6. The Mayor of Calembel
Fastred had said no more to dissuade Éomer from planning a rescue during the rest of their meeting. After Ingold's tale, the king had given him one look and he knew better than to speak up again. With no more interruptions, some sort of plan swiftly began to take shape.
Cearl would ride to Fangorn as soon as they were ready to inform the Faithful in Wellinghall of their plans. Though they all agreed that a smaller number was better for the rescue, they would need help soon enough. Crossing the border would be difficult, as would the trek across the plains.
The three other Riders would take what provisions they could buy and bring it back; the rest would attempt the rescue. They had not been able to think of a better cover than for them to be travellers wanting to be in the White City for the celebrations. Neither Fastred nor Húrin was very happy with that plan, but Éomer told them to leave it to him. He would find a better way, though what that was, he would not yet say.
After the planning had proceeded as far as it could, Éomer sent a messenger to the Mayor of Calembel, one Aduiar of Harondor, who had corsair blood in him. Bergil was chosen for the task; being only a year older than Cearl, and as the only one other than Éomer who spoke the Common Tongue in the manner of Gondor, he would attract the least suspicion. Fastred had doubts about the wisdom of drawing the attention of the mayor to them. It would be better, he argued, to avoid contact with as many as possible, and especially one in power. Éomer answered that he thought it prudent to contact the mayor like the unknown guard at the gate had suggested, and it was better to send someone before the guard reported them himself. He would hear no other arguments and only bade Bergil to get ready.
Bergil put his cloak on. The heavy wool had not dried all the way through and was still a little damp, but the fire had warmed it and it smelled of heat and smoke and wet sheep. It would keep him warm. Outside rain still fell and evening was drawing near. Twilight had darkened the street. Before he went, Éomer gave him a small purse with three coins in it.
"Give this to the mayor," he said. "And tell him that Master Rodhaer has lodged at the inn and has many fine furs and skins that he might wish to see. We will stay the night, tell him, and leave at midday if we find no market for our goods before then. Tell him that the sentry at the gate suggested we speak with him and ask him what answer he would wish to give. Remember his words exactly."
Bergil nodded and left.
The mayor's house was the largest in Calembel, save the inn. It was new, built only three years after the War when Calembel still retained some of its importance and influence. The mayor at the time had been an ambitious man and ordered a house built in stone after the manner in Minas Tirith with a courtyard paved with smooth stones and a garden on one side.
Three storeys high it loomed over the smaller houses. White stone covered the walls facing out, but at the back, where the servants and animals lived, the stones were grey and dull.
Most of the house stood empty, for when it was made the armed body of Haradhrim soldiers had been stationed in Calembel and room had been made to house them. The barracks were empty now, even when a patrol passed through; they preferred to lodge at the inn where they could be served rather than tend themselves. The present mayor preferred them there, too, and so the house was mostly empty, save for where the mayor and his servants lived.
Bergil was met at the door by a servant. The man had the dark hair that most men in Gondor had, a somewhat smaller stature and in other ways no memorable feature; or he would have, if not for the scar that ran from the corner of his right eye to the lobe of his ear.
"Yes?" the servant asked.
"I have come to deliver a message to the lord mayor," Bergil said. "It is from my master, the hunter Rodhaer."
"It is late," the servant said. "The lord mayor has retired for the evening. Get back to your master and tell him to conduct his business in the daytime." He moved to close the door but Bergil hurried to speak before he could shut it close.
"Please, Master Rodhaer sends this." He held out the purse that Éomer had given him. The servant took it and felt the three coins inside. Bergil continued lest the servant would shut the door once he had taken the purse.
"Master Rodhaer bade me give it to the lord mayor, and he also bade me tell that he has many fine furs and skins with him to trade. He has lodged at the inn and will stay the night. The sentry at the gate said that the lord mayor would like to see our goods, and master Rodhaer would be honoured if the lord mayor would wish to view them in private. My master will be staying at the inn until midday unless we find a market before that time. If the lord mayor wishes, Master Rodhaer will not sell any of his goods until the lord mayor has had a chance to see the furs himself."
"Wait here," the servant said. He closed the door, leaving Bergil to stand outside in the rain.
Bergil huddled his cloak around him and waited, stamping his feet from time to time to keep warm. The heat from the fire had long gone from the cloak, but inside the heavy wool Bergil stayed warm despite the water seeping back into the cloth. He tried to use the doorway to shield himself a little from the weather; it was large and deep. The frame was dark against the white stones, with thick, broad boards of oak. The door, too, was made of heavy oak, polished and painted. It was carved in an intricate pattern of triangles and squares fitted together by crisscrossing lines. Bergil tried to follow the maze created by the pattern, but one line merged with the next until the eyes were confused and lost the path it had followed.
The patterns continued in the frame so that the line between the door and frame was hard to see. Above the door, triangles rose in mountaintops and at the bottom, square spirals whirled in stylized waves. At the middle of the door, where the maze ended or began, the knocker had been shaped to the likeness of a head, hideous and orc-like. On its forehead a great eye was fashioned to an emblem. Bergil shuddered and turned away.
The steps that led up to the door would have been white like the house if not for the mud in the streets that did not wash away in the rain. One whole slab of stone had been cut for each step.
A crack had formed on the top step where Bergil stood, splitting it in two. The crack was clean, though no form or plan had governed its making. Bergil did not know, could not know, that it had been made six years before when one of the Haradrim soldiers had brought an Oliphant to the town. It was the first and last time such an animal was seen in Calembel and the soldier, wanting to prove the obedience of the beast, had steered it up to the house and had it put its forefeet on the top stair. The great animal, almost as high as the second storey, had set one treelike column of a foot on the stone and the crack could be heard, the story in Calembel went, all the way to the gate. The mayor's scream, it was said, had carried all the way to the sea. The year after, the mayor had left, leaving Aduiar of Harondor to rule in his place. No one in the town grieved that he never returned. Aduiar was given the office and the house.
Bergil stood in contemplation of this crack when the door opened.
"Tell your master that the lord mayor will look at his goods tomorrow before midday." The servant stood in the door, looking at Bergil with contempt. "And if you are sent on any more errands, remember that the kitchen door is at the back."
"Wait," said Bergil. "Was that his words?"
"That was his message, what do you care about his words?"
"Master Rodhaer bade me bring the lord mayor's exact words."
"The lord mayor Aduiar said," the servant said, ice lacing his words, "that he would be pleased to see Master Rodhaer's goods tomorrow at the lord mayor's leisure. The lord mayor is sure that your master would gain much by speaking with the lord mayor before he accepts any other offers for his services." The servant did not take his eyes from Bergil the whole time; they bored into him, cold and stern.
"Those were the words of the lord mayor. Now leave."
He closed the door on Bergil for the second time. Bergil did not wait for it to happen a third. He turned and walked back to the inn. Twilight was almost over and he pulled his hood over his face against the beating rain. In the dark and between the hood and the rain, he was almost blind and deaf, finding his way by luck and instinct rather than sight. He neither saw nor heard the man who slipped from the shadows of the houses and round to the back of the mayor's house. Soon the kitchen door was opened and the sentry who had stood guard with Borondir stepped into the house and was greeted by the servant.
If Bergil had seen, he might have worried a little more on his way back, and he might have mentioned it to Éomer king when he reported the mayor's words back. The king might have acted differently then, and events might not have turned out like they did. But Bergil did not see, and he did not report back, and so the story unfolded as it did.
Since they had only spoken to the innkeeper, Húrin suggested that they spent some time in the common room that evening. After the corsair's message earlier, people would have much to talk about, and the common room of an inn was always the best place to hear gossip. Éomer agreed.
Fastred did not.
He was, however, calmed when it became clear that Éomer had no intentions to join Húrin himself. The king would stay in their rooms, and ordered Fastred and Cearl to stay with him; that much light hair could easily attract too much attention. Though Calembel had always been relatively safe, Éomer was wary. There was a different feeling to the town that he did not like, though what had caused it, he could not say. Fastred had felt it too, and he did not like it.
"I sense a greater watchfulness," Húrin said. "Both Borondir and Ingold took more care than they usually feel the need to. Were it only Borondir, I would blame it on the new sentry, but Ingold had little reason to fear. I do not think the maid would carry any stories further, though looks can deceive."
"You and Bergil find out what you can," Éomer said. "And I do not have to tell you to be cautious."
"No, you do not," Húrin said. He smiled. "I have gathered news before, and here we will likely not need to even ask, just keep our eyes and ears open. Come, lad, and let us see if that maid still favours you."
Bergil mumbled something under his breath, but he did not complain, though he had just returned.
Éomer spent much of the evening studying the rough map that Bergil had drawn of Minas Tirith. At one point he left to see how Firefoot was doing; it was not that he did not trust Fastred to care for the horse, but he needed to see for himself. The last ten years the stallion had lived outdoors, with a few exceptions, and he objected more and more to being stabled. Éomer wanted to be sure that he had settled in.
He was able to avoid the people that had gathered in the common room and thought he would reach the stable without meeting anyone. He almost did, but as he was about to open the stable-doors, a voice stopped him.
"Master hunter, may I have a word?"
Éomer turned, his hand still on the handle of the door. He could not see anyone, but one of the shadows by the walls moved. "What do you want, and why do you not show yourself?"
The figure of a man emerged from the shadow and into a stream of light falling from a window.
"I think you know me, master hunter, and why we need to talk," Borondir said. "I did not mean to alarm you, but I wanted to make sure no one saw us together. I have waited here for some time."
"You could have waited in vain," Éomer said. "Why did you not talk to Ingold? He could have taken you to our rooms."
"I could have been seen. Besides, I did not think you would retire for the night without checking on your horse."
"We can be seen here," Éomer said, ignoring the second comment. "Let us go inside." He opened the door to the stable. With a quick look around, Borondir followed him in.
The stable was dark, but there was a lantern by the door and Éomer soon had it lit. The horses turned when they entered, and a soft murmur greeted Éomer. Bereth nickered when he saw him, but there was one face Éomer did not see. Firefoot had been given the innermost stable and Éomer could only see his back. He walked past the other horses, letting Borondir follow as he wished.
Firefoot stood with his hindquarters turned towards the stable-door and his head to the wall separating him from Fastred's mare. Unlike most of the Eorlingas, Fastred had always preferred mares and would choose to ride one when he could. He had to endure many taunts for this, but that had not stopped him. Now the mare stood much like Firefoot, both hanging their heads and sulking.
"Hi boy," Éomer called softly. He got no response. Firefoot did not even move one ear towards him. Éomer opened the door and clicked his tongue at him. "Move over, boy. Let me look at you." The horse moved, but he bared his teeth and pressed his ears flat against his head to make it clear he was not happy. Éomer ignored his antics.
"Lord," Borondir began, but he was cut off when Firefoot stuck his head out of the box and bared his teeth at him, since it had not worked on Éomer.
"Do not mind him," Éomer said. "It is all show; he knows better than to bite."
"I would rather not test that," Borondir said. "A bite would be hard to explain, and rather painful to endure."
"Do not stand so close to the door," Éomer said, "and you will be safe. He does not like being stabled; living outdoors has spoiled him. But he will just have to endure it."
"Lord, I do not understand."
"It is not important," Éomer said. "What did you need to speak with me about?"
"I have a warning, lord," said Borondir. "And I hope it does not reach you too late; I could not abandon my post and was not able to give it sooner."
"That can not be helped," Éomer said. "Speak, I am listening, thought it may not look that way." He turned to Firefoot and began looking him over.
"My warning is simple; do not stay in Calembel. Leave before the sun rises tomorrow, or you may not be able to leave at all."
"Why is that?"
"The winter has been hard, lord," Borondir said, "and not only for the sake of snow. The mayor has changed. He is become more suspicious, or else more ambitious – I do not know which will prove worse. Since he came, he has let us live much like we have wanted, working in the fields and tending the animals. As long as we kept our heads down and paid our taxes, he let us be. We were safe here, as safe as any could be in Gondor these days.
"This winter it changed. The mayor hired a new man who spies for him and eggs him on. You have met him; he stood with me at the gates when you came. This man, this Gwidor, will surely have reported your arrival to the mayor. It was s good thing your hoods were up, or he would have had even more to tell."
"We all sensed that there was some change wrought in Calembel," Éomer said. "But we did not know from whence it came. Other matters seemed of greater importance and I did not ask Ingold about it when we spoke."
"Yes," Borondir said. "The corsairs' announcement. We had some forewarnings, but we could not quite believe the rumours until yesterday. What is your plan?"
"I have not decided on anything yet," said Éomer. He let his hands run over Firefoot's flanks and legs and down the neck and back, seeking out any cuts or swellings the stallion might have. He found no grave wounds, but the legs were thick and swollen and the he did not want to lift his hind-feet. Éomer stood up.
"Húrin and the Dúnedain wish to ride straight to Minas Tirith, but I will not send any man to his death, or capture, in vain. And we desperately need food, if only for a short while until the grass begins to grow again and the animals return; I have men searching even now. Before I know more about the celebration, I cannot risk that quest."
"Do not linger here to find out," Borondir said. "Leave before the mayor decides that you and your men should be detained."
"I have already sent for him," Éomer said. "I cannot leave without seeing him; it will arouse far more suspicions."
"Then be careful what you say or do," Borondir said. "We do not need another captured king." He turned to leave. Éomer stopped his examination of the horse.
"Lord?" The man turned back.
"Please, I must know, if you would answer," Éomer said. "What would you have me do?"
Borondir straitened his shoulders. For a moment his jaw locked as he clenched his teeth. His eyes flashed, and he looked as if he had just stepped off the last ship from Númenór.
"Let me go with you when you get him out."
He gave a short bow and left. Éomer did not need to ask of whom he spoke. Standing alone beside Firefoot's stable, he remembered that Borondir had once served in the Citadel Guard.
When Éomer returned, he found Fastred pacing in the outer room.
"I am safely back," he told him. "You can stop wearing holes in the floor; Ingold would not be pleased to find you falling through the kitchen roof."
"Do not 'Sire' me," Éomer said. "And do not stand there like you are being reprimanded."
Fastred did not stand to attention, but he could have fooled anyone. He held his body straight, Éomer would almost have said stiff, and looked past his king at a point somewhere at the wall. Éomer had seen that stance before, had even taken it himself before Théoden fell. He remembered standing in the Golden Hall with his eyes fixed on the carved horse on the right ear of the king's chair, trying not to hear the words of Gríma in his uncle's mouth. Fastred were more relaxed than Éomer had been then, but Éomer did not like it. Something was brewing, had been for a time. Cearl must have noticed it even before Éomer arrived; he was nowhere to be seen and the door to the room he shared with Bergil was closed.
"I am tired, Fastred, and restless," Éomer said, deciding to avoid further confrontation. "I would not have been able to rest without some distraction. Besides; you know how much Firefoot has come to loath stables. I wanted to make sure he had not torn it down; Ingold would take that even less kindly than you falling through the kitchen roof. None saw me, except for Borondir, and he was looking."
"You spoke with Borondir, sire?"
It turned out to be a good diversion from whatever Fastred had been brooding over. Fastred broke his stance and met Éomer's eyes again. The king swiftly told what they had spoken about, and though Fastred did not relax at the news; he had something new to worry about. It was enough for Éomer to turn their words away from Fastred's disapproval of his little trip.
Nothing more of note happened that night.
It was early the next morning when Ingold came knocking at the door. The five men were already awake though the sun had barely risen. A thin ray of light had found its way through the half-open shutters of the eastern room, bleeding through the door to pool on the floor of the dark inner room. Húrin was already stacking the logs in the fireplace and Fastred watched the door. The sunlight was so far the only thing that lit the room, for the lamps had burned out the night before and the girl had not yet been there to refill them.
In the pool of light there was a shadow, moving in the pattern of the king's morning toilet.
Éomer cupped his hands and dipped them in the washbasin. The clear water filled his hands and he held it for a moment, just above the rim of the basin. Clean, fresh, warm water dripped in bright drops between his fingers. He took a breath, and then brought his face and hands together. Diamond drops fell back into the bowl, washing over his face and skin to trickle down between his shoulder blades and pour over his throat.
He took the towel and dried himself off. Fastred stood in the doorway with Ingold hovering behind him.
"My lord," Ingold began. "The Mayor is here. He brought with him two men in addition to his servant: a clerk and a guard. He asks for you."
"I did send him a message," said Éomer. "It should hardly surprise you that he would come."
"But this early?" Ingold shook his head. "And with a guard? At least he brought Borondir – he will not betray you – and not Gwidor, though that is strange."
"How so?" Éomer asked.
"Gwidor came last autumn from the south," Ingold explained. "From Linhir he told us, but I wager he well could have come from further away, and he has wormed his way into the Mayor's favour. We have had to be more careful this winter than before because of him; already two men have been questioned because of his tales. The Mayor held them for three days."
"Were they hurt?" Éomer dropped the towel on the bed and reached for his shirt. Fastred beat him to it.
"No, thankfully not," Ingold said. "They came out no worse than they went in; a little more cold and hungry perhaps, but less so than we all have felt when the winter was cold and the larders bare."
"Are any of the men armed?"
"There has been no armed guard in Calembel since mayor Aduiar came five years ago. They make do with oaken staffs. I do not know about the mayor himself"
"The mayor does not concern me as much," Éomer said. "But this new man…" He trailed of, lost in thought while he tried to dress, but with Fastred acting as his aid, Éomer did not dress as quickly as he usually would. The man was uncommonly slow this morning, and in the end the king lost his patience. He snatched the tunic out of Fastred's hands. "I do not like what I hear about this man," he repeated, ignoring Fastred for the moment. "But I guess that there is little we can do about it now. Tell the mayor that I will be down to speak with him shortly; I have to get dressed first, and pick out my best wares."
Ingold nodded and left. Éomer told the two youths to bring the firs into the larger room so they could find the best. Then he turned to Fastred.
"If you wish to state your displeasure, there are better ways than to draw out my dressing," he said. "I clad myself faster than that when I was five."
"I am sorry, my lord," Fastred said. "I am a scout, not a servant." There was the stance from last night: standing stiffly, staring past Éomer at some invisible point at the wall.
"I have never asked you to be," Éomer said. He sighed. "What gnaws at you, Fastred? You have been silent and sullen since last night."
"I am not sullen," said Fastred. "I am angry. You put yourself in danger where there is little need and you do not listen when I try to point out the troubles we face. Already you have committed to this rescue, even thought we might well walk straight into the Enemy's hands. And if that was not enough, you risk exposure to this Mayor, this Aduiar from the South. I have been here before, I have heard the whispers in the common room; he is half corsair on his father's side."
"You are not one that would judge a man on whispered rumours," Éomer frowned. "And you have not voiced such misgivings about the mayor before. For the most part I hear he is just enough for these times, and we have had dealings with him earlier, have we not?"
"Yes, but whether the rumours are true or not, no man would be given any position of power in Gondor unless he serves the Enemy. I do not like that he knows of our presence."
"That could not be helped," said Éomer.
"You did not have to send for him."
"I did." Éomer picked up his belt. "I did not think I would have to explain that to you, Fastred. That sentry, Gwidor, would have reported our coming as soon as he could. Far safer to follow his advice and send a message ourselves than wait for him to find us on his own. Even as it was, I fear I delayed too long. Gwidor suspects something. I do not like it, but I see no great danger since the mayor did not bring him. But why a guard at all, I wonder? No matter, we shall learn soon enough."
Éomer fastened his belt. He watched Fastred for a moment. The man was angry still, even knowing that his king was right. Or maybe it was because he knew, and could not change it.
"You will not like this," said Éomer. "But I will have to ask you to stay here."
Fastred met his eyes for the first time this morning.
"No." he said.
"I will make it an order if I have to," Éomer warned. "Yesterday at the gate our hoods were up. Today we cannot hide our hair and too many light heads will make that man put two and two together and guess who we are. He knows I am the leader, so I must speak with Aduiar – a huntsman would scarcely risk insulting the Mayor of the town and the only customer that might have some coin to pay. You and Cearl must remain out of sight."
"Your hair is hardly any darker than ours."
"True." Éomer nodded. "It will have to be remedied." He loosened the fastenings at the neck and walked back to the washbasin. "Hand me that towel; I would rather keep my clothes dry."
"What are you doing?" Fastred hissed as Éomer plunged his whole head into the basin.
"The colour will seem darker when wet," Húrin offered in way of explanation. He and Bergil had gathered the finest furs to take down, and now he stood in the doorway. "I am surprised he remembered that lesson. You," he told Fastred, "have forgotten that you should close the door if you do not wish your words to be overheard."
"'He' remembers more than a certain ranger might think," Éomer shot back. "The towel, Fastred. I have had enough wet clothes to last me a month." Water dripped from his face and hair. He wiped the drops from his eyes and wrung the water from his hair. Fastred held out the towel for his king to take.
"You really do mean to meet this, this half-blood collaborator?"
"I sent for him." Éomer covered his shoulders with the towel and shook his head like a dog. Water sprayed the walls and floor and anyone standing too close. He pressed water from his hair once more and let the towel soak up a little of the remaining dampness. A slow trickle still crept down the strains of hair, now almost dark, and seeped into the collar of his shirt, but it would have to do. He handed the towel back to Fastred. "Here. You should not have stood so close."
"You, sire, could have given warning."
"Fastred," Éomer changed his tone of voice. "We have been over this. Last night it was safer to remain here, but today I must act my part. I need to see the mayor; he is the only one that might be able to confirm or contest whether the Enemy will be in Minas Tirith for the celebrations."
"And you are going to do what?" Fastred said. "Ask him?"
Éomer strode past him, leaving Fastred alone in the room.
The mayor of Calembel's first thoughts upon hearing the greeting from the hunter had not been to show up with an escort. He had planned to bring his servant to carry home any purchase he might make, but no more. Then Gwidor had shown up.
"These men," he said. "These so-called hunters; they are hiding something."
"Gwidor," the mayor sighed. "Everyone hides something."
"They did not act as honest men," Gwidor continued as if the mayor had not spoken. "They kept their hoods up all the time."
The mayor stopped him before he could go on. Secrets are hardly the only reason that travelers have for keeping their hoods on in the rain, however many they may have. And as for those secrets they no doubt have, that is not uncommon; even you have some secret you hide."
"Lord mayor, I am most loyal to you," Gwidor said. "I hide no secret from you. I swear."
"Do not. I doubt you could without forswearing." The mayor would have dismissed him then, but the man kept on.
"I have other reasons to mistrust these men," he said. "They brought a young man, hardly more than a boy, with them. This boy I remembered. I had seen him before, in this very town. He came here the day before the hunters arrived, seeking work, or so he said. He left, and then returned in the company of the hunters. That looked mighty suspicious to me."
"Did you ask him why?"
The mayor waited for the man to continue, but when nothing more came, he prompted: "And what did he have to say for himself?"
"Well," the mayor said, "that does sound a little more suspicious. Why did you let them in if they did not answer your question?"
"It would serve you better, I thought, to deliver these spies and rebels to the commander in Pelargir yourself, than to send them on their way to be caught by others." The man spoke quickly. He reminded the mayor of a play he had seen once about the Happless. The actors had spoken thus, swiftly and well-rehearsed, the words pouring out of their mouths and never reaching their hearts. It had been a very poor play.
"And mine was the only profit you thought of?" he said.
"Of course, my lord mayor."
"I do not believe you. However," the mayor added, cutting off the protest already bursting from the man's lips. "It does not matter. What you do say is cause for some concern, though I would like a little more proof to the claim that they are rebels and spies before I act. It reflects poorly on me if I have to release more men because they turn out innocent."
"Proof can always be obtained, lord," Gwidor said. "With the right means."
The mayor suddenly struck him with the back of his hand. The blow was hard enough to make him stagger back a few steps. Gwidor touched his cheek where the mayor's ring had hit him. Blood; it had cut skin.
"Do you imply that there is anything wrong with my methods?"
He shook his head. "My lord, I meant no such thing. You mistook my words; I would never presume to criticize anything you do."
"Then explain your words." The mayor turned away from the man. He was turning over the purse the hunter had sent him in his hand. There were two silver coins from Gondor in it, and one from Rohan. "Well?"
"I merely wished to say that I have already found out more about this band of hunters." Gwidor stumbled over his words in his haste. "Borondir seemed to know them, thought they acted as if they had never been here before, and I have asked around. The leader has not been here for some years, but two of his men were pretty well known, and that boy has been here several times before too. In the company of the men. I saw him and the one they called Húrin in the common room of the Traveller last night. They were talking to that servant-girl Ingold hired, and the boy seemed familiar enough with her. And this Húrin talked with several of the patrons as if they were old friends."
The mayor said nothing for a while. Before him, on the wall, there was a rendering of the Battle of the White City. His eyes trailed over the painting that the mayor before him had ordered, studying it.
It was a large painting with one central motive and around it, smaller images that showed the triumphs of the Great Lord; the defeat of the Armies of the West, the destruction of the evils of the Elves, the surrender of the Steward.
It was the central image that his eyes rested on.
The White City had been drawn in detail. The seven circles, the Citadel, the High Tower of Ecthelion, all in gleaming white against the dark mountain and the barren fields of Pelennor. No banners flew from the steeples and spires, and the Tower and the battlements were empty. Around the Gate a multitude of people were gathered, women, men and children with garlands in their hairs and flowers in their hands.
Aduiar's gaze lingered on the chief figures. Two men were painted so that the City and its people were small beside them. There, before the gate and surrounded by the happy people, stood the Lieutenant of Barad-dûr, Master of Isengard. Underneath his feet lay the white banner of the Stewards. In one hand, he held the standard of the King, in the other the Winged Crown, holding it over the head of a man kneeling beside him.
The man's head was bowed in gratitude. He was clad in black and silver; a white cloak was draped over his shoulder, and on his breast was a green stone. The mayor had never seen the King, but from what he had heard, he doubted he would have kneeled so meekly.
The king had both his hands lifted, open palms turned up and there lay the Key to the City, a free offering to the Protector of all Lands, East and West.
The Steward was nowhere to be seen.
"Gwidor," Aduiar said. "Come here. Tell me what you see."
The sentry did not move. "Lord mayor, I do not understand."
"This painting," he said. "What story does it tell?"
"It tells the story of how we came under the Great Lord's protection," Gwidor said without hesitation.
"And the central motive?"
"The end of the Stewards' rule and the crowning of the King." Same, unerring confidence.
"Does it tell the truth?" The mayor did not turn to look at the other man. He had not looked at him since he began his questioning.
"Of course, my lord."
"How do you know?"
"Lord?" Gwidor hesitated. "I do not understand. We all know it to be true; the lord mayor before you ordered it to be so."
"I see," Aduiar said. "Tell me, where is the King now?"
"He is the guest of the Great Lord." Gwidor sounded confused, but Aduiar just continued as if he did not hear it.
"And who now rules in the White City?"
"The lord Faramir."
"Yes," the mayor said. "The lord Steward." He let the silence rule once more. Gwidor stood there waiting, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
"Lord…" he began.
"This painting," the mayor cut him off. "This painting tells the truth. The truth as the Great Lord has told us. It does need to depicture the citadel hall where the coronation took place, or show us the lord Steward who was there to witness it. The servants of the Great Lord teach us to see beyond the truth of our senses and the literal truth of our records, to the deeper truths of the spirit.
"This image shows us the deeper truth through the falsehood of the literal."
"The Lord Mayor is wise," Gwidor said. "I understand."
The mayor turned and speared Gwidor with his gaze. His eyes were dark and hard, sharp as a snake's. "The deeper truths are for paintings and teachings, Gwidor. Not for spies. You have served me well since you came, and those that sent you had only good things to say, but I know you hide secrets from me. Just now there are several things you have not said. I do not have to know what the truth is to hear a lie when it is uttered!"
"I have told no lie!"
The mayor struck him again.
"You did not tell the whole truth."
"I would ask you not to lift your hand to me again, lord mayor." The gash on Gwidor's cheek was deeper, and blood ran freely. "Those that sent me taught me to find the deeper truths hidden in the hearts of Men, and expose them. It would not be wise to anger me, lest I turn my gaze from lesser men."
Aduiar held his eyes for a moment before he smiled. It was a thin smile, with no mirth in it. He turned away, back to the painting.
"Your advice?" he asked. "I know you are dying to give it, or you would not have come." He gave his servant a quick gesture, and the servant bowed before bringing a small, fine cloth to Gwidor. The man pressed it to his wound.
"Gather what men you need and arrest them."
The mayor did not answer straight away.
"Your advice has some merit," he said at last. "But if these hunters are rebels and spies, as you think, we do not have enough men to arrest them all. There is no armed force in Calembel; this you know."
"The patrol is but a day gone," Gwidor said. "Alert them."
"Not unless I am certain. No," the mayor stopped Gwidor before he could speak again. "Do not seek to change my mind on this; I will speak with the hunters myself first. Get Borondir and meet me outside the inn. If my suspicion is roused, I will have you seize the master hunter. I will hold him until armed men can be sent for. His men cannot do much without him; that is how these rebels work.
Gwidor bowed and left. He still held the cloth to his face to stop the bleeding. The mayor did not turn to see him go.
Aduiar was alone when his servant returned.
"He has left, Master Aduiar," he said. "And I have sent the boy to summon the scribe. The maid is out fetching water and the cook is in the kitchen; we are alone."
"Close the doors, Targon," Aduiar said. We have a few moments before we must leave."
The servant turned and checked the hallway one last time before he closed the doors. He stepped forward to stand a few steps behind the mayor. Aduiar had not moved since he dismissed Gwidor.
"Are you going to ask me about the painting too?" the servant asked when Aduiar did not speak.
"No," he said. "No; forgive me. I was lost in thought." He shook himself, as if ridding himself of some burden. He turned to face his servant. "What are your thoughts, Targon?"
"He is dangerous," Targon answered. "He only serves you for his own benefit, but this is not new; you have known that from the start. But now he grows impatient. He hoped, so is my guess, to impress his masters by uncovering some conspiracy here. He thought you weak, or blind, since there have been so few arrests here in the years you have ruled; that it would be easy to find rebels here, or those that could pass for them, and that you would be happy for him to find them, or else easily persuaded to his will. But six months have passed, and he has nothing to show.
"If you do not give him these hunters to deliver, he will turn on you, I deem. He will lie if he must, but you will be hard pressed to prove yourself against his accusations. He grows dangerous, and more so every day."
Aduiar sighed. "I had hoped to escape such politics here. Such a small town, far from the dealings of the great; it would be free of schemers, or so I thought, since none would want it.
"Well, Targon, I guess there is no escape within this world. Fetch my cloak, and alert me when the clerk comes. We will have to tread carefully; I cannot afford to leave Gwidor behind in such a mood. It could not have come at a worse time, and he must be taken care of, one way or another, before we leave for Minas Tirith."
"It will have to be soon then, master," the servant said. "You must leave within three days if you are to reach the City in time for the celebrations."
"And that I cannot afford." The mayor held out the purse the master hunter had sent. "Watch Gwidor," he said. "Be ready to act on any threat." The servant took the purse without a word, bowed and left.
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.