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The Green Knight  by Le Rouret

24.

 

            Aldamir of Amon Din and Cirien of Langstrand were knights rich both in valor and possessions.  Their retainers and esquires brought to the house of the Lord of Emyn Arnen great barrows full of food:  two pheasants and a suckling pig, a headcheese, loops of raw sausage to be grilled before a fire, a basket of peaches soaked in sweet wine, bright red cherry preserves to spread upon the four fine loaves of white bread, a crock of briny olives, a basket of river trout with their gaily speckled skins, and a great wheel of yellow cheese in hard wax.  Not to be outdone Mardil had his esquire bring them a barrel of select yellow wine from his vineyards, and Araval of Tarlang sent Hador running back to their quarters to procure a marvelous rich subtlety they had purchased just that morning, dressed with thick clotted cream and blackberries.  Thus though Ardún had scarce the time to collect his wits, once his lord had informed him of the feast being held there that very night, following upon the heels of this announcement came the provisions, so that he was reassured the rumour of the hospitality of his house would not suffer by it.

            As Faramir had promised the two ladies did indeed make a great fuss over Bandobras, clucking and cooing and giving him so many kisses and pets he flushed an adorable shade of pink.  Queen Undómiel insisted upon dressing his wounds, so with Lady Éowyn in attendance she bathed his head and cheek and wrapped them carefully, then set him upon a low couch supported by many cushions and covered him with a plush velvet rug.  In vain did Bandobras turn his gaze to the doorway, eagerly awaiting his Master during this embarrassing episode, for Gimli had hauled Legolas forthwith to the tent to see to his precious armour, which was splashed with dried blood and dented by the furious battle.  Indeed the Dwarf’s scolding continued from the main gate of the Tent City to their lodgings and involved, as far as eavesdroppers could tell, many aspersions both upon the birth and character of the Green Knight and that of his various ancestors.

            The knights dismissed their retainers, as they wished to maintain secrecy, and Hador aided Ardún in the laying out of the feast, while Beregond himself saw to the grilling of the sausages.  The pan-frying of the fish was left until the Green Knight himself arrived, for, as Bandobras told Ardún gravely, “My Master is awful particular about his fish not being dry, and like as not he’ll want to fry it himself.  Just lay on a good bit of butter and a dab of pepper and he’ll make you as nice a fish-fry as you could ask for, you know.  Very handy on the road, he is!” 

            “That does not to me seem a fitting chore for the Prince of Mirkwood,” said Cirien in surprise, from where he was assisting Mardil to breach the keg.

            “And is fitting a spigot to a barrel of wine a fitting chore for a Lord of Langstrand?” asked the Queen with a silvery laugh.  “Remember, Lord Cirien, Legolas Thranduilion has been campaigning for many centuries beneath the eaves of Taur e-Ndaedelos.  Long have King Thranduil and his son battled the evil of Dol Guldur, whose denizens poisoned the very trees of their kingdom.  For years uncounted the Prince of Mirkwood led company after company of Elven archers deep into the darkest recesses of that wood, living at times many months upon the sparse bounty of the land.  Is it so surprising, then, that his woodcraft should extend to cookery?”

            “I suppose not, my Queen!” smiled Cirien.  “But it seems to me a more profitable task to breach a barrel of good wine than to grill a fish.”

            “Profitable, perhaps, but not practical,” laughed Queen Undómiel.  “And the Green Knight is by nature quite practical.”

            “Not that he’d have any particular objection to broaching a wine-barrel,” said Bandobras.  “The feasting and merrymaking that goes on in King Thranduil’s halls!  I’ve never seen so much wine consumed as I did when I was a guest of the Elven King’s.  And all the lights like faeries in the tree branches, and the crowns of flowers, and the Elven women in their pretty dresses dancing in the clearings!  And the music, my lady!”  Bandobras in his eagerness sat up and took Arwen by the hand, looking at her with a shining face as one caught up in a delightful vision.  “All the harps and lutes and viols and tambourines and drums and pipes and flutes!  It was like a dream, the best dream I ever had, to sit there and watch all their fair faces glowing, and hear their singing and laughter.  And the Elven King and his Queen sitting on a dais in a pavilion, all dressed in their finery, with crowns of silver and pale jewels, laughing and talking with all the other Elves, and my Master himself in bright green and yellow, dancing with Dúrfinwen and Andunië and Seimiel!  Oh, it was lovely – lovely!”  Bandobras gave a great sigh and lay back down upon his cushion.  “And then a bright star rose up high enough so we could see it in the sky above the clearing, and all the fires died down, and all the Elves stood up and raised their hands and looked up at the sky and started to sing, slow and sad and sweet, the most beautifullest song I’ve ever heard in my whole life – beautifuller even than when Aunt Elecampane sings, and she’s got the sweetest voice of any Hobbit-lass in the Shire, it’s said.  And then Queen Edlothiel herself sang a song in Elvish, and it made me cry, honest it did – though I didn’t understand a word of it, it just went to my heart, you know how songs do that sometimes and you don’t know why?  Well, this one did, and when she was done my Master stood beside her and looked to the South and he sang a song too, and Andunië told me it was about sailing on the Sea in a gray ship hung with lights, and it was the best song that anyone sang there that night; all the pretty Elf-maidens cried, and even King Thranduil himself cried as well.  Then the band started playing again and all the Elves started dancing in big circles together, and my Master picked me up in his arms and set me on his hip like I was a little child and took me through the dance, and we spun around so much I got dizzy, but it was so much fun!  Oh, that was the best party I’ve ever been to,” he sighed, smiling at the Queen, who gazed down gently upon him.  “I’ll probably go to lots more parties in my life but that one will stand out as the absolute best one ever.”

            “I hope that you will indeed have many parties and revels,” smiled the Queen, kissing Bandobras upon the crown of his head.  “And I know that those parties in your own land will be as full of joy and happiness as the Mereth en’Ehtelé in Eryn Lasgalen.  All honor renewal and rebirth; when you have passed many more years you will see the significance of the cycle as do we.”

            “I suppose that’s why the Elvish Spring Festival seemed more important than any of the dances and parties we had in Tookland,” said Bandobras thoughtfully; “if you see winter turn into spring a couple of times it’s quite nice, but I guess if you see it hundreds upon hundreds of times it has more meaning.”

            Beregond lifted the iron pan from the inglenook, and setting it upon the hearth turned to the Hobbit with a smile.  “Fortunate are you among both Halflings and Men, Bandobras of the Shire!” he said.  “For the sight of the Fair Folk in high revel is said to be a thing both rare and obscure, and to have partaken in that feast you are certainly to be counted amongst the auspicious few mortals permitted such privilege.”

            “It shall not be so unusual in the future, though, good Beregond,” said Éowyn.  “For the Prince of Eryn Lasgalen comes to Ithilien to settle a company of his people, and Elvish feasts and revels shall be more familiar to the Men of Gondor in years to come.”

            “That shall be a sight to see!”  said Cirien.  “I am no seer, but I make this prediction:  that the Lord of Langstrand shall for sundry reasons be passing much time in the environs of Osgiliath, thus increasing his prospects of seeing the Spring Festival of the Elves.”

            “Ah, that is not so difficult a prophecy to have made!” laughed Aldamir.  “Now listen well, gentlemen, lords, my lady and my queen:  I shall make me a divination as well.  During the Spring Festivals the separate lords of Langstrand, Tarlang, and Ethring shall enjoy the hospitality of the Lord of Amon Din, so that when they have foregathered at his keep they shall make the short journey to Ithilien together, and so enjoy the feasts as one.”

            “And I shall also make a divination to you all!” said Legolas from the doorway where he had entered in his dark green cloak.  Gimli the Dwarf and Híldaf of Rohan flanked his either side, and he drew back his hood with a merry smile.  “The lords of Amon Din, Langstrand, Tarlang, and Ethring, and their various esquires and family, as well as all the good guards and Rangers of Ithilien and its environs, shall be Prince Legolas’ especial guests during the Mereth en’Ehtelé in my land, to be treated with the honor and tribute that is their just due as his friends and brothers-in-arms.”

            Bandobras with a cry of delight threw aside his rug and dashed up to him, flinging his arms about the Elf’s legs with abandon.  “At last!” he cried.  “I am nearly dead of hunger!  It must be two hours past our normal dinnertime.  Gimli oughtn’t to have kept you so long; I don’t know what he was thinking.  Now may we eat, Master?”

            “Hush, my Bandobras!” laughed Legolas, taking him up in his arms and kissing him.  “Were you not upon the couch there, under the Queen’s especial care, for good reason?  Take heed of your head, my dear Little One, lest your injuries preclude your duties and I be obliged to take for myself another esquire.”

            “Oh, you’d never do that,” scoffed Bandobras, putting his small arms about his Master’s neck.  “You think I’m enough trouble just by myself; you’d never burden yourself with two esquires.  Would he, Gimli?”

            “I certainly hope not,” grumbled the Dwarf, stumping into the room and sitting upon a low stool.  “Enough trouble by yourself, indeed!  Why it is a miracle we get anything done at all, through following your caprices, Bandy.”

            The Halfling’s face fell, and he turned to the Dwarf with furrowed brow.  “Are you that unhappy I am with you then, Gimli?” he asked in a small voice.

            Gimli looked up quickly, saw the Hobbit’s forlorn eyes, and immediately rose to pat Bandobras upon the back.  “Of course not, of course not!” he said, smiling.  “I’m quite happy you joined us – who would I smoke with otherwise?  I usually smoked alone, and your Master here gave me no end of chaff when I did, complaining of the smell, but with your advent not a word of censure have I heard on that point.  And you are a good cook, you know – probably the best in the Shire, at this point, if not in all Arnor.”

            This had the desired effect of cheering Bandobras greatly, and he smiled down upon the Dwarf in full contentment.  He would not let Legolas put him back upon the couch, however, and insisted upon sitting beside him at the inglenook while the Elf fried the trout.  He plied Híldaf with many questions concerning the events following his abduction, and tut-tutted over the young esquire’s injuries, which were unfortunately upon both his arms, and were very inhibiting to his movements.  But the Lady of Emyn Arnen encouraged Híldaf in his disappointment, saying, “Fear not, Híldaf of Rohan!  Walda of the Westfold is a patient man as well as a mighty one, and wise in his years; he shall find you much to do despite your hurts.”

            At last the fish were done, and Ardún and Hador lay the table with smoking platters and steaming bowls, filling the jugs with the wine and setting out goblets, plates, cutlery and salt cellars.  The great table, which in many years past had been filled with people and laden with food, revived its heritage again, and at its head were Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn, as had the lord and lady in Osgiliath of long past presided over their banquets.  Beregond wished to wait upon his Lord as well, but Faramir insisted he sit with them, saying, “You are not my servant but a captain under my command, Beregond; through your deeds of bravery and valor you have earned this place.”  So Ardún and Hador passed round the food, and the lords and ladies ate and drank until they could eat no more.  When the subtlety had been cleared all pushed back their chairs with contented sighs, and Gimli with a wink to Legolas pulled out two pipes.

            “Here you are, Bandy!” he said, holding out the smaller one to him.  “I took the liberty of bringing your pipe and tobacco with me, so you could have a smoke after we ate.  Your Master was not so pleased with me for it, but when I said you were certainly craving a smoke he could not refuse me.”

            “O thank you, Gimli!” exclaimed the Hobbit.  “I don’t think I’ve tasted smoke in two days.”  He and the Dwarf set to filling their pipes, much to the amusement of the other lords there, and Híldaf especially leaned forward to watch.

            “I have heard tales of the holbytla spewing smoke from their mouths and nostrils, but I did not know the same thing held true of the Dwarves,” he said, looking on with interest.  “Éodild tells me King Elessar uses the pipe as well, and that the odor is not unpleasant.”

            “Would you like to give it a go?” asked Bandobras brightly, holding out his pipe.  “It tastes very nice, for we have very good leaf from Bree; it is not so fine as Shire leaf, but it will certainly do.”

            “I would not recommend it,” said Legolas firmly to Híldaf, pushing the pipe back into the Halfling’s hands.  “Éodild would perhaps like the scent, but it is a pricy habit, and until you achieve knighthood it would be difficult to maintain.”

            “Perhaps some other time, then,” said Híldaf with a sigh.

            At that Faramir called them to order and they began to discuss amongst themselves the various incidents and signs that had occurred during the Tournament.  Faramir explained the loan of gold from Thranduil to Elessar, and the other knights all were agreed that this was undoubtedly the impetus that sparked the deeds of intrigue.  Then the Lord and Lady of Emyn Arnen heard all that the southern knights could disclose to them concerning the various princes and lords of the fiefdoms surrounding the Anduin, and Faramir felt better able to choose which of them to trust, and which in whom trust must needs be held in abeyance.  Unfortunately they could get no further with the councilors, all of whom had been in Denethor’s council and held lands down south as well; much to Faramir’s distress he had to admit any men who had in the past been loyal to his father and served him in such intimate capacity should not be fully trusted.  However, try as they might they could get no further in their plans, for while Legolas, Cirien and Aldamir were eager to march upon the soldiers in the Druadan, Faramir held firm against them, saying he wished for news from the King first, before committing to such a campaign.  “I would not begin our muster until I know of Elessar’s needs in the South,” he said.  “We could withdraw behind the walls of Osgiliath at need, defending ourselves and holding the fortress for the King’s return.  Besides if we start too soon we shall alert our enemy, and he will withdraw as well, and we shall lose this tentative grasp we have upon his tail.  Or worse still he shall be with us behind the walls themselves, and we shall have harbored a deadly asp within the faggots for our fire.  There are but two days of games left, and in the morning I shall know more, I hope.  Go you to the barriers and the tilt with guarded hearts, brother knights, and hide your misgivings behind your helms!  None must suspect we have this knowledge, nor that we plan this move against the aggressor.  I cannot trust the council members with whom I sit, for the tidings of the loan have leaked somewhere, and I do not know whether it be here or in Minas Tirith.  Patience, friends!  Go back to your tents in waiting.  We shall know more tomorrow, and Beregond’s men, whom we may trust, will bring you tidings.”

            “Then we should go, and get at least a little rest,” said Gimli, rising and turning to Legolas.  “We have had a terrible day, and the next few promise to be equally as stimulating.  Shall we go, my friend, and put this little Hobbit in his cot?”

            “He has no need of a cot when my lap is handy,” said Legolas tenderly, smiling down at the tiny form of his esquire.  And indeed, when Gimli looked upon the little Halfling, he saw that Bandobras was fast asleep against Legolas’ breast, his hands curled in his Master’s hair, an expression of utter contentment upon his face.

            Faramir entered the pavilion the next afternoon with impatience amounting to anger; he had agreed to the Tournament for reasons both fiscal and beneficial, and to have it turned so upon its head, creating danger and frustration, made him keen to end it.  He had no more tolerance for the dusty quadrangle, surrounded with brightly-garbed people waving pennants; even the sight of the tilt, about which so much trouble had burgeoned, did not inspire him to confidence.  He wished nothing more than to tear down the flags, drive the people from their seats to the safety of their homes, and summon his Rangers to him to ride – either to Amon Din, or to Elessar’s help at Tolfolas; either one; he cared not, so long as he had before him an enemy in full corporeal form with whom he could fight and either best or be bested.  He nodded curtly to Belecthor’s servants as he sat upon his cushioned chair, and crossing his arms across his chest he glared down into the quadrangle, deaf to the excitement and conjecture about him.

            In his reflections on Druadan he bethought himself of the foot combat earlier, and allowed himself a smile; despite the Green Knight’s exertions the day before he had defeated Aldamir of Amon Din again, and so had disqualified him from the contest; though the gallant knight had not complained, but laughed heartily when finally overcome, afterwards whispering something to Gimli, which caused the Dwarf to smile.  After that, Beregond had reported that Aldamir and his esquires were continually in the presence of Bandobras of the Shire, advertising the great friendship that had sprung between them, but Faramir knew Aldamir and his retainers were holding to their oaths to protect Lasgalen of Dale’s Halfling.  “And it would be a doughty and desperate man indeed who went against them, seeking Bandobras ill!” thought Faramir; “the perian is well-protected!”

            At that moment Bergil came up to him, flushed and panting with haste; in his hands he bore a sealed letter, very tattered and smeared with fingerprints.  “My lord!” he gasped, giving a perfunctory bow and handing it to the surprised Lord of Emyn Arnen.  “News from Pelargir!”

            “Ah!” cried Faramir, sitting up.  “Thank you, Bergil!  Now sit you down and place your head between your knees ere you faint.  Ethmor!  See to Bergil; he has run hard and fast with a message from his father, and if you do not succor him he shall fall upon the floorboards and be of no more good use to us.”  And turning aside from the rest of the people in the pavilion he broke the seal and read the letter.  It was in Elessar’s own hand, hastily written and smudged with ink.

            Elessar, King of Gondor and Arnor, son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur, Ranger

            of the North, of the house of Telcontar,

 

            To Faramir son of Denethor, Prince of Emyn Arnen, Lord of Osgiliath, beloved

            friend of the King and Queen,

 

            Greetings.

 

            My earnest wishes for an easy campaign have been fulfilled; Dol Amroth has

            come once again in full loyalty to our aid and we have driven back the foul

            invaders that sought to overcome our southern fiefdoms.  Though I had need

            to empty the garrisons of Minas Tirith and Pelargir in the process the cause

            was sufficient and the results gratifying, and you may inform my beloved Undómiel

            I shall return to her in two days’ time.

 

            I trust the Tournament goes well and peacefully, for I know you to be bereft

            of soldiers save our faithful Beregond; however I also know well your valor and

wisdom and confide in you the protection of my capital in my absence.  Give my salutations to Lasgalen of Dale, that noble goat, and to your wife the Lady of Emyn Arnen, and know that I with sundry other knights travel north to untangle the web woven by the traitor, whom I believe in my inquiries I have discovered.  Proofs are further required, making it impossible to warn you in specific (also I have grave suspicions this letter may be opened) so have a care to guard your backs!

 

            In haste,

 

            Aragorn

 

            “What is that, my Lord?”

            Faramir started and looked up into the suspicious face of Egalmoth, who stared at the letter in surprise.  Behind him stood Eradan, goblet in hand, frowning.  Faramir hastily refolded the letter and tucked it into his doublet.

            “It is news from his Majesty King Elessar,” he said, “informing me of his imminent return, Lord Egalmoth.”  As the two lords exchanged glances Faramir said, “Fear not, my lords!  His endeavors in the South go well, and he shall arrive victorious.”

            “Good, good!” said Eradan, smiling, though his eyes looked wary.  “May we not see the letter ourselves, Prince Faramir?”  He held out one fat hand which glistened with moisture from his chilled goblet.  Faramir hesitated, then said,

            “I think not, Lord Eradan; I apologize to you both, but such are the contents of this missive I trust it not to anyone’s eyes but my own, my wife’s, and the Queen’s.”

            Eradan looked foolish, and withdrew his hand; Egalmoth made a hrrumph-ing sound in his chest and threw himself upon his chair, glowering into the stands.  Hesitating a moment Eradan said, “Very well, Prince Faramir!  You may have your secrets, certainly.  But I hope that when we have proved ourselves worthy you may trust us with this information.”

            “Your worthiness is not in question, my good Eradan,” said Faramir.  “Thus is the will of my sovereign, in whom I place my utter confidence.  Surely you may comprehend that, both of you!”

            “Certainly, certainly!” said Eradan, draining his goblet and handing it to Belecthor’s servant to be refilled.  “Not at all, no offense taken whatsoever!  At least, Lord Egalmoth, we know King Elessar has been victorious; that is comforting, at any rate.”

            Egalmoth said nothing, and finally Eradan turned from him back to the Lord of Emyn Arnen, obviously attempting to alter the subject matter to something less thorny.  “Why, is that the esquire of Brytta of Rohan, my lord?” he asked, pointing down below the pavilion.  “Surely it is he; I had thought his wounds would surely have prevented his attending the festivities.”

            “Nay, such was the skill of the leeches applied he was able to join us in our celebrations yestereve,” said Faramir, grateful for the change of issue.  “And look!  There is Éodild my wife’s maid sitting beside him.  So she has decided to forego the comfort of her lady’s presence in preference of the company of one of her kinsmen after all.”

            “Ah, that may be a match, then!” said Eradan, chuckling comfortably and passing his hand over his stomach.  “So the little perian was returned to his Master, was he?  I was sorely tempted to go after him myself, when I saw that great company of Rangers ride off with you, but it has been some time since I tried myself in combat, and felt I should be more a hindrance than a help.”

            “As it was there was no need of my Rangers at all, nor me either,” said Faramir, smiling.  “The Green Knight dispatched all of the men save one by his own hand, unassisted.”

            At this remark even Egalmoth looked over at him in amazement, and Faramir could see several lords and ladies, Orodreth and his niece among them, leaning forward to catch his words.  “Yes,” said Faramir, hoping to impress upon these men the might and skill of Lasgalen of Dale and so fear him; “by the time the lords Cirien, Aldamir, Araval and Mardil came upon the scene all were dead, slaughtered in his wrath by the Green Knight, save one man, whom his esquire dispatched.”

            “Mighty a man must he be!” said a man standing beside Orodreth.  “For these soldiers were hardy and desperate men, I heard, and well over a score in number.”

            “How dreadful for the poor perian!” sighed Lady Dirhael from beside her uncle.  “Shall we see him then, when the Green Knight jousts today, or will he keep to his tents?”

            “I saw him at the barriers when Lasgalen of Dale defeated Aldamir of Amon Din,” supplied another lady.  “I am sure he shall be here.  What a hardy folk the Halflings of the north are!”

            At that the general conversation revolved around the four famous Halflings that had been so intimately involved in the War of the Ring, and Faramir fell silent, ruminating upon his own thoughts.  It was another fine day, warm with a breeze that brought down cooler air from the East scented at times with pine or snow; the sun beat upon the Tournament grounds unhindered save by the various clouds that hurried across the dome of pale blue, casting their shadows to rush over the quadrangle like dim cloaks borne by invisible giants.  Great flocks of starlings and barn swallows swarmed and fought in the boughs of the trees of Ithilien, scattered now and again by the appearance of a hawk or eagle, and betimes floating above the shining liquid silver of the river flapped a solitary heron.  The goldenrod was nearly over and the fields were burnt brown and dun beneath the kiss of the early autumn sun.  But the peaceful chatter of both birds and men was interrupted by the appearance of the Ceremonies Master, flushed with anger and speaking in a high, petulant voice to his servants as he ascended the stair to the pavilion.

            “It is unthinkable, that is what it is!” he was saying to the unhappy Ethmor.  “All these guards and soldiers found untrustworthy, and now this!  My reputation is now completely ruined; I will never be entrusted with another function again, much less a Grand Tournament, for see you all the mischief that has been got up to while I am in charge?  Incompetents all of you, and myself the worst of the lot!”

            “What is it now, Belecthor?” asked Eradan wearily.

            “There was a rash of burglaries in the Tent City last night,” fumed Belecthor, sitting down with rather more force than necessary upon a chair behind Lord Faramir and causing it to creak alarmingly.  “Several good knights were denuded of their arms, and I was obliged to equip them with my own lances and swords and escutcheons from the supply in the City.  It is disgraceful!  What must you be thinking of me, Lord Faramir?  That I should let the Tournament decline to such a state!  Caltrops thrown, aspersions made, esquires kidnapped – it is unthinkable in the auspices of war-games to have suffered so many delays; why we ought to have whittled down our list of knights to the last four winners by now, and here we have ten still upon the register!  I shall end this Tournament in disgrace, and retire me to my home upon the Sirith to live out the rest of my days in idleness, for none shall entrust to me aught else, as I have mismanaged this one great commission so badly.”

            “Do not be so distraught, Lord Belecthor!” comforted Eradan, patting the Ceremonies Master on the hand.  “Ethmor!  Bring your master some wine; he has need of it today.  What is this, then?  Some miscreants have purloined the arms of various knights?”

            “Aye,” sighed Belecthor, much distressed.  “Herion of Pelargir, and Ingbar of South Ithilien, and Turgon of Minas Tirith all had their supplies rifled and pilfered in the early hours of this very morning, and many arms and weapons were stolen.  Oh, what shall I do, Lord Eradan?  This Tournament!  It will surely slay me!”  And he covered his face in his hands.

            “Mean you these knights may not joust today, then?” asked Egalmoth.

            “Nay, I fortunately had sufficient means to rearm them,” sighed Belecthor.  “But it is a sore hurt to my pride to have to resort to that.”

            “At least you had foresight to lay in a stock of extra armaments!” comforted Eradan, taking a full goblet from Ethmor and pressing it upon the Ceremonies Master.  “Here, drink this, good Belecthor; all shall not go ill!  Despite the many disruptions the Tournament is still a triumph.  Just listen you to the cheers and cries in the stands!  These disturbances serve merely to increase the appeal and interest of the people in its conclusion.  Have no fear, good Belecthor; I am sure neither the King nor Prince Faramir shall censure you for those incidents beyond your control.”

            “How was it the patrols did not apprehend the thieves?” asked Egalmoth sharply.

            “Due to the disaster yesterday my patrols are all but depleted,” groaned Belecthor, taking a deep draught of wine.  “That Fenbarad should prove false!  Ai, I am ruined!”

            “Be not dismayed, good Belecthor,” came a gentle voice from the other side of the pavilion, and the men turned and saw the Queen and the Lady of Emyn Arnen with their attendants approaching.  The Queen had spoken, and coming forward laid a soft hand upon Belecthor’s head.  He took up her hand and kissed it.  “Not all shall go ill.  It is true, the Tournament has been fraught with uproar and riot, but that has served instead to inflame the onlookers to new interest.  It is the placid and commonplace that would be disastrous.”

            “And besides your prudence has been well-paid,” added Lady Éowyn, accepting Belecthor’s salute.  “For does not Herion, who is one of the targets of this robbery, joust today nonetheless?  I see him there by the leeches’ tents, full armed and prepared for his adversary by grace of your foresight.”

            “Ah, your Majesty, my Lady, you are ever kind and gentle with me,” sighed Belecthor, as the ladies sat.  “So much have you quieted my offended spirit that I feel the injury lessen.  Let us instead attend the joust then, gentles all, that we might solve the only clear puzzle, which is, which knight shall be the victor?”

            As the Lady of Emyn Arnen sat beside her husband Faramir slipped the letter from his doublet into her hand.  When she read it and smiled, passing it to the Queen, Faramir noticed Egalmoth staring hungrily at it, as though he greatly desired to read it himself.  And when it was returned to him it was with a note scrawled with charcoal upon the corner:  “Patrols not returned.”  He glanced at the Queen and frowned, and she shrugged and turned her eyes to the tilt, tucking the bit of charcoal back into her handkerchief and secreting it amongst the folds of her dress.

            Faramir was conscious of the two knights awaiting their turn at the tilt, Herion of Pelargir and Lasgalen of Dale, who stood together at the far end of the grounds; they were surrounded by a great phalanx of esquires, retainers, and fellow knights, among whom Cirien of Langstrand and Mardil of Ethring were numbered.  Herion seemed disconcerted by the crowd, but Faramir knew the friends of the Green Knight were taking no chances; indeed he could just descry the tiny figure of the perian, standing between Mardil and Gimli, well protected.  “It is too late; the damage has already been done,” he thought.  “What madman would try a second attempt in the face of these mighty men?  Yet I fear the next endeavor shall be all the more deadly for that.”

            Araval of Tarlang and Malbeth of Celos met at the tilt, Dun against Black, and though they were not as evenly matched Araval’s enthusiasm made up for his deficiencies on the lists, and it was fully eleven passes before he at last was flung from his horse where he landed with a great clatter upon the earth.  Over the roar of the crowd they could hear him laughing, and when Malbeth and Hador aided him to stand he clapped Malbeth upon the pauldron and left in quite high spirits.

            “He is not yet disqualified, is he?” asked Éowyn.

            “Nay, not yet, my lady,” said Belecthor, studying his lists.  “He has still to joust your champion before he is fully bested.”

            “Ah!  So you too have fallen under the spell of the Green Knight, have you?” asked Egalmoth with a sneer.  “Do you no more doubt his ability to win the Tournament?”

            “How can I not?” asked Belecthor equably.  “After the reports of his victory yesterday upon the bodies of his foes, who could stand against him?”

            “Not the knights of Gondor, certainly!” said Egalmoth angrily, and turned away.

            Now it was time for Herion and Lasgalen to meet upon the lists.  Their esquires and retainers took their places at the sides of the tilt, and the two knights rode to either end.  Herion was a great man, a fine soldier and worthy opponent; upon his blue surcoat was the white and gold ship of his heraldry, for he was of Pelargir and his family were much involved in seafaring.  His great gray horse had been a gift from one of the lords of Rohan, whom he had met and befriended upon the Pelennor, and it did not flinch from Hatchet’s loud boasting bellows, but stood proud and erect beneath his figured caparison, twitching its braided tail.  The herald approached the tilt, looking as always apprehensively at the Green Knight’s destrier, who rattled his shaffron and raked up troughs of earth with his huge hooves.  The blue scarf snapped and floated from the Green Knight’s polder-mitten, and the blue pennant answered its movements from the tip of the Blue Knight’s borrowed lance.  Just as the herald raised his pennant Faramir had a feeling of deep foreboding, though he could not place its source; he had a mind to then and there leap to his feet and arrest the joust before it could even begin, but dismissed it as a passing fancy.  “And what reason could I give for my discomfort?” he asked himself, as the pennant dropped and Hatchet bawled down the tilt.  “What is there for the Green Knight to fear, even of a Knight of Pelargir?”

            Herion was a fine jouster and quick to the mark; his coronel met the Green Knight’s escutcheon even as the dragon’s head upon the tip of Lasgalen’s lance struck him on the pauldron.  But instead of the snap and splinter of wood there was a flash of light as though a thunderbolt had fallen to the earth and struck the Green Knight, and then a boom resounded throughout the stands, causing all to fall silent, stunned.  A great wrack of splinters and smoke erupted, and there was the squeal of a wounded horse and the cry of a man in great pain, and ere Faramir could leap to his feet Lasgalen of Dale was thrown from his destrier’s back writhing in agony; Herion’s horse fell thrashing to the ground crushing his rider in his throes, and even the herald sprang back with a cry, clapping his hand to his shoulder and dropping to his knees.  There was a moment of shocked silence, then screams from women in the stands and the cries of men in their bewilderment, and a rush of movement from the sides of the quadrangle, converging upon the beleaguered knights and horses.

            There was a cacophony of orders being shouted; Belecthor was calling out to the leeches to come with all haste, which was hardly necessary, as they had begun running once the foul smoke had cleared; Éowyn was calling to the men in the grounds to pull Herion’s horse from him ere it crushed him further; Egalmoth was cursing freely and Eradan sat, eyes wide open and aghast, his glass of wine spilt over his own chest and Egalmoth’s beside.  Above the din came the bellow and scream of the Green Knight’s destrier, which stood with its four feet planted about Lasgalen’s lashing form, mouth wide and neck outstretched, menacing the very men who sought to rescue its master and threatening him with its shuffling hooves.  Then the Green Knight rolled in his agony away from the spot where he had fallen, and Faramir could see a great dark stain of blood upon the dust.

            Several of the ladies fainted at the sight, for as well as the Knight of Dale’s great wounds the body of the Knight of Pelargir was badly crushed and he lay still and lifeless where the horse had rolled off of him; now his destrier lay gasping, its chest heaving, blood spurting from a great gaping gash, from which protruded a shining spike.  Faramir turned to Éowyn only to find she was no longer beside him; she and Arwen had rushed down the stairs of the pavilion to the lists, and taking their skirts up in their hands ran up to the Green Knight’s horse.  Seeing her go he made to follow, only to be intercepted by Híldaf, behind whom was Éodild, white-faced and shaking.

            “Sorcery!” cried Híldaf to Faramir.  “Do you not smell it, my Lord?  Such was the odor of the magic fire that took down the Deeping Wall!  Ai, ai, it is sorcery!”

            “It is not sorcery!” said Faramir firmly, taking Híldaf by his shoulder.  “Here!  Take Éodild out of this; take her to her rooms!”  And thrusting him aside he ran down the steps onto the grounds.

            The Queen was singing softly to Hatchet, who had calmed at her voice, and so permitted Éowyn to take the shaffron-straps in her hand and lead him from over his master.  At that Bandobras and Gimli darted forward, their faces pale with fear, for Lasgalen had ceased moving and lay still, curled upon a long shard that protruded from his chest.  “Master, Master!” sobbed Bandobras, throwing himself into the bloody dirt and wringing his hands.  “What was it?  Who threw that at you?  Why did it pierce your armour?  Gimli, you told me nothing could pierce this armour!  What is it? What have you done?”  And he burst into hysterical sobs.

            “Hush, hush!” said Arwen, taking the Hobbit into her arms.  “Silence, Bandobras son of Reginard!  You shall do Lasgalen of Dale no good by taking on so.”  At that he quieted, and watched Faramir, Gimli, and one of the leeches roll the Green Knight onto his back.  There was a great groan from behind the frogmouth, and Faramir gave a sigh of relief.

            “So you are not dead!” he said, but looking down at the great splinter of wood that punctured the breastplate his heart went cold.  There was blood everywhere, running from the juncture of the plate and the cuirass and drenching the ground beneath him.  “Hurry!” he said to the leech.  “We must get him to the tent and remove his armour!”

            Cirien and Hador were at his side in an instant.  “Here is a travois,” said Cirien calmly, laying it beside the Green Knight.  “Lasgalen of Dale!  Hear me!  We are going to lift you; it will hurt you, I fear, but we must needs remove you to the leeches’ tents, whereby we may examine your wounds more fully.”

            The helm nodded once, and carefully the Dwarf and the two men eased the knight upon the travois.  They and Gilmir each took a corner and conveyed the Green Knight to the leeches’ tents.  Faramir rose to follow, but then his eyes fell upon Herion of Pelargir, and he cried aloud in dismay.  The Blue Knight’s esquires stood about weeping, and the leeches knelt beside him shaking their heads; they had removed his frogmouth, and the face within was white and still, with blue lips and open eyes that saw nothing.  There was another groan from the injured horse, and Éowyn rose from where she had been attending to it.  Her blue gown was spattered with much blood, and her face was grim.

            “There is no help for it,” she was telling one of the leeches.  “Already his life bleeds itself out upon the ground.  The lungs have been pierced and your craft will not save him.  It were best if one of you would end him quickly.”

            “Yes, my Lady,” said one of the healers, and turned to speak to his assistants.  Faramir went to her and took her bloodied hands in his own.  She looked up at him, fear in her face.

            “Lasgalen?” she whispered.

            “I know not,” he replied.  “Come with me and we shall see.”  So saying he led her by the hand in Arwen’s wake to the leeches’ tents.





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