Destruction of a Ring
Once Virubat was imprisoned and his relative comfort and immediate needs were prepared for, the more welcome guest of the house indicated he would be working in a far section of the stableyard, and that it would be best none disturb him. Sohrabi thought for a moment, then gave a delayed nod of acquiescence, and walked out with him to give orders to stablemaster and grooms. His last glimpse of the tall trader (and who knew precisely what else?) was of him kneeling, facing West, away from the house and stables, arranging the wood and other items he’d requested. If he could think of a way of seeing what the Man was doing without him knowing, Sohrabi would most probably have spied on him in spite of the warnings Horubi’ninarin had given him, but as he could not see how this could be accomplished he went back to the house and saw to it that all of the house servants and slaves were busy away from the roof and rear courts.
It was quite some time before all within the house seemed to hear a great sigh from the back court, and then it seemed as if somehow there was a lifting of a weight from the spirits of the inhabitants of the place, and a lightening of the sky. A cleansing breeze sprang up and entered in through window openings, cooling and refreshing all. The small boy who turned the spit in the kitchen could be heard singing a camel-counting song as he worked; the newly acquired woman slave purchased to assist with the laundry actually smiled as she bent over her hot irons and the baskets of linens she was to press. Sohrabi straightened from the scroll which he had been reading and looked back toward the rear courts, but refrained from exercising his curiosity.
It was still some time later before the rear door opened, and the servant stationed there received the headcloth their guest removed and led him to the prepared bathing chamber, then ordered the basin of boiling water requested of him taken to the room.
Ma’annubi was a body servant who had been assigned to Sohrabi since the Farozi’s younger proper son was ten. A level of trust and mutual respect had sprung up between them, particularly as Ma’annubi realised that he was not called upon by the Farozi to spy upon the youth and report back on his doings as he’d had to do for former masters regarding their sons’ activities. At first Ma’annubi had been amazed at the apparent trust given the youth by the Farozi, only with time realizing that the ruler of their people simply lacked the imagination required to fear the possible machinations of his sons. Somehow this lack of anticipation of possible treachery managed to work to the good with the Farozi’s two legitimate heirs, while a good number of their near peers appeared inspired by the watch put on them to become even more treacherous than their parents had anticipated.
Ma’annubi looked with suspicion on the guest of the house, and when this one asked the white bag from his goods be brought to him from the room given him, the servant opened it before he left the bedchamber assigned for the Northerner’s use and rifled through it quickly and efficiently. Nothing of note there--bottles of ointments, most of which Ma’annubi recognized by smell as common soothers for the skin used throughout upper and lower Harad; a small folding razor of the type used by many Haradrim to shave their heads; changes of what were obviously small clothes worn by the Northerner’s people; a scroll of the work of the currently popular poet Khafirosiri; a portrait of a woman whose resemblance to the Northerner indicated this was likely a kinswoman--possibly his mother; wrapped in silk and paper a particularly fine carving in ivory of a horse which must have come from Nestor near the borders with Far Harad; a set of green beads of fine glass strung on silk; extra headcloths and cords; a store of papyrus sheets and travel bottle of ink, quills, and brushes; what appeared to be a comb carved of wood; a pottery jar which was easily recognized as containing the soap used in their land; twigs to clean the teeth; and packets of the leaves of a strange plant. Lying on the bed was the Man’s sword, a heavy set of saddlebags, and another, larger bag of scarlet material fastened with an elaborate knot Ma’annubi realized he could not duplicate; the stranger had laid out for himself a clean set of trousers and loose shirt, this time of raw silk and of exquisite workmanship. Ma’annubi carefully replaced the items he’d taken from the bag just as he’d found them--nothing of which save the leaves that appeared suspicious or unknown.
On receiving the bag, their guest opened it, examined its contents, and gave Ma’annubi a prolonged stare, then finally removed the packet of leaves, took out one of the leaves it contained, and after rolling it between his fingers dropped it into the bathwater, then did similarly with a second, which he dropped into the basin of steaming water. After inclining his face over the basin for some moments he stood, looking much refreshed. He then took out the razor and jar of soap and worked a lather between his hands, finally applied it to his face and used the razor to shave away the stubble of his beard.
Realizing Ma’annubi intended to remain in the room, the tall Man gave him another evaluative examination. “You were told to attend on me?” he finally asked.
Ma’annubi bowed. “I am body servant for the Lord Sohrabi,” he explained, “and it is my duty to assist his guests who do not bring such servants with them.”
“You went through my satchel,” the stranger commented with no hint of blame or anger.
“It is also my duty to make certain others do not bring into this house that which might be used to harm my master.”
“Were you to enter my own quarters, I suspect Hardorn would do the same to you.”
“He is your body servant?”
“He is my cousin, and has oft served as my companion and to watch my back while I watch his and do what is needed.” The tall Man scooped up water from the basin with his hands and rinsed his face, finally taking up a towel and drying his skin.
“I had thought that Northerners usually went about wearing beards.”
“I have done so, and will undoubtedly do so again; but it would be too hot in this climate.” He again looked at the servant. “I will ask you now to leave me, for I prefer to bathe myself.”
“You are accustomed to privacy when you bathe?”
“Most of the time, yes.”
“If it is what you desire....”
The steaming bath water filled the air with the scent of growing life in far woodlands as Ma’annubi reluctantly left the chamber.
Knowing that the servant might well have a private peephole through which to keep an eye on those in the bathing chamber, Aragorn held the Ring of Barahir in his closed fist before he drew it out from his clothing, and after slipping the chain over his head thrust his whole hand deep into the bag before releasing it. He had no desire for any to see, much less possibly recognize, the ring he carried. After finishing his undressing he slipped himself into the water of the bathing tub and relaxed in it.
Indeed Ma’annubi did have a peephole, and he made use of it. Not that there was much to see of interest. However, it was clear this was one who was a swordsman, even without the witness of the sword in its sheath lying on his bed. His arm bore the scars of many nicks, and he had a scar that was still relatively new on his lower abdomen, with other, older ones here and there on his torso. What token he wore on the chain about his neck he’d not seen, and the body servant had the feeling he wasn’t likely to see it no matter how carefully he spied.
He was oh, so definitely a Northerner, though: his skin where the clothing covered it so very fair. What surprised the servant, however, was the song that the Man in the bath began to sing as he lay relaxing in the water. What language it was being sung in he had no idea; but it was definitely one which caught at the heart and soul of the listener. It was a song of a land that was no more, a land once filled with great trees and greater rivers and streams and lakes, a land in which great cities had risen and fallen, great kings had risen to power and then died, their cities and people dying with them. Ma’annubi pulled back from the peephole, sat upright, listened with awe to the power of the voice, experiencing the images the unknown words yet conjured in his mind. By the time Ma’annubi again applied his eye to the peephole the Northerner had already washed and rinsed hair and self, had risen and wrapped himself in the great towel left for his use, was gathering his things and folding them neatly. The guest then carried them back to his room where he closed his door against further prying.
Sohrabi went out to the area Horubi’ninarin had worked, saw there indications a hot fire had burned on the stone flagging, but saw nothing else save scattered ashes. There was no indication of how the Northerner had destroyed the ring taken from Maruset save for the enigmatic evidence of blackened limestone and ashes blowing on the wind.