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Serving Gondor  by Larner

Serving Gondor

 

Written for the LOTR Community's "Art's Desire" challenge.  For all with February birthdays, and with thanks to RS9 for the inspiration.

Inspired by the picture:  http://www.lotrgfic.com/viewstory.php?sid=3538&chapter=1

“Serving Gondor by RS9”

 

Finding Succor

 

1 March, year 9 in the reckoning of the King Returned

 

            The woman paused as she entered the open gate leading to the town lands of the Pelennor, having her first unobstructed view of the White City, renamed Minas Anor once more.  “It is so beautiful!” she breathed, barely able to speak at the magnificence she saw before her.

            The elderly woman who, alongside her equally elderly husband, had taken this younger woman under their wings during much of her journey northward, smiled as she laid her arm across her younger companion’s shoulders to draw her onwards toward the great gates.  “That it is,” she declared, “smoke-laden stones and all.  Now, have you any idea as to where you might stay?  I can recommend the King’s Head in the Second Circle—a fine place, and one that serves many a strange but tasty dish, having been favored by the Ringbearer’s kinsmen during their time here, ere they returned northward to their own lands.  ’Tis said that none are better at preparing food than are the Pheriannath.”

            “An inn?”  The younger woman thought of the mere handful of coin she still carried, all she had left of the money secretly given her by her mother before she left her former home outside Peshastin.  If not for the kindness of this couple and a few others like them, never would she have made it this far with any funds left to spend within the King’s city on her arrival.  “I doubt I could afford it,” she said regretfully.

            “You cannot afford an inn?” the older Man protested.  “But you did not say!”

            “Then you must come stay with us, my dear,” the woman insisted.  “You cannot merely sleep upon the streets!”

            “Is there not a hostel where those with little funds might stay for a day or two?” the young woman asked.  “I could not in good conscience force myself upon your hospitality.  Did not you tell me that your son’s family lives with you, and that already your home was stretched to its limits?”

            The couple searched one another’s eyes.  Certainly what she said was true, and the goodwife had confided this to the younger woman only the previous evening.  At last the husband turned to the younger woman.  “Alas, but this is the state of things.  We could offer you a pallet upon the floor before the kitchen fire, perhaps….”

            “Where I would impede your wife and your son’s wife as they seek to prepare breakfast in the morning?   Nay, I would not do this.  Again, is there not a hostel where those with little in the way of coin might take refuge for a time?”

            The goodwife suddenly smiled.  “The Gentlewomen’s Rest House in the Third Circle!  Our Lady Queen Arwen has endowed this as a place where women visiting the city on their own might stay, even as you have stated.  It is near to the barracks for the City Guards who protect much of the lower city, so there is little danger of strangers seeking to bother those who stay there, and there is even a small garden about it.  I am told it is very comfortable.”

            *******

            The young woman agreed to dine with the older couple and their son’s family, after which their son would accompany her to the Rest House.  It was a relief to the woman to have a place to stay where she would not be beholden to others, no matter how good their intentions.  After a simple but filling meal, the son-in-law indeed accompanied her to the Gentlewomen’s Rest House, carrying her meager luggage for her, seeing her in and delivering her into the hands of the couple that ran the place, a tall couple of middle years of obvious Dúnedain breeding, dark haired and grey eyed, slender and well built.

            She was shown to a comfortable, if simply furnished, room, with toweling hanging from pegs by the door, a small but adequate chest by the narrow but surprisingly comfortable bed, and with a lamp and a decent store of oil for it set atop the chest for her use.  “If you wish to read, there is a library of sorts in the dining room,” she was told.  “You may even take a book for yourself when you leave here.  We do ask that, when your situation is better, you will purchase a book or two to replace what you might take, however.  There are three bathing rooms, one on each floor, and two privies per floor as well.  The boiler for the bathing rooms is on the uppermost floor where our housekeeper has her rooms, and she lights it three times per day—at an hour before sunrise, at sunset, and at midday, keeping the fire going for two hours each time.  If you should like to bathe at any other time, you may either pay her for fuel with which to stoke the boiler, or you might provide her with fuel you have obtained on your own.”  They asked that she pay five bronze pennies per day, but advised her she might pay it whenever her situation made it feasible if she did not have sufficient funds at this time.

            “We provide a breakfast for our guests, but I fear other meals you must find for yourself.  We will advise you that the King and Queen sponsor nuncheon and dinner once each month in the Mercenaries’ Guild Hall at the eastern edge of the market in this circle, and that other guilds within the city do similarly, some once a week and others every other day, most of these meals being served again in the Mercenaries’ Guild Hall, as it is little used otherwise.  The King’s Meals will be served tomorrow, as it would happen, if you should wish to take advantage of them.  You will find the food unusually good, for the King and Queen refuse to stint solely because this is done in charity for visitors to our city.  And should you need clothes, we can send you to the building that houses the Queen’s Bounty.  She is a gifted weaver and seamstress, and she and her ladies produce far more garments than are needed for those who dwell within the Citadel and are in its employ, so they make much of the excess available for those who are in need, again requesting that those who receive from this store might in the future offer clothing they have obtained upon their own in return for the gifts they have received.  And although many do not seek to help replenish the stores of garments, many more do, and thus there is a wonderful choice of clothing for anyone in true need of suitable garb.”

            Somehow this sounded far too good to be quite true to the young woman, so she thanked her hosts, sought out the books in the dining room and was amazed at the selection on offer, took a book of poetry up to her room, and after taking a quick visit to the privy, she returned to her room and shut the door, and after stripping to her shift lay down to read for a time, glad that someone had thought to donate such books as this to the rest house’s library.

 *******

            She managed to get a quick bath early the next day, and was surprised to find those who waited for this were all cheerful and cooperative with one another.  She could not imagine those from her village being so pleasant, having to wait for the bathing room to clear.  What surprised her even more was when a woman came down from an upper floor to announce no one was waiting at the door to the bathing room there, and the next in line immediately took her clean clothing and the toweling from her room up to take advantage of the absence of competition there, two others followed after her happily chatting together.

            When she went into the dining room she was directed to a window where the woman she’d met the previous day served her with a far more substantial meal than she’d expected.  She found a place at one of the tables set about the room that was laid with clean linens and eating ware, sat down, and found that the food she’d been given was excellent, the fruit, vegetables, and egg fresh, and the porridge apparently enhanced with nut meats and berries, with a fresh pot of cream and another of honey to use as she pleased.

            A rather horse-faced younger woman set her meal down across from her.  “Did you wish some juice or some of the herbal drink to have with your meal?” she asked.  “I will gladly fetch you some if you like.”  At the indication a cup of herbal drink would be welcomed, off she hurried to a side table where pitchers sat, along with a pot set over a candle to keep it warm, and a selection of mugs.

            “This is quite good!” the woman admitted after a goodly sip.  “Were there such a place as this in or near Peshastin I am certain it would not treat its guests anywhere as well.”

            The younger woman nodded.  “I doubt not that it is because the Gentlewomen’s Rest House is endowed by the Queen herself that it is so comfortable.  It is said that her father’s home where she was lady for a very long time was known ever as the ‘Last Homely House’ within Eriador, where all travelers of good will were ever welcomed and made comfortable.”

            As they ate, the younger woman told her story.

            “I am named Norien.  My sister and I were born upon the Pelennor in a smallholding where we primarily raised geese to sell to the city, although we had a goodly kitchen garden for our own needs.  Our mother died when my sister was eleven summers and I was thirteen.  Not three years ago our father died, and we two were left to manage as we could.  We were all made to leave our land when it was known that the Enemy marched upon us, and we went to the places of refuge in the mountain valleys.  When we returned, nothing stood upon what had been our land, and the land itself was torn to pieces, for the armies had dug deep trenches across the ground and filled them with stuff that burned with dark flames, or so we were told by those who remained in the city to its defense.  Mithrandir and the Elves traveled across the Pelennor to cleanse the land of the hurts it had taken, and the King had the land surveyed and hired Men and Dwarves to aid in rebuilding homes, byres, and barns.  But it was up to those of us who lived there to bring all back to what it had been, and mostly to us to rebuild fences and walls between the various holdings.

            “Shortly after our father died, a Man from lower Lebennin who had lost all to the raiders upon the Corsairs approached us one day and offered to aid us in building a new shed to shelter the geese in bad weather in return for being allowed to sleep in the byre for our new milk cow.  Soon he was courting Tiressë, my younger sister.  I was happy for her, for she has been so lonely since the death of our father.  I thought that when they wed, the three of us would remain in our home and continue to raise geese, and be happy together.  But that was not to be.

            “Indeed they were married, but once he came to live within the house I was made to feel as if I were a mere servant.  It was he who started this, but soon Tiressë was following his lead.  Then one night when he had gone into the city with his friends, he returned late in the night, and I awoke to find him seeking to enter my bed instead of that of his wife, my sister.  I cried out, and she came to see, and he told her that I had come to him clad only in my nightdress with it falling from my shoulders, and that I had sought to seduce him.

            “So it was that I was made to look as if it was my fault that he was in my room, and she and he cast me out.  With no other place to go, I came here some six days ago.  I am to appear before the magistrate in a few days, and I hope to be granted a share of the worth of our holding, and will seek after that to become a feather merchant.  I am good at choosing down for filling pillows and comforters and featherbeds and such, and I so hope that in time I will be able to sell the feathers of our geese and so be reconciled with my sister—somewhat, at least.  I believe that in her heart she knows I would not play the wanton with her husband, but it will take time to put the story he told her that she wants now to believe from her.  I only hope he does not seek to do with other women what he tried to do with me.”

            Now finished, she looked questioningly, wanting to know her companion’s tale.

            “I am named Andred daughter of Lunhir and Lanriel of Lebennin.  My story,” she said, “is much like yours, but not precisely the same.  Only in my case it was my brother who has taken my home as his own and sent me away with nothing.  But for now that is all I wish to say, for to say more before I must makes my heart to ache terribly.”

            “I understand,” Norien said softly.  “What do you look to do within the White City?”

            Andred shrugged.  “I am not certain.  I am a good one with a needle and thread, and kept our home and business for many years while my husband traveled abroad.  He was a trader in cottons and woolens, and oft he took the clothing I worked upon in the evenings to sell as well as the bolts of fabric that were his primary business.  Perhaps I could work as housekeeper for a family, or set up shop as a seamstress.  I am not certain what chances might come my way here in the capital.

            “Is there a place where one might go in order to seek employment?  Where I come from there is a fair twice a year, and those who seek work may repair there in order to let people know they desire to find work to do.”

            “Yes, there is a small building on the edge of the marketplace where one may go to leave word as to what work one may do and desires, and there are certain benches on the edge of the market on which you might sit so that those seeking service might see you and approach with offers of employment.  But it is advised that if you use the benches, you ought to ask others regarding the worthiness of the ones approaching you before accepting their offers.”

            “That sounds wise.  And where particularly are these benches?”

            “Both benches and employment house are on the east side of the market, near to the Mercenaries’ Guild Hall where most free meals are offered.  Shall I meet you there near noon and we shall eat nuncheon together?”

            So it was decided, and the woman from the south finished her meal, placed her used utensils on the tray where such things were left, and the two went out, separating each to her own destination.

            For some time Andred wandered the streets of the Third Circle, admiring the architecture and the flowers that seemed to bloom everywhere, although the plots of land allotted to them were remarkably small.  Many were set in pots and placed upon the small walls that surrounded the door yards; and it seemed almost every window had its box in which growing things rejoiced in the sunlight that bathed the city all through the morning.

            She found the market, and was surprised both at how clean and neat it appeared as well as how cheerful a place it was.  Yes, she heard haggling; but she did not hear the cursing or muttered threats she was accustomed to hearing when she’d visited the marketplace in Peshastin.  Food was protected from flies by cloth netting in sheets and tents; hands were kept clean; trenchers and pots were cleaned before being reused.  Booths were attractively set up, with sturdy shelves and posts for displaying merchandise.  Merchants were neatly dressed.  It was a comfortable, interesting place to visit without all the jostling she was more accustomed to.

            She found her way to the east side of the marketplace and found there a row of three benches.  Men sat on the back bench; women sat on the front bench; couples sat on the middle one.  All sat with a hopeful patience.  Beyond them stood a small building butted up against a large hall.  Over its door were a mop and a hoe crossed over one another, with a pen standing upright before them.

            “The place of employment, then,” she realized aloud.

            The Man who sat nearest to her looked up and agreed, “Yes, that it is.”

            “And you sit here, waiting to see if someone will employ you?”

            “Yes.”

            She nodded her understanding.  For a few moments she stood, undecided, before she finally took a deep breath and entered the building.  When she came out it was to see the Man who’d spoken with her standing, speaking now with a couple of comfortable appearance.  As she approached he apparently made an agreement with them, and he leaned down to scoop up upon his shoulder a pack that had lain unnoticed under the bench.  Wish me luck! he mouthed at her before he followed the couple into the building she’d just quitted.

            As she paused, watching after the three before seating herself on the front bench, the woman who sat closest confided, “They will have gone in to record the employment so that the registrars do not waste time seeking for him should suitable employers ask when he already has work.  If the work is for but a short time they will know when to bring out his records again, or if he and those who employ him agree it is not a good relationship on either side.  If he remains employed for three years, he will have to register again, for his experience and skills most likely will have changed.”

            “Sensible,” Andred responded, and seated herself.

 *******

            Four possible employers approached as she sat there.  One couple asked her if she had experience in working with children.  “I had two sons,” she answered.

            “No daughters?” asked the woman.

            “No, I had no daughters.”

            “What happened to your sons?” asked the Man.

            “Illness took them two years back,” she explained.

            He gave a stiff nod, and the two of them went down the front bench to question other women who sat there.  Apparently they felt that one who had lost her own children would not be suitable to work with theirs.  The others apparently were interested in employing either men or couples, for none spoke to her or the other women seated upon the front bench.

            *******

            She saw activity at the hall next to the building of employment.  A Man arrived and unlocked the door, then the door to what was obviously a wood store.  An older boy arrived next and began carrying tinder and wood into the hall.  Soon smoke arose from one of the chimneys, and in time from a second, larger one that most likely heated the hall itself.

            Several food merchants approached the building with what were obviously orders they were fulfilling.  The first Man examined the offerings, dismissed a couple and ordered more from others, and directed what he had accepted into the building.  Others, both women and men, were now arriving, and the hall was filled with echoing laughs and cheerful banter as they went about their business within. 

            As the merchants and their servants were leaving a number of people arrived, all apparently led by quite a tall Man carrying a large barrel upon his shoulders.  A young Guardsman caught up with the tall Man and appeared to be remonstrating with him.  “But it is not seemly that—” stated the young guard.

            The tall Man interrupted him.  “What is not seemly is that all think I should be above manual labor.  If I am not allowed to carry this barrel I shall leave Minas Anor and return to Eriador.  I am certain Barliman Butterbur or the Mayor, Master, and Thain will see to it that I am not only allowed but encouraged to do an honest day’s work at least from time to time!  I certainly worked in the fields and villages of my own people when younger, as well as those of my adar when I was a child.  Now, Bergil, leave me be and find your own barrel or keg to carry!”

            Several of the others with him laughed at this speech, and the whole group, each of whom bore some burden or another, entered the hall and joined those already within.  The young Guardsman shook his head, although he was smiling ruefully, and turned when approached by a baker’s boy who carried a stack of trays of bread rolls upon his head.

            “For the King’s Meal,” the boy said.  He surrendered them to the young soldier, who took them into the hall where he was greeted with cries of appreciation.

            “There you are!”

            Andred turned to find the young woman with the horsy face approaching her.  “And here you are to join me,” she returned.

            “Yes!  Have you been approached by anyone?”

            She shrugged.  “By one couple who wished care for their children.  But they did not wish the services of one who had raised only sons, it appears.”  She could not tell this woman she’d known for but a day that the real reason they’d refused her services was because she’d lost her sons to disease.  She found she did not want the woman’s pity.

            But Norien was nodding.  “There are many who are insistent that one who cares for their precious child must be experienced at raising one like to their own, especially if the child is a girl.  No one who has raised sons would ever appreciate how special their girl-child is!  My cousin Balrieth, who lives in the Second Circle, is forever treating her daughter as if she were the Princess Melian herself.  Not, of course, that our King and Queen do so with their own child.  They are very practical people, or so I am told, and there is nothing spoiled in their daughter.  But little Mariel puts on airs sufficient to make one ill.”

            They shared a laugh for a moment.  “Are you ready to share the King’s Meal?” asked the horse-faced woman.

            “Are they ready to serve us?” Andred wondered.

            Norien looked at the door uncertainly.  “I do not see the outside torch lit.  That is the usual sign that they are ready for people to enter the hall.”  After a moment she returned her gaze to the older woman.  “How long have people been within?”

            “Perhaps three quarters of a mark, I’d guess.  What kind of meal is it likely to be?”

            “I do not know.  I have been within the City but six days, after all, and never before that had reason to visit this hall for meals.  But I am told that the fare is excellent and that our Lord and Lady refuse to stint in their charity.  It is said that oft they will themselves come to serve the meal, although I do not know that I believe such a tale.  Can you imagine—the Lady Arwen ladling food upon one’s trencher?”

            The two agreed that this sounded most unlikely, and together they moved a few steps away from the benches, now watching those passing through the marketplace.  The older woman was growing hungry now, and the scents of roasting meat wafting out of the hall had her stomach rumbling in anticipation.  Someone carrying a great basket of apples approached and entered the hall, and another came with several stacked trays, each covered with a fair cloth to keep the contents clean.  Soon these two came out again together, their burdens left behind them, smiling and each nibbling upon some kind of sweetmeat neither of the watchers recognized.  Then servitors in the grey livery of the Citadel appeared with a cart covered with more trays, which they quickly carried within.  Someone inside began a song that others took up, and soon it was reverberating through the hall.  It was apparently a question and answer song, with the men asking the question and the women responding to it.  One male voice asked the final question, a remarkable baritone, clear and teasing; one woman answered, her voice glorious and exotic in its tone. 

            The younger woman went still, listening, her eyes alight.  “That’s an Elf singing,” she almost whispered.  “I have heard Prince Legolas singing as he rides across the Pelennor on the way to the White City.  Only an Elf can sing so clear!”

            “You have heard an Elf singing?” asked Andred.

            “Did I not say so?  Prince Legolas is one of the King’s special Companions, and ’tis said that he is the son of the Elven-king of the Great Woodland Realm east of Anduin, up within Rhovanion.  He was one of the Nine Walkers, one of those who came south with the King, the Ringbearer, and our Lord Boromir as he returned from his wanderings through the wilderlands of Eriador.  Only Boromir fell at Amon Hen, and came not home again to his father’s side.

            “Often Prince Legolas rides across the Pelennor when he comes from his new settlement within Ithilien to visit his friend, our King, here in Minas Anor, and he usually sings as he rides.  So, yes, I have heard him and sometimes his Elven companions also singing as they have ridden close by our home, and it is wondrous to hear.”

            Not long afterward one of the grey-clad servants from the Citadel came out with a brand and lit the torch that stood outside the door to the hall.  By this time a small crowd was clustering near to the benches where those seeking employment sat, and now the gathering moved toward the doorway, following the servant back inside.  The two women joined those entering the hall.  Many were single Men or women, while others were obviously aged or otherwise infirm.  A blind boy followed a younger girl, his hand upon her shoulder.  A ragged woman led in two equally ragged children.  One modestly dressed Man, apparently a farmer from the Pelennor, had his arm about the shoulders of an elderly woman, seeing to it she made it safely to a place at one of the near tables, leaving her seated there and going up to join the line of those queuing up to have finely crafted wooden trenchers filled with food.

            A youth in grey livery approached the seated woman with a basin and pitcher, a fine, white linen towel over his arm.  She looked up amazed, as if such courtesies as the chance to wash her hands before eating had not been offered her for quite a long time.  Her smile as the youth dried her hands gently afterward was tremulous and heartfelt, and the two watching women found themselves sharing a smile at her expression of pleasure.

            More couples approached the table with one going off to fetch food for both of them, and each seated individual was offered the chance to wash hands.  As the line moved closer to those serving the meal they found basins were set to one side, each with a person beside it holding a pitcher to pour over one’s hands and with clean towels waiting for use.

            Someone with a viol entered after those intending to dine were mostly within the hall and was seated at the back of the hall.  After tuning his instrument, the fiddler brought out his bow and began to play.  Andred shook her head at the wonder of it all, for never had she thought to hear such fair music while she ate a noon meal offered as charity!

            As she reached the servers she dropped her gaze respectfully.

            “Would you like some fresh greens?” asked a Man’s voice.

            She glanced up briefly to find a handsome face looking at her with a kindly expression.  “Yes, if it please you,” she answered in low tones.  With wooden tongs he placed the greens to one side of her trencher. 

            “Would you prefer fish or poultry, good woman?” asked a woman. 

            Andred was startled—it was the voice of the woman who’d sung last, the one Norien had said must be an Elf!  Again she looked up to find her gaze caught by the most remarkable eyes she had ever seen, those of a woman so fair as to defy description, her skin clear and delicately colored, her cheekbones high and pink, her lips full and a slightly darker shade than her cheeks, her brows gently arched, her hair dark as ebony with bluish highlights, and her eyes grey and wise, as if they had seen far more than had other women, and filled, it seemed, with stars! 

            They looked into her, those eyes, looked into her and saw her hurt and would ease it if they could.

            “Fish or poultry?” the Elf woman asked again, her voice reassuring.

            “The fish, please.”  Although how she’d been able to speak Andred could not say.

            “Rice or potatoes?” asked the Man who stood beyond the Elf woman.  Woman?  Lady, rather!  And for all that his hands were those of a warrior, or so she judged him, the Man was definitely a Lord! 

            “Potatoes,” she managed to respond.

            He smiled as he served her, then paused for her to indicate whether she might wish more. She gave a slight nod, and he ladled more onto her trencher.  When he stood upright she realized he must have been the one to carry the keg.  Why, he was quite the tallest Man she’d ever seen!  She wanted to say something, but could not find it within her to speak aloud.  As for Norien’s face—she was obviously as stunned as was Andred, and all she could do was to indicate with a nod of her head that she would prefer the rice.

            Somehow the two women found their way to a table, their trenchers full, and sat down facing away from those serving the meal.  “The Lord Prince Faramir—he gave us our greens!” whispered Norien.  “And the Queen and the King themselves offered us our meat and rice!”  She swallowed visibly.  “Who would imagine?” 

            Both Norien and Andred glanced furtively over their shoulders, and the royalty of those who had served them their meal was obvious.  The woman who ladled fresh beans had long, golden hair caught back in a single braid that hung far down her back.  “And that is the Lady Éowyn, our beloved Steward’s wife!  Why, her brother is King of Rohan!  And that one,” indicating the person who’d laid bread rolls upon their trenchers, “is Prince Imrahil’s son Erchirion!”

            Oranges were offered them by a very young girl as lovely as the Queen herself, although her hair was a dark golden color rather than the ebon color of the Lady Arwen, who had paused to trade words with a wizened Man who was clearly familiar with her, while the King leaned forward to capture the jest the old Man was sharing with them.  Both King and Queen roared with laughter, and without asking the King heaped the Man’s trencher with potatoes and spooned a sauce over them before waving him onwards.  The old fellow was clearly pleased with the success of his joke as he finally turned to find a place to sit down and eat from his well-filled trencher.  And when the little girl came to offer him an orange he spoke with her, too, and she smiled and kissed his cheek before going on to serve others.

            “Is that the Princess Melian?” Andred asked in a low voice.

            Norien merely nodded.

            “And she kissed his cheek?”

            “I told you that it is said she is not given to airs,” Norien answered her.

 *******

            The food must have been good, but it was not until the young Guardsman came by to offer each of them a sweet bun after they’d finished their meal that she seemed to taste anything at all.  “Enjoy the seedcake,” he said.  “It was sent by the folk of the King’s Head in the Second Circle.  Pippin himself gave them the recipe, and there are no better cooks or bakers anywhere within Middle Earth than the Hobbits of the Shire!”

            “Pippin?”  Andred had no idea what the young Guardsman was speaking of. 

            “Pippin Took—or Peregrin Took, the Ringbearer’s younger cousin who came here to Minas Anor with Mithrandir before the Enemy came to besiege the White City.”  Seeing their blank looks he added, “The Ernil i Pheriannath?”

            Norien’s expression cleared immediately, changing to amazement.  “You know the Prince of the Halflings?” she demanded.

            “Oh, yes.  I was but a boy then, and rather too big for my shoes when first he came here, I fear.  After Pippin was sworn to Lord Denethor’s service and made a Guard of the Citadel, my father was detailed to show him about and teach him the lesser passwords.  When my father must return to his duties, he sent Pippin down to me, and together we went out to see the levies from the southern provinces arrive to our defense.  I fear I took him for another boy at first, and I wanted to fight with him, but he settled me well without allowing either of us to lay hands on the other.  Oh, such a big-head I was then!”  And with a rueful smile and a shake of his head, he gave a brief bow and took himself off to offer others seedcakes from the basket he carried.

            Andred gave her companion a curious look.  “Halflings?”

            “Oh, yes.  Did you not know that the Ringbearer was a Halfling?  Three who accompanied him were his kinsmen, I believe.”

            A Man who sat further down the table than they did shook his head.  “No, two were the Cormacolindo’s kindred, and the other was his esquire.  It was his esquire who accompanied him through the Black Land to Orodruin to the Ring’s destruction.  The Ernil i Pheriannath came here with Mithrandir, while the other rode with the Lady Éowyn amongst the Riders of Rohan when they arrived to break the siege.  Small the Pheriannath might be, but their courage cannot be matched by any Man.  Were it not for the four of them, our beloved Prince Faramir might well have perished of his wounds and illness, the Lord of the Nazgûl might not have been slain by the Lady Éowyn, and the Enemy’s greatest weapon would be upon his hand yet again and we under his thumb.  Praise them all with great praise!”

            Several others who sat nearby took up the phrase.  “Praise them with great praise!” fell from several lips.

            “But what does a Pherian look like?” Andred asked Norien.

            Again the Man spoke up.  “Go up to the Seventh Circle.  The King has caused a memorial to the four Pheriannath to be raised near the White Tree.  There you can see precisely how they look.”

            It was at that point that a voice spoke from the serving line.  “Welcome!”

            All swiveled to see the tall Man Norien had identified as the King emerging from behind the bar from which they’d been served. 

            “I greet you this day,” he said, “and rejoice that none of you shall go from this place with an empty belly.  I did not ask this of you before you sat down to eat, but now ask that all rise for the Standing Silence.”

            The Man who had explained about the four Halflings struggled to stand upright with the aid of a crutch, and Andred realized he had lost one leg just above the knee.  All turned to the western wall, on which a golden sunburst was set, and stood in strict quiet.  At last the King gave a profound bow and turned again to his guests.  “I hope that many of you can return for the meal to be offered this evening.  We ask that as you enter you wash your hands and seat yourselves.  It shall be our pleasure to serve you this evening as if you were guests in the Merethrond.  If any should wish now to have second servings or to carry meals to those who cannot come so far, please come forward and be welcome.  For the rest of you, we rejoice that you have found your way to this place, and hope that in times to come when things are better for you that you will find ways to share your newfound bounty with others.”

            There was a murmur of thanks throughout the hall, and after shared looks Andred and Norien headed out of the hall in the company of most of those who’d taken part in the meal they’d enjoyed.  The girl who’d offered them oranges stood by the door holding out a basket, encouraging those leaving to each take a packet of sweets held within.  Andred was still holding the seed cake given her by the young Guardsman, and at last took a bite of it, her eyes opening wide at the taste of it.  “Oh, but how good it is!” she admitted to Norien.

            “Of course!” the girl—Princess Melian—responded.  “That’s from Bilbo’s recipe for seedcakes.  Pippin gave the recipe to the people at the King’s Head.  Hobbit recipes are always good when they are prepared properly.”  She held out her basket to them, and each took one of the packets it held.

            “Thank you,” Andred said to her.

            The girl smiled, and it was such a beautiful smile.  “You are most welcome.  May your days grow better for you.”

            With this blessing ringing in her ears, Andred and Norien left, and with unspoken accord headed up through the Third Circle, up to the Fourth and beyond.

 

Written for the LOTR Community's "Spring Fever" challenge for March.  For all of those who had birthdays in March.

Herbs:  Valerian

 

A Quiet Talk

            Together the woman from near Peshastin and her new friend from the Pelennor walked up through the White City, being courteously bowed through each of the gates by respectful Guardsman.  The market in the Fourth Circle, which displayed wares by many of the greatest craftsmen within and without Minas Anor, amazed Andred with the quality and variety of wares available.  The houses were larger in the Fourth Circle, and the storefronts more ornate.  It was clearly a more desirable neighborhood than the lower three levels of the city.

            They paused near the center of the circle to drink at a well-placed public fountain specially designed for the purpose, and then continued upward.  As the two women entered the Sixth Circle, Norien indicated, “There is the entrance to the Houses of Healing, and over there the way to the Silent Street.  Most of the buildings on this level are either guesthouses for visitors to the Citadel, serve as townhouses for nobles from throughout the realm, house embassies from other lands, or are dwellings for those who serve within the Citadel and the Houses of Healing.  At the far end are the barracks and training grounds for the Guards of the Citadel and those city Guardsmen who serve in the upper levels of the city.”

            Andred, who was feeling rather winded by this time with the entire climb they’d made, merely nodded, grateful they were almost at the top.

            “I’ve not been so far up as this since I was but a girl,” Norien admitted as they approached the ramp to the top level of Minas Anor.  “But then, much of my life we were under threat from Mordor, and one could not easily move through the Fifth Circle and higher without knowing the passwords to go past each gate.”

            Andred found that a sobering thought.  She merely nodded as Norien indicated the entrance to the great archive complex that was dug into the mountain itself.  She was glad they weren’t going there; the thought of standing with the weight of the Citadel itself and all the history of the realm over her made her shudder.

            The final climb up the ramp leading to the Seventh Circle was the steepest so far, and they both had to pause near the top to breathe before they could go on.

            “And the King and Queen must come this way frequently?” Andred gasped.

            “Yes.  I am told they pay visits to the Houses of Healing at least once a day, and often come down into the lower city for one reason or another,” Norien assured her.  “But not even I realized they actually served the King’s Meals when they can.”

            They went on and breasted the top of the ramp, made the last few steps up to the level of the Square of Gathering, and stopped in sheer awe at their first sight of the Citadel and the Tower of Ecthelion.

            “By the stars!” breathed Andred.

            “It is more beautiful than I remember!” said Norien at almost the same time.

            Together they went forward, drawn to the green garden surrounding what must be the White Tree.

            “My husband brought me a painting of this, but always I had thought it—more than what is really here,” Andred murmured.  “But the great dead Tree isn’t there as it was drawn.”

            “No, the old, dead tree was uprooted by the King’s order and is laid in the Silent Street now, with this new Tree in its place.  ’Tis said it was found, but a seedling, out upon the mountainside by our King and Mithrandir.  Is it not beautiful?”

            White buds grew upon it in great circles, and the odor of its leaves was strong and sweet upon the air as they came closer and the breeze brought its scent to them.  But closer still to them was a monument, a cluster of four sculptures, each not quite as tall as either Andred or Norien, all surrounded by white lilies, yellow starflowers, and gently pursed white blooms with the faintest tinge of pastel green to them.  The circle was surrounded by a white marble curbing of elaborate design, and behind all were great bushes of rosemary and white blossoms of kingsfoil.  A delicately carved marble bench sat at the best point for viewing the monument, and the two women gratefully sank to sit upon it.  Before the foremost figure knelt a woman who was paused with her hand upon a wreath of green that had been set upright against the forward leg of the statue.  It appeared to be a young Man, not much more than a boy, or was he?  He stood defiantly, holding out his hand, the palm open, with something lying upon it.  His hair was carelessly combed curls, one tossed by a wind they could not feel, and the intensity of his gaze was hard to withstand.  He wore short trousers with one knee ripped out, a bloused shirt with an overgarment similar to a short surcoat over it, and with a long cloak over all.  Behind and to one side stood another similarly garbed, stouter, his face determined as he stood, a short sword in hand, as if he sought to protect the one in front of him.  Only just further back on the other side was one dressed as a Rider from among the Rohirrim, although no Rohir wore his hair so short and curled upon his head, or was beardless as this one appeared.  He, too, carried a sword, which at the moment was solemnly grounded before him.  At the back, slightly to the left, stood one garbed as a Guard of the Citadel, his sword raised in challenge.  He wore no helm, and he also had short curls upon his head, an expression both solemn and humorous somehow at the same time, but so, so very watchful.

            The kneeling woman rose and turned, and flushed slightly as she caught them watching her.  “Oh, but I am no longer alone,” she said.  “I wanted to bring a wreath to lay here today, to remember how my brother and my beloved returned to the White City, alive only because the Cormacolindo and his esquire made it to the Mountain just in time to see the destruction of the Enemy’s Ring before they could be killed.  I have ever been grateful to the four Pheriannath for what each did for us, but particularly Master Frodo.”  She gave a brief nod, and departed, and Andred and her companion, who’d risen as she’d spoken to them, moved forward to examine the monument more closely.

            “They wear no boots or shoes!” Norien exclaimed.

            “But there is something upon their feet,” Andred noted in return.  “Hair?”

            “And their ears are pointed, you will note,” said a Man from behind them.  They whirled to find the King standing beside the bench, his daughter’s hand in his, two Guardsmen discreetly beyond them.  “Hobbits are not as tall as we are, which is how they gained their descriptive names from those of us who speak Sindarin and the Common Tongue.  They are usually short, stout, and colorfully dressed, are beardless, have hair upon their feet to match that upon their heads, and have leaf-shaped ears somewhat similar to the ears of Elves.  They barely make a noise as they walk, smoke pipeweed when they can, love to drink ale and to eat and to cook, and are reverential to the earth that houses and feeds them.”

            “You speak as one with knowledge of them,” Andred answered, curtseying to him awkwardly.

            “Rise, the both of you,” the tall Man bade them.  “And of course I have knowledge of them.  I saw many Hobbits within Bree during my turns keeping watch upon the  Breelands and the boundaries of the Shire, and some from within the Shire as well.  They are rather insular in nature, but every time one has come forth from his own land he has done great things for the good of the outer world.  And these four I came to know very well indeed, and they are counted among my particular friends.”  He indicated the one at the back.  “Pippin, or Peregrin Took, to give him his full and formal name.  As you can see, he was made a Guard of the Citadel when he swore himself to the Lord Steward Denethor, and he renewed that vow to me when I was made King.  He is known also as the Ernil i Pheriannath, and was the still young heir to the Thain of the Shire when he came, without his parents’ permission, out of the Shire alongside his cousin Frodo.

            “That is Merry.  As Pippin will explain at great length, the two are first cousins whilst both are second cousins once removed to Frodo.  Frodo was as an older brother to Merry, having been fostered by Merry’s parents after the death of his own in an accident involving a boat.  When Merry was still but a small lad Frodo left Brandy Hall to go live with another older cousin, Bilbo Baggins, who was actually both first and second cousin to Frodo, once removed on both sides, as Pippin will also tell you.  Merry swore himself to the service of Théoden King while he was with the King in Rohan during the War, and rode to the Battle of the Pelennor with the King’s niece, Éowyn, the White Lady of Rohan who has married our beloved Steward Faramir.

            “And that is Sam, known here as Frodo’s esquire.  Actually, he was ever Frodo’s great friend and served him for years as his gardener and companion.  No one, not even I, honors Sam as much as Frodo did.  He went every step of the way into and through Mordor alongside Frodo, holding the hope for the two of them when Frodo could no longer find his own.

            “And this is Frodo Baggins, much as we last saw him at Amon Hen when he left alone to go on to Mordor, determined not to take the rest of us with him to our deaths.  But Sam figured out what he was up to, and refused to be left behind.”  He indicated the base of this particular statue.  “You cannot see it for the flowers, but written there is his challenge to all of us:  Or would you destroy It?  I don’t know that I could have done so, for It was made to dominate one such as I am.  I fear It would have destroyed me instead, had I ever agreed to touch the foul thing.  Certainly my adar would not touch It while Frodo lay wounded in his house in Rivendell.”

            “So you met him there in the North?”

            “Yes.  Nine of us left Rivendell together to come south and east on the quest to destroy the Ring:  your Lord Captain Boromir and me for Men; Frodo with Merry, Pippin, and Sam for the Hobbits of the Shire; Legolas for the Elves and Gimli for the Dwarves, and Gandalf, or Mithrandir as those here knew him, as our leader.  Gandalf and I together were the primary guides, as both of us have traveled far and wide across Eriador and Rhovanion, and were best acquainted with all of the ways open to us.”

            “Mithrandir was much changed when we returned from the places of refuge,” noted Norien.

            “That he was, for he returned to us as the White, he who had ever been the Grey Pilgrim since he came here to Middle Earth.”  The King’s smile was rather sad.  “And I miss them so, Frodo and Gandalf, since they left together with Elrond and Lady Galadriel to sail West to Tol Eressëa.  Merry and Pippin and Sam I’ve seen a few times, but until we go again to the northern capital of Annúminas I shan’t see much of Sam, for he and his wife Rosie do keep producing more babies!”

            They all laughed together at that sally.  At last the King went quiet, his eyes examining the two women closely.  “Now, sit here on either side of me, and tell me your stories.  Two such as you rarely come to dine at the King’s meals, after all, and that is unusual enough to garner my interest.  I sense that both of you came from relative ease, and never thought to end up here in Minas Anor nearly friendless.”

            So, they returned to the bench, and Norien was soon telling her tale to the King.

             “So, you have your cousin within the White City to speak for you, then, when you go before the magistrate?  Good enough, then.  You ought to do well in your suit to receive your share of the worth of your farm upon the Pelennor.  I shall perhaps have a word with your sister’s husband, however, of what he may look to see happen should he ever again stray from his wife’s bed.”

            Somehow Andred realized that the Man who’d claimed his wife’s sister had tried to seduce him would most likely rue such a meeting.

            “Now you, Mistress,” he said.  “Your name?”

            She told him, and began her story.

            He was sitting solemn and straight, his daughter held in his lap, when she was done.  “Did you not go before the Lord of Peshastin with your tale, Mistress Andred?”

            “He was not within the city at the time, my Lord, having gone south to Dol Amroth to wait upon Prince Imrahil.  The judgment was made by the Master of our village.  And the money my mother was able to give me was fairly small, certainly not enough to keep me in lodging during the wait for his return.”

            “And there is no such hostel as the Rest House for Gentlewomen there,” he commented.  He thought deeply.  “I shall summon both the Lord of Peshastin and your brother to the Citadel, then.  It will take perhaps a month.  You can hold yourself in readiness then for my summons to a hearing for what you have had done to you.  Could your mother come this far, think you?”

            “She is slow, but if accommodations are made for her she could make the trip, I’d think.”

            “Are you registered for work with the House of Employment?  I think I saw you seated upon the benches beside it.”

            At her assent he nodded thoughtfully.  “Again, hold yourself in readiness.  You said you have experience as a seamstress?”

            “Yes.  I made clothing for children, mostly boys, that my husband took with him with his bolts of fabric when he went out upon his trading missions.”

            Again he nodded.  He set his daughter upon the ground and took her hand.  “I will leave the two of you now, and wish the grace of the Valar upon the both of you.  You will come to the evening meal?  I shall see you then.”

            They curtseyed again and he inclined his head graciously, and again hand-in-hand with his daughter went on to the Citadel, pausing as they passed by it for both to lay their hands briefly against the White Tree’s bark.  For a moment the two women stood, looking between the Citadel, the White Tree of Gondor, and the monument to the four Hobbits, before wordlessly they turned to go down again to the Third Circle.

 *******

            The King’s Meal that evening was an experience Andred was never to forget.  She’d bathed quickly on their return to the Rest House and donned the best dress she’d been able to bring away with her from her former home, carefully brushing her hair and donning a shawl that had been her last Mettarë gift from her mother.  After brushing her worn shoes as best she could she went down to the entrance.  Norien followed her closely, and within moments the two of them were walking eagerly toward the marketplace.

            There were more people clustered near the doorway this time, and when the torch was lit all moved as swiftly yet decorously as was possible into the hall.  All bathed their hands at the basins set for that purpose and seated themselves at the tables and benches, each finding eating utensils awaiting them along with fine napkins and metal goblets already filled with fresh water.  These were not of gold or silver, but were still above what one would expect to be used for such a meal.  A harpist sat on the stool at the back of the hall, playing and singing, and Andred felt her heart fill as he sang a song her husband had favored.  After a time the King asked that all rise for the Standing Silence, which was observed respectfully by all.

            As for the meal itself—how could she describe it afterward?  Never had she been served so formally and courteously—never in her life!  The King himself served as wine steward, while a young woman apparently from Harad offered juice and milk to the guests who might prefer either to wine.  “That’s the wife of one of the emissaries from Harad,” whispered the person sitting on Andred’s other side.

            Liveried servants brought the various courses, and pages brought around finger bowls to allow the diners to cleanse away remaining sauce and juices before they began on the next offering to be placed before them.  There was sturgeon from the Anduin and roast pork; a salad of mixed greens, some of which Andred had never seen before; and fruits and nuts in abundance.  Again there was a choice of rice flavored with saffron or potatoes, with a meat gravy to be poured over either if desired.  A flatbread was served along with a choice of yellow and white cheeses to eat with it.  Vegetable and fruit spears were laid in a communal dish so that diners might help themselves.  And for the final course there were small, sweet cakes over which was poured a thick sauce rich with chocolate, a rare treat that Andred had known but twice previously and that apparently Norien had never sampled before. 

            As those dining left the hall, they were invited to choose for themselves from a variety of plants in small decorative pots.  Remembering how her mother had always grown this in her herb garden, Andred took a valerian plant that already had a crown of small, pink florets upon it while Norien chose a colorful marigold plant. 

            Outside the two women parted.  Norien’s cousin Balrieth was there to greet her, and led her off to her own place in the Second Circle.  Andred, carefully carrying her valerian in its brightly painted pot, found herself drifting over to the wall to look out over the Pelennor and the lower levels of the city, rejoicing in the beauty of the stars reflected from the course of the river and the golden lights emanating from the homes down in the town lands.

            The sounds of the diners leaving the hall had long since quieted.  Only a faint mumble of talk could be discerned there, now that it was left to those cleaning up after the meal, readying it for the morrow’s usage.  She smiled as her tongue found just one more hint upon her lip of the chocolate she’d tasted last.

            “Is it not beautiful—this aspect of the Lady’s stars and the homes below us?”

            She started, but then relaxed, recognizing the King’s voice.  She essayed a curtsey, but his hand on her elbow stopped her.  “Do not bother.  I am not overly concerned regarding proper court etiquette and protocol, particularly on an evening such as this.  It is on such nights that I am reminded I am but a Man after all, and not some great potentate of distant, exotic lands.  It is good to be reminded of this from time to time—it leads me to appreciate just how much I owe to those who have named me their King.”

            She nodded her understanding.  “I do not believe Lord Denethor would have stopped me as you have,” she commented.

            He laughed.  “Indeed not!  He was perhaps far too much on his dignity, Denethor was, even when he was not yet Steward but merely his father’s heir.  Certainly Boromir proved far more approachable than his father ever was.  I cannot imagine Denethor ever enduring the saucy tongue of Peregrin Took as he familiarly shared family lore and jests with Boromir, much less allowing Pippin and Merry to tackle his legs to bear him down to the ground when he managed to disarm one of them.  Perhaps it was because Boromir thought of himself more as a soldier among his men than as the next Lord Steward of Gondor.”

            “You knew our Lord Denethor?”

            His smile was discernible amongst the shadows about them.  “I visited Gondor and Minas Tirith once, long ago, although I did not do so openly.  Yes, I saw Ecthelion and Denethor both.  But I was young then.”

            “You must have been but a child.”

            He shrugged in answer.

            She fumbled her hand into the scrip she wore beneath her skirts, and managed to drag forth her single silver.  “Here,” she said, thrusting it toward him.  “Let me help to provide for the next such meal that you offer to those such as I am.  I have little to spare, but feel that I owe something to others who are in even worse need.”

            He straightened and examined her more closely.  She could see the reflection of the light of stars shifting as his eyes took her in.  “You are nearly destitute yourself, but would offer of what little you have so others also might know the pleasure of chocolate sauce over vanilla cakes?” he asked.  She had the impression that he was both touched and amused by her offer.

            “Well, is it not meet that those who enjoy such gifts should seek to offer them in turn, my Lord?  And I do not wish the people of the city to hate those of us who receive such bounty as ones upon whom needless amounts of their money are wasted.”

            He laughed.  “Think you that the money I spend comes solely from taxes paid by those who dwell within the city?  Ah, no—not that.  The taxes raised within the city are spent almost exclusively for the needs of the city and its populace, as that which comes from the Pelennor goes mostly to the needs of the farmers, orchardists, and others who dwell within the town lands.  After all, neither Arwen nor I is without wealth of our own.  Indeed, my ancestor Ondoher settled certain livings upon his daughter when she married Arvedui, who later became King of Arnor, and the rents from them have been paid for centuries into an account within the White City for the use of her descendants, so I have far more available to me from accrued earnings than have had most of the Ruling Stewards of the realm.  It was similarly done in Arnor in the days of its splendor, and now that the Enemy’s creatures are no longer free to do all they would wish to do toward our people and lands there, it is becoming so again.  Even Frodo and Sam and their heirs have had livings settled upon them to their maintenance, considering the services they offered this nation of which they’d barely heard before they left their homes in the Shire to seek counsel with Lord Elrond in Imladris.”

            “So you pay for these meals out of your own funds?” she asked.

            He shook his head.  “I pledged a certain amount of my own wealth to the purpose of funding meals for those who are without proper support perhaps five years after I became King.  But the greater amount spent to make these meals more than simply adequate comes from another source.”

            Sighing, he continued, “There are too many individuals of authority in this realm who have come to view all that lies under their hands as belonging exclusively to them, to be used and directed almost solely for their own benefit.  I cannot tell you how many small fiefdoms I have found that do not have proper maintenance of their roads, whose houses are squalid and whose water is fouled, but whose lords are dressed far more splendidly than I am, and who think nothing of purchasing a fine war horse they never intend to actually ride in battle, or gold cups intended for the use only of their drinking friends, while their people go without proper draft animals or ordinary cups for the clean water they cannot obtain.

            “So, when I am on progress I hold courts and open audiences in every village, town, or city I visit, and my observers go out to survey each fiefdom and to report back on what they find.  If the courts of the local lord or master are beautifully finished but the lesser streets filthy and the farm lanes impassible, then the local lord or master must pay from his own funds to see the lesser ways properly cleaned, graded, graveled, or otherwise paved to equal the soundness of his own ways, and then he must pay a fine, again from his own funds, to me, which goes into the Benefits Fund here that I administer.  The moneys in this fund are used to keep the public way stations maintained and properly supplied as well as to see to additional amenities for the rest houses we support elsewhere within the realm.  What is left over each month beyond what must remain to keep the fund solvent and ready for the coming month’s projected expenses I use to supplement what is offered in the King’s Meals.  So, for the vanilla cakes covered with chocolate sauce you can thank a particular lord in Dor-en-Ernil who had allowed the local sewers to deteriorate to the point none would willingly enter the town under his keeping.”

            She felt her hand go to her belly in response to that speech.  “You almost make me now wish I had not eaten it,” she said, almost giggling at the images his words raised.

            He again laughed quietly.  “Do not worry,” he advised.  “I made certain that the vanilla and the chocolate were obtained from plantations where all who work the land are more than content and their lords are found to be just toward their people.  And these plantations are far from Dor-en-Ernil.”

            She found herself laughing freely at that statement.

            He grew more solemn.  “I did wish to tell you that perhaps tomorrow or the day after, one will come to you to question you about what your brother has done.  He will question you at some length, and he will most likely ask you the same question more than once in different ways.  Do not be concerned.  This is simply intended to make certain that you are certain of what happened and your brother’s intent.  Your brother will be given the same questions from his point of view when he is summoned to the city.  Merely answer each question honestly, even if you must answer it more than once, and do not take it as finding you untruthful.  Do you understand?”

            “I think so,” she answered, uncertainly.

            “Estel?”

            Andred and the King both swiveled toward the voice who’d called the name.  “Here, Vanimelda,” he answered.

            The Queen appeared, and as she hastily went into a profound curtsey Andred realized that Lady Arwen was pregnant.  “My Lady Queen!” she said.

            “Rise, Mistress,” answered the Queen.  “You and my Lord Husband have been enjoying your talk?”

            “Indeed, my Lady.  I can now appreciate why all here appear to love him—and you!”

            Arwen smiled at her husband, who by his returning smile revealed that he truly adored his wife.  “And it gladdens me that this is so.”  She reached out and stroked his hair.  Noting the potted plant, she smiled.  “And so you chose the valerian.”

            Andred nodded.  “My mother always grew it in her garden, and it was the only thing that eased the times of my bleeding when I was younger, there before my children were born.”

            She was willing to believe that the Lady Arwen could see her as clearly now in the dark as she might do in broad daylight when the Queen asked, “But your children are now gone?”

            “Yes, my Lady.  Two years back, from a terrible fever.  Both my boys died, as did many within our region, both within and outside our village.  Mostly it was children, but there were some others who died who were older as well.”

            King and Queen searched one another’s faces in spite of the gloom.  “There are many fevers within the world that take our youngest and our eldest,” Lady Arwen murmured.  “The Enemy took advantage of many of these, and left them to erupt again and again, even though he is now gone from Middle Earth.”  She pondered for a moment, finally noting, “Then you are from the region about Peshastin.  I remember when the reports came of such sweeps of fever two years past.”

            Her husband added, “Yes, we sent out healers to the area, but many were already gone before they came there.”

            Andred gave a single, slow nod.  “I remember—one came three days after Jerem, my younger son, left us.  His brother had been dead for a week.  But several children they saved.”

            “No matter how many survived, it still pains us for every child that was lost,” Arwen sighed, her voice gentle.

            “Now you had best come,” the King said after a few moments of quiet thought.  “We shall walk you back to the Rest House, and then we will ascend back to the Citadel.  My beloved has need of her rest, as do we all.  When this child is born we shall be more than busy enough.”

            Only as they turned to walk toward the Rest House did Andred note the quiet shadows that were the Guardsmen appointed to care for the safety of their King and Queen coming forward to follow.

 

Written for the LOTR April poetry challenge.  For Linda Hoyland and all who had April birthdays, especially RS9.

Ode: verdant/urgent

 

On Business, Hobbits, and Business with Hobbits

            Norien came down to the dawn meal somewhat after Andred began eating.  “I was able to get one of the last breakfast tarts for you,” Andred said, smiling her welcome and indicating the plate beside her own.

            “Thank you!” Norien answered.  “That was most kind of you.”  In moments she had her own meal before her and a mug of what appeared to be pomegranate juice.  “Did you stay out long last night?” she asked.

            “Just until those who labored in the guild hall were finished.”  Andred paused before adding, “I spoke again with the King.  Did you know that he and his Lady Wife are to have a second child?”

            “No!  Will it be soon, do you think?”

            “I did not ask when it shall be born, but I would guess perhaps in two to three months’ time.  There is no question that they are deeply, deeply in love.”

            “So it is said.  Of what did you talk?”

            “Of how it is that the King’s Meals are funded.  And briefly of how it was my sons died.”

            Norien looked at her with surprise.  “I did not realize that you had lost a child, much less more than one.”

            Andred looked down at her plate.  “It is still painful to speak of it, as my husband’s death came so soon after.  He was so grieved at their loss he could not speak of it.”

            “I see.”

            They ate in silence for a time.  Suddenly the Master of the house entered the room and approached them, his attention on Andred.  “I beg your pardon, Mistress, but there is one sent by the King to speak with you as soon as you are finished with your meal.  When you are ready, but come out into the entry and I shall take you to a private parlor where you may meet with him for as long as is needed.”

            She nodded, and continued her meal, although she ate more slowly now, wondering on what questions this Man might ask of her.

            Norien eyed her thoughtfully.  “You are to meet with someone sent by the King?”

            “Yes—one sent to question me more thoroughly about the situation with my brother.”

            “I see.  We have been told that our King is a most thorough Man.”

            “So I am learning.”

*******

            In the end she spoke with Master Anorgil, the legal clerk personally trusted by the King to further question those likely to appear before him, for more than a mark.  For a time he questioned closely how it was that her brother had taken over her home and position, often asking the same question in slightly different manners.  By the time the questioning was over, Andred was feeling upset, angry even.  “It was as if you were trying to trip me up in my words,” she accused him.

            He shrugged, admitting, “Even so, Mistress Andred.  Had you been lying it is likely you would have changed your answers, or allowed portions of the true story to emerge.  I apologize for such tactics, but it is but one of the ways that we seek to ascertain that our Lord Elessar is not being lied to.  But even when your patience was tested strongly, you continued as you’d begun, which usually indicates the one questioned spoke truly throughout.”

            “Usually,” she repeated, thinking on what he said.  “Do many seek to lie to King Elessar?” she asked.

            He shook his head.  “Not many, for as with our beloved Prince Faramir he reads the hearts of most Men easily.  But there are some who are so distant from truth that they cannot breathe without lying, and as much to themselves as to others.  So it is that our Lord King has others test their stories as well as himself.”

            He smiled.  “I wish you to understand that I have my own interest in your concerns, as they are similar to ones held by my wife, back when I met her.  She had been married before, and after her husband died betimes she lost both her home, which was claimed by the younger brother of her late husband, and then her little daughter, who climbed upon a windowsill and fell out to her death.  She was so bitter when I first knew her; that she could again find happiness and fulfillment she did not dream at the time.  Nor did I imagine that I would find love in Anórien, which I’d forsaken as a young clerk hoping to put the provincial nature of the place behind me when I turned my face to the White City.  Perhaps Lyrien did not find her way back to being mistress of the home she’d come to as a young bride, but she says she is even happier as my wife and as the mother to my children.  I hope that we are able to bring you to the estate where you, too, might find greatest happiness.”

            With that he left her, and she watched after him for some time before finally closing the door to the small parlor behind her, setting out to see what else the day might bring.

 *******

            Again she sat upon the benches on the eastern side of the marketplace, hoping that this day she might be offered employment.  A young couple approached the benches and examined the four women sitting on the front one.  At last they approached an older woman who sat at the other end from Andred, and after a few moments’ conversation they left together. 

            The younger woman who sat to Andred’s left gave a sigh.  “Obviously they sought experience rather than more youthful vigor,” she said.

            “Or they wished someone capable of knitting,” Andred suggested, indicating the portion of a garment that hung out of the bag the older woman was carrying.

            Her companion nodded, and they returned to their silent, patient waiting.

            In time Andred brought out the book of poetry she’d carried with her from the Rest House, and read a poem she’d found there.  Considering the subject of this ode, she realized that the whole book of poems had been put together since the coronation of their Lord King.

 

On the Need for the King

 

Orcs marched upon the Pelennor

trailing death and terror in their wake.

They slew both man and beast, for

their mission was the realm to take.

Upon the city rained heads and fire;

torn apart were fields and land.

The town lands no more were verdant,

for after axe and sword and fire,

the need for the true King’s healing hand

came ever to be more urgent.

The golden Riders broke the siege;

their Lady the Nazgûl Captain slew.

Upon the Corsairs came our new Liege.

with our own men the ships to crew!

            She wondered who’d written these poems, for no name was given as to who might have been either author or scribe.  Whoever copied them had a fair hand, though—the writing was clear and lovely for the most part, if sometimes perhaps a bit tense.  That poem about something called Mewlips was disturbing, and in copying it the scribe wrote far more stiffly than in most others of the verses.  But the ones focused on someone called Tom Bombadil were smoothly copied, and she suspected that they had given the scribe a good deal of amusement.  As for the one regarding the Stone Troll, she laughed aloud as she read it again.

            “You the one who sews children’s garments?”   The unexpected question broke her concentration from the book, and she looked up, rather bemused, to find herself gazing into the intent face of a rather plain woman perhaps her own age.

            “Yes,” she answered, closing the small tome and stuffing it again into the bag she’d purchased that morning within the marketplace.  Although it had been quite a bargain, still she’d spent more than she could afford for it.  But it had just held the small book, and protected it from the elements….

            “I’m needing a seamstress who is skilled at making ready-made clothing,” the woman said.  “Are you willing to let me give you a try?”

            “Give me a try?  How do you intend to do that?” Andred asked.

            The other woman gestured toward the gate to the lower city with a bandaged right hand.  “My shop is down in the Second Circle.  I have a number of garments all cut out, but I managed to cut myself two days since on a broken bottle and I cannot sew them together.  I need someone to help me, as they must be ready in six days.  If you are willing to put one together to show me how good you are, if it pleases me I’ll take you on full time for at least two weeks, for that’s how long they have said I mustn’t do any work myself.  And, if the shirts go over as well as I think they will, I’d be willing to make it longer, for I suspect it will mean more business than I could handle alone, don’t you see?”

            Andred slung the bag’s handle over her shoulder as she rose.  They went into the House of Employment to let it be known that Andred would be accompanying the other woman down to the Second Circle for perhaps an hour or two to test her abilities, and then they were off.

            “The garments are for the celebrations intended to honor the arrival of the Pheriannath who arrive next week to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the fall of Mordor alongside the King,” the woman confided as they walked down past the marketplace toward the gate to the Second Circle.  “A number of children are to play at being Pheriannath, and so they must be garbed in the manner of Hobbits.  There’s a story that the Ringbearer, when he was younger, was chased by a farmer’s dogs when he was stealing mushrooms from the farmer’s fields, and the children intend to act it out.  The older brother of one of the girls to take part in the play says that the Ringbearer himself told him the tale during their stay within the city, and I suppose that may indeed be true, for it is said he often amused the children of the upper city with his stories.”

            Andred tried to imagine the one pictured in the memorial stealing mushrooms, and smiled at the idea.  “So these are to look like the clothing worn by the Ringbearer and his companions?”

            The woman nodded as they passed through the gate into the next lower level.  “Yes.  I made a few garments for the Hobbits during their stay here, for they had little that was fit to wear by the time they reached Gondor.  And it was said that when they were found near the ruins of the Mountain by Mithrandir and the Great Eagles that the Ringbearer had almost nothing left at all, while what his esquire wore was little more than rags.  All four needed new garments in keeping with their new stations.

            “Many mothers seek to clothe their smallest children as they imagine the Pheriannath dress when they are in their own land.  So, if those who have engaged me to provide the clothing for those who take part in the play are pleased with what we provide, it is likely many others will come to see their little ones similarly clothed.  It could provide both of us with a comfortable living for some time.”

*******

            It was late when Andred returned to the rest house to find Norien lingering near the door.  “I was worried when you were not there by the House of Employment and did not come for the noon meal at the guild hall,” the younger woman said.  “Did you find employment, then?”

            “Yes!” answered Andred, holding up a new leather purse that jingled as she shook it.  “Perhaps it is not for long, but for the next two weeks at least I have work to do that is interesting, and for such an employer!  Let me tell you of it!  And your hearing before the magistrate was today, was it not?  Tell me what happened!”

*******

            The days flew until the arrival of the Pheriannath and their families, and Andred was relieved to see that the clothing she had sewn together indeed resembled what was worn by the Hobbits themselves.  On the third day after their arrival Andred, her employer Gilriel, and Norien together went up early to the Seventh Circle to see the play performed by the children for the King and Queen and their guests.  All laughed and gasped in the right places, and the children involved were all very pleased with themselves.  The costumes were much admired, and many who saw the children dressed as Hobbits of the Shire were pleased to meet the two women who’d made the garments, promising as foreseen to come down and have their own youngest children similarly garbed.

            The young Guardsman they’d met at the King’s Meals approached Andred and her companions before they left.  “The King asks whether you still remain at the Rest House?” he asked.

            “I have taken rooms in a house in the Second Circle, near to where I now work,” she explained, and gave him the directions.

            “Thank you.  You will be advised when your brother and the Lord of Peshastin arrive within Minas Anor, which may well be next week,” he told her.

            “So soon?”  Andred was surprised.

            “There is a ship that travels regularly between Peshastin and the Harlond, and it will carry those the King has summoned on its next trip up the Anduin.  You will not have long now to wait for the King’s judgment.”

            On the way back down through the city, Andred explained briefly to Gilriel how it was she had come from Lebennin near Peshastin to Minas Anor after her brother threw her from the home in which she’d lived all her life up until her husband died.  Gilriel was aghast that such a thing had happened, and promised her that she would come to the hearing to offer Andred such support as she might need.

            “Thank you so!” Andred told her.  “Never did I think to find such friends as I’ve made since leaving my home.”  She reached out on each side to hug both Norien and Gilriel to her as they walked together back down to the Third Circle where Norien would leave them.

*******

            There was much excitement within Minas Anor with Captain Peregrin and Sir Meriadoc and their families within the city.  They appeared to be exceedingly curious individuals, and it seemed that each day one or another of the Hobbits would be exploring somewhere about the Second and Third Circles.

            Sir Peregrin brought his wife and infant son into Gilriel’s shop to introduce them one day, and on the next another pair of Hobbits came in to see about having a jacket replaced.  “He would catch it on a stout branch as we came south,” the Hobbitess sighed as she displayed the ruined garment to Andred.  “Pippin indicated that you were accustomed to making clothing in accordance with our fashions, and we saw how well you did for the children at the play after we arrived.  We found some fabric that would be suitable in the market in the Fourth Circle, and if you could see it made into a proper jacket for him we would be so grateful!”

            “Pippin?” Andred asked.  “That is Captain Peregrin, is it not?”

            “Yes—Pippin’s my younger brother—I can hardly refer to him as my little brother, can I, considering he and Merry somehow grew taller than any Hobbit in living history?  Oh, and I am Pearl Took, and this is my husband Isumbard, whom I rarely allow to speak for himself.”

            Her husband rolled his eyes with a long-suffering air, and Pearl Took’s eyes danced with mischief.  The fabric was indeed suitable, and between them Andred and Gilriel soon had the measurements they needed done, with the torn garment left to be taken apart to use as a pattern.

             “Look at the beautiful, delicate embroidery used on the collar and the sleeves!” Gilriel murmured, running her finger gently along the decorative stitches.  “It’s all so finely and evenly done!  I’ve never seen such small, regular, and absolutely elegant work in my life!”

            “As the Hobbits are small as a people, perhaps that’s not to be wondered at,” Andred said, admiring the fineness of the thread that made up the fabric itself.  How her husband would have loved handling bolts of such stuff!  “I wish I could meet whoever spun the wool for it.”

            The bell over the door tinkled as someone new entered the shop, and Andred went out to see to what might be a new customer.  She paused.  “Norien?  But what is it?  I’ve never seen you so angry!”

            “Angry?”  The younger woman almost spat out the word.  “And why should I not be angry?  You will remember that the magistrate ruled that I should indeed receive a fair share of the value of the farm, and that he gave order that Tiressë and her husband Gunter were to bring him the record books for the farm so that he might determine what that worth might be.  But they did not bring the proper record, but a new one done not in my hand, much less in Tiressë’s, but in his, one that recorded far less business than we actually have done for the last few years.  I did the majority of the entries, and Tiressë did the rest in the proper record book.  It would appear that he does not wish for me to receive my due from our family’s farm and work!”

            “So he has forged a new record book in place of what you and your sister actually kept while you were still there?”

            “Yes!”

            “And did you tell this to the magistrate?”

            “Yes.  After all, until the marriage was made it was not his place to keep any records for the farm.  And as I have always run the farm alongside my sister and was the elder, I have always made the majority of the entries, with her making entries mostly since the death of our father.”

            “So,” Andred asked thoughtfully, “this means what?”

            Norien shook her head sadly.  “There is to be another hearing, and many of our neighbors and our Cousin Balrieth most likely will be called as witnesses as well.  And here I had hoped that this hearing might lead to reconciliation with Tiressë!  What a  thing to do, to seek to cheat me of my birthright as well as to try to label me a wanton and see me thrown out of my own home!”

            It was indeed a distressing development, and Andred felt truly concerned for her friend’s future with such a one as her sister’s husband working so against her.

                But it was when Andred returned to her lodgings that she found her greatest surprise, for her mother was awaiting her there.

          “Nana?  But when did you arrive?”

          Lanriel looked over her shoulder from where she’d been watching the world pass by outside the windows of Andred’s sitting room, within which sat her valerian plant.  “Oh, but you are home at last!  I arrived here but two hours past.  They had me wait for a time to make certain that your brother was off the boat and far up into the city before they brought me here.  He did not know that both of us were on our way here at the same time.  I do not think he will be well pleased to see me.”

          “They did not tell him?  But why?”

          “Because they know that I intend to speak against him, and they did not wish for him to seek to force me to say what he wished to have said.”

          “You would speak out against Indrahil?”

          Her mother gave her a fierce glare.  “There was good reason your father left the house and business to you and to Dírhael, Andred.  First, your brother never had the love of cloth and clothing that you two did, and he is no kind of businessman.  He believes that all profits from the sale of the cloth are his directly to spend as he pleases.  He does not appreciate that taxes must be paid, or that most of the profits need to go back into purchasing new merchandise.  Nor has he ever learned how to barter properly, trading cloth that is readily available in Lebennin for cloth rare in Gondor but common in Harad or Rhûn.  He has much to learn, but no more willingness now to do so than when he was yet a stripling.  We are now in danger of losing the house and the warehouses your father acquired with such care because he cannot pay the taxes.”

          Andred sat back heavily upon the small settle that sat near the door.  “He is that far behind?  But I have been gone for only—what?  Three months?”

          “It is proving quite long enough for Indrahil to destroy what your father and Dírhael and you worked so hard to establish.  I have tried to advise him, but he dismisses all I say with, What do you know—you are but a woman!

          Andred merely nodded at that, sighing as she thought of how her father had begun his cloth trade, how he’d taught her to appreciate fine warp and weft in fabric, and how he’d shown her how to gauge the strength of threads and the proper stitching needed to make clothing durable and yet drape most flatteringly.  She had done some loom work, but had learned that she had no patience for it.  Still, at least she could recognize weaving that was well done, and could see in her mind’s eye what kind of fabric would be best for various garments.  Indrahil had no eye for the worth of any particular fabric, preferring pretty colors to making certain that the cloth was even sound.

          There had been the time when their father had allowed Indrahil to choose a bolt of fabric he felt would sell well, and he’d chosen one woven with multiple colors shot with flashes of gold and silver.  Few women chose it when it was taken to the market, and when in frustration he had asked one woman why, she had told him that the cloth was too thin, made with cheap threads, and that it would soon tear along the metallic threads.  Not even the women who danced in the taverns down near the docks would take it, telling him they had already learned such fabrics wore out too soon.  One girl who’d taken it anyway came back to him two weeks later, complaining that the costume she’d made from it barely lasted a week, considering the movements she made when she danced.  Indrahil had felt humiliated, certain that their father ought to have warned him of the cloth’s unsuitability and forgetting that he’d been warned multiple times of just that possibility when gauging the suitability of various materials.

          “Pretty but weak fabrics and pretty but foolish girls were always his weaknesses,” she commented, to which her mother replied,

          “And there you have it, daughter.”

*******

          They sat up for a time and talked, and Andred’s landlady brought them a light but filling supper.  Lanriel accompanied her daughter to Gilriel’s shop the next morning to see what work Andred now did, and admired the jacket being constructed for Isumbard Took of the Shire.  Picking up the Shire-styled shirts intended for small children, she shook her head in delight.  “How interesting!” she said.  “And this is how the Pheriannath dress in their own land?”

          “As several of them are currently within the city, you will find that they do indeed wear such clothing,” Andred assured her.  “And since the Ringbearer himself is a Pherian, the Hobbits of the Shire are well regarded here in the White City.”

          “Such small, delicate and beautiful stitches,” she commented as she lifted the remains of the torn jacket and examined the embroidered details on the sleeves.  “Whoever made this was an excellent needlewoman.”

          Gilriel nodded her agreement.  “I would love to have such a one employed here.  What an asset she would be to my business.”

          The bell in the outer shop tinkled, and Gilriel set aside the sleeve on which she was working to go out to see to the potential customer.  A comfortable woman had come in holding the hand of a very small boy.  “I should like to have a shirt made for my daughter’s son,” she said.  “One such as the children in the play before the King and the visiting Pheriannath wore.  With that odd surcoat over it.  Perhaps the color of lavender flowers?”

          “Lavender?” asked the little boy.

          Gilriel pulled away the heavy cloth that curtained off her fabric store.  She brought out a bolt of cloth of the desired color to show the child.  “Like this, young master,” she explained.

          He made a face.  “No!” he decided.  “Girls’ color!”

          Andred had to restrain a laugh.  “I can see he already has his own ideas of proper colors for young boys,” she said quietly, smiling at the child’s grandmother.  She leaned toward the boy.  “What color do you like, then?” she asked.

          Pleased to be asked his opinion, he looked searchingly over the fabrics he could see.  Finally he pointed at a soft green.  “That one,” he said, his voice certain.  “And that one,” he added, indicating a figured cloth in green and wine.

          “That could do for the waistcoat,” Gilriel said.  “And it would suit the pale green nicely.”

          “Waistcoat?” asked the older woman.

          “It is what the Hobbits call their short, sleeveless surcoats that they wear over their shirts and under their jackets.  And they call the straps that hold up their trousers braces.”

          So it was that Gilriel demonstrated the combination of garments that the Shirelings wore as their native costume, to the edification of Andred and her mother as well as for their new customer.  Delighted, the woman ordered the entire ensemble, and Andred was busy taking measurements and accepting orders for appropriate fabrics for the added trousers and jacket as well as the braces.  It was with pleasure that they finally saw the lady carry her now dozing little grandson out of the shop, and they considered how best to lay out the materials for cutting.

*******

          At last Andred and her mother left, a bit late, to find their nuncheon.  “I don’t know if you will want to come home now,” Lanriel sighed, “with these new friends and the excitement of meeting other races such as the Pheriannath you know here in the capital.”

          “It is exciting here,” Andred admitted, “but it is not home, you know.  I admit it will be quite the decision I would need to make should it become possible for me to return to Lebennin.”

          They paused to watch a pair of Dwarves walk by them, headed for the great gates, and looked up at the clear singing from above of an Elf working near the wall to the next level up within the city.  “How wonderful!” Lanriel breathed.  “And such beings have not been seen here in Gondor for so long we thought that they were all dead long ago, the stuff of legends!”

          “Mistress Andred!”

          They turned to see two garbed in the livery of the Guards of the Citadel approaching, one quite young and tall, and the other just over half the height of his companion.  “They allow boys to serve as Guardsmen?” asked Lanriel.

          But Andred was already shaking her head.  “No, he’s no boy.  That’s Captain Peregrin!”  She led the way toward the two in uniform and gave a curtsey.  “Captain Peregrin!  Guardsman Bergil!  It is an honor to meet with you today!”

          The two bowed in return.  “We were sent to bring you word that you shall have your hearing tomorrow in the general audience before our Lord King,” the Hobbit told them.  “You didn’t tell me when I met you at Mistress Gilriel’s shop that you were in a dispute with your brother.”

          Andred felt herself blushing.  “I do not like speaking of it,” she admitted.  “May I present my mother, Lanriel daughter of Alyss and Amdir of Lebennin.”

          “Mistress, be welcome,” said Bergil, bowing.

          “Peregrin son of Paladin, the Thain of the Shire, at your service,” the Pherian said.  “Although,” he added, looking down at his uniform, “I am here with Bergil on the King’s business, seeing as I am on duty at this time.  I understand he hopes to hear your case tomorrow at about the third hour after dawn.  I do hope that is convenient.”

          “We shall be there,” Andred said, feeling a tightening in her chest at the thought of having to confront Indrahil in such a public setting and so soon.

          She did not feel quite so hungry when they went into the common room of the King’s Head for luncheon, and knew she was not fit for conversation.  It was a relief to return to Gilriel’s shop and to resume work on Master Isumbard’s jacket once more.  Lanriel was helping Gilriel to lay out the patterns Gilriel had made from the child’s measurements onto the chosen fabric, and listening to how it was that Gilriel had come to hire her daughter to aid her while the injury to her hand healed.  “And she is so capable I could not willingly let her go when the bandaging came off and I could again do my own work.  It is such a blessing to have someone who truly knows how to craft garments and sew to help me,” she continued.  “So many of the girls I’d hired before had not the least idea how to actually gauge the bias or baste properly.  Most barely knew the basics of embroidery, and usually did that poorly, too.”

          Andred smiled to hear her mother and Gilriel converse, as Lanriel told the story of the unfortunate hiring of a woman from Dor-en-Ernil who had claimed to have been a seamstress in her homeland, only to find that she’d never sewn a stitch in her life and had no idea as to how to thread her needle.

          That night the thought of having to speak out against her brother disturbed her sleep, and when she finally slept she dreamt he pursued her through Peshastin with a donkey whip in hand, telling her at every stroke that she was only a woman and could do nothing on her own.  She woke from this nightmare to find her face wet with tears, her mother stroking her shoulder to soothe her.

          “It will be well, my daughter,” Lanriel crooned.  “No one shall strike you.”

          Oh, if only that were guaranteed, Andred thought, giving her mother a weak smile.

For Tari and Fey Nim, and all who have summer birthdays.

Reward and Punishment

 

          They were up early, Andred’s landlady having brought them a light meal.  As simple as it was, however, Andred still could not choke any of it down.  She managed to drink a cup of the herbal drink laced with honey, and they were out within half a mark to begin the walk up through the city.  Before they’d made it through the Third Circle, however, they met a pony cart coming down the way, accompanied by Guardsman Bergil.

          “Mistress Andred?  The King has sent this cart to convey you and your mother up to the Citadel, as she is not as yet accustomed to walking so far uphill.  If it pleases the two of you, of course.”

          Lanriel was glad enough to accept the ride, and Andred had to admit, once she was seated within the cart, that it was a relief after all not to have to walk so far after not having eaten much since early yesterday.  A basket was provided for them that proved to contain light pastries and a firkin of juice of the orange fruit.  Soon both felt much better as the pony drew them steadily up through the White City, with Lanriel marveling at the statuary and monuments to be seen on every side, and the beautiful flowers that grew in almost every window.

          “It was not always thus,” the driver commented.  “Since the King and Queen have come to us, accompanied by Elves, Dwarves, and the Pheriannath, it has become the norm for people to wish to brighten the way.  Trees now grow in the squares and wherever there is room for them, and all are happier to have the stonework softened in such a manner.”

          Often as they rode they would hear singing:  sometimes of children at play, sometimes of women as they swept the ways in front of their homes; occasionally of Men as they carried shared burdens from one building to another; as they entered the Sixth Circle that of Elves laboring within the gardens of the Houses of Healing; and as they arrived finally at the Court of Gathering at the top of the City they heard maidens singing as they sat about the White Tree of Gondor, its leaves glowing green and silver, and small white buds swelling, promises of the blooms to come. 

          “How beautiful!” Lanriel breathed, her eyes alight as she gazed about her, at last turning to look out across the Pelennor below the outer walls of the city, and then across at the mountains that rose, still dark but now brushed with streaks of green where at last trees began to grow upon the Ephel Dúath.  “And now the Enemy no longer dwells behind those walls, and instead of fear we first see the hope of the rising Sun!”

          Andred felt her own hope rising within her at her mother’s words.  “Indeed, Nana,” she said, putting her arms about her mother’s shoulders and hugging her close.  “It is good to again know that hope.”

          Flowers were stood in vases all about the memorial to the Pheriannath, and somehow the statue of Frodo Baggins did not appear so challenging this morning, but instead his expression in the morning light seemed softened.  “He has a fair face,” commented Lanriel.

          “Oh, yes,” said a soft voice, and Lanriel and Andred were surprised to find themselves surrounded by a party of Pheriannath, both male and female.  A woman of the folk, one who barely met the height of Andred’s waist, was looking at the sculpture with a look of longing on her face.  “Frodo Baggins was the most handsome of Hobbits of our generation, I believe.”  She leaned forward to settle a bunch of white narcissus flowers upon the curb next to a vase already there, and straightened to examine the face.  “Most of us lasses were secretly in love with him.”

          A taller Hobbit gave a laugh.  “And some of you were not so secretly in love with him as perhaps you thought, Narcissa.”

          She shrugged, watching as two young Hobbits, a boy and a girl who seemed much of an age, perhaps not so far from adulthood themselves, stepped forward to lay single stems beside her white ones, his a coral rose and hers a spray of cherry blossoms.  “I never sought to hide my heart from him, although that mattered not a whit when he’d natter on and on about Pearl and how marvelous she was.  The day I realized she’d thrown him over I could have shaken her till her teeth rattled for the way she hurt him.”

          “He recovered well enough—then, at least,” the tall Hobbit noted wryly.

          “As did Narcissa, Fredegar,” responded another Hobbit, who put his arm about her familiarly, looking up at the taller Hobbit with a challenging stare.

          “And I think that Frodo himself had something to do with the two of you finding one another.  Although I do believe that had he felt in better health he would have courted you himself,” the one called Fredegar said, shifting his gaze to the woman’s.

          “Not after that,” the shorter Hobbit said, indicating the ring lying in the sculpted Frodo’s palm.  “That Ring hollowed him out so deeply.”

          “It aged him so,” Narcissa said.  “The Ring and the journey aged him so.  He was always so youthful before he left the Shire.  He came back with streaks of silver in his hair, and that crease between his brows.  And he was thin again, only painfully thin this time.”

          “At least he left in time,” another Hobbit commented.  “I do believe he has found healing there.”

          To that statement there were decided nods and murmurs of agreement.

          Lanriel, her head cocked, asked, “Are you of his kindred, then?”

          Fredegar, the taller Hobbit, laughed.  “A good half the Shire is kindred to Frodo to one degree or another, and half the remainder is related by marriage.  Part of being a Baggins.”

          The one who’d commented on Frodo finding healing added, “I’m probably the only one in the party who isn’t at least a third cousin two or three times removed.  Even my wife is related to Frodo by way of the Goolds.”

          “You know not what peril into which you put yourself,” a Man’s voice said, and all turned to see the young Guardsman Bergil approaching.  “You do not wish to be caught up in a discussion of a Hobbit’s genealogy.  You could be still standing here tomorrow morning!  If nothing else, Pippin Took has taught me that much.”

          All laughed, and even Narcissa’s face lightened.  Fredegar quipped, “But our King Elessar can be similarly caught up in describing his family tree.”

          “But it is simpler with him,” Bergil pointed out.  “All he has to say is that he is descended, father to son, all of the way back to Elros Tar-Minyatur and his father, Eärendil, and he has it covered.”

          Narcissa laughed.  “While all our Lady Arwen needs to say is that Eärendil is her grandfather on her father’s side.  She at least has far fewer generations to consider to get to the same point.”

          “Indeed,” Bergil conceded.  He turned to Andred.  “Mistress Andred, I was asked to come out to summon you to the Citadel to introduce you to our Lord’s Herald that he be able to call you into the audience at the proper time.  If you are ready?”

          At once Andred felt her stomach tighten again as she turned obediently to follow the Guardsman back to the Citadel, her mother trailing the two of them.  Once inside the Citadel they took a hallway to the left somewhat short of impressive doors that must lead into the Hall of Kings, down which they proceeded to an office.  There two Men awaited their arrival, one tall and slender, garbed in an elongated tabard similar to that worn by the Guards of the Citadel, but that fell to his knees; the other clearly a warrior who had come to serve as a functionary for the King.  A veritable arsenal hung from his walls, each weapon ready to be grasped and used at a moment’s notice. 

          The warrior gave a polite bow.  “I am Hardorn son of Halbaleg, Captain of the King’s personal Guard and second to Lord Captain Gilmaros, the Captain of the Guard of the Citadel.  This is Master Halboron, Chief Herald to my Lord Kinsman.  He will bring you to where you may watch the doings of the court most likely unnoted by your brother and son until you are needed within the Hall of Kings itself.  Mistress Andred, Mistress Lanriel, I bid you welcome as you observe and know the King’s justice.” 

          With that he inclined his head to Master Halboron, who bowed deeply and led them from the room and further down the hallway to a stair leading upwards, and up it and by various small hallways until they were shown through an arch onto a gallery that looked down into the Hall of Kings.  He leaned down and murmured in Andred’s ear, “When it is time to come down, young Ingbold here will bring you at my signal.”  With that he left them looking at the boy, a child of about twelve summers dressed as a page, his hair fair and cut close to his scalp, who nodded and turned his attention back to the room below.

          The Hall of Kings was large and imposing, with the throne on its dais at the far end almost even with the level of the gallery on which Andred and her mother waited.  Two chairs were brought forward for the women to sit upon near to the rail, and they could see that the room was rapidly filling with those come to either take part or to observe the King’s audience.  Their gallery was also filling, although the garb primarily to be seen here was of greys of various shades indicating that almost all who watched from here were servitors within the Citadel, most watching with curiosity the interests of the outer world represented below.  Two tall chairs stood upon the lowest step of the dais, one of black and one of grey.  A third was being brought out and set midway between the other two, this one of silver wood with a swan carved upon its back.

          “The Prince of Dol Amroth is here!” Lanriel whispered to her daughter.

          Andred nodded her acknowledgment and watched as a tall Man in garb of silver grey, a silver cloak about him caught with a silver star upon his left shoulder, came from one side, accompanied by Hardorn son of Halbaleg and a small fellow in the greens and gold of Rohan.  They paused, conversing for a moment, before Hardorn and the small fellow bowed to one another, Hardorn passing behind the throne while the small fellow crossed the hall to join a number of smaller folk not far from the black seat of the Steward, and Andred realized that these were all Pheriannath.  Hardorn was followed by the unmistakable form of Prince Imrahil, heading for the silver chair.  The Prince stopped, however, when a Man with long, black hair held back by a circlet set with a large moonstone appeared from behind the throne carrying a small boy upon his shoulder.  He and Imrahil changed their paths to meet and embrace, the Prince of Dol Amroth taking the child into his arms and speaking briefly to him before returning his attention to the child’s father.  “That is our Prince Steward Faramir,” Andred whispered to her mother.  “And that must be Prince Elboron.”

          “And that,” added another voice from her other side, “is our Lady of the Shield-arm, our Princess Éowyn.”  Norien had arrived to join them, and was indicating the woman wearing a long, single golden braid down her back and a circlet of garnets about her brow who was emerging from behind the throne.  Andred recognized her from the King’s Meal she’d attended.

          Norien was accompanied by a tall, slender youth with dark brown hair, who was engaged in bringing a chair to set to Andred’s right for their newly arrived companion.  Once Norien was seated, he took a place by the rail to watch for the signal to bring his charge down before the court.

          Princess Éowyn had joined her husband and his kinsman, speaking with them before reaching out her arms to take her son.  She exchanged a kiss with Prince Faramir before setting the child upon his feet.  When the boy started away from the two Men she gave a gentle word of reprimand, and he turned and gave a proper bow to the Prince, then took her hand and allowed her to lead him away, turning back to give a final wave and smile ere they took their place amidst the Pheriannath, the young mother seating herself upon an elaborately carved chair that awaited her there and taking her son upon her lap.  Two more chairs sat beside her.  There was a single note of a bell, and all went quiet, most within the hall who had been seated now rising to their feet and all turning toward the throne.

          The King was now entering the Hall as had the others, preceded by what appeared a youth in the garb of the Guard of the Citadel, a sword naked in his hand, resting against his other shoulder.

          “A child?  Oh, but no—Captain Peregrin!”  She recognized the unruly auburn curls, the clear green gaze now examining all for any threat to his King, humor now set aside as he did his duty as one who saw to the personal safety of his Lord.  She found herself smiling in appreciation for the dedication that the Hobbit displayed.

          Behind the King walked two more, one of them Captain Hardorn.  Beside the King on one side walked his wife, their daughter Melian between them; on the other side a Man with a mane of dark blond hair, a more familiar woman with dark auburn hair beyond him, her arm on the shoulder of a small boy whose hair was a golden brown, sun streaked and barely answering to what must have been a vigorous attempt to tame its wildness.

          “Princess Lothiriel!” whispered Lanriel.  “She looks well by her new Lord Husband!  And that is their son?”

          All bowed to the Kings of Gondor and Rohan as they paused at the base of the high dais on which sat the Throne of Gondor and Arnor.

          The Herald’s staff rang.  “Our Lord King Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, Lord of Gondor and Arnor, descendant and heir to Isildur, Valandil, and Arvedui of Arnor and Anárion and Ondoher of Gondor by Ondoher’s daughter Fíriel, and thus heir on both sides from Elendil, in his time High King over both the realms founded by the heirs of Elros Tar-Minyatur of Númenor.  And our guest, Éomer King of Rohan, who has graciously agreed to observe the King’s justice this day.”

          The small figure that had been in conversation with the grey-clad Man now associated with the grey chair came forward, bowing to the Rohirric King and falling in behind him.  “Then that must be Sir Meriadoc,” Norien hazarded in a whisper.  “I do not know if I have seen him before save at a distance.  Both he and Captain Peregrin are known to be among the King’s Friends.”

          All within the Hall of Kings were bowing in respect, as were those surrounding them in the gallery above.  Andred sensed nothing but respect among those surrounding her—respect and pride.  These royal individuals were not feared by those who labored within the Citadel, but instead were loved and honored.  She felt glad to know this.  She had her arm about her mother’s shoulders as they joined that bow.

          The King paused at the foot of the throne and inclined his head in response to the respect he received, leaned down to kiss his daughter’s hair, and smiled into his wife’s face as she left him, her own eyes shining before she went to the opposite side of the room where simple, comfortable chairs awaited her and her daughter.  The King and Éomer King shared a warrior’s clasp before the Rohirric King led his wife and son to join his sister, Éomer taking his son onto his lap once he was seated.

          All of the resident royals were now seated as the King mounted the steps to the throne, throwing his white mantle aside to remove his sword’s sheath from its hangers and set it across the arms of the throne as he sat.

          “Our Lord King bids those who have complaints and grievances to come before him that he might determine how justice might be done for them.  He bids those who have taken advantage of others to consider what they have done and how it might be made right.  He bids those who have done well by others to come forward that they might be rewarded in accordance with what they have wrought.  And he bids those who grieve for what they have done to others to come forward that they might find what they can do to make amends.”  Herald Halboron’s voice rang through the room.

          Now, this invitation, with two chances offered for those who had done ill by others to come forward to straighten out what they had done wrongly Andred found most interesting.  Obviously both her brother and the husband to Norien’s sister were each being offered a chance to set things right, if they would.  But would they do so voluntarily, or only because they were compelled?  Well, that remained to be seen.  She so hoped that Indrahil would do so without having to be forced.

          All went quiet, and Halboron called forward the youth Cryon son of Devumir to stand before the King.  He proved to be an older boy of perhaps fifteen years of age, one growing rapidly who was not yet comfortable with the new length of legs and arms he was now experiencing.  He was dressed in clothes that were clean and seemly enough, but in no way rich, much less new.  The trews he wore were too short for his frame, and the sleeves to the shirt he wore did not quite reach his wrists.  He appeared uncomfortable to find himself in the eye of so many.

          Behind him walked a woman, a goodwife of the city by appearance, who was fairly beaming with pleasure as she followed him, a small boy of perhaps a year and a half in age in her arms, the child apparently clutching a wooden toy to his chest.

          “And what is the tale regarding young Master Cryon here that brings him before this court?” asked the King.

          “Mistress Lindwen here has asked to be allowed to tell it, my Lord,” explained Halboron.

          At the King’s nod, the woman stepped forward but a little more, held the child a bit closer to her bosom, and explained, “I am Lindwen wife of Arthad, a tinsmith of the Second Circle, my Lord Elessar.  This is our younger son, Amdir, and the apple of our eye.  He has two summers and is most willful.”

          Laughs of recognition broke out around the chamber:  many there had been parents of children of that age.  Lindwen gave an expressive shrug.  “For the past several months his favorite activity has been to throw his toy horse for others to fetch back to him.  Ten days past he was doing this, keeping our older son Ladril quite busy.  When I needed to send him to the market to fetch a firkin of milk, Ladril was all too glad to go so as to be relieved of having to incessantly bring the toy back to him.  It was a warm day, so the door into our front courtyard was open.  But when Ladril went through the gate into the street, he did not pause to make certain that the latch for the gate caught.”

          “And Amdir here made to follow his older brother?” the King asked.

          The woman nodded.  “Indeed, although at first he did not go further than the gate.  We have told him, again and again, that he must not go outside the gate without one of the rest of us to hold his hand.  He was calling Ladril’s name again and again, and even threw his toy horse out into the street for Ladril to bring back to him.  Only Ladril was gone and did not hear him, being well on his way to the gate to the Third Circle and the market there.”

          “And how is it that you know this?” asked the King.

          The woman looked at Cryon, who flushed and ducked his head.  He said in a low voice, “I had to tell her this, my Lord.  She was not where she could hear.”

          The woman nodded her head to confirm the youth’s words.  “Even so, sir.”

          “So,” the King began slowly, “You saw what happened from when Ladril left his home.”

          “Yes, my Lord.”  The boy’s face was very earnest.  “He ran out of the door and through the courtyard, slamming the gate behind him.  Only it did not catch—instead it bounced open again and stopped half way.  Amdir came after him, calling his name, carrying his toy horse.”

          “The one he carries now?”

          But Cryon was shaking his head.  “No, this is a new one.  That one he carried with both hands.  He called Ladril’s name, but could not see him for all of those walking along the way.  He called again, and threw the horse into the road.  Those walking along glanced his way, but kept on their way, stepping over or around the horse.  No one stopped to pick it up or to seek to return it.  His lip began to quiver, and he began calling, ‘Horse!  Horse!’  But still no one would stop.  I was smoothing the wood used to repair our door’s frame, and I did not dare stop, not at first.  Suddenly those walking along the way began to move to one side or the other as the pony cart that brings those who are elderly or infirm up and down through the city came down from the gate to the Third Circle.  As no one would return his horse, I could tell that Amdir was contemplating going to fetch it in himself, and I dropped my sanding stone and went to our gate and called out for him to stay where he was.  He looked up at me and frowned, and started out to fetch in his horse.  The pony cart was almost upon us, and I ran out in front of the pony and threw myself upon the child, rolling us both into the gutter on his side of the road.  He was crying out in anger and perhaps some pain, for I am certain that he hit part of his head against the pavement.  I am so sorry, for I was seeking only to save him from being hurt by the pony or the cart.  But I heard a crunch as the cart went past us.  The carter wisely did not seek to stop completely once he realized I had caught the boy out of danger, and the wheels of the cart rolled over the toy horse and crushed it.  But the child darted out so fast and unexpectedly that there was no way that the carter could have stopped the cart in time to spare the child—he certainly could not avoid hitting the toy horse, which he would not have been able to see until the last possible moment, what with the movement of those who were pulling to the side to allow him to go through.”

          “And such was the report given us by the carter, your Majesty,” said a Guardsman in the livery of the City Guard who had unobtrusively followed Mistress Lindwen and Cryon into the center of the audience.  “He had no idea who was the child or the youth who so suddenly rolled the child to safety, but he prayed that we should identify the youth to be brought before you to be honored as he deserved.  That was in the report forwarded to you last week.”

          “And I remember it.  Who was it who identified young Cryon here?”

          “It was I, my Lord,” Mistress Lindwen explained.  “I had to make it up to him once I realized he had not deliberately hurt my son, but instead had saved him from the fate that had befallen his toy horse.  Some of those who had been walking by explained what he had done, and why, and someone handed me what remained of his toy.  It was utterly crushed and broken, and could not be made right again.  But at first I berated Cryon for pushing my son into the gutter, and I fear I abused him terribly.”

          “It was nothing, Mistress Lindwen.  You could not know how close he came to being hurt far worse.”  Cryon reached out to touch her arm in reassurance.

          The King rose from his seat and automatically reseated his sword to his sword belt.  “I see.”  All watched as the King descended from the throne, passing around Prince Imrahil’s seat to stand before the woman, the child, Cryon, and the Guardsman.  “May I examine your son, Mistress Lindwen?” he asked.  “I am, first and foremost, a healer, having begun such training even before I was taught the use of a blade.”  He leaned down and accepted Amdir from his mother’s arms.  “So,” he said, addressing the little boy, “You had quite an adventure last week, did you?”

          Amdir nodded, his mouth open as he looked into the King’s eyes.  “My horse broke,” he said.  “Wheel broke it.”

          “The pony cart’s wheel broke it, did it?  I am so sorry.  May I feel your head?”  He felt the child’s scalp carefully, examined a place near the back of the head that attracted his attention, and nodded.  “There was a bump here, but it was never anything to worry about.  It is almost gone now.  And I note a scrape here on the back of the elbow that I suspect was due to the roll he took across the pavement.  Again, it is almost healed, and was apparently properly dealt with at the time.”  He looked seriously into the child’s face.  “You have been a very lucky little boy, and are most fortunate that young Master Cryon was in a place to see how much danger you were in and to save you from it.  Have you thanked him for helping you?”

          The boy looked sideways down at Cryon, who was flushing violently.  “Thank you, Cryon,” he said carefully.  He then waved the wooden figure he held in his arms.  “And thank you for horsey!”

          “Oh, did Cryon give you this?” asked the King.  “May I see it?”

          Amdir nodded and let the King take it as he returned to his mother’s embrace.  The King examined it carefully.  “And did you obtain it from the marketplace to replace the one that was destroyed,” he asked Cryon.

          Cryon shook his head.  “Oh, no,” he answered.  “We could not afford to buy such a thing.  I made it from some of the wood in the wood pile.  It appeared the best piece of wood for a horse, so I carved it with my knife.”

          “You carved it yourself?” asked the King.

          “Yes, I like carving, although my mother despairs of me doing things of more use to the family.”

          The King smiled, and turned to the company of smaller folk that stood together near the seats for Éomer King, his wife, and his sister.  “Ruvemir, will you please come look at this?”        

          A small person came forth from among the Pheriannath, one who was clearly not a Pherian himself, but rather a mannikin, a neat beard decorating his chin, his legs and torso not of a size with his hands or head.  “Oh,” Norien whispered, “but that is the King’s sculptor!  He is a mannikin from Lebennin.”

          Ruvemir walked with a rather rolling gait, using a cane shod with silver to balance himself.  He reached out to take the toy from the King, smiling broadly as he took it into his hands and turned it.  At last he looked up to his patron, saying in his warm voice, “Well wrought, my Lord.  Well wrought indeed.  My father would be most impressed.”

          The King nodded, received the toy back from the mannikin and returned it to Amdir.  “Here it is, child, and may it bring you years of joy.”  He now addressed the boy’s mother.  “You did well to admit that you first abused Cryon, only understanding later what service he’d done for your child and your family.  I am gladdened that you admit your mistake freely and without shame, and now seek to make it right.  Our nation is better for those who can and will admit a wrong and who then do what they can to see that proper praise is given to those who have earned it.  I bless you and your family, and rejoice with you that your son took so little hurt.”  The woman colored prettily, and accepted her dismissal with a widened smile.  “Is Cryon’s family here?” he asked.

          Another, taller woman came forward, followed by two young Men and a girl perhaps three years younger than Cryon.  These were Cryon’s mother, older brothers, and little sister.  All were appropriately dressed, but it was obvious that the clothing, although sound, was well worn, many pieces of an older style, none of the colors rich or vibrant.

          “Your husband?” asked the King, although he had to have guessed the reason the Man was not there.

          “He died before the Black Gate, my Lord King.  He went with the Men of the City.”

          “And you have no other means of support than the widow’s pension granted you?”

          She shook her head.  “It is true that we have had little other recourse, particularly as Bëor here was sickly when younger, although he has recovered wonderfully since you became King and he was invited to take part in treatments offered by the Houses of Healing for those who have had problems with weak lungs.  He has been offered a place by a merchant who sells greens in the market in the Third Circle.  And Ceorl here has accepted a job on a farm upon the Pelennor.  They have agreed to give us food as part of his pay.  They are good people.”

          “And Cryon here—has there been any thought given to finding an apprenticeship for him?”

          “And what skills does he have?”

          With a nod toward where the King’s sculptor had rejoined the Hobbits, the King suggested, “You heard, did you not, that Master Ruvemir believes his father would be well pleased with Cryon’s carving ability?  Master Mardil is a master carver in his own right, and has told me recently he believes he would agree to one more apprentice ere he retires for good.  I would be willing to speak for Cryon with him.”

          Cryon’s mother looked confused.  “You mean that there are those who would train my son to carve more?  I had thought perhaps to apprentice him to a woodwright, such as the one who oversaw the replacement of our doorway, which had been blighted by woodworm.  But I am uncertain how I should pay his apprenticeship fees.”

          The King merely smiled and turned to Cryon himself.  “Tell me, my friend, what work you should like to pursue, were it given to you?  Would you like to work as a woodwright, or as a carver of wood?  Or,” he added, obviously struck with another idea, “would you like to become a crafter of toys?  You did a marvelous job upon the toy horse you carved for Amdir.  Or is there another craft you might wish to follow?”

          Cryon appeared overwhelmed by the question.  “An apprenticeship to make toys?  There is such a thing?”

          “Oh, indeed!  Master Blyn, one of the advisors to the King of Dale, is to arrive perhaps this evening or tomorrow morning, accompanying the embassy expected from King Thorin Stronghelm of Erebor and the Iron Hills.  The toys crafted in Dale and Erebor are considered amongst the finest within Middle Earth.  If you should wish such an apprenticeship I suspect that the horse you carved for Amdir will earn you the interest of both Dwarvish and Mannish craftsmen.  And there would be no reason for your family to worry about apprenticeship fees in such a case.”  The King straightened to full height.  “Think upon this, and discuss it with your mother.  If you would wish to accept any of these apprenticeships, all you need do is approach the captain for any of the gates to the city and send word by way of him, and I shall arrange for you to meet with a master craftsman for any of these fields.  In the meantime, know that your swift timing that saved a small child has been made known, and you are honored for it.”

          The King removed a scrip from his belt and placed it in the boy’s hands, and with that blessed the youth and dismissed him and his family, Amdir and his mother following after as they left the Hall of Kings.

 *******

          The next case to come before the King was that of another youth, this one of about nineteen summers, who had recently managed to retrieve the coin purse of a matron who’d had the purse cut from her waist while she was in the market place in the Third Circle.  The details of this achievement were related by one of the market place guards, who proudly proclaimed that the youth in question had become well beloved by those who saw to the orderliness of the market, as this was the thirteenth time this particular young Man had managed to return a stolen purse or scrip to its rightful owner.  Unfortunately, only one time had the one who had actually committed the crime been apprehended, although he’d already hidden his ill-gotten gains so as not to be found with stolen money or goods upon his person.

          Andred was not certain what to think about this youth, so different from the boy who’d come before.  He was dressed in bright, almost jarring colors, in a style intended to draw eyes to himself.  As for his expression----

          “A self-satisfied lout if ever I saw one,” commented her mother in very low tones.

          Andred and Norien were both nodding their agreement to this assessment.

          The King had questions to ask as well from his tall throne, to which he’d returned after the departure of Cryon’s party.  It was quickly obvious that the questions had not been anticipated by the young Man, who found himself swiftly upon the defensive as his veracity was under scrutiny, while the guardsman who’d accompanied the youth grew increasingly uncertain.

          A Mistress Lyoneth was called before the King’s Majesty, and all waited as she was brought forward from elsewhere within the Citadel.

          “You are newly come to this chamber?” asked the King.

          “Even so, my Lord King,” she answered.

          “And where have you waited?”

          “I have been in the lesser audience chamber that opens upon the hall that divides the front chambers of the Citadel from the wings in which those who dwell within the Citadel live.”

          “And why did you wait there?”

          “That when I tell my story it should not be tainted by what others might have said earlier.”

          “I ask you to tell those gathered here why you were in the market place in the Third Circle ten days past.”

          She nodded.  “I am one of the housekeepers who work in the guesthouses in the Sixth Circle.  My sister is married to one of the innkeepers of the Second Circle, and often must go into the market place in the Third Circle to choose produce and meats for the kitchens of the inn.  Two months past she was accosted by a young Man in a bright costume who asked her questions, insisting that she pay attention to his questions even though he impeded her in her errands.  Suddenly she realized that the purse of coin she’d carried in her apron pocket had been taken, and the young Man exclaimed that he’d just seen someone fleeing away.  He left her with the admonition that she not move, and ran after the fleeing figure.  A market guardsman arrived to find out why she was crying out, and she told him the story.  Soon the young Man in bright dress returned, carrying with him her purse.  Half of the money it had held was missing.  He said that he’d seen the fleeing figure withdrawing some of its contents and stuffing it inside his own clothing.  But when he realized he was under pursuit, the figure threw down the purse, and the young Man had picked it up and brought it back to return to her, saying he was sorry that he was not able to return all of her money as well.

          “Only she did not believe that the young Man stopped her randomly, but that he did so as to distract her so that the other could more easily take her purse undetected.  When the guardsman praised the youth for his willingness to go after the thief and his diligence in returning her purse and half her money, she tried to tell him he was mistaken, but the guardsman would not listen.  After he announced he would bring the young Man to the attention of the King as one who cared deeply for the welfare of those who frequented the market, the youth left, and the guard told her that this was the eleventh time this young Man had heroically chased after a cutpurse and had returned the missing item, although it appeared that every time he did so some of the money the purse or scrip had contained had come up missing.

          “My sister could not stop thinking that the youth’s approach to her was deliberate, and I brought her to meet with you as King, and you listened to her without interruption, and finally agreed to put the young Man to the test.  You asked if I would serve as a decoy that he might be drawn to, and set one of your personal Guardsmen to work with me to perfect the plan.”

          “Please tell us of your experience.”

          She told it succinctly, how she had visited the market and examined all of the stalls, stopping to purchase a bun from a baker and later late cherries from a greengrocer.  She had purposely left her purse hanging from her belt, and eventually realized that the young Man in the bright shirt was watching her.  When another youth came suddenly close and cut her purse from her belt she was sufficiently surprised that she did not cry out at first, but she saw that those assigned to watch for such a situation were each in place so as to keep the cutpurse in view.  She was not surprised when the young Man in the bright shirt took off after the thief, nor that when he brought back her purse it was half empty.  It was after he had received praise from the market guard named Cotsedain and he’d left the market for his home that she went to the guardhouse at the gate to the Second Circle and the cutpurse was brought there along with what little he’d received from his theft, and he admitted he was one of those who occasionally worked with Maridorn in stealing from those who visited the market there in the Third Circle of the White City.

          “I thank you for what you have told us,” the King said.  He asked that another person be brought to the Hall of Kings from his personal office, and soon a Man in his early twenties was led in.  He named himself Cardonol son of Hedron, who provided the White City with most of the poultry and much of the eggs consumed within its walls.  His father had been ill for some months with a wasting disease affecting his left leg, and had been treated within the Houses of Healing in the last month.  Hedron would not be able to return to work within the market for at least three more months, so Cardonol and his next younger brother had been assisting their mother Mirideth within the market while their father regained the strength of his leg.

          “Have you seen anyone within the room before today?” the King asked.

          “Yes, that young Man,” Cardonol said, indicating the youth wearing the brightly colored shirt.  “With clothing like this, it is hard to ignore him.  It was near to the market where my parents have their stall, and he was with another near in age to him, tall and too thin, long legged, with long, fair hair that needed barbering desperately, with a portion on the back of the head that sought in spite of its length to stand up from the scalp.  They were speaking together and casting frequent glances at my mother.  At last they appeared to have settled something together, and the long-legged one went off.  But Bright-shirt here stayed, circling the market place, always complimenting Guardsman Cotsedain here while avoiding most of the rest of the market guards.  I could only imagine the other guards do not think as highly of him as does Cotsedain.”

          “Is this true?” the King asked of Cotsedain.

          The guard flushed.  “Most think Maridorn is shallow, my Lord King.  They do not know him as I do.”

          The King examined Maridorn’s face for a moment before indicating Cardonol should continue with his tale. 

          As evening approached, Cardonol had spotted Maridorn at more frequent intervals, obviously spying on the poulterers’ stall.  Cardonol’s brother had brought more birds from the farm twice, but they ran out of stock almost a full mark before sunset, and their mother had indicated they would simply close up early.  When he saw them beginning to close down the stall, Maridorn had hurried away, and Cardonol had seen him near the workers’ benches speaking with the straw-haired youth again before he returned to where he could watch the poulterers once more.

          “My mother left first.  She was carrying the cash box and a number of trays she’d commissioned from a woodwright to hold eggs.  As she left the area of our market stall, Bright-shirt there made a shrill whistle.  As she went by a shop at the edge of the market, Long-legs suddenly stepped out from behind it, running directly into her and knocking her down.  The cash box and the trays spilled from her arms.  At first Long-legs pretended to be helping her, all apologies.  I left my brother to finish closing down the stall and went to assist them.  Seeing me approaching, Long-legs shook his head, and suddenly grabbed for the chain on which my mother wears the promise ring her own mother used to wear and pulled it from her neck, scooped up the cash box and Nana’s belt purse that had fallen loose, and fled back behind the shop again.  I ran after him, only as I ran out into the walk on the other side of the shop someone tripped me.  I cannot be certain, but I believe it was Bright-shirt who did this.  Certainly he had begun running after Long-legs by that time—I could see that shirt of his disappearing behind a storage shed as I arose.  But by the time I reached the storage shed, I could see neither of them.

          “Then I heard a pounding of something against metal, and I followed the sound as best I could.  Back in the dooryard of an empty house I could see Long-leg’s head beyond the gate.  He was lifting what appeared to be broken masonry and pounding upon something that I could not see.  I was about to go forward when someone spoke, so I stayed out of sight.

          “ ‘You had best give it up,” the voice said, and Bright-shirt appeared out of the shadows.  ‘I must go back if I am to remain the unofficial guardian of the market place.  Let me have the box and the necklace, and you may have the belt purse and whatever is within it.’  And so it was done.  Bright-shirt left with the box in his hands and the chain and Daernana’s ring upon it shoved inside his shirt.  Once I was certain he was gone, I went forward quietly and found Long-legs crouching down, examining what he had poured out upon the ground from the purse.  I leapt over the fence and was upon him, holding my hand over his mouth so that he could not cry out, and in moments I had made him my prisoner.  I used his own rope belt to bind him, and gathered up my mother’s things and put them back into the purse, then forced him down to the gate to the Second Circle, where I begged an audience with Lieutenant Rivros so as to give the thief into his hands and to tell him my story.  He took the purse as well, and with me as witness, he had the division’s scribe come to take down a full record of what I had seen and done, and then to make a full inventory of what was found within the purse.  He was interested when I told him of the interchange between Bright-shirt and Long-legs, and indicated he would see this information forwarded to the Citadel.”

          The King indicated that this was enough from Cardonol.  Turning to the market guard once more, he asked if Maridorn had returned anything belonging to Mistress Mirideth. 

          “He brought back the cash box, but nothing else.  He stated that the thief must already have hidden what else he’d taken.”  Cotsedain’s face was flushed, although whether it was with shame at realizing he’d been cozened or some other reason was not clear.

          “And you did not learn that Mistress Mirideth’s own son had regained his mother’s belt purse?”

          “This is the first time I have heard of this,” the guard answered, glaring at Cardonol.

          The cash box was produced by an unnamed Guardsman from the City Guard, along with the belt purse and its contents and the report made by Lieutenant Rivros of the gate between the Second and Third Circles of the city. 

          Finally two prisoners were produced by the Warden of the prison for the Citadel, and all could see that Cardonol had described the young Man who’d robbed his mother accurately.  The other, the one who’d cut the purse from Mistress Lyoneth’s belt, was younger, with a sour expression on his square face.  When each admitted that he and Maridorn had been working together for some time on such thefts, it was plain that Maridorn would joining his fellow thieves immediately.  When the King indicated these three would remain within the prison for ten days, that on the fifth day they would be branded as thieves, and that on the eleventh day they would be transferred to the marble quarries where they would all labor for ten years, no one was surprised.

          Nor was anyone surprised when the Captain of the City Guard appeared on one side of Cotsedain while the head of the Market Guards approached from the other side.  Andred found herself smiling as she watched him being marched off, his face now white and perspiring.

An addition to the story begun to meet challenges for this year's LOTR Challenge Stories prompts.  For Dawn_Felagund, PearlTook, SpeedyHobbit, and Tracey_Claybon for their birthdays.

Justice Dispensed

 

          There was a brief recess, and the two youths assigned to Andred and Norien brought each a cup of juice, setting a small platter of cheeses and vegetables between them.  Andred’s mother was led to a nearby privy, and on her return accepted her own cup of juice.  “Now, will the King consider the case of one of you next?” she asked.

          The answer came soon after, as the Herald called for Tiressë of the Pelennor and her husband Gunter to come forward to stand before the King.

           From what Norien had said of her sister, Andred had expected the pretty young woman who came into view.  What she had not expected was to realize that Tiressë had a petulant mouth, and that she was laboring to appear young and aggrieved when in reality she was put out to find herself required to appear within the Citadel when she felt she had far more important and interesting things to do elsewhere.  Andred wondered that Norien did not realize that her sister was not a particularly nice or thoughtful person.  But it was plain from Norien’s longing expression that she could imagine no evil of Tiressë.

            This time it was Prince Faramir who led the questioning, establishing that Tiressë and her sister Norien had inherited from their father a farm upon the Pelennor on which geese were raised primarily for sale to the inhabitants of Minas Anor as well as for the trade in feathers.  Yes, Norien was the elder of the two sisters, and it was she who had worked primarily at their father’s side until his death.  Yes, Norien had served as their father’s agent when his health began to fail, and had carried the bulk of the responsibility for the business of the farm until he died, at which time Tiressë had become an equal partner and began assisting in keeping the books as well as feeding and caring for their stock.  In time she had taken over the primary running of the farm as Norien had become increasingly involved in the portion of their work dealing with feathers.

            Andred glanced sideways at Norien, and saw that her friend’s expression was most upset, her head shaking.  “But it wasn’t like that at all!” she was whispering.  As Andred turned to look back down into the hall below, she realized that the King’s attention was fixed upon Norien, and that he was noting her response to what Tiressë was saying.

            So, that is why Prince Faramir is questioning the sister and her husband, she thought, so the King can gauge Norien’s reaction.  I hope he can see how upset and confused Norien is!

            Tiressë continued on blithely, painting her older sister as easily distracted and rather careless concerning the health of the geese.  Why, Tiressë had found the lid had been left off of the feed twice, and that as a result mice and rats had been able to foul much of it to the point it had had to be replaced.

            At that Norien was almost to the point of shouting out a denial, had Andred not placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder and shaken her head.  Norien straightened and clamped her mouth shut, but the hurt in her eyes was palpable.

            “And when Gunter came,” Tiressë continued, “her behavior was terrible!  She was flaunting herself before him, always seeking to capture his attention, dressing in a provocative manner.  That he was drawn to me was a terrible disappointment to her….”

            Norien straightened even further, her face white with the shock of the accusation.

            Tiressë’s tale of her courtship by Gunter indicated that her own behavior was most demure, while her sister’s was increasingly desperate.  Tiressë found errors in the notations her sister had made in the farm’s records, and she’d confided in Gunter as to the difficulties this could cause for the business.  As for the night that Norien had approached Gunter in her chemise, one sleeve falling down her arm----

            It was a masterful performance, but somehow it failed, Andred noted, to convince the King.  Tiressë wept, but without a sign of any true tears, and once or twice Gunter looked at her as if what she’d said had surprised him as much as everyone else in the chamber.

            It appeared that Prince Faramir was now in need of at least a temporary respite from Tiressë’s tale.  At this point he asked her to step back, for he wished to hear another’s description as to how it was that Norien had left the goose farm.

            “But I know what happened that night, as I was there!” she declared, but the expression on his face became so suddenly severe that she paled and stepped back, realizing that keeping her tongue still was the best thing she could do at the moment.

            An older couple was led out from behind the throne to stand before those seated upon the dais.  The woman gave a deep curtsey while the Man, who sported a wooden leg and had lost two fingers on his right hand, gave a still crisp military salute to the Prince Steward, followed by a respectful bow to their King, seated as he was so high above them.  At the sight of them Tiressë went very still and watchful, while Gunter was plainly disconcerted.

            This couple was quietly followed by two more individuals, one of them the Man Anorgil who had questioned both Andred and her mother, and the other a rather small Man who carried a rounded, yellow crystal in his hand, through which he peered on occasion.  They quietly moved into positions behind Tiressë and Gunter, neither of whom appeared to have noticed either of them.

            The older individuals identified themselves as those who owned the goat farm that lay next to the goose farm on which Norien and Tiressë had been raised.  They both knew the two women well enough, having been among the first to see Tiressë when she was born.  The husband had served in the army of Gondor under Denethor when that person had been Captain-General of the nation’s defense forces.  He’d lost his leg and the fingers of his hand while defending the ruins of western Osgiliath from enemies sent from Mordor some three decades since, and he’d retired with his wife to the relative quiet of raising goats on the Pelennor.

            What did he and his wife know of Mistress Tiressë and her sister Norien?  Well, a good deal, although they’d always been closer to Norien than to the younger Tiressë.  Norien had come to them to learn how to keep proper records for her father’s farm, as the husband had been quartermaster for the battalion in which he’d served, and the girls’ father had felt that Norien, who showed more interest in the running of the farm as a business, would benefit from such an education.  What was his evaluation of Norien’s record keeping skills?  Well, in his estimation she was quite good in keeping both financial and observational records.  She was so good that when his wife had been recovering from the lung sickness and could not keep their own books they had employed her to make notations for over a month.

            Their testimony did not reflect well on Tiressë, whom they characterized as being coddled by both her father and older sister to the point she seemed to believe all she had to do was to make a request and whatever she wished would be given her.  Norien, on the other hand, was devoted to the farm, and had made it plain that she would do all she could to keep the enterprise going once the farm had come into hers and her sister’s keeping.  She worked hard, seeing to the raising of their flocks, choosing birds to send to market, and making certain that the feathers they provided to makers of bedding and adornments were sound and clean.  Tiressë, on the other hand, allowed her sister to do the bulk of the work, but always put herself forward when the money came in.  In fact, it was the wife’s suspicion that Tiressë most likely had been pocketing a portion of the profits from sales of birds and feathers for quite some time, as she so often had new clothing that her sister seemed surprised at.

            Had either of this couple ever seen the goose farm’s books?  Oh, but of course they had, or at least he had, for several times before she left the Pelennor Norien had consulted with him regarding discrepancies she’d suspected in her sister’s notations.  But even though she’d been the one to detect that things weren’t quite right, she would never admit to herself that Tiressë had indeed been misstating revenues received.

            As for the courtship of Tiressë by Gunter of Lebennin—well, that had been the talk of the portion of the Pelennor on which they lived.  The goodwife indicated that as she’d observed events, it was Tiressë who’d instigated the courtship rather than Gunter, who at first had appeared to favor Norien.  Norien had failed to notice his interest as she was not given to thoughts of romance at the time; and she’d seemed quite pleased when she finally realized that her sister appeared besotted by the Man.  She’d seen a most favorable marriage contract settled between the two, and had agreed to a more than generous dowry for Tiressë.

            What of the situation that led Norien to leave the farm?  Oh, yes, they knew of that, for when she was forced to flee on the night of the Incident—Andred could hear the emphasis the goodwife put upon that word—Norien had taken refuge with them, weeping that her sister would even imagine she would seek to play the wanton with Gunter.  Neither of them believed that Norien’s shock and grief were feigned. 

            “Had it been the other way about, had it been Tiressë who’d come to our door, then we’d have been sore pressed to believe she’d not been making a play for Gunter, had he married Norien instead,” the husband explained.  “She was always good at pretending to weep when in actuality there were no tears or wetness to be seen upon her face.”

            When asked if he would recognize the ledger for the goose farm, his answer was, “Of course.  After all, I saw it perhaps three days before Norien left the farm.”

            At that Prince Faramir called out, “Master Alvric, can you please produce the ledger for the farm brought to the Magistrate’s Court by Master Gunter and Mistress Tiressë?”

            The small Man stepped forward, bowing respectfully.  “That I can, my Lord Prince.”  He snapped his fingers, and a youth in the livery of the Guild of Lawyers came forward, carrying a book wrapped in a canvas bag.  At Master Alvric’s direction, he carried it to the Steward and carefully removed it from the bag so as to present it to the Prince.  Master Alvric explained, “This is the ledger presented to me by this couple so that I could determine the amount that would be fitting as the share due Mistress Norien.  However, I could not make that determination from this record, as I am convinced it is not the original, and I cannot verify that the amounts noted are accurately presented.”

            “And how is it that you know that it is not the original ledger used upon the farm?”

            “Open it and turn to the very back, turning it so that the pages are up and the cover down.  Now, look at the last page just above the fold before it disappears into the binding.”

            It took Faramir a few moments to find a notation, just at the edge of the page before it was hidden by the spine of the binding.  The characters were quite small….

            “There is a name and a date, and the date was but three months ago.”

            Master Alvric nodded.  “Just so, my Lord.  The name is that of the binder who crafted the ledger, and the date is the day that the pages were sewn into the binding.  I have seen the proper ledger for this goose farm, for not quite three years agone the father of Norien and Tiressë came before the Magistrate’s Court, bringing suit against a poulterer in the marketplace within the Third Circle, asserting that the Man had failed to pay the full amount owed for the delivery of seventeen birds ordered by the Citadel for a feast.  He provided his ledger to show that the full amount had not been entered within it.  The poulterer, however, produced the receipt he had been given by Mistress Tiressë here, who had indicated that the full amount had been received by her, her father and sister being away from the farm when the poulterer came to pay his bill.

            “On seeing this receipt, the farmer was puzzled, even upset, although he offered a full apology to the poulterer and paid all fees associated with the suit.  He went away indicating he would need to speak with his younger daughter, and did not return.  Within two weeks word came to me that he had taken ill, and he died not long afterwards.  I never learned what the result was of his speech with Mistress Tiressë.  But I can tell you that although this ledger holds records dating back to that time, it is not the same one he presented then.  Nor do the amounts for that sale match my records as to what they stated when I examined the farm’s ledger at that time.  The ledger has been completely redone, and was not copied exactly.”

            Both Prince Faramir and the King were examining Tiressë thoughtfully.  But although she was now looking down, Tiressë’s stance failed to change notably.

            A young woman of about Tiressë’s age was now conducted into the hall.  She was the daughter of an orchardist who had his own farm not far away from the goose farm, and she had known Norien and Tiressë all of her life.  As they were of an age, she and Tiressë had found themselves companions regularly over the years.  What did she think of the natures of the two sisters?  Norien had been a dutiful daughter and diligent in her work upon the family’s farm.  But Tiressë had little interest in the work, resenting the times she must take over labors that Norien could not do as a result of other obligations.

            Tiressë had spoken repeatedly of what she should do when she no longer was responsible to either her father or her sister, and she had little respect for them, perhaps mostly due to the fact that they so often deferred to her wishes and sought to protect her happiness as they did.

            “She would have respected them more had they been less selfless regarding her?” Faramir asked, his expression troubled.

            The daughter of the orchardist shrugged.  “She perceives selflessness as weakness, my lord, and she has no use for weakness of any kind, save for whatever advantage it offers to herself.”

            “Can I take it, considering your words about her, that you do not care for Tiressë?”

            She shrugged.  “I do not hold great love for Tiressë, I admit.  But I do not dislike her, either.  Tiressë is not the sort that those outside her family might be likely to either love or hate, for she has no deep affection for anyone.  She can be charming, and she can certainly be amusing when she sets her mind to it.  But each person she deals with is always examined to see what may be gained from that one’s companionship.  If she can perceive no advantage to herself, then she will not pursue matters further.”

            “And what advantage do you believe she has known from her association with you?”

            The young woman shrugged.  “She has the appearance of being normally social, and I have ever been a willing audience for her descriptions of just how skilled she is at getting what she wants from others.  And at least she has not had to rely solely on her own company.  Even for those who are so self-absorbed as she is there is yet a need to have someone else’s company, at least from time to time, if only to reassure that one is as clever as one perceives oneself to be.

            “Also, as isolated as those of us can be who dwell upon farms upon the Pelennor, I, too, have found myself so desirous of company I remained a ready companion for her—or at least until I came to marry my husband.  There were boys enough near where we dwelt, but few girls our age, not close by.”

            From above Andred could garner few clues as to how Norien’s sister was reacting to her former friend’s frank discussion of her nature, but it was plain that Gunter was growing increasingly uncomfortable, considering how restless he was and how many sidelong glances he was throwing toward Tiressë.  The King was apparently enjoying the intelligence and clear-sighted nature of the orchardist’s daughter, and in those moments he returned his attention to Norien he was clearly sympathetic toward Tiressë’s older sister.  Andred also saw the growing hurt to be seen on Norien’s face as she realized that her beloved little sister had not appreciated the affection showered upon her by her other family members.  Wordlessly Andred’s mother slipped an embroidered handkerchief into Norien’s hands to catch the tears that had finally begun overflowing down the young woman’s face.

            The orchardist’s daughter’s tale continued, leaving all with the realization that the father to Norien and Tiressë had providentially become severely ill shortly after he realized that Tiressë had falsified the records in the farm’s ledger and had apparently pocketed money from those seventeen birds sold to the poulterer from the marketplace in the Fourth Circle of the White City.  At about the time this would have happened, Tiressë had worn a new dress to a festival held upon the Pelennor for midsummer, a dress that was far more expensive than any she’d ever worn before, one that had elicited surprise from both her father and her sister.  Tiressë had told them both that she’d been saving the money she’d been given by her father for well over a year to have such a garment made for her; to her friend she admitted that she’d “borrowed” from the farm’s finances.  Perhaps a week after the festival she’d asked her friend if she had available some rat poison, claiming that the creatures had chewed their way into the grain stores that held the feed they provided for the geese.  Three days later the father to Norien and Tiressë had become seriously ill, complaining of severe problems with his digestion; a little over a week and a half after that he died.

            Gunter could be seen stepping away from his wife at that revelation.  Norien’s face was stark white with shock.  From what Andred could tell, Tiressë did not move at all.

            The orchardist’s daughter remembered well the arrival of Gunter of Lebennin upon the Pelennor.  She had been rather surprised that Tiressë had not chosen to leave the farm, but now that she and her sister shared the farm between them she was reluctant to give up her own interest in the business.  The orchardist’s daughter was now being wooed by her cousin’s friend in Lamedon, so she had less time to spend with Tiressë.  She was surprised when one evening Tiressë had sought her out, telling her that she intended to marry Gunter, the newcomer from lower Lebennin who had been helping in the construction of the new shelter for the geese.  The one problem that she foresaw was that Gunter appeared more interested in Norien than in herself, and she wondered if Norien should follow their father.

            The orchardist’s daughter, suddenly realizing how it might have been that the father had died, had to think quickly so as to forestall a possible second murder, and to stall for time she asked how Norien was responding to Gunter’s advances.

            “She said, ‘Norien does not seem to have noticed.  She is so focused on the farm she does not see what is right before her nose!’”

            “So I advised her to attract his attention to herself—to listen wide-eyed to him and invite his confidences, to flatter him, to ask his aid in even the slightest tasks and to thank him profusely….  She appears to have done it all well, for I understand that they were married within two months.”

            “And did you attend their wedding?” Prince Faramir asked.

            She was already shaking her head.  “No, for I had married by then, and we were gone out to my new husband’s farm in Lamedon.”

            Andred could see that Gunter was searching Tiressë’s profile, having realized how he had been manipulated into marrying the scheming young woman.  When she looked again to see how Norien was taking all this information, she found that a tall Elf, dark haired, with compassionate grey eyes, stood behind her, his hands reassuringly upon the younger woman’s shoulders.  Norien sat straight now, her face still tear streaked, but now filled with sorrow rather than shock or anger.  Briefly the King caught the eye of the Elf, who gave the slightest of nods in return.  With that the King straightened upon his throne, and his sword gave the softest of clunks against the marble.

            This last appeared to be a signal to his Steward, who bowed his head briefly before indicating that Prince Imrahil would take over the questioning of Gunter, the latter having come from the lands Imrahil oversaw.  The orchardist’s daughter was excused, and with a deep curtsey she took her leave, apparently not wishing to see the end of the affair.

            Gunter explained that he had grown up south and west of Peshastin, within a few hours’ ride of Dol Amroth.  He’d been accepted as an apprentice by a warehouseman along the river within Peshastin, and in time he had married the Man’s daughter.  When her father chose to retire he gave over his holdings to his daughter and her husband, feeling that the two of them would do well by the enterprise that had made his family’s life so comfortable.

            When the war came and the Corsairs sailed up the river, they’d fired the area where Gunter’s home and the warehouses stood.  He’d been with the defenders along the main quays for Peshastin, and by the time he came home that night the fires were only just dying down in the area where he’d worked and dwelt.  His home and the warehouses were gone, and his wife had been drawn by friends from the flaming office in the warehouse where she’d been working, but was badly burned.  She’d died that night.

            He admitted he’d turned to drink to hide from his grief, until at last his wife’s father told him he must change or die.  So he’d headed north.  At last upon the Pelennor he found a place where he might build a life for himself once more.  He’d not looked upon Norien with any expectation of knowing with her the love he’d held for his first wife; but if she would accept him, he could again become respectable in at least his own eyes, and he’d intended to treat her well.  But she’d barely paid him any attention save as a laborer, while Tiressë began paying attention to him until he finally came to believe that he loved her and she him.

          So they had married, Gunter and Tiressë.  It had quickly become obvious to him that this marriage had perhaps been far too hasty.  He found his new wife to be difficult to understand.  She did not anticipate his moods, but expected him to do so for her.  At first she did not appear to enjoy marital delights; then suddenly she began demanding  that he please her at a moment’s notice, even when he’d been busy doing necessary work about the farm.  Again, however, she did not appear willing to offer him the pleasure she demanded he grant her.

            The more Andred heard, the more she grieved for what Norien was suffering now.  To realize that her beloved younger sister was a too pampered child who cared nothing for the feelings of those who cared for her was visibly hurting her.

            Gunter admitted that he’d begun the practice of treating Norien as a servant.  Day after day he would find that the house had not been swept nor the dishes washed nor the dirty clothes laundered, so he’d complain to his wife, who explained each time that these had always been Norien’s responsibilities.  So, he’d begun complaining to Norien, then ordering her to do what needed done.  It was not until Tiressë began aping his behavior that he realized that there had been no time for Norien to do what he’d ordered her to do, for she had been working all day alongside of him upon the labors of the farm.  But he’d found it easier to continue as he’d begun than to make things right, much less insist that as she had withdrawn from the outside work, it was only right that Tiressë should take on the major care for the house.

            As for the night he’d come home and gone into his wife’s sister’s room instead of the chamber he shared with Tiressë….

            What could he say?  He had been drunk, and he found himself wishing for the attentions of a woman rather than those of a mere girl!

            For the first time Tiressë raised her head, and even from above the glare she turned upon her husband could be discerned.  In fact, it was discernible by all within the room, particularly once she opened her mouth and began to berate him in terms no Man should hear from the one he’d taken into his bed.

            There was a barely perceptible movement from the King, at which the small Pherian guardsman at the foot of the throne turned to look up at the tall Man seated so far above him.  Some silent message was passed between them, and with a slight nod the guard left his place, going forth on silent feet until he stood right before Tiressë, although she did not recognize this was so until he tapped the tip of her nose with the flat of his sword, at which point she went quiet in mid-rant, her eyes crossed as she examined the sharp blade that was raised right before her face.  The blood that had suffused her cheeks now drained away, and her mouth was dry.

          The sudden quiet weighed upon the room.  Finally the King spoke, his words measured, filled with import.  “I see that Captain Peregrin has caught your attention, Mistress Tiressë.  That is good, for the words that have issued from your mouth were less than worthy to be spoken by any woman toward the one who loved her.  In them you have shown yourself to be perhaps more base than either your former neighbor or your husband has painted you.  With them do you confirm the ill opinion their testimony has planted in the hearts of those within this room.  I have traveled through basically every land of both the north and the south, but no fishwife of my acquaintance would have dreamed of saying anything as vile as what you have uttered this day, not even in the privacy of her home, much less in the presence of so many, and particularly not when many of those gathered to bear witness to what has been said are from such far-flung places as Harad, Rhûn, Rohan, the Shire, Dale, the realm of the Woodland King, and the fastnesses of the Dwarves.”

            Tiressë’s cheeks again began to darken, but what she might have said was bitten back when once again Captain Peregrin’s sword waggled in front of her nose, and immediately her face blanched as her mouth snapped shut.

            “It is a pity,” the King commented, “that it takes the threat of a soldier’s sword to cause you to consider what words you should not utter.  Look at me.”

            She raised her eyes to meet his, seated as he was upon the high throne of Gondor.  He continued, “I have had no real need to have these speak here today, for they have been questioned more than once in the past several weeks, and my agents have checked to see that what they have said is accurate and that it is supported by other, independent evidence.  Master Alvric and Master Anorgil have been quite busy on my behalf, along with others who serve as investigators for the Citadel.  But when I pass judgment on any citizen of Gondor, I must satisfy a significant company of the full population of the realm that I am not acting without reason, and that there is compelling evidence that my judgment is in keeping with the offenses committed.”

            There was the rustle of a new arrival at the main door into the Hall of Kings, and all turned as if to see what new person might just have come in.  Soon the Herald came through the press to stand before Prince Faramir, who leaned forward to listen to Master Halboron, then turned to signal to the King that some expected news had come.

            The King asked, “It has been found?  Good—bring it forward to just behind Master Gunter and Mistress Tiressë.  I will now take up the questioning.”

            He turned his attention to Gunter.  “What do you know of the record books for the goose farm upon which you live and labor?”

            Gunter sighed and looked down, his shoulders shrugging.  “I know that the record book presented to Master Alvric as Magistrate is not the original one.”

            “What happened to the original book of records?”

            “I know not.  She said that it fell into the pond in which the geese swim.”

            “And how did this come to pass?”

            Again the Man shrugged.  “I do not know.  I can guess that she threw it there, hoping it would be so spoiled that it could not be read.”

            “Whose hand filled out the records in this new book?”

            “She wrote out all of the earlier entries, but she had me enter many of the later ones, for as she said I became the master of the farm now that we are married and Norien has left us.”

            “Why would she wish the records altered?”

            “I suspect that it was intended to hide how much money the farm actually made, for she is constantly wishing to buy new clothing and adornments, and it must come from the monies received.  If the collectors of the taxes do not see how much was actually received, then they will expect less coin to be placed into the public coffers.”

            There was a strangled outburst from Tiressë that stopped as again Captain Peregrin’s sword was tapped against her nose.  Meanwhile there was a low murmuring throughout the chamber as others commented to one another on this observation.

            The King signaled to someone that Andred could not see who apparently stood behind Gunter and Tiressë, and a young Man came forward carrying something wrapped in a canvas bag.  “Tyrol here is one of my agents of inquiry,” the King announced to the room at large.  “Will you tell this company where it is you have been and what it is you carry?”

            “We received permission from Master Gunter to search the cow byre for the farm on which he lives, and in it, in a place suggested by Mistress Norien, we found this.”  He reached within the bag he carried and brought out a large, stained ledger book, holding it up so all could see it as clearly as possible.  “It appears to be the missing ledger that it was said had fallen into the pond in which the geese swim.  It has been wet, and recently; but it is not damaged beyond reading.”

            The book was examined by Master Alvric, who agreed that this appeared to be the ledger book he remembered seeing some years previous as presented by the father to Mistresses Norien and Tiressë, and that although it had apparently been immersed in water it was still mostly legible.  Both ledgers were surrendered to the King’s own clerks, who would compare the figures between the two books.

            All was now quiet within the Hall of Kings as the King turned his attention upon Tiressë once more.  The young woman spoke.  “Why were people sent to search my farm without my permission?” she asked.

            “Your sister indicated that you had a certain place within the cow byre in which you had begun secreting items that you did not wish others to see.  She said that there had been a similar place in the old storage shed that you used throughout your childhood and until your household was sent into the safe refuges during the war.  Both she and your father were aware of these places, but felt that all younglings need to feel they have a safe place to hide their treasures, so they rarely disturbed it unless something important went missing.  Was anything else found in that place?” he asked, addressing Tyrol once more.

            “Yes, my Lord.  There was a bottle such as is used to hold rat poison.”  With that he rummaged in the bag and produced the bottle, one familiar to many who had to keep such materials to use in their own properties.  “And there was some jewelry as well.”  He handed the bottle to a page, and brought out a bag of faded purple cloth that when opened proved to hold a number of items, including a ring, two pendants, a brooch, and a gold bracelet.

            There was a cry of distress from Gunter, who turned on Tiressë with fury in his eyes.  “Those belonged to my late wife!” he cried.  “Why did you take them?”

            “But I am your wife now!” she shouted.  “Why did you withhold them from me?”

            Captain Peregrin’s sword struck her once more upon the nose, and she stopped short, her eyes once more crossed to focus on that silver sheen before them.

            “Enough!” announced the King, and he rose from his seat, once more attaching his sword’s hangers upon his belt as he descended from his throne to stand between man and wife.  Gunter stepped back with respect, murmuring an apology for having so lost control of his temper, but Tiressë stared up into the King’s face with defiance in her gaze for some time before she looked away, her expression for the first time troubled and confused. 

            “This is better,” their Lord Elessar said, his own face stern.  “It would seem, Mistress Tiressë, that you are too much given to taking what you please, and resenting those whom you consider to be denying your right to achieving your desires.  You sought marriage with this Man, achieved it, and then did all you could to thrust your sister, who loved you as dearly as life itself, from your joint home so that you could take over the full rule of your property.  Your new husband brought with him mementos of his far happier marriage to the wife lost to him in the war, but you took them without his permission.  And it appears that you perhaps murdered your father when he became aware that you were stealing from the farm’s finances and sought to question you about it.  You sought to falsify your farm’s financial records so as to minimize both the tax and the amount to be given your sister, and convinced your husband to join you in so doing.  How much has been lost of the farm’s substance due to your selfishness and mismanagement is yet to be learned.

            “But now the hour of reckoning has come indeed, and this time the rat poison will do you no good.  I have searched your heart, and have found it a small, wizened thing that cares not for anyone other than yourself.  Your sister was willing to cede her interests in the farm to you in return for a fair share of its worth, but you would not give her a fair settlement.  And I see signs in your husband’s visage, in his hair and nails and eyes, that you have begun using the rat poison upon him within the last week.  Then you would not even wait until he had followed your father into death before you took from him the signs of love he had given to his first wife!”

            She looked up to meet the King’s eyes, her own wide with alarm.  His mouth grew even more stern as he searched her face.  At last he turned to Gunter.

            “She has betrayed all who ever loved her, and now does the same to you,” the King said gently.  “You shall be admitted to the Houses of Healing this day, and all that you have done ill toward Mistress Norien will be forgiven you if you will admit your faults toward her and will beg her pardon.  You will be granted the right to bargain with her for a fair share of the worth of the farm, although you shall not be allowed to remain upon it but must again go forth, once your health has returned, to find a new life and new work to sustain yourself.”

            “But the farm is mine!” objected Tiressë.

            The King’s head was already shaking as he turned to face her again.  “No one shall benefit from the murder of another,” he explained.  “I have spoken with the healer who saw your father during his final illness, and the symptoms he has reported are consistent with the rat poison found in your hiding place.  I can order the disinterment of your father’s body, as in spite of the time since his death the presence of the poison can be proven by examining his remains.” 

            Her face paled once more, and now the guilt was written upon it for all to see.  “You could not!” she insisted through gritted teeth.

            “You think not?” the King challenged.  “It is not for naught that I learned the craft of healing in the house of Elrond Peredhil, greatest of all healers within all of Middle Earth for the last two Ages of the Sun.”

            She actually shrank beneath his gaze, and turned away, crouching over her own middle.  “But he accused me!” she whimpered.  “He accused me of stealing!  He had no right to accuse me of stealing!  I was the one who accepted the money, and I ought to have been able to spend it as I thought best!”

            And she went on—and on—the words spilling out as she wept, crying for all of the times she had been denied what she desired, every time her sister was praised but not her, every time she had been forced to do without because the money was needed elsewhere….  No one could now question her selfish nature or her total lack of concern for anyone else.  And no one within the main portion of the Hall of Kings spoke out against it when the King signaled for her to be led away to the prison behind the Citadel.

            Norien wept silently as she saw at last what her sister truly was.  She had only thought she’d lost her sister after Tiressë’s marriage to Gunter; in reality, the sister Norien had thought she’d loved had not existed for many years—if at all.

            The King had again ascended to his throne, and with his great sword laid across the arms of the High Seat and his hands clasping its sheath, he declared his final judgment.  “The woman Tiressë will be taken to the Houses of Unquiet Spirits in Lossarnach.  There she will remain until the healers of spirits are convinced that she is well enough in mind to take up her proper punishment.  She will then be removed to work with the engineers in Arnor who are charged with seeing the roads rebuilt joining the Southern and Northern Realms.  She shall be assigned to cleaning the quarters of the engineers and to serving meals to those condemned to work upon the roads for a period of at least ten years.  After that she will be released, but she may not return to live either within Minas Tirith or upon the Pelennor.

            “As for you, Master Gunter,” he said, turning his attention to Tiressë’s unfortunate husband, “if you desire it, I will see to it that the marriage contract between you and Tiressë is nullified, with you freed of your marriage bond to her.  After all, in her attempt to murder you as is likely to have happened to her father, she has broken all terms of the contract and has shown that she cares not for you or, most likely, for any other.”

            Gunter, however, shook his head.  “No,” he said.  “I will not put her from me, although perhaps I should.  May I go with her to Lossarnach and serve as I can within the Houses for those of Unquiet Spirits until she is released, and then labor as a freeman alongside those condemned to rebuild the roads?  Perhaps in the years of her service she will find she does indeed have again the heart of a woman, and when her sentence is done we can live together as man and wife as I had hoped.  I now relinquish all claim I might have held toward the farm upon the Pelennor, for Norien has the knowledge and love of the raising of geese I have not, and she is the one who best will bring the farm to the fullness it is capable of being.”

            The King looked at where Norien sat beside Andred in the gallery above the Hall of Kings, and back down at Gunter where he stood before the throne of Gondor, and sighed.  “With the permission of Mistress Norien, we will revisit the question of a share in the value of the farm when and if Tiressë is released from the Houses for Unquiet Spirits, as we will revisit the question of the annulment of your marriage contract with Tiressë.  Until that time, all shall be as you have requested.  Captain Peregrin will lead you to the lesser audience chamber, and shortly Mistress Norien shall be brought there that you and she may make your peace with one another, and both grieve for the love you both imagined you had that has been shown to have been false to both of you.  I will speak there with you when the audience is over, and before you are taken to the Houses of Healing.”

            Gunter bowed low.  “I feel myself unworthy of your concern for me, my Lord King.  But I am glad you appear to understand why I feel I perhaps deserve not to be freed from my marriage with Tiressë.”

            “Go now with my blessing,” the King said gently, and signed for his Hobbit Guardsman to lead the Man away.

            Norien was helped to her feet by the page assigned to her, and went down to speak with the unfortunate Man who’d been convinced to marry her sister, and Andred hoped all would go well between them, there in the lesser audience chamber.

 *******

            The final trial of Indrahil of Lebennin was an anticlimax to what had come before.  Prince Imrahil and the Lord of Peshastin primarily led the questioning of Andred’s brother, and it took little time to break the Man down to admitting he had indeed bullied and blustered his sister into giving over her title to her home into his hands after the death of her husband.  He had indeed wasted what inheritance he’d received from their father, and when he’d learned his brother-in-law Dírhael had died and that the Lord of Peshastin was away in Dol Amroth attending upon Prince Imrahil, he’d pressured the Master of the village in which he’d grown up into standing up for his apparent right to take the property left to his sister and her spouse now that there was no Man to head the household.

            He’d done badly by the business his father, sister, and her husband had so carefully nurtured for years, and was in danger of losing the house and property as well as what stores of cloth remained as a result of poor judgment and gambling.  Plus, it appeared that he had three women arguing as to which, if any, was his rightful wife.

            The King conferred briefly with Prince Imrahil and the Lord of Peshastin, and the Master for the village was called forward and removed from his office as a result of his actions in giving over the property to Indrahil.  Indrahil was given a choice of laboring as an indentured servant within the household for the Lord of Peshastin for a period of seven years, or to be exiled to Arnor for the rest of his life.  In the former case, the wages he would earn that ordinarily would be given him on his release from servitude would go instead to discharging his debts.  As for the three women—well, that would be sorted out by Prince Imrahil and the Lord of Peshastin once they returned to their own keeps, and the stars help him should he garner yet another possible “wife” ere he be released from servitude.  He chose the period of indentured servitude, and was told that afterwards he must either find gainful employment within a month of his release from Peshastin, or he would be exiled indeed to Arnor, and he nodded and gibbered his relief that he would not be forced to work either upon the roads of Arnor or within the quarries of Gondor. 

            Andred and her mother were led down by young Ingbold to the Hall of Kings to confront her brother, and once they arrived Lanriel approached Indrahil first, her body stiff and her head shaking.  “I am ashamed at this point to admit that you are indeed my own son,” she told him.  “You were always a fool, and never seemed willing to learn what either your father or I sought to teach you.  If you felt it would take more effort than you were willing to expend, you would not even try.  And always you let your attention be drawn by the cheap and gaudy rather than the simpler and more durable and in the end more valuable, both in fabrics and in companions.  Why this was so we could never understand.

            “When your father knew he was dying, it pained him to admit that you were an unworthy heir.  But you had refused to accept apprenticeship in any other business.  What was he to do—allow you to inherit and for all others to see the business die as it surely would—and as it has come close to doing since you took all from Andred’s hands?  No, he would not see that, so he named Andred and Dírhael his heirs instead, giving you the amount you would need to pay apprenticeship fees in an enterprise more in keeping with your capabilities and interests, fees you instead wasted within a few months’ time.  Is that not so?”

            Indrahil’s face reddened, and he blustered, “But he never believed in me!”

            “He gave you chance after chance.”

            “And….”

            “And each time you sought to take the easy way.”

            “I could have done well!”

            Lanriel gave an explosive sigh.  “Perhaps you could have done well, had you ever sought to do more than to please yourself!”

            He was shaking with frustration.  At last he muttered, “But there is no stock left.  I went to the warehouse, and it was all gone.  I did not waste it all, Nana.  I gave the key to Linhir, and I have not seen him since, and all that was left within the warehouse is now gone.”

            When she answered, “I was wondering when you might admit this,” he looked up in surprise to search her face.  Seeing his expression, she added, “Who did you think asked him to remove all of the cloth from within the building and to move it elsewhere that you not be able to surrender it all to your debtors, my son?  Oh, yes, I know where it is hidden.  But it was never intended to be in your hands to begin with, and you know it.”

            “But, Linhir----”

            “I was able to convince him to no longer assist you to reduce us all to beggary.  He did what I asked of him, and left Peshastin for Pelargir that you might not convince him to tell where he had taken the remains of our stock.”

            “But you never had a part in the business!” he objected.

            She pursed her lips.  “My son,” she said slowly, “I never cared deeply for aiding in the business of dealing with cloth, but before we could take on apprentices, I aided your father.  But as she grew older, Andred had far more interest than I ever had in the choosing of fabrics for sale, and she and Dírhael did well between them.  Just because you do not remember me helping your father does not mean that I had no experience—or interest—in the family business.”

            He looked at her unbelieving as she turned away from him.

            Andred now stepped forward to face him.  “To know that my own brother would take such advantage of my losses as to take from me the source of our family’s support was something I never anticipated, Indrahil.  And then you refused to allow me to take away with me aught that Dírhael and I had purchased together, claiming it all as your due as the son of the house.

            “I forgive you, even though it appears you have sold away much that was mine and my husband’s in the attempt to discharge your debts.  However, I cannot deny that looking upon you now causes my bowels to writhe within me.  I hope that I will not have to know your company again until I have had a chance to regain much that was lost to our mother and me through your actions.”

            She stepped back and faced the King.  “I thank you, my Lord King, that you have taken an interest in such as I am, and I grieve that you have had to see how foolish my brother has become.  I must admit that I will be thinking carefully as to what I might do now, for I have now begun to make a place for myself here within Minas Anor, and it will be difficult to leave here to return to a home where I lost my children and my husband, and where afterwards I was humiliated as happened at the hands of my own brother.  But to realize that my naneth was able to keep all from being lost is heartening to learn.  We may be able to salvage the business after all.”

            He smiled upon her.  “Your mother has provided my agents with records that your brother did not know about that may help you in retrieving much that was lost by Indrahil’s actions.  But know this—you may find it advantageous to resume your trading in cloth somewhere else besides in the village where you have dwelt most of your life.  Or you may find turning to a different but related enterprise may be preferable to the life you knew before.  You are not required to return to the life of a cloth merchant and crafter of children’s garments in lower Lebennin.”

            He turned his gaze upon Indrahil.  “According to all accounts, you stripped your sister of almost all when you took her house and business as your own.  Yet she did not allow this to stop her from caring for her own needs as much as possible.  She immediately sought out suitable employment here, and has already begun to prosper within the White City.  She has friends who respect her willingness to work and her courtesy and caring toward others.  The aid given her when she arrived she has already begun to repay and to offer to still others.  I am honored to have come to know her in the time since her arrival, and my Lady Wife and I wish her all of the best in whatever she decides to do next.

            “Know this—from those to whom much has been given much is expected in return.  But when such people cannot produce as is expected, then it is likely they will lose all that they have.  So it has proved with you, Indrahil of Peshastin.  Think on this as you labor for the next seven years.  It is time now to learn what your own strengths are so that you become an asset to your new master’s household rather than a drain upon his resources.  If you can do this, then there is the probability that when your term of service is over you will find your own place within Gondor.  Otherwise—I do not believe you will find Arnor to be any kinder than you have found your own land.”  At a gesture, a Guardsman stepped forward to lead Indrahil out of the Hall of Kings.





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