Many Guises and Many Names
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Lesser Ring: 34. Questions of Succession
Questions of Succession
"You mean that there are some who would still worship Sauron?" demanded Pippin in a near-whisper as they neared the Farozi's house.
"Yes," admitted Ankhrabi with anger.
The Haradri looked down into the face of the Hobbit, saw the frustration and genuine confusion there. "How can I tell it?" he asked.
Aragorn sighed. "Pippin, they have known nothing else for millennia. For well over three thousand years, Sauron has been there. Yes, he was evil; but for those who have known no other reality, at least it was familiar. We know they now have the possibility of knowing great good--but for those who have known only evil, that which they do not know is too oft thought to be probably much worse than what they knew before."
"But he's only the memory of himself!" The Hobbit shook his head. "Why would they want to worship someone so evil to begin with, even? As Sam would say, they don't even show plain Hobbit-sense!"
They entered into the house and followed the Farozi into the common chamber. He sat heavily in a chair, and the others found places to sit here and there elsewhere throughout the room. Arwen saw to the changing of her son with the assistance of Lady Avrieth while others sat looking, it seemed, either at their hands or at one another. Ankhrabi sat by his wife on a low, backless couch, and held her to him. The three servitors who lived permanently here and served the Farozi when he visited the Valley brought out flagons of local beer for all. Pippin, who'd become accustomed to different ales and beers during his travels, accepted his glass distractedly. Isumbard tasted his and grimaced, then set it beside him.
Pippin was plainly unable to let go of the question. He looked up into An'Sohrabi's eyes. "You've never wanted to worship Sauron, have you?"
The Farozi's eyes were steady on his own. "No, Captain Peregrin, I have never wished to worship Sauron. I will tell you I have been forced to feign worship of him, though. Otherwise I would have been killed."
"Fancy him not being able to tell real worship from feigned," the Hobbit said, shaking his head.
Aragorn sighed. "It appears to be a part of what he'd fallen to in the end, that he'd become so given to the need for self-worship he'd accept any from others he could get, no matter how false it might ring. However, had he been able to see the Lord Farozi cut off from others and slain to his honor, he'd have been happy. But then, he'd have been as glad if one of his true believers should have been slain in his honor as he'd have been at the death of one of his greatest enemies--perhaps happier. He had no respect for those who worshipped him, only uses; for his enemies he held contempt, but also fear, which is nevertheless a form of respect."
"But, Aragorn, why would they want to worship him again? If they rebuilt the temples, would it do any good for him? I mean, he can't get more powerful with the Ring gone, no matter how many people are killed for him?"
Legolas answered, "You are right, Pippin--no matter how many deaths are offered him now he cannot come back. But it would give those who offer them the illusion of power, to think they command the lives and deaths of others."
Pippin went quite still, thinking on that. He then turned to the Farozi. "I suggest, then, my Lord, that you keep close watch on those who might seek to rebuild the worship of Sauron. If they are willing to kill others just to feel powerful, they'd want the kind of power you represent, too, and they'd threaten you as readily as they'd kill your people." He finished his beer, then looked at that by his cousin.
"Would you like it, Pippin?" Isumbard asked.
"I never dreamed I'd ever say such a thing, Bard, but, no, not really. Just hate to see good beer go to waste."
"I find it bitter."
"It's not the ale from the Green Dragon or the Prancing Pony, definitely. But it's good enough in its own right. I think I'm going to bed. Tonight gave me too much to think on."
Soon most of the others followed him.
Aragorn went out into the court after a time to smoke his pipe and think. Ankhrabi and his father eventually joined him. They sat by him in silence for some moments. Finally the Farozi said quietly, "His advice is wise." Aragorn didn't speak, merely nodded his own head. After another pause An'Sohrabi continued, "It is difficult to decide which is the more dangerous--the pursuit of true power, or the pursuit of the false feeling of power those who wish to renew the worship of the Death Eater would have."
At last the bearded face, the grey eyes turned to look at him. "Is the power they seek now any different than what they'd thought to have before, my friend?" He knocked out the spent ashes against the bench on which he sat, then rose. "I think I will seek the wisdom of my wife. I wish you both a good night, and careful thought."
The Farozi awoke with the dawn to find many of his guests were already awake and about. King and Northern guards of honor were out in the court with Master Isumbard and Lord Gimli, smoking a morning pipe and speaking softly, while the Lord An'Éomer knelt before where his son sat on a garden bench, tying the child's sandals. Melian had gathered more palm fronds and was trying her hand at another mat while Nefirnerini sat behind her on the bench trying to weave the Princess's thick, dark gold hair into a single braid at the back of her head. "If you would sit more still, my Lady," she scolded gently.
The smaller girl obediently straightened and tried to cooperate, and Nefirnerini started over, soon had the braid finished and tied with a bit of golden cord she'd found in her quarters. Ma'osiri and Amon'osiri were playing idly at Jackals and Hounds. Both smaller boys had been bathed in a basin the servant Bhatrani had found in a storeroom, and the Lady Éowyn was trying to get her son's cooperation in getting the pilgrim's robes over his head. "Na!" he kept saying, pulling away. "Na!"
An'Sohrabi found himself laughing. "Let him go without for a time, my Lady," he advised in Westron. "It will do no harm and cause no offense."
"If you are certain," she said uncertainly.
He laughed more fully. "My sons would seek to remove even their loin garments, and none seemed to care. It is very warm here in the daytime, yet there is plenty of shade."
Finally she gave a brief nod of decision and let the child go. He took two steps and fell upon his bottom, and both she and the Farozi laughed merrily together. He found himself looking into eyes blue as the water of the Risen under the fullness of Amon's light, and realized she was beautiful in a manner the women of his own people were not. She wielded a sword competently, rode easily, appreciated fine horses, and had clever hands; she cared for her son herself, was not shy. Had he met her years earlier, he thought, he might well have sought to take her to wife himself. It was no wonder her husband treasured her, he realized--as full a companion as any Man, but with the special softness of a woman as well.
"What shall you do this day?" asked the Farozi of his guests at the dawn meal.
An'Elessar smiled. "Legolas, Pippin, and I have decided to go in search of music. I believe that the ladies desire to go to the temple of Avreth to see the great loom that the Lady Nefiramonrani has spoken of, while most of our fellows have indicated they would visit the wrestling ground near the temple of Amon. That such activities are encouraged here is a surprise to many."
Prince Faramir shook his head. "Let my wife's brother see to such things. I desire to see these archives of yours, and your son has agreed to show them to me and to translate."
"While Owain and Isumbard and I have decided to go examine architecture and sculpture," added Ruvemir. "Captain Pippin, I had no idea your cousin here would have as artistic a nature as he shows."
"Oh, I'm no artist," Isumbard said. "That was ever Frodo's realm, the works of beauty. But he taught me to appreciate them when I see them." Master Ruvemir cast a glance at the older Hobbit that the Farozi could not interpret.
In the end An'Sohrabi, followed by Ma'osiri, chose to accompany the King of Gondor, his son, Legolas, and Pippin; and they found themselves discussing music and how it differed between the realms as they walked. They found a mixed group near the temple of Geb who were idly talking between playing snatches of melody on their various instruments, and easily joined them. None seemed to recognize the Farozi without his cosmetics and crown, although all realized he accompanied the strangers from the North who'd seen the end of the Death Eater. They looked at Hildigor and the one of the Farozi's nephews who accompanied them with interest. One looked into An'Elessar's eyes. "You are a lord in your land?"
"Almost all of us in our party are lords in one way or another," the King said evasively, "even those who stand guard."
"Was there a song written to memorialize the downfall of the Death Eater?" asked one of the older Men.
"Yes," answered Aragorn.
"What is it like?"
"We could sing it for you if you would care to hear it."
When most indicated they did desire to hear it, An'Elessar looked to the Hobbit. "Will you play the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers, Pippin?" he asked in Westron.
"If you wish, Strider," the Hobbit answered solemnly.
"That's your name--Strider?" asked the Haradri. Aragorn shrugged, and signed to Pippin to begin.
The group about them began to grow as An'Elessar and Legolas sang, the voices of Man and Elf rising above the flute, weaving together in counterpoint as the tale was told in Westron, Sindarin, and now and then smatterings of Quenya and Rohirric and Adunaic. The Farozi listened, entranced. Never had he heard the power of song as he did now, as he seemed to see the hurry of four small beings out of a rich yet small land, as they met one, tall and mysterious, who as time went on became more and more majestic. He seemed to see the ponderous steps of the Ents, the mighty ride of the Rhohirrim, the smaller but no less desperate and needful ride of the Grey Company....
And through it all, the small but determined steps of the two who went on alone, who through capture, betrayal, thirst, hunger, fear, and small moments of reassurance kept on, until at last the terrible moment when the Ring finally was capable of overcoming the not-quite-indomitable will of Frodo Baggins, then the final grace of the Ring being taken and in the end destroyed. The section of the fall of the Death Eater's stronghold was almost overwhelming, and he could see the reflection of the awe they'd felt then in the faces of the two singers, followed by the gentle moment of grief when it was believed the two small beings who'd caused the fall were lost. He now heard the glorious segment Pippin had sung a few evenings ago, as those two were presented to the company of the Free Peoples of the West, the triumph, the honor, the final eglerio of praise.
Pippin did not end the music there, however, for he held the note for several moments, and slipped into the hymn to Ulmo, in token of the sailing of the Ringbearer and the Elves, the loss of so many who had symbolized wisdom, beauty, delight; the loss of so many to the sundered lands to the West.
Neither Elf nor Man sang the hymn. Legolas stood straight and tall; the King had bowed his head in honor and loss. His son, who lay still in his father's arms, looked up in wonder, reached up at last to touch the tear that slipped silently down his father's cheek.
All were moved, and even more so as they saw the depth of emotion reflected in the faces of the three who'd presented it. Finally the Man looked to the Hobbit, who'd dropped the hands holding his flute at last into his lap. "That was right and proper, I think." Pippin simply nodded, his face still solemn.
"You are glad for the destruction of the Eastern Lord?" asked one young man.
The Man who had sung the lay looked at him, his gaze deep and penetrating. "Yes," he finally said. "Yes, I am glad of it, and that the towers of his might have been cast down, and the Black Gate broken and swallowed up by the Earth itself. Long and long had he set himself as mightier than the Valar, and now at last the truth is out, and by the works of his own vanity has he been brought to nought."
"You bear rings yourself--do you seek power through them?"
Aragorn looked at him, his eyebrows lifting. "Power through my rings? None is a ring of power. One is my marriage token from my wife and the mother of my children. One is the heirloom of my house for generations out of mind, the symbol only of my lineage, once given to she who is now my wife in token of our love, and returned to me on our marriage to resume its original function. The third is my signet as lord of those given to my protection. Each is but a symbol--none holds any power in its own right. I do not desire the power bestowed by rings."
"Yet you would have had that lost by the Eastern Lord."
Strider shook his head. "I was offered It and refused It. A lie and a cheat It was for any save he who wrought It."
An'Sohrabi was surprised. "It was offered you? You did not speak of that. By whom? When?"
"At the Council of Elrond, and by Frodo when he learned at last of my lineage. I am, after all, heir to the one who was betrayed by It, who named It an heirloom of our house."
"And you would not touch It."
"Isildur died, betrayed by It when he trusted Its power to conceal him from his enemies. Do you think I would trust It to touch It? No." He turned back to the young Man, noted the fanatical look to his eyes. "No, my son, I would never have willingly borne It. It yet sought to capture my vanity and my soul. But, had I taken It I would have fallen as did my ancestor. It took even the Ringbearer at the end, and I deem my own will to withstand It would have been nowhere as great as was his."
"Did you kill him for the betrayal, then?" asked the young Man.
"Kill him? For being vulnerable to that? Far greater than I refused to touch It, knowing that they would fall even harder than I would have done. Lords and Ladies among Elves, the wisest of the Istari...."
"If you did not kill him, then where is he?"
Pippin was looking to Aragorn for understanding, and at last the King swiftly translated the interchange. He grew white with fury, his face stern beyond telling. The Hobbit rose to his full height and looked directly into the young Man's face.
"We told you and yours last night--Frodo is in Elvenhome. I saw him sail with Gandalf and Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel and Lord Gildor and many others. Strider here wasn't even there! The Ringbearer is my kinsman. He carried that thing for seventeen years in his pocket, and on a chain about his neck, now awake, aware, and willing to betray each and all, for five more months until It took him at last just before It was destroyed. It almost destroyed him, his joy, his delight, the delight he brought to all who knew him. He is now on Tol Eressëa among the Elves who came to honor him."
"Are you glad the Eastern Lord is gone?"
Pippin again looked amazed. Finally he answered carefully, the King translating, "Do you think Sauron cared for us, for such as you and me? He cared for us only as long as we would worship him as being above us. He built only that which would intimidate and threaten. He made only that which would destroy and betray. He ordered only death and domination. Was Harad ever made better by the deaths of those who fought in his armies or who were killed for his glory and to replenish his strength? I very much doubt it."
"Yet you honor the other gods, Neryet and Amon...."
"Elbereth has given us light and beauty. Manwë has taught us to rule ourselves responsibly. Ulmo waters the earth, and Yavanna has taught us how to cultivate the earth and accept the nourishment it offers us. What good thing has Sauron, who wasn't even one of the Valar after all, ever given or taught us, other than to choose other than his way?"
"He has taught us the holy fear of death!"
All within the crowd which now listened to the debate stood shocked. Finally the King translated that last declaration, and he now faced the young Man. "Yes, he and his own lord taught us to fear death, to fear the Gift of Iluvatar Himself. And you consider that a good thing? You consider that holy? It is death that should be holy, not the fear of it."
"But----" Unable to think of how to counter that argument, the young Man with the fanatic's eyes turned around, and the crowd opened to allow him to slip away.
A woman at length asked, "If death ought to be seen as holy, then would you seek it willingly?"
Aragorn sighed, and looked to his host before turning to her. "Not all deaths are blessed, but certainly some are. When my time comes, I will go gladly, and give thanks for its release as I give thanks for the life I was granted, its joys and its griefs, its delights and its tragedies. But I will not seek death until it is plain the time has come. To do otherwise is a betrayal of the gift of life, which also should be seen as holy. The two go together, you see."
Sa'Amonri smiled as he stood among the onlookers, then slipped away to report the discussion to his master. Ma'osiri stood by his grandfather, the child obviously thinking.
That anyone would think of Sauron and his works as desirable continued to flummox Peregrin Took, while it deeply disturbed his King and friend. As they left the area where they'd hoped to share music, Aragorn commented quietly, "That any would speak openly of such things--this is not good."
"Well, it's better we know such thoughts are going round than to be surprised by them later, I suppose," Pippin suggested.
"This is the first I've heard such suggestions made since the Death Eater fell," the Farozi said as he held his grandson's hand close, his brow furrowed with concern. "I know many feel uncertain without that one's thoughts ever guiding us, but to desire to see fear as holy and to use that as an excuse for resuming his empty worship----" He shuddered.
Aragorn turned to Legolas and spoke quietly to him in Sindarin for several minutes. The Elf nodded and turned away, disappearing into the folk who seemed to fill the Valley. The King looked after his friend, then turned to the Farozi. "Perhaps we should see how the wrestling goes."
There was quite a crowd around the wrestling ground. Gimli and a Haradri were wrestling, both having removed their pilgrim's robes; and it was hard to be certain who would win the bout, which would be won when one or the other was forced out of the marked ring. The Haradri was taller, but it was obvious that the Dwarf was heavily muscled and strong. The two struggled mightily, and several times it appeared that Gimli would be forced out of the ring. Finally he managed to wrap his arms around the body of his opponent and lifted him up, and physically carried him out of the ring and dropped him on the ground with a grunt of satisfaction.
Haleth went next, and managed to last some time before he was finally forced out of the ring, at which time he bowed his respect to the Haradri who had beaten him.
Now An'Éomer was ready to enter the Ring, and looking at his lean but muscular body none wished to take him on. He uttered good-natured taunts in Rohirric, and at last An'Sohrabi, realizing his nephew who served as guard at that moment was eager to take on the ruler of Rohan, nodded his encouragement for the young Man to leave off his duty and go ahead. "Lord Hildigor can serve for both of us," he commented, at which the young Man smiled and slipped his robe over his head.
After a quarter mark the bout still wasn't decided, for the matching between the two of them was too well made. Both were equally determined and equally exultant in the struggle. There was much cheering as for a moment it appeared the Haradri would prevail; then An'Éomer finally managed to grapple his opponent, and both fell out of the ring together. All laughed, and the two of them were pulled to their feet and their backs pounded in token of the dual victory.
The Farozi looked at his companion. "Will you join them?"
The King of Gondor shook his head. "No, I don't think I will. This is a young Man's game, and I have my son in my arms."
Gimli looked affronted. "Young Man, you say, my friend? I am older than you by some years, and I was in there."
But An'Elessar refused to enter the ring. "I am a swordsman, not a wrestler, my friend. That you are gifted in both is remarkable."
It was here that one of the young priests who attended on the high priest of Amon found them. "My beloved Lord Farozi, An'Elessar, An'Éomer--our master wishes to speak to you, Lord An'Sohrabi, of what shall be done at the accession of your son."
The Farozi smiled with satisfaction. "It is indeed time to discuss this."
"Where is the Lord Ankhrabi?"
"In the archives, I believe."
"Then I will send to have him summoned, my Lord." He looked at Captain Peregrin with some concern. "I am not certain if this one would be appropriate to include, as it involves leadership...."
The King of Gondor interrupted. "He is the heir to the Thain of the Shire, and will be charged with the greater part of their defense and welfare when he follows his father in that office. He has earned his place as a Captain in my personal Guard as well, and it is as such he has come; but as I have said before, each and all in our company save for Master Ruvemir and Owain is in one manner or another a noble or an official of the Northern lands."
The young priest bowed, deeply, saying, "If you will follow me, then."
As they headed for the temple of Amon they were looked after with interest and some awe as their identities were finally realized by those around. The young Man with the fanatic's eyes stepped out of the crowd and watched after them thoughtfully.
They were brought to the priests' residence behind the temple, and through it into a dining room where they were invited to take seats on benches about a table. Acolytes entered with trays of fruits and vegetables and goblets and a decanter of wine. Two priests and three priestesses entered the room and took seats, followed by the high priest of Amon and Ankhrabi and Prince Faramir, followed by Beregond, who took his place against the wall with Haleth and Hildigor. Here in the privacy of the residence the high priest leaned on a cane. He took a place in the chair set at one end of the table; Faramir took the remaining seat opposite, and all looked at one another, the high priest examining each member of the Northern party with grave interest.
He smiled gently as he at last looked on An'Elessar. "You are but little changed from what I remember so very long ago. So it is true that you have the blood of the Elves in your veins."
"It was long ago; but I am indeed descended from the kings of Numenor."
"And this is your son?"
The priest smiled, then turned to the heir to the Farozi. "And you will be Lord of this land soon enough, and this your son after you. Part of why I wished to have you to come at this time is to plan for the day when you must become Farozi. The--rites--by which your father was made Farozi, and before him his brother and his father, are no longer valid. I asked these others so that we might learn how it is done in other lands." He looked to the King of Rohan. "You have not been King long."
"I have been King ten years, the same length of time as the Lord King Aragorn Elessar. Indeed, I became King earlier, although the formal ceremony waited until the day my uncle, Théoden King, was laid to rest."
The manners in which kings were crowned and acclaimed in Rohan and Gondor and Arnor were discussed, and then Pippin was questioned on how the Thainship was passed from generation to generation.
"Our people would not be content to have the crown passed from my father's hands to mine, and then the acclamation afterwards," objected Ankhrabi, "and the idea of the ceremony consisting primarily of the signing of documents as do the Hobbits would never be understood. What is wrong with becoming Farozi as you did, Babari?"
His father took a very deep breath. "Because mine took part mostly in the red temple, under the supervision and 'blessing' of one of the Dark Ones. Even if that place still stood, I would not wish you to repeat such a ceremony."
"What were you forced to do?"
"I was forced to slay a Man to the glory of the Eastern Lord. I made certain the one to be slain was indeed one guilty of much evil, one who had murdered and done much violence toward women and children; and as I slew him, in my mind I gave him to Annubi and Osiri for judgment rather than to the Death Eater. I am not certain that the Death Eater got any good out of him--I certainly hope he did not."
Pippin had gone white as quietly the King had translated this. "He made you begin your reign with an act of murder?"
"Yes. Do you wonder why I hated him, hated having to have my rule ratified and sponsored by him?"
"And your brother must have hated it the more," commented Aragorn.
The Farozi nodded his agreement. "Who do you think it was who taught me to choose a great criminal and to make my private invocation elsewhere?"
The high priest sighed. "A wise Man, An'Ma'osiri was. But now we are left with the question of what we will do now, Lord An'Sohrabi."
"Why not a variation on what was done for the Farozi's birthday?" suggested the Hobbit.
With much discussion the priests, priestesses, Farozi, and Ankhrabi hammered out a protocol that all agreed would be acceptable to the people of the land of Harad, and An'Sohrabi stretched at last in relief. "That is one more worry that is off my mind as I prepare for my own ending."
"I do not wish you to leave me, Babari."
"If An'Elessar can speak so confidently of the time when he will accept his death, can I do less, my son? I am no longer young or of middle years for our kind. Now that the Death Eater is gone, I am pleased to face that time with no fear he will benefit from it. And I can only rejoice that I have such as you to follow me."
Ankhrabi took his father's hand and held it, his face solemn. The Farozi smiled at him, then gently pulled his son to him.
Pippin quietly murmured to his friend and King, "That's how my father held me after Merry was made Master of Buckland, reassuring me that it was all right."
Aragorn smiled sadly, then looked down into his own son's eyes, knowing that the day would come when he would be having the same discussions with this child, then grown.
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