“Why would he do that?” asked Eowyn.

She had waited until the enthusiastic crowd had finally let Legolas go before, taking advantage of the sudden bustle of activity (as everyone turned to striking camp), she had drawn him aside, anxious to break the news. But Legolas had spoken first, voicing his suspicion that Thorkell bogsveigir had deliberately lost the contest.

“I have no idea why, melmenya—nor why he challenged me in the first place.”

“Well, until this morning, I would have said that that was sheer arrogance—”

“What happened this morning?”

“You had better sit down.”

Legolas looked at her curiously. “I am not a man, melmenya—you can just tell me what happened—did he—you spoke to him, before the archery drill—did he—misbehave?”

“Misbehave?” Her eyes widened. “You mean—”

“He desires you.”

Eowyn was incredulous. “He hates me, Lassui!” She remembered the wink the man had given her as Haldir was dragging him away, but she deliberately pushed it out of her mind. “He hates us all.”

“He likes to provoke you. He likes to see you angry—”

“He likes to provoke everyone.”

“But you are so lively when you are angry, melmenya. So,”—he suddenly caught her in his arms—“you are so desirable, meleth nín. Men like him do not dare be gentle, so they court women with taunts and insults. I want you to be very careful in future—”

“Gods,” said Eowyn, pulling away. “Are things not bad enough?”

He followed her down the river bank. “What do you mean? Melmenya?”

“I have been trying to tell you.” She turned and, grasping his hands, drew him close and spoke quietly. “That third messenger—the one who caught your eye…” She explained about Gunnhildr and the cloth man. “Lord Fingolfin has hidden her.”

Legolas glanced back at the camp site. There was still much to do: it would, perhaps, be half an hour before the cavalcade was ready to move off. “Well, maybe we should sit down for a while.” He slipped off his cloak and laid it on the grass. “There…”

They sat, side-by-side, watching the river flow by and, for a few moments, neither spoke. Then Eowyn said, “What are we going to do, Lassui?”

“My father predicted that this would happen,” said Legolas. “He told me to be careful—he was afraid it might lead to war.”

Eowyn touched his hand. “No. Lord Fingolfin does not believe so, and I think he is right. Bergthórr beytill knows that the Beornings are no match for the combined might of Rohan, Mirkwood, and Eryn Carantaur—he will not risk starting a war he cannot win. He will use the law…” She fell silent again.

“We should send her back.”

“Yes. But you do not want to.”

“I—something feels wrong to me, melmenya. Something… Does Berryn really love her? Or is he just being gallant?”

“I was doubtful, too,” said Eowyn. “But when I saw them together—when he was planning run away to Far Harad with her—then, yes, it seemed real enough.”

“Sewing a cloth man,” said Legolas, shaking his head. “It is like a tale of romance.”

“The heroines of romances are often escaping from cruel parents.”

“Yes.” Legolas frowned. “Perhaps that is what I sense… We will let her stay,” he decided.

Eowyn squeezed his hand.

“But we will send word to her father telling him that she has joined the colony of her own free will,” he continued. “We will assure him that she is under our protection, and that both her life and her honour are safe—”

He will say that she is a minor and legally incapable of making that decision for herself. He will appeal to your father, Lassui—or to Aragorn—for support.”

“Then we will argue that, whilst she resides in the colony, she is subject to elven law.”

“So he will take her by force—or have her kidnapped.”

“Not if what he really wants is to bargain with us,” said Legolas.

“And will you? Bargain with him?”

“That will entirely depend,” he answered, “on what he is asking for.”

Legolas helped Eowyn to her feet.

“Do you think,” she asked, “that he let me win, too?”

“Thorkell bogsveigir?” Legolas picked up his cloak and shook it, lightly. “No, melmenya. No—your blow took him by surprise—I saw his face.”

“So—if it was not planned, can we assume that he is not a spy?”

Legolas offered her his arm and they walked slowly back to the cavalcade. “I suppose it is still possible,” he said, “that Bergthórr saw the opportunity to place a man in our camp and seized it… But that would assume that Master Bowswayer has the wit to act without direct orders—”

“I think he has.”

Legolas nodded. “It also assumes that Bergthórr can count on his unswerving loyalty.”

“That I am not so sure of,” admitted Eowyn. “He seems to despise Bergthórr—‘a small man with small ambitions’ he called him. Of course, that may have been an act, to throw me off the scent…” She thought of the man’s arrogance—and remembered the wink. “Gods,” she sighed, “I should have killed him when I had the chance!”

That evening

As the light started to fade the cavalcade drew to a halt. The company dismounted and, whilst Legolas was occupied supervising the siting of the latrines, Eowyn found herself wandering along the lightly wooded embankment to the west of the new camp site.

She needed to think.

The journey had been surprisingly uneventful. Legolas, fully knowing the risks, had offered Gunnhildr his protection and the girl had gratefully accepted it. For the rest of the day she had ridden openly at Berryn’s side. But Thorkell bogsveigir—quieter than Eowyn had ever seen him—had, as far as she could tell, paid no attention to his former lord’s daughter.

Strange, she thought. Though she was almost convinced that Bergthórr had genuinely abandoned his former champion, she did not put it past Thorkell to try to win back his favour…

Which only added to the anxiety she had been feeling all day.

Since he winked at me, she realised.

Since Legolas said that he desired me.

“Where is Eowyn?”

“Eowyn…” Eomer scanned the camp site. “I have not seen her since she dismounted. She must be in the woods.” His hand automatically moved to the hilt of his sword.

Legolas laid a restraining hand on the man’s arm. “She is probably just finding somewhere to relieve herself. I will look down by the river. You stay here.” When Eomer seemed unconvinced, he added, “Do you want to face the wrath of a Shieldmaiden?”

“No. But…” Eomer handed the elf his hunting horn. “Sound it if you need me. I will have Gimli and Haldir ready.”

He is planning something, thought Eowyn, but what? Does he think that he can make me his—what? An image of Thorkell bogsveigir, hovering over her, suddenly filled her head.

Oh no, she thought. No! No! No! And, in frustration, she drew her sword. He can try; but he will find me a dangerous quarry.

Ox! She raised her sword to the first position, hands above her head, blade horizontal, pointing at her imaginary enemy’s face. Plough! Sweeping her hands down to her hip, she held him back, threatening to slice through his throat. Fool! Dropping the sword’s point and keeping it low, she invited him strike—leaving himself open… Over the roof! Then she whipped up her hands, splitting the bastard from groin to throat.

And, in her moment of triumph, she failed to notice the rustle of leaves behind her.



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This starts at the same time as The March Warden.


Sword positions
Details of Eowyn’s sword drill.