Bergil had been dead for three days.
No other reason need be sought for his failure to appear at the courthouse. He must have done just as I had done—flung himself through the secret door, in pursuit perhaps of Imalad, and plunged to his death.
“Goss—I’ve got to get across! Is it very wide? I can’t see…”
“Too wide to jump across without hitting your head.” An idea struck me. “I know!—skip across on my shoulder. I’ll brace myself firmly. I won’t let you fall.”
She didn’t need telling twice. As the arch of her foot dashed down on my shoulder like a mace blow, a bolt of pain shot through me and her ankle nearly scraped my ear off, leaving it ringing like a bell.
She was across.
A minute or two later Lady Éowyn, no doubt hearing noises in the secret passages, came and peered down at me stuck in the pitfall. With a struggle she pulled me out, having first torn sheets into strips to make a sort of rope.
“What has happened?” I asked. “Did Elandrine stop the rascal?”
“No! He had a start on her. And he got to the Queen first. He’s just dashed out of the front entrance with her over his shoulder. Come on quick—follow me!”
I slipped and stumbled after Lady Éowyn across the courtyard of the White Tree, sliming the greensward with tar. Hurrying through the gate of the Citadel we came upon a dreadful scene.
A hundred guards there must have been, clustered in a crescent about Imalad. The Queen was on his shoulder and his back was to a precipice. The guards hung back, not knowing what to do. He was threatening to throw Queen Arwen over the edge, or to jump over himself with her still on his shoulder. Bowmen had their arrows trained on him but they held their fire, not being sure of their shot. I stood there powerless, Lady Éowyn by my side.
Then, against all hopes, Prince Imrahil himself arrived on the scene, having been brought hither by the day-old news of his son’s involvement in fell deeds. His arrival seemed to calm the lad. Gruffly the old man ordered his son to yield him the person of the Queen. As everyone stared with gritted teeth, Imalad complied, handing her over like a floppy doll.
But then, as his father turned and placed Queen Arwen in the arms of the nearest guardsman, something snapped inside the boy. Clutching at the back of Prince Imrahil’s coat he made as if to haul them both over the edge together.
Prince Imrahil promptly threw himself down upon his back. His feet came up and fetched his son a resounding blow. As Imalad teetered on the brink I rushed forward, wrenching aside the shoulders of the guards to get through the ring. The instant I saw him go over I had the presence of mind to utter the first word of my timing charge. Reciting it to myself I crawled to the edge and peered over, watching Imalad float down and down, turning head over heels, until he came to an abrupt stop and turned no more.
The Citadel is built out over the rocky chine which cleaves the City in two. It juts out over the Great Gate, allowing defenders to rain missiles down upon besiegers from a height of 750 ft. It takes a man eight seconds to fall that far. The last word I uttered of my charge told me that, and what is more, it tallies with my calculations.
There are two theories of falling bodies. Some claim that a man falls ever faster and faster. Others claim that, having reached a speed of about 200 miles an hour, thereafter a man falls with constant velocity. According to the second theory Imalad hit the ground just as hard as if he had fallen from the stars. Alas, 750 ft is at the critical point between the two theories and so Imalad’s death furnished support for neither over the other. The end of his wretched life didn’t even advance Science.
If it takes a man eight seconds to fall from the Citadel to the Great Gate, it takes a man a quarter-of-an-hour to make the same journey going by the steps and the stairs and the winding streets, zig-zagging deosil and widdershins to thread the intermediate gates from the Sixth Circle down to the First. Thus I came at length upon the young man’s body, gathering flies on the dusty ground.
Imalad had been wearing my elf ring on his right hand, which now lay beneath him. I had to probe through flesh and gore to retrieve it. As I held it up to the sunlight I could see not a scratch on it, although it was bent a little out of true. As I squatted there, covered in tar and duck feathers from the slashed bedding, the King rode up, accompanied by Legolas and Gimli. Approaching on foot to within sight of the City, they’d come again upon their faithful steeds waiting for them by the roadside. Thus they had been able to mount up and ride back to the City with some dignity.
I rose to my feet. Aragorn peered closely at me before he could be sure who it was that stood there, stained and splashed as I was with tar and stuck liberally with feathers.
“Morfindel’s murderer lies before you, Sire. The Queen is safe. I must apologise for my offensive condition. I fully understand if you do not wish to embrace me.”
Aragorn put his head back and roared with laughter. “Goss! Covered in muck as usual!” Then growing suddenly sober he climbed down from his horse and stood staring at the shattered body, his arm draped loosely around my neck. Legolas and Gimli stood the other side of me, doing the same.
“Imalad!” said the King. “I can tell by his hair. Alas—that it had to be him!”
I said, “His father it was who propelled him over the brink.”
Aragorn turned and looked at me like a man waking from a bad dream. “Did he now! What a capital fellow—to make a family matter out of it! I was just starting to agonise over how to break the news to him.”
At that instant, unaccompanied by guards or servants, Queen Arwen came running forth from out of the Great Gate. She flung her arms around her husband’s neck and kissed him passionately and long. And thus they stood in close embrace, oblivious of the world around them, as if they were standing alone once more upon a moonlit sward, strewn with blooms of elanor and niphrodel.
I’m a reckoner of times and seasons. According to my computations, Crown Prince Eldárion would have been conceived that very night. Lady Éowyn does not disagree with me. But of course she attends the Queen on matters of midwifery and so enjoys first-hand knowledge of events I can only compute for myself.
…to be continued.