57. Intrigue from Umbar
Intrigue from Umbar
Landrion of Umbar examined the missives before him and listened to the reports of his agents with disgust. Not only had that fool Varondil failed to befriend and beguile the young ambassador from Rhun, he'd managed to lose the Man and his brother as well. Landrion had received a substantial amount from the leadership of the Bedui clan in Rhun to assist in the elimination of Ifram and Shefti of the d'Bouti clan as ambassador and scribe to the embassy to Gondor, and so hopefully cast division between Rhun and Gondor. There were those within the Bedui clan who hoped to take over the leadership of Rhun, after all; and certainly the interests of Umbar--or at least those of Landrion of Umbar--were not met by the current treaty or leadership. Moritum was altogether too honorable for the situation to promote the lust for personal power and wealth sought by the leaders of the Bedui or the hatred of Gondor and its King held by Landrion.
The assassination attempt Landrion had planned had failed, to his surprise. It ought certainly to have worked. Ifram was to be approached by a party of his own during the birth of the Queen's child, and he and any surrounding him would be likely to be easily subdued and killed; and by using Gondorian weapons it would cast fear in the hearts of those of Rhun and would most likely have led to the dismissal of the treaty. The same strategy ought to have worked against both of the brothers.
Instead the entire group was captured--and alive! And the report he had was that they were all sent back to Rhun itself for their execution, along with one other, most likely the fanatical agent he'd sent to spread problems among the Dunlendings. What had happened to the Man of the Dunlendings who'd served both Saruman and the Dark Lord Landrion had no idea, for he'd disappeared and no one would answer his discrete inquiries. Certainly the problems to be fomented among the Dunlendings had never come to pass, and it was reported the King of the Horse Folk was at the King's side even now, and his cavalry traveled openly after the King Elessar of Gondor and his army.
He had considered the chances of assassinating the King Elessar of Gondor, but after working his way into the embassy to Gondor last fall he'd decided that was not a plan with any chance of success. He'd been shocked to see how strongly the blood of Númenor had run in the veins of that one, seated on his throne, the Winged Crown firmly on his brow, his grey eyes keen with the light of the Eldar, might and healing in his hands. He was no young one, either, certainly not new come to maturity and power--he was at least fifty years or more, although by the standards of most Men he could have been anywhere between his mid-twenties and his late forties. No, he was Dúnedain at the height of his powers and strength, trained by the Elves themselves in cunning, rule, healing, hunting, and warfare; and he was surrounded by the greatest of the warriors of both Gondor and Arnor, his wife was an Elf witch, the frequent visits of her Elven brothers were common knowledge, and generally there was no plan he could conceive of that would allow one of his agents close enough contact to lead to a successful kill.
Assaulting Rustovrid of Harad was another plan he'd discarded. No one had at first thought Harad would even consider sending representatives to the court of Gondor, but the Farozi had surprised everyone. When he ascended the throne of Harad it had appeared Sohrabi would be another typical Farozi, interested only in surviving under Sauron's overlordship, willing to sacrifice his own people to Sauron's purposes in return for temporal power over the Haradrim and a wealth of plunder and slaves; but it had proved otherwise. He'd been careful to send good troupes to fight in Mordor's wars, but never his best; those he tended to keep close to home and hidden as much as possible. He'd paid attention to the lesser lords of his realm, identifying those who were most tied to Sauron's policies, those who feared the Dark Lord, those who did their best to provide for their own people, those who were most politic, those who were wisest. He'd learned how to evaluate the strengths and the weaknesses of each, and since the fall of Sauron he'd been able to keep those most likely to oppose him off balance, playing them off against one another skillfully, while granting power to those who would do best at strengthening the realm and increasing its power and prestige.
His representative Rustovrid was one of those whose eye was keen, whose ability to understand what was going on beneath his nose was legendary, and whose leadership skills were never in question. He'd survived eight assassination attempts so far, three of them set in motion by Sauron himself. He was no young thing, either, being in his mid-forties and highly experienced in the ways of Men and intrigue; and he surrounded himself with Men like to himself.
The Horse King would be no easy target, either; though young he was a wise one surrounded by warriors he knew and trusted--and with reason. His sword had been blooded when he was but fifteen, and he had never looked back.
No, if there was to be any weakening of the alliances of Gondor, it would have to start in Rhun. Moritum was wise, but young and relatively inexperienced; and his brother Ifram was even less experienced still, only four and twenty years, one who had not himself fought in any battle as yet, whose heart had not yet learned to screen out cries for pity long enough to see whether or not a knife was in the hand that apparently reached for alms.
Yet the assassination attempt had failed, though none would tell him how it had been found out.
Where had Ifram and Shefti b'nto Agharan disappeared to? He'd learned only that they'd been given the freedom to explore Gondor, that they'd taken one guard, and that the three of them had ridden out of the city to accept the freedom granted them by the King Elessar. It had been thought they'd headed south toward Dol Amroth; but no sign of them had been found on the South Road. There had been several parties that had left Minas Anor that day that they might have attached themselves to, and going in all directions; but his men had so far found only one of them, and the three Easterlings had not even been seen by them at all.
It appeared his association with Master Sculptor Varondil was no longer as profitable as it had once been. Varondil had been recruited during the days of the Lord Steward Denethor as one who could be approached for information, and his price was relatively cheap--send him a pretty young boy for his stable of apprentices and he was content. To the people of the capital he appeared a righteous one, accepting as apprentices young ones who'd been orphaned; but what happened in the quarters he kept for them was not spoken of by those outside the closed circles of his relationships. He kept enough legitimate apprentices that he was able to keep up with his commissions for tomb effigies and grave markers, and even his kept boys did learn some skills in his workshop; and as one who dealt with the bereaved he was told often wonderful things, things those telling him would never think of telling to others, for grief is a great motivation for loosening tongues. He could ask the most intimate of questions, the most politically sensitive questions, and no one would think twice of it, for he was only trying to learn the nature of those he sculpted after all.
But now he was slipping. There was the matter of the last boy sent his way, the Haradrim boy Gabon--it had turned out that the boy's dark skin had not pleased Varondil. Rather than seeing the boy as exotic, he'd seen him as flawed, and had found a different apprenticeship for him, convincing a potter to take him, and that the potter's own son, who'd wanted to apprentice with the sculpting of clay, would do best in his own workshop. Then his attempted seduction of the youth had failed. To keep the boy quiet Varondil had made certain promises and sent him to a temporary master to do rough cutting. However, in Landrion's experience the days of usefulness for Master Varondil were at an end. Any time now it would come out just what questionable training the orphaned apprentices of Master Sculptor Varondil were receiving, and when that happened Landrion intended to make certain no one could tie him to Varondil. No, it would probably be best if he arranged for an accident to befall the Master Sculptor, in fact. He made a note to himself to set this in motion, and went back to considering where Ifram and Shefti of Rhun might have gone.
Their last public appearance had been two days before they disappeared. It had been--where? Oh, at a wedding--and this information, he noted, was supplied by Varondil. A wedding the King himself had performed, the wedding of the sculptor to whom the potter apprentice had been assigned and a woman of the capital. Who was this sculptor? He searched the reports, finally found it: Ruvemir son of Mardil of Lebennin. And he'd left the city on the requisite day, but before the three Rhunim had left. No, they'd not left the city ahead of time, only the sixth circle. They'd left the city after Ifram and his companions had done so. Could they have met up with one another outside the city? It was a possibility. But they'd not gone on to Lebennin, at least not at first. At least one of the parties they'd sought to trace, the one they'd actually found, had gone to Lebennin, and they were servitors from the Citadel gone on holiday to see relatives in Lebennin.
He would have to set some to do research, find out where this Mardil of Lebennin lived. He would trace this party if it was the last thing he did. And if the Lord Marcipor, Lord of Umbar, didn't approve of Landrion's activities, then he could always be replaced as the Master Sculptor Varondil was going to be replaced.
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