Legolas closed the chamber door behind him. There
is someone in here, he thought. A womanno, two women
He walked silently to the entrance of the garden cavern. "Lady
Gunnhildr? Mistress Osðryd? Please come out."
Gunnhildr appeared in the doorway. "Prince Legolas,"
she said, softly, "I am sorry to impose on you like this
but, please, do not give us away. My father has refused to release
Osðryd from her oath; he says that she is bound by it for
life. And Osðryd is afraid of what might happen if"
"Come out, Mistress Osðryd," said Legolas. He smiled
at the blushing woman. "You are safe hereboth of youyou
may stay as long as you wish. And, if you desire it, Mistress,"
he said to Osðryd, "I can restrain you with chains."
Eowyn stepped into total darkness. "Hello?"
"I am over here, child," said a quiet voice.
"I am sorry, my lady," said Eowyn, "but I can
neither see nor hear as well as an elf. Will you allow me some
light?" She heard the sound of a flint striking, then a candle
flared to reveal one of the saddest sights she had ever seenthe
disfigured elleth, small and frail-looking, sitting beside an
empty fireplace, her face covered with a thick veil.
"Thranduil has told me of his plan," said the elleth.
"Tell me, child, why are you prepared to do so much for me?"
"The king did not mention the reason?" asked Eowyn.
How like him, she thought. "I am Prince Legolas' betrothed,
"Legolas' chosen!" said the elleth. "Come into
the light, child, where I can see you better."
Stepping carefully, Eowyn walked over to the fireplace.
Eowyn sat before the elleth but, uncomfortable at being scrutinised,
kept her eyes fixed on the ground.
"Look at me."
Reluctantly, Eowyn raised her face.
"You are lovely," said the elleth. "An adanethyes,
I always knew that Lassui's destiny lay outside this forest. And
I can see that he has chosen wellyou have a brave and loving
spirit, adaneth dithen."
"My lady," said Eowyn, softly, "may I ask your
"My name is Beruthiël," said the elleth.
"And, can I ask..." Eowyn bit her lip. "You are
notI meanyou speak of him with such tender concernyou
are not Legolas' mother?"
"His mother!" The elleth laughed, and it was
a strange sound, as if she had not done so in many, many years.
"No child, I am not his mother." She leant forward and
touched Eowyn's hand. "I am Beruthiël,"
she said, "the elleth who had the honour of introducing Legolas
to the pleasures of the bedchamber"she leaned back
in her chair and, despite the veil, Eowyn had the impression that
she was smiling at the memory"when he came of age.
He was so shy, so loving... It was long before this."
She gestured towards her face.
Eowyn supposed that she should be angrycertainly at Thranduileven
at Beruthiël. But all she could feel was sympathy. "I
shall fetch the salve, my lady," she said, firmly. "You
will soon be free of this prison."
"Legolas," called Eowyn, already halfway to the bedchamber,
"I must hurry; I need to go to the settlement at Eryn Aras
Legolas caught her in his arms. "Melmenya," he whispered,
burying his face in her hair, "we have guests..."
"Lady Gunnhildr and her nurse. I found them hiding in here."
"Where are they now?" Eowyn whispered.
"In the garden."
Gently, Eowyn disentangled herself. "Will you help me change?"
"Of course. They have nowhere else to go, melmenya, so I
said they could stay here. It is only until my father comes to
an arrangement with Bergthórr beytill."
Eowyn threw open her clothes chest and pulled out her riding
gown and leggings. "The mithril mine for the woman's freedom?"
Legolas unlaced her day gown and helped her step out of it. "Something
like that," he said.
"Of course they can stay," she said, pulling on her
leggings, "but what happens if it is not settled when I return
"We will need," she said, standing on tiptoe and licking
his ear, "privacy."
"Ah..." Legolas' entire body shivered and he caught
her round the waist. "I will think of something, melmenya."
"Good," said Eowyn, pushing him away. "Now, did
you hear where I am going?"
"No." Legolas shook his head.
"I must persuade the healer to give me a jar of salve."
Eowyn looked up from lacing her riding boots. "It is for
Beruthiël," she said.
"Yes, I know about Beruthiël, Lassui; I have spoken
to her." She slipped on her riding gown and carefully buttoned
up the bodice. Then she picked up her cloak. "And I like
her. But I swear to you, Legolas, that when all this is over I
shall..." She thought for a moment. "I shall cut
off your father's hair. Yes! I shall! He will be the only
bald elf in Middle-earth."
"Ah, Bergthórr beytill," said Thranduil, "please,
take your place at the table"
"Where is my daughter?" demanded the chieftain.
"I am sorry?" Thranduil was all smooth innocence.
"My daughter is missing," said Bergthórr,
as if speaking to a child, "and I want to know where she
is." He looked around the table accusinglyfirst at
Thranduil, then at Gimli, and then at Eomer.
"I can swear to you, Chief Bergthórr," said
Thranduil, calmly, "that she cannot have left this place
without my knowing." He motioned to one of the guards. "Have
the Halls searched for Lady Gunnhildr and her nurse," he
said. "And be careful. If you should come across the bear,
avo dhago den. I want it alive."
Thranduil turned back to Bergthórr beytill. "Satisfied,
Chief Bergthórr? Good. Then let us talk about your mithril
The three riders were travelling north, picking their way through
the massive birches, following the faintest of tracks.
"You know the way well," said Eowyn to Angrod.
"Yes, my lady. The settlement in Eryn Aras is where we stay
when we are patrolling the northern border," he replied.
"I need to speak to a healer called Serindë,"
said Eowyn, "do you know her?"
Angrod looked uneasy. "Yes, my lady."
"Good," said Eowyn. "That will make things much
"So," said Thranduil, reading from the sheet of parchment
he was holding in his hand, "We, the undersigned, agree
that Chief Bergthórr beytill may continue to work the mithril
mine at White Rocks under the close observation of King Thranduil's
designated agent, the green-elf known as Ereinion."
He glanced around the table. Eomer and Gimli were both smiling
at the thought of Ereinion and 'close observation', but neither
"Secondly, we agree that twenty-five percent of all pure
mithril obtained from the said mine is the property of King Thranduiland,"
he said to the Beorning, "we will work out the details of
"Thirdly, we agree that Chief Bergthórr beytill
will release the nurse, Osðryd, from the oath he obtained
from her some eighteen years ago and which compels her to defend
the said chieftain's daughter at any cost.
"And finally, we agree that Chief Bergthórr beytill
will write immediately to Æðelbert of Rohan, dissolving
the alliance recently made between them."
He placed the parchment in front of Bergthórr beytill.
"Sign here, Chief Bergthórr."
The Beorning chieftain picked up the quill. "You are an
arrogant bastard," he muttered, under his breath, "but
mithril is mithril." He signed with a flourish.
Thranduil passed the parchment to Eomer. The King of Rohan took
the quill and signed, with a smile, 'Eomer Eadig', then passed
the parchment back to Thranduil.
The Elvenking read the wording through one last time then added
his own signature, 'Thranduil Oropherion'. "Good," he
said, in his most imperious manner. "Eomer King, Lord GimliI
look forward to seeing you both at dinner. Chief Bergthórr,
I suggest that you and I go to my son's chambers, where you will
release that poor adaneth from her oath."
The settlement was beautiful.
It is like a tiny Eryn Carantaur, thought Eowyn, looking up the
spiralling staircase to the flets above. "I need to speak
with Serindë as soon as possible," she said to Angrod,
"but I do not want to offend anybody. Does Eryn Aras have
"A Viceroy," said Angrod. "I will take you to
Thranduil knocked loudly. "Let us come in, Lassui, I have
good news for your guest."
Legolas opened the door. "Come in Ada, Chief BergthórrMistress
Osðryd has been waiting for you." He led the man through
the elegant, columned sitting room to a group of chairs laid out
before the fire. "Please sit, Chief Bergthórr,"
he said. "Am I correct in thinking that you are here to release
Mistress Osðryd from her oath?"
"You know I am," said Bergthórr.
"Very well. Mistress Osðryd," he called, "please
The woman emerged from the garden cavern and walked slowly towards
"I have no idea what to do," said Bergthórr.
"What did you do when the oath was taken?" asked Thranduil.
"She knelt before me, as is our custom, with her hand on
her heart, and swore," said Bergthórr.
"Then I think you must do the reverse," said Thranduil.
"Sit down mistress... Now, Chief Bergthórr, kneel
before hercome now, Chief, think of the mithrilkneel
before her. Good. Now, place your hand on your heart and"Thranduil
"I release you from the oath you took to protect my daughter,"
said Bergthórr. "From now on, the bear is entirely
at your own command."
"Good!" said Thranduil. "Now that was not so difficult,
He grasped Bergthórr's forearm and, practically lifting
him to his feet, guided him from the chamber, fully aware that,
behind him, Osðryd had thrown herself down before Legolas
and was covering his hands in grateful kisses.
The Viceroy of Eryn Aras watched Eowyn as she wound her way,
along the aerial walks, towards Serindë's flet.
He had not had the heart to warn her...
Such a sweet little thing, he thought. So earnest. Sometimes
I am ashamed to serve Thranduil. But, with any luck, she will
"Have they gone?" asked Thranduil.
"Yes, Ada," said Legolas. "Come in. Andbefore
you say anythingthough I admire both Mistress Osðryd
and Lady Gunnhildr for their loyalty to each other, Eowyn has
no rivals there."
Thranduil nodded, absently. "You know where I have sent
"To Eryn Aras," said Legolas, walking over to the sideboard,
"to speak with the healershe told me. Did you have
to take such a risk, Ada? You know who lives there"
"Yes. And I know that there have been some changes since
you last visited her, Lassui," said Thranduil softly.
Something in Thranduil's voice made Legolas freeze, one hand
still on the decanter. "Ada? What have you done?"
"No!" cried Legolas, "No! She is not the healer!
Ada! Tell me she is not the healer!" But his father's face
only confirmed his fears. "Why, Ada? Why? Do you really
hate Eowynhate meso much?"
"Calm down, Lassui!" Thranduil caught his son in a
fierce embrace. "You could not be more wrong, ion nín!
I like Eowyn, very much. And I love youlove
you, Lassuiand that is why I am determined to make sure.
I want you to have the best, Lassui, and that means"
"Hervess orchal," said Legolas, bitterly. "A
"No! It means someone who loves you, Lassui. Loves
you enough to face death for you"
"Eowyn has already done that many times"
"loves you more than anythingmore than her anger,
more than her pridesomeone who can come face to face with
your biggest mistake and still love you, Lassui. Yes, I do
think that you have found that someone in Eowyn... But we have
to be sure. That is why I have sent her to see Serindë, the
elleth you almost eloped with." Thranduil smiled at his son's
obvious surprise. "Did you think I did not know, ion nín?
Of course I did! But I could see that it was just an elfling's
crush so I left you alone and, in the end, you put your duty first."
He released Legolas. "Eowyn is an entirely different matter,
Lasdithen. This is no crush."
He smiled. "And that is why we have to be absolutely sure.
I admit that the task I have set may be unpleasant for her. But,
from what I have seen so far, I expect her to return, tomorrow,
triumphant! And then I shall hold a proper betrothal ceremony
for my heir apparent and his chosen."
"But what if something goes wrong, Ada?" said Legolas.
"What if something bad happens to Eowyn?"
"What could possibly happen to her in Eryn Aras?" said
The elleth nodded.
"I am Eowyn, daughter of Eomund; I am Prince Legolas' betrothed."
The elleth looked her over, curiously. "I see," she
"King Thranduil sent me here to obtain a small amount of
the healing salve you make," Eowyn continued, unsure why
she was feeling so uncomfortable in the elleth's presence. "The
salve that removes scars..." I can almost sense hostility,
she thought, but that is ridiculous. "May I come inside
The elleth stepped aside. Eowyn entered the house and looked
around; with its broad workbench, running the full length of one
wall, and its shelves stocked with bottles and jars and delicate
equipment, it reminded her of Master Dínendal's healing
Eowyn turned to the elleth and smiled. "One of the ladies
at King Thranduil's Court was injured in the Ring war and left
terribly disfigured," she said. "The Elvenking has heard
of your salve and has sent me here hoping that I might obtain
some for her."
Since the salve did not seem forthcoming, Eowyn continued: "I
have not, myself, seen the lady's face but I can tell you that
she lives entirely alone and in the dark. It is a terrible existence
andunlike a mortal lifethere is no prospect of its
ending. It would break your heart to see her, madam, truly it
The elleth laughed. "Do you know who it is that you are
pitying, madam?" she asked.
Eowyn swallowed hard. Surely she cannot be alluding to Beruthiël's
relationship with Legolas, she thought. And, if she is,
she cannot expect me to be so indelicate as to talk about it...
But the elleth's eyes were stony. "Yes," said Eowyn,
"I know of the lady's association with Prince Legolas, if
that is what you mean. But that does not prevent me from sympathising
with her present situation."
"And do you know who it is you are asking to help her?"
asked the elleth.
Eowyn stared at her...
And all the pieces suddenly came together in her mind: 'An
elleth I knew in one of the settlements to the north of Mirkwood',
Legolas said. And he was upset when I told him where I was going...
She drew herself up to her full height. "I am aware,"
she said, "of your own past relationship with Prince Legolas,
The elleth laughed again. "Did he tell you that he wanted
to elope with me? Yeshe begged me! Said he would die without
me! But I would never have come between him and his father."
Eowyn ignored the jibe. "I understood," she said, coldly,
"that a healer's only concern was for her patient."
The elleth was taken aback. For a long moment she simply stared
at the woman. Then she said, "Lasfain always did have taste.
And you are right, adaneth, I am a healer. And I
do know my duty. Come over to my dispensary."
She lifted a large jar from one of the shelves behind the workbench
and began to spoon a quantity of its contents into a smaller jar.
"Stay well back," she said. "The salve is made
from concentrated dead-wood mushroom. It will remove any blemish
from the skin of an immortal and restore her face to its smooth,
youthful beauty. But do not be tempted to use it on your own skin,
adaneth, forthough those marks around your eyes would
benefit from a restorativethis mixture is deadly poison
to a mortal."
Eomer swallowed a third and final spoonful of enchanted water
and turned towards the bed. The sprite was lying, naked except
for a bed sheet, upon the coverlet. "Firith?"
She smiled and stretched out her arms. "E-o-mer..."
Eomer shook his head. "Tonight," he said, "we
talk. And we must say goodbye."
Firith smiled, sadly, and patted the coverlet beside her.
Eomer sat on the edge of the bed. "Why did you follow me,
Firith?" he asked. "Why did you leave your home in Lorien?"
"I fell in love with you..."
He took her hand in both of his. "I am not worthy of your
love, Firith," he said, stroking her fingers. "What
are we going to do?"
"I must stay here, amongst the trees... With the wood elves..."
she said, sadly. "Unless..."
"Unless you permit me to go home with you, E-o-mer..."
"There are no trees in my country," said Eomer. "Just
grass and rocks and a few stunted bushes. You would not be happy
"But I would be with you..."
"I am married," said Eomer. "And although last
He shook his head. "We both know that it must never happen
again." He looked down at her hand. "I love you Firith;
but I cannot have you with me."
Firith laid her other hand on his arm. "Do not be sad, E-o-mer,"
"Oh, Firith, how can I not be sad? Using you; then leaving
you here alone"
"You did not use me, E-o-mer... You made me very
"I will be leaving part of my heart with you, Firith. And
yet I have a wifeand Lothíriel deserves to be loved."
"Could you"he looked into her face, his eyes
suddenly filled with hope"could you travel back to
Eryn Carantaur with Legolas? You could live amongst the trees
there, with the elves, and I could visit you."
"If that is what you want, E-o-mer..."
"What I want?" For a moment he was taken aback.
Butyesshe was right, he was thinking of himselfat
least as much as he was thinking of her. He kissed her hand. "Yes,"
he said, "that is what I want. To be able to see you, occasionally."
She smiled. "Then I shall, beloved..."
"Will you let me sleep with you tonight?" he asked.
"Just sleep, nothing more."
"Of course, E-o-mer..." She opened her arms
to him; he laid his head on her shoulder and she gathered him
close. "I am strong,
E-o-mer..." she whispered, as he closed his eyes,
"I will protect you, beloved, and those you love... Call
my name, and the wind will carry your voice to me, however far
I may be, my love..."
Haldir opened his chamber door. "Legolas! What is wrong?"
"I have the most terrible feeling, HaldirEowynI
am afraid for Eowyn. I am riding out to meet her. Gimli and Collo
are coming with me. Will you join us?"
"Of course." Haldir closed the door behind him.
Why, thought Eowyn, as Brightstar slowly wound his way along
the forest track, nose to tail with the horse in front, did he
not tell me about her? When he knew that I was coming to Eryn
Aras? Leaving me to find out like that! Oh, Legolas, how could
She swallowed hard. Her throat ached butby the gods!she
was not going to cry.
And what a horrible nag she was! How could he possibly have loved
her? Have wanted to elope with her, she said!
Perhaps she was lying...
Or perhaps that is what losing Legolas does to a person. Perhaps
I will be like that one day. When I am old and wrinkled and he
can no longer bear to look at me
'You are my chosen, Eowyn; and an elf loves only once.'
Eowyn looked about her in surpriseLegolas' voice was as
clear as if he had been riding beside her.
Get out of my head! she stormed. This is all your fault! You
should have told me about her! I should have been warned!
'I did not want to hurt you, melmenya.'
That is no excuse!
"Hurry, Arod," cried Legolas, urging the horse through
"What has got you so spooked, lad?" asked Gimli.
"I do not know, elvellon," said Legolas. "It
was when my father talked about Eowyn coming home in triumph...
I began to worry. I do not know why. And the feeling has grown
worse and worse as the night has worn on."
"I can hear three riders," said Haldir, in a low voice,
"up ahead. Two elves and... And a woman?"
"Yes! A woman!" said Singollo. "It is Lady Eowyn!
The three elves quickened their pace, Legolas and Haldir following
close behind Singollo. Suddenly, three riders emerged from forest
"Eowyn!" cried Legolas. "Eowyn! Are you all right?"
The third rider raised her head, bewildered. "Legolas!"
she said. "What are you doing here?"
"We have come to meet you, melmenya."
"He has been having premonitions, lass," said Gimli.
"He was convinced that something had happened to you."
"Something did happen to me," said Eowyn, looking Legolas
in the eye. "I met another one of your lovers. Unprepared.
But apart from that," she added, rather coldly, "I am
"I am sorry, melmenya," said Legolas, quietly. "I
did not realise that Serindë had become a healer."
"That is hardly an excuse, Legolas. You should have told
me about her anyway. Why did you not"
"Let us discuss this later, melmenya," said Legolas,
suddenly very aware of the elven ears surrounding them. "Do
you have the salve?"
"Then you have completed all three tasks!"
His smile was so beautiful that, despite her best efforts, Eowyn
could not stay angry with him. "No," she said,
and her tone was almost playful, "not until I have presented
this jar"she reached down into her saddlebag"to
your father"she held it out to him"and I
must do that before dawn."
Legolas stretched out his hand to take the jar from her and Eowynmisjudging
the distancelet go of it.
The precious jar began to fall.
"No!" she cried, making a grab for it, "no!"
Andby some terrible quirk of fateas her hand closed
around the jar, its stopper flew out, and three drops of pearly
liquid spilled upon her wrist.
"Dead-wood mushrooms... are poison... to mortals,"
she gasped, and she slumped forward over Brightstar's neck.