"A bow," cried Legolas, scrambling to
his feet and dragging Eowyn behind him. "Give me a bow, for
"Too late," said Captain Milkherem. Shading his eyes
with his hand, he watched the bird as it disappeared into the
distance. "Far too late. If you shot it now they would both
drown. Gods' turds, that creature may have cost me five thousand
He looked at Legolas. "Are you really that good with
Legolas did not answer.
"That might increase your value..." Milkherem turned
to the rest of the prisoners. "There is nothing to be done,"
he said. "Keep walking or go back inside."
"What will happen to them?" asked Eowyn as they began
to pace the deck again.
"I have no idea, melmenya," said Legolas. Then, suddenly
remembering himself, he asked, anxiously: "Did I hurt youdragging
you like that?"
"That means 'yes'. Let me see your wrist. Oh, Eowyn nín,
I am so sorry." Very gently, he wrapped his hand around the
The bird was flying steadily southwards, holding Valandil in
its talons. The woman was hanging, by her unfettered hand, from
his belt but the elf could already feel the leather beginning
to give. It is stretching, he thought. Soon it will
snap... With an effort, he pulled his arm free of the eagle's
claw and reached down.
"Give me your hand," he cried.
"I cannot," the woman shouted, "I will fall!"
Leaning down against the talon's razor-sharp edge, Valandil grasped
her arm and pulled her upwards. "Can you find a foothold?"
"II thinkyes, I have!"
"Goodlet go of my beltput your arm around my
Straightening up at last, Valandil released the woman's arm,
slid his hand behind her back, and pulled her close.
We should be safe now, he though. At least, until it lands.
Haldir stood on the aft deck of the Hunter, gazing out to sea.
"Is it a woman?" asked Captain Oliel.
"They took from you?"
"What makes you say that?"
"I've heard that elves are attracted to the sea," said
Oliel, "but you're not interested in the water. And I've
seen that look on my own face." He sighed. "Seven years
ago they took my wifethe sweetest little thing you ever
saw. Took her while I was away at sea. I've searched the entire
coast of Near Harad, combed the streets of Umbar and Carhilivren,
followed every lead I was ever given. I've got to know all the
slave captains, their routes, and most of their regular customers.
I could run a slaving operation myself, if I wanted..."
"And still you have not found her?"
"I have helped find others, but I have never found her.
I wasn't soon enough, my friend," said Oliel. "She'd
been gone three months before I started looking. And they keep
no records, these people. You're relying on their memoriesthat,
and their willingness to talk. But you'll be following
close in your woman's footsteps. And you look like the sort who
can afford to pay for information. Yes, I've helped a few like
you get their women back."
"She is not my woman," said Haldir.
"No?" Oliel sounded surprised.
"No. But I once promised to be there if ever she needed
"Legolas," said Eowyn softly.
They were back in the hold, chained to the wall by the ankles,
now, and able, at last, to lie in each other's arms.
"Do not despair."
Legolas raised his head. "What shall I do without you, meleth
nín?" he asked, sadly.
"You will wait for me," said Eowyn.
Legolas smiled. "You put me to shame, melmenya."
Eowyn shook her head. "You worry about your people,"
she said. "That shows you are a good ruler. But Valandil
is a strong, capable elf. He will escape from the bird and find
his way back to Eryn Carantaur."
"I have seen eagles tear their prey..." said
"Shhhh!" She pressed her fingers against his
lips. "If it comes to that, it will be a quick death, my
love," she said.
The roc was nearing home. Trees and grass and running water were
just a memory now. This was her world: hot, dry and empty
The attack came from above: sharp talons slicing past her head.
A male, out hunting. Just a warning. She kept flying.
The male threatened againcloser nowtrying to scare
her into giving up her prey. She picked up speed and flew low.
But he was clever, shooting out of the sun to take her by surprise
and scratch her breast with the tip of his claw.
Now she had no choice but to fight back.
Flying lower still, and crying out a prayer of protection, she
dropped the little creatures into the sand. When she had dealt
with the male roc she would come back for them.
Captain Oliel spread the chart out on the table. "We, my
friends," he said, "are here, just west of Tolfalas.
If the wind holds fair it will take us five or six days to round
the coast and reach Carhilivren, here."
"By which time," said Faramir, "this Milkherem
will already have been there forwhat?two days?"
Oliel shook his head. "Depends on the wind," he said.
"If he hits a lull we might catch him up."
"And if we hit a lull," said Haldir, "we could
lose him altogether."
"Will he sell them the moment he lands?" asked Faramir.
"Depends," said Oliel. "Sometimes they need cleaning
upthen he takes them to a safe house on the edge of the
desert until they're ready. That can take anything from a day
to a week or two depending"he glanced at Haldir"well,
depending. But he'll sell them as soon as he can."
"Is there a market every day?"
"Every day except holy days, my friend," said Oliel.
"Very superstitious people, the Haradrim. But most days there's
an auction of some sort, even if it's only cattle that's on sale."
"Gods!" muttered Faramir.
"Are you all right?" asked Wilawen.
Valandil tested each limb in turn. "Yes, thank the Valar,"
he said. "You?"
"I think so."
"Let us try to stand."
It took several attempts to co-ordinate their movements but,
eventually, they managed to struggle to their feet.
"Which way shall we go?" asked Wilawen. "We need
water. And shade."
"Towards the coast," said Valandil. "That way."
"How do you know?"
"I can smell the sea."
Wilawen looked dubious but did not contradict him. "Can
you tell how far it is?"
"Not far. A few miles. The bird was following the shoreline."
"Do you think we can walk that far? In this heat? Without
"I do not know, hiril nin," said Valandil. "But
I do not think we have any choice."
Each night, the sailors snuffed out the lanterns, leaving the
hold pitch dark. Eowyn could see nothing, but hear everythingthe
breathing, the sighing, the sobbing.
This, she thought, is always the worst time.
Except that, tonight, she could touch Legolas.
She slid her hand up his chest, his throat, over his chin, pressed
her fingers to his mouth, and felt his lips kiss her fingertips
in response. Smiling, she rolled onto her side and buried her
face in his hair. Then, tracing her way up his jaw with her lips,
she pressed her mouth to his earfeeling his body shudder
beneath her as her breath caressed his skinand she whispered,
"Can you see me?"
"No, melmenya," he whispered back.
"So no one else can see me, either..."
His hand, resting on her back, squeezed her gently.
"Keep quiet," she whispered. She slid her hand down
his bare chestthe slavers had stolen the fastenings from
his tunicto the laces of his leggings, pulled them gently,
then slipped her hand inside the fabric.
He was rock hard.
She smiled against his ear. "It has been a long time."
She felt him nod his head.
Slowly, she pushed herself up and leaned across his body, lowering
her mouth towards her hand. Her lips brushed his hot flesh and
she smiled when it jerked.
"Shhhh," she whispered, licking the very tip of him.
He jerked again, and she giggled soundlessly. "I love you,"
she whispered, and she began to explore the head of his ceber
with her lips, gently familiarising herself with its smooth, smooth
curves and the beautiful deep crease down its centre. She pressed
her tongue into its opening. Oh gods, I want him, she thought.
And she reached down to unlace her own leggings but, before she
could free herself, she felt Legolas grasp a handful of her hair
and she knew he was close.
She could wait.
She cupped one hand round his ceryn, supporting their
weight, and took the head of his ceber into her mouth,
and sucked. Straight away his hips rose right off the floor and
twisted, as though in pain, and she felt his hand move again and
she knew that he had jammed it into his mouth to stifle his cry
of releasebut she still heard him gasp out loud as he came.
"Listen," said Valandil. "Running water!"
They had been walking, the elf judged, for almost two hours.
Fortunately, the sun had set only moments after they had landed,
disappearing suddenlywithout warning or lingering sunsetleaving
the air cooler. But the sand beneath their feet was still hot,
and it crumbled away with each step, making the going hard, even
for an elf.
"Thank the gods," Wilawen whispered. Her voice was
Valandil did not know how long a woman could survive such hardship,
and he was suddenly assailed by an image of what he would have
to do if she were to die, chained to him by the wrist...
That decided it. Squandering his own strength, he lifted her
over his shoulder and struggled towards a rocky ridgethe
only feature he had seen in this featureless sea of sand. As he
reached the crest, his legs gave way and he fell to his knees,
and the weight of the woman carried him forwards, down onto his
He heard her head hit the ground with a sickening thud.
But then he felt her move.
"Thank the gods," she said, again, and this time her
voice seemed stronger. "Look, Valandil!"
He dragged himself up out of the sand, spitting the grains from
his mouth, crawled alongside her and peered over the rocky edge
into a hollow basin, perhaps a mile in diameter, filled with a
forest of strange trees...
"I have read about places like this," said Wilawen,
"they are called 'oases'."
"Can you stand?" asked Valandil.
"To reach water? I could dance," she said.
The elf laughed. "Come, then."
They could rise without much difficulty now, the long walk across
the sand having given them practice, and they had tacitly agreed
that Valandil should take the lead in any manoeuvre. "Follow
in my footsteps," he said.
By the light of the moon they carefully picked their way down
the slope, through a forest of date palms and fig trees"These
fruits are edible," said Wilawenfollowing the sound
of the stream.
At last they emerged into a clearing.
"There," gasped Valandil, pointing to a small spring
bubbling up from between the rocks.
Laughing, they fell to their knees and drank their fill.
And neither of them noticed the strange pairs of eyes, watching...
Three days later
Eowyn sighed with something like contentment. As terrifying as
the situation was, she could not remember ever having felt so
loved as she did now, lying in Legolas' arms. If only we could
stay like this forever, she thought.
"We are approaching land," said Legolas, softly. "I
can hear it."
"Hear what, Lassui?"
"A city, melmenya," he said, "a city full of people."
"This may be it," she said softly.
"Remember what I told you," said Legolas. "All
you have to do is wait." He kissed her temple.
"All right, you lot," cried Tabnit, throwing open the
door. "Journey's end."
One by one he unlocked the prisoners and pushed them towards
his companion, who chained them together in a long line and led
them up on deck.
"All present and correct, sir," he said to Milkherem.
The captain examined his cargo critically. "Not in bad shape,"
he said. "Take them to Arinna's for a quick clean up. I want
them sold tonight."
'Arinna's' was a bawdy house on the outskirts of town.
As the sailors dragged him through its wrought-iron gates, Legolas
noted the heavy wooden doors, the patterned gratings covering
the windows and the armed men lounging nonchalantly amongst the
This is no ordinary brothel, he thought. This is a
Eowyn does not belong in a place like this.
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. He could think of no
words to express how much he loved her and wanted to protect her,
so he said nothing and, instead, pressed his lips to her temple.
"Stop that," yelled the sailor called Hasdrubal, roughly
pulling them apart. He summoned a young woman with a jerk of his
head. "Go with Ipi," he said to Legolas. "And don't
try anything stupid. There's no way out of this house."
"I shall not go anywhere without my wife," said Legolas,
With a menacing smile, Hasdrubal drew his long, curved sword.
"You," he said, "have just made my day.
You have been asking for this ever since we left Gondor, you pretty-boy"
"No!" cried Eowyn, throwing herself in front of Legolas.
"Noplease!" She laid her hand on the man's arm.
"Please," she said softly.
"Leave it, Hasdrubal," said Tabnit. "You know
he's worth more than the rest of them put together."
Reluctantly, Hasdrubal lowered his blade.
"Go with her, Legolas; I will be all right," said Eowyn.
The elf looked into her eyes. "Good bye," he mouthed.
Dazed with grief, Legolas allowed Ipi to lead him down the narrow
corridor to an opulent bathroom at the back of the house. The
girl closed and locked the door.
"You take off," she said, miming removing her own clothes.
When Legolas did not obey, she unlaced his leggings herself,
pulling roughly at the fabric and giggling when her fingers brushed
"No!" cried Legolas, catching her hands.
The girl pointed to the bath. "You take off," she repeated.
"Yes. I will do it myself," he agreed. "You go."
But the girl showed no signs of leaving.
Sighing, Legolas slipped behind a filigree screen, slowly removed
his tattered leggings and the remnants of his tunic, and began
to climb, wearily, into the bath.
The girl stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"What?" he asked.
She looked down at his groin and giggled again, saying something
in her own language and pointing.
Legolas shook his head in disbelief.
"I wash you," she said.
"No. I shall wash myself," said Legolas, firmly. And,
sitting down in the water, he took a cake of scented soap and
began to work it into a lather. When he glanced up again the girl
had disappeared. With a sigh of relief, he leaned back against
the cool marble and closed his eyes...
"Ipi didn't exaggerate," said a voice.
Legolas opened his eyes again, startled.
A crowd of young women had appeared from nowhere and were standing
around the bath, gazing at him through the water. The speaker
was a well-preserved older woman with an air of authority. "You
are beautiful," she said. "And you are
endowed like a horse..."
The girls giggled.
With elven speed, Legolas leaped out of the bathtub, grabbed
a towel, and wrapped it around his waist.
"Pity," said the woman. "Off you go girls. There
are two others..."
She turned back to Legolas. "Can I get you a drink, Master
Elf?" She walked over to the sideboard and filled two frosted
glass goblets with chilled cordial.
Legolas looked around for his leggings.
The woman handed him a glass. "My name is Arinna and this
is my house," she said, smiling.
"Your brothel," said Legolas.
"Such a nasty word." She touched her goblet to his
then took a sip. "Go ondrinkit isn't poisoned."
Legolas sighed. Naturally, he was suspicious but he had had practically
nothing to drink for the last five days. He took a cautious sipthe
cordial had a fresh, pleasant tastethen drained the goblet.
"Where are my clothes, madam?" he asked.
"You are overdressed already," said the woman,
playfully. She ran her cool fingertips down his bare chest. "Flawless,"
she said. Then, without warning, she thrust her hand inside his
towel and cupped him. "Gods, that feels good. I may decide
to keep you for myself."
Legolas caught her wrist and tried to pull her hand away but
she was deceptively strong and he was painfully aware that a single
squeeze would bring him to his knees...
"I am married, madam," he stammered.
Arinna laughed. "Not any more! You are whatever your masteror
mistresssays you are."
"Where is my wife?"
"The woman dressed like a man? In the next room," she
Legolas' heart leaped. "May I see her?"
"If you're a good boy I may allow it." The woman
moved her fingertips encouragingly, stroking him just behind his
"So polite," she said, standing on tiptoe to give his
mouth a lingering kiss. "Pleasure me, Master Elf. I have
a fancy for it. Pleasure me and, if I enjoy it, I'll let you see
"I love her," said Legolas. "I will not betray
"Now that's not being a good boy," said the
woman. "I can see that I shall have to persuade youone
way or another." She curled her fingers around him and began
to work him, expertly. "My skills are legendary," she
purred in his ear. "I make strong men weep..."
"I am not a man, madam," said Legolas, a trifle
breathlessly. "And we elveswe cannot be persuaded.
Where there is no love, our bodies will not perform." But
she was not lying about her prowess and he unconsciously gritted
Encouraged, the woman smiled. "The impotent come to me for
relief," she said.
Legolas was breathing hard now. He grasped her shoulder. "What
did you give me in that drink?" he panted. "If I am
forced against my will I will die, madam!"
The woman's hand stopped in mid stroke. "Is that true?"
"Yes." His voice sounded strange.
"By the gods," she whispered, "from what?"
"Violation tears an elf's spirit from his body," said
Legolas. Then he added, plaintively, "Will you please
remove your hand, madam?"
"What? Oh, yes. Yes, I'm sorry." She released him,
and drew her hand out from under his towel, carefully straightening
the fabric. "What a disappointment," she said. "Does
Milkherem know about this?"
Legolas was confused. "Milkherem? Why should it concern
"What do you think his customers are paying for? Something
exotic in the bedroom. You'd better pray that no one else finds
out you're worthless."
Legolas said nothing.
"So you can only do it with your wife?"
"But you could do it with others before you were married?"
"I see," she said, thoughtfully. "Hmm.
Here, put these on."
She handed him a pair of white silk trousers and watched as,
his back turned to her, he stripped off his towel and stepped
into them. "Gods," she said, "look at those thighs!
I'd pay a thousand gold for an hour on the divan with you..."
She shook her head. "Come onI must be getting soft
in my old ageI'll take you to your wife. And you needn't
worry about the cordialit was just a few herbs to help you
perform better. Quite harmless. Your wife will thank me."
"The wind's dropping," said Oliel.
"How far do we still have to travel?" asked Faramir.
"Almost two hundred miles. We'll add more sail and make
the most of what there is. And if we find ourselves completely
becalmed, we'll send out the boatssee if we can tow ourselves
back into wind."
Arinna unlocked the door. "Go on," she said, standing
aside, "you have half an hour."
"Thank you," said Legolas.
The woman smiled. "I won't say it's my pleasure," she
said. She turned to Eowyn. "I do hope you realise what a
lucky woman you are." She winked at Legolas as she closed
"What did she mean?" asked Eowyn, hugging him tightly.
"Nothing, melmenya. Have they hurt you?"
"No. No; in fact, they have been quite kind." She took
his hands and led him to a divan in the corner of the room. "There
is no way out, is there?"
"Not from here," said Legolas. "But there may
be an opportunity at the market."
"Legolas," said Eowyn, "I want you to promise
me something; I want you to promise me that if you get the chance
to escape on your own, you will take it"
"Think about it, my love. If you were free, you could get
help. For all of us."
Legolas lifted her hands to his lips. "I will promise on
one condition," he said.
"That you promise the same." He took her in his arms.
"Our time together is very short."
He hesitated. "I do not want to make love, Eowyn nín.
Not now. I just want to hold you."
Eowyn raised her head from his shoulder and smiled at him. "Gerich
veleth nín, edhel nín," she said.
"Out you go girls," cried Arinna. "Go on! Shoo!"
She chased Ipi through the door and closed it behind her. "Now..."
She smoothed her hands over her close-fitting gown. "Good
evening, gentlemen," she said, to the pair of dishevelled
elves sitting on the divan. "My name is Arinna, and this
is my house..."
As the sun was setting, the prisoners were loaded onto an ox
"Where is Orodreth?" said Eowyn, looking round. "And
"I do not know, melmenya... What have you done with our
friends, the two elves?" he asked one of the more reasonable
"They are staying here," said the man.
The man shrugged his shoulders.
The journey took them through the souk, along twisting, cobbled
streets lined with wooden stallssome crammed with carpets,
others with fabrics, or exotic fruits, or with spices and unguents,
and all lit by sparkling lanternsuntil they reached the
market place, a small open space lit with flaming torches and
crowded with people.
Hasdrubal stopped the cart beside a low wooden platform.
"Get out," he grunted.
Still chained together, the prisoners scrambled awkwardly to
the ground and, prodded by the sailors, clambered up onto the
stage. Milkherem, already waiting, looked them over critically.
"Where are the other elves?" he asked. Hasdrubal handed
him a letter. Milkherem broke the seal, quickly read its contents,
grunted, then turned to the man on his left. "Start the proceedings,"
The auctioneer stepped forward. "Ladies and gentlemen,"
he called, projecting his voice above the din.
Cries of "It's starting," and "Shhhh, shhhh,"
rippled through the crowd.
"Welcome!" began the auctioneer. He paused whilst four
attendants carrying a curtained palanquin pushed their way to
the front. They set their burden on the ground and one of them
drew back the translucent draperies to reveal the occupant, an
elderly but attractive woman clad in a magnificent jewelled robe.
The auctioneer nodded politely to the newcomer then began again.
"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen," he said, "tonight
we have some exceptionally fine merchandise to delight you."
He gestured to Hasdrubal. The sailor pushed Legolas into the centre
of the stage. An awed gasp arose from the crowd, and the rich
woman in the palanquin clapped her hands with delight.
"Lot one," said the auctioneer, "a beautiful male
elf, native of South Ithilien. Just take a moment to examine him,
ladies and gentlemen..." He paused.
Legolas stood, tall and, despite his chains, graceful, clad in
white silk trousers and a scarlet sash, his hair loose, his arms
folded across his bare chest. "Suitable, as you can see,
for the bedroom," said the auctioneer, "but alsoI
am toldan excellent archer. What am I bid for this perfect
"A thousand gold!" cried a man standing at the back
of the crowd.
"Two thousand!" shouted another.
The rich woman raised her fan. "The lady bids three thousand,"
said the auctioneer.
"Four thousand," said the first bidder.
The woman raised her fan again. "Six," said the auctioneer.
"Any advance on six thousand gold pieces?"
"New bidder, on the right," said the auctioneer. "I
have seven. Do I hear eight?"
The woman raised her fan.
"Eight. Do I hear nine?"
"Nine!" cried the first bidder.
The woman raised her fan.
"The lady bids ten. I have ten; do I hear eleven, gentlemen?"
"Eleven," said the man on the right.
"Twelve!" cried the woman.
The woman leaped to her feet. "Sixteen!" she shouted,
The crowd gasped.
"Do I hear seventeen? Seventeen, anybody? No? If there are
no more bids the elf is sold." He looked around the crowd.
"SOLD to the lady!"
Hasdrubal grasped Legolas' arm and dragged him over to his new
"Do not hurt him!" cried the woman, anxiously. "Here,
my dear," she said to Legolas, "here; sit beside me."
"A moment, my dear; let me take these horrible things off
your hands." She turned to Hasdrubal. "The key, if you
Grumbling something about the worthlessness of pretty-boy slaves,
Hasdrubal removed the manacles himself.
"Be careful! Do not scratch him!" cried the woman.
She waited until Hasdrubal had stamped away, then turned back
to Legolas. "I am trusting you not to run away, my dear,"
she said. "Now, what was it you wanted to say?"
Legolas bit his lip. Begging did not come easily to the Prince
of Mirkwood but, whilst he was hesitating, the auctioneer made
a chilling announcement.
"Lots two and three have been withdrawn," he said.
There was a murmur of disappointment. "So we'll move straight
on to lot four, a golden-haired beauty, also of South Ithilien.
Look at her, gentlemen!"
Arinna's girls had dressed Eowyn in a tiny pink bodice, which
left her waist and most of her bosom bare, and a pair of soft,
almost transparent, pink trousers. The lower half of her face
was covered with a wispy veil, but her hair had been brushed until
it shone and left loose about her shoulders.
The auctioneer removed her veil. "Just look at her! As pretty
as a picture, as graceful as a gazelle. And I have it on good
authority that she has never been with a man..."
"Buy her, my lady!" cried Legolas. "Please! Protect
her fromfrom them and what they would do to her.
I beg you! Please! I will do anything you ask of me, anything
"Shhhhh, shhhhh," said the woman, patting
his arm with genuine concern. "Who is she, my dear?"
Legolas considered lying to her. But something in the woman's
gesture made him decide to trust to her good nature. "My
wife," he said, quietly.
The woman lifted her hand and gently stroked his cheek.
"Do not be sad, my dear," she said. "I can go
no higher than five thousand but we shall see what we can do."