8. Things Fall Apart
The mayor of Calembel sat behind a large desk. It was his desk, one of the few things he had ordered himself. Most of the furniture had once belonged to his predecessor, left behind when he moved to become magistrate of Linhir. Or perhaps it was the one before. That one had died, suddenly and unexpectedly, not even a year after the last War. The Haradrim soldiers had never found out why; he had held the office a good two years, and he was not old. Not old as the Men of Gondor counted. But the soldiers had not tried all that hard.
The townspeople had their own opinions of why he died. Un-usefulness, they said. It happened often in the early years when there were still many who had been appointed by the old Steward. A few stayed useful, but most died, or were exposed as rebels. Appointments were handled… differently now. The next Mayor had been far more useful than the first, to the soldiers if not the town. When trade had slowed almost completely and the roads became empty, he had proved himself far too useful to squander in such a small town. He had taken with him what furniture he had wanted, but the rest was left behind. Aduiar had not felt the need to replace it, nor had he needed to purchase much new. But the desk, the desk had been another matter.
Dark, reddish wood– strong and hard– had been combined with inlays of light, soft birch to form endless geometrical patterns. Lines and triangles formed intricate labyrinths that confused the eye and hid secret compartments and drawers. Push one knot, and a panel would open to reveal a hidden keyhole. Press on one line, and nothing would happen, but the next might reveal a compartment with a small knife or the hiding-place of some other, secret thing. Not even the carpenter who made it could remember all its secrets. Aduiar knew them all.
Gwidor was standing on the other side of the desk. Unlike the room where they had spoken earlier, this room had no paintings. A few maps covered what little space was left from the shelves of papers and books; this was a room for work. A few chairs stood empty on his side of the desk, but Gwidor had declined the offer of a seat. He was impatient to begin the questioning of the prisoner. He harboured some secret, and once he found it, Gwidor would finally be free of this town and its master. So far it had been nothing but disappointments. He could not make up his mind as to whether the mayor was lazy, stupid, or treacherous. All the other masters he had served had encouraged his initiatives and appreciated his ability to find rebels and conspiracies. This man treated every case as a nuisance, an attitude the Masters would find most… interesting. Perhaps even worthy of an investigation.
"So, Gwidor," the mayor said. "Are you satisfied with the turn of events?"
"You are smiling, Gwidor." The mayor was watching him. He fingered the dagger Gwidor had found, letting it turn and swirl in his hands with far more skill than Gwidor would have guessed him capable of.
"Neither of us has spoken since we entered this room," he continued, "and nothing in this room invites mirth, I must therefore conclude that your smile comes from your satisfaction with this morning's events."
You conclude that, Gwidor thought. What he said was: "My lord, I seek only your gain. The arrest of this man posing as a hunter will reflect well on you."
Aduiar did not answer. He appeared deep in thought. He stopped his juggling and studied the dagger instead. The blade was as long as his hand, straight and double-edged. It had a short, blunt guard with horse-heads at the ends. The pommel was in the same style, but small, and the grip was simple: wood draped with leather. The blade itself was decorated with a flowing, snakelike pattern. In the engraving there were still traces of blood that had not been cleaned off.
"What did you think of his story?" the mayor asked.
It took Gwidor a few moments to understand the mayor's question. "My lord, I do not think any of his explanations are to be trusted."
"If you study this dagger," Aduiar said, "you will see that there is one thing that supports his claim that it was found with an orc." He took a piece of cloth lying on the desk and spit on it before he rubbed the dagger with it. He showed the cloth to Gwidor.
"There is still blood stuck in the engraving," he said, "and it has begun to rust. A hunter would care for his weapons, would not allow this neglect, but orcs seldom bother."
"But he is no hunter," Gwidor countered. "He is a spy and rebel."
"They too would clean their blades better."
"Perhaps," Gwidor had to admit. He could see why Aduiar was still stuck with such an insignificant town; how could he find rebels when he made excuses for the suspects? Their job was not to make up impossible stories to advocate the suspects' innocence; it was to rout out rebels and spies!
"This whole business is a terrible nuisance right now." The mayor interrupted his thoughts. "Next time, could you try to find spies at a more opportune moment? I have to leave for Minas Tirith in just a few days– tomorrow preferably– and there will likely not be time to check the story in much depth before I leave. It does not reflect favourably on me to be late for the celebrations, or to leave a query like this unresolved. Yet you have put me in a position where I must do one, it seems."
Gwidor did not let the opening pass him by. "Leave it to me, my lord mayor. I can question the hunters and examine whether their stories hold."
The mayor shook his head. "It is my responsibility."
"You can authorize whom you please," Gwidor said. "If you will but let me question him, I am certain that I can get the truth out of him before you must leave."
"I might," the mayor said, "and, mark you, only might, consider leaving it to you if nothing is resolved by tomorrow. But though I do not question your ability to make people give the answers you seek, I am not convinced that you will always recognize the truth when you hear it. I will handle the first questioning. Alone. I find that most people speak more freely when I speak with them alone."
Gwidor tried to argue his case further, but the mayor would not be swayed. The more Gwidor spoke, the more reluctant the mayor seemed to grow. The more Gwidor tried to convince Aduiar to let him take care of the questioning, the more adamant did the mayor become in his decision to handle it himself. At the end of their conversation Gwidor had worked himself into quite an irritable state. But he was careful not to show it. The mayor was still more powerful than him here, and he would not risk crossing him. Not now. Not when he was closer than ever to a catch that would ensure his promotion. Let the mayor dig his own grave with this prisoner. But until the grave was done, Gwidor could not afford to show his displeasure openly. He rubbed the cut on his cheek.
Aduiar, on the other hand, could show his displeasure without any immediate consequences, as he had demonstrated earlier. And he did. Sitting in his chair fingering, ever fingering, the dagger while Gwidor talked, intercepting him with ever more biting remarks. Dismissing– or was he mocking? – Gwidor's findings with every turn of that knife. With every word he said.
And then he did dismiss him. Told him that if Gwidor could not find anything better to do, then he was free to join the rest of the town in the field. That he had no more use for him at the moment and would send for him if needed. As if Gwidor did not have better things to do than to play farmer!
"Borondir will know what tasks are most urgent," Aduiar said. "I suspect the children could always use some help picking stones from the fields before the ploughing."
Gwidor bowed and left. It was all he could do not to lose his composure. The door closed behind him.
Aduiar laid the dagger carefully down on the desk. He sat unmoving for a moment, looking at it. The room was silent. No sounds penetrated the walls and the thick door; even the window, large and high on the wall behind him, shut out the birds' song. If any were out. It did not even let any sunlight in this early; it faced west, towards the mountains.
Two other items lay on the desk. Aduiar picked up one: the star-brooch. Gwidor had made much of the dagger. Why, when the brooch was far more damning? He had to know that only the hidden Dúnedain from the North used these, they who had never been conquered, because they could not be found. The Northern Dúnedain from whom the king Elessar had come. Aduiar had never been able to fathom why the king had proved to be a most effective hostage against Gondor, yet his own people seemed unaffected in their resistance. He turned the star slowly in his hand. It gave him no answer.
The star, like the dagger, was tarnished, but the craftsmanship was good. Aduiar picked up the cloth and began to wipe off the worst of the filth gathered on it. He could well believe that it had been carried around by an orc; the story might be true. Aduiar found himself hoping it was. Still, Gwidor had a point. More than one, though Aduiar was reluctant to admit it. Just the dagger or the star would be damning, and Gwidor did not even know about the coin.
There was a knock at the door. Rap-tap-tap, a pause, and then rap-a-tap-tap.
It was Targon. Aduiar looked up at him and gestured towards the door. Targon closed it.
"He is secure for now," he said.
"Did you set any guards?"
"No. I did not trust any to do it." Targon came to stand before the mayor, where Gwidor had been standing earlier. Somehow the scar became more prominent in the light that fell down on him from the window.
"Borondir would have been my first choice, but …"
Aduiar agreed. Borondir would not do. Not this time.
"How did you secure him?" he asked.
"He is in the first cell," Targon answered. "It was the cleanest. And I have the keys. He should be safe for now."
"Gwidor is determined to have his catch this time. He argued about the questioning; he has never opposed me so before. I must admit that it displeased me. I sent him to help in the fields, but I fear it was a mistake. The patrol is but two days gone, and he is angry."
"I will follow him," Targon said. "He will accuse you as well, if he goes to fetch them without your order. It is the only way he will get away with crossing you. Shall I send word to Borondir that you need him?"
Aduiar considered it, but shook his head. "It will not be necessary. I have the other set of keys, and I need no guard."
Gwidor was not one to take risks. Most people would be surprised to hear that; the impression he gave the world was that of a man of action. One driven by ambition, and none had ever risen high in the world without taking risks. And Gwidor would act. Would push and bully and coerce to get his way.
But only those he could safely push. Only those that would not strike back against him.
He preferred to flatter his masters, find out what they wanted and give them that. He found early on that all his masters desperately wanted to reveal the plots and rebels that could be hiding underneath their eyes. Sniffing them out made them happy, and Gwidor had learned that it was safer to be the accuser than the accused.
In Calembel, he realized, it was not so. He had misjudged, and now there was nothing he could do that would not put him in danger. He had angered the mayor.
And the mayor had angered him.
On the way out the door, he met the servant and pushed past him, too angry to bother with words. He had no clear thought of where he would go, only the need to get away before his anger made him do something he would regret. The mayor had too much power here; he would need to tread carefully.
Outside he paused. The door swung shut behind him, closing off the servant and the mayor whose wishes were strange to him. The sun was climbing towards noon and it was already hot, the first warm day this spring. The black tabard of his uniform would be too hot today. The thick, hard-woven wool had kept him warm in the winter, but today, out in the fields, it would not do. Gwidor was not about to show himself to the townspeople in his shirt. And he had more pressing matters to attend to than picking stones. His anger rose further.
It would not do! He took a few deep breaths, letting the heat of his anger bleed away with each outward breath. Slow and deliberate. The anger remained, but his head was clear. He recognized now that the time for risks had come. There was now only one action that he could take to avoid risk– and even that could bring its own risks in the future. No, it was time to weigh gains and risks and choose what risks he would brave.
Gwidor quickly strode across the square and entered the old barracks.
Upon Borondir's and Targon's leaving, Éomer began to search the cell for weaknesses or hidden clues that could tell him whether anyone had anticipated this turn of events. He found nothing.
The walls were thick and moist in the manner of stone houses and basements that were not used often. Limestone made up the walls, but the floor was paved with slate. Deeper grooves and shallow lines covered the walls, carved or scratched into the soft stone. Some clear to the eye, others only to be felt when Éomer ran his fingers over them. He used his fingers to search, letting them run over the stone, feeling each line, stretching up to his highest reach and bending down to where wall and floor met. For the most part the scratches were random, crissing and crossing with no pattern he could discern.
On the middle of the wall he found it. A pattern in the lines invisible to the eyes, but he could feel it through the calluses on his fingertips. He traced it.
One line across at the top of the pattern, in the middle of it a new one trailed straight down and curled at the end. On each side of it a half circle with a line that angled out underneath and levelled out at the end. It was no sign or letter Éomer knew. And it was old; he could feel how worn the carving was. Once it must have been deep and clear, a stonemason's sign perhaps. Not what he was looking for. He continued his search, but the only other sign he found were two sets of counting-lines scratched into the wall above the sleeping-bench. The letter 'G' was carved outside one of them.
Again, nothing he could use. His arrest was not planned then, not far enough advanced that anyone had had time to leave him a sign here. He was not sure whether that was a comforting thought or not. Not about to give up, Éomer began to search the bench itself. He stopped.
He straightened up and held his breath. The noise was dull and muted, difficult to make out. Footsteps perhaps? The opening and closing of a door? Well, it was about time that someone came; time was short enough and he needed to find out what was happening and get word to Fastred and Húrin.
Éomer turned to face the stairs, but no one came. The footsteps became a little clearer, a little closer, then the door at the top of the stairs closed, further shutting out the sound. Whoever had entered the barracks did not intend to speak with him yet.
Both the door and the floors were thick, made to muffle sound. Éomer had to feel for the little sound carried in the walls to track the movements above. One person, he guessed. A man. Somewhat heavy and tall, the footsteps were slow but each vibrated through the stone. At one point the man trod so hard that dust fell from the roof outside Éomer's cage. Then they disappeared and Éomer could not feel them anymore. He went back to searching, but in vain.
Time passes slowly when there is nothing to do but wait. Éomer remembered long, slow hours on watch where the night seemed like it would never end, and time itself, and the stars and the sun had stopped moving, but still those hours had rushed by compared to the slugging, stagnant hours slinking by in this cell. Only once before had time passed as slowly for Éomer: locked up in Meduseld waiting for Grima to make up the king's mind.
Éomer lay down on the bench and closed his eyes.
He must have slept, for he woke suddenly to the sound of running feet. More dust was falling from the ceiling, trailing the path of the feet above. Along the corridor outside the cells the dust fell, towards the stair. Then they were gone, the muted slamming of the outer door the only sound that told Éomer what happened. He was on his feet, reacting almost before he had woken from his doze. He held his breath.
No more sounds. Outside the sun had moved; soon she would reach her midday's height. Éomer could see where the light had moved on the wall.
No more? Had just a few hours passed? And still: too long! Where were the mayor and his servant? Where was the guard that – if Éomer had read him right – would gladly have questioned him there at the inn and wasted no more time? Two hours, perhaps more, since Borondir left; something must be wrong.
He began to pace. His horse's plight at being stabled– shut in with no place to escape– was clearer to him. The only window, high on the wall in the cell beside him, let in light, but nothing else. No sound. He waited, tenser than he had been since he was taken. Something was wrong, and he must wait to learn it.
He did not need to wait long.
Again he heard sounds from above. Stronger than before, though still muted. From inside, and more than one this time. Éomer had not heard the outer door open, but he could discern a scuffle inside. For a moment the scuffle died and he could hear nothing, then the door at the top of the stairs was opened.
No more guessing on sounds.
A body fell down the stairs, rolling to a halt against the wall. The face was hidden by dark hair, but Éomer knew him by his clothes. Gwidor stepped down the stairs after him.
"Bergil," Éomer said. "Why are you here?"
Bergil did not answer. His hands were tied, but he moved a little, too stunned from the tumble to speak. Éomer turned to Gwidor.
"Why is he here?" he asked. "I was led to believe that my men would be left free if I came willingly. And willingly I came, so why is he here?"
Gwidor smiled. He was tall and fit. Clean, with the look of one that had spent the last year out of doors more than in. They looked nothing alike. That smile should not have reminded Éomer of him, of Wormtongue, yet it did. The smug gleam in the eyes was the same; the smug delight of one who is certain of his triumph, just before he reveals his plan. Wormtongue had looked the same right before he had goaded Éomer to draw his sword.
"Master Rodhaer," Gwidor said. "Your men were to be left alone provided that they stayed at the inn. This young man I caught loitering in the streets, clearly up to something. Besides," he smiled again, "I have gathered new information that, unfortunately, made it unwise to leave him roaming."
"What information?" Éomer demanded.
"You are the one behind bars, Master Rodhaer," Gwidor said. "You will answer, not ask."
"I will be happy to answer any question the lord mayor has for me," Éomer answered. "I have been waiting to do so for quite some time. You have but to bring him."
"The lord mayor has better things to do. You will answer to me."
"I think not."
"And why," Gwidor asked, "will you answer the mayor's questions and not mine? I will bring all the answers to him. Or is it that you think he will be more easily swayed by your lies?"
"I am not the liar here," Éomer said. "You are not acting on the mayor's orders."
Gwidor did not answer Éomer's words. He gave the same smile, but the gleam in his eyes was different, more angry and dangerous. He turned from Éomer and bent down beside Bergil. Éomer stiffened, but Gwidor took no notice of it. His attention was given to Bergil.
"Wake up, little boy," he said. "You have played, now you pay."
He patted Bergil on the cheek. Gently first – tap, tap. Bergil did not answer. His eyes were shut, but his eyes moved beneath the lids.
"Time for small boys to wake."
The sing-song of Gwidor's voice was accompanied by soft slaps, rising in strength until Bergil grunted and opened his eyes. Gwidor smiled again. He turned to Éomer and winked.
"Your boy is awake. Care to bet on how long he will stay that way?" He dragged Bergil around so that Éomer could see him more clearly. "I am good at what I do, Master Rodhaer, and what I do is to uncover conspiracies and spies. A true rebel is hard to catch in Gondor these days– they rarely dare leave their hidey-holes– but I think I have found far more than a simple rebel spy this time. Your hair is too fair, your horse too well-bred, and your story does not ring true."
Éomer did not pause to answer. Bergil was pale. His eyes were dull and his mouth worked as if he tried to speak, but could not. Éomer could see blood seeping down his face, but the wound was hidden by the hair.
"I care not what you think. I will speak to the mayor, not you," Éomer said. "And if you wish Bergil to speak, you must first give him care. Open this door, and I will give it, if you do not have the skill."
Gwidor stood. He heaved Bergil upright and pressed his face into the bars of Éomer's cage. Bergil gave a small "Ugh", nothing more. Éomer flinched back, one step, but then he regained his senses. He reached for Gwidor through the bars. The guard evaded him, and dragged Bergil with him out of reach.
"Leverage can always be found, Master Rodhaer. You care for him, do you not?"
"I care for all my men." Éomer's eyes were hard. "And I do not answer well to threats. It would be better for you if you let me care for him and fetched the mayor. He does not strike me as one that would appreciate a wounded prisoner."
Gwidor's answer was to drop Bergil to the floor.
"The mayor is weak," he said, "and too trusting for his own good. You will give your confession to me. Unless he takes to his senses, I will take it to Pelargir."
If he had hoped for some reaction from Éomer, he was disappointed.
"The truth, Master Rodhaer!" Gwidor said. He kicked at Bergil.
Éomer did not move.
On the ground Bergil curled in on himself as much as he could. He too was silent.
"Tell me what I would know!" Gwidor drew back his foot again.
Targon did not linger. He reckoned that if Gwidor meant to find the patrol, he would need to act quickly, before the mayor did. Little did he know, then, that Gwidor's mind did not perceive any threat from the mayor. And so Targon did not guess Gwidor's actions right, nor did his choose his own wisely.
Little did either of them know what their actions would later lead to, nor what sufferings would be caused by them. But the course of our actions is seldom clear to us and even the farsighted can seldom see to the end of all things. The One alone knows, and He is silent.
Targon reached the front door just as Gwidor closed the door to the barracks behind him, and when the servant stepped outside, he could not see Gwidor anywhere. The square was empty and silent and there were none that Targon could ask for his whereabouts.
He would have to guess, then.
Once he had made his decision as to where he would search first, Targon walked quickly and by the shortest roads. Gwidor would need a horse, and there were few he could use in Calembel. His greatest concern was that Gwidor had such a head start on him that he would not catch up with him before he was gone. With the streets empty, Targon let go of pretence and ran.
Targon seldom ran. In walk his steps were measured, silent and smooth. Like the perfect servant he was unseen and unheard until he was needed. He had worked hard to be able to achieve this, and he never let anyone see him move differently. But now he ran like he had not done in ten years. Breath heaving, feet flailing, but their rhythm was uneven; the limp he could hide when walking was plain to see.
He passed Borondir's house. If he had been home to see Targon, things would have gone differently. He would have wondered at the servant's haste and perhaps a different decision would have been made by Éomer's men. But he did not see.
Targon ran on, unseen, through the streets.
He reached the stables near the gate. The mayor had moved his horses there for shoeing; the blacksmith's forge was close by. They were the only horses– apart from the hunters'– that did not work in the field. Gwidor would have to take one of them. With luck he was still there; he could hear movement within, and a voice.
Targon took a moment outside to catch his breath. Gwidor could not leave without him seeing it, and he did not want to appear before anyone in this town breathless, least of all Gwidor. The horses moved inside, and the voice spoke again. It did not sound like Gwidor. It was too soft, so soft that he could not make it out even though the stable doors were ajar. A horse inside stamped the ground and the voice rose amid the clangour of metal spilling on paved floor, cursing all uncooperative beasts. Targon recognized the voice. He stepped inside.
The stable was narrow. Stalls for ten horses lined the walls and the space left in the middle to walk was constricted. For one unused to horses it could be scary to enter when all the stalls were full. Targon was fairly used to horses– for a Man of Gondor– but he was still grateful that only five of the stalls were occupied. Five tails and hindquarters greeted him, all on one side. The horse closest to the door turned its head to look at him.
At the end of the walkway the sixth horse stood. Targon calmed at the sight; Gwidor had not taken any of them yet.
It was the sixth horse that had caused the commotion. The blacksmith's apprentice had it bound at the far side of the stable where there was room enough to tack up, or shoe, even the heavy horses used in the fields. The horse was moving around, and the nippers and rasps the apprentice had been using were scattered around the floor. The young man was trying to calm the horse, but so far he was too angry himself to be very successful.
"Cut the rope," he called. "Before it hurts itself."
"Gladly!" the youth called back. "How?"
Targon saw the problem. A thick chain was fastened to the wall, running through a ring in the wall so that the horses would not be tangled in it. The chain was fastened to the halter; it could not simply be cut. The horse was pulling back on the halter, stretching the chain too tight to get it loose.
Targon recognized it. It was a favourite of the mayor, a small, light horse with the smoothest gaits he had ever seen, but rather more nervous than palfreys usually were.
"Get help," he ordered, "if you cannot do any good here. The mayor will not be happy should his favourite mare be injured now. Go!" Targon tried to keep his voice down, but this youth did nothing right.
"Go where?" the youth asked. "Master Bellang is at the mansion. It is too far; he will come too late."
"The inn," Targon answered. He was trying to get closer without agitating the mare further, or upsetting the other horses. Those hind legs could hurt. "The hunters that came yesterday; their leader has Rohirric blood. At least one of his men, if not all, should be able to help. Run!"
Off the boy went, leaving the stable doors wide open in his haste. Targon turned to the mare. Most likely they will all be better horsemen than any here, he thought to himself. And I will need a horse-lord's help right now.
The mare was sweating. Her hindquarters shivered with the strain when she leaned back against the pressure on the poll. He tried to get closer; perhaps if he could calm her a little, he could coax her forward until the chain had enough slack for him to loosen her. She did not seem to mind or even notice him, and encouraged by that he moved even closer. Too close, it turned out.
The mare struck.
Shifting her weight to her forehand, she kicked and missed Targon only by an inch. He flinched back with not much thought, and stepped on a thong. That was all it took; the thong slipped and flew in among the hooves while Targon hit the floor hard. It did not calm the mare.
She fought harder, leaning back again, and before Targon could rise, the leather of the halter snapped. The mare threw herself around and cantered down the aisle and out the door. Targon was left on the floor, cursing all stupid apprentices. He had no time for this!
The mare had, of course, upset the other horses as well. They were striking at their stalls and stamping restlessly. Targon did not want to pass between those feet.
"Calm down!" he tried to call over the din, but that, of course, was of little use. He had no time for this!
He took a deep breath and began walking past the stalls. Slowly and carefully. He could only hope the horses would calm down on their own. His hip and knee ached. He must have fallen harder than he first had thought. Limping slightly, he made it past the horses alive and shut the door behind him. One horse running loose was enough.
Empty street. Again he was too late to glimpse his quarry, but this time he could at least hear it. Shouts and the sound of hooves drifted up the street from around the corner. He hurried towards it.
The mare had stopped. The street was one of the larger ones in Calembel, but she still did not have anywhere to go; five other horses blocked the street. Targon could see four men with them. The apprentice he knew, and he recognized Húrin from the meeting earlier, but two of the men he had not seen before. One was young, hardly more than a boy, and the other clearly his superior. The boy's, but not Húrin's, Targon guessed. The men had the light hair so typical for the Rohirrim, and judging by the older man's skill with the mare, they could be nothing else. No wonder they had stayed away this morning.
The apprentice was holding one of the horses. He moved around it when he saw that the older man had calmed the mare.
"Thank you, sir," he said. "Shall I take her?"
"Just lead the way. And give my own mare back." The man looked like he would say more, but stopped himself and spoke to the other boy instead: "Can you handle Firefoot, Cearl?"
Targon would have liked to wait and watch them unseen a little longer, but at that moment Húrin spotted him. And knew him. He spoke to the others, but his voice was too low for Targon to hear. He could guess, though. Two heads turned sharply towards him and the glare of the older man hit him. He found himself almost staggering back.
It was a glare that could rival the glare of lord Denethor himself in his anger. Could anyone who did not carry the blood of Númenór have such power?
Targon gathered himself.
"Master horseman," he called. "It was a lucky hour that brought you here. I thank you; this mare is the favourite of the lord mayor and he will be most pleased to hear of your help."
The man did not reply, but Targon saw Húrin speak again and the horse-lord shrugged before grabbing his own horse. They all began moving, and Targon waited for them to reach him. They stopped before him, the horses calm except for the old stallion the boy Cearl held in his right hand. It wanted to get closer to the mare. Targon waited, but the older man just glared at him. He made no sign to hand her over to him.
"I thank you for your help," Targon repeated at last. The silence had stretched out too long, and he did not have time for waiting any longer. "I am Targon, a servant of Aduiar, the mayor of Calembel. I met Húrin here earlier today, but you and your boy here are unknown to me. What is your name, that I can tell the mayor who it was that helped save his mare from further harm?"
The man still glared at him, but Húrin pushed past Cearl and spoke instead.
"Forgive my companions. Fastred here," he nudged the man with his foot, or rather tried to but the horses were in the way, "has been too long away from cities and towns; he has forgotten what little manners he once learned. And the boy, Cearl, takes after him; the sun has bleached both their heads and their minds I fear. And they have followed Master Rodhaer longer than I. They… we…"
Húrin trailed off. He had said more than he intended, but Targon could hear the unspoken fear in his words. And the unspoken hope.
"I am sure the mayor will listen to the men that helped save his favourite mount," he said. "Master Fastred; since you have such a good hand with horses– as good, I would wager, as the Rohirrim themselves are fabled to be– could I ask you to lead the mare back to the stables? It is not far, and it looks like you were on your way there before she ran into you."
Fastred grunted in response, and they walked the short way in silence. Targon watched the men through the corner of his eye. If they decided on some desperate act, things could turn bad for him. It would turn equally bad for them too, though, and for their leader.
The horses inside had calmed, but at the arrival of five strange horses, their heads shot up. The boy Cearl had his hands full with both the old stallion and the younger one he had in his other hand, but he seemed to manage them with greater skill than Targon had seen any of his age do. He, too, had to be of the horse-lords. The apprentice could learn a thing or two from him.
"Belen here was preparing the mayor's horses for shoeing," Targon explained. "I am sure he will help you too, should you wish it. I take it Borondir found time to deliver the message from Master Rodhaer, and you are having your horses shod?" Cearl's face showed him that they had not expected him to know; the older men schooled their expressions better. "Tell the blacksmith that the mayor will pay any expenses there are for this; I am certain the mayor will agree with me that it is an apt reward for your services today."
"I can think of others I would rather have," Fastred muttered.
"Perhaps you shall have them as well." Targon left them to sort the horses out. He turned to the apprentice.
"I came to ask if you had seen Gwidor here today," he said. "He expressed a wish to ride, but the mayor knows that fields needs to be ready and the horses rested. If he should ask for one, tell your master that he is not to have one. Send him to speak with me; a matter has come up that I must confer with him on."
"He has not been her, Master Targon," Belen said. "I have not seen him at all since this morning; he came dragging my brother off on some search."
Targon smiled at him. "Then I guess you can not tell me where he is, but perhaps you can help me narrow the search. Could he have passed through the gate while you worked?"
"I had just started working when you came in, sir. If he had passed in the meantime, I think you would have seen him. If there is a guard at the gate, he would know."
Targon did not think Gwidor would have gone to work in the fields. The man had been too angry. And he would not try to overtake the Corsairs on foot when they were two days gone; he was still in Calembel. But where? He looked over at Húrin and Fastred. They held the horses while Cearl took one at a time to the empty stalls, but he was certain that they had heard. Five horses, not counting the mayor's, and three men… something was missing.
Suddenly Targon realized that Bergil was not there. Why, when all the rest were? And at once he knew that he had been sent to keep an eye on the Manor and everyone there. When had Bergil left? He had not seen him, and there were not that many places where a man could watch the Manor unseen. But if Targon had overlooked him… he was quite certain he had not.
"Where is other boy, Bergil?" he asked. "I hope he has not taken ill since this morning." But as he said it, he got a horrible feeling that something was wrong, and that he had run out of time.
"Just too much beer last night," Húrin answered.
"I hope you are right," Targon said. "I find the fresh sap of certain herbs is effective against such ailments."
Húrin gave him a strange look. He was babbling. He could hear it himself, and he had no time to spend on babbling. He did not even know why, but a voice was telling him, over and over, that he was out of time and it drowned out all other thoughts.
"Excuse me," he said. "I must go."
He did not run down the walkway this time, would not even if there had been room. Gently he closed the doors behind him, and walked with measured steps down the street and around the bend.
The same streets, the same limping run. But the limp was worse, and painful this time. Still he ran, stumbling around the corners. Water splashed underneath his feet in the narrow alleys where the sun had not yet dried all the rainwater from the ground. Breathing became painful, his throat closed against the air. He had to stop and lean against some stairs.
There is no time.
Off he ran again, cursing his bad luck; he had never again been able to run like he did before the War, but the fall had slowed him even more. Slicing pain spiked through his hip and knee with every step. He faltered.
No time. No time!
Ha ran on.
The blood hammered the words in his body; his feet beat them into the ground:
No time, no time, no time, no time!
And he was there. Skidding into the empty square. No sign of Bergil. No sign of Gwidor. No sign of any man.
Targon stood there. Breathing in and out, in and out. Slowly the beat in his body stilled. His breath evened. The square lay there, silent and empty; it offered no answers. For the second time that day Targon did not know what to do.
This time he waited against his heart beating no time, no time, no time. He waited on his breath whispering wait, wait just a moment longer. He waited for what he did not know, until the wait ended.
And then the wait ended.
Sooner than his fear, sooner than his hope, the wait ended. Out from the barracks came a small, young woman. No taller than a child she was; it was Sedil, the room-maid of the inn.
She slipped silently out the door and closed it carefully again. Targon was on her before she could step down the stairs.
"Where is he?"
She flinched. Targon wanted to pull back his hand, to let her go and never cause her fear again. She looked like she was twelve, the age of his own daughter when he lost them all: mother, wife, daughter, sister.
"Please, sir. I do not know what you ask, sir. Where is who, sir?"
But the tremble in her voice was deeper than twelve, her eyes too old.
"You know who, girl!" He hardened his heart against her. "You went to meet him here. What did you tell him?"
"Please, sir." Her voice rose a little, the pitch growing younger by each word. "He told me to go to him, sir. Said the mayor would be pleased, sir. Said he would make sure I was rewarded, sir. Never be hurt again, sir."
And her tremble was too perfect, her eyes cast down just right, the shaking of her body too controlled.
"What did you tell him?"
"The other guard, sir. He came to the inn, sir. Master Ingold met him, sir. They all talked with the hunters, sir. Conspiring, sir. I know it when I hear it, sir. The hunters, they are not from here, sir; they come from beyond the Mountains, sir."
Targon closed his eyes, but he did not let go of her arm. Gwidor had all the proof he needed now.
"Where is he now?"
"He went out, sir, I did not see where."
"Where is he now!"
She screamed. His fist had closed around her wrist.
"Inside, sir! He came back. Made more noise than three men, he did, sir. I hid in his room upstairs, but he did not come up, so I left, sir."
He looked at her. Saw her fear change, become more real.
"Please, sir! It hurts."
He nodded. Made his voice warm and soft. Better let her believe herself safe.
"All will be fine," he said. "You did right."
He let her go. She could be dealt with later. Now to find Gwidor, and Beregond's son.
The door down to the cells was open. Targon heard voices and movements; dull, heavy sounds he remembered all too well. He reached the end of the stairs, saw Gwidor draw back his foot and heard him say: "Tell me what I would know!"
Saw Bergil, son of Beregond, lying on the ground. Saw Gwidor glare and draw his foot back further…
Targon did not know that he spoke until the word echoed back to him from the stone walls. Gwidor froze, foot still drawn back, and turned his head.
Éomer, too, turned at the sound. His eyes followed Gwidor's towards the stairs, but he could not see past the spiral of the stairs. Could not see who had come.
Gwidor saw the speaker first. The guard put his foot back on the ground and turned from Bergil. There was a moment where all was silent, then Targon stepped down into the room.
"What are you doing here, Gwidor?" he said. "You are supposed to be in the fields."
He spoke calmly enough, but his breath was a little strained and Éomer could see a limp he had only sensed before. The servant stopped right inside the room, looking from Gwidor to Éomer to Bergil lying on the ground.
"It was my understanding that the mayor wanted to question the prisoner himself."
"The mayor is weak," Gwidor answered. "And I have received news on the hunters that prove their guilt. But the mayor will never act on this. If you help me, you will avoid falling with your master when the time comes." He turned back to Éomer. "Will you speak?"
"If you touch him again," Éomer said, "you will not leave this room alive."
Gwidor laughed. "You are stuck behind bars, hunter. You can bring me no harm."
He kicked at Bergil, but before he could even turn back to gloat, he was struck to the ground. Targon crashed into him and they fell, twisting in the air, fighting even as they fell. Slamming to the ground, the servant pinned him– stronger and faster than Gwidor had ever imagined he would be. Targon said nothing, only hissed and struck at him, aiming for his head. It hit, and Targon got one more punch in before the shock wore off and Gwidor fought back.
He caught the arm and twisted in the servant's grip. They rolled, neither getting the upper hand until Gwidor managed to roll on top. The servant struck again, and got a foot into play. They twisted, and fell apart, Gwidor gaining his feet a little faster than Targon did.
Éomer could only watch. Watch and wait, and stand near the bars in readiness.
Targon scrambled up and away at Éomer's call. Gwidor had drawn a knife; the servant bled from the arm.
"What betrayal is this?" he whispered. "You have no leave to carry arms."
"My masters gave it to me before I came," Gwidor answered. "The betrayal is your master's, not mine."
He lunged again, and Targon twisted away. His back struck the bars. He was slower than he should have been; Éomer could see he favoured his hip and knee, but the servant did not back down. He drew a knife of his own.
"The mayor gave me mine," he said. "And you will not touch Beregond's son again."
This time Targon lunged, but Gwidor was ready. Blocking Targon's knife-arm with his left, he caught the servant on his knife. It cut through clothes and skin and flesh, deep into his gut. Gwidor smiled. He plucked the knife from Targon's hand and studied it.
"I was mistaken," he said. "I thought the mayor was at fault, but it seems that he was only blind. You are the traitor here, and these your men."
He pushed Targon to the wall and grinned. Targon did not answer him, but he braced against the wall and pushed Gwidor with all his might towards the cage. And Éomer's waiting hands.
The king caught Gwidor around the neck and held him tight. He fumbled for the knife, and soon he had disarmed the guard. He pushed the point of the knife to the place where jaw meets ear, not yet breaking the skin. Before he could speak, a new voice rang:
"I did not know you had learned to lie so well, Éomer king."
Aduiar of Harondor, Mayor of Calembel, stood at the end of the stairs.
A/N: Wheelrider have begun helping me to edit the remaining chapters, and will help with those posted as time allows. I am very graetful for her help.
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