This scene is a slight spoiler in that it introduces Berkin before we have met him properly in the main story. You may prefer to read it after you have read Chapter 11.


The servant slipped into the hallway unnoticed, opened a partially-concealed door beside the main staircase, and, after carefully closing it behind him, climbed to the top of the tower. The key was hanging on the hook, as usual.

He took it down and unlocked the door.

The room was dark—its single bay window was boarded up—and bare, with no rugs on the wooden floor nor hangings on the walls, and meagrely furnished.

As he entered, its lone occupant struggled to rise from the bed.


“Olemi! What is it?” asked Berkin, swaying towards the servant on unsteady legs, “why have you risked coming up now? What is wrong?”

Olemi caught his young master by the arms and eased him back onto the bed. “She is here.”

She? Who?


“No!” Berkin shook his head. “She cannot be! I told her to stay away.”

“She ignored you. She is here.”

The boy swore. “What has he done with her?”

“He has put her and her two women in the front attic; he has sent the men away.”

“We must get them back, and keep them nearby.”

“Yes—fortunately, they have not gone far.” Olemi jerked his head towards the boarded-up window. “They are lurking in the shadows, just beyond Ostrad Dúlinn.”

“Good. But we must get them somewhere safe before Osuald and Ricbert notice them—take them to the Golden Goose,” said Berkin, growing noticeably stronger as he made his plan, “pay for their lodgings. Silrim will know where to stable their horses. Tell them to wait there for Lëonórwyn. Make sure they stay. Tell them I will send her as soon as I can, but it might take a few days.”

“How are you going to get her out?”

Berkin shrugged his shoulders. “I do not know yet. But some opportunity will arise.” He smiled. “It always does.”

Olemi patted his shoulder.


Two days later

Berkin looked up from his book.


My uncle and someone else.

He hid the small volume—smuggled from the library by Admant—under his filthy pillow, and glanced around the room.

Is there anything else I need to hide?

Something about the second set of footsteps suddenly caught his attention.

Light. Almost—graceful.

Oh. Gods!

Berkin quickly tucked his dirty shirt into his ragged trousers, ran his fingers through his wild black hair, rubbed his shirt cuff across his teeth—

The door opened.

And, for a split-second, Berkin was disappointed.

Lëonórwyn’s hair was not pale and silky, as he had always imagined, but brown, and as thick and unruly as his own; her features were not delicate, but strong and boyish; her limbs were not slender, but straight and sturdy.

But then she smiled, and he found himself grinning back, like an idiot.

“This is your betrothed,” said his uncle. “You will be married as soon as Master Ingold has finished drawing up the papers.” He pushed the girl forward. “Say something. I do not have all day.”

“Hello,” said Lëonórwyn, with an embarrassed shrug.

“Hello,” replied Berkin, desperately trying to think of some way to distract his uncle and speak to her privately. “Will you sit down a moment?” He glanced at Berodin for ‘permission’ before leading her to the bare table with its two wooden chairs—all the while conscious of the erratic movements of his shaky limbs.

He pulled out a seat.

“Thank you.”

Berkin remained beside her. “I am afraid I cannot offer you anything to eat or drink...” He heard his uncle sigh. “And I cannot introduce you to Sniffer,” he added, loudly, “because he seems to be hiding.”

“Who is Sniffer?”

Berkin laid a hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle, warning squeeze. “My pet rat,” he said. “He and his friends are quite tame. I feed them scraps—”

Rats!” cried Berodin. “You feed rats! You stupid—” He threw open the door and leaned out into the landing. “Admant,” he roared, “Admant, come up here!”

Keeping his hand on Lëonórwyn’s shoulder, Berkin leaned closer. “I have arranged for your men to stay nearby—”

Berodin turned back into the room. “Have you no sense?”

Admant came running up the stairs. “Go down to Rath Celerdain” said Berodin, “and fetch the rat catcher—”

You must be ready to leave at a moment’s notice,” whispered Berkin.

“—tell him to come immediately. Tell him to bring his strongest poison—”

I will send someone to help you escape as soon as I can.” The boy turned to face his uncle.

But Lëonórwyn caught his arm. “What about you?” she whispered.

Do not worry about me.”

I came here to help you—”

“The cost of this,” cried Berodin, turning on his nephew, “will come out of your personal coffers! Come, girl!”

“May I kiss her before she goes?” asked Berkin, boldly.

“Of course you may,” said Lëonórwyn, rising from her chair.

The boy leaned in and pressed his lips to her cheek. “I must stay here a while longer,” he murmured, “but promise me that you will return to Edoras. I will write to you there.”

I promise—I will if I can.”


Three days later

Olemi set down the breakfast tray. Beside the bowl of thin porridge and the horn spoon sat an earthenware jar filled with twigs of winter-flowering êgvor. “Where did these come from?” asked Berkin, bending over the pink blossoms and inhaling their delicate scent.

“The old lady asked me to bring them up.”

“Lëonórwyn’s nurse?”

“Yes.” Olemi laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It is today, Berkin. The Notary has been closeted with your uncle since dawn and they called Lady Lëonórwyn in about an hour ago.”

“Oh gods!” Berkin ran his hand through is hair. “Take that slop away, Olemi,” he said, rising to his feet, “please—but leave the flowers—and fetch me some soap and water. And... And...”

“Sit down a moment,” said Olemi, gently guiding the boy to the bed. “You need all your wits about you. I will find you something clean to wear—”


“I shall.” He paused at the door. “Do not worry, Berkin.”


Hoisting his borrowed breeches back to his waist, Berkin prayed to the gods they would not fall down until after the ‘ceremony’ was over.

A whole army of people was climbing the stairs. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sounds, separating the individual footfalls—Yes, there she is!

He took a deep breath and turned to face the door.

His uncle entered first, then the Notary—Poor old Ingold, party to so many crimes!—then Lëonórwyn—Berkin shot her a welcoming grin—and, finally, his uncle's two prize fighting cocks, Osuald and Ricbert, each jostling the other to get through the door first. Gods!

Berodin, noticing the jar of êgvor, cast a suspicious glance around the room, but seemed to see nothing else out of the ordinary. “Sit down boy,” he said impatiently, “you make me giddy, swaying about like that.”

Berkin stumbled to the table and pulled out a chair for Lëonórwyn, who rewarded him with an affectionate smile, then took a seat beside her.

“There is only one paper for you to sign,” said Berodin. He gave Ingold a curt nod.

The Notary laid a parchment on the table. “This is the Marriage Contract, Master Berkin,” he explained. “You must sign it here.” He made a cross at the bottom of the sheet.

Berkin glanced at Lëonórwyn. “I shall do my best,” he said quietly, “to be a good husband.” Then he took up the pen and signed his name, Berkin son of Alrin. He handed the pen to his future wife.

“Sign it below him, my lady,” said the Notary.

Lëonórwyn added her signature, turning to Berkin with a faint smile.

“Now the witnesses,” said Ingold.

Slowly, Ricbert wrote his name in a large, childish hand, then Osuald made his mark.

“It is done, my lord,” said the Notary. “It just remains for the marriage to be consummated.”

“It that really necessary?”

“I am afraid that a marriage is not legal without it.”

Berodin turned to his nephew. “You have an hour,” he said. “Let us hope there is one thing you can do without falling over.”

Berkin watched, open mouthed, as the ‘wedding guests’ departed, and Osuald raised his forearm in a lascivious gesture before closing the door.


The couple sat for some moments in uneasy silence. Then Berkin said, “Do you have a brooch?”

“My lord?”

“My name is Berkin, like in our letters.”

“Yes, I know. I am just—”

“Nervous. It feels strange.”


“You deserved better than this; I am sorry.”

“It is not your fault.”

Do you have a brooch, Lëonórwyn?”

“Your uncle has locked my jewellery away. For safekeeping—”

“The swine! Do you have anything sharp?”

“Sharp? I have scissors...” She reached into the cloth purse at her waist and drew out a tiny pair of sewing shears in a little leather sheath.

“Perfect!” said Berkin, smiling. “May I borrow them?”


The boy cleared his throat. “How much do you know about marriage?”

“You mean, about men and women?”


“I think I know the facts, Berkin,” said Lëonórwyn. “And I do not believe we will need scissors...”

“We want to do it in our own time,” said Berkin, gently taking the shears. “But they will look at the bed sheet.”

“I do not understand—what are you doing?!

“Shhhh.” Berkin clamped his hand around the finger he had just stabbed and rose unsteadily to his feet. “If you have a handkerchief, too, that will be useful. I should have asked you before, but I am not thinking clearly today.” He stumbled over to the bed. “Of course,” he said to himself, “the books do not say how much... Probably no more than a few drops.” He squeezed his bleeding finger over the dirty sheet, letting it drip, then carefully smeared the blood into an uneven patch. “There—your virginity.”

“That is cunning,” said Lëonórwyn, coming up beside him. “I would never have thought of that. Here...” She took his hand and carefully bound his finger with her handkerchief. “Does it hurt?”

Berkin smiled. “It smarts a little.”

“But will your uncle not realise? When he sees this?” She tied off the ends in a bow.

“It is only a small cut,” said Berkin, “it will stop bleeding soon. Besides, I doubt Berodin will come back in person. He will send Osuald or Ricbert—and I would need to cut off my whole hand before either of them would notice.” He looked at her curiously. “What are you smiling at?”

Lëonórwyn came up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “My very clever husband,” she said.




Contents page

Contents page

Back to Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Prequel: My body may be weak
Berkin takes a few matters into his own hands.

Extra scene

Sequel: Prince Legolas?
Berkin saves another life.

Extra scene

'Darkthorn'. I had in mind almost black, thorny twigs with dark leaves and pale pink blossoms.