Author's Notes: This story is both inspired by and dedicated to Nightwing, a truly amazing author who years ago commented that a movie line that always made her laugh was the orc comment about maggoty bread. It took me long enough, but I finally got a story—if something so inane can be called such—out of it for her. Huge thanks to both Nightwing and Docmon for some beta editing! (Additionally, both Nightwing and Docmon have ongoing WIPs that are exceptional reads and not to be missed!)
Gorp was the food developer for Isengard.
It was an unusual position for an orc. One might even term it a rare position, but the idea of rare tends to imply that the position was coveted, which was certainly not the case. Very few orcs aspired to be food developers, and it must be said that Gorp was less than satisfied with his calling in life.
But he was wholly unfit to be anything else. He was hopelessly clumsy, a fault revealed by the accidental evisceration of his sparring partner during sword practice. The accident might have been looked upon favorably as a sign of aggression except that after gutting his partner, Gorp proceeded to slice open his own leg from hip to foot. His clumsiness was also manifested in the forges, where he inadvertently overturned a vat of liquid iron onto fourteen mountain goblins. Any other orc would have been summarily executed, but Gorp was surprisingly shrewd and had managed to be somewhere else when his superiors arrived to kill him. Impressed with his cunning, they decided to make him a tracker, reasoning that he could do little harm with such a position. Yet in his first training session, Gorp triumphantly cornered a rabbit instead of the warg he was supposed to be trailing, and this decision was immediately discarded. His superiors finally decided to use him as expendable bait, but even this went awry. Gorp's shrewdness made another appearance, and when he and a few other wretches were sent to lure a group of Rohirrim into an ambush, Gorp promptly disappeared and then returned after the fighting was concluded, giving a fairly plausible excuse for his absence.
After that, Gorp became a food developer. It was a position that came with no honor, few rewards, and a large number of jeers from the warriors, scouts, and spies. Additionally, there was little demand for an Orc food developer, and this resulted in days of endless boredom for Gorp as he sat in a lonely little cave surrounded by samples of what may or may not have been edible material.
But fortune is a strange thing, and after several months of mindless experiments in which he tried to combine the flavors of Beoring honey-cakes and fish, there came a scratch at his cave entrance. Having received no visitors for the duration of his experiments, Gorp blinked in surprise and then went to the entrance with some amount of trepidation, pulling aside the tattered horse pelt that served as a door.
He was greatly shocked to discover Saruman standing at his threshold.
"I am sending the Uruk-hai on a mission along the Anduin," the wizard said, his voice ringing its way through Gorp's mind. "They will need to travel in sunlight. I seek ways to make this easier for them."
Saruman stopped and Gorp realized that he was expected to respond. But he was a bit too flustered for speech, and his mouth opened and closed wordlessly for several minutes before an expression of contempt crossed Saruman's face.
"I am told you are a food developer. This is correct?"
Still unable to speak, Gorp nodded silently, his mouth continuing to open and close.
"Then I have a task for you. I wish you to create something that will give the Uruk-hai strength when they run so that the sun will not weaken them. The elves have a waybread that lightens their minds. Create something for my servants that will darken their hearts. Have it ready by tomorrow morning."
After receiving another silent nod, the wizard turned and walked away, leaving a stunned Gorp to stare after him. A few minutes later, a jubilant shout echoed through the lower caverns as Gorp found not only his voice but what seemed to be a Purpose.
Gorp carefully considered his assignment all day before eventually coming to a series of realizations. First: Elves were filled with light, as was the waybread they ate. The two served to strengthen each other. Second: The Uruk-hai were filled with darkness, as was the ruined flesh of men and elves that they craved. Such things served to strengthen orcs. Third: When participating in strenuous work, orcs and elves alike performed best on a diet of bread rather than meat. Something about bread granted extra strength in a shorter amount of time.
Gorp's conclusion was that in order to strengthen orcs against the light of day, he needed a corrupted form of bread.
For all his shrewdness, Gorp was not an exceptionally bright orc. His previous displays of cunning were born of a healthy sense of self-preservation rather than any advanced analytical abilities. A wiser creature might have looked at the problem and realized that there was more at work than wholesome waybread and bad meat. But Gorp was not a wiser creature, and so he set out to pollute Isengard's supply of bread by what he considered the most obvious means—maggots.
It took him a good portion of the night to collect enough maggots for the job. He searched Isengard from dungeon to kitchen, raiding all the larders and going through the seemingly eternal stacks of meat littering the Warg pits. When he felt he had enough, he sought out the supply packs that the Uruk-hai would be taking with them. He buried his ruined meat deep in the collections of waybread so that the maggots would have a good base from which to infect the rest of the food. Immensely pleased with himself, he ascended into the upper levels of Orthanc when he was finished and reported to Saruman himself that he had solved the problem.
He then discovered that he would be going with the Uruk-hai.
Immediately, Gorp's shrewd mind went to work as his healthy sense of self-preservation came to the fore. But in this instance, he was not given enough time to effect an escape before he was saddled with what felt like an unending collection of packs and marched into the column of supporting goblins that trailed behind the fighting Uruk-hai. Then they were moving, passing through the gates of Isengard and streaming down toward the vast plains of Rohan.
The first few days of the journey were spectacularly uneventful. The grasslands of the cursed Riders rolled by with little to offer in the way of distraction or entertainment. This led to the Uruk-hai seeking their own entertainment amongst the lesser orcs, and despite his heightened thought processes in the face of such entertainment, Gorp could never quite escape the encampment fast enough to avoid being the victim of their games. But the situation turned worse after the third day, for that was when the first few layers of waybread were consumed. The Uruk-hai were not pleased when they discovered the maggots.
Maggots were not unheard of in orc dishes. Gorp knew from his experience as a food developer that there were several clans of goblins in the far north who made entire meals based on maggots. But the Uruk-hai were apparently ignorant of such delicacies, and Uglúk angrily demanded to know who was responsible for the food.
"Him!" came the chorus from the lesser orcs, and every one pointed toward Gorp. But for once on this journey, Gorp's shrewd mind came through, and he quickly stepped behind another orc by the name of Aznîg. With ungainly limbs and a drooping head, Aznîg had been a source of constant amusement for the Uruk-hai, and as a result, he had become a companion of sorts for Gorp. One might even go so far as to use the word friend, though it was a friendship with little basis other than a mutual hatred. But friends were disposable things in the mind of an orc, and Gorp's desire to live proved too much for his fickle feelings. Now at the center of attention, a confused and protesting Aznîg was quickly murdered by Uglúk and his remains passed around as something to snack on until better fare could be found.
Though happy to escape the feeding frenzy, Gorp was not comforted. He had a suspicion that "better fare" included the rest of the lesser orcs. But fortune seemed to be feeling strangely obligated toward Gorp that day, and better fare soon presented itself in the form of a division from Lugbúrz, whose food supplies were promptly raided and redistributed by enterprising Uruk-hai. Grishnákh, the leader of the new arrivals, protested loudly but put up no more than a token resistance. Recognizing a fellow campaigner in the art of self-preservation, Gorp could only nod in approval.
The next few days were not as spectacularly uneventful as the first few. The addition of the Lugbúrz horde provided the Uruk-hai with fresh targets for their bickering, which was increasing in both intensity and destructiveness as the journey continued. Then came the battle by the river, for which Gorp managed to make himself scarce. He only heard later that a fearsome tark had killed almost an entire battalion in defense of two Halflings while a filthy elf and a grubby dwarf had diverted the whole of the southern band from their true goal and then miraculously escaped death themselves. Now headed back to Isengard with a pair of prisoners in tow and the scent of the horsemen hounding their steps, the enraged Uruk-hai were best avoided at all costs. When the food from Lugbúrz ran out and maggoty bread was all that remained, Gorp knew his days were numbered.
But because it was his job and had been his job for many years, Gorp could not quite resist a few final observations on the effects of the maggoty bread. They were not encouraging, and in the end, he decided that the idea—much like his life—was a stunning failure. Rather than granting the orcs strength, maggoty bread upset their bowels and made them irritable. Their ability to march diminished, and the horsemen grew ever nearer. Tempers flared hotly until one Uruk-hai loudly declared, "I'm starvin'! We ain't had nothin' but maggoty bread for three stinking days!"
It was the rock that started the avalanche, and soon Grishnákh's lads were joining in, demanding that something more sustaining be found and turning toward the prisoners with hungry eyes. Gorp had to admit that he also started salivating at the idea, but Uglúk brought his foot down. Or more accurately, his sword. A shrill little scout from Lugbúrz suddenly found himself bereft of his head as he quickly followed in Aznîg's footsteps as a source of meat for the band.
He was to be the last.
The horsemen found them the next evening. Gorp displayed his usual skill for self-preservation and quickly made his way into the nearby forest. The sounds of battle faded behind him as he went deeper and deeper, desiring only to escape. He was still far from Isengard and had little with him in the way of provisions, but Gorp was not overly worried. With the threat of spear thrusts and bowmen behind him, he was banking on his resourcefulness to see him through. Maggoty bread might have been a failure, but perhaps the forest offered other possibilities.
Pausing to study one of the older trees, he noted with perverse amusement that it seemed to be studying him in return. Loosing a snort of laughter, he then moved on to examine things that might be considered edible. Perhaps the leaves were tasty. Perhaps the roots could be harvested. Perhaps the bark offered strength. Deciding to find out, he reached out to tear off a piece of the trunk.
And never saw the leafy fist that crushed his skull in a single blow.