32. Please Do Not Feed the Spiders
The hobbit bleakly watched the foggy peaks below. Wisps of cloud rested further down the mountainside as though ensnared within the trees. Sam sighed in misery. Why could they not have been captured by a wingless beast for a change? Or, for that matter, why must they take the mountainous route? Surely there were plenty other non-mountain ways to reach the Enemy. If evil really was everywhere, as the Elves claimed, wasn’t it entirely possible to walk around until you eventually bumped into it?
A few of the more stubborn trees still bore their summer greens. From Sam’s lofty vantage point, they almost looked like broccoli. His stomach rumbled at the thought of food, even if it was broccoli.
‘Now look what I’ve fallen to: Imagining trees taste like broccoli!’
Doubtless the Gaffer would have something to say about that, if Sam ever had the chance to tell him.
The gardener shivered and squinted his eyes against the stinging wind. The blue woolen tunic from Pahtoh was keeping him warm for the most part, though his hands and feet had gone numb long ago. Unfortunately, neither warm tunic nor numbing wind could dull the ache of misery in his chest. ‘We tried our best, we did, Mister Frodo. I’m sorry it just wasn’t best enough.’
Sam rested his head against the leathery talon in defeat. He wished the Gaffer had imparted some wisdom that might be helpful in his current situation. Perhaps, “Two caught hobbits is better than three caught hobbits,” or maybe, “If you ever find yourself being carried off by an eagle, don’t look down.” Unfortunately, none of the elder hobbit’s phrases came to mind. And if he did have any advice on the matter, he’d kept it to himself.
The great eagle suddenly drew its legs into its body. Sam and Pippin yelped in terror.
Landroval cocked his head and peered at Sam. The hobbit shuddered as the eagle’s amber-flecked eyes dilated in calculation.
“Is that better, little plumpkin?” The bird’s voice was clipped and strong as the craggy peaks below.
Pippin squeaked through chattering teeth. “B-better?”
The eagle gave his massive wings a powerful flap. “Are you warmer now?”
Sam lifted his head in surprise. Nestled against the eagle’s downy under-feathers, he actually was warmer.
“Oh,” said Pippin. He paused to ponder the eagle’s question. “Yes. Yes I am, thank you.”
Landroval turned a liquid eye on Pippin and clacked his golden beak in what Sam hoped was some form of satisfaction. Seeing his reflection in the amber-flecked gaze, Pippin gaped. He wondered if the great bird’s prey felt similar awe before being devoured. Landroval turned his head, breaking the young hobbit’s paralysis.
“Are you going to eat us?” Pippin tentatively asked.
“Eat you?” The eagle seemed amused by the suggestion. He gave his dun-colored wings another powerful beat. “Goodness, no. You are far too stressed to be tasty.” He squeezed Sam as though to prove his point. Sam whimpered. “I imagine you would be quite stringy and bitter.”
“Funny,” said Pippin, immensely cheered by the fact they weren’t going to be eaten, “I always imagined I would taste like cow. Maybe bacon, but most likely cow.”
“Pippin,” Sam frantically hissed, “don’t go encouraging him to sample us!”
Pippin shrugged. “He’s not going to eat us. Isn’t that so, Mister Eagle?”
“Quite,” the bird replied.
“If you don’t mind me asking, Mister Eagle Lord, sir,” Sam asked, as politely as he dared, “where are you taking us?”
Pippin’s shoulders heaved as he sighed. “Probably to Saruman or Sauron, I’ll wager.”
Landroval dipped suddenly. Sam clung grimly to the golden talon and wondered when his stomach would return to its rightful position in his belly.
“The Windlords are great foes of the Shadow.” Discovering a new air current, the eagle wheeled back up to the heights. “Ever have we fought against the Enemy, and ever will we continue to. Lord Elrond sent for me, little plumpkins. And to Lord Elrond you shall go!”
With that, the eagle released a piercing cry—so wild and fierce even the steadfast heart of Sam was struck by the chord and moved to some unnamable yearning.
“Don’t go listening to eagle calls,” he was sure the Gaffer would say. “It’ll make your blood stir with adventure. And that’s a right bit of trouble, yes sir, it is.”
* * *
The orc who seemed to be in charge prodded Boromir with the tip of his sword. “Throw down your weapons.”
Encircled by thirteen fully-armed orcs, Aragorn and Boromir had no choice but to comply.
“Up and on your feet, Spies. And no funny business, or I’ll run you through myself.”
Hands above their heads, the two men rose slowly from the tangle of juniper bushes. Boromir wistfully glanced at his sword. If he could just position his foot under it and then somehow kick it up to his hands…
Aragorn kicked him in the back of his calf. Boromir scowled, wondering how the Ranger knew what he was thinking. ‘If Aragorn had not suggested we spy on the goblins, we would not have been caught in the first place!’
Several startled cries came from the orcs when they caught sight of pitch-covered Aragorn. The lead orc held up a mangled hand for silence. The cries immediately died down to low growls.
“You’re a funny looking one,” said the orc in Black Speech. He peered closely at Aragorn and sniffed. “Are you one of those new Uruks? They must not’ve broken your back properly.”
Aragorn held his ground, fighting the urge to step back in revulsion. He had just been sniffed by an orc.
“Whose patrol are you with?” Switching back to the Common Tongue, the lead orc spoke to Aragorn while idly prodding Boromir with his sword. Boromir bared his teeth. He was swiftly grabbed from behind, the blade at his throat immediately stilling further protest.
“You deaf or something?” the orc captain snapped. “I asked you who you’re with.”
Aragorn blinked. “What?”
The orc to his left snickered. “He ain’t a bright one, is he Captain? Must be one of Murglik’s.”
“Shut up, Lubdush.” The orc captain scowled at his soldier, yellow eyes glinting in foul temper.
Halbarad’s words hit Aragorn so suddenly he actually started. “Aragorn looks like an orc…”
His mind raced. Did they really think he was one of them? ‘Surely I do not look so terrible!’ Aragorn quickly pushed the thought aside, and the indignation that came with it. Now was neither the time nor place to debate his appearance.
“Let’s kill them, Captain.” A second orc pointed to Aragorn. “That one’s not talking anyways.”
The orc called Lubdush grinned, broken and jagged teeth sticking obscenely from bulbous lips. “We’ll say it was an accident.”
The orc captain shrugged. “Fine.”
“No!” Aragorn suddenly found himself facing the end of a dozen sword blades. He held up his hands in submission. “I must take this… prisoner…back to camp.” Boromir gurgled incoherently, the dagger against his throat preventing further reaction.
The orc captain motioned for his soldiers to lower their weapons. “Whose party are you with?” he repeated, eyeing Aragorn suspiciously.
“Mudlick,” Aragorn answered, not quite remembering the name spoken earlier.
“You mean Murglik?”
Aragorn nodded. “Yes, Murglik. Captain Murglik.”
“Commander Murglik,” the orc captain corrected.
“Commander Murglik,” Aragorn repeated. Boromir rolled his eyes. It would be a miracle if the Dúnadan managed to pull this off. Orcs were notoriously stupid, but not blind.
The orc captain silently mused over Aragorn’s fate for several moments. “What’s your name, Uruk?”
Aragorn paused. What was it Elrohir used to call him? “Uglish.”
“Uglish?” Relaxing his stance, the orc captain lowered his sword. “Well Uglish, tell me what you were doing hiding in the bushes with this Man.” The rest of his party leered.
“He is my prisoner,” said Aragorn. “The fool attempted to escape, and so I was forced to tackle him.”
Boromir ground his teeth. ‘Prisoner? Fool? The son of Denethor is prisoner to no one.’
The orcs looked to Boromir with malicious curiosity. “He’s a fancy one,” sneered Lubdush. “Look at these fine clothes.” He clawed Boromir’s intricately embroidered tunic. Boromir jerked back in revulsion. The orc restraining him tightened its grasp while the rest jeered.
“Do not harm him,” Aragorn warned, a little too sharply. He cringed inwardly as the orc captain’s eyes again grew suspicious. “He is worth much. The Master thinks him valuable.”
The orcs’ antics immediately subsided at mention of the “Master.” ‘Strange,’ thought Aragorn, ‘I believed their service to Sauron out of hatred towards the other Races, but it appears they truly fear him.’ Was Sauron truly grown so powerful? How had this happened?
Boromir, despite his anger, was also struck by the orcs’ obedience and loyalty. He had battled long enough to realize those who fought out of fear often fought to the death. Demise by their foes was usually better than the fate awaiting them at the hands of their masters. Adding this to the orcs’ hatred of others and love of bloodlust, they made a lethal adversary indeed.
‘How shall Gondor, already with her back to the unyielding wall, survive against such odds? How will any of us?’
* * *
The peaceful slumber of night was ripped apart by the unearthly commotion in Gimli’s quarters.
Arms flailing wildly, Legolas and Calengaladh released equal cries of dismay as they plummeted to the bayberry-soaped floor. Gimli bolted upright with a tremendous bellow. Momentarily stunned by the impact, both Elves relinquished their grasp on the sacks.
Shrieking squirrels and spiders exploded into the small room. Lacking enough sense to escape through the open window (for in such frenzied states the mind tends to flee), the squirrels simply ran around the room in panicked circles. The spiders instinctively gave chase.
Round and round and round they went; a black whirlwind of bushy tails and glistening legs. Shutters flapped wildly, shelves were overturned, curtains ripped, and the washbasin fell to the floor with a crash.
“AI!” Calengaladh howled as a squirrel’s sharp dewclaws raked across his face.
“Khazâd aimênu!” Axe gleaming cold blue in the watery moonlight, Gimli furiously untangled himself from the bed sheets and leapt to the floor.
In his rage, he forgot he had soaped it.
The Dwarf’s stout frame met the wooden planks with a hollow thud. His axe flew across the room, clipping several squirrels and a spider, and embedded itself in the far wall.
A blood-curling shriek wavered in the night, a poor Woodsman and his young wife awoken from comforting dreams to the sight and sound of an axe blade splitting the wall directly above their heads.
Gimli struggled to sit upright. Spitting flyaway strands of beard from his mouth, the Dwarf swung wildly at crazed squirrels and spiders as they bounded over him in their mad chase. Legolas and Calengaladh scrambled on the slippery floor, desperately seeking to regain footing. Panicked squirrels and blood-lusting spiders pelted them and scurried on.
Calengaladh shouted and kicked out as he was bowled over by a gleefully cackling spider. He accidentally shoved Legolas forward in the process.
Despite his best efforts to back-peddle, Legolas slid straight into Gimli. The momentum sent Elf and Dwarf careening into a broken shelf. Wood splintered loudly, sending the squirrels into an even greater state of terror. Struggling amid the wreckage, Legolas gagged and wondered how he managed to get soap in his mouth.
The heavy fist connecting with his jaw immediately drew his thoughts elsewhere.
Gimli threw himself bodily at the Elf with a mighty roar. “I am going to rip off those pointy ears and feed them to your spiders!”
Any self-respecting Dwarf was well versed in the art of “Tussling.” It was a means by which to settle arguments when too much ale rendered the tongue useless, or to simply prove one’s superior strength. The rules were straightforward and uncontestable: No biting, no pulling of beards, no hitting below the belt, and no hitting the chests of female Tusslers. Matches automatically ended when one Tussler either cried defeat or was knocked unconscious.
The sight of small Dwarflings rolling around the cavern floor, wrestling and punching for all their compacted bodies were worth, was not uncommon. Indeed, elders and parents often viewed such brawls with mild approval. “You have yourself a fine young Tussler!” or so the saying went, and it was praise enough for any proud mother and father.
Gimli always had been a decent Tussler.
Grabbing a fistful of fine Elven hair, he gave Thranduil’s brat another good clout.
Only too late did Legolas realize the strength contained within Gimli’s deceptively short frame was not to be dismissed. He suddenly found himself lying prostrate on his back, while a mad Dwarf sat on his chest and soundly beat him. Buoyed by sheer desperation, the Elf let out a strangled cry of rage and wildly pummeled whatever his fists came into contact with. In his anger, it never occurred to him he ought to simply pin the Dwarf beneath him. There was something sickeningly gratifying about striking back.
Fisticuffs of any sort were viewed by the Elves as uncouth and barbaric. Thus, though thoroughly schooled in all manner of weaponry, Legolas had no real idea of how one engaged in a brawl. Fists were only used, or so he had been taught, as means of defense. The idea of attacking your enemy with them was unheard of.
Whereas Gimli made use of finely honed skills and stratagem, Legolas was forced to rely on brute strength alone.
Legolas grunted in pain as Gimli’s punch drove the air from his gut. Any hopes of Calengaladh joining the battle were immediately disposed of: three spiders had launched themselves at the beleaguered prince, flinging their sticky webbing at his head and feet. Calengaladh was attempting to beat them off with a pillow. Four squirrels clung grimly to his head and shoulders, their bushy tails slapping across his face as they chattered and twitched in panic. Sliding precariously on the soaped floor, Calengaladh almost appeared to be dancing.
Dark brown eyes glinting with murderous rage, Gimli went for Legolas’ throat. It was by pure luck the Elf managed to hit him squarely in the temple. Both howled in pain—Gimli at the exploding yellow flashes dotting his vision, and Legolas at his severely bruised knuckles. Who knew the Dwarf’s head was made of rock?
“You fight like a maiden!” Ignoring the throbbing pain in his head, Gimli aimed for the Elf’s already split lip.
Legolas blocked the Dwarf’s fist with an open hand, thrusting it back upward with such force Gimli ended up punching himself. The son of Glóin toppled backwards with a bellow. “Better a maiden than a Dwarf!”
Sitting upright, Legolas lashed out with both feet and kicked the Dwarf as he lay flailing on his backside like an overturned beetle. Gimli managed to grab one foot, and the slick floor did the rest. Wooden floor eagerly met Elven skull with a loud crack.
Gimli rolled onto his stomach with a groan and wiped away the blood trickling from his nose. His ribs were on fire. Any hopes of the Elf having been knocked unconscious were quickly dispelled as Legolas staggered to his knees. ‘I should have known his head was thicker than a tree stump.’
Legolas’ lighting-quick uppercut sent the Dwarf flying backwards into a heap of splintered shelf. Gimli had to give him credit—the prince was a fast learner. A lesser (or perhaps wiser) being might have quelled before the enraged Elf. Gimli, however, was not that being. Besides, he was the selected representative of all Dwarf-kind. The pride of his entire Race was at stake.
From his new position amongst the rubble, Gimli ranted, hurling forth every insult that immediately came to mind. “Lousy, tree-coddling, priggish, feather-headed lout!” When he ran out words the Elf would understand, he simply resorted to Dwarven. Legolas might not be familiar with the language, but the words sounded terrible enough the Elf was bound to catch their meaning.
“At least,” Legolas snarled, “my mind does not consist of pebbles!”
“Better to have pebbles than nothing at all!”
“Yes—I suppose something must prevent your head from caving in!”
The two grappled and rolled across the room. How each came to hold the other in a headlock, neither could say. Panting heavily, they glared sideways at one another.
“Let go Elf, or I will squeeze until those sparkly eyes pop out.”
“Nay, you let go. Or I shall squeeze until the pebbles in your head flow out of your ears.”
Calengaladh howled the Mirkwood war cry at the top of his lungs. Wielding a remnant of broken shelf as though it were a club, he beat away hissing spiders and squirrels. Thwack! An unfortunate spider hit the far wall with a crunch. Thunk! A wailing black squirrel went sailing through the window. Legolas and Gimli again took to rolling across the floor.
Calengaladh’s cry came to an abrupt halt. The next thing Legolas knew, he was being bodily yanked to his feet by the nape of his tunic. Spitting furiously, he continued to swing wildly at the Dwarf—who was being restrained by…
With sickening dread, Legolas noticed even the squirrels and spiders had stilled. He slowly turned his head.
Thranduil glared back.
‘Ai Elbereth.’ Legolas wished the Valar would strike him dead right then and there.
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.