21. The Root of the Matter
Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild
A hulking part-breed uruk and a small gangrel of a goblin, both armed to the teeth with a veritable armory of weapons, stormed into the clearing with a great cry of triumph. When they saw Fritha sitting at the base of the great oak, they pointed to him and cheered in their guttural language. The little boy trembled with horror. "Slaver's men come to get us!" he gasped, his stomach feeling as though it had plunged to his bowels and clenched there in a tight knot.
"Ho, what do we have here? A little piglet without its mother!" laughed the big uruk as he lumbered towards Fritha. The boy rolled to his knees, but before he could get up, the uruk had snatched him in his arms. "Here!" The uruk tossed the screaming Fritha through the air to the smaller orc. "Tie the brat up!"
"Ooo, mate, it'll be my pleasure!" the smaller orc squealed, seizing Fritha in his arms as though the little boy were a ball thrown between them. "I'll truss 'im up pretty as a posy!"
"You let me go!" Fritha squealed as he squirmed and struggled in the orc's arms, desperately fighting to break free. Though he wriggled like a fish, Fritha could not escape from the fiend's crushing embrace.
"Settle down now, you squalling little puppy," the goblin spat out in Common Speech, "or I might just break your ribs!" The grotesque leathery lips of the brute pulled back in a hissing snarl, his foul, putrid breath almost gagging Fritha.
Whimpering, Fritha stared up with wide, frightened eyes at his captor's rough, toad-like skin, the filthy dark hair which hung in stringy clumps, the jagged yellow fangs, and the pointed, cat-like ears - one of which had a chunk torn out of it. He remembered the orc as one of the slaver's cruelest men. The beast had only one good eye, the left closed almost shut, blinded by an ugly scar that cut a zig-zag path from eyebrow to chin. Squirming in the orc's arms, Fritha tried to wiggle free from the hideous foe who held him. The orc only chortled triumphantly and tightened his hold upon the boy.
"Dalgumhâl, you fool!" the big uruk bellowed like a war horn, his words in the harsh orc tongue. "The orders were not to harm them, not so much as one hair upon their pretty little heads! Now there should be two more of these pale-skinned imps around here someplace. Where the hell are they? The uruk glared accusingly at the smaller orc, as though he were somehow responsible for the absence of the other boys. "You are paid to smell them out!"
"The stench of baby horse-boys is thick here, mate, but you can't expect me to find 'em right off, now can you! As soon as we've dealt with this one, I will get on the trail of the others. In no time, we'll 'ave 'em right where we want 'em!" Dalgumhâl inhaled deeply of Fritha's scent and gurgled approvingly. "A pity we can't mess with 'em! We could always cut off 'is little balls and fry 'em up real nice. Remember back in our army days 'ow we used to dine on that sort of fare, that is, whenever we were lucky enough to find it? Makes our seed stronger than it already is! Har har!" He slapped his thighs. "But, divided between the two of us, 'e ain't got enough there for more than a taste, so wot say we cut off 'is prick as well? Har har! The slavers will geld 'im anyway, so we're doin' 'em a favor!"
Though Fritha was unable to understand any of the orcish language, the harshly spoken words still filled him with terror. "What are you saying?" he demanded, struggling to speak in the Common Speech.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" came the sarcastic reply in Westron. Squinting at Fritha, the goblin licked his lips obscenely. "Oo, 'e's a 'ansome one, ain't 'e?" Dalgumhâl laughed, reverting back to the orc tongue. "Lovely, lovely! I know some in our company as would like to play with 'im, but I never had a fondness that way! But now that I look at 'im closer..." The foul little goblin chortled perversely and eyed Fritha as though he were a prime cut of meat.
"Dalgumhâl, I say no!" the uruk snarled. "The slavers would make you pay for doing a trick like that. Cut off your own stinkin' pouch and tool, they would! Then they would go for your eyelids, fingers and toes. They'd hack off your arms and legs next and leave you with nothin' but stumps! Then if there was any life left in you, they'd laugh at you! Last of all, they'd slowly skin you! After you were nothing but a bleedin' piece of meat, they'd tack your mangy pelt up on a tree! You know how vindictive those Haradrim can be! It ain't worth it for a little bite of nothing, I tell you it ain't worth it!" He glared at the goblin.
"All right, all right, you convinced me," Dalgumhâl grumbled. The orc's jutting brow furrowed until his eyes were mere slits, his mouth and jaw line hard. "I would rather 'ave a real meal to fill me belly and a woman to sate me prick any day!"
"Now bind him! We don't have all day!" the uruk snapped. "We need to find the other two!"
"'is brother must be around 'ere somewhere. I can smell 'im! Look! There 'e is! Right up there in the tree!" Dalgumhâl pointed up into the branches, leaving his blind side exposed. While the orc was distracted, Fritha summoned up his courage and clamped his teeth down hard on his captor's hand, nicking into the leathery flesh. He could taste a hint of the hideous, foul-tasting black blood, and almost gagged upon the coarse, metallic taste.
"Ow! The little blighter bit me!" Snorting like an enraged bull, Dalgumhâl slapped Fritha across the face, sending his head reeling back and bringing stars to his eyes. Not daring to move, Fritha cringed in the orc's arms and moaned despairingly as he felt his bladder give way.
"'E pissed on me! 'E pissed on me! I ought to kill you for that, you stinkin' little maggot!" Dalgumhâl howled. Growling fiercely, the orc squeezed Fritha in a savage embrace. A sharp gasp escaped the little boy's mouth as the air was driven from his lungs, and he wondered if his ribs had been broken. "You little scum, I don't 'ave time to play with you now! Maybe later - the trip back is a long one! There'll be plenty of time for fun with me. You might grow to like ol' Dalgumhâl!" Grabbing a handful of loose skin on Fritha's belly, the orc gave the flesh a savage wrench, bringing a shriek of pain to the boy's lips.
Stomping his way to the willows along the stream bank, Dalgamhâl threw the little boy sprawling to the ground. Addled and dizzy, Fritha was hurting too badly to put up any fight as Dalgumhâl rolled him roughly over on his stomach. The orc wrenched the little boy's arms behind his back and tied them together, mumbling obscene curses to himself. Fritha closed his eyes, grimacing with the pain as the orc wrapped the cord tightly around his ankles. A low sob escaped his lips.
"Stop your sniveling, you little beggar! You ought to be glad we caught you! You can go back to your mama soon, but not before ol' Dalgumhâl pays you back for the trouble you've caused 'im!" the orc cackled ominously.
Gasping for breath, Fritha fought the waves of agony which washed over his body. Summoning up his courage and strength, he choked out in Rohirric, "You will not be saying that long, because the elves will get you! This forest is filled with them! They are my friends and they will kill you for hurting me!" He knew his hopeful threat would never come to pass, but it was the first thing that came to his mind.
"Ho, ho, ho! The pig is squealin' in 'is own language!" Dalgumhâl jeered. "But both of us can understand 'is jabberin', cos we was taught by Intelligence, ay', we was! But, ooo, just you wait, you little kranklob-pulal! When we find your brothers, we'll 'ave the three of you dancin' to the splendid tune of the flail as we whip the skin off your legs!" Jumping quickly, his arms upraised, his curling talons extended, Dalgumhâl feigned a lunge at the boy, causing him to shriek and attempt to squirm away.
Laughing, the orc glared down at him, and Fritha was terrified that the monster would do him more harm. But with another curse, Dalgumhâl turned and stalked back towards the oak. Weeping quietly, Fritha turned his head to the side and gazed up into the drooping boughs of the willows. Suddenly, he felt a slight trembling of the ground beneath him, as though a something had moved under the surface. He turned hopeful eyes towards the great oak, but saw only the long, crooked stob and the woody spur that made up the tree's nose and chin. Still, he was certain he had felt the earth tremble, and dared to hope that the old tree would somehow rescue them.
While all this had been going on, Frumgár had been sound asleep on his tall perch. Gradually, though, his sleeping mind became aware of unfamiliar voices, and at the sound of Fritha's loud cries, he came to full wakefulness. In spite of his fear of heights, Frumgár looked down through the branches, and the scene below was one which filled him with terror.
"Fritha! The orcs have found us and captured Fritha! How can I help him? I must help him somehow!" Desperately, he looked around for some weapon, but there was nothing but the boughs of the tree. Now the brothers' troubles had grown even worse, for the orcs had seen him and were gesturing and pointing in his direction. Frumgár groaned, feeling utterly helpless.
He knew he could not help Fritha, but he would not let his brother go back into slavery alone. There was nothing to do but to climb down and let the orcs take him prisoner. Closing his eyes, he sighed in resignation. There had been such hopes of escaping, but now they were all dashed to bits! Frumgár hoped that Fródwine was far away and would be clever enough to evade falling into the hands of the enemy. Maybe at least one of them could make the journey back to Rohan, he considered sadly.
Bracing himself against the fork of the tree, Frumgár stood up and shouted down at the orcs in broken Westron. "I am Frumgár, brother of this boy, and if you promise to let no harm befall him, I will come down!"
"You whining little milksop, speak in your own language, not your tortured wreckage of Westron! At least we can understand it! Now get down here and get down here fast!" the big uruk yelled up.
"I said I am coming down!" Frumgár repeated irritably, in Rohirric this time.
"Oo, oo! Another pretty boy with long golden 'air!" Dalgumhâl snorted, cackling obscenely and slapping his thigh. "We better not let these two in sight of ol' Sharapul the Man-swiver, or 'e'd pull their breeches down and 'ave 'em both right there! Har har! I'll bet the Southrons will make a fortune sellin' these two to some elegant tavern in Nurn, where the lords like to sport with the little dancing bunny boys!"
"No, Frumgár! Stay up there!" Fritha shouted frantically, struggling to work his wrists out of the ropes. Twisting his neck to the side, he strained to see his brother through the branches.
"Be quiet, you stinking brat!" Dalgumhâl shouted at Fritha. "Or I'll give you something to squeal about!"
The big uruk glared up at Frumgár. "Come down now! Try any tricks, and we'll pile wood around the base of this tree and smoke you like a ham!"
"Fritha, I must surrender to them! If I do not, they will burn me out of the tree!" Ignoring his brother's pleas, Frumgár began to climb down the tree as the two orcs stared up at him, laughing scornfully.
Their attention directed towards Frumgár as he made his slow, careful descent from the oak, the orcs did not notice as an almost imperceptible mist began to appear around the bole of the great tree. The hazy vapor thickened and grew, spreading like fog across the clearing and into the trees beyond. Fritha stared expectantly at the oak, but the face of Oakheart was still locked within the gray bark. Yet Fritha sensed that the tree was somehow responsible for the thin cloud of mist. Oakheart was going to help them! Fritha felt joy surging inside him. "No, Frumgár!" the little boy cried out. "Do not come down! Stay where you are! The tree will save us!"
"Wot's this about a tree?" Suspicion rose in Dalgumhâl's voice as he looked all about him and saw the gathering vapor. His one good eye darted about nervously. "Mate, how can this be? The sun is shinin' brightly, and a fog is risin'! It's only late afternoon!" He started backing away from the tree, almost stumbling over a root which he had not noticed - or which had not been there before. Just out of the range of hearing, there seemed to be a low din of voices softly whispering among themselves, or was that only the orc's frightened imagination?
"It ain't nothing but a little haze rising from the stream, Dalgumhâl! We'll soon have both of 'em!" the uruk exclaimed boastfully as he folded his arms over his chest and prepared to wait for Frumgár to climb down from the tree.
"I don't like it!" Dalgumhâl exclaimed anxiously. "I can barely see for the fog, and now the ground is startin' to rumble! Can't you feel it? Forget the boys! Let's get out of 'ere! The place is 'aunted by elves, just like the boy said!" The orc's eyes darted around, searching for a speedy path of retreat, but the path which they had followed into the clearing had disappeared!
Reaching the halfway point on his climb down, Frumgár was horrified to discover that he could not find his previous route down the tree. The mist was all about him now, and it seemed that boughs had grown up out of nowhere to block his way. He heard a hollow, wooden chuckle as the tip of a branch tickled his nose. Struggling to make his way through the trellising limbs, Frumgár found that that new shoots seemed to be growing up about him. He was enclosed in a branchy bower! "I am trapped up here!" he cried out, his panic rising. "I can barely see the tree now and I cannot find my way down!" Summoning up his courage, he looked towards the ground, but everything was now obscured by limbs and a heavy, swirling fog.
"We ain't running from a little mist, Dalgumhâl! We are going to wait right here until that wretched piece of dung climbs down!" The uruk craned his neck, but he could not see the boy high in the tree. The film of vapor was growing heavier, and the ground was shaking, as though great roots were being pulled from the earth. Maybe Dalgumhâl was right after all. Maybe this grove was cursed by evil spirits!
"I'm getting out of 'ere, mate! I'm not staying!" Dalgumhâl turned to run, but discovered that the fog had grown thicker, surrounding him. Narrowing his eyes, he squinted through the murk and tried to find his fellow, but he could barely see his outline through the heavy gloom.
"Help me! Help me, Dalgumhâl!" the big uruk suddenly bellowed in horror. "Something has grabbed me by the foot! I can't move!"
"'Elp yourself, mate!" came the shrill cry of the smaller orc. "I 'ave trouble enough meself! I can't see where I am going! This mist has blinded me, and something is wrapping itself around my leg!" Dalgumhâl shrieked as he desperately tried to free himself.
Fritha could see nothing for the encompassing misty vapors which had turned the day to a dismal twilight. The screams of the orcs and the thundering of the ground echoed through the grove, the horrifying sounds reverberating in his ears. Bound and helpless, he was bounced about by the fierce shaking underneath him. He closed his eyes tightly, not wanting to know what was happening. As he prayed that Frumgár was safe, he felt the feathery touch of a willow frond brush gently against the side of his face.
At last the earth stopped shaking. With great trepidation, Fritha slowly opened his eyes, and to his astonishment, discovered that the orcs were nowhere to be seen. Except for a slight haziness, the grove of willows and oaks was just as it had appeared when the boys had arrived there early that morning. It was as though the orcs had never been there.
The way clear once again, Frumgár quickly scurried down from the tree and rushed to where Fritha lay. "Fritha, you are all right!" he exclaimed breathlessly as he panted from his efforts. He quickly untied his brother, and Fritha sat up, rubbing his rope-burnt wrists. "What happened to the orcs? Did you see?"
"The trees ate them," Fritha exclaimed enthusiastically. "Gobbled them right down!"
"Fritha, do not be ridiculous! What really happened to them?" Frumgár demanded, looking about for their two tormentors.
"Well, I did not see exactly what happened to them, because everything was hidden in the mist," Fritha explained. "I heard them yelling and cursing, but then they just stopped and all was quiet. When the mists cleared, the orcs were not there anymore." Fritha shrugged and then stared Frumgár right in the eye. "The trees ate them! Why will you not believe me, Frumgár?"
"Because trees do not do things like that." Frumgár paused, his voice trailing off "But if any tree could really do such a thing, it would be that strange oak." Frumgár's eyes went to two stobs on the trunk which looked suspiciously like a nose and a chin. The orcs were gone, though, and now they were safe - or were they? This grove had a strange feeling about it, and Frumgár wanted to leave it as quickly as possible.
"I cannot wait to tell Fródwine about this!" Fritha giggled.
Frumgár's brow wrinkled disapprovingly as he considered their elder brother's response to such a wild tale. "I do not think we should," he stated firmly. Already, he could hear Fródwine's mocking laughter in his mind.
"Why not?" Disappointed, Fritha's lower lip extended in a pout.
"Fródwine would never believe us and would only laugh." Pausing for a moment, Frumgár forced a smile. "Let this be our little secret."
"A secret?" Fritha considered the suggestion, then brightened. "I like secrets! This will be our secret. Fródwine is mean and does not deserve to hear about the talking tree, the orcs, and how everything turned out right in the end!" Grinning, the little boy searched the tree's trunk, hoping to see the face of Oakheart once more, but other than the crooked stob and the knobby spur, the tree looked just like any other ancient oak.
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.