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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.
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 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.”
“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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