Family Squabbles Already, and It Isn't Even Thanksgiving
Given Ûnran's general discomfort and sort of weird shyness when it came to his surrendering brethren, I broached the subject of Thorish and His Merry Band a bit delicately. For me. Basically, I gently suggested he come with me to the House of Healing the next morning when I report for duty, and you know, just... see how it goes. Meet some new people. Get out of the house more. That sort of thing.
His chief concern was, are they tied down?
"Well... yeah," I told him. "Okay, the ugly one is, since he's so much more lively than his friends. The other two are so dead to the world, they're probably mostly dead. Like, rifle their pockets for loose change kind of deadish." Frowning, I asked, "Does it bother you? I mean, he seems reasonable enough; maybe I can talk him into being a good boy and they can untie..."
"No," Ûnran said quickly, shaking his head. "You... just let'im stay tied."
"Is there something wrong?" I asked carefully. I swear, he had that shifty-eyed, guilty-as-hell look about him, which is like catnip for nosey-ass people like me.
Sighing, he growled, "Orcs don't like Isengarders, all right?" He turned away and sat on our little sitting room couch with a thud. More like a whump, actually; it was pretty well broken in by all the traffic through the suite. "Don't trust us. Don't like us. Hate us."
"Really?" I said, admittedly a bit startled. "The Pitmaster didn't seem..."
"Yeah well, the Pitmaster was under our Master's boot," Ûnran snapped. "Didn't have no choice."
Ever so slowly, like a glacier rolling over the land, the clue bus pulled to a stop at my house, and I remembered.
Huh. Where ya gonna go, eh? I'll tell yuh now, you lot ain't welcome among Orcs. They see yuh comin', they'll split yuh open faster'n a whiteskin'll do it. Yuh better hope Master wins his little war, or there ain't nowhere you can run to.
I found myself a little panicky on his behalf. Quite like a bitch for suggesting he go parading around the House of Healing with his Uruk hanging out. Like the wounded men wouldn't be shitty enough with him, this Thorish guy would likely...
Oh dear. He made a reference to 'half-Men' when I mentioned that Ûnran was from Isengard. He showed the same disdain and disgust one of us would to half-Orc.
"Okay," I said, trying to smooth over the apparent social error I'd just committed, badly as usual, "I guess, being a non-Orc, I don't know much about... Why don't they like Isengarders? At least from a human's perspective, you're all Orcs... right?"
Ûnran shook his head. "We ain't. Not to them. Half-Men. They don't trust us; don't know which way we'll go." He grimaced and seemed to sag lower. "They really won't trust me. Cause of which way I went."
"You went to us," I said quietly. Was it shame I was seeing in him? Only yesterday, I was wondering if he felt like he'd betrayed his people by being with me. I thought he only felt a little uncomfortable about the moral ambiguity of his choice. Now I wasn't so sure.
"Aye," he muttered. "I went to Men. Cause'uh you. Didn't have no choice, though, did I?" He glanced up at me and away again almost too quickly for me to see the pain in his eyes. He wasn't quite fast enough. "If I wanted yuh, had to go where you were. That's... that's to Men. So... I ain't an Orc no more. Not to other Orcs. Likely not an Uruk, neither."
I didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry," I whispered. It was all I had in my repertoire at the moment. He looked so hurt and... defeated, for christ's sake.
He just shrugged, then snorted a really insincere laugh. "But to Men I ain't a Man, see. Ain't an Orc; ain't a Man." Shrugging again, he muttered, "Ain't nothin', I suppose."
"That's not true," I said, my voice gone hoarse. "You are... you are Ûnran. You are an Orc and a Man. Don't you let anyone tell you different." I went to my knees in front of him and looked up into his face. I took a hold of his hands. After about a minute, he reluctantly looked me in the eyes. "You mix an Orc with a Man, and you get Uruk, as far I'm concerned. In my opinion," I told him, "you are the best of both." I squeezed his hands, trying to reassure him.
A little smile twitched his mouth, but he didn't say anything.
"Do you want to talk to him?" I asked again, and he shook his head.
"No," Ûnran said quietly. "Don't wanna hear what he has to say. Wanna believe what you just said, and I don't want nobody tellin' me different." He swallowed hard, and added, "Don't think I could take it."
I nodded. "Okay. Do you mind if I try to smooth things...?"
"Don't want you talkin' to'im neither," he interrupted. "Don't want'im hurtin' you."
"He's tied down," I reminded him. "He can't get to me, and there's too many people around anyway. I don't think he could if he wanted to."
"I don't mean that. Orcs don't need tuh touch yuh tuh hurt yuh," Ûnran warned. "Don't be alone with'im. Any of'em."
"All right," I agreed.
As if the discussion with Ûnran hadn't already put me in a guilt-ridden state of mind, the news that Denethor had a personal barbecue party in the Hallows when nobody was looking, cranked that feeling up to eleven. I'd been ensconced in the House of Healing for a couple of days, and when not there, holed up in my gloriously well-appointed guest suite. (Check it out: hot and cold running Uruk lover! Fabulous!)
I completely missed it: Denethor went off the radar shortly after the front gate was bashed in and the horde was greeted with Gondor's Finest and All Their Friends – and after I rudely slammed the door in his face, I might add. He locked himself in that Hallows place and set himself on fire. Denethor's crispy remains were discovered when they took Théoden there to lie in state until he could be returned to his people.
It wasn't anything like the movie again. There were no servants around to gently suggest Denethor sleep on it and tackle whatever his issues were in the morning. Pippin wasn't there to go racing after Gandalf because Faramir wasn't there, either. Not that I think Faramir escaping poison and a lighter fluid bath was a bad thing... Thank god Denethor didn't sprint across the courtyard and swan dive onto the battlefield. Though someone might have noticed that.
Why couldn't my 'shaping' have saved the dad like it did the son? Why didn't we keep going with our plan, find out what was flipping the old bastard out, and put a stop to it before this happened? He may have embarrassed and humiliated me in front of god and everyone, but he was still Boromir and Faramir's dad.
There's no time for those boys to grieve, either. The wheels are turning, the engine is in motion. Not long after the news was delivered, we learned that the generals were putting plans together for their countermarch against Sauron the Dipwad. I probably don't need to point out that when volunteers were being lined up for the march, I quietly slipped out of the room.
To say I had my own issues to contend with would be an understatement. Feeling sort of downtrodden and bereft, I dragged myself to the House of Healing to see if there was anything I could do. The big stir in the House was over Strider, as it turned out, rather than the Orcs. For that I was pretty relieved; awesome diversionary tactics, big guy.
Okay, to be more accurate, it was Strider treating Éowyn for Black Breath or whatever the hell it was, and dragging Merry back from the depths as well. And you know, I didn't see hide nor hair of him at either bedside because I didn't make it that far before Salad and/or Bar (I have no idea which one) accosted me in the hall and sent me after some buckets of hot water.
After the breeze-by, I did an about-face and headed for the utility room. Naturally, there's no such thing as microwaves around here, but they at least have rudimentary indoor plumbing. One of the lackeys in the House spends all his days pumping water and heating it up. It's hotter than a sauna in that room, but at least I didn't have to wait interminably for him to stoke a damn fire; I got issued a couple of sloshing buckets of steaming water, and got the hell out of there.
Once I staggered back to the Orc-wing of the House, I found out why the urgency for water: some old woman was haranguing Salad and Bar with wind'em-up-and-go gusto at the foot of Thorish's bed. The Orc saw me enter and gave me one of those pleading 'dear god, just kill me now' looks.
"...sure I've no idea what crossed your mind when they were brought, but their filthy stench is spreading about the floor!" the woman shrieked. Okay, not really a crebain-from-Dunland-like shriek, but definitely high-pitched and cover-your-ears-she's-gonna-blow kind of volume. "Back in my day, we saw to it the sick were prevented from getting sicker by keeping noisome odors from taking a foothold, and yet you have allowed these creatures not only a berth in my House of Healing, but left them bearing the full grime of the battlefield, and their own goodly amount of filth I shouldn't wonder..."
"Madame Ioreth," Salad interjected hastily when she took a breath, "we've but followed Lord Faramir's orders! He begged us to tend them, and so we have. There has been no time to..."
"No time! They have been within these walls near half a day!" the apparent Ioreth snapped.
"But this one... his belly wound...," Bar said, attempting a flanking maneuver, only to be shot down like a dog getting a newspaper to the snout.
"A simple task even Thenidvil could manage with her eyes closed!" She gestured behind her, and only then did I notice the younger lady in her wake, arms crossed and a stern look on her face. I couldn't help it; I got the Dr. Evil and Mini Me vibe, looking at those two. "Alas, I have charges of greater importance to attend, or I would see to this grievous circumstance myself. Thenidvil, bathe these wretches so their foulness does not worsen the already weakened constitutions of the Men-folk."
You know when you're smugly standing around, watching someone else's ass get the chewing of its life, enjoying every moment of not being the target for once, then all of a sudden the rabid dog turns on you? I've only seen it in movies, but this Thenidvil person did it right in front of me. I almost let myself laugh, except laughter generally attracts unwanted attention and requests for assistance. She was all nods and 'give him what for' and 'yeah, you're in trouble now, sucker'... until Ioreth dumped the Orc washing job in her lap. She froze, and this comical look of 'whuh?' hit her face like a truck. She blinked several times, her jaw bounced a bit as she tried to speak... It was hilarious. Then when she finally got a word out, I almost peed my pants.
"Whuh... what... what have I done to displease you?" she cried.
"Nothing, dear," Ioreth said a little brusquely, patting Thenidvil's arm. "I trust you to do a proper job. These ninnies would undoubtedly leave bits unwashed out of negligence." Turning on me, which made me cringe, she looked me up and down sort of... WTF-y, if that makes any sense, and said, "Ah, I see the... the... Miss Walker has brought water. See to it, if you please. I am sure, given her... what-have-you, Miss Walker would be more than suitable to assist you."
Well, so much for keeping a low profile.
"In my day, we'd not be giving houseroom to such creatures, but I suppose the times are changing," Ioreth grumbled on her way out of the room. "To think I dandled that boy on my knee when he was just a little scrap of a thing, only to see him grow to manhood and invite Orcs for tea..."
I think we all shared a collective whooshing sigh of relief when she left the area. Even Thorish slumped against his pillows and closed his eyes, finally releasing tensions in his shoulders and sagging visibly.
"My mate don't go on so much," he muttered under his breath. Silence reigned after that statement, and I felt like someone ought to do a dance, sing a song, tell a story, something. Hell, pull a rabbit out of a hat or a coin out of an ear. Anything.
"Um... So...," I ventured, clapping my hands and eying the three humans and three Orcs... two of the latter being utterly out of the picture at the moment. "Thorish, you know Salad and Bar, I trust," I said, gesturing at the two men.
Rolling his eyes, Salad said with annoyance, "I am Saehul, and this is Barathil." He bowed to the newcomer, ignoring the Orcs entirely.
"Whatever," I replied dismissively. "I gather you're Then-... Thin-... Thingy-... something." For some reason, what's-her-name gave me the stink-eye with both barrels. Whatever. "Welcome to the circus. The... handsome devil with a controlling interest in Jared is Thorish, and this striking young lady with the fetching sheet dress is... uh... Hûruklob, I think? Thorish's mate?" I swear, I was giving him the raised eyebrows to verify I had the name right, but he glowered at me for a different reason.
"She... she ain't my mate," he growled.
"Excuse me?" I said, startled. The way he came off the bed earlier... well shit, I assumed...
"She's... uh..." He kept shifting his gaze around, unwilling to look us in the eye, maybe a little nervous that this was a piece of information we'd likely use against him. I watched the play of emotions on his face, for which I should demand hazard pay. Eventually he must have concluded that we already had him by the balls, so one more leveraging point wouldn't make much difference, because he said really quickly and quietly, "She's my whelp."
"Oooooohh," I said, once more hopping aboard that rarely-seen clue bus. "Well, this little lady saved her daddy's life. You must be really proud of her."
Again, he looked at me like I'd just made the most unbelievably out-of-left-field statement he'd ever heard. Still, he kind of puffed a bit and a slight smile twitched one corner of his mouth. "Taught'er all I know."
"It paid off," I said, and couldn't help patting his knee. Another WTF look fired in my direction. What, nobody shows an ounce of courtesy to these guys? Sighing, I gestured to the one with the bashed skull, all bandaged up and looking like Claude Rains. "Do you know him?"
"Bûzog," Thorish supplied, then chuckled a little. "Looks like one now, don't he?"
"I confess, I haven't learned your language," I told him. "Does his name mean 'caved in head' or something?"
The Orc smirked. "Ain't surprised that baalak's not teachin' yuh Orc tongue. Too busy showin' yuh Orc dick."
Giving him a withering look, I snapped, "Okay, there's a time and a place for everything, and thrown out there in front of the newbie isn't it." I glanced at the horrified Thingyville or whatever her name was, hand over her mouth and arm around her stomach in the universal 'if I don't hold on tight, there will be breakfast, lunch, and likely elevensies all over you' gesture.
"Do he even look like an Orc, eh?" Thorish pressed on, obviously far too delighted by the greenish healer, paler-than-normal men, and thoroughly annoyed me to take a break. "Where it counts, that is. Here, take these ropes off'n I'll show yuh. Let yuh compare."
"Do you want this bucket of water dumped on your head?" I threatened. "It's really damn hot. Or maybe cold water would work better. Which do you prefer?"
Thorish snickered. "You help that little tark with the washin', and you let me know whatcha think'uh my prick. Maybe you like what you see, eh?"
"I'm going to be sick," Thingy whispered, and rushed out of the alcove. Chicken.
"Ice cold it is," I concluded. Turning to Salad, I intruded on his offended horror and said, "If you'll excuse me, I have to see if there are any buckets collecting snowmelt outside. I'll just be a sec."
Feeling no remorse whatsoever for leaving Mister Potty Mouth with my two supervisors, I slipped outside for a breath of air. Come to think of it, yeah, those three had a bit of a funk to them. I could definitely see where Ioreth was coming from.
The moment of peace gave me some time to think, and I found myself wondering where Faramir was. The whole crispy dad business made me review what I knew about this stage of the story as well. If we were in PJ's little world, Denethor would be dead (check), Boromir would be dead (whoops), and Faramir would be in the House of Healing recovering from poison and child abuse (oh damn). The last one wasn't quite happening according to plan, but then healthy and not in flames were preferable conditions for most people, so he probably wouldn't issue a demerit for that meddling in his affairs. Honestly, what was he missing by not being laid up while the rest of the gang goes prancing off to Mordor, huh? A bit of rest, the occasional walk in the garden with Éowyn, fresh air, something other than frickin' lembas to eat?
Oh. Fuck. Quite suddenly, I realized that a potentially massive fuck-up was about to happen. If Faramir wasn't left out of the march, if he wasn't confined in the House of Healing, he'd never meet Éowyn, and they'd never fall in love. And it would be entirely my fault.
I was back inside the House before I knew I was on the move. Thingy was bravely ordering Salad and Bar about in the supplies-fetching operation, while keeping her eyes closed and blushing big-time. Thorish's bits weren't even out for inspection yet, but she was making damn sure she didn't see them in case they might sneak a peek at her.
When I touched her arm to get her attention, she nearly went through the roof.
"What do you want?" she kind of squeaked, looking extremely nervous and rather put-upon.
"I was wondering," I said slowly and calmly, "if you could tell me where Éowyn is. I saw her brought in; is she doing all right?"
"Y-yes, she is well," Thingy snapped impatiently. "The Ranger who claims he is King has laid hands on, and she has risen from the darkness. She rests elsewhere; far from creatures like this one!" she added, glaring pointedly at the snickering Thorish.
"I'll get that ice water," I warned him. Turning back to her, I said, "Look, I have to find Faramir. Do you know where he is?"
"Am I a member of the guard?" she cried indignantly. "I am not privvy to the Steward's whereabouts. He could be anywhere. All I can say is that he yet lives; there have been no words saying otherwise."
"Last I saw'im," Thorish cut in helpfully, and not a little sarcastically, "he was down at the bottom, seein' to us prisoners." Then he leered at Thingy. "Been 'round longer'n a whelp like him. Could show yuh some tricks. Make yer toes curl."
Eyes big as saucers. Man, I felt really sorry for Thingy. I swear, if she didn't let him get to her, he wouldn't be having so much fun teasing her.
"What's your mate's name?" I snapped. The Orc started, and looked at me a little oddly. Okay, he could have been confused or pissed; it's hard to tell with a mug like his.
"Uh... Sharog," he muttered.
"And what would Sharog say if she knew you were propositioning this poor woman?" I challenged. "Offering it up, as it were? Angling for a sideline thing? Soldier on campaign, far from home, maybe hoping for a little naughty nurse action?" I waggled my eyebrows suggestively and jerked my head toward the increasingly horrified Thingy a few times. I swear, she looked ready to faint.
Thorish's brow furrowed as he parsed my accusation, then a look of sheer disgust contorted his already-fugly face. Oh good lord, where's my bucket? "I don't wanna fuck no tark!" he bellowed indignantly.
"Then stop talking like you do," I retorted. "Give me the wrong impression, and I might try hooking you up. Don't push me."
I thought about engaging Pippin in a little conspiratorial mayhem, because if you're going under the radar and beyond the law, you need a Hobbit at your side, but I found out he'd taken up position next to Merry in the House of Healing and couldn't be budged. About when I learned Merry'd been left on the battlefield like a sack of dirty laundry until Pippin wandered out there for a smoke break or whatever, Merry was awake and recovering from his run-in with Éowyn's buddy, the Witch King. No sense in getting all worked up now that all the fuss was over with.
So this operation would have to go on without short assistance. No sidekicks or posse. No words of wisdom or cautious warnings, either.
Descending through the city tier by tier was an education. Even though the forces defending it were better prepared and arrayed well enough to repel the invaders and prevent most of the damage, it was still a wreck that got more wrecked the further down you went. By the time I got to the first tier, I was seriously thinking about wielding a broom and dustpan myself.
Wounded were still being trucked in from the battlefield; the new arrivals in the form of the Rohirrim were seeing to their horses and eventually their men. It was a bit chaotic. Thank goodness for pants, because if I'd gone down there in a skirt, I think they would have sent me packing right away. There were bodies all over the place, mostly of Orcs and Trolls, with men detailed to load them on carts and haul them out. I wondered how many of the Trolls arrived on their feet, since landing on their feet was probably too much to expect.
Eventually, I found a pocket of quiet, relatively speaking, off to one side of the main gateyard, and headed over there. As expected, the area of least traffic, avoided like the plague, was filled with Orcs. Live ones. Pissed off beyond all reason ones. They were milling about in a pen that looked like it was thrown together really fast, and what a surprise, Faramir was standing just outside of it, looking at those angry, pissy, furious, nasty, rude Orcs.
I almost turned tail and ran. Whoever gave the order to surrender obviously didn't gain consensus from the committee before he did it. I had to wonder if the guy was even still alive. Taking one of those deep breaths that's meant to bolster your courage and prepare you to face the worst, but does absolutely nothing, I sidled up to Faramir and looked at the Orcs.
Too close to the fenceline for comfort was a big black-skinned Orc that reminded me so much of the one we saw in Moria (minus Strider's sword through his head) that I was pretty well frozen in my tracks, staring at him. He had red eyes that defined the word 'malevolent.' They weren't the undressing kind; those eyes were the disemboweling kind. The kind that make you want to run all the way up seven tiers and hide under the blankets with your nice yellow-eyed lover.
"Fascinating, aren't they?" Faramir said beside me. I glanced at him and fought hard not to roll my eyes. He looked positively rapturous, like he'd just hit the motherlode of interview subjects. "That one has been staring at me unblinking for several minutes." He nodded toward Mr. Gut-you-where-you-stand. "I wonder if an Orc's eyes simply do not require moistening?"
Really? That's what's going through your mind?
"Um... it's just a wild guess, but... I'm thinking he just wants you to know how pissed he is at you," I suggested as gently as I could.
Faramir's brow furrowed. "Why should he be angry with me? I have ensured he and his fellows are provided with food and water. His injured comrades are being seen to. Perhaps there are generations of hate between our two peoples, but surely when compassion is shown..."
"Um... Faramir honey," I interrupted, "they lost. They got their asses handed to them. I'm not a military expert, but even I can see that. I'm sure it's not personal."
"Yes, this is true," he conceded. "I would like to speak with one, but I..."
He was interrupted by what sounded like a very large animal drawing in a great whiff of air. Mr. Pissy had moved up closer to us; his nostrils flared as he sniffed... me.
Oh for the love of god...
"Skûm-lab kul zash lat htoluz Uruk," he growled, looking me up and down. His expression was a weird combination of 'no way,' 'WTF,' and 'ew, gross!'
I had no idea what the hell he said, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out.
"Perhaps he... he smells... Ûnran?" Faramir ventured awkwardly, all blushes and stammering. Nope, a strong background in rocket science was not needed here.
Now I was pissed. "I didn't even kiss him this morning! What the hell?" Rounding on Faramir, I snapped, "Can you smell him?"
He vigorously shook his head. "I haven't an Orc's keen sense of smell," he muttered fearfully, like I was going to pound him if he said 'yeah, you stink like Orc ass; everybody knows it.' I couldn't help thinking that if I had a fist-sized booger hanging out of my nose, he'd deny that as well. Definitely not in the running for an honest, save-you-from-an-embarrassing-moment kind of BFF.
Forcing myself to focus on the end goal of getting his ass up to the House of Healing, I took a deep breath and tried to set it aside. "Never mind. So... what kind of questions were you wanting to ask, anyway?"
"Well, I thought I might inquire after what drives them," Faramir began, and started really warming to the subject. "Similar to what I asked Ûnran. I gather it is different for Orcs than for Uruk-hai..."
"Uruk-hai?" the Sniffing Bandit growled. His beady red eyes were glaring intently at both of us, but particularly at Faramir.
"Yes!" the hapless boob crowed, moving in closer. "Uruk-hai of Isengard. There is one up on the seventh tier..."
He got as far as turning briefly to point heavenward, but I don't think this guy gave a rat's ass where Faramir might be hiding an Uruk. The Orc flared up like someone lit a very expensive firework in his hind quarters and it just went off.
"Uruk-hai Isengard-ob!" he roared. "Ulu nar kulut Uruk-hai! Ulu kulut pushdug globûrzu, ulu kulut baalak snorku, ulu kulut bagu dushatâr-ob! Nar bugd akashara-hai snorku 'Uruk-hai'!"
I had no effing idea what he was going on about, but the next moment, Faramir's blank, stunned face received a fist the size of a cantelope going ninety miles an hour. The new Steward staggered back with blood streaming out of his much-flatter nose, I jumped to the side and gracelessly face-planted in the mud, and about half a dozen of Gondor's Finest converged with weapons drawn.
"No, no, do not kill him!" Faramir cried out, waving the guards down while trying to keep about a pint of blood from exiting his nasal cavity. "That was my fault. He is not to blame. Stand down."
There's something about pikes and spears that make a guy want to wave it around like a huge penis. The boys may have stepped back a touch, but they still had the weapons up and pointed at the big Orc. He just stared them down with a defiant 'come and get some' look on his face.
I felt guilty as all hell. Yeah, I wanted him upstairs, but more in the way of paying a friendly visit like when basketball players go to the local children's hospital to pep up the patients, kind of thing. Not as a patient. Wincing, I offered him a kerchief.
Hey, this is Middle Earth. All women have kerchiefs. They're standard issue.
"Um... maybe you should... you know... toddle on up to the House of Healing and get that looked at," I gently suggested. "An ice pack wouldn't be amiss."
"Perhaps you are right," Faramir nodded, holding the kerchief to his nose. It was already soaking through, and my stomach was pitching a fit. "I think... it is... a bit too soon for... conversation."
"Good call," I agreed, patting his shoulder.
Skûm-lab kul zash lat htoluz Uruk = "You smell like you fucked an Orc."
Uruk-hai Isengard-ob! Ulu nar kulut Uruk-hai! Ulu kulut pushdug globûrzu, ulu kulut baalak snorku, ulu kulut bagu dushatâr-ghaara! Nar bugd akashara-hai snorku 'Uruk-hai'! = "Uruk-hai of Isengard. They are not Uruk-hai! They are filthy dung-filth, they are worthless half-breeds, they are shit from a wizard! Don't call those half-men 'Uruk-hai'!"