Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 6. Carn Dum
Carn Dum was a gigantic version of the mining town.
It was not as close to the mines as the other town; the city proper was some distance away. Whipping winds kept the smoke to a minimum; the sun shone here. But the mines and foundries themselves had the same smell as before. Pools of yellow and orange water, foul, stinking of sulphur, were close to the road. Defiant trees grew near them, twisted and stunted by the water. A wall surrounded foundries and mines, and the housing for the mine workers was laid out as it had been in the smaller town. The road did not enter the foundry area; and for this Ariashal was grateful.
They crossed some fields of what she assumed were wheat and barley, although the crops were not yet ready for harvest. There were a few groves of trees, some racks and sheds for drying crops, and then the walls of the city itself.
Banners snapped in the sharp wind, rows of small black and red ones, huge black ones with red towers. Soldiers lined the walls, shields glinting in the sun. The great gates stood open; she could see the road leading into the city, with people milling around. She searched the crowd, hunting for any sign of a man who was exceptionally tall, or who was dressed regally. No such man could be seen.
A short man in a black and red tabard galloped his bay horse out to meet them. He reined in his horse next to Ariashal, and saluted her and Adzuphel. "May I be the first to welcome you to Carn Dum," he said, with a slight bow. "I regret to inform you that His Majesty has been delayed. I have been ordered to escort you to your new home, and see to it that your needs are met."
"And who are you?" she asked.
He half-bowed, flustered. "I am Minios, madame. I am Captain of the City Guards."
"And where, exactly, is the King?"
Minios met her gaze. He had dull brown hair, like most of Hillmen she had known; she wondered if he had come from the area near Rhudaur.
"The King was delayed by a small skirmish," he said. "He ordered us to be exceptionally alert. He thought that someone might be trying to prevent your arrival."
She drew a long breath. Not yet crowned, and already there was opposition. There could be no opposition at all from Rhudaur; her family was only too glad to be rid of her. What had Adzuphel said about the other kingdoms, and her new husband's desire to reunite them? She would have to be even more careful than she thought.
"Very well," she said at last. "I must go into the city, and meet my new people."
Ariashal tossed coins and trinkets to the crowd. There was an even greater mix of races here. She saw Hillmen, with their dull dark hair; and little hobbits, miniature versions of the Hill folk. And there were many exotic outsiders: Easterlings dressed in red and yellow robes, Southrons with their black veils. Some Dunedain were there, distinguished by their height, and some dark- skinned men she thought might be from Harad. There were orcs here, too, and some people with gray-green faces and yellow eyes who looked like they might be part orc themselves. She saw some more of the black trolls, a few huge folk which she thought might be giants, and some creatures whose race she could not identify at all. To her relief there were no dragons.
People pressed forward, tried to shove gifts into her hands. The guards would have driven them off, but she stopped them. Anything they wished to give her could be placed in one of the other wagons, and examined later. Minios reluctantly gave the order to the others, and they continued on.
Like the smaller city, Carn Dum was rigidly laid out. She recognized the orcish and troll districts, and the market halls. The mannish houses were slightly more varied; there were several large blocks of homes like those she had seen before, but there were also some substantial homes set closer to the actual fortress. These were quite large, and most of them carried their own banners; the homes, she guessed, of the prominent families. She could not tell from the street, but she assumed that, like such homes everywhere, they had their own courtyards and gardens. What they did not seem to have was any sign of a private army, such as the ones that lived in Rhudaur's wealthier homes.
"Do the nobles have their own armies here?" she asked Adzuphel.
"No, madame. The King forbids private armies here. It is too conducive to strife."
The fortress itself was halfway up the mountain. She could think of no better way to describe it other than "forbidding", or perhaps "foreboding". Like the mountain itself it was made of red stone; parapets and towers seemed almost to flow from the rock. The road up was steep, with sheer cliffs on either side. Soldiers of all races lined the road; they saluted her as her wagon trundled past.
There was some confusion at the bridge to the fortress. Minios and Adzuphel argued over which of them had the right to escort the new Queen into the castle. Ariashal solved it by having them walk on either side of her.
She looked up at the sheer red walls, banners roiling in the wind. It seemed to her that no one could possibly be able to take such a place; it was high, it was steep, with a moat that was both dry and deep. Adzuphel told her that much of the rock for the castle proper was quarried from the moat.
The first rooms were military: the armory, some guard rooms, stables. Here she met the House Guards, men who had served the king loyally and well. They saluted her. A pair of them, armed with swords, fell in behind her as she continued her tour.
Once they had inspected the guard rooms, they escorted her out to a magnificent courtyard, surrounded by an arcade. A fountain splashed in the center, and a few trees reached towards the sky. High on one wall was a grand clock, and a fine mosaic of flying creatures danced across the others. Adzuphel guided her into the arcade, to a set of stairs which marched upwards to the main living rooms.
Whatever else there was to say about her new husband, he was far wealthier than she had expected.
The rooms were paneled in wood, lined with tapestries, decorated with fantastic golden furniture. Inlaid wood floors, covered with thick woven carpets, cushioned every step. Great statues stood along one wall; on the other a series of windows opened on to the courtyard. Velvet drapes, heavy with gold and silver embroidery, hung to the floor.
It was several seconds before she noticed that there were people here, too. Most seemed to be women and servants, but there was one group that caught her attention. They stood apart from the others, robed in black, their faces hidden. She counted eight of them.
"Who are they?" she asked Adzuphel.
"They are--associates of His Majesty. They are here for your coronation."
She heard the hesitation in his voice. "What is the matter with them?"
Something seemed to breathe nearby; a chill washed over her. She managed to suppress a shudder. She felt them staring at her, watching her every step.
"This way, madame," he said, louder than was necessary. She followed him into a wide hallway. At the far end waited a set of heavy doors, guarded by men in red and black tabards. They saluted her as Adzuphel opened the doors. On the other side was a wide staircase. He led her up to a small antechamber, and another set of guarded doors.
"Who are they?" she asked again.
He glanced around, as if he thought that they could hear. "As I said, they are associates of His Majesty."
"Do they live here?"
"No. Sometimes they visit, but they usually stay away."
She found that thought reassuring. "Are they some sort of order?"
"I believe so." He lowered his voice. "I--I do not like all of them, madame. They use fear as others use swords. The one known as Khamul is especially dangerous. Even His Majesty dislikes him."
That thought was most definitely not reassuring.
"Your private rooms, madame, are through here." The guards opened the door and they walked into a large chamber, bare except for some tapestries on the walls. There were two sets of doors here, both guarded. Adzuphel gestured towards the more massive of the doorways. These were black, inlaid with gold in the tower motif.
"Those rooms are the King's. He has his sleeping chamber, his library, and his--study-- in there. There is also fine bath in His Majesty's quarters, but it cannot be used when he is not at home."
"He keeps many strange things in there. He has a great number of magical devices and other things that I would not dare touch. He locks the doors when he leaves, so that no one can disturb his works."
"I see." And indeed it did make a great deal of sense to her; she would not want to accidentally trigger an explosion, or summon a demon.
"These will be your rooms." He led her to a pair of sumptuously carved wooden doors, their golden handles shaped like winged dragons. He unlocked them and pushed them open. "I hope that they are to your liking."
She stopped, stunned.
Never, not with her father, not with the Hillmen, nor at the other Dunedain courts, had she seen such a place. Her room was octagonal, with windows overlooking the mountains and courtyard. Gorgeous furniture, inlaid with gold and silver, lined the walls. In the center of the room was her bed, a huge piece with eight posts. Grand velvet draperies hung from the ceiling, cascading over the supports and pooling into folds on the floor. Silk tapestries covered the walls, depicting, she saw, the life of a Queen of Numenor.
She walked around the bed, until she saw a second door. In here was an antechamber of sorts, with a small bed for a servant tucked discreetly behind a folding screen. More furniture was here, including a table, some chairs and a bookcase filled with volumes. There were many cabinets and chests, along with two enormous mirrors.
Beyond the antechamber was a bath room, with a black marble tub sunk into the floor. Its taps were gold, shaped like sea-drakes. To her surprise, there was both hot and cold running water. A washstand, laden with towels, stood nearby. Yes, this was much better than she had expected.
She glanced at the carpet. Beneath it, set into the floor, was a series of strange symbols made out of what appeared to be iron. There were other symbols, too, continuing beneath the carpet: lines of gold, runes in silver, iron numerals. They disappeared under carpets, beneath furniture, until they met up with the wall. Puzzled, she asked Adzuphel about them.
"Oh," he said. "Those are magical protections. His Majesty laid them in the floor himself. There are some in his own rooms, and he even placed them in the foundations of the castle. He wants to be well-shielded from any magical attacks."
"So they can be under the rugs and still perform?"
"I do not know anything about that," he said, chuckling. "You will have to ask the King. But I would expect that they continue to do their work, regardless of what lays over them."
"Attack His Majesty?" finished Adzuphel. "In the long history of Middle-Earth, there have been very few Men who wielded magic, and none to do so as well as the King. There has been some hostility from the Elves, and there are many others who would gladly see him stopped. He has fought many battles with those who resent his command of the arcane arts.
"Now, we must discuss the household arrangements for you. The King, of course, sleeps in his own rooms; he will visit you here. Your women will maintain your clothing and your personal possessions. "
Ariashal only half-heard Adzuphel going over the schedule for the rest of the day. There would be women to supervise, and clothes to put away. Her new home was magnificent, already she was in love with that bed. But how long would she get to occupy it, before some rival killed her new husband? Sorcerer or no, he was unlikely to escape her curse. Why did she have to invoke it before coming? She would never have a decent marriage, never bear children, never--
"I must take my leave now, madame," said Adzuphel. "You women will care for you. They will bring your evening meal later. Good evening."
She watched him leave.
The women were busily unpacking her clothes, trying to smooth the wrinkles out of the gowns, shaking the dust from the robes. They carefully hung the robes and dresses in the armoires, gently closing the doors so that no fabric would be caught or crushed.
It was no concern to her where the women put her clothes; she was not going to be here long enough for it to matter. In a few weeks, probably no more than a year, she would be packing for the long journey back to Rhudaur. Rhudaur was not home, not in the friendly, loving sense of that word; the court had moved so often that she had never really belonged anywhere. And her return after each failed marriage only meant more silences from her father, more desperate attempts to find something useful for her to do, more frantic negotiations to get her married again. How could she possibly think of such a place as home?
She was not wanted in Rhudaur, unless she was useful; and that pattern had continued everywhere she had ever lived. Never, in her entire life, had she been wanted for herself alone. Angmar would be no different. She would stay long enough to see her husband die, and then she would be sent away.
And this time, she knew, it would be worse. She was living in a palace, with fine furniture and finer jewels, a place of wealth and taste. Most of this was done at the King's bidding; none of this had been here before. But she would be the end of it. Her husband was already doomed, his gorgeous palace damned, and she was here to curse him to ruin and herself to oblivion in Rhudaur. Pulling off her shoes, she crawled onto the fabulous bed and cried herself to sleep.
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