"Mmmmm?" Eowyn stretched, languidly, on her bed of wooden crates and, pening her eyes, smiled up at him, wickedly. "Good morning."

"Good morning, meleth nín. How are you feeling this morning?"

Her smile broadened.

Legolas laughed. "We have no time now, Eowyn nín," he said, taking her in his arms. "Much as I would like to." He kissed her forehead. "Captain Mutallu and the crew are ready to rebuild the boat, with the help of the djinn, and they need you to give him his orders. Let me help you dress..."


By mid morning the repairs were well under way.

The djinn, at Mutallu's direction and under Eowyn's direct command, fetched and carried and, in some cases, found replacement parts, whilst the men on shore hammered caulking into the boat's seams, and the men on deck nailed planking and secured fixings, and the men up in the rigging renewed sheets and shrouds.

"Ship to starboard!" cried one of the sailors working aloft.

Legolas jumped onto the boat's gunwale and, shielding his eyes with his hand, scrutinised the approaching vessel. "She is flying a silver mûmak on a red ground," he said.

"The Hatja's colours," said Mutallu. "And she's making for the wharf."

"It must be the supply ship," said Niqmaddu.

The elf and the two men watched with mounting disbelief as, seemingly oblivious to the recent rock fall, the ship moored up at the prison harbour and its crew, climbing awkwardly over the rubble, began unloading supplies.

"What are they doing?" asked Mutallu. "Can they not see what has happened?"

"No," said Niqmaddu, "I do not believe they can...

"Captain, might I borrow one of your rowing boats? And would you, your Highness, be so good as to accompany me?"



"Not just now, Valandil," said Wilawen, turning away, "Lady Eowyn wants to move this part of the cabin next, so I need to help Arinna outside."

Valandil bit his lip. "Very well. Let me help you," he said. "But, then, we must talk."


Rowed by Orodreth and Camthalion, the small boat skimmed across the water.

"Please," said Niqmaddu, "whatever you see happening on the quayside, keep absolutely silent."

They rounded a small promontory, came up alongside the supply ship, then passed under her bows. Legolas gazed up at the wharf. The Hatja's men had formed themselves into a chain—starting at the ship and ending close to where the prison door should have been—and were swiftly unloading sacks and wooden crates, passing them from hand to hand in time to a cheerful sea shanty. Beside the buried guardhouse, an official-looking man in a red headdress was talking to thin air, gesturing towards the supplies and holding out a pen and a writing board to an imaginary colleague.

Niqmaddu motioned the elves to disembark.

Making no sound, Legolas and the others hopped onto the stone quay and helped the magician ashore.

Skirting around the men, Niqmaddu picked his way to the official's side. He raised his wand and pointed it directly at the man's forehead.

"Reveal!" he said, softly.

For an instant the man's body froze. Then his arms dropped uselessly to his sides and—though a smile still lingered around his mouth—his eyes opened wide in astonishment. "What the...?"

"Good morning, Master Ubar," said Niqmaddu, patting his arm, supportively. "Do you remember me? We have met several times in the Hatja's council room."

The man dragged his eyes from the rubble.

"Magus..." he said. "What is happening?"

"Let us go aboard, and I will explain," said Niqmaddu. "But first I must release your men, and you must be ready to reassure them." He turned to Legolas. "Are you ready, your Highness?"

Legolas and the other elves had already positioned themselves beside the chain of sailors.

Niqmaddu raised his wand and cried, loudly this time, "Reveal!"

Several of the men continued unloading the ship, still oblivious to the chaos surrounding them, but for the majority of the sailors, the wharf was instantly transformed. Some lost their balance and fell to the ground; some panicked, dropped their supplies and ran towards the sea—but the elves were ready to catch them; some looked around them, wildly, crying out to the gods for mercy.

"Master Ubar..." Niqmaddu prompted.

"Hold fast!" Ubar shouted, with remarkable authority.

When the men had calmed, he called them all together. "Load the supplies back onto the boat," he said. "We will return to Carhilivren immediately, and fetch help for our colleagues in there.

"At the double!" He turned the magician. "Magus Niqmaddu, I believe you promised me an explanation."


"Is she the last?" asked Eowyn.

"Yes," said Wilawen. "All the cabins are clear now."

"Good—lift the deckhouse and take it over to the boat," she called to the djinn. "Place it exactly where Captain Mutallu tells you."

She turned to Valandil, ignoring the djinn's customary flourishing bow. "Bring Arinna over here." She led him to an area by the cliff face, well away from the repair crews, that had been set aside for the injured. Valandil laid the—very appreciative—woman on the empty bedroll beside Figwit.

"How are you feeling, Figwit?" asked Wilawen.

The elf turned towards her, smiling. "Much better. In fact, I think—" His eyes fell on Arinna. "You!" he cried.

"Do I know you, lover?" the woman asked.

"Do you know me! This—this is the one who examined me—who selected me—for that—that creature!" cried Figwit. And he tried to rise, but Valandil caught him by the shoulders and held him down.

Eowyn, who had turned to leave, stopped in mid stride. "Are you sure?" she asked.


Eowyn turned to Arinna. "Who bought him?"

"How do you expect me to remem—"

"Come now," said Eowyn. "You cannot have handled many elves. Who bought him?"

Arinna sighed. "I never knew his name," she said. "He told Milkherem that he was from a land to the south, and that he wanted an elf to take back as a gift for his Queen." She turned to Figwit. "I honestly thought you would be treated like a prince. Fucked within an inch of your life—yes—but pampered, spoiled, treated the way I treat Ori and Cami..."

Figwit sighed. "Let me go, Valandil," he said. "I will not harm her. Let me go."

"Did this customer tell you anything more?" asked Eowyn. "Anything about himself or about where he lived?"

"No," said Arinna. "No. He was very mysterious. In fact, he came to me at night. I never even saw his face."


"You are wrong," said Ubar. "You have to be wrong. I spoke to the governor only last month—"

"The men inside that prison have been dead for some years," said Niqmaddu. "Is that not right, your Highness?"

"I am afraid it is," said Legolas, gently. "The governor, the guards and the prisoners are all dead—save one," he added.

"The woman," said Ubar. "I'll wager she is still alive, the poisonous bitch."

"Indeed," said Niqmaddu. "And we believe that she and her magician accomplice are now returning to Kuri. We plan to follow her as soon as our boat is repaired. We need you to go back to Carhilivren, inform the Hatja of what has happened here, and persuade him to send an army to aid us. I shall write a letter for you to give to him..."


"Wilawen!" Valandil caught her round the waist and, ignoring her protests, pulled her into her 'bedroom'. He lowered the sailcloth. "Why are you avoiding me?" he asked.

"Avoiding you! How can I avoid you? You are dogging my every step!"


His tone was so gentle, and so full of pain, that she was forced give in. She sat down on the bedroll with a sigh. "I cannot," she said.

The elf crouched beside her. "Cannot what?"

"Let this go any further."

"How much further can it go?"

"What do you mean?"

"I love you, you love me. How much further—"

"I never said I loved—"


"Will you stop saying that! It is very annoying."

Valandil grinned. "Meleth nín," he said.

"Do you know how old I am?" she asked, bleakly.

Valandil shook his head.

"I shall be thirty-eight, next birthday."

Valandil, unsure whether that was young or old for a woman, said, "I believe I shall be four thousand and twenty-four on my next conception day."

Wilawen shook her head in exasperation. "You idiot!" She turned to face him. "I look like your mother."

"No, my mother—"

"Shut up! I have already lived half my allotted span. I am probably too old to have children—assuming that an elf and a woman can have children. And—and—I have never—never—oh, no, I cannot say it..."

"What? Never what?"

She did not reply.

"Never what, Wilawen?" Gently, he raised her chin until their eyes met. "What?"

She looked away, her face flushed crimson. "I have never been with a man," she said, softly.

"Good," said Valandil. "Because I shall be a very jealous husband."


"I have brought you some lunch, my dear," said Hentmirë. She handed Faramir a plate of food, then sat down beside him, perching on a flat boulder. "There is bread and cheese and some roasted fowl—I got you the best pieces I could—and some ale—it is far healthier than the water from the barrels."

"Thank you, my lady," said Faramir smiling.

"This is so exciting!" said Hentmirë, looking round the cove. "I have been helping the sailors mend the rigging, passing them their tools—those long, pointed things are called 'fids'."

"Are they really?"

"Yes. And I have learned to tie a midshipman's loop and to make a jar sling."

Faramir waited, patiently.

"Do you live with Legolas?" she asked, at last.

"I? No, my lady. I live to the north of Eryn Carantaur, in a city called Caras Arnen, the City on the Hills. But I visit Legolas quite often."

"Do you think he would let me visit him?"

"I think he would be very sad if you did not visit him, my lady."

Hentmirë beamed at him. Then her smile suddenly faded and she said, earnestly, "Do you think he would let me live with him? With them? Permanently?"

Faramir looked up from his meal, surprised. "You would leave your home, my lady?"

"My house," she corrected. "It is a nice house, but it is only mud brick and plaster. My home is where my friends are."

Faramir smiled. "Yes," he said, "where your friends are."

"I do not suppose..." She looked up at him, timidly. "I do not suppose that you would ask him for me?"

"Oh, I think I could do that," said Faramir.


"My lady, might I have a word?"

Eowyn, snatching a few moments' rest whilst the sailors were eating their rations, smiled up at Wilawen. "Do call me 'Eowyn'," she said. "Sit down—is this about Valandil?"

"Thank you. How did you know?"

Eowyn smiled. "I just assumed that you would be having all the same thoughts that I once had: How can an elf want a woman? What will happen when I age? How shall I bear it when he does not age? What will happen to him when I die?

"All those thoughts."


"Do you love him?"

"I..." Wilawen looked down at her hands. "Yes," she said, very, very softly, "but..."

"Elves are not like men," said Eowyn. "When an elf gives his heart he gives it for eternity. You cannot protect him, now, by rejecting him. It is too late."

"Oh, gods!" Wilawen's head sank into her hands. Then she said, very quietly, "Has he had many lovers, do you know?"

"You must ask him that."

"I feel so inadequate."

"Wilawen," said Eowyn, "elves admire us." The other woman looked up in surprise. "Yes, they do. To them we are full of life. Even those who mistrust us admire our vitality. And Valandil loves you—your strength, your intelligence."

"He says that the Valar sent me to him," said Wilawen. "He thinks that women and eldar will come together more and more, in the Fourth Age..."

"He may be right."

"I wish I knew what to do! How did you know? With Lord Legolas?"

Eowyn thought for a moment. "I knew because I could not imagine any future without him," she said.


By the time Niqmaddu and Legolas had returned to the Early Bird the repairs were complete—her holes had been plugged and her seams caulked and pitched, her forecastle repaired and, with the djinn's help, her deckhouse remounted. The djinn had pulled out the broken stump of her mizzenmast as easily as drawing a tooth, and had just as effortlessly slid a new spar through her main deck and into the step. Finally, the men had renewed her rigging and patched her sails.

"We are all ready to weigh anchor, my lady, your Highness," said Mutallu to Hentmirë and Legolas.

He laid out his charts on the cabin table. "We are here," he said. "And Kuri is here..." He measured the distance with his dividers. "Four hundred miles."

"But how can we be sure that he has gone to Kuri?" asked Hentmirë.

"We cannot," said Niqmaddu.

Legolas turned to Eowyn. "You say that Arinna knew nothing?" he asked.

"Nothing at all."

"But we do know that he has taken Niqiya with him," said the magician. "And Kuri is where the water is."

"Do you think that that is what he wants?" asked Legolas. "The water?"

"Kuri has little else to offer."

Legolas nodded, thoughtfully. "But if all he wants is the water, why does he need the djinn? The creature's 'powers' seem to be nothing but brute force."

"Perhaps he does not need the djinn so much as want him," said Eowyn. She looked down at the kettle on her lap. "I wonder..." She rubbed the kettle's side until the djinn's head emerged from the spout.

"Your wi—"

"Can you find your lamp?" asked Eowyn.

The djinn sighed. "I am tired, mistress," he said.

"I know. Just do this one thing for me and then I will let you rest—find your lamp, then come back to me and tell me who has it, and where it is. But if you see the stranger, do not let him see you."

"I hear and obey, little mistress," said the djinn, wearily. "But, please, carry my kettle up onto the deck for me. Flying around these small cabins is very hard on my back."


Several hours later, the djinn returned with important news. "You cannot go to the Land of Kuri, mistress," he said. "Boils would mar your pretty little face..."

Gradually, Eowyn's careful questioning revealed that, by the time the djinn had arrived in Kuri, Baalhanno had already cast the lamp away, somewhere in the Bay. But whilst attempting, unsuccessfully, to retrieve his home, the djinn had overheard a rumour, spreading rapidly amongst the pearl fishers, that Naqiya-Zakutu had been seen alive in the city—and that everyone in the Royal Palace was now afflicted with a terrible plague.

"How can that be?" asked Legolas, who found the idea of pestilence difficult to grasp.

"Baalhanno must have conjured it," said Niqmaddu grimly. "The sooner we get to Kuri the better."


The sea and Sindbad's ship

The djinn had claimed that the boat was too heavy for him to carry, but had condescended to call up a fair wind, and the Early Bird was now well underway.

"It is becoming harder and harder to persuade him to do anything," said Eowyn, as she and Legolas strolled along the deck together. "Do you think I should be firmer with him?"

"How would you do that, melmenya?" said Legolas, smiling. "I do not think that your sword would make much impression on him."

"Perhaps I should get angry with him."

"Now that might work, since he is sweet on you."

"You think that everyone is sweet on me."

They stopped beside the taffrail and looked out across the water. Low in the vast midnight-blue sky, the sun was painting the horizon with a splash of raspberry red and tinting the foaming ocean a pale rose.

"It is very beautiful," said Eowyn, "in its own way. But I do miss home."

Legolas took her in his arms. "It will not be long, now, melmenya," he said, kissing the top of her head. "Hentmirë has already told Faramir that she wants to come and live with us in Eryn Carantaur. I am just waiting for the right moment to talk to her."

"Oh, Lassui!" Eowyn hugged him tightly. "That is wonderful news," she said. "Wonderful!"

"Mmmm." He slid his hand down to her buttocks and pulled her close.


"An elf cannot help being stirred by thoughts of the forest, melmenya—and of what he might do there." He bit her neck.

"Ow!" Eowyn could not say whether it was pain or pleasure shooting through her limbs, but her body writhed in response, rubbing itself against him. "Tell me—tell me what you will do," she whispered.

He pressed his lips to her ear, "I shall take you to Eryn Dholt," he said, "where the forest is thick and dark, and a branch of the Anduin cuts through the Gynd Vyrn. At the water's edge, I shall sit on the rocks and make you kneel at my feet." He nipped the lobe of her ear. "I shall unlace my leggings and you shall take me in your mouth—oh, melmenya!—I shall hold your head and urge you: Harder," he whispered, "suck me harder..."


"I shall burst in your mouth, melmenya."

Eowyn moaned.

"And then I shall strip you naked, and lay you on the rocks, and stroke myself over your face and lips, and your throat and breasts. I shall tease your belly and torment your criss. I shall make you beg, Eowyn nín—whilst I come again, between your thighs..."

"Oh..." Eowyn squirmed in frustration, pressing herself against his leg.

"Only when I am absolutely sure that you have earned it, melmenya, shall I turn you over on the wet rocks and take you, on all fours, squealing like a vixen, while the waterfall cascades around you and the sound of rushing water fills your mind..."

"Gods," wailed Eowyn. "Take me! Take me now!"

Legolas swept her up in his arms and rushed her to the privacy of their cabin.

Neither of them had noticed the lonely figure of the March Warden, standing in the shadow of the deckhouse.


Two days later

They slipped into the Bay of Kuri under cover of dusk and dropped anchor well out to sea. Niqmaddu shrouded the boat to protect her from prying eyes but, when pressed on the matter, admitted that he could not be sure the spell would hold at close quarters, his confidence obviously shaken by the events of the previous few days.

Legolas convened a council of war on the main deck.

"The only things that we know for certain," said the magician, "is that Naqiya-Zakutu was seen in the Royal Palace, that there was subsequently an outbreak of 'plague', that the Palace is quarantined, and that the magical spring can only be reached—I am told—from Naqiya's private apartments.

"What we can surmise, however," he continued, "is that Baalhanno's intentions are entirely evil, and that he must, therefore, be stopped as quickly as possible—I do not think we can wait for the Hatja's army. Besides..." His voice trailed away.

"Magus?" Legolas prompted.

"The last war between Kuri and Carhilivren lasted for more than five years. Many, many lives were lost. So if we can possibly stop Baalhanno without resorting to obvious military action—"

"Yes," said Legolas. "I understand. But the people of Kuri are hardly going welcome us—"

"We must go secretly," said Hentmirë. "After all, we have a Magus, a djinn and four elves on our side. Besides, the Palace is quarantined—so, even if they see us, the citizens will not risk trying to stop us."

Legolas smiled. "I cannot argue with that reasoning," he said. "It is decided, then. Magus, March Warden, Valandil, Eowyn: we shall wait until there is less activity on the quay, then row ashore in one of the small boats. Faramir—we shall aim to return by daybreak. If we do not, the next move is yours, mellon nín. I shall leave you Camthalion and Orodreth, and I am sure that Captain Mutallu will place some of his crew at your disposal."

The captain grunted in agreement.

"Very well," said Faramir. "But take care over there. All of you."

Hentmirë cleared her throat.

"You must stay here with Faramir, gwendithen nín."

"Oh, but—"

"No buts," said Legolas, sternly. "This is not a game, Hentmirë. And, if you are to be one of my warriors, you must obey my orders."


They were awkward with each other—Valandil unsure of what to say, Wilawen afraid to get too close.

"Be careful," she said. "And take this." She handed him her dagger.

"Thank you."

There was another uncomfortable silence.

"Well..." said Valandil.

"Yes," said Wilawen.

"I had better join the others."


With a final brief nod, Valandil turned to leave.

Wilawen watched him walk away—past the foremast, past the mainmast, past the mizzen—

"Wait!" she cried, "Wait! Wait!"

By the time he had turned back she was already running.

He held out his arms and she threw herself at him, and they clung to each other until Haldir dragged them apart.


The rowing boat slipped silently between the moored vessels.

As they reached the quayside, Legolas, holding the painter in his hand, rose to his feet and, timing it perfectly, jumped lightly onto the wharf, and wound the rope around a mooring bollard.

Valandil helped Niqmaddu climb ashore, then Eowyn with the djinn, and then hopped up onto the wharf himself.

Haldir, still in the rowing boat, passed up three bundles of arrows, reached down for three more, and a tiny movement of the boat's tarpaulin caught his eye...

Holding his finger to his lips for silence, the elf drew his knife, grasped a corner of the sheet, and lifted it.

"Oh!" cried a familiar voice.

"Hentmirë," hissed Legolas. "I told you to stay aboard the Early Bird."

"Yes," said the woman, "you did. But I thought I could be more useful here. I can speak the language, a little."

Legolas sighed. "Well, there is no time to take you back."

He held out his hands and—with considerable assistance from Haldir at the rear—helped her ashore. "Be sure to stay behind me or behind Eowyn," he said. "And do not wander off. I shall not come back for you if you get lost."


They crossed the wharf and made their way to the Palace, which stood on a natural rise at the centre of the city. The route was deserted, but the improvised barricades, the broken windows, and the boarded-up doors all told the same story.

"Looting," said Niqmaddu. "Without the palace, the people have no confidence in the future. Law has broken down. Anarchy prevails."

Two dead guards lay at the sentry posts beside the Great Gates, another hung from one of the lookout towers above the Gatehouse, and two more sprawled over the fortified walls. The gates themselves had been hastily barred from the outside, and a large, yellow quarantine flag had been hung beside them.

"Are the bodies contagious?" asked Hentmirë.

"No," said Niqmaddu. "They are just a clever illusion to scare the townspeople."

Haldir took a length of elven rope from his pack and threw it over the battlements, pulling until it caught and held. Then Legolas climbed nimbly to the top of the wall, and disappeared over.

"He is very athletic," whispered Hentmirë.

A few moments later, a small door opened in the Great Gate and Legolas beckoned them inside. The broad Palace courtyard was completely deserted but, here and there, piles of clothing lay on the ground, as though hastily discarded.

"Where has everyone gone?" said Legolas, picking up a scimitar. "Surely an illness cannot make them disappear."

"Perhaps the plague makes people very hot," said Hentmirë.

"There is no plague," said Niqmaddu. "This is Baalhanno's work. Come." He led them across the open space, up an imposing flight of steps, and through the great double doors into the Audience Chamber.

There, they all stopped and stared.

"It is beautiful..." gasped Eowyn.

"Exactly as they say in the stories," said Hentmirë.

The floor was a meadow of polished malachite, scattered with delicate mosaic flowers; the ceiling was a sky of fine lapis lazuli, inlaid with golden sunlight and sparkling marble clouds; the four rows of slender columns were a forest of young trees, their branches home to animals, birds and insects so lifelike—

"It is Mirkwood!" cried Legolas. "It is just like Mirkwood!"

"The king has turned his back on the desert," said Niqmaddu, "and created an oasis indoors." He walked up to the dais at the far end of the chamber, and looked thoughtfully at the massive golden throne.

Immediately, a rat scurried over his foot, climbed up onto the seat, and sat, on its haunches, sniffing at him inquisitively.

"Oh," cried Hentmirë, hiding behind Legolas. "This palace needs a cat or two!"

Four more rats appeared from behind the columns, scampered onto the dais, and stood, like tiny guards, either side of the throne.

Niqmaddu stared intently at the first rat.

"Magus?" said Legolas. "What is it?"

"I am not sure..." The magician drew out his wand, pointed it at the animal's head and said, "Restore!"

There was a blinding flash...

And sitting on the throne, completely naked, was a handsome young man.




Contents page


Previous chapter: Outwitted
Baalhanno is one step ahead.

Chapter 9

Next chapter: The Land of Kuri
Baalhanno's plan is revealed.

Chapter 11

The prison island and the journey to Kuri.


Eryn Dholt … ‘Dark Forest’
Gynd Vyrn
… ‘Black Rocks’


I couldn’t resist using this chapter title, taken from the first movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. It doesn’t have much to do with the contents, but it sounds so romantic!