As day settled comfortably once again into her place, the world was glanced over with a cool eye, lashes descending gently, dispatching light breezes to grace the already sweet morning, which sighed, charmed with its own beauty.
Inside the twisting, unwelcome patch of orcs, it was hot. The Morians, yearning for dripping stalactites and slippery, dark safety were blistering in the cheery smile of the sun. Eyes squinted, their slimy paleness painful and roundness disturbed. Sauronites boasted between breaths of shelterless wasteland and burning ash, but still fought madly for the shade of the Uruks ahead. Bodies collided, sweat was shared, snarls were exchanged. Even she was getting uncomfortable as her rough helmet encroached ever closer, pinning skin, crinkled in anger, to a metal barrier from which only a raw tug could free it. She jabbed her arms forward and back with increasing power, thrusting herself forward, and the reflecting sun, caught in the dewy prisms smeared over her limbs and face, shot unwelcome beams into the orcs behind her. Mottled torsos struggled for stifling air, filtered from freshness by the thick hair and grasping gasps ahead. She wove an invisible, jagged thread from the rabble to the front. As new air, untainted by stench and weakness rushed into her nostrils, she ran all the harder. Feet melding seamlessly with the ground, tearing up again, falling, rising, image stark against the blue of the sky but blurred with the darkness behind– she continued.
Her strides lengthened, steady lopes that bore her forth with casual speed. Her mouth opened slightly, a fanged cave engulfing heedless wind. Her mind faded into smooth pounding, and energy streamed from springs hitherto untapped. All was as sweet and powerful as whirling and slicing in combat.
“Sss . . .enjoying it, Whitehand?” A Morian had pulled up beside her, awkward grace and feline snarl marred by stooping posture and thin, spreading hands. She glanced at him. Typical. The snaga couldn’t have been much bigger than a dwarf, yet he dared to come up and speak to her. She could kill him, but it could disrupt her running if he struggled. He wasn’t worth losing her position.
“Anssswer!” He was lucky she was in a good mood.
“Keep quiet, snaga.” She did not slip in a underlying threat-it boomed with every condescending syllable. He was dancing along a very fine line, and not even his padded fingers, used to clinging, would keep him from falling if she shook the rope.
“You Whitehandsss thinkk you’re sso sstrong. You ccan’t even kkeepp a hallflling fromm esccapping. At lleast we know how to fightt.” He licked his ls like a snake. He was a snake-pitiful, legless, and weak, with the only weapon being breakable fangs and light poison.
“Fight? Fight what, a bird? A squirrel? You should have stayed in the caves up North, snaga. Although from what I hear your folk there got slaughtered by a band of men. The men we slew.” Her eyes strayed down to him, contempt in every blue-black glint. “You can’t fight, snaga.”
“Oh?” He snuck out his blade, and shoved the point into her arm, just barely refraining from splitting the flesh. “I ccan fightt, Whitehand. Do nott challlenge me.” The speed increased, the rocks and indents lurked ever more subtly, and bounces, breaks in rhythm grated the knife. Slashing through the sun, she shot her arm over and snapped away the rough edge, leaving it to flicker over air and under handle until it wedged into the hardy earth. He cascaded immediately after it, flowing down clumsily in a desperate attempt to retrieve his only knife. Feet trampled on. She assumed by the crunching yell that he’d been crushed. At least it was one more Morian out of the way. The knife hadn’t even been a good one-the serrated parts were getting dull, and the handle appeared weak. A shame he’d been taken care of so quickly. She could have had some fun with him later if he hadn’t been so stupid. That was the way it always was with the Morians, though. The idiots would challenge you and then not even let you have the entertainment of killing them. Not that the halflings were much better. Carting them all this way and no sport allowed.
She brushed her knife. It had sat at her side for more than a year now, always eagerly anticipating the warm, black stickiness of angry blood. Of course, if it betrayed her as it did Lruqsig, she’d smash it, but until
then . . .she smiled. Lruqsig should never have come against her. Just like that idiot, though. He should have been a Sauronite with all his “cleverness” and causeless arrogance. Growling, she snarled away his memory. The pace was picking up, and if she didn’t, she’d lose her place. Still his image remained, filthily plucking away her patience.
She was still small, then, not even six feet high, but she was strong. And Saruman was pleased with her. He had called her “a little warrior”, and grouped her with Lurtz and Ugluk. Once he had even given her a strip of man-flesh, a rare gift indeed when they had to live off nags and starving chickens. The trees and green lawns still flourished then, although they had begun to be choked by evil fire and Uruks’ whims. She would often go out alone to a spot of hard rock among defiant dirt. She had spent hours getting it perfect–ripping up everything that lived and hunting every animal that drew near until at last all was cruel and poison in death, a jagged grey circle cut into emerald cloth. And there she would dream of blood and sweet death, of fighting next to the one she could trust, of slicing and killing next to him, of long, drawn-out games where they would compete for the most piercing scream and laugh when the other got it. She dreamt of one who knew and would keep her secret, and together they would butcher in perfect harmony.
Lruqsig found out eventually, of course. He was her brother, agile, lean, and sinister, sneaking around and then fighting when others got angry. He had noticed her training harder than the rest, snarling to herself about being “prepared”. At first he believed she was just trying to get ahead of the rest, noting her savage endurance and increasing strength, but then he became suspicious. On their first raid on the Rohirrim, the young Uruks noticed a young maiden seated in the grass, shimmering hair stealing starlight. She had postured delicately a daisy and was stripping it of its petals one by one, whispering, “He loves me . . . he loves me not.” His sibling was too far away– impelling forth the horses– to join in on the killing and the silver delight of scattered petals seeped in crimson blood. She had been furious, raging about lost opportunity, but something in her voice made rage seem more hollow than the echoing halls of Orthanc.
Then one evening he found her. The approaching black juggled freezing gusts in spurts, allowing semi-warmth to settle for only an instant before being bombarded with cold spears once again. She was sitting in her circle, gladly enduring the harsh whines of the wind. In her hand she held a daisy, dead and even scragglier than most. Pricking a petal between two claws she ripped it off and muttered something. Then another, and another. When at last the final brown piece had been torn from the muddy center, she shredded the pitiful stem. It was then he knew. Not enough evidence to reveal to others, but enough to kill the weakling. He approached.
She knew he was coming as soon as his foot flattened the stone, and she rose. How dare he come? This was her spot. He would regret stepping over that boundary. She clenched her knife. It was old, battered, but she had sliced enough to know it worked well enough when she wielded it.
“What did you call me?” Violence tumbled through her voice. Lips curled back to let sharp teeth threaten. He slithered forward, stepping from stone to stone.
“You’re a female, snaga.” He grinned in hate and love for confirming this discovery. He would rid the world of this mistake.
“Snaga?” She hissed the word, fit only for weaklings.
“Yes. Snaga. What, does the word hurt you? You coward. Can’t even fight. You think I’ve haven’t noticed you’ve never tasted blood? Or do you call those–” he shoved an arm at the sprawled heap of small animal bones, ripped from life–“kills? You weakling.”
“Tasted blood? And you have? Oh, I forgot. You skulk around others’ kills, don’t you? Lapping up the remains like a sick dog.”
Her knife swiped out as he sprang. He slipped to the side-he’d always been more agile-and she flew with him. Ducking and springing, hurtling and leaping . . .there! She dove in and nabbed his chest, but only enough to . . .and he was down again, aiming at her legs as he passed by. Skittering away she sliced down. If she could rip his back . . .but he was gone. Breath stirred, and she was facing him in an instant. Whirling her knife down, she pressed it against his, forcing it down. He let it clatter on stone then shoved up, rending muscle and skin as his nails bit into her flesh. Blood blended into the night as she lunged. Grabbing him, squeezing, jamming his arms to his sides. He would not escape. He jerked his head, smashing into her, and she bit his twisting neck, stabbing the thick trunk with sharpened fangs. Jolting, she collided with rough soil. Up again, then whirling in a crazy dance. He had left his knife on the ground, knowing he mustn’t get out of step to dodge for it. She smiled slightly. She had always been out of step, always would be. She dropped for the knife, yanked it out from between rock and earth, and stabbed. When his crushed corpse fluttered heavily to the ground she left it but took the knife. It would be useful.
Snarling, she fondled the knife again. Vaguely she wondered if the halfling would try to escape again. Probably not. She allowed her pace to slow, others to pass. They flowed around her, desperate not to come within reach of her blade, and it was easy to detect the two curly heads of the bedraggled captives. They were so weak. Other orcs, seeing her interest, made no objection as she glided over, staring laughingly as the halflings stumbled, faces sick and tired beneath the soil. The larger one–the one who had tried to fight-looked like he was walking with death. If only she could have a little time with him! She’d make him dance. A rock presented itself, and he tumbled down to be swept up by Ulgtip who ran on. The smaller kept pressing weariness aside for a full two yards, then he also collapsed. Sneering, she slung him up onto her back and continued on. And in the west the day yawned and thought it was about time for closing weary eyes.