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Lesser Ring
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They rested at the Western Palace that night, and several went swimming again in the stone pool, although Ankhrabi, Ma’osiri, and An’Elessar watched from the grass with envy. Sa’Harpelamun was eased by the King’s ointment and the soothing of his hands, and joined those within the pool happily enough. Even Isumbard waded a bit in the shallows of it, admitting he enjoyed the cool of the water about his feet.

In the evening those from Rohan went to the stables to watch horses and ponies coming into their stalls, the King of Gondor and Arnor and his cousins Hardorn and Berevrion going with them to bid the animals a good rest. Ankhsarani was given the zithern that resided in the Western Palace, and after patiently tuning it began to play upon it. Several of the Haradri began to sing the ballads she played, and eventually Pippin fetched his flute and played with her. The evening was mostly quiet, soothing after the worry of days past.

The King saw Ankhrabi to his bed, checked the wound one last time; checked on where Ma’osiri and his twin lay together, Amon’osiri still awake, guarding his brother from further harm, the silver cloak brooch lying beside the bed on a low table and glinting in the low light of the outer night. The Man smiled down at the wary boy, and eventually the boy reluctantly smiled back. “Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you for bringing my brother back to me.”

“I am grateful he was returned to you, Amon’osiri.”

“Do you have a brother?”

“The brothers of my wife have ever been as brothers to me.”

“It’s not the same as your own brother, though, is it?”

“No. They are Elves and I am mortal. In time I must go where they cannot come as long as Arda remains.”

“What about your real brothers?”

The King shrugged. “That is another matter altogether. Now you must sleep. Do not fear to laugh with him, Amon’osiri. Do not fear to play with him. He will need to be reminded he is yet a child. Rest that you may rejoice in one another’s presence for as long as you are given together.”

He saw the boy’s eyes close, the relaxation finally begin to take him as the Man withdrew from the doorway and returned to the adults. An hour later Aragorn found his way to the room he shared with his wife, placed the headrests with some finality on a chest in the corner, set out pillows for himself and her, then took her into his arms and kissed her deeply.


On their arrival at the water stair to the Farozi’s house in Thetos they found the captain of the guards and the housekeeper awaiting Amonrabi and their Lord formally, ready to make their reports. Glad they weren’t the ones to need to receive such reports, Kings and Queens of Gondor and Rohan smiled as they slipped past those caught in the throes of their responsibilities and found their way once more into the guest rooms appointed to them. Hardorn went through each of the rooms and checked and removed the bands he’d placed on their chests of belongings.

Sa’Amonri, who’d returned with them to Thetos, and the Lady Arwen now checked the King’s thigh, which was healing apace and showed no sign of infection. After winding a new bandage about it they went together to check the conditions of Ankhrabi and Ma’osiri; reassured they, too, were doing well, they saw all three resting for a time.

After the noon meal at which Lord Hardorn served as guard of honor, the Farozi looked to both the Northern Kings. “I had planned not to include your people in the investigations and trials surrounding the other lords taken in the wake of the revolt; but in light of the ambush returning from the Valley of the Sun I find not to include you will be impossible. I have spoken with two of those who were involved here, one of whom was forthcoming, the other of whom was not. We learned more in the questioning of those who took part in the ambush, and it has assisted, along with the information taken from the messengers, to identify four more conspirators, one in Asual, two in Risenmouthe, and one among the Zendir tribe of the desert peoples. They, of course, had seconds in command and personal fighters they were to have set into play in the attempts to take control among their folk.

“Amon’gebrabi of Asual waited for word of how the revolt fell out here before ordering any of his own troops into action, sending those into the desert first to second Setra’amun and then others to carry word of the failure of the revolt here. He hopes on the basis of the fact he did not follow through on his part of the revolt, once he learned the cause was already lost, to avoid trial and condemnation. Amonrabi and Afraim had him arrested as soon as they returned to Thetos two days past.

“The two from Risenmouthe and six of their folk have been arrested; Benyamon of the Zendir had been slain by his brother, whom he’d hoped to supplant as leader of their tribe, by the time Afraim’s soldiers arrived. They sent me his head as proof, along with his signet ring--still on his hand.” He shuddered. “The desert people do not accept treachery well.”

He sipped from his glass and set it down. “Banyamon’s brother did send me, well trussed like a goose intended for the table, Sa’Gebankhrabi, one who lived in his brother’s tents, who was recognized by Afraim’s officer as one of those who served as agents for the red temple. He was also told of visits by a young Man said to have been raised in the Valley of the Sun to the tents of Benyamon, and of much time spent by this young Man in the company of Sa’Gebankhrabi.”

An’Éomer commented, “So we now know where Setra’amun came across ideas such as ‘holy fear of death in honor of Sauron’ and similar rubbish.” He took a drink as if washing a foul taste out of his mouth.

Faramir was solemnly shaking his head. “From what Sa’Amonri told me on our return here from the Western Palace, it appears Setra’amun showed as much promise in his youth as his brother, but became enamored by the idea that truth can be manipulated to ones own purposes.”

An’Sohrabi shrugged his shoulders noncommitally. “I barely knew the boy. Once I learned of the birth of the twins I sent funds and gifts to the high priest of Amon for their support, visited with them from time to time when I was there, as did Afraim as chieftain of their mother’s tribe. But their mother did not wish to return to the outer world and left them in the care of the folk who attend on orphans when she died when they were eight years, making it clear to all she wished them to remain in the Valley--and we followed her wishes. At first, of course, it was mostly for their safety; later because that had become their home and we did not wish to disrupt that.”

Sa’Harpelamun looked at his plate. “He would have preferred, truly, to have come to live with you, Uncle, and felt slighted that you never sought to bring us out of that place.”

“Did you wish to come out?”

“When he spoke of the glory of the world beyond the Valley, yes. The rest of the time--no. And I would have hated it as I grew older. It is all I can do not to bolt back there now, for it, at least, is familiar; and there I would hope to be able to avoid thinking of what will happen to my brother.” The pain in his eyes could be clearly seen.

The King of Gondor spoke gently to him, “Do you resent us for what we must do?”

The young priest looked up at him. “How can I resent it, Great Lord? Particularly in light of what he tried to do to you and my cousins, your land and ours?”

An’Elessar nodded sadly.

An’Sohrabi continued, “I have also ordered the arrest of Mayanerini, grandmother of the two children you found suffering from poisoning. She lies now in a prison cell here, I am told swearing one moment she had nothing to do with the illness of her grandchildren and the disappearance of their father, the next insisting her daughter is free of great burdens she never ought to have shouldered, that the father of her daughter ought never to have arranged such an unsatisfactory marriage for their child.”

“Has the fate of the children’s father been learned?”

“Not yet that I am aware of. I had hoped you would aid in questioning her, for I have seen few can avoid answering your questions, even when they would wish not to do so.”

Aragorn sighed. “Yes, as you ask it of me, although, as with Sa’Harpelamun here, it is a duty I would prefer to avoid if I could--which I cannot do now, considering what she tried to do to two innocent children and their mother.”

The Farozi commented, “I am glad the children eat this meal in Nefirnerini’s quarters. I would not have them hearing more of the red temple’s agents and of more threats to the realm.”

He was much surprised when An’Elessar shook his head. “I will hold my son in my arms during the tribunals, and have my daughter at my side this time. They need to see that there are times we must stop what happens and give due justice. I would not have them see an execution at this point; but I will have them see questioning done and justice administered properly, that when the time comes they must see to such that they will be ready. This is a process that Melian has already seen at intervals; I would have her see that here it is much as it is at home.”

Nefiramonrabi looked at him with shock. “But the one is but a babe, and your daughter little more!”

“She has seen justice meted out since she was her brother’s age, my Lady.”

“But can’t that wait until they are older and better able to understand?”

“When we defer, how to we then determine when one is old enough to understand? Is it by age, or demonstrated reasoning? I have seen children younger than Melian who already know that those who steal must be stopped, and those who hurt others for no good reason will go on to become even more violent if they are not halted in their violence when it begins; and I have known adults who delude themselves that all can be reasoned into charity. Sometimes the children must simply see justice given day by day in order to appreciate what true justice is.”


“I would have my children see examples of proper justice that they are able to tell later when what is meted out is unjust or ineffective. I would have them learn how to ask the proper questions that they not be detoured down lines of questioning that have nothing to do with the matter at hand. Your husband’s father is a just judge, skilled in questioning properly. My brother Éomer has proven to be the same, as has my beloved Steward Faramir. I am proud to have my children learn from their examples.”

Ankhrabi said quietly, “I would not have Ma’osiri further stressed at this point.” He looked up to meet the Northern lords’ eyes in turn. “However, Amon’osiri needs now to be assured those who sought to kill me and his brother, who brought us such great hurt, have indeed known justice.” He warmed to the approval in An’Elessar’s eyes.


Three hours after noon the Farozi of Harad convened court again in the pavement area, dressed and accoutered in accordance with his office. High seats were again placed by his side for the Kings of Gondor and Rohan, with more beyond for Sa’Amonri and Sea’Neryeni to sit as part of the panel, as Setra’amun and Sa’Gebankhrabi was seen as two of their particular responsibility. Again Ankhrabi sat before and between his father and An’Elessar, Amon’osiri sharing his chair. Beside the King of Gondor stood his daughter, and his infant son sat in his lap. Not as many commoners attended as had come to the previous trial, but enough that all were certain the word of what came to pass would quickly spread throughout the city and beyond.

The woman Mayanerini was brought first and made to kneel before the tribunal. The audience muttered, not knowing what to think of this commoner woman being brought before the Farozi himself.

When the King of Gondor was called upon to testify, he rose, set his son and Sceptre in the arms of his wife, who’d been standing in the shadows behind his seat, set his sword across the arms of his chair, and came before all. How he’d recognized that two children he was asked to advise on had been poisoned, how he’d recognized the poison used, how he’d questioned the mother, were all stated. Then he was allowed to sit again. The Queen came forward and told how she, too had recognized the source of the ills suffered by the two tiny children, the symptoms she’d recognized, the treatment given; and she also described the questioning done and what had been determined by it. Sa’Amonri testified to the same.

The guards who’d dealt with the woman kneeling in the dust before the Farozi’s throne spoke of her fury and her constant rants. The guards who’d searched her house laid down the signs of the particular poison used and told where and how it was found, and the specially lidded cups used for juice which had been found tainted with it.

The Farozi sat in the wake of the questioning for some moments looking down on the woman. “I saw your daughter and her children two nights past. Both girls recover, although their digestion is likely to suffer for the remainder of their lives as a result of what you have done to them. They are fortunate that Lord An’Elessar and Lady An’Arwen are knowledgeable about such things and knew how to help them to recover. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I did nothing but rid my daughter of what she ought not to have known from the start.”

“Did she ever say she did not wish to be married to him?”


“Who chose the husband for your daughter?”

“He who was my husband.”

“Where is he now?”

“Dead--two years past.”

“How did he die?”

She shrugged.

One who had been a neighbor to her stepped forward. She bowed low, her hands crossed over her breast. “I can tell you this, my Lord Farozi. He died of fever accompanied by a bloody flux from his bowels, and inability to hold his food.”

“You saw this?”

“Yes, my Lord. One day when she was away from their house I saw him lying in his yard, surrounded by the release of his bowels. It was very bad. I summoned a healer, but when she came home Mayanerini sent him away again.”

The name and location of the healer was obtained. But the King and Sa’Amonri shared glances, and Sa’Amonri said quietly, “There is no reason to disturb him. The symptoms she gives are those to which the children would have come shortly if the poisoning had continued.”

The Farozi nodded his understanding, his face hardening more. “Now tell me, woman, what has become of the husband of your daughter?”

“He’s gone. Left their home one night and never came back.”

“Was there any sign ahead of time that he would willingly do so?”

“Of course!”

“What signs?” But she was unable to tell such.

Neighbors of the woman had already been summoned, and could tell no reason why the father of the children had not returned to his family and his home. One said Mayanerini was very bitter and always seeking to turn her daughter’s love for her husband into fear and hatred, always exaggerating the reason for and effect of each word spoken in anger between them, denying the love wife felt for husband, the constant criticism of house and furnishings and work done and food provided. The woman who’d described the state of Mayanerini’s husband described the bitterness constantly expressed toward the son-in-law, the characterization of her daughter as worn before her time....

At last the Farozi again asked, “What became of your daughter’s husband?”

“I know not.”

So it appeared likely to continue until the Farozi looked to An’Elessar. “Will you ask her, my Lord?”

Sighing, again the King of Gondor and Arnor rose, gave over his son and Sceptre, set his sword across his chair, and came down to stand before the woman. He went down on one knee to look into her eyes. “Tell us now where he is,” he said, calmly.

“Far from here!” she spat.

“Is he alive?”

“How should I know? The slavers who took him----” She turned pale and closed her mouth, her eyes locked to those of the man kneeling in front of her.

“How did he come into the hands of slavers?”

It was some time before she answered, but answer she did. “I had him captured,” she whispered.

“You had him captured?” She nodded. “Who captured him for you?” She named them.

The story was quite sordid, but came out at the last. Once names of paid kidnappers were given and the name of the slaver obtained, Ankhrabi beckoned to one of the officers standing near them and began giving quiet orders. The Man appeared quite ready and fully willing to do as he was bade. If it was possible the father would be reunited with his wife and daughters as soon as could be managed. The Farozi happened to see the Lord Steward Faramir watching Ankhrabi with considerable approval, and was gladdened by it.

At last, the entire story told, the Farozi looked to the nobles nearby. “Does any question her guilt?” None did. He turned to the commoners and asked the same question. None voiced any disagreement.

“For what you have done, woman, you have earned death. Tonight the executioner will put you to death by strangling. One good Man have you cost the realm, and perhaps another, and you would have robbed your own daughter of her husband, and then her children by a slow, agonizingly painful death. We cannot and will not allow those such as you to continue to endanger the innocent. And may Annubi find reason to lead you before Osiri, and may Osiri be merciful unto you.”

She had to be physically dragged from the area.

The next were those who had taken part in the ambush. They were asked where they came from, who had commanded them to fight, who set up the ambush, what they were to receive for their services, whom they believed would have ended up in command. The answers here varied. Benyamon of the Zendir was named; Hevra’amun of Asual; Sa’Gebankhrabi, he who had once served the red temple; Sherfiramun of Thetos; Ma’osiri, grandson to the Farozi. That there were so many different answers to this question was remarked upon and seemed to puzzle at least two of them.

Then those who had named Benyamon, Hevra’amun, Sa’Gebankhrabi, and Sherfiramun were each asked by Prince Faramir how they felt the realm would have fared under the ones they’d thought would become next ruler. This was a question obviously none of them had considered, and all seemed to need to think on its answer.

“I don’t know that the realm would be better off,” commented one, but certainly we would.” He appeared to think that funny.

One who’d named the priest from the red temple even shivered. “The realm better off under him? Of course not! We’d be back to the dark days instead.”

Faramir looked at him with obvious curiosity in his deceptively mild eyes. “Would you wish to live in the dark days once more?”


“Then why would you fight for one who would seek to bring them back?”

The Man looked at him, his surprise at the question obvious. “I was ordered to go, and I went!”

“Even when it is against the best interests of yourself and those you care for?”

“But soldiers don’t go by what is their best interest--they go by orders!”

Faramir’s own face darkened, remembering his last orders from his father. He then looked at the soldier, what compassion had been visible in his face leaving it. “A simple soldier follows orders--but only, and I mean only, when they are indeed to the benefit of his people. I have followed orders that have led me to the Gates of Death, orders I disagreed with but which still were for the benefit of my people. But even had my Lord ordered me to sing and dance with joy--when it was against the benefit of Gondor, I would have refused to do so. Had you been successful and this priest had become ruler of Harad, would your family have been safe from the altars?”

“No one would have been safe. But orders are orders....”

But two of those who had been listening appeared to be thinking.

In the end, the Farozi examined them, shaking his head. Then he turned to the assembled nobles. “Would any of you wish these to serve under your command?”

The reluctance of certain of the nobles to shake their head was noted; that all did so eventually was also noted, and with more satisfaction. One who’d automatically shaken his head said, “Of what use is one who will simply follow orders blindly solely because they were given, for then if the order comes from a fool it will merely lead to deaths to no good purpose.” The identity of this one was noted by Farozi and his son both with the intention of improving the relationship with the Man.

Another commented, “As for the rest, as most would seem to prefer to better their own positions at the expense of all others, they would be useless in a serious battle--let the crisis come, and they’d leave their fellows in danger while they protect themselves.”

The Farozi looked to the commoners. “Would you wish any of these protecting you?” The universal response was negative.

The sentence was that they were all to die before the wall. “Others in your position I have offered the mercy merely of losing their hands or serving in the forefront of our forces. But, as none will have you serve under them....” Several bowed their heads, the reality of their position being made clear in their own minds at last.

The most recently arrested messengers were offered the choice between serving in separate troops or losing their hands. It was obvious that they would all choose the former.

The nobles were brought out and questioned next, and by the time it was ordered that they would go before the wall and the archers all were in agreement that this was needful for the good of the realm.

Then the two chairs were brought out and placed before all, and finally Setra’amun and Sa’Gebankhrabi, bound and gagged, were led into the place, were made to sit in them and were bound to them.

Sa’Gebankhrabi’s gag was removed first. His expression was malevolent. “Do you wish to bring down on yourselves the curse of Seti?” he asked. He seemed surprised when the Northern King sitting on the right of the Farozi threw back his head and laughed, a laughter the other Northerners seemed to echo. “Do you not fear the wrath of Seti?” he demanded.

The King of Gondor and Arnor laughed again, then finally quieted. “Fear the wrath of Seti? When is Seti ever other than angry? Long ago did he defy Iluvatar and seek to put himself over the other gods, to the point they cast him out of their number. Then, not being able to rule among the immortals he came here, seeking to do the same over those who live in the mortal lands--and in the end the others came to aid Men, Elves, and Dwarves and all of good will to cast him down and out of Arda completely, he who had been intended to be equal to the one you know as Amon. To fear the wrath of Seti is a waste of time and energy. What one should fear instead is to allow Seti to enter into Arda through our hearts.”

“He teaches us fear and wrath!”

“We need to be taught such things? The smallest of children knows already how to fear! Why do we work so hard to teach them not to fear only to teach them again to fear one who is not in a position to hurt us unless we open ourselves to him?

“As for wrath--again, even the smallest of children knows such things. Who has not seen the wrath of an infant when the world refuses to meet his desires? Seti is angry, and pummels ever futilely against the Gates of Night demanding entrance; but cannot do so unless we open to him.

“I will tell you this--I will not open myself to him, the Father of Lies. Even less will I open myself to his servant Sauron, who has proven less than his master, though he remained the longer. Too long I fought against him and his creatures and his policies to seek to invite him back, particularly as he cannot return, and all the deaths in the world grant him no more power.”

The erstwhile priest went whiter. “You cannot know that.”

The King shook his head. “I do know that. I was there when the Ring went into the fire--I saw his tower fall. I saw how Aüle, whom you call Geb, opened the earth and swallowed up the ruins, just as here he opened up the earth and swallowed up Sauron’s red temple. The Valar--the gods themselves--have denied him. He lost his shape when my ancestor Isildur cut the Ring from his finger; when the Ring was destroyed, he lost even his shadow.

“You cannot call him back, even if you would. There is not enough left of him to call back.”

The dead eyes of the former priest looked at him, seeking still to intimidate and dominate. “The world needs him, needs to know fear.”


“So we know that we are.”

“I do not need Sauron to know fear. I do not need fear to know I am.” He stood again, turned to set the sword again across the arms of the chair, but walked forward this time with his son cradled in his left arm, the Sceptre of Annúminas in his right hand, the Star of Elendil shining on his brow. “I am. I feel, but I feel more than fear. I know pleasure with my wife, fulfillment when I hold my children, honor when I am with those who deserve it, longing when I think of those who have been sundered from me by death or the Sea, anticipation when I think of what is to come.”

“You need to fear death.”

“I do not fear death. I do not long for it, but I do not fear it, for it is the final affirmation that before I came to it, I lived. And when I pass through it I will be able to be with those I now miss, and come into the Presence in their company.”

The dead eyes of the priest and the living eyes of the King looked at one another. Finally a flicker of uncertainty could be seen in the eyes of the one who sat in the chair, looking at the surety of the one who stood before him.

“But the Eastern Lord gives meaning to life.”

“Is pleasure not enough to give life meaning? Is seeing a goal and striving for it not enough? Is sharing delight not enough? Is receiving the love and respect and honor of those from whom such has meaning not enough? And what meaning is there to an existence in which one cannot know the Presence?” The grey eyes of the King looked deeply into those of the one before him. “Sauron and Seti--they have turned from that, the one single Truth which gives all others meaning. I will not seek the emptiness which they have embraced when I can but turn around and see that.”

Aragorn straightened and stepped back, tightening his grip on his son. “What they have lost, Morgoth and Sauron--they were created to know the greatest joy and bliss of all, but in seeking power instead they lost even that in the end. Power in and of itself is meaningless if you have no one with whom to share it.”

“And you share it?”

The King’s smile was surprisingly sweet. “Oh, yes, I share it. I am Elessar, the Elfstone, the channel for Healing. I am Envinyatar, the Renewer. But it is not myself I heal or renew. I am the King, but my purpose is not to direct but to teach, not solely to govern and protect but to help cut away only that which leads to decay. A king with no kingdom is no king, but an isolated and empty soul. Once you had fed all others to Sauron’s altars, whom then would you have left to sacrifice to him beyond yourself? And then what pleasure would there be for him to know, when there is nothing left to sacrifice to him when he has consumed all?”

“The Creator also demands sacrifices.”

“It is the difference between the Death Eaters on one side and the Creator on the other that what is sacrificed to the Creator is not consumed, but fulfilled, and often given back again, more than it was before.” He indicated the Prince of Harad and the son who shared his chair with him. “Ask them about the child’s brother.”

The priest licked his lips as he looked at Ankhrabi and Amon’osiri, whose eyes were stern and proud. Then he looked back to Aragorn. “What of those who were sacrificed to bring down the Eastern Lord?”

“We all went to the gates of Mordor knowing we would likely die, ready to sacrifice ourselves for the rest of the world. Many died before the Black Gate, and many more in the Battle of the Pelennor. But most lived. And of the three who went to the edge of the Fire, only one was not sent back--yet in the end he found, perhaps, what the Ring had stripped from him--meaning.”

“But one, I am told, was sent to know his death at the hands of the Elves and the gods.”

“Frodo?” The King’s expression was, for the moment, unreadable. “Who has told you such a lie? He was not sent to know his death at their hands, but to be made able once more to know life. I could not heal what was done to him by Sauron, and it remains one of my greatest griefs, that the one I love and honor more than all others I could not help find renewal.”

“How do you know he finds healing there?”

The King’s smile was like the clouds thrust aside by cleansing winds to allow the light of the Sun to shine upon a land long bereft of light. “Because I have felt his healing, his growing happiness, in my heart.”

The King returned to his seat, lifted sword and placed it again across his knees as he sat once more. “Now it is time for you to begin to answer questions. What would you gain by restoring the empty worship of Sauron?”

For a long time the Man didn’t answer. But none would withdraw their eyes from him, and at last he said, “Power.”

“Power to do what?”

“Power to grant life or death.”

The answer was allowed to stand.

Sa’Amonri’s eyes were very hard as he looked at this one. Finally he shook his head. “That is not the function of a priest. Anyone can take such power over others.”

Sea’Neryeni sighed. “We are to teach the people to honor the gods and respect their gifts to us, and you would have them fear the gods instead, with you the one holding the power of life and death? No, that is not acceptable. No longer will we accept you among us, for you do not wish to strengthen the children of the gods, but to dominate them instead. You would even set yourself above the gods themselves were you able.”

Sa’Amonri looked to the Farozi. “We claim the right to speak this ones doom, Lord An’Sohrabi.”

“As he is one of yours, it is granted to you.”

Sa’Amonri bowed his head briefly, then exchanged looks with the priestess of Neryet. Finally he turned to Gebankhrabi. “You were named in honor of the lord of the earth itself and the symbol of life fulfilled; yet you have chosen death and emptiness. So be it--you worship one who has fallen: let you follow him.

“The ancient temple of Seti stands still in the temple complex in West Thetos. Rarely are its doors opened, for he was cast down by his fellows time out of mind past. This day we will unseal the doors, and at sunset will close them behind you, leaving you in the darkness to worship him as you will. You would sacrifice to emptiness--there is but one you have the right to offer--yourself.” He turned to the guard who stood nearby. “Seal his mouth again--his words are a death knell to the hearts of those who seek the joy of the light offered by the rest of the gods.” With an expression of satisfaction the soldier replaced the gag.

Setra’amun’s gag was removed, and he sat, white and shaking, horror on his face as he looked at the priest who sat beside him. Water was offered him, but he could barely drink it--much of it spilled onto his chest. Finally he looked at the Farozi with a glare which ought to have been intimidating. “How can you do such to him?”

“The sentence passed on him,” the Farozi returned coldly, “was not imposed by me. He seeks to speak for the gods--the others who speak for the gods have done this, not I.”

“But he is a priest!”

An’Sahrobi sighed, then turned to the nobles who stood to watch the proceedings. “Do any of you wish to allow him to perform the worship he desires to perform using yourselves, your family members, or those under your protection?” There were a few disbelieving laughs as all shook their heads. He turned then to the commoners who stood on the other side of the paved area. “Is there a one of you who desires to go to the altar for Seti or he who was the Eastern Lord, or who would wish to offer your children through this one?” The answering growl was clear enough in meaning.

The Lord of Harad gave an elaborate shrug as he looked at the young Man who sat, bound to his chair, before him. “There you have it, Setra’amun--none wishes to restore that worship, particularly knowing that not even the Death Eater receives any benefit from it. He has a congregation of but one--himself. Let him do by himself what he would do. Do you still wish to teach the people what you called the ‘holy fear of death’?”

“Fear gives motivation!”

Ankhrabi gave a profound sigh. “Every one who has had to lift sword, bow, knife, or any other weapon to protect himself, his family, or his people has known how fear gives motivation--and how it can also paralyze. We do not need worship offered to a lie to teach motivation. The other day my son was motivated by the fear of losing me to put himself between your bow and my body, and so he was hurt to the death, but was sent back by the Lords of Death themselves to our comfort and our people’s future needs. I do not think he is fearful any more.”

Sa’Amonri looked at the young Man. “The question now is, what is it you desire to do?”

“I desire to ask questions.”

“In the recent past when the answers you have found were not those you desired to have, you have turned your back upon them or have sought to turn them inside out so as to get others more to your liking. Not only is this foolish, it is an insult to the gift of intellect given you at your birthing.”

“But the answers I found in the end were so simple....”

“You do not believe that there can be simple answers at least at times?”

“But they could be more....”

Sea’Neryeni looked with pity at the youth. “So, when the answers are too simple for your liking you would force them to be different? Why?”

“Anyone can find simple answers....”

“Anyone? Anyone can also make up fantastical answers as well. What do you seek with the answers you would prefer to find?”

“To be the one to know.”

For a time they simply stayed quiet, looking at him. Finally Sa’Amonri asked, “Which is it you would worship--Seti and his servant, or Amon?”

“I was named for Seti.”

“You were named for him as he was meant to be, the soothing darkness that eases the harshness of day; the peace of forgetfulness when the battles of life have left one confused and wounded; the balm of ease when the body and spirit are in agony of pain, grief, and stress. But you are named twice for the light of the Sun, once for Ra, the one who brings the Light to chase away the shadows of fear; once for Amon who gives life and warmth. Now comes the time for you to choose--will you worship Seti and his servant, or Amon?”

“I don’t wish to worship any!”

“Then what is it you desire?”

“To be the source....”

“The source of what?”


“Answers that are the fabrications of your mind alone, or answers that reveal truth?”

Setra’amun’s mouth worked. Finally Sa’Amonri shook his head. “You must answer this question: who gives the answers you prefer, Amon or Seti?”

At last the young Man whispered, “The Eastern Lord.”

The priest of Amon gave a ragged sigh. “You would find your answers from the shadow of a shadow? So be it, then. You shall enter the temple of Seti with Gebankhrabi.” He rose and looked sorrowfully at the Farozi. “I grieve, my beloved Lord, that I cannot call him back to sanity.”

An’Sohrabi’s eyes were thoughtful, his expression indicating he accepted the inevitability of the decision. “He has chosen--we cannot force him to accept life when he has chosen death instead.” He turned to the guards. “Take them to West Thetos, and assist those of the priest-kind who see to such things.” He looked to those who had attended the audience. “So the judgments have been made. Does any question any of them?” At the general indication by all that all was as it should be, he rose. “So let it stand, then.”

Amonrabi stepped forward and rapped his staff of office three times upon the pavement. “This court is dismissed; the Farozi and others have ruled.”


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