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Marpol the Builder
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
A Question to Ponder

Rochben Marpol Vittribula, reporting,” I said, approaching and saluting three figures, one small, two tall, all cloaked and hooded against the evening’s chill at the tip of the Citadel’s keel one spring evening in late Viressë of 3019, shortly after the War ended and the King returned.

The smaller one turned, and I beheld the fair face of my late friend’s wife. I said, “Mistress Clerk? I am sorry for your loss. Your husband was a great Man. He did not deserve that end!”

“My thanks,” she said softly. “My lord Steward, my lord King, may I present Methîr iaur Vittribula?”

It was a shock to hear her use the phrase for a veteran close to the end of his service, even though part of me acknowledged its truth, little as I wished it.

The others had turned as well, and I saw the slightly familiar face of the only direct survivor of the House of Mardil since the deaths of his father and brother. I saluted again, adding the slight bend of the head due a commander, and turned my attention to the other. He was clearly a Dúnadan, with the dark beard and hair and grey eyes; unlike Faramir (the acting Steward, I reminded myself), he was not wearing the black-and-silver of Gondor, but a set of worn leathers under his grey cloak, and had a pipe in his hand. His face—I began to go to one knee as I realized this must indeed be our new King—or who would be, in a day or so – but his outstretched hand prevented me. “No, please, since I’m incognito until my crowning,” he said pleasantly.

I had heard that he had refused to enter the city until then, but this made sense; there would be many matters which needed to be set in place beforehand. But what could he want with me?

Mistress Clerk touched my arm. “I am staying at House Ornamir in the Sixth Circle,” she told me. “You will be welcome at any time, and I hope you will visit me. Lord Erragol of Rohan and some of his men are there, and he looks forward to meeting you. Gentlemen, navaer. Rochben Vittribula, calo anor na ven.” With a curtsey, she turned away.

“’May the sun shine upon your road,’” Lord Faramir obligingly translated for me. I blinked. Why would she speak Elvish to me instead of Common? Perhaps it was being in their presence. Faramir was an educated Man, and I had heard that the King had been raised by the Elves.

“At ease, Methîr,” the King said, and I went from attention to parade rest.

Lord Faramir asked, “I understand you are nearing the end of your term of service.”

“My lord.”

“Your plans?”

“I—uncertain. My lord.”

“No, go on. What are they?”

“None, my lord.”

“Why not?”

“I didn’t think I’d live so long,” I admitted. After all, what veteran of Gondor’s armies under Lord Denethor and with the Shadow looming over the Ephel Dúath for so long, could realistically think otherwise? And yet, I had survived. Instinctively, I looked to the east, to the clear skies over the mountains. It was still a wonder to see them, after the last few years and especially the last months. Were they becoming faintly green?

“You’re from Rond Rhandir in Anfalas?” he asked.

“Originally, yes, my lord.”

“And you were sent to one of the beacon towers?”

“Tir Ferin, aye.”

“And then to three others before being transferred here. I believe my brother Boromir consulted you about fortifications to Osgilliath shortly before he left the city last year.” The Steward pursued his review of my record.

“True, my lord, but–your pardon—the Steward your father said the expenses were too great to implement them.”

“You have served as an artilleryman, sent at times to oversee the making of siege engines in training new soldiers at Cair Andros and other parts of Gondor. Also, you’ve had experience as an architect as well as an engineer; you came up with a new kind of floating deck at Dol Amroth, my uncle tells me, as well as an improved way of gauging tide levels.”

“My lord, that was in collaboration with Master Jehan Clerk,” I said truthfully.

“Did you know him well?” the King asked.

“Enough to know that he was a great Man,” I said, striving to keep the anger from my voice. Now we're coming to it, I thought, feeling a prickle of sweat under the high collar of my (borrowed) dress uniform tunic. “He did not deserve the manner of his disposal.” I still felt horror as well as grief and a smoldering rage.

“His death was a great loss and tragedy,” Faramir agreed softly. “The treatment of his body was a true desecration.”

“You expect censure in connection with that,” observed the King. “Why?”

Aran veleg lîn—” I began, the unaccustomed honorific awkward in my mouth.

“I’m not ‘your majesty’ yet. Speak freely.”

“You must know that I was in the barracks cells when you sent for me, on report for disturbing the peace at the Houses of Healing.”

“We did not, no. Why did you do this, a soldier of your reputation?” Faramir asked sternly.

I was at attention again, but I met his eyes and those of the King squarely. “I had been drinking, celebrating the victory, my lords, when I heard of what had happened to Master Clerk, and I went straight from the Spotted Orc on Circle Three up to the Houses. I forced my way into the ward where Master Ladramenhirion was working, and attempted to demonstrate my… displeasure at his behavior.”

“You were certain that he was responsible?”

“Yes, my lord. No one at the Houses would have dared to act in such a manner if not with his say-so.”

“And how did you demonstrate your displeasure?” the King asked.

“Your—my lord,” I corrected myself, “I punched him in the mouth. I also…damaged…a few of the workers who sought to restrain me.”

“Serious damage?” The corner of his mouth twitched.

“Some black eyes, an assortment of minor injuries. I only wanted him.”

“And what do you expect now?” the King inquired.

“My lord, I was in a scuffle as a new recruit, and another a few years later,” I told him. “This is my third offense. I will be dishonourably discharged. Because he is so important, I will lose my pension.”

“And knowing that, you still attacked him?”

“Master Clerk was my friend. Master Ladramenhirion had no right to mistreat his body in such a disgusting way! It was wrong!”

“And your attack was not?” Faramir was frowning.

“My lord, I am a soldier. I act. That is not an excuse, but the only explanation I have. The Healer is allied to House Elena through his marriage, another of the Exalted of the High Men, but by the Valar, I would not have had him go untouched! At the very least, Mistress Clerk will suffer greatly. Their home was destroyed by the siege. What recompense will she have?”

“You are fond of her?” the King asked.

I shrugged. “She is his widow, and has ever been kind and courteous to me. They loved each other dearly.”

“You have no objection to paying the penalty for your actions?”

“My lord, I chose to act. No one forced me. What I will do, what employment I may find afterwards, I do not know, but I will no doubt find out.”

The two of them exchanged glances, and I had a feeling that an entire conversation was being wordlessly conducted, if that is not too fanciful a notion.

“To change the subject somewhat, Methîr,” the King said with a wide gesture, “look outward. What do you see?”

I gazed out over the wall. “I see the mountains are clear of the Shadow, my lords. I see that crews are working to clean up the mess left on the Pelennor by the battle, as well as in the city.”

“Now look west and northward,” he directed. “Let me tell you what I see, if only in memory and the mind’s eye: I see Arnor, where I was raised and trained and spent many years in guarding. I see a scattered, hidden people, forced to eschew the benefits of trade and civil safety enjoyed by Gondor. I see that I must govern both, as wisely as may be, forging them into one realm. What would your friend Master Clerk say in answer to this question: what is one essential thing to assist in doing that? Think about that, if you will. We shall speak again.”

My dismissal clear, I saluted, and went back to the barracks on the Sixth Circle. After returning Beregond’s tunic to another member of his Company to take to him, lying on the pallet in my cell with my hands behind my head, I pondered that and the entire conversation. What would happen to my friend, and his son? To Mistress Clerk and so many others who had lost so much? Breathing a prayer for them all to the Valar, I fell asleep.


I had expected that the regimental commanders would preside over my trial; I was not prepared to see the Herdir Vagorim and the Herdir Roechbin in the judgement seats beside the commander of my own company. Why the Masters of Infantry and Cavalry would trouble themselves to judge me, I could not understand. However, the verdict was my discharge, as I had expected, although nothing was said of my pension. It would probably be withheld; why pay half-wages to a former soldier dismissed for brawling, when so much had to be done with what money was available? I could not quarrel with such reasoning, having brought those consequences upon myself. At least I was hale enough to work at something, or would be, when my wounds healed. Many there were who could not say the same! At least I need not beg for my bread, or live in continuous, constant pain.

Thus I found myself in civilian clothing among the crowd watching the King’s Crowning before the Great Gates. It seemed strange not to be in uniform or under orders. Although some of my married friends had offered me rooms in their homes, I had declined; why possibly prejudice their officers against them by harboring me? For the present, I had enough coin to sleep in the common room at the Spotted Orc. Perhaps, I thought, I could find work as a laborer helping to clear away the rubble of the battle. I had hoped that I might offer to work on the replacement of the Gates, until I heard that Gimli the Dwarf would be in charge; no doubt he would hire other of his folk.
But I was oddly weary, and more aware of the ache of my ribs, cracked in the defense of the city, and other mending hurts, so I did nothing to find employment immediately. I did rejoice in the news that Beregond, while stripped of his rank and conditionally exiled from the city, would be the captain of Prince Faramir’s new guard in Ithilien. King Elessar had shown his good sense in confirming him as Steward, and creating him Aryon, equal to Imrahil of Dol Amroth.

I was somewhat surprised and truth to tell, hurt, that Beregond made no mention of asking me to join the White Guard. In fact, when I saw him at a distance, and was sure that he had seen me, he turned aside with no indicatino of even knowing me--and we'd been friends for years! But perhaps Faramir did not want him to hire one disgraced as I now was….

~~~

Rochben (S. “captain”) – Gondorian military rank.

Methîr iaur -- (S. literally “Old soldier”) – veteran soldier, usually near or after end of his enlistment, in Gondor.

Navaer (S./Ad. literally “Be good”) –a farewell.

Calo anor na ven (S. “May the sun shine on your road”) – a farewell, well-wishing.

Rond Rhadir – manor in Anfalas, belonging to Marpol’s father.

Tir Ferin – beacon tower in Anfalas.

Aran veleg lîn (S. literally “King you mighty’) – your majesty.

Herdir Vagorim (S. “Master of Infantry) – Gondorian military rank.

Herdir Roechbin (S. “Master of Cavalry”) –Gondorian military rank.

Aryon (S. “Prince”) – head of or heir to a principality. In the Reuntied Realm, the sons and grandsons of the King; male members of 1) Dol Amroth and 2) Ithilien, the two most important fiefs.


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