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Hope for the Uruk: 6. Cliffhanger
As May drew to a golden close, Mithrandir began to voice his concerns about the Ringbearer. Frodo’s spirits were not reviving, and his sleep seemed to be tormented by evil dreams.
“He’s suffered greatly.” I pointed out, “Maybe these dreams will fade in time.”
But that evening the whole citadel was roused by his cries. I had retired early, no longer able to bear the rather pointed wedding-night jokes that had been flying around my ears during dinner from the direction of Gimli and the younger Hobbits.
I had hardly assumed a suitable night-robe (midnight-blue Variag silk, embroidered in silver with a stylised Athelas-motif by Ioreth and the Ladies’ Guild of the Houses of Healing), when a high-pitched scream rent the air. Grabbing my dagger, and leaving behind me an enticing bath of herb-scented water, I wrenched open my chamber door. Calling to the two Citadel-guards stationed outside to follow, I hastened in the direction of the growing hubbub.
At Frodo’s chamber-door I almost collided with Mithrandir looking unusually grave; and a pale Legolas, clearly shaken from his composure, bow and arrows slung at his back. From within came the sound of sobbing interspersed with a low soothing murmur in Sam’s unmistakeable tones.
“It’s alright, Mr Frodo, it’s only your Sam. There’s naught here to harm you now.”
“Sam! Help me, Sam.” came Frodo’s broken and halting reply, “They’re coming for me here, now, even in the guarded tower.”
“No, no, Mr Frodo, me dear. They’re all gone – remember?”
“But I thought …. Oh Sam, I was half asleep and dreaming, and I thought …”
“Thought what, Mr Frodo?”
“I thought it was Shagrat, Sam, looking at me through the window. But then I awoke and he turned into you. Ooh ….his eyes and teeth! But Sam, the worst of it was – I dreamed he was wearing the winged helmet of the Citadel Guard. I thought … I thought …. “
Sam laughed, a little unconvincingly it seemed to me.
“Now I know you’re dreaming, Mr Frodo. And see – here’s Gandalf and Legolas, and bless me if it isn’t Strider – Lord Elfstone, I should say – all come to see how you do.”
“A curious dream, Frodo,” I heard myself say distantly, “I think it wouldn’t hurt to transfer my guard to your room tonight – just to reassure you; and check that no one was playing tricks. And maybe, Legolas, you’d be willing to take a look around the battlements with your bow. I agree with Sam that it’s unlikely that any creature of the Dark would come here – especially,” I allowed myself to smile, “in the livery of the Guard, but we shouldn’t take any chances. Sam – you’ll stay with Frodo until he sleeps. Do you want to see what Athelas will do, Frodo?”
“No, no, thank you Strider. I think I shall be alright now. You’re all far too good to me. I’m sorry to be such a frightful nuisance.”
I nodded curtly and headed off, sparing a second to be relieved that I had no need to call on Ioreth and her Athelas-store. (Why was it that older human women seemed to dog my steps in this way, since my sudden elevation to fame? There had even been an unsavoury episode involving some intimate but unwashed undergarments ….. However, now was not the time to ponder this minor mystery)
This, I reflected bitterly as I returned to my room to dress and collect Anduril, was all my fault. I had given free rein to hitherto half-suspected dark cravings, and now my friends were being called upon to pay the penalty. How could I ever have been so stupid as to trust an Orc, let alone allow it to …? And now I would have no choice but to hunt it down behind the very walls of Minas Tirith. The fact that my pulse had begun to beat like a drum in the deep as soon as I heard he was back, was totally irrelevant.
I thrust through my chamber door, the momentum carrying me well inside, before I was caught up short, driven choking to my knees. I was hit by a miasma – a retching, gagging cloud - almost as impenetrable as a wall. The air was saturated with an overwhelming scent, sweet and nauseating as the flowers of Morgul Vale. It seemed that every fragrant oil in the herb distillery had been flung into the heady brew. I could distinguish the deep tones of crimson rose mingling with the wilder essence of elder, the delicate flavour of simbelmynë. Surely there was also a hint of Harad night-scented lily, and the precious cinnamon-bark from far-beyond east. I drew a great crowing breath and staggered backwards to the purer air at the door.
“I could almost get used to this fucking scent-stuff.” announced a familiar voice, “You think I used enough to cover me smell alright?”
“Damn you! Damn you!” I wheezed, “Damn you to the lowest pits of Angband!”
“Been there; done that! And there’s no need to get so fucking personal!” replied Shagrat huffily; then suddenly turned cajoling – “I know you’re angry, little King, but I had to get those fucking guards away from your door, and you away from here long enough to get in. Now be reasonable – you must see that!”
I looked up through streaming eyes to see his familiar features peering through my bed-curtains. The winged helmet of the Citadel-guard, much too small to fit, was perched precariously over his drooped ears.
“Nice things you got here.” he remarked breezily, “I know good stuff when I see it – looted enough in my time. I wouldn’t say no to your sword. Straight-bladed, of course, but well-balanced. Cupcakes make the scabbard, did they? Yeah, thought so.”
“Shagrat!” I interrupted his flow without ceremony, “What the … the Fuck are you doing back here?”
“Ah-har har! You’ll be doing Orc-talk like a pro before you know it! Miss me, did you, little King?”
I wiped my eyes across the back of my hand and stood. The overpowering scent-cloud had dispersed somewhat, but I still felt dizzy and light-headed.
“Move!” I said waveringly, “I need to sit down.”
His head vanished, leaving me space to plunge through the bed curtains. I found him stretched out comfortably, occupying most of the space.
“Like the bed too.” he rumbled, “Much more room than the fucking guest-facilities downstairs. You want wine? I liberated some from around the place somewhere.” he paused, then suddenly added, “I missed you, anyway.”
“Is that why you’re back?” I asked sitting beside him on the bed.
“That;” he admitted, “an’ a few things I wanted to say. I got angry before – nearly fucking killed you, if you must know – but I thought a bit, and came back to say ‘em anyway.”
“You say you’ve missed me, and you’re proposing to TALK? Come on, Shagrat, you can do better than that!”
“Ah-har! Getting into the habit of command are we? Then may your ‘umble servant suggest you bar the door.”
“Yes, maybe you’re right.”
I scrambled up and did so, settling back beside him on the bed thereafter.
“You want me to tear this flimsy stuff off you?” he asked obligingly, “or are you gonna get up and give me the full show like you did downstairs?”
“Tear it off!” I replied recklessly, caught up at that moment in a spirit of total abandonment, “To the Black Pits with it all – Ioreth, Athelas, Variag silk, Cupcakes and kingship!”
His claw, halfway to my silk robe, stopped suddenly. To my absolute horror, a voice – not his own – spoke through his reluctant and distorted lips, in a higher and more refined register; and in a language I could barely recognise as some primitive form of Old Quenya –
“Do not” it said “so lightly invoke what you do not understand!”
“What?” I gasped.
”Once-born, do nor mock! And consign not to - Those Places - the innocents who deserve it not!”
His green eyes were glazed and sightless. He loomed over me like a mountain-range. His tears fell onto my breast in slow, scalding drops.
“Before Sun and Moon were the blessed stars. Sweet, and sweet were the Waters of Awakening in the days before Anor and Ithil, when this Fëa had another name, and sang for joy of Wilwarin and the yet-unnamed Valacirca!”
What the Wise believed concerning the origin of Uruks was true then(1). This soul was many ages old, had been an Elf in the twilight times, and had seen Arda before the lands were broken – aeons before my kind had walked them. How had it come to be what it now was? Imagination failed me; and I could not but be glad that it did. A word sang inside my skull, and, under some compulsion I only half understood, I said it aloud.
“Eh?” he blinked down at me and shook his head as if to clear a gadfly, “Did ya want this torn off or not?”
“No” I replied tremulously, “I’ll do it.”
“Nice! I liked it when you gave me that half-desperate, half-determined look downstairs, just before you dropped your robes. Big turn-on, that.”
“You’ve taught me more about myself since then. And -” I managed to sound nonchalant. “about you.”
“Me? What’s to know? Except I like a bit of blood with my sex. But then, little King, so do you, don’t you?”
“I do.” I admitted, “But .. since I’m to be married come Midsummer Eve, I’d be grateful if you don’t leave any obvious marks.”
“Fucking she-Cupcake!” Shagrat was infuriated, “I’d like to carve my name across your fucking backside and rub in some Orc-ointment for a lasting effect! Just so’s SHE’LL know I’ve been there first! Skai!” he added as I broke into instant cold sweat, “NOW I get a fear-response! Got you right under their fucking thumbs, those Cupcakes, haven’t they?”
“You don’t understand, Shagrat!” desperately I tried to explain what was not, at this moment, very clear to me, “ She’s been my motive for all I had to do, throughout this long quest. She was to be the recompense for all the thankless days and nights I’ve spent pretending to be Faramir’s grandfather’s liegeman; or Thengel’s swordthain; or Mithrandir’s hard-man for that matter.”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever! I told you before, they got you royally fucked, little King, and I was right!”
“Shagrat! I HAVE to do this. It’s part of being King of the West!”
“So why was it you had that really strong wish I’d kill you at the end of last time? (It’s a great way to go, by the way, I done it a coupla times). But you, now. You wanted out – your only chance on Arda too – because you were feeling fucked up about that Cupcake!”
“Elrond said she should not diminish her life’s grace …”
“Fucking Cupcakes! That’s just his poncy way of saying she’ll die once, and go somewhere he can’t control. Listen – they got you doing all their work here. One Cupcake princess bearing your spawn is the very least they could fucking offer. Little King, when I came back here, I was going to make you an offer. I’m gonna travel a long ways north and east of here. You wanna come-with?”
“What?” I asked incredulously, raging flames warring with duty in my gut.
“I thought you might like an Out on all this. Them Tarks think you’re a fucking uncouth backwoodsman anyways – all them that don’t wanna get into your britches that is – they think you talk funny. Even those Snaga who were supposed to guard me said so – and them Orc-bred in the ninth generation! I got a quest of me own. I’d like you along with me, but ….. “
“Oh Varda! Yes! Where will you go – north and east? Back to Cuiviénen? Oh Phuineöl, yes. Back on the roads and close to the earth. Anywhere!”
“WHAT DID YOU FUCKING CALL ME?”
“Shh! You’ll have the guards onto us! I heard it in my head just now. Isn’t it your real name?”
“Yeah,” he said, staring, “Yeah it is. Did I … did I mention the Waters of Awakening as well?”
“Yes. Just after you rebuked me for loose talk about the Black Pits.”
“Skai! Then the trip’s off, little King. I’m sorry. No, I’m more than sorry; I’m fucking scared. That’s our Sign, you see - those of us from the Twilight Times. When it’s our time to die, we get that reminder. The Dark Lord’s way of rubbing it in just how far we came from the Stars and the Water. It’s me for the Black Pits! Or maybe not. I dunno any more.”
“What do you mean, Shagrat?”
“There ain’t no Dark Lord any more, is there? And the Black Pits are all laid bare. So where do we go now – us lost souls they used to throw back into a new updated body each time we died?”
“You mean ….”
“Yeah. The Great Dark Lord – Him before Gauthaur(3) – was a rebel Vala. So he set up his own private Hall of Mandos for any Fëa that served him. Gauthaur always dealt with the physical stuff – breeding the bodies and so on. When the Great One went, Gauthaur just took over the system – and became the Red Eye in time. But maybe this time …. Just maybe it’ll really be the Hall of Mandos for old Phuineöl! That’ll be a turnup! Don’t know what to hope – OR fear, and that’s the fucking truth!”
“But-but … you aren’t going to die!”
“Die or be killed, little King. It’s all the same. Maybe I won’t get out of here alive. Took a big risk coming back. I won’t have time to round up your honour-guard either. That’s really why I came back. I was so fucking angry that you made that suggestion, and then didn’t take it seriously, that I went off on one last time; hoofed it before I really lost it and killed you on Pelennor. I wanted … I wanted to see if the few of our kind left among the Uruk could maybe … “
“Maybe turn themselves around and earn some kind of redemption?”
“Yeah, something like that.” he mumbled, shamefaced. “It was just a thought ….. “
“It’s a good one. Stay alive, Shagrat, and bring me my honour guard. I’m not sure what I shall want them to do …. But, if I’m going to have to be King of the West, that’ll be my decision, won’t it? Now – are we going to .. to … make love, or not?”
“Well, I’m gonna fuck you, if that’s what you mean. Making love’s something Cupcakes do, sometimes for days on end. But you probably know that already. Can’t do anything without a load of song and dance! You gonna strip for me, then? I won’t make any promises about the marks – I may get carried away – but I’ll do me best!”
“I don’t suppose” I said as I got up and let the silk slip from my body like a whispered kiss, “that I shall grumble very loudly after all, if you do.”
“That’s my little King!” he replied enthusiastically, leaning forward to the length of his long arm to grab and pull me sprawling across his thick torso.
His arms wrapped me securely to him. It felt like coming home. I knew then that whatever She might mean to me – which was a great deal – I would always crave the absolute childlike safety and danger of this moment. If She was to be the badge of my achievement; the mark of my honour; the crowning of my labours here – then He would forever be the benchmark of what I had sacrificed in order to be here on this lonely pinnacle of command without control; of responsibility without power.
He settled me above him so that our noses were almost touching.
“You’re down to do all the work tonight, little King.” he breathed like a seductive hurricane, “You up for that?”
“I thought I might just lie flat whilst you flayed the skin off my back, as usual.”
“Not this time, little King. You don’t get off so easy. This may be my last ever fuck, so I reckon I’m entitled to a bit of your sweat!”
I sat up astride his wide waist, agitation limpening my cock.
“Don’t keep SAYING that! We’ll get you out of here alive afterwards!”
“So you say, little King; so you say. We’ll see. Here, look – I saved this. It’ll make a nice change from our usual spunk’n’spit routine.”
“I LIKED the…… “
“Ah-har har. Always so fucking unexpected – you! But no – tonight it’s essence-of-lilies-of-Mordor-Vale for a real exploration of your dark side! Gerroff me a minute, while I get it sorted.”
Reluctantly I moved off him to let him coat his cock in the rather odd-smelling oil. At his instigation, I turned to give his slick and questing fingers access to my tight opening. He was expert at that, too. I could come, several times over, just from the attentions of his tongue and fingers, I thought. I spared a dizzy moment of regret that we would not, now, spend whole days and nights on some unexplored north-eastern trail in such dalliance.
Once he was done with the oil, he lifted me, turned at set me astride him once again. His cock nudged slyly at my opening. He lay flat on my bed, relaxed but totally aroused.
“Well, little King. Go on.” He encouraged.
For a moment panic closed me in, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do this (rather as I always felt whenever I contemplated my wedding-night). Then his claw raked my belly in a gentle, long stroke, barely breaking skin; and all of me opened to him. I sank down, taking the full length of that fearsome cock deep inside. Once more I felt the sense of homecoming. (I would never be able to use this bedchamber again, once I was wed. I must give orders for the State Bedroom to be made ready, after all).
I propped myself over him, my full weight on my arms, and moved experimentally. Sensations engulfed me, and I paused to savour them.
Without warning, a claw slashed my flank, leaving five fiery red lines. I bucked like a horse beneath the spur, and Shagrat gave a satisfied grunt.
“Don’t go all dreamy on me. I’m not some fucking virgin Cupcake.” he warned tartly.
I should, of course, be outraged. Instead I snarled, raised myself to the length of his shaft, and slammed down, dropping my full weight across his thighs.
“Bastard!” I hissed, as claws raked my back, my buttocks, my upper leg; galvanising me at each stroke.
“In-fucking-dubitably!” he gasped as his claw lifted one last time to trace his customary blood-ring on my left breast. Red and white mingled on his chest and belly, as I came. His seed flooded me an instant later, and I collapsed into the welter of blood and semen on his torso, licking my own juices from his swollen nipples.
“If that was really the last one, it was fucking worth a death or two, little King.” came his gigantic whisper in my ear.
“Don’t keep SAYING that!” I murmured languorously, and then, as reality intruded, “We must get you out of here!”
“In good time, Sweet one, in good time. I’m not anxious to rush out there. But (shift over!) I guess it won’t do to lay around here all night. What with all your fucking Snaga, and the Shire-rats and Cupcakes you got – even a Dwarf, I hear – there ain’t enough privacy for old Shagrat to stay around too long. Garn – look at this fucking mess you made on me!”
“You could lick it off.” I suggested, “But if not, there’s a bath of cold water somewhere around.”
“Don’t get too lairy with me, little King. You could still regret it!”
He plunged into the water on the word, spilling most of it over the floor, and scrubbed himself expansively.
“Aah! I could get used to this washing lark. Give us the dry-cloths, and then I must be off. If I get out alive, I promise to try for your Honour Guard. We could work with Dunlendings, Viariag or Corsairs, y’know. AND we’d be happy to clear out any Snaga-nests!”
We both dressed rapidly; he in a somewhat modified version of the Citadel-guard uniform (“I nicked it off a Tark called Beregond. Seems he didn’t need it no more!”); and I in the anonymous grey robe I’d used before, on my visits to the dungeons. As we crept into the deserted corridor outside, I held out the grey cloak of Lorien.
“Here! This is beginning to smell more of you than it does of the Golden Wood. You may need it!”
“You’re GIVING it to me, little King?”
“Well, I can hardly be invisible any more, can I? Now – back to Rath Dinen as fast as we can!”
Fair Ithil, waxing towards Midsummer, was not our friend this time, as we slipped from shadow to shadow in the deserted streets of the Citadel. We entered the dark mouth of Silent Street like fleeing murderers, and I paused at the unobtrusive entrance to the secret stair.
“Come back to me when you can, Phuineől.”
His great claw extended and grasped my forearm.
“My hand – and blood – on the pledge. Good fortune, little King.”
I realised that my hand was wet and sticky. He’d gashed his palm before he touched me. I ran my tongue across the coppery taste, freed myself, and stepped back.
“Blood and sex1 Can’t beat it. Remember that!” he said, and turned into the dark archway.
I heard only a whisper, and felt a disturbance of the air at my cheek. Before my brain could well assimilate what caused it, Phuineöl was gone – pitched headlong down the treacherous stairway, an arrow buried somewhere at his back.
“NOOOO!” I screamed, and sprang down the first few steps in his wake.
My upper arm was gripped in a band of fiery iron and I was pulled unceremoniously back through the shadowed arch.
“Kinslayer!” I accused hoarsely, and spat full in the Elf’s face.
The Prince of Mirkwood freed me, wiping a hand across his sullied cheek.
“I did what you could not! There is no place for such as he in the New Order.”
“What do you know about it? Cupcake! That was an Elvish Fëa you sent beyond!”
“If that is so, then Mandos will know His Own.”
Legolas was unrepentant. His eyes showed me no censure; and no pity either.
I pulled away, but he would not let me go.
“Leave it, Estel. The Lady Arwen is nigh. Go and sleep; and in the morning all this will be naught but a bad dream.”
“You mean you’ll tamper with my memories so she’ll never find out? No! This Age belongs to me and my descendents; and you May Not interfere!”
“Very well. On your own mortal head be it!”
He released me; and I plunged down the stairs, slipping in the blood on each step.
But, however far down I probed – until dawn reddened the Ephel Duath – there was no sign of anyone; no movement. Only a narrow trail of dotted red, from Citadel to Great Gate – where it vanished without a trace.
(1) Orc-origins: The question of Orc-origins is a vexed one in Tolkien’s writings, mainly because he himself modified the original account in Silmarillion on several occasions. However, in that book he states that the “root stock” of Orcs was Elvish, but then implies that successive Dark Lords used various methods to change and diversify the race. The question of where Orcs go when they die is not addressed – except in one very telling line from Gorbag in TTT – “Grr! Those Nazgûl give me the creeps. And they skin the body off you as soon as look at you, and leave you all cold in the dark on the other side.”
This does not sound to me like instant annihilation, but equally it does not sound like any other “afterworld” that Tolkien describes. So I have inferred a “private” Hall of Mandos created by Morgoth, for all lost Elf-souls (Fëa) who had at the very beginning of Arda. Been corrupted into Orcs. Like the Valinorian Halls of Mandos, the “Black Pits” are here prisons for souls awaiting re-embodying.
(2) Phuineől is my best-shot at a “Cuiviénen” Elf-name. For a brilliant (and extremely detailed) disquisition on Tolkien’s languages, see http://www.ardalambion.com/ “Phuin” (later “Fuin”) means dark or shadowy. Eől is an early elf-name with no given meaning (cf. “Of Maeglin” in Silmarillion). So I INTEND for the name to mean “Shadow-elf” or “Elf of twilight”.
(3) Gauthaur is the name in the First Age of the Maia who later became Sauron.
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