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Part 13

“Let me see her, then.”

Somebody pulled off the sack that had been twisted round Eowyn’s head and, blinking and coughing, she looked about her.

She had been dragged into a huge, natural cavern lit with flaming torches that illuminated some parts in a lurid red, and threw others into deep, menacing shadow. All around her, strange, orc-like creatures were stamping about and growling ferociously, and she realised that these must be the goblins Legolas had wanted to protect her from...

Directly in front of her, one enormous goblin, fat and warty like a toad and wearing a metal crown that seemed to have been hammered together from random bits of silverware, sat in a big, stone chair.

“Where’s her horse?” he demanded.

Eowyn’s captors looked at one another, shiftily.

“Come on,” he shouted, “she must have a horse!”

A handful of goblins went skittering off.

Brightstar and Arod are far too clever to let these creatures catch them, Eowyn told herself.

“Now then,” said the Goblin King to Eowyn, “come here, and let me see your face.”

Eowyn resolved to stay exactly where she was, but two of her guards were pulling her forward, and another pushing her from behind, and she stumbled towards the throne.

“Hmmm,” said the king, clearly unimpressed with her looks. “Show me your arms then.”

Eowyn scowled, but one guard opened her cloak and another, grabbing her hand, ripped off her sleeve and lifted her arm for inspection.

The Goblin King studied it with the air of an expert, and Eowyn had a sudden vision of herself, roasted on a spit and served on a pewter platter...

“Not bad,” he said. “Can you punch?” He jerked his head, and one of the guards stepped in front of her, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“Punch him,” said the king.

Eowyn folded her arms across her chest.

Do it,” the king insisted, his voice growing shrill; “hit him!”

Eowyn tapped the goblin; he staggered back a few steps.

The crowd tittered, clapping their hands.

“Could be better, could be worse,” said the Goblin King. “Put her with the others.”

Eowyn was seized by three goblins and hauled backwards, through the crowd, to the rear of the cavern, where a natural alcove had been barred with a rough metal grating.

One of the goblins took an oversized keyring from his belt and tried each key in turn, whilst his fellows hissed, and clicked their tongues impatiently.

Eowyn peered into the cell.

At the very back, a crowd of women, all in various states of undress, and all caked, to a greater or lesser degree, with mud, sat huddled together.