I came-to lying naked on cold tiles. Various bruises and wrenched joints reminded me of what had happened. Grimwald’s sneering face condensed in my field of view. He and his gang, clad in bathrobes, were standing over me, those of them that weren’t squatting down holding me stretched out. I tried to sit up but I was hauled back, hitting my head painfully on the tiles. The orcs laughed.
I looked around as best I could from the floor. We were in the empty pool of one of the pillared spa rooms, lit with flaming naphtha in dishes stood on wrought iron pedestals.
“You blackguards! What have you done with Goldberry?”
Grimwald eased his face into a slow smile. “She’s nicely taken care of, don’t you worry. She’s drugged with mandragora so she won’t know what’s happening. But right now she’s lying beneath a lovely soft pie crust. We are making Goldberry Pie out of her. She’ll be a delicious treat—after we’ve finished with you.”
I struggled, but clawing arms gripped me tightly.
“Right now, what should concern you more is what we are going to do with you, son of Gandalf! Well, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. We’re going to try out this ring which you so kindly brought us.”
He held up the fake Angrennan between thumb and forefinger and put it to his eye. “Do you really not know what this is? Or were you kidding us last night when you asked what it was—just as we were about to buy it from you for a million crowns?”
“It’s just a piece of fashion jewellery,” I exclaimed, daring him to believe the truth. “The polished stone is a mineral called haematite, 45 per cent iron…”
Grimwald laughingly shook his head from side to side. “It’s a ring of Power.”
He leaned forward and leered in my face. “It happens to come from the hand of the King of the Nazgûl! Nine rings for Mortal Men doomed to die… It’s the only one of the Nine that survives. And shall I tell you what it’s going to do for this mortal man, doomed to die?”
I didn’t answer. Grimwald didn’t expect me to. He continued, “It’s going to make you invisible!”
He leaned back, glancing round at his fellow gangsters, sharing a knowing smile with them. “Not that it’ll do you much good. This empty pool makes a splendid wolf-pit. In a minute we’re going to bring in a dozen wolves, wild wargs of Mirkwood if you’re keen to know, and we going to chain them to that central pillar. Then we’re all going to stand back on the pool’s edge and we are going to push you back in with poles if you try to scramble out. The whole reason for doing it here, in this nicely tiled spa room with its pool conveniently empty, is so we can hose it down afterwards and wash away all the blood. Just so the management won’t get too cross with us.”
I snorted. “I should have thought that even you would see the flaw in that little scheme. If I’m invisible, how are you going to see me to push me back?”
“If you were the bright observant lad you’re cracked up to be,” said Grimwald with heavy sarcasm, “you would have noticed that we’d slipped a long fine chain of unbreakable mithril through this ring. It is a trifle shorter than the leashes on the wargs. So in order to leave the charmed circle you’ve got to take the ring off your finger. But as soon as you do that, the wargs will spot you and bring you down, quick as a flash.”
Again Grimwald looked round at his friends for approval and they all laughed dutifully. He turned back to me. “Not that being invisible will help you all that much. It’ll give you perhaps another two minutes of life. The wargs are quite capable of catching you by smell alone.”
Grimwald rummaged in his bathrobe pocket. “Incidentally I must congratulate you on your taste in jewellery. Do you happen to know what these are?” He held up my elf rings, one in either hand. “Or would you care to conjecture their composition? Adamant: 100 per cent carbon. Ruby: 99 per cent alumina…”
“They’re family heirlooms,” I said. “That’s their only value, as far as I’m concerned. Why did you bother to steal them from me? It demeans you. You could have had them for the taking once I was dead. Or are you afraid of the wargs eating them?”
He leaned forward and slipped Nenya on my left finger. “There,” he said. “Does that make you feel less naked now? Don’t let anyone say I’m not a generous man. I tell you what. If the wargs do eat them, I’ll slit their bellies open to get them back.”
He got up and walked round to the other side of me. I’d succeeded in needling his vanity, so he was actually going to give me my rings back—for the moment. It was a cheap enough gesture. “I’m rather partial to fashion jewellery myself. If it looks good, it is good, I say.”
I clenched my right hand as he tried to put the other ring on my finger. Narya glowed angrily in his hand as he closed his fist around it. I didn’t want it sullied while I was still alive by being worn on the same hand as the Angrennan, even if the latter was just a copy. And I thought one cheap gesture deserved another. I wanted him to wear it. If he actually succeeded in enabling the rings of Power, there was a sporting chance it would burn his finger off.
“I’ll take back just the one,” I said, “and the other I give to you. In token of a beautiful friendship. We had some great meals together.”
Grimwald playfully flicked the ring in the air, caught it and put it on his finger. “What a sportsman! I’m going to enjoy your little performance.”
I nodded my head gravely. “One honour deserves another. I did appreciate being invested in the Grand Order of Mordor. Or was it just a sham?”
Grimwald looked pained. “Oh no—the honour was genuine. You won’t have recognised half those present, but we had most of the dignitaries of Doom City at our luncheon. We will all remember ‘Mr Overdale’ with fondness and gratitude, even though he was a trifle overcome by it all at the end. Goswedriol son of Gandalf I remember rather less fondly. I wondered if it was you the moment I saw you—but I had to make a few enquiries before I was sure.”
He had recognised the Angrennan with no trouble at all, and I fully expected him to recognise the elf rings too. But quite clearly he had not. The Three had never fallen into the Dark Lord’s hands, so even the best connected orc might not recognise them.
…to be continued.