"How long have you being visiting Esmarë?"
asked Gimli, as he and Admant were walking back towards Rath Amrûn.
"Not long," said the man. "Why?"
It is certainly not easy to make conversation with him,
the dwarf thought. "I was just wondering how long she had
been working at the Golden Goose," he said.
He decided to try another approach. "Do you like your job?"
Gimli sighed inwardly. "Is Lord Berodin difficult to work
for?" he coaxed.
The man stopped walking. "Why are you asking me so many
Gimli was almost certain that he had the right manshould
he take the risk?
He chose his words carefully. "I am a friend of Prince Legolas
and of Eomer King," he said. "A certain young lady is
now under their protection, and she is worried about her husband.
Do you know of whom I speak?"
Admant pulled Gimli into the shadows. "She is safe? We thought
she was dead, though Berher husband refused to give up hope."
"She is safe. But what of her husband? Is he safe?"
Admant suddenly drew back from the dwarf. "How do I know
I can trust you?" he asked.
Gimli shook his head. "I do not know. What would convince
The man thought for a moment. "Take me to her," he
said. "And to Prince Legolas."
"Very well," said Gimli. "But will you not be
"No. I do not need to return until ten."
"Is there any way we can reach the next level without passing
"No, my lord," said Admant.
"My name is Gimli," said the dwarf, taking off his
cloak. "Put this on and raise the hood. Hmmm. It is short,
but it is the best we can do. Come, follow me."
Legolas unfolded his father's letter. "Are you sure
you want to hear this, melmenya?" he asked.
"Yes," said Eowyn, firmly.
He reached for her, and she leant against him, settling her head
on his shoulder.
"My father ishe has had to bestrong, singled-minded.
For centuries he kept Mirkwood safe by his own effortshe
had no ring to help him, so he had to be decisive, uncompromising.
And if his words seem callous, well, that is because he always
believes that he knows what is best."
"Yes." He sighed. "At the top of the letter,"
he said, "it says 'Be sure to read this in private'."
"That is an encouraging start," said Eowyn.
"Up the margin, he has added, 'They are not made of the
same 'metal' as we are.'"
Eowyn nodded. "I see."
Legolas took a deep breath. "'My son,'" he read.
"'My messenger has returned from Eryn Carantaur and
told me how things are with you, and I must say that I am disappointed
by your behaviour. You admitted to me that you had performed
a travesty of the harvest rite with this mortal, but Aerandir
tells me that you are now calling her your wife. Do not be a
"I am so sorry," Eowyn whispered. "I have caused
trouble between you."
"Oh melmenya!" He hugged her closer. "No. This
is nothing unusual."
"Read the rest to me."
Legolas found his place.
"'Do not be a fool, Lassui! Both Lord Galdor and Lord
Nevlondeion have, quite separately, assured me that this cannot
be the case. Whatever words you may have exchanged with her
are not sufficient to bind an elf to a mortal. There is therefore
nothing to stop you leaving her if you have since come to your
Legolas swallowed hard.
"'Oh, Lassui, if you could not keep your leggings laced,
why did it have to be a mortal? Could you not at least have
chosen one of your own kind?
"'Aerandir, of course, extols her charms and says that
all of your Counsellors adore her. I have heard about women
and their unique ability to pleasure an elf...
"I cannot read it, melmenya."
"Please. I need to know, my darling," said Eowyn.
"'...are you absolutely sure that she is not demonstrating
her talents to them?'"
Eowyn gasped. "Go on," she whispered.
"'Your choice of lovers has never been fortunate, Lassui.'"
"What does he mean by that?"
Legolas did not reply.
Eowyn twisted herself around on the bed. "This is a test,"
she said. "He knew that you would read it to me. He wanted
to see if it would frighten me away. He has done this sort of
"So it is not that I am a woman. No one is good enough for
you." She thought for a moment. "Dear gods," she
whispered, "how far did he go?"
"He is handsome. And a king," said Legolas, simply.
"He seduced them?" she whispered.
She came up on her knees and wrapped her arms around him.
"To prove that they did not love me," he said, hugging
her fiercely and pulling her down on top of him. She could feel
him hardening beneath her and she pressed herself against him.
"If he means to separate us," she said, "he will
fail." She pushed herself back up onto her knees, straddling
him. "I love you," she said, opening his tunic and unlacing
his leggings. "Let me show you how much, Legolas..."
The contrast between the flawless pallor of his muscular torso
and the darker flesh of his erection struck her as unbearably
beautiful. She stretched out her hand and stroked him, gently
touching the places that gave him most pleasurethe places
that he had shown her.
He smiled up at her and she smiled back.
"I will die if you do not take me," she whispered.
His size, unexpected on so slender a frame, made her body ache,
as always, to be filled by him.
He took hold of her waist and turned her onto her back. She opened
her legs. "No, melmenya," he whispered. He lay astride
her and, using his hand to guide himself, he pushed his hips forward
and entered her. "Cross your ankles," he said, softly.
Then he rose up above her, arching his back.
"Oh gods," Eowyn whimpered as he began to thrust, deep
and hard but in an erratic rhythm that left her waiting uncertainly
for his next body-searing plunge. "Legolas!"
she screamed. "Oh, oh gods!"
"Is the poor lad safe?" asked Gimli, once they were
safely past Lord Berodin's house.
Admant shook his head. "I do not know," he said. "I
do not understand how he has survived this long."
"Will you see him tonight?" asked Gimli.
"No," said Admant, "I have to wait until my turn."
"Are you his only contact with the outside world?"
"No, there is another servant who helps him, but I do not
know who it is. He said it would be safer for both of us if we
each knew nothing of the other."
"What is your name? Your real name?" asked Gimli.
Gimli nodded. So the other is Olemi, he thought.
"The lady addressed her letters to you," he said.
"Yes. That is when I first started visiting the Golden
"And met Esmarë."
"She is a lovely lass," said Gimli. "It is a shame
to see her working in a whorehouse."
"Why?" asked Admant. "It is not such a bad life."
Gimli glanced at him, but did not answer.
"It is my father's nickname for me. Tithen Lassui."
"You have had too many Elvish lessons from Lord Fingolfin."
"He would not say so." She pushed herself up
on her elbows and smiled down at him. "Why can we not just
re-marry in the correct way, Legolas?"
"My father says that we need his permissionand that
he will never give it."
"Then we will have to go to Mirkwood and persuade him. After
all, we have our own experts in elven law." She was referring
to Lord Fingolfin, and the Librarian, Maglor. "When Yule
is over, we will return to Eryn Carantaur, seek their advice,
then pay your father a visit. We will make it an official visit.
We will take Lord Fingolfin, Haldir and his brothers, and othersmany
othersand Gimli and Berryn, if they will come." Let
Thranduil see how much 'Lassui' is respected by his own people,
she thought. "It is time that I met your father."
"My indomitable Shieldmaiden!" said Legolas, smiling
"In the meantime," said Eowyn, "I am reduced to
being your mistress."
"Yes. I am so sorry melmenya."
"It will be hard to bear," she said, "not least
because lovers use their mistresses in ways they dare not use
their wives. Or so I have heard."
Legolas stared at her for a moment, taken aback. Then he grabbed
her around her waist and rolled her over, laughing happily.
There was a knock at the door.
"Oh no," cried Eowyn. "I forgot! I intended to
send you away somewhere before he arrived. You will need to give
him some money from my purse."
"What is happening, melmenya?" asked Legolas, pulling
on his dressing robe.
"Never mind," she said. "Just do not look at what
he gives you. And that reminds meI have some important news
Legolas opened the door. But it was not a servant.
"Humph," said Gimli. "Do you ever get out
of bed these days? I have found Berkin's messenger. We are all
meeting in half an hour at Eomer's apartments. You might want
to do something about your hair."
It took almost an hour for everyone to gather.
There was Aragorn and Faramir, Eomer and Lothirielwho had
insisted on attendingGimli, Florestan and Senta, Lëonórwyn,
Haldir and Dínendal, Legolas and Eowynwho were not,
in fact, the last to arriveand Admant.
"Sit down," said Eomer, "make yourselves at home.
Lothiriel, perhaps you could..." He gestured towards a side
table, laden with spiced biscuits and pitchers of fruit wine.
Lothiriel shot him a disdainful look and rang for a servant.
"Very well," he said. "As you all know, Lëonórwyn
arrived in Minas Tirith almost two months ago with an escort of
four men and two women. We have found the bodies of three of the
men and one of the women, all killed with arrows, which were then
removed to hide the identity of the killers"
"Eowyn has some news about the fourth man, Eowulf,"
said Legolas. "Tell them, melmenya."
"I saw his coat," said Eowyn. "Worn by a man of
Gondor, on Rath Bein. Haldir and I followed him down one of the
alleys behind the main rath, to a house that looked like..."
She shrugged her shoulders. "I thought it looked like
some sort of hideout. He gave a special knock before he was admitted."
"What makes you so sure that it was Eowulf's coat?"
"I know his family," said Eowyn. "The Eodan family
crest was embossed on the back."
"Could you find the house again?"
Eowyn looked over to Haldir, who had been watching her and Legolas
intently. "Yes," he said to Aragorn, "I know exactly
where it is."
"Good. Then I suggest we send a detachment of the Gondorian
Guard to raid the house at first light. We will pick up and question
this man and any accomplices. And let us hope they can lead us
to Eowulf. Haldir, will you go with them?"
"Yes, of course, your Majesty."
"We still do not know where the woman, Mistress Amarri,
is being hidden," said Eomer. "Do you know anything
about her, Admant?"
Admant, unused to speaking in such exalted company, blushed deeply.
"Erno. No, my loyour Majesty," he stammered.
"Master Berkin has not told me anything about her."
"What has he told you, Admant?" asked Aragorn.
Admant's discomfort increased tenfold. "Heerhas
never really told me anything, your Majesty," he said. "I
just run errands for himwithout his uncle knowing, you understand.
I bring him things like sweetmeats, parchment, pen and ink. And
I take messages"
"Where?" asked Eowyn. She was making notes on her wax
"Many places, my lady."
"Can you remember any?" asked Faramir. "Any places
that you have visited regularly?"
Admant thought for a moment. "There are two houses that
I have visited more than once," he said. "One is behind
Rath Bein..." He looked up, suddenly. "Do you think
it could be the same house, your Highness?"
Faramir smiled. "I think that is possible."
"What does it look like?" asked Eowyn.
Admant closed his eyes. "It is at the far end of the alley,"
he said. "Tallthree or four stories. The paint is peeling
off the doordun-coloured paint, I thinkand the windows
are covered with wooden shutters." He opened his eyes, suddenly,
smiling. "It is next door to a carpenter's shop, my lady."
"It is the same house," said Eowyn; Haldir nodded.
"What do you do there?" asked Legolas.
"I deliver pouches of money," said Admant.
"Where does he get the money from?" asked Eowyn.
"I do not know, my lady."
"Are you not curious?"
"No, my lady."
"You said there was a second house," said Faramir.
"Yes, your Highness," said Admant, "that is on
Rath Celerdain, near the Old Guest House. It is more of a cottage,
"Who lives there?"
"An old ladya kind old lady. She once gave me some
Eowyn turned to Lëonórwyn. "Did Berkin ever
mention an old lady in any of his letters? An old servant? A nurse,
perhaps. Or one of his parents' people?"
Lëonórwyn thought carefully. "I cannot remember
anyone, my lady."
"I think we should investigate that house, too," said
"Yes," said Legolas, "but we must do it discreetly.
We must not draw attention to the lady. Admanttonight, you
will come down to Rath Celerdain with me and show me where the
house isthere should be enough time before you need to be
back at your master's. Then, tomorrow, Lëonórwynor
rather Fidélinand I will pay the old lady a visit."
"Good," said Aragorn. "Now what can we do about
Berkin? What can you tell us about his circumstances, Admant?"
"Where is he kept?" said Gimli.
"In the tower, your Majesty, above the main entrance."
"And the door is locked," said Aragorn.
"Yes, your Majesty."
"Then how do you get in to see him?" asked Eowyn. "And
how does he summon you?"
"He does not summon me, my lady. The servants take turns
to take him his meals."
"So he has to wait until it is your turn? That involves
a lot of planning on his part. How many servants are there?"
"Four, my lady."
"And you do what? A day each?"
"No, my lady, a meal each."
"When will you see him next?" asked Faramir.
"Tomorrow morning, your Highness."
"How do you get in? Are you are given a key?" asked
"The key hangs outside the door, my lady."
"Then why does Berkin not escapesome time when the
house is quiet and it is your turn to open the door?" asked
"He cannot walk, Gimli; not well. I think it is the poison."
"Can you tell us anything about the poison?" asked
"This is Master Dínendal, Admant," said Gimli.
"He is a healer."
"I do not know that it is poison for certain, sir,"
said Admant. "As a child he was a fine, strong, young lad.
But, shortly after his aunt died, he was taken ill. And Lord Berodin
insisted on feeding the boy himself, which was not like him...
Berkin did not die, but he remains very weak."
"But he is not getting any worse?" asked Dínendal.
"I do not think so, sir. The royal healer was allowed to
see him recently"
Aragorn laughed, "Even Lord Berodin cannot say no to Master
Cuthbert," he said.
"Perhaps he could tell you more," said Admant.
"Yes. I will speak to him," said Dínendal.
"We simply cannot leave the boy in that house much longer,"
said Faramir, shaking his head, and there were murmurs of agreement
around the room.
"I have an idea," said Gimli.
Everyone turned towards him.
"Tomorrow night is the killing of the wren. Has Berodin
"Yes," said Aragorn. "All the leading families
of Gondor are invited."
"Good," said Gimli. "Then I will call him out
for the slight he gave me the other night. He is surely no fighter.
All it will take is one good blow of the axe."
There were cries of surprise and horror all around the room.
"No Gimli!" said Aragorn, laughing. "The days
when a lone hero opposed evil by force of arms are over. In this
age, we must use the lawhowever frustrating that might be
to us old timers," he added, when Gimli began to protest.
"For now we will content ourselves with investigating the
two houses, and Master Dínendal will talk to the royal
healer. Thank you Admantyour help has been invaluable. There
is a meal waiting for you in the kitchens, and Prince Legolas
will join you shortly."
After Admant had left, Gimli held up his hand. "There is
something else, which I did not want to mention in front of Admant,"
he said, "for he is not the sharpest axe in the weapons chest,
though he means well."
"What is it, Gimli?" asked Aragorn, smiling.
"Admant knows that there is another servant helping Berkin,
but he does not know who it isBerkin has deliberately kept
them in ignorance of each other to protect them."
"He is a clever young man," said Faramir. There was
a murmur of agreement.
"However," continued Gimli, "Lady Lëonórwyn
told us that the servant that contacted Eowulf was called Olemi.
At first, I assumed that Admant was Olemiand that 'Admant'
was just an alias. But now I rather suspect that this Olemi is
somewhat brighter than our friend Admant, and that it is he that
Berkin relies upon to perform the more dangerous tasks."
"Of course," said Eowyn. "After all, someone must
have access to the money. Berkin cannot have it hidden in his
room, can he? We need to talk to Olemi. Or to Berkin himself,
of course. Somehow..."
"I suggest," said Legolas, "that we postpone tomorrow's
meeting until midday, after we have spoken to the old lady. You
are all welcome to lunch in our apartment"
"Do you know what I think," began Lothiriel,
suddenly. She waited until Eomer had scowled everyone into silence.
"I think that you should just kidnap this Berkin.
His uncle would not know who had done it and we could smuggle
him and his wife back to Rohan. Lady Lëonórwyn is
a rich woman and if Berkin is as clever as you say he is, he will
soon work out a way to live there safelyand to have her
estates running properly. Wellthat is what I think."
"You have been reading too many romances, my dear,"
said Eomer, smiling.
But Eowyn was looking at Lothiriel with new respect.
"Do you think he loves her?" asked Eowyn.
Legolas laughed. "She is beautiful and has given him an
heir," he said. "She does not need to be clever."
"Or likeable? But Eomer iswell, he is not clever,
exactlyshrewd," said Eowyn. "And it must
be hard to live with someone who has no interest in your life's
work. But then her idea about kidnapping Berkinthat was
better than any solution I have come up with. Come here, my love."
"I do not have the time just now, melmenya. Perhaps later."
"You conceited elf! I was only going to straighten your
Laughing, Legolas bent towards her and she arranged the hood
around his shoulders. "Be careful, tonight," she said,
kissing his cheek.
"There is no danger, Eowyn nín. I will be
back for supper."
Nervously, Master Dínendal opened the door and stepped
inside. He had no idea what he was going to say to the royal healerwhether
he would need to beg, persuade, or trick the information out of
himbut he knew that if he did not speak to Master Cuthbert
immediately, he would never have the courage to do so.
"Good evening, Master Cuthbert," he said, glancing
around the impressive study.
"Dínendal," said Cuthbert, "it is good
to see you again. Can I offer you some refreshment? I have just
acquired a bottle of a very fine spirit from the Grey Mountains,
which the locals call 'the water of life'. I think thatwhen
you try ityou will agree with them."
"Thank you," said Dínendal.
"Sit by the fire, my young friend," said Cuthbert,
"and tell me what brings you here with such a troubled look
on your fair face."
Dínendal decided to tell the truth.
"I was recently asked to examine a young lady who had been
rescued from," he hesitated, "wellfrom a house
of ill repute." Cuthbert handed him a glass goblet filled
with a deep amber liquid. "Thank you," said Dínendal,
holding it up to the light, "it is a beautiful colour...
The girl had been forced to hide theredisguised as a boyafter
fleeing from her marital home. Her husband's guardian, it seems,
had treated her most cruelly, and her husband was afraid for her
life." Dínendal paused and looked at his glass.
"Go on," said Cuthbert.
"The girl had had to leave her husband behind and she is,
naturally, very worried about him. Especially as she is afraid
that he has been poisoned."
"A bad business, indeed," said Cuthbert, "but
why are you telling me this?"
"The young man in question is Lord Berodin's nephew."
"And I understand that you have examined him recently."
Dínendal took a mouthful of spirit. "Oh!" he
gasped, as the fiery liquid caught the back of his throat. "Oh!
I would not call itwater of life," he coughed, "but
it certainlyseems to havethe power of life or death..."
Cuthbert patted him on the back. "I am sorry, my young friend,"
he said. "I had heard that elves were great drinkers. Would
you like a glass of water?"
"Yesplease," said Dínendal, wiping his
eyes with a fine lawn handkerchief.
Cuthbert walked over to the side table, "You are right,
Dínendal," he said, as he filled a crystal tumbler
with water, "I did examine poor Berkin recently. But
you must understand that I cannot tell you anything about his
"Yes, of course. I do." Dínendal accepted the
water gratefully and took a sip. "Thank you. But do you think
it might be possible," he said, "for us to discuss a
Cuthbert sat down in the chair opposite. "I do not see why
not," he said.
Dínendal thought for a moment. "Could a man,"
he asked, "use poison to turn a strong young boy into an
invalid, leaving him weak and bed-ridden, but otherwise reasonably
healthy and mentally very acute?"
"I believe he could. But the wasting disease would present
with similar symptoms and follow a similar course."
"Would there be any further deterioration?"
"In the case of the disease, no, not once the patient has
recovered from the initial illness. In the case of the poison,
probably not, unless the dosage was increased."
"Could that be fatal?"
"If sufficient poison were given, yes."
"Is there any way to tell the difference between the wasting
disease and poisoning in any particular case?"
"With a thorough examination."
"Can the effects of the poison be reversed?"
"Not by human healing."
"But a boy thus afflicted might nevertheless live a long,
if inactive, life?"
"I believe so."
Something about the answers troubled DínendalCuthbert
was more or less admitting that the boy had been poisoned, or
so it seemed to him, so why had he not reported it to the Gondorian
"Did Berkin himself swear you to secrecy?" he asked.
Cuthbert looked up from the fire, his eyes wide with surprise,
his mouth open.
"He did," said Dínendal. "You told him
that his condition was stable, and he asked you to keep it secret.
"I gave him my word," said Cuthbert.
Dínendal nodded. "I understand your position,"
he said. "But Prince Legolas, King Elessar, and Eomer King
have all taken Lady Lëonórwyn under their protection
and have sworn to her that they will do everything in their power
to rescue her husband. If you have any information that might
help themor if you know of any reason why they should not
do what they are planning to doI beg of you, come forward
and talk to them."
Swive me! thought Admant. It is true what they say
The man watched as Legolas, all but invisible in the shadow of
the buildings, slipped silently along the lane, jumped nimbly
onto a low wall and, balancing on its curved stones, looked across
the small courtyard and through the window of the old lady's cottage.
The elf smiled. Then he dropped from his observation point and
returned to Admant.
"What did you see, my lord?" asked Admant.
"Two elderly ladies, sitting by the fire, taking a glass
of wine," said Legolas. The cosy little parlour had been
decorated with festive evergreens and filled with the warm light
of candles, and the two women had clearly been enjoying each other's
"Come Admant," he said, "let us get you back home
before you are missed."
As Legolas entered the King's House, Haldir was taking leave
of a captain of the Gondorian Guard.
"We were just making arrangements for tomorrow's raid on
the thieves' hideout," he explained. He frowned. "Are
"When I brought Lady Eowyn back to your apartments earlier,
you seemednot yourself."
"A letter from my father," said Legolas.
"Not bad news, I hope."
"Yes," said Legolas, "yes it was. I think we will
be visiting MirkwoodEryn Lasgalenquite soon. And I
hope you will"
"My lord!" A messenger came hurrying towards them.
"I am sorry to disturb you. It is lady Eowyn, my lord. She
asked me to find you."
"Did she say what she wanted?" asked Legolas, walking
towards the Great Staircase.
"She said to tell you that she is indisposed, my lord."
"Indis" Legolas stopped walking and stared at
the messenger for a moment. Then he ranas only an elf can
runup the staircase and towards his chambers.