25. Upon the Edge of Ruin
Sam could not believe his eyes. He frankly gaped, and it was a lucky thing that Urdúk was busy with tying Frodo's hands, and that Grishnákh was busy with the fire, else they might well have wondered at his astonishment. Just in time, though Sam shut his mouth and hunched his shoulders, closing his eyes as he tried to order his thoughts. The Ring was not on its chain; there was not even a chain about Frodo's neck any more. His first, horrified thought had been that the Ring had somehow conspired to leave Frodo, just as it had Isildur and Gollum, if he'd understood everything aright in the council. But then realization had set in, and Sam found himself floundering in the face of the obvious truth. It was all too clear that Frodo had been right to hide the Ring as he had, for there was no other choice, but Sam was desperately frightened now on his master's behalf.
That Morgul-knife was bad enough, but now It's in him, and who knows what that might do? Even if It wasn't evil, that's a dangerous thing, to get something metal stuck in a body. He remembered an evening in the Green Dragon, when Ted Sandyman had held everyone enthralled, as he had told (with what Sam had then considered far too much glee, which opinion had only been strengthened since leaving the Shire) about a cousin of his that'd stepped on an old nail. A piece had got stuck, and infection had set in of the worst sort. But that was an accident. How did Frodo do it, then, on purpose? Sam wondered, furtively cracking his eyes open to watch him. He would have had to cut in and–
He couldn't make himself think it all the way through, or he was going to make himself sick. Even worse, though, was the thought of what the orcs might do. This Grishnákh now, he knows something, and I don't like it. What's he want with us now, other than to hand us over to the Dark Lord like prized doves? Sam wondered, fearfully. He tilted his head back slightly to peer at the orc-captain from beneath his eyelashes. The goblin was nursing a small fire to life now, the red glow casting shadows on his face, lending a feverish gleam to his dark, glowering eyes. Urdúk was hovering nearby, clearly uncertain what to do next. Given what had happened to Rakûsh, Sam supposed he couldn't blame him. Wouldn't want to sneeze at the wrong time, if I was an orc in this band, Sam thought. Not to worry about that now, Sam, what are you going to do when that big brute looks your way?
It was cold, lying on the damp earth, but Sam was sweating already out of sheer fright. A little ways away, Frodo was stirring a bit more, and when he moaned, Sam could not help craning his neck a bit for a better look. But almost as quickly, Frodo quieted again. Urdúk simply scowled, but said nothing, and made no move towards either hobbit. As Sam closed his eyes once more, the dreadful silence stretched out painfully, broken only by the sound of Grishnákh snapping twigs to feed the fire. Sam's imagination heard bones cracking, as thoughts of Gimli and ax-heads flitted through his mind. At last, though, "Untie that bandage, Urdúk. Use it to gag him, then leave them with me." A pause. "Now!"
Muttering, the other orc stepped forward and stooped to obey. Frodo sucked in a breath–either from Urdúk's ungentle tugging on the bandage or else for fear of discovery, Sam could not tell which it was. His own breath was coming fast and shallow now, and he swallowed hard. What do I do? There were some things a good Shire lad wasn't supposed to know about, and Sam would've been quite content to live out his life never having come closer to a war than Mr. Bilbo's tales could bring him. He had been grateful, in a way, that the warriors among the Fellowship had seemed to hold a similar opinion about what hobbits ought to know, and had been generally discreet about all the terrible things that they had seen and heard tell of.
But even so, the gaps in their speech, the silences in conversations held when the watches were on, and everyone was supposed to be asleep, except that sometimes it didn't happen that way–Sam had come to have a hazy conception through them of what the others had seen, of what they had decided to spare him and the other hobbits, even in the retelling. And now it doesn't matter at all. I don't want to be one of the ones who has those kinds of talks! But he had to look after his master, and so he made himself look at him, and only at him. Frodo was quite alert now, and his eyes were wide with fear as Urdúk hurriedly tied off the gag and then stomped away to rejoin the others.
"Well, my hobbits," Grishnákh's voice fairly dripped malice, "to have come all this way only to be lost in the mists is a hard end. How fortunate that we found you!" The orc came to squat at Frodo's head, hands clasped behind himself as he leaned forward to stare at his captive. After a moment, Grishnákh continued, "Yess... very fortunate, for you seem quite unable to take care of yourselves." A clawed hand darted down to grasp Frodo's left arm and squeeze hard. A muffled cry got past the gag, and Sam bit his lip hard. "A nasty cut, this. You should take better care, or all the mithril in Middle-earth won't save you. And it hasn't!"
He chuckled nastily, then, at his own joke, and Sam felt his lip curl in disgust. "Don't worry, little hobbit, I do have a mind to keep you in one piece. Something like this," and the goblin gripped harder now, twisting, and causing Frodo to moan and writhe, as blood ran from between Grishnákh's claws, "could be dangerous to you. So, take your medicine." And from behind his back he brought a knife, and Sam gasped. But before he could protest, the Grishnákh touched the metal to Frodo's flesh, and it hissed as flesh burned.
No wonder he wanted that fire! Sam's eyes went wide as saucers, and he was quaking with the effort not to turn away. All he could think was, Faint! Swoon, Mr. Frodo, and let it be over! The scent of burnt flesh and blood had him choking on bile, and feeling rather dizzy himself, but at least after a little while, Frodo's cloth-muffled cries ceased all in an instant as he went limp and senseless once more. Sam let his chin droop towards his chest as he curled up a bit more, breathing hard. Grishnákh, however, continued to talk just loudly enough to make himself heard over the jeers–"Can't take his medicine!" "Doesn't know what's good for him!" "We shall have some fun later!"–and laughter of his followers that wafted across the distance between them. "Saruman and his filthy white badges may have got the other two, but let him keep them," he grated harshly. "I think me I've the real prize. Two hobbits alone on this side of the river–now what could they be up to, eh?" Grishnákh demanded, pulling the gag down, though naturally, he received no answer. "What indeed! Ha!"
There came the sound of armor creaking and scraping as the orc shifted positions, and then suddenly, Sam's chin was caught in a slick, yet vice-like grip and forced upward. "Yes," the goblin hissed softly at him, "you ran away from the others. And I know why. Oh yes. But one question tonight: what shall you do when you face the Questioner, little halfling?" The goblin tapped the hot blade against his right cheek–just a quick touch, as if to prompt an erring child to answer. Sam yelped involuntarily, and Grishnákh chuckled contemptuously at that, then shoved him a way suddenly, as if disgusted. Eyes watering, Sam stared up at him, panting, as the orc murmured softly, "Pathetic fool! Little people should not meddle in affairs that are too big for them."
And with that, Grishnákh stood, leaving Sam trembling and sweating and speechless on the ground. The orc glanced consideringly at each of his prisoners, and said in as mild a voice as ever an orc used, "We will speak again, when we can, until we reach the Black Gate. And believe me, my little ones, that is nothing–you will only wish you had more answers for the Questioner than you have for me."
Having made that threat, Grishnákh wandered back to the fire, leaving Sam and Frodo alone to ponder their fate. Or rather, Sam pondered it–Frodo remained sunk in oblivion, and although it was Sam's dearest desire at the moment to join him there, the throbbing pain of his right cheek would not allow him to rest. 'Til we reach the Black Gate? And how long will that take? Not long enough, I don't doubt it, Sam thought, and could scarcely believe he could think that way about the company of orcs. But the Questioner, and the Dark Tower, and the Great Eye....
Sam shuddered. There had to be a way out. There had to be, and Sam clung to that as, after awhile, even the painfully cauterized cut could not keep him from dropping off into a stupor. We just have to hold on long enough. And I'll think of something, Mr. Frodo, I promise I will! With that, he sank into an uneasy rest, and memories of a magic mirror's visions haunted his dreams.***
As the fog rose up again in the late afternoon, Grishnákh roused the company. "We run now, and continue on 'til dawn." And such had been the stare he had leveled at them that no one had complained of the watery sunlight that hung diffuse in the mist. Frodo had staggered to his feet and given Sam a look that'd just about broken his heart before all expression had leeched from his face with the command to run. Grishnákh had his whip out today, and Sam flinched whenever it whistled past his head. Occasionally, it would lick across his back if he began to slow, and Sam would gasp and redouble his efforts. The hours dragged along with the miles, and when Sam could bear it no longer, he collapsed and simply allowed himself to be dragged along, slung from orc to orc like a sack of potatoes as his porters wearied of carrying him. What Frodo endured, he refused to consider, and concentrated on the blackness that promised escape from the world, even if only for a little while.
The feeling of the earth rising up to slap him pulled Sam back to the gloomy waking world, but to his surprise, he did not open his eyes to misty dawnlight. Instead, as he craned his neck skywards, he blinked up at a bright gibbous moon in a clear, dark sky. All about him was the sound of armor shifting, and muttered orcish, growls and hoots and the overpowering scent of sweat and filth. Why have we stopped? Sam wondered, and wondered if there were any way to take advantage of this unexpected pause. "Sam?" a voice whispered brokenly from behind him, and Sam caught his breath.
There was an ominous pause, and for a moment Sam thought perhaps the other had swooned again. But then, hoarsely, "What's happening?"
"I don't rightly know, sir. I didn't wake up 'til they tossed me down here and–"
"Quiet, slugs!" an orc snarled in a hateful undertone, and both hobbits flinched as if from a blow. But none descended just yet, and so they relaxed, though they spoke no more. He sounds so weak, Sam worried, his attention sliding back immediately to Frodo. Like he's got nothing left in him anymore. These orcs will run him to death before he ever reaches Mordor! With an effort, Sam managed to lift his head off the ground and look around a bit. The orcs were simply standing and waiting, and none seemed to be looking in his direction, so he wriggled and writhed 'til he managed to turn over onto his other side.
His master was facing away from him, and all Sam could see was his back and bound hands, and the scratch marks on the back of his neck from ungentle handling. Frodo was trembling, too, as if he were freezing, which he might well be, deprived of his shirt, and Sam bit his lip. After so long in that swamp and among orcs, he was fairly convinced he would never be able to smell anything ever again, but he thought he detected just the faintest odor of infection, what with his nose almost pressed up against Frodo's back. Someone had thought to rebandage the wound, but it was a filthy rag of a cloth. Probably it was little more than a strip off of someone's cloak or tunic. After a cautery done more to hurt Frodo than to help him, Sam was certain that this would only make things worse.
What if he's truly ill? Would Grishnákh stop? He wants him to live, doesn't he? But if Sam said a word, Grishnákh might well pay attention to Frodo, and to the injury. And that was dangerous, for then he might well somehow find the Ring. But then do I say something and try to save him, or nothing, and let this go on, even if it kills him? Mercy! Sam blinked hard, eyes stinging. He was afraid to weep in front of the orcs, but it was beginning to sink in that even escaping might not be the answer. He might find a way out, only to have Frodo die of his wound and Grishnákh's cruel treatment. His own back hurt from the whip's bite, and Frodo's back was torn where he had been caught by the lash as well. If Sam did not find a way out... he had to, but if he did not, then could he stand to simply let his master die all for the sake of keeping the Ring out of orcish claws? But if I don't, the others will die instead. Merry and Pippin, and all of them, and everyone at home in the Shire, he reminded himself. But they aren't here, and Frodo is!
Just at that moment, Sam heard Grishnákh saying something to the others in his own harsh-sounding tongue. What's this now? he wondered, watching in astonishment as several orcs loped off north-east. The orc-captain said a word and waved a hand at the rest of his company. Obedient to his apparent command, the others, with much grumbling and sighing, sank down to the earth to wait. Grishnákh remained standing, arms folded across his chest. For a time, he gazed after the departed orcs, stiff and fairly bristling with an odd, angry defiance. What's wrong enough to upset an orc? Sam wondered, fearfully. Perhaps Grishnákh felt his gaze, for malevolent eyes turned towards him, and Sam fought the urge to just put his head down and hide behind Frodo. Grishnákh did not blink, though he did turn fully, abandoning the view of the darkened plain to stare at the hobbits with a brooding, hooded look that sent chills down Sam's back. But he did not move to touch them, nor did he speak, and somehow, Sam found this more unnerving than threats.
After awhile, he did let his head sink back down to the earth, let the throb of his cheek blend with the other pains as he closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the back of Frodo's neck.
Time passed. Everything seemed deathly still upon the plain, for even the orcs were quiet. What they waited for, Sam could not imagine, and he had quickly ceased to rack his brains over the band that Grishnákh had sent away. He could not imagine why the orcs wasted the night, although he was certainly in no hurry to reach the Black Gate. Better to rest for a bit, as much as he could, for he would need it. Frodo's skin against his brow was feverishly hot, and heavens help him if he knew what he would do about that. First things first, or they wouldn't be first, as the Gaffer says. I've got to get him away from these brutes. There must be some chance, and I need both my eyes open and looking if I'm to find it, Sam thought, wishing his eyelids didn't feel like lead weights. And that his back didn't burn. And that his feet and legs didn't ache so....
Sam did not know how he managed to fall asleep, frightened and hurt as he was, but the next thing he knew, he woke to the sight of Grishnákh as the orc grabbed him by the chin and forced a vial between his teeth. Something hot and bitter flowed down his throat, and Sam spluttered, coughing, spraying his captor with a mouthful. Grishnákh cursed but forced another draught down his throat, and then snarled, "On your feet, vermin–the sun has not come up yet!"
Temples throbbing, senses reeling, Sam dizzily obeyed, and found, to his astonishment, that he felt steadier. His limbs were no longer leaden, but nearly feverish, and he felt stronger. What was that? Beside him, Frodo, too, managed to climb to his feet, though he swayed a little. Yet a light was in his eyes, at least, and Sam made himself think that it wasn't the glow of sickness. Orders were shouted, and once again, they were running. But though Sam could not see much over the heads of his captors, and had not a clear sense of where they were going in any case, as he glanced left at Frodo, he caught a precious glimpse of the land about them through a gap in the ranks. Brief it was–too brief for Sam to do more than notice it ere the orcs closed up the circle once again–but where the moon shone down, it was bright, illuminating the plain. And he could see clearly in that one instant that the mountains no longer lay before them, but to the left.
They had turned West.***
Dawn came soon, and when it did, all took advantage of it to rest, and well that they did, for Grishnákh was in a foul temper, pushing his company hard enough that even among the orcs, complaints rose of a particularly surly and nasty sort. In fact, before they had set out the next evening, there had been two more dead orcs, victims of a quarrel which Grishnákh had won. What the matter had been, had been unclear, for none of the vicious exchanges had been in the Common Speech, and Sam was not sure he wanted to even guess what the matter was. Not when Grishnákh had turned such a look on him and Frodo afterwards as had nearly frozen Sam's blood with fear. There had been no time to think on what it might have meant, for the orc-captain had ordered them all to stand and make ready. Another draught of the foul liquor had been forced down Sam's throat and Frodo's, and then the dread command had come, the one word that Sam now knew of orcish–"Brathak!"–and they had begun to run again.
There was one thing to be said for orcish draughts, though, and that was that they did keep a body from running blind and half-witless, and so Sam, after awhile and in spite of himself, began to notice the changes in the land. Since leaving the meres behind, the ground had grown less soggy, and heath had replaced the marsh reeds and tussocks, and here and there a stunted tree or bush would rise up above the plain. Southwest stood a low, rocky rise, seeming a grey and mournful sentinel that stared across the gap at the fanged heights of the Ephel Dúath. Around its easternmost spur they bent their course by hours, passing through a narrow neck of land, and for a time, the ground was hard and stony, a torment to Sam's aching feet before at last the land began to slope gently towards a forest.
And such a forest! Tall and silent stood the trees in the light of the waning moon, and Sam felt a shiver work its way down his back that, for a wonder, had naught to do with the cold or fear. It was nearly dawn by the time they reached it, the orcs surging ahead, eager to reach the shade, as the eastern sky began to grow bright. The hobbits, in a last effort, sprinted along with them, Frodo twice colliding with orcs who swatted him aside. But somehow he kept to his feet until the company came to a halt, at which point he simply dropped and lay like a dead thing, eyes wide and staring, seeming sightless. Sam, gazing at him, was irresistibly reminded of watching Legolas sleep, except he had never known the Elf to have nightmares. But if ever an Elf could have them, I think this might be what he'd look like to me, Sam thought fearfully, panting for breath.
"Eat!" snarled an orc just then, fairly flinging food in Sam's face. It was dark enough that it was hard to tell what he had been given, and the hobbit decided that that was likely for the best, as he snapped after it like a starveling pup, since no one had deemed it wise to untie his hands from behind his back. Frodo, however, did not move, and after only a few bites, Sam decided it was not worth rousing him for a feast only flies might appreciate. Ugh, but I don't ever want to know what it was! he decided, wishing even for the liquor to wash the taste out of his mouth. All around him in the darkness beneath the oaks–for oaks they were, now that Sam had a chance to stare at them closely–the orcs were settling, snarling at each other now and again as they ate or sharpened weapons. There was a murderous undercurrent in their mutterings today that even Sam recognized, and he wondered again what it might mean. Why did we change directions in the middle of the night? Where are we going now? Sam did not know, but he thought that perhaps it was not unhopeful that the orcs seemed on edge.
Frodo whimpered just then, jerking as if caught in a nightmare, and a chorus of soft hisses greeted this, as one of the orcs reached out and clapped a hand over Frodo's mouth. Sam sat up straighter at that and opened his mouth to protest, but the orc turned on him.
"Mind your manners, rat! Bad enough we missed our talk with the Nazgûl gettin' out of Horse Country, but we won't be spitted for your squeaking, either!" he rumbled in a low voice. Sam shut his mouth with an audible click of his teeth, and as Frodo quieted again, the orc released the hobbit and turned his attention back to his own meal.
Nazgûl? Meeting with Nazgûl? Of a sudden, it was all very clear to Sam what had happened. They're running away! he thought, brow furrowing as he put together the pieces. They didn't meet the Nazgûl coming out of the Horse Country... they didn't meet him because they didn't have anything to show for it. That's what was meant before, that these had stuck with old Grishnákh coming over the mountains. They failed, and now they're afraid to go home. Those orcs must've been scouts last night and they must've brought news that Grishnákh didn't like, so he turned southwest instead of going home through the front gate, where everyone must know he ran away empty-handed. But where's the back door then, that he means to take us through? And where are we? Sam wondered. Certainly, this land seemed a better one than the one they had left, though it was still under the mountains that fenced Mordor. Maybe we're close to Gondor by now. Isn't that a thought? But what he would do with it, Sam did not know yet. Weary as he was, he simply lay down beside Frodo let himself fall asleep, and he hoped that neither he nor Frodo would dream.
But Frodo was not asleep. Not really, though he was not truly awake, either. He was Between, unable fully to escape either his dreams or the living nightmare of the march. Yet he knew of the quarrels and troubles of the orcs, and was more certain than Sam, even, of the cause of their perturbation, for he could feel it, too. Even by night–perhaps especially by night–when the horror of a journey had overwhelmed even the potent orc-draught, he had been aware of a burning regard that beat now against the back of his neck, rather than upon his face, and with each stride, it had receded a little, but never enough for its intensity but mounted. Somehow, even in his present stupor, he knew that the orcs were aware of it as well, and that it spurred them onward, even as it fueled their conflicts. That was why the undercurrent in the company that Sam had remarked was so vicious, and a sense of disaster pricked now at Frodo's feverish senses, manifesting almost as an itch between his shoulders that he longed to scratch... or to inflame.
For Grishnákh stood silent watch today, as he had yesterday, but his attention slithered back and forth between the perils of an unfriendly land and his own company. And more and more often, his gaze would touch upon the hobbits, while the heat of that invisible gaze grew worse by the hour, sending waves of distress through the ranks. They need His gaze to stand up and to lie down, to come and to go, and so they are afraid now, for their own desires are not strong enough to oppose his. Not, and live, Frodo thought dully, though his mind continued to turn out words with startling clarity despite the fever and exhaustion. Grishnákh will drive them on nonetheless–he is stronger than the others, but also the more desperate for that! So deep in His will that he desires what He desires... and yet not deeply enough to be trusted for that very reason.
How the orc-captain intended to move his increasingly fractious lot into Mordor in one piece without losing his precious prisoners, Frodo did not know, and he was nearly too exhausted to care. Yet I cannot rest. Why can I not rest? Perhaps it was merely the effect of the draughts Grishnákh kept forcing on him and Sam, but it seemed that no matter how weary he was, no matter how weak from hunger and abuse, his mind could not cease to think, denying him the comfort of oblivion. And so he lay, and his mind kept turning over all that came within its reach, unfettered by the demands of his protesting body, from which he felt oddly divorced. And yet also trapped in it. It burns so, still! Fire was at the core of him, and all else in him was chill, cold, dead. Even Sam's presence at his back felt icy today. Everything felt as ice save for It and for the call of Its Master....
And save for Grishnákh, whose burning gaze, whenever it fell upon him, made his skin tingle, and all his hairs stand on end. And if reason could give a hundred excuses why that might be so, none touched upon the one that underlay the rest, silent as bedrock, yet increasingly present to the hobbit's mind. Frodo found himself watching the orc. Sometimes Grishnákh seemed to feel him staring, and would turn to stare back. It had not been thus yesterday, Frodo thought. But now, as another day wore on towards noon, the orc turned more and more often, and Frodo's heart sped each time, 'til he could scarcely see for the pounding of blood in his temples, and the golden image that dazzled and dizzied his waking sight. For It grows upon the mind, said a voice in his head, one that might have been Gandalf's from some long ago day. The Ring gives power according to the measure of each possessor. Do not make a trial of your strength, Frodo! But It was growing upon his mind of Its own accord, and had been for long. Now, watered and nourished by Grishnákh's stares and the will that beat against his neck from that other gaze–Frodo could see the gold in the goblin's eyes, and he knew that It called to the other. Ash nazg... ash nazg.... That he called to him.
I must not, a part of Frodo thought, frightened. I must not! Yet as the afternoon trickled slowly away beneath the oaks, Grishnákh drew him forth, again and again, to a silent contest of wills whenever their eyes met. And if Frodo did not always win, he did not always lose, either, and memories of a tent in Lothlórien came back starkly to mind. It began thus with Boromir as well. So little a thing! I could make him leave us, Sam and I–I could make him take his band and go. I could make him fall on his own sword, if I wished. I could do this. It is in my hands to do this....
What am I thinking? Frodo shivered, feeling the gooseflesh rise on his arms. It is not in my hands, 'tis the Ring that calls. It calls through me now! How can I stop this? What can I do? To such questions, he could make no answers, but he feared the day when he would wake to Grishnákh's hands on him, for it seemed all too likely that the orc would strip him to the bones in his lust to find that which called to him. And do I want him to? Frodo wondered, and could not muster the strength to be appalled as he gritted his teeth against the fire that spread outward once more from that band of gold....
"Hai! Tark-hai!" Frodo jerked, as commotion broke out all around, all at once.
"Mr. Frodo!" Sam yelled in his ear, apparently torn from his sleep, even as a wave of heat and malevolent triumph seemed to crash over and through Frodo, drowning out everything. For a few precious moments, he was blind and deaf, and gold seemed to sparkle in his sight, to sing in his ears as the old Dwarvish saying went, and he was struck dumb. A jolt ran through his body, and Frodo shook his head sharply, gasping as the world spun dizzily back into being, and then Frodo blinked to find himself staring at Sam across the width of an armored chest. He shivered, then, knowing full well that the moment had come, and he looked up into Grishnákh's blazing eyes. A moment they stared, but then Grishnákh tore his gaze away.
Above the cries of the orcs and the clash and clatter of steel-wrought death came the voices of Men, crying out, "Gondor! Gondor!", moving steadily round them as Grishnákh swore, then ducked and broke to the left, towards the mountains. He will escape! Fool, he will escape and all will come to naught. Tell him to stop! Tell him to stop now! Make him stop! But Frodo's throat was dry, and he could not speak, though Sam shouted once before the orc clapped a hand over each of their mouths. Sam continued to writhe, and at one point, Grishnákh cursed and seemed to stumble a bit. But he quickly recovered, barreling past two of his own lads, head down, knocking them aside like rag dolls. Whether they rose again, Frodo did not know, as the battle faded behind them somewhat, and with it, any hope of rescue.
This is the End then, he thought, and tried to steel himself for it, and so bleak were his thoughts that he did not notice that Grishnákh was limping until the orc lurched to a halt beneath a tree. Tossing the hobbits down, he snarled as he sank to the ground, reached down, and snapped the haft of an arrow that had pierced his leg.
With a hiss, he threw the splintered bit of wood away and rounded on the hobbits so fiercely that both of them shrank back, and Frodo flinched as if from a blow. Ash nazg durbatulûk– No. No no no.... "One of you has It," Grishnákh growled, eyes glowing, and Frodo swallowed, staring at him, glassy-eyed. Ash nazg.... The goblin's claws were restless, and little tremors ran up his arms as muscles twitched and trembled with the fever of lust. He reached for Frodo, but Sam pushed himself between them.
"If one of us had it, we'd've used It, don't you think?" Sam demanded, and Frodo blinked, astonished by the other's tone. Even Grishnákh paused, as Sam went on doggedly, voice rising as if he needed volume to overcome the fact that he, too, was shaking. "You and your lot run us half to death playing your filthy little games with us, and we just run along and take it. You don't think we'd have done something if we'd 'a had a way to stop it? Well? Isn't that what we'd have done? And wouldn't you have done something sooner, if we really had It?"
"You understand nothing." The orc's voice was flat as he stared at Sam, and Frodo closed his eyes before that dark-eyed stare. "Pathetic little fool, you do not begin to understand, for He is the way, the One, and His gaze is the light that drives us... and It is His strength, born of Him and bound to Him, and ever-beloved of Him. You understand nothing!" Grishnákh snarled then, and quick as lightning, a long arm darted out. Sam's cry was cut off as he was flung aside so hard the breath was knocked out of him, and he lay curled up and gasping for air.
The orc spared him not a second glance, but turned and advanced on Frodo, crawling forward as the hobbit tried vainly to wriggle back. But it hurt so to move, and the very weight of his flesh and bones seemed unbearable. Ash nazg.... Claws caught him, sinking into his skin, and Frodo let out a wordless cry. I will not say it! I will not say it, I will not say it...! A hand encircled his left arm, squeezing hard enough to break the scar open again, and another cry was torn from Frodo. NO!
At that very moment, Grishnákh let out a roar, and Frodo choked and recoiled as slaver dripped hot on his face. The orc dropped him with such suddenness that Frodo had no time even to yell before the shock of earth met his spine and then faded. There came then the sound of something whistling through the air, followed by the crash of metal on metal. "Frodo!" Sam's voice reached him through the vertigo, cutting through deeper voices–Men's voices–and someone bent over him. Frodo struggled to open his eyes, and found himself staring up into too-familiar bright grey eyes framed by darkness.
"Boromir!" he muttered weakly, dismayed. And then, suddenly fierce: "You shall not have It!"
And then the world went dark.
Notes on Orcish/Black Speech: Ardalambion. Best site on the web for info on more than just Elvish. 'Brathak' is pure invention, though with an effort to mimic the sound patterns described at Ardalambion. "Ash nazg..." etc. taken from the inscription on the Ring, as read by Gandalf in the Council of Elrond. "Tark-hai" is the orcish word for Númenorean with the standard 'people' suffix, -'hai.' Strangely, I can only find the proper citation for that translation (tark–> person of Númenorean descent) in "Le Seigneur des Anneaux," p. 1226.
"Can't take his medicine!" "Doesn't know what's good for him!" "We shall have some fun later!" TTT, "The Uruk-hai," 64.
"Little people should not meddle in affairs that are too big for them." TTT, "The Uruk-Hai," 73
"The Ring gives power according to the measure of each possessor." FoTR, "The Mirror of Galadriel," 357. Actually a paraphrase, but so close as to deserve a citation.
Many thanks also to Forodwaith for having written of the olvar of Middle-earth. This here city-slicker tips her hat in gratitude.
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