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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Enjoy Chapter Six of Unsmited--a Fan-Fiction Tribute to The Lord of the Rings!



Sauron is dead; the poisonous dark fume over the land is lifting; and the Orcs have been smited--swallowed up by a vengeful earth that held them in hateful contempt. All but one, that is. This is his story.



Chapter Six
Questions at the Smiting Stone
~~*~~


Thus did Krapp venture forth from this cherished home for the first time since the kind mother Andylyr and her daughter Rothtia saved him from certain death.

~~*~~

Over the past year, Krapp had taken great pains to learn all he could about horses. He had two excellent ones to work with—Andylyr’s beautiful mare Lloril’i, and her colt Shygar. When he wasn’t gardening, he was with them, brushing them, cleaning their teeth, cleaning out their stalls, feeding and watering them. It was hard, deeply satisfying work that he cherished as much as he did working in what both his human hosts had long since termed “his” garden.

   Both the horses, according to Andylyr and Tia, loved him. And he loved them. There simply was no comparison to Wargs. Wargs were just enormous, ill-tempered dogs, barely ridable, if the many times he witnessed fellow Orcs being thrown off them—and then many times devoured—were any indication. Wargs were loyal in the scarcest way possible; these horses were profoundly so. Wargs had stiff, tick-infested fur. Lloril’i and Shygar were both soft and clean. Wargs smelled—even to Orcs, who prided themselves on how rank they could get. Both these horses had nothing more than that pleasant “horsey” odor that he had come to cherish.

   It was that odor that greeted him first as he, holding Tia’s hand, opened the barn door and ventured swiftly into the deep dark.

   “Wait,” she sniffled. “I can’t see anything!”

   “I can,” he offered.

   He could. At least he hadn’t lost that particular Orc ability—to see into very dark places where humans could not.

   “You can stay here, if you’d like.”

   Tia sniffled again, wiped her eyes, and nodded. It was a sign of just how overwhelmed with worry she was that she wasn’t trying to take charge or offering suggestions or insisting she help. Krapp went to Shygar’s stall and opened it when the colt greeted him with a nicker.

   “I know, I know,” he said, running his hand up and down his long nose, “you wanted to get some sleep. Unfortunately, my friend, we have urgent need of you right now. We need to find your mother and Andylyr. They may be in danger.”

   He saddled him and led him out into the corral. Tia was sitting against the stable barn, and sprang to her feet when she saw them emerge. He got on, and then held a hand for her. She grabbed it and hopped on behind him. Krapp angled Shygar out the open stable door into the yard.

   He had a large hat on, one to this point he’d never worn before but was saving for his trip to the Smiting Stone. It had a wide brim and hid his face well. The clothes he’d hurriedly put were for traveling and fit him comfortably and loosely. Finally, his boots were old favorites, perhaps a little dirty from the day’s chores.

   From a distance he looked quite human, especially in the dark. One would have to get very close to see that he wasn’t. He had hurriedly packed a hunting knife and some water in the saddlebag, and some sweets.

   He had been trained in warfare from the very first day of his motherless existence. But he had never put that training to the test. Instead he used it to evade and avoid, to be more cunning and quiet than his brethren, to stay alive. Most would call that cowardice, and maybe it was. Were other Orcs still around, he had no doubt that he would be labeled a traitor and torn apart. Maybe he was a freak who had no place in the wider world. Maybe all that was true.

   What was also true, however, was that he loved this family and would die if necessary to protect them. For the very first time in his life, he knew, if pressed, that not only would he put that combat training to use, but he would fight more viciously than any of his now-extinct brethren ever did, or could ever think to.






Tia cried for a while, but eventually calmed down. He had since taken Shygar into the valley, beyond the forest, and along the creek where she first found him.

   “If she’s anywhere, it’s Boverroth,” she said for the fifth or sixth time, leaning her cheek against his back. “I’m really tired.”

   She had given him directions to the village. Follow the creek until it forked right—north—and follow that to the gates of the village. A trail would start at the fork. Boverroth was in another valley, this one lightly forested, and approachable over raised road leading through a mist-shrouded bog. The total ride time at this pace, she told him, was a little over two and a half hours.

   The night was still, the light of the half-moon casting large, puffy clouds with a silver  glow. He had learned to read the clouds, and guessed that rain was on the way.

   “Tia?”

   She didn’t answer. She must have fallen asleep. He could feel her cheek against his spine.

   He thought of waking her, but decided against it. He pulled her arms tighter around his midsection and continued on, glancing around carefully as the scenery passed slowly. He thought of pressing Shygar into a light jog, but grumbled against it. He wanted the colt to be rested should it be necessary while in the village to hurry out of there, which seemed quite likely.

   Andylyr had told him of J√°fia’s curse. Wouldn’t that make Boverroth impossible for him to find? In the mad rush to get going, he hadn’t thought to ask!

   “Tia! Come, little one, wake up!”

   She stirred and looked around. “I ... I can’t believe I fell asleep! Momma is gone and I fell asleep!”

   “I am glad you rested. There is a problem.”

   “What?”

   “The village. If I haven’t been cursed, I will not be able to see it!”

   The exhalation against his back was hot with desperation. “That’s right! Maybe I should drive. I can see it.”

   That seemed entirely reasonable. He went to stop Shygar, but stopped himself first.

   “Even if you drive and we make it there, won’t I still not be able to see it?”

   She thought for a while. “Yes. Maybe ... maybe I should go to Boverroth alone. I can look for her. People know me—”

   “No,” he sternly cut her off. “That is not acceptable.”

   She didn’t argue. He expected her to. But she was a smart young human and surely saw the dangers inherent in that idea. If her mother had indeed run afoul of something sinister, that something sinister would be most pleased to victimize her as well.

   He was feeling ever more anxious that the human mother had indeed encountered something malevolent. She was in Boverroth, after all, on his behalf. That made her a target for bigotry and hate. She was an extraordinarily consistent, reliable individual. She would never have her daughter worrying over her whereabouts.

   “How far is the Smiting Stone from here at a full gallop?” he asked, seeing no other alternative.

   “I ... I don’t know,” Tia answered. “Two hours, maybe?”

   “Then that is where we should go.”

   “But I don’t know how to curse you!” she cried. “I only know that’s where you have to be cursed in order to see the village!”

   He didn’t know what to do. For a long time (We don’t have time!) he sat in grinding indecision. Tia’s anguish hurt him down to his toes.

   “I survived ...” he finally whispered.

   “Wh-What—?” she gulped between sobs.

   “I didn’t die when my entire race did. I was there. I saw it happen. I saw the lightning in a cloudless sky, and I saw the earth open up and swallow every Orc I had ever known, and all those I never did. I ran and I ran. I was injured. But I kept running. I heard the ground cracking and opening just behind me. I heard the fading screams and curses of my brethren. The ground shook so hard that I fell again and again. I got struck by rolling boulders. The world was trying to kill me! I cried out ... I cried out ... I do not remember what I said ... I got to my feet and pushed on. I could barely stand. The pain ... I could hear the humans celebrating. I could hear great eagles crying out above the din, just above me. I felt certain they were going to swoop down on me. I was going to die, and I knew it....

   “... but I didn’t. I ... didn’t!

   He inhaled, his heart thumping hard with the memories. It was the first time since that fateful day that he had allowed himself to fully recall them. The madness of it! The chaos! The agony! The sounds! He had shared none of this with Tia or Andylyr.

   “I kept walking ... stumbling ... crawling. I finally fell and did not get up. I wasn’t going to go any farther. I thought I would die. I wanted to die. Instead I woke to the sounds of ... Men! The humans were returning home! I tried to hide. I very nearly got caught. But ... I didn’t.”

   She had quietened to listen, sniffling occasionally as he spoke. She tightened her arms around him almost to the point of pain and exclaimed, “And then I found you! I found you!”

   “Yes, you did,” he answered, patting her forearms fondly. “You saved me, Rothtia. You fed me and took pity on me and brought me to your home. The most unlikely of events. But they happened. They happened!”

   Without further thought, he cinched his hat tight against his chin, turned Shygar south, and urged him into a full gallop for the Smiting Stone.






The new canyon under the old moon appeared sharp, deep, and menacing, with shadows along sheer splintered faces that ran down into depths neither of them could fathom.

   “There is water down there,” said Tia. She had since gotten hold of her fear and grief, sounding a tiny bit more like the Tia he had always known: bright and optimistic, full of energy and resolve. “There are no Orcs. Not even skeletons of them.”

   “How is that possible?” he demanded quietly.

   She didn’t answer except to shake her head. He could feel it against his back.

   “Where is the Smiting Stone?”

   She pointed, her hand lifting next to his left ear. “See where the Black Gates once were, that huge hinge over there?”

   He looked. “You can see that?”

   “No. Only the big hinge. But I know you can see much more.”

   Of all the things that should have remain in Sauron’s lands, this seemed to be the strangest. Nothing else, after all, had survived. Not even that evil bastard’s mountain! It was nothing more than a big pile of loosely organized, still-smoking rocks. But that left hinge ...

   It was a good mile ahead. It rose several hundred feet, straight and silver in the moonlight, like a god’s pillar. At its base was a large boulder, one perched precariously on the lip of the canyon.

   The Smiting Stone. It had to be.

   “Come, boy,” he gently urged Shygar, who began trotting along the lip of the canyon towards it.






The moment he dismounted, he could feel ... something. It wasn’t just hard ground; rather ground that felt tremendously, luminously ... alive. As though it wasn’t gravity making the earth solid, but something conscious, something very powerful, not to be trifled with.

   “Do you feel that?” he asked. Tia had dismounted as well. She smiled and nodded. “That’s a really good sign. Almost no one can. That’s a really good sign, Krapp!”

   “What is it?”

   “No one who has felt it knows, not even Momma. It is very powerful. It can do things like curse you so that you can see Boverroth!”

   He was about to say, “But we need someone who knows the incantation!” but stopped. That simply wasn’t true! He felt it! He need merely step to the stone and ... and ... touch it! He felt that truth like he felt the truth of his breathing—nearer than near, a fact, so constant one could forget about it.

   He stepped away from Shygar towards the Smiting Stone. Tia joined him.

   “No, no,” he said, stopping and turning to face her. “I need to do this alone.”

   She looked like she might protest, but instead gave a resigned nod and went back to Shygar. From there she watched him steadily, great concern widening her eyes. He turned and faced the big boulder next to the giant hinge that once held up the Black Gates into Mordor. He stopped when he was within reaching distance of both.

   Something about the hinge ...

   He stared up its length. At the very top, high, high up, stars twinkled coldly in the navy dome of the night.

   A question came to him, almost as though someone had whispered it into his ear:

Are humans really any better than Orcs?

   The stories that would emerge from the great battle for Middle Earth—of Sauron and his mighty armies against the armies of men—would tell of the heroic struggles men undertook to defeat and destroy Sauron once and for all, of their shining gallantry, their courageous and selfless deeds, their high chances of defeat and enslavement. They would speak of crowned kings and the sainted dead. Songs would be sung in crowded taverns; and their children would sit on laps and gape and gawk as they listened to breathless tales spun of such times, now lost in the depths of the canyon he stood at the very lip of.

   The stories would become lore and legend and myth, and no one would dare question them. For the winners of wars inevitably wrote the histories of them. It was one of the spoils of victory—if not the greatest prize of all.

   Were the Orcs a defiled and evil race? He had no doubts. They were born and bred soulless; born and bred for one purpose: to subjugate Middle Earth for Sauron’s unendingly cruel delight and exploitation.

   And everything he witnessed his brethren do confirmed to him that the race he was part of was indeed malicious, vile, base, profane, almost spasmodically violent. Their culture was founded on cruelty and domination and slavery. This canyon was arguably a too-easy fate for them.

   But not for him. The last Orc.

Were Orcs really that much more evil than humans?

   In his travels, he had run across human settlements that had already been sacked and looted. Women and children in those villages had been slaughtered, many raped. Old men had been drowned in horses’ troughs and hanged from barn-beams; homes had been looted and burned to the ground.

   It came as a shock to him when he discovered that it was men doing this—to their own!

   Such hamlets were seen as profit opportunities for them. They were seen as opportunities to rape and abuse and pillage, not rescue. It seemed to depend on the village and the territory. Some escaped this ravaging; many others were not so lucky.

   Men were born with souls. But many, it seemed, did everything to deny or destroy them, to become no better than Orcs, to take pride in that wanton destruction. Military campaigns were seen by such men as opportunities for barbarism and brutality. They were seen as opportunities to rob and abuse other humans. They were seen as opportunities to exploit their women and do unspeakable cruelty to their children.

   His brethren, upon coming upon such decimated villages, upon looking upon the crumpled and gored dead, upon how awfully and cruelly they perished, often laughed: “Even I wouldn’t have thought to do that!

   Such hamlets the brethren came upon they called by the same term: a “hot meal.” For most of those so encountered had been burned to the ground, the corpses cooked under the still-glowing embers.

   What is worse: destroying one’s precious soul in remorseless acts of greed, violence, and depravity, or being born already soulless, knowing nothing of the preciousness of having a soul, and with no choice of any kind being slaved to those same remorseless acts?

   With that question echoing in his mind, he took a deep breath and touched not only the Smiting Stone, but the great hinge as well.

   Blinding bolts of lightning issued from both the Stone and the hinge, holding him fast, burning into his flesh. He dropped convulsing to his knees, his hands somehow stuck to both. He couldn’t free them!

   Tia was shrieking. She sounded miles distant, becoming more so with each instant.

   Darkness overcame his mind. The death he was so sure he was going to meet more than a year ago had finally come for him.






He woke, something soft cushioning his body. It felt so wonderful that he didn’t stop to consider that he could think at all, or that he woke, that he wasn’t dead.

   He felt no pain.

   With great contentment, he sighed and fell back asleep.






“Come, my friend. It is time to wake. Come ...”

   He felt a soft hand graze his cheek. The voice was female, and as soft as her hand. She sounded remotely like Andylyr, so he said, eyes still closed, “Are you safe? Are you okay? Is Rothtia? She and I were so worried ...”

   “Open your eyes, Krapp. Look at me.”

   This he did, but only after realizing that they were wet, and that his cheeks were wet, too.

   He had been ... crying? But that wasn’t possible! Orcs didn’t have the ability to cry!

   As though answering his incredulity, the female voice, just above him, answered: “You are so much more now than you used to be. Please. Open your eyes and look at me.”

   It was definitely not Andylyr. The voice was lighter than Andylyr’s, and quieter, too.

   He blinked open his eyes.

   An elf was just inches above him.

   —An elf?

   Hadn’t they all gone to the Undying Lands? Was that where he was now? Had he died and gone there?

   —An Orc being admitted to the Undying Lands?

   She stroked his face as he gazed around.

   He was no longer at the Smiting Stone. The great hinge was nowhere to be seen either.

   He was under the boughs of large trees. Sunlight played through the ones directly above. The light was like bright raindrops that fell over him in peaceful, swaying sheets, not too bright at all, very pleasant.

   His hat was gone.

   He gazed back up at the elf.

   “Who ... who are you?” he rasped, wiping his face. “Where ... where am I?”

   “My name is Darver Dreph, of the Woodland Realm. Or ...” she shrugged “... I used to be. Here—let me help you sit up. Do you think you can sit up, Krapp?”

   “I ...” He sat up quickly, glancing around. “I need to get back to Rothtia! Her mother is in danger! I need to go ...”

   “It is why you are here,” the Woodland elf known as Darver Dreph interrupted. “Your spirit is here. Your body is back at the Smiting Stone and the Great Hinge. You must be an Orc of great courage to touch both at the same time. Or perhaps,” she winked and laughed, “just a little foolish.”

   He blinked. He ... had a soul? How did he get one of those? And how would he know not to touch the Hinge and the Stone at the same time? There were no warning signs posted—

WARNING!
DO NOT TOUCH THE HINGE
AND THE SMITING STONE AT THE SAME TIME!

   “You haven’t died,” she went on before he could protest. “This is the Olgassar Ardumia—the Timeless Realm. As it turns out, I needed you to touch the Great Hinge and the Smiting Stone at the same time so that I could bring you here. I honestly didn’t think you would. Andylyr is indeed in grave danger.”

   Darver Dreph the elf looked to be no more than a few years older than Tia, half a decade, perhaps. She had pretty shoulder-length red hair (he had never seen an elf with red hair!), freckles, bright blue eyes, and a small nose. She wore clothing more befitting a male of her kind than a female (based on the few times he had seen elves), but it too seemed out of place: it was tighter-fitting, and splashed with random bright colors here and there. A large hunting knife hung from her belt.

   “I need to get back there!” he cried, fighting to get to his feet. “I cannot waste time!”

   She helped him up. “You will not waste even a second’s worth of time. This is the Timeless Realm, as I said. It exists outside Middle Earth’s time. When you go back, you will do so not even a second after the lightning struck you. It is from the Smiting Stone and the Great Hinge that you must hurry from, not here. Here we have no time at all, which is to say eternal time. I can answer your questions and help you so that you can help Andylyr. Come, Krapp. I have some healing tea waiting. And you have many, many questions. Let’s get comfortable so that I can answer them. Your journey is just beginning.”

~~*~~

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