In the many caverns amongst the gargantuan rocks of Mount Gram, there lived a warlike race of orcs. Not tidy, comfy, clean places, well-stocked with delicacies and flowery fragrance, nor yet bare, sandy holes with nothing in them to rest or to dine; they were orc-holes, and that meant macabre. They were nasty, filthy, dark caves, filled with the scattered bones of their prey and an oozy odour from the blood and leftover entrails from the cadavers.
The caverns tunnelled deep into an iron mine, whence the orcs crafted their armoury. No door, no gate, no barrier of any sort separated the orc-hole from nature; only the treacherous white blanket of the Misty Mountains sheltered these vile creatures from the garish rays of the sun as well as succoured them to ensnare unfortunate travellers, while a yonder tarn nourished the montane creatures with its purest water.
Being taller than most animals that stood on four feet, the orcs considered themselves superior to other beasts. They were savage, they were vicious, but most of all, they would get whateverthey wanted. None of these fiendish creatures, however, was as fearsome as a certain waif — Xanxus by name.
Some might say that Xanxus' facial structure would have passed him as an elf, had it not for his slanted, vicious eyes and his bloodthirsty, fang-like incisors. Yet, it was not this good looks that earned respect from his fellow orcs, but the number of battle scars on Xanxus' face and body that far outnumbered the years he had lived. Combined with his glorious muscles and imperial aura, no orc in Eriador doubted that in a few years' time, the raven-haired youth would lead them all to the Golden Age. Other than the current chief, no one could claim the glory of ever defeating such monster, older in age and denser in stature though they were.
Except for one: A recusant orc from Uruk.
The orc had treaded upon the edges of Middle Earth in search for opponents worthy of his sword, albeit his discerped left hand became the price he had to pay for such a feat. Had it not for his swarthy complexion, he could easily be mistaken for an elf from behind, for he was shapely and tall, magnificent to behold, with his argent hair glimmered so radiantly in the moonshine. Withal, assuming that elves were the only fair folk, was, in itself, a mistake, which Xanxus learnt the moment this challenger appeared before him.
Right from the moment Xanxus laid his eyes on the recently-arriving orc, insurmountable agitation smouldered within his heart. The stranger's aquiline eyes, straight nose, high cheekbone, thin lips, prominent jawline … everything about him vexed Xanxus to no end — they induced faster heart rate. Even so, none of these was as nettlesome as the orc's voice.
'Hearken; I am Squalo, son of Snargash and slayer of Tyr the Unconquerable. Bow down before me and you shall be spared!' demanded the malapert newcomer, the lambency of burning ambers sparking in his fearless hazel eyes. Although his age seemed to be of a couple of years below Xanxus, his earth-shattering voice reverberated against the bouldered walls of the cave.
Xanxus' soot-black eyes narrowed. Ire was his trait and no orc of Eriador had ever dared him to submission. Assuming a fighting stance, he drew his sword and snarled, 'See if that insolent mouth of yours can still talk when I build a throne out of your bones, trash!'
How much harm could a one-handed little orc do against him?
Xanxus charged, his blade glinting like a lone star in the dark, inauspicious sky. Yet, his opponent was more nimble-footed than expected. With nearly every riposte, Squalo inflicted wounds of various degree of severity to Xanxus' skin; the gravest of which was the one on the thigh, just above Xanxus' right knee.
Rotating his sword semi-circularly into Xanxus' wound, Squalo mocked, 'Thinking of retreating now, rapscallion?'
Xanxus shot him a look of contempt before attacking in a full lunge, ignoring the blood transuding from his lacerated flesh. His luck did not change much until he broke his opponent's sword with brute strength.
Still, when it came to Squalo, being green in age did not mean being green in combat experience. For three days and three nights, the battle protracted. While their bodies endured the fatigue, their weapons did not persist; every few hours, pieces of iron lay broken among the dust. Their engagement in swords changed to pikes to half-broken poles to clubs to maces to slings to stones and eventually to bare hands.
On the evenfall of the fourth day, Sleep closed the eyes of both outworn fighters, still encased in their armour, and hence the clash of two young orcs ceased. Their snores emanated even outside the cave and traversed to the forsaken Pass of Imladris, which was known as 'Cirith Forn en Andrath' or 'Northern Pass of the Long Climb' in Sindarin tongue.
When the first light of the fifth day approached, Xanxus stirred. The first thing he felt was the sting of his battle wounds — a mishmash of deep and shallow cuts that would engrave more battle trophies across his skin. His breastplate had been occupied with holes and even his hauberk had been in tatters before he fell asleep.
Opening his eyes, Xanxus caught sight of a sleeping creature an ell away from him. Squalo's chest heaved up and down, breathing steadily in his unperturbed slumber. The younger orc's countenance was so comely that it hitched Xanxus' breath. Then the older orc realised that the credit did not only go to the sight before him, but also to his broken ribs. He traced his abdomen in attempt to learn whether his lung was punctured, only to discover that his hand was numb from excessive weapon-wielding. There was also a conspicuous dent on his vambrace, owing to Squalo's brutal mace.
Hence, Xanxus sprang to his feet and kicked Squalo on the face. 'Awake, you slothful trash! Fight me!'
'Away from me, you sickly decrepit perfidious rampant bamboozling cur and lowest of the odiously insufferable low-living ruffian with featherweight dignity!' snapped Squalo.
For an ephemeral moment, Xanxus stood flabbergasted; the loud-mouthed creature before him surely knew how to insinuate despite his half-asleep state. 'Pooey, since you cannot win against me in a true fight, you challenge me to a verbal contest?'
'VOI, WHO SAYS I AM INCAPABLE OF DEFEATING YOU IN A PROPER COMBAT?'
No sooner had the younger orc risen to his feet than his stomach rumbled, the growl resounding throughout the cave.
Xanxus opened his mouth to jeer how spoilt his opponent was, getting hungry after fighting for only three days. However, his entrails chose that precise moment to conspire against him. They wrung and groaned the ode to starvation, no less embarrassing than Squalo's version.
'The battle will resume once our stomachs are filled.' Without waiting for the shorter orc's approval, Xanxus began to step away.
Nonetheless, before he reached the mouth of the cave, the other orc's voice upbraided him, 'Pretending to go for a hunt, but verily fleeing from battle? I expected no less from an insignificant little creature that cowers in the face of danger.'
Xanxus balled his fists and punched the rock next to him until it burst into a cloud of dust. 'I am no craven. I will seek you once I finish my meal.'
'No orc is foolish enough to have faith in his enemy. If your word is solemn, it is imperative for me to ascertain, in my own fashion, that we shall indeed settle our dispute.'
Voice laced with suspicion, the taller orc replied, 'Tch, very well. Do what you must, but be quick about it!'
The younger orc spoke no more, but walked towards Xanxus in a leisurely gait. With every step Squalo took, Xanxus' eyebrows arched higher. Yet, the raven-haired orc could not sense any murderous intent from the shorter one, and thus he waited.
Squalo came to a halt only when he was very, very close to the taller orc. Then, standing on his toes, he tilted his face to the side as to avoid crashing together their noses and captured the other orc by the lips.
Xanxus' pupils dilated. For one ghastly moment, Squalo's mouth and his own were one. The older orc's stomach grumbled again, but he had been rendered oblivious to hunger. For a split second, he had even disremembered his own name.
Only after Squalo had torn himself from Xanxus, and senses had managed to find their way back to Xanxus' mind, did the taller orc utter, 'What … how is that supposed to confirm I will settle the fight with you?'
As word upon word flowed from his throat, Xanxus found his voice distasteful. Compared to his usual standards, it had a higher pitch and sounded too panic-stricken. No other orc had discovered this side of him, so why must this one?
'Oh, mark my word, you shall find me unless you desire no revenge for what my mouth has done to yours,' came the response. 'Yet, this is fine because no one can stop me. I am a libertine orc. Freedom lives within my soul and my action.' With that, Squalo sauntered away with an accomplished smirk and disappeared behind the thick mist of lofty Hithaeglir.
It was said that Amarth — Fate — guided the willing and dragged the unwilling. If this were true, would it explain why his first kiss overpowered him in ways he had not imagined? At any rate, it was not within the raven-haired orc's knowledge that Fate had it in store that the so-called Slayer of Tyr the Unconquerable would be inseparable from him for the rest of their lives. Nor did Xanxus know why that lousy Squalo's lips had been pressing against his teeth during that kiss until he realised that he had been grinning.