32. Fast Track
"Are you sure we're heading the right way?" Firin whispered. The blazing torches indicated that the place was inhabited, but beyond that…
"Caradhras is a huge mountain, and most of the goblins are dead," Khamul said.
"Oh, from the war."
"Yeah. You know about that?" The War of the Dwarves and Orcs didn't seem like something the average ten year old would know about.
Firin nodded. "I read a lot."
He's from a wealthy family then, but he doesn't look like it. He looks more like the stable boy who works for a wealthy family. But the stable boy wouldn't be allowed to read.
"I hear voices," Firin whispered, his eyes widening as he looked up ahead.
"Don't do anything," Khamul snapped. She drew her sword and slowly walked down the tunnel.
There was a small cluster of goblins huddled around a large firepit. They were roasting something, and arguing about who got which piece.
"I say I get that bit right there!" one snarled. "I did most of the work!"
"Naw, you didn'! You bastard! You ough' not get any!"
There was a roar among the goblins as one small, weaselly one snatched a piece of the meat and scurried away into the corner. It was quickly set upon by the others and the piece of meat was returned to the spit when the offender was dead.
"Hey! You lot!" Khamul yelled, walking over to them.
"Is that what you do with goblins?" Firin muttered, watching her. His eyes widened alarmingly at the sight of the goblins. They were certainly a lot bigger in life than in the books.
The goblins were on their feet in a second, swords drawn, teeth bared. "Who you?" one grunted.
"Khamul. Where's Grish?"
"You know the leader?" the most coherent of the goblins asked.
"Yes. Where is he?"
The goblins exchanged looks and muttered back and forth. The coherent one stepped forward. "Though we are always glad to be of service, we fear we can't tell you where King Grish is."
"How about I start cutting body parts off until someone does?" Khamul asked.
There was another hurried discussion.
"If you give us the boy, we'll tell you."
"No. Tell me now." Khamul drew her dagger. With a sharp piece of metal in both her hands, the goblins began to pale.
"He went south," the spokesman said. "To Methedras, we think. That's where his throne is."
"Did he take any prisoners with him?"
The goblins exchanged looks that were almost painfully guilty. "Er… We don't know what you're talking about," the spokesman said.
"I'll give you five seconds," Khamul said. "Prisoners. Dead, alive, what?"
"Uhhh… Just one answer?"
Khamul rolled her eyes. "What happened to them?"
"Well…King Grish took some prisoners with him. Three, we think. Maybe one more or less. As for the others…" The goblins shuffled so they hid the fire and the roasting meat.
There was a gasp from Firin, and Khamul just frowned. "How many were in the party originally?"
"Er…twenty? Maybe more? We didn't count. Killed a lot in the battle. King Grish wanted them alive though. He was angry about that."
"Why did he want them?" Khamul asked. "Tons of travelers cross this mountain. They could've been heavily armed –"
"Oh, they were."
"Then why go after them? That's suicide!"
"Grish made us," the spokesman said with a bitter frown. "Lots of us died. But we got them!"
"Why though? Why?!"
The goblins shrugged. "We don't know."
"He just told you to go out and nab a party of traveling humans?"
The goblins conversed once more. "The mountain was acting a bit strange," the spokesman said. "Er…stranger."
Khamul heaved a sigh. "What did Caradhras say?"
The goblins exchanged glances again. "It didn't say anything," the spokesman said. "Though we're sure it…speaks."
Khamul was beginning to get the suspicion that these goblins thought she was insane. "What did it do?"
"The path was clear. It's never clear this time of year. King Grish thought it was a sign, and he told us to capture the travelers."
"Was there a woman with them?" Firin asked suddenly. "Is she alive?"
"Er…" The goblins exchanged glances once more. "Yes…we think so."
Firin smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. "She's alive!"
"Why does he care?" the spokesman asked.
"She's his mother," Khamul said. "I know you don't understand… Why are you staring at me like that?"
"Nothing, nothing!" the spokesman exclaimed. "Nothing! No reason! King Grish took all prisoners – the woman included – to Methedras! We can show you a tunnel to get you there faster!"
The other goblins all nodded eagerly.
They definitely think I'm insane. "Right. Lead the way," Khamul said. "But put those weapons away now. Anyone draws one and I'll cut their head off, all right?"
The goblins all nodded and weapons disappeared. One quickly stamped out the fire and seized the meat on the spit. There was a brief scuffle, but they were soon on their way, each goblin smacking contentedly on a bit of stringy meat.
"They're disgusting," Firin whispered.
"Of course they are; they're goblins," Khamul said.
"They're eating a person!"
"I didn't think they'd be like this."
"What? So damn stupid?" Khamul muttered.
"Is that all you noticed?"
"And they've got such big teeth! And they're eating people!"
"Yes," Khamul said patiently, though with more than a trace of exasperation in her voice. "See? Books don't teach you anything."
Firin sighed. "I suppose not." Then he smiled. "If you can talk to this King Grish like you did these goblins, we should be fine though. Right?"
"Yeah," Khamul said. Grish had already showed total and utter disregard for her orders. If she wanted the prisoners, she was going to have to cut his head off and show the rest of the measly little maggots who was boss.
"I think it'd be a good thing if we could rescue Mother without having to kill anyone," Firin said. He cast a fearful glance at one of the goblins.
"When you get back to your home," Khamul said, "never leave it again, all right? And by that I mean you can leave your house, but just don't go wandering off like this again. Now that you've had a taste of adventure, go home and stay there."
Firin nodded weakly. He looked completely dejected. The goblins began laughing and jabbering at each other.
"Hurry up, you slime!" Khamul snarled at them, kicking one in the backside. "I want to get to Methedras as soon as possible."
"Oho!" one cackled. "Soon possible! Oho!"
"What's it saying?" Khamul snarled.
"What Snorb is trying to say is that he knows a way to get to Methedras faster than through the tunnels," the spokesman said.
"Fast, fast!" Snorb said, nodding.
"Is he an idiot?" Khamul asked.
"Language isn't his strong suit," the spokesman said.
"Is he talkin' 'bout the track?" the last goblin asked.
"Track! Fast! Fast track!" Snorb laughed.
"Yes, he is," the spokesman said.
"What's that?" Khamul asked.
"The dwarves used to live here before we came," the spokesman said. "They used to live all throughout the Misty Mountains. And, like you, they wanted to get from one point to another very fast. So they built the track."
"What is it?"
"We'll show you," the spokesman said. The goblin took an abrupt left turn and began heading up, snatching a torch off its bracket as he went.
"One false move," Khamul hissed, her hand on her sword.
"Fast track! Fast track!" Snorb cackled with glee. "Fast, faster, fastest! Wheee!"
They walked up for nearly a mile before the ground leveled out. Khamul was beginning to wonder if they'd end up on top of the mountain. "Here we are," the spokesman said. "They're mostly broken, but Snorb fixed this one up."
Khamul wasn't sure whether to trust anything made by Snorb.
"Fix good!" Snorb said, clapping his hands. "Fast, fast!"
Before them, stretching into the gloom, was a mining car on what looked for all the world like an ordinary mining track.
"Looks like the normal stuff you see in a mine," Khamul said. "What's so special about it?"
"It runs all the way to Methedras," the spokesman said. "There's rumored to be one on the other side of Moria that runs all the way to Gundabad. Haven't gone looking for that one though. On account of the Thing."
"The Thing? Oh, the balrog."
The three goblins shivered. "No like!" Snorb shrieked. "Nasty, nasty fire! Biting, dark fire! No good!"
"You aren't good yourself," Khamul muttered. "How do you work it?" she asked, gesturing to the track.
"Well, you get in the car," the spokesman said. "Then you pull this lever here, and there's this spring that pushes the car forward. And – don't quite know how it works – but somehow that spring manages to carry you all the way to Methedras."
"Works! Fast, fast!" Snorb cried.
"Do you trust them?" Firin asked.
Khamul snorted. "No."
"Should we give it a try though? We might even get there ahead of Grish."
"I doubt it. Still, we'll save a lot of time."
"We've tried it," the spokesman said. "Works fine for us. Besides, Snorb's a good mechanic. Even if he lacks other qualities."
"What I'm wondering," Khamul said, "is why you're doing this. What do you stand to gain?"
The spokesman smiled. "Grish won't last forever," he said. "When he dies, remember your good friends Arc, Hurk, and Snorb."
Khamul nodded. "All right, I will," she said. "Come on, Firin. Let's give this thing a try." Warily, the two climbed into the mining car.
"Hold on tight!" Arc exclaimed as Snorb raced over to the lever. "It goes very fast!"
"Fast, fast!" Snorb yelled, pulling on the lever.
At first, nothing happened, then something shoved the cart forward and it hurtled down a track that sloped downwards.
The speed was so great and so sudden that Khamul was nearly thrown from the cart. She clutched onto the edges of the cart with all her strength. Next to her, Firin's face was white and his eyes were closed. He was muttering under his breath.
The cart didn't even begin to slow down after the initial burst of speed, instead it seemed to be gaining speed. Khamul wondered how the spring could be enough to keep it going this fast.
"I think I'm going to be sick!" Firin groaned.
"Don't even think about it!" Khamul roared. "No! Do not vomit! Do not!" I think I might though, she thought. If I had anything in my stomach.
Firin turned green suddenly and went limp, falling to the bottom of the cart. Well, at least he can't fall out now, Khamul thought.
The ride continued for almost two hours before the cart reached level ground where it began to slow down. Khamul was starting to get dizzy, and when the cart hit a padded wall, slamming to a halt, she joined Firin at the bottom of the cart.
"What happened?" he muttered.
"I think we've arrived," Khamul said.
"We're not dead."
"I know, remarkable, isn't it?"
"Why did those goblins ask you to remember them?"
"Question for another time," Khamul mumbled, staggering to her feet. She had a feeling that the first step she took, she'd fall down.
Somehow she got out of the cart, and then promptly fell down.
"Are you all right?" Firin asked.
"Yeah, yeah, 'm fine. Just fine. Give me a minute." Khamul dragged herself to her feet. "Give me a minute," she repeated.
It actually took ten minutes before she and Firin were ready to continue their journey.
Khamul took a deep breath and started walking toward a tunnel. There was a dim light coming from somewhere up ahead. And where there was a light, there would be goblins. And Grish.
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.