Disclaimer: I wish I could claim at least an Elf – just one little Elf – but I can't. Nothing is mine.
Author's Note: I don't think I'm ever going to be able to finish writing a longer fic before I start posting it. I did have good intentions with this story, but... I guess it was inevitable that I wouldn't be able to keep the resolution. *shakes head*
Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Calenlass, for her work on this. *hugs*
Summary: As the fiftieth anniversary of Elessar's coronation approaches, there is murder in Minas Tirith. It is up to the King (with plenty of help from his family and friends, of course) to find out who the killer is.
Warnings: Well, it is a murder mystery, but I don't think there is anything particularly graphic or violent – if any of the chapters seem that way as this goes on, I'll have a separate warning on them.
Chapter 1: The Woman in the Garden
The day began like any other. King Elessar, with a kiss for his wife and a pat on the head for his youngest daughter, hurried to his courtroom after breakfast, followed ten minutes later by his son Eldarion. His wife, Arwen, waited in the breakfast room until her children had all left; her oldest daughter to stroll in the gardens with a certain young captain of the City Guard, her two younger daughters to go to the library for their morning lesson in political science.
With a sigh of contentment, the Queen of Gondor pushed back her chair and made her way up the stairs and down a corridor. She stopped in front of an oaken door and rapped on it smartly. There was a muffled thud from within, as though someone had flung something at the door, followed by some Dwarvish words that sounded distinctly impolite. Giggling like one of her own daughters, Arwen turned around and knocked on the door opposite.
She opened it without waiting for a response. "Good morning, Legolas."
The occupant of the room was, as she had expected, wide awake. He had been sitting reading a book, but when she entered he got to his feet and executed a graceful bow.
"My queen. I am honoured."
Arwen rolled her eyes. "Why were you not at breakfast?"
"Why did you wake Gimli again?"
"Was he loud enough that you could hear him?" Arwen demanded, startled.
"Of course not. Not even a trained Elven warrior can hear a Dwarf's curses through two thick oaken doors. But you had that look on your face."
She laughed. "I know I ought not – poor Gimli certainly deserves his rest. But he persists in believing that, even after fifty years, I cannot remember which is your room and which is his. And you have still not answered my question."
Legolas shrugged. "I was not hungry."
"Estel is worried about you."
Legolas rolled his eyes. "He would do better to worry about himself. I have never heard of an Elf dying of the Sea-longing, but I have heard of Men making themselves ill from too little rest. I have spoken to Estel of it. I have told him that he should not attempt to do everything himself. He does not listen to me."
"Would you ever tell your father that he should not attempt to do everything himself?"
"Would you ever tell my father that he should not attempt to do everything himself?"
Arwen chuckled. "Point taken, my prince. Do you want to go for a walk? From the look of things, Gimli will be abed for some time yet, and it is a beautiful day."
With a light laugh and a mock-bow, Legolas indicated one of the windows, which stood wide open. Arwen frowned.
"Honestly, Legolas, you are impossible! You do realize that we are among Men? I am Queen of Gondor and you are Lord of Ithilien and Prince of Eryn Lasgalen. We cannot be climbing out of windows."
"Ah, but you know you want to."
"I know that my brothers are a terrible influence on you. I suppose it is no good forbidding you from speaking to them again?"
"That might be problematic," Legolas said apologetically. "We have planned a surprise for Estel, you see, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his coronation, and in order to arrange it I will have to speak to them."
Arwen's frown deepened. "Is this the kind of surprise I should know about?"
"It is the kind of surprise to which you will not object, I promise. Do you not trust me?"
"No." Then, with a longing look at the open window. "Come, Legolas. The stairs are this way."
Legolas, with a smile of innocent mischief that Arwen knew and had learnt to dread centuries ago, went to the window and leaned out. "There is nobody," he said. "Nobody at all, Undómiel. We will be quick, and no one will know."
"We will be on the ground in less than a minute."
"You know you want to."
With a sigh that did not sound remotely unhappy, Arwen joined Legolas at the window. "Very well, then, but if somebody sees us –"
"Trust me, Arwen. I have spent centuries evading the guards in my father's stronghold. I can get us down without anybody seeing us."
Arwen let the young Elf take her hand and guide her onto the ledge. Legolas was as good as his word. In seconds, he and Arwen were on the broad paved path below. Arwen had plenty of time to dust off her skirts and smooth down her hair before her companion hissed, "Someone is coming."
She straightened, slipped her hand through Legolas' arm, and let him lead her in the direction of the Queen's Garden.
The Queen's Garden was at the outer edge of the city's highest level. Flowering creepers and sprays of roses covered the parapet wall, which was low enough that Legolas and Arwen, standing at it, could see Minas Tirith spread out below them tier by tier.
The sight of the city made Arwen smile, as it always did.
"Legolas," she murmured, "when you see my father again, tell him... tell him it was worth it."
"What was worth it?"
"My choosing a mortal life – and not just for Estel's sake." Arwen waved at the rooftops below. "I have grown to love this city, to love this land. I never understood mortals before, not even the part of my own nature that was mortal. I did not move among Men as my brothers did. But now – I think I begin to understand. Estel gives me joy I could not imagine, but I am also happy that I gave him the strength and will to reclaim this from Sauron. It is beautiful beyond belief."
Legolas responded with a smile of perfect understanding.
"Estel still feels guilty, sometimes," Arwen went on softly. "He does not say anything, but I can tell. And not just about me. He feels guilty because he thinks he has forced my father to part with me, because you are here instead of being either in Eryn Lasgalen or in Valinor, because my brothers linger when they could have sailed with my father..."
Arwen trailed off, and moved away from the parapet to sit on a carved stone bench.
"I am glad you are here," she said simply. "I – do not tell Estel this, Legolas, he will only feel worse – sometimes I long for the companionship of Elves. I love Minas Tirith, I love my life here and I love Estel, but..."
"But you cannot help remembering that for close to three thousand years you dwelt in Imladris and Lórien, and Men may be wise and noble, but there are some things they cannot understand," Legolas finished gently, joining her on the bench. "There is no shame in that, Arwen. It would be unnatural if you did not miss your home."
She patted his hand, but before she could say anything they heard a sudden commotion. A babble of raised voices, probably guards', floated through the air, shouting indistinctly, along with rapid footsteps, and above them all a clear, high woman's voice saying, "I will see the Queen! I must see the Queen at once."
Legolas and Arwen exchanged a glance and set off in the direction of the sounds.
Just past the corner they saw half a dozen guards surrounding a slender woman. She was small-made – her head would probably come no higher than Legolas' shoulder – and, even to Elven eyes, very pretty. Her dress, simple but well-cut and made of fine silk, marked her as a noblewoman or at least a member of a wealthy family.
"What is happening?" Arwen snapped.
"My queen!" The guards came to attention at once. The leader turned to Arwen apologetically. "Forgive us for disturbing you, my queen. It is nothing. This woman wanted to see you, but she is disturbed in her mind – that is what the healers said yesterday. I have sent for one of them to escort her to her home –"
"I am not mad!" the woman burst out furiously. "I am not mad, and I wish to speak to the queen alone!"
"Let her go," Arwen said. "She does not seem dangerous."
"My queen, your compassion does you credit, but she may mean you harm. You really must not listen to her. The healers will be here soon –"
"Please, my queen," the woman begged. "I do not need healers. I must speak to you."
"My queen, it is too dangerous," the guard protested. "I cannot allow it."
Arwen hesitated, and finally said, "Prince Legolas will be with me. You may leave her here."
The guards looked at Legolas doubtfully. They were all very young, and tended to disbelieve their elders' stories about the battle prowess of Elves, especially since nearly all the Elves they had ever seen in Minas Tirith had tended to spend their time in the gardens talking to trees. The leader opened his mouth to object, but something in the Elf-prince's eye stopped him from speaking.
Bowing with something more than their normal haste, the guards retreated.
"You are getting more like your father every day," Arwen muttered. Then she turned her attention to the woman. "What is wrong, Lady...?"
"Nórui," the woman said. "My name is Nórui."
Arwen's eyes widened with recognition. "You must be – are you Lord Beron's daughter?" Nórui inclined her head, and Arwen said, "I have met your father several times – the last time, I think, not more than a year ago."
Nórui nodded. "He was last in Minas Tirith a year ago, my queen. I – I do not know if he told you, but I was wed then, and he came here to see me settled in my husband's home."
She hesitated, glancing at Legolas.
Arwen said, "No matter what your problem is, you need have no anxiety about speaking before Prince Legolas. Neither of us will tell anyone what passes here unless you wish it."
"As you say, my queen. May I tell you something about myself first? It may – you may have to know that to understand my... my problem." At Arwen's gesture of acquiescence, she went on, "I was married last year to the wine merchant Idhren." Arwen started, and Nórui said, "I see you have guessed my problem."
"I had not realized... Your father told me you were to marry a merchant in Minas Tirith, but I did not know... I heard what happened to your husband, of course." Arwen turned to Legolas. "Idhren was killed two weeks ago. The guard captain said it was murder... I am so sorry for your loss, Lady Nórui. If there is anything I can do to help you..."
"You can help me, my queen," Nórui said, her eyes filling with tears. "You are the only one who can help me. You see, my brother has been arrested for his murder. I know he did not do it – he could never have done such a thing."
Arwen laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I will ask the guard captain to speak to you. If your brother is innocent, the guards will surely discover who is guilty. You need not fear that your brother will come to any harm."
"No, my queen," Nórui said in a trembling voice. "Nemir has – I do not even understand why – my brother has confessed to the murder. He told the guard captain he was guilty. Oh, I know what you must be thinking," she went on hastily. "But it is not true! I know him. I do not know why he is doing this, but I know that my brother could not possibly have killed Idhren. My father has not heard of this yet, but when he does – please, you must help me, my queen!"
"Perhaps you should tell us the whole story," Arwen suggested.
"Yes, my queen. Nemir went to Rohan three years ago to stay with my uncle there and help him manage his estates. They were in difficulties. He could not return for my wedding, but he wrote to me promising to visit me in Minas Tirith as soon as he could. He finally came two weeks ago." Nórui paused, shaking her head. "I was so happy to see him! I had no idea what was going to happen... That night after dinner, I was in my dressing-room getting ready for bed. I heard a loud crash from below, and the floor trembled."
She clenched and unclenched her fists nervously, took several deep breaths, and then went on with her story.
"It was a minute before I reacted. I ran outside with my maid. The courtyard was in total confusion when we reached it. There were people everywhere. Nemir was there as well. It took some time for us to discover the cause of the noise, but eventually we found it. In the wine cellar, several large barrels of wine had fallen from the highest shelf. By the time we found them – well, it was Nemir who noticed that Idhren was not among us. I thought he had simply fallen asleep and not heard the noise, but when we went upstairs I saw –"
Her voice broke, and Arwen said quickly, "That is enough. Was it then that your brother confessed?"
"No, my queen. He... he was as horrified as I was. He took me to his room and gave me something to drink. I think it was a sleeping draught. When I woke, it was morning. I went downstairs and the house steward told me that Nemir had gone to the guard captain and confessed to killing my husband. I went to the prison at once, and they let me in because of who my father was, but Nemir refused to see me. I know he did not do it, my queen. I know he would never have done it. Please, please help me."
Arwen squeezed her shoulder sympathetically. "You need not worry, Lady Nórui. I will do anything I can to help you, and I know Legolas will as well. So will my husband, if you will give me leave to tell him of this."
"Yes – of course, my queen. You have my leave to tell anybody you think will be able to help uncover the truth. I tried to speak to King Elessar myself, but I was not allowed into the courtroom."
Arwen nodded, but her face was very grave. "Lady Nórui, you must understand one thing. We will all do everything we can to find out the truth of what happened the night your husband was killed. But you will have to be prepared to accept that truth, no matter what it is – even if it is something you do not like."
"I am prepared, my queen," Nórui said fiercely. "I know Nemir is innocent."
That evening, after the girls and Eldarion had retired to their respective after-dinner occupations, Aragorn, Legolas, Arwen and Gimli sat around the king's study. Aragorn had lit his pipe and was blowing smoke-rings in the direction of the ceiling. Arwen and Legolas, with identical expressions of long-suffering patience, were sitting as close to the open window as they could.
"Should we tell them?" Arwen murmured in a voice so soft that even Legolas barely heard it.
"This is as good a time as any."
"What about Gimli?"
"I am certain he can help. And it will be worse if we do not tell him."
"I know he can help, but –"
"What are you two muttering about?" Aragorn demanded, cutting through Arwen's words. "If you are complaining about my pipe again, then I should warn you: the next time my stocks of Longbottom Leaf mysteriously vanish, I will be very angry." He fixed them with a glare that did not make the slightest impression on either Elrond's daughter or Thranduil's son.
"We are not plotting to steal your weed," Legolas assured him. "Although truly, gwador-nîn, you should be happy if we do. It is a service to the people of Gondor. So many young men are adopting this vile habit in imitation of their king –"
"Vile habit? Mithrandir enjoyed it!"
Arwen made a face. "Yes, and I cannot imagine how. I think Ada was most thankful that they do not grow tobacco in the Blessed Realm. But your abhorrent practices are not the point now, meleth. We have something to tell you."
Aragorn looked at Gimli in despair. "Do you not pity me? There is one Elf." He pointed at Arwen. "There is another." He indicated Legolas. "And when my brothers come for the fiftieth-year ceremony there will be two more, all doing their best to take away my pipe."
"Oh, but that is not all," Legolas said, grinning. "My father said he would try to come as well. With Lord Thorontur and Lord Arbellason, of course. Did I never mention that, Estel? How terribly forgetful of me."
"Wonderful," Aragorn grumbled. "And I thought it was only going to be difficult for me to smoke in peace. Still," he added, brightening, "that is four weeks away. Perhaps your father will understand the delights of – oh, why do I even try? I will have to do the best I can. I do not know –"
Before he could begin a rant on the sensitive noses of Elves, Arwen cut in hastily. "We know, Estel, but there is something we must tell you."
Aragorn raised an eyebrow. "Why do I think I will not like this?"
Arwen gave an impatient shrug and launched into her story. When she was finished, there was silence for several minutes. Gimli was the first to break it.
"Well," he said, looking shrewdly from Legolas to Arwen, "how do the two of you plan to go about this?"
"More importantly," Aragorn added, his face grim, "how do you know that the woman was telling the truth? You say she tried to see me and was denied entry?"
"That is what she told us."
"If she really is Lord Beron's daughter, she would have needed only to give her name for her to be given an audience. I cannot believe that she was not allowed to see me. She may have been lying to gain your sympathy."
"Thousands of people line up to see you each day, Estel," Legolas protested. "And most of them are not admitted."
Aragorn sighed. "The Valar preserve me from the foolishness of Elves! Thousands of people do not line up to see me each day, Legolas. A hundred, perhaps. You can count enemy riders down to the last man even when they are miles away. I do not know why you cannot count people waiting outside my audience chamber. I admit that most of them see one of the stewards... But they would surely have mentioned something like this to me."
"At least ask," Arwen suggested. "It is only two weeks since Idhren was killed. Nórui – oh, very well, Estel, the woman who claims to be Nórui – may have been too distraught to think of using her rank to get an audience. She has spent all her life on Lord Beron's country estates, after all. The guards would not know her, and she would not know how the court functions. She probably thought that she could stand in line with the other petitioners and see you."
"Perhaps you should try to talk to this Nemir as well," Gimli suggested. "Find out his side of the story."
Aragorn nodded, although he still looked doubtful. "I suppose I can do that... I will speak to the Captain of the Guard. He will know what this is all about. Once I have spoken to him, we can decide what to do about it. And in the meantime, you two will do nothing. I do not want to return from court tomorrow and discover that you got yourselves stabbed by sneaking into some disreputable tavern pretending to be humans."
Legolas and Arwen glared at him.
"I will have you know that I was a warrior for centuries before you were even born –"
"And I may not be a warrior, but I am not exactly an idiot either –"
"And furthermore –"
"That will do," Aragorn said firmly. "I have to answer to Elladan, Elrohir and Lord Celeborn for any harm that comes to you." He pointed at Arwen. "And I have to answer to Elladan, Elrohir and King Thranduil for any harm that comes to you." He scowled at Legolas. "If harm should come to both of you, every last Elf still in Middle-earth will probably be laying siege to Minas Tirith within the hour. Therefore you will both do as I tell you, and sit here quietly until we have more information. Gimli!" He swivelled to face the Dwarf. "I am leaving you in charge of these two. Do not let them go out."
Ada - Dad/Daddy
Meleth - (My) Love
Gwador-nîn - My (sworn) brother
What did you think? Good? Bad? It's already obvious who the murderer is? Please review!