Six rows of carrots. Six of sweet onions. Six of corn. Six of taters. I was counting the rows as I walked. I didn’t really need to count. I knew well the number. The farm was spread out, hidden in a low flat bit of black earth. I was doing my last small chores before heading in. The sun about to slide down from watching over my day of toil. I was doing one last walk-through of my land, when I heard behind me a bunch of grunting noises back in the trees.
The tree line was only fifty feet off. I turned about and faced the sounds. It was the sounds of men arguing, using bad words, and muttering with animal accents. I had my long handled hoe sitting on my shoulder, and could have placed it in my hands. But I did not want to seem argumentative. They came out of the woods. Six very ugly bow legged creatures. They wore rags. Some carried hook-edged swords and some carried shields. I was concerned but not afraid. For four hundred years there had been quiet in the valley. Middle Earth was a bastion of peace.
No evil did I fear. When they came closer I saw each had a mark on their heads, a mark like a white hand. Those carrying shields also had that mark on their shields. The group came closer. Closer. Closer. One of them was burdened, carrying a stone the size of a melon. With each step he took he was lifting the stone higher. First it was even with his knees, then even with his shoulders, and then above his chest, then over his head. Without saying a thing he suspended it over my head and then let it fall.
When I woke it was much later. I found my old farm clothes were gone and I, too, was now wearing rags and tatters. I was inside a little tent, put in with others who were as lumped and confused as I. A horn blared. I pulled the tent flap open and stepped out. Before me was a great gathering. Ten thousand ugly creatures marching about in patternless patterns. In front of each group was a great monster with a whip. If ever a soldier seemed too close to actually mastering a move, the whip cracked. So they did not march like trained men; they marched like a rabble. A man who matched the movements of his neighbor soon bore welts.
As I watched one of the great ugly things walked to where I was. “Out of the tent!” it said. I looked behind me thinking it was talking to the others, but it put its great stinky face an inch from mine and shouted again, “Out of the tent!”
“I’m out of the tent.” I said.
“Then go in and come out again!”
I did. He smiled.
Everyone poured out from the tent and we marched about for nine straight hours, just to freshen our appetites before lunch. Later, sporting a few dozen new scars, I found myself waiting in line for some food.
“Where you from?” someone asked.
“A farm,” I said.
“What made you want to become an orc?”
One of the officers was close. I could sense he was listening. He was leaning in my direction, standing on the balls of his feet, and fingering his whip.
“I heard the food was good and that there were opportunities for advancement,” I said.
The orc officer nodded and smiled. He hooked his whip onto his belt. The cook behind the pot dropped a great slab of goat face on my plate, and then he showed me a ladle full of tiny grey terrapin heads. They appeared to have been baked to a golden brown. “Do you want some tortoise tots?” he asked. I shook my head no and took my dish over to the shadow of a great black wall and sat down. I started to prod my food with a fork and the tiny gold and black eye on my plate started moving. The piece of face on my plate developed a nervous twitch.
After eating we marched some more. Then they lined us up and hit us with big branches. After that we were sent inside to have our teeth filed into points. One of the men was crying. He was worried about being able to play the harmonica. “That’s mostly with your lips,” I told him. “If you keep your teeth tucked away, you might still be able to play decently,” I said. While filing my teeth they broke one of my crowns. “Hey, can’t you be more careful?” I screamed. As I was leaving he gave me a candy. “I’m sorry I yelled,” I said. Outside there was a fountain. The water was still. A lot of us gathered around and looked down at our reflections. The pointed teeth were awesome. We were really beginning to look like orcs.
It was late, our first day almost over. My leader came by. “I see you’re doing well,” he said. “And you did very well in the Ent events.” I had no idea what he was talking about. My left wrist was probably broken and my ankle swollen to the size of a badly swollen ankle. “I’m glad you’ve noticed. I am trying,” I said.
“Good,” he said. And then he laid into me with the whip. His whip snapping off half of my right ear and a good sliver of an eyelid I was fond of. I was so very tired. So very tired. I actually curled up into a ball and fell asleep, and all, with his gentle whip easing me into a restful state of unconsciousness.
The next morning a cock crowed. The cook caught it, peeled off its skin, and, covering that hot pale slithery feather-covered overcoat with fresh maple syrup, he gave that to me. I think he was trying to arrange something. Arrange something between us. He kept making little romantic noises, as I went past in the chow line. I tried to smile, but with my teeth being bloody and covered with yellow pus from my botched dental procedure, he misunderstood me and cowered behind the pile of horse heads next to him.
“I am Gutblooding, and I will teach you tactics.” It was after breakfast and we were all out in the middle of a great circular area. “You’ve already learned how to fight with Ents and how to march into battle. Now I will teach you what to do during the battle.” He pointed at me. “Up,” he said. I stood up, but so did another recruit he hadn’t pointed at. We stood and walked up to the front. I kept trying to signal the other man that he wasn’t wanted, but he came up anyway. “Not you! Just the man I called on!” The commander yelled. He kicked the other man in the head and pushed him back into the seated throng. As the extra volunteer fell back into the crowd, the crowd reacted to his arrival with drawn knives and flashing claws.
Gutblooding handed me a sword; it was a big wicked machete with an extra poke of blade sticking out. It was mighty heavy and mighty sharp. “Repeat after me,” he ordered. I followed as he led. Following him had me saying a strange and compelling little oath. “This is my Orc sword,” I said. “There are many like it, but this one is mine. I must master it as I master my life. Without me my Orc sword is useless. Without my Orc sword I am useless.” Then he said something about U.N. inspectors and the Axis of evil.
Gutblooding had his sword and I had mine, “Hack!” he yelled at me. “Downward stroke. Downward stroke,” he yelled.
“What if I did something like this?” I twisted around while sliding my blade up.
“No!” he cried. “No! How will a ranger parry that? He can’t... That’s how!” He turned to the vast stench of orcs facing us up on the stage. “If you want to run up a big list, a big number, If you want dozens of notches on your weapon, be it bow, or axe, or a white wizard’s magic swizzle stick, if all you are looking for is sheer numbers, you’re on the wrong team. In fact if you feel that way, you’re free to go.” Two stupid creatures took him up on the offer and began sprinting towards the free area out behind the circled gathering. One collected nine arrows in his back and the other collected too many to count.
Gutblooding went on. “We are feared. We are hated. We are dangerous. But we are not motivated or paid very well. Kind’a like the bottom half of the economy.” He pointed at the third row, “Why do we fight?” he barked.
“Told to!” the recruit said. Gutblooding nodded. It was obvious he approved of the answer.
He pointed down at another, “How do we fall?”
“In droves,” they answered.
“Do we have a plan, a goal, generals, strategy?”
“Hell no,” the valley screamed back.
“Who’s gonna win? Who’s gonna win? Who’s gonna win? Gutblooding was screaming; for the first time he was actually slavering, with dirty spittle rolling out from between the spiky mountain range of his black teeth.
“They are! They are! They are!” We yelled back. The whole vast dark army was chanting and pounding their swords against their shields. I guess basic training was over, because we left at a run, and the whole mob of us ran for three straight days. and then we surrounded a castle and a whole bunch of us died and then we scattered and more of us were killed when these big mean guys on horseback took their long pointy pike things and ran us down while we were running away.
Rumors swept the army. According to one rumor we were defeated because we weren’t allowed to use our full power, because we’d fought with one white hand tied behind our backs. According to another theory we were defeated because we didn’t have enough support from the people at home. According to that rumor, all that was needed was an education of the people at home.
During our last retreat, Gutblooding was still with us. He still had his whip. He stood up and snapped his whip. “All...” SNAP “we need... ” SNAP “is an education of the people...” SNAP SNAP SNAP. An arrow came out of the forest shadows and ran itself right through his leathery neck. More arrows rained down and we scattered again. I found myself crossing a swamp and a desert and a string of mountains all the time moving away from the good people who were itching to kill me.
In time I came to a town. I got a job as a porter in a big hotel. One by one other orcs came in. We worked cheap and so we soon displaced the other workers. Pretty soon the whole town was full of orcs working in the gas stations and the coffee shops and the hotels.
Maybe hiring a few of us to work in the gas stations hadn’t been that big a mistake, but hiring some of us to work in a hotel was certainly not satisfactory. After an orc cleans a hotel room you can tell, what with the curtains used to blow drippy orc noses and the bed covers torn from being clawed into place. And I hate to mention this, but an orc’s idea of a clean hotel bathroom... Well, you just want to flush that from your mind.
We were numerous now. Half the little town was Orc. News of Sauron’s death came to us from an elf staying in room 711. He kept saying don’t shoot me I’m just the messenger. We didn’t shoot him. We don’t have guns. That night we held a meeting. The owner of the hotel loaned us the Thomas Jefferson suite. At the meeting morals were discussed. Right and wrong. Yin and Yang. The shifting of tides and the waxing and waning of the white moon. We agreed we’d made some mistakes. We agreed things might have been handled differently. And most of all, we all wanted another chance. The food was excellent. Orc food. Finger sandwiches with real fingers. A bucket of beaks and claws. Stew (in your own juices). And baby panda bear pudding. There was dance music too. Someone threw up in the punch bowl but everyone agreed it just added to its flavor. At the end of the party, money was gathered, with everyone chipping in.
The next day it was bright and sunny, but I went out anyway. I took all the money from the collection and went down to the shops on PaperWood Ave. I dropped into a jeweler’s. The others may have given up, but I wanted more out of life than a quarter for lugging Uncle Henry’s Samsonite up to the twelfth floor. I walked up to the jeweler.
“Look,” I said. “I need some rings.”
I put the list down on the counter.
“Will Tuesday be okay?” he said.
“Sure,” I answered.
Copyright © 2004 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith