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11
Treating with the Enemy

Treating with the Enemy


“My Lord Mahmot--there is our White City.”

Mahmot ibn Lofti of Khand looked up at the prompting of his current keeper--or so he preferred to think of the Lord Prince Faramir ibn Denethor, Steward of Gondor, who had greeted him when his party reached Ithilien, had hosted him two nights in his great keep of Emyn Arnen, and had served as his escort on this last leg of his journey to the city of the great King. He ought not to be coming here in the company of one such as this Steward, but at the side of his wife's brother, Klifa of the Sunirim of Khand, come in triumph to take possession of this land. Things, however, had not worked as planned--the great force brought together to invade Gondor had been easily defeated, and his nephew, who had been leading one of the battalions intended to flank those guarding the crossings of the Poros, had been captured and brought back here, to Minas Anor.

So he was come not to rejoice in the triumph over the land, but to sue for the return of the Klifa’s son.

And now he raised his eyes--and pulled his mount to a stop in amazement. He’d done his best to pay no attention to the beauty of Osgiliath as it rose again on both sides of the Anduin; but this look up at Minas Tirith was more than he was prepared for.

“They told me,” he murmured as the Steward also stayed his horse, “that it was built of the bones of the mountain itself--but this!”

Prince Faramir smiled as he halted his own steed. “Yes, and so it is indeed built--a great place and one we love dearly. For my brother there was no greater or more marvelous place in all of the world. For Gondor and Minas Tirith, as it was known then, he was willing to sacrifice himself. I hope that you will find your stay enjoyable.”

“And your wife is here already?”

“Indeed--her brother is within the city already, enjoying the company of his sister and our Lord Elessar. They are as brothers, you must understand.”

No, Mahmot did not understand, considering the great differences he’d seen between the folk of Gondor and those of Rohan such as he’d met so far. Yet this one, clearly a favored son of Gondor, had married the sister of the King of Rohan. Considering the way the Prince’s eyes softened when he spoke of his wife, it appeared that he did indeed love her tenderly. With a sigh, Mahmot urged his horse forward once more, the Prince swiftly following suit.

Once they passed through the gate in the Rammas Echor their escort drew further from them, allowing Prince and Khandri more privacy to speak, should they wish it. But now from the gates of the city came a riding as a number of swift horses and a single pony hurtled toward them at speed. Prince Faramir’s eyes grew more alert as he examined the approaching party, and then he laughed, urging his own steed forward to meet the oncomers. Soon the others were about him, and Mahmot realized these great horses were being ridden by children, all milling excitedly about the Steward. “Ada!” a boy was greeting the Man. “Ada! Uncle Éomer has brought you a gift! Wait until you see it!”

The Prince was looking up to acknowledge the guard who followed the party. “They barely allowed you to keep up, I see,” he called.

“Indeed--they wished to be the first to greet you, my lord! Your lady wife sends her greetings by me, by the way, and asks you to join her within your rooms in the Citadel as soon as you might.” The guard turned toward the officer of the Prince’s escort. “Captain Beregond, the King sends his greetings, and advises you that he will call to pay his respects tomorrow.”

Mahmot saw the pleasure in the Man’s eyes as he responded.

Faramir had turned back to the children, accepting the greetings of a somewhat older dark-haired girl with very observant grey eyes who, while greeting the Prince with perhaps more restraint but as much pleasure as the rest was still managing to examine Mahmot thoroughly. Then the Prince turned to lead the way, the children turning their steeds easily to fall in with him, chattering rapidly in the language of the Sea Kings’ people as they exchanged comments with him and one another.

“Eldarion didn’t come down with the rest of you?” he asked in the common tongue.

“He’s to follow Ada about today,” the older girl answered him. “Had it not been for that he’d have come down with us and out across the Pelennor to greet you, too.”

The small girl on the grey pony said, “Ada--guess who arrived here yesterday?”

“Morwen--hush!” responded the boy who’d greeted the Prince first. “It’s a surprise!”

Prince Faramir encouraged his horse to start forward once more, and the boy and girl who’d addressed him as “Ada” rode on each side of him, the rest ranging themselves about them. Faramir motioned for Mahmot to come up alongside the girl on the pony. “We will be dismounting and leaving our horses at the great stable built outside the city walls, then walking up through the city. The children’s mounts are stabled in the older stables in the First Circle, so we will meet them again inside the city gates. There will be a cart to carry your goods up to the Citadel.”

They finally approached the city, and the Khandri could now see the stables and fenced fields and paddocks there south of the gate. Here the children pulled away from them, riding in through the gates while Mahmot, Prince Faramir, and their escort approached the great outer stables where they were met by grooms ready to take their horses. Once the Prince was certain the animals were well provided for he carried his saddlebags to place in the cart, his personal guard doing the same, save for Captain Beregond. “Your son was released from service earlier and should have your meal well in hand,” the stablemaster informed him. “He is looking forward to your arrival.”

“Good enough,” the Captain responded as he settled his bags over his shoulders. He turned to his Prince. “Until tomorrow then, my lord.”

“He does not go up into the city?” Mahmot asked as Beregond turned further southward.

“My Captain Beregond is a special case,” Faramir said gently as he looked after the Man. “Remaining outside the White City is a small price to pay, I hope, for the honor he’s earned.” He turned back to Mahmot and smiled. “Shall we go up into the city, my lord?” He thanked the grooms, gave one last look to see that the horses ridden were being given proper treatment, then led the way out of the stable yard toward the great gates.

There were in Khand hidden cities dug into the walls of canyons, and ruins of others that had slowly emptied when the sources of water dried up or rivers changed their beds, cities that in their day had been vast and bustling. But nowhere within Khand was there anything to match what Mahmot ibn Lofti saw now--a city white with marble and alabaster; houses and shops bright with windowboxes filled with flowers, small gardens on all sides, and everywhere statues and monuments. While the Prince of Ithilien and Steward of Gondor stopped to speak with the captain of the City Guard on duty at the gates, the Klifa’s sister’s husband found himself staring about in awe. Looking slightly to the left across the great square just within the gates he saw the second stable, watching as a groom bodily lifted the small girl from her grey pony, at which she took the pony’s bridle and led it within, the groom following behind her. At last Faramir accepted the captain’s salute and returned it, moving at last out of the shadow of the gate into the midafternoon sunshine, pausing there to bow acknowledgment of the new troop of Guards in Black and Silver that awaited them, this set with wings of white and grey birds attached to their helmets. He appeared to be counting them, and gave a slight frown.

“If it please you, my Lord Prince,” said one deferentially, “two of our number accompanied the children into the stable and will see them out to join with us for the climb through the city.”

Obviously reassured, Faramir’s expression cleared. “Very well then.” Again he led the way forward toward the stable as this group joined with the members of the Prince’s White Company to see them safely through the city. “Whether or not the grooms here will convince the children to allow them to see to the comfort of their mounts is questionable. Two, at least, are sons of Éomer of Rohan, while two are children to Éomer’s sister, after all.”

“Then these have been the royal children who came to greet you?” asked Mahmot, feeling rather dizzy at the idea.

“Indeed.” He looked up to smile at the young Man who now approached them. “And this is my cousin Elphir’s son, now the heir to the Prince of Dol Amroth. Greetings, Alphros.”

“Cousin Faramir! You’ve been expected for hours!”

“I was about to make a wager as to how long the children will be within the stable,” Faramir continued.

“Two of the Guard of the Citadel were charged with seeing to it that they allowed the grooms to do their work that you be not delayed in your arrival.”

“And they will be guided by the advice of mere guardsmen? Young Elfwine and his brother Théodric? I have my doubts.”

“Well, sometimes where orders do not serve, love will,” Alphros laughed. And indeed the children were now spilling back out of the stable, the last to emerge the small girl, who came out pulling at the hand of another child who’d not ridden out with them, one dressed in the uniform of the Guard of the Citadel, complete with winged helmet--although this time the helmet’s wings were not white but black. Faramir had stopped and straightened in surprise, his mouth falling partly open. His eyes widened with delight as he murmured, “Pippin!” He then hurried forward as the child shook his hand free of the girl’s, then turned to straighten and offer his salute.

“My Lord Prince, Guardsman Peregrin Took as one of the guard of honor to see you back up through the city, sir.”

Faramir had stopped somewhat short of this small apparition, returning the salute most seriously now. “I see. And what does the Thain of the Shire do here within the King’s southern capital?”

“He offers his sworn duty to his friend the King and all those within the household of the Citadel, and rejoices to see the Lord Prince of Ithilien and Steward of the realm once more.” The small helmet was lifted proudly.

“You may stand at ease, Captain Peregrin son of Paladin.”

The youth reached up and removed his helmet, and a wide grin could be seen on his face. The tallest of the boys reached to take his helmet as Faramir knelt down and the diminutive Guard hurried forward to embrace the Man. “Ah, Faramir, you can’t know how good it is to see you again.”

“And Merry?”

The small one pulled back slightly. “Up in the Citadel, attending on Éomer, which at the moment appears to be reduced to sharing an ale and competing in boasts.”

“And who sees to the welfare of the blessed Shire while Thain and Master visit Minas Tirith?”

“You think our redoubtable Mayor not up to the job? Yes, he stayed home once more. You know Sam and Rosie--ever just making their newest bairn comfortable or readying for the next one. You’d think that in time they’d realize what it is they’re doing that has led to the stretching of the resources of Bag End!”

The Prince laughed aloud. “Well,” he managed, “Sam did promise Frodo to fill the place with the joy of family.”

Now both faces had gone rather solemn. “Yes, my Lord Prince, that he did. That he did, and Sam holds that as a solemn vow.” He backed away, straightening once more. “I must return to my duty, Faramir. Strider’s awaiting you and your guest, after all.” He turned to accept his helmet with a nod of thanks from the boy who’d taken it, drew himself to his full height once more and saluted, then returned to what was obviously his place in this formation.

Mahmot was now fully confused, for the face he’d seen was not that of a child, but of a Man. The Guard of the Citadel accepted Implings, what they called mannikins here in Gondor, or so he understood? Yet this one was not particularly misshapen as was usual with such stunted folk; his head and hands and arms were in proportion to his torso and legs, and certainly he held himself as easily and proudly as did the Men among whom he stood. The Khandri gave his host a questioning look as Faramir rose and returned to his side. “My Lord Mahmot, you may not yet realize it, but you stand in the presence of legends fulfilled. Let us go up.”

“Ada,” demanded the smallest girl, hurrying to his side, “lift me up!”

Laughing he reached down and lifted her up onto his shoulder while the boy who’d ridden by his side up on the Pelennor came to his other side. With the girl now settled, he reached out his free hand to put it on the child’s shoulder, and the boy shone with delight. Immediately the small guardsman moved into a position of guard should anyone seek to threaten Prince and Steward, his hand on the hilt of the sword he wore.

Before they’d passed what appeared to be a bustling marketplace in the Fourth Circle Mahmot felt winded; yet his host, with his daughter on his shoulder and his son at his side, was obviously as fresh as he’d been when they’d left Emyn Arnen that dawning. He caught the Khandri’s eyes and smiled. “You must remember, Lord Mahmot, that I grew up here, and was called upon to go up and down through the city at times several times in a single day.”

Mahmot shook his head in disbelief, but accepted the stop they made at an inn where a Man awaited them with a tray of drinks with relief. The Prince set his daughter upon the ground, and casually dropped a golden coin in place of the mugs he lifted and offered to daughter and son, then the two more he took for himself and his guest. “Thank you, Genthor.”

“You are most generous, my Lord,” Genthor returned, “but there is no need. Lord Elessar has already sent payment for your refreshment, you see.”

“Then see it into your daughter’s dowry--it won’t be that much longer now ere you find yourself beating off the youths of the city with a stout rod, I fear.”

“The Valar defend against that day!” the Man said with an ostentatious shiver but a broad grin.

All drained their cups swiftly enough, and once the Prince saw all replaced on the tray they gave the Man a last nod of thanks and continued onwards. The children each carried sheaves of flowers and sprays of greenery now, and Mahmot himself carried his own tribute of green--few blossoms had been offered him. And the small Guard who’d walked to Prince Faramir’s own defense even had a carnation tucked inside his belt--again one not in keeping with that of the rest of the Guard. As Mahmot examined him once more he noted that this one’s feet were bare--bare, and yet not, for they were clothed in thick auburn hair the color of that on his head. Never had he ever seen such a thing, and he felt his scalp prickle.

The girl Morwen was hurrying to take her place at the Guard’s side, but her brother pulled her away. “Not now, Morwen--Pippin’s on duty, and you must not distract him.”

Chastened, the girl looked up to meet her father’s eyes. “Elboron is right, sell nín,” he confirmed. She sighed with disappointment, then returned to the side of the tall girl with the grey eyes and grave air, slipping her hand into the older girl’s.

The smallest boy now walked by Mahmot. “I’ve not met someone from Khand before,” he admitted. “Does it seem strange to you here? This is nothing like to Edoras and Rohan, save for the mountains behind us. They’re the same mountains, but the land there is different. We have grasslands and small woods here and there, not like here where there are often great forests and farmlands and all.” And it was accompanied by the chatter of this small child Mahmot finished his climb through the City to the Sixth Circle.

All was much quieter here. “This is the level of residents who serve within the Citadel or the Houses of Healing, and guests of the realm,” Faramir explained as they passed the gate, he again having paused to have a quiet word with the one on command here. “We are to go to the gardens of the Houses of Healing first, apparently, which are at the southern end of the Circle, while the barracks, butteries, and messes for those who serve in the Guard of the Citadel are at the north end.” So saying he led the way to the left until they approached a group of lofty buildings. There was a great garden surrounding the houses, and on a bench sat a small boy, very much on his dignity, while before him knelt one in plain trousers and shirt, a dog crouched by his feet, a bucket of gardening tools by his left knee. Beside him stood a healer’s assistant with a tray in his hands. The kneeling Man was just replacing a used cloth on the tray as they arrived, and was taking up a roll of bandaging. He carefully laid a pad over a skinned knee that had been smeared with ointment, and now took the bandaging and wound it carefully to hold the pad in place, finally taking a pair of scissors and cutting off the length he’d used, neatly fastening the knot and returning the scissors to the tray as well.

“There, ion nín,” the Man commented. “This will serve to keep it clean that no infection bother it.” He nodded to the one who held the tray, who with a brief bow withdrew back into the first building. The kneeling Man rose, proving to be remarkably tall, turning to meet the amused gaze of the Steward.

“Well, Strider, and what are you about today?”

“Teaching the Prince of the Realm how to tell comfrey from chamomile--or attempting to do so,” the stranger returned. “And bandaging his knee when he has slipped away to play upon the wall and has managed to fall--thankfully inside the garden and not outward over the side. I fear the Queen will quite blame me for not watching her son more carefully.”

“I see,” Faramir commented, giving the small boy, who had also risen to his feet, a severe look. “So, you would shirk your lessons, would you, Eldarion?”

“I wished to see you arriving. I could not go out with the others, you know, and Ada had sent Captain Peregrin down through the city to serve in the guard of honor once you’d arrived. And he was busy removing weeds from the athelas, and wouldn’t allow me to help, saying I’d pulled up two plants I oughtn’t already.”

“And was that not true, my Prince?” asked the tall Man sternly.

The boy sighed. “Yes, it’s true. I know I need to pay attention.”

“What your daeradar would have said had he seen you today I have no idea,” said the tall Man with a shake of his head. “Ah, yes, he had stiff words he would give to small children who did not wish to pay attention.”

The boy dropped his head and murmured something, then looked up. “Again, I apologize.”

“Now I must myself go, for with dealing with skinned knees I fear I am quite behind my time to properly greet guests. My Lord Prince, my lord,” this one called Strider said, “if you will excuse me.” He gave a graceful bow and turned out of the garden, the young Prince and the dog following behind him, two Guardsmen falling in behind them as he went.

Prince Faramir laughed, and there were fond chuckles to be heard amongst the Guards who’d accompanied them up through the White City. “Captain Peregrin, have you ever seen the like?”

The small guardsman answered, “You didn’t accompany him through all of Eriador and Hollin, my Lord Prince. And remember, at Frodo’s direction I was assisting Samwise in his work when I was but a faunt yet.”

“Assisting or impairing?” the Steward asked, glancing over his shoulder. “If Sam is to be believed, you insisted on digging up his beloved Elven lilies at every opportunity. Although he was not yet the Mayor of the Shire.”

“And I was yet merely a farmer’s son, for it was years before Ferumbras’s death and we must remove permanently to the Great Smial.”

Prince and Guard exchanged understanding looks. Mahmot tried to imagine the Klifa having such a conversation with one of his bodyguard, and found his mind flinched from the idea of it. Faramir gave a thoughtful nod. “Yes, so it has been. Well, we, too, are perhaps somewhat behind our time. Shall we continue on our way, then?”

Yet they didn’t hurry through this level of the city, taking their time as the Prince spoke of those who dwelt in this Circle--ambassadors and envoys, the Seneschal’s family, healers and artisans, ranking guardsmen, clerks and the King’s sculptor, lawyers and housekeepers. He pointed out the entrance to the realm’s greatest archive. “Here are kept records spanning the history of Gondor and even before, for some were brought from Númenor itself. Here in a level beneath the Citadel lie the records of our history, our hopes and dreams, warfare and acts of peacemaking. And may the latter be the predominant types of records written from this time on.”

At last they turned up the ramp, through a brief tunnel up toward the very peak of the city, and slowly they made their way to the top of Minas Anor. Here they found themselves in the midst of a great court paved with white stone. “The Court of Gathering,” Faramir commented. “Let us go forward--the King will most likely be found near the White Tree.” He indicated where a great tree covered with white blossoms bloomed by an equally great fountain that sparkled beneath the light of the Sun.

There were indeed figures before still another monument that stood this side of the Tree, but they were the figures of women, beautiful and noble beyond measure, or so it appeared to Mahmot of Khand. One was slender as a sword herself, her golden hair falling in plaits down her form, erect and beautiful in her white gown over a rich green under-dress. Another, similarly dressed in cream over burgundy, rose from where she’d been sitting upon a bench, a very small girl-child upon her hip, her auburn hair catching the glory of the Sun’s rays as she lifted her head proudly. But it was the third, who stood with the dark Haradri girl behind her, who caught Mahmot’s attention, for she appeared to lighten the entire Level of the Citadel with her presence. Her skin was fair beyond measure and her hair dark indeed, so dark a brown as to appear nearly black, with highlights of a rich chestnut. Even without the mithril circlet set with gems of white and blue about her brow it was impossible to mistake the Lady Arwen, Queen of Gondor and Arnor, a witch of Elven blood, or so it was said. She’d been spinning as they’d waited, and a finely made and deceptively simple looking spindle hung from the thread she’d been making. Carefully she wrapped the thread she was forming about the spindle and set it within the basket that lay at her feet before turning the whole of her attention upon them. More slowly a tall form rose to his feet from where he’d been lounging in the grass before the monument, one dressed in a robe of silver and green, a white cat in his arms and a belt of blue gems to be glimpsed about his waist beneath the robe as he examined those newly come.

“My Lord Mahmot, I greet you to Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun,” the woman said with a courteous inclination to her head. “I am Arwen, the wife to the Lord Elessar. I fear my husband is not yet free to greet you, for he was somewhat delayed this day. The Lady Lothiriel, Queen of Rohan, and the Lady Éowyn, Princess of Ithilien. And one of my brothers, Elrohir of Imladris. My ward and apprentice, Mistress Hasturnerini; Lady Mirieth, wife of the Steward of Arnor; and Lady Gilmorien, wife to Lord Hardorn, chief of my husband’s bodyguard and Master of the Privy Purse as well as a member of my husband’s Council. Be welcome, and may years of peace lie between your realm and ours as a result of this meeting.”

“My Lady--I am sent, as I am certain you know, to make arrangements for the return of our Klifa’s son.”

“Aye--this is known to us. You may be assured that the Klifa’s son is well and in no danger.” She turned her attention to Faramir. “And I understand that your wife sent you word to come to her within your chambers within the Citadel. Well, as you can see I saw to it she came forth to greet you, for I fear my Lord Husband would have you attend on him as Steward of the Realm as soon as can be arranged.”

Faramir looked down his length. “I believe I am ready to do that now, as long as I have time soon to retreat to my own chambers with my beloved wife.”

“I do not believe that Estel will keep you overlong--merely he intends to formally greet our guest within the Hall of Kings, having been forestalled of being properly ready to join me here. If you will come.”

She turned to lead the way about the monument, a grouping of four rather small figures, definitely small compared to those he’d seen throughout the lower levels of the city. There was something familiar to them, but it was only when he looked at the figure to the right that he realized that he recognized the subject. He stopped, then turned to look at the small guardsman. “But that----”

The Queen turned her own attention to the same object. “Captain Peregrin, will you fall out of the formation?” she asked. He did so, removing his helmet and placing it under his arm. She looked between the small one and the envoy from Khand. “May I formally present Peregrin Took son of Paladin, Thain of the Shire and kinsman to the Ringbearer, Frodo Baggins son of Drogo and heir to Bilbo? Yes, he is pictured there as he was when the war against Sauron was won--he, his beloved cousin Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Samwise Gamgee, gardener, friend, and companion to Frodo, who with Frodo braved the wastes of Mordor to bring the Ring of Power to Orodruin itself.” She indicated each statue in turn. “Frodo and Samwise were made Lords of all the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. Pippin is a Guard of the Citadel and Thain or hereditary leader of their land, the Shire; and his cousin Merry is Esquire to the King of Rohan and a Holdwine of the Mark as well as Master of Buckland and the Marish. We would all lie now under the tyranny of the Eye were it not for the courage of these four.”

No, there was no question of that small one in the black and silver of Gondor being anything but an adult, one who’d seen and done much in his time. As for the other three in the monument, never had he seen more responsible-looking ones than these. He looked between the monument and the small guardsman. “I beg your pardon, sir, but do not recognize your kind.”

“I am a Hobbit of the Shire, my lord. The four of us were all born within the Shire, you see. The Elves call us Periannath, and the people of Gondor know us as Pheriannath or Halflings.”

“And you are an adult?”

The small Guard laughed. “I am now, although I wasn’t even of age then. But now I’m a husband and even a father as well as the Thain and the Took.”

Mahmot nodded, trying to understand that here was an individual of a race he’d never heard of before. He looked up into the reassurance of Faramir’s gaze, then into the grey eyes of the Queen--and was arrested. Youthful she might appear, but her eyes had seen much of both grief and joy, and she held the Light of Stars in her gaze....

He was shaken when she finally released him from her examination, and he followed almost blindly as she led the way past the fountain and Tree, giving it brief reverence as she passed it, the others doing the same. Sweet fragrance enveloped him as he followed within the shade of its boughs, and on they went to the steps of the Citadel.

In minutes they were entering the doors to the Citadel itself, and then through the second set of doors into the Hall of Kings. And there, standing on the bottom-most step of the great dais that held the High Seat of the realm, waited the King himself, the Winged Crown on his head, his son standing by his side, two more Elves standing near him, a smaller figure watching to one side, leaning on a great battle axe, his red beard and hair elaborately braided. Again Mahmot felt his scalp prickle--he’d never seen Dwarves before but had certainly heard tales of them all his life; and there was in the Klifa’s possession a picture of this legendary folk. The Shkatha of Rhun had sent a painting to his wife’s brother of three of this people, in fact.

Mahmot went forward, past the great statues of Kings and Stewards, until he stood before the King--and looked into the eyes of the Man Strider who’d knelt bandaging the knee of the boy Eldarion in the garden of the Houses of Healing. Suddenly he realized the reason why Prince Faramir had dawdled so in the Sixth Circle, and again he cast a glance at his erstwhile guide and caught the good-humored apology in the Man’s eyes. With a deep breath, Mahmot gave a nod. “I see. My Lord King Elessar, I am Mahmot of the folk of the Sunirim of Khand, and sister’s husband to the Klifa of the Sunirim. I have been sent to sue for peace between our people and yours, and for the return of the Klifa’s son....”

He was distracted as the white cat carried still by the tall figure of the Queen’s brother leapt from its perch, then walked with that elegant dignity native to such beasts, up past Mahmot himself to the feet of the King, where it turned and sat, carefully washed a paw, and at last raised its green eyes to meet Mahmot’s own while the dog he’d seen earlier sat up behind the King.

A movement from the back of the hall behind the dais for the Throne proved to be the Klifa’s son, accompanied by two Guards of the Citadel, come out of wherever he’d been kept to show he was well, or so Mahmot judged from what he could see. The young Man was properly dressed in keeping with his rank and people, and no signs of distress could be seen on his face. It had been said he’d been struck on the side of the head before he was taken prisoner; yes, his hair was shorter as if it had possibly been shaved and as if it were only now growing out. As his nephew approached Mahmot could see the humor and pleasure that had endeared him to his people reflected in the youth’s eyes. “My uncle? You have come? Alas--that is too bad, I judge, for the engineers of the city were to begin teaching me how to construct an aqueduct--a gift to our people from those of Gondor to assist our cities once again to grow. But perhaps we might remain here for a time that I learn the secrets of this construction before we must go back. What say you?”

Mahmot found himself feeling more than a bit dizzy--had the tables been reversed, the Lord King Elessar would be standing in chains, watching his own son dragged into the Klifa’s halls, also in chains, threats of death and torture hanging over all who were in Elessar’s train. To find himself facing a King who’d but come from teaching his son the skill of gardening and binding a skinned knee, with cat and dog as well as children about him----

The King said something in command, and he felt the seat of a chair being pressed behind his knees just before he collapsed back into it. A second Hobbit in the greens and browns and golds of Rohan was approaching him now with a goblet of wine, and he looked into grey eyes not as deep as those of the King who stood over him, feeling the pulse point at his throat.

He looked up into the King’s eyes and searched them. Grey as the sea itself, he thought. And there was something else there--something almost indefinable. Somehow, looking into those grey eyes, Mahmot realized he was looking into the eyes of one whose word would truly bind him. Yes, he could treat with the one who bore such eyes. He only wished that he felt as strongly of the honor of the Man he served within Khand.

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