Up at Wyrms Hollow? said
the landlord, incredulously.
Legolas nodded. We have found three bodies so far, but
we believe there are more.
He and Eowyn had returned to Meringburn, opened up the wagon
with considerably more success than on previous occasions, then
joined their customers in the tavern, lingering until, at last,
they had found themselves alone with the landlord.
Killed by orcs, maybe, said the man, rubbing his
chin, during the war...
We do not think so, said Eowyn. She brought out the
golden wolf they had found beside the first body, and set it on
the table. Have you ever seen this crest before?
He picked it up. Aye... Its of the House of Gárulf.
What can you tell us about them? asked Legolas.
The man hesitated.
We will make it worth your while, said Eowyn, encouragingly.
Nay, its not that, said the man, looking from
her to Legolas, and back again. Look, I know hes
an Elfand youyou seem like a ladybut how am
I to know youre not planning to rob themor to do worse,
maybe, being as they say youre faery folk and all?
Eowyn caught Legolas eye and, touching the golden chain
around her neck, asked a silent question. Legolas nodded. Eowyn
grasped the chain and lifted it, drawing something from inside
her bodice and dropping it into her cupped hand. I cannot
prove, she admitted, that I did not steal this, but...
She opened her hand.
In her palm, at the end of the chain, lay a golden ring bearing
the crest of the Kings of Rohan.
My Lady! gasped the landlordand he slid from
his chair, and fell to his knees.
Please, said Eowyn. All we want is some information.
Friend, said Legolas, touching the mans arm,
will you join us in another drink?
A drink? Oh... Aye... Aye! The landlord scrambled
to his feet and scurried behind the counter.
We were asked, Legolas explained, to find out
what happened to two young women, friends of the late Kings
son, but what we have discovered instead is the body of a young
man and what may have been two of his servantsor, perhaps,
a servant and a younger kinsman, or a kinswoman...
The young man was wearing the crest, said Eowyn,
fingering the wolf, so we know that he was of the House
of Gárulf. But the women we seek were the daughters of
Eofor, and we believe that they were murdered by his brother,
Baldor, son of Eoheort, said the landlord, setting
down the mugs of ale with shaky hands. After a moments confusionduring
which it appeared that he was trying to decide whether it would
be better to prostrate himself on the floorhe sat down.
Aye, well, if you want to know about him, my Lady, youve
come to the right place.
The following morning, Legolas and Eowyn spent almost two hours
carefully rearranging the contents of their little cupboards and
making sure that the turn-buckles securing the doors were in the
Then they hitched the horses and set out, travelling westwards
along the Great West Road until, about half a mile before the
road branched off to Mereworth, Legolas brought the wagon to a
halt in the lee of one of the rocky outcrops that dotted the plain.
You are well-hidden here, Melmenya, he said, raising
the hood of his cloak. But I shall not be long. He
dropped lightly to the ground.
Take care, said Eowyn.
The Elf smiled. I shall. Then, bow in hand, he set
off at a run.
The village of Mereworth lay a few miles to the south of the
Great West Road, where one of the many streams that trickled down
from the mountains pooled to form the lake from which it took
its name. The manor itself stood upon a natural rise to the west,
its fine Hall, stables, and orchard enclosed by a stout wooden
fence, its farm lands, divided into narrow strips, stretching
out in all directions and, to the north, fringing the Road itself.
Moving swiftly past the men working in the fields, and almost
invisible beneath his Elven cloak, Legolas scanned the road until
he found exactly what he needed and, after making a careful note
of its location, he ran back to Eowyn.
All set, he said.
They waited until the fading light told them that the men would
soon be returning home.
Are you ready? asked Legolas.
I would be, if Theodred had come last night and
given us his blessing.
The Elf put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her gently.
But, yes, she said.
With luck, Melmenya, he said, addressing the unspoken
cause of her sadness, we will have it repaired. And if it
cannot be repaired, we will have another built just like it, and
we will take it to Pelargir, and spend a week there, watching
the boats in the harbour... He took up the reins.
With Melannen. Now hold on tightly.
He guided the horses back onto the road, commanding them, with
a few quiet words of Elvish, to run swiftly. Off they went, faster
and faster, dragging the wagon behind them, and the vehicle began
to sway, growing more and more unstable as it picked up speed,
until it was lurching terrifyingly from side to side, and Eowyn
was clinging on for dear life.
Then Legolas steered towards the uneven ground he had found earlier
and, as the wheels hit the ruts, he pulled on the Elven ropes
holding the horses, and the animals shot from the shafts, leaving
the wagon behind.
For a split-second it seemed to freeze, held upright by some
mysterious stroke of luck...
Then it overturned with a sickening crash.
But Legolas had already wrapped his arms around Eowyn and thrown
them both clear.
Cries of horror went up from the fields, followed by the sounds
of running feet.
Legolas held on to Eowyn, and waited.
Are yall right, Master Elf? said a voice.
Legolas looked up into a strong, honest face. My wife,
he replied, is badly shaken.
The man looked about him, obviously wondering what to do. Behind
him, his fellow serfs were jostling and crowding, trying to get
a better look at the injured woman.
The horses have gone, said someone, helpfully.
Shall we carry the lady up to the manor? suggested
another, but this was followed by a low murmuring, from which
Legolas Elven hearing extracted several variants of Baldor
wont like that...
Youd best keep an eye on all that stuff, Ealdfrith,
said a third man.
Aye... replied the first, and Legolas saw his gaze
shift, unhappily, to the wagon.
It was lying on its side, with its doorwhich they had purposely
left unlatchedwide open. Inside, patterned shawls and colourful
ribbons streamed down from its open cupboards like banners at
a banquet, whilst bales of cloth, and bundles of hose, and pouches
of the finest Shire pipeweed lay piled beneath. Everything looked
ruined, butthanks to Legolas and Eowyns work that
morningit was mostly show, for only carefully chosen items
had been permitted to fall.
And those things, thought Legolas, must be calling
to poor men such as these like the sea to a Sindar.
Ealdfrith, meanwhile, had made up his mind. Algar,
he said, to the young giant standing beside him, get yourself
by that wagon and dont let anyone near. He turned
back to Legolas. Well sort out your gear later, Master
Elf. Lets get the lady comfortable first.
Thank you, my friend, said Legolas, with genuine
gratitude. I am most
Whats going on here?
Legolas turned towards the new voice. The crowd had partedwith
much bowing and tugging of forelocksto reveal a handsome
young man sitting astride a magnificent white horse. The rider
flexed his legs, urging his mount a few steps forward, and demanded,
impatiently, Well? Ealdfrith?
Theres been an accident, Master Guthmer, said
the man, bowing low. Theyre tradersthe ladys
been shaken up. Im about to take them up to the village.
Guthmer studied Legolas, assessing his bow, his white knives
and, lastly, his ears, then he turned to Eowyn, his expert eye
lingering upon her body... Bring them up to the manor,
he said, turning his mount around, with their things. You
can put them in the barn.
Then he rode away without another word.
One of the men had had the foresight to bring a small hand cart
down from the fields and, after making sure that Eowyn was comfortable,
Legolaswith help from Ealdfrith and Algartransferred
half the contents of the wagon to it, selecting those things he
thought would prove most usefulthe Gondorian knives, the
pouches of pipeweed, some of the more exotic trinkets, a few bottles
of perfume and jars of salve, and several of the most attractive
items of womens clothing. Then, leaving the poisons secure
in their special cupboard, he closed and locked the door.
As they climbed the gentle rise to the manor, Legolas carrying
Eowyn whilst Ealdfrith pushed the cart as though it weighed nothing,
the Elf asked him whether the village had a cartwright, and was
assured that, yes, from what Ealdfrith had seen, Lionel Cartwright
would have no trouble repairing the wagon, though Legolas would
need to obtain permission from Eorl Baldor before he could ask
Lionel to work on it.
Perfect, thought Legolas. An excuse to talk to Baldor
and a reason to linger here in Mereworthdoubtless for several
The barn was a long, narrow building, set at right-angles to
Mereworth Hall across a well-kept yard. Inside, at one end, a
series of pens offered accommodation to animals during winter;
at the other end, a line of raised stone platforms kept sacks
of grain, barrels of salted meats, and jars of preserved fruits
safe from vermin.
Whatever else he may have done, thought Legolas, Baldor
runs an efficient household.
He set Eowyn down on one of the lower rungs of the ladder up
to the hayloft and, smiling, kissed her forehead, for she was
playing the part of the fragile woman to perfection. How
do you feel? he asked, quietly.
Not bad. A bit bruised...
As he set about arranging their stocks, together with the contents
of their travelling packs, to form a cosy bedroom in the alcove
beneath the stairs, a servant entered the barn and invited them
to sup with the family.
Legolas placed his hand upon his heart and, making the very low
bow favoured by the serfs of Mereworth, asked the haughty messenger
to convey his acceptance, together with his sincere thanks, to
his master and mistress.
The man grunted.
When he had gone, Legolas hopped over the fence into one of the
animal pens, found a wooden pail, and fetched some water from
the well in the yard. Come, Melmenya, he said, smiling,
we must get you into costume.
You surely saw, he explained, how Baldors
son was looking at you. I think a little faery magic might help
you loosen his tongue.
He had better not try anything with his tongue,
said Eowyn, darkly.
Half an hour later, washed and with her hair brushed out, she
was twirling for Legolas critical appraisal. He had dressed
her in a gown of embroidered muslin, cut just short enough to
reveal her feet in their little brown boots, and in a golden corslet,
whichlaced tightly beneath her breastslifted her bosom,
hiding few of her charms.
Hmm, said Legolas. He fiddled with her neckline.
Perfect! Let us go.
The Great Hall, though as well-maintained as the rest of the
manor, felt curiously cold and unwelcoming.
As she approached the high table, with Legolas at her side, Eowyn
surveyed the members of the House of Baldor.
At its centre sat the eorl himself, a man of about forty-five
years, with dark, hawk-like features emphasised by a sharply-trimmed
beard. On his left sat the lady of the house, a strong-looking
woman, perhaps twenty years her husbands senior, her steel-grey
hair covered with a veil of the finest gold mesh.
Beside her, an empty seat awaited the more senior of their guests,
and beside that sat the younger of the couples two sons,
a pale, weak-looking boy whose eyes never left the wooden spoon
he was turning in his hands.
On Baldors right sat the elder son, Guthmer, already regarding
Eowyn as his personal property because, on his right, a
second empty seat awaited her. And, hovering behind Baldor,
stood the servant who had delivered his masters invitation
to supper, and had received Legolas answer so surlily.
Who are you, friend? asked Baldor, addressing Legolas.
I am Lassui, a humble Elf of Mirkwood, Legolas lied,
and this is my wife, Melmenya. Since the War, we have been
travelling the southern lands, trading in knick-knacks and fancies.
What brings you north? asked Guthmer.
A flicker of annoyance soured the fathers face. Welcome,
he said, overriding his sons question. Take your places,he
gestured towards the empty seat beside his wifeand
let us eat.
And so, said Baldor, splashing more his wine into
his goblet, when Theodens call came, I ignored it.
Legolas glanced at Eowyn. He could seealthough he doubted
that anyone else would noticethat she was seething with
anger, but whether because Baldor had betrayed her uncle, or whether
because Guthmers hand was hovering above her thigh, he could
not be sure, though he knew that he would be teaching the young
man a sharp lesson, once their mission was complete.
You have hardly eaten anything at all, Master Lassui,
protested Baldors wife, Lady Gléowyn. I do
hope that our simple fare does not disappoint you. She smiled
No indeed, my Lady, he replied, honestly, because
the roasted meats, the briw of peas, beans and roots, and
the fresh baked bread, though plain, were all of the finest quality
and perfectly cooked. We elves are not large eaters,
he explained, especially of meat.
And yet you are so strong... She laid a hand upon
his arm, and he felt her fingers explore his muscles.
Her younger son guffawed.
Legolas gently removed her hand, but he smiled, and let his eyes
linger on her face, so as not to discourage her flirtation completely.
Tomorrow, Master Elf, said Baldor, throwing back
his head and tossing the last of his wine down his throat, I
shall be hunting, up in Firien Wood. Legolas and Eowyn exchanged
glances. I hope you will join me. There are times when the
hunter must admit defeat and fall back on a bowman, and I have
heard many tales of your races prowess with the bow.
He glanced at Eowyn. I am sure your wife can find something
to amuse her here.