Well, the women were very happy to gossip
about the local big knives, said Eowyn, stifling a yawn,
for they were setting out long before dawn, hoping to reach the
next town just after dusk.
And did you learn anything? asked Legolas, pulling
gently on the reins, guiding the horses through a narrow gap between
the houses, and back onto the Great West Road.
Lots! said Eowyn, smiling. Bergin son of Hallas,
for instance, recently married a serving girl young enough to
be his daughter, and is very liberal with his gold.
Legolas smiled, too.
Aubin son of Osbert, on the other hand, starves his children,
and dresses them in rags, so we are advised to stay well clear
But I did hear one thing that sounded useful.
Go on, said the Elf.
One of the women has a sister married to an eye-healer,
who often travels over the border into Rohan; I think I may even
have met him. Anyway, she says that she has heard him talk of
a manor he visits, now and then, beyond Firien Wood, where the
eorl pays well butfor some reason makes her sisters
husband feel uneasy. I pressed her, but she could not remember
Hmm, said Legolas, again.
You do not think it is he?
Our murderer? I think it unlikely, Melmenya. In fact, I
think we will need the trees to part, and Oromë himself to
ride out and point his horn at the culprit before we will recognise
him. And I cannot see how we are ever going to find the remains
of poor littlewhat were their namesDeorhild and Guthwyn?
Eowyn leaned over, and kissed his cheek.
What was that for?
That was for agreeing to join me on a wild-goose chase.
She stifled another yawn. I did not dare mention the girls
names last night, Lassui. I did ask about the lair of the
dragon, but no one had heard of a narrow path, or a cleft in the
rocks, or anywhere else that might once have been home to a wyrm.
The sky was beginning to brighten as they drove into Firien Wood
but, within a few hundred yards, the ancient treessturdy
oaks and slender bircheshad woven themselves into a roof
of branches that blotted out the sun, and cast the road in permanent
Eowyn felt the laughter die upon her lips.
At midday, or as near as Legolas could judge, he brought the
wagon to a halt and they climbed inside and, taking refuge in
their little cabin, ate their bread and cheese and drank their
wine, talking softly. Never before have I felt so troubled
in a Forest, said the Elf, sadly. There is something
evil here, Melmenya. And the trees are uneasy.
They pressed on.
And, although there were many wonders to be seenthe line
of standing stones, spattered with yellow lichen and furred with
dark moss, leading, Eowyn knew, to the empty tomb of King Elendil;
the deep, tree-lined gorge of the Firien-dale and the swift-flowing
Mering at its foot; the road, which plunged onto a narrow spur
of rock before edging its way warily across the Mering Bridge;
the sudden sunlight, penetrating the Mering valley like a golden
blade, burnishing the autumn leaves to a rich red-bronzeall
of this, she and Legolas shared in dumb show, pointing and nodding
but saying nothing, neither of them willing to disturb the silence.
They emerged from the woods at dusk, and reached the tiny town
of Meringburn soon after. There, they repeated their performance
of the previous night, with similar results.
If we really were traders, said Eowyn, noting
their few sales in the Ledger, we would soon be starving.
She put the pen and ink away and, with a sigh, went through to
I think that real traders are more ruthless than we, Melmenya,
said Legolas, barring the wagon door before joining her. I
heard you telling the baker, for instance, that we had run out
of rat poison, when I know we have a full jar.
Well, she replied, struggling to unfasten her suede
corslet, how could I be sure that he was not planning to
tip it into his wifes porridge? Or to bake it into her lovers
Here, said Legolas, smiling, let me.
He took her gently by the shoulders, and turned her round and,
loosening her lacings, helped her take the corslet off over her
head. Did you learn anything more about the fearsome eorl?
No... She pulled at her shift, which was clinging
to her body. A few hints of dark deeds in the forest, but...
She shrugged. Nothing helpful.
Come, Melmenya, he said, sitting down upon the bed,
and stretching out his arms, you need some rest.
The evil that Legolas had sensed Firien Wood had disturbed him
more than he could admit to his wife and, as he lay in the darkness,
listening to the regular sound of her breathing, he tried to calm
himself by imagining himself back home, walking hand-in-hand with
her amongst the mighty carantaurs
His spirit jumped, sensing another presence in the wagon.
Slowly, he turned his head and, through the narrow doorway to
the shop, spied two pale columns of mist, hovering just beneath
Who are you? he whispered.
One of the columns shifted and, acquiring more substance, became
man-shapedmore than six feet tall, broad shouldered, clad
in full armouralmost a twin to Eomer King.
The other column remained indistinct, but Theodredfor Legolas
was in no doubt that it was hegestured, and the Elf watched
it struggle, trying but failing to form itself into a recognisable
shape. At length, however, it spoke, its voice as wispy as its
body: I am nothing but a poor, lost soul...
Legolas, cradling Eowyn against his chest, cupped his hand over
her ear. Do you have a name? he asked, softly.
Again, the spirit struggled to answer: I was Holdred,
son of Walda.
It was precious information, and Legolas knew that he must try
to learn more: Where do you lie? he asked.
This time, the spirits answer was quick and clear, but
thoroughly disappointing: In the lair of the dragon...
Where is that?
Then why has no one heard of it? Are the ladies
with you? Deorhild and Guthwyn?
There are others here...
Others? How many?
That answer raised a hundred more questions, and twice as many
fearsWho are the others? How do they come to be with
you? How did they die and by whose hand? But, as Legolas struggled
to marshal his thoughts, the spirits began to fade...
No! Theodred, he said desperately, his voice sounding
louder than he had intended, will you at least help me keep
The ghost did not linger but, even as the mist was dispersing,
Legolas thought he saw it nod its head.
Why did you not wake me?
The disappointment in Eowyns voice pierced Legolas
heart. I was afraid that too much movementtoo much
changewould scare them away, he said. Holdred,
at least. He seems... timid. Very young, perhaps.
But I could have seen Theodred, she insisted, more
to herself than to her husband.
I know, Melmenya. Legolas gathered her close. I
am sorry. He kissed the top of her head. But I know
that he will appear to us again, for he is guiding us, as best
He felt her body relax, whichwith reliefhe took for
a sign of forgiveness.
For a long while they lay together in silence, listening to the
whistling of the wind, blowing in through the open skylight. Then
Eowyn said, We need to consider everything we have learned
so far, Lassui.
Half an hour later, washed and dressed, and with the bed converted
back to a table, Legolas spread out Berryns map of Eastfold,
and Eowyn set the shop Ledger down beside it.
We know of six victims, she said, opening the Ledger
at a blank page, and noting down the names in her firm handwriting:
Deorhild daughter of Eofor
Guthwyn daughter of Eofor
Holdred son of Walda
And we know, she continued, that their bodies
have been buried
Or, at least, hidden, said Legolas.
Disposed of, said Eowyn, crossing out the word buried,
in a place known as the lair of the dragon,
whichaccording to Theodredis amongst the trees
Firien Wood! said Legolas.
They turned to the map, carefully tracing the contours of the
land, Eowyn marking, with red ink, the slopes of Firien-dale and
the other clefts and hollows that pitted the forest.
Theodred mentioned a narrow path, said Eowyn, pointing
to the line of standing stones. Could the lair be somewhere
Keep to the narrow path could simply be a figure
of speech, Melmenya, said Legolas, doubtfully, meaning,
Do not stray; do not get distracted; do not wander off into
danger... He sighed. We could spend weeks searching
these woods. The slopes are too steep for horses; we would have
to climb them on foot.
You said you sensed evil there, said Eowyn. Could
you, perhaps, trace it to its source?
You mean like a living lodestone?
Eowyn squeezed his arm with an apologetic smile; Legolas smiled
Well, she said. Do we know anything else?
We know the story Master Bawden told you.
Eowyn nodded. She took up her pen and, after a moments
People in the story
Wife of Eofor
Wife of Baldor
They stared at the list. We do know that the spirits cannot
rest, said Legolas.
Yes, because their names have been taken.
Nonot the boys.
You are right! Eowyn made a note. Then, leaning back
against the wooden wall, she stared up at the curved ceiling.
You do not think...? she began.
What do I not think, Melmenya?
The girls were of a marriageable age, and the story mentions
marriage. Do you think that Holdred could have been a suitor?
A suitor... He could be! And the extra dead could be his
Or his men, if he were the son of an eorl.
Would not a man of substance have been missed?
Eowyn shrugged. It must have happened around the time of
the War, when it would have been easy to pretend that he had been
taken by orcs.
Legolas nodded, thoughtfully. I think we are in need of
some more local gossip, Melmenya. I think we should break our
fast in the tavern.
The White Horse was homely, and spotlessly clean, the
beams of its low ceiling hung with fragrant herbs, its stone floor
strewn with a carpet of fresh rushes, its polished wooden tables
decorated with jars of jolly purple-red flowers.
Eowyn recognised a womans touch. She took a seat at one
of the tables whilst Legolas called for the landlord.
Youre them traders, said the man, surprised
to find himself with customers so early in the morning, that
people says is faery folk!
He offered them mutton stew and freshly-baked bread.
They accepted the bread, but asked for butter and honey, and
two mugs of ale.
You must get a lot of travellers here, being so close to
the Great West Road, said Eowyn, as he arranged the bread
board, the plates, and various knives on their table. And
being the last tavern before, and the first after, Firien Wood!
Oh, aye, the man replied, smiling. We get all
sorts in hereAnóriens, Gondorians, even some from
Far Harad, these days, though they dont talk much...
He swung round, his tray still balanced expertly upon his fingertips,
and gestured towards the wall behind the counter, where someone
had pinned up various trophiesa pair of Gondorian
gloves, an Elven knife, a Haradin belt.
Oh, aye, he continued, setting down a dish of butter,
we get all sorts in here. Theres not many as dont
stop at the White Horse. Then he added, conspiratorially,
Its the ale. Best in Eastfold.
The locals must appreciate that, too, said Legolas,
slicing the bread.
Oh, aye. The landlord returned to the counter, drew
two mugs of his famous ale, and brought them over.
We have been summoned to a manor, somewhere near here,
said Legolas, spreading the bread with butter, by a man
Walda... The landlord rubbed his chin. Nearest
manor to heres Mereworth, he said, pulling up a chair
and sitting down, but you dont want to go there.
Why not? asked Eowyn.
The eorls not slow to set his dogs on strangers if
he takes a mind to, nor to have them beaten off by his servants,
if you get my drift.
Legolas and Eowyn exchanged glances. The fearsome eorl.
That must be hard on his wife and children, said
Eowyn, as she drizzled honey on her bread. They must get
very little company.
Elder sons as bad as his dad, said the landlord.
And the mothers a shrew. No, its the younger
lad everyone feels sorry for.
Poor boy, said Legolas, sympathetically. And
his father is called Walda?
Walda? Nay, said the landlord, his name is
Baldor. Baldor son of Eoheort.
As the couple were leaving, Eowyn reached out and gently brushed
her fingers over the jugful of spiky flowers at the centre of
the table. This is Fireweed, she told Legolas. It
grows all over the middens outside the pales of Edoras.
She turned to the landlord. But we do not see it in the
Round here we calls it Dragon Flame, said the man,
for its shape, and because it likes to grow on burnt ground.
The local children bring bunches down from Eorls Ditch or
Wyrms Hollow,he did not notice how Eowyns
expression had changedand the wife gives them a few
buns for itshes soft like that. He smiled with
obvious affection for his spouse.
Thank you, sir, said Legolas, giving him a leaf-shaped
Elven coin, and adding, with a nod towards the rest of his collection,
for your wall.