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6
The Valley of the Sun

The Valley of the Sun

The Northerner, now garbed as a river warden, accompanied Sohrabi and a number of his other folk to the delta channels the following morning and took part in the hunt for the crocodiles. The place where the unknown individual was taken by the crocodile was identified, in one of the side channels. The movement of a great crocodile could be clearly seen, as well as a wide smear of blood.

A dagger was found lying on the ground. The warden who accompanied them picked it up and displayed it. “Apparently the victim thought such a thing would be of use against one of Seti’s beasts.” He shook his head at the folly, then tossed Maruset’s dagger into the river channel in tribute.

They hunted all the day, and found four of the animals, one of them extraordinarily large indeed and one obviously still young. Only one needed to be killed, a medium-sized female. The other three were carefully caught with loops of strong rope inched carefully over snouts and tails, and then other ropes tied elsewhere. It took the effort of all to capture them and load them onto the barge that would bear them far South and upstream where they would be released in areas teeming with more proper prey for their kind.

Relieved to find that apparently they’d found all the beasts that were in the area, at last all relaxed. One of Sohrabi’s Men had been injured, one of those identified by Virubat as an agent of the Nameless One. Horubi’ninarin saw to the bandaging of the wound; and after all shared some date wine provided by Sohrabi’s folk, they finally parted, having seen the barge begin its journey southward.

*******

Ma’osiri was not certain why his father would wish him to attend him in the Valley of the Sun. Did the Farozi intend to take a new concubine there in some new, elaborately imagined ritual? How many illegitimate children did the Man intend to leave behind him? He would go, but he would bring with him Bherevrid and his young son. He would not leave the warrior and his child where Virubat’s folk could find them apparently unprotected by the heir’s attention.

The journey took the better part of a day, so it was near sunset when at last they rode over the last ridge to look down into the Valley and approached the house of the Farozi there. Servants took the horses ridden by Ma’osiri and his attendants, and accompanied by the general and his son Ma’osiri entered into the edifice and approached the quarters assigned to the Heir and those who accompanied him.

They were met by Pe’elisiri. “My master arrived earlier today,” she said as she bowed deeply before them. “He asks that you bathe and join him, and bids me tell you that a meal will await you at that time.”

Soon after arrived Sohrabi and members of his household, including a tall figure dressed in the robes of a bodyguard. Ma’osiri didn’t recognize the stance of this one--he must be a new addition to the attendants employed by his brother. He was quiet and observant from what could be seen of him, his eyes examining thoroughly each of those to be seen. Well, if he was efficient and true to his brother....

He went to the bathing rooms with Bherevrid and young Rustovrid and all bathed away the dust of the road, accepted the white robes of pilgrims, and went to the dining room given to the use of the Farozi. They were followed closely by Sohrabi and his bodyguard, who now was also dressed as a pilgrim and who’d obviously also just bathed as they had. A Northerner as a bodyguard? Ma’osiri was intrigued.

All took their places about the table, including, Ma’osiri noted with surprise, the Northerner. At last his father entered accompanied by his scribe Belstedrabi, one who had been his attendant, friend, and close confidant for years, and joined them. The Northerner rose at the entrance of the Farozi and bowed deeply in respect, which amused and touched all.

“You may take your place, Horubi’ninarin,” his father directed, and as he sat the bodyguard did the same.

The food was brought, and the taster checked each dish, then all servers were dismissed. Tonight all would serve themselves, an unusual liberty not given them often. When all were gone and the doors closed, Belstedrabi rose and went about the walls, probing certain places to make certain no spies watched on them from the spyholes. At his final approval, they prepared to begin the meal. The one his father had addressed as Horubi’ninarin rose again and turned to the West, this obviously being a ritual of his people, then after a moment of silence resumed his place reclining beside the low table near Sohrabi.

The Farozi and his sons and Belstedrabi were darkly tanned, with long, straight noses. Bherevrid and his son, who were from Far Harad originally, had broader noses and lips, dark skin, and the boy’s hair was tightly kinked in its natural growth--his father had shaved his head in keeping with the usages of Haradri nobility. The stranger was paler skinned but deeply enough tanned, his hair slightly beyond shoulder length but pulled to the back of his head and braided, the braid neatly finished with a silver cord. He carried now but a belt knife in deference to the customs of the sacred precinct of the Valley of the Sun, but he had stood as did one accustomed to the presence of a sword; and what could be seen of his arm indicated he was indeed a swordsman. A slight indentation about the base of one finger showed he usually wore a ring as well, although there was no white place to indicate he’d taken it off recently. No, he’d not worn a ring for some time. His expression was wary enough, but also indicated he was educated and probably considered important among his own people. There was the air of one accustomed to warfare about him, something in the stance; but this was no mere bodyguard, for he looked as much given to command as he did to receiving such.

“Welcome, Bherevrid, Rustovrid, and Horubi’ninarin to the Valley of the Sun.” The Farozi’s voice was calm and respectful to these guests. He turned to Ma’osiri. “You did well to bring these two with you. What will be happening in the capitol I am not certain, for it appears that both Maruset and Virubat have disappeared. You have heard that the other day four of the great crocodiles were found in the channels of the delta and they took at least two people and two cattle?” At Ma’osiri’s nod, he continued, “The dagger of the unknown Man was found by a river warden and shown to Sohrabi here before it was thrown as is proper into the river--your brother recognized it as that belonging to Maruset, who had earlier been left there after his talk frightened away the ducks they had been hunting. Apparently one of the crocodiles took him, along with the boy and the two cattle we know they also took that day. What has become of Virubat no one as yet knows. His servants only came last night to say he could not be found, and that it appeared someone had abducted him from his own rooms unseen. They swear he disappeared only yesterday, but I suspect he has in truth been gone longer. That leaves us with no publically known agents of the Eastern Lord in the capitol, and no one to take the commands of the Death Eater or transmit them to me. That suits me well enough at the moment.

“Your brother’s guest here, Ma’osiri, is a healer from the Northlands, and by report a good one. A week past he aided a child far gone in the sand sickness to recover fully.”

The Farozi’s heir examined the tall Northerner with interest. “You have aided one given to the sand sickness to heal?” he asked, unbelieving. Few recovered from the sand sickness.

“In the North we call it the lung sickness or fever. It is not an easy condition from which to recover, but I have treated it often enough, and only two have gone on to die, both of them individuals who had suffered massive brainstorms beforehand.” The tall Man’s expression was contained, and his eyes, Ma’osiri noted, were clear and grey, and notably competent.

“What child was this?”

“The boy was a son in the tents of the Bahtsis, my Lord.”

An’Horubi added, “I had heard a report from the Bahtsis regarding this before I knew this one had accepted the hospitality of your brother.”

Ma’osiri turned to Sohrabi. “Do you believe him?”

“Yes, I do, for he brought with him a camel that is clearly of Bahtsi breeding and has their notches cut into its ear.”

The Farozi nodded. “Yes, they told me they had given him a camel, and their description matches him well.”

Ma’osiri considered the Northerner closely. “There are not likely to be two within the land with his description, as tall as he is and with eyes grey as the river under cloud, who would bring with him a camel of the Bahtsis. What do you in our land?”

“I had it in mind to try being a merchant. One from your land spoke of his experiences as a trader, and I became fascinated by the descriptions he gave me. He offered to give me introductions within Harad to those who would be able to aid me in the enterprise. My caravan reached just this side of Ephir, and I realized that if I myself did not turn back to Risenmouthe and its harbor soon my ship would return for me ere I could return myself, which could be disastrous.”

“Disastrous?”

The Man smiled ruefully. “My cousin was loth to allow me to follow through upon the project. He comes upon the ship to collect me and those new goods I have collected to sell in the North, and if I am not upon the pier when the ship arrives, he has promised to destroy the city in search of me.”

“Then you have brought goods from the Northlands to sell here in Harad?”

“Yes, cloth and leathers and ceramics most especially.”

“Have you done well?”

“Oh, yes, particularly in Far Harad. The leathers I brought have proven especially popular, although many of the ceramics I brought have also attracted many buyers, for they are quite different from those used here and their decorations are very unusual for these lands.”

“What fabrics have you brought?”

“Linens and woolens mostly. And I have a ready market for many of the cotton fabrics I have purchased here, especially in the far North.”

The story he told sounded logical enough. “What is your position in the Northlands?” Ma’osiri finally asked.

The tall Man shrugged. “I have become a wanderer upon the face of Middle Earth. I must report back from time to time to my kindred, who sometimes despair of me settling down to any one thing. I have tried my hand at many professions--hired sword, hunter, scholar, teacher, breaker of horses. My father died when I was quite small, and a healer took my mother and me into his household and taught me his arts, much as my father had been taught beforehand. The members of my family appear particularly apt to the skills of healing, or so my uncles and cousins have told me. The healer’s sons are as brothers to me, and have ever been indulgent with the flights of my fancy and my changes in interest. When I told he who was as father to me I had a mind to try trading, he sighed deeply.”

“Did he finance the venture?”

The Northerner looked shocked at the idea. “Finance the venture? I should say not. I have been working toward this for many years, and it is my own earnings in other capacities I have invested in the buying of fabrics, leathers, and other goods.”

“You break horses also?”

“Yes. It is one of the activities I have come to prefer.”

“Why has my father asked you to come here?”

Horubi’ninarin’s face became grave. “He asked me to come here as a healer. He has a growth beneath the skin on his side which, if it is not removed very soon will breach the membrane and spread, and will rapidly kill him.”

“You speak as one with authority in the subject.”

“I am one with authority in the subject. He who was as my father taught me about such growths and tumors, and showed me the way in telling whether or not they have breached and spread. He also showed me how to remove them and to cauterize, tie off, or reroute the blood vessels, but it is tedious and painstaking work. I have assisted him in the removal of such things in others and have rerouted the blood vessels and so on; but I have not done a total removal myself.”

An’Horubi cleared his throat. “I have asked him to remove this growth. He has warned me that if he makes an error it is likely to kill me, and I have offered to give him a pardon ahead of time that he not die if I do. If I do not risk it, I will yet die--and with great pain--within a year at most. If I do, then I will most like live several more years to the service of our land and people.”

“So why did you have me attend on you here?”

“That you might support the pardon I give him.”

“I have no intention that you will die,” the Northerner said quietly.

“When will you do this?” Ma’osiri finally asked.

“At dawn, my Lord,” said the tall, grey-eyed Man.

All looked at one another with concern. Finally the Farozi explained, “I would rather die now cleanly than in the pain of the crab disease, my son. I saw how it took my mother. Will you agree not to hold him responsible should I die now?”

Reluctantly Ma’osiri agreed.

Late in the evening the tall Northerner brought to the Farozi a goblet of a drink which one of the priests of the complex had watched him brew. This priest, who was one of those himself skilled in herblore and healing, approved of what he had seen done, and explained that this drink would serve only to ease tension and to encourage sleep. The Northerner himself drank a smaller amount, as did the taster.

“I must not sleep as long as you do, nor as deeply,” Horubi’ninarin explained, “but it would be good for me to sleep deeply for a time that I be steadier in the morning.” The healer priest agreed. The grey-eyed Man also gave to the priest a list of items he needed, mostly strands of silk for the stitches, a basin in which to place the removed tumor, freshly cleaned white cloths for draping the figure, certain herbs to assist the Farozi to sleep during the time of cutting, basins in which water could be heated over a brazier in which they could keep a hot fire going....

After a time An’Horubi became extremely sleepy, and the tall Northern healer sat by him speaking softly, calming him, aiding him to relax, until at last the Farozi fell into a deep sleep. Certain that all was well with his patient, the taller Man started to rise and wavered with the effects of his own dosage, accepted aid to the room given to him, and soon was sleeping also. Ma’osiri felt better about it knowing that this healer would accept the draughts he gave others, and saw to it that none would bother either his father or the healer for the rest of the night.

An hour before dawn Ma’osiri and Sohrabi went together into the healer’s room. He was already awake, was sitting up and shaking his head clear. They brought with them a stimulant drink make from the ground, crushed berries of a certain bush of the east, and he sipped at it tentatively, grimacing at the bitterness of it. However, there could be no question it aided him to throw off the effects of the draught he’d taken, and soon he was up, dressed, and readying his kit for the day.

He carried the elaborately tied bag he’d brought with him into the room in which the healer priests indicated he could work, and opened it under the supervision of the one set to watch the procedures here. He set out a number of tools and described the use of each to the priest; then set out a fine, curved needle, and a set of different knives. He then asked that a bit of bandaging material be cut sufficiently long to tie about his lower face. “For some reason breathing directly on the wound has been found at times to increase the chance of infection, and so he who was as my father had me always to breathe through bandaging, as do he and those who serve with him when he must do a cutting on a person.”

In all he did, they saw that the healer priest approved of what he was shown and told, and both Ma’osiri and Sohrabi appeared better pleased at what their father faced.

Finally they went to their father’s room, and with him Horubi’ninarin carried a cup full of another draft. An’Horubi was also just beginning to waken, and seemed just a bit confused. He was aided to relieve himself, then was seated back on the bed.

“I give you another draught now,” the Northerner told him. “It will aid you back to sleep, but it will also aid me to direct your dreams that I be able to ease the pain and discomfort. If you will drink it now, in half a mark’s time I will begin to direct your dreams and will take you to the room where we will work. I cannot tell you how long it will take, for I do not yet know how large the growth is or how deeply it involved your other organs or the vessels for the blood. But I will do all I can to make certain you are as little hurt as possible.”

An’Horubi sighed, but obeyed and drank all the cup. Horubi’ninarin felt the pulse in his wrist and then on the side of his neck, examined his eyes and his tongue, then began to speak to him softly and seductively, drawing the Farozi’s attention to the tip of his finger, gently aiding him to relax and ease the concerns of life from his mind. Finally he nodded and directed An’Horubi to rise, and supported him into the nearby room where several helped lift the Farozi onto the tall table.

Gently the tall Man continued to talk. “You lie in a bath of cool water, cool and refreshing. You will feel pressure on your side, but what pain you note will be little enough, no more than an inconvenience.” And so the talk went, and they could see the smile on their ruler’s face.

The healer priest aided the Northerner, held the knives over the fire until they glowed and laid them on the clean cloth, directed those who served the chamber to keep the coal renewed, the basins of water filled, to bring him a basin of freshly boiled water from time to time, to hand him the squares of clean cloth as required.

Amon stood near the zenith when at last the Northerner set his last stitch. He straightened and stretched, his face pale with exhaustion from the hours of intense labor. Now, however, once again he turned to the patient and began to speak. “You are now coming out of the pool of cool water, are being lifted gently to your feet. We will sit you up, wrap you about with bandages, then will take you to your own chamber within this place. You feel lighter, for a burden of fear and growth has been taken from you. You will know peace as you awaken in your own time, and you will be able to tell us if the removal has been complete. There will be pain, but no more than you can bear, and the draughts will aid without confusing your mind. Now, we will aid you to sit....”

Soon the bandages were in place, and at last the Northerner nodded to the priest who’d assisted him and they removed the bandages from before their mouths and noses. One last time the foreign healer signaled for a fresh basin of water and dropped into it the leaves he’d used from time to time during the time of cutting, and now leaned over it himself, breathing in its fumes as the tension in his face eased and his shoulders relaxed. Smiling, he held it for the Farozi to breathe the vapors as well, and all saw his face, too, ease and grow more alert. He looked into the eyes of the Northerner and smiled. Then they were aiding him to the floor, supporting him back to his room. The Northerner, however, was cleansing his tools, then gently replacing them in the silk roll in which he kept them. Finally he rethreaded the small curved needle after seeing it cleaned, and slipped it through the weave of the cloth to secure it. Once all was ready, he set all back into his bag, replaced the packets of herbs he’d brought out of it, and tied the complex knot with which he secured it.

Finally he turned. “I could do happily now with a bath,” he said, and the priest nodded. He put his bag into his own quarters, then followed the servants to the bathing chamber and immersed himself gladly, then finally returned and laid himself down and was soon deeply asleep himself.

A couple marks after all was finished the Farozi awoke and demanded food. He was allowed to sip broth and a light wine, but soon he was demanding more, insisting his belly felt quite empty and needed something more substantial. He was alert and clearly himself, and there was no sign of confusion in his eyes. He asked to relieve himself, and showed little pain when he rose and went to the room of refreshing. He drank the filtered water brought to him, and generally complained until at last word came that the Northern healer had awakened at last and would be there soon to check on him.

A strip of clean fabric had been left within the wound to allow the seepage of what fluids might gather where the tumor had been removed, and this was carefully checked and given approval. Then the stranger laid his hands over the stitched wound and began to sing, letting his fingers feel deep....

At last he straightened. “My Lord, do you feel we were able to remove all?”

The Farozi thought on it. “I believe so,” he said at last, rather slowly. “I don’t feel anything jarring there.”

“Nor do I. But be advised that such will sometimes return. In this case, however, I believe we have removed it completely.” The two Men nodded their mutual understanding.

Ma’osiri and Sohrabi looked into their father’s eyes with interest. “It is good to see you less stiff in the posture of your body, my father,” his older son said.

“That may be, Ma’osiri, but I would still wish to eat something of weight for my belly. I feel quite hollow.”

All looked with question at Horubi’ninarin, who laughed. “Yes, he can eat if he wishes. Poultry would be best, I think, something with little fat.”

It was some hours later, about an hour after sunset, that Ma’osiri went outside and found the Northerner staring off to the West at the stars. He was singing softly to himself in a language the Haradri didn’t recognize. His voice was very beautiful.

When at last the song was over, Ma’osiri asked, “What did you sing of?”

It was several moments before the other answered. “It is an ancient song in praise of the stars.”

“My father appears to be in no pain.”

“I am glad.”

“Why did you speak to him of being in a pool of water?”

“By directing his dreams, I was able to assist him to avoid the pain, and to ease the fear of the knife.”

“Sa’Amonri has told me he has never seen any with your skill with the healer’s knife. He said that each time you came upon a blood vessel that would bleed you would already have planned out which other vessel to match it to that the blood continue to flow properly. He said that he does not know any with the understanding of the vessels for blood that you show. He said that the removal of the growth in my father’s side was masterful.”

“I am honored he sees it so.”

“Why did you choose to do the removal here instead of in my father’s home?”

“This was his choice. I believe he feels closer to your gods here than in his house. Also, there is less chance that word of the presence and the removal of the growth will be given to the agents of the Eastern Lord.”

The two stood looking up at the stars together for quite a time. Finally Ma’osiri pointed to the brightest of stars. “Osiri in his bark, upon the River of Night. What do the peoples of the Northern lands call him?”

After a long time of thought when the Haradri had almost come to believe his companion would not answer, he finally did. “Eärendil he is known as in our lands. The sign ever of hope and guidance.”

“Is there a story told of him?”

“Stories of Eärendil? Oh, of course--many stories. A mariner he was when he dwelt in Middle Earth, one who delighted ever to sail upon the seas. His wife had the gift of shapechanging, and could become a seabird with white wings.”

“How did he go from sailing upon the seas to sailing in the heavens?”

“He sailed to Aman to beg the gods themselves to come to the aid of the free peoples of Middle Earth, to come to aid in the fight against the great Enemy of the time. However, that which was mortal in him was burned away by his quest, and he could not return to his people. Instead they set his ship to sail the heavens, and he alone crews it, the Silmaril bound to his brow.”

“Did they come? The gods, I mean?”

“I have heard even here the tale told how the gods came to assist in the war against Seti. The tale is basically the same there as it is here.”

Ma’osiri was surprised. “I did not know we shared the same stories.”

“We do not share all, but that is one which it appears we do hold in common.”

After a further silence, the Haradri commented quietly, “It is not a story the Nameless One likes to have told.”

Horubi’ninarin shrugged. “No, I suppose he would not like it told. He is, after all, less than was--Seti.”

Ma’osiri turned to look directly at his companion. “Less?”

The Northerner examined him as well as he could under the light of the stars. Finally he answered, “Seti was of the same order as the rest of the gods. The Eastern Lord is of a lesser order, although he would set himself up as being as great as he who was his master. But that one cannot come back, for the rest cast him out beyond the Gates of Night. The Eastern Lord, however, is yet an immortal, and has learned to gather strength from the lives offered for his pleasure. Very great has he grown once more.”

Shivering softly, Ma’osiri turned back to look at Osiri’s bark. “You appear to have much knowledge of the ancient lore.”

“As I said, I have been many things, including a scholar.”

“I wish I could do as you do--travel to distant lands, see strange sunsets, see rivers that flow other directions than North, know folk of other lands.”

The Northerner sighed. “It is long since our people have been able to freely travel abroad as well. But, as I have found the means to satisfy my curiosity about other lands, I have exercised those means. As the Nameless One grows once again to full power, however, the time will come--and probably soon--when no one will be able to move freely and easily from one place to the next. He fears such freedom, for then folk will realize that more is lost in following his policies than in opposing them.” He straightened to his full height. “Let us go in."

*******

Two days later the high priest of the Valley of the Sun summoned the Northerner to him. He led the stranger out of the community of living quarters, temples, and schools for the priests and scribes and pilgrims to the grounds of a small temple at the West end of the valley. A single still pool of lotus and white water lilies stood inside its low walls; the temple itself was deceptively simple, without the grand statues and painted figures common to the rest. A single acolyte with shaven head and heavily kohled eyes swept the forecourt with a carefully made broom of palm leaves, a white robe about him. The high priest gave him a sign, and he went back into the temple. A burst of white doves rose out of the court and circled overhead three times, then flew further West; the priest watched their flight with great interest.

The priest looked back to the stranger from the North and examined him closely, but the Man showed no impatience or undue curiosity to know why he had been called away as he had or why he had been led to this place. He looked about the courtyard with interest, but then turned his eyes back to his companion and waited. Pleased with this indication of self control, the priest finally spoke. “The doves flew about you three times. That is a good sign, and an unusual one. They do that only for those of royal blood. You are one who rules and will rule more strongly in the future. But, as they flew West and North but not East, your rule will not reach into our lands, although it will influence us in the future.”

The face of the stranger had become carefully neutral, and behind that studied neutrality was an intense watchfulness. The priest looked down into the pool and examined the flowers that bloomed there. “Seven lotuses lift their heads for your coming, Lord. Unusual--very unusual. Rarely do we see more than three. And nine of the white lilies as well, one golden, and three red. Unusual numbers. Rarely do the golden lilies bloom at all, yet you are greeted by one. All seek to do you honor, Lord, at your coming here.”

Again there was no answer from the one who called himself Horubi’ninarin, who simply kept that intense, watchful, neutral gaze on the priest. There was a cry of a hunting hawk that flew down out of the light of the Sun to kill a lone vulture circling slightly to the south of the temple. The vulture fell onto the slope of one of the nearby hills, and the hawk lit upon its body, turned to look at the two Men in the temple compound, gave another call, then took flight, carrying away the body of the vulture. The priest grew quite still as he watched the hawk fly away with its kill; when it was followed by another of the white doves rising from near where the vulture had fallen followed by a large number of other smaller birds his face paled notably. He looked again at the Northerner. “Never,” he said, awe filling his voice, “have I seen such a thing. A most unusual omen, my Lord. Most unusual indeed. Who and what are you?” Still the stranger did not answer.

“The Deatheater fell to the hawk, Lord; and the pure rose up and flew to the West. Never have I seen such. What it foretells....”

Again there was no answer from the other. “A healer you are of skill such as we have never seen here. The wound on the side of the Farozi is already healing well, and he shows no sign of any loss of vigor or ability. The omens do not speak of a return of the growth. He will not live a great time longer; but he will also not die within a year; and although he and his sons will send troops to the service of the Eastern Lord at his command, they will take steps to prepare us for the day when no longer the Nameless One holds power over any.”

Finally the Northerner spoke. “Sauron will not be pleased to hear such foretellings.”

“No, he would not, which is why we came here. He cannot enter this place, for never has any within it welcomed him or invoked his presence. Neryet is lady of this temple, Neryet who gives us the light of the stars.”

“In the Northern lands she is known as the Lady Elbereth, or the Lady Varda.”

The priest nodded. “She is hated by the Eastern Lord, for he cannot rise up high enough to destroy the light she has given us; he cannot totally veil the beauty she reflects.”

The other gave a brief nod.

“Your brothers come, Lord; your brothers come to fulfill their function. It will cost them much, perhaps all they have. But their sacrifice will not be in vain.”

The stranger gave him a searching look. “My father has been dead for many, many years, and my mother will not take another husband. How am I to have brothers? Or do you speak of the sons of he who has been as a father to me?”

“No, not those who are and have been; I speak of those who would have been but who were deemed lost. They come, will be there when the time of need arrives.”

Horubi’ninarin looked troubled and uncertain, but did not speak further.

“There is one more thing, my Lord. The Lady desires a sign in earnest that you will indeed follow the path of opposition to the Eastern Lord. She asks of you the star you bear.”

“What star do I bear?”

“You know that, Lord. I do not. But she asks that you cast it into her pool here.”

The grey eyes of the Northerner bored deeply into the eyes of the priest. “I thought you were a priest of Amon,” he finally said.

“All of the pantheon are represented here, save Seti alone. There are those who would change that, and those who come here to seek to hide from Seti’s servant who has chosen to follow his master’s way. But we have been able to keep Seti’s people out--so far, at least.”

“I see.” Long the stranger stood, his grey eyes looking first West, then turning in a slow circle until he had looked all ways, ending again facing West. His hands were open at his side, the wind blowing from the West causing his hair to flow behind him, his robe to mold tight to his body in front and billow out behind. A spark of green was briefly revealed at the throat of his robe, and he seemed to be encircled by a clear Light as of the light of stars. There was no question now in the priest’s mind that this was indeed a great lord of Men.

There was again a great cry from the air, but not, this time, from a golden falcon or hunting hawk. The cry was similar, but far deeper; and a shadow came between them and the sun. The priest was awed and fell to his knees, but he saw that his companion smiled with surprise and recognition. “One of the great Eagles!” the Northerner said, awe and delight on his face. “Why does it come here, so far from its own place?”

“Only for your sake, great Lord,” the priest said. “I have heard tales of such--long ago; but never had I thought to see one! You know them? You have seen them before?”

“Yes, for their place is in the North of the Northern lands, in the heights of the Misty Mountains.”

Three times the great Eagle circled overhead, then flew north, followed by a hawk, a dove, and one of the golden falcons, and then a great grey gull, the tips of its wings white in the sunlight. The priest looked after with even greater awe. “I cannot interpret this,” he said at last. “It will perhaps have meaning to your people, but not to mine. Again, however, he recognizes you as one of the blood of royalty. I believe he summons you home.”

The Northerner watched after with a look of loss. “Yes,” he said at last. “I must indeed look to return to my own lands. The time of learning is passing. Now comes the time of doing.” He gave a great sigh as he watched after to the North.

Finally the priest asked, “What of the star, my Lord?”

Grey eyes looked down at the kneeling Man. “You say this is asked of me?”

“Yes, that you cast it into her pool here.”

Long the other examined him, then turned his attention to the pool. Finally he opened the green pouch that hung from the corded belt he wore, and he reached inside, bringing out a silver brooch in the shape of a star. He looked West once more. “Lady Elbereth,” he said softly, “I do not know why you ask this of me. It was worn by my father, and before him by his father. But as it is desired of me, I will give it with no further delay. May it shine brightly in your hand.” And so saying he turned and tossed it into the pool. He bowed to the West, then turned and left the compound. A few moments the priest looked down at the spreading ripples, and smiled with relief. Somehow this small sacrifice would work to the good, he knew. He rose to his feet and followed after the lord from the North, assured that in time Seti’s servant would follow his sworn Lord out of Middle Earth.

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