… Though I should like to know who this Wormtongue is. Was he really the king’s counsellor?’

‘He was,’ said Aragorn; ‘and also Saruman’s spy and servant in Rohan. Fate has not been kinder to him than he deserves. The sight of the ruin of all that he thought so strong and magnificent must have been almost punishment enough. But I fear that worse awaits him.’

‘Yes, I don’t suppose Treebeard sent him to Orthanc out of kindness,’ said Merry. ‘He seemed rather grimly delighted with the business and was laughing to himself when he went to get his bathe and drink. We spent a busy time after that, searching the flotsam, and rummaging about. We found two or three store-rooms in different places nearby, above the flood-level. But Treebeard sent some Ents down, and they carried off a great deal of the stuff.

‘»We want man-food for twenty-five,» the Ents said, so you can see that somebody had counted your company carefully before you arrived. You three were evidently meant to go with the great people. But you would not have fared any better. We kept as good as we sent, I promise you. Better, because we sent no drink.

‘»What about drink?» I said to the Ents.

‘»There is water of Isen,» they said, «and that is good enough for Ents and Men.» But I hope that the Ents may have found time to brew some of their draughts from the mountain-springs, and we shall see Gandalf’s beard curling when he returns. After the Ents had gone, we felt tired, and hungry. But we did not grumble – our labours had been well rewarded. It was through our search for man-food that Pippin discovered the prize of all the flotsam, those Hornblower barrels. «Pipe-weed is better after food,» said Pippin; that is how the situation arose.’

‘We understand it all perfectly now,’ said Gimli.

‘All except one thing,’ said Aragorn: ‘leaf from the Southfarthing in Isengard. The more I consider it, the more curious I find it. I have never been in Isengard, but I have journeyed in this land, and I know well the empty countries that lie between Rohan and the Shire. Neither goods nor folk have passed that way for many a long year, not openly. Saruman had secret dealings with someone in the Shire, I guess. Wormtongues may be found in other houses than King Theoden’s. Was there a date on the barrels?’

‘Yes,’ said Pippin. ‘It was the 1417 crop, that is last year’s; no, the year before, of course, now: a good year.’

‘Ah well, whatever evil was afoot is over now, I hope; or else it is beyond our reach at present,’ said Aragorn. ‘Yet I think I shall mention it to Gandalf, small matter though it may seem among his great affairs.’

‘I wonder what he is doing,’ said Merry. ‘The afternoon is getting on. Let us go and look round! You can enter Isengard now at any rate, Strider, if you want to. But it is not a very cheerful sight.’

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