2. The Sculptor
Ruvemir son of Mardil of Lebennin watched the group at the next table leave with mixed feelings. He was very glad Damrod had spoken aloud the dissatisfaction all felt regarding the Crown's prejudice against the artisans of Men, its preference for the work of Dwarves and Elves. He'd seen the Prince flinch at that, the quick look he'd given the chief officer from the capital. And there had been no real response from the officer, although he was certain the officer had to have heard as well.
He'd not been in a position to have a good view of the officer's face--it had been much shadowed; but he'd sensed good bones, a pleasing shape, deep-set eyes that probably missed little. He'd felt those eyes on him at their arrival and several times during the meal, felt the surprise and the fascination of them, and had in return felt the familiar anger those who cannot help being different experience at being seen as a freak of nature. But when he'd turned his eyes upon that one with defiance, the other hadn't been looking at him, had been looking down at his plate, although he'd been pushing his lamb about it more than he'd been eating it, and the set of his shoulders had spoken of a deep sadness. And that sadness had sparked Ruvemir's curiosity.
He was an artist, and an accomplished one at that. He'd put all the disgust he felt for the shape of his own body and all his love of beauty into his pursuit of his art, and he'd become perhaps the greatest sculptor of his age. And the figure in the black mantle of the service of Minas Anor had, he'd sensed, all the physical perfection he wished for himself--height, shoulders that were even, slender waist and hips.... He sensed the sword the man carried so easily beneath his mantle, a part of him now through long association, as his own mallet and chisels were an extension of himself at this point. Ruvemir appreciated physical perfection and human symmetry, and his heart ached after the tall man as he walked away, a brief flutter of those muscular shoulders putting the thoughts of his sadness decidedly into its proper place so that he might be as alert as he must be to adequately serve Crown and the People of Gondor. And, for all he deferred to the Prince, Ruvemir noted that the Prince equally deferred to the officer, which indicated this one was undoubtedly one high in the service of the new King.
After his meal, Ruvemir paid for the lamb and turnips, greens and wine, and said good night to his companions, and then made his way steadily to the stairs. This was one part of being a mannikin he hated, the lurching walk brought about by his poorly designed hips. But he managed to exaggerate that lurch just enough to make it appear deliberate and somehow attractive. But then, once he was quit of the common room and nearing the passage he sought, he was glad no one was there to see him with the ordeal he truly hated most of all--climbing the stairs. Such stairs were easy even for children to negotiate; but although he was as tall as most children of ten summers, never had he been comfortable with stairs. His poorly proportioned legs and hips made climbing stairs a physical labor worse than spending all day rough cutting a solid block of granite. Tonight his left hip particularly was paining him as he made the last step, and he took out his kerchief from the inner pocket of his cloak and wiped the sweat off his face. Down the hall, in front of the rooms reserved for the officers of Dol Amroth and the capital, two men stood at guard, and both looked his way, both the one in the blue and white of the Prince's livery and the one in the black and silver of Minas Tirith. He hated that they saw him at that moment, hated that they were so tall and agile, openly envied their strength and flexibility and endurance, and resented their stare, even though he knew they but did their duty, and were only seeing that he was a fellow lodger in the inn and not an enemy. They were, after all, soldiers, soldiers who must think in terms of friends and enemies. He sent them a glare and turned away from them, to his own rooms.
Early in the morning he obtained a portion of fruit and cheese and a cup of milk in the common room, then headed for the building site. He was putting the final touches on the last figure he was to do in the tableau, that of a child watching the assault on the Corsair's ships with awe. He was busy with thoughts of how he would render her curls when he came in sight of the shed where he worked on his figures, and realized with frustration someone was there before him. It was a Man, a tall figure seated on a block of stone, which the rest of his comrades used as a bench during the moments they gave themselves of rest during the day. He was cloaked and hooded in a stained green cloak over green riding leathers, dark trousers, and well-fitting boots, which were relatively new. He wore a black leather sheath, which Ruvemir sensed more than saw was rich and far newer than the man's clothing. He had a metal tankard by him, and in his hand he held a strange device from which smoke arose from a fine, small bowl from which rose a stem. A hunting bow rose above his shoulder, the hint of finely fletched arrows in a well-worn quiver. He had turned his gaze from the figure of the girl Ruvemir had been working on at the sound of his approach, and was watching him intently from beneath his hood. And behind him, Ruvemir suddenly realized, was a second figure, this one also cloaked and hooded, this time in silver-grey, with a silver star holding his cloak closed at his left shoulder, a bow with arrow already nocked but loosely held in his hands as if he were on guard. The seated fellow lifted the stem of his device to his mouth, and breathed deeply of the smoke as he evaluated Ruvemir. Ruvemir contemplated back, not that he could see all that much of the man's face for his hood--only a bearded chin that appeared, somehow, familiar. Finally, deeply disturbed and annoyed, he moved forward to check those of his tools he left out at the site. No, none had been disturbed, he was glad to say. The eyes of the intruders followed him, dispassionately interested in him. No, he amended, as he looked to the one standing guard, that one's attention was moving methodically over the terrain--well, he was only doing his job, Ruvemir supposed.
The situation was becoming ridiculous, Ruvemir thought, and he felt he should confront it. He turned decidedly to the seated man, who was again drawing on his strange device as he watched, and asked, "Did you have business with me?"
The other looked him over a moment before responding, "Perhaps, Sir Artist."
Hmm. Recognition, at least, for his skill. Ruvemir tried again to look beyond the shadows of the hood, saw a well-shaped, straight nose, thin but mobile lips. He found himself wishing he had his sketch booklet handy, for he wished to capture this figure on it, perhaps incorporate it into a sculpture one day. He could not see the brooch that held the stranger's cloak closed, for it was mostly hidden below the folds of the hood; but he caught a glow of dark, shining green. Not a poor man, then--but then, no poor man would carry that sheath nor wear boots of that quality. No, this man dressed like this because he must--a woodsman, but a woodsman who fought.
His curiosity now fully aroused, the sculptor finally asked, "May this artist ask your name?"
Again a pause, and finally the rich, deeply inflected voice responded, with a hint of humor, "You may think of me, for the moment at least, as Strider." Another pause. "And I am told you are Ruvemir son of Mardil of Lebennin, Master Sculptor."
"You have the advantage of me, sir--in several ways, apparently." The seated man shrugged and returned to his stillness. "Well, if you will state your business, Sir Strider, perhaps I can then continue with my work."
"We do not hinder you." The man struck the bowl of his device against the stone on which he sat to empty out what appeared to be ashes of smoldering leaves, stowed it familiarly behind his belt.
Annoyance flared again. "No, you do not hinder, but you do distract. Now, can we be done with the acting so I can feel free to give my whole attention to my figure?"
Strider stood up with the smooth grace that seems so natural with many tall, slender men, that grace Ruvemir admired so and so envied for himself. "I may have a commission for you, once you are finished here. I had a friend, one I deeply admired and cared for, a companion for much of a year, and he has gone. I wish a memorial made for him, and those I have dealt with before have failed to do him justice."
"I do not wish to sculpt Men at this time."
"He is not a Man."
Two things struck the artist--the use of is rather than was, and the deep sadness in the tall Man's voice. Strider reached into a purse he carried tied to his belt, drew out an object and held it out to him. "I will be back in the capital in two months' time. If you are interested in this commission, come to Minas Anor after that, and present this token to the Captain of the Guard at the main gate--he will be alerted to watch for it. He will then bring you to me, and we will continue our negotiations from there." He started to look toward the square.
"Wait! You have not told me what race this fellow is of, Sir Strider."
"I did not? Well, he is a Hobbit." He paused, looked at the object in his hand then the artist's face. "Will you take it, Ruvemir son of Mardil?"
It was an enameled brooch, a silver leaf colored green, a beautiful thing, carefully molded and tinted. Ruvemir looked at it in wonder, for he'd not seen such workmanship before. He looked up into the face of the standing man, saw his eyes were deep set and somehow familiar. He took the brooch and looked up in confusion, but the man had scooped up the tankard, was turning away and nodding to the one who'd stood guard.
"Another thing," Strider said as he paused in his leave-taking, "on the stone is a purse containing sufficient funds to bring you to Minas Anor, if you choose to come. I hope you will, and that you will bring me back my brooch, for it has many pleasant as well as sad memories tied to it." A final nod between the two Men, and they melted away into the growing day as if they were taking shelter behind trees in the forest of whatever land from which they'd come. Ruvemir was left to look after them, the leaf brooch in his hand. Finally he looked at the place beside where Strider had sat, saw there a small satchel of new black leather, a silver cord serving as handle and tie. He stowed the brooch in his inner pocket, took the bag, unfastened the cord, and found it contained seven gold coins, King's coin, he noted. No, this one was not poor--not poor at all. He was still holding the coins as Damrod appeared.
"And where did you get that?" demanded the dour, taller sculptor.
"It is in earnest of a new commission," said Ruvemir, stowing the coins back into their purse, tightening the silver cord.
Damrod was impressed. "Not done here and already more work? Some folk have all the luck!" He looked at the bag with interest. "Hmm--the King's colors. Interesting. Where are you to do this work?"
A smile lifted one side of Ruvemir's face. "Minas Tirith--or Minas Anor as it now is--seems they may have room for the artistry of Men after all." He tied the purse to the thong he had sewn into the inner pocket of his cloak for such things, and then carefully rolled it as he always did and prepared to stow it in the locked box in which he kept his finer tools as he prepared for the day's work.
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.