68. Hiring Assassins
Landrion was growing frustrated, for none of his usual contacts for obtaining the services of assassins were reaching the desired conclusions. Why was this? he wondered. Then one of his agents, looking very nervous, came to him to say he'd found a pair who usually worked together, two from the far North, known as Strider and Bowman. They were accounted to be among the most skilled at approaching enemies undetected any had ever known, and both appeared interested in meeting with Landrion, having become aware that he desired the services of skilled assassins. Intrigued, Landrion set a date and time for a meeting.
The two came in unannounced wearing stained cloaks, one a faded green, the other grey. Both wore stubbly beards and looked as if they'd spent days in the saddle. Their shoulders were those of skilled swordsmen, and both carried bows that were well worn but also well maintained, and quivers of arrows fletched with feathers of birds Landrion had never seen. They wore leathers beneath their cloaks, weathered and obviously often repaired by lonely campfires, and both wore archers' gloves on their right hands. The knife behind the belt of the one in green was beautiful and deadly looking, and had obviously seen as much use as had his bow. Behind them came a third, a tall, broad figure, cloaked and hooded. Landrion looked questioningly at him, and the one in green said succinctly, "Our witness."
"I understand you wish to employ skilled assassins, my Lord," said the one in grey. "What kind of targets do you wish killed, then?"
"The first should be simple--an artisan, somewhat older than you, in Minas Tirith." He noted an ironic smile on the faces of both facing him.
"The capital of Gondor?"
"Yes. He is a dissolute fellow with a workshop in the Fifth Circle. His house is not far away, but high to the wall to the Sixth Circle. There are steep stairs to his home where he might be easily taken alone."
"Is he trained in fighting?"
"No, he is an artisan only, a sculptor."
"How do you wish for him to die?"
"It should look to be an accident."
"You have other targets as well?"
"Yes, one more within the White City, one from Rhun."
"Rhunim in the capital of Gondor?" The one in green sounded interested.
"Yes, in the capital of Gondor. The King has concluded treaties with the Rhunim and the Haradrim."
"Is this death also to look like an accident?"
"No, I wish you to simply kill him at this point. Although if it should look like the death came from the hands of one of Gondor there will be a bonus."
"What kind of bonus?"
"A substantial bonus."
"Where are there Rhunim within the city?"
"They have an embassy house in the Sixth Circle, but the target may not be there as yet."
"Who is this target?"
"Lord Shefti of the d'Bouti clan."
"That is the clan of the current Shkatha, is it not?"
"He will not thank you for the death of his kinsman."
"He will not know he has me to thank."
The one in grey looked to the one in green. "What think you, cousin--is this challenging enough?"
The one in green shrugged. "It hardly seems worthwhile--an artisan and an ambassador. Is this one at least trained in war?"
"Not to my knowledge--he is a scribe, and son to the lesser wife."
"Not even the ambassador?"
Landrion smiled. "The ambassador is already dead, though they suppress the news for now. If the scribe is killed also they can no longer suppress the death of his brother."
"What fees do you offer for these deaths?"
After several minutes spent in bargaining, mostly with the one in grey, the two indicated they would consider it, although the price he was now offering was tempting. "And what happens after, Lord?"
Landrion shrugged. "If I like your work, I have two more I'd like to see dead, one also there in Minas Tirith, the other here in Umbar."
"Who are these? Would they be more challenging than a sculptor and a scribe?"
"The King Elessar of Gondor and the Lord Marcipor of Umbar. Challenging enough for you?"
The one in green straightened, smiled behind his scraggly beard. "You would have us kill the King Elessar? Do you know what you ask?"
"He is reputed to be a canny warrior and is very powerful. However, even the greatest can be brought down by a single arrow well placed."
"How are we to get to such a one? He is surrounded by bodyguards, and his city is guarded by high walls and strong gates. Once it is heard he is dead or even wounded, all gates will be closed and all strangers held for questioning. There would be no getting out of the city for us. The source of the arrow would be quickly known, and the chance of us collecting our fee would be nil."
The one in grey shook his head. "I would like to hear instead how he intends we should kill the Lord Marcipor. He is as powerfully guarded as is the King Elessar, I suspect." Then he turned to the cloaked individual he'd identified as their witness, who was straightening as if he would say something. "No, you are to stay quiet--you are only to bear witness to what is said here, that there be no question later when the payment comes due. Do you understand?" The cloaked Man nodded his head.
"He goes riding every day upon his estate. There is a stand of trees there...."
"The stand of trees on the west side a quarter mark's walk within the walls?"
"You know of it?"
"Learning you were to be our proposed patron, we guessed that the Lord Marcipor might indeed prove to be your proposed target, or at least one of them, so we did an examination of the ground on which he might be approached."
"How did you get into the estate?"
"Are we to teach you the secrets by which we earn our bread, my Lord? Let me assure you we are well practiced in getting where we need to be, and at approaching our targets unseen. My companion here is a master at it." He turned to their witness. "Is he not, sir?"
The witness nodded his agreement. The grey-clad one smiled. "We have practiced our art on many, including this one. It is the second time we have taken him unaware, I fear.
"So, you would wish us to take him from that stand of trees, would you? It is a good place, for from there no guards can see him or those who might approach him, although that might change at any time, of course. But there is a better place another eighth mark further on his route, where there is a bank and a hedge."
Landrion was very intrigued. "It seems you examined that portion of the estate well."
The grey-clad one shrugged. "We know our business well."
"Are you any good with those bows?"
The two looked to one another. The green-clad one answered, "Yes."
"Which of you is the better?"
The one in grey answered, "I am. He is good, though."
"I wish you to show me."
An elaborate shrug. "If you will."
Landrion led them through his villa to the wide side lawn. At the far end was a great tree. The one in green strung his bow, aimed and let fly. As it flew he said, "It will hit the limb to the left, within a finger's breadth of the new-cut branch."
The other laughed. "I can do better than that--I will put it in the center of the cut branch." He drew an arrow out of his quiver, appeared to barely consider the target, and let fly. They then walked down the lawn. Both arrows were within the circle of the cut branch, one still quivering in its center.
Landrion did his best to hide how impressed he was. "But can you hit a moving target?" he asked the one in grey.
"Of course," the Man said. He said to the one in green, "Let you throw up your ring, and I will catch it with the arrow."
The other sighed elaborately. "Why is it always my ring which is used in these demonstrations? Why not use your own?"
"Yours is more impressive, as your fingers are more slender. It is less likely to escape the fletching. Also, yours looks better with the shaft of the arrow within it."
The one in green gave another great sigh, walked further down the lawn beyond the tree, drew out a chain from about his neck, unfastened it, and drew from it a great ring, which he suddenly threw into the air. The arrow was loosed before Landrion was aware of it, and it flew indeed through the circle of the ring. Landrion marked where it came to earth, went after it eagerly. The arrow stuck up from the ground at an angle, and around its shaft was a ring--a gold ring, quite old--very, very old, with an great emerald with a serpent on each side, one crowned with blossoms, the other devouring the crown of blossoms.
Landrion felt himself go faint, particularly as he realized here he was away from his guard, and no one could help him. He felt that beautiful yet deadly knife carried by the one in green prick him in the back at the perfect angle to enter his heart. "Now, my Lord, we will leave the estate as we entered it. Your guards did not see us come, by the way."
He was compelled back through the estate to an area that had heavy vegetation. The one in grey carefully lifted away branches from shrubs to disclose a carefully cut open passage into which he was directed. He heard the branches being replaced after them. They'd been cut only today, he realized. By the time his folk saw the leaves begin to wilt, he'd be long gone. They directed him through the passageway they'd cut to the wall to the estate, where stones had been carefully pried loose. Again he was pressed forward out through the wall, and the one in grey carefully placed the stones back into their places.
"You ought to have seen to renewing the mortar in your wall, my Lord," he said casually as he set the last one in place. By this time the one in green had him bound and gagged. "May we have your cloak now, sir?" the one in grey asked the witness, who removed it rapidly.
The Lord Marcipor stood there before him, his face white with fury. "So," he growled in a low voice, "you would target me, would you, my Lord Landrion? I must say I never expected to have my life saved from assassination by the King Elessar of Gondor--but after he kidnapped me from my own estate!"
The King Elessar held out his hand to the one in grey. "The ring, please, Bowman," he said. The one in grey made a show of giving a great sigh, and produced the ring from inside his shirt. Landrion watched as the King replaced it on the chain about his neck. "I would wear it, but I would prefer not to reveal myself to more than you two at this time," he said. His grey eyes were as Landrion remembered from the Citadel in the White City, cool and full of intelligence and power. He took the cloak from his companion and wrapped it about Landrion, occluding his vision by pulling the hood over his eyes. They walked to where apparently horses were waiting for them. He was boosted onto a steed with his hands fastened to the saddlebow. The others also mounted, and his horse was led away.
Where they were when they finally pulled him from the horse he had no idea. He was led into a building and brought to a chair. Now his hands were being untied, then retied, each to one arm of the chair. His legs also were tied, each to a leg of the chair. Another rope tied him to the seat of the chair, with a final loop about his throat itself. Finally the hood was pulled back, and he found himself in the Council Room of Umbar, facing them.
"I want a list of those agents you have set in place in my land, my Lord," said the King of Gondor. Landrion did not intend to tell them, but he found that the one called Bowman was far more persuasive than he'd imagined, and with far less fuss and disfigurement than those Landrion was accustomed to question usually endured. "Now, how many watch the estate of Mardil the Carver?" He answered this time before they had a chance to do more. "Who have been your contacts among the Rhunim? How much did they pay you for your assistance in destroying the treaty?" There were a few more questions, all of which he answered quickly and fully. Always the King kept him fixed with those keen grey eyes, the eyes with a hint of blue and green like the sea, and he knew if he lied the Man would know immediately. Finally they declared themselves finished with their questions, which had included the names and last known locations of the sellers of children he'd employed.
"We leave you now to your own Lord," said the one called Bowman; and the Lord Marcipor was looking at him with a very grim smile on his face.
"You would destroy the peace for Umbar as well as for Rhun and Gondor, would you? It is perhaps time you learned just what it means to be under the power of the Lord of Umbar, now the time for payment is come. They have given you to me, you know, with full permission to do as I please. And what I please to do with you...."
The Lord Landrion did not show the stamina that had been shown eighteen years earlier in Rhun by the captured scout from Gondor who called himself Staravion. He died shortly before midnight.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.