Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 13, Part 13
in the Dark
(October 23, 1451)
Frodo spilled out the
water from his ink-case, dried it and the brush out
carefully, and put it all back into his pack, along with
the letter he'd been writing to wake himself up. He had
second watch. Merry slept fitfully nearby, muttering in
his sleep, but try though he might, Frodo could not
understand a word of it. So he just hugged his knees,
uncomfortable in his mail, his sword strapped awkwardly
to his side. He stared out at the mountains, jagged
against the stars, and remembered Legolas saying that
parts of Mordor looked something like that.
The elf, of
course, was nowhere to be found. "He wants something
from the ruins," Frodo said softly to himself, then
in his mind amended it, No, not wants--needs. The
fire crackled and gave an orange glow to everything
nearby. Frodo struggled to see beyond that glow, waiting
for the moon to rise, and he strove to listen beyond the
crackling for anything suspicious--like maybe the howling
of a wolf. But the land between the mountains and the
firelight drowned in mystery around him. He couldn't
imagine exploring such treacherous terrain in the dark,
himself--why, just in setting up camp he nearly fell into
what Legolas said had once been a basement, but to him
just looked like another rock-walled pit. Stones shifted
underfoot. Obstacles appeared out of nowhere. He'd found
himself taking very slow steps, in the ground-brushing
crescents that Merry had drilled him in, just to get the
supplies off of the ponies.
Instead of a wolf he heard footfalls, very soft, behind a
nearby boulder. "Legolas?" he asked. "Is
"Over here, Frodo," said Legolas, but from a
"Legolas! Watch out!" the hobbit cried, but a
blade-bearing creature already ran across the rocks and
leaped upon the elf, who struggled faster than Frodo
thought possible, but the beast in the dark kept pace.
Frodo ran to the elf's aid, drawing his sword...
...his flame-bright sword blazing cold blue light...
...but the two blurred together, so swiftly did they
grapple, forcing the jag-edged blade forward or holding
it back. If Legolas gave off a moonlit glimmering, this thing
phosphoresced with a slimy sheen like bogs and bugs and
rotted wood, yet Frodo could hardly tell where one left
off and the other began. An orc! Frodo thought. It
has to be! As Merry ran up behind, the creature
knocked Legolas unconscious with the pommel of its
sword--which made it clear who to attack! Frodo stabbed,
but something deflected his blade upward to nick the
monster's face. It shrieked with rage, licking the blood
from its jaw and hacking down at Frodo in...
Third position! Frodo blocked the blow that would
have cleaved him from left shoulder to right hip, as his
legs bent into a springy stance, and suddenly his mind
retreated into his daily practice. Somewhere in the
background he heard Merry screaming orc-words about a
sprained ankle, but he didn't dare look at anything but
the blade in front of him. Black steel shrieked against
Sting's furious blue glare, yet the hobbit held his own.
Unfortunately, Frodo knew better how to defend than
attack, so that he found the monster herding him back,
and back, and back--right over the edge of the pit! Fear
shocked him more than the impact as he hurtled through
the air backwards and landed in a tumble so hard that his
head rang, but just like Merry taught him, he rolled and
got nothing more than nasty scrapes and bruises.
He barely had time to scramble to his feet before the orc
leaped in after him, grinning with a mouth full of fangs,
pounding at Sting till Frodo feared that his arm would
shatter. Plainly the creature slowed to match the
hobbit's amateur pace, just for the sport of it, to
prolong the hobbit's fear. Yet sparks flew in the dark as
sword met sword, as fast and furious as the hobbit could
stand. He heard Merry shouting instructions over the
pit's rim, but Frodo had no time to think of anything
except beating back the blade, while the creature
snickered and drooled, sometimes making appreciative
whines if Frodo parried well, but not with any mercy in
Legolas must've come to, because now arrows rained down
into the pit, only to snap harmlessly against the
creature's back. In a gravelly voice it called, "Do
you think this rat's the only one to dress in
mithril-mail? We own the only mine!" With
that it sliced straight through Frodo's defenses to slam
its blade into his side so hard that the blow threw him
against the pit's wall, yet the mail turned the edge and
Frodo pushed back against the stone as fast as he hit it,
and came out fighting.
"Rat-folk," the voice grated, rasping laughter.
"I've heard of your kind--spunky, are ya? The better
to play with. So you think you can match swords against a
knight of Curufin?" At that Legolas gasped.
"Yes, yes, my brother knows what I am," it
sneered, as a searing pain cut into Frodo's upper
sword-arm, but he tossed the sword to the other hand and
kept on fighting for his life. "Very good, very
good, my little Rat, oh you do have the fun in you, don't
you, pretty Rat!" as he hacked at Frodo's
foot, but the hobbit leaped back just in time--straight
into a corner of rock that he couldn't fight out of.
A deeper, delayed pain began to ache now in Frodo's arm,
and fear shook him to feel the depth of the wound. He'd
had no practice in fighting right-handed; he flailed about
and let his enemy in. To escape in close quarters, he
tried one of the grapples that Merry'd taught him, but it
took both hands and the wound weakened his grip; the
creature grabbed Sting in a mailed fist and almost
wrenched it from his grasp. Its breath stank hot and
strong as it laughed in Frodo's face...
Legolas called down in halting Quendi, "You want to
kill me--why waste your time on him?"
"I don't speak that tongue anymore!" the
thing snarled. "Language of traitors! Language of
liars and deceivers who abandon all those foolish enough
to believe in them!" But in turning to the elf the
orc let down its guard just enough for Frodo to strike a
blow--turned by the orc's own mail. That still gave Frodo the
chance to squeeze past the gasping monster to a better
position, sweat running in his eyes, blood streaming down
his arm, dizzy and terrified but still holding up his
The orc howled, "Praise be to Melkor for showing me
the error of my ways!" It punctuated its words with
metal clanging against metal, beating Frodo back again.
"Praise be to the Father of All Darkness and the
Thief of Light! Praise be to the Tormentor who shows that
only pain is true, pain will never leave you or break
faith with you! Learn, Rat, the lessons of almighty pain!"
But Frodo ducked the blow headed straight for his head,
and the sword clove sparks from the rock instead. He'd
gotten the rhythms of the orc's harangues, and saw that
the blows matched the words exactly. He just had to keep
the orc talking.
"You used to be an elf," he panted, fending off
It laughed with hatred in its eyes. "You know! You
know! A scholar among rats! We all used to be simpering,
infantile hypocrites called elves till
we saw the Dark, when Melkor took us prisoner to improve
us, where he smelted out the dross of lies, the soft
delights, the fancies of the vapid light, and made us
hard and cold as steel, praise be to the purifying fire
of his whips!" All the time that it ranted, in
rhythm to its words, it rained down blows upon the
weakening hobbit, who strove to keep his footing on stone
made slippery as he bled. "But did any of our
erstwhile brothers ride forth to our rescue? No! They
turned on us, every one, for seeing through their
lies..." and the orc faltered for just an
instant..."HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME REMEMBER!"
It hacked at Frodo so savagely that the hobbit flew
through the air and landed gasping on the ground,
clutching at his side, amazed that the mail still held,
while his arm throbbed blood and he felt his strength ebb
fast. The orc leaped astraddle of the hobbit and raised
its sword. "I who have seen the light of Valinor
consumed, I who once knew--and renounced-- the beauty,
the glory of..."
"You want it, don't you," Legolas called.
"What I have."
"Yes!" the goblin hissed, turning. "You
have no idea what...ARRRRRGH!" Frodo plunged
Sting up under the orc's mail shirt from below, and the
hot blood gushed down on him, and he rolled out of the
way before the thing could topple on him.
But it didn't die immediately, lying sprawled there on
the stone. "You have no idea...brother...what you
play with," it moaned to Legolas, as Frodo staggered
to his feet. "I...felt it...from afar. It
could...restore to me...all that I once...was. But
you...it shall...destroy." And then the horrid
phosphorescence slowly faded into night.
Merry asked, "What is it, Legolas?" while Frodo
stood there, trying to catch his breath and keep his
balance when the world spun 'round so violently.
"What do you have that an orc could want?"
"Not enough," the elf replied, as he slipped
down the rope that Merry lowered, and then caught Frodo
just as the hobbit fainted.