Captain Mutallu rapped on the door of Faramir's
cabin and opened it without waiting for permission to enter. Faramir
looked up from the chart he was studying.
"What is it, Captain?"
"The Hatja's fleet sir," said Mutallu, in a low voice.
"Much sooner than expected."
"Yes, sir. What are we going to do?"
"You fear an incident?"
"I fear war, sir."
Faramir nodded. "Are we flying recognisable colours?"
"Yes sir. The Bird's registered as a merchantman of Carhilivren."
"Good. Then take us in close, Captain. We need to find some
way to penetrate the shroud and show them our ensign. Then the
elves and I will row over to the flagship, and try to buy Legolas
"Goodness gracious," gasped Hentmirë, averting
her eyes from the naked man. She slipped off her cloak. "Here,"
she said to Legolas. "Give him this."
"Thank you, my lady," said the young man, draping the
cloak over his lap. "And thank you, Magus. Might I trouble
you to do the same for my Court? Starting with my personal bodyguard,
here?" He indicated the rats standing on the dais.
Then, as the magician lifted his wand, he added, "You may
prefer to look away, ladies."
Hentmirë turned her back. Eowyn, smiling, lowered her eyes.
There was another flash of light, and the four rats became four
"You may leave us," said the king to his guards. "Return
when you are properly attired."
With a brief nod of acknowledgement, the naked men jogged from
"May I look now, your Majesty?" asked Hentmirë.
"Indeed, you may, my lady," said the King of Kuri.
He gestured towards a row of benches grouped in front of the dais.
"Please," he said, "make yourselves comfortable.
I am afraid I cannot offer you refreshments at present."
"They're still not seeing us, sir," said Mutallu, "despite
the extra lights."
"No," said Faramir. "Lower the boat. We shall
row away from the Bird and, with luck, become visible after
a few feet. We shall take the ensign with us."
"Very good, sir," said Mutallu. He turned to his first
officer. "Lower the boat, Taru. His Highness will need six
rowers in addition to the two elf-gentlemen. Take the helm yourself..."
A thought occurred to him. "How will you find your way back
to us, sir?" he asked.
"I have no idea," Faramir admitted.
"Leave that with me, then, sir," said Mutallu. "I
will think of something."
"When did it happen, your Majesty?" asked Niqmaddu.
"I am not sure, Magus," said the king. "Some time
in the night... Two or three days ago, I think."
"Do you know who was responsible?"
"We are looking for a man, your Majesty," said Legolas,
"a magician, who has, we believe, taken refuge in the Palace."
"That is impossible," said the king. "The Palace
is too well-guarded."
"Under normal circumstances, your Majesty," Legolas
agreed, "but since the transformation... My friends and I,
for example, were able to enter unchallenged."
"You may not have been challenged, sir," said
the king, with a touch of impatience, "but you were
observed and followed."
"Of course," said Legolas, remembering the rats.
"Now," said the king, "might I ask who has come
to my aid?"
Niqmaddu glanced at Legolas for permission to take the lead.
"Please," said the elf.
"I am Niqmaddu, son of the great Niqmepa," said the
magician, "advisor to the Hatja of Carhilivren. This is Prince
Legolas of the Woodland Realm; Princess Eowyn; and the warriors
Haldir and Valandil. And this is Lady Hentmirë, daughter
"Ah," said the king, looking at Hentmirë with
interest. "The mistress of the famous djinn."
"They have seen our lights," said Camthalion. "And
they are nervous. They have sent bowmen to the forecastle."
Faramir nodded, gravely. "Show them the ensign, Master Taru."
"Very good sir." The man rose to his feet and, bracing
himself against the bobbing of the boat, lifted the flag aloft
and waved it back and forth. Faramir raised his lantern and directed
its beam at the colours.
"That has caught their attention," said the elf. "The
bowmen are standing down. The officers are in conference."
"Good," said Faramir. "Take us up close, Master
Taru, as quickly as possible."
"Your Majesty," said Niqmaddu, "may I ask how
you know about the djinn?"
"There was a time, Magus," said the king, "before
the Great War, when my aunt spoke of little else."
"Your aunt, your Majesty?" said Legolas.
"The former queen, Naqiya-Zakutu," said the king.
"But... I do not understand," said Niqmaddu. "The
Great War ended thirty years ago, and you are scarcely thirty
The king smiled his sad smile. "I am one hundred and ninety-three,
Magus," he said.
"You drank the water," said Eowyn.
"My mother immersed me in the water, my lady,"
said the king. "She thought it was only way to protect me
from Naqiya after the Queen had killed my fatherher own
brotherand Naqiya had her executed for it." He shook
Clearly, the pain of losing his mother was still fresh, even
after two hundred years.
"I am sorry, your Majesty," said Eowyn, softly.
"But," said Valandil, suddenly, "your spirit...
"Your spirit lives; it is healthy, whereas your aunt's
The king turned to the elf. "You refer to her strange condition?"
he asked. "Yes; I suppose you could call it decay
of the spirit. She is certainly not the vivacious woman she once
"I understood that to be the effect of the water, your Majesty,"
said Niqmaddu. "I had heard that the water was poison."
"Good," said the king. "Good."
"That is a rumour I started, Magus. One of many, I confess."
"To stop people wanting it," said Eowyn.
"Indeed, my lady." He acknowledged her deduction with
a bow of the head, then he smiled at her, his eyes lingering on
her face for a moment.
Legolas took hold of her hand.
"There was no hope," said the king, "of building
a vigorous country whilst my people's only interest was in a Fountain
of Youth. Now that the water is poison we have a thriving economywe
fish for pearls in the bay of Kuri and we mine for precious stones
and metals in the hills of Kurigalzu. We are famous for our craftsmanship."
He waved his hand, indicating the Audience Chamber's sumptuous
decoration. "We have trading links with several countries
to the south and east. My realm is prosperous."
The Hatja's sailors threw down a rope ladder.
Faramir, anxious to appear a credible statesman from the outset,
sent the elves up first and watched their method carefully. Then,
when his own turn came, he climbed aboard without any loss of
Bowing to what he assumed was the captain of the ship, he said,
"I am Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, friend of the Magus Niqmaddu,
advisor to the Hatja. I come to speak with the commander of the
He held out his hand, showing the captain a heavy gold ring lying
in his palm. "I carry the Hatja's seal."
"Wait here," said the captain.
A few moments later, he returned. "The Hatja will see you,
your Highness," he said, bowing slightly. "But the elves
are to remain here."
"Then what happened to your aunt, your Majesty?" asked
Niqmaddu. "Why is she a mere shell of a woman?"
"I believe," said the king, "that the wretchher
accomplicedid it to her. At any rate, it did not happen
until after they had fallen outand then he betrayed her
to the Hatja of Carhilivren."
Legolas and Niqmaddu exchanged glances.
"We think, your Majesty," said Legolas, "that
the person you describe as 'the wretch' may be the very man we
are seekingand the person responsible for your transformationa
magician named Baalhanno."
"That is the wretch," the king confirmed. "And
I should have known that this was his doing!" He paused,
as if tying to decide whether to share a confidence. Then he continued,
"When he first appeared heresome forty years agoand
immediately bought his way into my aunt's presence, I thought
nothing of it, for he was a tiny, ugly, slip of a man and I knew
that my aunt had no time for anyone less than six feet tall and
He glanced at the elves.
"But I was wrong: the wretch offered her something far more
seductive than a beautiful body. He offered her power. Unlimited
"What do you mean?" asked Niqmaddu.
"I did not hear all the details," said the king, "and
much of what I did hear, I did not understand. It involved the
Art of Transmutation."
"Alchemy," said Niqmaddu.
"Yes. The water, it seems, can be used to transmute base
metal into a substance so powerful that the smallest quantity
will destroy an entire country. It will incinerate its people,
raze its cities to the ground, and leave its soil tainted for
centuries to come..."
"How?" asked Legolas.
The king shook his head. "I do not know."
"But you believe it to be true?"
"I have no doubt."
The Hatja wasted no time on polite greetings. "The Magus
mentioned you in his letter," he said. "Sit down."
He gestured towards a low divan. "Tell me what is happening."
Faramir explained everything they had pieced together. "We
believe that Baalhanno is responsible for the 'plague',"
he said, "and I suspect that he intends to restore
Queen Naqiya to the throne, as his puppet, and rule"
"He wants more than that," said the Hatja with a dismissive
gesture. "Kuri is our natural enemy. He intends to use her
against us. He wants Carhilivren."
"But why does Baalhanno want the djinn?" asked Eowyn.
"The djinn," said the king, "once belonged to
the wretch's mother, a beautiful sorceress"
"Muttenbaal," said Niqmaddu.
"Yes. She seduced the Hatja of Carhilivrenyour present
Hatja's fatherand the wretch was the result."
"He is the Hatja's brother!"
"Older, but illegitimate. Muttenbaal assumed that her son
would inherit the throne of Carhilivren but, shortly after his
birth, the Hatja's wife, who had been believed barren, conceived
and presented the Hatja with a legitimate son. The sorceress and
her child were banished."
"But how did my father obtain the djinn, your Majesty?"
"I believe he tricked the sorceress into selling him the
lamp," said the king.
"My father always was a cunning negotiator," said Hentmirë,
proudly. "Many of his associates have told me so."
"By coincidence, Muttenbaal died shortly afterwards and,
when your father summoned the djinn, he became its master."
"He was known for his luck, too," said Hentmirë.
"So Baalhanno lost his mother and his birthright in a single
moment," said Niqmaddu. "That explains a great deal.
And his powers were always quiescent within him. All it took was
a few lessons from me to awaken them..." He shook his head,
sadly. "I should have sensed it."
"You must not blame yourself, Magus," said Legolas,
"But does Baalhanno have a use for the djinn, your Majesty?"
asked Eowyn, unconsciously hugging her bag to her chest. "Does
he mean to force the djinn to take part in his wickedness?"
"As I say," the king replied, "I did not understand
much of what I heard. But I am convinced that the evil I told
you of is a physical object. And I believe he intends to use the
djinn to deliver it."
"Deliver it where?" asked Legolas.
"The bastard must be stopped," muttered the Hatja.
He turned to the captain of the ship. "Signal the rest of
the fleet. We shall land in one hour."
"No!" cried Faramir, leaping to his feet and blocking
the cabin door, physically preventing the captain from leaving.
"You will start a war! And it is not necessary. The Magus
and my friends will find Naqiya-Zakutu. Once she has been laid
to rest, Baalhanno's plans will come to nothing."
"Sit down," said the Hatja, imperiously. "Sit
down orPrince or no PrinceI will have you thrown overboard!"
Faramir remained where he was. "I counsel you to wait,"
he said, calmly.
"May we see the spring, your Majesty?" asked Niqmaddu.
"The spring? Why?" asked the king.
The magician thought for a moment. "If you are certain,
your Majesty, quite certain, that Baalhanno is not hiding in the
"Then we must begin by looking in the cave. When a place
is closely associated with a particular magic," he said,
exchanging the tiniest glance with Legolas, "it is sometimes
possible, by visiting the place, to sense the magic's source..."
"I have never heard of that," said the king. "Very
well. But I must take you there myself. Perhaps you would turn
your backs for a moment, my ladies?" He took up a pleated
linen kilt from the floor, wrapped it around his hips and knotted
the belt at the front.
"You may look now," he said, smiling at Eowyn as her
eyes met his. "Come..."
"I see no immediate threat to Carhilivren," said Faramir.
"Give the Magus until daybreakgive him and Legolas
the chance to settle the matter bloodlessly. If they have not
returned by dawn, we will know that they have failed.
"And then it will be up to us."
Queen Naqiya's private apartments were decorated with exquisite
refinement, but the furnishings were covered with a thick layer
of sandy dust.
"I permit no one to enter," said the king, "not
even to clean. The water is too great a temptation."
Legolas looked carefully at the marble floor. "The dust
has been disturbed," he said, very softly, to Niqmaddu. "Sweptor
moved magically, perhapsto hide footprints." He glanced
at the other elves; Haldir nodded in agreement. "We must
"This way, sirs, Lady Eowyn, Lady Hentmirë," said
the king, throwing open a pair of elaborately decorated doors.
Several of the party gasped. Inside the bedchamber, all was sophisticatedcoloured
stones, marble and granite, cut into intricate shapes, polished,
and laid in neat patterns. Beyond the doors all was wildragged
rock walls, dripping with iridescent green water and infested
with monstrous creepers whose huge, spiked leaves and thick, trailing
tendrils seemed to reach towards the open door...
"Stay well away from those," the king warned.
The small cavern ended in a narrow shaft that plunged deep into
the rock beneath. Legolas stared anxiously into the darkness.
There was a sound, too faint for men's earsa strange, continuous
hum, like a hive of angry beescoming from the far end of
the tunnel. "Can you use a sword, your Majesty?"
"I can," said the king. "Why do you ask?"
Legolas drew his white knives.
"If you act with the consent of the people of Kuri"
"This is wasting time!" cried the Hatja. "Baalhanno
has King Shamash under his thumb"
"Wait for me here, gwendithen nín," said
Legolas. "When this is over, I will take you back to Eryn
Carantaur and you can live there with us for as long as you wish.
I promise. But stay here." He kissed Hentmirë's forehead.
"I shall," she said.
Legolas turned to the king, who had found himself a scimitar.
"Let us elves go first, your Majesty. Eowyn, Magus, stay
He led them into the narrow, steeply sloping corridor and followed
it downwards, all his senses straining. With each step the humming
noise grew louder, and now a strange orange light was casting
lurid shadows on the walls and lending the trails of water a fiery
At last, the tunnel opened into a natural hall.
Legolas halted at the cave mouth, sheathed his knives, and pulled
his bow from its strap. "Ready?" he whispered to Haldir
and Valandil. "Now!"
The three elves sprang into the larger space, their weapons raised.
There was no sign of Baalhanno or the woman, but none of them
was aware of that, and neither did they notice the 'Fountain of
Youth', with its evil-green water, cascading into the natural
rock pool opposite the entrance.
Instead, their entire attention was fixed on the strange object
at the centre of the cave.
Faramir had one card left to play. "Send the elves,"
"To see what is happening. Elves are like shadowsthey
can pass amongst men without being seen. Send them to scout the
city. If troops are being mustered they will signal and you can
invade immediately. If not, they will gather valuable intelligence
that you can use at daybreak."
There was a pause.
"One of my men goes with you," said the Hatja.
"We men lack the necessary stealth"
"You, my man, and the elves," said the Hatja. "And
if there is any hint of deception, my man will kill you."
I am become death, the destroyer of worlds
Robert Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagavad
"It looks," said Eowyn, coming up behind Legolas, "like
a tiny sun."
Floating above an open shell of pure mithril, two hemispheres
of vivid orange were surrounded by a containing spell so powerful
thatlike a curtain of transparent fabricits limits
were visible to the naked eye as a distortion of the light.
"Keep well away from it, melmenya," said Legolas. "Maguswhat
"I do not know..."
"It is the thing that destroys," said the king. "The
wretch has created it."
"It seems I have underestimated you, daughter of Mursilis."
Hentmirëpeering anxiously through the cavern doors
for any sign of Legolas' returnfroze with her back to the
"You and your precious elf! It would be more fitting to
kill you together. But no matter."
Hentmirë heard his robes rustle as he raised his wand. She
bit her lip. Good bye, Legolas
The blast hit her upper body, squeezing her internal organs mercilessly.
"Can we destroy it?" asked Legolas.
"No," said Niqmaddu. "I cannot penetrate the protective
spell. And, even if I could, I would not know how to destroy it."
"Then what can we do"
"Legolas," said Haldir, quietly but urgently, "someone
"Your Majesty, Magus, Eowyn: stand either side of the door!"
The elves trained their bows on the tunnel entrance. A moment
later, a small, plump figure appeared in the archway.
Legolas swore. "I told you to wait in the Palace!"
"What is that?" asked Hentmirë, walking towards
the strange object.
"We do not knowdo not get too close!" Legolas
caught her arm and pulled her back. "Go over there. Stand
The elves leaped up onto the wharf and disappeared into the shadows.
"Remember I have orders to kill you if they try anything
foolish," said the Hatja's man, quietly.
Faramir shook his head. "For the hundredth time: we are
both on the same side," he said. "And you will
best serve your master by co-operating with us. Now, come."
Hentmirë glanced at Legolas, deep in discussion with Niqmaddu
and King Shamash.
His back was turned.
She sidled closer to Valandil. "Go to sleep," she said,
smiling as his body sagged, and his eyes closed.
She edged closer to Eowyn. "You cannot move; not one muscle,"
she whispered, nodding callously as the other woman's eyes suddenly
filled with terror.
Silently, she worked her way round to Haldir. "He is not
good enough for her," she said, softly. "But you cannot
have her until he is dead."
Faramir and his three companions drew their swords and slipped
into the Palace through an open door in the Great Gates.
Orodreth dropped to the ground and examined it carefully, tracing
a faint mark with his fingertips. "These are Lady Eowyn's
footprints," he said. "She went this way. Follow me."
"Soon after my aunt declared war on Carhilivren," said
the king, "there was some sort of falling out. I think the
wretch attempted to seduce her; at any rate, he betrayed her battle
plans to the Hatja and she and her army were ambushed."
Niqmaddu shook his head. "It was not seduction," he
said, "but a part of the Alchemy. He is the Sun, the male
principle; she is the Moon, the female principle and his perfect
sister. And that would explain why he has released her from the
prison now. He is ready to perform the Transmutation, and needs
"You mean they created this by..." King Shamash made
a vague gesture, shaking his head in disgust.
"Possibly. Possibly not," said Niqmaddu. "A powerful
natural magician, like Baalhanno, risks losing his powers by lying
with a woman. And I suspect that the work is still incomplete.
A yolk does not fill its shell"
"The white is missing!" said Legolas.
"So all we need do is stop him creating the final part?"
said the king.
"Unfortunately, I do not think that will be sufficient,"
said Niqmaddu. "The spell that surrounds thisthis sunis
far more powerful than it would need to be were his aim merely
to keep us out. I suspect that, without it, we would all burn
up in its presence."
"Then what will happen if we kill Baalhanno?" asked
"Kill Legolas, Haldir," said Hentmirë, softly.
"Kill him now."
"STOP!" The king's personal bodyguards came running
down the corridor, swords drawn.
"Hold them back," cried Faramir, pushing the
Hatja's man towards them and following the elves into Queen Naqiya's
He barred the door behind him.
"It is possible," said Niqmaddu, "that if Baalhanno
were to die, the sun would simply transmute back to its original
matter. On the other hand"
He was interrupted by the chilling sound of a great Galadhrim
bow being fully drawn.
"Turn," said Haldir, "and face death like an
"March Warden?" Legolas raised his hands in a peacemaking
gesture. "Something has happened to you, Haldir: you are
not yourself." He took a step forward. "Lower your bow."
"You are not good enough for her," said Haldir, taking
a step back. "You were never good enough for her. She deserves
so much more than you"
Sitting motionless on the rock beside him, Eowyn began to make
a strange keening sound.
"It will soon be over, meleth nín," said
Haldir, "and then we will be together."
"Haldir," said Legolas, quietly, "these are not
your own thoughts. Baalhanno is still inside your mind. Fight
"He is lying, Haldir," said Hentmirë. "Kill
"What? Oh, gwendithen nín!" cried Legolas.
He turned towards the little woman in disbelief, just as Haldir
loosed the arrow.
"Down here," cried Orodreth, racing into the cavern.
"Ai!" He ducked as one of the plants reached for him,
but did not notice a second thick tendril approaching from behind
until it wrapped itself around his neck, and pulled his face towards
a ring of waiting leaves. "Daro! Daro!"
But Faramir was already hacking through the green limbit
fell to the ground, twitching like a severed arm.
"Ai, ceryn glam!" gasped the Orodreth, rubbing
his throat. "Hannon le! Thank you, your Highness."
Faramir shook his head with a deprecating smile.
"Look!" cried Camthalion, pointing down the tunnel.
Faramir peered into the faint orange glow. A familiar small figure,
obviously in great pain, was crawling laboriously towards the
"Hentmirë!" Avoiding another tendril, Faramir
ran to her side and lifted her, gently, into his arms.
"No!" she sobbed. "No! He is pretending to be
me! And he is going to kill Legolas! I must warn Legolas!"
"We shall stop him, my dear," said Faramir. "Do
As Legolas turned to the false Hentmirë, Haldir's first
arrow missed its target and, instead, hit King Shamash in the
The March Warden nocked a second.
"Nooooooooooooo!" wailed Eowyn, through her
"Yes!" cried the false Hentmirë. "Yes! Kill
him, Haldir!" She moved closer to Niqmaddu.
"Listen to Eowyn, Haldir," said a steady voice from
the mouth of the cave. "She loves Legolas. She does
not want you to hurt him. She will never love you if you
hurt him..." Faramir gestured to Orodreth and Camthalion,
meaning, Restrain him the moment Legolas is no longer in danger.
Haldir began to lower his bow.
"No," cried the false Hentmirë, taking
another step towards the magician. "No! He is lying! Your
Eowyn wants to be free of him!"
Haldir took aim again.
"That is not Hentmirë, Haldir," said Faramir,
emphatically. "The real Hentmirë loves Legolas. This
creature almost killed her, but I found her crawling down the
tunnel, still trying to reach him, to protect him."
"Haldir," began the false Hentmirë, at the same
time reaching for Niqmaddu
"NO," cried Legolas, drawing his white knives
and slicing through both of her wrists.
Everything happened at once.
Haldir fell to the ground, clutching his head.
Valandil awoke with a blood-curdling cry.
Eowyn sprang to her feet, screaming, "Legolas! Legolas!"
And the tiny sun went out.
Baalhanno, thrown abruptly into his own form, had scarcely enough
magic left to stem the bleeding, but he managed, in the dark,
to evade Legolas, slip past Faramir, and make his way up the tunnel.
With luck, he would still have enough power to seal them in the
cavern, then he would find somewhere to hide until his body was
rested and he could restore his hands...
As he reached the top of the slope something small caught his
ankle, and held it fast, and, trying to pull himself free, he
stumbled, and fell against the wall, hitting his head on a jagged
Dazed, he slid to the ground.
And a thick green limb, snaking down from the wall, wrapped itself
around his neck, and pulled his face towards a ring of waiting