Eomer awoke smiling. "Firith?"
The bed beside him seemed empty but a reassuring
breeze stirred his hair and, without thinking, he reached for
his flask of enchanted water.
A cold blast stayed his hand and brought him back to his senses.
"You are right, Firith," he said, "I forgot. Thank
you." He stroked the pillow beside him. "Thank you for
everything. I will wait until tonight, then take some more, and
we will talkjust talk."
The breeze caressed his cheek.
"Gods," he whispered, "I can never thank you enough
for last night."
Legolas walked noiselessly across the chamber and opened the
door. "Eomer," he whispered, "what is it? Eowyn
"Good," said Eomer, "for I do not want her to
hear what I am about to say. Can we go elsewhere?"
"No, Firith is there."
Legolas nodded. "Very well; come this way." He led
Eomer to his mother's garden and bade him sit on the seat beneath
"It is lovely here," said Eomer. "Firith would
like it. And so, of course, would Lothíriel..."
"You made love to the sprite," said Legolas.
Eomer stared at him, dumbfounded.
"You were not made to have affairs, Eomer," said Legolas,
"It is obvious?"
"To an elf."
"To men also, I think."
"It will not happen again," said Eomer, softly. "And,
by the time I return home..."
"The joy will not be so fresh," said Legolas. "What
do you want to ask, Eomer?"
"Is that obvious, too?"
Eomer rose and walked towards one of the trees. "We do not
have these in Rohan," he said, smelling the blossom.
"I was not a virgin when I married Lothíriel,"
said Eomer, "but I had never been with any women but whoreswomen
whose only aim was to get the job done quickly. Lothíriel
was a virgin and she was afraid. So it was some months
Legolas nodded, even though Eomer's back was turned.
"And then, almost immediately, she grew big with child,"
Eomer continued. "And since Elfwine's birth..." He shook
his head. "That night, in Minas Tirith, when I saw you and
Eowyn"he turned slightly further away"gods!
I did not know if you were making love to her or killing her."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Had her words not made it plain
that she was enjoying it, I might have run you through."
Legolas, unsure of what to say, used a tactic he had learnt from
Gimli: he cleared his throat. And it workedGood old Gimli!for
Eomer suddenly drew himself upright and turned to face him.
"Last night," he said, "Firith showed me how to
please a woman. But Lothíriel would never allow
me to do that... Sometimes, I think she was born without desire."
Legolas thought for a moment. "But imagine, Eomer,"
he said, "a girl kept a virtual prisoner, told that if she
so much as raises her veil she is as good as inviting some rogue
to steal her precious honoursuddenly, she is married off
to a stranger and expected to be intimate with him. No wonder
she is afraid."
"What can I do?"
"You must earn her trust."
"How? How did you ever persuade Eowyn to do"he
shrugged his shoulders, uncomfortably"what she does
"Eowyn and I have always had the same desires," said
Eomer smiled, wistfully. "You are lucky," he said.
"With others... There was one elleth who lived in a settlement
to the north. I suppose men would call her a whore. My father
used to send me to the settlement regularly, to inspect the guard.
I was no more than an elfling, really, and Serindë... Serindë
was like no one else I had ever met. There was a time when I honestly
believed that Serindë was destined to be my hervess."
"Your wife?" said Eomer, sitting down beside him. "Your
father would not have liked that!"
"That is why I had to stop seeing her," said Legolas.
"Does Eowyn know about her?"
"No," Legolas admitted. "Serindë is the one
part of my past life that I have not been able to share with her."
"For the same reason that you will never tell Lothíriel
"You still love her?"
"No! No, of course not!" said Legolas. "I love
Eowyn. I always have." He smiled. "Even before
I knew herbefore she was bornwhatever I loved in an
elleth was always a pale shadow of something I now findbright
and clearin her. No; it is because Serindë taught me
about lovemaking. And I wish I had learnt that with Eowyn."
"What did Serindë teach you?"
"She taught me that all ellith are different and that you
have to learn what they like. She taught me that sometimes you
have to forego your own pleasure to satisfy her. But if
you are patient, and really do satisfy her, she will be only too
eager to satisfy you in return. And," he added, with a smile,
"that is the surest way for you and Lothíriel to cement
your love, Eomer."
Some time later, Legolas tapped lightly on Gunnhildr's door.
The nurse was surprised to see him. "Prince Legolas! Lady
Gunnhildr is with her father."
"I know, Mistress Osðryd," Legolas replied, "it
is you I wish to speak to. May I come in?"
Blushing, the woman stepped aside to allow him to enter, then
closed the door and turned to face him. "What do you want
with me, your Highness?" she asked.
This, thought Legolas, is no mere servant. This is
a proud, strong, well-born woman who has sacrificed her own happiness
to take care of another's child.
"I am here," he said, "because I can sense your
"But I cannot return them," he added, gently.
"Of course you cannot," said Osðryd, quietly. "I
would not expect it. You are an elfbeautiful, perpetually
young. How could you love an ageing womana woman who was
never much to look at, even as a girl? Never in my wildest dreams"
"You are wrong mistress," said Legolas, sincerely.
"It has nothing to do with age, or looks, or with anything
lacking in your spiritfor that shines with a beauty I have
seldom seenit is because I already love another. And an
elf loves only once."
Osðryd nodded. "So I have heard," she whispered,
and she turned to walk away but Legolas caught her arm.
"Why did you attack them, mistress?" he asked. "Yours
is a noble spirit. The bear threatened my father because
you are bound to protect Lady Gunnhildr. But why did it attack
Osðryd's eyes filled with tears. "Because I cannot control
it," she answered, simply. "I can no longer control
Then she lifted her chin and looked up at him, bravely. "I
am ready to face any punishment that you and your father decree,
your Highness. And, though I have a terror of confinementbeing
locked away, far from the air and the light and from growing things"she
shook her head"if you command it, Prince Legolas,
I believe that even the bear will accept it."
Legolas was taken aback. "No, Mistress Osðryd,"
he said, gently, "noan elf would never punish you for
something over which you have no control. But we must stop you
harming others in future... Please sit, and hear me out."
He waited until she was seated, then he continued, "One of
my friends believes that the reason you can no longer control
the changing is that by taking the oath before Bergthórr
"To protect Gunnhildr"
"Yes," said Legolas. "By taking that oath you,
in effect, gave away your control." The woman seemed surprised;
he could see a tiny ray of hope beginning to lighten her face.
"My father intends to ask Chief Bergthórr to release
you from your oath. When that is done, we think that you may regain
complete control of your powers"
"Oh! Your Highness!" The woman suddenly threw herself
at his feet and, lifting his hands from his lap, showered them
with kisses. "Thank you! Thank you!" she said, again
Gently, Legolas withdrew a hand and laid it on her head. "Please,
Mistress Osðryd," he said, "do not place too
much hope in this. If Bergthórr beytill refuses to release
you, then confining you for the remainder of your stay will be
the only option."
"He will not refuse," said Osðryd, firmly. "I
will beg him. And, when he releases me, I swear that I will make
amends to you for harming those you love." She placed his
left handwhich he had not had the heart to withdraw from
herback on his lap. Then she added, very softly, "But
if this does not work then I will willingly be confined at your
command, my love."
"My daughter tells me that you want to apologise, King Thranduil,"
said Bergthórr beytill, "in privatepresumably
to save face."
"Eryes," said Thranduil. "Please, Chief
HorChief Bergthórr, take a seat. Can I offer you
some wine? Or perhaps a refreshing cordial?"
"Just get to the point."
"Of course." With feline grace, Thranduil seated himself
opposite the small man. "There are two points I want to address,
in fact," he said, "and the first is simple: I unreservedly
apologise, Chief Bergthórr, for any insult you imagine
Thranduil decided to lose the battle for the sake of winning
the war. "For any insult I may have given you. Andbefore
you demand itI agree to say so when the talks resume."
But that does not, he thought, mean that I will overlook any opportunity
to interrogate you about your behaviour in East Lorien. "The
second point," he continued, "is much more important.
And may prove more difficult to resolve."
"Last night I was attacked by the bear."
"What does that have to do with me?" asked Bergthórr
Thranduil smiled. "It was your daughter who saved me,"
he said; his smile broadened at the man's surprise. "Your
daughter ordered the bear to leave my study." He waved his
hand as if to show Bergthórr exactly where the incident
had taken place. "And your daughter was able to do this,"
he continued, "because the skin changer is her nursea
fact which you well know."
"Now, wait a minute"
Thranduil held up his hands. "I did not ask you here to
accuse you of anything, Chief Bergthórr," he said,
and his voice was all warm sincerity underpinned with steel. "Had
I had such a creature at my disposal when my son was an
elfling I would, without doubt, have done what you didappointed
her to protect my child. And I would, without doubt, have required
her to take an oath to that effect"
"Where is this going?" asked Bergthórr beytill.
"To put it quite simply, Chief Bergthórr," said
Thranduil, "when you obtained the woman's oath, you destroyed
the delicate balance between her powers and her conscience. You
took away her responsibility for the bear's behaviour and now
it is out of control. And it seems that the only way to stop the
creature attacking innocent elves"he unconsciously
straightened his sash"is for you to release the woman
from her obligation."
"Release her!" Bergthórr beytill's face was
red with anger. "Release her so that you and your ne'er-do-well
son can get your hands on my girl? Do you think me a fool?"
Thranduil sighed. Believe me, Chief Horse-penis, he thought,
if I wanted your daughter I would have had her by now. And
she would be following me around like a puppy...
"If you will not release the nurse, Chief Bergthórr,"
he said, firmly, "I shall be forced to imprison her for the
remainder of your stay."
"Just you try it!" cried Bergthórr beytill,
And he slammed the study door behind him.
"Shhhhh. Go back to sleep, melmenya," said Legolas,
gently, "it is not yet time for you to wake."
"What time is it?"
"Five and twenty to twelve," said Legolas, kissing
her forehead, gently, "and I am meeting Eomer and Gimli for
lunch at one o'clock"
"Can I come? I have not seen Eomer in days."
"It is only two days, meleth nín,"
said Legolas, "and you need to rest."
"But I feel so cut off. Please let me come."
Legolas sighed; he could seldom deny her anything, even in her
own best interests. "Can you be ready in less than an hour?"
"Then I will ask them to eat here. In the meantime, I have
already drawn the water." He lifted her out of bed, carried
her into the bathing room and set her down on the edge of the
bath. "Lift your arms."
"What is that smell?" She raised her arms.
"Iârloth leaves," said Legolas, removing
her night-dress. "They are said to be invigorating."
He helped her into the sharply scented water, and climbed in beside
"Mmmm," said Eowyn, leaning back in the water.
She stifled a yawn. "Did you speak with the nurse?"
"And she has agreed that if my father cannot persuade Bergthórr
beytill to release her from her oath, she will allow herself to
be locked up for the remainder of her stay."
"It is so sad," said Eowyn. Then she asked, very softly,
"Did she admit to being in love with you, Lassui?"
"Yes..." Legolas bit his lip. "When she is a woman,
melmenya, she is the most noble of creatures; she expects nothing
from me in return."
"It must have been very painful for you."
Legolas said nothing for a few moments. Then he asked, "Do
all women think as she does?"
"Age. 'You are an elf,' she said, 'perpetually young. How
could you love an ageing woman?'"
"Yes," replied Eowyn, softly. "We all think like
that." She took Legolas' hand and wove her fingers through
"Does it still worry you?" he asked.
"Yes. But I try not to think about it."
"I do not see age as a man does," said Legolas.
"I know." She kissed his hand. "I had better get
dressed, my darling."
After lunch, when the four friends were sitting before the fire,
eating a dessert of fruited bread and honey cakes, and drinking
raspberry-leaf tea, Legolas turned to Eomer. "Where are the
documents you wanted to show me?" he asked.
Eomer put down his plate, licked his fingers, and pulled two
sheets of parchment from inside his tunic. "Here," he
said, "Firith drew my attention to them"
"Who is Firith?" asked Eowyn.
"She is the woodland sprite I told you about, melmenya,"
said Legolas. "The being that was following Eomer. She"Eomer
caught his eye with the tiniest shake of the head"er..."
"She is as concerned to protect The Lady's forest as we
are, lass," said Gimli, helpfully.
"I see," said Eowyn. "Where is she now?"
"She has promised to stay in my chambers," said Eomer.
He spread out the parchments on the low table. "These are
pages taken from a report drawn up by March Warden Singollo. From
what he describes, both Colgan and Gimli have deduced that the
Beornings are mining in East Lorien, at a place called
"White Rocks," said Eowyn, quietly. "Gynd 'lyss.
That sounds familiar..."
"Mining is forbidden on elven lands," said Legolas.
"By the terms of the treaty drawn up at the end of the Ring
war, my father can demand reparations from anyone mining in East
Lorienon behalf of the elves who live there, of course."
"Of course," said Eomer. "He could. If he knew
about it, that is."
"White Rocks. Where did I hear it... White Rocks?"
"You have not told him?" asked Legolas.
Eomer hesitated. "No," he said. "Not yet. I will,
of course. And I realise that this puts you in a difficult position"
Eowyn suddenly rose and walked into the garden cavern.
"I am thinking."
Legolas turned back to Eomer and Gimli and shrugged his shoulders.
"I realise that this puts you in a difficult position, Legolas,"
Eomer repeated, "but hear me out. My only concern is to keep
Rohan intact. As you know, my Court and most of my forces are
concentrated in the south, at Edoras and Helm's Deep. The north
is a wild, lawless place, and my uncle, under Wormtongue's influence,
was content to allow several great families to rule it almost
as a group of independent principalities"
"A very dangerous tactic," said Legolas.
"Especially if what your father tells me is true,"
said Eomer. "He says he has proof that Bergthórr beytill
has formed an alliance with the most powerful of the families."
"That would certainly upset the balance of power,"
"With the Beornings behind them, the House of Æðelbert
could rule the north as a separate kingdom," Eomer agreed.
"And if the people of East Emnet joined them, they could
even threaten Edoras."
"You want to know whether my father is telling you the truth,"
"I do not know, Eomer. I can honestly tell you that he has
not discussed the matter with me. And I have no idea how he could
"Ereinion!" cried Eowyn, running back into the main
"Just what have you been telling that arrogant cur, Thranduil?"
asked Bergthórr beytill, angrily.
"He knows you are a skin changer. He knows
about the oath"
"Nothing, my lord," cried Osðryd, "I told
him nothing but, somehow"
"I told him, father," said Gunnhildr, bravely,
stepping between her nurse and the irate chieftain; "I told
him because Osðryd attacked him thinking that she was protecting
me! She needs help, father. And he and Prince Legolas have promised"
"Prince Legolas! Prince Legolas! He is the cause
of all this trouble. If the pair of you had been in your tent,
doing your mending, like proper women, instead of lurking in the
undergrowth watching him wash his privates"
"none of this would have happened. From now on, Osðryd
is confined to this chamber. In fact, you are both confined,"
said Bergthórr. "I will send Heðinn and Snorri
to make sure that you behave yourselves. And as for you"he
turned to Osðryd"you can forget this nonsense about
being released from your oath. You are bound for life!"
"There are hundreds of letters," said Eowyn,
"all from one writer, a green-elf called Ereinion. He lives
on the very southern tip of Eryn Lasgalen. I looked closely at
only one of them, but he mentioned a secret mine"she
turned to Legolas"sabar thurin."
Legolas nodded. "Secret mine."
"It is at a place called White Rocks." she added
"Did he say what they were mining?" asked Gimli.
"I do not know," said Eowyn. "But I did see the
"Mithril? In East Lorien?" said Gimli. He thought for
a moment, "Aye, there could be..."
"That would explain why the Beornings are willing to take
such a risk," said Eomer. "You say there are hundreds
"I think it is time to speak to your father," said
Eomer to Legolas.
"Quickly, Osðryd, this way," said Gunnhildr, running
down the corridor towards Legolas' chambers. "Here!"
She tapped lightly at the door.
There was no answer.
She knocked harder.
There was still no answer.
Gunnhildr pounded on the door.
"My lady!" said Osðryd, anxiously, "I can
hear them coming!"
Gunnhildr took a deep breath, lifted the door latch and, together,
the two women stumbled into Legolas' sitting room.
"Let me do the talking," said Legolas, softly,
as they entered his father's study.
Thranduil looked up from his desk. "Lassui?"
"AdaEomer, Gimli and Eowyn have uncovered some important
information; we think we know what the Beornings are doing in
Thranduil gestured towards the cluster of chairs by the fire.
"Make yourselves at home," he said. "Nowjust
what are our friends up to?"
"When Eowyn was sorting your correspondence," said
Legolas, "she noticed a large number of letters from a wood
elf called Ereinion"
"That fool," said Thranduil. He writes me a 'despatch'
almost every day. 'There are men doing this, there are men
doing that; there are not enough elves to guard the borders; if
you do not send us an army we shall be overrun...' I no longer
read his nonsense." He looked up, sharply. "What have
"How do you know that the Beornings have formed an alliance
with..." Legolas turned to Eomer.
"The House of Æðelbert," said Eomer.
"What?" Thranduil looked from his son to the King of
Rohan and back again.
"Eomer is here to trade with you, Ada," said Legolas.
"You give him proof that the Beornings are active in the
north of Rohan, and he will tell you what you haveeroverlooked
in Ereinion's letters."
"I have taught you too well, Lassui," said Thranduil,
with a sigh. "Very well, since we do not have much time...
I have a spy in Rohan."
"You..." Eomer was speechless.
"A manone Daelhard, son of Daelhart. He is a very
reliable sourceand he just happens to be Lord Æðelbert's
secretary." Eomer was shaking his head, a mixture of anger
and admiration on his face. "Daelhard helped Æðelbert
draw up the treaty." Thranduil paused for a moment, then
he turned to Eomer. "Tell me what the Beornings are doing
and I will show you Daelhard's letterit is written in the
Common Tongue so you should have no trouble reading it."
Legolas' arm shot out to restrain Eomer. "Collo's report
describes traces of mining, Adaif you know how to recognise
themin the region of Gynd 'lyss," he said. "And
Eowyn saw mention of a secret mine in one of Ereinion's letters.
She also noticed the word"
"Mith-ril," said Eowyn, lingering over its second syllable.
"Of course," said Legolas, "by the terms of the
treaty that ended the Ring war, mining is forbidden on elven landseven
mining by elves." He examined his fingernails.
"Yes," said Thranduil, "but there was some
provision made for future agreements between elves and men, provided
all parties were in accord. Something might be done..."
"Indeed, Ada," said Legolas. "Nowwhere is
An hour later
"Good luck, meleth nín," Legolas whispered,
kissing Eowyn's forehead, "I will be waiting in our chambers.
Do not make it too hard, Ada," he added, "for my sake."
"Of course not!" said Thranduil. "This will be
the easiest task of the three, Lassui, believe me. Nowgo."
He made a shooing motion. "Go on, go! Let me talk to Eowyn
Reluctantly, Legolas left his father's study, closing the door
Thranduil waited for a moment, as if afraid that his son might
still be lurking outside the door. Then, "As I said, Eowyn
vell nín," he began, "this is the easiest
task of all. A friend of minea beautiful ellethwas
badly scarred during the Ring war." He handed Eowyn a map.
"I have heard of an elleth living here"he pointed
to a small settlement to the north"who is skilled in
Eowyn looked carefully at the map. "Eryn Aras," she
"Yes, that is the place. Angrod and Findaráto will
take you there. It is said that this elleth makes a salve that
removes blemishes and restores beauty. But she is very particular
whom she gives it to. You will have to persuade her, mell
Eowyn thought for a moment. "May I speak to the elleth?
The one who was injured?"
"She has become a recluse." said Thranduil.
"I understand," said Eowyn. "But I do not ask
to see her facejust to hear her words. If I can explain
to the healer how much she is suffering..."
"Very well," said Thranduil. "I will arrange it."
"One more thing," said Eowyn, as she rose to leave,
"what is the name of the other elleth? The healer of Eryn
"Serindë," replied Thranduil. "Her name is