Sliver of Morgoth

Can orc’s be redeemed? There is a theory that they are ‘Slivers of Morgoth’ and therefore have no choice but to share in his will. Well, maybe.
For the true fanatics I have included references to the dates so you can work out what the other characters are doing while my orc is busy here.
There’s a language warning on this. Orc’s, as you’d expect, swear a bit.

As Éomer had commanded Théoden’s knights gathered up their king and their fallen fellows, and the Lady Éowyn, to bear them back to the city. Merry, still weeping, gave what aid he could, although his right arm was strangely cold and a chill from it seemed to creep through his body. In every direction there was death and ruin. Bodies of Rohirrim knights were scattered around him among bodies of orcs and bodies of Easterlings. It seemed as though death stretched forever in every direction across the wide plains.

He tried to lift one of the knights away from his fallen steed but, with his armour, he was too heavy for Merry. As he tried, though, he heard a cough and a moan and, for a moment his heavy heart gave a small leap. The man was alive!

But he was mistaken. Under him lay an orc, face down in the dirt. His legs were trapped under the horse and the rest of him was trapped under the man. He had taken a spear in the back but he was still breathing. Black dribble dripped from his mouth and sightless eyes stared at Merry.

“The closer you get to them the worse they look,” said Merry to himself. His own sword was gone so he reached for the knight’s sword, thinking to finish off the orc. But a wave of coldness crept across his chest from his right arm, reaching towards his heart. He slumped down on the ground and breathed deeply, trying not to faint, even though this brought him close to the orc.

“And they smell so bad too, I wonder if they know?” The orc coughed again. “But I don’t suppose anyone ever asked him if he wanted to be an orc.”

Merry could see the orc had a leather flask on its belt. There was a symbol on the stopper that recalled a memory on the road to Fangorn Forest. He dimly remembered having his head drawn back and a foul liquor forced down his throat on the long, evil journey with the orcs. They wiped it on the cut on his head, too, and it had stung fearfully.

The orc drew a long shuddering breath and its eyes focussed weakly on Merry.

“Ahh, horse boy. You’ve done for me. What are you waiting for?”

“I’m not from Rohan. I’m a hobbit. Meriadoc Brandybuck of the Shire.”

“Well… Meriadoc Brandybuck of the Shire, who is not a horse boy…” he coughed again and black spittle ran into the dirt. “Grobat of Durthang, at your service. What the hell are you sitting there for, you little slug? Watching me die? You’re a cruel bastard, aren’t you? I saw what you did to the Nậzgul, oh yes. You’re small but you’re vicious.”

“No, not vicious…” but the coldness was reaching for Merry’s heart again. He could barely move his right arm. He was never vicious in the Shire. Stealing mushrooms was the worst thing he had ever done. Anyway, he couldn’t reach the knight’s sword.

With his left arm Merry groped for the flask and pulled it from the orc’s belt.

“What? What are you doing? Thieving now, is it? Couldn’t you wait until I’m dead?”

Using one hand he unstopped the flask and sniffed it. Yes, it was the same stuff. He knew it tasted awful. Maybe he was being vicious. He pushed the neck of the flask at the orc’s open mouth and squeezed the bottle so that the brown fluid gushed inside, making the orc cough and splutter more. It must have been the way he moved his left arm, but the coldness in his chest drew away from his heart a little, although his right arm was virtually numb now.

“Oh, shit, I hate that stuff,” growled the orc.

“So do I,” said Merry. “Well, good day, master Grobat. I must take leave of you now. I suggest you lie very still while they lift this fellow off you. My friends may not be as kind as I am. That’s as much as I can do for you. I’m sorry I cannot do more.”

A moment later Grobat the orc felt the weight of the horse boy lifted off him. One of the live soldiers hauled Grobat out from under the horse, ripped out the spear, and flung him aside. He bit his tongue so that he wouldn’t scream and then he passed out with the pain.

It was hours later he woke again. Night had fallen and the ground was damp. It had been raining but now the cursed stars were out, glowing smugly up there knowing nothing could touch them. It made him sick.

The liquor had done its work, though. He was badly wounded but he wasn’t dead. He could manage a sort of crawl as long as he didn’t put any weight on his left arm. When he tried that the pain threatened to make him pass out again. He knew he had to reach the river. If he could find some way across he could rejoin his mates. Then he would be okay.

They had lost the battle. That was obvious. Someone had slipped up badly. The horse boys had turned up and the High Nậzgul was dead. Even then they had outnumbered the Tậrk rebels so something else must have gone wrong. Whatever it was it would be the poor footsloggers who had to put it right. It always was.

He heard one or two of the ‘bodies’ he passed moan, but he didn’t stop. It was every orc for himself, and he didn’t give the Easterlings and the rest a thought. He just had to get back over the river. That was all he needed to think about. (15th)

*

Orcs are tough. They have to be. The weak ones are killed off early. The rest live on bad food, bad water and bad air. So Grobat made it to the river.

The water was cold and deep and black in the darkness. He could see well enough in the starlight (orcs can see well at night) that the temporary bridge they had ramped across was broken. He might have swum for it but he would never make it with this great hole in his back. He could barely move his arm and shoulder.

There were many abandoned boats on this side of the shore. Well that made sense. All the dead troops who came over today wouldn’t be using their boats to get home. The trouble was they were large boats, more like barges, for carrying dozens of orcs across. Grobat did not have the strength to move any of the barges, but he found something smaller. There was a long boat, a kind of oversized dinghy. But it was too heavy as well. If he hadn’t been wounded he could have done it, but he couldn’t, and he hurt himself trying.

He sat by the water, his back against one of the stone walls of the old Tậrk city, and stared across at the other side. It was thick with ruined buildings. They had done some good work here, smashed everything and burned the results. That will teach the bastards.

But it had not, of course. They had lost today. And there would be trouble over that. If Gothmog, lieutenant of Mordor, survived today he would be skinned alive after this. Even the precious Nậzgul would have to grovel. Although the thought crossed his mind that perhaps none of them had survived either. He himself had seen one of them killed.

No, the rest of those creepy Nậzgul survived. He was sure of it. And even if Lugburz made them pay for today’s stuff up it would only be to ensure they made everyone else pay too. Oh, yes, they would all pay for today.

A groan behind him made him turn quickly. It was possible the Tậrks had sent clean up patrols down here. He had to be careful. But it wasn’t a Tậrk it was another orc. He was lying beside the wall in the shadows.

“Hey! What the hell are you hiding there for? What are you up to?”

“Not… hiding, stupid bastard. I… wounded.”

“Oh, you too. No good to me then, are you? Useless as a fart. How bad?” he asked.

“Lost an arm. Bleeding.”

“Oh. That all?”

“Shit face.”

“Let’s have look.” He took the stopper off the orc liquor and tipped some onto a rag he picked off a body nearby. Then he grabbed the other orc and smeared the liquid over the still bleeding stump. The other orc cried out and struggled, but Grobat held him still by kneeling on him. He had lost a lot of blood, of course, so he was weakened. The only reason he hadn’t bled to death already was that he had been clenching the stump closed with his remaining hand.

Grobat pushed the neck of the bottle into the other orc’s mouth and forced a couple of gulps down. That left him coughing and gagging and writhing in pain.

“Ohh, you bastard, you evil bastard.”

“Shutup and lie still a while. You’ll feel better, you know you will. And it will take two of us to shift the smallest boat I’ve seen here.”

“Shift a boat? You’re raving. We’ll die here. That stuff,” he nodded at the flask. “That stuff won’t cure this.”

“No. But you’re already sounding better, even if you don’t have one of your arms. You don’t smell any better, though.”

“You stink, too. So who are you?”

“Grobat, from Durthang. Foot slogger.”

“Trậkash. I’m from the Morgai, the fifth patrol. I’m an archer, though I can skewer a Tậrk if he gets close enough. Those horse boys did for me though.”

“Me too,” said Grobat. “Someone stuffed up badly today.”

“Those horse boys weren’t supposed to be within a hundred miles of here,” said Trậkash. “I heard we had some big trap laid for them on the road. I don’t know what those Nậzgul were doing with themselves. They should have been keeping a look out, seeing where the horse boys went.”

“Careful, careful. Don’t talk like that. You never know who’s listening.”

“I don’t give a shit any more. It wasn’t just the horse boys, there were those ships of Tậrk soldiers after that.”

“Ships?”

“Came up the river. We thought they were ours. They told us we held the river mouths. But it wasn’t our boys who got off them when they docked. Oh, no. They had some real bastards with them too. Big grey eyed men, one of them just waded through our boys with his big sword and cut them to bits. There was a dwarf and at least one elf with them, too. I was always told they hate each other’s guts. They’ll find some way to say it was all our fault, but I say the Eye was pulling himself instead of watching what the enemy was doing.”

Grobat whistled.

“I heard a rumour of a Tậrk captain with a special sword, the sword that cut… you know, cut His fingers off long ago. It has been remade. Maybe that was him. They said we had to move before we were ready because we had to stop him.”

“Well, the Tậrk captain wasn’t stopped today. Lugburz had better do some thinking. And some looking with that Eye for a change.”

“All right, that’s enough gabbling. On your feet and get shoving this boat.”

“Shut your ugly face. Who are you giving orders to?”

“Neither of us have any weapons, but you’ve got one hand, I’ve got two. That means I can strangle you. So get moving.”

“Bastard,” muttered Trậkash. But he got up and, when Grobat directed him to, he put his good shoulder to the long boat. Together they managed to move it. At first it was just a little and then it slid smoothly into the water. Grobat waded in after it and, although it wrenched his wounded shoulder, he swung himself over the gunwales and into the boat.

“Argh!” The cry came from Trậkash. He clung onto the gunwale with his only hand and his stump banged uselessly against the boat, unable to get purchase. “I can’t do it!” He glanced over his shoulder. The momentum of the boat had taken them out into the stream where the water was deep. “I can’t swim!”

“Useless as a fart,” sneered Grobat. But he reached down to his stump and hauled Trậkash over the gunwales. Trậkash tumbled into the boat and groaned in pain. “But it takes two to row this thing. Stop snivelling.”

It took a day and a half to make it back to the Morgul Vale (midday 17th) where they both endured an orc hospital. Trậkash was pronounced fit and told to learn to use his left hand fast because he would be in the front lines with a sword in the next battle. Orc armies always put the most expendable in the front. He was sent back to the Morgai.

Grobat was treated with more hope. More orc liquor was poured into his wound and it was stitched up. But they were soon all on the move up the Morgul road (19th). Any of the sick who could not walk had their throats slit and the rest trudged along in a long weary column. Some dropped by the way and orc guards despatched them and rolled them off the road, usually over a cliff. Sometimes they just rolled them off the cliff to entertain everyone with the screams as they fell.

But Grobat was one of the lucky ones. His stitches held and there was nothing wrong with his legs. They marched on over the pass and stopped at the tower of Cirth Ungol (20th). It seemed something had slipped badly here as well. Most of the mess had been cleared up but there were pools of black blood all over the courtyard and a heap of used armour and weapons they were to help themselves to.

“What the hell happened?” asked Grobat.

“Mind your own business,” snapped one of the Uruk guards. “Nothing to do with you.”

Which meant they had no idea decided Grobat. But it looked as though there had been one hell of a fight. He didn’t know any of this mob, but he could see helmets with the Morgul markings and others, the locals, with Mordor colours. Who had they been fighting? An even more interesting question was where was this enemy now? If they had any of the enemy they would have been crowing about it, so whoever it was had got clean away after massacring the tower guards and their Morgul reinforcements. And it all happened inside the tower. And that was guarded by the Watchers. Everyone said nothing could sneak past them.

Everyone seemed to be talking a lot of bullshit lately.

Once they had done their dirty work the enemy had not bothered to hold the tower, they had gone and left it to be reoccupied. Did that mean they were coming back? Or were they waiting on the road? Grobat did not sleep that night. It was partly that his stitches were hurting, and partly that he wanted to keep an eye out for surprises. A couple of times he felt the chill of a Nậzgul circling overhead. Much bloody good they are, he thought, always hanging around too late to be useful.

Next day they marched on with Uruk guards using whips to keep the pace up. Only the strong ones had made it this far and the road was easier anyway. It led downhill into the Mordor plain and then they turned Northwards towards Durthang, Grobat’s home.

The rumour was, though, that they were all heading for Udun and then the Black Gate. It seemed that this time they were going to deal to the Tậrk rebels once and for all. They were saying that this was all part of the plan, that the Pelennor disaster had only been a feint and that the Eye was laying a trap to catch all the rebels together in a pincer movement.

Well, thought Grobat, they would say that. It is not as if anyone would argue. He marched on with the others.

They stopped twice a day to drink some bad water and eat some stale bread. Grobat, of course, had never seen anything but stale bread so he thought of it as just ordinary bread. It took two days to Isenmouthe (22nd)), and there they almost had to fight their way through the jostling and confusing mobs. Several of the Uruk guards got into a fight and one was killed before a troop of big Uruks with more authority broke them up and herded them all inside Udun.

After all that frantic hurry up the road they were then made to wait. There was much grumbling and sharpening of swords. Grobat fell in with his Durthang cohort, so he was with his mates and they could all grumble together under the lash of an Uruk guard they knew.

On the second day in Udun he ran into Trậkash. Trậkash had been kitted out with some old armour and a notched sword. He had no shield, of course, because there was no arm to hang it on.

“I’m one of the heroes of Pelannor, I am,” he said sourly. “So I get a front row view of this next business.”

“You can have it. You talk too much anyway,” grunted Grobat.

On the morning of the third day (25th) the blaring alarm horns echoed off the surrounding hills. Troll trumpeters blew them and they made a huge racket. Grobat’s camp was near one and it was an hour before he could hear much after that. But it seemed they were all to form up ranks behind the Black Gate and (astonishingly) they were to do it quietly! Everyone laughed and jeered when they heard this and the Uruks had to move through the ranks with their whips to keep order. It seemed the Tậrks were not supposed to know about the huge force gathered behind the gate.

The gate was huge and black and iron and loomed ahead of them. Behind them everyone began to feel the Eye glaring at them, weighing them down, sapping their will. Whatever the Eye wanted they would do. And the Eye wanted them to kill the Tậrks.

But first there had to be some more stuffing around. It took most of the morning. First the Mouth arrived on his fire horse and executed a few of the weaker orcs in the front ranks. The Mouth was a specialist in taunting. Even minor executions were artfully drawn out. Then the horns sounded again and the great gates opened a chink to let the Mouth and a few Uruks through. It seemed they were going to treat with the enemy, but everyone knew this was just another taunting preceding the grand execution.

Not long after that the Mouth came back white-faced with rage or fear or both, the drums and horns sounded, the gates opened and they were on the move.

There weren’t many Tậrks. Grobat could see over his fellows if he craned his neck and they seemed pitifully few. Easterlings were sweeping towards them from the cover of the mountains and orcs were boiling from tunnels in the hills as well as the main force charging through the gate.

He could see the Tậrks deploying themselves on a couple of pieces of higher ground, barely rises in the ash strewn plains. The horse boys had dismounted and he could see the White Wizard among them. He seemed to glow with a harsh white light. Nearby was a tall Tậrk captain with a huge sword. He thought he saw a dwarf in among them as well. Then Grobat had to concentrate on his feet. If he tripped now he would be trampled, and no one would care.

The Eye was like a heat on his back, and a burning in his head crying “Kill! Kill!” He felt a growing rage at the Tậrks, a desperation to get to them and hack them with his sword, even the dead ones. Anything that looked like a Tậrk he wanted to rip to pieces. And then they would feast on their flesh.

There was a clattering roar as the front row collided with the Tậrk forces. Swords, limbs and heads flew in all directions. The press behind faltered and then moved on. Trậkash was up there somewhere. For a moment Grobat wondered how long he survived, then he was in the fighting himself.

There was a horse boy. He swung his sword at Grobat and Grobat dodged and slashed at the man’s leg. His sword hit bone and the man screamed and went down. A slash at his neck and Grobat moved on. Someone crashed into his back and he felt his stitches open, but he kept his feet. Up ahead one of the trolls was having a wonderful time stamping on anything that moved. Grobat knew to be careful around trolls. They were the stupidest things alive, and they would stamp on an orc if it got in the way. But it was clearing a good path through the press. It made enough room to get a good swing with his sword.

Another glance up ahead told him the troll had hesitated. Someone was pressing a spear at its chest. Well, that wouldn’t last long. The troll swatted the spear, and the man holding it, away like a fly. Then something caught Grobat’s eye and he paused in mid swing, almost getting his head sliced off in the process. He dodged in time.

In front of the troll he could see what looked like a human child, no it was the size of a half-grown human but it wasn’t. It was that thing he had met at Pelannor. What had it called itself? A hobbit? It was wearing a Tậrk helmet and waving a tiny sword at the troll. It would be pulp in a moment.

And it was so small. What were they doing bringing something like that out here? Weren’t the Tậrks supposed to be…what? He couldn’t think what, the voice burning in his head blotted it out.

But it did not stop him acting. His reaction took barely a second. There is only one way to stop a troll from behind. Grobat ducked in under its stubby tail and rammed his sword upwards. He was rewarded with a shower of blood and excrement, which covered him from head to foot. The troll gave a confused groan and then toppled forward like a felled tree and landed with a crash. Grobat was knocked clear by the tail but he took most of the blow on his head so he couldn’t move for a while, and by that time someone was yelling about eagles. He knew it was best to lie doggo. He wasn’t going to be much use to anyone for some time.

And then he felt it.

Suddenly the Eye was gone. It wasn’t there. The voice in his head vanished and he could think what he wanted to again. From far away came a deep rumbling and he could see a redness in the sky behind him, as if Mount Doom was blowing its top.

His mates were all dropping their swords and looking around in confusion, even the Uruks, and Grobat knew that lying doggo was not going to do him much good any longer. He clambered to his feet, dodged a blow from a Tậrk, and took a quick look at the troll. He could just see the little guy’s foot poking out from under it. Maybe he was okay, but probably not. It was time to run for it.

He ran, with his fellows, towards the gate. But as he ran he reconsidered. The mountain really was blowing its top. That was obvious now. He veered to the right, looking for the Ithilien road. If he could get among the rocks by the road he would be safer than back in Mordor. Besides, where would the Tậrks be looking for orcs after this?

His wound was thoroughly opened up by now, and he was covered in troll blood and filth, but he kept going until he found some rocks he could cower behind. He flung himself down and lay low for hours.

It was late in the day that he heard movement on the road. The Tậrks were on the move. They must have been gathering up their wounded and doing whatever they did with their dead. Grobat knew they didn’t eat them.

It was a long, slow procession. He could see men leading horses with wounded sagging on their backs. Some of the wounded could walk when assisted by their friends and they hobbled along slowly.

There was the White Wizard, not glowing now, but looking more like a man. But the thing that really caught his eye was the hobbit. He was walking beside the White Wizard. Well, he made it after all, thought Grobat. But there was something else. The White Wizard was carrying someone small. It was another hobbit. He looked dead. Behind him walked that Tậrk captain with the big sword. He was carrying yet another hobbit. How many of them were there? And why were they so important? They were carrying them home even though they were dead. Perhaps they were good eating. But he knew it wasn’t that.

It was good to know one of the little guys had made it. From the look of his armour he was the one that was under the troll. The other two looked to be wearing orc gear. Were they spies? And there was a dwarf and an elf with them, trudging along behind.

Grobat’s eyes lingered on the elf. Orcs hated elves more than anything else. Grobat had always despised them. But all he could do from here was watch and think. The elf was straight-limbed and tall, although not as tall as the Tậrk captain. He was strangely… good to look upon.

“You’re getting soft,” Grobat muttered to himself, and hunkered down among the rocks before he was seen.

It was hours before it was safe to come out. The Tậrk army moved slowly with their wounded and, even when he thought they were all gone there were stragglers. But finally thirst and hunger drove him from the rocks to find a stream somewhere.

Of course the desolation around the Black Gates was no place to find water, so he had to follow the Tậrk army along the road, keeping a wary eye out. It took more hours before scrubby vegetation appeared along the road and Grobat took the first opportunity to find any fold in the ground off the road where some water might have gathered.

The first pool he found was oily and tasted so foul he retched at the smell of it. He wanted to wash the filth off himself but this water was dirtier than he was. So it was back to the road and trudging on until there were real trees by the road and he could hear running water not far away.

The swift stream ran across the road, making a shallow ford. The water was fresh and clean and very cold. It flowed down from the heights of the Ephel Duath. It was dark by now, and he could see stars reflected in the running water, dancing lights in the darkness. They showed him that just downstream from the road it formed a pool that swirled and brimmed over into a torrent that ran on down the slopes. Grobat drank deeply.

He slipped into the pool, untroubled by the chill, and scrubbed himself clean of the troll’s filth. The water stung his wound and he had to clean that with some care. No doubt the broken stitches would give him trouble soon. No matter how hard he scrubbed he could not get all the filth off. But at least he was cleaner. He had discarded his armour and the vile skin breeches he usually wore when he cleaned himself, and now he hesitated to reclaim them. Instead he lay on the bank of the pool and stared at the stars in the water.

And there on the banks of the pool Grobat wept for the first time. He was an orc and there was no escape. He had been bred orc-fashion in Durthang, and all his long life he had only learned to be an orc. No amount of scrubbing would change that. And the little hobbit had been kind to him. It wasn’t fair. Orcs were supposed to be hated and hating. And he had been rescued, and he had rescued in his turn. His tears mingled with the starlight as if they wept with him.

The next day he went looking for food. There were small animals that were easy to catch, but there were berries and fruits that were easy to find in this part of the country. He feasted on those and found some dry grasses that he could weave into a rough covering for himself. His first attempt at this was poor, but his second attempt was much better. He became ambitious and formed a finer weave and stitched together several pieces to form a passable pair of breeches.

He found that the higher fruit was tastier than the lower, so he found himself stretching taller to reach it. And every day he returned to the pool and scrubbed again and again, and every night he slept beside the stream. At times he fancied it whispered to him in the stillness of the night, and he found it comforting, though he did not know why.

A year later Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, and his lady Éowyn of Rohan, with a party of revellers, came riding through the woods near Henneth Annun. This was a place well known to Faramir during the war, but he had been too busy of late re-ordering his lands to the south to spend much time in the unpopulated north. He had spoken fondly of the place to his wife so many times that she had arranged a holiday for the court and they had come north with pavilions and picnics and musicians.

Early one morning Faramir and Éowyn rode alone beside the stream and felt as though it was the beginning of the world, for all was silent and there was dew on the spider webs making them look as though they dripped with jewels.

As they walked their horses they came upon a strange figure standing in the shadows on the other side of the stream who made to flee.

“Stay, stranger!” called Faramir. “You need have no fear of us. We are no bandits. But come, what are you, sir? You seem like one of the Druadan wild men, but…”

Grobat stepped from shadows, and stood still. Letting them look on him. They would kill him because he was an orc. But he could not escape now.

“Pardon my mistake, master elf,” smiled Faramir. “It is long since the fair folk were found in Ithilien. I rejoice to see you.”