My group, naturally, followed me yet again into Ornemir’s manse, and those tunnels. There were five men with me, two of them very young guards with an older one to steady them, and two middle-aged Waterwrights.
Cautiously, we made our way in silence. They had insisted I be in the middle, with Guardsman Luc in front with Sergeant Cellan, then Masters Olfarkin and Olfar, who were father and son, myself, and then young Guardsman Barimir. The two Waterwrights kept murmuring to each other, and all of them had their lantern-shutters farther open than I thought prudent, but I knew that none of them would listen to me if I remonstrated.
The only warning I had was of a gasping grunt behind me. I threw myself forward and to the left, rolling, and yelled, “Behind us!”
My memories of what followed are like frozen moments moving in thick clear molasses:
--young Barimir’s body being raised into the air, his sword dropping, as a huge orc bit into his leg; his head hanging at an unnatural angle;
--another orc lunging, with others behind, and their reek, worse than the smelliest garderobe and midden left in a hot summer sun for far too long;
--the patterns made by blood spraying from the body of one of the Waterwrights, the other’s mouth blackly open in a yell I could not hear over a sudden rush of other shouts and clanging, most of it from in front;
--the light abruptly diminishing as the orcs stamped on Barimir’s lantern and the ones in front also going out.
I scrambled to my feet, vaguely surprised to find the borrowed sword, glittering blue, in my hand. It felt lighter in weight than it had in Faramir's study. Two big orcs, their heads brushing the ceiling, grinned down at me—I think those were grins, certainly I was getting a full view of their tusks, each orc holding a very large, ugly, odd-shaped, barbed blade with something glistening darkly on the edges and tips. Poison? A mental picture of Poisons of Ennor , from the section on Mt. Gundabad’s Fungi Caves, with a picture of the mushroom White Destroyer, and a jolly note that some orcs added to its toxic paralytic power by adding other fungi poisons such as Witch’s Pie, Skull-cap, or Kalmog’s Spoor, which last was exported by Ice-Orcs to Angmar, came to mind. How widely traveled were they? Did orcs trade? And why was I thinking about that when I was about to be killed and/or eaten?
One was a step closer in mid-stride when, after setting down the lantern, I grasped my sword in both hands, bringing it up between his legs and pulling as I jumped back. He toppled over, pulling the sword out of my hands, and landing on my legs as I hit against the wall behind me. Everything darkened, but I blinked hard, hitting out with my sword onehanded again into something at once hard and soft that wrenched it out of my hand. The second orc laughed and said in a grating voice, “I eat you slow, manling!”
“Womanling, orc! Get it right!” I snarled, snatched up the lantern, opened the shutter, and threw it at him, oil spraying.
He went up like a torch, with an even worse stink.
Frantically I tried to move the body on top of me, but could not. It too was beginning to burn. Inanely, I thought, What smells worse than an orc?—One that’s on fire. What smells worse than that?—Two orcs on fire.
By their flickering light, I could see bodies littering the tunnel, and the youngest guardsman, face covered in blood, wheezing as he leaned on his sword. “Could you help me, please?” I asked.
“Dead, all dead,” he whimpered, and staggered away despite my calls.
Not helpful, especially if he ran into more…
I did not want to stay where I was. Panting for breath, I tried to still my chaotic thoughts and take stock.
Good news: we had killed four.
Bad news: I was trapped, half-crushed, beneath one, and in danger of being set on fire or smothering, only two of our party survived, I was now alone, and how many more might be lying in wait somewhere? Was I going to lie there waiting for one to come along and finish me off? And what if Master Redglass was hurt somewhere?
The helmet was pushed down over my forehead, so I pulled it off. Another item of good news: my right hand and arm were free. I couldn’t reach the sword; how could I defend myself, if I needed to?
The orc was lying across my hips and legs, one arm over my chest in an unseemly half-embrace. Grimacing, I strained to reach his sword, managing to get thumb and two fingers on the hilt, gradually drawing it close enough to pull. As well as I could, I wiped the blade on his filthy , knobby leather (what kind?—no, don’t think about it!) surcoat, and then managed to use it to help lever him partly off me. It took several tries, but finally I was able to draw up my legs and get out from under. I sagged against the wall until I could control my breathing and then wiggled out of the encumbering mail. Letting fall the sword-belt and scabbard, I thankfully took my candle stub out of my pouch, and lit it from the nearest orc. Dripping some wax on the bottom of the lantern, I seated the stub, and staggered to my feet, leaning on the sword. Probably not very good for it, but I doubted I was capable of lifting it—it now seemed to weigh as much as a large farm horse. Could I use my knife? --Oh, it was still on my belt. Glad no warrior could see me blushing over almost walking away from a weapon, I hurriedly fastened the belt around my waist. Limping, I set off after Luc.
I found him crouched beside the nearest grill, bloody hands clutching his broken sword, eyes enormous, muttering. As I got closer, I heard the same words over and over in a monotonous chant: “All dead, all dead, alldead, alldeadalldeadalldeadalldeadalldead—“
Carefully I set down the lantern and knelt near him. “Luc?”
I sat down against the same wall, a few feet away, and slowly inched my way closer, talking quietly. “It must certainly seem that way, and I’m not surprised you thought so. If I had not seen you, I would almost think the same thing. I’m glad you’re here with me so we aren’t each all alone. It helps, doesn’t it, not to be all alone? I’m alive, you’re alive, we’re both alive.” I kept repeating that last sentence, it seemed for a long time, until he began repeating, “’M alive,” and I ventured to put my hand on one of his icy ones.
He blinked very slowly as I put my other forefinger over his lips. For a few seconds, there were more repetitions before he stilled.
“We’re going to get up,” I said slowly and clearly. “Can you stand up, Luc?” Coaxing, I got him up on his feet, and he immediately listed to one side. I hurriedly propped him up against the wall and bent down to undo the grid. I straightened up, and he screamed in my ear. The pain in my head became searing.
I gave him a hard sideways shove and jumped in the other direction, then back, facing the opposite way.
Probably the biggest orc in Minas Tirith—so tall he was bending over under the ceiling—was approaching us. Luc was huddled on the floor, back to his muttering and rocking back and forth. No help to be had there.
I looked back at the orc. Swiftly, he reached out, grabbed my sword hand in one huge fist and the braid that had flopped over my shoulder in the other, and was hoisting me up by them, which HURT.
I pulled out my belt-knife and slashed it across his hairy ear and then across his face, twisting the point into his eye. It popped out with a dreadful sucking sound, dangling on his cheek as he roared, gurgled, and began to slump. I set both feet against his massive chest, straightened my legs, and as he went over backwards, slashed with the knife at my braid.
Seconds later, I picked myself up, “Don’t mess with my hair! Damned stupid orc!” I shouted at it, kicked at one of its legs, and collapsed on the floor next to it. I couldn’t see—had the pain in my head blinded me?
No; it was my unraveling hair, or what remained of it, falling over my forehead. I pushed it back, reluctantly trying to pull the knife out. It was stuck fast; I couldn’t do it. Perhaps Master Redglass could retrieve it and he and Ser Calembal wouldn’t be too angry with me about damaging it. With my weapons halved, and impatient to be out of there, I hurriedly braided my hair, now only down to the middle of my back. One of the last things my mother had ever said to me had been how pretty it was, one of my few good features even if it wasn’t the ideal Dúnedain black or dark brown. Ever sparing of praise, Mother’s compliment had been valued the more.
I tucked the braid down into my collar, having nothing to tie it with, picked up the sword with my left hand (my right hurt so much I knew I couldn’t hold it), and resheathed the knife. Once again, I slowly inched my way to the guard, and coaxed him into changing his muttering. By then my hands had almost stopped shaking, and I was able to open the grill, helping him out and closing it after me.
Something hit me on top of the head, and everything went black.
We found nothing in the tunnels we searched, and as arranged, went back to the Citadel, to the Warden’s office where Lord Faramir waited. One by one, the other groups came in, reporting the same results as we had or, in one case, a brief fierce battle against three orcs with one guard killed and one injured.
But Lady Silma’s group did not come back.
“We should wait a bit in case they were delayed,” said Lord Húrin.
When he repeated it for the fourth time, I turned from my pacing and said flatly, “I have waited long enough, if not overlong.”
“Patience, Master Redglass,” he counseled, although he looked increasingly troubled. “You must wait for orders—“
“I am not under your command, my lord,” I said through my teeth.
“We will go together, Master Redglass,” said Lord Faramir, rising. “No, Lord Húrin, I have had my fill of coordinating for this day!”
“And I too will accompany you,” said Lady Ėowyn, who had joined us some time since.
“She may welcome another woman’s face,” she added sweetly, and Faramir, shaking his head, made a gesture of acceptance. She was also still pale, and her arm was in a sling, but she had her sword at her belt, and followed us down to the Sixth Circle. Arriving at the old mansion, I paused. “There is the window where we gained egress before, but she shielded the opening from us, and I know not the code she used.”
“She gave it to me before she left,” Faramir replied, and in moments we were inside, lighting our lanterns and following their path. She had told him the route she planned, and we saw the chalked marks all had agreed upon, lest any be separated and lost.
Then we came upon the battlesite. Our lights glittered on drying blood and broken glass, pools of Mannish and orc blood, as our boots grated on ashes and half-burned bones.
Four orcs, with the bodies of both Waterwrights and two guards, lay on the stone floor. Two of the orcs, with a young guard, lay a little way apart from the others, closer to us.
Lord Faramir read the signs effortlessly. “They were surprised both in front and back,” he said. “The lad at the back had no chance to defend himself at all, nor did the Waterwrights. The Serjeant did his best, against these two. Hmm.”
“What?” Lady Ėowyn demanded.
“I am wondering why these two were set afire. And why her mailcoat is here.” Its links clinked as he picked up and shook out its folds, but as far as I could see, the only blood on it was orkish-black.
“And where are Lady Silma and the other guard?” I added.
Beyond the unburned bodies, we saw two sets of bloody footprints, one smaller than the other, leading away into the darkness. “Both are injured, I think, but each went alone,” Faramir said.
“You will have to teach me how you know such things,” the White Lady requested.
“That would be my pleasure and honour,” he smiled at her.
I cleared my throat. Whether the two of them decided to weld their lives into one chain was none of my business, and indeed I wished them well, but we needed to find the missing two.
“Coming, Master Redglass,” Faramir said hastily.
Eventually the tracks led us to a grate...and to another, much larger, dead orc. Someone had neatly pried out one of his eyes and driven a short knife into his brain. Lady Ėowyn stared at it palely, and said mildly, “I have never seen such a thing before."
“Nor have I,” said the Steward. “Master Redglass?” He put a hand on my shoulder.
I had already picked up something shining on the floor; the firedrop from the pommel of the knife, and set my foot against the orc’s chest to pull it out of the socket. Grating on bone, it came reluctantly. Beside me, Faramir stooped and tugged something from the orc’s hand, a long plait of bronze hair, ending in a plain copper clasp.
There was a roaring in my ears, a haze in front of my eyes. When it cleared, Faramir was tightly clasping one of my shoulders, and Lady Ėowyn was clasping the other. I was gripping the severed braid and knife so hard my hands ached.
“Master Redglass! Master Redglass! We will find her,” she was saying.
I swallowed and nodded, and they let me go. Faramir said, “There is no sign they went farther, so mayhap they left here,” opened the grill, and we climbed out after I stowed firedrop and braid within my pouch. In seconds, blades were at our throats, and someone was saying hoarsely, “Halt! How many of you thieves are there?”
“I don’t have time for this!” I growled.
“Wait. Do you know me?” Faramir pushed back the front of his cloak, showing the insignia of the White Tree on his mail. “I am Faramir, Captain-General, Acting Steward, and you will stand down immediately!”
“Oh, right, and I ‘spose the wench kills dragons,” sneered one of the guards.
Lady Ėowyn answered blithely, “Nay, just Nazgul!” and in three moves, neatly disarmed one of them, while I disarmed the other as he gaped at her.
“S-sorry, my lord, my lady,” the first one gulped.
“You spoke as if you had apprehended others at this place,” Lord Faramir said.
“Aye, my lord, two young lads. All over blood they was. We marched ‘em to the gaol about one-two marks ago,” said the fool.
“Describe them,” he snapped. “Surely they told you who they were.”
“Well, one was simple, drooling and gibberin’, an’ t’other babbled about you an’ Dwarves an’ I don’ know what all. We marched ‘em off quick.”
We went immediately to the Citadel, to the cells at the Upper Barracks. In a very short time, we were being admitted to a small cold cell, where one figure huddled mumbling in a corner.
I had begged the guards who arrested us to take us to Lord Faramir or Lord Húrin, or at the least to fetch a Healer for poor Luc, who had withdrawn so far into himself I feared he might never find his way back to the outer world. How long we sat in our cell I do not know, but at last I heard the door being unlocked, and held up my bound hands to ward my eyes against the brightness of a torch.
“Please, this man needs a Healer,” I said again. My aching head was pounding so much I could hardly see or hear; there seemed to be a great deal of noise.
Warm hands were cutting my bonds and rubbing feeling into my icy hands and feet; a cloak was wrapped around me, and I was picked up and carried. I shut my eyes against vertigo.
When I opened my eyes again, I was in the Steward’s room, Lord Faramir and Lady Ėowyn sat on chairs nearby, and Master Redglass knelt beside my chair.
“Where’s Luc?” My voice sounded rusty, and I coughed.
Master Redglass held a cup of wine to my lips. Rage shimmered from his face like heat. “Drink this. You’re chilled through.”
“He’s been taken to the Houses of Healing,” Lady Ėowyn said. “A Healer is coming to see you.”
“But if you feel up to it, I need to know what you found in the tunnels while it’s fresh in your memory,” said Lord Faramir and I shuddered.
Master Redglass growled, “She should be left alone!”
“Nay, he’s right.” I swallowed. “They attacked from in front and behind at the same time. Poor Barimir—“ My eyes filled with tears.
“We saw,” said Lord Faramir. “How were you disposed?”
“Serjeant Cellan and Luc went first, then Masters Oldfarkin and Olfar, then myself and Baramir. I heard screaming and yelling, and they stamped on his lantern after one snapped his neck and bit into his leg. Blood was spraying all over the walls. They stunk. It seemed as if my sword was shining blue, I don’t know why. I held it in both my hands and brought it up between one’s legs as he came forward—“
Lady Ėowyn clapped one hand over her mouth; above it, her blue eyes sparkled as both males made reflexive movements towards their laps.
“—and I jumped backwards, He fell on me, and another one came towards me. I threw the lantern at him, and he caught fire. The other one was smouldering, and I could see that the rest of our party was dead, except for Luc, and I was alone, trapped under one of them. I—I used his blade to lever his body off me, and went after Luc. I was afraid that I had some of the poison from that orc’s blade on me….How do you warriors manage to hold on to your swords? It seemed to weigh a hundredweight when I picked it back up. Luc and I were about to leave the tunnel through the grill when another orc appeared.”
“By himself?” asked Lord Faramir.
“Aye. He was so big he was stooping. Very fast. He grabbed me by my wrist before I could bring up the sword, and he picked me up by it and my braid. I think he meant to b-bite out my th-throat.”
Master Redglass’s hand closed over mine.
“What did you do?”
“I—“ Tears spilled down my face again.
“Enough of this!” burst out Master Redglass.
I looked up at him. “Please forgive me.”
“I broke your knife. I couldn’t get it out of his eye-socket. I lost the gem from it.” Tears spilled down my face. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry—“
I put my arms around her and pressed her face to my shoulder. It took an effort to speak in Westron instead of Khuzdul. “I can fix it. Don’t worry about that. Thank Mahal you survived! That is what’s important. It’s all right.”
“But you’re furious!” she sobbed.
“Not with you! With your being endangered! What was that guard doing?”
“He couldn’t help—“
“He didn’t help you?” I roared, and she flinched. I patted her back clumsily.
“Why did the orc cut off part of your braid?” asked Lady Ėowyn.
“No, I did that, to get loose, and then I pried out his eye and cut his throat. I was so angry—and so scared! And I had the oddest thoughts—why don’t sword-belts have hooks to hang things from?”
“Hooks?” eched Faramir blankly.
“Like a lantern. It would’ve freed at least one hand.”
“Hmmm. An excellent idea,” I said thoughtfully, then put a finger under her chin to tip her head back a little. “My lady, you are trying to distract us. Why didn’t that guard help you? And why had you to go after him? Why didn’t he help you get that orc off you?”
She shook her head.
Lady Ėowyn had answered a tap at the door and said, “Here is Healer Dolgorion, come to examine her. Gentlemen, if you would withdraw, I will assist him.”
I paced impatiently in the anteroom, Lord Faramir conducting low-voiced conversations with several subordinates near the outer door, until the Healer emerged. He was a stocky man with receding hair and a blunt manner.
“How is she?” I blurted.
“She has a slight concussion, massive bruising to her lower body, a badly sprained wrist, an injured hand, and shaken nerves, as well as being chronically exhausted and underweight. I saw a recently healed wound on her hand.”
“Aye, Lord Aragorn healed it a few days ago,” Faramir said.
“Well, it’s been reinjured in almost the same site. What she needs is peace and quiet, in pleasant surroundings, with a great deal of rest. She needs to go home.”
“She can’t,” I told him. “Her home was destroyed in the bombardment, and her husband killed.”
“I had heard as much. But I do not advocate her returning to the Houses at this time. Knowing her, she would be helping others instead of resting. That also applies to your chamber, Lady. Has she no kin, or friends, with whom she can stay?”
Faramir was shaking his head. “She’s been staying in my cousin Princess Lothíriel’s rooms at the Houses. Her brother is out of the city, and she has no other family here.”
“I will take care of her,” I said.
The Healer looked at me in surprise. “You, Master Dwarf?”
“She is my friend,” I declared. “I will take her to the Fallen Dragon.”
“That is hardly proper—“ Faramir began.
“She must go somewhere,” the Healer interrupted. “It would be less proper for her to remain here, my lord. The Fallen Dragon has a good staff. Very well, if you ensure that she has a private room.”
I frowned at him. Did the idiot think I would make her stay in the middle of the common room? Belatedly, I realized his meaning, and felt myself flush with rage. I opened my mouth to deliver a blistering comment, but he spoke before I could.
“She is very weary; you had better take her as soon as may be. I will attend her there tomorrow. I’ve written out instructions for her care.”
“Thank you.” I stowed the paper in my pouch with care. “Lord Faramir, may I have her sword brought to me tomorrow?”
“Her sword? Why?” he asked.
“I wish to examine it. And I need to repair that knife.”
“And to question that guard.”
He nodded again.