The Burning Cold of Snow by Erulisse

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Yule Fic Exchange written for mrowe (Nath).  Although I really wanted to write an upbeat story, my muse just didn’t allow it.  So sorry, I guess redemption just wasn’t in the cards for poor Brushkût.  Disclaimer:  Tolkien built the sand box; I only play with the bucket and shovel that he left for me.  No money, profit or non, is made from the publication of this story.

 


The Burning Cold of Snow

The Burning Cold of Snow

 

 

Chapter 1 – Of the General Life of an Orc

 

In the years of Morgoth's reign, it was his northern fortress of Angband that was the most renowned and most frequently extolled in the annals which have been passed down through the yeni.  Rarely is Mordor mentioned until after Morgoth was banished from Arda - thrown through the Doors of Night into the Void.  Shortly after that time, his Lieutenant, Sauron, eventually recanting the repentance he recited to Eönwë, Lord Manwe's Herald, began building and fortifying the southern area of what had been Morgoth's realm.  But it was not evil's first use of Mordor. 

 

Mordor, a land of natural volcanic fire, and myriad caverns and tunnels, always held uses for Morgoth.  He felt it was to his advantage to have only fully trained troops in the northern fastness.  Therefore, he set up the basic orc breeding and training facilities in the south.  The warmth of the fire mountain, Orodruin, would help to keep captives alive longer than the freezing dungeons of Angband.  In turn, that would allow for more “creative” uses of those unlucky elves and other creatures who were imprisoned.  Also, when the captives and thralls finally did succumb to the torture of the whip or other causes, the nearby lava streams would provide a convenient way to dispose of unwanted or inedible carcasses as well as help keep the trash of thousands of years under control. 

 

Morgoth's plan was two-fold.  In the north he would have trained, mature forces to throw against the elven strongholds that he was ever harassing and attacking.  In the south he would have trained troop replacements that would be tested and tempered by their journey from the southern breeding pens to the northern reaches and their final displacements.  Those who died along the way were the weak ones; they would no longer constitute a waste of food and thin resources.  In Morgoth's mind it was a win-win situation. 

 

It was into this environment that Brushkût was hatched.  Some might call the production of a newborn orc to be a birth.  Indeed, in the true mechanics of the procedure, it was a birth.  It was a child issuing from a host who had been impregnated, after having been penetrated by any number of willing males.  But, since the newborn orc was removed from its host immediately after birth and never saw its birth 'mother' again, hatching was almost a more accurate description.  Whatever the term, Brushkût was expelled from his host in one of the last years of the First Age, whereupon he was brought to the nursery cavern still covered in birthing blood.  There he was washed off, fed with his first meal of blood, and expected to either flourish or die with a minimum of care.  Whether he lived or died mattered not; eventually death would come to all who were present in the warrens that day and replacements were easy to acquire. 

 

The nursery cavern was crowded, hot, and dangerous.  Those who survived their diet of blood and unknown meat grew quickly, threatening and sometimes injuring or killing those newborns which were younger or weaker than they.  The first true memory of most young orcs was always that of clambering over other orcs, trying to get something to eat before the food was gone.  Of course, there were always the bodies of those who had recently died that could be shared, but there were always more hungry orcs than bodies available.  As a training ground of orcish life, it was ideal. 

 

The caretakers were trained to observe, and when body weight and age differences became too great, the slightly older survivors were moved to another cavern, a room for those who were mobile, but who were still too young to enter training as a servant, artificer or warrior.  Their bodies had to gain a basic strength of bone and sinew before any weapons or tools could be grasped for training.  Additionally, carrying heavy trays or working with metals also required more dexterity than they had at their young ages.  At this stage of their growth, wrestling and fights were acceptable and were used to help tone their bodies, preparing them for the next stages of training. 

 

Here, Brushkût, spent several years, moving around from one section of the caverns to another, until, finally, he was moved to a large room with hundreds of adolescent orcs scattered throughout.  He walked through the crowd of younglings carefully.  Tempers were always knife-edged in the semi-darkness and fights were common, often resulting in injuries, or even deaths.  Occasionally the low ambient light increased when a flare torched from the lava flows below, penetrated the gloom.  At such times, the faces of competing orcs stood out sharply against the tenebrous backdrop of the rough cavern walls. 

 

Since tempers were always near to the surface, fights often broke out in different parts of the warren.  Over time, small groups formed for mutual defense.  The orcs who gathered in these groups could not be called 'friends' in any sense that we, today, would recognize.  But they stayed together, guarded each other's backs while rotating sleep time, and shared food between themselves.  Brushkût belonged to such a small group, allied with Thrusup and Drinix.  The three youngsters bonded as friends and they stayed together.  They had done so, for several months.  In the caverns of Orodruin, that was a veritable lifetime. 

 

As the orcs continued to age, they began to be trained in the ways judged best-suited for them.  Brushkût’s small group was tested and then they were passed on to be trained in fighting techniques, refining their natural vicious tendencies.  Weeks of dedicated training solidified them from a small team banded together for survival, into an efficient fighting unit.  They were trained in weaponry; the use of swords, short war bows, and a variety of knives.  Training was harsh, and even though some of the weapons were blunted, accidents happened and deaths occurred.  Brushkût’s group survived and continued onwards. 

 

The triad finally graduated to the final cavern.  Here, each of the smaller units was joined with others.  This new, larger group was then trained to fight together as a command.  The commands were then merged together into companies, and finally into regiments.  The regiments were drilled in movement and group weaponry, and taught siege engine techniques, following orders from commanding officers, and moving together in formation.  They also lived together, eating and sleeping in rooms set aside for each regiment.  They became a single large group, sharing both punishments and rewards.  In lieu of a family, they formed one, united by blood, toil, food, and of course, sex. 

 

Life was hard as an orc under the rule of Morgoth, but they knew no better, being generations removed from their original progenitors and the legends of the Lake of Life and the Sprinkling of the Stars.  Life, to them, was meant to be hard.  Each warrior was given a final test in the combat arena to determine their skill with weapons and hand-to-claw combat.  Those who survived were deemed ready to move on to the next step of their lives - Angband. 

 

 


Chapter 2 – A Long Journey North

 

 

Brushkût walked into the central cavern, casually looking to his left at the fiery glow of the lava stream that formed the eastern boundary of the room and provided its heat and lighting.  This room was the home of the Regiment of the Crossroads and the activity level was beginning to approach a frenzied pace.  The group was scheduled to leave for Angband within a few days and last-minute preparations were underway.  Every orc was busy making sure that its armor would withstand the journey.  Some were checking over their clothing and small bags of belongings, others were moving towards the food troughs in the far corner, and in the alcove he was just passing, several orcs were having their way with a willing female.  Or...maybe she wasn't so willing.  Shrugging his shoulders, he realized that her desires really didn't matter, that the end result was the same.  He continued walking looking for Thrusup and Drinix. 

 

He found them sitting near one of the cookfires watching over a tripod holding a pot of stew.  These sheltered fires were scattered throughout the room and each one was shared by several small fighting groups.  Each group set up their own tripod around the edges of their fire pit.  He sat down next to his two companions.  Drinix was sporting a bloodied bandage around his thigh.  Earlier in the week, while defending their food, he had been stabbed by an orc who had been sharing their cookfire.  Drinix had been injured but he had won the fight; the thief had been slain.  The wound in his thigh was deep and painful, but he was trying to ignore the pain, knowing that they were leaving soon for Angband and that he would have to walk the entire distance with his regiment. 

 

Brushkût threw a cloth package into Drinix's lap.  “Medicine,” he growled.  “Boil it, mash it and then bind it over your wound.  There’s enough there for eight treatments, two each day.”  Drinix nodded in response.  He knew that to be slower than the regiment on their march to Angband meant that he would be cut down by his fellow soldiers.

 

“What do you know of Angband, Brushkût?” asked Thrusup as he dished the stew out to each of them.  Wild tales of the lands to the north of them had been circulating for weeks, but they were always looking for more information. 

 

“I?  Why would I know anything?  I've never been to Angband,” he responded, and then he began slurping his stew noisily. 

 

“But you are close with Khirgrot, and he has been there and back again,” Drinix contributed.  He had finished examining the contents of the medicine package and had started to eat, but he also was curious about their destination. 

 

“Khirgrot says only that it is a long march north and that the lands around Angband are cold, with heavy snow and ice in the winter months.” 

 

“Cold?  I wonder what it is like to be cold.” Drinix mused. 

 

“When is winter and what is snow?” asked Thrusup. 

 

“When is winter?” an unexpected voice repeated, followed by a harsh laugh from across the cookfire.  “Winter is now.  We'll be journeying north into the teeth of winter.  Morgoth wants all of his troops in place and ready for the spring assaults, so the journeys north always take place during winter.” 

 

“You'll get your fill of snow, youngster,” came a gruff voice from a cookfire behind them.  “Snow is frozen water, and it can get so cold that it will burn you as surely as these fires will.” 

 

“Burned by cold?  How can that be?” questioned Drinix. 

 

But the other orcs turned back to their own thoughts and made no further comments. 

 

That night, as they lay down to sleep, Brushkût couldn't get the words of the older orc out of his mind.  'Burned by cold.'  How could that be possible?  His mind whirling, he finally succumbed to sleep. 

 

His eyes opened to see a landscape of white surrounding him.  The sky was grey, lighter at the horizon, with dark, storm-filled clouds roiling overhead.  The land stretching in front of him was covered in a white so pristine that it had no recognizable features.  He looked around him, turning in a circle, but saw that he was alone. 

 

He stopped circling at random, looking ahead of him.  He saw a mountain featuring three peaks starkly framed ahead of him.  “Thangorodrim,” he thought.  “The stronghold of Morgoth.”  Carefully moving forward, he saw that the land was not untouched or unmarred as he had originally thought.  Rather he was walking over the bodies of fallen orcs who had been covered over by the flakes that were again beginning to fall.  The ground itself was rent with gaps and large crevasses that opened into unknown depths.  Carefully looking down into one, he found himself unable to determine its depth.    The surface he was walking on was slick and he barely held onto his footing, almost slipping down a small slope into a nearby gap as he continued to move forward towards a set of barely-perceived gates ahead of him. 

 

Suddenly he shivered.  He knew, as surely as he knew his own name, that his death awaited him beyond those gates.  Turning around to walk away again, he realized that no matter which way he turned, the triple peaks and Morgoth's gates were in front of him.  There was no escape. 

 

Thrashing and trying to run away from Angband, he struck out with his fist, hearing an “Ooof!” followed by a curse from Thrusup.  Sitting up, Brushkût realized he had turned restlessly while caught in his dream, striking his companion's head with his fist. 

 

The next day, Thrusup, still nursing a grudge against Brushkût for his nighttime attack, walked with Drinix separating the two orcs while they left the caverns to begin the long journey to Angband. They exited the mountain of fire just after sunset, when the first stars were beginning to shine in the sky above.  The only ambient light except for the stars came from the lava flows of the mountain that they were leaving behind them.  They were all adept at seeing in semi-darkness, but began to be uncomfortable late in the night when Isil arose over the eastern horizon.  The bright light of the moon was something that they knew, but they had not been travelling under its unyielding light before.  They were pushed hard throughout the night and found shelter under stunted bushes shortly before the sun rose to greet the day. 

 

The three of them, even hidden from the worst of the sun’s rays by vegetation, were struck by the more intense light and cowered in both fear and pain as their eyes watered from the bright light.  They had never been exposed to that brilliance before and it felt as though knives were being pushed through their eyes into their heads. 

 

“G’wan with you’ze,” their overseer said, walking alongside the youngsters and kicking them further into the brush.  “Yor too young to have seen sun beforz, so just cloz yor eyez and sleep.  We’ll march double-time tonite, and t’morow will be ezeer for you’ze.” 

 

They doubted the overseer’s words, but they were exhausted by their first night of forced march and quickly fell asleep under the sun’s rays, despite their fear and the light levels.  They were kicked awake as the sun was going down, and soon set out again, marching, running, and marching in double-time until the sun rose again the next day.  Food was taken on the march; dried rations that they had packed that were easy to eat while moving.  Water was kept in capped jugs that each of them carried.  These were refilled whenever they crossed water that wasn’t poisoned.  At daybreak they fell asleep where they stopped, almost as if they were dead.  Drinix had to be helped for the first day or two, but the medicines Brushkût had acquired for him did their work and the knife wound became less troublesome.  Over time they grew stronger and more hardened to travel. 

 

They finally saw snow for the first time.  Brushkût had awakened at his normal time, just before sunset, opening his eyes and stopped suddenly in amazement while he looked at something he had never seen before.  White flakes were falling from the sky and drifting over everything and everyone around him. 

 

“Gittup, you lowzy blocks of armor.  Gittup and ready yorselvz for d’march.  Itz only snow.  Git used tuit.  Yuz’ll be seen a lot of it until we git to Angband.”  The overseer walked nearby, kicking orcs awake and yelling at them to rise and get ready for the night’s march. 

 

Thrusup and Drinix woke up, and as soon as all three of them had a bit of food and arranged their backpacks for the night’s march, they spent a bit of time throwing snowballs back and forth at each other.  Before long, the entire regiment was awash in a barrage of snowballs being thrown back and forth to devastating and cold effect.  But, all too soon, they had to stop the fun and get back into formation, continuing their walk to Angband. 

 

Soon they reached the southern borders of elvish lands.  For the previous few nights they had turned their backs on known roads and paths, spreading out cross-country to pass through the borders with ease.  The lands might be inhabited and guarded by elves, but it was impossible for them to watch all parts of the borders.  The time of Melian and her girdle were far behind them and a single bright silmaril sailed with the moon above.  The orcs found little difficulty passing through the land since, with few exceptions; the settlements were small and scattered.  They were under instructions to not engage in battle with the enemy unless necessary, so instead of fighting, they moved towards the western side of the mountains, following them north.  Finally, their path turned a bit more to the northwest, heading towards Angband. 

 

They had now been on the move for several months.  They had left Mordor in late summer but it was now in the middle of winter.  It was freezing cold and it was getting colder every day.  Every day one or another orc was waking with frostbite on its fingers, toes or face.  They were taught to wrap in their cloaks, to huddle around fires, and the value of hot beverages.  Now, in the snowfields, they stopped for midnight meals to keep their bodies warm.  No more eating dried rations.  The scouts and hunters were ahead of the group by a day, shooting and preparing the meals so that warm food would be ready when the larger assembly of warriors caught up to them. 

 

Brushkût shivered.  He looked at Drinix and Thrusup.  They looked cold too.  All of a sudden Khirgrot’s words about cold and snow were starting to come true.  The march continued, and after another two weeks, most of them spent in falling snow, freezing cold, and sleeping on the icy ground, they finally entered the large, exposed expanse of land in front of Thangorodrim.  Brushkût, looking around him fearfully, realized that this was the land of his nightmares, the land which had him lying dead in front of Morgoth’s gates.  When they stopped to camp for the day ahead, he shivered, but not from the cold. 

 

A few hours later, a blizzard blew in from the north, and a scouting troupe of elves came upon them from the south.  Caught between the unforgiving weather in the north and the sharp blades and arrows of the elves in the south, the orcs were dismayed.  The overseers attempted to round them up, cracking their whips to force them back into a defensive position.  Before the orcs could think too much, they were directly facing the elven company.  Brushkût and his companions attempted to make their weapons deal death as effectively as their elven opponents’ weapons did.  But they were not proven warriors.  The elven warriors had hundreds of years of practice killing orcs.  They dealt their stinging and slashing death at the orcs while both forces stood in the teeth of the blizzard.  For the elves, it was a battle that was fought as easily as a sharpened plow would go through the spring soil. 

 

Brushkût felt Drinix fall to an elven swordsman next to him.  Thrusup, panicking, turned and ran away towards Angband, directly into the mouth of the storm.  Brushkût, alone in a fight for the first time since he was a young orcling, was caught off-guard.  A sharp pain in his thigh caused him to fall down and he lost consciousness as others in his regiment walked or ran over his body when they retreated towards Morgoth’s beckoning gates. 

 

The next morning, as the sun rose over a quiet, snow-covered field of death in front of Morgoth’s dwelling, Brushkût awoke and sat up.  Looking around him in the diffuse sunlight coming through the uniformly grey sky above him, he saw an unbroken field of white surrounding him and no movement from any direction.  Attempting to stand, he quickly realized that he couldn’t bear weight on his right leg because an elven arrow had shattered the bone in his thigh.  One small attempted step and he was flat on his face in the snow, crying out in pain and falling over another orc body.  Brushing off the snow from its face, he saw the frozen face of Drinix looking up at him. 

 

Lifting his head, Brushkût wiggled around to face the gates of Angband and began crawling towards the triple peaks of Thangorodrim.  He had never felt so cold, and was so chilled that he wasn’t even shivering any more.  He slowly realized that the snow and ice surrounding him, instead of feeling cold and frozen as it first had, was now starting to feel warm, even hot.  He was getting numb and sleepy.  He looked towards his goal, the gates of Angband far in the distance, and realized that he would never reach them, that all of the effort he had placed into getting to Morgoth’s realm would come to naught because of one elven arrow.  Filled with despair, he lay down in the snow.  It felt warm and welcoming, and as he fell asleep half-buried in a snow drift, he thought, “Yes, snow can indeed burn after all.” 

 


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