Aragorn opened the door wearing his nightshirt and a dressing robe and looking somewhat the worse for last night's activities.
, thought Legolas, almost as unkempt as he did when we were running across the plains of Rohan
Aragorn looked at the pair in surprise.
"May we come in, mellon nín?" asked Legolas.
Aragorn showed them into the sitting room. "Should Arwen be here?" he asked. "She is asleep and I would prefer not to wake her…"
"Of course, mellon nín, let her rest."
"Is this about your choice of lady last night?" asked Aragorn, seating himself in one of the armchairs and looking pointedly at Eowyn.
"No, Aragorn," said Legolas. "And, before you say anything more, Eowyn and I will talk to Faramir once the festival is over and will come to some compromise with him. And though I would value your support in the matter, I will understand if you feel you cannot give it. But know this: it was the Valar that gave Eowyn to me last night. And, though she was my heart's own choice," he took her hand, "I would not have performed the rite with her had they given me another."
Aragorn nodded, but Legolas noticed that his jaw was clenched.
"Now, that matter is closed for the time being, mellon nín," Legolas continued, "for I have some bad news. Some time last night, the Mistress of the Ceremony was murdered. One of the serving ellyth found her in the banqueting hall this morning. She had been strangled."
"By the gods!" said Aragorn. "Who would wish to harm her?" He thought for a moment, then, "Gods!" he said, "she must have been killed whilst we were all, er, sleeping in the hall."
"Yes, mellon nín. It is a distressing thought—I am sorry." He paused. "We must, of course, find her murderer and bring him to justice, but I have decided that the ceremony must continue."
"For the good of the colony. You are right, of course. But how do you plan to find her killer?"
"I have already met with my Inner Council, the Captain of the Guard, and the March Warden—Haldir—and we have decided that we must examine all the guests. Haldir is sealing the borders of Eryn Carantaur as we speak, and has orders to bring back anyone who has left since last night. Naturally, you and Arwen, Arwen's brothers and Prince Imrahil, and the ladies who were with you all, are in the clear since you can no doubt vouch for each other's movements." Aragorn nodded. "And I dare say most of the other guests will be in a similar position. We will be discreet.
"I will make a formal announcement at the banquet this evening, and will ask the guests to co-operate with the investigation. And I would be grateful if you will lend your voice to my request, mellon nín."
"Thank you. Eowyn has agreed to help me interview the witnesses, since she has had some experience of investigations of this sort. We cannot begin until tomorrow because we still need to examine the body and the banqueting hall—and we must do that before we can prepare for the rite tonight—but we will
post guards throughout the guest quarters to ensure everybody's safety. And I would ask you
to take care, mellon nín," said Legolas, "of you and yours," he glanced towards the door of the bedchamber where Arwen was sleeping, "for we do not know what this elf's motives are and we cannot be sure that he will not strike again."
Legolas hesitated. "I have deliberately kept you out of the investigation, Aragorn, because I would be grateful if you will preside over the trial when we catch this orc of an elf."
"Of course." Aragorn agreed. Then, as Legolas and Eowyn rose to leave, he caught the elf's arm. "Be careful yourself, Legolas," he said, "if the killer's aim is to disrupt the harvest ceremony, you and Eowyn must also be at risk. If I can do anything to help, anything at all, just send for me."
"I will. Thank you. We will speak more later, mellon nín."
Míriel sat uncomfortably in Legolas' private study and tried hard not to stare at the exotic creature seated before her.
She had never seen a woman before.
She had seen a few human men—King Elessar, Lord Faramir, Eomer King, and their various attendants—and she had always found them interesting. But this woman was fascinating.
The head cook, who often travelled to Dol Amroth to buy fish, had told her that all human women were short and fat. Míriel had not believed it. And this one, on the contrary, was as tall as an elleth, and slender, but Míriel could see how the cook had made the mistake. Her body was—well, there was no elvish word for that shape—the swell of the full breasts, the tiny waist, the curving hips. Such a beautiful, ripe shape. Yes
, thought Míriel, that is the word,
ripe, like a fruit
. And she suffered an uncharacteristic pang of jealousy. No wonder Lord Legolas had chosen to perform the rite with this lady. Who better?
Then the woman smiled at her, and that glimpse of her generous spirit took Míriel's breath away. She is worthy of my Lord, she thought.
"Good morning, Míriel," said Legolas, "I believe Captain Golradir has already told you why we have asked you here?"
"Yes my Lord."
"First, I want to thank you, Míriel, for behaving so responsibly."
Míriel could not stop herself blushing proudly.
"Then I need you to tell me, Míriel, exactly what you saw when you found the body, every detail, no matter how insignificant it might seem."
Míriel nodded, and thought for a moment.
"The elleth was lying face down. I did not see her at first because I was looking at the table and there were several chairs lying on the floor around her."
"Were there chairs elsewhere on the floor?" asked the lady.
"Yes," said Míriel, "and people, and it was difficult to walk across the floor." She noticed that the lady, Lady Eowyn, was writing rapidly. She is writing down everything I am saying
, she thought. I wonder why?
"The moment I saw her, even before I saw her terrible face, I knew she was dead. Her fea had left," she added softly. Legolas nodded, in understanding.
"Most of her body was hidden under the table, only her head and shoulders were not, and I could see that she had been choked. There was a leather cord round her throat—it had cut into the skin—and her face was bruised. Her eyes were full of blood…" Míriel lost control of her voice.
The lady poured a glass of water and pushed it across the table. Míriel accepted it gratefully.
"Did you see anything near the body? Was there anything beside her that did not belong to her? Anything her killer might have left behind?" asked Legolas.
"I did not see anything, my lord, just the cord."
Legolas glanced at Eowyn. She nodded.
"Apart from yourself and the other serving ellyth," she asked, "was there anyone in the hall who was not asleep?"
Míriel thought carefully, trying to conjure up a picture of the hall in her mind. "I do not think so, my lady, but…"
"Yes?" asked Legolas.
"When I left, I ran through the main door, because that was the easiest way to get out, but when I entered the hall I used one of the side doors because—because there was someone asleep in the main doorway. It may have been a couple…"
Legolas and Eowyn exchanged glances.
"Did you recognise them Míriel?" asked Legolas.
"No, my Lord; and the more I think about it, the more unsure I am that they were there at all."
The other interviews, with Golradir, and the two guards who had moved the body, seemed to uncover nothing more of interest, though Eowyn patiently wrote down each statement, read it back to the witness, and asked him to sign it once he had agreed that it was accurate.
Legolas was full of admiration.
"I am just doing what I have seen-seen Faramir do," said Eowyn, awkwardly.
"Oh, Eowyn," said Legolas, "I am so sorry. Do you regret-"
"No!" She pressed her fingers to his lips. "First, I offered to help," she said. "Secondly, do you know the first thing I thought when you woke me this morning? I thought, I am going to spend the rest of my life with him. And I was so happy. And do you know what has changed since then? Nothing. You are my true love, Legolas. I have loved you since the day you found me in my garden and wrapped me in your cloak and sang me the song about the faithless oak tree. And I would rather be here with you, now, than be—than be the Queen of all Middle Earth!
Legolas laughed and took her in his arms and kissed her forehead.
"So what have we learned so far, melmenya?"
"Not much," admitted Eowyn. "We know that someone—or possibly a couple—left the banqueting hall when Míriel found the body."
"But he may have been the killer pretending to be asleep," said Legolas, "or may have been an innocent guest who just happened to wake up and crawl off to bed at exactly the wrong time."
Eowyn nodded. "It would help to know what time the elleth died—if she had only just been killed when Míriel found her, then there is more likelihood that he was the murderer. We need to examine the body."
"Yes," agreed Legolas, "Lord Fingolfin and Master Dínendal should be waiting for us at the lady's chambers by now."
Eowyn picked up a wax tablet and a stylus and followed Legolas out of his study. She would take notes on the tablet then make a more permanent copy on parchment later. Then I will have to get the healer to check it and sign it
, she thought. Gods, there is so much detail to get right and Legolas is relying on me. And I am a swordswoman, not a scribe…
Fingolfin and Dínendal were, as Legolas had hoped, already waiting for them.
The Mistress of the Ceremony lay on the bed; her body had been arranged as if she were asleep but her face was contorted in agony.
Legolas felt a sharp pang of guilt. He had disliked her intensely, and when she had—upset him—the previous afternoon, he had threatened her with violent death. It was irrational, he knew, but he felt as though he had wished this terrible fate on her.
He placed his hand on his heart, bowed his head, and said, softly, "We had our differences, my teacher, but you accepted my choice of Lady Eowyn last night, and for that I am grateful. I swear, by the love that I bear her, that I will do everything in my power to find and punish the person who did this to you."
The two elves beside him whispered their assent as witnesses to his oath. Eowyn stood with her head bowed.
"Master Dínendal," said Legolas, after a respectful pause, "are you willing to examine the body for us?"
"Indeed, my lord," replied the healer, "though I have no experience in these matters, and am not sure what I can tell you."
"I am new to this too, Master Healer," said Legolas, "but I have many questions to ask you and I have the feeling that, as you answer them, you will find you know more than you think.
"First," he continued, "is it possible to tell when she was killed?"
"It would not ordinarily be so, my lord but, as it happens, the Captain of the Palace Guard summoned me when she was first found—she was still warm and I think he hoped that it might be possible to revive her. When I examined her, though she was clearly dead, her body was still pliant. As you can see it has now begun to stiffen. When Lord Fingolfin asked me to assist you, I consulted my books—in an elf, this stiffening usually happens about six hours after death, though in humans," he glanced at Eowyn, "I believe it may happen sooner. I would estimate that she had been dead no more than a few minutes when she was found."
Eowyn and Legolas exchanged glances.
"That is very helpful, Master Dínendal," said Eowyn. The healer coloured slightly and bowed.
"Can you tell anything about the killer from her wounds, Master Dínendal?" Legolas asked. "Would he have had to have been very strong to have killed her thus?"
Dínendal considered the question. "No, I do not think so. Not if he took her by surprise, my lord. Once he had the ligature tightly around her neck she would have been panicking and struggling for breath. All her efforts would have been concentrated on trying to pull the cord loose-you can see the scratches where she has clawed at it. And she would soon have lost consciousness. I do not think he needed to be particularly strong."
"So it could have been done by another elleth?" asked Legolas.
Dínendal looked surprised. "Well, I suppose so, my lord, provided she was tall enough to get the cord around the neck. It all depends on doing that quickly and cleanly, because if the victim could get her hand inside the cord, the killer would find it much harder to pull tight. Of course, if the elleth was sitting down…"
"Might she have injured the killer?" asked Eowyn.
Dínendal lifted the elleth's hands and examined them carefully. "The knuckles are not damaged, not bruised or grazed, so I do not think she hit him," he said. "There are traces of skin under her fingernails, so she may have scratched him, but the skin may equally have come from her own throat."
Legolas nodded. "What about the cord," he asked. "What is it?"
Dínendal shook his head. "I have never seen anything like it, my lord."
"I believe it is a bootlace, my lord," offered Lord Fingolfin. "When I used to travel between Imladris and Lorien, I often encountered the men who dwell in the foothills of the Misty Mountains and ride across The Wold. They wear long riding boots laced from ankle to knee with thick leather laces, and the ends of the laces are decorated with metal fobs, just like these."
"Yes, my lord," said Eowyn, "I think you are right." She turned to Legolas. "Eomer has a pair of these boots, the laces are decorated with horses' heads."
Legolas stared at her for a moment. What in Middle Earth did that tell them?
"Master Dínendal," he said, "can I ask you for one last favour? Would you be willing to examine the body for any traces of the killer's hair or clothing? I am talking about tiny traces that the killer would not be aware he had left behind."
The healer looked slightly reluctant, but agreed.
"If you find anything, please seal it in parchment," said Eowyn, "and bring it to Lord Legolas personally." Dínendal nodded.
"Thank you Master Dínendal," said Legolas, "you have been most helpful. Melmenya?" He gestured towards the door. "Will you join us Lord Fingolfin? I would value hearing your thoughts so far."
As Legolas, Eowyn and Fingolfin approached the banqueting hall, they could hear a commotion, and when they arrived, they were greeted by a very agitated Steward of the Household.
"My lord," said the Steward, "the Captain of the Palace Guard refuses to allow me or my staff to enter. And he says it is on your orders! My lord, I have the table to clear, the floor to clean, the threshing floor to prepare for the coronation; I have decorations to repair and candles to replace; I have silver and crystal to lay out; and the ice sculptures, my lord, the ice sculptures…" The Steward finally took a breath.
"I apologise, Master Eö," said Legolas, with genuine remorse, "I have been most remiss. I should have informed you immediately of my decision to close the banqueting hall. Please accept my apology." The Steward bowed deeply. "As you no doubt know, Master Eö, the Mistress of the Ceremony died in the banqueting hall last night and it is important that I examine it before anything further is changed. The hall will remain closed for another hour, at most, and I will make sure that one of the guards is sent to inform you when you and your staff may enter.
"In the meantime I have a personal request Master Eö," added Legolas, quietly, "I need to speak to the servants who tended Lord Gimli's fire and heated the water in his bathing room during the night—no, I have no complaints about their work. But please send them to my chambers as soon as possible—tell them to wait for me if I am not there.
"I am sorry to be making things more difficult for you, Master Eö, but I have every confidence in you and your staff," he added.
"Thank you my lord." Eö bowed once more and withdrew. "At least," he muttered as he passed the Captain of the Palace Guard, "Lord Legolas knows how to treat a Steward."
The banqueting hall was a large, circular pavilion, with a domed roof supported on intricately carved wooden pillars, Like jets of water transformed into wood
, thought Eowyn. Between the pillars, wide, open windows allowed sunlight and breezes to enter during the day, and at night were hung with sheer silk curtains, delicately embroidered with carantaur leaves, that cast pretty shadows in the candlelight.
Eowyn approached the main entrance. This was where she had entered last night, directly opposite the head of the table, where Legolas and Aragorn had already been seated, with the Mistress of the Ceremony beside Legolas. But there were also, she noticed now, two smaller doors to the right and left, designed to allow the serving ellyth discreet access. And Golradir had posted guards at all three doors.
Eowyn knelt and examined the wooden floor inside the main entrance very carefully, but could see nothing of importance. She wondered if Legolas, with his sharper eyes, might notice something she had missed, but when she looked at him he shook his head.
He helped her to her feet and, together with Lord Fingolfin, they walked into the hall. The velvet blanket was still lying where they had left it in the middle of the threshing floor, and the two lovers smiled at each other.
"Captain Golradir," said Legolas, "where was the body found?"
"Here my lord." Golradir pointed under the table, approximately half way between its head and the main entrance.
"That is not where she was sitting during the banquet," said Eowyn. "Do you think she would have taken part in the—the activities—afterwards?" she asked, "I find it hard to imagine."
"I believe I saw her leave the hall immediately after the completion of the rite, my lady," said Lord Fingolfin, "but I cannot be sure. Perhaps one of the other guests could confirm it."
"If she did, my lord," said Eowyn, "she must have returned later. But why?"
Legolas was examining the floor under the table; Eowyn noticed several chairs lying close by. "Have any of these chairs been moved, Captain?" she asked.
"We had to move them, my lady, to reach the body."
Though she did not know why, Eowyn felt that that was significant, and she made a careful note on her wax tablet. "Can you show us where the chairs were when you found her?" she asked.
After a moment's thought, Golradir began moving the chairs. "This one was here—this one was on its side, like so—and this one... this one was here."
Eowyn sketched their positions. "So, this chair was nearest to the body?" she asked.
"And you are sure it was this
, my lady."
"What is it, Eowyn?" asked Legolas, standing.
"The chair is damaged, look—here." A jagged piece of wood was missing from its back.
"It looks as if it has been hit with an axe," said Fingolfin.
"No," said Legolas, "an axe—or any other edged weapon—would have made a cleaner cut."
"A candlestick," said Eowyn. She took one of the ornate silver candlesticks from the table and swung it lightly towards the back of the chair. It fitted the damaged wood perfectly.
"And there is a candlestick missing," said Legolas. He pointed to the arrangement of fruit and flowers that decorated the table close to where the body had been found: its candlestick was missing.
"By the Valar," said Fingolfin, "what does that mean? Perhaps the poor elleth tried to defend herself?"
Legolas shook his head. "That does not agree with what the healer told us about the probable speed of the attack." he said.
"Do you think Míriel was right about the couple—do you think there were two
killers involved, Legolas?" asked Eowyn.
Legolas sighed. "I do not know, meleth nín," he said, "and the more we learn, the more confused I am."
Legolas sent one of the guards to inform the Steward of the Household that his staff could begin preparing the hall for the evening's banquet. "Let us return to my study and discuss what we have learned so far," he said.
When they arrived, the two servants Legolas had asked Master Eö to send to him were already sitting in the lobby.
Legolas asked them to wait, then took Fingolfin through to his study and settled him in one of the comfortable chairs by the fireplace. As he was pouring a glass of bubbling water for his counsellor, Legolas suddenly realised that Eowyn was not in the room with them—and, for a moment, anxiety almost overwhelmed him—then Eowyn walked into the study and the relief that flooded through him was equally intense.
Unaware of the tumult of his emotions, Eowyn simply gave Legolas a small smile as she passed him. She sat at his desk and took up her pen and a fresh piece of parchment.
Legolas asked the first servant to come in and offered him a seat by the fireplace.
The servant bowed diffidently to Fingolfin and Eowyn, then sat down, obviously uncomfortable, his posture stiffly formal.
Legolas smiled. "Thank you for coming, master, er—?"
"Elerossë, my lord," stammered the elf.
"Master Elerossë," said Legolas, courteously, "I believe it was you who tended to Lord Gimli's fire last night?"
"Yes my lord."
"How many times did you visit his rooms?"
"Three times, my lord, at midnight, three o'clock and just before dawn. Was anything wrong with the fires, my lord?"
"No, Elerossë, your work was excellent. But tell me, did you see Lord Gimli when you were tending his fire?"
"No my lord."
Legolas stared at him, clearly taken aback. Eowyn bit her lip.
"You did not see him?"
"No my lord."
"His bed was empty?" asked Eowyn.
"No my lady," he said, turning to face the desk.
"I do not understand," said Legolas, with the slightest touch of impatience.
"I did not see him, my lord," said Elerossë, turning back to Legolas, "because he was hidden beneath the coverlet. But I did hear him, my lord. He—er—he is a very- noisy sleeper." The servant looked apologetic. He was surprised to be rewarded by one of his lord's most dazzling smiles.
"Thank you, Elerossë," said Legolas. "You have been most helpful. Please let Lady Eowyn read your statement back to you and if you agree with it, we will ask you to sign it."
The second servant, who had lit the water heater in Gimli's bathing room, at dawn, told much the same story. Legolas was overjoyed. Gimli was in the clear!
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.