Fare Thee Well
On the day before the Prince and Princess of Harad were to return to their home they found their packing interrupted several times. Once it was Mistress Belleth, who’d recovered from her illness, to explain that one of those freed from the slave ship wished to speak with Prince Ankhrabi. Ankhrabi looked to his wife, then suggested the Man be brought to him in the receiving room.
The Man was of late middle years, one who was quiet and thoughtful. Ankhrabi examined him, then invited him to sit down opposite him. Finally, his sense of propriety obviously offended, the older Man complied, twisting the end of his belt scarf between his hands. He seemed reluctant to speak; but as Ankhrabi simply sat waiting to hear the Man’s concerns he finally began to explain himself.
“My name, Lord Prince, is Ma’amonset. I was born a slave. For many generations--I cannot tell how many for certain--my family has belonged to the same family in Cartalos on the Northern shore of Harad.” He named the family, and Ankhrabi nodded his recognition of the names. “Always we have belonged to the family, and we have been part of the household.
“Then my late master was left with but one child when his sons were killed fighting along the borders of Far Harad. Only his daughter was left. He desired to see her well cared for, and he chose a husband for her who appeared well off. He did not pay attention, however, to the fact this one had fought in the troops given to the service of the Eastern Lord. Had he done so, I think he would have chosen differently, for he did think dearly of his daughter and wished only the best for her future.
“My mistress’s husband never wished to live in Cartalos, but remained there while her father yet lived. But he had plans for when her father at last had died. Barely was my late master in his tomb than my mistress’s husband set about disposing of the house and property, including those of us who’d served his wife’s family for generations. I was sold from one slave trader to another until I came to Peresual, where those on the Grey Gull purchased me and took me aboard their ship.
“I wish to return to Harad, and ask if I might join your household, even if it means embracing slavery again. I do not know how to be free, and know no other life than the service to my family. You are honorable and well thought of by the great lord of this place, whose judgment I find I trust implicitly. I would desire to serve you however I can.”
“I could not take you as a slave, not after what I’ve seen here.”
“Would you take me as a paid servant? Please, my Lord? I only wish to serve one worthy of honor as my late master was!”
Seeing the desperation in the eyes of the Man, Ankhrabi agreed.
An hour later Master Bayard knocked upon the door to say that Lord Benai had come and wished to speak with him. Again he went out to the receiving room and sat in the same place, indicating the black Dúnedain warrior should sit opposite him. “What can I do to serve you, Lord Benai?” he asked.
“I came to ask permission to speak for Lady Nera, Lord Prince. We have come to know each other well during the time I have attended upon the Queen and Lord King Elessar, and I have come to love her, and now cannot imagine loving any other.”
“Is it how you felt toward your bride when you were married before?”
“I did not truly love Verieth, for our marriage was arranged by her parents and mine. I would, I think, have come to love her in time; but then we could be said to know one another some and to respect one another, but little more. And our marriage was never consummated.”
The black Man sighed. “Nera, however--Nera I know I have come to love. And she will be good for our people as well as being the one woman I have ever found myself attracted to.”
“When would you wish to take her to wife? Before you return to Camaloa?”
“No, not before then. She is young yet, and would do well, I think, to wait another year before we marry. And I do not wish to take her to wife only to abandon her for a time, for I will not bring her into our lands as long as they are threatened by the G’bani or any other slaving tribe. Give us nine months to settle the G’bani, and I will return here to spend a few months at her side before we are married that she and I might be fully satisfied she and I will be happy together once we are indeed man and wife.”
“Have you spoken with her parents as yet?”
“You are their lord while you are here in Gondor; I wished to have your permission to approach them.”
Ankhrabi smiled. “You do not need my permission, Lord Benai--and once you approach them I do not believe they will say no.”
The smile he received was so bright that Ankhrabi could not help smiling all the more broadly.
Half a mark later the King asked for permission to bring a meal to the kittens, who were eating solid food now. All stopped their packing to watch as he encouraged the five kittens to eat a fine cereal cooked in goat’s milk into which finely chopped meat had been stirred. They no longer waded through the dish as they’d done at first, clustering about the bowl and busily eating their luncheon. Soon they were finished, and the white one crawled onto Aragorn’s wrist and began to climb up his sleeve to his shoulder. There was no question his heart was given to this one as he patiently withstood the claws digging into his skin until it reached its destination. There it laid itself, clinging to the seam of his shirt to keep from losing its place. When he reached across to pet it gently it began to purr and to knead the material over his shoulder. The others began to roll and pounce, or sat grooming themselves and one another; but the small white one stayed put and sang its comfort to all. Finally he left with the kitten on his shoulder, and servants who passed him in the halls looked after him with indulgent smiles.
An hour later he came back, the kitten now lying along his forearm, followed by one of his personal guards and one of his servants carrying his own gifts for his guests.
He gave Sa’Harpelamun a history of Eärendil the Mariner and his family; to each of the twins a fine long knife suitable for their early training. To Nefirnerini he gave a mirror of silvered glass in a silver frame, and matching comb and brush. Nefiramonrani he presented with a set of goblets of fine glass; and to Ankhrabi he presented a book of poetry and a hunting bow from Eriador similar to his own.
Gebsohrabi and the other guard each received a fine dagger; the two women servants received necklaces of volcano glass which thrilled them dearly; Ankhrabi’s body servant and Ma’amonset each were given fine tankards and a small barrel of local beer. That the King would think to have gifts even for servants and would already knew that Ma’amonset had attached himself to the Prince’s family just seemed so typical. Then he was leaving, reluctantly leaving the small white kitten behind him with her mother.
Then the Princess Melian, Hasturnerini, and Asa came to see the kittens, and had spinning tops for the two princes and a beautiful bracelet of silver for Nefirnerini. They’d not left yet when Ankhsarani came up accompanied by Amonpelrabi, he with a possessive arm about her shoulders. Nefiramonrani stopped to take her sister out into the garden, and together they talked for quite some time before reluctantly Ankhsarani left to prepare for the feast.
For that night a second feast was held for them in the feast hall of Merethrond. The Lady Éowyn and her son had returned from Emyn Arnen, accompanied by Prince Legolas and his brother, and again many lords of the realm gathered to bid goodbye to the royal guests from Harad.
This time Ankhrabi’s family and Sa’Harpelamun accompanied the King’s family through the private entrance where they would wait until all others were seated. The King confided in Haradri, “Sometimes Arwen and I will reverse things in order to welcome our guests Elf fashion, which drives the Master of Protocol mad. Elves start proceedings by being present when their guests arrive, and rise to their feet as the guests enter to show courtesy. The Master of Protocol, however, prefers that all appreciate the arrival of King and Queen, insisting we enter last. After all, this is how things have been handled here in Gondor for much of the last age, and how he intends it shall continue. At times I wish I could simply dispense with his services; however he is so firmly entrenched in the doings of the Citadel I haven’t the heart or authority to let him go.”
Ankhrabi and Nefiramonrani found themselves laughing, while the young priest was smiling broadly. Aragorn continued, “We will miss you, you must realize. I hope Legolas will remain for a time, for otherwise we will be left here alone, forced to be almost solely King and Queen until Ruvemir returns from the Southlands. Gilfileg is to leave tomorrow also, for his wife is to deliver in two months’ time and he wishes to be there to welcome the child. He came mostly to bring some sensitive dispatches from Halladan and to brief me on them, and on the way North again he’s to check on several of the work gangs to which criminals are assigned, and will deliver several of those who have been condemned to work on the roads to their assignments as he goes.”
Finally the names and titles of Ankhrabi and his family were called, and once again they were led forward to their places, again to the left of the King’s chair, while Prince Faramir of Ithilien and his wife sat to the Queen’s right. Lord Wasnior had returned two days past to Umbar, and this night young Armanthol of Umbar sat by Lord Gilfileg, while Lord Hardorn had beside him his wife, the Lady Gilmorien. She was obviously coming very close to her own time, but now stood happily beside the King’s cousin.
Lord Faralion was present once again, and was placed further down the opposite side of the hall beside several people, both Men and women, that Ankhrabi did not remember seeing before. Master Ruvemir and his wife stood near them with several who’d been introduced earlier in the visit as belonging to the Guild of Carvers and the Corps of the Lord’s Engineers. Master Ruvemir was speaking softly with Master Faralion and appeared exceptionally pleased about something, and his expression as the King and Queen and Princess finally came forward to their own seats was full of satisfaction and anticipation.
King and Queen each spoke words of welcome, and of the regret that their guests must return to their own lands soon. Lord Benai was to lead a small mixed expeditionary force of Dúnedain warriors from Arnor, Gondor, and Ithilien against the slavers of the G’bani tribes, and had pledged their folk in treaty to Harad. Five of the former slaves of Harad and Far Harad returned to their land in company with Prince Ankhrabi and his family to rejoin their families and see to justice done for their wrongful enslavement; two others who had been born slaves returned in hopes of making new lives for themselves. And eight from beyond Far Harad went with the force to Camaloa, having pledged to assist in the defeat of the slavers so that they could find their way back to their own peoples and hopefully be reunited with at least some of those they loved.
As for the departure of Prince Ankhrabi and Princess Nefiramonrani and their children--it was with great pride and regret that King and Queen looked forward to bidding them farewell in the morning. That such should look to inheriting the leadership of Harad after the inspiring rule of the great Farozi An’Sohrabi was an indication of continued cooperation and peace between Gondor and Harad for at least another generation.
At last all turned to the West for the Standing Silence before taking their seats, and the feast was begun.
Conversation was cheerful, and laughter could be heard here and there throughout the hall. The music was pleasurable; the food once again excellent. The King was rather quiet compared to the last feast, but was convinced to tell tales of Master Bilbo Baggins, and soon all around him were laughing with pleasure at the stories he told of the Hobbit and his adventures with Dwarves and Dragons, just as the elderly Perian had told his adventures to him who would one day be King. Legolas, who sat tonight to Princess Melian’s left, confirmed the descriptions of what had happened in King Thranduil’s halls and added stories of the confusion all within the keep had felt as cakes and loaves went missing, as sheets in the linen cupboard were found to be rumpled, as many felt as if they were being followed through the hallways.
Rustovrid’s eldest daughter Nera sat beside Lord Benai, and the two spent much time simply looking at one another. The young woman wore a necklace of sapphires instead of the enameled collar she ordinarily sported, and it was plain to all who sat near them that the two had reached an understanding.
The final course of strawberries and cream over sweet cakes was served, and when at last it was over the company rose and moved again to the far end of the hall for dancing, singing, and general conversation. The Lord Elessar and his wife led the first dance, and it was with amusement that Ankhrabi realized that this was one activity at which the King did not excel, although the Lady Arwen was obviously quite gifted. Once that dance was done the King joined Ankhrabi, Ifram, and Nicoli in a discussion of how the G’bani slavers might be bested while many of the ladies who did not dance gathered about the Queen to discuss the coming children, those of Lady Nefiramonrani, Lady Gilmorien, and the wife of Lord Gilfileg. Lady Éowyn watched as the Princess Melian took the hands of the small Prince Elboron and led him in a gentle version of the dance being enjoyed by others throughout the hall. Again for a time the Queen left the hall to nurse her son, then brought him to her husband who held the child gently as he spoke with others.
Lady Ankhsarani had brought the zithern that had been given to her use by Lady Ghansaret, and when the small orchestra took a break from their music she began a song of Harad, and she and the Lord King An’Elessar between them sang it for the folk attending the feast.
Several of those who’d sat by Master Faralion now took the places of some of those who’d been playing for the entertainment of the guests, and servants brought to Master Faralion a stool and a great floor harp which he gently tuned and tested. Then he struck a chord which was commanding, and all fell silent. He stood and looked on the party as all turned to see what it was that he had to say.
“Lords and Ladies, Masters and Mistresses, children of the great and small--this night I wish to sing with the King a song he himself crafted of the great Elven Kingdom of Lothlorien, the home of Amroth and Nimrodel, of Celeborn and Galadriel for over an age of this world. My Lord?” He looked to the King, who reluctantly handed their son into the hands of his wife, then stepped forward to stand beside the harp. Faralion struck a chord, and the King began to sing, joined in a moment by Faralion, singing in counterpoint and harmony, now and then going quiet to allow the King’s own voice to stand out in glory; then stepping in a half measure behind his liege, repeating phrases, or skipping forward in anticipation of what his Lord would sing next.
All stood quiet, their talk stilled, their attention fully riveted on the two presenting this song, caught in the images of singing waters and great trees, of the light of stars and sun on shining silver boles and golden flowers and leaves, of hidden borders and cities built high toward the crowns of the great mallorns, of the Power of Light and Air against the darkness lying under the Mountains where orcs had displaced Dwarves, where the awakened menace of the Balrog threatened all that delighted in the gifts of Iluvatar.
At last the song closed gently, the King’s voice alone singing the last measures; and with a single plucked string the harp went still. After several moments of awed silence the hall erupted in applause. A drum sounded, and the clapping fell into the rhythm of the beat, growing louder, then stopping when there was one last flourish and it fell silent. The drummer now stood and stepped forward, and all again went still to listen to what he would say.
“I am Mirgilion of Lamedon, Master of the Guild of Bards, Minstrels, and Musicians to the realm of Gondor.”
The King straightened, his face paling, then reddening as he realized just what he’d come to this night, and the Queen could be heard laughing with delight as she held her son high to see his father’s honor; Lord Faramir, a broad smile on his face, lifting Melian onto one shoulder and his son Elboron onto the other. Ankhrabi clapped his hands in glee. The Guild Master held up his hands, and all went silent once more. “This night we have finally achieved a goal we had long desired to meet--to bring into our number one who has shown himself full worthy to be considered as one of us. This night finally I find great pleasure in welcoming our Lord Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar into our Guild, naming him Bard and Singer before all of this company.”
He turned and accepted a small lap harp from one of those behind him, moved forward, and placed it in the arms of the King, and bowed low. Ruvemir son of Mardil, Master Sculptor, stood near Ankhrabi, his face alight with accomplishment. “It’s been a long wait to trap him into it, but certainly he’s worthy of the honor. Not many are able to be considered members of more than one of the guilds at a time, and I think our Lord King has set a record by being accepted as a member of three, and Master in two of them, not to mention his skill in weapons, tracking, and hunting as well!”
Ankhrabi laughed, and laid his hand on the small sculptor’s shoulder, and looked at the face of the King, who held the small harp that signified his place in the guild gently, plucking one string and then another. He looked into the eyes of Master Mirgilion. Finally, as the hall once again went silent, the King said quietly, “Long and long have I managed to avoid this honor, but I see that I can no longer do so. I thank you deeply for the recognition you have given me, and will do my best to uphold the traditions of the Guild of Bards, Minstrels, and Musicians.” He bowed to the musicians, then stepped back gently to stand beside his wife, who placed their son into his free arm once more, then put hers around him as she stood by his side.
Now Master Faralion and Master Mirgilion and the others who’d accompanied them began to play a number of lays and tunes, and Ankhrabi began to understand just what it meant to be considered a master musician. By the time the evening was at an end all were feeling intoxicated by melodies and rhythms.
Finally guests at the feast began to approach those from Harad and Camaloa to wish them a good journey, many expressing great pleasure regarding the visit. More and more were leaving now, and finally there were few enough left that Ankhrabi and Nefiramonrani thanked those who remained for their hospitality and took their leave, and withdrew with their children and the priest back to the guest wing, accompanied by Gebsohrabi.
Morning seemed to come all too early, and they were rising and dressing and going to the dining room to join the King and his household for breakfast. Afterwards the King examined Nefiramonrani, then Ankhrabi and Ma’osiri, and pronounced each fit for travel.
“We will be ready to go down through the city in an hour’s time; and they will be here shortly for your chests to set them in the pony cart.”
Nefirnerini’s carefully packaged ewer she herself laid in the cart after all else was loaded, she hugged Hasturnerini, and the Queen gently bade all farewell and gave them her blessing as they prepared to leave the level of the Citadel. She looked at Nefiramonrani and smiled. “Five more months it will be before the babe is born,” she said, “and we will delight to hear of its safe delivery.”
“Please, my Lady Arwen, if you will see to it that my sister does not feel abandoned once we are gone, I would be very grateful.”
“We will rejoice to honor her for your sake and for her own,” the Queen promised.
As they walked by the White Tree, the King paused to honor it, and Ankhrabi walked forward alongside him to touch the Tree as well. He gently laid his hand on the bark as he’d seen the King do repeatedly, then paused, surprised, for he felt the rhythm of its life as surely as he could feel the heartbeats of his children when he laid his hand on their chests. He felt something else as well, although what it was exactly he wasn’t certain, until he saw the look of deep pleasure on the King’s face, and realized that he himself sensed the echo of another presence there, a gentle presence filled with joy.
“Be well, Frodo,” he heard the King whisper, and he saw the King pull deliberately away and bow deeply to the Tree, and he followed suit. A wreath lay against the legs of the figure of Frodo Baggins, and coronets of flowers had been gently laid upon the brows of each of the four statues. One last time Ankhrabi looked on the memorial to the Periannath, and smiled, then followed the King down the ramp to the Sixth Circle where they were joined by those who would accompany them and those who would sail in the Wanderer Returned.
At last they were outside the gates, and the open carriages were ready for them. Ankhrabi aided Sa’Harpelamun, then his wife and children with their arms full of flowers into the first carriage, then entered it himself, watching as the King vaulted onto the back of the great grey horse Olórin, riding alongside them as the driver directed his team to the wharves of the Harlond.
An’Elessar himself helped them out of the carriage and embraced them one last time, then watched them go aboard the ship. Then he was aiding the party of Lord Ghants’pa’amon out of their carriage, then the servants and the others who were going back to Harad. Ma’amun saluted the Lord King An’Elessar, who embraced him and offered him blessings for a joyful return to his wife and daughters.
Then the second set of carriages arrived, and those who would crew the Wanderer Returned were being aided out and embraced and seen aboard their own ship. And at last there stood upon the quayside the King Aragorn Elessar, the Lord Gilfileg, Prince Faramir, and others of their guards, watching as the last of the chests and boxes were carried aboard each of the two ships. Captain Belerion saluted his King and kinsman, and the two ships made ready to cast off.
“Go well, my friends, and I pray it is not a great long time before we meet again,” the King called out.
Ma’osiri, wrapped in the turquoise cloak given him by the Queen, which was fastened with the silver Star brooch given him by the King, stood by the rail with his brother. “Thank you, Lord An’Elessar,” he called in return. “We thank you for all, and for your welcome and your gifts. May Osiri continue to guide you!”
Sailors and those who manned the docks cast off the last of the ropes for the Harthad uin Dun, and the great ship swung into the current of the River Anduin, heading once more for Risenmouthe in Harad.
Benai and Armanthol stood together as they watched the larger ship pull away from the dock, then turned back to the wharves. The King was watching after the first ship with regret, then finally turned his attention to them.
“Now, my fine Rangers,” he called, “may Elbereth’s stars guide you home, and may Manwë guide your swords to do no more than what you must to see to the security of your own folk.”
“How can it be otherwise, Lord King?” asked Benai. “And may Rendil continue to shine down upon you while we must be away.”
Those aboard the Wanderer Returned saluted the King, and the two children stood by the woman who was also being returned and waved, regretting almost they were leaving this kindly land.
Lord Faramir and his Men called out their farewells as well as those aboard the former slave ship cast off and allowed their ship to follow the Harthad uin Dun out into the current.
One last time those aboard the two ships looked back to see the tall figure of the King of Gondor, Arnor, and now Camaloa sitting on the back of his great horse, watching after them; then they turned away South, looking forward to their destinations.
The escort ships dropped back as the Harthad uin Dun entered the breakwater of the harbor at Risenmouthe. They’d seen the last of the Wanderer Returned three days past as it set off Southwest for Camaloa; now they’d see no more of the smaller guard and messenger ships of Gondor.
As reluctant as he’d been to leave the King’s presence, Ankhrabi now watched their approach to the wharves of Harad with a new eagerness. They were home once more, and soon they’d be headed up the River to his father’s house. Ankhrabi realized that he could barely wait to see his father’s well loved face once more. Ah--to be home again, he decided, was good!
Then the ship was sidling up to the dock, and cables were being tossed and caught and the fenders lowered and the straw mats laid in place, and finally the gang plank set. Amonrabi was there to meet them along with Sa’Amonri and Gebankhsamun of the Palace Guard, and then there stepped out from behind the taller forms one figure--and Ankhrabi was hurrying across the gangplank to embrace his father, for the Farozi himself had come to greet their arrival.
“He sent you home again, I can see, well and happy,” An’Sohrabi was repeating as if it were a prayer of praise. “He sent you home again!”
And soon they were all walking up the quayside to the barge which would bear them back to Thetos.
Fisherman’s Hope dragged back toward the small quayside of the harbor of Camaloa. Its catch had been but a half of what had been desired, although it would be enough to help feed the folk of the small town that stood around the wharves, to which many of those who’d managed to survive the predations of the G’bani slavers had removed.
Norubi sighed as he watched the crew, tired after a night of fishing, listlessly going about their work. Each of them had lost someone in the past year, and the grief of it was enough to make them all even more vulnerable, he knew.
Then young Cúrin, who kept watch from up the main mast, called down, “Unknown ship approaching from the North!”
The entire crew hurried to the port bow to look for signs of the intruder. Was it another slaver, or one of their trading vessels returning? Or was it one of the strange ships such as the one which some weeks past approached the shores of their lands, but then pulled away, the ship which had the strange black banner onto which a white tree and seven stars had been worked?
The new ship came closer, and they saw it wasn’t alone. The one with the black banner was following behind it as if escorting it. Displayed from the mast of the new ship was a blue banner, one which held a device they recognized--the constellation of the Seven Stars of Camaloa--it could be seen so clearly, so easily recognized. The crew of Fisherman’s Hope looked at one another with questions in their eyes. Those who crewed this ship for the most part had white skins, but some were black; and the one who clung to the rigging from the main mast seemed so very familiar. But, that couldn’t be--it couldn’t be Nicoli, for he’d been taken with Benai and so many others months past!
“Norubi!” came the distant hail as at last the strange ship came close enough for them to call out to one another. “Norubi! Is that you?”
Norubi straightened with shock. “Benai?” he called incredulously.
They heard joyous laughter from the other ship as it came yet nearer, and as the sails were dropped. “Norubi! We’re home! We’re returned! And you won’t believe it! We’re not alone!”
Then he could see Benai standing on the deck of the other ship, his shining smile brightening the morning. And Norubi realized that hope was returning to the hearts of all of those who crewed Fisherman’s Hope as the two ships and the strange ship which escorted the other turned to the small wharf of the harbor.