Fingolfin held up the next letter and pointed to
"Celeborn," said Eowyn.
"Correct," said Fingolfin. He handed her the parchment.
Eowyn placed it on the correct pile. "Next?" she asked,
Fingolfin selected another. "Ereinion. That elf must spend
all his time writing," she added.
"He is certainly a very communicative fellow," Fingolfin
"My uncle had a name for men like that," said Eowyn,
scanning the next letter, "another from Celebornhe
called them ealde cwéne, 'old ladies', continually
"Why do men despise women so much?" asked Fingolfin,
handing her the next letter. "I do not think you will have
too much trouble recognising that signature."
"Legolas!" Eowyn found the correct pile. "It
is partly fear," she said. "A man is expected to be
strongand most of them know they are not. Around them they
see women running households and bearing children and tending
the sick, without rest, without complaint, and it scares them.
So they pretend that women are weak and foolish and peevish.
And they chastise any man who does not act like a real
man by calling him a woman..."
She placed the next letter on the appropriate pile.
"Is that why you fled from marriage to a man?" asked
"Oh, Faramir was not like that... No..." She
looked up suddenly. "I do love Legolas," she
"I know you do."
"I could not bear to be parted from him."
She rubbed her aching back as she looked at the deskthey
had been working for five hours, and she was already tired, but
the pile of papers hardly seemed any smaller. "Do you think
we will finish in time, my lord?" she asked, quietly.
"Trust the Valar, my lady," said Fingolfin. "Trust
In the wake of the bear's attack, Thranduil had stationed guards
at strategic points throughout the palace and had provided both
Eomer and Bergthórr beytill with an escort.
Waste of time, thought Eomer, as he approached the Council
Chamber accompanied by his Chief Counsellor and two guards. That
animal is not a man-eater. It just likes young girls and pretty
Firith, on the other hand, is almost certainly following me,
and every elf in these gods-forsaken tunnels knows it
"It is a pity Lord Fingolfin cannot be with us, your Majesty,"
said Counsellor Colgan, quietly.
"No, your Majesty. King Thranduil's advisor, Lord Astaldo,
told me that Lord Fingolfin is helping Princess Eowyn complete
her first task."
"Did he tell you how she is faring?"
"He did not know that, your Majesty. But he did say
that the majority of King Thranduil's subjects wish her success,
especially after the courage she displayed last night."
Eomer smiled. Much as he hated to see his sister taking risksand
he knew that finding her lying on Pelennor Field would haunt his
nightmares for the rest of his lifehe was, nevertheless,
extremely proud of her.
"There is no help for it," he said, quietly, "we
will have to do without Fingolfin. But we must be careful, Colgan.
Thranduil claims he is our ally in this but I am not sure that
we can trust him. He knows that we have malcontents in the north
of Rohan; he claims that the Beornings are moving into East Lorien,
and he" Eomer tried to think of the right word"he
is trying to make me believe that Bergthórr beytill
intends to ally with our potential rebels. But it seems to me
that Rohan has precious little to gain from an alliance with either
of them. We must take things slowlyand commit ourselves
to nothing at this stage."
"I understand, your Majesty," said Colgan.
They entered the Council chamber.
"Welcome, Eomer King, Lord Colgan," said Thranduil.
"Please, take your seats."
He has done this deliberately, thought Eomer, scowling. He has
called me here later than the others to put Rohan at a disadvantage.
Eomer took his place beside Gimli and looked around the table.
Thranduil was shuffling a pile of papers; everyone else was waiting
expectantly. "Have I missed anything?" Eomer whispered.
"No lad," said Gimli, "just Master Horse-penis
causing a fuss about the bear." He mimicked Bergthórr's
deep voice, "'Just how is the Elvenking going to ensure
my people's safety?' And then he insisted that his son should
be present at this meeting"
"The boy on his right?" said Eomer. His memory of the
previous night's introductions was, to say the least, hazy.
"CorrectBjarni Bergthórssonor Bjarni
bjarki, as his friends call him"
"And the Elder on Bergthórr's left?" Eomer nodded
towards to a distinguished-looking man with a thick mane of white
"That is Bergthórr's chief Advisor, Óttarr
in spakaÓttarr the wise," whispered Gimli.
"Gentlemen," called Thranduil, suddenly looking up
from his papers, "let us begin.
"As you know," he continued, "at the end of the
Ring War, the southernmost part of Eryn GalenGreenwood the
Greatwas annexed by Lord Celeborn. Large numbers of Lorien
elves moved into the forest and began tending the treesreversing
the damage caused by Sauron's presence at Dol Guldur." He
paused. "I think that we would all agree," he said,
looking pointedly at the Beorning Chieftain, "that the forest
is now healthier than it has been for well over a thousand years."
Bergthórr beytill shrugged his shoulders. "Ihaving
lived somewhat less than sixty yearswill have to be guided
by you on that," he said.
Thranduil bowed his head, graciously. "Since Lord Celeborn
departed for the Undying Lands, almost a year ago," he continued,
"the elves of East Lorien have looked to the Woodland Realm
"Protection from what?" asked Bergthórr beytill.
"From any number of things," replied Thranduil. "From
anything or anyone that might threaten their way of life. They
are few in number"
"Who is threatening their way of life?"
"Anyone who invades the forest, delves into the ground,
taints the water, or cuts down the trees."
Why is Thranduil behaving like a bull in a buttery? thought
"The elves of East Lorien are isolated and understandably
nervous," Thranduil continued, "and I am naturally
concerned for them." He leaned forward, dramatically. "But
what I really want to know, Chief Bergthórr beytilland
I am sure that Eomer King will support me in this"
Oh horsepiss, thought Eomer, here we go...
"is what, exactly, are you doing in East Lorien?"
"Lassui! You came!"
Lindë was lying, gracefully arranged, on one of the Healing
Room beds, dressed in a frothy white night-gown that hid very
few of her charms.
"Voronwë said that it was urgent," said Legolas.
"Have you remembered something more about the bear?"
"The bear? No..."
"Then what is it?"
"Sit beside me," said Lindë, patting the bed.
"Sit beside me. I have had an idea, Lassui."
Legolas perched uncomfortably on the very edge of the bed.
Lindë smiled. "You never could resist me, Lassui,"
"Lindë!" he chided. "We discussed the past
last night. You know that I am bound to Eowyn. So if your 'idea'"
"Your lady is very nice," said Lindë. "And
Voronwë is very nice. And I thought that we could all get
together... And be very nice together."
"Yes. I am sure that your lady and Voronwë would get
on well. She could teach him"
"No, Lindë," said Legolas firmly.
"Oh, Lassui... Please."
"I have not had a decent cuildithen since you left!"
"I am sorry, Lindë," said Legolas, "but you
will just have to teach Himwë what to do."
"Could you not talk to him"
"No!" Legolas shook his head. "No, Lindë
I could not."
He patted the small patch of shoulder that was still covered
by her night-gown. "I am glad to see that you have recovered
so quickly," he said, "and I hope that you will join
Gimli and me at supper. But you know, Lindë, that you and
I will never again be anything more than friends." He rose
to his feet. "Now, I must leave you, mell nín.
I need to talk to Singollo about capturing the bear."
He walked towards the door.
"Thank your lady for saving me, Lassui," called Lindë,
as he reached for the latch.
Legolas turned and smiled. She is spoilt and she does not
always think before she speaks, he thought. But she is
Perhaps I could have a word with Himwë.
Bergthórr beytill leaped to his feet and leaned over the
"How dare you insult me! How dare you insult
the Beornings! How dare you speak thus of the men who, during
the long reign of Sauronand without the luxury of immortalitysingle-handedly
kept open the High Pass and the Ford of Carrock, and secured the
passage from Dale to Rivendellthe men who stood beside you
at the final Battle, youyouyou arrogant wood elf!"
Since Bergthórr was a relatively small man, his fury was
somewhat less than intimidating.
Thranduil remained completely unruffled. "I merely asked
for clarification," he said.
"Clarify my arse"
"My lord," said Eomer, rapping his knuckles on the
table to draw the Beorning's attention, "King Thranduilpleasesit
down, both of you." Eomer's manner was calm, but when Bergthórr
made to protest, he added, "Sit!"
The elf and the man, still eyeing each other over the table,
lowered themselves into their seats simultaneously.
"Now," said Eomer, "what evidence do you have,
King Thranduil, of an incursion into East Lorienand what
makes you think that the culprits are men?"
And when, exactly, he wondered, did it fall to me to
be the diplomat?
Thranduil's March Warden had just finished briefing a detachment
of Forest Guards and was watching them file out through the Main
"Lassui! Mae govannen, mellon nín! Good to
see you again! I am sorry I have not had time to greet you beforewhat
with this bear business..." Singollo placed his hand over
his heart and bowed his head. Then he looked up, smiling. "But
perhaps I should be doing this." He embraced his friend
heartily, human-fashion. "Was that correct?"
Legolas smiled. "Yes," he said, "that was very
good." He drew Singollo to one side. "Can we talk in
"Of course. Now?"
Legolas nodded. "If you can."
"Your mother's garden?"
The two elves walked slowly, side by side, away from the well-guarded
main thoroughfare and down the long, deserted passage that led
to the garden cave. "I have a favour to ask of you,"
"And you want to keep it secret from your father?"
"Does the favour have anything to do with your lady and
the test your father has set her?"
"Good, because much as I want to see you happyand
she is a cordof, LassuiI could not go directly against
your father's wishes. But if it is not that, thenof coursewhat
do you want me to do?"
Legolas smiled. "Come in," he said.
They stepped through the low, crumbling door to his mother's
garden, crossed the meadow and sat beneath her beloved beeches.
Singollo looked out across the grass. "It is always delightful
here," he said. "Does the Shire really look like this?"
"The Shire," said Legolas, thinking back to his and
Gimli's visit to Bag End, just before Frodo left for the Undying
Lands, "the Shire is even more beautiful, Collo. The hobbits
love it, and tend it with simple, honest hearts, and the Shire
loves them in return."
"What is wrong, Lassui? I mean, apart from..."
Legolas turned to his friend and smiled. "Apart from the
fear of losing her? It is the bear, Collo," he said.
"On our way here, Eowyn and I were attacked by it. At least,
I was attacked, and she saved me..."
"Yes; but what you do not know..." Legolas told his
friend everythingof sensing the bear's desire for him; of
sensing its hatred of Eowyn, and of Lindë; of Eowyn's theory;
and of Haldir's plan.
"There is no shame in being desired by a man, Lassui,"
said Singollo, gently. "I have heard that many men
find elves attractive." He patted Legolas' back. "Soyou
want to search the caves, and you want to use the dungeonsof
course. I will help you in any way I can. And no one knows these
tunnels better than I do."
"I could not possibly ask you to come hunting with us, Collo"
"Do you remember Thorondir Eaglegaze?"
"Of course I remember him," said Legolas. "What
do you mean...? Oh, that. Yes, I remember that."
"Though not nearly so well as I do," said Singollo.
"It was you who made him stop beating me. Even though you
were the Crown Prince and I was just the son of your father's
groom. And you were half his size. I do not want you to take this
the wrong way, Legolas," he added, and a mischievous grin
suddenly broke across his childlike face, "but I would do
anything for you... Except give up archery. Or give up
wine. Or, give up carel ellith, of course"
"Collo, you idiot," said Legolas, laughing, "you
make Gimli sound like Lord Elrond! It is good to be back with
you, Collo," he admitted.
"When do you want to go on this bear hunt?" asked Singollo.
"As soon as possible."
"I understand that your lady will be occupied until dawn?"
"Let us do it tonight, thenwe will search one tunnel
at a time and, once we are sure it is clear, we will seal it."
"We will give the guards at the entrance nice, simple orders:
no bears, no Beornings"
"We cannot do that"
"Of course we can. Everyone has heard about the bear, and
everyone is nervousor should be. The Beornings are our honoured
guests. It is only right that we offer them our protection."
"They will know that we suspect them."
"Perhaps. But we will be polite and helpful and they will
have no grounds for complaint."
"You are good at this," said Legolas.
"Thank you," said Singollo. "Keeping your father
happy all these years has meant learning to swim like a fish and
fly like a bird..."
Legolas smiled. "Tonight, then," he said. "And
now I had better see how my father and Eomer have fared in their
"And I had better get back to the guard room," said
Singollo. He rose from the bench with a look of casual innocence
on his childlike face. "Tell me, Lassui," he said, "is
"Is what true?"
"What they say about elves and women?"
"Is... Oh, Collo!"
"You can tell a friend."
Legolas shook his head in mock despair. "Find your own Shieldmaiden!"
he said. "And that is all I am saying!"
"I have no doubt that you deliberately set out to provoke
Bergthórr beytill," said Eomer to Thranduil after
the Beorning Chieftain and his supporters had stormed out of the
Council Chamber, "but what I do not understand is why. What
could you have hoped to accomplish?"
"Exactly what I did accomplish," said Thranduil.
Eomer glanced at Gimli; the dwarf shrugged his shoulders. "Which
is?" the man asked.
"First," said Thranduil, "I broke his self-control:
a man reveals many secrets when he is angry."
"He revealed nothing," protested Eomer.
"You think not?" Thranduil smiled. "On the contraryI
heard him say that he knew nothing about any fires. But I had
not mentioned that the ground had been burnt. I think he revealed
that he knows exactly what is going on in East Lorien.
"Secondly, I may just have provoked him into trying to cover
up his tracks. If that is the case, the elves I have assigned
to watch his people will soon learn about it.
"Thirdly, I have shown him thatwhilst I am
thoroughly unreasonableyou are calm and diplomatic."
He smiled, bewitchingly. "If Chief Horse-penis decides that
he does want to negotiate, he will approach you first."
"And the benefit of that is?" asked Gimli.
"They are both men," said Thranduil, as though the
answer was obvious. "Bergthórr will try to convince
Eomer King to ally with him. And to do that he will have to explain
what he is up to."
"So that interminable security report I studied this morning
was a waste of time?" said Eomer.
"Some of the details may be usefulit remains to be
Eomer was not pleased.
"What is going on in East Lorien?" asked Gimli, suddenly.
"Why do you not just send in a scouting party to take a look?"
"Where would be the fun in that?" asked Thranduil.
"You have a strange idea of fun."
Thranduil smiled. "I have tried sending scouts," he
admitted, "but it is useless. Somehow, the Beornings always
know when strangers are nearby and they immediately cover up whatever
it is they are doing. My elves found nothing but raked soilsuspicious
enough in the thick of the forestand traces of burning."
Legolas closed the door behind him. He had decided that he would
return to his quarters to bathe and change before joining his
father, Eomer, and Gimli in the Great Hall.
But Eowyn will not be there, he thought, sadly.
He walked into the bedchamber, unhooking the fastenings on his
pale green tunic. Eowyn's velvet riding gown was lying, freshly
laundered, over the chair beside the bed. She wore this on the
ride from Edoras to Dunharrow, he thought, running his fingers
over its soft, russet pile, after she had convinced Aragorn that
she was simply going to 'farewell the men'!
"I love you, Eowyn nín," he said aloud.
"Gerich faer vara!"
He shrugged off his tunic and laid it on the bed, slipped out
of his soft boots, then unlaced his leggings, slid them down over
his thighs, and stepped out of them.
I must hurry if I am going to bathe, he thought, scratching
his bare stomach
Legolas gasped. "Rothinzil! What are you doing here?"
He quickly picked up his tunic and wrapped it around his waist.
"I am here to take care of you, my lord," she said
and, smilingalmost shylyshe took a few graceful steps
"I beg your pardon?"
A few hundred years ago, those words would have brought out the
animal in him. He would have scooped her up in his arms and carried
her to his bed, laughing. But now...
Legolas stepped backwards.
"Your father asked me to see to your needs, my lord,"
said the Rothinzil, still trying to play their old game. She stretched
out her hand and lightly ran her fingers own his bare chest.
"Rosui!" Legolas took another step.
"It has been a long time, my lord," she admitted. "But
you cannot have forgotten what it was like..." She slid her
hand down to his waist and pulled at his improvised loincloth.
Slowly, Legolas opened his arms and let the tunic fall to the
ground. Then he took Rothinzil's hand and held her fingers against
himself. "I love Eowyn," he said, simply. "I
am bound to her. And you know what that means: seenothing."
Rothinzil swallowed hard. The pain in her eyes was genuine.
Legolas let go of her hand. "I am sorry, Rosui," he
said, picking up his leggings and slipping them on. "I do
not blame you. I know that my father told you to do this"
"I can imagine what he saidthat I was infatuated with
an adaneth and that you could save me. But now you know
that what he said was untrue. I love Eowyn. And, Rosui,
you and Iour affairwas over, long before I
met her." He stroked her back in a brotherly fashion.
"Please, do not do that, my lord," she whispered.
"I am sorry," said Legolas, gently, "Come, Rosui,
you must leave. I will speak to my father and have you appointed
to another lady."
Rothinzil nodded, sadly,letting him escort her out of the chamber.
"Please forgive me, my lord," she said, as he opened
"There is nothing to forgive, Rosui," said Legolas.
He kissed her forehead lightly. "Good night." He watched
her walk along the passage, towards the Great Hall. Then, as he
was turning back to his chamber door, he noticed a small, veiled
figure standing further down the corridor.
"Lady Gunnhildr? You should not be walking about alone.
Is anything amiss?"
The girl did not speak, but merely shook her head. Her veil made
it impossible for Legolas to see her expression, or even to see
exactly where she was looking, but her posture was awkwarduncomfortableand
he had the distinct impression that she was staring at his bare
chest. Poor little thing, he thought. She has never
seen a male undressed before.
Why do humans treat their daughters like this? Making them
afraid of their own shadows? Making them think that the whole
world wants only to steal their gweneth. They would say
it is to protect the weak. But it seems to me that the prevention
is worse than the disease...
He thought of Eowyn's courage and independence. Thank the Valar!
Then another thought struck him. If the bear is a Beorning,
who knows what intentions he may have towards his chieftain's
daughter? Perhaps Bergthórr beytill is right! "Allow
me to escort you to your chambers, Lady Gunnhildr."
He held out his hand to her, elven fashion. She hesitated for
a moment, her posture suggesting even greater discomfort; then
she placed her hand on his, and allowed him to lead her down the
"Is this the first time you have accompanied your father
on an official visit, my lady?" asked Legolas, turning to
look at her. The angle of her head showed him that she was staring
fixedly at the ground, but she replied with a nod. "Are you
enjoying it?" She nodded again. "Is there anything you
would like to do or see whilst you are here, my lady?" He
felt her flinch slightly. "I meant," he explained, "that
I could arrange for some of the ladies of the court to spend time
with you. You would not have to wear your veil with them. And
you could relax..."
Her voice was so soft that he almost missed her reply. "It
is kind of you, Prince Legolas, to be concerned for me. But my
father prefers me not to mix with other ladies."
Legolas' immediate impulse was to ask her why, but he curbed
his tongue. It was not his place to openly criticise Bergthórr
beytill's raising of his daughter. "Well, if you do need
anythingif there is anything that Ior Lady Eowyncan
help you with, just send me a message. AhI believe we are
here, my lady." He stopped outside her chamber door, and
gently dropped her hand. "Until we meet again, my lady,"
And, to his surprise, Gunnhildr Bergthórsdottir came up
on her tiptoes and, through her veil, gave his cheek the briefest
"How is she faring, Ada?" asked Legolas, softly, as
he took his place at the supper table beside his father.
"I have no idea," said Thranduil. "Eowyn has until
dawn: I shall not disturb her until then."
"I obtained this information from the Library, March Warden,"
said Berryn to Singollo.
Eryn Carantaur's cartographer had carefully copied a plan of
the palace and mounted it onto a thin piece of woodand had
already made several corrections, in red chalk, to the mapping
of the main thoroughfare. "How accurate is this part?"
He pointed to the northern ends of the various tunnels.
Singollo took the plan from him and studied it carefully. "Hmmm.
There are some side-tunnels missinghere, here, and hereMaster
Berryn but, in essence, I think it is correct. We will start here,
in Gath Loen: it is damp and deserted and would be the best place
to hide," he added, holding up the plan so that the rest
of the hunting partyGimli, Legolas, Dínendal and
Haldircould see it. "I have already placed a detachment
of five warriors, here, at its mouth. As the plan shows, there
is no other way out of this area, so I suggest that we go straight
to the furthest point, here, and work backwards, checking these
side caverns as we advance. If the bear is hiding anywhere in
this wing it will be driven towards the entrance where my elves
will capture and hold it. If we have no success in Gath Loen,
we will scour each of these in turn," he pointed to the various
complexes of tunnels.
"Might I suggest," said Dínendal, diffidently,
"that we try the tunnel in which Lady Lindorië was attacked,
next? I have read that bears are territorial animals..."
"Yes; that makes sense," said Singollo.
"How did you explain to the guards why you are allowing
us to do the hunting?" asked Legolas.
"That is the great advantage of living in a traditional
kingdom instead of a forward-thinking colony, Lassui," said
Singollo, smiling. "You are the King's son and your word
is my command; your friends want to hunt. The guards see nothing
strange in any of that."
Gimli drew his axe. "Let us get started then, lad!"
The hunters checked their weapons, Dínendal shouldered
his healing bag, and Berryn tucked his map under his arm and his
piece of chalk behind his ear. Then everyone picked up a torch
and followed Singollo.
"Gimli," said Legolas, softly, as they entered Gath
Loen. "I need to return before dawn. I must be outside
my father's study when she needs me."
"Of course lad," said Gimli, patting his arm, "I
will send you back in time. Leave it to me."
Seven hours later
"You are tired, my lady," said Fingolfin.
Eowyn nodded. "I would rather gallop for three days along
the Great West Road and face a hoard of Haradrim on armoured Mûmakil
than sort one more letter," she said.
"All warriorswithout exceptionunderestimate
how demanding the simple day-to-day tasks of running a realm can
be," said Fingolfin, smiling.
"Well, I will not in future," said Eowyn.
She stretched herself up to her full height, rubbing the small
of her back, and glanced around the chamber. The small garden
cave in the corner of Thranduil's study was bathed in a soft rosy
"Look!" she cried. "Look, my lord! The sun has