"Sit down, my lord," said the woman, pointing to an easy chair by the fire, "and let me take off your boots."

Gimli sat down but, when the woman knelt before him, he put his hand on her shoulder and said, gently, "That is not necessary, lass.

" What is your name?"

"Esmarë, my lord."

"That is a pretty name."

Gimli looked deeply into her doe eyes, and saw something that made him trust her. "The truth is," he said, "I did not come here seeking company, Esmarë. The truth is, I came here looking for information." Since that seemed to make her nervous, he kept talking: "The young sister of a friend of mine has gone missing, here in Minas Tirith and he is frantic with worry. She is a wealthy girl, but she had no money with her, so I thought she might have ended up here—or somewhere like it."

The woman bit her lip. "How old is she, my lord?" she asked.

"Just eighteen. An inexperienced country girl."

"I was only fourteen when I arrived here," said Esmarë. "It was far too young, but the customers like them tender." She raised her head. "There are no new girls here, my lord—just a new boy, Fidélin."

"Have any of your customers mentioned a new girl elsewhere?"

She shook her head. "No—but then, they would not."

Gimli decided it was time to take the bull by the horns. "Have you ever heard of a Lord Berodin, lass?" he asked. "The girl was betrothed to his nephew."

"Betrothed to poor Berkin?"

"You know the boy?"

"No, my lord, not personally, but I do know one of Lord Berodin's servants," she said, "and he often talks about Berkin."

"What does he say?"

"That he is a kind, gentle lad. That it would reduce Sauron himself to tears to see the way Berodin treats him. That Berodin wants him dead."


"Something to do with inheritance, I think," said Esmarë. "He believes..." She hesitated.

"What?" asked Gimli.

"I dare not say it, my lord."

"Please, Esmarë. I will pay double your fee, directly to you, on top of whatever I pay to your pimp, if you tell me."

"It is not the money, my lord."

"No one will ever know where I heard it."

She bit her lip again. "He believes that Berkin does not really have the wasting disease. He believes that Berodin is poisoning him."

"By Aulë, I knew it!" said Gimli, punching his fist into his hand.

"But this does not help the girl, my lord."

"No," said Gimli. He thought for a moment. "When does Berodin's servant next visit you, Esmarë?"

"He will be coming tomorrow evening, my lord. Why?"

"I would like to talk to him—he may know something about the girl."


"Do not worry, lass, he will come to no harm. And if he is as concerned about Berkin as you think he is, he may welcome the opportunity to help. How much do you charge?"

"Silrim charges ten silver for services rendered, my lord, but I see only two."

"Two silver pieces for this job?" Gimli shook his head as he handed her twenty. "Hide it well, Esmarë," he said, and he rose to leave.

"My lord?"


"Do you not want me to earn the money?"

Gimli stared at her. "Are you offering to lie with me?" he asked.

"Do you find me unattractive, my lord?"

Gimli shook his head. Beneath the dirt and the pallor and the provocative, though grubby, clothes, were the remains of a lovely young woman. "You are beautiful, Esmarë," he said.


Haldir was drinking ale at a rate that would have impressed Gimli, and—although he had stopped trying to send her away—he was still valiantly attempting to keep Marglyn's hands above his belt.

When he comes down, he thought, I shall flog him. Flog him and his—his catamite.

And then Eowyn will need..

Oh no! No! Do not think that!


Legolas had followed the boy, Fidélin, into an opulent—and surprisingly clean—bedroom at the front of the tavern. He glanced around. There was an ornate bathtub in the corner, a set of manacles, a horsewhip, various other objects displayed on a wall-mounted frame, and a large mirror hanging over the bed.

"I keep this room for my most distinguished customers, sir," said the landlord. "Men who are used to a certain level of service, if you understand me."

He placed the wine, which he had decanted into a glass carafe, and two glass goblets, on the nightstand. "There we are, sir. Now do not hesitate to call me if you require anything else." He looked meaningfully at Fidélin. "Do exactly as the gentleman asks, lad," he said.

He turned back to Legolas, bowed briefly, and left the room.

Legolas locked the door.

The boy was sitting awkwardly on the bed.

"Take off your clothes," said Legolas, his words sounding unnaturally loud in the quiet of the room.

The boy hunched forward and buried his face in his hands. "My lord..." he began, his high-pitched voice full of tears.

"Hush," said Legolas, firmly. "Take off your clothes and come over here to me."

The boy raised his head. Tears were running down his cheeks. He opened his mouth to speak again, but Legolas held up his hand and turned his head, listening to something behind the locked door. Then he dropped his hand.

"He has gone," he said. "Do not be afraid, Lady Lëonórwyn. I am here to rescue you."


Lëonórwyn began to sob loudly.

"I am sorry, my lady, but as the landlord clearly had no idea who you were, I thought it best to continue with the deception until I was sure that we were completely alone."

He sat down beside her and patted her back in a brotherly fashion.

"How—how—how did you know?" she asked.

Legolas smiled. "I have a wife who sometimes disguises herself as a boy, and there are certain tell-tale signs—the throat, the small hands, the slender ankles and feet. Besides," he added, "you look like Florestan."

Lëonórwyn wiped her wet face with her hands.

"I suggest we wait up here for a while," said Legolas. "Then we will go downstairs and I will 'buy' you from Master Silrim. And then—if the poor March Warden does not kill me immediately—I will take you back to the King's House. Your brother will be relieved to see you."

"It is not safe—"

"You are hardly safe here, my lady," said Legolas. "And even Lord Berodin cannot touch you in the king's own house."

"I did not mean for me," said Lëonórwyn. "There is Berkin to think of. He is in that place alone. And there are the others..."

She does not know about the murders, thought Legolas. "You can stay with Eowyn and me, in your disguise," he said, "then Berodin will be none the wiser—we will say you are our groom."

Lëonórwyn shook her head, sadly. "I have no skill with horses, my lord."

"A musician?"

"I cannot play or sing."

"Well, what can you do?"

"I can draw..."

"We will think of something."

"Thank you, my lord."

"And, once you are safe, and you have explained to us what is going on, we will think of a way to rescue Berkin. And any others who are still alive," he added, quietly.


An hour later, Legolas led Fidélin downstairs and into the bar. Haldir immediately began to rise to his feet, but Legolas stopped him with a surprisingly imperious gesture.

"Was he not to your liking, sir?" asked the landlord, anxiously.

"On the contrary, Master Silrim," said Legolas, "he was most satisfactory, and I want to buy him from you as a gift for my wife." He ignored the strange noises coming from Haldir. "How much do you want for him?"

The landlord smirked. "I had heard that elves have—er—interesting tastes. Five hundred gold pieces."

"Two hundred and fifty."

"Sir, you insult me! Four hundred and fifty."

Legolas shook his head. "I will have to feed and clothe him," he said.

"Four hundred and I will throw in a case of the Ithilien red," said the landlord.

"Done," said Legolas. "How much do I owe you, in total, Master Silrim?"

"Four hundred gold for the boy, then there's fifty silver for the use of the best room, twenty for the wine and ten for services rendered. Call it four hundred and eight gold, sir."

Legolas removed a leather pouch from his belt and counted out the coin. "There," he said. "Will you ask G—Norin to come home when he has finished, Master Silrim? Thank you."

He took Fidélin by the elbow and led him outside.

"I do not believe that you bartered for me," began Lëonórwyn.

"What are you doing, you warg's member?" yelled Haldir, following Legolas out of the tavern, grabbing him by the shoulders and turning him around, bodily.

The Crown Prince of Mirkwood gave his March Warden a look that might have frightened a Nazgûl. "Have I ever," he asked, coldly, "complained about your obsession with my wife? Have I ever said that you must either stop lusting after her or leave Eryn Carantaur?"

Haldir was taken aback. "No..." he said.

"Then get on your horse and follow me up to the next level."


When they had passed through the fifth gate and into Rath Bein, Legolas brought Arod to a halt and turned to Haldir.

"Now it is safe," he said quietly. "March Warden, may I present Lady Lëonórwyn? Lady Lëonórwyn, this uncouth fellow is Haldir, March Warden of the elven colony of Eryn Carantaur, and the devoted champion of Eomer King's sister—"

"Princess Eowyn?"

"Yes; my wife. Which explains both his drunkenness and his earlier uncharacteristic behaviour.

"Now, if we can proceed up to the Citadel, March Warden, we need to get Lady Lëonórwyn back to her brother and then safely hidden."


"You will not tell him that I told you?"

"No, lass," said Gimli. "I will simply settle myself in front of the fire, drink a few tankards of ale, admire the ladies—and gossip with the patrons..."

He tied off the end of his belt and smiled. "I will no doubt see you tomorrow afternoon. Good bye, Esmarë. Take good care of yourself."

He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it and—with all the skill of a conjuror—slipped a gold piece into her palm.


"You are back," said Eowyn. "Did you learn anything?"

Legolas looked up from unlacing his leggings; he had been trying to undress without disturbing her.

Eowyn pushed herself up on the pillows and smiled at him. Legolas swallowed hard. Her hair was loose, and gloriously tangled with sleep, and her soft white night gown had slipped down from her shoulders leaving her lovely breasts bare. Already aroused, he walked to the end of the bed and pulled his leggings open.

Laughing merrily, Eowyn crawled towards him and, grasping him, leaned down and—like a sword swallower—took him deep in her mouth.

"Oh Valar!" Legolas stretched out his arms and grabbed the bedposts. "Melmenya," he moaned.

Through half-closed eyes he watched himself disappear and reappear and disappear as Eowyn's whole body moved rhythmically back and forth. His baser instincts told him to take hold of her and thrust, but his heart cried, No, no, if you lose control, you will hurt her, and, instead, he tightened his grip on the bedposts, crushing the wood beneath his fingers. Tension spread through the muscles of his arms and shoulders, down his spine and into his groin. He arched his back and spread his legs, trying to relieve it, but Eowyn's mouth, soft and warm, was calling out his very spirit.

Sweet Eru, I cannot bear this, he thought, I cannot… "I CANNOT!" he screamed and his body exploded.


When he came back to himself she was coughing.

"Melmenya, I am sorry!"

He lifted her into his arms and looked anxiously into her face, but she was beaming at him, triumphantly.

"Oh, my darling," he whispered, kissing her gently. Then he leaned back and shook his head. "It does not taste pleasant, melmenya."

Eowyn smiled, "Salty," she said, sounding slightly hoarse.

"Do you need a drink?"

"No." She nuzzled his neck. "I need you," she said. "I ache for you. Take me."


"Yes! Oh, yes, YES!"


"Did you learn anything?" asked Eowyn, snuggling against his chest.

Legolas laughed. "My wonderful Shieldmaiden," he said, kissing the top of her head. "Your body may be sated, but your mind is always hungry."

"Did you?"

"I did better than that, melmenya, I found Lëonórwyn hiding in the brothel and brought her back—she is with Florestan now. I have arranged for us all to meet here for breakfast, so that we can hear her story, and plan our next move."

"Next move?"

"She is concerned about her betrothed and about the remainder of her retinue."

"Yes. Of course..." said Eowyn. Then, "Breakfast!" She sat bolt upright. "I need to bathe. And to air the room. And arrange for food!"

"Calm down, melmenya. You need to bathe, yes—in about three hours. But the food is already ordered and the servants will clean and air the room." He reached for her. "I would not call a meeting and expect you to make all the preparations, meleth nín."

Smiling, Eowyn settled down again, slipping her arms around his waist. "Three hours," she said.

"Yes, melmenya."

"What makes you think that my body is sated?"

Laughing, Legolas rolled her onto her back and tickled her mercilessly.

"Why did you invite Aragorn and Eomer—and Faramir?" asked Eowyn, quietly.

"You will see in a moment how difficult the situation is, melmenya. Let me take you over to the table." He lifted her from the bed. "Come, Aragorn, Eomer, ladies and gentlemen," he called, "let us have some breakfast."

He set Eowyn down in the chair next to Aragorn then seated himself beside her. "Please, everyone," he said, pointing to the baskets of warm bread, fruits, and cheeses, the dish of porridge, and the jars of jam and honey laid out on the table, "help yourselves to food."

Eowyn looked around their guests. "Are you going to introduce us, Legolas?" she asked.

"Of course, meleth nín," he replied. "Aragorn, Eomer, Eowyn, may I present Lady Lëonórwyn?"

The 'boy' sitting beside Florestan raised her head. Eomer gasped. Aragorn had stopped buttering his bread and was looking to Legolas for an explanation.

"The woman you and Eomer found in the snow was not Lëonórwyn, but her unfortunate lady's maid, Rosemant," said the elf.

"Why was she wearing Lëonórwyn's clothes?" asked Aragorn. "And who killed her?"

"We will come to that in a moment, mellon nín," said Legolas, adding some more honey to his porridge. "First let me finish the introductions. Lëonórwyn, this is King Elessar, though his friends call him Aragorn." Lëonórwyn bowed respectfully. "Eomer King you already know. You met Haldir last night and, no doubt, Florestan will have introduced you to Senta. This is Lord Gimli"—Gimli bowed his head—"who was also at the Golden Goose with us. Faramir, Prince of Ithilien. Master Dínendal, Eryn Carantaur's foremost healer." Dínendal blushed and bowed his head. "And this," he said, turning and smiling, "is Lady Eowyn, my wife.

"Now, will you tell us how you came to be hiding in the Golden Goose?"

Blushing, Lëonórwyn looked around the table. Then she lowered her eyes and nervously began wringing her hands in her lap as she explained. "As you know," she said, "I inherited my grandfather's fortune, and he arranged my betrothal to Berkin when we were children. Berkin and I had always corresponded but, just before my eighteenth birthday, he sent me a strange letter."

"Strange in what way?" asked Aragorn.

"It was not really a proper letter, more of a note. He asked me to write to him care of the Golden Goose tavern and not to use his real name, either in the letter or the address, but to call him 'Admant'."

Eowyn made a note on her wax tablet.

"Did you write?" asked Aragorn.

"Yes, and he replied. It was another strange letter—he said that marrying him would be dangerous, and he told me not to come to Minas Tirith."

"You did not tell me that!" said Florestan.

"It was not like Berkin to be so—so melodramatic," said Lëonórwyn. "He was clearly in some sort of trouble and needed help. I had no intention of not coming."

Eowyn smiled.

"When we arrived, Berkin's uncle, Lord Berodin, refused to allow the men escorting me to enter the house. He said that the Rohirrim were known to be drunken scoundrels"—Eomer growled—"and he sent them away. He shut me, Amarri, and poor Rosemant, in a room at the top of the house. It was two days before he let me see Berkin."

"Where was the lad being kept?" asked Gimli.

"He was high up in a tower, my lord," said Lëonórwyn. "We had to come downstairs to the main entrance, then we climbed up a separate staircase, at the back of the lobby, I think. And," she added, softly, "his door was locked, from the outside."

"How did Berodin explain that?" asked Gimli.

"He did not bother, my lord."

"Technically," said Aragorn, "Berkin is still a minor, and the laws of Gondor offer children little protection. It is quite acceptable for a parent—or guardian—to keep a child under lock and key—for his own good, of course."

"The callous way that some men treat their children never ceases to amaze me," said Legolas. Eowyn turned to him in surprise.

"I was not allowed to spend much time with Berkin but we got on well, straight away," said Lëonórwyn. "I suppose we already knew each other through our letters. His uncle stayed in the room whilst we were talking, but Berkin managed to distract him for a moment and tell me that he had asked the Rohirrim to stay nearby—at the Golden Goose, my lord," she said to Legolas.

"How did he manage that, if he was locked up?" asked Eowyn.

"I do not know, my lady."

"Perhaps one of the servants is sympathetic," said Legolas.

"Yes, indeed," said Gimli. "Young Esmarë told me that one of her regulars is a servant in that house and is very concerned about Berkin—he thinks that the lad is being poisoned. I am hoping to speak to him this evening."

"Esmarë?" asked Eowyn, softly.

"I will explain later, melmenya," said Legolas.

"Esmarë is a kind soul," said Lëonórwyn. "She did her best to protect me—or, rather, to protect Fidélin."

"Did you actually marry Berkin, Lëonórwyn?" asked Aragorn.

"Yes, your Majesty—at least, I believe so. A few days later, Berodin took me back to Berkin's room. There was a notary, who asked me to sign several documents, which were all witnessed by two of the servants. One of the documents was a marriage contract. Another was my will..."

"Did you read the will?" asked Faramir.

"They did not give me time to read it properly, your Highness, but I think that everything is to go to Berkin."

"Who has no doubt been forced to leave his fortune to his uncle," said Faramir. "That demon almost certainly intends to kill the boy."

"How did you get away?" asked Eomer.

"After the—the wedding, Berodin had me taken back to my room. About two weeks later, one of the servants brought me a note from Berkin. He said we must be ready to leave at midnight and the Rohirrim would be waiting outside to take us away. He said that he had found someone in the city to hide Amarri, since she was too old to travel quickly. And he said we should split into two groups to confuse anyone who tried to follow." Lëonórwyn paused. "It was Rosemant who suggested that she should also wear my clothes, to confuse them further..."

She sniffed.

"At midnight, the servant smuggled us out of the house and the Rohirrim were waiting with horses. Rosemant, Theodort and Ailhard rode northwards; Banduil, Eowulf and I rode towards Osgiliath."

"Why?" asked Legolas.

"Theodort and Ailhard thought they could draw any pursuers away, and we could watch until they had gone and then follow at a distance. But someone tracked us to Osgiliath, and Banduil was shot in the back." She sniffed again. "Eowulf and I managed to get away. We spent the day hiding in the ruins and then, when darkness fell, we came back to the city. Eowulf found me some boy's clothes, and cut off my hair, and we hid in the Golden Goose."

"Where is Eowulf now?" asked Eomer.

"I do not know, your Majesty. One night he went out to visit Amarri and he never came back."

"By the gods," whispered Gimli.

"How long were you in the tavern?" asked Eowyn.

"Five days, my lady."

"And you managed to avoid being, um, used all that time?"

"Master Silrim was saving me for an important customer—for you, my lord," she said to Legolas.

"I will explain that later, melmenya," said Legolas, pre-empting her question.

"Do you know where Amarri is hiding, Lëonórwyn?" asked Aragorn.

"No, your Majesty. Eowulf said it was safer if I did not know."

"So, what do we do next?" asked Legolas. He turned to Aragorn. "Can you send the Gondorian Guard to arrest Berodin?"

Aragorn looked to Faramir, "What do you think, my friend?" he asked.

Faramir shook his head. "There is nothing in what Lady Lëonórwyn has told us that proves Berodin guilty of any crime. He has clearly been treating his nephew cruelly for years and his behaviour towards Lëonórwyn was dishonourable—to say the least—but, as the boy's guardian he was within his rights. Even the marriage, though unconventional, does not appear to have been performed against her will..." He looked to Lëonórwyn for confirmation.

"No," she said, softly, "Berkin is a good person."

"Forcing you to sign the will was illegal but, since its provisions are almost certainly in line with your own wishes, we cannot prove that. We need more evidence."

"I have heard things about this Berodin," began Gimli.

"So have I," said Aragorn, nodding. "That he killed his own wife—"

"And his sister-in-law, and her husband, Berkin's parents," the dwarf added. "I will try to talk to the servant tonight, and see what he knows."

There was a murmur of agreement around the table.

"I think," Eowyn began, then she stopped.

"What melmenya?"

"I was thinking two things," she said, rubbing her forehead, "but now I can only remember one..."

Legolas laid his hand over hers. "And what is that, Eowyn nín?"

"That the key to all of this is Berkin," she said. "How is he doing what he is doing?"

"The servant," said Gimli.

"No," said Eowyn, shaking her head. "No. A servant's loyalty will only take him so far. Sending messages, yes. But using the Golden Goose as an address, or obtaining information about the outside world, or hiding Mistress Amarri somewhere in the City—all those things take money. Where is he getting it? How is he keeping it from his uncle?"

Legolas squeezed her hand. "You are right, melmenya," he said. "As usual, you have seen something the rest of us had missed. What was the other thing?"

Eowyn shook her head. "I still cannot remember," she said.

"It will come back to you, my dear," said Faramir.

"Well," said Aragorn. "I think we can agree that our first priority is to get Berkin out of that house."

"Can you not just order Berodin to let the boy out?" asked Legolas. "Summon Berkin to attend Court. Summon all boys of noble birth and of that age to attend Court..."

"The poison!" said Eowyn. "That is what I was wondering before—why would Berodin be using poison?" She looked around the table. "It is not just because the boy is so resourceful, and needs to be kept subdued. It is also because the supposed sickness gives him an excuse to keep the boy a prisoner. You cannot visit him because he is sick. You cannot summon him to Court because he is sick."

"What a terrible man this is," said Florestan, softly.

Eowyn suddenly turned to Lëonórwyn. "Does Berkin know you are still alive?"

"Yes, my lady. At least, I assume he does. I have never spoken to Olemi—the servant—but Eowulf did, so I assume that he talked about me... I do not know."

"Should Lëonórwyn stay disguised, or reveal her identity? Which would be safer?" asked Florestan.

Aragorn considered the brother's question. "I think that, for now, it is probably safer for her to stay in disguise," he said. "Safer for her, and safer for Berkin. Gimli—tonight, find out everything you can from this servant.

"Tomorrow, we will all breakfast here again, and see if we can come any nearer a solution."




Contents page

Contents page

Previous chapter: The Dressing of the Yule Tree
Legolas makes an important discovery.

Chapter 4

Next chapter: Apologies and Insults
Eowyn and Haldir follow a suspect.

Chapter 6

Extra scene: The messenger
A drabble

Extra scene

Extra scene: The wedding
Berkin marries Lëonórwyn.

Extra scene

A scanned article about mediaeval brothels. Please be patient whilst it loads.