Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 26. Lessons
"I assure you," soothed the King, "he has not gone far."
They were alone in their bed, not yet ready to dress and face the world. Ariashal curled up against him. "I would feel better if the children were in here. Every day he is free is another day they are at risk."
"I agree with you that Ferion lies in wait." He sat up, careful to avoid hurting her. "But if he can use anything against us, he will; and if he feels he has made us afraid, it will only make him bolder."
She watched as he slipped from the bed. At the end of the bed clothes were gathered from chests and assembled into a human form. Watching him metamorphose from a voice and rush of air into a man was endlessly fascinating for her. He buckled on his sword belt and began to pull on his gauntlets.
"Why can you not stay longer?" she asked, falling back into the pillows.
"Your brother's governance of Rhudaur left a great deal to be desired. I have no choice but to try and make sense of the morass he has bequeathed me. He has spent far more revenue than these lands can possibly produce, and all of it has been to buy war machines from Cardolan."
"Can you not pay the debts and be free of it?"
"Even if Angmar had the resources to do so, I would not pay them. As it is I will be forced to simply cancel the debts which are owed Cardolan."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I will be sending them messages telling them that Rhudaur is not paying them any longer."
She sat up. "But that will anger them! They might declare war!"
"They might, but I doubt it. Cardolan is not much better off than Rhudaur, and since they have been so dependent on Rhudaur for survival I expect that they will quietly slink away."
"If they are so weak," she mused, "perhaps you should simply take them over, too."
He stopped at the door. "I intend to."
Ariashal made her way down to the pavilion where the children stayed. Every day she came here to supervise their lessons and give Herumor some much-needed rest.
Today they were practicing their letters. Her own children were quite advanced; they knew several different scripts, and had begun to learn other languages. Adrahil and Zimraphel were messy writers, more inclined to get ink on themselves than neatly onto paper; but Imrahil's penmanship was improving rapidly. Ferion's grandchildren, however, were quite backwards. Thabadan was still learning his letters, and Lalwen was still confused by shapes and colors. Ariashal could not believe that Ferion had neglected them so badly.
But then, he seemed to have neglected everything here. The gardens of her youth were unrecognizable; the dilapidated furnishings, now all hauled away by the poorer families; the state of the kingdom's finances--he had let it all go. And for what? From what she could see, he had engaged in a single-minded pursuit of her husband. That had cost him everything.
She watched while the children worked. After an hour she had the tutor stop, so that the little ones could have some relief. Well she remembered the way learning to hold the pen cramped her own fingers!
While they raced about outside, she looked over their work. Imrahil was copying from a history of Numenor; he was working on the story of Tar-Palantir. Adrahil and Zimraphel were engaged in spelling. She could see that Adrahil was having some difficulty with Elven names, while Zimraphel drew little pictures in the margins of her work. Her father had told her that he would not begin teaching her spells until she mastered spelling; and while the spelling was fine, the little pictures told Ariashal that her daughter was bored. She would have to speak with the tutor, so that more challenging work could be found.
Herumor came into the room. "Good day, my queen."
"I thought you were resting."
"Aye, my queen, but the children's laughter woke me."
"I am sorry. I will speak with their nurses at once."
"No, madame. Do not do so. It is not a sound of torment for me."
She looked at him. "Herumor, may I ask you something?"
He stiffened slightly. "I will do my best to answer you, majesty."
"Were you ever married? Did you ever have children?"
She caught the unmistakable sound of a muffled sigh. "No, my queen. I was never so fortunate to have a family of my own."
"I am sorry to hear that. What happened? If--if I may be so bold to ask."
He sighed again, this time not even attempting to hide it. "That is a rather long saga, my queen, and one that is not so easily told."
She recognized the tone. "I am sorry to pry, my lord Herumor. It is merely that I have seen the way you tend the children, and I wondered if you had any of your own."
"I--would prefer not to speak of it today, my queen." He stopped at the curtains to his own room. "But in a day or so, I might be persuaded to speak."
That night she could barely wait until she was alone with the King. She wished to tell him of the children's progress. But most of all she wished to know about Herumor.
Once he had comfortably settled into his chair, she stood behind him, where she could more easily massage his shoulders.
"To what do I owe this honor, my queen?"
"I spoke with Herumor today."
"And?" he prompted.
"What happened with his family?"
He turned to her. "What makes you think something happened?"
"Because he would not speak of it to me."
He sighed. "Ariashal, there is much about us which you must learn."
She moved to the front of the chair. "Such as?"
"We are not all pleasant."
"I know that," she said.
"And we are not all equally strong."
"I know that, too."
"And our lives are not always easy to discuss."
"This, too, I know."
"Herumor's story is his to tell," said the King. "I would not presume to tell it for him."
"But I do not think he will speak with me."
"That is for your own safety. If--pressure was brought to bear upon him, he would not be able to stand long against it."
"That is precisely who I mean. Herumor broke once under pressure, and I do not doubt that it would happen again, should that pressure be brought to bear."
"Then is it safe for him to be near the children?" she felt a sudden rush of panic. "Perhaps he should be sent away!"
"No, my queen. So long as Herumor is nearby, while the other lacks His implement of doom, all will be well."
"Herumor depends on you for protection from--Him?"
"He is not the only one. Most of them expect me to stand between them and the--other. It is part of my role as their Lord."
"Then why are they not with you at all times? Why do they stay away?"
"Because I want them to stay away. Most are in the south and the east, where they await my orders. For now I want all to be quiet. As I said before, I cannot afford to have my presence known."
"Khamul and Fuinor are different. They are more comfortable near Him. That is why they lurk in Dol Guldur. I do not want to think on what would happen should we be forced to deal more intimately with them. He would certainly make life difficult for us."
"Why? Why was--why is it so important for Him to have you?"
"If I knew the answer to that, I would not be here now." He gently took her hands in his. "But I will speak with Herumor on your behalf. I will tell him that you can be trusted. And I will only tell him that which is safe for--others--to know, and if he should then choose to unburden himself to you, it will be his decision to make."
"Thank you." She settled onto his lap. "I do not wish to harm him."
"It has been a long time since he has spoken of his life to anyone, my queen. He may well be longing to do so."
"I, too, have longings," she said. As boldly as she dared she pulled him to her in a long, deep kiss. She was so engrossed that at first she did not hear the frantic pounding at the door.
The King pulled away from her. "Enter!"
One of the guards rushed in, panting. "Your Majesty--we are under attack! They have set fire to our tents!"
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