The Silken Rack stood close to the Bazaar, a glimmering palace of slender towers and delicate turrets—overtly feminine in a world already dominated by the female.

Escorted by the two male drow, Wilawen strode towards its elegant gates. Her heart was pounding, but her journey through the busy market place, where males of every species had bowed, and stepped aside with cringing respect, had convinced her that, provided she could control her nerves, and could talk her way inside—

“Let me do the talking,” said Pharaun.

Wilawen turned on him, her eyes narrowed, but the drow’s gaze was respectfully lowered. “Remember,” she warned, “how much you need me.”

“We are in this together—mistress.” He bowed. Then, assuming a regal air, he approached the drow guards with a curt, “Open the gates for my Lady!”

Wilawen saw one of the males cast her a surreptitious glance. But it was no more than a quick appraisal of her new, curvaceous body; and, when their eyes met, he hastily bowed, then swung the gate open, and backed away to let her pass.

With Pharaun and Drizzt in tow, Wilawen swept inside.


The proprietress of The Silken Rack welcomed her new client into an elegantly furnished parlour. “I was just about to take a little refreshment,” she said, “will you join me?”

“Thank you,” said Wilawen.

The madam looked at her curiously. “Is something troubling you, my Lady?”

“I... No.”

“This is all new to you,” said the drow, soothingly. “I can see that. Please, sit down...”

There was a small table standing between them, with a crystal decanter and goblets upon it, and the madam poured two glasses of pale green wine and handed one to Wilawen. “Believe me,” she said, “these males may look different—and it is true that most of them have more spirit than a drow—but, in the end, they are still only males. There is no reason for a Lady to be nervous.”

I must be bolder, thought Wilawen.

She took a sip of wine, set the goblet back on the table, and told the tale that she and Pharaun had concocted beforehand: that she was a noble, from the city of Ched Nasad, visiting House Mizzrym, that her hostess had heard that the Rack had recently acquired a number of surface elves, and that she, Wilawen, was... curious.

“Ah, the new elves,” said the drow, leaning back in her chair with a self-satisfied smile. “Yes, they are exceedingly popular—and with good reason. They are so skilled.”

“Might I...?” Wilawen’s voice stuck in her throat. She pretended to cough.

“You are most fortunate, my Lady. It just so happens that one of them is free.”

“Then I should like to see him.”

The madam took up a little bell from the table and shook it, and a male drow immediately emerged from the shadows. “Vorion will show you to your room,” she said.

The drow presented himself to Wilawen with a bow.

“My—er—my males...” she said.

“They will be quite safe in the waiting room,” replied the madam.

“No,” said Wilawen, firmly, “I want them with me.”

“With you?” The drow frowned. “That is a most unusual request, my Lady. You will not need them, I assure you.”

“I... I want them,” said Wilawen. It sounded pathetic. She squared her shoulders and tried again. “It is better—more enjoyable—when they are present. If I cannot have them—” She began to rise.

But the madam reached out, and—without actually touching her guest—kept her in her seat. “Of course, my Lady,” she said, with a forced smile. “The Rack takes pride in satisfying its patrons’ desires.

“Vorion, escort the Lady to the Blue Room, then have her males taken to join her—but,” she added, quietly, “tell Kyrnill I want them thoroughly searched and disarmed, first.”


The Blue Room was an elegant, high-ceilinged cavern, subtly decorated with web-like carvings, and softly lit by lavender-blue faerie fire.

Wilawen wandered nervously amongst its graceful pillars, breathing deeply in an attempt to control her nerves.

Which of the elves would they bring to her?

Please, gods, let it be Valandil!

But would he recognise her?

And how would she convince him if he did not?


Orophin followed his gaoler down the pitch-black corridor.

What had happened to Valandil had changed everything.

Orophin did not know whether his friend was alive or dead but, even if he were still alive, there could be no possibility now of their escaping together.

A great, hollow misery filled the elf’s heart.


Wilawen shuddered. She was sitting on the bed, and the mattress, filled with something soft and fluid, kept rippling suggestively beneath her—

Suddenly, a door—hitherto concealed—opened in one of the carved walls, and a burly female drow entered, leading an elf. Wilawen leaped to her feet. “Oro—!

She stopped herself just in time. “Oh,” she said, deliberately. “Thank you.”

The drow removed the elf’s shackles, and gave Wilawen a perfunctory bow, before withdrawing, and shutting the door behind her.


Orophin steeled himself.

His ‘guest’ was small, with delicate features that seemed very familiar, though he could not recall where he had seen them before, and she was standing awkwardly, as though trying to hide her shapely body. Had she been an elleth, he would have said that she was shy.

Orophin made up his mind: if an opportunity arose, he would take it; one way or another, he would not spend another day in this terrible place.


Orophin!” cried Wilawen, running to the elf and throwing her arms around him. “Oh, Orophin, I am so pleased to see you! Where is Valandil? Tell me that he is safe, too!”

To her surprise, gently but firmly, the elf pushed her away. “Please, allow me, mistress,” he said, lifting her into his arms and carrying her to the bed.


He laid her on its swaying mattress and, sitting down beside her, he ran his hands over her body, caressing her breasts, her waist, her hips, then bringing them down between her thighs...


No weapons, thought Orophin, except for the snake whip, And if I try to wield that, will it obey me? Or will it strike?


No!” Wilawen knocked his hand away. “What are you doing? Orophin!

The elf frowned—and it seemed to Wilawen that her blow had awoken him from some sort of trance.

What was that?” he asked. “Were you saying my name?” He leaned over her. The mattress shuddered beneath them. “How do you know my name? I have not told anyone my name!”

Wilawen shuffled backwards on the heaving bed, and pushed herself up on her elbows. “I am Wilawen,” she said. “In disguise.”

“Did you say ‘Wilawen’?”



He grasped her shoulders. “Where is she? What have you done to her? Tell me!”

“O’rro-phinn,” cried the drow.

“Tell me!” He shook her hard. “Tell me!” He lifted a hand and—Valar forgive him—he threatened to strike her, and her eyes widened with shock—

And then he knew where he had seen her face before.


The public door—the one through which Wilawen had entered—suddenly opened, and Orophin released her, and quickly backed away.

Wilawen turned—and could hardly believe how relieved she was to see Pharaun enter, followed by Drizzt.

“Well. I see that you have lost no time in getting reacquainted with your friend,” said the Mage, dryly.

“Why does he not understand me?” Wilawen crawled across the swaying mattress, rolled awkwardly to her feet, and advanced upon the drow. “What have you done?”

“What have I done? I?” He turned her to face Orophin. “The elf cannot understand you because you are speaking drow—as you commanded, remember? You will continue to speak drow until you ask me to remove the spell.” He examined his beautifully-shaped hand.

Wilawen sighed. It was too soon to risk that. “But you can speak Westron,” she said. “You tell him who I am.” She made it a command.

Pharaun waved at Orophin to draw his attention. “This,” he said, pointing, and enunciating his words carefully, as though to an idiot, “is your friend,”—he turned back to Wilawen—“what did you say your name was?”

She had told him that it was ‘Eowyn’ but now was not the time for caution. “Wilawen,” she said.

Ah... This is your friend, Wilawen, whom I have, very cleverly, disguised as one of your—er—customers, so that she may help you escape.”

The elf’s eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.

“I do not think he believes me,” said Pharaun.

“Tell him to ask me something,” said Wilawen. “Something that only I—Wilawen—would know.” And, as Pharaun translated, she moved closer to the elf, willing him to recognise her.

Orophin stared at her for a long moment, then said, hoarsely, “What happened to my older brother?”


It was impossible—ridiculous—and yet Orophin already knew that it was true. “What happened to my older brother?” he asked.

And the drow who was really Wilawen, tears spilling down her ebony cheeks, replied.

And he had no need of that arrogant fellow’s translation to understand what she was saying.


“He drowned,” said Wilawen, softly, “in the starlit cave.”


They gathered beside the bed to plan their next move.

“Valandil refused,” said Orophin—and Wilawen, who could understand him, though she could not make him understand her, translated his words for Drizzt—“and fought them. I saw them drag him from his cell. I do not know where they took him. I do not know whether...” He saw Wilawen’s anguish and touched her hand. “I am so sorry.”

Drizzt took charge. “We must release the others first,” he said, decisively. “If he is badly injured we will need their help. Mizzrym,”—he turned to Pharaun—“you must find him for us.”

The Mage sighed. “Just remember that I am not an infinite resource. Do you have anything that belongs to this elf of yours?”

Wilawen wiped her eyes. “No,” she sniffed. “Unless... Yes, I do have the ring he gave me when we made our vows.”

Pharaun held out his hand.

Wilawen fished down the front of her bodice. “I was keeping it safe,” she explained, dropping it into his palm.

“Oh, good. It is warm.”

Holding the ring in his open hand, and using the fingers of his free hand to draw delicate patterns in the air above it, Pharaun recited his spell. As he finished, the ring jumped, and he quickly clasped his hands together. “There,” he said, keeping the jewel trapped, “now it will lead us to him.”

“We will need the weapons, O’Wilawen,” said Drizzt.

Once again, the woman reached into her leather bodice, this time pulling out a small, black velvet pouch, and offered it to Pharaun.

The Mage turned to Drizzt. “This is your territory, not mine,” he said. “You had better do the manly part.”

Drizzt set the pouch on the bed, untied the knot in its drawstring, and loosened the fine cord. Then, slipping on his gauntlets, he carefully pulled the pouch open—and as his hands moved, the velvet seemed to stretch with them, stretching and stretching until it spread out over the bed like a black coverlet; and lying upon it was an assortment of knives, and swords, and Drizzt’s pair of scimitars hanging from their tooled leather belt, and a small self-bow, made of dark, polished wood and inlaid with golden leaves (which must have originated in the Woodland Realm), and lying on top of all—

“My bow,” said Orophin.

“It is wonderful what you can find in the Bazaar these days,” said Pharaun.

“Please,” said Drizzt, speaking as one warrior to another, and needing no translation, “take up your weapon.”

So Orophin lifted his great Galadhrim bow and, with a smile that mingled triumph and relief, tested it with a slow, careful draw.

Then he watched in fascination as Drizzt, having set aside his own swords, and a dagger for Wilawen, drew up the edges of the velvet sheet—which instantly reformed itself into a tiny pouch—sealing the remaining weapons inside. “How is that possible?” he asked.

“What you are seeing is a simple bridge between dimensions,” said Pharaun. “On the outside it is a pouch, on the inside—oh, never mind. It is magic.”

Then, with a complacent smile, he added, “The clever thing was hiding it where our hostesses would never have dared to search.”


They put their plan into action.

Drizzt took up position beside the door.

Orophin, kneeling astride Wilawen, who was lying on her back on the bed, wrapped his hands around her throat.

“Begin,” said Pharaun.

“Help,” she screamed. “Help! Help!

Nothing happened.

“Again,” said Pharaun. “Louder.”

“HELP,” cried Wilawen—the Mage added the sounds of a violent struggle with a few sweeps of his elegant hand—“HELP! HELP! HEEEELP!

At last, the concealed door flew open and Orophin’s burly gaoler rushed in, snake whip already raised—

But she had not taken more than three steps towards the elf before Drizzt called upon her to turn and, as she stared at him in surprise, he stepped forward, and sliced her head from her shoulders with a single cut of his scimitar.


They laid the drow’s body on the bed and left the Blue Room, closing the door behind them. “It is not worth wasting my energies on sealing it,” said Pharaun. “They will not miss her for at least another hour, and the fun will have begun long before that.”

Orophin had broken a glowing crystal from one of the chandeliers, and he led them down the maze of corridors, following the route that he had memorised.

Tell me,” said Wilawen to Pharaun, in her most commanding whisper, “where is Valandil?”

“Happily, we appear to be heading straight towards him,” replied the drow. “And I must add that your mistrusting me now shows extremely poor judgement.”

Despite—or perhaps because of—the state of her nerves, Wilawen laughed.

Shhhh!” hissed Orophin; there was someone up ahead.

Drizzt laid one hand on the elf’s arm and, gesturing with the other, indicated that he should hide the crystal, and allow the drow to investigate. Orophin agreed, handing the light to Pharaun, who slipped it inside his robes.

Drizzt disappeared into the darkness.

The others waited.

There was a short, muffled cry, and then a thud.

Pharaun returned the crystal to Orophin.


They found Drizzt crouching beside another female. “She was delivering a prisoner—she will soon be missed,” he whispered, “and there is nowhere to hide her body.”

Her charge—a giant, heavily muscled man—was watching them placidly.

“His spirit has been broken,” murmured Orophin.

But Wilawen waved a hand in front of the man’s eyes and, when he looked down a her, bewildered, she said, relying on Pharaun to translate, “We have come to set you free—to free as many of you as we can. Will you help us?”

The man nodded.

Wilawen handed him her dagger.


They found the cells, exactly as Orophin had described, arranged in pairs along a closed side-passage. Two of the eight doors were already standing open—Orophin’s own, and Valandil’s.

“The others must be occupied,” whispered the elf. “This,”—he pointed to one of the stout, fungus-wood doors—“is Rumil’s, I think...”

“Open all of them,” ordered Wilawen. She turned to Pharaun and looked him directly in the eye. “Open them.”

Slowly—because, although it was not really in his interests, he found that he could resist this command, just a little, and he did not want the woman thinking that she had more power over him than she really had—Pharaun raised both arms and pronounced a very loud and very agitated spell—


The doors burst open, smoke and dust and splinters of fungus-wood flying out into the corridor and raining down upon the rescuers.

Drizzt ran back to the mouth of the passage, scimitars drawn, ready to deal with anyone who might come to investigate the noise.

Orophin plunged into his brother’s cell.

Wilawen, one arm raised to protect her face from the debris, turned to Pharaun. “Could you not have done something less spectacular?”

“The doors had to come outwards,” said the drow, “or the blast would have killed your friends.” He approached one of the open cells, cautiously.

“I meant could you not just have broken off the locks and—oh, Master Dínendal—oh, no!” She caught the elf’s arm as he tried to retreat back into his cell. “Dín-en-dal,” she said, as clearly as she could, “please, go in there, with Or-o-phin and Ru-mil.” She pushed the elf towards Rumil’s cell.

Meanwhile, the occupants of the other cells had emerged—two more humans, a dwarf, and a huge Uruk Hai.

“There really is no accounting for female taste when it comes to sex,” muttered Pharaun, prudently taking shelter behind the big, dull-witted human, but the prisoners were not interested in him—they were closing in on Wilawen, whom they took to be one of their gaolers

“Help me,” she hissed.

Pharaun considered his options.

HELP ME,” she bellowed—and, suddenly, he had no choice but to step in front of her.

“We are here to save you,” he said, in Westron. “We have weapons—look,”—he gestured towards the big human—“we have already armed your friend.” Wilawen slapped his back. “Oh! And the female is with us.”


The Uruk Hai had armed itself with an axe and, as they swept back along the corridors, following Valandil’s enchanted ring, it released more and more of the prisoners, striking off the locks and shouldering open the doors.

The supply of weapons was soon exhausted, but there was strength in numbers, and the motley army, bound together by nothing more than a common hatred of their gaolers, dealt ruthlessly with the few females who tried to stand in their way.


“He is in there,” said Pharaun. He handed the ring back to Wilawen and she slipped it on her finger.

The door that the Mage had identified looked no different from any of the others, except that it did not appear to be locked. Drizzt, however, signalled to the Uruk Hai, and the brute smashed it open. Wilawen and Dínendal immediately slipped inside, followed by the two drow and a handful of prisoners.

Two females, working at a bench on the far side of the room, were quickly seized, thrown from male to male, and swallowed up by the crowd.

What if they were healers, thought Wilawen, with a pang of guilt.

But then she saw Valandil, lying unconscious on one of the beds, and she sat down beside him, and took his hand in hers, whilst Dínendal examined him. “There are no broken bones,” said the healer, “and no sign of serious internal injury; but he is very badly bruised. He needs sleep.” He glanced round his companions and, not knowing whom to address, settled for Pharaun. “I would prefer not to wake him just yet.”

“Then we must carry him,” said Wilawen. She leaned over the elf and lovingly stroked a strand of his hair back from his forehead.

Wilawen...” whispered Dínendal, for he had seen that gesture before.

“Whatever we do,” said Drizzt, “we must hurry. We cannot control this mob, but we need them. The Silken Rack is run by two of the most powerful houses in Menzoberranzan; the proprietress will be calling on their armies for protection. We must get out quickly.”

Wilawen turned suddenly to Pharaun. “Answer me truthfully,” she said, “would a person be safe inside the velvet pouch? Would he be able to breathe?”

“Yes,” said the Mage, without hesitation.

But the woman was cautious. “Are you telling me the truth?”

“If he is not,” said Drizzt, “I will kill him.”

“You could try.” Pharaun sighed. “Yes,” he said, emphatically, “he will be safe inside the pouch.”

“Then I will carry him.” Wilawen pulled the velvet bag from her bodice and handed it to the Mage. Pharaun set it down on one of the beds and opened it out; Dínendal and Drizzt carefully lifted Valandil and laid him upon the velvet sheet, and Pharaun began gathering it up—

Wait,” cried Wilawen. She leaned down and kissed the elf’s forehead. “What if he wakes whilst he is still inside?”

“He will find himself in a warm, dark place,” said Pharaun. “It may be confusing but it will not, I think, be particularly unpleasant. He will be tucked in your bosom—it will probably smell of you.”

Wilawen nodded. “Close it.”

Pharaun drew up the corners—the pouch reformed—and he pulled the drawstring tight, and tied off the cord. Then he handed the bag to Wilawen, and she slipped it inside her bodice.


Outside the Healing Room all was in chaos.

Up ahead, the furious prisoners had broken into the public rooms, and the screams of female drow pierced the general roar of anger. Behind, males still caged in the cells were banging on their doors, and shouting for help, aware that something was happening outside.

Drizzt, leading Wilawen by the arm, found Orophin and his brother. “Which way?” he asked.

And, though the elf could not understand the drow’s words, he knew their meaning and, once again, he took the lead, forcing his way through the mob—with the others following as best they could—until, clear of the throng, he turned into a deserted corridor and, still supporting Rumil, hurried towards the outside.

But some of the prisoners had seen the little group leave the crowd, and understood their intention, and they began to follow, crying to the other males, “This way! This way!” and, “Come with us!”

Drizzt grabbed Pharaun’s arm as they rushed ahead of the mob. “The door will be locked,” he said. “You must open it quickly, or we will be crushed against it.”

“I am preparing the spell as we approach,” replied the Mage, “but I will need some time. You must hold them back.”

With a grim nod, Drizzt released Wilawen and fell back behind the other drow. “I will do my best.”


Orophin had remembered the route correctly.

The passage, having turned a sharp corner, ended abruptly. The door was unguarded, and there was no obvious lock, but when the elf pushed at it, it would not move.

“Stand aside,” said Pharaun, in Westron; he raised his hands.

At the same time, Drizzt, drawing his scimitars, turned to face the mob. “Stay back!” he cried. “Give the wizard room to work! You will all be leaving, but you must let us open—”

Female!” cried a voice.

Female!” repeated another.

Then others joined in, “Fe-male! Fe-male! Fe-male!”

And some of the prisoners began pushing forwards, trying to reach Wilawen, who, until then, had been standing beside Drizzt, but who now shrank back behind him.

Give us the female!” shouted the Uruk Hai.

Hopelessly outnumbered, Drizzt raised his twin blades.




Contents page


Previous chapter: Minas Tirith
Haldir and Arador pose as merchants; Legolas takes a chance; Shadow Eowyn quizzes Hentmirë.

chapter 22

Next chapter: The King
Legolas and Eowyn storm the Palace; Haldir and Arador take a risk; Shadow Eowyn shares a secret.

chapter 24