As the Worm Turns

by Mrs. Frodo



Frodo stared, aghast.

All his many trials and adventures had not prepared him for the sight before his eyes. He had been away for an entire year getting rid of the Ring, but the Shire should not have changed at all, let alone like this, not in a year’s time.

Bag End. Bilbo’s Bag End. His home––

“Oh, Mr. Frodo.” Sam was riveted to the ground by shock. “It’s like Isengard!”

“Only worse,” whispered Frodo.

“Well, well, well!” sneered a deep, unctuous voice. “If it isn’t the former owner of this rat-tunnel! Welcome home, Master Baggins. Do have a seat!”

Frodo frowned at the old Man in the gaudy iridescent turban and matching full-length iridescent bib with his white beard done up in curlers and his face plastered with a strange green muddy substance and his fingerclaws being buffed by a bored, comely Hobbit lass. “Do I know you, sir?”

The Man ignored his query. “Frodo Baggins, Ring-Bearer. Elf-friend. Toast of the West. Savior of Middle-Earth. Nauseatingly Pretty Poster Boy for All Things Good and Right In Arda. Quite a reputation you’ve made for yourself, ratling, while I was turned out of my modest little home––at my age!––to make a living as best I can!”

“Ah. I understand now.” Frodo crossed his arms. “As I recall, Saruman, your ‘modest little home’ was a massive stone tower, and the loss of it, as well as its tasteless interior decor, was entirely your fault.”

“All depends on the spin, my little nemesis, it all depends on the spin.” Saruman frowned at the comely Hobbit lass. “Get this rubbish off my face! It itches!”

“Hush, Grumpy,” she retorted. “It has to stay on another ten minutes. You want to look your evil best, don’t you?”

Saruman’s mouth twitched. “Well...all right.” He sat back and gestured with his free hand. “What do you think of it, Baggins, hmmm? My own little empire!”

Frodo squinted through the gathered crowd of Hobbits and ruffians at the crudely painted sign on the gate. “‘Sophistication by Saruman the Suave––for the Toney Thug’,” he read. “Well, that would explain everything else pretty neatly.” He had been upset by the toppled trees and transformed homes, but downright bewildered by the signs in the yards of many of those homes saying things like ‘Salon Malevolence’, ‘Wizard Weaves/Hair-Raising Enterprises’, ‘Smial Nails and More’, ‘Skin Art by Wolverine the Footpad,’ etc., which they had seen everywhere on their way home.

“Begging your pardon, Saruman the Trashily Multihued,” said Merry, “but didn’t you learn anything at all about the worm turning while you were under house arrest with Mr. Cheerful?” He gestured toward Wormtongue, who was perched in a worn-out salon chair getting his ear hair trimmed.

“Begging yours, Master Marry-a-Duck, but haven’t you heard that evil never learns?” hissed Wormtongue. “And what’s wrong with how I turn?!”

Saruman wrenched around to glare at his sidekick. Wormtongue cowered and muttered imprecations.

“Why don’t you have a seat, Master Baggins?” the ex-wizard then purred to Frodo, gesturing toward an empty chair. “I think you would look quite interesting without all those bouncy, annoying curls––in fact, I think you’d do very well with a shaved head!”

Gasps broke from every Hobbit throat. This was a worse punishment than the Lockholes.

“Down on your knees in the road and ask pardon,” snarled Pippin, drawing his sword, “or I will set this troll’s bane in you!”*

Frodo put a hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “Never mind, Pip. He has no power anymore, not really––only a limited ability to cow people half his height and to make everyone else roll their eyes and crack jokes about his fingernails.”

The ground shook.

Wormtongue looked at Saruman. “Did you do that?”

“Do I look as if I did?” said the ex-wizard, glowering. –BOOM.– “Drat those fool Breelanders and their break-time! I told them not to play with my Evil Black Powder of Doom!”

BOOM.

Frodo and his friends, as well as all the other Hobbits, looked around, trying to figure out what was happening, but they saw no sign of anything more untoward than a ruffian suspending bratty little Digger Lardbelly in the air by the back of his shirt, admiring his new nose-ring in the mirror in Digger’s hands.

BOOM again, and BOOM, and now they realized the booms had a rhythm to them, and that they were actually coming from quite a distance away but were getting closer. BOOM...BOOM...a slow, vast pulse like a battering ram.

Most of the Hobbits dove for cover, and many a ruffian would have done the same if not for the glance of Saruman upon them all, transfixing them with the sight of his green plastery face.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

Sam looked up over Frodo’s head, and up, and up, his eyes bulging. Merry and Pippin followed suit. Pippin quietly sheathed his sword, never taking his eyes away from whatever was approaching.

Frodo’s brow knitted. There was something familiar about the heavy thuds growing louder every second; Pippin’s incredulous expression, not to mention his retiring the sword, seemed awfully familiar as well. Where had this, or something very like it, happened before?

Saruman’s face contorted with mad joy, cracking the plaster. The comely Hobbit lass threw her hands up in disgust, muttered something about having better things to do with her time, and stalked away to plop down on a stump in a fetching pout.

“I could not have planned this better myself!” the ex-wizard cried. “Your doom falls, Ring-Bearer! Behold!”

Done with guessing anyway, Frodo turned. His eyes went very wide. He yelled something incoherent and took off at a run.

Saruman leaped from the chair and danced an unsightly jig, whooping and laughing fit to cry as a great clawed hand the size of Bag End swooped down and snared Frodo with ease.

“Frodo, darling!” boomed a voice which brought down dead tree-limbs and crumpled many a tawdry costume jewelry shack. “My dear, dear Frodo! Oh, this is splendid!”

Saruman’s crazed smile froze solid. His masque fell off.

“Oh but it’s GOOD to see you, pet!” chattered the balrog, practically jumping up and down. “I knew you’d be all right, of course, but to see for myself––” She sniffed and wiped away a tear as big as a draft horse. “Oh Frodo, darling, you’re more beautiful than ever! If I was one of these adorable little Hobbit maids I’d kiss the stuffings right out of you!” She looked down momentarily. “Why, Sam! aren’t you something in those Elvish togs! Merry, Pippin, my word, look at that armor! Say, where’s that grouch of a wizard Olorín?”

“Visiting Tom Bombadil,” said Frodo as he happily settled into the balrog’s enormous palm.

“Tom who? Sorry, dear, I haven’t been out and about for the looongest time.”

“The Master, the fellow who married Goldberry, the River-Woman’s daughter.”

The Balrog thought for a moment, then brightened. Everyone squinted. “Oh, yes! I remember now. Little man with the bad fashion sense. Hmph. No surprise there; of course Olorín would be his friend. But I am surprised the River-Woman would let her girl marry a chap who goes around singing utter nonsense like a fool and wearing bright yellow Wellies day in and day out, no matter how powerful he is. There’s no accounting for taste. But this doesn’t explain why I’m getting such a strong whiff of wizard, dear heart. One must be here somewhere.”

“Well, he’s not a wizard anymore,” Sam observed.

“What was that, dear?” The Balrog scooped Sam up before he understood what was happening. He found himself clinging in mortal terror to a vast claw a hundred feet above the ground. “Sorry, couldn’t hear you.”

“I said, he’s not a wizard anymore,” said Sam through chattering teeth. “Saruman, I mean.”

The Balrog’s nose crinkled. “Hmmph. Ex- or no, they’re drawn to the Bearer like wargs to a lamb, aren’t they.” She sniffed in Saruman’s direction. “Curunír, you old cesspool! Long time no see!” She looked around. “Naughty lad! Making rude hand gestures to the Prime Directive again, are we?” She stared at him and leaned close, sniffing ever more distastefully. “Why are you wearing that tacky sheet? And what in Arda have you done to your face? Has Saurrotten’s influence turned your brain to orc spittle, dear?”

“He had help,” Frodo observed, looked out through the massive claws at a very discomfited ex-wizard. “Harrowing the Shire, I mean.”

Carefully the balrog set Frodo and Sam down in the weed-choked front garden. “You mean those scurrying beetle-creatures?” Seeing the way of things, Saruman’s ruffians had broken from hiding and were tearing away in all directions. She reached out, snatched up two of them and brought them kicking and screaming to her face. “What’s wrong with you people?” she demanded of them. “Old Curunír Void-Bait has an energy field ripe as a pile of dead maggots! I know you’re only mortals, but really, a cold lump of pahoehoe could smell that!” She plunked them down unceremoniously, shaking her head. They lay there groaning. She glared down at them. “Boo!” They scrambled up and took off, running for all they were worth. No one ever saw them again.

The balrog turned her full attention to Saruman once more. “As for you, mud-face––”

“Roggie dear,” said Frodo, “I appreciate the thought, but I think it best that I deal with this fellow, seeing it’s my corner of the world he’s mucked up here.”

The Balrog regarded him thoughtfully. “Yes. I believe you’re right. I can see you’re up to it; you glow like one of Varda’s lamps! All right, love; deal with him as you see fit.” Her fire-pit eyes blazed. “I’ll deal with him after.”

Saruman’s blotchy face turned purple. “Now, see here!––”

“Oh, come off it, Curunír,” sighed the balrog. “I’ve known you since we were fresh notes in the Song. You always had such a splendid voice; everybody would be charmed out of their skulls when you would sing ‘Robe of Many Colors’, twanging that banjo of yours––”

“Leave the banjo out of this!” Saruman yelped.

“At least Olorín had sense enough to play dulcimer,” the balrog countered. “You used to be such a fine fellow, you and that lovely voice...well, you’ve quite let yourself go to pot, and no amount of frippery will change that.” She gave him a critical eye. “Though I can see you’ve done your worst trying. Hmmph! You just listen to my sweet Frodo and do as you’re told now, and no foolishness, or I’ve a mind to step on you and take my chances with the front office later!”

Pippin tapped the balrog’s enormous taloned foot. “What’s a banjo?”

“Saruman,” sighed Frodo. “Gather up your nail glazes and peroxide. You’re leaving the Shire and you aren’t coming back.”

“Can’t we kill him?” asked Merry, gripping his sword. “Oh pleeeease? Can’t we can’t we can’t we???”

“No, no and no!” said Frodo. “I don’t believe in killing. It’s horrible karma, it’s disgusting, it’s messy, we don’t really have the right to kill a Maia––even if we could kill a Maia, which I doubt, considering what happened to Gandalf––and anyway, Merry; do you really want to be remembered for killing a chap dressed in iridescent sheets with his beard in curlers and a glittery pastel crebain tattoed on his cheekbone?”

“Hmmmm.” Merry frowned and sheathed his sword.

Saruman glared at Frodo. He looked torn between hatred, respect, and the definite onset of a reaction to the masque. “You’ve grown, Halfling––figuratively, that is, unlike those cousins of yours who look more like dwarves now than Hobbits––”

“We do NOT!” bellowed Merry, hand on hilt, having to be restrained by his paragon-of-virtue cousin yet again.

“Anyway, Ring-bearer,” sniffed Saruman, “you’re wise and bloody cruel into the bargain, depriving me of my last little pleasures in life.” He looked around at his salons and parlors and cheap jewelry shacks. “Where else can I go to get my nails buffed, my hair textured, my teeth bleached––”

Sam raised his hand. “Um, you could try Lothló––”

Frodo popped a hand over his mouth. “Lothlo! that’s a village rather like Bree except it’s north of the Shire, about 30 miles beyond the Northfarthing line. Loads of hairdressers and nail-buffers up there. They’re further north; they have to take particular care of themselves, you know, because of the cold––”

“Nice place!” Merry added helpfully.

“Lothlo?” said Pippin.

“I don’t like cold,” muttered Wormtongue. “It makes my nose run worse than ever.”

“Well, you don’t have to go,” said Frodo reasonably. “If not for Saruman you probably would never have come here...and you really ought to get a good shampoo. It certainly helped Aragorn.”

“Rubbish!” snarled Saruman. “I need this slavering miscreant; otherwise how will I ever get all those tangles out of the back of my hair? Find a coat and get moving, Worm!”

“I can’t wear a Hobbit coat!” whined Wormtongue. “I’ll get sick, I know it, all cold and icky, we’ll be soaked through, I’ll catch something awful and die a horrible death––”

“Then, again, maybe Wormtongue can stay!” muttered Saruman. His eyes shifted, gleaming with malevolence. Suddenly he grabbed a pair of shears, seized Frodo and teased the Hobbit’s abundant dark locks with the open blades, cackling insanely. “I’ll just take these pretty curls along instead!”

Gigantic claws nipped him by the collar and hoisted him, giving him a little shake. Frodo dropped away, unharmed, as did the shears, as Saruman was lifted high in the air.

“Isn’t that just like you!” sniffed the balrog, holding the struggling ex-wizard before her face with a distasteful expression. “Frodo gives you leave to get out of here with your pasty skin intact and all you can do is try to relieve him of those gorgeous curls. –All right, Frodo darling; you’ve had your shot at him. Now it’s my turn.”

Sam, Merry and Pippin settled into salon chairs and grabbed bags of popcorn, enthusiastically settling in to watch.

“What will you do with him?” asked Frodo.

“First, let me tell you my really great news!” said the balrog happily. Saruman dangled from her claws high above them, waving his arms, his eyes bulging, mouth moving but no sound escaping at all. She got onto her knees and leaned forward, absently jiggling him about as if he was a toy. “I’ve heard from Lord Aulë! Well, all right, not from Aulë himself, from Ulmo’s lass Uinen, but it’s the same thing. He wants me to come home!”

“Home!” gasped Frodo. “Valinor?!”

“Yes!” squealed the balrog, bouncing back on her heels with excitement. The whole land shook. “All is forgiven, and I’m to come home as soon as I can!”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” cried Frodo. “That’s why you’re here!”

“Well, not entirely why I’m here,” said the balrog coyly. “I stopped off first to see you again before I go. You’re my friend, after all! You helped me, Frodo!”

“I did? How?”

“Saurmilk’s tacky little Ring!” the balrog chortled. “You trusted me, and I helped you get rid of It! You’re the talk of the Undying Lands, sweetie––and so am I, because I helped you!”

“Wait.” Frodo studied her. “The ship. How will you fit on the ship?”

The balrog’s laughter startled dozens of ruffians out of hiding and onto the road. “Oh, that’s too much! Ship? Darling, if I so much as set my paw in one it would capsize!”

“But if you can’t take ship, how will you get there?”

The balrog stood up and straightened proudly to her full height. There were many cricks in many Hobbit necks the following day. She folded her arms and preened a bit, cocking her head this way and that, as something huge began to unfold behind her.

“Ah!” said Merry. “I guess that question is answered.”

The balrog, glancing left to right, waving her massive smoking wings gently in the breeze. “Granted, I had to practice with them––hard to fly about in those caverns!––but now I’m quite toned enough for long-distance flight. Gwaihir and I have already talked about having flying races! What fun!”

Saruman finally found his voice. “You lie, you overgrown matchstick! The Powers will blast you into vapor before They ever––”

“And I won’t be going alone,” said the balrog ominously. She brought Saruman close to her face again. He squeaked and hid his own. “Too bad I’ll have such repellant company––I’d much rather be traveling with you again, sweet Frodo!––but They’ve asked a favor of me, and I won’t disappoint Them!” She gave Saruman a shake. “These adorable little Hobbits shouldn’t have to deal with the likes of you, Curunír––no, that creepy-crawly task belongs to greater than ourselves. I’m to take you back for judgment! Come along quietly, now, or I’ll squeeze you into lava!”

The Hobbits watched in amazement and no little admiration as their unlikely ally tossed Saruman into the air and deftly caught him, closing her fist on him just enough to make him shout. The Shire heard his outraged (and terrified) screams all the way to Michel Delving.

The balrog knelt again. Frodo climbed aboard her free paw and was brought eye-level with her.

“This is it, love. I’m on my way. Be good––oh, what am I saying? How could you be anything but!” She sniffed. “See you around––on your way from Mandos into Overheaven, I should think. Then perhaps you and I can have flying races!”

Frodo gave one claw a big hug. “I’ll hold you to that, Roggie dear. Thanks for everything! Good luck with Saruman!”

Saruman bellowed something unrepeatable. The balrog gave him another shake, which quieted him right down.
She set Frodo on the ground and touched his cheek with her claw, heaving a sigh.

“All right,” she said firmly. “All Little Folk and Big, stand clear. These wings create a lot of wind when they get going. Farewell, friends!”

Frodo and all the others dropped to the ground and hugged it tight, straining to watch at the same time. Wind whistled, whipping cosmetic sponges and loose earring backs through the air as the balrog crouched like an enormous cat, then sprang up and away, her massive smoky wings cutting majestically through the clouds. Soon her eardrum-bruising rendition of “Over the Rainbow” and Saruman’s accompanying crazed shrieks faded into the West.

Everyone rose. With a whoop the Hobbits began celebrating their liberation, swirling around the four Travelers, kicking over manicure tables and pelting each other with handfuls of masque for joy. Music started up all at once and jigs broke out everywhere.

A line of Hobbits tried to snare Frodo into the rumba, but he resisted, looking into the sky and wiping a sleeve over his eyes. “I’m so glad for her. Getting to go home! Just like we did.” He looked around and scowled. “More or less.”

“Oh!” cried the comely Hobbit lass, seizing Frodo’s maimed left hand. She held it gently and stroked. “Someone trimmed you a bit too close there, hero. You poor handsome darling!” Frodo’s vision fogged when she planted a soft kiss on the scar. “Here, just come right over here, sit down and let me rub some nice soothing oils into your poor hand!”

The Bane of Sauron was now a blushing, weak-kneed lamb. “Well, I suppose...um...I could....”

“Don’t worry, cousin!” cried Merry, well, merrily. “We’ll be fine without you for awhile. We’ll be along to save you directly.”

“Um...not too directly, right?” called Frodo as the giggling lass led him away.

Merry’s snicker faded as he surveyed the salon chairs which dotted the earth right down to the Water. “...Well, probably not. Drat this mess. I wonder if we could hire some oliphaunts from Harad?”

“Can I go now?” asked Wormtongue, checking his wristdial. “No offense, but everything here is too little––the people, the houses, the furniture, the dishes, the hankies...and I’m due for a facial peel in ten minutes.”

Merry managed not to observe aloud how desperately Wormtongue needed the treatment. “Go on, then. Once you’ve helped us set this place to rights, you can take whatever of this garbage you’d like and leave.”

Sam gestured to the clippers and buffers and blow-dryers and body jewelry. “Mayhap you could start a salon in Bree. Seems I remember that lot needing all the help they can get.”

“He’d scare away the customers the moment they saw him,” muttered Merry.

“I heard that!” griped Wormtongue. “But that’s an intriguing thought, Master Gamgee. I even sort-of appreciate it. Honest work, eh? Hmmm.... Perhaps if we load up a couple of wagons...you can keep all the rest and do what you like with it. Meanwhile, if it’s okay with you, I need to peel out. Get it? ‘Peel’ out? for my peel!? Hoo, boy, I crack myself up!”

“‘Cracked’ is right,” grunted Merry. He looked to his right and his eyes bulged. “Oy! Pippin Took, what in the name of Yavanna’s toadstools have you done to yourself?”

Pippin’s skin was a variegated swirl of browns and oranges. “Merry, what’s ‘self-tanner’?”




*dialogue straight from the Prof’s pen