~ A grunt, a clash as of chains wrenched to full tension. Something in a dark corner, struggling to be free. Túrin could not see what it was. Malantur ignored it.
“Well, now, son of Húrin, who goes by many names, or rather did, how does it feel to know thyself again?” Malantur stood before the roaring coal fire, one foot up on the hearthstone, smiling with large, stained teeth. It was eerie, his movements not quite in time with his words, pulled onto his face as if by hands jerking strings. But these hands were outside Time, and Túrin knew them well. They had made him a puppet.
He still did not know, after Ages of death, if he had been the perfect tool of his own destruction because of his temper, his personality, whether he could have overcome it had he been a different man to the one he was. He had walked, head high and proud into his own doom.
“Well?” The dark-iron voice snapped. “It is not that I care that thou didst fuck thy sister and make her pregnant. But thou dost.”
Túrin flung his head up, wrists biting into the bonds that held him to the chair.
“How crude of thee,” he said coldly. “I did not know her, nor she me. We were two wounded souls who sought comfort. I shall not feel guilt for that. Say what thou wilt,. Because I remember Beleg.” He smiled into the fire beyond the crazed eyes.
“Beleg, whom thou didst kill. A sword straight into the heart.”
No,no,no. “I did not know him, either,” he responded steadily, as his heart wept and twisted in on itself in grief.
“But perhaps thou didst on some subconscious level,” Morgoth's voice flayed him open. “Didst thou want to punish him for having thee, I wonder, when everything in thee told thee it was wrong and unnatural? that it unmanned thee, left thee womanish. And yet thou couldst never quite resist him, couldst thou, never enough. Didst thou not hate him for that?”
“No!” Túrin shouted. Never quite resist him...no, I could not, On the North Marches of Doriath when we fought together, when he found me with the outlaw band...in Dor Cúarthol... for all his words before and after, he could not resist, even when Beleg held himself aloof. Túrin would press and press, until Beleg himself broke in a storm of passion.
And after, he would hate himself for submitting. Even when he became famed, a terror to the servants of the Enemy, still he considered himself flawed, weak, for wanting to lie under Beleg. It had never occurred to him to dominate Beleg, Unbegotten, wind and water, silver and starlight. The discrepancy between them, the years, were too great.
“I never hated Beleg,” he denied. “The fault was in myself, not him, in my pride and intransigence.”
“And it killed him. Because thou didst hate him, Turambar, for riding thee like a tavern trull, making thee the woman, making thee beg and cry out with pleasure. Thou art a man, art thou not? Hero of Nargothrond, Slayer of Glaurung.” Mockery like acid on the soul.
Colour flamed hot as a brand across Túrin's face. He was a man – whom had enjoyed laying down for another, and loathed it after. Had he, oh, Eru had that hate seeped onto Beleg? Had some part of him, in that storm, known it was Beleg, not an orc? No. Let it no be so. Please.
He molded his face into a mask, trembling. “Thou knowest nothing of what moves the hearts of Men.”
“Thou art wrong. Men are so very easy to know. They are motivated by greed. Oh yes, even thou. Greed for fame, for deeds of arms and renown, for valour that rested upon thee like a crown.”
It had begun so simply in his child-mind. He wanted to see his mother, to have his father back. It had become an oath of vengeance that took him to Cabed-en-Aras over Teiglin, and death. And by then, he was ready for it. So many mistakes made in pride and hate and grief. But it had come down to one thing, one fact: he could not live without Beleg. He had tried, and each dreadful, dragging year the loss grew greater, not less. They lied who said time healed.
“Thou didst serve me,” that Voice continued, stripping flesh from his bones, slicing at the sinews of his heart. “opening the way into Nargothrond.”
“Spare me the story of my life!” His cry echoed. Something grunted again, clashed its shackles in the dark. “I may not have escaped thee, Morgoth, but they have, after all thou didst to bring them down. And succeeded. Yet they live. And thou hast known that since they were released from the Void, hast thou not?”
“They will fall. Again.” Malantur's hands opened and shut. “The Valar dwindle. But I remain. I am what I was before I descended to the nascent Earth. They cannot defeat me, not they or those petty godlings, either.”
And that, Túrin thought, with icy fear, was probably true.
They had given him clothes – of a sort, rough leather leggings and a tunic of old sheepskin. Fëanor's superb armour hung upon a stand n the chamber, casting fragments of light that dazzled in the reeking room. Túrin looked at it for comfort.
He said, through a hard knot in the back of his throat: “There is a prophecy. Of the Dagor Dagorath.”
Malantur, compelled by Morgoth, and who knew what thoughts inside his own head, if he had any left, paced.
“People need such false hopes. It keeps them alive. Fools, all. I will return and take more than this world from them, this time.” The fire sank. Darkness welled about the Mouth's form, so that when he next spoke his eyes were the only thing Túrin could see, a dark red that gazed at him from a distance not measurable by the human mind. “This time, I will devour their very souls, and not even an echo of their memories will be left. I will tear their very names from the fabric of the universe itself.”
“Thou canst try. Whose vow proved stronger? I died and endured. Perhaps there are other forces at work than thine!”
“Thou wouldst speak of Eru? To me?” A little later, Malantur's mouth parted in a rictus. Laughter followed, somehow distant and vast. “That is more than thy little mind can encompass, Man. But I will have him, also. I will pull him down.”
Is he frightened? Túrin locked his teeth against a pit of fear that opened at the sound. Something in the way he said the name?
“The Void lies between thee.”
“Not for long, little Man. Not long as I measure Time. Thou knowest nothing, truly. Let me educate thee. Eärendil's sacrifice was required. There always has to be one, it seems. It suits Eru's idea of balance one must suppose. But the Valar would not take on the task; they would not sacrifice themselves, so they chose a victim: Eärendil.”
“Bearing the Silmaril, his soul was required, or rather his life, such as it was, to seal shut the Void forever. But the Valar could not bear not to have a Silmaril in their possession, and they took it back.” Again that frantic clench and unclench of hands. “Still, Eärendil's life-force was enough, for a time. But Earendil was rescued. The veil between the Void and the world grows...exceedingly thin.”
Túrin stared, cold, cold. Did they know?
“Oh, and now thou knowest not whether Coldagnir serves me or no.” Deep amusement purred through his voice. “Perhaps. Perhaps not.” He walked into the dark corner. Metal chimed, and something half-loped, half-crawled out of it, held on the end of a chain.
“Recognize him, dost thou? Thy revered grandfather?”
It was white as a dead fish's underbelly, ribs pushing against slimy skin, bald, gums receding over long, half-rotted teeth. The thing shambled forward. Túrin leaned back in his chair. Its eyes were blind-white, like a corpse, yet they saw him.
Memories leered at him from the dark. He heard himself as a child, crying, whimpering, as Lorh's hands explored him, as his fingers pushed, pulled in sick caresses. The horror was such that he had drawn into himself, not knowing how to explain what was happening to him, feeling sick, vomiting when the man came close...
“I wonder if it knows thee? If it remembers...”
Túrin's guts heaved. He fought the nausea down. Long nails scraped across his arm, moved toward his groin.
“He would eat it, now.” Malantur jerked on the chain and the thing stumbled back. It turned on him with a snarl.
“Down!” The command sent it to the floor, grovelling. “They do understand some things. Hunger, mostly.” He dragged it back into the dark, tossed it something from a pail stained black; there came the sound of ravenous feeding. Túrin swallowed against sickness.
“The other side of the coin, is it not? Rape. Or pleasure. Sex can be both.”
“Philosophy, is it?” He could not control the tremor in his voice.
“Thou art honoured. Not to many did I speak. They could never understand. Those that could refused to listen. Now, if thy father had only told me where Gondolin lay, we might not be here, having this conversation.” Malantur draped himself in a great chair padded with fur. “Húrin, now there was a man who could endure.”
“I will endure.” His throat felt raw.
“Thou wilt not have the chance. Thou wilt die.”
“Then I have still beaten thee.” Túrin leaned forward, thrusting defiance into the unearthly eyes. “Because thou canst not chain the souls of Men. Only we ourselves can do that. As I did. And I will chain myself again and again if I must. And one day I will face thee, Bauglir!”
They waited two days. It was hard. It was necessary.
In the distance at whiles they saw other orcs out hunting now the land was not filled with death, but they avoided them, adding to their own store of game, making their way closer to the fortress.
That dawn came bright and hard. Good enough; orcs did not do well in sunlight and there was less chance of their being recognised as aliens. With black towers jutting over them, winding round the upsweeping cliffs, they toiled, as if weary, under the shadows of the gate, which creaked open.
It had been decided that Kashan, Narok and Vaija would speak if such were necessary; they knew Black Speech, but the babble that met their ears owed as much to Westron as the tongues of orcs. Where different clans were gathered, Westron was often the common tongue among them. But it would be better, Kashan said, to speak little and attract no attention.
It seemed he had been correct in that the Gundabad orcs were by far the most numerous, but there were others too from all along the line of the Hithaeglir. Great black uruks out of Mordor stood aloof from the commotion, some wielding whips. Better to keep one's head down and scurry along than feel a lash across the shoulders.
They hurried in, and it felt like a lead bar descending as the gates creaked close. The huge ward stretched ahead of them; here they had fought when rescuing Bainalph. All around was industry, or at least scurrying figures, the clang of a forge.
Kashan took the lead, crossing the wet cobbles to a cavernous archway. There was a waft of warmth, the smell of meat cooking, an oddly comforting scent in this place, a flight of worn steps and then the vast kitchens. Drudges toiled here, older men and women of Angmar, turning carcasses on spits, chopping, tending cauldrons. Their eyes were dull, thin bodies heavily wrapped in what rags and tatters they could find.
“More meat,” Kashan shouted, and an old man with straggling grey hair pointed with a blooded cleaver to a stone table.
“Put 'em there. The Lord will feast well tonight.”
There were other orcs coming and going some, wizened and undersized, turned the spits, others carried buckets of entrails down a narrow passage.
They offed their load. This was where they would split into three smaller groups. Beleg, Elgalad, Kashan and Bainalph remained together.
“What are you waiting for?” demanded the old man, seeing them loitering.
“For you,” Kashan responded, surly. “We need the hide.”
“Well, get to it, then! Or you'll wait.”
The elk was a big beast, but the task gave them time to listen to the kitchen gossip. Time and slavery had crushed a great deal of human curiosity from the men and women here, but they were dourly talkative nonetheless, and surprisingly resilient. As long as they cooked the food they enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy, Kashan had said. Malantur and the few Men still left needed (or at least desired) hot food even if the orcs did not.
“Supper for two is it, tonight?” a woman growled. “Well, these birds will do well.” She trust two plucked grouse into a huge pot to broil.
“Hah! He'll have that youngster eating himself before too long.” The grey-hair scowled, splitting a grouse neatly.
Beleg's eyes met Elgalad's.
“I heard this one was special. Not to be spoiled.”
“I heard he's to be shown on the tower every three days or we'll be neck deep in Elves.”
“Ay, was that army Elves or was it not, eh? Men out of the south, maybe...”
“It was Elves,” Kashan put in.
Eyes turned toward him. “Saw 'em did you?” the woman asked sourly. “And you in a corner pissing yourself.”
Kashan snarled at her. “Everyone who saw it knows, crone. They're all talking about it.”
“Seems a lot of waste for one lad, tasty though he may be,” she muttered.
“Seen him, have you?” Beleg could not help but ask.
She sneered. “Well, it seems clear you lot haven't, for all your talk. I've seen him. They took armour off him worth a dragon's ransom. Now he's either clapped up or entertaining the Lord at supper.”
“No, no,” another man with a pocked face insisted doggedly. “This one's special. No experiments. A hostage, isn't he?”
The woman rubbed herbs into the pot, grimacing. “Bloody orcs don't know thyme from nettles, so they don't. Still, who'll notice?” She wiped her hands on stained rags. “Well, if a hostage means we eat better, I'm not complaining and I hope he may live long.”
“Hah, you know the Lord...one of these nights,” the pocked man snapped his fingers.
“Last prisoner we had escaped,” Kashan said, diligently working on the elk. “That was a right mess. He aint in them old cells is he? Never thought they were properly secured after that earthquake...”
“The Lord's not stupid. No. He's in the old women's cells. That was a day, eh?” Pock-face paused in his work. “And that prisoner was an Elf, no question. I had it from those who saw to him. Put a sword in old Hrath Horsekskull's cock.” He snickered. “And that wasn't the worse of it for him. Then all the women escaping, and those young officers not long after.” He shook his head mournfully. “Of course no-one's hardly escaped since then, or if they have the higher-up's aren't saying.”
“Well, they wouldn't would they?” the woman glowered. “But I know how many I have to feed, and some did slip out after, lost on patrol it was said. My eye! Saw their chance and took it, they did.”
“That's treason talk, that is,” Kashan mumbled.
The woman made a rude gesture at him. “You go running to your big pals, then, runt, and tell them.”
“There's no treason here,” Grey Hair said loudly. “Just talk it is. Just talk.” His cleaver came down again with unnecessary force as he looked hard at Kashan.
“Just talk,” Kashan mumbled.
The old man made his way over, cleaver still pointedly in his hand, said hoarsely. “A jug of mead for that hide.”
“Can't do it.” Kashan whined a little. “Higher up's want it. Saw it come in.”
“Huh.” The man ruminated. “If you're out again, mark one down for me.”
“Well, I could do that.” He rubbed a bloody finger on his nose.
“See that you do, or some-one else will get it.”
“Mead?” Beleg forced a laugh. “Mead? here? Run-off and your piss more likely.”
The cleaver came down on the stone. Sparks flew.
“You're not half as clever as you think you are, little goblin. Don't know this place at all.” Grey hair walked back to his post.
Three great orcs walked into the kitchen, two of the smaller breed cringing about them. Ferocious red eyes scanned the bustle and Beleg leaned industriously over the elk, knife wrenching. All talk suddenly ceased thou the activity went on. They did not speak, but the woman busied herself with a crude tray, piling it with meat and a clay cup of water. One of the goblins took it, and they left as wordlessly as they had come.
“Shit,” the woman breathed. “All this new game, forgot the manlings food.”
Beleg noted the way they had gone, sliced a look at Kashan who nodded.
“They'll take your head with it next time, Marita, if you're late,” Grey Hair warned her. “Nice dried out treat that will be.”
She spat sideways eloquently, glaring, then rounded on Kashan and the others. “You can scrape that fat off the beast here,” she ordered. “I've need of it.”
After a time the goblin who had taken Túrin's food swaggered back in carrying the tray and empty platter. Apparently considering his form of servitude superior to the group now scraping fat, he leered, coming close.
“Nice work, eh? Heard the hunting was good.”
“Better than normal.” Kashan did not look up. “More useful than carrying plates about.”
The crooked creature hissed at him. “It's called being trusted to do more than kill dumb animals. They trust me, the Lord trusts me.”
“Not to trip over your own feet?” Beleg taunted, following the promptings of a dangerous idea. “Can you even use that piddly little thing you call a dagger?”
One of the drudges smothered a laugh.
The knife was rusty, but jagged-toothed, a nasty weapon.
“Want to try me?” the goblin crouched.
“Why? If I wait long enough you'll cut your own throat,” Beleg dismissed the challenge scornfully. Kashan giggled, and perhaps only the Elves heard the touch of hysteria in the sound.
The creature lunged, spitting a curse. Beleg swept up his own blade, much sharper, if greased with elk-fat, and stabbed it home under the goblin's armpit.
An expression of surprise crossed the twisted features as blood spurted, earning a shriek of dismay and annoyance from the woman Marita. Then it fell.
For a heartbeat they froze. Footsteps pattered away, and a heavier tread returned. One of the great orcs, scowling.
It went against every instinct Beleg had to grovel to the ground, but he felt Kashan's convulsive grip under the table and went down to his knees.
“Sir.” Grey Hair cleared his throat. “Yon goblin went for this one.”
The uruk kicked the dying goblin disgustedly, then appeared to forget him.
“Well, you'll just have to take his place,” he growled. “A fine hide. I'll have it. You good at hunting, too, quick-knife?”
“Yes, Sir,” Beleg muttered, eyes lowered.
“Well, I guess you Gundabad runts must be good at something. So these are your orders: You will hunt for me now. For Captain Rakbar. Clear?”
“Yes, sir,” they chorused.
“And you'll do anything else I can find for you to do. First take that body to the fires, then report to me in level two, room five.”
The furnaces beneath the fortress were vast, sweating goblins piling coal into their ever-hungry maws. Beneath the roar, it was safe, for a moment, to exchange words.
“They will not let us into Malantur's chambers,” Kashan murmured, as they carried the corpse. “But you will have access to Túrin. It is more than I expected. But be careful. The black uruks are cleverer than most, and crueler, and kill for no reason.”
“All orcs do that,” Beleg responded quietly. “But of course I will be careful.” For all of us. For Túrin. Beleg's heart raced. It had been a calculated risk, killing this creature, but sometimes risks must be taken. And sometimes they must not.
When they had disposed of the body, Kashan lead them to the second level of the tower. The uruk captains were now lodged here, aware of their status and enjoying it.
Perhaps some of Mordor's discipline still clung to them, for Rakbar's chambers were not as rank as Beleg might have supposed. A fire roared there, and there were, to his surprise cups of wine on a stone table. The Elves had agreed they would leave wine out for the hunters to find, although it would take a lot to make an orc drunk and they were difficult to poison, so the wine had not been tainted. They had hoped some might find its way to Túrin or any of the Men left alive. What was startling was that any of the casks had made it back to Carn Dûm, untasted, but Beleg was beginning to realize how much fear these Mordor orcs instilled.
But where would that old man find honey to make mead? Beleg wondered. The question had been nagging at him. He would have to find out. Bees could not live here, on these bare, cold rocks but further south, in the land the old one had once lived, perhaps. If there was a way out of Angmar few knew about, they must find out. Perhaps a decent hide would help loosen the oldster's tongue. Beleg would bring one.
Their first duty was to carry out and empty the chamber pots (it could have been worse: orcs would squat anywhere), then they cleaned the heavy uruk armour while Rakbar and his lieutenant spoke over their heads in Black Speech. Beleg saw that Kashan was listening intently, but they dared not exchange so much as a whisper until they were alone.
The uruks drank after, then tossed knives back and forth, making the 'goblins' dance and jump to avoid being hit. Too much dexterity would be suspicious, and by the end all carried shallow wounds. At length, around noon, Rakbar pushed himself from his skins.
“Prisoner duty,” he barked. “Come, you muckrakers. You'll enjoy this. Gotta show him to the enemy, make sure he's alive and pretty.” He laughed like sliding gravel. Beleg's finger's itched to take the creature by the throat.
He memorized the route they took: down one level, along two corridors, a left turn, then into the next tower, along another passage and descending a flight of stairs.
There were doors each side of this corridor, all heavy and barred shut now – and empty, save one. Two torches burned at each end and above the one door where two uruk guards came to attention.
“This is where you'll bring the food,” Rakbar said. “He's chained but he's dangerous, so nothing slipshod. Understand? No touching. The Lord will have your guts if you play with him. You give him his food and wait outside until he's finished. Then you'll take the platter and the nightsoil and dispose of them. But in the evenings, he goes to the Lord, and we bring him back later.”
The bar went up, the door creaked open.
Beleg's breath went in. He was reminded of finding Túrin with the orc-band, bound and exhausted, yet unbroken. Stripped of his armour, clad in the poorest of clothes, he looked so young, yet so very beautiful it broke the heart. And he had done his best: his hair was damp, drawn into a glossy fist, his face clean. He held his head high on its long, strong neck, and his eyes were like ice under the thick sweep of black lashes.
But they were no longer the eyes of a young man. They held memories now, and a haunted look. They were the eyes of a man who has stared into an abyss.
He did not look at the uruks of the goblins, He walked like an Elf-prince, bore his chains with grace, and left them in the shadows of their malice.
The ward was packed with orcs, a few grim-faced men in tattered uniforms and armour, even the kitchen drudges peered out. Malantur was standing at the foot of the southernmost tower.
No. Malantur's body. Morgoth's eyes. How much can he truly see?
A time to take risks, and a time not to...He fell back with the others behind the taller, bulkier uruks.
“Time for thy showing, my guest.” Malantur gestured to the tower. It was unnerving to watch him, his speech not matching his gestures. It was yet more terrible to see the red-banked glow in his eyes that was Morgoth looking out.
A scuttling goblin thrust a pail of offal into Beleg's hands, grinning and licking its fangs. The others also received one, and were half-pushed along in a surge that took them up the tower steps. The sun had gone in, a cold wind raked the sky, sent tendrils of Túrin's hair fluttering against his white cheek
There would be no riders under a flag of truce. No Elf would trust Morgoth, much less Malantur, to honour any parlay. This had been discussed in war council before the volunteers ever set out. But there would be watchers, hidden by the land. Beleg might be able to pick them out were he close to the parapet where the crumbling stones left a gap to see and be seen.
And there would be another, too, who made naught of distance.
The air concussed, light cracked across the sky. Coldagnir hung like a great red hawk high up.
“I come to witness!” His voice came like clear thunder.
Túrin's head went up. His mouth shaped Coldagnir's name, then set into a hard line.
“Coldagnir,” Morgoth's voice curled like a fist.
The balrog could not come closer, no power could, but there was no doubt that he would see.
“So witness! Here is Túrin Turambar, alive, unscathed. Hail, Túrin!”
A roar went up, mocking, jeering. Hands reached into the pail Beleg held. Offal splattered over Túrin. Beleg saw him jerk, flinch, then gather himself.
“Hail, Túrin!” Laughing, hooting, a great roaring of despite and scorn that chilled the blood and made body brace for violence. Filth coated Túrin's black hair, his clothes, his unprotected flesh.
The uruk's swaggered forward, unlaced their breeches and let loose acrid streams, each one seeing how high they could aim. Malantur, under Morgoth's will, simply stood with a sneer lifting his mouth.
Hands were holding Beleg in hard, trembling grips: Elgalad and Bainalph, silently pleading with him not to show himself, not to act. But he felt their rage, their impotence and their hatred of it. It matched his own. His heart beat so hard he could hear it, his fingers were clamped so tightly on the pail they were gone bloodless.
He thought of death, not his or Túrin's but the orcs, Malantur, and he wondered where Edenel was. Eater-of-hearts. Oh yes, he had recognized Edenel, but since the other clearly did not want to be known, Beleg held his peace. Rumours of the Eaters-of-hearts had surfaced not long after the strange, white-haired Ithiledhil appeared on the borders of Doriath. Beleg had never entertained the notion; he did now. He would gladly cut out the hearts of these carrion and devour them.
“Let's crown him!” Rakbar yelled, to a roar. He grabbed the bucket from Beleg and upended the last scraps of offal on Túrin's head, then rammed it down.
Beleg's sight wavered as in a heat haze.
“Prince of Dor-lómin!” Malantur roared.
Túrin staggered but kept his feet until an uruk tripped him. He fell hard to the stones.
“We will kill them, we will kill them all,” Elgalad's soft whisper sounded in Beleg's ear. The savage baying of the crowd almost drowned it. “But we must release him first.”
Beleg managed a nod, eyes on Túrin.
The sky lit again, and thunder boomed across the fortress. Rain began to fall.
“All right. Enough.” Morgoth's voice quelled them into rolling-eyed quiet. “Dump him in a trough and clean him off. Take him back to his cell.”
They dragged Túrin upright, wrenched off the pail, and forced him down the tower. Beleg's hands ached to help him. At a great stone trough in the ward, filled with icy gutter run-off they stripped him of his clothes, and deposited him bodily. His hands were still bound so he could not clean himself and the water was soon filthy. He was shaking, gasping, his jaw clenched tight in that look of pure resolve Beleg knew so well.
When he stood on the cobbles, they brought buckets of water to complete the process, rubbing him roughly with bits of sacking, pinching, prodding as Malantur looked on.
Túrin's hair, unbound now, ran wet past his hips, plastered over his face. He looked beautiful, young and vulnerable, but when his eyes opened, fixed upon Malantur, they were wordlessly defiant. Beleg loved him a little more for that look of black iron.
“Well, dry him before his lily-white Man-flesh takes a chill,” ordered Malantur impatiently.
Beleg caught at a bundle of sackcloth pushed toward him and made it his excuse to get close, for the first time, to Túrin, who was shivering, though not wholly with cold, Beleg thought. He was not harsh, but he rubbed warmth back into the wet skin, the taut muscles beneath.
Túrin, beloved. Thou art not alone.
He did not think Túrin could hear Elven mind-speech. He had never tried it, and could not sense any reaction to his thought.
“Take him back to his cell. Give him some food and wine, then bring him to me later, as usual.”
Beleg was cuffed away as the uruk's closed round Túrin. He fell in behind them.
“Well, you heard the Lord,” Rakbar grunted. “Get to the kitchens and bring him food and wine.”
The four of them hurried off.
“Food and wine for the prisoner,” Kashan shouted when they were inside the hot, busy room.
Marita sighed, preparing a platter and placing a large clay cup of wine beside the meat.
“Couldn't see what was going on up there,” she said resentfully. “But I could see well enough in the ward. Nice sight for these old eyes.” She grinned. “Have a good feel, did you?”
“Aint allowed to,” Kashan said stolidly. “The Lord only.” He sniffed.
“Well, if he needs any-one to tend his bruises, I'm here.” She cackled morosely and turned away, Grey Hair coughed laughter.
“Your dried up old cunny couldn't take it, Marita.”
“Well, that pitiful thing between your legs wouldn't know,” she retorted smartly, examining a pot. “Hasn't seen a twitch of life since before the invasion...”
The talk faded as they left the kitchen. Beleg pulled a hair from his head; coarse, dark and greasy it was, but as it lay on his palm, freed from the song-spell, it paled slowly into silver. He curled it around his finger, held it close in his palm.
Talk,” he murmured. “When we get in there. Make noise.”
The uruks were waiting with the guards outside Túrin's cell. They opened the door, and Rakbar nodded them in.
Túrin, sitting on a low stool, did not deign to look at them. A collar was about his neck and ran to the wall. Beleg had noted the keys jangling on Rackbar's thick belt. But his face. Oh, his face. Shock and disgust shone from the fine bones.
The cell was bare stone save for a bed of heather stuffed under sack-cloth, with two pails for waste, and a spluttering torch above the door firmly welded into its brackets and impossible to move.
“Shame this should get wine when we don't have a drop,” moaned Kashan.
“Orders,” snapped Rackbar. “You dare, and you'll go to the Lord for experimentation.”
“No harm, Sir, no harm!” Kashan whined loudly, as Beleg dropped the silver hair into the blood-red wine and held the tray out at arm's length.
Túrin looked at the wine as if surprised then, using both hands, lifted the cup to his mouth and drank.
Bainalph, and Eru only knew what it cost him in a place that must bring back memories of his own imprisonment, began to grumble at Kashan, Elgalad joining in, insulting him. Something clattered on the floor, Elgalad's knife, kicked there in a mild scuffle that Rakbar roared at them to stop. Beleg bent to pick up the knife, made himself trip, bringing himself close to Túrin. Under the noise, he said, very low: “Pale silver...”
“Pale silver, like the beginning of night and the end of the light.” Túrin had spoken those words to him in Doriath, gazing at his hair. No-one else would know them.
Then Beleg was grabbed and forced out of the cell, and the last thing he saw was Túrin staring into the wine-cup.
There was a time to take risks, Beleg thought.