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Culture Clash

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Nagduz narrowed his mismatched eyes as he scouted out the small village below him in the valley, distinctly unhappy. The tribe was planning a raid. He'd never liked raids and he was halfway tempted to go back and lie through his teeth but he knew he couldn't; as much as he disliked raiding it had been two days since any of them had eaten and he liked it even less when they would start to eat each other. It was another one of those strange little things about him, things that made him that much more different from the rest of the tribe. 'Nagduz': it meant 'the pale one' in their dialect. He wasn't grey like the others, he was light but he still took the sun better than them, and he'd learned never to hesitate to rub into their faces.

He twisted his mouth into a scowl and pulled away from the valley edge, going to tell the chief what he'd seen. This village was a little speck hardly worth the effort of raiding, but he knew Chief wouldn't care. They would raid anyhow. And they would kill every human they saw there. Five hours later he was strapping on his worn leather armor. The camp's atmosphere was just as tense and muted as it usually was except there was an undercurrent of ugliness and eagerness that was only there before a fresh kill. Nagduz followed behind Chief, fingering the edge of his squarish blade as he and the others fanned out in the growing darkness, waiting for Chief to tell them when to attack.

The chief grunted. With a feral howl, Nagduz and the others charged into the town- and found it deserted. There was nobody there at all. No men, no women, no children, nothing. The tribe pulled up short and Chief swung around and fixed Nagduz with a withering glare. "You said they were here," he growled. The younger one met his glare steadily.

"They were," he shot back. "It ain't my fault they up and left." Anything Chief would have retorted with was lost to an answering yell as men and boys sprung up from the brush and attacked the unsuspecting tribe. It was a trap, and they had walked right into it. The others fell on the humans with a snarl but it was already too late; half of the tribe had fallen before the rest even realized what was going on. Nagduz raised his blade and turned to the nearest man, using his shock as an advantage to swing, trying to take off his head.

He had spent long years fighting with the tribe, so long that he'd forgotten anything that might have come before, but it was obvious the Man was a fighter too. He swung his blade toward Nagduz's arm, opening up a six-inch cut that sent a snarl and a stream of curses from his mouth. He swung back at the man with a vengeance, and that was where he went wrong. He overstretched, and the man closed the distance, reached forward, and gave his wrist a vicious wrench. His sword clattered down onto the packed dirt. The man tripped him and he fell to the ground, glaring up at him and cursing him with every foul word he'd ever learned from the others. He stared up at his opponent defiantly, baring his teeth in a snarl. The silvery sword arced down to meet him and that was the last thing that he saw.
-----
Jori ran down the path through their village, giggling, with his little sister Etta in tow. They were happy in a way they hadn't been in a long time. The war was over and their father was home and so far as they were concerned that meant that everything would be okay. Their small and painstakingly rebuilt farming village lay to the north of Osgiliath near the bank of a small tributary. It had been almost wholly destroyed in the Ring War, when the orc armies moved through, killed everything breathing, and burned the rest to the ground. Jori was the only sibling old enough to remember those times and they still sent a shudder of fear down his spine. He was glad his little sister didn't have to live with the memories.

They were startled when they got back to their cabin and heard yelling, but they calmed down once they realized it was only their mother. But who was she yelling at? Curious, they sidled up quietly and peeked in the doorway, where a strange sight met their eyes. Their father was standing contritely in between their mother and something on the ground dressed in orcish armor. The kids' eyes widened and Jori clutched Etta tighter. What on earth was their father doing with an orc? Their mother seemed to have the same question. "How could you bring that thing back here? Didn't you see enough of them?" Their father took his wife's hands, doing his best to be conciliatory.

"He is a man, Del, not an orc. He was there, with the raiding party at the outlying farms."

"So why not kill him, then?" Del returned, her voice raising again. "He was fighting with those bastards. It wouldn’t be more than he deserved."

"Because he is not one of them!" their father replied, a bit of his own anger peeking through. The still figure on the ground stirred but didn't get up. "He is a human, Del, not one of those monsters! He is a man and he deserves a chance to live like one."

"And what if he's only a man in body, Hohn? What will you do?"

"I do not know," Hohn answered, sounding drained. His shoulders slumped. "All I know is that I have seen death enough for one age, and now I wish to see life." Del sighed, her anger slipping away in an instant. She reached out and pulled her husband into a hug while Jori and his sister crept inside, doing their best to go unnoticed. They skittered over to the lump on the ground and they were surprised to see that papa was right: the orc really was a man, but he hardly looked like one under all the grime that was caked on his skin. Jori reached out and rubbed at some of it absently, jerking backward with a start when the man's eyes opened. He stared up at them levelly, not angry, but there was certainly no friendliness in his gaze.

"Papa," Johri called over his shoulder, not daring to break eye contact, "he's awake, papa. His eyes are different colors." It was true; the man's left eye was steel grey and his right was a dark, stormy blue. He looked down at the rope binding his hands to the solid steel grate that outlined their small fireplace and tugged on it, scowling and muttering under his breathe when it didn't give an inch. Hohn came over and knelt in front of him, holding out his hands in the universal gesture of non-violence.

"It is good to see you awake. I worried for a moment that I had killed you." The man looked at him blankly, not seeming to have remembered their encounter the evening before. "Do you not remember me?" The other man continued his blank stare and then muttered something in a dark, guttural tongue that set all their hairs on end. Hohn tried a different question. "Do you speak the common tongue, lad? Do you know anything I'm saying right now?" The frustrated sigh and its accompanying glare was all the answer he needed.

"You mean he only knows the orc-speak, papa?" Jori asked. The man jerked towards him, cocking his head in confusion. His father commanded him to repeat the sentence and he did, noticing that it was the word 'orc' which got a reaction from him.

"Orc?" Hohn asked him. "You know that word?" The man nodded but it wasn't to the question, only the word. He pointed his bound hands at himself awkwardly.

"Orc," he repeated.

"What does he mean, papa?" Etta asked. "He's a man." Their unexpected guest nodded quickly, once again only to the word. He pointed to Hohn and Jori.

"Man," he said deliberately. He pointed to himself again. "Orc." Jori's face fell as he realized what the man meant; he thought that he was an orc. He shook his head and pointed back.

"Man," he said, stressing the word. Their captive stared at him like he had the brains of a rock and shook his head slowly.

"Orc," he replied, stressing the word just as much. Jori, however, had a toddler-aged sister. He was versed in the arts of stubbornness.

"Man," he repeated again, pointing to the older one's chest, then at himself and his father. "Man." The message did not seem to make it through. Etta had wandered off, her short attention span taken up by the cooking her mother was working on. He turned to his father. "Papa, why does he not think he's a man?"

"When I found him, he was raiding with an orc pack. He must have been with them for so long that he remembers nothing else." He sighed expansively. "It will be hard to reach him, I fear."

"But we will, right papa? Like you said to mama, he should live too." He wasn't quite sure why his dad's eyes were shining when he clasped him on the shoulder and then turned away.
-----
Later that afternoon, once the man had eaten (and been forced to relinquish the knife he'd tried to steal from the tray) Hohn and Jori removed his cracking black leather armor. The stench coming off of him bordered on the unbelievable (and unendurable), but all in all it was only to be expected; orc tribes never spent much time on cleanliness. He glared at them but complied with their ministrations while Jori rifled through the armor looking for weapons. He found quite a few, including some rather nasty looking things he'd never seen before stained with what he was quite afraid was blood, and deposited them all off to the side in a small mound. He had to admit, the sheer size of the collection was rather impressive.

The filthy, worn underclothes were the next thing to go, and here the man fought them like a wildcat, kicking and snarling and trying to bite them, but eventually Hohn got him restrained enough to get the garments off and into a corner to be burned sooner rather than later. He and Del had dragged the washtub over to the corner and filled it with water earlier before she took their daughter out to the market, not wanting the girl to see more of the male anatomy then she should at her young age. They had to give their visitor one thing, he certainly had no shame. Here he was, in front of two strangers and naked as the day he was born, yet all he did was glare at them mutinously.

They secured one of his wrists, tied the other end of the rope around the foot of the tub, and then deposited him into the water, all the while getting looks that indicated their visitor was pretty sure they'd lost their wits. He stared down at the water skeptically and then looked back up at Hohn. His message was clear: what the hell am I supposed to do with this stuff? It was apparent that he'd never taken a bath before, at least not one that he had any hope of recalling, so Hohn decided to lead by example. He rolled up his shirt sleeve and dipped his arm into the water, scrubbing it down with the soap bar. He was lucky he'd gotten a little extra pay this month, because he was pretty sure that they would need more than one bar to clean the stranger off. Maybe more than ten. Or twenty.

Once he'd gotten his arm soaped up he dipped it back into the water and washed it off, showing it to the man, who now seemed to get the idea- at least, they hoped he did. Still looking as though it was the most foolish thing he'd ever done, he repeated the process with his own arm, copying it with all his other limbs. By the time he'd gotten his upper body clean, the water was liberally clouded with soap, dirt, and grime. Hohn had already cleaned and bandaged the cut he'd opened on the man's forearm and the stranger paused when he got to it, inspecting the clean white cloth curiously. He pointed at the man and raised his eyebrows in a silent question. Hohn nodded and he looked more confused than ever.

He kept scrubbing himself down, seeming just as surprised as them that he could actually look clean, until he'd gotten everything washed but his back and his hair. He steadfastly refused to put his head under the water and after the earlier debacle with his underclothing Hohn didn't have the energy to press the issue. Besides, to be perfectly honest, he wouldn't have wanted to put his head under that water either. The stranger looked like he was going to wrench his arm trying to wash his back, so Jori reached out and took the soap from him, motioning for him to turn around. Giving the boy the same look he had earlier, the man turned around and Jori scrubbed his back, getting his exercise for the day just trying to rub hard enough to get the dirt off of him.

He was in for a shock, though, and almost dropped the soap into the dirtied water when he moved the stranger's hair away from his shoulder. A series of raised lines stood out thickly against his skin, deliberate cuts that formed a word in some language he'd never seen before. "Papa, why is he all cut?" he asked. "That must have hurt." Without thinking about it, he reached out and touched the first scar, jerking backward when the stranger spun to face him with a scowl and what sounded disturbingly similar to a snarl. Hohn grabbed his son and pulled him backwards, sliding in front of him and glaring back at the other man until he backed down.

"Jori, are you alright?" he waited until his son nodded and then turned to their visitor, pointing to his back. "What are those?" He raised his eyebrows, hoping that tone and expression would be enough to get his message through. To his surprise, the man smiled proudly and thumped a closed hand to his skinny chest.

"Nagduz," he said. It took Hohn a moment to get it, but he finally caught on- that was the stranger's name. He nodded, pointing to himself and his son.

"Hohn, and Jori," he replied.

"Is that his name, papa?" Talking too fast to wait for an answer, Jori turned to the young man. "Hello, Nagduz. It's nice to call you something other than stranger and now that you're clean and stuff you really do look like a man." He prattled on, seemingly oblivious to the uncomprehending stare he was getting from the direction of the washtub. Hohn, meanwhile, went to get some clothing for Nagduz to wear. "I suppose though we should probably give you a haircut except you have very sharp nails and I don't want to get scratched and I've heard that orcs bite people and I don't want to get bitten either-" He stopped for air and his father put a joking hand in front of his mouth.

"Jori, the poor man has no idea what you're saying, remember?"

"Oh," Jori blushed red and lowered his head, embarrassed. Nagduz frowned thoughtfully and looked at him, not sure if he was missing something important. Truth be told, he wasn't sure about much of anything right now, but the men didn't seem like they were going to kill him or anything. Still, he figured, it wouldn't hurt to ask- if he could find out how. He pointed at Hohn and then made a rapid slashing move in front of his neck before pointing at himself, eyebrows raised in a silent question. He had already decided that it would be stupid to fight them now but if they intended to see him dead they had another thing coming. To his surprise, the man looked somewhat shocked at his question and shook his head rapidly.

Still not completely trusting him, and making sure with a suspicious glare that he knew it, Nagduz got out of the washtub, once again standing right in front of them wearing nothing more than he was born with. Studiously averting his eyes from certain private regions, Hohn gave the young man a look-over as he handed him the fresh clothes. He was so painfully thin that the man could see every one of his ribs and Hohn was pretty sure that he could have been used as a handy anatomy lesson. It was no surprise: the lives of orcs were relentlessly brutal and days without food combined with living in rough terrain would have turned anyone less determined into naught but a corpse long ago.

In addition to the visible skeleton his torso was littered with little scars and scratch marks, along with a few burns and one large weal along the back of his calf. The man was still young, but he must have seen more in his life than most people would in two or three. Hohn was snapped out of his ruminations when Nagduz, having donned the trousers, tugged at the cord still securing him to the washtub, looking at them expectantly. Jori undid the knot and the stranger pulled the slightly ragged tunic over his head, sniffing it suspiciously. The little boy couldn't resist giggling when he smelled the clean shirt and pulled the same face most people did when they smelled a chamber pot.

The clothes were Hohn's from many years ago and hung off of Nagduz's wiry frame like blankets. Clean and wearing clean clothes now, his human heritage was obvious but it was offset rather jarringly by his tangled, knotted hair and long sharp nails; more than that, though, there was an air about him, something feral and wild, the mark of one who had spent more of their life out of society than in it.

He was reluctant to tie Nagduz back to the fire place but he wasn't willing to risk him sneaking off in the middle of the night, not that it would do him any good- all the rest of his tribe were dead. Del, however, had prepared for that, and had bought a small but powerful sedative from the town healer to slip into his drink in the evening. It worked like a charm, and though he was watched all throughout the night, Nagduz never stirred from his slumber.

It was another two days before the man would let them close enough to get his hair combed and cut- and funnily enough it was Etta who actually got near him. The little girl simply sat in front of him until he had grown used to her presence and then scooted steadily closer. Finally she got close enough to tug on the mess that was his hair. It took hours before she could comb through it without stopping and it was probably nothing but her youth and sweetness that kept him from snapping and biting her. He shifted uncomfortably every time she tugged a tangle loose. Actually cutting his hair took significantly more persuasion- it was only Del who he would let close enough to be convinced to sit and allow his hair be cut to a reasonable shape and length. That was another process that took most of a day.

During all this time Jori, through a combination of mime and example, began to teach Nagduz more and more Westron. It was a slow, painstaking process; none of them knew a word of the Black Speech and Nagduz knew only a handful of theirs. There were a few words he recognized: 'war', 'death', and other things like that. By the time the whole hair process was complete his vocabulary had expanded to things that were more mundane but less violent.

It was the fourth night he was there that he tried to escape. He pretended to be asleep until he thought both the men had gone to bed and then slipped his hand out of the rope; it seemed they hadn't noticed him cutting it during dinner. He looked around, making sure that none of the humans were secretly watching him, and then went for the door. "Dus?" He spun around and came face to face with Jori, who had in fact been watching the entire time. Dus was the boy's nickname for him, a variant on his orcish name since his birth name was still unknown. He thought over his vocabulary lessons.

"What?"

"Please don't leave Dus, I promise we're not going to do anything bad to you we just want to help." Jori knew that he had probably understood nothing more than his name and 'I' but he hoped the message would transfer anyway. Nagduz looked at the boy suspiciously. He wasn't sure what the humans were up to- okay, maybe they weren't trying to kill him. He didn't quite get that but he figured it was true. But he had no idea why they wanted to keep him there. Once again, he ran through his growing word list.

"Why... you... me... here?" It was the closest that he could get, but it was good enough- he'd only been working on his Westron for two days. He had a good head for languages, especially working with no translations at all. Jori wondered how he would do if he could work with somebody who actually knew both Black Speech and Common. Right now, though, he wasn't sure how to get his idea across. He'd gotten attached to the strange, wild man even though he'd been there less than a week.

"You are my friend," he replied carefully. He wasn't sure if that message would get through- there was no word in Black Speech for friendship.

Chapter Text

As usual, Nagduz was up with the sun. He'd done that every day for as long as he could remember and he didn't consider changing residence to be a reason for changing anything else. He stretched the kinks out of his back then grabbed his knife from the corner of the room. It had been two months now since his escape attempt and two months since he'd decided to stay. He didn't know why he had chosen that, only that for reasons he couldn't begin to name he had. Jori obviously told his parents about their conversation because after that night they set a bedroll out for him in the corner of their living room and didn't tie him to the grate anymore.

Every day he and Jori would sit down for an hour or two (or sometimes three) and work on his ever-expanding Westron vocabulary. Growing up with the orcs he'd never have thought he might have actually enjoyed learning things but he liked the lessons greatly and proved to be exceptionally talented in that regard. A month into his stay he'd started his morning tradition. He was usually the first one awake and the family finally trusted him enough to return his hunting knife to him. The blade was the one keepsake he had from his otherwise blank years before the orcs. He'd had that knife for as long as he could remember; he'd been found by them with it and apart from the first watchful month among the humans he'd never been without it by his side.

He'd felt an obligation to earn his keep- the idea of good will was still throwing him for a loop- so once he got his knife back he'd slipped out early in the morning, when the sun was just coming over the horizon, and gone hunting. He was unmatched by any of the men in the village when it came to that particular talent- with starvation one or two days away he'd learned quickly as a youngling. The one who could bring back food was the one who avoided getting turned into the next meal. The woods surrounding the village had plenty of game to offer if you knew how to catch it and it had taken him less than a half an hour to snare two rabbits that he figured would make a good lunch for the family.

He had stiffened up like a board when Del hugged him after he brought them back to the house. He wasn't sure what to make of it- his mind thought it was an attack but his instinct told him wasn’t. He'd kept up his morning habit; two rabbits were enough to feed the family for most of the day, and once he'd even caught a deer, jumping on it from behind and slitting its throat. It was a habit of his upbringing that he could not get rid of that led him to hunt shirtless. He didn't care what they claimed, that clothing smelled and he'd spent most of his life bare chested, so why stop now?

He strapped the knife onto his belt and slipped out the door without a sound. It seemed that luck was with him that day because it took him not ten minutes before he'd spotted a pair of rabbits and driven them into a simple trap he'd set a few yards away. He wrung their necks and pulled them from the trap, slinging them over his shoulder and heading back for the house. The others were already up and about when he returned, accustomed now to his absence in the mornings. He gave the rabbits to Del, who thanked him and then whacked him gently on the shoulder. "Blood." He looked down; one of the rabbits had cut itself in the trap and bled down his front. He looked back at her, being deliberately obtuse.

"Yes?" She raised an eyebrow, letting him know that she could see right through his feigned ignorance. She pointed at the full water bucket and handed him a rag.

"Wash, Dus," she told him sternly. He rolled his eyes but took the rag anyways.

"You every time say wash," he retorted jokingly, scrubbing the blood off of his front. He didn't get the need for it himself but he had learned the hard way that Del was not above simply taking him outside and dumping the water bucket over his head if he refused what he considered unnecessary cleanliness. He wrung the rag out and the pointed at the rabbits. "I help you?"

"No thank you." He wandered outside to find something to do, running over sentences in his head. Among the tribe the preferred way to learn was getting tossed in the deep end of the lake and expected to swim- which was, in fact, exactly how he'd learned to swim- so that same method being applied to learning a language wasn't the bit that threw him. The bit that threw him were the abstract concepts, things that Jori couldn't mime or show him an example of. 'Help' in particular had been a difficult one to get across; there was no equivalent of it in the Black Speech and even if there was he was the only living being for miles who spoke it.

He scrambled up into one of the trees at the edge of the forest, looking towards the Stone City- Osgiliath, the humans called it. But why was he still thinking about humans like he wasn’t one of them? He knew, objectively, that he was, but he felt so different from them that he couldn’t quite bring himself to think he was one. But now he realized that he wasn’t an orc either. So what was he then? Right now he felt like he was someone who didn’t belong anywhere at all.

He was stranded in between two worlds and neither one of them really wanted him. There was no love lost among orcs, that he knew, and even if there were he had no desire to go back to them. He was too different from them, always had been, but he hadn’t known there was any other way to be. Now he was among people who looked like him but acted completely different, people who looked at him expectantly when they spoke even though he barely understood what they were saying and stared at him strangely when he did something they hadn’t seen before.

Nagduz was a warrior who had no love of fighting, a human who acted like an orc. He stared at the Stone City and narrowed his eyes at it as though it were the cause of all of his problems. The past two months had been good, and he realized once and for all that he was no orc and he had never really been meant to live among them- had he? There was no denying that he’d be dead if they hadn’t taken him in. He was only a youngling when they found him, no more than five summers old at the most. He’d never have survived if they
hadn’t raised him, but he’d never before wondered about why they hadn’t just killed him like they did with all the other humans.

Why had they taken him in instead of murdering him? What had made him so different? He’d seen countless other humans encounter the tribe and die- some of them by his hand as well. Was it because of who he was before the orcs? Had they wanted him to forget and be lost forever? If so they had done a spectacular job, for he remembered nothing of the times before he joined them, when he supposed he must have lived with a human family. The odds of ever finding them now were slim at best and even if he could have Nagduz didn’t figure they would want him; he was still astonished daily by the fact that Hohn and the others hadn’t simply killed him on sight. What family would want to take in a man who wasn’t a man- who wasn’t anything in particular, really? It seemed to Nagduz that he would be forever trapped between worlds, never finding a home and never belonging.

Sometimes he wished the humans had never found him; while he’d never fit in with the orcs he’d never had to wonder about another way of life. And many times he wished that the orcs had never found him; maybe the human family would have come back for him and he’d never have had this problem at all.

“Dus?” He looked down sharply, snapped out of his thoughts by Jori’s voice as he watched the little boy scramble up the tree to try and sit beside him.

“Hello Jori,” he called down, eyes following the boy with no small measure of amusement. He clearly was not a born climber- he looked like he’d hardly ever seen a tree before. He managed up until the branch directly under Nagduz, when his grip slipped and, for one heart-stopping moment, he faced a long, scratchy fall to the ground below. Before he could drop, though, a large hand closed over his wrist quicker than he could blink and pulled him upward sharply, plopping him onto the branch as a mismatched pair of eyes looked at him sternly. “Careful,” Nagduz told him, emphasizing the word. Jori giggled.

“I didn’t teach you that word.” The older man raised an eyebrow at him, unimpressed.

“Your mother say that to you. Says that to you.” He was glad that he was finally getting a reasonable grasp on Common, at least in the present tense. There was little more frustrating than having words to say and being unable to say them in a way that wouldn’t make people shudder with fear at the sound. He had abandoned the orcish speech altogether now, since no one understood him and many would refuse to talk to him at all if he tried talking in that tongue.

“Okay, she does,” Jori admitted wryly. “What are you doing?” Nagduz opened his mouth and then realized that he didn’t know the word for it. Stymied, he tapped his index finger against his temple. By now both he and Jori were exceptionally good at reading each other’s mimes and hand signs. The little boy nodded rapidly.

“Thinking,” he told the man.

“Yes, I am thinking.” He turned and stared back towards the Stone City, resting his head against the rough bark of the tree, and tried to convey his troubled thoughts. “I am a man, and I am not a man. I am… nothing.” It wasn’t quite the word he was looking for, but it would do close enough. Jori shifted on the wide branch, looking somberly at the man he thought of as a friend.

“You are you,” he told him emphatically. “And that is all that you need to be.” He knew that Nagduz was frustrated; for goodness sake, who wouldn’t be in that situation? To find out that nothing you grew up thinking was actually true, that you weren’t even the same race you’d been raised as, and you had a family somewhere that probably thought you were dead. He had a sudden thought. “May I see your knife?”

Nagduz looked somewhat confused but then he shrugged and slipped the knife from his belt, passing it to the boy; some people might have been reluctant to hand a knife to an eight year old but he didn’t exactly have a typical sense of safety and danger. In truth, he would have been shocked to know that Jori hadn’t yet learned how to handle a weapon. The sheath, which was plain unembossed leather but clearly of a professional make, provided no clues so the little boy edged the blade out carefully.

It was somewhat small for a hunting knife but it was clean and well kept. He knew it was Nagduz’s one possession from whoever he was before the tribe had taken him in, so maybe it could yield some clue as to where to look for his true family. The handle was some manner of hardwood wrapped in dark leather and the knife itself gave the boy a twinge of familiarity, though he couldn’t say why. He’d seen a knife similar in style once before, in Osgiliath, but it was too long ago for him to remember it. The blade was plain and simple, light but strong. It was an absolutely fantastic knife and it was no wonder Nagduz had hung onto it.

There were no obvious marks along the blade until he got down near the hilt on the inward side. A small, intricate picture was carefully engraved into the metal: a tall spreading tree crowned with seven stars above it. Jori caught his breath in surprise. That was the symbol of Minas Tirith. “So you’re a Gondorian, Dus,” he muttered, more to himself than to the man. “And from the White City, no less.” They heard Del calling them for lunch and Jori handed the knife back without saying anything more. He’d tell his father about it later; papa would know what to do.

Nagduz strapped the knife back to his belt, wondering what the boy had said. All he’d caught was something about white and the word city and he wondered if Jori knew where he had come from. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to know himself. There was a part of him- a not insignificant part- that would be perfectly happy just living in the wilderness with no men or orcs at all. In the last two months he had learned that orcish society was, to put it in a casual way, much less formal than the societies of men, even in the small villages like Jori’s. There were too many rules to learn, even though he quickly adapted to the lack of violence.

He’d never been a violent person, not really, and certainly nothing like the others who would pick a fight for any reason or cause, and sometimes just because they felt like it. Yet still, among the orcs he became violent for the pure and simple reason that he had to survive. There was violence or there was death. So no, the constant strife he did not miss. But the other rules, about how to dress and how to act and how to talk, they were more than he’d ever had to deal with before, and he knew if they headed to a city- or even just a larger town- there would probably only be rules added on to those.

Doing naught but adding onto his conflicting emotions was a small, deeply buried part of him that just wanted to know: who was he, where did he come from, did his family miss him? Did he even have a family at all? It was likely that he would never find out, even with the knife to aid him. He knew from Hohn that by the time the Ring War ended many of the men of Gondor lay dead on one field or another. Was his family among them?

It had been less than a year since Sauron’s fall and things in Gondor were still settling down. Everyone had heard tell of the new king, Elessar, being crowned in the White City by the wizard Gandalf. Nagduz couldn’t quite understand the concept of a king; he repeatedly referred to him as ‘chief’ and flatly refused believe them when they told him that Elessar ruled over all the people of Gondor. “No orc tribes like that,” he told them with a grim smile. “They kill you if you try do that.”

“Try to,” Jori interrupted. Nagduz blinked at him. “Try to do that,” the boy clarified.

“Oh. Thank you.” After lunch, Jori asked him for his knife. He showed his parents the small symbol.

“Papa, mama, look at this. It’s the tree, isn’t it? The one from Minas Tirith; do you think we should take him there?” His parents discussed the situation, not sure what to do. They knew that Nagduz was still extremely uncomfortable around other humans but they also knew that he couldn’t stay in their little village forever. He needed someone who could teach him properly, something that their dedicated but young son just couldn’t manage, and they were also aware that in the small communities surrounding Osgiliath it wouldn’t take too long before his presence attracted some very unwanted attention.

For now they had been lucky: the other villagers were openly doubtful of their attempts to draw him back into human society but they had by now accepted his presence and didn’t give the family or their ward any grief. But there were others who would not be so tolerant- and who would be more than happy to kill Nagduz for his association with the orcs whether he was a human or not and probably attack their family as well. As the phrase went, it was guilt by association.

But on the other hand, they also knew that their children had quickly come to think the world of the strange, wary man and Nagduz leaving would be a blow to them. And there was absolutely no doubt that the man couldn’t handle a city like Minas Tirith any time soon. He was still at the stage of his rehabilitation where getting him to wear a shirt was a (usually fruitless) struggle. To be thrust into the formal Gondorian society would undo anything the past two months of work might have done in the first place. And most of all, they wanted to find his family before sending him off on his own. They sincerely hoped that they would accept him back with them- and if they did not, well, some solution would be worked out.

Surprisingly enough, it was Jori who finally thought of the possible answer to their problem- if they could convince Nagduz to go along with it. “What about Bergil?” he piped up. Hohn looked at his son, not quite following the child’s train of thought.

“I’m sorry?”

“He could stay with Bergil, my friend. His father’s stationed with the guard in Osgiliath and they’ve got room to let another person stay there. I just know Bergil will ask his father. Next time we go into the city can he come back with us? Please?” The parents were reluctant to dive into Jori’s plan. True, Del had met the boy several times and both he and his father struck her as decent and honorable men, but that didn’t necessarily mean that they would be receptive to the idea of letting Nagduz live with them while the search for his family went on. But there was no denying that his solution was the only thing with a bit of merit that they could come up with. Finally Hohn gave in.

“Alright,” he told his son, “the next time we go into the city we will speak with Bergil and his father and see what they have to say. Now why don’t you go and find Dus and tell him about this? We’ll need to introduce them to him first.” Jori nodded happily and scuttled off in search of Nagduz, who had wandered off followed closely by Etta after realizing that there was no way he could follow along with their conversation until he knew much more Westron.

“Here’s your knife,” he told the man once he found him sitting just inside the tree line, handing back the blade. Nagduz slipped into back into its sheath with a nod of thanks as the eight year old settled himself down next to him. Etta was sleeping quietly, curled up in his lap, and he was gazing at her bemusedly, no doubt wondering why she’d chosen such an uncomfortable pillow.

“What were you talking around?” he asked softly.

“About,” Johri told him absently, trying to figure out how to get the message across. “Dus, we are worried.” This was going to be a tricky conversation. ‘Worry’ was one of the abstract emotional concepts that Nagduz simply couldn’t understand without a proper teacher; orcs worried about nothing and no one and their language reflected that. The closest approximation he’d been able to reach was ‘less than afraid’, which he knew was a poor descriptor at best.

“About what?”

“We’re worried that men might come and attack us.” Nagduz glared at the distance like he was expecting it to leap out and attack them personally.

“Why? You are - we are men,” he said, consciously reminding himself of his heritage.

“Because of the orcs you lived with.”

“But they are all dead,” he replied, sounding openly confused.

“Yes, but there are some men who want to attack you because you lived with them, and they want to attack us for helping you.” Jori figured he’d seen Nagduz angry during the first bit of time he’d stayed there, when the language barrier and cultural differences were at their worst, but it paled in comparison to how he was now. Pausing just long enough to shift the sleeping toddler carefully out of his lap, he stood up and began to pace, fingering his knife.

“Then I kill them,” he growled, tight-lipped and pale with fury. “You help me; they hurt you I kill them.” His grammar suffered a bit under his anger but his message- and his sincerity- was clear enough to have come across with no words at all. Jori held up his hands plaintively.

“Wait, Dus, we don’t know when they’re coming. And we have an idea.” All the noise had stirred Etta, who sat up and looked around, wondering where her bed had gone. She blinked, shuffling over to her brother’s side and smiling up at Nagduz. He forced a smile back, breathing through his nose and calming himself.

Once Nagduz had calmed down enough to listen, Jori explained as best he could what the family hoped to do. “They will come with us next time we go to the Stone City.” He used Nagduz’s term for it since he knew that was what the man would be more familiar with. Nagduz sat for a while, thinking over what Jori had said. As much as he loathed the idea of going into the Stone City he was unwilling to put the family at risk. They had helped him when by all rights they ought to have killed him and it would be low-down and dirty to let somebody hurt them for that. He didn’t have the slightest idea of it, but he had become friends with them. He reached a decision with a sigh and a short nod.

“Alright. I will go.”