gimli and thorkell

Eowyn climbed the stairs to the garden flet.

Legolas, who had been waiting impatiently, rushed over to her and, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, drew her to the breakfast table. “All done, melmenya?”

“Yes. It was harder than I expected, Lassui, but I have replaced the panel. How do you feel now?” Legolas pulled out a chair; she sat down.

“Fine, melmenya,” said the elf, sitting opposite. “But, then, the charm does not seem to affect me unless I am already,”—he smiled—“a little excited…”

“And you are not now?”

They both grinned.

“Good,” said Eowyn, “because there are things we must do before the Rite tonight. I have been thinking—”

I have something to tell you first.” He cut a slice of bread and laid it on her plate.

“Go on.” She spread the bread with butter.

“I have found out why Haldir has seemed so—so spineless lately.” He told her about the other figurines, and how Haldir had been carrying the dismembered image of himself in his pocket. “We wrapped it in one of Cyllien’s gowns and locked it in the weapons chest, and he immediately began to improve.”

“What a terrible, terrible thing to do to someone,” said Eowyn. She poured two glasses of cordial. “Heral must have thought that, with Haldir impotent, Cyllien would be forced to turn to him—oh gods, Lassui! That is it!” She thumped her little fist on the table.

“Melmenya?” Legolas could not help smiling.

“That is why she was on the building site!”

“For sex? But she had already rejected him earlier in the day.”

“But the figurine, Lassui! The couple. Haldir told you that he left it on the table. And the last thing Cyllien says she remembers is going into the house. She must have found the figurine, and picked it up—handled it…”

“Of course…” Legolas took a bite of bread, and chewed it, thoughtfully. “And it drew her to the building site.”

“Well, it drew her to Heral.”

“But the charm must have somehow been broken,” said Legolas, “because she quickly came to her senses, and defended herself.”

“Yes.”

“Using the knife that my father had given her earlier.”

“Exactly. Had she not had the knife, he could easily have overpowered her—raped her—but she lashed out at him, stabbed him… And then she vented her anger on his ears. We need to find that figurine, Lassui. And,”—she picked up her napkin, and wiped her fingers—“we need to do all the other things that we have neglected whilst in thrall to Heral’s charm—we must search Heral’s chambers—we should have done that at the very beginning—and I want to speak to Lady Tóriel.”

“Tóriel? Why, melmenya?”

“Because I want to know whether Thorkell really was with her that night—and, if so, exactly when he left.”

Surrounded by dancing tad-dail, Myldreth raised her arms above her head, and—she hoped—spun gracefully, her sharp eyes scanning the Forest for any sign of her friends. Gods! Either they’re very well hidden, she thought, or I am on my own; and she closed her eyes, trying to master her nerves. Come on, Myldreth! You do not want these bastards sensing

Something touched her shoulder and she turned, instantly recognising the young buck who had so openly desired her back at the village.

She pirouetted away.

The tad-dal followed.

Myldreth moved faster, working her way deeper into the pack.

The tad-dal bleated plaintively.

Some of the others closed in on her, guiding her back towards him—for it seemed that he was to have first use of her.

Shit, thought Myldreth, trying to stay just beyond his grasp. Do not let me down, Lord Gimli, Master Thorkell!

“Can you see the lassie?” whispered Gimli.

“No…” Thorkell bogsveigir peered through the scrub. “No. But, from the way they are behaving, she is certainly in there, somewhere near the middle.”

A fragment of melody, long and lush and haunting, wound its way past them on the breeze.

“That music,” grumbled the dwarf, “makes my flesh crawl.”

“That is because,” said the Beorning, “your flesh is of the wrong sort. A woman—ah—here we go.” The tad-dail had increased their pace; Thorkell signalled his men to do the same. “A woman cannot resist it.”

“Hmm.” Gimli weighed his axe. “Let us pray that our lass is the exception.”

Legolas and Eowyn had made another thorough search of the building site, but found nothing.

Eowyn sat down on the steps of the unfinished apartment. “I was so sure that we would find it, Lassui, now that we know what we are looking for.” A gentle breeze wafted across the flet and, closing her eyes, she turned to face to its scented freshness, sighing, “I wanted to show it to Cyllien.”

“To see if it jogged her memory?” Legolas sat down beside her, and took hold of her hand. Then, after a few moments, he said, “You know, melmenya, something must have broken its spell. Perhaps it fell…”

They scrambled to their feet and, together, peered over the flet walls.

On three sides, there was nothing but a dizzying drop, to the ground hundreds of feet below; on the fourth side, however, the platform overlooked a small public garden.

“Melmenya…” Legolas pointed to a group of young children, clustered around a bench. One of the elflings was holding a little wheeled horse, and was racing it along the seat closely pursued by a tiny dwarf, who was pushing a wax model of a couple, making love.

“Oh, gods,” said Eowyn.

Myldreth had no idea how long she had been ‘dancing’ down the trail.

An hour? Two?

To her poor, tired arms and legs it felt like two days.

So far, with a few big steps here, and an over-enthusiastic twirl—connecting her fist with a sparsely-bearded chin—there, she had managed to keep the young tad-dal at a distance. And it seemed that, as long as she made him wait, the others were content to leave her be. Thank the gods.

But a subtle change in the creature’s manner told her that they were getting close to his lair, and she knew that this was the moment of greatest danger, and she prayed (again) that Lord Gimli and Master Thorkell were close behind—though in her heart she was sure that she could trust the dwarf.

And besides, she thought, I have a knife

They turned off the main trail, and climbed a steep rise—Still bloody dancing—and entered a clearing atop the hill, and at last she saw their stronghold—a vast stone ruin, its stunted walls roofed with woven branches, its fallen masonry serving as beds and chairs, the whole edifice covered with dark green moss and skirted with fronds of amber bracken.

Gods, it smells!

Of piss, thought Myldreth, as the odour caught in her throat. Goat’s piss. And she spun slowly round, and saw that most of the creatures were making water at the edges of the clearing, Marking it afresh, like dogs!

She gagged.

But she had come here for a purpose and, swallowing hard, she let her young swain draw her, still dancing, through an open postern, and into the dank interior of the ruined keep.

“Myldreth! Myldreth! They’ve brought you, too!”

It was the very voice she had been hoping to hear, but its sudden sound took Myldreth by surprise, and she forgot to dance and, instead, peering into the gloom, she searched for its owner, whispering, “Annis? Annis, is that you?”

“Of course it’s me!” Her sister was sitting on a mossy stone, cradling a baby in her arms; and as Myldreth moved closer, and her eyes grew accustomed to the dark, she could scarcely believe the girl’s transformation—her filthy rags, her matted hair, the dirt smeared across her face, and neck, and arms, and the putrid colour of her teeth…

But her sister’s eyes were shining with joy. “Isn’t it wonderful?” she cried, hugging the baby to her breast. “They treat me like a princess, Myldreth! Look at my fine chamber; look at my velvet gown!”

“Oh Annis…” Myldreth reached out—and, instantly, a pair of hands (with long, sharp nails) grasped her by the waist, and dragged her back, and she felt an impatient phallus, rising up behind her.

NO! she thought. And slipping her hand through the split in her skirts, she pulled out the Beorning’s knife and spun round—ignoring the nails that scraped her skin as she broke free—and lashed out at the young tad-dal, driving him away.

Oh gods, oh gods!

She thrust, and thrust again, but somehow could not connect; and she took deep breath and bellowed, “LORD GIMLI; MASTER THORKELL; COME NOW, COME NOW, COME NOW!”

Eowyn grasped Legolas’ arm. “We must not let them think that it is something bad, Lassui,” she whispered. “I mean, we do not want them thinking that sex is bad.”

“Leave it to me, melmenya.” The elf walked out onto the flet. “Hello.”

The children looked up from their game, surprised by the sudden interruption. Then one little fellow, bolder than the rest, drew himself up straight and, placing his hand upon his heart, bowed his golden head and said, “Mae govannen, Lord Legolas.”

Legolas smiled. “Mae govannen, mellyn nín. I see that you have found my statue.”

Fili found it…” Almost imperceptibly, the three elflings drew back, leaving the dwarf to face Legolas alone.

“It was just lying on the floor, sir,” said the tiny boy, “and it was already broken. That is the truth.” He thrust a small, broad hand into his pocket and drew out a battered lump of wax, still recognisable as an elleth’s head.

“Well,” said Legolas, sitting down on the bench, “it just so happens that there is a reward for finding that sculpture—two rewards, in fact. The dwarf who finds it gets taken to Master Aerandir’s workshop, and can choose any toy he likes. And then he—and all his friends—get taken to the market, for apple pie and cream.”

Come now, come now, come now,” cried the voice, and Gimli and his dwarves were out into the open and charging up the hill—felling any creature foolish enough to step in their way—before Thorkell bogsveigir had even had time to raise a hand and signal his men.

Then the humans were running, too, battling through a ragged wall of tad-dail, the Beorning scanning the field for any sign of a focus, a point that the creatures seemed particularly anxious to defend. He could see nothing promising, but the knot of dwarves was already at the foot of the revetment, and Thorkell saw Gimli disappear through a small doorway in the masonry.

Barking a few quick orders, telling his men to round up the tad-dail and drive them into the isolated remains of the gatehouse, Thorkell followed.

Inside the keep, it was dark and damp, and nauseating, and the greenish light, filtering down through the high, woven roof, gave him glimpses of a gaggle of grubby women—looking more animal than human—squatting on the piss-sodden ground, or lolling, open-legged, upon stone beds covered with filthy straw.

The Beorning shouldered his bow, drew his elven knife, and strode on. The noise up ahead told him that he was close to the action and, peering cautiously through another gap in the stonework, he spotted Gimli knocking tad-dail down like skittles, whilst Myldreth, despite the hysterical woman hammering her back with tiny fists, was holding off a particularly amorous creature, using the knife he had given her.

Sighing, the Beorning waded in and, dropping the tad-dal with a quick, well-placed stab, he grasped Myldreth’s arm and pulled her—and her wailing sister with her—back to the postern and out into the sunlight.

Thank the fucking gods, he thought. Fresh air.

Eowyn examined the wax figures.

The female, on her hands and knees, was turning her missing head—which, separately, still smiled at some imaginary spectator—as the male figure entered her from behind. “I see what Haldir meant,” she said, thoughtfully. “There is something very distasteful about it. Do you think the children understood what was happening?”

“They did not seem at all upset by it, melmenya.”

“I wonder when the head came off—whether that was what broke the spell, and whether…” She gasped. “Lassui! I have an idea!”

“How many women are there?” asked Thorkell bogsveigir, dragging Myldreth and her sister over the grass.

“I saw two,” said Myldreth, “not including Annis; and three babies.”

“And I saw three. That gives us at least five women, and the gods only know how many babies. Can she tell us how many tad-dail?” He looked across the clearing, relieved to find that his men, with help from Gimli’s dwarves, had rounded up most of the stray creatures, and corralled them inside the gatehouse. Which only leaves those in the keep itself, he thought, unless more arrive… “You,” he roared at two of the dwarves, “go inside and get Lord Gimli out; drag him by the beard if you have to!”

“No,” said Myldreth, “she doesn’t know. But I can tell you that there were about thirty with me by the time we got here, and I know there were already more inside.”

“And we cannot smoke them out because of the bloody women and children… ”

Arinna was surprised to see Legolas and Eowyn back so soon, and calmly insisted on being present whilst they questioned Cyllien again.

“Thank you,” said Legolas. “I am sure that she will be more at ease with you sitting beside her, giving her support.”

The woman led them back into the dining chamber, sending Camthalion to fetch the elleth. Cyllien arrived after a brief interval, looking—Legolas thought—quite strange: Like Eowyn sometimes looks when she has been roused from a deep sleep…

Cyllien, aware of his scrutiny, ran a hand through her messy hair.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with us again.” Legolas gestured towards an empty chair. “We have something to show you.”

The elleth sat down; Eowyn set the wax statuette, its head still missing, in front of her.

“Well, it is a while since I saw one of those,” murmured Arinna.

“Do you recognise it, Cyllien?” asked Legolas.

The elleth frowned. “I—um—no…” She shook her head.

“Why should she?” asked Arinna, clearly taking her role as Cyllien’s advocate seriously.

“Because we know,” said Legolas, “from what Haldir has told us, that it appeared, mysteriously, in his house on the day that Heral was murdered. We believe that it was still there when my father brought Cyllien home that afternoon, but we know that it had gone by the time Haldir returned the following morning. And we have just found it on the flet directly beneath the building site where Heral was killed.” He studied Cyllien’s face. “Does no part of what I have said stir any memories?”

The elleth shook her head.

“Then I would like to try something,” said Eowyn. She took the wax head from the pouch at her waist, and re-attached it to the body, carefully smoothing over the join. “There,” she said, holding the statuette out to Cyllien, “take hold of it.”

The elleth stretched out her hand.

Eowyn placed it on her palm.

Suddenly—“Oh,” cried Cyllien, “oh, valar!”—she dropped the wax couple and tried to stand up, but knocked her chair over, and fell over it, landing awkwardly; then—panicking—she crawled away frantically, until she hit the wall and cried out—

“What is it, Cyllien?” Everyone was trying to help her—Camthalion, too, had appeared in the doorway—but Legolas reached her first, and knelt down beside her. “What have you remembered?” He laid a comforting hand upon her shoulder.

“No,” she screamed—“No! No!”—shying away from him like a frightened animal.

“Cami,” said Arinna, calmly, “bring me my vial of poppy juice, and a glass of wine; and then fetch a blanket. She turned to Legolas and Eowyn. “Please, my Lord, my Lady, leave her to me. I will send you word when she is ready to talk.”

From the comparative safety of the ruined gatehouse, with his prisoners safely trussed up in one corner, and his men repairing their weapons in another, and the women being fussed over by a healer, and the dwarf at his elbow—muttering that, had he not been interrupted, he would have killed at least twice the number—Thorkell bogsveigir surveyed the tad-dail’s stronghold.

It was time to decide their next move. “How many did you kill?” he asked.

“Three out here,” said Gimli, “and five inside.”

And they had taken eight prisoners. Which leaves at least fifteen, not counting the ones who were already inside—so maybe twice that—plus the bloody women, who may fight either way—to our twelve, thought the Beorning.

“And you?” asked the dwarf.

“Mm? Oh, one.” Thorkell noticed the expression on Gimli’s face, and added, “The one that counted.”

The dwarf growled.

Sighing, Thorkell looked up at the sky. “It will soon be dark.” And dark is to be avoided. He made a decision. “We must keep them contained until dawn.”

“Dawn? What about the lassies?” The dwarf climbed up beside him, and gazed out of the broken window.

“We will get them out in the morning.”

“But they are grubbing about on the floor in there, just skin and bone—and dirt, and fleas…”

“But safe until the morning. Look: you saw how she,”—he jerked his head towards Annis—“defended those things. If we attack in the dark, and the women fight us, the chances are that some will get killed; if we leave it until morning, when we can at least see what we are doing, their odds have got to be better. What is the worst that can happen to them overnight? Mmm? The creatures will ravish them again—something these women seem quite happy to allow.”

“Because,” said Gimli, as though speaking to an idiot, “they are enchanted.”

“And one more night will make no difference to that, either. Remember, we have the babies to get out in one piece, as well.”

Gimli sighed heavily. Then, “At first light,” he conceded.

“Good,” said Thorkell. “In the meantime, there seem to be two ways into the place, so we will station guards at both doors; we will send Otkel harthfari to Eryn Valen to fetch more men; and in the morning, as soon as the sun is over the roof, we will go in mob-handed.”

“Oh gods, Lassui! What have I done?” sobbed Eowyn.

They had fled to the walkway, just outside Arinna’s house. Legolas drew her close. “You have reversed whatever damage that thing was doing to her, melmenya.”

“But she was terrified!” Eowyn raised her head, and tears were streaming down her face. “I made her remember the murder.”

“No, melmenya. No…” Legolas raised a hand and gently brushed the tears from her cheeks. “It was I who frightened her—touching her. I think she was remembering Heral’s attack.”

“I should never have done it, Lassui.”

Legolas pulled her into his arms and held her tight. “Think of Haldir, my darling,” he said. “Think of how he was fading. That would have happened to Cyllien, too, I am sure of it. This fear of hers will pass. What Heral did to her—what she did to him—those are things that she must to come to terms with, one way or another, and the sooner she does, the better. She is in good hands. I have the feeling that Arinna has dealt with this sort of thing before.” He lifted Eowyn’s chin, and added, quite sternly, “The blame in this, melmenya, lies with Heral: it was he who created the figures; it was he who used them to have his way with Cyllien. Not you. You—”

“I wanted to know what had happened between them.”

“To prove that Cyllien had acted in self defence.”

Eowyn shook her head, and fresh tears ran down her cheeks.

“Melmenya?”

“To prove that Thorkell acted honourably, Lassui. To protect Thorkell. Not Cyllien.”

“Oh, melmenya…” He kissed her forehead. “Whatever your motive, Eowyn nín, you did not harm Cyllien. Trust me.” He kissed her again. “And the best thing to do now is keep looking for the truth. Come, my darling; you wanted to search Heral’s lodgings, and there is just time.”

“Did you mean it?” asked Myldreth. She had refused the draught that the dwarven healer had used to calm her sister, and had joined Thorkell bogsveigir, who was overseeing his men as they took up their positions for the night.

“Mean what?—Ligulf, you should be with Kenard’s lot.” He jogged along the wall, to the other band of men.

The girl followed. “That the women will be safer left in there overnight,” she persisted.

“Why should I not mean it?”

Myldreth shrugged. “I do not think you care two silver pieces about the women.”

The Beorning peered in through the doorway. “Any sign of them?”

“No, sir. And not a sound, either.”

“Carry on then—you are right,” he said to Myldreth, "I do not care. But Lord Legolas—and his Lady—care very much, and it is my duty to deliver what my Elvenlord’s son desires, even if it means locking horns with his best friend.”

The girl nodded, thoughtfully. “I have never met anyone like you, Master Thorkell.”

“No?” He stepped back from the castle wall, and surveyed the entire ruin, critically. “Tell me,”—he gestured towards the tad-dail, hidden within—“how did you resist them?”

The girl chuckled. “My stone ear.”

“Your stone what?”

“It is what my father calls it—a stone ear. My sisters are all musical; they play the cittern, they sing, they dance. All I hear is noise. Mostly, a very annoying noise.”

“So their enchantment had no effect on you.”

“None at all.”

“I see. Still, it was bravely done.”

“Thank you.” Myldreth edged closer. “You know—Thorkell—when this is over, you and I…” She turned, suddenly, staring at the warriors crowding around the holes in the castle walls. “My gods,” she gasped, “what are they doing?”

“Peeing,” said the Beorning. “Sealing the doors with their human scent. Well, you never know. It might deter them.”

“It might,” said Myldreth. “Yes, that is clever, Master Thorkell. Very clever indeed.”

“What are we looking for?” asked Legolas. He lifted the latch and pushed the door open.

Eowyn followed him into Heral’s dwelling. The room was small, and dark, and—

“I have smelled that strange mustiness before,” said Legolas.

Eowyn sniffed. “It is just the smell of a man’s chambers, Lassui, when he is not too particular about cleanliness.”

“I will open the windows.”

He pushed the shutters apart, admitting a flood of evening sunlight, and the couple exchanged glances for, although Heral’s home was reasonably tidy, the plates stacked in the sink were dirty, and the clothing piled upon the table was grubby, and the sheets on the unmade bed were soiled.

“He and Cyllien,” said Legolas, “were a pair in some respects.”

Eowyn crossed to the dresser. “I hoped that we might learn more about the wax figurines here,” she said, pulling out one of the drawers. “I have asked Master Bawden to question the other craftsmen, to see if anyone knows how to make the things safe, but Heral was obviously a master of the lore.”

“I wonder where he learned it.” Legolas searched the night stand.

“Bawden says that it is handed down, from father to son.” Eowyn opened a cupboard door. “Oh, Lassui, look! Beeswax and,”—she picked up an intricately carved wooden hairbrush—“I will wager that this is Cyllien’s—and that this is her hair.”

“And that,” said Legolas, pointing to a fine bone comb, “is probably Haldir’s.”

Eowyn opened another cupboard. “Do you think these are love potions?”

Legolas selected a brown glass bottle, drew out its cork, and—“Careful, Lassui,”—sniffed its contents. He shook his head. “It smells like an anodyne.” He handed it to Eowyn.

She sniffed deeply. “Perhaps he gave this to his victims, to keep them quiet,” she said. “It would explain why there were no reports of rape—if the women were drugged, they might not have known what had happened.”

“But Cyllien knew, melmenya,” said Legolas, picking up a small vial. “He hounded her. No, I still think that he enjoyed scaring them and making them struggle—well, look at this.” He showed her a monogram moulded into the glass. “This is Master Findecáno’s mark.”

“Findecáno? But he would never dispense anything that was not—”

“Medicinal,” said Legolas. “No. So Heral must have been sick, melmenya.” He replaced the vial.

“If it was serious,” said Eowyn, thinking aloud, “that might explain why he seemed to be growing more and more reckless.”

And,” said Legolas, “why he suddenly felt the need for a charm to help arouse him.”

Later, in the Banqueting Hall

The final feast of the Harvest Rite was well under way.

On the ceremonial threshing floor, a lovely elleth and a handsome elf gyrated to the sensuous strains of a flute, acting out in dance the fertility rite that Legolas and Eowyn would soon be performing to seal the colony’s future. The honoured guests, seated around the large, ring-shaped table, were enjoying the spectacle, their spirits clearly rising in anticipation of the revels that would follow.

Smiling happily, Eowyn turned to Legolas—and was shocked to see him looking pale, and drawn. “Lassui! Whatever is wrong?”

The elf leaned towards her, taking hold of her hand. “You are so beautiful,” he whispered, hoarsely, “so very, very desirable, and my loins are aching for you, but,”—swallowing hard, he drew her hand down into his groin, and pressed her fingers to his limp flesh—“I have a problem, melmenya.”

 

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Contents page

contents

Previous chapter: Dilemmas
Legolas faces a difficult decision; Eowyn does some DIY; Gimli and Thorkell go hunting.

chapter 8

Final chapter: Peace at last
The problem is solved.

chapter 10