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Marpol the Builder
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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2
An Offer

A few days after the Crowning, a boy appeared with a message, the seal a simple but elegant E:


To Marpol Vittribula, greetings from Elessar Telcontar, King of Ardor & Gondor:

It would be most appreciated if you would attend Us in Our offices in the Citadel at the 8th hour today.



I duly presented myself, finding the King seated by the fire in a handsome if somewhat sparsely-furnished office, his hair rumpled and wearing a fine robe over his tunic and trews. “Ah, there you are!” he exclaimed as he and a tall Dúnadan looked up. The stranger wore gray, with a six-pointed silver star at his throat, This must be the eresselin,, the emblem of the Heren a Govannas in Faradrim Forod, to use the old, formal name of the Rangers of the North founded by the last prince of Arthedain almost 200 years ago. Like the King, he must be a member of that somewhat mysterious group; as always, I wished I could learn more than the few fragments I had gleaned from old parchments. But the King was continuing, “Lord Halladan, this is the Man of whom I spoke. Halladan is a cousin of mine and now the Steward of Arnor.”

“My lord,” I bowed, and to my surprise, he bowed back before resuming his seat.

The King waved me to a chair between them, and they both lit their pipes. “So, Master Vittribula, have you considered my question?”

I contented myself with saying, “Aye, my lord, I have.”

“Even though you didn’t expect Aragorn to actually ask you about it again,” Steward Halladan interjected.

“Well, no, my lord, I did not. Stands to reason that you’re a busy Man.” The use of what had been his Ranger’s use-name before his coronation testified to the relationship between them.

“And?”

“You asked me what Master Clerk would have thought an essential thing to assist you in ruling both Arnor and Gondor, my lord. I believe he would have said the same thing I do: you need to bring them together, closer, so that those in both lands see the things they have in common, although how you can do that I know not.”

“Ah, but I do. One way is to have better roads. We need trade, and new settlers. But there must be a good way to get them there. You have experience with making roads, I think?”

“I have some, my lords.”

“Would you be interested in this project?” asked Lord Halladan.

“Yes, my lord!” I replied.

“It would mean living in the North for several years,” the King said. “Would that bother you? Would you want some time to visit your home first?”

“The barracks have been my home for most of my life,” I said honestly. “I was old Lord Golosgil’s bastard, so I wasn’t welcome there once my mother died when I was a lad. To whom would I report?”

“To me,” said Lord Halladan.

“Your pardon, Hîr nin,” I said, “but who would be my supervisor for the overall project, giving me my orders?”

“Ah, I almost forgot,” said the King. He took a scroll from his desk and handed it to me. “This is your Royal warrant, as my new Gwaron-i-Menon. Because this is a vital project for the good of the realm, this gives you the authority to requisition supplies and manpower as needed. I’m afraid that some of the work will be done by prisoners sentenced to serve— “

I stared at him. “Your pardon, my lord, but I think I must have misunderstood you just now.”

“Oh?”

“Who is this new Warden? Lord Húrin?”

“No, he will remain the Warden of Keys here. You will be the Warden of Roads. Now, as I was saying, some of the laborers will be felons serving their terms. We do not have large gaols, and it’s better that they do something useful for others. But they are not slaves; each shall be paid for his work, with his board and keep deducted.” He looked at me expectantly.

I nodded. “That makes sense, my lords. Some may learn a new trade to help when they have paid their debt of punishment.”

“Exactly, those who are not banished as soon as their term is completed. But we shall need good records kept.”

“That would be necessary anyway, my lords, in order to keep the work on schedule and under budget.”

“You will be able to use some soldiers, although in time it is our hope that most of the workforce will be civilians,” Lord Halladan told me. “I am not sure where we’ll get all the supplies necessary. What will you need?”

“May I have access to the Archives?” I asked. “I knew a Man who had a partial copy of Gilfaron’s Road, Aqueduct & Bridge Engineering, but I was only ever able to read a fragment of that. Master Clerk had read more of it, and we had several discussions about it.”

“I will send to the Archivist to provide whatever records you may find of use,” nodded the King. “Yes?” He turned his head to Faramir, standing in the doorway.

“The day’s greeting,” said the Steward of Gondor pleasantly, bowing to the King and nodding to Lord Halladan—of course; they were equal in rank—and to me. “My lord King, the Council is gathering.”

“Very well, I will accompany you. Halladan, if you would take care of that other matter after you settle the Warden?”

The Steward of Arnor nodded, and gestured me to come with him along a hallway, down a few steps and along another corridor, accompanied by a boy in the grey livery I knew meant he was a Citadel servant.

The lad opened a door, and we entered, crossing a large (and empty) anteroom to another room with several doors; Halladan opened the double doors across from the anteroom, and we went into the large corner chamber beyond. This possessed a fine fireplace between two large windows; on another wall were three large windows in a row, allowing plenty of light. There was a scent of whitewash and polish; the woodwork half-paneling the walls and the large bookcases along some of the walls gleamed, and the glass panes of the windows glistened. I had never seen so much glass in a wall in my life, other than in public buildings. “The housekeeper just inspected, my lords,” said the boy, obviously well-rehearsed. “I am to conduct you to the storage rooms to choose furnishings.”

“Splendid,” said the Steward. “What do you think, Master Vittribula?”

“They are excellent,” I said.

“Good! Well, I must hurry away; I have much to do. I shall see you at noon, if you don’t mind a working morsel-meal?” And with a smile almost as charming as the King’s, he was gone. I looked at the boy, who gave me a tentative smile.

“If you will come this way?”

“May I see the entire suite first?” I asked.

“As you wish, of course,” he agreed.

The entire suite consisted of some ten rooms, all connected by interior passages and doors, most well-lit except for interior rooms that would do for storage, and to my pleasure, a necessary. How convenient and well-planned! But then, they were clearly designed to be the workplaces of a busy and important staff. It made sense that I would be attached to Lord Halladan’s household, if I were to assist in building roads between the capitol and his part of the realm. I had heard that the King hoped to someday rebuild the ancient capitol of Arnor—at Fornost, I thought that was, and wondered if I might borrow a map soon to refresh my hazy memory of where it was located. It was exciting to think I might go there….

Surely, Halladan would have an aide or equerry close to that main chamber, so I chose a room two doors away; if it was too close, no doubt someone would tell me so and I could move. A soldier is accustomed to traveling light, and I had never owned more than would fit into a pack and two saddlebags, often less.

The lad, whose name was Orophin Táralóm, led me through a maze of corridors and stairs to a vast room containing all manner of furniture. I chose a plain desk, a table, two chairs, and a fine map-case; then he led me to another room, filled with cloth goods: tapestries, curtains, rugs, and cushions. “I see nothing I need, Orophin,” I protested.

“My lord, that room looks north and west; you may want some warmth come winter,” he pointed out. “And would you not want curtains to keep the light from fading your maps and books?”

“Ah, that is well-thought! You are right. Very well, plain curtains.”

“What color?”

I looked at him blankly. “Color?”

Just then, a musical voice said from the doorway, “There you are, Orophin!”

We turned, and the lad said with evident relief, “Oh, Mistress Nénharma! This is the new Warden of Roads.”

I just managed to keep myself from saluting, and bowed jerkily instead; she curtsied as I said, “Marpol Vittribula, at your service.”

“Alatáriël Nénharma,” she replied. She was perhaps in her thirties, with lustrous dark brown hair gathered under a neat white cap, and soft brown eyes in a face so comely it almost took my breath. Like Orophin, she wore gray, but I instantly envisioned her in amber, or periwinkle blue, or a warm rust-red. “I am one of the under-housekeepers. May I assist you in your selections, hír nim?”

“I’m scarcely anyone’s lord,” I protested.

“I talked him into choosing curtains, to keep his maps from fading in the sunlight, but we don’t know what color,” said Orophin.

“Usually one coordinates the color with the color of the walls and floor,” she said.

“It’s the room two doors to the north from the main chamber, of that suite,” I said. “I believe the walls are tinted yellow.”

“Then perhaps green?” she suggested.

“Good,” I agreed. “Do you know where I might find an atlas?”

“What’s that?” asked Orophin.

“A book of maps,” she said before I could. “The Archivist will no doubt bring you what you desire, and of course there are some excellent bookshops in the city.”

“If you could tell me where to find him?” I asked.

She gave me very clear, concise directions, although Orophin protested, “I can show him!”

“Nay, you can stay and help me with some other tasks,” she said firmly.

“But—“

“Mistress Nénharma is quite right, lad,” I interrupted. “It would not be right for me to take you from other work. You’ve been a big help already. I thank you both.”


The Archivist was a rather dusty individual who glared at me over his shoulder when I knocked on his door. “Not now,” he grumbled testily. “Go away!”

“Can’t.” I said, stepping inside and closing the door behind me.

“Keep still, then,” he ordered, stooping over his work-table.

Presently, he covered the book he had been mending with a cloth and turned to me. “Well?”

“Re-gluing gilt is tricky,” I said respectfully.

He surveyed me. “You don’t look like a librarian or scribe.”

“I’m not, but I once had to work on some gilded leather breastplates and helms,” I said with feeling. “Falling to bits, but lovely work once. Preservation requires patience, skill and a steady hand.”

“And knowledge, master, don’t forget that!” he said, but his eyes gleamed. “Well, now that we’ve established that, who are you and what do you want?”

“Whatever maps and atlases you have of Arnor, Arthelain, Cardolan, Rhuadaur, the Hithieglir, and Gondor, and a history of Arnor. Oh, and Fornost.”

“Why?”

For the first time, and feeling a bit foolish, I fished the warrant out of my tunic and handed it to him. He read it, taking his time, and gave me another beady look. “Name?”

“Marpol Vittribula.” I said patiently—and remembered with a pang that I had no rank to add to that, no company. “Of Steward Halladan’s staff,” I added firmly.

“So you say.”

“Do I need a note from Prince Faramir?”

“No need to get testy, now!”

“The King wants me to get to work. So do both Stewards. So do I.”

“Well, you didn’t impede my work, so I shan’t impede yours. But such materials will take time to find.”

“How much time? Don’t you know where they are?”

“Gondor was founded an Age ago—well, maybe two Ages, if what they say about this being a new one is true—and this Archive is the repository of many documents from the beginning of this kingdom and this city, not to mention some brought from the Star Isle, from the South, and from Osgiliath and Minas Ithil before they fell.”

“And from Fornost?”

“Aye, and from Annúminas as well before it fell. I have rooms, halls, cupboards and entire caverns filled with materials.”

“A huge task,” I said, awed by the thought of all those riches. I had only ever owned a handful of books in my life, almost all third- or fourth hand.

“Well, come along!” He hopped down from his high stool, took a lamp from the table, and I followed him into an amazing journey through some—only some!—of that vast Archive. Every so often, muttering, he’d point to a pile and tell me how many volumes down, or which cubby in a large press from which to pull out a tube of rolled parchment or vellum. Presently, my arms filled (and one of his), we emerged and returned to his office, where he produced a large sack, carefully inserted the maps, and handed me a quill to sign the hastily-made list for his records of what I had.

I scanned it and looked up. “I didn’t ask for anything about Angmar or Rohan.”

“You didn’t ask about Harlindon or Forlindon, either, but your work will be historic, so you need to understand the broader picture to do it well, which is why I included an atlas on them as well. I will look for treatises on road-building, but I doubt I will find very much.”

“Anything on engineering may be of help,” I said, “and not just from the West, either.”

He sniffed. “You think barbarians can better what we do?”

“I think that I am willing to learn from anyone who can teach me something I don’t know,” I retorted.

“Well, in that case, you’d better take this along,” he said, nudging another sack on the floor, then picking it up and pushing it into my hand; I held the precarious stack in my arms in place under my chin. “Let me get the door for you.”

“My thanks,” I said as I left, and was rewarded with another sniff.


Returning to the suite, I thankfully shouldered open the door to my office, belatedly wondering where I’d put all of these, only to hear Orophin’s cheerful, “Let me help you, my lord!”

“Just grab the topmost three, please,” I said, and put the rest of the stack on a desk—my desk—which had been put just inside the door, along with the other things I had requested. The curtains had been hung, I saw.

I grasped the edge of the table, to move it to a better position close to the windows, and felt a sharp pain that brought a grunt and doubled me over.

“Stop! Here, lean on me,” said a voice. I was helped to a chair, where I was able to straighten somewhat. Lord Halladan was bending over me, holding my arms. “Merciful Valar, you’re hurt!”

“Cracked ribs, is all,” I gasped.

His hands pushed up my tunic and shirt, felt expertly over my torso. “Well, they may have been cracked, my friend, but at least one is broken now,” he said. “You need to see a Healer.”

“Nay, I’m fine—“

“I doubt that! You’re the color of whey. Do you want to risk a lung getting punctured? I applaud your enthusiasm, but there are limits. What were you doing, battling spiders?”

“I saw the Archivist.”

“That explains the cobweb draped over your ear, at least. Just why were you trying to move that table, anyway?”

“The light is better by the window.”

“But why were you moving a table to begin with? You aren’t a servant, you know.”

“He wasn’t here when they brought the things,” Orophin explained; his voice was almost squeaking, and I blinked at the panic on his freckled face. “I didn’t know where he wanted ‘em, so they left ‘em here ‘til he could say. Honest, they meant to come back after the morsel. Mistress Nénharma’s going to kill us!”

“And where was she?” I asked.

“Called away, my lord. Her mother’s ill.”

“Ah, I see,” Lord Halladan nodded. “Well, Orophin, go find a Healer to come take a look at our valiant warrior, and order some food while you’re at it, please.”

“Aye, my lord!”

“And you close your eyes, Marpol, and just rest,” Lord Halladan commanded.

“Sorry—“ I muttered.

“And don’t apologize. We should have realized from the way you’ve been moving that you were wounded. Just because you’re able to walk doesn’t mean you’re fully recovered. Do not say a word for at least ten minutes.”

Presently a Healer arrived, and I spent an unpleasant eternity while he poked, prodded, and then tightly bandaged my ribs. By the time he’d taken himself off, Lord Halladan had departed for another meeting, and Orophin was hovering over a tray of stew, crusty bread and stewed apples, and a mug of ale. “Is this all right?”

“Fine. Don’t look so scared, boy. I’m not going to break into pieces.”

“No, my lord.”

“And stop calling me that. Do you suppose you could find those men?”

He hurried off. By the time I’d finished the apples, he was back, drooping. “I’m sorry, but they said they have to do something else right now.”

I sighed, sent him back to the kitchen or buttery or wherever he’d gotten the tray to return it, kicked one of the chairs close to the window, and fetched one of the atlases. I couldn’t bend over to pick up the sack, so could not examine any of the maps…or the other sack. Glumly I surveyed the situation. If I shoved the second sack with my foot, I could edge it closer to my chair….

“What are you doing?” asked Mistress Nénharma from the doorway.

I looked up, no doubt red-faced from effort and embarrassment. “Trying to get my boot off.”

“So I could see. Why not simply bend over and pull it off with your hands or get a bootjack, instead of trying to push it off with your other foot?” she asked.

“I can’t bend over; I broke two ribs.”

“Oh. I see. Stick your foot out.”

“What?”

“Stick your foot out, please.”

“Why?”

“So I can pull it off for you. It’d be faster, unless, of course, you prefer to spend an hour or so trying to do it your way.” There was a dimple in her cheek; she was not far from laughing although her face was solemn.

I stuck out my foot, obscurely glad that at least I had kept my boots polished. Then I recalled that I needed to darn that stocking’s heel, however, and drew it back. “Thank you, but it won’t be necessary after all.”

“Why not?”

“Because, if you’d be so good as to pick up that sack for me and set it here, I won’t need to try to lift it with my feet.” I could feel the heat in my ears, they must be scarlet.

“Because you didn’t want to risk damaging whatever’s inside the sack,” she deduced.

“Precisely.”

“And why isn’t that young rascal Orophin fetching it for you?”

“I sent him back with the tray.”

“And why is the furniture in a huddle there?”

“I can’t move it, with my ribs.” I felt like a fool. A doddering fool.

Her face was becoming flushed. “Well, of course not, but why would you in any case? The men were supposed to place it properly.”

“They had other things they had to do.”

“Oh, they did, did they? We’ll see about that!”

I began to feel alarmed. “I wasn’t here when they brought it, so they didn’t know and neither did the boy.”

“Anyone with a modicum of sense would know that you would need to have it positioned in the best light, handiest for your work. This isn’t the only office in the Citadel, only the emptiest. It doesn’t take a wizard to figure out one of several possible ways to do it! If a task is worth doing, ‘tis worth doing right and completely!”

“I fully agree,” I said, smiling at her.

She nodded. “I’ll get it sorted.” Realizing she still had the sack in her arms, she set it on the deep windowsill for me, and whisked away.

To my delight, the sack contained some paper, a small bunch of quills, a tightly-corked inkpot with black ink, and a nice set of tablets, if slightly chipped on one corner of the cover, some black sealing-wax, and a plain wooden T seal.

Now I could begin making lists.


I stopped when I realized that my nose was almost touching the map I was squinting at; it was almost dusk. It had dawned on me that if I bent my knees, I could lower myself enough to pull out one rolled parchment. Rising stiffly, I hit against something in the dimness; the desk, moved from where I had last seen it. Apparently, I had been so absorbed I had not noticed its being moved! How foolish of me not to have chosen at least one lamp as well! Mayhap I could do so, or obtain a candle, the next day. Moving cautiously, I transferred my materials to the desk’s top, and left, my steps echoing until I reached the outer hall.

~~~

This is not Hirluin Golsgil, the Lord of Anfalas who led some of his household and some (ill-equipped) men, some 200 in all, to fight at the Battle of the Pelennor, but his late father. The current lord is Marpol’s half-brother, although they barely know each other.

Hîr nin (S. “my lord”) – honorific address to one’s noble or royal superior.

Gwaron-i-Menon (S. “Warden of Roads”) – new position instituted by Elessar. On a par of importance with the Stewards and the Warden of Keys, this official is in charge of and responsible for all the roads in both Arnor and Gondor, and to some degree the bridges and fords as well. To a lesser extent, he will advise on all trade routes in the realms, as well as the building and maintenance of these, from rude trails to the most highly engineered highways.


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