You Live Your Life in the Shadow of the Mountain: 16. The Prince's Hands of Light by Justice

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16. The Prince's Hands of Light by Justice

 

He would have felt better having left both sons at home to look after the household in his absence, though at the same time, Sidaizon was thankful for the solid presence of Tarmanaz on the carriage seat beside him. The King's Hands held no less power over the two of them together than they would have over Sidaizon alone, and whatever was about to happen to him would happen just the same, but having Tarmanaz there made it easier to keep his fear under control. He had an obligation to appear brave in front of his son. And in such circumstances, false bravery was better than nothing. The mere act of pretending to be unafraid helped calm him.

Tarmanaz seemed to rely on the same tactic of make-believe. He sat up perfectly straight, staring blankly at the two Hands who occupied the carriage bench opposite. All that betrayed his terror was the occasional shudder that wracked his body.

Carefully, mustering as much reassuring courage as he could, Sidaizon gripped Tarmanaz's hand. "Everything will be fine," he murmured. "No need to worry. I'm sure it will all turn out for the best."

Tarmanaz gave a wordless nod in reply, and Sidaizon could see that his jaw was clenched tight.

The carriage bumped over a deep rut, and one of the Hands swore. "I hate this road," he said to his companion, who snorted in contemptuous agreement. Neither of them showed the slightest interest in Sidaizon and Tarmanaz, which suited Sidaizon well enough. Their lack of action gave him hope. Had they come to arrest him on suspicion of some petty crime, he was certain they would take the opportunity to interrogate him in the carriage. That they had come in a carriage at all, as opposed to one of their less refined contraptions, was also a good sign. They could have chained him in the back of a wagon, or thrown him into a prison cart that was little more that a cage on wheels.

Or the carriage and lack of verbal torment could be nothing more than grudging respect for his position as an Almatar. The brief spark of hope faded. Whatever they had planned, he was at their mercy. He would have to wait and see.

He closed his eyes, and tried to pretend he was calm enough to sleep. The carriage lurched and bounced through the winding streets, turning here and there and seeming to strive to hit every pothole along the way. It was a small relief when the horse's hooves clattered onto the stone surface of a bridge. The carriage wheels rattled worse on stone than they did on dirt roads, but at least the bridge was smoother and free of ruts.

His eye snapped suddenly open. There was no bridge between his house and the Brass Pit; both lay on the same side of the river. He jerked forward to look out of the carriage's small window, and was shocked to see that the ambient firelight of the city no longer surrounded them. On either side of the road, only a colonnade of tall, moonlit pillars remained. The bridge they had passed over must have been the Ratha Podilwëo, which meant that they were now on the highway heading northeast out of the city.

Stunned, Sidaizon looked to Tarmanaz, but he wore an expression of equal confusion.

"Where are we going?" Tarmanaz whispered.

Sidaizon could have asked the same thing. He glanced back toward the colonnade, which he knew ended in a great, gilded archway not far ahead. Past that, he knew where the road eventually led. And if Tarmanaz could think of no other destination, he had a growing suspicion of where the Hands were taking them.

"Taniquetil," he answered. "I think we're going to Taniquetil."

~

By the time the sun rose, Sidaizon was confident that his guess was correct. The golden-pink light of dawn broke over the peaks of the Pelóri, which now loomed only a few hours' journey ahead. The flat farmlands that surrounded Valmar had given way to rolling green hills full of grazing sheep and goats. Sidaizon had travelled this way many times before, and he knew that nothing but more sheep pastures and the occasional little cluster of shepherd houses lay between their current position and the road that led up to the palaces of Taniquetil.

The Hands ordered the carriage to stop at a caravan station along the highway, where Sidaizon and Tarmanaz were permitted to relieve themselves and quickly wash before eating a simple breakfast of bread and dried fruit. Then, with new horses supplied by a stable kept in the King's name, they continued on their way. They stopped again for a hot dinner at a second caravan station at the base of the mountain, then a third time for supper and another change of horses partway up the long, switchback road that climbed the steep face of Taniquetil. On foot, the mountain road alone was a journey that lasted from sunrise until past midnight. The horses would make better time, but it would still be well into the dark hours of the night before they arrived at the vast Lavazat Mechtirmino where the Oraistari held their council. If that were even the destination. If they continued on to Ingwë's palace, where the King's court gathered, it would be an hour more.

Under the afternoon sun the carriage had grown stuffy and hot, and the small shutters on the doors offered little by way of a breeze. After supper, the Hands opted to jog along with the horses, likely as much for the exercise and to escape from the boredom and discomfort of sitting for hours on a hard bench as for the fresh air. They invited Tarmanaz to run with them, though Sidaizon was confined to the carriage. He did not mind. The carriage was no less hot, but it was less stuffy and crowded once he was alone, and he could lie on his back on the bench if he bent his knees. That position offered some relief to his aching bottom.

No matter his position, though, he could not sleep. He was exhausted enough from having not slept the previous night that the rock and bump of the carriage no longer bothered him, but his mind refused to lower its vigilance enough to let him rest. Every time he began to drift off, some new fear would rush forward to wake him with a start. He rubbed his eyes. They felt gritty and dry. His brain felt as if it had been wrapped in a layer of cloud that prevented him from thinking clearly. Worse than feeling tired was feeling stupid. If the Oraistari questioned him immediately upon arrival, he doubted his ability to formulate clear answers to properly defend himself. Perhaps this was even part of the plan.

Sidaizon groaned. That idea only made him feel worse, and added yet another worry to the hundreds already buzzing to keep him awake. He shifted position, trying to find a way to lie as comfortably as possible on the hard bench, and closed his eyes with the intent to keep them closed until either he fell asleep or the carriage arrived at its destination. Through every bump and rattle and turn, he forced his eyes to stay closed and his breathing to remain deep and even. It nearly worked. He could feel himself sliding into sleep, and was nearly there when the carriage lurched to a sudden stop, the door banged open, and Tarmanaz and the Hands climbed back in. With another groan, Sidaizon sat upright. There would be no more sense in trying to rest.

The two Hands were laughing and joking with each other about one of their captains, whom they considered too fat to be able to run all that way up the mountain as they just did.

"I could've easily kept going to the palace," said the one on the left.

Sidaizon kept his face carefully neutral, as if he had not heard. So they were going to the King's palace, not to the Oraistari. He could not begin to guess what that meant and what might happen once they arrived, but it was a relief nonetheless to finally know their destination.

The other Hand snorted. "I doubt it. You could hardly keep up with the horses. I had to keep slowing my pace just to stay alongside you."

"Melkor's balls you did! You're the one gasping for breath all the last mile!"

"New breathing technique. If you paid attention in training you'd know that breathing out hard from your mouth increases stamina."

"That's dog shite and you know it. Just wait: next field trials, you'll see which one of us can run farther."

The one on the right snorted again, this time going so far as to laugh. "I'll whip your sorry arse again."

"You are such a cocksucker. I was second in the long-distance last year, and you were what? Fourteenth?"

"That's a filthy lie." Turning his attention to Tarmanaz, he repeated, "He's a filthy liar. And an ugly sisterfucker, too. Don't listen to him."

"Oh," said Tarmanaz. "Uh..."

Through narrowed eyes, the one on the left glared at Tarmanaz. "What, you think I'm an ugly sisterfucker?"

"No!" Tarmanaz quickly replied, looking aghast. "I don't-"

"It's fine," he said, grinning and leaning forward to clap Tarmanaz on the shoulder. "I'm only jerking your ears. He's the ugly sisterfucker." He pointed his thumb in the direction of the other Hand, who merely raised an eyebrow.

"I don't have a sister. But if you're implying that I fucked your sister, well, I freely admit..."

It was amazing, Sidaizon thought, how very normal the Hands seemed once they lowered their masks of arrogant power. They could be any young men fighting and hollering over insults to the size of one's manhood and the honour of an attractive and allegedly immodest sister. And they could easily be Tarmanaz and Márathul fighting over a mattress. How long, he wondered, before Tarmanaz learned to wear their stony mask, and he was the one coming in a carriage by night to drag someone away?

"Wait, wait!" said the Hand on the right, fending off his companion's fists to interrupt the fight. "Let's ask the Almatar. He will know."

The other Hand scowled, but stopped his assault and leaned back in his seat with his arms crossed over his chest.

"Almatar, this is a question of morality. Let us imagine for a moment that a pretty girl - perhaps she is somebody's sister, you see - has very large breasts and a very round bottom, and wears clothing that even the most liberal mind might describe as 'well fitted'. You understand what I am saying? So, in this case, can one logically fault a man for certain behaviours where she is concerned? Would she not be entirely to blame leading good men astray?"

"A good man would not be led astray by such vulgar displays," Sidaizon answered, and he surprised even himself with the snappish and irritable tone to his voice. "If a man is so weak of head and heart that he cannot resist the sight of a loose woman, then the fault is all his own. Eru gave every man a mind to think for himself, and a conscience to help him tell right from wrong, and if he is too foolish to use them properly then he is no better than the wild beasts who have neither."

Intrigued, the other Hand leaned forward. "So what you say is that if you saw a woman in the street wearing hardly any clothes, you would do nothing?"

"I would do nothing to dishonour her, if that is what you imply," Sidaizon said coldly. The image of Eäzinya's sister rose once again behind his eyes; he forced it down before he struck one of these Hands out of pure vengeance. "But I would not do nothing. If I saw such a woman, I would assume that her mother and father were remiss in their duties of raising her to be pure-minded, and I would find it my responsibility to instruct her otherwise."

The Hands exchanged a glance. His answer was not to their liking. With matching frowns, they straightened their backs and replaced their hard masks, becoming fearsome agents of the King once again. Neither spoke for the remainder of the journey.

~

The carriage door opened to mist of rain and a gust of frigid wind. Sidaizon had been to the King's palace only once before, for a celebratory banquet on the day he left the academy, and he had forgotten how cold it was this far up the mountain. The Academy had always been cool, but the palace sat much higher, above the tree-line. Lingering drifts of snow, left over from the previous winter and crusted with dirt, leaned against the north-facing walls. Sidaizon held his robe closed at the neck to ward off the wind, and was glad that the Hands had instructed him to bring a change of clothes. He would need both to stay warm.

The Hands seemed unaffected by the cold, neither shivering nor shielding their faces from the freezing rain. But then, Sidaizon noted, they showed no signs of weariness, and nothing about them looked less than perfectly alert despite hours of running uphill after a night spent with no sleep. They were trained soldiers. They would have been taught to endure worse and still never show weakness.

They led the way from the carriage road to a raised, wooden walkway that, Sidaizon did remember, was hazardously slippery when wet. He took a tentative step up and could feel immediately through the leather sole of his shoe that his foothold was imperfect at best. The rain had glazed the boards with thin layer of ice. He was forced to shuffle slowly to avoid losing his balance and falling onto his backside, or worse. The walkway was on either side lined with sharp protrusions of rock. When Ingwë had designed this palace, he had decreed that not a single stone would be altered in any way. He built over and around all of them. The wooden walkway hovered above uneven ground because the King would not let the rock be levelled for a proper path; he insisted that Taniquetil must remain pristine and unharmed, unchanged in purity since the making of the world. And so it had, mostly.

The road that wound up the mountain was a later addition, built when common sense prevailed and the nobles insisted that living high on a mountain in homes accessible only by makeshift paths through the trees was perhaps not practical.

Sidaizon looked up. Behind the palace, vast cliffs rose straight and forbidding to disappear into the clouds. Ingwë's halls were as far as any Elf could go unhindered. Any who wished to climb onward would have need of rope and picks. Few had tried, and none had lived to say what they had seen, returning only as frozen corpses in the arms of stern-faced Maiar. The air beyond the cliffs, the Maiar warned, was too thin to sustain Elvish hearts, and beyond that, at the very peak of the mountain, no earthly life could survive. That was where Manwë made his home. No Elvish eyes had ever witnessed the beauty of Manwë's palace, save as a brilliant orb of light shining far in the distance on clear days. To see that light was a rare and lucky omen. Now, though, a low ceiling of rain clouds veiled the peak, and no brilliance shone down from above.

Somehow, Sidaizon, Tarmanaz, and the Hands managed to shuffle and slip their way to the palace's great front door without falling from the walkway and splitting their heads on the rocks. The sentries, armed with golden spears that looked more decorative than dangerous, granted them admission without a word. They passed through one gilded archway, then another, then into the vast hall that was the heart of Ingwë's kingdom. Directly behind him, Sidaizon heard Tarmanaz gasp and stumble at the sight. And he, even to see such a thing for the second time, was no less awed.

Twin rows of silver pillars ran the length of the hall, taller than twenty men, to support the massive barrel-vaulted roof. It was too high to be lit by the lanterns that floated, soft and golden, on delicate chains strung between the pillars, but thousands of jewels glittered down from its arches in a more orderly imitation of the night sky. Below, the white and green tiles of the floor were interrupted occasionally by outcroppings of unfinished, mossy rock, as if to serve as a reminder that while the palace may have been the height of all Elven power in Arda, the mountain still ruled the palace. Great Ingwë still conformed to every whim of Taniquetil. Windows rose in three tiers, all filled with thick, coloured glass to keep out the cold, and endless mosaics of gold and silver patterns decorated every surrounding wall.

The Hands gave them little time to stop and stare. With an impatient grunt, one took the lead and set a quick pace between the rows of pillars, heading for an asymmetrical, winding staircase at the far end. The palace's second floor began as a balcony overlooking the hall, but then curved backward and further up the mountain toward the cliffs. Sidaizon had not been this way before; the corridors the Hands chose seemed to lead to smaller rooms that were no doubt for personal use and possibly even private quarters for the King's family. They passed beneath an overhanging rocky precipice that jutted out from the right-hand wall and continued on to disappear into the left, and passed over a bridged that spanned a narrow but deep chasm, which sounded as if water ran somewhere through its black depths. Warm air rose around the bridge, and the smell of sulphur with it.

At this hour of night, the palace was deserted. The King's family would be asleep, and Sidaizon had seen no servants since they passed the sentries at the outer door. He was thankful for it; the walk through the twisting maze of corridors, being led by one Hand and prodded on from behind by another like an animal, was difficult enough with no curious eyes watching. His fear and shame could remain his alone. His to share with whomever they were going to meet. He still had no idea who that might be. It was possible, at this hour, that the Hands would simply lock him in a room until morning when the palace awoke. But as soon as the thought entered his mind, the Hands stopped. One rapped sharply on a white door inlaid with scrollwork of gold, and a voice from the other side commanded them to enter.

Sidaizon could tell at once by the decoration that this room was a private audience chamber for a member of the royal family, or at the very least a favoured Tarathandyo noble. Plush silk rugs decorated the floor, and colourful tapestries of geometric patterns adorned the walls. A fire crackled and burned brightly to warm the air. It was a comfortable, cozy room, and at the far end, resting on couches amid an array of all sizes of pillows, were two men. One was a lord dressed in deep green. The other was the King.

Both of the Hands and Tarmanaz immediately sank to their knees and bowed their heads, murmuring words that would have been too quiet for the men at the far end of the room to hear. Sidaizon, cursing the slowness of his sleep-deprived mind for not having thought to do so on his own, knelt to join them.

"Ah, wonderful," said the King. Or rather, the man Sidaizon had assumed to be the King. He stood from his couch, and once Sidaizon heard his voice and noted his height and manner of dress, it became clear that he was not Ingwë. He was similar of face, but too tall, and his straight posture was that of a soldier. His clothing was all white and gold. It looked very much like the uniform of the King's Hands, though he wore a floor-length cape lined with gold and his liberally embroidered tunic fell well past his knees.

"Tarmanaz," Sidaizon whispered. "Is that Prince Ingwion?"

One of the Hands, doubtlessly appalled by this display of ignorance, hissed, "Yes."

The King's Hands might as well have been called the Prince's Hands. Sidaizon knew that much. They had been created by Ingwion, organised by Ingwion, and were still ruled by Ingwion. Ingwë the King never had and likely never would have any control over them, save in name only.

"This is Almatar Sidaizon?" Ingwion asked. But instead of looking at the Hands, he glanced back to the nobleman in green, who gave a slow, shallow nod.

The nobleman looked familiar; Sidaizon had seen him before, though the haze of exhaustion made it impossible to think of when or where. Possibly this was someone he had met at a festival or holy day gathering, but not recently. The man had very fine features, perfectly balanced and uncommonly beautiful by anyone's standards. His skin was as fair as that of any Noldo, and though he remained seated, Sidaizon could see that he would be at least as tall as Ingwion if the two stood shoulder to shoulder. He was not the sort of man who should easily be forgotten. Sidaizon swore silently at himself for being so useless, and blinked hard in an effort to banish the desperate need for sleep. It did not work.

Before he had time to think any further, Ingwion had crossed the room to address him. "Almatar Sidaizon. It needs be you forgive us the unsettling manner your travel, but requests issued me my beloved brother necessitate betimes haste above courtesy."

Ingwion spoke in the strange manner of court, with the whisper-soft accent affected by all lords of Taniquetil, which Sidaizon found difficult to follow at the best of times. Still, the core meaning of what he had said was clear enough, and brought the welcome relief of at last knowing who he was to see. If Ingwion's brother had summoned him, that meant Sidaizon would appear before the Oraistari. As Ingwion ruled the Hands, so did Ingwírion rule the keepers of the faith.

He realised, a moment too late, that Ingwion expected a reply. "There is nothing to forgive, my Lord Prince," he said with his head bowed. "I live to serve Taniquetil."

"Good. Then I shall have you granted a bed the night's remainder, and tomorrow might my brother commence speak you full this matter come troubles so the Oraistari, wills he this. But may my servants inform him his waking your presence."

This time, Sidaizon answered immediately, even though he had no idea what it was Ingwion had said. It had been something about showing him to a bed. That was enough. "Alla, thank you greatly for your kindness, my Prince."

Ingwion nodded, and waved to his Hands. "Dismissed."

The Hands stood, pulling Sidaizon up by either arm between them, and Tarmanaz followed their lead. In their efficient haste to leave the room, they had herded Sidaizon back out into the corridor when Ingwion's voice called out after them, casual but no less commanding, "Who is your third?"

The Hands exchanged a quick glance of widened, uncertain eyes before turning to once again kneel before their lord.

"Two I bade the collection Almatar Sidaizon," Ingwion continued. "Who is your third thinks show his shorn hair and novice insignia?"

"He is my son," Sidaizon answered before the Hands could offer any excuse. "He was at home when they came for me, and he was ordered to come as well. They did not say why, but he is a faithful servant who would not dare defy the orders of a superior, so he came."

Tarmanaz, already on his knees, bowed even lower. Sidaizon could see that his shoulders trembled with fear to be called before the lord of the Hands in such a way.

Ingwion, though, looked not at Tarmanaz but at Sidaizon, and his face wore an expression of wonder. "The Almatar's son, a King's Hand?"

"Yes, Lord."

"Be this true he is the first I know. Support you him?"

Again, Sidaizon looked to Tarmanaz, and spoke with all the conviction he could muster. "Yes. I do. He has made a good choice for himself." The words of reassurance seemed to calm Tarmanaz, who stopped trembling long enough to lift his head and give a firm nod of agreement.

"I admit I am intrigued," Ingwion said with a soft smile. "You, Almatar, may follow my Hands. You, Almatar's son," he turned his keen gaze on Tarmanaz; "I bid well attend me a while."

"As my Lord commands," murmured Tarmanaz. His voice was soft, but to his credit did not waver with fear. Standing, he shot a pleading look to Sidaizon: a silent cry for guidance.

Sidaizon grasped his wrist, whispering, "Attend the prince as long as he requires. Once he dismisses you, hire a horse or a carriage or even run if you must, but go home as quickly as you can." He fumbled in the purse tied around his waist for a silver coin, which he slipped into Tarmanaz's fingers. "Tell your mother I am here with the Oraistari. I am safe, not in prison, and everything will be fine. I will return home as soon as I may, but it may be some days."

Silently, Tarmanaz nodded, and tucked the coin beneath the folds of his sash.

"Good boy. And thank you. You know I will do whatever I can to be home soon."


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.

Story Information

Author: Darth Fingon

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 06/20/11

Original Post: 02/07/09

Go to You Live Your Life in the Shadow of the Mountain overview

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