Burza hugged her arms all the tighter to herself, crushing the little blanket against her bony frame as she flopped to an awkward stop at the bottom of the steps. She hoped it would not be a prolonged death. If they would but crush her with one of their heavy wooden feet, it would end quickly.
“Burárum, little orc.” The nearest and chief among them rumbled with distaste as he came forward, a gangly limbed creature with a vast beard of moss hanging beneath a great wooden bulge upon his face, what appeared to be a large, lopsided nose. “Unwise, unwise indeed,” it breathed in a low sonorous voice, “to come out here.”
She squeaked in fear and flinched, but made no effort to flee, for trying to run would be purposeless as the Ent’s branching fingers reached down, and snatched her up, lifting her up to eye level, then turning slowly to stride away with her, the other Ents beside him. Great steps Their wooden feet took through the murky swamp and over rotting piles of flotsam. Over the shoulder of the Ent who held her, Burza could see Orthanc falling behind, and upon the high balcony stood Greta, her arms folded, watching Burza go, a sour smirk upon her still bloodied face.
“Why?” The Ent breathed, his golden eyes gazing over her, flashing with anger, but also with curiosity too.
“Mm?” She gulped, her focus flashing back to his long, wooden face. “Why erz, what?”
The Ent blinked, and paused, tipping his wooden head slightly to the side as if pondering her question. “Why, burárum,” he breathed sonorously, “did you come out of Orthanc?”
Burza shook her head, blinking hard. The cruel relentless pounding of the sun, combined with the maddening slowness of the Ent’s speech was making her dizzy, and her head was growing heavier. “Master trieda kill me, and I run away.”
“Hrmm.” The Ent grumbled softly, and with that, he lifted his other leafy, branching arm toward the small orc.
Burza flinched and ducked her heard, fearing that the painful end she feared was coming at last until a cool shadow covered her. Burza lifted her head, finding, to her surprise, that the Ent was simply shading her, holding his gangly wooden limb over her head, so as to cast a shadow upon her.
Wondering, she glanced back at the Ent. Why was this great tree herder doing this small kindness for her? She, who was an orc, whose people had murdered his, cruelly, and mindlessly, who delighted in thoughtless destruction?
“Your race is a murderous lot, burárum.” The Ent grumbled, and Burza stiffened as his wooden fist tightened slightly. “Usurpers with axes and fire, naught but murder in your hearts.”
He made an angry noise deep in his throat, his deep golden eyes flashing fiercely. “I should crush your bones now, for what your heartless, savage kin have done.”
Burza flinched within the stiffened wooden fist, and closed her eyes shut, hoping that the Ent would squeeze quickly rather than slowly, and that death would come swiftly, without much pain.
But the Ent did not crush her, not then, and for a long moment, the Ent said nothing. Slowly, she unclenched her jaw, and tentatively cracked one eyelid before slowly opening both eyes, and glancing once again into the face of the Ent.
“But there is something in your eyes-,” the Ent rumbled thoughtfully, his golden eyes studying her in solemn thoughtfulness, leaving the rest of his words unsaid.
Slowly with wooden stiffness and soft creaks of his knobby wooden limbs, he turned to the other gnarled faces about him, and a low, grating, sound as of creaking, stretching wood, rumbled forth from the depths of his throat, a slow sonorous tone that was answered by the others. He nodded slowly and turned back to Burza.
“This,” he grumbled, glancing again at her, blinking his ageless golden eyes, “will take a long time.” He blinked.
“Sit here.” He set her down upon a small pile of stones beneath the shade of the steep tattered sides of a gouge that had been raggedly torn into the once unbroken wall of the ring of Isengard. “For we-,” he blinked, “are going to decide what is to be done with you,” he finished.
Beyond his shoulder, his fellow Ents were gathering near, creaking slowly back and forth amongst themselves as a grove of trees in the wind. The white bark of a tall and gangly Ent near her, was charred badly as if by fire, the cruel black scars licking up its white bark, a harsh reminder of the dreadful fire that had gnawed greedily at it’s pristine white flesh before the flood had broken through the dam. The creature moved somewhat more stiffly and slowly than the others, and Burza guessed it was pained from its cruel wounds and she lifted a fist, gnawing nervously at her knuckles, knowing it was the doing of her own people.
“I sorry your friends get cut down an’ burnt.” She heard herself timorously call out as the Ent began gradually to turn away.
The Ent paused, and slowly turned back, a look of surprise and hesitation as his deep golden eyes lighted upon her. “Sorry?” He grumbled as if unsure of what she said. He tipped his head. “You are-,” he paused, drawing in a long deep breath, a thoughtful look sifting across his wooden countenance, “sorry?”
Burza ducked her head, feeling sudden shame. What a foolish thing to say, she realized. Sorry could never begin to be enough. Friends he had known from tiny green saplings now lay strewn about him half submerged in the quagmire that was now Isengard, rotting as ripped and ragged flotsam, all that remained of the massive wheels and machinery of Saruman, if their corpses had not been burned in the fires of the caverns.
“That is the first time in my memory,” the great Ent muttered thoughtfully, “that an orc has told me-,” he drew in a slow breath, “sorry,” he finished, a softened, almost gentle tone in his last word, and what appeared to be a smile began to slowly peel across the wrinkled, aged bark of his face. And then he turned away, and with slow stiffened steps, moved to join the other Ents.
Burza sighed to herself, and stretched her lanky legs out in front of her relieved that the sun was at last beyond the western horizon. The cool ebony night was stretching itself across the sky, black like a raven’s wing, flecked with the bright specks of stars above her, the unchanging, faultless stars that had looked down upon her at night for as long as she could remember. They were the only friends she had ever had. They seemed to smile at her whenever she lifted her eyes to them, and it seemed almost to her, as if she could hear their faint singing, filtering down to her through the airy firmament. What an odd habit she had, she admitted. No other orcs she had ever known had given the stars such fascinated attention. They were cold and dead, the other orcs would say, and she was a blind dreamer with flowers in her blood for looking at them. But still, she loved them.
Burza shot a momentary glance at the gathered Ents who were still swaying back and forth, moaning and creaking amongst themselves in their slow tree-ish speech. It had been many hours since the oldest moss bearded Ent had set here down, and she wondered why the delay. They must be a very unhurried race, Burza decided, unless of course, they were stimulated into action, as they had been with the destruction of the nearby forest. Of course, she reminded herself, he had warned her that it would be a very long time before they decided what to do with her. Whether to let her go, perhaps, or to squash her beneath their great, splay rooted toes.
She shuddered at this thought, and glanced away from the Ents, and over her shoulder into the deep shadows of the thick gnarled forest. Perhaps she could run away? She thought. Run away through that dark forest, through the maze of their short, squat trunks, over the thick, gnarled roots and far away until she found a cave, nice and dark and moist to curl up inside, with sliming worms living in the cracks, and mushrooms upon the walls to eat.
Running away seemed the best answer, for she was not sure yet if the Ents would show her mercy, orc that she was.
Almost, she stood, almost she jumped down from the wall to run into the moist shadows of the lowering trees. But then, as she hugged the square of little blanket to herself, she thought again of the old Ent’s wise, golden eyes, and she stopped. Within them, she had seen a hint of softness, especially after she had told him she was sorry for the loss of his kin. And she settled back down, her mind made up to stay.
With a sigh, she pulled the little blanket out from under her ragged garment, and carefully unfolded it upon her lap. With a silvery light, like starlight, it shone, shimmering with the slightest brush of her mottled, callused hand over the cloth.
Clasping it up in both hands, she drew it up and buried her face into its cool depths, drinking in the sweet scent that lingered upon the shimmering fabric. She closed her eyes, and with a thin smile upon her thick, swollen lips, she tilted her head back, holding the breath deep within her lungs for as long as she could. It smelled distantly of flowers, flowers she could not name, but still brought to mind a distant scene. High mountains, impenetrable, and unbroken, and within the sheltered vale they protected, a lush, green valley. A memory of safety and happiness, and of belonging welled from deep within her, and Burza blinked hard, fighting tears that threatened to surface.
Odd, she thought, for never before had she allowed herself to cry. Even in the worst, most painful memories that had scarred their wounds irremovably upon her heart, she had never cried. She had taken her beatings, and her punishments, and all the other vile abuses that had been meted to her with tearless, unemotional acceptance.
But now, as faces, long forgotten formed in her mind, the tears came harder. Eyes smiled at her, some bright and blue, others warm and brown, or cool forest green. All within fair faces framed by golden hair, or shining jet. And among the faces, one appeared the clearest, his eyes shining above a mouth that was twisted into a good-humored smirk. He was calling something to her, but she could not hear it. One word, over and over he called, but his voice was too faint and far away to hear.
But she knew who he was. And as the memory crashed upon her with the force of a demon’s blow, she covered her head with the little blanket, and stuffed a fist into her mouth, fighting the fierce, wrenching sobs that tried to break forth.
“Glorfindel,” she choked, “Glorfindel, Glorfindel-,”