Who Knackered Aragorn's Catamite?
14. A Good Send-Off
Having collected myself an outsized pastry which the locals call a “troll’s bad eye”, plus a large mug of steaming black herbal brew, I looked for a vacant table. Whom should I see but Imalad, sitting hunched over a mug of the same stuff.
“Mind if I join you?”
He looked up startled, then he waved towards the seat opposite. I sat down.
“Am I sitting in Elandrine’s place?”
“Elandrine has gone back to Minas Tirith,” he replied. “She left at first light. She has to be back at the Queen’s side by noon tomorrow. How did you know she was here?”
“She and Goldberry met up for a fluffy evening together while we were having our council.”
“Oh. Best thing they could have done.”
He slouched back in his chair looking as if he was itching for me to go away again. I sipped my brew and waited for him to say something.
“It’s not a good idea for us to be seen locked in conversation,” he said at last. “Though there’s nothing suspicious about you stopping to exchange the odd word. Don’t look now, but that’s one of Grimwald’s henchmen by the door, stuffing his face. I don’t think he seen us yet.”
There was another pause. I waited for him to say something else.
“I must say it was most disagreeable seeing you there last night.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “Let me return the compliment.”
“It gave me a nasty shock when I came in and saw you sitting there. I nearly turned tail and bolted. I thought you were going to spill the beans. But I soon realised you were in as tight a spot as I was.”
“Yes,” I murmured. “Thank you for maintaining the fiction that Morfindel is still alive.”
Imalad said nothing, but drummed his fingers. He was right – there wasn’t much opportunity to talk here. I’d only have the chance for a few words and then I ought to depart. I decided to go for gold.
“Elandrine asked me last night whose side I was on.”
He took his time before replying. “I assume you’re on your own side.”
He sat up. The look of boredom left his face, to be replaced by one of indignation.
“I’m certainly not on the side of those monsters, if that’s what you think.”
“Well, I’m relieved to hear it.”
“The same cannot be said of you! Why did you have to go selling them that damned ring? Now they’ve got everything they need to carry out their plans! I suppose you know what it is, don’t you? I noticed they weren’t for telling you – if you didn’t know already.”
I looked round cautiously. Nobody was listening. “It’s the Angrennan.”
“The – what? Angrennan?”
“The Angrennan.” I stressed the definite article. “The last of the Nine.”
“I didn’t know it had a name. But obviously you know all about it.”
“All the rings of Power had names.”
“That’s right – it’s a ring of Power. It makes you invisible.”
“Not any more.”
“Now listen to me. I may look young, but I wasn’t born yesterday. They told me you gave them a classic palantír too! Guthmud was convinced it was his anyway, but he’d lost it. He was so glad to get it back that he gave you the benefit of the doubt.”
“That was necessary to establish my credentials.”
“As a lying, thieving bastard?”
“Exactly. I wanted them to be comfortable dealing with me.”
Imalad barked a mirthless laugh. “They were certainly that! You had them eating out of your hand. But the – the Angrennan...! Did your credentials need establishing quite so lavishly? How did you lay your hands on it anyway? That’s what I want to know!”
I almost said, “that’s my business” but that would have stopped the conversation stone dead. I thought I’d string him along. I felt he was so near to giving me the key to the whole affair.
“You mean: how did I lay my hands on it first?”
“Well...” Imalad made his lips go a funny shape. “You knew I was looking for it.”
“Yes. And you were so convinced Morfindel had it. But I happen to know who really owns that ring, and I wasn’t lying last night when I said I was entitled to sell it on their behalf.”
He looked at me as if he was trying to focus his eyes. “You know who really owns it? Are you trying to tell me Morfindel stole it then? I thought he’d bought it. I’m lost...!”
“The real owner of that ring, as everybody at court knows, or should know (at least the older generation, who’ll have seen it on her hand at official functions) – is Lady Éowyn. It was her battle trophy. Do I need to remind you of the details?”
Imalad’s eyes were wide. “No... no... I know all about it. The point is: if Morfindel stole it, as you imply, how did you get hold of it?”
I glanced round at the door. Nobody seemed to be paying us any attention. “I happen to know the Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn very well. I was given that ring to assist me in my investigations. As I might have told you when we last met, I’m trying to bring Morfindel’s murderer to justice. To do that I can’t avoid prying into Morfindel’s little schemes.”
Imalad held up his hands. “Well – now you see the extent of them.”
“You can say that again!”
Imalad made no reply. I said, “Are you going through with it?”
“The kidnap? I don’t see I have any option. Not now you’ve given them the ruddy crown jewels.”
“If we are to prevent this thing happening, we ought to work together.”
“Thank you, but I have my plans all laid. I don’t need any help. Least of all from you. The greatest help you can be to me is to keep out my bloody way – and not go throwing any more stones in the millpond. I can’t for the life of me imagine how you could possibly have given them that...!”
Pitching my voice low I said, “You don’t suppose I gave them the real Angrennan, do you?”
“Well, what –?” His eyes narrowed. He was putting two and two together – he was beginning to see how Morfindel and I could both appear to possess the Angrennan. “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 – far from it. But there was one thing I was sure of now. 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. And there’s more...”
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 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 such 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 be seen rushing away in 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, as if silently trying to tell me 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 was I hoping to 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 things 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 f***ing 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. He hadn’t thought of that.
I hurriedly unlocked the bedroom door and plunged inside, turning the key behind me and putting the chain on. I leaned back against the door, gasping.
“Goldberry! ...Are you there?”
She was just coming out of the bathroom. “My, Goss! Whatever’s the matter? You’re as white as a sheet!”
“Something’s happened to Ratbog! Come on, grab your things. We’ve got to get out of here!”
I explained what had happened. Without a sound she fell into my arms. I kissed her eyelids tenderly. “Courage, my love. We’re not dead yet.”
There came a knock at the door. Goldberry froze.
Letting go of her I strode to the spy-hole and looked out. The bell-hop stood there in his uniform. He was holding a huge spray of flowers. Cautiously I unlocked the door and took the chain off.
“Master Uruksson sends his regards and hopes you will accept these.” Thanking him I took the flowers and handed them to Goldberry. She stood there clutching them numbly.
“He also sends an invitation to a banquet luncheon, to be held at one o’clock in your honour.” He proffered an envelope.
I took it and extracted the invitation. It was lavishly calligraphed and gilded. The bell-hop stood waiting patiently.
“Oh – I am sorry,” I said. I turned back into the bedroom and scrabbled in my breeches pocket for a crown. It happened to be the same crown I’d tried to give Snargy. I gave it to the man, who thanked me. But he continued to stand there with an expectant look on his face.
“Excuse me, but what are you waiting for?”
“With all due respect, Sir, you will notice the letters RSVP at the bottom of the invitation. Master Grimwald craves the honour of your reply by return, which you may give to me verbally.”
“No – we were just off... we need time to consider...” stammered Goldberry, hovering behind my left shoulder.
“No we don’t,” I said, mustering up a confident tone of voice. “Tell Master Grimwald, who has been very good to us up to now, that we are delighted to accept his kind invitation.”
The bell-hop turned smartly on his heel and marched away.
“What did you say that for? You just told me they’re planning to kill us! How could you possibly accept an invitation from them?”
“Goldberry, my pet... there’s no alternative. With the ropeway out of order, we’re trapped here on top of this volcano. Grimwald holds all the cards. Grishnakh said play for time – and that’s just what we’re going to do.”
I peered through the peephole again. A large wicker hamper, borne by unseen hands, had appeared outside our door. I hauled it into the room. Inside was a brand-new neatly pressed morning suit for me, a smart and very expensive blue dress for Goldberry (they already had our measurements) plus a white nosegay for my buttonhole and a posy of woodland blooms for Goldberry to carry.
I’ve attended a good few functions in my time at court, when I’d rather have been anywhere else in the world, but never have I prepared so reluctantly for a luncheon date. Goldberry moved like a sea horse in treacle. At last we were ready. With long faces and sinking hearts we looked at each other. Silently I held out my elbow towards her. Taking a deep breath, which shuddered as she let it out, she took my arm. We promenaded to the private dining suite at the appointed time as if we were going to a funeral. As indeed we were. Our funeral.
Before we went in I whispered in Goldberry’s ear, “Chin up, pet. You only die once. The people in there are just itching to see us come in wearing long faces. Let’s walk in merry and bright, just to spite them!”
Goldberry snapped to attention and put on a synthetic smile. Seeing her do that, a sense of fun bubbled up inside me from nowhere. I opened the door and politely ushered her in. Catching sight of her face as she slipped past me, my heart swelled with pride for her. She was looking as sunny and as joyful as she ever did when entertaining guests at her cottage in the Old Forest.
The first person we saw was Grimwald. Guthmud stood beside him, beaming like the cat that had got the cream. The two of them were surrounded by an entourage of uruks, big ugly characters who looked utterly out of place in formal dress – and were keenly aware of it.
Grimwald, who must have been looking forward to seeing signs of intimidation in our faces, responded with a moment of bashfulness to Goldberry’s sunny smile. Then instantly he rose to the occasion, becoming as suave and as urbane as I’d known him in our brief but sufficiently long acquaintance.
“Miss Gee! And Goss – my good friends! I’m so delighted that you’ve been able to come.” He spoke in a deep melodious voice as if to very old and dear comrades. I was paying so much attention to his tone of voice that it didn’t strike me there and then that he’d called me by my real name. I think he was unaware of it too.
“You’ve no idea how much this visit of yours has meant to me. Not only have we concluded some very useful business – very useful indeed! – but I feel that I’ve made two new friends for life.”
There wasn’t even an edge to his voice when he said “life”. I have nothing but admiration for a man who can control his body language like that.
“Master Grimwald,” I said, matching his tone of voice (just to show I could do it). “We have been overwhelmed by your hospitality during our stay. Your generosity knows no bounds! What is the occasion of this unexpected treat, just as we were about to depart?”
Unlike Grimwald, I didn’t altogether succeed in keeping an edge out of my voice on the word “depart”. He noticed and I thought for a moment he was going to giggle. But he quickly mastered himself.
“Please...” he said, taking my elbow and turning to the waiter. “A glass of sparkling wine each for my dear friends here.”
As the wine was being poured he said, “I really couldn’t bear to see you slip away without giving you a worthy send off. It’s so rare that I have guests of your quality to entertain – you must forgive me if I indulge myself whilst I have the opportunity. And really, Mr Overdale,...” (here he gave me a playful nudge in the ribs) “how can any host not be captivated by your delectable travelling companion, towards whom no act of generosity would seem too great?”
Goldberry lowered her head and batted her eyelashes submissively. She actually managed to blush prettily – I don’t know how she did it.
There was, in fact, all the trappings of a lavish banquet laid out on a long table. To this we repaired and Grimwald gallantly assisted Goldberry into her seat. The waiters scurried round, topping up all the glasses with sparkling wine. Grimwald raised his glass and tapped his knife on his plate for silence.
“Let me propose a toast to one of the most beautiful ladies who has ever set foot in this humble hotel of mine. It is my dearest wish that she will return again and again...” (and here the ghost of a cheeky smile passed across his lips) “...in fact if I had my way I’m not sure she would ever ‘depart’.”
It was the first of many toasts throughout that eerie meal. I raised my glass to propose a toast of my own (I wasn’t for letting him have it all his own way!)
“Now let me, in reply, toast the most magnificent and generous host I have come across for many a long year!” (He knew I had been travelling in darkest Haradwaith!) “May he enjoy a continuous stream of guests who never fail to bring him his heart’s desire...” (and here I permitted myself a cheeky smile too) “And may he never fail to reward them copiously for it!”
Goldberry caught my eye out of the corner of hers. She was trying to cotton on to what I was doing. Could I be so mealy-mouthed? Then she thought to go probing for broken glass in the pig swill, as she put it to me later. It was important to keep the sense of levity and mirth gushing out, because it was vital not to give the impression we were off our food. The more confident we could contrive to look, the more cautious Grimwald would be in trying to encompass our destruction. Playing for time – that’s what it was all about. Grimwald, convinced that he held all the cards, saw no danger in proceeding at a relaxed pace to humour us.
Then the food started arriving – dish after dish of the finest delicacies: at once rich and fattening, but of the sort to stick in your throat if you were the tiniest bit on edge. To my satisfaction, Goldberry tucked in with an appetite far in advance of her stature. So did I. Grimwald watched us with a sense of wonder. Were these people icy cool – or just plain stupid?
Actually I did begin to notice a certain detachment in Goldberry’s eyes. She was a little too relaxed – a little too resigned to her fate and a little too lacking in alertness. It suddenly occurred to me that something they’d given her had been drugged. I was convinced nothing narcotic had been fed to me, because I felt wide-awake, if not exactly on top of the world.
Grimwald raised his glass again. “The time has come for a very special ceremony! We will perform it in the side room over there, which has been made ready for us. Only those who have attained the required Order of Merit are permitted to witness the ceremony, I fear, so I beg the other guests please to hold us excused. In extenuation I promise you all it will only last a minute or two.”
Here it comes... I thought.
Grimwald went and opened a door at the end of the room. Two dozen of the heaviest uruks rose to their feet and filed in. Smilingly Grimwald beckoned to me, bidding me step inside.
Not knowing what to expect I walked into the room with as much confidence as I could muster. The uruks were lined up on either side, standing respectfully to attention. At the far end of this guard of honour, Grimwald stood behind a small polished table, upon which lay a little rosewood casket. Opening the lid he drew forth a medal on a red ribbon.
“Mr Overdale! Come forward!”
I did so and stood before him.
Still smiling, with every appearance of wishing to confer upon me a great honour, he placed the medal around my neck.
“I hereby invest you in the Grand Order of Mordor, First Class! When this proud nation comes at last to throw off the yoke of slavery, the name of Overdale will be remembered as one of the chief benefactors who made it all possible. Who returned to our guardianship one of the most precious items of our nation’s regalia – the Angrennan!”
The uruk guard of honour clapped and cheered.
Slipping his arm around my neck Grimwald escorted me towards the door which led back into the banqueting hall. I was in a haze of disbelief! Fully expecting to be rubbed-out, or at best beaten-up, I had to all appearances been greatly honoured by these people. How genuine that honour was I had no means of telling – but from what I knew of orc culture under the Dark Lord, it had seemed authentic. However cynical they were, and whatever they thought of tarks, they would not play jokes with the things that meant so much to them.
As I walked back to my place the guests at the long table applauded me enthusiastically. Everyone seemed to be in on the secret. Turning with puzzlement to face Goldberry I saw with a shock that her seat was empty. Up to this point I’d been doing so well. But as soon as I saw she was gone my nerve snapped.
How long were we all supposed to keep up this charade? In a loud voice I demanded “What have you done with Goldberry?”
Guthmud, sitting opposite, affected consternation. “M-Mr Overdale... I regret to say that whilst you were receiving your award, she suddenly felt ill and we’ve had to take her to the duty nurse! I’m sure there is nothing much the matter with her...”
“No!” I roared. “There is nothing at all the matter with her! Unless you’re the cause of it!”
I lunged across the table to grab Guthmud by the throat, scattering dishes and glasses. Instantly my world was full of flying fists and boots...
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.