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Finding Things Out
by Jason Clarke

"T.A. 2850: Gandalf again enters Dol Guldur, and discovers that its master is indeed Sauron, who is gathering all the Rings and seeking for news of the One, and of Isildur’s Heir. He finds Thráin and receives the key of Erebor. Thráin dies in Dol Guldur."

-The Return of the King, Appendix B

" ‘Never you mind. I was finding things out, as usual; and a nasty dangerous business it was. Even I, Gandalf, only just escaped.’"

-The Hobbit

Note from the author: The same fairy tale can often be found in dozens of different versions, each with a unique twist of the scribe who records it. The story you are about to read is just one author’s vision; it is by no means an attempt to complete the mythological or "historical" record of Middle-Earth. It is, like all fairy tales, for your enjoyment. So enjoy.

Finding Things Out

By Jason Clarke

The light streaming through the high, dingy window of the stone corridor was dim, the moonlight barely piercing the natural gloom of Mirkwood forest. The walls were damp, and here and there could be heard the sound of dripping water.

Zhrak slowly crept along one side of the corridor, nearly melting into his own shadow, hardly apart from the corridor itself. Only the flash of the moon reflecting on his dagger gave his position away.

His black leather jerkin was so worn it made no sound; the dark cloth covering his stubby legs was equally silent. The Orcs guarding the corridor had not even noticed him pass, though his presence was legitimate. He was on a mission from the Necromancer himself.

His Orcish eyes made out fuzzy shapes as he passed from the murky light of the corridor into the filthy black of the dungeon. The stenches of rotted flesh, of dried blood, had long since leached its way into the heavy granite walls and the wrought iron bars.

The dungeon of Dol Guldur currently had three occupants. One was an old dwarf, and another a traitorous Uruk. But Zhrak’s interest lay in the last, whose cell was farthest from the portal.

He sidled toward it, careful to make as little noise as possible. He wished to observe his target before slaying it, so he could find the best way to attack.

To his surprise, Zhrak found the torch to the final cell lit. Unless a prisoner were being retrieved, the Necromancer had left orders that no torch be lit in the dungeon. The torch glowed with an uncanny blue light, and Zhrak found himself entranced by it, briefly. He then pulled his eyes toward the cell’s occupant.

He was an old human, very old, clad in grey robes that seemed surprisingly clean, considering their long association with the dungeon. He sat on the damp stone floor against the far wall of the cell, his long white beard spilling into his lap. Through the dim blue light, Zhrak could see the old human was mouthing silently to himself, while his eyes, though transfixed on the unconscious dwarf in the next cell, seemed to be preoccupied with matters far outside the confines of the dungeon. The man held a crumpled leaf in his right hand, which Zhrak decided had dropped through a window.

Zhrak remained still for a moment, transfixed by the quiet dignity of the figure in contrast to the bleak surroundings. Eventually, his faculties returned to him, and he gripped his dagger tightly and moved, as stealthy has he could manage, toward the bars of the door.

‘So, he’s finally decided to do away with me and be done with it, eh?’ the old man asked, his tone almost congenial.

Zhrak was taken aback. ‘How did you know I was here?’ he stammered, unable to conjure any of the boasting tone he used when speaking to his fellow Orcs.

‘Oh, I knew he’d send someone, sooner or later,’ the old man responded. He continued to stare at the dwarf as he spoke, but the distance in his eyes was gone, replaced by a sense of thoughtful presence. ‘He’s not one to leave loose ends lying around. So what are you, some sort of assassin? I must admit, your entrance was quite stealthy. Had I not been listening carefully, I might have missed it entirely.’

"I…I am a Slayer," the Orc affirmed. "I was trained to kill silently and quickly."

‘I have not heard of Slayers,’ the old man said, sounding genuinely intrigued. ‘It seems he has all sorts of nasty new tricks.’ He paused. ‘I hope you’ll pardon any offense to your trade; I’m sure you’re quite good at it.’

‘Who’s this "he" you keep talking about?’ Zhrak asked, somewhat discomfited.

For the first time, the old man’s eyes fastened on Zhrak, and they twinkled. ‘Oh, I’m sure you know,’ he said. ‘We both know his name.’

Zhrak gnashed his teeth. ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ he mumbled. He fidgeted in his pocket for the key to the cell door.

‘No matter,’ the old man replied as the Orc began opening the door. ‘But is there no hope for an old pilgrim who got lost in Mirkwood on his way to Dale?’

Zhrak hissed between his teeth. This old man was making him think more than he was used to. ‘I just do what I am told,’ the Orc said, brandishing his dagger, and with a lunge he threw himself at the old man.

Abruptly, the old man stood up and backed against the wall. He breathed a few words in a harsh whisper, and suddenly the small leaf became a ball of blue flame. He threw the leaf, and the flame lanced out and struck Zhrak’s hand. With a cry, the Orc dropped his blade and fell against the door.

The old man dusted himself off, almost as if nothing had happened. He then walked over to Zhrak, who was gibbering to himself in a corner of the cell, his fearful eyes riveted on the old man.

‘Be calm,’ the man said with a soothing voice. ‘I won’t hurt you any more, and your hand will be fine.’

Zhrak continued to mutter to himself in the harsh native tongue of Orcs.

‘I must escape from here,’ the old man said. ‘You must lead me out.’

Zhrak sneered, and spat on the man’s robes.

The old man sighed. Reaching into his robes, he pulled out another small leaf. Zhrak’s eyes widened in fear as the old man whispered strange words and the leaf ignited with blue flame.

‘I do not wish to threaten you,’ the old man said. ‘But you leave me no choice. You must show me the way out of here, or I will be forced to strike you again.’

Like most Orcs, Zhrak became nearly paralyzed when afraid. It was several moments before he could stammer, ‘My-my-my Master will have me killed, if he finds out I helped you escape!’

‘Then perhaps you can flee into the woods,’ the old man said. ‘But I must leave. I do not wish this upon you, but I must leave this fortress.’

Zhrak shook his head, then continued to gibber mindlessly.

The old man sighed, and extinguished the leaf. He then lay his hand on Zhrak’s head, but the Orc batted it away. The the old man reached again, getting a firm hold on the bald head, causing the Zhrak to shriek like a madman.

With clear effort, his ears straining at the Zhrak’s shrill screams, the old man began to speak a steady stream of strange words. After several moments, the Orc began to quiet down, finally subsiding to a quiescent muttering.

‘Good,’ Gandalf said. ‘You will help me escape now?’

The Orc nodded sullenly, then stood, picking up its blade and tucking it into its belt. He walked out of the cell, motioning for Gandalf to follow.

As he walked out, Gandalf stopped at the cell of the dwarf, who still lay silent on the stone floor. ‘Good-bye, King Under the Mountain,’ he said quietly. ‘May Aulë bless you with great honour.’

He turned to the Orc. ‘Let us go.’

The Orc led Gandalf through the dungeon and into the stone corridor. At the door to the corridor, Gandalf acted as if he were dead, and the Orc then dragged him past the guards, saying his master had asked him to dispose of the body.

Still muttering to himself, the Orc led the old man on throughout the night, to the outskirts of Dol Guldur’s part of Mirkwood. It was dawn as they finally entered a small grove, their breaths streaming in front of them in the cold, damp morning air.

‘This is as far as I go,’ the Orc said.

‘That’s fine, that’s fine,’ Gandalf said absently. He was quite occupied with searching his robes for something. ‘Did you–’ he began. ‘Ah, here they are,’ he said, drawing out a small roll of paper, out of which he pulled a silver key.

The Orc started briefly at the sight of the objects, but Gandalf smiled and said, ‘Don’t worry. I got these from the dwarf; they are nothing of your master’s.’ He tucked the key into a pouch on his belt, and the map into his robe. Then he pulled out a flattened, pointed blue hat, batted at it, and perched it neatly on top of his head. ‘Ah, much better,’ he said.

Just then, small beams of sunlight began to stream into the grove. ‘I am afraid it’s time for us to part,’ Gandalf said, shaking the Orc’s hand. ‘Thank you for your help.’

He then lay his hand on the Orc’s head again and whispered, undoing the spell he had cast. ‘There. In a few moments you’ll be yourself again–once I’m on my way. It’s the least I can offer you.’

The Orc watched with glassy eyes as the Gandalf started off into the forest. Then the wizard stopped, and turned around. He fumbled around in his robes yet again. ‘I suppose I won’t really be needing this,’ he said, pulling out a gleaming object. He tossed it to the Orc, who caught it in mid-air.

It was a small, shining dagger, of dwarf-make, with extremely ornate engravings on the handle and lower portion of the blade.

‘It’s made from mithril,’ Gandalf said. `Perhaps you know it as truesilver. It’s not really for combat, but I’m sure it will make you a nice keepsake. Please take it as a gift.’ With that, the old man turned and trotted off into the woods, his mind already pondering weightier matters.

The Orc stood in the grove for a few moments, watching him walk off into the trees. Just as the old man vanished from view, panic abruptly set in to the Zhrak’s heart. He’d let his target get away! More than that, he’d actually led him out himself! The master would have his head!

For a moment, Zhrak considered chasing after the old man, cutting his throat from behind with one quick slash. But even as he thought it, he decided against the idea; it would be too much trouble, and Zhrak didn’t even need to actually report to the master anyway; his master would just assume the deed had been done. Besides, it was just an old manm Zhrak though to himself. Why should the Master even care?

He stared at the dagger a few more moments, then tucked it into his belt. It would make a nice trophy, he decided, to show his fellow Orcs as he was bragging about killing the old man.

His mind blissfully clear, Zhrak turned and headed back toward Dol Guldur.

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