Although Ungrath had left for guard duty some time ago, Eicys was still wandering through the dungeons, trying to find all the prisoners that needed feeding in the hundreds of cells beneath Orthanc. She was practicing an appropriately orcish shuffle and wondering quietly about the astonishing friendship she’d struck up with the big uruk. She couldn’t deny that she felt distinctly uncomfortable with him: he was huge and ugly and smelly and frightening and an orc, for Pete’s sake – but… Eicys sighed. He didn’t fit in here any more than she did, and he was desperately lonely. And he had those mismatched eyes – they looked almost – almost – human. It was downright weird.
Eicys was startled out of her thoughts – and almost out of her wits (you try hanging around in a dark orc-infested dungeon sometime) – by a nearby jumble of orcish voices. Her friends, looking much the worse for wear after their audience with Saruman, were being tugged along by what seemed a small army of uruk-hai guards. She raced down the short corridor after the group as they turned a corner into the gloom.
The guards had already begun to split up the group. Eredolyn was nowhere in sight, and as Eicys watched, Dilly was pulled away by two orcs and hauled down a branching corridor to the right. Eicys frantically tried to consign the hall to memory as she crept after the others: her sister Cebu, Tuima, and that blonde girl she’d seen earlier.
The blonde girl was soon taken away in much the same manner as Dilly had been – that is to say, struggling furiously – with the addition of a few colorful curses and some very stinging comments on her captors’ appearance, smell, and intelligence (or lack thereof). By the time she was halfway down the corridor and had begun on their relations (“When the maggot-ridden skunk that was your father saw you for the first time, he fell dead from shame and was set upon by the horde of piebald weasels that are your brothers!”) Eicys was grinning with a nervous sort of respect.
Thinking that someone so obviously warlike might be helpful in the eventual escape plan, Eicys added the location of the girl’s cell to her mental map and hurried to catch up to Tuima and Cebu.
But when she skidded around a corner, the girls and their guards had disappeared. Eicys stood staring in bewilderment, horror-struck at the thought of having lost them in this maze. She turned in a nervous circle, caught one leg on the protruding armor of the other, and fell with a clatter and a puff of grime.
Eicys hauled herself gamely to her feet and was trying to rearrange her bent breastplate when she heard a faint snort. She turned and saw Tuima looking at her through the barred window of her cell. Tuima obviously didn’t recognize her, and was trying to stifle curiosity with huge boatloads of contempt. Eicys giggled.
Tuima blinked, squinted, and joyfully cried, “Eicys!” She thrust a hand through her bars and Eicys clapped it in a muddy gauntlet. “What on Arda are you dressed as? Cebu told us you were dead!”
Eicys sobered. “Really?” she asked gloomily. “I tried to let her know, but I guess the disguise was too good.”
“It’s certainly convincing,” Tuima agreed.
“Should I be insulted?” Eicys wondered slyly, and they both laughed, more from relief than anything. “Seriously, though, I had better find Cebu quick before she worries herself to death,” said Eicys. “Do you know where they put her?”
“No idea,” Tuima told her sadly. “And from the way Cebu was carrying on, she might already have died. She was pretty frantic.”
Eicys was obscurely flattered under her concern. “What happened?”
“Well, after our audience with Curunir – yes, we spoke to him. And I never want to do it again – he called Cebu back into his chamber, and a few minutes later we heard her positively shrieking, and Curunir — er, sorry, I mean Saruman — yelling and bellowing like a crazed bull.” A slight smile crept across Tuima’s face. “She told me on the way down – after nearly strangling a household servant – that she had pulled out half of the wizard’s beard.”
Underneath her mud and paint, Eicys looked impressed, as well as amused at the expression of vengeful longing that drifted across the prisoner’s face. “I had better go look for her, then,” she said.
“Wait,” Tuima started, then after a brief battle with her pride, asked: “Do you have a plan?”
“Not yet. But I’m learning quite a lot – and…” She held up a ring of jangling keys, triumphant. “I am in charge of `feeding the prisoners’.”
“Excellent!” Tuima said. “Let me out.”
“Not dinner time,” said Eicys.
“I’m kidding!” Eicys said hurriedly, thrusting a key at Tuima’s door. She stopped with her hand still on it. “Wait. What am I doing?”
“Letting… me… out,” Tuima said slowly and clearly.
“Yes of course – but what then?”
“Then I will be out. No longer in. Out, Eicys. Hurry, please.”
“No. Listen.” Eicys caught sight of Tuima’s expression and hurried on: “Say I let you out. What then? We don’t know where Cebu is, or Eredolyn.” Tuima started to say something here, but Eicys talked over her. “We don’t have any weapons, disguises, excuses… we don’t even have a map. We don’t have a plan, Tuima.”
“So I am supposed to stay happily in my cozy little cell waiting for Saruman’s torturers to show up?” Tuima asked acidly. When Eicys stared, she said, “This is a dungeon, Eicys. Our stay here is not supposed to be pleasant. I can hear -” Tuima broke off, shuddering and staring at the wall. “Can’t you hear it?”
Eicys shook her head slowly and nervously. “Hear what?” she asked, not sure she wanted to know.
“Screaming,” Tuima said bluntly, but softly. She was shaking a little. “Lots of screaming.”
Eicys listened hard, and was fervently relieved not to hear anything. “You must have really good ears,” she said, and looked at them. She realized something: “Hey, you still have those fake points on.”
Tuima snapped out of her thoughts and looked at her blankly. “Dilly said something about my ears, too,” she said, tugging at the tips. “All elves have ears like this.”
“All… elves…” Eicys choked. “What?“
Tuima graced her with a faintly sarcastic, puzzled look. Eicys stared, blinked, and finally just shrugged. After all, why not? Everything else so far had certainly been weird enough. “What do you think we ought to do then?”
Tuima frowned at the floor. “I – I don’t know.”
“What happened to the whole ageless ancient wisdom schpiel?” asked Eicys, only half joking. “Haven’t you ever had to orchestrate an escape in all your however-many-millenia?”
“No,” said Tuima curiously. “And I am nowhere near a millenia in age. I am only two hundred and eighty-two.”
“Only,” muttered Eicys.
“I read a great deal during Cebu’s captivity,” Tuima said pensively. “Most of the stories… fanfics?… your people have written about Middle-earth describe elleths* who were warriors and went on long adventures. It all seems very stange to me. I am much better with herbs and gardens and books.”
“But…” Eicys faltered. “Oh.” She frowned, and said, “But you had those knives – I saw them – and you were a great tracker, and you, er, well, blew up at the others pretty bad that one time…”
Tuima blushed faintly. “I do have a terrible temper,” she admitted. “And Haldir taught me about tracking and knives -” she blushed darker – “But that was mostly because I pestered him.”
Eicys valiantly stifled giggles as Tuima blushed still darker. “You like Haldir?” she asked.
“Er. No,” Tuima said brusquely. “So what do you think we should do about the escape?”
Eicys giggled some more but laid out her idea: “I think you guys will have to wait for a few days while I find out more about Orthanc. I’ll try and steal some weapons and stuff, and then we’ll have to wait for the `opportune moment’.” She said the last words in a strange deep voice. Tuima looked blank. “You know,” said Eicys. “Pirates of the… Never mind. But listen, you don’t think Saruman will… do anything to you… for a couple days? I need time.”
Tuima looked glum. “No, I think you’ll be all right. I think Saruman will be focusing everything on Eredolyn for a while. He’ll only turn… violent… with us if she doesn’t cooperate.”
“Why? What’s going on with Eredolyn?” Eicys demanded.
Tuima stared at the floor. “His voice… he…”
“She fell for it?” Eicys groaned. “But Eredolyn’s read Lord of the Rings a billion times – she ought to know better!”
“He offered her his library.”
“Not that the idea isn’t tempting…” Tuima said a little wistfully.
“I am,” the elf said crossly. “Listen, you probably have a few days – but that’s if Eredolyn holds out, and I don’t know that she will.”
“She’d better,” said Eicys.
“Yes,” Tuima said, pleading in her voice. “But listen. It would be better for you to spend your time trying to talk Eredolyn out from Curunir’s spell. He must not find out about the Ring – Eicys, my whole world will be destroyed if she lets her guard down for an instant. Next to that… we aren’t important. Concentrate on Eredolyn.”
Eicys hesitated, then nodded. She didn’t like this at all. “I’ll do what I can. But I’m not going to leave my sister and my friends down here – we’re getting out of this pit if it’s the last thing I do.” She said it so firmly and confidently that Tuima smiled, but a little sadly. However unpleasant and surprising, this was still just a story to Eicys.
Eicys smiled back at the elf, earning a scolding – “You can’t let anyone see your teeth; they don’t look at all orcish” – and set off to find Cebu (“first things first,” she thought. “And Saruman probably won’t start in on Eredolyn for a few hours… I hope.”)
Tuima sighed despondently and watched her leave. “Namarie,” she sighed as Eicys disappeared into the gloom. “Be careful.”
But Eicys couldn’t find her sister anywhere. Well into the third hour of useless searching, she was so turned around that she could hardly be certain of where the exit was, much less her friends, still less her sister. She grew increasingly nervous, and after a while she felt exhausted from tromping around in heavy armor, quietly calling Cebu’s name, and leaping for cover when any other orcs passed by. She curled up in a recess for a short rest. I’ll just sit down for a minute, she told herself. I won’t fall asleep… or… anything…
“Here ye are!”
Eicys woke to a prod, and bolted upright in terror.
“Right jumpy liddle thing ye are, hey?”
“Ungrath!” Eicys said weakly. “Don’t do that!” She hurriedly pulled her helmet straight and tucked in her telltale blonde hair, peering up at Ungrath’s terrible face.
“‘S almost night. Yeh oughter be i’ the barracks; I bin lookin’ fer ye all over,” he said, offering a mottled hand with disturbingly efficient-looking claws. Eicys took it gingerly, scrambling to her feet. She still didn’t like touching him.
“Um, thanks,” she said. “I didn’t realize it was so late.”
“What’ve ye bin doin’ down here fer so long?” asked Ungrath, setting off down the corridor.
“Staying out of trouble,” Eicys replied, trotting to keep up. Well, it’s true, she thought. Sort of.
Ungrath saw her bobbing behind, and slowed down to look at her consideringly.
“Good idea,” he grunted at last. “But ye shouldn’t sleep down here, the dungeon guards are s’posed teh be a rough lot.”
Eicys nodded, to show that she had heard. The two had reached the top of the staircase before Ungrath jerked his head toward Eicys. “Yer hair is still showin’.”
Eicys’ hand flew to the edge of her helmet and felt around it carefully, but there was nothing. Only when she looked up at Ungrath’s appraising face did she realize he’d been testing her – and she’d failed. “Ungrath…” she started, her eyes huge. “Um…”
“D’ye think I’m stupid then, as well as ugly?” he grated.
“No! No, I… I’m sorry, Ungrath! Please… You won’t tell anyone, will you?” Eicys looked up at him desperately.
There was a long pause. “I knew ye were different righ’ off,” he said. “An’ it’s a bad idea to be different `round here. I won’t tell.”
“Thank you!” she said, in a muffled voice. Ungrath jumped: Eicys was hugging him. She let go quickly, and there was a long and uncomfortable silence. Eicys was beginning to feel extremely stupid (and also somewhat unpleasant – it’s not particularly enjoyable hugging an orc even when you are almost dizzy with relief), but Ungrath patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. Eicys felt more stupid than ever, and muttered, “Sorry,” to the floor. He grunted and waved her on in the direction of the barracks, stumping along behind with a confused, crooked smile on his ugly face.
Da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da d’da. Cebu banged out the notes of Jingle Bells on the bars of her cell, using the gruel spoon from her previous captivity. She had discovered it in her pocket a long time ago and was (still, four hours later) venting her frustration by driving the orcish guard down the corridor absolutely insane.
“Can’t you stop that #*!$ racket?” he yelled in agony. He would have come and shut her up forcibly if he’d had a key, but he was just a sentry.
Da-da-da d’da da-da, d’da-da-da-da-da-da, Cebu responded with renewed vigor. The sentry hunkered down with his hands over his ears and muttered swearwords. Cebu waited with a kind of sadistic patience until he cautiously unstopped his ears. “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the waaaaaaay!” she hollered, accompanying herself loudly with the spoon.
“AAAURGH! That’s it! I’m outta here!” The orc flung himself down the hall, spear forgotten, followed by a violent percussion rendition of the Christmas classic.
When his swearing had died into the distance, Cebu slumped to the floor of her cell, tears of frustrated sorrow leaking from her eyes. She stared miserably at her reflection in the spoon. Blurry with tears, it looked a lot like her little sister. “Eicys…” she sobbed. “Eicys.”
“What?” said a voice.
Cebu sat bolt upright. “Eicys?”
“Yes?” The voice was coming from the spoon. Cebu shrieked and threw it against the wall. “Ouch!” said the voice.
“I’ve completely lost it,” Cebu said in a monotone. “My spoon is talking to me.”
“I beg your pardon,” said the spoon indignantly.
“I give it you,” Cebu answered dizzily, thinking of Gandalf’s line from The Hobbit. “I’ve gone insane.”
“Ah.” There was a rustle in the corner where she’d thrown the spoon. “I wondered, what with the song and so forth.” There was a pause. “But then how do you know my name?”
“Oh. I thought you said Euterpe. I’m afraid my ears were still ringing a little from your – ah – musical number.”
“Sorry,” said Cebu numbly. She imagined it wouldn’t be pleasant to be a drumstick – er, drumspoon.
“No, no, quite all right. You did manage to get rid of the guard, after all.”
Cebu peered into the corner where the spoon ought to be. It was almost completely black, but she could see something moving… “You’re not a spoon!” she cried.
“Of course not,” said the woman with a touch of aspersion. “I am a muse. My name is Euterpe.”
A slightly stunned silence followed this pronouncement, during which Euterpe picked up the dropped spoon and smiled at her bweildered cellmate.
“I’m Cebu,” Cebu managed at last.
“Charmed,” said Euterpe politely.
“Terrified,” Cebu responded in the same tone.
“I really have gone insane. You just told me you were the Muse of lyric poetry.”
“Of course I did.”
“But you’re supposed to be in Greece! This is Middle-earth!” Cebu said indignantly.
“No, it isn’t.”
“Yes, it is. Note: dungeon. Orcs. Evil wizard named Saruman. Leaves from Fangorn Forest still stuck in my hair. Middle-earth.” Cebu knew she wasn’t being exactly polite, but she was still numb with fright over Eicys’ fate. Saruman had been lying, she told herself. She had seen that goblin with the blue eyes wink at her. Eicys was alive. She had to be.
“This is not Tolkien’s Middle-earth. It is a spin-off, belonging to a writer named Lady Coralie,” the muse told Cebu patiently.
“Yes it – what?” Cebu said, completely thrown.
“It is a spin-off, belonging to -“
“No, I heard you. But… but…” Cebu tried to pull herself together. “Coralie didn’t put any muses in her story!”
“No, but she is in need of muses nonetheless. She never finished her tale.”
“No kidding,” Cebu muttered.
“So my eight sisters and I,” said Euterpe, waving Cebu’s dropped spoon like a scepter, “patrons of artists, writers, and musicians, the divine daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, have come to inspire her, so that the story canon may proceed and the Third Age come to an end, and that a vast multitude of her readers may at last have peace.”
“Oh,” said Cebu. There was a long pause. “Um, can I have my spoon back now?”
*Elleth = female elf