King's Commission, The
61. Ruses of Protection
Ruses of Protection
Hardorn, Gilfileg, and Orin went out just ere dawn to bring in the horses and goods of their prisoners as well as their own steeds. Hardorn sent Gilfileg and Master Mardil into Passaurin to hire a large covered wagon and draft horses such as was used for hauling heavy goods and to take it to Crown land some two miles away from the farm, for he intended to carry these prisoners back to the capital under guard. He also sent an order for six skilled archers and swordsmen plus four soldiers in the garb of private guards of goods to come secretly from the garrison there to Mardil's farm. Two of the archer-swordsmen would accompany the four guards and himself with the wagon back to the capital; the other four would guard the farm and its folk until the source of this attack was identified and dealt with, for once whoever masterminded this assault became aware it had also gone astray those on the farm were likely to reap bitter retaliation to punish all for the disruption of plans. He also asked Orophin to take a swift message to Osgiliath--he wished eight Rangers brought here as swiftly as possible to keep a secret outside guard on the premises and the approaches to it. Orophin took the message gladly and slipped away before midday, promising to be as swift as he could.
In five days, Hardorn knew, those eight would be here. But what could be done in the meantime to distract whoever had masterminded this plot? Suddenly he smiled. He consulted with the three Rhunim representatives, and they agreed to take part in the deception.
Ruvemir was pressed into service to do detailed drawings of each of their prisoners, who were brought one at a time into the dining hall for this purpose. They were stripped and forced to dress in clothing from the farm staff, and compensation was given the staff to buy more with the proviso they do this starting in six days, one at a time, and each from a different shop or vendor where few would pay attention to them. A fine new outfit in exchange for old clothes they were thinking of discarding anyway seemed more than fair, all agreed.
The dead man, who was Rhunim, was stripped and a likeness done of him as well, and when Ruvemir was done they dressed him in a suit of Ifram's more familiar outfits. His body was shot with two of the arrows brought by the attackers and was then carried down to the river and sunk there--they'd hold it down for three days to allow it to become hard to identify, and they would then release it.
Ifram, Shefti, and Ben'harin were dressed in the garb of the three Easterlings who had been taken or killed in this raid, and when the guardsmen arrived near mid-afternoon three were dressed in the garb of three of the party and were mounted on the horses of those who'd attacked the farm and sent to the Pelargir, where they were to show themselves before putting on the garb of knights of Dol Amroth and riding swiftly back to the Crown land with five knights already stationed there. Some time after they rode out Lairon was sent riding swiftly to the garrison at Passaurin to summon aid, with instructions to request a good deal of confusion as to how many might be coming or going.
They loaded the goods Ruvemir and Elise would need in Minas Anor into the coach, and it was taken north by back roads to the Crown Land, where the ponies would be exchanged for a team of horses for their return trip. Celebgil exchanged clothing with Lairon so he would look different for the return journey, and notes were made to the steward of the Crown land to paint on the side of the coach the King's crest so none would be likely to consider trying to halt it on the return journey. Hardorn asked Gilfileg if he would agree to accompany Ruvemir's coach back to the capital. With a sigh the Ranger agreed, and Orin agreed to return to Minas Anor inside the coach.
Somehow they got through the next few days, and at last they mounted horses brought in from the Crown land to take a circuitous ride to the lodge there. At dawn the eight Rangers arrived and were given their orders, and they took up surreptitious posts about Mardil's estate and the approaches to it.
It was a great wrench for Ruvemir to say goodbye to his sister and Ririon, and Ririon also was deeply distressed. "When this is settled," Mardil assured both, "we will come frequently to the White City until you are able to go north."
Ruvemir sighed, then held the boy one last time. "Be diligent in your studies, dearling, and come to us as you can. I am so proud to have you as son to my house." Ririon held him close one last time, and they finally parted. "Take care of your granfer," added the sculptor as he was lifted to ride behind one of the guards.
"I will. Go well, Ada."
Ruvemir was weeping as they rode away. His last glimpse was of Lorieth clinging to Ririon's hand in comfort, the scar on her face visible as she looked up at the youth.
Faramir had examined some of the more unfathomable orders left by Aragorn with interest. He had no idea why a surreptitious watch was to be kept on the premises of Master Sculptor Varondil, but he assured himself that this was continuing as desired by the King, and set one of the agents employed to investigate matters privately to examine the business of the establishment and the quarters for Master Varondil's apprentices. He also was to find out who served as the one who coordinated the regular examinations of the apprentices for the Guild of Stone Carvers and send him out of the city through the rest of the summer. Well, there would be work for sculptors in Osgiliath. He set one of his aides to find out that information and tried to think up reasons why only this one would be suitable.
Master Orilias was flattered to find out he particularly was asked to work on part of the facade for the Square of Gathering in Osgiliath. However, the timing could not be worse. Master Varondil was going to be very angry. The review of his apprentices was due this coming month, and that was always a worry for him. Orilias had always managed to smooth things over for Varondil. He had, after all, the most apprentices in the city, and needed to have things made simpler from time to time. Master Varondil had been very grateful all the times Orilias had assisted him during these reviews, very grateful. There wasn't even time to warn him.
Master Dorion was looking forward to the examination of Master Varondil's apprentices. He was glad that Orilias had been given the chance to work in Osgiliath. It would give Erasgon a good chance to learn how to examine the apprentices, what education they were supposed to experience, how well Master Varondil prepared his apprentices. He liked Master Varondil, and felt honored that the Guild had such a giving soul represented within it, as he provided very heavily for youths who had been left orphaned, mostly by the war, he understood. He felt Erasgon would learn a great deal from the interviews with Master Varondil's apprentices. Yes, it was well that Orilias was busy elsewhere and another would have the chance to learn from the excellent Master Sculptors in the city. He looked again at the list of apprentices Varondil had registered with the guild, and smiled.
The first agent sent to see to it that Master Varondil had an accident disappeared, and when, where, or how this happened none could say. There was no recollection of such a person entering the White City, no record of him taking a room anywhere under any of his known names. The second was arrested for suspected thefts from a shop--Landrion had known better to send him--was always under suspicion of thefts (with good reason), but he'd been available and already headed for the White City, and he had a reputation for making falls from walls and down stairs look accidental. The third approached had refused to accept the job, and Landrion was looking for someone to deal with him now. So far he'd not been able to find a fourth person even to approach.
As for the ambassador from Rhun--it appeared Ifram, at least, was dead. Certainly a body wearing his clothing, and definitely one of Rhun, his height, weight, and build, had washed up south of Passaurin four days after the planned assault ought to have occurred. Apparently the body had been weighted down and dropped into the river, but it had broken free. He himself had seen it, for he'd been waiting in Passaurin. Its features were unrecognizable, for it had obviously in the water for some days and the face was rather battered. But the arrows in it were those of Gondorian forces such as his folk had been instructed to carry. No one had appeared to have identified the Man as being from Rhun, though--maybe someone should be sent to the garrison who could identify the clothing as having originated in the East.
However, it was obvious that some on the farm had survived the assault, for late on the day after the planned assault someone had ridden into Passaurin on a winded horse, straight to the garrison complex on the south side of the city. How many survived was not known, nor who they might be. How many guards were sent to check out the situation was unclear, for there were so many comings and goings happening that it was impossible to tell. At least three had been sent to the estate, however.
His agents, however, were apparently being pursued. He'd caught a glimpse of one of the Rhunim early in the day after the assault riding rapidly through the city--his clothing and horse were familiar to Landrion. Later he'd caught a glimpse of Maril's horse on the outskirts of town. Both had been seen before the arrival of the messenger to the garrison. The next day his people at the Pelargir spoke of seeing all six, once gathered together as if talking together, then scattering as a line of the King's troupes approached; later, on the road heading north along the Anduin, followed not long after by Ranger trackers. The Rangers had reentered the city late the next day and had reported to the garrison headquarters building there. After that his own agents appeared to have disappeared completely. They were probably in hiding, but where he had no idea. They weren't using any of his own safe houses, although Maril knew of several that he had access to that were not controlled by Landrion, so they could be anywhere at this moment. He'd not worry for three more days.
At this point he would simply have to await developments. He finished his ale and gathered his meager belongings, headed for the stable, prepared to purchase a new horse to replace the one he feared might be getting recognizable to some within Gondor he'd prefer not realize he was inside the realm. An hour later he was well on his way back toward Umbar. He never noticed the Ranger tracker following after him.
The reports were satisfactory so far. The three Rhunim and the three guards sent with them had split up as they entered Passaurin, each taking a different route through town. Most folk had not paid any attention to them, but the Ranger trackers set to watch more obvious ways had noted one person who appeared to be watching with interest for someone from the northern road, and who smiled with satisfaction when he saw an Easterling rider headed quickly south. The Ranger who spotted this Man then prepared to follow him through town, saw him keeping an eye on the activities of the garrison, and a second Ranger joined his watch when the stranger went to a public inn for the night.
Late the next day and for three days after he sat at one of the inn's outdoor tables drinking ale, and was approached by five different folk as he nursed his tankard for hours at a time. One of these was a known seller of information; the last had just entered the city from the south, from the road to the Pelargir. They saw the stranger to his rooms, saw him leave the inn with his saddlebags and head for a stable, and watched as he arranged the purchase of a horse, set his own saddle upon it--a very expensive saddle, and not one of Gondorian design or manufacture; one then followed him out of town, melting into the grass at the side of the road.
Halfway to the Pelargir the Man stopped his slow but steady ride, looked around to see if any were at hand to note his activities, and seeing no one he urged his mount east toward the river. He obviously knew where he was going, and started down a hidden track to the riverbank that the Ranger had previously not been aware of. The Ranger watched from above as the Man rode his horse to the bank where a small, flat barge waited, and dismounted. He led his horse onto it, and held its head as the barge started out, being poled across the Anduin. The Ranger smiled--the road on the other side stayed close to the river bank and thus twisted and turned a good deal. He sped south to another crossing where he had to ford a series of channels, but where he arrived at the south road before the stranger; he lay in wait in the brush until at last he saw the stranger indeed approaching, headed for Umbar. So, this was an agent of Umbar, was it? The folk of Gondor now knew how to deal with such.
On entering Umbar he saw the Man to a walled property where he was obviously the master, considering the obsequious behavior of the gatekeeper who allowed him entrance. The Ranger quickly sought out one of the Gondorian agents in the area. On being told which house it was, the agent nodded. Yes, he knew the Man, descended from the Black Númenoreans, a Man named Landrion and a known warlord. His hatred for Gondor was well known. His disdain for Marcipor, the acknowledged Lord of Umbar, was also well known. Landrion was kept under steady watch, but was known to be canny at evading observation if he had any idea such was being kept on him. He regularly sent spies and agents of several sorts into Gondor, and had met several times the previous year with folk from Rhun. Lately he'd been seen entertaining three known paid assassins, two of whom had headed north and one who had returned to his own quarters, then moved quarters secretly that night.
Landrion had disappeared from the area a couple weeks earlier, and where he went no one had known--until now. So, he'd been in Gondor and in Passaurin, had he? As for ridings of Easterlings--three Easterlings had stayed with Landrion for several days, and had disappeared with him.
A report was written and sent to the Crown land north of Mardil's estate. The Lord Hardorn received and read it with interest. The name Landrion had been given him before. He'd been one of those who had been in the last embassy from Rhun, and had been most upset when Aragorn had dictated his own terms for a treaty. He'd certainly examined the room carefully, and had separated himself from the rest of his party to observe the doings on the Seventh Level before the Lord Wasnior, who'd headed the embassy, insisted they return to Umbar as rapidly as possible.
They now had a name and a face. Hardorn began to formulate his next plan.
The singletree had been changed on the coach to accommodate two small horses instead of ponies; a new coat of varnish had been applied with a reddish tint; and the doors had been changed altogether. The steward for the property tended to speak in a drawling manner, and was plainly proud of himself. "We hadn't time to do the new coat of varnish and the crest and have both dry satisfactorily, so we simply exchanged the doors. Of course, the King, should he come south and desire to use our coach, will find himself in a coach without the carved crest; but this changes the profile of your coach as well as its looks--it will better fool anyone seeking it out." Hardorn was plainly pleased.
The prisoners had been brought from the farm one at a time over the past two days and had been held in secure cells on the property--for generations the Stewards had used such properties as secure sites for prisoners taken in the fiefdoms who were being sent to Minas Tirith for judgment. It had been six years since these had been so used, but they now came in handy. The seven prisoners were all bound and gagged and their eyes bound as well, and now they were placed in the goods wagon, each manacled to one of the staples intended to be used to tie down the load. Two guards rode with them under the tarp with instructions to treat the two wounded as needed, and to lift the gags once every two hours and give them drink, but to stagger the drinks so not all were ungagged at the same time. Once all was done, Hardorn himself took the driver's seat and they set out northward, saluting the others as they began putting their personal satchels into the coach for the resumption of their own journey.
An hour later the guards at the gate indicated the road outside was now again empty of traffic, and the coach set out with its smart guard. Orin seemed pleased to ride with them inside the coach this time. "Suspect we will be going at a faster rate on the journey home than in the journey south," he said. "I am sorry if you had hoped to stop in Bavarin, but it might do better if you travel to it deliberately after the one behind this whole affair is taken." Ruvemir nodded distractedly in return.
Having been given leave by Gilfileg to ride alongside the coach and speak with those inside, Shefti and Ifram did just that. It took a time for Ruvemir to figure how to lower the windows on the new doors, but at last he had it done, and they smiled in at him. "We are on our way north, it seems, safe and whole," Ifram commented.
"No thanks to those who would see you dead, and those around you as well," Ruvemir responded. "I only hope that my family remains safe, and that the capture of the one who ordered this is the end of it." It was the turn of the Easterlings to nod distractedly this time.
They described the ride through Passaurin and the Pelargir followed by the quick trip into the fortress there to change into the garb of the guard for the Prince of Dol Amroth, then their ride on new horses back to the Crown land within a troupe of actual such guards. "No one appeared to look at us twice when we rode with them, no matter we were shorter than the rest. But the horses were much taller than the ones we are accustomed to, after all. Perhaps we don't look that much smaller riding upon them." Now they had their own horses back, although a uniform hair dye had been used upon them to change the color of all to dark chestnut. "I hope none will recognize us or the horses now." Ruvemir agreed. Soon they came into more traffic and the Easterlings resumed their places in the guard following the coach, and found the coach and its company received interest indeed, but not this time for the company but simply because it was one of the royal coaches, and speculation was rife as to what great lord or lady traveled inside.
Within five days they were back in the capital. They'd not stayed in inns on the way back, but in the homes of Lords and in lodges prepared for Lords and Ladies and the servants of the White City and its Citadel. It was not as comfortable as the journey out had been, traveling at their leisure and meeting all kinds of folk, kindly or otherwise; but the food was excellent and service beyond compare. It was with a feeling of relief they rode through the gates of the Rammas Echor and trundled at last across the Pelennor, therefore. Soon they would be home again, and hopefully less likely to attack.
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