4. Black Hearts
The Nimrodel fork, Northern Fields of Celebrant,
The border of Lothlorien,
January 24th, 3018 of the Third Age,
The smell was terrible, and he suddenly felt dizzy, his head filling with the rancid odor. "I smell elf-flesh." Uglûk spat, trying to spew the taste from his mouth.
"Where, boss?" whispered a small orc crouching nearby. "I don't smell `em."
Looking down at the little maggot, Uglûk's anger flared. "Shut your trap." He grabbed the small orc by the throat. "You Moria pigs are all the same. Keep your mouth shut till I ask a question. If you give us away to the stinkin' elves I'll gut you. Got it?"
Not waiting for an answer, Uglûk tossed the little orc to the ground. He looked through the bushes at the golden wood stretching before him. "Where are they?"
Everything looked peaceful, but he could smell the stench of the elves and knew they were hiding somewhere close by. Cursing under his breath, he stalked back to the deep cover of the woods where his warband waited. It was the darkest covering of shade his scouts could find and still the Moria orcs were acting pathetically.
"You maggots are worthless, whimpering in the shadows," he said, walking into the midst of the orc camp. "A little yellow light and you're good for nothin'. We're the fighting Uruk-hai!," he shouted, beating his chest. "And we don't fear sunlight. Better get used to it! This is how we do things now, no time for skulking only at night. Work's got to be done and there's fightin' to do!"
Uglûk glowered at a force of eighty Uruk-hai and over a hundred Moria conscripts pressed into service. He'd forced them out of their comfortable holes in the dark. He hated them, but he hated the elves more and so he'd planned on whipping the Moria maggots till he got results.
"Get ready to move…" shouted Uglûk, but then was interrupted by a group of Uruk-hai nosily barging into the camp. "What you got there, boys?" he said.
The big orcs struggled with a small thing, wriggling and writhing in their strong grip. Three of them fought with the little creature, struggling as they neared Uglûk.
"Don't rightly know what this thing is," grumbled an Uruk-hai named Lugdush. "Got a nasty bite, though."
They tossed the wrinkly thing onto the ground and Uglûk kicked it until it stopped moving. "What are you?" he said.
But the thing cowered beneath, making no sound other than a strange gurgling in its throat, gollum…. gollum.
Lugdush stepped forward. "Should I kill it, boss?"
"Wait, I want to know what it knows," said Uglûk. "Then we kill it." Looking down at the strange creature he continued, "What are you doing here?"
After several minutes of whimpering the thing finally muttered, "We was only minding our business, weren't we, Precious? Catching nice fishses we was. So hungry we was in the long dark, oh yesss, so hungry. All we wanted was bright fishses. So crunchable…"
"What 'dark' are you talking about?" shouted Uglûk, kicking the creature again.
"Oh, we've been everywhere, haven't we Precious?" The creature's big, bulbous eyes glowed faintly within the dark shadows of the trees. "We are so tired, yesss yesss, so tired and worn thin. There was little food in the long dark."
"So you've come from the Mines of Moria then?" guessed Uglûk.
"Oh, so long in the cool dark, yessss Precious, but no food. We found no food, but nasty orcses. And now we're dragged out under the Yellow-face. We hates it."
Uglûk smashed his foot on the ground. "If I hear another thing complain about workin' in the sunlight, I'll shove my scimitar down its throat and twist!"
The creature howled, sobbing, "No, no, we doesn't know what he wants, no we don't."
Uglûk shouted, "I want to know what you're doing here?"
"Following the Bagginses we was. But now the Precious is with the White Lady and we can't follow in there can we, Precious? We can't go in with the nasty elveses. They'll catch us." The creature lay on his back, rubbing his long hands together, licking them like a dog.
"What is Baggins?" Uglûk stepped on the creature's throat.
Gollum…. gollum, it croaked.
"What is Baggins?" repeated Uglûk, taking his foot off.
"Hobbitses," said the creature, "hobbitses with the Precious."
"Hobbitses?" shouted Uglûk, "what is hobbitses?"
"And what is a Precious?" asked Lugdush.
"They has the Precious, don't they, Precious? He has the Precious in with the White Lady and we can't get to it. Tricksy hobbitses has the Precious where we can't get it." The creature sobbed harder.
"Useless," said Uglûk, "Put this thing in chains. See if a little fire will loosen its tongue."
Lugdush hauled the creature away, spitting, biting, and screaming.
Uglûk looked around. "I need a runner! One from Isengard." A little goblin was shoved forward out of the mob. His legs were long and spindly, with wide bare feet. "You better be fast," Uglûk growled. "Don't get caught and don't get killed, until after you deliver my message, got it?"
The goblin bobbed his head.
"Good," continued Uglûk. "This message is for no one but the White Hand hisself, understand?" He led the little goblin aside, lowering his voice. "Tell the Master: The group we're tracking is holed up in the Golden Wood, and we can't reach `em, but we're waitin' on the other side. Also tell him: We found a creature who says they have something called hobbitses with them. Don't know what that is, but he might. Also: They're carryin' some sorta treasure or weapon." Uglûk grabbed the goblin by the throat, lifting him off the ground. "Got that? Tell only the White Hand, now go." He flung the goblin away and as soon as it hit the ground it raced off through the trees.
* * *
The sun set early in the wood and the orcs quickly built fires. They'd stripped the surrounding foliage, hacking and slashing anything green until nothing was left alive. By the time the big fires blazed in that part of the Nimrodel vale nothing was left, only mud and the bones of leafless trees.
Annoyed by the writhing mob of Red-eye Moria conscripts, Uglûk stayed well away from the fires, sitting by himself within a complex of stony boulders jutting up from the ground. An uneasy feeling was growing in his belly, a strange feeling. Uglûk didn't fear anything. He didn't fear pain, he didn't fear death, and he certainly didn't fear elves or men. The only time he ever felt fearful was in the presence of his Master, but as he sat there with distant campfire light flashing around the rocks, the feeling was growing. He was nearly shaking when Old Man Sharku suddenly appeared in his little clearing, hooded, cloaked, and stooping upon his tall staff. Fear exploded within Uglûk and he fell to his knees trembling.
"Master," he said, annoyed that his voice shook. "You're here?"
The man's beautiful voice rolled out smoothly and very deep. "I came to tell you of a change in plans."
"Of course, whatever you wish. You already got my message?"
The voice boomed. "I received no message."
"I sent a runner."
"This very afternoon."
"Stand up and tell me all. Your messenger could not possibly have arrived at Orthanc already." Sharku shifted, switching the staff to his right hand. "Leave out no detail."
Uglûk retold the strange things the creature said, including the part about the hobbitses and the precious thing they carry. Uglûk looked up, finding Sharku's black eyes flashing. "So this is important news?" asked Uruk-hai.
"It confirms what I had rightly guessed." The Old Man strolled about the clearing, his head bowed thoughtfully within his deep hood. "I had it in mind to send you to Rohan to deal with the troublesome Prince, but now I see a far more important task. You must stay with this fellowship cowering in the Golden Wood. You must not, under any circumstance, lose track of them. Understand?"
Uglûk bowed his head. "I do, Master They will not shake me."
"I must recover this weapon they carry. Do you understand? I must have it for the war. You need to destroy this fellowship and take the little ones captive. I must learn for myself how deeply they are embedded into the Counsel's plans. The Hobbits cannot be harmed. Do you understand me?"
"I understand, sir."
"And I need this thing they carry," he repeated.
"You will have it."
The Old Man continued to paced around the clearing. "Why Halflings?" he said softly to himself. "They are pathetic creatures of little use. I must know why the great minds choose to rely upon such dull, dimwitted creatures."
"I will bring them to you."
"Unspoiled," said the Master. "And also, I want to speak to this captive you have. Where is it?"
"One of my soldiers has him over…" Uglûk looked up as several arrows streaked in from the tree line.
The shots came in directly at the Old Man, but passed through him as if he were made of mist. The arrows clattered off the rocks inches away from Uglûk, the image of the old man completely unaffected by the shots, though they went straight through him.
Jerking his scimitar from the scabbard, Uglûk leapt in front of the old man. "We are under attack."
"Elves in the trees!" shouted the Old Man. "Take me to the captive now."
"Yessir." Uglûk led the way out of the clearing.
Arrows rained down, killing many of the orcs before they knew what was happening. Elves in bright armor dashed all around the orc camp striking and then disappearing beyond the bonfire light.
"Return fire, you maggots!" shouted Uglûk as he ran. "Cowards! I'll skin you all unless you fight."
"Get me to the prisoner!" shouted the old man.
"Right this way, sir."
Uglûk came around a tent, finding his way blocked by a score of elves. Bellowing at the top of his lungs he didn't hesitate, lunging straight at the enemy. Lifting his huge sword he swung it straight down, but the nearest elf dodged the strike and then dashed away, disappearing with the rest of the band into the gloom.
Uglûk screamed in frustration. "Hit and run, hit and run, that's all they ever do! Never stand and fight, always ambush and run away."
The Old Man suddenly shoved Uglûk in the back with shocking strength. "Get me to the prisoner."
"This way." Uglûk sprinted through a narrow fence of sharpened stakes, running straight into Lugdush who was coming the other way.
"The prisoner?" shouted Uglûk.
Lugdush didn't see the Old Man and blurted out, "It's gone, escaped when the elves attacked."
"What did you say?" shouted Sharku, coming around Uglûk, pointing his staff at Lugdush.
Lugdush's slanted eyes went wide and he howled as if in sudden pain. "Escaped," he squealed, dropping to the ground, rolling as if on fire.
Grabbing Uglûk by the shoulder, the Old Man swung him around. "Find the Halflings and the weapon they carry." Fear made the huge Uruk-hai shake uncontrollably. "Don't fail me again," continued the Old Man, shoving Uglûk.
Sharku then walked into shadows beyond the fire and vanished.
Anger exploded in Uglûk and searching for the nearest elf, he dashed forward, black scimitar raised for the death stroke.
* * *
From his distant hiding place Grisnâgk turned, snickering. "I guess them Uruks will feel elvish steel in their belly."
"Shouldn't we go help them fight the elves?" asked the orc next to him.
Grisnâgk sneered. "What do I care about them stinkin' White-handers? Let the elves stick `em full of holes. I report to the Great Eye, not some upstart wizard."
"Right," said the orc.
Grisnâgk sniffed the wind, smelling the little goblin runner. Nudging the other orc next to him he said, "Get that little worm, Nudgud. I want to know why he's in such a hurry to visit the wizard."
Nudgud drew his bow, letting an arrow fly. It caught the little runner goblin in the upper thigh and he went down like a stuck deer. Grisnâgk left the cover of the bushes, shambling over to the fallen orc.
"Why such a hurry, eh?" he said, kicking the arrow protruding from the little goblin's leg. When the runner stopped screaming Grisnâgk repeated, "Why you runnin'?"
"You best talk," added Nudgud, "we'll kill ya quicker. What do ya know?"
The little runner whimpered. "The group we's trackin's holed up in the Golden Wood, we's just waitin' on the other side. But we also caught that creature who says they have something what's called hobbitses and some sorta special treasure."
Grisnâgk grinned, his crooked fangs poking out past his green lips. "Very nice. You done well to tell me this," he said, looking down at the wounded goblin. Then turning to Nudgud he continued, "Kill him quick." Grisnâgk didn't look back as he shuffled away.
It didn't take long for him to leave his small scouting party and alone climb a rocky hill. Like a foul odor he could feel his fear building as he neared, and yet the feeling gave him a thrill. Finally, Grisnâgk climbed a huge boulder and coming to the top, fell to his knees.
A huge, winged beast roared at him. It's long neck finishing in a gaping mouth full of dagger-like teeth. With great webbed wings unfurled, it raised up on it's hind legs, beating the air. But this fell beast didn't cause the fear immobilizing Grisnâgk, it was the black-hooded rider sitting upon it.
A grinding voice smote the air, sending goose flesh crawling over Grisnâgk's cracked skin. "Do not come before the Nazgûl without news of great import."
The orc shivered. "I have news lord, about the Walkers that came from Moria."
"They are hidden in the Golden Wood…"
"This I already know," said the Nazgûl, his voice blasting the orc, knocking Grisnâgk backwards.
"But… bbbbut, my lord," said Grisnâgk, stuttering. "They have Halflings with them. Halflings travel among the Nine Walkers."
"Eight, now," rumbled the Nazgûl's voice. The fell beast roared again, lifting his terrible head high. "Halflings you say?"
"Then you will stay with the leader of these Uruk-hai, do you understand? Stay with them, watching carefully.
The Halflings and what they carry must not fall into the White Hand."
"Yes, lord. I will kill the wizards' orcs before I let them get the weapon."
"The Dark Lord's attention is upon you. Do not fail."
"I will be watching as well."
Suddenly, the fell beast launched skyward, screaming as it climbed high into the night sky. Grisnâgk looked up as the great bat-like wings spread out, blotting the stars and filling the darkness with even greater darkness.
"I will be watching," repeated the voice, striking the orc from above like a bolt of lightning.
The Fellowship of the Ring: "The Shadow of the Past," p. 60-61; "Three Is Company," p. 78, 83-94; "A Short Cut to Mushrooms," passim; "A Conspiracy Unmasked," p. 109, 112-13, 117-18; "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony," p. 164, 172; "Strider," p. 176-77, 180-81, 185-86; "A Knife in the Dark," p. 188-89, 200-2, 206-8; "Flight to the Ford," passim; "Many Meetings," p. 231-36; "The Council of Elrond," p. 254-55, 258-59, 263, 269-78, 280; "The Ring Goes South," p. 285-92, 299; "A Journey in the Dark," p. 308; "The Great River, p. 403
The Two Towers: "The Riders of Rohan," p. 39; "The Uruk-hai," p. 49, 55; "The White Rider," p. 101; "The Palantir," p. 201, 204-5; "The Taming of Smeagol," p. 213; "The Passage of the Marshes," p. 236-37; 242-43; The Black Gate Is Closed," p. 253; "The Forbidden Pool," p. 301-2; "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol," p. 314-16; "The Choices of Master Samwise," p. 347-48
The Return of the King: "Minas Tirith," p. 19, 38; "The Muster of Rohan," p. 66; "The Siege of Gondor," p. 82-83, 89-97, 101-3; "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields," p. 115-20; "The Black Gate Opens," p. 168; "The Tower of Cirith Ungol," p. 192; "The Land of Shadow," p. 193-94, 196; "Mount Doom," p. 215, 223, 224; "The Field of Cormallen," p. 226
Appendix A of The Lord of the Ring: "The North-kingdom and the Dunedain," p. 320-22; "Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion," p. 331-33; "The Stewards," p. 333
Appendix B of The Lord of the Rings: "The Tale of Years," passim
Unfinished Tales: "The Hunt for the Ring," passim
The Silmarillion: "Akallabeth," p. 267; "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age," p. 289, 296-97, 299-300, 302-3
The History of Middle-earth, vol. VII, The Treason of Isengard: "The Great River," p. 365 note 8
The History of Middle-earth, vol. VIII, The War of the Ring: "The Passage of the Marshes," p. 119-20
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: Letters #156, #210, #212, #246, #297
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