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Marpol the Builder
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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11
Nuncheon Plans

A scream awakened me; I sprang up, landing in a crouch with my dagger in my hand, looking around dazedly. A pretty young maid cowered in a corner, an overturned bucket at her feet leaking soapy water over the floor and rug. Running feet heralded a pair of brawny ex-soldiers armed with clubs, closely followed by Mistress Alta. Her “Lord Tintehlë!” fortunately made them hesitate long enough for me to stand straighter and nod. My side ached from the stress on my ribs.

“The day’s greetings, Mistresses, gentlemen,” I said.

“We…did not expect you,” she said.

“I was too late to go up to the Citadel after the gates closed.”

“I see. Mirrel, fetch some hot water for my lord. Jorgil, Pauren, please go back to what you were doing. As you can see, there is no threat.”

“Honoured to serve, my lord,” said the taller of the two with a salute and bow.

“Do I know you?”

“Nay, m’lord, but I knows you. I’m Jorgil son of Jerregil, an’ I ‘member when you come t’ Dol Amroth ‘bout that dock. It saved m’ brother’s life, that dock. You need aught, you say.”

“Thank you.”

“Anythin’, m’lord. C’mon, Pauren. ‘E’s got better things t’ do’n ‘ave us clutter up ‘is quarters.” Jorgil bowed again and they left.

“My lord!” Orophin trotted in, his arms filled with a pack, another slung over his shoulder. “I got your note, my lord, and here’re your things from your room.”

“My thanks, lad.”

The maid reappeared with an ewer of steaming water and a basin. Mistress Alta took them from her, set them on a table near a window, and repositioned a small polished mirror. “We’ll leave you to your ablutions, my lord. Come, Mirrel. You can work on another room for a bit.”

“What time is it?” I demanded.

“Almost a candlemark past dawn,” she replied calmly. “Will you break your fast downstairs, or would you prefer a tray here?”

“I have no time! I should have been down at the butts an hour ago!” I cried, tugging on my pants. “Where’re my boots?”

“I gave them to Pauren to polish,” she told me.

“Orophin, my compliments to Master Pauren, but get my boots! I’m late!”

“Yes, m’lord!” He shot out of the room.

Mistress Alta followed him without a word. I sighed; I didn’t want to offend her, but I had to go. I pulled on my tunic, and the boy rushed back in with the boots. Stamping my feet into them while belting on my sword, I caught up my cloak, and ran down the stairs, Orophin panting behind me.

She reached the door as I opened it, thrusting a bag with a strap into my hand. “To eat on the way, my lord.”

“My thanks, Mistress!” I hurried out the door, slinging the bag over my shoulder.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” asked Orophin breathlessly as we went down the rambáriad ramp.

“What?”

“Aren’t you going to see what’s in the bag?”

I lifted the flap and groped inside; my fingers met something warm and round—a stone jug that contained hot tea--; the rounded shapes of six wooden cups, stacking one inside another; several cloth-wrapped packets of warm bread with herbed cheese spread on them; a packet of cobblestones, those delectable Minas Anor pastries of bread thickly studded with raisins, flavored with kurundu spice from the Far South, shaped like, well, cobblestones, and drizzled with a hard sweet white icing—these had been cut in half, warmed and buttered; and some apples. The woman was a treasure!

“She’s nice,” agreed Orophin indistinctly, his mouth full.

I had not realized I’d spoken aloud, but those cobblestones were almost melting in my mouth!


Down at the butts, I found my men shooting as they waited for me. As I stood in line for my turn, I nodded at Húrin, already drawing his weapon. “The day’s greeting, my lord. That’s clever; I’ve never seen a crossbow quite like that.”

“Good day to you, Warden,” he nodded. “It’s a continuous crossbow; Master Clerk made it for me, after reading about one somewhere to the South and East. I can fire ten bolts before I must reload the quiver mounted on it.” He steadied it on the forearm of his maimed arm, and fired swiftly; the target bristled with the quarrels.

“But can it go through chain?” asked Faramir.

I missed his reply, as I moved to another target, and after slowly, carefully, shooting my flight, was hailed by Prince Imrahil.

“Lord Tintehlë! I hear you have a new sword. Would you care to try it in a bout with me?’

“I’m honoured, my lord Prince,” I said with a bow. Rihan took the bow and quiver from me, and I walked over to where the Prince stood with his middle son and a Southron in a Swan Knight tabard who could only be his Armsmaster, the fabled Andrahar of Harad. I bowed to them, as the Prince said, “Lord Tintehlê, this is my foster brother and Armsmaster, Andrahar of Dol Amroth.”

He jerked a bow, scowling.

I said, “I have always regretted not having had an opportunity to meet you when I was in Dol Amroth, Ser Andrahar, although I did see you spar on one occasion.”

It was true, although I had no idea why he seemed so angry—until I heard him say in an undertone, “Imri, you don’t know his skills. You have not warmed up.”

“Neither has he, Andra, and you insisted I drag myself out of bed at this horrible hour. Since I am here, I will exercise, and he is my neighbor. It isn’t as if we are going against each other with bows, after all; I would be bested easily by him there.”

“I doubt it, my lord,” I protested.

“I do not, Lord Thoronhen, having watched you. But if you are so worried, Andra, why don’t you spar with him in my place?”

“He doesn’t want to spar with me,” he muttered.

I said, “I would deem it an honour, although I’m a bit rusty. Even were I not, I doubt I could give you much of a challenge, Ser.”

“Why don’t we find out?” asked Imrahil cheerfully.

Andrahar said formally, “I shall await your pleasure.”

As I did a few warm-up exercises to loosen my muscles, I wondered why the Prince had maneuvered us into this match. Andrahar was undoubtedly my superior in swordplay, but Imrahil had no reason I could think of to wish me publicly humiliated. I could but do my best, I concluded, and presently indicated that I was ready.

We took our places in the designated circle, drew our blades, and began.

Eagleclaw fitted snugly into my grip, perfectly balanced, an extension of my arm and will, light as a feather once we struck the first blows, moving surely and gracefully and powerfully in my hand. Joy such as I had rarely felt in swordplay filled me, until my extended lunge suddenly caused a jolt of pain in my side so intense that I almost fell; black spots filled my vision.

“Enough! HOLD!”

Somehow I was lying on the ground, gasping. Someone was pulling up my tunic and shirt, as someone else pressed a flask to my lips. I swallowed brandy, and my eyes cleared.

The King was kneeling beside me, expertly feeling along my side. The Prince was holding my shoulders. Tambaro was advancing purposefully towards Andrahar, who was leaning over the Prince’s shoulder, asking, “My lord, how do you?”

“Fine,” I grunted. “Tam! Tam, stand down!”

Rihan and Vorondor caught his arms, slowing him; Cardin jumped in front of him, and was brushed aside.

“Tambaro!” I called. “It’s all right. I’m fine, you idiot!”

“Sure?”

“Quite. I just overextended. Where’s my sword?”

“Here, my lord!” piped Orophin, who could barely lift it but was valiantly trying to keep its point off the ground as he brought it towards me.

A ripple of laughter swept the circle of Men, to my relief.

“That is precisely what you did,” said Elessar. “Those ribs aren’t quite up to sparring yet, Marpol. You need to rest today. Beautiful bout until then, though.”

I reached up my hand to Andrahar. “Give a Man a hand up?” I asked.

He half-lifted me, his other hand under my elbow, enough that I could get my feet under me and stand. “A good bout, until then,” he agreed. “I didn’t know you were injured, or I would not have agreed.” He glared at the Prince, who looked penitent.

“I didn’t know either,” he said. “Truly! I merely wanted you to have a worthy opponent, and you are always unmercifully strict with me, Andra. It was a pleasure to watch.”

“I could envy your students, Armsmaster,” I said truthfully as I sheathed my blade and tousled Orophin’s hair.

“Not a great deal to teach you, my lord. A handsome sword, and you’re worthy of it. As you say, you are somewhat out of practice, I judge. You are perhaps accustomed to a heavier, shorter blade?”

“Aye, this one is new to me. Being out of practice I hope to remedy. Thank you for sparring with me.”

“Any time, my lord. Now, my prince, would you care to partner me?”

“You’re going to make me pay for that, aren’t you?” Imrahil’s tone was droll, but he flashed me a look mingling apology with–affection? Surely not! I was clearly not myself!

“Go and rest, I said,” Elessar was at my elbow. “That is a command, my lord. Lordling Forlong, see to it, please.”

“Yes, Lord King. Please, if you will come, my lord?” The boy tugged at my arm. ‘Shall I send Orophin for a chair?”

“Certainly not! I am well able to walk!” I snapped.

“I could run get one,” Orophin was almost dancing from foot to foot.

“No! You fuss about nothing! I don’t even have a scratch, for Valars’ sakes!”

The King overruled me, and I was borne in irritated state to the front door of my home by sedan chair. I extricated myself, thanked and fee’d the porters, and went inside, Tambaro and Vorondor at my elbows; Rihan had borrowed Orophin for some errands. Mistress Alta was in the hall—Cardin had sprinted ahead of us—and she said briskly, “I have had a bed made up in the room next to your library, my lord.”

I glowered at her. “I am not going to bed! I just have a couple of sore ribs!”

“The King sent orders of how you are to spend the rest of the day,” she informed me as Cardin nodded. “That includes lying down, my lord, not sitting up. Would you prefer the sofa in your library?”

“Yes.”

“Very well.” She led the way inside, and I saw that indeed, the sofa was made up with sheets and blankets and pillows, complete with a nightshirt and slippers!

“I don’t wear nightshirts,” I said between my teeth.

She looked calmly back at me. “I have often helped my cousin with her small children. Shall I assist you?”

“Are you equating me with a little boy?” I demanded.

“Only if you insist on acting like one,” she retorted. “Would you disobey the King’s orders, my lord?”

“Which are?”

“To rest, to take your ease, and not stir out again today.”

We compromised on my retaining my shirt and breeches, and lying on the sofa. As a concession, I donned the slippers, foolish though they were—velvet and embroidered with my initials!

“Where did they come from?” I asked, as Orophin, returned, knelt to help me put them on.

“Russo’s, with Sharra’s help,” she said, producing a robe, also velvet, in a handsome blue, with a sash. “Or shall I tuck a blanket around you?”

I accepted the robe, just to keep the peace, although I felt a fool in that getup, and sat down on the sofa with a grunt.

“The King said that you must move slowly, without twisting at the waist. Orophin, put his feet up,” she instructed. “A pillow here—and here—how is that, my lord?”

“Fine,” I said in surprised truth. It was fine, much more comfortable than I had been for some days.

“I sent to Mistress Haldrin, asking how best to place them,” she said.

“That was very kind of her—and thoughtful of you, for my comfort,” I said. “Please, Mistress, accept my apologies for my brusqueness.”

Her back was to me, as she arranged something on a table, but I heard the smile in her voice. “I’ll have some willow bark tea for you in just a moment; it’s brewing now. ’Tis my pleasure to learn to attend you better, my lord. I shall relay your thanks. She is a most considerate woman.”

Was there a slight edge to her tone in that last sentence? I wondered why. A sudden thought caused me to sit up straight, with a muffled curse for the stab of pain it caused me; she whipped around, frowning, and Orophin let out a squeak of dismay. “The nuncheon!” I said.

“Do we cancel?” she asked. “They would no doubt understand— Here, drink this, please.”

“Nonsense!” I said flatly. “Unless you cannot be ready?” Despite the honey she’d put in it, the draught made me grimace from its bitterness.

She flushed. “We shall be ready, my lord, but you are supposed to rest--”

“We can eat in here,” I said. “I want them to see the menkel.”

Mistress Alta opened her mouth, closed it, and then said, folding her arms, “No.”

“What?”

“No, you should not eat in here,” she stated.

“Why not?” asked Vorondor.

She cast him a scorching glance that caused him to back up a step. “Ser Vorondor, Lord Tintehlë can question me on my suggestions regarding his residence; you cannot!”

Apparently this was serious. I cleared my throat. “Would the rest of you please withdraw, and allow us a few words in private?” I requested.

Their footsteps died away as Orophin closed the door. I asked, “What’s upset you?”

She shook her head.

I pushed aside the light rug Cardin had draped over my legs, trying not to become entangled in it. As I set my foot on the floor, pushing up with my forearms and trying not to twist my torso, she darted forward, hands outstretched. “You are supposed to be resting!”

“Why are you upset?” I repeated, and caught one of her hands. It trembled in mine like a captive bird.

“You are supposed to be resting!”

“I’m not fine china, for Valars’ sake!” I said, half-laughing until I realized that her agitation was increasing. More seriously, I added, “Mistress Alta? Truly, I am not so fragile as you seem to think.”

“A broken rib can pierce a lung, or the heart,” she faltered, looking down.

“My ribs are not broken, only bruised and sore. Well, three are, but this long after the battle, they are mending and not like to break further, although I do thank you for your concern and good care. The King said that the muscles between them spasmed when I lunged. But I don’t want you to be so…vexed. Please, speak your mind. What is wrong? No,” as she attempted to withdraw her hand, “I shall not let you go until you answer me.”

She swallowed. “You are an important Man, with an important task. Surely that should not be imperiled by—by carelessness! And sparring so soon, when you still have wounds that have not fully healed, could cause them to mend more slowly, if you did not puncture an organ or get an infection. I know that you are proud of your new sword, and wanted to try it out, but that was foolish! I don’t understand why Vorondor and the rest of your Men didn’t try to stop you!”

“You yourself gave us food to carry with us,” I pointed out.

“Because I thought you would simply watch, not fight! It wasn’t sensible!”

“Carrying a weapon with which I am unfamiliar isn’t sensible either.” Her jaw might have been carved of alabaster, for all the effect my words were having.

“I know that! I’m not a fool! And I know well enough how quickly a wound can worsen—“ her voice wavered with feeling.

Had she lost someone in the War, as so many had, besides her brother? Her emotion was real, and I was ashamed of my levity.

I took her other hand, looking up at her half-averted face. “Forgive me! I am a rough soldier, unused to—all this. But you are right: I have been entrusted with a mission, and I must not be distracted from it. Yet part of achieving it is being fit to do so; I am a warrior, so I must continue to hone my fighting skills. I shall be more careful, I promise you. I shall rest, but it is necessary not to waste time that can be turned to good account. I must make plans, I must advance in them--”

“But surely you could delegate some things?”

“And so I shall, which is why I wish to have this nuncheon today. I am hoping that Lady Silwen has some of Master Clerk’s notebooks, and that Lord Gimli will have some insights into some matters, and that Prince Imrahil will agree to advance me some funds for some materials, and possibly some Men—”

“She—they will excite you too much!”

“Surely it cannot be good for me to fret over things being delayed? Nay, I will be reasonable, Mistress Alta, but I am not approaching the door to Nando’s Halls yet. And I will not have word going about the city that I am unable for my task!”

“Who would dare suggest such a thing?” she demanded fiercely.

I shrugged. “The King’s enemies. Anyone who thinks the more difficulty between Arnor and Gondor the better. Mayhap some of the old Arnorian lords, whose forebears left there to try to make their way here, and now wonder how to gain power through the titles of lands left so long ago. Eldanar of Fornost, for example, whose seat was taken over by Angmar; they’ve been ashamed of that for generations. Gondorian Houses that resent the crowning of this Northern king few of them know, hoping he will be their stepping-stone to more power as well. Other powers, now that Denethor is gone, scenting an opportunity to prosper in the chaos of this new situation. I cannot appear weak.”

“Then have the nuncheon, but do so in the approved manner,” she said.

“And what is that?” I asked.

“It will look well to entertain someone as powerful as Dol Amroth,” she told me crisply. “I could not find a cook who suited me yet, so it is being catered by the Silver Sword, although our own staff will serve. You should not eat in here, however, my lord; that isn’t properly done—and do you wish to risk spills on any of your maps or papers? I shall have a seat ready for you that will give you as good comfort and support as that couch, if you will promise me that for your discussion afterwards, you will recline on this sofa! Orophin and Cardin will be proud to demonstrate the menkel for your guests.”

“That is a good thought! And no, I would not like any spills!”

“Good. I shall have your new clothing brought to you before they arrive, that you may change. If you would let me go, my lord, I have much to do!”

“I don’t need to change—“ I protested, then gave in and let go of her hands.

“Of course you do! What, disgrace us all by appearing in those old things in front of Imrahil the Fair? I think not!” She draped the rug over my legs, gently but firmly pushing me back into the pillows before whisking out the door.


I was deep in my notes when a tap on the door heralded a tall old man in a rust-red tunic, a youth bearing a large box, and Neni. “My lord, Alta told us to bring in your new clothing and assist your changing. May I present Master Russo, and our journeyman, Tolmassion?”

All three bowed, the others murmuring greetings. I put my notes aside and pushed off the rug. “Master Russo, my apologies! I neglected to go to your shop for fittings as I promised!”

“Quite understandable, my lord,” the tailor replied in an almost falsetto voice. “Neni has explained how busy you are. Luckily, he has a good eye for dimensions, and was able to judge your measurements, particularly after we obtained a few of your garments for comparison. I would just like to confirm the fit of the crisiath and the mantle, if I may.”

“Mantle? I am staying within today.”

“Understood, my lord, but if the King or one of the Stewards summons you, you should be properly dressed. Yours is one of the Exalted Houses, after all.”

A mental image of King Elessar in his worn leathers almost made me smile, but I refrained. With a grunt, I rose to my feet as they laid out fresh smallclothes, deep blue hose, a white andyth, or loose shirt ornamented with green-and-blue brocaded trim on the neck and cuffs, and two of the elaborate tight-fitted over-tunics called crisiaths, one in green and the other in blue, and a deep blue mantle. I shifted my clothing, the journeyman helping with my boots, and they conferred as Tolmassion adjusted the dorsal segments of the blue crisiath on my left shoulder. Looking down at the embroidered sigil on my left breast, and the eagle-carved wooden toggles holding the two sides together, I smiled. “These are very fine,” I said.

“Not too bad for a first attempt,” Russo replied judiciously.

I saw Tolmassion’s sigh of relief and fleeting grin. Neni nodded, jotting a note on his tablets.

“Did Sharri do the embroidery?” I asked.

“Aye, my lord. She’ll be pleased you noticed,” Neni said.

“Could you hand me my sword belt?”

Russo looked horrified. “My lord, swords aren’t worn with these! ‘Twould spoil the fit, and obscure the tooling on the waistband! I know you’re accustomed to uniforms, but—“

“Master Russo, as you say, I’m a former military man,” I said, “but I will not be spending all my time withindoors. I must be able to use my weapons as needed.”

“In Minas Tirith? We’re a civilized city!”

“In which there were yrch just a short time ago,” I reminded him. “I’m sure that Neni told you I shall soon be traveling North for the King, and while his peace will be enforced, these are still unsettled times.”

He tched and shook his head in dismay. We were at an impasse. I didn’t want to cause problems for Neni and Sharra, but I couldn’t imagine not being armed. How to solve this?

“What is that on your waistband?” I asked.

Master Russo looked down at my pointing finger. “Why—‘tis only a pincushion of my own design, a needle-case, and measure-string.”

“But all hung from loops, as I’ve seen on other crisiaths worn by other workmen.”

“You are not a workman, my lord, but a noble of Gondor!”

“I am a noble who will work, or do you suggest I would be merely a figurehead?”

He changed tactics. “I cannot imagine Prince Imrahil wearing a sword with this garment—“

“We may be neighbors, but I am not the Prince,” I retorted.

“Would you object to setting a new style, my lord?” Neni suggested quickly. “We might try fastening hangers under this edge, here and here—I don’t think that would detract too much, do you, Master Russo?”

“I care not, so long as I can do so,” I said firmly.

“Hmmm. ‘Tis a nice problem,” Russo said thoughtfully.

“I suspect that the young sprigs will want to display their rapiers, now that the war is over,” Neni remarked.

I snorted. “The weight of a rapier is quite different from a sword such as mine. It is over on the desk, Master Tolmassion. Would you fetch it to me, please?” Inwardly I scolded myself; how could I have been so careless as to leave it across the room from me?

The youth gingerly picked it up, almost dropping it. “’Tis heavy!” He hurried over to hand it to me.

“You’ve never handled a blade before?”

“Nay, my lord. Neni—Master Rhuimeil, I mean—taught me to use a crossbow, and we’ve been practicing with bows too.” He sounded apologetic.

“We just returned from the Refuges a short time ago,” Neni said quietly.

“I’m glad to know that the folk of Minas Tirith had good men to protect them there,” I said, and both looked gratified.

Russo sniffed. “Myself, I keep a sharpened bodkin or mellor close by. An arrow c’n go astray from a target, but a blade in the hand has a better chance of sliding home, and all my lads and lasses know body parts. Even Sharri has told her embroiderers that their shears c’n do harm, ‘specially if the tips’re opened and closed in the depth of a wound. But if I may heft your sword, to have an idea of its weight and balance, my lord? And how do you usually carry it at your belt?”

I showed them my sword-belt, and they shook their heads over it, but muttered over the chains.

“If we make the girdle detachable,” Neni said, “then he could use the sword-belt with the sword and various crisiaths, and wear just the girdles on less warlike occasions. But you do need a new belt, my lord. Do you like the width of this one?”

“It’s good leather,” I protested. “I’ve had it for over twenty years.”

“Shabby,” Russo was shaking his head again.

Neni was more diplomatic. “A bit plain.”

We arrived at a compromise: they would work on the hangers for the crisiaths, and I would use the belt until then. I also asked for a few plainer tunics and surcoats, explaining that I needed to be able to swing my arms freely.

Still, it was a relief when Orophin came to announce that my guests were arriving, and the tailors departed. How Imrahil can spend hours conferring over such things, I cannot imagine, but then I am not the Peacock of Dol Amroth!

“Was that Master Russo we passed?” the Prince asked after a tedious exchange of how-are-yous. “I’ve not been to his shop for several years. Do you like his work?”

“His journeymen couple, Neni and Sharra Rhuimiel, are very good,” I said.

“Judging by that crisiath, I should pay them a visit,” he said thoughtfully.

His sons and daughter laughed. Erchirion said, “I am sorry I missed your bout with Uncle Andra’, my lord.”

“At least you also missed the drubbing he gave me afterward,” the Prince said ruefully. “Where were you, ‘Chirion?”

“Down at the docks looking over one of those Corsair ships,” he replied. “Father, could you talk to the King next time you see him about our possibly having them?”

“Better to burn them to the waterline,” said Lady Lothlíriel with a shudder.

“I had not thought about how fearsome they may seem to your people, my lady,” I said.

“Oh, no more than usual,” she replied with a shrug. “Corsair pirate ships are simply ships, inferior to our Nimgír. It’s more the thought that they transported all those forsworn Dead! Ugh!”

“It’s not as if they took up much room, sister,” said Erchirion.

“I wonder how much corporeal room they did take,” Amrothos said thoughtfully.

His family chorused, “Not now, Amrothos!”

“Actually, you would need to speak to Silma,” Lady Silwen said softly.

All our heads swiveled to look at her; Gimli grinned broadly and sat back in his chair. “I beg your pardon?” Imrahil asked.

“You would need to speak to Lady Cormallen about those ships,” she repeated, “or me.”

“And why is that?” asked Erchirion.

“The Harlond ship-builders came to see me yesterday. The Goldtrader bought up controlling interests in their boatyards, and it seems that Silma has inherited those now. He prevented them from building for years, and they are desperate for work. So I saw the King, and asked if we could buy the Corsair boats for them. He agreed. They can adapt and sell them to you for your purposes, or Marpol can lease them.”

“I?” I echoed.

“They would serve to move some of your materials north and east by sea and river for the roads up north,” she pointed out. “We could lease them to you.”

“They’re our ships!” Erchirion protested.

“Legally, no, my lord, they aren’t.”

“They were taken at Pelargir!”

“By Lord Aragorn, not your sailors. And there was no objection when he and the others brought them up the Anduin to Harlond,” she reminded him. “I don’t mean to be greedy,” she said more loudly as Imrahil and Erchirion spoke at the same time. “But I don’t mean to see those Men cheated, either!”

Erchirion glowered at her. “We have no thought of cheating anyone, but—“

She interrupted, eyes flashing. “Dol Amroth is the largest and wealthiest fief in Gondor, my lord. Have you ever lost everything, including your work? Have you ever heard your children crying for bread you could not afford to get for them? These Men have. I have, in my time, and I will not see them continue in this way. They are skilled craftsmen, if they have a chance to use their skills. You can and will see to your own; do you blame me for trying to do the same?”

“Of course not, my lady,” said Imrahil.

She gazed steadily at Erchirion, who after a moment sat back. “Your pardon, my lady. I do think of our coasts and people first as well.”

In a gentler tone, she said, “Naturally. As you should; are you not the Admiral for your father?”

“Well, no, that’s more the sphere of my older brother Elphir, Lady Ornamir. But we are representing his concerns too.”

“As you should. But these Men appealed to me in Silma’s absence, and I agreed to help them.”

“Which is no more than we would expect, knowing your warm heart, Lady Ornamir,” I said. “Shall we agree to discuss the details of those ships’ disposition later?”

“That would probably be best,” Imrahil agreed, and she nodded.

That settled, the discussion turned to the topics I had mentioned earlier to Mistress Alta.

Lady Ornamir said that she and one of her staff, young Rill, would look through Jehan’s notebooks, and she would set him to copying what might be useful to me.

As we finished the cheese and fruit that followed the main courses, the Dwarf said wistfully, “I envy you your friendship with Master Clerk, Lord Thoronhen. Even meeting him only once, so briefly, my cousin could see that he was exceptional, and all that I have heard since only confirms that.”

“A most remarkable Man,” said Amrothos almost reverently.

“We may find more of his work if we consult other artisans of the city,” Gimli continued. “Might some of his papers be on deposit at the guilds where he worked? Would they allow you access—and would you be moved to share what you learn?”

“What a splendid idea!” I exclaimed. “I know he did a great deal with the lensmakers, and also with the smiths and some of my own company.” A glance showed me Vorondor and Cardin hastily scribbling on their tablets.

“I shall write to Elphir, and ask him to send some letters I had from Master Clerk,” Amrothos said.

Suddenly I saw Mistress Alta cross from where she had stood beside the sideboard, supervising the servers, to quietly bend down and whisper a question to Lady Ornamir—and I saw the shine of tears in her eyes as she shook her head.

How could I be so thoughtless! These reminisces must be a painful reminder of her daughter-in-love’s loss, so much greater than for any of us!

I asked, “Would you like to continue our conversation in the library? I think you might like what we have to show you.”

Lady Silwen smiled at me, grateful for the distraction, and surreptitiously wiped her eyes as we rose. “What is that, Lord Marpol? A model? Our host makes the most wonderful, detailed little images and shapes of things, Silma told me!”

“Nay, this is the real thing,” I replied as we crossed the hall from the dining-chamber. “A most useful item in road-building, called a menkel. Cardin, would you and Orophin please demonstrate it?”

I eased myself down on the sofa, using both hands, pleased that I was able to swing up my feet without too much discomfort, and while the rest gathered around what seemed to them to be a rectangular table with a groove cut into its top, Cardin cleared his throat nervously, and gestured to Orophin to hand him a pitcher of water. I noted absently that it was a different one than that used the night before, highly polished silver with an elaborate curlicued handle…and then was conscious of Mistress Alta unobtrusively tucking a cushion between the back of the sofa and my side. To my astonishment, it immediately relieved an ache, and I relaxed further as Cardin said, “The menkel is used in the field, my lords and ladies, to ascertain whether the ground is level where something is being constructed. We pour some water into the groove, and observe it.” Orophin did so, without spilling a single drop.

After a few seconds, Gimli said, “I see; the water becomes still when it settles, and if the groove is the same depth uniformly for its length, you can see if it is level. More accurate in this instance than a plumb line, no doubt. If I may?”

I nodded my permission, and he bent to run one broad hand under the top. “No leaks; well made. Ah, this is interesting!” He went to one knee, looking closely at a leg, felt the bump, and rose, smiling.

“What is it?” asked Lady Silwen. “We cannot see as you do, Gimli.”

“I see one of four legs, holding it up,” Imrahil commented. “It looks perfectly ordinary to me.”

“Can you tell one kind of rigging from another, my lord?” the Dwarf asked.

“Of course!” Erchirion , Amrothos, and Lothlíriel chorused as their father nodded.

“Well, your eyes are trained to do so, whereas I would see only a tangle of ropes and sails. For a machine like this, I am trained to see otherwise, and these legs are not ordinary ones. See, each one is made up of two pieces, one slightly narrower than the other, and both have holes bored into them the same distance apart. A small stick or lever is inserted through the holes, fixing their height. This is very precisely and carefully done!”

“So? Why not have one longer leg? Wouldn’t that be simpler and cheaper to construct, instead of two pieces that must be fitted so carefully?” Erchirion asked. I could see that he was becoming bored.

“Ah, but if the ground is uneven, yet you need an accurate measure, you can compensate for that unevenness by altering one or two of the legs, and get a level! You work with water, which conforms to the ocean-bed or river-shores that contain it, my lord, but on land, where it is not so—so—fluid, this is wonderful!”

“It seems very simple,” Erchirion said tentatively, baffled by the Dwarf’s excitement.

“Oh, it is—but it is a new way of doing, and that took a new way of thinking! It is not enough to observe, you see, without seeing alternative ways to do things, and it is much harder to devise something for the first time than to merely repeat what has been done before. Hundreds of workers can be taught to do the steps of a process. Dozens can learn to repeat it exactly, perfectly. The mind that can observe, articulate a problem, and devise something new—that is altogether exceptional and blessed by Eru Creator! Is this your invention, Lord Tintehlë?”

“Alas, no. My staff told me that it was a gift to them from a neighbor. I am most grateful, my lord.” I bowed to Amrothos.

He turned faintly pink. “Just a little notion I had—“

“Modesty, brother?” Lothliríel asked, surprised.

“—which came from a discussion with Master Clerk some months ago, the last time I was here. But I wasn’t certain how useful it might be, so I set it aside. Then when I saw them making the menkel yesterday, it seemed like a possible application.”

“Engineers will bless you for this notion!” I said firmly. “As for applications—“

“Furniture, or anything that might need to be on an unsteady surface,” Gimli said at once.

I nodded. “I also thought that perhaps it might serve for crutches.”

“Crutches?” Imrahil echoed. “I don’t understand.”

“I was thinking of that young Rohir Rider---what is his name, Lady Silwen?”

“Wilmet,” she said, her face alight with understanding that dimmed as she added, “If he ever is able to use any.”

“Why would he want those legs on his crutches?” asked Erchrion.

“He’s only fourteen,” Silwen said, “and still growing. These would be useful to him, not having to replace them often. After all, there aren’t all that many trees in Rohan, are there, to provide wood for such things?”

“I was thinking,” I said directly to Gimli, “must they be of wood at all?”

He grinned. “Indeed, why? You are thinking of metal, my lord?”

“Wouldn’t that be heavy, and hard to manage for a crippled boy?” Lothliríel asked.

“You’d be surprised, how muscular his arms would become! But not iron, that would be heavy. I know! That silvery metal used for those nesting pots, for camping, that’s so lightweight!” Silwen exclaimed.

Galnim,” Gimli said. “Hmm, it would be interesting to design and cast it—one would have to work out the sizes and calculations—“

“And pad the upper part that goes under his arm, somehow,” the princess suggested.

“I am not certain that that should be tight under the armpit,” Silwen said thoughtfully.

“What?” The Prince stared at her.

“Master Kinfinning, the Healer, has known some with permanent injuries who’ve developed a kind of palsy, from leaning their weight on the top of the crutch under the arm, until it is painful, sometimes to the point where they cannot grasp it. Here is a worthy project for you gentlemen: invent different kinds of assistive devices for my patients!”

“A very worthy challenge,” the Prince said slowly. “Erchirion, in our next messages to Elphir (my oldest son, who rules in my stead at home until I return),” he explained parenthetically in response to Gimli’s mystified look, “make sure that we tell him to issue a proclamation. Anyone with a usable idea will be rewarded.”

“You’re very generous, my lord!” Silwen exclaimed.

“A very worthy challenge,” he repeated as he rose, glancing at his youngest with pride. “My thanks for a delicious meal, and a most interesting visit.”

“Must you go so soon?” I protested.

He gave me a piratical grin. “I have no wish to risk the wrath of your staff—or of the King—by overtiring you, my lord. We’ll talk further later, but I fear I have other engagements I must honour now.”

“As do we,” said Gimli.

I was not permitted to escort my guests to the door, although Vorondor saw them out.

~~~

Notes:

1.Cobblestones are one of my favorite pastries, and I wish I knew how to make them!
2.The repeating crossbow I found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repeating_crossbow.
3.The criasath and andyeth I found in the ICE Minas Tirith hardcover, 1988.


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