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The Case of the Silver Letters
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
The Case of the Silver Letters

Emyn Arnen, Autumn, F.A. 14

The whole affair happened shortly after my older brother left to spend a year at our uncle’s court in Edoras. I was disconsolate without my chief accomplice. Elboron and I were close in age and thick as thieves. My younger brother, Léof, was a self-sufficient boy with no particular need for my company, and, besides, was always off on some business of his own and therefore never to be found. Mother and Father, not insensitive to my mood, and as far as their numerous duties allowed, tried various distractions in the way of hearty expeditions around the countryside, instructive trips to town, and so on, and so on, but to no avail. My bad temper carried on throughout summer and threatened autumn. The simple truth was that I was lonely without Bron, and I was beginning to ponder, as I entered my fourteenth year, what purpose I might have. There I stood, one foot still in childhood, the other in womanhood, and it was not easy to see what was supposed to happen next.

Bron’s fortnightly letters, detailing his adventures, did not help. No doubt, left to my own devices, I would have sulked well into the new year, but the arrival of my father’s cousin from Dol Amroth in the weeks leading up to yáviérë brought a most welcome change to the scenery of Emyn Arnen. Prince Amrothos was the kind of man to warm the heart of any child. Unbothered by protocol, etiquette, decorum, or nicety, he was interested in just about everything else: the world, the stars, language, mathematics, mechanics, explosions, and any creature that happened to hop, jump, clatter, slither, or crawl past his ever-curious eye. At that time, I recall, he was coming to the end of a lengthy examination of the different aspects taken on by blood when allowed to dry for varying periods of time. The ghoulish paraphernalia arising from this experiment were gleefully brought out during dinner on the first night of his visit to the shrieking horror of the housemaids, the grave amusement of Father, and the frank bafflement of Mother. Surely it does not need to be said how we three children adored him.

Autumn, then, looked set to be much merrier than summer, and indeed Ithilien was beautiful that year, and I more ready now to revel in the many colours and beauties of the season. Love and duty may take me for long periods to the City, but home will always be Ithilien, that green garden country that my mother and my father together coaxed back to life from the weeds and ruins left by war. How happily I walked its woods and fields, wandered its groves and orchards, and drank from its clear cold streams. Often my father’s cousin came with me, and then our walks became voyages of discovery, for Amrothos could tell me more about the trees and plants around us than even my father, who I believe could have walked safely around Ithilien blindfolded. How marvellous to discover that the countryside I knew so well contained so much more than I had ever imagined. Even Léof deigned to join us on our rambles now and again. August turned to September, and we caught the first sniff of chill air from the north, and looked forward to the festival coming at the end of the month.

But before that, we received another visitor, this time from the City, and one nowhere near so welcome as Amrothos. The Lord Turgon had been a friend of my father’s late cousin Hador, who had died towards the end of the War. Turgon had come to Ithilien to investigate purchasing an estate south of Emyn Arnen. Land in Ithilien was still cheap at the time, on account of the traps and snares and poisoned waters – the Enemy’s handiwork – that still fouled corners of the country, and my father was always keen to attract new settlers. But the people he preferred were of a certain type: hands-on, eager to be full parties to the work being done to build the newest Princedom of the realm. Within a matter of minutes, it was clear that while Turgon certainly possessed excellent manners and great wit, and most assuredly desired to own land across the river, he was hardly likely to become resident in such an uncouth, untamed country as ours. For his dead cousin’s sake, my father welcomed Turgon into our home as his guest, but I knew from the careful reserve that I detected in his manner towards him, not to mention my mother’s slight frost, that neither of them found the man particularly appealing.

Turgon held no interest for Amrothos, who therefore ignored him entirely. On only one occasion did Amrothos show he had even noticed the man’s existence. Turgon was giving an account of his journey that day to survey a small estate to the south-west of our hills. On the whole he had been pleased with what he found: good fishing, olive groves that were not beyond repair, plenty of potential to build and rent, and sufficiently close to the ferry over to the Harlond that he might make the trip from the City easily in a day and therefore not have to stay. I did not miss the look that passed between my parents at that point, nor the slight opening of his palm with which my father gently asked my mother to refrain from speaking her mind. But the estate was not what had most interested Turgon during his trip, and certainly not what caught Amrothos’ attention.

“I decided to come back along the river road rather than take the old road through the hills,” Turgon told us, “but it took rather longer than I had expected and so, reaching a small village where the way meets the road coming down from the Harlond, I stopped to find some refreshment. And there, sitting outside the inn and sunning himself, I saw an old man – Valar, he was ninety if he was a day! – with a shock of snow-white hair on his head, but as grey-eyed as you or I, sir, and going by the name of Belecthor, no less! Fine country this, where even the most rustic seem to have a drop of the old blood in them!”

My father ran his finger-tip along his cheekbone. “I know him,” he said quietly, “and his family. They were amongst the last to leave when Ithilien was overrun. All the men were rangers and his grandson died at the breaking of the bridge.”

“Indeed?” said Turgon, clearly not much interested in this piece of local knowledge. “Certainly the old man knew the area well. We fell to talking, and I explained that I was enjoying the hospitality of you and your lovely lady—” he gave my mother a charming smile which she returned with a rather wolfish one of her own, “—whereupon he was proud to inform me that his ancestors had served yours up at the old hall for many generations.”

“Indeed,” said my father, to whom this was plainly not news.

“And furthermore he told me about the curious game that the children of his family used to play in the grounds of the old building.”

A line appeared between my father’s brows. “A game?”

“Why yes,” Turgon said carelessly. “Each full moon they would go to a certain spot in the garden, and turn about several times, whilst reciting some riddle. Remarkable! Had you not heard tell of this?”

“I had not,” my father said, and, from the slight tightness appearing around his lips, and the deepening of the line between his brows, I guessed he was irked that some part of the lore of Ithilien had eluded him, and that a man such as Turgon should be the one to enlighten him. Naturally he conveyed none of this displeasure to Turgon, and, besides, he would not have had the chance, for at this moment Amrothos spoke up.

“The riddle,” he said. “What was the riddle?”

Turgon looked at him in complete surprise, since this was the first time Amrothos had spoken to him directly throughout the whole fortnight. Hitherto Turgon had treated Amrothos with a kind of indulgent perplexity, but now, finding himself being addressed by the son of the Lord of Western Gondor, he became anxious to commend himself. He opened his mouth to reply, whereupon Amrothos raised his hand, and said, “Wait.” Reaching into the pocket of his tunic, he drew out a crumpled and grubby piece of paper and a very tatty pen. He peered at the nib of this and then chewed it slightly. Next, he smoothed out the paper on the table top, pored over the contents, and struck out a few lines.

“A drop of the old wine, Lord Turgon?” my mother said, her accent more marked than usual. Our bewildered guest accepted gladly. Amrothos, finishing his close study of his paper, waved his pen at Turgon. “Continue. Describe the game, please, as closely as you can. And then recount the riddle.”

Turgon’s jaw hung slackly for a moment, and then he collected himself. “Ah, yes, of course. As I say, his ancestors would go into the garden at full moon, and there turn about a number of times—”

“How many, please? And which way?”

“As I recall, there were five separate sets of turns – no, six! – after which a number of steps had to be taken.”

“Steps? How many? In which direction? No, first, we must know the starting point, what was the starting point?”

Turgon looked around the table at the rest of us. We smiled back blandly and offered no aid. “I’m... afraid I did not ask.”

Amrothos sighed deeply and put down his pen. “You are not very observant, are you, Lord Turgon?” he said, crossly. “Is that the best that you can do?”

“My apologies, sir...”

“Did you not think to write down what the old man said? I would have thought that when presented with an unusual custom from such a remarkable and, more importantly, ageing source, anyone of sense would take the trouble to write his words down—”

At this point, my father leaned forwards in his seat. “Perhaps, Amrothos,” he said gently, “it had been a long ride and a long day.”

Amrothos gave my father a puzzled look, and then appeared to take the hint that was being dropped so heavily. “Hmm.” Picking up his pen and paper, he shoved them back in his pocket, and frowned down at his dinner. “Well,” he said, after a moment or two, “I suppose I can always ride out there later in the week and take it down myself. You’ll be too busy to join me, I imagine, cousin?”

“Alas, duty calls. I must be in the City for a few days at the end of the week.”

“Hmm,” Amrothos said again. Then, more hopefully: “Tomorrow?”

Father held up his hands. “Tomorrow I spend the day amidst bailiffs and sheriffs.”

“Morwen,” said my mother softly, “perhaps you might go?”

“Oh yes, please!” I said, for I had been longing to offer, but unwilling to intrude upon any opportunity my father had to spend time with his cousin. My father loved Amrothos’ company, but the demands upon his time were so great that he rarely had the chance to do whatever he liked.

And to my delight, Amrothos was well pleased at the offer of this other companion. “Excellent! Yes, very good! For Morwen,” he finished pointedly, “pays attention to detail.”

***

Turgon departed for the City the next morning, and our house heaved a sigh of relief and relaxed. Father went off to run the gauntlet of local officialdom, leaving myself and Amrothos with strict instructions to come and find him as soon as we were home with a report of our meeting with Belecthor.

It must surely be clear by now that Amrothos of Belfalas was not easily upstaged, but Belecthor of River Bend, in his ninety-first year, had the advantage of fifty years and the buoyant self-assurance of a man lately restored to his kingdom. Tall, strong, hale, and smoking a long-stemmed pipe, he waved this in greeting when he saw me. “Hullo, sir!” I said, hopping up on the bench beside him, tucking one leg beneath me and letting the other swing. I knew him well, for we often stopped at the inn here when the family travelled to and from the City. I tapped the stem of the pipe. “This is new!”

“A man must remain willing to try the latest customs,” he said, puffing at it inexpertly. “If it’s good enough for the Citadel of Minas Tirith, it’s good enough for Ithilien. How is the Prince?”

“Busy as ever,” I said. “But very well. Mother too.”

“And is the young lord thriving in the north?”

I sighed. “Oh yes, Bron’s having a fine old time.”

He gave me a canny look, and then gestured with the pipe to Amrothos. “Who’s your solemn friend, my lady?”

Forestalling any need on my part to introduce him, Amrothos stepped forwards and bowed low. “Amrothos of Belfalas, sir. An honour to meet you.”

Belecthor’s grey eyes gleamed in recognition and pleasure. “The honour is certainly mine, my lord prince. Please, have a seat.”

Amrothos sat on the old man’s other side, and we remained there a good half-hour, talking about the weather (satisfactory), the state of the road (improving), the travellers along it (a mixed bag), and catching up on all the local gossip which Belecthor collected like a sharp-eyed magpie with its shiny pieces. Father often said that he made as fine a warden of Ithilien as many younger, better-armed men. Abandoning his pipe as a dead loss, he said to Amrothos, “Are you city-bound today, my lord prince?”

“No sir, indeed Morwen and I have travelled this way with the sole purpose of speaking to you.”

“We’ve had a visitor the past few weeks,” I said, “Lord Turgon.” I pulled a face, and Belecthor grunted. “He told us that you had described a strange game you used to play in the grounds of the old house. Father had never heard of it, so we promised we would come and hear more from you.”

The old man gave a snort of laughter that turned into a wheezy cough. “That old nonsense? Well, my lady, it’s not a game I ever played myself, not being so ancient that I was able to serve your family when the house was still standing. But my grandfather played it as a boy, and I received the story from him.”

Amrothos had by now dug into his pocket and drawn out paper and pen. Belecthor stood up. “If I’m going to do this, I’ll do it properly,” he said. He handed me his pipe, and cleared his throat. I wondered if it was worth chancing a quick puff, but Mother had an unerring instinct for this kind of transgression, and, besides, I didn’t like the sound of Belecthor’s cough.

Standing before us, tall and old and proud, Belecthor was still for a moment, and then began to declaim in a mighty voice:

“Whose was it?
(From inside the inn, someone called, “What’s the matter, father?”)
Those who are gone.

“Where did it come from?

(“Oh, you’re just showing off again.”)
The land that is lost.

“When does it start?

(He raised his hand and spread the palm out wide, moving it over his head.)
When the moon is full,
Between the redleaf and the pine.

“How was it stepped?
North by twelve and twelve,

(At this point, it helps to know that Belecthor, at each change of compass direction, would swing around on his long legs like an ancient heron stalking across its territory.)
East by six and six,
South by two and two,
West by one and one, and under.

“What have we given?

(Now we merely had his great voice to assist us.)
All that was ours.

“Why did we give it?
For the sake of our faith.”


(Then, like an ancient swan, turning slowly first clockwise, then counterclockwise, and changing direction with each word.)
“Seven, two, five, twelve, one, three.”

I put the pipe down on the bench and applauded. Belecthor bowed. Glancing at Amrothos, I saw that he was sitting with his mouth open and his pen suspended above the page, and had not taken down a single word. “Shall I do it again?” asked Belecthor.

“Please,” said Amrothos, in a slightly strangled voice, and I heartily concurred. This time, Belecthor held back and Amrothos got the whole down.

Whose was it?
Those who are gone.

Where did it come from?
The land that is lost.

When does it start?
When the moon is full,
Between the redleaf and the pine.

How was it stepped?
North by twelve and twelve,
East by six and six,
South by two and two,
West by one and one, and under.

What have we given?
All that was ours.

Why did we give it?
For the sake of our faith.

Seven, two, five, twelve, one, three.


“Those last,” Belecthor explained, “my grandfather said that he and his friends used to turn in full – seven times clockwise, then two, counterclockwise, and on through the set, changing direction each time. Twelve must have been the worst. But I’m surprised you had not heard the full verse before. That lord who came past last week, the Lord Turgon, made me say it for him several times, and wrote the whole thing down, as you have done now, my lord prince. And you said he was your guest?”

Amrothos and I looked at each other in surprise. Belecthor didn’t miss it. When we took our leave of him a little later, he said, “I’d mention that about the Lord Turgon to your father, my lady. And let me know whether you find aught.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“I always thought they sounded like directions. Who knows where they might take you?”

As we mounted our horses and made ready to leave, I thought through the rhyme, and one last question came to mind. “Belecthor, what’s a redleaf?”

“Ask your father,” he said. “He’ll tell you – more than you want to know.” He picked up his pipe, examined it, and then put it down again. “Filthy habit,” he concluded.

***

When we bounced into his study with our treasure, Father was hunched over his desk clutching a cup of willow bark tea and wearing his headache face. He brightened measurably at the sight of us, pushing aside his papers and falling back into his chair. “How was your trip? What did you learn from the old rogue?”

“Not to start smoking,” I said with a laugh. We recited the rhyme for him, Amrothos managing a fair impression of Belecthor’s theatricals, and then fell to discussing what it might mean. The news of Turgon’s perfidy Father met with a tightening of the lips and a shake of the head. “Let us hope he settles in Lossarnach,” he muttered. “Or Umbar.”

“Now, this rhyme,” Amrothos said, tapping the paper on which it was written, “seems to me to consist of four main parts. Firstly, we have the starting point, the pine and the redleaf, and the time – beneath a full moon. Next, we have the number of steps to take from that point, and the directions in which they should be taken – north, east, and so on. Thirdly, there are the turns.” He frowned. “I admit I find this the most baffling part. Seven, two, five, twelve, one, three… I wonder if there is some sequence connecting them? Hmm...”

“And the fourth part?” my father prompted.

“Oh,” Amrothos waved his hand, “the verses at the start and the end; the usual about the foundered land and the Faithful—”

“I thought they were charming,” Father said.

“Perhaps, but charming will find us no buried treasure.”

“Buried treasure?” Father’s eyebrows shot up. “Is that our aim now? I thought we were collecting children’s rhymes—”

“And so we were, but these are plainly directions of some kind, Faramir, surely you can see that?”

“Perhaps, but – treasure, Rothos?” He glanced at me. “We don’t want to disappoint ourselves.”

“Treasure may come in many forms, cousin.”

“Then treasure it is, although I’m sure if there were any buried in Ithilien the Rangers would have sniffed it out. We were short of money by the end.”

“Laugh all you like, Faramir, but we’ll find your treasure for you whether you want it or not. Won’t we, Morwen?”

“Yes we will!” I said, for I would have gladly risked a dragon’s hoard for Father.

“And if you do, then I shall thank you, protectors of the purse. But there is a long way to go before that. What must you do next?”

“The full moon, of course,” I said, “between the redleaf and the pine. Oh yes! Neither of us knew what a redleaf was, but Belecthor said that you would surely know.”

“And indeed I do,” Father said. “It’s the old common name for the culumalda tree. Or carnilaurë in the ancient high tongue,” he added, because he couldn’t help himself. People often said that my father had missed his calling by not becoming a scholar, but it was plain to me that his true vocation was teacher. “A tall slender tree with red-gold leaves, very rare – but you saw them at Cormallen, Morwen, surely you remember? The time we celebrated Ringday there.” He eyed me thoughtfully. “Or were you too small? How you all grow...”

He stood up and went over to his shelves, taking down a green volume describing and illustrating the flora of Gondor. He flicked through the pages until he found the picture he sought. “Here it is,” he said, and we both stood at an elbow to look. “See? The red and gold leaves are very distinctive. But they’re only found in the north of Ithilien now – and even there rarely. I have never seen one south of Cormallen. The servants of the Enemy had a particular loathing for them, for their uncommon beauty, no doubt, and they uprooted and destroyed many. Certainly I never saw one near the old house.” He smiled at us both, poring over the page he was holding open for us. “I’m sure you’ll go and hunt for one anyway.”

We did, the following morning, having sent Father on his way to the City to attend to whatever business could be more pressing than this. The day was sunny, not too warm, and the autumn colours rich and bright. We left our grounds through the south gate, and took the hill path, and, after about a mile-and-a-half climbing steadily upwards, reached the tumbledown wall that marked the edge of the old estate. September roses twined around the crumbling stones and a wooden gate hung sadly from rusty hinges. I knew this place well. The walk was a great favourite with me and Bron, for the place was soaked in the history of our beloved land, and stirred the romance in our hearts. How strange it was to think of it, so near to us, sinking quietly into the grass, while our own home, down the hill, was so busy and full of life and plans. As Amrothos and I walked amongst the fallen walls and clambering weeds, I thought as I often did that for all I loved to come here, I was glad that Father had decided not to rebuild, but instead had chosen a place for a new house, west and down the hill, with the City easily in sight.

I led Amrothos through ghosts of rooms and over smashed floors out onto what had once been a wide lawn. It was a field now, full of tall grass and cow parsley, and bright splashes of wild flowers. At one side, as I thought we would, we found a shaggy old pine tree, tall and weathered. Amrothos smiled and patted its bark. “Now for the redleaf!” he said.

There were several directions in which this might lie, for a small copse had grown behind the field, and this we searched, moving out slowly from where the pine stood. But after about a quarter-of-an-hour, we stumbled upon a most unpleasant sight. The stump of a dead tree, hacked and hewed by crude axes, with a burnt spot nearby – the place, no doubt, where this poor casualty of war had met its sad end. Not content with savaging the tree so brutally, its murderers had even disfigured the stump, stripping off the outside bark, and carving with rough knives into the flat uppermost surface a hateful symbol of a hideous Eye. Even I, bred to Ithilien, and used to warning tales of poisoned waters and charred remains, was revolted.

But Amrothos was very distressed. He loved his cousin dearly and hated to think how this land – which my father had bled for, and now lived for – had suffered beneath the Shadow. “This is impossible!” he said, looking around, his eyes bright and angry. “We are not even sure that this is a redleaf, never mind coming closer to working out where we should start with those wretched steps and turns! Who knows how this place must have changed in all the years since Ithilien was abandoned? Who knows how much damage has been done?”

Gently, I put my hand upon his arm. “Father will know,” I consoled him. “Or know where to look. There’ll be records of the house and the grounds. I’m sure he has such things. We’ll travel to the City, if needs be. He’ll have them, I’m sure.”

But Father was away in the City for two days, during which time another letter from Bron arrived, full of his visit to Mother’s childhood home in Aldburg, which made her wistful, with Father absent, and rather dampened my spirits. Amrothos and I pondered the rhyme over and over, but it only became clearer and clearer to us that we could progress no further until we had determined once and for all whether a redleaf tree had ever stood in the grounds of the old house.

Father got home very late and slept well into the following morning. Mother strictly policed access to him until midday, and so it was mid-afternoon before Amrothos and I were able to ask him about plans of the old house. And he had another matter on his mind, which he had detailed to Mother over their late breakfast together. The Lord Turgon, it seemed, had missed an appointment in the City with a land agent. Enquiring further, Father learned that no-one could confirm that Turgon had in fact returned to Minas Tirith after leaving Emyn Arnen.

The story quickly passed around the household. As Amrothos and I met with Father in his study to tell him of our explorations of the house, there came a gentle tap at the door, and Eilyn, one of the housemaids, entered. Seeing Amrothos – who was treated with some caution by the servants on account of the shocks that so often awaited them in his chamber, she hesitated, but Father called her in.

“I wanted a quick word, sir,” she said, “about Lord Turgon. We heard he hadn’t turned up in the City yet, and I remembered something odd that happened. I thought I ought to tell you.”

“Oh yes, Eilyn?”

“I came in here one morning to clean, and found him – the Lord Turgon – sitting in that chair by the window, with a whole pile of papers and whatnot on his knees and on the floor around him.”

“How odd,” Father said, and frowned. “Whatever could he have been doing?”

Having heard of our need for the plans of the old house, Father had gone over to a tall wooden cabinet that stood in a quiet corner of his study. This cabinet was a solid old piece from the Steward’s House, heavy and ugly, that had long harboured a collection of some of the more obscure family papers. Father had dragged the thing over from Minas Tirith when the house in Emyn Arnen was built, and I knew that he hoped one day to be able to examine the contents in detail, perhaps with a view to preparing a family history. Of course he never found the time, and the cabinet and its contents lurked darkly in their corner.

“There’s not much dust on this, Faramir,” Amrothos said, running his finger along the cabinet. “Do you think that Turgon may have been looking in here?”

“You’re slandering Eilyn, Rothos,” Father said, as he opened the cabinet doors. “I’m sure she dusts it regularly.”

I watched, my toes curling, as poor Eilyn turned crimson. Father, turning round with an armful of papers, saw her face. “Eilyn? When did you last dust the cabinet?” The colour drained from Eilyn’s cheeks. Father crossed to his desk and dumped the papers there. “I never look at the thing if I can help it, Eilyn. And the lady of the house will never know.”

“I do dust in here daily,” Eilyn said, “but that monster I only do at the start of each month. You said it yourself, sir,” she said apologetically. “You never look at it, or open it.”

“And a more rigorous regime would therefore be a waste of effort. You have better things to do. But it does suggest that Turgon may well have had a look inside. When exactly did you see him here?”

“Three days before he left – no, four, sir. I remember because you and the lady of the house were both out all day, and it seemed odd to find him in your study without you. But he was so at ease sitting in that chair that I thought he must have been here with your say-so. Who would come in here without your say-so? I am sorry, sir.”

“The fault was certainly Lord Turgon’s, Eilyn, and not yours. Did you by any chance see what he was looking at? Papers, and—?”

She thought for a moment. “There was something else, sir – a flat black pouch of some sort, leather, perhaps. I think there were some silver marks upon it. Could have been the dust! I remember because I’d never seen it before – and when I do dust here,” her eyes sparkled at him, “I dust thoroughly.”

Father twinkled back. “Thank you, Eilyn! If you or anyone remembers aught else about his stay that strikes you as odd, please let me know. It may help to discover where he has gone.”

With a smile, Eilyn nodded and left.

“A black pouch, Faramir?” Amrothos said.

Father rubbed his finger against his jaw for a moment, deep in thought, and then went back to the cabinet (whose moment of glory had certainly come), and drew from it a black case, perhaps a foot by half-a-foot, made of some leather that remained supple despite its evident age. He took it over to his desk and Amrothos and I eagerly joined him. Embossed upon the top of the case, in a horizontal line across the middle, were twelve silver letters. I did not recognize them, and I was not the only one, although I was not the person in the room learned in several languages.

“Faramir!” Amrothos exclaimed. “I have never seen symbols like these before! What is this script?”

“Well, some lost dialect of Westernesse, I would guess. I have never seen these signs elsewhere either, although my studies have hardly been as exhaustive as yours. So much was lost in the Downfall. We might never have the key to unlock their meaning.”

For a moment, Amrothos was speechless. Then: “A case of black leather from the foundered land, covered in an unknown script?”

“Hardly covered, Rothos—”

“And what other treasures have you got tucked away in that ridiculous cupboard here in this... province of yours?”

Father laughed. “Family secrets!”

“I am family!”

“Other side!”

I reached out with a fingertip to touch the delicate, intricate, mysterious letters. “Are we going to open it, Father?”

“Of course, blackbird. But don’t set yourself up for a disappointment.”

To the mounting excitement of both Amrothos and myself (and, I think, for all he said, my father too), he carefully thumbed open the silver clasp. I was of course firmly convinced that we were about to find some antediluvian treasure map, or at the very least the key to the script on the cover. But there was nothing inside, only silky scarlet lining. At my bidding, Father examined this and indeed the whole interior for secret compartments, but at length even I had to admit that the case was empty.

“Ah well,” said Father, closing it again. “I wonder if Turgon took something of value from here. If so, he may be long gone, and our trail now cold.” He frowned, and I began to feel glum again. “But!” Father said after a moment’s thought, clapping his hands together and in the briskly cheerful tone he must once have used to rally his men in situations at least as disheartening as this, “all is not yet lost! Here is what we’ll do next. We shall search these papers as we intended for the plans of the house and the estate, and then we shall examine them for any sign that a culumalda tree once stood in the grounds near a pine tree.”

We dutifully applied ourselves to the plan of action that Father had outlined, and were soon rewarded with a whole set of documents detailing the house throughout the various phases of its construction. Although I had often wandered the ruins, I had not grasped until I saw these papers how grand a house it must have been at its height. I guessed it was five or six times bigger than our own hall, which although it was modest compared to the halls of other lords of Gondor that I had visited (not least the castle of Dol Amroth), was still spacious. My father, seeing my amazement, smiled. “Quite the prince’s palace, wasn’t it?”

“I like this house well enough,” I said, stoutly.

“Good,” he said. “I like it well enough too.”

We found the plan that showed the house at its largest, in the century before the Kin-strife, when many of the people of Ithilien were slaughtered for their loyalty to the true king, and our land began its long but steady decline. We unrolled this document and spread it out upon my father’s desk, my cousin holding down one end and my father the other. Their hands were similar – long and slender, restless, although Amrothos’ were stained with inks and the strange mixtures he made, while my father’s were blunt-nailed and war-worn. I pointed out the pine tree we had seen – and there, thirty feet away, where the stump was now, we found the lost culumalda, marked on the page in red and gold. “Poor old tree,” Father said, when we described the condition of its stump to him. “We should do something about that. But where does this take us now, cousin? The pine we may have, but the old redleaf is long gone.”

We received aid at this point from an unexpected source. Léof, passing through on some errand of his own, had stopped to see what we were doing. “That is easy enough to resolve,” he said. “It’s triangle-work, isn’t it? If we can discover the heights of both the trees, we can find the point between them where two imaginary lines of the same length would meet. The trees don’t need to be standing. We only need to know the heights.”

“But how can we know that?” I said. “Where could we possibly learn the height of the redleaf?”

Again the gloomy old cabinet from the Steward’s House supplied. From out of its depths my father drew a great stack of red-bound books, filled with tiny script detailing the minutiae of the old estate: stock, and crops, and tenancies, and an account of everything that was planted and how well it all grew. Father doled these volumes out to each of us (even Léof was conscripted for the task). “May my long-fathers be praised,” he said, settling back into his chair with the first book from his pile, “for their meticulous record-keeping.”

The afternoon lengthened. Mother put her head round the door once or twice, and sent in refreshments, but otherwise left us to it. The sun had turned red and gold and the sky was darkening before Amrothos at last spoke up. “I do believe I have it.”

As he and Léof did the calculation together, I helped Father put the documents and books back into the cabinet. But my hand lingered over the dark black case and its beautiful silvery letters. “Might I keep this for a while, Father? I think it’s lovely.”

I did not, of course, fully understand what I was asking when I asked Father for this ancient marvel that had by some miracle survived the ruin of Númenor and the long centuries that followed. But my father was a giving kind of man. “Yes, very lovely,” he agreed. “Take it, blackbird. It’s yours.”

That evening, I could hardly keep my eyes off it. Mother asked twice for me to put it away during dinner, and only the threat of its permanent removal was successful. But later, in the library, after Amrothos had copied out the script, and when the adults were talking together companionably, I was left in peace to handle my treasure, and to study in detail each of the silver letters. When I went upstairs, the case came with me. In my chamber, I peeked beyond the curtains and caught a glimpse of the full moon shimmering through the treetops, and then I clambered into bed, tucked the case beneath my pillow, and fell asleep with the letters glittering before my eyes and the words of the old man’s verse running endlessly through my mind, like water over stone.

Whose was it?
Those who are gone.

Where did it come from?
The land that is lost.


And I dreamt, vividly.

***

Beyond the window, the rain is falling in grey sheets. It’s been falling for days. The room is nearly bare. Everything that’s going has been packed. Only the people remain, waiting for salvation.

He’s a tall man, dark-haired and grey-eyed, wearing a long black leather coat. On his left hand is a black and silver ring. On his chest, above his heart, he wears a black brooch etched with the design of a white tree. Above the tree is a crescent moon lying on its back, like a white eyelid. For nearly an hour now, this man has been pacing this empty room, his footsteps echoing off the chequered floor. Whenever he passes the window, he looks out, at the sky, at the water flooding from the sky.

Near the door, a woman and two small children are waiting. They’re all dark-haired too, and grey-eyed, and dressed for a long journey. The woman, in furs, poised and elegant, watches her husband’s hopeless circular pilgrimage. Suddenly the younger of the two children gives a small sob. His mother leans down and kisses him softly on the top of his head. “Hush,” she murmurs. “Hush.”

As she speaks, they hear it: a whirring, thudding noise, how the wings of great birds would sound if they were made of metal. Whatever it is, it’s coming closer. The man and the woman look at each other in terror. The older child never forgets that look.

The man strides over to the window once more. Is it too late? Or, worse, have they been forgotten? He puts his forehead against the window pane, hiding his face so they won’t see. Is this the payment, then, for all those years of faithful service? The glass is shuddering in the frame from the tumult overhead. And then the black and silver shape takes form, and he realizes what the noise signifies.

He turns to his family. His eyes are bright as stars. “They’re here,” he says. “They’ve come. We’re saved.” Quickly he crosses the room. He lifts up one of his children. She has the other.

“Time to go,” he says. And they run from the house, into exile.


***

What have we given?
All that was ours.

Why did we give it?
For the sake of our faith.


I woke up. The room was filled with milk-white light, the full moon passing easily through the curtains. I knew that brightness would keep me awake, so I got out of bed and slipped downstairs, thinking that I would find a bite in the kitchens, and then curl up in the library until moonset or sleep came. But as I reached the kitchen doorway, I saw a light and heard voices.

I stopped and peeped inside. Mother, Father, and Amrothos were sitting around the big table. They were poring over the plans from Father’s cabinet and swigging beer from bottles. Mother was in her night clothes, but Father and Amrothos were dressed for outdoors. Amrothos looked almost respectable in a beautiful dark blue cloak trimmed with white fur. My father looked wholly disreputable in his old ranger gear. I frowned. Were they intending to go on this expedition without me?

“Perhaps I should come along,” my mother said, “if only to see the pair of you spinning around under the moon.”

“Hmm,” said my father, then drained the last of his beer and stood up. The leather of his jerkin creaked slightly. My mother, rising, patted his stomach. “Very snug,” she said.

“Hush, woman,” he growled, and kissed the top of her head.

They were going without me! Furious, I dashed back up to my room and dressed very quickly. I crept downstairs – a true ranger’s daughter – and out through the west door. If they were going up to the old house – and that was surely their destination – they would be heading towards the south gate and the hill path. I ran outside into a cool night soaked in moonlight, and sped through the west garden and out onto the lawn. I saw the yellow speck of their lantern a little way ahead, and hung back so that they did not discover me. I let them pass through the gate, and then followed them out. Already my father was setting a good pace with his long stride. I had to hurry to keep up with them, all the while trying not to be heard, although it helped my cause that there was much soft talk and laughter between them.

I had never come to the old house at night. Under the full moon, the ruins had taken on an unearthly aspect, deep blue shading into black. I looked up at the moon, full and bright, and my heart was filled with love for my land, Ithilien. With the new pictures in my mind of the house conjured from the old papers, I could have walked in the ruins all night, amidst the shades and echoes of my long gone ancestors who had once lived here, when the walls stood tall and proud, and Gondor was at her height.

But time was passing, and my father and his cousin were getting ahead. I hurried on after them, past the old walls and over fragments of broken floor, and out onto the old lawn that Amrothos and I had explored earlier in the week. I saw the yellow lantern again, and the dark figures of my father and Amrothos. They were standing at the edge of the field, and seemingly had already measured out the point that Amrothos and Léof had calculated between the pine and the stump of the redleaf tree. Their voices carried on the night air over to where I was hiding.

“Should we do the turns now or later, do you think, Rothos?”

“Perhaps we should try both now and later.”

There was a pause. My father said, “Oh. You want me to do them.”

“You are the Prince of Ithilien.”

“And thus perhaps it might be beneath my dignity— Oh, very well.” With a sigh, Father began to spin slowly round. “I can only hope nobody is awake to see this.”

“Quiet, cousin, I’m counting! There, that’s seven. Now two, the other way. Then five, clockwise again, then twelve...”

“Twelve! I’ll be sick!”

“No, you won’t.”

“Next time is most assuredly your turn.”

“Next time you’ll still be Prince of Ithilien.”

“Remember that I am from a long-lived family, sir, and can wait years for revenge. There, that makes three. Can I stop now?”

“What? Oh, yes.”

“And has that served any purpose other than to make me dizzy?”

Amrothos shrugged. “This is hardly an exact science, Faramir. Now the steps. Which way is north?”

My father pointed.

“Off you go. Twelve and twelve.”

“Why not simply say four-and-twenty?” my father wondered out loud, as he strode off northwards.

“For the same reason we’re carrying out this whole business under moonlight, I should imagine. More poetic. Are you there yet? Then east. Six and six – or twelve, if you prefer.”

Obediently, Father strode off again, and, reaching the end of that set of steps, turned south and began pacing again. I stuffed my fist in my mouth to stop the giggles and wished more than ever that Bron was home to see this.

“Now west by one and one!” Amrothos called out.

“One... and... one... and... look where that brings us!” My father gave a short laugh. “Rothos, I fear you are going to be disappointed.”

Amrothos ran lopsidedly over to my father, and I hurried after, as close as I dared. My father was standing next to an old stone wall, about six feet in height. Another wall ran away from it at right angles, with a long-cold fireplace and some crumbling decorations, but that was all that remained of whatever room had once been here. I had often picnicked in the shade of these walls with Bron.

My father sighed. “It seems we have reached the end of our quest. I know this spot well – the rangers often camped here. There’s what remains of a frieze over on that wall, but no inscription that I ever saw. If once there were more directions, the wind and the rain will have long since taken them.” His shoulders fell. “Ah well, it was a good try.”

“Hmm.” Amrothos was clearly unwilling to give up quite yet. “Perhaps the frieze might still be worth a look.”

“I promise you I know every square. I spent many a long watch counting them.”

“But a fresh pair of eyes might make the difference.” Amrothos turned around slowly, the lantern swinging in his hand, casting dim yellow light across the sharp contours of his face. “I’m sure I’m forgetting something...”

“And under,” I muttered, willing him to remember, almost ready to give myself away so great was my frustration. “One and one, and under!”

Amrothos slapped his forehead. “Under,” he said, and pointed at the ground. They both looked down, and then both burst out laughing. “Trapdoor!” they said as one.

My father knelt down and began clearing away the moss and briars about their feet. Amrothos, holding the lantern for him, grumbled, “So in all those long hours spent here you never noticed the trapdoor?”

“I swear it was not here!”

“Thinking of your supper, no doubt.”

“Thinking of shelter, Rothos. We’d have had this open in a heartbeat, if we’d ever seen it.” Taking the iron ring in both hands, Father braced one foot against the ground, and, with a slight grunt of effort, dragged away the ancient piece of wood more easily than one would have expected from a cover that had surely lain on the spot for centuries. “Steps!” he said, looking up at his cousin and, in the lamplight, I caught a glimpse of his face. He was grinning like a boy. “I’ll go first, if I may.”

“Who else?” said Rothos, and held up the light for him again. My father disappeared from view. Rothos passed the lantern down and followed.

I dashed out from my cover and across to the trapdoor. Sitting on the edge, I listened until their voices became more distant, and then I quietly put my feet on the top steps. I raised myself up again, counted myself down seven steps – and then slipped on some moss and fell down the last three.

“Who’s there?” my father called, in his captain’s voice. He stepped out from the gloom, one arm raised, with a stern expression upon his face. He saw me sprawled on the floor, rubbing furiously at my shin. “Morwen! What are you doing here? You should be in bed!”

“Father!” I said hotly, for my dignity had taken something of a bashing, “I’m not a little girl!” Then, undercutting my point rather: “It was mean of you not to bring me along!”

Father helped me back to my feet. He was starting to look extremely annoyed, the line between his brows furrowing deeply. Behind him Amrothos was chuckling. Father jerked his thumb upwards. “Did you see all that business earlier?”

I nodded.

“If I let you stay, would an account reach your mother’s ears?”

I gave him a look to say, what do you think? He made a soft growling noise at the back of his throat. “Wretched child,” he muttered. “Very well. You can take charge of the lantern. No, wait!” His eyes gleamed in the darkness. “I have a much better punishment! Come along, Morwen – seven turns, clockwise... then two, counterclockwise...”

Between them, he and his cousin mercilessly and speedily took me through the whole sequence: seven, two, five, twelve, one, three. When we reached the end, I slumped queasily against my father’s side. “Oh...” I breathed.

“The pursuit of knowledge can carry a heavy cost,” Father said.

“Oh!” I said again, more crossly.

Gently, he ruffled my hair. “You can go home if you’re feeling ill.”

“No! I’ve earned this!”

He burst out laughing. “Indeed you have, blackbird! Thoroughly earned!” He tugged my ear. “Well, if your sea legs have now returned, shall we see where this passage leads?”

We went in single file, Amrothos first with the lantern, myself next, and Father at the rear. The passageway was damp and mossy, and after a hundred yards or so, came to a decided dead end. Amrothos stared at the dark wall ahead. “Have we missed an opening along the way, cousin?”

“Not that I noticed,” said Father, who would have noticed. “Is there no way through?”

“Not that I can see...” Amrothos touched the wall, and gasped. My father’s hand was on my shoulder at once. “What?” he said sternly.

“This is metal!” Amrothos exclaimed. “And by the feel the surface is not flat. Yes, quite definitely, curved...”

Father reached over my shoulder. I saw his fingertips brush against the wall, and then twitch up briefly, as if in surprise, before he put his whole palm down flat. “Metal,” he agreed. “Morwen, would you take the lantern from Amrothos, please, so he might have a better look?”

I gladly took it. Amrothos carried on his investigations, his clever sensitive fingers running up and down the black metal barrier in front of us. “Goes right on to the ground, and is high enough for a man as tall as you to pass through, Faramir.”

“If it were a door,” Father said. “But it has all the appearance of a wall to me, cousin.”

“Hmm.” Amrothos scratched his chin. “More like something embedded in the wall. Hold the lantern over to the right, please, Morwen.”

I did so, and the lamplight gleamed suddenly off something there. Amrothos moved in quickly to take a closer look. “What do we have here?”

The three of us peered at it. Two strips of dark metal had been set into the larger curved piece that barred our way. These two strips were about a foot long, and ran vertically side-by-side. Each bore distinctive marks. The one on the left carried twelve silver marks like runes from a map in a story book, each one raised up like pegs. The marks on the right-hand side were dark and very mysterious. My father ran his finger down the left-most set of marks. “A shield or a crest of some sort?” he hazarded, doubtfully.

“Don’t you recognise them?” I said excitedly. “They’re the letters from the silver case! But running down and not across!”

My two accomplices glanced at each other and looked again at the markings. “I do believe she’s right,” Father said. “Well done, Morwen! Well spotted. What now, Rothos?”

His cousin did not reply at first, merely examined the letters closely again, muttering to himself as he did. After a few minutes, he sat upon the ground, put his forearms upon his knees, and rested his head against them. I heard him whispering to himself. Father and I exchanged a few glances, and waited patiently. And at last Amrothos began to laugh, very softly. “Of course,” he said. “Of course. How simple. Not letters. Numbers. A list of numbers.”

He stood up. One by one he began to turn the pegs that bore the strange silver symbols: the seventh, clockwise; the second, counterclockwise; then on to the fifth, the twelfth, the first, the third. As he turned them, they began to glow, as if moonlight were captured within them. There was a grinding noise, of metal rubbing against metal. My father murmured under his breath; a prayer, perhaps. The wall in front of us moved slowly back, and I peered into the blackness beyond.

“So,” Father said dryly, “all that spinning around did indeed serve only to make me dizzy.”

I held the lantern forward and aloft. My eyes accustomed themselves to the darkness beyond, and I saw a dim chamber, with rounded walls, a huge hollow sphere with a flattened floor. Heaped in the middle of the chamber was a dark shape, like a huge sack. “Morwen,” my father said, and there was no humour in his voice, no jest, only command, “you are not to enter this room.”

I whispered my assent, and clutched on to the lantern. Slowly, my father stepped inside the strange round chamber. When he reached the dark shape, he bent down to touch it. Then he sat back on his haunches, his head bowed. After a moment he looked up at Amrothos. His eyes were like stars in the darkness. “Turgon,” he said, crisply.

Amrothos, entering the chamber, went to kneel beside him. “That explains why the trapdoor was uncovered.”

“Aye. And then, having come here alone, the door must have sealed again behind him, and there was none outside to open it, nor any means inside to force a way out. Foolish, imprudent man! Why did he not come to me?”

Amrothos placed his hand upon my father’s shoulder. “In order to cheat you of whatever wealth he hoped this room might contain, of course. For this must be the family vault, Faramir, surely?”

“Whatever that is worth.” Father rose, and I watched him slowly circle the chamber, his hand upon the metal. The whole space must have been no more than twelve feet at its widest point. “An empty room and a lonely death,” he said to himself, and then, no doubt remembering that I was there, collected himself. “I assume the room is otherwise empty?”

“Not quite...” Amrothos replied. Reaching past Turgon’s still form, he picked up, from beside the body, a small dark box, small enough to nestle in his palm. “Is this familiar, cousin?”

My father bent to examine the find. “No, nor the device either. The white tree, of course, but with a crescent above it?” He shook his head. “That I have never seen.”

All the while my father and Amrothos had been exploring the chamber, I had remained by the door, holding the lantern up for them. Feeling it starting to hang heavy from my arm, I swapped it over to my left hand, and rested the tired arm against the wall of the passage. As I did so, I noticed that a change had come over the second vertical strip of metal. Where before the marks upon it had been dark, now they were alight, shining like the silvery numbers that ran alongside them. There were eight in total, strange broken shapes that ran through a full bright disc down to a white eyelid. I stared at these new shapes so hard they seared themselves into my vision. As if from a distance, I heard the grinding sound and, moved by some gift of sudden knowledge, I grasped the meaning of the pattern and my heart became stone in my breast. Turning suddenly, I screamed:

“Father! Get out! Get out! Daddy, please – get out now!”

My father did not even stop to think. Grabbing his cousin, he pushed him towards the door. Already that was beginning to close, sealing away this terrible, lightless tomb. Amrothos scrambled out into the passageway, and then my father, with mere moments to spare, shoved his way through into my outstretched arms.

The lantern had gone out. For a while there were only the eerie patches of light from the panels and the ragged sound of our breathing through the darkness. Then I heard the striking of a tinder box, and Amrothos held up the lamp, which swung to and fro. “You lead a charmed life, Faramir,” he said, mildly, his voice steady if his hands were not.

“I am lucky in those I have around me,” Father replied. “Morwen, tell me what you saw.”

From the circle of his arms, I pointed at the second set of marks. “Phases of the moon,” I whispered, letting my head fall against his chest. “The last is new, and dark.”

***

Let us draw a veil over what Mother said that night. But picture us, if you will, the following morning, processing through the grounds of the old house. Mother strode at the fore, all sunlight and fury, followed at a slight, safe distance by Father, his face grave and his hands clasped behind his back. Léof and I trotted along next, accompanied by Amrothos, and after us came two members of the White Company, dragging a cart.

We went first to the pine tree and the stump of the redleaf, where Léof piped up cheerfully to explain to Mother how it is possible to calculate a point between two trees where two imaginary lines of the same length meet, provided you know the heights of both trees. Watching my mother’s face I thought how fortunate it was for my younger brother that he was such a favourite with her. My father nobly stepped into the breach. “Once we knew where to start,” he said, “we were able to pace out the steps as detailed in the rhyme which Belecthor told to Morwen and Rothos. That led us there.” He pointed across the field at the two ruined walls.

We marched over, without repeating the sequence or offering Mother the opportunity to do so. The trapdoor was still where Father had left it the previous night. Mother and Father went down the steps, followed by the men from the White Company. I decided that it might be wise for now if Léof and I waited above ground with Amrothos.

My father’s cousin began poking around the area near the trapdoor. After a few moments he called me and my brother over. “Look,” he said, and gestured down at a pile of turves, which, when reassembled, would easily have been large enough to cover the trapdoor and the area around. A heap of torn-up briars also lay nearby. “Now we see why the rangers never discovered the entrance,” Amrothos said. “Turgon had to clear a way through.” We examined this evidence with interest, and then my father’s men emerged, carrying between them the covered body of the unhappy Turgon. They lay this on the cart, and headed back towards our house. Amrothos went down the steps to join my mother and father. Léof and I waited a few moments before following him down.

There was a faint white glow at the end of the corridor, unlike the light a lantern might cast, and soon I could clearly see the tall silhouettes of the adults ahead. Mother was standing at the very edge of the entrance of the doorway, peering inside as we had done the night before. The strange new light was emanating from inside the chamber. Amrothos stepped inside, but when Father moved to follow him, Mother blocked his way. “No!” she said. “On no account.”

“It isn’t dangerous now, Éowyn,” Amrothos called from inside the chamber.

My mother threw up her hands in frustration. “How can you know that? How can you be so sure?”

“Morwen knows,” Amrothos called back. “Don’t you, Morwen?”

Mother and Father turned to look at me and I trembled, confronted with the steely severity of that double stare. But I plucked up my courage and said, “The room is safe during the day, and can be opened at will.” I pointed at the wall. “See? There are no warning lights. The second panel is dark. I think... because one might reasonably want to enter the chamber throughout the day, and work in there. That is why it has its own source of light. And if the door should happen to seal, someone outside could open it easily.”

“But why would that be any different at night?” my mother said. She took my father’s hand. “Why have the entrance seal at night?”

“One must think of the reasons why one would come to such a place at night,” my father said quietly. “To hide something, quickly, or to retrieve something, quickly – or else perhaps because one has come in secrecy, to steal something kept within. In such cases, the door would seal after a short length of time, as it did for poor Turgon, and one would either be aware of this limitation, and leave before, or else be left inside and unable to rely upon any accomplice to aid an escape.”

“Try it, Éowyn,” Amrothos said. “Turn the pegs back.”

“With you still inside?” Mother shuddered. “I shall not!”

“There truly is no risk,” he said. “And it will prove to you once and for all that you need not be afraid.”

No doubt it was the imputation of fearfulness that provoked my mother into trying; Amrothos was a perceptive man. “The seventh, then the second,” Father said, helpfully, and she turned the pegs as he directed. The metal ground and the door sealed. Mother blanched, cursed, and hastened to turn the pegs once again. The door opened, revealing my father’s cousin, beaming back at her.

Only now was Father permitted to re-enter the chamber. Again he circled the small space, coming to a halt in the centre. “What kind of world must it have been?” he wondered, gazing round, his arms folded. “To promote such secrecy and mistrust amongst men that they would desire to build such a device? Such a cruel trap, springing from a cruel cast of mind...” He shook his head. “Aye, that surely was the true Downfall – the Enemy’s handiwork indeed.”

“So you are certain it came from the Land of the Star?” my mother said. She looked inside again with the kind of apprehensive awe with which she often treated her husband’s weird inheritance. “Brought by those of your ancestors that came back?”

“Look at the craft, love.”

“And what do you think it once contained?” she said.

“I would guess – those of their possessions that they were able to pack in the time they had.”

“Such a large space, my love! Yet we are not living daily amongst work such as this.” Mother rapped her knuckles against the metal, which gave a hollow response. “What happened to the contents, do you think?”

“Some small things have survived,” my father said. “The leather case which has so enchanted Morwen, and a few other pieces that you have seen in the Steward’s House. Some I think my father destroyed...” A shadow sped briefly over his face, like a cloud across the moon. “But most will have been lost when Ithilien fell to the Enemy. All gone,” he said, holding up his hands, and giving her his sombre, tender smile. “Like the house beneath which it was hidden.”

She strode inside to join him. “Ah love,” she said, grasping his hands and holding them to her, “I would have settled for ruins, if that was what there was.” And they kissed, and for the first time I understood the depth of his sense of loss for our land, and the nature of their pride in its restoration.

On her way back out, Mother gave both us children a fierce look. “This,” she pointed behind her, “is out of bounds.” I never transgressed this rule – although naturally when Bron returned home I gave him full information as to where the vault could be found and how to enter, and I should not dream of speaking for either him or Léof.

***

Mother’s directive meant that I did not see much of Amrothos for the rest of his visit, since his days were spent investigating the vault and its workings. (But spare a thought, if you will, for the poor member of the White Company despatched by Mother to stand outside while Amrothos was within, to watch for the waxing of the moon-marks.) He was also delighted that we had found the meaning of the silver ‘letters’ on my case, which he was sure held the key to deciphering several fragments that had long languished untranslated in the City archives. I believe he tarried there for several days on his journey home to Belfalas.

My father, too, was richly compensated for his labours. The box found beside Turgon’s body was of no particular worth in itself, being made of an ordinary dark wood, but within lay a great treasure – a ring wrought of black metal, wound about with a thin thread of silver. There could be no doubt of its origin. Like the vault in which it had lain undisturbed for centuries, it too had surely come with our ancestors when they fled Númenor, faithful servants of the Lords of Andúnië, rewarded for their loyalty with their lives. A rare gift it was indeed, to have survived the double losses suffered by our house – Númenor and Ithilien, the Land of the Star and the Land of the Moon. The ring fitted perfectly on the middle finger of Father’s left hand, and I never saw him without it again.

And I? I, at heart, was a simple creature, easily satisfied. I threw myself with great pleasure into the preparations for the yáviérë festival that was coming at the end of the month. The day itself was made complete by the letter I received that morning from Bron, brimming over with outrage at missing out on such a great adventure, and which I store, with all my treasures, in my black-and-silver case.

~~~

Author’s notes: For Isabeau of Greenlea, who has been promised an Amrothos Holmes story for a very long time, and has waited so very patiently. Hope this suffices, dear accomplice and partner-in-crime!

Thank you to the Espresso Addict for the suggestion that gave me my point of view character.

On the Númenorean section: The device of the white tree and the crescent moon I’ve made up. I intended it as the insignia of Elendil’s secret police (don’t tell me he didn’t have one), of which I have made Faramir’s ancestor the head. In her dream, the machine that Morwen hears coming to save her ancestors is Elendil’s Chinook, or the Númenorean equivalent (don’t tell me they didn’t have those either).

The family vault is based on the black stone of Erech in The Lord of the Rings, a great black stone globe twelve feet in diameter. Makes you wonder if there’s anything inside that too.

Insincere apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for the scandalous rip-off of The Musgrave Ritual.

Altariel, 4th-10th May 2011


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