Muse Quest - Chapter 10: Of Orcs and Eicys
To recap: Eicys is disguised as an orc in Isengard in order to rescue her sister and friends, who are currently being taken to Saruman. Of them all, Eicys is probably enjoying the experience least (except, perhaps, for the angsty Tuima. Or maybe Cebu, who thinks her sister is dead. Or perhaps Wlore and Dilly, who both think their cellmate is weird beyond all description. OK, fine. Eredolyn is the only one having any fun at all at the moment, for reasons beyond mortal -- or elven -- comprehension).
Eicys lay on one of the hundreds of shelves that served Isengard's orcs as beds. She was trying frantically and unsuccessfully to avoid touching either her bedfellows or the lice-ridden, slimy wood beneath her. Waves of sour, rotting stench rolled over her with every exhalation of the orc beside her. She cringed, then the orc flopped over sleepily and she was hit in the mouth with his limp, filthy arm. She shoved it off her face, gagging at the taste, and decided enough was enough. Holding her breath and trying to control the waves of nausea that surged queasily in her throat, Eicys scrambled over several sleeping bodies toward the exit. She elicited curses, yells, and at the very end a heavy blow that knocked her sprawling off the shelf to land with a whump in the slimy mud.
Eicys picked herself up, tempted to use one of the many colorful new words she'd learned on her first day as an orc. Instead she squelched her way out of the barracks and took a deep breath - of a reeking cloud of gas that steamed from the cracks in the earth.
Coughing and wheezing, she stumbled as far from the center of Isengard as she dared. She finally collapsed against an enormous stone pillar with a White Hand painted on it. Eicys scowled at the symbol. "Egotistical sort of villain," she humphed. "Puts his signature all over his own home. Why doesn't his hand have Many Colors, too?" She curled up at the base up the pillar and tried to convince herself, for the fiftieth time in that long, miserable day, that she was having a particularly unpleasant dream. "I'm never reading Lord of the Rings before falling asleep again," she decided, pressing her back against the stone and wondering if she dared take off her armor to sleep. She decided she didn't dare, just in case she wasn't dreaming. She had disguised her head and arms with black mud and rags, but if someone found a goblin dressed in jeans and a t-shirt....
Eicys hugged her arms around her middle and was rewarded with bruises from two buckles and the edge of her breastplate. She grimaced and shifted around the pillar, out of the biting wind, where she slumped in on herself, battling tears. She knew deep down that this wasn't a dream. Her sister and her friends were prisoners of a very real, very evil person, and she herself was hardly better off: maintaining a precarious disguise among some of the most grotesque and brutal creatures in existence.
"Not to mention the food is disgusting, thought Eicys. I swear, if I see my soup looking back at me again..."
She finally fell into a nervous sleep, dreaming of Sonic burgers that grew orc faces and chased her around with bags of gruel which dripped oily black blood.
So at first she was happy to wake up. But the feeling ended very quickly as she opened her eyes and stared into an enormous, brutal face just inches from her own.
Eicys tumbled backwards, making a strangled noise like "aaaurgh!" The uruk jumped. That alone was weird enough. Uruk-hai don't flinch when small muddy girls say "aaaurgh". Or when small muddy goblins say it, either. But this one not only flinched, he looked genuinely nervous.
Eicys hastily checked under her helmet to make sure her face was still muddy and her hair was still hidden. Safe.
But the brute was still looking at her quizzically, and - her heart thumped - fingering its weapon. Eicys offered it a worried grin, remembered her teeth were white, and clamped her lips shut again, wondering if she would miss her head after the orc had removed it.
"Yer not supposed ter be out here," the creature grated. "Should report you, I should." He looked confused and ...nervous? The expression was totally incongruous with his hideous mottled features -- and the enormous, heavy scimitar in his fist.
"Uh - really? Um, well, I'll just be going, then. Um, `bye." Eicys ducked under his muscular arm and almost sprinted away, ready to be stopped at any moment. But the uruk just stood there, looking surprised, watching her.
"Oookaaay, that was weird," thought Eicys, trying to get her heart to start beating normally again. She found herself among a group of orcs that was shambling toward a rickety building she recognized as their mess hall.
"Oh, no", she thought. No more freaky wiggly dishes for me. She joined another group of the creatures that were entering Orthanc, hoping to hear news of her sister and maybe scrounge some real food. She hadn't eaten at all yesterday.
"By a stroke of almost unbelievable luck (well, this is Middle-earth, after all," she thought. "Bilbo had all sorts of luck, why not me?") and a lot of wandering around, she managed to get a job carrying food to the dungeons. The cook, who was human (Eicys could have hugged him from the relief of seeing another human face, but decided that hugging an evil wizard's cook was not the wisest course of action), shoved several platters of slop at her and pointed toward the stairs. Eicys was overjoyed. As soon as she was out of sight she greedily devoured a plateful of the gruel-like substance. Despite the fact that it looked much more appetizing than the orcs' food, she was careful not to start imagining what was in it. The simple fact that the contents were dead was enough to make her grateful.
As she was eating, she peered back at the kitchens to make sure no one could see her. She watched a sulky-looking girl with two black eyes and bandaged ribs turning a spit, and noticed, interested, that most kitchen workers were humans.
"I guess Saruman didn't want orcs cooking his meals," she thought, noticing an elaborate breakfast being prepared, presumably for the wizard. Understandable. She downed the rest of the gruel and grinned at the thought of the orcs' mess-hall cook serving the fastidious Istari. She was feeling very happy as she trotted down the long staircase to the dungeons.
"Aaaaurgh!" she yelped. She had run into an enormous uruk - the same one as before, she realized. Looking into that heavy, brutish face, she managed only a faint "eep!" before sitting down hard, spilling a lot of gruel. The uruk reached down a hand and Eicys threw an arm over her head to ward off the blow - sending a large amount of slop straight into his face. There was a dead silence as the creature grimly wiped gruel from his eyes and reached down a hand again - and pulled her to her feet.
Eicys blinked. "Um," she said, smearing gruel off her front. "Um, sorry. Thank you." The orc nodded jerkily and turned to go. "Wait!" called Eicys. He stopped and turned, towering over her, and she realized she had nothing to say. "I've had brighter ideas," she thought, peering up at him in the gloom. "Er... what's your name?" she asked.
The orc looked astonished. "New here, are you?"
"Um, yes," Eicys said, wondering if she'd given something away, and how to escape before he asked her something she couldn't answer. "I've definitely had brighter ideas."
"So no one's told yeh about me then?" Eicys shook her head mutely, and the orc sighed harshly. "They will, though," he muttered, then said more clearly, "You still gonna take those down teh them pris'ners?" He nodded at the empty platters.
"Oh no," groaned Eicys. "The cook is going to kill me."
"Most likely," the uruk agreed callously. Eicys swallowed hard at the realization that he took her completely literally. She buried her face in her hands.
"I could just... wait, and tell him I already delivered them... But my sis - the prisoners will go hungry..." The orc watched her suspiciously, and Eicys realized with a jolt of fear that she wasn't acting at all orclike; she hadn't even tried to disguise her voice - She looked up at the brutish face looming above her, eyes wide.
The orc's expression was inscrutable, and Eicys was taken entirely by surprise when he said, "C'mon then. I'll get yer sum more."
Bewildered and wary, she followed him as he stalked back toward the kitchens, keeping a nervous eye on the scimitar in his belt. He was the biggest orc she had ever seen, with coarse black hair spilling out from his White Hand-marked helmet, and thick, mottled black limbs encased in heavy armor.
He halted next to the cook, and in a thick growl ordered more gruel for the prisoners. "We've had a few more cum in," he explained. The cook looked at him contemptuously and Eicys held her breath, sure that such an enormous uruk would not stand for disrespect from a puny human. But the orc just took hold of the two buckets that the cook shoved at him, turned, and lumbered off toward the dungeon staircase.
Eicys hurried after, panting under her armor. She caught up with him at the bottom of the second flight. "Why are you helping me?" she demanded.
He turned, looking menacing in the torchlight, but didn't answer. Eicys caught his arm as he moved to continue, and he stopped and stared at her. She cringed, but met his eyes. He still didn't answer, but instead said, after a long pause, "Yer eyes don't match."
Hardly daring to breathe, Eicys quietly replied, "Neither do yours."
The uruk recoiled and stared fixedly at the floor. Eicys peered at him through the murky torchlit gloom. "You're not an orc at all, are you?" His reaction took her completely by surprise.
"I AM!" he roared, a horrible snarling yell. The buckets of food fell to the floor, spilling gruel everywhere, and Eicys cowered against a wall. His mouth opened to bare crooked yellow fangs that nevertheless looked completely usable. Eicys was convinced on the spot and demonstrated it by falling flat on the floor, shaking. "Hardly a courageous heroine," she thought randomly. "I don't want to die in a puddle of slop!"
"OK, OK, you are, definitely, yes, OK!" she wailed, feeling a massive tower of muscle and fangs and armor loom over her. "I didn't mean it!"
The tower subsided, and a normal orc was standing next to her again. ("See how badly I've regressed," Eicys thought. "Since when is an orc normal?")
He was breathing hard and looking thoroughly miserable. Despite her scare, Eicys felt bad for him. It was terribly weird seeing a sad uruk.
"Are you - Are you ok?" she asked quaveringly.
He looked sideways at her, suspicious. "'oh-kay'?" he repeated.
"Er - it means `all right'. Y'know, OK, fine."
This time he stared outright. "Why?" he snarled.
Eicys was at a loss. "Uhm... just curious," she said, kicking her brain for such a stupid answer.
"Tha's a stupid answer," he said. Eicys resigned herself to an enormous, mind-reading, sad, normal orc standing next to her. "I've completely lost it," she thought.
"I know," she said.
"Tha's a stupid answer, too."
Eicys lost her temper. "Well, fine then! You can just show up out of a bad dream and act all weird and tell me like a total hypocrite that my eyes don't match the rest of me, then freak out when I notice yours and go all fainty-evil-approachy - ah, no, wrong type of angst - go all freaky and drop all the food and yell at me for showing a bit of common courtesy!"
A slightly stunned silence followed this tirade. The uruk was looking bewildered. "Commin what?" he asked finally.
Eicys threw up her hands. "Aaaurgh!" she yelled.
He cocked his head. "Ya keep makin' tha' noise. What's tha' one mean?"
"You know," said Eicys sullenly. "Like as in AAURGH." She bared her teeth and lifted her fingers like claws, demonstrating.
The orc burst into raucous laughter.
"That's even wurse than mine!" he howled.
"What?" asked Eicys, stunned. "Than that fit you just threw? The one that just about stopped my heart? Don't be stupid."
"I ain't stupid. I scared yeh, then?"
Eicys nodded weakly. The uruk seemed not to know how to take this. He seemed flattered, suspicious, and worried all at once. Eicys offered helpfully, "I think you scared me out of five years of my life."
The orc looked stricken. "Sorry," he mumbled. Eicys mentally added abashed orc to her Weird List. She decided to turn the tables.
"Why?" she asked, exactly as he had earlier.
His brows contracted. Eicys hugged the wall, fearing another outburst, but the orc was merely thinking. "Dunno," he said finally. "I shouldn't be." He raised his eyes to hers and she felt again the shock of seeing human eyes in such a brutally ugly face. "Jest like you shouldn't `a asked abou' ... ohkay."
"Well," said Eicys after a pause. "That was pretty stupid on both our parts."
The uruk nodded vehemently. "If t'others heard this sorta thing, we'd never hear th' end of it," he growled, his eyes narrowing as if in unpleasant memory.
"Right. So they won't," said Eicys firmly. The orc grinned and Eicys winced at the enormous blackened fangs. "This has got to be the craziest friendship in the history of the worl-- Middle Earth, " she thought, and grinned back.