Muse Quest - Chapter 18: Careful conversations
... "We're getting out of here, Taras. I don't care what it takes; we're going to get out of this place. Eicys and Tuima are already working on a potion to put Saruman out of it for a while, and Eicys says she's been hiding supplies, and weapons. Any day now, we will get our chance, and we are going to escape, Taras, no matter what!"
Taras stared at Dilly, astonished. Questions pounded through his brain. Finally he settled on an easy one: "Who's Eicys?"
"Someone say my name?"
"Eicys!" Dilly cried. "What are you doing here?"
"Your friend is an orc?" Taras demanded, horrified.
Eicys froze. "Who are you?" she asked, at the same time Dilly blurted, "Or course not!" She sounded indignant and disgusted. Eicys winced a little, thinking of Ungrath.
"She looks like an orc," Taras said stubbornly.
"Dilly, who is this?"
"Well, she isn't. Eicys, this is Taras of Dol Amroth. Taras, this is my friend Eicys. And you can both stop glaring at each other now."
"You're not an orc?" Taras asked warily.
Eicys, irritated, yanked off her helmet. Blonde hair cascaded around her shoulders. "Satisfied?"
Taras started. "Ah... I beg your pardon," he said politely. "Pleased to meet you, Eicys."
Eicys hesitated, and peered through the bars into the gloom of Taras' cell. The man who looked back at her was pale and haggard, with his long dark hair tangled around his face - but he was still definitely the most attractive guy Eicys had ever seen. That might, of course, be due to the fact that she had been surrounded by orcs for the past three weeks - but she doubted it. This guy was really, really hot.
"Pleased to meet you too," Eicys said, grinning foolishly, and decided to leave her helmet off for a while longer. "Is he going to be escaping with us?" she asked Dilly.
"Yes," said Dilly emphatically.
"Great!" She looked up and blushed. "Um, I mean... we could use someone else who knows how to fight. Um." She cleared her throat. "Anyway, Dilly... Tuima and I were talking, and we think it would be a good idea if you could see Eredolyn again. You know her best out of any of us, and I mean we can't just leave without her, so we have to figure out a way to... persuade her..."
Taras looked astonished. "You're still going to try to rescue this Eredolyn?"
Dilly and Eicys looked at him sideways. "We can't just leave her," Dilly said, echoing Eicys. Taras frowned, and Dilly found herself looking for reasons to defend Eredolyn. "She's held up really well against him so far, actually. I mean, she said last time she hadn't told him about the Ring. She seemed really offended, actually." Dilly abruptly realized what she'd said. "Uh, I mean - forget I said that!"
Dilly and Eicys exchanged nervous glances. "I'll tell you after we escape," Dilly said reluctantly. Taras gave her a wary look. "I promise," Dilly protested. "But right now, I'm going with Eicys to see Eredolyn."
"Really?" said Eicys, clearly relieved. "Great!" She fumbled with a ring of keys.
"Where did you get those?" Taras asked sharply.
"Well, they gave them to me the first day, so I could feed the prisoners. Then the assignments changed, and I work in the mess hall for a couple hours a day now. But I - ah, forgot to return the keys." She grinned and fitted a key into Dilly's lock.
"Why don't you just let us all out now?" Taras asked suspiciously.
"Because," Eicys answered shortly. "We aren't ready to escape yet. I've made enough trouble stealing food and supplies, and sneaking around the dungeons in all my spare time. I don't want to make anyone else suspicious." She swung the door wide, and Dilly stepped out happily. Eicys pulled her helmet on again. She turned to Taras. "If anyone asks, Lady Eredolyn sent for her friend, okay?"
Taras nodded, then asked, "Are you from Dilly's world, too?"
Eicys looked surprised. "Why do you ask?"
"That word. `Oh-Kay.' Dilly's the only one I know who uses it."
"Oh. Yeah, I am actually." She tucked her hair under her helmet and shut the cell door again. "Coming, Dilly?"
"Yeah," said Dilly. She was standing close to Taras' cell door, looking in. "So that's what you look like," she murmured, half to herself. She smiled at him. "I'll be back as soon as I can." Taras nodded unhappily. "Goodbye, Taras," she whispered.
"Goodbye," he said, and pushed a hand through his bars. Dilly clasped it; it was like a good-luck sign. "Take care of yourself, Dilly," he said.
She just smiled again, squeezed his hand, and followed Eicys down the corridor and out of sight.
"Eicys, you don't have to grab my arm so hard," Dilly whispered as they made their way cautiously through the halls of Orthanc. "Those gauntlet things you wear are no joke."
"Sorry," Eicys whispered back, trying to relax her grip. She was so nervous she thought it was a miracle that her armor didn't rattle with the shaking. "It's just - this doesn't look very plausible, you know? We're the same size, and..."
"What's going on here?"
Eicys felt her heart plummet sickeningly towards her toes. At the same time, paradoxically, it seemed to be trying to fight its way out of her chest via her throat. She turned slowly.
"Uh... I'm just - I mean, I'm jes' takin' this `ere," she shook Dilly's arm, "teh see `er friend. Saru - Sharkey's pris'ner. Ered'lin or whoever." She felt a prickle of sweat beneath her disguising layer of paint and mud. "Yeah," she said hoarsely.
Saruman's servant eyed her suspiciously. He wore expensive-looking robes and an expression that suggested Eicys had just been found adhering to the sole of his shoe. Just my luck, I get one of the higher-ups, Eicys thought.
"I had not heard that the Lady Eredolyn ordered an audience with one of those... people," he said.
Dilly bristled and seemed about to say something, but Eicys kicked her ankle - forgetting her metal-shod boots. Dilly gasped. The servant stared.
"Er, well, yeah," said Eicys desperately. "She - she forgot to say something - somethin' - teh one of `em. I heard. Er." And to think I said Ungrath was a rotten liar.
"And why is it only you escorting the prisoner?"
"Er..." Eicys gasped. A bead of sweat slid from under her helmet. Panicking, she felt it clinging to a few strands of blonde hair that had escaped from their tie. Her mind blanked. "I - uh...Um..."
She heard heavy footsteps behind her. "I'm not!" she said, staking everything. "He's helping me!" She pointed wildly over her shoulder.
And there was Ungrath, towering over everyone and idly swinging his enormous scimitar. Relief rose off Eicys like steam. "What's th' problem?' Ungrath asked, glowering.
The servant backed up a step. "Nothing," he snapped. He seemed to be considering, but having a huge orc looming in the foreground is difficult for consideration. "Very well," he said nastily. "I will accompany you. The master will want to hear what is said between these two... friends." Dilly glared. The servant turned and swept down the corridor ahead of them.
Eicys finally released her death grip on Dilly's arm and turned her eyes to Ungrath. "Thank you thank you thank you," she muttered fervently, so that only he could hear. She shoved the telltale whisps of hair back beneath her helmet.
"Yeh need a lot o' lookin' after, Eicys," he commented without looking down.
"Thankyouthankyouthankyou..." She took a deep breath and her stupid armor finally stopped rattling.
"Here we are," the servant announced, positioning himself in front of Eredolyn's doors. But before he raised a hand to knock, he gave a steady glare towards Dilly. "You know the rules," he said. "If you say anything to Lady Eredolyn that Master Saruman would deem unpleasant, your friends in the dungeons will pay the price."
Dilly gulped, but remained firm.
"I will be watching you, so choose your words wisely," the servant finished, and, raising a fist, knocked smartly on the decorated doors.
"Come in," called Eredolyn. The servant flung the door wide and Eicys marched Dilly through. Ungrath hung back.
"I'll talk to you later," Eicys hissed at him. "Thank you..." He grinned a little and shut the door.
"Who is it?" Eredolyn asked, looking up. She was seated in a tall armchair, a book spread open on her lap. "Dilly?" Her tone was annoyed. "What are you doing here?"
From the corner of her eye Dilly saw the servant take his position in the shadows, watching the two girls intently. "Uh, remember, you sent for me?" Dilly said.
"No, I d- " Eredolyn caught sight of Dilly's frantic expression. She peered behind her friend and noticed that the goblin escorting her wore an identical one. "Oh," she said. "Hey, is that Ei..."
"No," said Dilly quickly.
"Yes, it - "
"Eredolyn! No, it isn't!"
"Sheesh. Bossy." Eredolyn frowned. "You were really bossy last time, too, you know. And Tuima was worse." Her frown deepened. "Why is everyone so irritable lately?"
"Lady Eredolyn," the servant said smoothly, stepping forward. "If you like, I would be happy to remove this... person."
"I think I would like her to apologize," Eredolyn said. Her hazel eyes glittered.
"What?" Dilly cried. The servant frowned. "I mean, sorry," she said sourly.
"Good," said Eredolyn, still glassy-eyed. "Now Dilly, what was it you wanted to see me for?"
"No - Eredolyn! Um, remember you asked me to come and - and remind you of something?"
"Did I?" Eredolyn said vaguely. "What would you remind me of? I have all these books here to search through, if I want to know something. And Saruman says I can ask him anything." Her voice was eerie, echoing, as though coming from far away. "Saruman said..." she murmured.
There was a pause. "I'm sorry, what did you want to say?" Eredolyn asked, with a shadow of her old self.
Dilly hesitated, wracked with frustration. She wanted - no, needed - to pop the bubble of Saruman's glamour and reveal his deceit to her deluded friend. That's why she was here. But one ill word concerning the Wizard would mean a trip to the torture chamber for her friends.
But an idea suddenly struck Dilly, and she cracked a grin. She and Eredolyn held one advantage above the eavesdropping servant: they were from the modern world.
"So, Eredolyn..." she started. "...The next episode of Star Wars is coming out."
"....Er..." Eredolyn was puzzled.
"This episode is going to be really good! It's when Anikan is tempted to join the dark side of the force, and that old, black-hooded evil dude looks really wise and friendly but he's actually evil and he's just tricking Anikan to use him and get what he wants."
Eredolyn thought a moment. "Star Wars... that's the movie with the little green guy, right?"
Dilly nearly reeled backwards. Was Eredolyn completely daft? How could she forget Star Wars?! "Oookay," Dilly thought a moment. "What about 'Hook'?"
"Yeah you know, that old remake of Peter Pan with Dustin Hoffman?"
"Oh yes," Eredolyn nodded.
Dilly sighed with relief. "Good. Now remember when Hook kidnapped Peter Pan's kid and convinced the kid he was happier on the bad guy side, and offered him all these books and rich clothes and in the end the kid couldn't remember his real friends?"
Eredolyn was stunned. "...Peter Pan had a kid?"
"It's from Hook! You said you remembered Hook!"
"Yeah....but I thought it had Johnny Depp in it."
"That's `Finding Neverland'! What's the matter with you?!"
The servant moved from his position in the doorway. "My lady?" he intervened again. "Is this girl offending you?"
Dilly and Eicys froze.
"....No," Eredolyn said. "I'm just a little confused."
"Then I hope your friend will speak clearly now and to the point."
Dilly hastily nodded. But turning to Eredolyn she could see that her friend's memory of present times had turned to mush under Saruman's spell. It was a marvel Eredolyn even remembered her friends' names. "What has he done to you?" she muttered.
"Sorry, what was that?" Eredolyn asked.
"Ere," Dilly said desperately, "do you remember The Lord of the Rings?"
"Of course!" Eredolyn laughed. "We're practically living in it! Isn't it great? Though I think Tolkien got a few things wrong. Saruman..."
"What about Coralie?" Dilly hurried on, hoping to steer her friend away from thoughts of the wizard.
"Oh yes, Coralie. She wrote fanfic, didn't she? I don't think Saruman likes her very mu- "
"Okay, well, do you remember us? The Immies?"
Eredolyn frowned. "Where did we get that silly name from, anyway?"
"Remember?" Dilly pled. "The Lord of the Rings club, at school? Power to Nerds, dark green hoodies, lunchtime meetings? Remember? And we called ourselves the Immortal Four, after the Inklings, and we would stay up late watching the movies and eating E.L.Fudge cookies? And you taught the club the Elvish alphabet?"
Eredolyn perked up. "Oh, Dilly, you'll never believe - Saruman has this book on languages, and it's just amazing how many..."
Dilly positively wilted. This wasn't going anywhere. "What about us?" she demanded. "Your friends?"
Eredolyn, looking irritated at being so rudely interrupted, huffed and pulled her book back towards her. "Some friends. You don't even care that this is the chance of a lifetime. This is what I've always wanted. And you just barge in and lecture me, and try to make me feel guilty. Well, I'm sick of it."
Dilly opened her mouth, shocked. "Eredolyn - "
"Oh, shut up," Eredolyn snapped. "Go away. I don't want to talk to you."
The servant glided forward happily. "But Ere!" Dilly started again.
"I said, I don't want to talk to you. Ever. Now get out of here and don't come back." Eredolyn glared at her old friend as the servant ushered her out the door, then huffed again and went back to her book. Some people...
Eicys trailed behind, throwing indignant glares at Eredolyn, as Saruman's servant herded Dilly from the room. Once outside she moved to take Dilly's arm again, but the servant pushed her aside.
"Stupid to trust a prisoner to a useless little snaga like you," he sneered. "Where's that big fellow?"
He jumped. Ungrath was glowering only a few feet away. "Ah - Yes. Er..." He thrust Dilly into the uruk's arms. "Take this back to the dungeons." Ungrath looked down at the dark-haired girl, who had jerked away from him to stand staring at Eredolyn's closed doors, and moved to grip her shoulder.
Dilly knocked his hand away. "Don't touch me," she snapped. "I can walk on my own." And she stalked away down the corridor, with Ungrath and Eicys close behind. The servant watched her narrowly, then turned in a flurry of robes to go find his master. He had a feeling that Saruman would want to hear of this.