20. The Murderer Unmasked
My first thought was to scour the White Tower in my invisible state, searching for the Queen in order to mount guard over her. But I soon realised that wasn't a good idea. If I did succeed in locating the Queen I might simply lead her foes on to her. Elandrine likewise would think to guard the Queen with her body and it would precipitate a confrontation. No – my best strategy was to avoid Elandrine as far as I could and instead hunt down Imalad and somehow neutralise him. I strongly suspected that he was the heart of the mischief. If not – he was certainly playing a dangerous double-game.
But so was I!
Both Imalad and Elandrine had every reason to suspect me of treachery. Of course if they were the traitors themselves they would treat me as their chief enemy. But it would be hard for anyone to tell the difference. And that included me.
Both wanted me dead. Both were hunting me down right now, with the full backing of the Tower of Guard. I must not let their enmity blind me to the possibility that both might be acting in good faith. Or rather – that both might be acting as agents of the Queen.
Of Elandrine's loyalty to her royal mistress I could no longer be in any doubt. Of Imalad's double-dealing likewise – had he not murdered Guthmud and betrayed his own orc friends to death? That he was pursuing a different plan to the kidnap conspirators whilst appearing to go along with them was amply proven. Indeed his handling of them had been masterly. When the wain had arrived at the Citadel he must still have been successfully deluding his fellow conspirators that Morfindel was alive and that the fake Angrennan was real and in working order. If the palantíri were not in the wain, then he must still be in possession of them himself.
But to what extent were he and Elandrine in league? Who was tricking whom? To the orcs in the wain everything would have appeared to be going to plan, even if they never saw the Angrennan doing its stuff, or indeed saw anything but a rolled-up carpet containing a woman when they went to collect it from Morfindel's bedroom. It all turned on whether Imalad knew that it was really Elandrine inside that carpet, or whether he imagined it was the Queen. It dawned on me that this was the key thing to find out.
I decided to undertake a systematic survey of the secret passages and to make sure the way was clear between them all for my emergency use. It was unsafe to go wearing the ring all the time. Elandrine and Imalad had the other two elf rings and would be making use of them to locate me. On the other hand if I took off my ring, relying solely on my guardsman's uniform for disguise, I might escape their notice.
Adjusting my helmet and rolling down its mithril mesh before my eyes I dashed up the main staircase to the King's bedroom. In normal circumstances I would have drawn attention to myself by doing this, but contrary to their usual behaviour, guards were dashing hither and thither in apparent disorder. Because they were now in battle-order, every man had his face masked by his mithril mesh, so it was impossible for one man to identify another except by speaking to him. Not knowing the password I had to avoid being spoken-to.
I reached the door of the King's bedroom. A squad of six guards were standing across it, barring the way. Another squad of five guards had lined up before them, seeking admission to the bedroom in order to search it. I quickly lined up behind them as the sixth member of the squad, making it appear as if I'd been delayed. Nobody challenged me.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw something flash into view. It was another person in guardsman's uniform, standing apart from the others, brandishing a drawn sword and watching me. I turn my head to look – but in that instant the figure vanished again.
In a split second I realised what had happened. The palantíri had been briefly parted. Maybe this had been deliberate. Or maybe they were only in loose and hazardous contact and might at any moment part for good. But for a brief instant, somebody wearing a ring of Power had been revealed to me.
I thanked my stars that I'd chosen not to be wearing my ring. There was a good chance that the hidden watcher had concluded that I was what I appeared to be – a delayed guard. Had I been wearing Nenya, the watcher would have realised immediately who I was.
Who had it been? As far as I knew Elandrine was still running around naked. It was most likely Imalad – but if so he had lost no time in donning a guardsman's uniform since I'd seen him last in the courtroom.
The squad began to file in through the door. Too late – I realised that each man was being asked the password. I thought I heard the man in front say "ghostly", but it couldn't have been that because hands flew out and grasped me as soon as I opened my mouth.
I span round and fell to the floor, slipping on my ring. I slid out from under the struggling pile of men who fell upon me and slipped inside the bedroom. Instantly the men on both sides of the door began to fan out, shouting and swishing their swords at thin air.
Since there were so few of them and they didn't search at all systematically they were easy to dodge. I made for the adjoining door to the Queen's bedroom. I opened it – it was unlocked! But behind it I came face to face with a similar door on the Queen's side of the archway. This was how the royal couple gained access to each other, whilst yet respecting each other's privacy. Though maybe it had not happened for a long while.
For a moment I thought I was trapped. The guards, seeing the door open all by itself, rushed towards me with a yell. Desperately I pushed at the blank door – it opened! It too was unlocked. I slipped into the Queen's bedroom and turning round I applied the catch. Just in time, as the guards thumped into it from the other side. It was a stout door and resisted their hammering and kicking. I heard orders being given and I knew that men had been despatched through the open corridors to the Queen's bedroom (actually an appreciable distance away). Yet guards, I knew, would still be waiting behind the adjoining door.
I looked round. The Queen's bedroom was empty, so far as I could tell. Two separate secret passages, I now knew, led from this bedroom. But I did not know how to access either of them.
The fireplace was identical to the one in Morfindel's bedroom – to the point of concealing an identical hidden door! Naturally enough it was the first thing I tried. I slipped inside it and closed the door, just as the main bedroom door burst open and a score of guards plunged in.
Through the spy hole I watched them searching the bedroom meticulously, opening cupboards and chests, probing under the bed with their swords and prodding the bedding. The urgency of the situation had overcome any reticence they might have had at treating the Queen's belongings so shamefully. In this of course their priorities were absolutely right. A Queen's belongings can be replaced – but a Queen not quite so easily.
Eventually they gave up the search, formed up and marched out of the room. As I stood there in silence, debating what to do next, I heard voices. Women's voices.
"I daren't show myself to you, my lady! I am unclad, just as I was in the carpet. Only now I am besmirched with blood."
"My poor child! Are you bleeding badly? Come here and have no shame – I can heal the hurt."
"No, Madam, it is not my blood. It is the blood of the orcs who would have captured you. I am in sound health. I must go now and seek that traitor, the son of Gandalf."
"Take my cloak! Disregard the blood..."
"If you'll permit me, Madam, I prefer to remain as I am. I still have blood-soaked work to do, and ever at need my adopted kinsmen would fight naked. It gives liberty to the limbs and the sword-arm."
"But you're not a bare-sarker, my precious Elandrine! You're a woman!"
"That is to my advantage. I go now, my Queen. Keep safe till I return. Farewell!"
"Hurry back..." came Arwen's voice in a whisper. There was movement in the passage. I froze. If Elandrine was coming this way, one of us was about to die. But for a long time nothing happened. I stood in the darkness with bated breath.
Taking my glowing palantír ring from my pocket I briefly looked about me. The hidden corridor went both ways. I'd found the entrance to both secret passages.
I dared not use either. Quietly I crept back through the concealed door in the fireplace, stepped out into the bedroom, put on my ring and cautiously opened the main door into the corridor.
There was a footfall and I turned round. There facing me was a solitary guard, sword at the ready. But I knew by the very clarity with which I could see him that this was no servant of the Tower of Guard. Like me he was clad in the black cloak and winged helmet, with the mithril mesh hiding his face. But like me he was invisible. Because – like me – he was wearing a ring of Power.
The secret watcher! The figure I'd momentarily glimpsed!
I swept out Glamdring. To my dismay the blade shimmered red like a flame.
The implications struck me like a thunderbolt. It couldn't be Imalad! Imalad was in possession of Narya which the guards had taken from me. Glamdring was shining now as Frodo's sword had done – when he faced the Ringwraiths. I knew with the full force of conviction that whoever it was that confronted me was wearing the Angrennan. The real Angrennan. The ring Morfindel had possessed when he was murdered. I was face-to-face with Morfindel's murderer!
Wielding Glamdring with a cry I struck at my adversary with all my might. The sword he was armed with was nothing special – just the standard issue from the Citadel armoury. If I struck it at the right angle I could smash it with Glamdring. But whatever the quality of his sword I realised by the way he defended himself that as far as swordsmanship went I was vastly outclassed.
This man had been trained by the Rohirrim. It told in every thrust and parry he made. I was up against a mighty warrior. Someone seasoned in battle, who had laid low adversaries far more powerful than any I had ever encountered. Against such a one the possession of Glamdring gave me no advantage – just the opposite. He had detected my intention to smash his sword and so caught my blows against it in such a way as to prevent that happening, jarring my arm with every blow. My fingers grew numb. At any moment Glamdring would be knocked spinning from my nerveless grasp.
Whether my agility was the better of the two, or whether it was sheer terror that drove me, I found the strength to leap upon the banisters and launch myself to the top of one of the giant wardrobes which dotted the landing. For the moment at least, my opponent was unable to reach me. Like a treed cat with teeth and claws showing I helplessly pointed Glamdring at his heart.
On top of the wardrobe there were some rusty swords which at one time had been hung as ornaments on the walls, likewise some spearheads and the tips of halberds. These I flung at my foe. But effortlessly he batted them this way and that and they went spinning and clattering away down the stairs, ringing like bells.
I braced myself to leap down upon him, Glamdring swinging. I was hoping to deliver him a mortal blow as he was in the act of running me through, as he undoubtedly would.
"Are you a man...?" I cried in challenge, "or a nazgûl?"
My adversary sighed heavily, shoulders heaving as if pounding a mighty drum with both hand, flung down sword and tore off helmet, letting long golden hair burst forth.
"I'm neither, you bloody fool! I'm a woman!"
It was Lady Éowyn!
"Goss, you clown! Why didn't you say it was you?"
Sheepishly I slithered down from the wardrobe mumbling, "I thought you might have recognised Glamdring."
"I thought I was fighting Imalad! I didn't know you'd got Glamdring back. And anyway – doesn't Glamdring shine blue when it faces foes?"
"The ancient swords of Westernesse shone red when confronting one of the Nine," I said.
Éowyn blinked and looked at the Angrennan on her hand. "Oh well, that explains it."
"Lady Éowyn," I declared solemnly, "I charge you in the King's name to say how you come to be wearing that ring."
"It's mine, isn't it?"
"Yes but it was stolen!"
"Well I got it back!"
I could see her rapidly losing her temper with me. "Megastir recovered it from Morfindel's insides, if you must know. He returned it to me. Well-disinfected, I'm very glad to say! He tried to tell you but you were off gallivanting in Minas Ithil by all accounts, horsing around with young Aelvsson – Tom Bombadil's wayward spouse!"
"Oh," I said, deflated.
"When it became clear back in the courtroom that the rings had somehow got their power restored to them, or else you couldn't just have vanished like that, I went back and fetched mine and then helped myself to some suitable attire. There was clearly something afoot. Something involving an attempt on the life of either the King or the Queen – or both! I wanted to do what I could to prevent it. I needed my ring to see who was proposing to do what, and with what, and to whom!"
I put my hand to my forehead. "Well, Lady Éowyn, I must say I'm really glad you're here. I was convinced I was fighting the murderer! But tell me something. Where did Megastir actually find the ring? I'm sure it wasn't on Morfindel's hand when I had the body sent to the mortuary."
"I don't want to go into anatomical details, in front of someone non-medical..."
"Don't worry about that! You'd be surprised what I've been in my life."
"All right, then." Lady Éowyn took a deep breath. "I'll tell you Megastir's theory, as he expounded it to me." She looked carefully around and I did the same. "Morfindel was extremely good friends with Imalad, you know."
"Imalad told me. I didn't know whether to believe him or not."
"Imalad told you nothing but the truth. I would go so far as to declare that their relationship was one of unbridled intimacy. Now Morfindel had tricked me into letting him see where I kept my ring in the Houses of Healing – in order to help himself to it when my back was turned! I was wholly unaware of it having been taken until Megastir returned it to me.
"Megastir – who was himself on fairly close terms with the pair of them (to what extent I don't dare guess and never liked to ask) – knew that Imalad coveted Morfindel's new ring. Which he, Megastir, already had his suspicions about. In a peculiar reversal of the story of how his father Gollum first came by the One Ring, Morfindel was murdered for my ring of Power when he refused to hand it over voluntarily. That's what Megastir believed, and he had excellent reasons for doing so."
I slumped against the banisters. It all made sense!
Éowyn continued. "He surmised that on the night of the murder they were larking about in the buff as usual. Morfindel must have taunted Imalad to find the ring for himself, having secreted it up his back passage in the conviction that Imalad wouldn't be able to get at it there. In his fury at being so taunted Imalad must have seized the poker and put his friend hideously to death in sheer frustration. He might of course have guessed where the ring was and been trying to probe for it, but it looked more like sheer madness. However Imalad had been in sufficient possession of his senses to be sure of one thing – he was careful not to spill Morfindel's blood!"
"Oh, don't you know? Morfindel was halfelven. It's not a good idea to go spilling elf-blood – and that goes for blood of the halfelven too. When it touches the ground, it foams up into vapour, gets in your lungs and is apt to do you mischief."
I gasped. "Imalad must have known that! But the poker would have needed at least ten minutes to heat up in the fire ...unless it happened to be there already! But that suggests a certain premeditation!"
"No doubt! But Imalad is a very calculating young man. Morfindel would have been unaware of his actual intentions when they were indulging in their horseplay and may well have presented his posterior in jest or taunt! He knew of course that Imalad wanted the ring, but he didn't grasp to what lengths Imalad would go to get it."
I could see it all now! That was why Morfindel had not needed to be restrained. Why there was no sign of a struggle, nor marks of ligatures on his wrists or ankles. Imalad could have done the deed single-handed and then escaped through the secret passage to the ground floor, just before Bergil discovered the body. It explained too what Bergil was doing at the door of Morfindel's bedroom at midnight – he could well have been trying to pounce on them at it, in view of the complaints he had received about the noise.
It also explained why Imalad was searching so assiduously for the ring in Morfindel's bedroom and even thought to make an inspection of his body in the mortuary. And why he pursued Megastir for the ring, even to the point of killing him, and dissecting him in sheer desperation when he couldn't find the ring in the mortuary. And why he was so dismayed when he saw me put the fake ring on the table in front of Grimwald Uruksson.
I had known without a doubt that Imalad was in on the plot. But I had wondered, or hoped, he was playing his double game, perhaps as an agent of the King, more likely the Queen. But he seemed to have been pursuing his own interests all the time.
And what had they been? Primary to get hold of the ring, for much the same reasons as had motivated Morfindel, but nowhere near as well thought-out. It had all been sheer opportunism. Nothing pointed up so clearly the corrupting nature of a ring of Power. Especially one to have fallen under the spell of Sauron.
If it were possible, the person by my side grew ever more gigantic in my regard. She, like her husband, had had no use for this corrupting thing, except for the medical application to which it might be put. As a curative, a palladian. Chiefly as something to be kept well out of sight – and where better than the cabinet of dangerous medicines? The only thing one could perhaps blame her for was not securing it sufficiently against the likes of Morfindel son of Gollum. And yet – hadn't he come bearing the King's credentials?
Suddenly a cry of challenge rang out behind me. I turned to stare in the furious face of Elandrine, still naked and spattered with orc-blood.
"Traitor!" she screamed. "Die now – like the rat you are!"
Tearing off the elf ring she lunged at me in one and the same smooth movement. Instantly Lady Éowyn kicked me aside, sending me sprawling, and engaged with Elandrine herself.
The instant Elandrine pulled off the ring, both of us must have vanished out of her sight, so she didn't know whom she was fighting. To have a ringside view of two shieldmaidens of Rohan battling it out would have been a rare spectacle, to be treasured for a lifetime! But Éowyn had the advantage of invisibility, as well as being the more experienced warrior. Effortlessly she got within Elandrine's guard and, grasping the girl's wrist, sent the sword spinning out of her hand. Then, twisting her wrist, she forced Elandrine to her knees. Two sharp smacks echoed along the corridor. Elandrine's cheeks glowed with the marks of long aristocratic fingers.
Lady Éowyn flung the maiden to the floor and, pulling off her ring, revealed herself.
"You stupid little hussy! Goss would never do a thing like that!"
Elandrine fingered her cheeks as if they were bleeding. "Prince Imalad has told me the full extent of the son of Gandalf's treachery," she replied.
"Your precious Imalad is the treacherous one! At this very moment he is searching for the Queen in order to kill her. Your proper place, when you've cleaned the worst off yourself, is by your mistress's side, defending her with your life!"
I too pulled off my ring. Elandrine, mouth open, looked from one to the other of us. Whether it was by sheer force of Lady Éowyn's personality, or whether Elandrine knew in her heart of hearts she was telling the truth I do not know. But kneeling up and clasping her hands in deference she bowed to the older warrior. "I humbly apologise, Lady Éowyn," she said. "Do I have your leave to go?"
"You'd better go right now. Forget the cleaning up – this is of the utmost urgency. Get to the Queen's side as quickly as you can. Goss and I will hunt down Imalad and head him off."
Elandrine scrambled to her feet and, glancing uncertainly in my direction, picked up her sword and sped away.
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.