“What does GUB stand for? Nobody has ever been able to tell me. Or cared to.”

“And I do not care to tell you either,” snorted Legolas. “It’s an acronym in the Black Speech. Ask Gimli. Gimli knows it—he talks to these people. Whenever the dwarves want mining work done on the cheap nowadays, they use orc-labour.”

“Not when I have anything to do with it!” protested Gimli. “It’s one of the quarrels I have with my contractors over the Glittering Caves Project. But if you must know, GUB is short for Ghâsh-hai Ulîmob Burgûlum-ishi. Police—throne—shadows-in. Or as they themselves render it in the Westron: the Royal Secret Police. The word for policemen is the same as the word for firemen—you have to be able to look after yourself when you’re putting out fires in Udûn. They never start by accident.”

I laughed as I beckoned to the barman for another round of drinks. “I’ll try that out on Grishnakh when next I see him,” I said. “You don’t mind me quoting you, do you?”

Gimli waved his hand briskly. “Feel free!—feel free!”

“You said something about the company Morfindel kept. Did you have anyone particular in mind?”

“Criminals—gangsters—he was on drinking terms with the most notorious characters you can imagine,” said Gimli. “They’re not short of such people in Doom City. Thanks to the proximity of the Dark Cesspool—Bagronkbûrz in their language—not to mention Mount Doom—Doom City, or Dûmpgoi you’ll hear it called, will never be anything but a place of ill-repute. But I don’t think Morfindel went around seeking criminals as such. Anybody and everybody in a position of power was somebody Morfindel wanted to explore, to see if they could be useful to him.”

“Did he ‘explore’ you?”

“Yes, all the time. He was always here in the Oliphaunt, buying us drinks and telling us his latest scheme. We used to wind him up shamelessly! But he never appeared to resent it.”

“It wasn’t all bad,” interposed Gimli. “The things he could obtain for you! He knew the source of just about everything valuable. Now there’s not much I can’t lay my hands on, once I’m able to get a message back to Erebor. But Morfindel was much closer to hand. Special tools, special materials, no end of mithril…”

“Do you think he had a darker purpose in all his wheeling and dealing? Such as accumulating funds for purchasing dangerous things… forbidden things?”

“You’re talking as if he went around plotting with all-and-sundry,” said Legolas. “None of the dealings I knew about were what I’d call ‘dark’. He didn’t seem to care who knew. If only you could have heard him while he held forth in here…”

“For my part I am in little doubt that he bought and sold in order to buy and sell other things,” said Gimli. “If you had asked him why he wanted to deal in such-and-such a thing he’d tell you. He always liked an audience for his latest project. And some of them were hilarious! Quite illegal of course, but that’s what made it so funny.”

“Morfindel took the attitude,” said Legolas, “ ‘I’m the King’s favourite. Nobody can touch me. I do exactly what I please. And that makes me such a big fellow, I’m very desirable to know.’ He was in nobody’s debt.”

“But might he not have been plotting secretly, all the same? Might he not have been plotting revenge…?”

“Revenge—for what?” said Legolas.”

“For the treatment of his mother and father. For the vindication of his mother—and his father, if it comes to that.”

Legolas leaned on the bar with his finger to his cheek, his eyes turned up beneath his eyebrows. “No. If he had been planning revenge I’m sure we would have heard all about it. In great and tedious detail, like the people unfortunate enough to have been close to his father. No, it never occurred to him that they needed avenging. I think he would have said that they were dead and didn’t care now.”

“Yet you said he deplored his mother’s treatment.”

“Yes. But his answer to that was to seek ways to a better world, in which that sort of thing wouldn’t happen. ‘When I am King…’ he used to say.”

Gimli laughed. “That was one of his favourite expressions. ‘When I am King.’ All the wonderful things he was going to do when he was King.”

“When he said that, might he actually have meant it?”

“No,” snorted Legolas.

“Yes,” contradicted Gimli. “But not in the literal sense. He never had a bad word to say about Aragorn—I mean—the King.”

“He was always saying what a good and kind man the King was. What a magnificent man! What a virile man! He could never have intended his master… any harm.”

I toyed with my drink. “Someone put their theory to me the other day,” I said, “of what Morfindel would have done if he had got hold of a magic ring.”

Gimli barked with laughter. “Kill the King and marry the Queen, like in the old story.” That made me look round cautiously. Was anybody listening to what we were saying?

“Yes,” admitted Legolas, “that sounds like our Morfindel.”

“And did it not occur to you how dangerous it was, going round saying things like that?”

“He was always saying things like that! He was the Court Jester!”

I began to understand him more and more. And the King. “So what you are saying is: he didn’t care what he did—and didn’t care who knew it?”

Legolas paused at length before answering. “Yes… that’s a pretty fair assessment. Perhaps Morfindel was like his father in this: if he wanted anything he didn’t see why it mightn’t be right to have it. Right by definition. Perhaps he would have made a very good king…”

“Legolas!” I reproached him, “you’re in your cups! If anyone is listening to us, that could be construed as treasonable talk.”

“Well, so long as Bergil is not drinking in the same bar I don’t think anyone’s going to take exception here. Least of all Aragorn, were he to hear it. There is nothing that Morfindel said in here which he wouldn’t have said in front of the King.”

“And often did, they say at court,” added Gimli.

“When I surmise that he would have made a good king,” said Legolas, “I mean that he knew everybody, knew their strengths and weaknesses, knew how to get the best out of them. He was well-liked, although maybe one ought not to say: well-respected. But how many of the kings of old were honoured simply because they were King?”

“So you’d have been happy to have him as King?”

Legolas and Gimli looked at each other.

…to be continued.