"Hold on, melmenya," cried Legolas as
Brightstar thundered up the broad stone steps and plunged through
the Elvenking's gates, "we are almost there, Eowyn nín!
Breathe for me, my darling
" Two guards ran forward
to meet him. "Take her from me, Elerossëbe carefulsupport
her head!" He dropped to the ground. "Now, give her
back to me
Cradling Eowyn in his arms, Legolas ran towards the healing room.
Moments later, Gimli and Haldir burst through the gates.
"I shall fetch Master Dínendal," shouted Gimli
as he rolled from Arod's back. "He will know what to do,
lad," he called after Legolas, "do not worry!"
Haldir dismounted quickly. "Let me pass; please," he
said, pushing his way through the chaos. Then, clutching the jar
of salve to his chest, he hurried down the main thoroughfare towards
King Thranduil's study.
"Hold on, melmenya," said Legolas, carefully laying
Eowyn on one of the healing room beds. He took her hand. "Stay
Gimli pounded on Dínendal's door. "Master Healer!"
he cried, through the wood, "you have an urgent case of poisoning
to deal with. Come! Please hurry!"
"What has happened?" asked Thranduil.
"A terrible accident, your Majesty," said Haldir, bowing.
He held up the jar. "Lady Eowyn obtained the salve, but has
been poisoned by it"
"Yes, your Majesty. Prince Legolas has taken her straight
to the healing room. He asked me to show you thisto prove
that she completed her task successfullythen to take it
to the healer as quickly as possible, in case he needs to examine
"Of course," said Thranduil. "I shall come with
"Tell me exactly what happened," said Dínendal.
"It was so fast," said Legolas. "Some of the salve
dripped onto her wrist"he was still holding Eowyn's
hand and he lifted it for the healer to see"no more
than a few tiny drops, but she told me that it was poisonous to
mortalsand then she fell into thisthis swoonalmost
Dínendal examined the woman's wrist. There were none of
the tell-tale signs of poisoning, no discoloration, no raised
welts. "Did she say anything more about the poison?"
"Dead-wood mushroom," said Legolas. "She said
it was dead-wood mushroom."
"I see... In that case, I will need to speak to your father's
healer," said Dínendal, "and to the elleth who
made the salve."
"I sent Singollo to fetch her," said Legolas. "She
should be here inI am not surethree, four hours? Will
that be soon enough?"
Dínendal did not reply immediately. He lifted Eowyn's
other hand and carefully measured her pulse. Then he said, "Do
you have any more of the salve?"
"Yes, Haldir is bringing it."
Singollo ran up the spiralling staircase, along the walkway to
the familiar door, and rapped on the wood.
"Serindë!" he cried, "Serindë, open
The elleth opened the door a tiny crack. "What is it, Collo?"
she asked. "I no longer entertain gentlemen callers."
"This is no time for games, Serindë," said Singollo
pushing the door back. "Lady Eowyn has been poisoned by the
stuff you gave her. Get dressedwe need you to come to King
Thranduil's Halls and help the healer revive her."
"The foolish adaneth," said the elleth, softly,
"I told her not to use it on herself"
"She did not use it," said Singollo, impatiently. "It
spilled. You had not sealed the jar properly. Come on, get dressed;
we must hurry."
Serindë looked him in the eye. "This is nothing to
do with me, Collo," she said. "I gave her the proper
warning. I am going nowhere."
"Prince Legolas begs you," said Singollo, quietly.
"Then he should have come himself," said Serindë.
"And begged. He is so beautiful when he begs."
"Look, you whore," said Singollo, grasping her arms,
"I have never understood what Lassui saw in youneverno
one is that good in bedand I will not think twice
about using force! So you will come with me, now, or I will knock
you out and take you there strapped to my saddle."
"Just you try it! Help!" screamed Serindë. "Ra"
But Singollo had already clamped his hand over her mouth. "No
one would believe you, anyway, Serindë," he said.
"Your Majesty." Dínendal bowed briefly to Thranduil
then turned to Haldir. "Do you have the salve, March Warden?"
"Here," said Haldir, handing him the jar. "Will
it help her? Is she...?"
"She is very weak," said Dínendal, gently. He
pulled out the stopper and sniffed the jar's contents. "Lady
Eowyn was rightdead-wood mushroom; once smelled never forgotten."
He sat down beside Eowyn, dipped his forefinger into the jar and
examined the substance on his fingertip. "Desperate circumstances,"
he said, placing the jar on the side table, "call for desperate
measures. I am sorry, my lady." He lifted Eowyn's hand
"Stop!" cried Legolas, and Haldir rushed forward. But
Thranduil had already caught the healer by the arm.
"Please, your Majesty, Lord Legolas," said Dínendal,
"she is too weak to fight it. We no longer have a choice.
We must let the dead-wood mushroom complete its work."
"Which is?" asked Thranduil.
"Lady Eowyn, being mortal, must pass through death."
Legolas fell across Eowyn's body.
"Are you mad?" asked Thranduil, hoarsely.
"This will buy us some time, your Majesty," said Dínendal,
"Let him do it, Ada," sobbed Legolas. "I trust
Thranduil released Dínendal, and the healer rubbed the
salve into the woman's wrist.
"Gimli," said Haldir, his voice catching in his throat,
"someone must tell her brother."
Thranduil drew Dínendal out of his son's earshot. "How
long?" he asked, quietly.
"It is hard to say," said Dínendal, "but
she is sinking fast."
"What happens then?"
"Once she is dead, we can, in principle, revive her,"
"What does 'in principle' mean?" demanded Thranduil.
Dínendal sighed. "It means that although I know we
must administer the extract of another fungus, I do not know which
fungus. It means that although I know, once she passes, that time
is limited, I do not know how limited. I"
"You do not know much," said Thranduil.
"And your own healer," said Dínendal, "knows
less than I. Our only hope is that the elleth from Eryn Aras will
be able to tell us"
"Valar," said Thranduil. "We are entirely in the
hands of Serindë." And, knowing her, he thought,
I shall have to marry her and make her my queen before she
agrees to help. He looked at his distraught son, holding the
dying woman in his arms. Still, that would be a small price
He took Dínendal's arm and pulled him further from the
bed. "If time is so precious," he asked, "why on
Middle-earth are you hastening her death?"
"To limit the damage, your Majesty," Dínendal
whispered. "The quicker the death, the quicker the revival,
the less the damagethat much I do know."
Thranduil walked to the healing room door and spoke quietly to
the guard. "Make haste to Captain Voronwë," he
said. "Tell him to take a troop of horse to Eryn Aras, find
March Warden Singollo and escort him, and his prisoner, back here.
Tell him that the life of Prince Legolas' betrothedno, the
life of Prince Legolas himselfdepends on it. Tell him that
there is not a moment to lose."
He watched the guard leave. Then he returned to his son's side
and, gently squeezing Legolas' shoulder, he whispered, "Courage,
Lassui. She needs you to be strong, ion nín."
Eomer and Colgan had dissected Daelhard's letter, listed all
the Rohirrim implicated in the Æðelbert plotplus
their dependants, allies and known associatesand were now,
with the help of Berryn and Lord Fingolfin, attempting to assess
the scale of the problem by marking all the disaffected parties
on a map of Rohan.
"Eowyn is right," said Eomer. "You can see things
better when you use a mapcome in!" He turned to greet
his visitor. "By the gods, Gimli, what is it?"
"I am so sorry, lad," said Gimli, wiping his wet face
with his hand.
"Eowyn..." said Eomer.
"They are doing all they can"
"Where is she?"
"In the healing room."
"She has been poisoned. Dead-wood mushroom."
Eomer, unnaturally calm, looked down at Fingolfin. "Come
my lord," he said, squeezing the stricken elf's shoulder.
"Let us see if we can help."
Singollo had ransacked Serindë's home looking for anything
that might help save Eowyn and, at length, had foundburied
deep in a notebookthe composition of the salve and a description
of its properties. After that he had managedwith a mixture
of threats and ridiculously generous promisesto extract
something approaching the elleth's word that she would help revive
Together, they had packed up the notebook, several bottles of
coloured liquids, and a pouch full of dried fungus, and had set
off for the palace at the gallop.
Now he was riding recklessly through the trees with Serindë
clinging to his back.
I shall never forget the look in Lassui's eyes when he orderedno
beggedme to fetch help, Singollo thought. "Dear Valar,"
he prayed, "That woman is Lassui's life. Do not let me be
"She has passed away," said Dínendal, softly,
placing Eowyn's hand back on her chest.
"No," sobbed Legolas.
"Are you sure?" asked Eomer, "she is strong..."
"I am sorry, your Majesty," said Dínendal. "The
healer, Serindë, is her only hope now."
Berryn rushed into the library.
"Ornendil!" he cried. "Ornendil! Are you here?"
"Why, young adan, what a noise you are mak"
"Please concentratejust this once," said Berryn,
breathlessly. "What do you knowabout dead-wood mushrooms?"
"They are not my chief field of study"
"Anything or nothing?" asked Berryn, sharply.
"It is said that they can be used to enhance beautybut
I believe that to be an old ellith's tale"
Berryn threw himself into a chair. "Shit," he muttered.
"In fact, as far as I know," said the elf, "the
ancient authorities mention the dead-wood mushroom only once..."
He walked towards one of the book cases.
"Ornendil," said Berryn, "be quiet."
"All I was about to say," said Ornendil, with dignity,
as he pulled out one of the books, "is that I think I have
read that dead-wood mushroom can be used to send a mortal into
the Halls of Mandosor the mortal equivalent, that isprior
to reviving him"
Berryn sat upright. "Reviving him how?" he asked.
Ornendil was clearly taken aback. "It is all in here,"
he said, waving the book; "one must use an infusion of oak
mushroom..." as though it were the most obvious thing in
Berryn leaped from his chair, grabbed the elfstill clutching
his bookand pushed him bodily towards the library door.
"Come on," he cried, "come on!"
"What is wrong?" asked Serindë.
"The horse is lame," said Singollo. "We shall
have to run the rest of the way."
"Run? Are you mad? It must be twenty miles"
"Start running," said Singollo, menacingly. "Now!"
"Lord Legolas! Oh, my lady. Oh"
Berryn stared at the dead woman lying peacefully on the bed,
surrounded by mourners.
"Do not disturb him now, Berryn," said Fingolfin, softly,
trying to guide the cartographer back through the door.
"But I think I may have found a cure, my lord..." said
He was speaking softly, but not so softly that elven ears could
miss those words. Legolas raised his head. "What do you mean?"
"This is Ornendil," said Berryn. "Go on: tell
Lord Legolas what you told me."
"Er," said Ornendil, nervously, "Ier"
"He showed me this," said Berryn, holding up the ancient
volume, "which says that another fungus can be used to revive
"Let me see..." Dínendal took the book and scanned
the page. "Yes, this describes Lady Eowyn's condition exactly,"
he said, "and it prescribes oak mushroom." He turned
to the palace healer.
"We do not keep it, Master Dínendal," said the
healer. "As you know, it has no medicinal value amongst elves.
Do you have a specimen, Master Ornendil?"
"No, I have never seen a real one."
"Where is it found?" asked Eomer. "I will go and
"According to this," said Dínendal, consulting
the book, "it grows only on decaying oak boughs."
"Where is the nearest oak forest?" asked Eomer.
"Some fifty miles to the north west," said Thranduil,
"I will send troops."
"That will take at least a day, Ada," said Legolas,
softly. "And she does not have a day..." He stroked
Eowyn's hand, helplessly. A profound silence descended as each
personelf, man and dwarftried to think of a way to
obtain the fungus in time.
Suddenly Eomer cried out, "Firith! FIRITH, HELP ME!"
"Is this the cure?" asked Singollo, dragging Serindë
through the trees. "In this pouch?"
"If it is administered in time, yes," said the elleth,
panting for breath, "it should revive her. But she will never
be the adaneth she was..."
"Calm down, Eomer King," said Thranduil, sharply, "this
is no time to lose your nerve"
He was cut short by a violent gust of wind that blew through
the healing room, rattling the furniture and forcing all but the
King of Rohan to take cover.
"My sister is dying, Firith," Eomer cried into the
whirlwind. "Will you help me? I need to find..."
But the swirling column had already enveloped his body and whisked
At the eye of the storm all was calm and silent; and it seemed
to Eomer that he was looking down on Middle-earth from a great
height. He could feel the sprite's arms holding him safe, and
could hear her song, but he could not see her.
"Firith," he said, in awe, "what is happening?"
"I have called upon the north wind, beloved..." she
said. "He will help us... Look! Look down there... Can you
see her? That elleth holds your sister's future in her hands..."
Singollo threw himself on top of Serindë, using his body
to shield her from the whirlwind.
The voice was strangely familiar. Singollo lifted his head and
peered into the maelstrom.
"Reach out," it said, "both of you. Reach out
"Is she his daughter?" asked Legolas, quietly.
"She is his niece," said Gandalf. "But, more
than that, she has been Theoden's nurse for many years, coping
with every indignity that Saruman, in his malice, has inflicted
upon his body."
"Where are her parents?" asked Legolas
The elf shook his head. "What sadness you must have endured,
" he whispered. But, even as he spoke,
he saw the years melt from the aged man: saw his crusted skin
become smooth and rosy, his white hair turn golden brown and his
filmed eyes grow clear and alert.
"I know your face," said the king, "Eowyn..."
The woman smiled up at her uncle through her tears. And the elf
smiled at her happiness.
"She is mortal, Legolas," Gandalf warned, sensing
the flutter of his companion's heart. "And the love between
mortal and immortal seldom ends well..."
"Dínendal," Legolas whispered. "I need
to knowthe moment it is too lateI need to know."
"I cannot let her face this alone. You must tell me as soon
as it is too late, then I can join her." He kissed Eowyn's
hand. "Wait for me, melmenya. If Eomer does not return in
time, remember what you promisedstay close by, and I will
come to you."
Cautiously, Singollo opened his eyes.
He was lying, quite unharmed, before the Elvenking's great gates.
Beside him, Eomer King was pulling Serindë to her feet.
"Where are the mushrooms?" he was asking.
"Here," said Singollo, reaching into his tunic. "I
"Come with me!" cried Eomer.
"We have brought the cure," cried Eomer, pushing Serindë
through the door; "the March Warden has the mushroomsgive
them to Dínendal"
Dínendal took the pouch. "What must I do with them?"
he asked Serindë.
The elleth shook her head. "I do not know; Ioh!"
Legolas had drawn his white knives. "Tell him Serindë;
tell him now orby the Valaryou will wake to find yourself
waiting in the Halls of Mandos"
"I am not sure, Lasfain," said Serindë, "truly.
I have tried using them on elven wounds; but I have never administered
them to a man or woman."
"Then tell me what you do know," said Dínendal.
Serindë turned to Singollo. "Do you have the book?"
Singollo reached inside his jerkin and pulled out a small notebook.
"The dried fungus must be infused in wine," he read,
"the decoction must be introduced directly into the adan'sadaneth'sheart"
"How is that possible?" said Legolas.
"Leave it to me, my lord," said Dínendal. "Give
me the notes, March Warden."
"Your Majesty," said Dínendal to Thranduil,
"all is ready. But I think it would be best if everyone were
to leave the room except for myself, your healer, Lord Legolas
and Eomer King."
"I understand, Master Healer," said Thranduil, gravely,
"Leave it to me." Then he added, "You will be sure
to call me should Lassui need me..."
"Of course, your Majesty."
Thranduil squeezed his shoulder. "Thank you."
Dínendal waited until the Elvenking had ushered the others
through the door, then turned to Legolas. "My lord,"
he said, "I am ready."
Legolas looked at the silvery coil in the healer's hand. "What
is that?" he asked.
"It is a very fine tube of mithril, my lord," said
Dínendal, "attached to a jar of the decoction. Eomer
King will lift the jar aloft until the fluid is running freely;
then I will push the tube through the lady's breast, into her
heart; I will allow the decoction to run for ten seconds; then
I will pull the tube out."
"Can I hold her whilst you do it?" asked Legolas.
"Of course, my lord; just move your arms a little lower."
Dínendal bent over Eowyn, unbuttoned her riding gown,
and carefully cut open her shift to expose her left breast. Using
his fingertips he gently located her heart. Then, keeping his
hand in place, he turned to Eomer. "Raise the jar, your Majesty."
Eomer lifted the jar above his head. Dínendal waited until
the fluid was running freely then plunged the end of the tube
into Eowyn's breast. Slowly, he counted the seconds, "One...
Legolas kissed the top of Eowyn's head. "Come back to me,
melmenya," he whispered.
"Seven... Eight... Nine... Ten..." Dínendal
pulled out the tube.
For a moment nothing happened.
Then Eowyn screamed.
"Legolas," she cried, "Legolas! I will
not leave you!"
"Thank you, Dínendal," said Legolas, holding
Eowyn, weak but conscious, in his arms. "I shall not forget
"Nor shall I," said Thranduil.
"And you, too, Eomer," said Legolas. He reached out
towards his brother-in-law and the two friends clasped hands,
human fashion. "Will you tell Haldir and Gimli what has happened,
mellon nín? They will be frantic with worry. And
Berryn and Collo, too... And thank the sprite. Thank them all"
"I shall," said Eomer but, he turned to leave the healing
room, Dínendal caught him by the arm.
"Forgive my boldness, your Majesties," he said, drawing
Eomer and Thranduil away from the happy prince, "but there
is something that you should know, something that you, your Majesty,"
he said to Eomer, "may find distressing."
"Her recovery is only temporary," said Eomer.
"No, your Majesty. No! Quite the oppositewhat I was
going to say is that Lady Eowyn is no longer, in point of fact,
Eomer and Thranduil stared at each other. "Explain,"
"I have lost her," said Eomer, softly.
"What do you mean?" asked Thranduil.
"I shall die and she will live forever. She will forget
"Never, Eomer King," said Thranduil, patting his arm.
"She loves you dearly, that much is plain. And she will carry
you in her heart for as long as she lives. The memory of her brother
will cause her great sadness, but even greater happiness... She
will never forget you. Trust me, I know."
Eomer willed back the tears. "Which of us is going to tell
her?" he asked. "And Legolas?"
Thranduil thought for a moment. "We shall let the healer
tell them. He will be gentle."
"The active principle of the oak mushroom, as it circulates
through Lady Eowyn's veins," explained Dínendal, "will
renew every particle of her body. Over the next few days, she
will become immune to disease; after that, all but the most grievous
injuries will spontaneously heal and she will cease to age."
"Dear Valar," whispered Legolas, "you are saying
that Eowyn is immortal."
"Barring a fatal injury, yes."
"But," said Eowyn, "it is forbidden. For a mortal
to seek immortality is forbidden."
"The change was hardly of your choosing," said Thranduil.
"In factin fact, it could be construed a sign."
"Of the Valar's approval. By setting you three tasks I asked
them to show me whether you were indeed their choice for my son.
I can think of no clearer answer."
Later that night
Eomer swallowed his final dose and looked around his chambers.
Firith was standing in the doorway of the garden cavern. Eomer
stretched out his arms and she flew to him.
"Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you." He
buried his face in her hair. "What can I ever do to repay
"Whatever I did, I did for you E-o-mer," she
replied. "And I have made you happy... That is payment enough..."
"If only..." Eomer sighed. "Come over to the bed,
Firith," he said. "I want to tell you something."
He lifted her into his armsshe was lighter than a featherand
carried her across the room, laying her gently on the embroidered
coverlet. Then he knelt down beside her and took her hand.
"If I had not already pledged myself to my wife," he
said, "I would take you back to Rohan with me and marry you.
And we... But what happiness could you find in the cold, bleak,
empty plains? You would be trapped, Firith; trapped within four
wooden walls far from the trees and flowers you love so much.
And, in your unhappiness"he tucked a strand of her
hair behind her ear"you would grow to resent me. So
perhaps it is best that I am not free. Go home with my sister,"
he said. "Go to Eryn Carantaur where you can live as you
were meant to live"
"I shall, E-o-mer..."
"And I shall go back to my wife. But I will often think
of you, Firith, amongst the red leaves, safe and happy. And I
shall visit you there, sometimes, I promise."
"We shall both be happy, E-o-mer..."
said the sprite, kissing his cheek.
"How do you feel, melmenya?"
Eowyn smiled. "No different from when you last asked meall
of a minute ago," she said. They were lying in bed together,
her head resting on Legolas' chest. "Something is troubling
you, my love."
Legolas sighed. "I had a dream," he said, "at
"The one you told me about? The one you thought foretold
"And this was not a part of it?"
"Yes, it was; but it happened differently."
"In what way?"
"I do not remember the exact words, melmenya, but the being
of light said that I must choose the right path. And I thought...
I thought that this was to be my reward."
"For being noble?"
"I am conceited," said Legolas.
Eowyn grinned. "About your looks you are conceitedvery
conceited!" She rolled onto her stomach and looked down at
him. "But then"she kissed his mouth"you
have something to be conceited about. As for the rest, my loveno.
You are not conceited. You are a brave, noble elf who freely gives
whatever is asked of him. And you have risked everything for me,
many times. So, if what Dínendal has told us is true"and
she shook her head, for she could still not believe it"who
is to say that it is not a reward for something you have
done in the past, or will do in the future?"
Legolas smiled. "You are so much wiser than I," he
"Now: ask me," said Eowyn.
"Ask me what you have been wanting to ask all night but
are too gentle to mention," she said. "I do not mind."
Legolas still hesitated. But then he asked: "What was it
Eowyn thought carefully. "There was a light," she said.
"A beautiful, beautiful light, and beyond it everything was
wonderfulthe trees were greener than any green I have ever
seenand fresh and fragrantand the sky was bluer, and
the clouds whiter..." She shook her head. "I cannot
describe it adequately, Legolas. But my mother and father and
my uncle were there, and they were beckoning me towards them.
And a part of me wanted to walk right through the light and live
forever in that beautiful world, with my ancestors. But something
held me back."
Eowyn smiled. "You. You were holding my hand."
She lifted his hand to her lips and kissed his palm. "And,
as much as I wanted to pass through the light, I wanted to stay
with you so much more, edhel nín."