"Welcome, my lord," said the innkeeper
of The Four Alls, stepping aside to allow Legolas to carry
Eowyn through the door and into the parlour. "Everything
is ready. My wife has prepared our best room for you and your
ladyif you will follow her upstairs, the boy will carry
your luggage for you.
"Lord Gimli, you are in the attic roomthe girl will
show you up.
"And you, gentlemen," he added, to Haldir and Dínendal,
"are in the front roomsplease come with me."
Legolas followed the innkeeper's wife upstairs to a bedchamber
at the back of the inn.
"Here we are, my lord, my lady," said the woman. "I've
lit you a nice fire and aired your bed. The bathing room is through
there"she pointed to a door in the far corner of the
chamber"and there is already hot water in the bathtub
if you want to bathe before the festivities start."
Legolas looked around the bedchamber. It was a simple room, but
someonepresumably the innkeeper's wife herselfhad
worked hard to make it fit for royal guests. Two wooden settles
and a small table were grouped around the large, open fireplace,
and bowls of Yuletide herbs and spicespine, ginger, rosemary
and cedar shavingssat on the table, the mantelpiece and
the windowsills. The bed was covered with an ornate patchwork
quilt, and its four posts were trimmed with red and green ribbons
and with sprigs of mistletoe.
"The bedchamber is lovely, Mistress Hildë," said
Eowyn. "Thank you."
"I am pleased you like it, my lady," said Hildë,
curtseying. She turned to the young lad struggling through the
door with Eowyn's luggage. "Put the chest over by the window,
Legolas set Eowyn down on the bed, took a silver piece from his
money pouch, and handed it to the boy.
"Thank you, Norwas," he said.
The boy bowed shyly and backed out of the chamber.
"We will be fetching the Yule Log home at half past two,
my lord," said Hildë. "Would you like me to send
the boy up to remind you?"
"Yesthank you, mistress," said Legolas.
The woman curtseyed again. "I will leave you, then, my lord,
Legolas waited until the woman had closed the door, then sat
down beside Eowyn. "Shall we bathe now, melmenya?" he
asked. "Then I can change your dressings and help you put
on your gown."
"Yesthank you," Eowyn sighed. "Who would
have thought that a few cuts on my feet would have left me so
She looked up at Legolas, suspiciously. "Did you bribe Master
Dínendal to pretend that I cannot walk? I am not
at all sure I can trust you, Legolas."
The elf gathered her in his arms, smiling wickedly. "But
you know you can trust Dínendal, melmenya," he said.
"He is an honourable elfand incorruptible."
Eowyn grinned. "You have tried to corrupt him, then?"
"I decline to answer that," said Legolas, carrying
her into the bathing room. "But I do not deny," he added,
"that these last few days have been very pleasurable."
He set her down on a chair beside the bathtub and carefully removed
her jerkin. "Mmmmm," he sighed, kissing the tender skin
of her neck, and caressing her breasts through the soft silk of
her tunic, "you cannot escape, melmenya..."
"Legolas!" cried Eowyn, laughing and pushing him away.
"We will be late!"
Legolas laughed too. "You are right, meleth nín,"
he said. "Let us bathe." He helped her remove her tunic,
her leggings, and the dressings from her feet, and lifted her
into the warm, scented water.
An hour later, Legolas carried Eowyn downstairs into the parlour,
where a large, noisy crowdincluding Gimli, Haldir and Dínendalhad
"A bowl of wassail, my lady, to warm you before we set out?"
asked the innkeeper.
"Yes, please, Master Gerhal," she replied.
The man ladled a good measure of spiced ale into a drinking bowl,
then pulled a poker from the hot embers of the fire and plunged
it into the liquid. The wassail hissed and steamed. "Here
you are, my lady," said Gerhal. "That will put hairs
on your chest."
"I hope not," said Legolas.
Eowyn laughed, "It is just a saying, my love," she
said. "It means that the wassail is strong."
"Good health, my lady!" cried one of the men.
Eowyn raised the bowl to him, then took a sip. "Goodness!
It is very strong." She laughed again and handed the bowl
to Legolas, who drained it.
"That," said Legolas, placing the empty bowl on the
bar, "is very good, Master Gerhal"
"My lords and lady! Masters and mistresses,"
cried the innkeeper's wife, throwing open the front door, "it
Outside, it was still light, and the snow-covered landscape glittered
in the cool winter sun.
Eowyn raised her fur-lined hood, and pulled her cloak tightly
round her body. Legolas lifted her into his arms and, together
with their friends, they joined the throng of excited people spilling
out of the inn.
"How far are we going?" asked Gimli.
"The oak grove is just a quarter mile hence, my lord,"
said one of the revellers. "This year's Yule Log is a fine
old tree that fell last April, when the sap was rising."
"Very auspicious," said Legolas. "A gift from
the Valar, Master, er...?"
"Ulsil, my lord," said the man.
Legolas nodded politely.
The cheery procession sang and danced and jostled its way to
the oak grove where the chosen tree laypartially covered
in snowwith all but one of its branches neatly removed and
its trunk already cut into several large lengths. Legolas bowed
his head respectfully and whispered short prayer of thanks to
the fallen tree. Eowyn squeezed his shoulder, gently.
"Lord Gimli," said Master Gerhal, "will you do
us the honour of removing the final branch?" Gimli bowed,
drew his axe and struck a single blow, and the crowd cheered as
the branch came clean away.
Several of the village maidens then came forward with red, green
and white ribbons and lovingly decorated the chosen piece of trunk.
When they had finished, Mistress Hildë stepped up and poured
a libation of wassail over the Yule Log, thanking the forest and
its gods for providing warmth and good luck in the coming year.
Then eight able-bodied men, assisted by Haldir and Dínendal,
lifted the Yule Log onto their shoulders and carried it, amidst
much merrymaking, back to The Four Alls tavern.
The revellers brought the decorated Log into the parlour and
laid it on a carefully prepared bed of embers in the large open
hearth. Mistress Hildë took the remains of the previous year's
Yule Log from a silver tray and added it to the fire, pushing
it beneath the new Log.
Master Gerhal stepped forward and offered Eowyn a lighted torch.
"Will you set the Log alight for us, my lady?" he asked.
Smiling, Eowyn took the torch andleaning forward in Legolas'
armstouched the flame to the piece of old Log. The dry wood
caught quickly, and the revellers cheered as its fire spread upwards
to kindle the new, which hissed and spat as its damp bark began
to dry out.
"Thank you, my lady," said Gerhal taking the torch
back from Eowyn. "Will you lead us to the dining table, my
lord?" he asked Legolas.
"With pleasure, Master Gerhal."
The crowd parted andfollowed by Gimli, Haldir, Dínendal
and the rest of the revellersLegolas carried Eowyn to the
long trestle table at the far end of the parlour. Once everyone
was seated, the innkeeper and his family brought in the festive
fare. Gerhal himself carried a roasted boar's head, singing, in
a resonant bass voice, the traditional Yule song,
"The boar's head in hand bring I,
Bedecked with bays and rosemary.
I pray you, masters, merry be
As you feast so heartily."
His wife, son, and daughter followed with trays of roast fowls,
pease pudding, hot chestnuts, caraway bread, apples, pears, and
a ripe blue cheese. Gerhal laid the boar's head on the table,
and the rest of the revellers joined in the chorus,
"Lo, behold the head I bring
And praises to the gods I sing."
"Lord Gimli, will you carve the boar for us?" asked
Gimli removed the garlands of herbs from boar's head and took
the roasted apple from its mouth, offering it to the lady of the
house, who raised her plate to accept it. Then he whetted the
carving knife against the fork and began to cut thick slices of
meat from the boar's cheeks.
Eowyn sighed softly.
"What is wrong, melmenya?"
"The boar looks so sad," she said.
Until she had come to live with the elves of Eryn Carantaur,
Eowyn had never questioned the eating of meat and, at first, she
had found something faintly ridiculous about fierce warriorsand
implacable orc-huntersrefusing to kill animals. But Legolas
believed that it was wrong to kill a sentient creature for food
if something else could be eaten instead. He had taught her that
all living things should be respected.
Legolas touched her hand. "Can I get you some of the other
food, Eowyn nín?" he asked, gently.
She turned to him, smiling, "I love you," she said.
"Will you have some spiced cider, my lord?" asked Hildë.
"Nothank you," replied Haldir, "but I am
sure that Lord Gimli would like some. In fact, I think that he
would like a jug, or three..."
Having demolished the savoury courses, the revellers lolled contentedly
in their chairs, eating Yule cake, fruit, and nuts, and drinking
"Time for some riddles," said Master Gerhal. "Ulsil,
start us off."
Ulsil bowed. "I have one for Lord Gimli," he said.
"I drive men mad
For love of me,
Gimli laughed. "Easily beaten," he said. "That
sounds like gold!"
The revellers clapped and cheered.
"Now I have one for Mistress Hildë," said
"I am always hungry,
I must be fed,
The finger that I lick
Will soon turn red."
Hildë laughed. "Always hungryis it a dog?"
she asked, playfully.
"No," said Gimli.
Hildë grinned. "It must be a family, thena son?"
"No, no, my lady," said Gimli, laughing.
"It is a fire," she admitted.
"Well done, my dear," said Gerhal, patting her back.
He turned to Haldir. "Will you give us one, my lord?"
Haldir thought for a moment, then said,
"If you break me
I do not stop working,
If you touch me
I may be snared,
If you lose me
Nothing else matters."
"The mind," said one of the men.
Haldir shook his head.
"The heart," said Legolas.
"Yes," said Haldir, glancing past him.
"Will you give us one, Lady Eowyn?" asked Norwas, timidly.
Eowyn laughed. "Let me see..." she said. "Yes,
"If a man carried my burden
He would break his back.
I am not rich,
But I leave silver in my track."
"I know this one!" said Hildë.
"A donkey," said Norwas.
"That is a good guess, but no," said Eowyn, kindly.
"A dwarf," said Legolas, winking at Gimli.
Eowyn shook her head, laughing.
"Will you tell us the answer, Mistress Hildë?"
Hildë looked to Eowyn for permissionEowyn noddedthen
turned to her son. "A snail!" she said.
"Oh!" said Norwas. He smiled shyly at Eowyn as the
"We have heard much of the singing of elves," said
the man sitting beside Haldir, suddenly. "Will you sing for
us, my lords?"
"Legolas is the singer here, Master Torglar," said
Haldir. "He is famous for his voice."
"Will you sing for us, then, Lord Legolas?" asked Torglar.
Legolas laughed. "You need never ask an elf that question
twice, Master Torglar."
"Sing a love song!" cried one of the women.
Legolas bowed graciously and began to sing, unaccompanied, a
"Bird on a briar, bird, bird on a briar,
Mankind is come of love, love to crave.
Blissful bird, on me have pity,
Or build, love, build thou me my grave.
"I am so blithe, so bright, bird on briar,
When I see that maid in the hall.
She is white of limb, lovely, true,
She is fair and flower of all.
"Might I at will her have,
Steadfast of love, lovely, true,
Of my sorrow she might me save,
Then joy and bliss were ever to me new."
Master Torglar wiped a tear from his eye. "That was beautiful,
my lord," he said. "Truly beautiful.."
The other revellers murmured in agreement.
Legolas shook his head. "It was far too sad for this occasion,"
he said. "Perhaps Gimli will sing us a dwarven drinking song
to cheer us up!"
By midnight, some of the revellers were beginning to leave.
"Come, melmenya," said Legolas, "let me carry
you upstairs." He lifted her into his arms. "Good night,
ladies and gentlemen," he called, merrily.
"Good night!" said Eowyn.
"Good nightgood night, my lord, my lady," cried
the remaining guests.
"Sweet dreams!" shouted Gimli, adding an empty tankard
to the pile in front of him.
Legolas laid his embroidered tunic over the back of the settle
and reached for the lacing of his leggings.
"No," said Eowyn.
Legolas looked at her questioningly.
"I want to undress you," she said. "Come here."
Legolas smiled. "I thought you would never ask," he
said, climbing onto the bed beside her and taking her in his arms.
Immediately, a fire welled up in him and spread through his limbs.
"Oh," he gasped.
"My love?" asked Eowyn.
"I need you," he whispered.
Eowyn stroked his face. "I need you too."
"I want to take my time"
"Then I will have to be patient."
"that is, once I am inside you..."
Eowyn smiled at him, conspiratorially. Then she quickly unlaced
his leggings and pushed them down. Legolas took her little hand
and drew it to himself. "Guide me," he said.
"Oh Legolas..." She stroked her fingers along his length
then curled her hand around him and pulled him gently between
her thighs, sighing with pleasure as he brushed her flesh. "There,"
Legolas entered her gradually, then began to thrust, slowly,
gently, kissing her neck each time he eased himself into her.
"Eowyn nín," he whispered against her
skin, "Eowyn... Eowyn nín..."
But Eowyn seemed strangely unresponsive.
He raised himself up on his arms and looked down at her. She
was grasping the bed sheet, her eyes tightly closed, and he knew
that she was working hard to be patient.
Oh, he thought, she is so sweet, so loving. And so
beautiful, and the desire that had been smouldering inside
him suddenly burst into flame and he began to thrust hardhard
Eowyn's eyes flew open. "Oh, yes," she gasped, "yes,
my love, yes!"
Faster and faster he thrust, chasing an elusive bond with her,
and Eowyn rose to meet each of his strokes, until the bed was
rocking violently beneath them. And when, at last, he realised
what he was doing it was too latefor Eowyn was coming around
him and he had no choice but to join her...
"Oh, Valar, oh Eowyn nín, Eowyn nín!"
He collapsed, exhausted, on top of her, his face buried in the
crook of her neck.
"You lied to me," Eowyn whispered, stroking
"Melmenya?" he asked weakly, unable to raise his head.
"You told me that it was not better, just different."
"I am sorry melmenya. I am so sorry." He withdrew from
her gently, rolled over onto his back and looked upwards. Twelve
sprigs of mistletoe hung from the canopy of the bed, marking out
a sacred space charged with procreative power. No wonder he had
lost control! Legolas reached for Eowyn and pulled her into his
"I have spoiled everything," he said.
"No!" cried Eowyn, hugging him tightly. "No, my
love! You have done nothing wrong, on this night, of all nights!"
She kissed him passionately. "We must trust to the gods,
as human lovers do. And if I do conceive," she added,
"the child is their gift to us."
He was so tired he tried to ignore it, but the voice was insistent.
He forced his eyes open and stared at the being before hima
being of elven form surrounded by dazzling light. Legolas fell
to his knees, his hand over his heart, his head bowed.
"Do not kneel, Legolas," said the being; "comestand."
It bent before him and gently raised him to his feet. "You
have done us great service, my child, with no thought for your
own safety nor that of your loved ones. You have risked everything
for the well being of all. And such service should be repaid.
Tell me, if you were to be granted one wish, what would you wish
Legolas answered, without hesitation, "To be with Eowyn
The being smiled and faded away.
Legolas awoke with a start.
Something had just happened; he could feel it.
But his sleep had been unnaturally deep, and he did not know
what it was...
He looked around the bedchamber. The fire crackled comfortingly
in the hearth, bathing the room in a rosy light. The bowls of
Yuletide spices filled the air with a soothing fragrance. Eowyn
lay in his arms, warm and soft.
He clasped her more tightly. He felt sure that whatever had happened
had been no threat to them.
Legolas closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.
They were awoken by a tap on the door.
"Dawn will be breaking in an hour, my lord, my lady,"
"Thank you, Master Gerhal," said Legolas. "We
will be down presently."
He kissed Eowyn and laid his hand lightly on her stomach. Eowyn
smiled, but placed her own hand over his. "Let us not worry
just yet, my love," she whispered.
"If that is what you want, meleth nín,"
he said softly, kissing her again. "Come, then, melmenya,
we must make sure that you will be warm enough."
Eowyn smiled. "There are times when being helpless is very
pleasant..." She sat up and swung her legs over the side
of the bed.
"If it were permanent, you would soon tire of it, melmenya,"
said Legolas, helping her into her leggings. "You would ask
Gimli to make you a set of wheels."
"That is a good idea," said Eowyn thoughtfully, "a
chair with wheels. But how would I move it?"
Legolas laughed, holding out a very large black boot so that
she could slip one of her bandaged feet into it. "I do not
know, melmenya, but I am sure that Gimli would think of some mechanism.
Though you will be back on your feet before he could build it."
He laced the boot tightly to stop it falling off.
"I hope so," said Eowyn. "Because my feet do seem
to be taking a very long time to heal."
By the time Legolas and Eowyn came downstairs, a large group
of people, including Gimli, Haldir and Dínendal, had already
collected outside the door of the tavern.
A light frost had whitened the hedgerows and crisped the snow
underfoot, and the merrymakers' breath was steaming in the candlelightthe
men and women were blowing on their hands, and stamping their
feet to keep warm.
The innkeeper had set up a small table by the door and Mistress
Hildë was handing out tankards of hot wassail, candles, and
lighted tapers to the guests. "We do not have enough handswe
must share, melmenya," said Legolas, laughing.
He carried Eowyn over to Gimli, who was standing by the garden
wall, draining his tankard. "Good morning, elvellon,
have you recovered from last night's contest?"
"Good morning," said Gimli, wiping his moustache. "It
would take more than a few tankards of cider to incapacitate methough
I am very grateful to the March Warden for keeping me company."
The two friends exchanged knowing smiles, and Eowyn glanced across
at Haldir, who did not seem quite himself.
"What did you do?" she asked Gimli.
"Nothing," replied the dwarf, with elaborate innocence.
"If an elf is foolish enough to try to compete with a dwarf
Eowyn shook her head. "Poor Haldir. You are wickedboth
of you." She took a sip of wassail, then offered it to Legolas,
holding the tankard to his lips.
"Mmm," said Legolas, "that is very good, melmenya,
but perhaps a little potent for so early in the morning!"
The sky had started to lighten and the crowd suddenly fell silent,
awaiting the reappearance of the sun with anticipation. Eowyn
put her empty tankard on the garden wall, and prepared to light
At last, a tiny sliver of light appeared above the mountains
of Mordor. Eowyn touched the lighted taper to the candlewick.
The flame flared, died down as the wax melted and pooled, then
rose up again, steady and strong.
Together with the other revellers, Eowyn lifted her candle to
greet the rising sun.
And Legolas, his heart bursting with joy, hugged her to his chest.
After breakfast they settled the bill, thanking Gerhal and Hildë
for their hospitality, and presented the family with Yuletide
giftsintricately wrought Elven hunting knives for Gerhal
and Norwas, and exquisite Elven shawls, of jewel-bright silk,
for Hildë and her daughter.
"Oh! Thank you, my lord, my lady," said Hildë,
wrapping the shawl around her shoulders, "it is the loveliest
thing I have ever owned."
As they were about to leave, Hildë came running up to Eowyn.
"Here, my lady," she said, "pleasetake this.
It is not much, but it belonged to my mother, and I would like
you to have ittake it as a Yuletide gift." She handed
Eowyn a small silver flower on a fine silver chain.
"Oh, Mistress Hildë," she began, "I could
not" but Legolas stopped her by laying a hand on her
"Thank you Mistress Hildë," he said. "It
is beautiful. We will not forget the welcome you have given usand
you can rest assured that we will recommend your inn to all we
meet travelling this way." He placed his hand over his heart
and bowed his head. "Farewell, mistress."
They left The Four Alls tavern, and the little town of
Gobel Doron, and continued north west, along the eastern shore
of the Anduin, skirting the hills of Emyn Arnen, to the hamlet
of Edeb where they spent a rather less comfortable night in the
The next day they left at dawn, following the river until they
reached the ford at Osgiliath, and approached and the snow-covered
plain of The Pelennor, with the white city of Minas Tirith not
a half day's ride distant.
It was such a small thing that no man would have noticed it,
but little escaped the eyes of the March Warden of Eryn Carantaurand
certainly not a flock of black birds circling over the ruins of
Crebain, he thought. Carrion crows. And just what are
they feasting upon?
He reined in his horse and fell back until he was riding beside
"You have seen them too," said Legolas.
"Should we investigate?" asked Haldir.
"It is probably some unfortunate animal that has died in
the ruins," said Legolas, "but, given that city's unhappy
history, it would be wise to make sure."
They rode through the shattered city gates and made their way
through the once elegant streets, following the cawing of the
birds. At length, they emerged into the ruins of a spacious courtyard.
"By the gods," said Haldir, softly, "lookover
Lying face-up in the snow, surrounded by small, black scavengers,
was a body.
Legolas and Dínendal dismounted and approached the corpse.
A trail in the snow told them that some large animala dog
or a wolfhad dragged it out from amongst the rubble, and
had gnawed at its face and neck and torn off one of its legs at
the knee. A partially eaten arm lay some yards away.
"The only footprints," said Legolas, "are of animals
and birds. He must have come here before the last fall of snow."
Dínendal crouched beside the body and carefully lifted
"Legolas," said Eowyn, suddenly, "I need to come
down. I need to see his face."
"No, my lady," said Dínendal, shaking his head,
"this is no sight for you."
But Eowyn insisted, and Legolas lifted her from her horse and
carried her to the dead man.
"Turn his head to the right," she said.
Reluctantly, Dínendal did as she asked.
The face was badly damaged but there was no missing the old,
jagged scar that ran down its left side from cheek to chin.
"Dear gods," said Eowyn, "I know him."