63. Exposing Intrigue
It felt odd to ride past the King's Head to the Sixth Circle--full odd. It felt odd to not have the chatter of the apprentices around them, to have Ririon and Pando so far away now. It would be but the two of them for a time. Ruvemir hoped he could bear it, then looked at his bride and realized he would have ample aid in bearing it with her. He smiled and took her hand. She looked on him and kissed him gently. The kiss deepened--then the coach was stopping and they came to themselves to realize they were home. Home.
The Lord Steward was there to greet them, Eregiel at his side. "Lord Hardorn has brought word of what befell you all, Lord Ambassador, Master Ruvemir, Mistress. Much has happened here as well. There is now a workshop open for use on the Fifth Circle." He paused, giving a significant look at Celebgil.
The youth paled. "He has been found out?"
"Yes, through the review of apprentices. Master Orlias was not there this time to hide things for Varondil. The Guild Master is letting him remain in Osgiliath for now--but when he returns all will be revealed before the entire Guild."
"What of Meredin?"
"Who is Meredin?"
"He was accepted as an apprentice the same time as I. Master Varondil used threats toward him to keep my silence."
"I can find no records of him. I will speak to Master Dorion, then. There are other names I cannot find bodies for, either."
The boy's eyes closed, and Ruvemir reached up to grasp his shoulder.
The small sculptor looked up into the Steward's eyes. "Then he was misusing his apprentices?"
"Yes. The Guild Master is much disheartened."
"When was it found out?"
"This very day."
Celebgil asked, "Have you searched his house yet?"
"Meredin may be there."
"I will have a Dwarf help in the search."
"Orin would be glad to do so, I think. We left him near the Dwarves' warehouse on the first level," Ruvemir suggested.
"I wish to help," Celebgil said emphatically.
Ifram's face was pale. "I had not thought such happened here in Gondor."
"Where Men are, all kinds of evil exist as well as good, my Lord."
The Ambassador nodded. "It has happened among us as well." He turned toward his brother and Ben'harin. "Come. We are home."
"Additional guards have been placed on this level, until we find who has been responsible for the attacks."
"We thank you. But when you find him, I wish to have my time with him."
"So it shall be, Lord Ifram." It was hard to say which face was more grim--that of the young lord from Rhun or that of the elder lord from Gondor.
Ruvemir and Elise looked at one another, then sighed and walked to the house given them. Elise unlocked the door and they entered in, Ruvemir looking over his shoulder to see the guards at the embassy house examining their masters' dress surreptitiously. Ben'harin appeared to have caught the glances, though, and his glare straightened them to attention. The chief guard welcomed them to the door, apparently having been advised already that they were coming and in what mode. He saw the other door close behind them.
Eregiel had remained after the rest of the Steward's party left, followed by the rest of those who'd guarded their coach on the trip back to Minas Anor. "I'm here to assist in the unloading, and then to take the coach and team back to the first level."
"Thank you," Ruvemir said automatically.
Together they began carrying things from the coach into the house. Eregiel carried in one crate and commented, "It feels as if this is filled with stone.
Elise, who was going through a chest of clothes to sort out that which needed cleaning from fresh, smiled up at him. "That is because it is filled with stone. When one assists a sculptor, one should expect such things, I suppose." Both laughed. "Carry it into the north parlor. He has determined that will be his studio within the house."
Within a half mark the coach was empty and most items apportioned to rooms here or there. "I will take the coach now," Eregiel said. "And then I will be coming back to speak with you, if you feel you can bear such after your journey."
"We can bear it," Ruvemir assured him, following him to the door and securing it after him. He then went to the door to the balcony and made certain it, too, was secured.
"I grow tired of anxiety," he commented to Elise.
"I understand, my love." They looked to one another and both shrugged, then laughed.
He went to her, embraced her. "I am only so glad to have you, Beloved."
They kissed, and looked at one another. "I," she said suddenly, "find myself hungry. Shall we see what has been brought in preparation for our arrival?"
The house had been clean when they arrived, and had obviously been aired. Discarded wrappings from those of their gifts they'd opened had been placed in a large basket, and the gifts themselves placed in appropriate cupboards and closets, while the still wrapped gifts stood on and around a sideboard. In the kitchen they found a stew simmering gently on the stove and fresh-baked rolls in a covered basket on the table, along with plates and utensils, a tub of butter and jar of honey.
Elise looked at the set table and the vase of flowers that stood on the windowsill, and sighed. "They are so working to make us feel welcome." She looked to him. "Shall you prefer wine or ale with your meal?"
He laughed. "Actually, I would like milk tonight."
"Milk it shall be, if we have any. We drank what was left for us before."
A lidded jug of milk was found in the small cold room, and soon they were enjoying their first supper together in their new home. Again both cleaned the kitchen together. They were considering resumption of the opening of gifts when there was a pull at the bell. Ruvemir opened to find both Eregiel and Gilfileg, back in his own clothing, waiting there.
The next hour was spent going over every detail they could remember of the trip, trying to realize where whoever had ordered the assault might have come to realize that Ifram and Shefti were indeed with their party.
"It appears," Eregiel finally said with a sigh, "that the only place where any might have paid sufficient attention to the Rhunim to realize their origin was in Casistir; but Orophin remained there for three days and saw no one meeting with the workmen who thought to assault you there, nor with any others. The only messenger sent from there was sent here to Minas Anor from the engineers who directed the work, telling of the incident and the discipline given to the Men Targon and Everion, and praising the other worker, Húrin son of Hergion, who spoke against their actions."
"I suspect that as a watch was being kept on the farm, whoever it was who sent the attackers realized the chance was that Lords Ifram and Shefti did join your party, and set himself to figure out your eventual destination since he could not follow your route," Gilfileg suggested. "It was only after your party was seen approaching it and the two of them could be recognized as being Rhunim that the one watcher went to meet the others and lead them to the estate." Eregiel nodded in agreement.
"I suspect you are correct," Ruvemir said, "but it does not make me feel any easier for the safety of my family."
There was another knock at the door, and all looked up in surprise. Ruvemir went to it and called out, and was surprised to hear the voice of Lord Hardorn in response. He quickly opened to allow him to enter, accompanied by Ifram, Shefti, and Ben'harin. He led them into the dayroom where all sat and waited for Hardorn to speak.
"I have asked these to join us as they have the right to know what has been learned and what is planned. Reports have reached us from Umbar--one did see you and reacted to your party in Passaurin, my Lords; and then was followed back to Umbar. He has finally been identified, Landrion of Umbar, a warlord of the land and one who seeks to rival the Lord Marcipor in power. His hatred of Gondor is widely famed throughout Umbar, as is his penchant for intrigue, assassination, piracy, and spying. He is descended from the Black Númenoreans, and is widely feared by his own people.
"His own ships were lost to Aragorn at the Pelargir, a fact he still resents. His brother Larigion captained the greatest of the ships, the one Aragorn took for his command ship. Aragorn himself killed him. Since his brother's death, Landrion has stated he will do anything to see the throne of Gondor laid low, along with he who sits on it. He also has been known to deal with Rhunim agents many times over the past six years. The one seen most in his company wears a distinctive ring, one believed to have been given him by Sauron's people. Here is the drawing of it."
He unrolled a small drawing. Ifram examined it and drew a deep breath, shared a look with his brother. "Abdurin," he said decisively.
Shefti nodded agreement. "Abdurin of the Bedui, uncle to Solamonti and brother to the clan chieftain. He'd always hoped his brother would be chosen next Shkatha, but instead Moritum received the honor."
Ifram snorted. "He hoped he himself would become Shkatha, Shefti. He has no real care for his brother Abduleram--he'd assassinate him in a heartbeat if he thought the rest of the Bedui would follow him."
Shefti simply gave an elegant lift to his eyebrows in response. "I know only I have seen that ring on his hand and his alone."
The three Northern Rangers looked to one another. Finally Hardorn commented, "It sounds as if the two of them may have been conspiring against the alliance between Rhun and Gondor. You said before that the Bedui leadership always followed Sauron's lead most closely."
Ifram agreed. "They became very powerful under Sauron, for his people came to approach them first, gave them first pick of slaves and plunder, pride of place in the assaults. Abdurin was the teacher of his brother's son Solamonti, who headed their Men most of the time. Solamonti was the arm that wielded the sword, but Abdurin was the brain that directed its aim."
Hardorn continued, "We have a tie here to Master Varondil. Many of the questionable apprentices he held were from in and around Umbar, and the descriptions they give of where they were taken after they were chosen for Varondil's purposes indicate they were held on Landrion's estate--his gate, which displays several tokens of the Black Númenoreans, is quite distinctive. The small boat that brought them up the river also is tied to Landrion's people. All were brought to a hidden landing that Landrion was seen using on his way back to Umbar from Passaurin. One of the Haradrim boys also described similar gates and the ride on the small boat to the hidden landing. And one of the boys from Rhun recognized this ring on the hand of him who stole him from his clan's lands."
"Has this Varondil been questioned?" asked Ifram.
"Only dealing with his perversions so far. Not yet with regard to his ties to any southern connection."
"Is he where no one can slay him in his cell?" Ifram asked again.
"My own people guard him, as well as our southern guests."
"You spoke of plans," Shefti prompted.
Hardorn's eyes became very hard. "I sent messages to my Lord Cousin from the farm, and a response was awaiting me here. He has left the leadership of our forces to Prince Imrahil and King Éomer for a time, and he is headed now to Umbar. I head that way tomorrow. Together we will approach Landrion of Umbar, and I suspect he will rue the meeting."
"How goes the encounter?"
"So far neither side has the advantage, although Aragorn's devices and strategies have begun to change that."
"Can they afford to have him leave the fight?"
"The Lord Prince and the King of Rohan have learned how to deploy Aragorn's devices, which should be all that is necessary for the next two weeks until he can return. The news he brings back regarding Abdurin's perfidy ought to bring more of your own people more fully into the war as well. At the moment this Abdurin's calls to arms have been so phrased as to discourage rather than to hearten your people to the defense against the Wainriders."
"How do you go?"
"Landrion is not the only one to have access to fast, small boats on the river."
"And the King?"
"The King has Olórin."
Ruvemir smiled. "I'd forgotten that--Olórin is of the Mearas, the Lords of Horses. None are swifter."
Ben'harin, who'd remained quiet so far, commented, "I would not wish to be this Landrion facing your King,"
Hardorn's smile was as feral as could be that of his royal cousin. "I am looking forward to seeing it."
Eregiel asked, "Would you take one of us with you, Cousin?"
"No, I wish you to stay here and continue to guard the Lord Prince and the Lady Queen. And I have a favor to ask of you two, Master Ruvemir, Mistress Elise--may Gilfileg remain here in your house? He will serve to keep an additional eye on the two of you as well as the Embassy."
"And when am I to finish my trip to Dol Amroth, then?" demanded Gilfileg.
"The Lord Prince Imrahil and his heir are not there--they are in Rhun with the King. His second son is here in the city, and only the third remains there. Do you truly wish to tell your mother's story to the third son only, Cousin?"
Gilfileg gave a great sigh. "Since you ask it of me, I will consider it, then."
Ruvemir and Elise looked one to the other, and smiled. "We will agree," the sculptor announced. "Which room would you wish to use?"
Elise laughed. "We were worried about being alone after so long with Ririon, Pando, Miriel and Folco. It appears we shall not be as alone as we'd thought."
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.