7. Chapter Seven
Frodo could not constrain himself. With a wild cry, he threw himself backwards, a part of his mind remembering the other rats that congregated at the base of his chair but unable to stop himself; his body sought only to escape the abomination touching him. The chair tipped, spilling him to the dirty floorboards. And the rats swarmed upon him.
Frodo screamed as he felt the first bite; felt the tiny teeth close and meet in his leg, felt the tearing pain as the rat pulled away flesh. Then fire flared behind his eyes and the agony became unbearable.
When he came to himself, he was still on the floor tied to the chair, his wrists bound cruelly tight to the wooden arms. His leg hurt terribly … but why did he not feel the same pain everywhere? The rats… Forcing his eyes open, his uncomprehending gaze fell on the still forms about him. Still, all still. The huge forms lay without moving, and the overwhelming stench of burned fur and flesh rose to gag his nostrils. The bodies still steamed gently, melted misshapen lumps, now strangely pitiable in death.
Frodo whimpered, a scream reduced to pathetic little whines. A sneering chuckle intruded on his terror.
The hobbit dragged his eyes away from the piteous forms. His captor stood over him, concealing cloak thrown back. Again he did not understand what his eyes beheld. Then with a sickening lurch, he did.
The creature laughed as it beheld his expression. “Not so pretty,” it marked in its sibilant voice. “But were you whelped in the breeding-dens of Isengard, you’d not be so pretty either.” It was hideous, hairless and misshapen, an unnatural blending of goblin and orc and human and something else. “Saruman wanted more brawn and less brain,” it continued. It snarled, showing teeth as sharp as those of the rats. “A wizard’s experiment that should have died but didn’t.”
The creature moved towards him and crouched, tilting its head sideways to regard the bound hobbit on the floor. “He threw me out, like garbage.” A hand emerged from the cloak to stroke the hobbit’s face, ruffle curiously through the dark curls. Frodo saw that it was clawed, the skin scaled and black like a snake’s. The hand tightened in his hair and pulled cruelly, bringing tears to the hobbit’s eyes. “Like garbage,” it hissed, and Frodo shivered to hear the hatred in that snarling voice.
“He never even gave me a chance to show him what I was. What I could do.” The hobbit stared at it, wide blue eyes mirroring his incomprehension. The creature smiled. It raised one clawed hand and traced a figure in the air. The hobbit gasped to see flame follow the clawed finger, blossoming bright in the dim room. The creature traced a flaming rune in the air, and the nearest smoldering form erupted into flame, consumed in fire. In seconds there was only a crisped skeleton.
“So now I have what he wants most…” it continued, forcing the hobbit’s head back to meet its eyes. The eyes were perfectly round, yellow, with a vertical slit like a cat’s. “Why does he want you, little person?”
Frodo stared at it, too terrified to reply. The clawed hand traced his cheekbones, the line of his mouth. “I searched your room after I took you, you know. Clothes, travel food, cooking pots … nothing that would justify the wizard’s interest in you.” It leaned forward, bare inches from the hobbit’s face. “Why does he want you?”
Frodo stared into those unblinking eyes and raked his mind for any answer other than the one that hung on a silver chain about his throat. Not by word or action would he betray the trust place in him. The malformed hand released his hair and a claw traced the delicate point of the hobbit’s ear. “So much gold the wizard has spent to hire hunters for you. Many hunters. I know of at least one other here. That one was foolish enough to enlist local help instead of searching for you himself.” The creature laughed softly, a forked tongue flicking out between the fangs. “But I found you first.” The hobbit shuddered as the tongue touched his face briefly, tasting him. “You have not answered my question, halfling. Why does Saruman want you?”
Frodo closed his eyes as the hand traced the curve of his eyebrows. “And not only Saruman,” it continued. “I took service with one who claimed his master is…” for the first time, the hobbit sensed hesitation, apprehension in the creature. Its yellow eyes flicked up, around the dingy room. “He claimed he served the Dark Lord.” The creature hissed, and Frodo did not know what that meant. “In any case, you are worth a great deal of gold, halfling. Why?”
The hobbit remained silent and the creature laughed. “Stubborn, are you? Good. You owe me, halfling. Your friends shot at me as I left your room.” It straightened, then, and pulled back the cloak. The ragged clothes covering its side were dark with blood. “I’m going to make you talk, little one. You will tell me what I want to know, sooner or later.”
Frodo closed his eyes.
* * * * *
“A child you say? No, I’ve not seen anyone carrying a child away from the inn.” Legolas gracefully thanked the woman and tried another.
“No. I’da offered ‘ta help if I saw a man carrying a little one, sir. Was the little one hurt bad?”
Aragorn came up in time to hear the Elf’s vague reassurance. “No luck?”
“None,” Legolas replied. “Surely one of these people saw something.”
The Ranger shook his head, noting that the gawkers were beginning to drift away. The excitement was largely over, most of the spot-fires extinguished. “We must find a trail soon, Legolas. We are the only ones free to find Frodo.”
The Elf nodded, his clear gaze scanning the remaining townsfolk. “Aragorn, look. By the well.”
The man jerked to attention when he saw the two coming towards him and turned to run. But Legolas was quicker. In an instant the Elf was by his side, slender but strong hands catching the man’s arm. The man gulped and stared at them. “Please,” said the Elf, allowing the borrowed hood to fall back from his face, “if you saw something, talk to us.”
The man took a deep breath and nodded. “My name’s Kent,” he told them softly. “I … I’ve been watching your party, sir, since you first came to the inn. Please don’t be angry, sirs.” The man took a deep breath. “Your friend spared my life tonight when he could have killed me. I - I came back here after he let me go, hoping to find the man who hired me.” Anger sparked in that thin face. “He left me to your friend, he did, after telling the warrior he could just go ahead and kill me.”
“Boromir mentioned you to us,” replied Aragorn cautiously. “He is a good man.”
The man nodded again. “That he is. He could have killed me, and he didn’t.”
Kent stared at them a moment, then smiled tremulously. “The man who hired me never gave me his name. I never saw his face. He wanted me to show him around, put him in contact with my friends.” The man’s gaze dropped to glare at the muddy earth, angry and embarrassed. “It was stupid of me, sir, but I needed the money. He was looking for someone, a stranger. ‘A dark-haired halfling,’ he said, ‘one smaller than his companion.’ I thought he meant the young one, but now I know he wanted your friend who was taken.”
“What did you see?” asked Legolas.
Kent’s gaze shifted to the Elf. “I came straight back to the inn, ahead of your friends. I thought he might have come back here. But he didn’t.” Kent stopped and took a breath. “I was leaving when the inn went up. I saw a man … I think it was a man – he was all covered up in a cloak – drop off the roof of the stables with something in his arms. I thought it was a child. I saw a white little face and dark curly hair. But then…”
“What?” prodded Aragorn, stifling his impatience.
“The child was all wrapped up in a blanket. But his feet hung out, and they were huge … all furry like the little folks’ I was paid to follow.”
Aragorn closed his eyes and beside him, Legolas released a breath. “Did you see which way they went?” the Ranger asked.
Kent nodded. “I did. I’ll take you there.”
* * * * *
Frodo dug his fingernails into his palms, hoping the self-inflected pain would distract him. His chair had been righted and a lamp lit, then the interrogation had begun. He would have to quit biting his fingernails, he thought absurdly. Another slap, and the hobbit’s head rocked back on his shoulders. He would not cry out – he would not.
Where were the others? Slap. Why had no one come to rescue him? Slap. Was anyone going to rescue him? Slap.
His captor’s questions echoed in his mind, drowning out his own thoughts. “Why?” Slap. “Why?” Slap.
The slaps were becoming harder as his captor’s frustration grew. At first the creature had treated the hobbit’s silence with amusement, pausing often to run clawed hands over the halfling’s face. Frodo had shuddered and turned away. It had caught his chin and forced his head back, laughing.
It no longer laughed.
With a snarling oath, it caught the hobbit by the hair, pulling the dark head back so far that the little one’s back arched, throat bared. The halfling was still conscious, it knew – it had judged its blows carefully. Small bones broke so easily. It ran a claw along the diminutive jaw, dropping to draw a red line down the sweating throat. The finger caught on something and the creature tugged irritably. Withdrawing the claw, it saw that the tip was blunted.
Intrigued, the creature knelt before the tied hobbit. The little one’s head hung on his chest, eyes closed. But those so-blue eyes snapped open in alarm when the hobbit felt clawed hands exploring the base of his throat, clawed fingers parting the buttons of his shirt.
“What do we have here,” the creature growled. “Did I waste my time searching your room, halfling, when I should have been searching you? What is this that you are wearing? What is this silver thing?”
The halfling stared at the creature for a moment, then as the clawed hands ran over the hobbit’s chest, the little one exploded into a frenzy of resistance. Stifling a shriek, the hobbit thrust himself up in the chair so violently that he caught the creature off-guard, and it reflexively jumped back.
“Well, that got a sound out of you,” it hissed. The hobbit stared at it, panting, rage and defiance burning on his bruised features. When the creature reached for him again, Frodo tried to bite it. The creature snatched back its hand and stared at the little one in disbelief. Red circles now decorated the hobbit’s wrists and the creature stared at him in awe and astonishment.
All too quickly Frodo’s rage spent itself, reducing him to quivering exhaustion. It had been useless – he could not stop the creature’s clawed hands from ripping the buttons from his shirt. The creature made a soft sound of wonder as it beheld the mithril mail coat Bilbo had gifted his nephew with. Clawed fingers ran down the glittering links in wonder.
“Mithril,” it murmured in wonder. “Mithril! Finer than any I have ever heard tell of.” The fine linen of Frodo’s shirt shredded as the clawed hands slashed it, pulling open the front. “Here truly is a treasure beyond price…” It straightened and stepped back, incredulity in its slitted eyes. “Take it off.”
It was long moments before Frodo could order his mouth to speak. “I can’t,” he slurred through battered lips.
It stepped close again, raising a hand.
“I can’t,” cried the hobbit desperately. “My hands are tied – I can’t take it off tied! You have to untie me!” Frodo closed his eyes, please … please … free me…
“Ah … yes,” said his captor. “Yes, of course.” Its enthralled eyes never leaving the gleaming vest, it drew a small knife from its belt and slashed the hobbit’s bonds.
Frodo slumped in the chair, boneless. Barely conscious, he almost did not feel the clawed hands snatching the base of the mail coat and pulling it off over his head. The shirt was torn from it and thrown on the chair. He struggled to focus on the creature as it ran the glittering coat through its claws, triangular jaw dropping in astonishment and greed. Yes, thought the hobbit, take the lesser treasure and forget the greater… Moving slowly, he reached down and captured the shirt. Fingers that would barely work struggled to pull together the ruined edges. All the while, he kept one small hand covering his breast, hiding what hung from a silver chain.
The creature seemed mesmerized by the glittering shirt. It held it to itself, rubbing its face against the cool links, crooning in some hideous language. Eyes only for the shirt, it did not see the hobbit fight his way to his feet and struggle stealthily towards the door. Frodo placed a quiet hand on the knob and pulled. Pulled harder. It was locked.
He could not stifle the despairing groan that rose in his throat. The creature whirled, startled to see that he had moved. Frodo plastered himself against the door, one hand on the knob. He faced his tormentor, seeking a weapon – anything… The creature snarled at him, then its yellow eyes narrowed. “What is that?” it hissed. “What do you wear about your throat?”
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.