11. Where Evil Dwells
No Captain’s Log. You don’t dream here, or if you do you don’t know it. What is the difference between the nightmares and the hideous reality? Thoughts so black you slip in and out of conscious thought. The room so dark there is no time. So dark the room might have been nothing. The black felt like a palpable thing, an embodiment of fear.
So how long was I lying here? Curious I was not hanging by a spiked manacle. Maybe the floor was for intimidation.
What would happen now? Torture? And more torture? Torture until my body’s shattered and my mind’s a matrix of broken memory? I felt the hot drops slide through my eyelids. My nose was running, dripping onto the floor. I couldn’t summon the energy to dry it. Bother.
But why keep me here? Till I just die? He had Frodo. What more did he need? Bill and Sam… they might be in the next cell over, in this horrible black room even, for all I knew.
Most important question: will captivity in Barad-dûr ruin my chances for a scholarship?
Someone was in the blackness. No, maybe he’d been there all along. Sauron. The suddenness of his voice was as horrible as when, in the middle of the night, you switch on the kitchen’s disposer instead of the light.
His voice was not really words. It was the feeling of his horrible mind, extended beyond the natural barriers of the self. I saw his thoughts in my head. I tried to think about peanut butter and washing machines, to confound his medieval imagination, but he swept it away like a flea down a drain.
Your friend is dead, his thoughts pulsated. He made a mistake – he told me nothing. Will you make the same?
But! Frodo… dead? How couldn’t Sauron have the Ring? Hadn’t he looked up Frodo’s nose? Was he just playing with me? I must act stupid. The fate of everything hangs in balance.
I’ll never talk. Nevah! I imagined myself sitting mute, nose stuck up as red-hot pokers prodded my paws. First mistake. I no sooner conjured up the images than I felt pokers in my head. And I still could not see him. Just that pulsing darkness.
They who sent you… did they think… You could match my power. Hottest poker yet. Quite abruptly it went cold. It was like he’d gasped.
I know what you are. Poke. You are no Maia, not as the fool believed. How disappointing. You’re nothing. Nothing I cannot. The poker twisted. Break… He gave me images of crumpled cities.
… Break you like the other fools… Saw Frodo and Gandalf bloody and ragged, hanging from spikes. Saw a white city burning, great plains of charcoal, armies dead. …All dead. Because they resisted. But those who obey… Saw Isengard prim and jolly. …I grant life.
Where is this thing which I desire? Why send a pathetic girl, an idiot halfling and a fool wizard to spy on me?
My mind wasn’t so scrambled that I couldn’t count. Relief warmed my organs like coffee. Bill and Sam cannot have been caught! He didn’t have a clue they were out there! Frodo must have been too dysfunctional to reveal it and of course Mama Orc would not have been stupid enough to tell Sauron two high-priority prisoners had escaped her.
But I couldn’t let him know that! I squeezed out the faces of Sam and Bill with a melody I'd had stuck in my head for years. The Camptown ladies sing this song… mind-poker evaporated. That was too easy.
I didn’t relax, strained my ears for a clue of what he was doing. I soon heard it, a faint echo. Then it swelled. Louder and louder. Then agony. My mind was stung by a thousand wasps. He’d turned it against me; the music wasn’t playing to me. I was the music. THE CAMPTOWN RACETRACK’S FIVE MILES LONG…
NOOOOO! MAKE IT STOP!
I couldn’t believe I was begging for mercy. The pain was bursting from my every pore, like I was slowly exploding.
From a place beyond, a lightbulb hit me – think about something else. Something dumb. Freaky minions with black cloaks. How original. Taking over the world? Like that’s never been tried before. And I’ll even bet you’re my father.
GOIN’ TO RUN ALL NIGHT… Not working. I BET MY MONEY ON A BOBTAILED NAG…
Oh, by the Treadmill of Tulkas! The music wavered. I opened my eyes. Was it just me, or had the black quivered? “Nienna,” I chirped.
Doo-dah daaay… Stephen Foster sputtered and died.
“Mandos,” I chirped again. “Aulë!” The blackness parted. I saw Sauron now – an actual form. Maybe a man. Only horrible.
Suddenly he had my throat. Fun fact: he really does have only four fingers. “Ya-vanna,” I gasped. “Oromë! MANWË!” His hold lessoned, but it didn’t matter. My lungs were almost flat. “ELBERETH!” I squeaked with my last strand of air: “Ulmo.” His fingers released my throat. And he was gone.
I gave my neck a gentle poke. I was leaving before he came back.
A strip of lesser darkness turned out to be an open door. I waddled out of the cell into a curvy hall with doors haphazardly thrown along the wall. It felt like Anguish, if ever that feeling could be a place. I tried to swallow, but the spit stuck in my throat and I had a horrible moment of almost choking. I calmed down enough to gulp. Gotta go. I carefully plodded in the direction that seemed to be going down because some ground-loving instinct told me I was quite high.
A sound. I leapt six inches off the ground. It was a groan. And it had come from one of the doors. I set my head against the ground and peered into the crack between the floor and door.
The fellow in the cell was even dirtier than I remembered. His sagging eyes lifted toward the entrance. He knew I was there. I slid my webbed paw under the door and waved it around. Live long and prosper!
Gandalf recognized my bark. “The Valar’s messenger.”
I pushed in the door; there was no physical lock but I suspected it was usually kept shut with a dark mojo. Gandalf hung upside down from ankles, his robes splashed everywhere. (Oh yes, there were more robes under the robes, thank you.) The wizard was a far cry more alive than Sauron’s documentary of doom suggested. I began to believe the Lord of Eyeballs been pulling my tail.
“It is wonderful to see a…” Here he fell off the wall. “Wonderful.” He sat up, spat out some beard and adjusted his robes, which were many.
I am wonderful. I rubbed my paws. Prying manacles from a wizard’s shoes isn’t easy.
“I heard such a hubbub,” he said.
“I thought someone had flung down the ramparts of the Tower the way it was carrying on. I should have known.” He chuckled. I wished he would consider chit-chatting someplace else.
“No need for haste. I won’t be going anywhere for a time.” He pointed to his legs. I winced, imagined the white-hot stabs and was happier than ever not to be him.
He rubbed his ankle. “There are many rumors flying about the Tower. He knows I hear them and hopes to drive me to despair… fires devouring Rohan, armies engulfing Gondor, great gatherings in Isengard. Tisn’t good tidings, Odi.”
I figured not.
“But there’s more he might not have wished me to hear. There’s a rumor… just a small one, mind… of victories on our side, maybe more than he is letting on… they say they are led by a man whose sword hand is his left, and indeed his only hand. And not only that, but a great force in the west, some strange army of vegetables.”
Sounds like a fool’s hope.
Gandalf nodded. “Our friends may be up to something yet… and yet, otter, for naught. Perhaps you know. Of course he would have told you… He said he killed Frodo.”
Gandalf punched his fist. “But I know that is a lie. From my window I saw Frodo walk down the road the day before yesterday.” He pointed to the ‘window’, a little crevice in the wall. “Sauron wanted me to reveal our errand, but of course I said nothing. Long did he question me. Yet he should have needed no answers after he found Frodo. That Sauron lets Frodo live worries me – not that I wish for his death, dear me, no.” He coughed. “Do you know what this means, otter?”
I swallowed and shrugged. But I had a good guess and for once I didn’t want to be right.
Gandalf moved in close. His voice wasn’t even a whisper and I watched his lips move: “Do you have it?”
I shook my head fiercely.
His lips hardly even moved now: “Then where is it?”
I paused and nibbled my paw. This would have to be delicate. Gandalf waited in wide-eyed rapture. I stood two-legged, pat my belly, then cupped my paw, swinging it up and down in a digging motion. Then I went onto all fours and galloped around his feet and made what I hoped were passable whinnies.
Gandalf nodded and nodded. “Well, perhaps it would be best to discuss this elsewhere.”
I growled. Now is the perfect time. I had a plan and the whole world would be doomed if Gandalf didn’t get it.
Listen, foohl. You gotta wreak havoc as far from Mt. Doom as possible. Make it look like you got important business far, far away. Sauron’s nose will gravitate toward you. If you stay here he’ll find the Ring, with you and your unwitting meddlesomeness. I mean this in the best possible way. Do what it takes even if it means Frodo get killed – he’s expendable, let’s not kid ourselves. Sauron’ll only keep him around as long as he thinks Frodo will lead him to something important.
Gandalf’s lips were parted. A fell odor filled the air. I sunk my teeth into his ankle.
He leaped, nearly smacking against the orange fungus on the ceiling. “Very well! I think we should leave. But first…” I looked back, already out the door. “I must have my gear. My staff, if it can be found. He took them from me. Taunted me. Brought it just out of reach… the jeering… But nay, we shall not speak of such things here.”
I rolled my eyes. You poor baby. I waddled after him.
“It’s not far.” The wizard limped ahead. “Just a few doorways down.” It was actually twenty-six few doorways down. The time seemed to stretch hours. Every second I thought a Nazgûl would pop through one of the closed doors, a newspaper under his arm. Maybe I would have preferred an encounter. It was the stillness, the utter lack of life that was terrible. Perhaps in his tower Sauron policed more with his fierce will than his dim-witted thugs. I supposed, too, his more evil minions could be attending to not-nice tasks in the West.
Gandalf found his room with a soft “aha”. For a second I thought we’d walked into a WalMart. Shelves, shelves, and more shelves, each labeled with an inscription in Black Speech. Stashed in them were items of every size, shape and smell. Must have been Sauron’s collection of artifacts that did not belong to him.
Gandalf sidled over to a shelf cataloged with a funky rune which might have been G for Gandalf or F for Fool Wizard; I couldn’t tell. His knobby staff was there, along with his Elven cloak, a few hand-sized firecrackers and a map that was covered with a crust that I guessed was snot. There was, however, a glaring absence among Gandalf’s belongings: his Miruvor. Just assuming that Sauron does not have a taste for Elvish whiskey, I now had a theory why Frodo was über-tipsy on our little jaunt with the Orcs.
We stepped back into the hall, and almost as soon heard a footstep. We looked at each other, silent screams reflecting in our eyes, and jogged down the hall away from the sound. That did not lose it. The shifting and groaning only grew louder. I thought about slavering werewolves, perspiring vampires, oozing spiders… And would you know it, the hall came to a dead end. The shuffling footfalls came closer.
“Door!” said Gandalf, and yanked at the handle of what could more accurately be called a gate. It opened with surprising ease. We slipped inside and it shut with a quiet snap.
We panted in a closet-sized chamber and – joy – another door barred the way. This one too was massive. Grim runes surrounded it, making me think of the ‘don’t leave child unattended’ warning-doodles on shopping carts. Three club-sized bolts locked it. I think Gandalf was trying to read the runes. He stared at them, felt them, as though trying to mind-meld with them. He finally shrugged and opened the three bolts.
The doorway widened. Stench slapped our faces.
“Excellent!” The wizard rubbed his beard and entered.
Is that a joke? I followed, hunched at his heels.
Bones cracked under the wizard’s boots. I tripped over them, looked around the wizard’s shoes. Harnessed to the walls were six huge, featherless, reeking – REEKING, let me repeat – birds. They roared and rattled their chains. The hooks that anchored in the chains creaked in the walls, puffing out dust, seeming quite ready to burst out.
“Harmless, I’m sure,” said Gandalf, patting one on the spot its nose should have been. I doubted the Istar noticed how another tried to take a bite out of his back, stopped by a mere six inches of its chain. “It’s the fell mood of their masters they reflect.”
He whirled around. “Choose your steed, Odi.” I stared as he hacked off their chains with his staff one by one. They seemed too absorbed in their new ability to stretch their necks to consider eating us. For the moment.
Gandalf broke the last chain, smiling, pleased as ever with himself. “That will disable the Wraiths. And Sauron will not know which way to look. They’ll find the search difficult.” He gripped the harness of a plump fell beast. “You do know the whereabouts of IT, am I correct?”
Yeah, yeah. I nodded.
“Very good. You find IT and I’ll keep the Eye distracted.”
I grinned. Finally a plan: Find Frodo and kick his arse before he finds Sam and Bill.
After a quick inspection of the fell beasts, I picked the smallest. It was staring ahead, blinking tiny stupid eyes; in fact, the only one not teething on its neighbors. I approached it on tiptoes and it glared razorblades. This was not my favorite of ideas. I clawed the stirrup, hoisted up, slipped and hung from my middle.
“Wait!” Gandalf hobbled over again. I fell from the stirrup.
The wizard flung back his sleeve and rubbed one finger in dramatic slowness. . “This he never took, though he tried. Given to me by the Shipwright, long, long ago. Your need is greater now.”
He gripped something shiny between two fingertips.
No… I waved a modest paw. No… Ok!
He placed it in my paw. Narya’s warmth enveloped me; it was like being filled with chewy fudge right out of the oven. The strength! Why, I could blow out The Eye like a birthday candle. One wee problem – the ring would not fit over the webbed toes. I pondered this for a moment and hung it over my right ear.
My attention returned to Gandalf. He looked even older, more hunched. Greyer best describes it.
We both realized Something was banging at the door. Now would be a good time to shut up and leave. I gingerly sat in the stirrup, reached for the saddle. Gandalf had his beast’s reins about his arm as he strained on a lever. He stumbled forward as the lever gave way.
The ceiling opened. The beasts exploded into the sky. They flipped, swooped, spun to every point of the compass. I dug my four sets of claws into the saddle. I saw Gandalf clutching his staff and spurring his slow, fat beast, which made a sharp U turn that could not have turned out good. I shut my eyes and felt with one paw for the reins.
The cold wind blasted away the sour reek of the fell beast eerie. I opened my eyes. My bird was hovering over the Tower, as though it were just soaking in the romantic view. I flicked the reins.
Ya mule, ya!
It wailed like police siren and plummeted toward the rocks of Gorgoroth. I fell back, my paws caught in the reins and I dangled from its neck. I watched the boulders on the ashy ground became more and more defined.
Woa mule, woooa mule!
To be continued…
A/N: Sprinting around the Uni and absorbing episodes of Star Trek has put a dent in my spare time. But hey, I have cookies. Platefuls to everyone for sticking around!
And no, I have nothing against Foster. I really do enjoy that song – in moderation. ^_^