37. Herumor Returns
Ariashal supervised the cobbler while he measured the feet of the royal children. Imrahil
behaved with decorum worthy of a prince; Adrahil was reasonably calm; Zimraphel, restless; but the two littlest were terrified of the strange, leather-scented man. They clutched the nurses' skirts, crying, kicking, and fighting, while their feet were quickly measured.
Truth be told, she had many misgivings about the cobbler. Her observations were not reassuring. He was short and thin; years of hard work had robbed him of his youth and many of his teeth. He reminded her of her own experiences with tailors and cobblers, men who plied the trades in whatever town the court had happened to be staying. Her father saw no reason to pay men to work only for him; any master craftsman would do, and he would not have to 'drag them around with him'. She could not recall any one of them being as skillful as the sleek southerner who made the royal shoes at Carn Dum. Indeed, she had wanted to wait until they returned home before fitting the children with new shoes; but the King had insisted that they patronize a local man. Besides, some of his own shoes needed resoling, and he had no intention of wearing his boots from now until they reached Carn Dum.
When the cobbler finally finished with them, he gathered up his papers and the King's worn shoes. "I should have these back by week's end."
"Very well. My servants shall see you out."
After he left, Lalwen ran to Ariashal, clinging desperately to her skirt. "Mama!" she cried, sobbing. "Mama!"
Ariashal gently scooped her up. "He has gone, little one," she soothed. "All is well now."
But Lalwen would not be comforted. She clung to Ariashal, crying, until she finally fell asleep. The nurse gently took her, carrying the limp child to her bed. Ariashal watched while the girl was laid out for sleep.
"Why did she call you Mama?" demanded Imrahil.
Ariashal took a long breath. "Her own mother died when she was very small, Imrahil. That she and Thabadan are starting to think of you as their brother and your father and I as their parents is very important."
"But why?" Zimraphel seized her mother's hand. "You are not her mother!"
"No, little one, I am not. But she needs a mother, for she and Thabadan are all alone."
"So if we accept them as family they become family?" Imrahil eyed the sleeping child.
"Yes, and it is wise of you to see that. For if they do not have us, then they have no one."
"Then they will always have us!" Adrahil protectively put one arm over Thabadan's small shoulders. "So you will be my new brother!"
Thabadan stared, wide-eyed, at the older boy.
The King was not pleased with Ariashal's desire to adopt the two children.
She silently embroidered while he stalked about their chambers. He said little, only< occasionally heaving a sigh laden with annoyance. Finally she breached the wall. "What is it you fear, my lord?"
"Fear?" He stopped pacing. "Have you forgotten already what concerns us all? While their grandfather still lives, they are useful as hostages. Should we adopt them, that would make them a rallying point for Ferion. He could claim that we had stolen them and made them our own to strengthen our claims to Rhudaur. There would be many who would be outraged at the thought that the children had been abducted and forced to accept me as their surrogate father."
She set her embroidery aside, needle jabbed through the cloth. "To speak truthfully, I do not think I can bring myself to prevent them calling me "mother". They have known enough hardship in their lives. You know how Ferion neglected them!"
"Aye, madam, you and I know the truth; but there are many still who would side with Ferion. How many actually saw the children? How many would believe what their old king told them? Tis this which we must fear."
"But we cannot continue in this manner forever!"
"Indeed, madame, we cannot. And as soon as Ferion swings from the parapet, then will I gladly take these two children and claim them as my own. For though they were not born of my loins, they are still part of our family, and deserve to be made one with us."
As quickly as she could she joined him, throwing her arms around him before kissing him. "Thank you, my lord!"
"If it pleases you, madame, it will be done." He gently took her hand. "I know that you longed for more children, and I wished for it, too. But I feared that I could not protect you much longer. And you know, now, what it is that would have snatched our children away."
"I could not bear that." She buried her head against his chest.
"Nor could I, my lady queen." He drew her close. "Nor could I."
Someone knocked at the door. Ariashal stepped away from her husband.
"Enter," ordered the King.
Herumor slipped into the room, drawing the door closed behind him.
"Welcome, lord Herumor!" The King greeted his friend. "Tis good to have you with us once more."
"Too long have you been parted from us," added Ariashal.
Herumor bowed to them. "It is good to be in your presence again."
"Tis scarcely a fortnight, yet you have been sorely missed." The King settled into a chair, Ariashal at his side. "Be seated, my friend. How fares Carn Dum?"
For the rest of the evening Herumor regaled them with the stories of what he had seen on his journey. His recollection of the long flight to Carn Dum was somewhat hazy, although he knew he had seen nothing out of the ordinary. Certainly by the time he reached Carn Dum he was well aware that nothing untoward was occurring.
At Carn Dum the situation was much as they had anticipated. Some, emboldened by the King's absence, had tried to expand and enforce their authority; others saw the Rhudaurian voyage as an opportunity to take a holiday from their appointed tasks. Most, however, had continued in their proper capacity, which pleased the King.
"Angmar is fortunate to have men who are faithful," commended Ariashal. "You have chosen your men well."
"That is true," agreed Herumor. "I had Minios deliver a message to those whose transgressions seemed greatest."
"Minios was not fooled." The King squeezed Ariashal's hand. "He is a most observant Captain of the Guard."
"No, he was not deceived." Herumor chuckled. "He knew immediately who I was, and guessed at why I had come. The beast keeper, too, knew the difference. A good thing, too, for I did not wish to have to ride Nardu!"
"Nardu!" The King laughed. "My old soldier has not mellowed with age!"
"No, he has not! The rascal tried to bite me when I drew too close to his stall."
"Then it is for the best that you were discovered," Ariashal smiled. "I would not want Nardu to eat you!"
"Nor would I," agreed the King.
"I do not think he could stomach such poison," laughed Herumor.
"Outside of nearly poisoning my beast, what other news have you?"
"As I said, Minios delivered the message that no further mischief would be tolerated. The ambassador from Harad was quite angry, for he said he had waited weeks for his audience. I gave him an informal hearing, and it will not surprise you that the arrogance which he displayed to others melted away in my presence. He merely wanted to renew our trade agreements, which I readily approved. He left some gifts of silks, which I ordered placed into the Queen's chambers."
"He is mercifully unaware of his own insignificance," said the King. "He does not realize that his presence in Carn Dum is punishment, and that he has no hopes of ever returning home."
"Why?" Ariashal was confused.
"He is staying in Carn Dum as a favor to the King of Harad," explained Herumor. "He is that king's cousin, and has great, if false, hopes of one day taking the throne. Here, he is no threat to anyone."
"What other crises did I avert?" asked the King.
"His was the only pressing matter. Nothing else needed your attention."
"There were no signs of anyone coming from Dol Guldur?" Ariashal nervously tightened her grip. "No word from Khamul or--anyone else?"
"No, not a thing. I saw no signs that they have even attempted to reach Carn Dum. All was secure."
She sighed, relieved.
"I doubt that any of them will come willingly," explained the King. "Khamul is an Easterling. He has no fondness for snow. And the--other--also hates the cold. I am certain that even Dol
Guldur is too cold to suit his fancy, yet he dares not leave."
"Perhaps we will have a cold winter, and he will freeze in his tower," offered Herumor.
"We can always hope," agreed the King. "So--was there anything else of import that you wish to share?"
Herumor shrugged. "I saw some men working on a road, and another crew reinforcing a bridge. The crops seem to be healthy, and some harvesting has begun near Carn Dum. All seemed to be in order."
"That is good." The King relaxed. "If that is all, then you may go and rest. Your trip was long, and I know you are weary."
"Thank you." Herumor stood to go.
"My lord," said Ariashal, "there is a boon I would ask of you."
"Whatever you wish, madame."
"I have restored a small pool and grotto near here. I would very much like to take the children here, and would have you accompany us."
"I would be most pleased to do so," agreed Herumor. "Perhaps we shall go tomorrow, weather permitting."
"Yes," she agreed. "Weather permitting."
Herumor nodded and left the room.