Outside the Queen’s apartment, Lady Éowyn and I briefly conferred. We agreed that she should remain there in the bedroom, with the adjoining doors wedged open, against the possibility of Imalad coming that way.
I took my leave of her and making my way through the same doors to the King’s apartment entered the secret passage leading to Morfindel’s bedroom. When I reached it I had to walk carefully. There was no carpet—it was lying twenty miles away in Grey Wood, unrolled upon the bare ground. Without it the floorboards creaked.
A freshly made fire was blazing in the grate. With a pang of dismay I saw a poker in the heart of the flames. I pulled it out—it was glowing white hot! I left it by the grate to cool down.
Who had done that? The servants of the White Tower were not in the habit of leaving the poker in the fire when they lit it. I assumed the worst. Imalad had left it there against the chance of discovering the Queen and needing to kill her without spilling elf blood. The hairs on the back of my neck crept with horror and my heart went bump.
A creaking noise made me place my ear to the wall. Someone was creeping along the hidden corridor. I looked around wildly and then hid myself under the bed. I had a profound sense of dèja vu.
The hidden door beside the fireplace opened and out crept Imalad, large as life. He was still dressed in the sober clothes he had worn in the courtroom. But now he was carrying a drawn sword.
Putting on Narya he glanced keenly round the room. He looked shrewdly at the bed. Very slowly he came across and made ready to plunge his sword down through it. But before he could do so, his head span round at a shuffling sound from the fireplace. Elandrine emerged from the very door he had just come through. She must have come along the other secret passage of course, the one from the Queen’s bedroom. Whereas Imalad had come up from the main entrance hall, as he had done the first time I’d met him.
Rising slowly to his feet Imalad gazed at her in utter consternation.
“Whatever happened to you? Why are you naked—and covered in blood? And unless I’m much mistaken, it is not man-blood, but orc-blood!”
Elandrine smiled wanly and shrugged. “Much has happened since we parted…”
Imalad scratched the back of his head. “It has indeed! The son of Gandalf vanished away before our very eyes in the courtroom. Those fools had allowed him to keep hold of one of his rings. Fortunately I was able to grab the other ring from the guardroom and set off in search of him.”
“I tried to kill him in the courtroom,” said Elandrine. “Did you not see me?”
“No…” replied Imalad, with eyebrows raised.
“It was at that point he became invisible,” continued Elandrine. “And I too. Though I hadn’t intended it. I wanted everyone present to see me take my revenge.”
Imalad said, “I took the palantíri with me out of the wain and I have since put them in a safe place. I made certain not to place them in contact, but somehow they must have rolled together.” A look of genuine puzzlement crossed his brow. “Which I suppose must be the way he became invisible and so escaped.”
“But as for you…” he continued, “how come you too possess a ring of Power? For I can see full well that you, like me, are in the ring-world.”
“It is the Queen’s ring that I wear. I secretly accompanied her on the wain. And why I am covered in blood is because I had to punish the orcs—for daring to lay hands upon my Mistress!”
From where I was lying I could only just see Imalad’s face, but I thought the look of disgust that now replaced the puzzlement was less than sincere.
“Ugh! Serves them right. I told them not to dare do that.”
Lying there beneath the bed, my mind went back to our breakfast together in Hotel Doom, at which I had told him about Arwen’s worst nightmare. Right now he was wearing exactly the same open boyish look. I clenched my fists. Far from forbidding the orcs to molest Arwen, he may indeed have ordered it!
I saw a look of doubt steal across his face. “Is the wain still on its way? You didn’t kill them all, did you?”
Elandrine too must have noticed something in Imalad’s voice, for I saw her face harden. “The wain,” she said with deliberation, “is going exactly where you planned for it to go.”
Imalad missed the double-meaning. He lowered his head and shook it, smiling grimly. “It doesn’t matter now. Aragorn and the royal companions have ridden in pursuit. They cannot fail to overtake it.”
“And so the Queen will be saved…?” Elandrine masked her voice with honey—but not nearly well enough. “And so she will be brought back here?”
Imalad looked up in alarm. “Yes! Yes—of course! Be at ease. No harm can come to her now.”
“How can you say that?” she snapped. “Is not the son of Gandalf still at liberty—here in this Tower?”
Imalad was momentarily stuck for an answer. He doubtless had three or four answers contending for his tongue, but he must have realised that none of them would serve.
Elandrine raged at him. “You told me that the Queen had to be kidnapped, just as Morfindel planned—to protect her from the son of Gandalf! Not to mention Captain Bergil—and any other palace plotters working for the King!”
“Well—yes! That’s right, but…”
“Then she is not safe at all! Maybe she is in danger from more folk than I ever dared to imagine?”
Imalad must have decided that his best defence was attack. “Did you kill all the orcs in the wain?” he shouted at her.
“Yes!” she cried in defiance. “Every one!”
“Then… who is looking after the Queen now? Where is she?”
“That is for me to know—and you to find out. What plans did you really have for my mistress?”
Imalad’s eyes narrowed. “Was the Queen ever in the wain? Was it you rolled up in the carpet instead of her?” He strode up to her, making as if to clutch her with his left hand. She evaded his grasp and stepped smartly behind him, mutely reminding him with a flourish that she too carried a sword.
Realisation dawned on Imalad. “She was never in the wain! She is still here—in the White Tower! Is it not so? Where have you hidden her?”
Elandrine now spoke with cold fury. “You never wanted to save her at all! You wanted her kidnapped… imprisoned… killed! Anything to silence her! Why?”
“No, Elandrine,” cried Imalad, clinging to the shreds of his injured innocence. “You’ve got it all wrong!” But he could see that the game was up.
“Because,” I said, sliding out from under the bed and getting to my feet, “he is convinced that Queen Arwen knows by clairvoyance that he murdered Morfindel.”
I badly wanted to make an arrest. I thought it was high time I intervened before Elandrine struck Imalad dead.
Imalad staggered back spluttering and his face went red. “You!” he cried. “You!”
“Murderer!” Elandrine’s sword whistled through the air and came down with a heavy clang on Imalad’s defensive blade. Sparks showered across his face. I fully expected both swords to fly from their hands. When they didn’t I knew that the palantíri must have come apart again. The rings they wore were no longer enabled!
The two former lovers fought with fury and skill. I had hoped that my presence might tip the balance and force Imalad to capitulate without a fight. But I quickly discovered I was simply in the way.
Suddenly Imalad flung the bedding at Elandrine and made a bolt for the concealed door. Duck-feathers flew as Elandrine slashed at the counterpane. I tried to trip him up but it failed to fell him. Thrusting my fingers into the crack to prevent the door shutting and being locked from the inside I had them painfully crushed.
“Stop him!” yelled Elandrine. “Don’t let him reach the Queen!”
Wrenching the door open with my good hand I thrust myself through the gap after him. A sudden draught carried a copious quantity of feathers in before me. That should have warned me, but it didn’t.
Imalad knew far more about these passages than I did. He knew that there was a trap door he could release to throw off pursuit. Down this I plunged. It was a pitfall—filled with sticky tar in which knives were concealed. I would have died agonisingly had something firm not broken my fall, like an island in the pool of tar.
“Goss!” Elandrine’s anxious voice came down to me. “Are you all right?”
“Be careful! Yes—I’m not hurt …I don’t think. But I’m stuck fast in tar! I’m standing on a body.” I took out my palantír ring and inspected the corpse by its glow.
It was Bergil son of Beregond.
…to be continued.