6. Gonna Eat Till I Can't Eat No More
A/N: I think I need to boost this chapter's rating to almost-PG-13, for Amputations and Graphic Gluttony.___
I pressed my paw to my muzzle. I wanted to be sick again. Frodo was feeling wildly around his shirt and abruptly his hand came to rest.
"No. No, wait!" Frodo took a deep breath and began smiling. "It's here. It was here the whole time, Gandalf. Gandalf?"
The wizard had passed out again.
"Legolas," Aragorn murmured. "Is anyone hurt?"
"Not real bad, Strider," said Pippin. He started to snore.
"I think we need rest, Aragorn." Legolas gave him a worried, skeptical look. "Are you also unhurt?"
"We must soon be off. The Orcs may pursue us yet. Good fortune that it is morning! Legolas, go ahead, to Lothlórien. Find help. We may need it."
"Quickly! We will follow as soon as we are able."
The Elf left at a run. Gimli snorted. "If indeed any help can come from those woods." The dwarf grumbled some more before turning to Aragorn. "Uh, Aragorn?" The man's head had sagged. Gimli jumped up in alarm. I could see, even through my misty vision, his whole right side was a gory mess.
The Ranger stirred, his voice soft and measured. "Gimli, start a fire. Boil athelas… I have it here. Then heat your axe… the poison is strong, it is spreading…" Aragorn lifted his face closer to the dwarf. "Then Gimli, you must cut off my arm."
"Nooo…ooo!!!" Gimli ripped his beard.
I think I fainted.
The smell was lurvely: fresh and breezy. The sound was soft and persistent, like a song. I didn't want to wake and spoil the effect. Yet I had an itch in my memory that I could not satisfy, that danger was right on our tails. Sorta.
Oh, if I absolutely must get up… But I was a bruise. When I tried to twitch my tail, it was like trying to bend an iron rod.
"Odi!!!" Frodo, no surprise.
A strange hooded Elf whispered urgently: "Quiet..."
"You be quiet!"
"Please, Master Hobbit, the goblins are near." The Elf looked exhausted. I had a feeling he'd been dealing with Frodo the whole time from… whenever. What happened?
Quite similar to twisting the stiff joins of an action figure, I slowly forced my legs upright. I gave Frodo's arm a hug to keep him happy and soon as I was able, I slipped from his grasp. We were on a railess platform perched in cupping branches – undeniably a flet. Cool. The rest of the Company lay about. Merry and Pippin sat huddled together, gnawing on something, likely bark. Gimli, tense and shifty-eyed, looked like dragon in an aquarium. And Aragorn… he lay immobile, but soft light reflected from his open eyes. He was draped in a blanket, and I could not tell if he was still in one piece. Legolas was nowhere in sight. (Bother). Gandalf leaned close to another wood-Elf, whispering.
They were talking about the Fellowship, the Elf wondering outloud over our strange makeup (dwarves and weasels, honestly), almost like they thought we really could not overhear them in this close space… ooooh! Why didn't it click before? They were speaking in their folksy Elvish, and somehow I could understand them. Awell. Besides their babble, the only other sound was the wind in the mallyrn, which produced a fresh, spicy scent. Yeah, it was great, and the Elves had a non-scent about them that meant they had bathed recently. They just had to be taking every chance to put their nose in the breeze contrary the Company.
Speaking of scents, I smelt the goblins five minutes before I heard them and after another five minutes I saw them, scuffling, snorting in a herd like demonic cattle through the silvery trees. One of our Elves disappeared. We held our breaths as each passed under our hiding place, and almost stopped breathing completely when about a dozen gathered around the base of the tree.
Despite that I knew the words they used, I did not know what they said. Roughly:
"I smells somethin'"
A loud, guttural inhale. "Gar! Man blood!"
"Lemme smell!" Scuffling and cursing.
"You'll have your sniff!" Here a hacking sound. Stupid goblins. I pitied them in a way, to be stuck forever with the IQ of 11-year-old boys.
Aragorn at that moment sat up. I blanched. Where his right should have been was a tattered sleeve. Wasn't that his sword-arm? I wondered how the wielding-of-Andúril thing was going to work out.
Some shouting rose in the distance and whatever goblins were left under our tree shambled off.
Whew. We were still alive.
From the sky a third Elf dropped. He had a roughin'-it aura about him: windswept hair, dirty fingernails and a smudge on his forehead. Hmm, Haldir, I presume? His voice reminded me of an Aussie's without the Australian part. "We have led the Orcs deeper in the woods where our people wait. Those foul beasts will not return out of Lórien." The march warden touched his forehead as though he were tipping a hat. "Tomorrow we will take you to the Lord and Lady. But sleep for now; you are safe.
Oh, yay. The Lady. Lovely. Can't think of a telepathic psycho I'd rather like to meet.
Next day Aragorn claimed to be well-recovered, but still we walked slowly. I gathered that yesterday we had kept only a little ahead of pursuing Orcs, bogged down by Aragorn, Gandalf and me, despite the fact we left Moria early morning. If Legolas and his cavalry had found us even ten minutes later we would have been in the black bowels of the goblins by now. Well, I assume their organs are black.
All the same, I was tired of the walkin'. The only thing that made up for it was seeing Gandalf and Gimli falling into Silverlode when the arm-rope snapped. Make that two things. Legolas was looking mighty fine with those sharp star-filled eyes of his, gawking at every breath of wind and peep of a bird. He was a kid at ToysRus.
We rested by Amroth's tool-shed thing. I fell happily onto the grass and dug up a few worms. They come big in Lórien. My happy preoccupation was cut short by a shadow of… gah! Gandalf stood smiling, from the long trunk that was sweat-stained robes, over me. I looked around for Frodo… he was gone. Aragorn or some Elf must have dragged him off. I was on my own.
"Odi! At last. I've been meaning to have a word with you. Now more than ever." He glanced behind, no doubt, for a fang-bearing, cleft-chinned hobbit. He knelt down and continued, while I, with mouth full of worm, narrowed my tiny eyes to appear sage. "We have come through many hardships these last days. The maiming of Aragorn. The loss of Boromir… I feel I might have led our Fellowship better…"
His face sagged with such sadness that I pat his mud-soaked boot and squeaked: Well, what can ya do?
"Odi," he brought his noxious breath closer to my snout. "I know you are a messenger from the West. Now that my foresight is failing me, I need your advice. Where does the Company go from here?"
The worms slithered from my paw. Uhhh…
I suddenly had a squirming in my belly that had nothing to do with my repast. I was responsible. My actions had consequences. Whatever information I passed to the wizard would have to be delicately sifted and weighed. I did know the books and all, but his being alive threw everything out of line.
Well, you could conk yourself for a start… Seriously, now, ya can't drag this whole crew to Mordor 'cause we may as well be traveling by hot air balloon, as inconspicuous as we are. Let Aragorn do his thing. Make sure he first goes to Edoras, too, that's important. Better send Merry and Pippin to Fangorn with you and then you can skedaddle to Edoras, then to Isengard. The rest'll follow, maybe, and if ya get the Ents to drown Isengard you'll drown his host of doom too, which would be anticlimactic, but if it gets the job done…
Gandalf was wearing an infuriating smile of non-understanding. "Perhaps nodding to my question shall be easier."
"Long have I studied Sauron, long have I searched for weaknesses. It is my life, my purpose! Yet I've been so long sundered from the West that my vision is clouded. Is stealth the answer?"
I was too afraid to nod but I think he took my gulping as one.
"As I thought." Gandalf chuckled to himself. "Thus, we should keep east, while his eye is west… would that be wise?"
I tried not to move at all, but again the wizard found an affirmative in my stiffness.
"Very good! Mayhap my plans are not without hope after all."
Ohh, all about you, ain't it?
We might have gone into deeper philosophical stuff if we both hadn't heard footsteps and chattering. Gandalf dived to the ground and began picking for worms as though he had been doing it all day. Fingers full of plump wrigglers, he raised his face as Frodo, Aragorn, and Haldir's gang filed up.
Haldir wore a cheap grin. "Come, if you are rested. We will reach Caras Galadon by nightfall."
Actually, we reached it forty minutes after nightfall, but that's not too important, except I was looking forward to real, really, real food, and anything that stood in my way was gonna be stepped on.
We came to a freakishly large tree wrapped with stairs that went on and on forever. WHY! Merry and Pippin looked ready cry. They had quickly snarfed all the march warden's Elvish camp food early that morning, leaving not a crumb for the rest of us. They claimed they had not realized this till it was too late, an excuse I almost bought. Well, anyway, up and up we climbed. Legolas supported the Ranger. The wizard, refusing to be led, shuffled.
Barely alive, we reached the top. The silver Lord and golden Lady, ancient and grave, sat in a lofty, softly-lit hall; before them was a table stacked with shimmering, steaming food, glorious food.
I think they greeted us; I don't remember. I just remember the scents of wonder pulling us forward. Merry pushed Pippin. Gimli tripped Merry. Down went Gimli under Legolas and Aragorn's feet. I jumped onto and over Gandalf's back and fell skidding onto the lavish table. We sunk our teeth into the roasted bird. We inhaled the fruity sauces. We drank the nut-crusted bread. We attacked that food like chickens on grain. We said nothing and listened only to the others' jaws working up down, swish back, swallow. We ate till our stomachs felt like bags stuffed with chunky clay. I sat back with a belch and fell onto Legolas' lap. He was singing some Elfy "Keep on the Sunny Side" into his cup and sloshing its contents onto his chin. Teehee. I hit the floor, head first.
When I finally could roll onto my stomach, the clockwork of munching had been replaced by satisfied moaning. I pulled myself up what was once Aragorn and dumped my tummy on the table, hoping for another bite to settle the berry-sauce down. At the other end, the Lord and Lady and their cohorts sat, faces white and grave, their food untouched. Whadda crime, I thought and collapsed onto a sticky mithril platter.
Gandalf, his beard full of gravy, tried to stand, gave up, and raised his cup. "Good Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood, thank-you for your em, your em…"
"When's breakfast?" sighed Merry.
"For your hospitality to our Company." Gandalf drained his cup and his head fell back. He emitted a gurgly snore.
Galadriel stood now, with her cup high. Her proud face, neither young nor old, seemed perfectly unperturbed. This could have happened every day. She lilted: "Naught is too much for our guests. You have through many toils and sorrows, I see. But where is the ninth member? For surely that was the number that set out."
Everyone looked to his stomach, suddenly silent.
"Alas," said Aragorn. "Our ninth member, Boromir, a noble man of Gondor, was lost in Moria." Again, the room was silent. Well, we could look at the bright side. It only saved us, like, three chapters of departures and reunions.
"I don't know what it was, well, what it was that did it," piped up Pippin. "It made me feel all horrible and I could tell the others were frightened."
"A Balrog of Morgoth!" "Durin's Bane!" yelled Legolas and Gimli at the same time.
"I KNEW it!" said Celeborn. His silver hair bristled like sparks. His eyes met with his wife's. "Alas, we long feared a terror slept under Caradhras…" He began a rant on dwarves and was cut short by a long belch from Frodo.
"BOR-ING," said Frodo.
"Perhaps now is not the time for talk," Galadriel said gravely. "The grief is still too near. You are weary and counsels can wait." She pierced her gaze into each one of us. I studied the joints on my paw; very wonderful how they all fit together and voila – I think and they flex! I felt the Lady's eyes hover over my head for long, burning seconds, till at last they receded. I sighed and fell asleep.
I woke with a stomach-ache the size of Ungoliant. Incessant moaning all around told me that I was not the only one with insomnia. In fact, no one slept easy for three days – if ya can call them days because time does not seem to want to be fenced in and counted in this place. By night, we slept like gophers in niches in the roots. Hey, we had clean linen. By day, we strolled out and strolled back and ate food. I felt the pointing fingers as Frodo walked by with me sagging on his shoulders. "A strange companion," some Elves would laugh, to which Frodo would snap so abusively that they just stopped acknowledging his existence. That was a shame because I didn't mind being the center of their attention.
This lax life did not last long. Gandalf was antsy to be gone. I was too, considering we'd more easily avoid the two S's errand-runners of doom. But most did not take Gandalf's suggestion of leaving well. We were just getting used to regular and wholesome meals again. Aragorn was pretty robust for a guy recently down a limb, though his dirges for Boromir had been marginally off-key. He alone backed up the wizard's proposal; so the rest of us could only groan.
"Can't we stay just a little longer?" Pippin huffily plopped down on a root.
"No, we leave tomorrow, and if that is not well with you, Master Took, you may stay here." Gandalf snorted.
Pippin could not respond to that.
But Legolas looked undecided. He left "to be alone" for a while. He had fully immersed himself into Lórien life the last week. He was like a super-star, I guess, being in important distant relation and all.
"Oi!" said Merry. "He's not actually thinking of staying, is he?"
"Of course not!" said Gimli.
"Frodo!" Pippin yelped. "Shouldn't Frodo have a say in this? Do we have to leave tomorrow, Frodo?"
Pippin frowned. "I am asking you."
"Well," Frodo's lip twisted. "I'm not answering." Pippin stood up, clenching his fists.
"There now!" Gandalf flew between them. "Dinner has arrived!"
We ate slowly and went to bed early. Frodo shifted about restlessly, and I too lay awake, watching the leaves ripple over the endless layers of stars. The constellations never seemed so alive. Pulsating and tense, Orion looked ready to swing his sword on unsuspecting children-o-Morgoth.
I heard Frodo get up. Just what I was waiting for. I followed him following the ghostly-white, silent Galadriel, as she glided between trees, down rooted steps to a birdbath.
She filled it with purified water and asked Frodo if he would like to look at it. I had no time to backtrack. With the flashing speed of a spider he had me ensnared and held me aloft. "Let Odi look first!"
For the first time, Galadriel seemed hesitant. "I know not what the mirror may reveal… yet let be shown what will. Bring her forward."
Ok. This was cool. Frodo held me over the rim. I peered down. My whiskers, my round muzzle, my squat head rippled from sight, and like a cloud of dye, another face appeared. It was no one I had ever seen. At least, not someone I could name. The face was flowing like liquid, yet still as a statue. I'd have thought it was, except for the eyes set in them. They were old, old, old. They were soothing, though, and reminded me of summer days in the creek and long hours of rain. I felt that my presence before his was filthy and discordant. Suddenly the face wrinkled in a smile and… was that a wink?
The face was gone. I saw now a crowd of people, pointing and gaping. I found that I knew those faces. That sparse room with the hard fluorescent lights. It was the lab. I bent closer, making out each of the figures, giving them their names. Oooo! Was that the incredibly cute guy from the next table bending over my lifeless form?
Galadriel whispered sharply: "Do not--"
I wonder what happens if I do?
I bent closer, millimeters from the rippling surface, and stuck out a toe. Touch.
To be continued…