Making a simple porridge with fruits and different kinds of seeds in it wasn’t a big culinary accomplishment, but it still caused some difficulties for the orc. Usually he didn’t make this kind of grain dishes, and even when he did he never cared too much about the way they tasted or whether he had burnt them a bit or not.
Now, however, that he had a guest, he suddenly felt extraordinarily self-conscious about it. He didn't want the first thing the elf ate in his house to taste bad. He knew it would be better if he could make it with milk instead of water, but he didn’t have a cow and people didn’t come to his territory with it either. Moreover it was a liquid that spoiled very quickly, he couldn’t have stored it for this long. For now, he was glad that at least his house looked acceptably clean. Even if the meal he could offer wouldn’t meet the elf’s preferences, he wouldn’t lose face that much.
As he was putting the food on the plates, the low groan of the elf attracted his attention. Finishing with the preparations he turned around just in time to see the lad's eyes flutter open. They were drowsy at first, but they quickly became terrified as he took in his surroundings. The boy immediately tried to jump up to flee, but his attempt was stopped by the rope tied to his wrist, making his expression change into something even more desperate.
The orc paused and for a moment even the wind stayed still. Neither of them moved, not daring to break the moment, however the reasons behind their lack of action were different. The elf didn't want to risk drawing more attention to himself, orcs getting close to elves never resulted in anything good. On the other side, the orc froze so as not to frighten the lad any more than he already did.
The burning feeling in his fingers successfully impelled him to move a few moments later, ending the stillness of the room. He walked over to the elf, holding the dishes in one hand, while hauling a chair with the other. His steps were slow, not daring to make any sudden movement. He set the chair in front of the bed and sat down on it trying to look as unthreatening as he could. Keeping one plate to himself he held out the other for the elf to take, who by this point had completely squeezed himself into the corner as far from the orc as the rope allowed him, refusing to take the food.
As the painful hotness intensified, he carefully put the bowls next to each other, pushing both of them towards the elf to choose, hoping that this would convince him that neither of them were poisoned. He wouldn’t mind even if the frightened elf spilled them, he could easily wash the sheets and he had made sure earlier that no wetness could reach the mattress. The boy looked at the porridge warily, occasionally glancing up at the orc. The fear in his eyes didn't lighten, but a certain level of confusion was now visible on his face as well. It was clear though, that he had no intention of eating.
The orc chose to approach the problem from another way, picking up a spoon, tasting the content of both bowls, showing that they were completely edible and harmless. He couldn’t hide his disappointment when the elf still didn’t budge.
He pushed the dish a bit closer to the boy, but he only tried to press himself into the wall even more.
He consumed his breakfast in front of the lad, hoping that the elf would change his mind, then he left the other serving on the bed. Whether the lad ate or not, he had to go out to get food and water. Then he should preserve some of it for the winter, not forgetting to get more, in case the elf stayed with him. On top of that he had to work on his trap as well, figuring out the most effective way to carry out his plan.
Taking one last look at the elf, the orc went out the door, but only after he left a mug of water for him next to the foot of the bed. He was well aware that if the boy wanted to escape, the rope wouldn't be enough to hold him back. But at least it would show him, that he wanted the elf to stay. Of course, tying the elf completely down was out of the question as the last thing he wanted was making the other even more frightened. Besides, he had confidence in his tracking skills, even if the elf ran away he would be able to find him before nightfall.
Outside he was greeted by massive, grey clouds covering the sky and huge puddles spread out on the ground. The air was still chilly from the rain, the sun couldn’t heat it through the nebulous firmament. Squelching sounds followed every step he took, mud adhered to his feet. For once, he was happy that orcs only wore boots in the toughest winters, as cleaning them would be a real pain to do now.
He walked to the road where he was planning to set up his trap to assess the terrain, calculate and measure his options. As the place was at the edge of his territory, he couldn’t spend too much time there, he needed to hurry back to look after the elf. He had a hunch that the boy didn’t stay put after his exit.
On his way back to his home, he checked a few of his animal traps. He caught two rabbits, one of which was a magical one, with a pair of short horns and blueish fur, that he had to release. Magical creatures were essential for the forest’s well-being. Their environment was always greener than other places, as if their presence itself stimulated plants’ growth.
Many speculated that this phenomenon was due to their constant release of energy that the flora around them absorbed, but whether or not this was just a coincidence, the orc did not care. Letting one or two of his preys go from time to time wasn’t a significant loss, keeping his part of the forest healthy and abundant was more important and profitable in the long run.
Fortunately he got to keep the fatter rabbit. Cutting the throat of it he hurried to the river to process the meat and wash the blood off of himself before going back to the elf. He regretted a bit not keeping the hide, but he knew it was the right decision. He wouldn’t have time to tan it anyway.
His steps quickened as he hurried home, not wanting the meat to spoil. He had to make it back in two hours in order to still be able to eat the rabbit safely, before it went bad. Raw meat couldn’t be kept for more time than that without freezing.
Nearing the house, he easily noticed the small footprints leading into the forest. Without doubt, the elf had escaped. The orc burst into the house, quickly putting some wood onto the embers still glowing in the stove, hoping that it would ignite the fire. He quickly put a pot of water over it, cleaned the rabbit, threw it into the pot with some salt and prayed that this way maybe the meat will still be edible when he comes back. Then he dashed out the door.
The man followed the tracks effortlessly, the mud preserved every step the lad had taken. Judging by the occasional long lines, knee- and handprints, the boy must have been still very weak when he left causing him to often lose balance and trip over. Although the slippery ground must have played a significant role in the majority of the falls as well.
The traces led him to a large, hollow tree, where they disappeared in the cavity between the massive roots. The orc looked in, but the only thing he could see was darkness. He could hear, however, the boy’s shallow, laboured breathing from the inside. The whistling noises his respiration made were quite alarming for the orc.
He crouched down, and propping himself with one hand, he reached out with the other until his fingertips brushed against the soft, unsettlingly cold skin of the elf. Small legs kicked out as the elf tried to get further away from the orc, a feeble attempt to keep distance. But it was futile as the orc swiftly caught one of his ankles, slowly dragging him out of the hole.
The pulling came to an abrupt stop, when the lad grabbed a root not letting himself be moved. The orc felt helpless for a moment, before doing the only thing that came to his mind. Tickling the elf’s sole.
The resistance immediately vanished, accompanied by a surprised yelp, and he hauled the rest of the boy’s body out. Having secured the lad in his arms, his wheezing only became worse. Not daring to move, the orc did his best to calm the elf before the boy could lose all connection with the real world becoming engulfed by panic.
Remembering the times he had held the elf when he was having a nightmare, he imitated the same movements, stroking and petting the lad’s back lightly. He even attempted to hum a lullaby-like melody, but as he realized his voice wasn’t as good as he hoped, he soon stopped and got satisfied with just simply whispering.
The effect wasn’t immediate, but it did seem to help slow down the elf’s rapid breathing, making each breath a bit deeper and longer than the one before. When the pace of the inhalings stabilised, it was still faster than the relaxed space, but the orc was content with the result nonetheless. The boy would learn not to fear him eventually, for now, not being terrified was good enough.
The possibility of the elf not getting used to him was completely ignored, as it only caused the orc to feel that uncomfortability in his chest. With sufficient persistence he would be able to gain the elf’s trust, he believed. He was vaguely aware of the outside world’s opinion on his kind and he swore to himself that he would show the boy that not all orcs were wild savages.
When the elf quieted down, he carefully began to walk back, consciously smoothening his steps, not wanting to stir his already dozing companion. Now that the adrenalin rush had worn off, the lad must be exhausted. His eyelids fluttered open a few times as he was fighting against his fatigue, but he was unable to stay awake for longer.
Carrying the elf’s limp body into his home he set him on the bed, washing him and changing his clothes for the second time that day. Having no more spare clothes he picked up the one from the morning and dusted off the dirt that had dried on it. Even if this was not quite clean either, it wasn’t wet at least.
Worried about what happened with the boiling rabbit, the orc was relieved to see that there was still water in the pot so the meat didn’t get burnt. It was cooked thoroughly, a little more than what was necessary. He took it out the water and put some vegetables in instead.
He put a bit of meat into his mouth. It was soft and could be separated easily from the bones. The taste was a bit blank, but honestly, he expected it to be worse.
The soup was ready in no time. Dividing it into two portions, the orc got ready to feed the boy. He hadn’t eaten all day that concerned the orc. The elf was as thin as a rake already, now was the time that he had to start eating no matter what.
Bearing this in mind the orc stepped over to the bed, where the lad had awoken a few minutes ago, although he was still pretending to be unconscious. When the elf noticed the orc walking towards him, he scrambled back into the corner not daring to attempt to escape under the eyes of the man.
Under different circumstances, the orc would have waited for the elf to calm down and take the initiative, but he didn't want to worsen the other's condition. The boy had lost a considerable amount of weight already during the time he was sick and unconscious, his cheeks were now hollow, collarbones and ribs visible even through fabric.
Climbing onto the bed, the orc reached out to grab the lad by his shirt, pulling him out of the corner as gently as he could with one hand while holding the bowl in the other. The bony hands held no strength when the elf tried to push him away, not trusting in the slightest whatever the orc wanted to do. The man however had already made the decision; the elf would eat today, even if it means that he will be hated for the rest of his life.
Half straddling the elf, he put one of his knees to the other side of the boy's hips, pinning him to the bed with his shin, while holding his shoulder and pulling the skinny torso to his own, propping the youth's back with his arm. He couldn't think of a better position at that moment that would both keep the elf close and make him immobile.
Scooping up a mouthful of soup, he tasted it first, trying to convey to the lad that the food was fine, he hadn’t tampered with it. Then he dipped the spoon again, now holding it out to the boy. Small carrot and meat pieces floated in the stock, steaming and spreading a mouth-watering scent. The elf turned his face away, gulping heavily, eyes lingering on the bowl, but he still refused the nourishment offered, disregarding the audible rumbles his stomach was making.
There was no way he could believe in the goodwill of an orc. Not after all the stories he had heard, all the lectures his family gave him saying that he should not trust anyone, especially not the greenskins. Only his own kind would help him, all the others are just looking for ways to manipulate him and get what their greedy hearts want. He should reject everything the man gives him, for his own good.
The room was silent, safe for the cracking of embers in the stove heating the tea water and the barely audible cricket chirping that filtered in from outside. Ignoring the two figures sitting on the bed, the atmosphere would have been even idyllic.
As the elf remained dismissive, the orc soon got tired of waiting. He hoped he wouldn’t have to do this, but he couldn’t allow the boy to starve himself anymore. He pinched the other’s nose, instantly making the elf protest with a renewed strength, scratching the orc with his nails. Although some red lines formed on the orc’s body, not even one drop of blood was shed thanks to the thick skin characteristic of his species. There were not many things that could hurt an orc, and the nails of a young elf wasn’t one of them.
The boy’s lips parted so that he could breathe, but his teeth remained closed despite the orc’s efforts. He soon gave up, not wanting to accidentally damage the youth’s teeth if he were to force them open, and made up his mind to use another, much less pleasant method.
Grabbing the elf’s cheeks with one big hand, he pressed at the joint between the skull and the lower jaw, prying his mouth open, then forcing his index finger in to keep it that way.
The elf’s thrashing ceased immediately, and his heart clenched at the sight of the youth’s terror-filled eyes and quivering body. Knowing what he was doing must have frightened the lad even more, didn’t help to ease his conscience either.
The boy stayed frozen, looking at him with wide eyes, and suddenly the orc’s own hands started to tremble as well. At that moment the orc wanted nothing more than to be able to release the elf and apologize to him properly. The more he looked at the elf’s frightened gaze the more his chest ached, it took all his self-control to steel himself up and actually finish his task. ‘You are doing this for his sake.’ he tried to encourage himself.
Holding the elf’s face in place with his thumb and middle finger, he pulled out the digit from the boy’s mouth quickly replacing it with a spoonful of soup as it closed. The elf immediately tried to spit it out, but the orc caught on his intention and prevented it by firmly covering his mouth with his hand. The boy had no choice but to swallow, which he did without realizing, judging by his shocked expression afterwards.
“Hey, you have to chew it or you’ll get a stomachache.” the orc reprimanded, but kept his voice soft. The elf wouldn’t understand a word anyway. “You’re lucky that I cut the ingredients into really tiny pieces.” he said nonetheless, just for the sake of talking. He hoped that after hearing his gentle tone the boy would be less afraid.
Although the orc’s plan could have worked, it was still bound to fail, as the elf had never heard orc speech before so he had no way of knowing that the harsh sounding words of the man were actually tender compared to the normal tone of other greenskins. Hearing the unfamiliar words being spoken to him only added to his confusion.
“Eat.” the orc said, holding out another spoonful of soup to the boy, who, probably accepting that he had no choice in this matter, opened his mouth willingly, albeit rather hesitantly. “Good.” the man praised and smiled at the elf, patting his arm happily.
He wanted to start teaching him a few words so that they could slowly learn to communicate with each other. Starting with some basic, but essential words would be great. Eating was a priority, and knowing when he was praised would help the elf acquire new knowledge later on, as well as develop their relationship. He hoped everything would work out eventually.
It took a lot more than half an hour to feed the elf, patiently waiting for him to settle down whenever he got agitated and refused to consume the remaining food. The orc was sure that the content of the small bowl would only be enough to satisfy the hunger of a child, therefore he was certain that the elf didn’t reject eating because he was so full.
After the dinner, he took the left-over porridge and ate it before his own share of soup, even though he was not sure whether it should still be eaten or not. He could simply not tolerate wasting food.
The elf watched with wide eyes, his curiosity seeping through his fear, as the orc cleaned the dishes and mopped the floor, before heading to the corner to wash himself with the water in the basin. By no means was it a thorough cleansing of the body, it was merely a quick rinse to remove the dust and sweat from his skin.
Having got into his night clothes, the orc slowly approached the bed, a bit puzzled by the elf, who now had his back turned to him, curled up and hiding his face behind blonde locks.
For a moment the orc had no idea what had caused this reaction. He did nothing interesting or out of place. He just washed his body and...
“Oh.” he whispered dumbfoundedly as he realized what had happened.
The problem lay in those few seconds when he was washing and changing clothes. The boy was most likely embarrassed by the sight of the naked orc. His people were unnecessarily prudish, and would never reveal their bodies to others so carelessly. He cursed under his nose, but there was nothing he could do about it now. He had to be more careful in the future.
As he got into bed and wrapped a hand around the boy’s waist to prevent him from escaping, he could feel him tensing up and beginning to tremble, his breaths hitching. If he had been any other orc, the elf would have been slaughtered already after being through thousands of tortures and violence. Given the situation, this was the expected reaction, yet the orc couldn’t help the dejectedness that filled him. He was not any other orc. He would never do those kinds of things to the lad in his arms.
“No one will hurt you here, little bird. I promise you... Take a deep breath, please?” he muttered softly, inhaling measuredly, wishing that the elf would follow his lead, only relaxing when the elf started to do the same as well.
“Good.” he mumbled in a barely audible voice, stroking the boy’s waist with his thumb and falling asleep a moment later.