Lady vanishes, The: 9. The killing of the wren

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9. The killing of the wren

"What is your name?" asked Aragorn. The man stared at him insolently. "We can prove that the coat you were wearing when you were captured belongs to a man of Rohan-a man who has not been seen alive for almost a week. If you do not co-operate with us, you will be charged as an accessory to his murder. By Gondorian law, you can then be kept imprisoned indefinitely and, if his body should be found, you will be put on trial. The penalty for murder is death by hanging-there is no lighter sentence. So I ask you again-what is your name?" "You think you can scare me?" asked the man. "Hanging is a walk in the Gardens of Far Harad compared to what he would do to me." Aragorn glanced at Eomer. Eomer nodded. "If by 'he' you mean Lord Berodin," said Aragorn, "we are willing to offer you our protection. I know some part of Berodin's unlawful dealings but, as yet, I have no proof. If you give me evidence that leads to his conviction, either Eomer King or I-the choice is yours-will provide you with a new identity and a parcel of land. You will have the opportunity to make a new life for yourself-an honest life, if you have any honour left in you." The man sneered. "I will take the land," he said. "As to the other-who can say? What do you want to know? And what is she doing here?" He waved his hand towards Eowyn. "I am here," said Eowyn, "because you are my prisoner-it was I who found you and your hideout. And I want to know what part you played in what has happened to some of my countrymen." The man looked at her for a moment, then smiled. "I have heard of your sort," he said. "A Shieldmaiden." He bowed, and his deference was only partly mocking. "Ask your questions, my lady." "What is your name?" asked Eowyn. "Alchfrid, son of Aelbert," said the man. "How did you come by the coat?" "It was my good fortune to be asked to dispose of a certain individual. His coat was a perk of the job, as you might say." "Asked by whom?" asked Aragorn. "You know by whom, your Majesty." "Say it aloud." Even with the promise of protection, Alchfrid still hesitated before answering, "Lord Berodin." "How did you kill him?" asked Eowyn. "I slit his throat." Eowyn bit her lip. "But how did you know where to find him?" "I was told that he was probably hiding out at the Golden Goose. I was given a description of the coat. I waited until he left one night, followed him, grabbed him from behind-his coat came off in the struggle-and I slit his throat." "Where is his body?" asked Eomer. "I dumped it behind the abattoir down Ostrad Gwaloth-there is so much filth down there that a little extra is never noticed." "You animal!" hissed Eomer. Eowyn touched his arm. "How did Berodin give you your orders?" Aragorn asked. "He sent a servant." "Were the instructions written or spoken?" asked Eowyn. "Spoken-I cannot read, my lady," said the man. "That is a pity-we could have made good use of written evidence," said Aragorn. "How did he pay you?" "I would deliver proof that the job had been done-leave something recognisable, like a finger with a ring on it or an ear with an earring, in a box at the back of the house-then he would send a servant with a pouch of gold, your Majesty." "How many did you kill for him?" asked Aragorn, softly. "I lost count, your Majesty. Twenty," he shrugged his shoulders, "twenty-five. In most cases I made it look like a robbery…" "Was it always the same servant?" asked Eowyn. "Yes, my lady." "Did anyone else ever pay you to do a similar job?" asked Eowyn. "Using a different servant?" "No, my lady," said Alchfrid. "Lord Berodin kept me well supplied. I did not need another patron." Eowyn sighed. "So what was Admant doing at the house?" she wondered aloud. "A couple of times," said Alchfrid, "old Berodin's nephew bribed me to let a victim go free…" "And did you?" asked Aragorn. "Certainly, your Majesty. It is easier to do nothing than to kill-and getting paid double is a bonus." "Whom did you spare?" asked Aragorn. The man sighed. "How should I know? Old, young, man, woman, rich, poor. They are all the same to me-they pay for my next drink, or my next whore. Pardon my frankness, my lady." "You really have no honour, do you?" said Eomer. The man smiled. "Honour is for those that do not have to work for a living," he said. "I have heard enough," said Aragorn. He looked at Eomer and Eowyn. "Is there anything more you want to ask him?" Eomer shook his head. "Get rid of him." "I have one last question," said Eowyn, looking directly at Alchfrid. "Why were you so foolish as to wear the coat? It is so distinctive, it was bound to be recognised." "Perhaps I was hoping to attract the attention of a beautiful lady-like you," said Alchfrid, leaning forward and leering at her. Aragorn banged his fist on the table. "The Gondorian Guard will take a formal statement from you," he said, "then you will be kept in custody until Lord Berodin's trial. Once he has been convicted, you will receive your new identity, and your land-either here in Gondor, or in Rohan. And may the gods deal mercifully with you. "Take him away!" … As the guards opened the doors, one of them caught a young lad trying to enter the study. "I must speak to Lady Eowyn!" the boy cried. "It is Lëonórwyn!" said Eowyn. "Let her in," called Aragorn. The guard looked at the 'lad' in surprise then released her, and Lëonórwyn ran into the room. "My lady," she cried, "they have taken him." Eowyn leapt unsteadily to her feet. "Legolas? What happened?" "He was holding them back so that we could escape, my lady, but I saw him fall." … They galloped down to Rath Celerdain-Aragorn, Eomer, Eowyn and Haldir. But they were too late. Outside the empty cottage a small boy, sitting in the gutter, was playing with Legolas' beloved Galadhrim bow. Eowyn crouched down before him. "That is a beautiful bow," she said, her voice wavering, "may I hold it for a while?" The boy held it out to her. She took it from him, and clasped it to her breast. Tears ran down her cheeks and she began to sob. And Haldir, ignoring the presence of Aragorn and Eomer, knelt down beside her, took her in his arms, and held her tightly. … "You must go down there," said Gimli to Aragorn. "Take a detachment of guards, if you want to make it official, but order him to open the door, and search the house." "Gimli is right," said Eowyn. Her face was still red and swollen from crying, but she had regained most of her self-control. "We cannot hesitate. From what Lëonórwyn and the child have told us, Legolas is probably injured. And we know that Berodin is ruthless. He has no reason-" her voice faltered, "he really has no reason to keep Legolas alive." "Eowyn…" "Please, Aragorn," she said. "Please. He would do the same for you." "This is not an elven realm, Eowyn," said Aragorn. "This is a kingdom of men, with long-established laws of property and personal freedom. I cannot enter Berodin's home by force. I cannot search his house until after he has been arrested. And I cannot arrest him without more evidence." "What more evidence do you need?" asked Gimli. "A second witness," said Faramir. "Alchfrid's testimony, explicit as it is, must be corroborated." "And where do you plan to get that?" asked Gimli. "They are right, Aragorn," agreed Eomer, softly, "Legolas may not have that much time…" "I understand that," said Aragorn. He sighed. "I can do nothing as a king. As his friend…" He shook his head. "I must be seen at the celebrations tonight. But tomorrow-" "Tomorrow may be too late!" cried Eowyn. Haldir touched her hand. "It is the best I can do, Eowyn," said Aragorn. Then I will have to do better, thought Eowyn. … After leaving the meeting in Aragorn's study, Gimli returned to his chambers, changed into his dark blue suit, and walked briskly down through the levels to Cocks Alley and the Golden Goose. "Good morning, Master Norin," said the landlord. "You are here early. What can I get you?" "No ale, today, my friend," said Gimli. "But I would like some time with Esmarë." "You are an eager one," said Silrim, "she is still abed-no problem there, though. Just go straight up. And take your time-ten silver an hour." Gimli nodded his thanks, climbed the stairs, and knocked at Esmarë's door. "Who is it?" "Norin." "Just a moment!" There was a noise of running feet and rustling fabric. "Come in!" Gimli opened the door. Esmarë was lying seductively on top of the bed-Gimli ignored the pile of dirty washing only partially hidden beneath it. "Good morning, Norin," she said, "are you going to join me?" "No, lass," said Gimli, gently. "But I want to talk to you." He closed the door behind him and walked towards her. The bed was too high for him to sit on comfortably and he was suddenly aware of how ridiculous he would look with his legs dangling. He glanced around-there was a low stool standing by the window. He brought it to the bedside and sat down. "Have you ever heard of a servant called Olemi?" he asked. "No, Norin," said Esmarë. But her eyes were wide and frightened, and Gimli felt sure that she was lying. "Do not worry, lass," he said. "You can tell me-I will not let anyone hurt you. I just need to know what he looks like." Esmarë bit her lip. "I do not know him well…" she said. "But you have seen him," Gimli persisted "What does he look like? Is he old, young, short, tall?" "He is taller than you," said Esmarë. "All men are taller than I," said Gimli. "Come, describe him to me." "He looks-well, he looks like Prince Faramir," said Esmarë. "Not too tall, not too old, not too anything, really-just sandy coloured." "Like Prince Faramir?" "Yes." "When have you seen Prince Faramir?" asked Gimli. "Last time he came to Minas Tirith, I was buying some peaches near the Great Gates. I saw him clearly." Gimli nodded. "Like Faramir," he said. "Very well. Now, pack a few things." "What do you mean?" asked Esmarë. "I want you to come up to the King's House with me," said Gimli. Esmarë laughed. "And what will we do there? Steal the crown jewels?" Gimli shook his head. "No lass. We will be staying there, with my friends…" He took the girl's hand. "The fact is, Esmarë, I have not been telling you the whole truth. My name is not Norin; it is Gimli-Gimli, son of Gloin. And I want to take you back to the King's House, where you will be safe." Esmarë laughed again. "You are funny, Norin," she said, "and good and kind-but you are not one of the Nine!" Gimli decided to try a different approach. "A friend of mine-the best friend a dwarf could ever have-has been taken prisoner by Lord Berodin's men. I pray to Aulë that he is still alive. But I do not know-" "Oh, Norin!" "And, thanks to me, you are also involved in this," he said. "Berodin has spies everywhere. There is no telling which of your customers might be his puppet. There is no knowing whether you are safe here. So come with me, lass, and I will protect you." "Silrim will not let me leave…" "Will you come if I make it alright with Silrim?" "Of course." "Then pack your things. Do you have a cloak?" "Yes." "Put it on, cover up your face. We will leave as soon as you are ready." … Eowyn hid in the corridor until Lothiriel and Elfwine had left the apartment. Eomer, she knew, would be with Aragorn until much later in the afternoon. She walked quickly up to the door and knocked loudly. "Lady Eowyn," said Florestan, "you have just missed Queen Lothiriel-" "Yes, I know," said Eowyn, "but it is you and your sister that I want to talk to. I want to ask you both a favour." … "What do you intend to do?" asked Dínendal. Haldir shook his head. "I do not know," he said. "I should not be doing anything-King Elessar has said that we must wait until tomorrow-and Legolas himself charged me to protect Lady Eowyn. But I cannot leave him there. And, from what the boy told us about the weapon they used on him, he may need your attention, too." "But how can we get to him?" Dínendal thought for a moment. "Perhaps Lord Gimli would help us?" Haldir shook his head. "I am sure that he would. But Gimli is one of the King's closest friends. And we cannot ask him to act against Aragorn's wishes." Haldir walked to the window and looked out over the courtyard. "I am no fighter," said Dínendal. Haldir turned, his train of thought disturbed. "What did you say?" "I said I am no fighter. I am afraid I will let you down." "I do not need you to fight," said Haldir. Suddenly, a plan began to form in his mind, its details resolving themselves as he spoke. "What I need is for you to knock loudly at the front door, draw whoever opens it out into the rath, and keep him there-just for a moment or two." He shook his head "No," he corrected. "the longer you can keep him outside, the better. Then I need you to stay nearby, with the horses-and with your healing bag at the ready, in case Legolas needs urgent treatment." "What are you going to do?" "We know that the boy is being held in the tower," said Haldir. "If I can get inside the house, and up the stairs, without being seen, I can talk to him-Legolas may be with him. Even if he is not, the boy may know where he is. And he can call on the support of at least two of the servants, if I can get him on our side." "Perhaps you should take him a token from his wife…" said Dínendal. Haldir smiled. "You are far too romantic," he said. "But, in this case, you are right. I will try to speak to the girl this afternoon." Dínendal looked up at him, seriously. "Haldir," he said, "what if you are caught?" "If I have not returned to you by daybreak," said the March Warden, "come back up here and tell Lady Eowyn what has happened. She will know what to do." … "Norin! We cannot go in there! I was not serious about stealing the crown jewels." Gimli smiled. "And I was not romancing when I told you that I was staying in the King's House, lass," he said. "Now keep beside me, and do not mind the guards." … "My lady!" Haldir had seen Lëonórwyn crossing the courtyard from Dínendal's window, and had hurried down to meet her. "March Warden Haldir," said the young woman, bowing slightly, and blushing deeply. Haldir opened his mouth-then realised that he had no idea how to ask her for a token without giving his plan away. "Can I rely upon your discretion, my lady?" he asked. "That would depend on what you want me to be discreet about, sir," said Lëonórwyn. "You have my word that it is nothing dishonourable," he said. "My only concern is to protect Lady Eowyn." "Lady Eowyn?" The woman's colour darkened and she manoeuvred the bundle she was carrying a little further behind her back. "I want to-to do something to surprise her," lied Haldir, hopefully. Lëonórwyn looked suspicious. The March Warden sighed. "Very well," he admitted, "I plan to go to Berodin's house. And if I do get inside I will need something of yours to show to your husband, to make him trust me-something that he will recognise. But I also need you to say nothing of this to Lady Eowyn. If she were to try to follow me…" "Follow you?" "She is a lady of rare courage and great spirit. If she knew what I was planning to do-she would want to go with me-to rescue her husband." "I see," said Lëonórwyn. She laid her bundle carefully on the ground, pulling its cloth wrapping closed, and removed one of her gloves. "Berkin sent these to me for my eighteenth birthday," she said. "When you show it to him, tell him that I said they were a far better choice than an oliphaunt-then he will know that I gave it to you." Then she picked up her bundle and walked quickly into the King's House. … Eomer was not looking forward to the night's festivities. He had had his differences with Legolas. He disapproved of the way the elf had stolen Eowyn from her lawful husband. He disliked the way he let her run all over Middle Earth, pretending to be a warrior. He had been shocked by the violence of their lovemaking… But, then, Faramir did not seem to mind at all. And there was no denying that Legolas loved Eowyn-and that she adored him. And he is a good friend, Eomer thought. Someone who is always there when you need him. He glanced through the door into his wife's chamber. She was standing in the middle of the room, her arms raised to waist height, whilst her lady's maid laced up her gown. Eomer waited until her back was completely turned. Then he quickly removed a small pair of hunting knives from his clothes chest and wrapped them in a thick black cloak. He would hide the cloak behind one of the statues outside the Banqueting Hall, wait until the feast was underway, and make some excuse to leave early. Lothiriel would make his life a misery in the morning. But that was tomorrow… … Gimli had left Esmarë in the care of one of Arwen's lady's maids-who had insisted that both the girl and her clothing must be scrubbed before she could spend a single night in the palace-and had wandered down to the courtyard of the King's House, where an excited crowd was already taking its seats in the makeshift 'theatre'. A large wooden stage had been built out into the courtyard, with a painted backdrop depicting-quite convincingly, Gimli thought-a wintry landscape. The audience sat impatiently-chattering, eating dried fruits, and cracking nuts-on rows of wooden benches surrounding the stage, their backs warmed by flaming braziers. Gimli took a seat and scanned the crowd for Lord Berodin. Yes, there you are, he thought. Sitting behind Aragorn. Believe me, when the time comes, I will make you rue the day you laid a hand on that elf- A sudden drum roll filled the courtyard and the audience fell silent. Out onto the stage came the 'wrenboys'-twenty young apprentices with blackened faces, dressed in outlandish costumes of straw and rags. They formed themselves into three groups and, banging their sticks and stamping their feet on the wooden stage, began their strange, hypnotic chant. "Oh where are you going, said Milder to Moulder. Oh we may not tell you said Festel to Fose. We are off to the wood, said John the Red Nose." Onto the stage hopped the Wren, the little king of the waning year-a young man dressed in feathers and a bird mask. Oblivious to his fate, he settled on the 'holly bush'. "And what will you do then, said Milder to Moulder. Oh we may not tell you said Festel to Fose. We'll kill the cutty wren, said John the Red Nose." Robin Redbreast, king of the new year, flew onto the stage and beat the Wren to death with a birch rod. "And how will you fetch him said Milder to Moulder. Oh we may not tell you said Festel to Fose On four strong men's shoulders said John the Red Nose. Ah that will not do said Milder to Moulder Oh what will we use then said Festel to Fose Great carts and great wagons said John the Red Nose. Four of the wrenboys lifted the poor victim onto a 'cart' and pushed him across the stage, displaying his body to the audience. "Oh how will you cut him said Milder to Moulder Oh we may not tell you said Festel to Fose With knives and with forks said John the Red Nose. Ah that will not do said Milder to Moulder Oh what will we use then said Festel to Fose Great hatchets and cleavers said John the Red Nose." Using big wooden 'cleavers', the wrenboys butchered the body and dropped the joints into a huge brass cauldron. "Oh how will you boil him said Milder to Moulder Oh we may not tell you said Festel to Fose In pots and in kettles said John the Red Nose O that will not do said Milder to Moulder Oh what we will use then said Festel to Fose Great pans and large cauldrons said John the Red Nose. "Oh who'll get the spare ribs said Milder to Moulder Oh who'll get the spare ribs said Festel to Fose We'll give 'em to the poor said John the Red Nose. Oh who'll get the spare ribs said Milder to Moulder Oh who'll get the spare ribs said Festel to Fose We'll give 'em to the poor said John the Red Nose." Each wrenboy in turn reached into the cauldron, brought out a handful of grain, and cast it over the audience. And the crowd, cheering, and clapping, and stamping, rewarded the wrenboys' spirited performance by throwing coins onto the stage. Gimli sighed and rose from his seat. The other guests had already begun filing into the King's House for yet another Yuletide feast. I cannot eat when my best friend is suffering Aulë knows what torture-or worse, he thought. Perhaps I will walk down to Rath Amrûn and take another look at the house. He turned to leave, bumping the young man standing beside him. "I am sorry, my friend," he said. "I was not watching my step-" "Gimli," whispered the lad, who seemed strangely familiar, "come with me. We are going to rescue Legolas!" … You can find two versions of The Cutty Wren and information about the custom here: http://mysongbook.de/msb/songs/c/cutywren.html …

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: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 01/14/11

Original Post: 07/24/04

Go to Lady vanishes, The overview

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