To my own surprise, I slept deeply and dreamlessly until Rhylla came to wake me with a cup of tea. Hurriedly, I rose and dressed, breaking my fast at the kitchen table. After bidding goodbye to Silwen, the maids, the Samnos, Nahemion, Rill and Wilmet—I supposed the Dwarves were either still abed or already at another meetings, and why should I care either way?—we were ready to go. Bound for the stables, the two of us walked down through the Circles, their streets beginning to stir with folk going to their work. Samno had delivered our packs the night before; I carried my satchel over my shoulder, and Rhylla our saddlebags.
The courtyard was a melee of piled supplies, ostlers, Guards, packhorses, and a few curious onlookers.
“I’m not sure who’s in charge,” I said as we stood on the edge.
Just then, a familiar-looking young man in the Doorwardens’ uniform with the Messenger patch on his sleeves, led out Apple and Swallow, over to the mounting-block.
He beamed at both of us as he bowed. “The day’s greeting, Lady Silma, Rhylla.”
“Tamperion,” Rhylla said, blushing.
“I’m taking pigeons and running any messages as part of the expedition,” he said. “Let me help you with those.”
“And let me help you,” said a familiar voice, and I turned to see Dalfinor hurrying forward, the reins of a dappled horse looped over his arm. He was smiling, and I found myself smiling back.
“Are you coming too?” I asked. “Good morning!”
“I am indeed, since the King wishes a report on the stone at Minas Ithil, and to see if there are any stone or mineral deposits. It will need a more detailed survey done later, but I can at least map where we go. I hope you don’t mind my company.”
“No. No, I don’t mind.” I could feel the color rising in my face, and hastened to change the subject. “Who is this?” I added as I stroked the dapple’s velvety nose.
“Agate. Allow me,” and he took my satchel, looping the strap over Apple’s pommel.
“My thanks.” I mounted, and opened the bag to show him the mortar and pestle.
He turned it in his hands, handling it with the delicacy of touch I had noted before. “Lovely work, about ninety years old,” he said with interest. “From the quarry at Lamestead, I think.”
“You can tell that, Lord Dalf?” asked Rhylla, now mounted as well, as I carefully put it back.
“Indeed I can. Rill told me about it. Your great- grandsire was an excellent carver.”
“He did a little carvin’, but mostly he was a stonemason,” she said. “Twas Da who changed over to bein’ a Tiler. He wanted Rill to be one, too, but Rill insisted on joinin’ the Guards when Da wouldn’t agree t’ him being apprenticed as a stonemason.”
“A handsome gift,” Dalf said, and she glowed. “And handsomely bestowed, if he did worry you. You will have to let him go from under your wing, lass.”
She laughed a bit shakily. “To think as there bein’ a need t’ do that! ‘Tis all thanks to m’ lady.”
“But mostly the Valar, and his and your hard work,” I said hastily.
Legolas strolled over to me, leading his grey. “The day’s greeting, my lady, Rhylla.”
“And to you, my lord.”
“Ah, here is Beregond; do you know him?”
Bergil at his side, the former Guardsman strode over to us and bowed. “My lady, I give you good day! Your pack and your maid’s are in the first packhorse. Have you other gear to be stowed?”
“Captain Beregond, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to congratulate you upon becoming the head of Prince Faramir’s guard! I am heartily glad of it,” I said, holding out my hand to him.
He gave it a firm shake. “Thank you, my lady. I could not have a better liege than him, nor a fairer King.”
“I thought he was exiled,” said a young voice, and we both glanced over at a gangling youth standing with two others.
Bergil bristled. “Are you saying Father’s dishonourable, Caic?” he asked.
The youth, easily taller than he by a head, flushed. “Your pardon, Bergil, Captain Beregond.”
Beregond laid a hand on his son’s shoulder and gave it a little shake. “Easy, son. No offense taken, lad. King Elessar gave me dispensation this morning, and indeed, I am permitted inside the city during the day not to exceed eight hours, especially until my lord’s affairs are more settled. I will also be permitted to attend him for a month at a time, later.”
Dalf, now on horseback, reined Agate closer to us. “It’s not for you to question the Captain, Caic,” he said with a frown. “Lindisilma Kuranya Lady Cormallen, and Mistress Rhylla, may I present Severion of Anfalas, Marfel of Pelargir, and this scapegrace is Caic. For my sins, they are assigned to come with me, to receive instruction and to give help during our journey.”
“I beg your pardon, Captain Beregond, Bergil, Lady Cormallen, Lord Dalf,” he said, chastened.
All three of them made their bows to me, Caic a bit more clumsily than the others, and I smiled at them. Rhylla regarded them with a jaundiced eye. “Proper young louts,” she muttered under her breath, but loud enough for them to overhear.
“Rhylla!” I said softly.
She grinned at me, as Beregond asked again, “Have you other gear for us to stow?”
“No, we have only the two packs sent down last night, our saddlebags and my satchel,” I replied.
“Good! Although we will have room for any specimens you wish to bring back,” he told me approvingly, and raised his voice to a bellow. “Time passes! I want to move out before noon! Get mounted!”, nodded to us, and went off to his own horse, speaking more quietly to his son. They hugged, Bergil scampered out of the way, and his father mounted, donning his helmet. Instead of the winged one worn by the guards, his was crested with a full moon, and so were the ones carried on the three grey-and green-clad Rangers’ saddlebows, although he wore a white mantel and tunic. In moments, we were sorted out: first the Rangers, Beregond and Legolas, then Dalf, Rhylla, the boys and me, Tamperion with two crates of pigeons on a packhorse, and the strings of pack-horses, led by the nine Guardsmen. Most of them, I saw, were very young; I supposed, as Beregond later confirmed, that they wanted to join the new White Company, and were very conscious that this journey was a test of their skills.
Just as we were about to ride out of the space where the Great Gates would be, the barrier set aside for the day, there was a clatter behind us, and a thin man on a rangy black rode out with a document-box clutched under one arm, looking as if he would fall off at any moment, and moved up to Beregond, and exchanged a few words with him, before dropping back to bow to me.
“Lady Cormallen?” he asked nervously. “I am Tuor son of Tirdan, in the Office of Deeds and Funerals. I am to accompany you today and answer any questions you may have about your properties, by order of King Elessar and my superior, Clomaddion. I was the lead investigator in the case involving your brother.”
Dalf and Rhylla both glared at him, and Dalf said belligerently, “The King himself awarded them to her.”
He looked even more apprehensive. “I know that, uh, Master Dwarf. That was partly upon my recommendation, since there was no evidence of collusion between them.”
“Of course there wasn’t!” Rhylla snapped. “She was one of his victims!”
“These are Prince Dalfinor of the Lonely Mountain, Assistant to Ambassador Gimli Gloin’s Son, and my maid, Rhylla, whose excitement seems to be sharpening her tongue today,” I said mildly, and was pleased to see her blush and drop her horse back a bit. “Master Tuon, I thank you for your assistance. However, you are mistaken on one matter: I have no brother.”
“I had heard that you disowned him, my lady,” he nodded, and recoiled at the cool glance I gave him—or perhaps it was the molten one from Dalf. “I do have some documents for your perusal and signature.” Trying to balance the box in front of him, he almost dropped his reins trying to unstrap it, then nearly dropped the box when he grabbed at the reins, I distinctly heard snickers behind me.
“Your zeal is noteworthy, Master Tuor,” I said, “but I am not going to read anything now.”
I smiled at him. “It is a very long time since I have been out of the city, and I intend to enjoy this journey as much as I can. Because it is a royal expedition, I can hardly ask Captain Beregond to halt while I transact personal business—“
“But you are of higher rank!” he protested. “And this is a hired horse!”
“It would be most inappropriate for me to do so,” I said serenely. “You will simply have to accompany us at least until the noon halt. How many documents are there?”
“Several, all pertaining to Lord Jerenmir Kuranya’s estate—“
“There is no person by that name, nor has there been for some years,” I said, even as I wondered why I was being so difficult.
“Well, not legally.” After a pause, he said cautiously, “There are several documents , all pertaining to Master Jerenmir …the Goldtrader’s estate.”
“That cannot be an accurate term, when it was forfeited to the Crown,” I pointed out mischievously.
“These are the ones awarded to you, so they are now part of your estate,” he said, getting a bit of his own back—although it was said in exactly the same dry tone as the rest.
I laughed. Such a fantastic notion, that I would have an estate!
“You are a wealthy woman, and must take thought to proper disposition of your rents and monies, and hiring a man of business—“ he fussed.
I looked at him. “Master Tuor, this is a perfect Lothron day, and I am not going to do anything hasty. Nor do I require you to tell me my duty unless I ask. I am not asking; I am telling you to enjoy the ride, and I will speak to you later. Please excuse me.”
Fingering his axe, Dalf rumbled, “We were having a private conversation. I suggest you ride elsewhere so that we can continue it. Now.”
Tuor blanched, glancing at the large axe slung at Dalf’s side, and reined in.
After a moment I sighed. “Poor man!”
“Insufferable, self-important twit!” Dalf snorted.
“A bit importunate. He has probably never been out of the city in his life, or not farther than Osgiliath or the Pelannor at the farthest. Still, if he was set to investigate the Goldtrader, he must have a great deal of discretion and acumen, to have traced out what he was doing.”
“The gall of him, to suggest you might have conspired with that—that—“ He was almost sputtering.
“Ah, but he doesn’t know me, although I know his type. Accurate, logical insofar as his experience provides a reference, scrupulously honest, but accustomed to a narrow path forged of habit and routine. But that is only a type; I suspect there are unsuspected depths to him, and I have a feeling that he must stay close to me, I don’t know why. I should not have been rude to him.”
“You weren’t rude, you were asserting your right to decide what you will do and when, and very neatly playing off his own pedantry, probably the only way to impress him. You don’t have to act at his convenience! Only you would think you were rude when he was the one at fault.”
“Still, he was trying to do his duty.”
“Then he can do it when the time is more suitable. I do see what you mean by narrow path—even I ride better than he does. Ah, that is good!”
“What is?” I asked.
“To hear you laugh. You seem happy.”
I told Silma it was good to hear her laugh, and observe that she seemed happy. She agreed, and I asked daringly, “Any special reason for it?”
“It’s a beautiful day, I have no duties for a while other than to not hinder the rest on our travels, I have a good horse under me, and even better company! How could I not be happy?” she asked.
The hood of her blue cloak had slipped back from her braided hair, and to see her so carefree was a delight. Elessar had told me that he wanted her to go in part because after such prolonged strain, she needed the rest and change of scene, and I intended to see that she got it. To my relief, Gimli had agreed with the King’s request that I go as well, and I had promised our friends that she would be safe until our return.
I resolved that that officious twit of a Man would not disturb her if I could help it, and at least I would have Rhylla’s support.
Because I wanted an excuse to look at her—she looked so beautiful—I asked, “Where exactly are we now? When I came this way before, it was at a gallop behind the messenger, so I did not get much information.”
“As you see, these are the ruins of Osgiliath ahead of us, but since Sauron’s forces threw down the bridge, I’m not certain how we will cross.”
Beregond, overhearing, turned his head to tell her, “Don’t worry, my lady; there will be ships waiting to ferry us to the Sunland.”
“The Sunland?” I asked.
“Anórien, the garden of the realm—the Southern Realm, I suppose we must become used to saying,” she answered. “Jehan’s family had a farm within the Pelennor. It was a fair place, before Sauron’s orcs and men overran it.”
“Many folk have already returned,” Beregond assured her.
“I am glad of that! It is hard to lose one’s home,” she said sadly.
I could not bear to see her happiness dimmed, and hastened to say, “But you have another home, Silma.”
“Aye, I am very fortunate! Silwen has been generous in allowing me to remain, and soon I will see where my childhood home stood. I had not thought that that would happen for years, if ever!”