Haldir ran back into the house.

Dínendal was crossing the entrance hall, supporting the distraught father who had earlier attacked Eowyn—and, to the left of the main staircase, four men were racing down the corridor towards him.

Haldir raised his bow. "Get him out—take the horses," he hissed urgently. "Get him up to the Citadel, as quickly as you can."

"I will," said Dínendal, dragging the man through the door.

The servants were almost in the hallway. Haldir loosed two warning shots. Three of the men threw themselves to the ground, but the fourth kept running. Haldir nocked another arrow and shot him in the shoulder. The man stumbled and fell.

"Your master will not reward you for losing your lives," said Haldir in his most imperious voice. "Take your wounded comrade, go back down the corridor and stay there. If you are sensible, there is no reason why you cannot survive this."

He nocked another arrow, drew, and awaited their reaction.

After a few moments, one of the men crawled cautiously forward and began to drag his injured friend towards the kitchen. Slowly, all four men retreated.

Haldir lowered his bow, but kept the arrow nocked.

It is quiet upstairs, he thought, so I can probably ignore the main staircase. But if I were in the kitchen, I would send someone around the outside of the house to attack from the front. And I cannot hold both the corridor and the door

"Haldir! What is happening?" called Eomer, emerging from the spiral stair, followed by Berkin and Gimli.

"Your Majesty," said Haldir, "quickly, defend the door! I have driven the servants back towards the kitchens, but there is nothing to stop them coming round the front—we must leave immediately."

"No! No," cried Berkin, "we cannot leave yet, my lords. I still need to find my father's papers and the evidence against Berodin."

He limped over to the corridor. "Can you hear me?" he called to the servants. "It is Master Berkin. I want you to know that I am with these people of my own free will. I beg you not to risk your lives on my account." He turned to the others. "That should persuade at least two of them to do nothing," he said, softly.

"Do you know where these papers are, lad?" asked Gimli.

"In my uncle's study, through there," said Berkin.

"Come on then."

The boy and the dwarf disappeared into the study. Haldir and Eomer exchanged worried looks. "I think we may be here for some time, your Majesty," said Haldir.


"How is he?" asked Edric.

"In tupping pain," gasped Penda.

Olemi tore open the injured man's tunic and gently examined the wound.

"Shit!" cried Penda.

"He is fortunate," said Olemi, "it is only a flesh wound—I imagine the elf knew what he was doing. And the arrowhead does not appear to be barbed—so, if you let me pull it out for you straightaway, and clean and dress the wound, you should be fine."

Penda looked doubtful, but agreed.

"I will need some help," said Olemi to the others. "Edric—I will need you to hold him down. Admant—boil some water and find some clean cloths and soap. And some spirits—try the pantry."

"We cannot just stay here playing at healers whilst there are strangers in Lord Berodin's house," said Osuald.

"Why not?" asked Admant, filling a kettle. "You heard Master Berkin. He is in no danger. And anyway..." He hesitated for a moment, gathering his courage, then added, firmly, "And anyway, Berodin has no right to keep the lad locked up, so maybe it is for the best."

Edric murmured in agreement.

"That's as may be," said Osuald, "but Berodin will have our hides if we let those bastards escape. Come on Ricbert, we'll see if we can get help elsewhere. The rest of you can do as you please—but you'll come with us if you have any sense."


Gimli looked around the study. "Where do we start?" he asked.

"The desk," said Berkin, pointing to a strange piece of furniture in the far corner of the room. "It has a hidden strongbox. My father showed it to me as a child, but I do not remember where it was."

Gimli looked at the desk.

It was a curiosity—as tall as a man—in the shape of an elegant four-storied town house, its steep pitched 'roof' painted to look like tiles, its 'walls' painted to look like stone. The top storey consisted of an upwards-opening door, suspended on chains and decorated with four roundels depicting Childhood, Adolescence, Manhood, and Old Age. Beneath that were two shallow cupboards and a central drawer, carved to look like supporting beams. The next storey was much deeper and contained one large cupboard on the left—its folding door decorated with images of Love and Learning—and two alcoves on the right—arched like the gates of Minas Tirith and filled with shelves of books. Below that, and equally deep, was a single locked door—decorated with painted 'statues' of the legendary Kings of Gondor—that folded down to form a writing desk. And finally, beneath the desk, there was an arched recess, containing two large, plain boxes, one labelled Letters and the other Accounts.

"My mother had it made for my father," said Berkin, proudly. "The image of Love is her portrait."

"She was very beautiful," said Gimli.

"Do you suppose that the images are clues to the whereabouts of the strongbox?" said Berkin.

"They may well be," said Gimli, "but a sensible dwarf has more practical ways of solving puzzles." He drew out a small, bone-handled hunting knife and began tapping the sides of the desk. Berkin watched, with fascination.

"This is wood, not stone, but it should still be possible to—did you hear that?" Gimli asked.

"No..." said Berkin.

"It was a duller sound." He examined the bookshelves carefully. "By Aulë," he said, "the books are not real!"

Berkin tried to pull one out. "You are right! But they are so convincing," he said, "with their leather bindings. The strongbox must be behind them, but how does it open?"

Gimli examined the front and side of the desk, looking for any signs of a catch or a hinge, but with no success. "It must open from inside the cupboard," he said.

"Behind my mother's portrait," said Berkin, smiling.

They opened the door, pulled out the few items inside, and tried to find the mechanism to unlock the compartment. Gimli shook his head, "I think that—time being pressing—and with your permission—I should use my axe," he said.

"Yes," said Berkin.

Gimli drew his axe and swung it at the false books. The wood and leather splintered, but the blow stopped short with a dull clang. "It is metal-lined," said Gimli. "I may have to do more damage than I had hoped."

Berkin nodded.

Gimli stepped to the side of the desk, repositioned his hands on the axe, shifted his weight on his hips, and swung again. The front face of the bookcase peeled away from the desk; the concealed compartment was open.

Berkin reached inside, pulled out a pouch filled with papers, and thrust it down the front of his ragged shirt. "Let us go!" he said.

"A moment," said Gimli. He drew his small throwing axe and delicately removed the cupboard door. "We cannot leave her behind in this place," he said, handing Berkin his mother's portrait.

"Thank you, Gimli," said Berkin, smiling.


After careful consideration, Eomer had decided to leave the front door open.

He had checked the windows on the ground floor and all were barred, which meant that the door was their only means of escape. He reasoned that it would be far safer to clear attackers from an open door than to throw open a closed door not knowing what was outside...

"It is too quiet," he said, checking the rath from behind the mantlet he had improvised from an upturned table. Though he was not particularly proficient, he dearly wished he had a bow; something with a good range. "How much longer are they going to be?"

There was a loud crash from the direction of the study.

Then another.

Eomer glanced at Haldir—the elf had not moved. In fact, Eomer could swear that the elf had not so much as breathed in the past fifteen minutes.

"They are coming," said Haldir, suddenly.

"Who?" asked Eomer, gripping his staff.

"Gimli and the boy."

The study door opened and the boy rushed out, followed by the dwarf. "We have the papers!" said Berkin.

"Good," said Eomer. "Now, how are we going to get out?"

"Where is your horse?" asked Haldir.

"Down by the fifth gate," said Eomer. "Too far away."

"Eowyn left her horse untethered," said Gimli, "like Legolas does, so she could summon him with a whistle."

Haldir smiled. "Yes. I had forgotten. We will make an elf of her yet. Watch the corridor, Gimli." He turned to the boy. "When I call the horse you must be ready to mount it—can you do that?"

"I will do my best," said Berkin.

"Brightstar is a good horse; he will help you. Are we all ready?"

"Yes," said Eomer.

"Give me your mother, lad; I will take good care of her," said Gimli. He pushed the piece of cupboard down his belt and turned to Haldir. "Aye," he said, "we are ready."

Eomer and Haldir stood either side of the door. Haldir whistled, and the horse seemed to appear from nowhere. "Now!" cried Haldir. "Follow us, Berkin!"

The man and the elf ran down the steps and stood either side of the horse. Berkin staggered behind them and threw himself at the horse's back. Gimli grabbed his waist and pushed him upwards...

Two men leaped out of the passageway. One ran towards Eomer brandishing a long knife, but Eomer dispatched him with two blows of the staff. The second kept his distance, watching Haldir intently.

Berkin struggled to mount Brightstar.

Three archers stepped from a doorway further down the rath and took aim; four more men, armed with swords, ran to back them up; and at least ten more archers appeared on the rooftops around the gate.

The way to the Citadel was blocked but, at last, Berkin was astride the horse.

"Gimli," said Haldir, calmly, "take the boy and head for the Golden Goose; your Majesty, you follow them."

His bow still drawn, the elf stood at the corner of Ostrad Tinnu, covering their departure.

The archers, knowing that the first man to try shooting an elf would die, watched and waited, but the second man from the passageway had begun to move, slowly raising his hand to swing something around his head.

Haldir knew that the moment he gave the man his full attention the archers would shoot. From the corner of his eye he watched the man's hand, trying to understand what was happening. What is he holding? he wondered. Why is he swinging... Orc's breath, the weighted cord! And the archers are raising their bows...

Moving with elven speed Haldir loosed his arrow and threw himself towards Ostrad Tinnu.

The bolus-thrower howled in pain.

A hail of arrows fell on the paved rath.

But the elf had already gone.


"Lord Berodin," said Captain Berctuald, catching up with the man as he passed through the fifth gate, "we have had reports of a disturbance at your house. Allow us to escort you home."

Berodin bowed stiffly. "That will not be necessary, Captain," he said, coldly. "I am sure that whatever you have heard has been wildly exaggerated. My servants are good men, but some of them can be a little high-spirited when they have been drinking, and then the neighbours complain. I will deal with this. Please do not trouble yourself."

"The King has ordered me to investigate, my lord," said Berctuald, firmly.

The rath was quiet as they approached the house, but Berctuald noticed several men lurking in doorways and a telltale splash of fresh blood on the pavement.

"Your door is wide open, my lord," he said. "Please wait here—"

"Captain, I have told you—"

"I have been ordered to ensure your safety, my lord," Berctuald lied, "please wait here. Offa, Hengist, follow me."

The men dismounted, drew their swords, and cautiously entered the house. Berctuald scanned the hallway. There were several doors to the left, one of them open, a passageway to the servants' quarters, a broad central staircase, and a small open door, almost concealed beneath the main stairs, leading to a spiral stair.

"Offa, fetch Glimal, Marol and Nishryn. Send two of them up the main stairs to look for any sign of intruders. You take the other man up that spiral staircase—I want to know what is hidden up there. Hengist, come with me."

Berctuald moved cautiously from door to door, inspecting the rooms. The open door led to a study—uncluttered, precisely ordered. The retreat of a man who likes to be in control, he thought, but that folly of a writing desk is out of place. And someone has taken an axe to it. What were they looking for? Money? No, money would be somewhere more obviously secure. Papers...

Berctuald turned to Hengist. "Let us check the kitchen," he whispered.

They crept down the corridor and entered the kitchen with swords raised.

"What is going on here?" Berctuald asked, sternly.

A drunken woman was lolling in a chair by the fire, three servants were removing an arrow from a man's hand, and a fifth man was sitting at the kitchen table, his left arm in a sling, his right hand raising a large measure of spirits to his lips.

One of the servants tending the wounded man—a commanding, intelligent-looking fellow who reminded Berctuald of Prince Faramir—looked up from his task and said, "It is nothing, Captain. Just a foolish, drunken dispute."

"And the robbery?"

"What robbery, Captain?"

"Someone has broken into the desk in your master's study."

"I know nothing about that, Captain."

"Can you deal with these injuries by yourself?"

"Yes, Captain."

Berctuald and Hengist returned to the entrance hall, where Offa was already waiting for them. "There is no one in the main part of the building—and nothing up the spiral stairs now, Captain," he said, "but it is obvious that someone has been kept prisoner there. Very recently."

Berctuald nodded. "Say nothing of what you have seen in front of Lord Berodin," he said. It appears that the King's friends have already escaped, he thought, and have taken someone—and something—with them.

He walked out into the rath.

"My lord," he said, "your house is safe, but your servants are in disarray and you appear to have been robbed. I have no way of knowing what might have been taken."

Berctuald saw panic flicker across Berodin's face. "It is unlikely to have been anything of consequence, Captain," he said. "I thank you for your assistance. Good evening."

Berctuald had been dismissed. He bowed his head briefly, then mounted his horse and led his company back to the Citadel.


By the time Haldir caught up with the others they had reached the Golden Goose, and were lifting Berkin down from the horse. "Quickly," said the elf, "inside."

Berkin smirked at Gimli. "I have always wondered what it looked like," he said. "The sign is a nice touch!"

"Behave yourself," said Gimli, opening the door. "You are a married man."

"Of course," replied Berkin. "Of course."

Haldir followed the others into the tavern and looked around anxiously, but the parlour was empty except for an elderly man asleep by the fire.

"Master Fingolfin, Master Norin," cried Silrim, "welcome, welcome! And you have brought more friends with you." He looked curiously at Eomer, but said nothing. "A pity the fair gentleman is not with you"—he winked—"tell him I have another fine young man he might enjoy introducing to the pleasures of the bedroom—"

"We need a room for the night," said Haldir, curtly. "And we need your silence."

The landlord considered the elf's request. "Do you want a woman?" he asked.


"A boy?"


Silrim looked at Berkin. "It will cost you extra if you plan to use your own," he said.

Berkin laughed delightedly. "Master Silrim," he said, "you are every bit as dishonourable as your reputation suggests!"

"Do I know you, young master?" asked Silrim, haughtily.

"Berkin, son of Alrin, at your service," said Berkin, with an unsteady bow. "I believe my account is in credit."

"Master Berkin! Yes sir! Of course, sir! Come this way."

"We will want some food," said Berkin, limping up the stairs after the landlord. "And something to drink. And it is very important that you do not tell my uncle's men that we are here—there will be a bonus for you if we spend the night undisturbed."

"I understand, sir," said Silrim. "Incognito, as they say. In here, sir." He ushered them into his 'front room' with its bath and mirrored bed and manacles. "I will send one of the girls up with some food. You can keep her, too, if you like—on the house."

"That will not be necessary, Master Silrim," said Berkin. "Thank you, but I am a married man."


"Oh, Legolas..."

Still half-asleep, Eowyn opened her legs and sighed contentedly as his hardness entered her. "Oh," she whispered, "oh yes..."

She sank back into the bed and smiled luxuriously—his deep thrusts and long, slow withdrawals were unbearably beautiful.

She wanted them to last forever.


Her eyes flew open. "Legolas!" she cried, "we should not be doing this! You are injured."

She looked up at him. His bruises had already faded and his wound had healed over. But his fear—raw and visceral—was still there, plain in the frown on his beautiful face.

"Oh, my love," she whispered.

And, not knowing how else to comfort him, she wrapped her arms and legs around him and willingly gave him her body.


Gimli had laid the food out on a strange wooden contraption that he had dragged out from beside the bath, and had gathered together various objects that could be used as stools.

Haldir was keeping a discreet watch at the window.

Berkin sat down at the 'table'. "It is hard not to think about what this—um—equipment might have been used for in the past," he said. Eomer grunted in agreement. "But it is preferable to sitting on the bed. And this will be the first real food I have eaten in—oh, ages. I will probably make myself ill."

He took a large bite of fresh bread and a mouthful of roasted ham. "Delicious," he said.

Gimli grinned. "You enjoy it, lad!"

"How do you plan to get out of here?" Berkin asked.

"We will wait until morning," said Haldir, "then we will find a safe route to the Citadel."

"I have heard," said the lad, between mouthfuls, "that there is a network of caves running up through the Hill of Guard—an alternative set of raths, if you like, used by thieves and smugglers."

"Caves do not usually form in this type of rock," said Gimli, doubtfully.

"They are manmade," said Berkin. "They were originally separate cellars but, over time, they have been joined together. Perhaps Master Silrim will know something about them. If he does, I am sure that we can persuade him to help us get into them. We could probably hire a guide..."

"Where are you getting your money from, lad?" asked Gimli.

"Ah," said Berkin. "My father left me well provided for." He paused. "My father had a suspicion that Berodin would try to kill him, so he made sure that I would have someone to protect me, and enough money to live on."

"Olemi," said Gimli.

"Yes," said Berkin. "We will need to make sure that he and Admant get out of this unharmed."

"Of course," said Eomer. "What other retainers do you have?"

Berkin laughed. "I like to think of most of them as friends," he said. "There is Mistress Aedilhild—she was my mother's nurse; Sigbert, one of the Gondorian Guard; the Mayor, Lord Olivan—his wife and my mother were close friends; Master Cuthbert, the Royal Healer; and, of course, Silrim, though he knows nothing of my plans."

"The assassin, Alchfrid, told us that you bribed him to save some of your uncle's victims," said Eomer.

"When I could," said Berkin.

"How did you keep track of what was happening outside the house?"

"I got information through Olemi and Admant. The hard part was having to remember it all—I could not write it down. But, then, I had little else to think about." said Berkin. "Except Lëonórwyn, of course."

"What evidence do you have against your uncle?" asked Eomer.

Berkin removed the leather pouch from inside his shirt. "The Gondorian Guard investigated my parents' deaths and Lord Olivan has obtained a copy of their report. Someone had cut the fingers from their left hands.

"And in here"—he reached into the pouch, and drew out two gold rings, which he laid on the 'table'—"are my parent's wedding rings, engraved with their names. Berodin's trophies," he added, bitterly.


The being of light had returned.

"My lord?" whispered Legolas, shielding his eyes.

"Why are you so afraid, Legolas?" asked the being. "You wanted to share your life with a mortal, and the Valar granted your wish. You wanted her for all eternity, and I have shown you what the future may hold. Why do you still fear?"

Legolas' eyes filled with tears. "I am weak," he said.

"No, Tithen Lassui," said the being, gently, "you are not weak. You have more than enough strength for the task ahead, and you have a brave young wife to aid you. You fear because you do not trust. Follow the true path, my child, trust the Valar, and fear no more."

The being placed its hand on the elf's head in blessing, then faded away.


Eomer waited until both Berkin and Gimli had started snoring. "What was that business about Legolas and boys?" he asked Haldir. "Is he a tunic lifter?"

"No!" said Haldir, trying to forget his own earlier suspicions. "No, of course not! Legolas immediately realised that the boy was Lëonórwyn in disguise and pretended to hire 'him' so that they could speak in private."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I am."

"Then why is he so..." Eomer sighed. "Arwen's brothers are—well, they are characters. But at least it is clear what sex they are. And you—you are obviously a man—"

"A man?"

"A male. But Legolas is so—so pretty. And it is not just his looks," said Eomer. "It is the way he plays with her—washes her, dresses her, carries her everywhere. The gods help us if she ever gets pregnant! He will probably have morning sickness with her. He will want us all to feel her belly. He will hold her hand while she gives birth."

"Did you not do that for your wife?"

"Certainly not!

"If I were married to Eow—to someone like Eowyn, I would do all that with her and more," said Haldir. "I would want to share everything with her, just as Legolas does."

"It is not masculine," said Eomer.

"Why?" asked Haldir.

"Because men were made stronger and less emotional than women and women were made softer and more caring than men. It is a man's task go out into the world and make it safe for his woman and children, and it is a woman's task to stay at home and take care of her husband's sons. That is how it should be. At the end of the day they may come together, but they do not spend their entire lives holding each other's hands."

"For an elf, masculine and feminine are not opposites," said Haldir. "Your sister is a remarkable woman—brave and strong but gentle and loving. No elf would try to restrain her. She..." Haldir's voice fell to a whisper. "I owe her my life."

"Does Legolas know?" asked Eomer.

"Know what?"

"How you feel about Eowyn?"

"Yes," said Haldir.

Eomer sighed. "See—a man would not countenance that. A man would send you away."


"To protect his wife!"

"Do you not trust your sister?"

"Of course I do."

"Then you think that I might take her by force?"

Eomer stared at him. "No," he admitted. "But a man would be jealous."

Haldir nodded. "A man would send his wife's unfortunate admirer away and make an enemy of him, instead of keeping him nearby as a friend, ready to protect his wife if ever he himself were unable."

"Is that the arrangement?"

Haldir said nothing.

"Does Eowyn know she has been bequeathed to you?"

Haldir looked uncomfortable.

Eomer laughed mirthlessly. "She would certainly have something to say about it if she did! And are you sure you are up to the task of 'protecting' my sister?"

"Yes," said Haldir. "I am sure."

"Elves," said Eomer, shaking his head.


"Good morning, Eowyn nín," said Legolas. He was sitting, fully dressed, on top of one of the decorative stone pillars that flanked the balcony doors, looking down at her as if he had been watching her sleep.

Eowyn sat up and studied him carefully. "What has happened?" she asked.


"Last night you were upset. Now you are not—you are behaving strangely, but you are not upset."

Legolas jumped gracefully down to the floor, sat on the edge of the bed, and took her hand. "I had a dream last night, Eowyn nín, after we made love," he said. "Do you think that dreams can foretell the future?"

"I have heard people say so," said Eowyn, "but I am not sure that I believe it."

"Nor am I," said Legolas. "But my dream..." He thought for a moment. "My dream was about our future and it comforted me."

"What happened in it?"

"I am not sure how much I should tell you, melmenya. I saw many things, which may or may not come to pass. Would it be better for you to know—and be burdened by expectations—or for you to go forward unaware?"

Eowyn thought for a moment. "Were we happy, Legolas, in the future?"

He kissed the top of her head. "We were very happy, meleth nín."

"Then I suppose that is all I need to know," she said, hugging him. "I trust your judgement, Legolas. Though I should warn you," she added, "that it is only my head talking now. My heart is still very curious and will no doubt pester you for days to come."

Legolas laughed.

"Why were you sitting half way up the wall?"

"I needed to see the trees in Arwen's garden."

"Why did you not go out onto the balcony?"

"I needed to see you, too." His expression suddenly became serious and he slowly leaned in, and kissed her with an intense tenderness—on her mouth, then on her neck and then on her breasts, gently sucking her nipples.

Eowyn slid her hand down his body and fondled him, purring with delight as she felt him growing. "Mmmmm..."

"Melmenya..." he whispered, pushing her gently onto the bed.

She sat up, suddenly. "Legolas!" she cried.

"What is it?"

"Eomer and Gimli! I left them in Berodin's house! And—oh!" she put her hands to her mouth.

"What, melmenya?"

"Aragorn is angry with me. Very angry. Gimli and I—we went against his orders and broke into Berodin's house. We broke the law."

Legolas kissed her forehead. "It is still early, melmenya," he said, brushing her hair out of her face. "But we will talk to Aragorn later—I will plead your case and you will apologise and throw yourself on his mercy. And do not worry about Gimli and Eomer. I am sure they were back hours ago."




Contents page

Contents page

Previous chapter: Dernhelm
Eowyn's plan goes awry.

Chapter 10

Final chapter: Twelfth Night
Or what you will.

Chapter 12

Extra scene: My body may be weak now, uncle...
Berkin takes a few matters into his own hands.

Extra scene

Berkin's father's desk.