Goldberry tottered into the bathroom. Elandrine flopped down on the bed. The front of her bathrobe fell open, but she didn’t do anything about it.

“What a surprise to see you here!” I said, thinking how such shapely breasts were wasted on a shieldmaiden like her. “Though I fancy I spotted you earlier…”

“I think I might have spotted Goldberry first.” Her voice didn’t sound awfully friendly. She was daring me to ask: “What are you doing here?” I knew the question would be flung right back at me.

When I said nothing, Elandrine continued in a drowsy voice, “I thought she looked fabulous in her evening dress yesterday. I wish the hotel would do something like that for me. But there!—when you’re the guest of Grimwald Uruksson…” she spat out the name “…money is no object.”

“Elandrine…” I said softly. She didn’t disturb her pose of drowsy abandon, but I saw her eyes glint beneath her long black lashes. “Do you hold something against me?”

She sat up so abruptly the bathrobe slid off her shoulders. Almost as an afterthought she pulled it up again and wrapped it tightly around her. “Where shall I start, son of Gandalf?”

“Come on, out with it.”

“Well,” she said, as if we were discussing the weather. “I didn’t like your attitude to the Queen. She implored your help—and you simply walked out on her.”

I raised my eyebrows and shrugged. “What else could I do? There was a serious conflict of interest. I have been commissioned by the King to investigate a murder!” I looked her keenly in the eye as I stressed the word. She held my gaze without wavering. You’re a cool one I thought. And, I warned myself, you are not as sozzled as you’re making out.

She replied, “I suppose that includes plotting with Grimwald and Guthmud to kidnap the Queen? Isn’t that a conflict of interest too?” She raised her hand as I opened my mouth. “Oh, don’t bother to deny it. Imalad has told me everything.”

“To answer your first question—yes it does. And your second—no it isn’t. And just whose side is Imalad on anyway?”

“Just whose side are you on? Tell me that first!”

At that moment Goldberry came out of the bathroom. “Elandrine darling, you’re going to have to go, I’m afraid. Goss is back and he wants to go to bed.”

Elandrine sprang off the bed like a panther. Leaning forward with her hands clasped behind her back she puckered her lips and gave Goldberry a tiny kiss on the cheek. “Just going, gorgeous. See you around.” She stalked to the door without a glance in my direction.

Goldberry called out after her “We must do that again sometime!” The door slammed.

Goldberry looked at me. “Did you say something to upset her?”

“I might have done. Touchy girl.”

I moved across to lie on the bed and moodily pulled Goldberry down beside me. “Oh, Goss,” she said, “you’re not jealous, are you? It’s just a bit of fun. Elandrine and I are old friends.”

“I didn’t guess you even knew each other!”

“She’s my flat-mate.”

“What?” I sat upright so sharply my back twinged.

“She shares the flat with me in Minas Ithil!”

“She doesn’t live in Minas Ithil! She lives in the White Tower! She’s Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen!”

“I know. But she likes to get away sometimes. Living in the White Tower all the time would drive anyone lulu. She’s hardly ever there—I mean in our apartment. It’s the idea more than anything.”

“Wherever did you come across her?”

“She often used to come in the Headless Horseman. With Morfindel’s crowd at first. Then on her own. We really hit it off. Among other things she wanted to know how to use a whip, so I taught her. I never charged her for anything, though she’d press it on me. She only stopped when I told her I was doing it for love. Since then…”

“Where did you learn to use a whip?” I asked in a shocked voice. “You don’t mean to say: Tom…?”

Goldberry laughed, like a tinkling freshet. “No, silly! Tom never needed sex aids. Can you really imagine it? Tom? I had to learn it all in a crash course when they took me on at the Headless Horseman. Anyway I knew far more than Elandrine. She knew absolutely nothing about men. I don’t know what she was doing all the time with those horse-boys in Edoras. Learning to ride horses, I suppose.”

“What did Elandrine want to know for?”

“Morfindel, of course. You’ve no idea the mischief that bloke stirred up.”

“I see I’m barely scratching the surface when it comes to Morfindel.” I thought I’d try a long shot. “I suppose he wanted dominating, in his own bedroom, did he?”

“Yes, that’s about the measure of it. By a big strong handsome woman like Elandrine.”

I pulled off Goldberry’s bathrobe and slid her under the bedclothes with me. Then I blew out the candle. I badly wanted to share my suspicions with her. But I had to ask myself where her loyalties were most likely to lie. With me? Or with Elandrine?

“Goss…” she said after a while, “I thought you’d be really really passionate after winning that big deal. But you’ve gone all cold and distant!”

…to be continued.