A/N: This story has been a long one, and I've grown a lot as an author since it began. Recently, I've had some misgivings about some of the things Tanith has done and said, plus I've had a couple of comments that made me sit back and go, 'huh. Yeah. You're right.' So I have gone back to some earlier chapters and overhauled. You'll find minor to significant changes in the following chapters, if you'd like to revisit and see what I've done: 18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28. If you wouldn't mind, let me know how the rewrites 'feel' (particularly if you're a veteran of this story and remember what they used to say!). Now on with the continuation, which, despite the chapter title, is not the end. :)

This is Where the Party Ends

Knowing what would likely greet me back in the House of Healing – namely, Thingy looking for a volunteer ball scrubber for the Orc-washing – I unloaded Faramir as quickly as possible. I didn't even know if he was in the same wing as Éowyn; I got him this far, let Fate get off her own ass and do her job for once. Side doors and rear entrances are your friends when you want to avoid unpleasant duties, let me tell you. Maybe I looked ridiculous with all the crouching and peering around corners like Kronk On a Mission, but it saved me from having to see more of Thorish than any woman ought to.

Sorry, Thingy. It's war-time. Every woman for herself.

When I reached for the latch on the door of our quarters, I felt relief. I was pretty sure Salad and Bar wouldn't come after me while they had to contend with Thingy, so I could spend an uninterrupted afternoon with Ûnran. Just chilling out and relaxing. I was actually looking forward to having a friendly chat, maybe even throwing the bones. Then I opened the door.

The first thing I did was panic. The hearthfire had burned out completely, leaving the place dark and cold. I stopped in the doorway and just stared around the room, or what I could see of it. The bedroom door was shut, but I could hear...

I was across the room in a heartbeat, yanking open that door. The bedroom was just as dark, just as cold, and I stopped breathing. I just couldn't draw a breath for a moment. Searching the shadows frantically, I finally found Ûnran.

The bedroom wasn't huge; the bed took up quite a bit of space, leaving only a couple of feet between the frame and one wall. Somehow, Ûnran had wedged himself into that tight spot and curled his limbs around his body, just like he did back in Isengard. And he was crying his eyes out. I thought my heart would break, seeing him like that. He didn't even know I was there.

I didn't know what to do. I hadn't seen him come apart like this in a long time. Is this what he did all day, while I was messing around in the House of Healing?

"Ûnran?" I said timidly.

He gasped a bit, he was so startled. Then he tried to extract himself from his corner, wipe his eyes off, and stand up straight while acting like nothing was amiss. Like I hadn't just seen him looking like an upset-as-fuck little kid.

I really didn't want my head to go there, because I wasn't remotely a professional and didn't know what I was talking about, but the scene I walked in on felt a hell of a lot like only the confiscation of his weapons kept him from lying in a puddle of his own blood, wrists slashed, farewell letter on the nightstand...

Oh fuck.

"Talk to me," I breathed, my own eyes erupting in tears. I grabbed his hands and pulled him over to the bed to sit down. "I told you not to bottle it up. Please, Ûnran. Please. Talk to me."

His nonchalant act was pointless to begin with, and collapsed utterly once he realized I wasn't fooled. Lip quivering and eyes shimmering, he whispered, "Don't leave me, Tanith. I... I need you."

It hit me hard. He told me only a couple of weeks ago, but it seemed like years. His biggest fear was being alone. What had I done? I left him trapped in this room, alone. Maybe the accommodations were better than what the Orcs downstairs were enjoying, but the fact remained that he was in prison. He couldn't leave, not even to get a breath of fresh air; the atmosphere was probably at its most hostile, this soon after the battle. He didn't even have Pippin coming around, now that Merry was laid up in the House of Healing.

I realized I had to do something. Even if it meant I'd have to leave him for a little while again to do it.

"Come here," I said gently, and pulled him into my arms. He hugged me fiercely and his breath hitched a few times as he tried to master himself. I stroked his hair and rocked him a little, because that's what you're supposed to do when your best friend is hurting, isn't it? "I am so sorry, Ûnran. I shouldn't have left you. It wasn't fair. But I'll tell you what: let me go back to the House of Healing, and talk to Faramir. Maybe he can do something. He's the closest thing to someone in charge now that his dad's dead. Maybe... Let me at least talk to him, okay?"

Taking a shuddering breath, he said haltingly, "What's he gonna do, eh? There ain't no place for me here."

I could tell he clamped down to keep from starting up again. Rubbing his back, I said, "I don't know. Maybe he could... do what his dad did, and make you his... sort of... whatever it was he made Pippin. Um... Guard of the Citadel, I think it was."

"What's that, then?"

"The hell if I know," I huffed tightly. "All I could see was that the Citadel Guards run around behind the Steward wishing they were somewhere else. Oh, and they apparently barge in on their friends a lot. Especially when those friends have a buffet in their room."

His laugh was painfully reluctant, as though dredged up from the bottom of a deep well. "Guess I could do that."

"It would be something," I said encouragingly. "Get you out of this room. Get to know the other Guards. Make some new friends."


"Are you gonna be okay?" I asked, drawing back to look at his face. "If I leave you for a little while? I want to get Faramir on it right away. I'll talk to him, and then I swear, I'll be right back. We can call Iffy to bring in some food. Just you and me, here. Okay?"

He nodded, but his grip didn't loosen for several minutes. His voice was barely there as he mumbled, "I'm sorry I'm so... so weak."

"You're not weak," I assured him. "You've been through hell. It's hard to come out the other side. Even harder when things are so fucked up when you get there. It'll get better. I promise, it'll get better."

I never ran to the House of Healing so fast in my life. I didn't even care if Salad or Bar waylaid me. Let'em try. Of course, I snuck in through the back just in case. I'm not completely stupid.

Faramir was in the midst of getting his nose set when I found him. He looked up and beamed when he saw me. It was almost funny, seeing him so excited while his eye sockets were turning purple and his nose had a huge bandage on it.

"It is truly ironic," he said, child-like wonder in his voice, "that I should be laid low by an Orc and brought up to this place, only to find the slayer of the Witchking also here. Did you know that Lady Éowyn recovers in this very place?"

Right, and any other time I'd be like, 'oh yeah, you should totally go talk to her.' Not today. I pretty much ignored his statement as I sat down on the bench beside him and said, "Faramir, I need your help. Ûnran's feeling a bit... imprisoned, I guess. Is there any way he can have a little freedom? Pippin got to be a Guard; can you do something like that for Ûnran? You know he won't cause any trouble."

Sobering, Faramir leaned back against the wall. "I do not think such a boon would benefit him." Giving me an apologetic look, he went on, "His people are still thought of as the Enemy. Scant hours ago, Orcs were assaulting our walls. They broke through our gate and laid waste to the lower tiers. A concession of this nature, so soon after, would not be in his best interests, nor would it be in mine."

"Um... I don't think I understand," I frowned.

"I apologize, to you as well as Ûnran," Faramir said, and I could tell he really was sorry. "My brother and I agreed that I should take up the mantle of acting Steward, until such time as... these matters may be formally addressed. As Steward, I must think in larger terms." Turning so he half faced me, he took hold of my hands and began to speak as though he was breaking the bad news that I had cancer. "We remain in a state of war. Aragorn is poised to claim the throne of Gondor. All whose livelihoods have been damaged or destroyed, all who have lost kin and property to folk like Ûnran, will look upon what we do here with a critical eye. We must tread carefully, for those who have suffered will feel insulted if we show too much deference to those who caused their suffering."

"But... Ûnran didn't...," I began, shaking my head.

"I know he is blameless," Faramir interjected. "Of most things, that is." He squeezed my hands and gave me that look every politician in any universe uses when they want you to know just how much they care about your personal situation, but hey, their hands are tied, so tough break, huh? "To my people, here in Minas Tirith, he is but a mystery. A faceless... monster, if you will, who has already been given far more privilege than is deserved. He is housed among the nobility and the honored guests. I am sorry to say that not even being in your company affords him much respect. I and my brother have spoken on his behalf amongst our officers. Gandalf as well has spoken highly of him; his word holds much weight, yet even he is powerless to silence all the whispers. Prince Imrahil withholds his opinion until he meets Ûnran himself, yet this he has seemed unwilling to do."

"Can't you do something?" I pleaded, beginning to lose it. If ever I was in need of huge anime eyes shimmering and quivering with unshed tears, it was now. I couldn't help feeling a healthy amount of 'what the fuck is this' as well. Jackson didn't go into the politics of kingship, for crying out loud! As far as I knew, Strider just sort of bamfed into the throne room and that was that. Everyone lived happily ever after because they were just thrilled to get their king after so many generations of Denethors screwing up their good time. Now, all of a sudden, there were political concerns?

"Not alone, no," Faramir continued. "He must prove himself a friend, not just to you or my brother, but to the folk of Minas Tirith. Only then may he be afforded even a small measure of tolerance."

"How? What does he need to do?"

The Steward's brow furrowed in thought, and I leaned forward on tenterhooks.

"I have learned a great deal about the nature of Orc-kind by speaking with Ûnran," Faramir said thoughtfully. "I confess, my life has been spent believing them incapable of anything but hatred. Yet in Ûnran I see remorse and regret. Tremendous sorrow, and deep affection." Smiling wanly, he said, "An Orc who loves. I never thought it possible, yet in Ûnran it is plain in his eyes when he looks upon you. And also when he speaks of you."

"You've talked to him a bit," I nodded. Had I left him on his own enough for Faramir to sneak in there and interview him? Evidently.

"Indeed I have," he replied. "I am humbled by how much he cares for you. I never imagined an Orc could care for another, and so I told myself it is because he is part Man. That surely must be where these feelings come from. They could not possibly come from the Orc inside him. And then I met Thorish."

I blinked for a second. I knew he'd been responsible for the Orcish invasion of the sixth tier, but I didn't know he chatted with any of them. Faramir smiled at my surprised look.

"Yes, I have spoken with him as well, if only briefly, and once again, I was embarrassed by my ignorance." Taking a deep breath, he went on, "I was shocked to learn that the female Orc was his daughter. Moreso, that he expressed concern for her condition, and worried about her treatment in our hands. He is fiercely protective of his child, and very proud of her skills in battle. When he spoke of how she used his teachings to save his life, I do believe he might have wept with pride. There are few greater rewards for a parent, I dare say." He shook his head in wonder. "He is like any father. Any Man. Yet I see no hint of Men in his making. How can it be, then, that he feels the same things a Man does?

"The answer is simple, of course," Faramir chuckled. "We are not so different, Orcs and Men. Far less than we have believed for countless generations."

I nodded. "I know. I came into this world believing they were evil and monstrous. That they could only hurt others. I was scared to death of ever meeting one."

"And you were dreaming of Ûnran," he pointed out. "Did you still believe this, even as you watched his life unfold?"

Shifting uncomfortably, I muttered, "Actually, yeah. A lot of what I saw was pretty scary. I thought I was going crazy. That it was all coming from my head. I didn't want to believe I was watching someone else's life, because... it was horrible. I felt so... sorry for him."

"Tanith, were it not for you and Ûnran," Faramir said gently, "I never would have looked beyond my ignorance, and learned the truth. I would have continued regarding Orcs as enemies, and worse. Now I see them more clearly, and with open eyes. Yes, some are hostile." He smiled ruefully and delicately touched the bandage over his nose. "But others are willing to lay down their arms."

"I think more will be willing to do that after this war is over," I said. "Assuming everything happens the way we want it to."

"Will the Ring be destroyed?" he asked, his brows arched expectantly.

"If I haven't managed to mess up everything, yes," I replied. "That's how history recorded it."

"Ûnran told me how it was when Saruman's grip upon him was released. Do you think these other Orcs will have a similar experience?"

"I have no idea," I shrugged helplessly. "Saruman was... well, let's be honest, he was a micromanager. His fingers were a bit too deep in the pie, so to speak. Sauron? I just don't know. His whispery little voice in Ûnran's head isn't strong; who knows what kind of Yoko Ono-like wailing is going on in Thorish's noggin?" Sighing, I said, "I guess we just keep an eye on them. Make sure they don't... swallow their tongues or something. It's about all we can do."

"It has often been said of Orcs," Faramir mused, "that they were 'bred' by the Dark Lord. I never grasped the true meaning of that. That they were bred for one purpose was well understood. That they also possessed the capacity for far more if given the chance... That was never considered." Leaning forward, he told me seriously, "I want to give them that chance, but they must meet me halfway at least. Ûnran has already made that journey. For you, he would do anything asked of him. I understand this. Perhaps not just for his sake, but for the sake of those we must keep under guard, he must set an example."

"What kind of example?" I asked warily.

"I believe the simplest would be if he gave aid in the efforts to clear away the debris and the bodies on the lower tiers," he suggested. "It would not be a pleasant job, but perhaps it would show the folk in this city that there is more to an Orc than wanton destruction. There is also the willingness to rebuild. Perhaps if he is seen extending a hand, some may feel compelled to take it."

"I think he'd be on board with that," I replied sincerely. "When can he start?"

"There are arrangements I must make," Faramir replied thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. "The host marches on the morrow. They have been clearing space just beyond the gates for a staging area."

My eyes widened. It was that time already? How long did it take to get to Mordor? I think the movie implied it was a five minute walk, but I'd long figured out what a collossally huge liar Peter Jackson was, so it could be an hour or a month. "So you're not going?"

"No," he said, shaking his head distractedly. "There is much here that needs to be attended to. Not the least of which is detailing civilians to clear debris. I think the companies left behind will manage the dead, though. I would hate for a widow to find her husband..."

"Faramir," I interrupted, "sorry for the one-track mind, but what about Ûnran?"

Shaking himself, he smiled. "Forgive me. Of course. I cannot have him walking unescorted among the people. Or the men-at-arms, for that matter. I will find trustworthy men to guard him as he goes about his duties, never fear." Smiling encouragingly, he said, "I will send a man to fetch him in the morning, after the host departs and things below aren't quite so... hectic." Eying me curiously, he asked, "Will you accompany the host? Aragorn said you might wish to..."

"No," I replied pointedly. "Not this time." Sighing, I said, "I kind of blew it at Helm's Deep. All those Uruk-hai – Orcs like Ûnran – and I had to leave them there. I have no idea what happened to them. I'm not abandoning this bunch. If there's any way I can... I don't know, help them adjust, I want to do that. I can't do a thing from Mordor. And something tells me one extra frying pan isn't going to make a difference in that battle."

Faramir laughed and nodded. "No, likely not. I am glad you choose to stay. I would value your assistance. Thorish seemed taken with you, and it would help matters with the others if he were to cooperate."

"How do you mean?"

"He speaks the tongue of Orcs, and I do not," he replied. "It was clear that many of those below speak no Westron. Without Thorish's aid..."

"Just... don't use his kid as leverage," I advised as delicately as I could manage. "That seems like something Sauron would do." Giving him a stern look, I added, "Don't pull a Sauron."

"I shan't," Faramir smiled. "I trust you will guard their interests as well as their dignity, should I falter or misstep."

"I'll do my best."

Ûnran greeted my news with a hodge-podge of emotions. At the same time, he was relieved, nervous, scared completely to death, and eager to get started. I reassured him over and over again that I'd be there. I wasn't about to let him face this alone. At first he seemed relieved, then eventually he started looking a little... not quite so relieved. I chalked it up to opening night jitters and let it go. He seemed more interested in the details anyway.

"He say what I'd be doin'?" he asked as we had a quiet dinner on the floor of the sitting room, a cheery fire blazing in the hearth. Iffy really came through, bringing a bit more meat than we were probably entitled to, and making sure Ûnran's was good and bloody. I wondered if she had a bit of a crush on my boyfriend, but somehow couldn't muster any jealousy about it.

Yeah, go ahead and like him. It won't kill you.

"Well, there are still bodies to clear, I think," I supplied. "When I was down there this morning, it was a mess. Buildings knocked down, huge chunks of rock all over. That sort of thing. Probably from the trolls."

Nodding, Ûnran reached for his goblet of wine. "Aye. They's big. Do a lotta damage when they get goin'."

"And when they land," I agreed. "The third tier got the worst of it when the Orcs started catapulting trolls at us..."

And quite suddenly, I was covered with a fine spray of wine. I delicated dabbed at my face with exaggerated dignity as Ûnran choked violently.

"Lovely vintage," I commented. "A 1922 Merlot, is it? Very robust."

But good god, was it ever nice to see him laugh. He literally fell over backwards and howled when I described the unorthodox siege weaponry they sent screaming over the walls. I even did some speculative imitations that nearly sent him into apoplexy.

It seemed like forever since I saw his dimples, and there they were. If Iffy ever saw those things, she'd fall straight in love with him.

In spite of the moment of frivolity, bedtime was sedate and uneventful. No fiddling around, no shenanigans of any sort. He lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. One arm was obligingly around me because I was resting my head on his shoulder, my hand on his heart. But he looked worried and thoughtful. I tried to get him to tell me what was on his mind a few times, but he only grunted in response.

I don't think he slept all night.

In the morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed and hurried to the balcony overlooking the front gates miles below. There were thousands of troops down there. The rising sun was starting to glint off their armor, making me blink a lot. Ûnran's expression was another mix of emotions, but I wasn't entirely sure which ones this time. Maybe dread? Worry? I didn't know. I slipped my hand into his and held on tight.

We could actually feel the stone under our feet vibrating a little when the troops moved out. At a snail's pace, I might add. When Faramir said they were marching to Mordor, he wasn't kidding. Maybe hanging out in the lap of luxury with access to bathing facilities and the ability to put my feet up whenever I wanted was a wise choice this time around.

We'd no sooner sat down to breakfast in our sitting room, which Ûnran only picked at, when a guard showed up. Gazing longingly at the perfectly-fried eggs, I wiped my mouth and rose from our little table to let him in. Ûnran stopped pretending to eat and sat rigidly in his chair, staring hard at nothing.

"Hi," I said awkwardly to the tall, dark-haired and bearded man on our doorstep. Dressed in that omnipresent black livery of the Citadel, he was one of those extremely serious-looking military types who also seemed only slightly less than completely pissed at his Steward for saddling him with Orc baby-sitting duties.

"Ma'am," he said with a slight bow and barely masked 'holy shit you're the lady who's fucking this Orc dear god how in the hell can you what the fuck what do I say just act cool maybe she won't notice I'm about to barf' expression on his face. "I am called Beregond son of Baranor. My lord and captain Faramir bade me fetch..." He faltered and seemed to have difficulty speaking for a second. Taking a deep breath, Barry finished, "Is the Orc ready to depart?"

"FYI, his name is Ûnran," I told him pointedly. "And yes, we are ready." I turned at the sound of the chair scraping across the floor, and watched Ûnran grip the table edges for a moment before standing. Then he slowly approached as if this Barry guy held an executioner's axe, not orders to escort him downstairs.

I couldn't have been more completely knocked on my ass by what Ûnran said to me.

"No, you stay here," he said, his brow furrowed. He couldn't look at me, and I couldn't do more than stare stupidly back at him. "Don't... don't come with me."

"What?" I breathed. Didn't we agree I'd go with him? Or was I the only one with that delusion? Dammit, was he up all night planning this?

"Gotta do it alone," he said firmly, and the air just sort of leaked out of my lungs. "Been hidin' behind yuh too long. Gotta stand on my own."

"You don't have to prove anything," I told him. "Not to me."

"Yeah, I do," he replied. Swallowing hard, he glanced over his shoulder at the guard, then back to me. "I want yuh to respect me."

"I do respect you," I insisted.

"No, I want yuh to respect me as... as a mate," he murmured quietly so the guard wouldn't hear. "As a strong Uruk. Orc. Somethin'."

"You already are," I pressed. "Ûnran, don't do this. Not without me."

"Ain't no other way to do it." He backed away without another word, just a determined look. I couldn't move. Couldn't do anything but watch him turn and walk out the door with the guard.

I fussed around our quarters for at least an hour – rearranging furniture, making and remaking the bed, refolding the clean laundry Iffy neatly folded and put away yesterday – before finally giving up and hauling my ass back to the House of Healing. No matter how many times I looked out the front window, the day wasn't going to end any faster. I didn't want to acknowledge the fact that I wasn't waiting on the day to end so much as for a messenger to come and tell me a mob lynched my lover.

Faramir wasn't there, and even though Éowyn was reportedly up and around, I couldn't bring myself to look her up. Maybe it was selfish, but I was pretty sure talking to her about any subject would either directly or indirectly remind me of her uncle's death, and at that moment, I was so close to the edge, it wouldn't take much to tip me over. So I steeled my nerve and checked in on the Orcs.

As luck would have it, two wonderful things had happened: one, Thorish was recovered enough to be sent back downstairs, and two, Thingy was done with the washing up. Everybody was squeaky clean, or near enough. Unfortunately for her, the boss must have decided she was perfectly suited to take charge of the Orcs. Or she mouthed off one too many times and Ioreth let her have it.

Regardless, Salad and Bar were busily puttering around with their healer things, preparing fresh poultices for the Orcs, and Thingy was bent over the male Orc's head bandage.

"Hey, guys, how's it goin'?" I said as I breezed into their midst. Thingy glanced up and gave me the most hateful look imaginable.

"You were sorely missed yesterday," she hissed.

Giving her a sour look, I snapped, "Well, I had my own problems to contend with, thank you very much."

Dismissing me with a wave, she turned to Salad. "Have you finished yet? I'm nearly ready."

"Almost," he replied. Glopping some more unidentifiable thick paste into a cloth, he slathered it on thickly. Then he handed the gross-looking mess to Thingy.

"Thank you," she grumped and set it aside. In a matter of moments, she'd removed the bandage from the Orc's head entirely.

I think it was revenge for making her face this guy's naughty bits alone. Before I became too nauseous to see straight, I noted that the Orc-whose-name-escaped-me-at-the-moment had taken a pretty nasty blow to the temple. It was like the bone that formed the brow ridge over his eye had been completely caved in. Someone with either an ounce of sympathy or none at all – the jury's still out on that one – had removed the eyeball and just left a hollow gaggy pit behind.

It was all I could do to stay afloat when she packed that socket with the poultice and started wrapping the poor bastard's head again. I had to lean against the wall and heave some deep breaths, let me tell you.

In fact, I couldn't look at him at all, so I totally missed what happened to make Thingy freak out.

"Eru's mercy, restrain him!" she cried, and leaped to her feet. Salad and Bar converged and quite handily blocked my view, so I still didn't know what the hell happened. Craning my neck, I tried to get a peek, but all I could see were those two old men scrambling with ropes or leather thongs or whatever they'd used on Thorish earlier.

As it turned out, the Orc only rolled his head to the side, but Thingy apparently considered it a threatening move and felt obliged to dial 911. By poking my nose in and trying to figure out how a knocked-out Orc could possibly threaten anyone, I managed to be placed perfectly to see the Orc's eye open for the first time.

To begin with, his eye was red. Not just the iris, but the white part. There were some exploded veins in there, putting a huge (relatively speaking) blood stain in the corner closest to his nose. Judging by the slow blinking and the gradual furrowing of the half of his brow not covered by a bandage, the last thing he expected to see when he woke up was Thingy staring back at him.

I don't think she looked kind and welcoming. More like scared shitless and straining to hear someone – anyone – calling her name so she'd have an excuse to bolt out the door. Figuring she was useless, I pulled up another stool and sat where he could see me.

"Are you all right?" I asked kind of lamely. "You're safe. Nobody's going to hurt you. Do you understand?"

He nodded a little, and opened his mouth to speak. His jaw worked up and down, and I could hear short grunts coming out of his mouth, but no words. His one good eye widened, and his breathing started to speed up and hitch like he was entering panic mode.

"What is wrong with him?" Thingy whispered. I shook my head and shrugged helplessly.

"You're the healer, you tell me," I replied.

"Can you speak?" she asked him, her brow furrowing with concern, which surprised me. Ten seconds ago, she was ready to ditch and run.

He nodded, and tried to reply once more, but failed miserably. He was practically choking to get some word out. His eye was darting around wildly, and I figured it was starting to sink in where he must be. Reaching out, I touched his arm to get his attention; he jerked with surprise and his eye swivelled toward me.

Good god, he was frickin' scared out of his mind.

"Calm down," I advised as gently as I could. "You're inside the city. Minas Tirith. Do you remember anything?"

He frowned and shook his head. His breathing was abnormally fast, even for an Orc, and I had no doubt his heart rate was elevated well beyond what was safe as well. "Okay. What happened was that your captain or commander – someone important like that – surrendered. You and Hûruklob and Thorish – do you remember them? Good – were taken up here to be treated. Evidently, someone drove a mûmak into your ranks and you guys took a bit of a pounding." Pointing to the bed next to him, which was actually on his blind side, I added, "Hûruklob is right here. She's going to be fine. Thorish was here for awhile, but now that he's doing better, he's been taken downstairs where the other Orcs are." The Orc turned his head to see her, but I think the fact that she was immobile and unaware wasn't very encouraging.

Again, his jaw worked desperately and pointlessly to get a word out, but nothing coherent came. Unlike Thorish, who put that Orc from Return of the King with the elephantitis issues to shame, at least this guy wasn't nearly as repulsive to look at. And Thingy and I were doing a lot of looking, I assure you. Maybe it was because he was a lot younger than that old bastard Thorish, his face not so riddled with scars and bling, but I swear I could just about read his mind from the expressions alone.

I don't know where I am. I don't remember coming here. I don't remember surrendering. I'm afraid and I don't know what's going on. And I can't talk. I can't say a word. Help me. Please help me.

Let's be honest: he looked like a little lost kid at the mall. In a foreign country. Looking for someone to help him, point him in the right direction. Or at least someone who looked like him.

"I have seen this before," Bar said thoughtfully. "Injuries to the head can sometimes cause strange behaviors." Nodding sagely and pointing to the Orc, he added, "This one appears to have lost the ability to form words."

Brilliant observation, Watson. And so delicately revealed. The Orc stepped up his efforts to say at least something, and practically gagged himself in the attempt. Being an Orc, he had very dark skin. Almost black. So when he strained himself to the breaking point, he didn't turn red so much as very dark purple.

As if he'd been running down random words in his head and finally hit on one he could say, he blurted out, "Dursh!" It sounded like a curse word. Whatever it meant, it was apparently unsatisfactory in the exreme, because he shook his head and grimaced, squeezing his eye shut.

The anxiety and fear finally got to him, though. Turning his head to somewhat bury his good eye in the pillow, he began to weep. Maybe he was an adult Orc, but he cried like that little lost kid, sounding frustrated, furious, and completely helpless.

It was probably a full minute of what-the-fuck before Thingy rallied in a completely unexpected way.

"There now. Bûzog, is it?" she said soothingly, and all but shoved me aside. I had to scoot out of the way, and move my stool. She soaked a cloth in a nearby bucket of cold water and wrung it out. Then she began to smooth it over his face. "Calm yourself. Everything will be all right. You are not here so we may torment you. We have treated your injuries, and will continue to do so. Ease your worries. Draw a breath – that's it – now let it out slowly. And another. There we are."

That one red eye of his locked onto Thingy like she was the angel of mercy come to save him. I busied myself taking her calm orders: fetch some broth, refill the bucket with fresh water, gather more cloths, inform Ioreth that one of the Orcs had woken up.

I probably don't need to point out that Ioreth wasn't impressed with this news.

"Good," she snapped distractedly as she ground up some weeds in a mortar. "The sooner they waken and leave this place, the better."

"I don't think he'll be going anywhere for a while," I said uncertainly. "He can't talk."

"Hmph," Ioreth snorted. "It is not his mouth that will carry him down six tiers to his own folk."

"No, I mean, he could, before he was hurt, but now..." She finally stopped her incessant grinding and looked at me with surprise. "You know, I'm no expert, but if he got hit hard enough to lose the power of speech, don't you think...?"

I let the statement hang while she frowned and thought about it.

"I suppose... there might be other... Perhaps he should be watched." I could tell the great Orc vs. Man debate was raging in her head. If he was a Man, she'd be all over it, clucking like a mother hen (rather like Thingy, come to think of it). Because he was an Orc, she had to take a hard look at her standard reaction protocol.

Did Bûzog count? Did he rate the same kind of give-a-shit as a Man? Regardless that Faramir seemed to think he did?

"I trust Thenidvil is attending to matters well enough?" she asked hopefully. I felt like saying, 'No, she ran at the first sign of trouble. I think you'll have to take over.' But I restrained myself. Something in the back of mind told me that, of the two healers, Bûzog would be way better off with Thingy.

Not gonna lie: when I returned to my quarters that evening (at warp speed, I might add), I was relieved to find the place Orc-less. I just didn't want Ûnran to come home to an empty apartment, not on his first day of work. In the hour or so before he returned, I wore a groove in the floorboards from all the pacing and wringing my hands. Sometimes I cried, I was so anxious.

What if things got out of hand? He only had the one guard, Barry or something. I don't care how big the guy was, he'd probably still get mowed down by Hildur. Multiply Erkenbrand's wife by the general population of a capital city and he wouldn't stand a chance. And by extension, neither would Ûnran.

I must have imagined about seventy-five different gruesome deaths before the sound of footsteps outside shut down the worry machine and launched me at the door. I whipped it open so fast, Ûnran's hand was still in mid-air, reaching for the latch. I would have been wrapped around him with every limb, I was so relieved to see him alive, if I hadn't looked at his face first.

There was a shallow cut over his eye and a bruise darkening his cheek. His expression was tight and strained, like if I didn't get the fuck out of his path, I'd get trampled. I hastily stepped aside, and he blew right past me. His long strides took him straight back to the bedroom. It shook the rafters when he slammed the door behind him.

At a loss, I looked at Barry with one of those 'what the hell was that about' expressions on my face. Unlike when he dropped by that morning to see if the disgusting Orc could come out to play, he looked really contrite. There was a little twitch in the corner of one eye. Taking a deep breath, I said evenly, "What happened?"

He couldn't answer for a minute, which cranked up the knob on my freak-o-meter. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask if there was a fight when he finally replied uncomfortably, "I believe... Ûnran should tell you."

That's it? "No, you tell me. What the hell happened?" My voice was starting to rise in pitch; that alone should have warned him that immediate compliance would save him a world of hurt.

"Ma'am," Barry said firmly, "he will want to speak of this in private, I've no doubt. He showed... admirable restraint." A half smile crossed his face. "I have known Men who would have struck back for less. If you will excuse me, I must return to my family – my wife and my son – and urge them not to despise Orcs... simply because they are Orcs."

My breath huffed several times, but I couldn't seem to say anything. Barry gave me a short, polite bow and left, quietly closing the door behind him. Too numb to even think, I turned around and headed for the bedroom. There was no sound coming from inside, which somehow seemed even worse than when I found him yesterday. Hesitating, and maybe wanting to put it off a little, I timidly knocked on the door.

"Ûnran?" I called quietly. "Can I come in?"

After what seemed like a full minute because I was starting to fidget and bite my lip, he finally answered, "Yeah."

The bedroom was dark again; the fire from the sitting room was about the only light in the whole suite. I immediately looked toward that corner, but he wasn't there. He was standing next to the window, staring out at the gloomy sky over Mordor. It didn't seem nearly as far away as I would've liked.

I got the sense from his rigid posture and grim silence – not to mention the deep frown – that if I started prying, he'd clam up. So I stood next to him and looked where he was looking. Eventually, he started to speak. I almost wished he hadn't.

"Shoulda seen yuh to the trees, and gone back," he muttered. "Shoulda never thought... I could be..." He faltered, and bowed his head. I could hear him swallowing repeatedly as he tried not to lose it. I reached over and put my hand on his. "Met Thorish, gettin' taken down to that holdin' pen. Told me... told me I was a traitor. Called me... yer snaga."

Now was probably not the time to ask for translations. I maneuvered my hand into his and laced fingers with him. His grip was strong, though his hand shook.

"People... cursed me," he went on. "Threw rocks. Spat on me. Said my head... oughta be on a... a pike over the gate. Told me to... to take my whore back to Mordor where I belong. Cause I ain't wanted here." Though he looked like he was on the verge of emotional collapse, he forced himself to smile. It made him look ghoulish rather than amused. "Jokes on them, eh? Ain't wanted there, neither."

"Ûnran," I breathed. My heart hurt, listening to what he had to endure. I should've gone with him. Unleashed the Brat and sent those people packing. I should never have made him face that alone.

"Somebody... called for my ears," he hissed, clenching his teeth. "Another... wanted my... my... fingers. For knucklebones."

I didn't know what else to do but apologize. "I'm so sorry," I said thickly as my eyes filled up. "This is all my fault. We should've just... gone somewhere... anywhere but here."

"Ain't yer fault," Ûnran said quietly. "Yer... a good woman. Yuh thought... maybe... I was worth savin'." His lip quivered a bit, and that ghastly smile returned. "Fooled yuh good, didn't I?"

"You are worth saving," I insisted. "Ûnran, listen to me. You don't have to go back. Just stay up here, and I'll tell Salad and Bar to..."

"No," he interrupted, shaking his head again. "No. Beregond's comin' again in the mornin'. I'm going back down. I gotta do this."

"No you don't," I told him firmly. I took hold of his arms and turned him to face me. "I mean it. You don't have to prove anything to me. I'm done shaping shit for these people." Looking in his pain-filled eyes, I almost fell apart. "I did this to you," I whispered. "And I'm going to fix it. We'll leave. Find some place..."

"Tanith," he said softly, "shut up. There ain't no place for me, unless I keep goin' down there. Keep... showin' I ain't a... beast. Or a coward. It ain't just for me: them Orcs down there, and the ones back at Helm's Deep. They don't know it, but... if I fail, so do they. If I can't shape things, then there ain't no hope for none of'em. Cause if these whiteskins can put up with you and me..." He laughed a little. "Then maybe they won't mind the rest of'em neither."

Slipping my hands into his, I searched his eyes. He seemed to have gotten a grip on himself, though he was still profoundly upset. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I want yuh to be proud of me." Now his lip quivered again, and his voice was unsteady as he said, "I wanna be worthy of yuh."

I let go of his hands and wrapped my arms around his neck. "You are worthy, Ûnran," I whispered in his ear. "Whether you believe it or not."


dursh = bridge

snaga = slave