49. The Hands of a King
The King decided that Ariashal was too weak to travel far. Instead they would stay here, in his lair, until she was stronger. She was ready to go directly down to the little room, but he insisted they stop in her old quarters long enough for her to wash off the dried gore, remove the ruined, blood-soaked gown, and replace it with a clean one from her chest. Refreshed, she crawled into his arms to be carried down to the chamber.
Herumor met them inside. “You should not do so much,” he scolded the King. “You will overtax yourself.”
“I could not leave her there!”
“No, but you might have called me, that I might be your arms. And if your strength had failed?”
“I would not let it.”
Herumor sighed. “Very well.” He pulled back the covers so that the King could place Ariashal on the bed. “The old king warned me of Ferion’s treachery. I have some food for you, should you need to refresh yourselves.”
“I thank you, but now I believe the best course for the Queen is rest.”
“She is not the only one who should rest!” Herumor retreated to the table. Ariashal could see the King’s medical box, along with some clean cloth. “I must needs check my handiwork. I will concentrate what skills I have on you, that you may best treat the Queen.”
“Very well.” The King gently drew the sheet over Ariashal. “Rest, my Queen. When Herumor has finished with me, I promise I will join you.”
Ariashal watched her husband as he willingly submitting to Herumor’s ministrations. There were many bandages involved, along with spells, half whispered and half hissed. She was too tired to watch; her eyes insisted on slipping shut. She tried to force them open, but it was no use. Still, it pleased her to know that Herumor was able to tend to her husband.
Listening to them, she learned that they had managed to recover some shards of the arrows used on the King. They had them tightly locked away, so that they could be examined once they were safely back in Carn Dum. And she also learned that some of the weapons left scattered across the hall had been made in the same way. These would also be taken to Carn Dum, where, she learned, attempts to create an effective counter spell would be done.
Her own treatment was even more of a mystery. She knew that there were spells sung, and unguents applied. They both worked on her, although it seemed that Herumor was more of an assistant than master. It cost the King a great deal of his own strength to treat her; when they finished with her he collapsed into sleep at her side. There was little she could do for him except hold him, and breathe prayers of thanks for his survival.
“His knife pierced her lung,” said the King.
Ariashal opened her eyes. How long had she been asleep? Several hours, at least, if the King was well enough to be stirring.
“She is strong,” continued the King. “I am pleased to see that she sleeps well.”
Ariashal reclosed her eyes. Perhaps she would learn more about her care, and what was planned for the immediate future.
“It was your skills that saved her, not simply her strength,” said Herumor “ I would have been unable to stanch the flow of blood, let along heal her lung.”
“You would not have had to.”
“Why do you say that?”
The King sighed. “She was attacked because of me. Had she been the wife of another, this would not have happened.”
“Ferion would have struck at anyone who interfered with his plans,” argued Herumor. “You know that.”
“True enough,” agreed the King. “ Ferion was naught but a faithless coward. But still, she is endangered by our union. Others will try to strike at me through her. And she will suffer for the curse of marrying me.”
“I do not think she considers it a curse.”
“Only because she does not understand what is arrayed against us. If only I had slain Ferion sooner!”
“You tried to negotiate with him,” reasoned Herumor. “He did not treat fairly with you. And you know that you did not want to expose your family to the spectacle of his execution. He could have simply chosen to retire. That he did not is hardly your fault. And in truth, had he not died when he did, you would have been forced to return and deal with him in the future, when he might have been able to marry Lalwen into Cardolan.”
“True. It will be difficult enough to deal with Cardolan now, even lacking most of its Princes.”
“They did not have to ally themselves with Ferion. What do you plan to do now, after we return to Carn Dum?”
“For the winter, nothing, save prepare for war. I expect that Cardolan will test our strength in a few places, and we must do the same with them. But we must proceed with caution, for I do not wish to frighten them into unifying with Arthedain or Imladris.”
“There are many small towns that can be seized by Rhudaur,” suggested Herumor.
“Damn Ferion!” The King struck the table; its shudders echoed around the stone room. “If he had simply cooperated, then I would have been able to marry his grandchildren into my family. Then we could have gradually absorbed Cardolan and Arthedain, and a destructive war would have been avoided. Now we will have no choice but make a call to arms.”
“Perhaps we could simply withdraw and leave Rhudaur to fend for itself?”
“No, that is not possible. It is the land of my Queen, and it is therefore also my responsibility. I cannot abandon it now.”
“We might still be able to treat with Cardolan.”
“Not now. Ferion long ago poisoned that well. And after the death of the older princes, they will be unwilling to accept any negotiations.”
“They might take it as a warning, and be more ready to treat.”
“No, they will not. They will perceive it as a threat, and will use it as an excuse to fight. The best we can hope for is that Arthedain does not come to their aid.”
“Perhaps Arthedain can be persuaded to look the other way.”
“They might indeed,” agreed the King. “There is no love between Arthedain and Cardolan. They could well grasp at any straw which prevents them from becoming entangled with their neighbor’s woes.”
“That leaves Imladris.”
“Yes.” The King tapped the table. “There is no way into Imladris. But perhaps–perhaps we do not need to get into Imladris to prevent their involvement.”
“What are you thinking?”
“It might be possible to surround their valley, and prevent them from leaving. Not a true siege, you understand; just a line, enough to keep them in.”
“And incapable of aiding Cardolan.”
“Precisely. Master Elrond is loth to spend lives needlessly. And his advisors will not want him to wage a war for the preservation of Cardolan. Neither Glorfindel nor Erestor have much love for Men.”
“That might very well work,” agreed Herumor. “And if a war with Cardolan is swiftly brought to a close, we might be able to avoid any needless entanglements with the Elves.”
“I doubt that we will be so fortunate, either in the duration of a war or in our dealings with the Elves. Still, if we can have but few skirmishes with Imladris, and lose only a few towns to Cardolan, I will count the war a success. Where is Gothmog these days?”
“In the East. He was training some men when last I saw him.”
“Good. He must join us in Carn Dum and bring his men with him. Their families, too, if needs be. Angmar has room enough for them.”
“I will fetch him once we are home,” agreed Herumor. “I know he will relish the idea of fighting for you again.”
“The strongest man I have ever fought,” said the King. “And it will be good for the princes to learn from him. I fear I have neglected them.”
“Neglected them? Nay, you have given them a far better education than most men, and even fewer kings treat their sons as well as you do. You have nothing to fear in regards to your children.” “Still. It will be good when they can see their mother and I again. The Queen sorely misses them.”
“As do you.”
“True enough. The Queen, I think, will be ready to travel in a day or two. I do not want to hurry, and cause her any harm.”
“Nor do you want to harm yourself. If you wish I will ride in your place, that you may rest with your Queen in the carriage. No one need know.”
“Tis a wise and generous offer, one that I will consider. The Cardolani must not know that there are two of us here, and they must not see two of us on the road home. They did not watch during our arrival, but they will not make that mistake again. We must assume that all of the roads home will be closely scrutinized.”
“Have you decided who will rule here in your name?”
“The chief of the Hillmen will do nicely, I think. He has learned not to cross me, and I doubt that he will need another lesson.”
“He is no fool,” Herumor chuckled. “He has wit enough to know when he is bested. I think he should be well ensconced in the new tower by now. It will make a fitting capital.”
“Better by far than this pile,” agreed the King. “Have you given the order to abandon this keep’s town?”
“I did not have to, for the sight of the undead leaving the Keep was enough to convince most that it was time to flee. The men have been directing them towards the new tower, where they will be able to rebuild.”
“Have they provisions enough to survive the winter?”
“I do not know. I will have Adzuphel send someone to assess the situation.”
“That is good. I do not want my new subjects starving their first year.” The king tapped the table. “We should have someone supervise the building of long halls, like the markets and troll-homes. That would shelter many, and would keep the people too occupied to engage in any mischief. And I do not want this new town to grow as haphazardly as the old.”
“Tis an excellent plan. I will have Adzuphel dispatch the engineers to the tower, to begin laying the foundations.” Herumor rerolled some papers; Ariashal guessed that they must be maps or charts. “It is almost time to examine the queen. If you wish, I can leave.”
“Nay, cousin. I will need the aid of another. She is too important to be trusted to a single healer, no matter his devotion or skill.”
“Very well. Bring her to the table, so we may proceed.”
The King sighed. “Perhaps it would be best if she stayed here.”
“Of course she is going to stay here,” said Herumor. “Neither of you are in any condition to wander around the countryside.”
“Tis not what I meant. Perhaps....perhaps it would be best for her if she were to be given her own household, far away from me.”
“What? That Elf poison has affected your mind! She would be in far graver danger away from you. No one will dare strike at her now, not with Ferion so spectacularly destroyed. And without you, Sauron would be much better able to affect her.”
“Tis true enough,” agreed the King. “I merely thought that she would be--safer--if we were no longer a couple.”
“I know what you think,” began Herumor. “And it would seem like wisdom. But she would be ever more vulnerable, and you would be unable to help her when her need was greatest. I know how deeply you care for her. There is nothing you would not do, no power you would not use, to keep her safe. She knows this. And you would both be miserable apart. You love her too greatly for it to be any other way.”
“Aye, that I do. Herumor, you know me too well.”
“Yes, and I will not be able to stand being in your presence should you set her aside. Nor would I wish to be around her. Though I must confess: I wish that I could find another like her, so I could have for myself the happiness you share.”
The King laughed. “Perhaps we will make finding you a lady our next objective! Come, we must needs wake her, and see to her wounds.”
Ariashal allowed them to rouse her, feigning drowsiness even though she feared she would burst. She knew that they dared not speak openly because of Sauron, and the chance that he would learn of their love. How desperately she longed to fling her arms about him, to hold on and crush herself to him! She barely felt the sting of the astringents or the gentle pressure of his hands on her wound. He loved her, and that was medicine enough.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.