My name’s Goss. I’m a cop.
Short for Goswedriol son of Gandalf – yes, I thought that would prick your ears up. I don’t go bragging about my father’s name. Nor do I conceal it. It’s mother who’s the big secret. Though most people manage to guess.
My father once said I had about as much magic in me as a horse’s hindquarters. But he was no airy-fairy caller-in of the winds. He was a meticulous researcher, and that’s where I follow in his footsteps. I love truth. I have a passion for facts. For concealed facts. Facts which people don’t want generally noised abroad. In the course of my business I rake up a helluva lot of muck.
I don’t love muck. Alas, it loves me. Everywhere I go it sticks to me. It comes in on the heels of my knee-high boots when I enter someone’s beautifully carpeted home. It drops on me from the balconies as I pace the mean streets. It rings my door bell in the dead of night, and as I take my ear from the judas window it dribbles down my neck. Muck and I are constant companions, perennial partners, but we aren’t lovers. We aren’t even particularly good friends.
Just now I said I was a cop. But I belong to no regular force of law and order. Not the Rangers of the North, nor the agents of the Tower of Guard, nor am I one the fleet minions of the White Council. And I’m certainly not one of the shadowy agents of GUB, the secret police of the Royal Mandate of East Ithilien – the former Mordor. Though at one time or another I have done work for all these agencies.
I’m a freelancer. A bounty hunter.
In these dismal days I’m not short of work. Often I turn work away. I won’t work for elves, for instance – their family affairs are incredibly messy. My father used to say they paired-off at random on Midsummer’s Eve. And as for dwarves... I wouldn’t work for dwarves if they offered me all the dragon-gold under the Lonely Mountain! Their only use for the law is to litigate the crap out of each other. But I suppose that’s better than axing each others’ heads off, over a string of grievances, real or imagined.
But there is some work I can’t turn away. Particularly when it breaks down my door in the middle of the night, sips my wine while it waits for me to dress, and then spirits me off, to arrive at our destination ere break of day.
Dawn was glimmering on the face of Mount Mindolluin as we rode through the Great Gate of Minas Tirith. In his office in the guardhouse of the Citadel, Bergil son of Beregond, Captain of the Tower of Guard, rose to his feet and strode towards me, hand outstretched. The last time I remembered him doing that, he had brought his mailéd gage smartly across my cheek, hurling me to the floor. But this time he was all smiles. He embraced me like a brother.
“Goswedriol son of Gandalf! How kind of you to come so promptly!”
Turning to glance at my forced companions, fell-faced men in heavy grey cloaks clasped with the Star of Elbereth, I murmured “I didn’t have a lot of choice...”
“Necessity constrains us all,” replied Bergil. “But it doesn’t excuse discourtesy – that I know full well.”
He lowered his wrinkled forehead and shook it. “I crave your forgiveness, Master Goswedriol. Dread happenings darken the counsels of men, but sharpen their mind to the exclusion of everyday courtesies.”
Waving towards a high-backed chair strewn with ermine skins he bade me be seated. Without a word the fell Rangers of the North turned as one man and filed out of the room, leaving me alone with Bergil.
Speaking into the voice tube Bergil sent for wine and little white cakes for two. I leaned back in the elaborately carved chair and took out my pouch of pipe-weed. I lit my old clay pipe. Beneath my eyebrows, grown bushy like my father’s, I noted with sly satisfaction the look of distaste on Bergil’s face. I had not asked his permission. Had I done, he would have refused it. Such was his abhorrence of weed of any sort.
“What a grave matter it must be to compel you to call on me,” I said in the high tongue of Gondor. “What has come to pass?”
Bergil looked down at the blotter on his desk. “Death,” he murmured.
“Who’s to die?”
“Who has died? – that should have been your question. And as for who is to die – for the deed – that is something you yourself must discover.”
“I should have thought you had scores of men under your command who were capable of that,” I observed. “It is getting on for fifty years since the downfall of the Lord of the Rings, yet death still stalks the land. In a city the size of Minas Tirith I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t have a murder a week to deal with. Particularly in the seedy purlieus of the First Circle...”
“It was the King himself who proposed you for the task.”
I raised my chin and blew a smoke ring. “I’m flattered, of course,” I said. “But why didn’t you prevail upon your Lord to assure him you were well capable of handling the matter all by yourself?”
“The identity of the person killed, and the circumstances of his death, call for absolute discretion. The affairs of the victim are shrouded in darkness...”
“Muck, you mean? And who’s the great expert on muck in Middle Earth? Why me, of course. There’s nobody else who would handle half the jobs I get called upon to do. So I suppose I’m being expected to pull your mucky chestnuts out the fire?”
Bergil flushed in confusion. “I would never shirk my duty, no matter how distasteful, much less fob it off onto somebody else. Particularly onto you.” He paused to let that sink in. “But in matters concerning the King’s own household, the men under my command are too well known in the City. It would be impossible to secure the silence of every one, much less the people they come into contact with.”
He sighed, like a man surrounded by one fool too many. “No, what has occurred demands that as few people as possible know about it. Just you and I – and the King himself.”
“That considerably limits my power of investigation,” I observed dryly. “If I’m not to divulge the nature of the crime, how can I go making inquiries in the City, without tongues wagging beneath every arch?”
“It is most unlikely that anyone in the City will be able to assist you. The provenance of your mission, should you accept it, might well embrace the whole of Middle Earth. That in itself would disqualify the agents of the Tower of Guard, who are forbidden to depart the City without the gravest reason. It confines the matter to the attention of someone like yourself: well-travelled, well-connected, and possessed of the widest knowledge and experience.”
“In other words, steeped in every sort of muck known to elf and man.”
“Will you do it?”
“I’d better see the body first, assuming the agents of the Tower of Guard haven’t poked it around too much. I need to know how the victim died.”
“Of course,” said Bergil. “But first I must swear you to secrecy. Place your hand on this mace and repeat after me...”
“Cut the crap,” I said. “I have already signed dozens of documents lodged with the Steward of Gondor, vowing on pain of death never to disclose the secrets of the Realm. None of them bear any expiry date – all are operative till the King bids otherwise, or death takes me, or the world ends. Why don’t your blasted bureaucrats collate some of these things and have them handy for when I come?”
“I am sorry,” said Bergil. “It’s a lot easier to get you to sign a new one than persuade the clerks in the registry to rummage for one that may already exist.”
I threw up my hands in disgust. The pipe fell from my lap, strewing ashes over Bergil’s magnificent black and silver rug. To his credit, he said not a word. Grave matters do indeed “sharpen the counsels of men”.
We crossed the white-paved courtyard of the Citadel, past the silver fountain and the White Tree, making for the magnificent Tower of Ecthelion and the bedchambers of the King’s household. A guard of honour formed up around us, tall men draped in long black cloaks emblazoned with the Tree in silver thread and bearing on their brows the tall winged mithril helmets of the Tower of Guard.
The guy was dead.
As dead as a decapitated ringwraith, and that’s doubly dead.
His spare lithe body lay twisted amid sweaty rumpled sheets on a king-sized bed with brass bed-knobs, having clearly expired in the last extremes of unspeakable passion. There was a faint barbecued smell lingering on the stuffy air, as if someone had been trying to make mulled wine out of pig’s guts. His eyes protruded from his purple face. I looked for a mark on his naked skin, for any sign of ligatures around his wrists or neck. But there was none.
How could a man look as if he had been hanged without any mark on his neck? Drawing on kid gloves I carefully probed the body, trying to determine the nature of the abuse he had suffered. Under Bergil’s watchful eye I felt it wise to stay as far as possible within the bounds of decency. Which is why I missed the vital clue. In the end I decided it was a job for the Inspector of Corpses.
“We cannot take into our confidence any official of the City itself!” declared Bergil.
“The cause of death is something of which I must be absolutely certain!” I cried. “Bring me a sword.”
Bergil held back in astonishment, then drew his own and presented the hilt to me. I snatched it and, whirling it around my head, I struck downwards with all my might. At one blow the victim’s head was severed completely from his shoulders. I wrapped it in a pillowcase and gave it to the astonished Bergil to hold. I watched as the dark congealing blood oozed from the severed neck. I had a purpose in doing this, for it gave me no pleasure to observe, as it might have given some people. In my mind I uttered a secret charge and when the pool had reached the size of a dinner platter I stopped reciting and noted the last word I had said. This told me that the victim had been dead for eight-and-three-quarter hours.
Wiping the sword on the bed sheet I handed it back to Bergil. Then I got him to help me roll the body up in the remaining sheets. Opening the lid of a chest of bed linen I threw out the contents, then Bergil and I dragged the shrouded body over to the chest and crammed it inside.
“Why in the name of the White Tree are we doing this?” pleaded Bergil.
“Do you want secrecy or don’t you?” I snapped. “If you do, then there are certain things we must do all by ourselves, before we enlist the help of others.” Then I pulled on the bell rope to summon a servant.
The man who came was stopped outside the door by the guards, who had themselves been strictly forbidden to look inside. Instead one rapped on the door with the hilt of his drawn sword.
“What is the victim’s name?” I hissed. Bergil replied: “Morfindel”. I put my head round the door and said to the servant “Master Morfindel lies indisposed within and wants no coming and going. Fetch two bearers for a heavy burden.” Turning back to Bergil I asked him to name a collection point. Then putting my head out of the door again I called after the servant, demanding him to bring me pen and parchment.
“What is your counsel now, Master Goswedriol?” I could see Bergil was nigh at his wits’ end. I replied, “I’m writing a message to the Inspector of Corpses, to send bearers to your nominated collection point to take charge of an unknown corpse. Without the head he will not be able to identify the body. At least we hope not. Nor will anybody know where it was found, save us two. But the Inspector of Corpses will readily ascertain the cause of death. I know him: he is a man not short of wits. It will be apparent to him that the head was taken from the body many hours after death. You know, and I know, that the victim’s neck bore not the slightest mark. The cause of death lies elsewhere.”
I dreaded to think where. But I guess I already knew.
“I stand in awe of your presence of mind,” murmured Bergil. We were back in his office, the door was barred and the victim’s head was lying unwrapped upon his desk. “Thanks to you, we have been able to prevent rumour of this dreadful matter being noised abroad.”
“For the moment,” I said.
“Might the death have been natural?” ventured Bergil. “Or at least, unintended? A death can hardly be called ‘natural’ when it has so clearly occurred within the context of an unnatural act. But an act to which the young Morfindel, I fear, was no stranger.”
“No, this was no accident. He was killed deliberately. No matter how vigorously you took your pleasure, using purely the instruments of the flesh, you could not bring a man to the extremes we see on this tormented visage. The victim died in agonies both exquisite and prolonged.”
“That was my feeling too, when first I saw the body. So we are dealing not just with the death in scandalous circumstances of Morfindel, the King’s Favourite, but with Wilful Murder.”
“Morfindel,” I murmured to myself. I had heard the name before, but I couldn’t remember where.
“Morfindel son of Gollum,” said Bergil. It was my turn to be gob-smacked.
“Gollum!” I cried. “Gollum? Are we talking about the Gollum?”
“Indeed we are,” replied Bergil. “The sneaky little creature who possessed the One Ring for many a long year and kept it concealed at the very roots of the Misty Mountains.”
“However did Gollum, of all people, come to have a son?”
“It is a pathetic tale,” said Bergil. “While he was yet a Ranger, King Elessar himself captured Gollum and handed him over to the Elves of Mirkwood, to keep close captive.”
“That’s right!” I said. “I read it in the Red Book of Westmarch. The elf guards were betrayed and orcs fell upon them and killed them all and so rescued the creature Gollum.” But Bergil shook his head slowly, a wry smile on his face.
“The Wood-Elves are not noted for being sloppy gaolers,” he replied. “Nor for being surprised and overcome in their own woods by orcs. The elf guards were indeed betrayed, but orcs were not involved in the betrayal itself. That was an inside job, from beginning to end.”
“Did Legolas son of Thranduil know that, when he reported Gollum’s escape to the Council of Elrond?”
“I think we can exonerate Legolas and his royal father from complicity in the matter. Though not perhaps from a too ready acceptance of what the bodyguard of King Thranduil chose to tell their master.”
I whistled long and low. “I never did believe the story,” I said. “It seemed most improbable. So there was a cover-up! Somebody should have been punished.”
“Somebody was. At one stage Gollum had been given into the care of an elf maiden, Gladlas was her name. If the Wood-Elves have a fault, it is pity. Pity for all living things. Although Gollum was one of the most despicable of creatures, he was at least a living body. The heart of Gladlas went out to him in his snivelling, piteous condition, and she often came to comfort him. She did whatever she could for him, something of which Gollum, true to his nature, was quick to take advantage. As a result they carried on a clandestine affair for a year or more and she bore his child.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “How could an elf maiden do a thing like that? Even in the extremes of boredom. And with such a one!” Yet I reminded myself that they’re all as randy as cats in the moonlight, every last one of them. And don’t they say that all cats are grey in the dark?
“She it was who tricked the guards and allowed Gollum to escape. She paid dearly for her indiscretion. King Thranduil imprisoned her deep within the dungeons of his forest fastness, where she died just a few years ago. No empty barrels to bear her out of bond!”
I chuckled grimly. “Yes, I daresay they tightened security a bit, after the exploits of Bilbo Baggins.”
Bergil continued. “The child of that union was not at all foul to look upon, as you might have expected. His father had been indeed a perian, a primitive proto-hobbit, and doubtless therefore fair of form, before the One Ring devoured him in the dark. The young Morfindel could have laid claim to being halfelven on his looks alone, although there are few of that kindred who would happily claim him as their own.”
Staring at the tormented head on his desk, Bergil muttered, “It is hard to see it now, but the boy resembled a halfling, yet one of the fairest of that race. As a stripling lad I made friends with a halfling and I thought him wondrous fair to look upon. He went on to become a famous warrior and Knight of the Realm, in the very Company of the Tower of Guard. One of the Heroes of the Ringwars! Yet he remembered me and came back in later years to visit me. He had grown no taller, but his youthful beauty had long since faded. His face, though jolly, was the face of a chubby little old man. But from my boyhood memories I can well sympathise with the heart of my lord the King.”
I smiled inwardly. I know Peregrine Took well, the hobbit in question, and I know how partial he is to a jug of ale, as indeed I am. His boyish good looks hadn’t long survived that regime. He was no chicken now.
“The dreadful story of the orphaned son of Gollum came to the ears of the King, who readily recalled his own part in it. His anger at the dereliction of the Elves of Mirkwood had abated over the years and he was sorry for the fate of the mother and her changeling child. He had the boy brought to court, taking him ever closer into his favour.”
Bergil rose to his feet and took a deep breath. “More than that I will not reveal. It is not seemly, so to do.”
He could have belted me over the head with a haunch of venison, the stunned way I must have returned his stare. I exhaled slowly, trying not to whistle. “So that’s the reason for all the secrecy!”
“Do you accept the mission?”
“If I don’t, I suppose you’ll have to slay me on the spot.”
“And have two heads to dispose of, and two bodies,” replied Bergil bleakly. “Don’t make me do it.”
“Morfindel son of Gollum,” I muttered slowly, picking up the head and staring into a face bloated with agonies beyond belief. “How did you die? And why?”
But the face wasn’t telling.
Looking Bergil straight in the eye I thrust the head into his hands, saying “Get that pickled and returned to me. I need to know.”