72. Another Trial of Intrigue
Another Trial of Intrigue
The King looked down at his Steward, who shared his grim smile. "We shall now call in the party from Harad, then?" Faramir asked.
At the King's nod, Faramir indicated to the Guards at the door to do just that, and in a moment ten individuals from Harad were entering the hall, led by Rustovrid, whose carriage was both proud and satisfied. King and Queen rose to bow respectfully to their returned guest.
"We welcome you back to Gondor and Minas Anor, Lord Rustovrid," the King said solemnly. "I grieve we could not greet you as we did before, but there is much business which must be completed this day. Will you and yours desire the same quarters as before?"
"Perhaps we should look to larger quarters, Lord King. My Farozi desires to open an embassy within Gondor as has done the Shkatha of Rhun." He held out a document that was accepted by the Steward, who in turn held it out to the King as he descended the stairs for the second time that day. The King received it, as before produced a small belt knife with which to lift the seal, again giving it into the keeping of Lord Hardorn after examining it carefully, opened and read the document, gave it first to Faramir to peruse, then indicated it should be reviewed by Glorfindel, then finally received it back and gave it, too, to Hardorn.
The King's smile was unforced and true. "It is with great honor we accept this embassy. We had hoped this might happen, and a house has been prepared to receive you for such purposes, the large house across from where you stayed before. Will you need the services of any of our people?"
"We thank you for your generosity, Lord King Elessar, but we have brought sufficient to care for the household, including my wife and daughters and servants. They wait lower in the city in one of the inns where they rest from the journey and find refreshment."
"So be it, then. Will it please you to remain with us to see what business we have yet to do, then? It should prove--instructive."
"With honor, Lord King."
Another seat was brought for Rustovrid, and the others shown to places at the side of the room. The King then sighed. "We will need some refreshment ourselves, for already the early audience has taken some time. If you will excuse me, I will be needed in a different service when it resumes. Our servitors have been instructed to bring fruit, meats, pastries, and drink for your easing, and we will resume matters in half of an hour's time. Is this acceptable to all?"
After all had indicated agreement, he added, "For those of you who attended the audience with our Easterling guests before, much the same procedure will be used. Please leave an aisle down the center for those to be questioned to be led, and room between the seats of the high Lords and the front of the witnesses for the circle of guards. I thank you." So saying, he turned and looked up at his wife, who came down carrying the sword and scepter. The latter he gave back into the Steward's keeping, and hung Anduril on his belt with the aid of Lord Hardorn before he took his wife's hand and led her out of the room.
Armanthol looked with grief into the eyes of Ruvemir. "It is true, then--my father is dead."
Ruvemir nodded. "Apparently so. I am sorry."
"He did little with me, but did appear to be proud of me, in his way. And he was my father...."
Ruvemir took his hand and held it in comfort. Celebgil looked at him with compassion.
Ruvemir found he had no desire to eat right now, and instead left the Citadel for a time, walking over to the work site and staring moodily at the shrouded stones. Celebgil and Armanthol followed him, and took seats at the low table, Celebgil watching him, Armanthol with his head in his hands. They were joined by a tall figure in flowing robes. Ruvemir looked up, then bowed.
"My Lord Elladan, it is an honor to greet you here."
"Estel thought you might come here, and asked I join you and keep you company for a time."
"Thank him for me, then. And thank you for agreeing." He indicated Armanthol. "This is Armanthol son of Landrion of Umbar. He has been troubled, for this day he heard confirmed the actions and death of his father."
The Elf grew grave. "I grieve with you, for it is never easy to hear of the death of a father."
"Your father is dead?"
"My father is Elrond Peredhel. No, he is not dead, but he has passed from us, going at last to join our mother in the Undying Lands. When my brother and I will join him we have not decided. However, in the long centuries of our lives Elrohir and I have seen countless of the sons and daughters of Men bereft at the deaths of parents, both when the deaths were sudden and violent, and when they came after long and blessed lives and were greeted happily by those so released."
He sat by the youth, placed his hand on his shoulder. Armanthol at first appeared affronted by this gesture of intimacy, but suddenly looked up into the clear grey eyes of the Elven lord and found himself crying. Elladan drew the youth to him and held him till the tears failed, which was not a particularly long time. Ruvemir produced a kerchief for Armanthol to wipe his eyes with and blow his nose upon, then suggested he might find his eyes soothed if he cleansed his face either at the fountain by the Tree or on the side of the privy. Celebgil accompanied him as he went to the privy.
"The Tree might soothe him more," commented the Elf quietly.
Ruvemir nodded his agreement. "It has worked so for Celebgil. The Lord Frodo wrote that he could feel the life in the White Tree, as he could feel it in the mellyrn of Lothlorien. He made a note to that effect in the writings he wrote here."
"He was a discerning one," Elladan smiled. "Most unusual, to find one with such an Elven nature in the body of a Perian."
"So I understand." They remained quiet for some moments until the two youths returned.
Finally Elladan asked, "Do you wish you could have known him?"
"The Lord Frodo? Of course I wish that. I hope that when I myself make my journey west I will be granted the grace to at least see him, either there or on the way."
"When you journey...? Oh, I see. You have given thought to that time, then?"
Ruvemir looked up into the face of the Elf. "I think all thoughtful mortals do so. It will come to all of us, after all. Better to think of it and prepare for it mentally than to have it come on us as a great shock, don't you think?"
Elladan smiled down on him. "You, too, are an unusual soul, Small Master."
After a moment Armanthol asked, "Is the King the one who brought me away from my father's house, the one called Strider?"
Ruvemir nodded. "Strider is the name those in Bree called him."
"But if he is King here...."
"He is King of both Gondor and Arnor; but before the kingship was restored he was thought of in Bree merely as one more of the Rangers of the Northern Wilds. The Dúnedain did not name themselves before the folk of Bree, but were given descriptive names by the Breefolk themselves."
"Does his shoulder pain him?"
Elladan sighed. "He will not allow Elrohir or me to do more to ease it for him, saying it reminds him of the grave danger in which Captain Beregond remains. I am hoping that now he is back with my sister she will assist us to waylay him and ease it in spite of himself. Only to put it back in its place has he allowed."
The bell began to toll, and they looked up. Ruvemir sighed. "I suppose it is time to return, then." He looked one last time at the shrouded stones, then they turned back to the Citadel.
Near the steps to the Citadel remained the rest of those from Rhun, who stood, frustrated, surrounded by Guards of the Citadel and robed guards from Rhun, assigned by the Shkatha. Two there were who resembled one another, although one was clearly several years older than the other. Both were taller than was the norm for those of Rhun, and watched the approach of the Sculptor and those with him with interest. The younger of the two Men lifted his hand to speak behind it to his brother, and on it Ruvemir saw the ring he'd seen pictured in the drawing of those who'd reported from Umbar. So, this was the Lord Abdurin, and beside him his brother Abduleram. One of those who stood with them had a marked resemblance to the young Rhunim Man who had been slain by Ben'harin. Well, the coming audience promised to be interesting.
As he started up the stairs, Gilfileg came down them, turned Ruvemir aside to lead him to the party of Rhunim. "My lords," he said, "I greet you in the King's name. I am Lord Gilfileg, and one of the King's kin from the North. This is Master Ruvemir of Lebennin, a gifted sculptor. Those are two of his apprentices there. They are doing a memorial sculpture commissioned by the King himself."
It was quite abrupt, but as he was brought to them Gilfileg was saying most softly under his breath, "Please, stay with them, watch and listen carefully as they wait." Then more loudly to all added, "I grieve you have had to wait so, but there has been a need to explain before the people of Gondor how it is that the war came to pass and is now ended. The Lord King must, after all, justify his actions before the realm."
"Yes, we can see the need," said the Lord Abdurin, his voice smooth and yet, somehow, grating on the ear. "After all, this war has cost your people much, has it not?"
"Far less," Ruvemir found himself saying, "than the many years we defended ourselves from the forces commanded by Mordor, some of which were fought also against those of your forces which fought for the Enemy."
Abduleram colored. "We are all free from the domination of that one," he said hurriedly. "Little good did our people know from the overlordship of Mordor."
"Then you are pleased with the peace that now lies between your people and ours?" Ruvemir asked.
"Pleased enough, although change is always difficult."
"I am surprised how well you speak the Common Tongue."
Abduleram gave a swift look at his brother, then returned his attention to the sculptor. "Our clan has always had more chance to deal with outlanders than most of the other clans of our people. We hold grazing lands and oases near to the borders, and were often the first to be contacted by the emissaries of the Dark Lord, who never spoke to us in our own tongue."
"No, I suppose not. It was ever Sauron's way to force all others to his ways and not to respect theirs." Ruvemir realized he was now alone with these folk, and that Gilfileg had quietly withdrawn into the Citadel, taking Celebgil and Armanthol with him.
"What was the business of those of Umbar before the King?" asked Abdurin.
Ruvemir shrugged. "It appears he had called upon the Lord Marcipor to serve as witness of some bargain being struck, and now desired him to tell of it to those who were now gathered."
"One went out alone."
"I know. He held some information, told it to the assembly, and was dismissed. What he told did not please all."
"We noted he went--swiftly."
Abduleram asked, "What is this memorial you are to do?"
"Four came from far away to assist in the fight against Mordor in their own way, and the King desires to see their efforts remembered."
"They were great warriors, then?"
Ruvemir laughed. "Warriors? Not at the beginning, at least. But the Enemy had faced warriors and had seen them slain for two ages of Middle Earth. No, it was a different form of opposition they showed to Sauron, a different way of fighting his oppression and tyranny. Yet two of them have become warriors--after a fashion, at least. I would not wish to face either with a sword, I know that."
Abdurin looked at him with that look of patronization and underestimation that Ruvemir had come to hate in his earliest days of realization he was different from other children. "I do not see you wielding a sword in any case."
It was all he could do to hold his temper. "No," he managed, smoothly enough, "I am no warrior, and certainly have not the body for such. However, I will set my own skill with mallet and chisel against any from your land. I, too, fight for the good in the manner to which I am best suited."
"And what need is there to fight now, here in your rich capital and your fat land?" There was no mistaking the envy in Abdurin's voice, the wish he had to see this all brought low, and preferably under the weight of his foot.
Ruvemir looked up at him steadily. "There is always the need to fight the will to oppress, the will to use others for one's own purposes with no thought to theirs. My own apprentices have learned this to their sorrow, and now must seek healing for the damage done to many of them."
Abdurin looked down at him, but found he could not make the small Man quail. Instead he himself looked away and shivered.
Abduleram looked from brother to sculptor, realizing there was something not being said here. "What was this evil they faced, then?"
Ruvemir shrugged, looked off eastward toward the mountains that had walled Mordor. The day was darkening--a storm was coming, he realized. "A former master had abused many of them. He will be judged by the King, I hope today, if there is time to come to it."
"Why did you come out?"
"My work site is there," he said, indicating the open shed roof, the shrouded stones. "I find myself checking it constantly, even when I do not work there."
"You have worked here long?"
"I came to the capital for the first time last fall. I was then sent on a journey north to seek out information on those I depict, and returned in the spring. Since then I have labored here, most of the time."
"Most of the time," Abdurin said. Ruvemir did not answer him.
There was quiet for a time. Finally Abduleram muttered, "I do not understand this long wait."
"Nor do I," answered his brother.
Again they went quiet, until at last Abduleram commented, "Apparently the reports of the death of Ifram of the d'Bouti clan were exaggerated."
Abdurin answered between clenched teeth, "Apparently, Brother."
The elder brother looked at the younger with surprise. "Are you not pleased, Abdurin? I would think that it would be a good thing in your eyes after the treason of Solamonti."
"Solamonti was only doing what he felt was needed to restore our own ways and sovereignty."
"And since when has it been our way to kill a Man unarmed as he goes to do honor to another?"
"Are you ashamed of your son, then?"
Abduleram turned away. "Yes, he caused me deep shame. He would have taken us away from peace, would have weakened the authority of our Shkatha. I may not like Moritum personally, but he has shown himself a good leader, and our people have begun to flourish under his rule."
"We weaken, Brother. We become soft, like these."
"They are not soft, not to have withstood Mordor as long as they did. No, they are not soft."
Ruvemir realized they had quite forgotten he was with them.
Abdurin spat to his right. "They are not as we are. Too easy a life they have, here in their rich land and their White City."
"Their King is a warrior, a great warrior."
"And one who wears his arm now supported in a scarf. What happened there, then?"
"I know not. But it is not his sword arm that is injured."
Abduleram continued, "I have seen him fight. The Wainriders are great warriors and fierce; but he is driven to fight and to fight well. None got past his guard."
"Then how was he injured?"
"It happened not on the field of battle. It was an injury he sustained in his camp."
Abdurin looked up with a start of a sneer on his face. "Perhaps one of his own sought to injure him. Perhaps they are not all happy with this new King of theirs."
"I have seen no sign of such unhappiness. No, all seem to love and honor him deeply."
"Since when do Men need to love their rulers?"
"It is easier to serve when one honors the one who rules. Others tend to last in their rule only until another stronger is able to overcome them."
"Then it appears those who are strong rule longest."
Abduleram shook his head. "Sauron ruled as long as he did only because he was no mortal, and then he was brought low by what? Not the army set against him, that is certain."
"A great sorcerer brought him low, it is said."
Ruvemir almost laughed aloud at the thought of Frodo Baggins being declared a sorcerer.
Abduleram again shook his head. "I do not understand how it was wrought, save that one brought down the Black Tower armed only with his will, or so I have heard. But you have never understood, Younger Brother, that those who lead and rule best do so as long as they meet the needs of those they rule. Let them meet the needs well, and they will endure, if they be no more intelligent or strong than the ant that crawls on the tent walls. Let them fail to meet the needs of their people, and they will need to guard themselves always against those who would topple them, and then they will last only until one finds their weakness and utilizes it."
"Is that how Sauron fell, then? Someone found his weakness?"
Liana cheerfully reached the top of the ramp and looked to find her master, who was called to the audiences to be held here today. She hoped he had come out to look upon the work site, for she did not feel right in seeking to enter in to bring him his letters that had just come. Oh, there he was, near the door to the Citadel, standing with others. She approached, the letters in her hand....
"Master Ruvemir!" The small sculptor turned at the sound of his name, and the attention of the others was drawn also to the one calling out to him. "Master Ruvemir, letters have come...."
As Liana approached, she realized suddenly, with horror, those among whom her master stood were from Rhun, and she recognized one of them all too well. She stopped well short of them, her face white with shock.
"Ah, Liana, what is it? Is there something wrong?"
She did not answer, did not take her eyes from those of the Man who looked at her now, his own face as white as her own. She held out the letters, and Ruvemir came forward, took them but remained focused on her. "What is it? Do you know this one, then?"
She finally tore her eyes from the others, looked down on those of her master. "Yes, I knew him, once. But he is nothing to me now."
Ruvemir took a breath, looked from her to the Man and back again. "Oh, so I see. Go now, go and be at peace. No one will harm you or Angara as long as you are in our care."
She nodded and turned away. The others looked after her. The one whose eyes she'd caught, the one who looked so like the dead Man Ruvemir had pictured, looked after with frustration. Abdurin looked at him with barely suppressed pleasure at his discomfiture. "She is the one whose evil will denied you a son, left you with a deformed daughter instead?"
The other was saved the indignity of a reply by the opening of the door at last by the Guards stationed there, the summons forward. "They call now for you to enter."
It was with relief that Ruvemir rejoined his apprentices, while the others were led forward to stand near him. Gilfileg was standing before the empty throne, Orin beside him. "The King does not sit now upon his throne?" asked Abdurin quietly with a sneer in his voice.
A nearby Guard looked at him with distaste. "Our King is one who serves his people in whatever capacity he can, and has been known to even sweep floors when it is what is needed. I suggest you stand and watch, listen, and learn."
The questioning of Orin and Gilfileg was continuing. "You found the property under observation?"
The two of them described what had been found on their arrival at Mardil's farm, the watcher Orin had followed, the observers Gilfileg had observed himself, the coming of the other six, the decision on where they'd be likely to attack, the separation of the four of them to places where they could keep the perceived vulnerable places under watch, the midnight assault on the walls, the finding that those within the walls had felt oppressed and had sought to protect the property as they could.
"There were three accustomed to defense within the walls, and along with the Master's son they had prepared for a possible defense as best they could. In the most vulnerable corner they placed the herd bull--"
"The herd bull?" interrupted an amazed King Éomer. "They used a herd bull to defend their property?"
"Yes," Orin said with satisfaction. "As Folco said, it was a strategy that worked. And the stationing of the herd with new calves near another weak place also worked."
"Ruvemir son of Mardil, will you please come forward and join these two?" Prince Faramir asked, his eyes showing he was suppressing laughter with care. Ruvemir nodded reassuringly at his apprentices and joined the other two. "You were within the walls that night?"
"Yes, my Lord Prince Steward."
"Whose idea was it to place the herd bull and the nursing cattle where they were?"
"Mine, my Lord."
"You were prewarned about the impending assault?"
"No, we were not; but several of us felt the disquiet of being watched from the moment we entered the farm gates. If we would be assaulted, we would have warning if any sought to enter through those more vulnerable areas; if we were not, it would do no harm."
"What made you know these were weak places?"
"It is a working farm, and it is the business of the foreman of the place to know which parts of the wall and other fences are most in need of repair. Berenion knows his job well, my Lord." Behind him, he could hear the prisoners being brought to their places, felt one of the encircling guards not far from him. He kept himself from turning to see, noted out of the corner of his eye the reassuring wink given him by Gilfileg.
"I see. And did those who sought entry enter through those places?"
"Two at each of those places, two at the gates, and the last two near the kitchen garden where the wall is lower. The dogs were stationed near the gates with Folco, and we had one of the two of us accustomed to using swords near the kitchen garden, and the other swordsman near the field containing the cattle. Rupter guarded his corner himself."
"Folco would be an unexpected defender."
"He has the Pheriannath's skill with thrown stones, my Lord, and we had already seen he is able to use this skill as much in defense as in scaring birds from his fields during our trip back to Gondor as well as during our stop in Casistir, my Lord."
"All were captured?"
"All save one who was killed by the inner defenders."
"Was that one killed by the bull?"
"No, although one of the two who entered there was badly gored. No, he was killed by the swordsman on guard there."
"Lord Gilfileg, which of you four got into the grounds first?"
"I did, Lord Steward. And all was as Master Ruvemir has described. It was a wonderful thing to find they were prepared as they were."
He then described how the seven prisoners were secured for the night, the treatment offered the one who had been gored, and the placement of the body in the cool cellar, the decision the following day to use that body as a ruse to convince those who were awaiting word on the outcome of the attack that one of those wanted dead had indeed been slain, the ruse of the ride through the nearby town and the recognition that one did indeed keep watch for riders from the north.
"Thank you all," said the Steward. "You may resume your places. We are all aware already of what happened to that one, save for our new Ambassador from Harad. Please forgive us, Lord Rustovrid, if we advise you of that after the fact." Rustovrid indicated understanding.
Now all focused attention on the hooded prisoners before them. All seven still wore the garb given them on the farm, Ruvemir noted. He wondered what his companions would do when the hoods were removed, so set himself to watch as he rejoined his apprentices.
"These are the seven who made the assault, then?"
The chief of the Guards who encircled them said, "Yes, sir. They are the same seven brought here by Lord Hardorn from the north of Passaurin."
"They appear well enough."
"Yes, sir. We have given treatment to the two who were wounded, and they have responded well. The others have known boredom and isolation, but no ill treatment since their arrival."
"Remove the hoods, please." Several guards stepped forward to do exactly that.
Ruvemir noted both Abdurin and Abduleram recognized the two Easterlings, but where Abduleram shook his head in disgust, Abdurin did his best, once his shock was mastered, to hide his response. The young Man who resembled the one who'd been killed was searching the faces of those there and had gone white.
Behind the prisoners stood two in the cloaks of Northern Rangers, one in stained green, the other in grey with the silver star on his shoulder. The one in grey held bow and arrow at the ready, the other had his right hand on his sword hilt. Éomer smiled. "Strider the Ranger will translate for the Easterlings, and....?" He looked inquiringly at the one in grey.
"Bowman, Lord King Éomer," he was advised.
"Bowman--I see. Yes, the Ranger Bowman will translate for the folk from Umbar, who I understand speak mostly a form of Adunaic."
Bowman gave an abbreviated bow of his head.
The questioning was as intense as the last such questioning Ruvemir had heard, and the seven found themselves answering several times when they'd tried to keep silent. Strider kept up the quiet translation to Rhunic and back, while Bowman's Adunaic was just as fluent and constant. At the last all fell silent. The two Rhunim had indicated they had desired to see their land return to what it was before, with no ties to Gondor, from which source no good could come.
At last Gilfileg asked, "What tribe do you come from?" And when neither answered, he asked it again in Rhunic. Stung, one looked up and said, "Bedui."
"Both of you?" asked Gilfileg, Strider translating his question.
"Who gave you authority to leave your people to do this?"
"Did Abduleram suggest you do this?"
The contempt in the young Man's voice was palpable. "That one? No, not he. He would never order or suggest such action. He prefers we grow weak."
"Did Abdurin suggest this?"
He did not reply, became stony faced.
Abduleram was looking at his brother. He gave a deep sigh and stepped away from Abdurin.
"Where did you stay when in Umbar?"
"On an estate."
"We were not told names."
"Describe the gates."
Not knowing any reason not to do so, he did. A paper was held by the Lord Faramir, and he was examining it as they listened. He handed it to Prince Imrahil who sat by him, who nodded, then it was passed the other way. Moritum examined it and nodded, then gave it to the Ghan, who examined it and handed it to Rustovrid, who then passed it to Gilfileg, who passed it to Éomer.
Gilfileg stood, addressed the two translators. "This description matches that of Landrion of Umbar's gates?"
Strider answered, "Yes." Bowman agreed.
Gilfileg addressed those from Umbar. "Whose employ did you know?"
One sighed. "I worked for Landrion of Umbar." Two of the others glared at him, the other two looked forward with no expression.
Prince Faramir sighed. "I will tell you this--Landrion of Umbar is no more. He was slain after he tried to hire assassins to kill the Lord Marcipor. Lord Marcipor, will you add to the testimony you gave earlier, tell the answers to the questions put to him by those who brought him out of his own place?"
Marcipor had been given a chair, also, at the side of the room. He now came forward, and four of the five facing him blanched. The other shook his head, then bowed it. Marcipor told of the questioning and the answers given. All of them now either stood with heads bowed or looking forward with resigned expressions. Marcipor's own expression was twisted with a look of triumph.
Finally he was allowed to return to his chair, and Faramir stood. "I recall Ruvemir son of Mardil." Ruvemir came forward once more, aware of the look he was receiving from Abdurin. "You made these drawings at the time of those who assaulted your family's farm, did you not?" He handed the mannikin the drawings he'd done.
Ruvemir examined each one and handed them back to the Steward. "Yes, I did these."
Faramir nodded and gave them to Prince Imrahil, then passed them to his right as he'd done with the diagram of the gates. "Are all agreed these seven are among those pictured here?" he asked when all had seen them. All nodded.
Faramir next handed him the picture of the ring. "Have you seen this object?"
"Yes, my Lord Prince Steward. I have seen it this day."
"I see. I will question you more in a moment." Again the picture of the ring made its rounds, returning at last to Prince Imrahil. "Will you return to your place now, Master Ruvemir? Thank you. I call now Abdurin of the Bedui of Rhun."
Abdurin looked surprised, but came forward.
"You are clan chieftain for your tribe?"
Abdurin's expression could be seen by his brother, a look of flattery and conceit mixed with an attempt to look innocent. Ruvemir noted the suppressed anger on Abduleram's face. "No, my brother is clan chieftain for the Bedui. I am but his servant."
"Your nephew Solamonti--how did you look on him?"
"He was a foolish one, but an excellent warrior."
"Do you know any reason why he would have taken part in the previous attack on your ambassador to Gondor?"
Abdurin gave a shrug. "No, for at last we have peace."
"How did you feel when he was found guilty of betrayal of your Shkatha and was ordered executed?"
An even more elaborate shrug. "He knew he broke our laws and this would happen if he were found out."
"So, if he were not found out, he would have lived."
"What was his relationship with his father."
"That of a son."
"Was he a dutiful son?"
"Did he ever disagree with his father's policies?"
"What are your brother's feelings toward Moritum of the d'Bouti clan?"
"He dislikes Moritum."
"What are his feelings toward him as Shkatha?"
"He feels he is adequate as Shkatha."
"What are your feelings toward Moritum?"
"He is young and inexperienced. He had not the courage to fight in our last battle against the forces of Gondor."
Faramir looked at Prince Imrahil. "How did Moritum of Rhun acquit himself against the Wainriders?"
"Very well. He is an excellent warrior of great skill, and showed great personal courage and leadership skills."
Faramir turned to Peveset. "How did Moritum of Rhun acquit himself against your warriors?"
"He is a great warrior. If I'd killed him, I would have kept his skull with great honor in my yurt."
"I see." Faramir looked at Abdurin for several moments, then focused on his hand. "What a unique ring. May I see it?"
Abdurin held out his hand, and Faramir took it in his, turning it to look at the thing from several angles, all getting a good look at it. Prince Imrahil handed a drawing to his son Elphir, who stood behind him, and Elphir brought it to Abduleram. He examined it for several moments and then looked at his brother, grief and fury mixed in his eyes.
The Steward of Gondor now dismissed Abdurin back to his place. "Will the King please come forth and sit in judgment?"
As before, Strider the Ranger stepped forward, taking off his green cloak and unfastened leathers, showing the green tunic he'd worn earlier. The hilt of Anduril was there under his hand, his left arm still in its green scarf. Faramir set the Winged Crown on his head, and Gilfileg gave the scepter into his hand. He climbed the steps to his throne while lifting the sheath from his belt, settled sword and scepter over his knees.
"Prince Elphir, will you bring me the pictures?"
Elphir bowed and did as he was asked, standing in front of the Queen's chair and showing each picture in turn to the King. At last the Lord Elessar had seen all, and said, "Turn the picture of the ring to the witnesses." He sighed. "This picture was made by one of our agents within Rhun, who saw this ring on the hand of one who treated several times with Lord Landrion, who was killed for his treason to the Lord Marcipor. This ring was recognized by two boys of Rhun who were stolen from their families and sent to Umbar and then to the service of Varondil of this city, who has been found to have used his apprentices in a manner that is disturbing and disgusting. At least seven have destroyed their own lives in response to his unhealthy appetites and the uses Varondil put them to, including Varondil's own son. This ring was worn by the Man who brought to Landrion the three young Rhunim who took part in the assault on the farm of Mardil of Lebennin, who was hosting Ambassador Ifram and his brother and scribe, Lord Shefti.
"Master Ruvemir, when you were asked if you recognized a particular object, what was the picture you were shown?"
"That picture, my Lord King."
"And you said you recognized it and had seen it this day?"
"Yes, on the hand of Lord Abdurin of the Bedui of Rhun."
"Have you seen it before this day?"
"Yes, yesterday at the arrival of your party from Rhun, again on the hand of Lord Abdurin of Rhun."
"You are an artist?"
"Yes, my Lord King.
"What do you see as the subject of that ring?"
Ruvemir took a deep breath. "It appears to be a stylized depiction of the Eye, my Lord."
"Have you ever seen any hand wearing such a ring before?"
"No, my Lord King."
The King took the picture into his own hand, looked at it long and hard. Finally he said, "Bring Abdurin and Abduleram of Rhun before me, Ben'harin, Hardorn."
Those two came forward and indicated the two brothers should go forward to face the King. The King looked down at them for a long moment, then looked at Ruvemir. "Is the Lord Abduleram, in your opinion, part of the plans and activities of his brother, Master Ruvemir?"
Ruvemir shook his head emphatically. "No, my Lord King, I do not believe that to be true at all."
"What evidence do you have for this opinion?"
"His words outside when he had no idea that his brother's evil would be exposed this day indicated he sought to reprove the Lord Abdurin for his lack of understanding of the proper means and ends of ruling, for his dismissal of the attempt on Lord Ifram's life when he was unarmed. His expression when he looked at the picture of the ring his brother wears also tells me he had begun to realize his brother has stolen children and suborned his men. At no time in the period I have spent at the side of these have I seen any sign that the Lord Abduleram has supported his brother's activities, or even truly knew of them."
"My Lord Abduleram, is my sculptor correct in his reading of your words?"
"My Lord, I had no idea at all this one was stealing children. I have long known he dislikes the Shkatha, but I did not realize he was active in trying to break the peace and treaty between your land and ours. However, he is my brother, and I will stand beside him. I do not support what he does, but I will not let him stand alone."
"My Lord Abduleram, when a mortal dies, even if he dies with others, he yet dies alone."
Abduleram blanched, but he did not waver.
The King continued, "Do you wish to die with him, my Lord, for no fault of your own?"
The answer, when it came, was uttered in a low voice. "No."
The King looked down on him with compassion. "I am sorry, my brother, that you must endure this shame a second time." Abduleram looked up into the King's face, and those who could see realized tears fell from the Rhunish lord's eyes. Hardorn, who stood to his left, placed his hand on the Man's shoulder in comfort. The King sighed, gave the picture back and stood to descend the stair again, sword and scepter in hand. He handed both to Faramir that his hand might be free, and he came before the older lord, set his hand on top of that of his cousin's. Slowly, gently, Hardorn slipped his away. Abduleram lowered his head and wept, then gathered his strength, looked up, into the King's eyes once more. At last he gave a small nod, stepped back. The King smiled sadly at him, then turned to the other.
Abdurin was white, and beginning now to shake as the King's gaze took him in, took him in and found him wanting. The King finally said in a surprisingly mild voice, "Let me tell you tell you a tale, Abdurin. How old do you think me to be?"
It took some time to realize the King required an answer. Finally he said, "Perhaps you have forty and five years."
Aragorn smiled. "I was born over ninety-three years ago in Eriador. Five years I have held this throne, worn this crown, carried the Scepter of Annúminas. Before that I fought the Enemy and his creatures, Men, orcs, trolls, beasts, wraiths, other horrors, for sixty-eight years. Most of the first twenty years of my life, after the death of my father and it was given out I had died as well, I spent in Imladris, Rivendell, in the home of Elrond, greatest of lore-masters at the time in Middle Earth. From him and my brothers I learned many, many things. But mostly I learned about Sauron, Sauron and his ways and his policies and his intents and his traps and his lies. In the sixty-eight years I fought Sauron in Eriador, Rohan, here, in Rhun, in Umbar, in Harad, and elsewhere, I have seen only two others who wore rings like to yours. They are lesser rings, by the way, intended to enslave as were the greater Rings given so long ago to the Nine. Sauron never lost all of his craft.
"Now Sauron is no more, yet you continue to wear his token, live by his rules and desires. You have encouraged others to break the laws by which they and their people live. You have encouraged unnatural appetites and have destroyed families by stealing children and encouraging their young Men to rebel against rightful authority while submitting to your own. You have tried to slay innocents in order to pursue your own policies with no regard for the rights and desires of others. You would encourage war in order to keep others so divided you can then rule them as you please.
"What is the proper punishment, according to your laws, for those who rebel against the rightful Shkatha?"
It was some time before he answered, "Death."
"By what means?"
Abduleram at last answered for his brother, "Impalement."
"It is odd, Abdurin," the King said quietly, "that your nephew Solamonti had more honor and courage than you have shown. When he was asked this question, he answered himself, did not need another to answer for him. You have worn this ring now for how many years?"
"Fifteen years." The voice was barely a whisper.
The King looked at him sadly. "Fifteen years. Did they offer this to any others before they offered it to you?"
"They offered it to my brother."
"Why does he not wear it?"
"He refused it."
"The other two whom I have seen wearing rings such as this were one in Eriador, in the remains of what had been Angmar, and the other in Harad. That one was trying to slay a Man when I came upon the two of them--a youth, actually, unarmed save for a hunting bow. The one who had gone hunting with him had cut the quiver from his shoulder. I slew the aggressor, having no idea who the youth was whom I was saving. He told me his name was Sohrabi. It was a name that meant nothing to me--then. In each case I found I could not bear to touch the rings, and had to have another remove them, place them in a silken purse my foster father insisted I carry with me for such a purpose. I will not tell you what was done with them, or what will be done with this one when you are dead. It would be best if you yourself took it off now, for then you have a chance for redemption ere you die. If you do not---" The King gave an elaborate shrug.
"You want it for yourself!" hissed Abdurin.
"I already have more power than I desire, certainly more than I need. I need not the false power offered by such traps as that. Will you take it off, or will you wear it to your death?"
"I will not die!"
"Oh, did he tell you that if you wore it you could not be killed? Did no one ever tell you that his name from of old was the Base, the Liar? The other two I have met with such rings on their hands are, I assure you, quite dead, and I slew both while they yet wore their rings. Even the greatest of the Ringwraiths was slain when the conditions were properly met. Ask Meriadoc Brandybuck and the Lady Éowyn. By the way, his was the one of the Nine that could be found afterwards, and I will not tell you what became of it, either. Its stone shattered when Sauron's spell was broken, and the very gold of its shaft was twisted and blown. You would not wish, however, to hold its remains--its power to enslave was far greater still than that which you wear, pale shadow of Sauron's former craft that it is.
"Think on this as you make your decision--he who gifted that to you, although I assure you it was no gift but a trap, is now no more. Morgoth was meant to be among the greatest of the Valar, and he fell to become a spirit of malice. Sauron was meant to be among the greatest of messengers and servants, and he became merely a tyrant and is now less than the whisper of Morgoth's own voice. Saruman was meant to be the Head of the White Council, and his end was mean and his spirit rejected by the Valar, as was that of his chosen master, as was that of his chosen master."
Ruvemir remembered the words of Samwise Gamgee in Brandy Hall and smiled. The King noticed and asked, "What amuses you, Master Ruvemir?"
The sculptor looked into his King's face and explained, "It was something the Lord Samwise said, my Lord. 'All of them as tries to make themselves lords of the whole of Middle Earth come to a dark end. You'd think as they'd learn. No plain Hobbit sense. Just goes to show as living more than a lifetime isn't always a good thing, don't you know. Forget what they was intended to be and tries to make themselves boss of all, and then where does that lead them?' I find myself believing the sentiment fits here, somehow."
The King laughed. "Yes, that is our dearly beloved Sam for you--one of my wisest of counselors." He looked back into the face of the Man before him. "What is it to be--die still enslaved to that, or die as a free Man?"
Abdurin's expression was desperate. Yet, at the last, he suddenly scrabbled at his hand and withdrew the ring, threw it to the ground, and all could see his hand was bleeding heavily. The King's face was relieved. "That is good. Your spirit has a chance, at least. But now I must give you to your own lord for final judgment, for, again, your crimes are more against your own than against my people or land. This is true for both you and the two of your land behind you."
Moritum sighed. "I take no joy in this, but our law is clear. Death by impalement."
Aragorn Elessar looked at him. "If they die here in Gondor, it must be a clean death and done outside the city, my Lord Shkatha. Let it be through the heart that they die swiftly. That is our law."
The Shkatha nodded his assent. "So be it. Ben'harin, will you do this for us?"
"If you will, Lord."
"Abduleram, will you stand witness the laws of both lands are met?"
"I will, and those here with me as well."
"So be it. If you will have us shown where it is right to do this, my Lord King Elessar?"
"And my Lord Marcipor, do you wish authority over these, or is it given to the laws of Gondor?"
"I wish nothing to do with these."
"Our law requires a quick death, as I told the Shkatha."
"We grant you that, then."
The King bowed his head. "So be it. Tomorrow morning they shall be hanged outside the city. Guards, please take them back to their cells. My Lord Hardorn, will you show the Shkatha the proper place while I see to the disposition of that? It is best it is dealt with quickly." The five from Umbar were led out of the hall.
Hardorn looked down at the ring where it lay and shivered with disgust. "I do not envy you the task, Lord."
"Lend me one of your arrows."
"Only if you agree to burn it after."
"I will promise." Using the tip of the arrow given him by his cousin, the King lifted up the ring. He turned to the rest of those in attendance. "I will return in about a quarter mark, but must see this isolated and the beginning of its end started. My Lord Prince Faramir, will you take over proceedings for the moment?"
Faramir nodded. All straightened as the King carried his burden to a door in the back of the Citadel.
"So has ruled the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar of Gondor and Arnor. We will meet again in half an hour to hear the judgment given to Varondil of this city, once Master Sculptor."
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.