In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 10, Part 81
Cat and Mouse
(February 6, 1452)
Painfully, but with much hope in his heart, Frodo hobbled towards Seaside, leaning heavily on his staff. That latest exchange with Sauron went rather well, he thought; perhaps May's glass helped him catch the flaws in the erstwhile Dark Lord's arguments.
He could use a few encouragements like that, on the path he trod. The rough terrain looked all the steeper to a traveler with an injured foot, and took far longer to traverse than he had reckoned on, so that by the time he reached the brink of the plateau above the village, sunset incandesced in the west, in colors so brilliant that he had to stop and gasp. Many days had passed since he'd had the pleasure of Arien's evening farewell. Clouds seemed to home in on the sun, in curling streams of fire-hues that radiated from an orb of brilliant red. Frodo smiled, weary though he felt, for his injured foot seemed a small thing next to so much splendor. "You cannot emulate her fiery eye, O Sauron, struggle though you might."
He doubled over in a spasm with a cry, but soon climbed back up from his knees, panting, for the attack fizzled almost before it began. Despite Sauron's blow Frodo found himself grinning. "What, no slave near enough to draw upon? And so you emptied yourself of power again, on a moment's impulse! Good--I shall enjoy the silence."
He raised his eyes to the sea of Nurnen beyond the village, painted with the twilight's flame, bright against the shore's blue shadows, ever-restless, unconquerably beautiful for all her monsters and pollution. "Some things," Frodo whispered, "nothing can mar completely."
He gazed up beyond the sunset as he tottered down the road. "Stars. Oh how I have missed you these past days! Ever the hope of the speaking peoples, gifts of Elbereth to bless the night." But that reminded him--he had no business being anywhere that he could see stars, not in this land. He quickened his pace the best he could, lamed as he was, helped by the downward slope, so that he soon entered the village proper.
He heard a growl behind him.
Strangling the urge to run, Frodo turned, very slowly, brandishing his staff as high as he could and fanning his cloak with the other hand. Predators never liked large opponents, Bergil had told him, so you needed to wave your staff and cloak about to look as big as possible--small comfort to a hobbit!
Two green eyes luminesced in the dying light, from the shadows between buildings. Still he did not run, though his heart pounded like he did--Kitty and Wargs both will chase anything that runs from them, by reflex, even if not hungry. The growl sounded almost like a purr, but that did not comfort him, for it whined with sadistic pleasure. As the sunset dimmed, his charm-enhanced night-sight kicked in and he saw Kitty in all her terrible glory, gold and russet against the dim clay road, a muscled sunset all her own. She snuffled after his bloody footprints, then looked up at him again with hot green eyes, crouching for the pounce...
"Nooooooo!" He hit the ground and rolled sideways towards the nearest stone bench against a wall. She twisted mid-leap and barely danced herself into a graceful stance before the echoes of his cry had ceased to bounce down Seaside's walls. For a moment, bewildered, Kitty licked her paws and cleaned her face; prey wasn't supposed to roll sideways. By now Frodo crouched in his hidey-hole with sword and staff at ready; the broad stone bench gave a hobbit almost enough room to stand, but he couldn't straighten.
The feline jumped up onto the bench, paced back and forth on it while he shivered underneath, then peered down beneath herself right at him, holding his gaze a second before she reached to bat him out. Sting stabbed at her, but she drew back faster than the hobbit could thrust, and tried batting at him from another angle. He whapped her one with the staff, but not as hard as he'd hoped, for the cramped space interfered. She purred loudly now; the stone above him reverberated with it. She liked this game.
She paced some more above him, and then he heard her whuff! as she threw her heavy body down, stretched out upon the stone. But soon he sensed more than heard her slink back up to a crouching position, as silent as sin. He understood her gambit. She waited for him to risk making a run for it. The smell of cat hung heavy all around him.
A tickle made him jump! Her tail had come down between the wall and the bench behind him; he could see it now when he turned his head, seeming to glow against the man-hewn rock. He rubbed his bumped head; already his back ached from cowering under the human-sized bench. The soft fur flicked him a couple times more. He held back the desire to hack the tip off--no use making her angry; she might stop playing and get serious about killing him. While the tail mesmerized him, claws ripped the sleeve off his arm! He threw himself back against the ground, panting in terror; the purring rumbled louder as his cold sweat stung the five red streaks that bled into the dirt. Then he heard the lapping sound of Kitty licking off her claws, and then the purr resumed.
Frodo shuddered at the realization that she now knew his taste--and would remember. But he forced himself to assess his injuries and found the scratches shallow. He said, very quietly, "We can play this game all night, if you like, Kitty--you won't enjoy it so much when the sun rises. Villagers feel bolder by day, and my workers carry pitchforks and shovels."
For reply, her paw caught his cape and pinned it to the ground. He felt her dragging him by it--he barely undid the choking clasp in time to let her draw the garment out without him. He scrambled back to his feet, though his torn sole throbbed. But now she had a new amusement, for the moment at least.
Frodo's shivering reached a violent pitch in the bitter Mordor winter; he sat and curled up into as tight a ball as he could while Kitty played with his cloak as merrily as a four-hundred pound kitten. He felt his scratches burn and waited. Before his eyes she rent his cloak to shreds, and then played with the tatters. Frodo remembered his mother's deft fingers on the shuttle when she wove that cloak for him; he had to gnash his teeth against the curses that boiled up inside him. But he also watched to see just how distracted Kitty might become--perhaps she might forget him entirely?
Time trickled on, like the blood dripping down his arm onto his leg; he prayed that the wind would keep blowing into his face, though he felt half-dead from cold, lest the blood-smell waft her way and entice her back to him. Fortunately Kitty looked like she had recently fed, and the cloak amused her well for now. When she looked thoroughly tangled up in rags Frodo tested the situation, verrrry slowly venturing out the tip of Sting...
Down came the paw! Her howls racked the night like she could claw the very air with sound, wailing all up and down the scale while her paw spattered bright red everywhere, for of course her own reflex had betrayed her. Droplets hit his face. Hot blood smoked on Sting in the winter night.
"Now I've done it," Frodo muttered. "But at least we're on more equal footing!"
In one great blow Kitty knocked the bench away from him--sharp chips flew from the shattered stone. Frodo saw no way past her where she crouched, teeth bared and frothing as her caterwaul went on and on, driving reason from the mind, her green eyes glowing hatred as she tensed...
...and sprang away from the torches thrust at her precious fur. Frodo blinked in the sudden light when Bergil and Fishenchips ran up around the corner, plus Harding and Hando behind them, all of them armed with fire. They panted like they'd run some distance.
"We came," Bergil said between breaths, "As soon as we heard your cry." He sheathed his sword, trusting Fishenchips to mind his back. Then, still holding the torch in his other hand, Bergil scooped up the injured hobbit in one arm, and led the way back home, the sound of Kitty's fury and self-pity behind them, moaning eerily in the dark.