brooch approached her, obviously furious. "Feldmarshal," he almost shouted, "this is a breach of conduct. This... this creature-" he kicked Lurkh in the side roughly- "cannot live! It would be like allowing a pox to spread throughout our camp, and not isolating the sick. These things are poison, pure poison, and poison spreads like a rumor. One night, it will whisper treason into a man's ear, and it will be untied, and kill you, and me, and every man here in his sleep, because you would not kill it on honor. Honor. Orcs have no honor. Were it you lying there, surrounded by its kind, this one would kill you and eat you itself. Do you not see that?" He was roaring now, and Lurkh watched the proceedings with interest. Seeing as he would not die, perhaps he ought to form an opinion of these men.

The Feldmarshal said nothing through his words, only listened with an unreadable expression on her stern face. When he finished, she marched over to Lurkh and drew her sword. He flinched, waiting for the cold steel once more, but felt nothing but a sudden tightening, than loosening, of the bonds on his hands and feet. He blinked. She had cut through the ropes. He was free.

He made no sudden movements, but sat up slowly, trying to overcome a wave of dizziness. Their beating had done more to him than he had thought. The Uruk raised an arm to feel for a bruise on his head. Hands shifted to weapons, but relaxed again when they saw his intent.

Isendohtor watched him for a moment more, than turned to the original three who had bound him. "Guard it," she told them, then walked off, leading the spluttering Man-With-the-Brooch behind her.

Back in the Marshal's tent, Elye Isendohtor poured herself a flagon of ale and sat down, rubbing her temples to ease her sudden headache. Sperewigend Brohka followed her directly into the small space, seating himself across from her and leaning forward, his face white and livid. His beautiful brooch gleamed in the lamplight as he gripped the table with both hands.

"This is madness," He hissed, his face a mere six inches from the Feldmarshal's. "You are allowing evil incarnate to walk free. You are sending some sick perversion of Man and Orc into the world to wreak its havoc. You are-"

"-Doing what's right," interrupted Isendohtor. "That Uruk, disgusting though it might be, did nothing against us."

"It killed our men," Brohka insisted. "It slew my people, it drove its blade through men I have known for years. It is a murderer."

"Did you ever think," Isendohtor said mildly, sipping her ale, "Of all the Orcs you have slain over the years? Perhaps three dead at your sword every skirmish, skirmishes every month, for fifteen years. You have murdered as many as that Uruk, if not more. It is terrified, it knows that at my whim it is dead. There were fifty Orcs in that fight. The Uruk I let free has forty-nine companions to mourn."

"Mourn." Brohka snapped. "Mourn. That thing does not mourn them. It cares only for its own skin. It would kill all forty-nine itself, if it could go free. It-"

Isendohtor decided it was time to break off the conversation before it got ugly. "I have made my decision," she said firmly, draining her ale and rising. "I will go and speak to it now."

Brohka stared after her a moment more before following her outside. "Give it no oppurtunity to commit any treachery," he told her as she strode toward where the Uruk now stood. Isenfolme stopped and smiled at him grimly.

"I showed it mercy," she said. "I never said I trusted it."

Lurkh could barely stand. His head and nose were throbbing, his legs and wrists burned with new-found circulation, he was weary from fighting. But he would not lie down and accept helplessness.

The Man-With-the-Brooch and the Woman-With-the-Plume were coming back. That terrible sword was still in the woman's hand, blast it. He could not yet rest easy.

The woman said something in that rolling Horse-tongue to the men guarding him, and they edged closer, lifting their swords a little higher. Some sort of command, maybe "Watch him." Lurkh watched her come closer, totally devoid of fear.

She spoke first. "I would treat with you as an equal," she said to him. "So long as you do not threaten any man here, you will come to no harm. Say what you will to me, be it insult, flattery, or death wish; just remember that three are ready to take off your head even as they gut and cripple you. Now speak. Who are you?"

Lurkh looked at her hard for a moment. After a moment, he spoke, in that hideous voice accented with evil. Several men covered their ears, and even Plume-Woman looked uncomfortable. But she would get used to it or not listen to him, so he spoke anyway.

"I am Lurkh, Captain of the Eighteenth patrol of the Morannon, servant of the Dark Lands and hater of the Free Peoples. Who are you? You spared me, so I would know who my... rescuer... is."

Isendohtor listened, though she understood only that its name was Lurkh and it had been a Captain. Perhaps the leader of the band who had assaulted them? She answered it as she had promised, as an equal.

"You gave me your name, Lurkh, so I give you mine. I am Feldmarshal Elye Isendohtor of the Westmark, servant of Eomer King and defender of the Riddermark. I would know what your wishes for your future are."

Wishes? The onlookers were as confused as Lurkh himself.

"You are not to grant me wishes. I have slain your people, destroyed your villages. I would do much to save myself, but I am without help now. What you do with me is your choice alone. Kill me, torture me. Drag me to Rohan to rot, do what you will with me. What say do I have in my future?"

Isendohtor was astonished. Dreamstar hung slack in her hand. Humility? From this hideous creature? No fear of pain, or death, or torture? It was Brohka who brought her back to her senses.

"Do not be deceived, Feldmarshal!" he said softly from behind her. "Hold Dreamstar high. It only waits for an opening."

Dreamstar was up again. She narrowed her eyes at Lurkh, trying to sense a lie, or a hint of fear. The black face was unreadable. She could see nothing in the yellow eyes.

She looked again, harder. It was obvious the Uruk could barely stand. Its eyes were glazed, its wrists and ankles swollen, and even from this distance she could see the bruises marring the arms and legs. If there was anything on the torso, it was obscured by a thick leather panzer. Because of the stench of blood and general Orc, she could not bear to go closer. "Hæland!" she called. A man and a woman, obviously twins, appeared, wearing white cloaks bearing the crest of the Hæland healer at the shoulder. She pointed to Lurkh. "It is wounded. Kindly care for all its wounds, bathe it, and find it something less smelly to wear." The two Hælands nodded and, breathing through their mouths, escorted a wobbly Lurkh to the hospital tent.

The other men milled about, still shaken. Isendohtor glared at them fiercely. "Well?" she demanded. "Have you no work to do?" they hurried off to clean armor and care for horses. Isenfolme retreated to her tent.

The twin healersDarra andBraga were experts at their work. The legendary Healer-warriors were trained for years before they took up the white cloak, becoming adept with herbs, bindings, and anatomy. They were trained to be prepared for anything. But nothing could have prepared them for this.

"Rose water! Burn some lavender!" gasped Darra, opening the tent flaps wide to allow for fresh air. "Helm's Hammer, what a stink!" Her brother quickly crushed some rose petals and athelas into a bowl, allowing the fresh scent to permeate the small space. He lit a sprig of lavender beneath the bowl, and together the scents masked the stench of Orc. Lurkh sat on a small cot on the floor, dazed and dizzy, watching them sigh with relief at the banishing of the smell. He did not understand their actions; they had spoken in Rohirric as they worked, and he was wary of their intentions.

Darra approached him slowly, extending a hand as one would to an unfamiliar dog. Her pretty face with its tied back yellow hair smiled at him, and he watched her with interest. "My name is Darra," she said slowly. "My brother is Braga. We are going to heal your wounds."

"They'll heal on their own," Lurkh mumbled, but she did not hear him.

"Now," she said brightly, "First, we're going to bathe you."

Braga brought a large tub of steaming water into the center of the tent and closed the flaps. "It doesn't even know what "bathe" means," he murmured to his sister in Rohirric. "It can't have had a bath before."

Darra smiled. "It'll do just fine," she assured him. "Please take your clothes off," she said to Lurkh. "We'll just examine your wounds."

Lurkh stripped off his panzer. It was his only garment, and he yanked it over his head without embarassent or decency. "There." he said. "Do what you must."

Darra blinked. His suddeness surprised her. Braga caught her staring and winked. "You like Orcflesh?" he asked with a smirk. Darra blushed bright red and turned around, bustling to cover her annoyance.

"Now," she declared, "Get in the tub."

Lurkh froze. "What?"

At the sound of the bellow, Isendohtor dove outside, Dreamstar flashing in her hand. Had the Orc killed a Hæland? She dashed for the hospital tent, her heart pounding. Shoving soldiers aside, she grabbed the flap to enter and pulled it back.

A huge black shape slammed into her, driving her backward into the grass. All was black arms and mailed legs and flashing sword before a naked Orc and a dazed Feldmarshal separated themselves, the former dashing away down the rows of tents, the latter rolling back before coming to a halt. At the feet of Brohka.

She stood, purposefully ignoring the Sperewigend, and instead listening to the chain reaction of screams all the way down the host's camp. She turned, still avoiding Brohka's gaze, to see Darra standing, drenched, at the entrance to the tent.

In three steps Isendohtor was at the Hæland's side. "What did you do?" she said angrily, "Threaten to amputate a limb?"

The girl swallowed. "I- I asked it... him... to get in the tub."

"Him?" Isendohtor covered her eyes. "Never mind, I don't want to know. You asked him to get in the tub, and he dashed out of the tent naked and screaming?"

"That's the story."

"Well, he'll bathe or die. I-"

"He'll die." Brohka could no longer be avoided. "It won't even bathe without disrupting the whole camp. There's nothing else to be done."

Isendohtor was fast losing patience with the Sperewigend. "I have command at this camp," she snapped. "Not you. You are a Sperewigend, I am a Feldmarshal. When my decision is made, there is nothing you can do to stay me." She turned and jogged in the general direction of the havoc, leaving Brohka behind.

Lurkh was panicking. That Isendohtor woman had promised no harm, and now they tried to drown him? He hadn't threatened either of those healers, they were the ones trying to force him into the water. He ran blindly, people leaping out of his way, staring after him. Tiny, insignificant thoughts raced through his wounded head. Blast it, he had forgotten his panzer. Ooh, how his head hurt... why were they staring like that? Oh. He had forgotten his panzer...

The row of tents ended, finally. He had left the camp behind. But he still didn't have his panzer. He kept running. He would lose them, if they were even chasing. He'd terrorize some clothing out of a village somewhere, get back to the Morannon with a false tale of victory, perhaps get promoted. Yes, that was it! He was still laughing with triumph even as exhaustion took him over and he fainted.

That was how Isendohtor found him an hour later, slumped on the ground with no clothing on. She could hardly bear to go near him, as fear and sweat had worsened the already unbearable stench. No mere washtub would clean him.

Her thoughts turned to the ford. It was in a large river, hardly used, the water waist-deep. With a team of four or five, he'd be clean soon enough. She stood, turning back the way she had come. How to find enough people to carry him? Uruks were huge, he was almost as tall as she was and much more muscular. Naked besides. If she ran back, it would be another hour before she found him again. In that time, he might wake up and run. A lone, naked, delirious Uruk loose in Rohan. What a campfire story this would be when it was all over.

But she did not need to run back. Sperewigend Brohka and the twins Darra and Braga were fast catching up, with four powerful men behind them. Isendohtor sighed with relief; Darra had thought to bring herbs, and Braga held bandages and soap. Brohka held only his sword and an angry expression. He appeared to be shouting something.

He was the first to arrive, and it was an effort for him not to grab the Feldmarshal and shake her. "I'm going to kill it!" he bellowed. He kicked Lurkh repeatedly in a fearsome rage. "I'm going to beat the thing to death!" Isendohtor had to pull him backward to prevent him from driving his sword into Lurkh.

"Stop this!" she barked angrily, holding his arms down. "Control yourself, soldier! This sort of behavior is not befitting of a Sperewigend of the Westmark!"

"Oh, now you're defending it, are you?" Brohka snarled. "First you save its filthy life, and now you're defending it? I would say your behavior is not befitting of a Feldmarshal of any Eored! Let me kill it, and all our problems are over! Prove to me you're a Feldmarshal!"

Isendohtor looked at him icily. "Is that a challenge?" she asked, very softly. Brohka did not reply.

"Good. Now then... Darra!" the Hæland reached them, puffing and blowing, slightly ahead of her brother. "Have you athelas water?"

Darra rummaged through her satchel and found a bowl and athelas. She uncorked a small vial of water and poured it into the bowl, crushing the athelas between her fingers. The scent was beautiful and fresh, and even Brohka relaxed slightly under its calming influence. Isendohtor nodded her approval.

"Now, wake him." Holding her breath, Darra sat Lurkh up and waved the bowl under his nose, murmuring gentle words in Rohirric to accompany the action. Most patients would peacefully open their eyes and stand, refreshed.

Not so Lurkh. He woke, but his eyes flew open and he lurched backward, spilling out the athelas water and almost knocking poor Darra to the ground. He sat up, shaking his head. "What," he grunted, coughing, "Is that smell? It's disgusting!" he stood and coughed some more, oblivious to the eight onlookers' disbelief. Braga was the first to move. He quickly unfastened his own white cloak and covered the Uruk with it, much to everyone's relief. Brohka was staring at Lurkh with disgust yet unseen.

"Look at that." he said in Rohirric to Isendohtor. "It spurned athelas water. Athelas is the herb of light, of peace. It drives away darkness and evil. It drove away the Orc. It proves its vileness. Do you not see? Has it blinded you?"

Isendohtor sighed. "I just want to see what will come of all this," she told him wearily. "Think what we could learn! It's an Orkish captain. It would know battle plans, it would have someone to command and someone to look up to - information that could prove useful." she was masking her actual feelings of pity for the captive with logic. Brohka had no weapons against such a point. He sniffed and stepped back, showing that he would say no more.

The half-mile march to the ford took two hours, due to Lurkh's weakness. But he absolutely had to be bathed, or Darra and Braga would not heal him. Brohka marched at the back, glaring hate at Isendohtor, who was occupied keeping Lurkh from keeling over once again. Lurkh stumbled along, ringed by Isendohtor, Darra, and Braga, who shoved him away when he fell in their direction, and so kept him on his feet.

The water was flowing, but not hard, and it was waist deep in the center. Perfect. Isendohtor led Lurkh to the water's edge and asked him clearly, "Can you swim?"

Lurkh looked back at her, his eyes half closed from exhaustion, and replied, "No..."

"Good." A brisk shove, and Lurkh was under water. He came up flailing and bellowing.

"Blast you, I-" he went under and came up again- "I can't swim!"

Brohka watched with amusement. "Stand up," he said with a smirk. Lurkh put his legs down and found the water shallow. He growled at Brohka and started to slosh back onto the bank.

Isendohtor was waiting for him in the shallows, armed with soap and four huge men. "Back in there," she said, brandishing the soap menacingly. One of the men cracked his knuckles and smiled. Lurkh weighed them up. Isendohtor he would have no chance against, and all the men were taller than he was. He stopped, but did not return to the water.

Isendohtor nodded to the man on her right. Striding forward, he grabbed one of Lurkh's arms and dagged him into the center of the ford. Isendohtor followed, and the remaining three men guarded all exits. With a grim expression, she went to work.

It was another hour before five thoroughly wet beings came out of the water. Lurkh was the picture of cleanliness, though it seemed the accumulated dirt had covered even more scars that were now visible. Isendohtor and her hitmen, on the other hand, were filthy with river mud, and all the dirt that had been on Lurkh seemed to have been transferred to them. Brohka watched as Isendohtor wrung the water out of her once-beautiful cloak with an unreadable expression. Darra came forward with Lurkh's clean and mended panzer and handed it to him. He pulled it over his head and sighed with relief.

Isendohtor looked at the sun. It was already sinking behind the horizon, and Lurkh was still wounded. They could not all go back to the camp; the ground was treacherous in the dark, and camp was several leagues off. Wearily, the Feldmarshal turned to the four men, who all looked rather grumpy. One, nursing a long scratch on his arm, shot murderous glances at the Uruk.

"Go back to camp," she told them. "It won't take you more than an hour or two. We'll have to camp here until Lurkh can walk without falling over." the four nodded and started off. Brohka walked behind them.

"Sperewigend, just where do you think you're going?" Isendohtor called after him. He stopped and turned to face her.

"Back to camp." he said. "I've been around the Orc all day. I want a soft pallet, a hot meal, and a night's rest." he turned to go.

Isendohtor called him back. "No, you're staying here with us. The Hælands are tired, I'm tired. We need someone fresher to keep watch."

"No." he said flatly. "The Orc'll murder us in our sleep."

Isendohtor looked at him hard. "Sperewigend, you just disobeyed a direct order. That is the second time today. Once more, and I will have your insignia."

Brohka's jaw tightened, but he strode back all the same. "My apologies, Feldmarshal," he mumbled. "It's been a long day. It won't happen again."

"See that it doesn't." Isendohtor started a fire quickly and turned to Darra and Braga.

"Would you mind binding Lurkh's wounds? I know it's getting dark, but he can't sleep bleeding." The twins nodded and set to work. Lurkh did not protest.

Isendohtor and Brohka set out their cloaks as blankets on the other side of the fire and sat down on them. Brohka stared into the fire angrily, Isenfolme thoughtfully. Brohka's gaze kept going from the fire to the Uruk on the other side of it. He could not help thinking about it.

It was so disgusting! That black, mottled skin, that flat nose, those yellow eyes - he hated it just watching it. It was a murderer. His friends lay dead at its hands. And his own leader did not take the revenge that was hers, but spent a whole day healing it, bathing it, and now even called it by name. She was strong, but she was a woman, and women are soft-hearted. Nothing could make him accept such a foul creature. When it killed her, he'd laugh over her corpse. Orcs did not know mercy, or honor. They knew only pain and death and hate. No doubt it would take pleasure in their deaths.

Lurkh said nothing as his wounds were bound by the twin healers, but stared into the fire. He had much to ponder. Why had he been shown mercy? These horse-people had no reason to love him. It would have been no infringement on their honor to kill him. And yet, here he sat, being treated as though he were a part of the camp. He was a captive, but the term meant little to him; in Mordor, there were few captives, and none were let free. He had been beaten, true; but he had fought. They had shown no unjustifiable cruelty, not even that Brohka one... the Uruk shook his head to clear it. There was no point in thinking about it. It would not change his position or his future, so let it be. Darra and Braga silently cleaned up and spread out their own white cloaks near the fire, but, he could not help but notice, quite a distance from him. It didn't matter. Better to sleep farther away from someone with a weapon.

Elye Isendohtor settled down, calling to Lurkh, "Uruk, you're wounded and exhausted. We won't track you if you run, but we won't save you again." She rolled over and was soon asleep. Lurkh slept on the ground as he had always done, and had no trouble falling asleep.

Brohka woke in the midde of the night, unsure of what had brought him from sleep. He didn't have to pass water, he was very tired, and he wasn't thirsty. He sat up, rubbing his eyes blearily, and listened.

All thought was drowned out by a huge, throaty, rumbling sound that seemed to fill the air all around the camp. Was it an army? A tree falling? Brohka frantically looked around, scanning the sky and the trees, until his gaze fell on Lurkh.

Every time the Uruk inhaled, the sound grew louder. It got quieter when he exhaled, but was still deafening. Was he dying? Brohka watched him for a moment with his hands over his ears, when he realized the great beast was snoring. No others had awoken; how could they still be asleep? Brohka lay down, covering his head with his cloak, but the sound only seemed to grow louder. He groaned softly. It was going to be a long night.

Morning dawned softly, but radiantly, the dawnlight on the river seeming almost alive and joyful. Isendohtor watched it, dabbling her hand in the water as she pondered her problem.

The Orc could not stay. The whole camp felt the same way as Brohka. She was the only one who had vouched for Lurkh's life. She was alsothe only woman Feldmarshal in the Cavalry; there were plenty of men waiting for her to show weakness. Excusing an Orc was the ultimate crime, the equivalent of treason. Lurkhhad to go and soon. Preferably today. She might just get off by excersizing her duty as Feldmarshal never to leave a wounded being without help; but they would argue that she could have just cut its head off. And it was true; she should have. But she had now given Lurkh her trust. She had fed him, bathed him, and healed him. She had shown him mercy and gone to endless trouble for him. It would be far beyond the boundaries of honor to slay him now.

With a sigh, she stood and returned to the fire, where the ever-efficient Hælands were already breaking camp. Lurkh looked much improved; he stood and walked about with no trouble. Isendohtor paused for a moment to reflect on Darra and Braga's great help, and resolved to thank them for their trouble later. It was not every Hæland who set aside all doubt to tend to an Orc.

Brohka was sitting on the ground, blinking blearily and still rubbing sleep from his eyes. Isendohtor frowned. Usually the Sperewigend rose with the sun to perform his duties; now, it was apparent that he had just woken up. She strode toward him and held out a hand to help him to his feet. "Are you all right, Sperewigend? What happened? Didn't you sleep well?"

Brohka scowled at her and replied in Rohirric, "That thing was snoring. No, not snoring - thundering. It drowned out all thought, it woke the bears from their winter sleep! Did you not hear it? How could you not have?" he was snapping now, every word sounding like an insult in its ferocity. Isendohtor looked at Lurkh.

"Snoring? I would have heard an Orc snore, Brohka."

"It'll wake half the camp if you let it sleep with us another night. Get rid of it now."

Isendohtor glared at him. "Sperewigend, I expect better from you. I know you have no love lost for the Orc, but must you lie to condemn him?" she turned her back on him and walked away, making her point with her action.

Brohka turned as well, but to prevent the Feldmarshal from seeing his anger. He took deep, shuddering breaths, his teeth and fists clenched in anger. So, now she was taking the Orc's word over his? Now she was believing this creature who had killed her companions and spurning one who had saved her life many times? He wanted to kill them both.

He glanced up, hoping his murderous thoughts did not show on his face. He looked around. They were gone! He spun wildly, and saw the party walking back to the Rohirrim outpost, already some distance ahead.

This was the ultimate insult. They abandoned him. Treated him like a stray dog. Left him in the dust. There were three Rohirrim. Not one had bothered to call him to go. He watched them closely. First, of course, came the Feldmarshal; then...

The Orc. The Orc was in his place behind the Feldmarshal. Brohka's face turned hot. He snatched at his sword, missing the hilt in his anger. He kicked the fire, shouted as the smoldering ashes burned his foot and singed his fine boots, fell backward, hit his shin on a rock, and finally sat down, his head on his knees, shaking with anger. How long he sat there he did not know, dreaming of the deaths of them all, the Orc's blood on his sword...

His head snapped up when someone nearby cleared his throat with a sound like gravel being chewed by a horse. He quickly identified the sound. It was the Orc.

Lurkh had noticed that Brohka had been left behind when they were not too far off. He wondered why Isendohtor and the healers hadn't noticed. He glanced back at the Sperewigend again. It didn't feel right. In Mordor, you were only left behind if you couldn't keep up. But Brohka wasn't hurt. He had just been forgotten. Lurkh understood somewhat what Brohka felt; he knew if a prisoner had walked in his honored place he probably would have killed someone to rectify the problem. And had before.

He turned to look once more and made a sudden decision. He wasn't going to leave a fighter behind. His Mordorian training had ingrained into him long ago that an able fighter simply wasn't left behind. He turned and ran back to camp, his powerful legs covering long distances with every stride. Isendohtor's hand went to her sword when she heard him go, but returned to her side when she saw his intent. Darra andBraga exchanged alarmed looks and made to go after him, but Isendohtor stopped them.

"No - I want to see what he does." With uneasy looks, the twins stayed.

Lurkh spoke to Brohka. "Come on," he said. "We're not leaving a fighter behind."

Brohka glared at him. "Why do you care? Did your friend the Feldmarshal tell you to come get me? Couldn't bother to get me herself, but sent a monster? Tell her she can go on. I won't have my honor slighted like this."

Lukh was losing patience, but he managed to keep his voice more or less level. "In Mordor, " he said, "We don't leave people who can fight behind. The Feldmarshal never sent me. I came to get you myself."

Brokha looked up in amazement. "What?"

Lurkh repeated, "I'm not leaving you behind. Come on. You can come back to camp, or you can rot in self-pity here." He held out an arm to help him up. Not a Mordorian thing to do, but it felt right.

The Sperewigend regarded the arm suspiciously for a moment, but then he slowly extended his own and allowed to Uruk to pull him to his feet. Brushing off his tunic briskly, he turned and strode past Lurkh, in the direction of the Feldmarshal and the Hælands. Lurkh fell in behind him. Both were silent.

Suddenly, Brohka turned. He took a deep breath, as though mustering his courage.

"I... I just want to say... thank you. For coming to get me."

Lurkh was taken aback. Courtesy? "Er..." he responded. Brohka smiled slightly and waved his hand to dismiss it. The Orc might have helped him, but that didn't make it... him... a gentleman.

Camp was in an uproar when they returned. Isendohtor frowned as she led her unlikely party through the bustle; usually everyone was still asleep now, or just starting the day. Had they been worried about her? She was touched, but-

"There she is!" A man called out, pointing to her. She was suddenly swamped by men. Fighting her way past the throng, she bellowed in the direction of her tent, "Sperewigend! Help!"

A Sperewigend appeared from the tent beside hers and quickly summed up the situation. He aided Brohka in shoving men off the Feldmarshal, and between them made quick work of it. Finally, ten minutes later, a panting Feldmarshal stood in a ring of men now holding respectfully back.

"Thank you, Sperewigends," she said and glared into the horde, pointing to one man in front. "Halda. What on earth was that about?"

Halda cleared his throat nervously and said, "Feldmarshal, sir, we were afeared for your safety." he shot a glance at Lurkh, standing a short distance outside the circle with the Hælands.

"Eyes front!" barked Isendohtor. "As you can see, I'm perfectly all right."

"Yes, sir, and we're all very glad, but... there's something else." his eyes were wide as he whispered, as though afraid the subject might hear, "Er... the King's in your tent."

It was all Isendohtor could do to keep her face impassive. "Why?" she asked.

Halda shrugged. "He didn't have words with us yet. Just the Sperewigend."

She turned to the two Sperewigends, still keeping a wary eye on the men. Rohirric crowd control. "Sperewigend Aglæca," she called. "What did the King want?"

"Routine inspection, Feldmarshal," the man called back. "He's going to want to speak to you."

Isendohtor turned away from the men and allowed herself a wince before turning back. Absolutely wonderful time to show up at camp filthy with an Orc in tow.

"You may tell him I am tired, and require an hour in my tent alone to recuperate from my... er... watch last night." The Sperewigend looked confused, but Isendohtor gave him a very significant look and he understood.

"Yes sir." he entered the tent and returned a moment later behind Eomer King, who smiled at Isendohtor as she strode toward her tent.

Don't ask, she begged the sky as she walked by him, purposefully avoiding his gaze. Please, I'll do anything if he only doesn't ask...

Eomer stopped her and spoke in an undertone. He obviously hadn't seen Lurkh yet. "You were on watch, Feldmarshal?" he said reprovingly. "The night after a skirmish and before an inspection?"

He asked. Isendohtor smiled weakly. "Our lookout was wounded and I was fresh. Thought I should give the men a rest, let them mourn their comrades."

Eomer's stern look became one of approval. He clapped her on the shoulder and told her, "That's what I look for in a good Feldmarshal."

Isendohtor took a deep, shuddering breath. When he turned his back, she gestured madly to Darra and Braga, still standing dumbly with Lurkh, beckoning them into the Hæland's tent. Eomer turned just as they disappeared.

"Where is your Hæland's tent?" he asked, scanning the camp. "I would speak with your wounded."

Oh, Orome sweep me up here and now. "Er... there are no wounded. The casualites were minor, we healed them all and they're up and about. Erm-" she snatched the arm of a passing man and shoved him at the King. "This man, what's your name again? Ah yes, Dægdohr, er, he was wounded..." she looked him over quickly- "in the, the head!" she proclaimed triumphantly as she located the bandage under his mop of brown hair. "He was wounded in the head, and he was the last one detained, so you can talk to him. I'll just be in my tent." she made a dignified scramble into the tent and tied the flaps shut with a sigh of relief.

An hour later, Isendohtor emerged from her tent, fighting down a rising panic attack. Quickly glancing about the camp, she noticed that Lurkh was still stowed away and the King was sitting around the campfire with his own Feldmarshal of the Meduseld Eored. She approached them and bowed low before Eomer. "My lord," she murmured, and waited for him to take her hand and help her up.

"Come," he said, "Sit beside me. I would hear of your recent adventures." he chuckled. "Riding here, I couldn't wait to hear the latest... escapades... of the Westmark Eored. My inspections here are always the most fun."

Isendohtor forced out a laugh and hastily changed the subject. "Er, you came for an inspection... what is your opinion of my camp?"

Eomer smiled. "Excellent. Clean, well-ordered. You keep up appearances perfectly. But I did notice... the men seem a bit... on edge, if you know what I mean." he turned to his Feldmarshal. "Feldmarshal Feodrin, please leave us." The Feldmarshal bowed and left. Eomer lowered his voice. "I am most pleased with this camp, but for that," he said. "it's almost as if they fear something." he looked deep into Isendohtor's eyes. "Or are hiding something."

Isendohtor was dying. She hated lying to her king. She averted her gaze. "There's... nothing. Nothing."

"Do not lie to me, Feldmarshal."

"What? Lie to you? I- All right." Isendohtor sighed. "I plot nothing against you. This I say with absolute certainty. But..." she looked at Eomer, tring to hide the fear in her face. "No. No, there is nothing."

Eomer looked disappointed. "Feldmarshal, you need not hide anything from me. If you gave me a legitimate reason for any action you did, I would accept it without qualm. Don't be ashamed if you have commited some error. I know that you among my Feldmarshals never do anything lightly or rashly."

Isenfolme looked off into the distance. "You don't understand, my lord. You would have my insignia if you knew."

Eomer looked at her shrewdly. "Now that you say that, I can only order you to tell me."

Idiot! I deserve to have my insignia taken! "You can. But will you?"

"Yes, if I must. It's my duty, Feldmarshal, to weed out any acts that defy the Code of the Cavalry. Show me now."

"Come with me." Isendohtor led the king to the Hæland's tent, walking slowly. She swallowed down her nausea and tried to concentrate on thinking up a good excuse. Nothing came. The only thing running through her head was a faint buzzing, as though a bee had somehow crawled into her ear.

She pulled back the tent flap and gestured to Eomer to follow. She used her height to block his view of the interior for a moment, quickly taking stock of Lurkh's position.

He was sitting down on a cot, obviously rather bored, playing absentmindedly with the plume on a helm some wounded man had left there. He was still clean...ish. Darra was the only other occupant of the tent. She was singing softly as she hung up some herbs to dry. Isendohtor recognized athelas and wondered why Lurkh didn't seem to mind the smell permeating the room. Perhaps all his time with the Hælands was rubbing off on him.

Eomer cleared his throat. Isendohtor sheepishly moved out of his way. The king walked into the tent, scanned it. It was like time was slowing down; she saw as if in slow motion his eyes moving from Darra, sweeping across the tent, falling on Lurkh...

His sword was out before Isendohtor could move. He leveled it at Lurkh, who glanced up in mild surprise and went back to fiddling with the plume. Isendohtor moved between the two and motioned the sword down.

"My lord, this is Lurkh," she said. She nudged Lurkh with her foot; he looked up and saw the king again.

"H'lo," he grunted. "Who're you?"

Isendohtor about died. She grabbed the Uruk's hand and yanked him up beside her. In this close space, it was easy to see that he was almost as tall as Eomer.

"Lurkh," she said with great weight, hoping he would catch on, "This is King Eomer."

"King?" Lurkh looked confused. Then it hit him. "Oh. Like a warlord." he performed an odd sort of slump, which might, when closely examined, resemble a bow. He'd watched Eomer's arrival and seen what to do. It was an odd sort of custom, in his opinion. In Mordor, exposing the back of your neck to someone with power was a pretty stupid thing to do.

Eomer was not accustomed, as was Isendohtor, to Lurkh's odd mode of speech. He had heard all Isendohtor had said to this base creature, but why she would bother speaking to a half-animal that wouldn't understand was beyond him. Was she speaking to it like one would to a angry horse, to calm it? Or a very small child? When it had replied, he had been shocked, but had convinced himself firmly that it was only a reactive sound, like a dog barking.

He started when it bowed. Or was that a bow? He was getting confused. "Isendohtor," he said angrily, forgetting all titles, "What in Orome's name is the meaning of this?"

Isendohtor took a deep breath and said, in a voice that barely wavered, "My lord, this is Lurkh."

"What? Lerk?"

Lurkh replied for himself. "Loorkh. Harder on the kh." The forming of the mouth required to harshen the "kh" came easily for Lurkh; such was much of his native language. But Eomer's tongue, used to rolling syllables and light speech, couldn't make full use of the back of his mouth, and the name turned out something like "Loorgh."

Lurkh decided it was close enough and waited quietly for Isendohtor to speak again.

"Yes, Lurkh. That's his name. But perhaps he can explain his... presence... better than I can." she motioned Lurkh forward and muttered in his ear, "Tell him about how you came here. Don't insult him."

Lurkh gave her a look with one eyebrow up that clearly explained his feelings, but stepped forward nonetheless.

"What do you mean, explain it?" asked Eomer, looking angrier and angrier. "It can speak?"

"Didn't you hear me before?" Lurkh was getting annoyed.

This time Eomer understood, to an extent. "I did... but I didn't think it was talking. Sounded more like growling to me."

Lurkh, with difficulty, ignored the slight. "Are you a warlord of Rohan?" he asked. "King" didn't translate into the Black Speech.

Eomer nodded. "In a way, I am the highest-ranking... I command the cavalry, and make decisions for the people."

Finally, communication! Lurkh understood this part perfectly. A war leader was something familiar to him. Perhaps the Free Peoples weren't so different from his kind after all. "I was a warlord, too, in Mordor," he said proudly. Time to test this man's mettle. Isendohtor watched his display with growing unease; why was he challenging Eomer? Lurkh waited confidently for the man to respond as his rank dictated.

"Then why are you alive?" asked Eomer. "The rest of your band is dead, why did the Feldmarshal let you live?"

"What?" This was getting confusing. This Rohirric warlord had answered completely wrongly. He hadn't given any hint of the extent of his power, not described any battles, not detailed his commanding officers, not even thrown out his chest or spit. Why was he interrogating him? Was Lurkh supposed to know who he was?

"Wait..." Lurkh gathered his thoughts. "What's your name?"

"A bold one, isn't it?" Eomer said impatiently to Isendohtor. "Why is it dodging around my questions? I have no clue what it's on about." Isendohtor covered her eyes with her hand and groaned. She could almost feel her insignia inching off her chest.

Lurkh tried once more to make amends, Mordorian style. "How many battles have you won this year?" he asked, throwing a bit of a swagger into his movements, drawing himself up a bit more. Eomer totally missed these nuances and just stared at him.

"Why on earth should I know or care? I am Eomer, King of Rohan, I have no reason to revisit past shame!"

"Shame?" Lurkh sat down, now so thoroughly confused he wasn't even sure what he was saying. "Shame? What shame is there in battle? In sunlight on iron and the harsh roar of vistory, the beautiful taste of blood..."

"Ugh!" Eomer recoiled in disgust. "Isendohtor, what is the meaning of this? Why is it alive?"

Isendohtor explained quietly. "Please, don't be insulted... he's not so bad, really, just different."

"Feldmarshal, you are my commanding officer. Why are you fraternizing with an Orc?"

"That's it!" Lurkh cried triumphantly. "That's what I wanted to know!" he glanced at Isendohtor. "She's your commanding officer?" he frowned. "What's your territory range?"


"How far around are people under your power?"

"All of Rohan. Listen, this is really getting-"

"No, shut up, this is important." Eomer fell silent out of shock. "Who is higher-ranking than you?"

"No one, I tell you, I am the king!"

"That would make you Lord of all this territory, with none over you in any other place within it?"

"Look, I really don't see what this is-"

"Just answer, blast it!"

Eomer was livid, but he replied anyway. "That is true. There are none in Rohan I bow down to, and I have the authority to kill you!"

Lurkh suddenly turned respectful. He did not meet Eomer's gaze and spoke in a slightly lower voice. "Then I have misjudged you. I ask your mercy."

Eomer was beginning to understand. Obviously, savages like Lurkh found this sort of thing important. Perhaps there was a basis for communication here.

"Feldmarshal, I will speak with... er, Lurgh... in a little while. I want to inspect the remainder of the camp." In Rohirric, he said, "Please, find out what it's trying to tell me. There might be a way we could communicate." Then he was gone with a sweep of his green cloak.

Isendohtor collapsed on the cot and moaned despairingly. She might as well toss her insignia into the campfire; it was as good as gone. She touched the small metal replica of a galloping horse sadly. After this it was back to finding a job suitable for a Rohirric woman with a will. Not many options there. She put her head in her hands and gritted her teeth, fighting to prevent the impending tears.

Lurkh was still trying to puzzle out his conversation with Eomer. He reviewed the facts in his head. The reputation Orcs had for spur-of-the-moment idiocy was a false one; it was an Orc chieftain's strategy that had won the Nirnaith Arnoediad and not a Man's, as was popularly believed. The facts were as follows:

a. Eomer was very high-ranking, and should be treated as such.
b. Eomer was an excellent fighter. (This was Orkish logic; the highest-ranking was the best fighter in Mordor.)
c. Eomer had no idea as to what was expected of one of his rank. This was troubling. Perhaps the Feldmarshal should demand leadership by combat soon.
d. Eomer needed to understand - Lurkh had no intention of hurting any Rohirrim - he just wanted to get home and regain his rank without getting killed and/or maimed in the process.

Presently the Feldmarshal said to Lurkh, still with her head in her hands, "Why in Orome's name did you confuse him like that?"

Lurkh shrugged. "He was confusing me. First he said he was a warlord, but he didn't act like it. What kind of warlord hates battle?"

"Lurkh, the king has spent his entire life trying to win peace for Rohan. By his efforts were the last bands of Easterling raiders driven out of our borders. It is only thanks to that man that you weren't killed on sight; ten years ago, we would have shot first, asked questions later."

Lurkh pondered this. It made little sense to him, but he was beginning to see what she was on about. "So... in effect, he fights for peace?"

"You could say that."

"But that's paradox! How can one gain a time of no fighting by fighting? I much prefer the Mordorian philosophy: There is no peace."

Isendohtor was surprised at this insight. "Well, when you quell the ones who cause violence, then no one stirs up trouble and valiant men who have proven themselves in the past can hang up their swords and live their lives comfortably."

"Feldmarshal, I know Easterlings. I have spoken with them, traded with them. I knew a man who was part of one of the bands your king drove out; he was the only survivor of the battle. He lost his three beloved wives, his six strong children, his home, his income, his horses and clothes. For five years, he was a beggar, garnering whatever resources he could from merciful wanderers. When you slew the uprisers, did you not think of their welfare? And what of the men who were discharged from the army when the battles were over? Many were young, poor men, who joined the army for the pay-"

"How on earth do you know so much about the Rohirric army?" Isendohtor demanded. His points were annoyingly logical, and she resented being beat down by an Orc in civilized debate.

Lurkh shook his head. "You really don't give Uruks much credit, Feldmarshal. I saw in the first five minutes of being in your camp the ages of the soldiers and their appearance. Anyway, they joined for pay - and after the war, were let go, penniless and unable to support a family, if they had one. Many turned to thievery to make ends meet, and some already have. You don't do much to corner pickpockets in this camp; I think you should take harsher measures."

Isendohtor ignored the pickpockets comment, deciding to deal with the issue of crime in the camps at a later point. "Yes, but what does that have to do with peace?"

"Well, when you take fighting men and strip them of glory and pay, they turn to the only measures they know - violent ones - to get what they need. So, you sacrifice peace of towns for peace of country. And that is a false peace."

Isendohtor's temper flared. "Oh, and I suppose Mordor exists in permanent peace?"

Lurkh laughed. "The word for "peace" is a mere syllable away from the word for "nonexistent" in the Black Speech, Isendohtor." She noted the familiar terms, but did not resent them. Lurkh had proven himself as a civilized(ish) creature, one deserving respect. "We have no peace - but peace is relative. It can never be attained, so why seek it? We are content because we know nothing better. Besides," he grinned wickedly. "That way, we weed out the weak. You can't survive a simple tavern brawl, you shouldn't be fighting against the Free Peoples."

"I give up! Your Orkish logic is infallible, Lurkh. Completely incorrect, but infallible. Let's move on to communication with Eomer - you might have a surplus of ready answers, but you are seriously lacking in the respect department."

"He confused me. I had no idea how to respond to him - one minute, he acted like a warlord, and then next he was conversing with you like an equal. What was I to think?"

You might have asked."

"He was looking for any oppurtunity to degrade me. You Free Peoples are all crazy when it comes to proving your superiority."

Isendohtor glared at him. "You have to be respectful. Men like Eomer are not used to being argued with."

Lurkh shrugged. "I know... but maybe it's time someone did argue. Just a thought."

The tent flap swept open again, and Isendohtor tensed - but it was only Braga, with a bundle of fresh bandages in his arms. "Look what I got from the Meduseld Hælands," he said. "They saw how much we needed them, and Eomer gave the order. Got soap, too." He dropped the bundle on a cot and glanced at Isendohtor's face. "What's with you?" he said, chuckling. "You look like you saw a Nazgul."

Isendohtor gave a shaky smile. "Nothing... just a little nervous. That's all. Inspection time, you know."

Braga nodded. "I understand. I had little enough time to fix up the Hælands' tent so it would meet recommendations; is there anything I can do?"

"No, nothing. Thank you for offering." She tugged at her collar. "Is it hot in here, or is it just me?"

Darra frowned. "It's a little warm, but not bad... perhaps you should take off your cloak, Feldmarshal. You're not on ceremony, and I don't want you getting overheated." She looked so worried that Isendohtor took off her heavy cloak and dropped it next to the bandages. She felt a little better.

The tent flap swept open again, and Isendohtor knew without looking who had entered. She took a deep breath, gave Lurkh a significant nudge, and turned to the door, smiling. "Hello again, my liege."

Eomer smiled tightly. "Hello again, Isendohtor. Please come with me. Lurgh too."

"It's Lurkh," Lurkh muttered, but not loud enough for Eomer to hear. Isendohtor nudged him again, and they exited the tent. She glanced back at the Hælands, and Darra gave her a bright smile. She smiled back weakly as the tent flap swung shut in her face.

Eomer led them across the camp to a tent set a hundred feet away from the farthest outlying tents. "My tent," he said as they entered it. "I like a little isolation; it's nice to get away from all the bustle of a camp every once in a while." Lurkh frowned -in his opinion, that was just asking for mutiny -but, he remained silent. Eomer sat them down around a small table in the center of the tent and poured them each a flagon of Rohirric ale. Isendohtor lifted it with a shaking hand and sipped it. Lurkh sniffed his cautiously before drinking, but found it quite good and gulped appreciatively. Eomer watched with slight distaste, but said nothing until the awkward silence had lessened a bit.

"Now then," he said. "Loorgh-"

"Sir," said Lurkh, keeping his voice level with great effort, "Let's stop this until you can say my name correctly. Now, repeat after me, with proper inflection: Lurkh."

Eomer made a valiant effort. "Lurgh."

"No! Harder on the kh, man! Put your throat into it! Spit at me, Eomer!"

Eomer blinked. "Er... Loork."

"Lurkh!" Lurkh bellowed, spitting across the table in his vehemence. "There! You see? It's easy!"

Several halfhearted tries later, Eomer got fed up with the Orc's incessent yelling. "Lurkh!" he shouted. "There! Lurkh, Lurkh, Lurkh! Are you happy?"

Lurkh wiped saliva off his face with one hand. He was grinning. "Very nice. You even got the spitting down. That's important in the Black Speech."

Eomer wisely decided not to comment.

Lurkh drained his ale and sat back, his thick arms crossed. "Now, seeing as that's out of the way, what did you drag us in here to talk about, Eomer?"

The king took a deep breath and a draught of ale to calm himself. "You asked that I call you by your correct name. Now I ask that you call me by mine. To you I am Lord, Lord Eomer, or 'my liege.' Is that understood?"

"Yes, lord." Lurkh was really trying to be diplomatic. Isendohtor caught this and dared to hope that things would turn out all right.

"Now." Eomer set down his flagon and leaned forward. "Feldmarshal, Sperewigend Brohka has already informed me of your motives in the... rescue... of Lurkh here. I assume the tale he told me is true?"

"What did he tell you?" Perhaps Brohka still harbored a grudge against her.

"He said you showed mercy because Lurkh was bound and weaponless. You preserved your honor and his. Then you bathed him, healed him, and gave him quarter in your camp. Is this true?"

"Yes, lord." Isendohtor liked how Brohka had phrased that- "Preserved your honor and his."

"Commendable, if a bit onorthodox. Here is my dilemma - I'm afraid I cannot allow an Uruk to run around a respectable Rohirrim Eored."

"That's all right, you just turn me loose and I'll go straight back to Mordor," Lurkh butted in. "Really, I swear I won't kill another Rohirrim until I'm back within the Black Gates.

"Ahem." Eomer glared at Lurkh. "I wasn't finished. Now, Isendohtor - you recall that you are due back at Meduseld in a month's time to make your year's report?"

"Yes, lord."

"Well, I rather think that this endeavor could breed interracial peace. Think about it – an Orc, in Rohan, speaking our language, learning our customs…"

Lurkh did not like where this conversation was going.