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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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24
24: Seeking Intelligence

24: Seeking Intelligence


Wasnior found himself speaking with Lady Amberieth of Lossarnach, a niece to old Forlong. “I am grieved to hear of your uncle’s death,” he commented.

“I know--so many were killed upon the Pelennor,” she answered. “If our Lord Elfstone had not arrived in the black ships when he did, all would certainly have been lost for Gondor.”

“Black ships?” asked Wasnior. “You will have to forgive me--I’ve come from afar and only arrived late this afternoon on business--that I was asked to the feast was a bit of a shock to me and my fellows.”

“Oh, yes, the Corsairs of Umbar. They were sailing up the River Anduin, and our Lord Elfstone took their fleet at the Pelargir. He went through the Paths of the Dead and called the lost army out to fight for him against the forces of Umbar who were sailing up to fall on our armies and allies from behind. When their sails were first seen many called out in despair, believing our cause was lost at the end; but then the King’s Standard was released from the mast of the greatest of them, and our Lord Elfstone came off of it at the head of an army gathered in haste from the South. All tell of his valor upon the field, and how he and the forces of Rohan met in the center of the battlefield, then turned together and destroyed all who would not throw down their arms.”

“What did they do then?”

“They chose to march against the Black Gate itself to draw out the armies of Mordor that the Ringbearers might win through.”

“Win through to where?”

“To the heart of the Black Land. They carried the Enemy’s Ring to its destruction, and so he was cast down. The one who sat tonight beside our Lord Elfstone, he carried it and almost died of it, or so we are told. Those who came earlier back from the battle carried the word how he and his esquire were acclaimed Lords of the Free Peoples of the West for their actions in destroying Sauron’s power.”

Enemy’s Ring? Wasnior blanched at the thought. The Ring of Power was no more? How could this be? It was lost an age ago--all knew that; but had it indeed been found? By whom? When? Under what circumstances?

“My Lord?” said a voice.

Lord Wasnior turned to find that behind him stood a group of four guards and the other members of his embassy. Angrapain was not doing a great deal to hide the fact he was annoyed at having had his evening cut short, while Belladon was eyeing the guards with the suspicion he’d shown all since their arrival.

The guard gave a bow. “We have been asked to escort you back to your guest house. And a housekeeper will come to it in the morning to assist in preparing a dawn meal if you wish.”

“That would be appreciated,” Lord Wasnior said. He didn’t really wish to leave the feast hall as yet, but apparently their hosts had decided to see their unwanted guests contained for the night and there wasn’t anything he could see that could be done about it. Wasnior bowed his goodbye to Lady Amberieth and handed the goblet he carried with him to a passing server, then followed their escort out of the building, past the dead Tree and its fountain, and down the ramp to the Sixth Circle where they turned South toward the house assigned to them. Two guards already stood at attention on the corners of the place toward the street. They saluted the ones coming and prepared to be relieved of duty as those accompanying the Umbarians wished them a good night, and two exchanged places with those already there. For the night the Umbarian lords were, in the eyes of Gondor, settled.

The five gathered in the day room at the back of the house, after Belladon checked and announced in low tones there didn’t appear to be any listeners on this side of the building.

“Well,” Wasnior finally said, “Let us share what we have learned. Angrapain, what has the lady you have favored shared with you?”

“The Lord Denethor died by his own hand, although none seems certain of the details. Lord Faramir was dying of wounds he suffered escorting his Men back across the fields before the city at the time, and apparently despair at his son’s condition after the news of the death of the famed Captain Boromir contributed to the Steward’s madness. He appears to have died at the height of the battle before the city. She insisted that the new King laid hands on the Lord Faramir and healed him.”

Belladon shrugged. “Our ships appear to have been taken as they approached the Pelargir by the one who is now proclaimed King. He is said to have come through the White Mountains by cavernous ways, leading out of them the army of the dead past the Stone of Erech until at last they came to the river. There the army of the dead came onto our ships and our Men threw themselves into the flood to escape them. He and his folk loaded their horses aboard the ships, and with reinforcements gathered in haste they began rowing up the river, until at the last a South wind caught the sails and bore them to the battle--or that is what they say happened.”

Beslor looked from Belladon to Wasnior. “The Wizard is not Curunír, but Mithrandir, who is now the White in place of Curunír, whom many call Saruman. Some of those of the Rohirrim described being betrayed by Saruman, and of a massive battle in the strong places of their land, of being succored by Gandalf Greyhame and the one they call Lord Aragorn, of a victory past hope. They say they thought the Lord Aragorn rode to his death when he left them to enter the dread places of their lands, and to see his arrival upon the Pelennor in the ships of the enemies of this place was a wonder and a marvel in their eyes. They spoke in murmurs of marvels in Isengard and of Curunír stripped of his power by Mithrandir. They, too, had heard that Mithrandir was dead; his arrival with the Lord Aragorn, a Dwarf and an Elf was looked upon with suspicion at the time. They tell also of a dread spell of despair and premature aging laid upon their King, and the loss of his son Théodred at the hands of Curunír’s forces, and the lifting of the spell on their King by the new White Wizard.

“They tell of a desperate ride through the darkness put upon the lands of the West by the Dread Lord, and of coming to the battle to raise the siege. King Théoden was crushed by the fall of his horse, but named his nephew Éomer King after himself ere he died. The Lady Éowyn rode with them, and together with one of the ones called Periannath slew the Lord of the Nazgul.”

Dorath coughed. “One of the Periannath was here, also, the one known to be the Prince of their people.”

“The one who sat by the King?”

“No, he is called the Ringbearer. The Ernil i Pheriannath is instead the one with auburn curls.”

Wasnior of Umbar had watched as the small, dark-haired Perian was quietly assisted out of the Hall. He had heard the soft-voiced conversations about him, the comments about the Ringbearer, the King’s Friend, the Ringbearer’s Esquire, the Ernil i Pheriannath, the Esquire to King Éomer. Certainly all had seen the honor and concern this new King showed for the one with the dark hair, and the laughter he’d shared with the three who’d remained in the Hall.

All four of the Periannath stood with dignity, and the two who’d sat beyond Éomer King and his sister and the Lord Steward Faramir certainly showed the easy manners of those born to privilege while the one with the hair the color of dark gold displayed all signs of one who has borne responsibility for years. Yet his language was at odds with his bearing, his clothing, and his position at the new King’s side.

Wasnior shook his head. “Well, at least we have learned now how our fleet was lost--by sorcery and dread spells.” His fellows nodded their agreement.

Dorath grunted, “And the Perian with the dark hair is apparently a magician of some great power, for he led the other who sat by the King into Mordor itself, hiding the both of them, to come to the Mountain of Orodruin and cast into it the Dread Lord’s Ring.”

“He has not about him the look of any great magic,” commented Angrapain, dismissively.

“Then how could he have brought the two of them into the Black Land, much less through it?” demanded Dorath. “Only great power could have brought them to Mount Doom unseen. Or did he draw on the power of the Ring Itself to get them there?”

“Nonsense,” Wasnior said, shaking his head. “Had he used the power of the Ring, would he have been able to let it go to throw it into the Fire?”

The five of them looked from one to the other with uncertainty and discomfort. The idea of having sufficient power within oneself to withstand the desire to use the power inherent in Sauron’s Ring was a new one, and all were uncertain they’d wish to meet with the Ringbearer alone.

*******


The next day a Captain of the King’s own personal guard came down to the house to tell them that the business necessary in beginning his reign kept the King and other officials of the realm busy this day, and would undoubtedly do so for the next few days as well; but that he would grant them an audience as soon as he could. He had to meet with the lords of the realm, and many of those were newly come to their offices and needed to be confirmed and instructed in them. He had to review the forces of the city and meet with the captains of the hosts of Gondor and Arnor. He needed to hear the reports on the damage inflicted on the lower levels of the city by the catapults and fires of Mordor, and the evaluations of what needed doing that the fields of the Pelennor might again be cultivated. He needed to consider the losses to the population of the land from those killed by the enemy and those who’d died of despair, privation, and madness induced by the Enemy’s actions. And he needed to discuss how Gondor and Arnor from this day forward worked together as one.

Valid reasons, of course; valid and obviously used as excuses to put off meeting with Wasnior and his fellows.

Those from Umbar were also told that they might walk freely about the Sixth Circle; but for their own protection were they to seek to leave that level a Guardsman would join any who sought to go up or down. None would hinder their movements, but they must be accompanied.

Looking at the Man’s clear gaze it was obvious that their movements would be noted, and those they met with would be remarked as well.

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