Lëonórwyn is safe!
Berkin lay on his back, staring at his usual patch of ceiling,
considering everything that Admant had just told him.
More than safeshe is back with her brother and under
the protection of two Kings and two Princes! He smiled at
the irony of it. And, if Admant has understood their discussion
correctly, the King and his friends are concerned about me, too.
Berkin tried to decide how this might affect his planshis
lifes work. He was so close...
But he had not yet decided how he would use the evidence once
it was in his grasp, and he had never, ever, allowed himself
to wonder what would happen after he had revealed ithe had
always assumed that his life would end at the moment of success.
But if the Kings friends are showing an interest in
Of course, Berodin might still kill him at any moment.
But what if he were to give Admant a letter to give to the dwarf?
He would have to time it exactly right, but just suppose
Berkin sat bolt upright. Someone was climbing the stairs. Not
Olemihe would know his friends footsteps anywhereNo,
three men, two of them carrying something, the other, my
uncle. What are they bringing?
Oh gods, he thought, is this it?
He looked around the room, though every detail was already branded
on his memory. No way out. Nowhere to hide. No weapon.
Not that I could use a weapon if I had one.
He swung his legs off the bed and struggled to his feet. If
I am going to die, he thought, it will not be lying in
And he clasped his hands behind his back because his limbs were
unsteady and he did not want his uncleor those bastards,
Osuald and Ricbertto think that he was quaking with fear.
Legolas tried to make sense of the splinters of light and noise
and pain that were spiralling through his body.
Osuald and Ricbert were carrying a man.
Move, snarled Ricbert. Over there.
Berkin snarled backprudently, at the same time, shuffling
backwardswatching them dump the slender body on the floor.
This was the first time one of his uncles other victims
had been brought into his room and Berkin wondered why.
What is special about this one?
In the slow, slightly foolish manner he always adopted in his
uncles presence, he asked, Who is he, uncle?
None of your concern, said Berodin. He motioned his
two servants to leave.
How long will he be here? Berkin persisted. Then,
Is he dangerous?
Dangerous? Berodin shook his head, but not in reply
to his nephews question. He will be here for as long
as I wish him here, he said, and he is no more dangerous
than you are.
The moment his uncle had slammed the door, Berkin was on the
floor, crawling on all fours towards his fellow prisoner. Can
you hear me? he asked, softly.
The man was moaning.
Berkin leaned over him, tentatively touching his shoulder. Are
you alloh my gods! A glance at the delicately
pointed ears confirmed it. You are an elf,
he said. Are you Prince Legolas? Yes, you must be...
Melmenya? Help me
He struggled to tell herto make her understand. Thirsty,
An elven prince, thought Berkin, a hero of the Ring
Warthe Kings personal friend. Is there no one Berodin
dare not attack? Is there nothing he cannot get away with?
Faug, muttered the elf. Sog...
What was that? The boy leaned closer, turning his ear
to the elfs lips.
Elvish! I do not understand, your Highnessare you
in pain? Carefully, Berkin examined the prisoners
head and neck, grimacing at the bruises around his throat and
the deep gash across his forehead.
We must stop that bleeding.
Everything in the roomBerkins clothes, his sheets,
anything he might otherwise have torn into bandageswas filthy.
It will have to be your own shirt, he said softly.
I will be careful...
Yes, sogmelmenya, replied Berkin, assuming that the
sound of his own language would comfort the elf, sogmelmenya.
The silvery fabric of the elfs shirt was soft but too strong
for the boys weakened hands. He growled in frustration and,
ignoring the pain in his joints, worked his thumbnail into the
fibres until the silk finally gave wayand then he laughed
with relief, tearing off a long strip, forming it into a pad and
pressing it firmly against the elf's forehead.
Faug, moaned the elf. Faug...
Faug, repeated Berkin.
I think I am dying, melmenya.
Legolas throat burned with thirst and with unshed tears.
No! he thought. No, melmenya! I shall not leave you
without a fight! I shall not!
The elf had grown restless. Berkin was trying to hold him still,
but his own ravaged body was no match for elven strength. Please,
your Highness, you will hurt yourself
More footsteps. But this time he recognised them, and
they were most welcome. He turned towards the door, struggling
to keep the elf from thrashing about. Olemi! Come and help
The servant dumped the lunch tray and crouched beside his young
Faug... muttered the elf.
He keeps saying that, said Berkin. And sog
and melmenya. But I do not know what he means.
Olemi examined the wound. There is no sign of infectionin
fact the cut is already beginning to heal. But he seems hot.
Olemi slid his hand inside the elfs shirt. Hot and
dry... I think he needs water. He scrambled to his feet.
Can you lift him up?
Berkin struggled manfully.
Here. Olemi had brought a tankard of water and a
spoon from the lunch tray. Let me hold him.
Berkin took a spoonful of water and carefully dribbled it into
the elfs mouth, smiling when his patient swallowed it greedily.
You were right, he said to Olemi, thank the
gods you came when you did.
Sog, said the elf, gratefully.
Sog, Berkin repeated, giving him another spoonful.
Then, with sudden inspiration, Water?
Water, the elf agreed.
Berkin looked down at his sleeping guest.
The boy had seldom seen his own reflection, but he knew that
his thick black hair was wild and shaggy, his face dirty, his
teeththe gods alone knew what state they were inhis
body thin and wasted.
But now is not the time for jealousy, he thought, struggling
to his feet. He hobbled over to the table, grasped one of the
wooden chairs, and dragged itas quietly as he couldinto
the window bay, where he turned its back to the wall, and climbed
up onto the seat.
The windows were covered with wooden planking, in which Berkin
had, some months earlier, bored himself a tiny spy hole. He put
his eye to the hole and watched the traffic on the rath below,
smiling cynically when he recognised one particular passerby.
And where might you be going to, uncle, wearing my fathers
best sword? To sup with your friend, the King?
The elf was still sleeping, his eyes open, but lifeless. Strange,
thought Berkin. Why do they not dry out?
A sudden noise, from beyond his prison door, caught the boys
More footstepsOsuald on his owntrouble.
Keep quiet, he whispered. Then he shuffled away from
the elf and, using the table, struggled to his feet, and stood,
hands spread on the table top, legs braced, ready to face his
uncles favourite thug.
The door swung open and Osuald stood in the doorway, holding
a knife. What are you doing out of bed? he barked.
I needed exercise, said Berkin.
The man sneered.
What are you doing up here?
Osuald was too foolish to dissemble. Your uncle wants him
dealt with. He waved his knife at the elf.
Oh gods, no! Berkin watched the man stride arrogantly
across the room, taking a pride in his despicable job.
An idea occurred to him. When did my uncle give
you the order? he asked.
When did he tell you what you had to do?
This morning. Osuald was reaching for the top of
the elfs head.
Because he has changed his mind, said Berkin.
The man grasped the elfs hair and, raising his head, got
ready to slit his slender, white throat.
I said, yelled Berkin, taking a few wild steps, that
my uncle has changed his mind. He caught Osuald by the shoulder.
The man dropped the elfs head with a thud and turned on
the boy, brandishing his knife. What are you talking about?
I heard him tell the elf, this afternoon, that he had decided
to keep him aliveto get a ransom for him. He is a Prince,
one of the Kings closest friends, and my uncle can get a
fortune for himbut not if you kill him.
Bollocks... The mans eyes narrowed.
You are talking bollocks.
Berkin played his trump card. Ask my uncle if you do not
believe mego ongo and ask himask him now. Then
come back and thank me for saving your skin.
Osuald stared at the boy for a long moment. Then he sheathed
his knife. I cannot ask him until morning, he said.
But if he tells me that you were lying to me, Ill
come back and Ill cut your prick off. He spat on the
elf. It would have put me off my beer anyway.
Berkin waited until the thug had closed the door, then sank down
beside the elf. So, your Highness, he said, carefully
wiping the spittle from his face and hair, you will at least
live until tomorrow. And then...
Well, let us hope I can think of something else tomorrow.