Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 23. Devolution
For the meeting with Ferion the King insisted that they wear their most spectacular robes and resplendent jewels. Ariashal knew just which gown that would be. She chose a grand forest green velvet, enriched with gold embroidery and pearls. Even the white brocade under-dress was heavy with the glow of tiny pearls set in gold. For once the King abandoned his favored black for a stunning set of vivid blue and gold robes; its huge sleeves dragged on the ground. Over it he wore the fabulous chains and jewels from Carn Dum. As they made their way to the meeting, surrounded by the black-clad guards of Angmar, light from the high windows reflected off their jewels and finery. Together it seemed they would outshine the very sun of Rhudaur.
Ferion waited for them in his throne room, flanked by his own unkempt guards. Their own portable thrones were set up opposite his; their own table was laid between them; their own carpets graced the floor beneath their feet. As they entered the room Ferion had the good grace to stand for receiving them. It was the first time, Ariashal noted ruefully, that he had treated them with the deference due their rank. Ferion had on the same drab clothes worn the day before. From the stains on the front she wondered if he ever took them off.
She waited while the King helped her to her seat. As carefully as possible she adjusted the heavy skirts so that the velvet would not crush too badly. The King settled next to her before placing his gloved hands on the table.
"Your guards may be dismissed," began Ferion. "There is nothing to fear from me."
"I prefer that they stay."
Ariashal watched her brother. If he was disappointed that the guards were staying, he managed to hide it well.
"Very well. I suppose we should begin. It would please me to no end if you let me take your daughter as wife for my grandson. It would further unite our kingdoms, and our families."
The King drew a long breath.
"Well?" demanded Ferion.
"Is it the custom in Rhudaur for one to be so blunt when dealing with his liege lord?"
Ferion drew back as if he had been slapped. "Why--what do you mean?"
"The journey to Rhudaur represents a not inconsiderable expenditure of time and effort. Surely the least you could do is enquire after our well-being before launching into affairs of state."
Ferion shifted uncomfortably in his throne. "I know that you are a busy man. I would not want to impede you in any way."
"As I said, I have already spent a great of time in getting here. I do not intend to leave immediately."
"I thought you would wish to return to Carn Dum while it is still summer. Before the snows set in," Ferion concluded, lamely.
"I see. You are considering our well-being. That is good. I would not want to think that our presence here is unwanted."
"Of course not!" Ferion's mouth twitched. "I am delighted to see my sister once again."
The King nodded. "You must understand, Ferion. I am a curious man. If I am not wanted somewhere, I usually take it upon myself to discover why."
"Do not think that!" Ferion smiled nervously. "I am proud to have you as my guest. I merely thought that you would prefer to do away with all the niceties, and simply discuss the reason behind your journey."
"I see." The King folded his hands. "Well. I must tell you that you have made an interesting offer, but one that I fear is not possible. I have already received an offer for her which is considerably more advantageous."
Ferion's mouth twitched. "From whom, if I may be so bold as to ask?"
Ariashal saw a flicker, a flash, in her brother's eyes. This was not what he was prepared to hear.
"Cardolan," Ferion repeated. "And what do you think of this, my sister?"
Ariashal caught her breath. She knew that there was no such offer; the King was trying to fluster her brother. "I will support my husband's decision in this matter."
"Indeed. And what part of Cardolan has pledged this?"
"What possible difference could that make? The King of Cardolan has made the offer himself. He too has a grandson who will be a suitable match. It will permit me to ally Angmar with another Dunedain kingdom. Such a union is desirable, is it not?"
She watched Ferion's mouth twitching. "I--I suppose so. I-- must admit I had not heard of such a marriage from Cardolan."
"Does the King of Cardolan see fit to tell you all of his business?"
"I--no, my lord, but I do speak with many of his sons regularly."
"Obviously, you do not know them as well as you have assumed. Besides, Zimraphel is a princess. She deserves to be married to the heir of a kingdom."
Ferion looked confused. "What do you mean? My grandson is my heir!"
"Heir? Heir to what? Rhudaur is a kingdom no longer."
"What?" shouted Ferion. "What are you saying?"
"When your father signed the marriage contract which sent your sister to Angmar, the treaty required the payment of a dowry in the form of tribute for twenty years. You have not paid in three years. Therefore, you are in default. To protect the interests of my queen and her children, the lands of Rhudaur are now officially assumed into Angmar."
"What?" Ferion stood, furious. "My father never signed that! He would never give you his kingdom!"
"I have the treaty with me. Do you wish to see it?"
"Very well." The King carefully pulled a long tube of scarlet silk from his belt. Deftly he untied one end, tipped out the tightly-rolled scroll, and laid both scroll and case on the table. "That is you father's signature, is it not? There, next to his seal?"
Ferion snatched the scroll from the table. Ariashal could see his eyes racing over the elegant calligraphy of the document.
"You will notice," continued the King, "the clause covering the dowry. As you can see, it says ‘in consideration of payment in full'. You do see that, do you not?"
Ferion continued to study the scroll.
"I forgave you one year, due to drought. Since then, you have received more than adequate rainfall to permit payment of the dowry. Yet you have not done so. And so, I am now forced to exercise the devolution clause."
"My father," began Ferion, voice shaking, "never intended this. He would never have signed this!"
"What are you suggesting?"
Ferion slammed the scroll onto the table. "Never, in a thousand years, would my father have signed this. Never!"
The King tapped the scroll. "Perhaps we should ask him."
"Ask him? How? He lays dead in his tomb!"
"There are ways." The King rerolled the scroll.
"You fiend!" shrieked Ferion. "You would force his ghost to speak? You would twist it to say whatever you wished! I know what you are! I know what you can do!"
"And I know that the house of Rhudaur cannot respect a treaty."
"Damn you!" Ferion swept the treaty from the table. "I will never let you seize this land! Never! Not so long as I live will you do this!"
"Out of consideration for your sister," began the King, "I have chosen to leave you alive. There are those amongst my men who would insist on a different course."
"My grandson will fight you," hissed Ferion. "All my blood will fight you! Never will you know rest!"
"That is why your grandchildren will be leaving with me."
"You? I will not suffer the sight of them with you!"
"There is a good deal more which you could suffer."
For a moment Ferion was silent, too furious to speak.
"This is an unwholesome place for rearing children," continued the King smoothly. "Since you insist that you cannot afford to pay me, I must assume that you also cannot afford adequate care for them. Here they live in squalor, which is hardly acceptable for children of their lineage."
"If they live in squalor, it is because you have impoverished us!"
"I? The tribute owed Angmar is considerably less than the cost of erecting that new tower on the border."
"Tower?" asked Ferion stupidly.
"Yes, the one which I have recently claimed for Angmar. You are aware of its presence, are you not?"
"That tower? That was--that was a compromise!"
"With whom, and for what? The Cardolani princes who lived there have gone. Perhaps they were the same ones who did not see fit to speak to you of their father's business. "
"What did you do to them?"
"As I said, Ferion, you could suffer more."
"You!" Ferion turned on Ariashal. "You are my blood! You will let him do this thing? You will let him take my family?"
For a few moments she studied her brother. All those years ago he had willingly sent her off to Angmar; even if he had known the truth about the King at the time, he would have done nothing to prevent it. It had certainly not been either her father's nor her brother's intent that her marriage to the Witch-King would turn out well. Never in their lives had Ferion considered her anything more than a bauble to be traded away for whatever would gain him the most.
"Nay, Ferion," she answered, "I will insist on it."
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