Karina sat silently inside the tent, her face a perfect mask of indifference as she watched the scene before her. She could feel Thranduil's anxiety beside her. It was not that he cared what happened to the orc; on the contrary, she could feel some measure of satisfaction from him at the torture being inflicted. His anxiety was because Gil-galad had relented to let Karina watch the gruesome scene when he had adamantly argued against it. She could feel his frustration at having Gil-galad undermine him at every turn. But he knew better by now than to try to sway her from her course. She had witnessed more dark and unpleasant things since she had joined the army than he would have liked. If he had his way, she would never leave his tent back at the main camp. Yet here she sat—still not strong enough to stand unaided—as Commander Brandorn and one of Gil-galad's officers interrogated their prisoner. The only stipulation given for her to be present was that she would not say a word. She was not to let the orc know she was there.
"Tell us about the Morannon," Tulustor asked, twisting the knife embedded in the orc's shoulder. The creature hissed in pain, but merely snarled angrily, yellow teeth barred as it sneered defiantly. "How does it work?" The orc just spit at Tulustor, its bloody saliva hitting the front of the commander's tunic. Brandorn immediately broke one of the orc's fingers for his insolence.
"Give us the information we want and we will end your suffering," Brandorn hissed. Karina could tell he was getting frustrated. It was a matter of personal honor that he would get the creature to talk, and after three days he had no success, no matter what tactics he used.
"I will tell you nothing, elf-scum. You will all burn. Can you hear the screams as we feast on the flesh of your fallen?"
As much as she hated him, Karina felt some measure of respect for the twisted orc. For three days he had resisted the torture inflicted upon him. She could see with her own eyes how much he had suffered. Bones were broken, deep trenches were cut from his flesh, the foul smell of burning skin mixed with urine and excrement hung thick in the air. The most noticeable torment he had suffered was the removal of his eyes. Bloody sockets stared emptily at nothing, ruined eyelids unable to hide the mangled flesh. Black blood was smeared across his face and chest, thick streams of it cracking along his cheeks from the untreated damage to his eyes. It was a wonder he had not died of blood loss. Despite all this, he still mocked his captors, cackling wickedly through cracked lips and broken teeth.
"At least tell us when your master will open it. Soon he will have to release more soldiers. You are dying by the thousands. Your numbers must be supplemented eventually. Tell us when and how. The Dark Lord cares not what happens to a lowly orc like you. What loyalty do you owe him?"
"We die by the thousands, yet we number hundreds of thousands. For every one you kill we will return tenfold. Can you make the same claim, elfling?" Brandorn had enough of his taunts. Pulling the knife free of the orc's shoulder, he deftly sliced off three of the broken fingers on the orc's right hand. The creature howled in pain as blood oozed from the open wound, the severed fingers landing on the ground at his feet.
"You will tell us what we wish to know, filth. Your friend has already given us much, but he is weak. He can only endure so much torment. Shall we test your limits?"
"You are running out of tricks. I will die before betraying my Master."
"That is a distinct possibility. However, I have many more tricks left to use on you."
"Is that why you bring a female in here to watch? I know she is here. I can smell that sweet scent of a helpless female. Is she one of your tricks? Or do you intend to feed her to me as a bribe? I admit, I have a weakness for the soft flesh of—"
It was not Brandorn or Tulustor that silenced the orc, but Thranduil. Karina, too surprised that the orc knew she was there, hardly noticed as Thranduil swept from her side. In an instant, he had kicked the orc backwards, chair and all, slamming his own knife deep into creature's shoulder, pinning him to the ground below as the orc grunted in pain.
"Watch your tongue, orc, or I will cut it out," he hissed in a voice that sent a shiver up Karina's spine. "You are not as valuable as you seem to think. We can find many more just like you."
"She is yours then, eh?" the orc cackled, spitting up more blood as he coughed. Karina could only barely see him from where she sat, his form mostly hidden by Thranduil as he crouched menacingly beside the bloody black shape. But she could clearly see Thranduil's muscles tighten as the orc continued. "Foolish elf. You cannot protect her. She will be taken and we will delight in sharing her until her body is broken and she joins the others we have already feasted on. I can feel your fear. You know it is only a matter of time."
Karina was certain Thranduil would have slit the orc's throat had Brandorn not forcibly removed him. But the commander was not quick enough to stop Thranduil from breaking the creature's nose as his fist slammed into its face, a sickening crunching sound filling the tent. Karina stared at Thranduil, his face consumed with raw hatred for the being still lying prone on the grass, its bloody and broken nose not stopping it from laughing victoriously at the reaction it had gotten. She had never seen such malice on the face of another before, and she felt a sense of fear in her own heart at the fact that her prince, her love, was the one to bear such a terrible expression. She had seen him angry before, but this was pure loathing, and she did not like it one bit. It made her shudder involuntarily. She knew had to intervene.
"Tell me, Commander," Karina said gently, her voice void of the emotions she was fighting back. "Have you yet addressed the most obvious source of pain for this despicable creature? If not, I think perhaps you should switch tactics."
All three elves turned to look at her. She was not supposed to speak, but as the orc knew she was there, she saw no point in remaining silent any longer. Thranduil, thankfully, seemed to have regained some measure of self control merely at the sight of her sitting peacefully in her chair, hands folded on her lap as she watched the struggling orc in front of her. Brandorn released him as they looked at Karina, puzzled.
"And what source would that be?" Commander Brandorn asked stiffly, not liking that his methods were being questioned, especially by this elleth that he thought had no business being anywhere near this tent.
"Come now, you are all male. You know of what I speak."
There was silence as three pairs of eyes stared at her, apparently shocked that she would mention such a thing, even so tactfully. The orc, though slower than the others, growled at her pronouncement. Thranduil flushed, embarrassed to hear her mention such intimate matters even in this context. But she just looked at them all evenly. She was a healer, after all. Surely they did not think she was too delicate for this topic of conversation.
"If you are suggesting what I think you are, my lady," Commander Brandorn said, having recovered the ability to speak. "Then I must insist you leave if you do in fact wish for us to take such lengthy measures."
"Judging by the damage you have done thus far, I think you would be wasting your time if you do anything less," Karina said smoothly. "And I assure you, I can handle whatever you intend to do. Please, continue."
"No, you will not witness that," Thranduil said firmly, striding towards her as if he was going to march her out of the tent immediately. "You are perhaps right, but that does not mean you will be a witness to such methods."
"I have seen worse," Karina countered, folding her arms across her chest as she met his gaze. "Please, Commander, continue as if I am not here."
"That girly has more balls than any of you," the orc laughed, coughing through the blood now gathering in his throat. "Let her have ago. I'm sure that feminine touch can do wonders for me. Those soft hands of hers must be nice on the skin…"
"Speak of her again in that fashion and I will force feed you what little is left when we are done following her orders," Brandorn snapped, twisting Thranduil's knife as he slowly removed it from the orc's shoulder. None too gently, Tulustor righted the chair as Brandorn handed the knife back to his prince. "We will deal with this, my lord. Take your lady and find somewhere more pleasant to be."
"I am not finished yet," Karina said quickly, as Thranduil took her arm with the intention of following Brandorn's advice. She was halfway out of her seat as she continued, "Tell me, orc, is the Morannon opened by trolls?"
The orc was not able to hide his surprise quickly enough. Before being replaced by a sneer, she saw a flash of astonishment cross his features behind the blood and gore. She smiled victoriously.
"Then my suspicions are correct. That gate is operated by gears turned by trolls. Only they are strong enough to open those heavy doors. Are there any other weaknesses?"
The orc began cursing at her in Black Speech, refusing to offer any further insight. Tulustor broke another finger as Thranduil hauled Karina to her feet, forcing her out of the tent.
"I was not done, Thranduil," she said sourly, trying to look intimidating but failing as she still needed him to support her as she stood.
"Yes, you were. You should not have been there in the first place."
"But I got answers for you. Trolls operate the gate. That is knowledge we can use to our advantage."
"I will not argue the point, but you were not supposed to speak at all."
"I am aware of that," Karina said tartly, not noticing as she swayed dangerously. Only Thranduil's firm grip kept her upright. "But I did not want you doing something you would regret. I did not like that look on your face, Thranduil. It worries me to see such hatred in you."
"I could not sit by while he suggested such vile things," Thranduil said, his brow furrowed at the thought. "I often wonder if I should not keep you safe elsewhere, for my own sanity. His words hit too close to home. I apologize if I frightened you."
"It was more terrifying than anything they did to the orc," she admitted gently. "So I had to act."
"For that I am sorry. But tell me, whatever possessed you to suggest such a thing?" Karina had no doubts as to what he was referring.
"Tell me that just the thought of a knife between your legs does not make you wince," Karina said with a raised eyebrow, her point proven as Thranduil made a pained face at her suggestion. Satisfied he understood, she continued, "Males of any race are easy to manipulate with the proper incentive."
"You worry me sometimes, Karina. You have a darker mind than I would have expected. Perhaps we both should be concerned about the darkness we hide in our hearts. But in the mean time, please do not say such things around Commander Brandorn. He would undoubtedly agree with you for the wrong reasons."
"He will be wondering just what incentive you have been using to manipulate me."
"That should be obvious," Karina said with a cheeky grin. But between the images of the mutilated orc still flashing in her mind, the lingering smell of the vile creature, and the uneasiness with which she stood, she suddenly felt incredibly faint. Thranduil noticed when she suddenly went starkly white.
"Karina, are you alright?" She shook her head violently, not helping the dizziness making her vision swim in front of her.
"I think I am going to be sick," she said, putting a hand on her stomach. Thranduil quickly led her away between the tents, holding back her hair as she emptied her stomach onto the dry grass. She stayed bent over for some time, feeling awfully weak and nauseous. Sympathetically, Thranduil helped support her and rubbed her back soothingly. While she was doubled over, he sent a passing elf to fetch her some water.
"Sorry you had to see that," she muttered, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand when she finished. "That has not happened in a while."
"There is no need to be sorry; you are not at your best. Here," he said, holding a recently received flask of water out for her. "See if this helps."
Her hands shaking, she slowly took the flask, washing out the acidic taste from her mouth and cleaning the vomit from her hand. When she had recovered enough she stood straight again, looking up at Thranduil as she swayed dangerously again.
"Perhaps I should go lie down for a bit," she suggested with a shaky laugh.
"I think that would be best," he admitted, kissing her forehead affectionately. Karina gave a half-hearted protest as he picked her up gently, carrying her through the camp back towards his tent. He ignored her attempts to dissuade him. She was asleep before they reached their destination.