The Orc, so believeth he the last of his kind, did find comfort, for a human family had taken him in and had called him their own.
He dreamed of war. Too often.
He had seen more than his share of it, being an Orc. Ending life, not creating it, was what Orcs did best. Making mayhem. Destroying. Usurping. Perverting and profaning.
Even so, at his nastiest he was little more than one who hung out near the back and pretended to the violence and hate his brethren most assuredly felt towards humans, and which he did not.
He’d seen it come the other way from humans—men. Destruction. Mayhem. Usurping. Perverting and profaning. Violence and hate.
There were no female humans in battle. Why? He had heard rumors, of course, idle talk, amongst his kind: female humans—“women”—were weak and frail. They existed to breed more humans, to maintain human homes while their stronger male mates went out and did battle and gathered food.
If such were true, he considered after waking on the tenth day after being rescued and taken to a home with nothing but human females, then where was the male that belonged to this home? And wouldn’t it then be wrong for the human mother named Andylyr to be gathering food and the like? It seemed she did everything, and just as well as any human male could. He didn’t understand.
Andylyr had put him to work in the garden. She taught him about plants, how to water them and take care of them and to know when they were ready for eating.
He held up a freshly pulled carrot still shedding rich black soil from its long orange root and stared at it in disgust his first day on the job. “Eat? This?”
Andylyr, kneeling a few feet away, chuckled. “You may find that they taste better than animal or human flesh. Besides, you love potatoes. Those are roots—plants.”
That shocked him. He did love potatoes!
Orcs didn’t love potatoes; they loved flesh! Bloody, wriggling, protesting flesh! But then he thought: Didn’t they have to subsist on maggoty bread of some sort while marching into battle? It tasted like dirt. The maggots tasted better, frankly. In fact, that’s what Orcs did. They used the bread to breed maggots, which they picked out of the bread and ate.
He brought his gaze to her. “I fear … I fear I am something … else now. Not … Orc.”
She saw his consternation and came closer by way of walking on her knees. She put soothing hand on his shoulder. “Or,” she offered, “maybe you are still an Orc, just a better one. Maybe you evolved.”
“Evolved?” he asked, confused. The word felt odd on his tongue—odder, that is, than all the other human words he had somehow magically learned and used now. The Black Tongue he could scarcely recall now.
“It is a process of becoming,” she explained. “Who you are changes, adapts, grows, learns new things to survive. Maybe that’s what happened to you, Mr. Krapp. What do you think?”
He didn’t know what to think, so he studied the carrot instead.
It didn’t take long to discover that he had “evolved” into a being that had a natural feel for carrots. And potatoes. And tomatoes. And corn. In fact, if it grew from the soil, he had an affinity for it, and somehow knew what it needed to thrive. A month after that conversation, Andylyr came out to the garden, which he had expanded almost two-fold and was lost in stalks of ten-foot-tall corn. She found him and smiled.
“An Orc farmer. I’d laugh at that, but look at what you have done here!”
Krapp didn’t just know how to grow these vegetables and fruits, he found he had a taste for little else.
It helped that Andylyr was a marvelous cook. She knew how to make stews and soups, delicious breads and sweet pies, and create colorful salads that made his mouth water just thinking of them. It came to him that in all the time he had been here, he had eaten flesh—chicken flesh—only one time, and that was the day he met Tia while lying injured next to the creek.
Try as he might, he couldn’t find where the human mother kept the birds, so he asked.
“We don’t keep them,” she explained. “They are brought to the village by another farmer. We only eat them occasionally.”
Which was fine with Krapp. He enjoyed chicken flesh, but not as much as his vegetables.
His vegetables. He liked that thought, that they were his.
Rothtia helped him in the garden almost every day.
“I need to thank you for that as well,” remarked Andylyr on a day when she was out of earshot. “I couldn’t get her to help me out here, not without a rafter full of complaints. Oh, she’ll spend all day with the horses, but I think she’d rather starve than get in here and weed or water. That is, until you showed up. Now she’s got a green thumb!”
Krapp held up his hands and inspected his thumbs, which were not green but stained black with soil. “Green?” he asked, glancing at her.
She chuckled and squeezed his shoulder.
“You have added a great deal to our little family, Mr. Krapp. Would you consider staying with us permanently? This could be your home if you want. You are more than welcome to call it such.”
He didn’t know what to say, so he simply stared. “Home?” he eventually got out.
She smiled. “Home.”
The garden enclosure behind the house, where the bulk of the home’s tools were kept, was where he slept, despite Andylyr and Tia’s insistence that he make himself comfortable inside the house. When he finally relented, Andylyr said, “I will make a proper room for you, and also a proper bathroom. One that meets an Orc’s needs. I’m glad you finally came around, Mr. Krapp.”
“What … does ‘mister’ mean?” he asked.
“It is a title of respect. At least, that’s how I use it. I figured you could use a little respect in these times. Does it bother you?”
He glanced at Tia, who shook her head enthusiastically, so he did too.
He was glad that he was going to get his own room. He was especially glad that he was going to get his own bathroom.
He noticed that whenever he used the bathroom, both Andylyr and Tia would avoid it for hours afterward. He got the courage up and asked Tia why on a day that Andylyr went into the village for goods. He knew she would always tell him the truth.
“Because …” she began, wrinkling her nose and looking sheepish, “… because your poo is kinda … smelly?”
“Isn’t all poo smelly?” he asked, embarrassed.
“Yeah, but your poo …” She shook her head and waved a hand in front of her nose. “Whew!”
“I am sorry, Tia,” he said. He felt like crawling into his hay bed in the tool shed and hiding.
She laughed and punched his shoulder. He’d gotten used to that behavior from her. It was her way of saying that she was still his friend and that whatever it was was no big deal.
“Momma’s gonna make you your own bathroom!” she exclaimed.
“I will be happy to help her construct it,” he said, grateful that his poo was no longer being directly discussed. She is very talented, ‘Momma.’ ”
“I know!” cried Tia. “But she won’t need your help after the beginning.”
Tia nodded, but added nothing else.
“Will she be bringing men from the village to help?” he asked, concerned.
Tia’s smile dissolved. “Oh, no. She wouldn’t do that!”
“Then how will she build it all by herself? Surely …”
Tia’s smile returned. “You’ll see. Just wait!”
They turned their attention back to the garden and began working again.
Over the weeks that followed, both Tia and Andylyr showed him how to take care of the horses.
His ankle still gave him trouble on occasion. The day he was sure it was completely healed, he received a huge surprise: a saddle made especially for him. With Tia’s help, they got it on Shygar.
“Go on!” yelled Tia excitedly as Andylyr watched from the shade under the stall. “Here. Let me help. You’ve seen me do this a thousand times. You can do it! There! Put your foot in and climb up! Don’t worry, Shygar likes you! You’ve brushed him a thousand times now!”
After another moment of hesitation, he grabbed the pommel and pulled himself astride the horse, who grumbled contentedly.
“My …” he whispered after getting settled. “A magnificent beast! Truly … magnificent.”
Only the most brutal of Orcs or Uruk-hai got to ride a Warg. He, of course, was never considered for such an honor.
He never thought he’d ride a horse. The feeling was as exhilarating as anything he’d ever felt.
“Keep hold of Shygar, honey, and walk him around,” urged Andylyr with a patient smile. “How are you doing up there, Mr. Krapp?”
“I …” he replied, but did not finish. He glanced at her. His look must have conveyed how he was doing, because she said, “Excellent. When you’re done, come on inside. I think it’ll be time to get started on your bedroom and bathroom.”
“Oh, good!” said Tia. “C’mon, Shygar. Let’s go around the corral a few times! Hold on to the reins, Krapp!”
Sitting astride the colt, Krapp felt, for the first time in his life, like a being worthy of respect. He felt like his own person, like he mattered. It was such an astonishing feeling that it kept his mouth closed and his eyes focused well beyond the corral’s fence. Tia must have noticed, because she said nothing, only looking up at him occasionally and smiling.
When he dismounted an hour later, she shouted, “C’mon, Krapp! We’ve got to be quick!”
He came back to himself and blinked. “Where … little one, do we need to go?” It felt like he’d just gotten up here!
She didn’t answer, but grabbed his hand and tugged. “C’mon! We’ve got to be really fast!”
He followed her from the corral. Shygar snorted behind him.
Andylyr was seated at the kitchen table as he got pulled inside. “Come and sit next to me, Mr. Krapp. Please be quick, if you would.”
Krapp glanced at Tia, who nodded enthusiastically, then pushed him towards the empty chair.
He went to it and sat.
“Please take my hands,” said Andylyr, offering hers.
Krapp glanced down at them, then did as asked. Andylyr’s human female hands were soft. She squeezed his, said, “Close your eyes, Mr. Krapp, and think as hard as you can about your time aboard Shygar. Go on. Quickly, if you please.”
He closed his eyes. It was easy to think about how he felt astride Shygar, because he had never felt anything like that before. If he wanted anything in this odd life, it was to feel that feeling all the time.
Andylyr murmured, “Woo! That’s pretty powerful stuff, Mr. Krapp.”
He opened his eyes, startled. She was staring at him with surprise. “I believe I’ve got more than enough to work on. Let’s go outside.”
She stood and started for the back door. Tia grabbed his hand again. “C’mon!”
He stood and followed.
He hadn’t noticed that his sensitivity to the sun had waned a little these past days and weeks until just now, as they stood in a bright patch of sunlight pouring through the high boughs next to the home. He glanced up at the beam of light for as long as he could. It looked like one of those heavenly beams that used to illuminate Minas Tirith from a distance, and which looked like Heaven’s own favor pouring down upon Men. It was such a maddening sight that Orcs constantly and bitterly complained about it.
He blinked and glanced down at Tia, who kept hold of his hand. She was watching him with a playful smile.
Andylyr knelt in the middle of the beam. She stared down at the needle-and-leaf-covered ground and ran her hands an inch or so above it as though looking for a hot spot of some kind. She found it—whatever it was—and closed her eyes and pressed her hands fully onto the earth.
“Tia, if you would, please. Hurry, honey,” she instructed.
“Come on,” whispered Tia, pulling him towards Andylyr. Krapp followed, and then knelt next to Andylyr at Tia’s urging.
“Put your hands on the ground like Momma. Do it quick!” she whispered. Andylyr looked like she had gone into a trance.
Krapp did as told, confused.
“Now think of Shygar and riding her again. Quick, do it!” Tia whispered.
That was easy to do. The moment he did, Andylyr said in a monotone voice, “Good. That’s good. Tia, go ahead. Mr. Krapp, I need you to concentrate.”
Tia knelt. She had a small knife in her hand. She said, “This will only hurt for a second, Krapp,” and quickly cut his forearm. He went to withdraw, shocked, but she sat on his hands and, looking back at him, said, “Concentrate!”
He tried; he really did. But it was difficult to while not being totally confused and alarmed! Tia’s knife had a thin streak of his green blood on it. She tipped the blade, and the blood dripped off onto the ground between his hands and Andylyr’s.
“Concentrate!” urged Tia. “Go on, close your eyes! Think of Shygar! Hurry!”
Fighting confusion, alarm, and now the sting of the cut along his forearm, he reluctantly closed his eyes. He fought to think of Shygar once more, and his feeling atop him. It had been such a powerful moment that, despite the absolute weirdness of this moment, it came back to him instantly.
He woke on his back in deep, still night.
He sat up, startled, and gazed around. He was ... outside ... in the same spot that he was during the day!
They had pulled his boots off, covered him with a soft down-filled blanket, and put a pillow under his head.
He pulled the cover off and stood. This was very odd indeed!
His Orc eyes adjusted very quickly to the near pitch blackness of the night. (At least that ability hadn’t waned!)
The cut Rothtia had given him ... was gone! Healed!
He went to walk inside, but stubbed his toe on a rock or a log.
Bent at the waist and cursing richly, he glared at what he had struck.
It was a pole ... a large wooden pole that hadn’t been there earlier in the day. It stood at least two feet high.
He looked around. There were at least four others surrounding him. They appeared to be growing out of the earth!
He watched through the night as the room and bathroom Andylyr had promised him rose out of the earth like a hollow tree, taking shape around him.