the race

By the time Wolfram arrived at the Circus there was no sign of My Lady’s carriage.

Too late, he thought. Too pricking late... I’ll never find her—not in this crowd. He climbed down from the cart, thanking the young farmer, and shuffled towards the nearest gate. What do I do now?

“Did you see him?” cried a breathless voice at his elbow. “Did you see his face? And those eyes?”

Wolfram instinctively turned his own face—though shrouded—away, but it was not him the woman was talking to.

“I saw his arse!” said her friend.

“Not my type,” said a third voice. “All that pretty blond hair. I like a man to look like a man. Sweat and stubble.”

“He isn’t a man,” replied the first woman. “He’s an elf. And you know what they say about elves...”

Her friends laughed, dirtily.

“Did you say an elf?” asked Wolfram, keeping his head lowered and his voice disguised. “Can you still see him? Where is he?”

“Er—he’s over there—there, by the olive stall,” said the first woman. “Why? Do you fancy your chances?”


“Four red flags, please.”

Skilfully, Hentmirë worked herself to the front of each queue—“Four Race Lists... Four jars of olives, please,”—then led her friends through one of the arched gates and up the stairs to the first tier of seats, where she handed the attendant a silver coin.

“I thought you said it was free,” whispered Legolas.

“Nothing is ever quite free,” she replied.

The attendant gave them cushions and showed them to the front row of benches. Legolas gazed down at the enormous oval track—long and narrow with a central stone barrier forming a tight turn at each end.

“Those,” said Hentmirë, pointing to a row of arches running along the southern wall, “are the starting gates. When the magistrate drops his white handkerchief, the doors open, and the chariots race out—the drivers must stay in the lanes,” she pointed to the markings incised in the hard dirt surface, “until they reach the spine...”


The attendant showed Wolfram to a seat at the end of a bench. “Handy if you need the privy,” he said.

And only three rows behind My Lady, thought Wolfram.


The Silk Road

“Well, well, what have we here?” asked Ramess. He nodded towards a tall, dark man, with long braided hair, staring up at the stage.

Ribhadda followed the Guardsman’s gaze. “A Kurian,” he said. “A new face. There are lots of new faces here tonight.”

The Kurian turned—as though he had overheard their conversation—and fixed Ribhadda with his dark, painted eyes; then he turned back to watch Cyllien.

“They’re a good-looking people,” said Ramess. He knocked back his drink. “By the way Rib, have you had any success finding that Letter of Pardon?”

“No, Ramess. Have you had any success finding Abdi?”



Berengar froze, mid-sentence, raised his hand—warning Bint-Anath to be silent—then quietly moved to the door and listened intently.

Is it Faroth? He could not tell until the newcomer spoke.


The secretary slid back the bolt and opened the door. Smiling, Faramir stepped inside—and stopped dead as Bint-Anath threw herself at him, pressing a small dagger to his throat.

“No!” cried Berengar.

“Lower the weapon, my Lady,” said Faramir, calmly.

“Never!” cried Bint-Anath. “I may only be a woman, but I will defend him, sir, if need be!”

“Please,” said Berengar, “please, Bint-Anath—remember what I explained earlier! Please! Do not hurt him! Please...”

It took a moment for his words to register. Then, “What you explained?” Her hand dropped to her side. “Are you saying... You and he... Oh Berengar...” The knife fell from her fingers, forgotten.

“I am sorry,” said Berengar. “I should have told you everything.”

But Bint-Anath had already joined her dagger on the floor.


“Is there something I should know?” asked Faramir.

Berengar was bathing Bint-Anath’s temples with a damp cloth. “What do you mean?”

“What was she doing in your bedroom? With the door locked?”

Faroth! She came to rescue me, after you convinced her that you were about to kill me.” He dipped the cloth in water, wrung it out, and laid it over her forehead. “I told her the truth about myself, but I did not mention you.”

“Why not?”

“To protect you.” He lifted Bint-Anath’s hand and checked her pulse. The woman stirred and curled a little closer. “Lie still, my Lady.” He stroked her hair, soothingly.

Faramir sat down with a weary sigh. “We must get her back to her father as soon as we can and—somehow—persuade him that her honour is still intact. You do realise that he will probably have us killed anyway.” He raked his hand through his hair.


“Mmmm? Something in Berengar’s tone slowly penetrated Faramir’s troubled thoughts. He looked up. “Oh gods, what ludicrous idea have you had now?”

The secretary, still stroking the woman’s hair, did not reply immediately. Then he said, very quietly, “Why can you not find her a husband?”

“That has to be your best yet.”

“I mean it, Faroth. We know many eligible men in Gondor—the son of that spice merchant, for one—what is his name?”

“Artamir,” said Faramir, reluctantly. “Artamir, son of Angbor.”

“Yes—he is young, handsome, and the sole heir to a massive fortune. Or, if her father insists on a noble, there is Lord Valacar’s son—or that widower, Lord Minastan. He is still quite young— ”

“He has two children.”

“They are both babies—Bint-Anath would soon grow to love them. Why not, Faroth?”

Faramir sighed. “Let me get dressed. We will talk to her when she wakes up, and see what she thinks of your harebrained idea.”

He paused at the door. “And Berengar? Before she does wake up, put a shirt on.”


The Circus

The tiers had filled with excited spectators, all drinking ale and eating olives and waving their coloured flags—and all looking impatiently towards a massive arch in the northern wall of the arena.

“What are they waiting for?” asked Legolas.

“The procession!” cried Keret waving his little flag. “Look!”

As Legolas looked, a company of guards, with long, curved trumpets, marched out onto the track and blew a rousing fanfare.

The crowd cheered.

Then an important-looking man, on a magnificent white stallion, emerged from the arch—“He is the Chief Magistrate,” shouted Hentmirë, “he will be starting the races,”—followed by a troupe of acrobats, performing somersaults and cart-wheels and forming themselves into human pyramids as they passed, and trainers leading exotic animals—big, striped cats, straining at the leash, and tame mûmakil, and a massive, fur-covered wild man, riding in a metal cage, who gazed sadly at the shrieking crowd (whilst Legolas’ heart broke for him).

And then, at last, amidst a deafening roar, the chariots rolled out! The drivers, wearing their colours, entered one-by-one, manoeuvred their vehicles into groups of three and joined the procession—Reds, then Blues, then Whites and, finally, Greens.

“The Reds won last time,” shouted Hentmirë. “That is why they are coming out first. And that is Scorpus. He drives for the Reds.”

“Scorpus!” cried a young woman behind Legolas’ shoulder, “Scorpus! Look over here! Oh, Scorpus!”

Legolas slipped his arm around Eowyn’s waist. Anything could happen in this place, he thought.


Cyllien had left the stage with a final searing look in Haldir's direction. Impatiently, he forced his way through the applauding crowd.

“Good evening, sir,” said the stage doorkeeper, with a grin. “Nice to see you again. She is expecting you.”

The elf scowled.

The corridor, and the storeroom beyond, was dark and, as he raised his hand to knock at Cyllien’s door, Haldir sensed a presence in the shadows—Is that the boy, Aqhat...?

Then Cyllien called, “Come in,” and he opened the door, and she was sitting on her dressing table wearing little more than a very provocative smile, and everything else was instantly forgotten.



“My Lady?” Berengar leaned over Bint-Anath. “How are you feeling?”

Bint-Anath sighed. “What happened?—I... Oh!”

She tried to sit up. Gently, Berengar lowered her down again.

She gazed up at him. “Is it true, Berengar? You and him? Or is that another lie?”

The man sat down beside her and took her hand. “It is true, my Lady. And I am sorry that we misled you before. But it is not something we can safely make public. In our own country—”

“You could be flogged,” said Bint-Anath. “Here. You could be flogged for it.”

“We are in your hands, my Lady.”

“You think that I would report you? I would never hurt you!”

Berengar smiled. “Thank you, my Lady.”

“I like it better when you use my name,” said Bint-Anath. She curled up into a ball. “What am I to do, Berengar?”

“Faroth and I will take you back to your father—”


“You must go back, Bint-Anath.” He patted her hand. “Shhhh. You must. At least, for now.”

“What do you mean? For now?”

“Well... Your father wants you to make a strategic marriage—”

“But I do not want to—”

“I know... But suppose Faroth and I were to find you someone else? A young man, of our country, the son of someone rich and powerful—”

“But I want you! Or—”


Bint-Anath sighed. “Or someone else who cannot marry me.”



“Who is Aperel?”

“The Hatja’s son.”

“And you like him?”

“Yes.” She gave a great, shuddering sigh. “We were betrothed,” she said, “but then his older brother was killed and Aperel became his father’s heir.”

“And, suddenly, you were not good enough for him,” said Faramir, entering without knocking. He sat down on a chair beside the bed, and finished lacing his shirt and fastening his cuffs.

“You are not a nice man,” said Bint-Anath, coldly.

Faramir smiled. “I did not mean it as an insult, my Lady. Would you be happy with this Aperel?”

“The Hatja would never—”

Faramir held up his hand. “Would you be happy to marry him?


“Then we must arrange it. Berengar insists.”


All eyes were on the Chief Magistrate. He lifted his white handkerchief—waited—and let it drop.

There was a moment of eerie silence as it slowly drifted down...

It touched the floor.

And the crowd erupted as the starting gates flew open and twelve chariots surged onto the track. Neck-and-neck, they disappeared behind the spine. Seconds later, they reappeared—jostling each other round the turn—and thundered down the straight.

One of the Greens, lashing his horses hard, tried to move up the field, hit the wall, and was thrown from his chariot.

The spectators leaped to their feet.

“Dear gods...” whispered Eowyn, closing her eyes.

High up on the spine, the lap-keeper lowered a golden dolphin—one lap completed.

One driver dead.

“Scorpus!” cried the girl behind Legolas.

“Scorpus! Scorpus!” screamed half the crowd.

“Scorpus!” shouted Keret, waving his little flag.

“Look!” cried Eowyn. “Look at the Blue chariot, Lassui! It has knives on its wheels!” Her hands flew to her mouth as the Blue aimed his blades at his neighbour’s horses. But his victim veered away—and their serrated edges ripped into his wheel.

Oh no!

The chariot had collapsed but the horses were dashing on, dragging their driver behind them. Frantically, he pulled out a knife, cut himself free, and struggled to his knees—only to be hit from behind by one of his team mates.

The crowd cried out in sympathy.

The stretcher bearers whisked the bodies away, riders caught the loose horses, and a group of slaves was dragging the shattered chariot off the track—but the drivers were already thundering round the turn.

The slaves fled to safety.

Scorpus, wedged against the wall by the bladed Blue chariot, was hurtling towards the wreckage. In desperation he hauled back his reins and his horses jumped. His chariot rose and fell...

And the crowd went wild as he rounded the turn, clinging for his life to its flimsy framework.

One lap to go.

Somehow, Scorpus climbed back on board, but now the Blue was using his whip, lashing his opponent round the head and shoulders. The leather thong curled round Scorpus’s forearm, he closed his hand on it, and pulled hard...

Scorpus dashed on to one more victory while horse after horse trampled the dying Blue driver.

“I do not want to see any more, Lassui,” whispered Eowyn, against Legolas’ chest.

“No, Melmenya. We will go down to the animal sheds and ask about Riya.” He turned to Hentmirë. “Eowyn and I are going outside, gwendithen. Do you want to come with us?”

Hentmirë wiped her eyes and nose with the back of her hand. “No... Keret and I will wait for you in the carriage.” She hugged the boy.

“Why do people come to these terrible races, Hentmirë?”

The little woman looked around the crowd. “We come to see life and death, Legolas,” she said.


Wolfram was watching the performing oliphaunts when he spotted elf-boy and My Lady making their way down the stairs.

Where are they going now?

With a sigh, he dumped his bowl of nuts on the next seat, got up, and shuffled after them. If they’re not careful we’ll miss the next pricking race.


The war lord’s palace

“How did you get out unseen?” asked Faramir, scanning the gates.

“The gatekeeper is sweet on one of my ladies,” said Bint-Anath. “She kept him—er—occupied whilst another opened the gate for me.”

“That was selfless of her.”

“I would not have asked her had she not been willing,” said Bint-Anath, coldly. “It was not the first time she had lain with him.” Berengar squeezed her shoulder.

“Well,” said Faramir, “we cannot use the same method to get you back in...”

“I thought you were going to speak to my father?”

“In the morning,” said Berengar. “We are going to call on him—”

“That makes no sense,” said Bint-Anath.

“What do you mean?” asked Faramir.

“Why would you suddenly visit him and suggest a suitor? No. You must take me back now, explain what I did, and tell him your plan.”

“That will get us killed,” said Faramir.

“What are you talking about?”

“He is your father,” explained Berengar. “He is bound to defend your honour.”

Balls,” said the young woman.

“Bint-Anath!” Berengar was genuinely shocked.

“Well it is. Come on!” She slipped from his grasp and ran across the street. “Nirari,” she cried, “Nirari! Open the gates!”

“What is it about us that attracts so much trouble, Berengar?” asked Faramir, with a sigh.


“Are you mad?” The war lord, wearing his nightshirt, and with his hair in curlers, stormed into the reception hall.

“Do not be angry, papa,” cried Bint-Anath. She threw her arms around his neck.

“Bint-Anath! What have you done to your hair?”

“I cut it off, papa. I was running away. But Lo—Master Berengar and his friend have brought me back.”

Abdosir peered up at Faramir. “Is this true?”


“And Master Berengar has a proposal, papa,” said Bint-Anath. “One you will like.”

Abdosir manoeuvred his daughter onto the dais and set her on one the thrones. He turned to Berengar. “Well?”

“It is really Faro—Prince Faramir’s idea.”

The war lord sat down heavily. “I can see that this will take all night... What is your wonderful proposal, Prince Faramir?”

“Your daughter has told me that she would prefer to marry the Hatja’s son—”

“We would all prefer her to marry the Hatja’s son,” said Abdosir, with a dismissive wave of the hand.

“Suppose I could arrange it?”


“I am not without influence,” said Faramir, “with the Hatja, and with several rulers from the North. It should be possible for me to negotiate a triangular trading agreement in which your daughter’s hand would play a significant a part—”

“Why would you go to so much trouble?”

“Because we want Bint-Anath to be happy,” said Berengar.

“Thank you, Berengar,” said Bint-Anath, smiling at him fondly.

“Will you give me leave to approach the Hatja on your behalf?” asked Faramir.

Abdosir sighed. “Why not?”

“I still have some business in Rihat,” said Faramir. “But when that is completed, Berengar and I shall return to Carhilivren by the first caravan, and request an audience.”


Underneath the arches

Legolas and Eowyn walked slowly round the outside of the Circus to the animal sheds on south west corner. For a few moments they paused, watching the trainers at work, herding the oliphaunts back to their small cages, and feeding the striped cats with joints of meat.

“It is strange,” whispered Legolas, “to see so much cruelty and yet feel so much love...”


“Though they deny them their freedom, Melmenya, these men love their animals; and the animals love them back.”

Squeezing her hand, he drew her to the wild man’s cage.

Heniach nin?” he asked softly.

The creature considered him for a moment, its deep, unfathomable eyes full of sadness, then it grunted a reply.

Man eneth lín?” asked Legolas.

More grunts.

“Legolas i eneth nín—”

“Hey, you! Get away from him!” cried one of the men.

“No i Melain na le, mellon nín,” said Legolas, before he and Eowyn moved on.

Behind the sheds, where the noise and the smells and the insects kept respectable people away, the Circus arches were home to ladies of the night, who had furnished them, as best they could, with rugs and cushions and closed them off with bits of curtain.

The couple walked slowly by. Noises from the first arch told them its owner was hard at work and could not be disturbed. The owner of the second arch—lolling, legs still spread—swigged spirits from a bottle and waved drunkenly. Legolas squeezed Eowyn’s hand and they carried on. The third arch housed a thin, bitter-looking woman, sitting cross-legged, displaying her hard little breasts—with painted nipples—for the benefit of potential customers.

“Couples cost extra,” said the woman.

“How much?” asked Legolas.

“Two gold.”

He raised his eyebrows. “For what?”

“Anything you like.”

Legolas looked to Eowyn for guidance. “How long have you lived here?” she asked.

“What does that matter?” asked the woman.

“It adds to the experience,” said Eowyn.

“I came here during Scorpus’s first season, so—three years...”

The couple stepped into the arch. Legolas dropped the curtain.

“Money first,” said the woman.

Eowyn opened a small beaded purse at her hip, took out two gold coins, and handed them over.

“He makes you pay?”

Eowyn nodded. “He is a brute. What is your name?”

“Call me anything you like.”

“I would like to use your real name.”

“Elissa.” She turned to Legolas. “What do you want? One of us on your cock and the other working your balls? Or are you the type that likes to feel himself while he watches two women?”

Legolas cleared his throat. “We just want to talk.”

“Talk?” She narrowed her eyes, shrewdly. “Talk can get a girl beaten—or killed. Talk costs extra.”

“How much?”

“Ten gold. Extra.”

Eowyn gave her the money.

“Ask away.”

“Do you know a little boy called Keret?” asked Legolas. “He is about—how old, melmenya?”

“He would have been seven or eight when he lived here.”

The woman gasped. “This is about Riya...

Legolas and Eowyn exchanged glances. “Yes,” said Legolas. “Do you—”

“A hundred gold.”

“We do not have that much with us,” said Legolas. “But we can give it to you later—”

“A hundred gold and passage out of Carhilivren.”

“Done,” said Legolas.

“And protection while I wait for the wind.”


“And some new clothes. Like hers.” She nodded towards Eowyn.

“Anything you want,” said Legolas. “Where is Riya?”

The woman checked that her curtain was fully closed, then crawled into the very back of the arch, pulled a knife from under her skirt and, using its blade, removed a stone from the wall.

“I always knew that Riya would come back to haunt me,” she said, taking out a leather pouch. She replaced the stone. “She gave me this the day she left Carhilivren.”

“Where did she go?” asked Eowyn.

“East, along the Silk Road.” Elissa opened the pouch. “She asked me to take care of Keret but the little bugger ran off. He never liked me.” She tipped something out into her palm. “The number of times I could have spent this on myself!”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Riya would have slit my throat!”

She handed the object to Legolas.

It was an elven ring.


Where have they gone? How could they just disappear? Wolfram shuffled past the arches. They must be in here...

Cautiously, he pulled back the ragged curtain.

“Hey! What are you doing?”

A very big, very angry, and very aroused man shot out from the arch, caught Wolfram by the headdress, grabbed his arm and shook him hard. He raised his hand to strike. “Filthy old bi—”

“LEAVE HER ALONE!” roared a familiar voice, and a slender figure darted forward, grasped the man’s hand and broke his grip. “Does it make you feel manly to attack an old woman?” My Lady demanded.

“What is happening, Melmenya?”

“This real man,” said My Lady, “is bullying a woman three times his age and a quarter of his size.”

The real man was hastily fastening his trousers. “The old bitch was spying on me,” he complained, “watching me with—her.” He gestured towards the arch.

“Do not be ridiculous!” cried My Lady.

“She was lurking outside—”

“She was walking past. She is slow on her feet! And who would care that you were with a whore—?”

The man took to his heels.

“I do not think that any real harm has been done, Melmenya,” said elf-boy, soothingly. “Has it madam?”

“Oh—er—no,” said Wolfram, hunching over a little more, and making his voice sound a little higher.

“Will you be all right now?” asked My Lady. “Can we take you anywhere?”

The gods are laughing at someone tonight, thought Wolfram. Do I dare? “No, my dear,” he said. “Now that the brute has left, I shall be safe.”

“Well, if you are sure, madam,” said elf-boy. “Good night, then. Come, Melmenya; Elissa.”

Elissa? Cautiously, Wolfram raised his head and watched them leave. Now what would that pair be doing with a whore?


Ribhadda closed the door behind the last patron. The Silk Road was quiet at last. Cyllien emerged from the stage door carrying a dark mantle.

Ribhadda smiled. “I hear you’re going back North with him,” he said.

Cyllien slipped the mantle over her shoulders. “Yes.” She fastened the pin. “Rib...”

“Don’t worry about me, kid. I’ll be fine.”

“I know you will—we were never meant to be, Rib.” She came closer. “I just wish,” she said, quietly, “that she’d come back.”


“You know who—”

“Are you ready?” called Haldir.

Cyllien smiled. “Yes, melethron. Good night, Ribhadda.” She squeezed his arm.


Keret had sulked all the way home. “I don’t like her,” he said to Hentmirë. “She hits me.”

“She will not hit you here, Keret. I shall not let her,” said Hentmirë, firmly. “Now, wash your hands and face, clean your teeth, and get into bed—and I will bring you a surprise...”


Legolas handed Elissa a glass of fruit cordial.

“Don’t you have anything stronger?”


She sighed. “I gave you the ring. What more do you want?”

“Why did Riya leave Carhilivren?”

Elissa shrugged her shoulders.

Eowyn took a bottle from the sideboard, removed the stopper, and poured a large measure of brown liquid into the woman’s drink. “What did she say when she was leaving?”

Elissa drained the spirits, shuddered with relief, and held out the glass for more. Ignoring Legolas’ expression, Eowyn poured. “Well?”

“It’s a long time ago.”

Eowyn stopped pouring.

“Oh, all right! She said she had to leave Carhilivren because of the Hatja’s son.”


“Well, he was murdered—in some tavern over by the souk—and she was with him. She knows the man who did it.”


Legolas found Hentmirë searching for something in her father’s study.

“I am sorry, gwendithen,” he said. “We have filled your house with waifs and strays, and criminals, and now a prostitute—”

“Oh, that does not matter,” said Hentmirë. “I have had a bed made up for her in the servants’ quarters. Though there is one thing—”

“What? What is worrying you, gwendithen?”

I shall deal with it, Legolas—ah, here it is!” She held up a small wooden mûmak. “Has she told you where to find Keret’s mother?”

“No. But we now know why Riya went into hiding... That looks like one of the animals we saw tonight, gwendithen.”


Hentmirë paused on her way to the stairs. “I will see Elissa to her room,” she said. “Come: this way.”

As she led the woman into the servants’ wing, she said, quietly, “You are welcome to stay in my house for as long as you need. But you are never to lay a hand on Keret again.”


“Lassui,” said Eowyn, laying down her hair brush and turning towards him, “I have had an idea.”

Legolas, already sitting in bed, held his arms out to her.

Eowyn sighed. “This is so hard on you,” she said, slipping out of her dressing robe and climbing in beside him. “Mortal life, with all its ugliness—but we shall soon be back home, Lassui; safe in Eryn Carantaur.” She snuggled in his arms.

Legolas buried his face in her hair. “What was your idea, Melmenya?”

“I was thinking that we should go to Rihat, and see if we can find Riya there. If not, then I think we can honestly say that we have done our best—and stop looking.”

“It is two days’ journey, to Rihat, Eowyn nín.”

“Not if the djinn takes us.”


Gods, I love that woman! thought Wolfram, as he settled down opposite the house to resume his watch. The way she stood up to that big prick! He grinned at the unintentional pun. She has bigger balls than the rest of them put together.

He made himself comfortable. She is wasted on elf-boy. What she needs is a wolf...

And with that happy thought, he closed his eyes and got some well-earned sleep.



Contents page


Previous chapter: The suitor
Faramir plays a dangerous game. Wolfram disguises himself.

Chapter 10

Next chapter: More answers
Faramir hears Gwirith's story; Legolas and Eowyn draw a blank.

Chapter 12

The Circus

Chapter 2

Heniach nín? ...
‘Do you understand me?’
Man eneth lín? ...
‘What is your name?’
Legolas i eneth nín ...
‘My name is Legolas.’
No i Melain na le, mellon nín ...
‘May the Valar be with you, my friend.’


Scorpus was a real charioteer whose epitaph was written by the poet Martial:
I am Scorpus, the glory of the noisy Circus, the much-applauded and short-lived darling of Rome. Envious Fate, counting my victories instead of my years, and so believing me old, carried me off in my twenty-sixth year.
He had won 2048 races.


The wild man