Just a small bit to complete this...I try not to leave things hanging when I can avoid it. But, me being me, I'm already plotting a sequel. Somebody stop me!


III

I went north. It seemed the most logical thing to do. Here everything was too settled and safe, even up in the foothills of Gondor. Maybe somewhere far ahead, in the rocky reaches of the Misty Mountains, some of my kind survived. At least it was a plan, something to hang on to.

Was Lynneth cursing me, calling me a coward for leaving? Maybe. But I doubt she could think of any names to fling at me that would be worse than what I'd already called myself.

The thoughts had been preying on me for days. I'd known that as the warmer weather came the danger would grow. We'd been left alone as the snow buried the forest paths, but sooner or later someone would come along and see how we'd been living there together. It's not the sort of thing you can hide easily. The mere fact that she'd suffered my presence without calling down the whole village to kill me was bad enough; once they found out we'd been lovers, her life would have been as forfeit as mine.

So I knew I had to leave, even though the thought of never seeing her again ripped my insides worse than a warg's fangs. Sometimes when I was with her I'd wake up in the morning and see her lying there, perfect and beautiful, and wonder what the hell she was doing with me. She could have had anyone. But she chose a monster.

Not that she saw me that way, I suppose. And I wasn't going to complain, not when I shared her house and her bed -- and she knew what to do in that bed, believe me. I would have felt cheated of all the times the Uruk-hai captains in Isengard got to be with women when I didn't, except that I got the feeling most of the captives hadn't been quite as willing as Lynneth was.

But I can't think of that now, or I'll drive myself crazy with the physical need for her on top of everything else. What did she do, I wonder, when she awoke and found me gone? Did she weep? Curse? Run into the woods to look for me?

I'll never know.

I made myself strike out in the early hours before dawn. I took the garments she had made for me and some food from the kitchen -- just enough to hold me until I was far enough away that it would be safe for me to stop and hunt. Leaving her was the hardest thing I've ever done. But I knew I didn't have a choice, and it seemed stupid to even discuss the matter with her. Oh, she was tough, that woman -- had to be, to continue on there alone after her husband was killed. Beneath that fragile exterior was a spine made of Moria steel. Even so, she would have argued against my leaving. She would have tried to convince me that there was some way to make all this insanity work. But I knew better. Unlike her, I'd never been taught to look for the good in people. If it even exists.

Well, that's partially a lie. She was good at least -- or, more to the point, she wasn't evil. She could be stubborn and whimsical and difficult, but it's a big step from that to evil. Maybe more people were like her than not. But I hadn't wanted to take the chance. Just because she had accepted me didn't mean that anyone else would. Even if she had somehow survived our relationship being exposed, no doubt someone would have decided I had to have forced her, that there was no way a woman like her could actually choose a monster like me.

The path that led away from her house was cold and muddy, and after months of sleeping indoors, I didn't really look forward to roughing it. But that's what I had been trained to do, and a few months of indolence couldn't change habits that had been ingrained in me since I'd been yanked from the earth beneath Isengard. At least this time I was fairly well provisioned, and I had a strong bow and a good stock of newly fletched arrows. I'd manage.

That didn't mean I had to like it, and I didn't. The first night I slept under a tree and wondered what the hell I'd been thinking. But as I put the miles between her and me the going gradually got easier. Concentrating on not getting caught and keeping myself fed helped to distract myself from thoughts of her, but she was always in the background, like the scent of woodsmoke sinking into a cave and lingering there forever.

By the time a week had passed I knew I was probably safe. I'd ranged into the wild country close to my home of Isengard (or what was left of it), but I kept moving quickly, not lingering to forage or hunt. Those trees -- they weren't friendly. They watched me pass, but since I didn't stop to even pick up fallen wood for a fire, they let me go unmolested.

All this time the mountains grew closer, but I knew I probably wouldn't find my kind this far south -- if any Uruk-hai at all had survived. Still, orcs and goblins would probably still live deep in the Misty Mountains if they lived anywhere, and I figured it was better to cast my lot in with them. Who else would have me, after all? I'll admit that after spending the winter with Lynneth and learning a bit of how the civilized world behaves, the thought of falling back into coarse orcish ways didn't appeal to me much, but I didn't have a choice. It was either that or spend the rest of my life alone, which appealed to me even less.

I worried that if I spent much more time alone I'd get stupid and careless and meet an end like Kordash and Muldag. And as much as I hurt, I knew I didn't want to die. Not like that.

Having a goal kept me sharp. I could think about the road ahead, and try not to brood over what I had left behind. I hoped she could find the same strength, find something to focus on besides the fact that she was alone again. Maybe she really would go back to her sister's place in Minas Tirith. That's where she went the time I saw her leave, back in the spring, but she'd said she couldn't stand all the cold stone and the crush of people and wanted to come home to her refuge in the woods. I guess I could understand that some -- back in Isengard there had been times when I just wanted to take an axe to someone to make them shut up. Being surrounded can do that to you. But to spend the rest of her life alone -- I couldn't imagine she'd really want to do that. No, as much as it hurt, I could even find it in me to hope that maybe someday she'd find someone else who could make her happy. Someone who deserved her.

I knew I sure as hell didn't.