Snaga flinched when they came out of the dungeons, and only Arwen’s hand in hers prevented her from throwing her arm up to shield her eyes. She kept her head down and her eyes on the stones of the tower at her feet, trying not to act as though the sun were driving little spikes into her eyeballs, which was exactly what it felt like to finally get out of perpetual dark. Arwen squeezed her hand sympathetically.
Snaga did not know what to make of Arwen. She had never met another Elf her age, but it was so good to see a friendly face – two because of Gandalf – that she felt willing to trust them. She felt her dagger’s sheath brush her leg beneath Ghnakh’s armor. Up until now, that had been the only thing apart from herself that she had trusted. It felt good to trust people.
They approached the wall. “What now?” Snaga asked Arwen under her breath.
“Now I suppose we wait for an excuse to leave Dol Guldur inconspicuously,” Arwen whispered back. Snaga nodded. Waiting was not her strong point, but Arwen and Gandalf seemed to know what they were doing. She sighed and settled in for a long wait. Hardly anything happened in the area around Dol Guldur.
The Orc next to them looked at Snaga, looked away, and then back again. “Ghnakh!” he exclaimed. “Back from the dungeons already?”
Snaga froze. Of course. She was wearing Ghnakh’s armor; naturally they would mistake her for him. She gave a terse nod and a quick reply in Black Speech before realizing that the Orc beside her was Shaglush, that he knew her faint Elvish accent by heart, and that they would not be able to leave the tower inconspicuously.
Shaglush frowned. Snaga put pressure on Arwen’s hand, catching her eye and jerking her head at Shaglush. Arwen frowned too. Snaga tried to mouth, “Trouble,” but Shaglush caught her by the shoulders and spun her around. His three-fingered hand touched her, and she could barely bite back a feral grin of delight.
Then all traces of it vanished from her face as his hands awoke painful spots on her body, and as they reached up and yanked the helmet off her head. Her hair fell down around her face. Snaga heard Arwen’s indrawn hiss of breath. Shaglush stared, uncomprehending, for a moment at her, and then it dawned on him in an instant. He ripped a length of metal from the belt at his side, screaming in wordless rage.
“Arwen, Gandalf, get back!” Snaga yelled, shoving them behind her as she obeyed her own advice and drew her dagger. She ducked his first swing, which flew shy of her by ten feet, and twisted around to face him, scoring a line down his arm with a lucky slash. “I took two fingers before,” she taunted in Black Speech, circling him. “Maybe this time I’ll take the whole hand.”
“What did you do to Ghnakh?” Shaglush screamed shrilly. “Is he lying in pieces?” He leaped for her. Her wounds made it less easy for her to move, and he caught her side, slamming the metal bar into her ribs. With a cry, Snaga heard something fall out of place in her body. She gasped for a breath. “Did you cut off his fingers?” Spit was flying from Shaglush’s mouth.
“She stripped his body and left it by her cell door,” said a cold voice behind Snaga, a voice she barely recognized as Arwen’s. The Elf girl and Gandalf were standing behind her, their swords out. “Hope that she kills you quickly and leaves your body where it falls.” A blur of Orcish armor, topped by a cloud of dark hair, leaped past Snaga, and Arwen’s sword flashed as she quickly forced Shaglush to the edge of the parapet. Gandalf came to her side, helping her fend off the blows of the Orc.
Snaga saw, as neither of them did, Shaglush’s fingers curl around his whip handle. “Get back!” she cried in anguish. “Get back, he’s got a whip!”
They did, leaping away as Shaglush’s whip snaked through the air where they had just been. Heaving a sigh of relief, Snaga got to her feet and came as fast as she could toward them. “We have to get out!” she called in Sindarin above the clangs of swords and dagger on iron.
“Get rid of him first!” Gandalf shouted back, parrying a thrust.
Shaglush drew back his whip. With a yell, Arwen hurled her sword not at his whip, but at the arm that held it. It spun through the air and sliced the limb cleanly off. She sprang forward and grabbed her sword from the fast-growing pool of black blood. Snaga cheered as Shaglush let out a high-pitched shriek and threw himself bodily at them. Snaga lifted her knife, and his throat fell onto it. She pulled it sideways, making sure she cut it, then pulled her knife free of Shaglush and let him fall, breathing hard.
Then Arwen was at her side, helping her stand, hauling her to the parapet so she could take several deep breaths and regain herself. “Thank you,” Snaga whispered.
“You’re better than me,” Arwen laughed. “I threw up. You just breathe.” Snaga laughed, too, and then they turned around and found Gandalf holding off all the Orcs on the parapet with sword, staff, and sorcery, while the Orcs pressed in at them, trying to force them off the parapet.
Off the parapet…Snaga grabbed Arwen’s hand and yelled, so Gandalf could hear her too. “We can climb down the tower! There are all kinds of places to hold on to!” Gandalf spared a glance over his shoulder to nod at her.
Arwen lifted her sword. “Go,” she said to Snaga. “I’ll help Gandalf.” She gave Snaga a little shove towards the parapet. “Go!” she cried. “We’ll hold them off until you’re down!”
Snaga obeyed her, swinging her legs over the tower edge and thanking her lucky stars that she had forced herself to come here every day until she was no longer afraid of heights. She let herself down over the parapet rim, climbing slowly and carefully, hearing the sounds of Arwen and Gandalf’s battle above. Combat had weakened her body, and more than once she missed a handhold and slipped, grabbing madly with one hand while she swung in midair by the other. By the time she let herself drop the last three feet to the ground, she wanted nothing more than to collapse and go to sleep, to let rest heal her and make her ready for the day.
“I’m down!” Snaga yelled up at the tower, but she knew they wouldn’t hear her. She grabbed a rock from the ground and threw it hard at the top of the tower. Amazingly, it cleared the parapet, and Snaga had to wait only a few moments before she saw Arwen’s dark head over the edge and saw her swing her own legs over the parapet and begin the climb down.
She turned around and froze. Someone was standing in front of her. How did she get down here so fast? Snaga wondered disjointedly as she stared at the woman clad all in black, the woman whose golden hair was blowing behind her, the woman whose red eyes were glinting with malice, the woman on whose right hand sat a gold ring set with a dense black stone, the ring that Snaga had thrown upon the floor of Sauron’s chamber in the tower. Her hand groped for her dagger, but she knew that she was not strong enough to fight the Dark Lord’s consort.
“Hello, Snaga,” said Galadwen.
Snaga was still staring. “How did you…how did you get down here so fast?” she asked, voicing her thoughts.
Galadwen smirked. “I knew Ghnakh was dead. I felt it. I had bound him to me by blood, to be able to make sure he wasn’t too kind to you when he fed you, so I felt it when he died. I came down here and waited.”
Snaga swallowed. “And what do you plan to do now that you’re here?”
“What I have always planned, since the day you refused Darya,” Galadwen answered, her eyes dancing mirthlessly. She needed to say nothing more. “And then, of course, take care of those other two who helped you get out. Does that answer your question?” She turned her face up to where Arwen was slowly and laboriously making her way down the side of Dol Guldur, her back to Snaga, oblivious to her danger. Galadwen’s eyes narrowed as she looked at Arwen carefully, her Elven eyes straining to pick out details of her face. Suddenly she gasped and took a few steps back. A shocked and ruthless smile was twisting her mouth. “Celebrian’s daughter,” she hissed. “Then she will have to be first.” Galadwen held the hand with Darya on it into the air and began shouting wildly in Black Speech. Snaga could almost see the tongues of fire that Galadwen was calling from thin air by the power of her ring, could almost see them racing for Arwen, catching her on the wall, burning her instantly.
If Arwen was Celebrian’s daughter, then she was Snaga’s cousin.
Galadwen was laughing, a rasping cackling laugh that burbled from somewhere in her stomach. The flames were beginning to take shape. Snaga looked at her mother and caught her eye. Galadwen laughed louder. “You don’t want to see it, do you?” she whispered gleefully.
With the meager reserves of the weak strength she had left, Snaga clenched her teeth, raised her bloodstained dagger, and stabbed it into Galadwen’s heart.
Snaga never knew what happened afterwards. She had a vague recollection of standing mutely over Galadwen’s body until Arwen came down and pulled her away from it, but that was all she could ever remember. For the rest, she had to depend on Arwen and Gandalf’s account of the following events – how they had raced back to where they had left the horses, Snaga stumbling in their wake, how they had quickly hauled off the heavy Orc armor, and ridden away as fast as they could, Snaga behind Arwen, clinging dumbly to her cousin’s waist. It was not until later, when she had regained her senses, that she told them about Galadwen and what she had almost done. Arwen and Gandalf were silent for the rest of the night after she told them.
They struggled through the marshes and the Emyn Muil, their path turning towards the Anduin River. Snaga had blindly followed them for a long time, but finally she asked Arwen, “Where are we going?”
“To Lothlorien,” Arwen answered. “Galadriel lives there. She’s my – our – grandmother.” She touched Snaga’s hand gently. “I think she’ll be happy to see you.”
Snaga said nothing, but her heart lightened. Galadwen had spoken of her mother with contempt and not a little hatred – surely she couldn’t be bad. She smiled a little as Arwen turned her horse to the side and set its head for the Anduin.