As the sun was burning away the last of the early
morning mist, the long column of elves and men wound its way south
across the flat Anduin floodplain, following the raised causeway
that cut through the marshland east of the river, running parallel
to the edge of Greenwood the Great, some ten miles further east.
At the head of the cavalcade the March Warden of Eryn Carantaur
led a small detachment hand-picked troops, most of them former
Mirkwood elves, familiar with the territory and experienced in
dealing with its dangersincluding the orcs and Uruk Hai
that still roamed the wild central regions of Eryn Lasgalen.
Behind these came Legolas and Eowyn, Gimli and Eomer, followed
by their travelling householdslawyers and scholars, healers,
cooks and servantsflanked left and right by mounted warriors,
and protected by a rearguard of elven archers.
March Warden, there are
I know,Haldir cut the elf off sharplykeep
moving. He reined in his horse and fell back until he was
riding beside Legolas. We have an escort, he announced.
Yes. They have been following us for the past hourdo
not look round melmenya, they may not realise that we can see
Orcs? asked Eowyn.
Haldir shook his head. Beornings. Two dozen riders, keeping
to the cover of the trees.
How can you be sure that they are following us?
They were waiting for us, said Legolas, just
south of The Carrock. And they have been keeping pace with us
What do they want?
Their Chieftain, ventured Gimli, has just been
forced to give up a quarter of his mithril mine to King Thranduil.
I would wager he is looking for a chance to save face with a show
of force against the Kings son and heir.
What should I do? asked Haldir.
Nothing as yet, replied Legolas. Keep the warriors
in check. If there is a first move I do not want it to come from
us. I will warn Eomer. Do not look, melmenya!
Shortly after noon, just north of the Old Ford, the cavalcade
drew to a halt. The travellers dismounted and, whilst the riders
were stretching their legs, the cooks and their assistants hastily
set up a field kitchen and began preparing the midday meal.
Haldir had stationed a discreet line of archers between the company
and their mysterious shadows and, within minutes, one of the elves
reported that the Beornings had left the Forest and were approaching
at the gallop. But I believe that their leader is carrying
a white flag, my lord, he told Legolas.
So they want to talk
It could be a trick, warned Gimli.
I do not think so, elvellon. They are outnumbered more
than three to one.
Unless they have friends, lurking somewhere else.
Gimli scanned both banks of the river.
We would see them coming, said Haldir, though with
something less than his usual confidence.
With perfect timingThey are trying to impress the
Riders of Rohan, said Eomerthe Beornings reined in
their mounts and came to a standstill, waiting in battle formation,
whilst two of their number trotted forward, white flag raised.
It is the horses arse, said Haldir, dryly.
March Warden? Eomer turned to the big elf in surprise.
Legolas smiled. He is referring to Thorkell bogsveigir,
Chief Bergthórrs champion, he nodded
towards the darkly handsome man bearing the white flaghis
behaviour under my fathers roof did not endear him to the
He is a skirt-chaser and an arrogant fool, muttered
Legolas and Eomer exchanged smiles.
Shall we go and talk? said the man.
Greetings, your Majesty, your Highness, said Thorkell
bogsveigir, bowing low over his horses neck. I am
ordered by Chief Bergthórr beytill to see thatfor
your own safetyyou proceed to the Old Ford and cross the
river without delay.
For our own safety, said Eomer, crisply.
That sounds like a threat.
Thorkell bogsveigirs eyes narrowed, though his expression
remained otherwise unchanged. I assure your Majesty,
he said, that it is not. Chief Bergthórr is merely
concerned that, whilst you are on Beorning land, you should come
to no harm. It is well known that orcs frequent these parts
And what makes you think, asked Eomer, still icily
calm, that we need your protection?
Your Majesty has women in his party, said the Beorning.
It was already our intention, said Legolas, diplomatically,
to cross the river at the Old Ford and continue south along
the far bank. I see no reason to change our plans. He placed
a hand on his heart and bowed his head. Good day to you.
He turned Arods head.
There is another matter, your Highness, said Thorkell
bogsveigir. A private matter between me and one of your
followers. May I accompany you to your camp? He raised his
hands. I am, as you can see, unarmed
Legolas and Eomer exchanged glances. And what is the substance
of this matter between you and one of ours, Master Bow-swayer?
asked the man.
Thorkell bogsveigir bowed againthis time making no pretence
at humility. It is, as I said, a private matter, your Majesty,
between me and Berryn son of Hador.
Who is that man? asked Eowyn. He seems familiar.
Standing supportively at Eowyns side as she waited for
her husband and her brother to return safely, Berryn son of Hador,
cartographer by appointment to the King of Gondor, had no inkling
of what was happening on the plain. His name is Thorkell
bogsveigir, my lady, he said. He is Chief Bergthórr
beytills champion, his foremost warrior.
You do not like him?
II was told something about him. In confidence, my
By Lady Gunnhildr?
The young man blushed.
She is lovely, Berryn, said Eowyn.
But much too far above me, my
Why are they bringing him back with them?
Wait, said Legolasand even the arrogant
Beorning responded to the steel in the command. The elf swung
himself down from the saddle. Berryn, he called, this
man claims he has a quarrel with you.
With me, my lord? The cartographer looked up at warrior.
You have no business with me, sir.
You are a liar, said Thorkell bogsveigir, urging
his horse forward until he loomed menacingly over the much slighter
man. A coward and a debaucher. You have insulted Chief Bergthórrs
daughter with your attentions and, as her fathers champion,
and the ladys intended, I demand satisfaction.
For a moment, Berryn stared up at him, open-mouthed. Then he
answered, with quiet dignity, It is true that I am no warriorfor
I am a scholarbut I have never treated Lady Gunnhildr with
anything but the utmost respect
Will you fight me like a man?
I have already admitted that I am not trained to fight,
said Berryn. What honour is there in killing a man who cannot
Thorkell bogsveigir mouth curled in a sneer. Then, like
a maiden, you must find a champion to die on your behalffor
I will have satisfaction. He glanced around the dumbstruck
travellers. Who will fight for this coward? Anyone?
When there was no immediate reaction, the Beornings sneer
turned to a contemptuous snicker.
Then, I will, said a quiet, determined voice.
Oh melmenya, whispered Legolas. No