Politics of Arda
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 43. Return to the Keep
Safe within her carriage, Ariashal watched the slow exile of the Angmarim from the Keep.
The Orcs had left during the night, leaving behind nothing but litter and trampled grasses to mark their camp. Here and there she could see the wreckage of one of the Orcish tents, or the smoldering remains of their fires. Ferion's men were pleased to see the Orcs go, but she was not. She knew that the Orcs were unswervingly loyal to Angmar. Their departure meant she had one less ally in Rhudaur.
From up here on the hill she could see the steady stream of wagons laden with furniture, foodstuffs, carpets. Some of the wagons she recognized as traveling from Carn Dum, but many were of much simpler construction and humbler in quality. Clearly the troops had requisitioned anything with wheels, and were now using these things to remove everything of value from the Keep.
Amidst the wagons were the common folk, trundling their belongs away in handcarts and baskets. The very old and infirm rode in donkey carts, along with cages of chickens and geese. Children herded goats, sheep, pigs; every now and then an animal would break rank, only to be driven back to the flock. A few dogs drove the cattle along the road, their barking mingling with the bleats and cries of the others.
Most of the troops had also broken camp, although their fields were considerably neater than the old Orcish campsite. Their wagons were traveling together, flanking the civilian migration. Troops marched ahead of the crowd, keeping the group in some semblance of order. Wolves trotting back and forth also patrolled the lines, their sleek gray bodies a blur of motion.
Ferion had set up camp near the carriage, where he could also watch the proceedings. Every now and then he made some comment to whomever happened to be close by, and then fall back into silence.
His presence unnerved Ariashal. She wondered what he hoped to prevent by sitting here. Surely he knew she was not going to try an escape. No, he was here because he knew it pained her to watch her people forced to leave under such humiliating circumstances. And she knew he wanted to see her in pain.
She refused to give him the satisfaction. Ignoring barbs and jibes was easier than she expected; she found them tiresome and juvenile rather than hurtful. Ferion slouched in his camp chair, smirking and joking with one of his men. Hatred rose in her. My son will punish you, she thought, and that brought her great comfort.
Somewhere around noon Ferion had a luncheon brought out. He made an ostentatious show of offering her fruit and bread, meats and pastries. Ariashal was too hungry to refuse. But she insisted that the guards be fed as well, which annoyed Ferion. And he was really in no position to deny her request; he did not want to be shown up in front of his own men by his sister. Chagrined, he ordered that more food and ale be brought from the kitchens.
Watching the guards eating and toasting her name gave her a great deal of satisfaction. Perhaps she could win them all over to her side, and then seek a means of gaining her freedom. Bind the people to you, the King had said; and bind them she would.
Shortly before nightfall the troops hauled the heavy gates closed, locking the remaining household in the Keep. In the distance Ariashal watched as the last of the day's stragglers disappeared over a hill, kicking clouds of dust into the deepening blue sky.
"How many you reckon are left?" asked one of Ferion's guards.
"Don' rightly know. Hey! You! Angmar!"
One of the black-clad guards turned. "Yes?"
"How many you got in that castle?"
"More than enough."
Ariashal's heart skipped. She did not need her sole protectors getting into an argument that might lead to a brawl, or worse.
"Enough to keep us safe." The man resumed his stance.
"Is there, now." The Rhudaurian would not let it alone. "And is there enough to keep you safe here?"
The Angmarim ignored the taunt.
"Hey! Angmar! You hear me or not?"
No, breathed Ariashal, stop this, now, before there is a fight and someone is slain. Please, please, please stop.
"You there!" snarled Ferion's aid. "Guard! Back to your post and mind your business."
The Rhudaurian shrugged and wandered off.
Ariashal closed her eyes, thankful that another crisis had been averted.
Shortly before noon of the next day, the last of the household of Angmar left the Keep.
The new King and his court rode out early, riding in the carriage that had brought them in triumph to Rhudaur such a short while ago. Ariashal could make out Imrahil, bravely riding his little chestnut pony at the head of the household troops. She did not see Herumor amongst them, which was puzzling. Either he was riding in the carriage with the children, or he had ridden out with the orcs earlier. Perhaps--hope fluttered within her heart--perhaps he had stayed behind, hiding in the Keep to protect her. He could do that, she knew, a last act of loyalty for the King he loved and admired.
Three horsemen rode away from the group, banners rippling in the air as they cantered up the hill. As they drew closer Ariashal recognized Adzuphel among them, his sturdy bay snorting as they rolled along.
Ferion lazily rose from his tent to greet them. She noticed that he did not even bother to put on clean clothes; he had worn the same ratty, filthy tunic for the last several days. This, then, was the future of Rhudaur--a man who could not even manage to bathe. Her late husband had believed that the King reflected the kingdom; a sentiment even her own father had shared. Ferion amply demonstrated how low Rhudaur had managed to fall, all within a matter of days.
Ferion strolled over to her carriage. "It seems that your curse has finally been of value," he sneered. "Now I will have my kingdom back."
She managed to say nothing, certainly not the Just in time for you to finish destroying Rhudaur that came to her mind.
Adzuphel and the others reined in their horses. Dismounting, they crossed to Ferion. "As you requested, we have evacuated the Keep. It is now yours for the taking."
Ferion smiled. "Excellent. My men will examine it for traps, and then we will occupy it."
"There are no traps waiting within," bristled Adzuphel.
"So you say." Ferion laid a hand on Ariashal's carriage. "Still, my men will check and report back to me before we go further. Understood?"
Adzuphel glanced at her. Ariashal met his gaze.
"Very well. Have your men ride now, and see that we have spoken the truth."
Ferion ordered three men to examine the Keep for traps. As they rode away, he leaned over to Ariashal. "For the sake of your children, there had better be nothing amiss."
She found her voice. "Adzuphel and my men are not like you, Ferion. We are not here to destroy Rhudaur."
His eyes narrowed. "Remember, sweet sister, what it is I can destroy." He gave the carriage a shove and sauntered off.
It seemed to take hours for the men to return. Ariashal offered Adzuphel refreshment, an act of hospitality that Ferion tried to turn to his advantage. Adzuphel ignored him. Finally the three guards trudged back up the hill, sweating in the afternoon sun.
"Well?" demanded Ferion.
"Nothing to report."
"Good. My men will take the Keep now." He glared at Adzuphel. "Your work here is done, old man. Get on your horse and leave while I am still in a good mood."
"We have met the bargain, and the Queen must come with us."
Ferion snorted. "What kind of fool do you take me for? I know that as soon as I hand her to you, your men will attack. No. She goes to the Keep with me."
"That was not our agreement."
Ferion fingered the hilt of his sword. "I told you, old man, she stays with me until you have retreated to Angmar. That you have not yet done. Once you are gone, I will send her back."
"The king will not like this!"
"Your king is a little boy. And it is about time he grew up!"
Adzuphel took the reins of his horse. "This treachery will not go unpunished."
"Treachery? If there was anyone who knew treachery, it was your former master. Now go, before I decide to kill you!"
Adzuphel turned his horse and galloped away, tiny clouds of dust hanging in the air behind him as he disappeared down the hill.
It took only a few hours for Ferion's men to retake the Keep.
Granted, they had far fewer provisions and furnishings to move than the court had owned; virtually everything could be carried by a single man. Only a few things needed heavier transport, and there were some horses and wagons to attend to that. They worked busily until after nightfall, when the bobbing torches lit the road into the Keep. Finally a faded Rhudaurian banner was unfurled, and the Keep was officially Ferion's.
Ariashal and her carriage were brought into the courtyard. She tried not to think about the much happier progress that had brought her here so many months ago; tried not to look for the King and her children in every shadow and crevice. It was useless; she longed to see them, to hear the King's voice, reassuring her that the nightmare was over, that she was safe again in his arms. But it was not to be, and nothing would ever make things right again.
She was given a suite of rooms in the tower, the same ones formerly occupied by Herumor. It was comforting to know that her friend had been here; it was certainly better than staying in the rooms Khamul had used. Men brought in the pillows, chests, and other trappings from the carriage. She was given a cot, some old blankets, a table and a stool. A fire was lit, and she was left alone.
Ariashal tried to think, to digest the last few days. Nothing seemed quite real; it was as though she were floating through a bizarre dream. And yet she knew that she was awake, and that she would not be able to flee from the disaster that had consumed her.
For she knew, now, that Ferion had no intention of permitting her to return to Angmar. He intended to keep her here as a hostage, in exchange for whatever he could wring from Carn Dum. How much would Adzuphel tolerate before severing ties and leaving her to her fate? She could not even begin to guess.
Someone rapped at the door. "Who is it?"
"Me, your loving brother."
She wanted to scream at him to leave, but knew it would be useless to do so. "You may enter."
Ferion swung open the door. With him was a servant, bearing a small tray laden with food. The man placed it on the table and withdrew.
There was another with Ferion, a younger man, tall like her brother, with eyes as gray as a storm cloud and just as cold. His long black hair fell over his shoulders, partially obscuring the insignia on his red tunic. He smiled wolfishly at her.
Smiling, Ferion took her by the hand. "I want you to meet your new husband."
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