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Marpol the Builder
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Wayfinder's Sword

The character of Marpol the Builder is based upon that of my adopted brother, Rip Pelletier (August 11, 1948-August 24, 2013. Mathematician, polyglot, person of integrity and kindness, he enriched many lives. Vale, gwador; go well!


A door to the left was partly open, and I went to it just as someone backed through it. “—be right back with some water, so you can show me,” said Mistress Alta, just as she stepped on my foot and jumped, startled, losing her balance.

I hastily caught her; she pulled away, dropping a large metal pitcher with a clatter, turning to strike at me. I blocked the blow with my arm, and caught her wrist. “Let me go!” she cried, her voice high with surprise.

I stepped back at once, as the door was yanked open and Vorondor, Tambaro, and Rihan appeared, swords drawn. I raised my open hands. “I’m unarmed, gentlemen.”

“Oh, my lord—I am sorry!” she gasped.

“I startled you, and you reacted, as you should,” I replied.

They had vanished immediately; I looked at the now-closed door thoughtfully, then turned my attention to my flustered housekeeper.

“I—I did not expect you,” she faltered.

“I stopped at the inn to see if you were well settled, and your mother told me that you were still working. I do not intend you to overdo, Mistress, but I can see already that you have wrought miracles.”

“We simply began at the beginning, which was to go from the outside inward, and from the bottom up,” she smiled. “My former colleagues at the Citadel and Lady Ornamir were kind enough to provide some family members who need employment, and Captains Tambaro and Rihan brought some of the soldiers as well. Once Lord Panhael explained which were weeds and which were good plants, they took care of the jungles outside, and the rougher work within. There is still much to do, of course, especially on the upper floors, but your own bedchamber is almost ready. On this floor, I have readied the library, one withdrawing room and the dining-chamber. Downstairs, of course the kitchen offices came first, and a small office for me. We still need to finish doing an inventory, and to clear out the other rooms. But a start has been made.”

“As I said, miracles. I am very impressed, Mistress.”

“You make too much of it, my lord.”

“I doubt that. Well, may I see the library?”

“Of course, my lord.” She opened the door, and I walked into what would be one of my favorite rooms. It was sparsely furnished then, naturally, for she had not had an opportunity to ascertain my preferences as to furniture, but I immediately liked the polished paneling and bookshelves, the big desk and tables and chairs, all beautifully made. A large map of Arnor was on one wall, opposite the big windows, and a table was laden with stacks of papers, scrolls and books at right angles to the desk. Nearby was a twelve-foot long menkel, one of the plumb bobs at the ends quivering. Its hollowed groove was empty, which explained the metal pitcher Altra had dropped. I pulled the flask from my belt and poured a few drops of water into the groove, watching until it stilled. Level and watertight. Perfect for establishing how level a surface was, and brand-new from the smell of the wood.

“Nicely made,” I remarked, finally looking at the three Men and the youth in the room.

Rihan smiled faintly and nodded.

I nodded back and transferred my gaze to Tambaro, who was scowling. “I thought you’d gone back to the Company.”

“Didn’t say I would, did I? I don’t quit unless you sack me,” he said sullenly.

“I won’t sack you unless you quit,” I replied.

Some of the tension left the room. “We thought it might be useful, helpful and utilitarian,” Rihan remarked. “We were just showing Faldi. In fact, you might like this feature, too, Marpol.” We both bent down, and he pointed out that the legs were in fact brown-painted metal, not wooden like the top, and that they had a series of holes drilled at intervals on their lengths, with a small knob projecting from one, the same one on each leg. “You can raise or lower its height from the ground.”

“Why would you do that?” Cardin asked.

“Say you want to calculate a level incline,” Tambaro said. “Wouldn’t it be easier to raise one pair of legs this way?”

“Why bother changing how it’s done now? If we wanted to, we could simply stick a few stones under—hmmm.” Vorondor trailed off as Rihan pointed out, “And how likely is it to find stones the same exact thickness, dimensions and height, to make sure it is level on both sides?”

“We can experiment with it,” I said pacifically, knowing they could and would argue about it for hours. “But you should go talk with Lady Cormallen. This might be useful for her wounded soldiers in some way.”

“How would that be?” Tambaro asked.

“There’s a Rohir Rider, a lad named Wil, I think, younger than Cardin, who was badly wounded in the Pelennor battle. If he continues to grow, it might be good if he could alter the height of his crutches, once he can use them, instead of having to get new ones. Think too how often we’ve teetered on stools in camps, because their legs are fixed lengths. This could have many applications outside of this.”

“You really think so, Marpol?” Vorondor was startled.

“I do. What gave you the idea, Tam?”

“Prince Amrothos deserves some of the credit,” he mumbled.

“Amrothos of Dol Amroth was here?”

“Well, not to say here,” Tambaro said. “He was looking over the garden wall while we were putting it together, and asked us what it was for. Solorion told him, and a few minutes later he passed the legs over the wall, and said he’d experimented with them but we could have them if we wished. It seemed polite to accept and thank him.”

“Polite, courteous, and neighborly,” added Rihan.

“I see.”

“He seemed a nice lad,” Tambaro agreed.

“So long as Prince Imrahil doesn’t think he’s overstepped,” I said. “’Rothos is nice, but notorious for being curious. Tell you what, we’ll invite them over tomorrow for nuncheon, and try to keep his father from thinking he’s been too forward.”

“Who is coming to nuncheon tomorrow?” asked Mistress Alta, coming in with the pitcher and a flagon on a tray. Cardin hastened to take it from her, and at my gesture, poured some of the water into the groove. It was still level and watertight.

“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, might we invite Prince Imrahil and his children—“

“Only three are in residence; he left Prince Elphir in charge in Dol Amroth,” she interrupted.

“Very well, the Prince and three of his children, as well as Ambassador Gimli and Lady Ornamir?” I asked.

“Certainly, my lord,” she replied.

“I know how busy you are—“

She smiled at me. “Lord Tintehlë, this is your home. They need not tour the entire mansion, and I will see to it that there is a withdrawing chamber ready should the ladies wish to refresh themselves.”

“Have we a cook?” I was suddenly alarmed. Was this too much?

“They know that you have just taken possession of the property, my lord, and will not be offended if I have it catered, with your permission. I will hire a cook tomorrow. What time shall we serve? ”

“Would noon be too early?”

“Very well, my lord.”

“My thanks.”

Mistress Alta inclined her head, and turned to leave, then paused. “Captain Tambaro, that item does not belong there!”

“Aye, Mistress. I’ll move it,” he said.

She folded her arms, and with a sigh, he went to my desk and moved something from the chair behind it. “See? Gone.”

“And where are you going to put it now?” she prodded.

“Ah—in the corner.”

Rihan and Vorondor were grinning.

“If you think that I’m going to walk away before you bestow it properly, so that you can dance around it again, you are mistaken. Stop acting like a child!”

I looked from one to the other. What had he done to vex her?

Tambaro sighed again, and tossed it in my direction.

I caught it reflexively, a slender shape wrapped in heavy green silk, tied with tasseled golden cords. “What’s this?”

“Open it and see,” he muttered.

I untied the knots, coiled the cord –Cardin held out his hand for it—and carefully folded back the wrapping to reveal a sheathed longsword. The scabbard was embossed leather, dyed deep green and blue, showing a pattern of waves and mountains, as did the leather grip, and the pommel was carved of some dark green stone in the shape of an eagle’s head. I drew the blade out, and gasped at the bluish ripples in its steel and its perfect balance as it seemed to almost nestle into my hands. “This is magnificent! Where did it come from?”

“It was taken by one of my ancestors as security for a loan, from Lord Thoronisar Tintehlë, who described it as being made by the Elves in Hollin, although he believed it was older, from the Sunken Isle. It’s been in my family armory for centuries. Turn it over; there’s an inscription in cirith on the other side.”

I squinted at the curving letters in Sindarin, and read aloud:

Wrought for North-seeker Wayfinder,
Swift thy road, wind and water,
Strong thy cleaving, beak and claw,
Steady heart, soaring spirit,
Power of eagle am I,

from the making of Súrion Forgemaster,
at Marpol’s behest.

I could feel a cold shiver down my spine, for my first name was not a common one; indeed, I had thought it a nickname given by my mother. For another moment, I stared at the letters before looking at Tambaro. “This is—beyond words.”

He shifted uncomfortably. “Well, it has your name on it—all your names, so to speak, so you might as well have it, and you do need a sword. So there you are.”

I gazed at him, sensing something more, but he scowled. I shifted it to my left hand and held out my right. “My greatest thanks.”

He gripped it briefly and cleared his throat. “May it stay sharp for you.”

I took a crown-piece from my pouch and gave it to him. “Lest our friendship be severed.”

“I’ll drink your health with it.”

“Why not now? Cardin, there are glasses in that cupboard to your left. Captain Vorondor, there’s a bottle in that press behind you,” said Mistress Alta.

“Ah, Dorwinion red!” said my Second. “Excellent! To the lord of House Tintehlë, and to the Eagle’s Road!”

“And to the eagle’s flight that will help build that road,” I said, and we drank again.

“I oiled your old belt this morning, since I had nothing else to do,” Rihan said, holding it out to me. I girded it on, and hung the sheath.

Vornondor clicked his tongue. “You need a new one, Marpol. That one’s so old it creaks.”

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” I protested. “It’s well-broken in.”

Mistress Alta began to say something, but stopped, shaking her head when I looked at her inquiringly. “Nothing, my lord.”

“Well, it grows late,” I said. “Did you not say that my bed-chamber is ready?”

“Not quite, my lord; it lacks a few necessary items, as well as your clothing.”

“Time enough tomorrow, then,” I decided, although the notion of sleeping beneath my own roof that night was alluring. “Gentlemen, until dawn down below. Mistress, let me attend you to the inn.”

“I can surely go on my own, my lord,” she demurred.

“Still, I promised your mother I would see you safe there,” I said. “Do you need to fetch your cloak?”

“’Twill take but a moment,” she said over her shoulder.

I escorted her to the inn’s door, bowed her within, and walked on to the gate-tower, realizing as I arrived and found the lower door barred, that I was too late to go up to the Citadel. A Doorward called down, “Come back t’morrow! “Tis after closing!”

“Can you take a message to the Citadel?” I called back.

“Why should I?”

“I’ll pay you two silvers if you’ll be so kind.”

He clattered down the ramp and opened a small portal in the larger gate. “Oo’s it for?”

I had written a rapid note on a piece of paper in my pouch, folded and addressed it to Orophir. “Ask for Lord Tintehlë’s page, if you will.”

He took it and a coin from my hand. “’Ere! You said two silvers!”

“Come to the House of Tintehlë, next to the House of the Swan, and you’ll get the second one tomorrow,” I answered.

“Why not now?”

“If I give you both, how do I know you’ll go?” I countered.

“’Cos I said I would. ‘Ow do I know you’ll pay me then? Or that you’ll even be there to pay me?”

“Because I said I would. My word as Warden of Roads.”

He peered at me in the flickering light of the torches outside the tower, and smiled. “Why, I knows you! You’re the one give that young scamp what ‘e deserved when ‘e mucked up Zoll’s stall! No charge at all, my lord! Glad t’ do it!”

“Two silvers was the bargain. Will you come to the House for the second tomorrow?”

“More’n fair, my lord! Thank you!”

“Good night to you, then.”

“Berin’s m’ name, my lord.”

“Good night to you, Berin.”

“G’night, my lord.”

I walked away, somewhat at a loss where to go. I didn’t want to stop at the inn, nor any other; I couldn’t go to the Barracks…I found that I had retraced my steps to my own front gate. Smiling to myself, I took out my key and let myself in. Once inside the house, I felt my way to a low table and the candlestick I had observed earlier, lit it, and went up the stair. The first two rooms I tried were obviously unready; I found my chamber on the third try, or so I assumed it to be, since it was swept and furnished with a big bed piled high at one end with folded curtains and bedclothes. Moments later, stripped to my smallclothes, I propped my new sword next to the bed, slid my dagger under the pillow, and climbed between sheets scented with lavender. I was asleep before I could turn over.


The menkel Marpol and his staff are discussing is based on a surveyor's tool used by the Romans, the chorobates, which took the form of a long bench with vertical legs and a small channel carved into the top. The instrument used four plumb bobs, with sightlines, to help to find the true horizontal. If the conditions were too windy for the bobs to work effectively, the surveyor could pour water into the trough and use this to find a level. The idea was that the surveyor could insert wedges under the legs of the chorobates until it was at level and, by looking through the eyeholes, a graduated staff could calculate the angle of an incline via trigonometry. The chorobates was an excellent instrument for leveling ground before building, certainly helping the Roman engineers to lay out the groundwork before construction proper began.

Read more: Building Roman Roads - The Roman Surveyors at

My understanding, from reading other fan fiction writers (and I am obviously standing upon their shoulders as well as JRRT's), is that the blued "sea-steel" was made in Númenor before it fell,and that the secret of its forging was lost in the ensuing chaos. Those blades which were brought to Middle-earth were highly prized. It seems reasonable to me that this one may have received a new hilt and/or scabbard at some point, hence the belief that it was made in Hollin.

The belief that one should never accept a sharp object (scissors, knife, etc.) as a gift without giving a coin to prevent its severing a relationship is an ancient one. When my mother gave me my first pair of embroidery scissors when I was a little girl, I gave her a penny back.


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