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Marpol the Builder
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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3
Clarifications

On my way out of the Citadel, someone hailed me, and I turned to see Lord Faramir approaching, another Man at his side. “My lord?”

The Steward (I must accustom myself to adding of Gondor, now that there were two!) asked, “I heard that you needed a Healer. Are you well?”

My face heated. Apparently the Citadel was no different from a barracks for gossip spreading quickly! “’Twas nothing of moment, my lord.”

“I am glad to hear that! Please excuse me, gentlemen; I must meet the King for the day-meal,” and with a nod, he hurried off.

“Really, are you well?” asked the Man, and I nodded at my old friend Beregond. We fell into step, going down the corridor toward the Place of the Fountain outside.

“I am indeed, and glad of this chance to congratulate you!” I said heartily. “From a Citadel Guard to Captain of the new White Guard! You will do well!”

“I will try,” he said modestly. “No doubt I’ll make my share of mistakes! ‘Tis a far distance from what I’m used to, and like to be farther yet.”

“Yet it must be a relief to you and Bergil,” I said awkwardly. “It was kind of you to loan me your dress tunic during your own troubles.”

He shrugged. “Well, I wasn’t using it! “

“Still, my thanks.”

“You’re welcome. I hope you’ll accept my apology,” he added.

“Apology? For what?” I asked.

“I saw you the evening after my trial, and avoided you.”

My face reddened. I had known that, and felt an instant’s anger and hurt that I had pushed away. The King had solved the problem of penalizing a Guard who had deserted his post and slain another Guard with the banishment, while contriving to reward him for saving Faramir’s life with Peregrin Took’s aid—but that did not mean that he could consort with a dishonourably discharged veteran with impunity.

“I could understand why,” I said. For my life, I could not keep some of my emotions from showing in my voice.

Our steps had slowed, and now he nodded at the dead Tree before us. Silently, we reverenced it, he with a salute, I with a bow—for I was no longer a soldier, and that cost me a pang. Turning back to me, Beregond said, “I knew it would hurt you, but I didn’t know what else to do.”

“I could understand why,” I repeated.

“But you don’t! Do you think I was ruled by expediency in bypassing an old friend, and at that, one who’s saved my life? One who covered for me when my wife was dying?”

“I would not blame you if you had. You have Bergil to think of.”

“By the Tree, that was not the reason! I met with my company Captain—I mean former captain--after that audience, and we spoke a little about my immediate duties.”

“Besides recruiting, and finding provisions?”

“And having some time off-duty, before meeting with Faramir today.”

I nodded my understanding. “That reminds me: how is Iorlas?”

A relieved smile lit his face. “Impatient to be free of the Houses of Healing, and happy to be on my staff. But that is why I didn’t want to speak with you then, Marpol. I was aware that you were meant for other duties, or I would have asked you to be my Second.”

Second! Other than his own position, there could be no higher one in this new Company! For a moment, I thought enviously of all the exciting adventures they would have, but reminded myself that I too would have some, if in a different direction! I said ruefully, “I will have much to learn.”

“So will I, having no command experience.”

“Then we should help and advise each other, aye?” I suggested.

“I would like that well,” he agreed, and we clasped arms to seal the bargain. “If I may, I will be asking your advice on some soldiers I may consider. Meanwhile, I am to have command of a small expedition to Ithilien, and I confess, I am nervous!”

“When is that?” I asked as we nodded to the guard at the tunnel gate. He stood aside, but glared at Beregond. My steps slowed, but my friend urged me on.

“Don’t, please,” he whispered.

The other guard, at the other end, was already opening the gate, so I said nothing until we were well on the other side. Then I gave vent to my ire. “How dare he be so openly disdainful!”

“Peace, Marpol! I might feel the same in his place. I disobeyed orders, I left my post, and I killed three Men in Rath Dínen!”

“And you kept a madman from murdering his own son!” I snapped. “Valar protect us from soldiers too stupid to think!”

He grinned at me. “How many times were you demoted for demanding or exercising thought as well as obedience?”

“Oh—three, I think. But I was right each time. I am right now.”

“I will believe that—if you will stop seeing yourself as disgraced for doing something that needed doing,” he retorted.

“That Healer needed a punch in the face at the very least,” I muttered.

Beregond grinned. “He was lucky not to be speared by the White Lady later as well, for his treatment of some of the Rohirrim.”

My brows rose. “In truth?”

“Iorlas heard about it from Dame Ioreth. Lady Éowyn came breathing fire, and was narrowly prevented from skewering him by a Dwarf, just before he was arrested.”

“Lord Gimli?”

“Nay, his cousin, now his assistant. Lord Gimli is the Ambassador of the King Under the Mountain to us now, and Prince Dalfinor is his second. House Ornamir is now their embassy.”

“So I heard,” I nodded. “Can you tell me more of this expedition?”

“I am to choose the soldiers in it; we leave tomorrow morning. There will be civilians on it too; Prince Dalfinor, Prince Legolas of the Elves, and Lady Cormallen and her maid, as well.”

“If I were you, I’d put the word about for any Guards interested in being part of your Company to volunteer,” I suggested. “That way, you’ll have a chance to see how they are in the field, so to speak, before making a decision.”

He brightened. “That is a good thought! Do you have any names for me?”

“Ask for Imsienel,” I said. “I think he would know of any whose families were from Ithilien. Surely now some will want that duty, if only to be able to tell their families, in hopes of reclaiming them someday. I know that Lady Cormallen has longed to go there all her life, ever since she left as a babe.”

Beregond noted the name on his tablets, but blinked. “Is the lady so old? I had not thought so.”

“She is older than she seems,” I said cautiously. “But not so old as all that!”

“But folk left Ithilien when Minas Ithil fell—“

“And that was, indeed, one hundred and eight years past,” I agreed. “However, while most left, not all did. Her parents wished to stay, and did, until some forty or fifty years ago. How they managed not to be found by orcs until then, I cannot tell you, but I know that her second spouse, my friend Jehan Clerk, told me with some pride that they stayed until after she was born.”

“My own folk were from there, long ago,” he said thoughtfully.

“She’s no court lady, all lace and languor,” I assured him. “Expect wisdom and kindness. She has great skill in lore and healing.”

“Then perhaps what I heard, that she bears a blade, is true.”

“I had not heard that, but if she does, you may be certain she is learning to wield it well. She is a good friend of Lady Éowyn’s; perhaps she is training her.”

By now we had reached the rambarad down to the Fifth Circle. Beregond asked, “Will you come home with me? Or to the Sword and Bough for some dinner?”

“Nay, another time,” I answered. “You will have a hard time leaving your house, after living there so long.”

His face shadowed, and I cursed myself for an insensitive fool—until he surprised me by smiling. “I shall tell you something I did not myself realize at first, Marpol—I am not banished from the city.”

“You aren’t? But I thought the King decreed—“

“He said in his sentence that I must leave the Guard, and the city…and he also said that all penalty was remitted, so I am not completely banished. I may come here sometimes, for brief periods, but the bulk of my time shall be spent across the river in Moon-land. We shall have a barracks on the Pelennor, I misdoubt, for there really is no more room in the Sixth Level barracks, nor in the Citadel. I have resolved that I shall not be here often, unless the King or Prince command. It is all right. As I said, my folk came from Ithilien.

“But I’m relieved that you are not angry with me. “Tis a shame that we shall be at opposite ends of the realm!”

“As to that, I too shall be in the city at times, and who knows? I may be able to spend some time looking at roads in Ithilien! And we can send letters; I hear that the King’s Post will be operating soon. Meanwhile, I’m not sure when I go North. For now, I’ll be here, and we can meet now and again.”

He said cordially, “I shall look forward to it.”

“You must tell me how you find Ithilien after you return,” I said, and after another arm-clasp, we parted. He strode off, whistling under his breath, and I too felt cheered, until I thought of the guard we had passed, who had almost openly sneered at him. Still, I could not force him to change his opinion…for the time, at least.


The next day was spent intently poring over maps and books, and I felt dusty inside and out when I made my way into the common room of the Spotted Orc. Before I could find a seat on a bench, the innkeeper beckoned to me. “If I might have a word?”

“Surely,” I agreed, following him into the bustling kitchen and outside into the stableyard. “Is aught amiss, Master Aerden?”

“Not amiss, ‘zactly,” he replied. “I heard as you ain’t in the Guard no more.”

“That is so,” I admitted. “I have obtained another position, up in the Citadel.”

“'Nen you won’t mind a-takin’ o’ your custom elsewheres, will you?”

“Elsewhere?” I repeated.

“You ain’t welcome t' stay ‘ere,” he amplified, and backed up a few steps.

I realized that my hand was groping for a sword-hilt—but of course I had handed my company-issued weapons over to the quartermaster when I was discharged, and had not replaced them as yet. All I had was my eating-dagger, not that was really a weapon. But I could not endanger my new position by brawling! Still, this made no sense to me; I wanted to know why. “Why not?”

“I’d like you t’ go, Master!”

I rubbed the bridge of my nose, perplexed. “But why? I don’t believe I’m in arrears in what I owe you.”

“No, you ain’t, but all’s I ‘low vet’rans is two nights, an’ you’ve ‘ad more’n that.”

“Which I paid for, along with my meals, quite fairly,” I pointed out.

“’Nen we’re quits, ain’t we? I gots a right t’ decide ‘oo I ‘ave in m’ own inn!” he said stubbornly. “Or do I need t’ call the City Patrol?”

“May I sleep in the loft tonight?” I tried to compromise, my ears burning.

“Nay! ‘Tis full up! ‘F you got a new job, go seek lodgin’ with your fellows. But you can’t stay ‘ere!”

“Very well,” I said with what dignity I could muster, and walked out, through the arch to the street. As I began to march away—where?—I had not gone more than two houses before I heard footsteps pattering behind me; I swung around as a hand touched my arm.

“’S just me, Master!”

I looked down at the boot-boy. “Gerdric?”

“I heared all. You don’ unnerstand, do ye?”

“Nay, I do not.”

“Master’s nowt a bad sort, just graspin’. “Tis Mistress’ fault. She says t’ ‘im, she says, ‘Coin t’ be made from all thon foreign folk a-comin’ ‘ere. Time t’ raise your rates. Roust out all the folk’s been stayin’, an’ ‘ire out their space t’ the incomers, only ‘igher, see?’ ‘E’s been fair wettin’ hisself with fear o’ you all day! We all been bettin’ as t’ which ‘e feart more, you or ‘er. Reckon ‘tis ‘er! See, now ‘e c’n charge ‘nother copper a night.”

“He’s charging three coppers for the privilege of wrapping myself in my cloak and lying on his floor under a bench a night? That’s highway robbery!” I said indignantly.

“’Tis four t’ sleep in the loft, an' more for a room upstairs. Drinks an’ food’s gone up, too,” the boy told me. “Our wages ain’t, though!” He spat through the gap of a missing tooth onto the cobbles.

I patted his thin shoulder. “My thanks for your explaining this to me. You won’t get in trouble for coming after me, will you?”

“’E don’ dast lay a ‘and on me. I knows summat ‘e don’t want told.”

“Still, best you run back. My thanks, lad.” I flipped him a bronze, and he deftly caught it, winked, and ran back as I made my way upward.

I had no fellows to speak of now—the mere idea of my asking Lords Húrin, Halladan or Faramir for house-room made me both smile and wince—and I already knew that the city was still bursting with people come for the coronation and attendant excitements. I doubted that there was a free spot on any inn or tavern floor, or hayloft, in the entire city. My purse was getting lighter, with no wages as yet. With the City Patrol back in operation, I could not simply find a vacant corner or doorway to lie in—and the thought of the new Warden being taken up like a vagrant was not tenable. Yet I did not want to wander the streets all night, and while I knew I could no doubt manage to slip out the gap where the Great Gates had been into the Pelennor, I had heard rumors of dangerous Men out to seize what they could from whomever they could.

I realized that my feet had borne me to the Citadel tunnel entrance, and the Guards (a different pair this time) allowed me through. Of course; I could easily spend the night in my own office, until I could find other accommodation, with no one the wiser. I was accustomed to rising early.


Two days later, I roused to a mutter of thunder. An early morning storm was crashing overhead, and I levered myself off the floor, untangling my legs from my cloak with a groan.

Thanking whatever Vala had prompted the Citadel’s architect to include a necessary in our suite, I went to it to ready myself for the day. Returning to my office, I bit into an apple I had saved from the previous day’s morsel as I turned the leaves of my current book.

“What’s in here, do you suppose?” asked a high voice, and I turned to see a child’s curly head in the doorway. No, three children—no, it was three of the four Periannath who were friends of the King, great heroes despite their short stature. I rose and bowed stiffly.

“Oops!” said the first one, the tallest, as some of my books and maps slid off the windowsill to the floor.

“Oh, Merry!” The thinnest, with wavy dark hair, had two pink spots on his pale cheeks.

The stockiest shook his sandy head. “That’s done it! Sorry, Master. ’Ere, let us 'elp with that.”

“Please, don’t trouble yourself,” I protested, but they were all picking them up.

“Why are you balancing on that sill when you’ve got a perfectly good desk and table over here?” asked the first one.

“’Cos they ain’t in good light for fine work an’ there’s no lamps,” said the stocky one.

The dark one called them to order. “And we’re interrupting that work!” He bowed to me. “Please forgive us. I am Frodo Baggins, and these are my unrepentant and curious cousin Merry Brandybuck, and Samwise Gamgee, the most sensible one of us.”

“At your service and your family’s,” chorused the others, also bowing.

“As I am at yours, my lords,” I replied. “I’m Marpol Vittribula. May I help you with something?”

“Oh, the Warden of the Roads!” Frodo’s face lit up. “You remember, Sam, Strider was telling us about that last night a
t dinner.”
“It was just my being curious about exploring more of the Citadel,” Merry said. “We’ve been doing it a bit at a time, it’s such a big old place, although not as big as the Great Smials or Brandy Hall, where we live at home in the Shire.”

“I’m not sure ‘bout that, Master Merry,” Sam said. “You was just appointed, wasn’t you, Master?”

“Aye, a few days ago.”

“But why’re you all alone here? We thought these rooms was empty, or we wouldn’t’ve barged in the way we did.”

“The way you did, Merry,” Frodo said.

“Oh, right, you’re just the tail on my kite, I suppose. You were just as bored with sitting as I was, Frodo!”

Sam had vanished, now reappearing with a stool. “You set down 'ere, Master Frodo.”

“I’m fine,” said Frodo, although he sat down at once.

I said, “I apologize for not having suitable seats for you.”

Merry had climbed onto a chair and sat, legs swinging. “It looks as if you just moved in.”

“I did,” I agreed. “I imagine Lord Halladan’s staff will be coming shortly.”

“Lord Halladan?” queried Frodo.

“Strider’s cousin? I mean, the King’s cousin. Why?” Merry asked.

“This is his suite.”

All three heads shook in negation. Frodo said, “No, his rooms are near the King’s. He’s been using an office next to Faramir’s, when he isn’t with the other Rangers from the north, that is, or with Strider. Aragorn, I mean.”

“An’ if you’re a warden, well, Lord Húrin’s got the whole House o’ the Keys, an’ an office at the Conclave buildin’ an’ one ‘ere to boot,” said Sam, “so why would you have just this one room ‘stead o’ this whole suite? That don’t seem right, beggin’ your pardon.”

“Ah, but he is Lord Húrin,” I pointed out. “I’m much less important. Why, just days ago I was a soldier in the Guards. It’s probably temporary. But you are from the North, are you not? Could you tell me where, exactly?” Eagerly I partly unrolled a map, but the windowsill was insufficient, and I carried it to the table.

It seemed only a few minutes before a page was knocking on the doorway. “Your pardons, but the King is looking for the Periannath to attend him at the noon meal, small masters.”

“Goodness, how the morning has flown!” said Frodo from his seat between us; Sam and I had put his stool on the table, while the other two sat cross-legged on it, all of them commenting on the map as I drew it at their direction, tracing the route between the small village of Bree just outside their homeland of Sûza, to use its older name, and Rohan. Merry had had a much hazier idea of elevations and distance than the others, while I found that Sam was most acute about the growing things along the way.

I helped them down from table to chair to floor, and we exchanged bows again before they went out and I returned to my notes…..

“Master Vittribula!”

I whirled (and suppressed a grunt). The King stood in my doorway, his brows drawn in a scowl, clearly very angry.

“Sweet Valar, it’s true!” he gritted. His stormy glance flicked over the room, and I was suddenly, acutely, aware of the disarray of furniture, the scattering of papers, quills, an applecore, books and maps and three stools from the table to the windowsill, my pack in the corner with my cloak draped over it, and my own untidy self. “Come with me!”

I obeyed. He led me to a pleasant dining-room, where the Halflings were already seated at a lower section of the table, sharing it with Faramir, Halladan, three Elves, a Dwarf, and Mithrandir, and pointed at an empty chair. “Sit and eat.”

A servant hurriedly provided me with what I needed, and I found myself with a good appetite, despite the King’s evident displeasure. Conversation flowed over and around me; I noted that he too did not participate.

At the end of the meal, as we rose he said curtly, “Halladan, Master Vittribula, I would have words with you both, please.”

The rest left, the three Hobbits, who’d been joined by a fourth as tall as Merry but in the black and silver of the Guard, looking worried.

A servant closed the door.

“Oh, for Valars’ sakes, stop standing at attention as if I’m going to court-martial you!” he snapped.

I said under my breath, “Already done,” but he heard me nonetheless and glared.

I glared back; for once, I was going to have my say, and Void take the consequences! What could he do, exile me to Mordor? From all accounts, it was a ruin now. “With respect, my lord, I have been on this task you assigned me for less than a seven-day, and yet you are expecting miracles? Unfortunately, I am not Mithrandir.”

“You aren’t some poor ragtag relation, either! What do you mean by acting like one? Your offices empty, your staff unengaged, your work undone except for entertaining Hobbits who should have been elsewhere, no one knows where you are staying in the city, and looking like a vagabond on top of it!”

“How do you expect me to do any of those things when I have neither money nor authority with which to do them?” I demanded. All the years of making do without sufficient means for a task suddenly boiled up in a rage I barely held in check.

“You have my warrant.”

“A piece of fancy parchment that no one believes! Eru Himself, I am so weary of this! “Tis no different than the army! I am sick of being the dogsbody expected to do much with little! You give me an order I don’t understand, without training or resources, and then reprimand me for not doing it perfectly immediately!”

“You have resources; draw on them!”

“A piece of parchment,” I repeated. “No one honours it. Why should they give anything to a disgraced soldier with no influence? “

“I thought you had courage—“

“That is enough!” I roared. “How dare you call me coward when you do not know me? I may not have fought as many years as you have, King Elessar, but I wager I’ve fought as many battles of supplies and politics and malfeasance and just plain graft as you have orcs, if not as openly. I get the job done despite all that! But I cannot produce order without cooperation from upper or lower command any more than you can sit your backside on that throne without aid.”

Someone laughed. It was the Wizard—-when had he come in?--who took his pipe from his white-bearded mouth to say, “He’s right, Aragorn,” from where he sat next to an expressionless Halladan.

“Acting a right twit, as the Hobbits would say,” agreed Halladan with a sudden grin. “Cousin, you hired him to build roads, not to be a whipping-boy to take your frustrations. I hope you don’t quit, Marpol, although I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”

“You wouldn’t?” Somehow I felt deflated.

“No. Without meaning to, we put you in an untenable position. Both of us have been so busy we didn’t spend enough time with you in the beginning. You know it’s true, Aragorn.”

“Not that it’s an excuse, but an explanation.” The corner of the King’s mouth twitched. He held out his hand. “Please forgive me. That throne I rest my backside upon is akin to the biggest patch of Mordor nettles I’ve ever encountered. The old-timers here are…resistant to my ideas, and there is much stagnation and corruption here, under the polished surface. Will you sit down with us and discuss this? I do apologize for impugning your valour.”

“I’m no more a hero than a lord.” I said, seating myself cautiously.

“Your ribs are still paining you? Three of his cracked ribs broke the other day, Aragorn,” Halladan told him. “I still don’t understand why you tried to move that desk yourself.”

“Two, not three. It was a table. No one else was by, and I wanted better light.”

“But why didn’t you summon servants to help you? Why aren’t you getting on with equipping yourself?”

“Not to put too fine a point on it, I need money to do so, and I don’t have any. I paid that Healer, and it didn’t leave much, nor have I drawn any pay; the treasury official I spoke with didn’t believe you’d hired me. My lord. They see me as a disgraced soldier—“

“As you do yourself,” said the King.

I tightened my jaw. “As I am,” I said evenly.

“That is a stupid regulation, in your case. And what do you mean, you aren’t a lord?”

“Sire, no matter how fancy, an empty title won’t change the fact that I’m a common ex-veteran who was dishonourably dismissed for fighting.”

The King crossed his long legs and propped one arm on his knee. “My sense was that half the city wanted to thank you for doing what they longed to do.”

“I haven’t spent much time in the city lately,” I said carefully.

“You’ll find many warriors, especially the Rohirrim, happy to buy you a drink for that.”

“Then mayhap I should seek employment there.” I was appalled the instant the words had left my mouth, for I had no desire to leave Gondor. Angry though I was, these were exciting times in my country, and I wanted to share in them.

“Ah, now we come to discussing terms,” said the King. “Very well. We should have done so ere this. How can we make it easier for you?”

I goggled at him. Lord Denethor would never have asked such a question, so far as I knew, nor any commander I had ever had.

“Give him a title,” Mithrandir advised.

“Where is it you came from again?” King Elessar asked.

“Rond Randir in Anfalas,” I told him.

He thought for a moment and drew his sword. “Stand up, please, Normally, I’d have you kneel, but not with those ribs.” The flat of his blade touched each of my shoulders and my head. “I hereby create you Lord Tintehlë. It’s an old family from Anfalas and the North that died out; I always liked the name. The Crown will bestow upon you the lands and revenues that have been held in trust for a new heir. I’ll have the Patent made out and a copy given you.”

“Can you do that?” I gasped.

“I sit my backside on the throne, so yes, I can, and I choose to do so. One of the petitions I listened to at excruciating length this morning was how to find or create some of those lost heirs and how to access some of that money being held for them. This will be one less. I shall also have Faramir instruct the Treasury to pay attention to our Writs, and the monies for your office shall be made available. This insular attitude towards me and mine must be addressed, and I promise you it shall be. We shall also begin to emphasize how important the work of the Warden of Roads is to all of us. But you are not disgraced, my lord; far from it. And you shall have cooperation, my word on it.”

I nodded, feeling dazed. “If I may ask…does it have a meaning, this House name?”

“Certainly. It means ‘wayfinder.’ Does that meet with your approval? And I forgot to ask if you speak Sindarin, Quenyan or Adûnaic. Apparently not.”

“I read Sindarin and some Quenyan, my lord, but since I was self-taught, am not always certain of pronunciations.”

His eyebrows rose. “Self-taught?”

“Aye, my lord. Two of my books are grammars, and I used to go through them every year; each time I get a bit farther, but a non-com like me doesn’t get many chances to speak either.”

“You were not educated with your half-brothers?”

“No.”

Halladan interposed, “So what would you need?”

“Well, what exactly is it that you want me to do? Build you a road to Fornost? You already have one, of sorts.”

“Fornost? Why Fornost?” Both of them looked bewildered.

Mithrandir chuckled. “Ah, I see the hand, or rather, the tales of the Hobbits in this. They’ve been talking to you about Arvedui Last-King, haven’t they?”

“Who reigned at Fornost, only they called it King’s Norbury,” I said.

“That’s true, he did, and he was the last king of Arthedain,” Elessar agreed. “But you see, I am King of not only Arthedain but also of Cardolan and Rhuadar, which all make up Arnor. And I had in mind the road going to Annúminas, the old capitol on the shores of Lake Evendim.”

I thought about that as Halladan said, “We need to bring all of Arnor into union with Gondor.”

“Except Bree and the Shire,” said Elessar, locking his gaze with his cousin’s, who nodded. “To an extent, that is. However, that is another topic. What will you need for the task, Lord Tintehlë? In time, we also will need roads to other portions of our realm, to Minas Morgul when it is purified and reclaimed, as well as a resettled Ithilien and other places. But I wish you to attend to Arnor first; it is vital that it be connected to Gondor.”

“Very well, my lords, then what kind of road do you want?”

“What kind?” he repeated. “I do not understand you.”

“There are five kinds of roads,” I told them. “The first, and rarest now, are the Great Roads, Men Ardh, of which few remain. The nearest example, the Men Aran, runs right outside the Great Gates. Its remnants include the North-way, the Great North Road, the West Road from Mering Stream through Rohan, where it is renamed as the Great South Road, and then the Greenway from Tharbad’s ruins to Fornost, also a ruin. If you wish there to be a similar road further north to Lake Evendim,, that will be expensive. It also depends on how elaborate you want to be.”

“Could you elaborate on that comment?” asked Halladan, and the King groaned at the pun even while he nodded.

“Certainly. Do you intend it, or parts of it, to be a toll road? Do you wish there to be patrols? If so, where will they be based? Do you want to build way-stations at intervals along it? Will the nobles and smaller landowners pay taxes on it? Will they maintain it, or will the Crown, or will there be some shared arrangement? Will treaties with Rohan include similar arrangements there? Do your plans include re-establishing Tharbad and its bridge (which fell into the marshes surrounding it; how healthy is that place?) and Fornost, as well as Annúminas? Or do you wish the second kind, Men Drand? Regional roads such as those are not quite as expensive, since they have cobbles instead of the paving, and usually they are maintained by the landowners, who own the ground they are on although travelers have the right to cross on them. The third kind are Men-en, or Middle Roads. These are unpaved, so one has to deal with more maintenance issues to do with erosion, and greater problems with mud and dust for the traveler. Because they are local, they are entirely maintained by the locals, whether villagers or farmers; they are under their jurisdiction with the usual travelers’ rights. The fourth kind really are of little concern at the moment, because they are the Ostrand, civil streets and roads just outside of and going through a city, town or village. And of possible crucial importance for this particular task, is the last kind, the Bád, those trails and paths trodden into a sparsely-inhabited area over the Ages. They are always fairly narrow, never paved, and with little maintenance to speak of compared to the other types.”

“I see. Now I understand why you have been asking about finances.” Elessar rubbed his chin, looking slightly dazed. “Do you think this unmanageable for the near term, since I must also think of rebuilding the realm?”

“Nay, my lord, because you are right—it is important. Do you wish me to swear to you?”

“I would like that, if you will not kneel; I don’t want those ribs stressed. But we can wait until you are able, if you prefer.” He laid his hand on my shoulder.

“If convenient, my lord. It is an important event for me.”

Elessar nodded, dropping his hand as we resumed our seats. “Very well. Please continue with your thoughts.”

“The next thing I need to do, once I am sure I have all the information that I can gather here, is to survey the area, to see on the ground what needs to be done most urgently.”

“And what about staff? What else do you require?”

“An assistant will do, to begin, if I may have the one I want. I will also need tools, supplies, scribes….”

“Draw up your lists of requirements, my lord, and they will be met. You have access to me whenever you need it; I shall pass that word to my household.”

“Thank you, Sire. I shall not abuse that privilege.”

“Good, I shall see you later. Halladan, you and I need to talk with Faramir—“

I bowed to the three of them, and left the room, finding my way back to my room—no, to my suite.


Deep in thought about all that had happened in such a short time, and the huge task that lay ahead of me, I almost bumped into the small figure standing forlornly in the doorway, and put out my hand to keep both our balances. My grasp of a thin arm resulted in the boy’s cringing back, throwing up his other arm defensively—and his sleeve slid back, showing me a large bruise on his pale skin.

“Easy, now!” I said. “Who hurt you, lad?”

The boy’s eyes filled with tears. “S-sorry, m’lord,” he choked.

I patted his shoulder, and felt him wince. “Right, now, out of that tunic.”

“M-my lord?”

“Take off that tunic, Orophin. I’m going to take a look at your back.”

“No need o’ that. I’m fine.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” I said firmly.

His thin back and arms were blackened with bruises and there were some ugly weals as well; someone had expertly beaten him more than once.

I found some ointment in my pack, smeared it on, helped him put the tunic back on, and said flatly, “You are resigning right now.”

“Quittin'? No, m’lord, I can’t! M’ uncle’d be furious, after gettin’ me the place!”

“Take me to whomever it is supervises the pages,” I commanded.

“But—“

“Come along, lad.”

He led me to the buhdelir’s office, where that worthy was supervising several footmen polishing some silver and gold plate. “What’s the worthless little brat done now?”

I looked him up and down as if he was a raw recruit. “Name?”

“Argarátar. Who do you think—“

I loomed over him and flourished my warrant under his nose, making sure he saw the seals. “I am Marpol Hír Tintehlë, Warden of Roads, appointed by King Elessar, and I am not accustomed to the poor service I’ve been receiving since my arrival! I’ve been here for days, and my suite of offices has furnishings in only one chamber, and that not properly arranged. Don’t you people have the wits to realize I’d need decent lamps? I’ve had to lodge in an inn, not in the quarters promised me. Are these the standards of the Citadel under your administration, Master Artgan?”—I deliberately mangled his name, as being of little importance— “You are so remiss in your duties, I daresay that in time I shall see you again—in chains, labouring on the northern roads with other felons.”

“Are you mad?”

I bared my teeth in a chilling smile inches from his nose. “Nay, you are, if you think the King will tolerate any slackness of duty or cruelty to subordinates. Do you not know that one of his favorite punishments is to sentence wrongdoers to the work-gangs? You may be labouring beside Healer Ladrahirmenion, or some bully-boy from Wooden-town, breaking rock in all weathers, in the North leagues from anywhere.” I reached out and felt his (scrawny) upper arm. “A bit flabby, but a few weeks of hard labour will toughen you up.”

He paled. “But—but there’s no civilization in the North!”

“Exactly why he is allowing me free rein in helping to bring it there,” I said softly. “You will find other ways to discipline your workers here, Argling, or I will ensure that you join me there. Do you understand me?”

“Y-yes,” he whispered.

“You will cooperate with me while I am here. You and the other servants will act as if they serve the greatest king in the history of Gondor, promptly, courteously and properly. Or you will find yourselves becoming acquainted with shackles and pickaxes and shovels. You will treat each other, no matter their rank, with kindness and courtesy, as you would wish others to treat you. Do you understand me?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, Gwaeron! Yes, my lord!”

Disgusting little toad! I stepped back. “Orophin, fetch your things and meet me at my suite.” A sudden thought made me turn back. “Oh, that under-housekeeper, what was her name?—Ah, I have it, Mistress Nénharma. Where is she?”

“She has been dismissed, my lord, as of yesterday. She was absent from her duties.”

“Good,” I said. “Well, as you were. Carry on.”

I strode out, one of the footmen leaping to open the door for me. In the passage, I shook my head. I should be ashamed of bullying such a travesty of a Man, but I wasn’t. Let him squirm! It had been a mild dressing-down, compared to some I had had from real experts in the military art of verbal flaying. This was a poor beginning to my new endeavors, but if it saved some poor lad or lass from mistreatment, it was perhaps justified.


Back in my room, I had barely stirred up the fire to gain some light, when three footmen appeared, carrying lights and trays of food and drink. The buhdelier was even now overseeing the dusting of my new bed-chamber, and all would be ready shortly. Was there anything they could do for me meanwhile?

With the addition of several standing-lamps, and leaping flames adding their light in the fireplace, I directed them in rearranging the locations of table, desk, and chairs in the main room before dismissing them. Munching on some I was beginning to be anxious about Orophin when he came running in, smiling. “Did I thank you, my lord?”

“No need. Where are your things?”

“In the servant’s closet in your rooms, my lord, your other rooms, I mean. All’s ready, and I came to show you where they are. Shall I take your pack?”

“Isn’t it too heavy for you, lad?”

“I don’t have broken ribs,” he said pertly, scooping it up. “I’ve never seen ‘im in such a takin’! You scared ‘im proper!”

“I’m sorry you saw me bully him. His poor behavior doesn’t excuse mine.”

“He won’t dast bully no one now; he’ll be too ‘fraid they’d come tell you! It was a good thing you did, for all of us. I’m just sorry he didn’t let me attend you the last few days. I wanted t’ come, but he kept sendin’ me elsewhere. Am I really to be your boy, my lord?”

“I’m a new lord, Orophin, as of this afternoon, and not really too sure of what’s expected,” I said ruefully. “But I’m sure you’ll be a big help to me.”

“I’ll do m’ best, my lord!”

“I know you will.” I followed him up a stair and along another passage, until he stopped before a handsome carved set of doors and opened them to bow me inside.

“Here you are, my lord. Will they do?”

Argarátar was turning from a table set for a meal for one with an obsequious smile and bow of his own. “Will these suit you, my lord?”

All at once, weariness flowed over me. “I suppose so,” I said. “Leave me, please.”

“At once, my lord!” He shooed two maids and the footmen out ahead of himself, as Orophin said, “There’s a bath drawn for you in the bathing-room, my lord, if you want it.”

“It sounds wonderful, lad, but I doubt it would suit these bindings around my chest,” I said unhappily.

“And you might strain yourself a-gettin’ in an’ out,” he nodded as I yawned. “Your bed’s this way.”

It wasn’t merely one room, but another suite, this one having a sitting-room, the bed-chamber with a smaller one next to it for him, a bathing-room, the necessary, and some storage. I sat down on the edge of the bed, and Orophin produced a bootjack, to aid in pulling off my boots. I struggled out of my tunic, shirt and trews with his help, and he brought me a warmed bed-gown that felt very soft over my smallclothes. I inched between the sheets and lay back with a sigh. “Sleep well, my lord,” he said as he blew out the light; I slept before he closed the door behind him.

~~~

Marpol's description of the five kinds of roads is based upon the system used by the Romans in their empire; they are still regarded as some of the formemost road-builders in history.


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