The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

Volume I
Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 13, Part 13
Swords 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 that you?"
"Over here, Frodo," said Legolas, but from a different quarter!
"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 mind.
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 sword.
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 a lunge.
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 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 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.

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