“Son of Gandalf! ” replied Gimli. “If you’re asking us what we think personally, then I say this. We have a perfectly good King. The best it is possible to have! Why would anyone want to replace him with one who, after all, was a loudmouth and a braggart?”

“Harsh words, Gimli,” murmured Legolas.

“But are they true words—or are they not, Master Legolas?”

Legolas lowered his head. “True words. From the depth of my heart I say: true words. But ever this heart of mine is eased by such a one who makes light of life. Whose mind is like a will-o’-the-wisp, ever darting from one thing to another, never still, never full of care, never reflective. Leave that to the Galadhrim. Leave that to the High Elves! The Wood Folk were ever at their happiest feasting and dancing in sunny glades among the trees.”

“Can I take you up on something you just said, Gimli?”

“What, Master Goss?” I noticed his nose was glowing red for danger.

“You said just now: ‘the best it is possible to have.’”

Gimli stood up to his full height and puffed out his chest. “Yes and I will say it again. The best it is possible to have! Must I go for my axe, to defend that remark?”

I closed my eyes and waved my hand. “Gimli, Gimli, that won’t be necessary. You’re talking to a man on the King’s business.”

“Well, Mr King’s Business, who is talking treasonable talk now?”

“If I did not anticipate the treasonable talk of others I would not be a good investigator. But I’m not trying to provoke you, dear Gimli. I am merely trying to say this. Imagine that there are people who think that Aragorn, who is personally dear to all four of us, is not the best of all possible kings. And I am not proposing Master Morfindel in his place, for at this moment Morfindel lies…”

I checked myself and looked around. I had felt it necessary to tell the truth of the matter to Legolas and Gimli, but I didn’t want it uttered out loud in the Oliphaunt and I was certainly not going to utter it out loud myself.

Legolas laid a restraining hand on his friend’s arm. Gimli calmed down and so did his nose. “Pray pardon me, Master Goss. But please explain this. Who could possibly think the King to be lacking in any way…?”

“Someone,” I said, “who is impatient for an heir to the throne!”

The four of us sat in silence for a very long time. Eventually Legolas said, “It is indeed a matter of concern to our people—to all good people—that Queen Arwen has not presented the King with an heir. It could in time be the very seed of disorder…”

“So what then are we to make of Morfindel’s outrageous proposal?” I asked. “It was Gimli who said it, not I. ‘Kill the King and marry the Queen’. Let me ask you this: has Morfindel, or has he not, been searching far and wide for rings of Power?”

“Not noticeably,” said Gimli. “We dwarves are always on the search for rings of Power, but we are looking for the dwarf rings of old. They are ours—and we want them back!”

“With all due respect, Gimli, perhaps that makes you less sensitive than others to the presence of someone on the lookout for rings. Particularly someone who has actually voiced out aloud what he would do with it if he had one.”

“But only in principle!” protested Legolas. Yet his face betrayed that he was no longer in sympathy with the very sympathy for Morfindel he had earlier expressed.

“It is not my theory. It is the theory of someone in a position to—I mean—with good cause to know.” I didn’t want to mention Arwen by name.

“Then,” said Gimli, “when you use the word plot, you must mean precisely what you say…?”

“If there exist people who take Morfindel seriously… (and is there anyone who takes him lightly, so as not to believe that he said what he thought—and did what he said?) …if there exist such people, then I have not the slightest doubt there is a plot.”

“A plot,” mused Gimli, “that has not died with his death?”

“That is precisely what I fear.”

“Yet maybe too there exist people who would do anything in their power to thwart such a plot,” countered Gimli. “Maybe you need to look no further than such people for Morfindel’s murderer.”

“Such a thing has occurred to me,” I said. “And not just to me. This too has occurred to me. What a shame it would be if the very people who, for love of the King, undertook to foil a plot against his life by killing the chief plotter, were themselves to die for treason at the Stake—the treason of killing the Ward of the King.”

Gimli shrugged. “Duty must be done,” he said. “And the Law is the Law! Else for what counts the King’s Protection?”

“Yet my heart goes out to such a one!” exclaimed Legolas.

That afternoon, Saturday the Sixth of May, I borrowed ponies and a wain from Gimli, plus the trappings of a merchant. Gimli had a good store of Longbottom pipe-weed and several crates of choice wine from the marches of the Shire in his ample cellars. I gave him an IOU for it all, redeemable by the Royal Treasury should I fail to return for whatever reason. We deemed it a goodly merchandise to be taking to Doom City, but not one that was altogether irreplaceable. I needed no wain to bear the real burden, which was of course the fake Angrennan, that I proposed to sell to my host.

Goldberry begged to accompany me. After all, she said, the invitation was indeed for a couple to stay at Hotel Doom. But despite my initial enthusiasm I was hesitant, not for myself, for I was nothing if not eager for her company. But I was concerned for her safety, for would we not be going open-eyed into danger? Yet to have turned up on my own would have looked over-wary. Curmudgeonly.

Goldberry, to put it mildly, had suffered worse company in Minas Ithil. Though maybe not so much worse.

Anyway—Hotel Doom was legendary for its fine food and comforts—and that was not to be missed for worlds.

…to be continued.