60. Chapter 59
The remainder of the journey to Greenwood passed pleasantly and without incident, there was little traffic on the road and it seemed unlikely that anyone would have gone to the effort to pursue me so far west. I was still vigilant however, and climbed into the back of the cart whenever we spied anyone coming the other way. I told Fradur the full tale of what had befallen me, and he shook his head. "That man was well known in the inns at Elford, a braggart and often drunk. I did not like him, and you were not the first he provoked, far from it, but he bit more off than he could manage when he crossed you". He laughed grimly at this, and added "these roads are safe enough for the most part, but it is a comfort to have you at my side". I clapped him on the back and replied. "It may be a comfort to you, but it is not a comfort to my ears to be stuck in your cart, for your tongue is far quicker than your pony!" We both laughed heartily and then fell into a companionable silence.
When we reached Greenwood I was offered and accepted the hospitality of Fradur's home for the night. It was a humble enough place, with a yard and stables close to the west gate of the town, but I was given a warm welcome by his family and numerous children. His wife was if anything even more voluble than he, and I was deluged with questions on every subject as we sat eating a hearty stew whilst children and dogs careened around our feet. Eventually I pleaded weariness, and though they offered me a bed I saw it would put them to great inconvenience and insisted on sleeping in the hayloft, which gave me both comfort and welcome quiet. I envied the happy chaos and warm companionship they all shared, for a family life of any kind was only a poignant and distant memory for me now.
I thought that I would be making the onward journey alone and on foot, but it turned out that Fradur's next journey was taking him back to Lastbridge with a load of sheepskins for a merchant there. I decided to remain with him, and as a result we did not start our journey till late morning when he had picked up his load. I bid a fond and friendly farewell to his wife, children and dogs and we set off, under a sky that threatened long awaited rain. It was cooler too and the trees were beginning to hint at the arrival of autumn. The weather finally broke by mid afternoon and the rain set in for the night, which meant a fire was out of the question and a night under cover in the wagon necessary. It was still raining when we arrived in Lastbridge the following afternoon, and after we had cleared the East Gate I pondered leaving my travelling companion and making my way up to the fortress. However nobody expected me there, my time was my own and I still had coin in my scrip, so I decided to accept Fradur's invotation to join him at his customary inn and ply him with ale in recompense for carrying me most of the way down the East Road.
My memories of that night are hazy, but good. The place was full of soldiers freshly returned from the campaign in the north and on their way home, glad to have survived and keen to enjoy themselves. When it became known who I was many of them insisted on plying me with ale too. We exchanged ribald tales and sang songs as soldiers did until I could barely stand, and then Fradur saw me safely up the stairs to my cot. He rose early to see to his pony the next morning and prepare to collect a return load back to Greenwood, so I bid him a bleary but warm and heartfelt farewell. I did not see him again after that, but I have never forgotten his kindness to me.
It was nearly noon by the time I broke my fast and left the inn, setting out on the short journey through the crowded streets towards the fortress. Shortly after I left the main square and joined the East Road I heard shouts behind me and the throng began to part to let a company of soldiers through. I too stood aside, and then hefted my pack and fell in behind them as their rearguard passed. They were one of the final companies of Lastbridge soldiers to return from the north, and were headed the same way as I was. The men in the rearmost ranks looked at me curiously but did not challenge me and after climbing the ramp to the main gatehouse I broke away and declared myself to the guards, asking where I might find a billet for the night and if there was any traffic going north that I could join up with. I had to wait for the best part of two hours there before a reply came but in the end I was told that an escort detail for a wagon train to Bearcliffe would be departing from the Fortress the following morning and I would be welcome to join them. I was taken to one of the draughty halls used to billet visiting men and introduced to the sergeant in charge of the detachment. He had no objection to my intended plan and I found myself a spot with his men for my gear, before tidying myself up as best I could and heading back out into the great cobbled courtyard where I headed for the gates of the Citadel.
The smartly liveried guards at the gate paid me noticeably more attention this time now I carried the badge of rank of a captain, and when I enquired as to the whereabouts of Angon of Northford I was shown into the guardhouse and a man was sent to make enquiries of the King's Household. This at least was a good first step, since it was clear Angon was still very much alive. Eventually the soldier returned with a servant, who told me that Angon was presently to be found in his customary place in the Royal Library. He asked me who I was and what my business was, so I gave him my name and rank and told him I was an old family friend, come to look in on him. The man was kindly enough but a little simple, and invited me to follow him. I departed, thanking the guards, and we made our way up the wide cobbled way for a short distance before turning off up some broad steps and entered a long corridor through studded oaken doors of great age.
The place was clearly in better repair than the rest of the fortress, but there was still a general air of neglect and dilapidation about the place and I saw very few other people as we passed along the echoing corridors and galleries and up and down various flights of steps. It was clear that this part was just as difficult to navigate as the rest, but my guide kept up something of a running commentary as we went along, pointing out the directions to various places of importance as we passed. At one point we came upon a great tapestry lining the wall of a long corridor showing the life and deeds of some long forgotten king. It put anything there was in Northford Keep to shame with its scale and magnificent workmanship and fair took my breath away with its beauty and detailing. I was compelled to stop and admire it, but the servant could not tell me who it was made in honour of or how old it might be, and despite its age and beauty closer inspection showed that it was rotting and crumbling in places, covered in dust and obviously little regarded.
After what seemed like an eternity of corridors and passages we finally arrived outside another large set of doors with "The Library of the King" embossed in sindarin runes on them. The servant knocked, and opened the heavy creaking door into a large chamber, filled with rows of shelves stacked high with great leathern volumes with tooled spines and thick bundles of bound scrolls. An old man and a women were stood at a lectern by a window where they had been poring over one of the books, and they both turned in surprise to look at the interruption. "Master Angon, there is a Captain of Northford here who wishes to speak with you". The old man came forward, and gave a cry of joy when he recognised me. "Of all the glad tidings this is the least expected and most hoped for, for we heard you did not return from High Burgh and feared the worst. Oh what a happy day this is, for I never thought to see you again. And captain too!" With this he came forward to embrace me strongly, and when I saw him close to, and saw the love he bore for me and how frail he had become in the intervening five years since I had last seen him, any bitterness I felt towards him fell away and I greeted him warmly in return.
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