Did you get any rest? sighed
Eowyn, pushing herself up on her elbow. She had found it hard
to fall asleep herself but, some time in the early hours, exhaustion
had overcome her and she had dozed fitfully until daybreak.
I am fine, said Legolas. He had set a wooden chest
(painted with scenes of the Shire) beside her, covered it with
a cloth (edged with fine Gondorian lace), and was laying out two
wooden platters (carved with passages from the Life of
He opened up the Haradin chest in which he had secured their
food, turning the key and sliding the various rods in and out
in sequence to reveal its metal-lined compartment. I should
have put the poisons in here, he said, lifting out
the bread, cheese, and a jug of ale sealed with a cork. I
should have taken more care of them.
Oh, Lassui, said Eowyn, gently, it is not your
Then whose is it?
Hisherswhoever took it, she replied.
Here,she cut a piece of cheese and put it on
his platterbreak your fast, then go and talk to Baldor.
Legolas looked thoughtful. Suddenly, he grinned. It can
be very hard to maintain the appropriate level of guilt in your
Master Elf... said Baldor, warily.
The lurking servant had shown Legolas into a small
chamber beneath the solar, a mans private study, crammedto
Legolas surprisewith shelves of books, and with glass-fronted
cabinets containing natural curiosities and scholarly instruments.
Baldor was sitting at his desk, writing a letter.
I have bad news, said Legolas.
Baldors manner softened. He gestured towards a stool and,
out of politeness, Legolas sat down. Someone has stolen
a bottle of Wolfsbane from our poisons store, the Elf explained.
It is a healing preparation which, I understand, may be
used to treat the pain that comes with age, but which, if swallowed
Is fatal, said Baldor.
And you think...
I fear, said Legolas, that whoever took
it does not intend to use it for healing. Since the thief would
have to have known that we stocked it, it is reasonable to assume
that heor shehas been a customer of ours, but that
would not exclude your servants, the villagers
Or members of my own family.
You may want to take precautions, said Legolas, awkwardly.
To protect your family, I mean. And you will no doubt want
to order a search for the poison.
Hmm. Baldor leaned back in his chair. When
you walked through that door, Master Elf, I thought you had come
to fleece me.
Legolas frowned, genuinely puzzled. Fleece you,
Baldor laughed, and clapped his hands together loudly. You
really are as naïve as you look, he said. Or
is it honour?
You saved my life, Master Elf. That is one debt I owe you.
And you found my missing nieces. That is another. But you really
have no interest in gain, do you? Strange in a merchant...
He looked at Legolas speculatively. I am about to ride up
to Wyrms Hollow, to supervise the recovery of my nieces
remains. Will you accompany me?
Legolas was eager to help lay the two women to rest, and to have
the opportunity to find the final missing body, but there was
something else that needed dealing with first: The poison,
My steward will deal with that. ULRIC!
The door opened, and the Lurker entered, and Legolas was reminded
of one of Gimlis sayings, about a fox being left in charge
of a hen house.
Eowyn dressed carefully, selecting a gown of lavender silk and
dressing her hair with a fillet of moonstones, then went in search
of the serving girl, Eldit.
She found her sweeping out the Great Hall, and offered to help.
Oh, no, my Lady, said the girl, scandalised. You
would ruin your lovely gown. She had drawn up her own skirts
and tucked them in her belt, and was negotiating the ruins of
the previous nights feastfood scraps, spilled ale,
spittle, and worsewith care. You might, though,
she added, shyly, help me spread the fresh rushes later,
if you wouldnt mind.
Id be happy to.
Eowyn perched herself on one of the chairs, and watched the girl
It made her feel uncomfortable. In her uncles Hall she
had paid no attention to the servants who had seen to her every
need, andthough during the war she had taken care of herself,
and othersin Eryn Carantaur the elves performed their chores
so inconspicuously, the cleaning seemed to do itself...
All in all, she was relieved when Eldit finished the dirty work,
and she was able to help with the more pleasant task of scattering
the sweet rushes. It gave her the chance to draw the girl into
conversation, beginning with a few casual remarks about the weather,
then gradually encouraging her to talk about her own familyabout
her widowed mother, and her four younger brothers.
Do you have a moment to come over to the barn? she
asked, realising that it would be prudent to take Eldit somewhere
more private before asking her about Lady Gléowyn and her
sons. I have some scented soap your mother might like.
I have no money, my Lady, said Eldit, embarrassed.
Oh, I did not meanI would not dream of asking you
Eowyn gave a small shrug. You have a good mother, and she
deserves something a little special, she admitted, honestly.
Perhaps I could do some work for you, my Lady, said
Yes! You could come to the cartwrights with me, and
help me rescue the lace.
At midday, said Eldit.
I shall be in the barn.
Wyrms Hollow was transformed.
A small army of menamongst them Ealdfrith, and the young
giant, Algarhad beaten a path through the Dragon Flame and,
kneeling beside the remains of the bodies, were gathering up the
ashes and transferring them to separate chests with a care Legolas
found deeply moving.
Baldor dropped from his horse and went to inspect their work.
Legolas dismounted and, murmuring, Avo visto, Firebrand,
How much longer will it take? asked Baldor, waving
away the mens attempts to show respect.
Ealdfrith looked unhappy. Its slow work, my Lord,
for we must be careful.
Better to fetch back some earth, said his master,
than to risk leaving anything behind.
Thank you, my Lord. That will make the job easier. We should
be finished before nightfall, in that case.
Have you found any more bodies, Master Ealdfrith?
Baldor looked up in surprise. You think there are more?
He seemed shaken. Well, you are welcome to look, Master
Legolas gave him a sharp nod, as though accepting an order, then
waded out into the Dragon Flame and, letting his mind clear, reached
out with his Elven senses, searching.
The forest was no longer angrya small smile of relief curved
his lipsand the desperate sense of sadness and loss, which
had so disoriented him when he had come here with Eowyn, was no
longer clouding his inner vision. He looked, listened, felt, andyessensed
another presence, somewhere up ahead.
Slowly, he walked forward until he was sure he had found the
place, then he drew one of his white knives and, crouching down,
began to cut away the Dragon Flame.
A while later, he rose, and surveyed the remains he had uncovered.
It was the charred body of an enormous hound.
The soap, said Eowyn. She had selected a large cake,
made in Far Harad from the finest olive oil, perfumed with rose
water and a hint of ginger, and wrapped in an exotic leaf.
Eldit picked it up, and smelled it. Oh, my Lady! Its
Good, said Eowyn, smiling. Now,she
took up her carpet baglet us go to the cartwrights.
It was a fine, bright day, and the two women walked side-by-side,
talking and laughing, and it did not take Eowyn long to steer
the conversation towards life at the manor, nor to realise that
the poor girl was sweet on Guthmer.
I hope, she said, softly, that he treats you
with the respect due to a free woman and a good servant.
Oh, yes, my Lady, said Eldit, earnestly. Oh,
I know they say Master Guthmers wild and all, but hed
never try to force himself on a good girl.
Eowyn wondered what that made her. And his brother,
she said, anxious to learn as much as she could before they reached
the cartwrights workshop, what is he like?
She was surprised to see the girl hesitate, biting her lip as
though she were trying to think of a tactful answer. He
seems, she prompted, shy...
Master Thengel is quiet, my Lady, its true, but I
wouldnt say he was shy... She looked away,
trying to hide the deep blush that had spread across her face.
Would he ever force himself on a girl, Eldit?
she asked, gently.
What makes you ask that?
Well... I can see that he makes you uncomfortable.
Its just something I saw him do, my Lady, years ago
But they had reached the cartwrights workshop, and Eldit
fell silent. Eowyn could have cursed.
Baldor gave orders for the hounds remains to be buried
where they lay, then he and Legolas started back, riding slowly
down the narrow trail, and side-by-side across the Mering Bridge,
each deep in his own thoughts.
Legolas was wondering how much he dared reveal to Baldor.
The man was arrogant, with a casual contempt for those he considered
his inferiors. But no more so, Legolas thought, than
many of the noble Men, Elves, and Dwarves I have encountered.
And, like them, he has a sense of honour. And I believe he is
troubled by the discovery...
You recognised the dog, he ventured, quietly.
Baldor turned, his thoughts still far away. The dog?
he said. Then he remembered himself. Oh, the dog. Yes. It
belonged to my elder son.
And you know who is responsible for its death, said
Baldor shook his head, though whether he was denying the knowledge,
or whether he was simply refusing to answer, Legolas could not
be sure. Guthmer, he said, came to me yesterday
with some nonsensical tale about your wifes being an agent
of the King. He gave Legolas a sharp, searching look. And
you, Master Elf... You are no merchant. Who are you?
No one, said Legolas. And then, because lying troubled
him, he added, That is, I have no official standing here.
Then what are you doing here?
Legolas made his decision: I was asked to find the remains
of your nieces.
Someone close to the King, he replied, warming to
telling half-truths. Someone who knew them.
A suitor, no doubt, said Baldor. Béma
knows, there were enough of them. Sometimes... Sometimes they
seemed to think they would get the pair...
You, pressed Legolas, wanted them to marry
Our law does not forbid it, Master Elf. And it would have
kept Mereworth in the family.
But instead, thought Legolas, their deaths did
that. What happened? he asked. When they
disappeared? And why is Holdred son of Walda lying with them?
Eowyn climbed up into the wagon and, carefully detaching and
untangling the lengths of lace and ribbon, passed them down to
Eldit, who rolled them, and stowed them in the bag. Eowyn had
little interest in the lace itself, but she had thought that the
work, being companionable, would put the girl at ease and make
it easier to coax gossip from her.
Unfortunately, Lionel Cartwright, having made a promise to Legolas,
was busy at his bench and, when his wife called him for his midday
meal, he refused to stop working and, instead, asked her to bring
his food into the workshop.
Eowyn had just conceded defeat, and climbed down, when the workshop
doors flew open and the Lurker rushed in, followed by a handful
of Baldors servants.
Search the place! he barked. Then, spotting Eldit,
he shouted, What dyou think youre doing here,
girl? Get back to work! Go on! Back to the manor!
Eldit ran from the workshop, sobbing.
The men began tearing everything apart, pushing lengths of timber
aside and shoving things off the workbench. One of them climbed
into the wagon.
No, cried Lionel Cartwright. Please! Be careful!
He tried to protect the panel he had been working on. Why
are you doing this?
Were looking for the poison you lost.
The Lurkers eyes were fixed on Eowyn.
It is not here! she said, angrily. A
child could see that it would not be here! Why would a
thief go to all the trouble of taking it from the cabinet and
leave it here? You should be
Shut your mouth! He slapped her across the face with
the back of his hand.
Eowyn, taken by surprise, staggered backwards, one hand coming
uptoo lateto protect herself, the other reaching,
through the fabric of her skirts, for her hunting knife... But
she realised that she could not draw it without exposing her legs
to the Lurker and his friends and, instead, she seized a chisel.
Get out of here, she growled, drawing herself up
to her full height and advancing on him, every inch the Lady of
the Shield Arm.
And, to her surprise, the Lurker gestured angrily to his men,
and they left.