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33
The Council of Amon

The Council of Amon

The arrival of this party of forty-three was remarked by many, yet was absorbed into the peace of the Valley of the Sun as their horses were led into the caverns where beasts were stabled and they were brought into the house of the Farozi and shown where they must bathe. All weapons save for those of the ones on duty were placed into the weapons chest and it was fastened closed; they left the baths and accepted the white garb of pilgrims, and they hung their other clothing and personal satchels in the tall cabinets built into each room to hold such. Legolas and Hardorn went through the rooms assigned for their use and found what spy holes there might be, and the chief of An’Sohrabi’s guards showed where the opening to hidden passages was so that they might make themselves familiar with them. “It is only children who use them now,” he explained. “They make fine places to hide in the children’s games. And, since all know of them, there is little chance any will be taken by surprise. However, according to the tales told, at the height of the Death Eater’s rule they were used to spy on guests and enemies and brethren, and led to all sorts of murders and treacheries.”

Legolas explored them, and after a time came forth, indicating that the floor within the passages has been purposely made to make noises when one was within them. “Apparently the Farozi's people have taken thought to be forewarned should someone seek to use them now,” he commented. The guests quickly hung clothing over those spyholes identified and forgot about them.

A light noon meal awaited them, and after all rested for a time they met in the court in the middle of the squared edifice that made up the house of the Farozi here in the Valley. Dispatches from the Northern Kingdoms had arrived at the Palace of the Farozi the preceding day while they were at the temple of Neryet, and now Aragorn and Éomer were going through them with Faramir, Berevrion, Hildigor, and Elfhelm, speaking in quiet voices, while the rest of the party played at hounds and jackals or draughts (Hildigor’s folding board now lay between Pippin and Damrod), or worked on hand-work of some kind. Gimli had managed to borrow Ruvemir’s hand tools and was working on a project of his own, turning a small block of alabaster into a fine box with a lid, while the sculptor was overseeing Owain, who was attempting to do a portrait piece of the Princess Melian. The Queen had set aside her own work and was teaching the children present how to weave palm fronds into mats and how to do so using different patterns of weaving.

Lady Nefiramonrani and her sister were feeding the doves and making certain they had fresh water. Isumbard looked up from where Benai was trying to teach him a game in which colored stones were scooped up, a few at a time, from depressions with the object being to force ones opponent to pick up the last stone, and watched the two women. “When will we take the birds to free them?” he asked.

The Farozi looked up from the game he played with his son. “Not long before sunset. It is too hot earlier than that to carry them across the valley.” Isumbard nodded his head and turned his attention back to the game, wondering if he would ever understand its strategy--or even its point.

There was a knock at the gate, and the one on guard opened it to admit Sa’Amonri, who had not stayed within the compound, but had gone on to the temple of Amon. “My lords and ladies,” he said with a deep bow.

Several of the Northerners, including, he noted, An’Elessar, had risen courteously at his entry. All inclined their heads respectfully. “Sa’Amonri,” responded the Farozi with pleasure. “You have returned to us. Do you bring us a summons?”

“Yes, Lord An’Sohrabi. There is to be a council after sunset, and they wish for several here to take part in it, those who participated in the downfall of the servant of Seti and those who know best his nature. All wish to understand the better how it was our nation was enslaved and how we were freed, and what we must do to guard ourselves from being so taken again.”

“They wish to know so soon on our arrival?”

“Some who would attend must return to the world without tomorrow, and so the choice was made to meet tonight.”

“Where will this council meet?”

“In the amphitheater near the temple of Geb.”

“Then we will come. Will you share wine with us?”

Platters of cold meats and cheese to be wrapped in a soft flat bread were laid at hand, along with slices of fruit and cups of a light wine. The priest accepted a portion, and sat with them enjoying the feeling of domesticity exuded by the gathering.

The King of Gondor once more sat among his fellows, and having finished with one message reached for another envelope, then paused, smiling. He rose and approached the sculptor. “A letter for you, Ruvemir,” he said. “I believe from Ririon.”

The small one’s face lit with pleasure as he slipped a nail under the seal and opened the cloth envelope and brought out sheets of paper. He scanned it carefully. “It is indeed from Ririon,” he said, looking up for a moment. “Lanril has begun receiving lessons in carving from my adar, and wished for Ririon to let me know this, while my niece is now beginning to walk independently and can be restrained from nothing.”

“Who is Ririon?” asked An’Sohrabi.

“My son,” the sculptor said proudly. “He is apprenticed to my father to learn the carving of wood, although when I return he will resume work with me for a time. He will soon be accepted by the guild as a carver of wood, and he would wish to make it a double mastery, carving both wood and stone.”

“His writing is very large,” noted Amon’osiri.

The mannikin nodded. “Yes, he must write large, for his vision is quite poor and he cannot see it otherwise.” He read some more, then smiled widely. “There was a meeting between members of the carvers’ guild in Lebennin hosted by my father, and Ririon prepared the meal for it. All were rightly amazed to find that he had done this, and that the bowls from which they enjoyed the salad he’d prepared had all been carved by him as well. All had been arguing that one whose vision is deficient would not be a good candidate for membership in the guild, and now all have thought better of the idea.”

The King smiled with satisfaction. “It appears, my friend, that Ririon is doing quite a fine job himself at educating the entire community.”

Pippin conceded his defeat at Damrod’s hands and turned to face the sculptor. “Did you have such difficulties being accepted, Ruvemir?”

The mannikin gave a twisted smile. “Not exactly the same way in which Ririon has. I’d done three figures all totally independently, each progressively larger. The last was a portrait of Master Faragil himself and was life size, and it was extraordinarily well done, if I do say so myself. The second was that of the daughter of a neighbor, quite a lovely child, and again that was life size. The first was of an infant lying against a cushion--quite a charming piece. I was working on a new piece in granite, a grave effigy for a woman who’d recently died, commissioned by her husband, when the guild master came for a meeting with Master Faragil. He was watching me work on the effigy and made the comment that it was too bad I must be limited to doing such all my life as I was obviously too small to do standing figures. Master Faragil became quite still and gave me a sign to keep utterly silent when I wished only to rail at the Man.

“Master Faragil was working on a figure himself at the time of Lord Denethor, who was Lord Steward then. Quite a tall Man he was, and spare and rather ascetic looking.”

“Yes, I know,” Pippin responded with some amusement.

Ruvemir looked from Hobbit to the King to Lord Faramir, then smiled. “Yes, several of you had met him, hadn’t you?” he commented dryly. He shook his head. “I keep forgetting. At any rate, at that point he interrupted the guild master and invited him to examine this work in progress. He’d been having me assist him in the carving of it, and apparently he decided to use it as an object lesson for the Man. After they had examined the work to date thoroughly, he asked me to leave off the effigy I was working on and do some work on the face of Lord Denethor.

“He then took him about the studio to look at other works there. My three pieces were still there, scattered here and there throughout his works, and when he saw that of the infant the guild master was extraordinarily enthusiastic at how wonderfully Master Faragil had done on it, at the lightness of touch he’d exhibited in carving this so charming a piece.

“Neither paid the least attention to me as I went to bring in my portable scaffolding that my father had constructed for me to use, or noted as I set it up around the statue so as to reach the face comfortably. Actually, my master was doing so, but doing so in such a quiet manner that the guild master wasn’t aware of it. The response to the figure of the girl was on a level of that which he’d given to that of the infant; and when he reached the figure of Master Faragil himself he was absolutely lyrical.

“‘It’s to be a gift for my daughter,’ my master indicated.

“‘How did you manage to do the back of your head so faithfully?” the guild master asked.

“‘Actually, it’s not my work at all, but Ruvemir’s,’ Master Faragil admitted, and I thought the guild master would twist his head off his neck in his sudden haste to turn about to look at me. By this time I was atop my scaffolding working on the face of the figure of Lord Denethor. It was quite gratifying to see him turn so very red with embarrassment as he realized just how one such as I could yet do a figure life size or larger. I had to stop the work I was doing for a time to get control of my urge to laugh loud and long.”

Aragorn sighed as he finished translating this for those who didn’t speak Westron. “It is not right that such as you and Miriel and Ririon must ever prove your abilities to those who do not know such limitations as you do, yet this is the way of the world. And so it is that we must ask you and those who, like you, are physically different yet nonetheless skilled, to prove, again and again, that the disabilities are near meaningless.”

“That such as you, my Lord King, should accept our skills as they are means far more than you know; in doing so you grant our work validity. Before she came to the capitol and met you when I was ill, Miriel held back from letting others know the work she did was done by a mannikin. When she realized you valued her work for its own merits and not simply because of the novelty of it having been done by a mannikin, only then did she begin meeting publicly with the guild mistress and others, allowing people to know at last exactly who and what Miriel daughter of Mardil and Elienen is.”

“I will admit my first attention was drawn to you because you are a mannikin.”

“And, solely because of my size I brought to mind memories of the Lord Frodo and his companions.”

The King nodded.

“Yet is was on the basis of my work and the realization of the strength of my gift you approached me to accept your commission, not because of my size.”

“As was the reason why those in Casistir approached you to work on the memorial there as well.”

“Yes--they were quite shocked when I arrived to lead the work there.” Ruvemir smiled with evident relish at the memory.

“Well,” An’Elessar said quietly, “do not be surprised that I will ask of you from time to time to do demonstrations before others who do not realize that the master sculptor who completed the memorial to the Periannath and who did my portrait for the Hall of Kings is a mannikin. You and Ririon, I fear, will both be asked to do such demonstrations--not for the novelty of it, but to prove that skills and gifts are given to those who are believed to be other than normal. You challenged me yesterday to educate the entire community. I cannot do this all in a piece, I find.”

“I will accept doing such demonstrations for your sake, my Lord King.”

“And I thank you for it.”

As he turned back to his correspondence, Aragorn son of Arathorn noted with a satisfaction he kept hidden within himself the matching looks of consideration this exchange had evoked in the eyes of the priest, the Farozi, and the Farozi's son and grandchildren.

*******

About an hour before sunset all took part in carrying the cages of doves across the Valley to the Temple of Neryet. They stood at the open gate to the complex and opened each cage, watching bird after bird come forth and fly away. Most flew westward, or at least they did at first; a few headed back East; several landed in the court of the temple and looked for the grain scattered there earlier in the day. Many as they emerged from the cages would fly in circles about members of the company, three flying three times about the King, and a great number of times about the Lady Arwen. The King smiled as he watched this.

The swift sunset of these Southern climes again took them by surprise. As the last two birds were freed the Sun dipped below the horizon, and as they flew high and to the West it was as if they were flying to take refuge on Osiri's own bark, or so it seemed to the Farozi.

A communal meal for all within the Valley of the Sun to share in if they wished was offered near the Temple of Amon, and now all joined it, accepting wooden platters of food and then sitting amongst the rest and listening to the talk. When all had eaten and rinsed the platters and returned them to their places, the Farozi quietly indicated the time had come to go to the council. Their party was greeted by a young priest who led them to a place at the front, in the center of the amphitheater, and indicated all should sit there. Soon after others began entering and quite filled up the place.

On the raised dais before the company sat a series of chairs with ranks of benches behind them, and there the chief priests and priestesses took their places, while others, including Sa’Amonri, scattered themselves throughout the assembly.

Two young priests assisted the high priest of Amon to his place in the center of the line of chairs, then sat cross-legged on the floor before him. When at last it appeared all who would come were there, the high priest stood slowly. “I call upon all to rise and give honor to those who guide and bless us with the benefits we know,” he directed. All rose, and following the lead of the King, all from the North turned to the West to offer a Standing Silence while about them they heard a babble of differing prayers and formulae offered to this one or that. The high priest of Amon noted the simple, rather elegant reverence offered by those from Gondor, Arnor, and Rohan with a feeling of admiration, and decided quietly in himself he would encourage others to do so similarly in the future. One might honor as many or as few as one wished with such a move without offending the ears and sensibilities of those who mostly favored another in the pantheon.

Once all again had gone quiet and resumed their seats, the high priest addressed the official purpose of the meeting. “Long have many who frequent this place looked forward to the day when the one we knew as the Death Eater to be cast down at the last. That this would happen was foretold, but we were let to know that it would not be by our efforts but by the dedication of those people who had ever stood against him that at the last he should be brought down.

“Ten years ago at the last his downfall came. With us tonight are many from the North who saw this done, who took part in the last battles against his forces. We have asked them to come this night to speak of it, to tell us the truth of it that we might know how it is that Sauron the Great is great no more.”

Once more the story was told. This time the King asked Legolas to tell it, and he translated into Haradri while Hildigor translated into Adunaic for Benai’s sake. Legolas stepped upon the dais and turned to face the company, his fair Elven voice carrying freely throughout the space, and the King’s voice also filled the entire bowl as he translated.

This tale, told from the point of view of the Firstborn who had ever suffered at the hands of Morgoth and Sauron, touched all. No one spoke most of the time while Legolas rendered the tale; it seemed as if the entire company was enspelled by the voice and tale to do no more than listen and seek to understand. He spoke of the hiding of Sauron within the wastes of Middle Earth after the defeat of Morgoth by the Valar, of the gradual choice made by him to take the place of his master, of the decision to forge the Rings of Power and the choice of Celebrimbor of Eregion to do this. He told of the secret forging within Orodruin of the One Ring to rule the rest, and spoke the words of the rhyme of lore which described this and told the translation of the words of the Ringspell itself.

When he told of the sending of forces from Númenor to capture Sauron and bring him before Ar-Pharazon, and Sauron’s decision to allow this to happen and his corruption of the greater part of the nobility of the Star Isle, a sigh of grief and disappointment spread throughout the audience. He spoke of the opposition offered by Elendil the Tall and his people, of the choice to go aboard their ships and lie on the East side of the island while Ar-Pharazon prepared his great armada and sent it West to try to wrest immortality by force of arms from the Valar; of the breaking of the world, the destruction of the fleet, the sinking of the island of Westernesse, and the ships of Elendil’s folks blown Eastward to Middle Earth on the wings of the storm.

“Most came to the coasts of what became Gondor; a few were blown northward into what became Arnor; one we now know was blown South of Harad itself to what is now Camaloa. All carried the Dúnedain, the survivors of the Faithful from Westernesse, Men who carried yet the inheritance of the sons of Eärendil and Elwing, whom you know as Osiri and Isiri, Men who carried yet the blessings of the Valar themselves.”

He continued with the return of Sauron to Middle Earth and power once more, the Last Alliance, the fall of Sauron and the loss of his Ring and its cost, the loss of the Ring into the River Anduin. He then went silent for some moments, then spoke of the coming of the Istari, and then what had at last been learned of the Ring’s finding again by a creature like a Hobbit, and then its being brought out of the darkness by Bilbo Baggins. As he continued more and more were straining to see the small ones who sat in the company, particularly as he revealed that it was by a Hobbit the Ring was borne to Its destruction at the last.

He spared no one, merely told, almost dispassionately, what he knew had happened, explained what he knew from his own observation and experience, what had been told to him by those who were there, what had been learned by investigation and piecing together the puzzle of what had occurred. Aragorn’s indecision as to how to proceed from Weathertop was told; the betrayal by Boromir and his repentance and death; the spell on Rohan and its king wielded by Saruman through Gríma Wormtongue; the terror of Merry and Pippin at discovering they’d been captured by Saruman’s Uruk-hai; of the madness of Denethor and his attempt to kill his already dying son. He described the pursuit of the Ringbearer by Gollum and his capture by Frodo and Sam; the growing power of the Ring; the betrayal by Gollum....

All went utterly still again as he described the journey through Mordor and the time on the slopes of Mount Doom. When he told of the final taking of Frodo by the Ring a collective sigh of horror rose, to become one of relief when he told of the loss of the finger and the fall of Ring and Gollum.

At last he stopped.

“Did they survive?” demanded a woman from the left of the company.

Legolas looked at her. “Yes, they did, but I yield my place now to the kinsman of the Ringbearer who knows best what happened from this point.” He stepped decidedly down, and reluctantly Pippin took his place. It was now the voice of a Hobbit that told the end of the thing, the saving of his cousin and his companion, the recovery and all, the gradual return to the Shire, the final abandonment of Middle Earth. All could see the pain in his eyes, hear the grief in his voice.

“Is he now a star as became Osiri?” a young Man asked.

Pippin looked shocked. “He’s gone to Tol Eressëa, yes; but my cousin remains yet a mortal. We’ve been assured he will die there as do all mortals, at the natural end of his time. He cannot come to Valinor itself--no further than the island which once was part of Middle Earth and now stands at the threshold of Aman proper. But although he can’t enter the proper presence of the Valar, he can know the healing they alone can give him. The Enemy’s Ring robbed him of almost everything in him. He was emptied of all, and then left to fill again with rage and self-hatred and illness. He was so emptied he even wished he could have It back again, just to have something--something to hold onto.”

Peregrin straightened further. “That Sauron should have presented himself to you as an equal to the Valar is incomprehensible to us. Not, of course, that we of the Shire knew much about him except from stories we’d begun to think of as mere tales. Well, now we know better, for his evil wrought on our land through the Black Riders and Saruman has shown us that those tales are really histories. Sauron sent his Nazgul, the ones you call the Dark Ones, to the Shire to seek to kill us and bring Frodo and the Ring back to himself, and in doing this he dragged the Shire back into the world, to his own destruction.

“Elves wouldn’t accept his Ring to carry It or safeguard It because they knew firsthand what It would do to them. Men couldn’t carry It because it was like Men of evil will Sauron had become--eager only for power over others and unable to find joy or beauty at the end. Dwarves had shown more ability to withstand Its power, but It enhanced their disdain toward others and their greed, and they wouldn’t accept It. But Sauron had never seen Hobbits as worthy of notice--and so he’d not thought before to overpower us, merely to destroy our land. And so, at the end, because we were beneath his notice two of ours did what no one else could. No, not two, but three, for in the end even Gollum was apparently one of ours, too.”

He stepped down off the dais and sat decidedly by his cousin, taking a deep breath.

There was a time of quiet, and then questions began. At last the four who’d taken part in the quest were given chairs at the edge of the dais and the questions rained down on them. Rained? A deluge, rather! Pippin was plainly uncomfortable, and sitting in a chair too big for his stature beside Aragorn and Gimli and Legolas allowed the rest to see just how small a being he was, and how small the one who’d carried the Ring had been as well.

Drink was brought to them, and Pippin was clutching at his tumbler as if it were a shield warding him from the attention of the others. But he answered the questions clearly aimed at him well enough, and was glad when others must answer instead.

The discussion went on for well over an hour longer, and at last the high priest of Amon rose once more.

“It is enough,” he said with authority, “for us to know what has occurred, told by those who were there to see and know. The Death Eater is no more, and no good will come of seeking to rebuild what the gods themselves have cast down. We were duped by him for over an age of Middle Earth. We shall waste no more time seeking to rebuild monuments to one who was no god after all, but one who posed as such to seek to build himself up at our expense.”

It was with considerable relief that the party of the North left the amphitheater to return to the Farozi's house.

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