8. Nobody Knows de Trouble I Seen
If Denethor leaps off the Citadel from rest at an altitude of 700 feet, what is his height relative to the flat plain below 6 seconds later? What is his velocity? Acceleration?
I scratched the problem in the dirt under a tidy table of logarithms and to the right of a Pascal's Triangle. Can't get rusty just because I'm on a suicide mission.
We'd already suffered two days in Emyn Muil. Not only had the lifeless landscape quickly grow boring, but my companions… well, they were slightly dysfunctional, at the best of times.
Given the acceleration due to gravity and the equation for free fall, I find the first… A boot appeared in the logarithms.
"Our every step must be careful. Secrecy is critical." Gandalf was pacing, his fists clenched at his back. "If He suspects, we are doomed."
He tramped a second time over my tables, try as I did to shield them with my body. "The problem we face now is getting in. Unseen."
Frodo was picking crud from between his toes. "Are we going to dress as Orcs and walk into Mordor?"
Gandalf looked at Frodo. I looked at Frodo. Then I looked back at the wizard, his mustache bristling.
"No. No, Frodo. I've a better idea."
I put a pause in my plan to skin his ankles. This could be interesting.
"We shall." He pointed to the sky. Here was his moment of eureka. "We shall scale the Mountains of Ash!"
I applauded. Ooo! And then we make a 25-mile dash to Mount Doom! Clever!
Frodo found a rock amidst his toes and rolled it in his fingers. "But Gandalf, that sounds difficult."
Gandalf stomped out my last surviving equation and placed a hand on Frodo's shoulder. "This task was never to be easy. But I have faith in the endurance of hobbits. You were meant to bear this burden, Frodo. And I will help you as long as I am able."
"But Gandalf, mountains are big."
The Istar sighed.
I can't say enough times how much rocks offended me after that. Emyn Muil is nothing but rock, rock, rock miles and miles. No variety. I got rocks in my eyes, my ears, my nose... And I used to collect rocks. It would have been more bearable if it weren't for Gandalf's stealth strategy: first, we stumbled low on the uneven topography, then scurried behind a large boulder to listen a full minute for stalkers, and finally stumbled another five minutes till Gandalf signaled for another scurry. This dragged on for days. My tongue lolling, I thought of better times.
I want electricity.
I want microwave burritos.
I want to make a batch of cookie dough and eat it.
I want to smell soap… I sniffed myself. I could do without the animal mustiness.
Yet there was a bright side. I sure didn't miss zits, eating with a fork or political correctness. Everyone here is so forward about stuntedness and pipeweed it is like a blast in the face. It was great!
"Halt!" Gandalf shouted. Frodo rammed into his back and I into Frodo's legs. We hit the inelastic ground.
As we rightened ourselves, dark clouds pulled in from the east and Gandalf took a long sniff, murmuring, "Something is troubling me. I think I shall look ahead."
I gazed at the wizard. Bent like a pear-tree at harvest, he exuded the centuries of toil he had been commissioned to. His face was carved with canyons. His hair was grey as grief and wispy as vacated spiderweb. He had grown so much older since Rivendell and his eyes, once so bright under the greasy grey brows, were now dim, belying his weariness, determination and constipation.
"Frodo, what is it? Is it the Ring?" Gandalf squinted at the hobbit, who had folded his arms.
"I think you just have to use the bush."
"Eh?" The wizard did a double-take. "No! I will scout ahead and you will stay with Odi."
"But I have to use the bush."
Gandalf waved his hands. "Then make haste!"
Praises be I don't have to follow.
Frodo hasted away alright. The wily wizard and I sat across from each other, separated by Frodo's pile of discarded rucksacks and blankets. Maybe twenty minutes passed. I constructed a pyramid from pebbles and turned my head to study it upside-down. What it needed was a flag. I searched the gravel, and beyond wonder, I found a leaf, brown and delicate. I wondered from what plant it was and from whence it came and what it was doing so far from home. What leafy friends had it left behind and what… I ripped it along its midrib and flung the two pieces over my back. I was becoming way too introspective.
"He has been gone long." Gandalf stood and glared at the landscape. "Come," he shouldered all the bags. "I have a bad feeling about this."
I wished he wouldn't say things.
He started in the direction Frodo had disappeared, between two boulders that reminded me of bulldog fangs. The rocks beyond looked no less sinister. Some groped and curled like dragon talons trying to claw free of the earth. Others stood battered and crooked like ancient sentries; I felt them watching us as we turned our backs to them. One stone had the uncanny resemblance to the Buddha with a Darth Vader helmet. Why did Frodo have to go this way?
Unless he grew wings, he could have gone no other way; the rocks hung over so treacherously we were presented with but one walkable path.
"Frodo!" Gandalf whispered. "Frodo! Now is not the time for games."
A drop of water hit my nose. Another and another. Soon we were surrounded by sheets of rain, lit only by whips of lightning. Great. Drama.
The old man was not ready to give up. He clutched his hat and pushed forward, grumbling an endless colorful metaphor. Close to the ground, I was not bothered by the wind, yet I was soon struggling not to get swept away by the water that rushed down the slick stone. My hind feet slipped at last and I tumbled back, squeaking at the impact of a nastily hard rock.
"You are right!" Gandalf yelled over the wind. "This is no ordinary storm!"
What is ordinary? I rubbed my head.
"Frodo may have taken shelter and we--" The wind took his voice and his hat. He almost toppled, keeping on his feet only by the sturdiness of his staff. "We should do the same," he panted.
I clung to his boot and we stumbled to the base of a cliff, which hung over just enough to shield our heads from the rain. The air was weighted with stony dankness. The water slapped the ground before me, sending up sharp sparks of wetness into my face. In the gathering puddles, I caught my reflection, my fur flat and forlorn. Sigh. A drip disrupted the reflection and I thought I saw a man in it, nodding and nodding… like in encouragement?
"I heard him!" Gandalf rushed into the storm. Ten seconds later he screamed and his voice vanished. I'm surrounded. I glanced again to the puddle. It was blank, rippling with another drip.
I groaned and tiptoed after my courageous comrade. I learned very quickly why he had screamed – a precipice was located about five steps away, as I discovered. The fall was not a long one and anyway I had cushy landing on the wizard plus rucksacks.
"I have found him!" The wizard beamed. The rain slowed and the thunder muted. The sun broke free and glared into our faces. Gandalf had indeed found Frodo, right beneath him. The hobbit had not suffered any harm, however; he was sleeping sound as a stump, his thumb in his mouth.
"Well, well," Gandalf continued to look mighty pleased with his own intellect. "I suppose we are meant to rest here. I shall take the first watch."
Wee. I shut my eyes.
Captain's log, stardate 3222 and 1/2. My chief science officer has presented me with intriguing behavior, which may have brought harm to the crew, had not the chief medical officer taken swift action.
"Captain!!!" Spock tumbled onto to the bridge. "Captain! They're coming! They're going to kill us! We're gonna die! Save me! Do something! Save me! Hide!" He hit the floor, twitching and convulsing.
Chekhov and Sulu exchanged looks. "What's up with him?" I asked.
The navigator shrugged. "Maybe he ate somethink," he searched for the words. "Somethink bad."
"I must protest, Captain." The Vulcan pulled himself up and folded his hands to his back. "I am operating at my fullest capacity. My gestational functions are affecting me in no perverse manner."
"Well, ok, then." I was inclined to think deeply about half-Vulcans while he strode to my Chair o' Command.
"Now Captain." Spock produced a wicked curved dagger from his sleeve. "I shall put a maggot hole in your belly."
"A what, Mr. Spock?"
Dr. McCoy cannon-balled from the crystal chandelier that rocked over the captain's chair. "Not this time, Vulcan."
He and Spock went down, but were quickly back on their feet, McCoy brandishing his syringe and Spock his knife. Their swipes and deflections were fast and furious, and their relentless duel carried them to every corner of the bridge. Uhura was screeching. Sulu and Chekhov dived under their chairs as the two combatants jumped onto their button-boards.
The chief medical officer finally got the upper hand with the old there's-an-imaginary-number-behind-you trick. Spock's chin met with McCoy's plastic boot.
"Why the 'ell are you just sittin' around?" McCoy waved his syringe under my nose. "Wake up!"
"Wake up! Wraiths on wings!" He injected me so hard my arm's bones must have cracked. And I woke to remember I didn't technically have an arm.
Wraiths on wings! I jumped from my skin. Something was poking my foreleg; it was Gandalf's staff. The wizard was sitting upright, his eyes open wide and clear, yet a string of drool adorned his lip and heavy snores rattled from his open mouth. Huh. First watch my tail. The sun was setting in the clear west, while pink clouds curtained the east. I found that we had dropped into a relatively flat plain of stone, rather in plain sight, I might add.
Then in awful suddenness a shadow punctured the sky. My insides became as dense as iron. A chill rose that cut deeper than any evening wind.
Gandalf snorted and his drool retracted. "Mine power is the greater, Saruman."
There came a screech like a thousand nails on chalkboard. Gandalf was on his feet in a millisecond, and his beard blowing over his shoulder, he turned to Frodo and me.
"The beast has seen us! Fly!"
I pounded Frodo's face awake.
"Fly, otter! Take the Ringbearer! Fly!" The wizard stretched out his hand to give us an intangible shove.
Well, let's just be as conspicuous as we can!
Although just torn out of sleep, Frodo seemed to understand the objective within seconds. He swatted up all his gear and fled from the plain, back into the mass of rocks. I matched his pace step for step. Meanwhile, Gandalf had run into the open and was waving his staff and spouting more words than my mind could process. After a distance, Frodo took a dive to a boulder and under it we scuttled like crabs.
We're next! We're so next! That Wraith had to smell the Ring. I shivered and bit my toes to keep from chattering.
I forced myself to keep an eye on Frodo. Once the Wraith finished with our bold leader, he would be calling for IT. But Frodo showed no jerky, eye-rolling, finger-shaking propensity. Nay, he was digging in his nose.
I gave the sky a cautious peek – at just the right time to see the Fell-beast wheel over. In his talons was Gandalf, dangling by the arms, still swearing and legs kicking. It was just like in Wizard of Oz. I pulled free of the boulder and with my eyes followed them over the rim of the mountains, where they vanished.
Onto my tail-side I collapsed. My mind was a blank buzz. Sentences flashed in and out. Gandalf was gone. He was gone. It was just Frodo and me. Just me and the Ringbearer. And Frodo wasn't functional.
The days following were bitter. Orcs prowled the stones. Wraiths circled the skies. Even if Gandalf had managed not to crack under Sauron's imaginative torture machinery, the Dark Lord sure wasn't taking a chance. Somehow, though, somehow we made it all the way south and burst out of Emyn Muil, into the Marshes. I'd found a gorge from that led right into it, a temporary stream of some sort. Just mammal instincts, ya know.
The Quest… what Quest? We thought only of survival. Or I did. I found us water and shelter. I sniffed the air and searched the horizon with my near-stone for pursuers with every step. There was no track of time either. Just endless fleeing, just almost not being nabbed by the next goblin behind the boulder.
We had no destination in the Marshes, and actually, getting out never crossed my mind. Here we were safe, as very few Orcs prowled in that impassible muck. In all honesty, the wetness suited me. Our diet became much more varied with worms and crayfish, and the wetlands never tired the eye for their variety and surprises; just for example, Frodo often in his cleverness discovered sinkholes.
Each of our camps lasted only a day and needed to be cleaned thoroughly of our presence, you know, by fluffing up the mud and such. One damp afternoon we pitched ourselves on a boggy peninsula, raised to a mound at the far end. While Frodo snoozed in his molding blankets, I stood two-legged on the mound, holding the near-stone to one eye. It was our only possession that was not ornamented with mud, thanks to its impenetrable pouch.
I was thinking for not the first time about what Gandalf would do. His plan had been to walk all the way through Emyn Muil, skirt the north edge of Dagorlad and creep down to the Mountains of Ash. Going in the Dead Marshes was far out of the way, and that did not matter. I thought it dangerous to continue with his plan, and yet still more dangerous to go the way of Gollum. These thoughts soon bored me. I hummed to myself, swinging the stone over the Black Mountains in the east.
I-I am an otter of constant sorro-o-ow.
I swung the near-stone over the west, to the grimacing rocks of Emyn Muil.
I've seen trouble… all my… days…
Something had moved. I distanced the stone and two moving figures focused. They were coming right in our direction. I distanced the stone as far from my eye as my short leg would allow. I gagged, and let the stone fall with a squelch into the muck.
Oh Bill, hon, I never thought I'd see you again!
To be continued…
A/N: The Star Trek randomness came from a conversation I had with my brothers: "What would a panicking Spock do?" Also I gotta thank Willow for the suggestion to actually add Star Trek in this chapter. Otherwise I'd not have put the two together. :D
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.