A/N: Repost! Wow, Mog inspires some major rework everytime he hits the stage, doesn't he? ;) Thank you, Lauderdale, for your wise advice. Now I get to use a conversation I was thinking about but wasn't sure where to stick. :D
Moving like she had a purpose, Romana sprinted across the great hall, Rukh trotting behind her. She practically skidded to a halt, landing on her knees at the sleeper's bedside. Except he wasn't sleeping anymore.
Snarling with rage, he had the healer in a panic-empowered grip, clutching the front of her dress. He'd somehow launched himself into a sitting position, and his face was threateningly close to hers as he roared at her. The terrified woman couldn't back away and was in tears as she pried desperately at his fingers, trying to free herself.
"Who the fuck are you? Where am I?" the Uruk bellowed.
"Jesus," Romana breathed as she grabbed the Uruk's arm. She tried to keep her voice calm though her gut clenched. This was the one she and Rukh had rescued. While she was thrilled to see him so... alive, the poor healer was in a state. "Let go of her. Come on. Just let go."
"Who are you?" he barked, pushing the woman away from him and rounding on Romana. The healer lost her balance and nearly fell across the sleeper on the pallet next to his. Romana frowned sternly and grabbed him by the ears. He was so startled by her fearless expression and the unexpectedly painful hold, he froze and went silent.
"Listen to me," she growled. "Calm... the fuck... down, all right? You're in the Hornburg..."
"What?" he roared, and tried to wrestle free. Romana gritted her teeth and twisted both his ears. It wasn't much of a struggle; he was operating on a temporary flood of adrenaline, but his body was too wasted to sustain any exertion. His blows were feeble, and he was too weak to dislodge her. Still, he was in panic mode, his eyes darting wildly, his breath coming in gasps.
"Dammit, Rukh, let him see you!" Romana snapped over her shoulder.
"Stop fighting," Rukh growled as he stepped around Romana to sit in front of the frightened healer. "You are safe here."
The Uruk's eyes rolled toward Rukh and his brow furrowed with confusion.
"Who're you?" he gasped. He focused his attention on Rukh, perhaps willing the Uruk to tell him he still dreamed.
"I am Rukhtorû," the larger Uruk told him. "You are in the Hornburg... Helm's Deep."
"Where... the army went," the sleeper breathed, beginning to steady. Romana slowly released her hold on his ears.
Rukh nodded. "Yes. I was with the army. There was a battle..."
A hopeful smile threatened to appear on the Uruk's face as he gasped, "So... we won? We took the fortress?"
Exchanging an uncomfortable look with Romana, Rukh found he couldn't speak. He bowed his head and didn't answer.
"Well... not... really," Romana supplied awkwardly. The Uruk's eyes swung toward her and he scowled.
"Why ain't you dead?" His gaze flicked to the healer, and she flinched. "And you? What the fuck's goin' on?"
"About that," Romana continued. "The Uruk-hai didn't win. The battle was lost. Do you understand? The battle was lost."
He blinked at her, uncomprehending. "Course we won. All of us went, except them that got done in at the Fords. There was thousands of us. How... how could we lose?"
"Don't tell him what you told me, Romana," Rukh advised, a slight smile on his face. She shot him an impatient glance.
"That's probably too complicated to go into now," she said evasively. "The important thing is that you're awake now. You've been out of it for over two weeks, and..."
"Two fuckin' weeks?" the Uruk roared, shock and panic overwhelming him again. His eyes darted around the hall again, but this time they noticed the pallets on either side, the rows of still Uruk bodies beyond their little huddle. At the side of each one knelt a whiteskin female, many of whom were giving him sympathetic looks. A few were smiling with relief. "What happened?" he whispered, barely able to breathe.
Sighing, Romana took a hold of his limp hand and said as gently as she could, "There was a flood in Isengard. The details aren't important. You were washed out of the valley on the Isen, along with a lot of dead bodies and debris. Rukh and I found you and pulled you out. You have been unconscious for two weeks, during which time, we took you with us to join with the other survivors you see around you. It was my suggestion that we come here, to the Hornburg, so the injured and sick could be treated. We've been here for almost two days. This lady has been taking care of you since we arrived, making sure you're kept warm, feeding you broth to keep your strength up, keeping you cleaned up when... Well, anyway, that's the gist."
"Calm yourself," Rukh repeated when the sleeper began to quiver once more.
"Please," Romana urged. "I know this is a shock. Probably not what you were expecting..."
"Why the fuck've yuh got his stink on yuh?" the Uruk snapped, brow furrowed and eyes scanning the female before him. His nostrils quivered.
Stricken, Romana swallowed hard and hastened to say, "You're mistaken. It's just him being near; I can see why you'd be confused..."
He might have challenged her lie, but his face contorted with agony, and he groaned. "Ah fuck, I'm so hungry," he hissed. "Can't think..."
"I will fetch something," the healer replied quickly, and all but scampered away.
Checking to make sure the nearby healers were back at work, Romana grabbed a fistful of the Uruk's hair and yanked him close. "Don't say a god damn word about what you smell, all right?" she hissed in an undertone. "Lives hang in the balance, dammit. Keep your mouth shut."
Rukh leaned over and snarled quietly, "If these whiteskins find out, we will all be dead."
The Uruk's eyes darted back and forth between them, barely grasping the implications of their words. His breath began to quicken. "So... you're... what... I..."
"Shush," Romana said a little less harshly. She released her grip. "Look, it's a long damn story I can't go into right now, okay? Just... don't say anything. I got you into this keep by playing on these peoples' sympathies; if anyone found out about me and Rukh..." Bowing her head, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She raised pleading eyes to the confused Uruk. "Don't say anything, please."
He nodded awkwardly, clearly still bewildered and not altogether sure what he wasn't supposed to talk about.
"What is your name?" Romana asked. "Do you remember?"
Giving her a baffled look, he snorted, "Course I remember. I'm Aanash. Why wouldn't I remember that?"
"You've been kind of out of sorts," she replied ruefully. "With the condition you were in, and what these others are suffering, the longer you're out of it, the higher the chance that you won't come out of it... all in one piece, so to speak."
Rukh darted a look at her. "They might become like Foshân?"
Shrugging, she nodded. "The sooner they wake, the less likely, but yes. That's a possibility."
"Who's that?" Aanash asked, growing alarmed.
"He is a berserker," Rukh explained, and Aanash grimaced.
"That lot, eh?" he said in a subdued tone. "Surprised yuh found one alive. They don't stay that way long." Then he frowned. "Wait. What's he doin' here?"
Romana smiled wanly. "Helping to rebuild the Deeping Wall. He's out there with Mog and a load of really pissed Dunlendings." Seeing the Uruk's growing confusion, she waved him down. "There's plenty of time to bring you up to speed on what's been happening. The most important thing is that you're awake, you're okay, and your healer is on her way back with some hearty broth for you..."
"Don't want no fuckin' broth," Aanash snarled. "Want meat. You tell that little cunt to bring me some fuckin' meat or I'll take a bite outta her face."
"Hey!" Romana barked, slapping the Uruk. "Show some god damned respect. She has been at your side night and day since you got here, forcing broth and medicine down your ungrateful throat so you wouldn't die. For Christ's sake, she cleaned you up every time you shit yourself, you little bastard. Don't you dare act like an asshole. There are plenty of cells down in the basement you can stay in if you do. Capish?"
Aanash swallowed. Glancing past Romana's shoulder, he saw the healer coming, a small wooden bowl in her hands. She walked with care among the other prone Uruks, yet she seemed unafraid.
"We prisoners, then?" he breathed as he watched her.
"That has not been decided," Rukh replied uncomfortably. "Burzash is our leader, and he has spoken with Erkenbrand, but I have not heard..."
"Erkenbrand?" Aanash interrupted, fixing his intense gaze on the other Uruk.
"You know him?" Romana asked as the healer knelt at Aanash's side.
"Yeah," he replied. "Heard his name a bit, down at the Fords when we was fightin'." His eyes widened. "He here or somethin'?"
"He is the Lord of the Westfold," the healer ventured quietly. "Second in voice to the King. A most respected man."
"So try not to piss him off, okay?" Romana said sarcastically.
"I have brought you something," the young woman whispered, her bravery when treating him all but lost now that her charge was awake and had shown how violent he could be. She slowly raised the bowl so he could see it. "It will give you strength."
Curling his lip with a growl, Aanash struck her hand with the back of his fist, knocking the steaming bowl aside. Hot broth splashed on the floor, narrowly missing the sleeper nearby. The healer recoiled and gasped with fear. Romana nearly delivered another slap, but was not as fast as Rukh. Grabbing the Uruk by the ear, Rukh yanked Aanash's head around, forcing him to look into his furious face.
"Are you stupid?" Rukh snarled. "Do you not understand what Romana has said? If you cause trouble, if you harm anyone here, your life is forfeit, and ours along with you. If you wish to die, throw yourself off the battlements, but do not take us with you."
"Rukh," Romana said calmly, laying a hand on his arm. He glanced at her, and slowly released the shocked Aanash. Sighing, she turned to the sleeper. "I know this isn't easy. You're used to being an asshole and doing asshole things. That time is over." Turning to the trembling healer, she asked, "What's your name?"
Shaken, the woman tore her terrified eyes away from her patient and replied, "I am Eanfled."
"Eanfled, this is Aanash," Romana said, gesturing at the thin Uruk. "Aanash, Eanfled. You two ought to get to know each other, since you need her to take care of you. A good start would be an apology."
"A what?" Aanash said, startled.
"That's when you say you're sorry for being an asshat," Romana explained patiently and only a little sarcastically.
"I know what the fuck it is," he snapped. But he ducked his head, chagrined. He found he couldn't look Eanfled in the eyes, and muttered, "Sorry."
"Very good," Romana said approvingly. "Now, I'm going to leave you to it, Eanfled. If he acts up, feel free to call Burzash over. I'm sure he'll be more than happy to knock him back into alignment." Glancing at Aanash, she smirked, "I'm told he made a hell of a mess of Maukum earlier. Just a warning."
Aanash scowled. "Maukum," he growled. "That little shit's still around?"
Arching her brow, Romana chuckled. "What are you, the Kevin Bacon of Middle Earth?" Laughing at his bewildered look, she said, "Maukum is with us, yes. He's sulking in the dungeon I mentioned because being an asshole was too much fun for him. Alas that not a soul here agreed with him." Romana sighed and shook her head. "Do yourself a favor and act like Rukh or Burzash, okay? Hell, Mog'll do in a pinch. Don't follow in Maukum's footsteps. That'll lead you to an early grave."
Mog's brow remained furrowed most of the afternoon as he thought about the Dunlending's words. He didn't fear for his own offspring so much as for Rukh's, for he had no confidence Elfhild could be even half as mad as Romana. He wasn't a fool, though; Rukh's mating with Romana was bound to whelp her sooner or later. Then what? This bastard would come along and butcher the little one as soon as it came out? Should he warn Rukh about it? After all, this bare handful was the last of their kind; every drop of their blood was a rare and precious thing, and any young they managed by some miracle to produce should be protected as the richest treasure.
Were he in Isengard and a similar threat was leveled, the 'traditional' response of a threatened Uruk was to kill the menace before it had a chance to come at him. But one look about him reminded Mog that this wasn't Isengard. Even though they'd been enemies only a few weeks before, the Rohirrim and the Dunlendings would join forces against the common foe. He wouldn't stand a chance.
Still, he seethed in impotent fury. He and his fellows were trying to fix things. Now that they could see the damages they'd wrought, and understand them, they were doing the best they could to make amends. It was completely unfair that a pushdug bastard Dunlending should undermine their efforts for no good reason.
At the end of the day, Mog accompanied Foshân back to the hall. While physically he felt that he'd done a good day's work and he could find satisfaction with that, inside his thoughts roiled like a boiling stew. His fists kept clenching as he walked to his pallet, and the scowl couldn't leave his face. Thudding heavily onto his bedding, he folded his legs and stared sullenly at nothing.
It took several minutes for him to realize some things were different.
He noticed first that there was a small cluster about one of the sleepers. Narrowing his eyes, he could see between Rukh and Romana that the sleeping Uruk had apparently woken up. He was even hungrily slurping up a bowl of something hot, for steam curled around his face. Mog recognized the Uruk as the one rescued after he was, and recalled the diligence with which Romana cared for him. She'd insisted he wasn't beyond saving, and apparently she was right. In spite of how the Dunlending's words had left him, Mog felt a profound sense of relief. They weren't all done for, then.
To his surprise, Burzash was at Kalus's side, and the latter was actually eating. He was practically shoveling stew into his mouth with both hands, he was so desperate. That came as a shock. Where was Kalus's healer? What the fuck happened while Mog was at the wall?
His eyes wandered about, taking in the relative calm about the hall, and his eyes fell on Elfhild. She seemed to be having a bit of trouble with her charge, and Eadburga, the lead healer Burzash was taken with, was at her side. He couldn't make out words, but Fulgirgûg was shaking his head, his expression pleading. He was clutching Elfhild by the arm... the healer was wincing...
Mog was off his pallet and a few strides into his furious approach before he realized he'd moved. Without asking questions, he dropped to a squat at Fulgirgûg's side and his hands shot out. One grabbed the Uruk by the hair, the other by the wrist. His grip ground bones on the latter.
"Oi! Let'er go, yuh filth!" Mog barked. Fulgirgûg winced and obeyed.
"Mog!" Elfhild cried with surprise.
"He hurt yuh?" the Uruk growled, turning his head slightly but keeping his malevolent gaze on Fulgirgûg.
"No, I'm fine," she replied shakily, yet she rubbed her arm. She would likely bruise, he'd held her so tightly. "Please release him; I'm all right."
Mog slowly let go of Fulgirgûg, and realized the Uruk was trying not to weep. Blinking, Mog watched Fulgirgûg roll onto his side and curl into a ball, squeezing his eyes shut. He tucked his injured wrist into his chest and whimpered.
"Come with me," Elfhild said quietly, laying a hand briefly on Mog's shoulder. She stood and made her way to the far end of the hall.
"It would be best if he was left alone for a short time," Eadburga agreed. To Mog's amazement, the lead healer briefly stroked Fulgirgûg's hair before she, too, rose and left.
Bewildered, Mog went to join Elfhild. His thoughts were such a confused jumble, he was distracted from his usual reaction to her nearness.
"What was that all about?" he asked, and Elfhild sighed.
"His leg is too damaged to save," she replied sadly. "There is nothing we can do. Perhaps... had we seen to him sooner..." Shrugging, she shook her head. "If he is to live, we must... remove it."
"Oh," Mog nodded. "Yeah. Ain't surprised he... Yeah."
"He seems convinced you would all... turn upon him," Hilda said carefully, searching Mog's face. "That such a loss would render him useless. He said... he would be marked for death."
Mog nodded again, furrowing his brow. "Yeah. Master... didn't want no... broken soldiers." Chuckling mirthlessly, he added, "'S'why if we couldn't... walk away from a battle, we was just... left there. If any of us got bunged up in the forge pits and whatnot, them snaga didn't waste no time... finishin' us off."
"It is no wonder he fears," Hilda replied. "I will need to speak with him again; among our people, such a loss does not condemn a man. My father knew a man with the same injury. He used to come visit us quite often." Chuckling as her thoughts drifted, she went on, "It is strange, but I barely remember that he was missing a leg from the knee down. He'd fashioned a false one of wood, to replace it. Though his gait was awkward, he could walk quite swiftly, and without crutches. What I do remember of him quite vividly is that he carved such wondrous things."
Mog tilted his head to the side. "He wasn't killed by your folk?"
"Of course not!" she said, yet she smiled. "Perhaps our people have more appreciation for one another than yours. Or at least, more than your master did." Smiling sheepishly, she added, "I have seen examples from you of how... how much you... I confess, I watched you with Foshân for a while before you came to speak with me earlier. It warmed my heart to see how patient you were with him. I'd been led to believe... It was a surprise, let us say that."
Shrugging and ducking his head, Mog replied, "He just don't know shit about buildin' and such. Wouldn't help nothin' if... if he went around, fuckin' things up cause he don't know."
Her smile filled him with a comforting warmth as she said, "I would have expected cruel mockery, not patient guidance. You impressed me."
"Wish I'd impressed them Dunlendings," he found himself growling, the Man's words coming once more to mind. He'd wanted to enjoy more blissful moments in Hilda's presence, yet the Dunlending's hateful words invaded once more. For that alone, he scowled and hissed, "Bastard."
Elfhild eyed him curiously. "You spoke with one of them?" Then she smiled. "Of course you must have. You were allies not so long ago. I am sure there was much abuse heaped upon us for your shared plight." At his surprised look, she added, "My father was a curious man. He knew some Dunlending tradesmen, and made a special effort to understand them. Their history is... sad, and I am afraid we have been the cause of much of it."
While Mog wasn't about to tell her what was specifically discussed, he found himself intrigued by her words. At least he could tell her one thing. "Maybe we was allies, but that don't make us friends. They hate us; ain't sure why."
"Did you ask him?" Hilda probed, her brows arched. "I have found, and perhaps it is my father's influence, that when we ask, we learn, and then we know. Imagine my relief in this: we have ever been enemies, your folk and mine, yet you and I converse so amiably. This tells me that you do not hate me, and perhaps never truly have."
"Probably never did, no," Mog said thoughtfully. "See, we was just kinda told to hate you. So... it'd be easier to... to hurt you." His voice faltered and he looked away. Hilda touched his arm lightly.
"Hate that is not deep is easily discarded," she said. "If you have had harsh words with this Dunlending man, it is because their hate runs quite deep. Our songs and tales do not tell of what they suffered; only that we fought glorious battles and earned the land we now possess by our bravery and goodness." A pained smile curved her lips, yet did not reach her eyes. "The tradesmen never considered my father their friend, and perhaps never would have even if he'd lived a thousand years, ever trying to win their friendship. He learned what caused their hate, and was so aggrieved by... well, frankly, the lies we have lived under for generations, that he sought to do at least a little to show he was... different, I suppose. That he bore no grudge."
Sighing, her smile faded. "Our farm provided cured leather in exchange for their cheese. I recall the taste of it even now. When my father learned of what our forefathers had done to the Dunlendings, he began slipping a few extra pieces into the exchange. At yuletide, he secreted a full set of leather armor, cut to his best guess of the chief trademan's form, in between the layers. Then he made himself forget that he'd done it." She laughed a little. "Of course, I was a child and most curious about what the man would think of my father's gift. The only acknowledgement I ever saw was a nod between them. No words were spoken."
"So... what'd you lot do to'em?" Mog asked. "To make'em hate yuh?"
Her smile broadened. "That is a question you must ask him yourself, when you are asking what your people did to them. A Dunlending has reason to hate us; perhaps your master gave them reason to hate you."
Mog's thoughts churned over the Dunlending's words as well as Elfhild's for most of the night. He couldn't focus on anything else. Listening to the snores of his fellows, hearing the soft footfalls of healers tending them even late in the night, he found no room to wonder about anything but what he'd heard.
He kept lingering over the accusations, that he and his kind failed in their mission. That the Dunlendings paid dearly and counted on the Uruk-hai to succeed, only to be gravely disappointed in the end. Was that enough to hate them? Perhaps it depended upon what was paid.
We gave to your master what we could not afford to lose.
Mog had no idea what this meant, and decided he would ask that first.
Weary from a long night in deep thought, Mog rose the following morning and dutifully reported to the worksite once more, Foshân at his side. He scanned the partially rebuilt wall, looking for the Dunlending man. In amongst a trio of them hauling a scraps barrel loaded with stone chips to the dumpsite, the man who spoke with Mog before shuffled awkwardly under the weight. The Uruk steeled his resolve and hoped his skin was tough enough; this wasn't likely to be a friendly conversation, any more than the previous talk had been.
Sidling up next to the man at the water barrel, Mog patiently waited for the Dunlending to pour refreshing water over his sweating head and turn. The Man's expression was hostile.
"You want a fight now?" he snarled. "My words cut, and you want to cut back, eh?"
Mog shook his head. "Just wanna talk, is all."
The Dunlending's brow arched. "Talk?" he scoffed. "I have said all I will say." Turning, he started to leave.
"What'd you give to our Master?" Mog asked, and the Man paused. "You said it was somethin' you couldn't lose. What was it?"
He slowly turned and fixed a hateful glare at Mog. "What was it not?" he snapped. "That be a shorter list."
"Look, I don't know. None of us know," the Uruk snarled, barely keeping his temper in check. "What did you give him?"
Smirking, the Dunlending turned back. "Freedom," he growled. "We make ourselves his slaves. He told us if we give him all now, he will deliver Rohan to us. We were born here; this land is our mother, our father. He promised us a return to her bosom, and we vowed to pay any price. Any price."
The Man's breath hissed as he seethed. "Now we be slaves of Rohan. We have lost all. We come to our mother, and she does not know us. We come to our father, and he does not remember us." He shook his head. "You think we mutilate them for sport. You think we spoil their women for pleasure. You who are Orc-made know nothing of hate.
"The strawheads saw the land of our fathers, the land that birthed us, and they coveted. They wanted. They took. The cursed forgoil came like a storm; they slew our sons, so they would not rise as warriors against them. They slew our men so we could not fight them. They raped our women, so they would bear forgoil children. They took our elders, our loremen, the keepers of our past, and they burned them, so all that told us who we are would be gone from the world."
Pausing, the Dunlending struggled to catch his breath. Mog had no words; though the tale felt as though it had been told many times, and was obviously held close to this Man's heart, it was one the Uruk had not heard.
"Then came your master," the Dunlending spat, "with honeyed words and silver tongue. Told us what we wanted to hear. 'I will see that you are avenged,' he said. 'Give me your women, so I may breed an army,' he told us. Only a few. A small price to pay for rich reward long desired. They would make proud sons of Dunland. Mighty and strong. Bring glory to their mothers... our wives, our daughters..."
The Man's eyes closed as though he couldn't bear the sight of Mog any longer, and he grimaced with revulsion. "These... proud sons... these Uruk-hai... You came to our villages. You took our sons to fight. You took our daughters to fuck. None came back." He fixed the stricken Uruk with a hate-filled glare. "None. If we told you no, if we said 'no more,' all in the village died by the hands of our proud sons."
"I'm... um... I'm sorry," Mog breathed awkwardly. The Dunlending furrowed his brow. "We were told... we had to... make amends... do what was right for... for the Rohirrim. Cause we... hurt'em so... so bad. Didn't know... we should be... doin' the same... for you. I'm sorry."
"Is this what you think?" the Man growled. "You go to the Rohirrim, and you say 'I am sorry,' and they embrace you? You say to the Dunlending, 'I am sorry,' and we embrace you? All wrongs forgiven? Is this what you think?"
"I dunno," the Uruk shrugged, his tone pleading. "Don't expect nothin', I guess. I just... I feel it, and... I gotta say it."
"And you foolishly think that we want to hear it?" Scowling, the Dunlending man snorted dismissively and turned away. "Take your apology to the strawheads," he said over his shoulder as he walked away. "They do not remember wrongs as we do."