by Rajiv Moté (Flash fantasy, 1,200 words)
This story originally appeared in Dream of Shadows issue 2.
The shield rested atop a pedestal behind a cordon of Elvish rope. Angled for display, it was dented, blackened, and completely melted around the edges. It was beautiful. Garga yearned to touch it. But the Elf guard standing to the side had a long, curved blade at his belt–the enchanted, Uruk-killing kind. Garga kept his hands at his sides.
Uruks milled about the gallery’s length, between the shield and the great statue of Borag at the other end. This part of the museum was free to enter. The Men, Elves, and Dwarves visiting or settling the Black Land favored the other galleries that displayed the trophies of their own people from the war against the Dark Lord. This place was for Uruks. No longer was there an army, nor lash. There wasn’t much of anything for Uruk-folk to do. Without the army, the clans were assigned no lands and, forbidden weapons, there was no way to lay claim to any. So Uruks simply wandered the Black Land. The museum was as good a place to escape the sun as any cave. Here, they could meet and grouse during the worst of the heat, and even under the eyes of the conquerors, they felt this place theirs. Where else were there Uruk-things to be found on pedestals in this occupied land?
Across the gallery from Garga stood Sheketh’s massive statue of Borag the Liberator, down on one knee, muscles coiled with power, his massive arms holding up his great shield to the sky as if to blot out the sun. Borag the Rebel, who defied the Dark Lord and shepherded the Halflings to the very Mountain of Fire, destroying the tyrant’s power and freeing the Black Land. Borag the Defiant, who lifted the Halflings on his shield to their rescue, even as a molten river consumed him, leaving only his shield to tell the story.
The statue was proud and powerful, but Garga liked Borag’s shield better. It was real. Every time he saw it–and he came to see it often–it reminded him of something so easy to forget. Uruks fought the Dark Lord too. Uruks, who suffered under him more than any other people, fought back. Uruks had heroes. Garga knew that the real Borag probably looked nothing like the statue. Some gaffers even said it revealed Sheketh’s shame of being an Uruk. Its back was straight, like a Man’s, and its features too fine, almost beautiful, like an Elf’s. The real Borag was a soldier. He would have had scars and broken bones, ill-healed, like all the old gaffers who survived the war. Garga had never seen an Uruk like the one across the hall, carved larger than life in black basalt. But the shield… That shield had seen battle. It had stopped axes and swords. It had survived the fires of the mountain. Not beautiful, but resilient. It was a thing of Uruk-folk, given a place of honor in a world where nothing Uruk was honored.
If only Garga could touch it.