Burza sat crumpled in a small ball, huddled against the ragged black stone of the wall, her arms clutched to her shoulder as if she held something that was not there. In her nervousness, she gnawed at her knuckles, hoping Saruman would not think to focus his wrath upon her. Beneath the stiff abrasive cloth of her worn garment, she could feel the square of folded silver cloth against her skin, and she focused her thoughts upon it. It was soft and cool, and smelt sweetly of something vague and distant. Unlike everything else she knew. Or had ever known. It brought to her mind thoughts and fleeting images that could have been memories, but were not. For all that she had ever known in her dreary, unending life, was blackness. Claws and caves and caverns, were all that filled her memory, harsh beatings, and leering laughing faces.
She shuddered as another wrenching scream tore the air, a shriek of pain from Greta as the fallen wizard Saruman, still powerful in his wrath, picked up the bruised and bleeding woman by the neck, and shoved her roughly against the stone wall.
“You dared to throw away my seeing stone?” Saruman’s voice, harsh and seething echoed again. Gríma, Greta’s brother stood behind Saruman’s shoulder, hunched and simpering, watching his moaning, sobbing sister, with no other expression upon his face than cowardly relief that it was not he who was receiving the punishment. And Burza gnawed her knuckles again.
Burza lifted her eyes for a slight moment, cringing as the woman pinned to the ragged black stone of the wall swiveled her tortured head to look down upon the crumpled orc, and shot the little orc a withering stare.
Saruman drew his hand back suddenly, and released Greta, sending her sprawling to the floor, in a clumsy tangle of skirts.
Greta lifted seething reddened eyes, but rather looking up at Saruman in her anger, she turned her head, focusing her fury upon the crumpled orc.
Burza whined, and covered her head with her arms as Greta scrambled up, only to be sent sprawling once again upon her face, from a blow from the ragged end of Saruman’s broken staff, as her forehead cracked sharply against the cold black of the stone floor.
There she lay, crumpled, before she lifted her face again, and directed her focus upon Burza, snarling at the cringing orc as a trail of bloody drool oozed from her mouth. “The orc told me to.” The wounded mortal burbled weakly, though there was a dark tone to her broken words.
But why would Greta say that? Burza wondered to herself. Why did Greta want to punish Burza? Burza had not told Greta to throw it away. It was not even Burza who had told Saruman what Greta had done. Saruman had somehow guessed it himself. And it was Saruman who had flung her about until she was bruised and bleeding, not Burza.
But then, Burza reminded herself, it was because she was small. And weak. Easy to punish. She had never known pity or compassion in all her dark, miserable life. Any attention she had ever been given, had been harsh, being a small orc, and a female at that. She had grown used to punishment and abuse, not the worst of the horrible unnamable things that she had been forced to submit to, not because she had deserved it, but because she was an easy target.
With this thought, deep inside her, in a miniscule corner of her darkened heart, she felt a twinge of some strange emotion. And it surprised her. It was the same sensation she had felt for the little Man-like creature she had picked up. He was small, but deceptively heavier than what she had first thought, when she had slung him over her shoulder. And he had been frightened. Oh, how he’d fought her to get away! And how fast his heart had been hammering. She wouldn’t have hurt him. He was sweet and small, like a baby.
In all of her darkened memories, she’d never held a baby. She’d never had any orclings of her own, and there were no little ones among Saruman’s hordes. He bred his orcs to be fully mature when they were ripped out of the warm muck of their hibernacula, born for no other purpose but to fight and die.
Burza like her fellow orcs, knew no other emotion but fear and hunger, the only sensations she had ever remembered feeling, the emotions that drove her to live, though why, she could not tell. For life was nothing but cold darkness, and endless misery.
And yet when she had picked up the little creature, she had felt something different. A fierce protective urge it had been, strong enough, that had Greta tried to hurt the little baby creature herself, Burza would have stopped her. Violently, if she needed to. As she should have stopped her when Greta had tried to kill the pretty Elf, Burza reminded herself. The Elf whose long yellow hair, and star filled eyes struck a chord in Burza’s mind, the forgotten memory of an unremembered dream.
And she clutched her empty arms to her shoulder and bit at her knuckles again. For another new sensation gnawed at her, less pleasant, though with less fierce strength than the first, when Burza had stood idly by, watching while the maiden saved herself. And as thoughts pulled themselves together, dragged from the recesses of her memories, a word formed in her mind. An emotion she had not felt in a very long time, for she had steeled herself to it, as it had no purpose in her wretched, miserable existence. Sorrow. She wished she had done something to help the Elf.
“Get up. I tire of flinging you about.” Saruman muttered, his voice thick with fury and disgust as the ruined wizard leaned over his broken staff, staring down at Greta with a cold impatient look in his eyes, and the cringing woman, staggered to her feet, shuddering. And in spite of the blood upon her pale face, she lifted her chin at Saruman, straightening herself as much as she could, and turned toward the cowering creature who sat huddled in the corner.
“Come here, orc.” Saruman ordered, his voice low and dark.
Turning her eyes upon her mistress, Burza cringed. For Greta was watching her with a hardened look seething through her shadowed eyes, and her fists, her long tapered fingers, were slowly opening and closing, like curved, hungry jaws. Saruman, once again was the image of staid, sober calm as he stood some distance away from the bruised and bleeding mortal and leaned upon the broken ragged edge of what was left of his staff as Gríma huddled, half hidden, behind his master’s shoulder, watching his sister through wide, watery eyes.
“Come, Burza.” Greta added with a wave of her hand, and Burza, scrunched and small, biting at her knuckles felt the familiar pang of raw fear eating her inside. She knew that look upon Greta’s face. She would get a beating, or worse. And she could not escape it.
But then Burza felt the cloth of the little blanket again against her skin, and she felt her blood warming.
“May I, master?” Greta asked smoothly with a nod to Saruman, and a half smile, as if his bloody abuse of her had never happened.
Saruman, his eyes fixed burningly upon the small orc, his hands folded over the end of his ragged staff, nodded to the mortal woman, who smiled poisonously, and turned her cold gaze back upon Burza.
Burza gulped. She had done nothing. But Greta would hurt her, and only because Burza was small and helpless.
Greta sneered, her eyes widening in sinister anticipation as she strode swiftly toward the cowering orc, her white, clawlike hand slowly extending toward the cowering orc as her mouth twisted into a hideous smile. “I said, come here.” She snarled.
Something awoke in Burza then, something long dormant. Its source was still hidden in her deepest memories, and though she did not fully understand it, she gasped hold of it, eagerly, almost greedily, and she lunged upward, surprising Greta as she plowed her head straight into the startled mortal’s stomach, knocking her backward before Burza plunged away. Gríma’s pale face gaping in disbelief, and Saruman’s furious, vehement eyes were but a blur in her vision as she darted out of the room. Lurching and scrambling, she clawed her way toward the high arching doorway that led outside as Greta, regaining her feet, snarled her fury after the fleeing orc.
“Come back, you wretched, worthless beast!” Greta screamed, the wild echo of her fury beating upon the frightened orc’s ears like the cry of the Nazgûl. And Burza dared a glanced over her shoulder as she gasped hard, her breath coming in hard, wrenching gasps as she pounced and scrambled her way clumsily over the black stone of the floor, slippery beneath her flopping, thick soled feet. Greta was pounding after her, stumbling and slipping herself, still suffering from Saruman’s punishment. The mortal’s eyes were red and murderous as she closed in swiftly upon the terrified orc, and Burza did not doubt but that the mortal would crush the life out of her, were Greta to reach her. And Saruman would do nothing but look on, with Gríma, ever silent, and submissive, at his shoulder.
But Burza scrambling desperately, reached the doors, at last, and hastily, with strength borne of her wild terror flung them open. Stumbling and slipping, not daring to glance back, she scampered down the great stairs, beneath the sun, hot and cruel, that pounded upon her head and back, relentless and heavy.
Burza stumbled to a halt at the realization of what she had done. Sunlight was everywhere, blasting her eyes with its blinding light, scorching her back and shoulders, nothing but her ragged garment, and the thin skiff of dark hair upon her head to shield it from its merciless eye.
“Very good, little orc.” Greta’s voice, smooth and even, spoke from the doorway, and she looked back up to see Greta in the doorway, still gasping from her run, and still trembling from her injuries as blood trickled from both her nose and her mouth. The mortal was too afraid to come out herself, Burza could see.
“Come back.” Greta urged, her voice sounding gentle now. “You know you cannot last long out there. There is nothing to but death for you if you do not return. Come, little Burza, come back. I spoke too harshly. Do not worry. I promise you, I will not hurt you.”
Burza, perched between the brown swamp below her, and the doorway, glanced downward, watching with trepidation as several of the great tree people, the Ents, came wading near, watching her with curiosity, in their deep golden eyes, and loathing as well.
They despised her people, she knew, and she ducked her head. Small wonder, for much of the near forest, and many of their kin had been slain by her people. Were she to go down, surely she would be killed for what her people were.
“Come, come Burza.” Greta continued, her voice now pleasant and inviting. “Come my friend. They will hurt you, those vile trees. You will be safe with me. Will you not come up?”
Burza glanced back at the mortal who smiled gently at the orc’s timid glance. Gulping hard, Burza took a tentative step back up, her gaze fixed upon the kindly, inviting smile of the mortal, who held out a hand in gentle beckoning.
But then she stopped, and dropped her eyes to the steps upon where she stood. A memory flashed back to her. The pretty Elf struggling weakly as Greta, a wild sneer upon her face, crushed her throat against the steps as Burza watched helplessly, to afraid to move. The Elf had done Greta no wrong. And yet Greta had tried to kill her for nothing more than the wild thrill of destroying something of worth and of beauty. And she had ordered Burza to kill the little Manling. The sweet little baby creature, the little Hobbit. And at this memory, Burza lifted her eyes again, narrowing her gaze as her breath grew deep. That same protective urge welled up in her, and she frowned bitterly at Greta.
Upon the surface, Greta’s eyes smiled, dancing and inviting her to return. And still, the temptation was great. The sun hurt her eyes and her skin, burning, burning her as she stood, unmoving. But there was deceit there, undeniable, and dark, and in Greta’s eyes, deep within them, was the same wild light simmering that had flared forth when she had ordered Burza to kill the dear baby, the Hobbit. And Burza dropped down a step again, glancing over her shoulder at the Ents who were gathering beneath her.
She was caught between two deaths. Burza suddenly realized as her heart grew into a heavy, listless weight. Greta would kill her if she returned. And the Ents would crush her bones if she went down to them.
Burza drew in a deep breath, hugging her arms tightly to herself over the little square of soft cloth. And she knew which choice to make. She would not give Greta the satisfaction of being the one to giving death to her.
Slowly, without a glance back at Greta’s narrowed eyes, Burza turned toward the doom she had chosen, and with her feet flopping heavily beneath her, slowly descended the steps toward the line of silent, waiting Ents who watched her coming with wise, golden eyes.