4. Hunting By Number
The tiny fire blinked as a hand threw in kindling. Beside it sat two elves, heads silver and gold, and a mound of hares. One elf was skinning, the other pretending to.
"But," Finrod tried again, "you were better this time."
"No, better! I could never have made such a shot! Right under my arm. Amazing, one inch over and it could have pierced my hand. "
"Hmm… what happened… what happened was I sneezed," Círdan finished.
"So… ah," Finrod's complexion lost a smidge of its ruddiness. "Well, it was still a good shot."
Círdan paused, noticing a knife edging towards Finrod's throat. But Finrod noticed first.
"Got you," Finrod told the knife. It dropped from a quivering hand. He pulled the hand along with its owner into the firelight – an orc, a young orc, squirming and squealing, garbed in poorly scraped skins that looked more like moldy extensions of his own hide
"Don't eat me!"
Claws flailed. Spittle flew. Finrod held firm to the wrist, like a hook on a determined fish, the rod of his arm extended far enough to evade the orc's floundering limbs.
"Don't eat me!"
"Sit still and I won't."
The orc shot Círdan, who watched their anglers' dance with blank eyes, a quivering peep. "W-will he?"
"He won't eat you either. I promise."
The orc sat down, snuffling. "Don't eat me."
Finrod released the orc's arm and with his other hand stuck the little knife blade-down by the hares.
"If this is your standard method of thieving, don't continue with it. You'll die. Here." Finrod handed him a partially skinned hare. The orc sniffed it. "It is not poisoned."
The orc probably did not hear the last promise, as his fangs were already tearing and chomping.
Finrod gave him a polite minute. "Are you alone?"
"Yes. Er, no," the orc amended. He squelched off another morsel.
"What's your name?"
The orc spoke through a full mouth. "Don' got un."
"No one ever calls you by anything?"
"Er, they call me Snitch sometimes."
"Oh, why is that?" said Finrod, not without theories.
Snitch wiped blood on the back of his hand. "I listen. I remember things. When the boss needs to remember the Lord Master's wishes, he asks me. When he needs a message sent, he sends me. Tha's why when he was eaten I wasn't."
Finrod rested his chin on a knee to watch with eyes that glittered with a radiance deeper than firelight. "That must make you an important fellow."
"Huh. Yeah, does. Yeah." Snitch's green face – which Finrod's nose asserted was more a result of hygiene than pigmentation – flushed olive.
"I bet you know more than do most your kind."
Snitch swallowed. "Maggots more. I know – I know north and south. I know where the boss keeps his drink an' why the moon doesn't fall an' how many times to crack an egg so it spills out right. I even know which Enemies the Lord Master wants most." He added in a loud hiss, "We was, if fact, looking for one – and almost found 'im before the others got eaten – the king and his secret fortress. The Lord Master wants the king." Snitch held up four greasy claws. "This much. Great rewards for those who find the Big Enemies, you see, the fewer fingers, the bigger the reward."
Snitch missed the glance that flew between the two elves, but did catch a hungry twitch in the mute silver elf. He shuffled closer to the gold one and nibbled the hare's bones.
"Excuse me, Snitch," said the mute. "I am curious. Who is the first?"
In a flurry of claws and mildewed hides, Snitch dropped his snack and crouched like a very ugly squirrel set to flee up a trunk."Wha -wha's that?"
"Sorry. I mean who is--" Círdan held high a single thumb. "Of the Enemies?"
Snitch picked up the fallen carcass and clutched it like a protective charm. He thought before saying, "Er, the evil king in the hidden kingdom."
"And who's-" Círdan's pointer met with his thumb.
"Tha's the evil queen of the dark forest. Next's her eviler king."
"Well, what about-" All five fingers stretched out.
Snitch shuddered. "He's the wicked chief whose head is on fire."
Círdan's left thumb joined in.
"All his evil brothers."
Finrod clicked his tongue. "That's not fair."
"Rph," agreed Círdan, shooting up another finger.
Snitch studied his claws. "The big-king of the blue banner."
For the next finger, Snitch again needed to reference his own digits.
"The whelp of the big-king of the blue banner."
The silver elf had every one of his long fingers extended now, minus a pinky. Snitch thought that if he hadn't been hungry before, he must have been now; and fingers do fit neatly around one's throat.
He gulped. "Er, the evil king by the wicked water."
"Ninth?" Círdan's hands plunged into his lap. "Only ninth. He needs to try harder. Thank you, Snitch."
Snitch sighed and darted his eyes about, finally resting them on the left side of the gold elf. The elf didn't seem to notice at all, too absorbed in saying, "Well, nine is a strong number."
So over the gold elf's lowered knee, Snitch's hand slipped snailspeed, outstretched, reaching... And in an eyeblink Finrod snatched up the knife, so that Snitch's claws just scraped along the hilt. Finrod tossed it to Círdan. He caught it and stuck it in his belt.
"Do not," Círdan roared softly, "try that again."
Snitch, after a moment without a heartbeat and gripping a hilt of air, dropped simultaneously onto his knees and face. He blubbered in a cocoon of shivers. "I knew it. I told you everything I know so now you're gonna eat me."
Finrod stood and narrowed his eyes. Snitch's whimpering magnified by three.
"That is enough. We've not hurt you."
Snitch howled. "You're gonna keep me 'n eat me later…"
"We don't intend to keep you," said Finrod, raising his voice over the orc's. "We'll let you free." The bawling briefly ebbed. "Yes, we'll let you free. But only if you swear not to kill, maim or discomfort any man, elf or dwarf on your road to your master. When we hear about it we will not show mercy again. We may even reconsider eating you."
"Yes, I swear! I swear! By the great Lord Master, I swear!"
"Repeat the conditions, Snitch."
Snitch raised his chin and scratched at his dripping nose. "I won't kill and maim mans and elves and dwarves on the road. I swear I won't."
Finrod blinked a long blink. "Stand up."
"Hold out your arms."
The orc obeyed with a moan.
"Take these as a trade for the knife." Finrod piled him with the remainder of their game, even the hare Círdan had with such difficulty and pride procured. Snitch's knees buckled. He stared as though unconvinced that his arms and head were still fastened to the rest of him. But he did not mull it over for long and away he scurried. They watched until the night folded over his back.
"You are too lenient," Círdan said in the forbidden tongue, stretching full length toward the neglected fire that was protesting with sparks. "He'll only return to pillaging and killing when he's out of earshot."
"No, I don't think so," said Finrod. He barked a laugh. "You needed to see your eyes when you caught the knife. I was reminded of Tulkas in his best mood." His wink was broad. He then lifted four fingers to his face as though inspecting them for blemishes, and frowned. "I believe Morgoth is mistaken in the numbering of his enemies…"
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.