“You used to throw rocks at your tutor’s window?” Taras laughed. It came a bit easier and sounded a bit warmer than it would have only two weeks ago. “There was an art to it, you see. One could only do it at night when he was fast asleep. Nobody liked that old windbag. All he would teach us about was governmental edicts and such. He even hated his pupils. Later, once we’d out grown him, Maenadan would…” Taras trailed off abruptly.
“And there we go again. Running into that brick wall where Taras stops talking.”
Taras didn’t answer. Dilly sighed. “Look, I don’t mean to sound rude. But maybe if you just tell me, you wouldn’t feel so bad about it. Things like that aren’t meant to be kept locked inside.” She paused, feeling foolish. “At least, that’s what my sociology teacher always said.”
“The study of people’s actions and the like.” Dilly waited for Taras to answer. When he didn’t, she continued: “I took that class and…”
“He was my best friend.”
Dilly stopped at his quiet statement. “He was?”
“We used to do everything together. He…liked my sister.” Taras choked and Dilly realized that he was crying. Taras of Dol Amroth was crying! She didn’t know what to say. Taras’ face was twisted in a fierce fight for control.
Suddenly Dilly heard footsteps in the distance. The owners came quickly and stopped right in front of her cell door. Dilly looked up nervously. Why were they… Then the door opened and an enormous orc stepped in.
“Holy Hannah!” Dilly exclaimed as she scrambled up and backed against the gritty wall. But what was she going to do against an orc this huge? There were more of them ouside, too. Fear stabbed at her as she began to realize that she could not get away. She yelped and covered her head. But all the orc did was grab her arm roughly and shove her out the door.
“Dilly!” Taras exclaimed from his cell door. He was standing and gripping the bars till his knuckles were white. “Dilly, wait!”
“Get off me!” cried Dilly. “Taras!”
Taras was wrenching frantically at his bars, face white. Then the two smaller orcs grabbed her and hauled her through the narrow hall, with the larger one stalking in front.
Tuima was pacing anxiously in her small cell. It was becoming a bad habit, but there was nothing else to do, and she was anxious about Eredolyn. Eicys had come by – two days ago? Three? It was impossible to keep track of time in this pit – to report that her attempts to contact Eredolyn after that first horrible day had all been useless. Orcs were not welcome in the upper levels, where Eredolyn was being kept in a luxurious stupor.
The elf sighed in frustration and executed a sharp turn at the corner of her cell. Eicys should be here; they were supposed to be discussing escape plans. If only Eicys could locate Cebu’s cell…
Tuima stopped pacing abruptly when she heard loud footsteps in the distance. At last! But did Eicys really have to walk so heavily? Of course, due to Tuima’s sharp hearing, it was a long while before the footsteps closed in on her cell door, and by then she was feeling nervous. “Eicys!” she hissed. “Why did you…”
She stopped abruptly. It was not Eicys. It was a great hulking orc with slimy black hair. He brought out the key and opened her door with a jerk. Tuima backed up to the wall as he started in, steeling herself for whatever unpleasantries lay ahead. I could fight him… he isn’t that big, she thought desperately. And then two other, slightly smaller orcs decided to make their appearance at the edges of her door. Ai, Elbereth, if only I had my knives! The largest one continued to advance.
“Yer t’ be taken t’ see yer ‘friend.’ Gotta come quiet though, er else we won’t be so nice t’ the other one.”
Other one? It must be another of the – what did they call themselves? Emmies… Immies…?
Then it hit her. Eredolyn! She was being taken to see Eredolyn! Tuima relaxed slightly, realizing that the orcs were an escort. She straightened imperiously, shook back her hair, and gestured to the door with icy sarcasm. “Shall we?” As they marched down the hall, Tuima hoped furiously that they couldn’t see her shaking.
Dilly was fuming. Sure, she was nervous – okay, fine, she was terrified – but she was also feeling plain mad. She had finally gotten Taras to talk, and whaddaya know, along come these creeps and drag her away without a word of explanation. This had been happening way too often since she coming to Middle-earth, and Dilly was getting throroughly sick of being dragged about, bruised, beaten, half-starved, and almost constantly frightened.
And yet, here we go again, she thought bitterly, and tried very hard not to wonder where they were taking her. Instead she concentrated on keeping her feet under her; the orcs were hauling her along so quickly and clumsily that her attempts to walk on her own were completely ignored, and she was relegated to being half-carried, half-dragged at a fast, awkward stumble.
But when she was pulled up yet another flight of stairs, she couldn’t suppress the fear that nagged at her mind: Was she being taken to see Saruman again? But why alone? Dilly shuddered at the thought of facing those cold black eyes, that beautiful, hypnotic voice, all by herself. She thought that if Saruman had focused his will on her as he had on Eredolyn, she probably would have started crying or babbling or something equally humiliating. At least Eredolyn had only gone flattered and vacant. But Dilly hadn’t seen Eredolyn in almost two weeks – who knew what Saruman had managed to do in that time?
Deep in unpleasant thoughts, Dilly almost fell down the stairs whe someone called her name. She yelped and scrabbled to get her feet under her again; the orcs kept walking as though she wasn’t there. “Tuima?” she asked when she had her balance.
The elf nodded and pushed her hair away from her face. Dilly noted with resentment that Tuima’s guards were standing to either side and behind, rather than gripping her arms. “Do you know what’s going on?”
“I think we’re being taken to see Eredolyn,” Tuima said.
“Oh good,” Dilly said fervently. Then: “How come they told you?”
“Commanding presence?” Tuima suggested, looking sarcastically down at her grimy clothes. Dilly grinned cautiously. “And I don’t think they feel quite comfortable with elves,” Tuima added, smiling a truly poisonous smile at one of Dilly’s guards. Dilly felt him shudder.
She grinned a little wider.
“One of these days I’m going to make you teach me how to do that.”
“What – oh, this?” Tuima’s expression could have withered a balrog in its tracks.
Dilly’s left-hand guard stopped dead, and she was jerked awkwardly. “None o’ that!” he snarled. “No more foolin’ around, or you’ll regret it!”
Tuima only tossed her head; her long chestnut hair flared around her shoulders. But Dilly, loking closer, noticed with surprise that Tuima was shivering. Faint beads of sweat stood out on her hairline. The orcs were rather studiously avoiding her gaze and hadn’t noticed that their intimidating captive had every appearance of barely holding her terror in check. Dilly was astonished, but a ripple of renewed fear surged across her stomach. Tuima was a person who practically radiated competence and experience… what did she know that Dilly didn’t? Dilly couldn’t think of any other reason for the elf to be so frightened.
Finally the orcs ground to a stop in front of a pair of beautfully carved double doors. One of them pounded a fist on them, and a familiar voice floated out.
“Come in,” Eredolyn called.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Fool!” Saruman hissed at his cowering servant. “I gave specific instructions to inform me before she was allowed visitors. And now she has two friends with her, alone, reeking of the dungeons, and no one there to check their speech to her? Void-cursed idiot!” A cold white hand shot out and seized the man’s hair, pulling his face upward. The wizard spoke in tones of slow, freezing malice. “Go and take them back to their cells, and send the Lady Eredolyn to the library. Use every courtesy, but see to it that you make haste, for your death will be drawn out an hour for every minute I am kept waiting. Days of my precious time I have wasted already on that girl. Go!”
The servant fled. Saruman, his voice cold with rage, stalked away toward the library, hissing to himself: “If I do not soon discover what I need from her, I shall have to turn to devices less subtle…”
Behind a curtain, a small blue-eyed “goblin” shivered. She turned and hurried from the room, following the servant to her friends.
It was not easy to keep up; he was practically sprinting down the corridor. Not that Eicys blamed him at all. She clattered some distance behind, hating her clumsy armor, and caught up just as the servant disappeared through a pair of ornate double doors.
She narrowly avoided being squashed flat as the doors were thrown open again immediately with a resounding bang. Eredolyn strode out, looking furious and almost tearful. The servant bobbed at her heels, his expression slack with relief.
“Here, you,” he hissed at Eicys, so that Eredolyn couldn’t hear.
“See to it that those two are returned to their cells.” Eicys was only too happy to obey. …Or rather, not. She pushed through the doors and was very nearly brained by a candlestick-turned-deadly-projectile. She yelped as it nicked her helmet with a grating clang.
“You horrible, stuck up, traitorious scu – Eicys?” Tuima halted mid-rant and, trembling, set down a second candlestick that she had been poised to throw. Eicys lowered her arms cautiously.
“Eicys?” Dilly repeated, bewildered. “That’s not…” She peered closer. “Eicys!”
“Hey guys!” Eicys replied very brightly for someone who had just escaped a concussion. Living in constant danger among the most brutal species on the planet for several weeks can do that to a person. “What happened?”
Tuima’s grip tightened around the candlestick, and Dilly and Eicys both flinched. “Eredolyn happened,” she gritted.
“Wha…?” Eicys said, her brows furrowing. She turned to Dilly for a more rational answer, but Dilly was not looking very rational at the moment. She looked a lot like Eredolyn had: on the verge of furious tears. But she also had a lost, rather shell-shocked expression, as though waiting for some horrible surprise to finish sinking in. “What happened?” Eicys asked again, getting nervous.
“She – she was – it was horrible!” Dilly exploded. “It was like talking to a mannequin or a robot or something. A robot with a really, really nasty attitude problem.” She dashed tears out of her eyes with an impatient hand. “Eredolyn was all dressed up – silk and velvet and gold – and she went on for probably ten minutes on how much she was learning from Saruman. She didn’t even notice we were there, hardly. That’s not like Eredolyn at all! She had this horrible vacant smile… or she did right up until we tried to talk to her about the dungeons, and escaping. Then she… Well, we all got really mad…”
“No,” interrupted Tuima. “I got really mad. I can’t stand intentional stupidity.” She stared at her shaking fist, still clenched around the candlestick. “Dilly was still rather shocked, but when Eredolyn started going off about us being jealous…” The elf trailed off.
“Then we all got mad,” Dilly finished. “How could she be so… so blind?” She clenched her teeth. “I don’t know what’s happened to her. She was absolutely horrible! Stuck-up, selfish, arrogant, condescending, empty-headed jerk!” Dilly angrily shoved a few threatening tears from her eyes, looking like she, too, would like something heavy to throw.
Eicys was completely taken aback. She had never seen Dilly cry. And she could hardly believe Eredolyn could act like that – all of Eicys’ experiences with Eredolyn had been with a funny, friendly, and enthusiastic bookworm. The only thing left of that, apparently, was the worm. She cast around for something to say. “Um, well… maybe she’ll come around after the escape or something. You know, if she’s not around Saruman any more.”
“What escape?” snuffled Dilly. “How are we supposed to get out of this place?” She kicked an elegant little table, crunching one leg so that it toppled to the floor. She looked surprised and guilty, then kicked it again. Crunch. “We’ll be stuck here for years” – crunch – “and years, like Taras!” Splinter. “And Eredolyn will sit up here in her fancy dresses, reading books and chatting merrily with evil villains!” Snap.
Tuima looked impressed. Eicys glanced around apprehensively. “Dilly, stop that! I have a plan.”
Dilly stopped, turning a tear-streaked face to her friend. Tuima let go of the candlestick. “A plan?”
“Eredolyn’s not the only one who can read.” Eicys tugged at something beneath her armor, tugged again, then turned red. “Uh, can you two turn around?”
A smile tugged at the corner of Tuima’s mouth as the two Immies obliged. There was a clatter, some grumbling, and an “oof.”
“Here!” said Eicys in a muffled voice. She had a small volume clenched between her teeth and was trying to re-fasten a buckle. When it finally clicked into place, she dropped the book gingerly into her hands. “Stupid armor,” she muttered sourly. Dilly smiled, and suddenly Eicys didn’t feel so bad. If she had to make an idiot of herself, at least she could cheer up a friend in the meantime.
“Here,” she said excitedly, and flipped to a drawing of a plant.
Tuima recognized the heart-shaped leaves. “Hops?”
“Is that what it’s called? It doesn’t say, it just said it helps with sleep. And here” – Eicys flipped to another page – “This one does, too, except I can’t read the first bit with the funny writing…”
“That’s valerian,” Tuima told her. “It’s wonderful for healing, except it smells terrible.”
“Oh,” said Eicys, feeling very much as though her thunder was being stolen.
“Like old cheese,” Tuima said helpfully.
“Oh,” Eicys said again.
“Is there a reason you’re researching herbs?”
“Er, I thought that… well, maybe I could make up a – a sleeping drought for Saruman or… um…” Somehow it didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.
But Tuima’s face brightened. “That’s wonderful! Is there a place you can get them around here?”
“Yeah, Saruman’s got a big herb garden, for all the potions, you know… just like in Coralie’s story!” Eicys was feeling excited again.
“Praise Elbereth,” Tuima said. She felt as though an enormous strain in her chest had just been released: at last, at last, she could do something! “Do you think you could smuggle them down to the cells?”
“What for?” Eicys asked. Tuima’s smile froze in confusion, and Eicys suddenly understood. “Oh – um, I mean,” she said, now feeling as though Tuima had stolen the whole stupid storm instead of just the thunder. But she knew Tuima well enough by now to realize that the elf was probably going insane down there… and she definitely knew a lot more than Eicys did about herbs. She sighed. “Yeah, I could probably get you a few. And something to grind them with…”
Tuima beamed, and Eicys sighed again. She’d pictured herself as a hero, ingeniously rescuing her friends like Bilbo with the dwarves. But maybe in real life, daring escapes didn’t happen single-handedly. Hmph.
At least there was one thing left to show them, though. “Hey look, guys – I’d better get you back to your cells soon before someone gets suspicious. But I wanted to show you…” She pulled a page from the back of the herb book where she’d stowed it. “It’s a map,” Eicys said proudly. “See, here’s Tuima’s cell, and here’s Dilly’s. And this one here belongs to that temperamental blonde girl that was with you earlier.”
“Wha – Oh, Wlore.”
Eicys nodded solemnly. “I’ve tried to talk to her, but she comes up with some – uh, creative language whenever she sees an orc near her cell. So it might be up to you guys during the escape.”
“Oh, and here” – Eicys pointed to another spot on the map – “This is a store room that’s not used too much by the orcs. I’ve been stealing stuff for us to take when we escape – and Tuima, I found your knives!”
“You did?” Tuima cried. “Eicys, you are wonderful!”
“I try,” Eicys grinned.
“Are there any other weapons in there?” Dilly asked. Her voice was still thick from emotion, but she sounded eager.
“Not really, but I could get some.”
“I think Taras will want a sword.”
“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned -” Eicys froze as Tuima lunged at her. “Hey – stop – ow!”
Tuima’s hands closed around her throat and mouth: “Sshh!” the elf hissed wildly, as the door burst open to reveal five hulking uruks. Dilly hastily shoved the map into her pocket; the herb book tumbled to the floor.
“There they are!” one of the orcs snarled, and crashed across the room. His blow lifted Tuima away from Eicys and sent her sprawling to the floor. He ignored the elf completely and turned to Eicys. “Idjit. Let `er jump yew, did ye? I thought yew were s’posed to be bringin’ `em down.”
“What, by m’self?” Eicys grated, thinking quickly. Dilly jumped at the new harsh quality of her voice.
“None o’ yer lip,” the uruk said, and gave Eicys an absent shove. She staggered several steps and fell, her armor clattering. “Useless snaga,” the uruk muttered as he grabbed for Dilly. Dilly stomped hard on his instep.
The uruk howled and hopped up and down, to raucous laughter from his companions. “I’ve abou’ had enough of yew,” the brute snarled, shaking Dilly so that her long hair swung wildly around her waist.
“Leave her alone!” Tuima snapped from the floor. A dark bruise was already growing across her cheekbone.
“And yew,” said the uruk. He seized her by one arm and flung her into the waiting arms of his fellows. “C’mon then,” he said, and the two Immies were hauled from the room. Eicys pulled herself to her feet and soberly watched them go.