We were making the final preparations to descend on Minas Ithil in force. “Would you like to be in on this?” asked Grishnakh. “Don’t feel you have to—we can handle it all by ourselves. But I thought you might like some excitement after lounging around in Hotel Doom with your feet up.”

“I ought to keep my hand in. The last few days have convinced me my swordplay’s getting a little rusty.”

“Er… I’d rather you didn’t use Glamdring.”

“Why not?”

“Well, for a start I don’t want you waving that thing near me. And you’ll make yourself conspicuous, flashing blue fire all over the place. Can’t you just see the headlines in the Ithil Mercury? ‘BEATER spotted in GUB raid!’ It’ll spread alarm and despondency among the populace… and it won’t reflect well on our boys if we’ve had to call in Beater, of all things.” (“Beater” was how the orcs had known Glamdring since time out of mind.)

I had to admit Grishnakh had a point.

“Anyway Glamdring’s too good for the likes of this lot,” said Grishnakh. “Use one of our weapons. How about this one? It’s an auto pea-shooter. It fires a stream of missiles like tiny corkscrews. When one hits you it screws itself through the flesh, looking for a blood vessel. Then it launches itself into the bloodstream and docks in one or other of the vital organs. Then it explodes. Don’t stand too close—it’s messy.”

“How long does that take to act?”

“Oh… one or two seconds at most. Three or four. A bit slower if your target is lying down resting. But they so rarely are.”

“I’m sorry but I want something to stop an orc that’s rushing headlong at me.”

“It’s not much good for that,” agreed Grishnakh reluctantly. “It’s really only meant for shooting people in the back when they’re running away. But that’s all I want you to do. Leave the confrontation to us. As I said, we can handle it all by ourselves…”

“No, give me a proper weapon—or I’ll use Glamdring.”

Grishnakh sighed. “This is what you need then. A fire-blaster. It will skin your opponent in a split-second at five yards.”

We trickled into Minas Ithil in twos and threes, so as not to attract attention. Grishnakh’s orcs were all in position as the first light of dawn came up from behind the Ephel Duath and began stealing across the sky. Since I knew the whereabouts of Guthmud’s office I had chosen to be part of the first wave of attackers in order to lead the way.

A green light shot up into the sky, trailing a thin shivering string of smoke. As it hovered spinning at its zenith, it disappeared in a brilliant flash. A second later a mighty bang pounded the sleeping city. This was our signal to go in.

As lights began coming on one-by-one in the surrounding houses we stormed the doors and windows of the weaver’s cottages. “Open in the King’s name!” shouted Grishnakh, directing a jet of fire through a shattered window. I couldn’t imagine who’d dare to come and unlock the door to let us in. But by law it was something Grishnakh had to say.

Earlier he had admitted to me he was putting his job on the line in mounting such a massive raid beyond the borders of the Mandate—in the very lands of the Steward of Gondor, of all people. But I promised to make it all right with Faramir when I saw him next. The very fact that I had taken part in the raid would stop him coming down too hard on Grishnakh.

The factory floor of the palantír works was empty except for a few orcs sleeping on benches, a skeleton staff to see all was well during the night. Grishnakh’s raiders promptly reduced them to skeletons, which briefly glowed before crumbling to powder.

So far as we knew, Guthmud lived over the premises. As we charged up the stairs we met our first serious resistance. Arrows began to rain down upon us. As each one found its mark it spouted flame with a yap like a puppy dog. I stood my ground and fired my blaster up the stairs and the arrows stopped. But on reaching the top I could see no bodies, incinerated or otherwise. The arrows must have been released by some automatic mechanism. I turned and warned the orcs following me to go carefully in case of more booby-traps.

Guthmud’s gangsters began to emerge from the bedrooms and levelled their crossbows at us. But they were no match for our weapons and we were taking no prisoners. We scoured the entire upstairs of the premises, bursting into each bedroom and spraying it liberally with fire. But of Guthmud there was no sign.

Picking my way back downstairs through the smoke and ruin I located Guthmud’s office. The door was locked and it was dark inside. I smashed the frosted glass pane with the butt of my blaster and tossed in a flare, flinging myself back against the wall in case someone inside replied with fire. I heard a child’s voice commence wailing.

Raising my hand to warn my companions to keep well back I kicked open the shattered door and leapt in.

Two sights met my eyes. The first was Snargy, cowering beneath the desk, terrified of the flare which had landed close beside him. Dropping my blaster I rushed over to pick him up and clasped him firmly. Then I turned and took a long hard look at the second sight.

It was the drooping body of Guthmud, impaled on the snapped shaft of his own hat-stand.

“What in the name of Elbereth has happened?” I cried in the ear of the sobbing boy on my shoulder. But all I could get out of him was “Imalad… Imalad…!”

…to be continued.