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27
Judgement

Silma:

It was the third afternoon of Elessar’s reign that we were bidden to the Citadel, to the Hall of the Kings. Lord Gimli and Dalfinor accompanied us, as well as Erragol and his men. Rimbor had been given a new cart and harness, and drew Rill, followed by Rhylla; Wilmet was pushed in his wheeled chair by his grandfather.

Oh, what an impressive and intimidating place that hall is! White and black, chill and high, even filled with a great crowd it seemed to dwarf all there. We stood in the crowd, looking up at the high throne, with two great black chairs set on either side of a lower step, one for each of the Stewards. Faramir wore his black tabard, of course, and his white mantle, with his White Rod in his hand. Lord Halladan, a most imposing man, wore his grey cloak and sword belted over a grey tunic with the Seven Stars blazoned upon it.

We all stood until King Elessar sat, the White Crown upon his head, Andúril laid across his knees, and Faramir proclaimed the King to judge divers cases. Éomer King sat beside him as well. With a great rustling, folk sat on benches brought in for the purpose.

The first case involved Master Ladramenhirion, who was escorted in by two Guards. He looked just as imperious and arrogant as ever, even when Erragol, Ull and Rill testified as to his insisting they be sent from the Houses. I too must give my testimony, but I was so angry still at his behavior that I had no thought of those watching, only of being clear and accurate. Master Kinfinning testified right after me.

Elessar listened carefully, then asked Master Ladramenhirion to reply. “Are these accurate reports of what was done and said?”

“Your Majesty will understand why I so decided,” he said. “As a Healer and a soldier yourself, you know the exigencies of battle, the leadership required of those in command.”

“We do know, more than many—and we know that the first responsibility of any Healer is to the wellbeing of his patient. The needs of the many do not always outweigh the needs of the one, for all are of value to the realm. You ignored the recommendations of these men’s Healers, you took added authority upon yourself that belonged to the Warden of the Houses, and you greatly overstepped the bounds of what authority you did have. Far from finding other shelter for these men, you simply threw them away, as if they were so much trash. You have demonstrated a lack of the compassion vital to any Healer, or indeed, any decent being. In fact, you had earlier demonstrated that in your refusal to even examine Master Jehan Clerk, and of sending his body to be dumped outside the city on what became the mound of the fallen soldiers of the battle, a despicable abuse of your office to an honourable and valiant citizen of this city.

“For these offenses, this is our judgment: you are stripped of your position as a senior Healer of the Houses of Healing in this city, and exiled from it. Your house and belongings shall be confiscated, to be sold and the monies divided among those you injured. You are sentenced to labour on the roads of the North for the next seven years. At the end of that time, you shall be given the money you have earned by that labour, and you may go where you will—but never again shall you practice as a Healer in Gondor or Arnor.”

“But I am a surgeon! My hands would be ruined by manual labor!” he cried.

“You were a surgeon. You have forfeited that calling by your own actions. I have had to slay, as a warrior; I have had the opportunity to learn healing, and I will not condone someone’s befouling that noble profession by such actions as yours. Remove him.”

He was taken out, weeping. I had heard that his wife had just divorced him.

“Lord Erragol, I believe your king wishes to speak with you,” Elessar added.

Lady Silwen suddenly took my hand tightly as he strode forward.

Éomer rose to his feet. “Erragol of the Eastmark, I know you for a valiant warrior and a careful leader of your men,” he said. “You have described how each of them is recovering, and given good account of your conduct in this situation. The Army of the Mark departs in three days to escort the body of Théoden King to his long rest below Edoras. I wish you and those well enough to ride with me. However, when his funeral is done, and when you have seen to your own lands and counseled with me, I command you to return hence, for I would have you serve as my Ambassador here in Minas Anor to the Court of my brother King. How say you, my lord?”

The Rohirrim there cheered, as Erragol bowed his agreement, after one flashing glance at Silwen’s face.

“This is most acceptable to me as well,” said Elessar graciously.

And then Jeren was called, and was brought forward, in chains. His scanty hair had noticeably whitened, and he looked even pastier than usual. He’d lost weight in prison; his dirtied clothes hung loosely on him.

I found myself swallowing hard; I was trembling.

We listened to a lawyer appointed by Lord Húrin recount the investigation of the accounts under Jeren’s control in the office of Wills and Deeds, showing clearly his malfeasance. Other testimony—including Hendarch’s, given stumblingly, shrinking from every furious glance of Jeren’s—showed many private cruelties and thefts. They had finally explained to the strongarm the illegality of his “ownership” by my brother.

There were many who wished to tell the King about my brother’s wrongdoings, but after an hour, King Elessar called a halt. ”I know that many still wish to be heard, but that is enough to give those here a clear idea,” he said. “I will summarize: you misused your office. Worse, evidence has been found among your own papers, for we decoded the cipher you used in your journals—oh, aye, we were able to read your own words, condemning yourself,” as Jeren looked up.

“Evidence has been found that you plotted the deaths of most of your own family, your parents and grandmother. The only reason you did not have your sister slain was that you thought you could use her for your own benefit in the future. Just before your father died the lingering death you had planned, he managed to rally enough to send a letter to Lord Denethor, declaring his suspicions and disowning you. You managed to intercept it; but in your vanity, instead of destroying it, hid the document with other damning proofs of your evil acts.

“You sold your sister to a noble in marriage, then did your best to debase and impoverish him. He died an untimely death after your sister fled in terror, to endure years of calumny and poverty. Somehow she escaped being tainted, no matter how you tried. You could not prevent her from winning the love of a good man, Master Jehan Clerk, nor the esteem and regard of her neighbors. Yet you conspired to have him unfairly accused of theft, blackening his reputation, and again, causing them to live in want. Maddened by their continued happiness in each other, you conspired to prevent their going to the Refuges, and even plotted to make certain that they would be in peril during any attack on the city. Oh, yes, Goldtrader: we know how you bribed Master Ladramenhirion to withhold his services from treating Master Clerk, and paid him to dispose of his body in the most distressing possible way for his widow to bear. We know that your henchmen abducted your sister, how you tortured her and even her dog, how she was rescued and kept safe from your schemes. Worst of all, you stupid and evil man, we know the disgusting details, in your own hand, of how you polluted a room of your home with sacrifices in your illegal worship of the Black One, and the treason you tried to commit in giving Sauron’s spies information. It was you who first pointed out to Lord Denethor the flawed information that sowed the seeds of his madness, and almost caused the destruction of this city.”

Jeren had sunk to his knees, his hands at his mouth, staring up at the remorseless reciter of his sins. It took some time to quiet the angry clamoring of the audience.

“This is our judgment, Jerenmir Goldtrader, who wrongly used a name not his own for so many years: for the many evils you have done, for the treason you knowingly committed, your properties and monies are forfeit to the Crown. You shall be executed and your body taken out from the city, buried in an unmarked and unknown grave. Take him away!”

Jeren convulsed suddenly, pulling himself out of the grasp of his guards, then fell to the floor, writhing.

I was on my feet, with Silwen and Dalfinor holding my arms, holding me back.

King Elessar had leaped down the steps from his throne and bent over him. I could not see for the many around them, but at last they were stepping back and Jeren had stopped making the dreadful sounds he had been making. Two of the guards held him up between them as Elessar resumed his seat and gestured for the rest of us to sit as well.

“What I just gave you was an antidote,” he said calmly. “You shall not escape your fate by means of poison, although you will be in added discomfort until then. Guards, hold him there for a time.

“Hendarch, Jerenmir’s Hound, step forth. You aided us by giving information, but that does not entirely mitigate all that you are known to have done. You had many chances to escape, but you did not. You had many opportunities to ask others of the legality of your enslavement, but you did not, even though you could see no other slaves around you. But because of the aid you did give, the sentence of execution has been changed to ten years’ labor on the roads of the North, and at the end of that time you will be given the money you have earned, and you will be free to go whither you may, so long as you never return to Gondor. Do you have anything to say?”

“I am sorry to be so stupid, your honor,” said Hendarch.

“Ignorance is not always stupidity, Hendarch; perhaps you will learn the difference between them.”

He shambled away, a guard on each side.

Faramir called, “Lady Lindisilma Kuranya, once Lindisilma Ornemir, and lately Mistress Clerk, stand forth!”


Dalf:

To say that it had been a difficult afternoon for Silma is to put it all too mildly. I had watched and listened to the disposal of the arrogant Healer, proud of the clarity and fairness of her testimony, certainly less heated than that of Lady Ėowyn, Rhylla, Erragol and Ull, and it was amusing as well as instructive to see how deftly Aragorn headed off Dame Ioreth’s loquacity, extracting the meat of her responses quickly.

But it grew worse with the case against her brother. Jerenmir was shown to be the evil traitor he was, well deserving of his end—and she shivered and shrank at the uncouth sounds he made, heels drumming against the floor before the antidote took effect. He sagged between those who warded him, who had roughly stripped him of his robe and shirt, pinioning his hands behind him.

Hendarch was almost an anticlimax, although I should not so characterize the poor Man, but of the three, I felt he had the best chance at a new life once his servitude was done.

By then Silma was numb with shock and horror; when her name was called, I had to gently urge her to her feet, and only Gimli’s hand on my arm prevented me from escorting her. On the other side of her empty seat, Lady Silwen leaned forward anxiously.

“They cannot possibly hold her accountable for his actions!” I muttered.

“Shhh!” cautioned Gimli.

Silma had made her curtsey, standing small and slight before the high steps, looking up at the King. He had stood to sheathe his sword, and remained standing.

“My lady, have you anything to say to us about what just took place?” he asked.

“Only that I am horrified beyond speech at what I have learned about him. I wish I could honestly beg for his life; I wish I could recall a single instance of kindness, of unselfish and uncalculated behavior on his part that I could offer in his defense. I cannot,” she replied sadly.

“Of all his victims, you have suffered perhaps most and longest, for he took from you not only your family and home, but also arranged for you to be blamed for a scandal he arranged, pursued you and your spouses, and injured you physically in as many ways as he could short of encompassing your death. Have you aught to say to him?”

She braced herself to half-turn and face the Goldtrader; one of the Guards pulled his head up by the hair, forcing him to look at her. “Jerenmir, I cannot imagine why you have acted as you have. Our parents loved and sought to teach you to walk in the light of Eru and the Valar, yet you chose to turn to the Shadow. I am glad that they cannot know of this.”

He spat, “That soft-hearted dullard and that halfbreed slut were no parents of mine! What did they give me that was so wonderful, that I should be grateful for all my days? He lost what land we had, content to live on a farm, up to his backside in cowshit, and she with her airs and pointed ears, true daughter of that old bitch with hers! What was yours was mine, and what’s mine is my own, and you deserved no rights for me to transgress! This upstart King and his mongrel curs have no rights over me! I should have killed you, and I am sorry that I did not! Would that the Ringwaiths had triumphed, for I would be sitting on the right hand of Sauron right now if I had my rights!”

At a gesture from Aragorn, he was gagged, but continued to fume from behind it.

“Then my brother died a long time ago, in all the ways that count: in his mind and heart and truest being, and I shall not mourn you,” she said steadily. “But know this, and carry it with you if you can: I hope someday to be able to forgive what you did to me, myself. Not what you have done to others—that is for them to determine. I did not cause nor control what you have done, any more than I could ever cure it; I utterly reject and repudiate you. You are not my brother. May Eru and the Valar forgive you one day!”

“Do you ask anything of us?” asked Elessar.

I could hear the surprise in her voice. “Of you, Sire? Nay. You have merely done your duty in administering justice.”

He came down the steps, followed by Ėomer King, Faramir and Halladan falling in a step behind them; Prince Imrahil, Lords Elrohir, Elladan, and Gimli, who had abruptly risen and marched forward also joined them.

“We said at the outset that we required our nobles to swear fealty to us, and that you have not done,” Elessar said to her.

“I am far from noble now, my liege, but if you wish it, then certainly I shall do so.”

“Kneel, then, and swear.”

She knelt, her skirts pooling around her, and her hands between his, said the oath as simply and sincerely as anyone could ask. He too said his part, and then helped her to her feet, and laughed joyously. “A pleasanter part of our duty is to uphold the oath, ‘to reward that which is given, valour with honour.’

“Behold, my lords and ladies and gentles all, a woman of Gondor, who has given unstintingly of what she has had. Many are those who have spoken to us of her patience and wisdom, of her skills and character. Behold Lady Lindisilma Kuranya, Loremistress and Healer, the Peredhil Lady of the Silver Wood in Ithilien, the Lady of Cormallen. We give to you the home of your fathers, where Elves shall walk and Prince Faramir shall guard. We give to you likewise nine-tenths of the fortune amassed by the Goldtrader, saving only those monies defrayed by the Crown in the investigation and what can be restored to some of his victims. We bestow House Kuranya upon you, to be cleansed and refurbished as a place of restoration for those who were permanently injured in this war, and monies provided for that work. Look upon the Rohirric warrior in yonder wheeled chair, who can sit because you devised a way to relieve some of the pressure on his spine, and Master Rill, formerly a soldier of the Guard injured in defending this City, who is now literate; one day they will earn their own livings. We ask of you, my lady, that you will use your skills to aid such as them, as you already have. Know, ye people of Gondor, that she risked her life to return to the ruins of her home in the Second Circle, now pulled down, to rescue her husband Jehan Clerk’s notes of aids he had devised for such as himself. She is second only to my father Lord Elrond, my brothers and myself in knowing the Elvish healing techniques—which in his arrogance, Ladramenhirion would have prevented her from using to aid our wounded. Can more be asked of a citizen that he labour to exhaustion for others? It was she who took in those warriors of Gondor and a Guardsman of Minas Tirith to give them care when they were shelterless and hurt, with the help of her mother-in-love Lady Silwen Ornamir, to whom we are also grateful. Instead of being embittered and selfish after the trials inflicted upon her, Lady Comallen has been generous and kind. She has shared many sound and compassionate ideas about building a better society that will include all of our people, giving even those who have made great sacrifice opportunities of sustaining themselves and giving in turn to others.

“Of those who have much to offer, much is asked. My lady, we request that you will train others, that you will continue to share those gifts you have with us, and with the peoples of Dol Amroth, Arnor, Rohan, the Dwarves, and yes, the Elves.

“And we ask of you, people of Gondor and Arnor, to praise her with great praise, for she has deserved it richly!”

And Elessar, King of Gondor and Arnor, led us all in bowing to her.

I thought my face would split with my grin, as I shouted her new name as loudly as the rest.

Faramir called, “This portion of this Audience is concluded!It will be reconvened in one glass”

Rhylla was jumping up and down, then hugging all those of our household that she could reach. Erragol was enthusiastically hugging Lady Silwen. My hand was shaken, my back pummeled until I was almost knocked off my feet by Rohirrim not engaged in hugging the ladies. People surged forward as the guards dragged out Jerenmir, surrounding those in the front; I could see Elessar withdrawing, but amidst all those tall folk, I could not see Silma.

When I forced my way to Gimli’s side as he stood talking to Legolas and the Hobbits, she was nowhere in sight.

“Where is she?” I demanded.

“Prince Imrahil has invited her to stay for a time with his family at their townhouse,” Pippin told me. “I carried the invitation to her this morning. Princess Lothlíriel was afraid of how people would react after the Goldtrader’s trial. Lady Silwen persuaded her to accept.”

“How they could come from the same family beats me,” said Lord Samwise.

“Oh, I don’t know—think of the Sackville-Bagginses,” Merry replied.

“I cannot imagine any Hobbit going to that extent of evil, Merry,” Lord Fordo was objecting.

Having no patience with a lengthy discussion of Hobbit genealogy, I bowed to them and turned on my heel, ignoring Gimli’s calls.


The journey to the House of the Swan was fairly short, but the doorward would not let me in, despite my pleas.

At length, the Prince’s Armsmaster, Lord Andrahar, appeared. “Come into the anteroom, Prince Dalfinor. Will you take some refreshment?”

“I wish to see Lady Lindisilma,” I repeated.

He poured each of us a glass of wine, which I accepted. “Please sit down, my lord. She is with the Princess, who is trying to give her some comfort. Why?”

“Why?” I
repeated.
“Why do you wish to see her so peremptorily?”

“Because....because no matter how the King honours her, she will be grieving for her brother. She should have those around her who care for her.”

“Well said,” remarked a voice behind me, and I turned to bow to Prince Imrahil as he entered.

He bowed in turn to me. “My shield-brother and daughter think highly of you, my lord.”
I could not help it—I looked at Lord Andrahar, raising one of my brows. He smiled fleetingly and nodded. “You erred, not in devotion, my lord, but in timing and place. It is good that you are not easily discouraged, and considerate of her sorrow. Besides, an unworthy being could not win her regard.”

“Which I appear to have lost,” I sighed.

“Not so! She is uncertain herself how to approach you. But when I saw both of you at the Crowning, you did not seem out of charity with one another.”

I thought of her hand in mine. “That is so.”

“Then take heart, my lord, and have patience. She has suffered much in the past few weeks.”

“You speak truly, my lord,” I agreed with another sigh.

“I wonder, Lord Dalfinor, if you would be willing to undertake a mission, a favour, for the King?” Imrahil asked, having taken a seat after gesturing me to one. He accepted the wine Lord Andrahar poured for him, and took a sip.

“That would depend on its nature and whether Lord Gimli gave me permission,” I said guardedly.

“And if it meant good for the realm, and Lord Gimli approved?”

“Then, hearing details, I would probably be disposed to oblige him,” I replied, “although I am surprised that King Elessar does not ask me directly.”

“He most likely will,” said Imrahil with another smile.

“Then if I cannot speak with my lady, I will depart.” I rose and bowed, as they did. “Thank you for your hospitality, my lords.”

“You are more than welcome, Prince Dalfinor,” said Imrahil.

Andrahar accompanied me to the outer door. “I think you will find, Lord Dalfinor, that she is coming closer to accepting the sword,” he told me.

“I am glad to hear that. You are teaching her its use?”

“My role is more to advise, supplementing Lady Éowyn’s tutoring. Lady Silma has been instructing us in the art of baritsu.”

“Bar--?”

“Baritsu. A martial art from a country far to the south of Far Harad,” he told me. “I knew of it, but had never had an opportunity to learn.”

“How did she learn such a thing?”

He smiled. “She is ever a source of new information, is she not? You will never be bored! I wish you well, my lord.” With another bow, as I found myself on the doorstep, he closed the door.

Bemused, I turned and made my way to the House of the Hammer & the Axe.


Silma:


I had been so filled with emotions, and so exhausted by them, that I was mostly numb when the audience ended. Prince Imrahil and Lord Húrin whisked me away to the House of the Swan, where Lothlíriel and Rhylla awaited me with a soothing tisane, a bath, and a soft bed in which I cried myself to sleep, with Rhylla holding me. I woke late the next morning, and after another bath, dressed in the clothing she had fetched for me, I descended to a lower floor. A servant directed me to a rear room, filled with light, where a table was set with a place for me, and a servant brought me food and drink. Prince Imrahil arrived a moment or two later, and took a seat. “Just kaff, please,” he said to the maid. “That is a Southern drink Andra introduced me to,” he told me as he sipped a cup of dark liquid. “Rather an acquired taste. Would you like to try some?”

“Please,” I agreed listlessly.

“The King asked me to tell you that the sentence was carried out. He will a full account of the Goldtrader’s monies and properties which you now own sent to you, along with the deed for your father’s lands in Ithilien. He wishes you to take seizen of it as soon as you can, and so he wishes you to set out tomorrow.”

I gaped at him. “To Ithilien?”

He nodded. “It is actually a military expedition, you see, on behalf of the Crown. He needs to know how badly infested it is with orcs and Southron scum, and you need to see the condition of the lands, both your own and those which will be Prince Faramir’s and the Elves Prince Legolas will lead there. Therefore, you will be eyes and ears for the King and Faramir. Legolas will accompany you, as will a detachment of what will become Faramir’s Guard, led by his new captain Beregond. We also need to know the condition of Minas Morgul, if it is possible to cleanse and reclaim it.”

“Oh, if it could once again be Minas Ithil!” I exclaimed. “My father mourned its fall all his life, and he and Granny told me so many tales of it! To restore the Tatharond, and the Tower of the Stone! And that pass should be guarded.”

“You see, we are in need of your lore,” he smiled. “My nephew Faramir will be of course very busy as Steward here, and is spending as much time as he can with the White Lady until she departs with her brother in another four days, so he cannot go himself, much as he wishes to do so. He has a long list of things he wishes you to check for him, if you can.” He handed me a folded paper. “Oh, I almost forgot: your dog arrived an hour ago with a message in his collar, should you wish to read it. He is in the garden.”

I rose to my feet. “If you will excuse me, my lord,” I murmured with a curtsey.

He bowed back, opening a glassed outer door. “Certainly. Lothlíriel reluctantly sees that you will have much to do, with such an imminent departure.”

Once in the garden, after tucking Faramir’s packet into my belt-pouch, I was almost bowled over by Rimbor’s exuberant greeting. Detaching the paper from his collar, I unfolded it.

To Lindisilma, Lady Cormallen, from Gimli Glóin’s Son, Ambassador of the Dweorg:

The Ambassador would be deeply grateful if she would come to the guesthouse on
Isil Street to meet with him on a private and important matter.


I almost crumpled the note. I did not want to go. That he disapproved of me, for I had not missed his careful formality towards me ever since Dalf’s proposal, I had no doubt. He must have been very angry with Dalf, given how subdued my Dwarf had been ever since as well. Not that it was any business of his, or of anyone’s besides ours, I thought angrily. What other private matter could it be? If it was something to do with the House, then he could deal with Silwen, who had agreed to rent it to him in the first place. It wasn’t my house, but hers, after all.

Tomorrow! I was leaving for Ithilien tomorrow! I would see my home, Father’s home, for the first time in many years, openly and safely, and it would someday be mine! What wasn’t covered by the hill was most likely in ruins, considering how long it had been abandoned, and with orcs going through there, I reminded myself. Perhaps I could afford some sort of small cottage there. I might be able to live there, someday!

How could I ever ready myself by dawn the next morning?

And why should I spend time with that irascible Dwarf, who probably wanted to scold me for having led Dalf on, not that I had...had I?

No! It was not Gimli’s affair! Even if the Dweorg regarded Dalf as very young. Come what may, I thought fiercely, I was Dalf’s friend, and I was the one who decided where to bestow my friendship, and no one else might dictate that, not even Elessar himself!

However, it might be something entirely different.

It would be rude to ignore him, and possibly of disadvantage to Dalf and Silwen if I did. At least perhaps the Dwarven bluntness might expedite matters; I did know that it would not be as leisurely a meeting as some Mannish or Elvish societies might conduct.

Besides, as late as it was, perhaps he had grown weary of waiting for me there and gone elsewhere. I could leave a note.

My decision made, I hastened out of the House of the Swan after asking one of the maids to tell Prince Imrahil of my destination, and leaving a note of thanks for Lothlíriel, whom I knew was with Ēowyn at the Houses of Healing.


Arriving at the guesthouse, I knocked and was quite taken aback when Gimli himself opened the door. He bowed, I curtseyed, and he led me through to a small garden in back, to a low table with four chairs around it, a flask of ale, a tankard, two small pitchers and a goblet.

“Will you sit and have some wine or juice, my lady?” he asked, gazing at me from beneath russet eyebrows almost as bushy as Mithrandir’s.

“Thank you.”

He poured ale for himself and juice for me, nicely chilled; I shook my head at his offer of a plate of small pastries. Rimbor, his tail wagging, had heeled obediently to my low command, and sat at my feet, although I knew he wanted to explore his old haunt.

“With Hobbits in the house, we are well-supplied with food and drink,” he rumbled.

“I thought that they were lodged in the Citadel, near the King,” I said, startled.

“They were, but like me, were not comfortable so high above the ground,” he said. “Inside wasn’t so bad—good stone it was delved from, and not bad handiwork, but Hobbits like to be closer to the things of the earth. Their patron, like yours, my lady, is the Giver of Fruits.”

“I did not know that they had a particular Vala patron,” I said.

“So old Bilbo told me once. I doubt many Hobbits even think about it.”

“And I am surprised that you state Yavanna is mine,” I added.

“Isn’t she?”

“That may be, but most Gondorians don’t go around stating such things either, so how is it you are so certain of it, my lord?” I was feeling more irritated by the moment. Why didn’t he come to the point?

“I wish you would stop being so confoundedly formal with me all the time!” he said abruptly. “We are private here, Silma, if I may call you that. Surely you can call me by my name.”

“Why?” I asked. “Why are we private here, and why should I be informal with someone who dislikes me?”

“Because I don’t dislike you, although I do owe you an apology and an explanation,” he said.

I took a sip of juice—mingled berries, by the taste, with perhaps a tiny bit of honey added—and set down the goblet. “I am listening.”

“Did Dalf tell you about a dream he had?” he asked.

I blinked. Why in Arda--? But there was no reason not to answer him. “Yes, he did.”

“Would you tell me what he said? It’s important, Silma, that you can give me as many details as you can. By Aulë, it is!”

Did this have something to do with the expedition to Ithilien?

I knew that he would not invoke Aulë lightly.

“He told me that he dreamed of the night when my family had to flee our home in Cormallen,” I told him. “He saw and described us, and that he saw my grandmother cast the spell that caused the hill behind the house to flow over it, burying it. He said that in his dream, he saw Aulë and Yavanna talking, granting her entreaty. He heard Aulë speak to both of you, that he was pleased with you both. To think that you both dreamed of two of the Valar!”

“Aye, we did.” Wonder at the memory softened his voice. Then he cleared his throat, took a swallow of ale, and sighed. “Silma, I owe you an apology. I did not tell Dalf about the further dream I had that night. In it, Aulë spoke to me. He made it clear that Dalfinor is exceptional among our people, not that I hadn’t suspected as much long before, and that I must help him in every way I could. He was not to go back to the Lonely Mountain for some time, not until certain things had been done.

“We are not a numerous Kindred. The Elves will be leaving Middle-Earth over the next century or so. There will be many more great changes in the world. We Dwarves need to be less insular, and to increase. Dalfinor is key to the future Aulë wishes.”

He sighed again. “I am not the smartest Dwarf in the world, and I can be as stubborn as any others of our kind. I wanted Dalf to do what was traditional, not what he wanted to do. I...insulted him, and he lost his temper. As a result, in defiance of what I said, he proposed as soon as he saw you, even though offending you was far from his intent. I have not helped matters since then.”

Gimli rose to his feet. “Lindisilma, Lady Cormallen, I, Gimli Glóin’s Son, apologize to you for the distress my behavior and attitude have indirectly caused you. You are more than worthy to be the beloved of my cousin, and I hope that you will forgive me and, more importantly, forgive him. Should you accept him, I will give you both my support and affection. He is very dear to me, my cousin, and I would not have him bereft because of my wrongdoing.”

This was Dwarven bluntness with a vengeance!

I tried not to gape at him, and turned the goblet in my hand to give myself a moment to regain my breath. He was watching me...anxiously, I realized.

“Please sit down, Gimli,” I said softly.

He resumed his chair.

“It is difficult for me to speak of such things to others,” I said slowly. “I...care for Dalf, very much. He has been so kind to me! I have been honoured by his friendship, as I would be honoured by yours. I don’t think I should discuss the more private aspects of our relationship with anyone else, if you don’t mind. You are right, he is exceptional! I would not want to—to lessen him in any way.”

“Aulë forgive me for being so slow! You would be a fitting match for him, lass, a fitting match indeed!” Taking my hand, he bowed over it, then went into the house.

I sat bemused, absently stroking Rimbor, who roused me from my reverie by turning his head and barking once.

Looking in the same direction, I saw Lord Panhael, a trowel in one hand, kneeling nearby, and behind him, sitting on a low bench with a book, Lord Iorhael. Clearly, both had heard all we had said.

“Gimli didn’t tell me we had an audience!” I said with rising anger and embarrassment.

“I don’t think he knew, Lady Silma,” said Lord Panhael, scrambling to his feet and bowing to me hastily. “We was out here afore he was, and he didn’t say as you was comin’. ‘Nen we thought as it’d be best if’n we just stayed quiet.”

Lord Iorhael sat frozen, staring at Rimbor. I suddenly remembered something I’d been told about him. Quickly I got to my feet and curtseyed. “My lord, I would not have brought Rimbor had I known you would be here—I understand from Captain Peregrin that you are uncomfortable with dogs.”

Two red points appeared on his white cheeks and he rose to his feet to bow. “Sam’s scolded me for my continued cowardice about dogs, Lady Silma.”

“You ain’t no coward, Master Frodo! You’re ‘bout the bravest Hobbit that’s ever been!” cried his friend.

“But I am one about dogs, Sam, which is foolish after one bad experience years ago. They were large dogs, and I was in the wrong—it’s accepted for tweens to scrump, but I overdid it, proud as I was of my cleverness. Even Maggot told me they didn’t normally act that way, but they were young and not fully trained. I have heard many praise your dog—Rimbor, is it?”

“Yes, that is my Browntail’s name,” I said, patting his furry head. “Á pusta! Á hauta sinomë [Stay! Rest here, Rimbor!]” I said in Quenya. Switching back to Westron, I added, “He will not move unless I give him another command, if you would like to come nearer and pet him, or I could send him away. He is very gentle and intelligent, although he can be fierce to defend me or those he loves.”

Taking a deep breath, Lord Iorhael came closer and gingerly patted his head. Rimbor wagged his tail but didn’t move another muscle.

“Good, Master Frodo! Good!” breathed Sam.

Lord Iorhael sat down at the table, and I sent Rimbor into a corner of the garden, well away from us.

“What is scrumping, and what are tweens?” I asked, to give him time to calm.

Samwise was fetching two mugs and pouring juice for his friend and ale for himself.”Scrumpin’ is stealin’ apples or taters or any other kind of garden stuff, or hams, or chickens, and so on. Tweens is Hobbits afore we come of age at thirty-three; Pippin ain’t proper come of age yet, you see, which is why he’ll be in such trouble when we go home.”

“At least until they understand the great things he’s done,” Iorhael added. “Please allow me to apologize for our eavesdropping, Lady Silma. We truly didn’t mean to do so, and by the time we realized that it was a private conversation, it seemed less awkward to just stay quietly. I doubt Gimli even knew we were there.”

“I’ve been told what skill your people have at concealing yourselves,” I said. “My lords, please forgive my irritation.”

“Please don’t call us that,” the Ringbearer said. “I’m Frodo, and this is Sam.”

“Then I am Silma. I am honoured.”

“We didn’t mean to eavesdrop the other day, either,” Frodo said. “By the House of the Swan, I mean. We’d followed Dalf because he was so upset with Gimli, but we really didn’t mean to embarrass you, and I’m sure he didn’t.”

“He’s been brokenhearted ever since,” Sam added. “He’s a good Dwarf, Dalf is.”

I moved restlessly in my seat. “I’m glad that you’re his friends.”

Sam looked at me intently. “Do you love him?”

“Sam!” cried Frodo.”You don’t go asking a lady such things!”

“You leave me alone, Mr. Frodo, please. I’m a-talkin’ t’ Silma. Do you? ‘Cause he loves you as honest an' true as any female, Hobbitess or Woman, could want. He feels horrible that he’s lost your regard. He’s said so, not that he needed to; it’s plain’s the nose on my face. He’s lost weight, I’ll bet he’s not sleepin’ o’ nights, an' his eyes is all shadowed with the misery eatin’ him up inside. He’d sooner cut off his hand with his own axe as upset you. Might be kinder t’ tell him, if’n you hate him, so’s he can go home an' live by hisself all his days.”

I looked into those clear hazel eyes. “I don’t hate him,” I whispered over a large lump in my throat.

“Do you like him?”

I nodded. “What no one seems to remember,” I said, as my eyes filled, “is that my Jehan died only about six weeks ago. How can I honourably care for Dalf more than as a friend so soon?”

“Oh, Silma!” Frodo put one of his thin cool hands over mine, his blue eyes filled with sorrow. “You’re right, we didn’t remember that. From everything we’ve heard, Master Clerk was a good Man. I wish we could have known him.”

“Would he want you to stay all your days alone?” Sam asked.

“Sam, she doesn’t want—”

“Now you shush, Mr. Frodo! You know all 'bout book-learnin’, but I knows a bit ‘bout bein’ in love with a lass, an’ I been talkin’ more with Dalf’n you have. Would he, your Jehan?” Sam persisted.

I thought about it. “No. And he asked Dalf to take care of me before—before he died,” I said. “But you don’t understand the difficulties!”

“Ain’t no difficulties can’t be surmounted if’n you want to enough,” he told me. “What are they?’

“I’m a Mannish woman; he’s a Dwarf, to begin with,” I said wearily. “Tell me, how would either of you feel if a member of your people wanted to wed one of mine, or an Elf, or a Dwarf? How would that person’s family and friends react?”

“Oh!” said Frodo.

I nodded at him. “’Oh,’ indeed! You have no idea what meanness, what downright cruelties, I encountered by marrying Jehan, for in doing so I married out of my rank and class. Many so-called friends refused to even glance at me in the street, and his family was furious.”

“Did you regret it?” Sam asked.

“No. Never!”

“So you think it’d be a worse thing to wed Dalf?”

“No Mannish woman has ever married a Dwarf! And I am of a lower rank than he is; he is a prince, Sam! That means he has a duty to his people. I am not his equal in so many ways. I have no wealth to match his, I am not young with even the prettiness of youth, and how can I repay his kindnesses and friendship by pulling him down in the eyes of others?” I dashed tears away with my fingers until Frodo handed me a handkerchief. I bowed my head over it and wept.

At last I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and tried to smile at them. “You are good friends to him, and I am grateful for that, for your wanting his happiness. Neither of my marriages was ‘happily ever after to the end of their days’ as the tales so often have it; I wish even one had been! My first spouse debased himself with cruelties and drugs and an unspeakable disease—few know that—and finally took his own life in a moment of sanity after I fled lest he kill me in one of his rages, or I kill him in defending myself. Jehan was always in so much pain, and so brave in enduring it; was it right that he had to endure additional hardships and the loss of his reputation and career under the Goldtrader’s persecution because we had married each other? And at the end, he was hurt while Rimbor and I sought to get him through the streets during the siege, and he was denied care at the Houses of Healing through my brother’s malignity! Even a proper burial! What if all this is because of some terrible flaw in me? What if I cannot be a good wife to whomever I wed? I could not give him the children the Dweorg need so much, especially from him as their prince! I lost all three of my babes! What could I give him, to make up for all he’d not have, that he so richly deserves in a wife?”

Frodo was gazing at me, his blue eyes luminous with sorrow for me.

But Sam was out of his chair and kneeling beside me, one arm around my shoulders. “You’ve had a hard row to hoe an’ no mistake, Silma,” he said, holding my hand in his warm clasp. “But don’t you see, you’ve had all the badness pruned away by them years? Ain’t nobody I know thinks you’re a bad person, an' them that does is fools! I dunno how I’d feel ‘bout a Hobbit or Hobbitess wantin’ t’ wed someone from another Kindred, an' I reckon I won’t know ‘til it happens, if’n it ever does. They’s been Men marry Elves, ain’t they? An' they’ve been envied for it—look at Lord Elrond’s family. Wasn’t your granny Elven?”

Peredhil,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“It means Halfelven, Sam,” Frodo answered. “But he’s right; that is a consideration, Silma. Lord Elrond and his brother were able to choose whether to be Elves or to accept the Gift of Iluvatar (that’s to live as mortals and die, Sam). So can their children and grandchildren. I know that Lady Arwen, Lord Elrond’s daughter, even though she’s three thousand years old, could make that choice tomorrow if she wanted to. King Elessar spoke of you as Peredhil. So why couldn’t you wed a Dwarf if you wanted to?”

“An' if Aulë wanted to, he could likely arrange for you to have babes. Could ha’ been a problem in the Men, not you. With all that strain, no wonder you had problems a-bearin'.”

Frodo was deep pink—in anyone else, he would have been scarlet. “Sam!”

“No, Mr. Frodo, she’s a Healer, she knows what I mean.”

I did, but felt I had to say, “I’m not a qualified Healer—“

“Root an' tree!” he exclaimed. “Didn’t Strider say as you are? Nobody better at the Elvish techniques, he said, but him an' Lord Elrond an' his brothers, who’ve all studied and practiced ‘em for thousands of years! Well, bar Strider, but he’s been a-learnin’ ‘em since he was a lad, an' he’s ‘most ninety year old now. What do you want, a certificate from Master Labro-what’s his name, that pompous puff-toad? Jealous of you, he was, or he’d of asked you for help a-learnin’ the others o’ your skills. An’ as for pretty—who wants pretty, when he can have a wife as shines the way you do when you smile, an’ who’s brave an’ smart an’ carin’ an’ gentle? ‘Tain’t some Court beauty all gussied up in silkses an’ lace as Dalf loves, but the lady he knows can stand side by side with him when he needs her, good times an’ bad. You’re a pair, you are, each thinkin’ the other too good for you. Ain’t Dalf a good person?”

“Yes.”

“Ain’t he brave an' smart an' kind an' all the things you’d want a husband t’ be?”

“Yes.”

“Ain’t he nice-lookin’ for one of his Kindred?”

“He’s very handsome.” I blushed as I thought of him.

“Ain’t he able t’ take care of you, and you of him?”

“He already has, several times.”

“Do you doubt him in any way?”

“I’d sooner doubt myself!”

“That’s most of your problem!” he observed, flapping a hand at Frodo to stave off the inevitable protesting cry.

I couldn’t help a watery chuckle.

“Good! Your own good sense’s comin’ through! I reckon half of it ‘tis you think too little o’ yourself, Silma. Most of this as frets you can be worked through by both of you. Mr. Frodo can tell you that when I gets home, I’m askin’ Rosie Cotton to marry me. Shyness held me back afore, an' while I ain’t regrettin’ comin’ with Mr. Frodo an' the rest—we had a job t’ do as needed doin’, an’ we done it—many’s the time I prayed I’d be able to get back home ‘cos I know she loves me too, an' I want that time together afore we die. What it really comes down to, Lady Silma, is one question: if’n you’d part from Dalf forever, how would it be?”

I rose to my feet, and he rose with me. I said, “Frodo, thank you for your patience; I am sorry to have embarrassed you.”

“Not at all. It was Sam.”

“I understand why you are called wise, Sam Galbasi of the Shire, although you are not half-wise, and I thank you for your wisdom. You provide as much food for thought as you do nurturing of the spirit and your plants. Your Rosie is a lucky Hobbitess, and I hope I may meet her someday.” I glanced at the sundial on the side of the house. “Sweet Valar, is that the time? Please excuse me; I must hurry home and pack! I leave for Ithilien tomorrow!”

“What part of it?” Sam asked.

“Why—we , that is, an expedition, are going to the Emyn Arnen, where Faramir wishes to build a house for himself and Ėowyn, and the Elves will live, and to check on whether Minas Morgul may be cleansed—“ both of them shuddered “—and to what remains of my childhood home at Cormallen. I am hoping that perhaps one day I may have a small cottage there, since the house is under the earth.”

“It’s not—“ began Frodo, but Sam said loudly, “Aye, we heard that tale from Dalf. A wonder!” He was grinning. “You’ll be glad to see it, I reckon!”

“Oh, yes! Even if there isn’t much to see. – I don’t believe I ever thanked you for my lovely basket! I’m sorry! It is my greatest treasure.”

Both Hobbits were now smiling broadly. Frodo bowed. “We’re glad you’re pleased with it.”

I curtseyed. “Thank you both for the past hour. Not easy, but I think necessary.”

“Have a safe journey!” they chorused, and Rimbor followed me out.

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