Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 42. Negotiations
Ariashal could not believe how close they were to the Keep.
Ferion's stronghold was in one of the hills, overlooking the Keep; she remembered riding over this very hill on the day that she and the King had arrived. He had hidden the entrance behind brush and rocks; it was impossible to see if one did not know precisely where to look. How long had he inhabited this place? Had he, she wondered, even kept spies here when she first entered the Keep? Probably; he could not have outfitted the place that thoroughly in so short amount of time.
She studied the hill, the plains before the walls, the entire approach to the Keep. It was almost possible to run, racing down the hill. Losing her footing would mean she would only tumble faster, rolling ever quicker to the keep and the safety of her family. Angmarim banners hung proudly before the gates, their glossy red and black calling her, urging her to flee, to hurl herself forward, to escape from Ferion while she still could.
A hand gripped her shoulder. "I would not try to do anything foolish, my sweet sister." Ferion dug his fingers into her flesh. "Not if I wanted to see my children again. Do you understand me?"
"Yes." She resisted the desire to strike him.
"Good. Adzuphel will be here soon. And when he arrives, you will speak only when spoken to. You will not whine, or complain, or do anything which might upset me. For if you do, I will see to it that your children never reach the border of Angmar. Understand?"
Nodding, Ariashal closed her eyes. She must stay strong for her children.
For hours the sun beat down unmercifully. Ariashal's already-pounding head hurt even worse than before. How long were they going to stay out here? She longed to sit, but dared not move and anger Ferion. Perhaps he wanted to punish her by forcing her to stand out here, keeping her in the sun so that she would be too sick to give him any trouble.
Movement at the Keep caught her eye. She could see men, horses, an enclosed wagon. Banners rippled in the breeze.
Ferion glanced at the sun. "Adzuphel is quite punctual, I see. Soon this will all be over."
Ariashal fought down the urge to scream at him. He had kept her out here for the sole purpose of tormenting her. What she would not give to be alone with him while knowing that her children were safe! Ferion would learn the meaning of torment.
A herald, bearing the banner of Angmar, rode towards them. Behind him was Adzuphel, riding his sturdy bay; both steward and horse were resplendent in black, red and gold. Flanking Adzuphel were some guards, while the small wagon trundled along at the rear.
"I see he did as he was told," muttered Ferion. "That is wise."
Ariashal paid no attention to the heralds, the fanfares, the honorifics. Nausea roiled within her. Closing her eyes, she forced her stomach to be still, to spare her the indignity of vomiting in front of Ferion. He must not know how weak she was.
"Greetings," began Ferion.
"Silence!" snarled Adzuphel. "What have you done to the Queen?"
Ariashal opened her eyes. Adzuphel, strong, proud in red and black, sword at his side, glared at her brother.
"I have done nothing!"
"Indeed." Adzuphel strode towards her. "Are you well, Your Majesty? Has any evil befallen you?"
"Only the murder of my husband."
Ferion dug his fingers deeper into her flesh.
"A great sorrow and tragedy has befallen the Kingdom of Angmar," Adzuphel agreed. "I have brought a wagon with clothes and other necessities for Your Majesty's comfort. You may go and change into something more suitable."
"I have not agreed to that," said Ferion.
Adzuphel turned to him, eyes blazing. "You will not permit your sister to stand in the sun, dressed like a common camp follower, any longer. She will be dressed as the Queen she is."
"Very well," Ferion finally released her. "But first my men must search it."
Two of the scruffy Rhudaurians trotted off. The wagon rocked as they climbed aboard, pulling back the curtain to expose the interior. A moment later they returned.
"Nothing to report," said one.
Ferion gave her a shove. Ariashal stumbled towards the wagon. One of the Angmarim guards helped her onto it. She opened the red curtains and half-fell, half-crawled into the covered area. There were three chests, a large ewer of water, a basin, towels, and some large pillows on the floor It was neither as big nor elaborate as the one she had ridden in while coming to Rhudaur, but it was shelter from both Ferion and the brutal rays of the sun. Exhausted, ill, she collapsed onto the mercifully soft pillows.
For several minutes she lay still while the pounding in her head eased. Outside the exchange between Ferion and Adzuphel grew more heated. Ferion loudly denied any wrongdoing; had he not sheltered and succored his beloved sister in her time of grief?
Adzuphel sounded unmoved. "The Queen is ill and hurt. She will return with us to the Keep."
"No." Ferion was adamant. "She stays with me until you have withdrawn from the Keep and returned to Angmar."
"That is unacceptable."
Ariashal had often heard Adzuphel use that tone on reluctant guards or recalcitrant visitors; she knew he would stand his ground and eventually win. As long as he was here, Ferion would have no choice but to concede. Adzuphel would do whatever he needed to cow her brother.
She listened while Ferion laid out whatever specious argument came into his head, while Adzuphel deftly swatted them aside. Finally her brother gave up.
"I am holding her as hostage so that you will leave the Keep."
"You should have admitted that earlier. We will leave the Keep as soon as possible."
"No," said Ferion. "I want my Keep now. She stays with me until you have gone. My men will stand guard."
"As will the men of Angmar. She will not go unguarded into your den."
"She cannot stay out here!"
"She most certainly can. The carriage will house her quite comfortably for a day or so."
"Fine!" Ferion's snarl reverberated through the little cart. "She may stay in there until you are gone!"
For a few minutes Ariashal listened while they hammered out the precise number of guards she would receive before turning to the more mundane issues surrounding the withdrawal from the Keep. The issue of her accommodations settled, she turned her attention back to her temporary home.
She had seen a ewer of water along one side--yes! There it was, sweating in the still air of the carriage. She carefully opened it and began to drink. It felt as though the cold water was refilling every dried crack and crevice in her body; she could not recall the last time water tasted so good. She knew better than to drink too much as once. Instead she splashed water over her parched face, letting the drops cool her aching head.
Refreshed somewhat, she poured more of the cool water onto one of the towels for a simple sponge bath. As yesterday's dust disappeared, she began to feel better. Once she had exchanged the old tunic for a soft blue dress, she felt almost well enough to confront her brother. She folded the tunic into a neat square, leaving the torn chemise behind. It was tattered beyond any reasonable hope of repair, but she could not bring herself to part with the last thing held by her husband. Retrieving the ring, she carefully parted the curtain and rejoined the men.
They had just finished debating the number and placement of her guards when she reached them. Adzuphel bowed deeply to her. "I trust you are well, Your Majesty."
"Thank you, Lord Adzuphel. I am much better now."
"It has been decided that you will stay in the carriage until they have left the Keep." Ferion's bluntness and lack of concern for her did not escape Ariashal.
"I think it will be far better than a cell, yes."
"You were kept prisoner?" demanded Adzuphel.
The flash in Ferion's eyes warned her to say little. "I was not a true prisoner." She dared say no more, lest Ferion make good on his threat. "But this is far more to my liking."
"My lord," she continued, "I wish to know about my children. How are they? How do they fare?"
He sighed. "They miss you greatly, madame. As for their father--the shock and grief they feel is so deep that they can barely speak. They will be much happier when you are returned to us."
"As will I, my lord. I must know--how fares the young king?"
He looked down. "Prince--King--Imrahil is much grieved by the loss of the King, as are we all, madame. He must take up crown and scepter, yet he is reluctant to do so while you are absent."
"I will be home soon enough," she soothed. "You must tell him that, for the good of the kingdom, he must accept the crown. You must tell him--you must tell him his father would want him to be strong. He would want to know that his son was strong enough for the task."
"I will tell him." Adzuphel's voice betrayed his sadness. "In truth, madame, it would be better if it was you who spoke with him."
"She will be there soon enough." Ferion cut between them. "I have some things which may be of interest to your new king. Here." He shoved the mithril shirt and great sword at Adzuphel.
Adzuphel took them away from Ferion gently, as though they were more fragile than glass. Carefully, reverently, he refolded the shirt and took up the sword. "Never did I think that this day would come," he murmured.
"Come it has," said Ferion, "and evil has been driven from this land. Take your relics and go. The Queen will be yours soon enough."
Adzuphel did not move. "One day, Ferion, I hope to meet under less formal conditions."
"I hope so too, old man."
"Enough!" Ariashal turned to Adzuphel. "My lord, I have something which must go to the new king. I have here his father's ring."
Ferion flinched, shrinking away as the black opal glittered in the sun.
"He must keep it, as a memento of his father," she continued. "But never, never must he wear it. This was his father's wish. And I would see it obeyed."
Adzuphel studied the gleaming jewel before slipping it into his purse. "It will be his, madame, and I swear to you that I will never permit him to wear it."
"Well!" Ferion stepped up, confident again now that the ring was gone. "Now that all has been settled, you will leave."
"Not until I have seen the Queen safely installed in her carriage."
"Very well," snarled Ferion. "Let us go and put you away, shall we, my sister?"
She walked between them, allowing Adzuphel to help her up the steps. Ferion opened the curtains, revealing the interior as she had left it. Satisfied, she slipped between the drapes, tying them shut behind her.
Ariashal drank more of the cold water before lying down on the pillows. Outside she could hear Adzuphel ride away. Even with the Angmarim guards, she suddenly felt extremely vulnerable. If only he could have stayed nearby! But she knew he must perform his duty, and his duty now was to care for the young king while supervising their removal from the Keep. At least she would be back with them in a day or so, and they could return to Carn Dum.
But there would be no triumph in their return to the great citadel. She could see Imrahil, his pale eyes shadowed by a responsibility thrust upon him long before he was prepared to accept it. How somber, how sober he would have to be! No longer could he play with the others. His world would now be one of adults and their endless problems.
They would crown him in the great Throne Room at Carn Dum, where the trophies of his father's victories hung over the hall. There he would sit, proud and still, while they held his father's crown above his head. It would be far too large for the boy; but it would have to do until a new one was made. He would be given his father's shirt and sword, both meant for a man far larger than he would ever be; and they would praise him, and proclaim him king. And Imrahil himself would be a lost little boy, overwhelmed by events too great for someone so young to comprehend.
At least she would be there, as would all of his father's counselors. They would probably look to her and Adzuphel for guidance while Imrahil grew up; and she herself did not know how long that might take. And always there would the threat of war.
How desperately had she hoped to avoid this very situation! When she had finally gotten the King to admit his true nature, she had assumed, stupidly, that such a catastrophe would never come to pass. There was no need for them to prepare their children; the King was not going to die. They would have little kingdoms of their own, within the empire of their father. But never would they be replacing him on the throne of Angmar.
And what of Sauron? What would he do, once he learned the ring was masterless? Could Herumor and Adzuphel keep whatever he sent to claim it at bay? Khamul would be in no condition to retry it, but that did not rule out the others. And there were many more things he could send, or do, to pry the ring free. The walls of Carn Dum would have to prove themselves mighty indeed to keep the forces of Sauron out.
One of the pillows caught her eye. A vivid blue and white brocade, she recognized it from her bed at the Keep. Probably one of the women had added it to the carriage when packing her clothes. Ariashal reached for it, pulling it to her breast.
It had been warmed by the sun, and as she held it close she caught a faint scent.
She recognized it, would have known it in any crowd. For a moment it seemed as though he were still here with her, still close enough to hold and touch. If only she had left him alone! If only she had let the grotto rot and her childhood recede! But she had not, and now all she had left was this pillow and a torn chemise.
She buried her face in the brocade and cried.
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