King's Commission, The
62. Dealing with Master Varondil
Note: This chapter deals with the subject of sexual perversion and its aftermath. If the subject distresses you and you do not wish to hear how it has been known to affect its victims, please skip it.
It is not only the good we do which can have long-ranging effects, making things better for all--the evil we do can also have serious effects on many we may not meet personally.
Dealing with Master Varondil
Master Varondil had not had a particularly good last few weeks. It had started when a knock at his door proved to be a Guard with a Man who had been apparently caught trying to break into the Master's home. No, Master Varondil had never seen this Man before, had no idea who he was or what he'd thought to take from Varondil's home. The stranger had been taken to the prison, questioned, and searched. A packet of herbs was found on him, herbs the herb master at the Houses of Healing identified as being all poisonous.
The second time was two weeks later. A tall, muscular Man had passed him on the stairs up to his house and that next to his, a broom over his shoulders. Varondil was just past the Man when he heard his name called, and the other was swinging the broom, obviously intent on sweeping the sculptor off the stairs entirely--until an arrow took him in the shoulder and he stopped still, his face draining of blood as he stared stupidly at the arrow and at the broom he'd just dropped.
An Elf stood nearby, his bow in hand, watching the muscular Man intently. "I would suggest you stand still," the Elf advised. A second later a Guard appeared, heard the Elf's statement. The Elf was checking the growth of a tree planted at the end of winter in a nearby garden, heard a voice calling a name, rose and saw this muscular Man swinging a broom at the Master Sculptor, drew his bow and stopped him. The Guard took the Elf's testimony and turned to the sculptor. No, Varondil had told him, he'd never seen this person before, and he had no idea why any would wish to attack him in such a manner.
A second Guard appeared, saw and recognized the wounded prisoner. "We've been looking for him for two hours. He walked into a jeweler's shop in the Fourth Circle and took a handful of gold chains and disappeared. And you've found him here in the Fifth Circle? Good enough, particularly if he has Mistress Lileaneth's chains." A search found the chains and more in the Man's belt purse, and he was arrested and taken again to the prison behind the Citadel.
There had been no further assaults on him or his property since, but Master Varondil was taking no chances. He hired a private bodyguard who watched his premises and went with him between his dwelling and his workshop and the apprentices' quarters in the Fourth Circle, one who after a few days shook his head but wisely kept his own counsel.
Today Guild Master Dorion would be coming for the regular review of the apprentices, and he sincerely hoped that Orlias would not expect more this year than previously for easing the evaluation. It hadn't taken a great deal when Orlias had become first secretary to the Guild Master to convince him to have the apprentices divided into two groups, having the Guild Master examining the one of the regular apprentices and Orlias simply signing off on the second group without actually interviewing any of them. But as the years passed Orlias had begun taking advantage of the situation, often asking for special favors between reviews, making it plain in the last two years he expected a good deal more than previously for his assistance in easing the reviews. Varondil had tried to meet with Orlias at the Laughing Oliphaunt last night to discuss the situation, but his note to Orlias had been returned with the terse note that Orlias was not available. Signs appeared to indicate that Orlias was becoming difficult--and increasingly greedy.
Varondil looked around the workshop with satisfaction. He'd set the youngest to sweeping the place and cleaning windows and such starting a week back, had instructed all to wear clean smocks and to make certain their tools were properly sharp and laid out on their benches. Most of the kept boys were back at the apprentice quarters, although three of them were among the proper apprentices. He'd made certain that the books of history were available, that the regular apprentices had their sketch booklets handy to show and that they'd each done the sketches he'd suggested. All appeared to be in readiness for the Guild Master's arrival--and then he noted the stone blocks in the entrance. He'd forgotten to clear them out! Well, hopefully the Guild Master would ignore them, just think of them as blocks for practice pieces for his own apprentices.
The door opened and he saw the smiling face of the Guild Master, but with him instead of Master Orlias was Master Sculptor Erasgon. Erasgon? What in Middle Earth was that one doing here? He knew Erasgon all too well, for they'd done much of their studies in record keeping and projecting sizes, weights, and costs for projects together. Erasgon of Lamedon was five years the younger, was diligent in his studies, and had become a stickler for details when it came to their work. Varondil had found himself wishing their own Masters had not studied together and decided to share the cost of an instructor for this part of their apprentices' educational requirements. There had been no love lost between the two as apprentices, and the situation had not become any better over the years between. Erasgon simply had a look he used when he looked at Varondil that Varondil did not like, a look that spoke of awareness of Varondil's shallow nature.
Dorion's smile broadened as he looked about the workshop. "How bright it is in here, how pleasant an area in which to work. It is a pleasure, Master Varondil, as always a pleasure to examine your apprentices."
Varondil was starting to sweat. "Oh, yes, I see, Guild Master. And where is Orlias today?"
"He received a commission to do work in Osgiliath. A fine commission indeed it is, also. It was a great honor to be asked to work on such after the ten years he has served as secretary to the Master of the Guild."
"Yes, a great honor indeed, Master Dorion." Varondil felt himself sweating more heavily. How was he ever going to get through this with Erasgon? He knew there would be no approaching him with the idea of skimping on the questioning.
Just how disastrous it was became evident all too soon. Erasgon had begun by looking at the list of apprentices, then counting the bodies present. The list showed sixteen, but only ten were here. "Where are the other six apprentices, then?" he asked.
"Other six?" Varondil felt the dampness on his upper lip.
"Yes, the other six."
"Oh, young Duinnedor is ill, and three are at the math instructor's home...." It was the wrong thing to say, he realized. On this day they were to all be present, with no lessons. The smile on Guild Master Dorion's face began to fade.
By midday it had been replaced by a look of shock and anger. The seven regular apprentices had been barely given the requirements for history, and only two could name all the Kings of Gondor or tell what had become of Eärnur. None appeared to have any idea how much the piece he was working on was likely to weigh, and only five could tell how much the piece cost to produce and how much it was likely to bring. And the three irregular apprentices could barely speak the Common Tongue, much less tell much of what they'd learned or from whom. Nor, it proved, were their articles of indenture properly prepared--one had apparently been signed as witness two years past by a man Varondil himself knew to have died six years ago. And although all had sketch booklets, the sketches were all done only in the past few days, not ongoing as was required; nor did he see any signs of practice pieces. Most did not even know the names of the tools they used!
At noon a Guard entered the workshop. "The Lord Prince Steward asked me to attend on you this afternoon, Guild Master," he explained. "It was his belief there would be found irregularities you would wish to explore more deeply."
"Indeed!" Dorion said, his face stony. "I am supposed to examine all of Master Sculptor Varondil's apprentices today, and find far too many irregularities, the first being that not all sixteen are present. I know one is not in the city at present, but there are still five missing. His quarters for his apprentices are in the Fourth Circle in the Street of Bakers. Could you go or send someone to bring the rest here?"
"I will send immediately," the Guard responded, going to the door, opening it, and summoning another Guard inside.
By midafternoon the worst had happened. Eight additional boys had been found in the apprentices' quarters, two of them locked into their rooms. Most of these had come not from Gondor at all, but from Rhun, Umbar, Dunlending, and even Harad. Further Guards with language skills in their tongues were called in, and it was learned most were not even orphans--or had not been at the time they were kidnapped and sent into Gondor to enter the service of Master Varondil. Nor could it be concealed that all those who had remained in their quarters in the Street of Bakers were expected to serve as playthings for the Master's less savory appetites.
Guild Master Dorion's expression had gone beyond anger. He was filled with a cold fury, a fury of betrayal and disgust. He looked at the former Master Sculptor, shaking his head. "I remand you into the custody of these Guards, Varondil. You have no place in our guild, and are stripped of your status as Master Sculptor. I find you yourself do little or nothing to teach your apprentices--that they mostly teach one another, and that you give them no chance to grow in our trade. And what you have taught them--" his expression twisted "--is not to be borne. You have not treated these as apprentices, but as slaves and chattel." He turned to the Guard. "Please take him away. He sickens me." Then he saw the blocks. "Wait. Varondil, for whom were these blocks intended?"
"For practice pieces, Guild Master," Varondil said, pleading.
Erasgon knelt, examined the bill of lading attached to the top block. "This states these were ordered by Master Sculptor Ruvemir, Guild Master."
"Yes, for practice pieces for his apprentices."
Dorion sighed. "Those were ordered weeks before he left the city. Why do they lie here?"
"They arrived on the day the King's babe was born, Master. There was none there to accept them that day."
Erasgon looked at the dates on the bill. "They arrived here two days before the High Day the week preceding, Master. He is lying. Here is his signature acknowledging receipt, and the date is clear."
Varondil shot him a poisonous look, but it was deflected by the other's lack of attention.
"The day before the High Day that week I know that Master Ruvemir was not at the site save for an hour when he showed his work to us and then to the family gathering for his wedding. So, it is likely that there was no one there to accept the blocks that day. However, they ought to have gone up the first day after the High Day, for there is no question Master Ruvemir and his apprentices were there every day thereafter save for the day of celebration after the birth of the child. He was even there the day the child was born until the hour of its birth." Dorion shook his head. "Take him. I will arrange for the delivery of the stones to Master Ruvemir."
Guards led the former master sculptor away, up to the prison on the level of the Citadel.
Erasgon looked to the Guild Master. "Now what do we do, sir?"
"When Orlias returns from Osgiliath, he has much to answer for. He has assured me he has checked those apprentices I'd not questioned before, and that he'd already qualified their educational requirements. It appears he has been covering for Varondil's--irregularities--for some years, then." He looked at the apprentices, separated into two groups in the room, as they stood together, unsure of what would become of them. "I feel quite the fool, trusting the two of them. They have both caused great harm to the Guild."
"And even more harm to these," Erasgon sighed. "What do we do with them, I wonder?"
Dorion shook his head. "I don't know. This is a question for the King, so I suppose it must now go before the Lord Prince Faramir as Steward."
At that moment the door to the workshop opened once more, and a Guard entered. "I took the liberty of summoning the Lord Steward, Masters," he said. "I did not know of any other with sufficient authority to make the determination as to what to do about these."
Dorion looked up with grateful eyes. "Thank you, Captain, for this was our determination as well."
It took another quarter mark for the Steward to come, accompanied by the Queen herself, carrying her daughter with her. Their guards and two advisors fanned out behind them. Faramir looked the situation over, the two Guild Masters, the two groups of apprentices, the Guards skilled in tongues, and sighed. "Tell me," he said simply.
Two of the valid apprentices brought chairs from the small table for the Prince and the Queen, who received them with thanks, then retreated back to their own group, looking over at the other group with a mixture of pity, disgust, and worry. The list of apprentices was given into the hands of the Prince and the situation described. "I am not even certain if the names given are correct, my Lord," Dorion finished. "The paper describes all as having come from Gondor, yet it appears many were stolen from other lands and sent here by someone who was aware of Varondil's--appetites. Certainly not all who stand there are listed here."
Faramir stared down at the list for some minutes. "I see. Give me something with which to write."
The oldest apprentice came forward with his sketch booklet and a drawing stick, and the Steward thanked him graciously. "Let us now see which are proper apprentices and which were brought here against their will. If I call your name, please come forward. Marvilion of the city."
And so it went. The seven proper apprentices were mostly from the city or somewhere nearby. One came from Lamedon, and two were from hamlets upon the Pelennor. Three of the others were from far south in Gondor, near the River Anduin. Two of these were indeed orphans, their parents lost in raids from across the River before the war, and they'd indeed been sent by relatives who'd expected them to learn the sculptor's trade. They'd been cut off from correspondence with their kin, and had been abused from their earliest days in the keeping of Varondil. Both of these were older youths, one eighteen, one seventeen. The third was but twelve, and had been kidnapped from his work scaring birds in his father's fields, which lay by the River. He had been in Varondil's keeping for almost two years, and his name was not on the list at all. The others came from outside the realm, most from regions immediately around Umbar. Two were from Rhun, and two were from the north of Harad. The boy from Dunlending had also been brought in two years past. His parents had died in the war, and he'd been living partly on the street and partly with a distant cousin who did not wish to be responsible for his kin. His cousin had sold him to a Man who had styled himself a trader, one whose merchandise appeared to mostly consist of children. The names of most of them were not those by which they were known on the lists, and it appeared two names, which were on the list, were of boys whose current whereabouts were unknown, but who had indeed been numbered among the apprentices three years past.
For the two from Rhun, their names and clan designations were learned. "Ambassador Ifram will be able to deal with you when he arrives back," Faramir decided. He looked at them and those from Harad. "Do you wish to remain in Gondor or to return to your own people?" he asked, having the words translated to each pair.
Both Rhunish boys wished to return to their own families, as did one of the two from Harad. The other shook his head. "My mother is dead many years ago, and my father could not keep me. He sold me to one from Umbar who brought me here. I have nowhere to return to."
Faramir sighed. "I see."
Looking at the boys from Umbar again he sighed. "Sending you back to your homeland would only serve to send you to possibly worse than here," he said. "I know not what to do with you." He looked to the Queen. "Lady Arwen, do you have any ideas?"
She raised an eyebrow, then looked to them, holding Melian protectively. They'd been able to get a name for each boy. "Jamal, what would you like to do most of anything you could?"
The youth was startled by this question. He looked at her searchingly, but finally answered. "I want to go back to farming, for that is the way of my people."
She questioned each and all, and as she got answers they were written down on the list by the Prince by each name. Two, surprisingly, wished to continue to study sculpting. She nodded. Then she asked the valid apprentices if any wished to follow any other trade than sculpting. Three indicated they wished to follow other trades, one wishing to become a merchant. The Queen thought for a moment. "Then it appears we have six only who wish to remain in training as sculptors, while the rest wish to follow other trades. Master Dorion, can you find proper placements for these six among your guildsmen?"
"I believe so, my Lady."
"Then I will approach some of the other Guild Masters to find placements for these others. And I have a farm in mind for young Jamal where he would be able to learn farming--if they will agree to take one more. The one thing I will promise you is that none there will treat you as you were treated by Varondil."
She sighed. "Now that you have received the treatment you have from Varondil, you may find yourself wishing that the intimacy of it continued in your lives. I will tell you that what you have known is only a twisted shadow of what you ought not to have known until you were older in body and spirit. You will all be watched to make certain you do not seek to visit what you yourselves suffered on other innocents. Do you understand?" Several nodded while the others looked at her confused. "Once my Lord Husband returns he will visit with each of you, he and my brothers. Hopefully they will be able to assist you to the healing of spirit you will need. It is a terrible thing to awaken such appetites in those who ought to know the innocence of childhood. I will say that the punishment granted to Varondil will be harsh." All looked at her, and then back to one another. She looked to the valid apprentices. "Did Varondil seek such intimacy with you, also?"
Two of the boys, after several moments, nodded their heads. "He would often seek to touch me," said one. The other told a darker tale.
She sighed. "So it goes. It is probable that when he was a boy or youth one did similarly to him, and so he now finds full pleasure only with those who are as he was then.
"There is in the First Circle a house which during the war housed those few children who remained in the city when most others were evacuated to the safe places in the mountains. It has become a home for children who have no parents or family. Guards will accompany those who live within the city or on the Pelennor to your family homes for now, until proper apprenticeships can be arranged. Those who live elsewhere will go to the children's house for the next few days until we can arrange for your new apprenticeships or your return home."
With the confirmation of the Steward, the decision was affirmed, and soon Guardsmen were leading the apprentices off in different directions.
Master Dorion looked after the departing boys and sighed. "I feel so responsible, Majesty. Why did I not realize what was happening here? I could see the contrast between these and those who serve with, say, Master Ruvemir."
Arwen sighed herself. "You cannot begin to realize everything, Guild Master. Varondil was very clever. Young Celebgil has failed to speak of what he realized was happening here, although Master Ruvemir had realized something serious was amiss before he left. He told my husband, however, that until he had some true indication of what was wrong and evidence to support his suspicions he would say nothing more, that he cause no harm through speculation. The King left word with Faramir to examine the situation with Varondil while Master Ruvemir is gone, but your own examination has proven the more efficient at unmasking the villainy."
"It would have been proven years earlier had Orlias not assisted in the covering of it." Again the fury rose in the Guild Master. "Orlias has much to answer for. And I must re-examine all he has assisted in examining to see what other laxness and perfidy has been covered up." The line of his mouth thinned more. "I would not see my guild diminished in honor so, my Lady."
Steward and Queen gave each other significant looks. At least the Guild Master had not proven complicit in Varondil's evil--his fury was such it could not be feigned. The honor of the guild was already restored through his very disgust, though he did not yet realize it.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.