Leave those, Hiram, said Ribhadda. Go
on home now.
The barman dried another tankard. Its no trouble
Theyll still be here in the morning. And youve
worked hard tonight. Go home to your lady.
Hiram dried his hands on the cloth. Well... Good night,
Good night, said Ribhadda, absently. He locked the
door behind the barman and, moving the odd chair as he went, made
his way to the stage door.
We were never meant to be,
Rib; I just wish that shed come back...
Ribhadda sighed. And then what? he wondered. She couldnt
stay here. Wed have to sell The Silk Road and leave
Carhilivren. But go where? And would we take the boy?
No, shes better off wherever she is, and the
boy has landed on his feet...
He walked slowly down the dark corridor, paused beside Cylliens
empty room, and laid his hand on the wooden door. Everybody
moves on, he thought.
Gods, Ribhadda, youll be drowning your sorrows
with customers next...
His own room was farther down the corridorjust before the
storeroomand he kept it locked. He stood beside the door,
feeling for his key
Someone moved behind him.
It had been a long time since Ribhadda had hunted orcsand
menthrough the wilds of Ered Mithrin, but his instincts
had not dulled with the years and he went straight for the throat.
His assailant was younger, taller and physically stronger, but
Ribhadda possessed a steel the other lacked; he also knew his
storeroom like the back of his hand.
Caught unprepared by his victims resistance, the assassin
dropped his knife. Ribhadda reached for a bottle of spirits and,
without hesitation, smashed it into his face.
By the moonlight filtering through the storerooms high
windows, Ribhadda peered at his would-be murderer.
Not so good-looking now, are we, Master Kurian?
Shhhhh. Legolas scooped Eowyn into his arms
and turned her onto her stomach.
Gathering her thick hair to one side, he kissed the back of her
She squirmed against the bed. What are you doing?
Legolas laughed against her skin and, straddling her, let his
hardness brush between her thighs.
But we are going to Rihat...
Later, Melmenya, he whispered. Later... Come
up on your hands and knees. He slid his hands under her
hips and lifted her, gently. Then, lightly kneading her belly,
he pressed himself against her. She was ready, and he slipped
smoothly inside her. Ahhh...
His sighs, coming from deep within his throat, were a mixture
of pleasure and relief, and accompanied each body-tingling thrust.
Eowyns head sank down on her crossed arms. Oh, Lassui,
she moaned. Oh... There... Oh, yeohhhyes,
But how will you find Prince Faramir?
asked Hentmirë, at breakfast.
We will start at the House of Healing, said Eowyn.
She poured a glass of cordial and handed it to Legolas with a
And if they have not seen him, we will try the taverns,
said the elf.
At the same time, added Eowyn, pouring another glass
for Gimli, we will make discreet enquiries about Riya.
You have thought it all out, said Hentmirë,
stirring her porridge.
What is wrong, gwendithen? asked Legolas,
She set down her spoon. It is just... I have been to Rihat,
Legolas. It is a horrible, horrible placeyou cannot trust
anyone there. Promise me you will be carefulall of you.
Is Gimli going with you?
No, said the dwarf. I am staying here, to protect
you and Keret.
Hentmirë bit her lip. Then take Rimush with you. He
comes from Rihatyou could stay with his family.
We plan to be back by nightfall, gwendithen,
said Legolas. But it might be useful to have a guide. Do
you think the djinn could carry all three of us, Melmenya?
Oh, yes, said Eowyn. If he can be persuaded.
What shall I tell Keret? asked Hentmirë.
Where is he?
Upstairs with Donatiya, refusing to bathe, said Hentmirë.
Shall I tell him you are still looking for his mother?
Yes, said Legolas. If he asks. But try not
to raise his hopes too high, gwendithen.
Rimush climbed into Hentmirës palanquin. I have
never been inside it before, he said, smiling. He sat down
Eowyn summoned the djinn. I want you to carry this,
she pointed to the palanquin, to Rihat. Can you do that?
Yes, mistress, said the djinn, obviously puzzled
by her question.
It is not too heavy for you?
The djinn flowed down and peered through the curtains at its
occupants. No, mistress.
Good. And Rihat is not too far?
And you know where it is?
Good. Let me climb aboard, then take us there.
Your wish is my command, pretty little mistress.
What you have to do, said Eowyn, taking her seat
beside Legolas, is anticipate all of his objections.
The djinn scooped them up and carried them off.
Goodbye, shouted Hentmirë, waving. Come
home safe... She walked back into the house with a sigh.
Children to wash, dwarves to find ale, prisoners to exercise,
singers to rouse, prostitutes to put to work, beggars to feed...
A huge smile spread across her plump little face.
Wolfram almost pulled off his headdress to get a better look
at the palanquin as it disappeared towards the east. Now
Ive seen everything!
He sat down. What do I do now?Gods turds,
if Ive lost her after all this waiting
Another slave was leaving the house, carrying a basket of food.
Can this be breakfast? he wondered.
The slave crossed the road and approached him, smiling.
Yes, its breakfast. Well, heres as good a place
to stay as any. And My Lady may be back later.
Rihat: the House of Healing
Ready? asked Faramir.
No, said Oliel. He straightened the collar of his
shirt. But lets go in.
They climbed the steps and, once again, entered the cool, quiet
Ahead of them, the broad corridor, with its marble walls, and
doors leading to the separate healing rooms, made Faramir feel
suddenly nervous. There is nothing to stop a patient walking
out of here, he thought. Or someone else walking in. We
should have stayed the night...
Oliel asked to see the doctor.
She appeared immediately. Ah, Captainsir...
She drew them aside, and spoke quietly. I have had to do
something rather unconventional.
Gwirith tried to leave yesterdayafter you had goneso
I locked her in my study. She sighed. She was entirely
within her rights to leaveI have no power to keep a patient
here against her will. But... I am placing a great deal of trust
in youin both of younow. She drew them further
down the corridor. Gwiriths spirit is exhausted. She
will not last much longer out there on her own.
Oh... Oliel shook his head, unable to say more.
We are grateful, madam, said Faramir. Very
This must not become public knowledge, sir, said
the doctor. Or I could lose my position.
She handed Faramir a small key. This is my study, here.
Leave the key at the desk when you go. She turned to Oliel.
I have done all I can for your wife, Captain. Her body is
on the mend, but you must heal her spirit.
She squeezed his arm. Now I must see to my other patients.
She hurried away.
Faramir... I cannot...
Would you like me to speak to her? asked Faramir.
What would you say?
I am not sureI suppose I would start by offering
to rescue her from this nightmare, whatever it is.
And persuade her to come back with us?
Do it. I shall wait out here.
Faramir fitted the key in the lock.
Faramir? When we get back to the Hunter, I will
return everything you have paid me, my friend...
Oh. No. Faramir waved his hand.
How else can I thank you? asked Oliel.
Faramir opened the door. The study was empty.
She is behind the door, he thought. He glanced around
the room. Desk, chairs, bookcase... Ah... The row of statuettes
on the bookcase had a suspicious gap at its centre. She is
He threw the door wide
and, drawing his sword, rounded on the woman, who had dropped
the statue and was clutching her wrist.
Faramir pushed the door closed and, keeping his sword trained
upon her, said, I am sorry, madam. Shall I call the doctor?
Gingerly, Gwirith moved her hand back and forth. Its
not broken, she said, sullenly.
Good. Then sit down, said Faramir, and I will
bathe it for you.
What? Her head came up and she stared at him, eyes
narrowed, her opinion of him clearly written on her face: Fool!
Truce? said Faramir.
If I lower my sword, will you promise not to attack? At
least for now?
Where did Oliel find you?
Faramir smiled. Sit down, let me bathe your wrist, and
hear me out. Then, if we have not come to an agreement, you can
take up the statue again. How does that sound?
Wearily, she dragged herself to one of the chairs, sat down,
and held out her wrist, supporting it with her other hand. What
Faramir sheathed his sword. Come with us. Let us take you
back to Gondor. At one end of the room there was a small
consulting area with a couch, and a sideboard holding a ewer and
basin, several bottles of coloured liquids, and some jars of powdered
Is that all? said Gwirith.
Faramir poured water into the basin. What more do you want?
He ran his fingers over the jars. Ah, this looks likehe
removed the stopper and sniffedyes, iârloth.
He sprinkled a little into the water, then took up a piece of
linen and soaked it in the mixture. She must import this
from the North...
I want to be safe.
Then come with us. Faramir knelt beside her.
You do not understand.
What? He wrung out the cloth and wrapped it around
her wrist. There, how is thatwhat do I not understand?
Can you keep me hidden? Can you? Because, the moment anyone
sees me, I am a dead woman and you are a dead man, if you
are with me.
Who is anyone? Faramir asked.
My... My owner. And...
The Hatjas Guards.
Why? What did you do? Faramir unwrapped the cloth
and dipped it back in the water, pressing it down to soak up the
Nothing? His tone made it clear that he did
not believe her.
I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,
And I saw something.
You saw someone commit a crime?
Then you are a valuable witness. Why are you afraid of
the Hatjas Guards?
Because he made me help him.
The journey to Rihat had taken less than two hours.
They had followed the Silk Road across the vast sea of sand,
passed a slow-moving camel caravanwaving to its astonished
travellers as they flew byand soared over the Ripa'a Ridge,
winding their way along the narrow gorge that cleft the rocks
in two; swooped down low over the open desert, taking a small
detour to marvel at a tiny oasis to the south; then swept northwards
into Rihat, the city of towers.
We are here, mistress, said the djinn.
Take us to the House of Healing, said Eowyn.
Made you help him how? asked Faramir. What
did you do?
He liked methe victim. You wouldnt think so,
to look at me now, she said, unconsciously running her good
hand through her ragged hair, but I was beautiful, and he
wanted me. On that night, I pretended to want him...
You got him alone?
You distracted him whilst someonewhat?
Killed him. While he was inside me... Gwirith whispered.
Oh, gods. Faramir laid a comforting hand on her back.
The House of Healing was on the Northern edge of the town. The
djinn set down the palanquin in a narrow alley running along its
western side, close enough to open ground to be quiet, but sufficiently
overlooked to be safe from thieves.
I will stay here and watch over it, said Rimush.
Legolas patted his arm. Thank you. Are you ready Melmenya?
Eowyn stowed the djinns lamp in her bag and they made their
way to the front door.
I knew I wouldnt last long without protection, so
I went to the Hatjas Guardsto Captain Ramess. He told
me I was an accessory to murder and would hang for it...
But his eyes were all over me. Her face hardened.
And when he rolled off and fell asleep, I slipped out of
the Guardhouse and hid myself at the docks. I tried to get passage
on a ship, but then...
She shrugged. I decided to stay. I thought wed be
safe if we just kept moving...
But I was a danger to anybody I cared about. So I left
Carhilivren and came to Rihat, where I didnt know anyone.
She turned to Faramir. Whats your name?
Ive never told anyone the whole story before. Thank
Faramir bowed his head. You are welcome, Gwirith,
he said. What are you going to do about Oliel? You know
that he has been searching for you for seven years.
Gwirith shook her head. No. He has been searching for the
little girl he married for seven years. And the truth is...
She looked at him closely. You dont like women,
do you, Faramir?
Some of my best friends
You know what I mean.
Thats why its so easy to talk to you about
this, she said. Oliel thought I was a virgin when
he married me. But Id had men beforemany menmy
fathers foreman, the farm hands, the migrant workersI
was never the innocent little girl he wanted for a wife. It was
not that hard to fool him. Hed spent most of his life at
sea and the only women hed ever known were whores. So, with
a little reluctance
He is my friend, Gwirith. Please do not tell me any more.
Faramir got up off his knees and settled himself on the chair
beside her. I have promised to plead his case.
The cool, white marble was a strange contrast to the dusty mud
brick of the outside walls. Legolas scanned the hallway for any
sign of Faramir. To his left, at a desk beside the door, a veiled
woman was rising to greet them. Ahead, more veiled women flitted
from room to room carrying bottles of tinctures, jars of unguents,
and pitchers of water. To his right...
In a narrow corridor, leading off to the east, sat Captain Oliel,
nervously drumming his fingers on this thighs.
Legolas turned to the veiled woman. We have a message for
our friend, he said, softly, nodding towards the Gondorian.
May we speak with him?
The woman bowed her head, graciously.
Thank you. He led Eowyn into the corridor. Hello,
Captain Oliel, he said, quietly, is there any news
of your wife?
Why did you marry Oliel?
What do you mean?
You could have had any man you wanted but you chose to
marry him. Why?
She shrugged her shoulders.
The doctor told me you were still wearing his ring when
you arrived here. How did you hide it from the slavers?
You dont want to know. She shifted uncomfortably
on her seat.
You did that just to keep Oliels ring?
It is silver, corrected Faramir.
Practically worthless. A worthless little ring from a worthless
No! It is not! He is not...
You are clever.
Faramir bowed. Thank you, he said. And so are
you. There is a way out of this mess, Gwirith, and you and I are
going to find it.
You are wasted on a man.
I shall take that as a compliment. Nowhave you noticed
how the ladies dress hereLady Bint-Anath, for instance?
Abdosirs daughter? She decorates herself like a Yule
Not when she is travelling, said Faramir. She
wears blacka heavy black veil that completely covers her
face. With one of those, and an armed escort, we can pass you
off as a Lady from the East, take the first camel caravan back
to Carhilivren, and keep you hidden until Oliel is ready to sail.
What if it doesnt work, Faramir?
Not the disguise. Oliel and mewhat if that
doesnt work? Hes is in love with an innocent girl
and Im in love with a dashing sailor, whenthe truth
isIm a broken old hag and heshes
what? You know him better than I do...
He... Faramir smiled. He reminds me of my
Is that good? Do you love your brother?
I did. Very much.
He died in battle. Bravely.
I am sorry... She was silent for a moment, then
she asked, Did he prefer men?
Faramir laughed. Boromir? No, not at all.
Shall I ask Oliel to come in, then?
Gwirith bit her lip. Yes, she said. Quickly,
Faramir, before I lose my nerve.
The door opened and Faramir came out. He smiled warmly at Legolas
and Eowyn, then turned to Oliel.
She has agreed to return with us, he said. Go
in and speak to her.
What should I say? whispered Oliel.
Say whatever your heart tells you to say.
He pushed Oliel through the door and closed it behind him, but
not before Legolas had caught the briefest glimpse of Gwirith
as she rose to greet her husband.
Strange, he murmured.
The Silk Road
Are you sure you want to stay with me all day?
asked Cyllien, playfully. I shall be surrounded by
menby Rib and Hiram and Aqhat. No one could touch me in
here, not even Wolfram. She knocked on the door of The
Haldir shook his head. We Lorien elves prefer to take care
of our own ellith.
Laughing, Cyllien kissed his cheek. I love it when
you act like a Beorningah, HiramValar, Hiram! Whats
The boss was attacked last night.
Attacked... Cyllien pushed past the barman and ran
inside. Rib? Rib?
Thats quite a row youre making, said
Ribhadda, with one of his rare smiles.
He was standing behind the bar, checking his spirits as usual,
but, to Haldir, he looked changed. Older. What happened?
the elf asked.
Nothing I couldnt handle.
Tell us, Cyllien demanded.
Ribhadda shrugged. I closed up, went backstage to my room,
noticed someone lurking in the shadows, and hit him with a bottle
of spirits. The healers still sewing his head back together.
Who was it? asked Haldir.
A Kurian, said Ribhadda. Probably hired especially
for the job.
Was it a robbery? asked Cyllien.
Ribhadda shook his head. No, kid. It was attempted murder.
Who would want you dead? asked Haldir.
Thats something Id very much like to know myself,
said Ribhadda. You sticking around?
The elf nodded.
Good. Then when the healers finished with him, you
and I can ask Master Kurian a few questions.
Good morning, said Hentmirë, hoping that her
nerves were not showing.
The elf, Vardamir, responded with an enigmatic smile.
I thought, she said, that you might like to
spend some time outside in the garden. There are no big trees
out there, but there are some nice little perseas, and daisies,
The elf smiled again, and this time his expression seemed quite
But I would have to put these on you, to stop you running
away. She held up the padded manacles she had used on Legolas
at the slave market, which Gimli had examined and pronounced sufficiently
sturdy. Legolas would never forgive me if I let you escape
The elf laughed.
Why is that funny? asked Hentmirë.
The elf shook his head.
Would you like to go outside?
If you will sit with me.
Sit with you? Hentmirë was taken abackand,
with her new, busy life to cope with, not at all sure that she
really had the time. For a little while, she said.
Then, yes, I would like to go outside.
Hold out your hands. She slipped the manacles around
his wrists and closed them. You must go up the stairs first,
she said, remembering Gimlis instructions: Never let
him get behind you, lass...
The garden was cool and shaded. Vardamir dutifully examined the
perseas and the daisies, then sat down on one of the raised flower
beds and smelled the air. Salt, he thought. The sea.
Strange that I should have no desire to sail West, even now. I
never was a proper elf...
He sensed the little woman watching him, anxiously. I will
not try to run away, my lady, he said. You have my
Good, said the woman. But...
You have broken that before, she said.
Vardamir smiled. You are right, my lady. He turned
to her. I am not trustworthy.
But you are an elf!
An elf... She was so innocent, so ready to think the best
of everyonebut especially of an elfthat it touched
his heart. And you, he said, softly, are a very
special adaneth. For a moment, something like decency stirred
But then another presence, lurking somewhere towards the sea,
came forward to quash it. Wolfram? he thought.
Yes! Wolfram has come to rescue me!
Vardamir! thought Wolfram, as he watched the
elf sniffing the flowers with the fat little woman. You
Here... He caught her by the elbows. Sit
down, you look exhausted.
She laughed as he eased her back into her seat. This is
how I am, now, Oliel. Old and haggard.
Oliel took the seat beside her and gazed at her, unflinchingly.
You look tired, he said. But you are still the
most beautiful woman I have ever seen, Gwirith. He reached
out and stroked her cheek. Beautiful...
Oh! She buried her face in her hands and wept.
My love, what is wrong? He wrapped his arm around
her shoulders. Shhhh, shhhh. He held her against
I have been with men, she whispered. Other
He stroked her hair. And I have been with other women,
he admitted, a few timesmore than a few... But
none of them could give me what I needed, Gwirith. None of them
Will it work, Oliel? Can it work, after
all this time?
We will not know unless we try. He kissed the top
of her head. I will give up the sea...
I must, my love. If we are to have any chance after all
the lost years, we must be together.
Then I shall come to sea with you.
He lifted her chin. Its a hard life for a woman,
His wife smiled. And, for a moment, the terrible scars of seven
years seemed to fall away. You, she said, have
no idea what its like to live on a rubbish heap.
Whilst Faramir waited for Oliel and Gwirith in the House of Healing,
Legolas and Eowyn returned to the palanquin and Eowyn persuaded
the djinn to take it to the Boarding House. Then, accompanied
by Rimush, the couple set out in search of Riya.
Where do you go if you want to hire a prostitute?
Eowyn asked the slave.
Legolas shot him a sympathetic smile. Suppose a man wanted
to hire a prostitute, he corrected, where would he
Down by the water station, said Rimush. Or
so Ive heard...
He had heard correctly. All along the towns outer wall,
provocatively-dressed women lounged upon piles of mud brick, trying
to persuade the male travellers to sample their wares.
Legolas sighed. Stay with Rimush, Melmenya.
No, said Eowyn, catching his arm. No, Lassui,
I think they are more likely to speak to me than to you. You keep
watch. And before Legolas could stop her, she had approached
the first group of women.
Youre in the wrong place, love, said one of
the whores, not unkindly.
I am looking for my sister, Eowyn replied. She
was kidnapped by slavers some years ago, and our parents have
never recovered. I just want to find her and take her home...
The women were sympathetic and made several suggestions, which
the couple pursued, but no one in Rihat would admit to knowing,
or having heard of, a tall, dark woman named Riya.
By the time Legolas, Eowyn and Rimush reached the Boarding House
it was dark. Their friends were sitting in the lobby, drinking
fruit cordial and eating savouries; Gwirith was upstairs, sleeping.
She is exhausted, explained Oliel. Now that
she is safe, I think she will sleep for days.
Faramir called for more glasses. Did you
have any luck? he asked, pouring three drinks.
We did not, Legolas admitted. We must tell
the boy that we have failed.
Let us hope, said Eowyn, wearily, that his
other wishes are easier to grant. She took a sip of cordial.
Eowyn, said Faramir, we need to get Gwirith
out of Rihat, and safely hidden aboard the HunterCaptain
Oliels shipas quickly as possible. I was wondering...
We can take her in the palanquin, said Legolas. And
you, too, Captain.
Of course, said Eowyn. She smiled at Faramir. Then
I shall send the djinn back for you and Berengar, and Rimush.
Thank you, my dear.
Eowyn turned to Oliel. But could we not hide your wife
at Hentmirës house until the wind returns? That way
she could sleep in a proper bed, with a maid to take care of her,
until she is feeling stronger.
That would be wonderful, my lady, said Oliel, if
Lady Hentmirë would not mind.
Eowyn glanced at Legolas.
Hentmirë seems to thrive on having guests, he
said. Especially guests who need special attention. But
I shall speak to her as soon as we arrive, to make sure.
An hour later, Oliel carried the still-sleeping Gwirith down
to the palanquin, and the first group of friends set off for Carhilivren.
What is wrong, Lassui? whispered Eowyn, as they sped
across the desert.
You keep staring at Gwirith.
Do I? He glanced at Oliel, who was dozing beside
his sleeping wife. She reminds me of someone, Melmenya.
Ahead of them, Eowyn could see the lights of Carhilivrenat
first as a faint glow on the horizon, then gradually brighter,
and then resolved into hundreds of dazzling points.
Swooping down into the city, the djinn flew low along the Great
Royal Road, slipped over the wrought-iron gates, and deposited
the palanquin in Hentmirës garden.
Legolas is back! cried Hentmirë, happily. Come
Keret, come Gimli!
Keret dumped his wooden mûmak on the table. Theres
no arguing with her when shes like this, he thought.
He took her hand and allowed her to lead him into the garden,
where Legolas and a strange man were helping a very tired woman
to climb down from the palanquin.
Keret stared at the woman...
Mummy, he whispered.
Then he shouted, running towards her, arms outstretched, Mummy!