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You Will See Them at Night
"He can't be a son of mine," growled Kruga. With a swift move of her arm, the cleaver she held severed another piece of soft meat.
Negren eyed her curiously from across the kitchen. "What did he do this time?"
Her lips pressed into a tight line, Kruga chopped off another piece of meat and threw it into the boiler. The air was oppressive this far under the dungeons of Angband, but neither of the female orcs seemed to be disturbed by the heat and the mixed scents of blood, sweat, and meat. Wiping her forehead with the back of her hand, she placed her cleaver on the working table and stared at Negren. "Golthung caught him scribbling his nonsense again," she said, her voice trembling slightly.
Negren blinked. "Again?"
"Yes!" With a hasty move, she threw another piece of meat into the boiling stew, spilling a good deal of half-cooked broth all around the stove. Her hand lost something of its steadiness as she grasped her cleaver again and resumed chopping. "The first time it happened, I said it was the foolishness of youth." Chop. "The second time, I thought that a decent beating would cure him of this nonsense." Chop. "The third time, I had him assigned to patrol duty, hoping that the smell of blood and fresh meat would clear his head, or at least get him killed and spare me this humiliation." Chop. "But no, somehow he managed to cut down those accursed elves and return to embarrass me further." Chop. "Others of his age have already gathered their good share of skulls and have sired sons." Chop. "But no, not my son. Not Grundush." Sweat dripped down her forehead as she ceased chopping, gathered the chunks and threw them in the stew.
Negren finished skinning another elf and tossed the bloody carcass to Kruga. "Who was his father?"
Kruga frowned. "To this day, I believed him to be Dolgo, the late Patrol Captain."
Negren nodded. No one could question Dolgo's valor, or skill with the axe.
"But lately," continued Kruga, "I have my doubts. I can see nothing of Dolgo in my son's worthless hide." She eyed Negren with interest – her friend held a pale elven skin with red hair. "Will you be keeping this?"
The female orc chuckled and tossed the skin to her friend.
Neither of them ever noticed the crouched form just outside the kitchen's door.
With his heart heavy, Grundush made his way to the lower caverns. Although he was aware that his kin considered his behavior unusual, he had never suspected the shame he brought upon his mother. Stumbling, he reached the dungeons of the old prison that were left unattended, since the underground waters had caused all equipment to rust. Until a way was found to waterproof this part of the fortress, hardly anyone came there anymore - apart from Grundush, that is.
At some point during his younger years, he had strayed from his path to the dragon hatcheries and found himself amid these empty corridors and abandoned cells. He had heard rumors about this place– of the shadowy creatures that lurked there, the ghosts of the dead Noldor stalking the fools who wandered there, taking their vengeance with ethereal blades and arrows. But although the air felt alive with eerie whispers and distant sighs, Grundush had never encountered any creature, save rats. What he did come across, though, would change his life forever.
On the walls of the abandoned cells, he found strange markings and carvings. Small, worm-like signs danced before his eyes, reciting tales in a strange tongue. He didn't think much of them at the time. But somehow these markings were engraved on his mind and every time he closed his eyes he saw them floating around him. It wasn't until later, after he first saw an elf, when he realized that these markings were writings in their tongue.
For months he lurked near the torture chambers and the prison cells, struggling to understand the strange words from the curses and cries of pain, but all in vain.
Then one night, when sleep had become impossible, he stole coal from the kitchen and a soft piece of skin from his mother's stash and copied some of the scribblings in the best way that his rough fingers allowed.. Hiding the skin under his vest, he took it to the captive elves in the torture chambers and demanded to know the meaning of the writings.
One elf spat at him; Grundush crushed his face. Another laughed at him; he kicked him until he drowned in his blood. Some cursed him and he cut them until his hand could no longer hold a blade. He had almost given up hope that he would ever decipher the writing when one elf, bleeding badly from his flayed skin and his scorched fingers, neither spat nor laughed at him. With his broken mouth he mumbled a few words Grundush understood.
"You will see them at night, wretched, malformed creatures of pure evil… This speaks of your accursed kind, orch." With a final jolt through his spine, the elf died before Grundush had a chance to punish him for his insolence.
Later that night, chewing on the elf's roasted flesh, he made his way to the abandoned cells, eager to decipher more of the writings.
In the months that followed, Grundush read slowly what the captive elves had written with their blood. He read poems and curses, chants and wishes for those they hated or treasured. In his mind a new world opened. Among his kin, such activities were frowned upon. Whatever writing they used served the sole purpose of keeping some kind of archives of supplies and equipment. But none had ever used writing to put down one's thoughts.
His first attempt in writing resulted in a crude verse for his mother. Your eyes are burning charcoal, he wrote. You skin your prey with skill. Trembling inside, Grundush showed her the skin with his scribblings.
She beat him so hard he saw double for a month.
Grundush never made the same mistake again. But somehow, Kruga always found out and became furious. He had never given much thought as to why this angered his mother so. And he had never suspected the shame she felt because of him.
Inside the abandoned cells, where he had first found his calling, he decided to quit writing – at least until his mother’s heart was at rest. He gathered the skins with his works and dug a hole to bury them in. He tossed them in one by one until his fingers felt that very first skin, the one with the elvish phrase on it. For a moment, something stirred in his chest, something Grundush had no words for. Crouched on the ground, he kept staring at the skin for a long time.
Then he made his choice.
Yes, he would briefly cease this activity that brought shame to his mother; but not tonight. Tonight he would write something that could match the elf's lines; something that did justice to his kin. He reached for a fresh skin and a piece of charcoal and, after some moments of thought, he began scribbling.
"You will see them at night: mighty warriors wielding axes and spears, bearing the polished teeth of their fallen enemy proudly around their necks. You will see them riding the wolf, the skin of their enemies on their shoulders, howling their rage to the night skies.
And when you see them, you will wish that you had not seen them at all.
You will see them at night; they will be the last thing you will ever see."
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