|About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search|
Chapter XX: Payment and Price
When the last hand was clasped and the last consolation uttered, Ecthelion surveyed the trestle tables with their tragic burdens. Many of the dead had been borne away by grieving family or friends, but eighteen men remained. Their blankets had been replaced with proper linen shrouds, neatly stitched and packed with herbs to ward off stink and slow decay. Some would be fetched by kin dwelling farther afield, but Ecthelion knew that there would be a few unclaimed.
These he would see buried with honour at the City’s expense. Such was not the usual way, where an unclaimed soldier would be laid to rest by his Company, but these were extraordinary circumstances. These men and their fellows had not marched knowingly into battle, nor fallen defending the walls as was their sworn duty. Death had come unlooked-for on the training field, and the survivors were still struggling to cope themselves. They could not be expected to undertake the funeral labours.
A glance at the two Captains was enough to prove that. Both had the grey-hued and careworn look of men stumbling homeward after a gruelling campaign – as in a way they still were. Ten years had fallen on Nelior’s head, and young Minardil was pale as a wraith. Neither looked to have had any sleep, and Ecthelion reflected that this was likely not far from the truth.
The Steward turned first to Nelior. ‘There will be a gathering of the Captains at the beginning of the dusk watch, to discuss means of bringing your Company back to working strength. Consider well if there are any men you particularly desire to serve under you.’
Nelior made his salute. ‘I will, my lord, and thank you.’
Ecthelion touched the man’s elbow briefly, a small but significant gesture of solidarity. ‘Go now,’ he said. ‘Word will be brought to you when your men are interred in the temporary crypt.’
Nelior nodded, bowed again, and was gone. This left Ecthelion and Minardil alone but for the honour guard from the First Company of the Citadel. Ecthelion took careful measure of the Captain.
‘This is the first reaping of death that you have seen as commander, I think?’ Ecthelion asked.
‘Sire, it is.’ Minardil was striving for grave dignity, but his voice was rough with sorrow and weariness.
Ecthelion’s lips twitched in earnest pity. ‘I fear it grows no easier with long practice, but time at least will
‘So I have been told, my lord,’ said Minardil.
So Nelior had taken it upon himself to mentor his more junior fellow. That was well. Ecthelion approved of nothing so much in a soldier as a desire and capacity to teach.
‘If there is aught that I may do to ease the burden on your office, you have only to say,’ Ecthelion promised. ‘It will be some days before I can turn to the question of renewing your Company, but in the
Minardil did not answer straight away, but let his eyes take on a distant light as he ran through the calculations. Ecthelion admired him for that, and still more for his response. ‘Let them take a third,
‘As you wish,’ said Ecthelion. ‘If it proves too little, see that you are not too proud to tell me. What else can I offer?’
Minardil’s eyes made an awkward slide to the right. ‘Sire, it may sound trivial at such a time…’ he began.
‘Speak, Captain, and let me judge what is trivial,’ Ecthelion urged gently.
‘The men’s pay,
‘But your men are not men of means, to have their wages lightly withheld,’ said Ecthelion, nodding. ‘They have families to support and debts to discharge, necessities to purchase and comforts too long delayed. It shall be seen
‘Two days hence, my lord: yes.’ Minardil coloured faintly, though his face was too ashen to muster much of a flush. ‘Sire, I did not mean to imply…’
Ecthelion offered a small, tired smile. ‘Nonsense, my boy: think nothing of it. The monies are overdue as it is, and there is no need to wait longer. If the quartermaster has not prepared them by now, he is remiss in his duties.’
‘A page will be sent,’ Ecthelion promised. A silence lapsed between them. ‘You have done well, Captain. Under terrible strain, you have upheld your duty and served both your Steward and your men. Take pride in that.’
Minardil bowed his head, accepting the praise quietly. ‘Thank you,
When he had taken his leave of the good Captain, Ecthelion made his way slowly through the streets. He could have called for a carriage or commandeered a horse from any stable in the city, but today he preferred to walk. The long, serpentine climb gave him ample time for thought and a welcome reminder that although aging, his body was not yet aged. He did not strain his wind, nor awaken in his limbs anything but the pleasant ache of healthful exertion. By the time he reached the Seventh Gate, he was more restful in his mind than he had been since the terrible tidings had come.
He heard his son’s voice even before he turned the corner that led to the Lord Warden’s office. Ecthelion’s presence in the makeshift morgue had relieved Denethor of the duty, but from the first
‘... my privilege to write to you of his courage. He was to the last a valiant soldier and a true son of Gondor,’ Denethor said slowly. As Ecthelion reached the open doorway, his Heir pivoted upon one foot and resumed his ponderous pacing. ‘My gratitude and that of all my people
Valacar sat at his high clerk’s desk, taking meticulous dictation. He did not look up to anticipate the next words, or to allow himself to be distracted by his master’s perpetual motion. Leaning on the doorpost, still unnoticed, Ecthelion watched as his son stopped before his secretary and
‘I stand ever yours in honour and service,’ he concluded. The quill scratched softly upon the costly paper. Then Denethor snapped his fingers and Valacar yielded up the implement. The onetime tutor slid from his perch and retreated to the corner, giving Denethor ample room to move in. He signed his name with tight
At last Denethor’s eyes found the threshold and the watcher within. ‘My father,’ he said neatly. ‘What would the Steward ask of me?’
‘I came in search of a quiet word, though not as the Steward,’ said Ecthelion. ‘Yet I would not take you from this solemn work.’
Denethor glanced at Valacar. ‘Turgil of the Tenth Company is the last, is he not?’
‘Yes, my lord.’ The secretary was dusting the letter with sand. Upon Denethor’s desk lay two neat piles of documents waiting to be sealed with the Captain-General’s mark.
‘Did you know the man?’ Ecthelion asked softly. ‘You speak as though you did.’
‘No,’ said Denethor. He drew a hand across his mouth, and for a
‘And was it?’ asked Ecthelion.
‘I do not know. It is doubtful. He fell to the orcs, and the corpse showed signs of much abuse.’ Denethor reached purposefully for the back of his carven chair, but Ecthelion marked how his hand trembled in the instant before he laid hold. ‘Bestial thralls of darkness,’ he snapped, eyes crackling with righteous fire. ‘If I could slay them all, I would. And I would give much to know how they reached the river.’
‘Mayhap the prisoner will tell
If anything, the flame burned brighter. ‘He need not be strong,
‘Do not be hasty, my son,’ said Ecthelion. ‘It is best to wait until he is fit, rather than to risk losing his cooperation.’
‘He need not cooperate, either,’ said Denethor. ‘Only speak.’
‘Hard words.’ The admonition was quiet, but Denethor stiffened as if at a howl of rage. Instantly Ecthelion regretted his words. His son, too, had but lately been in battle unlooked-for, and the loss of so many good men must weigh heavily upon a commander’s heart. ‘Pay me no mind,’ Ecthelion sighed. ‘It has been a weighty morning.’
Denethor’s expression softened in a way that he would never have allowed had there been any observer but Valacar. ‘How many were claimed?’ he asked quietly.
‘All but eighteen,’ said Ecthelion. ‘More will come for them. The others I will see buried at the City’s expense.’
‘Not the Companies’?’
Denethor did not question him further. His fingertips brushed the larger of the two stacks of letters. ‘I will dispatch these on the morrow,’ he said. ‘It is fitting that word should come first from the Captains.’
Ecthelion nodded. It went beyond a Captain-General’s duty to write the letters at all – for a fallen officer it was expected, but for common guardsmen or simple
‘Can you wait to seal them, then?’ Ecthelion asked carefully. He knew better than to suggest that Valacar
Denethor’s eyes narrowed, glinting like slate. ‘Familial matters?’ he asked.
‘Matters concerning your sister,’ said Ecthelion.
At once the wariness ebbed from Denethor, replaced instead by anxiety well-hidden save from a father’s eye. ‘Telpiriel. How fares she? Is the child…’ He stopped, looked at Valacar, and shook his head. ‘I will walk with you. That will be best.’
It would indeed be best, and Ecthelion led the way.
It was some time before Minardil could bring himself to abandon his shrouded men. In the end, it was the coming of the pallbearers to carry them away to the temporary crypt that broke him free. The walk down to the Second Circle was long and wearisome. His legs seemed reluctant to bear him, and his breathing became swiftly laboured. He had known he was exhausted, but the hard proof still troubled him.
He did not know how long he had slumbered with his head upon the table like a child or a drunkard, but it could not have been more than an hour. He and Thorongil had been awakened by the arrival of the servant come to light the fire in the main hall. There had been no question of slipping upstairs: Minardil had scarcely finished clearing away the signs of the night’s painful labour when the men began to come down in search of breakfast. Minardil thought he was beginning to get the faintest taste of the bitter draught Thorongil had been quaffing in the days since the battle.
He paused before the entrance to the garrison, levelling his breathing and settling his features into a countenance of calm capability. It might be that he was weighed down with sorrow and exhaustion, but he must not let his men see it – or if they saw, which seemed unavoidable, they must equally witness his effort to carry on regardless.
He entered upon the sharp scents of linseed and wool grease, to find the aisle between the twin rows of tables strewn with what appeared to be every scrap of leather possessed by the Tenth Company. There were saddles and harnesses, packs and straps and
‘What’s this?’ Minardil asked, greater burdens forgotten in his astonishment.
‘Oh.’ Minardil picked his way through the first few ranks of goods, which upon
‘Yes, sir,’ said
There was nothing Minardil could say to that, and he did not wish to offer up another flat oh, so he moved up the line. The men had clearly been working most of the morning, but they were only about halfway through the task. He wondered briefly why
‘Carry on: it’s most satisfactory,’ said Minardil. ‘When you have finished, you may have the time until the noon meal to rest. The quartermaster will—what is this?’
He had come to the end of the line, where a guardsman sat with his forearms braced
Thorongil looked up, mild surprise upon a face haggard with weariness. ‘Captain?’
‘What are you doing here?’ Minardil asked. He did not speak the implied question, for he did not want the others to think their faithful fellow was being scolded like a child.
‘Ordered, more like.’
Minardil frowned at him, wanting to pursue the question but equally eager to avoid the appearance of any difference of opinion among the Company’s officers. To
‘You know what I am going to say,’ Minardil murmured, keeping his face gravely implacable.
Thorongil inclined his head. ‘I believe I do, Captain, and I am grateful.’
‘Do not thank me; I should have done this three days past. Go.’ Minardil’s hand travelled involuntarily towards the stairway. Thorongil saluted and withdrew.
With a sigh, Minardil surveyed the hall once more and then retreated to his study. He could not be caught abed when the quartermaster came, but catching an hour or two in his chair would certainly refresh him a little.
The quartermaster’s exchequer was a portly man with a wrinkled and desiccated face. He executed his duty with ponderous precision, inured to the shifting impatience of the men before him. Captain Minardil sat beside him, holding the roll of the Company and reading each man’s name aloud in turn. They had arranged themselves without fuss, in order of rank.
From his place at the rear, Thorongil was interested
The tally also kept his mind occupied.
There had been an oversight on the part of the quartermaster. Instead of a redacted list naming only the survivors of the attack in the field, Minardil had the original. He carried it off well, but twice he called the name of a dead man. Both times a ripple of discomfiture ran through the Company, and Minardil’s face tightened in reflexive anguish. Thorongil watched him, an experienced Captain facing his first great loss of life, and felt nothing but sorrow and admiration. Minardil was bearing up as best he could, and the continued cohesion of the Company was owed to that.
The name of each of the wounded, read only once before the exchequer handed Minardil the monies due, struck Thorongil’s heart. Exhausted though he was, thoughts of the men he had tended so ceaselessly weighed upon him. Had he but the
The line was gone now, and Thorongil stood awaiting his turn. Minardil called him forward with a faint, unsurprised twitch of the lips. ‘Thorongil of the Guard.’
‘Thorongil of the Guard presents himself, sir,’ Thorongil said quietly, stepping forward.
‘Guardsman’s wage, one month less four days’ nonattendance,’ Minardil read. ‘Ten pence twenty-four coppers.’
It was straightforward enough. Thorongil had taken no credit against his wage, had damaged no equipment save in battle, and had no fines for lateness or disrespect or drunkenness. The exchequer plucked up two blue sacks and the appropriate coinage. These Thorongil took in his left hand. Not even glancing at them, he bent to sign his name. At the sight of the ledger, he knew that Minardil had not read aloud what was on his list. Thorongil son of no man was written in bold black letters, their very Elven elegance an accusation. Thorongil closed his eyes and signed blind.
Many of the men were gathered near the head of the room, leaning on tables or with a foot up on a bench. They were counting their pay, handing off coin to discharge loans or debts, laughing and talking in subdued voices. On an ordinary payday, Thorongil did not doubt that this would have been a glad and boisterous gathering. Even tonight there would be visits to the wine-houses and to the shops that sold small luxuries. He had himself intended to visit a
The thought of his sword, the Númenórean sword that he had found by fortune and a sharp eye, soured Thorongil’s stomach. He had spent countless hours restoring it to working condition and a semblance of its rightful glory. He had toiled to scour away the rust without scratching the blade, had dug the crusted grime of years from the tracery on the
He understood, or could try to understand, Lord Denethor’s interest in ensuring the weapon’s provenance. It was an extraordinary piece to be found in one of the humblest armouries in the City. But the accusation of false witness, without evidence or testimony, had stung Thorongil sharply, and the Heir’s handling of the sword had awakened in him an anger such as he had not felt in years.
The blow to his wrist might have looked accidental, but no mere loss of balance could
Thorongil tried to remind himself that Denethor, like all the rest of them, was still under strain from the battle and its tragic consequences. He forced himself to admit that the man’s
‘Are you off to spend your coin?’ Minardil’s voice was low, circumspect.
Thorongil shook his head. ‘What I crave cannot be bought,’ he said. He joggled his hand, testing the weight of his first wages as a servant of the Steward of Gondor. The thought brought a twist of guilt and apprehension. He could not make right the errors that had so contributed to tribulation in the field, but there was one thing he had to do. ‘Captain—’
‘Minardil,’ the other man corrected. ‘You are my equal and more. Address me thus.’
‘That is not fitting. Not where others may hear,’ said Thorongil. He hesitated, pressing his pale lips together as he braced himself.
‘What is it?’ asked Minardil. ‘Never have I seen you uncertain.’
‘The time is ill,’ Thorongil said. ‘With all that has come to pass and all that must be done, Lord Ecthelion is not at leisure to entertain the pleas of the least of his men. Yet… I must make arrangements to speak to him. It need not be now; it need not even be soon. But the request must be put in at once. It must be known plainly that I have made the attempt.’
‘The attempt. To speak to the Steward,’ Minardil said. ‘Dare I ask why?’
‘It would be best if you did not,’ admitted Thorongil. Perhaps the worst of misdeeds was this: that he had entangled a true and noble man in his ill-starred machinations.
Minardil gave him a long look. In Thorongil’s hand, the coins felt cold and heavy as lead plumbs.
That would indeed make the matter still more painful, but Thorongil could not have the situation of his own choosing now. He had let that time pass him by, and he would have to pay the price for it. He closed his hand upon its burden of currency, restraining the urge to fling the lot into the fire.
‘Thank you,’ he whispered. ‘You should escort me to my booth, Captain. I think we both have pressing business upstairs.’
Minardil chuckled, softly but sincerely.
With his patients delivered and his debriefing made,
Now Thalahir laid aside the curved needle and the tiny
Yet what could
‘It… it was the work of a soldier, Master,’ he said reluctantly. ‘A man lately come to Minas Tirith out of Rohan. He spoke of an uncle who fought against the Enemy and perfected the technique on the battlefield.’
‘This is the work of no battlefield butcher,’ the healer said, wiping the blood from his hands and tossing the stained towel into the bowl. ‘This is artistry the like of which I have seldom seen, and never upon an artery, however thick. Who is this man?’
‘So you have said. The horse-lords may be our betters in farriering, but their understanding of the healing arts is rudimentary compared to that held in this House.’ Thalahir’s brow furrowed. ‘Is that all he had to say for himself? That a soldier uncle taught him what the great scholars of the Arts Physic know not?’
‘Sir, I did not press him,’
Thalahir clicked his tongue. ‘I fain would meet this man. Can it be arranged?’
‘I… I do not know, sir,’ said
‘I will send for him,’ said Thalahir decisively. ‘My word should carry weight enough with the Guards.’
‘Sir, if I may…’
‘Did he?’ asked Thalahir, genuinely curious. In truth, no one had been able to make sense of Durion’s disjointed ramblings as he drifted in and out of an unnatural slumber.
‘Mayhap he could,’ said
His erstwhile teacher stared at him, grey eyes searching. Perhaps he saw what he sought, or did not see what he feared to. In any case, he jerked his chin. ‘Very well. He is a comrade of one of the men. Of the Lieutenant,’ he amended. ‘That will seem less of an indulgence. All in the House now know of his delirium. It is only natural that we seek to break it with persons and things familiar.’
Thalahir looked down at
|<< Back||Next >>|
|Home Search Chapter List|