8. Principles of Pathology
"Sámaril! What do you say? How about another field trip to Tharbad?" The Istyar's booming baritone nearly makes me jump out of my skin since I was so focused on engraving a ring that I didn't hear him enter the workshop. I gouge the ring with my engraving knife, and fortunately, I avoid gouging my flesh.
"Ai! My apologies, boy. I didn't mean to startle you. Well, you'll have plenty more rings to engrave so no matter."
"Yes, sir. When will we leave?"
"The usual. Meet me at dawn at the gates. Bring some formal clothes this time."
The Istyar, a couple of the other journeymen and I have taken many successive trips to Tharbad since my first as a senior apprentice. During these visits, my master instructs us in "anthropology and psychology" as he calls the exercises, translating the concepts for us, as we study the various Men in the city. This time, only the Istyar waits impatiently for me, holding Mori by the reins. I am foggy since on a whim, I cast a ring last night and engraved it in the early hours this morning before I stopped at home to pack. I had rummaged around in my armoire to pull out three acceptable sets of robes, which I assumed still fitted me, and also tossed in some gold accoutrements that I had crafted for myself. I ran to the stables to collect my bay horse, which I finally had purchased from our friends. I have kept my master waiting for a good half-hour, and he is steaming.
"Honestly, Sámaril. Have you no concept of time?" he growls as he swings up onto his horse, stamping and snorting in reflection of his master's mood.
Oh, this is excellent, I think to myself. A one-on-one excursion with the Istyar, and I have already vexed him.
The Istyar, of course, overhears my surface thoughts and begins to laugh uproariously at my expense.
"Sámaril, you have no idea how very amusing it is to torment you. Relax, boy. This will be a most informative trip."
It has been some time since I have been in close quarters with the Istyar, and his anger at my tardiness, even if it dissipates quickly, concerns me in no small way. I make every attempt to be relaxed and at ease with him. Lately, the frequency of his black moods has increased. He withdraws, refusing to speak anyone, or he lashes out at others in towering anger. Fortunately, I have not been the recipient of the latter. These depressive states are most often replaced by his normal, pleasant collegial behavior, but sometimes his pendulum swings to an intense, manic energy, and he feverishly works in the forges or the workshops for days at a time, not eating or sleeping. There is rumor of trouble at home, too, with cataclysmic arguments that can be heard outside on the street after which the Istyar rides off into the night to discharge his anger and allow the heat of strife to temper and cool.
Fortunately, today there are no signs of this darkness of mind. He chatters away with me as his audience, discussing the latest formulation that Master Nacsirimo concocted in the lab, and which spontaneously combusted while sitting out on the bench, singing the ends of the master's hair and permeating two labs with a horrendous stench. He praises my friend, Teretion, who has produced an impressive number of rings of superlative quality under Tyelperinquar's guidance. He gives me a pointed look that tells me I had better keep up or preferably surpass Teretion. He chuckles as he tells me an anecdote about Tiberth, his fat orange tabby cat, a bilious animal that he has spoiled within an inch of its obese life, and that will let no one but the Istyar pet him.
We set up camp for the evening once we cross the ford of the Glanduin. The serce valaron is uncorked, and we pass the bottle back and forth, eschewing the civility of cups. The fire crackles as the dry wood burns, and smoke rises to the overcast sky. The Istyar then tells me the purpose of our trip. It will be different and more disturbing than our previous visits. He regards me with grave concern as he speaks.
"We will not be staying at the inn, but instead, at the residence of the Prince. There are things you should be forewarned about, Sámaril, because it is darkness beyond your experience, so it's best you know before I take you with me.
"Have you not wondered why such a prince of the royal house of Númenor is the leader of a fort here in the hinterlands?"
"Yes, I have sometimes thought about that, sir. I have heard that Númenor is a wondrous place - almost like Valinor. I can understand a temporary assignment in Tharbad, but this prince seems to be settled here."
"That is correct. He has been exiled to Tharbad, Sámaril. The royal house wants to wash its hands of him. The Prince's...appetites...caused a great deal of trouble in Númenor, so the royal house had to deal with the consequences."
"'Appetites?' I'm sorry, Istyar, but what do you mean specifically?"
The Istyar is silent for some minutes and takes a swig of wine before he continues. "The Prince's behavior is most disordered. He is a rapist and a pederast. He assaulted a number of young women and girls in Númenor, most of them of the common folk, which true to fashion of the royalty were overlooked, but then he raped a nobleman's daughter. This was not so easily dismissed.
"But that was not all. He developed a taste for young boys. Children began disappearing. Prominent families were paid off so that their sons could be brought to out-of-the-way manor homes. Finally, the situation became untenable, and the King hustled the Prince out of Númenor. Now Tharbad has him. There have been no rumors of rape of women and girls, although I would not put that past him, but Tharbad offers him many opportunities with the young boys of the street and the countryside and those who arrive at the port."
Horrified, I offer no response. Such abuse is completely beyond my understanding.
"Yes, I knew this would be difficult for you, Sámaril. It is one thing for men and women to enjoy sexual congress with one another or within their own genders if they are consenting adults, and so it is among Men and Elves alike. Even in the animal kingdom, homosexuality is present, and it may well serve an evolutionary purpose. It may not be a majority behavior, but it is still part of natural order. On the other hand, rape and pederasty are frank deviations among humans and represent most disordered behaviors."
"An evolutionary purpose? I still don't understand..."
"Ai, Sámaril! Why is it so hard for you to grasp the concept of selection and adaptive processes? The Eldar have been thoroughly brainwashed with creation myths from the Valar. Now don't distract me..."
Sometimes the Istyar is remarkably vitriolic toward the Valar, seeing as how he is their emissary, but then, he is full of contradictions. Because of his brilliance, his eccentricities and bizarre ideas are tolerated.
The Istyar continues his assessment. "If the Prince's preferences were as benign as consensual sex with other men, he would still be in Númenor. His behaviors are truly among the most reprehensible of humankind - very remote from a well-ordered life. He must be controlled."
The Istyar pauses, and then he says coldly, analytically, "The irony is that his perversions will be the mechanism by which he will be brought under control." He then laughs to himself with a chilling tone that I have never heard from him before, and fear scuttles up and down my spine.
The inexplicable fear evaporates when he turns to me, his eyes warm with his characteristic avuncular affection, and he hands me the bottle, "Have another drink, lad, and don't worry, I will be with you. Just follow my lead."
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