He who would be the chief among you, let him be as the servant of all.
The new member of the Corps of Engineers was led to a private audience chamber where he and his sponsors met briefly with Lord Gimli, the King and Queen, the Lord Steward, and the royal guests of the Citadel. Hurin son of Hergion was overwhelmed by the attention, particularly when they were joined by Ruvemir son of Mardil, Master Sculptor, and Lord Húrin of the Keys. The meeting did not last long, but was certainly long enough to impress the Man with the courtesy shown him by the most powerful lords of Gondor, Arnor, Rohan, and Harad. By the time he and Master Evram were heading back to their lodgings in the Fifth Circle he was lightheaded with delight.
Meanwhile those freed from the slave ship who’d been brought to the Citadel were taken to a second private audience chamber where cups of apple juice and white rolls were brought them--until their physical conditions were better evaluated it would be best to give them several meals of light fare, both King and Queen knew.
The Lady Arwen collected clothing to be distributed to those who were in need, and she’d given orders to her maids of honor to have much of her store of such things brought here. On the ship from Gondor many had been given robes to wear over their rags, particularly the women and children, although mostly they were simply relieved that it was now high summer where they wouldn’t be likely to die of exposure before they were brought to the capitol. Now the Queen was doing her best to clothe the sixteen of the forty-two who’d been brought before her so far. She knew already the home for children would be able to meet the needs of those children who’d been left there; and for those who were in the Houses of Healing there was time to take thought as to how they would be outfitted, as the Houses kept a supply of night robes to be worn by those remaining in their care.
She’d also given orders that the bathing tubs in hers and the King’s private chambers be filled, and now she looked over those before her and chose out the two whom she felt would best respond to such care and had them step before her. The Man was one of those who’d been taken beyond Far Harad; the woman was Haradri and had been born a slave. She looked at her husband and discussed the matter quietly in Quenya, and he swiftly nodded his agreement. He called Benai to him to translate to the Man while the Queen knelt before the woman to translate for her. “We have prepared baths for you for your cleansing and refreshment. In a moment my lady wife and I will lead you to these baths, after which you will be suitably dressed according to the ways of our people that you not be treated badly. Do you understand?”
The Haradri woman asked, “Then will we be taken to the markets to be sold again as slaves?”
The King sighed. He addressed her directly in Haradri. “Slavery is not allowed in our nation. You are now a freed woman, and even should you choose to return to your own land you may not be sold anew into slavery. If you should like to learn a trade to support yourself you will be given that opportunity; or if you should wish to be allowed to serve others as you have been accustomed, we can help you find such employment--however, you will be given payment for your services and will be expected to pay for lodging, clothing, and some of your own meals out of your earnings.”
She did not appear to fully understand, but when the Queen led her from the room she went with her trustingly enough. As the King himself prepared to lead out the Man, assisted by Benai to translate, he turned to those who remained. In Westron, Adunaic, and Haradri he explained, “My wife and I are healers, and we will aid you to bathe and cleanse your hair, will check you for lice and fleas, and will treat any wounds which you bear while we check your physical conditions. We will see you properly clothed as befits guests of the city, and see you have lodging while we learn how you came into the keeping of those who ran the slave ship. We will then do our best to return you to your families if you were kidnapped into slavery, or help you find suitable training and employment if you were born to slavery or if you wish to remain in Minas Anor. Do you understand?” At the nods from all as Nicoli translated to those he could, he smiled in relief. “In a few moments more juice and food will be brought you. It is best you not eat heavily--that you have many small amounts of food at a time at the first until your stomachs can bear more. We will now leave you to the care of these. Prince Faramir or Prince Imrahil and their aides will probably take you, one at a time, to a separate room to question you regarding how you came into the keeping of these, as much as you remember, as we build the case against them.” Again he said this in Westron, Adunaic, and Haradri, and once he was certain they understood he smiled, gave them a brief bow, and led the Man from beyond Far Harad to his own bathing chamber.
The Haradri woman was amazed by the stone walls of this house, as accustomed as she was to painted white plaster in her own land. The statues and figured tapestries confused her, the attitude toward the woman who led her by the guards and others they passed in the hallways adding to her confusion. Then she was being led to a rich doorway, and guards in black and silver were opening it to allow them entry, and they were brought to a bedroom and through it to a bathing chamber to a bathing tub which was being filled from pipes. A woman in soft blue stood by as one in grey with a symbol of a white tree embroidered on the breast of her gown stopped the flow of the water and rose, bowing to the one who’d led her here. The woman who’d led her spoke to the woman in grey, and she heard a name from her own people--Hasturnerini. The one in grey indicated her understanding and hurried out.
The woman who’d led her seemed to be one of great authority, a great lady; yet she treated her with gentle courtesy. She was now parting her hair, appearing concerned at what she found; then was looking into her eyes, her ears, then asking her to open her mouth. The young woman in blue helped the great lady to remove her outer robe, then her dress. Under the dress she wore still a shift of fine white linen and apparently other undergarments as well. The one in blue took the outer dress and robe and the circlet which the great lady had worn into the outer room. When the one in blue came back, she was accompanied by a girl of about fourteen who wore a simple yet elegant gown of soft yellow, a girl who yet was not of this land, but was Haradri.
“Hasturnerini, this woman is of your own people, and was born a slave. She is overwhelmed by what she is experiencing, and it will be easier for her if you will assist me now. She needs to be carefully bathed and her hair cleansed with herbs to kill the lice which now live on her scalp. We will then see her dressed more in keeping with our clothing, although I will attempt to make certain it does not embarrass her sensibilities. Can you take off your dress, and together we will assist her to bathe?”
For the first time she was taking in that the great lady was indeed speaking Haradri and had done so throughout when addressing her. The girl, again with the assistance of the one in blue, removed her dress and beneath it wore a white linen shift that looked comfortable and soft. Together they helped her remove the robe given to her on the ship from Gondor, and the one in soft blue accepted it upon a towel, saw it quickly wrapped in the toweling and bore it away to the laundry immediately. Then she was being coaxed into the bathing tub, and eased into a sitting position.
Never had she been bathed before--not since she could remember. Now she was being gently soaped and rinsed, and her hair was carefully and thoroughly cleansed. The one in grey came with certain leaves, and the great lady accepted them and began to rub them into her hair. The water was drained away, then the tub refilled, this time with soothing oils added. At last they rinsed her hair again, and the itching of her scalp was no longer notable.
She was brought out of the tub at the last and wrapped in linen towels, then made to sit upon a stool. The one in blue now began to run a fine comb through her hair, apparently combing out the small creatures which had lived there, constantly rubbing the comb clean again upon a white towel. The great lady had left the bathing chamber now, and it was the girl who questioned her. “What is your name?”
“Were you born a slave?”
“Where did you live mostly?”
“I served in a home in Risenmouthe until my mistress died three years past. I was sold by my mistress’s son, and taken to Asual. I went from house to house, stayed at last in the house of a merchant for a time, until two months past when he lost much of his wealth when a sale he’d made apparently failed. Then he sold me to a slaver in the marketplace. He took me again to Risenmouthe, and I was sold there to another who took me to Peresual on the North Coast. There I was sold again to those who came on the slave ship.”
At last the combing was over, and the great lady returned and looked down on her, her eyes, which seemed filled with stars, calm and gentle. The girl told her what she’d learned, and she nodded her understanding. “I’ve arranged with Mistress Loren to have several of the smaller guest houses prepared for these. Those from Harad will remain in one, those from Far Harad another, those from Umbar a third--until suitable employment or training can be given them or until they can be returned to their own lands, if that is their desire.”
The woman in grey came in with a small tray of food--a broth and soft rolls and again juice, and Bhatnerini ate gladly. A shift such as those here apparently wore under their clothing was given her along with other undergarments, then a simple dress of proper white with a belt scarf of deep blue. Then she was given sandals to wear.
She was then brought to stand before a mirror, and she looked on herself with wonder, for the woman she saw there looked not like the one she’d seen in her furtive peeks into mirrors in the homes she’d known before. She saw what appeared to be a fine lady, one who’d perhaps been ill but was recovering. She looked amazed at the great lady, who smiled at her, saying, “You have the makings of a beautiful woman, you understand.” She was now led back through the place back to the room from which she’d been taken earlier, and those who remained looked on her with surprise--surprise and approval. Then she watched as another woman was led away to be treated similarly, while servants took more to their own bathing rooms to help in the cleansing, promising to send for King or Queen if they found wounds, lice, or signs of illness or broken bones.
The King entered the dining room late, accompanied by Asa and Melian, obviously tired and very hungry. Ankhrabi looked up him with concern. Sa’Harpelamun had been pressed into service aiding the King, and had not yet come to the dining room himself. Once the King had performed the Standing Silence he sat and accepted the meal served him with thanks to the one bringing it.
“Are all cared for?” the Prince asked.
“There are four more,” the King said with a short shake of his head. “I will need to go again to the Houses of Healing after the meal. If any carries a disease as a result of being kept in filth aboard the slave ship, tainted food, or other reasons, they will need to be isolated that they not spread contagion through the city and beyond. Most had lice in their hair, which is not a good sign--many serious diseases seem to appear along with lice.”
“The priest is still busy working with the ones from the slave ship?”
“Yes, and I bless him for it. I could not have done as much as I have had I not had his help. Hasturnerini is aiding Arwen, along with Lady Margileth, who serves as her chief maid of honor at this time. I believe when you see them tomorrow you will be amazed at the change in their appearances. Mistress Loren and Lasgon have been taking them down to the guest houses in the Sixth Circle which have been opened to them as they are bathed and dressed in proper clothing. A page and a maid are being assigned to each of the three houses opened to them, and I will most likely have one of the more steady guards placed in the house of those from Umbar.”
“When will you go to the Houses of Healing?”
“When I have finished with my meal. Would you like to accompany Arwen and me, and see some of the city? Of course, this is not the usual tour given to guests....”
Ankhrabi found himself automatically responding to the King’s smile. “What of the children?”
“Melian, Eldarion, Hasturnerini, and Asa will be going with Mistress Avrieth to the house of Ruvemir and Elise, who have proven very good with children. Do you think yours would like to join them? I’m certain Ruvemir will be glad to begin giving them lessons in sculpting--he’s set many who thought they had no gift in the art on the path of artistry, including myself.”
Nefirnerini had gone down to the Haradri embassy with her aunt, but the boys seemed glad to have the chance to spend time with the sculptor. Guarded by Lord Gilfileg they set off after they’d finished their luncheon.
Ankhrabi and Nefiramonrani, accompanied by Sa’Harpelamun, went with the King and Queen to the Houses of Healing about an hour later where they examined all of the former slaves there alongside the Healers. All had been carefully bathed and their hair treated for lice. Two had infestations of parasites of the guts and would be treated for those in a few days when they were stronger. Six were seriously ill, but were already beginning to respond well to the treatment given them. Four had been cruelly whipped and their backs were being carefully tended. King and Queen spoke with each, suggested other treatment for two, laid their hands on each, and saw further easing come to all who had been freed from the ship.
They then went down to the first level to the House of Children, and after seeing to those who’d been brought there from the ship and having one removed to the Houses of Healing to be treated for parasites, they visited for a time with the other children, laughing at their stories and speaking of the lighter aspects of the visit to Harad.
As they walked back up through the city, Nefiramonrani shook her head. “That they could have hurt that one small boy so--that was so needless!”
The King’s face was solemn. “It is all needless. To think one superior to another because the other had the misfortune to be enslaved is always foolish. I’ve seen some who were born slaves who were yet wiser than their supposedly free masters. And you have seen in your father’s slave how simply the knowledge his family had been free only two generations past embittered him, although your father had come to love and care for him and gave him great honor and even the ability to buy his own freedom.”
Ankhrabi thought deeply on this as they went up through the city.
By the time they reached the Sixth Circle all were tired and it was growing dark. The King led the way down a quiet lane to the furthest house on the right and knocked. He smiled as he waited. “This is the house in which Gandalf and Pippin were housed by Lord Denethor, Prince Faramir’s father. After the coronation all of the Hobbits stayed here in rooms on the lower floor, while Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli had rooms upstairs. I would slip down here from time to time to see them and to escape the trapped feeling I often felt when I was forced to be the King at all hours of the day and night, and then I never knocked at the door, simply slipped in and enjoyed being Aragorn and Strider once more. Ruvemir is very pleased to live here now, when he is in the city.”
At that moment the door opened, and behind it stood the apprentice Owain, who smiled and turned to tell that the King and Prince and Princess had come, bowing as he bade them enter the room.
Melian was sitting on Mistress Elise’s lap with another, even smaller girl beside her as a story was being read to them; the twins were on the balcony with Asa and the sculptor’s son Samwise where they each sat with a small block of stone and a couple of tools, learning to shape the soapstone they held; Hasturnerini was trying to teach Lord Gilfileg how to play Hounds and Jackals, using the lovely set that had been in her family and that the Queen had recovered for her in the marketplace of Thetos. A dark-haired young Man sat backwards on a chair watching them, his arms folded on the back of the chair and his chin on his crossed wrists. He straightened as they entered, then swiftly stood up and bowed deeply.
“My Lord Elessar, my Lady Arwen,” he said, smiling widely.
“Armanthol--it is good to see you again. Come--let me examine you. Ah, you’ve grown even taller, I think.”
“I suspect it’s the boots, my Lord.”
“You didn’t come to the feast?”
“With Wasnior there? He’d have likely had me poisoned as quickly as possible. My father’s folly has not made me popular among the Lords of Umbar.”
“So, do you like your new apprenticeship?”
“I’m an apprentice no more, my Lord King.” The young Man went out into the hallway and brought into the room a cloak of grey-green and pulled it about his shoulders, fastening it with a star brooch. He stood at attention, then bowed low. “The Ranger Armanthol at your service, my Lord King, my Lady Queen.”
Gilfileg was smiling broadly. “He is a fair one with chisel and with sword both now, Aragorn. And there are two less trolls now than there were before in the Ettenmoors because of his coolness.”
Pippin came out of the kitchen. “He’s put me to shame, Aragorn,” he said, wiping his hands on the towel he wore over his uniform tabard as an apron. “We’re about to put dinner on the table. Will you join us?”
Shortly all sat in the dining room and were sharing in the meal that between them Pippin, Isumbard, and the housekeeper had prepared. Fresh greens, new bread, a root vegetable those from Harad had never seen before that was soft and crumbly within, filled with cheese and crumbled bacon and vegetables, a steak of beef, and over it another unknown vegetable which had been cooked apparently with garlic and butter. “What is this?” asked the Lady Nefiramonrani.
“Mushrooms sautéed in butter,” Isumbard said with satisfaction.
Pippin smiled. “They still don’t realize that they are edible, Aragorn. So many must have gone to waste while we were in Harad.”
All laughed, and all ate heartily. Afterward the King went out onto the balcony to smoke his pipe, speaking quietly with Lord Gilfileg and Armanthol and Pippin while the twins showed their projects to their parents and Sa’Harpelamun.
It was plain to Ankhrabi why the King still slipped away here from time to time, here where he was no longer merely the King but instead accepted as a Man and a friend. After a time Ankhrabi rose, leaving his wife examining the embroidery Mistress Elise had brought out to show to the Queen and Hasturnerini and went out to join the others, the priest following after.
The discussion was of the protection of the Northern Kingdom. “There have been no further incursions from Angmar, at least, my Lord Cousin. Trade with them for their barley malt has increased, for it produces a particularly fine beer; and many of their vegetables and their beef are much sought after. They particularly prize Shire woolens and ceramics, the metalwork of the Dwarves in the Northern Misty Mountains, and wooden ware from our own peoples. Their leather goods are proving highly prized among our own people--even when they start with hides they purchase from us they seem able to turn them into fantastic items. And since the orc troops of the Northern reaches of the Misty Mountains now as indiscriminately attack their own folk as ours, they will send their fighters out with ours against them. As was true after the Battle of the Five Armies the numbers of orcs have again diminished. The mountain giants are now of greater danger in the pass from Rivendell than the goblins.”
Armanthol asked, “Are there still found orcs here in the mountains that circle what was Mordor?”
The King nodded. “Three assaults were led by them into Rhun and Ithilien in the last two years. We rarely see them anywhere near Osgiliath, but some have ventured out of the Morgul Vale Southward. Umbar has begun to cooperate more with sending word of assaults on their lands, and they have helped strike at a settlement of the warrior trolls Sauron had bred as well.”
Armanthol leaned thoughtfully on the railing, looking across the Pelennor. “So, my own people are beginning to cooperate with Gondor now, even if in only a limited fashion? That is good.” He straightened, stretching. “I think of what I was like when you and Lord Hardorn brought me away from there after my father’s capture and death, and I can barely believe how short-sighted I was at the time. I know I didn’t thank you then, but I do now.”
“Then you are happy with your new life?”
“Yes, very much so. Although I’ve contemplated returning to Umbar, hopefully to assist in helping to transform it as has happened in Angmar.”
“Then you are indeed of Umbar originally?” Ankhrabi asked.
The young Man’s face was serious. “Oh, yes, I am. My ancestors were among some of the blackest of the Black Númenoreans, those who left Númenor before its foundering and who opposed the coming of Elendil and his people to Middle Earth for the most part, although a few are descended from those who sided with Castimir, one of the descendents of the Southern Line of Kings who revolted against the rightful King of Gondor and who fled to join those in Umbar. They tended to side with Sauron, even when doing so cost them what little remained of their honor.”
“What foolishness did your father do?”
Armanthol sighed. “He sought to unseat Lord Elessar as King of Gondor, and sought to hire assassins to see to his death. He’d also tried to help one of Rhun help foment rebellion in his land by encouraging the Wainriders of Mundolië to invade that land, planning to isolate the Shkatha in the midst of the battle so he could be assassinated and all would think it but a casualty of war.”
Ankhrabi looked at Aragorn with surprise. “He sought to see you killed, An’Elessar?”
“Oh, yes--until he was introduced to two would-be assassins from the Northern lands--Strider and Bowman.”
Ankhrabi’s face split in a wide grin. “He sought to hire you as Strider to assassinate yourself as the King An’Elessar? That must have been highly amusing!”
“Hardorn and I did find it ironic. There were others he wished killed first, however, and another he wished killed somewhat later--Lord Marcipor of Umbar. Of course we took one with us to stand as witness to the contract--and would you know it, that one turned out to be Lord Marcipor himself? And when Landrion of Umbar saw the Ring of Barahir caught in the fletching of Hardorn’s arrow, I thought he’d melt into a puddle at my feet.”
“Is that how you revealed yourself to my father, Lord Aragorn?” asked Armanthol.
“Yes, it is indeed.”
“I think I’d have enjoyed seeing that, you know.” He sighed. “I know my father loved me in his fashion, but I am glad he never achieved his ambition. Lord Marcipor is not the best of lords for Umbar, but he is so balanced between the many factions there that he is better than any of the alternatives, I suspect.”
“He has his advantages,” commented the King.
Pippin smiled. “I’d certainly have enjoyed seeing his face when first he recognized the Ring of Barahir and realized he was dealing with the Heir of Isildur and Elendil, and then found himself face to face with the one he’d just tried to hire you to kill.”
The King shrugged, then turned to Armanthol again. “What would you seek to accomplish if you returned to Umbar?”
“To begin to teach honor there as it has been taught to me. However, I suspect it would be best to wait until Wasnior first is gone, for no matter how innocent I might be or how open I was in my intentions, he could never forgive me being Landrion’s son and would see me dead if it could be managed.” He sighed. “It is odd, but I truly believe I could more easily convince Marcipor of my personal honor than I could Wasnior.”
The King gave a sad shake of his head. “I suspect you are right there, Armanthol. He’s an odd creature, Wasnior--suspicious, of mixed loyalties. He hated Sauron, yet tied himself to Sauron’s policies because he was certain Sauron was too powerful to be defeated. Now he has tied himself to Marcipor, wisely realizing he has not the force of personality and understanding of the ways in which the minds of others work to serve as ruler himself. He will never forgive your father for thinking of seeing Marcipor killed and himself put in his place, and you are indeed correct that even more than Marcipor at this point he would seek to punish you for what your father had planned.”
“His questions yesterday were disturbing,” Ankhrabi commented.
“I do not believe Sauron would have sought to give him one of his rings, seeing he had little ambition for himself; but Wasnior appears to have become both jealous and fearful of those who were offered them.” The King looked back into the room where the Queen sat with the other women, including Lady Avrieth, laughing as she discretely nursed her son beneath the cover of a light blanket.
“We must go back soon,” he said. “Thank you, Ruvemir, for keeping the children occupied today and for accepting us as guests tonight.”
“You know, my Lord Strider, that you are ever welcome here. Oh, and I have a gift for you--wait but a moment--it’s in the studio.” The artist rose and left the room with his slightly halting gait. He quickly returned, and held a small box out to the King.
Aragorn accepted it and carefully lifted off the lid and handed it to Gilfileg, pulled out a layer of wool batting, then paused. His pleasure was deep and solemn as he reached to lift out a small figure. “Oh, Ruvemir--how wonderful! He’ll be most embarrassed to see it when he comes again, of course.”
The sculptor shrugged. “He has figures of both you and Frodo. I know you’ve wanted this for long enough.”
The figure was of the Lord Samwise from the memorial to the Periannath, dressed in shirt, trousers, and vest, a flower in his one hand, a tool for tilling the soil in the other, his mouth smiling as if someone had just told him a delightful story. Gilfileg took box and batting as the King carefully turned the figure in his hands. “Yes, my dear, beloved Samwise Gamgee, now I have you captured, you and Frodo, both smiling.” He looked into Ruvemir’s eyes once more. “Thank you so very much. You know how much this means to me.”
The sculptor was very pleased with the success of his gift.
Soon enough they left, the King cradling his small box and the Queen carrying her son, Ankhrabi and Nefiramonrani thanking Ruvemir and Elise for their hospitality. Pippin and Isumbard took their leave as well, thanking their hosts for the opportunity to prepare the meal. They walked back to the ramp and up it to the Citadel, and there at last they took their leave of one another.
Sa’Harpelamun watched after the King and Queen as they went back to their own quarters. “Deep love has he for the two Hobbits, the Lords Frodo and Samwise. It is too bad that they must be separated from him.”
Nefiramonrani nodded thoughtfully. “All who know him seem to love him, the King Elessar,” she said.
The priest looked into her face. “Yes, he loves his peoples deeply, and all love him in return. I am glad your husband and sons are of the same sort.”
The guards held the door to the guest wing open for them, and they entered gladly. The day had been full of impressions. As they walked down the hallway to their rooms, Ankhrabi drew his sons to his side, fiercely glad they were with him tonight.