So did the Orc findeth rest and raiment, food and drinketh. And new friends.
He turned over. He instantly wished he hadn’t, and turned back. The sun was in that direction. Though Tia’s home was in high forest, the sun still peeked through the boughs and through the drapes and into his eyes. Even though they were closed, it was still too bright. He grunted angrily.
They put him in her room after showing him the washroom and bathroom, and after cleaning his wounds and binding his injured ankle, elbow, knees, and hip, and after feeding him.
“You’re in rough shape,” said Tia’s mother, who told him her name was Andylyr. “You’ve been through hell and back.”
He watched her. “Hell … yes …”
He had watched in astonishment as the very earth opened and swallowed his kind as the Great Eye of Sauron crumbled and exploded and was gone. Lightning flashed and the lava mountain exploded … and there were the humans, unharmed! It was as though the gods had judged the whole of Orckind! The humans stood there—unharmed!
How did he survive? Why did he survive? The questions gnawed at him incessantly. So did another: Was he the last Orc left alive?
He asked Andylyr. She looked up from her work wrapping his ankle and shook her head sadly.
“I know the war is over, Mr. Krapp, and I know Sauron is gone. There was a great explosion and the skies lit up and the earth shook, and then the gloom lifted. We knew then that he was gone. We haven’t seen other Orcs since. That’s all we know. I’m sorry.”
They fed him after he washed. They let him sit with them at his table and treated him like one of their own. He ate with his hands and did his very best to control himself and to keep the food from splashing them or getting everywhere.
The meal was delicious, and he marveled that such was so. It was as though his Orc innards had developed a sudden taste for it! As the light drained from the forest and the hearth warmed the home, Krapp felt drowsiness like a heavy blanket cover him. Tia and Andylyr helped him to Tia’s room and laid him down on her bed.
He had always heard about human beds—how soft they were, how comfortable, how warm. Orcs had always laughed in derision about it. It spoke to humans’ great weakness and softness. The great Orc Commander Shtrack proudly slept on rusty nails and had his corporals assault him twice nightly with hammers. He pissed over cliff edges in high winds and leaned his huge arse over open fires to take a dump. If he got burned, he yelped in delight. That was the standard all Orcs were to aspire to.
Krapp had found it way over the top.
Tia and her mother covered him and left him in peace. He was asleep before they closed the door.
The light in Tia’s room was too bright now that it was morning, and so he rose. He looked down at Tia’s bed, and then bent closer. Though he had washed the night before, he was still so dirty—as were his threadbare clothes—that he had left an imprint of his person on her clean sheets.
An Orc wouldn’t care about such things. Or would one? If he was the last one left alive, so blessed by the gods who had extirpated the rest of his kind, then it stood to reason that the gods wanted him to care, as he was doing right now.
He did care. He winced at the outline, then hissed between gritted teeth. He scratched behind his ears and looked down on his person and tried cursing in the Black Tongue, but couldn’t. What came out was, “Piggy schtupping sucky stupid flat bastard-thing.”
(What the hell did “schtupping” mean?)
In any case, the little human’s bed was a mess—and he was responsible for it. Did it matter now that Orcs wouldn’t have given it even a moment’s notice? He very likely was the entire Orc race now. He would decide what Orcs did or didn’t do!
He opened the door and went to the kitchen. He looked out the window over the basin. Tia was in the garden tending it. She was humming. He listened with an empty smile on his face.
Smiling. For Orcs it was a reflex action reserved solely for moments of barbaric cruelty and joyous malevolence, not for moments of innocent sweetness. It was enough to shake him from his reverie.
There was fresh water in the basin; he went to dip his face in it and drink his fill, but stopped. Humans used cups. There was one next to the basin; he grabbed it and dipped it in and emptied it in two gulps, then did it again, then again. He put the cup down as Tia began a new song. He could smell food—but it was nowhere to be seen. He was very hungry.
Instead of tearing the house apart, as he wanted to, he stepped outside and went to his new friend, who beamed up at him from her work.
“Krapp!” she yelled, and sprang to her feet. As innocent as the melody she had been humming, she ran to him and threw her arms around him. “You look so much better! How do you feel?”
It was only then that he became aware of it: his injuries … were gone. All of them!
His knees, his ankle, his hip, his back … It was as though he had never been hurt!
She squeezed him tighter. Unsure what to do, he put his arms around her and held her back and blankly considered the miracle of his newfound health.
“I feel … I feel … better,” he rasped absentmindedly.
“Oh good!” she cried into his chest. She let him go. “Wanna help me with the garden?”
“Y-Yes … yes.”
She must have sensed his hunger, because she exclaimed, “Oh my, where are my manners? You must be famished! Momma left you a plate before she left for the village this morning. Come on—I’ll show you where it is!”
She wiped her hands on her apron and turned to walk into the house. The dirt on her hands reminded him, and he croaked out, “I … your bed …” He shook his head. “Dirt. Clothes. Sheets.” He grabbed the bottom of his torn shirt. “Forgive me, young human.”
She seemed confused by what he was trying to say, but it didn’t trouble her for long. She took him by his hand and said, “Food. Don’t worry about my bed. C’mon.”
He ate ravenously. Tia watched him, fascinated. When he finished, which was in just a handful of seconds, she hurried to get him more. She returned with his plate piled twice as high as before and sat excitedly and waited.
He stared at the food, then at her, then at the table and the floor. There was food on both.
He dug in again, but with the brakes on, as he had the previous evening in the presence of the human mother. He swallowed a handful of fried potatoes and glanced at her.
She grabbed the unused napkin next to his plate and said, “Hold on. You’ve got a big chunk on your chin.”
She reached and wiped his chin. He stared at the cloth.
“It’s called a napkin,” she told him. “It’s used to keep your face clean while you eat.”
He took it from her. There was a design on the cloth: a house in a forest.
“Momma made it. She’s really talented at things like that.”
“Why …” he rasped “… why do humans need to keep their faces clean … while eating?”
She shrugged. “I know, right? I asked Momma about it once, and she told me that it’s ‘manners’. ”
She shrugged again. “They’re like … like … laws. Yeah, laws. Do this and do that. Don’t do this and don’t do that.”
She thought for a long time. “I don’t honestly know.”
“Have I broken laws? If so, forgive me, little one. I shall clean the table and floor right away—”
He went to get up, but Tia grabbed his arm. “Don’t worry about it! We can get it later. You haven’t broken any of my laws, so don’t worry.”
He sat back down. “You have your own laws?”
She nodded happily. “Don’t you?”
He looked up. “I don’t … know.”
“Momma has laws. I should teach you them so you don’t break them later. They are more important than my laws.”
“Because she’s Momma!”
“You are most kind, little one.”
“Tia. Call me Tia.”
He stared at her. “Tia.”
She smiled wider. “Don’t worry, it isn’t a law. I just like it when you say it.”
Another cruelty-free, nonviolent smile formed involuntarily on his mouth. He felt it rise and curiously fingered his mouth with his free hand (the other was still gripping potatoes).
She watched him, puzzled.
He brought his attention back to her. “I like your name, little human: Tia. Tia it shall be.”
“Go on and eat!” she said. “But … wait!”
She jumped up and hurried to the pantry and grabbed a smaller plate, which she loaded with potatoes. She returned and sat down.
As he ate, she did too, and just like he did, ravenously with her hands.
After cleaning up, she took the time to explain her mother’s “laws.”
“She hates it when I use all the hot water in the morning,” Tia explained. “It’s when she bathes. That’s definitely a law.”
Krapp nodded. “Hot water.”
“And … and … oh, yeah. She likes the bathroom to stay clean.”
“Clean … bathroom?”
“Yeah! Bathroom! It’s part of the washroom!” She studied him. “You do know what a bathroom is, don’t you?”
“It is …” he rasped “… it is the place where humans … bathe—? Did you not show it to me the evening last?”
“Yes,” she nodded happily. “It’s also where to go when you need to poo or pee.”
“Poo … pee.” He nodded unsurely.
“Yeah … umm … You eat food or drink water, and later you have to go.”
“Go. Go where?”
Tia laughed. “No! Just go! The bathroom!”
“I am sorry, little one—Tia—I do not understand …”
Tia looked down at the table for a long time, then nodded excitedly. “I’ve got it! C’mon!”
She grabbed his hand.
They stood and left the house. The light of the day was oppressive, but the trees’ shadows kept it from become unbearable.
Behind the home was a corral. A horse waited in the enclosure, eating grass. It spied him and lifted its head and watched him.
Orcs and horses did not get along. If a horse spied an Orc, it generally snorted and galloped away, or, as with warhorses, charged. Getting on one was impossible. Hell, getting near one was!
But this one, only scant feet away, did nothing but continue to stare at him. With an indifferent grunt it lowered its head and continued eating.
Was he even an Orc now? Had something happened to him that changed him forever, that made him utterly unique from his kind?
“Krapp? Are you all right?”
He gazed down. Tia stared up at him with concern.
He gathered his wits and nodded without conviction.
That was enough for her. She looked back at the horse. “He’s mine. His name is Shygar. His momma is Momma’s horse. Her name is Lloril’i. Go on, pet him!”
She released his hand.
“I …” he began.
“Go on, go on!” she said. She got behind him and gave him a push. “He’s really nice. I can tell he likes you. Go on!”
A horse … like an Orc?
He took a couple uneasy steps forward. Shygar lifted his head, his mouth working steadily on long strands of hay.
He took another step forward, then two more. He was within touching distance. With great caution he reached and touched the stallion’s nose.
He had always wondered what horses felt like. Now he knew. He couldn’t keep the smile off his face, or a tiny squeal of delight from escaping his mouth.
“Well …” he breathed. “Well … A magnificent beast … magnificent …”
It was no wonder that Wargs couldn’t defeat these! He had ridden Wargs before. Their hair was brittle and pointed and crawling with fleas and ticks. They were foul-tempered and hard to hang on to. But this …
“Magnificent …” he said again.
The horse whinnied contentedly and went back to eating.
But not before lifting its tail.
“See?” exclaimed Tia. “That’s poo! Do you get it now?”
He tried to explain that Orcs didn’t have to “poo” or “pee” all that much. When she asked how much, he tried thinking.
“Days … I think.”
“Days? You don’t have to go for days?”
He thought for a long time, then hesitantly nodded.
She looked with him down at her bed. “I thought I’d washed myself better. I’m sorry, Tia.”
She gazed at him and then punched his arm. It wasn’t hard, but it surprised him. He stared.
“This is dirty? This? You haven’t seen dirty! If I spend a day in the corral or go play by the stream I’ll easily get dirtier than this. This is nothing! C’mon, I’ll show you how to change the sheets. It’s easy, and now it’ll be fun!”
“Why is that?”
“Because you’ll be helping me!”
He helped her change the sheets. He actually watched more than helped, with an effort to remember the dizzying array of steps. When she finished, she noticed his puzzlement and said, “You’ll get it eventually, don’t worry.”
Her mother (Andylyr, he reminded himself) walked through the front door that moment. Tia grabbed his hand. “C’mon! I think she’s got something for you. C’mon!”
Andylyr was at the kitchen table, where she set down a large cloth bag stuffed full. She gazed at Tia, who rushed up for a kiss, and then at Krapp.
“Mr. Krapp,” she said, “I’d like you to come and take a look at these. Some should fit you. I used to be a seamstress and have a pretty good eye for size. Will you come here, please?”
Krapp approached her. He gazed at the bag. Andylyr opened it and started pulling out … clothes?
Shirts and pants, a belt, even shoes! There was a hat; it was stuffed in so tight that it had deformed. Before he could touch it Andylyr took it and punched it back into shape, then handed it to him.
“Try it on,” she said. “It won’t fit, but it’ll give me a good start as to know what to do.”
He took the hat—it had a very wide brim and pleasant contours on the top, and was made of leather—and tried putting it on. His ears got in the way, and so merely balanced on the tops of them. Tia held up, then squealed with laughter. “Oh, that’s really cute! Oh Krapp!” She ran to him and threw her arms around him.
Andylyr was smiling wryly, and chuckled softly. “I must agree,” she said. She glanced at Tia. “Lloril’i is probably getting grumpy. Would you get her stabled and fed, love?”
“Okay, Momma! Krapp, do you want to come and help?”
“He can’t, love. He’s going to try these clothes on.”
“But I want to help! Can’t I help?”
Krapp, confused utterly by the day, then did something that seemed both part of him and not part of him. He reached and cupped Tia’s cheek and rasped quietly, “Go on, young one. You can help later. I promise.”