Bergthórr beytill leaped to his feet. "What
is the meaning of this?" he cried, as Legolas led Lady Gunnhildr,
unveiled, into the Great Hall. "Go back to your chambers
at onceand do not return until you are properly dressed!"
He turned to Thranduil. "Is one woman not enough for your
son? You tell him to keep his 'thing' to himself"
"My son has no interest in your daughter's body," said
Thranduil, coldly. "But if he is, in any way, responsible
for her miraculous transformation, you should be thanking him.
Come, my dear," he said to Gunnhildr, "come and sit
beside me. And, please, Bergthórr beytill,"
he added, to the speechless chieftain, "sit down, too, and
enjoy your food. You and I can argue again tomorrow."
Eowyn removed her betrothal ring and set it on the table before
"I am Prince Legolas' chosen," she said, "given
to him by the Valar in his first harvest rite. But King Thranduil
does not accept me. He insists that I must prove my worth by completing
three tasks set by him. This is my second taskto succeed
I must return to him tomorrow with a portion of your arrears as
proof that you have agreed to pay your taxes. If I fail, I am
to leave Eryn Lasgalen and never see Prince Legolas again..."
There was a murmur of surprise from the elves and ellith behind
"So your motives are selfish," said Lassemista.
Eowyn thought for a moment. "My motives for being in Caras
Glawar are selfish, my lord, yes," she admitted, "but
my argumentthat, in a just society, each pays taxes according
to his means so that the strong may help the weak and the weak
need feel no shame in accepting helpis always valid, and
is in no way affected by my motives."
The Adar called Siriondil Riverlover suddenly spoke out in Elvish.
"She has my vote, too," said Lassemista. "Malbeth?"
Malbeth Goldword nodded.
Thorondir sighed. "And mine too."
Eowyn smiled broadly. "Thank you, my lords."
Siriondil leaned towards his neighbour and asked him a question.
Then, after a brief discussion, he turned back to Eowyn and said,
in a mixture of broken Westron and Elvish, "Cuio mae,
little adaneth brave. I wish you cuil 'lassui with
Eowyn placed her hand over her heart and bowed her head in thanks.
"May I have your permission to escort your daughter back
to her chambers, Chief Bergthórr?" asked Legolas.
The chieftain's sharp eyes narrowed. "Why?" he asked.
"Why are you paying my daughter so much attention, when you
already have a woman?"
"She is my father's guest," said Legolas. "And
it is our custom," he lied.
The Beorning sighed. "Very well," he said. He glanced
towards his daughter, who was talking animatedly with King Thranduil.
"But," he added, shrewdly, "make sure you tell
her that you would prefer to see her dressed more modestly
"Did you enjoy your evening, Lady Gunnhildr?" asked
Legolas as they walked slowly down the passage towards the Beornings'
chambers. "I believe you made a great impression on my father,
and on the rest of his Court."
"Thank you, Prince Legolas," said Gunnhildr quietly.
She stopped walking and, taking her hand from his, turned to face
him. "I did enjoy tonightyour father's company is delightful
and youyou have been very kind to me. I must thank
youand Lord Gimlifor showing me that it is not shameful
for a woman to enjoy the attention of men"she smiled"or,
rather, of elves and dwarves..." She held out her hand. "I
will leave you, now, your Highness, for I see we are at your door,
and I can make my own way back to my chambers from here."
"But I must insist," said Legolas, sincerely, because
he was now more certain than ever that Gunnhildr was not the bear,
"on seeing you to safety, my lady. Besides," he added,
remembering his plan, "with Lady Eowyn so far away I will
not rest in my chambers tonight. I will pass the time walking
through the Halls, visiting the garden caverns. The sight of growing
things will give my spirit all the rest it needs."
Eomer awoke, a sixth sense telling him that someone was about
to knock on his door.
"A moment," he called. He threw back the bed covers,
and recognising the soft, warm, breeze he felt as his hand
brushed the pillow beside himclimbed out of bed and put
on his dressing robe. "Go into the garden," he said
as he walked towards the door. "I do not want them to know
you are here."
He waited a moment before opening the door.
"Your Majesty," said Valandil, bowing, "we have
it." He handed Eomer a small flask.
Eomer stared at the object lying in his hand, then looked up
at the two elves. "Come in a moment," he said, "I
will not keep you long, butby the gods, you must have ridden
non-stop." He gestured towards the chairs by the fire.
"We rode swiftly," said Valandil, as he and Orodreth
stepped inside, "because we thought it was urgent."
"Thank you," said Eomer. "May I offer you a drink?"
"No, thank you," said Valandil.
"We shall sup once we have bathed, your Majesty," explained
"If you are sure..." Eomer smiled. "I just wanted
to thank you properly," he said, clasping each elf's hand
and slapping him on the back in turn. "Thank you, both. I
will be sure to impress on Prince Legolas what a valuable service
you have rendered me."
Legolas turned at the end of the passage and slowly retraced
his stepspast the various storage chambers; past two garden
caverns filled with cherry blossom; past Bergthórr beytill's
chamber; past Bjarni Bjarki's; past the dormitory shared by the
rest of the Beorning men; past Lady Gunnhildr's door...
He paused and listened carefully for any sounds of movement.
He carried on; past two more garden caverns; past two more chambers...
He ducked into a side tunnel.
"Anything?" whispered Gimli.
Legolas shook his head. "Where is Dínendal?"
he asked, softly.
"He has been summoned to a patient," said Haldir. "He
will return as soon as he is able. What do you plan to do next?"
"I will walk the tunnel one more time," said Legolas.
"Then I am not sure."
"You asked for me, your Majesty?" said Dínendal.
"Yes, Master Healer," said Eomer. "I am sorry
to have disturbed you in the middle of the night butthe
truth isit is an urgent matter and one that I would prefer
to keep"he cleared his throat"confidential."
Dínendal looked around the room as if expecting to see
a drugged elleth lying deflowered upon the bed. "Your Majesty?"
Eomer picked up the flask of enchanted water. "Please sit
down, Master Dínendal, and I will explain." He gestured
towards a chair and waited until the elf was seated. "When
I helped Legolas carry my sister out of the enchanted river,"
he said, "I think I must have swallowed a tiny amount of
"Yes, your Majesty, I believe you did. The tiredness..."
"Yes. And, in that state, it seems that I can seeand
speak tothe woodland sprite. So I have obtained a small
quantity of enchanted water." He handed the flask to Dínendal.
"But I am unsure how much to take..."
"I see," said Dínendal. He turned the flask
around in his hand, looking at it intently. "Do you want
to try some now?"
"Yes, I do. But I must be well enough to attend the talks
"I understand," said the healer. "I will do what
I can, your Majestyplease sit on the bed." Dínendal
placed his healing bag on the night stand, opened it, and took
out a tiny spoon. "Good. Now prop yourself up on the pillows,
"Wait! Are you sure that she is here?" asked Eomer.
"She is lying beside you," said Dínendal.
Eomer cursed under his breath.
Dínendal uncorked the flask and carefully tipped a single
drop of water onto the spoon. "Take this, your Majesty,"
he said, holding the spoon to Eomer's lips. The man swallowed
the water like a child taking a dose of cod liver oil from his
"We will wait for a quarter of an hour," said Dínendal,
turning a small hourglass and placing it on the nightstand. "If
you have not begun to see the sprite by then, your Majesty, I
will give you some more water."
Legolas paced the tunnel. There can only bewhat?three,
four hours until dawn, he thought. Oh, Eowyn nín,
if only I could have gone with you...
He paused once more outside Gunnhildr's door. Still nothing.
It is not her, I am sure of it
All his senses were suddenly alert. Danger! And he knew exactly
where the bear was.
"Ada!" he cried, running past the side tunnel"Come
with me! It is attacking my father!"then out into the
main thoroughfare, with Gimli, Haldir and Berryn following.
Eomer watched as the last grain of sand fell through the neck
of the hourglass.
"More," he said.
Dínendal fed him another drop.
Legolas ran into Thranduil's study, followed by his friends and
by the two guards from outside the door. "Ada? Ada, where
are you?" He looked around for a weapon. "Give me your
bow," he said to one of the guards.
"We are in the garden!" cried his father. "But
stay outside, Lassui! All of you, stay outside."
"Please do as he says," said a quiet voice.
Legolas turned towards the study door. A slender figure, dressed
in a white night-gown, stood framed beneath its arch.
"Leave this to me, Prince Legolas," she said, "and
no one will be hurt." Then she walked over to the garden
cavern and stood in the doorway. "Stop it," she said,
firmly. "Please, stop it."
"More," said Eomer.
The bear howled.
"I do not need protection," said Gunnhildr,
"not from King Thranduil. Please leave his chambers. Go back
to you own room."
There was a sound of scuffling.
Then a huge, golden creature bounded past Gunnhildr, past Legolas
and his companions, and out through the study door. "Do not
hurt herlet her go!" cried the girl. "She will
not harm anyone now!"
Legolas ran into the garden. "Ada?" His father was
standing with his back pressed against the cavern wall. "Are
"No..." said Thranduil, "No. I think she was just
giving me a warning."
"A warning? About what?"
Thranduil did not answer. Instead, motioning Legolas to go before
him, he walked out into the study. "Return to your posts,"
he said to the guards, "I will deal with the bear, later,
He turned to Gunnhildr. "Now: I think you owe my son and
me an explanation, young lady."
"By the gods, Firith," said Eomer. "Get some clothes
"Her name is Osðryd," said Gunnhildr. "She
is my nurse."
"The woman I saw earlier tonight?" said Legolas.
"Yes." Gunnhildr smiled, shyly. "When my mother
died, my father made Osðryd swear on her own life that she
would always protect me." Gunnhildr bit her lip. "The
first time I saw her change we were travelling. One of Sauron's
wolves had managed to slip into our camp unseen and had entered
my tent. When I awoke its head was in my crib and its saliva was
dripping on my face." Gunnhildr shuddered. "Suddenly,
it was knocked asidekilled instantly by a single blow from
the bear's paw. I watched the bear as it changed backI saw
it become smaller, slighter; saw the fur disappear from its arms
and face; saw its fangs and claws turn to teeth and nails. I watched
the bear slip back into the form of a womanOsðryd.
"Then she lifted me from my crib and rocked me, cooing over
me as if nothing had happened.
"I was too shy to tell my father what I had seenfor
I was only fourbut I told my brother, Bjarni, and he told
father. Father had me brought to his tent, sat me on his knee,
and told me that what I had seen was a dream and that, although
I might well have similar dreams again, I was never to talk of
them. And I never have, until now. Except to Bjarni."
"So your nurse thought that King Thranduil intended to"Gimli
shot the Elvenking a slightly false look of apology"seduce
you and she came here to warn him off?"
"And she slipped past the guards unnoticed," said Legolas,
"because she is a woman and a servant."
"It was my fault. I told her that you had asked me to sit
beside you at dinner, your Majesty," said Gunnhildr. "I
Thranduil waved a hand. "Pray, do not mention it, my dear,"
he said. "It is forgotten. The only thing I want to
know is why she attacked my son."
Gunnhildr blushed deeply. "We saw Prince Legolas,"
she said, "Osðryd and I, paddling in a stream in East
Lorien. We both thought"she cleared her throat, her
eyes fixed on the floor"that he looked very nice."
Legolas' fair skin turned slightly rosy.
"I think that she likes you," she said, very quietly.
"I will leave you now," said Dínendal. "Do
not take any more water tonight. If you want to see her again
tomorrow," he held up the tiny spoon to emphasise his point,
"take three drops, a quarter of an hour apart." He placed
the spoon beside the flask. "I will see myself out,"
"Thank you," said Eomer.
Dínendal gave him a brief bow, then left.
Eomer turned to Firith. She had wrapped herself in a bed sheet,
butsomehowthat only made her look more alluring.
"Beloved..." she whispered.
Eomer bit his lip. "We need to talk," he said.
"Later..." whispered Firith.
"NoNo, Firith!" He pushed her hands away.
"But you are so beautiful, E-o-mer..." she protested,
in her musical voice. She touched his face. "Let me show
you how beautiful..."
"You are saying that her intentions towards my son are amorous?"
"Yes, your Majesty."
"And so she dislikes Eowyn," continued Thranduil. "But
how did she know about Lindorië? And about Rothinzil?"
"I told her, your Majesty. Every night, I tell her
stories of what I have seen. I did not realise that she would
"What, exactly, did you see happening between my son and
Rothinzil to make her jealous?" asked Thranduil.
Gunnhildr looked from father to son and back again. "Nothing,
your Majesty. Nothing. I just saw him kiss her good night. It
was nothing. He did the same to me, later."
Thranduil turned to his son triumphantly. Legolas scowled back.
"Well," said Berryn, suddenly, "at least now we
know how to stop the bear's attacks."
Thranduil lost the staring contest. "We do?"
"Yes, your Majesty. From what little I managed to learn
in the library this afternoon, it all comes down to the oath.
Whether he knew it or not, when Bergthórr beytill made
the nurse swear to protect Lady Gunnhildr, he took away her self-control.
He condemned her to changing skin whenever her charge was threatenedso
when Lady Gunnhildr grew up so lovely"the girl rewarded
him with a dazzling smile"the bear became obsessed
with protecting her honour. And now that the woman has, herself,
become infatuated with Prince Legolas, the bear is expressing
her jealousy. You must persuade Bergthórr beytill to release
the skin changer from her oath, your Majesty. Oh! And," he
added, almost as an afterthought, "Lord Legolas must speak
to her aboutwellthe other thing."
"I am married," Eomer insisted. "I have
told you beforeI am not free."
"And nor am I, E-o-mer... I am bound... To you..."
She brushed her fingers across his lips.
"Let me show you love... Just once..."
"I cannot," whispered Eomer. "My wife"
"Do you love her, E-o-mer?"
"Ino." It was less than a whisper. "But,
"I can help you fall in love with her..."
Firith smiled. "Let me show you..." Slowly, she untied
the sash of his dressing robe. Then, moving smoothly, light as
air, she slipped between his legs and, kneeling before him, raised
his night shirt...
"I shall speak to Bergthórr beytill today, before
the talks," said Thranduil. "And I would be very grateful,
Lady Gunnhildr, ifassuming that you have any sway with your
fatheryou would persuade him to hear me out."
Gunnhildr shook her head. "I am his favourite, your Majesty,
but he would never listen to me in a matter of state. Unless,
that is, I can tell him something you 'let slip' at dinner last
nightthat you are intending to apologise to him,
"Are all edenith brighter than their men folk?"
asked Thranduil. "Very well, my dear, you may tell him that
if you think it will get him to speak to me."
"My father," said Legolas, with a wink, "is particularly
adept at seeming to apologise whilst actually deepening the insult.
I shall speak to your nurse when Lady Eowyn is sleeping."
"Please do not hurt her, Prince Legolas," said Gunnhildr,
"she cannot help what she isnor what falling in love
with you has made her become."
"I have no intention of harming her, my lady," said
Legolas, "provided she does not attack me."
"I meant her feelings," said Gunnhildr, biting her
"That," said Legolas, softly, "may be more difficult.
But I will do what I can." He glanced at his father's hourglass.
"Now I must leave you, for I want to meet Eowyn on her journey
home. Will you come with me, Gimli?"
"Of course," said the dwarf.
"Good Day, Lady Gunnhildr," said Legolas, bowing. "Haldir,
Berryn; Good Day, Ada."
"Be sure to bring Eowyn straight to me, Lassui," called
Thranduil after his son. "With the money."
"Come on Gimli," cried Legolas, "it is almost
He reached down from Arod's back anddisplaying a strength
entirely at odds with his slender framelifted the dwarf
up behind him.
"Are you sure that you want an audience, lad?" asked
"If she has failed, Gimli, you must take her back to Aglarond.
She will be safe with youand she loves you very much."
Gimli said nothing but Legolas could hear him swallowing hard.
They galloped along the river until they reached the forest edge.
Scanning the strange, marshy plain to the west of the Long Lake,
Legolas could see, coming from the north, a small group of riders
working their way along the raised track. Gradually, his elven
eyes distinguished their formsfirst Angrod, Findaráto
and Aredhel; then, some way behind them, Eowyn riding beside a
green-elf he recognised as
"By the Valar, Gimli, she is leading a pack horse!"
Heedless of the danger presented by the marshy ground, Legolas
galloped past Angrod, Findaráto and Aredhel, brought Arod
to a sudden halt, andignoring Gimli's colourful protestsjumped
down and ran to Eowyn's side. She had already dismounted, laughing,
and he lifted her into his arms and whirled her round, kissing
her neck noisily.
"You weigh a ton in your armour, melmenya," he laughed.
Then he whispered, "You did it! You did it, brave Eowyn nín!"
"Yes, I did it," she replied. And then, remembering
her manners, she added, "One of the Edair decided to accompany
me back to your father's Halls. He wants to talk to him."
She turned to the Adar. "Legolas, this is"
"Mae govannen, Siriondil," said Legolas. The
two elves greeted each other formally.
"Siriondil is the best fletcher in the whole of Middle Earth,
Lorien not excepted," said Legolas to Eowyn as they rode
back towards the forest. "He taught me everything I know
about arrows. And he says that you"he grinned
at her"are the bravest, most eloquent, most beautiful
creature he has ever seen. I believe I shall have to guard you
very well in future, melmenya!"
"Let me see it," said Thranduil.
Eowyn opened one of the panniers.
"This is one year's tax," she said. "There is
another year's money in the other bag. The people of Caras Glawar
ask for time to raise the remainder of the arrears. One of the
Edair has returned with me to treat with you."
"Has he indeed," said Thranduil. "Tell me: how
did they come by so much silver?"
"They trade with the men of Laketown," said Eowyn.
"I thought you would prefer metal to payment in kindhowever
well the bows and arrows are made."
Thranduil looked up sharply. "You are shrewd, Eowyn vell
Eowyn nodded, her face impassive.
"Good," said Thranduil. "Very good. Return to
me at four o'clock and I will set you your final task. Now go
and get some restyou look mortal."
"You must be very tired, melmenya, let me put you to bed."
Eowyn, sitting on the floor by his feet, shook her head. "No,
I want to watch you again," she said.
She nodded, laying her hands on his thighs and smiling wickedly.
"Oh! Watch me..." Legolas returned her smile.
"Fortunately, you could raise a dead elf, melmenya..."
Taking his time, he removed his sash, unfastened the front of
his silver tunic and opened it. He was wearing nothing but a pair
of fine silken leggings and he raised his eyebrows slightlyWell?clearly
expecting her to be impressedand, indeed, the thin fabric
was hiding nothing.
"Go on," said Eowyn, still smiling.
Legolas pulled at his laces, let the leggings fall open and then,
still watching Eowyn's face, reached inside and lifted himself
out, already full sizelong and thickbut still soft.
"Oh..." Eowyn reached for it, longingly, but did not
Legolas wrapped his fingers around its root and fondled it. The
shaft began to stiffen, first straightening, then rising slowly,
until it stood upright against his belly. Leaning forwards now
but still looking at her, Legolas began to move his fingers in
a light, circular motion, teasing it and making it jump.
Eowyn groaned; her fingers moved closer.
Grasping the arm of the chair with his left hand, Legolas began
to use his right in earnest, wrapping it around his shaft and
stroking up and down, from root to head and back again.
"What does it feel like?" asked Eowyn, hoarsely.
"It is pleasant," he admitted, "but it is not
like being inside you." He closed his eyes and leaned
back in the chair. "You are wet," he whispered, smiling,
"and your body holds me, all of me, sometimes tightly, sometimes
like a gentle caress. Inside you, I feel safe, even when you grip
me hard and milk me without mercy." His hips had begun to
move on the chair, thrusting himself into his hand. It was obvious
that he was imagining his hand as her body. He moaned
"No! No! Not yet!" she cried, breaking his rhythm.
Legolas opened his eyes and stared at her with all the agony
of a male on the very brink suddenly denied release. "Oh,
Valar," he gasped; "oh, Manwë and Varda..."
"I am sorry, my love!" Lifting her shift, Eowyn scrambled
onto the chair, straddling him. "It hurts to watch youI
need you inside me."
With a gasp of pure relief Legolas pulled her down onto his lap.
Eowyn moaned as she felt his smooth, hard flesh fill her, stretch
her, pushing up against her womb. Raking back his loose, soft
hair and grasping his shoulders, she began to ride him.
"Do you have any idea," she moaned, "how much
I love you, edhel nín?"
"I love you too," he answered. Then he took hold of
her hips and, despite her protests, gently slowed her movements
to an almost imperceptible rise and fall.
There was nothing left of Middle-earthnothing but his
penis stretching up inside her. And shehis glorious
womanwas holding him in her soft, sweet bodyholding
them both on the very edge of completion
He heard her cry and, too exhausted to hold her back this time,
instinctively followed. And his seed, multiplied by denied release,
burst forth, again and again, leaving him weak and trembling.
"Ai!" he sobbed, "Cuinon! Cuinam...