Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 31,Part 241
The Glass of May
December 13-14, 1452
As Frodo cleaned the black blood off of his blade with a rag that Khlarkmoz handed him (orcs appreciating the care of weaponry) he started at the reddish-brown clots near the hilt: donkey blood. His eyes welled up with tears. “Bleys,” he whispered. “I killed him by my own hand. He would have suffered, otherwise.”
“That ass you rode?” Khlarkmoz asked.
“Yes. A worthy beast who served me well.” Frodo swallowed, then husked, “That would be the second steed that I have lost in less than a year–and both died saving my life.” He fingered the cord on which his lens hung. “This came from the mane of the first one: Billie-Lass. A pony. But I had no chance to retrieve a memento of Bleys.”
Khlarkmoz grinned and whacked Frodo on the back. “Well buck up, laddie! We’ve got all the mementos you need, right here!” Then he shouted over to a scrawny female stirring the stewpot: “Lulthak, dip in a little deeper and scoop us up a couple of the neckbones, will ya?” He smiled on Frodo and said, “Neckbones make good beads, once you whittle the flanges off ‘em. They already gots a hole straight down the middle and everything.”
Frodo felt all of his blood rush to his toes as the chamber began to spin. “You...mean...” he gasped, “I...ate...Bleys?”
Khlarkmoz smacked his lips. “Right good eatin’, too! Most of your wild asses cook up a whole lot tougher. Oh aye, we made a proper job of it--we looted those foolish wargs of everything!” He laughed loudly, slapping his prominent belly, while a high, shrill noise sang in Frodo’s ears. “So I reckon we’ll all carry around mementos of Bleys for awhile.” Then the room seemed to fill with a blizzard without any cold in it, nothing in it at all...
...when Frodo came to, he found himself lying on a dirty pelt, while Mattie sponged off his face. She whispered to him, “Thank goodness you fainted, standing there with Sting in your hand like that. I heard about what you did when you first arrived at Seaside with the goats.”
Khlarkmoz squatted nearby, looking about as sheepish as an orc possibly could–an effect spoiled by a belch. “I didn’t mean you no harm, laddie. But Bleys don’t miss his meat. Garn, he’d probably be glad you helped yourself, the way you took care of him and all. Well, anyway...here.”
Frodo shrank away from the extended hand, fearing to see it open up and yet fascinated, too, unable to look away. But when Khlarkmoz unfolded his fingers the bones didn’t look like vertebrae anymore. “See? They carve up fast when they’re still soft, not quite dried up yet.” Two massy beads lay on his palm...complete with decorations.
Lulthak cackled. “I did that. I burnt the flowers on ‘em, myself, to go with the purty flowers on that piece of glass of yours. We can have all the purty things we wants, now.” Frodo stared in wonder at the beads, picking them up, and seeing indeed the primitive flower shapes burnt into the bone. “That’s what my name means, you know, in the old tongue: Flower-Face.” She struck a simpering pose, and he saw that she wore many bone-bead necklaces, herself, with designs singed into them. “They all love me, you know. How about you?” She winked one pallid eye at him. “I think you’re cute, so...”
“He’s mated,” Mattie cut in; only Frodo could see the barely-suppressed hilarity behind her stern look. “He had better not have any opinion of you at all, if he knows what’s good for him.”
“Uh, yes, quite right,” Frodo concurred, grateful beyond words. “She is very fierce, my wife, er, mate. Very fierce indeed. You must understand.”
“Oh,” said Lulthak with a pout.
“But thank you very much for the beads, to you and, uh, Khlarkmoz, here.”
Khlarkmoz grunted amiably, and Lulthak tossed her head as though her matted locks were gorgeous. “Oh, nothing to it,” she told Frodo. “It’s only fair exchange for some of the best meat we’ve had in awhile.” Playful again, she hooked the horsehair cord in a claw. “Here...let me put them on for you.” She reached for the lens and froze, still gripping it, her eyes suddenly bulging and the sweat bursting from her brow. “Nooooo...” she whined, falling to her knees, yet unable to let go, “NooooooOOOO!” A rosy light pulsed between her fingers. “Make it stop! Oh please–make it stop!” She clenched her eyes shut–indeed, she clenched her entire face, the veins bulging. “Lobbie Aandar–Hellllllp!”
“What is it now?” Aandar looked gray in the face as she lumbered up with Grumbull close behind, but the wound in her breast had closed in a shockingly short time, just a red line on the skin behind a matching rent in her shirt, while the gashes in her cheeks had vanished among deep wrinkles. “What the...oh bag!”
“I’m not doing it!” Frodo cried. “I don’t even know what...”
“Of course you don’t. Now calm down before I knock some sense into you.” Aside to Mattie she muttered, “Are all your he-rats as hysterical as this one?”
“He has been ill lately, and...”
“Save it.” Then Aadar knelt down beside the younger orkess and gripped her shoulders. Leaning her brow against Lulthak’s, she murmured a song, just barely audible to Frodo, even though the cord held him close to them both. Then suddenly Aandar slapped Lulthak. “Face it!” And again. “Work it out!” And again. “The only way out is through!” The slaps left red marks on the she-orc’s cheeks. “Face every stinking thing that the cursed glass makes you see and feel and know.” Slap, slap, slap.
Lulthak sobbed and gasped and bled tears, but she nodded, shuddering. Aandar went back to holding her shoulders and whispering song, taking on the cook’s shaking as her own. Frodo endured their smell so close to his face, but he found that the lens which Lulthak gripped sang to him, thrumming through the cord that bound them together. He found himself saying, “You were elf, once, or at least your ancestors were. Elf is in your blood. You can endure an elvish mother-spell. It will make you more of what you want to be.”
“I...will...endure...” Lulthak gasped. “I will...I...I...I accept!” And with that her fingers could spring open and release the lens once more. She sank sobbing onto Aandar’s still-bloodstained bosom, while Frodo rubbed his neck where the cord had cut into it.
Aandar rocked Lulthak, murmuring, “You are shatraug now, you silly little whore. You just had to go and flirt with a newcomer, had to paw at what wasn’t yours. Well, no helping it, I must make you my apprentice, now. You won’t like it. You will wish a thousand times that you were back in the kitchen, slaving over boiling pots again. Poor fool! But the tribe needs what you just had to take to yourself, and now there’s no giving it back.”
“Actually...” Frodo started to say, but Aandar shot him such a glare that he shut up right away.
“Oh, the things I saw!” Lulthak whined. “Oh, the things I knew!” Her eyes flew open, red and piteous, staring at Frodo as if to plead with him to make her ignorant again. “The things I still know now!”
“Endure it,” Aandar said, tugging off Lulthak’s boots. “You’re not the one that I’d have chosen, if left to me, but you’re the apprentice I’ve got. If there’s one thing we’ve got to get used to, it’s powers other than the Dark Lord calling the shots now and then.” She pried Lulthak off of her, so that she could stand. “Now help me to my rest, and rest beside me, yourself. There is much that we shall need to do together, you and I.” The younger orc stood up as well, and Aandar leaned upon her with a sigh. Over Lulthak’s shoulder Aandar mouthed, “Thank you,” at Frodo, much to his surprise.
They left the room. Frodo fingered the beads in his hand a moment, then undid the knot of the cord and strung them on, nestling to either side of the Lens of May. He polished off the greasy prints from the glass. He tied the cord again, tucking the knot inside the ample hole of the left vertebral bead, and put it all back on. The beads stank, faintly, with a rancid odor. But he figured that this would pass.
Tension circled around Frodo like something tangible and impassible, holding the others off around him in a ring, where they glanced at him sidelong now and then. A little too brightly, Mattie suddenly blurted, “Hey! How about a song?” She unslung the harp from her back.
Frodo laughed with relief. “Do you know, I’ve still got my flute in my pocket. Let’s have some music indeed.”
Mattie whispered to Frodo, “Forgive me, but sometimes one must play to the audience that one has.” Then she strummed up a rowdy tune that quickly had the orcs around them stomping and clapping. Frodo soon caught the pattern enough to venture some simple harmony. Then Mattie sang:
”Osgiliath girls wear their hair up in curls
And paint takes the place of a blush,
O, some are as fair as a sweet summer pear,
While others are dusky and lush.”
The flute abruptly dropped from Frodo’s lips.
“But they all of them walk with that sashay-la-swash
Hip to the east and hip to the west
Give ‘em your heart if you’re up to the match
yet they all know that riches are best.
Frodo forced a rather strained smile, for once thinking that Nibs might have a point about wives being buskers.
”Osgiliath ladies lounge where it’s shady
And wait for the old sun to set,
Some decked out in gold, or in rubies so bold,
Yet none of them go into debt!”
Frodo coughed to hide his expression. Of course Mattie would know songs like this; he just did not want the reminder.
“And they all of them walk with that sashay-la-swash
Hip to the east and hip to the west
Give ‘em your heart if you’ve got the cash,
For they all know that riches are best.”
Mattie waggled her own hips in time to the song, as the orcs pounded out the beat, laughing and whooping. Frodo stopped even trying to smile.
”Osgiliath sisters walk both sides of the river
And they know things your peasant can’t guess.
For it’s foreign perfume that sweetens their rooms
And it’s foreign silk spun for each dress.
“For they all of them walk with that sashay-la-swash
Hip to the east and hip to the west
Give ‘em your heart if you want it smashed,
For the memory will give you no rest!”
The orcs hooted and applauded loud enough to hurt the hobbits’ ears. Yet before Mattie could strum up an encore, Frodo stood and bowed, moved by a strange impulse. Fiddling with the lens around his neck (and some of them noticed, and watched him warily) he said, “Well met, in song and good company. I hope that you liked my wife’s voice,” (Loud shouts and whistles answered, enthusiastic to the verge of rudeness.) “Thank you, thank you, ahem...thank you...I’m not finished...thank...well...anyway, I would like to give you a little gift of my own.” (Here they looked puzzled but anticipating, and Mattie cut Frodo an alarmed glance.) “It is a somewhat more somber song,” (And faces fell all around him, while Mattie looked on the verge of panic) “yet one that I think you will enjoy: a saga of one of your own, who escaped what you yourselves strive to escape–a song about hope.” And he sang.
He knew what would happen. He remembered how the lens had magnified his memory before, helping him to recall every word and nuance of Legolas’s song of Healing Sleep. But this time he sang the words and melody of another elf: Lanethil. Each word and note unfurled in him at the proper time, so long as he didn’t try to think too far ahead. Out of him poured Lanethil’s entire story, from beginning to end.
No one took notice of the hours that passed by, nor did Frodo pause for meat nor water. He lived in the song. He became Lanethil. He saw the stars before the rising of the moon, and the dark of Angband’s tunnels, and the first sunrise over Middle Earth. He saw the glow of coals in the forges of Gondolin, swallowed up in the glare of dragon-fire. And then faces, faces of beautiful human women aging before his eyes, by light of haze-choked day or baleful gleam of torch, dirty, weary, worn, yet all of them luminous with love, each and every one more precious than a Silmaril. He sang of love, of the radiance past star or sun or moon, brilliant even beyond Laurelin and Telperion. He sang of love that calls one back and back again–the one force great enough to keep a tormented dark-elf from turning orc.
And when the song had spent itself, the last note dying on his lips, and his lungs took breath for breath alone, Frodo came to himself again in the tunnels of the Iingolug-Hai, surrounded by orcs who gaped at him, speechless, unblinking.
Grumbull was the first to lumber to his feet, breathing raggedly, fangs bared, his red eyes fierce. Slowly he came over to Frodo. “I wants it,” he said thickly. “I wants what you’ve got, what Atelanedhil’s got, what even that stupid slut Lulthak’s got!” Suddenly his claws shot out and closed on the lens. Even as he blanched and spat out a stream of cursewords, Grumbull jerked the lens to him so hard that it should have snapped the cord, yet the horsehair held; Frodo had to wriggle out of it before it strangled him.
Frodo fell to the ground and stared up. Dawn-red light shot between the sweating orc’s fingers and smoke began to curl. “Let...me...see!” the orc growled, though he swayed as though about to faint from pain.
Suddenly Grumbull howled, loud enough to send echoes fleeing through the tunnels, and he fell to his knees, eyes tight shut–yet still he did not let go. A stench of burning skin filled up the chamber. Then his eyes flew open again; he looked all around him as though he had gone mad. Bellowing still more with pain and vision, he fled into an upslope tunnel. “Followwwww!” Grumbull thundered over his shoulder, “Every cursed one of you!”
Farmak grabbed up both hobbits and crushed them to him as he ran behind his leader, others pounding right behind. They all reached the surface of the world in the predawn light, there to stare at the orc who stood high up on an outcropping of rock, heaving gasps of agony yet not letting go of the brand-bright lens. Murmurs of anxiety passed in waves through the throng, and Farmak dropped the hobbits absent-mindedly to the ground, all eyes glancing towards the eastern horizon.
At the first bright glimpse of sun, Grumbull shot his fist up to the sky, and his fingers parted to bare the center of the lens. He turned towards his followers, and held the lens so that a ray of sunlight shone through it; he moved his hand slowly, to cause the light to passed briefly over every pair of eyes, even that of the baby. One by one the orcs fell groveling and weeping to the ground (except for Aandar, and shuddering Lulthak, and the baby who laughed with an eerie delight, holding out his little gray hands from the arms of his cowering mother.) Then Grumbull himself toppled from the rock as though dead.
Frodo ran up to him, but Lobbie Aandar scrambled ahead faster, skirt bunched up in her fists and her bare feet flying. Soon she cradled Grumbull’s scarred old head in her lap. When Frodo got there Grumbull grunted, stirred, and nudged the fallen lens towards the hobbit. “Yours,” he gasped. “That lot...one glimpse is good enough for them. Needed more, meself.” He winked and made a grotesque attempt to smile. “Now I know which way to go...” and then he passed out again.
“Fool,” Aandar crooned, binding up his burnt hand. “Fool. You always did know which way to go.”
One by one the other orcs rose to their feet again, rubbing their eyes. They glanced about themselves in a daze, and made their way back down into the comfort of the darkness.