71. A Tale of War
A Tale of War
The following day was again proclaimed a day of celebration, and an audience was held to which were summoned the tellers of tales, the artists of the city, those who told the news of the realm, the bards and historians, and the representatives of the realms of Gondor and Arnor and their allies who were within call. Ruvemir was called with the rest, and with him went Armanthol, Celebgil, and Gilfileg; he was pleased to see that Master Faragil was also there along with many from the Guild of Carvers as well as other artists who would be expected to incorporate the images of the victory in their works.
Great Lords and Ladies mingled with artists and artisans, writers and diplomats. Finally the Sergeant at Arms stepped forward to call all to order, and heralds proclaimed the arrival of the King Elessar. He was dressed in a green tunic over dark trousers, the dark green mantle over his shoulders, the green of the Elfstone and the emerald of his ring and the Star of Elendil on his brow shining even here within the room. He looked up at the throne and paused as the Steward rose from his black chair to acknowledge him.
"The Steward of Gondor rejoices to see the return of the King, and gladly gives authority back to you as the Lord of Gondor and Arnor." He held out the Sceptre of Annúminas to Aragorn, who received it with respect. He then slowly mounted the steps to his throne and sat upon it, setting sword and sceptre over his knees. His left arm, Ruvemir noted, was still in a sling, apparently a scarf green as was his tunic; and the King's expression was carefully neutral in nature.
The heralds then announced the arrival of each of the high Lords who accompanied the King--Éomer King of Rohan; Moritum, the Shkatha of Rhun, and his ambassador and scribe to the embassy; Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, accompanied by his two elder sons, Elphir and Erchirion; the Lords Elladan, Elrohir, and Glorfindel of Imladris; Prince Legolas of the Forest of Green Leaves; Gimli, Lord of the Glittering Caves; the Lord Gilfileg, the King's kinsman, as representative of the Steward of Arnor. Gilfileg smiled down at Ruvemir and stepped forward to bow before his cousin. He wore the copper colored robe crafted for him by the Lady Arwen, and there could be no question he was of high blood. Ruvemir could see the smile in the eyes of the King as he looked down on his kinsman and acknowledged him. Gilfileg stood before the grey seat intended for Halladan, waiting the sign to sit down. At last the Heralds announced Peveset, the Ghan of Mundolië, Lord of the Wainriders of the Far East. The one who'd ridden by the King the preceding day now entered, wearing flowing silken garments of a bright red color, his small beard and flowing mustaches neatly groomed, his hair in its braid, heavy bracelets on his wrists. Small as he was, he commanded attention as he stood at the foot of the steps to the King's throne. The Lord Elessar rose and bowed to all, all of whom bowed in return.
The last to enter was the Lady Arwen, carrying, as usual, her daughter. She walked to the dais and directly up it to sit in the chair set there for her use, Melian on her knee. The King settled sword and sceptre, reached down to clasp her shoulder, to rest his hand on his daughter's head, his smile full of tenderness and delight. Again the travel throne of Éomer was set for his use, and seats were prepared for each of the others as well, each obviously intended to show honor.
Once the other high lords were seated, the King rose again. "The Lady Arwen and I rejoice to welcome you to Gondor, to Minas Anor, and the Citadel. We rejoice also the war is done, and with far less loss of life than such events usually provoke. And, as was expressed to you on the battlefield, Ghan Peveset, we have reason to believe you were provoked into this conflict by those who sought to diminish your people, and to use you as a tool to remove a Shkatha in Rhun they found not apt to their purposes. Are you still willing to listen to our proofs?"
The small Man stood and looked unwavering up at the one standing before the tall throne above him. "Yes, I would hear your proofs. If there is any proof of what you say." His voice was heavily accented and carried an odd intonation that was exotic and intriguing, Ruvemir felt.
Aragorn nodded. "So be it, then. I call first Éomer, the King of Rohan. My friend and brother, will you please tell Ghan Peveset what has happened between Rohan and the folk of the Dunlendings in the past year?"
The young King of Rohan rose and faced the ruler of Mundolië. "Our lands lie north of the White Mountains and somewhat to the west of where we are here, and fill the lands between the White Mountains and the River Entwash, which runs from the southern reaches of the Misty Mountains. Westward our lands stretch to the Gap of Rohan, which is the surest way into Eriador in Arnor in the North and West of Middle Earth. Long were the lands where we now dwell part of Gondor, but they were little populated, for they are grasslands primarily, with little in the way of wood for fires and building."
Peveset nodded his head slowly. "Then your lands are much like ours by the description you give."
"When our Riders came South almost a thousand years past to the aid of Gondor, following Eorl the Young, Gondor granted those lands to us as a land to hold for our own. And it has proven a good land for us and our horse herds, although it is not especially fertile for crops in most of it. Those from the lands of the Dunlendings had begun to enter that land before it was granted to us, and always the folk of those lands have been quick to enmity and hatreds. Although they lived in only a small portion of the lands granted to us, they coveted it all and sought to claim it all for themselves. Many times have our people been forced to defend ourselves against their forces.
"Over the winter word came that once more those of the lands of the Dunlendings were being incited to attack our lands, much as happened when before the War of the Ring the fallen Wizard Saruman called upon them to assault us that we might be weakened and he might more easily claim lordship over both peoples. The folk there began to once again carry out raids against our horse herds and the villages near the borders of our land. They also began going against the trees of Fangorn Forest and were once again raising the ire of the Ents. The Lord of Fangorn gave word to travelers that their trees were being slain wantonly once more, and that word was brought to us while the Lord King Aragorn Elessar and some of his captains visited in my land in the time between winter and spring. A group of scouts from both our realms went among the folk of the Dunlendings to seek the truth of what happened there, and they brought back to my halls two, one who originated in that land but who bore the signs of both Saruman and Sauron on his body, showing he had pledged himself to both before their ends; and one who was from the people of Rhun.
"There are some among the kin of the King Aragorn Elessar who have traveled in Rhun and in Harad and who know the tongues spoken there. One stood as translator as we questioned this one. Both had been sent from agents to the South and East to raise trouble among those of the Dunlendings to draw off our aid when Gondor rode forth to stand as allies to the folk of Rhun in the expected assault from your people.
"Those who sent these two are little known to those of us in Rohan. We were able to bring some of the leaders of the Dunlendings to Fangorn to show them that the Ents are real and will not tolerate attacks on their trees, and they were also shown proofs that these two had been sent to purposely stir up strife between our peoples to their detriment. The growing fight was quelled easily, and when they learned that the one of their own who had walked among them had been sworn to Isengard and Mordor they were angered, for both had betrayed their people repeatedly over the years. When the one of their own was sent back to them for judgment, they found him guilty of betrayal and hung him in accordance with their laws and traditions.
"But at least we found ourselves able to follow the banner of the King Elessar without fear our lands would be fired once more, and our women and children slain or enslaved." He then sat again on his travel throne.
The King Elessar, who had sat again on his own throne while Éomer talked, now called forth Lord Hardorn. "Lord Hardorn is my own kinsman from the North. He is one of the high captains among the Rangers of Arnor, is captain of my own bodyguards, is a Guard of the Citadel in both Minas Anor and Annúminas, and is Officer of the Privy Purse for the Crown. He is also one of the most skilled at approaching enemies unaware in all our lands, and directs much of the services of those who must guard our peace through watching for activity of enemy agents."
Lord Hardorn came out of the shadowed area beside the high dais for the Throne, his bow in hand, dressed today in the black and silver of a Guard of the Citadel. He signaled another Guard to take his place behind the throne, shouldered his bow, slipped the arrow he held into its quiver. He quickly confirmed what had been spoken by the King of Rohan, and held forth the pendant taken from the one who had been born among the Dunlendings but who had sworn himself to both Saruman and Sauron.
He described the assault on Lord Ifram, the ambassador sent by the Shkatha Moritum of Rhun, and the proof these had all come from Rhun but had been armed with the weapons of Gondor. He also described the assault on the estate in Lebennin where the Lords Ifram and Shefti had gone to learn more of how the folk of Gondor truly live, and how three of the eight were from Rhun and carried Rhunish bows but arrows from the Rangers of Gondor, and how the other five had been shown to be outlawed Men from Umbar.
A Ranger from Passaurin was called next, and came forward to tell how he had seen one Man in the city purposely watching for the coming of riders from the north of the city, and who had noted the passing of one in the garb of Rhun with approval. He told of shadowing the Man for days until he left the city and took a barge from a secret anchorage on the River Anduin to the road on the east side of the River, and how he'd followed the Man to Umbar. He placed the copy of the reports given by those agents who watched Landrion of Umbar into the hands of the Shkatha, along with the drawing of the ring worn by the official from Rhun who was obviously most senior of those who met with Landrion.
The door to the Citadel opened, and a Guard of the Citadel worked his way through the press, approaching the Steward with a folded note. The two spoke for several moments, the Steward turned from him and approached the Throne. The King set his sword and the sceptre aside for the moment and the Queen put one hand on them to keep them balanced on the arm of the throne. He came down the steps, took the message, read it and conferred with Faramir for a few moments, then nodded.
"Let them remain outside for a time, but keep the three parties apart, please." The Guard bowed and turned to carry out his orders. The King resumed his seat and accepted sword and sceptre again from his wife. Ruvemir could see a look of satisfaction on the King's face, and wondered what revelations would be shown forth this time.
Moritum's expression was growing quite grim. He looked up at his brothers and Ben'harin who stood by them. "You have seen this?"
"Yes, and recognized it."
"Did you recognize those who were in this last group?"
Shefti shook his head, but Ifram answered, "There is one I believe I recognize, who is of the Bedui. The one who died had no marks to indicate which clan he was from, nor did the other. All three were quite young, barely of age to fight in battle."
"Where are they?"
"The King's people hold the two still living securely prisoner, along with those from Umbar with whom they worked."
Moritum looked up to the face of the King of Gondor. "This is why you asked to have these particular individuals accompany us here, then?"
"Yes, my Lord Shkatha. It was the import of the reports I received from my own people."
"It will be interesting what explanations will be given."
"May I have permission to have your other people searched for weapons before they enter this room, Lord?"
Moritum's expression was very, very grim. "Oh, you have my permission indeed. Ben'harin, you will go out now and assist in the search." The guard smiled as grimly as his master, bowed, and made his way out of the door.
The King now addressed the rest of the assembly. "The war is finished, but it is difficult to say that it was truly won. What has happened is that, once it was realized the entire war was being engineered by those who would destroy the peace between Rhun and Gondor as well as diminishing the people of Mundolië and hopefully leading to the death or deposition of the Shkatha, we began to make other plans.
"Those battles we fought we won, but fortunately they were few. We went armed with many devices planned and crafted by the Dwarves, devices capable of damaging the wains that so mark the people we have known as the Wainriders. Enough of their wains were stopped by such devices they could not effectively fight nor travel. Then, once we realized the nature of the intrigues used against all, I went forth and captured the Ghan, hoping to be able to communicate with him the need not to become tools of others. That he would understand the Common Tongue was more than I'd expected to find.
"We have managed to strike a bargain of sorts with the Wainriders--the Ghan has accompanied us back to Gondor, and one of our high captains has remained with them as a hostage. I must leave Minas Anor in four days at the latest to return the Ghan to his people, for if he is not returned to them unscathed at the appointed hour they will kill our captain, slowly and most painfully. We have that long to convince the Ghan that we have all been played against one another to the benefit of none."
Prince Faramir had paled. He rose and faced the King. "Who is this high captain, my Lord?"
The King's eyes looked steadily into those of his Steward. "If he is harmed, Pippin will have my head."
Faramir's face became set. "Beregond? If he is harmed, I suggest that Pippin will find he must follow me."
All those within the room were shocked into stillness. Prince Imrahil rose and came to the side of his nephew, put his hand on the younger Man's shoulder. "Faramir, he offered himself freely for this service. The King did not wish him to accept it."
Nephew looked into the eyes of his uncle. "And whose name was suggested for this service by the King?" Imrahil did not answer, and for some moments the two simply searched one another's face. Faramir paled more, then he looked up at the Man seated on the throne. "You would have offered yourself for this?"
"You did not ask how my arm was injured."
"No, I did not."
"He would not hear of me doing this, finally offered to arm wrestle for the honor, although he insisted we do this with our left hands, that neither be at an advantage--or so he said. He dislocated my shoulder, and did it quite neatly. He was intent on me returning to Gondor."
All could hear the sigh given by the Steward. Finally he said in a voice that trembled softly, "I apologize, my Lord King. If you would have me removed from my office due to my words..."
Aragorn shook his head. "Can I deny you your rightful anger? And particularly as I feel the same?"
Steward and King looked one to the other, and finally the Steward bowed deeply and retook his seat, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.
Finally the King continued, looking now into the eyes of the Ghan. "You have now heard testimony regarding intrigues involving Men of Rhun itself intent on killing their ambassador to Gondor, and doing it in such a manner it would look as if Gondor had been involved in his death. In the trial of those who assaulted Lord Ifram the first time all agreed this was being done so as to damage the peace and weaken the trust given Shkatha Moritum by his people."
Ifram nodded. "Yes, this is so, Lord Peveset. And the others who took part in the second assault appear to have come from Umbar."
Ghan Peveset looked thoughtfully between the Ambassador from Rhun and the King of Gondor and Arnor. "You have witnesses to the intrigue being founded in Umbar?"
"My witnesses stand at the door now."
"Then let them come in."
"So be it." The King spoke to those who stood within the great doors, "Call in those who have arrived just now from Umbar."
One of the two doors was opened, and a party of seven Men was ushered into the room and through the crowd to the front of the room, stopping just before the line of seats for the High Lords.
"Lord Wasnior, Lord Marcipor, I welcome you to Minas Anor."
Lord Wasnior appeared to be the elderly man in dark blue robes. His face was a fascinating study of fury and terror. "You sent a request that an embassy be brought to Gondor and the White City this day in particular--although it appears to have been less a request than a demand. May I ask why? What right do you have to make demands on the Lord of Umbar?"
"I told Lord Marcipor when we met last that I would need his services as a witness to an agreement proposed to me by Lord Landrion."
The face of Lord Wasnior blanched notably. "Lord Marcipor has not been to Minas Tir--Minas Anor before, Lord King; and Landrion is no more--he was found plotting against Umbar and against our Lord Marcipor, and he was killed."
"I am aware of that, my Lord. However, I assure you that Lord Marcipor and I have met before--twice--although you are correct neither meeting took place here in Minas Anor. And the plotting against Umbar's interests is also known to me, as it was to me it was revealed." He turned his keen eyes on those of the tall, broad Man next to Wasnior. "My Lord, did I not ask you to stand as witness to that last encounter with Landrion?"
"Yes, Lord Elessar, you did. However, I thought the time of payment had passed."
"It is just come due here, my Lord. I need you only to tell these what happened that day."
"And what am I to tell them?"
The King's smile was deceptively calm. "Tell them what happened that day however you will. I do ask only that the details of what was said by Lord Landrion be stated honestly. The rest you have my permission to embroider as you will."
Marcipor's face grew red with suppressed fury. "And what evidence do you have that I would embroider the tale?
The King did not answer, merely continuing the same smile. Still Marcipor glared, but finally spoke.
"I was riding my horse on my own estate when two rose out of the grass and took me and the horse out of a gap they'd made in the wall, a gap they repaired as we left the grounds."
"We do attempt to undo what damage we may need to inflict in order to reach our goals, my Lord."
"So I have seen twice now."
The King merely continued to smile.
"The two had me don a cloak they brought with them, and to draw the hood over my head and features, assured me they wished me no harm, but that they needed me to stand witness to the intent of another who sought to bargain with them. They brought me to another's estate, to a similar gap in the walls there already prepared, led me through it and by hidden ways to a house, where they let us in via an open window. I was led to a front hall and to a door, where at last they knocked. At the call to enter we went in and I found the room was in the house of Lord Landrion, was his personal study."
"I would interrupt you here, my Lord, so that we can get the testimony of another of your party here," the King said. He turned to a third in the group, a smaller figure who was most ill at ease. He had no signs of lordship upon him, no signs he was a diplomat. His face was almost nondescript, his form slight, his expression furtive. "Master Mordion, it is a pleasure to see you again. Will you please describe your profession to those here?"
Mordion looked around as if trapped, licked his lips. At last he answered in a low voice. "I am a--"
"Louder, please, Master Mordion, that all might hear. There is no shame to what you do at this precise moment."
The man colored deeply, but when he spoke again he did so more loudly. "I am an agent for those who need services of--of an odd sort."
The King laughed. "Ah, yes, of an odd sort. What services had Lord Landrion sought to find through you?"
After a long moment he answered, "The learning of information, and the services of assassins, Lord King."
"Did he tell you whom he wished to see assassinated?"
"No, my Lord, he did not."
Faramir interrupted here. "You provide such services often?"
The King admonished, "He is under my protection here, my Lord Prince Steward."
"I understand, my Lord King; however, I am now intrigued."
The small Man answered quickly. "More, I provide agents who help--help acquire things--things and information."
The Steward gave him a piercing look, all idea of mildness forgotten in his visage. "What kind of information?"
Mordion was sweating profusely. "Where one might look to find certain items or people; whether certain people are still alive; where they dwell." He was beginning to babble. "This is often desired, you know."
"Whose existence have your--clients--wished confirmed?"
Mordion looked sideways up at the King, who was giving his feral smile. "I have been asked to provide one who could learn where a woodcarver named Mardil lives in Lebennin. I have been asked to find one to learn if the son of Arathorn, late Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain, did indeed survive the fever said to have killed him as a child. I have been asked to find agents to learn the names of those closest to the line of Kings in the Northern Kingdoms. I have been asked to find one to learn where one known as Baggins might dwell, where the Shire might lie, the nature of Hobbits. I have been asked to find one to trace the movements of a woman named Gilraen and a man named Halbaleg. I have been asked to find one who could confirm the identity of certain captains and soldiers of Gondor believed to have come from the remains of the Northern Dúnedain. I have been asked to find one who could tell what might draw the aid of Rohan from the needs of Gondor--that I've been asked several times over the years."
Gilfileg leaned forward on his cousin's grey chair. "You have been asked to find agents to learn of the Northern Kingdoms? By whom?"
The Man shuddered. "It was best not to ask too closely regarding the source of those questions, my Lord." When the scrutiny did not let up, he finally sighed, "Mostly, those questions came from agents I believe were sent from Mordor. But some came from Gondor."
Both Gilfileg and Faramir were looking very closely at Mordion now, and if it was possible he grew even paler, and blurted out, "Yes, my Lord Faramir--and I believe your father was the source of several of those requests."
Gilfileg sat back in his chair, while Faramir looked over his shoulder at his King. The King was the only one who did not appear disturbed. He nodded, in fact. "This is no surprise to me, my Lords. The Lord Denethor had, after all, a vested interest in learning whether or not I lived still, and when I might be moved to come south once more, or who else might rise in my stead if I had been slain in Eriador."
Faramir turned his own attention back on the one standing, now sweating profusely, before them. "Do you know if they learned aught from such questions?"
"Little enough. We learned Halbaleg had died in an orc attack, but not whether he left sons. The Lady Gilraen was said to have taken refuge in Imladris following the deaths of first her Lord Husband and then her son--and none would seek to learn more. Wise Men do not meddle in the business of Elves. Most of the questioners were pursued south by two of the Rangers of the Northern Wilds, insatiable Men known to my agents as Bowman and Strider."
Ruvemir found himself smiling, and saw the feral smile still could be seen on the King's visage. Gilfileg shook his head as if this was only to be expected, and the King of Rohan and the Lord Steward both straightened in their chairs and then relaxed. The Queen was looking down into the eyes of her infant daughter and smiling.
"So you learned nothing of Baggins or the Shire?"
Mordion sighed. "We learned Baggins was the name of a clan of a folk known as Hobbits, and that their land of the Shire was somewhere in Eriador, but that was all we learned." He shook himself. "When two identifying themselves as Strider and Bowman entered my home unannounced some weeks ago, I was shocked, particularly as they--requested--requested an interview with Lord Landrion, and an introduction to him as paid assassins."
The King straightened. "I thank you, Master Mordion. I now suggest you withdraw, and that you retrieve your horse and leave the city immediately. I suggest you head south--far south. If you are found within the realm of Gondor in five days' time, your freedom is forfeit. Do you understand?"
The Man gave a squeak of acceptance and turned and bolted. A single soldier received the sign to follow but not to interfere.
The King turned his attention back to Marcipor. "You may now proceed, my Lord."
The story continued, and all listened raptly. At the end the Lord Faramir asked, "What happened to Lord Landrion? Is he likely to trouble us once more?"
Marcipor lifted his head proudly. "After he sought to purchase my death with me standing as witness? Oh, no, my Lord, he will trouble none again. I slew him myself, and slowly. Too much strife has he assisted in causing in the past few years, and I will not tolerate any proposed attacks on myself."
The King turned his attention to Moritum of Rhun. "Do you now question that Landrion sought to bring division between Gondor and Rhun, my Lord Shkatha?"
Moritum shook his head. "No, the evidence stands for itself, as does the testimony wrung from those who sought before to slay my brother."
"Will you give the picture of the ring to the Lord Ghan, then? My Lord Peveset, do you recognize this?"
The small Man examined it closely. He looked up to the eyes of the King of Gondor. "Yes, I recognize it. It is worn by the one from Rhun who came to tell me the realm of Rhun was more fertile than our own lands, that the people of Rhun groaned under the evil of their Shkatha and would welcome deliverance."
"You have now traveled through Rhun. Have you seen signs that what he told you was true?"
"No, I have not. I saw some pockets of growth, but much of it is even more spare than our own lands. I have seen men, women, and children come out in gladness to speak to the Shkatha as he has passed by their encampments and dwellings."
"Do you understand now why I say all of us have been duped into a war that would profit none of us, only those who sought to engineer this war?"
The small Ghan's features became embittered. "Yes, I see this is true. We would get nothing by conquering the folk of Rhun, not at this time. But the fact remains that we need more food to sustain our people, for our resources have been stretched to the utmost."
"What are you willing to trade for the food from our nation, or the excess from Arnor, my Lord? We are a fertile land, and have much to trade. No, do not think to answer now--we will have a feast tomorrow night where this may be discussed at more length. The following day I will accompany you back to your own people. As you can see, there are some here to whom our captain is very dear, and I would not seek to sustain their enmity and resentment."
The Ghan nodded his understanding.
The King now turned to those whose presence had been gathered. "So, now you have the truth to the war between Rhun and the Wainriders--for this time, at least. You now have permission to go and tell it forth before the people as you can. In this case, it was not a righteous war on the part of any."
The artisans, artists, bards, singers, writers, and tellers of news bowed and began to leave the Citadel, many discussing with their fellows what all had heard and seen, the discernment on the part of the King, the intrigue of the situation. Ruvemir prepared to leave with the rest, but a servant of the Citadel took his shoulder, indicated he, Celebgil, and Armanthol should remain. He sighed and nodded. How much more, he wondered, would he be expected to be witness for and to?
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.