To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying: 6. The next victim

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6. The next victim

Eowyn looked in the mirror and smiled. Her gown, though hastily finished for Elfwine's Naming Ceremony, had been made by her own elven seamstress at Eryn Carantaur, and was magnificent-rich, pale rose velvet with deep bands of exotic flowers, in wine red and rose gold, embroidered across the bodice and sleeves. And I look quite exotic myself, she thought. I look almost elven. Since Senta was still recovering in the healing rooms, Arwen had insisted on sending one of her own lady's maids to dress Eowyn's hair. The girl, Richardis, a close friend of Elladan and Elrohir, combed through Eowyn's long golden tresses and began to twist them into an elaborate chignon. "No…" said a gentle voice behind them. "Do not bind it." Eowyn laughed. "I cannot take part in Elfwine's Naming Ceremony with my hair loose, my love." "Why not, melmenya? It is beautiful." "I could pin just the front part, like this, and leave the back loose, my lady," said Richardis. "And then put the circlet on like this…" Eowyn looked to Legolas for his approval. "Yes, melmenya," he said, with one of his radiant smiles, "you look lovely." Then he disappeared into the bathing room. Eowyn caught Richardis' eye in the mirror. The maid was smiling. "Elves," said Eowyn, "are nothing like men." And both women exchanged knowing smiles. … The ceiling of the Great Hall was supported by thick wooden beams that provided a perfect vantage point from which Wolfram could observe the Naming Ceremony and track his prey. Beneath the standards of Belfalas and Rohan mounted on the north wall of the hall, stood the proud parents-the King and Queen of Rohan-and their young heir, in the arms of a nurse. Behind them stood the child's three sponsors, Prince Imrahil himself, a dwarf, and the woman. Wolfram took a good look at the woman. Now that he knew she was a princess in her own right-the King of Rohan's sister, the laundry woman had said-he wondered why he had not realised it before-normally he had a good nose for the value of a thing. But would not the King of Rohan be willing to pay more than five hundred gold pieces to get his sister back-perhaps as much as a thousand? And the elf-boy was apparently a prince, too, and ruler of his own elven kingdom-surely he would pay the same-Do elves use money?-to get his queen back. So perhaps he should just kidnap the woman. Especially as the elves were being extremely cautious today. He had followed the elf-boy all over the castle-first to the King of Gondor's apartment, then to Prince Imrahil's study, then to the guardhouse, and finally back to his own apartment-and at no time had he been alone. And now all six full-bloods had started moving around in threes and-Wolfram was fairly sure-with a discreet escort of human guards. It would be much easier to take the woman. When she was not with the elf she had no guards and it would be a simple task to overpower her, even without the potion Herzog had promised him. He watched the woman step forward and take the baby in her arms, reciting the words of the ceremony-Wolfram was too far away to hear but he knew it was something about her being ready to protect the whelp should any harm befall his parents. I wonder how elf-boy would like that? Raising a human baby? Wolfram wondered. Strange that she is wearing a sword. It must be part of the ceremony. Though he could not remember ever having seen a female sponsor wear a sword before. Wolfram leant back against the wall and weighed his options. If I take the elf all I will get is four hundred gold pieces, though Herzog is a good customer, and I can always have the woman afterwards. If I take the woman as a hostage I might get as much as two thousand gold pieces if I handle it right-but only if I keep her in reasonable condition. He decided to wait and see. … "You are cold, melmenya," said Legolas. "It is just the sea breeze," said Eowyn, smiling up at him. "It is damp." They were walking, with the rest of the Naming Ceremony party, across the castle courtyard to Prince Imrahil's private garden where they could relax together for a few minutes whilst the Great Hall was prepared for the banquet in honour of little Prince Elfwine. "I will fetch you your cloak," said Legolas. "No!" cried Eowyn. "No-you must not go anywhere alone." "Melmenya!" He laughed. "I mean it Legolas. It is far too dangerous. At least let Haldir and Eofred go with you-" But Legolas was already frustrated by the constant presence of his elven and human escorts. "I cannot endure being treated like an elfling, melmenya," he said, "He will not try anything today. Trust me-the castle is far too busy and too well guarded. And I will only be a moment," and he ran across the courtyard and up the stairs to their apartment. … "Foolish elf-boy," said Wolfram, watching Legolas from the rooftop of the Great Hall. And he swung himself over the roofridge and ran-crouching low-along the outer edge of the roof to the north west corner of the castle where he climbed down onto his usual gargoyle and, from there, onto the elf's balcony. … Eowyn's cloak lay on the bed. But, as Legolas reached for it, he was suddenly aware of the same overpowering sense of menace he had felt the night before. He looked around the bedchamber-there was nothing out of place-then through the windows at the balcony. Yes, the threat was on the balcony. All his senses fully alert, Legolas drew one of his white knives, moved quietly to the balcony door, and pushed it open. The odour of something familiar reached his nostrils. What is that smell? he wondered, his mind feeling strangely sluggish. Gods, my head hurts. He took a single step forward, his vision already clouded, his knees already giving way. Then a hand clamped itself over his nose and mouth; and his body disappeared. … Eowyn was panic-stricken, her mind racing. She had no idea how long Legolas had been gone. I should not have let him go alone, she thought. Why did I let him go alone? "Haldir," she cried. "I am going to look for Legolas. Find Eofred and come up to our apartment." Then she ran across the courtyard and up the spiral staircase, leaving Haldir staring after her open-mouthed. The moment she reached the bedchamber she knew something was wrong. Her cloak was still lying on the bed. "Legolas?" she called. "Legolas?" The door to the balcony was open. Why would he go out there? Eowyn ran to the door and wrenched it fully open. And, for a split second, she froze at the sight before her. A small, shadow of a man in a dark cloak had somehow overpowered Legolas and was holding a cloth over his nose and mouth. Legolas was already unconscious, hanging limply in his arms. The man did not appear to be carrying any weapons other than his cowardly oil-soaked rag. Eowyn drew her sword. "Release him, now," she said. The man smiled-the coldest, most chilling smile she had ever seen. "I am sorry my lady," he said, with mock courtesy, "but I cannot do that-this elf is worth money to me. But do not worry. You will see him again when I come back for you." Then he lifted Legolas over his shoulder and-not taking her sword seriously-turned to make his escape off the balcony. For Eowyn, the world seemed to come to a standstill as she planned her attack. She knew she could not risk a cut to the fiend's upper body, for Legolas' head and shoulders were shielding his back and arms. She would have to strike at his legs and hope that she could bring him down. And she would have to do it before he reached the balcony wall. Eowyn sprang forward-bringing her left hand to her right in a two handed grip-and slashed downwards. The man screamed in pain and staggered, but he kept his hold on Legolas. Eowyn brought her sword back along the same arc, and the man sank to one knee. "I have underestimated you it seems, my lady," he gasped through clenched teeth, twisting his upper body towards her. "You are a worthy opponent. I will be back for you," and he dropped the unconscious elf on the floor, scuttled to the balcony wall, and disappeared over the side. … "No Haldir! Stay well back!" screamed Eowyn, cradling Legolas in her arms. "Eofred, please come and help me!" The burly warrior slipped out onto the balcony and knelt beside her. "I should follow him, my lady," he said. "The other guards will catch him," said Eowyn, "please help me carry Legolas…" "Of course, my lady. Here, let me take him," he slipped his arms around Legolas' shoulders and under his knees. "We saw your sword-work, my lady. That was a tidy wound you gave the wretch. He will not be walking straight again." "Oh! Oh!" cried Eowyn, trying to catch Legolas' head as Eofred lifted him. "I will be careful with him, my lady," said Eofred, settling the elf's head against his chest. "He weighs hardly anything." Haldir was hovering inside the door, his eyes wild with anger and frustration. Eofred waited until he had stepped well back, then carried Legolas inside and laid him on the bed. "Haldir," said Eowyn, running to Legolas' side, "please fetch Master Dínendal, quickly-" "Of course, my lady." "And Haldir-Aragorn, fetch Aragorn, too." Haldir nodded and hurried off down the stairs. "Help will be here soon, my love," she said softly to Legolas, smoothing his hair. "Eofred, take my jewellery box from the dressing table-yes-unlock it and tip out the jewellery-now take it outside, and shut the cloth inside it and leave it out there. We will dispose of it later. Then make sure you wash all traces of that vile oil off your hands." … "Although he is unconscious," said Master Dínendal, "his breathing and his heartbeat are both normal and-from the way his eyes respond to light-I suspect that he is still, to some extent, aware of what is going on around him. I do not think the poison will do him any lasting harm, though I do expect him to be unconscious for at least another twenty hours and then to fall into a healing sleep almost immediately after he recovers." "That is good news," said Aragorn, looking round the healing room; and everyone-Haldir, Imrahil, Gimli, Eofred, Eowyn-agreed. "But that creature is still on the loose," said Eowyn, resuming her place beside Legolas and taking his hand, "and could come back for him-or for one of the others. If only I had finished him off. But I could not, not without fear of injuring Legolas." "No one could have done more than you did, my lady," said Haldir. "Legolas owes you his life." And he placed his hand on her shoulder. "Who is he?" asked Aragorn. "How is he getting in and out of the castle? How is it that he can move about unseen?" He looked questioningly at Imrahil, but the prince shook his head. "Describe him again, Eowyn." "He was-he was nothing. No one. Medium height, medium build, ordinary face, wearing a dark cloak. He was very agile-though not, please gods, any more." "Perhaps that is your answer, Aragorn," said Imrahil. "He looks unremarkable so no one gives him a second look." Eofred cleared his throat. "My lady," he said, diffidently, "I believe I heard him say something to you…" "Did you?" Eowyn frowned. "I cannot remember..." "I believe he said he would back for you, my lady." "Are you sure of that?" asked Aragorn. Eofred hesitated. "Well, I-I could not swear to it, your Majesty-" he looked to Haldir for confirmation, but Haldir shook his head. "I did not hear anything," said Haldir, "but would it not be wise to keep Lady Eowyn under guard as well, as a precaution?" "I will be staying here with Legolas," said Eowyn firmly. "Very well, then," said Aragorn. "We will guard you both, here, until the villain has been caught." … It had taken every ounce of Wolfram's determination and cunning to get out of the castle. His normal routes had been impossible-he could not climb far and there was no chance of his walking out through the gate unnoticed-not this time. But there was a third route, which Wolfram had spotted the first time he had found his way into the castle drains. It was a dirty, disgusting route but, physically, it was an easy one. And he had kept it in reserve, for an emergency like this. Wolfram's legs were almost dead, but his arms were still strong and he managed to slip off the balcony and climb into the next apartment. There he spent a few moments tearing a shirt into strips and binding his legs-if he was going to escape he had to avoid bleeding to death. And he must not leave a bloody trail. Then he slipped on a clean pair of breeches, picked up a quarterstaff to use as a walking stick, and made his way out of the apartment and slowly down the spiral staircase. But luck was on his side. He had emerged exactly where he needed to be, at the north east corner of the castle courtyard, next to the surface drain. And a convenient commotion in the far corner-Prince Imrahil giving orders to a handful of guards and the big elf urging the King of Gondor across the courtyard-was drawing all eyes away from him. Wolfram slipped into the drain unseen and was immediately engulfed by the filth beneath. Once out of the castle, he dragged himself to the village of hovels and taverns and stews that stood by the docks and sought out the small boy he often used as a messenger. And whilst the boy's mother helped him clean himself-as best she could-he sent the boy, who was bright and quick and more than a match for any guards that might be watching the apothecary, to fetch Herzog. … Brenal had been peering out of the window for almost eight hours. He had taken his eyes off the back door of the apothecary's shop only twice-to relieve himself-and even then he had made sure that the lady of the house-who had insisted on keeping watch with him-had covered for him. It had been eight hours of nothing. No comings. No goings. No lights. No smoke from the chimney. Not even a twitching of the curtain-if you could call that filthy rag a curtain. Nothing. Actually, less than nothing, thought Brenal. King Elessar had warned them that the apothecary might use a spell to cloud their vision. And I think he has. It is as if some invisible smoke is shrouding the door and windows. Even the stonework is-hazy… By the gods, what is that? Brenal pressed his face against the windowpane and craned his neck to get a better view down into the alley. "Can you see something?" asked the lady of the house, excitedly. "I am not sure, Wilawen," replied Brenal. "No, I cannot believe-" "What is it?" "A small boy! He is knocking on the door of the shop." "But the shop is empty. We have seen no sign of life in all the time we have been watching." "No. But he-he-the door is still closed but he appears to be talking to someone. He is pointing down the alley. Now he is waiting-" "Let me see!" Brenal moved to the side to give her better access to the window. "Yes, you are right. How strange… Look!" The boy was now walking quickly down the alley. "It is as though," said Wilawen, thoughtfully, "he is plucking at someone's sleeve, trying to hurry him along, but there is no one there..." "There is a shadow there," said Brenal. "Keep a watch on that door, Wilawen. I am going to report this to King Elessar. Right now." … "Gods!" said Herzog pulling out his handkerchief and holding it to his nose. "I expect to be well paid for this. This is not part of our business." "You will get your money, I know a way to make several thousand gold pieces," said Wolfram. "Now fix me up. I need to be able to walk." Herzog stripped the bindings from Wolfram's legs shaking his head. "Illuvatar! Who did this to you?" he asked. "Boiling water! And clean rags, " he called to the woman. "She did-the elf's woman-she protected him like a she-warg defending its cubs-agh!" "Keep still!" said Herzog, sponging away the caked blood. "I will have to excise this; it is filthy and already beginning to fester-Bring me something he can bite on-a leather strap," he called to the woman. Herzog held the blade of his long thin knife in the flames of the fire for a few moments. "Put the strap in his mouth," he instructed the woman, "and hold his arms behind his head. I need more light," he added, turning to the boy, "bring that lamp over here and hold it over his legs." Working quickly and efficiently, one wound at a time, Herzog sliced away the infected flesh, ignoring Wolfram's stifled cries-"Hold him still!" Then he drew the raw edges together, stitched up the wounds and covered them with a thick layer of cleansing paste. Finally, he bound each leg tightly with clean rags. "I will leave you some of the cleansing ointment. You will need to clean the wounds and renew the dressings every twelve hours. Do not forget-otherwise, the wounds will fester." "Give me something for the pain-I need to walk," Wolfram gasped, between harsh, ragged breaths. "Do not walk for at least a week if you want these wounds to heal well." "I need to go back for the woman." "Do not be foolish-" "She is the King of Rohan's sister-and they say she was the King of Gondor's mistress before he married-and now she belongs to the elf prince-They will all pay a fortune to get her back-And the elves may try to rescue her. If I bring her here-we will have everything we want." "Wait until your wounds have healed-" "No! The Naming Ceremony is over. They will leave as soon as the elf prince recovers-maybe even sooner-I must strike now-Gods! Give me something for the pain! I will pay you!" Herzog reluctantly opened his bag, sorted amongst its contents, and removed a small brown glass vial. "This is the most powerful anodyne known to man. Used properly, it will give you up to twelve hours free of pain-you will be able to walk and climb as if you had never been injured. But if I give it to you, there are rules you must follow. "First, the dosage-you can take up to five drops every four hours. But never take more than five drops and do not take more than three doses, or the anodyne will deaden your heart and stop it beating. Secondly, take care-do not injure yourself whilst your body feels no pain or you may sustain a fatal wound and not know until sensation returns and it is too late. Thirdly, remember that this is only buying you time-it is an anodyne, not a cure-and when sensation does return the pain will be intense. "Finally, if you want it, you must pay me now-" Herzog thought for a moment. He is desperate. "Forty gold pieces." "Gods!" gasped Wolfram, but whether from pain or outrage Herzog could not tell. "Very well-I will send the boy to fetch the money-then, once I am on my feet again, I will take my beautiful adversary-once and for all." … "Varin-you remember him-he will be coming with me to Minas Tirith and we will be repairing the mechanical waterfall in the Queen's garden. But we may need a labourer to help us with the plants. Can you think of anyone? If not, we will just have to get rid of all that niphredil-stuff ourselves…" Legolas had been unconscious for almost five hours. But-because Master Dínendal had told her that he was probably aware of his surroundings-Eowyn was insisting that all his visitors talk to him as if he were awake. Senta had slipped across from the women's healing room to see him and had told him of Sweep's latest adventure-flying out of the window, around the courtyard, and back onto the balcony. She had been afraid, she said, that he might fly away, but Sweep had returned to her when she called him and had hopped back into his cage by himself. Merry and Pippin had told to him about winter in the Shire, describing the icicles hanging from the thatch of Hobbiton, and reliving the joys of drinking mugs of mulled ale around the fire at Bag End, with Sam and Rosie. And Merry had invited him and Eowyn to spend their next Yuletide at Crickhollow. Haldir had described his recent visit to Lorien-how he had rambled despondently through the great mallorn trees, and climbed up to the decayed flets, remembering happier times-and how the thought of his future in Eryn Carantaur, with Legolas and Eowyn, had cheered him. And now Gimli was trying to goad the elf into regaining consciousness. Or perhaps he is just enjoying being able to say what he likes with no fear of a witty retort. Eowyn sighed. "Pray to the Valar that he will recover, Haldir," she whispered. "Of course he will recover, my lady. He is a fighter-And he has something to fight for." And Haldir was tentatively reaching for Eowyn's hand when Aragorn burst through the door followed by a tall, dark man Eowyn recognised as one of Faramir's soldiers. "The apothecary has been spotted, we believe-" said Aragorn, "Tell them, Brenal." Brenal described what he had seen-the clouding of his vision whenever he looked directly at the shop, the strange behaviour of the boy, and his impression that a shape or shadow was walking down the alley beside the child. "It is a pity you did not follow the boy, Brenal," said Aragorn. "I am sorry, your Majesty. I realise that now-but at the time, I did not trust my eyes… However, the lady of the house is still watching the shop, your Majesty. And if the apothecary returns I am sure she will see him-at least, see something-for that woman misses nothing, believe me." "Might I make a suggestion?" asked Haldir. "You have four elves at your disposal. Set us to watch beside your men. Keep us in pairs if you prefer, but make use of our eyes and our ears-maybe we can penetrate the shadow this villain has cast when your own men cannot." He smiled quite apologetically at Brenal; but Brenal was too good-natured a man to bear any grudge. Aragorn considered Haldir's suggestion for a moment, then looked to Eowyn. "It is true that Legolas could sense the apothecary's presence when we were in the shop," he said, "and I think Haldir may be right. But, as Legolas' consort, the final decision must lie with you, Eowyn. Will you give me permission to use the March Warden and his men?" Eowyn thought for a moment, then said, "What they would face is not honourable danger in battle but something hidden and altogether more sinister. Under those circumstances, I do not believe that Legolas would order them-I think he would explain the risks and ask them to volunteer. I am sure that every one of them will agree to help, Aragorn, but please ask them-as he would," and she squeezed Legolas' hand. Aragorn nodded his assent. "Very well. I will leave you and Legolas here in Gimli's capable hands. There are two guards outside the door and two more at the foot of the staircase. You should be safe enough. Haldir-let us go to the guardhouse and speak to your men. Come, Brenal." … It was not until a good hour after taking the anodyne that Wolfram was able to stand and walk without any outward sign of his injuries. But he had spent that hour devising his strategy, such as it was. I have less than eleven hours, he thought, for I must make sure I am somewhere safe when the pain returns. I have no idea what I am walking into-where the woman is, whether she is guarded, whether she has been able to provide her guards with a description of me… I have only one option left to me. The moment he could walk, Wolfram paid the woman two gold pieces for her help and her silence-I must be getting soft, he thought-and entered Dol Amroth by Dinham Gate. Then he made his way to the castle gatehouse, pausing only to buy two jugs of good, strong ale at The Pyewype tavern on Camp Lane. Wolfram had always made of point of being friendly towards the men who guarded the gates of both the city and the castle-You never know when the effort will pay off-and he had a feeling that his diligence would be rewarded now. Luckily there was only one guard on duty in the castle gatehouse, and it was a man he knew well. "Good evening Torul!" he said heartily. "I hear you have had some fun and games at the castle today! I thought you might welcome a quart…" And he slammed a jug of ale down on the table. Torul looked around furtively. But there was no sign of the Captain of the Guard, so he picked up the jug, "Cheers!" and took a long draught. "Gods, I needed that!" he said, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "You have no idea what it has been like today." "They are saying someone attacked one of the elves." "They are? Gods, news travels fast…" Torul looked around again-there was still no sign of the Captain, so it was safe to talk. "Yes. Someone attacked one of the elves and knocked him out with some sort of oil. He is still asleep, and will be until tomorrow, they say." Torul took another draught. "The elf's lady caught the villain just in time and sliced one of his legs off-or very nearly…" "So you guards all have extra work…?" prompted Wolfram. "Oh yes, there are two pairs of guards on every staircase, there are guards following the rest of the elves wherever they go… and there are guards disguised as the gods know what, lurking around the town, looking for one of the suspects…" "They have a suspect?" "Some apothecary that has been supplying the kitchen girls with too much spirits and mustard," Torul winked, "if you know what I mean-they think he supplied the oil. He may even have designs on parts of the elf, to use in some witchcraft-or so they say." "That lady must be really something…" Wolfram prompted again. "Face like a goddess, temper like an orc-Princess Eowyn of Rohan, Prince Elf's lady. She is the woman who slew the Witch King of Angmar at Pelennor Field. She is still guarding Prince Elf up in the healing rooms-" Torul drained his jug of ale. "I would certainly like to get a look at her," said Wolfram. "Forget it, friend," said Torul, "that lady is better guarded than this end of the Harad Road…" But Wolfram, at that very moment, had noticed a jerkin hanging on one of the coat hooks by the gatehouse door. … About half an hour later, Wolfram put on the Gondorian guard's jerkin and slipped out of the gatehouse, leaving a rather drunken Torul-who had also drained most of Wolfram's jug of ale-dozing by the gatehouse window. I only have two hours before I need the next dose, thought Wolfram. I must not waste any more time. He walked purposefully to the south east corner of the courtyard, nodded to the two palace guards at the door, and started down the stairs. "Wait a minute!" cried one of the guards. "Where are you going?" "The Queen of Gondor wants something from the kitchen," said Wolfram, calmly. The two palace guards exchanged glances; the second guard shrugged, "Very well," he said, "but you should have told us what you were doing without having to be asked." Wolfram bowed graciously then ran down the stairs, heading straight for the kitchen. That stuff of Herzog's is certainly working, he thought. The gods only know what will happen when it wears off. The kitchen was busy. Most of the staff was clearing up after the banquet that had been held earlier in the day, but some of the cooks were already preparing a light evening meal. Wolfram made straight for the most important looking man in the kitchen. "Master cook," he said, bowing deeply, "my sovereign lady, the Queen of Gondor, requests a dainty dish for her friend, the Princess Eowyn." "What are you taking about?" asked the cook. "You must have heard what happened earlier today-how Princess Eowyn routed the villain who tried to kidnap her elven lord? But the lady is now out of sorts and her Majesty wishes to tempt her appetite with something light but nourishing. Surely you have something for the gallant lady. A delicious syllabub, perhaps? I am sure the Queen-and the King-of Gondor will be most grateful." Ten minutes later, Wolfram emerged into the courtyard carrying a tray. So far, so good, he thought. …

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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