10. The Elves and the Son of Gollum
Down between us, out of sight, Goldberry’s fingers felt for mine. I’d had no idea how my friends were going to take it when I turned up at the Oliphaunt with Goldberry on my arm. I needn’t have fretted. Gimli was instantly captivated by her. And Legolas, though he’d never met her in person, knew all about her. Long known to the Elves of Mirkwood down the ages, before ever she’d met Tom, she was held amongst them in the highest regard, like an elf-queen. Nymphs are more ancient even than Elves.
Legolas, toying with his flagon of mead, responded to my question with a frank stare. “I found out soon enough when I discovered from the Galadhrim that Gladlas was in prison. The news came as a complete shock. Gladlas was one of the kindest, sweetest elves I knew in Mirkwood. I wondered then whether my father King Thranduil had deluded me, for I had learnt the news of Gollum’s escape from him and no other, and he had said to me not a word about Gladlas. But you must remember that I was despatched on my mission to Imladris immediately after Gollum’s escape, because of the extreme gravity of the matter. It was before the full facts had come to light.”
“Were the guards attacked by orcs?”
“Oh, yes. And all were killed. If Bergil says differently then he’s got his story wrong. Somehow Gollum must have got word to the orcs – I suspect wargs were involved – but whether Gladlas was implicated is something I have never been able to find out. My father the King was strongly of the opinion she knew all about it. After the Ringwars I tried to intercede with the King on behalf of the hapless maiden, but he wouldn’t listen to me. He said that conspiring in the escape of Gollum merited a heavy punishment in itself, if only because of the damage she had done. But then to go betraying her own people unto death was worthy of death in itself – and in keeping her in prison until she died he was yet showing her mercy.”
“That could have been a long time,” I mused. “I thought elves were immortal.”
“Not when they are denied the light of day,” said Goldberry. “True, Legolas?”
“True, my Lady. Just as orcs cannot bear it long in broad daylight, so elves cannot bear to be underground for any length of time. In the woods they do not fear the dark. They feast on starlight.”
“Dwarves need neither the light of sun, moon nor stars to remain in perfect health,” said Gimli, draining the last of his beer and smacking the mug down on the counter. “Not that they hate these things like orcs do, but they are happier with depictions of them, lit by wondrous lights in their deep halls, than to go marching abroad under the hot sun.”
“It sounds to me, then,” I said, “that King Thranduil (with all due respect, Legolas) was anything but merciful. And in less than fifty years Gladlas was dead. It is a short lifespan for an elf. I suppose she did die naturally?”
“They say she died of poison,” Goldberry murmured.
“That I can neither confirm nor deny,” said Legolas. “She had visitors. Morfindel went often to see his mother. She could have sent out for poison by him, if she’d had a mind to. If she was poisoned, then it was not by the hands of her captors. I would swear to it, even if they were not my own people.”
“What was Morfindel’s opinion of his mother’s treatment?”
“He deplored it! But he was not alone in that. Had she not died, I can well believe that he would have prevailed upon King Elessar to intercede with my father for her release. But then again, had she not died, King Elessar might never have heard about it – and so been prompted to send for the pitiable orphan.”
“How did Morfindel himself fare in earlier years?”
“Oh, as a baby he was pampered and cosseted. Nobody felt he deserved any sort of punishment and he was such a beautiful child he was an instant favourite at court. He had his own elf nursemaid and enjoyed the upbringing of a prince. When he was young, too young perhaps to understand, he seemed to have shown little regard for his mother, whom he was taken regularly to visit. These visits must have seemed to him dismal and tedious.”
Legolas sighed. “To be dragged from the bright woods deep underground, to see a sad lady in a room bereft of courtly furnishings, is not something to appeal to a child. He was said to dread those visits. But as he grew to manhood he began to take his mother’s part. Maybe she was able to tell him how he came to be, and sundry other things about his father. Things which nobody else knew, nor cared to.”
“What was his opinion of his father?”
“Oh, we used often to talk about it here in the Oliphaunt, didn’t we, Gimli? He would go on at great length about how ill-judged his father was. He, Gollum, had been the true Ring-bearer! When it came to the final test, Gollum it was who had achieved that which Frodo ultimately proved unable to carry out.”
“It sounds to me as if he inherited his father’s snivelling attitude to life!”
“Not at all! It was the father whom he had never met he was sorry for, not himself. It was hard not to like Morfindel. Self-pity was the last thing you could accuse him of. He was always extremely pleased with himself, finding nothing there to pity. Apart from King Elessar, Gladlas, Bilbo, Frodo and Sam, and of course the elf guards, all dead, nobody I know ever got that close to Gollum – certainly not to live with him, day-in, day-out. Those who have done so report it to have been a most disagreeable experience. But we knew Morfindel well, Gimli and I. And to judge from Gollum’s repute, Morfindel seems to have been the exact opposite of his deeply despised father. As I’ve said, it was impossible not to like him.”
“I must disagree. I have met many people these last few days who disliked him intensely. From the things they’ve had to tell me – they had good reason!” I glanced aside at Goldberry, who said nothing.
Legolas prodded my arm with his finger. “They tell you that, now he’s gone! But when they were face-to-face with him, I’ll wager they were charmed by him. Even those who had their misgivings. And maybe when Morfindel went away again, they hated themselves for being so compliant.”
“Grishnakh detested him cordially.”
“Oh, that I can believe! The King often employed Morfindel as an emissary to East Ithilien, on account of his capacity to soothe the savage breast. He used to order the officials of the Mandate around something shocking. And the company he kept over there in East Ithilien would have quickly brought him to the unfavourable attention of GUB.”
“What does GUB stand for? Nobody has ever been able to tell me. Or cared to.”
“And I do not care to tell you either,” snorted Legolas. “It’s an acronym in the Black Speech. Ask Gimli. Gimli knows it – he talks to these people. Whenever the dwarves want mining work done on the cheap nowadays, they use orc-labour.”
“Not when I have anything to do with it!” protested Gimli. “It’s one of the quarrels I have with my contractors over the Glittering Caves Project. But if you must know, GUB is short for Ghâsh-hai Ulîmob Burgûlum-ishi. Police – throne – shadows-in. Or as they themselves render it in the Westron: the Royal Secret Police. The word for policemen is the same as the word for firemen – you have to be able to look after yourself when you’re putting out fires in Udûn. They never start by accident.”
I laughed as I beckoned to the barman for another round of drinks. “I’ll try that out on Grishnakh when next I see him,” I said. “You don’t mind me quoting you, do you?”
Gimli waved his hand briskly. “Feel free! – feel free!”
“You said something about the company Morfindel kept. Did you have anyone particular in mind?”
“Criminals – gangsters – he was on drinking terms with the most notorious characters you can imagine,” said Gimli. “They’re not short of such people in Doom City. Thanks to the proximity of the Dark Cesspool – Bagronkbûrz in their language – not to mention Mount Doom – Doom City, or Dûmpgoi you’ll hear it called, will never be anything but a place of ill-repute. But I don’t think Morfindel went around seeking criminals as such. Anybody and everybody in a position of power was somebody Morfindel wanted to explore, to see if they could be useful to him.”
“Did he ‘explore’ you?”
“Yes, all the time. He was always here in the Oliphaunt, buying us drinks and telling us his latest scheme. We used to wind him up shamelessly! But he never appeared to resent it.”
“It wasn’t all bad,” interposed Gimli. “The things he could obtain for you! He knew the source of just about everything valuable. Now there’s not much I can’t lay my hands on, once I’m able to get a message back to Erebor. But Morfindel was much closer to hand. Special tools, special materials, no end of mithril...”
“Do you think he had a darker purpose in all his wheeling and dealing? Such as accumulating funds for purchasing dangerous things... forbidden things?”
“You’re talking as if he went around plotting with all-and-sundry,” said Legolas. “None of the dealings I knew about were what I’d call ‘dark’. He didn’t seem to care who knew. If only you could have heard him while he held forth in here...”
“For my part I am in little doubt that he bought and sold in order to buy and sell other things,” said Gimli. “If you had asked him why he wanted to deal in such-and-such a thing he’d tell you. He always liked an audience for his latest project. And some of them were hilarious! Quite illegal of course, but that’s what made it so funny.”
“Morfindel took the attitude,” said Legolas, “ ‘I’m the King’s favourite. Nobody can touch me. I do exactly what I please. And that makes me such a big fellow, I’m very desirable to know.’ He was in nobody’s debt.”
“But might he not have been plotting secretly, all the same? Might he not have been plotting revenge...?”
“Revenge – for what?” said Legolas.”
“For the treatment of his mother and father. For the vindication of his mother – and his father, if it comes to that.”
Legolas leaned on the bar with his finger to his cheek, his eyes turned up beneath his eyebrows. “No. If he had been planning revenge I’m sure we would have heard all about it. In great and tedious detail, like the people unfortunate enough to have been close to his father. No, it never occurred to him that they needed avenging. I think he would have said that they were dead and didn’t care now.”
“Yet you said he deplored his mother’s treatment.”
“Yes. But his answer to that was to seek ways to a better world, in which that sort of thing wouldn’t happen. ‘When I am King...’ he used to say.”
Gimli laughed. “That was one of his favourite expressions. ‘When I am King.’ All the wonderful things he was going to do when he was King.”
“When he said that, might he actually have meant it?”
“No,” snorted Legolas.
“Yes,” contradicted Gimli. “But not in the literal sense. He never had a bad word to say about Aragorn – I mean – the King.”
“He was always saying what a good and kind man the King was. What a magnificent man! What a virile man! He could never have intended his master... any harm.”
I toyed with my drink. “Someone put their theory to me the other day,” I said, “of what Morfindel would have done if he had got hold of a magic ring.”
Gimli barked with laughter. “Kill the King and marry the Queen, like in the old story.” That made me look round cautiously. Was anybody listening to what we were saying?
“Yes,” admitted Legolas, “that sounds like our Morfindel.”
“And did it not occur to you how dangerous it was, going round saying things like that?”
“He was always saying things like that! He was the Court Jester!”
I began to understand him more and more. And the King. “So what you are saying is: he didn’t care what he did – and didn’t care who knew it?”
Legolas paused at length before answering. “Yes... that’s a pretty fair assessment. Perhaps Morfindel was like his father in this: if he wanted anything he didn’t see why it mightn’t be right to have it. Right by definition. Perhaps he would have made a very good king...”
“Legolas!” I reproached him, “you’re in your cups! If anyone is listening to us, that could be construed as treasonable talk.”
“Well, so long as Bergil is not drinking in the same bar I don’t think anyone’s going to take exception here. Least of all Aragorn, were he to hear it. There is nothing that Morfindel said in here which he wouldn’t have said in front of the King.”
“And often did, they say at court,” added Gimli.
“When I surmise that he would have made a good king,” said Legolas, “I mean that he knew everybody, knew their strengths and weaknesses, knew how to get the best out of them. He was well-liked, although maybe one ought not to say: well-respected. But how many of the kings of old were honoured simply because they were King?”
“So you’d have been happy to have him as King?”
Legolas and Gimli looked at each other.
“Son of Gandalf! ” replied Gimli. “If you’re asking us what we think personally, then I say this. We have a perfectly good King. The best it is possible to have! Why would anyone want to replace him with one who, after all, was a loudmouth and a braggart?”
“Harsh words, Gimli,” murmured Legolas.
“But are they true words – or are they not, Master Legolas?”
Legolas lowered his head. “True words. From the depth of my heart I say: true words. But ever this heart of mine is eased by such a one who makes light of life. Whose mind is like a will-o’-the-wisp, ever darting from one thing to another, never still, never full of care, never reflective. Leave that to the Galadhrim. Leave that to the High Elves! The Wood Folk were ever at their happiest feasting and dancing in sunny glades among the trees.”
“Can I take you up on something you just said, Gimli?”
“What, Master Goss?” I noticed his nose was glowing red for danger.
“You said just now: ‘the best it is possible to have.’”
Gimli stood up to his full height and puffed out his chest. “Yes and I will say it again. The best it is possible to have! Must I go for my axe, to defend that remark?”
I closed my eyes and waved my hand. “Gimli, Gimli, that won’t be necessary. You’re talking to a man on the King’s business.”
“Well, Mr King’s Business, who is talking treasonable talk now?”
“If I did not anticipate the treasonable talk of others I would not be a good investigator. But I’m not trying to provoke you, dear Gimli. I am merely trying to say this. Imagine that there are people who think that Aragorn, who is personally dear to all four of us, is not the best of all possible kings. And I am not proposing Master Morfindel in his place, for at this moment Morfindel lies...”
I checked myself and looked around. I had felt it necessary to tell the truth of the matter to Legolas and Gimli, but I didn’t want it uttered out loud in the Oliphaunt and I was certainly not going to utter it out loud myself.
Legolas laid a restraining hand on his friend’s arm. Gimli calmed down and so did his nose. “Pray pardon me, Master Goss. But please explain this. Who could possibly think the King to be lacking in any way...?”
“Someone,” I said, “who is impatient for an heir to the throne!”
The four of us sat in silence for a very long time. Eventually Legolas said, “It is indeed a matter of concern to our people – to all good people – that Queen Arwen has not presented the King with an heir. It could in time be the very seed of disorder...”
“So what then are we to make of Morfindel’s outrageous proposal?” I asked. “It was Gimli who said it, not I. ‘Kill the King and marry the Queen’. Let me ask you this: has Morfindel, or has he not, been searching far and wide for rings of Power?”
“Not noticeably,” said Gimli. “We dwarves are always on the search for rings of Power, but we are looking for the dwarf rings of old. They are ours – and we want them back!”
“With all due respect, Gimli, perhaps that makes you less sensitive than others to the presence of someone on the lookout for rings. Particularly someone who has actually voiced out aloud what he would do with it if he had one.”
“But only in principle!” protested Legolas. Yet his face betrayed that he was no longer in sympathy with the very sympathy for Morfindel he had earlier expressed.
“It is not my theory. It is the theory of someone in a position to – I mean – with good cause to know.” I didn’t want to mention Arwen by name.
“Then,” said Gimli, “when you use the word plot, you must mean precisely what you say...?”
“If there exist people who take Morfindel seriously... (and is there anyone who takes him lightly, so as not to believe that he said what he thought – and did what he said?) ...if there exist such people, then I have not the slightest doubt there is a plot.”
“A plot,” mused Gimli, “that has not died with his death?”
“That is precisely what I fear.”
“Yet maybe too there exist people who would do anything in their power to thwart such a plot,” countered Gimli. “Maybe you need to look no further than such people for Morfindel’s murderer.”
“Such a thing has occurred to me,” I said. “And not just to me. This too has occurred to me. What a shame it would be if the very people who, for love of the King, undertook to foil a plot against his life by killing the chief plotter, were themselves to die for treason at the Stake – the treason of killing the Ward of the King.”
Gimli shrugged. “Duty must be done,” he said. “And the Law is the Law! Else for what counts the King’s Protection?”
“Yet my heart goes out to such a one!” exclaimed Legolas.
That afternoon, Saturday the Sixth of May, I borrowed ponies and a wain from Gimli, plus the trappings of a merchant. Gimli had a good store of Longbottom pipe-weed and several crates of choice wine from the marches of the Shire in his ample cellars. I gave him an IOU for it all, redeemable by the Royal Treasury should I fail to return for whatever reason. We deemed it a goodly merchandise to be taking to Doom City, but not one that was altogether irreplaceable. I needed no wain to bear the real burden, which was of course the fake Angrennan, that I proposed to sell to my host.
Goldberry begged to accompany me. After all, she said, the invitation was indeed for a couple to stay at Hotel Doom. But despite my initial enthusiasm I was hesitant, not for myself, for I was nothing if not eager for her company. But I was concerned for her safety, for would we not be going open-eyed into danger? Yet to have turned up on my own would have looked over-wary. Curmudgeonly. Goldberry, to put it mildly, had suffered worse company in Minas Ithil. Though maybe not so much worse. Anyway – Hotel Doom was legendary for its fine food and comforts – and that was not to be missed for worlds.
Whether we should stay for the whole three days was something I had to think about. Something else Legolas had told me was weighing on my mind, urging me to make haste in getting to Mount Doom and back again. It seemed that the ent Quickbeam, Master of Isengard since Treebeard had departed eastwards on his ill-fated mission, had sold the Tower of Orthanc, which stood like a natural spire of jagged rock in the centre of the Ring of Isengard, to Morfindel. It was of little interest to Quickbeam himself, since ents have no use for the abodes of men, and little need for a fastness, no matter how impregnable. His chief concern had been to hold it in the King’s name. Not to let it fall into the hands of bandits, rebels, or others inimical to the Throne, since once in there, short of a costly and interminable siege, it would be well nigh impossible to get them out.
Morfindel’s credentials on the other hand had been impressive. Quickbeam had seen no reason not to make over the fortress to him. Morfindel had then approached dwarf locksmiths to have the fortifications checked and secured once again to standards of the utmost rigour. Then he had commissioned elf wrights to have it furnished sumptuously – fit for a Queen, it was rumoured. All this had been accomplished. For what possible reason I couldn’t imagine.
Or could I?
Orthanc stood empty and waiting. Not for long – that was for sure. Maybe my journey to Mount Doom would teach me much about whatever plot was in the making. I hoped so. But were it not to be, then I would be ill-advised to tarry on the way.
I planned to journey through the grim territory of the Mandate by the sole wain-road, the one which passed through the dismal dale of the Morannon, between the ruined Towers of the Teeth, where I had gone five days ago, bearing Morfindel’s head in a jar. Secretly I sent word on ahead to Grishnakh.
By mid-afternoon we were ready and we clattered out of Gimli’s driveway and found ourselves at Minas Ithil before nightfall. We didn’t enter the City itself, having all the supplies we needed. Instead we rode a little way north under the evening sky towards Henneth Annûn and camped that night by a gushing stream that tumbled in a torrent beneath a charming little hump-backed bridge. It would take us all the next day, and most of the day after, to get within sight of the Morannon, a hundred miles to the north. I planned to arrive at the Towers of the Teeth by daybreak on Tuesday. On our way we would pass Henneth Annûn. Since we were travelling as Master and Mistress Overdale, we thought it prudent not to show our faces there, but to drive straight on.
The day dawned to clear spring skies and the birds sang as if the world had only just been made. Goldberry reclined naked on a wide flat rock just out of the waterfall’s reach, droplets pattering on her shoulders in an aura of spray. She had fashioned a garland for her brow of ivy leaves, which lessened the starkness of her shaven head, something I still couldn’t quite get used to. But as I sat on the bank of the stream with my feet in the water, gazing at her, I felt anew the pangs of boyhood love.
“Goldie,” I mooned, “if I sit here looking at you much longer, I’m suddenly going to get up and rush round gathering you buckets of water lilies!”
She lowered her chin to her shoulder and regarded me reproachfully with her blue-grey eyes. “It’s ‘Goldberry’ – or ‘Gee’, if we are in strange company,” she said. “I love my beautiful name! I don’t like it bent like a piece of metal.”
I was sorry the moment I said it. I made myself a vow that I would never again recall Tom to her mind.
Soon the sun came up, beaming out all of a sudden over fragments of far-away cloud, and the world was bright and jolly and moist with dew. But alas, it was time for us to be moving on.
The road from Minas Ithil winds north beneath the Ephel Duath through some of the loveliest countryside I know. The best time to see it is in spring, and I was much aggrieved that the pair of us could not spend a week on our journey to the Morannon, rather than the two days we were planning on, provided the going was good. It was not until you reached Henneth Annûn that the road became wide and paved. Here it was little more than two parallel ruts, muddy and stony by turns, so we travelled at no more than walking pace. We would not be making good enough progress unless we were well past Henneth Annûn by nightfall.
But the dawn of the second day found us well on our way. It had grown colder during the night and the sky was overcast, the sun hiding her face from us during the whole of that day. But as we reminded ourselves, in springtime changeable weather was only to be expected. By nightfall the forested slopes and tumbling glens of Ithilien were starting to give way to bare rock, bog and heather moorland, as we drew nigh unto the Land of Shadows.
We were now but a few miles south of the Morannon. Nestling in the shelter of a cleft just off the road, we pitched our last camp. These were unsafe lands! So with much regret we abstained from sleeping in each others’ arms, but took four-hourly spells at keeping watch. When the gibbous Moon began to descend from his zenith towards the western hills, then I knew it was time to break camp and be on our way, if we were to arrive at the Morannon by daybreak.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.