Something wicked this way comes. - Macbeth Act IV, Sc.1
He was the runt.
The youngest – and smallest. While his brother was born flaxen-haired and strong, he was pale, small, weak – and dark-haired. His mother, he was told, had not been one of the Rohirrim. But she was dead; he would never be able to ask her himself.
As for his father… Galmod took little notice of either of them, especially the younger one. The smaller one. The wise one.
This, then, is the story of the small one.
The boy clutched the book tightly to his chest with his pale hands and strained his ears in the night stillness for any sound coming from his father’s room. If Gálmód should discover the book gone...
From time to time Gálmód would come home for a day or two – and when he did, he usually brought one of the few books in Meduseld with him... but it was only for display; Gálmód never read any of them. He only wanted to appear wise and learned – in reality he only used these ‘holidays’ for drinking himself into a stupor out from under the watchful eye of the king.
The boy sneered in the darkness. Gálmód was a fool.
A sound from behind the door wiped the sneer from his face and he gripped the book even more tightly. Once before, Gálmód had discovered the book missing and known where it had gone.
The flesh on his back crawled as he remembered the stripes that had covered it; he hadn’t been able to lie on his back for over a week.
His brother used to protect him from Gálmód – but his brother was dead. Sometimes he hated his brother for leaving him alone with this man who was his father. He couldn’t defend himself. He couldn’t fight him.
The sound – whatever it had been – did not come again and the boy breathed easier. Quietly, on the tips of his toes, he crept back through the black, dingy passage to his small room – the room he had once shared with his brother – and closed the door.
Lighting the candle, he sat on the floor by the window and began to read.
A rooster crowed, somewhere beyond the window, and the boy’s eyes flickered open. They winced even in the pale morning light and he pushed himself up from the floor. The candle had burnt to the end and was still smoking. When had he fallen asleep? The boy frowned and rubbed his eyes. I must not do that again, he thought.
He rubbed the side of his face then looked at his hand in distaste: it was covered in dirt... as it always was when he fell asleep on the floor. Someday...
Stiffly, he rose to his feet and rinsed his hands in the chipped washbasin that sat on the dresser. The face that stared back at him from the small, cracked mirror was pale and thin skinned – he could see the spidery veins bleeding through at his temples – with heavy-lidded, greyish-blue eyes... mismatched eyes: one was cloudier, paler, than the other – smoke-damaged from lying too close to the fire when he was barely two. This face was framed by long, lank, curly dark hair.
It was not a face he wanted to see.
He didn’t look – even remotely – like anyone else. He was the only one who was dark-haired – he had his mother to thank for that. He stood out from everyone else in Rohan – and standing out was dangerous. Especially if you were small...
His pale hands slipped from the edges of the dresser and he jumped away in a panic, hearing Gálmód’s footsteps coming every closer. He shrank back against the wall, his eyes falling on the book. He had been careless. He had waited too long.
The flimsy wooden door crashed open, the hinges tearing a little from the wall as Gálmód burst into the room: a tall man, broad, flaxen-haired and evil-tempered. The boy in the corner swallowed hard. The book seemed to suddenly shine like a beacon as Gálmód’s eyes fastened on it.
Please, let him forget about me, let him forget about me...
The big man swung his blood-shot eyes from the book to the boy. ‘I warned you never to touch these books,’ he snarled.
‘I wasn’t hurting it -’
Gálmód’s hand connected with the boy’s face so hard it knocked his head against the wall; he tasted blood in his mouth.
‘Mind your mouth, wretch!’ the man shouted. ‘These books are a gift from the king – they’re not to be wasted on you.’
They’re a gift for someone who neither wants nor uses them.
‘What did you say, worm?’ Gálmód demanded, swinging around.
Gríma’s lips thinned and his face paled as he realized he’d spoken the words aloud. He backed against the wall, saying nothing.
‘You’re just like your mother – always cowering in a corner,’ he taunted, leering.
‘Perhaps she had good reason!’ Gríma spat, sudden rage blinding him. ‘You didn’t love her -’
The moment he looked into Gálmód’s eyes, he knew he’d gone too far. He recognized the narrowed eyes, the twitch in the man’s fingers as he reached for the heavy wooden cane that rested against the wall.
‘I’m sorry...’ he whispered, shrinking away as his father stepped towards him. ‘I’m sorry...’
Gálmód only smiled, showing his yellowing teeth. ‘You will be,’ he said, very, very softly.
Gríma’s eyes grew wide with horror; Gálmód grabbed him by the collar and hurled him onto the bed.
‘You will be,’ he repeated, lips pulling back in a snarl as he raised the cane over his head. He waited only a moment, then brought it down.
Gríma screamed, the awful sound barely muffled by the mattress; this only made Gálmód angrier and the blows became even fiercer.
Squeezing his eyes shut and clenching his teeth against the sobs that were choking him, he clutched the thin sheets tightly together while the pain and the hatred mounted with every stroke.
Long after Gálmód had left – returning to Meduseld – Gríma remained where he was, fingers frozen around the sheets. He body shuddered uncontrollably and his back burned. It felt wet, too; his shirt was sticking to his back – and he knew what that meant. The tears he had been holding back consumed him now, choking him. He was afraid... so afraid... One day he’ll kill me...
Every move was agony. It seemed that every time Gálmód beat him, he did harder. One day he’ll kill me.
He shuddered and tried to push himself up – and almost screamed. He collapsed onto the bed again, fresh tears running down his face as he cursed his father, using words that a boy of twelve seasons should not have known.
A door creaked, near the front of the house, and he jumped, the veins in his hands standing out with the force that he gripped the blankets. Had Gálmód forgotten something and returned? Edoras was a day’s journey...
Then a voice reached his ears, as creaking as the door and impossible to determine if the speaker were a man or a woman; he recoiled sharply and almost cried out in pain. It was Ar, who lived behind them – and she was, quite possibly, the only person in the village who had no fear of Gálmód, despite her frailty. She had come once before – the previous month – after hearing Gríma scream almost all night. She had arrived to find the man gone and the boy beaten black and blue.
He had hated the pity in her eyes as she had helped him up and treated his bruises and cuts. He did not want pity. He wanted revenge.
She called his name again and he buried his face in the covers so he wouldn’t see her face when she found him – and find him, she did. She made no sound as she stepped into the room, but when he risked a glance, he saw her frail body quivering and her pale eyes blazing with fury.
She said not a word but turned and disappeared down the hall. A short while later she returned, and he felt the slight sag in the thin mattress as she sat down beside him, bones creaking.
He felt her old, withered hands take hold of his shirt and begin to raise it up; he hissed in pain as the action tore open wounds that had begun to clot. He heard her stir something in a basin of liquid, then felt something soft and wet being pressed against his back. His thin body stiffened and tears leaked out from the corners of his tightly closed eyes. He could hear her begin to sing, quietly, though he failed to make out the words – his every effort was focused on not making a sound.
‘He is worse every time, isn’t he?’ she muttered, dipping the cloth into the bowl again.
Gríma made no answer – none was needed.
She finished cleaning the bloody welts on his back and gently helped him sit so she could bandage his wounds. ‘Someone should do something,’ she said darkly. ‘I -’
‘No!’ he whispered. ‘No.’
Her hands stilled and she looked at Gríma in surprise. ‘He will kill you, one day,’ she told him. ‘He is not safe – no matter what King Thengel may think. You -’
‘No!’ he yelled, spinning around to face her. ‘I will not leave.’
‘Will not or cannot?’ she asked, arching one white eyebrow.
The boy’s lips thinned and he said no more; she finished binding his wounds in silence. ‘I’ve left you something to eat,’ she informed him, rising stiffly to her feet. She hesitated at the door, which sagged tiredly on its hinges, and looked back at him. He said no word of thanks or farewell or anything at all, and she sighed. ‘You know where I may be found,’ was all she said.
Once the old woman was gone, he cast himself face-first on the bed, too tired and sore to do anything else.
Her suggestion was a wise one, he knew – but impossible to heed. He knew his father – he loathed and feared him, but he knew him – and thus knew that if anyone infringed on his territory he, Gríma, would pay. He shuddered; Gálmód had made that very clear one night several years ago, just after the death of Gríma’s brother.
No, he could not leave – but he would not repeat his mistakes. He was intelligent and very aware of it; he would turn it now to a more practical purpose: that of surviving life with Gálmód.
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.