Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 18. The Captive King
By morning all of his injuries had healed, from the little cuts and welts to the much more serious gashes. Ariashal had never heard of anyone recovering so quickly, and concluded it must be some sort of healing spell. Once he was awake she asked him, carefully, about his ordeal.
"Twas not as terrible for me as they would have wished," he began. "For me, the worst part by far was when they slew my horse. I had pursued them from the town, then chased them partway down the hill. When he collapsed beneath me, I fell hard onto the rock and he rolled over me.
"The next thing that I knew, I was in their tower. They had gagged me, tied a cowl over my head, and chained me to the wall. But they could not prevent my listening, and I stayed as still as I could that I might learn what they had planned for me.
"That was when your brother's name was first mentioned."
Her heart skipped a beat. "My--my brother? Ferion? What has he to do with this?"
"It seems that he is trying to form some sort of alliance with at least part of the Cardolani Dunedain. He wants to use this alliance to wrest power from me. They had not expected to capture me so early, however. They were planning on doing that when we reached Rhudaur proper. Instead they were forced to decide what to do with me now, without your brother's instructions. After a long discussion they finally decided that they would question me. So they threw water on me, to wake me; and they began to interrogate me. When I did not deign to answer their foolish questions, they began to threaten me with whips and torture. I have endured far worse than anything they could possibly do, and so I continued to ignore them.
"Finally one of them decided that it was time to begin questioning me in earnest. He tore open my shirt, and when he did so the fool was shocked to find me invisible. They worried about what this meant, and one of them went to fetch the Cardolani princes.
"By now I had begun to formulate the spell I would use to destroy them, and it was only a matter of time before it would be ready. I wanted them close to me, so that the effect would be instantaneous. I knew that the princes would come, and that they would be the first to fall.
"When they returned, they brought with them a whip tipped with iron spurs. They probably believed that the iron would break whatever spells I might have cast upon myself. One of the princes began to insult me, hoping that his puerile attempts would anger me. He came forward, whip in hand, and lashed me."
"No!" she cried.
"It did me no harm. But the whip itself shattered, as if it were glass; and his wrist shattered with it. He collapsed, screaming. The others, frightened, decided to rush me with whatever weapons they had to hand. I had my spell ready, and when they were close enough, I spoke the words. They fell dead at my feet.
"It took me a little effort to break the shackles, but they were soon gone. I collected my weapons and everything else they had taken from me, and began to work my way through the tower. I left no one alive, no slave, no servant, no one. When I was done I decided that simply leaving them there would not be enough. I wanted to impress upon all that I am not to be trifled with. And so I commanded them to rise, and follow me.
"The only horse worthy of the name was the pale beast that carried me back here. When I rode out of the gate, I was relieved to see that my troops were waiting, for I had no idea where I was, and no way of knowing how to return. The rest you know."
Without warning, she seized him in a hug, burying her head against his chest. "I am sorry," she whispered between her tears.
"Why do you weep?" He managed to extricate himself from her desperate grasp. "I told you that they did me no harm."
"But they tried!"
"Aye, madame, they can try all they wish. No living man can harm me."
"But why would my brother do this?"
"I assure you, I will find out. It may be time to relieve him of the burden of kingship. It is certainly time to appoint a garrison to that tower. Tis a fine enough tower, and the people who live here will go and build it even stronger. This miserable village will be given to some of the orcs."
That evening the villagers gathered to hear their new King decree their fate. They were stunned to learn that they would be moving away, and would be building a new town. They were even more shocked to learn that they would be moving within the week, with a few left behind to tend the crops. Ariashal's former nephew accepted his reduced role with more grace than she expected from him; but he too had seen the army of the dead, and was probably relieved that he had gotten off so easily. Troops and orcs were left behind to supervise the transition of the village, and the court rode off to Rhudaur.
They rode with more Angmarim troops now, while wolves swiftly covered the ground, searching for traps and spies. Ariashal wanted to keep the children from riding about the camp with their father after dark, but the King insisted that they show no fear to their enemy. She waited in her wagon, heart in her throat, until they completed their rounds.
Now that they were in Rhudaur proper, the orcs garrisoned in southern Angmar came to join them. Sensitive to sunlight, the orcs only traveled at night, usually reaching the court's camp some time before midnight. Drums would announce their arrival. There would be hailing and noise as they moved in, and the King would wait for a report from the orcish captains. For Ariashal the arrival of the orcs was something of a mixed blessing; she was grateful for the extra protection they offered, but worried that they might attack innocent civilians. The King assured her that his orcish troops, while undisciplined in many ways, would attack no target without permission, even here in Rhudaur.
Soon after they crossed the border they were joined by Herumor. He too arrived during the night, riding one of the flying beasts. Its presence worried the King, who feared that the Dunedain, or worse, the Elves, might see it. After some discussion Herumor turned it loose. It shook its head, broke into a hopping run, and took to the air.
"He has borne me many a long mile." Herumor watched him disappear into the night. "I wish to have him return."
"He will come when summoned," reassured the King.
"Pray that we have no need for that," said Herumor.
"Why would you need the beast?" asked Ariashal.
"If things do not go smoothly, I may have to send for reinforcements," explained the King. "Travel is much faster by air than by land. But I do not think your brother will be difficult. Without his Cardolani friends, he is likely to be easily subdued."
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