A Question of Breeding

 By Tyellas

Summary: About thirty years before the War of the Ring, Elladan and Elrohir give Saruman counsel about orcs, and in turn come to doubt their long vengeance against the orcs. Radagast and Gandalf share their own opinions about the matter. Readers should note that this is a book-fic (based on J.R.R. Tolkien's writings) not a movie-fic.

Disclaimer: These characters and Middle-Earth are the copyright of the Tolkien estate and this fan fiction is not meant to infringe on that copyright in any way.

Story Rating: PG -15.

Thanks to beta readers Aayesha and Suzana.


Part 1: Saruman.

Riding down the hills bordering Fangorn, Elrohir was relieved when the dark spire of Isengard could be seen at last, towering above its tree-garth. He shouted to his brother Elladan.

In unspoken consonance, they came to a halt and dismounted. Elrohir was the first to remove his sweaty helm. "Blazing summer riding," he groused, "and us trapped in our armour, with all this trouble on the road."

"True-spoken," Elladan grunted, between removing his own helm and slithering out of his mail-coat. "These paths have not been so plagued by orcs for thirty years, since Dol Guldur and the worm of Esgaroth fell." He peeled off his travel-stained linen tunic and unfolded a fresh silk one from a saddlebag.

Elrohir did the same. Soon, they were arrayed alike. "And still no message about why Saruman has summoned not just you, who sit on the White Council, but myself as well. What need has he of my counsel? You are the loremaster of us two."

Elladan gave his brother a fond smile. "Myself, I am well pleased that you receive your due for once."

"I'd be better pleased if my due didn't call me out to ride in the heat of the year, while trying to be as presentable as a lord going to a feast." Elrohir fixed his rolled mail-shirt behind his saddle, and drew out a comb. "You do my braid, I'll do yours?"

Elladan nodded and turned around, speaking as his brother untwined and rewove his simple braid. "Saruman the White is the highest of the Istari," Elladan said. "He is the most elevated and lordly of them all. I do not think he would take well to having us travel-stained, and at Isengard we will enter direct into the tower's great hall. Elbereth knows, I've disagreed with him enough to learn what he dislikes. But it is long since he has sought the wisdom of the Elves. He has been distant from us since Dol Guldur fell, though he aided the White Council then."

Elrohir was quiet about this as his own dark braid was refreshed. Finally, he muttered, "He's going to go on about us being the sons of Elrond," as they swung up into the saddle again.

It was a swift ride to the tree-hidden wall that ringed Isengard. From the wall's balustrade, mortal servants called to the riders with a harsh Dunland accent. "Who rides to the gates of Saruman?"

In the common tongue, Elladan shouted, "We are Elrohir and Elladan of Rivendell. Saruman the White asked us to come and give him counsel. Is he within?"

"Do you bring tribute?"

The two elf-kin looked at each other. "Tribute?" said Elrohir.

Elladan hissed in Elvish, "This is new; but if that is how they would have it, fortune is with us." Again he shouted to the mortals, "Yes. Yes, we do." As the gate was cranked open, he said to his brother, "They have not dealt with me so when I visited before. I wonder what has changed in but one generation." Elladan's mouth was set hard in pride and anger. Elrohir was glad that he was not the only one offended by the request, and he looked forwards to seeing Elladan unleash his sharp tongue at Isengard.

Saruman was awaiting them at the top of Isengard's steps. Elrohir had not seen him for many long years, and eyed him keenly. As before, Saruman was tall and noble to look upon, but the hair framing his long face, once black, was now almost entirely white. The only darkness about Saruman as he stood in the sun was a few stray strands of his beard and his deep, knowing eyes. Grudgingly, Elrohir had to admit that Saruman looked the noblest of the Istari - and then Saruman spoke. "The sons of Elrond ride to me at last, and it is well. Elladan son of Elrond, I am honoured that you spare the time from your warrior's tasks to add to the knowledge of Isengard."

Saruman turned to Elrohir. "And I am honoured further that I have the benefit of your wisdom as well, Elrohir. Will you not come within?" As his deep and dulcet words, the tall doors of the tower opened without a touch. Elrohir was deeply impressed with his gravity. He even forgot to be annoyed about being immediately addressed as the sons of Elrond.

Elladan cleared his throat, and his own speech was gentler than Elrohir had expected, as if Saruman's honourable greeting had soothed his sharp temper. "We do not come empty-handed. We have brought you goods from Rivendell, to aid your own lore-craft, and new vestments woven in Lorien for you."

Saruman smiled a little. "The Fair Folk are too generous to an old man." Saruman snapped his knobbly fingers, and a young black-clad esquire, who had been behind Saruman on the steps, came forwards. "Grimá. Take the bags from these lords' horses, and bring them within. Then see the horses brought to grazing. You need have no fear," said Saruman, addressing the twins again. "Grimá is of the folk of Rohan, and will deal well to your beasts."

Elrohir followed his brother inside, with a glance back for the ill-favoured esquire. The lad was both pasty and dark, and his clever eyes were unpleasantly narrow. He saw his young horse, Forty-Three, snort and twitch her tail, but she let the lad touch her. Elrohir left them and went within Isengard's alluring coolness.

Saruman progressed through the tower's heart and past its great throne, leading them into a study with mullioned windows. The chamber was what Elladan would have called "a clean mess," a disorder of papers and books. Elrohir's eye lit on several tall jars, with half-dissected creatures floating within. Saruman noted his glance. "Specimens sent as a courtesy by my colleague Radagast."

Elrohir's memory was jogged at that. "By the words of the men who guard your gates, it seems that you receive more than specimens in courtesy. They asked Elladan and I if we brought tribute."

Saruman raised his brows. "Tribute! What a curious phrase. A misunderstanding of dialect on their part, I am sure; my deep apology. I do but accept some offerings to aid in the keeping of Isengard. Gandalf and Radagast do the same, do they not?"

Elrohir regretted his own words instantly. Elladan observed, "At need. Perhaps it is different for you. So many men help you keep Isengard now."

"They do but guard this tower and the knowledge I keep here. Perhaps you have noticed that the lands about are not as quiet as once they were. Evil is abroad. The darkness grows and strengthens." Saruman sat in a tall, dark chair, sinking back into shadow. "Tell me, were you much troubled on your ride...by orcs?"

Elladan said, "More than usual, yes. But we have troubled you enough with trivialities of dialect. We are curious to know why you have called us here." Following Elladan's lead, Elrohir sat. He allowed himself one longing glance at a carafe of wine that sat by, but Saruman's voice commanded his attention again.

"Would that it were but an idle word to a rider. But no; orcs are why I have need of your counsel." Saruman's voice deepened. "Of all the Wise, none have dealt so much with the orcs as you twain. You harry and hunt them ever, do you not? In your mother's memory."

Both twins inhaled harshly, remembering Celebrían's torment at the hands of the orcs. "Yes," said Elrohir.

Saruman mused aloud, "Huntsmen must know their prey, inside and out...must understand it in every site and season, know it to its very core. And you are orc-hunters, mightiest in Middle Earth, none know the orcs like you." Saruman met Elrohir's eyes. "I asked you here to see if you might share your wisdom with me."

Stunned by this plea, Elrohir looked at his brother. Elladan appeared equally shocked, but mastered himself to say, "What do you want to know about orcs?"

"Orcs are evil's hand. You fight them as is fitting for warriors of your stature, hand to hand, sword to throat, on your noble quest for vengeance." Elrohir sat up a bit straighter to hear that, feeling himself and his brother every bit as noble as Saruman would have them. "I too am a hunter, in my way; of higher foulness, the marring of Arda that Sauron has wrought. And I hope even to see if the foulness of Orcs might be undone. To begin, tell me; how is it they live?"

Elrohir saw his brother hesitate, and knew full well why after hearing Saruman's voice, the distilled sound of wisdom, it seemed. For how to describe the base crudeness of orc-ways to this elevated being?

Saruman perceived their unease and opened his hands up. "We are practical, you and I, folk of the world. We may speak bluntly here, outside the White Council, without evoking old grief for your kin, your father and grandmother." Saruman inclined his white head respectfully.

Elrohir relaxed. If he could speak with some frankness, it would be all right. "Well. You ask of us how the orcs live. They are hunters and scavengers, husbanding little. A band of orcs with a home den can ravage an area, eating every beast, hewing wood without heed nor purpose. They never think of the future, you see, beyond living through the next winter and plotting for dominance within their clans."

Elladan nodded in agreement. "Mortals call waste orc-work, and they are right in this."

"And it is part of why it is so easy for Sauron or other evils, like the Witch-King who once held Angmar, to draw the orcs into service. They will fight for food, or if you arm them," Elrohir added.

"Do they craft goods for themselves?" Saruman asked.

"Yes - sometimes with an inventiveness we wish they did not have. It is part of their elvish legacy, perverted," said Elladan, bitterly. "As well as the things they make of humble stuffs, bone and leather and iron, they hunger for treasures, but never use them. Mortals who trade with them can get the better of them easily. Or so it seems; for those who let themselves be lulled by the orcs' simple seeming are often being set up for later treachery. Only a fool thinks that orcs are foolish."

Thoughtfully, Saruman lit a pipe. "Fascinating. So they have some cunning. Do they use lore? Enchantments?"

Elladan said, "Some orcs, often their caste of messengers, use a few crude runes. But only their great chiefs know some spells of darkness."

Saruman's deep eyes peered through the veil of smoke winding about him. "Are the great orcs with their magics, then, the ones who create the endless hordes of orcs?"

"Um. No. You get more orcs the same way you get more beasts, through breeding," said Elrohir.

Hastily, Elladan added, "What he means is, just as wolves have cubs, orcs have whelps."

Saruman's mouth was pursed as he muttered, "Little orcs."

Elrohir said, "Sickly looking things, born jaundiced and pinched. They grow viler as they grow older. That is when their faces deform, the skin grows patched, and they gain their scars. The ones who survive grow quickly, faster than a mortal."

Saruman tapped his pipe distastefully. "Thus, there are orc...women?"

"It's fairly hard to tell at a glance, but yes," Elladan admitted.

"Usually they're smaller. And they tend to be the slaves," said Elrohir.

Saruman said, "So the lore is true, then; they are like to the Children of Eru."

"Not merely like, I fear. The Elves hold that in some dark way, we were once akin! That kinship still holds," Elladan noted.

Elrohir went on, "As its proof, amongst the woodmen of the North, I spoke once to a mortal woman who had lived after orcs violated her. She had gone with child."

"What was the child like?" asked the wizard.

"Oh, we never found out. She took a draught of herbs, pennyroyal and rue, and went with child no more," Elrohir said. He recalled her face for an instant, relieved, sorrowed and strong.

"A pity, that," Saruman mused.

Elrohir cried out, "What! That she was spared the misery of an orc-child!"

Saruman mulled, "Would the child have been evil? Perhaps it might not have been. Perhaps an orc-whelp might be good, if raised to it. Nonetheless, it is passing strange to me to hear that such...possibilities might be. I will meditate upon it."

Saruman sat up straighter within his shadows and concluded," This is the wisdom I would have of you, in defense against evil. I - we - must know what we face." For one unguarded moment, Saruman's bony hands clenched into fists - a gesture of either anger or fear. Then the instant passed, Saruman's voice as smooth as ever. "But it may wait a little time. You have journeyed far. I owe you hospitality, and, in this fleshly form, I too yearn for some refreshment. Let us set our councils aside until the morrow. The lore of the orcs does not whet my appetite."

The ill-favored esquire had returned, carrying their bags in, and he showed the brethren to a chamber with linen and salvers. As they washed, Elrohir said, "Explains a lot, doesn't it? Like he says, he's a practical fellow; better away from the Council, I think. And it is good to hear him laud your courage." He turned to dry his hands and saw Elladan standing preoccupied, looking grave. "Brother, are you well?"

Elladan said, very quietly, "No. I am troubled after hearing him. Do we do wrong to slay the orcs without cease, Elrohir? We told Saruman the orcs are like the other peoples of Arda in many ways, but we ourselves hunt them like beasts. If Saruman the Wise thinks their evil might fade... have we been doing the wrong thing all along?"

Elrohir had no answer to that question.

Part II: Radagast.

Elladan glanced at his brother as they rode north. They had spent three days at Isengard, giving Saruman counsel. Isengard was three weeks behind them now, but Elladan and Elrohir were still discussing Saruman as they went. Elladan coaxed his gelding forward to match Elrohir's fiery young mare, the better to hear his brother.

"I never had any idea the White Wizard was so ignorant of matters between men and women," Elrohir laughed. "I wonder who we could coax to show him?"

Elladan replied, "It won't be me; I do well as it is! And I hope you'd say the same!" They both laughed, and exchanged a wicked glance. "But that is not for the Istari, I have heard. Since the world was remade after the fall of Numenor, that carnal act would bind them to Middle-Earth, barring them from their fate."

"That explains that, then," said Elrohir. After a moment, he added, "Still, imagine thinking orcs were sexless, brewed in great pits or something like it." Elrohir's face grew grim. "No wonder Saruman understood little of the shadow on our mother after her torment."

They rode in silence for a time. The wilderness was quiet about them, with only the hum of late summer insects. Orcs had attempted to harry them several times on the way down, unusual for the summer. Perhaps their effective slaughter of those orcs was why they now rode unhindered. The only sign of their eternal foes that they had seen had been ten days past, closer to the lands of men. A cloud of crows had heralded a dead orc by the road, bound hand and foot and pierced by a wound. The dead orc's mystery was revealed when Elrohir pointed out a small, crow-pecked foot protruding from beneath the orc's body. It was their way, if an orc female gave birth to an exceptionally deformed whelp, to abandon them in a place of sun and stone and flee the cursed mother with all speed. So they had done with this orc. Left in her bonds, the dying female orc had arched her body over the whelp, either protecting it from the piercing light or smothering it. Either seemed a mercy. This evidence of a gruesome kindness amidst the cruel death troubled Elladan.

The road grew wider until they came to a crossing where the great road was barred by another way. Elrohir turned his horse to the right, along a faded, ill-tended path. "The old tower of Rhosgobel is nigh, and if Radagast is of a mood to be amongst men and elves, he might be there. Shall we see?" When Elladan agreed, Elrohir urged his mare to leap up the path, trusting that the road to Radagast's door would be clear. Elladan followed more cautiously, as was his wont.

They rode up a hill-side until they saw a broken tower. Elladan clicked his tongue in concern. He had not visited this old outpost of Arnor in many hundreds of years, not since Radagast had taken it as his dwelling. Time had not improved it. As they rode, a vast flock of birds took off from the tower's roof and sides, fluttering aloft with chirping and cries.

They were close when a black beast dashed out of the tower, zigzagging down the path to challenge them. Elladan had to signal his gelding to stay calm as a ragged wolf circled them, snarling fiercely. After one startled moment, Elrohir's mare did better, pawing her hooves and getting ready to kick. Elladan saw that the thrawn old wolf had but one eye, and it favored one hind leg, the other limping lame. He didn't give the beast much of a chance.

A sharp whistle from the tower cut the confrontation short. At the sound, the wolf's ferocity dissolved into a hound's stupor of joy at its master's return, and it yipped back up the pathway.

A figure clad in an amazing miscellany of brown robes scrambled out of the tower's door, tottering as the wolf limped delighted circles around him. He squinted into the sun, his face ruddy, his long beard streaked with brown and grey. Radagast said, "Sorry! Sorry about that. I took this old fellow in, and he treats the hill and all the beasts here like his pack. Couldn't hurt a lamb, his teeth are worn to pegs. My lord Elladan, well met. Don't tell me I missed the White Council again?"

"Not this long-year, good Radagast," said Elladan.

"And Elrohir!" Radagast beamed behind his beard. "What a fine lady of a horse you ride! Lindon bred, yes?"

"She's half a Lindon destrider and half out of this steed of the South we traded from Mirkwood..." Elrohir dismounted amidst a haze of horse-talk. Elladan was all indulgence at the pleasure the two friends of beasts had in each other's company. He had known full well that Elrohir did not care for Saruman's ceremony-cloaked counsels. Elrohir had suggested that they detour on their way back to Rivendell to visit Radagast the Brown, and this had seemed wise. Radagast had all knowledge of the world's creatures. It seemed very likely that he would know more about the orcs, and be able to give them counsel. The words of Saruman still disturbed them.

Inside, the tower of Rhosgobel was gently falling apart. Birds had streaked the wooden furniture with lime, and nests of animal-hair and leaves cluttered the floor and corners. The ragged old wolf flopped onto a floor of cracked tiles, stretching out upon their coolness.

It was Elladan's turn to be uneasy. He swept off a bench and sat down, gingerly. Feeling that he should offer the Istar due respect, he said, "Radagast. We have brought you letters and goods from Saruman—"

"Splendid, splendid. Don't put them on the floor or they'll get chewed."

"And also; it has been a while since the Elves attended Rhosgobel. Perhaps some of our folk might do some repairs for you?'

Radagast looked around, as if startled. "D'you think? I suppose...perhaps in another hundred years. Don't trouble yourselves. The woodmen trade well with me for what I need."

Elrohir took a seat. The wolf lifted his head and snuffled at Elrohir, then laid his head on Elrohir's knees with a beseeching whine. Elrohir began to scratch at the wolf's ears. Elladan flinched to watch it. The wolf seemed goodly enough, and tame as a hound in Radagast's presence, but it was probably crawling with fleas. Elrohir was heedless of this as he said, "We would have your counsel as well, if we may. What do you know about orcs? The Elves say they were corrupted from Elves. Others that this cannot be so, and the orcs must be sprung from Men or even beasts."

Eagerly, Elladan added, "Thus we wonder how much orcs are, as it were, truly people. Do they act on instinct and follow orders like tame beasts? Or do they have true thought and will for themselves?"

Radagast looked into space and muttered, "Hmmm. Hoom. Hm." Finally, he said, "I have little to do with orcs. It is so busy here, I don't get around as much as I should, eh?" He looked at Elrohir roughly petting the wolf. "Perhaps I cannot answer your question as I understand it. But I can tell you what orcs are not."

"Yes?" they both said, leaning forwards.

"Orcs are not beasts." Radagast nodded in satisfaction after this pronouncement.

The pair waited for another instant. The silence was only broken by the wolf's tail thumping from side to side. Elladan spoke first. "That is... somewhat useful, honoured Radagast, although our query deals more with the ineffable nature of being--"

Elrohir raised his eyebrows and, in a slightly louder voice, interrupted. "Why not?"

This was the right tack to take with Radagast, who said, "To think so is an insult to beasts! It's like the difference between wolves and wargs. Wolves are beasts. Oh, they hunt, they harry, but they're just being wolves. Wargs are a thousand times worse. That fellow there can tell you all about it, eh?" Radagast pointed to the one-eyed wolf.

"What have wargs got to do with it? Wargs are not orcs," snapped Elladan

Elrohir gave him a curt look and reminded Radagast, "We cannot talk to animals like you do."

"Of course, of course. I always forget. Elladan, hold this for a moment, will you? No trouble at all, just don't want her underfoot." Radagast scooped up a wildcat kitten from one of the nests on the floor and dumped it in Elladan's lap. After one yellow-eyed glare, the tiny animal yawned with disdain and curled up on his suede surtout. Elladan looked at it, thinking in part of the vermin he too would now carry, and astonished that the tiny thing was tame with him. With him distracted by the kitten, and Elrohir waiting patiently, Radagast rambled into his explanation.

"A wolf is a wolf, and nothing more; and it is a fine beast. Wargs are different. Long ages of the world ago, not all Maiar-spirits took the form of people. They mimicked what they saw in the world, beasts, plants, clouds, waters. I myself...ah, that was a fine time. Some chose the shape of wolves; and some of those who took that shape chose the side of Morgoth." Radagast's voice shifted from its half-chant to be slow and ponderous. "Morgoth encouraged them to beget new wolf-creatures; thus the spirits of old were bound to those shapes. They bred with the free wolves in turn, and Morgoth called some of those whelps to him. Corrupting the Maiar and beasts was but his first work, before he turned to breeding his orcs." Slowly, Radagast nodded, staring into space and memory.

"So wargs are partly powerful spirits," said Elrohir.

Elrohir's voice seemed to bring Radagast back to the present. He blinked and said, "I fear so. Luckily, they are much diminished from what they once were, as the blood of the wolf-spirits of old is mingled with that of wolves. I cannot say what orcs are for certain, but I do know what they are not, and I say again, they are not beast nor mingled beast and spirit. Wargs and other beasts of evil are different from the orcs, but they serve the same master." He did not need to add that the master was Sauron, now.

"Have the wizards Pallando and Alatar, who went to the East, been troubled by orcs?" Elladan asked. "Saruman was not able to say."

"The East, the East. I must ask the cranes; yes, I must. No bird flies as far as the cranes do, not even the blessed Eagles. But -- the Blue Wizards. They're set up like Saruman, and myself too, last I heard, towers and mortals as allies and such. I don't know if they were exactly agreeing with each other all the time. But they're still there!" said Radagast, cheerfully.

On Elladan's knee, the kitten had gone to sleep. He began to think better of Radagast's wisdom, for all that Radagast had not answered their question as he had hoped. The little cat was not unpleasant. It might even be good to have one or two such beasts around the library at Imladris, soft and quiet, hunting mice; he recalled that they had such animals in Gondor. He went to move the kitten gently so that it did not tumble off his lap. At his touch, the animal shrieked and, in a trice, slashed his hand open with its claws.

The kitten streaked away, the wolf giving chase with a howl, as birds that had been hiding in the rafters hooted and screamed. Elrohir jumped up and grabbed his brother's wounded hand. Radagast floundered about in his robes, upset. "Dear me, ever so sorry, they're meek as fox-kits when they're tiny as a rule, usually it's when they're larger that they'll shred you to bits..."

Though it was he who was wounded, Elladan was the only calm one in the room. The kitten spitting on the window-sill, its eyes yellow slits, swiped at the wolf's nose. To his own surprise, Elladan felt no grudge for the little animal, despite the hurt it had done him. Just as the orcs were more complicated than beasts at their worst, he realized, so too was how he himself felt about the orcs and their evil.

Part III: Gandalf.

On and again the brethren rode, over the pass from Rhosgobel, and across the grassed hills of northernmost Hollin. They were close to home, but despite debate around their night firesides, no closer to an answer about orcs. The changing brush showed how urgent their question was starting to become. The first leaves were turning gold, early heralds of autumn. When dusk was black and leaves were bare, they might begin their winter orc-hunting again - could they but decide whether it was good or ill.

As they rode one sunlit afternoon, Elrohir saw his horse flare its nostrils and look around curiously. Both riders paused. Their keen eyes saw, to the northwest, the thinnest line of smoke spiralling up into the blue sky.

Elrohir turned to his brother and said, "Shall we see? And if it's trouble -"

Elladan reached back and touched his sword-hilt. "We're ready for it!"

They drew close in near-silence, listening. When they had determined that it was one or few near the fire, they spurred their horses to a thundering ride and burst out of the brush near the fire's source. There, in another open meadow, sat a grey figure beside a knoll of stone. The figure had a pot simmering over a fire, a pipe joining its smoke to the fire's, and a pointed grey hat.

"Gandalf!" Elrohir cried. He put up his sword and rode in circles around Gandalf's camp as he laughed. "We had no idea it was you." Elrohir jumped out of his saddle, still laughing, and swept a bow. "Well met, Mithrandir, Olorin, friend of my father's house!"

Gandalf looked up, unperturbed. "Well, well. A chance meeting and a fair one, Elrohir of Rivendell."

Elladan watched the pair of them, Elrohir playing the gallant, Gandalf just as clearly playing the sage. Elrohir went on, "Have a care! A spire of smoke in the clear lands - you might not have drawn us to you, but somebody else. Pipe and pot, fire and smoke-shadow, might be the death of you someday! And we cannot have that."

Elladan added, "I wouldn't be surprised about the pipe. All you wizards veil yourself in smoke. Saruman was smoking as well, and I expect Radagast will begin any day."

"Saruman? Saruman was smoking?" Gandalf muttered.

"Oh, yes. Puffing away!" Elrohir said.

"How soon they change. I wonder...ah well. Do you ride hard, or can you bide a while?" Gandalf turned to his luggage. "Sit and have some honey-cake. The Beornings have loaded me down with it."

With grave courtesy, Elladan said, "Our supplies suffice us, but they are low. We have little to offer in return."

"We could hunt you some game before we ride on," Elrohir offered.

Gandalf shook his head in gentle refusal. "After all the feasts I've had at your father's table, a cake in the rough wilds is a little gift. Do not be troubled. What brings you abroad? I recall that this is not the time of year you usually ride against orcs."

Elladan and Elrohir accepted the honey-cakes as they explained their ride that summer, going first to give Saruman counsel, then riding as couriers to Radagast. Gandalf found their tale remarkable. "So Radagast told you how the orcs differed from wargs in their corruption, and Saruman - what did Saruman tell you?"

"I - he - " Elrohir looked to his brother. "It's a bit of a fog to me now, just that he had some defense or fear in mind that he wasn't telling us. Probably because we wouldn't understand. Surely you remember more?"

Elladan narrowed his eyes, thinking. "No, Elrohir, you are right. For all the counsel we gave him, he told us little. We learned almost nothing of why he sought our knowledge, beyond some vague hope that orcs might not be evil."

"Most unusual. I wonder if he considered asking some orcs themselves. Tell me, have you two ever spoken with orcs?"

"A few times, to interrogate them," said Elrohir. "And then we slew them."

Gandalf drew on his pipe, but it had gone out. "I have as well; a few times, I have. I confess I was hoping not to slay them."

Recalling Saruman, Elladan asked, "Is this seeking goodness in orcs a project of you Istari?"

Drily, Gandalf said, "Perhaps it ought to be. Myself, when I consider the plague that has marred Gondor this past year, the increase in giant spiders in Mirkwood, and the fact that Sauron is risen once more from Barad-dur, I feel rather preoccupied, as it were."

"Mayhap you can answer our question?" Elladan nodded approval as Elrohir asked, "If orcs might be, how to say, redeemed, should we stop hunting them?"

Elladan told the details of what Radagast had said to them, then said, "We know that orcs are beings, people, whether we like it or not, and they were never meant to be. We of the Halfelven never were, either," said Elladan. "More, we slay evil mortals as well, at times; and thus we have slain our kin."

Gandalf took a moment to look at them both. Then he began to address what was tangled up in their guilt. "Much blood has soaked your swords. That is how mortals wage war with mortals, I do fear."

"As for the orcs...there are many creatures that do the will of evil. But most of them were once good. As Radagast said, wargs were, in their grater part, once but wolves. So too crebain were once crows. Even dragons and other fell beasts had their place and time, in ages long ago. What we see today are such creatures preserved and perverted to evil's will. Whatever orcs once were was good. They are beings, yes, but with a massive flaw. For that which would have made them true beings, their will, was taken from them. And thus they have fallen furthest of all."

Elrohir said, "I disagree. Orcs seem to have plenty of will."

"Have you ever seen an orc happy?" asked Gandalf.

Both brothers shuddered. "Yes," said Elrohir.

"What made it so?"

"Something fallen, or some task well done for its masters," Elladan replied.

"The same as with trolls, really," Elrohir added.

"Nothing else?"

Faced with silence from them, Gandalf said, "Could you say that you had seen aught else, it might trouble me, as well. As things are, perhaps it seems a noble idea to try and redeem orcs. So it seemed noble at one point, as well, to make Rings of Power - such as the one your father wields, and the ones that enslave the Nazgul." Gandalf let that sink in for a moment. "Neither elves nor wizards have the power to undo those rings and retain the power they hold; nor can we remake the orcs. Such things should not be meddled with, lest we become like Morgoth ourselves."

"So, we are not powerful enough to save orcs?" said Elladan.

"You are not; your father is not; and I am not. What is more, if you try to unmake an orc, by nurture or force, can you guess what you will get?"

Elrohir said, "Something still ugly, but at least not evil?"

"Worse, I fear; something sadder. A twisted remnant of an elf," said Elladan.

Gandalf said, grimly, "No. It will still be an orc. One that follows you as its master, does its evil in your name, and hates you as the orcs hate the one who rules them now."

"So we can't do anything," Elrohir grumbled.

"You can do something, difficult as it might be. You can listen. If an orc asks for mercy - give it. I did not say that orcs cannot be redeemed, but that you cannot force redemption. It must come of their own wills. If an orc ever has enough will to want to be redeemed, then it should be. And no doubt, it will."

They sat in silence for a moment.

"I don't like it," said Elrohir.

"Nor I. I was hoping for something - " Elladan paused and gestured, for once lost for words.

"Larger? Grander?" Said Gandalf.

"Something of that sort, yes, Elladan admitted.

"If the world needed grand saviours right now, I would not be here before you as Gandalf Grayhame," the wizard said. "Many small acts may add up to one great one. For elves, for men, even for orcs." Gandalf met the eyes of one brother, then the other. The fire flared up in a sudden breeze that swept through the dell, blowing away the haze of smoke.

They both breathed in the cleaner air. After these words from Gandalf, Saruman's words seemed like hubris. "If the good of orcs, could it be found, is like the good of other folk...then the evil of orcs might be judged the same as well," said Elladan.

"And if it were a tribe of men who had done ill to our mother..." Elrohir said. Neither of the brethren finished the sentence, but they met each other's eyes, each with their hunter's fire rekindled.

Gandalf glanced from one to the other. "So you will keep to your path of vengeance," he observed.

"Yes," they replied, in rare unison.

"I cannot say if you are wrong or right. But," Gandalf noted, reaching for his belt pouch, "I venture far. I suppose it's good enough to talk about redeeming orcs if you have no peril from them. Myself, were it not for you two and your oath, I might have been orc-meat long before now, with my beard a trophy on some chieftain's spear. You know, the Rangers around Bree act as you do. They get rather more thanks, I think, there being more folk about."

The twins both blinked, and their shared glance this time was wry, as if each thought: Why didn't he say so in the first place? But Gandalf was speaking again. "Since you are here, I think I will have a little bit of Bree myself. That is, if you think it wise to risk it," he said, holding up his pipe.

"Smoke away," said Elrohir, merry again. "Perhaps some orcs will find us, for a change, instead of us having to find them!"

Elladan opened his mouth to chide both of them, then thought better of it, saying instead, "Just let me move upwind of you first, Gandalf, that I might enjoy your gift, and you your smoke." He moved from where he sat and bit into the honey-cake he held. Relieved and clear-headed, he noted that the humble, dry cake tasted better than the food at Saruman's tribute-laid table. He let the thought pass, listening with quiet contentment to Gandalf bantering with Elrohir as the clear evening fell.

It was not until long years had passed that the brothers wished they had recognized foreboding in their own unease. By the time they knew that their counsel in Isengard had sown more terrible fruit than Saruman's anxiety and their own summer's doubting, it was far beyond redeeming.



Lots of the small bits of information throughout this story are from the essays "The Istari" in Unfinished Tales and the two "Orcs" essays in Morgoth's Ring. The author has indulged in some original ideas about orcs' ecology which are not sourced from Tolkien.

Please do not reproduce or repost this story without permission from the author. First posted February 15, 2004.


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