10. Beaten But Not Eaten!
Chapter 10: Beaten But Not Eaten!
A tall guy. Bowel haircut. He strolled past us, licking superman ice cream.
"Spocky?"I plunged from four feet onto the Dagorlad dirt. As I watched from below, the voluptuous Vulcan evaporated. Hateful mirages.
"Garr! More squeaks! I hate the squeaks!" My carrier Orc dropped to his bottom and crossed his arms.
"Pick it up and get goin', Gutbag. Always slowing us. I don't know why we feed you," hissed Frodo's bearer, Snarl. He was a pointy faced fellow with a perpetual devilish smirk. He'd misplaced his elbow somehow and so his lower arm was attached to his upper only by a strip of leather and three screws. Frodo hung loosely from his shoulders, playing cards on the Orc's pointed head.
Gutbag growled as he staggered to his foot. He had a single leg, no second support, and his stomach was most round. "It's not my fault. Let's see you run with one leg."
"Let's see you run with no legs." Snarl gnawed his dagger's blade.
"Shut up, both of ya!" the boss Orc howled.
"Yes, Ma!" And Snarl and Gutbag shutted up, though they continued to murder each other with their eyes.
Five seconds passed.
"Ma-aa." Gutbag rubbed his sore stump. "Can't we have break?"
"We need it!" Grik and Grak's legs wobbled under Bill's mass. Grik was missing one eye and had stuck a red-painted stone in the socket. And where Grak's nostrils should have been were two cavernous slits. Nasty.
Mama Orc tugged her warts as she contemplated.
Gur, who bore Sam under one sweaty arm, said, "Aiiaa." He had no lips.
Mama Orc pat his head. "All right. Two minutes." Gur was her favorite, maybe because he could not argue. "Well! Sit down, maggots!" The Orcs threw their burdens to the dirt before throwing themselves down.
Bill landed on my tail. Sam's face was so close to mine I could smell his breath. He was awake, his face still splotched with dried mud. His eyes were not frightened, only concerned, resting heavily on Frodo.
Frodo shuffled his deck with a flick of his thumb. Intricate G's emblazoned their backs, and I wondered what else the little maggot had lifted from the wizard. He folded them and shuffled again. He caught Sam's stare. "What?"
"Well, Frodo," he whispered. "I wondered if you're all right."
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"Them Orcs for a start."
"You've a problem with them?"
"Look, Mr. Frodo, we have to escape. Sooner the better."
Grik, Grak, Gur, Snarl and Gutbag listened to this exchange with stifled yawns. I watched Bill watch me. We were in agreement. We were doomed.
"All right, shut up." Mama Orc kicked Sam. He had become a severe shade of gray. The guy's got a dirty secret. He couldn't say it before and he won't say it now. Before my eyes flashed headlines pronouncing murder and seduction.
"Why!" yowled the Orcess, flinging her claw toward Frodo's flashing cards. "Why aren't the maggot's hands tied!"
The Orcs exchanged looks and shrugged.
"Always." She stomped to the Hobbit. "Must do everything." She swathed Frodo's wrists with cord. "Meself."
I nodded. She swelled and bobbed her head. "Now there's a maggot with mind meats." She swung around, bearing her fangs. "As for the rest of you maggots – get up! For every delay there'll be flesh to pay."
We might have made good time if Gutbag hadn't kept falling. It might have helped if he had payed up some of his flesh. He hopped, and being forward-heavy, he toppled forward. Since no one waited for him to heave up, we composed the caboose.
My head was too jiggled to think about escaping. Bill, Grik and Grak were last only to Gutbag. I found myself watching Bill. The pony kept to himself. Sometimes I could swear he swiveled my way, but I knew that was my own fantasy. He was watching Sam; his whole equine soul was devoted to defending him. As for the gardener, he was paler than ever. Sea sick, likely. And Frodo… I stopped worrying about him long ago. But I knew if ever the slightest chance of escape came, I could not run without him. Even if it meant leaving Sam and Bill. I was afraid. I did not want that choice.
Gutbag tripped again. After a while you get used to it, the rhythm, and the bruises put you to sleep. Next I knew trumpets were howling and I regained awareness on pointy rocks. My body throbbed with each heartbeat, save my legs, which had long since lost feeling.
I realized that we were not alone with the delightful Orc family.
The air was alive with yowling and cursing. The yowling from the trolls penned up and bechained five yards downwind – praise Manwë! The cursing from the hosts of Orcs going about daily business. Some poked the trolls with sticks to get them to go to sleep. Other Orcs flapped by, pushing each other, stealing each others' dinners, and in two cases, sticking knives into each other's arms. My stomach growled. What did I eat last? Those worms Frodo gave me?
I tried to single out the scents of eatables. Smoldering Anar Above, the smells were unbelievable. Think damp dumpster full of dead skunk and overripe broccoli. Then I had a good look beyond the buzzing Orcs: a wall of black jagged mountains and incased in it, a smattering of gears, beams and hinges. The rear of the Black Gate. We'd passed into Mordor without my noticing. I wondered if we'd gone through customs yet.
I squirmed to look over my other side. A great red headlight scorched the nearby fungus fields.
Nagging inner voice: "Escape would be good now. Plan A."
I wiggled my joints. The ropes did not burst. "Plan B."
Mama Orc argued with some administrator goblin. No one paid us any attention. Frodo's hands were, as usual, free; just what I needed. But he was doing something…. he was… fingering a teeny round thing. I gulped. Don't give in now, Frodo!!! He lifted it over his face, above his nose… and stuck it up his left nostril.
Mama Orc kicked the administrator goblin's shins. He doubled over, and the argument ended.
"We're leaving!" She kicked each of her sons. "And tie his hands!"
"Yes, Ma," said Snarl, shoving Gur and Gutbag. Frodo allowed his wrists to be chained. His nose looked like a pink apple.
The Orcs snatched us up. No more time for planning.
The road here was smooth, probably not from design, but from the thousands of Orc feet that had pounded it. So Gutbag had an easier time than in the marshes. Still I shut my eyes and braced for the next tumble that would come. They always came. I was more afraid of Gutbag's haulage than of Sauron's stretching rack.
The very worst of this round was the twelfth and I thought during the plummet: I am going to die. Gutbag landed on me, then on Grik, who dropped Bill's bottom-half, and so on down the line to Snarl-and-Frodo.
Groaning and cussing. Snarl was the first to find his feet. He pointed his dagger in Gutbag's face.
"Maggot… scum" Snarl was shaking so badly his originality organ must have come loose.
Gutbag shoved aside Snarl's semi-attached arm. "So scum what? I'm scum tired."
Mama Orc told him to shut up.
During the uproar, Gur stealthily positioned his jaws to take a taste of Sam. That was not his first attempt. So many times had his ma walloped his head to force him to spit out Sam's foot that he had a permanent lump. I feared that he'd actually get away with it this time and I heaved a mighty squeak. Gur fell backward, his legs vertical.
Gutbag screamed. "The squeak again! No! No! I can't take it no more."
Mama Orc growled. "Shut up or I'll carve out your nose."
"But Ma, it's killin' me."
"I warned you. I warned you!" She waved her curved knife. Gutbag hopped back.
Now I knew why every one of them was missing a piece of his body.
"No, Ma. No!" Gutbag groveled on his knee. "I don't wanna be like Grak!"
Grak was tittering and clapping his claws.
Mama Orc moved in but Gur's call spoiled the fun. "Oo Oaa!"
"A Tower rat!" translated Grik. Something was shuffling down the road.
"Don't think this is finished." Mama Orc pocketed her knife, then scowled at the newcomer, who'd stopped at a safe distance from her.
He looked like the creepy sort of minion Sauron would have hang around his house. His purple skin oozed Evil. He was hunched over so that his long thin nose nearly scraped the ground. Yet for an Orc, he wore decent clothes: a prickly black robe embroidered with a flaming eye, a stained ruffled collar and boxy steel shoes. Even his cuffs were ruffled, and he fussed over them as spoke.
"Regards from the Tower. I am Lurch, first of the Eye's messengers, high in his counsel, unpassed in his ranks, eater of manflesh…"
"Shut up. I know your vermin-eaten titles." Mama Orc scowled.
From her sons, sniggering and popping of finger joints.
"Then you know my words are mere rephrases of his. Just almost his, you could say." Lurch stood almost straight and sniffed.
Mama Orc filed her claws.
"Ah, so," Lurch fretted again over his dirty cuffs. "What slaves have you?"
The Orcess ticked off each with her filer. "A he-Horse, a she-Rat and two he-Shortlings."
"Excellent." He held his nose high, as though he had been the one to detain and lug us. "I will drive the slaves now. Aye, the Great Eye is happy. So happy He might give all you bread without maggots."
Yet Mama Orc did not look happy: she tapped her foot claw and chewed her filer to a toothpick. "Listen, troll-filth, these prisoners are mine. You won't have them to take the reward. I know how it is you came to be the Tower's emissary and it weren't through none of your own sweat. Me n' m y boys did all the carrying and feeding and kicking of these prisoners and we're taking them to the Eye."
"But my orders come from his Mouthiness and his from his Eyeness." Lurch's ruffles wilted before Mama Orc's mass.
She'd by now traded the filer for her knife and rattled it at the emissary. "Then you never found us. And we went all the way to the Tower without having met. And so we didn't know the orders. Did we boys?"
"But…" Lurch scratched his pipe-long nose. "But we did meet."
"Says you?" And Mama Orc ran him through.
Snarl sniggered. "Good un, ma!"
"Shut up," she snarled.
"Ma! Ma!" Gutbag hopped on his leg. "There's more of the Tower rats coming."
"Stop hoppin' and get off the road! There's other ways to reach the Tower… and what awaits us. Promotion." Her sons looked back at her blankly, then slowly, formed smirks. "Yes, we'll be sitting high in the Tower, boys – someone'll have to replace this dirt." She kicked Lurch behind a rock and twisted Grik's ear. "Now get these prisoners moving!"
"But if they got a Wraith with 'em, Ma, we'll be in for it if they catch us…" Snarl broke off at her iron-melting look.
Gur was trying on Lurch's ruffled collar. Mama Orc snatched it and stomped it.
"We didn't meet no emissary. Got that? All these other maggots will be after us, trying to spoil the prisoners. We aren't to be seen. Won't matter how it's done – the Eye will reward the ones who deliver them in whole pieces. Right, Gur?"
"Ehaa," said Gur. She turned and his eyes swelled with loathing. Or allergies, possibly.
It was onward again. Now the shadow of Barad-dûr was becoming unpleasantly close. I ought to say that was good. The alternative was being in that red Spotlight.
Mama Orc weaved us around the road. Whenever something passed she hid us under whatever – noxious fungus, rocks, thorns. The Orcs could find niches like roaches. I figured they knew Mordor better than Mr. Lidless Eye himself, for all his decades of staring at it.
Hours later a great cloud of black dust puffed ahead of us, what must have been from the feet of dozens of evil minions. Mama Orc swerved us to the right. I opened one eye; we were headed smack-dab into a herd of trolls. I held my breath. We filed along, around their legs. And they never moved. Not a twitch, not a grunt. But after Snarl and Frodo sat down on one's foot and started dealing cards it hit me. Great Ego of Fëanor. These trolls were all stone. It was a frozen army. Hey… I could breathe! That fresh Mordor air.
This was better than any art exhibit. Thoroughly enjoying myself, I studied the trolls' grotesque features: sad, gaping and stupid. They held aloft broad tattered objects like the frames of umbrellas. Some of their faces peaked out from the umbrellas, mouths forever hanging open, staring up dumbly into the wide sky. A failed test for a day-resilient troll army, perhaps.
Mama Orc called a halt just as I was getting an interesting view of a David troll-double. Gutbag dumped me. I felt prickles in my feet and I raised a paw to my nose. Why, the bonds had broken! I'd fallen on them one too many times. I wiggled each toe one by one, wincing at the pins-n-needles. Now, when Gutbag wasn't looking I could just tiptoe away…
"Maaa! The rat's rope won't knot." Gutbag took their frayed ends and tried to stick them back together.
"Get a new one!"
"There isn't new ones!" A meaningful look at Frodo.
"Use this!" said Mama Orc. A chain rattled. Nasty clampers locked around my middle. "I've seen them ground rats burrowing into dirt. Keep it high, Gutbag."
So Gutbag hung me on the finger of a troll who was cupping out his hand, studying it stupidly, as though curious why it could not move.
This was Misery. I wiggled to get into a better dangling position. The manacle was loose, oh so slightly. My fur crackled against the iron. I was hungry and thirsty. The air was so dry you could shave it for sawdust; I'd changed my mind about Mordor atmosphere. Right below sat Gutbag, touching his nose wistfully. He sighed. And I had a plan C. It depended on two things. I bent my tail into view. My watch was still strapped on it… but did it work? Please… it was 5:34. And tick. 5:35. I pressed it and it glowed faint green.
Perfect. I rubbed my fur on the manacle, heard the crackling of charge, smelt the ozone.
"Stop shaking!" Gutbag said. He gaped at the glowing watch just as the light faded.
"What's that?" He glanced over his shoulder at his not-alert siblings. "I've heard stories. The Weapon the Great Eye must have. Suppose I took it to him meself. Suppose I took it for meself."
Well, go ahead. Think of the power. Think of your nose. Let me free and all will be yours.
"What're you doing?" Snarl crawled up. Oh bother. There goes the script.
"I ain't doing anything."
"You're thieving, ain't you, you maggot?"
"Hush up! I wasn't. And if I was, I might share it."
"Share what?" Snarl's voice was a rough whisper.
Gutbag tapped my watch. The glow popped on. Gutbag examined his finger in awe.
"Whacha done?" Snarl yelped quietly. They both crowded around the small face, then jumped back as the glow died. Snarl's hands trembled. "Don't tell anyone what you done. Don't tell anyone. He will know. We'll be maggot-fodder. Stay away from it."
Gutbag shakily scratched the sweat off his formless face, which was pinched, as though he were ready to cry. "I didn't mean it – I won't tell!"
"Who?" said Grik. He winced over Snarl's shoulder with his rock-eye.
Snarl walloped him in his good eye. Grik fell over. Then Snarl seized Gutbag by his ear. "YOU. I'll cut out your tongue. Then you can't tell."
Gutbag howled and jerked his foot. Snarl flew eight, maybe ten feet. Gutbag fell on his back. Mama Orc stomped over, brutally swinging her arms as if she were powerwalking. "What is this! What IS this?" She swelled twice her normal size as she surveyed the scene. "Why! Why can't you maggots keep quiet! Why!" She looked at me. I tried to smile.
"You…" Her face came too close; the five warts magnified to full roundness. I swallowed and touched the bridge of her nose. At contact: an electric zap. "OWE." Her claws moved in. "You little RAT!" She strangled air. I'd already slipped from the manacle and was running toward Frodo.
A pair of mismatched feet fell from the sky. I looked up into the cavernous nostril-holes of Grak. He grinned and crushed his foot on my head, crushing, crushing... and then was gone. I saw a flash of hooves and bags. Bill! He must have been waiting for the opportunity.
Mama Orc stomped in place and pointed to her last remaining son. "Do something!" Spit flew from her fangs. Gur sat on a thick troll arm, swinging his feet. If he had lips, I'd say he was smirking. The Orcess shrieked in disgust and marched my way. The ground shook. Time to go!
The other Orcs stirred. I looked around for Bill. He was bearing Sam away by the shirt. I didn't see Frodo. I noticed Mama Orc was close enough to eat me so I took off. Bill-plus-Sam was sprinting far ahead. Mama Orc hollered like a bull, a sound so long and piercing, she ought to try out for a Nazgûl.
Her sons followed at our heels, but we'd had a head start, and they fell behind. Stone trolls stooped from every direction, and it took little time to become lost in the peculiar forest. The Orcs' wheezing grew fainter and fainter, till I could not even hear the echoes. I glanced around. I was alone.
I ran on, looping around great stone feet of too-many or not-any toes. I heard a voice and slunk toward it. Below a crouching troll was the familiar hulking shape of the pony. Sam leaned against a drum-sized knee, trying to gnaw off his binds. Suddenly I saw the glaring absence… Then I heard more voices… beyond the lumpy back of one troll there was Mama Orc and Snarl. They were sprinting toward the Tower. And on Snarl's back was Frodo.
My legs moved forward… but my tail was caught in Bill's teeth.
Get off! Get off! They got Frodo! They got the flipin'-stinkin' Ring! Bill took a thwack. I lollopped on and realized this was stupid. I paused, turned. Saw Grik and Grak winding through thicket of stone legs toward Sam and Bill. They hadn't seen each other yet.
The choice was painfully clear. It was me or Bill.
I cartwheeled into Grik and Grak's view. Come get this rat flesh!
It took several somersaults before they even noticed. Then they pinched and pushed each other to get at me first. I sped from Bill and Sam. I looked behind and laughed. The Orcs had gotten tangled together. I looked up and saw a Nazgûl skulking in Bill's direction. I skidded to a halt. And my face smacked into a boulder.
To be continued…
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.