"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,
" 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 hereor somewhere
The woman bit her lip. "How old is she, my lord?" she
"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 lordjust
a new boy, Fidélin."
"Have any of your customers mentioned a new girl elsewhere?"
She shook her head. "Nobut 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
"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
"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 himhe 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.
"Do you not want me to earn the money?"
Gimli stared at her. "Are you offering to lie with me?"
"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,
andalthough he had stopped trying to send her awayhe
was still valiantly attempting to keep Marglyn's hands above his
When he comes down, he thought, I shall flog him. Flog
him and hishis catamite.
And then Eowyn will need..
Oh no! No! Do not think that!
Legolas had followed the boy, Fidélin, into an opulentand
surprisingly cleanbedroom 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.
"Howhowhow did you know?" she asked.
Legolas smiled. "I have a wife who sometimes disguises herself
as a boy, and there are certain tell-tale signsthe 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 thenif the poor March Warden does not kill me
immediatelyI 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
"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 wiserwe will
say you are our groom."
Lëonórwyn shook her head, sadly. "I have no
skill with horses, my lord."
"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,
"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 haveerinteresting
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 GNorin
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,"
"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"
"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 ladiesand 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 andwith all
the skill of a conjurorslipped 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 andlike a sword swallowertook 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
Sweet Eru, I cannot bear this, he thought, I cannot
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
Eowyn smiled, "Salty," she said, sounding slightly
"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."
"I did better than that, melmenya, I found Lëonórwyn
hiding in the brothel and brought her backshe 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."
"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, yesin 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.
"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 Eomerand 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
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
"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 letterhe
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 soso melodramatic,"
said Lëonórwyn. "He was clearly in some sort
of trouble and needed help. I had no intention of not coming."
"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
"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 parentor guardianto keep
a child under lock and keyfor 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
"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 nearbyat the Golden Goose, my lord,"
she said to Legolas.
"How did he manage that, if he was locked up?" asked
"I do not know, my lady."
"Perhaps one of the servants is sympathetic," said
"Yes, indeed," said Gimli. "Young Esmarë
told me that one of her regulars is a servant in that house and
is very concerned about Berkinhe 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 meor, rather, to protect
"Did you actually marry Berkin, Lëonórwyn?"
"Yes, your Majestyat 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 thethe 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..."
"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
"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 customerfor
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?"
"No, your Majesty. Eowulf said it was safer if I did not
"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?"
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 dishonourableto say the leastbut,
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
"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
"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.
"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
"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 Cityall 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
"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 beforewhy 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 Olemithe servantbut 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. Gimlitonight,
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."