Epilogue: An Unexpected Party
August 21, 3019 – The Travellers, accompanied by Elrond and his sons, and Galadriel and Celeborn, reach the River Glanduin just south of Moria; the previous day, they encountered Saruman and Gríma Wormtongue who then turned toward the Shire
"Where are we?" Frodo asked. The land seemed so different to his eyes than he recalled from a year ago. "I do not remember this river."
"It is the Swanfleet, though in elder days it was called Glanduin this close to the mountains," Gandalf explained. Turning, he looked eastward with his hand shielding the sun. "Had we not diverted to Khazad-dûm, we might have crossed at this very ford."
"We must be cautious," Elrohir said, looking eastward as well. "There are few Men in this region, but many orcs. Especially this close to the Hithaeglir and Casarrondo."
"Mind your swords," Elladan advised, eying both Gandalf and Frodo whose weapons glowed eerily when orcs were near.
Elrond frowned for a moment and listened, then he smiled. "Do you hear? The laughter of children. Perhaps there is yet a settlement of Men brave enough to live so close to the Black Pit."
"It warms my heart to hear it," Frodo murmured, nodding. "I thought I should never..." Sam approached and took his master's hand as he faltered.
"What sort of Men do live in this region?" Merry asked, looking around the green swards and rolling grasslands.
"This is northern Dunland," Celeborn supplied. "Perhaps the children we hear are with a traveling group, for I am unaware that the Dunlendings have settled this far north."
As they speculated on the culture of the children's family, it became clear that they were coming closer. One voice clearly carried on the still autumn air.
"You ain't s'posed to keep findin' hidin' places, Ilsa!" A young girl's giggle followed the boy's admonishment.
Gandalf chuckled. "Such innocence, after much grief."
"It is good to hear," Galadriel agreed.
Sam started with alarm, staring at Frodo's sword. "Mister Frodo! Look!"
Unsheathing Sting, Frodo was shocked to see how strongly and brightly it glowed, even in the glare of the afternoon sun. Gandalf drew Glamdring, also radiating an ominous blue.
Elrond's sons and the other hobbits armed themselves. Galadriel looked stricken.
"Those children!" she cried. "We must reach them before... This way!" The elf woman darted in the direction she was certain the voices had come from. Celeborn followed in her wake.
Barely a word was spoken between Elrohir and Elladan. They had been here before, and through hand gestures conveyed a swift plan. They parted and headed in opposite directions, hoping to locate the enemy and defeat it quickly. Elrond, Gandalf, and the hobbits followed the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien.
The woods were thick here, approaching the mountains, but soon a small empty clearing opened up. Galadriel looked around desperately, listening. Celeborn and the rest of the travelers halted around her. The brothers arrived soon after, shaking their heads.
Quite suddenly, the bushes shook on the opposite side of the clearing, and a tiny figure burst out, laughing. Her momentum carried her straight into Galadriel.
The group froze, blinking in shock. The little girl, barely two years old by the look of her, was nothing like anything they'd seen. Her smooth, brown face split in a grin when she looked into the beautiful elven face. Large yellow eyes gazed up with innocence and trust. Her small pointed ears pricked with interest.
"Oh...," Galadriel breathed.
The orc child raised a hand and pointed a clawed finger at Galadriel. "You pretty."
The bushes off to their left parted violently and another figure leaped at the girl, grabbing her shoulders.
"Got you!" he cried, then he, too, froze.
All around, it seemed, were whiteskins with swords. His wide yellow eyes scanned the group, and he shook all over.
"Ilsa," he rasped hoarsely, weakly pushing the girl behind him. "Go home, Ilsa. Now. Run home. Go." Tears poured down his face and his lips trembled. Ilsa seemed to catch his fear, and did as she was told. In moments, she'd disappeared into the woods.
I am going to die, he realized with perfect clarity. He tightened his stomach to keep the sobbing at bay. But I am Fighting Uruk-hai. I will be brave.
Still, his entire body shook with terror.
"Are there more of you?" Elrohir said evenly.
"No," the young orc replied, his voice high-pitched from fear. He shook his head vigorously. "It's just me. I'm the only one. There ain't no more. Just me."
"You lie," Elladan growled, approaching the terrified orc and pressing the tip of his sword to its throat. "Lead us to the others."
"My sons," Elrond said quietly, laying a restraining hand on Elladan's shoulder. "This is a child."
"They do not remain children forever," Elrohir said. "Come, beast. Take us to your elders."
The orc shook his head. "Ain't no others. Just me."
Frodo stepped forward, sheathing his sword. He stood eye-to-eye with the small orc, and searched its face. "I have seen quite enough of war, I think. He is doing no harm." Turning to the elves, he said quietly, "Just... leave him be."
Merry came closer and really looked at the young orc. "I... don't believe it. This is... this is an Uruk." He looked up at Gandalf for confirmation. "They're just... different. Not quite..." His gaze returned to the orc. "Not entirely like orcs."
"Are you one of the Uruk-hai of Isengard?" Gandalf asked quietly.
As the hobbits and the wizard closed in, the orc's shaking increased, but he did not retreat. He kept his hands clenched at his sides and squeezed his eyes shut. To his shame, his gut let go, and the sobs broke out. The sound of the orc's pitiful weeping filled the silence in the clearing. Yet he stood his ground.
Galadriel gently parted the group and quietly urged them to step back. Kneeling before the orc, she looked up at his streaming face. "What is your name, child?"
His eyes blinked open, and he gazed at her flawless face through bleary eyes. "Ruh-Razkaar," he replied automatically.
"Razkaar," she repeated. "Please tell the truth. Are you the only one, or are there others? You seem too young to be alone."
Her soft voice and gentle manner lulled him, and he seemed slightly less frightened. "Please don't kill'em," he whimpered.
"We will not, if they do not threaten us," she said. "If they do no harm..."
"Ain't hurtin' nobody," Razkaar insisted thickly.
"May we meet your folk?" she asked softly. "So that we may be assured that... they are not hurting anyone?"
He stared at her for several long seconds. "I take you to'em, you'll kill'em. 'S'what whiteskins do."
"You have my word," Frodo said solemnly. His own eyes held the same terrified determination only six months past. Staring death in the face, knowing that if he failed, many would suffer. Was this orc's intention to sacrifice himself for the sake of his own clan less worthy than Frodo's determination to destroy the Ring for the sake of the world?
Turning to the elves, the Ringbearer said, "Put your swords away. We have nothing to fear."
"Oh, Jesus," Sandy grumbled at the campfire, struggling to stand. Once down, it seemed to require a small army to get her back up. And the pot was boiling over. "Will someone please bring that damn water? Dinner's getting ruined here!"
Had she not been big as a barn, Sandy would have whirled at the unfamiliar voice. As it was, she felt as hard to steer as a bus. Shifting around, she saw Razkaar... and ten strangers. One of the people had a hold of the terrified Uruk by the arm.
Suddenly feeling a massive attack of she-bear protectiveness, she lurched to her feet and waddled angrily across the clearing, rolling up her sleeves. "Let him go!" she snarled. "Don't make me bust out a can of whoop-ass." Then her eyes widened. At least half of these people were familiar, if only from a story she'd read long ago...
One of the dark-haired elves released Razkaar and he bolted to Sandy. She embraced him and held his sobbing form, checking him over to make sure he was all right. She was about to speak when Brie struggled up the path from the river with a large pot full of water.
"Sorry," she quickly apologized, heading for the tripod over the fire without noticing the group at one end of the clearing. "Ghru's on the warpath. Just a warning. I..." As she turned, the grin on her face slid off, and she stared in fearful silence at the visitors. "Who...?"
Heavy footsteps thundered up the path, then the soaking wet figure of a huge Uruk broke cover. Seeing Brie, he roared and charged. Elladan and Elrohir were quick to raise their swords and take a few steps forward, but Gandalf held out an arm to stop them.
The scarred Uruk had grabbed Brie about the waist and clamped his mouth over her neck, holding her with what was unmistakably a grin on his face. Rather than scream, she batted his hands away with annoyance, and he immediately released her.
Seeing the elves, Ghru's lip curled menacingly and he growled. Then his gaze fell on Gandalf. For a moment, he stared in shock, his breath gasping out. Then an even more threatening glower crossed his face, and he interposed himself between the visitors and Brie. "Sharkû," he snarled.
Before the wizard could respond, another Uruk just as tall and imposing entered the clearing by the same path. He was laughing, his orcish features softened by good-natured mirth. "Brie, you will pay for pitching your mate in the river. You'll never outrun him. Best get it over with."
The look of surprise on the newcomer's face when he beheld the visitors was almost comical. Like the other one, he showed far more hostility toward Gandalf than the elves. Striding swiftly across the clearing, he shielded Sandy and the trembling Razkaar from them and glared at the wizard.
"How did you find us?" Morkoth snarled.
"I think...," Sandy ventured, dislodging the runt from her side and trying to step around the big Uruk, "there's been... I mean... this isn't Saruman..."
"Don't let his filth near you," the tall Uruk growled. "I do not even want him touching you."
"The lady is correct," the wizard said. "I am not Saruman. I am not your former master." The glittering yellow eyes of the two giant Uruks didn't look the least bit convinced.
"Where's Ilsa?" Brie suddenly said, her eyes darting around.
"Don't know," Razkaar whimpered, now cleaved to her. "Told her to go home. She ain't here?"
Seemingly in answer to their worry, Nûrzgrat came storming into the clearing, Frû in his wake holding the little girl in his arms, Thakûf trailing along behind looking frightened.
"What the fuck is this about?" Nûrzgrat roared, grabbing a sword on his way to the cluster of people at one end of the clearing. "How far we gotta fucking run? Whatta we gotta fucking do to make you sons of whores stop comin' after us?" His fierce yellow eyes found Gandalf and his face contorted with rage. "You!"
The clearing erupted in chaos as Morkoth and Ghru tried to shield their mates and defend their leader at the same time. Razkaar and Thakûf dove for cover in one of the nearby huts, and Frû backpedaled out of the danger zone, holding Ilsa tightly to his chest.
Elrohir and Elladan would have launched into the fray immediately had both Elrond and Celeborn not held them back. The hobbits formed a protective semi-circle between Galadriel and the enraged Uruk-hai.
Gandalf raised his staff and roared, "Enough!" His voice echoed off the rock walls at the back of the clearing. "Look to the lady!" he cried.
Morkoth whirled around and immediately cradled Sandy in his arms. The jostling at the front had knocked her almost off her feet, and she swayed dangerously. The huge Uruk changed from furious to gentle, easing Sandy to the ground where he knelt by her side.
"Are you well? Did I... did I harm you?"
"I'm fine," she reassured him. "Just a little... dizzy."
Brie went to her friend's side and checked her forehead. "You need to go lie down."
"I'm fine," Sandy groused. Batting their hands away, she leaned forward and looked up at the wizard. "You're Gandalf, aren't you?"
"Gandalf?" Nûrzgrat said incredulously, then stared hard at the wizard.
"You are not... our Master? Truly?" Ghru asked.
"No, he ain't," the Uruk leader said, taking an uncertain, wary step back. "This here's the wizard that beat our Master."
"Might I ask who you are?" Gandalf said.
"Ghrulagûrz," the tall Uruk replied, holding his head up. "This is my mate, Brianna." His tone and expression defied them to comment on it.
"I am Morkoth, and Sandy is mine,' the other said fiercely. He covered her rounded belly with one clawed hand protectively and possessively.
The older elves looked away, trying to politely mask their distaste. Neither of Elrond's sons made any effort to hide their looks of disgust.
He'd almost calmed down, until he saw the looks. Face twitching, Nûrzgrat snarled, "Get the fuck outta here. All of you. Leave us be. We ain't hurtin' nobody. All we want is some fuckin' peace."
"I've not heard of an orc that did no harm," Elrohir snapped. "Likely the hurts these women received at your hands are well-hid." Grimacing at Sandy, he snarled, "It is clear what torments you have already endured."
"Mind your own fucking affairs, golug!" the Uruk leader bellowed, thrusting an arm out to block Morkoth's infuriated advance.
"That is quite enough," Elrond soothed, shooting his son a stern look. "It is clear you are all... somewhat... peaceful... creatures."
"You pull them swords out again, you'll see some orcs," Nûrzgrat growled. "Try takin' our females away, then you'll see some fuckin' orcs."
"It's okay, Nûrzgrat," Sandy said wearily. "There's no reason... to be rude."
"Hold," Gandalf said. "You are Nûrzgrat?"
The leader narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "That's me. What about it?"
Frodo stepped forward. He'd not drawn his sword during the tense moments earlier. "I did not think to meet you, but I hoped..."
"How d'you know me?" the Uruk leader asked.
"A Rider of Rohan spoke highly of you when we were in Edoras not long ago," Gandalf said, smiling. "Haelm of the Westfold."
"Are you serious?" Brie cried, rising to her feet. "Did they make it? All of them?"
The wizard soon found himself nearly engulfed by the Uruk-hai and women, clamoring for information about the villagers they'd helped so many months ago. Frû hastily joined the group, begging for word of their fate. Elladan and Elrohir almost attacked the orcs again, but for Elrond's prohibitive expression.
"Be still, please!" Gandalf cried, holding up his hands. "Haelm told any who would listen the tale of Uruk-hai who defied all expectation and saved a village of defenseless women and children." His eyes twinkled. "They were led by the honorable and respected Nûrzgrat." Smiling, the wizard bowed.
"This is the same orc?" Elrohir asked incredulously, lowering his sword.
Now all the hobbits gathered around the Uruk leader, smiling up at him.
"I can't tell you what it meant to the king of Rohan to hear of your deeds," Merry said sincerely.
"Indeed," Galadriel said, a smile on her face. "Such selfless acts by you and your folk... toward those you called enemy not long before."
Nûrzgrat was struck speechless, eyes blinking rapidly as they flicked from one beaming face to another. He was too numb with shock to register Brie's arm around his waist for a few moments. The relative calm seemed to coax the younger Uruks out of hiding as well. Raz and Thakûf joined them, though still hanging back out of reach of the elves.
"So... they made it to the next village?" Brie asked.
"Yes, they did," Gandalf replied. "Led by Haelm and Merol, they reached another village and warned the people there of marauding bands of Dunlendings in the border area. Their arrival gave those folk ample time to prepare, for a week afterward there was a raid on that village as well. You needn't fear! None were lost. They were able to repel the attack."
"Your actions saved not one but two villages," Celeborn informed them.
"Where's this village?" Frû asked, and Sandy shot him a warning look. Curling his lip in a snarl, he backed off.
"Okay," Sandy said, "so... which one of you guys is Frodo?"
"That is me," Frodo acknowledged with slight embarrassment. "How do you know me?"
Nûrzgrat drew a shuddering breath. "You're... Frodo?" At the hobbit's uncertain nod, he approached and dropped weakly to one knee. "It was you, wasn't it? You're the one that did it."
Alarmed, Frodo looked around. Every harsh, orcish face seemed to smooth.
"I got no words," Nûrzgrat said awkwardly, bowing his head. "You freed us. What you did... was more'n just savin' this lot." He gestured vaguely toward the elves and hobbits. "You cut the last thread bindin' us to the Shadow."
"Because of you," Morkoth said brokenly, "my child will not know enslavement or darkness. You have done a good thing for all... all of us." Ducking his head, the tall Uruk fought to master himself. Sandy held him close and pressed her head to his shoulder.
Frodo was startled by a tug on his sleeve. An Uruk a bit larger than Razkaar looked hopefully at him. "Are you a wizard? Can you... can you make me..." Thakûf held his clawed hands up to show the hobbit. "Can you make me a Man?"
The hobbit did not know what to say. How could they be so deceived? "I... it was not... me... I..."
"Mister Frodo, it was you," Sam said gently, putting a comforting hand on his master's shoulder. "Saw it with my own eyes, I did. You shouldn't oughta deny it."
"But... I didn't... I failed..."
"Frodo," Sandy said, "you didn't fail. You had the strength to bring the Ring to Mount Doom. You had the courage to go to Mordor, face all the horrors of that land, and scale the mountain."
"But... at the end...," he insisted.
"Boy," Nûrzgrat said gruffly, "Sandy's told us your story. Maybe it was hard. Maybe at the end, things weren't lookin' so good, but..." The Uruk clenched his jaw and paused, swallowing hard. "But when you could've done what any of this lot would do, you didn't. Somethin'... ugly... foul... and cursed... You spared it. Cause you did that... you saved the fuckin' world."
"How do you know?" Frodo asked, moved nearly to tears by the Uruk's clear admiration and gratitude.
"That," Sandy said with a sigh, "is a long damn story."
A/N: The fun and mayhem continues in Hookup of Epic Proportions!
Hithaeglir = Sindarin for Mountains of Mist, or the Misty Mountains
Casarrondo = Sindarin for Moria