I woke early and leaving Goldberry asleep in bed I went off in search of breakfast. I could have gone to any one of a dozen places but I thought I’d try the cheery little bistro just off to the right of Reception.

Having collected myself an outsized pastry which the locals call a “troll’s bad eye”, plus a large mug of steaming black herbal brew, I looked for a vacant table. Whom should I see but Imalad, sitting hunched over a mug of the same stuff.

“Mind if I join you?”

He looked up startled, then he waved towards the seat opposite. I sat down.

“Am I sitting in Elandrine’s place?”

“Elandrine has gone back to Minas Tirith,” he replied. “She left at first light. She has to be back at the Queen’s side by noon tomorrow. How did you know she was here?”

“She and Goldberry met up for a fluffy evening together while we were having our council.”

“Oh,” he murmured abstractly. “Best thing they could have done.”

He slouched back in his chair looking as if he was itching for me to go away again. I sipped my brew and waited for him to say something.

“It’s not a good idea for us to be seen locked in conversation,” he said at last. “Though there’s nothing suspicious about you stopping to exchange an odd word. Don’t look now, but that’s one of Grimwald’s henchmen by the door, stuffing his face. I don’t think he’s seen us yet.”

There was another pause. I waited for him to come out with something more.

“I must say it was most disagreeable seeing you there last night.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “Let me return the compliment.”

“It gave me a nasty shock when I came in and saw you sitting there. I nearly turned tail and bolted. I thought you were going to spill the beans. But I soon realised you were in as tight a spot as I was.”

“Yes,” I murmured. “Thank you for maintaining the fiction that Morfindel is still alive.”

Imalad said nothing, but drummed his fingers. He was right—there wasn’t much opportunity to talk here. I’d only have the chance for a few words and then I ought to depart. I decided to go for gold.

“Elandrine asked me last night whose side I was on.”

He took his time before replying. “I assume you’re on your own side.”

“Like you?”

He sat up. The look of boredom left his face, to be replaced by one of indignation.

“I’m certainly not on the side of those monsters, if that’s what you think.”

“Well, I’m relieved to hear it.”

“The same cannot be said of you! Why did you have to go selling them that damned ring? Now they’ve got everything they need to carry out their plans! I suppose you know what it is, don’t you? I noticed they weren’t for telling you—if you didn’t know already.”

I looked round cautiously. Nobody was listening. “It’s The Angrennan.”

“The—what? Angrennan?”

The Angrennan.” I stressed the definite article. “The last of the Nine.”

“I didn’t know it had a name. But obviously you know all about it.”

“All the rings of Power had names.”

“That’s right—it’s a ring of Power. It makes you invisible.”

“Not any more.”

“Now listen to me. I may look young, but I wasn’t born yesterday. They told me you gave them a classic palantír too! Guthmud was convinced it was his anyway, but he’d lost it. He was so glad to get it back that he gave you the benefit of the doubt.”

“That was necessary to establish my credentials.”

“As a lying, thieving bastard?”

“Exactly. I wanted them to be comfortable dealing with me.”

Imalad barked a mirthless laugh. “They were certainly that! You had them eating out of your hand. But the—The Angrennan…! Did your credentials need establishing quite so lavishly? How did you lay your hands on it anyway? That’s what I want to know!”

I almost said, “that’s my business” but that would have stopped the conversation stone dead. I thought I’d string him along. I felt he was so near to giving me the key to the whole affair.

“You mean: how did I lay my hands on it first?”

“Well…” Imalad made his lips go a funny shape. “You knew I was looking for it.”

“Yes. And you were so convinced Morfindel had it. But I happen to know who really owns that ring, and I wasn’t lying last night when I said I was entitled to sell it on their behalf.”

He looked at me as if he was trying to focus his eyes. “You know who really owns it? Are you trying to tell me Morfindel stole it then? I thought he’d bought it. I’m lost…!”

“The real owner of that ring, as everybody at court knows, or should know (at least the older generation, who’ll have seen it on her hand at official functions)—is Lady Éowyn. It was her battle trophy. Do I need to remind you of the details?”

Imalad’s eyes were wide. “No… no… I know all about it. The point is: if Morfindel stole it, as you imply, how did you get hold of it?”

I glanced round at the door. Nobody seemed to be paying us any attention. “I happen to know the Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn very well. I was given that ring to assist me in my investigations. As I might have told you when we last met, I’m trying to bring Morfindel’s murderer to justice. To do that I can’t avoid prying into Morfindel’s little schemes.”

Imalad held up his hands. “Well—now you see the extent of them.”

“You can say that again!”

Imalad made no reply. I said, “Are you going to go through with it?”

“The kidnap? I don’t see I have any option. Not now you’ve given them the blasted crown jewels.”

“If we are to prevent this thing happening, we ought to work together.”

“Thank you, but I have my plans all laid. I don’t need any help. Least of all from you. The greatest help you can be to me is to keep out my bloody way—and not go throwing any more stones in the millpond. I can’t for the life of me imagine how you could possibly have given them that…!”

Pitching my voice low I said, “You don’t suppose I gave them the real Angrennan, do you?”

“Well, what—?” His eyes narrowed. He was putting two and two together: he was beginning to see how Morfindel and I could both appear to possess the Angrennan—with little or no possibility of it having changed hands.

…to be continued.