9. Many Blabbings
Chapter 9: Many Blabbings
Maybe I should have been upset we were so easily found. I'd only spent endless weeks of agony keeping us hidden, erasing our minutest traces, flinching at every swamp bubble, keeping watch 20 of 24 hours, sleeping only to dream of having missed covering a footprint and the Nazgûl swooping upon us… Who cared now? I waved and jumped, made all the racket I could.
The two raced closer, rapidly hopping pools, closer and closer till I could see without the near-stone the flush on the hobbit's cheeks and the happy light in the pony's eyes. Just a few more steps.
"Mr. Frodo! Mr. Frodo! Mr. Fr--"
IPE! I skidded through the mud, came to splattering halt at a still rippling pool. I searched. The water was clouded with brown flecks and scattered bubbles, and a stale stench had been churned up. Only a pale glow broke through the deep haze. It was the glow of the dead flesh. Faces that did not see and fingers that did not feel, bloodless, rotten, eternal, bleh.
I waited. Still no movement in the pool. Why's it always me? I hopped into the water, shoving aside dead faces. Usually I avoided the things when making camp. There were areas they congregated, row upon row. Some of them I'd seen often enough to bequeath them Charlie and Fredrick and Nikolas... Well, this one I'd landed on looked to be Charlie's brother, or at least first cousin. I flipped, groped, blind in the murk… I felt skin, not cold but warm… I slid under the body and pushed up. Up! C'mon! My lungs filled with yuck. Charlie's cousin was looking more and more attractive. Wonder if he's single. Such a lovely place to take a nap. Cozy like. Soft. Warm. I was yanked into raw reality.
Bill had me in his teeth. Next moment he was kicking at the surface, onto solid ground. Bill. Bill. Billy Bill Bill. I spat each word along with a mouthful of gunk. The pony wasn't paying attention, but rather nosing the coughing hobbit. From the high end of the little peninsula, Frodo watched us retch. We were on the peninsula's shore; I'd have been annoyed otherwise.
Sam hopped to his feet so suddenly you'd think someone'd dumped ice down his shirt. Tears carved canyons down his mudplastered face. He flew over the mushy ground, arms outstretched. "Frodo! Oh Frodo! Bless me! I can't believe it! Oh Frodo, I'd begun to think I'd never--"
Frodo recoiled from the rank gardener. "Who are you?"
Sam blinked. "Why - Samwise Gamgee!"
"Sam… oh yes. The portly one. Prove it."
Another blink and his face hardened. "All right, Master. I can."
"Excellent. What did I eat for breakfast last Monday?"
"I knew it. Imposter." Sting found his hand.
I flew onto Frodo's face, and the knife fell from his grip. He whirled his empty fists. "What now? Treachery?"
Bill saved us from making pulp of each other. He seized Frodo's hair in his teeth and held him stiff. Frodo could not twitch a muscle without becoming a Jean-Luc Picard lookalike.
The once-gardener stepped forward, his lips trembling. "I am Sam. How much more can I prove it, Mr. Frodo, than that I came all this way for you!"
Herr Baggins grunted, as though this were the most tedious string of vocal vibrations that had ever hit his eardrums.
Sam slapped the pony's shoulder. "Bill, do let Frodo be!" A rip and plop. "There now, master, do you feel better?"
Bottom in wet, Frodo crossed his arms. "No."
I tired of the Halfling drama and studied ole Bill. His fur was ragged and caked with crusting mud, much like a welcome mat. His tail was knotted, one ear was torn and small flies held vigil over his face. He never looked so alive. He was munching on a tuff of brown. O Bill, I wish you could've stayed. I need a lifejacket in this sea of insanity. The pony contemplated this over a soft chomp and offered me some brown curls.
Sam was flapping his hands about his side, seeming most uncomfortable at the welcome by his former employer. He blew his cheeks. "Hoo. Well, sir. I'm sure curious what's happened. I've had no news at all. What's become of the others and Strider?"
Frodo scratched a bare patch atop his head. "Tis a tale of sorrow and deceit." He related our adventures. It was odd how much I'd forgotten. He told how I led the Company through the pathless wilds, through thunderstorm and blizzard and scorching heat. How Mippen and Perry had fallen in Moria. How Aragorn son of George had dueled Boromir of Vulcan after a night of heavy drink. How the Elf had been turned to a pasty by the no-good wizard Gandalf. And how the Dwarf had smote Gollum to avenge his father. Finally he told how they all had plotted his death – by chopping him into forty-nine pieces and scattering him along the banks of the Anduin – in cahoots with the evil enchanters of the Wood. Gandalf got wind of it and we'd only just escaped.
Sam interrupted the story not once, did not even made a sound, save a breathless gasp at the grim news of the young Hobbits. Now he worked his lips stiffly. "Where – but what about Gandalf?" His eyes were lid-cracking wide.
"He… I forget. What cretin did you dupe into bringing you here? I haven't seen you for some time."
That got him started. Sam pounded mud from his ears. "Well, Mr. Frodo, I have to say that I was rather unsettled, you know, after the Council. But I hadn't meant to leave you. I know you said for me to go home, but I couldn't let you go on alone, not when you weren't yourself!"
Frodo freed up some worms and we sucked them, watching Sam's face puff and deflate with his words.
"I walked in the gardens, my thoughts empty. Then someone called me; one of the Elves at the Council. I didn't think a great lord such as him could even take notice of me. I couldn't answer."
" 'Hello. I am Galdor. Of the Havens. Pleasure to meet you Master Samwise.' He took my hand and shook it. It was very wet. He was wet altogether, like he had fallen into a well.
"When he finished shaking, he squeezed my hand hard and knelt. 'What's this dawdling? Your master has sent you away, so you must obey.'
"My mouth was dusty. 'Well, I don't rightly know what to do. Only that I can't leave. He needs help.'
" 'I did not say not to help him.'
" 'Then,' I'd enough of yes-and-no talk. 'Tell me what you mean. Either I do or I don't.'
" 'There's a stream down the path,' he jerked his head. 'Step in it. Then return here with what you need before the evening bells.'
" 'Uh, but – but sir, I cannot leave, I told you that.'
" 'You will help your master if you do what I say. And do hurry. We cannot be hindered, and that will be more easily achieved if we depart whilst they eat.'
"Though I couldn't see how wetting my feet was going to help, I went down the path and stepped into the stream. I thought it'd be freezing, but was oddly warm. And then, right then, I knew what to do… I didn't know why… I came back to the house and the rooms were empty. Everyone was eating, like Galdor'd hoped. Then… and oh please, Frodo, don't be angry."
"I already am, Sam."
Sam stuttered something that sounded like chickens on strike and flapped his arms. He tried to whistle.
Bill clipped Sam's ear.
"Oh– well, after a few wrapping of affairs, if you understand me, we left Rivendell. Galdor saw to it no one saw us.
" 'We will keep in the wild,' he said. 'And make our way south.'
" 'But why? Why all this sneaking? ' I was out of breath. He was difficult to keep up with.
" 'Questions, questions,' he grumbled, not even turning. 'If Túrin had merely sat and questioned all events, would his life's story be worth a gull's dropping? If Beren had reclined before the Dark Throne asking questions, who'd remember him? And if Tuor had questioned every command of the Lord of Waters…'
"That's but a sample of his talking, you see. And talked often he did.
"When I slept that night, or morning it was, I had the queerest dream. I saw water, just the biggest water you ever seen, all the water in the world filling the horizon. How could anything be so big! And queerer, there was a man in the water. He seemed to be large and small at the same time, I mean part of all the water and not, but just like any of the big folk. He just nodded and I knew that going with Galdor was what I had to do. Queerer still was another dream, one with a room of blinking lights and a tall Elf with a knife! Is the otter all right?"
Frodo shrieked, "What have you done?"
A man in the water… a man in the water… I was twitching on the swamp mush. I paused, sat straight and coughed.
Frodo, one eye on Bill's choppers, wagged a finger. "A little discretion is all I ask, Sam. A little discretion."
"I'm sorry! It won't happen again, sir!" Sam's eyes were so sorrowful and Bill's teeth so large, Frodo let it drop. "We were in the wilderness many weeks and months – I know not how long, it may have been years. Galdor knew how to keep us from being seen and followed. We kept steady down South. One evening, when we'd almost come to the very southernest mountains, I heard a whinny that I never thought to hear again, but I knew better than my Gaffer's whistle.
"Bless me! It was old Bill! He came running like he was chased by the Riders themselves. And lor', he was carrying a whole bakery of pasties. It was a miracle, a real true miracle, Mr. Frodo! I was so happy I forgot a while to wonder how it was he got there at all. He was a bit thin, o course, looked like he had been hunted a long ways. Then I worried what might have made Bill run like that. He had to have been with you.
"Bill and Galdor stood together a long while, staring into each other. After a time the old Elf shook his head. 'Wolves, eh? And octopi? Fascinating.'
"I felt embers cover my face. 'How can you say that! What about Frodo? He's out there, maybe killed by these – these oct pies, and for what reason? I've betrayed him. The secrecy and lies. A thief in the night. (To quote Mister Bilbo). This ain't right, Mr. Galdor, meaning no disrespect…'
"Galdor turned, his eyes flaming; I near saw smoke. 'You know why we do this, Samwise? Not just for some frolicsome fancy! Tisn't my place to disagree with his eminence Lord Elrond, nor his meddlesomeness Mithrandir. However, I serve my own master, and he his, so you see, it's a matter of obedience. Now, your folk are new to the great meddlers of the world and so have none of the paltry rules, no esteemed lords to keep happy by pretending to listen to them. You are obliged to obey no one except the Highest. So keep your worries. This is our one duty. Your friends have duties too. Theirs shall be a thump on the nose and ours a hit below the belt for Master Eye.'
"I didn't answer but I think I understood.
" 'What I mean to say, my short friend: worry not what is not in your hands and all will be well.' Galdor seized a great handful of pasties from Bill's bags.
"Well, I tried, sir, not to think about it much, but the more I tried not to think the more I thought. About you and whether what I was doing was right and whether I should be by your side keepin' an eye open for the Riders.
"I thought so much that I fell asleep on my watch and next I knew I was being shaken.
"I looked. It was dusk. Galdor touched his lips with a finger and was gone. In no time he returned holding two great big crows, hanging stiff by their legs. 'Well, well. They ought to have known better than to snoop so low. Still, their absence may be read as a report just as well as any. So let us enjoy them best we can.' And that was our most wonderful meal in weeks, a thick stew simmered two hours in my best pot – with a few dry mushrooms I'd saved with salt and leaks and pinch of tarragon--"
"Liar!" Frodo pointed, a worm's end hanging from his lip.
Sam swallowed. "B-begging your pardon, sir!" He tapped together his fingers for a strained second. "After that, it seemed we were followed. Galdor didn't let it on, but I knew he was worried. We moved slow, under cover. Sometimes, I could swear, I saw moving shadows on our horizon, peeking out against the stars; we walked only at night now. I knew it could only be so long till they tried something, and then, sir, then the worst did happen. One night Bill got jumpy and Galdor had us walk faster and faster till we were running. I looked behind and saw the shadows coming closer. Galdor stopped, told us to run on, and he ran back, toward them.
"He clang together two swords, shouted in Elvish, then, 'Yea, come to me beasties, come to me!'
"I wanted to stay. But Bill drug me off and that was the last I heard of him. I don't know if he's dead or captured or something worse…"
Sam's voice puttered and died. My throat tightened and eyes overflowed. I wept for gallant Galdor. For freaky Frodo. For thankless Legolas. For bighead Gandalf.
Sam wept too and we wept together, our sobs echoing like slaps of sodden seaweed over the tepid waters. Eternity passed, then he offered a crusty hanky and I politely shook my head.
"Well, sir," Sam dabbed his nose. "We'd have been lost for good if I hadn't dreamt again that night. The same man appeared as before. He pointed toward the sunrise. And we've kept walking into it, or that general direction. There were hills with all sorts of folk, all around us; at times I thought we'd be caught or stuck with arrows without questions, but never were we bothered. Over seas of grass we went and came to a river. It was deep and wide, impossible to cross.
" 'Ain't this a pickle," I told Bill. 'Here we come all this way to be stopped by one wedge of water. What do we do now?' I sat down, part of me ready to give up and another knowing we couldn't be stopped after all we'd done. And then I saw it. A little boat of logs and rope bobbing in the reeds. Weren't no one using it. Mind, sir, I weren't too happy about boats. Nothing natural to them. I shut my eyes till we were across. And we soon came to this bog, and, well, here we are."
Frodo was snoring. Sam was studying his toe hairs.
"There's one more thing I should tell you, Mr. Frodo. It's mighty important. I still don't know why I did it; it just felt so right at the time… I hope you can forgive me… Mr. Frodo, I've--"
There Bill screamed like only an equine can. The hobbits fell over, covering their heads. I clambered up Bill's side and settled on his head, stretching up tall as I could. A gaggle of Orcs N30°E, y'all.
The two-leggeds leaped. "Mr. Frodo, we have to move!"
"Stand back, foohl." Frodo planted his feet and reached into his shirt.
I dived from Bill's head… too late… Frodo was holding a large G-inscribed rocket in one hand and a match in the other. I changed course in midflight and hit the dirt as the hobbit switched the match on his underfoot.
Smoke crisped the air into an unbreathable mesh. Even through my eyelids I saw the spray of red and gold light. Many Orcish curses were fouling the already jammed air. I dared let open a sliver of my eye and watched as my whiskers sizzled off like those fuse trails in Bugs Bunny. Sam lay on his back beside me, his whole face tar-black except his huge white staring eyes. Bill's jaw dangled seven inches. Frodo still stood, the smoking match stuck in his teeth. He rolled it between his lips.
Not a ballthrow away, the Orcs were gaping at a steaming crater behind them.
Oh, hooray! He missed. And if Sauron didn't see that he needs a new lens prescription.
It did not take long for them get bored and whip their attention to us again. An Orc with five face warts the size of golf balls shrilled, "These are the ones, m' boys! Don't kill 'em too much. Move, maggots!"
On our peninsula we could not move in any direction without joining Charlie and friends. Then with a cry, Frodo attempted to bowel through the Orcs, waving the burnt match as though it was a sword of flame. He was caught up in wart-face's waiting arms. Sam and Bill immediately charged and were seized as quietly as butterflies in a net. I too charged, felt the heat of their groping fingers, ducked, and rolled between their mismatched feet.
Boss Orc shrieked and stomped. "Get the rat! Get the rat!" The half-dozen Orcs tackled, collided, now a pile of twitching limbs. Hehe. I skittered from the wreckage and was straight away lofted by my neck's scruff.
Curses. All four paws were bundled and tied, the way ya might see the protagonists roped on poles in get-captured-by-volcano-fearing-natives movies. I couldn't squirm in the teensiest.
"None are to be spoiled! I've my orders!" The boss Orc yelled over their disappointed snarls. "Tha's orders. Now march you maggots!"
They'd tied Sam, Frodo and Bill same as me, all limbs bunched together with rope course as sandpaper. The Orcs carried us with their unwashed hands and their pike-like fingernails nipped our skin, leaving small cuts that itched like mosquito bites. As though it wasn't evil enough to be belching CO2, they also emitted a curse with every breath. They marched almost nonstop, lashed by the tongue of the warty boss Orc, who was too important to carry things.
They were taking us to the Gate, right into Mordor, likely to Barad-dûr itself. Well, if it takes becoming prisoners to get in… ya know, whatever works.
To be continued…
A/N: I hope the double quotations didn't go out of control. At least it can't have reached the level of Wuthering Heights... Please tell me no. ^^