"Which one'uh you's number Ninety-Nine?" the gruff voice of their jailor called down the torchlit corridor. The one labeled 'Ninety-Nine' by Saruman flinched, and pulled herself deeper into the shadows of the cell. The two who shared it, Eighty-Seven and One Hundred Three, shifted out of sight of the cell door, eying her nervously. None in the pits had it in them to take another's place out of pity. If the jailor opened the door, they'd shove her out, like as not. Months ago, she might have been insulted, but months ago she still possessed strength enough to comfort them when they despaired. That time was past; she had precious little left for herself, and nothing more to give anyone.

"Yuh don't show yerself, I start yankin' yuhs out by the hair and checkin'," he warned, banging the bars with a cudgel as he passed down the hall. "Master say it's time for yer next round. Better come on out like a good girl."

It will be my fourth, she told herself. He only takes four from us, then... then it's over. Shuddering with revulsion at the thought of even one more of their foul spawn in her body, even for so short a time as was afforded by Saruman's dark sorcery, Ninety-Nine peeled herself from the darkness and dragged her feet to the door. Grimacing and squeezing her eyes shut, she slowly extended an arm through the bars, her hand hanging limp and near lifeless in her defeat.

Where was the defiance she used to have? Ninety-Nine could not recall. Coming from a poor family as she had, the woman made her own way, for a dowry was too dear a thing to offer any prospective husband of better quality than a rough-handed swine herd or butcher. Though it shamed her in the beginning, joining the Ladies in their service to men reaped great rewards. She was able to pay her own way, own a small but clean place of her own, indulge a degree of independence that even a good marriage likely wouldn't have afforded her.

It was a cruel irony that she was no longer a whore for Men, but for those who slew them.

They'd ruined her. Even if the hope of escape still shone in her eyes, it was ashes in her heart. The beasts' claws rent her thin flesh, tore her beauty from her as though it were nothing, leaving a scarred and hideous woman behind. She would likely not be recognized by her folk if she did return, so marred was her face. Though the Orcs mostly clawed and bit her breasts and hips, the first one to rape her cut her cheeks when he grabbed her chin, digging claws in and holding her head still. He wanted her to look at him as he raped her, and she refused. She paid for her defiance dearly every time he came to the breeding room, whether she complied with his wishes or not, and her face was likely as ugly as an Orc's now. The only blessing of this horrible place was that she could not see what he'd done to her face.

Ninety-Nine suppressed a shudder, recalling him, and held her head up with as much dignity as she could. He was the worst by far, if any of these creatures could be called better or worse than any other. Regardless, this was the last of them. She must find strength somewhere. A few days of enduring the painful humiliation, the fortnight or so it took to grow the monster within her, then... relief in death. So close she could almost taste it.

Chuckling, the stoop-shouldered Orc shuffled up to the door and unlocked it from the rattling key ring tied to his belt. "Good lass," he rumbled. "Last one."

She nodded and allowed herself to be taken from the cell and led down the corridor to the breeding room. Though fear of the unknown Uruk selected to rape her tried to consume her thoughts, she forced herself to remember the fortnight of relative peace that would come after his seed took hold. No more assaults, no dark, filthy cell shared with unwashed women so deeply entrenched in their own despair they could no longer speak kindly even to one another. She would be tended by a small Orc, fed large quantities of meat and bread, for the thing within her grew swiftly under the wizard's black magic and seemed bent on sucking her dry. Perhaps it was stale bread, often moldy, but it was hers and so rare a treat. Anything thrown into their cells that was not dry, tasteless meat was fought over.

They reached a gate and the jailor opened it. Ninety-Nine stood impassively as the jailor handed her off to the Pitmaster.

"Go easy," the jailor advised him.

"Don't tell me my business, pushdug," the Pitmaster snarled, cuffing the jailor's ear. Turning to Ninety-Nine, he smirked. "Light day today, miss. All the boys are up top, givin' what-for to your folk. Still, business is business, and we gotta keep on. Your turn, and there's a young'un here next in line for his duty. See you make'im feel welcome, eh?"

She winced silently and averted her eyes from the foul creature. While the jailor seemed to have a touch of sympathy for those in his charge, the Pitmaster was a complete bastard. She supposed that was to be expected. Almost none of them were given to kindness of any sort.

A tiny spark of curiosity made her ask, "There is a battle?"

"Aye," the Pitmaster nodded as he took her into the hated room. "Emptied the place to see to it. Only the ones what got banged up at the Fords are here. Lucky thing, you get one'uh the big'uns." He cackled cruelly and patted the table's surface. "Don't be shy, now. Best get on with it, eh?"

Clinging to the relief she knew would come once this... thing... was done, Ninety-Nine climbed upon the oddly-shaped table and allowed the Pitmaster to secure her arms and legs.

The table was in the shape of a split branch, supporting her body with her legs wide apart. Things were different in years past, before her time here; the Pitmaster loved to regale them with such tales. The Uruk-hai used to take them down freely on the floor in a frenzy, but because their master was often unsure which of the brutes planted his seed in which female, he imparted orderliness on the proceedings.

It did not make the violation any less horrific.

"Oy! She's ready, whelp," the Pitmaster called, and Ninety-Nine fixed her eyes on the earthen ceiling. Don't look at it, don't see it, for Béma's sake, don't smell it. She searched desperately for that place of quiet forgetfulness that once spared her the indignity of coupling with crude, foul-smelling men and now relieved her somewhat from the horrors of these creatures.

Ninety-Nine heard the oddly uneven steps of her approaching rapist and steeled herself. One last time, then peace.

"Got bunged hard, eh?" the Pitmaster commented as the newcomer entered. He only responded with a horse-like snort. "Get to it, now. Master's plenty busy, but he'll know if you shirk. He always knows." Again the cackling laugh filled the silent room.

She heard the familiar sound of leather ties being undone, and knew it would be only moments before something hot, hard and unforgiving was rammed into her, like a sword through meat. Even without a fight to spur them to violence, they were ever rough about it.

Her second was a trial to endure. For some reason, that Uruk's seed took longer to accomplish the wizard's goal, and his frequent visits became so routine even he got bored with it. There were several occasions where an Uruk hard at work at a neighboring table was obliged to cuff his ear for trying to strike up a conversation. His lack of interest made for lengthy breeding sessions that left him exhausted. She did not like to remember the third.

Most of the time, the Uruk-hai seemed to be extremely quick to finish, a true blessing. Yet Ninety-Nine swallowed hard and prayed not to live through it at all this time.

"Don't like watch!" the Uruk suddenly roared, and Ninety-Nine startled. "Do summat else!"

"What the fuck is there, eh?" the Pitmaster snapped. "You get on that bitch now, yuh dumb bastard, or it's the whip for you." She heard him lick his lips noisily. "Better for me if you choose the whip."

"Put whip up yer ass," the Uruk growled. "Back off!"

Ninety-Nine dared a glance at her Uruk in time to see a wave of discomfort roll across his face, if only briefly. It struck her that he was in pain; that must be what was holding him up. No others she'd had the misfortune to lie before had hesitated, nor had they cared about having an audience. Frowning, she turned her gaze back to the ceiling. Now or in a few minutes likely didn't matter; he'd be about his 'duty' and she would return to her cell to await his recovery. Then it would happen again. A shudder ran through her.

Quite suddenly, his hips hit between her legs, and he began to thrust. Except... there was nothing inside her. She could feel him, his assault a bruising punishment against her sex, but he wasn't hard. Stunned, she stole another glance at his face.

His jaw was working, clenching and grinding as he stared at the opposite wall. He looked briefly down and met her eyes. He looked... ashamed, and tore his gaze away, firming his lips in a grim line.

Ninety-Nine lay there in shock. She furtively flicked a glance at the Pitmaster, leaning against the wall behind the Uruk. He was casually picking his claws with a knifepoint. Unexpectedly, the Uruk leaned down over her body and growled close to her ear, his voice pitched low and for her hearing only.

"Don't say nothin'," he whispered.

She quickly nodded, and their eyes met once again. It was the oddest thing; he seemed to be grateful for her complicity in his ruse, and returned her nod. She contemplated making some show of discomfort to aid in the illusion, and frowned at the thought. Had she been brought so low that she was reduced to conspiring with these beasts? A long-dead spark of defiance flared for a moment and died. Truly, what would revealing his failure attain? He would likely be replaced with another. May as well help him, if only to buy some measure of ease later when he regained his vigor. Closing her eyes, she whimpered and feigned a sob.

After a few more bruising minutes, he stepped back to catch his breath and the Pitmaster sauntered over. "Feels good after a fight, don't it?" he said almost wistfully. "Lucky fucks, you are." The sound of a hand slapping a hard hunk of meat echoed in the room. "Get yer breath. Master expects five er six outta yuh each day, so make sure yuh don't skimp on rations."

"Fuck off," the Uruk growled quietly.

"Just 'splainin' the rules, since you're new hereabouts," the Pitmaster replied good-naturedly. "Hey, uh... once we know she's done up proper with yer whelp, yuh think I could... just one er two? 'Fore I report it to master?"

"Fuck. Off," the surly Uruk snarled.

"Thought I'd ask," the Pitmaster replied. "Don't hurt to ask, yuh selfish bastard."

After what the Uruk must surely have decided was a reasonable amount of 'recovery' time, he stepped up to the table once more and feigned breeding her. Ninety-Nine wasn't quite sure how to handle the situation, except to be relieved that the despised experience of being raped by one of these foul beasts was momentarily delayed. This was certainly only a brief reprieve. By tomorrow, he'd likely be more fully recovered from whatever injury rendered him impotent, and she would assuredly suffer as never before, for she had witnessed his failure, his humiliation.

If she knew nothing else of these beasts, she knew they did not show their weaknesses around others.

Even as he pretended completion, however, the sound of clattering footsteps on the run down the steps could be heard, and every head turned toward the stairs that Ninety-Nine had not set foot upon since she was taken down here too many months ago to count.

"What's all the fuckin' noise?" the Pitmaster barked with annoyance, and one of his lackeys burst into the room.

"Trees, Pitmaster!" the little snaga cried, large eyes open even wider and showing a bottomless pit of fear. "They's comin'! Broke the doors and they's comin' down the valley!"

"Trees?" the Pitmaster barked incredulously. "What'chou been drinkin, Draug?"

"Ain't been," Draug whimpered nervously. "They's marchin'. Some's up by the dam; what if they pull it down?"

Beneath their feet, the earth began to tremble, and the far off sound of thunder rumbled through the tunnels. The Pitmaster startled, then stared at Draug as if seeing him for the first time. The little snaga nodded jerkily, shifting impatiently from foot to foot. "Down deep here; shouldn't oughta be hearin' nothin'," Draug whimpered. "They's comin'..." His eyes rose to the ceiling as though he expected it to come crashing down on his head at any moment.

Eyes widening, the Pitmaster shot a look at the Uruk. "Trees or no trees, if the dam goes we're dead. Fuck til yuh drown if yuh want, pushdug. I'm runnin' while I got a chance." The two Orcs bolted from the room, running noisily up the stairs.

Drown... Ninety-Nine began to shake. The will to live that she thought she'd lost surged through her, and she yanked at the restraints. To her surprise, the Uruk took to the buckles with shaking hands, releasing her.

"Please," she begged, forcing herself to look at his brutish face. "I'll... I'll give you anything. Don't let me die here."

"Owe yuh," he growled. He hauled off his ragged tunic and pulled it down over her naked body. She stood there, stunned for a moment, swimming in the much larger garment. The question formed in her mind, of why he would clothe her, then was forgotten as he grabbed her wrist and dragged her to the stairs.

She'd been confined to a cell for months, yet the fear the Orcs put in her – trees attacking! - made her run in the big Uruk's wake. The roaring sound was building as they rose through the earth on the winding stairs, and she began to hear screaming...

Ever since her capture, she'd longed to hear the terrified wails of her tormenters, but she'd always hoped she'd hear them from a safe distance. As they emerged onto the ramp skirting the walls of the massive forge pit, she beheld utter chaos.

The smaller Orcs were crowding the ramps, aiming for higher ground as a huge river of water flowed endlessly over the rim of the pit. Down below, scaffolding hit by the cascade toppled onto those caught in the belly of the pit, and their screams were cut off. Ninety-Nine just stood there gaping for a moment, until her Uruk yanked her hand and pulled her into the flow of bodies trying desperately to climb to safety.

There did not seem to be respite above. As the first Orcs reached the top, they were grasped by gnarled, bark-covered hands and flung back into the pit. Ninety-Nine's terrified eyes saw trees come alive, hundreds of them, lining the rim of the pit, hurling rocks down upon the fleeing Orcs. Trees! The Uruk saw this, and pulled her to a side tunnel some others had also run into.

Looking back over her shoulder as the tunnel swallowed her up, she noted how the Orcs mercilessly shoved their fellows off the ramps if they were not quick enough. Just as many were likely thrown to their doom by their own kind as from the trees.

She clung to the Uruk's hand even tighter now, for on all sides were Orcs clawing desperately through the narrow tunnel, bumping her and jostling to be the first one out. She saw no Uruks among them, aside from her own. The Orcs' labored, panicked breathing huffed all around her as the tunnel seemed to stretch endlessly. After awhile, she realized the roaring of the water flooding the pit had diminished with distance, as had the screams of the dying.

She nearly breathed a sigh of relief, and embraced hope that soon this tunnel would end and she might be in the free air again, until she heard splashing sounds.

The tunnel was beginning to take in water. The Uruk looked back at her then flicked his eyes behind them. She dared not see what he was seeing, for it widened his eyes and made him run all the harder. A few Orcs in their wake began to squeal with fear and the sound of their footfalls got louder as the water deepened, rising swiftly to their knees.

Their strides were slowing, as though they swam, and Ninety-Nine begged Béma not to let her die among Orcs, trapped in a tunnel. The water had reached her waist now, and the tunnel seemed to be narrowing further, so they could no longer cluster. Single file they trudged desperately, the ceiling so terribly close she brushed her filthy hair against it. The tall Uruk had to stoop, and frequently cracked his head on the uneven rock. The Orcs behind her pushed her body with their clawed hands, hurrying her along. For once, the touch of such creatures did not offend, for their desperation was also her own.

All at once, the group halted, water up to Ninety-Nine's chest, and she thought they were at a dead end. A keening wail of despair tore from her throat. In answer, the Uruk wrapped an arm about her body, pulling her close against him. Why an embrace from such as he would comfort her, she did not know, but she clung to him hard.

The foremost Orcs were beating on something that had the strangely hollow sound of wood, and her hope renewed. It must be a door; if they could get the aged planks to budge...

Her Uruk released her and shoved his way to the front. His greater weight and strength he now applied desperately, ramming his shoulders against the door hard enough to break wood and bone. Ninety-Nine watched him, willing him to succeed, even as she tilted her chin up to keep the rising waters from filling her mouth.

With a rush, the door splintered open, and the water drained swiftly. Ninety-Nine sagged for a moment against the dripping wall, her legs gone weak. The half-drowned snaga behind her darted past and out, hissing at the sun but likely grateful for it nonetheless. A dark form blocked the light from the end of the tunnel and she slowly looked up at the Uruk's black silhouette.

Without a word, he extended his hand to her. I promised him payment, she reminded herself and bit her lip. Slowly, she placed her small pale hand in his great black one, and closed her eyes for a moment, collecting herself. Just one more... then peace.

When he pulled her into the sunlight, she was momentarily blinded and covered her eyes with her free hand. Even with her eyes shielded, the light was too much to bear after so long beneath the ground. The cold, crisp air bit through her soaked tunic and made her shiver.

"Come," the Uruk urged, tugging lightly on her hand. "Go from here."

She forced herself to look at him. His face was fierce and brutally-lined, his expression unreadable. If he sought to calm her racing heart and shattered nerves, he had a difficult task ahead of him, for now that the worst was over, all that she held at bay came thundering forth. Shaking hard and trying not to weep, she nodded shortly and willed her feet to follow him.

Letting him guide her, she looked about. They were on a wooded mountainside. Glancing back, she could not see the valley of the wizard or his tower, and wondered if they were outside the ring of rock that surrounded it. The trees were just beginning to bud as spring neared, and the forest floor was strewn with damp leafy detritus from a long winter.

The Orcs who had escaped with them were nowhere to be seen.

Her rescuer, if he could be called so, led her silently through the woods for a good distance, perhaps a few miles. Her feet were torn and bleeding, her body near frozen, when he finally halted.

"This good," he growled, and urged her to sit on a fallen log. Then he ranged about, gathering twigs and broken branches to make a fire. Ninety-Nine hugged herself and watched him warily.

Since coming into the light, she'd avoided looking at his body, for it was merely a reminder of the foul torments she'd endured. But now she looked, and her brow furrowed.

His naked torso was laddered with scars. Were the pits so dark she never saw such markings, or had she blinded herself to their brutal bodies to diminish the horror of what they did? Seeing what were unmistakably cuts made by the lash, she remembered the Pitmaster's heavy hand and his favored tool for gaining compliance. She herself bore a few, received early before the will to fight the Pitmaster was smothered. This Uruk seemed to have never taken the lesson to heart.

Down his back at his waist and descending into his breeches was a fresh wound, recently sewn. Amongst the lash marks and other injuries, she could make out the curved abrasions that could only have been made by hooves, and wondered if this was the injury that kept him from fulfilling his duty. She silently thanked Béma for personally laying him low, and putting enough kindness in him to see her to safety, no matter what befell her after. The air was clean, the breeze fresh, the sun warm enough to drive a small amount of chill away. So long had these things been denied her, they were as priceless treasures. She took a deep breath and sighed with relief.

The Uruk worked diligently for several minutes, finally producing a flicker between the sticks he rubbed so vigorously. Hunching over with a pained grimace, he nurtured the tiny flame, blowing gently and feeding it carefully. Soon a healthy fire crackled, and Ninety-Nine reached toward it gratefully.

He stood and stretched, rubbing his back with a wince, then turned to her. She slowly looked up.

"Find meat now," he growled low in his throat. She nodded wordlessly, a thread of worry running through her.

"What of... the others?" she asked timidly as he turned away. He halted and looked back at her. "The other Orcs, that came through the tunnel," she clarified.

He shrugged. "Run off. Master don't call to'em."

"Please," she said urgently. "Will they... come back? While you are gone?"

He shook his head. "No. They got free. Runnin' north."

"What about... you?" she forced herself to ask. Even though his absence would likely make her feel more comfortable, she was loathe to be left alone so close to the place of her imprisonment and torture. "Where will you go?"

"Master calls," he said. Then he grimaced and shuddered. His rough voice lowered to a growl. "Master calls. Not free, like them." He shook his body as though to dislodge an annoying insect and said, "Not listen to Master. Got free." He thumped his chest for emphasis and added, "Stay free." Nodding to her, he turned and limped from the clearing.

Ninety-Nine frowned, unsure what he meant by being free now. Wasn't he free before?