Pelscarabri waited impatiently and with some level of anxiety. The two who were supposed to aid him in taking the wives and children of the Northerners had not reported for duty, but he ought to be able to do so with the aid only of Gebrabi who watched at the door nearest the guest quarters. The signal was supposed to come shortly before dawn. Well, he would be ready.
He looked across the garden at where three of the Northern King’s party sat: the Dwarf sitting on the wall with a strange device in his hand which glowed as some substance smoldered within it; the dwarfling with his stunted legs and arms seated on a low stool; and the youth of the party who appeared to attend the dwarfling, seated on the ground. Two lanterns stood on the ground near dwarfling and youth, both of whom were busy with tools, apparently shaping stone with fine chisels and mallets. The Dwarf had on a shirt of metal links under a leather harness of sorts, and leaned on the great war axe he bore with him almost everywhere he went, his helmet lying on the wall beside him. They spoke as the two artists worked on their small sculptures, now quiet and sounding somewhat concerned, now voices rising with laughter as apparently some jest was told. The Dwarf breathed in the smoke of his device from time to time, and occasionally would refill the bowl of the thing with what appeared to be crumbled leaves and relight it using a striker he carried with him. Then the youth apparently asked a question, and the Dwarf answered at length, the other two listening intently, occasionally making a comment or apparently asking another question, nodding their heads from time to time, but both industriously working as they listened.
At last the Dwarf was finished with the tale he told, and the others smiled and apparently made some more comments on it. Then they put down their tools and examined the work they’d done, the Dwarf taking the pieces and examining them critically as well. They restored their tools to the rolls of fabric each carried and stowed them in bags they shrugged onto their shoulders. The Dwarf knocked his device against the stone and placed it into a pouch he wore at his belt The dwarfling rose and moved his stool, and the youth, after brushing off his own clothing and his master’s, moved aside and lifted a cloth from the pavement, took it to the wall and shook it out over the side which looked down on the river. The youth folded up the cloth and laid it at last over his arm as the Dwarf blew out the two lanterns. With the dwarfling carrying both figures and the youth carrying the tarp and two lanterns, the Dwarf lifting his great axe, they returned to the palace as Gebankhsamun returned from the palace to again take up his duty at Pelscarabri’s side.
Ruvemir had been growing restive, and had suggested that perhaps if he and Owain went outside into the garden and worked some of the alabaster gifted to them by Sa’Amonri during their visit to see the carvings at the temple of Amon they would appear (and feel) as if they weren’t completely worried about what might be going on with the King, wherever he might be. Neither Hildigor nor Éomer would agree, however, until Gimli indicated this would be an excellent means of him perhaps identifying which of the guards might be numbered among the suspected traitors.
When they returned Benai looked on the figures they carried with them. One was a figure of a horse; the other appeared to be of a person, although it was not yet far advanced. Benai smiled at the two artisans. Neither appeared to speak his language, although both seemed pleasant and courteous enough. The small one had created statues of the small warrior and his kinsmen, or so he’d said the other evening, Benai remembered, and the youngling was apparently his student.
Lord Hildigor came to meet them and spoke quietly for a few moments with the Dwarf, then nodded his head and approached the sculptors. The small one looked between Benai and the Lord a few times as they spoke, and at last Hildigor turned to translate.
“Master Ruvemir asks if it would be acceptable, time permitting on the morrow or the day after, to do studies of you.”
“Drawings of you, perhaps to serve as the basis for a sculpture at some point.”
“He has done this of others here?”
“Oh, yes--he is a gifted artist.”
“May I see a few of these--studies--that he has done?”
The request was translated, and Ruvemir smiled, and apparently sent the boy off to the room they shared. Soon he was back with a booklet which he presented to his master, who thanked him and opened it, turned pages, and finally presented it to Benai to examine.
The portrait was of the King, his face solemn and noble, the Star of Elendil on his brow. Benai was highly impressed. He indicated he’d like to see some more of the pages, and the small one shrugged and smiled, let it be known he was free to look at whatever he chose.
Benai saw pictures of several who had come on the visit to Harad, one of the Farozi and two of the Farozi’s son. Then he flipped back to an earlier page in the book and stopped. The face here appeared to be one of the small ones like the small warrior and his kinsman, but the hair was darker, the face highly intelligent and noble. It was done in a moment when this one was just beginning to smile as if in response to a remark made. He looked up in question, and the artist himself smiled. “The Lord Frodo Baggins,” he said.
So that was the one they called the Ringbearer. He was impressed. Benai nodded his appreciation and returned the book. “Thank you,” he said in Westron. “I had wondered what that one had looked like,” he added in his own language, and the Northern Lord translated. The others smiled and nodded. The sculptors went to their room, and Benai and Hildigor looked after them.
Once their door closed behind them, the Lord turned to Benai. “What Gimli has learned will be shared with us in the sitting room. Will you come and assist us in the making of plans in case there is fighting?”
Benai again smiled, but a different smile this time. He was ready to fight, he knew, if fighting was needed. “Certainly,” he said. Together they went to the Queen’s chamber and knocked on her door, and she came out, cradling her sleeping infant in her arms. The Lady Éowyn came out with her, her own son on her right hip, a sword on her left one. Benai looked at the sword with interest. He had the feeling any seeking to attack their party would be very surprised to learn that even the women from the North were willing and able to protect themselves and their children. When he realized the Queen had the handle of a long knife over her shoulder, his smile widened with satisfaction. Together they went to the sitting room.
Gagged and blindfolded, Merdirion was lowered slowly from the wine closet to the waiting Lord Afraim who’d dropped first (and somewhat painfully) into the tunnel below. Aragorn went second, and stood to receive the slave, who was made to carry the chest of documents; finally Hardorn came after them, after closing the door to the closet firmly. He made certain that the trap door was carefully set into place, then indicated Afraim should lead the way, as there was not room for them to change positions in the narrow passage.
At last they emerged onto the low bank at the edge of the river, and King and cousin carefully launched the punt. The cloak from Lorien was wrapped about Merdirion and its hood pulled over his face, and he was lifted into the craft with the ease of one seating a small child, which he found disconcerting. Afraim sat behind him, the King in the prow looking back with the slave before him, and Hardorn stood in the center and plied the pole as Afraim directed them to a point closest to his own house within the city. Once they arrived, Afraim carefully gave directions to the rear entrance to his house; and once he and the King were certain Hardorn understood them they took the two prisoners and led them that way themselves while Hardorn returned the punt, leaving a single sisterce where it would be found by whoever went to untie it from its mooring.
Within an hour Hardorn had joined them, and Afraim was coordinating plans for the defense of the palace and the city with Lord Rustovrid, who had accompanied Hardorn back to the desert lord’s home. Merdirion, meanwhile, had been secured, still blindfolded and gagged, in the secure room within Afraim’s compound. The slave was bound hand and foot to a chair in the room from which the two Haradrim and the two Northerners made their plans. Afraim’s servants, rejoicing to have their lord home again, swiftly saw to it that all orders were followed.
Two hours before dawn the troops of the defenders were all in their places.
It had been fairly easy to identify who was involved in the coup. All the troops within the palace grounds had become concerned when their prince did not return; only a few, however, could visibly be seen to be elated when the continuing absence was discussed; and both the Farozi’s folk and the Northerners were watching for such signs. There were but a few of the rebels within the palace, however; and one of them was among those who watched the gates to the palace compound during the night.
As dawn approached Pelscarabri was seen peering over the walls in search of a signal. Suddenly a torch was kindled near the temple of Scarab, then lifted three times. Pelscarabri straightened. He turned to Gebankhsamun. “I must go to use the water closet. You will remain here.”
“Your command, sir,” Gebankhsamun replied as he gave his salute. He watched the identified rebel officer head for the entrance to the palace not nearest the water closets but near the guest wing, and smiled. Once he was out of sight, he signalled to the Farozi’s nephew who was part of the watch further down the walls, and when he came near he told him precisely what signal and where it was that Pelscarabri had reacted to. As that one headed off to Amonrabi’s quarters, Gebankhsamun told off three Men to follow quietly after Pelscarabri, and to arrest him if it was seen he offered any offense against the Northern guests. However, they were not to draw their swords unless they were needed, which was probably unlikely. They gave surprised looks at their orders; but understanding what was feared they nodded, and they left looking thoughtful. Gebanksamun smiled, realizing they had come to admire the strangers and to appreciate their courtesy. That these guests of the Farozi might be offered violence within the Farozi’s own house they found highly offensive and would see put right.
One of Pelscarabri’s own Men was on duty near the door nearest the guest wing, and as Pelscarabri approached it he opened it for him and followed in. The two of them turned to the rooms assigned to the Northerners. Half the Northern guards were missing with their King, Prince, and envoy, so this ought not be too difficult. Doors to quarters, however, stood open, indicating that the Queen of Gondor and her son and daughter were not in the rooms assigned; and apparently the same was true of the wife of the envoy and the Princess of Ithilien. The doors to the quarters of the Rohirrim were closed, as were certain others. Well, their orders were first to secure the Lady Arwen and her children, so that was to the good if they were within the sitting room of the guest wing.
The three ladies from Gondor and Arnor could be seen sitting on couches with their backs to the door to the sitting room, the Queen’s unmistakable thick, dark hair clearly seen there and the Princess’s golden locks easily recognized. Only the dark slave from the far South appeared to be with them, and his attention was on the ladies. The two Haradri drew their weapons and slipped within the room, approached their prey. Then they heard the noise of a throat clearing behind them, and they whirled to find that the Dwarf had slipped out from his place just inside the doorway behind them, axe in hand, a determined smile on his face. Another cough, and they saw the small, beardless one who’d remained in the palace rising from a seat, his bow aimed, his eyes those of a competent archer. The three women rose, the Princess laughing; one of them lifted a bow and aimed it at them, while the others split to walk about opposite sides of their couches, the one with golden hair unsheathing her sword with the smile of an experienced swordsman on her face, the Queen casually pulling from a scabbard on her back a white knife.
“You are, I believe, outnumbered, and would do well to drop your swords and the daggers from your belts,” the Queen advised in Haradri. Her eyes were focused on them with an expression that somehow, for its very mildness, terrified them. Behind her paced her huge guard, his eyes determined. By the time the guards sent by Gebankhsamun arrived, the two rebels were disarmed and obviously under guard by the large black Man and the solid Dwarf. They smiled with pleasure at the sight. When a cough behind them caused them to turn to see that they’d been quietly followed by the King of Rohan and his guard, they bowed courteously, raising their hands to indicate they offered no offense. Their leader said, “We were sent to arrest those,” and pointed at the two who stood between war axe and straight sword. The Queen laughed and translated into Westron, then advised them that the King of Rohan and his Men would accompany them to the Farozi with their prisoners.
Before they left, Benai searched both prisoners, and found a strangling cord in the belt sash of one, a poisoned dart in the sash of the other. The Queen looked on these items with interest. She then turned to Pelscarabri. “What signal were you to show to indicate you had us.”
Something in her voice compelled him to answer, “To lift a torch once, then move it across and back.”
She looked deeply into his eyes, then nodded. She described the signal to the guards.
“We will need to tell Captain Gebankhsamun,” the leader of the three said.
“I will see to it he is so advised,” she said. “Go and bring these to your lord.”
They bowed and led the way off, Gimli going with them.
Captain Gebankhsamun was startled a few minutes later when a small child materialized out of the dark beside him, her face solemn. “Gebankhsamun?” she asked slowly.
“Yes, small Lady,” he said.
“My naneth sent me. The two are taken, she says to tell you.”
“The two are taken?”
“Yes. To the Farozi.”
“I see. Thank your lady mother for me, then.”
“There is more. A signal. A torch raised, then moved back and forth.”
“I see. Thank her again for me.”
The girl smiled her dazzling smile, then disappeared again back into the darkness. Gebankhsamun had one of his Men bring and light a torch, and he then raised it once, moved it across and back, then extinguished it again and waited to see what would happen next.
At the signal from the palace, the troops from beyond the temple of Scarab started to move out to secure the approaches to the place, while those from the area of the horsemarket set out to take over the main approach to the city. Other troops also began to move. Once they changed positions, however, they each found themselves surrounded.
Lord Rustovrid’s forces took the rebels in the northern reaches of Thetos, while those from the desert moved in on those who were south of the palace grounds. The Farozi’s own guards moved upon those who had begun their staging from Lord Agamun’s estate west of the palace grounds. By the time dawn had broken fully and the people of Thetos rose to look with gladness on Amon shining in a clear sky, the rebellion was already quelled with barely a stroke struck.
Four of the lords of the city had complied with Sherfiramun and Merdirion, and all were arrested just as they were rising from their beds. The leaders of the troops which had taken part in the coup attempt were all brought under heavy guard to the palace, as were two Men of business who’d thought to improve their profits by financing the arming of the rebels in hopes of being granted certain trade routes held by rivals in return.
Only a few of the rebels sought to fight when they realized they’d been outflanked and the revolt failed; those few who raised their weapons rather than dropping them when so commanded did not live to harm anyone.