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Chapter 2 – Newest Broodmare in the Stable
Elana looked around. She was in a stone cell, illuminated by a flickering lamp and a tiny bit of sunlight leaking in from some unseen window. A pallet lay on the floor against the far wall. On it sat the hunched figure of a woman, her eyes watching Elana, but her face betraying no emotion. The orc who had carried her stomped out, slamming behind him the heavy iron gate that closed off the only entrance Elana could see. He turned a key in a huge padlock, then strode away. His footsteps echoed down the corridor, then all was silent.
“Who are you? Where am I?” Elana asked the stranger. As Elana sat up, her muscles screamed in protest at their recent abuse, and a hundred bruises turned her whole body into one ache.
As the woman slowly unfolded her body and stood up, Elana could see that she was pregnant, perhaps five or six months. She wore a skimpy shift, ragged and dirty, and her hair was shorn indecently short. She walked over to where Elana sat, and looked down at her with a mixture of pity and scorn. She extended a hand and helped Elana to her feet. Meeting her eyes, Elana was shocked by the depth of pain and misery etched into her face.
“Roswyn is my name,” the woman said. “And you, I’m afraid, are the newest broodmare in the stables of Burnruk Halforc, curse his name.” Elana stared, uncomprehending. “You’ll understand soon enough, I suppose. So, what name shall I call you by?”
“I’m Elana, Charamer’s daughter, from the village of Grassymede in Rohan.” Elana replied automatically. Roswyn’s words had sparked a terrible suspicion, and even greater fear than before, if that was possible, began to grow in her gut. “What…what do you mean?’
“We – there’s several dozen of us – have been brought here by the orcs for breeding stock,” Roswyn declared bluntly. “They are breeding half humans, half orcs. They bring us here, and use us to carry their foul offspring, until we die of despair.” Elana gaped in disbelief and denial. “I’m one of the longest survivors. This is the fourth time they’ve bred me.” She gestured toward her belly.
Elana stared at her protruding abdomen, the familiar shape of a growing child suddenly transformed into a grotesque horror. Suddenly violently nauseous, she covered her mouth and looked wildly around. Roswyn steered her to a chamberpot in the corner, where she retched what little was in her stomach. Trembling, she started to cry. Roswyn led her to the pallet, and sat beside her in silence while she shook with sobs.
“They treat us well enough,” Roswyn said as she ran out of tears. “They know they have to keep us healthy to bear strong whelps. You can survive, if your will is strong.” Her voice dropped to a hiss, and she stared into Elana’s eyes. “I will live to cut their throats, every one of them, no matter what it takes. They cannot destroy me!”
Elana shrank from her piercing gaze. “But why,” she whispered. “Why should they want to…to…”
“I hear the half-breeds are bigger and stronger than plain orcs. They can tolerate sunlight. Someone, no one knows who, has decided he wants an army of these creatures.”
Her words were interrupted by the sound of striding boots in the corridor. The gate was unlocked and flung open, and a figure stepped in. He was tall and straight, unlike the hunched orcs, but his face was an orc’s, cruel and brutal. In the light of Roswyn’s words, Elana could see that he must be a crossbreed.
He seized Elana’s arm in a powerful grip, and dragged her to her feet. Roswyn shrank back onto the pallet, turning her face away. He propelled Elana in front of him out the door, shutting and locking it behind him without ever loosening his grip.
Elana was taken to a small chamber. Orcs entered; one had a pair of shears. Seizing her waist-length blond hair, in one motion he chopped it off at the base of her skull. Another stripped her dirty and torn nightshift from her, replacing it with one far skimpier and more ragged. With deferential bows to the half-orc, they left. Elana was left alone with the half-orc, who gazed at her appraisingly.
“Strong, healthy, wide hips, plenty of meat on your bones – you’ll do.” He strode closer. He spoke in a singsong voice words that had obviously been scripted and repeated many times. “You have been chosen to be the mother of mighty warriors. Your sons will fight gloriously for our cause. Your daughters will bear the next generation of heroes. My name is Burnruk, and I’m in charge here. As long as you cooperate, you have nothing to fear.”
Elana twisted away, dashing for the door. With a sigh of exasperation, Burnruk reached out and grabbed her arm. His grip was like steel, and Elana was nearly jerked off her feet. He held her at arm’s length. “Why can’t they understand that it would be so much simpler for everyone if they’d just go along without all this drama?” he asked the air. “I wish we could just stick with the other crossings. The orc wenches are willing enough, and the studs are certainly eager, but there’s only the three of them, and Sharkey insists that the stock not get too inbred. Oh, well, she’ll settle down soon enough.” He snapped his fingers toward the door, and an orc stepped in. “Take her to the breeding room. Argluk is next on the schedule; he should be waiting. Make sure she’s bred, then return her to her room. You know the routine, every day, in a fortnight start checking for signs of pregnancy. Inform me when the breeding is successful.” Burnruk twisted her arm behind her and shoved her toward the orc, who took over and propelled her from the room. Down the hall they went, until they came to a door. Inside was a small room, with a pallet on the floor. Waiting was the hugest, most hideous orc Elana had yet seen. Realizing what was to come, she closed her eyes, praying to black out, to disappear, to die, anything to spare her what she knew was to happen.
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