“Mr Overdale is impressed by the boldness of our plan,” said Grimwald. “But to be bold it is not necessary to be foolhardy. Our plans are well laid and cannot help but succeed.”

“Why is this ring so important to those plans?”

Grimwald shrugged and splayed his hands. “Ah—that I do not wish to divulge just yet. It will benefit you not at all to know it, and indeed it would be dangerous for you. Suffice it to know that you have contributed an essential ingredient. One which, as you correctly surmise, embroils you… up to the neck.”

The way he stressed those last words sent a shiver down my spine.

“But were GUB to pounce on you the moment you left here,” he continued, “it would avail them nothing to try and squeeze the information out of you, because you would have nothing to tell them. They might even let you go and the plan would be safe—and in the New Kingdom you would be amply compensated for your pains (…agonies, perhaps!). Are you prepared to accept that, in return for becoming party to our broader intentions?”

“Grimwald,” I smiled, “I trust to your judgement in the matter.” Since I knew already what they were proposing to withhold from me I was happy to agree. It was the rest of the plan I needed to know about.

The plan was a simple one. Morfindel had arranged to sell Guthmud a valuable carpet and the palace scribe had drawn up a legal deed on the finest vellum which made it all neat and tidy. The coming Sunday, 14th May, a covered wain would enter Minas Tirith by the Great Gate and climb the zigzag route to the Citadel entrance in the Sixth Circle. A party of workmen—orcs from Minas Ithil in the pay of Guthmud—would emerge, cross the courtyard and enter the White Tower, with the vellum as their authorisation, and proceed on up to Morfindel’s bedroom. There they would collect a carpet rolled up ready and waiting for them. The carpet would contain the person of the Queen herself, seized and subdued by the palace insiders, Morfindel and Imalad. They would then calmly drive away, taking the road north, which led through Grey Wood. Rounding Amon Dín the road became the Great Western Road that led through the lands of the Rohirrim to Edoras—and thence to the gap of Rohan, whence lies Isengard.

As Legolas had already informed me, the Tower of Orthanc, standing in the centre of the Ring of Isengard, had been secretly purchased from the ents by Morfindel and sumptuously equipped to house a royal prisoner, and of course to withstand a long siege. The Tower of Orthanc is unassailable, having been built by the Numenoreans in a former age. The sole recourse open to Gondor would be to occupy Isengard and lay siege to Orthanc—which was something it would easily withstand for two or three years. Ample time to conduct negotiations, not to mention reducing the Queen to submission in case she was of a mind to resist.

But it would probably not come to that. Shortly after the kidnap the King would be assassinated, via the same agency as was used to lay hands on the Queen (here everybody’s glance strayed to the ring on the table) and Morfindel would be proclaimed King. If the people of Gondor resisted him, a resurgent Mordor would rise in rebellion, invade the Pelennor and lay siege to Minas Tirith once again, as it had done half a century before. Plans were in hand to take over Minas Ithil, which Morfindel would hold as his seat of government until the Tower of Guard capitulated. This would come swifter the sooner Morfindel won over the Queen, and of course got her with child. The realm of Gondor, presented with an accomplished fact, would settle down for another 50 years of peace and prosperity under the reign of the same beloved Queen. But with a younger, more virile King, safe in the knowledge that the succession was secured.

“Has anyone thought to sound out the Queen?” I asked.

Grimwald took a deep breath. “Master Morfindel has not been idle,” was all that he would say. I looked at Imalad but he declined to comment.

“And where does Lady Elandrine stand in all this?” I inquired. This time I looked straight at Imalad, expecting an answer. Imalad remained silent.

I continued, “I think it essential that her full co-operation be assured, or else a reliable plan put in place for her elimination. And don’t imagine for a moment the latter will be easy. That’s a lady who can look after herself.”

Imalad lowered his gaze. “I’m working on it right now,” he said.

“Mr Overdale speaks for us all,” said Grimwald sternly. “How is the girl shaping up?”

“Oh… very well! Very well indeed! Morfindel had—I mean: has—an excellent relationship with Elandrine. They get along like a house on fire.”

“In what way?” I asked, suppressing a chuckle. I couldn’t resist gathering even more Morfindel titbits.

“Why, don’t you know? …Of course I was forgetting. As a stranger, you won’t be familiar with court gossip. Morfindel likes to take a rest now and again from being a domineering sort of chap and he books Elandrine to come into his bedroom at midnight, dressed in black leather gear, and whip him around a bit. The guards are instructed to ignore screams coming from the bedroom at that hour.”

The orcs sniggered. I must confess I couldn’t help smiling myself. “We could do even better for him in Minas Ithil,” laughed Guthmud. “But he never gets around to asking!”

With ill-concealed distaste Imalad replied, “Morfindel prefers to be mauled around by someone prettier than you’d be able to field, Master Guthmud.” He rounded on Grimwald. “Perhaps when this business is over I could even lend Elandrine to you—as the star attraction in one of your night-spots. But the price would be high. Even Mr Overdale can have no idea just how high…”

Both orcs laughed heartily at that. Grimwald waved his hand palm-downwards. “Relax… relax, Imalad, my dear friend. We don’t mean to trample all over your—er—personal dealings. But like Mr Overdale here, we all crave reassurance. That girl could put a spoke in our wheel! Her attachment to the Queen is beyond all doubt. If she cannot be persuaded to co-operate, for the Queen’s own good, then I fear she will have to be eliminated. The worst that could happen is that she pretends to go along with the plan and then turns round and stabs us in the back at a critical juncture. I mean—you do see our point, don’t you?”

…to be continued.