Spring bloomed in Fangorn Forest. White flowers like stars and deep purple violets covered the ground a month earlier than they would on the plains of Rohan. Birds sang their high, sweet, rolling songs. Rakhan bowed deeply to Lord Fangorn, thanking the Entmaster for his counsel.
It had been hard enough to go before the Ent, mightier than a troll and full of ancient wisdom. Rakhan's heart was pure now—clean, he called it, though he'd kill for his family in a moment—and so Treebeard accepted him, and unbeknownst to Rakhan, had done so from the very beginning. The Ent was glad to see sweet Eolina happy at last, and it was Treebeard, with his strange wisdom, who had known that only the reborn Great Orc could have given the lady her peace.
But Treebeard was one former enemy. Lord Elrond was another entirely. Rakhan clutched Legolas' letter in his large dark hand. It would be his passport, if he chose to go to Rivendell. The very paper the note was written on was magicked, and no one seeing it would doubt the Uruk on his travels. It was Legolas' hope—and Elrond's as well—that Rakhan could serve as a sort of leader for those of his kind who foreswore evil and wished to live a decent life. There were many Uruk-hai left behind in the world, starving and bewildered and sick from the memories of battles that they had been compelled to fight. At first Elrond hadn't cared a bit. They could be hunted down and exterminated; King Elessar had many soldiers engaged for that purpose alone. Then Legolas had told him of the Uruk Rakhan, who had made a life of peace, conforted and mated a victim of Isengard, and defended King Eomer from treachery. Elrond had paused to consider it, and admitted that it was indeed marvelous, and hopeful. Yet Elrond would go no further.
But when Legolas had told him more, that the Uruk could hear him, could weave his own sort of magic that held echoes of Elven power… Well, Elrond had determined to put his own hatred aside. That autumn he would leave Middle Earth with the last of the Elves. Perhaps it would be possible to work one last good in the world before he abandoned it.
Rakhan wasn't sure he wanted to leave Fangorn. He would be happy to never see anyone else again, save his family, and perhaps occasionally Eomer, Legolas, and Gimli. But did he have a duty to his kind? That was the question Rakhan had to work out for himself. Treebeard said, of course, perhaps. Rakhan replied to the Ent that he had no Master anymore, so what duty could there be to any but his own family? Treebeard had asked him what he felt about his former brothers, who were not as strong as Rakhan, who were lost in a world they no longer understood, hunted and hated. "Talk to the Half-Elf, Rakhan," Treebeard had counseled. "Hear his mind, and see how you feel then."
Rakhan didn't want to upset the peace he had made for himself. As the months flew by, Rakhan began to understand exactly how much Saruman had stolen from him. Peace—in the world around him, but moreso in his own mind—was the greatest of these. To go back into an insane world, to counsel and shepard his own dangerous kind… No, Rakhan thought. I have no duty to them, surely! Yet his heart told him otherwise, gave him another lesson. The peace he had now might not be free. Maybe it came with a responsibility, like Eomer's crown did. Eomer had risked that crown for the responsibility that came with it, to be just and valorous. Was the same demanded of Rakhan?
His confusing thoughts were interrupted by Gaelen darting down the path. "It's time, it's time! Hurry, Father!"
"It's time!" Rakhan repeated, starting to run. He tore into the cave and saw Eolina—swollen thick with Rakhan's baby—sitting on her bed with her hands pressed into the small of her back. Rakhan dropped to his knees beside her, his heart in his throat, a hopeful smile on his face. "My son comes?"
Breathing hard, Eolina grinned back, nodding her head. "By tonight for sure."
"What do you need? What can I do for you?" He kissed her brow gently, feeling it damp with light sweat. He brushed stray golden curls from her face.
"All's ready—" Eolina was cut off by a hard contraction. She pressed her chin to her chest and closed her eyes, and breathed through the pain. Uruk-hai babies came faster and harder, but they was all she knew, and she was not afraid. How different this time would be from the last! Neither alone nor afraid, Eolina was confident and ready to bear her second child.
"Is it very painful?" Rakhan asked anxiously.
Eolina nodded, and then her breath returned. "I just need hot water. Send Gaelen to fetch some fresh water from the stream, and put it over low heat. We'll need it to clean and warm the baby when he comes. There are clean leather cloths in my basket, and a knife that we'll purify with fire to cut the cord."
"Cut the cord?" Rakhan asked, intrigued.
"You'll see. But rub my back, please. And… stay close, Rakhan. I want you to be here for everything."
"I could be nowhere else!"
Rakhan had thought himself strong, but he was amazed by Eolina's near silent endurance of what seemed to be hideous pain. For hours her body worked, sometimes violently, pushing the baby into the world. She squatted over a bare leather mat, digging her fingernails into Rakhan's warm arm when the contractions came. Rakhan whispered to her and kissed her neck and face, willing the strength of his own arms into Eolina's small body. He was breathless himself—with excitement. For all the many hundreds he must have sired in Isengard, for all that Gaelen was his heart and soul, Rakhan's first true child was coming into the world. And he was finally to experience what Saruman had robbed him of: a natural birth and the loving arms of a mother. Rakhan wondered if it was possible to die of joy; if so, he was surely close to it.
As twilight fell Eolina's silence broke. The churning, tearing pain came in waves, crashing one on the back of the other, giving her no rest. Now Rakhan was afraid. It seemed to be so much pain, might she die of it?
"Hang on, love, be strong, be strong my Lina…" Rakhan tried rubbing her back again but now she swatted him away.
"Lie down—" she gasped, almost falling back into Rakhan. He eased her gently to onto the floor.
Her response was a hard scream, and again she drove her chin to her chest. Rakhan took her hand and then winced a little as she ground his heavy bones together, some mighty strength flowing within her that Rakhan guessed was far superior to his own. "Go, go—" she hissed, and Rakhan crawled around her, between her bent legs.
Rakhan felt his eyes watering, but he didn't realize he was weeping. An owl hooted in the distance as the black-haired, grey-brown baby came into the world. Ever so carefully, Rakhan lifted the baby—still somehow attached to Eolina by a long purple rope. "A boy," he breathed, smiling through his tears. "My boy."
"Ours, I think!" Eolina quipped, mischief in her bright blue eyes.
"The pain is gone?" Rakhan asked in amazement.
"Gone," she whispered, wiping her own freely flowing tears away. "Now listen to me carefully, for there is much to do."
An hour later Rakhan lay behind Eolina in bed, his heart bleeding once again. The baby Uruk-hai was sheltered in the warm, pale arms of his mother, safe and content, nursing from her full white breast. Rakhan held them both, looking up every so often to smile at Gaelen, who sat on the bed transfixed by his tiny brother. Rakhan did not know who to give thanks to for bringing him into this dream, but gratitude overwhelmed him. Every longing he had never even known he had was met by the sight before him: a beautiful mate, a mother's embrace, and strong sons who would one day hunt with him. Strong free sons, untouched by Darkness, sons who would grow mighty and honorable under their parents' rapt and loving attention. Rakhan was almost afraid to blink, as if all of it might vanish away.
But no, he told himself. It was no longer a dream. It was his life, and his life was sweet and fair.
"What will we call him?" Eolina asked drowsily.
"I know his name," Rakhan murmured. "Aanash."
"Aanash," Eolina repeated, trying the word on her tongue. "What does it mean?"
Rakhan reached over her, smoothing his son's coarse dark hair. He put his fingers to his lips, then pressed the kiss to his free son's brow. "Aanash. It means: dawn."
For anyone interested in reading more about Rakhan, he will be appearing as a minor character—an officer in Saruman's army-in my next story, Prisoners of Isengard.