Olemi waited until his escort had closed and locked
the door, then laid the tray on the table. I have heard
something, he said, helping Berkin out of bed. Your
uncle has ordered another killing.
Berkin shuffled unsteadily to the table. Who is it this
Olemi pulled out one of the chairs. Brandir son of Borondir,
a merchant from Rath Bein.
Berkin dropped heavily onto the seat. Why? He picked
up a piece of coarse bread and dipped it into the bowl of stew.
Olemi pulled out the other chair and sat down. According
to Osuald, Brandir has been importing a substance from Near Haradlike
pipe weed, but so pleasurable it leaves the smoker desperate for
more. In Near Harad, apparently, men have become slaves to it
Someone slapped at the door, impatiently. COME ON, OLEMI!
WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THERE?
Is that Osuald?
The servant nodded. He says your uncle wanted to go into
partnership with this Brandir.
Berkin gestured with his piece of bread. But the poor fool
He is not exactly innocent, Berkin.
No... The boy took a bite. Still, he
said, swallowing the food with difficulty, that does not
give Berodin the right to kill himdoes the man have children?
Olemi shrugged. I do not know.
Can you come back tonight? With the supper tray? Swap with
Why? What do you want me to do?
I am not sure yet, but
There was another loud slap on the door.
Osuald is getting impatient, said Olemi.
You had better goI may need you to be his best friend,
later. Berkin grinned. And thank you, Olemi.
The man shook his head. You know that is not necessary.
Berkin dipped his bread into the thin stew. Do you
have to eat this stuff?
No. I thought not.
Berkin dragged one of his chairs into the window bay, turned
its back to the wall and climbed onto the seat. The windows were
boarded up, but many hours patient work with the handle
of a metal spoon had made him a small spy hole, carefully concealed
amongst several knots in the wood.
Berkin put his eye to the hole.
Watching the world pass by helped him think.
Olemi was late. The cooks drunk again, he said.
And I am not sure if this was intended for you or for one
of the dogs.
Berkin lifted the lid of the dish. Ahpart
of an old boot. He took up his spoonhe was not permitted
a knifeand tried to cut the gristly meat. A tough
old boot. He picked it up in his fingers. Tomorrow
is your afternoon off, is it not?
Yes. Olemi nodded.
And Osuald can get away whenever he chooses... I need you
to take him to the Golden Goosetell him you owe him
He will want a whore, said Olemi.
Berkin grinned. As long as it gets him talking. I want
to know who my uncle is hiring to kill the merchant. And
when. And then... He laid the piece of meat down
with a sigh and pushed the dish away. I cannot eat this.
I will try to bring you some of our leftovers when I come
back for the tray.
No, said Berkin. No, I want you to send Admant
up for the tray.
We need help.
Well, yes, I know, but Admant.
Berkin smiled. I shall not ask him to do any thinking.
But he is a good sort and I think he is fond of meor, at
least, feels sorry for mein any case, I believe I can trust
him. He looked up at the faithful servant. Do you
not think so?
I do not doubt that his heart is in the right place,
said Olemi. But I am not convinced that he can keep a secret.
I shall not tell him about you
I am not worried for myself.
I know, said Berkin, smiling. Your concern
is for me. But I do not think you need to worry; I have already
Olemi looked up in surprise.
With small thingssweetmeats, and so on. He brought
them straight away, and never questioned where the money had come
from. Tonight I will try him with something more important.
How many more schemes are you running that I do not know
Berkin smiled. I keep nothing from you, Olemi; I just do
not tell you everything.
The servant laughed. I will send up the leftovers with
Admant, he said.
Berkin heard the key turn in the lock, and a rough voice say,
Be quick. Then the door opened, and Admant stepped
inside, looking furtive.
Berkin sighed inwardly. Maybe this is not such a good idea.
I have come for your tray, said Admant, too loudly.
Berkin signalled to him to lower his voice.
I have come for your tray, said Admant, in a stage
whisper, opening his jerkin to reveal the leftovers, carefully
wrapped in a cloth. From Olemi, he mouthed.
Berkin almost laughed out loud. Thank youwait
Admantcan you bring me something else, next time you cometomorrow
morning, is it not?
What is it you want, Master Berkin? whispered Admant,
nervously. Only, last time, I had real trouble getting up
to Rath Bein.
This is something from my uncles study
Oh, The servant sounded as though he had been run
through with a sword.
Just a sheet of parchment, said Berkin, quickly,
some ink, and a pen. Bring them when you fetch the food,
and take the pen and ink away when you come back for the tray.
Can you do that for me, Admant?
The servant looked around the roomas if checking that Berodin
was not waiting in the shadows to catch him outbefore replying,
I suppose so.
Berkin smiled. The man really was a good sort. Thank
you. Here. He took a small coin from the pocket of his ragged
trousers and handed it over.
Oh... Oh no, you do not need to do that, Master Berkin,
said Admant, trying to give it back.
The boy raised his hand. Drink to me, next time you are
in the Golden Goose, he said.
Berkin hobbled over to the table, sat down, and unrolled the
cloth bundle. He smiled. Olemi had done him proudthere was
a small chop, some roasted potatoes, a slice of pease pudding
and a piece of bread soaked in gravy: cold and slightly greasy
but, compared to what Berkin normally ate, delicious. The boy
took his time, savouring each mouthful.
Then he licked his fingers, carefully folded and hid the clothhe
would give it back to Olemi or Admant at the first opportunityand
hobbled back to his bed.
He would not have much time tomorrow, so he must compose his
letters tonight, and commit them to memory.
And this, said Admant, pulling a warm and slightly
crumpled piece of parchment from inside his shirt and placing
it next to the pen and ink. I will be back in half an hour.
Berkin took a mouthful of the disgusting slop the cook had given
him for breakfast, and waited until he was alone. Then he smoothed
the parchment on the table, taking care not to get it greasy,
pulled the stopper from the ink bottle, and dipped the pen.
At the top of the sheet, he wrote,
Your dealings have brought you to the attention of someone who
has paid to have you killed. If you value your life, LEAVE MINAS
TIRITH WITHOUT DELAY.
Further down the page, he added a separate note,
Your victim has already left the city, but I believe it is
in everyones interest that Berodin does not know.
If you agree, ask my man for 500 gold and the token. Go immediately
to the House of Healing, bribe the guard to let you into the mortuary,
and obtain whatever part Berodin has demanded from you as proof
When I hear that he has dispatched your payment, I shall send
you the same amount. You will thus receive double the fee for
less than half the work.
Gazing through his spy hole, an hour or so later, Berkin watched
Ricbert flirting with a pretty young serving girl from the house
opposite. What does Lëonórwyn look like?
he wondered. Does she have long, pale hair?
The click of the key took him by surprise, but his quick mind
told him that the only person it could be was his uncle. He slid
to the floor, landing in a heap because his legs gave way.
Berodin entered with another man, whom Berkin recognised as a
Notary. What are you doing over there? asked his uncle,
I felt like walking, said Berkin.
You should be more careful. Come here.
Using the chair for support, Berkin pulled himself to his feet
and shuffled to the table. The Notary, clearly uncomfortable in
the boys presence, placed four sheets of parchment before
You need to sign these, said Berodin.
What are they? Feigning stupidity, Berkin stared
at the papers, secretly scanning their contents: Title
Deed. Not important. Contract of Sale. Not important.
Nothing that need worry you, said Berodin. You
know that your interests are safe in my hands.
Grant of Land. Not worth fighting for. Marriage
Come along, boy. Master Ingolds time is valuable.
Berkin glanced down the page. In the event of my death,
my wifes fortune... Not on your life. Can
I have a pen?
He dipped the nib in the small ink pot and signed the first paper,
Berkin son of Alrin, writing slowly and laboriously. He
handed the document to the Notary with a proud smile.
And the others, said Berodin.
Berkin son of Alrin; Berk... Oh.
The ink had run out. He reached for the ink pot; his arm twitched
violently, knocking it overOh, no!he dropped
the pen and picked up the pot, holding it in mid air, watching
in dismay as the ink spilled over the final sheet of parchment.
You stupid boy! cried Berodin, grabbing his arm.
You stupid, stupidnow Master Ingold must prepare
another copy! If your mother and father could see what I have
to put up with!
I believe it was an accident, my lord, ventured the
Notary, meekly. But, if the boy will finish signing the
Grant of Land, at least we can complete the transfer.
In the event of my death, my wifes fortune...
Sitting on the floor, beneath the window, his knees drawn up
under his chin, Berkin turned the sentence over and over in his
He means to kill us both, he thought. Some tragic accident...
I must warn Lëonórwynmust tell her to stay away.
Perhaps I can get Admant to
The key turned again.
Busy day. But Berkin smiled at this visitor. I was
not expecting you until tomorrow.
I swapped with Ricbert, said Olemi, because
I managed to speak to Osuald last night. He helped the boy
to his feet.
Is it soon?
Tonight. You seem weaker today...
Berkin shrugged his shoulders. It comes and goes.
With the servants help, he sat down on the bed. What
else did Osuald tell you?
The assassin is one Alchfrid, son of Aelbert. Osuald is
to meet with him this evening.
You must follow, said Berkin. And you have
much to do beforehand. He counted each step on his fingers.
Go to our friend. We will needwhat is the fee? Two
Two and a half. Osuald is most put out.
Get three, then. Do you know what token my uncle has demanded?
Berkin thought for a moment. Once you have the gold, go
straight to Brandiryou will have to talk your way inwear
your holiday clothes and show the goldsay that you want
Berkin handed him the parchment. You will need to cut this
in half beforehand. Give the top part to the merchant and make
sure he believes what it says. Berkin rubbed his chin. He
will probably be wearing the tokenit must be something
my uncle has seen in the course of their dealings, something distinctive,
like a ring-seal. Use your judgement. Get it from him.
Olemi nodded again.
Come back here as soon as you can, and then follow Osuald
like a shadow. Do not let him leave without you. He turned
to the servant with a sudden misgiving: You are willing
to approach this Alchfrid?
Do I have any choice?
Of course you do!
You know I am.
Be careful. Give him the bottom part of the parchment.
If he cannot read, you will have to read it to him.
Olemi scanned the letter. Berkin...
This part about the mortuary.
A dead man will not miss a finger, said the boy.
And the gods may even reward him for helping the living.
There was not an inch of Berkins body that did not ache.
He had no idea how long he had been standing at the spy hole.
But he was determined
For an instant, at the very edge of his field of view, he saw
Osuald leaving the alley beside the house, turning northwards
along Rath Amrûn, making for the Fifth Gate. Moments later,
a slighter figure, wearing a dark cloak with the hood raised,
Sighing with relief, the boy slid down the window boards onto
the chair seat.
Now it is just a matter of more waiting, he thought.
Surely he is back by now!
Berkin hobbled to and fro, from his bed to the window, from the
window to the bed...
He collapsed on the coarse coverlet. Gods, Olemi, find some
way to come up here and tell me!
Wearily, Berkin pushed himself up on his elbows and watched the
Yes! At last!
He forced himself to stay silent until Olemi had closed the door
behind him, and his escort had turned the key, then he whispered,
The servant laid the breakfast tray on the table. I could
not get up here last night
He has gone. Packed up his wife and children and rode for
Caras Arnenhe has family there, apparently.
Berkin fell back against his pillow. And Alchfrid?
Took the gold. Giving him the token was what really convinced
himhe thought I had been sent by the gods!
What was the token?
A signet ring.
Berkin smiled, a touch of pride on his gaunt face.
I escorted him to the House of Healing, said Olemi,
to make absolutely sure. And then left him happily looting
It worked, said Berkin, shaking his head. It
It worked. Olemi bent over his masterhis late
masters only sonand helped him back into a sitting
position. Do you want to eat your breakfast in bed?
What is it?
Porridge, I think.
Berkin laughed. No. I think I will do without porridge
You certainly deserve a celebration. I will see if I can
smuggle something up
Send it with Admant, said Berkin. I need to
speak to him.
Olemi regarded him curiously.
Admant is going to be my messenger, said the boy,
to Lëonórwyn. When will I see you again?
I shall miss you till then.
Berkin lay on his back, staring at the ceiling, waiting for Admant.
My body may be weak now, uncle, he thought, but
I can still fight you with my mind! I can fight you with my mind!