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21. Thranduil Needs a Pedicure
The woman’s face had clouded considerably, but in a melancholy way rather than angry.
“Saruman did much evil,” she said, her voice heavy with sadness.
“I know I promised myself I wouldn’t kill again, but if I ever meet that load of excrement, I will cut his throat.” Nugu seemed to have forgotten Wynne was even there.
“No you won’t.” She laid her hand on his bound wrists, rubbing them soothingly.
“Probably not.” He grimaced. “I’d certainly feel tempted, though. The tree people were much too soft on him.”
“Papa. Thtone.” A tiny, grey hand held a pebble under the uruk’s nose.
“Thank you Muzadi.” He tried to ruffle the boy’s hair with tied-up hands.
Wynne discreetly moved away, giving them some privacy. She was shocked of what she had learned about the origin of uruk hai.
Legolas came up to her, looking unusually morose.
“I overheard your conversation,” he said. “Horrendous. If Gandalf had known this, I am sure he would never have allowed that fell wizard to live.”
“What happened with him?”
“You remember the ents? The tree-herders I spoke of some time ago.” When Wynne nodded, he told how the ents defeated Saruman by flooding the entire vale of Isengard. The water had poured down into the myriad of caves underneath the wizard’s tower, effectively drowning all the orcs and uruk hai he had kept there.
Saruman himself and his associate Gríma were left to themselves in the locked tower. But after a few months, the ent in charge had released them. Gandalf had come across the sad pair some time later, and he also took pity of them and let them run.
“They should have examined the caves after they dried out,” said Legolas. “If he kept women slaves there, their remains might have been discovered.”
Wynne began to tremble, overcome by that same fright which had rendered her sleepless so many nights after her own kidnapping.
“Forgive me, I should have realized–” He put his arm tightly around her shoulder.
“No it’s alright, I just… sometimes I just think of what could… if the orcs that time–” She broke off, and swallowed.
It was comforting to have him so close. Wynne often felt he was the only one who truly understood her. But too soon Thranduil was looking their way, and Legolas hastily let his arm drop.
They stayed a few hours by the water hole, and made good use of it. First they refilled the water skins, and then took turns dipping themselves in the chilly pool, which was only big enough for two at once.
Thranduil went in with Wynne.
“Keep talking with the captives like you did before. Make them open up and reveal the truth about themselves.” He rubbed soap and an aromatic oil into his hair and leaned back, allowing the water to cleanse it. The golden mass fanned out behind him in a huge halo.
“Sure,” she replied, and leaned back like him. She had begun to use the elves’ hair oil as well, and it did wonders for her obnoxious curls. As usual water leaked into her ears, and she wondered if that ever happened to Thranduil. Perhaps he was above such human troubles.
“I imagine it is easier for someone like you to gain their confidence,” Thranduil continued. “There is a deep-rooted mistrust between orcs and my kind. And I have noticed many humans have a hard time warming to me also.”
“I can’t think of why,” Wynne muttered, but the irony was lost on the elf.
“Nay, neither can I.” He went ashore, and began to dry his hair on a linen cloth. With smug satisfaction Wynne noticed he shook his head down a few times. He had gotten water in the ear.
She dived down to the bottom of the pool, where the water was even colder than above. It stung her face almost painfully, but when she popped to the surface again she felt refreshed.
Meanwhile, Thranduil had taken out a small knife and begun cutting his toenails. Despite their months of travelling together, this was the first time Wynne had seen an elf attend to his personal hygiene, except for bathing. Since they did not need to shave, she had not thought their nails would not grow either.
Seeing him in his wet undershirt, the face screwed up in concentration and a pale foot in his lap, almost made her burst out laughing. That everyday situation just did not fit with her image of Thranduil at all.
After her bath Wynne walked among the heather. She could understand why the orc couple had chosen this place to live. It was simply delightful. She picked a few branches of heather to keep as a memory, even though she knew they would wilter.
Before leaving, they all shared a simple meal of dried meat, Rohirric horse milk cheese and hardtack crackers. Sidra had offered them the use of hers and Nugu’s supplies, which had been brought from the cave where the couple had lived, but Thranduil rejected the offer. Possibly out of suspicion.
While Sidra nursed the youngest boy, the elder was fed a thick gruel. As the father was still constrained, Galion volunteered to do it. The ginger elf apparently was one of those naturals with children. In no time he had the orcling on his lap, where it giggled and toyed with the strings of his tunic and very quickly emptied the gruel bowl.
Wynne watched, rather fascinated, but not at all jealous. Had she tried to feed the little one, he would likely have ran away, or wailed, or both.
“Orc babies are rather adorable, are they not?” Galion asked and smiled at Wynne.
“Technically they are only one quarter of an orc,” Legolas objected, and tried to save his bow from a sticky little hand. He seemed to share Wynne’s uneasiness around children.
“Aww, would you just look at those baby tooth canines,” Galion cooed.
The uruk chuckled slightly from where he sat, but when everybody looked his way he immediately resumed his sullen scowl. In a way he reminded Wynne of Thranduil. They certainly had their pride in common.
Then they took off, with the captives leading the way. Sidra was the only of the two who seemed used to riding, Nugu for his part gripped the horse’s mane so hard his knuckles whitened. The youngest orcling was seated in front of its mother, and Galion took care of the other, seeing as the uruk hai was busy enough just trying not to fall off.
Wynne let Vatna fall in step with Sidra’s gelding, as per Thranduil’s wish. She tried to think of something to talk about, but all she could come up with was the horrible destiny of the woman’s mother, and that seemed way too personal.
Instead the other broke the silence.
“Who are these elves? That one is the leader, I can tell.” She nodded in Thranduil’s direction.
“They should have introduced themselves,” Wynne replied. “But I guess they had other things on their mind when we met you.”
“I can see how half orc babies could surprise someone who had never seen one before,” Sidra agreed.They both grinned.
“That one is King Thranduil of Mirkwood. He is indeed the leader of our team. And riding the chestnut there, is his son, Prince Legolas.”
“Royalty.” Sidra whistled. “Of all people to discover us, we had the misfortune to be caught by a king. No wonder he seems so distrustful.”
“The others are Galion, and Nodir and Bronedir who are brothers,” Wynne continued. “They are soldiers of Thranduil’s elven guard.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance.” Galion, who was nearest to them, bowed politely.
“The pleasure is all mine.” The woman placed her hand over her chest just like before.
Wynne had to hide a laugh at the comical in the situation. The woman was a prisoner, and Galion one of her captors, and here they acted like they were attending a social mingle. But she was glad they seemed to get along so well. They really had to, if the woman wanted her family to survive.
It struck Wynne that this was the second time today she had felt like laughing, and not once had she escaped into her daydream. Maybe it was the lovely heather meadow, or Legolas’ smile, or just the fact that there was a fellow woman in the company now – but somehow she was beginning to feel happier.
I dunno why, but I loved writing this chapter. Especially the part where Thranduil is bathing. :D
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