Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 24. Seance
At first they missed their old things, and cried for their old nurse. But they quickly adjusted to having a larger bed, clean clothes, new things to explore. Lalwen followed Zimraphel everywhere, and was soon cuddling up to the wolves. Thabadan insisted on calling the wolves "doggies", which sent the older boys into giggling fits. Zimraphel and Lalwen merely hugged the wolves, and smiled.
The King ordered Ferion banished to the rooms which the Royal couple had so recently occupied. Ferion's rooms, the highest in the castle, were henceforth to be the home of the Royal couple. To Ariashal's surprise, the furnishings in Ferion's quarters were much richer than those on public display. "How could he say he was impoverished when he lived like this?" she asked, fingering the silk bed hangings.
"Nay, my queen," he explained, "twas no surprise to me. Ferion is not the first lord to cry poverty in public while dining off gold. I know he will not be the last."
"I still find it unsettling."
"As well you should. There is no telling what else he has managed to hide."
"What will we do with these things?"
"I suppose he may have them, if that would please you. Otherwise I would place these in a suite for our more distinguished guests. Our own things will be brought up here."
She was tempted to say that Ferion could sleep with the pigs, but managed to hold her tongue. "I think he should use the things he thought good enough for us."
"A wise decision. He does not deserve better, and I daresay he deserves a great deal less. These things will make a fine impression on our guests."
"What about the rest of the furnishings here?"
"I will have them put out for those who wish to take them. Some may want the old tapestries and carpets to line their own homes against the cold. And the old furniture will also be laid out. Some is no better than firewood, but the poorer folk may find a use for it."
"Why not simply burn it?"
"And lose the chance to bind the people to us? Nay, my queen. Even though it be worn and stained, tis still equipment of quality. Let our subjects take what they may."
"At least we have our own things to make this a decent court."
"Indeed we do. I will have weavers brought from Angmar to instruct some of the folk here. They can make the carpets and tapestries themselves. I had Adzuphel search for any local manufacturers, but there are none. No one here does any work other than support the regiment of this fortress."
Ariashal shook her head. "It seems that Ferion neglected everything."
"That he did, madame. I will have the men set to work at once. All should soon be returned to order."
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Ferion did not accept his demotion with good grace. He whined to all who would listen about his betrayal by his sister, about the treaty that could not possibly be valid, about his insufficient new quarters. Ariashal, his beloved sister, the flower of Rhudaur whom he had done everything for, had returned to him as the wife of evil personified. He had tried to warn her of the danger of such a marriage, but would she listen to his wise counsel? No, she had insisted on marrying the Witch-King. Why, she had even hoped to use her curse to her advantage! Obviously the only reason the Witch-King still lived was because he was as evil as she.
For the most part the King ignored Ferion's hysterics, but they began to prey on Ariashal. She knew the truth; she knew who had betrayed whom. But the fact that her own brother was spreading venomous rumors about her family cut her to the core. She feared that someone would believe him, and would agree that her children were devil-spawn in need of slaughter.
Accordingly she spent as much time with them as was possible. All day she stayed at their tent, making certain that they did their lessons and minded the nurse. Herumor seemed to appreciate her presence; he used her arrival as a signal to slip off into his own darkened tent for rest. Ariashal suspected that he too was one of the Nazgul, but dared not ask.
One day she took Zimraphel back to the new royal apartment. The boys were out practicing archery under the watchful eye of Herumor; the King trusted no one else to supervise their weapons training. Lalwen was sleeping with one of the wolves, while the nurse quietly stitched a new shift for the little girl. Zimraphel, bored by the quiet camp, was thrilled to accompany her mother back to the keep.
Ariashal held her daughter's hand while they made their way through the old castle. Everywhere people were washing walls and floors, tearing out old and rotted wooden beams, replacing broken windows. Occasionally she stopped to check on the work in progress, speaking with the servants individually and inquiring after their health. It was a simple, useful method of rewarding the servants that she had learned from the King; the workers were pleased to show off their handiwork, and she was pleased to reward them with her smiles.
They paused for a moment at the entrance to the great hall. It had been transformed from the dingy temporary throne room of Ferion into a much more splendid chamber. Many of the grand tapestries they had brought from Carn Dum hung here, along with the banners of Angmar and Rhudaur. The fine carpets used for the meeting with Ferion now covered most of the floor. The King's throne was surrounded by the hangings used to decorate their pavilion while reviewing troops.
Zimraphel wanted to rush to her father, but Ariashal stopped her. The King was busy with Adzuphel and some other men, most of whom were being prepared to govern the newly-acquired Rhudaur. She did not want to disturb the men at their work. Instead they watched silently while the issue of a reliable census for Rhudaur was discussed. Even from this distance the King's annoyance with Ferion's lackluster approach to ruling was quite evident.
Zimraphel quickly tired of the slow pace of government. Ariashal finally led the fidgety child away, lest she upset the King or intrude upon his work. How, she wondered, could Ferion have let things fall so far? Rhudaur had never been a terribly prosperous kingdom, but it had been reasonably successful. Even when her father was alive, the endless wars with Cardolan had been unable to crush the very life from Rhudaur. But Ferion had managed to do so, and in a surprisingly short period of time. He had ruled for less than seven years; and in that time he had driven his kingdom into the ground. She feared it would take years for the King to completely revive it.
At the entrance to the Royal suite she let Zimraphel order the guards to open the doors. They did so willingly, bowing to their princess as she swept into the rooms.
Once inside Zimraphel scampered about, inspecting the great bed, the hangings, the cases of her mother's jewelry. Ariashal watched her antics with a mix of relief and joy. No one would dare harm her daughter. And if anyone was foolish enough to do so, they would have more than the wrath of the Witch-King to contend with!
Zimraphel disappeared into the antechamber, where she could look out over the fields. A moment later she skipped back in.
"Momma, the old man wants to talk to you."
"Old man?" she asked, surprised. No one was supposed to be in here without the express permission of either her or the ing. "What old man?"
"The old man in here." Zimraphel took Ariashal's hand, pulling her towards the antechamber. "He is sad."
Who could this be? A spy? Someone with word of a plot against the King? Heart pounding, Ariashal followed her daughter into the room.
"See?" Zimraphel pointed at an empty chair. "The old man. He wants to see you."
Ariashal felt a sudden chill wash over her, felt her scalp tingle and her hair stand erect.
"Momma?" Zimraphel tugged at her. "He wants to talk to you."
Without a word Ariashal seized Zimraphel in her arms. She backed out of the room, out the chamber, out the door.
"What is wrong?" asked the guard, alarmed by the sight of the Queen.
"Lock this door," she ordered, trembling. "I must get to the King!"
She half-pulled, half-carried Zimraphel down the stairs, ignoring the child's protests. She did not know what was in the room upstairs, but it was beyond her ability to confront it. The King would know what to do.
At the bottom of the stairs she paused, catching her breath.
"Momma," began Zimraphel, "why are we going to see Daddy? The old man is afraid of Daddy."
"What makes you think that?"
"He said so. He called Daddy a nazgoo."
"Well, the old man was wrong. Your father will not harm him, unless he wishes to harm you, or us. Do you understand?"
"I think so. I said Daddy was good, but he was still scared."
"I see. Now we must speak with your father."
At the great hall she swept past the guards, ignoring them as they saluted her. She marched across the hall, Zimraphel in tow, and stopped at the paper-strewn table.
"My lord, I must speak with you immediately."
The King did not look up. "As you can see, my queen, we are very busy."
"This cannot wait."
He sighed. "Very well. What is it?"
"Zimraphel saw an old man upstairs."
"Is that all?"
"My lord, I--I cannot see this man," she managed to keep her voice steady. "But Zimraphel can, and says he speaks with her."
He turned towards her. "What does he say, Zimraphel?"
"He says he is very sad. And he wants to talk to Momma."
"I see." For a moment he tapped the table. "Very well. Gentlemen, consider this meeting adjourned. We will continue this later today."
"As you wish, Your Majesty." Adzuphel gathered up the scattered papers.
The King stood to go. All the other men bowed to him as the royal family left the room.
At the foot of the stairs he swept Zimraphel into his arms. "Tell me, little one, who is this man?"
"He is old and sad. And he calls you a nazgoo."
"He does, does he. What else does he say?"
"He says he wants to talk to Momma."
"I see. Perhaps he will speak with all of us."
Once inside the royal apartment, he carefully set Zimraphel down. She skipped off into the antechamber, searching for the old man.
A moment later she returned, crestfallen. "He is gone!"
"Is he, now." The King quietly opened one of his traveling boxes. "I do not think he has gone far. Watch, Zimraphel. I will bring him back to us."
"How?" She crowded close to the box.
"You will see. I need only this candle, and this ink. He will come to us presently."
Ariashal watched, fascinated, as her husband laid out the instruments of his trade. She had rarely seen him work before; usually he secreted himself in his study, where she dared not tread. But this was different. She got the distinct impression that much of this was more for Zimraphel and herself than the King; she doubted that he needed anything to conjure the thing Zimraphel had seen.
"Now. We draw the circle thus." She watched as he deftly sketched a simple pentagram on the table, taking care not to spill the ink. To her surprise he drew it without once lifting the pen from the table; she wondered if that was required for the spell to work properly. When he finished she could tell neither where the symbol started nor ended.
"The hand must be steady," he continued, "else the spell will fail. Now we must close the windows." With a sweep of his hand, the windows flew shut. Zimraphel oohed in delight.
Ariashal saw him take the blue candle from the table. He held it to his hand, and with a sudden spark the wick snapped into flame. Giggling, Zimraphel reached for it.
"Nay, child, this is not for you. I will teach you this, and many other things besides; but now we must retrieve your visitor."
He set the candle in the center of the pentagram, waited until the flame ceased flickering. With one hand he reached into the air, as though he was pulling someone through a door. "Nakh! Mano! Nakh!"
The candle fluttered as the room sank into coldness. Ariashal felt a breath of something sweep past her, brushing aside her hair. She fought the urge to flee.
"Daddy!" cried Zimraphel, delighted. "You made him come back!"
"Aye, daughter. Now we will see what it is he wishes to say."
It took every bit of will in her being for Ariashal to stay where she was. This was not natural; this was unearthly, perhaps even unholy. She should not be here; she should not let her daughter be here, she should not let her husband do this. She should run away, far away, far from the candles and pentagrams and the other bizarre things that he kept in his boxes. She should go, now, while she--
"Ariashal is quite content, as you can see."
She stared past her husband and into the room. No one was there, no one visible to her, anyway; and yet she knew that they were not alone.
"Zimraphel is your granddaughter. She too is safe."
Granddaughter? Could this be--
"Nay, King Turabar. They are far safer with me than they would be alone."
"Why do you call Daddy a nazgoo?" asked Zimraphel.
"Tis an old word, my child, in a language best left dead. I think that he will not call me that again."
Ariashal clutched her husband's shoulder, steadying herself. There were a thousand questions she wanted to ask her father, a thousand things she wished to understand; but she could not bring herself to speak to the empty air.
"Nay, Turabar. I fear she can neither see nor hear you. You must tell me and Zimraphel what it is you seek."
Ariashal heard a soft whispering, too faint to understand, blowing through the room. For several moments she tried, desperately, to make some sense out of the fragile sounds, only to lose her way in the whirling murmurs. If only she could hear one word, one simple word that would tell her that this was, indeed, her father!
"Such wisdom oft comes too late for men," agreed the King. "Choosing to ignore the warnings of the old is an art much practiced by the young. Twas always so. But how does this make Ferion deadly?"
"Do not be so sad!" Zimraphel reached up into nothingness.
"Nay, child, he has much to sadden him. What was the nature of the poison used?"
"Poison?" asked Ariashal, shocked.
"Aye, madame. It seems Ferion used poison to hasten your father's death."
"Your father will tell us."
Ariashal leaned against him, hoping to hear something, fearful of what it might be. She was no longer as frightened of the ghost as she was of her brother, a state of affairs she would never have been able to imagine before. Yet here she was, in a darkened room, while her husband and daughter conversed with the dead. And the man responsible for the death of her father wandered freely in the castle.
"Very well," said the King at last. "And consider how few of those who dwell in the shadows of the spirit realm receive what you seek."
"Are you going away now?" asked Zimraphel.
"He needs to rest now, child. But fear not. He will be here in Rhudaur for some time. He wishes to watch over you and your brothers."
Ariashal found her voice. "Can--can they see him, too?"
"Aye, it seems all my children inherited that gift. Do you wish to speak with your father before he leaves, my queen?"
She tried, harder than she thought possible, to force the words out. But they would not come. The empty air before her, the full tomb below--she could not reconcile the two. If only she could see him herself, it would be different; but she could not; others could, but she, his own daughter, was barred from seeing him. The aching loneliness that now filled her was too much to bear. She buried her head on the King's shoulder and wept.
Silently, he blew out the candle.
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