It was a tiny closet, lit by a single oil lamp set upon a carved side table. A king-sized bed all but filled the available space. She sat on the bed. There being nowhere else to sit, I sat down beside her.

She slipped off her high-heeled shoes and began to unbutton her leather tunic. “Help me off with this,” she said.

“Hey, just a minute…!”

“This is not a game! I daren’t risk the embarrassment of someone looking in and finding us fully dressed. You’d be straightaway taken for a spy. Or a cop.”

I saw the sense in what she said and helped her off with her leather tabard. Then I began taking off my own clothes, reluctantly at first. Soon we were sitting naked beside each other. Goldberry shivered. Instinctively I put an arm round her. To get under the sheets seemed to be the most sensible thing to do.

“Goldberry!” I exclaimed. “I can’t get over it! Where’s the long yellow hair? The dress of silvery green?”

“I had the hair made into a wig. I can put it on for you if you like. And as for the dress… don’t you like me better the way I am?”

I didn’t reply—I was stuck for an answer. She added “I thought it was all you men cared about.”

I held both her wrists and she offered me the palms of her hands to kiss. I smelt the perfume of starry flowers in a sea-green sward. I dared not draw her nearer, for fear of what she would encounter. But she laughed at me, like the tinkling of droplets in a mountain cascade.

“How now, brave son of Gandalf,” she said. “Do you fear a maiden’s caresses, who flinch not before the hammers of trolls and the jagged swords of orcs?”

“What’s a nice girl like you doing in a joint like this?” It was not a very clever thing to say, but never had the question been asked with such passionate concern. “And where’s Tom Bombadil?”

A look of discomfiture clouded her brow and she cast down her eyes. “I had to have him put away. It was all getting too much…”

“What d’you mean?”

“He was growing far too difficult. You can’t imagine it. Water lilies, water lilies everywhere. You’d get out of bed in the morning and put your foot—slop!—right in a bucket of the bloody things.”

“You don’t mean to say you’ve had old Tom put in a home…?”

“No… yes… it’s a very nice home. Honest!”

She turned over and presented her back to me. I thought she was about to cry. “I had to do something. It was all getting on top of me.”

I slid my arms round her waist, elbows on her hips, hands… where hands naturally fall. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing! You always seemed so happy together!”

“Well, I suppose I managed to put on a smiling face for the benefit of visitors. But it was hard living with that silly old man, day-in, day-out, and no one else to talk to. People were always just passing through.”

“I can’t imagine how you could do that to poor old Tom! He was so very much in love with you.”

“Yes, I know. He was always doing this and that for me. He’d never leave me alone. He’d trail round the house after me. I wanted to run away, over the hills and down the dales, but I knew he just run after me and catch me up and tear off my silvery green dress and I’d have to put up with yet another shagging in the long grass. It was all fun to start with, but you can’t imagine how tedious it became in the end. Over the years one’s ideas change…”

“So now you’re the door-bitch in a shady night-club.”

“Yes… well… I always yearned for the city lights. Any city.”

“But Minas Ithil, of all places!”

“Where d’you think I should have gone? That dump across the river? Here, nobody looks down their noses at you. Nobody is up to very much, they don’t have airs and graces. And they don’t ask questions. I’ve got a gorgeous girl friend and we rent a nice room overlooking the ruins of the old tower. We do just what we please and no one bothers us.”

“Where is Tom now?”

“I should have thought My Lady Éowyn could have told you that. As well as the Houses of Healing in MT, she and Lord Faramir run a lucrative little nursing home right next to their country seat at Henneth Annûn, you know—the old wartime bunker. It’s not that far from here. Just up the road. I take the stagecoach which goes to Udûn at weekends and pop in for half an hour or so. Now and again. Well… twice a year at least.”

“I suppose it is out in nice countryside. I was afraid you’d got him tucked away somewhere here in the city.”

“Oh no! Nothing like that. He wouldn’t last very long in the sharku-house here, in ravishing Dûshgoi. He’s a bit of a handful though for the staff at Henneth Annûn, but they’re all very kind. They don’t have many orcs. And those they do have are mainly in the kitchen.”

By now she’d turned to face me again and put her arms around my neck. We’d moved close together without thinking. “You feel nice,” she said, wriggling her tummy. “Fancy a bit of rumpy-pumpy before they look in and tell us our time’s up?” She started kissing me, searching deep with her tongue.

I pulled my mouth away. “First tell me what you know about Morfindel son of Gollum.”

“That creep!” She let go of my neck and turned over again with a thump.

I snuggled up until we were like two spoons in a drawer. “Does he come in here?” I murmured, nibbling the rings in her ear.

“Look, shut up about the King’s fancy boy, unless you want me to go all frigid on you.”

“I told you, I wanted to talk!”

She wriggled free of my arms and sat bolt upright. Just at that moment the door eased open a crack and the bar-lady said “time’s up!”

“We’ll be out of here in two flicks of a lamb’s tail,” spat Goldberry.

“No, give us another hour, will you?” I called out. “Take the money from my breeches pocket there.” I hauled Goldberry back under the covers and kissed her mouth hard. As the bar-lady shut the door, grumbling away to herself, Goldberry wriggled her head free to gasp for breath. Afraid she was about to shout I started biting her all over, just to distract her. She whimpered and thrashed about like a branded piglet.

For fifty minutes we completely forgot what we came in to do.

“All right, whadd’ya want to know?” said Goldberry at last with a forced sigh. She unpeeled herself from me like the skin from a ripe peach, sat up in bed and scowled down at me.

“You’re beautiful…” I whispered, gazing up through her cleavage at the artery in her silky neck, throbbing with a slight lag behind her heart going dub-thump beside my ear. I was a bit disappointed she hadn’t said “wow!” like they mostly do.

“Sod you! Get on with your interrogation and let’s get it over with.”

What Goldberry had to tell me wrenched my heart. Morfindel was an occasional customer of the Headless Horseman. He used to come in with his friends. They came from all walks of life, from the highest to the lowest. Just which was which was hard to tell at times. Like the time a dozen of them hung her up by the wrists… let’s not go into details.

“Getting in bed with a man, like this, is one thing,” she said. “But a good girl always calls the shots. Anything you don’t want to do, you set the price high, or you don’t quote at all.”

She took a deep breath. “That wasn’t in the contract.”

“Goldberry!” I choked. “You must really, really hate him!”

“Oh, he paid me well for it. He can afford to. He reckons he can afford everything in the Kingdom. And everybody. But if you gave me his liver on a plate—that wouldn’t make up for it!”

…to be continued.