Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
Playlist Navigation Bar
Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 22. The Mithril Shirt
Adzuphel met them at the entrance to the royal tent. "They slept well, your Majesties. My lord Herumor cast a few spells last night, which I believe helped them to rest. And the wolves stayed with them, as you commanded."
"That is good," said the King. "Have they eaten?"
"With the rest of the troops," explained Adzuphel. "They wanted to eat what the soldiers ate, and so we obliged them."
"It is good for the troops to see that their commanders will share their burdens," agreed the King. "Where are they now?"
"Within. They should be almost ready to receive your Majesties."
Ariashal quickly inspected the tent, looking for any signs of tears or cuts. "Nothing came by last night?"
"No, madame, nothing at all. It was quiet, and the presence of the wolves kept order."
"I see that the orcs are next to the Rhudaurian forces."
"Yes. When they arrived, Herumor directed them to establish their camp over there. The Rhudaurians did not dare complain. I think that they believed Herumor to be Your Majesty."
"That will be a useful ruse," agreed the King. "They must not be aware of Herumor's presence. I will speak with him, and apprize him of my plan."
"Perhaps we should loan him some of your things," suggested Ariashal.
"Possibly. I rather suspect, however, that the mere presence of a black-clad Numenorean will be enough to ensure compliance."
One of the guards opened the heavy curtained tent door. With a sudden rush, the three children spilled out, scrambling to reach their parents. Ariashal had a few glorious moments while their enthusiasm engulfed her, all of them talking at once.
"Momma guess what--Zimraphel took my pillows--We had the wolves all night--Adrahil hit me-No one told us a story--Imrahil is mean to me--Herumor did some magic--The guards let us try on their helmets--We never get to see anything--"
"Shhh!" She managed to keep from laughing. "Camping with the army agrees with you, I see."
"The sign of a good general is his willingness to share with his men." The King addressed the boys. "From all reports, you both have promising futures."
The boys beamed at their father. "Do you think we could stay with the army again?" asked Imrahil.
"I insist," answered the King. "Your presence here is a great help to me."
"What about me?" pouted Zimraphel.
"Of course you must stay. You must speak with the wolves for me."
She rushed past her brothers, seizing her father in a hug. "I want my own wolf when we get home!"
"That must be discussed with your mother. For now, it is as great an honor for the wolves to guard you as it is for Adzuphel and Herumor." He gently patted her head. "You three must remain inside with Herumor for the rest of the day."
"Your father has much to do today," explained Ariashal. "He feels it is best if you are inside, where the wolves and Herumor can better protect you."
"No." Their father silenced them. Ariashal recognized the tone of his voice, and she knew that the children did, too; they would not disobey him. They quickly settled down.
Ariashal gave each of them a gentle kiss. "We will come for you when it is time. Now--tell me about last night."
The King strode into the tent. She spent the few minutes she had with her children settling their quarrels and fussing over their hair, their clothes, their shoes. Their nurse did an excellent job with them; they were always presentable, unless they had been playing. It pained her that she could not have them with her today, to display them again before Ferion. But the King was right: Ferion was dangerous, and the children were an all-too-tempting target.
After a few minutes the King rejoined them. He extracted solemn promises from each of them that they would not overly vex Herumor, and that they would obey at all times. When he was done he took Ariashal's hand and headed back for the castle.
She fought the urge to look back at the tent as she and the King entered the keep.
Once back inside, with guards stationed all around, the King insisted that they rest. He was satisfied, now, that the children were well and truly safe. They had time, too, for their council with Ferion would not be held until late in the day. He removed some of his clothes and weapons, although he kept the great sword close by. To her surprise she saw that he had laid aside his armor, leaving the mail near the foot of the bed. For a few moments Ariashal studied the shimmering hauberk. Her father and brothers had chain armor, too, but none so delicate and fine as this. The thousands of tiny rings, looped endlessly to each other, always impressed her; she could not fathom the amount of time and skill needed to craft such a thing. Instinctively she touched the supple mail. It was light, far lighter than anything her family ever owned.
"You find my shirt entrancing?"
Startled, she let go. "It is like nothing I have ever seen. My father had some, but his were heavy and coarse next to this."
"That is because his were mere steel. This is mithril, the precious metal of the dwarves. It weighs no more than a simple shirt of cloth."
"Mithril? But that is more precious than gold!" She picked it up. It was true--the thing was no heavier than her chemise. "Where did you get this? I have never heard of anyone owning more than a ring or two of mithril!"
"Twas made for me long ago. What you say is true--it is indeed priceless. I daresay that this shirt has more value than much of Rhudaur." He took it from her, gave it a good shake, and neatly folded it. "I always wear this when I am amongst my enemies. I do not like surprises."
Once again sleep eluded her. She finally gave up, deciding instead to sit quietly on the bed. Any movement might disturb her husband, and she desperately wanted him to rest. He needed to be at his best when they met with Ferion. If it were up to her, there would be no meeting at all, not unless Ferion was well and firmly chained. She did not trust her brother; he was likely to try something foolish.
The glittering mithril shirt caught her eye. As carefully as she could she drew it to herself. It flowed across the blankets, almost alive in its shimmering reptilian beauty. It was decorated around the neck and cuffs with heavier mithril bands. On some of these there was engraving, although she did not recognize the language. Perhaps it was some sort of protection spell, or, more prosaically, the name of the dwarven smith whose skill brought it to life.
Holding it on her lap, she had a strange sensation of timelessness, as though the centuries and millennia seen by the shirt were somehow caught in the rings themselves, suspending all in a single, seamless moment of time. How many battles had it known; how many victories, how many defeats? How often had it been at a place she knew only from her history! It must have seen the fall of Numenor, and the great wars of the Second Age. What else had it witnessed? Sauron's fall, certainly; Gil-Galad's death, possibly. And a thousand other tragedies were woven into it, too, the little victories and small defeats that make up the bulk of war.
If only there were some way to infuse it with her love, to wind her own desire to protect him through the tiny circles! Had his other wives helped him into it? Had her long-dead predecessors watched as he slipped on the gleaming shirt, wondering if it would be protection enough? Or had most of them stayed away, hoping that the shirt would fail, that the spell of the Ring would be broken, that they would never see him again? Perhaps a few had shed tears onto it, while others spat at the tight-knit mithril rings.
"You are much enamored of my shirt."
Startled, she dropped it onto her lap. "I did not know you were awake. I wanted you to rest."
"I am rested enough." He sat up. "This hauberk has seen many battles, and never has it failed me. It will not do so today."
"I hope Ferion is reasonable."
"So do I. Perhaps," he said, taking the hauberk, "you should wear this."
"And leave you unprotected? Never! I would be much happier if you wore the hauberk."
"Very well." He stood and stretched. "But there is something which you will do for me."
"What, my lord?"
He did not answer. Instead he went to one of his own boxes, a black case bound in gold. A moment later he was back, a plain silver chain in hand. "I want you to wear this. It is not much, you understand, but should Ferion prove to be a bigger fool than I think him to be, it will keep you safe."
She held still while he slipped it over her head.
"Wear it beneath your chemise, where it cannot be seen."
"Like your hauberk."
"Precisely." He gently kissed her. "Always remember, madame, that armor for the flesh is much more readily obtained than that for the spirit. Now. We must ready ourselves for battle."
Playlist Navigation Bar