Eicys woke up early the next morning, feeling grimy and sore. She eased carefully away from Ungrath, who had slept on the same… well, it wasn’t a bed. Or a bunk. …On the same board as her. He muttered something about “tell Sharkey” and turned over. Eicys gulped, and sidled gingerly through the rows of slumbering orcs, feeling queasy and nervous. Ungrath wouldn’t tell Saruman about her… would he? He had promised.
But he’s an orc.
Eicys shuddered and hurried out of the barracks. She tried to scrounge for something edible in the orc’s mess hall and was severely – and nauseatingly – disappointed. And when she was leaving, she caught one leg on the bent armor of another and knocked into a breakfasting uruk, who snarled and threw her bodily out the door, adding at least five new bruises to her collection. All the orcs who had to work in the daytime were usually in a foul temper.
She picked herself up and limped into the tower. Today she was going to find Eredolyn – and she planned to stay well away from everyone – especially Ungrath – while she searched.
This turned out to be much easier said than done. Eicys had been scouring the upper floors of Orthanc for almost two hours with no luck when Ungrath caught up with her. He was looking haggard, with his long matted hair sticking up oddly and grayish shadows under his eyes, as though he had slept badly.
“Where’ve ye been?” he demanded, grabbing her arm. Eicys tried to twist away, but he held her easily; her arm was dwarfed by his enormous fist. “Answer!” he said, shaking her so that her armor rattled and flakes of the mud and paint that were her disguised sloughed away.
“Stop it!” Eicys squeaked. “Ungrath!” He let go, looking sullen and embarrassed. Eicys took a shaky breath. “I’m looking for a fr… a prisoner of Saru – Sharkey. I got lost.”
He stared at her and Eicys rubbed surreptitiously at her newest bruise. Ungrath didn’t know his own strength… she hoped.
Finally he said, “I thought ye agreed I wasn’t stupid.”
Eicys blinked. “Las’ night,” he persevered. “I know what ye are, Eicys. No point in more lyin’.” He folded his heavy mottled arms and glowered at her.
Eicys swallowed. “Look…” she began, and then stopped, frightened and angry. Finally she snapped, “I see a very good point in lying,” and turned to go.
“Stop!” roared Ungrath, and Eicys did, with her back still to him. She didn’t dare do otherwise. When the last growling echoes faded from her ears, she turned around again, trembling – whether with fear or fury, she didn’t know.
“Listen,” she said. “You think you can boss me around, shake me up – hit me?” He flinched at that, but Eicys plowed on. “You follow me around and trick me into telling you things and then yell when I don’t want to give you even more information to get me killed with?” Ungrath’s eyes blazed with anger and hurt. Eicys was struck with guilt. She knew she was being unfair – she probably would never have survived so far without him – but she was hungry, tired, angry, dirty, bruised, and very, very, frightened. And she felt betrayed. “I trusted you!” she said.
“No, ye didn’t,” Ungrath said quietly. His face was tight with controlling his temper. “Ye never did. Ye were always lookin’ at me an’ thinkin’, he’s just an orc, I hafta be careful. It wasn’ hard teh see. An’ now – ye think I’m gonna tell? I said I wouldn’, didn’t I? But I’m just an orc.” He glared at her. “Well, you’re just a human.” And he turned and stalked away down the corridor.
Eicys stood rooted to the spot, watching him go. When he disappeared around a corner, she suddenly broke out of her shock. “Ungrath!” she cried, running after him. “Wait!”
She tripped on her armor again and fell flat with a clattering bang that reverberated off the obsidian walls. “Augh!” yelled Eicys, close to tears. She yanked off the bent greave that kept tripping her up and hurled it against the wall. “Ungrath!” she called, scrambling to get up again. “Un -“
“What’s all this noise about?” someone demanded. Eicys froze, horribly conscious of her jeans showing where the greave was missing, and of the fact that she had been yelling in her normal voice. She turned around slowly.
Her eyes traveled up the long, rippling length of exquisite purple velvet, noted the golden belt and the full sleeves, paused for a moment on the thick leather book tucked under one arm, and finally came to rest on the frowning face framed in short brown hair.
“Eredolyn?” she breathed.
Eredolyn didn’t seem to hear. “I’m trying to read,” she said irritably. “And it is very difficult when … people… outside are rushing about and yelling and banging things. Please go away.”
“Eredolyn!” Eicys said. “It’s me!”
Eredolyn seemed to look at her for the first time. “Your eyes are the wrong color,” she said slowly. “And how do you know my…” She paused. “Eicys?”
Eicys beamed. “Ere! I can’t believe I found you! It’s been awful, you have no idea, and I think I’ve just made it worse…” She looked sadly down the corridor where Ungrath had disappeared. “Listen, is there somewhere safe we can go to talk?”
Eredolyn hesitated, then waved the false orc through a door. Eicys snatched her greave and hopped through, trying to re-fasten it as she went. Inside the door was an incredible library, filled with books and scrolls and flickering candelabra.
And sitting in one of the high-backed leather chairs was…
“Saruman!” Eredolyn said in happy surprise. “I didn’t see you come in.”
“Good morning, Lady Eredolyn,” the wizard said, his deep, alluring voice rolling off the walls. “I simply dropped by to see how you are enjoying the book I recommended.”
“Oh, it’s wonderful!” Eredolyn gushed, blushing at being called a Lady. “But I was hoping you could explain this story about Frealaf, or maybe recommend some more books. I know you went to his coronation.”
“Ah, yes of course. It was about the same time I took up residence in Isengard…”
Since the appearance of the wizard, Eicys had been frozen in horrified shock. Now, beginning to recover a little, she crept backwards, groping for the door. Can this day get any worse? she thought, appalled at the eager, slightly vacant expression on Eredolyn’s face.
A heavy iron candelabrum smashed to the floor and broken candles rolled in every direction. Eicys, feeling sick with terror, dropped to the floor and clumsily tried to pick them up.
“Idiot orc!” Saruman snapped, his melodious voice black with fury. “Get out! I gave orders that I was not to be disturbed this morning!”
Eicys mumbled something, cast one pleading look at Eredolyn’s expression of annoyed unconcern, and fled.
She didn’t stop for at least five floors, feeling certain that Saruman knew everything, that he was sending servants out to look for her right now… And I was worried about Ungrath informing on me, she thought. What was the point of that when I turn right around and betray myself?
Eicys sighed miserably. She wasn’t sure what had happened back there with Ungrath –
No. As Ungrath had said, there was no point in more lying. She knew exactly what had happened. Worse still, she knew he was right. Eicys thought miserably that everything that could have gone wrong so far, had.
This just goes to show that you should never, ever, think that you have hit the bottom, because – especially in Middle earth and even more especially in Isengard – things can always get worse.
In this case, they got worse in the form of a gang of goblins who swung around the corner, jeering and snarling at each other. But they all stopped when they saw Eicys, and into each of their piggy eyes flicked an identical expression, the same worn by bullies everywhere: “Hah! Someone smaller!”
“Ungra -” Eicys stopped mid-yell, choking. “Ungrath…” She backed away. “Oh, help,” she muttered.
“Ungrath, Ungrath, mammy!” mocked the orcs as they gathered around her. “So this is the liddle whiner he’s picked up.”
“Get away from me!” Eicys snapped, feeling the wall behind her.
“Ooh, he don’t like us talkin’ bad `bout `is mammy.”
“What’re ya gonna do about it, maggot? Gonna kill us? Hey?” The orc shoved her shoulder, sneering. Eicys hunched in on herself and scanned the group for a gap to run through. Nothing. Well then, that meant she would have to make one. She launched herself at the smallest goblin and clawed her way past him, receiving a few more bruises and a nasty scrape on the way. Then she was hurtling down the corridor, five angry goblins on her heels.
Okay, she thought. Now things can’t get any worse.
Then the first orc caught up with her.
I just had to think that, didn’t I? Eicys asked herself as she was knocked heavily to the floor. She got in a few punches and managed a very effective kick to a place that even orcs do not appreciate having kicked, but then she was overwhelmed. She curled into a fetal position, with her hands wrapped around her head, and wished desperately that she was wearing twice as much armor.
After a few minutes, the goblins grew bored with the unresponsive wimp huddled on the floor. They gave her a few more kicks, for the look of the thing, and wandered off, already fighting among themselves again. One of them was limping rather strangely.
Eicys uncurled painfully and sat up, sniffling and dabbing at a shallow cut under one eye. “Aa-a-ow,” she said, fighting tears. She tried to get to her feet and couldn’t. “OW,” she moaned, and tried again. “Ow – ouch – ow – Ohh.” She wavered unsteadily and looked down at her badly dented armor. There wasn’t a single inch of her that didn’t hurt.
Valiantly sniffing back tears, Eicys made her way gingerly toward the dungeon. If she couldn’t find Ungrath, she could at least talk to her friends. Even if all she had to tell them was bad news. But five steps from the end of the final flight of stairs, she tripped on her greave again.
Klunk clatter CRASH.
That did it. Eicys just lay at the bottom of the steps and cried, a bruised, gasping, exhausted heap that clattered with sobs. Tears poured down her face. I want to go home, I want to go home, she thought. Please, I just want to go home.
Heavy footsteps made the torches flicker. Eicys choked down her tears and scrubbed furiously at her face. Mud and paint smeared off onto her hand, and she stared at it in horror. “Oh no oh no oh no…” she muttered, backing into a shadowy corner. It wasn’t enough, she knew; after all that, she was going to be caught and thrown in the dungeon – or killed, or –
“Ungrath!” she gasped.
The big uruk stopped and stared at her, and she hurried forward. “Oh, Ungrath, I’m so sorry, I really – I mean, I know you were right and it was horrible of me, I’m really, really sorry…” And to her shame, she started crying again, big heaving sobs that she couldn’t talk through. “Sorry – sorry,” she wailed brokenly.
Two hands gripped her shoulders gently, and she looked up into his eyes. His ugly face was shining with relief. “Don’ cry,” he said. “I’m sorry too. I thought -” He shook his head, choking a little. “Stupid,” he muttered. Then he stopped, and peered into her face, where tears had left muddy tracks across her bruises. “What happened?” he demanded.
She sniffed and wiped at her face. “Couple of orcs,” she said unsteadily.
His face contorted with anger. “Where?” he snarled.
Eicys backed up a step. “Upstairs.” He turned to go and she grabbed his arm. “Don’t, Ungrath – they’re long gone by now. And what good would it do?” He just snarled again, a terrible sound. Eicys flinched, but kept her hand on his arm. “Please… it’s okay, really, I’m all right,” she said.
He stared at her, at her hand, and slowly his fists eased and opened. “‘S what I was tryin’ to stop from happenin’ all this time,” he said, miserably. “Came down here teh look for ye…”
“You know me to well,” Eicys laughed. It came out as a sob.
“Ungrath… I’m really sorry. I’ve been absolutely horrible. Forgive me?” He nodded. And Eicys, who was nowhere near finished with her cry, stumbled forward and sobbed into the shoulder of a very startled orc.
* * * * * * * * * *
Taras was feeling restless. Dilly was asleep, and so he had nothing to take his mind off the conflict raging inside it.
He had stayed in the cell across the hall – Dilly’s, now – for almost a year. Armed only with stubbornness and a rock he’d pried from the wall, he had spent the better part of that year hacking, tugging, and worrying at the already loose bars set in his cell door until they were ready to pull free. He had planned to escape the very next day, but had been hauled out of his cell that night for questioning – Saruman wanted some trivial bit of information about Dol Amroth, which Taras naturally refused to give him – and had been returned to the wrong cell. It was a torture far worse than the consequent lack of food that had been his punishment… to look through his new, sturdy bars and see the chipped ones across the hall, all ready to come loose.
And now it was torture all over again. Should he tell her? Well, of course. He had to, it was only right – but should he tell her now? What would she do when she found out? His heart clenched. Would she try to escape? He couldn’t stand the thought. She would be caught, it was practically inevitable – a foreign, unexperienced, untrained girl – and then she would be hurt or… or worse…
And what about himself? Go back to pacing in the dark, never hearing another laugh or song or friendly voice for Valar only knew how many horrible years? And more than that – it was the thought of never hearing her laughter, her stories and ideas and memories, that made him feel as though his insides had turned to dust. It was a thought he couldn’t face. He had been happier these last few days in her company than he had in years. Even before being captured, he had been serious and solitary, confiding only in his sister Lothiriel and –
He felt the old helpless, aching fury rise in his chest at the thought of Maenadan. If only he could get out, feel a sword in his fist and a swift horse between his legs, he would …
Useless. Freedom was completely beyond his reach.
But not beyond hers.
Taras struck the wall angrily. She would be killed. And how could I live then? No. He spun around and began pacing again. No. He would not tell her. He would keep her with him – just for a little while longer. Someday, soon, he would tell her. But not now… Not just yet…