Taras waited patiently for Dilly to come back.
Okay, he didn’t really; he paced madly and muttered to himself about wasting time coddling traitors. But at least he didn’t try to knock the door down again.
When he heard the footsteps, he caught his breath nervously. There were not two, but three people – this being Middle-earth, the term “people” is used broadly – coming down the corridor, and – he craned his neck to see better – the third was an uruk. Taras tensed. Had something gone wrong? But surely they would have sent more than one orc if there had been a problem… Then Taras stopped and re-examined this particular uruk, who was built along the lines of a mumak, and changed his mind. He shivered.
Dilly moved back to allow Eicys to unlock her cell door. But she didn’t go in; instead she stopped, turned, and gave the uruk a very pointed Look. Go away, it said. Taras stared in apprehensive admiration.
The orc hesitated, a growl building in his massive chest. Oddly, he looked to Eicys, and even more oddly, she gave him a shrug and an apologetic glance before jerking her head toward the exit: a clear dismissal. The growl erupted briefly, but the orc clamped his fangs down around it and – oddest of all – turned away stiffly and stomped down the corridor and out of sight. Taras watched in suspicious silence until the uruk’s footsteps had died away, then he turned quickly to Dilly. “What happened?”
Dilly scowled. “It didn’t work.”
“At all,” Eicys put in.
“Yes, thank you, Eicys,” Dilly said shortly. She rubbed wearily at her eyes.
“So we’ll be leaving without her?” Taras said. He paused, surprised at himself: he didn’t really believe for an instant that they would actually escape. He had been here too long. But it was a nice dream…
“No,” Dilly snapped in answer. “We’ll have to think of something else.”
“Like grabbing one of her precious books and beating her over the head?” Eicys growled. Her patience with Eredolyn was rubbed raw.
Dilly sighed her frustration. “That wouldn’t work. We have to get through to her somehow, break this stupid spell. Sheesh, that makes it sound like we’re in a fairy tale or something. Actually, I bet that’s what Eredolyn really thinks. If only she would listen to me!”
“But she said she never wanted to see you again,” Eicys pointed out.
Dilly’s face crumpled. “I know,” she said in a small voice. Then she hurriedly pulled herself together again. “Well,” she said. “I’ll write her a letter.”
“Good idea,” Eicys said. “And I can deliver it, and maybe have a talk with her in the meantime.” She laid an interesting emphasis on ‘talk’.
“I’ll go see if I can find stuff to write with.” She locked Dilly’s cell, gave her a reassuring smile, and scurried off to find paper and ink. She kept an eye out for Ungrath, feeling an unpleasant prickle of worry and guilt, but managed to filch ink, quill, and a page from a valuable-looking old book without even a glimpse of him. Sighing, she tucked the writing materials under her armor and made her way back to the dungeons.
Dilly spent a long time on the letter, wondering what to say. She was tempted to write a really scorching tirade, but the more she sat thinking about her friend, vacant and glittering and alone in that room, the more she just felt sad. That person up there, that wasn’t Eredolyn – it was just a shell. Dilly wanted her friend back. She remembered the two of them, plotting happily together in English class, facing off in fencing practice, fooling random people with their Irish accent impersonations… She sighed, and began to write.
Eicys was glad when Dilly finally folded her letter and handed it over. She was feeling very edgy: it was hard just loitering about and talking awkwardly with Taras when she was so worried about Ungrath and frustrated about Eredolyn and generally nervous about the look that had been on that servant’s face after the interview…
She stuffed the parchment under her armor, shut and locked Dilly’s cell door, and set off at a clattering trot for Eredolyn’s rooms, hoping not to be caught again. Fortunately, this time luck was on her side, and the corridors were empty. She paused a moment in front of the ornately carved double doors, then shoved her way through.
* * * * * * * * * *
Wlore paced feverishly in her tiny, dark cell, wrenching at bars and shoving at stones. She had never been in the dungeons for so long before, and she thought she might go mad before Saruman let her out again. If he ever did.
She shoved that thought away, hard. Of course she would be let out again. Wlore was full of the rather morbid practicality that came from life in a very dangerous world, and she knew that if the wizard did not intend to set her free to serve him again, he would simply have her killed. No point in keeping someone prisoner if there was no use for them.
Of course, he could simply have forgotten…
Wlore pushed that thought aside, as well. She knew perfectly well that she was not a person who was easy to forget, even by the standards of a very busy wizard. At least, she hoped not.
She rattled her door in frustration. Why all these doubts? This was not like her at all.
“Oy! Shut up in there, you!” shouted a passing orc.
Wlore rattled her door harder.
“I said shut up!”
“I make it a point not to take orders from mumak droppings,” Wlore said coolly, positively gleeful at the chance to vent a little steam. She kicked her door until dust fell from the ceiling.
“What did yew call me?” the orc said, menacingly.
“Maggot! Offal! Your father was the beetle that infested a warg’s ugly snout, and he disowned you for shame!” Wlore was grinning hugely.
“Tha’s it!” the orc roared, and Wlore heard a jingling. A thrill of nervous excitement swept through her. He had keys!
Her door banged open. The orc was only medium-sized, but heavily armed. He snarled at the prisoner: a thin girl in old rags, blonde hair tangled around a pale, dirty face. She was in a fighter’s crouch, glaring ferociously but blinking in the light. She shifted, as though to attack, and the orc, taken by surprise, panicked. He hurled a long, thin dirk at her face; she dodged and leapt for him. He threw another of the same weapons, and it grazed her arm, slowing her long enough for him to slam the door shut, inches from her swinging fists.
“Void-cursed crazy Strawhead,” he spat, using the Dunlending term for the Rohirrim. “That’ll teach yew.”
Inside her cell, Wlore picked up one of the blades, tested the tip, and smiled broadly. These would definitely come in handy…
* * * * * * * * * *
Eredolyn was feeling distinctly ruffled. After speaking to her friends for the first time, she had stormed out in a rather inelegant fashion, hurt and furious. Fortunately, Saruman had been in the library to talk her out of her bad mood. But apparently, it wasn’t really gone because the second time Dilly had showed up, Eredolyn had only been angrier with her friend.
She felt vaguely guilty about that, but mostly just impatient and irritated. Why couldn’t they see – this was her dream, her fantasy, the thing she had always wanted? She ran her finger across a page of beautiful script, paused, and shut the book with a snap. This was what she’d always wanted. So why did it feel so hollow?
She stood up and crossed to the bookshelf, just to hear the pleasurable rustle of her velvet dress. She was perfectly happy – of course she was. She was in Middle-earth! But when Dilly had looked at her like that…
Eredolyn was happy to push the thought from her mind with the prospect of a good book – something really intellectual, the sort of book Saruman would be impressed by… She scanned the bookshelf, occasionally tipping out a heavy tome to search its contents.
Eredolyn yelped and whirled, her long skirts flaring elegantly. The book she was holding tumbled to the floor.
There was an orc… No – No, it was Eicys. Eicys! “What are you doing here?”
Eicys glared daggers. “I came one last time to try to convince you…”
“Let me guess. You were going to try to convince me to see the error of my ways.” She picked up the book in one hand and her skirts in the other, and swirled them out of her way to sit down in a tall armchair. “Well, it won’t work.” She opened the book at random and tried to be as condescending as possible without acknowledging the younger girl’s presence. But it was impossible to concentrate.
“Why are you staring at me?” she demanded eventually.
“What color are my eyes?”
What? Why would she ask a question like that? Who cared if her eyes were blue?
“All right,” said Eicys in a voice of frigid calm, “If you won’t answer that question, what color are orcs’ eyes?”
“Yellow, red, black, I don’t know,” Eredolyn snapped, looking back down at her book.
“Exactly. My eyes are not the same as orc eyes. It is only a matter of time before my disguise is seen through, and then Saruman will probably have me killed. I was almost caught just a few hours ago, trying to smuggle your best friend in to see you, so that you could blow her off for your precious books. Eredolyn, this isn’t a game. We have to get out of here before something really bad happens.”
Eredolyn stood up fast, the book sliding from her velvet lap. “Get out.”
Eicys was several years younger than Eredolyn, and several inches shorter, but she glared up at her with eyes like frosted steel. “I’m not finished.”
Eredolyn laughed uneasily. “What, some heroic speech, trying to guilt me into forsaking this?” She gestured around her beautiful chambers. “This is something that doesn’t happen twice. Why can’t any of you grasp this? We’re in Middle-earth! Why would we want to leave? If you were smart enough to trust Saruman you wouldn’t bother with all this idiocy. And you can go and tell the others I said so.” She bent to pick up her book again.
“Yes, Eredolyn, we are in Middle-earth. We are in the stronghold of one of the most evil people in it. And while you are lounging up here in your pretty dresses, cozying up to Saruman with your books, your friends are rotting in the dungeons, wondering when the torturers are going to show up.”
Eredolyn opened her mouth furiously, but Eicys plowed on, her voice rising. “You could probably do something to help them. And do you? NO! You laze here day after day, while your friends pace in their cells worrying about you! You see rose gardens, and eat wonderful food, while I struggle to find something to eat that isn’t still wiggling! Every last one of us has spent our time here filthy and freezing and hungry, waiting for you to come to your senses and help us out.”
Eicys took a deep breath and spat out her next words like acid. “You, Eredolyn, are a despicable coward. You abandoned your friends to the dungeon so that you could stay up here and be trained as Saruman’s pet dog!”
In the resounding silence that followed, a few flakes of black paint fell off of Eicys’ face where Eredolyn had slapped her. Eicys nodded.
“So long, friend. I probably won’t see you again.” She turned away, then paused and reached beneath her armor. “Dilly sent this. She misses you, Eredolyn. She trusts you. Too bad I have to tell her she was wrong…” She dropped the letter into Eredolyn’s hand, then with a clink of armor turned and strode out of the room. Eredolyn stared after her a moment, then thrust the letter into a pocket and went back to her book. The door clanged shut behind Eicys, and Eredolyn was alone.
* * * * * * * * *
Wlore caught her breath. It worked? Very carefully, she extracted the slender dirk from her keyhole. Then, tingling with anticipation, she gave her door a push. It swung open, grating and squealing on its hinges. Wlore winced and slipped out quickly. She thrust both her new weapons into her belt and padded down the corridor.
…Now all she had to do was get out of Isengard.