With a final swinging slice, Sting rips through the monster’s cruel web. Exultant and laughing, I turn to Sam – “We’re free, Sam. We’re free!” Not waiting for Sam’s reply, I plunge through the gap. Such a surge of joy and energy pours through me that I am left almost breathless. Dread, despair and exhaustion fall from me in an instant.
“Come on, Sam!” I urge impatiently. “Follow me!” My feet carry me on. I must run . . run . . run to be rid of this dreadful nightmare.
“Wait, Mr Frodo!” I hear Sam call forlornly. “We’re not out of danger yet! Come back! Wait for me!”
I cannot stop. What danger could be more terrifying than the ordeal we have just endured? A new strength of will flowing through my veins lends vigour to my limbs. “Come on, Sam! Run, run and we’ll be free!”
Send one thousand monsters against me and an army of orcs – what do I care? I am Frodo the brave; Frodo the mighty warrior; Frodo the …..
A sound like the light patter of of drifting leaves in an autumn breeze, is the only hint of impending danger.
Then, the stench of death is all about me again, surrounding, encircling, choking . . . . suffocating. My pace slows. My lungs gasp and pant. I stumble . . . . and feel the hardness of the ground beneath my knees. I can . . go . . no . . further.
Raising my head on a neck that seems to feeble to support it, I meet that malevolent, pitiless gaze. My eyes are fixed by the reflection of 100 tiny Frodos – mesmerised, eyes staring wildly, kneeling – a useless sword fallen from useless hands; small, helpless prey at the mercy of a ravening, gloating monster.
This is the end, then. Let it be painless and quick. My head bows as if beneath an intolerable burden. I feel a wetness on my face which I realise to my astonishment is tears. Why am I weeping?
An intense stinging pain lashes its way across my shoulders and neck. My body jerks rigid in an automatic response; although after the first searing sensation I feel strangely little pain…. The world fades about me …. I am plunging headlong, uncontrollably into a black abyss. Then I see, hear and feel no more.
Awareness gradually seeps back to me. I hear the babble of harsh croaking voices in a tongue I can make no sense of. Later, I feel rough, brutal hands mauling and clawing; hoarse, croaking laughter suddenly quieting; replaced by urgent, low muttering.
“GET IT UP!” snaps a voice. “NOW!”
A savage kick in the ribs accompanies this order. I groan and try weakly to roll away. Hands clamp themselves over my face and my mouth is roughly forced open. Fire burns my throat and the pit of my stomach. Gagging and coughing, I struggle to be free but am held fast.
“The little runt’s coming round, Captain.”
“Stand him up then. I want to take a good look.”
A vicious pincer grip attaches itself to my ear. “Move yourself, fool. The captain wants to talk to you and he doesn’t like to be kept waiting!”
Foul dream becomes reality. I drag my eyes open and am met with the baleful glare of two pale eyes and a sneering face. “Cat got your tongue, eh? Well, you’ll be singing like a bird by the time that lot in Lugburz have finished with you. Stand up, stinker!”
Dragged upwards by the painful grip on my ear, I find to my sruprise, that the foul liquid has given me strength to comply. The grip is loosened, but not before its owner has administered a heavy blow round my head with his other hand. Still reeling, I hear another harsher voice intervening. “Take your filthy hands off the spy, Snaga. We need him alive for a while.”
“If you say so, Shagrat.” Snaga mutters surlily, before turning and slouching off. An inaduible comment floats back across the room.
“Get lost, Snaga. And wash your mouth out before you come back – or I’ll do it for you.” growls the second voice.
Behind me a door grates open and slams shut. A chill draught lays its clammy fingers around my shoulders. I shiver and involuntarily move to wrap my cloak around me. My fingers touch cold flesh.
“Feeling the cold now, are we?” jeers another voice. “Forgotten to bring your vest?”
The mist clears from my eyes and for the first time I am able to see my tormentors. Two large thuggish orcs, feet planted wide apart, arms folded, leer evilly through grinning, gap-toothed mouths.
“Thought your clothes needed a bit of a wash. All covered in spider spit they were. His Lordship likes his guests to be clean and tidy when they meet him. Speaking of vests, that was an interesting little number you were wearing. Steal it from the elves, did you?” the voice comments almost gently and without waiting for an answer carries on “So you’re a thief as well as a dirty little spy.”
It takes a few seconds for the realisation to hit me. Frantically, I grope for the familiar, reassuring weight of the ring. I cannot feel it. I cannot see it. The ring is gone.
A sickening feeling of loss begins to stir in the pit of my stomach.
“Don’t worry, son, we’ll keep it safe for you. You’ll enjoy having His Lordship looking it over.”
I want to be sick. I want to scream, rage, howl, shriek. I want to batter down the stone walls with my fists. I want to hack and tear these two brutes limb from limb and see their blood spatter. I want . . . . Rage, despair and loss overwhelm me.
I am alone: without help, without hope.
Numbly, I try to focus on the two brutes before me. Questions, threats, false promises spew from their sickening lips – but although I hear them, I can make no answer. One of them even puts his knife to my throat and his filthy face close to mine. I shudder with disgust but welcome the touch of cold metal on my skin. It would be a release from this stupefying burden of misery.
“AAh, you’ll get nothing out of him, Shagrat. Look at him! He’s a snivelling little worm! We should be out there hunting the other one, not wasting our time on this .. this scrawny miserable little maggot.”
“Shut your trap, Gorbag,” growls Shagrat. “And keep it shut. I give the orders round here and don’t you forget it!”
“There’s not much chance of that,” retorts Gorbag. “I’ll remind you when He separates your stinking head from your stinking shoulders. Who’s He going to reward for using a bit of gumption, eh? You, with this wretched piece of dung or me, with my high and mighty elvish warrior? Alright, keep him safe. He might come in useful as bait for the other one.”
I hear little more. The world begins to fade about me again and I welcome the relief of blessed blackness. I am denied it. I drift and float in a world of aimless dreams. Faces – dear and loathsome;places – safe and unsafe; words – comforting and uncomforting, echo and writhe in a twisted, tortuous tangle.
There are times when I seem to wake. Times when I feel the stench of orc breath on my face and feel the dank touch of hairy orc claws on my skin. “He’s alive, Captain.” I lack the will to move or to care.
Once, I am woken by the sound of orc voices yelling and shouting, metal clashing on metal, shrieks of pain, feet thudding – a nightmarish clamour of sound – thankfully fading into the distance, until silence lays its gentle arms around me.
Into my dreams drifts a snatch of tune; a dear beloved childhood tune. Unheeding, I begin to respond. My voice croaks and fades in an attempt to copy the singer. Tears sting my eyes. My throat aches with longing. Longing for the Shire, longing for Bag End, longing for lost innocence.
The door slams open. “You lie quiet, or you’ll pay for it! You’ve not got long to live in peace, I guess: but if you don’t want the fun to begin right now, keep your trap shut, see? Here’s a reminder for you!”
A sound like the crack of a whip, and my misery is compounded by a burning fiery agony. Automatically, I move to protect myself from further pain.
But instead, a warm, gentle hand strokes my face tenderly. I feel myself lifted up and pressed into a loving embrace. A familiar, comforting trusted voice speaks in my ear. “Frodo! Mr Frodo, my dear. It’s Sam, I’ve come.”