16. Chapter 15
I woke to the cold light of dawn and the sound of rain pattering on the shutters, and once again felt the sickening disorientation of finding myself somewhere strange, and the horrible and immediate return of the knowledge that everything that had mattered was gone out of my life. Mileth came in a little later and brought me breakfast, which I ate and enjoyed despite myself, and then I just lay where I was for a while, unable to move and fighting back the tears once again. I had just dozed off when she came back, telling me to rouse myself as Lord Angon wanted to see me, so I got up and got dressed quickly and went with her again.
This time he was as kindly as before in his manner but there was a look of concern on his face. "Sit down" he said. "It seems we were under a misapprehension regarding the income from the transport, and that my original plan will not be possible. It would appear that your grandmother sold your family's interest to Fodric recently, my lieutenant checked the deed of sale and everything was in order, including the seal. Furthermore my soldiers, who had the grim task of searching the ruins of your house found no gold, coin or jewels anywhere in the ruins". He paused, glanced at me and continued. "We recovered three bodies however. I know this may be difficult for you but the fire was so fierce that we have no way of telling who was who. They will be buried together this afternoon. I will oversee the ceremony, let me know if you wish to accompany me". I almost dissolved into tears again, but this time of rage and disbelief, but managed to master myself and spoke with difficulty. "This cannot be" I said. "Fodric came to the house the evening before the fire to demand the overdue wages, and said he had a right to a share of the business as he'd kept it going when grandfather was ill, and then asked for my mother's hand in marriage and became angry when she refused it. He said horrible things about my father and gave me this bruise when I attacked him for it". I raised my hand to the bruise on my cheek". Angon looked concerned. "This is a grave accusation, and I promise you I will summon Fodric and put it to him. But first we must bury the dead with due respect".
The burial ground was on the south road out of town, and lay between the road and the forest. Many mounds lay across the hillside, some fresh and raw, some ancient and overgrown. Some were marked with carvings and even statues, others with slabs, stones or nothing at all. The icy rain still fell from a slate grey sky onto the heads of the small crowd of friends, neighbours and townsfolk who had followed the wain from the keep, carrying its pitiful burden of three pathetically small shrouded corpses. A single grave had been dug, and the dead were laid to rest together while Lord Angon of Northford said the traditional words commending the dead to Eru and the Valar and the mercy of Mandos. I stood ashen faced at his side, dry eyed and silent, as my whole world disappeared under the heaped earth shovelled over them by the shovels of the attendants. I looked for Fodric among the mourners, but we were told afterwards by one of the waggoners who had come that business had taken him south that morning and that he sent his heartfelt condolences.
I remained in Angon's quarters under the care of Mileth for the next few days, and although the pain did not lessen I began to grow accustomed to it, and did venture out to explore the keep once or twice. Even though the threat from the north had diminished for the time being it was still a bustling place, full of purposeful activity and crowded with soldiers working and training. If anything the place was even more impressive inside that it appeared outside, with the massive and ancient stonework of the walls and towers revealed in all their intricate detail. Grim looking it was, and very old, as the men of the west had built it before the defeat of Sauron the Black to guard the important river crossing and the northern end of Hoarwell Vale. The town had grown up around it afterwards. On my way round I met a couple of the castle rats, lads I knew from the Uphill Clan, and though they were pleased to see me their errands did not allow them to stop and talk. I felt very lonely, and even Mileth's kindness could not give me ease.
When Fodric returned he was summoned to the keep, and arrived in Angon's chambers flanked by two soldiers and looking flustered. I was there with Angon waiting for him and my presence further seemed to discomfit him further. "Master Fodric" Angon said. "You have been called here to try and set a matter of concern to rest regarding the acquisition of the enterprise formerly owned by Carandir of Rushwater and his family. And also to account for your movements on the night of the fire which killed them. I started at this, and I think Fodric did too, his bestial eyes widening in shock. It had not occurred to me that the fire could have had any other cause than simple misadventure, anything else would been too much to bear. "Esteldir here maintains that you called at the house on the evening of the fire, that you threatened to petition for a right in the business and that the conversation went ill when the lady Faelneth refused your offer of marriage. Furthermore that you spoke ill of the dead slain in the King's service, struck a child and issued threats when you were dismissed from service. What say you to this?"
He was temporarily speechless, his mouth falling open, but quickly regained his composure. "Sir on the first matter let me set your mind at rest." He pulled several scrolls out of a satchel he had been carrying and unrolled them for Angon to inspect. "Bills of sale, receipts and a contract, all drawn up correctly and in good order". He looked closely at them and then called me over. Fodric shot me a glance full of malice but immediately resumed his injured air. "Is this your family seal?". I looked closely and could not deny it, I had seen grandfather apply it to numerous items and had even played with it myself once or twice, sealing scraps of paper and pretending that they were important messages. I could not understand how this could be, unless grandmother had betrayed us, but then I could not even begin to think that and recoiled from the idea. Fodric sighed. "On the second matter sir, I must be delicate. This child has suffered greatly and I fear that his spirit is overcome. He is mistaken, confused by the terrible grief of his loss. I spent the evening in question sharing an excellent meal with some stout fellows at the tavern on the market and did not leave until we heard the commotion caused by the fire. All are men of good standing and will vouch for me. I will give you all their names if you wish, though most are well known to you". I caught his eye and knew he was lying, or at the very least not telling the full truth, and a white hot rage boiled up inside me. "Thief! Murderer!" I screamed and launched myself at him once again. But strong hands caught me and stopped me in my tracks and I struggled uselessly in their grip. "Peace Esteldir" said Angon. "You yourself have acknowledged the seal is genuine. And there are no grounds to suspect that Fodric's companions will not vouch that he tells the truth. Sir, I thank you for your time, you are free to go". With that Fodric turned and went, and I was released, dissolving into floods of tears once again and no longer caring who I cried in front of. "He murdered them" was all I could say, over and over. "Without proof to the contrary I cannot and will not act" Angon replied. "But should I find these proofs then he I will show him no mercy". He placed his hand on my shoulder. "Peace boy" he said, not unkindly. "This leaves you in a difficult position, but I will not leave a son of Rushwater starving and penniless on my streets. If you will I will make a place for you as one of the Keep's apprentices. It's not an easy life, but it is one with purpose and you will not go hungry. Go and find Sergeant Cenric at the gatehouse and tell him I sent you and what is purposed for you". So began my new life as a Castle Rat.
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.