“Keret,” whispered Gwirith, “oh, Keret!” She hugged him tightly. Then, “Let me look at you...” Keret stepped back. “How you’ve grown!” She held out her arms again.

“Let us take you inside,” said Legolas, gently separating them. “Captain Oliel...”

Oliel lifted Gwirith and carried her into the house.

“Bring her over here,” said Hentmirë, indicating her day bed. She caught Keret’s arm as he followed his mother. “You must be very good now, Keret, and help us look after her. Start by asking if she would like a drink...”

Outside, Eowyn was already sending the djinn back to Rihat, to collect Faramir and the others.


The healer had insisted that the Kurian be allowed to rest before he was questioned.

“I have given him something to make him sleep. He has been fortunate—the glass missed his eye and, although there will be some scarring, most of the damage is above the hairline. There is, however, a deep laceration along the jaw, so he must be fed, very carefully, on liquids until it heals—and, of course, he must not speak...”

Ribhadda sighed. “I understand. How much?”

“Five gold pieces. It was a very skilled job.”

Ribhadda paid the healer. Then he sent Aqhat out to fetch a woman.

“Find Meryt or Bet, or one of the others,” he said. “Tell her I’ll pay her five silver a day to take care of Master Kurian—feed him and change his dressings—in her own lodgings. I don’t want him here.”

“Yes, boss.”

By the time the Kurian awoke, The Silk Road was open and customers were already drinking at the bar and sitting at the gaming tables. Leaving Hiram in charge, Ribhadda took Haldir backstage to his own room.

“He’s in here...” he said, unlocking the door.

The injured man was lying on the divan, his face and his left hand heavily bandaged. Ribhadda drew up a chair and indicated that Haldir should do the same.

“The healer tells me you can’t speak,” said Ribhadda. “So I want you to answer by moving your hand. One tap for ‘yes’, two taps for ‘no’. Do you understand?”

No response.

Ribhadda sighed. “You’re a professional,” he said. “And this fiasco will have left you out of pocket. I will pay you for information. Do you understand that?”

There was a long pause. Then, Yes.

“Good. Now, I want to know who hired you. I’m going to say some names, and I want you to tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no’ after each one.” He recited a list of names, deliberately starting with people he was sure had nothing to do with the attack. Each one elicited a ‘no’, until he said, “Abdi.”


Ribhadda glanced at Haldir.

“Did he say why he wanted Ribhadda dead?” asked the elf.


Ribhadda was surprised. “Can you write, Master Kurian?”


He walked over to his desk and found a writing board and a piece of chalk. “Here,” he said, “tell me why.”

With help, the Kurian wrote, He think you know something will get him hanged.

Ribhadda frowned. “Did he say what?”

Two taps. No.

“Did he mention Cyllien?” asked Haldir. “The elleth—the female elf who sings here? Were you to do anything to her?”


“Take her back to him?”


“He does not give up,” said Haldir.

“He doesn’t know how,” replied Ribhadda. To the Kurian, he said, “I’ve arranged for someone to nurse you until you’re back on your feet. Then I strongly suggest you get yourself back to Kuri.”

With great care, the Kurian turned towards him, and assessed him with his one unbandaged—and still-painted—eye. Yes, he tapped.

“We’ll leave you now. I’ll send you a drink.”

The Kurian moved his hand, indicating that he wanted to write something else. Ribhadda held the board for him. No more spirits.

Ribhadda almost laughed. “You should never have got into this line of work,” he said. “You’re not cut out for it.”

“Why did you not kill him?” asked the elf, as Ribhadda locked the door.

The man shrugged his shoulders. “He was only doing his job.”

“A job that you used to do?”

“Similar,” said Ribhadda. “Once upon a time. Somewhere far, far, away.”


“We will have to go inside soon, gwendithen,” said Legolas.

“It is a pleasant evening,” said Hentmirë. “Just give them a few moments more.”

“But it is getting cold!” said Legolas, hugging her. “Look—Eowyn is shivering and Gimli is turning blue!”

Elves,” growled Gimli, following his remark with a large swig of ale, for he had taken the sensible precaution of bringing a tankard outside with him.

“I am fine,” said Eowyn, laughing. “If I need a wrap, I will go in through the kitchen and—oh, look!” She pointed skywards. “Is that the djinn?”


Keret was asleep, sitting on the floor beside the day bed, his head resting on the mattress beside Gwirith’s hand.

“Why does he call you ‘mummy’?” asked Oliel, very quietly.

“Because he thinks I’m his mother.”

“But you’re not...”

“Oliel! He is far too old.”

“That is what I thought...”

“I found him by the docks,” said Gwirith. “I was about to...” She bit her lip. “I must be honest with you Oliel, I was about to find a sailor and fuck my way home.”


Her husband laid his hand upon her knee, supportively, and she smiled gratefully. “But then I found Keret, lying behind a pile of rubbish. He had a raging fever—it didn’t seem that he could possibly live, but—I don’t know why—I suppose because he was so helpless, like a kitten in a sack—I took care of him, and he recovered!

“It took days, but he recovered, Oliel, and—because he had no memory of his past—he thought that I was his mother. So I named him Keret.”

“And he is why you stayed.”

She nodded.

Oliel looked at the boy. “Whatever else you may have done, Gwirith—however bad you think you’ve been—taking care of him has more than made up for it. It will be strange, suddenly being a father—and to a grown boy. I’ll have a lot to learn, and quickly.” He reached over Keret’s head and touched his wife’s cheek. “Just answer me one thing, Gwirith. Did you know that I was looking for you? Did you hide from me?”

“Not at first,” she said. “At first I hid from everybody because I couldn’t take the risk—when I heard of someone asking for me, I never knew if he’d been sent by you or by someone else, and I couldn’t risk being found by him. But, later, I did deliberately hide from you, because I didn’t think I could bear for you to see what I’d become...”


“Well,” said Berengar, climbing down from the palanquin, “that was more comfortable than a camel! Why is everyone sitting outside?”

Legolas explained what had happened when Keret had seen Gwirith. “Hentmirë wants to give them some time alone together.”

“Gwirith is Keret’s mother? You are saying that Gwirith is Riya?” Faramir sat on the wall of one of the raised flower beds. “That is why she did not leave Carhilivren when she had the chance,” he said. “That is who she meant by ‘we’.”

“What did she tell you Faramir?” asked Legolas. “Who is she hiding from?”

“She did not say. But it has something to do with a murder.”

“The Hatja’s son!” said Eowyn, suddenly. “Remember Lassui? Elissa—that is the prostitute from the Circus,” she explained to Faramir, “she told us that Riya was with the Hatja’s son when he was murdered, and that she knew the man who did it.”

“From what Gwirith told me,” said Faramir, “technically, she was an accomplice. It was her job to keep the man, er, occupied whilst the killer struck. But I have the impression that she did it under duress. She did not say so, but I think that the killer was her owner.”

“But that was Abdi!” said Legolas. “According to Ribhadda, her owner was Abdi—the man who hired Wolfram to kidnap Cyllien...”


Under Hentmirë’s supervision, Keret was carried upstairs and put to bed, and the room adjoining his was prepared for Gwirith. “It will just take me a few moments to arrange it. Would you mind, my dear,” she said to Oliel, “coming up with me? Then you can tell me what your wife needs...”

Legolas—though not convinced that Oliel would know what his estranged wife might need—was grateful for the opportunity to exchange a few quiet words with Gwirith. “I believe that this,” he said, taking the elven ring Elissa had given him from a money pouch at his hip, “is yours.”

“My mother’s ring! How did you come by it, your Highness?”

“Keret ran away from your friend, so she kept it in case you came back for it.” He handed it to her. “Did you say it was your mother’s?”


“It is a very special ring.”

“She gave it to me just before she died,” said Gwirith. She slipped it onto her finger, beside the wedding ring that Oliel had already returned to her, and held up her hand to admire it. “She couldn’t wear it herself.”

“Why not?” asked Legolas, softly.

“It wasn’t my father’s—it was given to her by her first love.” She smiled. “‘My prince’—that’s what she always called him. ‘My prince’.”

“There,” said Hentmirë, coming downstairs with Oliel still in tow, “everything is ready. Would you like to go up now, my dear?”

Gwirith immediately turned to the little woman and—displaying the ‘class’ that Ribhadda had so admired—said, with a gracious bow of the head, “Thank you again, my Lady, for making me so welcome in your home. I would like to retire now, yes.”


As Gwirith was being carried upstairs, Faramir drew Legolas aside. “I have undertaken—I will not go into the details of why: suffice to say that Berengar had a hand in it,”—Legolas smiled—“to attempt to arrange a marriage between the daughter of Lord Abdosir of Rihat and the Hatja’s heir...”

“Valar! Do you think you will succeed?”

“I really do not know. It is a ludicrous idea.” Legolas smiled again. “I had planned to offer the Hatja a trading agreement,” said Faramir. “Trees are scarce here, and I thought that the timber of North Ithilien might prove attractive. But now...”

“You could offer him the man who killed his son?”

“But not without endangering Gwirith.”

“Do you really think the Hatja would punish her?”

Faramir shrugged his shoulders. “He is an honourable man, I think, but not a kind one. He might easily decide that justice required it—and the penalty for murder is hanging.”

“We cannot expose her.”


“But something must be done about Abdi.” Legolas described what Haldir had witnessed behind the Guardhouse.

“So Abdi bribed Captain Ramess to let him escape? If he has Ramess on a regular retainer—”

“Which Ribhadda believes he has—”

“That would explain Ramess’s treatment of Gwirith when she went to him for help.” Faramir sighed. “The Hatja is not a likeable man,” he said, “but I cannot, in good conscience, hide the identity of his son’s killer from him. I really do not know what to do.”


Eowyn yawned. “You are saying that Gwirith is Imrahil’s daughter?” She unbuttoned her bodice.

“Yes—I am almost sure of it, Melmenya. I recognised her elven blood the moment I saw her.” He removed the stopper from a jar of scented oil and sniffed. “I cannot imagine how Hentmirë ever came to buy this,” he said, pouring a few drops of the sensual, musky perfume into the bath water.

“She cannot say ‘no’ to pedlars, Lassui,” said Eowyn, slipping out of her skirt. “She takes pity on them and buys whatever they show her. The house is full of things that she does not need and cannot take to Eryn Carantaur. We are going to sell them and give the money to the poor—So,” she said, returning to the previous topic, “that would make Gwirith Faramir’s cousin...”

“Yes—and Lothíriel’s sister,” said Legolas.

“Oh, dear gods!”

They both laughed. Eowyn climbed into the bath and sank down into the water. “Will you tell Gwirith?”

“I am not sure.”

“If her father—her late mother’s husband—does not know...”

“You think it would be better to say nothing,” Legolas finished. “So do I. She and Oliel will face enough problems without that.” He untied his sash and slipped out of his trousers.

Eowyn watched him walk to the dressing table and drape his clothes over the chair. There was something about the way he moved—about the combination of power, and grace, and effortless control—that made her feel...

“Come here,” she said, stretching out her arms. “ Come here, Lassui!”


“You are all slippery,” Eowyn whispered. “Wet... And oily... And—oh...” She leaned forward, squeezing him tight, and kissed his mouth. “Big,” she whispered.

“And you,” said Legolas, raking his oily hands through her hair, “are a vixen. My beautiful vixen.” He returned her kiss, exerting his elven strength to hold her close whilst he crushed his mouth against hers. Then he slid his hands down her shoulders, past her waist, grasped her hips, and began to thrust upwards, slow but hard.

“Oh! No,” cried Eowyn, “no, no!”

But she did not mean ‘no’, and the elf did not stop—not until her body suddenly arched and she threw back her head. And then he held her upright, and let her climax—sobbing with gratitude—until she wilted in his arms. Then he drew her close, and cradled her against his chest.


Ribhadda bade his last customer goodnight and locked the doors of The Silk Road behind him.

“Promise me you won’t stay here alone tonight, Rib,” said Cyllien. “It’s too dangerous.”

“You don’t need to worry about me, kid—”

“Cyllien is right,” said Haldir. “You know that Abdi will try again, and you cannot look to Captain Ramess for protection. Come back with us.”

“No,” said Ribhadda. “No, I can’t impose upon your friend like that.” He turned to Cyllien. “If it will make you happy, I’ll ask Hiram and Aqhat to stay with me—”

“Haldir will stay,” said Cyllien, “won’t you, Haldir? And so will I.”

You are not staying, Tithen Dúlinn,” said Haldir. “Let me take Cyllien home,” he said to Ribhadda. “Keep Hiram here with you until I return.”

“It really isn’t necessary.”

“I insist,” said Haldir.


Wolfram watched Cyllien and her big elf try to rouse the useless gatekeeper without waking the rest of the house. That place, he thought, has more beds than a brothel...

He finished his supper of leftovers and settled down to sleep.

Tomorrow, I must look for a way to get inside.


“Tinúviel, Tinúviel.
Still unafraid the birds now dwell
and sing on boughs amid the snow
where Lúthien and Beren go...”

Legolas let the last note die away. Eowyn was asleep.

At first he had found it difficult, spending his nights with someone who needed as much sleep as she did. But, gradually, he had come to enjoy it. To lie, gazing at the stars, with his immortal wife in his arms—what more could any elf want?

His happy thoughts were interrupted by the lightest of taps at the door.

That must be Haldir.

Carefully, without waking her, he settled Eowyn on the mattress, climbed out of bed, slipped on his dressing robe, and answered the door.

“I am sorry to disturb you, Legolas,” said Haldir, “but Gimli was sure that you would want to join us.”

“Doing what?”

Haldir described the attack on Ribhadda and their subsequent interrogation of the Kurian. “We plan to spend the night at The Silk Road. If there is another attempt, we will try to capture the assassin and persuade him to take us to Abdi.”

“Abdi,” said Legolas. “That man is at the centre of everything. You had better let Faramir know what we are doing. I shall dress and write a note for Eowyn.”


Ribhadda opened the door cautiously, knife in hand.

“I see you’ve brought the Five Armies with you,” he said, to Haldir, as he stood aside to allow the two elves, the dwarf, and the man to enter.

Apart from the moonlight filtering through the windows, the place was in darkness.

“We all have a stake in this,” said Legolas. He waited until the man had re-barred the door. “And we have some news for you. You may want to sit down to hear it.”

“Why?” asked Ribhadda.

Legolas gestured towards the nearest chair. With a wry smile, Ribhadda sat.

“We have found Riya,” said Legolas.

“And she’s dead,” said Ribhadda.


“Then what?”

“She is married,” said Legolas.


“To your friend, Captain Oliel.”

“Oliel! Oliel’s wife is... Well I’ll be...” Ribhadda shook his head, laughing.

It was not the reaction Legolas had expected. “I thought he would be disappointed,” he whispered to Faramir.

“He is,” said Faramir, squeezing his arm. “Gwirith—Riya,” he said to Ribhadda, taking the seat beside him, “saw Abdi murder the Hatja’s son—”

“The Hatja’s son? No wonder Abdi wants her dead.”

“Unfortunately,” continued Faramir, “he forced her to help him. So, when she went to report the crime to your friend, Captain Ramess—”

“Abdi’s puppet...”

“So I have heard—Ramess threatened her with hanging.”

“What evidence do you have against Abdi?” asked Legolas, suddenly. “Why does he want you dead?”

“I have spent most of the night wondering about that,” said Ribhadda. “And I still have no idea.”


“A dwarf,” said Legolas softly, “can sleep on a galloping horse.”

Faramir smiled. “Gimli’s snoring may just work in our favour,” he said. “If anyone does come for Ribhadda, he will be convinced that his victim is asleep.”

“But will we hear him break in—?”

Legolas held up his hand. His question had just been answered. “There is someone at the back door,” he said softly, “forcing the lock; and I think...”

“Someone at the front, too,” said Haldir. “They are quiet, for Men.”

“They are professionals,” said Faramir. “Haldir, shall you and I take the front?”

Legolas turned to Ribhadda. “That leaves us with the back...” He laid his hand on Gimli’s shoulder. “It is time, elvellon.”


There were three intruders at the back entrance.

“One each!” cried Gimli.

He felled the first with a mighty blow from the flat of his axe; Ribhadda, stationed beside the door, hit the second with his own weapon of choice, a bottle of spirits; and Legolas brought down the third, who had turned to flee, with two carefully placed arrows in the back of the leg.

“More healer’s bills,” Ribhadda complained.

They dragged their prisoners into the bar—where Haldir and Faramir had already captured two more intruders—and Gimli tied them to chairs.

“Did anyone escape?” asked Ribhadda.

“Not as far as I am aware,” said Faramir.

“Good.” Ribhadda lit one of the candelabras and scrutinised each prisoner in turn, stopping before the man with the arrow wounds. “Well, well,” he said, “Thuya. We have fallen on hard times.”

“It’s nothing personal, Rib.”

“No; it never is,” said Ribhadda. “But, just in case, I’m barring you from The Silk Road.” He set the candelabra down on one of the tables. “That leg looks painful...”

“It is, Rib.”

“It’s important,” said Ribhadda, “to get that sort of wound cleaned and dressed, before it starts to fester...”

“I know, Rib.”

“I knew a man with a wound like that, high up in the thigh—his leg started to fester; he had it amputated—too late—he had his private parts amputated—too late—he—”

“For pity’s sake!”

“There’s a healer just next door,” said Ribhadda. “A good man—knows his craft. Who sent you, Thuya?”

“Don’t tell him!” cried another prisoner.

Ribhadda rounded on him, “You don’t need a healer—who sent you, Thu—?”

“Abdi! Abdi sent us!”

“Are you supposed to meet with him? To collect your payoff?”

“Huy is, this afternoon.”

Ribhadda turned to Huy—the man that Gimli had stunned with his axe. “I want,” he said, “a personal introduction to Abdi. And I’m willing to pay.”

“How much?”

“How much is Abdi paying?”

“A hundred gold. Each.”

“I’ll double it,” said Ribhadda. “And you get the services of a healer thrown in free.”



Eowyn awoke expecting to find Legolas lying beside her.

Instead, she found a note on his pillow.

Melmenya, it said, I have been kidnapped by an elf and a dwarf and do not expect to be released until the morning,


Eowyn smiled. Then she turned the papyrus over.

We are spending the night at The Silk Road with Ribhadda. I will explain when I return.

“Oh, Lassui! How could you go without waking me?” she cried.


“You should consider keeping me on a retainer,” said the healer, “it would be cheaper for you in the long run.”

Ribhadda shot him a sarcastic smile. “Will Thuya live—the man with the arrow wounds?”

“Oh yes. Provided he keeps the wounds clean.”

“Thanks.” Ribhadda closed the door behind him.

“So, gentlemen,” he said to Faramir, Gimli, and the elves, “what I suggest is that we accompany Huy to the meeting with Abdi and take the bastard prisoner. Once we’ve got him safely locked up we can free the others.” He nodded towards the storeroom, where the prisoners were being held.

“What do you intend to do with Abdi?” asked Legolas.

“Well,” said Ribhadda, “we know there’s no point in turning him over to Ramess—”

“We take him straight to the Hatja,” said Gimli. “He will surely not be bought by the man who killed his own lad.”

Faramir shook his head, “We cannot do that, Gimli—it would endanger Gwirith.”

“Then let my axe deal with him.”

“No,” said Ribhadda. “We will hand him over to the Hatja, but I need to speak to Riya first.”

“Why?” asked Legolas, gently. “You are not...”

“Not what?” Ribhadda’s face crumpled into a smile—almost a laugh. “Planning to take the fall for her? No!”

“What, then?”

“Let me tell her first.”


Wolfram accepted the basket of food with effusive thanks, heaping good wishes on the Lady of the House and ending his performance with a cocky little squeeze of the slave’s hand. Then he settled back with a slice of fruited bread, and watched as the man made his way from villa to villa, delivering small pieces of papyrus.

What can they be?

The slave was arguing with the gatekeeper at the big yellow villa—The surly prick—who was refusing to accept whatever it was. Wolfram grinned when My Lady’s man had the last laugh, pushing the note into the clipped hedge as he left. He waited until the slave had returned to the house, carefully hid his food, then shuffled over to the yellow house, and—taking care that he was not seen by the gatekeeper—retrieved the papyrus.

Reading was not one of Wolfram’s talents, but even he could make out most of the carefully written words:


Wolfram could have danced! They are bound to leave the gates open! All I need do is walk in!

Hardly able to wait until the afternoon, he shuffled—a little too nimbly at first, but he checked himself—along the road, to the pink villa, where he peered through the wrought-iron gates. My Lady was in the courtyard, feeding kitchen scraps to a flock of coloured birds. Wolfram quickly turned away—but not before he had seen her bend forwards, in her tiny little bodice.

Just give them that, he thought. There’s enough gold and beads on it to feed ten homes for lost children...


By the time Legolas and the others arrived at the house, Eowyn had been joined in the courtyard by Gwirith, Keret, and Hentmirë, who were sitting together in a shady corner, eating breakfast.

“So you will be living on the ship?” asked Hentmirë.

“Yes,” said Gwirith. “Most of the time.”

“Oh, you will enjoy it!” said the little woman. “The sea is wonderful! But where will Keret live— ” She broke off at the sound of the gates opening. “Legolas!


Eowyn immediately dumped her plate of scraps on one of the raised flower beds and—scattering the flock of birds as she went—walked angrily over to the gate.

“You,” she said, ignoring everyone but Legolas, “have some explaining to do.”

“I left a note...”

Kidnapped by an elf an a dwarf!” She grabbed his arm and pulled him into the house—allowing him no time to reply to Hentmirë’s cheery greeting.


Ribhadda approached Hentmirë with a bow. “Good morning, my lady. I hope I’m not disturbing you too early.”

“Of course not—Master Ribhadda, is it not?” asked Hentmirë. “You are most welcome. But, if you’ll excuse me, I still have some preparations to make for a sale I am holding this afternoon. Come along, Keret: come and help me.”


Keret.” She took the boy into the house, with Haldir, Gimli and Faramir tactfully following. Ribhadda watched them go, then turned to Gwirith. “Hello, Riya.”


“You’re looking good.”

“Rib, I—”

Ribhadda held up his hands. “I know Riya, they’ve told me about Oliel.”

He sat down beside her. “He’s a good man. He’ll take care of you—and the boy. I’m here for a different reason—to give you this.” He handed her a scroll, tied with a red cord and sealed with a lump of red wax stamped with the Hatja’s emblem.

“Don’t open it—it’s a Letter of Pardon,” he explained. “Signed by the Hatja. It can’t be rescinded, not even by the Hatja himself. Whatever happens now, Riya, you’re safe.”



Contents page


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

Chapter 12

Next chapter: Destiny
Wolfram meets his destiny.

Chapter 14