Grishnakh’s eyes grew round, then his lips began parting in an enormous grin. I’d gauged it right. It’s hard for a man to conceal his body language—and even more so for an orc. A gob-smacked face doesn’t lie. A thousand orc-oaths couldn’t have counted more with me than the sight of Grishnakh’s plug-ugly fizzog that day. It told me that he hadn’t for one moment suspected the truth, that he wasn’t in the pocket of Morfindel son of Gollum, and that I’d just made an ally, if not exactly a friend, for life.

“By the bristles of Morgoth! How did this come about? Who did the deed?”

“Oh, the head? I cut it off myself.”

Grishnakh folded his fingers and looked at me with something approaching respect.

“But I have to admit he’d been dead some little while when I did it. So—who actually did the deed, as you said, remains a mystery. And that’s the real purpose of my investigation. He was very dear to the King…”

“You can say that again! But not very dear to GUB. He had a lot of good friends in Udûn and Doom City. Guthmud son of Gothmog and Grimwald Uruksson, to name but two.”

Grishnakh gave a single bark of mirth, like a glass of beer dropping on a tiled floor. “Well… that’s taken a load off my mind. But not half the load it’s taken off his!” He began to laugh his slow vitreous laugh at his own little joke. “A present, did you say?”

“Yes. I thought it would look nice on your desk. But I have a little request to make…”

Grishnakh leered at me. “Go on then, son of Gandalf.”

“I’d be most grateful if you kept it well hidden for now. Just until this little business is sorted out. Together of course with the tidings of its owner’s death. It’s proving very useful to us in our investigations that nobody knows yet (officially) that Morfindel has gone to the Halls of Silence.”

Grishnakh rubbed his bony hands until the knuckles cracked. “Delighted to oblige,” he said. “But that can’t be all you’re hoping to get from me. ‘I dread the tarks when they come bearing gifts’—as they say.”

“Then let me go back to my previous question. What was Morfindel’s interest in the second-hand palantír business?”

“He was operating hand-in-glove with Grimwald and Guthmud. I’m sorry these two names keep turning up again and again. We’ve got lots of juicy criminals to offer you in East Ithilien, but just today my imagination seems to have deserted me.”

“Tell me more. It’s not the only racket Morfindel was involved in, as far as I can discover. It’s just one more to add to the list. But maybe there’s a pattern to detect in it all.”

“Yes, well… I know you don’t like drinking in orc-bars, but be my guest tonight… and I’d like to share some thoughts with you on that little topic.”

“I’ve no objection to orc-bars,” I said. “I’ve been in far, far worse. The beer’s generally pretty good. It’s the food I can’t stand. No one will ever tell me what sort of animal the meat comes from.”

Grishnakh threw back his head and laughed out loud. “Can I believe my ears? This from the man who’s just brought me a pickled head!—I say…” An idea glimmered in his bulbous eyes. “What if I send out for two wine glasses and we pour out a little of the juice in this jar and drink a toast to absent friends?”

I couldn’t suppress a shudder. “Well, maybe if we come back here when we’re both thoroughly tanked up…”

“That’s the stuff!” he said.

I learned a load of orc-lore from Grishnakh that night, though I don’t remember much ambient detail. But one thing fascinated me. It’s an orc-legend that if two of the palantíri are touched together, you can bring back into a sort of fleeting existence the very thing they were both viewing at any given moment. And if, say, the palantír of Minas Morgul, as was employed by the High Nazgûl himself to communicate with his master, were to be touched against one that had been held by Sauron himself, when the One Ring was yet on his finger, the One would be brought back into a quasi-existence. Not enough for it to materialise, but sufficient to restore the power of the Rings which it ruled.

Sufficient to restore the power of the Three! And the Seven, though they are thought to have all been lost in the destruction of Barad-Dûr. And the Nine, though they are known to have perished in the fire of Orodruin, as the Nazgûl swooped to prevent Frodo Ninefingers from hurling the One Ring into the Cracks of Doom.

But in particular, for as long as the palantíri remained in contact, the wearer of one of the classic rings of Power would be rendered invisible to mortal eyes.

…to be continued.