15. Ordeal by Ring
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.
At a sign from Grimwald the orcs began to grease my body with fat from a pot. “Beef dripping,” he explained. “The last few days relaxing in the spa have so cleansed your pores that we’re afraid you won’t have enough body-odour for the wolves to smell you. And we don’t want them just coming up and wagging their tails, so we’ve trained them to rend to pieces carcasses rubbed in dripping. But we’ll let you put your bathrobe on again. If they make heavy weather of finding you, I’d hate you to catch your death of cold waiting.”
Then they let go of me and retired to the edge of the pool. A canvas stool was brought for Grimwald and he sat down on it, behind the circle of orcs. “Now,” he said, “if you’d kindly put on the black ring, there will be a short interlude while I do a few experiments to find out how to make you disappear. As soon as I bring these stones together we’re going to let the wolves out of their cages.”
Some of Grimwald minions began dragging in cages, each one containing a snarling warg. The cages were grouped around the central pillar and lanyards were led from them to the hands of the waiting orcs.
“Please excuse the noise my puppy-dogs are making,” said Grimwald. “They haven’t been fed for three days, so they’re ready for their dinner.”
I donned the bathrobe and crouched down, putting the tethered ring on my right hand. Grimwald opened a leather satchel of the type employed in carrying the woods used for playing bowls, and took out two palantíri, discarding the spacer keeping them apart. He held them up, one in each hand, exhibiting them to me.
“You’ll recognise this one,” he said. Then he looked at it curiously, and then at the other. “Or perhaps you won’t! They look so alike. But this is the one you sent back to Guthmud. The Ithil Stone. And this one,” he held it up, “was used by the Dark Lord himself. Contrary to what some people imagine, it was not inside Barad-Dûr when the tower fell down. It had been taken to the Black Gate in the care of my father, known to all as the Mouthpiece of Sauron, the better to scry the minds of the captains of the West.”
He leaned forward, elbows on knees, and stared fixedly into first one and then the other. “Now excuse me while I try to evoke an image of the One Ring on the Dark Lord’s hand. I managed it once this afternoon. As soon as I do it again I shall touch the palantíri together and that will set up a sort of resonance which will keep the One Ring briefly in existence – at least insofar as its slave rings are concerned. With any luck you’ll disappear. Please be patient.”
“I’m happy to wait all day,” I said solemnly. Grimwald thought this a huge joke.
“You know, I’ve enjoyed your company so much I’ll miss you when you’re gone. In fact I was half thinking of letting you live, but my vicious blood lust got the better of me. Ah, here it comes now...”
He brought the palantíri in contact a trifle too sharply and they pealed like bells. Cold fire blazed out from within their hearts. Suddenly it seemed as if the room had grown dimmer. The orcs became shadows, but Grimwald stood out clear as ever. Even clearer, if that were possible. That, of course, was because he was wearing the elf ring and so had become invisible like me. I saw him carefully place the palantíri, still in contact, back in the satchel.
“Well,” he said casually, “I am disappointed. You haven’t vanished yet. I wonder if that ring you’re wearing really is a fake, as Guthmud suspects?”
He could of course see me as clearly as I could see him, because we were both in the ring-world. But because his eyes were fixed on me he didn’t realise it. To reinforce his illusion I held aloft the fake Angrennan, having snatched it from my finger, and put it mockingly to my eye, its chain dangling like a monocle.
“You idiot! Put it on again! The wolves will spot you all too soon!”
The orcs stood between Grimwald and me, holding their staves out before them. They had seen me disappear, even if Grimwald hadn’t. “Now!” one shouted. They pulled on their lanyards, catches sprung open and with a crash of chains the wargs leapt from their cages.
Simultaneously the expanding circle of wargs reached the edge of the pool and were hauled up short by the chains round their necks. Rearing on their hind legs, their snarling jaws dripping foam, they howled in fury at their tormentors, snapping at the ends of the poles as the orcs goaded them. On the word “Now!” I’d darted unseen through the orc-line and bore down upon Grimwald.
He scrambled to his feet in consternation. “Get him, you fools!”
But his companions were too busy staring into the red eyes of the wargs and didn’t think to turn round and see that their master had become invisible too. Robbed of assistance he rose to grapple with me all by himself. Holding on to one arm and the lapel of his bathrobe I flung myself onto my back, putting my foot in his stomach. Grimwald went flying over my head and into the pool. He must have fallen upon a wolf, because instantly he was submerged in a growling mass of hairy bodies. The orcs cheered with delight, thinking it was me the wolves had got.
“Agh! Get them off me!” I shouted from the floor, hoping to prevent the orcs realising the truth. I was still holding on to Grimwald’s hand, when all at once it was severed at the wrist by a single snap from powerful jaws. Instantly Grimwald came bloodily into view, an unrecognisable mass of parting flesh and ripping rags changing rapidly from white to red. The orcs roared with laughter, putting down their staves and slapping their thighs. Still invisible I scurried out of the spa room. Blood dripped from the bitten-off hand I still held. A hand, I noted with satisfaction, that amongst its other jewellery was still wearing Narya.
I stopped to remove it and put it on my right hand. Then I cursed myself for a fool. In my haste I had neglected to pick up the satchel of palantíri to take with me. I thought of going back but it was too dangerous and there was no time. I still had to find Goldberry and then we’d have to escape from the hotel, under the eyes of the Grimwald Gang. But with a bit of luck it would be some time before they realised that it was Grimwald himself that had been feasted on by wargs, not me. Of course they would be puzzled over Grimwald’s disappearance, but that too I might turn to good account, once my over-excited brain had calmed down enough to think rationally.
Still invisible I crept back to the bedroom, dropped Grimwald’s hand in the washbasin and got Glamdring out of my pack. Keeping Narya on I swapped Nenya for the palantír ring. As I had painfully discovered when Grishnakh gave me the latter, they didn’t mix on the same hand. What they would have done now that Nenya was re-activated I didn’t dare think.
Then I made my way down to the kitchens. These were located beneath the hotel in the cavern formed by the suspended foundations and the floor of the crater. There in the fierce volcanic heat I saw a solitary troll using an enormous wooden rake to push trays of bread and pies into recesses cut in the lava walls. Lava which although no longer glowing was still oven-hot – and would remain so for centuries. Always assuming the volcano didn’t erupt again in the meantime.
Inside one of these simple ovens was an exceptionally large pie, its surface crisping to a golden brown. A person-sized pie. In the centre was a decorative lump of dough shaped into a bunch of berries.
My heart thumping I seized another large rake and dragged the pie out of the oven. It tipped over the ledge and crashed to the floor, shattering the pie dish but leaving the crust intact. Immediately the troll came over to see what was happening. I realised I would have to kill him or there would be no time to rescue Goldberry from the pie before she was baked alive. If indeed she hadn’t been already. As the troll bent over the fallen pie I hewed his neck with all my strength. Any other sword than Glamdring would have rebounded in a shower of sparks from his stony flesh. But black blood spurted out and his head tipped slowly forward and fell off, smashing the pie crust.
In a frenzy I heaved the head aside and scrabbled in the wreckage of the monster pie. I encountered ice-cream. So it was a Goldberry Pie Surprise! There might yet be a chance for her...
Soon my fingers, reaching down through crumbled pie crust, troll’s gore and yellow ice-cream, felt girlish limbs. Rapidly I dug her body out of the mess, sucked ice-cream out of her mouth and tried to blow air into her lungs. Her nostrils were clear – straws had been inserted to let her breathe. For that I was immensely grateful, but I feared the hot air of the oven would have scorched her lungs. However, in her drugged and chilled condition, she seemed to have stopped breathing altogether. But I felt her heart still beating, weak slow taps beneath her left breast. Still invisible I carried her unconscious body, cold, clammy and dripping cream, to the foot of the tunnel leading up to the restaurant.
Then I heard voices! A posse of orcs was making their way down to the kitchen to collect their Goldberry Pie.
“Where’s Grimwald slipped off to? He’ll miss the fun with the girl.”
They stopped, stricken with amazement at seeing Goldberry hover unconscious in the air before coming gently to rest on the ground. Suddenly Glamdring flashed into view before their eyes, cold and blue. It was the first and last sight they had of it before their heads went rolling plock-plock down the stairs. I picked Goldberry up again and sped on my way. Soon I reached the bedroom, having left a number of wide-eyed guests gaping in the foyer. It’s not every day you see a swooning naked girl levitating up the stairs, shedding ice-cream dollops and bits of pie crust.
My brief skirmish in the kitchens would soon raise the alarm unless I did something about it. Rapidly I ran the warm waterfall into the bath and lowered Goldberry’s sleeping form into it, before taking off my rings and seizing a bathrobe. Then I hurried back down to the foyer, making vigorous show of panic, banging my fists on the receptionist’s desk.
“You’ve got to do something! Orcs are fighting in the kitchen and they’re beginning to chop each other’s heads off!”
“Ugh!” said the girl in disgust. “They’re always doing that!” She got to her feet and dashed into the back offices to get help. I turned and before anyone could stop me to ask what it was all about ran back up to the bedroom. There was still no pursuit. Grimwald’s gang couldn’t yet have fathomed what had happened.
In the bath Goldberry was beginning to come round. Being immortal she was made of sterner stuff than I’d given her credit for. I chafed her limbs and worked the greasy ice-cream off her pure white skin. Still refusing to open her eyes she took a deep breath, groaned and slid her arms round my neck.
“No time for that, pet! We’ve got to get out of here!”
“Why?” she murmured drowsily. “We’ve missed checkout time for today. And I was just beginning to unwind...”
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.