The next morning, I awoke to warmth against my side; my exploring fingers found a bottle wrapped in a towel. I sat up with a grunt to look at it, just as the door cracked open and Orophin came in with a bow. “Good morrow, m’lord,” he said cheerfully.
I waved the bottle. “Where did this come from?”
“The kitchen, m’lord. I thought ‘bout what you said, how you couldn’t bathe ‘cos o’ your bandaged ribs, an’ I ‘membered ‘ow my mum used to tuck hot bottles in the bed on cold nights when I was little. So I thought, why not against your side, an’ brought ‘em up.”
“Well, I changed the cooled one for warmer ones a couple of times, so’s you wouldn’t chill an’ undo the warmth.”
“That was kind. My thanks, but shouldn’t you have slept?”
“Oh, I did, m’lord; my bed’s right comfortable. Did you sleep well?”
“Aye, I did,” I said, vaguely surprised that it was true. “What time is it?”
“An hour after dawn, m’lord. I brought up a tray so you c’n break your fast, if you want.”
“Have you eaten?”
“Aye, m’lord, I et a while ago, with t’other pages. I had to explain to Ser Pharmagalin, who’s over ‘em and the younger members o’ different courtiers’ families, that now I’m not one of the Citadel servants no more. Master Argarátar backed me up but said as ‘ow I ought to eat with ‘em unless you have other duties for me. I’m to keep wearing Court livery ‘til you have one for me. There’s hot water in the necessary, too, m’lord, if you want to wash up an’ shave.”
“I’ll eat first, and then get dressed,” I said. Smothering more groans, I rose, put on the furred bed-gown he held for me (where had that come from?) and went into the next room. There I found a round table in a bow window, laid for breakfast with one place and a big basket of breads and pastries, some cut-up fruit, a big bowl of porridge, a plate of eggs and sausage, and smaller dishes of jams, butter, and soft cheeses, as well as my choice of juices, ale or tea. I chose the tea and helped myself to the food.
“What happened to the meal I forgot about last night?” I asked. “I hate to think of food being wasted.”
“’Twasn’t,” he assured me. “I et some, an’ stowed away what wouldn’t spoil afore a maid come for the tray. I hope that don’t anger you, m’lord; by then you was asleep, and I hadn’t had no day-meal. I felt hollow!”
“We must keep some things on hand here that won’t attract vermin,” I said. “I may have to entertain guests—“ Not that I could imagine whom I’d invite! “—with scant notice, when the kitchen is closed or busy., but that is for later.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Half an hour later, ready for the day, I made my way down to my work-room, where I found Lord Halladan just about to knock. “Here I am, my lord,” I said.
“Ah, greetings,” he said with a smile. “Although I think perhaps you should be a bit less formal when we aren’t public, don’t you?”
“As you wish,” I said awkwardly.
“I do. We Northerners aren’t too fussy about protocol—which is going to cause my cousin some problems, no doubt.” His eyes twinkled as he sat down. “Nice to know that you are no longer sleeping wrapped in your cloak in the corner.”
I flushed. “No,” I contented myself with saying as I chose another chair. “Should I apologize?”
“Valar, no! Why should you?”
“He may not relish my bullying his buhdelier.”
“Oh, but he did! Yes, the tale’s all over the Citadel by now. From all accounts, the staff are blessing you, and so is Aragorn, for the man’s self-importance and attitude have been an annoyance. Aragorn did not take the time to deal with it; I think he felt awkward as to how, knowing it will take time to win them over to the change in administration, but you have accomplished it for him, and he’s grateful.”
“Did you wish to discuss anything specifically, Halladan?” I asked after a pause while he filled his pipe.
“Well—” he puffed at the stem, sending out plumes of aromatic smoke. “That’s better. Well, I wanted to suggest that you spend some time today fixing up the rest of your rooms and choosing at least part of your key staff. You need an assistant, and someone to help you with managing your household. Before I forget, here is this.” He set a large, clinking purse on my desk. “You can draw on the Treasury when you need more. Oh, and I have this to give you; a messenger came with it just as I approached your door.” He handed me a sealed note.
“And perhaps we can meet later today or tomorrow when you have more to share with me about how you mean to go on in the near future. I have to go meet Faramir for some sparring. By the way, when you feel up to it, you are welcome to do so too.”
“I will have to get some weapons of my own,” I said, brightening. I had missed having a sword at my side, not that I needed it on my person in these surroundings.
He nodded, and took his leave.
I noted the fine paper of the note and the green wax of a seal showing a book and quill, and opened it to read:
The day’s greetings to Marpol, Lord Tintehlë, Warden of Roads, from Silwen, Lady Ornamir:
I believe you know my daughter-in-love, Lady Cormallen. She is not in the City at the moment, but suggested that I invite you to a mid-morning repast, called by the Holbytla “elevenses” at that hour, at the House of Hammer & Forge, formerly House Ornamir, Sixth Circle. Ambassador Gimli wishes to meet with you. I look forward to our meeting.
—Silwen, Lady Ornamir
Smiling, I put on my cloak and scribbled a note for Orophin, in case anyone needed me.
The House of Hammer & Forge, formerly House Ornamir, was a handsome mansion with an equally handsome brass plaque discreetly announcing it as the Dwarvish embassy. I knocked the gleaming knocker once before the door was opened by a bowing servant, who ushered me in and to the parlor. Lady Ornamir rose to greet me with a curtsy and introduced me to Lord Gimli, the Dweorg envoy; we exchanged bows.
“I’m so glad you came, my lord,” smiled Lady Silwen. “We are quite in the fashion, trying out this custom the Periannath have of a light mid-morning repast. Silma told me that you were one of Master Clerk’s dearest friends.”
Gimli rumbled, “’Tis an honour, my lord. My cousin and Lady Silma were able to retrieve a few of his notebooks, but if you know of any of his devices, it would be a great help if you told us.”
A knock on the door heralded a pair of pretty maids bringing in the promised snack, and I accepted a cup of tea and a small plate of pastries from my hostess. “I will gladly check my notes and letters I received from him; are there particular subjects you are interested in? He was a Man of many interests as well as of great ingenuity. The two of us collaborated on several projects.”
“We are especially interested in anything about devices to help those who are ill and disabled,” Lady Ornamir told me, “Silma and I have been charged by the King to continue and expand our work in aiding the permanently disabled.”
“They took in some of those ejected from the Houses of Healing by Ladramenhirion,” the Dwarf said proudly, “both of Gondor and Rohan.”
“I had heard rumors, but could hardly credit them,” I said. “My anger at that Healer was about his mistreatment of Jehan Clerk’s body.”
“The rumours are true,” said Lady Silwen, handing Lord Gimli a cup. I was surprised that he was not having ale; don’t all Dwarves prefer it?
“And yet, you, another lord of Gondor, punched him,” said Gimli.
“I meant rumors about his ejecting anyone from Rohan. I lost my temper about his kicking out our soldiers and mistreating Jehan. And I’ve only been a lord since yesterday. Before that I was a bastard nobody.”
“from what Silma told me, you have never been a nobody, my lord,” the lady said softly.
“My thanks, Lady Ornamir.”
“Please, when we are private, call me Silwen. I too came from a commoner background before my marriage.”
I managed not to raise an eyebrow, for she was certainly a lady from her perfectly coiffed hair under its lacy cap to the tips of her elegant shoes, barely showing beneath her gracefully disposed skirts. “You are most kind, Lady Silwen. At any rate, I’ve been made a lord to lend weight to my new position as Warden of the Roads—but I’m still a bastard, and I still was court-martialed, and now I seem to be gaining a reputation as a bully,” I sighed.
“Folk will judge by your overall conduct, not by a couple of isolated incidents. Most have more than enough of their own concerns to occupy them,” Gimli said bluntly. “This realm has many wounds to staunch, much for all to do. Now, my lord, I have a request, if I may.” He set down his cup decisively. “My cousin and I have been asked by the King to do a survey of local bridges; I shall see to it that you receive copies of our findings. I shall also send to my uncle’s halls for any information they may have about road-building, to be forwarded to you.”
I stared at him in amazement; Dwarves were known to be secretive. “My lord Ambassador, this is not a request, but a wonderful gift! How can I thank you?’
“By agreeing to my request. We Dweorg believe that many hands—and minds—improve a casting meant to benefit all. I was hoping that you would be willing to tell my cousin and me what aid we can expect from the military and artisans in our work, for I have promised to superintend the replacement of the Great Gates. And as a skilled engineer, any insights you might have into our plans would be most welcomed.”
“I shall gladly do so, if I may be of any service,” I readily agreed as I felt excitement thrill through me. A chance to learn from those master builders the Dwarves was not to be dismissed lightly!
“I believe you know another cousin of mine, Bomgan?”
I laughed aloud. “Indeed, I do! How is he?”
“Well, the last I heard. He told me that he had met and taken a liking to you, when he was engaged to oversee the rebuilding of a tower in Anfalas years ago.”
“I very much wanted to study with him,” I remembered. “However, my lord father had other plans for me; I was bundled off into the army the day after my mother’s burial. Please do remember me to him. I am surprised that he mentioned me.”
“He was much struck by your intelligence and curiosity, and the fineness of the model you had made of the tower.”
I sighed, recalling its being reduced to splinters under my father’s boot-heel, as too trifling a matter for one of his blood (however diluted by commoner blood). I had laboured on it for many weeks in every spare moment I had during my mother’s illness.
“In fact, at least one of Bomgan’s sons will be coming here to assist us,” Gimli added. “I will make certain to introduce you.”
“My thanks, my lord.”
“Dalfinor knew Master Clerk only briefly, but any friend of his, and Lady Silma’s, is one of mine.” He rose to his feet and we exchanged bows. “If you will excuse me, I have a meeting at the House of Ringing Sounds. I hope we meet soon again.”
“As do I, my lord,” I said.
“My lady,” he bowed to Lady Silwen, and left the room.
She glanced at his teacup and saucer and smiled. “Well, at least this time he didn’t crack it, and he did take a token sip.“ Seeing my confusion, she explained, “Part of our agreement is etiquette lessons for them, that those at Court have some of their misconceptions of the Dweorg shattered.
“Now,” she added, “let me pour you another cup of tea, and tell me all about the last few days. How may I best help you, my lord? As I said, I too am come up in the world from where I began life, and so has Silma, now that she has been given her father’s old title and lands in Ithilien. If naught else, you and I can condole with each other about the hidden perils of our new positions!”
“I was heartily glad to hear of Silma becoming Lady Cormallen,” I said.
Her smile was rueful and bit sad. “If only it had come soon enough to gain her husband’s better quarters and care!”
“He could not have had better care,” I assured her. “Many’s the time he told me that if ‘twere not for her devotion, he would have been long dead. She was the joy of his life.”
“And he was one of the greatest blessings of hers. Well! All things change! Now I repeat, how may I help you?”
“My mission, as given me by Lord Halladan for today, is to fit up the rest of my rooms and find some key staff, if only an assistant and someone to manage my household. I doubt young Orophin is able to do either yet.”
“As young as he sounds, no. What is his age?”
“Twelve or thirteen, I think.”
“Much too young for such responsibility. I shall leave the choice of a deputy to you, of course, knowing little of engineering and such things. So! You are in need of a housekeeper and a man of business. Underlings can be hired in your name by them.”
“A man of business?”
“Didn’t you tell me that Elessar was awarding you the monies and lands that went with your title?” She rang a small bell, and when the buhdelier answered, said, “Samno, would you please ask Master Fordelin to step in for a few moments? Thank you.”
Presently we were joined by a thin, dry-looking individual who was obviously an attorney by his appearance and demeanor. She introduced him to me as her man of affairs, and explained to him, “Lord Tintehlë is new come to his honours and title, as Lady Silma is, and is not clear as to what exactly the King has bestowed. He needs someone to advise on his business investments. Could you recommend someone to him, similar to yourself?”
“Let me speak with a few of my associates, my lady, and I will find someone. In the meanwhile, if you both wish and Lord Tintehlë will give me leave, I can begin the process of ascertaining his holdings.”
“That is very kind of you, Master Fordelin. Thank you,” I said.
“It shall be done, my lord. If there is nothing else?” He withdrew with a note from me empowering his inquiries, and Lady Silwen turned to another problem.
“He’s very efficient and thorough, and will report to you soon,” she said. “Any ideas on a housekeeper?”
“The under-housekeeper I met, who assisted me on the hangings, Mistress Nénharma,” I said. “She seemed very capable….and I understand that that bully Argarátar dismissed her for taking time off to tend her sick mother.”
Lady Silwen tilted her head slightly, her eyes beginning to twinkle. “She is very capable.”
“You know her?”
“Very slightly. Her late father was an assistant librarian at the New Book-Halls. In her late twenties, with a dimple on her left cheek?”
“’Tis on her right cheek,” I said thoughtlessly, and she chuckled. I glanced at her sharply, but she shook her head.
“Just clearing my throat,” she said. “She must have many of the qualities you will need, or she would not have had that position.”
“The trouble is, I don’t know where to find her,” I said.
“Easily solved.” Again she rang the bell. This time it was answered by a fresh-faced, neat maid, one of the two I’d seen earlier. “Ah, Rose. We need to know the lodgings of Mistress--?”
“Alatáriël Nénharma,” I said, wondering why my face felt warm.
“Ah, they just ‘ad a death, they did, Nehemion was a-tellin’ us this morn,” said the maid. “They live down in the Fourth Circle, my lady, on the east side near the Silk Court, in Fuller’s Street.” She provided more detailed directions, which I wrote down on my cuff with a stylus from my pouch.
“Oh, for Valar’s sake, my lord! Stop at the bookseller on the Fifth Circle near the gate and get yourself a decent set of tablets!” said Lady Silwen, handing me the directions she had written on a scrap of vellum. “A visit to Rhuimiel’s shop would be a good idea, too. And a tailor! Here, give this note to Mistress Nénharma, if you will be so kind.”
“Good. Now, my friend, I think we both have things we must do!”
“So you are telling me to leave?’
“I am—in a nice, ladylike way, of course.”
“I hope that you will consider me a friend as well, since I have been so forthright in my suggestions. Anyone who values my Silma has my regard as well.”
“Anyone who does not is a fool. One cannot have too many friends,” I agreed, and took my leave.