The servant slipped into the hallway unnoticed,
opened a partially-concealed door beside the main staircase, and,
after carefully closing it behind him, climbed to the top of the
tower. The key was hanging on the hook, as usual.
He took it down and unlocked the door.
The room was darkits single bay window was boarded upand
bare, with no rugs on the wooden floor nor hangings on the walls,
and meagrely furnished.
As he entered, its lone occupant struggled to rise from the bed.
Olemi! What is it? asked Berkin, swaying towards
the servant on unsteady legs, why have you risked coming
up now? What is wrong?
Olemi caught his young master by the arms and eased him back
onto the bed. She is here.
No! Berkin shook his head. She cannot be! I
told her to stay away.
She ignored you. She is here.
The boy swore. What has he done with her?
He has put her and her two women in the front attic; he
has sent the men away.
We must get them back, and keep them nearby.
Yesfortunately, they have not gone far. Olemi
jerked his head towards the boarded-up window. They are
lurking in the shadows, just beyond Ostrad Dúlinn.
Good. But we must get them somewhere safe before Osuald
and Ricbert notice themtake them to the Golden Goose,
said Berkin, growing noticeably stronger as he made his plan,
pay for their lodgings. Silrim will know where to stable
their horses. Tell them to wait there for Lëonórwyn.
Make sure they stay. Tell them I will send her as soon
as I can, but it might take a few days.
How are you going to get her out?
Berkin shrugged his shoulders. I do not know yet. But some
opportunity will arise. He smiled. It always does.
Olemi patted his shoulder.
Two days later
Berkin looked up from his book.
My uncle and someone else.
He hid the small volumesmuggled from the library by Admantunder
his filthy pillow, and glanced around the room.
Is there anything else I need to hide?
Something about the second set of footsteps suddenly caught his
Berkin quickly tucked his dirty shirt into his ragged trousers,
ran his fingers through his wild black hair, rubbed his shirt
cuff across his teeth
The door opened.
And, for a split-second, Berkin was disappointed.
Lëonórwyns hair was not pale and silky, as
he had always imagined, but brown, and as thick and unruly as
his own; her features were not delicate, but strong and boyish;
her limbs were not slender, but straight and sturdy.
But then she smiled, and he found himself grinning back, like
This is your betrothed, said his uncle. You
will be married as soon as Master Ingold has finished drawing
up the papers. He pushed the girl forward. Say something.
I do not have all day.
Hello, said Lëonórwyn, with an embarrassed
Hello, replied Berkin, desperately trying to think
of some way to distract his uncle and speak to her privately.
Will you sit down a moment? He glanced at Berodin
for permission before leading her to the bare table
with its two wooden chairsall the while conscious of the
erratic movements of his shaky limbs.
He pulled out a seat.
Berkin remained beside her. I am afraid I cannot offer
you anything to eat or drink... He heard his uncle sigh.
And I cannot introduce you to Sniffer, he added, loudly,
because he seems to be hiding.
Who is Sniffer?
Berkin laid a hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle, warning
squeeze. My pet rat, he said. He and his friends
are quite tame. I feed them scraps
Rats! cried Berodin. You feed rats! You stupid
He threw open the door and leaned out into the landing. Admant,
he roared, Admant, come up here!
Keeping his hand on Lëonórwyns shoulder, Berkin
leaned closer. I have arranged for your men to stay nearby
Berodin turned back into the room. Have you no sense?
Admant came running up the stairs. Go down to Rath Celerdain
said Berodin, and fetch the rat catcher
You must be ready to leave at a moments notice,
tell him to come immediately. Tell him to bring his
I will send someone to help you escape as soon as I
can. The boy turned to face his uncle.
But Lëonórwyn caught his arm. What about you?
Do not worry about me.
I came here to help you
The cost of this, cried Berodin, turning on his nephew,
will come out of your personal coffers! Come, girl!
May I kiss her before she goes? asked Berkin, boldly.
Of course you may, said Lëonórwyn, rising
from her chair.
The boy leaned in and pressed his lips to her cheek. I
must stay here a while longer, he murmured, but
promise me that you will return to Edoras. I will write
to you there.
I promiseI will if I can.
Three days later
Olemi set down the breakfast tray. Beside the bowl of thin porridge
and the horn spoon sat an earthenware jar filled with twigs of
winter-flowering êgvor. Where did these come
from? asked Berkin, bending over the pink blossoms and inhaling
their delicate scent.
The old lady asked me to bring them up.
Yes. Olemi laid his hand on the boys shoulder.
It is today, Berkin. The Notary has been closeted
with your uncle since dawn and they called Lady Lëonórwyn
in about an hour ago.
Oh gods! Berkin ran his hand through is hair. Take
that slop away, Olemi, he said, rising to his feet, pleasebut
leave the flowersand fetch me some soap and water. And...
Sit down a moment, said Olemi, gently guiding the
boy to the bed. You need all your wits about you. I will
find you something clean to wear
I shall. He paused at the door. Do not worry,
Hoisting his borrowed breeches back to his waist, Berkin prayed
to the gods they would not fall down until after the ceremony
A whole army of people was climbing the stairs. He closed his
eyes and concentrated on the sounds, separating the individual
footfallsYes, there she is!
He took a deep breath and turned to face the door.
His uncle entered first, then the NotaryPoor old Ingold,
party to so many crimes!then LëonórwynBerkin
shot her a welcoming grinand, finally, his uncle's two prize
fighting cocks, Osuald and Ricbert, each jostling the other to
get through the door first. Gods!
Berodin, noticing the jar of êgvor, cast a suspicious
glance around the room, but seemed to see nothing else out of
the ordinary. Sit down boy, he said impatiently, you
make me giddy, swaying about like that.
Berkin stumbled to the table and pulled out a chair for Lëonórwyn,
who rewarded him with an affectionate smile, then took a seat
There is only one paper for you to sign, said Berodin.
He gave Ingold a curt nod.
The Notary laid a parchment on the table. This is the Marriage
Contract, Master Berkin, he explained. You must sign
it here. He made a cross at the bottom of the sheet.
Berkin glanced at Lëonórwyn. I shall do my
best, he said quietly, to be a good husband.
Then he took up the pen and signed his name, Berkin son of Alrin.
He handed the pen to his future wife.
Sign it below him, my lady, said the Notary.
Lëonórwyn added her signature, turning to Berkin
with a faint smile.
Now the witnesses, said Ingold.
Slowly, Ricbert wrote his name in a large, childish hand, then
Osuald made his mark.
It is done, my lord, said the Notary. It just
remains for the marriage to be consummated.
It that really necessary?
I am afraid that a marriage is not legal without it.
Berodin turned to his nephew. You have an hour, he
said. Let us hope there is one thing you can do without
Berkin watched, open mouthed, as the wedding guests
departed, and Osuald raised his forearm in a lascivious gesture
before closing the door.
The couple sat for some moments in uneasy silence. Then Berkin
said, Do you have a brooch?
My name is Berkin, like in our letters.
Yes, I know. I am just
Nervous. It feels strange.
You deserved better than this; I am sorry.
It is not your fault.
Do you have a brooch, Lëonórwyn?
Your uncle has locked my jewellery away. For safekeeping
The swine! Do you have anything sharp?
Sharp? I have scissors... She reached into the cloth
purse at her waist and drew out a tiny pair of sewing shears in
a little leather sheath.
Perfect! said Berkin, smiling. May I borrow
The boy cleared his throat. How much do you know about
You mean, about men and women?
I think I know the facts, Berkin, said Lëonórwyn.
And I do not believe we will need scissors...
We want to do it in our own time, said Berkin, gently
taking the shears. But they will look at the bed sheet.
I do not understandwhat are you doing?!
Shhhh. Berkin clamped his hand around the finger
he had just stabbed and rose unsteadily to his feet. If
you have a handkerchief, too, that will be useful. I should have
asked you before, but I am not thinking clearly today. He
stumbled over to the bed. Of course, he said to himself,
the books do not say how much... Probably no more than a
few drops. He squeezed his bleeding finger over the dirty
sheet, letting it drip, then carefully smeared the blood into
an uneven patch. Thereyour virginity.
That is cunning, said Lëonórwyn,
coming up beside him. I would never have thought of that.
Here... She took his hand and carefully bound his finger
with her handkerchief. Does it hurt?
Berkin smiled. It smarts a little.
But will your uncle not realise? When he sees this?
She tied off the ends in a bow.
It is only a small cut, said Berkin, it will
stop bleeding soon. Besides, I doubt Berodin will come back in
person. He will send Osuald or Ricbertand I would need to
cut off my whole hand before either of them would notice.
He looked at her curiously. What are you smiling at?
Lëonórwyn came up on her toes and kissed his cheek.
My very clever husband, she said.