The Captain's Mare
I never saw them, the mûmakil. Closest I ever came to the big battles was preparing the convoys. They needed us for binding things into place, seeing that nothing was loose. We clambered all over them, us smaller Orcs, all over the big wagons, and they'd curse and yell at us to hurry it up from down below, but they daren't curse or yell too much, not if they knew what was good for them, because if something came loose later on the big wagons they would know about it. Come out of their own hides, it would, and that's if they were lucky. Some bloody things happened, I can tell you, if anything on the wagons weren't bound up proper. Because if your lot was going at a good clip and one of those big beams came off and went bouncing along, if you were the poor sod bringing up the rear, why, you were fucked proper then, that's all. They'd be picking bits of your bones out of the earth if you were hit with one of the big beams. Crushed down in the muck and the shit.
I liked doing that, clambering about the convoys. I was happy doing that, crawling all over, tying everything into place. Bright days were bad of course – no cover up there – but then most days were overcast where we were, dingy and gray. I scuttled up and down day and night, happy as a pig in shit, and there were those times when some of the big Uruk-hai would get to arguing with each other or with the Man-people who worked the convoys as well, arguing about routes or what was to go along. Then I would have time in between, sometimes, to do as I pleased, while they were squabbling. I would go among the beasts and I would carry a handful of oats with me, and when I could sometimes I'd carry an apple.
I always tried to carry an apple for the nice ones. I learned that from a driver once. I could make any of them like me, the horses I mean, with an apple and given time enough. They'd stand quiet for me and let me do as I liked, which wasn't so much back then and never mind what you may have thought. I just patted them mostly. I liked the smell of them: honest horse smell. They never called me snaga, never ordered me about, never threatened me or cursed me. All they wanted was that apple and a gentle hand now and again. They were starved for it, poor brutes.
It got so's the others knew I had a way with them, the four-leggers. Got mocked for it some, but when they had problems they knew who to go to. That little goblin shit who does the ropes, aye, he'll do for it. They came to me for the horses, and sometimes for the Wargs, though it was desperate days when that happened, when they started putting Wargs in harness. Their bodies weren't made for it, and nor was their pride. Fellows had their heads taken off for that, and I mean literally. And after that, the Wargs lost trust for us. Before that it was always a partnership: Orc and Warg working together, like one animal. The old stories of the first Orcs, you know the tales, how the first Orc and the first Warg came out of the same womb in one hot push. Just a story, you may say, but there's a truth to it: we were that close, our kind and theirs. But in the War, all of that was fucked up – under the stinking white-hand rainbow wizard, and the Eye took some of the taint as well…and now, you come face to face with a Warg in the deep woods, like as not you won't leave again.
They hate us now. They have long memories and they've passed it down and I don't know how far it's going to go. Maybe they'll keep on hating us forever.
What was I saying…Right, the four-leggers. You had a nag that went off its feed or a gelding that wouldn't let anyone near it, those fools, their first idea was always the whip. Lay into that creature until it was white-eyed and foaming at the mouth and they were no closer to results than they were before. If they'd've only come to me first, I could've done for 'em without that trouble. And it took them awhile, but even fools will learn eventually, and finally they came to it and started using me as their first recourse. That's the way it was when the steed from Rohan came.
They'd taken her in a battle at some place called Isen. Far away from us, at any rate, and how they brought her alive I've no idea, for she wasn't eating when I saw her and hadn't for some time. They'd tried to bring her on foot and failed, for she'd not go where they led her, and she'd lay at any who came near. No guessing who would requisition something like her: she wasn't for the wagons and who would have dared that back? Horse don't like Orcs, most Orcs anyway. You have to understand. Even those creatures as let me near them, they were desperate things, near broken. There was no fight in them, and they'd nicker soft to any who'd spare a gentle word.
She wasn't broken. Starved and weak and beaten about the back and the head, but she wasn't broken. They had an idea she might do as a steed for some officer – more fool they. Something as fine as her, for one of our stinking lot? Orcs don't ride horseflesh I tell you, I don't care if you're Uruk-hai or Snaga. But someone must have wanted to try at any rate, and she'd have none of it. Half-starved and beaten and still screaming murder. And that was when they called me.
Even then they were laying their bets. "That little shit won't get no further with that one than we did," some said, but others said, "Nar. He's eerie with them, he is. They'll do as he says when it comes to it. If anyone can, that one has a way. It's spooky-like." I was ignoring them because fuck, it wasn't any care of mine what they thought (even though it was, really, if I'm honest.)
They had her on a length of chain – a short length, caught up against a link in the long stone wall up where they hitched the nags and the geldings, a fine piece of horse like her, and her sweating and snorting and angry and frightened. Don't know how they got her chained there on that short length of metal. Someone lost a pound of flesh for that, I've no doubt – there was blood on the ground, and I saw blood on her mouth too, but that might have been from her time in the cage. That was what they'd done to carry her: they'd made a cage to go on wheels and put her in it so that she was jostled along on her knees half the time as it pitched and swung, for the wheels weren't any better than the roads that led to Mordor. And so she was bloody kneed and bloody nosed and as I came toward her she rolled her eyes at me.
Ah, but she was a big one. Bigger than anything, big as one of those mûmakil. And the finest thing I'd ever seen on four legs, or on two, come to that. Someone had popped an apple in my hand and I thought it wasn't fine enough, not for a lady like her. I wanted to drop it. I turned and I said, "Give us a rag for her, eh? A wet rag for her poor knees. It's care for those scrapes she needs, not apples, you cruel bastards."
Nar, but that's not what I said, really. I just asked for the rag. They laughed at me. Said, "Nar, you go in there and gentle her, snaga. It's what we brought you for."
After that I didn't pay any more attention to them. I looked at the lady and there was nothing else but the two of us and I talked low to her. I told her not to mind what they said. They were scum and didn't know no better. I told her I was different, told her I could see what she was and I was lucky to be breathing the same air as her, she was that fine. I took a step toward her, and her eyes were still rolling, and I stopped and told her that I wouldn't hurt her. I wanted to help her, just wanted to take care of her. I told her it was going to be all right. I took another step and now she was just quiet and watching me.
"You're so fine," I said then. "You're such a good girl."
And it was that last step that did it. I didn't even feel it at the time. Didn't know nothing till I came to on my back and one of those bastards was standing there laughing down at me.
He said she knocked me down like it was nothing and leaped about and screamed fit to knock apart the stone wall she was chained to. She didn't quiet after that, neither – kept screaming and laying out with her hooves till some of the bigger Uruk-hai came with more ropes and chains and flung them over her so's she couldn't move. Me, I was just lucky not to have been trampled in the general scrum. Certainly none of the others minded me lying there. Thought I'd already bought it probably.
"You thought you were special, didn't you?" he said to me. "Just because you had a way with a few broken-down hacks. Well you're no better nor no different from any of us."
"When did I ever say that I was better?" I asked. "When did I say I was different?"
"'Oh, I'm different, I'm not like they are. They're scum and they don't know no better,'" he said. Said it just like that, in a high whining voice, like he was trying to be me, even though I don't talk like that, the bleedin' Uruk bastard. But I didn't try to argue with him anymore because I had said those things all right, and now I remembered saying them.
And the others remembered me saying them too. They kept making fun of me after that, talked as how I should go pick up horse apples for her ladyship since I was that fond of her. Said I smelled of rotting carrots and old apples, horse shit and horse twat and flaking horse's cock. Said they knew why I really liked the horses: I liked to fuck 'em. And maybe I did like to get close to them as I could, the beasts. They were that warm and it made me feel good to touch them, and to do with them what they would let me. They wanted touch and so did I; that's all we ever wanted. Just to touch and to be touched in turn.
But her, no, she was different. She didn't want none of that from me – I wasn't good enough for her. She thought she was too good for me, and her a dumb fucking animal. I'm filth and I don't pretend to be more than filth, but I can walk on two legs and speak in complete fucking sentences and I don't eat off the ground. I think that should mean something in the scheme of things.
I came and found her later in the dark, when there wasn't anyone with her. No one wanted to get too close anyway, even loaded down as she was with all those ropes and chains. I got up behind her and I touched her flank in the dark and she screamed. But she'd been screaming and fussing all day and no one was going to come now, and even if they had, what would they have done? Laughed most likely and mocked me, but it was nothing they didn't already think of me and I didn't care anymore. And there was no reason they would have to stop me. No one else cared about the animals but me. The chains were that heavy and that thick on her, there were ample toeholds and I shimmied up behind her, easy as you please, and her so heavily laden that she couldn't move to kick or buck me off.
"You are not a good girl," I told her and I flicked her tail aside.
I came to her the next day and I showed her an apple and she showed me her teeth. "Suit yourself," I said, and I gave it a nag who knew how to appreciate it. And that night I came and found my white lady again in the dark, with the other horses whickering soft around us.
She never did take an apple from me, if that's what you're wondering. A captain came for her on the third day, and he wasn't an Orc at all but a Man-person, tall and powerful and arrogant as you please. I was up on one of the wagons when he came and I stopped what I was doing to watch as he walked up to her. The Uruk below me cursed and bellowed but I ignored him, shading my eyes to see what was going to happen.
The Man captain walked up her – slow, like I had done that first day – and stopped. "Talking soft to the fine lady, are you?" I murmured high up there where he couldn't hear me, where he didn't even know I existed. "See how far it gets you, tark." The sun was out that day but I didn't care how it burned on the back of my neck. I was too busy watching.
He just stood like that for some time looking at her, and her with her head down. It had been getting lower as the days went on. But she started to raise it a bit.
And then it happened. I saw red. It was an apple he had lifted up and was holding out to her like a gift to her ladyship, and as he held it she just looked at it, and then she brought her muzzle up and was snuffling it.
I nearly fell off the fucking wagon, I was that surprised and then I was that pissed off. The Uruk below me was cursing me and yelling at me to get on with it so I did, but I was slow about it: I kept stealing glances at that captain. He was making all kinds of commanding motions to the lads around him and they fell in about her ladyship, taking off the chains and the ropes that held her. There she was standing, free and unfettered, with only a hempen rope around her neck: her with her white sides shining silky in the sun, shining out even under the filth and the grubbiness on her coat.
I waited for her to rear up and crush his skull, I waited for her to wheel and run, but she didn't do anything: only stood there while he patted her neck and made much of her, and then took her away on the lead.
"You horrid piece of filth, will you get on with what you're supposed to be about? What do you think you're doing, you goat-shagging little maggot, we're on a schedule here, MOVE!!"
The fellow below me was in a near apoplexy, so I finally picked the pace up then: I scuttled from knot to knot, testing and tweaking them, but I probably didn't do half the job I normally do. I'd hate to have been the fellows driving that wagon later, knowing the half-arsed job I did up there, but I never heard later that anything came loose, so probably it was all right. But I wasn't thinking about what I was doing at the time – I was just thinking about her ladyship and that bloody tark captain she went away with so willingly, and I was growling and snarling through my teeth.
Here was all my work of the past three days wasted. I'd worked her over, gotten her sweet and docile and compliant and then he just swept in and stole it all from under my nose. It should have been me she'd taken the apple from. It would've been me if I'd been the one standing in front of her at that moment: she was finally broken. That's what I told myself then and that's what I told myself later, jacking off one of the geldings in the dark.
You know, it wasn't just me that got up to nastiness with the horses. They made fun of me for it because I was a little goblin and because I actually cared about the four-leggers. Tons of the bigger Uruk-hai did it too but that was different. They did it when they were drunk or horny or somebody dared them into it, and when they did it they didn't put in any care. They didn't mind for the brutes, they were just looking to stick their dicks in something, never mind if it squealed or tried to pull away. They didn't know or care enough to be gentle. I was gentle enough in those days, except for that time with her ladyship. I think that's what made me angriest about the whole thing.
She made me act the Uruk with her when all I ever wanted was to treat her like a lady.
Disclaimer: Tolkien's works, characters and concepts are copyright J. R. R. Tolkien. Most relevant to this story, that would include the world of Middle-earth and the Orc species.
"The Captain's Mare" and all characters therein copyright The Lauderdale. Written for NaNoWriMo 2007 and initially published April 18, 2008 on The Land of Shadow forums.
This story is also available at Henneth Annûn, where it passed the nine-reviewer process. Woot!