As I climbed up the long road through the Circles and made my way to the Houses, I worried that I would not be permitted to see Silma, for I had realized that messages did not always reach her.
When I went inside, I encountered a youth who began yelling, “Orcs! Help! Orcs!” as he turned and fled.
Whirling, I snatched out my axe to defend us—but there was no one in sight behind me, nor in the corridors to each side. Perplexed, I strode after him. Seconds later, something hit me hard on the head from behind. Darkness swirled as I began to fall. I struck out almost blindly, and my axe thunked into a door. An arrow whirred past my ear, and I ducked inside a small room, hastily barricading the door with the desk and scrolls chest inside. I sat down on a stool, axe at the ready, hoping nothing would come until my ears stopped ringing and the spots receded from before my eyes.
But Lady Silma was there somewhere; if more of those accursed orcs had broken in—
I wrenched open the door and looked out cautiously. Another arrow went past, and I hastily slammed it shut again. A quick look showed me that the window was impassable; some idiot had affixed a badly-forged set of bars across it. If there were orcs about, I had no intention of ruining the blades of my axe or dagger trying to pry them off. I was neatly boxed in.
Every time I ventured to open the door, there was another arrow.
I explored every inch of the room between times; there was no other usable exit. What was happening in other parts of the Houses, in other parts of the city itself?
I could faintly hear voices. At least no one was screaming—but the door was thick and tight-fitting, and I do not have the hearing of Elves.
After a time, I stood glowering at the door, alternately cursing and praying.
An age later, someone knocked three times on the door, paused, and knocked three more times. I cautiously cracked it slightly.
“Master Redglass? Are you inside?”
“Lady Ėowyn! Are you unharmed?” I asked.
“May I come in?” she asked.
I opened the door enough for her to slip in sideways, a bared sword in each hand. My breath caught; for a moment, I could not speak before blurting, “Lady Silma’s sword! Is she--?”
“She asked me to keep it for her this morning,” she said.
“She isn’t with you?”
“How many of them are there?”
“By them you mean--?”
She sheathed the swords and leaned against the door. She had donned her mail shirt although not her helmet, simply binding her hair in a single long tail at the back of her head. Now she stroked a few strands that had come over her shoulder with one long hand. “Um, did you see any?” she asked.
“Nay. I entered, intending to ask a youth if I might see Lady Silma, and he began yelling, ‘Orcs!’ and fled. I looked behind me and to each side, but saw nothing. I pursued him, to ask where he had seen them, when one hit me on the head from behind. I ducked in here, and every time I attempt to leave, there are arrows. As poor as most orc archers are, there must be several of them, the way I was pinned.”
“Aye, I saw them in the hall.” Her blue eyes were shining.
“As you can see, I could not get out, and have been pinned down here for an age. How many are there?”
She covered her face with both hands, and I felt a chill go through me as her shoulders shook and she made a choked sound. I could easily envision Faramir rending me in half if she were injured. I asked, “Are you hurt, my lady?”
Her face was flushed when she took her hands down, smiling. “Not a bit. In fact, I think you may be the only one injured in this affair."
“But I’m unharmed,” I assured her, ignoring the throb in the back of my head.
“I’m afraid you may revise that opinion in a moment,” she said more soberly. “As far as I can determine, there were no orcs. At all.”
“No orcs?” I repeated.
I stared up at her.
“Put aside your knowledge of the tunnels for a moment, Master Redglass. Consider one young lad, easily frightened and somewhat ale-fuddled, who has never seen any beings other than Men in his short life. Suddenly he sees a being unlike any he’s ever seen, with a large axe, mail, and a long beard, and he panics and stirs up a number of other orderlies. One has a bow, although he doesn’t know much about using it. That particular hero could only have skewered you by mistake.”
I scrubbed my hand over my mouth. “They thought I was an orc?”
“Well…yes. I volunteered to beard you in this lair.” Her eyes danced at the pun, and the situation.
“Very brave of you, my lady,” I said dryly.
She laughed for quite a long while, much longer than I thought necessary. This gave me plenty of time to consider how others would probably react to this episode, and I sighed.
Her laughter trailed off into giggles, then stopped. She wiped tears of mirth from her eyes and tried to look contrite. “Pardon me, Master Redglass. The expression on your face….” Another giggle escaped her, before she composed her face into a very solemn expression. “If you would like to venture out, I believe I can protect you.”
This last was said in a loud tone as she opened the door and I followed her into the passage. “But can you protect him?” I inquired as loudly.
The lad who had fled before, now sitting on the floor, moaned. So did another lad, bow and quiver beside him. Arrows, broken and unbroken, littered the floor outside the door; one crunched under my boots.
At a gesture from Lady Ėowyn, they scrambled to their feet, trembling.
“Your names?” I asked.
“S-Severion of Anfalas,” said the one I had seen first.
“Marfel of Pelargir,” said the other, his voice breaking abruptly from bass to an alto.
“I am Dalfinor Baraz-Zaram, Redglass, son of Thorin Stonebow of the Iron Hills and the Lonely Mountain,” I introduced myself. “Orcs do not have beards. The Dweorg do. You may know of my people as Dwarves. I have fought orcs since I was younger than you are. We have never allied with them, nor would we. Why on Arda did you think me an orc?”
“’Tis Marfel’s birthing-day,” whispered Severion. “We got some beer from Caic, and drank it before the day meal—and spilled the food, so we didn’t eat anything. And I never saw an orc before, Master, nor a Dwarf. I thought there was only Dwarves in stories like my nurse told me when I was small, far off with dragons and elves and treasure and all. I sheen you—I saw two of you—and I got scared. So I ran.”
“We didn’t mean any insult, Master,” added Marfel. “Now we’ll be in trouble with Dame Ioreth and Master Kinfinning, because ‘tis his hunting-bow and arrows I took.”
“You are fortunate that you did not maim or kill me,” I said, “and you are unfortunate that I survived. There will be recompense due me, gentlemen, and I will exact it!”
Both boys swallowed audibly, wilting.
I had been aware of Lady Ėowyn’s low-voiced conversation with Dame Ioreth and a tall, burly Man in Healer white whom I correctly surmised was Master Kinfinning. Now the two came forward and she introduced me to him.
“I had wondered where these two had gotten to,” he said grimly. “Master Redglass, please accept my apology on behalf of the Houses. Young Caic will be seen to for providing them with the swill that fueled this nonsense.— Do not imagine that that exonerates you boys,” he added as they brightened. “Your families will have a full report of this disgraceful behavior, and I will give careful thought as to how you will be employed in the near future. You could have injured or slain others, among them a Dwarf who is an emissary from the King under the Lonely Mountain to the Steward himself, and who helped to defend us, and you, during the battle. These are the Houses of Healing, not a weapons salle! You neglected your duties all afternoon and evening and started a panic that could have had very ill effects upon our patients, our first concern. And at the very least, you have damaged my good bow and arrows, the last gift of my late father. There will be recompense due me —should you survive that of Master Redglass. Now get out of my sight!”
“I’ll deal with them for now,” said Dame Ioreth, grabbing each boy by an ear and leading them away, scolding in full spate as she did so.
Master Kinfinning led us into his own office, offered us some much superior ale to what the boys must have been drinking, along with a small plate of sugared nuts, and then sat laughing helplessly for a while. Lady Ėowyn was grinning.
“Forgive me, Master Redglass,” he said at last, wiping his eyes. “But the thought of those two imps actually pinning you, a warrior, down for a space under the impression that you were an orc—“ and he was laughing again.
I felt as glum as the boys. “The fact is, I’m not really accounted as a warrior among my people. I take no…satisfaction in it as my cousin Gimli does. I admit that I don’t fully understand Mannish humour. No offense, but don’t your lads get any weapons training?”
“Severion’s the youngest of seven children, a late-born child whose parents have mostly neglected him, leaving him to the care of servants and inept tutors. Marfel is the only grandson of a lady whose sons were all killed by the Corsairs; her main aim in life since his parents’ deaths has been to keep him wrapped in wool. Unfortunately, not all the lads left behind when most of our folk went to the refuges in the mountains are as well trained or as mature as young Bergil, who is even younger. I assure you, they are usually better supervised, but with all that has been happening today, the older staff has had their hands full, and their panic spread right speedily, causing us to spend time trying to reassure—and in some cases, restrain—our patients.”
“Which is why it took me so long to res—find you,” added Lady Ėowyn.
“And although I have not said so before, my lady, I am grateful for your rescuing me,” I said. “Please forgive the omission; I am only a rough Dwarf.”
She inclined her head regally. “Far from rough, Master Redglass.”
“Actually, what made me quail, once I realized that you were outside the door, was what Lord Faramir would do to me were you hurt on my behalf.”
“I was perfectly safe—from orcs, anyway,” she said. “That’s why I brought Silma’s sword. It never showed even a flicker of a blue glow, so I knew there were none at all. When I saw the axe-stroke in the wall, I guessed that it must be a Dwarf. Knowing that Lord Gimli is not here, I felt safe in calling your name.”
“Those two are imps, but really have no harm in them—not intentionally, at any rate,” Master Kinfinning said reflectively.
“I am willing to accept that, Master, but if they don’t learn to think instead of react, they may not live to learn better,” I pointed out. “By the way, how can I reimburse the Houses for the damage I wrought? And who hit me on the head? I was struck by a cudgel before the arrows began to fly.”
“That was Caic, the third of that little group,” Master Kinfinning told me. “He’s somewhat older, and a bit of a rascal. He’s really the one who spread the panic. Young Marfel felt he should defend us by keeping you penned, and Severion wouldn’t leave him in case you went berserk.”
“An admirable trait, loyalty,” I said.
“But this is a serious matter, and I want them to know that to their bones,” the Healer said.
I nodded. “I agree. Let them know it, but not so harshly they are rendered unable to react and defend themselves in time of need in future.”
They both nodded.
“But what brought you hither to begin with?” asked Lady Ėowyn.
“I came seeking Lady Silma.” Quickly I recounted what I had been told at the inn.
“Ah. I see. Well, I can add more to that,” she said. “As you know, I was with her this morning, and she was resting when I left, so that was before the fracas in the courtyard. The tapster—Wil?—is quite right; she left there with the girl Rhylla, and they came here. The lass was upset because she and her father had been told that her brother must leave here before day’s end, and since they lost all in the battle, they had nowhere to take him. Silma could naturally understand that. I wasn’t present,” she added regretfully, “but apparently she told Master Ladramenhirion precisely what she thought of such callousness. He dismissed her from the Houses, but not before she got what she wanted.”
“Which was?” I asked.
“The Guardsman’s clothing—can you believe it, they were going to send him out in naught but a nightshirt?—and his weapons, dressings and medicaments, and instructions on his care.”
“I missed it as well,” sighed Master Kinfinning. “Irgon should have summoned me, since I was in charge of Rill’s case. I would have remonstrated about sending him away so soon, not that Master Ladramenhirion would have listened. As head of patient care, he has the power to make that decision.”
“But why did he make that decision?” asked Ėowyn. “I have not heard one person say that it was a good choice!”
The Healer shook his head. “It’s a matter of space and allocation of resources, I’m told. He is not a cruel man, not really. A wonderful surgeon, and a fine teacher of technique. But we are expecting an influx of many wounded from Cormallen and the Pelennor as well as gradually moving in the ones we had no room for earlier who are being tended in other places in the city, and in fact some should be coming in on the morrow, so he has decided that those who will not recover must not take up space needed by those who may have a chance. And he is prejudiced against poor Rill.”
“Why is that?” Ėowyn asked.
“His father, Master Romfirion, was supposed to make and fix the tiles for Master Ladramenhirion’s roof, to pay for his wife’s lying-in with the boy. She died in childbed, and the tiling job was botched—the leaks ruined several rare scrolls. They have been snipping away at each other ever since in and out of the courts.”
“How old is this lad?” I asked.
Ėowyn’s eyebrows rose. “They have feuded over this for almost twenty years ? Why was it not resolved by the Steward?”
“Lord Denethor was not overfond of either of them, and refused to hear the case after they appealed it up through the city courts. I think it amused him. Ladramenhirion is accustomed to being deferred to, by his prominence and rank.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” I said with what patience I could muster, “but what happened then? Where is Lady Silma?”
“She and Rill’s sister Rhylla loaded him into a cart and left. That was about a half-bell before sunset,” Master Kinfinning told me. “No one seems to know where, but I suppose you could enquire at the Porters and Doorwardens’ Fellowship, down at the House of Keys. However, the gates are now closed, and with all the recent upheaval, I doubt they would willingly open the Lesser Gates for you tonight.”
“But I don’t know where she is!” I said, dismayed.
“At least you know she isn’t being menaced here by orcs,” Ėowyn murmured. “No, really, Master Redglass, I’m certain she’s all right. Surely you can find her on the morrow.”
“You are welcome to stay with me,” offered Master Kinfinning. “It’s the least we can do.”
And so, I found myself sleeping on a pallet in his quarters, although he would have offered me his own bed.
I regretted that keenly in the ensuing weeks, because I simply could not find her! She did not return to the Fallen Dragon, nor did she go to the Houses. Faramir pointed out that I could not very well have her cried for through the city, for she was not a thief. I spent hours roaming the tunnels, worried that somehow orcs had emerged long enough to pull them inside. Lord Húrin personally asked the Porters and Doorwardens about her. All agreed that it must have been one named Tamperion who had conveyed them—but he had then been sent out of the city with others of his fellowship, to bring certain items needed by the Healers back from the refuges and towns in between. The citizens who had gone there were beginning to return, but no one seemed to know where she was.
Above all, I could not understand why she sent no word to me.
The day following the so-called orc invasion of the Houses, when I was invited to join Lady Ėowyn and Lord Faramir to break our fast, although his mouth twitched with restrained laughter, he did restrain it, for which I was grateful. To Ėowyn’s displeasure, and Lady Lothíriel’s as well, he agreed with Master Kinfinning: naught could be done about Ladramenhirion’s policy, no matter how he personally deplored it.
“I cannot interfere in his work, anymore than he can interfere with mine,” he said patiently for the fifth time. “Truly, Master Redglass, I doubt very much that ill has befallen them. For one thing, she did have the dog with her, and for another, she has shown herself a person of great resourcefulness. We will try to find her, discreetly, but she has a perfect right not to tell anyone of her whereabouts if she so chooses. I must also say, from what I know of her, that her pride would not permit her to accept what she would see as charity.”
“Not to mention her reputation!” exclaimed Lothlíriel. “I cannot think why I did not consider that!”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You took her to an inn, Master Redglass,” Lothlíriel said.
I looked at her, puzzled. “It is where I am staying.”
“But Master Redglass, ladies do not go to inns unchaperoned,” said Lothlíriel. “My family would be very upset were I to do any such thing!” Faramir, her cousin I remembered, was nodding.
“She was at the inn before,” I pointed out, “and she has said repeatedly that she is not ranked as a lady, although I do not understand why. Her own home was destroyed, that Healer—Dolgorian?—himself said it would be improper for her to stay at the Citadel (which I also don’t understand), and he clearly did not want her to go back to the Houses, because she would not rest. I am her friend, so I took her to the inn and engaged a room for her.”
“I have gone to inns and taverns in Rohan, although not by myself,” said Lady Ėowyn. “But don’t you see, Master Redglass, that in this culture, this place, it is frowned upon? I think, from the little I have known of her, she would not want to impose upon you, especially if she has not the money to pay for that room.”
“It is not an imposition, it is a privilege!” I protested.
“You are a loyal friend; I am sure that she knows that.”
I said unhappily, “But if she has not money for a room at the Fallen Dragon, and no friends or kin, then where is she staying, and what is she eating?”
They repeated what they had said before, and soon I stopped listening. I kept seeing her face as I had first seen it, white and strained above a bloodstained gown, struggling with a burden too great for her strength.
Again and again, I searched the tunnels, going at intervals to every place I could think of: the guesthouse, the Houses, the ruins of her own home, the Fallen Dragon. Faramir and Húrin asked me to offer my opinion in meetings concerning the breached outer gates, as well as other matters in which they seemed to think I had some expertise, and at times I slept from sheer weariness, only to wake haunted by nightmares in which I could hear her calling my name but could not see her.