Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 5. The Mines of Angmar
It was worse.
They had seen the smoke for a day or so, hanging low over the valley. At night the sky glowed red, so much so that the mountains themselves seemed ablaze. As they grew closer she was aware of a heavy, oily smell that clung to everything. She covered her face with a small handkerchief, but the stench would not go away.
When they rounded the hill over looking the valley, she saw why.
The mountain itself seemed to have been hollowed out. Great columns of smoke and flame poured from the gaping caves. Gray smoke hung in the air, thick as a dense fog. Enormous piles of slag and cinder were stacked by the side of the mountains. Black-skinned trolls shoveled the cinder and slag into huge wagons, drawn by teams of horses and oxen. Armies of orcs and trolls stood on a gigantic mound of a shiny black substance, which they loaded into big carts. The black mass was a good thirty feet high, stretching back towards the mountains. Other trolls took the carts away, grunting as they pushed them towards the inferno.
More trolls were trundling out carts filled with iron pigs, which other trolls took and stacked in neat rows. She could not tell how many rows; it seemed to go on forever. The trolls, she saw, handled them as easily as she would move a platter.
"This is one of our steel foundries," said Adzuphel. "His Majesty is very proud of what has been done here."
"Proud? Of this? This is terrible!"
"Why, madame? Smelting iron and steel is a messy process. His Majesty has taught us the most efficient way. You see the trolls and orcs? If they were not doing this, they might well be fighting amongst themselves, or raiding human villages. Come. We will show you the town."
The smoke and smell grew worse. From a distance she could see that the walled town had been rigidly divided into four sections. In one section were huge, barnlike structures, made from drab gray blocks. Another section had long, low buildings, which seemed to be several hundred feet long. She saw that each of the long buildings was further divided into small rooms, perhaps ten feet wide and twenty deep. All had tiny yards behind them A few twisted trees and dispirited bushes grew there, but for the most part they seemed to hold pigs and geese.
The third group was also a large building, but this she recognized as a market. She could make out merchant stalls through the haze, and saw that there were many Orcs freely wandering around.
The final section held houses. These, too, were built of the same gray bricks as the rest of the city. They were tall and narrow, each sharing a common wall with its neighbors. These also had chimneys, which blew even more black smoke into the air. All of the houses had yards, big enough, she saw, to grow a garden, although only a few seemed to do so. Most of them had rough stables; she saw a few ponies and some rangy cows. A few dogs trotted about, while scraggly chickens scratched at the ground.
. Adzuphel tapped on her window. Cautiously she opened it.
"See the large buildings? Those are the troll lodges. They all stay together in one room."
"Males and females together?"
"Yes, madame. They are not particular about such things. Over here," he continued, "Is the market. We have many tradesmen who live here. And those--" he gestured towards the low buildings, "are where the orcs live. Would you like to inspect their homes?"
"I--I, no, I think I would prefer to continue."
"Very well. I cannot say I blame you; they are not the neatest housekeepers. But by living here we can keep them from starving, or eating their young."
"Who lives in the other houses?"
"Men, for the most part, although there are a few hobbit families here. Most of the hobbits have moved on, to Cardolan and such."
What had she read about hobbits? Little people, weren't they? No larger than children. And they preferred to grow things. No wonder they left this hideous wasteland for the green hills of Cardolan.
They stopped at the home of the man responsible for the town. He took possession of several wagons of grain, some animals, nearly half the timber, then gave Ariashal a delicately wrought iron brooch. She tossed money to the people on the streets, noting that everyone--orcs, hobbits, men-- grabbed up the coins with equal fervor. She did not find that comforting.
Now their journey headed high into the mountains. The road was still good, although it was steep in places. It took considerable skill on the part of the wagon masters to negociate the turns and drops without disaster. Here the winds were powerful, buffeting her little wagon even while it was in motion. At night everyone huddled close by the fire, even the wolves. She was extremely grateful for her shelter, wrapping herself tightly in the fur.
One morning she caught sight of a distant plume of smoke.
"That is Carn Dum," explained Adzuphel.
"Is it as bad as that mine?"
"The citadel is above the smoke, madame. You will not be troubled."
"How can the King live there?"
"It is a natural fortress, madame. It is one of the best in Middle-Earth. And it protects our greatest mine and foundry."
She had managed to avoid asking too many questions, but could wait no longer. "Adzuphel, what manner of man is the King?"
Adzuphel half-laughed, half-coughed. "I do not quite know what you mean, madame. As I said, he is very tall."
"That tells me nothing. How well do you know him?" She looked at him.
Adzuphel met her gaze. "To speak the truth, madame, I do not know him well. I doubt any man does. He meets with his council, he holds court, he leads us to war."
"You still have told me nothing."
"Well, he can be somewhat--otherworldly, madame. He is a very powerful sorcerer. For that reason people tend to fear him."
"Do you fear him?"
Adzuphel hesitated. "I-- I do not fear him, madame. I respect him. I--let us say that I would not provoke him."
"Is he easily provoked?"
"Please, madame, you are asking me things that--"
She cut him off. "If I am to be your queen, I must know the man I have married. Now, tell me. Is he easily provoked?"
He sighed. "Usually when I have seen him angry, it is because of something that happened on the battlefield, or something to do with Arnor. He has a great hatred of Arnor. His dream, I think, is to reunite the Northern kingdom. I know he thinks that they are foolishly destroying the bloodlines of Numenor with their constant squabbling. He wants to bring the glory of Numenor back to Middle-Earth."
"Is that all?"
"I must tell you that you must be pure of blood, else he would not have married you."
Her mind flashed back to the home of her first husband, and the taunts she endured there. If they only knew!
"Is there something else you wish to know?"
"Yes. What is his name?"
"I--I do not know."
"Surely he must have a name!"
"I am certain he does, madame, but I do not know it. I have never heard him called by anything other than his titles."
This was bizarre. "Very well, then. What does he look like?"
Adzuphel shifted uneasily. "I--I do not know, madame. I have never seen his face."
"What? You do not know his name, and you have never seen his face? Then how do you know with whom you are dealing?"
"Oh," Adzuphel smiled nervously, "I can easily identify the King. His voice is unmistakable."
"But why will he not reveal himself to you? Is it forbidden?"
"I don't know, madame. All I know is that he always wears a hood and velvet mask. No one ever sees his face."
"I see," she said, quiet.
"Is there anything else you wish to know? If not, we must get going soon. "
"No, that will do." She dismissed him, settling back into the fur.
Ariashal tried to digest this strange new information. Why would a man never show his face? There were several possibilities. Perhaps he was hideously ugly, and wanted no one to know. Or scarred, perhaps, from a battle wound or a spell gone wrong. He might not even look human. She had heard of wizards whose experiments went awry, leaving them as unnatural creatures.
Maybe he was really a king from another land, in disguise, living where he would not be found. That might be why he hid his name, too. Perhaps he was no king at all, but a fugitive who had convinced the scattered people of the north to follow him. Or he could be keeping his name a secret so that no one could cast a spell on him, and force him to do their bidding. She had heard of such things happening to wizards.
There was no point in speculating. She would know the truth soon enough.
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