Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 30, Part 240
December 13, 1452
Frodo felt the rough tunnel floor beneath him, and opened his eyes to the old, familiar darkness. His head and body ached horribly; he knew that he would have to do something about that, and soon. His skin also burned in places�had he suffered another beating? �What a pity it had all been a dream!� he thought, lying there on his back. �As nightmares go, I actually miss that one.� Even the attack of the wargs and orcs seemed preferable to reality, offering the dignity at least of a brave last stand.
And yet...could dreams heal? He didn�t seem to be shaking, for one thing, and his thoughts seemed unusually clear. But then he smelled the aroma of payment not too far away, wafting just above a horrible stench. He must have passed out before finishing it off, luckily for him now. �Luckily!� he thought in despair.
�No, please, don�t give him that. His, uh, constitution cannot tolerate such strong medicine. But thank you, anyway.�
A voice inside his tunnel! He sat up suddenly and grabbed wildly for Sting...only to remember that of course he didn�t have Sting anymore. Ugly laughter broke out all around him.
�They needs a light, they does, poor little blighters!� A stinking chip of coal soon smouldered, showing Frodo surrounded by the unmistakeable leers of orcs, blue and yellow coal-light flickering on the fangs and the mean little eyes. They laughed again when he scuttled backwards against the wall.
�It�s all right, Frodo.�
He turned his head, and to his utter bewilderment saw his wife sitting right there, beside what he could only tell was an orkess because the brute nursed a tiny creature like herself, at a grossly naked flap of breast. �Mattie? Then I�m still dreaming...�
�No dear, you�re awake. And it�s going to be all right. They�re on our side.�
He laughed, faintly, wide-eyed, but hey, he�d had far worse nightmares than of orcs who turn out to be friends.
Mattie came closer and pressed his lens to his breast with her hand upon it. She stared into his eyes as though gazing deep inside him, and said, �No. You are not dreaming. None of those things which you remember now have been part of any dream. You have awakened.�
Everything came back to him, then, with such vividness that for an instant he sobbed. He grabbed Mattie roughly and hugged her close to him.
�Here now,� a gravelly voice cut in. �If we can�t give him a little swallow of pep-me-up, we can at least take care of those warg-nips.� A clawed hand smeared with brown goo reached towards Frodo, who cowered back in Mattie�s arms. �It�s time for another dressing.�
�It�s all right, darling,� Mattie soothed. �She means you no harm. Lobbie Aandar just wants to treat your wounds.�
The salve stung horribly in every wound and abrasion, but Frodo tried not to cry out, already embarrassed by his waking confusion. With dismay, remembering the great brown seam on Uncle Merry�s brow, he thought, �More scars! That�s all I need!� He saw the bandages on Mattie�s arms already.
A huge old orc, more gnarled than the others yet bulging with venous muscles rather than the fat of some, stepped forward as soon as Lobbie Aandar finished, and shoved his hand in Frodo�s face. It took the hobbit a moment to realize that the orc offered him a handshake, which he returned, gritting his teeth against the pressure on his knuckles.
�Name�s Grumbull,� the orc said, �and I�m the boss around here.�
Frodo climbed to his feet and bowed. �Frodo Gardner son of Samwise at your service, Royal Gardener to the King of Gondor and agricultural advisor to the realm of Nurn.� Just saying it put some heart into him.
�Oho! Son of Samwise, is it?� Grumbull growled. Frodo tensed, but the orcs around them laughed appreciatively, and a couple even clapped. �Welcome, then, and well met!� Grumbull made a sweeping gesture towards the company around them. �We are the Iingolug-Hai, the Rememberers, the ones who know that we came from elves�and aim to go back.�
Frodo stared in astonishment, before he found the voice to say, �P-pleased to meet you, Mister Grumbull."
The orc drew himself up, thumbs hooked in the leather straps of his breeks. �Just so�s you know, our resistance to Lugburz goes back to long before your Daddy poked his Lordship in the Eye.� Then suddenly he squatted down nose to nose with the hobbit, glaring. �Your folk don�t tell tales of our kind. Well, maybe you should.� His breath smelled like rotton onions and old cheese. �Maybe you should know that not everybody marched along just as happy as punch to Lugburz�s drum in the bad old days. The Flaming Eyeball didn�t want anybody to find out just how much trouble he had keeping everybody in line, and the other side didn�t want to know about the likes of us, found it easier to kill us, they did, if they thought we had no souls.� All at once he laughed (hot, foul gust in Frodo�s face) and stood up again. �Yet some of us slipped right through everybody�s fingers.�
He paced, growling a little to himself, before saying, �They hunted us like dogs, you know. Our own kind did. They called us cowards, afraid of the Big War. We didn�t fear their stinking war�we wanted the Tark to win! Don�t they think that that took courage? To stand up on our hind legs and shout �No!� at his Royal Filthhood?�
�It wasn�t just the war,� the nursing mother put in, in a whiney voice that Frodo felt like he should dislike, but didn�t. �We wanted famblies.� She smiled toothily, gazing down at her baby. �I grew up in a fambly, out here, hidden in the marshes. My Lobbie wouldn�t give me up. Soon as she knew she carried me, she and my Krankie ran for it.� Her eyes blazed for a moment as she whispered, �They mated for life!� and then she grinned as though she had just described a relished wickedness, licking her teeth.
�How wonderful! Mattie exclaimed. �How did they manage that?�
�Twasn�t easy. Lugburz commanded that the breeding-pits always stay dark, so�s nobody would know who they got, nobody could form troublesome attachments. But Krankie kept maneuvering to go to the same pit all the time; he and my Lobbie had a secret signal, a little noise she�d make so�s he could find her in the dark, always the same mate, always whispering to each other afterwards, catching up on what went on in their lives since their last meeting.� The female nodded. �He was my real krankie, the one who got me on my lobbie. Nobody assigned me to him, to whip me into shape for growing up the way Lugburz saw fit. I grew up loved.� She clutched the baby close to her. �And so will this one, here. Nobody�s left to take her away from me, come time to wean!� She looked so fierce, her bared fangs snarling, that the hobbits stepped back a pace without even realizing it.
Lobbie Aandar groaned, �They took my babies from my arms, one by one, all except the last one, when I made a run for it, myself. But we leeches had more say-so in our lives than most. I didn�t just run�I kept recruiting, every time I nursed the soldiers coming back, sick of the war and their wounds, open to new ideas.� She smiled weirdly, one tooth jutting out beyond the lips. �Some of �em turned out to be my own spawn, as it happened, come back to me without them or me even planning it�thank the Powers Beyond the Dark Lord! Anyhow, when we ran for it, we had it all planned out, organized to the last detail�nobody could stop us, not with so much confusion as the front kept eating up more and more soldiers.�
Grumbull gazed on her with tenderness surprising in such a fearsome face. �You always were a gothlob, Aandar. I thank the Other Lords that we met and joined our forces.�
The old thing gurgled and blushed. �Oh, bag! I don�t believe your flattery, Grumbull.�
Yet his claw went out to hers as he gazed upon her. �I mean it,� he rumbled. �I couldn�t have made it without you.�
Aandar gazed fondly up at him, through her greasy tangles. Then she drew back and clapped her hands, face businesslike. �All right, you layabouts�hop to it! Our guests could use some breakfast. And mind you get the fresh meat�these frail-folk can�t handle the good, aged stuff.�
�Uh...meat?� Frodo asked.
Lobbie Aandar guffawed and slapped her knee. �You�re scared we�ve got something two-legged in the stewpot, aren�t you? Well, don�t let it bother you, dearie. Nothing we cook ever spoke. It�s four-legged meat that we�re serving up tonight.� She straightened up and glared around her. �Farmak! Khlarkmoz! Where�s that filthy meat?� Then she snickered and told the hobbits, �Not really filthy, don�t you look like that. We�ll treat you right.�
Frodo surprised himself by how hungry he felt, after having feasted with the Gaurians. �What time is it?� he asked.
�Then I slept the day away?�
�Like any sensible person. You two were plain tuckered out.� She waddled away and came back bearing Sting, and Mattie�s knives. �Here, you�ll want these back�mind you don�t use them on us! You dropped them in the fight. But we�ll need a little adjustment, first.�
With a look of great repugnance Aandar unsheathed Sting, and held it up; one could hardly tell the fitful blue glow from the flickering of the coal-light. �Nasty runes against, us, dearies. Downright unfriendly.� She growled for a moment, dropping the sheath and Mattie�s daggers clanking to the ground as she stared at Frodo�s blade, then seemed to slip far away as she muttered, �Not your fault, though�you didn�t make �em.� Then, to their surprise, she ran her thumb down the blade, grimacing, leaving a smear of black. She murmured, �Is that what you�re thirsty for, you little bloodsucker?�
The hobbits could never have expected what came next. Lobbie Aandar started to hum, then to move a little to the faint tune, her head bobbing from side to side, then her torso heaving left and right as well, her eyes never leaving the luminescing blade. It, too, bobbed with her, caught in her hand, almost seeming alive. Then her foot began to tap, her fat buttocks jiggling. A soft, high clatter caught Frodo�s attention; he noticed for the first time the little bones sewn all along the hem of Aandar�s skirt, tinkling against each other. And beneath he saw her feet, as bare as his own.
The young orc named Farmak leaned to the hobbits as he presented them with bowls of steaming meat in broth. He whispered, �Lobbie Aandar is a powerful shatraug. I wouldn�t cross her for gold nor jewels!�
Garlkh and other strong herbs flavored the meal, yet Frodo hardly noticed his own fingers moving the stringy meat from bowl to mouth as he watched the orkess, now swinging into dance, her song rising in volume, tune as yet without words, welling up from deep within her throat. Sting seemed to sway in her clutches with its own intent, possessed of a life that sought her own as she swayed to match, now slowly, now darting like a snake-charmer, her eyes still fixed upon it, as sometimes it would stab at her while still in her grip, her body always bending away just in time. They seemed to dance together. She picked up speed. Orcs sitting on the ground scrambled back from her stamping feet as her skirt swirled around her, tinkling out its own shivery song.
Now the circle of orcs picked up the beat, and so they stomped or clapped or pounded things in time to Aandar�s moves, their faces earnest and a-glow with sweat in the thin blue light. First Grumbull, and then one by one the rest, took up a chant in the same key that Aandar sang, a deep and grunting repetition of few notes, in and out of which the old hag wove her tune, now clashing, now harmonizing, never stopping.
She plunged the blade into her own breast! Frodo cried �No!� and leaped to his feet, but Farmak caught the bowl before it spilled and dragged the hobbit back down. �She is shatraug,� the orc insisted. �She can do strange things and live.�
With the hilt still jutting from her, her eyes rolled back in her head, Aandar blindly swept up each of Mattie�s knives in either hand, not missing a beat of her dance. Shuddering, she dragged each across a withered cheek, leaving gashes to bleed down her face. Then her singing grew louder still, deep, gutteral chant of orkish words with others mingled in (Frodo could almost swear that some sounded like words he�d heard Lanethil mutter to himself) as she spun the knives wildly in her hands, dread stars beneath the earth, while she leaped about with her great, thick legs, her tangled hair now flailing all about, now falling into her face unheeded. Blue light flashed and scintillated. Black blood dribbled down her chin and bosom, or flew spattering when she spun. The close air filled with the fetor of her sweat.
Frodo wanted to look away, yet could not; something about the dance seemed both hideous and beautiful, courageous and grotesque. Odd, lurching moves and twitches seemed to belong to something deformed...something deformed and trying to re-form! Her stout hips rolled and her stomach heaved, and Frodo felt like he watched her attempt to give birth to the impossible, an obscenity trying to bring forth something vivid and sublime. Her head rolled back and spittle frothed, and Frodo grimaced with disgust; her muscles rippled and drew surprisingly graceful arcs upon the air, and Frodo stared in awe again. Without even realizing it, he found himself leaning forward, his hand clutching May�s lens with painful tightness, murmuring, �Nienna help her! Nienna have pity on her�she so longs for the light!�
�Gotlulkum!� she cried, and suddenly stood still, panting. For a moment nobody moved or made a sound except for the heaving and wheezing of Aandar�s chest.
Grumbull came over, and with a grunt pulled Sting from her breast. Aandar winced in silence. One by one every orc in the cavern went up humbly, bobbed a sort of bow to her, then licked the blood from each blade in turn. The young mother pressed her finger to the blades as well, taking a drop from each to her baby�s tongue.
When they had done, Aandar said, breathlessly, �There! That...should...do it!� She blinked, and looked at them almost normally. She tottered over to them, handing them back their weaponry. �Now your little knives will know friend from foe.�
Frodo stared, appalled, at the blades, none of which now glowed. �What have you done?�
Aandar chuckled faintly. �Oh, don�t worry, dearies. They�ll still fire up for wicked orcs.� She winked, wearily. �Just not us. Now shut up and eat your breakfast�I need to lie down awhile.� She staggered off, leaning heavily on Grumbull, away to some other branch of the caverns. Frodo stared at spatters of black blood smoking in the dust of the cavern floor, as he carefully wiped his dimmed blade clean.