Burza’s feet were weary.
She had been running at a slow loping pace all day beneath the shade of these trees, along this twisting, rutted trail, in what she guessed was a northward direction, from the shaded light that leaked weakly through the twisted branches above her head. And now, she wanted to rest. And eat.
She scowled, and put a hand upon her scrawny belly. She could feel the touch of the little square of silver cloth beneath her ragged garment, and beneath that, the churning of her stomach. She had eaten nothing since she had been in Orthanc, and that had only been a dried lump of bread the day before, that had left her hungry even then.
The trees about her groaned and muttered beneath the low breath of wind that stirred here in the close, green trees as she stumbled to a stop, and flopped down upon a boulder. But Burza paid no heed to them. Treebeard had decreed she would not be hurt, and she knew they would obey his command. Catching up one of her weary feet, she rubbed the mottled flesh of her sole in an effort to restore some strength to the tortured limb as she smacked her lips, wondering what food she could find beneath these wild, untamed trees.
Before her, the bushes rustled. Her eyes jerked in the direction of the sound, and her foot hit the ground with a flop of disbelief as a fat little rabbit came plopping out, busily munching at the rich, low hanging greenery, unaware of the orc seated but a pace away.
Burza gaped. She had seen no sign of any living animal, other than herself, in all this trackless forest. But now here was a rabbit. A fat juicy one, she realized, and she felt her mouth watering as the little animal lopped nearer, busily chewing, its tall narrow ears peaked, covered in a soft grey down, and laced with delicate pink veins.
Burza shifted her weight, and the little rabbit looked up. Its brown eyes gazed straight into hers, and her keen senses smelt the hard, delicious taste of its sudden fear. It bolted, and the slender orc burst after it.
The smell of the little creature’s fear wafted to her nostrils deliciously, and she scampered even faster after the rabbit that flew over rocks and under bushes in its flight to escape the hungry orc pursuing it. It dashed one way and the other as they plunged farther into the shadows from the trail, frantically trying to throw her off, but Burza moved as nimbly as the frightened little animal, tailing it unwaveringly. She smiled to herself as at last, the terrified little beast found itself trapped in a narrow, hollow place between the two jutting roots of a great tree, its only escape blocked by the hungry orc.
Desperately, the little animal pressed itself back into the tree hollow as far as it could, but to no avail. For Burza pounced near, flopped upon her knees and reached into the shaded hollow, clapping a hand over the little creature’s back. The rabbit stiffened beneath her claw and struggled weakly, though she only tightened her fist.
The fur beneath her hand was warm and soft, the little ridge of its spine stiffened in fear. And suddenly a sensation stole over her heart, soft and warm, like the emotion she had felt when she had picked up the little baby creature, the Hobbit. The rabbit was afraid. It did not want to die. And the wave of empathetic compassion welled only higher within her at this knowledge.
Her stomach growled. Her belly was empty, and her body was beginning to feel the effects of her hunger. She was tired, and her body was weakening, especially now after her furious pursuit of the rabbit. Her orcish instincts demanded she give no thought to the poor creature’s plight, but simply to wrench it from its hiding place, and tear mindlessly into it, ripping the meat from its bones. But something beneath her orcish soul and heart cried out in self reproach. Something sweet and warm that was growing slowly to life, like a delicate, springing flower, begged her to spare the rabbit such a painful death as she meant for it.
Her hand opened, and withdrew from the hollow. The rabbit glanced at her in what she imagined to be a look of wondering confusion for a fractured moment, then bolted past her and away, its furry hindquarters surging, its little cottontail flared as it plunged into the deep undergrowth and was gone.
Plopping her full length tiredly to the ground, Burza dropped her chin onto her fists. What would she do now? The trail was lost, somewhere behind her. And she was hungry. So terribly hungry. What would she do for food? Aside from the rabbit, she had seen nothing but trees and low undergrowth for so very long. Would she die of hunger before she reached the edge of Treebeard’s woods, in spite of his mercy?
She laid her arms upon the ground and dropped her head upon them, her gaze going to the side of the small clearing where she lay.
But then her head shot up again. For before her, she saw a low, leafy bush. One she had not seen in the moments before. Amongst the leaves, bright spots of color peeked out here and there.
She hopped up, dusted the front of her ragged garment free of twigs and leaves, and took a step nearer to the bush. Red little lumps, bulbous little things grew upon the bush, and Burza approached carefully, tipping her head to one side and the other in befuddlement. She had seen something like this, long ago, but she could not remember where or when. Nothing so green and colorful grew near Barad-Dûr. And Isengard had become nothing but a waste of ragged land long before she had been dragged there.
Reaching tentatively out, she touched one of the bulbous things with her long, crooked finger. It swayed on the bush, and did nothing. Carefully pinching the thing between her thumb and forefinger, she plucked it with a soft pop, from the stem, and with a grimace, plopped it into her mouth.
Ai! Burza gasped with delight and her eyes opened wide at the exquisite sweetness that burst into her mouth as she chewed. It was called a berry in the Common Tongue, she remembered now. Puicca in-, another. She chewed more swiftly, and her hands reached greedily for more, plucking the small tart fruits and shoving them into her mouth as fast as she could chew and swallow them, gradually filling her empty belly.
The wonderfully tart taste sparked her memory and filled her mind with vague images, and in her mind she saw fields of bushes of this same kind, laden with small red berries like these. She held a basket over the crook of one arm. Her hands were smooth, her fingers tapered and fair, though stained slightly with berry juice. And she was picking handfuls of small red berries, and dropping them into the basket she held, weighting it, though in her gladness, it was not heavy for her to bear. It was a bountiful crop this season, and she was pleased.
Upon the air, a voice called, though she could not hear the word he spoke from the breeze that brushed about her. Still she smiled, for she knew the voice. She turned, brushing a lock of golden hair from her eyes to watch him. He waved at her as he approached, and she smiled at the way the morning sunlight caught off his golden hair as he came striding toward her. She lifted her free hand, and waved back.
Burza choked and coughed, and stopped her hurried eating. She sniffled at the image that faded now from her mind as she found herself once again back in the shadowed forest before the leafy bush, already stripped of half its berries.
“Glorfindel.” She muttered beneath her breath. And a sad weight came over her heart. She glanced again at her hands, stained with the red juice of berries. Curved and clawed they were, scarred from countless beatings, the skin mottled and grey.
She thought of the fair hands she had seen in her memory, white and unblemished, as she plucked these same berries. Innocent she had once been, unscarred, untained by evil. Could she ever dream to be that way again? Her heart despaired at the thought, and she sat down hard upon the ground, pressed her face into her ragged gnarled hands, and began, once more, to cry.