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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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20
20: Seating Arrangements

20

After Faramir’s departure Prince Imrahil sighed. “I would return to our house in the Fifth Circle and relax myself before dressing for the feast. Erchirion, will you come also or dance attendance on your cousin?”

Erchirion looked after the way his cousin had gone, then turned back to his father. “I doubt he has much interest in me or my affairs now, Ada. His mind is full of far higher thoughts than how many enemies I slew in the counter attack on the ambush. So--at last my beloved cousin has responded to the glances sent his way, has he?” He examined the Lady Éowyn with interest. “I am pleased, my Lady, that you have caught his attention at the end. For too long has he avoided more gentle pursuits, for our need has been great for his leadership since Boromir set off in quest of answers to the riddling dream. But although he is an excellent warrior and captain, Faramir deserves one who will love him for his own sake. A most deserving soul he is, my cousin.” He turned to his father. “I will go with you, my lord father.”

With bows to Halladan, Éomer, Eowyn, Gandalf and the two Elven lords, the Prince of Dol Amroth and his second son left the Citadel, their personal guards following behind.

Halladan looked questioningly at the Wizard and the two Elves. “I suppose this means that I am presently in charge of affairs. Do the words of the Steward of Arnor hold any weight here in Gondor, I wonder?”

“For the moment, apparently so,” Gandalf replied. “And where is Frodo?”

“In the lesser audience chamber, wherever that might be, or so I understand. I don’t know if the Citadel of Annúminas will ever be as large or complicated a place as this is. Shall we seek it out?”

“And I suppose that we should see to the rooms they are preparing for us,” Elladan commented. “We shall have to teach those who keep the place how to do things properly for Estel. Otherwise a soft-footed servant come to present him with his morning’s drink will startle him out of his sleep and end up spitted by mistake.”

“And I, my brother, desire to go and bathe before I dress,” Éowyn said.

Her brother responded, “I am not certain I have anything so grand as to wear to Aragorn’s Crowning Feast.”

“Aelthrim brought back with him a goodly supply of clothing for the both of us.”

“I must suppose that is a positive side to having tarried so long on the fields of the Cormallen, my sister, that our folk were able to travel to Edoras and back and bear messages and bring us those of our things such as we now require. Then let us also depart to our own quarters.” With a nod to his guards and a polite exchange of bows with Gandalf and Halladan, the King and Princess of Rohan followed the Peredhil out of the Hall of Kings.

With Gandalf and the Lord Halladan heading for the lesser audience chamber, now only Galador and Faralion were left. Galador watched after the wizard, shaking his head. “To think that Mithrandir is now a welcome guest. Our Lord Denethor respected him, but did not welcome him with warmth. Will you join me in my office and share some wine?”

Soon the two of them were in Galador’s office which was in the same building as the Feast Hall of Merethrond. Together they looked through the inner door to watch the small army of servants involved in preparing for the night’s festivities. Banks of flowers had been brought from Lebennin and Lossarnach; long-burning candles were being fitted into the seven chandeliers that lit the room from above; brightly polished eating ware was being carefully settled at each placesetting; a boy was busily folding napkins while a young girl was taking them from him as he finished to place them on the tables.

Galador pulled back into his office and sat heavily in his chair. “Well, all apparently goes well enough there,” he sighed. He indicated a second chair and turned to open a low cupboard beside him, and brought out a tray kept there with a fine decanter of wine and a few glasses. He turned to set these on the desk, turned two of the glasses upright and carefully filled them, then presented one to his guest. He sipped from his own glass, then turned to a representation of the table in the feast hall which hung on the wall and began to examine it carefully. The shape of the table itself was inlaid into smoothed slate with a groove about it inside and out into which various pieces representing chairs could be fitted. For as long as he could remember the black piece indicating the Steward of Arnor had sat at the center seat. Now a silver piece representing the great seat of the King sat there instead, and it appeared that all was to be rearranged yet again, now that he’d spent much of the preceding day and late evening deciding who was to be settled where.

Faralion examined the model on the slate with interest. The feast hall of Merethrond was not set up with a main table on a dais with lesser tables in ranks below it as was true in most places. Instead there was a single great table actually put together of lesser tables, set in a great open shape similar to a child’s drawing of a water tumbler. The Lord of the feast sat at the center of the curved bottom of the tumbler’s shape; when there was a Lady, her seat and his were at the center, and she usually sat at his right. Closest to him were set those highest in rank and most deserving of recognition.

Galador had set the black seat of the Steward immediately to the right of the King with three blue seats indicating the three from Dol Amroth beyond that, but now apparently these were to be set further from the new King as he would have the Ringbearers beside him. He chose two of the pieces he rarely used, two of spring green, and then set about sliding the seats about. Five pieces of dark grey he now placed on the inside of the bottom of the tumbler shape in place of several bright pieces he’d had there before. Those five pieces he set back by similar groups of colors he’d placed here and there about the length of the tables. One of green with a white center that represented Rohan remained at the King’s left; one of the same colors had been placed directly opposite the King’s seat; it was now placed to the left of its mate and the black piece indicating the Steward and one of the three blue pieces set beyond it; and as pieces were squeezed somewhat closer together to the right of the King’s seat the two of spring green were set immediately to the King’s right in token of two of the Pheriannath and beyond the grey piece that now represented Lord Halladan. White pieces he’d seldom used indicated the three Elves, the Dwarf, and the Wizard, with the other two spring green pieces representing the Pheriannath he set beyond those of the Rohirrim opposite the piece denoting Gandalf.

Red indicated the ruling house of Lossarnach, yellow Lebennin, turquoise Anfalas, amber Anorien, and so on. Pieces used to indicate eligible daughters were now replaced with the rest of their families as he considered the five grey pieces indicating those from Umbar with distaste. Finally, his shuffling done, he took up a piece of chalk and wrote the names or designations for those who’d been added to the table or moved with a note of finality.

The servers had used this system for centuries to settle questions of precedence, and all knew that the patriarch of the family sat closest the Lord with wife next and then children with heir next and the remainder in order of age. It was a system that had worked for generations, and hopefully it would continue to serve under the new King as well; but with so many unusual parties now added to the mix things looked to grow muddled in the future. The King’s own seat had been shifted slightly right and that of Éomer King slightly right as well, making them now the central places; well, those who set up the places at the real table knew all too well how last minute shuffling worked as feasts were prepared.

He rose and opened the inner door, and signed to one of the chief heralds who was overseeing the settling of the seats, and brought him in to show the new designations. The herald nodded, then took the board out to set into the area where it was hung for the use of heralds and ushers so it could be studied for the evening.

With that done, Galador turned to the minstrel. “I understand you wrote the lay commissioned by our new Lord King telling of the final downfall of the Enemy.”

“Yes, the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers.”

“Does Lord Frodo truly have but nine fingers?” Galador asked with interest.

“Yes--the ring finger of his right hand was lost as the Enemy’s Ring at the last was destroyed. That he and the Lord Samwise live yet is a true miracle.”

“Lord Samwise?”

“Yes, for both of them were ennobled.”

“Yet he addresses the Lord Frodo as ‘Master’--how is this?”

“In their own land Lord Frodo is the head of his family of name and lived in the house denoting the place in society he held, while Lord Samwise served as his gardener and caretaker for the estate. But apparently they have been friends in spite of the differences in their ranks and ages since Lord Samwise was a child. Sir Meriadoc tells me that such mixing of classes is far more common in their land of the Shire than it is in Gondor; and that although Lord Samwise and Lord Frodo have long been close in their friendship the Lord Samwise’s father has always insisted his son use the title of ‘Master’ when addressing their employer.”

“Then they have known one another since childhood.”

Faralion shrugged. “Apparently the Lord Frodo was nearing adulthood when they first met, although definitely the Lord Samwise was yet a child. I know that Lord Samwise and Sirs Meriadoc and Peregrin are all most thoughtful of the Lord Frodo and all concerned for his health and welfare. Sir Meriadoc and Sir Peregrin are kinsmen to Lord Frodo and are themselves most devoted to him.”

The minstrel sipped again from his mug. “Deep love do all of the Pheriannath hold for one another, Master Galador; and both Sir Meriadoc and Sir Peregrin are fully pleased that Lord Samwise was ennobled alongside their cousin, declaring that had it not been for Lord Sam’s aid Lord Frodo would have died before he reached Mordor. And the Lord Elessar has said much the same, that Lord Frodo definitely needed the presence of the younger three Hobbits to help him keep his determination to see the quest to the end.”

“Then the Pheriannath do not age as Men do.”

“They mature more slowly; but the Ring affected the aging of the Lord Frodo.”

“I see.” Galador drank thoughtfully from his own glass. “The King seems most solicitous of him,” he said as he set his glass upon the tray once more.

“All are most solicitous of him, including, I find, myself. A most worthy being he is.”

“They seem to seek to offer him food at all hours.”

“Yes, for his digestion was harmed by what he has endured; and orders were given in Ithilien that he was to have water available at all times. He and Lord Samwise almost died of thirst as they made their way from the borders of Mordor to Orodruin.”

“And this new King himself?”

“A most unusual one. He is almost full Dúnedain in heritage, and is far older than he appears. He is most learned, skilled at singing, speaks Rhunic and Haradri as well as Westron, Sindarin, Adunaic, and Quenya, and appears to know more about the social aspects of those of Umbar than I’d have imagined. Prince Imrahil appears already to have given him his affections as well as his fealty; he and Éomer of Rohan speak of one another as brother already, and this is truly meant on both sides; the sons of Elrond truly consider him their brother as well, and together they labored among the ill at the side of the rest of the healers.”

“He is a healer, our new King?”

“Did you not hear the tale that this was how he was first recognized by our people, that he showed he has the hands of the Healer? Our own Lord Faramir was at the very gates of death when the King called him back, then the Lady Éowyn and Sir Meriadoc, and then he went through the ranks of the wounded to aid as he could, his Elven brethren beside him. They are all three descended from Eärendil the Mariner and the Lady Elwing.”

“But Eärendil and Elwing are but the stuff of legends!”

Faralion shook his head. “Say no such thing to the Peredhil, I will warn you; for they are the sons of Elrond, who was himself son to Eärendil and Elwing, alongside his brother Elros, from whom our King is descended.”

Galador looked at the minstrel amazed. “But how can this be?”

“Tales and legends have come to life before us, my friend Galador; rejoice that it is so.”

Galador poured himself another glass of wine, and his hand was shaking so as he drank it that he spilled a good deal of it on himself.

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