King's Commission, The
3. Meeting with the Patron
Meeting with the Patron
Ruvemir of Lebennin carefully stepped off the gangway of the ship that had carried him upriver onto the wharves of the Harlond, beneath the fields of the Pelennor on which the great battle had been fought. He'd thought to find the ship more comfortable than riding the distance from Lebennin, but had not. He found the movement of the deck unsettling, and the bed in his cabin had been so high he'd needed a stool to climb into it. And it had been so very narrow, and hard. He was very glad to be off the ship at last, but now contemplated the Pelennor with frustration. Others would be able to follow the road from the wharves quickly and easily; but his left hip was paining him, and he knew he would take far longer to make the journey to the gates than his fellow passengers.
One of those coming off the boat, however, a young woman who'd been visiting with relatives in Dol Amroth, offered him a ride in her father's carriage to the gates, an offer her father agreed to with a measure of reluctance, Ruvemir noted. In spite of the man's obvious displeasure Ruvemir accepted gladly, even accepted the Man's assistance as he'd noted the pained grimace Ruvemir gave as he tried to mount the step, and they were off on their way.
There was a barrier across the still-open gateway, and nearby under a familiar open shed short, broad figures worked steadily on what must be the new gates. Ruvemir had never seen Dwarves before, and saw that they resembled Men well enough, only being shorter and heavily bearded, broad in the chest. They did not seem as poorly proportioned as he was himself, and he envied them the ease with which they moved about their work. But he found himself itching to have his own tools in hand and to be beside them as they worked, for he saw there were figures being worked into the leaves of the gate.
His own chests would follow after, for he'd paid to have them carted to the city to the inn advised of by the ship's captain, a place in the second level known as The King's Head. The seven gold pieces had paid for all this, and he still had funds left over without touching his fees for the work he'd done in Casistir.
The sheer magnificence of the capital of Gondor hit him as he alighted from the carriage and thanked the father and daughter for their courtesy to him, a stranger. They smiled, the father glad he'd assisted the mannikin after all, and they wished him a good visit to Minas Anor, then turned their carriage about, for they lived in one of the small hamlets rebuilt on the Pelennor, just inside the Rammas Echor to the south and west. He looked up at the height of the towering walls, much of it still heavily stained with the remains of smoke and soot, some of it shining with newness. High up he saw the keel of the outthrust rock, which so marked the city reach its zenith, and over it hung the banner of the King. He turned his dazzled gaze down, looked for the guards at the gate, approached one and asked to be taken to his captain.
The captain looked at the token as it was presented with interest, and acknowledged he'd been told to look for it, and said he would lead him to its owner so he could return it in person, but that that individual was not now available. "Where are you staying?" he asked.
"I hope to take rooms in the King's Head," Ruvemir stated, and the soldier nodded.
"Then, when I hear the--the Lord Strider is available, I will send a guard to you to take you to him. However, he is likely to be high up in the city, so I advise you to rest beforehand. He has been laboring in the Houses of Healing for the past few days, and they are in the Sixth Circle." He then ordered a young recruit to lead the artist into the city and show him the way to the King's Head, and as they walked away, Ruvemir noted a second was dispatched up toward the heart of the city.
Hmm. Well funded, a woodsman, a fighter, one apparently skilled with a bow as well as with a sword, and one who labored in the Houses of Healing as well? And spoken of as "Lord"? Strider was becoming even more of an enigma than ever.
Before the Inn of the King's Head he saw his first Elf, a tall, slender figure with hair the color of a raven's wing, long hair straight to the waist but drawn back from the temples in careful braids, singing as he planted a tree in the midst of the inn's welcoming garden. Ruvemir watched with awe the single-minded attention of the figure fixed on the tree, noted the sheer grace of the being, the unearthly beauty of face and form. The young soldier beside him smiled and bowed to the Elf, who showed himself to be more aware of his surroundings than he'd appeared, bowing his head gracefully in return as he tamped down the soil about the tree's roots. "The Elves of the great forest have proven true to their promise to bring new life and beauty into the City," the young man commented quietly, the first words Ruvemir had heard him speak. "Prince Legolas of the Woodland Realm has given this as his gift to his friend, our King Elessar." He nodded to the door and let the artist enter first.
The counter behind which the innkeeper stood was higher than Ruvemir's head, and the sculptor sighed with frustration. However, the guard with him indicated the host should look to his companion for direction, and Ruvemir was treated with sufficient courtesy to make up for the lack of furniture fit to his stature. After a moment's thought, the innkeeper said, "I think one of the rooms fitted out for the King's Friends will suit you well enough, sir, if you will follow me," and with a nod of dismissal to the young soldier he led the way down a passage to the right of the desk. "Our common room is the other direction, sir, down and to the right--you will recognize it. The King has ordered all inns in the lower levels to be fitted with rooms appropriate to house those of the kinds of his Friends, as he intends all should feel welcome in the city of the King at any time." He led the way halfway down the passage, then opened the door to a room which was indeed fitted to the needs of Ruvemir such as he'd not seen except in his own house in Lebennin. Two low beds stood near the arched window at the far side, a low table and low chairs, a low chest, a wardrobe with full mirror that stood little taller than Ruvemir himself, a desk, a shelf of books, a fireplace and brass tender. A second doorway opened into a private bathing room with a comfortable-looking bath and boiler with fire laid, and other fixtures that spoke of a mind that tended toward comfort and practicality. Ruvemir was highly impressed.
"So, this room was intended for the use of the Dwarves?" he asked.
"Oh, no, sir--this was intended for the use of the Pheriannath. The Ernil i Pheriannath himself gave us directions on how to best adapt rooms for their comfort. Does it suit?"
Laying his personal satchel on the low table, Ruvemir nodded. "Oh, yes, it suits--it suits well. Thank you." His host, with a few more comments on how if he needed anything he only had to ring, withdrew, leaving Ruvemir to enjoy the comforts of the room.
And it was comfortable. A thick carpet in colors of wine, gold, and green covered the center of the stone floor. The chairs were cushioned in golds and greens, the beds covered with thick, soft-looking blankets over crisp white linens and a number of pillows on each. On the walls were paintings of fields and trees, greens and golds predominating again. The window was framed by lace curtains which, when drawn, would offer a modicum of privacy while allowing sunlight into the room. He opened his satchel and took out the tube in which he kept his favorite drawing charcoal stick, his gum which he used for correcting stray lines, and the precious stick of graphite he'd been given by a friend who said he'd obtained it from one of the dwarf artisans working on the restoration of Minas Anor, pulled out his sketch booklet, then went to the window and looked out. Stalks of flowers grew outside in reds and blues, beyond them a low parapet that looked out on the lowest level of the city and the Pelennor beyond. He could see the Harlond in the distance, and, slightly to the right, a bare patch of blackened earth surrounded, apparently, with some kind of fence in the midst of what appeared to be otherwise a fertile field. Near the black patch was what appeared from this distance to be a small hillock of green grass, long and rich, also set off by a small fence, with a white stone upon it. Perhaps these were some type of memorial from the battle, he thought. He looked at the two beds he stood between, and turned to the right one and reached down to touch the thick green blanket, which proved to be quite soft. He sat down upon it and found it perhaps a bit softer than he preferred, but otherwise quite comfortable. It felt so odd to be able to touch the floor while sitting on the side of the bed, he thought, after spending so long in inns which had rooms and furnishings intended for folk far larger than himself. He found himself feeling beholden to this prince of the Pheriannath who appeared to prefer comfort to regality.
Opening the booklet to his most recent sketch, he looked again at the study he'd been doing of the mysterious Strider as he'd remembered him. For the most part he felt he'd been able to get things right, but he wasn't happy with the rendition of the legs, which looked too stiff as he'd drawn them. He still wondered about the strange small bowl in which he'd had smoldering leaves whose smoke he'd breathed. Ruvemir had never heard tell of such a device before, and could not for the life of him understand why anyone would wish to do such an odd thing. He sighed and took out his ball of gum, and began to remove the offending lines of the leg and tried once more to get them right and in proper proportion to fit the lean body of his subject. He was deeply engrossed when a rap at the door announced the arrival of a young woman carrying fresh towels, an extra blanket, and a ewer of warm water. She was very pleasant to look on, Ruvemir decided, smiling at the oval face, lips which indicated she smiled more than using any other expression, eyes of grey-blue on either side of a pleasantly turned nose, and thick mane of golden brown hair pulled back in a braid at the nape of her slender neck. She was not tall as were most he'd seen so far in the city, although she of course stood taller than he. He watched her place the ewer and towels on a stand near the doorway to the bathing room, then set the extra blanket on the top of the low chest.
When she turned to address him he found her voice pleasantly high without being shrill. "My name is Elise, good sir, and if I can bring you anything to make your stay more pleasant, please ring the bell--" nodding toward the pull on the wall near the door, "--and I'll be glad to serve as I am able."
"Thank you, Elise," he responded. "I cannot think of anything I would need now--except perhaps for a pitcher of water to drink and a goblet or two."
She smiled and curtsied, and with an "Of course, sir," she was off, gently closing the door behind her. He looked back at the progress he'd made, and decided that for now he'd come as close as he was likely to do, so he closed the booklet, laid it on the stand that stood between the beds, and, slipping off the soft shoes he preferred to wear, he pulled himself onto the bed and lay back. He was almost dozing when the second rap at the door indicated Elise's return. He sat up and bade her enter, and watched as she came in with a tray on which stood two pitchers, both with pewter lids, a couple of cups, a tankard, a dish of rolls with a small bowl of butter and a knife, and, he saw, a folded paper sealed with black wax. "There is a message for you, sent down from the upper city, and orders to bring you this pitcher of ale, sir, for your refreshment," she said as she set it all down upon the table.
He thanked her as he rose and approached the table, and with a winning smile she left again. He poured himself some of the ale and took a sip, and found it excellent, then reached out for the paper and examined the seal. The device impressed into it was a star surmounted with a simple A glyph, which told him nothing. He slipped the seal loose and opened the missive, finding a brief note written in a remarkably scholarly hand, certainly not what he'd expected from the individual he'd met in his work shed in Casistir.
Welcome, Master Ruvemir, it read. I received word of your arrival, and am pleased you have taken rooms at the King's Head, which has an excellent reputation. I am otherwise engaged, but will come down to the inn about an hour before sunset to speak with you. I will probably be accompanied by a friend who has been advised of the project I've proposed. If at that time you will repair to the common room, we will meet with you there.
Remembering how you appeared to like the ale at the Crossed Keys in Casistir, I have sent this, hoping it will relieve the strains of travel.
As signature and the rest of the missive were all in the same writing, he found himself growing even more intrigued with his mysterious patron. He sat down in one of the low chairs and contemplated the note, then set it aside. So, Strider had seen him in the Crossed Keys. He certainly did not remember seeing him there, but then he had the distinct impression that this woodsman knew how to make himself unobtrusive.
He sat back in the chair and thought for a while, sipped on his ale, then poured himself a cup of the water and took it back to the bed with him, drank half of it and set the cup on the stand by the bed, then laid himself back and allowed himself to drowse for a time.
His chests arrived about two hours before sunset, and were brought to him by the innkeeper and a porter. He thanked them and paid a small coin to the porter for his services, and began unpacking his clothing into the wardrobe and chest. He then went into the bathing room and prepared himself for his meeting with his proposed patron, ending by changing his shirt, brushing his shoes, combing hair and beard neatly, and finally setting off in search of the common room, taking with him his sketch booklet.
Strider had already arrived and sat, hood up over his head, at a table in the corner, a goblet of wine before him. His long legs were stretched before him, and his attitude was one of exhaustion. The cloak he wore was different, this one a silvery green in the low light of the room; and his legs were encased in grey trousers and a lower boot than before, although again of excellent workmanship.
Beside him was a shorter individual with long russet hair drawn back in a braid and a thick beard and mustache, also neatly braided, and as he approached Ruvemir realized this was a Dwarf. With mixed feelings he came closer, saw the Man raise his head in recognition and beckon him forward. "Ah, Master Ruvemir," he said, "welcome to Minas Anor. May I present my friend, Gimli son of Gloin."
The Dwarf rose and made a formal bow. "Gimli son of Gloin, at your service, Master Sculptor."
Ruvemir was startled, but imitated the gesture. "Ruvemir son of Mardil at yours, sir," to which the Dwarf replied with a grunt that appeared to indicate approval.
At that moment the innkeeper arrived, indicating the private parlor had been prepared if they chose to follow him; and turning he started off back to the door. Strider rose and caught up his goblet, and the Dwarf took up a large tankard, then reached down and casually lifted up a large axe from where it leaned against the wall, and with a look to Ruvemir to follow they went after their host. Within a few moments they had been waved into a small parlor room with table, several chairs, a couple of settles and a low bench and a fireplace. The Dwarf set his axe against the wall by the hearth, and looking disapproving at the chairs, settled himself on the bench with his tankard. Strider moved the table closer to the bench, set his goblet upon it, drew up one of the chairs and sprawled in it, his head tipped back. Ruvemir examined the laconic pair, sighed, and seeking an appropriate seat, decided on one of the settles. In a moment the innkeeper was back with Elise, carrying between them a tray on which a supper was served, two more tankards, a pair of goblets, and three pitchers. Ruvemir exchanged smiles with Elise as she helped to set the table.
The attitude of the innkeeper intrigued Ruvemir, for once he had his guests here it was as if he'd suddenly recognized them and was feeling unsettled in some way. He was a bit short with the girl, and hustled her out of the room as swiftly as possible, tarrying long enough himself to say, most respectfully indeed, that if there were anything more they required to please ring, and hurried out himself.
The Dwarf gave a snort of amusement as he contemplated the now closed door, and looking at his companion he commented, "Well, since this room, at least, was not built to my specifications, you might refill my cup for me--and I suspect Master Ruvemir would appreciate something to drink, also." Strider sat up, sighing, and reached for the pitchers, identified the ale and filled the Dwarf's cup, then gave a wordless look of inquiry to the sculptor.
"I'll try the wine," Ruvemir said, feeling contrary, and watched as the tall Man filled a goblet for him and passed it to him, then poured more into his own goblet. He noted that the man wore a ring on his finger, although there wasn't time to note anything more than it appeared to be set with an emerald in some kind of design. Not a signet ring, he noted, but probably an heirloom, for it gave him an impression of age.
Ruvemir set his sketch booklet on the edge of the table and took his goblet, and found the wine to be excellent. He then watched his host to see whether anything was to be said about his reason for being here, and saw the Dwarf was also watching Strider with an attitude of indulgence and care.
Finally the Dwarf spoke. "You've had the goblet in your hand for an age now. You might feel better if you were to take a sip of it, you know." Strider grinned at him, and reaching up put back his hood.
Ruvemir froze, for he himself was recognizing the man--twice recognizing him. It was the King's officer from the Crossed Keys, and as well it was....
No, that was ridiculous! Captain Thorongil had served Gondor how long ago? Yet this Man was still plainly in his early middle years, hale and strong, if tired. Strider looked at him, noted his response, and smiled grimly, while the Dwarf looked one to the other and again gave a snort of amusement. "So much for being unrecognized, my friend." The tall Man laughed.
"Oh, he recognizes me, Gimli, but not as you suspect; and our good host recognized you, but I don't think he is certain about me, although he has his suspicions. Now, if our other companion were here, I think he'd have no question."
Gimli shrugged. "Well, drink up. You've had a hard day, and with your lady away for at least the next fortnight, you will have no other form of relaxation for a time."
Ruvemir considered. "You are married, Lord Strider?" The taller man nodded, and took a drink of his wine. "What a pity--you return and she must away?"
"There is an outbreak of pox in the city, the form that strikes children. She was never exposed to it before, and she is with child. I have sent her to Ithilien until the disease is contained. I will not have her exposed at this time."
"You have had the disease?"
"Yes, when I was quite young."
"And you work in the Houses of Healing?"
"When I am needed. With so many children ill, there is need for all with any skill at all to ease them."
"I do not understand, sir...you are an officer of the realm?" Strider nodded with wry humor. "What has an officer of the realm to do with the Houses of Healing?"
Strider sighed, shook his head, tilted it back again, his eyes closed. "Very long story, Master Ruvemir. Suffice it to say my background is...unusual, and my foster father saw to it I received training as a healer. So, as my duty is to serve the combined realms of Gondor and Arnor in whatever capacity I can, when there is illness in the city I am often called to the Houses of Healing to aid."
"Shall we eat, my friends? I am sorry this room is not as accommodating to your sizes as the common room, but I felt this interview would be best carried out in privacy."
"If I might make a suggestion--my room was designed, I am told, for the comfort of the Pheriannath--perhaps if we were to ask to have the food and drink transferred there we could all be more comfortable." Gimli looked pleased with this idea, and with a nod Strider agreed. Pulling his hood back up over his head, he indicated Gimli should do the honors, and he settled into the corner as Gimli moved to the bell.
Elise returned, understood the request, and in a few moments had the food and dishes back on the tray and led them down to the other corridor, back to Ruvemir's room. At a suggestion from Ruvemir, she went off as Gimli set the dishes out on the table, returning with a full sized chair and small folding table at which the tall Man could be more comfortable, and in a few moments all had full plates before them. After the Standing Silence, they sat down to eat at last. With a look of request, Gimli indicated his desire to see the sketch booklet, and at Ruvemir's nod of assent brought it beside him and began looking through it as he ate. Suddenly he stopped at a study of Captain Thorongil, and his brows lifted with interest. Wordlessly he turned it to his companion, who laughed.
"I met Master Ruvemir in Casistir, where he had been commissioned to work on a rendition of the assault on the Corsairs of Umbar by Captain Thorongil and Prince Adrahil."
"Oh, I see. Thought there was a family resemblance there." Strider's laughter filled the room. Gimli continued on, looking at more of the studies of the Captain, then pausing to look at the one of the girl who watched in awe. He nodded with approval. Finally he came to the one of Strider sitting on the block of stone, and paused again. "Here he has you indeed. Strider the Ranger. Might have accompanied you right through Hollin, you know."
Strider nodded, and Ruvemir considered. Oh, then that was it--this Man, as a Ranger, would have been trained in woodcraft as well as swordsmanship; and certainly in a situation where he and his troupe might be isolated for weeks at a time, if not longer, healing would be a useful addition to his skills. Strider was looking less fatigued as they ate, and after he finished his goblet of wine he refilled it with water and sat back, then took the booklet as Gimli finished and began to leaf through it. The Dwarf turned his gaze on the sculptor.
"You are young to have ever met the Captain Thorongil. How did you know what he looked like? Or the Prince Adrahil, for that matter? I understand he has been dead some years now."
Ruvemir explained his methods, and saw Gimli nod with understanding. When he was done, the Dwarf looked at his friend and said, "I see why you think this might work. But I must say, if I'd not seen it, I would not have believed it possible. And the image of Prince Adrahil?"
"We all recognized him, Gimli. Lord Imrahil was very pleased."
"Why that subject?"
Strider smiled. "The Master of Casistir told us the Lady Endeth, who was patron for the work, asked particularly for the subject. Before she married, she served at the Ford's Inn. When traveling between Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth Captain Thorongil often broke his travels there, and she at one time had visions of enticing him." Again the Dwarf's snort of amusement. "The Prince and I had a discussion of this shortly before we reached the Ford and the new inn."
"I see. Not much hope for her, was there, this Lady Endeth?"
Ruvemir looked between the two of them.
Gimli stretched. "I think I'm ready for a pipe. Do you have any of the Hobbit's leaf, or do I have to bring out that sent from Erebor?"
Strider smiled. "My Midsummer's gift from Brandy Hall was a barrel of Old Toby, and from the Great Smials one of Longbottom Leaf."
"And what did you get from Bag End?"
The Man's face saddened briefly. "Sam sent me seeds of the new strain of athelas he's been growing on the Hill. It is very potent."
"Bless him. Always practical, Sam." Strider nodded. "Which, of course, brings us to the purpose of this interview. The memorial." Again Strider nodded, solemnly. Gimli reached into a purse at his waist and brought out a device similar to that Strider had used in Casistir, while Strider brought out his own from his belt.
Strider suddenly paused, looking at Ruvemir. "I am sorry--I had forgotten you probably have never smoked, and I know the smoke bothers many unaccustomed to it. However, my friend and I here both learned the art in the Northlands. Will it bother you if we have a pipe as we speak? We will open the window, which will make it easier for you." At Ruvemir's nod, Gimli went to the window and opened it as Strider drew from a wallet on his belt a flat leather purse and opened it. "I brought the Old Toby with me, Gimli."
"Good. Much better than Dwarf grown. One thing Hobbits are useful for, you know. Other than dropping stones down wells, of course." Both laughed briefly.
The three of them moved away from the table, and Strider knelt to light the fire on the hearth, then Dwarf and tall Man each took crumbled leaf from the leather purse and filled the bowls of their pipes and lit them with a splinter Strider drew from the fire. Ruvemir watched with fascination. The Dwarf looked content and replete, the Man again thoughtful and sad. At last the Man spoke.
"A few years ago I was given the mission of aiding a Hobbit to find his way from his homeland of the Shire to Rivendell--to Imladris. It was only the second Hobbit I'd had the chance to know personally, although I'd met many in Bree--not that the Hobbits of Bree would have much to do with me, a Ranger from the Wild.
"He did not come alone--he was accompanied by his gardener and two cousins. They were being pursued by...by dangerous enemies. Hobbits don't usually have enemies, and certainly not the likes of these. They caught up with us at Weathertop, and managed to seriously wound my friend. We reached Rivendell and the aid of Lord Elrond barely in time.
"A few months later he was wounded again, at a time when he was in great privation. He'd parted from us to spare us a grave danger, and accompanied only by his gardener and friend, went on, he thought, to his death. That he survived is due to the grace of the Creator." The Dwarf nodded solemnly. "He appeared well enough when he left to return to his home, but the nature of the wounds he bore was such he began to sicken. He was offered a chance for full healing, but at the cost of his not being able to return to us. He accepted it--finally."
For several moments all were still. "He is the gentlest spirit I have ever met," Strider finally said, "the gentlest and the most giving. We wanted to have a statue made of him before, of all four of them, in fact. But those artists in the city were unable to do him justice in their studies of him, and he was most uncomfortable with the idea of being immortalized in stone. Now he is gone from us, I want to see the project carried out. He must not be forgotten among us."
Ruvemir nodded. He rose to retrieve his tube of drawing materials from the stand by his bedside, then picked up his sketch booklet as he returned to his chair by the fire.
"All right, then," he said. "Describe him."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.