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8
Knives of Words, Knives of Steel

Silma:

It was five days later that I hurried through the halls of the Houses, intent on going to the guesthouse, but slowed as Lady Astowen came towards me. Instead of ignoring me or making some slighting remark, she asked, “Have you seen Gilannis?”

“Nay, I have not,” I answered.

“I told her not to go out!” She was wringing her hands. “But she was too excited about seeing that guard captain!”

“She had a tryst?”

“She didn’t say much about it—“

“Witless girl! If Ioreth finds out, she’ll regret ever smiling at him,” I said disgustedly. “Which guard?”

“I don’t know. She would not tell me his name.”

“Is there in fact a guard?” I wondered aloud, for Gilannis was a rather plain, plump lass. However, she was an heiress, a great-niece of Lord Húrin of the Keys, and an unscrupulous Man could take advantage of her youthful impatience for love.

“Oh, yes, she would never make up such a thing,” Astowen assured me.

“If I see her, I will tell her that you are worried,” I said, and went my way, lifting up my hood and drawing its folds about me. Bergil had visited Rimbor at least twice daily, assuring me in his reports that my dog was getting stronger each day, and that he barely needed the dressing I had shown the boy how to change. Ioreth had kept me so busy I could not go, and when I was not doing her behest, I was being summoned to speak with Lothíriel or Lady Ėowyn, sometimes with Lord Faramir at her side in the gardens. I had returned Lady Ėowyn’s cloak, especially since I had finally realized that it had belonged to Lady Finuilas, Lord Faramir’s late mother and Lothlíriel’s aunt. The thought that our serious Acting Steward might find happiness with the White Lady gladdened my heart.

I found little to lighten it otherwise. It was difficult not to express my anger that I had been allowed to sleep through the departure of the Host of the West. Even the two Pheriannath , Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took, had obtained permission to go along with the remaining members of their Fellowship—Mithrandir, Legolas, Gimli Glóin’s son, and the Lord Aragorn. I seized every opportunity to pray to the Valar and Maiar, especially Estë, Mistress of the Fountain of Life, for their safety and well-being. What must Master Redglass think of me, that I had not at least taken my leave of him, after all his kindnesses? I wondered what it was like, to have gone beyond Ithilien, and imagined their progress on a mental map of that area. Lord Faramir, who was receiving messages via pigeon, told me that they had come to the Morannan the day after they left, on the 19th, and left Ithilien on the 23rd, after Lord Aragorn dismissed those too overcome with dread to go on, telling them to succor Cair Andros instead. The next day we were expecting news that they were encamped on Morannon’s desolation—but no news came. “It may be, so close to the Enemy,” Faramir said, “that crows caught the birds, and none got through.”

Or worse, they are all dead even now, I thought with a heavy heart. I pushed the fear away, focusing on what I must do next out of my weariness, for I had been doing much night-nursing as well as the more menial tasks the other ladies scorned to do but which still needed to be done.

At the guesthouse, I was delighted when Rimbor got to his feet, tail wagging, as I entered the kitchen. Tail wagging, he licked my face and hands as I bent over him.

“Good dog! Are you recovering so fast, then?” I said, stroking his sleek dark head. “Oh, my Browntail, it’s just the two of us now—your master is gone!” My voice wobbled, and he nuzzled me, whining a little in his throat.

With an effort, I regained my composure. I could not stay long, but long enough to change the dressing on his back, and check his food and water bowls. He walked beside me, limping but moving more easily than he had, as I went to the front door. “Go back to the kitchen,” I commanded him as I crossed the threshold, making sure that the lock was fast. I was about to turn when I heard a panting scream.

A torch burned in a sconce on the house opposite, and out of the shadows came darting shapes. I caught the glimmer of light on a sword-blade, and realized that what I saw was a young guard, the younger one who had sneered at Master Redglass and me only a few days before, half-dragging Gilannis with him. Behind them, gaining, was an orc, his misshapen face snarling, holding a huge serrated blade in one paw. As I watched, he threw a short spear that impaled the guard in the back so that he fell with a gurgle. But since he did not release his grip on her hand, Gilannis was pulled stumblingly to her knees. Desperately trying to free her hand, she looked up at the approaching orc and screamed even more loudly.

He grabbed her by the hair and yanked back her head. “I kill, I eat good,” he said thickly, raising his sword.

I was running toward them, and as he turned his head and looked at me, I found that Master Redglass’ knife was in my hand. “Let go of her!”

His lips stretched over his fanged mouth in what I suppose was a grin. “You want I kill you too?” he grated.

“Let go of her, you filth!” I should have been terrified; I should have been running as fast as I could in the opposite direction, or at least into the guesthouse. Instead I was filled with a towering rage. He was another of those who menaced us; he might have been the one who had shattered the building whose debris had struck the blow killing my Jehan. And he would menace a frightened girl? He would dare to come into our streets, into our lives, causing more pain, more grief, more loss?

“No more!” I spat furiously. “No more of this. It stops! Let go of her this instant!”

He did.

I stopped in sheer astonishment.

Then he came towards me, sword uplifted. “I bite your head off, and then I kill her,” he grinned.

I knew that if I turned to run he would catch me in three steps, and once he touched me, I would die. I stuffed my rising fear down, trying to summon back my rage. All I had to do was think of that rain of severed heads, the tormented face of the soldier that had almost rolled under my skirts, hitting my foot, just before Jehan was hurt, and I was furious again. My grip on the knife shifted, and I drew back my arm and threw.

With a gurgling yell, he fell forward, and his blade flashed almost under my nose. Then I heard a yell and another blade slashed down, and I was pulled backwards as there was a crash and a big body pushed against me. I fell heavily against the pavement.

“Are you all right? My lady?” Master Redglass was kneeling beside me, was lifting me, and Rimbor was crowding against me. The orc’s severed hand still clutched his sword on the stones in a growing pool of blackish blood. I began to realize that the second blade had been Master Redglass’s axe.

I gasped, breathless, clinging to the smooth leather of his tunic. I could feel the bristly softness of his beard on my forehead, the strength of his arm around my waist.

He picked me up. “How do you get dogs to come?”

“T-tell them to heel.” The nightmare had become a dream, but I did not want to waken despite the trembling that shook me.

“Heel, Rimbor,” he said, and carried me across the street, my dog following. Taking a key from his pouch, he opened the door.

Gilannis had been screaming steadily in the background. Finding herself left behind, with a dead orc for company, she scrambled to her feet and pattered after us, her screams dwindling into shrieks and finally into sobs.

He took me straight to the kitchen, setting me down carefully on a chair and stirring up the fire and lighting a lamp before coming back to me. I had begun to shiver even more, and he drew my old cloak closer around me.

Dalf:

Lord Húrin and Prince Faramir had sent a message to the Fallen Dragon requesting me to attend them at the Houses—again—to discuss a hasty construction of gates as a stopgap against a future offensive from Mordor’s forces. How in the world they could expect us to prevail when the best of the available forces had gone off to the Gates of Mordor to be massacred by the Enemy, whose remaining forces would then sweep across the rest of the earth, I could not see and would not say. I had asked several times during the past few days at the Houses if I might see Lady Silma, and each time had been denied. She was busy with her duties, or sleeping. Had I been too forward with my gift, paltry as it was? Why would she not even answer the notes I had left for her? I had not even met her at the guesthouse; Gimli had given me his key, and I checked several times. Rimbor was obviously being tended, but I never saw her there.

A gloomy mood was on me, hardly lessened by Lord Húrin asking Dame Ioreth if he could see his young kinswoman, Lady Gilannis.

The old woman shook her head. “I have not seen her for some time, my lord.” Disapproval pinched her mouth. “Rumors are flying that she’s slipped out to a tryst.”

“A tryst? She is only fifteen!” The Man looked appalled.

I wondered why she had not been sent away, only to be enlightened in the next moment after he demanded, “How was this allowed?”

Exasperated and unintimidated, Dame Ioreth scowled back at him. “In the first place, when you have a selfish mother who leaves important decisions to a headstrong young daughter, you have a lass who refuses to go to the Refuges, and tags along behind a group of older but also headstrong Court maidens who think it will be ‘fun’ to volunteer in the Houses, to justify their refusal to go with their families.” Her caustic tone underlined her opinion of them and their reasoning, changing to satisfaction as she continued, “They are beginning to learn how hard good nursing can be. The only truly useful volunteer ladies have been Lady Lothíriel, whose good sense makes up for her lack of experience, and Lady Silma, whose misfortunes have given her experience along with her talent—which most of the Healers refuse to acknowledge. I willingly gave Lady Silma leave to go out for a little to check on her dog at the guesthouse, knowing she would not abuse the privilege. Your great-niece chose to sneak out, shielded by others who thought it ‘romantic’.” Her tone was acid enough to etch granite. “Were I her mother, my lord, I would paddle her behind and teach her to think about small matters like fulfilling responsibilities before pleasure. She has been useless since she arrived. Most of them are, tittle-tattling and snipping at Lady Silma, and they are teaching your lass to be as empty-headed as they are.”

Lord Húrin was grim. “That will cease, but the first thing is to find her. How can we do this with the least amount of scandal? How long has she been gone? Where is Lady Mirieth?”

That lady, hurriedly summoned, looked sulky. “I am not her nursemaid,” she said haughtily.

“No, you are someone she respects, although I cannot think why,” said the Man, too upset to employ his usual courtliness. “As her kinswoman, I would have expected you to look out for her, and I shall have a few words with your parents and hers when they return here. How you expect to find husbands with such behavior, I cannot imagine!”

Mirieth paled. “My lord, she is so determined—“

“And where did she learn to be defiant of authority, if not from yourself and your friends?” he retorted. “You are excused, my lady. Dame Ioreth, if you could ensure that the rest stay put, we will try to find her.”

“Yes, my lord,” said the old woman.

“I am sorry that you witnessed that, Master Redglass,” Lord Húrin said to me. “I’m sure that you would not have such a situation among Dwarvish women.”

Deeming it less impolitic not to comment, I said instead, “I shall help you look. Should we summon the guards?”

“Considering that this tryst is with one of them, no. They would protect their own, and if possible, I would not have a scandal if it could be avoided. How could she do this? How could they have allowed her?” he groaned.

“Perhaps Lady Silma might have seen her,” I suggested. “Let us go first to the guesthouse. She will have gone there to visit her dog.”

“Her dog? Do you mean that large one that used to pull Master Clerk’s cart?” Lord Húrin asked me. I had to trot to keep up with his longer legs, and he apologized and slowed…for a few steps.

Briefly, I told him what had happened, and he too was shocked about what had happened to Master Clerk’s body. We were approaching the guesthouse when we heard screams, and I began to run. Ahead of me, in the light of a flickering torch, I saw the fallen body of a guard with a spear protruding from his back, a young maid kneeling and screaming as one of the largest orcs I have ever seen wrenched back her head, sword in one hand—and walking calmly towards him, was my lady.

She said something to him from several yards away, and to my amazement, he let go of the girl, beginning to lift his sword-arm. I could not possibly cross the space between either of them and myself in time, although I began to run forward faster, axe in my hand. Her arm swept forward as she threw my knife, and I chopped downward with my axe as I pulled her backwards with my other hand; she fell just as Rimbor crashed through the front window of the house and bounded towards us.

I knelt beside her. “Are you all right? My lady?”

She gasped for breath, but nodded, white-faced. Lord Húrin rolled the orc over with his foot, pulled the knife out of his throat, and thrust it twice into his heart to make sure. “Is she all right?”

I stood and picked her up, Rimbor pausing only to urinate on the orc’s leg before pushing against my legs. “How do you get dogs to come?” I asked.

To my relief, she was able to answer me. “T-tell them to heel.”

An idiotic command, in my opinion, but I said firmly, “Rimbor, heel!” and he docilely followed, still growling. I carried her straight to the guesthouse kitchen, wishing that a servant had been told to stay there. With Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas and the two Hobbits gone with the Host, however, it had been left empty at night except for the dog. I set her down on a chair, stirred up the fire and lit a lamp before coming back to her. She was white-faced and shivering, her eyes enormous. By then Gilannis had come in behind us, and sat in the next chair, sobbing.

I began to draw the too-thin cloak closer around Lady Silma, then noticed the blood on her hand and the front of the cloak. “Silma! You’re hurt! Let me see!”

“What?”

Lord Húrin came in. “How is she?”

“Going into shock, and injured,” I said shortly. “I wish we had something hot for her.”

He pulled a flask from his belt and handed it to me. “Some brandy may help. I’ll check the pantry.” A moment later, as she coughed from the spirit, he was setting a covered pot over the fire, and another of water.

I pulled a kerchief out of my pouch and began wiping her hand; she had a cut in the palm of it, and my heart sank.

“I brought in his sword and that knife,” Lord Húrin said over his shoulder. “The blade looked fairly clean.”

“Silma,” I cried, “did he touch you?” The thought of poison in her veins terrified me.

She shook her head.

”Can you speak?” I asked.

“Aye,” she whispered, and then more normally, “Aye. No, he didn’t. I think—I think the tip of your knife scratched me when I shifted my grip, before I threw.”

“I never saw anything like that!” said Lord Húrin. “Wherever did you learn to do it?”

“Father taught me. He said any woman should be able to defend herself to some extent, if only until help could arrive. Is Gilannis all right?”

I sat back on my heels and grinned up at my lady even as I bathed her hand with the warm water Lord Húrin had poured into a basin on the table and handed a cloth to me. “Good for you! Most other folk would have been fainting or fleeing.”

“I knew that if I did, he’d kill me. Besides, I was too angry.”

“The courage of a lion!” said Lord Húrin, who had barely glanced at his grand-niece, and bowed deeply. “I am Húrin of the Keys, lady, and I thank you for your defense of my kinswoman.”

The maiden was pouting. “Doesn’t anyone care whether I’m hurt or not?” she whined.

Her great-uncle glared at her. “It is quite evident that you are not,” he said shortly. “Considering that Lady Silma risked her life to save yours, you should at the very least express some appreciation and gratitude—or do you believe that you are entitled to it?”

“Well, I am ,” she said, tossing her head so that a swathe of disordered black hair swung over one shoulder. “After all, it’s just Silma, that cripple’s wife. It’s not as if she’s a real lady, or important or anything. She doesn’t even wear the latest fashions or any jewels, and she stole that Dwarf’s knife.”

Silma lifted her head. “I am not a thief, my lord!”

“I know that,” he said, as I added, “I gave her it, after I saw that she had lost her belt-knife.”

“I knew your father, my lady, and Charl would never raise a thief. You are much like him—and your lady mother Dorhilwen. Gilannis, apologize to them both this instant!” Lord Húrin said sternly.

“But—“

“Apologize!” he thundered.

Sulkily, she muttered something, not meeting our eyes.

Losing patience, Lord Húrin walked over to her, jerked her to her feet, sat down in her chair, deposited her over his knee and administered several solid whacks to her posterior. Rising, he dumped her on the floor, then put her back in the seat with a solid thump that rattled her teeth and at least stopped her outraged bellows. “I will have a good deal to say to your father,” he said angrily. “Have you no understanding at all, girl? Lady Silma saved your life! She was not obliged to, and she could have been badly injured or killed herself. The very least you can do is thank her! Master Redglass was kind enough to come with me to seek you, once we knew of your escapade. And what did you think you were doing, absenting yourself from your duties at the Houses to walk out with a common guard?”

She began to snivel. “He wasn’t common, he was a captain. He loved me! He asked me to come! He cared about me!”

“Cared about a silly, empty-headed child with neither brains nor character, who’d willingly go with some unknown lout, a liar who wasn’t a captain? Can’t you even tell rank by insignia? He would have gotten what he could from you, and once you were debauched and had given him whatever money and jewels he could wheedle out of you, he would have disappeared soon enough! Fool!”

“My lord,” said Silma quietly, as I tied a piece of my kerchief in place as an improvised bandage, “could you not give a stir to that soup or stew or whatever it is before it burns? I think Lady Gilannis is too shaken to understand the seriousness of her conduct. As to thanks, I would prefer sincerity. I—what’s that?” Her hand closed on mine suddenly, and she started, looking over my shoulder.

I squeezed her wrist gently, and rose to my feet as a guardsman stuck his head in the door. Seeing Lord Húrin, he saluted smartly. “My lord, is all well?”

“Does it look it?” the Warden of the Keys asked testily. “Nay, it is far from well! Fortunately, the ladies are relatively unharmed.”

“Mayhap he could escort the damsel back to the Houses,” I suggested.

Gilannis wailed, “They’ll get me!”

“Manwë!” swore Lord Húrin. “Small loss if they did!”

“My lord!” Silma said sharply. “No one deserves such a death!”

“I beg your pardon,” he said to her.

She sighed, rose a bit unsteadily, and went to the hearth to stir the pot. “I think there are some bowls in that cupboard.”

I fetched them, and she ladled some stew into them. I took them to the table with some spoons, and found a small keg of ale, filling four tankards.

The guard, whose name was Telparmer, sliced some bread.

Gilannis looked at the impromptu meal with revulsion. “I can’t eat this!”

“Then go without,” growled her great-uncle.

She began to sob again.

Silma:

Gilannis dissolved in tears again at Lord Húrin’s brusque remark. I handed her a kerchief from my pouch, and she was so upset she actually took it without demur. “Try just a little,” I suggested, and stood up again. Instantly, Master Redglass was beside me.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“To make some tea.”

“Sit. I will do it.”

Lord Húrin scowled. “The question is, where did that orc come from? Are there more out there?”

“Captain Elgar is having the streets searched,” Telparmer volunteered. He had only seated himself and begun to eat at a gesture from the Warden.

Gilannis shrieked, “More of them? And you want me to go out?”

I moved my seat closer to her, speaking quietly as I touched her hand, convulsively clutching the edge of the table. “We are safe here, with four defenders—“

“Four?” she quavered.

“Certainly: Lord Húrin, Master Redglass, Guardsman Telparmer, and Rimbor.” My dog wagged his tail at mention of his name, and flopped down at my feet, plunging his muzzle into the bowl Master Redglass had set for him. “Take just a spoonful of the stew, Lady Gilannis, and you may feel better. Try dipping the bread in it. Just a small bite.”

Master Redglass rose. “Excuse me.”

“Where are you going?” asked Lord Húrin.

“To barricade that broken window,” he replied, “and to check the rest of the house.”

“Telparmer, stay here,” said the old noble, and went with him. As I had expected, once Gilannis tried the stew, she ate the rest of it with the bread and drank the tea I brewed for her. Soon after she finished it, and I most of mine, they came back.

Lord Húrin said decisively, “Well, the bodies have been removed; no need to start a panic among whoever is still living on this street. I think we will stay here tonight,” and turned so grim a frown on his great-niece that Gilannis, yawning, did not dare protest. “You, my girl, are coming upstairs with me. Lady Silma, if you will come also? Telparmir, guard the front door. Master Redglass, if you will guard the back?”

The Dwarf nodded, the young guard saluted, and I rose to my feet. But the moment I set my foot on the bottom stair, Rimbor barked and took a mouthful of my skirt, tugging backward.

“What ails the beast?” Lord Húrin asked.

“Mayhap one is up there,” quavered Gilannis.

Lord Húrin gave her a sharp glance. “Nonsense! But I shall check again to be certain.” In a moment he was back, reporting that all was safe. Lady Gilannis could sleep on a trundle in one room, and he would stretch out on the bed, sword at his side. I set my foot on the bottom stair again, and once more Rimbor tried to stop me.

“I don’t know why he is acting this way. He used to guard Jehan, not me,” I said.

Master Redglass said, “Then why do you not remain near to him, my lady, and I shall help him protect you. There is a sofa in the parlor; you could rest on it. It has no windows, so it should be safe enough.”

“Splendid idea,” said Lord Húrin heartily. “Else this brat might try to keep you up all night—what’s left of it.” He bowed to me. “Sleep well, lady, and again, my thanks. Telparmir, guard the back. Come, Gilannis!”

The old man led his great-niece up the stair, and Telpermir saluted us. “I will go to my post. Good night, lady, Master Redglass,” he said.

“Come, Silma,” said my Dwarf, and led me to the parlor, setting a candle on a small table. A small bed was already there. “Gimli told me that the Halflings dislike sleeping upstairs, so Master Took has been sleeping here, once he was released from the Houses.” Gently he pressed me to sit on the sofa, and knelt to remove my shoes before I could prevent him.

My face flamed; I knew very well how scuffed and worn they were; I had tried to mend the strap of one with a piece of string just that morning, relieved that no one was apt to notice it under the hem of my skirt. “Please—“

He looked up at me, one shoe in his hand. “You are too weary to talk further tonight,” he said calmly, bending to slip off the other one.

Foolishly, tears welled up and began to spill over as I swallowed hard and began to shake again.

He unclasped my plain cloak-brooch and laid my cloak neatly over a chair. Distantly I noticed that I would have to mend it again. Could I ever get the orc-blood out?

I must have said that aloud, for he returned and went to one knee, gathering my icy hands into one of his, and with the other, slipping off my headscarf and tilting up my chin. Tears blurred his face and he made a small dismayed sound.

“S-sorry,” I choked out.

“No need. You have borne up better than most Dwarf-women would,” he said.

That was so absurd I laughed—except that it turned into a sob.

“Oh, now…Hush, lady. It’s all right. You are safe here.”

Safe! How long was it since I had truly felt so? Another sob followed the first, and another. I sobbed so hard that I could barely breathe; certainly I could not speak.

I felt the mattress sink under his weight as he sat on the edge of it next to me, and then he was gently rubbing my shoulders and the nape of my neck, muttering something in Dwarvish. I wept until I was limp, and then he tucked me under the covers as if I was a small child. I wondered dimly if he had children off in the Lonely Mountain.

Dalf:

She wept for a long time, the wracking sobs of someone hurt to the soul. I found myself murmuring things I should not in my own language, trying to soothe her. I have never felt any wound pain me so much as the desolate sound of her weeping. When had she had time to fittingly mourn her husband and all that she had lost? It was no wonder she was at last overwhelmed with grief, pain and weariness. At last her exhaustion triumphed, and I tucked her into the bed, not daring to loosen her bodice. She was so cold from shock that no doubt her clothing would help to warm her, and indeed, her hands were not quite so icy. It took all my willpower to restrain myself from losing all decorum, but after such a fright, I could not cause her any further distress.

“Mahal guard your sleep, my lady,” I whispered, and taking up the candle, moved to the door. I would spend the night lying across the threshold next to Rimbor; Telparmir could stand sentry at the back.

Soon after dawn the next morning, she came into the kitchen where I was frying eggs and bacon while the guardsman fetched some water from the well in the garden. I said, “Good morning, my lady.”

She came to me, face filled with wonder, reaching out to touch my chest. “You are here,” she said softly. “I thought—I thought you had gone with the Host, that last night was a dream.”

“Nay, Lord Faramir and Lord Húrin asked me to stay and help in the defenses, should there be need,” I answered, and cursed myself for reminding her of our plight.

“Thank you.”

My heart was beating like sixty forge-hammers. “I am ever at your service.”

Telparmir came in, sloshing water on the floor from the bucket he carried, Rimbor barked a reproach as some of it dripped on him, and we both laughed.

Soon after, we were all sitting down to break our fast, after the Standing Silence. I usually ignored that, but somehow it seemed boorish not to join in their observance, even though I had no idea why it was done. Lady Gilannis had done little to straighten her hair or even to wash her face, to her great-uncle’s displeasure, and she huddled on her chair making no complaint about the milkless porridge (for which we at least had some honey and butter), eggs and bacon, with tea for herself and Lady Silma and ale for the rest of us.

Lord Húrin scowled over his meal. “I cannot for the life of me—and what’s worse, for the lives of all of us—imagine how that orc got in,” he grumbled. “Tis nine days since the bombardment. How did he get in? And if he got in then, how has he kept hidden for so long, and where has he been? Are there others?”

Gilannis squeaked in terror, but we ignored her.

“We will have to search, my lord,” I said.

“Captain Elgar sent word at dawn, my lord, with instructions not to disturb you unless there was another attack,” said Telparmir. “No sign has been found of any others, nor where he might have been. The guards at the Circle gates have been doubled since the battle, and have seen nothing.”

I frowned. “And there is only the one entrance between each level.”

“Curse it, he didn’t spring out of thin air!” scowled the doughty old warrior. “And we don’t want to cause a panic, either.”

“But he may have,” said my lady thoughtfully. “Or rather, from the Secret Ways.”

“What secret ways?” we chorused.

“Why, the Secret Ways between one level and the next,” she said. “My first spouse’s old home had been built by his ancestors, and one of them, clearly not above a bit of subterfuge, had a tunnel dug that leads from that mansion down to the basement of the building below it. I think it was added to over the centuries, for it goes all the way down from the Sixth Circle to the First, to the basement of the building where Jehan and I lived. My first husband’s family owned all those buildings. Each has secret entrances, and one has to know the hidden, coded locks to open them. Perhaps it began as a convenience, but it would have also been useful for other business.”

“A bolt-hole, in dangerous times,” I suggested. “Interesting! Might there be others?”

“Oh, aye,” she said calmly. “I recall seeing an ancient parchment, I think from the Office of Taxable Architecture, showing a map of such places. Some connected with outhers.”

“Ha! No wonder we could not catch old Forlong’s grandfather for smuggling!” said Lord Húrin. “But how did the ord get in?”

“Easy enough during the battle,” I said. “With some houses on the First and Second Circles being battered to rubble, he may have simply seen a hitherto-hidden entrance, and seized his opportunity. He was one of the Mordor orcs, those that find sunlight hard to bear.”

“And he had some wounds,” Telparmir volunteered, too absorbed to keep silent. “I noticed them when Captain Elgar had him removed.”

“Where?” asked my lady.

“To the morgue at the Houses, my lady,” he replied.

“No, I meant where were the wounds? Do you remember?” she asked.

He screwed up his face as he thought. “The light was uncertain,” he reminded us, “but I could see dried blood on his shoulders and back and upper arms, and when he was lifted, and almost dropped by mistake, there was a cloud of light-colored dust. That seemed odd, so it stuck in my head. I always thought that they are from the Black Land, so any dust coming off them should be black too.”

“You have good sharp eyes, boy,” said Lord Húrin, and the lad blushed with pleasure. “We must go take a closer look. My lady, do you know where that parchment might be?”

“I think so, my lord. I only saw it the once, and that must have been some twenty years ago.”

His bushy eyebrows rose. “And you remember it?”

She smiled. “I believe I do, my lord. But if it was moved—I can think of three chambers it might be in.”

“Then you must go and look,” he declared.

“And I will accompany her,” I said flatly.

“Very well, Master Redglass,” Lord Húrin agreed, although I would have done so whatever he said. “Telparmir, you are with me.”

“And I’ll go back to the Houses,” said Gilannis brightly.

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