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12
Kin-strife

Kin-strife


“And on what do you work, Curunír?” asked another patron of the drink hall in Rhovanion where Saruman sat among many who were attendant on Valacar or the King’s hosts among his wife’s kindred.

The White Wizard looked up from the model on which he worked. “It is merely an idea sparked by my last journey. In the lands far to the south they have come upon a way to construct privies and use the water from the great river by which they live to cleanse away the deposits of night soil so that they do not stink under the heat of the Sun and draw flies and disease. I was considering how a system with water stored above a settlement or city might do similarly, with a single water source providing water to all of the homes by way of piping, and how a second system of great drains might carry away the effluent to a drainfield or river sufficiently far from the village or city to keep the city from stinking of sewage. Even a single home might have a cistern system above the home to hold rain water until it is needed, then release it down through pipes to basins and the privy to cleanse away the urine and night soil to a cesspool sufficiently covered to avoid the breeding of vermin.”

“What of those places where there are no hills or mountains close enough to spark streams from above? This would do well enough in Minas Tirith and many places set among the White or the Misty Mountains, or so I must suppose. But how could one do similarly when the source of water available is a well or perhaps a stream or spring or river situated lower than the home or settlement?”

“It is too bad we cannot find ways to suck the water into the houseplace much as a child will suck water from the river through a hollow reed,” one of Vidugavia’s Men commented.

That comment sparked the hint of a memory in Saruman’s mind--a memory of a puzzle posed by Aulë concerning just such a situation. Curumo had been the one to find a solution; but how to draw out that memory for consideration? Ah, yes. “Let me think,” Saruman said. “I will go out under the stars and ponder, and perhaps a solution will come to me.” He took his staff, which had been leaning against the table at which he sat, rose, and giving a brief bow went out of the door to the foreporch of the place where he first made certain none spied on him, then opened himself to draw upon the staff, focusing his thought on the memory of water and pipes--water being drawn up through pipes, of how one might create the suction needed....

The next night when he came to the drink hall he had with him a working model of a pump; the following day he met with Valacar of Gondor and with Vidugavia of Rhovanion and their joint grandson now known as Eldacar to present his ideas, accompanied by Valacar’s very enthusiastic Master of Engineers. Both kings and Valacar’s heir were highly impressed by Saruman’s suggestions, and immediately were considering how they might be implemented in their larger cities. In Minas Anor and Osgiliath streams and springs coming down the mountain from the melting snowpack and glaciers already fed public fountains throughout the cities; if water could be brought into each home and public building, and sewage carried out of each as well, it would indeed improve the public health.

Flush with success, Saruman returned to the drink hall for a third night in a row. The drink hall was more full than it had been the previous night, for a delegation from Gondor that included Valacar’s Master of Ships had just arrived to speak with His Majesty, whom many in Gondor grumbled identified himself far too much with his wife’s people and not enough with his own. But Valacar had proven a genial enough King; and although many amongst the nobility begrudged his marriage to one considered of low blood because her ancestors had not come from the Star Isle, yet the common people were pleased with his leadership, and the army supported him. So it was that only minor complaints had been registered with the King regarding his marriage and the lack of purity of his son’s bloodlines, complaints the King had dismissed out of hand. And there were those among the delegation that filled the drink hall that night that harbored grudges fueled by the perception that the King weakened the royal lineage, paid too little attention to the commerce and naval concerns of Gondor, and honored his wife’s people over the nobility of his own realm.

Also in the delegation came some from Umbar who had begrudged the fact Elendil’s heirs had held sway over them for over a millennia and a half. After all, Umbar had been the center of Númenórean culture in Middle Earth for centuries before the Star Isle sank beneath the waves of the Sundering Sea; and the Winged Crown’s interference with Umbar’s more ancient preferences for indulging in smuggling, piracy, and slavery as well as the traditional ties of many of the older houses to the interests of Mordor were deeply resented.

Castamir, Master of Ships, was the King’s cousin’s son. He was overweeningly proud of his purer Númenórean blood, and deeply resentful of the apparent preference Valacar and his son showed for the folk of Rhovanion. The very fact that in order to bring his annual reports to the King’s attention he must travel here to Vidugavia’s court raised his ire.

Castamir had sought out for himself a bride of undoubted Númenórean lineage, and had found her in Umbar, the daughter of a house whose family had exercised lordship in Middle Earth for some five hundred years or more before the coming of Elendil and his sons to claim those lands above Harad and west of Rhûn. Castamir’s closest companion at this time was his wife’s brother, whose own resentments went beyond his stated opposition to Valacar’s close ties to lesser Men to a secret hatred toward Gondor itself and an even more secret desire to reestablish ties to Mordor and the dark powers so many in his land had worshipped during the Dark Years.

These two sat by Saruman that night, looking at the drawings and diagrams taking shape under the hands of the Wizard and the chief Engineer of Gondor showing how reservoirs would be constructed high on the flanks of Mindolluin, and how they would feed water into Minas Anor and Osgiliath, and the plans for the construction of sewers under the two cities.

“And how would these reservoirs be fed?” asked Castamir’s brother-in-law.

Saruman smiled expansively. “Here and here,” he pointed out on a diagram the engineer had done earlier of Mindolluin, “are depressions on the mountain’s flanks. With some judicious construction of retaining walls on the outer side and redirection of these streams, we can form and fill the reservoirs; and then through aqueducts we can direct a sufficient flow of water into both cities to supply almost all homes and buildings within them. Then through sewer lines here and here we can....”

Valacar’s Master of Engineers found himself growing increasingly uncertain as Saruman revealed more and more of the plans for improving both the White City and the capital. After all, not only did such sewage lines offer the chance to carry away effluent, but also could possibly offer secret passage into the cities for determined enemies. But Saruman was not paying attention to the Man’s attempts to suggest he curb his tongue, for in Castamir and his wife’s brother he had a flattering audience, and Curumo had always enjoyed the chance to show off his intelligence and inventive skills and to hear praise of his reasoning.

When Castamir’s brother-in-law met secretly with his contacts from eastern lands during his return to Umbar, he gave them news of the proposed changes to Osgiliath and the planned locations for reservoirs to feed both the capital and the site of the King’s summer palace as well.

At the time the locations of the proposed reservoirs were noted but set aside for future exploitation, for at this time the Dark Lord who continued to grow in power in Dol Guldur had not the resources to bypass the watchfulness of the guard on Minas Anor and the flanks of Mindolluin. Yet, such a day might well come soon enough. As for the proposed sewers for the two cities----

The brother-in-law received direction to increase his flattery of Castamir and to continue fanning the flame of his resentments; and to see to it his agents in the courts of other nobles within Gondor kept the fact that Valacar and his son appeared to show greater honor to the Northmen than to his proper vassals before the noses of their patrons. None were likely to revolt against Valacar himself, but by the time Eldacar came to succeed his father attitudes might be relaxed.

*******


Saruman sat in the candle-lit caverns of the archives of Minas Anor, poring again over the scrolls and documents collected there regarding Sauron and the making of the Rings of Power. During the meetings of the White Council he had sought information regarding Celeborn’s knowledge of how such Rings had been wrought, but the Lord of the Golden Wood merely reported he had no direct knowledge of their making, for although he had lived in Eregion and had been a fixture of Celebrimbor’s court and had served as an advisor to the Noldorin lord, yet his first love had been given to the forests with which the land had been rich.

“I am no Noldo myself,” he’d said. “Not for me time spent in workshops and forges, fashioning jewels and weapons, seeking to create tokens of power and vessels of light, although I certainly appreciate such things when I see them or hold them in my hands. Nay, you’d learn more from my beloved wife, who being Noldorin bred bears ever the appreciation for such activities.”

Yet Saruman could not bring himself to talk at any length with Galadriel, for when he looked on her fair beauty and into the wisdom of her eyes he remembered ever the child who’d seen the lesser gem of Light he’d once wrought and had then watched as he’d unmade it, and then the elleth who’d suggested that Gandalf and not himself be made chief of the Council. She had been also a pupil of Irmo and was much given to the study of dreams and visions. What had she foreseen, or seen from afar of him and his activities? Those he’d spoken with who had passed through her realm spoke also of how she consistently tested their hearts and intent, sifting their very thoughts with the attitude of a housewife looking into chests of stored linens to see if mice or moths might have entered in since last those chests were opened to leave holes in sheets, blankets, or comforters, or nests of young among the feathers stuffing quilts and pillows.

Nay, he found her company uncomfortable enough. Questioning her would be courting invasion of his mind.

He’d not learned openly the disposition of the three Elven Rings, but he suspected he knew the locations of at least two of them--the very fact the borders of Imladris and the Golden Wood could not be perceived by those passing them who might harbor ill will in their hearts spoke of power beyond the norm, or so Saruman felt. As for the third....

He had known the suspicion when he first entered the mortal lands that perhaps Círdan had been made caretaker of one of the Three--most likely Vilya, the Ring of Water, he thought. Yet the few times he’d seen the great Elven shipwright since his arrival he’d not noted any unusual aspects to indicate he indeed wore any of the Rings of Power; and certainly the Havens themselves were not hidden. Those who dwelt in the region of Mithlond and the remains of Lindon were all well trained in defense, and they were sufficiently far from the primary breeding grounds of orcs, trolls, and wargs that it was unlikely such creatures would come there; and with the forces of the Men of Arnor between Angmar and the Grey Havens invasions from the north had not reached so far in many years.

He didn’t believe that the third was in Thranduil’s realm, although that was, of course, possible. Yet neither Thranduil nor his sons had about them the aura of ones bearing enhanced power; nor with dark creatures such as the great spiders constantly making resurgences in that realm (not to mention the presence of Dol Guldur in the southern reaches of what had once been its borders) did their land bid fair to enjoy the protections he saw due to lands protected by such great power.

It was possible the third Ring was also within either Imladris or Lórien. After all, Galadriel Artanis was admitted by all to be co-equal with her husband in the governance of the latter under the authority of Amroth, while there were certainly more than one great lord among Elves dwelling in the former. Glorfindel could easily wield such a thing as lightly as he did his weapons; and Erestor, though quiet through the Councils so far, was yet revealed one of great wisdom and knowledge, one who though he could have ruled his own kingdom preferred the company of Elrond and his family. Nor could he rule out the possibility one of the wandering lords might carry the third Ring--possibly Gildor Inglorion. Or it might have remained in the keeping of one within the ruins of Lindon, one who had not taken lordship per se, but who nevertheless used the power of its presence not to hide the land but merely to deter those of evil nature from entering in.

Or could the third have been worn by Gil-galad when he assaulted Sauron? Was the reputed heat of Sauron’s hand sufficient to have destroyed any Ring his victim might have worn as he held the former lord of Lindon in his grasp, burning away the integrity of the great Elf’s life? It was possible, as close as all were at that point to Orodruin, that one of the great Rings found in the ruins of Gil-galad’s remains might have been carried into the Sammath Naur and given back to Aulë’s keeping once more. Yet if that were true would not his own lord from within Aman have shared that word with him before seconding him for this service?

He’d been sitting back from his examination of documents as he thought. He now straightened in his seat and grasped his staff, seeking to focus his thought in search of any such memory it might contain....

“You’d do best not to do that when any of those who frequent this archive might see,” advised a tolerant voice in Quenya when he let the power of his staff go, and Saruman looked up in startlement to see Gandalf across from him, a mug of ale by him.

“And what do you do here?” the White Wizard asked his grey colleague, continuing in the same tongue.

“Seeking any records I might find regarding the Onodrim,” Gandalf returned. “I’ve just spent a delightful six months in company with Fangorn, and was thinking of making my own bid to seek the whereabouts of the Entwives. It is said they were last seen making their way eastward before Sauron sealed off those lands, yet you have never spoken of seeing their influence during your surveys of the eastern realms.”

“First Periannath and now the tree-herders of Fangorn,” Saruman sighed. “You do spend a good deal of time in company with obscure peoples.”

“If all do not stand against evil, all will fall to it one by one,” Gandalf noted. “Just because a people is insular and isolated in nature doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own part to play in the defeat of the Shadow. Have you seen any sign of orchards, groves, and gardens such as the Entwives preferred to establish there in the east?”

“No, I must say I have not--not in the eastern wastes. Now, I saw lands north and west that they might have established or assisted in establishing, between what was Cardolan and Lindon.”

Gandalf straightened, smiling slightly. “Yes,” he said, well pleased with the thought, “there west of the Baranduin. They would indeed have enjoyed such places--rich soil; temperate climate. Perhaps I will seek there instead. But it seems a great waste allowing their folk to dwindle because they can no longer find their mates.” He sighed. “Ah, so be it, then. And what do you seek in your studies?”

“More on how the Rings of Power were created. I know that such things are possible, of course, but not how they were done. After receiving instruction in the construction of jewels of Light I focused more on devices to ease labor rather than how to create tokens of power.”

“I’m not certain myself,” Gandalf admitted. “Is that the knowledge you sought from your staff?”

“I looked to see what memories might be stored there of it. There are times when I much resent the limitations imposed on us in our service.”

“I know I was at first dismayed at the thought of not having full memory,” Gandalf agreed, “although I accepted the necessity.”

“And what land did you visit last before your sojourn in Fangorn?”

“I examined the lands of Umbar, and did not like much that I saw. Too many of the Black Númenóreans remain there, many apparently practicing the black arts. They hide behind the King’s laws and the appearance of respectability and trade--but in what appear from without to be warehouses, hidden cellars, and dark attics they offer honor to the Nameless One and ward themselves with the symbol of the Eye as they seek to work spells of ruin on their neighbors and competitors and seek to suborn the King’s Men.

“Within Umbar there is no question that many worship Morgoth and Sauron and are much given to the worst excesses of behavior. Those who are predisposed to deal with others with honor are all too often vilified as weak or suffer persecution as spies and saboteurs. There are important Men who encourage piracy and slavery--indeed, several own ships that raid the shipping lanes and Gondor’s trading vessels and that send longboats ashore near seaside towns and hamlets to take whatever folk they can find abroad to sell as slaves.

“And they granted me a new name while I was there--Incanus.”

“They name you a spy, and openly, do they?”

“I fear they have no respect for our status as Istari, my friend.”

“And what response did you have to what you saw?”

Gandalf shrugged. “I was able to see several betray themselves before the King’s governor, and four families have had to prostrate themselves before Valacar. But I fear it is but the scab covering the boil I’ve scratched there.

“And you, Saruman--where have you been? I did not find you when I returned from Umbar.”

“I went south to Harad at the last. The worship of Morgoth and Sauron as manifestations of the Lords of Death is widespread; but a surprisingly large number honor the Valar under their own vulgar names and symbols.”

“That is heartening, I would think,” the grey Wizard said.

“Yes, I must say that it is. But their current attitude of respect to the Crown of Gondor is but a surface thing, I fear.”

“You believe they will rebel again?”

“I cannot say how long it will be, but yes--they will rebel again. Of that I am certain.”

“A pity. You have warned the King that he might increase the guard on the border lands?”

Saruman lifted a single shoulder in dismissal. “Valacar and his son Eldacar have been warned repeatedly this must come in time. If the King does not heed the warnings he receives, it is his own lack of attention that he must blame.”

Gandalf nodded, but was troubled.

*******


Later that day Gandalf was able to arrange a meeting with Eldacar, Valacar having let it be known he was entertaining the new King of Rhovanion and thus was not available for other audience.

“You believe that opposition against the Crown grows because my father married a woman of the Northmen rather than one of the Dúnedain?” Eldacar asked disbelieving.

“Yes, my Lord Eldacar.”

“Then why has there been no widespread indication of discontent?”

“When your father married your mother he received six messages contesting his decision while your grandfather received rather more. When you were born there were thirteen protests received that your bloodline was not pure Númenórean in nature and thus you might not be acceptable to the populace of Gondor as a proper successor to your father when the time comes. So widespread and persistent was the protest when it was learned your parents had given you the Rhovanion name of Vinitharya that in the end even your mother agreed you needed to be called by a name more proper to Gondor. Every time your father or you have gone back to Rhovanion for a time protests are lodged with your Master of Protocol and Steward, almost always including complaints from lords from Umbar and Pelargir.

“When was the last time you or your father made a progress within the southern reaches of Gondor, my Lord Prince? How many of your personal counselors and friends are from Lamedon or Lebennin, much less Anfalas or Belfalas? When the Lord of Ringlo Vale speaks in the Council, do you heed his words or even listen to him with respect? The Prince of Númenor vi Ennorath on the southern coast near Edhellond has your ear, but can the same be said for he of Pelargir?

“Umbar houses the greater portion of your detractors, and offers a haven for those whose ancestral loyalties have ever bound them more closely to Mordor than to Gondor. Four families were recently sent here from that land to do obeisance to your father as their rightful liege lord, and rather more have been arrested for trafficking in the black arts and slavery.”

“You say that some of these offer loyalty to Mordor. Yet Mordor has not been a threat since the triumph of the Last Alliance.”

“You think so, Lord Eldacar? How many times have you and your father received reports of assaults by orcs on the inhabitants of Ithilien in the last year?”

“I believe there have been about twenty so far this year.”

“And last year?”

“Last year there were twenty-eight reports.”

“This year is only about a third of the way through, and already you have more than two-thirds the number of all of last year? What about two years ago?”

Eldacar’s expression was becoming more concerned. “Two years ago there were eighteen in the total year, if I recall correctly; and in the ten years previous to that we had an average of seven attacks per year.”

“How many assaults have been offered on your father’s officers within Harad in each of the last three years? Are the numbers growing or decreasing?”

The Prince’s face was growing more set. “Such assaults are increasing, and the attacks against the border fort at Porthos also increase.”

“How about attacks against your cousin’s peoples in Rhovanion from Dol Guldur and the Easterlings?”

“Also definitely increasing.”

“How are revenues from customs from the lower river ports comparing to those from Númenor vi Ennorath and the Harlond?”

Eldacar turned to ledgers stored behind him and brought out three, then thumbed through each until he found the entries he sought. Finally he looked up. “Revenues from Númenor vi Ennorath have stayed steady over the past eight years; those from the Harlond have increased by almost a full tenth over the same period of time; those from the Pelargir anchorages have dropped, although the reports on ships accepting harborage there indicates half again as many ships docked there last year as did so eight years past. The number of ships taking berths at the Harlond has decreased in spite of the rise in revenues; the number docking in Númenor vi Ennorath continues to be roughly equal--perhaps decreasing by a ship or two a year over the past eight.”

Both considered the implications of the answers to Gandalf’s questions. Finally the Prince of Gondor shut the ledgers. “I see, Mithrandir, that neither my father nor I have paid sufficient attention to the deterioration of control throughout much of southern Gondor, and we have allowed our relationships to focus almost totally on my kinsmen within Rhovanion and those of Númenor vi Ennorath and the nearer fiefdoms, particularly Ithilien, Anórien, and those to the west. I pray we have time to rebuild control and relations before my father must perforce accept the Gift and leave the Winged Crown to me.”

“I agree, my Lord, and add my prayers to yours.”

However, when his father died unexpectedly of a brainstorm nine months later the situation had not notably improved. A few of the lords from the southwestern fiefdoms were well pleased with improved relationships with the King and his son and grandsons; but the situation in the cities along the lower portions of the River Anduin and those tributaries close to Pelargir had deteriorated badly. Anfalas and Belfalas both turned against the son of Valacar, citing him as being of untenable mixed blood and therefore unacceptable in the eyes of the land. That most of the forces supporting the King had high proportions of Men from Rhovanion among them in the end worked even more against him as many among the common people saw this as proof that Eldacar’s first loyalties were to his mother’s people rather than to those of Gondor.

When after three years of struggle Eldacar was unseated from the throne of Gondor most of the citizens of the land rejoiced--or at least they did at first.

*******


“It was well done, my Lord Castamir, to use the sewer lines built by Valacar to access the heart of Osgiliath and so take the city,” the newly declared King was assured by his wife’s brother, whom he still accounted his best advisor.

Castamir shrugged. Ever a stern Man in nature, the years since the time he first saw those sewer lines planned in Rhovanion had hardened him thoroughly. Always prejudiced against what he saw as foreign influences, he had become totally intolerant of any advice or devices he saw as having come from outside the purview of Gondor and proper Númenórean technology. “The entire system for delivery of water to the city and removal of waste is improper,” he declared. “We must see to a new manner of dealing with these needs. Also, what has served to allow us entrance to the capital could as easily be used by an enemy to Gondor as it has by us who have ever sought to protect her sovereignty and integrity.”

“Indeed,” his brother-in-law assured him. “We must gather together the engineers to find another way to deal with waste.”

But the engineers refused to consider changing the sewer lines or the aqueducts bringing water from Mount Mindolluin. “We could take our water directly from the river,” one admitted reluctantly, “but as it passes the settlements and fortifications to our north it is much fouled, which is why Valacar accepted the proposal to bring water from the White Mountains instead. As for reconstructing the sewer--doing so unnecessarily will only damage the structural integrity of many of the buildings and roads and bridges of the city, or would require total reconstruction of major portions of Osgiliath at the very least. Those who built the sewage and water delivery systems carefully placed the pipes under the streets and thoroughfares, limiting the amount of construction that might be over them so that if there is damage to one or another they can be accessed for repairs with relative ease and with the least possible rerouting of traffic by other ways while some portions of the roads must be removed for a time.”

It was agreed, however, that heavy grates would be placed over the ends of the sewers so that no others would be able to as easily access them as had Castamir’s folk.

But Castamir’s triumph was not total. Eldacar had managed to flee Osgiliath at the last moment. His older son Ornendil had remained in Osgiliath, having arranged for his family to be ferried out of the city in a fishing dory north to Cair Andros, from which they fled to Rhovanion. And so it was Eldacar and his second son Minardil survived as a possible threat to Castamir’s sovereignty.

Ornendil had been captured, and a month after his taking of the Winged Crown found in the Dome of Stars Castamir held a great audience, compelling as many of the lords of the realm as possible to watch him take his vengeance on Eldacar’s proper heir.

Ornendil, weighted with chains and manacles to wrists, ankles, neck, and waist, was dragged before the throne on which his father and grandfather had sat, and on whose steps he and his brother Minardil had been wont to play when they were children. Ornendil stood as straight as the foreshortened chains allowed, realizing he was unlikely to survive the day but intent on keeping his dignity as well as he could, his eye fixed on his traitorous kinsman. When Castamir’s brother-in-law as herald began to recite the charges against Eldacar’s son, Ornendil spoke over him, managing to silence him.

“What charges are these, cousin, that you would bring against me? You seek to charge me with breaking the peace of Gondor, when I did naught but remain in what has been all my life my father’s house, seeing to the responsibilities toward the entire realm he and his Council have laid upon me? You would charge me with sedition when I have communicated only with lords of Gondor and the emissaries of my father’s allies since I began my service to our nation? Never have I dealt with our enemies, for that has always been seen to since our great-grandfather Rómendacil’s day by King and Council and not the King’s heir save when he is directly advised by King and Council and is merely the conduit for their words and will. Have I given aid and succor to the enemies of Gondor when I aided in the escape of my father, mother, and brother from your treachery? What about the support you have received from agents from Rhûn and Harad and darker agents better known to the blackest of the Black Númenóreans? Or did you not know such reports have been given to us....”

Castamir rose to stand on the dais before the throne, his face black with fury. “Silence him!” he roared at the officer who stood by Ornendil’s side. “Do not allow him to speak another word!”

“And how is he to do that without killing me outright?” Ornendil demanded bitterly. “Or will you have my tongue cut out?”

That he did--there before the entire court; and many were shocked, dismayed, and even outraged by the cruel order against one plainly helpless in the hands of his enemies. When several who had previously agreed to Castamir’s preferment as King to replace Eldacar sought to protest, however, all who spoke out were ordered arrested immediately and two were further ordered taken out and summarily executed in the court before the Dome of Stars as an example of how those who spoke against the new King would be treated.

As for Ornendil--he was ordered beaten to death with chains; and at nightfall his battered body was carried out and hung head downward from the walls by the main west gate as a warning as to of what outrages Castamir was capable. Overnight he went from being identified as Castamir the Savior to Castamir the Usurper and Castamir the Cruel; but having let this rigid soul take the Winged Crown, the people of Gondor found it was going to be difficult to rid themselves of his vicious self-righteousness.

*******


Eldacar sat in the smaller audience chamber his cousin had given to his use and looked in horror into the eyes of the Grey Wizard and the five Men with him. One was the Lord of Anfalas, and a second was the second son of the Prince of Númenor vi Ennorath, the capital of Belfalas and Lamedon. The third was seneschal to the lord of Pelargir, one who’d ever borne him greatest of antipathy. The other two were from Anórien and Ithilien. By him stood his son Minardil, while his own attendants and his cousin’s wife had led his Queen from the room, her grief at the news brought them more than she could bear.

“They cut out his tongue and then beat him to death? Why did they cut out his tongue?”

The Lord of Anfalas, who’d been among those convinced to join in the rebellion, stood tall and straight before the King he’d betrayed. “Your son Ornendil sought only to shame his cousin and to point out he was himself blameless, Lord. We knew it could only end in the death of your son, but we had expected that death to be at least somewhat cloaked in legal dealings, and for it to be an honorable one. Instead Castamir made no pretense of providing evidence of treachery on your son’s part, and had his tongue cut out that his own perfidy might not be shown forth before all. I will state now that he did so too late.”

“You expected my son to die, though blameless of all save for helping to see to it my wife, other son and I escaped; and you would have allowed it if the legal fiction presented as justification was acceptable enough?”

The Lord of Anfalas and Belfalas had the grace to blush, and the honesty to say, “I grieve to admit it, Lord, but this is true. Know this, however, that yours was not the only son to die that day. My own son spoke out without having the time to think, against the cruelty with which he saw Ornendil treated--spoke out before the entire assembly. He was immediately arrested and rushed to the prison. I was already out of the city on my way to confess to you I had mistaken my loyalties when I backed Castamir’s rebellion, for I had truly believed him to be honorable and to seek only to replace you on the basis of purer blood and a truer loyalty to Gondor as a whole when----” The tears came to his own eyes, and he had to struggle for some moments to be able again to speak.

At last the Man took a deep breath. “At sunset your son’s body was hung in its chains from the city walls, and the heads of all who had been arrested were flung onto the road before the gates. My son is also dead, Lord Eldacar. What kind of monster have I helped loose upon our land?”

For long moments Eldacar sat with his eyes closed, tears running unashamedly down his face. At last he wiped his eyes with a sleeve, looked with a blank expression at the Man standing before him willing to accept whatever fate he might receive at the deposed King’s hands; then Eldacar rose, stepped forward to embrace the Lord of Anfalas in comfort. “All of Gondor is without its rightful King,” he murmured. “I would not add to that grief by depriving one of my vassal lands of its lord, particularly when his grief is as deep as my own. I am so very sorry, my lord,” he added, “that you, too, must know the loss of a beloved son. I am so very, very sorry. And whatever I can do to set things right I will do--I so swear by the thrones of the Valar.”

*******


Ten years did the war rage, and increasingly lords and fiefs that had originally taken part in the rebellion came back to the support of Eldacar. At last, after one more report of atrocities perpetrated against an entire village because one of its young Men had spoken against Castamir’s right to rule, Eldacar came south with a mixed army of Gondorians, Rhovanions, some of the migrant bands of horse lords from further north in the Anduin valley, and even some from Eriador who’d heard tales of the usurpation of the Winged Crown and come south to their distant kinsman’s aid; and there in Lebennin the rebellion was finally ended as Eldacar himself broke through the defenses surrounding Castamir and with great deliberation decapitated the Usurper.

But so many had died in that long war, including he who had been Lord of Anfalas. His brother had been named Lord of Anfalas in his place; now having come before Eldacar with his sword in his hand, he offered it to Eldacar then bared his own neck. “I took oaths against you, my Lord King, and repent of them. But if my land is spared by my death at your hands then I offer myself freely that your rightful wrath may be spent on me and not on the people of Anfalas.”

Eldacar now appeared much older than the ten years of his exile would support; his hair had gone grey and no longer did he show forth the pleasure he’d known before he came to the Crown. His expression was stern as he examined the Man standing before him. At last he turned to some of those who’d come with him to the King’s camp by the crossings of the Erui and asked, “How has he served Anfalas--well or ill?”

“Well, my Lord King,” assured the Prince of Númenor vi Ennorath, who’d been besieged in his own city for much of the rebellion.

“Do you truly care for the lands given your family for stewardship in the King’s name?” Eldacar asked.

“Yes, my Lord King, I do.”

“Your brother and your nephew have already been lost to the service of Anfalas and the realm. I will not lose you, also. Do you repent of what was done in the vain pursuit of what was believed to be purer blood on the throne of Gondor?”

“I do indeed.”

“Do you now swear loyalty to me as King for as long as I remain so, and my rightful heir after me?”

“I do.”

“Then utter the oath.” Eldacar held the sword given him between his hands and watched as the Man took the hilts and swore.

The Wizard known in Gondor as Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, stood witness as he was to do for many who accepted this oath over the years.

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