“So… when they try to use it—it won’t work?”
I nodded. It was a dangerous thing to do, to go putting that sort of intelligence into the hands of someone I wasn’t sure about—and that was an understatement. But now there was one thing I was sure of. Imalad did not have the real Angrennan in his possession. His body language was authentic—the possibility of two such rings in circulation had taken an appreciable time to sink in.
“Look,” I said. “I’ve got GUB on the job. We can take out Guthmud any time you like. I gather you’re supposed to be going back to the White Tower now, to make all the necessary preparations—something Morfindel would have done?”
“Yes. I’m off straight after breakfast.”
“Then why don’t you just go back there and forget the whole business? Let me and GUB mop up here.”
“That’s no good. The attempt will simply be made again. Next time there’ll be no warning. You’ve no idea of the planning that’s gone into this! You can’t stop the show by simply nailing Guthmud. You’d have to nail Grimwald too—and all his gang, plus Guthmud’s in Minas Ithil.”
I rocked my head slowly to and fro. “So you’re really going to do this thing, eh? You and Guthmud, in co-operation? And Elandrine…?”
“Yes—and Elandrine! She’s agreed to play her part. But don’t imagine for a moment that those gangsters are going to get their hands on Queen Arwen!”
“I sincerely hope not!” I said. “It’s one of her worst nightmares—falling into the hands of orcs. Particularly in view of what happened to her mother, Celebrían.”
“What? …I don’t know about that.”
“Just ask the sons of Elrond, next time you’re passing through Imladris.”
He pondered all that before replying. “They say she can predict the future! If she’s so worried about being captured by orcs, does she actually know it’s going to happen?”
“Who can say, among us mortals? There is much she knows. There is much she sees! Not only in her watery mirror, her grandmother’s secret, but in the King’s palantír, to which she freely has access—the Stone of Orthanc. Of one thing you can be pretty well certain: she knows who killed Morfindel.”
I thought I’d give it to him straight between the eyes. But I was unprepared for the look of sheer terror which flashed across his face. If he too suspected Elandrine, then it was heart-warming to see how loyally he could suffer on her behalf.
“Then why doesn’t she speak out?”
“Because magical knowledge is not evidence in a court of law.”
He dropped his chin to his breast, doubtless fearing for what I might have seen in his eyes. “But anyway, her being captured by orcs—it’s unthinkable!”
I reached across and patted his shoulder. “Well, just bear that in mind. She’s certain to have shared her fears with Elandrine. No matter what the girl’s promised you, there are some confidences she won’t reveal.”
I got to my feet and strolled slowly out of the cafe. The orc sitting by the door looked up at me. I smiled and nodded briefly and he looked away again.
Goldberry would be up by now and was no doubt ensconced in the bathroom. I thought I’d go for a quick bubble-bath before wandering back to the bedroom and helping her pack. It wouldn’t do to rush away in too much haste, but I didn’t suppose we’d be seeing anything more of Grimwald on this occasion. How wrong I was.
In a cubicle I slipped out of my things and into a bathrobe. Going down the wooden steps into the steam I picked my way past various tubs of hot mud and green foaming water, these being little more than pits cut into the hot lava. It looked as if I had the place to myself.
I was making for a small spa-room that had appealed to me, when I happened to spot Ratbog. He was immersed up to the neck in what I took to be a bubble-bath and was working his jaw violently but in silence, as if trying to mouth something urgent. Looking briefly over my shoulder to see if we were being watched I made my way over to him and knelt down to try and catch what he was saying.
A blast of heat hit me in the face. I saw a wisp of blue smoke over the foaming fluid and realised it wasn’t water—it was boiling oil! My hand went to Ratbog’s streaming forehead, but the instant I touched him his head fell off sideways and sank in a mushroom of bubbles.
I scrambled to my feet in horror. The poor fellow was beyond my help. I cast wildly around me and shouted for assistance but there was nobody visible. What did I imagine I could do anyway? Lift him out in a wire basket and let him drain?
Slipping into my cubicle I rubbed the palantír-ring. Grishnakh’s face crystallised in a sort of dark whirlpool. “Your cover’s blown, Goss!” he said. “They know who you are.”
“They’ve got Ratbog!”
“I saw it all—through his ring. We’re coming to get you out of there. Hang on as long as you can. Play for time.”
“How long will you be?”
“Two hours, maybe three.”
“The ropeway’s out of order. We’ll have to scale the mountain—and that black scree’s lethal!”
“Why did this have to happen now, of all times?”
“Grimwald owns the hotel—don’t you know? He can arrange for things to break down conveniently like that.”
I raced back to the bedroom, dreading what might have become of Goldberry. On the way I fell over a small boy in the corridor.
“They’re planning to kill you.”
“My dad and Grimwald. They want to make it really nasty.”
I put my hands on his shoulders. “I know, lad. I’m making my getaway. Now you just look after yourself. If your dad gets to hear what you’ve told me…”
“They’re pretending the ropeway’s broken down. There’s no way off the mountain now—except the rubbish chute in the kitchen.”
“You’re a treasure!” I reached in my pocket and took out a crown. “Buy yourself an ice cream.”
But he put his hands behind his back. “I don’t want your frigging money. Don’t you tarks believe in friendship?”
I felt so ashamed of myself. “I’ll try not to hurt your dad.” I ruffled his lank hair.
It was his turn to look ashamed. It hadn’t occurred to him that I might.
…to be continued.