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Written for the LOTR Spooky Atmosphere challenge. For all whose birthdays I've missed in the past two months since my hard drive died. Note--this particular story is rated R.
Dreams of Conquest
Saruman looked up from the reading stand where he stood over the book he was studying to turn cold eyes upon the servant who’d interrupted him. He ignored the stone table that lay between him and the door as well as its ghastly contents.
The servant had to willfully pull his gaze away from the table and what lay upon it, focusing his attention on the Wizard and swallowing down the bile that burned his throat. “Master, I grieve to interrupt you, but Gandalf the Grey has arrived and demands to give you his report.”
Saruman sighed. He might order his servant to turn away Radagast the Brown with no reason given, but all that such an action would do with Gandalf would be to rouse his curiosity to a point that he would brush past anyone seeking to deny him entrance to Orthanc to begin an active search of the tower from top to bottom for his superior, a search that the Chieftain of the Istari had no desire to see instigated. He looked down briefly at the words written on the page he’d been reading, and with reluctance he closed the book and lifted it, then slid it into the hidden compartment within the lectern where he’d first found it, and sealed it with the Word of Power he’d had to use to retrieve it when first he’d realized where it was concealed. Hiding his own frustration to be drawn away from his chosen studies behind a mask of arrogance, he left the dungeon room, again using a Word of Power to seal the door so that it would not be easily seen, much less opened, by anyone else during his absence, and preceded the servant back up the long stairs to the public rooms of the great keep. “You have offered him refreshment?” he asked.
The servant answered, “Yes, he has both food and a goblet of wine to occupy him, Master.”
“Where did you leave him?”
“In your study, where you entertained him during his last visit.”
This was not so good, perhaps. In the intervening time since the Grey Wizard’s last visit Saruman had been scouring his new home for all books and scrolls of lore left by the scholars of Gondor who had previously inhabited this tower, and had been gathering them into the room that had become his personal study and primary laboratory within the place. Saruman knew that for the most part his fellow Wizard would respect proper boundaries and would purposely avoid reading such notes as his superior had left upon his desk or work surfaces, but he would undoubtedly look to see titles to scrolls and volumes that Saruman had added to his library. Most were sufficiently innocuous as to bear scrutiny, of course. But there were a few that the White Wizard had discovered that he did not wish to share knowledge of with anyone else.
He quickened his step.
Gandalf was seated in a comfortably cushioned chair, a goblet of wine in hand as he read from a volume bound in fine royal blue. He looked up with a smile as Saruman entered the room. “As beautiful a volume of the Lay of Leithian as I have ever seen, my friend. And you found it here?”
Relieved that his fellow Wizard had apparently gone no further than this exquisitely presented version of the ancient poem, Saruman allowed himself a satisfied smile. “One of those who lived here in the Steward Boromir’s day was given to the study of the rule of Morgoth over Middle Earth, and I found this in the rooms in which he dwelt. There were a number of volumes there that he appears to have transcribed and bound with his own hands. He was quite an artisan, as you can see.”
“Indeed,” agreed Gandalf. “How well his writing conveys the evil of Morgoth.” He straightened and declaimed,
“‘A king there sat, most dark and fell
Shivering, Gandalf closed the book and set it by. “I’d wished to speak with you about the orc activity in the Misty Mountains, and when I read the verses, ‘and fled then back to Middle-earth anew to build beneath the mountains mansions filled with misbegotten slaves of hate’ it made me shudder. There are so many new breeds of Orcs to be found on both sides of the Hithglaer that it is frightening. Radagast and I have each counted at least six new varieties different from those with which we’ve been familiar. There is one that is much smaller than any we have seen before, one that forms burrows under the soil when it cannot join larger communities in the more familiar cavern systems. I fear that the Enemy is now making orcs out of Hobbits!”
“Out of what? Do you mean the Periannath? Why on earth would he seek to turn such creatures into orcs?”
Gandalf stiffened somewhat. “Their name for themselves is Hobbit, and out of respect for their sensibilities that is the name by which I shall refer to them. As for why he would seek to make orcs of their stock—well, that has always been the means by which the Dark Lords have added to the abilities of their slaves, by seeking to incorporate the capabilities of whatever victims they can lay hands upon. And remember what happened during the abduction of Elrond’s wife—she was purposely targeted, and it was made plain that the intent was not only to twist her into an orc, but to breed more orcs from her.
“The new orcs that Radagast and I have seen show the effects of Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits as well as Elves having been integrated into Sauron’s breeding campaigns. Radagast has seen an increase in smaller orcs with the ability to follow trails of scent much as hounds do, while I have seen more powerful warriors in the area of northern Rhudaur with clearly Mannish features. Both of us have seen more with Dwarvish tendencies, with shorter bodies but more powerful shoulders, all of them with beards, which had not been that commonly seen in orcs until the last decade or so.”
Saruman found himself very interested. “If one could actually breed features of the various races into orcs—one could possibly build an army that would demonstrate the slavish, brutal nature of orcs that nevertheless could know the endurance of Dwarves and the desire to win at all costs seen in so many Men, as well as greater tolerance of daylight than orcs commonly show, allowing one to move one’s army both night and day.”
“You see the danger we are in?” questioned Gandalf.
“Danger?” It took Saruman a moment to realize how close he was to allowing his grey fellow to realize how interested he was in seeing such a breeding program started under his own supervision.
“If the Enemy should take such an idea into his own head, how much easier it would be for him to move vast armies into position no matter what the weather or time of day!”
“But if we could learn how it is that he interbreeds Men, Dwarves, Elves, and others together, perhaps we could—” He paused to temper his argument in a manner that would not excite suspicion in Gandalf’s brain. At last he suggested, “Perhaps should we learn how such breeding is done, we could then reverse the process and assist those who were brought to the estate of an orc to recover their natural state and mind.”
But Gandalf’s face was grim, and he was already shaking his head. “If,” he said solemnly, “most orcs nowadays are bred for rather than twisted by torture and other unspeakable and unimaginable acts, then how could we reverse such situations? If they were born the way they are, there is no means of returning them to a healthy state, as they never knew a healthy state to begin with. Or do you intend to capture each and all of the Enemy’s orc slaves and seek to breed the orc out of them? How many generations do you think it would take to return these to Elves, Men, Dwarves, Hobbits, or whatever form their diverse bloodlines may have made of them? And what do you do with the orc you use in the experiment? Simply destroy it once you have its offspring?
“No, my friend—you are suggesting a futile course of study, one doomed to failure. And remember that it is likely that too much study on the actions of the Enemy is likely to lead us to become like him.”
Did Gandalf truly shudder while making that pronouncement? Saruman found himself feeling amused.
When Gandalf indicated he would not stay but had hopes of reaching the Anduin within a few days so as to be in Lórien as soon as possible, Saruman did not seek to persuade him to stay at least the night. He saw his guest to the door with a feeling of relief. The less time Gandalf the Grey stayed within the Ring of Isengard the better!
“Grey fool!” he muttered to himself as he watched Gandalf disappear out the main gates. Only then did he return inside and close and bar the door behind him. He ate the meal his servant had prepared for him, not even noticing what it was he ate, much less whether it was well or ill cooked. When at last the servant had retreated with plates and cup, he headed back to the lower levels, allowing himself to reenter the room with the stone table and its ghastly burden. On it lay the desiccated corpse of an orc—a female orc that had been with child. The corpse of the child was sealed within a glass jar of some preservative liquid, and that jar also sat upon the table at its mother’s feet.
He had found records of this chamber in the private rooms of the scholar who’d transcribed and bound the copy of The Lay of Leithian that Gandalf had been reading from, and he had found the Word of Power that opened the door in a list of spells of opening that the Grey Wizard had been building some centuries past when Gandalf had been studying such words and spells throughout the various cultures and peoples of Middle Earth. He’d taken the list when he’d found it in Gandalf’s papers while they were both visiting the White City. When his fellow Wizard missed it, Saruman had suggested that the servants on loan from the Citadel had thought it merely a scrap of waste paper and perhaps used it to lay a fire in Gandalf’s room.
At least Gandalf has proved useful for some things, he thought. In moments he had the book out and open again upon the lectern, and once more he was reading the notes made on the research done by this particular scholar on the breeding of orcs.
Soldiers at the garrison between Calenhardorn and Dunland had found a small colony of orcs not far north of their fortifications, and in cleaning it out they had found nearly hidden corridors leading back to what were obviously breeding chambers. Some of the females freed there had appeared to be from Gondor and Dunland. Those who appeared to be Dunlendings were of no particular caste; but those who appeared to be of Gondorian stock were clearly of high Dúnedain breeding. Most of these true women were totally out of their minds; the few who were able to speak somewhat coherently faded in and out of awareness of what was happening to them. But some who appeared to be women proved to be products of breeding women with orcs, and their response to the caring actions of those who thought themselves the saviors of these individuals were so violent as to defy understanding.
The woman who was most articulate and who demonstrated the greatest compassion for her fellow breeders they overlooked for some hours because she appeared most orc-like. Not knowing what to do with these women and those of their offspring that could be found, the soldiers in the end brought them to Orthanc and gave them into the keeping of those who dwelt in the tower.
Eventually all who appeared to be true women, no matter what their behavior, were sent back to Gondor, where in time all were placed in the House for Unquiet Minds in Lossarnach. But the scholar who’d recorded these events in his private accounts was given the care of those who appeared orc-like. Six had been pregnant when brought to Orthanc, and he housed them in the deep cells and halls under the Keep. When the time for birth became imminent he brought them up to this, his laboratory, and here he removed the twisted infants, cutting each out of its mother’s womb while she was yet alive, then preserving it in a jar full of alcohol and other chemicals, and finally dissecting what remained of the mother’s body.
The body that lay there upon the stone table, Saruman learned, was that of the orc-like woman with the most Man-like and lucid mind and spirit.
How he applauded the work of that scholar, who’d died shortly after opening the body of his last victim, after recording how she begged for the life of herself and her child, and who had died cursing him for his lack of humanity,
The hour was late, the sky greying beyond his windows, when Saruman finally took to his bed, thrilled with what he’d learned from what that orc-woman had told the scholar so long ago about the manner in which she and her sisters in torture had been treated by those who’d directed their breeding so as to produce children that would grow to be the most vicious of orcs. “We could do it today!” he told himself as he pulled over himself the animal skin with which his bed was covered. “We could do the same as the orcs themselves have done, and create such an army for ourselves! If only Gandalf would listen to how we could breed new uruks capable of bearing with sunlight with which to fight the Enemy’s orcs that cannot move in comfort ’neath the light of day! Ah, but think of it—to fight the Enemy using his own weapons….”
And he fell asleep, dreaming of standing upon the balcony, looking down upon the army he himself had created, sending them off southward to attack his enemies.
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