Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 51. Homeward Bound
As promised, the food left for them was upstairs. There was more than enough for the three of them; Adzuphel had, as usual, done his work thoroughly. As they finished the meal, conversation turned to the immediate future.
“Once we have safely crossed into Angmar,” began the King, “it would be wise, I think, for you to retrieve Gothmog.”
Herumor nodded. “That I will do. I will summon my beast and ride south. He has a small fortress near Mordor, I believe; it should not take much persuading to bring him north.”
“I do not want Gothmog only,” continued the King. “He will have assembled an army, and probably a settlement as well. All must be brought along.”
“Aye, all. And promise gifts of gold and land to those who will come. Angmar is ever in need of productive folk.”
Ariashal thought for a moment. “Perhaps you should offer this to the people who once lived here, at this Keep.”
The King tapped the table. “No,” he said slowly, “I think not. I will be better served by giving them land in the new tower’s town. It will serve my purposes well to have a city there. This Keep has outlived its usefulness; I trust that they will tear it down.” He gently touched her hand. “Do not worry, my Queen. They will not disturb the crypts. Your family will sleep in safety.”
She looked up. “I–I had not thought on that. You are certain that they will be safe?”
“Quite certain. I know a few spells which no one will dare breach.”
“Perhaps,” offered Herumor, “It would be best if I cast those spells. Your strength is not yet at its zenith, and it would not be wise to exhaust yourself before our journey tomorrow.”
“Wisely put,” agreed the King. “You know well the spells of which I speak.”
“True, though I do not pretend to be as adept at them as you. Still, I trust that they will hold well enough.” He drained the last of his wine. “I must needs retire, for if I am to cast those spells I will need time to prepare.”
“Then we shall retire also.” The King stood. “Come, my Queen. We have much to do before tomorrow.”
Back in the safety of the secret room, Ariashal pondered their conversation. Gothmog would be coming, bringing an army. That would surely alarm some of the people who lived in the old land of Rhudaur. That there might be ordinary people, farmers and craftsmen along with their families traveling with them might not be enough to mollify the population. What if they were attacked? What then?
The King tried to soothe her fears. “Fear not, my Queen. Gothmog is an experienced general. He will not permit the line to fall prey to an attack.”
“But if he brings families--”
“I assure you, he will not fail them. He knows well enough the dangers of traveling. He will take pains to avoid being watched. If needs be, he will ride east of the mountains, only crossing when he is well away from the eyes of Cardolan.”
Sighing, she lay down upon the pillows. “I wish it had not come to this! I did not want a war.”
“Neither did I. Angmar is not strong enough to face a well-trained army like Cardolan’s. My troops are brave and loyal, true enough; but they are not yet many. And while the orcs will fight for me, even in their numbers they will be hard-pressed to defeat Cardolan. No, my Queen, war is not what I wanted.”
“And it cannot be prevented.”
“Not easily, no. After Ferion’s treachery and the death of the princes, the King of Cardolan will be in no mood to negotiate. Any embassy sent by me would likely face imprisonment, or worse. If we are fortunate, we can confine the enemy to engagement here, where the Hillmen will be best able to fight.”
“But what if they go over to Cardolan? What then?”
“After seeing what I did at the tower? Nay, my Queen. They will not betray me. For while tis a wondrous thing to be loved, oft it is best for a king that he be feared.”
“I do not fear you.”
Carefully he settled at her side, gently taking one of her hands in his. “Nay, my Queen. Never would I want that of you.”
She laid her head against his shoulder. Gently, tenderly, he lifted her face for a kiss.
“I thought I had lost you,” she whispered.
“And I you.” He drew her close, dropping his voice so she alone could hear. “Never have I felt such fear as when Ferion struck you. Nothing, not the years in Sauron’s dungeons, nor the torments he let loose at me, frightened me as much as that moment. And when I saw you, I knew that there was no time to waste. Losing you was more than I could bear.
“You are beautiful, my lady Queen,” he murmured, “far more beautiful than I ever dared to hope; far lovelier than I ever dreamed. I never ordered my artists to paint your likeness, for I feared that their work would ruin the image I had made for myself. But I promise you that as soon as we return home I will have your portrait made for me, that I might always gaze upon your beauty.”
Ariashal laid her head against his chest; her heart was too full for her to speak.
Shouting gleefully, the children swarmed into the carriage. Ariashal fell back against the King as their excited children clambered aboard, shouting and talking at once. In the rush to reach their mother, one of them accidentally struck Ariashal’s abdomen, just above the wound. Pain shot through her; she could not help but cry out.
“Be still!” ordered the King.
Instantly the children fell silent, frozen in place.
He gently touched her stomach. “Are you well?”
“I--”she glanced at her anxious children. “Yes,” she said, finally. “I am well.”
“Your mother is still unwell,” admonished the King. “Her body is not to be touched, lest you harm her again.”
Silenced, chastised, the children quietly moved forward. Ariashal gathered them to her. They were all here, ready to leave for home, just as Adzuphel had promised. Their hair was combed, their clothes neat; their nurses had done their work well. Even little Thabadan was clean and neat.
“Have you all been behaving?” she asked.
“Yes,” they answered.
“And eating as you should?”
“Good.” She smiled at them “That is the best medicine yet.”
“We are ready to return home,” said the King. “However, your mother is still unwell, and the road ahead is long. So you will ride in here with us.”
“I thought we could ride our ponies!” protested Adrahil.
“Aye, and you will. You and Imrahil will ride behind Herumor for a few days.”
“But why are you staying in here with mother?” asked Imrahil.
“Do you remember what Herumor told you in the Keep?”
Imrahil nodded. “He said that you were hurt, and that I had to pretend to be king.”
“Yes,” agreed the King, “and you played your part well. But your mother still needs my care, so I must ride in here with her. Now you and your brother will ride with Herumor, while he pretends to be king.”
“I like it better when you are king,” said Imrahil.
“I am here now, and all will be well. You will obey Herumor as you ride. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” said the princes in unison.
“Excellent. Zimraphel, you and the little ones will ride in here with us.”
“I want a pony too!” Zimraphel pouted.
“Not yet,” soothed Ariashal. “You are too small to ride the whole way and will get too tired. You are better off in here.”
“You will ride in here,” said the King firmly. “Your mother will need your help with the little ones.”
Zimraphel sat down, snuggling next to her mother’s legs.
“Your Majesty,” called Adzuphel, “the princes’ ponies are ready. All waits upon your command.”
“Excellent well. Listen, my sons. You will ride with Herumor, and you will obey him. Go now, and make me proud.”
The princes slipped from the carriage. Ariashal watched as they mounted, gathered their reins, and urged their ponies over to where Herumor and the pale stallion waited.
The King nodded at Adzuphel, who closed the door before waving one hand at the driver. With a sudden lurch, the carriage began to roll. Ariashal caught Lalwen before she fell, setting her down on the carpeted floor.
Behind them the whole of their entourage fell into line. She caught quick glimpses of Adzuphel on his bright bay mare, galloping off towards the wagons, or coming back up the line. Angmarim banners swirled over the marching troops, red and black sharp against the sky. Wolves trotted alongside the troops, occasionally breaking away from the mass of men to dart into the brush. Far to the rear came the wagons, a great cloud of dust hanging in the air behind them.
In front she could see the boys on their ponies. Imrahil rode tall and proud, his back straight. Adrahil rode next to his brother, his head held high. In front of them were some guards, their livery shimmering in the sun. Ahead of them she could see the white tail and pale yellow coat of Tulkas, Herumor’s mount. The black robes and rich caparisons of the king stood out starkly against the stallion’s coat. Perhaps, she mused, the King should keep the animal as his mount; the contrast was vivid and impressive.
“Pleased that we are finally on our way?”
Ariashal started at his voice. “Yes,” she managed. “I have waited for this for a long time.”
The King shifted closer. “I worried that the children might harm you.”
“They meant me no harm,” she smiled.
“True, but still I feared that their exuberance might overtax you.”
“No,” she laughed. “That is a burden I can always bear.”
“Very well. Perhaps you should rest now.”
“All right,” she said, sitting back. She glanced down at Lalwen, slumped in a little heap. “I think that the children have fallen asleep.”
“Have they? Good. They were probably made tired by the excitement of the morning.”
She laid her head against him. “There were times when I feared I would not live to see this day.”
“Aye, Madame, well do I know your feelings.”
“Not all of them.” She sighed. “When I first saw the old Keep, I could not help but think of my last time there. I never thought that I would not see my father again, nor that my brother would prove so cruel. It holds no pleasant memories for me now.”
“It will not stand long. Adzuphel has given the Hillmen permission to dismantle it for the stone, that they may build walls for the new town. Once they begin the walls, it will only be a matter of time.”
Something from last night occurred to her. “Did Herumor cast the spells?”
“The spells of protection? Aye, Madame. He tells me that all the crypts have been secured. None will enter them now.”
“Do you--”– she let her voice trail off.
“Do I what, my Queen?”
She toyed with her robe. “I do not know how to tell you this. I–I fear that someday someone might try to summon me to use against you, much as you summoned the men from the tombs.” She looked up at him. “My lord, never do I wish to be a weapon used against you. I can not bear the thought that someone might do so.”
“Is that what has troubled you?”
“Yes,” she admitted. Tears rolled down her face. “When I saw that you had summoned the dead from the tombs, I knew that someone, somewhere, would try to cast the same spell against you. And I fear that they might use me as a weapon against you.”
“I do not think that anyone would dare do that.”
“But you have said that some of the others are not so kind. They might--”
“None of the others would dare do such a thing,” he interrupted, “for they would not want to face my wrath. No, they will never do that.”
“But there are other sorcerers, are there not? What of them? And there is no way to predict what might come to pass.”
“True, my Queen,” he soothed. “But you must not despair. There are many spells in this world, some stronger than anything which some could imagine.”
She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Could they even withstand–Sauron?”
He drew a long breath. “Long ago, when still I dwelt in Numenor, there was a Maia who visited us. Olorin was his name. He taught me many spells, some far more powerful than Men were supposed to be able to use. And one of those was a spell of protection. Once cast, woe betide the fool who attempts to breach it!”
“Would you do that for me?”
He gently gathered her close. “For you, my lady queen, I would do anything, if it pleased you.”
She settled against him. “Thank you, my lord.”
“Though there is one boon I must needs ask of you.”
“Delay the need for the spell as long as possible.”
She laughed. “Do not fear, my lord! I have no desire to be quit of you yet.”
“Nor do I believe I will ever tire of you. Ah, Ariashal! Tis a good thing, to be returning home.”
Of all the places she had lived, Carn Dum was the least hospitable. Heavy snows, cold winters; strong winds; wild, lonely mountains; trolls and other creatures wandering the town. And yet it was there where she now belonged, ruling the snows and the wilds, the creatures unwanted and unloved by the world. Never, not in Rhudaur nor Cardolan, had she ever felt so much a part of a place.
She had often lived in places as the wife of a lord, but never really belonged there; the land was her husbands’, never hers. As the Queen of Angmar she had come to belong to the country, its wilds and lands, harsh though they might be. And it was here that she had found the love that had always eluded her.
She settled back against the King. “Yes, my lord,” she agreed, “home is indeed a good thing.”
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