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47
The King's Audience

The King’s Audience

The following morning the Lord King Elessar, this time wearing the famed Winged Crown, held a public audience to which bards and minstrels, writers, poets, deliverers of news, historians, artists, and others who presented information to the realm were invited. Their guests from Harad were introduced and the story of the visit told, the attempted coup, the way in which it had been averted by the concerted efforts of the Farozi An’Sohrabi, Lord Afraim, Lord Rustovrid, and the actions of the guests from Gondor and Arnor. The tale of the recognition of the lesser ring worn by Merdirion of Umbar was told also, and the trial and justice given to all.

Then the second assault on the party of the Farozi as it returned to Thetos from the Valley of the Sun was described, and how those who’d taken part in the actions against the rule of Harad had been finally judged.

Ankhrabi noted that the King did not emphasize his own role in overcoming the revolt, and in all things gave proper honor to the actions of Lords Rustovrid, Afraim, and An’Sohrabi himself.

One of the minor lords who attended the audience asked, “You recognized the ring worn by this Merdirion as one of the works of Sauron?”

“Yes, Lord Anoramir.”

“How did you recognize it?”

“Many will remember the campaign against the wainriders of Mundolië when they sought to invade Rhun some six years past.” At the nods of agreement, the King continued, “One of the Rhunim of the Bedui clan, Abdurin, brother to the clan chieftain, wore such a ring, one given to him by the servants of Sauron. Merdirion of Umbar received his ring from the Nazgul themselves, apparently some time after my visit there when I was yet young in the reckoning of my own folk.

“That Sauron was seeking to make more ring slaves by gifting Men apt to his hand with examples of rings he himself had crafted became known to Lord Elrond of Imladris during the days of my father Arathorn as Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain. One bearing such a ring was captured by the sons of Elrond, and the ring itself was studied at some length in order to understand how it must be treated to bring it to its destruction. When I came to manhood I was taught how to recognize such things as well as the manner of recognizing and dealing with Morgul knives and the wounds they might inflict. Fortunately the manner in which the rings might be destroyed is far simpler than dealing with Morgul wounds. The one worn by Merdirion is the fourth such example I have seen and dealt with, and the second found worn by one within Harad.”

“You saw another within Harad?” asked one of the tellers of news.

“Yes, when I visited there as a young Man, many years since. One was worn then by an agent of Sauron known as Maruset, a lord of Harad who had done much to see the worship of Sauron expanded throughout the nation there. He was working with an agent of Umbar who had refused to wear such a thing, but who was insistent the younger son of he who was Farozi then should die to the intimidation of his father and brother.”

“How many of these rings have you dealt with it?”

“This last one worn by Merdirion was the fourth I’ve dealt with.”

“So he wished to kill the brother to the current Farozi?”

“No--the one I saved then is the Farozi now. Merdirion of Umbar saw to the poisoning of An’Ma’osiri, An’Sohrabi’s older brother, while he was Farozi.”

The discussion of the attempted revolt and the attack in the desert went on for some time. At last the King summoned Benai to come forward and introduced him to those present. All listened raptly as his story was once more told, and it was Ankhrabi of Harad who confirmed that the people of Camaloa were known to carry swords such as that worn by Lord Benai, that their ancestors were said to have come from the sea on a ship which foundered on the rocks, that their language had never been understood by outsiders until now. Several of those from the Northern Dúnedain spoke to him in Adunaic, and it was soon plain that this was indeed the language which was native to him. How he came to serve as guard of honor to the Queen of Gondor and Arnor, and his acceptance of their Lord Aragorn Elessar as Lord and King for their folk as well as those of the two lands of the Northern Dúnedain was also discussed at length. The tale of the sword taken from the pool in the courtyard to the temple of Neryet caught the imaginations of all, and more than one of those present could be seen to be thinking deeply, a few rereading the notes they had taken of the discussions to this point.

By the time the King had reached the tale of the gift of the young camels by Kafra Antipatha of the Batsi clan all were once more focused on the tale. “You brought them with you?” asked one of the tellers of news.

“Yes, we did. As we arrived the three young camels were entrusted temporarily to the care of one of the farmers upon the Pelennor who raises goats. Today the youth Asa has gone down earlier in the day to check on their health and condition and to care for them as was intended. He will check on them again tomorrow. Already arrangements are being made to have them taken to the Crown lands southwest of Osgiliath where other animals given to our care are housed. We hope to set up a farm for game there that children especially may see them and become familiar with them, honoring more of the creatures with which we share the mortal lands.”

One of the more sober individuals involved in the meeting asked, “How involved was Umbar in this attempted revolt?”

“From what we can tell, Umbar itself was not involved at all, although one originally from Umbar sought to lead it. However, Merdirion had not returned to Umbar himself, according to all reports, for over forty years. He sought not only to kill myself, Prince Faramir, Lord Hildigor, and King Éomer of Rohan as well as the Lord Prince Ankhrabi and the Farozi himself, but to take control of our heirs, and through them Gondor, Ithilien, Arnor, Rohan, and Harad, making himself regent for all these lands and holding our children isolated so as to better exert his control over all. His further intention was, once he had the navies of Gondor and Harad under his control, to barricade the harbors of Umbar, bring armies from all sides to assault it, and capture and kill Lord Marcipor, making himself nominal ruler only of Umbar while in reality controlling all.

“He wrote out his plan for what he would do, and kept it in the library of the house in which he dwelt. Lord Hardorn and I both read it, as has the Lord Prince Ankhrabi and his father and many of the Lords who did not take part in the revolt. The description of what he intended to do to Lord Marcipor of Umbar was--was quite detailed, and extraordinarily vicious.”

One of the foreign dignitaries whom Ankhrabi had met the previous evening in the antechamber to the Feast Hall of Merethrond, a Lord Wasnior of Umbar, if he remembered correctly, had blanched, and looked almost ready to collapse. The King looked on him. “And, my Lord Wasnior, your lord would also be most interested to know that Merdirion was an uncle to Landrion. Not, of course, that he had a great deal of pride in the relationship, seeing how Landrion’s life ended.”

“Is he still living?” asked the Umbari envoy.

“Still living? No, he is not.”

“Was he executed by order of the Farozi?”

Exactly why the question from the Man annoyed Ankhrabi he couldn’t express; he found the hair on the nape of his neck rising under his headcloth. He raised his chin and looked down his nose at the envoy and said in careful Westron, “It was the decision of all who attended the trial that this one must be executed--that of the lords of the realm, of the common people who watched the proceedings, those of the army who attended, the priests, and the officials of Gondor, Arnor, and Rohan as well. When he refused to remove the ring voluntarily, the Lord King An’Elessar asked for the right to execute him, which was granted to him.”

Wasnior looked disbelieving at the Haradri, then turned to look up at the King. “You had one of your Men kill him?”

The King’s voice was mild. “As the Lord Prince Ankhrabi told you, my Lord Wasnior, I asked for the right to execute him, and I did so.”

Ankhrabi hadn’t thought the Umbari could become more pale. “You executed him yourself?”

“Only I, of all those there, could have dealt with what he wore. I would not have any others do this for me and expose them to its effects.”

“You put your own hands on it?”

“I could not touch the thing myself. Another removed it from his hand once he was dead and isolated it for me, and I took it and destroyed it immediately.”

“But how----?”

The King simply shook his head.

“He directed the assault in the desert as well?”

“No--that was the work of a young, disaffected youth guided by one of those who’d served in the temple Sauron had raised to himself in Thetos.”

“Where are they now?”

“They, too, are now dead. The priest sought to assault the youth and was killed as the youth sought to protect himself. The youth died yesterday.”

“And how do you know this?”

The King looked on him steadily. “Do you question my gift of foresight?”

Wasnior dropped his eyes, shook his head, asked no more. He looked rather nauseous.

At last it appeared that those who’d attended the audience were satisfied they’d heard the story, and some seemed eager to leave the Citadel to begin fabricating how they would tell what they’d just learned abroad through the city and the nation. When requests for further questions went unchallenged, Prince Faramir rose and asked, “Is there any other business to be brought before the King this day?”

Several who stood at the back of the crowd were now led forward by a Guard officer and one of the Heralds for the Citadel. The Herald stepped forward and bowed deeply. “Our beloved Lord King, a ship arrived at the Harlond this morning, one which had managed to overtake a slaver’s ship headed South and East from Harad and Umbar. They were apparently taking a number of individuals intended to be sold as slaves in the Far East. This ship had been seen off the coast of Anfalas two weeks past when a number of young Men and women disappeared from the beach from which they’d been swimming earlier in the day. We found four of the six missing ones aboard this ship when we boarded it, along with thirty-eight others, some from Harad, some from Far Harad, some from Umbar and many from further South and West of Far Harad. We have brought these into the city in carriages, and several are now in the Houses of Healing, while five young ones have been left in the House of the Children in the First Circle in the Street of Lampwrights.

“We would wish to know your pleasure regarding the slavers?”

“What land are they from?”

“The sailors appear to be from many lands, none of them from Gondor or Arnor or Rhun. The captain and those who appear to run the slaving business are from Harad and Umbar.”

The King looked at those who had been led forward. Four were in chains, one definitely the ship’s captain, one a burley individual from Harad who appeared to have been the one who saw to those taken as slaves behaved and none stopped the others, and the other two definitely the two businessmen of the group, one Haradri and one from Umbar. Wasnior, who earlier had been so pale, now was red with indignation.

The King looked at Wasnior. “Are any of these known to you, my Lord?”

The Umbari nodded sourly. “All too well, Lord Elessar. Empenor there is the younger son of one of the Black Númenorean trading families, and has been repeatedly fined for carrying on slaving traffic. His partners have been suspected in several disappearances but always seem to disappear themselves from Umbar before anything is proven; and the ship Grey Gull and its captain Castimir are forbidden to enter the main harbor for refusing to pay docking fees and taxes.”

“I see,” the King said. He sighed. He questioned the captain of the Gondorian ship that had overtaken the Grey Gull, then the four prisoners briefly. Four of those who’d been found on the ship had been from Gondor; the majority were from Harad, and half appeared to have been born to slavery while the remaining seven appeared to have been born free and were kidnapped into slavery. They’d not as yet been able to communicate with those from Far Harad and beyond Far Harad.

They indicated a young black Man ought to stand forward, and the King felt as if he were once again going through the same experience, as he looked at the stance which was already familiar in Benai. In Adunaic he asked, “Are you from Camaloa?”

The young Man’s face, which had shown equal parts of hope and simple disillusionment, suddenly lit up. “You know the language of the Sea Peoples?” he asked in the same tongue.

Benai, who’d been quietly discussing something with Lord Hildigor, straightened, and stepped forward from beside the dais to the throne, coming past the Steward’s chair. “Nicoli! Nicoli! You are safe?”

The raggedly dressed slave shuffled forward, was caught in Benai’s arms. Laughter and tears of relief were there in his eyes, and Benai was holding him as if he were afraid the younger Man would suddenly disappear.

Five from Camaloa and the abortive wedding party had ended on this ship, two children, two Men, and one young woman. Only Nicoli had been well enough to bring to the Citadel. He was able to translate for one of the other black slaves who came from a tribe that had traded regularly with those of Camaloa who told a similar story to that which Benai had told about his own capture and enslavement.

One of the Haradri Men was invited to step forward next. At a sign from An’Elessar Ankhrabi stepped forward to question him. “Who are you and where are you from?” the Haradri Prince asked.

“I am Ma’amun, Lord Prince--Ma’amun of Thetos.”

“Were you born a slave?”

“No, I was not. I went one night to meet a friend and to share a jar of beer, but before he arrived at the tavern others sat down beside me, bought me beer. I drank it, and we spoke until I realized the beer had been drugged. I sought to fight them, but they bound me and placed me in a large straw basket. I woke on a slaver’s ship upon the Sea. I was taken to a small seacoast town, and sold to these when they came ten days past.”

“Do you know why they chose to take you as a slave?”

The Man shrugged. “I know not, not for certain. However, it appears the mother of my wife may have paid to have me taken from Thetos. She ever hated me.”

Prince, King, and Steward all shared looks. Prince Faramir, who’d been translating this for those attending the audience, smiled up the steps behind him at his King. “Do you think, my Lord, that the lost has been found?”

“It is possible,” the Lord Elessar answered him. He looked down at the Man. “Do you have any children?” he asked in Haradri.

“Yes, great Lord--two daughters.”

“How old are they?”

“One is three, almost four years of age; the other was eight months when I was taken, almost a month past.”

“And the name of your wife’s mother?”

“Mayanerini.”

“Eru be praised,” breathed Faramir.

The rest were briefly questioned, and the King at last indicated he’d heard enough. He looked down, first at Wasnior and then at Ankhrabi. “It appears we all hold an interest in the fate of those four and their crew. Which of you desires precedence here? Lord Wasnior, it appears you might well have the greatest claim.”

The Umbari sighed and shook his head. “Castimir and Empenor have many friends and influential family members whom I fear would only serve to see them quietly set free once more, my Lord Elessar. No, if you wish these to stop their predations, either you or Harad must deal with them.”

The King sighed as he looked down at the four prisoners, then looked his question at Ankhrabi. The Haradri, however, also was shaking his head. “Maseti and Morovrid here are known slavers, but cannot be shown to have broken our laws, apparently, as they appear to have purchased those of our land they carried abroad. I fear it is your justice they must face.”

The King Elessar nodded his head. “I must then remand them to the prison here while a full investigation is made. As this was the slave ship seen off the coast where the six of our young people disappeared and four were definitely found aboard it, and as five from Camaloa which we have declared under our protection were also aboard it, the least they can expect is seven years labor in Arnor in rebuilding the roads. As for their crew, we will need to learn more of their actions so as to know what level of guilt each holds. A proper trial will be held in two weeks’ time that all may fully know what they have done and how culpable each is seen as being. We also need to find out what happened to the other two taken from our shore.”

The Guardsmen who’d accompanied them from the wharves were dismissed with thanks, as were those of the ship which had taken the Grey Gull. Guards of the Citadel now took the four who’d been brought into the throne room while others were sent out to take custody of the rest of the crew.

There was one last bit of business as Master Evram of the Lord’s Corps of Engineers asked to present Hurin son of Hergion of Lebennin as their newest members to the Corps. The King inclined his head graciously to indicate his pleasure at this. “It is always an honor to meet the newest ones admitted to the various guilds and corps, Master Hurin. Word of your courtesy, honor, and dedication to your work has been conveyed to us repeatedly over the past four years.” He rose and descended the stairs, fastening the sheath for Anduril to his belt. He accepted the gilded folding rule that indicated membership in the Corps from Master Evram, then held it out to the Man. “I rejoice to mark your entrance into the Corps of Engineers, and commend your hard work.” He turned the Man about, and announced, “Hurin son of Hergion of Lebennin, Engineer for the realm.”

All applauded. And as at last those gathered for the audience began to file from the Citadel, Ankhrabi saw the satisfaction on the face of Ruvemir of Lebennin, Master Sculptor, as he watched the new engineer led away, a dazed expression on his face.

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