Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 27. Villains
Ariashal bolted for the door. The King caught her from behind. "Not that way. You! Guard!"
"No one leaves this keep until I give the order. Go!"
The guard saluted and left.
"What are you doing?" shrieked Ariashal. "We must get to the children!"
"Yes, but not that way. The keep is too crowded. Come!"
He led her onto the balcony. Below she could see the parapets and outer walls of the castle, all swarming with soldiers and guards. In the distance the blazing tents lit up the night sky; the shouts of men and whinnying of horses echoed over the field.
"Give me your hand."
"What are you going to do?"
"Give me your hand!"
Uneasy, she slipped her hand in his. He pulled her close to his side, clutching her tight. What was he going to do? They had to get down there, had to see to their children--
He took two long, loping strides, and bounded over the wall.
Ariashal shrieked. They were falling, fast, the ground sliding up to them--she buried her head against his chest, bracing for the impact.
They stopped, inches from the ground. He stepped down, as easily as dismounting his horse. "The stairs would have been too slow," he explained.
Instantly they were surrounded by guards, all desperate to report the latest news.
"Men on horseback...flame arrows... no men hurt ...shot some of them...orcs chasing them...some orcs dead..."
"Catch them if you can," ordered the King. "I want them alive!"
Ariashal, desperate, tried to pull free from his grasp. He held even tighter. "I must go! I must!"
"And be shot by men riding around freely? Nay, Ariashal, you will stay with me. We will see to the children together."
He strode past the guards, Ariashal racing to keep up. At the gate they were met by Adzuphel.
"We have caught one of them," he reported. "So far our casualties are light. Some burns, a few killed. Most of what they burned were the empty tents of the patrols. They rode fast, struck and left. The wolves did not catch the scent until they were almost upon us."
"How are my children?" asked Ariashal.
"I do not know." Adzuphel would not look at her. "But the royal pavilion was the hardest hit of all."
She felt her knees give way; she would have collapsed to the earth had the King not had his arm around her. Her children, all her children, dead...they must be dead. It could not be, it must not be--- it must be a dream, it must be a nightmare, they could not all be dead.
"Take us to them," ordered the King
Ariashal lurched forward, half carried, half dragged by the King. She could not find her feet, could not find the strength to go on. They were gone, all of them, gone, and she knew who was responsible; she knew who had ordered this monstrous thing. Ferion, this was the work of Ferion; he could not face her husband, so he would slay her children.
They stopped. Fearful of what she might see, Ariashal looked up.
The remains of the magnificent black and red silk tent lay collapsed in a heap, smoldering still, the acrid smoke wafting upwind and stinging her eyes. The stench of burned fabric, leather, hair, silk and flesh was overpowering; she fought down the urge to vomit.
People were coming, black against the red glow of the embers.
"Mamma!" shrieked Zimraphel.
Ariashal wiped tears from her eyes. Her children--alive? Yes! There they were, Adrahil running to her, Zimraphel close behind. Their nurse herded Thabadan and Lalwen towards her.
She dropped to her knees, clutched her children to her. Adrahil squirmed a little, but Zimraphel needed the hugging; she was clearly frightened. "Are you two all right?"
"I think so," said Zimraphel. "Imrahil is hurt."
"What? Where is Imrahil?"
"Here, madame," said Herumor.
There, in the arms of the Nazgul, lay Imrahil, an arrow piercing the front of his shoulder.
"What happened?" demanded the King.
"I was reading reports when the first arrows struck." Herumor stopped next to Ariashal. "As soon as I saw the flames, I knew what had happened. I got the children together, as you had commanded, and brought them outside. But Prince Imrahil drew his sword to give chase, and the villains shot him."
"Bring him to our rooms," ordered the King. "I will tend him there."
Ariashal did not move, still clinging desperately to the children.
"Nurse!" he ordered. "Take all the other children to our rooms. Bathe them and ready them for bed. Quickly! I do not want anyone else hurt."
The frightened woman hurried the two Rhudaurian children towards the keep. Adrahil hesitated, then stayed next to his mother.
"Come, my queen. We must get them inside. I will carry them if you wish."
Ariashal reluctantly stood. Adrahil and Zimraphel rushed to their father, clutching him until he swept them both up in his arms. Clinging to him, they rode into the keep safe in his grasp. Ariashal stayed close, trying not to let her emotions overwhelm her.
Once back in the sanctuary of their rooms, Ariashal turned the children back over to their nurse. They were frightened, yes; but they were unhurt. Imrahil needed her now.
Herumor brought the boy into the antechamber, which the King had been using as a makeshift study. He laid Imrahil upon the table, and stepped back.
Ariashal looked at her eldest son. A grey-fletched arrow protruded from his shoulder. Blood trailed down his chest, soaking his nightshirt. His face was drawn, white beneath the streaks of soot; his eyes were tightly closed. "Is he--"
"I put him to sleep," answered Herumor. "I did not want him to struggle, and make the hurt worse."
The King stripped off his gauntlets. Ariashal watched, fascinated, as the flesh around the shaft dimpled and rolled beneath the invisible fingers. "The arrow went deep into the bone. If it is not cared for, he will never again use this arm properly."
"Shall I get a healer?" asked Ariashal.
"Nay. He will be better off if I tend his wound." He looked up. "Herumor, there is a box of mine on the small table. The black one. Please bring it here."
Ariashal shifted closer. She had never seen her husband do this sort of work. And she desperately wanted to see her son made whole. There was no better place for her to be than at the King's side, no matter how horrible the surgery might be.
He guessed her thought. "It may get painful for you to watch, my queen. You might be better off checking the others. There may be much blood, I fear."
"No," she said, managing to keep her heart quiet. "I will stay for Imrahil."
Herumor returned with the black box. The King opened it, withdrew a small black obsidian knife, some vials of purple and green liquid, and a wad of what looked like blue wool. He closed the box and set it aside.
Some of the purple liquid was poured onto the blue wool. As gently as he could he tucked the wool around the arrow shaft. He held it there for a few moments, singing in a language that sounded vaguely Elven.
"Hold him still, Herumor. I will now withdraw the shaft."
Ariashal bit her lip, buried her nails in the arm of the chair. She could almost feel the arrow being pulled from her son's flesh, could almost feel the muscle and tissue tearing as the head was drawn free.
"It is done."
She looked up. The King held the arrow above Imrahil's chest. Blood dripped onto the table.
"The whole head is there," she said, awed.
"Yes, and thankfully so. I did not want to have to use the knife."
"Will he--will he be all right?" she asked.
"Of course," said Herumor. "Your husband is a skilled healer."
"It will take a few days for the bone to knit, but he will be well soon enough." The King laid the bloody arrow on the table. "Now to see that the wound heals properly."
A skilled healer. Never had she thought of him as such; yet now it began to make some sense. Who else would tend their wounds? They would certainly not want Sauron to do so. It would have to be one of their own, and who better than the King?
She watched as he swabbed the torn flesh with some of the green liquid, blotting the excess with the blue wool. When he was done the wound was still visible, but noticeably smaller; there would be no angry red scar.
"We will need to watch this, but it will not fester. There should be no danger, so long as he rests." With on hand he swept up the soiled wool. "Herumor, please burn this." Herumor took the handful of wool and left.
He put the knife, vials and remaining wool back into the box. "Imrahil needs to sleep, if he is to regain his strength." After closing the box, he took Ariashal's hand. "Come, my queen. He must rest. And so must you, for I know it was harder on you than him."
She looked up at him. "How can I--how can I thank you for saving him?"
He laughed. "He is my son, too. I would not see him suffer."
She clutched his hand, hoping that the grasp told him all she could not say.
Herumor reappeared in the doorway. "Adzuphel is here, sir."
"Good. Tend to Imrahil."
Ariashal followed the King out to the main room. Adzuphel stood there, his face streaked with soot. "Your Majesties, we have caught more of them. Unfortunately most of them have already perished, but one is strong enough to be questioned."
"Very well. Bring him to the throne room. We will be there anon."
Nervous and angry, Ariashal sat next to the King while the strongest prisoner was brought before them.
He was a young Dunedain man, not quite old enough to marry. Beneath the thin beard his face had the unmistakable roundness of youth. His dark hair was matted with sweat, his clothes stained with dirt and soot; his boots were caked with dried mud.
The guards dragged him in, flinging him to the ground at the foot of the thrones.
"Speak your name," ordered the King.
The young man struggled to regain his feet. Before he could stand, one of the guards pushed him back down.
"I asked you a question, boy."
The young man looked up at them, his blue eyes blazing with hate. Ariashal fought back the urge to race down and attack him. This was the face of the man who had tried to slay her children; yet he was barely more than a child himself. And already he had turned to evil.
One of the guards cuffed the prisoner. "Answer the King."
"Ferion," he mumbled.
"Do not mock me!" cried Ariashal. "I know Ferion, and you are not he!"
"I was named for our rightful king!" spat the prisoner.
"I see," said the King. "You were named for a thief, a murderer, a cheat and a coward. Clearly the name suits you."
"You will die, Witch-King!"
"No, Ferion, I think not. And I think that you are too stupid to tell me anything of value. Obviously anyone with your vaunted name could not be counted upon to keep any information of import."
"My king will return! He will return and he will destroy you!"
"How? By attacking empty tents and children? That will destroy me? Nay, Ferion, I think you overestimate the power and strength of your worthless lord. For I will find him, and I assure you that he will not be returning to the throne of Rhudaur."
"Rhudaur is not yours! We will fight for our freedom forever!"
"You are wrong. Rhudaur is indeed mine. And as for you, since you wish to fight for freedom by burning children in their beds, you will be dealt with forthwith.
"Ferion, hear now my judgement. You will be wrapped in cloth, painted in tar, and hung from the tower. There you will be set alight, that you may burn the way you would have had my children burn. And then you shall indeed be a beacon for those who would follow your path. This is my judgement, and it will now be done."
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