Keret, whispered Gwirith, oh,
Keret! She hugged him tightly. Then, Let me
look at you... Keret stepped back. How youve
grown! She held out her arms again.
Let us take you inside, said Legolas, gently separating
them. Captain Oliel...
Oliel lifted Gwirith and carried her into the house.
Bring her over here, said Hentmirë, indicating
her day bed. She caught Kerets arm as he followed his mother.
You must be very good now, Keret, and help us look after
her. Start by asking if she would like a drink...
Outside, Eowyn was already sending the djinn back to Rihat, to
collect Faramir and the others.
The healer had insisted that the Kurian be allowed to rest before
he was questioned.
I have given him something to make him sleep.
He has been fortunatethe glass missed his eye and, although
there will be some scarring, most of the damage is above the hairline.
There is, however, a deep laceration along the jaw, so he must
be fed, very carefully, on liquids until it healsand, of
course, he must not speak...
Ribhadda sighed. I understand. How much?
Five gold pieces. It was a very skilled job.
Ribhadda paid the healer. Then he sent Aqhat out to fetch a woman.
Find Meryt or Bet, or one of the others, he said.
Tell her Ill pay her five silver a day to take care
of Master Kurianfeed him and change his dressingsin
her own lodgings. I dont want him here.
By the time the Kurian awoke, The Silk Road was open and
customers were already drinking at the bar and sitting at the
gaming tables. Leaving Hiram in charge, Ribhadda took Haldir backstage
to his own room.
Hes in here... he said, unlocking the door.
The injured man was lying on the divan, his face and his left
hand heavily bandaged. Ribhadda drew up a chair and indicated
that Haldir should do the same.
The healer tells me you cant speak, said Ribhadda.
So I want you to answer by moving your hand. One tap for
yes, two taps for no. Do you understand?
Ribhadda sighed. Youre a professional, he said.
And this fiasco will have left you out of pocket. I will
pay you for information. Do you understand that?
There was a long pause. Then, Yes.
Good. Now, I want to know who hired you. Im going
to say some names, and I want you to tell me yes or
no after each one. He recited a list of names,
deliberately starting with people he was sure had nothing to do
with the attack. Each one elicited a no, until he
Ribhadda glanced at Haldir.
Did he say why he wanted Ribhadda dead? asked the
Ribhadda was surprised. Can you write, Master Kurian?
He walked over to his desk and found a writing board and a piece
of chalk. Here, he said, tell me why.
With help, the Kurian wrote, He think you know something will
get him hanged.
Ribhadda frowned. Did he say what?
Two taps. No.
Did he mention Cyllien? asked Haldir. The elleththe
female elf who sings here? Were you to do anything to her?
Take her back to him?
He does not give up, said Haldir.
He doesnt know how, replied Ribhadda. To the
Kurian, he said, Ive arranged for someone to nurse
you until youre back on your feet. Then I strongly
suggest you get yourself back to Kuri.
With great care, the Kurian turned towards him, and assessed
him with his one unbandagedand still-paintedeye. Yes,
Well leave you now. Ill send you a drink.
The Kurian moved his hand, indicating that he wanted to write
something else. Ribhadda held the board for him. No more
Ribhadda almost laughed. You should never have got into
this line of work, he said. Youre not cut out
Why did you not kill him? asked the elf, as Ribhadda
locked the door.
The man shrugged his shoulders. He was only doing his job.
A job that you used to do?
Similar, said Ribhadda. Once upon a time. Somewhere
far, far, away.
We will have to go inside soon, gwendithen,
It is a pleasant evening, said Hentmirë. Just
give them a few moments more.
But it is getting cold! said Legolas, hugging her.
LookEowyn is shivering and Gimli is turning blue!
Elves, growled Gimli, following his remark
with a large swig of ale, for he had taken the sensible precaution
of bringing a tankard outside with him.
I am fine, said Eowyn, laughing. If I need
a wrap, I will go in through the kitchen andoh, look!
She pointed skywards. Is that the djinn?
Keret was asleep, sitting on the floor beside the day bed, his
head resting on the mattress beside Gwiriths hand.
Why does he call you mummy? asked Oliel,
Because he thinks Im his mother.
But youre not...
Oliel! He is far too old.
That is what I thought...
I found him by the docks, said Gwirith. I was
about to... She bit her lip. I must be honest with
you Oliel, I was about to find a sailor and fuck my way home.
Her husband laid his hand upon her knee, supportively, and she
smiled gratefully. But then I found Keret, lying behind
a pile of rubbish. He had a raging feverit didnt seem
that he could possibly live, butI dont know whyI
suppose because he was so helpless, like a kitten in a sackI
took care of him, and he recovered!
It took days, but he recovered, Oliel, andbecause
he had no memory of his pasthe thought that I was his mother.
So I named him Keret.
And he is why you stayed.
Oliel looked at the boy. Whatever else you may have done,
Gwirithhowever bad you think youve beentaking
care of him has more than made up for it. It will be strange,
suddenly being a fatherand to a grown boy. Ill have
a lot to learn, and quickly. He reached over Kerets
head and touched his wifes cheek. Just answer me one
thing, Gwirith. Did you know that I was looking for you? Did you
hide from me?
Not at first, she said. At first I hid from
everybody because I couldnt take the riskwhen I heard
of someone asking for me, I never knew if hed been sent
by you or by someone else, and I couldnt risk being found
by him. But, later, I did deliberately hide from you, because
I didnt think I could bear for you to see what Id
Well, said Berengar, climbing down from the palanquin,
that was more comfortable than a camel! Why is everyone
Legolas explained what had happened when Keret had seen Gwirith.
Hentmirë wants to give them some time alone together.
Gwirith is Kerets mother? You are saying that Gwirith
is Riya? Faramir sat on the wall of one of the raised
flower beds. That is why she did not leave Carhilivren when
she had the chance, he said. That is who she meant
What did she tell you Faramir? asked Legolas. Who
is she hiding from?
She did not say. But it has something to do with a murder.
The Hatjas son! said Eowyn, suddenly.
Remember Lassui? Elissathat is the prostitute from
the Circus, she explained to Faramir, she told us
that Riya was with the Hatjas son when he was murdered,
and that she knew the man who did it.
From what Gwirith told me, said Faramir, technically,
she was an accomplice. It was her job to keep the man, er, occupied
whilst the killer struck. But I have the impression that she did
it under duress. She did not say so, but I think that the killer
was her owner.
But that was Abdi! said Legolas. According
to Ribhadda, her owner was Abdithe man who hired Wolfram
to kidnap Cyllien...
Under Hentmirës supervision, Keret was carried upstairs
and put to bed, and the room adjoining his was prepared for Gwirith.
It will just take me a few moments to arrange it. Would
you mind, my dear, she said to Oliel, coming up with
me? Then you can tell me what your wife needs...
Legolasthough not convinced that Oliel would know what
his estranged wife might needwas grateful for the opportunity
to exchange a few quiet words with Gwirith. I believe that
this, he said, taking the elven ring Elissa had given him
from a money pouch at his hip, is yours.
My mothers ring! How did you come by it, your
Keret ran away from your friend, so she kept it in case
you came back for it. He handed it to her. Did you
say it was your mothers?
It is a very special ring.
She gave it to me just before she died, said Gwirith.
She slipped it onto her finger, beside the wedding ring that Oliel
had already returned to her, and held up her hand to admire it.
She couldnt wear it herself.
Why not? asked Legolas, softly.
It wasnt my fathersit was given to her
by her first love. She smiled. My
princethats what she always called him. My
There, said Hentmirë, coming downstairs with
Oliel still in tow, everything is ready. Would you like
to go up now, my dear?
Gwirith immediately turned to the little woman anddisplaying
the class that Ribhadda had so admiredsaid,
with a gracious bow of the head, Thank you again, my Lady,
for making me so welcome in your home. I would like to
retire now, yes.
As Gwirith was being carried upstairs, Faramir drew Legolas aside.
I have undertakenI will not go into the details of
why: suffice to say that Berengar had a hand in it,Legolas
smiledto attempt to arrange a marriage between the
daughter of Lord Abdosir of Rihat and the Hatjas
Valar! Do you think you will succeed?
I really do not know. It is a ludicrous idea. Legolas
smiled again. I had planned to offer the Hatja a
trading agreement, said Faramir. Trees are scarce
here, and I thought that the timber of North Ithilien might prove
attractive. But now...
You could offer him the man who killed his son?
But not without endangering Gwirith.
Do you really think the Hatja would punish her?
Faramir shrugged his shoulders. He is an honourable man,
I think, but not a kind one. He might easily decide that justice
required itand the penalty for murder is hanging.
We cannot expose her.
But something must be done about Abdi.
Legolas described what Haldir had witnessed behind the Guardhouse.
So Abdi bribed Captain Ramess to let him escape? If he
has Ramess on a regular retainer
Which Ribhadda believes he has
That would explain Ramesss treatment of Gwirith when
she went to him for help. Faramir sighed. The Hatja
is not a likeable man, he said, but I cannot, in good
conscience, hide the identity of his sons killer from him.
I really do not know what to do.
Eowyn yawned. You are saying that Gwirith is Imrahils
daughter? She unbuttoned her bodice.
YesI am almost sure of it, Melmenya. I recognised
her elven blood the moment I saw her. He removed the stopper
from a jar of scented oil and sniffed. I cannot imagine
how Hentmirë ever came to buy this, he said,
pouring a few drops of the sensual, musky perfume into the bath
She cannot say no to pedlars, Lassui,
said Eowyn, slipping out of her skirt. She takes pity on
them and buys whatever they show her. The house is full of things
that she does not need and cannot take to Eryn Carantaur. We are
going to sell them and give the money to the poorSo,
she said, returning to the previous topic, that would make
Gwirith Faramirs cousin...
Yesand Lothíriels sister, said
Oh, dear gods!
They both laughed. Eowyn climbed into the bath and sank down
into the water. Will you tell Gwirith?
I am not sure.
If her fatherher late mothers husbanddoes
You think it would be better to say nothing, Legolas
finished. So do I. She and Oliel will face enough problems
without that. He untied his sash and slipped out of his
Eowyn watched him walk to the dressing table and drape his clothes
over the chair. There was something about the way he movedabout
the combination of power, and grace, and effortless controlthat
made her feel...
Come here, she said, stretching out her arms.
Come here, Lassui!
You are all slippery, Eowyn whispered. Wet...
And oily... Andoh... She leaned forward, squeezing
him tight, and kissed his mouth. Big, she whispered.
And you, said Legolas, raking his oily hands through
her hair, are a vixen. My beautiful vixen. He returned
her kiss, exerting his elven strength to hold her close whilst
he crushed his mouth against hers. Then he slid his hands down
her shoulders, past her waist, grasped her hips, and began to
thrust upwards, slow but hard.
Oh! No, cried Eowyn, no, no!
But she did not mean no, and the elf did not stopnot
until her body suddenly arched and she threw back her head. And
then he held her upright, and let her climaxsobbing with
gratitudeuntil she wilted in his arms. Then he drew her
close, and cradled her against his chest.
Ribhadda bade his last customer goodnight and locked the doors
of The Silk Road behind him.
Promise me you wont stay here alone tonight, Rib,
said Cyllien. Its too dangerous.
You dont need to worry about me, kid
Cyllien is right, said Haldir. You know that
Abdi will try again, and you cannot look to Captain Ramess for
protection. Come back with us.
No, said Ribhadda. No, I cant impose
upon your friend like that. He turned to Cyllien. If
it will make you happy, Ill ask Hiram and Aqhat to stay
Haldir will stay, said Cyllien, wont
you, Haldir? And so will I.
You are not staying, Tithen Dúlinn,
said Haldir. Let me take Cyllien home, he said to
Ribhadda. Keep Hiram here with you until I return.
It really isnt necessary.
I insist, said Haldir.
Wolfram watched Cyllien and her big elf try to rouse the useless
gatekeeper without waking the rest of the house. That place,
he thought, has more beds than a brothel...
He finished his supper of leftovers and settled down to sleep.
Tomorrow, I must look for a way to get inside.
Still unafraid the birds now dwell
and sing on boughs amid the snow
where Lúthien and Beren go...
Legolas let the last note die away. Eowyn was asleep.
At first he had found it difficult, spending his nights with
someone who needed as much sleep as she did. But, gradually, he
had come to enjoy it. To lie, gazing at the stars, with his
immortal wife in his armswhat more could any elf want?
His happy thoughts were interrupted by the lightest of taps at
That must be Haldir.
Carefully, without waking her, he settled Eowyn on the mattress,
climbed out of bed, slipped on his dressing robe, and answered
I am sorry to disturb you, Legolas, said Haldir,
but Gimli was sure that you would want to join us.
Haldir described the attack on Ribhadda and their subsequent
interrogation of the Kurian. We plan to spend the night
at The Silk Road. If there is another attempt,
we will try to capture the assassin and persuade him to take us
Abdi, said Legolas. That man is at the centre
of everything. You had better let Faramir know what we are doing.
I shall dress and write a note for Eowyn.
Ribhadda opened the door cautiously, knife in hand.
I see youve brought the Five Armies with you,
he said, to Haldir, as he stood aside to allow the two elves,
the dwarf, and the man to enter.
Apart from the moonlight filtering through the windows, the
place was in darkness.
We all have a stake in this, said Legolas. He waited
until the man had re-barred the door. And we have some news
for you. You may want to sit down to hear it.
Why? asked Ribhadda.
Legolas gestured towards the nearest chair. With a wry smile,
We have found Riya, said Legolas.
And shes dead, said Ribhadda.
She is married, said Legolas.
To your friend, Captain Oliel.
Oliel! Oliels wife is... Well Ill be...
Ribhadda shook his head, laughing.
It was not the reaction Legolas had expected. I thought
he would be disappointed, he whispered to Faramir.
He is, said Faramir, squeezing his arm. GwirithRiya,
he said to Ribhadda, taking the seat beside him, saw Abdi
murder the Hatjas son
The Hatjas son? No wonder Abdi wants her dead.
Unfortunately, continued Faramir, he forced
her to help him. So, when she went to report the crime to your
friend, Captain Ramess
So I have heardRamess threatened her with hanging.
What evidence do you have against Abdi? asked
Legolas, suddenly. Why does he want you dead?
I have spent most of the night wondering about that,
said Ribhadda. And I still have no idea.
A dwarf, said Legolas softly, can sleep on
a galloping horse.
Faramir smiled. Gimlis snoring may just work in our
favour, he said. If anyone does come for Ribhadda,
he will be convinced that his victim is asleep.
But will we hear him break in?
Legolas held up his hand. His question had just been answered.
There is someone at the back door, he said softly,
forcing the lock; and I think...
Someone at the front, too, said Haldir. They
are quiet, for Men.
They are professionals, said Faramir. Haldir,
shall you and I take the front?
Legolas turned to Ribhadda. That leaves us with the back...
He laid his hand on Gimlis shoulder. It is time, elvellon.
There were three intruders at the back entrance.
One each! cried Gimli.
He felled the first with a mighty blow from the flat of his axe;
Ribhadda, stationed beside the door, hit the second with his own
weapon of choice, a bottle of spirits; and Legolas brought down
the third, who had turned to flee, with two carefully placed arrows
in the back of the leg.
More healers bills, Ribhadda complained.
They dragged their prisoners into the barwhere Haldir and
Faramir had already captured two more intrudersand Gimli
tied them to chairs.
Did anyone escape? asked Ribhadda.
Not as far as I am aware, said Faramir.
Good. Ribhadda lit one of the candelabras and scrutinised
each prisoner in turn, stopping before the man with the arrow
wounds. Well, well, he said, Thuya. We have
fallen on hard times.
Its nothing personal, Rib.
No; it never is, said Ribhadda. But, just in
case, Im barring you from The Silk Road.
He set the candelabra down on one of the tables. That leg
It is, Rib.
Its important, said Ribhadda, to get
that sort of wound cleaned and dressed, before it starts to fester...
I know, Rib.
I knew a man with a wound like that, high up in the thighhis
leg started to fester; he had it amputatedtoo latehe
had his private parts amputatedtoo latehe
For pitys sake!
Theres a healer just next door, said Ribhadda.
A good manknows his craft. Who sent you, Thuya?
Dont tell him! cried another prisoner.
Ribhadda rounded on him, You dont need a healerwho
sent you, Thu?
Abdi! Abdi sent us!
Are you supposed to meet with him? To collect your payoff?
Huy is, this afternoon.
Ribhadda turned to Huythe man that Gimli had stunned with
his axe. I want, he said, a personal introduction
to Abdi. And Im willing to pay.
How much is Abdi paying?
A hundred gold. Each.
Ill double it, said Ribhadda. And
you get the services of a healer thrown in free.
Eowyn awoke expecting to find Legolas lying beside her.
Instead, she found a note on his pillow.
Melmenya, it said, I have been kidnapped
by an elf and a dwarf and do not expect to be released until the
Eowyn smiled. Then she turned the papyrus over.
We are spending the night at The Silk Road with Ribhadda.
I will explain when I return.
Oh, Lassui! How could you go without waking me? she
You should consider keeping me on a retainer, said
the healer, it would be cheaper for you in the long run.
Ribhadda shot him a sarcastic smile. Will Thuya livethe
man with the arrow wounds?
Oh yes. Provided he keeps the wounds clean.
Thanks. Ribhadda closed the door behind him.
So, gentlemen, he said to Faramir, Gimli, and the
elves, what I suggest is that we accompany Huy to the meeting
with Abdi and take the bastard prisoner. Once weve got him
safely locked up we can free the others. He nodded towards
the storeroom, where the prisoners were being held.
What do you intend to do with Abdi? asked Legolas.
Well, said Ribhadda, we know theres no
point in turning him over to Ramess
We take him straight to the Hatja, said Gimli.
He will surely not be bought by the man who killed
his own lad.
Faramir shook his head, We cannot do that, Gimliit
would endanger Gwirith.
Then let my axe deal with him.
No, said Ribhadda. We will hand him
over to the Hatja, but I need to speak to Riya first.
Why? asked Legolas, gently. You are not...
Not what? Ribhaddas face crumpled into a smilealmost
a laugh. Planning to take the fall for her? No!
Let me tell her first.
Wolfram accepted the basket of food with effusive thanks, heaping
good wishes on the Lady of the House and ending his performance
with a cocky little squeeze of the slaves hand. Then he
settled back with a slice of fruited bread, and watched as the
man made his way from villa to villa, delivering small pieces
What can they be?
The slave was arguing with the gatekeeper at the big yellow villaThe
surly prickwho was refusing to accept whatever it was.
Wolfram grinned when My Ladys man had the last laugh, pushing
the note into the clipped hedge as he left. He waited until the
slave had returned to the house, carefully hid his food, then
shuffled over to the yellow house, andtaking care that he
was not seen by the gatekeeperretrieved the papyrus.
Reading was not one of Wolframs talents, but even he could
make out most of the carefully written words:
AT THE VILLA OF MURSILIS
HALF-PAST TWO TODAY
ALL MONIES TO THE HOME FOR LOST CHILDREN
Wolfram could have danced! They are bound to leave the
gates open! All I need do is walk in!
Hardly able to wait until the afternoon, he shuffleda little
too nimbly at first, but he checked himselfalong the road,
to the pink villa, where he peered through the wrought-iron gates.
My Lady was in the courtyard, feeding kitchen scraps to a flock
of coloured birds. Wolfram quickly turned awaybut not before
he had seen her bend forwards, in her tiny little bodice.
Just give them that, he thought. Theres enough
gold and beads on it to feed ten homes for lost children...
By the time Legolas and the others arrived at the house, Eowyn
had been joined in the courtyard by Gwirith, Keret, and Hentmirë,
who were sitting together in a shady corner, eating breakfast.
So you will be living on the ship? asked Hentmirë.
Yes, said Gwirith. Most of the time.
Oh, you will enjoy it! said the little woman. The
sea is wonderful! But where will Keret live She broke
off at the sound of the gates opening. Legolas!
Eowyn immediately dumped her plate of scraps on one of the raised
flower beds andscattering the flock of birds as she wentwalked
angrily over to the gate.
You, she said, ignoring everyone but Legolas, have
some explaining to do.
I left a note...
Kidnapped by an elf an a dwarf!
She grabbed his arm and pulled him into the houseallowing
him no time to reply to Hentmirës cheery greeting.
Ribhadda approached Hentmirë with a bow. Good morning,
my lady. I hope Im not disturbing you too early.
Of course notMaster Ribhadda, is it not? asked
Hentmirë. You are most welcome. But, if youll
excuse me, I still have some preparations to make for a sale I
am holding this afternoon. Come along, Keret: come and help me.
Keret. She took the boy into the house, with
Haldir, Gimli and Faramir tactfully following. Ribhadda watched
them go, then turned to Gwirith. Hello, Riya.
Youre looking good.
Ribhadda held up his hands. I know Riya, theyve told
me about Oliel.
He sat down beside her. Hes a good man. Hell
take care of youand the boy. Im here for a different
reasonto give you this. He handed her a scroll, tied
with a red cord and sealed with a lump of red wax stamped with
the Hatjas emblem.
Dont open itits a Letter of Pardon,
he explained. Signed by the Hatja. It cant
be rescinded, not even by the Hatja himself. Whatever happens
now, Riya, youre safe.