With an encouraging smile the handmaiden ushered me through the open door. “Her Majesty is pleased to see you now,” she said.

I walked swiftly into the Queen’s presence. But as I stood before her I was lost for words.

“Dearest Goss,” she said in the high tongue of Gondor, “so all is well that ends well. And you, not least, have we to thank for that!”

Still words would not come, but tears sprang forth instead. In confusion I flung myself down on my knee before her and took her soft white hand in mine. As I kissed her fingers I saw Vilya restored to her hand. Where, it is prophesied, it will remain whilst she yet walks on Middle Earth.

“Dearest Queen,” I said at last, “I’ve come to beg forgiveness…”

Her voice lilted like a nightingale. “For what, may I ask?”

“When earlier we met in the Mallorn, you had a boon to crave of me. And I, with my mind fixed upon the King’s commission, fled before your face.”

She reached forward and touched my brow. “Kinsman,” she said laughingly, “all that is long forgiven and forgotten.”

“The Lady Elandrine it was who called me to order and made me realise how much I had offended you. And rightly were you offended. Rather should I have pledged my loyalty and my undying devotion. As I do now, my Queen.”

She leaned forward and urged me to my feet. As I arose she slipped her arms round my neck and kissed me on the lips.

“Now let me tell you something, my dear Goss. When we met at our tryst in the Mallorn, you saw before you a frightened woman. Nobody can tell what truly will be, but much that comes to pass is revealed to me before it happens. I was terrified by what I foresaw. I saw myself going alone and without friends, even unto the very stake, should I be blamed for the son of Gollum’s death. I was determined therefore to gather secret allies and I was ready even to thrust elf kinship before obedience to the Law of Gondor. My people would not have disapproved, but that is not the way kingdoms are held together. Sometimes they are only held by the shedding of the blood of their King. Or of their Queen.

“Were it not for you, all this might well have come to pass. So I say to you, dearest son of Gandalf, go in peace and tread your way down the branching pathways of the years, knowing you have the friendship, nay the love, of the Queen of Elves and Men.”

And so with deep obeisance I made to take my leave. But before I did I had this to ask.

“My Queen, one small boon I crave. I would not have the Lady Elandrine continue to think ill of me, nor carry her resentment to the grave. I wish her to know how much I admire her. Though she scorn me, I would return instead feelings of heartfelt respect. Please implore her to think better of me.”

Queen Arwen smiled, as if to share a playful secret. “Why don’t you tell her yourself?” she said.

With a sweep of her hand she bade me look behind her, and lo!—there was Elandrine, squatting down on the floor behind a game of Fox and Geese, which she and the Queen had been playing before I was admitted. Not expecting to see her in so uncourtly a position I had quite overlooked her presence.

She rose to her feet and danced her way over to me so swiftly that I did not see how she could possibly stop when she reached me. As indeed she didn’t. Instead, with arms flung about my neck, she dashed her lips to mine and kissed me rather more voluptuously than the Queen had thought fitting. (But that’s what you keep ladies-in-waiting for.)

When our lips parted, leaving us gasping for breath, I said to her. “Lady Elandrine, I did so want to apologise to you too.”

“Goswedriol son of Gandalf, you’ve got precisely nothing to apologise to me for. But I’ve a mind to make you! Because I’d dearly love to hear your side of the story. I only arrived at the tail-end of your star performance in the courthouse.”

Clearly by pre-arrangement, she raised her eyebrows to her mistress for her approval of what she was about to say. “Of course, child,” said Queen Arwen sweetly to her unvoiced question. “And there’s no need to hurry back.”

Elandrine turned to me with eyes sparkling. “What say you then to a picnic? Just you and me, where we can laze in the grass and pass the time and just talk?”

“I’d love that! When?”

“Tomorrow? For they say the day will be fine.” Again I saw her turn to her mistress for surreptitious confirmation.

And so it was that on the morrow, barefoot, in simple peasant dress and radiant smile, she met me at the Great Gate of Minas Tirith, basket on her arm, and we raced each other to Snowmane’s Howe. There on top of a grassy mound, the breeze toying with her silken hair, she tore bread for me by the handful, and with neither glass nor goblet, as though it were a kiss, we shared a bottle of wine. So passed a joyous day in pleasant discourse and much laughter.

And that was that. Apart from our adventure we haven’t got a great deal in common and we haven’t arranged to see each other on a regular basis. But we parted friends.

Personally I think she’s a plum candidate for Bergil’s vacant job: Captain of the Tower of Guard, if they can jerk themselves out of their hidebound mentality and appoint a woman to the post. I’ve said as much to the King. But I gather he’s of a mind to marry her off to some hero or other. Some splendid chap who’s been so busy in the King’s service he hasn’t had a lot of time to go around picking a wife for himself.

“Come back to court,” said the King, “and I’ll give her to you.”

“Alas, Sire,” I replied, “even with such an inducement, methinks my travelling days are not yet done. Ever have I made a better bounty hunter than a courtier. And thus might I serve you every bit as well.”

“Are you still of a mind then to continue your suit of Mistress Goldberry?”

“That, Sire, is not for me to choose. But one thing I am of a mind to do, and that is make my peace with old Tom Bombadil. After that—the Stars shall choose my path.”

…to be continued.