3. "I shall count to ten..."
He had not expected his protégée to become overenthusiastic about the task - Balrogling-sitting was one of the least popular activities that he assigned those that served him - but he had never expected the Maiar to look so frightened. It was not as if his boys posed any threat. Yet.
Sauron's dubious expression and wide-eyed gabbling was cut short by Melkor walking over to the foot of the stairs and bellowing, "Boys!"
Moving quickly so as to be out of the door before the thunder of feet reached him, Melkor slapped Sauron cheerfully on the shoulder.
"You shall be fine."
Sauron clutched Gomig's warm body rather tightly as he stalked towards the foot of the stairs. The noisy jumble of footsteps had come to an abrupt halt a few moments before, but no little Balrogs had emerged from the shadow of the stairwell.
"Boys." Sauron called in a falsely bright singsong voice. "Boys, I have come to play with you."
The dark shadow hesitating halfway down the stairs maintained its sullen silence, but somewhere in that black and terrible shape something blinked, for the red-orange of the firelight momentarily caught brightly in a pair of eyes.
"Will you not come down?" Sauron paced back and forwards nervously, but spoke cheerfully as he tried to maintain his grip on the littlest Balrog. Gomig had clearly decided that he wished to rejoin his brothers, for his body was now a warm mass of squirming limbs. "I have a surprise for you!"
There was a long silence as Sauron let his bubbly words take effect on the evil spirits, and then the shadow began moving slowly towards him. As it descended, he began to see wings, claws and small horns amongst the darkness, and eventually the black cloud condensed to form four small figures of varying sizes, all of equally bad temper.
"There you all are!" Sauron made a brave attempt to smile as the four tiny Balrogs lined up before him. He placed Gomig down on the floor beside Ondo, and stepped back to survey his charges.
Five pairs of black eyes were watching him suspiciously, and five small mouths were arranged in positions ranging from the scowl to the pout. The Balroglings' wings were stiff and tense, sweeping down in angular lines from their shoulder blades. They stood in order of height, a solid slanting wall of shadow.
"How delightful to see you." Sauron watched Raumo nervously. The Balrogling was scowling, and had lowered his head as if ready to charge at his minder. The second Balrogling had been blessed with quite prodigious horns, and Sauron had no intention of testing out their effectiveness. "I am sure we can think of lots of exciting games to play..."
"Where is Melkor?" Uru demanded, placing his clenched fists against his hips, and interrupting Sauron without hint of apology.
"...so that you shall not even notice Melkor's absence." Sauron continued in a saccharine voice, smiling rather slimily at Uru. "He is fully occupied with matters of great importance."
"Want the surprise." Ondo piped up, crossing his arms across his skinny chest in a gesture of defiance. "Where is it?"
"Pise?" Gomig looked around in bewilderment at his brothers, all of whom had adopted the same uncompromising position as Ondo, and were glaring expectantly at Sauron. "Pise?"
As the littlest Balrog attempted to copy his brothers' pose, Sauron took a deep breath and racked his brains for a suitable surprise. He needed something to pacify five such aggressive stances - even if the effect of Gomig's stand was rather lessened the way he kept peeping down the line to make sure that he was doing it right.
"You promised, Sauron." Nárë told him calmly, only a dangerous glint in the child's dark eyes warning him that if he failed to meet his promise, then the retribution would be swift and violent.
"Yes!" The Maiar spoke rather hurriedly and breathlessly as he tried to inject enthusiasm into his words. "A surprise! I did promise."
The intensity of the dark gazes upon him increased, and Sauron began to feel beads of sweat forming on his palms and the back of his neck.
"I shall play with you!" Sauron declared with strained happiness. The Balroglings did not look impressed, and nine small hands curled into fists - the tenth hand currently being fully occupied with the important task of thumb sucking. "Any game you wish!"
There was a hint of desperation in the last cry, but the quintet ignored it as they looked at each other, sucking in their cheeks and wrinkling their brows thoughtfully. Any game that they wished was a good offer, especially since Melkor had banned many of the games of which they were fondest.
"Hide and seek?" Uru queried softly, and then when his brothers signalled their agreement with toothy grins, raised his voice. "Hide and Seek."
"Hide and Seek?" Sauron began jovially, then trailed into depressed resignation as the full meaning of the words came home to him. He was not sure that he would not have rather have denied them their surprise and faced the consequences. "You are sure?"
Raumo nodded with a rather gleeful smile, his smugness evident in his voice. "Oh yes, Sauron."
"Very well." Sauron hissed, grimacing at the Balroglings as he went to stand facing the wall, his hands covering his face. "I shall count to one hundred."
The Balroglings fled silently and swiftly, proving Sauron's suspicion that the stomping footsteps and shriek of nails scratching against the stone floor was not an irreparable consequence of being a pint-sized spirit of fire.
Moving with the swiftness of the black shadow of an eagle in flight, the tiny Balrogs darted up the stairs, under furniture, behind doorways and through narrow gaps. Sauron had not specified where they should hide, unlike Melkor who usually confined them to a single room or item of furniture, and the whole of the fortress of Utumno spread before them in shadowy depths of nooks, crannies and other excellent hiding places.
Small fangs showing as he grinned evilly, Nárë fled to the library and having seized a favourite book, scrambled up and across and down the bookcases until he could huddle in a little bundle in the space between two back-to-back bookcases. With plenty to read, it would not matter if it took the apprentice dark lord all day to find him. In fact he rather hoped it would. Last time he had had great difficulty in stifling his giggles as Sauron had called for him despairingly, becoming increasingly anxious that the little Balrogling had got trapped or hurt himself.
Uru scrambled into the dark depths of the back of Melkor's wardrobe, hiding himself behind several giant pairs of boots. Sauron would never dare to look in the private cupboards and drawers of the Dark Lord's bedchambers, so he would never be found. It would never do to be found first. Raumo would not stop sniggering about it for weeks. The eldest Balrogling pulled a huge woollen shirt around himself, and prepared for a long, tense and silent wait.
Still small enough to fit in the hiding places that had got this game banned in the first place, Ondo duly considered climbing into a carcass in the meat storeroom, sneaking into the dark space under the china cupboard, or crawling behind the shield in the great hall - a small body wriggling would often manage to accidentally dislodge the sword and great mace, so that anyone reaching behind the shield would have a most unpleasant surprise. In the end however, he plumped on the cellars. There were boxes of apples and carrots to hide behind, rafters to scramble onto, and his favourite - empty barrels to climb into.
The Balrogling's chubby legs scrabbled desperately on the worn wood and iron bands as he attempted to clamber into a barrel without knocking it over. Eventually he managed to pull himself up, and knelt on the rim as he carefully tilted up the lid. He slipped inside and lowered the lid down on top of him, and was somewhat surprised to find that this barrel was still quite wet at the bottom. An inch or two of liquid still remained. Crossing his legs and leaning back against the smooth sides of the barrel, Ondo dipped a testing finger into the dark liquid, and licked it with the very end of his flickering tongue. It tasted good - more than good. Although it was cold and dank inside the barrel, the strange drink made him feel warm and happy. Giggling to himself, Ondo dipped his whole hand into the liquid, and sucked his fingers clean.
Raumo crept through the kitchens in something of a panic. He had meant to hide up the chimney, but someone down on the lower levels was burning something horrible, and the stench of the smoke was enough the drive him out of his favoured hiding spot. When he had passed back through the hallway, Sauron had reached single figures, and time was of the essence.
"Ow!" Raumo only just muffled his cry in time as he nearly stumbled over a large lump in the rug. A rather obvious, Gomig shaped lump.
Sighing loudly for the stupidity of little brothers, Raumo lifted up the corner of the rug to find Gomig curled up into a little ball, his small hands plastered over his tightly shut eyes.
"You cannot hide here, stupid!" Raumo grabbed his little brother by the arm, and dragged him to his feet. "Sauron will find you, and that will spoil everything."
"No. No. No can see." Gomig scurried after his brother as the two fled to the storeroom. "Eyes all shut. Not see nothing. . . Raumo! Not see nothing."
Not bothering to answer, Raumo flung himself into a food cupboard and shut the door tightly, wriggling as far back inside as he could manage. It was not the best hiding place, but it would have to do.
Left alone and scared, Gomig tried vainly to pull open the cupboard door that Raumo was tugging on grimly from the inside.
"No! Go away!" Raumo hissed, peeping out at his little brother through a narrow slit of light. "Hide in the icehouse or cellars. What about the ovens?"
"Nooo!" Gomig pouted, and stamped a tiny foot against the floor, tantrum coming periliously close. "Raumoooooo!"
"Be quiet!" Raumo hissed, just as Sauron bellowed his intentions to start. "Hurry."
Eyes wide, Gomig ran in three panic-stricken circles, looking wildly around him. There was nowhere to hide, and Uru would be so cross. Eventually he sat down in the middle of the floor, buried his face into his knees, shut his eyes, and covered his ears with his hands.
Scowling in frustration, Raumo flung open the door, grabbed the tiny Balrog by the scruff of his neck, and pulled him into the safety of the cupboard.
"All right!" He thrust Gomig into a collection of chewy dried meats, and arranged a number of glass spice jars in front of the pair of them. "Do not make a sound, or I shall strangle you."
Not doubting that his brother spoke the truth, Gomig wriggled around on his stomach, and began sucking on a salty strip of smoked venison. As Raumo sank back to sit beside him, he patted his elder brother's knee reassuringly, then squirmed closer to him for warmth and a cuddle.
"Boys. Oh, boys!" Sauron called smugly as he noticed the scuffed rug lying on the kitchen floor. He looked around warily lest any little demon be crouched ready to pounce from the rafters, and called brightly, "Could you be in here, I wonder?"
He hoped it would not be Ondo or Raumo. Both Balroglings had a habit of hiding in dark and shadowy corners, and biting any hand that attempted to pull them out. Especially Ondo, whose two front fangs were extraordinarily sharp and stuck out in a perverse imitation of a beaver.
There was no answer to his call, but neither did he expect it. He crept slowly through the kitchen, checking the basin, the cupboards and the ovens. Once as a snot-nosed toddler, Uru had crawled into the flames, giggling with glee as he realised that although his minder had found him, he was far too hot to be touched. If any of them tried that this time, he would get the tongs, caring not whether he bruised any little limbs or ripped their delicate wings.
As the Maiar passed through into the icehouses and ale cellars, Raumo let out a great sigh of relief. He had been afraid that Sauron would find them, especially when he had peered so closely at the jars of spice. His face had really been quite frightening when distorted through the curved glass of the clouded jars.
"Raumo?" Gomig whispered tentatively, prodding at his brother's stomach. "What is?"
The elder Balrogling peered disapprovingly down his nose as the object Gomig was waving around in front of his face, expecting it to be but another of Gomig's 'finds'. At the moment the littlest Balrog had developed a liking for naming the hundreds of the enticing things that he would find during any given day.
But this time the find was interesting. Most interesting indeed. . .
"Oooh. . ." Raumo struggled with his inner desire to win, and the equally demanding desire to see what would happen if. . . "A magic pepper! Lucky Gomig!"
"Magic?" Gomig queried as he fingered the bright red vegetable thoughtfully. It was so pretty. "Me fie?"
"Oh, better than flying!" Raumo bit his tongue hard to avoid sniggering, then continued as calmly as he could, widening his eyes in pretend excitement. "You will be able to breathe fire! Just like a dragon!"
Trustingly, Gomig smiled at his brother and shoved the entire chilli into his mouth, and chewed eagerly.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.