The Web Of Darkness


Chapter 023




Chapter 23

Chapter Notes

Warning: this chapter discusses truly disturbing things to a certain extent (nothing in-depth, descriptive or detailed, but still), so it is only for adult readers.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Drizzt had been invited to stay with Master Otir’s family during his visit in Esgaroth… an invitation he gladly accepted, for he had come to like – and respect – the Master Bowman greatly. He admired the Man for the dignity with which Otir bore the knowledge that he would not be able to carry on as the chief of Esgaroth’s archers any longer, and that he could appreciate the good thing in his crippling injury: the fact that he had survived in the first place.

The rest of Master Otir’s family turned out to be the same good-humoured, though and resilient lot. His wife, Thórgríma, despite being the mother of seven (!) grown children, still shouldered the burden of such a large household with a vigour many a young woman would have envied. Of their daughters, the two older ones had already married and moved out to raise families of their own. The youngest, a lovely and wholesome thing of barely eighteen summers, was currently being courted and expected to marry in the coming summer.

Of their four sons, only Onundr had already been married – although, sadly, widowed after less than a year. The parents wanted Gunnar to follow suit, soon, and made no secret about it. The youngest lads, Án and Jón, were still happy enough to stay with their parents… and still young enough to do so without being frowned upon.

At the news of their father’s return, Thórvé and Oddfrídh, too, came for a visit, and they took in Master Otir’s condition with the same unshakable calm as their mother had. Life was dangerous, and war was even more so – they all were grateful to have him back at all. They accepted Drizzt’s presence with the same readiness. If their father saw fit to bring the strange Dark Elf home with him, he must have had his reasons. They were not about to question his choices.

After their return, they were called before Master Ketill and asked to give him full details about the siege of Dale. The Master and the town councillors – the heads of the various guilds of Esgaroth – listened to the tales of fighting and terror with awe and thanked the Powers that this time their own town had been spared; for they knew Esgaroth could not have withstood a siege of such magnitude half as long as Dale had. There was something to be said for stone walls.

When all tales had been told and the feast given to honour the returning war heroes was over, the respected burghers and burghesses of Esgaroth returned to their homes, still barely able to fathom their good fortune. Master Ketill, however, asked Drizzt and Master Otir to stay for a moment longer.

“I have been told, Master Elf, that you are suspicious about the loyalties of our spymaster,” he said. “Can you say what raised your suspicions in the first place?”

Drizzt shook his head. “I cannot truly tell,” he answered thoughtfully. “’Twas more instinct than aught else. I felt a certain… falseness in him, and that feeling grew the more time I spent in his company. I know not what set it off, and I have no proof of his falseness. But I still have the strong feeling that something is not quite right with him.”

“I fear that your instincts have not misled you, Master Elf,” said the old Man with a sigh. “We have found at least some proof that he has been lying to us for a long time; yet I fear that proof would not be enough to give him a proper trial.”

“What do you want us to do then?” asked Drizzt.

“The Wood-Elves say your night-eyes are even sharper than those of their own kind,” replied the Master of Esgaroth. “I would like you to keep an eye on Turcaill’s house during the nighttime, if that is not asking too much. Perchance he will betray his true intentions when he believes himself unwatched. Perchance he will try to flee the town under the veil of darkness. He has one of the best, fastest ships in town, after all.”

“I can do that,” agreed Drizzt; indeed, watching the town at night might prove interesting. “But you had better put someone on watch in the harbour, too. Should his ship manage to escape, it would he hard to catch him again.”

“That already has been arranged,” the old Man sighed anew. “’Tis bitter for me, Master Elf, as he is the husband of my daughter, and should he prove guilty in any evil business, it would reflect badly on my own family as well. But the law must be respected, no matter what.”

“Whatever he is up to, I am sure your daughter has no part in it,” said Master Otir. “She is an honest woman, even if she likes fine clothes and jewellery a little too much. Worry not that blame might fall upon her… or you. The Men of Esgaroth are wise enough to direct blame where it is due.”

“People can be unreasonable sometimes,” replied the Master of Esgaroth. “But whatever the outcome may be, we must look deeply into Turcail’s business. It might turn out like an evil growth; we might have to cut deeply to remove all that which is harmful.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Spymaster Turcaill was perhaps the only one who had not felt unblemished joy and gratitude upon the return of their warriors and the news of the Easterlings’ defeat and the rescuing of Dale. Not that he had wished the Men of Dale any ill things – he had just seen their fall as the necessary thing to save Esgaroth – but the utter destruction of the Tribe of the White Kine left him without a strong supporter in Rhûn, even if that support had often served Siltric more than it would serve him.

The only other Easterlings who came regularly to Rhovanion with more or less peaceful intentions were the Tribe of the Sea Dog, and those traded mostly with Birka, not wishing to foray too far into potentially hostile territory. Besides, they were a small tribe with little influence – not powerful enough for Turcaill to build his future upon an alliance with them.

Aside from lost allies, he had other things to worry about. He did not know the young man Geirrod, who had been given to the blacksmith, in indentured servitude, but he knew the youngling was the son of Gotharr, one of the lesser jarls. He remembered having seen him, barely more than a boy back then, in Siltric Jarl’s tent, as his father’s standard bearer. And if he could remember the lad, the lad might remember him, too. Or would one day, once he had become familiar with Esgaroth and the people that dwelt in it. And that would be most unfortunate.

Turcaill had only been to Rhûn and Siltric Silkbeard’s dwellings a handful of times, and that had been years ago, when his sister Heledd had still been alive. He found it better when as few Easterlings knew his face and about his alliance with Siltric Jarl as possible. It had worked well in all those years. He would not allow some captured pup to destroy the useful shield of camouflage he had worked on for so long and so diligently – and sometimes a pre-emptive strike was a much better solution than trying to pick up the pieces afterwards.

“We cannot allow the youngling to remember,” the spymaster said to Prostr, his most faithful servant. “My position will be precarious enough for a while as it is ‘til I can build up a new alliance with another Khimmer jarl. He must be silenced ere he would realize that he might be a danger for me.”

Prostr, a shaggy, ill-humoured man in his late fifties, shrugged. He cared not for the young Easterling, one way or another.

“It cannot be too hard to slip some poison into his food or drink,” he said. “The one the water goblins use for their fishing spears should do the trick – it has no cure, and its symptoms are like those of the common seizure of the heart. No one would suspect any foul play.”

Turcaill nodded in agreement. “See to it,” he said. “The sooner he is dead, the easier can I breathe.”

“What about the lads in the old town?” asked Prostr. “Have you given up on them entirely, or do you intend to use them again?”

“Leave them to the water goblins,” said Turcaill coldly. “They have become way too rebellious lately, especially that Razar. Good thing he began to develop the lung fever; he would have caused us naught but trouble in a short time.”

“The others are still hale, though,” said Prostr. “They could still be useful; and you cannot hope to receive new lads from Rhûn for a while as things are right now.”

“True,” admitted Turcaill, “but they know too much already. Nay, ‘tis better to allow the water goblins take care of them for us. We should leave the place untouched for a while, ‘til things in Dale and Esgaroth return to normal. We have harvested enough to run the business for years yet… and you will just have to find another things to play with,” he added with a nasty smirk.

“But what if they are found?” argued Prostr, ignoring the jibe. “As you said yourself, they know too much.”

“Who in Middle-earth would find them?” asked Turcaill in a bored tone. “The townspeople of both Dale and Esgaroth still fear to come close to the Dragon’s carcass. No-one would enter the old town.”

Prostr, who had his own reason to visit ruined Laketown one more time – a reason his Master had no knowledge of – shook his head in defeat. He knew there was no reasoning with his Master, once Turcaill had made up his mind. He would have to slip out of Esgaroth and go back to the ruined town on his own, in secret. But first he had to try and find some water goblins, in order to buy some of their poison off them.

Sitting upon the roof of the house, a silent shadow among other shadows, Drizzt Do’Urden was listening to them and found all that he had learned quite… interesting. When Master Turcaill retired for the night and Prostr left the house to go after his dark business, the Drow slipped down from the roof and followed him like a ghost.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Whatever Master Turcaill might have said, Prostr was not going to leave his treasure – or his lads – to the questionable mercy of the water goblins. Well, not all of them. He was willing to let Razar die. The lad had been naught but trouble lately, as he was growing into manhood. ‘Twas better to leave him to the goblins indeed. But Jouko and Már were at their best right now; ‘twould have been a terrible waste not to use their strength and skill as long as they lasted… which still could be a few more years. And Prostr was definitely not leaving little Halli there to die. The boy was too sweet, too… pretty to become goblin food.

He could not bring the boy back to Esgaroth any more than he could leave him in Laketown, of course. Master Turcaill would not begrudge his trusted servant a plaything, but he would not want to have it under his own roof, where his wife, with her over-developed sense for decorum, could realize what was truly going on. She would even take affront of her husband fooling around with the maids; that woman just could not understand that a man had needs.

Nay, Prostr could not take that risk. There were harsh laws among the Lakemen against such things, and he did not want to end up hung publicly, after having been unmanned as a warning for everyone else. But he had a sister who had wedded some filthy swineherd on a not-too-distant farm. He could hide the boy there, disguised as a farm hand, and… visit him whenever he could find the time or the chance to get away from Esgaroth. As for the other lads, he would make them understand that they belonged to him now, as Master Turcaill had given up on them. If they wanted to live, they had better work for him twice as hard and be grateful for his goodness of heart. After all, had he not always cared for them?

Decision made, he still had to wait to set his plan into motion, though. It would do no good for him, should Master Turcaill notice his departure. The spymaster was known to react badly if his orders were not respected – and to express his displeasure in the most unpleasant manner. Thus Prostr waited patiently ‘til the entire family turned in for the night. When all chambers had been dark for quite some time, he slipped out of the house and sneaked down to the harbour.

The violent storm that had hit the Lake on the previous afternoon had let many of the mooring ships battered; but Prostr did not want any of the bigger ones to begin with. All he needed was a small boat that could be handled by a single oarsman. If he bound little Halli’s wrists and ankles, he could hide the boy under some large pieces of canvas and bring him to the farmstead of his brother-in-law, a little further down the lakeshore. The sacks with his hidden treasure would keep; they were safe enough where he had put them. ‘Twas the boy who needed to be brought to a place where no-one would look for him.

Prostr was careful enough not to approach his master’s ship. The boatmen serving on it were faithful to Turcaill – not out of love but because he knew secrets about them for which they would be hung, mayhap even without a trial. The spymaster liked it when his servants were completely at his mercy; when he could decide if they should live or die.

So nay, Prostr was not foolish enough to reveal his secrets to the boatmen, and he knew he would never be able to steal a boat from the ship on their watch. But other merchants did not keep watchmen on their ships all the time, and he could reasonably hope to be able to take a boat from one of those.

He chose Master Ketill’s own ship, for that was a knarr he knew well enough, having been on board of it several times on Master Turcaill’s behalf. He knew where the boats were stored, and that they were easy to remove by someone who knew how to do it.

Creeping aboard the knarr was child’s play. Finding his way down to the small boats proved no more difficult. But when he was just about to cut the hope holding the boat of his choice, he heard a hissing noise from behind his back. Whirling around, all he could see was a pair of glowing, purple-red eyes, ere a blow to his head knocked him out cold.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
To tell the truth, Master Ketill was a tad miffed when shaken awake by his manservant, Ecglaf, in the middle of the night. Being the Master of the Town did mean that he had to live with such small inconveniences from time to time and he had long accepted that fact. It did not mean, however, that he had to like said inconveniences when they happened… and he honestly did not. Past seventy, he needed his undisturbed sleep to keep up with both his business and his duties.

“What is it?” he asked morosely but kept his voice low, as not to wake up his wife who was sleeping on his side.

“The Dark Elf has come, Master Ketill,” whispered Ecglaf. “He has caught Prostr, Master Turcaill’s servant, as he tried to steal a boat from your own ship!”

All thoughts of sleep fled from Master Ketill’s mind at once. He rose from his bed carefully, put on a thick woollen dressing gown over his nightshirt against the chill of the night – his aging bones could not deal with the cold as they once had – and padded, barefooted as he could not find his shoes in his hurry, down to the counting room of his shop, which also served as his study and his office in one. Living space being precious and restricted in Esgaroth, each room had to have multiple uses.

The Dark Elf was standing in a shadowy corner, barely visible in the shadows, his strange, purple eyes glowing in the darkness. It was a somewhat... unsettling sight, and Master Ketill had to remind himself that this dangerous creature was their ally… their life-saver, in fact, for who else would have been able to slay the Nazgûl of Dol Guldur? Not even King Bard had been able to do so.

Still, the Dark Elf made Master Ketill uncomfortable. His looks, his strange powers, the dangerous air about him… hopefully, Master Otir was not planning to keep him in Esgaroth. This was a town of Men, had always been, and even though they had excellent trading contacts with both Elves and Dwarves – and even to the Beornings who were a race unto themselves – the Master of the Town preferred to have his own kind around him and no-one else.

For the time being, though, he found it better to be courteous with the eerie creature whom they all owed their never-ending gratitude.

“How can I be of service, Master Elf?” he asked.

The Dark Elf gestured towards the bound and gagged Man whom he had placed in the other corner.

“As you had asked me, I was watching the spymaster’s house,” he said. “I heard this one discussing with him poisoning the Khimmer youth who is now indentured to the Master Blacksmith. It appears the lad saw the spymaster in Siltric Jarl’s tent a few times, and Turcaill does not want him to speak about it.”

Master Ketill shook his head in sorrow. “It saddens me to have judged his character so wrongly,” he said. “To think that I even married off my only daughter to him… But why would this one try to steal a boat from my ship? He could not flee far with a small boat, if that was his intention.”

“I do not believe it was,” replied the Dark Elf. “I think he wanted to go no further than the old town… or what still is there of it.”

“Why would he wish to do so?” asked Master Ketill in bewilderment. “Laketown of old is in ruins. No-one dwells there any longer, for all fear the curse of the Dragon that lies dead under the ruins, in the water.”

“Mayhap you are mistaken,” said the Dark Elf. “I could not understand everything they talked about, for my Westron is far from flawless, and your people speak it differently than the Elves of the Wood or even the Men of Dale do. But I am fairly certain that someone is still living in the old town… they spoke of ‘lads’ who do some kind of work for the spymaster. This one,” he gestured towards his prisoner again, “wanted them to continue that work, but the spymaster told him to leave the ‘lads’ for the water goblins… whatever those might be.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Master Ketill. “There are no water goblins in the Lake; they only exist in the outrageous horror tales of old fishwives.”

“Are you sure about that?” asked the Dark Elf doubtfully. “Just because you have never met them, it means not that they would not exist. These two seemed very certain about it.”

But Master Ketill was not easily persuaded. Fisherfolk tended to tell hair-raising tales about monsters that supposedly lived in the Lake all the time. Water goblins, winged fairies, turtles of the size of small islands, man-eating fish, flying fish, sea serpents – there were tall tales about all of them. Which did not mean that they truly existed. He found it a little surprising that a clever and worldly man like Spymaster Turcaill would believe in any of them. The man might be a traitor, but he was no fool.

Whether or not water goblins existed, though, he needed to do something about Prostr first – and about Turcaill later. He looked at Ecglaf.

“Call the Town Guard,” he ordered. “Have this man shut away in the holding cell and tell no-one who he is. We shall deal with him – and with his master – in the morning.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
On the next day, however, the faering of Yrsa Brinningrsdaughter’s ship arrived, with a desperate plea for help. It seemed that the ship had been caught in the sudden storm two days earlier, and that they had been barely able to reach the ruins of old Laketown. Whatever they might have found there, the four oarsmen did not say, only that there had been several sick and injured people, and that they needed a good healer.

After some argument, it was Onundr Otirsson who finally offered to sail over to the old town, taking a healer and some of his own boatmakers with him, to see whether they could make Yrsa’s ship lakeborne again. A few hours later the Lame Duck left the harbour of Esgaroth, taking Yrsa’s four oarsmen with them, as these wanted to help with the rescuing of their comrades. As there was no wind to help them along the way, they expected to reach Laketown late in the evening.

Originally Drizzt wanted to go with them – he would like to see the old town and the remains of the Dragon, as he had had ample dealings with such beasts back in Faerûn, in his previous life. But in the light of the current events – including Prostr’s attempt to escape – Master Otir asked him to stay for the time being, promising to take him over with his own ship, once things had calmed down. Thus Drizzt remained in Master Otir’s house during the day and went to watch the spymaster’s in the night.

Another day later, the Lame Duck returned, bringing home Yrsa Brinningrsdaughter and her maid, a pretty little coquette by the name of Gitte. Her hired oarsmen and Iskjald Holgersson, the captain of her ship, remained with Onundr Otirsson’s boat-makers in the old town to help repair her ship, it was explained.

That sounded convincing enough for the Lakemen, who were used to small – or not so small – accidents on the Lake. But Drizzt’s keen eyes spotted the Elven boat lying aboard the Lame Duck, and he also noticed that the knarr remained at the quay of Yrsa’s house all day, instead of returning to the harbour, although no-one but the mistress of the house and her maid were going to and from between ship and house.

“There is something going on,” he commented softly, having watched the events from the shadowed balcony of Master Otir’s house.

His host nodded in agreement.

“They must have found something… or someone... in the old town,” said the Man. “Someone they do not want to be seen… not yet, in any case. I assume they are waiting for the night to bring that person – or persons – to Yrsa’s house.“ He paused, then added dryly. “Unless my son has finally decided to take a wife again, that is.”

There was something in his voice that caught the Drow’s interest. He could not tell whether the Man would support or object his firstborn’s move, should Onundr indeed choose to marry again – so he asked Otir straightforward.

“Would you be against such thing?”

The Lakeman shook his head. “On the contrary, Master Elf. I would be most relieved if my errant son finally chose to do the right thing.”

“You seem to have… different approaches on life,” said Drizzt diplomatically. He could tell that there was conflict between father and son – and had probably been for quite some time – and, to tell the truth, he was curious to find out why.

The Man nodded. “I wanted him to follow me as the Master Archer of Esgaroth,” he explained, “but he did not want to become a warrior – a shame, and him as big and strong as a bear! But, well, being a boat-maker is a good, honest craft, too, and a much-needed one in a town like ours, so I apprenticed him to Old Alfvaldr, who was the boat-maker back then.”

“Better a content craftsman than a reluctant warrior,” said Drizzt.

The Man nodded again. “So it is, Master Elf, and he did well enough at the beginning. He learned his craft well, married Sigga Alfvaldrsdaughter, and I was content, for it seemed that he had found his way at least. But then Sigga died in childbirth, barely a year later, and my son refused to marry again, after the time of mourning was over. Instead, he took a thrall woman into his house and fathered three children by her ere her family managed to buy her free again.”

“And after that?” Drizzt was truly fascinated, as he had not heard of this particular aspect of life in Rhovanion so far.

Master Otir sighed. “She then returned to her people, leaving the children behind, as they belonged by right with their father – and still my son refused to take a new wife.”

“Had he loved his first wife so much?” asked Drizzt. Such devotion was uncommon among Men, but it did happen from time to time.

The Man shrugged. “They were fond enough of each other, I suppose, but it had been a marriage of convenience more than aught else,” he replied. “He married her so that he would earn the right to take over Old Alfvaldr’s shipyard, even though the healers warned them that Sigga was too young and too fragile for childbearing. She had always been a sickly child, or so they say. Onundr took it into his head that he was to blame for her death, and that was it with him and marrying again after that.”

“And yet he sired children with that thrall woman of his, as you say,” said Drizzt.

“Aye, but that Hildburgh was of the Northmen, big and strong and healthy like a prize mare,” answered Master Otir, “and so are the children she bore him. I assume he hoped she would stay with him, once she was free to choose. But she wanted to return to her people – never liked living on the Lake, that one, and missed the green fields and horse herds of her home. So she went back, the first time she could, and Onundr hired the widow Glaur to care for the children.”

“Are such children who were born out of wedlock considered full heirs?” asked the Drow, knowing that in many Mannish lands it was not so.

The Lakeman nodded. “Aye, as long as the father accepts them as his, which Onundr has done. But a respected craftsman like him is expected to have a wife and a proper household – not to live alone with his by-blows and an elderly nursemaid.”

“Would any woman have him, knowing he already has fathered children with a thrall?” wondered Drizzt.

Master Otir laughed. “Oh, aye, more so one who has little hope to have babes of her own, be it due to age or due to some sort of illness. There are a good number of spinsters – or widows – who would gladly have him as their husband… if he only were not so stubborn!”

“And would you accept someone like Mistress Yrsa in your family?” asked Drizzt, knowing that Men often gave looks more importance than they should.

The Man shrugged. “To be honest, Master Elf, I would very much welcome a match like that. Yrsa might not be young, and she is certainly far from being even remotely pretty; but she is a well-to-do woman with a craft of her own, she is a Guild head and a highly respected one at that. Marrying her would reflect well on Onundr, and on our entire family. So what is she is too old to have children of her own? At least there would be no strife about inheritances when the children are grown.”

Drizzt could not help but laugh. “You have figured it all out in your head, have you not?” he said, amused. “I wonder what the two would say to it, though.”

“So do I,” admitted Master Otir, a little sourly.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the next morning, however, Esgaroth awoke to such shocking news that even those who had taken notice of the constant coming and going between the Lame Duck and the house of Yrsa Brinningrsdaughter – and there had been quite a few who had – forgot all about it at once. It seemed that more important things were coming up than just the potential marriage between the heirs of two respected families.

For right at daybreak, the Town Guard surrounded Spymaster Turcaill’s house, and shortly thereafter the spymaster, his wife and their three children were led away. The hands of Master Turcaill were bound behind his back with strong leather thongs, and he seemed exceptionally pale. His family could walk freely, but the Guards kept a sharp eye on them. They were brought to the Town Hall, where – according to rumours started by the bailiff – they were locked up separately in the small chambers that usually served as archive rooms.

At the same time, the two knarrs of Master Turcaill were searched by the authority of Harbour Master Thorleif. The boatmen were told to disembark and taken to one of the warehouses, where they remained under strong watch. The urchins of the harbour could see as large wooden chests were removed from the ships and brought to the Town Hall.

An hour or so later, the Town Guard appeared at the house of Master Dufnall, the blacksmith. They went into the house, remained there for a while, and when they left again, they took the young Easterling named Geirrod, son of Gotharr, who – as everyone knew – had been apprenticed to master Dufnall for an indeterminate time with them…right to the Town Hall. Some noticed, though, that the young giant was not bound and seemed to follow the Guards readily enough.

Shortly thereafter the Master Blacksmith, too, left the house. He did not seem particularly concerned about the well-being of his apprentice, although his face was grim. He went straight to the house of Master Otir and remained there for the rest of the morning. As it was common knowledge that the Master Bowman was currently housing the strange Dark Elf that had followed him back from the Siege of Dale, that fact provided fuel for the most interesting speculations.

Another hour later the Town Guard appeared again. They marched down to the harbour, where the Khimmer warriors – the ones that had been captured after the first battle and brought to town – were kept in heavy chains, twenty in the number. The Guards selected the oldest of them – a stocky, one-eyed bear of a Man, whose long, iron-grey hair was bound in two tails behind his ear – and escorted him to the Town Hall, keeping him in chains all the way.

By then, speculations were running wild throughout the town. More so as no-one of the authorities showed themselves: neither the Master of the Town, nor Bekan Kolbeinsson, the town’s lawman, nor any of the Guild heads. Only the Town Guard patrolled along the quays, and they answered no questions, saying that the news would be soon cried through the streets anyway.

And indeed, soon after the noon bell, the criers appeared on the streets, from the Market-pool to the harbour everywhere, and announced that Spymaster Turcaill had been accused of having made secret business with the enemy during the war... and of other wrongdoings as well. A hearing and a trial would be held shortly, they said, in the presence of all Guild heads and that of all respected townspeople who wanted to witness and could find a seat in the Town Hall. The first hearing would take place in the fourth hour after the noon bell, they said, but they answered no further questions, either.

The news, needless to say, stirred up the town like a hornet’s nest. All of a sudden, everyone wanted to have their lunch meal and be done with it in time, so that they could go to the Town Hall and watch the hearing. No-one could truly imagine that their spymaster would have done such things, but all agreed that Master Turcaill had always been a little… strange, and were eager to find out how much of the accusations were true. The shops were buzzing with people going about their business as fast as they could, and gossiping women leaned out of their windows to discuss the news with their friends on the other side of the narrow streets – in Esgaroth you did not need to leave your house to speak with the ones who lived opposite you.

In the fourth hour after the noon bell the Council Chamber in the Town Hall was bursting full. Those who did not have their reserved seats, like the Guild heads and other most respectable burghers, stood along the walls or sat in the windows, outside the room, anxious not to miss a word of what was coming.

There could be no doubt that Esgaroth had not had such a spectacle for a long time – and perchance would not have for a long time to come. ‘Twas understandable that everyone wanted to be part of it, if in no other way than as an uninvolved witness.