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Chapter 9 – A Common Purpose
Donaldo followed his guide out of the tavern. In the days the caravan had spent in Edoras, he had kept his eyes and ears open, storing away bits of gossip and rumor against any need. It was no secret in the city that the king’s counselor, Grima, was at odds with the king’s son. To Donaldo this had been only one more bit of information to add to his collection, albeit a particularly enjoyable one to someone with Donaldo’s taste for chaos and discord. But he had not anticipated a personal use for the knowledge, until that insufferably self-righteous lordling had stolen his horse from him, right there in the public street, with his bullies to back him up. Donaldo had almost had the beast properly trained, broken of the wild and willful streak that had marred what was otherwise a decent mount. But the stable where the caravan’s animals had been lodged had fed the horse far to rich a diet, renewing the rebellion that consistently applied discipline and carefully controlled rations had come close to eradicating. All had not been lost; it would have taken at most a week or two to subdue the creature once again, had not the horse taken advantage of Donaldo’s momentary lapse of attention to rear out of control, drawing the covetous attention of the king’s son. Donaldo had been well on his way to re-establishing his control over the animal, when Theodred, undoubtedly accustomed, in his position of power, to taking what he wanted without repercussions, had confiscated the animal at sword-point, then had Donaldo humiliatingly bound and given over as a prisoner to the leader of his own caravan.
Anger seethed in Donaldo at the memory. In that moment, as Theodred’s cold eyes had dismissed him in contempt, to turn with solicitous care to the ill-tempered beast, Donaldo had vowed revenge.
Luckily, he had known the caravan’s leader to be a corrupt and venal man, only keeping up the charade of holding him prisoner until they were safely clear of the city. Then the merchant had made his demands, and after accepting far too large a share of the gold Donaldo had kept secreted among his possessions where they were stored in one of the wagons, had loosed Donaldo’s bonds, barely bothering to conceal his gloat. There were plenty of men in the caravan that fitted Donaldo’s description well enough, who could be shown to the guards at each way station obediently bound. Had Theodred been stupid, or merely naïve, to think his precautions could truly insure that Rohan would be freed of Donaldo’s presence? He’d had no interest in the land before, seeking only a quick road south to richer lands with easier pickings, but now Theodred had earned an enemy, and he would not depart until he had revenged his humiliation.
A quick pass with shears and razor, and his appearance was transformed, long flowing locks reduced to short wavy ones, and beard and mustache traded for smooth-shaven skin. Donaldo had experience with changing personas, and knew the way of it. He traded his mercenary’s garb, with a bonus of grudgingly given gold, for the robes of a merchant, better made and cut than his old clothes, but not so much so as to attract unwanted attention in the quarters of the city where he planned to begin his search. He had shouldered the pack of his belongings and watched the caravan rumble on southeast, then trudged back to the city, cursing Theodred with every step. His gold was as persuasive in the taverns and inns of Edoras as anywhere else, and his discreet requests to meet with a representative of Grima Wormtongue had soon borne fruit. Now the man led him up the streets of the city, to the ostentatious palace that crowned the hill.
Donaldo was nervous that he would be seen and recognized, but knew from long experience that a cautious, fearful demeanor would draw notice and suspicion, obvious as a beacon. So his step was firm and confident, projecting to all watchers, I belong here. The hour was late and they passed only a few of the hall’s inhabitants, soon coming to a door that led to a private room. His guide knocked on the door, spoke briefly to the figure that opened it, then ushered Donaldo inside.
From the descriptions others had given him, Donaldo knew the man must be Wormtongue himself. Small, with pale skin and heavy-lidded eyes, wrapped in a dark robe, the man seated himself in a chair by the fire, leaving Donaldo to stand before him, a supplicant before a lord. Donaldo well understood the subtle manipulation by which Grima sought to establish himself as superior, and minimized its effect by standing with relaxed confidence a bit closer to the chair than Grima had anticipated, forcing the seated man to look up into his face.
“Well, what do you want?” Grima inquired, annoyed at this interruption of his time.
“My lord Wormtongue,” Donaldo said, allowing only a hint of mockery to color his respectful tone. “I am honored to meet you. Your fame has spread throughout Rohan, reaching the ears of even a lowly traveler like myself. Yet even in your lofty position, consider that I, though I scarce dare suggest it, might be of some service to you. I believe we can work together to a common purpose. For, unless I am gravely mistaken, we are dedicated to a common cause, and serve a common master.” With that, he made the secret, subtle sign by which covert servants of Saruman might identify themselves to each other.
Grima’s eyes widened, then narrowed as he examined Donaldo with new, intent interest. “Indeed. I do not say you are mistaken. How comes, then, a servant of such a master to this place? And what common purpose do you propose to pursue?”
“When I first came here, I was simply passing through. I had completed the work my master had for me, and he released me from his service. I hired on as guard for a caravan traveling south, and would be with them still, save that a man chose to make himself my enemy. A man who I believe is your enemy also. Which leads to the common purpose I spoke of. I hope you can help me, for I have sworn vengeance against Theodred, the king’s son.”
Steepling his fingers, Grima regarded the stranger. Arrogant he was, and marked with an oily smoothness that spoke of layers upon layers of deceit. Yet in this matter Grima was certain the man spoke truth. The bitter fire in his eyes when he spoke of Theodred was not something that could be faked. And he had given the proper sign. Perhaps he could actually be useful. Grima had been pondering a problem for some time now, and this Donaldo might be the perfect solution, if he were in fact what he claimed to be.
“Theodred. Yes, you are correct. I do consider Theodred an obstacle to the fulfillment of my plans, and intend to take action against him. You think that you could be of aid to me, and this would help you achieve your own ends?”
“Exactly. Whatever designs you have against Theodred, let me be a part of them. I will serve you in any way you require, if it allows me to make him suffer for the humiliation he caused me.” Donaldo’s breathing had grown heavy, and his fists were clenched at his side.
Grima cocked his head and considered the man. Slowly, a smile spread across his face. A messenger would take only a few days to travel to Saruman and return with confirmation of Donaldo’s identity. Then he could begin to put the man to use. None of the underlings currently in his employ had the initiative or intelligence to play the role that would be required, but this Donaldo might well serve. Grima could not afford to allow the secret of his own allegiance to Saruman to be revealed to Theodred. Once he knew that, the king’s son would stop at nothing to remove Grima from power. But Grima’s plan required that someone communicate directly with Theodred, and the girl after she was captured. Donaldo would surely find satisfaction in that role, and his personal grudge could only enhance his effectiveness. It seemed that providence was once again working in Grima’s favor.
Grima gestured across the room. “Pull up that chair and have a seat. We have much to discuss.” Donaldo dragged the indicated chair over to the fire, and seated himself, not quite able to pull off a relaxed sprawl for the intent eagerness that pushed him toward the edge of the seat. “You see, Theodred does have one vulnerability…” The two leaned their heads together, conversing in low tones far into the night, while the fire slowly died and cast their faces in deeper and deeper shadow.
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