Gandalf kept a hand on Arwen’s arm as they went into Dol Guldur. Arwen tried not to stare around at the crudely made tower. “What now?” she asked out of the corner of her mouth.
“Now we see what we can find out about the Necromancer,” Gandalf replied.
“What about my cousin?”
“This is more important. She comes later.” Gandalf led Arwen to a guard post that was vacant. “Stay here. I’ll be back shortly.” To Arwen’s horror, he left her at the wall and melted into the crowd of Orcs milling about. She stared resolutely out at the land, not making eye contact with any of the Orcs, afraid that they would speak to her if she did. Unfortunately, one Orc came to stand beside her and grunted something in utterly incomprehensible Black Speech. Arwen ignored him, hoping that he was not in charge of the Orcs here.
He repeated himself, waving his arms in a shooing motion, his face twisting into a growl. Arwen noticed as he waved his arms that his right hand was missing two fingers. The wound seemed recent, and had not healed cleanly – the stumps on his hands were greenish, and the flesh was mortifying. Arwen turned away from the Orc, hoping that he would not persist and that it was all right to refuse him if he did.
The Orc grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. Arwen barely remembered to keep her helmet on, lest her hair spill out of it and give the lie to her disguise. The Orc shouted in her face, and she held her breath and tried not to wince at the smell of his.
Behind her, she heard a voice cut in sharply. The words it said were in Black Speech, but there was no mistaking Gandalf’s voice. Arwen sagged in relief and pulled free of the Orc’s three-fingered hand, turning gladly to face Gandalf. The wizard finished his sharp speech to the Orc and pulled her away from the guard post.
“All right,” he said. “I think I’ve heard enough. Two Orcs were talking about the Dark Lord taking a consort. I don’t think anyone but Sauron would dare call himself Dark Lord, but your cousin may be beyond our aid now.”
Arwen stared at him. “But you said – you said that my aunt was here too! He might have taken her instead! We have to try!” She swallowed. “Let me go back to the guard post. You can ask some Orcs if his consort has a daughter. If she does, then I think it’s clear who the consort is.”
“And if she does not?” Gandalf asked quietly.
Arwen lifted her chin. “Then I have no cousin.”
Gandalf nodded once. “So be it. Go back.” He took her back to the post and had a few sharp words with the Orc who had threatened her. The Orc grumbled and shot Arwen a look of hatred, but she ignored him as before and went back to staring blankly at the terrain.
The Dark Lord is taking a consort… Arwen shivered inside the heavy Orc armor. It couldn’t be true! This entire journey, she had thought wistfully of having a cousin, a girl cousin, who might come back to Rivendell with her and be her friend. She couldn’t have become Sauron’s consort. It couldn’t have happened.
If it had, if an Elf could be corrupted, it meant that not even Rivendell was safe enough anymore, and that was too frightening to even think about.
After an eternity of waiting, Arwen felt the familiar touch on her shoulder and turned around to see Gandalf’s blue eyes looking at her from under an Orc helmet. He glanced at the Orc who had shook Arwen and asked him something terse in Black Speech. Arwen watched their faces closely, biting her lip so hard that she tasted blood. Gandalf nodded once and pulled Arwen away, back into the corner they had spoken in before. “Well?” Arwen asked.
Gandalf clapped Arwen on the back. “I should take an Elf along on every trip I make,” he said. “Their hunches always seem to prove right. I heard that not only does Sauron’s consort have a daughter, but that the consort’s name is Galadwen. That was the name of Galadriel’s elder daughter.” Arwen exhaled loudly in relief. “But I heard something else from that Orc who was next to you. His name is Shaglush, and apparently he was your cousin’s tutor. He said that she cut off his fingers and that Sauron threw her into his dungeons, making her mother his consort rather than her.” He paused. “He would not give me her name.”
At the moment, Arwen would not have cared if her cousin had grown up answering to “Hey, you!” What was important – all that mattered, at the moment – was that her cousin was in a definite location and out of favor with Sauron. She felt dizzy with relief. “Let’s go find her!” she whispered.
“Arwen!” Gandalf grabbed her by the arm. “Listen to me. You cannot simply walk into Dol Guldur and set free a prisoner of Sauron! We need a plan.”
“What if,” Arwen said, thinking out loud, “we went down there, killed a guard” – she swallowed – “and gave my cousin his armor to wear? Then it would be three Orcs leaving Dol Guldur – we could even make up a pretense, a reason to leave – but as soon as we were out of their sight, we’d get out of the Orc armor and ride as fast as we possibly could for Rivendell?”
Gandalf thought for a moment. “You know, Arwen,” he said thoughtfully, “I think that just might work.”
It had seemed so perfect on the tower parapet, but once she was actually in the dungeons of Dol Guldur, Arwen saw numerous flaws in her plan. The first one was that she hated the dungeons. They were wet, slimy, and echoing. Every word she whispered bounced off the walls and raced down the tunnels. The second was that she had absolutely no idea how to get around in the tunnels, and relied solely on Gandalf to guide her. The third was that after half an hour of crawling around in pitch black darkness, searching for one cell, she was absolutely terrified.
Gandalf straightened up suddenly. Arwen saw it too – a pinpoint of light approaching at a fast clip. He brushed her hand with his own, and Arwen understood his plan the moment that he walked up to the Orc carrying the torch and asked something in Black Speech. I never thought I’d want to learn the tongue of Mordor, Arwen thought, a little amused, as the Orc led them along the tunnels, walking quickly and surely. He halted in front of a large cell and pulled out a ring of keys. Finding the one he wanted, he unlocked the door. Gandalf nodded graciously and caught Arwen’s eyes.
At the look, Arwen silently drew her sword, creeping around behind the Orc. She gritted her teeth, drew back her blade, and slid it efficiently through the Orc – and caught a glimpse of bright blue eyes blazing with anger over his shoulder. Surprised, she pulled her sword out of the dying Orc, forgetting the proper twist upward to ensure that he was dead, and stared at the Elf girl, her long golden hair tangled, her face dirty, and her eyes alight with the chance at freedom.
She was even more surprised when the girl wrenched free her knife from the Orc’s body and lifted it again, aiming at Arwen.
“Stop!” Gandalf’s command shattered the silence. The Elf froze, her dagger still raised. “Arwen, take off your helmet,” he went on, more quietly. “She thinks we’re Orcs.”
Arwen dropped her sword and tugged the helmet off. Her black hair spilled down around her face. “Hello,” she said in Sindarin, holding out a hand. “My name is Arwen.”
Gandalf removed his helmet to show his gray hair and his face. “I am Gandalf the Grey,” he said quickly. “You are Galadwen’s daughter, are you not?”
The Elf girl flinched. “She wouldn’t say so,” she replied. The first words I’ve heard my cousin say, Arwen thought. “My name is Snaga.”
Gandalf’s eyes widened. At Arwen’s uncomprehending look, she added, “It means slave in Black Speech.”
“No Elf is a slave,” Arwen said, taking her hand. “We’ve come to get you out of here.”
Snaga’s eyes were the ones that widened then, and she opened her mouth as though she were about to say something, but nothing came out. She felt tears behind her eyes, but blinked them back. “Thank you,” she managed finally.
“Quick, put on his armor,” Arwen urged, nodding at the dead Orc they’d both killed. “You’re going to be disguised as an Orc, like us. That’s how we’ll get out.”
Snaga quickly stripped the Orc of his armor. Arwen saw her wince as she put it on, but other than that, she gave no sign of disliking the armor. However, she did mutter, “I suppose it would be too much to expect of Ghnakh that he keep his armor clean.” Arwen averted her eyes from the naked body on the floor – having a name put to the Orc made what she had done seem more like murder than a necessary killing.
“Come on,” Gandalf whispered, fumbling with his helmet with one hand and holding the torch in the other. “We will not have much time.” He handed Arwen the torch, pulled his helmet on, and took it back from her. She put her own helmet on, grabbed Snaga’s hand so they wouldn’t get separated, and followed Gandalf’s faint torchlight through the otherwise dark tunnel.