Tolkien Fan Fiction Home Tolkien Fan FictionAll the tales of the Valar and the Elves are so knit together that one may scarce expound any one without needing to set forth the whole of their great history.
Tales from Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Post A Review  Printer Friendly  Help

[Prev][Index][Next]

4
Emerie Manor

Summary: Young Lord Herumor rides to Emerië Manor to meet his father’s bailiff and oversee the training of their men-at-arms.

Author’s note: The Lord’s bailiff first appeared in “The Last Yule of Halabor”, but also features in “The Shoemaker’s Daughter” and “The Young Knights”, so far. Herveig first appeared in "The Young Knights". The noble youths appeared in “The Last Yule of Halabor”.

A nobleman’s “honour” also meant in earlier times all the lands that belonged to him: fields, manors, meadows, forests, etc.


~~~

EMERIE MANOR

The 9th day of Halimath in the year 3002 of the Third Age found young Lord Herumor, the only son and therefore the heir of Orchaldor, lord of the small Gondorian fishing town Halabor near Cair Andros and some of the adjacent lands, on the way to Emerië Manor, where his father’s bailiff had his dwelling. He had been sent by his father to carry several messages to Lord Peredur – that was the bailiff’s name – and to see how the training of the men-at-arms was going on.

Like all Gondorian nobles, Lord Orchald – as he was called by his subjects – also had to send a certain number of armed men to help protecting the land from Mordor’s forces, and it was the duty of the bailiff, who also happened to be the Lord’s steward, to train those men properly. Being a Swan Knight himself, just like his overlord and the young heir, Lord Peredur was certainly more than fit to take that duty upon himself. Lord Orchald only visited a few times each year to see the progress. This time, though, he had sent his son in his stead, saying that Herumor needed to get used to leadership in time.

Emerië Manor lay a couple of miles northwest from Halabor, in a trim, compact little village named Helston. This was not the first time Herumor visited the village – he had been there quite a few times with his father, in fact – but the first time that he looked at it with true interest… and he liked what he was seeing.

The village apparently had its own mill – and a thriving one, if the carts full of grain sacks waiting before it were any indication; it seemed the best place for the farmsteads beyond easy reach to Halabor to bring the grain to be ground – and the fields of the demesne were wide and green, the phloughland well tended. Clouds of finely-woolled sheep stood on the grazing fields like freshly fallen snow, watched by large dogs. ‘Twas said that the bailiff’s mother, Lady Emerwen, was very fond of sheep and wanted them around her all the year.

The village lay clear of the edge of the forest, closely grouped around the manor and its walled courtyard. The house, as it was proper for a landed lord carrying an important office, was fairly large and built entirely of stone, with a squat tower as solid as a castle keep. It also seemed quite ancient, the stone grey and withered from high age, but that was not surprising. Lord Peredur’s line was as old as Herumor’s own; their ancestors were said to have come from Númenor together.

Within the pale, Herumor was greeted immediately with the alertness and efficiency that had always been customary for Lord Peredur’s household. A groom came at once, to take the bridle of Cealaigh, and a young page came bounding down the steps from the hall door to greet the heir of his overlord and inquire about his business here. He was, however, waved away firmly by an older steward who had emerged from the stables.

“My Lord Herumor,” said the steward, an experienced and sharp-minded man who had been in his lords’ confidence since the days of the late Lord Narmacil and thus was well aware of what kind of respect they all owed to the overlord and his heir, “you are most welcome in Emerië Manor as always. I am Tevyn, steward of my lord Peredur’s dwelling here. How may I serve you? Have you business within?”

“Rather without, if Lord Peredur will consent to my presence,” answered Herumor in the same courteous manner. He had never spoken to the elderly steward before, but he knew that the man was the bailiff’s confidant in more things than one would believe, thus it seemed wise to show some respect. “My lord father has sent me to look on the progress of our men-at-arms in his stead this year.”

“Young bones are better suited for that kind of activity than old ones,” said the steward wisely. “I am certain that Lord Peredur will gladly have you on the training ground, my Lord. Jevan here will show you in We shall see your beast cared for in the meantime.”

The page, perhaps fourteen years old, bright-eyed and lively, moved eagerly to do so as he had been instructed. Some younger son from among Peredur’s tenants, thought Herumor, placed by a dutiful father where he could readily get advancement. A good choice it had been for the boy, as the bailiff was known not to be a hard master for such as met his standards. And by the alert, bright face of the boy, he would meet those standards well enough.

Young Jevan led Herumor to a panelled solar beyond the hall, and went to inform his lord about the unexpected visitor. Less than five minutes later, the door of the room opened upon the master of Emerië Manor.

Peredur son of Narmacil, Lord Orchald’s bailiff, was a strong-minded, taciturn, able knight – a Swan Knight, which meant a quality of its own, even among the respected knights of Gondor – close to fifty, and old of experience of both warfare and office. He had been overseeing the raising, equipping and training of the local army (woefully small as it was in these days), which was drawn from among the lesser nobles and upper ranks of the peasantry in Lord Orchald’s lands for decades, just as his father and his father’s fathers had done before him. As the training ground at Halabor’s Castle was too small for troop movements, these tasks had fallen to the master of Emerië Manor in the olden times already. Aside from the Castle in Halabor, this manor was the other centre of the overlords’ power, and it was from here that they carried out some of their many duties – first to the King, and in later times to the Steward, with the help of their bailiffs.

Therefore Lord Peredur was the second most important person within Lord Orchald’s small honour, and a mere glance at him showed that he had been well chosen for that office. Of Dúnadan descent – even though his line had inevitably mingled with the blood of local nobles from time to time – he was a proper representative of his Númenórean ancestors: a tall, spare man, erect and vigorous, with a short black beard trimmed to a point, and a pair of sharp, daunting eyes, grey like a clear winter morning. His raven-black locks were shorn right above his shoulders, in knightly fashion, and he was clad in the same simple garb as the common soldiers, for they were right before the time he would visit the training ground.

As he had known Herumor practically since his birth, he clasped forearms with him unceremoniously and invited him to go down to the training ground at once.

“There you can see the men’s progress with your own eyes; mayhap even try your blade against some of them… or against me,” said the bailiff, grinning. “I would like to see whether your aim is still as sure as it was in the days after your knighting.”

Herumor grinned back at him in delight. “It would he an honour to try my sword against you, my Lord Peredur,” he replied. “And as I have not brought Starfall with me, the match would be more than fair, based on the skills of the sword-arm alone, rather than on the advantages of a Númenórean-made blade.”

For the sword Starfall, gifted upon him by Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth on the very day of his knighting, was an ancient weapon indeed, forged of meteoric iron and brought from Númenor to Middle-earth by the Prince’s forefathers. Even a mediocre swordsman could have done great things with it, and Herumor, taught by Master Andrahar himself, was one of the best Gondor’s noble youth could offer. For him to use Starfall during a friendly sparring match would have been most unfair indeed.

They walked down together to the training ground, where a heavy-set man in his late thirties was instructing the men-at-arms at the intricacies of swordplay. He was wearing a padded gambeson, like the others, and they were practicing with wooden swords.

“Our weapons master, Captain Merddyn, son of Archu,” said Lord Peredur with obvious appreciation. “He is my best man-at-arms and will likely be for a long time. Imagine that he came to me holding a sword as if it were a kitchen knife; he has certainly learned a great deal in the last six years.”

“The son of Archu, the farmer?” asked Herumor in surprise.

The bailiff nodded. “As he does own his farmstead, Archu has to provide one armed soldier for the protection of your lord father’s demesne. I imagine that he is not very happy about it; providing a soldier with armour and weapons is a costly matter, and they doubtlessly miss his help on the fields. But their loss is our gain; Captain Merddyn has taken to the sword like no-one else, and nowadays I can leave the training of the newcomers in his more than capable hands.”

“You let him train the noble youths as well?” asked Herumor, for some of the trainees were obviously not from the common folk but sons of the local Dúnadan nobles. He recognized among them Meneldur, the son of Lord Malanthur, Íbal son of Azrubêl and his brother Nimruzîl, all three of them between seventeen and twenty, if he remembered correctly. And if there were three of them, there had to be more.

Lord Peredur shrugged. “It harms them not if they learn a little humility; especially Meneldur who fancies himself the greatest warrior since the fall of Númenor.” He grinned and called out to the weapons master. “Captain Merddyn, we have a highly respected visitor today. I thought mayhap young Master Meneldur could show his skills.”

The captain turned around, recognized Herumor – everybody in and around Halabor did so at first sight – and broke out in a broad grin.

“My Lord Herumor!” he cried out in delight. “’Tis an honour indeed! We will be glad to demonstrate the weapons skills of our pupils, more than glad. Well, Master Meneldur, if you do not mind…”

Meneldur was a lanky young man of clear Dúnadan origins, clad in very fine gear and wearing the colours of his father’s small yet old House. He was supposed to be knighted in the next spring and very sure of his own abilities. He came forth eagerly, perchance driven by the desire to best his low-born weapons master before the eyes of his overlord’s heir.

“Are we allowed to spar with steel, Lord Peredur?” he asked.

The bailiff looked at his weapons master in askance. Captain Merddyn shrugged.

“Why not? I shall go easy on him, so that he would not suffer any serious injuries,” he promised with a grin.

“Steel and shield,” clarified Peredur. “I wish no bloodshed today; besides, I want to see how the youngling works with his shield.”

If being called a youngling angered Meneldur, he gave no sign of it, just bowed and accepted the conditions. A young page was sent to fetch his sword; a sharp sword it was, beautifully crafted, with a life-stone to it.

“This weapon,” he said with obvious pride, “is called Whitting. My ancestors have carried it in many a fray. With it, I shall show you, my lords, how a nobleman of true Dúnadan blood fights.”

There was something in his tone that caught Herumor’s attention… and not in a good way.

“Does he find it below his dignity to be taught by a master of common birth?” he asked the bailiff in a low voice.

Lord Peredur pulled a face. “Young Meneldur is very proud of his origins,” he said diplomatically.

“In other worlds: he does,” concluded Herumor. “That is foolish. I find myself fortunate to have been taught by Master Andrahar in Dol Amroth. What does a man’s birth have to do with his skills with the blade?”

“Nothing, of course,” said Peredur in agreement. “And young Meneldur is just about to learn this very important lesson. Let us hope that it will last.”

In the meantime, another page had brought Captain Merddyn’s sword; ‘twas a simple weapon but well-made, for his particular use. The other esquires and all men-at-arms not on sentry duty gathered around the training ground to watch their weapons master fight with true steel, as it was a rare occasion.

Peredur gave the sign, and the two opponents began to circle around each other. They apparently knew each other’s fighting style well enough not to make any careless mistakes. Still, Meneldur was the first to attack, driven by the urge to prove his skills. He aimed at Captain Merddyn’s side, which seemed to be unprotected. ‘Twas a well-executed stroke, but not quick enough; the weapons master leaned out of the sword’s way in the last moment, so that it did not bite upon him. Then he whirled about his sword swiftly, shifted it from hand to hand, and heaved Meneldur’s legs from under him with the flat of his blade.

“A good warrior is always prepared for everything,” he said. “The Orcs will not follow the rules of sparring, either.”

There were laughter and whistles among the onlookers, and Meneldur’s face darkened with anger and humiliation. Leaping to his feet, he charged his opponent, spitting ugly words through gritted teeth as he did so. Merddyn shook his head in mild dismay.

“You have never a word but ill if things do not go according your wishes,” he said; then he leaped upon the young man and struck at Meneldur’s shield forcefully. It slipped away, and Meneldur was smitten on the breast and fell backward, dazed, coughing violently.

Herumor furred his brow in concern. “Was that not a bit much?” he asked, fearing that the esquire might have suffered serious harm.

“It serves him right,” answered the bailiff coldly. “These are not manners I would willingly allow in my house. But worry not, my lord. His head is hard – a little too hard at times, I would say – he will wake out of his swoon shortly. Now, then,” he added, looking at the rest of the trainees, “who else would like to try his blade against that of Captain Merddyn?”

A young man in his mid-twenties, brown-haired and dark of eye, with broad cheekbones and a stubborn jaw, raised his hand. He wore the belt of a knight and the colours of Lossarnach, and seemed strangely familiar for Herumor, although he could not identify the emblem upon his breast.

“I would like to try, my Lord,” said the young knight. “But I would prefer to do so with practice swords, if you do not mind.”

“That is reasonable,” nodded the bailiff. “Very well then, Herveig. Let us see that you have been knighted because you can handle your blade properly by now.”

The young knight laughed. “Well, I still prefer the battle-axe, but I hope I shall bring no shame to the good name of Lossarnach, my Lord.”
Herumor looked at him with interest. “Herveig?” he asked. “You are the foster son of Lord Benniget of Gwenter, then, are you not? I knew my father has sent for you, but I knew not that you have been knighted already.”

Herveig of Lossarnach laughed again. “The whole truth is, my Lord, that my mother had a change of the hearth and made me the gift of two of my father’s manors when I came to Halabor. The two smaller ones, true, but they keep me horsed and armed, if naught else,; and as Glanwenap is one of them, which has been the seat of my father’s family for a very long time, my name, too, has been restored due to this gift. I am well content.”

Herumor nodded in delight upon hearing of the young knight’s good fortune. Herveig was the legitimate son of Herve of Glanwenap, a lord of three manors near Gwennap in Lossarnach, but his father had died shortly before his birth and could not acknowledge him according to old custom. Thus those three manors went to his mother, the Lady Marcharid, by the right due to Herve’s widow, and with her to Lord Benniget, her second husband. This meant that the manors that should have been Herveig’s, had his father lived to officially accept him as a son, would have been inherited by his foster brother, leaving him empty-handed, had his mother not changed her mind.

“I can imagine that Benead was not all too happy about losing two manors to the natural heir,” said Herumor, remembering that Lady Marcharid had two children with her second husband, a son and a daughter.

Herveig shrugged. “He will get all the lands of our father,” he usually referred to Lord Benniget, who had always been good and decent to him, as our father, while he called his late sire my father, to make a difference. “He will be well off with that. And Haude gets the third manor of my father when she marries… she will turn sixteen next summer.”

“The largest of the three, I deem,” said Herumor.

Herveig nodded. “Aye; but she will need it. I am a knight now, I can earn my living with my sword… or rather with my axe,” he added, laughing. “She cannot do the same, and you know as well as I do, my Lord, that noble-born daughters are not supposed to learn a craft and live from the labour of their hands. I do not envy that manor from her. She deserves a good life.”

Herumor could vaguely remember the pretty girl-child, round-faced and just a little shy, barely ten years old back then, attending to the tournament his uncle Forlong had organized upon his own knighting.

“I remember her,” she said. “She seemed a happy child.”

“She was,” replied Herveig, “and with her own manor to be the mistress of, she will be a happy wife one day. I wish her to be happy. She deserves it.”

In the meantime, practice swords were brought, and now the opponents readied themselves for the sparring match. Coming from the Old Folk himself, although from the lesser nobility, Herveig of Glanwenap was as strong and heavy-set as Captain Merddyn, yet more than a decade younger, and lacked the captain’s excellence with the sword. On the other hand, he was lighter on his feet and faster, thus the chances were almost even.

Knowing that his best chance would be speed instead of mere brawn, Herveig struck the first blow. ‘Twas a powerful one that would have cleft Merddyn’s shield, had they parried with true steel. The captain returned the stroke to the like peril, with a force that made Herveig stagger. But he was a strong young man and used to withstand the blows of heavy battle axes, thus he found his footing quickly again... few other men could have recovered so easily.

They exchanged similar blows three or four more times, then Herveig changed tactics and tried to hit the seemingly unprotected side of the captain, as Meneldur had done before. Merddyn parried the blow with a force that broke off the point from his practice sword and notched that of Herveig. The sword-point flew upon the young knight’s hand, wounding him in the thumb. The joint was cleft, and blood dropped upon the training ground.

“That is enough,” said Lord Peredur, staying the fight. “There is no reason to get any worse injuries. Go to the healers, Herveig, and have them take a look at your hand.”

“You fought well for one who prefers the axe,” added Captain Merddyn. “We shall make a swordsman out of you yet.”

Unlike Meneldur, Herveig made no great issue of being bested by the captain. He declared that there was no shame in losing against the weapons master – who, after all, was called so with a reason – and that he would have his injured hand taken care of. But first he wished to see the sparring match between Lords Peredur and Herumor.

Peredur had no objection to that, and thus Herveig stuck the wounded finger into his mouth while watching them, to keep the wound clean. The two lords, too, fought with shields and practice swords, Herumor being given one of the spare gambesons to dull the force of the blows he might suffer. For while Lord Peredur was a slender man, he also had a steely strength in his sinews as many who had sparred with him could tell.

Herumor knew that, too. This was not the first time he had tried his sword against the bailiff since the day of his knighting, and he had lost against him as many times as he had won. They were evenly matched: age, strength and experience against youthful speed, skills and endurance; theirs promised to be a spectacular fight, as both had learned swordplay in Dol Amroth and had won their fair share of duels. The knights and men-at-arms of Emerië Manor were most eager to watch them spar.

Herumor attacked first, trying to tire out the bailiff with speed, dancing away from Lord Peredur’s parries with almost Elf-like grace. Master Andrahar had taken great pride in helping his pupils to develop a unique fighting style, each according to the best of his abilities – and it showed. But Peredur had been trained with Andrahar, under the tutelage of Ornendil, the former weapons master of Prince Adrahil, and thus he could find the right answer to Herumor’s moves.

After a long string of blows and parries and counterstrokes, it was Herumor who began to tire out. His sword-arm became heavy, and his shield-arm began to hurt under the weight of Lord Peredur’s powerful blows. He hacked away with a last, desperate attempt to bring his opponent down, but his sword stuck fast in the border of the bailiff’s shield. Peredur whirled it up, just when Herumor was striking out, wrenching the sword from the young lord’s hand with the blow of the shield edge. At the same time, he struck out, hitting Herumor at the knee-joint and brought him to fall.

“Do you yield?” he asked, touching the point of his sword to Herumor’s throat. And while it was just a practice sword, the onlookers found the sight unnerving.

“I yield,” replied Herumor, smiling, and accepted the helping hand of Captain Merddyn to get back to his feet. The weapons master was not amused, though.

“That,” he declared, “should not have happened. Have you neglected your weapons practice, my Lord, or are you ill or injured?”

“None of that,” answered Herumor, flexing his sword-hand to get the cramp out of his fingers. “Although ‘tis true that I instruct more in these days than actually fight, since I have taken over the training of the Wardens in swordplay.”

“You have?” asked the bailiff in surprise. “Why does not Chief Warden Henderch work with them?”

“He is suffering from his old wound more than before since the rainy water has set in,” explained Herumor. “His bad shoulder pains him too much to spar with his men right now; and they desperately need the practice.”

“So do you, if this performance was any indication,” said Lord Peredur sternly. “I could have slain you in several different ways during the last sequence of our spar. That will not do, and you know it.”

“Of course I know,” replied Herumor with a sigh. “I wish I could ride out to Emerië Manor every other day to spar with Captain Merddyn, but I cannot. I am needed in too many places.”

“You can always practice with the Castle Guard,” pointed out the bailiff. “Captain Borondir is an experienced and able knight; he would not allow you to grow soft as you seem to have done lately. Take your safety seriously, my Lord; we cannot afford to lose you.”

Herumor laughed, believing it a jest, but the bailiff seemed deadly serious.

“My Lord,” he said, “I know that your father intends for you to grow into your future responsibilities gradually, but I believe I have to tell you this now. Your life I not yours to put at risk as you please. Should you die untimely, the people who depend on you would be left without protection, and that would be very bad indeed. You are needed – we all are needed – to keep safe those who labour on the fields to feed these lands. Being a lord of men is a terrible responsibility; one that we cannot refuse once it has been laid upon our shoulder.”

“And I know that well enough, as my father has raised me in that spirit all my life,” replied Herumor, a little annoyed, for he did not feel he needed a lesson in the matter.

The bailiff nodded. “Good. You may then understand that taking care of your own safety is part of that responsibility. But enough of this now. Captain Merddyn can finish today’s weapon’s practice without us. We shall go back to the house for midday meal.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Refusing the invitation would have been unforgivably rude, and thus Herumor followed his father’s bailiff back into the house. According to time-honoured custom, Lord Peredur ate in the great hall of his house, together with his family and household.

Said family consisted of his wife, the Lady Iorwen, a lovely noblewoman from Lossarnach – albeit of pure Dúnadan origins – and their children: Innogen, a bright girl not quite fourteen yet, and two boys, Elendur, nine, and Númendil, six years old. But the true ruler – or, if rumours could be trusted, the true despot – of the family was Peredur’s widowed mother, the Lady Emerwen, a formidable (not to mention intimidating) matron in her mid-seventies, who was sitting in a canopied chair at the middle of the already set table.

She came from an ancient family of Belfalas and saw herself – as a close acquaintance of the Lady Tirathiel of Dol Amroth – as the last true defender of Númenórean tradition. And indeed, she did have that timeless look only women of true Dúnadan stock could have, with a pale, oval face that still carried the ashes of a great beauty long gone. Her large, dark grey eyes lay deep in their shadowed settings, and the fine imperious bones of her face had kept their elegance, despite her somewhat shrunken cheeks. The hair that was coiled in heavy braids on either side of said face was iron grey and covered with a thin black veil. Her body, tall and erect and black-clothed, had grown angular and lean with advanced age, and she had an air of cold disapproval about her.

She greeted Herumor in the manner of an exiled queen – as if he would be her subject, not the other way round. Although this was not the first time they met, Herumor felt every bit as intimidated by her as when he had to face old Lady Achren, Forlong’s mother. If rumours that her late husband, too, had sought a little warmth by a serving wench in their youth, Herumor could understand it. Some high-born ladies could truly frighten a man out of his mind.

Others, on the other hand, could fill a man’s hearth with warmth and joy. Like the Lady Iorwen, for example, who had performed the near-impossible task to lead a happy life in a house ruled by Lady Emerwen – despite the fact that her marriage with the considerably older bailiff had been arranged by their parents. She was such a heart-warming contrast to the Lady Belthil, Peredur’s sister, a mirror image of what their mother must have been in her youth, that Herumor felt he could breathe much easier in her presence.

When, after the Standing Silence, the servants – overseen by the elderly steward – began to carry in the midday meal, it became clear that Númenórean tradition was indeed kept strictly in Emerië Manor… down to the scholarly opinion that held digestion to be a process similar to cooking. For the food to be properly absorbed, so the old sages of Westernesse had said, one’s stomach had to be filled in an appropriate manner; meaning that light foodstuffs had to be consumed first, followed by gradually heavier dishes.

According to this somewhat outdated rule, the midday meal started with a stomach-opener: round pastries basted in honey, called crispels in these lands; followed by fruays, an apple bread pudding, as apples were easily digestible fruit. Then came vegetables, in this case a simple cabbage dish called cabochis, then mete ryalle, a pork and chicken pie representing both lighter and heavier meats, served with almond milk broth, as well as chestnuts and peas. Those fruits were considered difficult to digest, although for his life, Herumor could not have told why. The meal was finished with tart the bry, a cheese tart, and wine, flavoured with fragrant spices.

This was a proper Númenórean meal indeed – well, save from the fact that originally poultry and heavier meats should have been served as separate dishes – and Herumor savoured each course with great delight. His father might be the overlord of Halabor and the adjacent estate, but in their home, there was much simpler fare than in the bailiff’s, aside from high holidays. Lord Orchald hated waste, and with a household as small as theirs, there was truly no need for more opulent meals.

Herumor understood that. He even agreed with his father, finding Númenórean table rules a bit forced and in some points downright ridiculous. That did not mean, though, that he would not miss the abundance of the Prince of Dol Amroth’s table sometimes. He was a young man with a healthy appetite, after all, and it seemed that the bailiff’s cook was a master of his craft, capable of offering artistic variations of food, despite his somewhat… limited sources of ingredients. Even though he had to use locally made oils – those of poppy, walnut, hazel or filbert – instead of the aromatic (and hereto largely unknown) olive oil generally used in the South, especially in the royal court of Dol Amroth, the dishes were excellently made, and the wine – Dorwinion red – worthy the table of a prince.

From the slightly raised dais, where the lord’s table stood, Herumor, seated on the place of honour on his host’s right, could see the entire hall. Two long tables, set to form a U-shape with the dais, stretched towards the entrance. On one side sat the knights and men-at-arms of Lord Peredur’s house, on the other one the ranking servants of his household, with the elderly steward at the head and with the young grooms near the door. A meal in a noble house was traditionally a communal affair and practiced as such both in Dol Amroth and in the Castle of Halabor – or in Lord Forlong’s home in Lossarnach. Apparently, old Lady Emerwen was a valiant defender of this honourable tradition, too, if her barbed remarks about ‘certain lords in Belfalas and Minas Tirith who prefer to sneak off to enjoy private company during meals’ were any indication.

Nonetheless, Herumor knew that such things happened. His own father had mentioned with dismay that certain rich hosts had picked up the custom to retire with their consorts to private chambers to enjoy more luxurious treats, while serving inferior food to the rest of the household that still dined in the Great Hall.

“Dinners and suppers out of the Hall, in secret and private rooms, should be forbidden,” Lord Orchald often said with disapproval, “for from that practice arises waste and no honour to the lord and lady.” He also had his chatelaine, Mistress Gilmith, watch that the servants not make off with leftovers to make merry during the night, for he considered such reresopers, which were often paired with drinking and gambling, a form of gluttony and therefore immoral. Leftovers from Lord Orchald’s table were usually sent to the Infirmary, where they were given to the beggars, the ailing and the poor.

After the midday meal, Herumor returned with his host to the training grounds; this time to the archery ranges, to watch the men shooting at targets. They were reasonably good at it; not half as good as the Ithilien Rangers, of course, and they could not even come close to the archers of Pinnath Gelin or the Morthond Vale, either. But they were good enough to hit an Orc between the eyes before it could come close enough to kill them, and, as Lord Peredur said, that was the important part of the whole exercise.

Afterwards, they watched the foot soldiers fight with battle-axes; a practice that came from Lossarnach and could prove very effective against Orcs, as many of those were considerably shorter than grown Men. With this weapon, the men proved much better than with the bow.

“Your father’s Warden, the Dunlending, has begun to teach them, but he could not come out here often enough to train them regularly,” explained Lord Peredur. “Fortunately, Herveig has taken over from him as soon as your father brought him here from Lossarnach; and they have made considerable headway since then.”

“It comes naturally to the simple folk who are used to axes as tools, I deem,” said Herumor, “albeit battle-axes are very different, of course.”

“Still, they have at least something to them that people already know,” replied the bailiff. “Unlike swords, which are alien to them.”

“Do you believe we will be able to keep Halabor safe?” asked Herumor quietly. He needed to ease his heart but did not wish to discuss his concerns with his father. The old lord had enough to worry about already.

The bailiff thought about that for a moment; then he shrugged.

“We will do our best,” he said. “Beyond that, we can only hope – and why should we not? Gondor has already endured three thousand years. We have survived the attacks of the Balchoth, the Easterlings, the troops of Mordor led by the chief of the Nine, the Kin-strife… why should it be different in the future?”

“’Tis not Gondor as a whole I am worried about,” said Herumor, “’tis Halabor. My ancestors had once armed troops that rivalled those of Pinnath Gelin or the Ringló Vale. With so many swords, it was easy to protect the town and our lands. But now? Barely a thousand people live within our walls, and all we have to their protection are your men here, the Castle Guard and a handful of Wardens. Would it be enough to hold off the sea of well-armed Orcs? Or the raiding Easterling bands? Or the Hill-men when they come down from their hills, killing and pillaging and destroying everything in their ways?”

“We have to,” answered the bailiff simply. “This is all we have.”

Herumor nodded. “My point exactly. If courage and tactical knowledge would be all that is needed, my father could tear down the very walls of Minas Morgul with a handful of poorly-armed fishermen. But no matter how skilled our men might be, how valiant their hearts are, Mordor has the numbers. And sometimes numbers are all that you need – assuming they are high enough.”

“You are in a dark mood today, my Lord,” said the bailiff gently. Herumor shrugged.

“Not just today,” he admitted. “There are times when I believe all I have done since my return home was to worry.”

“You are young and new to your responsibilities,” said Peredur. “You will get used to them in time.”

“When?” asked Herumor. “It has been six years, Lord Peredur, and I am growing more concerned about the fate of my town with each passing day.”

“’Tis understandable,” said the bailiff. “But truly, you need not to worry so much about the future. No man could ever add as much as a single day to his life by worrying; all anyone could ever achieve by it were grey hairs. You shall grow into your duties in time, never doubt it. I have, too; and let me tell you that my father used to have his concerns about that.”

“Aye, but you are not alone for your burden,” said Herumor. “You have got a brother and a sister to support you.”

“And fine support they have been to me, all their lives!” replied the bailiff with a mirthless laugh. “My brother only leaves the court in Minas Tirith for a visit at home to demand what he believes is his due as a nobleman of true Númenórean descent, regardless of what it might cost us and whether we can afford it or not. As for my sister… well, she is obsessed with having a proper marriage and has no mind for aught else.”

“Is she not a little old for that?” asked Herumor; then he ducked in shame and blushed furiously. “My pardon, Lord Peredur. I did not want to indicate…”

“But you are right, nonetheless,” replied the bailiff. “Her choosiness is the reason why she has not found the right match yet… and were it up to her, she might never do so. Fortunately, higher powers have been involved in the matter. Our mother hopes to marry her off to one of her former suitors who has recently lost his wife, as soon as the time of mourning is over.”

His voice had gained a certain… wishful tone, which surprised Herumor.

“Are you looking forward to the Lady Belthil’s departure?” he asked. He had always wished for siblings that he had never had. Peredur sighed.

“I dearly love my family, and that includes my mother and my siblings,” he said. “But I must admit that my mother and my sister are very much alike; in that they are both imperious, opiniated women who like to tell others how things should be done properly. Having only one of them in the house would bring us some much-needed peace.”

Herumor shuddered by the imagination of living under the same roof as the Lady Emerwen and her similarly-spirited daughter, but he found it more wise to keep his thoughts unspoken.

“And as we are speaking about marriage and about continuing the bloodline,” said the bailiff, “has your lord father already found a suitable wife for you?”

Herumor made a long-suffering face.

“He is giving me some leeway to make my own choice,” he replied, “but he keeps bothering me about it. I cannot understand why. I am only twenty-four, after all. He was not yet wedded at my age, either.”

“That is true,” said Lord Peredur. “But you must remember that your father is of pure Dúnadan blood, while you are not. He could expect a longer lifespan than you van.”

“I know,” answered Herumor with a sight. “That is why he insists that I find myself a suitable wife… to strengthen the bloodline again. Sometimes I truly wonder if blood is so important why did he marry Mother in the first place?”

“He loved her very much,” said Lord Peredur gently. “I know it. I have seen them in love – ‘twas a beautiful sight.”

“And yet he would not give me the same chance,” retorted Herumor bitterly.

“That is different,” reminded him Lord Peredur. “The Lady Humleth came from the Old Folk, ‘tis true, but she was of noble breeding – no one questions the rank and nobility of Forlong of Lossarnach, or that of his kinfolk. But you, the last scion of the oldest House of Gondor, cannot bind yourself to a woman of common birth, no matter what you might feel for her.”

Herumor’s face was deathly pale with shock. “Where do you know…?”

“Even we get the gossip out here,” replied the bailiff with a smile. “And while I understand that this is hard for you, we both know that such a bond simply cannot be made.”

“Mayhap ‘tis against custom,” admitted Herumor. “But would it be the right thing to wed someone just because she is of suitable status, while my heart belongs to another one?”

The bailiff shrugged. “Dúnadan ladies know what they owe their bloodlines, too,” he said. “They know well enough that they rarely can follow their own hearts… even less so than we males can. But that does not always mean a dread life. The Lady Iorwen and I have not chosen each other in the first place, either; do you truly believe that we are not happy together?”

“Nay,” said Herumor, “for even a blind man could see your happiness. But would you truly marry off your only daughter to a man whose heart belongs to someone else?”

“To any suitable man?” clarified Peredur. “Nay, I would not. To you? It depends. If Innogen would be inclined to accept you – after having discussed the details thoroughly – then aye, I would. But it is too early yet to consider such things anyway. She is still too young. Ask me again in five years’ time should your lord father still not have chosen for you by then.”

Herumor shook his head, decidedly uncomfortable with the thought.

“That would be… awkward,” he said. “I have always thought of her as the little sister I never had. We used to play together as children… and she is still barely more than a child.”

“Children grow up,” replied the bailiff. “Times change. So do people and their relationships. Who knows, perchance even my sister will find the strength in her heart to become a good lady of her husband’s people.”

Suddenly, Herumor felt great curiosity to learn who of the nobles of Gondor would feel brave enough to marry the formidable Lady Belthil.

“I know ‘tis not my business,” he began hesitantly, “but if you do not mind my asking… which province would be so fortunate as have her as its lady, soon?”

Peredur grinned. “Oh, that would be a long and thorough lesson in modesty for my beloved sister, I deem,” he said. “Lord Golasgil might be a member of Gondor’s Council, yet the lands of Anfalas are harsh and meagre, and even the nobles there lead a rustic life.”

“What sort of men live there?” asked Herumor who had never been to the Langstrand.

“Mostly herdsmen, hunters and fishermen,” replied the bailiff. “Poor folk, related to those of Dor-en-Ernil, but much more rustic. Lord Golasgil still has the ancient keep of his family near Marghas Byghan, a small merchant town in the south of the province, but those are about the only fortified towns. The long coastline is quite vulnerable to pirate attacks.”

“I know,” said Herumor. “Prince Adrahil used to send patrol ships along the coastline of the Bay of Belfalas, as far as the Cap of Andrast, as Anfalas had but a handful of small ships to the protection of the mouth of the River Lefnui.”

The bailiff nodded. “Anfalas is one of the largest provinces, yet so sparsely populated that Lord Golasgil can barely find enough men to protect his own keep and the few larger settlements, none of which is bigger than Halabor,” he explained. “More than all, he would need ships to patrol the coastline, but ships are a costly investment. I believe he hopes that the modest wealth of Belthil could help him to build at least a ship or two more. She still owns lands in Belfalas, which she inherited from Mother’s family.”

“But has Lord Golasgil not already courted her when they were young?” asked Herumor. “Was that just for her lands, even then?”

“Nay, I do not think so,” answered the bailiff thoughtfully. “After all, Belthil used to be a stunning beauty – in truth, she is still beautiful for a woman of her age – and many wished to wed her. Only when she rejected Golasgil did he begin to look elsewhere and married a gentle, good-hearted lady from Pinnath Gelin. Unfortunately, she was also very fragile and died last winter, after long, terrible suffering. They say Golasgil was heartbroken, for he had come to truly care for her during their shared years; even though she was very ill, most of the time.”

“What ailed her?” asked Herumor.

The bailiff shrugged. “Not even the Elven healers from Edhellond could tell. All I know is that she became ill shortly after giving birth to their second son – he must be about sixteen or so now – and was in constant pain ‘til her death. She was also wilting away, losing weight and strength little by little with each passing day. She became almost wraith-like in the end, and too weak to even leave her bed anymore.”

“It must have been terrible for Lord Golasgil to watch her fade away,” said Herumor with compassion.

The bailiff nodded. “No doubt it was. That is why he decided not to marry out of love after the death of the Lady Meresel, I deem. That, and the disarray of his household that needs a firm hand to be brought in proper order again.”

That would be a task well-suited for the Lady Belthil,” commented Herumor innocently, but his eyes sparkled.

Peredur laughed, too. “Oh, certainly!” he said. “And mayhap a modest life, filled with duty and hard work, will teach my dear sister what our parents failed to teach her: that being of Númenórean blood means responsibility, first and foremost.”

“Are you sure ‘tis not a lesson you want me to learn?” teased Herumor.

The bailiff shook his head. “Nay,” he said, “for you have learned that lesson already, and I have little doubt that you shall act upon it when you have to. And that time will come, sooner than you might think.” He glanced up at the sundial embedded into the side of the stone tower of his keep. “’Tis getting late. Are you staying for the night or do you plan to return home before nightfall?”

“I shall go home,” answered Herumor. “Father would be worried otherwise, as we have not planned for me to stay away for more than half the day. Besides, I have promised him to look at our account books with old Artbranan, the notary.”

“In that case I will send four men-at-arms with you,” said Peredur.

“There is no need for that,” protested Herumor. “’Tis but a short road, and a safe one. Never have Orcs or footpads bothered the travellers between Emerië Manor and Halabor, and I doubt they would begin to do so today, of all days.”

“That may be true, although no path is truly safe in these days,” said the bailiff. “But the more important thing is: you are supposed to have a proper escort, whether the roads are safe or not. You are the heir of our overlord; your people expect you to be protected. For seeing you in the company of armed men makes them feel safe.”

“Aye, but it makes me feel like a prisoner,” grumbled Herumor.

Lord Peredur smiled. “I remember my father having a similar argument with yours once. But even Lord Orchald yielded to the necessity; and so should you. As their lord-to-be, you belong to your people, just as they belong to you. If you do not want to accept an escort on your behalf, do it for them.”

That was an argument Herumor could not truly counter. Thus he accepted the inevitable and left for home in the company of four young swordsmen, who were more than pleased to escort him – it meant that they could spend the night in Halabor, which was much more fun than the barracks of Emerië Manor.

~The End – for now~

~~~

Marghas Byghan means “Small market” in Cornish. The little merchant town is my invention. It is supposed to have been the first foothold of the Hanse of Lebennin in Anfalas.

More about the Hanse of Lebennin is told in “An Autumn Fair of Halabor”. A short essay explaining the Hanse as well as a description of its member towns is posted to the Otherworlds board, in the Halabor RPG section.


[Prev][Index][Next]

Post A Review

Report this chapter for abuse of site guidelines. (Opens new window)

CHTcnt:417
A Mike Kellner Web Site
Tolkien Characters, Locations, & Artifacts © Tolkien Estate & Designated Licensees - All Rights Reserved
Stories & Other Content © The Respective Authors - All Rights Reserved
Software & Design © 2003 - 2014 Michael G Kellner All Rights Reserved
Hosted by:Raven Studioz