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“Did you get any rest?” sighed Eowyn, pushing herself up on her elbow. She had found it hard to fall asleep herself but, some time in the early hours, exhaustion had overcome her and she had dozed fitfully until daybreak.

“I am fine,” said Legolas. He had set a wooden chest (painted with scenes of the Shire) beside her, covered it with a cloth (edged with fine Gondorian lace), and was laying out two wooden platters (carved with passages from the Life of Helm Hammerhand).

He opened up the Haradin chest in which he had secured their food, turning the key and sliding the various rods in and out in sequence to reveal its metal-lined compartment. “I should have put the poisons in here,” he said, lifting out the bread, cheese, and a jug of ale sealed with a cork. “I should have taken more care of them.”

“Oh, Lassui,” said Eowyn, gently, “it is not your fault.”

“Then whose is it?”

“His—hers—whoever took it,” she replied. “Here,”—she cut a piece of cheese and put it on his platter—“break your fast, then go and talk to Baldor.”

Legolas looked thoughtful. Suddenly, he grinned. “It can be very hard to maintain the appropriate level of guilt in your company, Melmenya.”


“Master Elf...” said Baldor, warily.

The ‘lurking’ servant had shown Legolas into a small chamber beneath the solar, a man’s private study, crammed—to Legolas’ surprise—with shelves of books, and with glass-fronted cabinets containing natural curiosities and scholarly instruments.

Baldor was sitting at his desk, writing a letter.

“I have bad news,” said Legolas.

Baldor’s manner softened. He gestured towards a stool and, out of politeness, Legolas sat down. “Someone has stolen a bottle of Wolfsbane from our poisons store,” the Elf explained. “It is a healing preparation which, I understand, may be used to treat the pain that comes with age, but which, if swallowed—”

“Is fatal,” said Baldor.


“And you think...”

“I fear,” said Legolas, “that whoever took it does not intend to use it for healing. Since the thief would have to have known that we stocked it, it is reasonable to assume that he—or she—has been a customer of ours, but that would not exclude your servants, the villagers—”

“Or members of my own family.”

“You may want to take precautions,” said Legolas, awkwardly. “To protect your family, I mean. And you will no doubt want to order a search for the poison.”

“Hmm.” Baldor leaned back in his chair. “When you walked through that door, Master Elf, I thought you had come to fleece me.”

Legolas frowned, genuinely puzzled. “Fleece you, my Lord?”

Baldor laughed, and clapped his hands together loudly. “You really are as naïve as you look,” he said. “Or is it honour?”

“I don’t...”

“You saved my life, Master Elf. That is one debt I owe you. And you found my missing nieces. That is another. But you really have no interest in gain, do you? Strange in a merchant...” He looked at Legolas speculatively. “I am about to ride up to Wyrm’s Hollow, to supervise the recovery of my nieces’ remains. Will you accompany me?”

Legolas was eager to help lay the two women to rest, and to have the opportunity to find the final missing body, but there was something else that needed dealing with first: “The poison, my Lord.”

“My steward will deal with that. ULRIC!”

The door opened, and the Lurker entered, and Legolas was reminded of one of Gimli’s sayings, about a fox being left in charge of a hen house.


Eowyn dressed carefully, selecting a gown of lavender silk and dressing her hair with a fillet of moonstones, then went in search of the serving girl, Eldit.

She found her sweeping out the Great Hall, and offered to help.

“Oh, no, my Lady,” said the girl, scandalised. “You would ruin your lovely gown.” She had drawn up her own skirts and tucked them in her belt, and was negotiating the ruins of the previous night’s feast—food scraps, spilled ale, spittle, and worse—with care. “You might, though,” she added, shyly, “help me spread the fresh rushes later, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“I’d be happy to.”

Eowyn perched herself on one of the chairs, and watched the girl work.

It made her feel uncomfortable. In her uncle’s Hall she had paid no attention to the servants who had seen to her every need, and—though during the war she had taken care of herself, and others—in Eryn Carantaur the elves performed their chores so inconspicuously, the cleaning seemed to do itself...

All in all, she was relieved when Eldit finished the dirty work, and she was able to help with the more pleasant task of scattering the sweet rushes. It gave her the chance to draw the girl into conversation, beginning with a few casual remarks about the weather, then gradually encouraging her to talk about her own family—about her widowed mother, and her four younger brothers.

“Do you have a moment to come over to the barn?” she asked, realising that it would be prudent to take Eldit somewhere more private before asking her about Lady Gléowyn and her sons. “I have some scented soap your mother might like.”

“I have no money, my Lady,” said Eldit, embarrassed.

“Oh, I did not mean—I would not dream of asking you for money.”


Eowyn gave a small shrug. “You have a good mother, and she deserves something a little special,” she admitted, honestly.

“Perhaps I could do some work for you, my Lady,” said Eldit.

“Yes! You could come to the cartwright’s with me, and help me rescue the lace.”

“At midday,” said Eldit.

“I shall be in the barn.”


Wyrm’s Hollow was transformed.

A small army of men—amongst them Ealdfrith, and the young giant, Algar—had beaten a path through the Dragon Flame and, kneeling beside the remains of the bodies, were gathering up the ashes and transferring them to separate chests with a care Legolas found deeply moving.

Baldor dropped from his horse and went to inspect their work. Legolas dismounted and, murmuring, “Avo visto, Firebrand,” followed him.

“How much longer will it take?” asked Baldor, waving away the men’s attempts to show respect.

Ealdfrith looked unhappy. “It’s slow work, my Lord, for we must be careful.”

“Better to fetch back some earth,” said his master, “than to risk leaving anything behind.”

“Thank you, my Lord. That will make the job easier. We should be finished before nightfall, in that case.”


“Have you found any more bodies, Master Ealdfrith?” asked Legolas.

Baldor looked up in surprise. “You think there are more?” He seemed shaken. “Well, you are welcome to look, Master Elf.”

Legolas gave him a sharp nod, as though accepting an order, then waded out into the Dragon Flame and, letting his mind clear, reached out with his Elven senses, searching.

The forest was no longer angry—a small smile of relief curved his lips—and the desperate sense of sadness and loss, which had so disoriented him when he had come here with Eowyn, was no longer clouding his inner vision. He looked, listened, felt, and—yes—sensed another presence, somewhere up ahead.

Slowly, he walked forward until he was sure he had found the place, then he drew one of his white knives and, crouching down, began to cut away the Dragon Flame.

A while later, he rose, and surveyed the remains he had uncovered.

It was the charred body of an enormous hound.


“The soap,” said Eowyn. She had selected a large cake, made in Far Harad from the finest olive oil, perfumed with rose water and a hint of ginger, and wrapped in an exotic leaf.

Eldit picked it up, and smelled it. “Oh, my Lady! It’s lovely.”

“Good,” said Eowyn, smiling. “Now,”—she took up her carpet bag—“let us go to the cartwright’s.”

It was a fine, bright day, and the two women walked side-by-side, talking and laughing, and it did not take Eowyn long to steer the conversation towards life at the manor, nor to realise that the poor girl was sweet on Guthmer.

“I hope,” she said, softly, “that he treats you with the respect due to a free woman and a good servant.”

“Oh, yes, my Lady,” said Eldit, earnestly. “Oh, I know they say Master Guthmer’s wild and all, but he’d never try to force himself on a good girl.”

Eowyn wondered what that made her. “And his brother,” she said, anxious to learn as much as she could before they reached the cartwright’s workshop, “what is he like?” She was surprised to see the girl hesitate, biting her lip as though she were trying to think of a tactful answer. “He seems,” she prompted, “shy...”

“Master Thengel is quiet, my Lady, it’s true, but I wouldn’t say he was shy...” She looked away, trying to hide the deep blush that had spread across her face.

“Would he ever force himself on a girl, Eldit?” she asked, gently.

“What makes you ask that?”

“Well... I can see that he makes you uncomfortable.”

“It’s just something I saw him do, my Lady, years ago—”

But they had reached the cartwright’s workshop, and Eldit fell silent. Eowyn could have cursed.


Baldor gave orders for the hound’s remains to be buried where they lay, then he and Legolas started back, riding slowly down the narrow trail, and side-by-side across the Mering Bridge, each deep in his own thoughts.

Legolas was wondering how much he dared reveal to Baldor.

The man was arrogant, with a casual contempt for those he considered his inferiors. But no more so, Legolas thought, than many of the noble Men, Elves, and Dwarves I have encountered. And, like them, he has a sense of honour. And I believe he is troubled by the discovery...

“You recognised the dog,” he ventured, quietly.

Baldor turned, his thoughts still far away. “The dog?” he said. Then he remembered himself. “Oh, the dog. Yes. It belonged to my elder son.”

“And you know who is responsible for its death,” said Legolas.

Baldor shook his head, though whether he was denying the knowledge, or whether he was simply refusing to answer, Legolas could not be sure. “Guthmer,” he said, “came to me yesterday with some nonsensical tale about your wife’s being an agent of the King.” He gave Legolas a sharp, searching look. “And you, Master Elf... You are no merchant. Who are you?”

“No one,” said Legolas. And then, because lying troubled him, he added, “That is, I have no official standing here.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

Legolas made his decision: “I was asked to find the remains of your nieces.”

“By whom?”

“Someone close to the King,” he replied, warming to telling half-truths. “Someone who knew them.”

“A suitor, no doubt,” said Baldor. “Béma knows, there were enough of them. Sometimes... Sometimes they seemed to think they would get the pair...”

“You,” pressed Legolas, “wanted them to marry your sons.”

“Our law does not forbid it, Master Elf. And it would have kept Mereworth in the family.”

But instead, thought Legolas, their deaths did that. “What happened?” he asked. “When they disappeared? And why is Holdred son of Walda lying with them?”


Eowyn climbed up into the wagon and, carefully detaching and untangling the lengths of lace and ribbon, passed them down to Eldit, who rolled them, and stowed them in the bag. Eowyn had little interest in the lace itself, but she had thought that the work, being companionable, would put the girl at ease and make it easier to coax gossip from her.

Unfortunately, Lionel Cartwright, having made a promise to Legolas, was busy at his bench and, when his wife called him for his midday meal, he refused to stop working and, instead, asked her to bring his food into the workshop.

Eowyn had just conceded defeat, and climbed down, when the workshop doors flew open and the Lurker rushed in, followed by a handful of Baldor’s servants.

“Search the place!” he barked. Then, spotting Eldit, he shouted, “What d’you think you’re doing here, girl? Get back to work! Go on! Back to the manor!”

Eldit ran from the workshop, sobbing.

The men began tearing everything apart, pushing lengths of timber aside and shoving things off the workbench. One of them climbed into the wagon.

“No,” cried Lionel Cartwright. “Please! Be careful!” He tried to protect the panel he had been working on. “Why are you doing this?”

“We’re looking for the poison you lost.” The Lurker’s eyes were fixed on Eowyn.

“It is not here!” she said, angrily. “A child could see that it would not be here! Why would a thief go to all the trouble of taking it from the cabinet and leave it here? You should be—”

“Shut your mouth!” He slapped her across the face with the back of his hand.

Eowyn, taken by surprise, staggered backwards, one hand coming up—too late—to protect herself, the other reaching, through the fabric of her skirts, for her hunting knife... But she realised that she could not draw it without exposing her legs to the Lurker and his friends and, instead, she seized a chisel.

“Get out of here,” she growled, drawing herself up to her full height and advancing on him, every inch the Lady of the Shield Arm.

And, to her surprise, the Lurker gestured angrily to his men, and they left.






Chapter 10
Legolas and Eowyn make a worrying discovery.

Chapter 10

Chapter 12
Legolas foils a poisoner; Eowyn fights for her life.

Chapter 12

Eowyn's lilac gown

lilac gown