“I stand in awe of your presence of mind,” murmured Bergil. We were back in his office, the door was barred and the victim’s head was lying unwrapped upon his desk. “Thanks to you, we have been able to prevent rumour of this dreadful matter being noised abroad.”

“For the moment,” I said.

“Might the death have been natural?” ventured Bergil. “Or at least, unintended? A death can hardly be called ‘natural’ when it has so clearly occurred within the context of an unnatural act. But an act to which the young Morfindel, I fear, was no stranger.”

“No, this was no accident. He was killed deliberately. No matter how vigorously you took your pleasure, using purely the instruments of the flesh, you could not bring a man to the extremes we see on this tormented visage. The victim died in agonies both exquisite and prolonged.”

“That was my feeling too, when first I saw the body. So we are dealing not just with the death in scandalous circumstances of Morfindel, the King’s Favourite, but with Wilful Murder.”

“Morfindel,” I murmured to myself. I had heard the name before, but I couldn’t remember where.

“Morfindel son of Gollum,” said Bergil. It was my turn to be gob-smacked.

“Gollum!” I cried. “Gollum? Are we talking about the Gollum?”

“Indeed we are,” replied Bergil. “The sneaky little creature who possessed the One Ring for many a long year and kept it concealed at the very roots of the Misty Mountains.”

“However did Gollum, of all people, come to have a son?”

“It is a pathetic tale,” said Bergil. “While he was yet a Ranger, King Elessar himself captured Gollum and handed him over to the Elves of Mirkwood, to keep close captive.”

“That’s right!” I said. “I read it in the Red Book of Westmarch. The elf guards were betrayed and orcs fell upon them and killed them all and so rescued the creature Gollum.” But Bergil shook his head slowly, a wry smile on his face.

“The Wood-Elves are not noted for being sloppy gaolers,” he replied. “Nor for being surprised and overcome in their own woods by orcs. The elf guards were indeed betrayed, but orcs were not involved in the betrayal itself. That was an inside job, from beginning to end.”

“Did Legolas son of Thranduil know that, when he reported Gollum’s escape to the Council of Elrond?”

“I think we can exonerate Legolas and his royal father from complicity in the matter. Though not perhaps from a too ready acceptance of what the bodyguard of King Thranduil chose to tell their master.”

I whistled long and low. “I never did believe the story,” I said. “It seemed most improbable. So there was a cover-up! Somebody should have been punished.”

“Somebody was. At one stage Gollum had been given into the care of an elf maiden, Gladlas was her name. If the Wood-Elves have a fault, it is pity. Pity for all living things. Although Gollum was one of the most despicable of creatures, he was at least a living body. The heart of Gladlas went out to him in his snivelling, piteous condition, and she often came to comfort him. She did whatever she could for him, something of which Gollum, true to his nature, was quick to take advantage. As a result they carried on a clandestine affair for a year or more and she bore his child.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “How could an elf maiden do a thing like that? Even in the extremes of boredom. And with such a one!” Yet I reminded myself that they’re all as randy as cats in the moonlight, every last one of them. And don’t they say that all cats are grey in the dark?

“She it was who tricked the guards and allowed Gollum to escape. She paid dearly for her indiscretion. King Thranduil imprisoned her deep within the dungeons of his forest fastness, where she died just a few years ago. No empty barrels to bear her out of bond!”

I chuckled grimly. “Yes, I daresay they tightened security a bit, after the exploits of Bilbo Baggins.”

Bergil continued. “The child of that union was not at all foul to look upon, as you might have expected. His father had been indeed a perian, a primitive proto-hobbit, and doubtless therefore fair of form, before the One Ring devoured him in the dark. The young Morfindel could have laid claim to being halfelven on his looks alone, although there are few of that kindred who would happily claim him as their own.”

Staring at the tormented head on his desk, Bergil muttered, “It is hard to see it now, but the boy resembled a halfling, yet one of the fairest of that race. As a stripling lad I made friends with a halfling and I thought him wondrous fair to look upon. He went on to become a famous warrior and Knight of the Realm, in the very Company of the Tower of Guard. One of the Heroes of the Ringwars! Yet he remembered me and came back in later years to visit me. He had grown no taller, but his youthful beauty had long since faded. His face, though jolly, was the face of a chubby little old man. But from my boyhood memories I can well sympathise with the heart of my lord the King.”

I smiled inwardly. I know Peregrine Took well, the hobbit in question, and I know how partial he is to a jug of ale, as indeed I am. His boyish good looks hadn’t long survived that regime. He was no chicken now.

“The dreadful story of the orphaned son of Gollum came to the ears of the King, who readily recalled his own part in it. His anger at the dereliction of the Elves of Mirkwood had abated over the years and he was sorry for the fate of the mother and her changeling child. He had the boy brought to court, taking him ever closer into his favour.”

Bergil rose to his feet and took a deep breath. “More than that I will not reveal. It is not seemly, so to do.”

He could have belted me over the head with a haunch of venison, the stunned way I must have returned his stare. I exhaled slowly, trying not to whistle. “So that’s the reason for all the secrecy!”

“Do you accept the mission?”

“If I don’t, I suppose you’ll have to slay me on the spot.”

“And have two heads to dispose of, and two bodies,” replied Bergil bleakly. “Don’t make me do it.”

“Morfindel son of Gollum,” I muttered slowly, picking up the head and staring into a face bloated with agonies beyond belief. “How did you die? And why?”

But the face wasn’t telling.

Looking Bergil straight in the eye I thrust the head into his hands, saying “Get that pickled and returned to me. I need to know.”

…to be continued.