17. Dawn Raid on Minas Ithil
Grishnakh sat across the desk and we pondered what to do next. Right now Guthmud would be making his way back to Minas Ithil to launch the kidnap attempt.
“Imalad and Elandrine are the biggest puzzle,” I said. “Imalad told me he was travelling back to Minas Tirith to make final arrangements.”
“Did he now,” pondered Grishnakh. “Well, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t go to Minas Ithil first. Our intelligence tells us he’s one of the plotters – and from what you’ve told me he’s suborned Lady Elandrine too.”
“I can’t believe that of Elandrine,” protested Goldberry. “She’s as crystal clear as a mountain stream – not a drop of guile in her. Totally loyal to her mistress the Queen.”
“M-mm,” said Grishnakh doubtfully. “Perhaps Imalad’s been telling her some tale or other. He’s clearly a double-agent. He gives the impression he means to thwart the kidnap attempt on his own account... but only time will tell if that’s the case.”
“So you’re certain he’s going to stick to Guthmud?”
“They’re not travelling together. Imalad checked out immediately after breakfast, as he told you he would. Guthmud waited till your little send-off party, but left soon afterwards with the palantíri and the fake ring, which without a doubt he’s now convinced is genuine. He hasn’t parted the palantíri because he doesn’t want to risk losing contact with the Ruling Ring. Did you see him there when you fed Grimwald to the wolves?”
“He was probably there but I didn’t notice. I had other things on my mind. But he was at the send-off banquet. Have the gang found out yet that Grimwald’s dead?”
“No, but they’re mighty puzzled by his disappearance. The gang think you’re dead, but they know Gee has escaped. In fact they’re pretty impressed by that feat. The gangsters we’ve interrogated admit they’ve seriously underestimated you all along, Miss Gee. So you’re a marked woman – if you weren’t already! You’re not planning on going back to Minas Ithil and taking up where you left off, are you?”
Goldberry gave me a tiny kiss on the ear. “No, I’m staying with Goss.”
Grishnakh looked at us from one to the other. I could see he still wasn’t happy about Goldberry.
“How long do you think it will take Guthmud to get back home?” I asked him.
“Longer than it’s going to take us. We’re only fifty miles from Minas Ithil here, via Spider Pass. It’s an easy journey these days with the new ropeway – you don’t have to use the Stair any more to make the descent into Ithil Vale.”
“But is that the way he’s gone?”
“It’s the way Imalad has gone. He was spotted passing through around midday. I guess by now he’s in Minas Ithil, waiting for Guthmud to arrive.”
“On the other hand it’s a perfectly good way to go if he was heading straight for Minas Tirith like he told me.”
“We’ll see. But as for Guthmud I very much doubt it’s the way he’s gone. He knows we watch Spider Pass, so he’s probably gone via Udûn and he’ll be well past the Iron Gate of Isenmouthe by now. It’s much harder to watch the Morannon – the traffic through it is enormous. But it’s a 180 mile journey round that way. Even on his fire horse he won’t arrive back at Minas Ithil until some time tomorrow. If we mount a dawn raid on his headquarters on Saturday we’ll be in plenty of time to nab him and stop the kidnap. That’s if they’re keeping to their schedule – the one you got from them.”
Grishnakh had been delighted when I presented Grimwald’s hand to him. With stunning professionalism he said that, apart from a pinky ring for Ratbog’s mam, he’d leave all the jewellery on it – it wouldn’t look anywhere near as impressive without it. Now that Grimwald had been eliminated at long last, and most of his gang rounded up at Hotel Doom, he maintained that Ratbog’s death hadn’t been altogether in vain. He waved aside my expressions of regret, saying it wasn’t me that was meant to be looking after Ratbog but the other way round. Anyway I’d had my work cut out looking after myself, not to mention Goldberry. He bade me keep the palantír ring as a souvenir.
“If you go on bringing me gifts like this,” he said, holding up Grimwald’s hand by the little finger, “I’ll soon have enough body-parts for a whole new person!”
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.”
“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...!”
The Headless Horseman still being out of action, our little group sat in the bistro I’d discovered the night I’d confiscated the palantír from Snargy. Goldberry came up and joined us.
“Well I must say you guys made a hell of a mess back there. The whole town’s buzzing! Was it necessary to go in with such a bang?”
“In hindsight – no,” said Grishnakh, sitting slumped over a beer. “But we had no idea what to expect. Better to go in with too big a force than too little.”
Goldberry sat down beside a subdued Snargy, giving him a hug and stroking his greasy hair. The little lad was ploughing manfully through a giant ice-cream smothered in raspberries. Clearly it was going to take a lot longer this time for him to get over his bad experience.
“We weren’t planning on taking any prisoners...” muttered Grishnakh.
“Well, I’m glad you made an exception for one tiny one,” replied Goldberry. “How did he end up in there?”
“He never strays far from where his father is,” I said. “He’s not saying anything yet, but it’s my guess he was hiding under the desk when it all happened. He probably saw everything. Imalad, as I know to my cost, is a lot stronger than he looks.”
“But to pick up Guthmud bodily and impale him on his own hat-stand like a butterfly on a pin – that takes some doing!” said Grishnakh.
Glancing meaningfully down at the child I screwed up my eyes and held my finger to my lips. But Snargy, taking a breath between two mouthfuls, said unmistakably, “that’s just what he did.”
Goldberry gave him another hug. I tried probing him with questions, now he’d started talking, but the ice-cream had once more claimed his whole attention. I gave it up as a bad job.
I turned to Grishnakh. “What have your orcs found so far?”
He shook his head. “No sign of the wain which the kidnappers were supposed to be planning to use. There’s Guthmud’s fire horse still in the garage downstairs. You’d have thought he’d have had it outside and waiting if he was going to Minas Tirith with the kidnappers. Or perhaps he was planning to travel in the wain? ...Odd, that. Guthmud liked his comfort. And a wain’s no fun to go far in, as you’ll agree.”
“I suppose the fire horse is cooked to a crisp?”
“No. My orcs missed doing that somehow. Why?”
“I don’t know. It may come in handy.”
By nightfall GUB had made a meticulous search of the ashes of Guthmud’s headquarters, turning up precisely nothing. Grishnakh and I sat in Guthmud’s office, the only room still habitable. The corpse on the hat-stand had been taken away for forensic analysis.
I said, “It looks very much to me as if Imalad has single-handedly wiped out the entire kidnap team. He did say he was planning something.”
Grishnakh sucked at his curly pipe. “Well, I suspect treachery, pure and simple. He’d never have got out of here alive if he’d killed Guthmud, unless it was done in secret.” He sighed in exasperation. “But where’s the wain? That’s what I want to know.”
“Halfway to Minas Tirith,” said a little voice under the desk. I peered down to take a look.
“Snargy! – I was just wondering where you’d got to!” Not having a great deal of presence he’d slipped into the office with us unnoticed and had taken up his familiar station beneath his father’s huge desk. “So the kidnap is underway after all, is it?”
“Oh yes. Dad thought it was just some last minute arrangements when Imalad asked to speak to him alone. They didn’t quarrel. Imalad broke the stand and just picked dad up...” His voice tailed off.
“Then I suppose he made excuses for Guthmud to the others and calmly went off to command the wain? When did it all happen?”
“Last night after supper. The wain’s on its way. They were going to stop over in Osgiliath and stay in bed all today sleeping. Then they’re going to ride the wain all through the night, to get to Minas Tirith by tomorrow morning bright and early.”
I leapt to my feet. “Then what am I doing here, just sitting around?”
“Snargy,” said Grishnakh, “who’s in the wain? Your dad’s gang... and Imalad?”
“Yes. The gang don’t know dad’s dead yet. They’ve taken the palantíri with them – and the black ring.”
My mind was in a whirl. What on earth was Imalad planning to do? Why take the palantíri and the ring? Just for appearance’s sake? Imalad knew the ring was a fake – I’d told him so. Or didn’t he believe me?
Perhaps he never believed me... or perhaps he had at the time, but Guthmud subsequently persuaded him that the ring actually worked? After all – Guthmud had seen me vanish before his very eyes!
I passed my hand across my brow. The whole notion was absurd. If either Imalad or Guthmud had doubted the ring for one moment, they could have done a simple test. They could have put it on!
Unless neither of them wanted to be seen putting it on – and disappearing? Or not disappearing, as the case may be? I was pretty sure they hadn’t trusted each other one bit. And for good reason, it had transpired. But might Imalad have murdered Guthmud simply to get hold of the Angrennan? ...To hell with the kidnap plan – it was the perfect opportunity?
And then another thought struck me. One with such stunning implications that I had to grasp the desk to steady myself.
What if Faramir had given me the real Angrennan? What if he’d known that? Or what if he didn’t – but Lady Éowyn did? Might they just have simply made a silly mistake at some time or other, and got the rings mixed up? What if they’d been duped into swapping the rings around? ...But by whom? And how?
Morfindel? Or... or...
I knelt down on one knee in front of Snargy. “Look – go and find Gee and tell her she’s to follow behind me to Minas Tirith however she can and to bring you along with her. I’m going to take your dad’s fire horse and try and catch the wain up.”
He was weeping now. Silent tears streamed down his cheeks. “Take me with you! Don’t leave me here...!”
“No. Too dangerous. Gee will look after you.” I struck my clenched fist into my open palm. “There’s something I’ve got to know...!”
As I stumbled to my feet I saw Grishnakh staring at me open-mouthed, as if I’d gone quite mad.
Down in the cellar Grishnakh was still eyeing me doubtfully. “Have you actually ridden a fire horse before?”
“It’s all right. Guthmud showed me over this one and explained it to me, the very first time I met him. He said it was just like riding a normal horse.”
“Well... it is and it isn’t. It’s certainly fast enough to catch up the wain. But don’t let it overheat.”
“Guthmud told me about that.”
I picked the cresset off the wall and lit the flame inside the skull.
“Well, I see you know how to start it. But do you know how to stop it?”
“Blow it out. Like this...?” I took a deep breath. Grishnakh screwed up his face and twitched his head from side to side.
“Well how, then?”
“Button on the dashboard, marked ghâsh.”
“Fine! But it can’t be too different from a live horse. It’s not as if I want to look after it properly...”
“No but you want to get there, don’t you?”
Two GUB agents opened the big double-doors. I mounted up on the saddle. “Any other last hints?” I snapped impatiently.
“Be careful going downhill. Keep it in canter all the way – don’t be tempted to switch to gallop.” He smacked the horse’s rump. It didn’t even quiver.
I flicked the reins and the fire horse took off like an arrow.
I was so intent on catching up with the wain that I totally forgot to keep an eye on the red light on the dashboard. The first sign of trouble was when the horse stopped dead and refused to budge. I nearly went head-first over the flaming skull.
I looked down. The red light was winking furiously. Beneath the saddle I could feel a rumbling, as if I was sitting on the lid of a cauldron. Suddenly yellow-green smoke started pouring from the horse’s ears. I knew I had no more than a second to get off. With one foot in the stirrup I swung my other leg over and in a single motion hurled myself face down onto the grassy bank.
With a roar like a sick child belching up its dinner the fire horse flew to shreds. I looked up. Steaming horsemeat lay strewn about. Entrails festooned the trees. I was covered in blood and filth.
I picked myself up and cursed furiously. Now I had lost the wain. I didn’t bother to collect the pieces – the force of the blast had largely cleared them from the path. Moodily kicking a loose hoof into the ditch I started to trudge the weary miles to Osgiliath.
The sun was up when I arrived at my garden gate. I was still trailing blood and dollops of goo. Legolas was there, putting his spare annuals in my herbaceous border. He looked at me in horror.
“Ai-ee! Whatever happened to you?”
“Bloody fire horse blew up on me.”
“Serves you right for riding such things.” Legolas got up and brushed his breeches. “Wait out here and I’ll fetch the hose and give you a good hose down before you go indoors.”
He was as good as his word and presently I was drying myself down in front of the fire he had lit for me. Since I’d arrived back home I’d been tongue-tied and shuddering violently until the hot water calmed me. In spite of the urgency I went along with whatever Legolas would have me do, watching mutely as he fetched soap and towels, tub and ewer and filled the cauldron with water. I knew Bess wouldn’t let me near her if I had the slightest drop of horse blood on me.
Legolas knew where I kept my mead and I saw he’d poured us two goblets whilst I was in the bath. “Now take it nice and easy,” he said. “Tell me just what’s been happening.”
“No time for that,” I cried. “Something terrible has befallen! Legolas – look at me!”
I took Nenya from its cord around my neck and put it on my finger, instantly taking it off again. Legolas leapt to his feet. His eyes showed their whites all round.
“You vanished from my sight! Nenya is alive once more! What can it mean?”
“It means by now the Queen has been kidnapped – and the King himself is in peril of his life!”
Legolas froze to a statue in an attitude of dismay. I caught hold of his shoulders.
“Legolas, grab your bow and tell Gimli to fetch his axe. I’ll saddle up Bess – she’ll manage the three of us. We ride to Minas Tirith! The King has need of us!”
The City was in uproar. We entered the Citadel unchallenged. Guards were rushing this way and that, in stark contrast to their usual serene poise. Bergil’s office was locked. I caught the arm of a passing guard and asked him where Bergil was.
“Captain Bergil is nowhere to be found!” cried the man, before shaking off my hand and rushing away.
Nobody appeared to know where the King was either, though he had been popping up in unexpected places. “I last saw him down by the Gate,” volunteered one frantic equerry. Eventually we located him on his hands and knees at the portal of the White Tower, conducting a thorough examination of the scene-of-crime.
“Aragorn!” cried Legolas, oblivious of protocol – which wasn’t appropriate anyway.
“Legolas!” cried the King, staggering to his feet. “Gimli! And Goss too! Thank the Stars you’re here!” As he embraced the three of us in turn, his regal composure deserted him and tears ran down his cheeks.
Quickly we compared notes. The kidnap had been carried out exactly as planned. It was not until midday that anything had been reported amiss.
“Can’t find him anywhere,” said Aragorn. “Imalad’s in charge.”
“Sire! Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“Of course it is. Give him a bit of responsibility. Needs it.”
The three friends made rapid plans. Aragorn was determined to overtake the wain before it reached the Tower of Orthanc. Leaving me to continue investigating the scene-of-crime, the King mounted his horse. Legolas and Gimli clambered back up on Bess and out they all rode in pursuit.
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.