No sooner had the King and his two friends, once more in their own minds just plain Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli as of old, clattered out of the Great Gate and galloped away up the North Road, than I became aware of a detachment of guards standing behind me. I turned and met the steely eyes of Imalad.
“Arrest this man! For the murder of Morfindel son of Gollum!”
Guards gripped me firmly with strong hands.
“Less of that! When we all get our write-ups in Who’s Who, you’re the bastard, remember?”
If I could only break free for a moment and get my hand in my breeches pocket for Narya, I might be able to escape unseen. But my arms were securely pinioned. As the guards marched me away to the Citadel guardroom I heard Imalad saying, “Search him for concealed weapons, magic rings, anything he could use to escape. This man is dangerous—and desperate!”
In no time at all I found myself in the dungeons. Not the most comfortable of cells either—it didn’t boast any sort of window, barred or otherwise. They had issued me with one candle… and they told me to make it last.
The Tower of Guard can be harsh, but it’s not gratuitously cruel. There was no question about me not being allowed to keep my pipe, tinder box and pouch full of pipe-weed. That is, after the weed had all been tipped out on the guardroom counter and prodded well. So, there being nothing to read, and no light to read by, I settled down with my pipe in the dark for a puff and a ponder.
The guard, an old bristly-cheeked family man of retirement age, put his face to the grill. “Got a visitor for you, young man. Little orc lad. Do you want to see him?”
“I thought you weren’t permitting me any visitors.”
“He says he’s from GID. That can’t be true of course. But I’ll let him in, if you like.”
GID was the orc charity which went around placing lucky charms in hotel bedrooms and distributing them to prisoners. “All right,” I said. “Tell him I’ll buy one of his lucky charms.”
The door opened a crack and a skinny little person was let in. It was Snargy. Both our faces lit up at seeing each other, but I nodded towards the grille and we muffled our joy.
“Well, what have you got to sell me?”
“Hold out your hand and shut your eyes.”
I did so. He dropped something jingling into my palm which instantly started growing hot. I looked. It was Nenya—and the palantír ring! I looked up at the door. The guard had left us alone.
“How did you get hold of these?” I hissed.
Clasping his hands behind his back, Snargy shuffled and put on a defiant look. “Nicked ‘em.”
“From the guardroom counter. Nobody pays any attention to me. People were just falling over me up there so I thought I’d come down and see you.”
“You little villain, you! You fabulous, splendid, little villain!”
I saw a face moving behind the grill. I winked and said, “How much you want for them?”
I reached into my pocket for the money. They’d left me some—people came round selling food from time to time, which was handy if you wanted to augment the prison diet.
“I thought you did these things for friendship,” I said, meaning to tease him a bit.
“I sell rings for money,” he said solemnly. “Like you do.”
After the second meal tray was pushed through a flap in the wall, from which event I judged that about eight hours had passed, it crossed my mind to try looking in the palantír ring. I had put the rings on, one on each hand—they got pretty hot if I kept them both in the same pocket—but I hadn’t expected the palantír ring to work in the dark.
It did! Even better than in the light. Gimli had a palantír ring—he was into all the latest gadgets. I wished hard. Presently his round bearded face swam into view.
“Gimli son of Glóin at your service, and your family’s.”
“Goss Gandalfsson at yours, and yours. Boy! Am I glad to see you! Imalad’s had me thrown in gaol!”
“We’ll soon have you out of there when we’re back! But it won’t be tonight, I’m afraid. Or tomorrow. We’ve got some serious tracking to do.” He sounded tired.
“Gimli—what’s happened? Have you caught up with the wain?”
“Yes… we’ve caught up with it all right. Or rather—we’ve come across it. Burnt-out.”
“Where’s the Queen?” I almost shrieked.
Gimli was slow to answer. “That’s what Aragorn’s trying to find out. He’s been spending a lot of time examining every blade of grass around the ashes. He keeps moaning that all his old tracking skills have deserted him, but he can see a lot more than I or even Legolas can. So we’re just sitting around while he gets on with it. There’s dead orcs everywhere.”
“Where are you?”
“In Grey Wood. About twenty miles north of Minas Tirith, within sight of Amon Dín. The wain had pulled off the main road and was trying to use the old Stonewain Road. It’s now disused and mostly forgotten and it runs through dense woodland which grows right up to the ancient paved way. They were trying to throw off any likely pursuit, of course. About a hundred yards down the road it was attacked. The carpet lies unrolled by the roadside. Whether the kidnappers did that, to let their prisoner get some air and maybe play with her a bit, or the victorious attackers unrolled the carpet, we don’t know yet. Hang on—there are people coming out of the wood…”
Gimli’s face vanished from the crystal hemisphere.
My heart pounded. There was a metallic taste in my mouth. I vividly recalled the face of Arwen close to mine the last time we had met, her lips brushing my cheek. How I wished I’d been kinder to her! But at the time, tracking down the killer of the King’s catamite had seemed so much more important.
Well, I’d been amply repaid for that. Here I was, imprisoned in the dark, unable to do a thing to help, no nearer finding a solution to the murder, and actually being accused of it myself.
Imalad, I knew, would try and get the trial over and done with before the King returned. By the Ancient Law of Gondor, at once stern but never cruel, having no desire to keep the condemned man waiting for days, weeks, years… the death penalty has to be carried out within one hour of sentence being passed, or else it becomes null and void. Never again would I look upon my three friends’ faces in the flesh—I still thought of the King as my friend.
Then I stopped feeling sorry for myself and thought again of Arwen. I needed no palantír ring to see her—the spectre of her lovely face gazed at me reproachfully out of the dark. For her, it was out of the frying pan into the fire! The kidnappers had at least been taking her to a place of safety, where I’d imagined—I’d hoped—she would have been pampered and cosseted, albeit a prisoner. But if bandits had fallen upon her wain, or renegade orcs, then what fate could she expect now? She was as good as dead, if not lying dead in the woods already.
The curse which afflicted her mother had descended upon her too. I wondered if it was life’s recompense for being far too lovely—too achingly beautiful.
Arwen! Arwen Undómiel! Were the stars really so jealous?
It was a futile question—I’d never get the chance to ask them now. I would never see them again. Was this just my personal loss I was mourning? I wouldn’t mourn for long. For me the stars had set for the last time. But for everybody else they would rise as usual on the following eve. Yet my loss was small compared to the loss suffered by Middle Earth. The Kingdom of Elves and Men would mourn for longer. For them—their Evenstar had set for ever.
And then my sorrow began slowly to break up like spring ice into cold terror. I thought of her brothers at Imladris: Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond. They were nothing if not hot-headed—it was not unknown for them to slash heads off first and ask questions afterwards. Whoever turned out to be the perpetrators of this awful crime—far more awful than the one I was investigating, which after all was only a scheming royal hanger-on getting his come-uppance—the world would never be the same again.
It would mean war. A war far more bitter, if that were possible, than the war of fifty years ago, the War of the Rings. Now elves and men and orcs, and unavoidably dwarves too, would fall upon each other’s throats with a bitterness that only brothers can display. Orcs and men, and elves and dwarves, may feel no sense of brotherhood towards each other—yet they are truly brothers in life, a brotherhood they share with all living things. And soon many of them would be united in the brotherhood of death.
Fifty years ago, elves and men had been fighting for the cause of Good against the empire of Evil. But now it would not be a war of Good against Evil, with the good guys winning in the end. It would be a war between peoples who were neither good nor bad. Too bad for heaven but too good for hell, destroying each other with a bitterness that would go on and on. Because it could never be resolved. When the cause is Vengeance, there is no bargaining possible, no negotiation, no splitting the difference, no settling for less for the sake of peace.
…to be continued.