3. Royal Audiences
The man had not moved, nor given any sign that he was aware of my presence. He and I were the only two people on that high balcony. He had his back to me and his dark hair hung down over the ample collar of his black woollen cloak. But there was no mistaking the man wherever you might have come across him. The broad shoulders, the imposing stance, of Aragorn son of Arathorn, who for fifty years had reigned as King Elessar Telcontar in Minas Tirith.
“At your service, Sire,” I said. The figure turned smartly to face me. I was shocked at how grey and gaunt he had become since we last met. How deeply the passage of time had etched lines of care in bruised niello on his brow.
“Goss!” he laughed. It was like the sun breaking through storm-clouds. “What a long time it’s been since last I saw you.” He grasped my hand, placing his other hand on my elbow. For a fleeting moment I thought how such powerful sinews could twist my arm off like the leg of a cooked chicken. But the smile was a smile of an old friend. A much-loved uncle indeed, who still hadn’t got over the surprise of finding himself King.
He studied my face keenly. “Ai! – how much older you look! But I suppose we all do.”
He sighed and let go of my arm, giving my shoulder a pat. “I miss your face at court,” he said. “As the years lay their wrinkled fingers on you, you grow to look more like your revered father.”
He turned to gaze towards the West, as if his narrowed eyes could penetrate the mountain which stood in his way.
“I miss him so much since he departed from the Grey Havens. I never truly appreciated how much I’d come to rely on his advice. How much we all had! I was hoping you might grow to take his place. But for all the lines on your brow, you have many years ahead of you before you would match your father in age and experience. Why haven’t you become a wizard?”
I shrugged in embarrassment. “The life of a bounty hunter satisfies my ambitions. Old Radagast was very kind. He said he’d be happy to have me in the Order at any time. But somehow it doesn’t seem to be me.”
“Radagast – ah, yes. Radagast the Brown – as was. Who’d ever have thought he’d ascend to be leader of the White Council. He goes around saying that they couldn’t find anyone else, bless him – everyone’s sailed away into the West.” Aragorn smiled wanly and shook his head. “But I suppose there was a time when nobody would ever have thought I’d become King!”
I wondered when he’d get to the point. “It was there all along in the stars, Sire.”
He glanced at me sharply. I realised he had read my thoughts. The standard phrase – the routine flattery. I had given myself away.
“You cut through the crap as ever,” he said. “Well, what progress? Have you had a chance to examine the boy’s bedroom?”
“I was doing so when I answered your summons, Sire.”
“Well, I won’t keep you long and then you can get back to it. But questions are bound to arise in your mind. It seemed as good an opportunity as any to clear them up, insofar as I am able to.”
“Very well, Sire. Yes, there are a number of things that puzzle me. First and foremost, why did you not entrust the matter to your own Captain of the Guard?”
Aragorn came over and put his face close to mine. “Sometimes an outsider can bring a breath of fresh air. For outsider you are, in spite of how well you and I personally know each other. Sheer passage of time has made you into that. You and my court grew up together – you were both born in the very same year. But people have departed, and new people have arrived, since those breezy days when you grew to manhood in my court.”
I said, “And one of those but recently arrived is the late son of Gollum. I never met him, so I shall have to rely on other people’s reminiscences to form an impression of him in life.”
Aragorn’s brow darkened. I had expected it to. “Young Morfindel was not to everybody’s taste.” He sighed slowly.
I suppressed a smile at the idea of the King calling him ‘young’. Morfindel, conceived in the early days of the Ringwars, was a year or two older than I was. Yet, being halfelven, he doubtless looked much younger than his 52 years! I wished the years, passing as swift draughts of mead, had been as kind to me.
“Nevertheless,” I said, “these are matters into which I must delve...”
“I know, I know,” said Aragorn testily. “I wish I could tell you all you needed to know myself. But the very fact that this terrible thing has happened makes it abundantly clear that my own knowledge is imperfect. Else – would I not have been able to prevent it?”
He turned and thrust his hands under his armpits. “Yes – ask around, for all you’re worth. Captain Bergil tells me that you have seen and heard much in your fifty years. He says there is little that can shock you.”
“Nevertheless, Sire, there is much that can distress me. Treachery is always distressing...”
Aragorn rounded on me. “Treachery? Isn’t it a little early to be saying that? This might be nothing but personal animosity between otherwise loyal subjects. Are you certain that it is not so?”
I fidgeted. “No, Sire, I haven’t had time to eliminate that possibility yet. But when somebody so close to the King is struck down, a crime of passion, pure and simple, seems less likely than a blow aimed at the very throne itself.”
Aragorn’s smile was bleak. “Yes, that’s just what I suspect too. But care for the kingdom, mixed with a measure of fear and suspicion of those around me, might be what disposes me to think so. The same cannot be said of you.”
“Are you prepared, Sire, for what I might uncover?”
Aragorn strutted to and fro before replying. “No,” he snapped. “How can one ever be prepared? But the question you really want to ask is this, is it not? Am I prepared to take it from you?”
He looked me full in the face and jerked his eyebrows slightly, inviting me to make some response, even a token response, before he would continue. But I quickly decided that a token response would not do.
“That is exactly what worries me, Sire. Captain Bergil laid the commission on me and I accepted it. Not as a friend, but as a mercenary, an outsider. I’m truly grateful that you did not ask me yourself. For it enabled me to be businesslike, to insist on the payment I wanted, to explain carefully the conditions under which I was prepared to work. Had you asked me yourself, I should have felt obliged to respond as to my liege – nay, as to an old friend. Almost – if I may humbly dare to say so – as one of the family.”
Aragorn’s face softened. “And those are exactly the conditions under which I don’t want you to work. I’d rather you came to the job as a dispassionate outsider. One of the reasons I don’t want Bergil investigating it is because we who dwell within the White Tower are enmeshed in a web of kinship, loyalties, alliances, jealousies and, I’m loath to say, ambitions. No, I can’t guarantee to you that I will not be angry. I hope you have set your price high enough to offset the risk of that?” He permitted himself the ghost of a smile.
“I did indeed, Sire.” I permitted myself the ghost of a smile in return. “But I also made it clear to Captain Bergil that it was not to him personally I was reporting (though I would of course keep him up-to-date), but my service was ultimately to your Majesty alone.”
Aragorn smiled broadly in satisfaction. “You’ve anticipated me, Goss,” he said. “I won’t insult you by insisting on your absolute discretion.”
“And I won’t insult you, Sire, by insisting on absolute veracity in what we say to each other. It may at times be necessary to call things by their real names, without wondering how the other person is going to take it.”
The old Aragorn I knew and loved burst forth in a hearty laugh. “I always thought there was something about the hobbit in you, Goss,” he said. “I haven’t heard the like since Mayor Samwise came to stay. Perhaps it’s because you knock around with the little people so much. So utterly different from the courtly etiquette of this venerable, constipated old City.”
“Then by your leave, Sire, I will continue with my questions.” The smile faded from Aragorn’s face and a weariness stole over it. He drew himself up, as if readying himself for a blow.
“How did the Queen take to the installation of a catamite?”
The King displayed not the slightest sign of affront. At that moment he looked the most kingly I’d ever seen him.
“Badly. It’s no secret that the fierce love we felt for each other in the early days has paled in recent years. Then, we were inflamed with the ardour of victory, of terrors overcome, of hopes unhoped-for, sprung anew. Hopes for a future which in those darkest of days had seemed so very far away.”
He sighed sharply. “Well, the future is here. Now. It’s been delivered and signed-for. And it’s everything we expected it to be. Nothing is more corrosive of ardour. If only there had been more difficulties to surmount! If only things have not gone quite so well – new enemies had appeared – dangers threatened the Realm. That would have drawn us together again. Our love was forged in adversity – it has languished in peace and plenty.”
I allowed not the slightest trace of pity to appear on my face. I kept it strict and businesslike. I knew that was what he wanted.
“Did any rumour come to your ears of the Queen and Morfindel plotting against each other?”
“Oh yes. Plenty of people came to me with tales of the tensions between them. And I set my spies. But everybody was for taking sides. Nobody could I trust to tell me the truth dispassionately. Always I suspected that the speakers had personal interests in telling me the things they did.”
“But did the Queen and Morfindel actually make a move against each other? You appreciate why I ask...”
“Of course I do. I heard tales that Morfindel was trying to displace me in the Queen’s affections. Others would have it that he made haughty assumptions about what he supposed was the special relationship between them. The Queen on the other hand would pour out her complaints about him into my ear. But – perhaps it was because I did nothing – the complaints died away in frequency until she bothered me no more with them. I admit I was relieved. But ought I rather to have been alarmed? Because she was either bottling up her resentment, or pouring it out into others’ ears. Ears of others by whom she might indeed have been seeking redress.”
Gazing at the ground between his toes he seemed to be on the point of putting his foot on a spider, drawing back at the last moment. “But no! No actual plots ever came to my notice, of the one trying to unseat the other, or being revenged on the other. That is not to say there were none.”
“Her Majesty the Queen is a mighty lady,” I observed cautiously, “and she has powerful family connections. Did the possibility not occur to you, Sire, that she might respond tragically to your taking a catamite?”
I was trying not to provoke the King, but I could see he was beginning to wilt under my probing.
“How right I was to employ you, Goss! It is the hallmark of a good consultant to ask the obvious questions without beating about the bush. This is wisdom, the like of which I could not find in the whole of this city.”
He turned and leaned heavily on the balustrade. I came and leaned there too. Together we looked down upon the White Tree in the courtyard. Its branches were bare – but it could not be long before its buds were due to fatten and burst. A small knot of people had gathered in the courtyard. I could imagine them saying: “Lo! The King comes forth to take the mid-day air. But who is that with him?” Since my face was not well known in the City, the speculation would run rife.
Aragorn did not seem to care. He seemed oblivious of the audience.
“When I was a wild Ranger, with nobody to attend to my pleasures, my sole delight was to fix my thoughts upon my lady fair. It’s a different matter in the tedious comfort of the court. A king is expected to do whatever he likes – and there are plenty of people who will make haste to satisfy his wishes and whims, whatever those may be, and whatever they imagine them to be.”
He turned against the balustrade, leaning backwards. “But still it does not do to dally with the womenfolk of one’s loyal subjects. If there is one single rule a king must obey, that is it. Nothing breeds disloyalty and treachery faster. On the other hand, a king should surround himself by single young men, to counteract the weary wisdom of the old fogies who surround him by right of seniority. And young men will come, with the blessing of their fathers, to feed off his wisdom and experience.
“But what does a young man have to offer in return? His wit? His wisdom? The sort of young man whom it’s worth having around, whom you could send off to lead an army, quell an uprising, punish bandits, is not the sort who spends long afternoons cultivating courtly speech. You expect him to be good at manly sports, to be strong and enduring, to wield a good sword. And – by the White Tree! – you know me well, Goss, and where I come from. Am I the man to savour courtly speech?”
He sprang away from the balustrade and sighed. “No. Deep in my bosom I nurse a secret desire. To be once again scouring the countryside with my trusty Rangers. The soft life of the court grows irksome, as day follows weary day.
“And what has a young man got to offer me, which I would not seek in dalliance with a lady? Much. A catamite is dynastically safer than a leman. Whatever we may do together, there is absolutely no likelihood that in years to come a bastard will emerge from the backwoods, or a pretender arise on the borders, to come challenging the lawful sons of the throne.”
He stared at his toes. “Alas! If only Arwen and I were to have a son! A son would do much – do everything – to fill the gap in our lives. And the gap in the life of the Realm.”
I realised, the moment he said it, just what the motive may have been for Aragorn to take the son of Gollum under his protection, and from thence progressively into his most intimate confidence. It is every man’s urge to propagate himself. And for men who reside not so much in their bodies as in their minds, there is a more certain way than planting the seed of your body in the belly of a beautiful and blossoming young woman. It is to plant the seed of your mind in the head of a hale and hearty young man. Such a one, a disciple, tested and found true and enduring, may make a better heir than the issue of your own flesh. Was it this, rather than regal dalliance, that prompted Aragorn to surround himself with lively young men? And if people assumed the worst – was he the sort of man to care overmuch?
But he was certainly right about one thing. When choosing a close companion to while away long afternoons, a catamite is indeed dynastically safer than a mistress. A son, even a bastard son, owes his position to inalienable right. A catamite owes his purely to the royal whim.
And then another thought struck me. What is the doom of a catamite of whom his royal master grows weary? Or one who overplays his hand? And there was another doom, too, to enquire.
“What, may I ask, will be the fate of the murderer, when at last he... or she... is brought to justice?”
“Death,” replied the King. His voice was sad and final. “Death at the Stake. It is prescribed in the very foundations of the City.”
“But is there no provision for clemency, Sire? Supposing the killer had been provoked beyond endurance...?”
He shook his head slowly. “I formally took Morfindel under my royal protection. So whatever the provision for normal crimes of passion, killing a Ward of the King must be avenged by death. The doom is mandatory.”
“But you are the King, Sire...”
It was a stupid thing to say. I stumbled in my speech as I tried to make good. “I – I mean – the King himself can set aside any laws, surely? No council would oppose you...!”
“And send the message that the King’s protection counts for naught? That would be a grave step to take. And once the identity of the perpetrator became known, it would be too late to take it anyway. Men would say there is one law for the high and the mighty and another for the rest of the citizenry. It would drag the Ancient Law of Gondor in the dust. Not for that did I ascend the Marble Throne!
“But it is a step you might yet contemplate, Sire, were the killer discovered ere the death of Morfindel be commonly known?”
It was a long time before an answer came. “I... have reached no such decision. The kings of old would slay their very sons for the meanest of transgressions. In that way they established the sacredness of the Ancient Law. In these latter days, some of the things they did would be viewed as harsh in the extreme. But in the end it all depends on what you and I live for, doesn’t it? Is the dynasty more important to preserve than the very fabric of the Realm?”
“Without the King – and his dynasty – who would there be to preserve the Realm for us?”
“But to strike at the roots of that which we have been elevated to preserve! How can we even contemplate such a thing – when in living memory the mightiest among us were poised to lay down their lives for its principles?”
“Sire! Any one of your loyal servants would cut off his own right arm for your sake!”
“No,” replied Aragorn. He spoke as if pronouncing sentence of death. “Say not: for my sake. Say rather: for the sake of the Realm. And am I not the chief of servants – the servant of all?”
I was speechless. What if the perpetrator turned out to be the Queen herself?
“And how indeed am I to preserve my dynasty,” he added, “when I have no heir of the flesh?”
Aragorn turned his head away sharply. I thought I glimpsed a tear in the corner of his eye. There was a catch in his voice as he spoke. “When this business is over I shall go away, for a very... long... holiday. Not to Imladris as old Bilbo did. I could never steel myself to face the sons of Elrond. And certainly not to Lórien’s fair glades, bright though they shine in my memory. The Galadhrim have gone away. Lórien is but a shadow of itself. One can never go back.”
He turned again towards me. “Maybe I shall go to Lake Evendim. It is beautiful there, and lonely...” I could see that a tear did indeed stain his cheek. “And maybe the Queen and I will be reconciled, and perhaps a son will follow...”
His voice tailed off. With a visible effort he composed himself.
“Yet I say this to you, Goswedriol son of Gandalf: I stand in dread of what you may uncover.”
Before leaving the Citadel I penned a brief note, to be delivered to Bergil in person, warning him that the Inspector of Corpses knew our little secret, having guessed it for himself. Then I walked back along Rath Celerdain in the First Circle to the kiosk at the foot of Seventeenth Stair to refill my pouch with pipe weed.
I was vaguely aware of somebody standing close to the doorway as I came out. Somebody who was waiting for me. From the way she was dressed I took her for a scullery maid of one of the rich merchants and avoided looking her in the eye. But she thrust a note into my hand. Then, averting her face and gathering her skirts, she hurried away up the Stair.
As I glanced after her I saw her thrusting past a pair of unsavoury characters whom I took for Dunlendings. There are all sorts roaming the streets of Minas Tirith these days. One of the men caught hold of the maiden’s sleeve just below the armpit, jerking her backwards to fall into his arms.
“Hey, young filly, not so fast! Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
I expected to see her struggle and hear her cry out, but she silently stood her ground, returning his ribald leer with a stern gaze. Imagining she could do with some help I paced up the steps two at a time. Throwing me a glance of panic, she gave a deft flick of her wrist, caught the man’s elbow and, without troubling to use her other hand, sent him pitching and tumbling down the steps to sprawl at my feet.
I knelt down beside him. “Go about your business,” shouted the other man, hurrying down the Stair. “We don’t need your help.” Clearly he had been humiliated to witness his strapping friend worsted by a mere girl. Dismissed so ungraciously I got to my feet and turned my back on the scene. An old man squatting in a doorway waved the stem of his pipe at the two ruffians, one kneeling, one lying, on the Stair.
“Heh-heh! Serves him right – to go standing in the way of that young wench!”
“Do you know her?”
“What? Do you mean to say you don’t recognise the Queen’s bodyguard?”
I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows as I nodded to him and went slowly on my way. I took a swift look at what the maiden had given me. It was a small scroll of the silvery vegetable vellum once popular with the High Elves and it was sealed with the Beechleaf, the sigil of the Royal House of Lórien. I put it straight in my pocket. I didn’t want to be seen reading that in the streets.
A mile out of the city on the road towards Osgiliath I dismounted, took a sip from my flask and broke the seal of the scroll. I knew then as I read it that I would have to return to the City forthwith.
“Back so soon, Master Goswedriol?” said the ostler as I handed my horse back into his charge.
“I forgot my camomile tea,” I muttered over my shoulder as I hurried out into the street. The reputation for absent-mindedness did me no harm at all. It justified my erratic movements to those who would go seeking other explanations in idle chatter.
I checked into the Grey Wanderer in the First Circle. The note had invited me to a tryst in the Mallorn. But I knew better than to check-in at the same inn. I climbed the stairway to the grassy terrace around the great spur of sharp rock that juts out east from Mount Mindolluin and cleaves the city like a dragon’s chine. There I sat on the stone balustrade beside a skeletal gargoyle, lit my pipe and pondered.
At sundown I made my way to the Mallorn. It is the trysting place of rich burghers, who were chatting easily to each other. They offered me barely a glance as I wended my way between the tables. To them I was no more than a shabby wanderer. I sat down in a high-backed pew to the right of the fireplace, as the note had bidden me, and ordered a beer.
But no beer came. For almost immediately the maiden who had slipped me the note that afternoon stood close by, looking down upon me without expression. I motioned to her to sit down in the seat opposite. I wondered if it was this girl I had been invited to meet, but I quickly dismissed the idea. She was so evidently the servant of someone higher. A comely wench, but not altogether Gondorian. There was something hobbitish about her face, although in stature she was no halfling.
She would not sit down and tugged at my sleeve to rise up and follow her. I did so and we went up a narrow stairway and I found myself in a room with dark, rich furnishings of indigo velvet. A freshly made fire blazed in the grate. The room was lit only by the fire and by two tall candles, which stood on a finely carved table and flung their light uselessly to the dark walls. Their flames gleamed from the polished wood and from the glistening surface of silverware bearing fruits and meats from distant lands.
As I gazed at the table, a exquisitely manicured hand lifted a silver ewer and poured dark wine into two goblets. The lady had been sitting in such gloom that I’d failed to remark her presence.
I sat down opposite her and raised one of the goblets. “Hail, your Majesty,” I said.
In a quiet voice the Queen returned my greeting.
“Please call me Arwen,” she said. “Here we are alone beyond the White Tower, with only my lady-in-waiting within call. There is no need to stand on ceremony.”
As I sipped the wine she continued, “I imagine you can guess why I wanted to speak to you, out of the sight of watchful eyes and the hearing of prying ears.”
I stiffened. Was she referring to the scandalous tattle about the son of Gollum? Or was she party to the “secret” which was supposed to be known only to Bergil, myself, and the King? And of course, to the Inspector of Corpses and Lady Éowyn, though that could be put down to their own diligence. I decided to proceed with circumspection.
“A sorry business, my Lady. A sorry business. But rest assured...”
“Rest the rest of fools,” she snapped. “That’s the sort of thing Captain Bergil says. He’s going to absurd lengths to hush it all up. As well try to carry water in a spider’s web. In a day or two it will be out and all over the City. And I will hardly dare to show my face in public for the shame of it.”
“My royal Lady! Surely this matter impinges upon your honour not one tiny bit!”
“You know, Goss,” she said, “for someone of your intelligence, you do say the stupidest things. My Lord’s honour is my honour too. Can you imagine what people are going to say?”
I splayed my hands. “The kings of old had catamites. Dynastically it is the safest thing to do.”
“You’ve been talking to Aragorn,” she said, with weariness in her voice.
“I shall have to talk to everyone concerned, sooner or later,” It was clear she knew the truth. “It is the King’s business I’m on now. Wherever my own sympathies might lie (and I am but a lowly commoner) the perpetrators must be caught and punished.”
She nodded slowly, then she clutched her goblet to her breast in passion. “And where do your sympathies lie in this matter, Goss? With the victim? With the King? Or with the genuinely injured party? Could they possibly come to lie with... me?”
“I was not acquainted with Master Morfindel,” I replied hesitantly, “although his acquaintances were many. His friends were fewer... and his enemies were legion.”
“Well, they’ve got him. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”
I leaned back in my chair, struggling in my mind for the right words to say.
“Nice guys rarely get murdered,” I said at last. “When they do, it generally has little to do with them in themselves. Usually more to do with a bungled attempt to relieve them of their property. But the Law is the Law. The punishment is not my business. In this matter, above all, it will be a chore reserved to the King himself. But the hunting and catching of the murderer is my business, at the King’s behest. Why, what would you have me do, my Lady?”
“Arwen,” she corrected me again. “Oh yes, the Law is the Law. But you are no Bergil, no man of brass, heedlessly carrying out your master’s will. Indeed the King himself appointed you because he was sure you would handle the matter with sympathy and discretion. Sympathy with everyone concerned... but trusting no-one.”
She fixed me with her queenly gaze. “No-one!” she repeated.
She inquired then about my wanderings. Especially she wanted to hear about the people of the Shire. I happened to remark that I saw a lot of them in my travels and she smiled.
“Methinks they have a special place in your heart, am I not right?” When I nodded she said, “Just like your father.”
“In former times they used to keep themselves to themselves. But now, since the exploits of Frodo Ninefingers, I imagine I see their cheery faces everywhere I go. Why, even your maidservant...”
Her chuckle was low and melodious. “Well spotted, son of Gandalf the Wise,” she said. “Her mother is indeed a perian, albeit her father is a lord among men. You can see the perian in her face, but she is anything but a halfling in physique.”
“Then that must be the Lady Elandrine!” I exclaimed. “Daughter of Elanor the Fairbairn and Fastred of the Western Towers! How rude of me! Yet she was attired as a humble serving girl and it didn’t cross my mind to greet her courteously.”
Arwen laughed merrily and called out her name. “Come, Mistress Elandrine, your disguise wasn’t good enough to fool Master Goswedriol.” Elandrine, lady-in-waiting to Queen Arwen, as her mother before her had been, stepped out of the darkness and laughingly refilled my goblet.
“I thought we were alone,” I said.
“We are. You may speak freely in front of Elandrine.” Arwen smiled a wicked smile. “You may even speak to her!”
I looked up into Elandrine’s eyes and saw there warmth for the first time. I said, “I admired the way you handled... er, things, this noontide. Did you tell your mistress about it?”
“Very briefly. It’s all in a day’s work.”
“Where did you learn to handle... men like that?”
“In Edoras, among the fighting folk of King Éomer.” Turning from the table with a coquettish swish of her skirt and a defiant toss of her black hair she remarked, “I’m a shieldmaiden, you know, hardened in battle.”
“Elandrine has my total confidence and I rely on her for my personal safety. The Queen goes nowhere these days unless it be with a trusted handmaiden. Not even to a secret tryst.”
“That is very good counsel, Mistress,” I said. “In the troubled times that are upon us, the Great may walk in danger. I have the feeling that this isn’t just a family affair, a palace plot. Rather it is a matter which strikes at the very heart of the Realm. Intrigue seems to cluster round the late and scarce lamented son of Gollum, like wasps round a honey pot.”
“That I know full well,” she replied, as Elandrine retired into the darkness. “The son of Gollum had ambitions. High ambitions. Can you guess just how high?”
“No, my Lady?”
“You still hang back from calling me Arwen,” she said, and I lowered my eyes.
“Please forgive me, my royal Lady, but it comes hard for such as me. You are so high... and I am so low.”
“Hm! I can think of dozens lower.”
Since I would not raise my eyes to meet hers fully, she sighed. Exasperation was in that sigh, and frustration, and what else I dared not think. Leaning her dimpled chin upon her graceful wrist, she said, “Master Morfindel, for instance. He found no difficulty at all in addressing me as plain ‘Arwen’. Even unbidden and in the hearing of others. Aragorn was deaf to my plaints, as well as blind to the aspirations of that young scamp. The presumption! To see how he minced around and lorded it over the household, you would have thought it was he who was King and not my Lord. There was even tattle to the effect that Aragorn was thinking of adopting him as his heir – having failed to get one by me.”
She buried her face in her hands. I was sure that tears were about to fall. But she lowered her hands again and set her jaw grimly.
“Even before the murder the atmosphere in the White Tower was asphyxiating. It has since become doubly so. I think I may retire to the glades of Lothlórien for a few months. A few years...”
Queen Arwen suddenly began to stare fixedly at my hands. “I see rings of Power,” she declared, with voice pitched low. “I was about to ask: how came you by them? But I recall that you, of all people, might well have as good a title to them as anyone.”
“Yes, I suppose I might.” I said it without pride. I extended my fingers and looked at the white ring on my left hand and the red ring on my right. “People never seen to remark on them, but they don’t go out of their way to conceal themselves. Not these days. Even if they did, you of all people would still be able to see them. Of course, ever since the unmaking of the Ruling Ring, they do damn-all. They don’t make me invisible. But I still wear them, as keepsakes.”
“What if they did make you invisible? What if you were someone loved and trusted by the King, not to say those closest to him? (As indeed you are, did you but know it)...”
I laughed a dry laugh. “Since we are talking about the impossible, my Lady, it is no shame to admit that I have never spent a moment dwelling upon it.”
“That’s strange, for a lore-master,” she said. “Ever since the Rings were forged, tales have been told about what might happen if one fell into the wrong hands. Have you never heard tell of the courtier of old, who found a ring of Power and used it to spy unseen upon the Queen – naked in her very bedchamber? He so lusted after her that he plotted to ravish her, then kill the King and marry her, and so become by right of marriage King himself. This he did – and no-one was able to prevent him, because he could make himself invisible and pass through the strongest guard and under the most watchful eyes...”
“Please, my Queen, I find this sort of talk distressing. In the company of one so lovely, to hear it told of ravishings and treasons and sorcery and killing...”
She laughed. “If I could only believe that for a moment. Am I able to shock you? You, of all the loyal subjects of the Realm, who have stumbled upon the darkest secrets – which none dare speak of?”
I too laughed, but hesitantly. “Least of all me, my Lady.”
To my relief she diverted the topic, saying gently. “Tell me then about your rings.”
“This,” I said, holding up the ruby ring, “is Narya the Great. My father gave it to me before he sailed away into the West.”
Arwen nodded and a smile, secret and beautiful, played on her lips. “And this,” I said, holding up my left hand...
“... is Nenya, the Ring of Adamant.” Arwen took the words out of my mouth.
I stared at her for a moment and then I too smiled. “Of course. You would know it well.”
On a sudden impulse I took it from my finger and placed it in her soft palm. “Please accept it,” I said, “with my deepest devotion. It was given to me by my mother...”
Realising what I had just revealed, my jaw dropped and I stared at her. She returned my gaze, searching deeply into my eyes. Softly she said, “It is true then, what my people say. You are indeed of the kin of Lórien.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “You are indeed my half-brother!”
My brain reeled. One grows up with these things, giving them so little thought as a child, that even in adulthood one misses the most glaring facts. Which any fool can see, if he happens to be an outsider. A voice started crying in my head: no – No – NO!
With an enigmatic smile Arwen took my hand and replaced the ring on its finger. I saw then that she was wearing the third of the elf-rings on her own hand. The ring Vilya, the Protector, which her father Elrond would have given her, before he too sailed away into the West.
“How did it come about?” I whispered in my turn.
“When Gandalf, your father, was brought back nine parts dead by Gwaihir the Windlord from the crag of Zirakzigil where he found him, having thrown down his enemy the Balrog in ruin, he was cared-for in the land of Lothlórien by my grandmother’s own hand. By her he received many fair things to aid him in his battle against the darkness. A cloak of purest white, which he concealed beneath his grey rags. A new-wrought staff, befitting his advancement to Leader of the White Council. The ring Narya. And, as I’ve now come to realise... you. You were conceived, as was I, by the light of the full moon among pale niphredil in the greensward of Parth Galen.”
“I marvel that you can bring yourself to accept me, a bastard, as your kinsman. I suppose it makes me your... uncle?” I couldn’t restrain a gasp as I said the word.
“My people simply say: half-brother. Elves live for such a long time that everyone has gone to bed with just about everyone else by now. It is not unknown to discover you’re your own step-grandfather. We accept these things as elven nature. We don’t go blabbing about them. But nor are we ashamed of them.”
She laughed at the expression on my face. “But I, at least, rejoice in my heart. All unlooked-for I’ve discovered one of my own close kin. One I never for a moment suspected.”
I hung my head. Tears started in my eyes. Softly she said “Hold on tight to your mother’s ring ...ai! laurië lantar lassi súrinen! Though it wears but a vestige of its former power, may it aid you in your quest for what is right. Under the Ancient Law of Gondor... and under the will of the King.”
I could not stay there or else I’d be totally compromised. I rose to my feet and made as if to go. She too arose, surprised at my leaving, but I didn’t look back. At the door I felt her hand laid on my forearm. Her lips brushed my cheek. “I’ve always wondered why you were so... beautiful,” she said.
I spoke as one asleep. “Geese would be beautiful – if one had never seen a swan.”
“You know what else they say? Half-brother – half-lover.”
“Half-sister,” I murmured. “My Queen! You are... you are...” My voice choked into silence. I thrust myself out through the scarcely-open door, down the stairs and into the night, continuing under my breath “...my chief suspect!”
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.