For disclaimer and further details see Part 1.
Rating: General, for this part.
Author’s note: Lord Orchald is “played” by Sean Connery.
Rating: General, for this part.
Author’s note: Lord Orchald is “played” by Sean Connery.
Day Twenty-Four – The Lord of Halabor 1
At the age of almost seventy-two, Lord Orchald, son of the late Othrondir, was the prime example of the advantages of Númenórean blood. He was still sharp-witted and full of strength, looked at least fifteen years younger than his actual age, wielded his sword like any young warrior and was well-versed in ancient lore.
Not to mention that he also was a Swan Knight – an honorary one, since he had to take over the ruling of Halabor from his ailing father more than thirty years ago, but he still wore his white belt proudly. And, as anyone would tell you in Dol Amroth, to become a Swan Knight was not an easy task, not even for the sons of the most influential lords of Gondor.
Lord Orchald did not belong to any of those well-respected Houses. His own House was a small one, long since having lost all importance that they had once owned, and he was quite happy with that. Still, anyone at least a bit familiar with Dúnadan nobility would have guessed that he came from one of the most ancient families known by hearing his name.
Not the shortened form of it that he had used in these days, mostly for his subject’s sake. He had, in truth, been named Orchaldor – and that was an ancient name from Númenor, from where his ancestors came. And he was well aware of his noble heritage and made sure that his only son understood the importance of it as well.
For even though it had long lost its former importance, the family had moved back from Númenor to Middle-earth way before the last ships of the Faithful had lost the sinking isle. They had originally settled in South-Ithilien, near Pelargir, in the last century of the Second Age and had held extended lands in that now abandoned province. At that time, their importance was seconded only by the future Princes of Dol Amroth, and when the South-kingdom had been sounded, the head of the family was offered a seat in Osgiliath, in the council of Isildur and Anárion.
In the Third Age, though, war and the perilous neighbourhood had forced the family to retreat westwards from the Anduin. At first they settled in Lossarnach, but the found they did not like living there. Thus, led by a Lord named Ostoher, they had moved to Halabor – little more than an unprotected fishing village at that time.
Ostoher had the Castle built, on a cliff rising above the Great River, and also had the great ramparts that protected the town from the roadside, the two gates and some other fortifications – like the Square House in the Old Port – so that his subjects could live in relative safety.
This was roughly six hundred years ago, while Gondor was under Steward Barahir’s rule. At this time – and for the four centuries afterwards – Halabor was a small but strategically important town, with a population ten times of its current one, and its Lords benefited greatly from its location at the crossing of the Great River and the old South Road. They might not be sitting in the Council of Minas Tirith anymore, but they were still important – and highly respected – members of the local nobility.
Until the garrison of Cair Andros had been established, after the Battle of the Crossings of the Poros in 2885. The rearranging of Gondor’s defence line had caused a change in the major trade routes, turning them away from Halabor and directly towards Cair Andros thereafter. Halabor retreated to unimportance, and its Lords lost the major part of their incomes as well as their importance.
Some of the old alliances had survived those unfortunate events, though. Such as the old friendship of the Lords of Halabor to the Princes of Dol Amroth, which hailed from those half-forgotten times when the House of the Falcon still owned lands in South Ithilien. This old friendship earned each future Lord of Halabor the privilege to be tutored in the Prince of Dol Amroth’s court, and – if they had the strength and the will for it – to become a Swan Knight one day. Few noble Houses fallen from their formerly important positions could say that.
Orchald himself had had his training under Prince Angelimir, and he had become a friend of Adrahil, the current ruling Prince. The news of Adrahil’s ailing saddened him greatly, but again, his friend’s health had been fragile ever since infested with that strange Southern fever. Last time they had met (when Orchald had taken his son to Dol Amroth, more than fifteen years ago) Adrahil had already been but a shadow of his former self.
Orchald could not complain about his own condition. He was still strong and hole, even if somewhat slower than in his young years, and he was still an impressive sight to behold. A tall, heavily built man he was, with a ruggedly handsome face that actually looked a lot nobler and finer in his later years that it had looked earlier. The neatly trimmed, short silver beard and the iron-grey hair that he usually wore in a tight ponytail on the nape of his neck gave his features a certain elegance he had lacked earlier. In fact, widowed noblewomen from the neighbourhood still had a hopeful eye on him, just as their daughters and nieces were eyeing his son hopefully.
His son. Orchald’s heart filled with pride as he watched his late-born son, clad in his best clothes, greeting the Yule guests that had already begun to arrive. Barely in his thirties, Herumor already had a great likeness to his father, save from his brown eyes and his softer, more even features. Those he had inherited from his late mother, the Lady Humleth of Lossarnach, a kinswoman of Forlong the Faithful, whose untimely loss Orchald was still mourning. Aye, Herumor was a comely lad, combining the best features of his parents – and he was learned, well-mannered, and a Swan Knight himself. Small wonder that every well-bred maiden in the area (not to mention their parents) had an eye on him.
'Twas unfortunate that Herumor had to lose his heart to a common-born woman, and one who was three years older than him, at that. But Lord Orchald did not begrudge his son a little happiness – as long as Herumor was willing to be wedded and bedded according to his father’s wishes and to his status as the last heir of such an ancient House. Fortunately, his mistress, the healer of the town, was a wise and sober woman who understood all too well what could be and what could not.
Lord Orchald had come to an agreement with Mistress Angharad. Herumor was allowed to keep her ‘til his wedding. After that, their intimate relationship had to end. And she was not to give Herumor a bastard child. As a healer, she could easily avoid getting pregnant. She loved Herumor enough to agree with those conditions and had even voiced her intent to marry Meurig, the Infirmary’s slow-witted but good-hearted helper in the not all too far future, just to silence people’s tongues.
There were moments when Lord Orchald genuinely regretted that Angharad’s ancestry made her unsuitable to become the Lady of Halabor. In every other thing, she would have been eminently suitable. But the blood of Westernesse had been already diluted in the veins of the Lords of Halabor. Herumor could not wed a non-Númenórean woman, and even less so one of common birth. Some things could just not be done, and both Angharad and Herumor understood that. No wishful thinking had ever changed the hard facts of life.
Still, Lord Orchald felt guilty about he entire situation sometimes, and he often tried to ease his guilty conscience with supporting Angharad and her Infirmary any way he could. Ordering a copy of the precious herbology for her was but one sign of his respect and gratitude towards this remarkably strong woman who loved his son enough to let him go.
The book had been sent to the Infirmary in the early afternoon, for he could not invite his son’s mistress to the Yule ceremony, of course. Even less so as he intended to finally force his hand during said Yule ceremony. He had invited all members of the local nobility who had daughters of suitable age and status. Herumor would have to make his choice tonight – or his father would. Getting him betrothed and wedded could not be delayed any longer.
The castle being a small one of its kind – especially compared to the White Tower in Minas Tirith or to Lord Forlong’s home in Lossarnach – the feasting hall was not an independent building, just a large room on the ground floor of the riverside wing. It was this wing where the living quarters of the Lord’s family could be found (although these were on the second floor). The adjoining kitchen – which shared the chimney with the feasting hall’s hearth – solved two problems in a simple way: keeping the hall warm in winter and making it easy to transfer the various dishes from the ovens directly to the tables, before the guests.
According to his rank and his function as the host of the festival, a table for Lord Orchald and his family was situates on a dais, opposite the main entrance. A canopied chair was placed at the middle of the table for the Lord, so that he could oversee the feast from his heightened position. The heart-side of the double seat was left empty. That would have been the place of the Lady of Halabor, unoccupied since Lady Humleth’s much too early death many years ago. There were other, simpler chairs, for Herumor on his father’s right, and for the highest-ranking guests who were allowed to the Lord’s table. This time, these were Peredur, the Lord’s bailiff, with his family, and a few moderately rich men of Dúnadan descent who happened to have manors of considerable size just outside Lord Orchald’s lands – and daughters between the ages of sixteen and twenty-eight, whom they were most eager to marry off.
For the guests of lesser rank as well as the guards and the servants of the Castle (as far as they were not labouring in the kitchen or guarding the walls) long, low tables of sturdy oak were placed in three parallel rows, at right angles to the dais. These had no tablecloths, and equally long and low oakwood benches were placed on both their sides. From the stone pillars dividing the room beautiful lamps made of coloured glass (the excellent handiwork of Halabor’s own glass workers) were hanging on long bronze chains from the skilfully wrought halters. Those and the fire in the hearth bathed the room in a soft, reddish-golden light.
The walls and pillars themselves were decorated with evergreen holly wreaths and red berries, mistletoe and pine cones that were painted silver or gold. The shields of Lord Orchald’s House that always hung on the pillars had been cleaned and the colours refreshed. Tin plates and tankards had been laid on the tables, save from the Lord’s table, where all dishes were made of silver.
“Do the preparations meet your satisfaction, my Lord?” a low voice asked, and turning, Lord Orchald met the wise, tired eyes of his old manservant, Sador.
“Everything is excellent, as always when Mistress Gilmith holds the reins,” the Lord smiled, and Sador smiled back, proud of the organising talents of his wife, the chatelaine of the Castle. They had both served the Lords of Halabor practically since their birth, coming from families acquaintanted with the ruling House for generations.
“I fear some of the guests might find our festive table a bit simple for their taste,” commented Sador dryly, giving especially Lord Ulmondil and his lady wife a sidelong look.
Lord Orchald shrugged. “I care not. No-one should spend the Night of Yule hungry or without a roof above their head. If the healers of the Infirmary offered to take in all the beggars for the feast, the least we could do was to send over some of our food. There will still be aplenty – more than we need.”
“You are generous, my Lord,” murmured Sador, but Lord Orchald shook his head.
“Nay, Sador, I am merely giving up on something I do not truly need. ‘Tis the healers who are generous, giving their short time of rest those who need help most. Now, let us greet our guests, shall we?”
Flanked by Sador, he crossed the great hall to clasp forearms first with his oldest guests. Lord Malanthur was his closest neighbour, living in a fortified mansion just outside the area under Orchald’s rule. He was of pure Númenórean origins – or so he declared anyway. Númenórean lore was his chief passion. He studied the history of the sunken island, followed its traditions as well as it was possible, gave his children Númenórean names and had been writing on a book about Númenor for years.
His lady wife, Emeldir, came from an old but penniless family in Pelargir, had brought naught else but the impressive list of her ancestors into their marriage, and she suffered from permanent homesickness. The almost thirty years spent near Halabor were not enough to warm her up to her inland home, and she wore a constant expression of insulted grief on her noble face.
Their daughters, twenty-eight and twenty-two years old, were lovely young ladies, dressed and groomed according to their status and to the festive occasion, but they could not hide a certain air of resignation. Too often had they been displayed for potential suitors during the recent years. Their brother, on the other hand, a comely young man of twenty-five, paraded on his father’s side like a young cock, all too aware of his status as most desirable bachelor.
For his part, Lord Orchald could have lived with either of the young ladies as his future daughter-in-law. Erendis, the older one, had a calm and gentle nature that would complement Herumor’s youthful brashness nicely. Almarian, the younger one, still seemed to have kept some of her joy and hope. She was also a good conversationalist and loved to dance – both useful traits for a lady whose husband had to welcome ranking guests all the time. And they both had handsome dowries, not to mention the fortified manor of their father, which could become crucial in the defences of Halabor.
Thus Lord Orchald was particularly friendly by greeting each family member individually, ere he entrusted them to Sador’s care who was to show them to their place at the heightened table. The lord then turned to his other neighbour, another lesser noble by the rather unusual name of Azrubêl.
Now this was a guest Lord Orchald could happily have done without. Neighbours or not, he only kept contacts with the family for the sake of the Lady Meldis, who was a kind and gentle soul – and a cousin of Golasgil, he Lord of Anfalas. Hers was a family of moderate influence (Golasgil sat in the Council of Gondor, after all) but of no wealth at all, as their lands were harsh and nigh unarable, and their people lived from fishing. Thus she had not had any other choice than to accept Azrubêl’s offer – the only one she had got.
Lord Orchald often thought that it was such a waste for a good and noble woman to live with a fool like Azrubêl, whose entire family had been known to be somewhat… strange for a very long time. Azrubêl’s forefathers had lived near Halabor for at least ten generations, but he claimed to be a direct descendant of some First Age nobles who never went to Númenor. Everyone who knew the history of the Edain knew how unlikely that was, But the entire family seemed to be obsessed with that idea, and they never got tired to explain how the true greatness of Men was buried under the Sea with those faithful ones who would not abandon their home of old.
Consequently, they looked down at the “Númenóreans” with disdain, calling them cowards and traitors. They went so far as giving their children Adûnaic names and speaking Adûnaic within the family – or what they thought to be Adûnaic anyway. Needless to say that all this made them less than beloved among their neighbours, all of which were very proud of their Númenórean origins, and as pretty as their seventeen-year-old daughter was, Lord Orchald shuddered from the thought of becoming related to them.
Not that the family of Lord Ulmondil would have been much better. While Ulmondil was at least well-mannered, he fancied himself quite the mariner – albeit his family had moved from Harlond to Halabor four generations earlier, and he never steered anything bigger than a fishing boat on his arm. He had gone to Dol Amroth to be trained as a Swan Knight, but never got his white belt, which had made him very bitter towards the Prince and his armsmasters. He had married a noblewoman from Dol Amroth, who was quite an Elf-fancier, and they spoke Sindarin among each other. Their daughters, twenty-one and eighteen years old, ate very little and slept even less, so that they would look pale and slender like Elves, their sons preferred the harp to the bow and reading to arms exercise, and the entire family behaved as if naught would be fine enough for them.
Nay, Lord Orchald did not truly want either Edhellos or Faniel to become the wife of his son. But should Herumor chose one of them, he would bear with the choice. ‘Twas Herumor who would have to live with the wife of his choice. And at least they had one thing in common with Ulmondil’s family: their love for Dol Amroth. Even though they would quarrel about the Prince’s person all the time, most likely.
He would be a lot happier getting related to the family of Lord Felanath, Lord Orchald decided. This still fairly young nobleman had been barely more than a child when he swore fealty to him, and had proved to be an excellent and faithful ally ever since. Alas, their twin daughters were barely sixteen. Lord Orchald would have preferred a somewhat older bride for his son. It seemed cruel to force such young girls into the marriage bed already. They should be still playing with dolls. But he knew all too well how in these dark times the daughters of the nobles had taken over the custom of lesser people and married much too young. ‘Twas a sad thing in his eyes, but one that he could not change.
He felt great relief when all the possible brides and their families were finally seated, and he could turn to greet his bailiff, Peredur son of Narmacil, with his lovely wife, the Lady Iorwen of Lossarnach, his no less lovely daughter, the Lady Innogen, and his younger son, Númendil. What surprised him, though, was the presence of a tall, stern-looking man, clad in black velvet, who looked like an older version of Peredur himself.
“My Lord,” the bailiff said, “may I introduce you my older brother, Odhrain?”
“Half-brother,” corrected the man in question and bowed towards their host politely. “My Lord… we have met before.”
“Indeed, we have,” Odhrain was not a warrior, which made a clasp of forearms out of question, thus Lord Orchald only squeezed his shoulders as a somewhat awkward form of greeting. “So, the two of you have finally come to some kind of… understanding, it seems?”
“We have,” replied Odhrain, clearly uncomfortable with the entire situation, “though we still are negotiating the terms. Coming here was not my idea, I must point out. He insisted.”
“And a good thing it is that he did,” said Lord Orchald. “I have urged your father to do right with you all the time, but he was not to be moved to that. The more content I am that his son proved to be of a wiser disposition. There is no need to feel uncomfortable. As your family has finally acknowledged you, you have every right to sit at my table with them.”
“Somehow it seems less than flattering that my worth as a person should depend on the acceptance of someone else,” answered Odhrain dryly. “Does the fact that Lord Peredur here calls me his brother now make me a different person? A more worthy person? If it does, then all my previous struggles to become a worthy man have been in vain, as all that was needed was a nod from him. But if it was not, then why is his acceptance the only thing that counts?”
“You ask questions that I cannot answer, I fear,” Lord Orchald could not help but admire the sharp with and stubborn pride of the man who had to wait more than fifty years to get what had always been his right. “Certainly, many of the laws that rule our lives are good and needed, while a few of them have outlived their necessity. But a realm cannot live without laws, even if some of them serve to a disadvantage of some people.”
“’Tis cold comfort for those who get under the wheels of law without a fault of their own,” said Odhrain bitterly. Lord Orchald nodded.
“True enough. Nor do I assume that our law is perfect. But it is not our task – or our right – to change it, and at least your brother had understood what your father was never willing to do: that you are not to blame for the means you came into this world. Try to count your blessings; despite everything, you have fared better than most in a situation like yours.”
That, again, was very true, and Odhrain could do naught else but incline his head in respect for Lord Orchald’s wisdom.
“Come now,” said the old lord, “the table is laid, and the guests are only waiting for us to take our places. Even though I chose to limit our usual excesses a little this year, I can promise you that it will be a supper worthy of a Yule feast still.”
Note: I broke the last chapter into several parts because it was becoming too long, compared with the other ones.