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Author's Chapter Notes:
Answer to "A Salute to Jules" challenge by Ria, if I tell you which one, it'll ruin the surprise.

“Come on you pile of dung!” Lugdush cursed when the mangy little beast slipped through his fingers again. “If I find the dirty grubber who greased this animal I’ll feed him to Shelob!”

Lugdush was in a particularly bad mood because there was going to be a party in the tower of Cirith Ungol. He hated parties. He hated to travel. He basically hated everyone and everything except Shagrat. Shagrat was the reason he was going, it was the commander’s birthday and he wanted to give him something special.

Lugdush recalled his last birthday. Shagrat presented him with a beautiful Elven scalp. Lugdush hung it over his sleeping mat and only Shagrat understood that when Lugdush couldn’t sleep he ran his fingers through the soft brown locks and it soothed him.

Last year Snaga’s gift to Shagrat far out-shone his own and he swore to himself it would never happen again. Snaga gave Shagrat an entire side of manflesh wrapped in a huge blood-red bow. Lugdush personally thought the gift was a bit showy and didn’t really have any feeling behind it. In truth, Snaga had the rest of the man in his larder. The meat was probably just an afterthought; it isn’t as if Snaga killed the man especially for Shagrat as Shagrat had taken the Elf’s scalp with Lugdush in mind.

This year will be different, thought the orc and then he spoke out loud as he caught the small dog again. “This year I will not be intimidated by the size of Snaga’s gift. Shagrat will know the feelings I have for him by my gift. It may be small, but he will understand, he must understand.

The time of the party was drawing near. Lugdush had carried the puppy all the way from his home to the tower, much to the amusement of his traveling companions. He fed the creature from his own meat supply and also carried fresh water for it, for it would not drink the liquor in his water skin. What the others did not realize is that he was fattening up the animal.

The puppy was not his primary gift of course, it was just a sweet morsel of flesh; the true gift was something more special and would have been ruined if the beast had died before the prescribed time.

Lugdush realized the oil on the fat little dog would make it all the better for roasting on a stick, but it made it damn difficult to get what he needed without damaging the present. Finally, he managed to pin the thing down and retrieve the prize.

He located the little bone box in his pack and opened it. He put his feelings on the black velvet lining along with the gift. If Shagrat failed to understand what was in his heart now, it was never going to happen between them.

He closed the box, put the puppy into a leather bag, tied it to his belt, and then he left for the tower. As he climbed, each level was more and more crowded with guests. Lugdush knew he would find Shagrat in the seat of honor on the very top floor.

He reached the ladder and took a deep breath to still his nerves. He could hear Shagrat fawning over Snaga’s gift, “Just what I needed! I have always wanted to pick my nose and now I have twenty to choose from! Thank you, you old ratbag!”

So he took my first idea, did he? Went out and collected a box of noses . . . Hah! I didn’t go ahead with it because I knew it would just sit on a shelf gathering dust! Lugdush finished his thought and climbed the ladder.

He climbed over the top rung and waited for Shagrat to notice him. It wasn’t long before Snaga pulled him forward to stand in front of the commander. “Here he is! Late as usual!”

Lugdush fought his nervousness and the urge to take Snaga’s head. It was Shagrat’s day and if anyone was going to take Snaga’s head it should be the Birthday Orc. He shyly brought out the bone box from his small shoulder bag and held it out to the object of his affection. Snaga snickered at the diminutive size of the box. Lugdush waited.

Shagrat opened the box and stared at its contents wordlessly. Slowly he looked up and gazed into the eyes of his long-time friend. His face split in a horrendous show of sharp teeth and he shook his head slowly.

Lugdush did not know what to think of this response and shifted from foot to foot nervously.

Shagrat stood and stepped forward to embrace Lugdush; he whispered in his friend’s ear, "You have gained my favor; no one has ever given me puppy-dog eyes before. Meet me in my quarters after the party.”

Lugdush was on cloud nine for the rest of the night. When the guests left, he patted the leather pouch at his belt, grabbed a bottle of blood-wine and headed for Shagrat’s room.

The End

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