Cyllien examined her face in the mirror. The slap
had stung, but it had done no damagefor it had never been
intended to do anything more than calm her down.
And it had certainly worked.
She sighed. Why do you want him? Because he's big, strong,
good-looking and a wonderful lover. Because he's passionate and
honourable andValar!if he fell in love with you, you
would be everything in Middle-earth to him.
Could you make him fall in love with you?
No. Not while she's anywhere near him...
For the briefest of moments, Cyllien imagined killing Eowyn,
and the clarity with which she could see the woman falling down
a flight of stone stepssee the light leaving her eyes as
her head hit the ground and her neck snappedleft her trembling.
What in Ilúvatar's name does that mean? she wondered.
Do I want Haldir that much? Or do I just hate the woman?
She was so troubled by her thoughts of violence that she did
not notice the door opendid not realise that he was there
until his hand touched her shoulder. But when he lifted her onto
her dressing tableclearing away the clutter with a sweep
of his handand made love to her, this time with tenderness
as well as passion, she seemed to have the answer to all of her
Wolfram sat at the table, reed pen in hand, writing laboriously
on a sheet of papyrus.
He was interrupted by the familiar knock: one-two; one-two-three;
About pricking time. He carried his candle to the door
and set it down on the dresser. Then he drew back the heavy metal
bar and, after blowing out the light, opened the door.
"Where have you been?" he hissed. "I need to go
out! How long does it take to steal a bottle of wine?" He
closed and, in the complete darkness, managed to re-bar the door.
"Are you going to light that candle or what?"
The elf said nothing but, a moment later, the room was filled
with a dull glow. Wolfram lit two more candles. "What's wrong?"
"It was not my fault..."
"What have you done?"
The elf, though much taller than the man, flinched. "Rib
has barred me from The Silk Road."
Vardamir retreated a few steps. "Because he doesn't trust
To the elf's surprise, Wolfram laughed. "Where's the wine?"
Vardamir removed a grimy bottle from a poacher's pocket inside
his long robe.
"Could you not have taken a clean one?" Shaking
his head, Wolfram returned to writing his note.
He must not be too explicit in case it fell into the wrong hands.
... her toniht at the back door
He added a full stop. He would not sign it.
He waved the papyrus in the air to dry the ink.
"This," said Vardamir, "is one of the finest reds
from Dorwinion. It's over fifty years old." He handed Wolfram
Wolfram knocked it back. "It doesn't really matter,"
he said. "I can deal with Ribhadda myself. You're not much
help, anyway." He folded the note. "I'm going out. I'll
deliver this to the Blue Parrot, then I'll relocate her"
"Must you, Wolfram?"
"Just make sure you stay by the door. I may need to get
"Over here," cried Gimli, waving enthusiastically.
The dwarf was sitting at a large, circular table, surrounded by
a bevy of admiring young women, and allowing one of themsitting
on his lapto stroke the haft of his axe. "These fair
ladies want to meet you," he cried.
How did he get so drunk so fast? Legolas wondered, taking
a seat at the very far side of the table.
"Are you really an elf?" asked one of the girls,
Legolas smiled politely. "Yes."
"And is it true what they say about elves?" asked anotherwho
seemed to have had more to drink than the restsliding towards
him, from chair to chair.
"What do they say?" asked Legolas, gently removing
her hand from his thigh.
"That you're all hung like horses!"
The girls giggled; Gimli roared with laughter. Legolas folded
his hands over his lap.
"Well," said Gimli, "answer her!"
"Yes," said Legolas, straight-faced.
Gimli thumped the table with delight.
"Will you show me?" asked the girl, breathlessly. "I've
never seen a really big one. We could go outside..."
"That's enough, Meryt, leave the gentleman alone."
Ribhadda laid a restraining hand on the girl's shoulder. "Time
to go home." He beckoned to one of the liveried boys. "Aqhat,
walk her back to her rooms."
"Oh, but, Rib, I don't want"
The man lifted Meryt from her seat and handed her to the boy.
"Home," he said, firmly. "And Aqhatmake
sure you come straight back."
"Well," said Gimli, with a theatrical yawn, "I
must be going, too." There was a chorus of disappointment.
"Sorry ladies. But perhaps my friend, here, will stay and
entertain you with tales of Northern parts?" He winked at
Legolas gave him a murderous look. But, seemingly oblivious,
Gimli rolled off his chair, swaggered across the tavern and disappeared
through the main doors.
The women moved in on the elf like sharks on an injured swimmer.
"I am sorry," he said, scrambling to his feet, "my
wife is expecting me. Good night, Master Ribhadda." He hurried
after the dwarf. "Gimli? Gimli, where have you gone?Gimli?
"Shhhhh," hissed the dwarf, suddenly sounding very
sober. "For an elf you are making a terrible din! Come with
As Ribhadda was watching the elf leave, one of his regular customers,
a small, nervous man, plucked at his sleeve. "Rib, will you
join me for a moment?"
"You know better than that, Ugarti," said Ribhadda,
"You don't drink with customers. I know. I just want to
talk. And to ask you a small favour."
Ribhadda sighed. "Very well," he said, taking a seat.
Ugarti laid a document on the tablea roll of papyrus, tied
with a red cord and sealed with a lump of red wax stamped with
the Hatja's emblem. "Look, Rib," he said, "do
you know what this is? Something that even you have never seen."
He played with the seal. "A Letter of Pardon, signed by the
Hatja. It cannot be rescinded, not even questioned."
He looked at Ribhadda, triumphantly. "Tonight I'll be selling
it for more money than even I ever dreamed of. Then goodbye,
Carhilivren." He smiled. "You know Rib, I have many
friends in Carhilivren but, somehow, just because you despise
me, you are the only one I trust. Will you keep it for me. Please?"
"For how long?"
"Perhaps an hour, perhaps a little longer."
"I don't want it here overnight."
"Don't be afraid of that." Ugarti picked up the scroll
and held it out to the other man. "Please keep it for me."
Ribhadda took it. "Thank you. I knew I could trust you."
He rose to leave, but he could not resist adding, "I hope
you are more impressed with me now, Rib."
Ribhadda caught his arm. "I heard that those dead couriers
were carrying a Letter of Pardon."
"Uh. Yes," said Ugarti. "I heard that too. Poor
Ribhadda stared at him for a long moment. "You're right
Ugarti. I am a little more impressed with you."
"I am sorry, too," said Cyllien.
"Talking like that."
Haldir gathered her closer. "No, you were right," he
said. "Not about her. But in what you said about me."
"What are you going to do? You cannot continue as you are."
He laughed, mirthlessly. "People have been telling me that
for five years. Legolas never stops saying it."
"Prince Legolas knows how you feel about her?"
"It is hard not to notice when someone aims an arrow at
your heart and tells you he intends to take your wife from you."
"It is a long story, which I will no doubt tell you another
time." Somewhat experimentally, he kissed the top of her
head. "Will you come back to South Ithilien with me?"
"She will be there too. She is my Ladynot just
Legolas' wife, but a warrior in her own right and I am her March
Warden. We often work together."
"I will get used to that. And if I cannot, well, we must
part, but at least I will be away from this place."
"What about Ribhadda?"
"He can manage without me."
"That is not what I meant."
"One can chase a dream, Haldir, or one can make do with
reality," said Cyllien. "And, as reality goes, you are
not all that bad."
"Gimli!" hissed Legolas.
The dwarf had stopped at the crossroads and flattened himself
against the wall. He held up his hand for silence, then peered
around the corner.
"Why are we following the woman?" asked Legolas.
"We are following Meryt because she has been to Vardamir's
home," said Gimli, "lured there by talk of the extraordinary
prowess of elves, apparently. But she never got to experience
it, because his friend returned and the elf had to smuggle her
out. Hence her interest in you." Gimli risked another look
around the corner. "Come on," he said, "we must
see where they go." The pair ran across the street, and dived
into the shadows, then continued to follow the woman and her escort
at a safe distance.
"I cannot believe she told you that about herself and Vardamir,"
whispered Legolas, as they watched the couple disappear into a
"Never underestimate the advantages of a compact stature
and a luxuriant beard when dealing with women."
"They treat you like a pet," said Legolas.
"As a confidant," Gimli corrected.
"Did she remember where this house was?
"She would not tell mehe swore her to secrecybut
she did let slip that it was just around the corner from her own
"Which corner?" asked Legolas. "There are four."
"Wait a minute," said Legolas. "Garden Lane. Come!"
Turning the corner, they found themselves on the very edge of
the Souk. "We are looking for an alley," said Legolas,
"behind one of the stalls."
"How do you know?" asked Gimli.
"Because, according to Ribhadda, that is where Wolfram has
Most of the stalls had closed for the night and they had no trouble
finding three alleys running off Garden Lane, all of them narrow,
each one walled on both sides by a jumble of featureless mud brick
and wood and, whilst Legolas kept watch, Gimli examined them in
some detail, lightly tapping the walls, every few inches, with
the butt of his axe.
"Anything?" asked Legolas.
Gimli shook his head. "All the mud brick is solid,"
he said. "But as for the woodwho knows?all the
wood is paper thin. It is impossible to recognise a concealed
"Perhaps, tomorrow, you should speak to the woman again,"
said Legolas as they retraced their steps around the corner. "And
"Hello boys," said Meryt. "Were you looking for
me? How about coming up for a nightcap?"
"I know I would
Always be good
To one who'd watch over me..."
Singing softly to herself, Cyllien unlaced the bodice of her
The door opened. "What did you forget, melethron?"
She turned smiling.
The smile froze on her face.
"Not bad," said the intruder, nodding towards her breasts
before she hastily pulled her gown closed. "But I've seen
better." He shut the door behind him, picked up her dressing
table chairstill lying where it had fallen earlierand
hooked it under the handle. "We wouldn't want to be disturbed,
"How did you get in here, Wolfram?" she asked, angrily.
"Rib barred you."
"Well, now," said Wolfram, "one of the few advantages
of not being tall, blond and handsome, like your elf stud,
is that NOBODY EVER NOTICES ME." His eyes glittered. "He
walked right past me and did not see me! Which is strange when
you consider how often he has threatened to kill me on her
"What do you want?"
"You," said Wolfram. He smiled. "Oh, don't worry,
I'm not planning to ride youyou're not my type. No. I have
a customer who wants you."
"You sick orc." He had not moved since he had barred
the door and his unnatural stillness was making Cyllien nervous.
She thought of the pair of scissors somewhere on her dressing
table and reached behind her, feeling for them... But the table
Oh Valar! In her mind's eye she remembered Haldir, sweeping
"What are you looking for, Cyllien? You are not thinking
of resisting me are you? It will only make me hurt you more."
He drew back his arm.
"Do you really think," said Cyllien, haughtily, "that
a mere man can overpower an elleth?"
But what Wolfram lacked in elven speed he more than made up for
in cunning. The weapon, a small, lead-filled pouch, was concealed
in his other hand, and she never saw it coming.
Confident that the Letter of Pardon was safe with Ribhadda, Ugarti
made his way to the Blue Parrot, where he hoped to collect a few
old debts before he left the city for good.
"I am sorry, melmenya, I did not mean to wake you."
"Where are you going?"
"I need to bathe."
There was something strange in his voice. Eowyn climbed out of
bed, wrapped herself in a sheet and padded after him.
"What is wrong, my love? Oh..." Her breath caught
in her throat.
He was standing with his back to her, bending slightly forwards
to slip off his trousers. The candlelight was playing over his
body, highlighting the perfect muscles of his back and arms, and
the curve of his buttocks. Eowyn drank in the sight of him.
Oblivious to her, the elf dropped his silken clothing on the
floor and, with a deep sigh, climbed into the still-running water.
He took up a cake of soap and began scrubbing his lower body.
Eowyn picked up his discarded trousers and began to fold them.
"What is this?" She held them up, examining a mouth-shaped
smudge of red just below the waistband and several more marks
at the groin. "Legolas?"
"She was drunk," said Legolas.
"She made a grab for me and fell over. Nothing really happened,
melmenya." He sighed. "I just feel dirty."
"Oh, my poor love!" Eowyn dropped the trousers and
knelt beside him, catching his hand. "You will make yourself
sore, my darling." She took the soap from him and kissed
his hand. "Let me do it. I will wash her all away."
She unwound her sheet and climbed in beside him, took a soft sponge,
and gently stroked it over his stomach and his inner thighs, and
then, when he had relaxed a little, over his ceryn and
his ceber. "There..."
"Thank you, Eowyn nín." He hugged her
close. Then, after a few moments, he took her hand and brought
it to a very impressive erection.
Eowyn kissed the top of his head. "Stay still, my darling,"
she whispered, riding him slowly, "Stay... still and I shall
take... good care of youohhh..."
He had drawn her breast into his mouth, and was sucking her like
a greedy elfling.
"Oh, my love," she whispered, "my darling..."
And, holding his head close, she matched the rise and fall of
her hips to the rhythm of his tongue, "Yes, my love,"
she moaned, "I shall take such good care of you..."
He was so happy, so fulfilledhis eyes closed, his mouth
full of her, his ceber safe in the sweet warmth of her
gently rocking bodythat he had almost forgotten there could
be anything more until an orgasm crept up on him, and had its
way with him, and he cried out in surprise as he suddenly burst
Elves are so hard to move, thought Wolfram, as he limped
towards the Blue Parrot. They may weigh next to nothing
but they're too pricking long.
He had learned as a youngster that the best way to do something
dishonest was to do it openly, sothough he was taking
the precaution of keeping to the quieter streetshe had simply
wrapped the unconscious elleth in a dark mantle and thrown her
over his shoulder. And, when anyone stared, he just smiled apologetically
and mouthed the word 'Drunk'.
Not much further now, he thought. And Abdi should have someone
waiting at the back door to collect her...
He turned the corner and stopped dead in his tracks.
Customers were pouring out of the rear entrance of the Blue
Parrot, climbing over one another in their hurry to get away.
From inside the building, Wolfram heard the sound of a hunting
Is it a raid? What is Abdi selling in there?
Two of the Hatja's guards forced their way out of the
door, grabbed one of the fleeing patrons, and threw him to the
ground. As Wolfram watched, the manwho looked vaguely familiarstruggled
to his feet and tried to run awayuntil one of the guardsmen
ran him through with a dagger.
Then two more guards emerged from the Parrot, and a whole
detachment of soldiers came running upstill in formationfrom
the far end of the alley, to back up their colleagues.
Time to leave! Wolfram turnedand, for once, took
to his heels, the better to blend in with the crowd.
The great caravan had camped beside one of the water stations
that punctuated the route to the East. Faramir had spent a comfortable
but wakeful night under canvas, soothed by the familiar sound
of Berengar's light, regular breathing, but worried by Oliel's
nervous tossing and turning. They had struck camp at first light.
All around, people were preparing for the day's ten-hour journey:
tending their camels, checking their packs, and queuing at the
great cistern to fill their water skins. Faramir took a bite of
dried meat. "It is beautiful," he said, gazing across
the sands towards the Ripa'a Ridge, a mass of bluish-pink rock
looming on the horizon. "The colours are muted, and yet they
include every tint of the rainbow..."
Berengar smiled. "Just wait until the sun has been up for
an hour or two, Faroth," he said. "The sand will soon
become monotonous, believe me; even to a romantic like you."
"I had forgotten that you were a seasoned desert traveller,"
said Faramir, offering him some dried fruit. "How are you
finding the camel?"
Berengar waved the food away. "No, thank youthe camel
is surprisingly well-mannered," he said. "The saddle,
on the other hand, pinches front and back..."
Faramir grinned. He turned back to the Ripa'a Ridge. "The
rocks look quite close, but there is really no way of tellingnothing
to judge the distance bywhat was that?"
"What did you see?"
"I am not sure; a flash of light."
"The sun glinting on metal, perhaps," said Berengar.
Shielding his eyes with his hand, he scanned the rocks. "This
is when we need an elf... There is nothing there nowno,
wait... There it is again." He turned to Faramir.
"It is probably just an innocent traveller. It would be a
very poor bandit who gave himself away so easily."
"Still," said Faramir, "we had better warn the
"Good morning, Melmenya."
Eowyn pushed herself up on her elbows and smiled at Legolas.
"Good morning, Lassui. You look very happy this morning."
Legolas, already dressed, sat beside her on the bed. "And
so I should, Eowyn nínI am a very lucky elf."
He took her in his arms. "Last night, when I was deeply troubled,
my beloved wife soothed me, body and spirit."
He kissed her tenderlya long, slow, lingering kiss. "She
gave herself to me without reserve; made me feel loved and cherished."
He smiled. "And then she made me come like one of Mithrandir's
Eowyn laughed merrily, hugging him close. Then she asked, "What
do we need to do today, Lassui?"
Haldir had found the housewith little more than Faramir's
description to go onhidden at the end of one of the twisting
streets that surrounded the souk. After a moment's hesitation,
he climbed the steps and knocked.
The door swung open.
"Come in," called a familiar voice.
The elf followed the sound down a narrow, airy corridor lined
with tall, potted palm trees, through an arched doorway, and into
a large, but sparsely furnished, living room.
"Good morning, March Warden."
"Good morning, Magus."
"I was afraid I would see you again," said Niqmaddu.
"Sit down. I take it that things have gone badly wrong?"
Haldir took a seat opposite the magician. "I would not say
badly wrong... I am just not sure what is happening."
He explained the strange persistence of his feelingsor some
echo of his feelingsfor Eowyn. And then, with some reluctance,
he described his attempted relationship with Cyllien.
"I see," said Niqmaddu, "dear me." He rose
to his feet and began to pace back and forth. "I have heard
it said that, sometimes, when a man loses an arm or a leg, he
may continue to feel itto feel pain in the part that has
been removed. It seems that you are experiencing something similar.
Has there been any recurrence of the feelings of hatred towards
"Well, that is something. Why did you come to me, March
"I am sorry?"
"What do you want me to do?"
"I want help."
"I was afraid you would say that," said Niqmaddu. "Are
"What do you mean?"
"The consequences of taking a step like thisof altering
the mindwere always going to be far-reaching, affecting
your thoughts and feelings in ways we could not predict. But the
problems you are describing can easily be explained."
"I do not understand."
"You know that you used to have feelings; you are
constantly wondering what they were; and, as a result, you can
almost feel them still. You must curb your curiosity!"
He sat down beside Haldir and continued, very earnestly: "If
you had fallen out of love with Princess Eowyn gradually, March
Warden, there might still have been these echoes, as you call
them, of your love left in your heart. You might still have felt
that guilt, that sense of betrayal, you might still have compared
your new love to the old, you might still have found the new love
wanting in comparison... It is because the changes have been swift,
and effected by magic, you assume these echoes to be abnormal.
My advice now, March Warden, is to leave things well alone. You
are no longer a danger to Prince Legolasthat is the most
important thingand you have plenty of time. Left alone,
your feelings will resolve themselves. Naturally."
"That is a strange thing for a Magus to say."
"I have learned much in the past few weeks," admitted
Niqmaddu. "Not least, an awareness of my own limitations."
"You are saying," said Haldir, "that my present
condition is not permanent."
"Indeed," said the magician. "Since I amin
some respectsresponsible for your distress, I am honour
bound to help you if that is what you insist. And I can
make you fall in love with the elleth, if you ask it. But I stronglyvery
stronglyrecommend that, from now on, you let nature take
its course. In any case, I will not do anything for seven daysthat
will give you time to make an informed decisionperhaps with
the help of the lady herself?
"Now, since my carpet has just been returned by the cleaners,
would you like me to take you home?"
"That was most enjoyable," said Haldir, as the carpet
began its slow, spiralling descent into Hentmirë's courtyard.
The few minutes it had taken them to fly from the magician's
house had been the most carefree he had experienced in a very
long time. "The motion itself is invigorating," he continued,
"but it is seeing other people's journeysseeing how
those journeys interweavethat begins to put one's own life
into some sort of perspective..." He smiled ruefully at his
uncharacteristic lapse into philosophy. "And, of course,"
he added, in his normal, slightly arrogant tone, "this would
be a most efficient way to patrol Eryn Carantaur."
"Of course," said Niqmaddu.
As they landed in the small garden, Eowyn, whoas had become
her custom in the morningswas feeding the birds with kitchen
scraps, came forward, smiling, to greet them. "Magus,"
she said, holding out her hand, "how nice to see you again."
"Good morning, your Highness," said Niqmaddu, bowing
in his usual quicksilver manner. "How fortunate that you
are out hereI believe the March Warden has something to
discuss with you." He turned to Haldir. "I am sure that
Princess Eowyn's advice will be invaluable. Now, if you will both
excuse me, I shall go and pay my respects to the Lady of the Houseand
to your husband, Princess Eowynbefore I leave."
"Well," said Eowyn, as they watched him disappear into
the house, "he takes no prisoners!"
Vardamir opened the door.
"What took you so pricking long?" said Wolfram, angrily.
He stumbled inside.
"I wasn't sure it was you," said the elf, barring the
door, "what have you got there?"
"I thought we needed a new carpetwhat do you think
I've got, you pricking idiot? Light the candles!"
"You were supposed to deliver her"
"Don't make me hurt you."
Wolfram dumped the unconscious elleth in his usual chair. "The
Blue Parrot was being raided. I had to hide amongst the
drunks in Hatja Square until all the fuss had died down."
He opened the cupboard at the bottom of the dresser and, from
his collection of pretty toys, selected a pair of silver manacles.
"We'll have to keep her here until I find out what has happened
to Abdi... Pity to waste these on her, though," he
said, securing Cyllien's wrists
He turned to Vardamir, suddenly. "What do you mean, you
weren't sure it was me?"
"Someone was tapping at the door earlier. But he didn't
give the right signal."
"Wonderful," said Wolfram. "Now we will have to