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28
The Sins of the Husband

The Sins of the Husband

Nefiramonrani was, she knew, very fortunate. Because of her relationship to the Farozi it was expected that when she married it would be to a nobleman. That the nobleman who would capture her interest first and whose interest she herself caught should be Ankhrabi was unexpected. The Farozi's younger son was handsome, very close to her own age, and definitely a decent Man. He was a good charioteer, intelligent, good with languages, and interested in all kinds of things that had never crossed the minds of the daughters of Bestamonri and Isirani, for all that they, too, were were of the nobility of Thetos.

Curiosity had never been rated highly by her father, who’d felt his children ought to be as highly respectable as possible if they were to survive in a land so overshadowed by the Eastern Lord. By the time Nefiramonrani had reached the age of ten her curiosity had at last been mostly schooled out of her--or suppressed. It had been brought home to her that those who asked too many questions or who managed to bring too much attention to themselves in other ways almost always seemed to be the ones who disappeared, somehow.

Her parents had been thrilled when the agents of the Farozi indicated that Ankhrabi had indicated an interest in their daughter. For their younger daughter to have caught the attention of the Farozi's younger son was highly fortuitous. She would be shielded from the attention of those who fed the altars of the Death Eater; she would live in a fine house with proper service offered her; and they, too, would most likely fall more closely under the protection of the Farozi as well.

The marriage had been definitely successful. Her husband was attentive, gentle and thoughtful, a caring lover as well as a generous provider, and one who had shared his many interests with her. Not only that--once their first child was born he had proven a loving and devoted father as well, fostering in their daughter the very curiosity that had been so beaten down in the child’s mother. And when the twins came he’d been plainly elated, particularly as their birth had come just in the wake of the fall of the Death Eater.

So careful had father and sons both been that until the darkness fell away Nefiramonrani had no idea that all three had loathed Mordor and its rule. Many of the common folk hated it; but then it was from among them that most of the ones were taken to serve in Mordor’s wars and to die on the Death Eater’s altars. But to learn that the current ruler of Harad and his sons detested Mordor and had prepared for years for the day when it was overthrown and Harad given its independent sovereignty was a shock--albeit for most a welcome one--to all.

In the south of the city of Thetos had been built a great temple to the Eastern Lord many generations ago; it had once been a pristine white as were the temples of most of the gods of Harad; over the years, however, the white of its walls had gradually gone a dull blackish red, like a scab over an ulcer. Those who served in this temple had tried again and again to cleanse away the darkness from its surface, only for the stone to begin dulling again almost as soon as the cleansing was completed. Then they’d tried to paint it; but that only served to make things worse, as sandstorms would hit this building worse than any other, and the paint would peal away, leaving its surface looking more scabrous and corrupted than ever. When they tried doing mosaic work over it, the mortar holding the tiles would dry and turn to sand, and the ground about it was littered with broken ceramics. Over the years the building had become increasingly hideous.

Finally they’d tried to distract from the walls by putting up statues; but no matter how wonderous the depictions started out, somehow they always came to reflect the truth of what went on within the building, as poses of adoration came to look more like expressions of horror; as figures represented in processions of honor would fall over so that it would appear more than half were being dragged by those against whom they fell.

The sign that the liberation had come was a great earthquake that shook the entire land. All of the temples that had housed altars to the Death Eater had suffered major damage to their roofs over those altars dedicated to the Eastern Lord, and all of the altars themselves had fallen, their very foundations cracked and broken. But the ground had opened under the great temple dedicated to the Death Eater in the south of Thetos, and it had been swallowed up by the very earth itself. Only a gaping pit had been left, and immediately on the realization of Mordor’s fall the troops for internal security of the land had been sent throughout the city, from temple to temple, to drag out the remains of the altars to Sauron and dump them into that pit. Orders had gone to each village, city, town, settlement, and camp throughout Harad that the altars to the Dark Lord were to be eradicated, and almost everywhere those orders were followed joyously, if the folk hadn’t already done so spontaneously. Only in a few places had any resisted those orders; and such places had been identified and barricaded until proof was given that those who had resisted the orders were dead and the altars destroyed.

The command posts for Mordor’s captains within Harad had been quickly surrounded, and those within them given a choice--to swear loyalty to the Farozi and turn to the service of the land, to leave Harad and return to Mordor, or to accept death. Some had tried to fight, but they found that their Men no longer listened to orders; whole squadrons would disappear into the darkness, many of their own soldiers appearing with the light of the new dawn among the very armies besieging them.

Those who returned from the war came home to a land totally changed. Many rejoiced to realize that their land was now free, their people allowed to resume the old ways; others had been bewildered, not certain how to live without the utter control Mordor had always exercized over their lives.

The Farozi had prepared for this day: schools suddenly were being opened where boys were taught to read and write rather than to wield swords; to name the stars and constellations rather than to repeat the names given the Dark Lord; to learn the languages of Gondor and Rhun rather than the Black Speech; to learn to honor Osiri and Annubi in the old manners so as to forget the horrors of the murders offered to the Death Eater. Men skilled in farming, building, sculpting, the raising of herds, writing, music, dance were sought out to offer instruction to young men who had thought only to take up arms for Mordor. Successful traders were encouraged to assist others to learn how to analyze markets so as to prepare for increased trade with what had been formerly the nation’s enemies. Those skilled in diplomacy replaced generals in the councils for the land, and merchants took the ascendancy over spies.

And the studies An’Sohrabi had made of the lords of the land were put into play, as he used traditional rivalries between clans and territories to distract warlords from attacking his sovereignty, often manipulating whole territories into competing so against one another he could slip his new laws and reforms past the leaders before they realized they’d been sidestepped in the process of consolidating rule and power.

Nefiramonrani was amazed to find herself thrilled with the changes she saw, and was beginning to become more curious again herself. When correspondence began arriving from Gondor she’d begun reading it herself, even began to study the written languages in the books her husband and father-in-law began to receive, some as gifts, some as purchases, from that land. When his sons were small An’Sohrabi had secretly taken into his house a former merchant who’d traded regularly with those in Gondor and who’d learned Westron and some Sindarin to serve as a teacher for Bhatgebamun and Ahkhrabi, knowing that if Mordor ever fell it would be this land his country would deal with most. Ankhrabi had begun to share this education with his wife, who’d not realized for years just how parched her mind was for knowledge.

And so it was that when at last the Farozi invited guests from Gondor to visit Harad the people of Thetos had been prepared to see them not as enemy spies but simply as newcomers--newcomers with odd and often ridiculous ways, perhaps; but still merely newcomers, and increasingly as honorable newcomers--a term that hadn’t had meaning in Harad in generations beyond count.

Ankhsarani, on the other hand, had been drawn from her early adolescence to the dashing captain of the troops who was Sherfiramun. Bestamonri and Isirani hadn’t been as happy with their older daughter’s marriage as they’d been with that of the younger, although they couldn’t say precisely why. Sherfiramun’s family had given faithful service to their overlords for centuries, and had been rewarded. They had many slaves, a large and imposing house on the river bank itself, and many signs of wealth and prestige. But it soon came to be recognized that Ankhsarani was not as happy in her marriage as was her sister. Her parents came to realize a great deal of the unhappiness seen in their older daughter stemmed from the presence in her husband’s house of the Umbari. So far none had been able to find any way of having the Umbari expelled from Harad, and many of the officials of the realm who had gladly cooperated in the reforms put into place since the destruction of Mordor shied away from confronting the Man. It was rumored he knew many secrets, and every Man had secrets they did not want exposed to the light of day. So it was that no one was willing to seek to prise him out of the hole into which he had entrenched himself since the death of An’Maosiri.

In the wake of the defeat of Mordor, those who’d gone North at the Death Eater’s command to fight against the forces of Gondor and Rohan had returned home mostly in disarray. An’Sohrabi had made a show of welcoming them home, giving speeches which praised their courage but which had managed nonetheless to indicate that the cause for which they’d fought was no longer honored in their land. Most were released from service to the realm, many with a small pension and a parting gift of trade goods on which to base a new life.

It had proven harder to find replacement activities to reduce the potential threat of those in the nobility who had served Mordor; and so it was that An’Sohrabi had kept some troops of those who’d served the Death Eater willingly active, but had given them duties which had hopefully kept them out of mischief--many times quelling the recurrent troubles with tribes along the borders of Far Harad; and those he felt impelled to keep in Thetos so as to keep a closer eye on whatever intrigue they might devise were given duties in ministries where the underlings had been instructed to allow them to believe they were in charge, but where it was to An’Sohrabi or Ankhrabi themselves they reported and who truly made the decisions.

And so the situation had stood at the time of the arrival of the party of the King of Gondor and Arnor in Thetos.

*******

Nefiramonrani wasn’t certain how she managed to get through the ceremonies of the morning of the Farozi's birthday. She’d awakened feeling nauseous every morning for days, and now it seemed her breasts were very sensitive. Somehow something felt very familiar, but exactly what it was and how it was familiar didn’t come home to her until the procession approached the temple of Neryet and she realized--the last time she’d felt like this was just ten years ago, when she learned she was expecting the twins. Was she once again, after so very long, pregnant?

She’d made a point after the noon meal that day to go to the temple of Neryet in West Thetos to be examined by those priestesses who had made extensive studies of pregnancy, and had returned home excited and hopeful. They’d taken some of her urine and would look for the signs; and the following day after her husband had gone to hunt ducks with their guests she’d returned to the temple and had returned exultant. She’d begged Amonrabi to send an escort for her sister, who would be thrilled for an excuse to return to the palace so quickly, she knew; and he’d complied immediately.

But their husbands hadn’t returned for the noon meal; and by mid-afternoon it was plain that all were concerned as to what had become of the party. Three of the Northern lords had taken part, including the Lord An’Elessar himself, as well as four of their guards of honor. Lords Afraim and Ghants’pa’amon had gone also as well as Prince Ankhrabi and three of his Men and two each of theirs--and Sherfiramun.

Shortly before the evening meal An’Sohrabi had come to his son’s quarters to speak to Ankhsarani. “How many did he take with him on the hunt?” he asked, his face intent.

“I’m not certain--five or six, I think.”

The Farozi had looked alarmed. “Why so many?”

“Is that many?”

Realizing she was ignorant of what a hunt for duck entailed, he asked, “Has he gone on such hunts before?”

She shrugged. “Two or three times, I think, mostly with Lord Bhatsamun.”

“How many did he take then?”

She had to think, trying to remember. “Three, I think. But I think he said Bhatsamun took two with him.”

“Did any go out after Sherfiramun and his party left?”

“Not sent by Sherfiramun.”

“Did you or Merdirion send any out?”

“I certainly did not, save an hour later one to go to the market for lamp oil.”

He sighed. “Did Merdirion send any out?”

“Yes, I think he did--about five or six, I think.”

“Were they servants?”

“No, my Lord--they were guards.”

“Were they armed?”

“They carried bows, I think.”

The news Sherfiramun had taken so many with him had rung alarm bells. The Farozi straightened. “You will have to remain here with your sister, and there will be guards set about your quarters.”

Nefiramonrani was shocked. “But why, my Lord?”

He looked at the two women sternly. “Neither of your husbands has returned or sent any word; nor have we heard from those of our guests who went with them. We must suspect treachery.”

Both looked after him shocked, both certain the treachery must have come from the Northerners.

*******

No word came from any in the party all that day or evening; and all within the ranks of the nobility were on edge, particularly when it became known so many had gone with Sherfiramun and that a second party of armed Men from Sherfiramun’s house had followed after the party of hunters. Many had guessed accurately that this indicated treachery, and angry words were now being spoken against both Sherfiramun and his wife, who was now known to remain under guard in the Farozi's palace.

The news the next morning that in the night an attempted revolt against the Farozi had been put down and that many had been arrested spread swiftly throughout Thetos; and Sherfiramun’s part in it had been quickly reported. Hundreds had gone to the court of justice and had heard the testimony given by those who’d taken part in the coup attempt.

That An’Sohrabi had chosen his questions well was quickly apparent--these had not sought to overthrow him based on unfairness, but on simple greed. They’d wished to engage Harad in renewed wars with Gondor not to defend the land, but to consolidate personal power and wealth. They’d acted not out of concern for the common folk, but out of contempt for them. And it had been made plain that the uprising in which Bhatgebamun had died had been intentional, and had been part of an elaborate and successful plot to see him dead. Now it was known that Sherfiramun’s folks had tried to kill Ankhrabi as well, and had tried to do so using poison. Had the weapons taken from the conspirators not been shown forth in the court perhaps that might have been disbelieved; but many of those who’d fought for Mordor had sufficient knowledge to recognize these were not shams but truly signs of the treachery reported. And the final confrontation between Merdirion and the great and powerful Lord King An’Elessar of Gondor was quickly made public.

Sherfiramun’s punishment was highly applauded; but now public sentiment was against his wife, the last symbol in the public mind of his treachery. And Nefiramonrani, who’d resented the guard put on her chambers the evening their husbands were missing, was glad for it on the evening after the trial.

*******

“Best beloved,” An’Sohrabi said gently to his granddaughter, “I wish for you to invite the Princess Melian, the girl Hasturnerini, and the daughters of Lord Rustovrid to come to your quarters this afternoon and to entertain them--have a party for them and your brothers. I’ve given orders to the kitchens to send to you for orders of cakes and sweets and fruits to be served, and you may have all you desire.”

The girl’s mother was dismayed. “But the small princess is but a child, and the girl Hasturnerini was purchased in the slave market! You wish my daughter to become familiar with slaves?”

“She was purchased by one who lives in a land in which slavery is illegal. I have been asked already to countersign the articles of mannumism for both the girl and the Man. They will seek to teach the girl a trade by which she can support herself when she is a woman grown. And she is of an age with Nefirnerini, Daughter.”

“But why do this now?”

“There will be a public trial of those taken in the revolt this afternoon. I seek to give the children--and you and your sister--some other focus of interest. This will not be a spectacle suitable for those so young.”

“Ma’osiri and Amon'osiri will not attend?”

He’d straightened and slowly shook his head. “I have considered it, daughter of my heart, but have decided not. Merdirion will be judged amongst the others, and what he will reveal is likely to be horrifying. No, I will not have them see what happens this day after all.”

*******

“Welcome,” Nefirnerini said to her guests as they entered. Rustovrid’s daughters had entered first, straight and beautiful with their dark skin and their closely curled hair pulled back from their faces, dressed in Haradri dresses of white belted with colorful sashes, their enamelled collars about their necks. Together the three bowed low, hands crossed over their breasts. She inclined her head graciously as she’d been taught.

Then Hasturnerini had entered with the Princess Melian, both dressed in dresses of yellow silk to mid-calf. The taller girl had given the same bow as had Rustovrid’s daughters, then had sunk into a graceful curtsey as did the small princess. Not certain which was expected, she’d decided to do both forms of reverence. Nefirnerini stifled the impulse to giggle. She looked to her mother for guidance, and her mother made a nodding gesture, so again she inclined her head and both Princess and her companion straightened.

The twins entered next, obviously freshly bathed and dressed, their hair carefully combed to the side as was proper. They looked at their sister’s guests and sighed, wondering if they were about to be bored stiff for the next few hours.

“Thank you for inviting us,” said the small Princess in careful Haradri.

“Will Baba come, too, Mamari?” asked Amon'osiri.

“No--he has had to go to the trial with your grandfather,” Nefiramonrani said quietly.

“How about your babari?” he asked of Melian.

“He went out, too. He is solemn. He is not fond of trials,” she answered.

“Did he wear his sword?”

“Yes. He always carries it when there are trials, that and the Sceptre of Annúminas. Ada carries them when he must be the King first.”

“Our grandfather wore the crown and carried the crook and flail.”

“I saw them. Are they like a sceptre?”

Not certain how this question was answered, the boys looked to their mother, who also wasn’t certain what to say. At last she ventured, “Very much so, I suppose, as they indicate he is the Farozi.”

The small girl nodded as if that indeed answered her question.

“Would you like to have some cakes and juice?” asked their young hostess.

Soon all were reclining properly on their couches, but as she tried to take a bite of the cake she’d accepted Melian dropped part of it on the couch by her head, and looked at it with frustration. Finally she looked at her hostess. “I am sorry,” she said. “May I sit up? It’s easier for me and I don’t spill so much.”

Rustovrid’s youngest daughter looked relieved. “I’ll sit up, too, Lady Melian--then you won’t be the only one.”

Her sisters rolled their eyes at her, but said nothing as she sat up to match the smaller girl.

Ma’osiri looked at her with curiosity. “Is that how you eat at home?”

Melian nodded. “Yes, we eat sitting in chairs. Do you always eat lying down?”

Hasturnerini giggled. “Will I have to eat sitting up in Gondor?”

“You’ll probably be able to lie down if you want to, but not at formal dinners. There wouldn’t be room.”

“Your babari eats sitting up, too?”

“We all eat sitting up!”

The boys looked to the oldest of Rustovrid’s daughters, who sighed. “Yes, everyone eats sitting up there. The King will recline if he eats at the embassy; but if it’s a feast everyone sits up at the table.”

“Is it very elegant?” Nefirnerini asked.

“Oh, it can be very elegant indeed. The ladies are always so beautifully dressed, and the King is so regal!”

They looked at the one standing at attention against the wall. “Is he a slave?” asked Ma’osiri. His sister kicked at him from her adjacent couch, and he glared back.

“Lord Hildigor?” Melian looked shocked. “Of course not. He’s our cousin.”

“Your cousin?”

“Yes. His father is Steward Halladan of Arnor, and Lord Hardorn is his uncle. We don’t have slaves in Gondor.”

“What will you do in Gondor?” Amon'osiri asked Hasturnerini.

Nefiramonrani had been reluctant to include the girl purchased from the slave market in the party, but now she was glad she’d done so. It was quickly obvious this child had not been born to slavery and was fully trained in proper decorum as was expected of minor nobility. She was shy at first, but quickly warmed up to the company and was swiftly popular among all. And it quickly proved she was educated and had learned tales of many lands, which made her popular even with the boys.

The daughter of the King and Queen of Gondor might be young, but she was also very intelligent, and had been learning much of their language. The older girls had quickly set up a small school with five teachers and a class of three, with the boys and Melian as the pupils learning new words and meanings, both in Haradri and in Westron and Sindarin. That Nefirnerini and Hasturnerini were also learning words of other tongues was ignored by the children in their pleasure. Then they went out into the walled garden off their quarters and lay in the grass there, asking questions about the Northern lands. Even Rustovrid’s oldest daughter was shocked to realize that she was homesick for Gondor and the White City.

Ankhsarani and Nefiramonrani both were listening with interest as well, finding themselves imagining the tall city on the spur of the mountain, looking down on the Pelennor and the valley of the Great River Anduin; seeing at times the great Eagles sweeping over the city in flight.

At last they heard a rise in the noise from the judgment area, and the boys looked that way with longing.

“I wish I knew what is happening,” Ma’osiri sighed.

“Maybe you don’t,” Rustovrid’s oldest daughter said with a sigh. “One of the prisoners is from Umbar, and tried to have everybody killed. They might have to execute him.”

“He wanted your ada and mine to die,” Melian said to the boy.

“No one would try to kill my baba,” the boy insisted. “He’s too good a fighter.”

“They’ve tried to kill the King,” Rustovrid’s middle daughter pointed out. “They haven’t ever managed, but they’ve tried several times. And they’ve tried to kill my father, too.”

Nefirnerini looked at her mother seriously. “Was it Lord Merdirion, Mamari?”

“Yes, sweet one, it was Merdirion.”

The girl looked at her aunt and smiled. “Oh, I’m glad. Now you can go home and not be afraid of him any more!”

Ankhsarani blushed furiously.

Their questions were soon answered. The door opened and Ankhrabi entered the room, limping slightly, then came out into the garden. He pulled off his formal cloak and handed it to his wife. Ma’osiri noted the bandage and paused, his face paling. “Baba, what happened?”

The Man shrugged. “One of the traitors tried to hurt me, is all. The Lord An’Elessar has treated it, and it is healing quickly.” He leaned down over them, smiling at each of them. “I’m glad only to be back with you.”

Amon'osiri asked, “Was it exciting, to be attacked?”

His father winced. “I pray only none of you ever knows such excitement. No, it was not exciting--it was confusing and rather painful.”

“Is it over now?”

“Except for the trials of the nobles.”

Ankhsarani asked, “Sherfiramun?”

His face hardened. “He was sent to the quarries.”

She sighed with some relief. “Not condemned, then.”

Nefiramonrani asked, “Merdirion?”

“Dead.”

“Who did it?”

“An’Elessar.”

“Why?”

“Merdirion was corrupted with evil magic. You will not believe all he has done. He ordered the death of my brother, too.”

“Then it was not just a result of the fighting.”

“No.” There was a great deal of anger and grief in the single word. “My father will wish me to go with him soon. He wishes to see the reactions of the Northerners, to make certain we are not blamed.”

“Will they eat with us tonight?”

“I doubt any will wish a formal dinner, Nefirani. All will wish only to recover, I suspect.”

“When you know for certain, let me know and I will give the orders.”

*******

The dawn meal was subdued. As usual, the Northerners stood by their couches until the Farozi entered and stood by his couch. The Northerners then turned to make their quiet reverence to the West, and at last took their couches as well. The King was dressed this day in dark trousers of heavy silk and a cotton tunic embroidered only with a stylized tree, the Elessar stone holding the placket closed. He was markedly quiet. His daughter sat on his couch with him, and he quietly asked that her plate be placed by her, explaining it was easier for her to eat this way, and the servants quietly complied. The Hobbit was on guard this day, his face dignified as he stood near his Lord. As usual the tall black Man stood behind the Queen’s couch, wearing a new tunic of dark blue adorned with a single great star on its breast, the King’s red bag over his shoulder. All gave him even more reverence in light of what had been said yesterday.

Hasturnerini took a couch at the table Nefirnerini shared with her brothers and Rustovrid’s daughters. She ate decorously and took part in the quiet conversation.

As the meal drew to its close, the King looked at Ankhrabi. “I would like to examine your wound after the meal is done, my Lord. I would be assured it heals properly.”

“I would be glad to have you examine it, great Lord,” Ankhrabi said. “It feels a bit tight, but not particularly painful.”

“Would you mind if we observed?” asked the Farozi. “It would reassure all if we could see with our own eyes that all is well with my son.”

“If it is acceptable with the Prince,” the King said, and all indicated agreement.

After the meal was finished they moved down to the other end of the room of entertainment, and the King indicated Ankhrabi should sit on a couch while he undid the bandage. He asked that a basin of hot water be brought and cloths for possibly cleaning the place, and they arrived as he settled the prince on his side, gently easing down his belt sash slightly to expose the entire wound. All looked at it in surprise, seeing how long it had been originally, how much had already healed. First the King held his hand over it, letting his fingers feel deep, and all saw Ankhrabi take several deep breaths, saw him smile a bit, saw the expression of intent concentration on the King’s face as he softly sang the words of the invocation. At last he relaxed and straightened, smiling as he accepted the cloths offered him with quiet thanks, wiped at the wound, washing away much of the scab, and all could see that more of it had healed, that more of the skin was fresh and new.

At last he examined it one last time. “I do not believe, my Lord, that you will need to wear a bandage further.”

Ankhrabi sat up and looked down at his side. “If I’d not experienced it myself, I’d not have believed it.”

Sa’Amonri leaned over the Prince and examined the wound. “This was inflicted but two days past?”

“Yes, Holiness,” Ankhrabi agreed.

The priest looked up at the King’s face. “Your gift is even stronger now.”

The tall Man nodded. “Yes, it has strengthened.”

After contemplating Ankhrabi’s side for some moments, the priest said, “I have been the last two days in the Valley of the Sun. The High Priest of Amon wishes for you to come there, great Lord, to speak with him.”

“Is it the same High Priest?”

“Yes, great Lord. He cannot travel now, for he is now very old and frail. However, his mind remains as clear as ever.”

The King looked to his host. “We will go there in two days’ time, if that is acceptable,” the Farozi decided.

Sa’Amonri nodded solemnly. “That will be well.” He looked at the ruler of his land. “You will question the wife of Sherfiramun now?”

“I had wished to do it quietly.”

“I suggest that this company will be right for it that none question afterward what was said and what it means. You have witnesses who will be honest in their reporting, and yet whom she may trust to speak for her if it is warranted.”

The Farozi thought for a moment, then nodded his agreement. “So be it, then. Let Ankhsarani be summoned.”

He took his great chair and indicated the rest should be seated. A stool was brought on which Ankhsarani might sit.

She was quiet as she was brought into his presence, crossed her hands on her breast and bowed deeply.

“Be at ease, daughter, and sit. We must question you.”

“I know. My husband was a traitor....”

“Yes. Sit.”

The questioning was quiet. “Did you know your husband conspired with Merdirion against me and the peace of Harad?”

“No.”

“Did you know that Merdirion provided poisoned weapons and strangling cords to his Men?”

She looked shocked. “No!”

“Did any of these come frequently to the house: Merforim the arms merchant; Serbhatosiri the cloth merchant; Bergannubi of Nestor....” going on to name six more.

She nodded. “Merforim and Bergannubi were there very often; Serbhatosiri several times in the last month, but not before--his brother, however, often attended on Merdirion in the library before that, but they had a quarrel three months ago and he hadn’t returned that I am aware of.”

The interrogation continued on for almost a full mark, and at last the Farozi sighed and straightened. He looked at the King of Gondor in question.

“From what I can tell, she has been honest.” He looked at his wife, who nodded, then at Legolas, who also agreed. When he looked to the Hobbit Peregrin who stood beside him, all were mildly surprised.

The Hobbit, aware his opinion was being sought, asked, “Were there any others who often came to attend on either your husband or this Merdirion that you didn’t like, and you can't truly say why?”

When the question was translated, the woman thought, then answered slowly, naming at least four more individuals, two of them soldiers, one of them a lord of Harad who had already been arrested, and one a trader. Several of those in the room shared looks as if this was not unexpected.

The Farozi looked at the Haradri nobles within the room, all sharing nods of agreement. He looked at Ankhsarani. “Child, I will ask this. Have you been happy being married to Sherfiramun?”

She looked at him with grief in her eyes. “I was, at first; but that hasn’t been true for many years. We rarely have been together as husband and wife since the first year of our marriage, and the looks given me by Lord Merdirion were such that I am certain that he was pleased that this should be so.”

“Would you be free of your marriage to him?”

She looked at him with an uncertain gaze. “Will he ever return from the quarries?”

“No, Ankhsarani.”

Her eyes began to tear. “Then what point is there to carrying on with what has been a sham marriage for years, my Lord?”

He held out his hand to her, and she took it; he drew her to her feet and toward him, then she knelt and he held her to him in comfort. “I am sorry, child, for your parents and I never desired anything but the best for you. So deeply did you desire him, and for so long....”

“I didn’t know what he would become then, Uncle.”

“No, I didn’t either.” At last he released her. “I will see to it that your marriage is dissolved. You deserve the chance to know happiness with one who loves you as you deserve.” He sighed. “I will see to it that the house stays in your name----”

“No, I do not wish that! There is no pleasure in that house for me,”

He nodded. “Then we will leave it at that. When you are ready, you may return to that house and take from it all you desire. And we will find another that will not be tied to that grief.”

“Thank you.”

He looked around him. “Does any dispute this?”

None did.

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