A Clean Sweep

by Mrs. Frodo


Several caveats attend this tale. Firstly, this is just, well, the first part of it––it’s going to be longer than I had thought. Secondly, it’s a Balrog Story. If you haven’t read "Subordinate Claws", "Smeagol, the Little Nipper" and/or "As the Worm Turns", odds are you’ll be in the dark, as this tale is part of the series formed by those (what I refer to collectively as And Then, There Were Ten). The series is AU. Quite. **sigh** I just can’t seem to quit dear old Roggie.

The older stories can be found here.

2 

A CLEAN SWEEP


The balrog stepped gingerly through the soggy mess of Isengard. She had already stepped into a pit up to her arms and didn’t want to repeat the experience––not that she minded water, but this water was choked with orc-filth. Every step she took generated a billow of steam and hissing like a thousand peeved snakes. She gave no thought to that, only to the treachery underfoot, the disgusting orc detritus everywhere, and the stubborn tower rising above the wreckage, which was her goal.

“Curunir?” she called. Her brows collided in frustration. Sparks flew. “Blast! Where is that little white-haired prune? Curunir, don’t pretend you’re away. I’ll find you in there and sort you out if I have to pick up that big toothpick and shake you out of it!”

“Hoom, hom, who invited you to this, hum, to this party, balrog?!”

The balrog turned from her annoyance to look down upon old Treebeard, who was glaring at her, his eyes a virulent shade of green. His fingers were drumming a fine beat on his woody arms.

“Why, hello there, Master Fangorn!” she cried, clapping her gigantic hands with delight. Sparks rained down. Treebeard swatted them out as if he was swatting mosquitoes, glaring at her all the while. “That is you, isn’t it?” she went on without noticing. “Say, are you the chap who had all this amusement at old Curuninny’s expense? Impressive! I could hardly have done better myself.” Certainly not without doing quite a bit of damage to several hundred friends of yours! her thoughts continued, but she was wise enough to let those particular thoughts go unsaid. “I’d like to take more time to admire your work, really I would, but I’m rather interested in finding the tenant of this property.” She paused. “The wizard is in, isn’t he?”

“Buraroom,” rumbled Treebeard threateningly. The balrog noticed that a half-dozen more ents had come up to support him. “What business is it of yours, slave of Morgoth?”

“Excuse me?” Flames bristled up the balrog’s spine right over the top of her head. Lava heat blazed from her. All the ents but Treebeard took a step back. “I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head, sir!” she sniffed. “‘Slave of Morgoth?!’ I’m nobody’s slave––least of all his! I had nothing to do with that business in Gondolin, and I wasn’t even in the area when the Valar came thundering in from the West with Eärendil Peredhil in that sky-boat...whose idea was that, anyway? Varda’s, most likely. She has quite the sense of humor. Clever idea, cute, but lethal––Eärendil took out at least one acquaintance of mine. No love lost, and hurrah for the Peredhil, I say! If a big flaming demon of Thangorodrim can’t defeat a chap in a flying bowl, there isn’t much to be said in its favor. At any rate, Master Ent, I’m beholden to no one....” Her head tilted. Her eyes acquired a dreamy glaze. “Unless you count sweet little Frodo. He’s my friend. One ought to be beholden to one’s friends, if to no one else, oughtn’t one?”

Treebeard had been listening to the balrog with the patience only one of his kind could muster. At the name of Sauron’s Bane, however, he straightened up, keenly interested. “You––are a friend––of the Ring-bearer?” In his incredulous haste he had forgotten to say buraroom, hoom, hom, or even just hm.

The other ents backed off a little more as the balrog began to bounce and sway like an overjoyed sapling. Water splashed and steamed all around them. “Have you met him? Frodo, I mean. He’s just the sweetest, prettiest little thing on the face of Middle-Earth! And brave. Did I mention brave? And clever, very clever––brilliant, I’d say!”

Treebeard was speechless.

“Rum-tum. Tumty-tum. We heard of all that has happened,” one of the other ents finally said, a younger one by the look of him. “The Firstborn told us. We do not know the Bearer. Hmmmm. We only know of his success.”

Another ent was now staring thoughtfully at the balrog. “One of them mentioned that the Bearer had been assisted by a balrog, of all things, but how could we believe such an absurd tale, buraroom?”

“And I recall, hoom, the vast quantities of celebratory liquid and ent-draught ingested by said elf. By the time Arien rose in the sky he was painting pictures of bowls of fruit on my kinsman Twighair and laughing like a madman.”

“The Firstborn are not as they once were,” said Treebeard gravely. “Hoom, hmmm. I judge that you are not dangerous, balrog, though the belief makes no sense. Rrrrroooom. There is a tale here waiting to be told, and we would hear it if you would tell it.”


2.

...“The Firstborn are not as they once were,” said Treebeard gravely. “Hoom, hmmm. I judge that you are not dangerous, balrog, though the belief makes no sense. Rrrrroooom. There is a tale here waiting to be told, and we would hear it if you would tell it.”

The balrog would, indeed. She gave them rather a more comprehensive account than even an ent might wish. They learned her own history from the Music onward; all the annoying things she had ever noticed about wizards; how she had met Frodo; a lengthy exposition on the substrata of Moria; the miserable hygeine of orcs; an encyclopedic list of Sauron’s evil deeds and bad habits; every word of her conversations with Frodo; the unpalatability of Mordor bedrock; ancient juicy gossip from Aman; a colorful prank she had played on Morgoth involving sulfur and a tornado; and her heartfelt belief that Frodo, not Arwen, was the most beautiful living thing in Middle-Earth.

“Can you believe the way they talk about Elrond's girl?” sniffed the balrog. “Yes, she’s a pretty lass, but honestly, the way they go on, you’d think she’d found the rest of the Silmarils and shipped them off to Yavanna on Gwaihir’s back––”

Treebeard was shifting his rooty toes in the mud. “The wizard is gone.”

If he had hoped to slip the information in without attracting the balrog’s attention, he was disappointed. She quit talking at once. “Beg pardon?”

The ents looked at each other. Treebeard actually looked sheepish. “Well, room toom tum, roomty-tum....”

“I told you so!” said the younger ent. “I told you not to do it! No one ever listens to me, hoom!”

Treebeard scowled. “Hom, now, don’t be hasty, Squirrelladder.”

“Gone?” demanded the balrog, hands on her hips. “He was left here for you to mind, and he’s gone?!”

Treebeard almost told the balrog not to be hasty, either, but one look at her face told him not to be hasty. “Young Gandalf wanted me to keep Saruman safe in the tower. Seemed to think him a bit dangerous. Hum. If only he had asked, I could have told him that centuries ago. Crazy stare, nails long and sharp...Saruman should have gotten out more, haroom. It is not good for a wizard to root himself in one place for hundreds of years. Wizards are not ents!”

“And ents aren’t balrogs,” the balrog tartly observed. “Please get on with it.”

“AhhhRRROOOOMMMM. You understand, we do not like to see living things caged––particularly when they are as this one. He was growing very restless, hoom. He had lost his hairbrush in the flood waters and he would not bathe in them, as his bubble bath would become too dilute, so he was both testy and unkempt, not to mention smellier than swamp water, buraroom. And let us not mention his abominable fashion sense––”

“He became a sorer trial to us than any number of woodcutters,” said Squirrelladder.

The balrog glowered. “Rubbish. Well, I certainly understand your predicament, but we’re left with a mad wreck of a wizard wandering about free as volcanic ash to do as he will. Almost makes me wish for one of those seeing-stone-things the Men used to have lying about.” She brightened. The ents squinted. “Hey, mightn’t there be one in the tower?”

“Aragorn son of Arathorn took it away,” said Treebeard.

Thus was the mystery solved which the balrog had witnessed from afar, that of the game of bowls Aragorn had conducted with a strange, curiously familiar ball on the seventh level lawn. “The people of Gondor had better be grateful for Arwen Elrondien! Prettiest or not, at least she’s got a functioning brain in her head. She’ll have gotten the stone away from him by now. I hope. Honestly! If he’d found a Silmaril he would have had it out for batting practice.... Never mind. I’ll be going, since I can’t have the enormous pleasure of shaking Curunir’s head right off his shoulders.”

The ents looked at each other.

“Before you leave....” began Treebeard. “Might we...hom...ask a favor of you?”....