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37
Questions Asked

Questions Asked

Setra’amun found himself glad he lay in the bare cell he now inhabited. His wounded side had been roughly yet competently bandaged by one of the Northerners, just before he was lifted onto the cart for the return journey to the Valley of the Sun. On their arrival he’d been quickly identified and housed apart from the rest. Someone had come down, had taken the others out one by one, then brought them back. What they’d told he could not know, and he was glad he didn’t have to see their faces, look into their eyes. When he saw eyes he saw questions, and the questions that struck him he asked. He’d come to realize that this was his function, his purpose--to ask the questions, to tear the webs away.

But once the webs were torn away, often he did not like what he saw, or saw how it might be different still, so he changed the questions, still tore at webs. Where once his skills at questioning had amazed others, however, now they seemed to annoy, and that made him angry. He had, he’d realized from an early age, a mighty intellect, and there had been those, those such as the high priest of Amon and Sa’Amonri, who’d respected that. However, they did not seem to see that the continued questions after acceptable answers were found were still possible, and, for Setra’amun, necessary.

How could people be satisfied with some of the answers they found? What pleasure was there in simplicity? It was the complex that fascinated Setra’amun; and when he found that the questions he asked eventually led mostly to simple answers in the end, he’d refused them. Truth that was simple was not interesting. So he sought to break those simple truths to shards, then refashioned the splinters into answers that pleased him. They were answers that only he could find, and that made him the one to seek out, to learn the truths of the answers to these questions.

They feared him for that, he realized, that he could see truths that they could not. They feared him and thus were glad when he went away, away to think and puzzle and find more complex truths....

He’d not heard the steps approaching his cell, was aware only when the door was opened. When he saw it was but his brother there in the cell door, he lost interest. Harpelamun had once been the one who’d been most in awe of him, but he’d been drawn away by those who were satisfied by simple truths. Setra’amun looked away, back toward the crystal structure in the wall of his cell that caught the light of the torch borne by the guard behind Harpelamun. It sparkled and broke the light itself into splinters, splinters that could possibly be rearranged.

Sa’Harpelamun gave a great sigh as he saw his brother turn his attention to the wall. More and more over the past six years this was what he faced when he saw Setra’amun, this turning away from light to ghosts and reflections, shadows of reflections at times. “Setra’amun, get up.”

Setra’amun would not look to him. “Why?”

“That we might properly treat your side.”

“Why might you wish to do that?”

“Because you have been hurt, and we would ease it.”

“Why can you not leave me to know the pain?”

“Would you wish to know the pain enough for it to become fevered?”

“Why should it become fevered?”

Sa’Harpelamun was becoming frustrated with the delay and the foolishness of the questions his brother asked. He found himself using the tone of voice both had hated since childhood, the voice of the exasperated adult who simply wants to do what he has to do so that he can then go on to more pleasing activities, such as scraping the wax out of his ear, rather than seeking to answer questions that seemed to have no end or point. “It would become fevered because it has not been properly cleaned and only roughly bandaged. Now get up and be done.”

Setra’amun gave that smile he always gave lately when someone became angry at his questions, for he’d finally goaded the other to anger. He enjoyed seeing the loss of control in others, at the same time he loathed them for not being able to stand up to him.

The guard behind Harpelamun gave a grunt of disgust. “Get up and be done. No one is interested in answering your questions. It is time for you to begin answering them yourself soon enough.” He prodded the bandaged side with the toe of his sandal, and finally, yelping with pain and glaring at the Man, Setra’amun rose, and was taken up to the healers’ place.

Here no one answered any questions put to them, biting their tongues while they stretched him on his good side on the table and cleansed and examined the other. Sa’Amonri came in and examined it after the others. One of the lesser healers commented, “If An’Elessar were to see to it....”

“An’Elessar and his wife now rest due to the evil this one has wrought,” responded the older healing priest. “I will not waken them to see to what we can treat easily enough. Bind his hands and feet that he not unwittingly writhe away, and prepare to hold him.”

They brought a leather strap for him to bite on. “I need it not,” he insisted.

“Better than you have accepted it this day,” muttered the younger healing priest. “But then some have better things to do than to bite through their lips.”

When they washed the wound on his side with boiled salt water he screamed with pain; when Sa’Amonri stitched it he whimpered. When done the elderly priest looked down on him. “I’ve had small children who have made nowhere the fuss of you,” he said. “Once you had pride in how others saw you, while now you have less courage than the smallest baby. Do not be surprised, Setra’amun, that you no longer receive the respect you seem to consider your due. True respect is earned.” They untied him, gave him water to drink and saw to it he had no other serious injuries, then put a new bandage over the wound and took him back to his cell.

Early the next day he was brought up to the examination room. Here those who desired to enter one or another of the temples usually sat to be questioned by the panel of priests and priestesses who saw to admitting acolytes and novices. Today a fair number of such were in evidence, but the main seats were taken by the Farozi and those who accompanied him. In the central seat sat the ruler of Harad, his face stern; beside him on his chair his grandson Amon’osiri. To his right sat the high priest of Amon; to his left sat the priest of Annubi and beyond him Lord Afraim, who’d come out from the city the previous evening. On the right end was Lord An’Elessar from Gondor; to the left end Lord An’Éomer from Rohan. Although both were dressed in pilgrim’s robes, there was about them an aura of dignity and authority that Setra’amun had not felt before.

A chair sat before the tribunal, and he was made to sit in it, and was bound to it. For the first time he began to realize that what he’d been involved with was seen as highly serious, and he found himself pleased. They now took him seriously, realized he could possibly unseat the Farozi and his lords, could shake the councils of kings. A smile began to appear on his face. And then the questioning began.

“You are Setra’amun?”

“You know I am, Uncle.”

“Those who from ambush fire arrows at me, my son, my grandsons, and my guests when we have done no ill to you or yours, have forfeited all ties of family to me.” It was said with a note of finality that could not be gainsaid. “Your actions are not those of a nephew, but of one who has declared himself an enemy of the government of Harad. As you have numbered yourself among the rebels, that is how you will be seen from this day on.”

“But what is a rebel?”

“You are not here to ask questions, but to answer them. When were you drawn into the revolt sponsored by Mertirion of Umbar?”

“I was never drawn to it.”

The Farozi examined him, saw the small smile the young Man could not quite hide. He tried to have patience.

“When did you decide to see me unseated as Farozi?”

“I do not wish to see anyone as Farozi.”

“Why do you wish to see no one as Farozi?”

“No one person should have the power of life or death over another.” It was said sullenly.

The King from Gondor looked at the rest when they would have gone on with their questions and indicated they should not. They watched him for a second while he watched Setra’amun. He finally asked, “Who chose the place of the outcrops as the place where the ambush should happen?”

“I did.”

“Why did you choose that place?”

“That many together on horseback must go that way.”

“Who chose bows as weapons?”

“I did.”

“Why did you choose bows to use first?”

“Because it is easier to take others by surprise with bows.”

“You intended only to see us incapacitated?”

The anger could be seen in the young Man’s face. “I intended to see you dead!” Then he was shocked, realizing he’d said far more than he’d intended.

“And so--so you would set yourself in the place of the Farozi regarding us.”

“There should be no Farozi at all.”

“Yes, so you have said, citing his power over life and death of others as the reason. If that is the function of the Farozi that is objectionable in your eyes, to hold that power, then in choosing to direct the ambush you were taking upon yourself that function--to hold the power of life and death over us as you see the Farozi holding it over others. And thus it is you would make yourself take that power, that role, toward us. For the moment, at least, you would assume what you see as the forbidden activity, to become Farozi.”

“I would never become the Farozi!”

“Then why assume that power toward others?”

“You do not deserve to live!”

“And why do I not deserve to live?”

“You have ordered the deaths of thousands!”

“I was trained from my earliest days to become a warrior. I have fought orcs, trolls, wargs, and those who would enter the lands of my peoples and kill them wantonly and take or destroy all they had to support them all of my life since I was fifteen years of age. I have conducted executions at times when I could have given that office to others, of those who have broken the laws not only of my lands but of their own as well. I have directed forces in fighting those who have entered Arnor, Gondor, and Rohan illegally, and have even, on rare occasions, taken the fight elsewhere--although in such cases the plan was not so much to kill the people of the place as to destroy their weapons and means of bringing their warfare to us instead.

“When I have set up ambushes or taken part in them under the command of others, it has always been as a defender of the land in which the ambush took place. I have never done such in the lands of those seen as the enemy. And it was always only of those who entered our lands with the clear purpose of bringing war to us.” His look at the young Man was penetrating. “Can you say as much?”

“I’ve never been a warrior.”

“You handled a warrior’s weapon yesterday, and it was your arrow that found the throat of Ma’osiri, who is but nine years old and held no weapons at the time.”

“He would rise to be Farozi one day.”

“He is second in line to become Farozi once his grandfather is gone--that is true. But you would see him slain when you have not the slightest idea whether the land would prosper or suffer under his hand?”

“The land groans under the weight of the ills the Farozi causes to it!”

Éomer of Rohan gave a great snort. “And how do you know this?”

“There are complaints about him on all sides....”

“Are women and children wantonly slain and mishandled?”

“No.”

“Does he forbid the growing of crops or the raising of herds?”

“No.”

“Does he take the greater parts of the crops and herds for his own use and for the use of those who are close to him?”

“No.”

“Does he forbid people to build adequate shelter for themselves and their families?”

“No.”

“Does he take any woman that catches his eye to himself by force or by claiming the right of his office?”

With a glare at the Farozi, the young Man answered, “No, it was his father who did that!”

“Has the Lord An’Sohrabi ever done such?”

“No.”

“Then he has not followed the lead of his father, has he? Would you punish him for the ills done by his father that he has not perpetuated?”

“Someone should be punished!”

“Would you have yourself punished for what was done by your grandfather?”

“No!”

“Then why would you punish your uncle for what he had no power to stop when another held the power of government?”

The Farozi rejoined the interrogation. “The ones who insisted my father take concubines were Virubat of Umbar, Maruset of Thetos, and the Dark Ones, all servants of the Death Eater. Once Virubat and Maruset were gone, he stopped the practice. They wished to take the children conceived of such unions and to slay them upon the altars of the Death Eater. I would gather such children, when I could find them, and either take them into my own house or bring them here for their safety. I took your father into my house, but he left it when he took a wife, insisting he could protect himself and his family. They took him anyway at a time when they had me in Far Harad where I could do nothing to protect him. Your mother fled here to give birth to her children where they could not be taken by the Dark Ones and their people. Yet you would slay me for what happened to your father? I have already seen those who gathered the victims for the red temple executed for the crimes they committed against the people of our land.”

And so it happened again and again, that the complaints he brought up were shown to be based not on truth but his own conceit and frequently purposely misconstrued actions.

Finally, the King of Gondor looked at him. “When Sauron held sway here, you were a child. How old are you now?”

“Four and twenty years.”

“So you were fourteen years old when he fell.”

“Yes.”

“Had you ever left the Valley of the Sun to that time?”

“No--they told me it was too dangerous to do so, that the Death Eater’s people would delight to slay me for his pleasure and strengthening.”

“Do you now believe what you were told then?”

“No.”

The Farozi shook his head in disbelief. “Why do you not believe it? Have you paid no attention? Have you not heard how his people purposely looked for the children born of my father’s unions with the women of the land to slay them to his honor? It was why they desired your father--to show all that they held the blood of the rulers of this land to be powerful in the building of power by the Death Eater, to prove to my brother and to me that if we should make one mistake that they could catch we, too, were for the altars and another more pliable noble would be raised to take the crown.

“When he was sheltered in my house, your father was safe from the red temple’s agents. When they could capture him without the benefit of my protection, they took him at the last--him and those I could not gather in time, or who trusted to their own wiles to protect them.

“Yet now you would resurrect his worship, see it as teaching--holy fear, I believe you called it? You would resurrect the worship of one we now know was a liar and a cheat, who sought to take the rightful worship of all others unto himself, who would blot out the Creator himself if he could manage it. You would perpetuate for others the fear of that time, that all again would fear the ambush in the dark, the disappearance of children from their play, the doors forced open and the family taken to their deaths not for crimes but on whim alone.”

The Farozi straightened. “I have heard enough.” He looked to the priest on either side. “What say you?”

The priest of Annubi shook his head. “The Death Eater tried to portray himself as Annubi and Osiri, but he was not, for he gave not peace and judgment but instead fear and terror and death wantonly. One who would resurrect the worship of one shown not to be one of the gods themselves but one intended as their servant, and who would bring back the evil of deaths to no purpose but to continue the illusion of power is a danger to the entire land and all of the people of Harad and Far Harad, as well as being an offense against the gods themselves. He is given over to the civil authorities for punishment, as he would have slain the Farozi and his heirs when none carried a weapon with which to defend themselves--that is attempted murder, plainly and simply.”

“Yet they were protected,” Setra’amun said.

“Yes, they were protected by others, but your ambush was set to overcome the protection offered them. That is still attempted murder.”

The high priest of Amon looked down at the young Man. “Once you held great promise as one who would help others to find truth through your questions, which then were sharp and discerning. But you have become interested not in the seeking of truth, but instead only in the art of questioning until no longer do your questions hold any meaning save than to destroy understanding in the end. You are no longer welcome here in the Valley of the Sun. And, for your activities in seeking to slay anyone who is unarmed and who sought only and ever to support you and those like you, you are given to the civil authorities for judgment. Your arrow has been shown to be that which took Ma’osiri in the throat. He was but a child who sought only to protect his father when he was stricken almost to the death. He had no training in the ways of war or any evil. Never had he caused any ill to any. And you have admitted you would see many slain for no good purpose other than to teach fear.” He looked long at the youth he’d once thought highly of. “And may Annubi find reason to lead you before Osiri; and may Osiri have mercy on you, my son.” He rose, and leaning on the young priest who’d attended on him this morning, he left the room.

An hour later, Setra'amun and the others who’d survived of those who’d made the ambush were on their way on foot to Thetos.

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