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24. An Uruk-hai's Childhood
During the afternoon the rain finally subsided, allowing their clothes and packs to dry. The sky was still overcast, however, and the pregnant clouds looked like they might release the rest of their contents any time.
Wynne rode in silence, purposely staying last in line to avoid having to talk with anyone. The conversation with Sidra about her mother and marriages had painfully reminded Wynne of her predicament. Somehow she had managed to forget about the whole thing for quite some time, but now the worry from before returned. What would Mother do when she returned without an elf husband?
After everything that had happened, Wynne found that she actually did not fear Mother’s anger so badly any longer. What was the worst the woman could do? She would pierce her with those ice cold eyes, and scold her with hurtful remarks. Perhaps punish her physically. But Wynne had been face to face with orcs now, stabbed by one and kidnapped by two. She could handle pain, and as for piercing stares nobody could compete with Thranduil in that department.
No, she did not really fear her mother anymore, but instead she had new concerns. Mother would marry Wynne off to somebody, if not their branch of the Örn House was to die out. And the prospect of being matched with a random Lord was disturbing. How could she endure a loveless marriage of convenience, now that she knew how it felt to really like someone?
The horses trudged on patiently and the surroundings became even more barren. Almost nothing grew here, the ground was mostly bedrock with rough gravel and patches of lichen.
They began to follow a stream, and made short breaks every now and then to catch some of the sleek, spotted trouts that swam downstream, possibly on their way to the Anduin. Apparently most water that formed in these hills either ended up there, or in the Dead Marshes down south.
“How long until we reach your friends?” Thranduil asked Nugu during one such stop.
“Not much longer. But it’s hard to estimate when we ride.” The uruk did not meet the king’s eye. He was observing Nodir and Bronedir who stood on each side of the brook, armed with sharpened sticks, ready to spear any unsuspecting fish passing by.
“Yes, not long,” Sidra agreed. She toyed with a loose thread on the hem of her tunic.
Thranduil’s sharp eyes did not miss anything.
“You seem nervous,” he remarked.
“No I’m not,” she replied, a little too fast.
“What did you expect,” growled her husband. “We’re bringing death to our friends.”
“I told you we shall not harm them. Unless they are hostile, of course.”
“I know the likes of you. Whatever they do, you will deem as hostility.” Nugu finally looked straight at the king, his dark eyes flashing. “But don’t worry. We shall take you to my friends .”
He emphasized the last two words in a way that Wynne did not like. What did he mean? Where there no friendly orcs, had Sidra made that up? If so, that could explain why she seemed so uncomfortable. But no, why should they lie about something like that, it would serve them no good at all. The elves would soon realize they were not going anywhere and kill them.
It probably was as the uruk-hai had said. They were about to expose their friends’ hiding place. That was enough to make anyone feel anxious.
In the evening the clouds made good on their threat and discharged their wet load in a persistent, heavy rain. At least it was still warm, not like the day before, but tolerably.
They ate supper on the go, still on horseback, as nobody cared much for sitting on the wet ground. The trouts could wait until morning.
“This lembas food is not bad,” Sidra said to Wynne. “But I think I would get tired of it in the long run. I prefer a little more… oumph.”
“I agree. But elves are very fond of it.” Wynne bit her lip to avoid laughing, and met Legolas’ eye. He failed to hide his smirk.
“Did I say something funny?” Sidra curiously looked from one to the other. Before they could answer, she smiled knowingly. “Never mind.”
Not long after, they found a spot for their camp, in a copse of short evergreen trees Wynne did not know the name of. They hastened to put up the tents in the steady rain.
“We can’t take your tent again.” Sidra had donned a long, gray coat with wide arms. The surface was blank, coated with some sort of grease or oil, and it seemed to work well to keep her dry.
“But you have children,” Wynne objected.
“You ladies share it,” said Nugu, who wore a similar coat as his wife. “I’m a soldier, I can sleep anywhere.” The hood covered his eyes, and with his towering height and powerful built it gave him an almost menacing look. Wynne could easily picture the uruk-hai on the battlefield, and hoped he would never be her enemy.
”All right then. But I will feel lonely without you.” Sidra stood on her toes and gave her husband a long kiss. Wynne looked away in embarrassment first, but then curiosity kicked in and she stole a peek, memorizing the procedure for future use in her daydream.
Sharing tent with Sidra was snug and cosy, despite the childrens’ limbs sprawling all over the place and Sidra almost immediately beginning to snore. It felt good to have company.
Wynne was almost drowsing off too, when she heard two voices just outside. She strained her ears and realized it was Nugu and Nodir. The latter was taking the first watch, so it made sense.
They were talking about the rain, discussing if the shape of the clouds was a sign it was diminishing, or not. Then they were quiet again.
“You are a silent one, are you not,” Nodir said after a while.
“Don’t have much to say.” A few moments later, he added: “I was taught chit-chat to be a waste of time.”
“By whom? Saruman?”
“No, not Saruman, he would never stoop to bother about kids. Not until we were big enough to fight for him.” He paused again. “I was brought up by orcs.”
“I do not envy you.”
“It wasn’t all bad. Some of them were decent.”
“Were you a warrior for a long time?” Nodir seemed intrigued by what the uruk shared. Wynne was equally interested, she hardly dared to breathe in case she missed something.
“No. I think I was twelve when Saruman sent me out on my first mission. And about a year later he was defeated. So… yes, one year.”
“Twelve! You were a mere child.” The elf sounded shocked.
“I was tall for my age. And the War drew near, Saruman was in a hurry to get his army ready. Most were older when enrolled, but if you had matured early… well, age was just not important to them, I guess.”
“Were you not scared?”
“Not really. They gave us potions to make us feel brave. And angry.”
“Where you in the Battle of Helm’s Deep?”
“You were lucky to survive then. Prince Legolas fought there too, he has told many stories about it.”
“I’d rather forget.”
“I guess being on the winning side is more glamorous.”
“There is no glamour in war. None,” growled the uruk.
Wynne’s throat thickened. She could picture him, only a young boy, having to experience such frightful things as she now also knew about, severed bodies, shrill shrieks of pain, the ground a mass of blood and entrails. That sickening smell of hurt and death. And he would have been in the middle of it, carried a sword himself and being forced to push it into living bodies. For her own part, the elves had shielded her from the worst, making sure she was not coming closer until they had cleared away the corpses. No wonder he had sworn never to kill again.
The War of the Ring had ended ten years ago, that meant Nugu was still only twenty-three. Only three years older than herself. The realization made her feel slightly sick.
“Don’t look at me like that. I was hardly the first boy in history to be sent to war, was I?” the uruk-hai muttered sourly. Nodir must have displayed similar emotions as Wynne felt. “Your lot killed scores of us. You didn’t show pity then.”
Neither of them spoke for a while, but then Nodir broke the silence a final time.
“I agree with you. War… It is an appalling business. I fought in the Battle of the Five Armies some years back. I hated it. And our mission now… Let me just say, I am glad it shall be over soon.”
Nodir’s confession surprised Wynne. She had thought the elves took at least some pleasure in killing orcs, but apparently the dark elf thought different. Maybe all of them did, deep down?
It went quiet again, and Wynne had got a lot to think about. If Nugu was telling the truth, he and the other uruk-hai had never had a choice. They had been brought up to be warriors, drugged, and pushed into battle.
Everybody said orcs were evil monsters. But were they really? Under such circumstances, was it even possible to make “good” choices?
The thought was disturbing. What if this whole quest was wrong, and the elves were the ones who did evil? They had hunted orcs all spring, unprovokedly ambushing them when they slept in their lairs.
But no, the elves had not attacked first. Orcs from the Brown Lands had been waylaying wanderers and raided homesteads for years, and the assault near the oliphaunts were certainly not forced upon those orcs. They were free of Sauron and Saruman since a long time, but still preferred to kill, rape, steal and maim when they could have lived peacefully out there in the wilderness. Those orcs clearly had been bad, and deserved what they got.
Still, the orc race must be more complex than anybody had thought. They were obviously not automatically evil.
A note about Saruman's uruk-hai breeding... being a biologist I never really liked Peter Jackson's idea that they were somehow grown out of mud. :) Of course he paired humans and orcs, in the natural way. As for their age, Saruman had – according to the book – been breeding uruk-hai a long time. Probably some were older, veteran warriors, others young.
The use of children in war, sadly happens in our world as well. They are kidnapped when very small (4-5 or so), brainwashed and pumped full of drugs to make them dependant on their captors – and fearless.
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