The Journey Begins
June 13-14, 3019
He lies on the straw on the floor of his cell in the deepest level of the dungeons of Lugbûrz. Dreaming fitfully, his sleep is disturbed by the vision of his Uncle Bilbo Baggins, feeble, old and pale, lost and stumbling through a marshy fen. The eyes of his Uncle are pleading for assistance and relief from his pain. "BILBO!" he awakens screaming with the word on his lips. The terror of his dream world shattered, Frodo gets up and stumbles to his feet, wondering what new tortures and horrors this new day will bring.
He hears footsteps coming up the corridor and he wonders what the demons will have planned for him today. He cringes in the corner, his hands instinctively raised to shield his head from the usual blows. The cold dankness of his cell causes the Morgul wound on his left shoulder, now marked with the Eye of Sauron, to throb in pain.
The footsteps stop outside the cell door. Frodo knows that soon the two orcish guards will be there to torment him once again. The door of his cell opens, and escorted by the two guards, a robed stranger comes in the door. Frodo thinks, "The Great Eye must have a new torturer in his service."
The hooded figure walks up to Frodo, bows and then speaks, "Good morning, Master Baggins. How are you feeling today? Let me introduce myself. I am Pizdur (captain) Vartang." Frodo thinks, "Oh Elbereth, save me from whatever this new agony is to befall me."
The figure draws his hood back from his face, and Frodo can see that this is the face of an Edain. The man is young, in his late 20's, and is fair to look upon, with dark hair and tawny skin. His speech is marked with an accent that Frodo cannot place.
"We are going to be friends, Master Baggins." Frodo's mind screams. "We are going to be taking a long journey together." Frodo's mind screams again and he looks up at the man with terror-filled eyes. "Master Baggins, you need to get ready."
Frodo's mind is beyond screaming and goes numb. He thinks, "They are going to kill me now! But perhaps that would be best. At least the agony would be over."
The man continues. "But first, your breakfast, Master Baggins." An orc comes into the room bearing a tray laden with great mounds of food - sausage, bread, cheese, fruit, and a large bottle of wine with a goblet. "Eat your fill, Master Baggins. You need to build up your strength for your journey."
"This is my last meal," thinks Frodo. "Thank the Valar that at least I will have a full stomach before I go to the Halls of the Waiting and greet Namo."
The orcs leave and the man leans up against the wall and watches Frodo eat. "Is everything to your satisfaction, Master Baggins?" Frodo thinks, "They are torturing my mind. I know that trick. They have tried it on me so many times before. The man is trying to gain my confidence before a new series of tortures begin, and they will probably be more terrible than all the others combined."
When Frodo is finished, the man calls for the guards at the door. "Now is the time, I know," Frodo thinks. "Whatever new agonies and tortures they have planned will begin now." The man says to the guards, "Master Baggins needs to be made presentable. He seems a bit careworn and unkept." The man talks to the guards and they leave.
Soon, more orcs arrive carrying a tub, with others following them bringing buckets of hot water, soap and towels. The man says, "Now for your bath, Master Baggins." The orcs fill the tub with water and then leave. The man says, "I trust you not to try to take your own life, Master Baggins. You could not, even if you tried, for there are watchers upon you ever in your cell. When you have finished, call the guards and they will bring you your new clothes. I will be back later."
After Frodo had completed his bath, the orcs came back with a new set of clothes. They first put salve on his wounds and bandaged them, and offered him a draught to ease his pain. Frodo, suspecting that it was some evil potion, refused it, and his refusal was accepted. Later, a small cot and blankets were brought in for him.
He was then given second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon and afternoon tea, all served to him with the greatest respect and accomdiation by the orcs. Frodo spent the whole afternoon wondering what new torments lay in wait for him, and why he had been given traveling clothes. Strengthened by the food and wine, he tried a few steps around his cell, but the effort made him exhausted and he lay on his cot and slept the rest of the afternoon.
The evening meal that he was served was gigantic even by Shire standards. After he had finished, he was brought a large tankard of ale. As he sat on his cot, drinking the ale, his mind dazed by the day's events, Pizdur Vartang came back. This time the orcs brought two stools, a small table and parchment, quill and ink.
The man drew his stool up to the table and invited Frodo to do the same. The man turned his head towards the cell door and told the orc guards, "Ale for me, too, lads. Master Baggins, draw up your stool and we will talk."
Frodo hesitantly did as he was bidden, and carried his ale with him. From out of his cloak, the man drew out a bag and two pipes and put them on the table. "Master Baggins, let's have a pipe together."
Frodo's head began to swim. His unsteady hand spilled his tankard on the table. Feeling he was about to swoon, he grabbed the edges of the table and held them tightly. "Master Baggins, are you feeling light-headed?" Frodo mumbles, "I'm all right." The man summons the orc guards and tell them to clean off the table and refill Frodo's tankard.
After Frodo recovers from his shock, the man asks him questions about his life but does not press him for an answer. Frodo thinks to himself, "I am going mad. This man reminds me of Strider!" After several pipes and several tankards and more conversation, with the man doing most of that, the man puts down his ale and pipe.
"Now, Master Baggins, I am sure you want to know where you are going, don't you?" The man rolls out the parchment on the table, dips the quill in the ink and draws a map. Frodo begins to see the shapes of the Mountains of Shadow and the Mountains of Ash begin to take form. He sees a dot on the map for the Dark Tower, and a line is drawn leading southward. He soon discovers that it leads to the Lithlad, the Ash Plain, and the country of Nurn. The man draws a large lake, and many lines representing rivers connect to it. He points to a spot not too far from the lake and looks up to Frodo.
"This will be your new home, Master Baggins. You are going to Nurn for your health, to live there in honor. You will have your own cottage, Master Baggins, and your own servants. The Master's blessings will be on you wherever you go and you will bear the title, Friend of Sauron." Frodo lost consciousness then and felt himself sliding off the stool. Then all went dark and he knew no more.
He woke up sometime later on his cot, the blanket pulled up to his chin. The man had pulled up his stool beside the bed and was holding a cloth scented with some strange herbal aroma over to Frodo's nose. "Master Frodo, on the table yonder are several jars of ointment and salve. If you awake during the night and are in pain, the lads will come in and treat your wounds and give you a draught to help you sleep. The pipe and pipeweed are yours. Rest well tonight. The Master wants you ready to leave in the morning at dawn, and I trust you will not disappoint Him.
"I will leave you now. Never forget my name, Pizdur Vartang."
In the morning, Frodo was brought water to refresh himself. Soon after another grand breakfast, Pizdur Vartang joined him. With him were a group of orcs. Frodo was carried down the stairs of the tower by a large uruk. When he finally arrived down the many sets of stairs, Frodo beheld a wain drawn by six fine black horses, decked with elaborate gold and red harnesses, waiting for him. The wain was covered with an ornate covering of black and red, and several windows, which could be opened and closed with flaps of material, were at the sides. A company of horsemen led by Vartang were his escorts, and the standard bearer carried a flag emboldened with the Red Eye. A trumpet sounded, and they were off, traveling southward towards Nurn.
After a few hours, they stopped for luncheon in the barren plain of Gorgoroth. In the background to the north, Frodo could see the Mountain, ever pouring forth black smoke, which was driven westward by an eastern wind. Frodo was brought food in his wain, and he was surprised at the excellent quality of the food and wine.
Vartang pulled up his horse beside the wain, and after dismounting, he climbed inside the wain. He bowed deeply to Frodo. "It is a great honor, Shakh, to ride with the Friend of Sauron." Frodo choked on the piece of bread that he was eating. The man looked at him with sympathetic eyes and said, "Perhaps you ate too much." After finally swallowing the food, Frodo's thoughts were crystal clear for the first time since his ordeal had begun. "Where are they taking me! Why are they doing this! Will I ever see the Shire again, and what does he mean, 'Friend of SAURON!'"
The man smiled reassuringly at Frodo and patted him on the shoulder before he left him. "Shakh, if you are ready to begin traveling again, we should hasten. There are still about 225 miles yet to go."
"Shakh? He called me shakh!" Frodo felt sick. He stuck his head out the window, his stomach churning and spewing up the contents of his meal. He lay down on the small bed in the wain and slept the rest of the day.
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