When All Other Lights Go Out - Frodo's Welcoming at Minas Morgul
Disclaimer: All hail Tolkien, creator of Frodo and the entire world of Middle Earth. I'm just borrowing the myth.
Category: Cirith Ungol, in a world somewhere between the book and the movie; after Shelob
"May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out."
Frodo had heard those words with wonder, with fear, and with resignation. They were to become more real to him than his own name. Without the Ring, without the Phial, without even Sam, all around him was darkness.
The world had greyed into a formless void that pulled at his mind. He tried to cry out, to give some voice to the terror and pain that had seized him, but no noise would come. Words were whispered that echoed endlessly in his mind, stretched out of sense and meaning. And dark shapes enveloped him- lifted and shifted and rocked him.
It was the rocking that first seemed real- something separate from the hazy cocoon he inhabited. A sickness spread in his belly, but weakness upon weakness made him limp, and he was unable to even protest. He could not see; he could not move. But his hearing grew sharper. The whispers were growling, hissing, spitting words that he could not force his mind to understand, a foul language that sent fear coursing through his veins like ice water. Rough hands were grasping him hard- everywhere, it seemed. Where was Sam? Vaguely he remembered running towards something, away from something, hearing Sam's cry and then feeling a fierce pain that had dropped him instantly in agony. That pain was with him still. From there he had somehow come here, wherever here was. Without movement, he could see no hope of escape and darkness overcame his thoughts. He swooned and knew no more.
Liquid heat seared his throat. Frodo swallowed reflexively and gagged at the taste, sending rivulets streaming from his mouth. Sharp claws dug into his neck. He could not open his eyes.
"Drink!" The bottle was jammed so far in his mouth that he had no other choice. He struggled feebly as more washed over his tongue, but the hands holding him up quickly pulled tight. He swallowed again and was dropped to the hard, stone floor. He lay on his side for a moment, weak from he knew not what. The pain in his shoulder, however, was fading and he felt stronger. He forced open his eyes and pushed up, leaning heavily on one arm. Through watery vision, he saw torch light gleaming along the shifting surfaces of darkened figures and blurry steel. He tried to focus on them, but a blade cut into his line of vision and he fell back away from it. A dark shape crouched over him and flipped the sharp side of the sword toward his face.
"Welcome, pitiful creature of light," he hissed in mangled, guttural words. "You have escaped a deep pit only to fall into the darkest cavern of night." The blade became clear before Frodo's eyes just as it jerked closer to his throat and forced him flat on his back. A growling laugh sounded somewhere above him and was joined by other harsh, low voices. Their menacing agreement swelled to fill the cavernous space.
Frodo lay upon his back, casting his despairing gaze upwards, to the towering dark walls built of hewn stone and tarnished with foul air, smelling of the filth of a thousand Orcs. Yes, his mind grasped at the word. This was an Orcs' lair. All about him were their dark shapes. A sudden noise at his elbow made him jump, but he could not turn his head against the blade. The small orc made calming noises through his teeth as his hands busily crept over Frodo's body. He found the pockets on his jacket and vest and emptied them. The hands went on groping maddeningly. Would they find the Ring? Frodo swallowed hard against the blade of the sword and studied the darkness hovering over him like a bird of prey. There was an endless span of it in the vaulted ceiling above him, above the orcs. They had tormented Gollum. For the Ring, they would kill Frodo. And for attempting to keep the Ring from Sauron, they would tear him apart, piece by piece.
The hands were gone. Around him, Frodo could still hear them breathing, feel their expectant eyes on him. Somewhere in the room, the smaller orc was reporting, his sniveling lost in the space around him. Frodo believed Sam wasn't here. The entire company seemed to be crowded in this one room, and the orcs were not addressing their torment to anyone else. He closed his eyes briefly with the hope that Sam had escaped unharmed. He had no greater hope left.
The blade was finally moved away and Frodo sat up slowly. He saw that he was in the center of the dark room, and arranged, in a sort of rough ring around him...were orcs.
They were looking at him and they were horrible. From the darkness, the torchlight gave birth to hideous faces distorted by shadow and shifting light. Frodo saw in them contorted mockeries of beauty, their features exaggerated into horrible repugnance. They jeered at him. He scrambled backwards but rasping laughter from behind stopped him before he even found his feet. He turned slowly and found more horrors with sharp claws and teeth that dripped foaming saliva. They walled him in on all sides but from a distance, content for now with leering and watching his fright. Frodo knelt before them, leaning away without thought, his hand numbly feeling its way to his chest despite himself, and finding...nothing. He felt frantically with both hands, then looked at his chest. No chain; no ring. Barks of raucous laughter ripped through the darkness. He looked up blankly. They had the Ring. His hands slid nervelessly to the floor. The Quest was over. He had failed.
Slow, heavy, uneven steps came from behind him, but Frodo did not turn. "We have many long hours to fill today, creature." The rasping, amused voice mangled the words almost beyond recognition. The orc stood right beside him now, his breathing loud and horrible. Frodo couldn't help himself; he looked up- up into a shadowed face of horror. Beady, leering eyes, set in slimy, scabby flesh and a spiny-ridged nose overset a mouth stretching as large as a pumpkin. The hunched, apish form bent down, his gaping maw opened wide until Frodo's mind was filled with terror. He could not move his eyes away as it spoke. "Do not spend all your energy too soon." Then he released his gaze and Frodo shuddered, looking to the floor in relief. "Strip him."
Frodo jerked his head back up, his mind fumbling with the words. They had already taken everything he had. Two huge figures melted out of the dark crowd. They were the largest orcs Frodo had ever seen. He scrambled back from them as far as he dared. One of them was still coming, his horrible eyes fastened on Frodo- glowing red out of the shadows on his face. The other, a darker-skinned giant, had gone rigid, letting loose a howl of rage that froze Frodo's blood. He couldn't move. Then the red-eyed orc grabbed him roughly, pinning his arms and raising him high with a furious roar. Frodo ground his teeth and hung helplessly. The hundreds of voices bellowing in response hit him with an almost physical force. He looked down over their faces, stretched into unimaginable contortions of evil, raging victory. The cacophony rose even higher into the air around him and buffeted his ears until he writhed in the orc's grip and the blood pounded in his veins. But still they did not stop, seeming to grow even more frenzied as they watched him. They loved his weakness, his pain.
He forced himself to look at them, mastering his face with effort. True evil was here, spewing at him, snarling, hissing from every face he saw. His mind stilled, absorbing the reality. Time seemed to slow. His heart beat in long, slow thumps. Before him, the faces continued to rage, but they became almost soundless to him. His whole life had been lived in ignorance of this, yet this was real. They were real. Their grasping claws and horrible eyes were all real. Trembling overtook him, and tears came until he choked on them. He felt with every fiber of his being that this was wrong. He should not be here.
In an instant, he was flung to the floor. The orcs grew more quiet. Still there was a cage of space for him and he crouched in the lonely circle, feeling the floor tilt under him slightly. Then a jerk on his cape almost lifted him off his feet, and another jerk wrenched him sideways. Behind him, an orc spat out a curse. Frodo desperately grasped at the neck of the cape, willing it to hold true as the swarthy-skinned orc tried to pull it off. A bellow blistered his ear, then a large, scaled hand grabbed his neck and leant him backwards. His feet somehow kept the ground, for all the good it did him. He was parallel with the ground looking straight at a blade coming towards him. He jerked his hands away and flinched as it stabbed up under the leaf broach and cut away the cloth. A hissing breath of evil words slid over his face as it fell away. The hideous face was brought near, and Frodo was forced to take in the pocked, scabby skin, the maddened, yellowish eyes and the mouth curved in a malicious, sharp-toothed grin. The orc hissed a hot breath that stank of rotten meat and old blood. Then he released him.
Frodo landed back in a crouch, but he trembled through each breath. The harsh voices around him rose in an onslaught of rasping cries. They were not finished yet. Frodo looked around wildly as the nightmarish din drummed itself into a chant. His eyes caught on a familiar face. The red-eyed orc stepped forward, towering above the others. His eyes were blood-like slashes in pale flesh. There was only a sunken crater where a nose should be. White, criss-crossed scars decorated his face and arms in puckers of pale skin. Frodo shuddered and lowered his gaze to the long knife in the orc's grip. The orcs were thumping on the floor, the tables- he even saw them battering one another in their frenzy. At the highest pitch of the uproar, the orc vaulted himself high over Frodo. Frodo fell back in terror but never even hit the floor. An arm held his back and the red eyes held his gaze captive as the knife flashed in the torchlight. In a frenzied slashing, his jacket, vest and shirt were efficiently cut from him. Again, the orc paused to leer into his face, but then dropped his gaze.
Frodo was just getting his breath back, amazed to feel no cuts on his arms or hands. As he was released, his eyes were drawn by the fine, soiled linen of his shirt, now slashed and crumpled, so light against the blackened stone. He could not draw his eyes away from its familiar shape, disconcerted by its mutilated condition. Another moment passed and he suddenly realized that all those around him were silent and still. A harsh whisper above him broke the silence. Frodo did not look up. The mithril coat was bright even by torchlight. He swallowed hard, and a slow rustling of movements finally drew his gaze. They were crowding closer silently and the nearest orcs were reaching for him. A madness was in their eyes. He could not breathe.
A harsh cry split the silence and the red-eyed orc jumped in front of Frodo, slashing at several greedy hands. Blood splattered the stones near Frodo and angry voices screamed. But the crush of bodies relented. Frodo felt, rather than saw the orc turn back to him, then he was lifted back to his feet. The face came hideously closer and the orc ran clumsy fingers across the mithril. Frodo looked upon the blackness of his nails and the encrusted blood and filth under them. They smelled foul and his eyes cut away from them in repugnance. An unnerving whisper slid in his ear. "Sauron's prize. Not so hard to find after all, eh?" He pounded Frodo's chest in a sharp rap that almost knocked out his breath. When he turned to the crowd, Frodo folded behind him. The orcs were making a hideous row again; the larger orc's words only inflamed them. He gave one last grating shout and the crowd quieted. Then Frodo felt himself grabbed again.
In a vicious jerk that scraped his skin raw, the whole coat was lifted over his head. The shock of frigid air was stunning. His hands went to his chest and curled upon the bare, empty skin there. No Ring. No mithril. Frodo could barely breathe through the haze of fear, feel only cold around him. Another jarring command rang out. There were arms were on him again. Frodo panicked, choking on tears, grabbing and digging his nails in the foul flesh and kicking out against the hard body behind him. But there were more than one this time, and he was borne to the floor. Terrible hands fumbled at his waist. He cried out as a vicious jerk ripped his pants free from its fastenings and off of his body. He fell onto his back, holding up hands in a plea for mercy and in a last grasp at his failing self-control. Tears choked his voice. "Enough! It is enough."
The red-eyed orc turned from studying his prize and slowly walked over to Frodo. The other orcs backed away. Frodo watched them move with trepidation, the cold from the stones and the air seeping into his bones through the thin cloth still covering him. The orc laid his steely glance on him and spat out harsh words in the Common Speech.
"It is never enough."
He gestured and Frodo fell back limply as the orcs grasped him again. The small bit of cloth was ripped away seemingly without sound, lost somewhere in the raucous cries of the orcs around him. As soon as they turned away, Frodo crawled to his knees and crossed his hands in front of his thighs. Behind him, around him, beside him- they were laughing. Horrible guttural noises with nasty, suggestive tones. Frodo felt humiliation burn him deeply as he bowed his head. Tears clung to his lashes, and finally fell.
But even as the teardrops struck the stone floor, something changed. Fierce self-mastery stopped the tremors of Frodo's body and his face hardened. He breathed deeply, feeling the power born of long endurance and constant resistance. It flooded his heart with quiet fire; it calmed his mind. He set his jaw; opened his eyes and lifted a stern face to his tormentors. And as he watched the horde of orcs, they faltered.
Their eyes grew wide, their expressions stunned. The nearest drew back and for the second time, all went quiet and all stared at him. He could not be sure within the haze wrapped around his mind, but it seemed to him that the darkness fled before him and several of the nearest orcs hid their eyes. He could feel their hatred growing near him, and hear the growling and snarling, but they could not hurt him now. Peace entered his heart and he waited.
Frodo sat like this for a time, breathing deeply, the translucent glow from his body a small but bright beacon in the deep darkness of Minas Morgul.
Eventually a furious, dark shape charged into the radiance- the red-eyed demon. With upraised fist, he stood towering over the hobbit. Frodo's face remained tranquil, his glowing eyes blue like the calm seas after a storm. The orc froze, then gathered himself as if for a spring. His clenched fist swung down like a hammer and the hobbit was born sideways by the blow.
Frodo lay crumpled in a heap.
But his light did not diminish and it was a long time before the wary hands of orcs laid hold of him again.