Muse Quest - Chapter 12: Bad News
The food was late. Pathetic, how he'd grown to depend so much on that one moment of variety in his day. His mind strayed to his home in Gondor: Dol Amroth, the castle by the sea. He strained to remember: the endless sky, the ships, riding, sailing, fighting, laughing...
A noise somewhere down the corridor brought him back to his tiny, filthy cell. Food on its way. Taras didn't need the faint flicker of approaching torchlight to see the slimy stone walls close around him; he knew every stone, every grit of mortar by heart.
"Sweet Valar, I've been here too long," he muttered, mostly for the sake of hearing a noise. The silence was a terrible, refined torture: his world was completely, monotonously devoid of sound and light. The boredom was like a throbbing ache he could not escape. And so he paced, trying to recapture his old world of sun, singing, color.
The door rattled. Taras paused, and to his immense surprise, the heavy wooden slab swung open wide. He threw up a hand against the dim torchlight, eyes smarting. A small, muddy goblin in dented armor proffered a plate of the customary slop with a very uncustomary smile. Taras stared dazedly at its straight white teeth, bewildered.
The thing was looking at him pityingly, and he felt a flash of his old self. He considered making a bolt for it; he even raised his plate to throw the food in the goblin's eyes - then he caught sight of the hulking, brutish-looking uruk just behind it, and subsided.
There was a bitter taste in his mouth. At one time he would have rushed the thing, heedless. Now... weak, starved, weaponless, and half-blind from the light, he just stood there, concenrated hatred pooling in his gray eyes.
He turned his gaze back to the goblin. It looked startled at the loathing on his face, and the big uruk stepped protectively in front of it and very deliberately shut the door on Taras. He slumped to the floor, careful of his gruel, and listened to the jumble of voices outside his cell.
The higher voice sounded indignant and pitying by turns. It also sounded curiously un-orclike. The uruk's voice was unmistakable: harsh, deep, and angry. The two of them moved off down the corridor, and Taras was once again alone. He ate his gruel pensively, and after a moment began pacing again.
* * * * * * * * *
Saruman's newest group of prisoners was herded down the long black corridors of Orthanc in various moods of fury, awe, and fear.
Eredolyn was awed. Nervous, a little guilty, but on the whole simply overwhelmed by the force of Saruman's voice. She felt faintly dizzy and couldn't seem to think straight.
Tuima was furious. That idiot mortal! Sweet Elbereth, imagine falling for such a paltry trick! "I knew Helm Hammerhand," indeed!
She admitted grudgingly that it would be difficult for anyone to withstand Saruman's lures once he turned his will to theirs, and besides, everything so far had been completely outside the girls' experience. So perhaps she couldn't blame Eredolyn - but Valar, what were they going to do? Somehow, somehow - how? - these mortal girls knew of the One Ring, and of Frodo's quest. Above all else, she had to prevent them from telling Saruman of the Council's decision. The elf's shoulders slumped. There was nothing she could do, and she knew it. Saruman would find what he wanted to know, and they would all die here, probably painfully - though this was a concept her elvish mind couldn't quite grasp. She had never considered death...
Wlore was mad. No other word for it - that wizard just... Wlore clenched her fists and her teeth. He had no right! She glared at all and sundry and muttered dire imprecations in Rohirric.
Dilly eyed Wlore warily. She was sick of being frightened and bruised and tired. The sooner she woke up from this horrible dream, the happier she'd be.
Cebu was - but she didn't have time, because she hadn't gone ten steps before the group was interrupted by another servant hurrying up to them.
It was a girl with bandaged ribs, missing teeth, and two spectacular black eyes. To the amusement of everyone present, she was cringing away from Wlore, who was grinning at her with a satisfied ferocity. "G'morning, Drysi," Wlore said pleasantly.
Drysi blanched and said, "Saruman wants to talk to her again." She pointed at Cebu, who was promptly hauled back up the corridor, looking frightened and angry. "And -" Drysi whispered something into a servant's ear. He nodded, and Drysi fled, shooting a venomous glare in Wlore's direction.
The group was still at a loss from Cebu's sudden summons, and did not realize they were being separated until Eredolyn was several yards away. "Hey!" she protested nervously. "What are you doing?"
"Saruman instructed us that you be given rooms near the library," a servant said soothingly. "Your friends will be quartered in the floors below."
Eredolyn hesitated. "You may see them whenever you like," the man said reassuringly, and Eredolyn slowly turned and followed him, throwing uncertain glances over her shoulder at her companions.
"'Bye, then," she called nervously.
Dilly looked stricken, and Wlore was glowering. Tuima stared at the floor. As soon as Eredolyn was out of sight, the other four were seized and hurried down several flights of stairs. Halfway down the third staircase the whole group stopped dead at a blood-curdling scream that reverbrated throughout Orthanc. Mixed into it were deep bellows of pain or anger.
"Hey," Wlore said uncertainly. "That sounds like..."
"Saruman!" Tuima gasped.
"Cebu!" cried Dilly at the same time. The servants stared at each other, bewildered. Within a minute, they could hear more screams and cries coming closer, and suddenly Cebu turned the corner, clamped tightly between three servants as she flailed and kicked and thrashed. "Cebu!" Dilly cried. "What..."
"Eicys!" Cebu wailed, her face white and tear-streaked. "He said Eicys is dead! My sister..." She sobbed wildly.
The girls stared at each other, shocked. A servant moved to grip Dilly's arm again and she shoved him away: "Don't touch me!" she spat. He grabbed her again. Very deliberately, Dilly twisted and punched the man squarely in the face. He fell back with a howl, and battle was joined.
Wlore was already whirling and punching, and Cebu needed no urging; shrieking battle cries, the redhead kicked free of two servants and launched herself into the other's stomach, knocking him flat.
The fight went on beautifully until reinforcements arrived. Wlore was drawing back her arm for another blow when a heavy hand closed around her elbow and she found a crude scimitar at her throat. The others were quickly caught as well, although it took two uruks to pry Cebu's hands from a servant's neck.
When at last they were all held tight, the head servant addressed them. "You're only making things worse for yourselves, you know," he said, dabbing at a flow of blood from his hairline. There were matching smears of blood on Wlore's bruised knuckles. "Saruman will not be happy to hear of this. Fortunately for you, you will not have to face the questioners until he has finished with your friend."
"If you touch her -" Dilly started, lunging uselessly.
The man laughed, looking sinister with blood streaming down his face. "Don't worry, my dear. The master will be much gentler with your foolish companion than he will with you." he paused. "One or another of you will be taken to see her occasionally. You will have a servant watching you the whole time. If you say anything unpleasant to her, we will hear."
"And do what?" Wlore sneered.
"And punish your companions," the man said with chilling indifference. "Trust me, they will not thank you for any slips you might make... You will wish yourselves as dead as this barbarian's little sister should we hear of any difficulties."
He looked at the uruks. "Take them away. Separate cells."
Cebu's despairing sobs lingered in the air as she and her friends were dragged away.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Eredolyn stared admiringly, but a little nervously, around her new chambers. She hoped her friends would be put in decent quarters, as the servant promised. Eredolyn would need to ask Saruman about that, when she got the chance...
The young girl looked at her suroundings: in front of her was a room that had its own balcony. Great! Eredolyn thought. This is too easy! I'll just tie up some blankets, scale down, and - Suddenly she was hit by the nauseating realization that actually scaling down several stories on actual flimsy bedsheets was easier said than done. Fear immediately gripped her stomach. "Dang it!" Eredolyn muttered. "If I'm stuck in Middle Earth, why couldn't I have gotten the fearless attitude for it?" The girl finally slumped her shoulders and decided to take a look around. At the moment, thousands of feet up with servants at her door, there was nothing she could do.
Eredolyn noticed that the walls of the room were draped with various tapestries and paintings. Eredolyn's eyes scanned the intricate panels with delight, but could barely recognize any of their legends, sadly. Perhaps Saruman could tell her about them...
Eredolyn tried to shake that thought out of her head, and let herself wander into the next room: a sitting room. Light flooded in, bathing the silver couches, and the warm wind played softly with the cream curtains. Eredolyn's mouth gaped, but quickly snapped shut.
Don't let any of this get to you, she told herself. Saruman is still evil.
She went on to the last room. There was a large bed almost drowned in satin pillows. It had an embroidered white silk coverlet. Eredolyn had never imagined a bed as rich as this.
Saruman....is still evil.
There was an oak wardrobe against one wall. Eredolyn pulled on a bronze knob and reached into the closet's dark interior. Her hand touched robes: long, silken robes in dozens of colors. There were gowns, too, and intricate woven belts of silver and gold...
At last Eredolyn pulled out a long velvet gown, a dark, deep, purple hue, trimmed in black lace.
Taking the velvet gown into her arms, almost cradling the delicate cloth, Eredolyn wandered about her chambers in utter confusion. Now hold on, Eredolyn told herself. This old man has given you the nicest chambers in Orthanc. So what exactly makes him evil?
All bad stuff he's done...I guess.
Who says he really did all that bad stuff?
Well, the books......
Eredolyn stopped and stared again at the tapestries: all the scenes of legends and battles she couldn't decipher.
The books? You're gonna trust a few paperback books? This is the real Middle Earth you're in. There are tales and lore here that Tolkien never even mentioned. How can you trust what some old college professor wrote half a century ago?
Eredolyn strayed to the balcony and looked at the mountains looming against the sky. She wished the voice would go away, but she couldn't deny, there was some truth to it.
Everything is different now: this isn't just imagination anymore. It's real. So what really determines right and wrong in this place? What makes Elves good? What makes orcs nasty? What makes Saruman evil?
"I...I don't know!"
Eredolyn cried this out loud and buried her face in her cradled gown. Just then a bell rang in her room. It was noon. Saruman wanted to have a meal with Eredolyn and discuss the history of Rohan.
The real history...
But Eredolyn had more sense than to trust that voice in her head. All she had to rely on in this place was Tolkien's writings, so that was what she would believe. This would be no more than an intellectual discussion.
"I'm coming," Eredolyn called, quickly pulling off her clothes so she could don the velvet gown. "I'm coming, Master Wizard."