16. Fast-Track Checkout
“How do we get out of here without being seen?” she said.
“The easiest way will be if these rings still work,” I replied. “With a bit of luck the palantíri are still in contact. It may not occur to anyone to part them. Here – which one do you want to put on?”
“Oh, just give me any one.”
“I’ll give you Nenya. I’ll hang on to Dad’s. Grimwald was wearing it when the wolves ate him. That might have magically contaminated it. So perhaps I’d better wear it rather than you, since you’ve never worn it before.”
We both put on the elf rings. “I can still see you,” said Goldberry. “Perhaps they aren’t working.”
“No – that’s because we are in the same invisible world. I explained all that with Grimwald. Now if I take my ring off I shouldn’t be able to see you.”
I pulled off Nenya and my heart sank. Goldberry looked just as solid as ever. “Damn! They’ve parted the palantíri!”
“Not necessarily,” said Goldberry. “I recall Tom saying that the rings had no power over us. And I also remember when Frodo was at our house he once put the ring on without telling us. Neither Tom nor I could see any difference. So I’ll be able to see you whether or not Narya is working.”
“It probably works the other way round too. Nenya won’t make you invisible either.” I sat down hard on the bed. “So that’s not a lot of use! Now what do we do?”
“Maybe the ring is making you invisible...” Goldberry put her fingers to her lips. “How can we tell?”
“I don’t know! I’ll have to go down to the foyer again and see if I bump into people. But that’s too risky...”
I snapped my fingers. “I know!” I dashed into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. Sure enough I could see no reflection. “Come here a minute, pet,” I called.
She came and stood by my side, putting her arm round my waist. “Everything looks normal to me,” she said.
“But I can’t see myself – and I can see you perfectly well. You do look silly standing there with your arm stuck out.”
She elbowed me in the ribs.
“Well, that’s a relief,” I gasped. “The palantíri are still in contact. But how long for?”
“You could go back to the spa room and fetch them. Then you’d be sure...”
“No – far too risky. And they’re heavy things – they’d weigh us down. And it still doesn’t solve the problem of what to do about you!”
“I need a disguise... I know!” Goldberry pounced on my pack and started unlacing it. “Did you bring my long green dress? And my yellow wig?”
“I did. I was hoping you’d get a chance to wear them. I did want to see you in them again.”
“Well, I’ll wear them now. I’ll simply walk out the door looking like myself. That should bamboozle everybody.”
I put my hands on my hips. “That is such a silly idea it might even work. I’ll stay close to your side, ready to draw Glamdring. And if anybody tries to stop you I’ll cut them down.”
“I’ve never heard of anything so desperate! And what’s going to happen when we get the bottom of the ropeway? I suppose they’ve ‘repaired’ it by now?”
“I haven’t thought that far ahead. Let’s do one thing at a time.”
Swiftly she donned her shimmering green dress and her yellow wig – and she was once more the Goldberry I knew long ago. And loved... though I’d never had the courage to tell Tom that.
“There! How do I look?”
“Ravishing! I wish you’d wear that dress more often. It’s my favourite.”
“It was Tom’s favourite too. But I must say it’s a bit tight round the middle. Must be all that ice-cream.”
“Never mind,” I said. “I’ll help you work it all off again.” She snatched the metal cup out of my pack and threw it at me.
“Come on – no time to fool around. Now for it!”
Down in the foyer, it became clear that Goldberry would only draw attention to herself if she marched out the main door all by herself. Nothing if not quick-witted, she slipped her hand under the elbow of an elderly lady who was shuffling towards the door.
“Let me help you the last few yards,” she said. “All these people rushing to and fro, they don’t look where they’re going.”
The old lady stared round at her and smiled. “I don’t need help, thank you my dear. I’m a hundred years old if I’m a day. You young people have no idea...”
“You’re looking very healthy I must say,” replied Goldberry. “Did you enjoy your stay here?”
“I’m not leaving yet. I just thought I’d have a sniff of air outside. It’s so stuffy in here.”
“Oh, we’re just on our way down to the ropeway. Have you seen the view from there? It’s splendid...”
“We?" said the old woman, stopping with a jerk and looking round. “I can only see you...”
A well-dressed man came up and laid his hand on the old woman’s shoulder. “Now, grandma, where d’you think you’re going?”
“I was just on my way down to the ropeway with this young lady and her companion – who seems to have disappeared for the moment...”
“No, grandma, you’re not to go straying outside. There are some nasty drops out there – and I’m afraid of somebody making off with you again and stealing all your jewels.” He treated Goldberry to a none-too-friendly look.
“I am sorry,” said Goldberry. “I was under the impression your grandmother wanted to take a breath of fresh air...”
“There is no fresh air in East Ithilien,” the man snapped. “She’s better off inside, where the air is at least filtered. And just who are you, may I ask?”
I glanced around. People were beginning to look at Goldberry.
“I’m...” She didn’t want to say her name out loud. “I’m one of the staff here. I’m – I’m employed to render assistance to guests in the lobby...”
Two hefty uruks appeared on either side of her and put their claws on her shoulders. I recognised them for Grimwald’s myrmidons. “Staff, eh? How convenient. Well – we’ve got a little job for you. Do you mind...?” They nodded to the old lady and her grandson, spun Goldberry around and marched her off.
I followed close behind. They led Goldberry away down one of the side corridors leading to the spas. There was no time for this sort of diversion. I would have to do something. As soon as we were out of sight of the lobby I said sharply “Goldberry – down!”
The two uruks spun round. Goldberry obligingly dropped to the ground and as she did so Glamdring swept off the heads of her captors in a single blow.
“That wasn’t very clever!” she said. “Now you’ve got blood all over my best dress.”
Grabbing her arm and hauling her to her feet I dashed back with her towards the lobby. Behind us we heard screams – someone had discovered the bodies. It was hopeless to make a dash for it through the front door. We’d be stopped before we could get into one of the cable cars. Feverishly I cast about me for an exit – any exit – from the hotel.
“I know,” I cried, recalling what Snargy had told me. “The rubbish chute! It’s down in the kitchen!”
We scampered through the lobby and I led the way back down to the kitchens from which I’d rescued Goldberry scarcely an hour earlier.
“How do we find the rubbish chute? We won’t have time to go hunting around.”
“How’s your sense of direction?”
“Not very good underground,” admitted Goldberry. “I’m not used to being in the middle of a volcano. I’m a woodland person, me.”
“Well I’m not too bad,” I said. “A wizard should know which way is North at any moment of the day, over hill or under hill. I got through that part of the training at least.”
“Why is that going to help us find the rubbish chute?”
“Because whenever orcs build a rubbish chute, they always make it point due West.”
“Pure spite. The Elves point their rubbish chutes East.”
We were nearly at the bottom of the steps. Someone had cleared away the dead orcs. I wondered if they’d got the troll out too. That would take them longer, I guessed. Too heavy for even four people to carry. Too stony to cut up.
“Right, follow me!” Once in the blistering heat of the kitchen I made for the western wall. The rubbish chute was easy to spot – a two foot wide hole in the wall with rubbish lying in piles beside it, ready for tipping down. A vast cauldron of water stood seething beside the hole. I guessed it was used to scald the chute to prevent smells drifting back into the kitchen. Looking over my shoulder I saw the body of the troll still lying where I’d left it. But the pie mess was gone.
A dozen or so orcs spotted us and howled. At least, they spotted Goldberry. I thrust her head-first into the chute and threw my pack in after her. I was about to dive in too when I had the sense to step aside. The ring was still working, so they couldn’t see me. If I drew Glamdring and started hacking their heads off they might all flee in different directions, making it difficult for me to catch them all. If just one of them escaped he’d rapidly fetch help. Almost certainly they had some means of signalling to the bottom. A stretched cord, or a voice-tube.
The orcs came running up and peered down the chute after Goldberry. Then, almost without having to think about it, they picked up staves and slid them through rings round the top of the cauldron. This they lifted up and staggered with it to the chute. If I didn’t do something fast I would only have saved Goldberry from being baked alive in order to be boiled.
Fetching up a wooden rake I lunged at the backs of the legs of the nearest orc. As the cauldron went down on top of him with a clang I hopped up onto it and dived head-first into the hole. Behind me the screams of the scalded orcs came echoing down the tube.
The chute was slippery with grease and cabbage juice and I rapidly picked up speed. Hurtling down in the darkness I tried calling out to Goldberry in front of me, but I got no answer. She'd had nearly ten seconds' start on me. I had no idea what sort of reception to expect at the bottom – whether we would go tumbling into a cess-pit, or into the arms of Grimwald’s men. I had to be ready for anything.
After what seemed like an age I shot suddenly into the daylight. The pile of kitchen slops I ploughed into made a soft landing. We were out in the open and there were orcs all around. Two of them had picked Goldberry up out of the rubbish and were dusting potato peelings off her shoulders – her dress was now quite ruined and she’d lost her wig.
I was just about to lay about me with Glamdring, cutting down orcs left right and centre, when I spotted Grishnakh among them. GUB had arrived in force.
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.