Warlords of Chaos
by Robin Gordon
Copyright Robin Gordon, 1993/2004
Jellybean collapsed before the fire. He held out his hands to it. He realised then how cold he was. His shirt was damp from brushing against the tunnel walls and squirming through the narrow passage, and his shoes and socks were soaking. He crawled nearer, pulled off his wet shoes and socks, laid them out to dry, and sat as close to the heat as he dared. He found he could not stop shivering.
The Gollum-creature was looking at him with interest.
"Is it hungry, Precious?" it asked. "Would it like some nice food to put in its precious little tum-tum?"
"Hairy famous," murmured Jellybean. "I could really tuck into some decent scoff - but I suppose that's all a bogus joke and all you've got is poisonous Orc-meat."
"Orcses not poisonous," the creature informed him. "They tastes nassty, gollum, but we eats 'em, doesn't we Precious? Oh yess, we eats 'em."
"Haven't you got anything else?" asked Jellybean.
"Fisheses," snapped the creature. "We've got lovely, shining, silver fisheses - if the little master isn't too dainty for fisheses."
"Wizzo!" exclaimed Jellybean. "Fisheses is just the thing to put hairs on your chest."
"It likes fisheses?" enquired the creature dubiously.
"You bet! Wizard prang and all that jazz!" answered Jellybean with enthusiasm.
The creature scuttled off. Jellybean heard a splash, then the creature returned and busied itself on the far side of the fire. Soon the prangish rare odour of delish fish came wafting to Jellybean's nostrils, and soon after a portion of fish impaled on a knife was thrust into his hands.
Jellybean ate ravenously. A beaker of water appeared at his side, and he drank greedily.
"Precious likes fisheses?" murmured the creature.
"Hairy spivish lush!" replied Jellybean.
"Hairy spivish lush," the creature repeated.
* * * * *
After his meal Jellybean dozed. He couldn't help it. His stomach was full for the first time for days. He tried not to sleep, but still he dozed, coming and going between waking and sleep, and not knowing what was real and what was dream.
The Gollum-creature was talking. Jellybean struggled to hear.
"Shall we eats it, Precious? Or shall we help it to kill the Orcses? Gollum. They hunts us, doesn't they. We hates 'em. When we finds 'em we squeezes 'em. We eats the nasty Orcses, don't we Precious? Let's help the little Jellybean then, Precious. Lets rescue its friends and they'll kill Orcses for us. We'll grow big and strong feeding on Orcses, won't we Precious? - But Orcses taste nassty. This one's not Orcses, but not Elveses nor Dwarveses neither. We could eat him now, couldn't we Precious? He's nice and plump and - gollum - tender. If we creeps up quietly with our knife ... we ... could ... eats ... him!"
Jellybean was no longer asleep. He had woken up to cold fear as soon as he heard what the Gollum-creature was saying.
He clasped his sword tight, ready for anything, and yawned as if he were just waking up. The creature jumped back with a hiss. Jellybean pretended not to notice.
"What time is it?" he asked.
"Late, Precious, no, early. Too late, it is," snapped the creature.
Jellybean knew that he could not trust it. It reminded him of a treacherous little sneak called Barber who had made his first few weeks at Bunbury Court miserable, until he'd learned how to handle him.
"You! Gollum!" he ordered. "Come here!"
"Yes, you bogus oik. Do you know what it means to swear an oath?"
"Yes. We knows."
"Then swear that you will help me to find my friends, and that you will never harm any of us, and that you'll show us the way out of this ozard underground maze!"
"Oh, we swears. Precious, don't we? Yes, yes, Precious, we swears. Gollum."
"No!" snapped Jellybean. "That's not good enough. I don't trust you a millimetre, you screwy goof. You must swear on ... on whatever is most precious to you."
"No. Gollum. Not on the Precious," whispered the creature.
"Gosh!" thought Jellybean. "What a hefty spivish stroke of luck."
"So you've got a precious, have you?" he said in his most bullying manner.
"What is it? A ring?"
"Not nothing!" insisted Jellybean. "Does it make you invisible?"
"No-one can see you."
"Orcses can't see us," said the creature with a cunning leer. "We creepses up on them in the dark and they doesn't see us, and we squeezes 'em or sticks our sword in 'em. Orcses can't see us when we've got the Precious, but Jellybeans can"
"Swear by the Precious!" ordered Jellybean.
"Yes. Yess." moaned the creature. "We swears by the Precious that we'll help the nice Jellybean and his friendses."
"And rescue them from the Orcs."
"Yes, yes, and rescue them from the Orcses and show them the way out ... but ... but ..."
"But they must take us with them! Don't leave us here in the dark!"
"I thought you liked it here," said Jellybean.
"No, Precious, no. We hides in the dark because nobody loves us. Everybody hates us. Elves hate us. Dwarveses hate us. That's why we hides. But the nice Jellybean doesn't hate us. He'll take us with him, mmmh mmmh?"
"Yes," answered Jellybean. I'll take you with me, and I'll see that no-one harms you."
"Then we'll find the nice Jellybean's friendses," chortled the Gollum-creature. "Wait here."
Jellybean waited. There was nothing else he could do. He was afraid to leave the fire and the creature's safe den. If he struggled out into the maze of tunnels he would soon get lost. He would starve to death or be taken by Orcs who would cut off his head and mount it on the end of a pole. He hoped that Frobisher still had his head, wherever he was - and, though he did not want to sleep, for he still did not trust his new acquaintance, he soon dozed off again.
He awoke to find the Gollum-creature pawing at him and hissing in his ear.
"Precious, yess, yess. Precious. Wakey wakey, little Precious. Oopsey daisy, yess, yess. Gollum."
"What time is it?"
"Why does it always ask about time?" grumbled the creature. "Too late if we doesn't get our skateses on. The little friendses will all be gobbled up, oh yes Precious, gobbled up by the nassty Orcseses. Quick, Precious, quick."
"Don't call me Precious," muttered Jellybean. "I've told you, you can call me Jellybean."
"If the nice little Jellybean wants to find his friendses," said the creature, "he must hurry, gollum, or they'll all be gobbled up."
Jellybean understood at last and woke up properly.
"Let's go!" he said.
"Follow Precious," said the creature and led him away from the warm fire, up to the narrow worm-hole, and out into the dark and dangerous tunnels.
They came at last to a narrow passage that seemed to flicker and shake. There was fire at the end of it, fire that sent swirling shadows along it. With the shadows came noise, the sound of Orcs holding a discussion: snarls, snaps, grunts and yelps, shouted challenges, curses, struggles and fights, howls of rage and squeals of pain.
Jellybean and his companion crept quietly along the passage. It ended suddenly on a broken balcony high up on the walls of a great hall. Below them was a milling mob of Orcs.
"Kill 'em nah an' less eat 'em!"
"Yeah! I'm 'ungry. Less roast 'em!"
"Raw's best! Eat 'em raw!"
"Stick veir 'eads on poles!"
"Nah! Ve 'eads is ve best part!"
"We gotta question 'em first!"
"Question 'em? Woffor?"
"Find aht wot vey knows!"
"Find aht veir secrets."
"Vey ain't got none."
"Less eat 'em!"
"Nah! Question 'em first! Ven eat 'em!"
"Hah dja question 'em?"
"Torture? Nah yer talkin'!"
"Yeah! Yeah! Torture 'em! Ven we'll eat 'em!"
The view that torture should precede the killing and eating of the prisoners seemed to be gaining ground. Snotrag himself took it up. Eager as he was to have Frobisher's head detached from Frobisher's body and mounted on one of the poles that served his legion as standards, he was not averse to the pleasures of torture. He wanted to see the Thing suffer before he killed it. He wanted to see it beg for death to end its agony. Besides, pain might encourage it to reveal the whereabouts of its companion. Snotrag's triumph would not be complete until he had both heads on his poles.
Frobisher himself had passed a miserable night, if night it was - in the tunnels it was dark or gloomy all the time. He had been pursued by Orcs, unable to see his way, groping blindly, until Oggi had carried him on his back. Then, suddenly, just when they seemed to be finding their way to safety, Orcs had come upon them. Jellybean was lost in the skirmish, and he, Oggi and Amphibolas had been forced to retreat from slashing, stabbing, snarling and biting Orcs. Captured and bound he now lay helpless beside the Elf and the Dwarf, listening to the Orcs deciding his fate. Would he be killed or tortured? Probably both. Perhaps boiled or roasted alive. Frobisher couldn't help feeling that it was all spivish beastly unfair.
It was then that he saw a peculiar, pale creature sneaking and slinking towards him. It was clad in dirty rags from which protruded long, spindly arms and legs, ending in enormous hands and feet. About its neck there hung a bright, shining chain which was tucked into its ragged shirt.
The Orcs took no notice of it.
Frobisher blinked hard and looked again, but the creature was still there, sidling towards him with a peculiar crab-like motion - and in its hand it clutched a glittering knife.
It looked straight at him. It saw his eyes upon it and it mouthed something at him, fluttered its fingers, and brandished its knife in its great, frog-like hand.
"It's coming to kill me," thought Frobisher. "It's some kind of skinny Orc, sneaking up to eat me while the others are arguing."
He decided that the best thing to do was to close his eyes and say his prayers. Perhaps they would be heard, even in that alien world. He would pray that the creature killed him quickly and that it would all be over without too much pain.
Suddenly there was a clang, and a pile of Orcish armour in the far corner crashed down with a hideous clatter.
"It's ve Fing! Grab it!" yelled Snotrag.
The Orcs hurled themselves in pursuit of whatever had knocked over the armour. As they rushed away, the spindly, frog-like creature sprang at Frobisher. He gave a strangled cry which went unheeded in the mêlée.
"Hush, Precious," muttered the creature. "Little friendses mustn't make a noise or the nassty Orcses will hear."
Its knife made short work of the thongs binding Frobisher, Oggi and Amphibolas, then it urged them to "follow Precious" and shambled rapidly down a side tunnel. The prisoners seized their weapons, which the Orcs had left lying nearby, and followed. Meanwhile the snarling, spitting Orcs were surging hither and thither across the cave in pursuit of some invisible creature that was blundering about, kicking and upsetting the piles of Orcish armour and loot.
Frobisher and his friends found it difficult to keep up with the creature. They had been tied so long that their circulation returned only painfully and they had to hop and hobble with agonizing slowness. Along a tunnel they went, then turned off to the left. Eventually they came to a spiral staircase hidden in the rock. They stumbled up it and followed the creature along another tunnel.
"The noise of the Orcs is getting louder," said Amphibolas. "Where are you taking us?"
"Follow Precious!" replied the creature, and skipped and shambled on, just out of reach. Was it leading them back to the Orcs from which they had just escaped, or perhaps to a rival band?
They turned another corner. The furious clamour of enraged Orcs hit them like a sudden gale, and there, in the passage, right in front of them, was - Jellybean.
He turned, hissed at them to be quiet, then beckoned them forward.
The passage ended on a broken balcony, and below them they saw the maddened Orcs milling about in fury. Some had noticed that their prisoners had escaped, others were still hunting the mysterious poltergeist. Jellybean lobbed another stone, and the Orcs surged towards it.
"An old trick," he murmured coolly, "but very effective."
"How did you get away?" asked Frobisher.
"I have my methods, Frobisher," replied Jellybean, but the Gollum-creature was flapping its hands and hissing in an agitated manner.
"No time, Precious!" it hissed. "Quick! Quick! We must get out of the tunnelses. The Orcses are coming! The Orcses are sniffing for us! See! See! The Orcses have found the passage. Quick! Quick! Follow Precious!"
"Can we trust the creature?" said Amphibolas.
"Yess! Yess!" it hissed. "Good Precious. Nice Precious saved the friendses for the little Jellybean. Gollum."
"He's promised to show us the way out," said Jellybean. "He's our only hope."
"Quick! Quick!" hissed the creature, and it sprang away and shambled off down the tunnel with its peculiar sideways run.
The others followed it. The ex-prisoners' circulation was restored. They could still not have caught the creature, or even kept it in sight if it had wished to escape, but it kept looking back and waiting for them, despite the dread sound that they heard again: the snarling and snapping of hunting Orcs.
Suddenly they found themselves stumbling through water. The creature beckoned them aside.
"Wait!" it hissed, then it sped on and disappeared.
They waited in darkness. Even Jellybean wondered if the Gollum-creature had abandoned them to save his own skin. The Orcs were very near now. Something splashed in the water - the creature was back with them. It led them a short way along an underground stream, over a pile of rubble, and into a narrow-mouthed cave.
Frobisher froze with despair. Outside the mouth of the cave he could see Orcs, hundreds of Orcs, racing past on all fours with their noses to the ground. They were only a few feet away, and the cave had no other exit.
As soon as the last Orc had passed, the Gollum-creature sidled out into the main tunnel and beckoned them to follow.
"He's taking us back the way we've just come," muttered Frobisher to Jellybean. "What's the bogus oik up to?"
"It's brilliant, Frobi, bri-lli-ant!" answered Jellybean. "He's as clever as a fox."
"Seems screwy to me," muttered Frobisher rebelliously.
"Didn't you see how he ran on out of the water then doubled back?" demanded Jellybean. "The Orcs will follow his scent, and then it will just disappear. And they won't find it again because we're going back over the way we came."
"Hairy famous!" said Frobisher.
It was as Jellybean had said. The Orcs were totally flummoxed by the disappearance of their prey. They milled around, snapping and snarling, sniffing and seeking, and, after the manner of Orcs, they soon began to blame one another and to squabble. A full-scale fight might have broken out if the escaping Companions of the Belt had not had the bad luck to blunder into a little band of stragglers. Amphibolas' sword and Oggi's axe made short work of the surprised Orcs, but not silently. Sounds of the struggle reached the main body of Orcish warriors and set them once more on the right track.
By the time the fleeing five came out onto the open mountain-side the pursuing Orcs were close behind. Ahead, across the plain, they could see the Lone Mountain, where Oggi's father ruled as King, but how could they reach it with Orcs at their heels?
They scrambled behind some rocks as the first Orcs appeared. Amphibolas had not forgotten to snatch up his bow in the escape, and now, with light to guide him at last, his arrows sang through the air and cut down the leading Orcs. The others drew back into the tunnel.
"Well done!" cried Oggi.
Amphibolas spread his hands in despair. "I have but three more arrows," he said.
Then the voice of Jellybean rang out over the mountain-side.
"You twelve," he shouted, "move round to the left. You five, get above the tunnel entrance. Shoot anything that moves! Kill every Orc on sight!"
Amphibolas sent one of his precious arrows winging into the cave mouth. The Orcs hurriedly withdrew to greater safety, and, while they lurked in fear and trembling, the Companions of the Belt and their new friend went very quietly down the mountain-side, keeping behind rocks and boulders until they reached the trees and bushes of the plain.
They made straight for the Lone Mountain. Oggi was on his home territory now, and, though the others found the mixture of rocks, bushes and scrubby trees confusing, he knew exactly where to go, and he kept the party moving. He knew, as they all did, that, though Jellybean's trick had gained them a good start, the Orcs would soon be on their trail again.
They hurried on as fast as they could. Then, as they passed through a narrow defile between two rocky outcrops, an arrow smacked into the ground between Oggi's feet.
"Who are you? Speak or die!" came the challenge.
Oggi let out a whoop of joy. "Roggi! You rascal! Come out! Come out and stop playing silly games!"
"Is that really you, Oggi?" came the answering shout.
"Who else? Come out and meet my friends!"
"What friends are these?" said Roggi in unfriendly tones. "Do you walk with Elves now, Oggi? Have you become and Elf-friend? And these, these creatures, what are they?"
"I am an Elf-friend, Roggi," called Oggi, "and so should you be. They have sent back our greatest treasure."
At this news Roggi and eleven other Dwarves came swarming down from the rocks.
"The Belt of Bollin?" Roggi demanded.
"The Belt of Bollin. We are the Companions of the Belt: Amphibolas of the Elves, Jellybean and Frobi who have come from another, happier world, and this ... whom we found under the Grey Mountains."
"The creature must be killed," said Roggi grimly. "It is the Dwarf-Elf that brings our doom."
Roggi and his Dwarves drew their axes. The Gollum-creature darted behind Jellybean.
"Help us!" it wailed. "Jellybean promised!"
"Kill it!" snapped Roggi.
"No!" yelled Jellybean. "It's spivish unfair! You're rotten, bogus oiks!"
"Kill them both!" ordered Roggi.
"You will have to kill me first, brother!" roared Oggi. "The creature has helped us to escape from the Orcs. We have given our word it shall be safe."
"I have given no promise," replied Roggi. "My loyalty is still to the King, my father, not to a roving band of wanderers."
It was then that the Orcs attacked. They had sneaked up surprisingly quietly for Orcs. The Dwarves had been shouting so furiously that they hadn't heard the crashing and snapping of broken branches or the snapping and snarling of the Orcish hunters.
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