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23
The Cache

Silma:

At break of fast the next morning, Master Samno showed in Lady Gilannis, who looked thinner and prettier in a plainer dress and hairstyle. She curtseyed to Lady Silwen, to Lord Dalfinor, and to me, with one more to the Rohirrim in general. “The day’s greeting,” she smiled. “Lady Silma, I am glad to see you well!”

“And I you,” I replied. “Lady Silwen Ornamir, Lord Erragol, let me present Lady Gilannis, great-niece of Lord Húrin, who has been volunteering at the Houses.”

“When I asked him for permission to visit you, he requested that I bring two messages, one for Master Dalfinor, and one for yourself.”

“Would you be Laninwen’s daughter?” Lady Silwen inquired as she handed us the missives. “Master Samno, another place for her, please.”

“Yes, my lady.” She sank gracefully into the seat he held for her; I was so fascinated by the transformation that I delayed in opening mine.

“She has been in the city during the siege?”

“No, my lady, but she permitted me to stay at the Houses as a volunteer when she went to the refuges.”

“Umph! Sounds like her; languid, inattentive, and selfish to the core,” commented my mother-in-love, who knew very well who the girl was. Why she had chosen to take the role of Terrible Old Woman I wasn’t sure, but having endured it myself, I knew how disconcerting it could be and silently applauded the girl’s aplomb.

“I was…headstrong,” said Gilannis sedately, blushing.

To my surprise, I was aware suddenly of Rill glaring at Silwen.

“So was she at your age,” said Silwen. “All it got her was a remarkably stupid husband, who at least was rich and obliging enough to get himself killed after you were born. Better you look for someone with brains, guts and heart, my girl, and take your time making sure he has more than a pretty face to offer you.”

“Yes, my lady,” she said demurely.

Dalfinor had quietly opened and scanned his note, and now glanced at me. “Have you read yours, my lady?” he asked.

“No, not yet,” I said, and hurriedly slit it open with a fruit knife Master Samno handed me.

Lady Lindisilma Clerk
The Khazad Embassy, House of Hammer & Forge
formerly House Ornamir
Ephel Duath Street
Sixth Circle

To Lady Lindisilma, greetings from Húrin, Warden of Keys:

I apologize for not having written to you earlier to thank you for your aid, nor to inquire into your health after that unfortunate ordeal you suffered a few days ago. As Prince Dalfinor may have told you, Lord
Faramir and I have been much occupied with many plans and details concerning the Coronation and divers other matters relating to the change of government when the King takes the throne.

Regarding the matter which most affects you and Lady Silwen Ornamir, please inform her that Jerenmir Goldtrader and his henchman Hendarch son of Hend have been arrested and are now in the Citadel cells, awaiting the judgement of His Majesty on certain matters relating
to the Office of Wills and Funeral Duties which he held under Lord Steward Denethor. Also, please be aware that I am requesting Prince Dalfinor to provide aid to you both in opening a cache which Lady Silwen believes to contain the Will of her late son, located within the Embassy.

We request you to stand ready to be summoned by His Majesty for his Inquiry into the Goldtrader’s actions, and will apprise you of the date as soon as it is set.

On a more personal note, I wish to thank you, belatedly, for all your assistance with my great-niece. Gilannis has truly applied herself, and Princess Lothlíriel, Lady Ėowyn and Dame Ioreth have all assuredme that they see a great improvement in her Demeanor and Maturity, her Seriousness of Purpose and Resolution to be Useful as well as possibly Ornamental, impressing them with her persistence in asking for help to learn those lessons which she did not acquire before. After discussing this with my wife, I have decided that it would be remiss of
us to allow my niece to return to the bosom of her immediate family, and have procured her mother’s agreement that henceforth we direct her
education.

Gilannis herself has pleaded with me to intercede with you, to request that she be permitted to work with and learn from you so long as you will allow. It is at your discretion as to whether you wish her to stay there or attend you daily or on a schedule that suits you best.
I have given her the contents of a small purse, netted by her under her great-aunt’s supervision, to present to you; we will be indebted to you if you will accept it and her. If you wish to be excused, we will reluctantly
concur, but we ardently hope that you will continue to help us in the making of her into the fine woman we have longed for her to become.

Sincerely,

Húrin the Tall
Warden of the Keys
Office of the Warden
Hall of the Conclave
Noble Saltire Square
Sixth Circle North

15 Víressë Year 1, Fourth Age


I reread it, aware of Gilannis’ unwavering attention. Mercifully, Lady Silwen had turned the conversation among the others to their plans for the day, but I was stunned. Rereading it for the third and even the fourth time did not cause the carefully written letter to change, and I glanced over at Dalf.

He meticulously folded his napkin, laid it beside his plate, and effortlessly collected everyone’s attention. “As of now, the guard of honour so kindly lent to us has been ordered to the Citadel for other duties, and while I expect due care to be taken, the women of the household may move about the city during the day. Are you in agreement, my ladies?”

I nodded, and Lady Silwen inclined her head. “The Goldtrader?”

“He and his henchman are in the cells of the Citadel, pending judgement for their actions in matters affecting the Crown, at the King’s pleasure,” he said easily.

One of the most remarkable things about the Dwarves’ locating their embassy in House Ornamir was their custom of informing the members of a clan of most important matters affecting them; in our case, Lord Gimli and Prince Dalfinor had decided to treat the staff as extended, temporary members of the Longbeard clan. Lady Silwen had been initially skeptical. “All servants gossip!” she had protested.

“Ah, but if they are not only staff, but trusted members under our roof, they will take even greater pride in their work and in being discreet about family matters,” he had said. “Links must be welded into a chain to be unbreakable. Fealty—is that not your word?—is important to strengthen that, with respect and affection, and of course clear direction and understanding of one’s role.”

So it had proved; all our folk, including the Rohirrim, were obviously pleased by the trust we had extended in a brief explanation of what had happened in my brother’s house. All had voluntarily, through Master Samno, pledged not to discuss this outside the house, even with other family.

Lady Silwen said, “They have that freedom once their tasks are fulfilled, and keeping in mind that many visitors will be here in the next few days, it would be safer to go in pairs. We do not want any unpleasantness to reflect badly on the House.”

“Certainly not, my lady,” Master Samno agreed. (I still found it hard to refer to him solely as Samno, as I should address him now that he had the title of buhdelier of the household.)

“Still, there is much to do. Are you sure you wish to become a member of Lady Silwen’s household, Gilannis?” I asked.

“I mean no disrespect, Lady Ornamir,” she said. “No. I wish to become your apprentice, Lady Lindisilma, learning whatever you choose to teach me, for as long as you wish to do so and I am worthy of it. I have learned much from Princess Lothlíriel and Lady Ėowyn, but I know now how ignorant I am. I wish to swear to you personally, my lady, if you will have me. And if you can bear with the faults of years, until I am in the habit of new, more suitable behaviors.”

“Very well said,” remarked Lady Silwen approvingly.

I managed not to gape at my mother-in-love’s abrupt reversal of attitude and thought quickly and carefully. Had Gilannis conceived of some ridiculous and ill-advised hero-worship of me? What disillusionment she faced! How would that affect her when it inevitably came? I had been acutely aware of no enclosed notes directly from either her mother or great-aunt; was Lord Húrin so pleased at the thought of having her off his hands and less of a problem at this frantically busy time when both he and his wife would have many cares that he was willing to indulge her? And would it be fair to bind the girl, when I had no notion yet of my own future?

But I could not afford to alienate so powerful a family, and I was in desperate need of the purse she held in hands that shook slightly, however much it contained.

What alternative did she face? Being bundled off to some distant holding? Dangling at Laninwen the Languid’s heels when the woman bothered to even think of her? Possibly drifting back into the company she had been in when I met her, her good resolutions and attempts squelched? For whatever reason she wished to be a follower of mine, could I in conscience deny her, when I so actively sought for better lives for the injured? Had she not been injured by the circumstances which had surrounded her from her birth?

All of this sped through my mind. Vaguely I knew that everyone was silent, waiting for my response. Gilannis had gone around from her seat to stand in front of the table facing me. Her hands gripping the purse were white-knuckled, her eyes beseeching.

“We have not spent a great deal of time together getting to know each other,” I said. “Your family does me great honour, being willing to entrust you to me. It would not be fair to you for us to enter into a formal agreement right now, with so many unresolved matters pending, but I will welcome you for a trial period. We are each free to change our minds, with no offense on either side. Is that acceptable to you?”

She glowed instead of pouting.

“And as you refer to the many strangers wandering around for the near future, my lady, would you object to Lady Gilannis joining us? Can we find a chamber for her?”

“I could share it with others,” she said quickly.

“She could share with me,” said Rhylla promptly. “I’m Lady Silma’s maid, so it’s logical.”

My maid? That was news to me, although no one else seemed to find it so. Master Samno glanced at me, and I remembered his words of a few weeks ago: She has chosen you for her lady. But it still made me uncomfortable. How could I support two more people when I had no idea of how to support just myself and a dog?

“Mind you don’t stay up all night chattering,” said Lady Silwen and Samno almost in chorus.

“Then I shall write to Lord Húrin and request that what belongings you wish to have with you be brought here, and you and Rhylla can take the note down to the House of Keys,” I said.

“Thank you, Lady Lindisilma!” she almost sang.

“This is temporary,” I reminded them. “We shall have to discuss the details later today.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Now sit down and eat,” added Lady Silwen. “New voyages make for hungry stomachs, and we have much to do!”


Dalf:

After the meal was concluded, Lady Silma asked Rhylla to show Gilannis over the house and meet Mistress Samno, and with Lady Silwen and me, repaired to the library. There we acquainted Silwen with the details, such as they were, of Lord Húrin’s letters. I knew that the news concerning Silma’s brother distressed her, but I also suspected that she was fretting about something else; what was it? But I had no right to question her; she must confide in me as and when she wished. I wondered why she had prolonged the suspense and qualified her acceptance of the girl, but it was not my place to ask.

This did not deter Lady Silwen!

“Why did you keep that poor lass on tenterhooks, Little One? It isn’t like you,” she said directly.

“I would have thought it self-evident, my lady,” she replied quietly. “My own plans are unsettled as yet, and both she and her family may change their minds. I think she may have an altogether wrong idea of me.”

“What, because you lived down a scandal years ago, own a magic blade and have adventures killing orcs, and was recently abducted and rescued, you deem yourself unsuitable? Bilge! And remember that Laninwen has no imagination whatsoever to hand on to the girl, who’s demonstrated more sense than any member on her mother’s side of the family for the last six generations. Give her and yourself a chance, or do you dislike her?” Lady Silwen asked.

“I don’t know her well enough to like or dislike her,” Silma said patiently.

“Stubborn as ever!” said her mother-in-love in fond exasperation.

“Determined to be fair, if I can,” Silma replied. “But we are wasting your time, Lord Dalfinor.”

“Not really,” I answered. “Where would this cache be?”

“I’m not certain,” Lady Silwen said with a sigh. “The old reprobate only mentioned it to me once, while in his cups. I know it’s somewhere in this room. He said it would not be found by tapping, and would be safe if the entire place went up in flames.”

“Ah, that narrows it down,” I said cheerfully.

“It does?” she asked.

“Well, if it would be safe after a fire, it can’t be any of the furniture,” Silma thought aloud.

“But that leaves the rest of the room,” Lady Silwen objected.

“I think not,” I replied. “Do you by any chance know where he kept his desk and chair, my lady?”

“Right next to the fireplace,” she said. “I remember my husband grumbling that a stray spark could damage papers, or set the old man ablaze if he wasn’t careful, but he would never move it. He’d campaigned in Far Harad as a young man, and was always chilly.”

“Was he a tall man?”

“When he was young, about a hand taller than Erragol is, I would imagine, but when I knew him, he was quite stooped.”

I looked at the desk, now moved in front of the two windows facing the street, and then back to the mantle. For a moment, I stamped on the edge of the hearth tiles, then ran my hand down the carved stone on the side, pulled on a rosette, and with a loud creak, an aperture appeared in the lower quadrant. I bowed. “My lady?”

“How did you find it so quickly?” she asked.

“You wondered where you would be if you were a hidden Will?” Lady Silma hazarded. “Sorry, I don’t know why I said that!”

“I suppose you figured it out too,” Lady Silwen said almost crossly. “When I think how I searched this room after Ornamir’s funeral!”

“If the grandsire kept the desk so close to the fireplace, it would be handy for the cache,” Lady Silma said. “After all, if it wouldn’t be damaged by a fire, that argues that if there was one, possibly reducing the house to ash, the stone chimney might still be standing. He must have had the desk on the left side of the mantle, closer to the natural light of the windows, but almost inside the alcove next to it so it wouldn’t be visible from the doors or windows when opened, if someone entered unexpectedly. You determined its height from the floor by her memory of how tall he was when seated, correct?” she asked me.

“Aye. A simple matter—and I have helped to construct a few hiding places myself, as part of my training,” I told them. “I merely wonder why your husband, knowing it, moved the desk.”

“I’m by no means sure he did know,” she said. “They were always at odds, just as my son was with him.”

I held a candle near the hole after taking a pair of tongs from my kit, and at her request, inserted them into it, lifting out several packets tied with ancient tapes, and a small metal box. It was child’s play to open the puzzle lock without tripping the hidden “sting” mechanism. Taking out my smaller kit, I extracted a rag, uncorked a small vial of Arduvaar, wet the rag and rubbed it on the stinger. “I’m not sure quite what the poison on this was, although it was probably from Far Harad, but this is an enchanted all-purpose antidote for most of the ones from there,” I said over my shoulder. “It was foolish of him to use something that became so dried out. At least it wasn’t something that evaporated into the air. Still, best to render it as harmless as possible.”

“It is fortunate that you didn’t find it, Bein-Nana!” Silma cried, paling.

Silwen looked shaken herself. “Yes, indeed! And we are fortunate that you know exactly what to do, Lord Dalfinor! Thank you!”

I opened the lid, after making sure that there were no other traps, and lifted out a slender packet of papers, a small book, and a sealed letter, along with a leather bag that clinked softly.

“The letter is addressed to you, Lady Silma.”


Silma:

Swallowing nervously, I broke the seal. A flat leather folder dropped out, caught dexterously by Lord Dalfinor; it opened in his hands, showing a small portrait of Ornamir as I had first known him: tall, slender, with his mother’s reddish hair, carefully tended mustache but otherwise cleanshaven. His face was still handsome, smiling, the grey eyes under upcurving brows unclouded. I handed it to Lady Silwen, and opened the parchment, immediately recognizing his handwriting; it was in the Old Adûnaic his father had insisted he learn.

To my wife, Lindisilma Kuranya:

Lindi, I hope that you get this, because I hate to think of what will happen if you don’t. Still, it’s probably a good thing that I don’t know where you are, and I hope I never do, for your own sake.

That sounds unloverlike, but then when was I ever loverlike to you?

Looking back on it, I regret that. It seemed at the time that since I was forced to wed, I should not be hypocritical and pretend I was happy about it—but
that wasn’t fair to you. Any maid deserves a kind and loving husband, and you were willing to do—and always did—your best as a wife. It was not your fault that I have been such a failure.

I must try not to get distracted and begin rambling, but the drugs do that to me. I have been secretly reducing them as much as I dare in order to be clear-headed enough to write this, but at that I feel extremely…unreal, not to mention the horrible itching pain. Fool that I was to get into this state, but it is too late for me, and I have no one to blame for it but myself—and your brother.

I made a Will just before we wed, and I am putting it in with this and the deeds to several properties that I hope he doesn’t know about, or will think are too trifling to care about. What state everything will be in whenever
a better man than I, or death itself, takes him down, I dare not imagine. But let me state here: I am sane (although I probably won’t be for long), and I
hereby revoke any other Will or bequest other than that now in your hands.

There, I hope that is official enough for the lawyers.

I am also appending (Is that the right term? You would know, but then you are far better educated and smarter than I am.) I am appending a list of all I know, with dates and names and places, of various bits of
skulduggery upon which your brother has been engaged.

Please forgive me for the harm I have done to you. Well, not only by my coldness and lying. I never meant to be cruel. At first, I could not bear the thought that the welts, bruises and other evidences of my hurting
you were done by me, and it made me angrier. Why don’t parents spend time with their children, and teach them, themselves, about how to behave and to be strong? I have been so weak-willed! It disgusts me too, but I cannot stop. And I have been having nightmares, since you left, that show me what I did, how I destroyed your trust and affection, for you did care about me, you did, the only person besides my lady mother who ever did. And I have alienated her, or will, too.

If I were half the man I appear to be on the outside, I would be able to exert my will and break free of this enslavement to the drugs, but I am so deeply in thrall I cannot. I know that the next time Jeren gives them to me, I will not be able to resist making a Beast of myself with them. I am on a downward path, Lindi, and I cannot turn aside from it now.

I am glad you left—glad I did not maim you—glad I did not kill you.

I must ensure that Mother doesn’t come back, even though she will not understand. It is another indication of the coward I am that while I know she will find out exactly how terrible the things are that I did and will do
are, I cannot bring myself to tell her myself, anymore than I can stop doing them. Let me keep her regard as long as I may, erroneous as it is! I saw Faramir and Boromir this morning, and it hurt that Boromir, whom I have looked up to all my life, hustled his brother aside lest I contaminate him.

If you get this, and need help, go to him. He has a kind heart under that soldierly mien, and may be able to deal with Jeren better than you or I.

I wish that Father had allowed me to enlist in the Rangers or the Guards. I wish that he had loved me. I wish that he had not practically shoved me into the arms of unscrupulous folk—although I was eager enough to go,
out of stupid spite.

Perhaps it is as well none of our babes lived. When you have children, and I hope you find a good man who will love you and be a good father to them, at least you will know that none of the rotten blood of House Ornamir is in their veins. And most of all, Lindi, I beg you to forgive me for not allowing myself to mourn with you, and for the last suggestion I made to you. I know that that is what finally made you give up on me and leave, even though you should have done so long before. I could see the complete
loss of your regard in your eyes. That is why I beat you, and it wasn’t your fault.

None of this is. You did your best for me, and nothing, nothing, nothing could be enough beside the hold the drugs have on me. I was not worth your staying so long; I marveled that you did, but you are a loyal, gentle little soul.

Why am I patronizing you as “little”? You are a far larger person than I am: larger of heart, greater of character, as well as learned, brave and beautiful. I know that if you can avoid falling into Jeren’s hands, you will be all right. I know that someday you will have the love you deserve, and may he appreciate you as I should have! He would despise me, but that’s
all right. I despise myself, I earned it and deserve it.

Don’t blame yourself for Jeren, either. He is the changeling in your family, twisted and cruel by his own choosing. If your father, as good a man as I have always been told, or your mother, also a respected and lovely lady, could not turn him to Good, you could not. But I want you to know that you bear no blame for the paths he and I have taken. We each made the choices to be what we have become. You could not control any of that. Please believe that!

It occurs to me I should mention to you one of Jeren’s henchmen, Hendarch. Jeren has convinced him that we condone slavery, and is slowly trying to corrupt him. He is a good soul at heart, much more apt to reform I think than any of the rest, and I have seen the compulsions
Jeren laid upon him, mostly through the boy’s ignorance of our customs.

He isn’t very bright, but he has tried to be kind to me. Surely that counts for something, the intention of kindness?

Be warned: Jeren has a talisman that he uses to put a spell on some of his victims, particularly those who are more apt to resist him. It is in the form of a small amulet, worn in a pouch around his neck. Outwardly,
it looks like the Two Trees interlaced, but to me it pulses black, and I know that something is inscribed on its back in the Black Speech. He worships Morgoth; I have seen his secret altar where he sacrificed his victims—it is in the lowest hell in Wooden-Town, where fewer questions are likely to be asked.

I will try to picture you safe in the arms of a good man, with a babe in your arms and a harp and a book nearby! I have no expectation that you will ever love me, my sweet, but please know that in my way, I respect and love you, and if I am ever allowed into the Halls of Nando instead of my soul wandering the Void, it will be due to the goodness of you and Mother. It comforts me to know that you are a good daughter to her; she hasn’t any family of her own, you know, and even if she doesn’t show it,
has a high regard for you. She has scolded me soundly for driving you away. But the farther you and she both are from Jeren and me, the better.

My Will, your mother’s jewelry (I stole some of it from him), deeds, this letter—I am almost done. The chains of need for the drugs I forged pull mercilessly, and I MUST take them. Jeren has carefully prolonged my agony as much as he can, but this time I have outwitted him; he
doesn’t know that I have taken less in order to amass more. Perhaps it will be enough, this time, to end it. I hope so, frightened though I am of what will come next. Will Morgoth rend my soul? Will I wander bodiless,
unable to touch another being, for the rest of Time? Or will it be as Mother told me when I was a good boy in my childhood, that I may be admitted into the Halls of Waiting? May I someday meet you and her again,
and have you forgive me?

Forgive me, Lindi! The Valar bless and guard you!

Farewell,

Falcherion Ornamir


I finished reading it aloud. Tears were pouring down my face. “It is dated the night he died, “ I said unsteadily.

“Maudlin and overly dramatic,” observed Lady Silwen. She sounded dispassionate, but then her voice caught on a sob. “Oh, my poor, poor boy! Oh, my poor Falli!”


Dalf:

I felt my own face twist in distress. Silma had put her arms around Lady Silwen, who was holding her as if drowning, and both wept—but even as she stroked her mother-in-love’s hair, she looked over the lady’s shoulder at me, her expression fearful for an instant before she half-turned, murmuring in her ear. Why was she afraid?

It was some minutes before Lady Silwen was able to even partially master herself. “Please forgive me, my lord,” she said huskily over the handkerchief I had handed her. “Just for a moment, I was able to remember him as he was years ago, as a little boy—he was a very sweet little boy, until his father sent his nurse away, and wouldn’t let me see him often. He played the fiddle so beautifully, do you remember, Little One?”

Bein-Nana, perhaps you should go lie down for a bit,” Silma said gently. “Dalf, please ring for Lily.”

“What must you think of us? What will Lord Gimli think?”

“That you are grieving over a tragedy,” I said. “Your son was right, my lady; none of it was your fault.”

“I wish I could believe you,” she whispered. “Oh, Little One, I am so glad you are here!”

Lily opened the door, saw our faces, and cried, “Oh, you didn’t turn him down , did you?”

“LILY!” I bellowed.

Red-cheeked, Silma abruptly imitated Lady Silwen at her most regal. “Lily, Lady Silwen has had a shock, and so have I. Please take her upstairs to lie down and ask Mistress Samno for a soothing tisane, and don’t ask questions or fuss. When she has everything she needs, please wait quietly in the next room until she calls you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, m’lady. Sorry, m’lady. Do you need Rhylla to come?”

“Not just now. Ask Lord Erragol to step in here, would you please? Thank you.”

Lily bobbed curtsies to us, put her arms around her mistress and led her out of the room. I glimpsed Samno’s face, creased with anxiety, before she closed the door.

“Oh, Silma!” I said, holding out my hands to her.

She stood looking down at the portrait folder in her hands. Her voice was almost inaudible at first. “I had forgotten how handsome he was, before he got so…bloated and—hard. My good Jehan helped me understand how he must have loathed himself, and I see that he did. Poor Falli! He was always torn between seeming good and being good. If things hadn’t been illegal, what might his life have been?”

“Illegal?” I echoed, startled.

“Oh, I don’t mean the drugs, although it’s entirely too easy to get them, if you have the money and know where to look,” she said. “He…was attracted to others of his own gender. Does that shock you?”

“No, but I never thought about it, among other Kindreds,” I said, leading her to the sofa and getting her to sit. I sat beside her, not quite daring to put my arms around her, although the pain in her face and voice made me long to do so. “It is against the law, here? I believe it is legal in the South.”

She really wasn’t interested. “I know some others who are that way, women as well, and from what I can tell, it isn’t a choice one makes, but something inborn. Why would anyone choose something they have been taught is unclean and evil? But if Eru made them so, how can it be? There are same-sex pairings in Lady Yavanna’s realm too. One friend of mine said that it wasn’t so much that Falli preferred Men to me (and how can I, a woman, compete with a Man?), as that he lied to me, even before he began to hurt me. How can one love where one cannot trust and respect? I cannot. I tried so hard, but I cannot!”

“Of course you tried,” I said.

“I could see what he could have been! I could see it, but he could not! Why couldn’t I share that with him?” Her bewildered hurt overcame my fears; I put my hand on her shoulder.

“So many people blamed me for leaving him, you know,” she said with a humorless laugh. “I was blamed for being a poor wife to him. Should I have stayed until he killed me in one of his fits, or until I killed him in defending myself? I could not do it, not after what he said—“

“What did he say to you?” I asked against my will; a dreadful curiosity drove me.

“He said that if I gave him a child, as long as it was a boy, he would accept it as his own.”

I stared at her, appalled. “You mean—“

“I mean that it was all right for him to break his side of our wedding vows,” she said bitterly, “while I felt bound by them, all right for me to break my honour and find solace elsewhere, and if it resulted in a male child, he didn’t care; it solved his problem of having an heir. And what if it was a girl, I said to him, would he disown her and try to force me to give her up to strangers, if not kill her? Even if it was a boy, he might in future throw it in my teeth and the boy’s, did we displease him, that I was a slut! I could not protect myself; how could I protect a child? And I knew that if it suited some scheme of Jeren’s, he would have me raped, by Falli or some creature of his own, or he himself. It was in that hour that I began planning to escape. I stayed too long, Dalf, but how could I abandon him when he begged me to help? Not until then—and I was so scared! I have been frightened for so long, Dalf! First it was for the two of us, and Silwen, and then for myself alone, and then it was for Jehan and that was worse, and now I am afraid for you and all the others here. I am so weary of being afraid, my Dwarf!” She was shaking.

I put my arms around her and held her close. “Then put down that fear, Silma! I will testify before Aragorn—“

She lifted her head. “No. Hearsay is not evidence. I knew the instant we opened the cache that this will have to come out. Silwen knows it too; that is partly why she is so distraught, because she is so proud. There have been too many secrets for too long in this House. And mine. Shameful as it is, I am not only his wife but the Goldtrader’s sister. I am glad that our parents are dead! How could I allow Gilannis to pledge to me? Lord Húrin’s wife has not forgotten the rumors or the scandal. He will have to take Gilannis from here. Lord Gimli will be telling you I am too unfit for our friendship!”

I could taste the salt of her tears on my lips. “Silma, he will not!”

“Well, you have that right,” said a voice.

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