To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying: 3. The predator

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3. The predator

The arrangements for the banquet were very formal. The Great Hall of the castle had been hung with the standards of Gondor, Rohan and Ithilien, in honour of the illustrious guests, and three large tables had been laid out in a U-shape beneath them. The King and Queen of Gondor and the King and Queen of Rohan were seated in state at the high table, and the other dignitaries-Faramir, Legolas and Eowyn, Gimli, the hobbits Merry and Pippin, Elladan and Elrohir and the host himself-were placed according to precedence. But once the formal part of the evening was over, the guests simply moved their seats and mingled like the good friends they were. Imrahil had spared no expense on food and, in addition to roast meats, potages of beans and vegetables, salads of sweet herbs and various breads, there were many foreign delicacies that Eowyn had never seen before. She and Legolas tried some small parcels of crisp pastry filled with highly spiced vegetables-which made them laugh when their mouths tingled; and a yellow-green pear-shaped fruit with fragrant, deep pink flesh; and-their joint favourite-some small pieces of sweet, rose-flavoured jelly covered in powdered sugar. "The people of Near Harad call it 'Delight'," said Imrahil. Between courses there were musicians, jugglers and, finally, a troupe of dancers from Far Harad whose leader played a strangely shaped pipe whilst the rest, who were all women, gyrated to the erotic music, removing their clothing, piece by piece, and tossing it to the male guests. One of the dancers invited Legolas to untie a small scarf from around her breasts. But Legolas extricated himself gracefully, shaking his head with a charming smile, and suggesting that the twins were far better qualified to help than he. After that, the evening degenerated. The hobbits were soon dancing on the tables singing raucous drinking songs from The Shire. Then Merry invited Eowyn to join him and together they spun along the U-shaped tables jumping over bowls of fruit and flowers while Legolas and Haldir clapped enthusiastically. Gimli, Eomer, Faramir and Aragorn took turns draining tankards of ale and stacking them in neat piles, while Arwen cheered her husband on, and Lothiriel watched them all, dismayed. Then Elladan asked Legolas to sing, and the whole company fell silent to listen. Legolas chose a hauntingly beautiful song, in the common tongue: Black is the colour of my true love's hair, Her face is something wondrous-fair, The clearest eyes and the dearest hands: I love the ground whereon she stands. I love my love and well she knows, I love the ground whereon she goes. And still I hope the time will come When she and I will be as one… The melody ended on an unexpected note, high and sad and full of longing. And, though he smiled, Legolas' close friends were in no doubt as to the song's meaning for an immortal whose true love was mortal. … At eleven thirty Herzog the apothecary opened the back door of his shop. "You are lucky the boy found me," said his visitor, "for I have been busy of late, and my work has taken me far afield." "Come in, quickly," replied Herzog, glancing up and down the alleyway. "Did anyone see you coming here?" "No; and you need not concern yourself on that score-my livelihood depends on moving about unseen." Satisfied, the apothecary locked the door and turned up the lamp slightly. "Take a seat, Wolfram," he said. And then he sat down opposite. At first sight the visitor was unremarkable-medium height, medium build, with dark eyes and a ready smile-no different from a thousand other men in Dol Amroth. But anyone who took the trouble to look more closely, as Herzog was doing now, would see something disturbing-he would see that Wolfram's smile was not a smile at all and hid a heart that was not so much evil as empty. He is the perfect man for this job, thought Herzog. "I need someone removing from the castle and bringing here," he began. "I take it that this would be against the person's will?" "Indeed." "Who is it? The new grandchild? One of the Queens? That pretty thing that rode in with the elves this morning?" "No. I require a male elf-any one of males that rode with 'that pretty thing' this morning will be adequate." "A male elf? Are you mad? They are stronger than humans, faster-" "Are you saying you cannot do the job?" "No," said Wolfram, guardedly, "but I am saying that it will cost you." "You will be well paid for your services. Four hundred gold pieces if he is alive, two hundred if he is dead." "Four hundred? For the risks I would be taking-" protested Wolfram. "My client has already agreed a price," Herzog lied. "My hands are tied." Wolfram rose and walked to the window. The blind was down but he gazed at it as if looking outside. "I will need a means of-subduing the elf." "Naturally." Herzog indicated a small bottle sitting before him. "Three drops of this, on a cloth held to his nose and mouth, will render an elf unconscious. Do not use more than three drops." He handed the bottle to Wolfram. "When do you want him?" Herzog was still awaiting a reply from his buyer, but decided to take a chance. "As soon as possible." "Tonight, then," said Wolfram. … Wolfram slipped silently down the back streets of Dol Amroth, heading for Dinham Gate, just south of the castle. The gate would be locked at this hour, but the gatekeeper owed Wolfram a few favours, so it would not be difficult to get out of the city. Once outside he would work his way along the castle wall, keeping well out of sight, to its north west corner. There he would enter the castle drains. It would be unpleasant at first-Part of the job, he thought-and he would have to be careful not to get too soiled or he would draw attention to himself later. But, once he was safely in the drainage system, he could climb up a disused privy shaft to the very top of the castle. And from there, he could go wherever he wanted. This was not the first time that Wolfram had broken into the castle at night using that particular route. And it will not be the last, he thought. His main problem would be finding a lone elf in a situation that would give him the advantage he needed. Wolfram was an artist at his work but that did not mean he was complacent. He knew that an elf would be stronger, and faster, and have better sight, and better hearing, and even-he had heard-some sort of sixth sense. So he had to be cunning. And absolutely ruthless. … By one o'clock the guests were starting to go to bed. Lothiriel was first. Then Dínendal, who was not used to heavy drinking and needed some help from Faramir and his secretary. Then Aragorn, who had decided he was far too old to finish his drinking contest with Eomer, Arwen, and Eomer himself, who had decided he should not leave his wife alone much longer. Next, Legolas, Eowyn, Gimli and the hobbits, who were all lodged on the same staircase. And finally Haldir and the twins, Elrohir and Elladan, the latter, surprisingly, very much the worse for drink. … Wolfram had positioned himself on a first floor balcony, which gave him a clear view of the entire castle courtyard without danger of being seen. The climb up the privy shaft had taken him rather longer than he had expected, and he was relieved to see that the party was only just ending. A group of five revellers was walking across the courtyard-a dwarf, two strange-looking children, the woman he had spotted that morning, and one of the male elves. Wolfram watched intently, willing the group to separate and give him easier access to the elf, but all five crossed the courtyard together and entered the north west of the castle. I will have to follow and get closer to him, he thought. But then an alternative presented itself. Three more elves walked out of the hall, stood talking in the courtyard for a moment, then split up, one crossing to the north west corner, the other two heading south west. Wolfram hesitated. The single elf was the obvious target, but he was unusually heavy for an elf-powerfully built-and, moreover, he was heading in the same direction as the party of five that Wolfram had watched earlier. The two elves were smaller and were heading towards a quieter part of the castle. He would follow the pair-he might get lucky. He slipped over the edge of the balcony and, keeping well in shadow, climbed down to the ground. Then he drew himself up straight, like a soldier, and marched across the courtyard as if he owned the castle. … Elladan was having trouble with the spiral staircase. I should not have had that last glass of spirits, he thought. Human liquor is poison. He sat heavily on one of the steps. "You go on," he said to his brother. "I will rest here a moment and join you shortly." Elrohir shook his head. "I will help you." "No, brother. You are not steady yourself. We would both break our necks-and it would be embarrassing for two immortals to be found dead at the bottom of a staircase. All I need is a moment's rest." "Very well," said Elrohir. "But if you are not up in five minutes I will come back here and I will carry you up." … Wolfram climbed up the spiral staircase, trying to be silent without looking stealthy, and almost fell over an unconscious elf. The gods help those that help themselves, he thought. I had better make sure. He took Herzog's vial and a piece of cloth from his pocket, carefully tipped exactly three drops of the pungent liquid onto the cloth-I want the full four hundred gold pieces for a live one, he thought-and held it over the elf's nose and mouth. To his surprise, the elf regained consciousness for a moment and began to struggle, but Wolfram held him down with a knee on the chest and he soon passed out. Wolfram shoved the cloth in his pocket and lifted the elf onto his shoulder. He was tall and surprisingly heavy. I will not be able to take him out the way I came in, he thought. I will have to carry him to the gatehouse, in plain view, and think of a story that will get us out of the gate. After that, it would be a relatively simple matter to carry him to Herzog's shop. … Since elves do not normally experience illness of any kind, Elrohir was surprised to wake with his head aching. And he was even more surprised to find himself lying on the floor with his back against the door of his apartment. I must have fallen asleep here, he thought. Then he remembered his conversation with Elladan. By the gods, if I spent the night against the door, he cannot have come back. He must have fallen asleep on the stairs. Elrohir got up with some difficulty, opened the door and climbed carefully down the staircase to where he had last seen his brother. But his brother was not there. … Legolas and Eowyn had risen early, bathed and dressed, and were heading, with Haldir and Dínendal, towards the hall for breakfast when Elrohir ran unsteadily across the courtyard towards them. "Have you seen Elladan?" he asked Haldir anxiously. "Not since I parted from you both last night," replied the March Warden. "Why?" Elrohir described leaving Elladan on the stairs and waking up to find him missing this morning. "Hmmm. He has probably wandered off and fallen asleep in a privy somewhere, Elrohir," said Legolas, "but-just in case he has fallen and hurt himself-Haldir, go and inform the Captain of the Palace Guard, and ask him to request Prince Imrahil's permission to send a couple of guards to search for Elladan-and take Master Dínendal with you, he may be needed." Haldir nodded and the two elves hurried towards the guardhouse. "Elrohir," Legolas continued, "Eowyn and I will take you back to your apartment-you need to rest. No, I am sure the guards will soon find Elladan," he added, when Elrohir began to protest. And he ducked under Elrohir's arm and, supporting him across his shoulders, helped the overhung elf walk back across the courtyard and up the staircase to his apartment. Eowyn followed behind, staying well back as the two elves staggered up the spiralling stairs. Arwen's brothers are so-so worldly, she thought, not at all like Legolas or the other elves of Eryn Carantaur. She had just decided that she preferred elves otherworldly and was about to run upstairs and help her own elf, who was having trouble supporting Elrohir and opening the apartment door, when she spotted something lying on one of the steps. It was just a small piece of white cloth and ordinarily she would have ignored it, but it seemed strangely out of place in a castle that was otherwise kept extremely clean and tidy. And, as she bent to examine it more closely, she noticed it was smeared with a red, oily substance. What is that? She carefully picked the cloth up and sniffed the red oil. Ugh! What a disgusting smell, she thought. And, although she had no idea what it was, she had a sudden feeling that it might somehow be connected to Elladan's disappearance and that Legolas should see it. So, holding the cloth at arm's length, she hurried up the stairs to show it to him. When she reached the apartment Legolas had already set Elrohir down and was fetching him a glass of water. "This will teach me not to drink human liquor," said Elrohir, holding his head. "This must be how it feels to die." "Elrohir!" Legolas chided, "do not say things like that. Here," and he handed him the glass of water. Then he spotted Eowyn standing in the doorway. "What is it, melmenya?" "I am not sure," Eowyn replied. "I found this on the stairs near where Elladan must have been sitting. It has some red oil on it that smells-well, strange." And she handed him the cloth. Legolas raised it to his nose and sniffed; then-to Eowyn's horror-he swayed and fell forward into her arms. … Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods, thought Eowyn. "Elrohir! Elrohir-" but she already knew that he was in no state to fetch help. Legolas was unconscious, but his breathing was quite normal-in fact, had he been mortal, she would have assumed he was asleep. And she took comfort from that, but she needed to find Master Dínendal. Quickly. She looked around the room frantically, trying to form a plan. Elrohir had rolled off his chair and was crawling towards her on all fours. Eowyn made a decision. "Here, support his head," she said, allowing Elrohir to take Legolas in his arms. "Keep him on his side, in case he should vomit. I will be as quick as I can. I am so sorry, my love," she whispered to Legolas. The moment she was sure that Elrohir had Legolas safely supported, she sprang to her feet and was about to run downstairs when she thought of the window. Please, gods, let there be someone in the courtyard-she looked out-yes, yes! Aragorn! Aragorn and Arwen, and a large retinue, were crossing the courtyard, heading for the hall. Eowyn threw open the window and, ignoring protocol, cried out: "Aragorn, Aragorn! Something has happened to Legolas! Please help him! Please! We are in Elrohir's apartment! And-and somebody please fetch the healer, Master Dínendal. He is in the guardhouse!" … Legolas awoke to find himself in Elrohir's bed, with Eowyn on one side and Master Dínendal on the other, and Haldir, Elrohir, Aragorn and Gimli all standing around him looking anxious. "By the Valar!" he said. "What has happened here?" "What has happened here, you crazy elf-" cried Gimli, "what has happened here is that you have just frightened ten years off my life!" "I am so sorry, my love," said Eowyn, with a sob in her voice, "but the oil had no effect on me, so I did not know it would harm you." "Oh yes, the cloth," said Legolas, "I remember now-I smelled it." He squeezed Eowyn's hand gently. "Please do not cry meleth nín," he whispered. "I am fine." Everyone carefully ignored the fact that Haldir had also placed a comforting hand on the lady's shoulder. "It was hardly your fault, my lady," said Dínendal. "It is a substance known as elfsbane, which has no effect on humans but renders elves unconscious. Fortunately, most of the active ingredients had evaporated, so Lord Legolas was only slightly affected-" "Slightly affected?" cried Gimli. "You call that slight? The elf was dead to the world!" "Indeed, Master Gimli," replied Dínendal, "deeply asleep. But, at the right concentration, elfsbane will paralyse its victim and keep him unconscious for as much as twenty-four hours. And at higher doses the effect can be fatal." "Elladan!" cried Elrohir. "It looks very much," said Aragorn, squeezing his brother's shoulder, "as if someone drugged Elladan and took him away last night. Let us pray they got the dose right-" he added gravely. "I will ask Imrahil to extend the search to the entire city and I will join it-Gimli, Haldir, are you with me? Thank you. We will also ask Eomer and Faramir. No, Legolas, you need to rest-and you too, Elrohir. "Let us pray that we find Elladan in time." … Both Aragorn and Dínendal had insisted that Legolas rest for several hours and-much to Legolas' embarrassment-had had him carried back to his own apartment and put to bed. "He needs healing sleep," said Dínendal to Eowyn. "That is the best way to work the remainder of the poison out of his body." Eowyn closed the curtains and, having washed her hands a fifth time to ensure that all traces of the oil had gone from them, lay down beside him. "I am so sorry, my love," she whispered, taking him in her arms. But Legolas was already asleep. … With Imrahil's palace guard and his visitors' guards of honour, including the three elves from Eryn Carantaur, there were more than fifty men available to search for Elladan. Ten men were already working their way through the castle. Aragorn and Imrahil quickly divided the city into four, placed Gimli, Eomer, Faramir and Haldir in charge of the quadrants, and assigned each of them ten men. Their orders were to search every building and to question every occupant. They were also to pay particular attention to empty properties. Anything they uncovered was to be communicated back to Imrahil, at the castle, who would co-ordinate the operation by relaying information to Aragorn and the search leaders. … Eowyn had drifted off to sleep, so she did not hear the intruder open and close the door, nor quietly cross the room, nor set something down on the dressing table. It was not until the intruder pulled back the curtains, flooding the bed with bright sunlight, that both Legolas and Eowyn awoke with a cry of alarm and Legolas leapt out of the bed, pinning their assailant to the wall. "Who are you?" he cried. "What are you doing in here?" Eowyn looked at his prisoner. She was small and slender and was wearing a pale yellow dress and Legolas was holding her by the throat. "Legolas!" Eowyn cried, "Legolas, look at her!" The elf hesitated for another moment, his senses still clouded with healing sleep; then he understood and released the girl. But he remained suspicious. "Who are you?" he asked again. "And what are you doing in our bedchamber?" "I am sorry, my lord, my lady," said the girl, rubbing her neck. "I thought the apartment would be empty with all that is going on. My name is Senta, my lady. Prince Imrahil asked me to act as your lady's maid-" Her words were interrupted by a loud warbling sound from the dressing table. "What are you doing with a bird in a cage?" asked Legolas, suspicious again. "You bought him yesterday, did you not?" said Eowyn. "From that strange man. I saw you, when we arrived." The girl was surprised. "Yes, my lady, I did. I was going to set him free, my lord." Some of his usual gentleness returned to Legolas' manner. "That is an admirable intention," he said. "Let me see him." He picked up the cage and looked closely at the little bird. "But I am afraid I must beg you to reconsider," he said, sadly. "Why my lord?" "Because this poor little bird does not belong in Belfalas," he said. "If I am not mistaken, he comes from beyond Far Harad. If you release him, the native birds will attack him-for his bright yellow plumage makes him a target. And even if he is lucky, and they do not kill him, he may still starve to death." "Oh, my lord!" "His only hope for a tolerable life is for you to take care of him." "But I am not allowed to have-will you let me to keep him here, my lord?" "Of course we will, Senta," said Eowyn. "Thank you, my lady," said Senta, curtseying. Then she remembered her duties. "Do you require any assistance, my lady?" Eowyn sighed. Why does Imrahil-why do all men-assume that I am incapable of tying my own laces? "Later, Senta," she said. "Return at six." Senta nodded and, after saying goodbye to the little bird, left the bedchamber. Legolas, still holding the cage, whistled softly to the bird; and the bird whistled back. "What does he say?" asked Eowyn. "He says that his name is Sweep-it means 'Golden'-and that he loves Senta very much. Your mistress will be back at six, Sweep." Tears filled Eowyn's eyes as she watched her beloved elf set the bird back on the dressing table. "What is it, melmenya?" Legolas asked anxiously, taking her in his arms. "I love you," she whispered. "And that makes you cry?" "I thought I had lost you…" "Oh, Eowyn!" He kissed her tenderly. "You should be resting," said Eowyn softly. "I am so sorry, Legolas." "There is nothing to be sorry about, melmenya. If you had not found the cloth we would not have known what had happened to Elladan and would still be assuming he had fallen asleep somewhere. I am fine, truly," he said, stroking her hair. "And tonight," he murmured, placing several light kisses on her face and neck, "I will be very happy to prove it to you…" Eowyn managed a small smile. "But in the meantime, meleth nín," he added, gently, "I think we should go and see if there is any news of Elladan." … Elladan was lying, still unconscious, on a makeshift bed in the back room of Herzog's shop. Herzog was pacing up and down, trying to think, whilst Wolfram dogged his every step-back and forth, back and forth. "How will the buyer know he is only half-elven?" Wolfram asked. "It will be obvious, you imbecile! His se-he is inadequate for the purpose. Incomplete. Defective. It must be a full-blooded male elf. You must take him back and bring me another." "What? No-I did as I was told. I brought you an elf. You owe me my money." Wolfram stepped in front of Herzog and stared him down, menacingly. And, although Herzog was almost a foot taller than his accomplice, he felt a brief chill of fear. It was time to bargain. "I will pay you five hundred gold pieces," he said, "half in advance, if you bring me a full-blooded male elf-one of the six you saw enter the city with that woman you admired so much. They were all full-blooded. And you can have her too, if you want." Wolfram hesitated. Five hundred gold pieces. And maybe he could go back later for the woman. "Will the-the stuff-work on her?" "No; but I will give you something else for her-once you have delivered the elf." That decided it. "Agreed. But it will take time. The whole city is looking for him," he jerked his thumb at Elladan, "and the castle guards will be extra vigilant. I will take him back tonight and dump him outside the walls. Then I will return to the castle in a couple of days-after the ceremony, when everyone has relaxed-to take another." Herzog considered Wolfram's plan. He had still not heard back from his buyer and could afford to wait two or three days. "Very well. I will give you the advance payment once you have disposed of him." … .

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.

Story Information

Author: ningloreth

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 4th Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 01/14/11

Original Post: 07/21/04

Go to To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying overview

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