4. Low Life in Moon City
There were pictures round the walls. Some of them quite clearly had been commissioned by the castellan as being generally suitable for palace walls – elf-maidens bathing, scenes from legend and so on. But some were too individualistic for that and clearly pointed to the victim’s personal taste. His father, I recalled, had been an untiring researcher into roots and beginnings. It was clear that his son carried on his father’s interest in these things. There were pictures of musty holes in the bases of trees, rabbit holes and badger holes in riverbanks, woodworm holes in old oak, even holes in socks and other garments. Plenty of pictures of stones with holes in them. In fact if the collection could be said to have a theme, that theme was “holes”. There was a picture of a pile of rings. To begin with I thought it fell into the same category.
I began to take the pictures down from the walls. Some of them were heavy and I examined these for secret cavities. I soon found one or two and began to spend more time than I cared to in trying to open the ingeniously concealed locks and slides, hinges and pivots. I considered having a whole lot sent to a carpenter to take apart and discover all the secret compartments. But it occurred to me that whatever I found was most likely to be something I wanted to keep to myself.
Most of the secret compartments were empty. Some however contained little notes. Writing down the exact locations from which these notes had come I put them in my pocket.
Whilst there was little in the way of chests and cupboards, the room didn’t lack for ornamentation. There was a heavy elaborate arch round the fire, the usual thing: twisted vines and bunches of grapes and little people with flutes poking their heads out at various points. Whilst I was working on the gilded mirror which I had taken down from above the fireplace (and a heavy thing it was too!) I heard a click from the vicinity of the arch and saw portions of the pattern beginning to move. Instantly I dived under the bed and peered out.
The secret door opened, for that’s what it was, and a young man came out. A personable young man, far too well-dressed be a servant. His eyes opened wide when he saw the pictures I had taken from their hooks and placed on the floor. He ran to inspect one or two of them, unerringly locating all the secret compartments which I’d discovered, plus a few I hadn’t.
The intruder was armed with a sword, whereas I was unarmed. I wondered if there’d be time to alert the guards in the passage. But the door was locked – I had wanted total privacy whilst I inspected the scene of crime. I would either have to lie there concealed, possibly letting the intruder get away with vital evidence, or I’d have to disarm him myself without assistance. Judging that I was the bigger and stronger of the two I determined on the latter.
Backing away from the wall he stood close to the bed as he pondered the pictures. Thrusting out a hand I grabbed his leg and pulled sharply. With a shout he came tumbling down. I soon had his sword off him and flung it away to the corner of the room. But he proved stronger than he looked and was soon sitting on top of me, his forearm in an expert stranglehold across my voice-box.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” he hissed. Clearly he didn’t want to make a noise which the guards outside would hear. I shook my head and mouthed silently to indicate that he needed to relax his hold slightly for me to be able to speak. This he did. I was rather relieved about that, because I’d just slipped my dagger out and was on the point of using it.
“I was about to ask you the same question. I’m a special investigator – on the King’s business.”
“Have you any proof of that?”
“None at all, on my person,” I replied. “But Captain Bergil knows me and knows that I’m here. Shall we go downstairs together and ask him? You might also wonder how I come to be in a locked room, with guards outside.”
“You might be a burglar and you might have come in the same way as I did.”
“So what does that make you?”
He seemed smitten by a sudden decision, or was it revelation? He leapt to his feet and helped me to mine. Then he casually sauntered to the corner of the room, picked up his sword and replaced it in its scabbard. He held out his hand in friendly fashion.
“Imalad son of Imrahil,” he declared. “Everybody knows me around here. But of course, you’re a stranger.”
“Now you’ve told me your name, I know you too. Or rather I know of you. The third son of the Lord of Dol Amroth, in the service of the King. Or would you consider yourself a prince of the household?”
“It’s all the same. Old Aragorn insists we all work for our living when we’re old enough to.”
I was impressed by the young fellow’s casual reference to the King. When I left court I had wondered if the informality with which King Elessar had commenced his reign would long survive the cobwebs of the Tower of Guard. Now I had my answer: yes – among the younger fraternity.”
“You certainly seem to know your way around the White Tower, including the secret passages.”
Imalad laughed, like a boy with nothing to hide. “Well,” he said, “you live around here for a bit and you soon get to know them. Though I’m surprised who doesn’t. Most of the older servants don’t know about them. Or pretend they don’t. I suppose it’s the sort of thing which only young princes – or young servants – with time on their hands, get to discover.”
He looked at me with a puzzled frown. “Who did you say you were?”
“I didn’t. I’m Goswedriol son of Gandalf.”
His face lit up in recognition. “I’ve heard of you!” he said. “Investigator? ...Bounty hunter, I was told. Adventurer. Don’t you travel to distant lands, fight with trolls and mûmakil and things?”
“Then how was it I was able to get on top of you so easily?”
“That was all a long time ago,” I replied. “And I don’t usually pick fights with healthy young striplings. Nor am I known to fight bare-handed. In fact it was a good job you got off me when you did. Didn’t you feel me getting my dagger out?”
His eyes widened with dismay. He shook his head. I was holding my dagger behind my back, but now I brought it round and slipped it into its sheath. “You’ve had a lucky escape, my boy.”
He grinned in embarrassment. I chuckled. “Well I suppose investigator sounds better than bounty hunter. But – yes – I’ve not long returned from distant lands. I’m presently on the King’s business. It’s a secret matter and I don’t want to go talking about it. But that’s why you didn’t recognise me. Like you, I was a boy at court, but that was a long time ago.”
His face lost its happy mien and he began to frown. “What’s happened to Morfindel?”
“Morfindel has been taken ill,” I replied, watching his eyes carefully for any sign that he knew I was prevaricating. “He lies now in Houses of Healing.”
“Bullshit,” replied Imalad. “I’ve just come from the mortuary. He’s in there. It’s him.”
“I would be grateful if you’d keep that to yourself,” I said sternly. “Nobody is meant to know about it. What did the Inspector of Corpses tell you?”
“Old Megastir? Nothing. Bergil’s had him arrested. But when I heard about it I stole into the mortuary and I found Morfindel there. His body is floating in one of the marble baths. Headless!”
“If it was headless, how did you know it was him?”
Imalad came up and scowled in my face. “When you’ve been as close to somebody as I have to Morfindel, you’d recognise his body anywhere. The same goes for old Megastir. But there’s no way he’s going to tell Bergil that. So Bergil will hold him under lock and key till the world ends.”
I scratched my brow. That hadn’t been my idea at all, when I told Bergil that the Inspector of Corpses was already party to our secret. Whilst he was at liberty Megastir might have made some effort to keep things quiet. With him under arrest, there was now nothing to stop anyone going into the mortuary, as Imalad had just done, and discovering the truth of the matter for themselves. Damn Bergil!
That, I reflected ruefully, was the difference between policemen and investigators. Investigators want to leave the suspect at liberty, but have him watched to see where he will lead them. Policemen want to lock him up, for fear of what he may yet do.
“Oh don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll have a word with Bergil. He’s got no business locking Megastir up like that.”
“Oh yes he has,” replied Imalad. “Megastir told me Bergil swore him to secrecy over the whole business. The very fact he’s been telling you and me gives Bergil all the excuse he needs to stick Megastir in prison.”
“Where is he now?”
“In the dungeons of the Citadel. We could go and visit him, I suppose.”
“We’ll do better than that. When we leave here, let’s you and I go and see Bergil and thump his desk. If necessary I’ll stand bail for Megastir. If it’s even more necessary, I shall go to the King and tell him that Bergil’s hampering my investigations. Bergil needs me more than I need him.”
Imalad’s face brightened visibly.
I looked him in the eye. “The way you’re talking I’d say that Megastir was a good friend of yours – and Morfindel’s. And more than just a good friend. Good enough to recognise his naked body. Even when there is no face to go by.”
With all the innocence of youth, Imalad warmly agreed. “Oh, yes! Morfindel and I often used to go round to the mortuary at the end of the day and have fun and games among the bodies. We’d get undressed and lie on the slab and pretend to dissect each other. Old Megastir is a fund of knowledge! Living or dead, there isn’t much he doesn’t know about bodies.”
“Good thing,” I observed, “that your father is far away on the other side of the Misty Mountains.”
“What’s the matter? It’s all part of a young boy’s education!”
(That’s what I mean about muck. I don’t go looking for it. It just seems to find me.)
“And anyway,” added Imalad, “wouldn’t you recognise his naked body?”
“What you mean by that?”
“Half perian, half elf... he didn’t exactly look like everyone else you see around here. Fair-skinned – fair of form – I shall miss his funny little face.” Imalad’s voice tailed off wistfully.
“Were you his best friend?”
“I can only speak for myself. Morfindel had lots of friends. All sorts of people you wouldn’t imagine.” I agreed heartily.
“What were you looking for when I stopped you?”
I thought he’d be evasive about this, but he wasn’t. “A ring,” he said. “Rather a nice ring. Morfindel was into rings. This one was very precious to him, but he said that I could have it if he ever didn’t need it any more.”
“Rings? Where was he getting them from?”
“All over the place. He was buying and selling them. Well – mostly buying them. He’d buy and sell other things to raise the money.”
“What sort of other things? He wasn’t stealing from the White Tower, was he?”
Imalad’s eyes widened. “Oh no, nothing like that! It was palantíri largely, and then only second-hand ones.”
“Where did he keep his rings? On his fingers?”
“Yes, mostly. It’s the usual place. But the one I was looking for he kept in a hidden compartment in that picture frame over there. You haven’t taken it, have you?”
“No, I saw no ring. So now it’s gone? And it’s not on his finger in the mortuary?”
“No. I looked. It was a very nice ring,” he repeated.
“It was a black stone set in curly silver-work. A big square polished black bezel. I think Morfindel called it haematite. He said it wasn’t a very valuable stone, in itself. Not like adamant or ruby...”
He carefully didn’t look down at my hands, but by those words I knew he’d spotted my rings. But there – if he and Morfindel were “into rings”, then doubtless they’d catch his eye.
“It doesn’t sound a very remarkable ring.”
“Oh, but you wouldn’t say that if you saw it. The silver-work is elaborate and gorgeous. Little intertwined chains, with tiny skulls peeping out from between the links. Morfindel said he knew people who’d pay a lot of money for it.”
“Where did it come from? Did Morfindel say?”
“No, he never told me. I think there is a story there, somewhere.” He looked at me and again the eyes in his frank and open face grew round. “Do you suppose he might have stolen it?”
“That’s something I shall have to find out,” I said. “If it wasn’t stolen before, it is now. That’s if it hasn’t simply dropped off his finger on the way to the mortuary.”
I racked my brains. Mentally I cast myself back to when I was initially examining the body. I remembered thinking to myself it was completely naked. If there had been so much as a ring on the finger I should not have thought that, and I’m sure I would have noticed it.
So now I had uncovered another motive for the crime. Not revenge, or maybe not altogether revenge, but also the theft of something potentially valuable. I had not the slightest doubt that Morfindel himself hadn’t come by that ring honestly.
His father had been “into rings” too – and how! Was the son, in his own small way, following in his notorious father’s footsteps? Haematite – or ironstone – is indeed of little value in itself. What was there about this black ring which made it such a desirable collector’s item? I had a feeling that if I could answer that I’d be a long way towards clearing up the mystery.
I get to see a lot of downtown Minas Ithil. It never looks any better. Just inside the city wall, off Whitebridgegate, there is a disreputable night-club called the Headless Horseman. Until that night I’d had little enough real business there. My business was mainly to do with the cheapskate shops round the city walls, the fences, the shady dealers, the traders in forbidden commodities. The Headless Horseman was just a place to drop off – to chill out. Perhaps to repair to after clinching a deal, to celebrate over a drink.
Night falls fast in Minas Ithil. Soon after sunset, darkness floods the streets as if the drains were overflowing. I pushed open the heavy oaken door studded with nails and walked into the greasy lobby. There was nobody and nothing there except a half silvered mirror covering the whole of the opposite wall. I let the door go, which closed with a snick behind me.
“I’m a paying customer,” I announced to the hidden watcher. I received no answer, but another metallic snick told me that the door to the right was unlocked. I pushed it open and walked through into a smoky darkness lit at intervals with flickering purple fire.
Nobody looked at me as I wended my way to the bar. I ordered a flagon of the house brew and presently it arrived before me, frothing and wispy with vapour. I sipped it cautiously, dunking my moustache and nose in the yeasty foam.
A slightly built girl slid between me and the neighbouring bar stool, taking not the slightest care to avoid rubbing her body against my elbow and thigh. Without turning my head I glanced at her out of the corners of my narrowed eyes. She was poured into her black leather dress, which bulged and creased around the curves and cusps of her supple body, leaving nothing to the imagination. Silver rings were thrust through her nostrils, her eyebrows and the tops of her rounded ears. Rounded, not pointy, but I had to look to make sure.
I knew this was no daughter of men. Her head was shorn of hair and shaven, but this did nothing to dim her fey beauty. It sharpened it, like chipping an obsidian blade.
“Hail, stranger,” she murmured without looking at me. “Just passing through? Or do you plan to stay the night in gorgeous Minas Ithil?”
“No stranger am I to this pale City of the Moon.”
“Then why have we not met before?”
“Well, we’ve met now.” I held out my hand. “I’m Mr Overdale.” It was an alias I sometimes used.
“Gee,” she replied, offering hers.
“Just Gee?” I said.
“You’re wise not to part with your full name and family in this city,” she observed. “Yet now that light has fallen on your face, methinks I recognise you. Are you not the son of a certain wandering wizard of old?”
“That I am.” I studied her. “So we have met before! Or perhaps you have seen me from afar. But it wasn’t in Minas Ithil, was it?”
“East of the sun, west of the moon...” she mused. “Yes, we have met before, Goss darling.” She had known perfectly well who I was, right from the word “go”.
“And do you come here often?” I said, allowing a little warmth to seep into my voice. She simpered, as if I’d said something silly.
“This is a fetish club and I’m the door-bitch. If that is what you’ve come for, when you’ve finished your beer I shall be pleased to escort you to a cabin, where you may lay aside your clothes and go partake of the delights within.”
I grinned. “I always try to combine pleasure with business, especially when invited to do so by one so alluring. But tell me, maiden, do you know of one Aelvsson who may be found in these parts?”
Her face grew grave. “Who sent you?”
“Nobody sent me. It was the Lady Éowyn, Mistress of Ithilien no less, who bade me go seek a man of that name in Minas Ithil.”
She sighed, though whether in relief or despair I could not tell. “There is no man of that name,” she said, looking cautiously round about her, eyelids drooping. “But there is a woman. It is she to whom you speak.”
“Aelvsson...” I said. “But you are no elf, or I’m a dwarf.”
“Aelv as in ‘river’, not as in ‘elf’,” she replied tartly. “I am the River Man’s daughter. Everyone has to take a surname nowadays for tax purposes. Most use their patronymic. I am no exception, though not so long ago it would have been rendered Aelvsdottr, not Aelvsson. Such is the way men mutilate their mother tongue.”
“You speak as one of the Wise, not as a common serving wench in a low night-club, in a city trying desperately to live down its appalling reputation.”
And then it struck me. River Man’s daughter. I gazed astounded into her face.
“Hush!” she hissed.
“What have you done with Tom...?”
She clapped her hand over my mouth, looking round in consternation. I quickly got the point.
“Is there somewhere we can go where we can talk privately?” I murmured.
Clasping her sequinned purse to her bosom she slid off her stool and took hold of my fingertips. Threading her way round the bar she led me behind her like a child. A glance passed between her and the bar lady, a barely perceptible nod, and we were in a passageway with several doors off the side. Opening one, she hurriedly slipped inside and drew me in after her.
It was a tiny closet, lit by a single oil lamp set upon a carved side table. A king-sized bed all but filled the available space. She sat on the bed. There being nowhere else to sit, I sat down beside her.
She slipped off her high-heeled shoes and began to unbutton her leather tunic. “Help me off with this,” she said.
“Hey, just a minute...”
“This is not a game! I daren’t risk the embarrassment of someone looking in and finding us fully dressed. You’d be straightaway taken for a spy. Or a cop.”
I saw the sense in what she said and helped her off with her leather tabard. Then I began taking off my own clothes, reluctantly at first. Soon we were sitting naked beside each other. Goldberry shivered. Instinctively I put an arm round her. To get under the sheets seemed to be the most sensible thing to do.
“Goldberry!” I exclaimed. “I can’t get over it! Where’s the long yellow hair? The dress of silvery green?”
“I had the hair made into a wig. I can put it on for you if you like. And as for the dress... don’t you like me better the way I am?
I didn’t reply – I was stuck for an answer. She added “I thought it was all you men cared about.”
I held both her wrists and she offered me the palms of her hands to kiss. I smelt the perfume of starry flowers in a sea-green sward. I dared not draw her nearer, for fear of what she would encounter. But she laughed at me, like the tinkling of droplets in a mountain cascade.
“How now, brave son of Gandalf,” she said. “Do you fear a maiden’s caresses, who flinch not before the hammers of trolls and the jagged swords of orcs?”
“What’s a nice girl like you doing in a joint like this?” It was not a very clever thing to say, but never had the question been asked with such passionate concern. “And where’s Tom Bombadil?”
A look of discomfiture clouded her brow and she cast down her eyes. “I had to have him put away. It was all getting too much...”
“What d’you mean?”
“He was growing far too difficult. You can’t imagine it. Water lilies, water lilies everywhere. You’d get out of bed in the morning and put your foot – slop! – right in a bucket of the bloody things.”
“You don’t mean to say you’ve had old Tom put in a home...?”
“No... yes... it’s a very nice home. Honest!”
She turned over and presented her back to me. I thought she was about to cry. “I had to do something. It was all getting on top of me.”
I slid my arms round her waist, elbows on her hips, hand... where hands naturally fall. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing! You always seemed so happy together!”
“Well, I suppose I managed to put on a smiling face for the benefit of visitors. But it was hard living with that silly old man, day-in, day-out, and no one else to talk to. People were always just passing through.”
“I can’t imagine how you could do that to poor old Tom! He was so very much in love with you.”
“Yes, I know. He was always doing this and that for me. He’d never leave me alone. He’d trail round the house after me. I wanted to run away, over the hills and down the dales, but I knew he just run after me and catch me up and tear off my silvery green dress and I’d have to put up with yet another shagging in the long grass. It was all fun to start with, but you can’t imagine how tedious it became in the end. Over the years one’s ideas change...”
“So now you’re the door-bitch in a shady night-club.”
“Yes... well... I always yearned for the city lights. Any city.”
“But Minas Ithil, of all places!”
“Where d’you think I should have gone? That place across the river? Here, nobody looks down their noses at you. Nobody is up to very much, they don’t have airs and graces. And they don’t ask questions. I’ve got a gorgeous girl friend and we rent a nice room overlooking the ruins of the old tower. We do just what we please and no one bothers us.”
“Where is Tom now?”
“I should have thought My Lady Éowyn could have told you that. As well as the Houses of Healing in MT, she and Lord Faramir run a lucrative little nursing home right next to their country seat at Henneth Annûn, you know – the old wartime bunker. It’s not that far from here. Just up the road. I take the stagecoach which goes to Udûn at weekends and pop in for half an hour or so. Now and again. Well... twice a year at least.”
“I suppose it is out in nice countryside. I was afraid you’d got him tucked away somewhere here in the city.”
“Oh no! Nothing like that. He wouldn’t last very long in the sharku-house here, in ravishing Dûshgoi. He’s a bit of a handful though for the staff at Henneth Annûn, but they’re all very kind. They don’t have many orcs. And those they do have are mainly in the kitchen.”
By now she’d turned to face me again and put her arms around my neck. We’d moved close together without thinking. “You feel nice,” she said, wriggling her tummy. “Fancy a bit of rumpy-pumpy before they look in and tell us our time’s up?” She started kissing me, searching deep with her tongue.
I pulled my mouth away. “First tell me what you know about Morfindel son of Gollum.”
“That creep!” She let go of my neck and turned over again with a thump.
I snuggled up until we were like two spoons in a drawer. “Does he come in here?” I murmured, nibbling the rings in her ear.
“Look, shut up about the King’s fancy boy, unless you want me to go all frigid on you.”
“I told you, I wanted to talk!”
She wriggled free of my arms and sat bolt upright. Just at that moment the door eased open a crack and the bar-lady said “time’s up!”
“We’ll be out of here in two flicks of a lamb’s tail,” spat Goldberry.
“No, give us another hour, will you?” I called out. “Take the money from my breeches pocket there.” I hauled Goldberry back under the covers and kissed her mouth hard. As the bar-lady shut the door, grumbling away to herself, Goldberry wriggled her head free to gasp for breath. Afraid she was about to shout I started biting her all over, just to distract her. She whimpered and thrashed about like a branded piglet.
For fifty minutes we completely forgot what we came in to do.
“All right, whadd’ya want to know?” said Goldberry at last with a forced sigh. She unpeeled herself from me like the skin from a ripe peach, sat up in bed and scowled down at me.
“You’re beautiful...” I whispered, gazing up through her cleavage at the artery in her silky neck, throbbing with a slight lag behind her heart going dub-thump beside my ear. I was a bit disappointed she hadn’t said “wow!” like they mostly do.
“Sod you! Get on with your interrogation and let’s get it over with.”
What Goldberry had to tell me wrenched my heart. Morfindel was an occasional customer of the Headless Horseman. He used to come in with his friends. They came from all walks of life, from the highest to the lowest. Just which was which was hard to tell at times. Like the time a dozen of them hung her up by the wrists... let’s not go into details.
“Getting in bed with a man, like this, is one thing,” she said. “But a good girl always calls the shots. Anything you don’t want to do, you set the price high, or you don’t quote at all.”
She took a deep breath. “That wasn’t in the contract.”
“Goldberry!” I choked. “You must really, really hate him!”
“Oh, he paid me well for it. He can afford to. He reckons he can afford everything in the Kingdom. And everybody. But if you gave me his liver on a plate – that wouldn’t make up for it!”
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.