Wlore sat in a corner of her cell, nursing her scratched face. She allowed herself a grimly satisfied smile at the memory of the fight. That idiot wouldn’t be anxious to interfere with her again. Two black eyes, three missing teeth, and a broken rib would convince Drysi to mind her own business from now on. If there was a now on — she had been in here for five days now: much longer than for any of her other punishments, and she was beginning to worry if she would ever be let out.
The faint light of a torch and a jumble of grating voices announced the arrival of a jailer orc with his bucket of “food”. She stretched her legs, manacles clanking, and directed a defiant glare in the direction of her door. It swung open, but instead of the usual platter of slop, a dark-haired girl was shoved inside with such violence that she hit the opposite wall with a crack and slumped to the floor. Wlore scrambled to her feet and put her back to the wall defensively, but the girl didn’t move. With a clatter of chains, Wlore knelt next to the girl and examined her. She was breathing, but a trickle of blood ran down the side of her head and she was bruised all over, her wrists and ankles raw from being bound. Wlore shook her gently, and the girl groaned. Her eyelids fluttered open and she pulled herself groggily into a sitting position.
“Where’m I?” she moaned, peering at Wlore through the darkness.
“Saruman’s dungeon,” said Wlore tiredly, helping the girl to the wall. She leaned against it, touching her head gingerly. “You’d better stay still,” Wlore advised. “You don’t look so good.”
“You don’t look too grand yourself,” the girl quipped, eyeing the deep scratches on Wlore’s face.
Wlore touched her wounds ruefully, then to the newcomer’s surprise, grinned. “Ah, but you should’ve seen the other girl.”
Wlore snorted. “Hardly – at least for my part. I’m not as stupid when it comes to fighting as Drysi: she wasted her best opportunity just scratching me.”
“What’d you do to her?” the girl asked a little nervously.
Wlore’s grin broadened. “Blackened both eyes, broke one rib, and knocked out a couple teeth.”
The girl winced. “I feel bad for her.”
“Don’t,” Wlore said flatly. “Drysi is a sniveling, tale-bearing traitor.”
The girl nodded, thinking it best to agree quickly with her new inmate. Suddenly she froze. “Wait… did you say Drysi?
“Yes…” said Wlore, an edge creeping into her voice. “Do you know her?”
“No, I don’t think so. The name is familiar, but I just can’t remember…” The girl put both hands on the sides of her head, as if it might help her remember.
Wlore sighed, “Maybe you better lay down.”
“You’re probably right. I’ve never hit my head so hard. I keep seeing stars.” The girl looked around for a cleaner spot to lay down. One corner didn’t seem to have as much gunk on the surrounding stones as the rest. She pulled herself over and lay down slowly. There was a pause where nothing was said.
Feeling the itching of an awkward silence, Wlore asked, “What is your name?”
“Dilly Nentari, but you can call me Dilly.”
“Really? Odd name.”
“Why, what’s yours?”
Wlore hesitated. “Wenfrydda Lamhella Oriedhel Rimallin,” she conceded ruefully.
Dilly stared. “Uh… you gotta nickname?”
“Wlore.” Dilly nodded and smiled faintly. “So… how’d you end up in this pit?” Wlore asked, gesturing around the cell.
Dilly scrutinized her for a minute before launching into a flood of incomprehensible words, ranging from Sonic Burger and portals to people with names like Eicys and Cebu, including a lot of babble about a ring and a book and fanfic on the internet. Wlore was soon hopelessly lost, but one fact penetrated: “You’re not from Middle Earth, are you? You’re from … wherever Coralie’s from?”
Dilly blinked. “I guess so. Weird.” Wlore raised an eyebrow, thinking that “weird” didn’t even begin to cover this girl’s story. But Dilly interrupted her thoughts. “So, what about you? How did you end up in here, I mean, and how do you know Coralie and Drysi and all that.”
Wlore hesitated. She didn’t know anything about this girl. But it had been so long since she’d had anyone to confide in, and – well, if this was another of Olchir’s tricks, it was a pretty lame one. He already knew she had nothing to tell – and somehow she couldn’t see Saruman and Dilly being exactly chummy. The White Wizard wasn’t too fond of people who knew things he didn’t; Dilly’s incomprehensible jargon would definitely not sit well with him. Smiling at the thought, she began her story.
Dilly was amazed. Wlore had lived exactly the kind of life every Tolkien devotee dreamed of: She was the daughter of a minor Rohirric chieftain, a skilled rider and quite obviously not someone you’d want to meet in battle. Wlore had been captured by a roving band of orcs while riding alone; Saruman had needed a few more human servants (he went through them rather quickly, being so temperamental. But he was – understandably – too fastidious to have orcs cook and serve his meals). The orcs had been heading for Wlore’s village but had had enough trouble with her that they decided to turn back without raiding it – It appeared to be her only consolation in servitude. Not that anyone could ever call Wlore servile.
She told Dilly she’d been in the dungeons or chained to the pillory almost constantly since arriving, since the new purpose of her life was to make Olchir’s miserable. She confessed merrily to a number of ingenious devious tricks, from itching herbs in his sheets to tampering with kitchen machinery so that everything came out either burnt or raw. “I’d have gotten away with most of them, too, if it weren’t for Drysi. She’s one of the upper level servants and a real tale-bearer – that’s how I heard about Coralie, actually. Everyone’s discussing her, especially since she got sent to the dungeons. I was serving the meal when she threw Olchir’s enchantments back in his face – beautiful. I’ve never known anyone to resist his voice like that.” Then Wlore drooped. “But no one’s heard from her since she got thrown down here – it’s been months without even a rumor.”
“In more ways than you know,” said Dilly with a sort of preoccupied irritation. Noticing Wlore’s curious look, she continued. “This is crazy, I know, but I’ve got this sort of idea that –” Dilly hesitated. “That we’re in Coralie’s story, and if –”
“Wait,” said Wlore, completely perplexed. She hated being so confused. “What story?”
Dilly looked almost as thrown as her cellmate. “Well – y’see –” She took a deep breath, let it out, and tried again. “This is going to sound bizarre, but – well – oh, boy.”
“Just say it,” said Wlore with a touch of impatience.
“Right. Well, you know how Coralie’s – not from around here?” Wlore nodded, with more than a touch of impatience this time. “Well, my friends and I are from the same place – not exactly the same place, actually on the other side of the planet, but for all practical purposes –” Dilly heard an odd noise and realized with alarm that Wlore was grinding her teeth. “Right,” she said hastily, then nervously, “Umm…”
“Spit it out!” cried Wlore.
“Me and my friends have been reading this really really good story on the internet about Middle Earth and it’s written by this Australian lady named Coralie and we really really like this story but she stopped writing a couple months ago and we haven’t heard anything from her so we decided to kidnap Cebu only I already told you that but anyway we ended up here and it’s Middle Earth, which made Eredolyn freak out with joy but me just freak out but anyway we were trying to get Coralie to write but it didn’t work obviously but now since you know Drysi it makes me think we’re not in the normal Middle-earth if you could ever call Middle Earth normal but anyway I think – I think we’re in Coralie’s story.”
Wlore nodded, then burst out, “What?”
“I know! Crazy, huh?”
Wlore decided not to pursue this any further. Her cellmate was obviously raving after that knock. She tried to come up with a diplomatic-sounding answer: “You, or the story?”
Diplomacy had never been a strong trait with Wlore.
Dilly looked disappointed but not too surprised. No way she’d believe someone who used only three punctuation marks in a seven-line sentence.
She sighed and tried to find a comfortable spot on the bare floor, muttering faintly to herself. “So if we’re in Coralie’s story, then we really ought to rescue her – or would that mess up the story? Yeah, it probably would, but honestly – we can’t just leave her rotting in some dungeon… what am I talking about, `we’? My friends are rotting in some dungeon. Me too. This cannot be happening. This has been the longest, weirdest dream ever… maybe it was the onion rings. No, we used those to beat up Eicys…”
In her own corner, Wlore sighed heavily. She’d been wrong. This girl had been sent by Olchir – to drive her insane.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Olchir sat musing in his favorite easy chair. (Actually it wasn’t an easy chair, as was pretty near impossible to import one these days, but that was what he liked to call this one.) Anyways, Olchir sat musing in his favorite easy chair, going deep into the pools and recesses of his mind, searching through his malicious thoughts for a clever answer to the strange news he had just received.
An urgent report claimed that the uruks posted on the borders of Fangorn had intercepted a group of women, quite young in their age. But what’s more is that the women have been babbling about the One Ring and the mission of the Halfling. These girls, like the Lady Coralie now locked in the dungeons, had information Olchir needed. Why is it all the females of Middle Earth suddenly know of the One Ring and its whereabouts? The wizard pondered. Not that it matters now. I shall have all that I want to know soon enough.
At that moment, a troop of uruks came in. “Where are the captives now?” Olchir inquired.
“We brought four of the five whelps to the dungeon my lord, as you told us to…” the voice trailed off.
“Four… out of five?” the question lingered.
One of the smaller orcs was shoved forward. “Well, there `us just four of `em at first, but then the captain, he sez he smells another of `em, and sends Gharzuk off to bring `er in, but she puts up a fight, see, and he `as ter kill `er. See?”
“No, I do not see.” The cold eyes glared. “I thought such incompentence had been stamped from your breed, Uruk-hai, but perhaps a little more culling would be appropriate?”
The uruks writhed beneath his gaze. “…yer orders sir?”
“None, for now. We’ll let them sit for a while – cold, hunger, and isolation often work miracles with stubborn prisoners.”
The uruks agreed nervously, but one of the stupider orcs hesitantly ventured, “isolation, sir? `Cause we stuck one of `em in that horse-girl’s cell…”
“What?” Saruman exploded, his fury tangible. The orcs, prostrate in fear, all mentally noted to kill their stupid comrade at the first opportunity, if they should live to have one. To their surprise, they did: Olchir made a visible effort to calm himself, and said with admirable self-control, “Bring the captives to me.”
“All of `em?”
“Yes…” Olchir said thoughtfully. “And bring the Rohirric girl as well. No doubt in the stress of all that has occured our little captive has spilled out everything she knows to that troublemaker. That makes her as valuable as they. Fetch them all!”
The Uruks bowed clumsily and practically sprinted from the room. Once more Saruman sat back in his easy chair, letting a smile of irony form on his lips.
“And to think I told Wenfrydda she would never see the light of day again…”
More ‘pologies for the long wait! The Immies have been starting college (eep!) The next one will be along much sooner — we’re not pulling a Coralie, we swear! (hint hint Lady C) Thanks again to our lovely reviewers! *distributes cyber E.L.Fudge-cookies (the Immie’s official snack) to all commenters*