In her youth, Datura Took was no different than any other Hobbit of her clan.
Her family was one of those less well-to-do of the Shire's infamous, nearly-adventurous bunch. They lived in a set of modest rooms in the Great Smials, some of them serving family members who were better off than they were, some working the land or their trades. She was the elder sister of two brothers, with a Proudfoot mother and Took-born father, who perished during the Fell Winter - the White Wolves had attacked, and he had gone to Buckland to help... - when she was just about to come of age, and her youngest brother was barely in his tweens.
Still, they kept their spirits up and tried to honor his memory, doing the best they could with what they had as Hobbits always do.
She was as curious as any Took child, taught to respect the idea of wandering into the wide world, whether on a grand adventure or just to see a bit more of it. Even if a Took never left Tuckborough, they all still sang those kind of stories in their hearts, and held deep respect for any and all who followed such a path - especially if they returned home with even more tales and wonder. After all, hadn't one of their own ancestors come home with an Elven wife, and hadn't that brought prosperity to their clan despite the "queerness" other Hobbits saw in them?
So it was that when adventure came calling, just after her thirty-seventh birthday, her head was still full of such thoughts under her muddy blonde curls. She leapt at the chance.
She wouldn't regret it, exactly, though she wouldn't come back the same.
Gandalf had come through Eriador, as he did, looking for volunteers to help with a small caravan of goods from Rivendell to Bree - trying to encourage greater connection between the Men and Elves, while the latter were still in Middle-earth. Two Dwarves and a Woman were leading it - which snagged her interest immediately, even with her own family being less restrictive than other Hobbits were in such matters. They'd hired two other Men for extra protection, and Gandalf hoped he'd be able to spark the curiosity of at least three of her kind for the journey (not to mention that an Elf of some standing was supposed to travel back with them, on their way to the Grey Havens). The Wizard was not going with them, though he had set the whole arrangement up. Which was fine by her - as much as they all appreciated the wonder he brought them, something about him unsettled her, and her practical Proudfoot mother had never trusted him.
She had been trained as an herbalist and apothecary, on top of her housework for the clan in general, so she was hired on for her healing skills along with one of her Proudfoot cousins and a Bolger lad as cooks. They set out in mid-Rethe - early March - hoping to make it to Rivendell quickly and come back with the intended goods and escorted Elf by the height of summer.
Two weeks into the journey, they were beset by Orcs on the road.
Datura Took was kidnapped.
The battle had been swift. Brutal, and though she thought her companions had been victorious, she'd been knocked out - so she didn't really know for sure. All she was truly aware of was the darkness, and the binding of her arms behind her back, the throbbing in her head and the crush of several voices in a low, guttural tongue nearby.
Wherever she was, it smelled of filth and blood.
One of them noticed her fidgeting. They must have, as suddenly her vision went from nothingness to blinding light. She cried out, and the voices laughed. When that flash of pain finally settled out into regular vision, she realized she was in a small cave - the light was a fire, with the carcasses of two animals (a sheep? a bear?) beside it, unpreserved, and a rusty cookpot above. Random goods were strewn about, most gathered into piles in the corners by type. Or what passed as type. At the end near where she lay, several rough sleeping pallets were laid out, covered in furs. At the other, one large, hulking Orc stood guard at the entrance to the small space, looming over it from above.
And closer to her, hunched around, leering, were several others.
The first thing she noticed after that first take of her surroundings, through her complete and utter terror, was that some of them appeared female, and some of them were children.
This is a family.
The largest of the group huddling over her barked out something to the others, and two of the smaller ones - likely children of the one who had spoken, and maybe of the one on guard? - grabbed her arms and hoisted her up on her feet. Her vision swam with the effort, the pain in her head throbbing again, and she tried to understand what they meant. Another had gathered several small clay pots and was shoving them at her, while one of the faunts had cut the ropes binding her arms (she was suddenly very aware that they'd taken her sword, and her garden sickle). She clumsily gathered the vessels in her sore limbs, fingers twitching back to life as she looked inside.
"These are herbs?" she wondered aloud.
"Baraushat," the other who'd lifted her up replied, enthusiastic, a grin of pointed teeth cracking across their greyish features and both hands still on her. She blinked up at them, realizing they weren't a child at all, just a shorter, younger female - probably her own age, or the Orcish like. Their hair was shorn short on one side, growing around a network of ugly scars. and fell in short waves on the other. "Lat pik?"
They stopped, staring at each other.
And as her head settled a bit, Datura's heart sunk in her chest. For their part, the young Orc just looked confused at the suddenly even more stricken look on her captive's face.
It was a well known fact that Hobbits recognized their soul-match, if they had one, through touch.
At the odd silence suddenly between them, the older female who'd spoken at first hollered something again, cuffing the Orc - her Orc. By Yavanna... - on one pointed ear and gesturing at two of the others, who dragged what had looked like part of a bear closer to her. They pointed significantly between the dead animal, and the pots in her hands.
OH. "....You want me to cook for you?"
Impatient, the elder grabbed the young Orc who had spoken to her by the arm, tugging. They hissed at her, but turned back to Datura, an expression on their face almost like they were about to roll their eyes.
"Yes - cook. Show how."
"You speak Westron!"
"Little. Mother doesn't like." They released their own hold on her, clawed fingers still pressing just so against her torn sleeve. "We have trouble, with this. Show how. Then we let you go."
One of the others that was closest to them in age, it seemed, though much larger, rattled off something that sounded like a very aggressive question. He leaned over them both and grabbed Datura by the back of the neck. She stifled another scream, her fear returning in full force despite the wonder that had struck at her heart's discovery, while her Orc shouted back at him and wrenched his arm away. She swayed into their space, shrinking from what seemed like obvious trouble, only for the other to reach for her again.
Her protector - her heart? really? - stepped in front of her, much to her immediate relief. Only to turn around on her, reach out one hand, and slash two fingers across her left cheek.
Her cry this time was more than half sorrowful, and she almost dropped the pots of herbs in instinct to reach up and press at the wound. She tried to meet their eyes, wanting to know - why? - but they'd already spun around, one arm snaking back to pull her against them, their other arm grabbing the male's wrist - the arm that had tried for Datura again - and wrenching hard. He yelped in pain, losing his footing. Their mother laughed, as did the large Orc guarding the door, and her attacker - well, initial attacker - tried to pull out of her heart's grip, but they held tight.
They pulled him close, leaning close to his ear, teeth snapping.
"Jiak liwo avake nauk-ukponukibiliavausan lav-li. Lat liwo noav avouch lav-li." They turned to address the whole group, now shouting. "No ni liwo!"
Their mother laughed in full, again, and stepped around to wrench the two apart. After another rapid-fire exchange, the Hobbit found herself in front of the cookfire, her Orc behind her with both hands on her shoulders. "Should be safe, now," they whispered. "Just do."
"Why did you scratch my face?" she hissed back, trying for a calm tone and failing utterly.
They sighed. "Will explain. Promise. Just do, now. Then they eat, and we talk."
She breathed in heavily through her nose, willing her limbs to stop shaking as she put down the clay pots and took a slab of the meat one of the children had sliced off the carcass, holding it out to her in excitement - and a nervous hope, she realized.
Trying to ignore the blood dripping down her fingers - and that dripping down her face - she whispered, "What can I call you?"
Her protector - as that must still be true, somehow - looked taken aback again, then smiled. Sweetly, this time.