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Marpol the Builder
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I entered my library the next morning to see a red-cheeked Mistress Alta energetically pounding cushions on the sofa and muttering to herself. “The day’s greeting,” I said cheerfully.

“My lord.” She bobbed a curtsey and would have quitted the room—if I had not caught her hand.

“Wait, please.”

She stood still, face averted.

“Is aught amiss?”

“Amiss? No, my lord. May I go?”

“Not yet. Oh,” I said, seeing a scarlet silk scarf, neatly folded, laid on my desk.

“Indeed,” she snarled. “Oh.”

I regarded her with interest. “You’re upset.”

That earned me a scorching glare before she sighed and her shoulders slumped. “May I have your leave to go, Lord Tintehlë?”

“Not quite yet. I think I need to explain something.”

“Certainly not, my lord!”

“I am not making excuses for my conduct, Mistress Nénharma, but I think perhaps I should explain my object.”

“Oh, that’s clear enough!”

“I don’t think so. Will you please sit down? I want your cooperation.”

“That is hardly necessary!”

I pointed to a chair and repeated, “”Sit down!”

She obeyed, reluctance in every movement.

“I’ve told you before—it’s no secret—that I’m base-born,” I said. “My father was an evil, twisted Man, for all he was a lord. He pretended to wed my mother, then, when she was in his power, the only member of a minor House in his debt, he used up all she had. He gave her as little as he could, and finally she died of starvation and untreated illness. By then he had wedded his official wife, who died in childbed, after giving him a more legitimate heir, so he sent me off to the army after attempting to kill me three times. Well, it wasn’t too long before I realized I was in luck. I was out of his reach, I had a chance to make something of myself, and nobody really cared where I’d come from or whose blood ran in my veins. I never looked back, although now I wish I had.

“My brother was brought up almost as poorly as I had been, and with considerably more pain. Our sire arranged his marriage nine years ago, and then did his best to ruin it.”


“I said he was twisted, and so he was. Hirgon sent his lady wife away for her own safety three years ago. Now he has a chance to remake his life and those of his people, if the King confirms him today. As a step towards mending his life, I sent for a courtesan I’ve known for a good many years, ever since my father tried to sell her into slavery for refusing him. She’s smart and stubborn, and is now very successful, and she thinks she owes me a favour. She doesn’t, really, but I decided to ask for her help last night for my brother. I am sorry if that upsets you, Mistress, and sorry that she left her scarf behind. Now, will you please help me to help him?”

“Of course, my lord,” she replied, now much paler. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re a respectable Woman,” I said.

She made a dismissive gesture. “Never mind that! How can I help?”

“I’ll take care of sending this back to her,” I said, putting the scarf into a desk drawer. “How early will Neni be at the shop?”

“He should be there by now, he and Sharri both.”

“Splendid! Have this note taken there, please. Please also see to it that Master Finwarin has what he needs in valeting Lord Hirgon, which may include a barber. We—“

A loud pounding on the front door interrupted me. The two of us exchanged glances, but before I could do more than take a step, the library door was flung open and in stalked a tall and very angry Man, with Forlong at his elbow, protesting, that tall youmg hound leaping around them both. Orophon, looking frightened, and Cardin, looking frustrated, and a footman, were congregated just without.

“Where is he?” shouted the Lord of Lamedon. “I’ll beat that damned poltroon to a bloody pulp!”

“Look here, old chap, you really can’t—“

“I bloody well can, and I will! Bring him out!”

“Hand me that vase, if you please, Mistress,” I said. She did so, I took out the flowers it held and handed them back to her, then took a step forward and dashed the water into his face. A few dead wet leaves decorated his flushed, sputtering countenance.

“Oh, I say!” gasped Forlong, who had finally grabbed the hound by its collar and hushed it.

“Please don’t,” I said. “The day’s greeting, my lords. Mistress Nénharma, may I present to you Lord Forlong, Cardin’s father, and Lord Angbor the Fearless of Lamedon, my brother’s father-in-love. My housekeeper, Mistress Nénharma. Have you gentlemen broken your fast as yet today?”

“I did, hours ago,” said Forlong.

“Splendid, then you don’t mind not staying. Cardin, show your father and his dog out, and close the door. Mistress Alta, pray let us know when breakfast is ready.” I took a handkerchief out of my sleeve and handed it to my remaining guest.

“As you say, my lord,” she murmured with a curtsey, unobtrusively ridding me of the vase.

Angbor swabbed his face and tossed the cloth aside, breathing hard. “Where is that sniveling cur?”

“As you see, there are no dogs here, now,” I said, resting one hip on the edge of my desk.

“I mean that whelp of Pinnath Gelin!”

“No doubt you do, but you are referring to my brother, Lord Hirgon. I prefer that you have the courtesy to use his title under my roof, and address him as Lord Pinneth Gelin after his Confirmation later today. ”

“Bring him to me this instant!”


“I order you—“

The tip of my sword hovered in front of his nose, and he almost went cross-eyed before he backed up a step. “What in the Void do you mean, drawing on me?”

“Sit down, Lord Lamedon. If I slit your throat, I might be saving a good deal of time, and since I have witnesses to the fact that you burst into my home uninvited, raving like a maniac, few would censor me for defending myself.”

“I haven’t even drawn my sword!”

“For a small mercy,” I nodded. “Sit down, my lord, and loosen your collar. You are like to choke with all that choler so early in the day. Now please sit down and let us discuss this like reasonable Men. Despite the circumstances, it is good to see you again after so long.”

He squinted at me. “Do I know you?”

“You don’t remember, but then why should you? It was long ago, when I was a mere boy, and you were Requain(1) of the degir(2) I was in at Tir Ferin, back in ’89. You recommended I be sent to Barad Gaeros. I was called by my mother’s name then.”

“Virub—no, Vittribula, by Oromë! One of the stubbornest soldiers I ever commanded, and one of the best, for your age! Well, well, how are you? What are you doing here?”

“Erm, well, this is my home now,” I said. “My family House. The King ennobled me.”

“Did he? Congratulations!” he said cordially. “So what’s your name now?”

“Marpol, Lord Tintehlë,” I told him a bit shyly. “He seemed to think that it might make more people pay attention and help me in my work for him. I’m the new Warden of Roads.”

“The perfect choice!” Angbor said warmly. “I always knew you were talented! Well, well, I am delighted to hear it! Plenty of scope for your skills as an engineer!”

“Won’t you sit down?” I invited for what seemed like the umpteenth time, and he dropped into a chair. “I’m happy to see you, my lord—“

“You needn’t be so formal, now we’re of the same rank,” he interrupted me. “In fact, as Warden, in some ways you rank me.”

“My thanks. Perhaps you can advise me; I have a serious problem and am not too certain how to proceed.”

“What is it?”

There was a light tap at the door, and Orophon opened it to bow. “My lord, breakfast is served.”

I rose. “You’ll eat with me? I would value your advice.”

“If I may—“

In the dining-room, once we had observed the Standing Silence and begun eating, I said to him, “Here’s the difficulty: I swore I would protect and help someone. That was many years ago, when my circumstances were much different than they are now. Now he‘s come to me for help, despite the fact that I had not seen him for decades. He’s in sore straits. I probably am the only person who can help him. The question is: should I? I will no doubt make a powerful enemy of another Man I deeply respect and admire, to whom I feel a great obligation.”

“Hmpf. I am surprised that you even hesitate. It’s a question of honour, don’t you know. Of course you must help him. Who is it?”

I was about to answer when Finwarin came in and nodded to me. Excusing myself, I went out of the room with him for a few moments. Returning, I sat down in my place, took up my cup of tea, and asked, “Where were we?”

“You were about to tell me who it is you’re going to help.”

I sighed. “Then, I regret, my lord, you and I are on opposite sides.”

He put down his spoon. “Opposite sides? Of what?”

“Your rage against Hirgon of Pinnath Gelin.”

“Why should you give a rat’s ass about that coward?” he asked in astonishment.

“Because he is my half-brother, and I swore the day he was born that I would care for him. I have not been able to for many years, but he came to me for help last night, and I intend to honour that pledge. As you just agreed; you pointed out that it’s a family obligation.”

“But you’re Golasgil’s get, not Hirluin’s!”

“No, Golasgil is my grandfather. My own sire put that about, as a slur upon him. I let it stand, because I was not so happy to own my blood came from Hirluin. But Hirluin was my father, and Hirgon is my half-brother. Even were he my nephew, we are still related.”

Angbor’s face darkened, and his chin jutted. So had he stood up to Corsairs, wolves, brigands and orcs, and I had no doubt that so had he faced the Host of the Dead, the only man in Lamedon not to flee before them; no wonder the King had named him the Fearless that day, before commanding him to march to the Pelennor. “Then I am sorry for it, for I had hoped this last half-hour that you and I might be friends as well as having served together.”

“But will you tell me why you are so enraged against him?” I asked.

“He did not tell you that he mistreated my daughter? Aedyn was a blithe and bonny lass before they wed, and she came back to us a pale shadow of herself. He broke her heart, and she has lived a virtual recluse ever since! She will not say a word against him, Valar knows why, nor will she agree to a divorce, but she has been miserable for over three years. She and her mother insisted my sons and I promise not to go near him, and so did Hirluin, but now he’s dead, and I insist upon some satisfaction! The bloody coward didn’t even fight to defend his own lands and people!”

I sat back in my chair. “Indeed, I wonder that you agreed to the match, since you hate him so.”

“I was misled! I didn’t like Hirluin much, but the boy seemed a nice enough lad, if clumsier than an ox calf. Kept falling over his own feet.”

“There’s a reason for that,” I told him.

“Oh? What’s that?”

“I just had a Healer come examine him.” I rang the small bell beside my plate.

“My lord?” asked Cardin.

“Ask Master Tindiath to step in, please.”

The Healer bustled in, satchel in hand, and bowed. “My lords.”

“Thank you for coming so early, Healer Tindiath,” I said. “Am I correct that you have specialized in diseases of the eyes?”

“For the past fifty years, and to a lesser degree, in the throat and ears, since all three organs are somewhat linked.”

“Would you be so kind as to tell us whom you examined today and the results?”

“A young Dúnedan lord, some thirty-four years of age, rather ill-nourished, who has seen hard usage—“

“In what way?”

He frowned. “If he had not given me explicit permission to tell you, my lord, I would not be discussing his condition so publicly—“

“Publicly? “Tis only the three of us!” Angbor said impatiently.

“We are both related to him,” I added significantly. Well, after all, I was paying his fee.

“I must have your words of honour that it will go no farther.”

“You have mine,” I said, and after a moment, Angbor nodded grudgingly.

“That young man has been beaten many times and for many years, judging by the scars on his back, and in some instances tortured. I saw not only the whip-marks the Corsairs call the ‘Tree of Life,’ but also long-healed burns. But it is as you surmised, my lord; his vision is extremely poor.”

“What?” asked Angbor blankly.

“I mean he is virtually blind to all that is more than a couple of steps away! One eye is all but useless, and the other is greatly strained from trying to compensate. He has no depth perception to speak of, so cannot correctly judge distance, even in so simple a thing as tossing a ball to someone else. I shall be sending a note to a lensmaker I know, to create a pair of spectacles for him to wear which may help.”

“But they can help?” I asked eagerly.

“I am certain they will, but it will take time for him to become accustomed to them. He should have them within a week’s time.”

“Thank you!” I said heartily.

Master Tindial permitted himself a wintry smile. “I think you will all be pleasantly surprised by the difference it will make. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have patients waiting at the Houses of Healing. Good day, my lords,” and with a bow, he departed.

“Our father,” I said tightly to Angbor as the door closed, “was no doubt given the title of ‘the Fair’ as an ironic one, for a crueler Man I hope never to meet. The dishonor is mine, for not finding some way to get Hirgon out of his clutches, but I’d thought—I hoped—he would treat his heir better than he had my mother and me! I was wrong! I too have the ‘Tree’ on my back, my lord, and I have no doubt that what my brother told me last night is true, that he did his best to protect his wife, your daughter, from that despicable Man who was more a bastard than I am, at least in the common meaning of the word. Hirgon loves her, Angbor, as surely as you love your wife. As someone said to me, he fell at her feet and has remained there, metaphorically speaking. If you were under the control of a base and cunning lord, without hope of escape, bound by every tie there is, what would you do? Would you try your best to protect whom you could? Would you send your wife away to protect her? Would you ask for help from others, who would be more apt to believe your powerful father because he is your father and you an untried boy? What requires the greater courage, enduring constant belittling and torture, or running away? And if he had come to you, and told you, would you have believed him? Or would you have sent him back? Go and speak to his man Donael about what kind of Man he is; he is in my kitchen. Better yet, speak with your daughter!” I stood up. “Now if you will excuse me, my lord, I have a busy morning.” With a curt inclination of my head, I left the room.

Some time later, I stood with my brother in the small Citadel anteroom where we had been told to wait until we were conducted into the back of the Hall of Kings. Hirgon looked very pale in his formal robes, although thanks to the remedy administered by Finwarin, he was less hung over. “You look very well, Hirgon,” I said quietly.

“Do I? I never wore anything so fine before; I’m afraid I’ll muss it. Do you really think that Master Tindial is right?”

“I have seen what a difference a good pair of spectacles can make for close work,” I told him truthfully, “so why not for some distance? I’ve often used a lookfar in the field. My friend Jehan Clerk once built a remarkable one that enabled us to see stars invisible to the unaided eye. If a Man may use a wooden leg, or an ear trumpet, why not lenses?”

“Hirgon of Pinnath Gelin, come forth!” called the herald.

Taking a deep breath, straightening his new green over-robe (hastily altered that morning by Neni and Sharri), Hirgon paced slowly down the aisle, with me at his elbow.

When we reached the open space before the steps to the Winged Canopy, I saw the King on the lowest step between the Stewards’ chairs. All three were standing.

A royal brow rose. “I had not expected to see you, my lord Warden,” he said.

I bowed. “Sire, may I have the honour of presenting to you Hirgon son of Hirlun of Pinnath Gelin, my half-brother?”

“I thought your father was Golasgil.”

“My grandfather, my lord.”

An older Man came pushing out of the crowd. “What’s this? What’s this? Who’re you?”

I looked at him with interest. Certainly he resembled both my brother and our sire, if older and more ruggedly built. Under bushy brows, his deeps-et eyes flicked from face to face. “Well, here’s a mare’s nest! What’s ado?”

“I have no idea,” said the King. “Gentlemen, I suggest you follow me,” and he led the three of us, and both Stewards—and Angbor, who with another, younger man that by his resemblance must be one of his sons, had come behind us, to a smaller chamber to one side. “My lord Lamedon?”

“I have reason to be here, Sire,” he said. “My secondborn son, Angthorn.”

“As do I,” I said firmly, taking a step forward.

“Shall we all be seated, and discuss matters calmly?” interposed Faramir.

“I suppose I should make introductions,” said the King. “This is Marpol, Lord Tintelë, my Warden of Roads, whom I thought was sired by you, my lord Golasgil.”

“That’s news to me!” said the old lord. “But he looks as I did at his age, and the other one too! What riddle is this?”

“I believe you are our grandfather,” I said. “Our father was Hirluin the Fair of Pinnath Gelin, sometimes styled Anfalas. I was base-born by his machinations and decree, but Hirgon is not. When Hirluin sent me away to the army in ’88, he had my name entered on the rolls at Tir Ferin (3) as being Lord Golasgil’s by-blow. I was not so eager to be considered Hirluin’s, so even when I knew that, I did little to change it. Besides,” I added wryly, “once something is written in army records, ‘tis cursed hard to get it amended.” Every soldier in the room nodded absently.

“And who were you before you were handed a new name?” Golasgil demanded.

“Marpol Vittribula, my lord. I served in the army for thirty years before my discharge a short time ago.”

“The Vittribula who made that floating dock at Dol Amroth?”

“I really shall have to see that dock one of these days,” the King remarked.

“An amazing contrivance, my lord!” Lord Golasgil said. “Well, well, to think that you’re my grandson! I wish I’d known sooner! I’m delighted to know you now—both of you! Hirluin was such a disappointment, I stuck him up in Pinnath Gelin in hopes of curbing his excesses, but it seems I didn’t completely succeed, since I hear he’d been boasting of being Anfalas’ lord, which he certainly was not and never would be! I don’t suppose you’d like to be my heir, would you, Marpol?”

“With all due respect, my lord, no. I have a title and tasks already.”

“Pity. Well, young Hirgon, what about it? Think you’d like to be my heir?”

Hirgon answered, “My lord of Anfalas, I don’t know that I am suited for that honour. I am here to present my letter to His Majesty in hopes of being confirmed in my father’s. I—I am not sure that I will be, for I was not trained in managing estates, nor properly educated. To my shame, I did not fight in the War, either in defense of our lands nor in defense of Gondor. Many would say I was unworthy of any honour, and I would not dispute them.”

“If you are not confirmed, what will you do?” asked the King.

“That is for Your Majesty to say, whether I go into exile or suffer some punishment. It is true that our lands have been neglected, and what’s worse, the folk who live there have suffered. Many are in want, many have need of a good and caring lord who will help them, and I hope that they may have such a one, for they deserve it! I would be disloyal to blame it solely on my father, and I deeply regret not doing more for them.”

“If he is not confirmed,” I said, “and is not held culpable for our father’s misdeeds, then I will have him on my staff. And if he is held culpable, I will hire the best advocate I can, for I believe him innocent of any misdeed.”

“Peace, Lord Tintehlë! I believe I have heard enough. Let us return to my audience.”

Once back in the throne-room, the King surveyed us as he seated himself on the lower throne that had been set between the Stewards’ chairs, Andúril bared across his knees. “Hirgon son of Hirluin son of Golasgil of Anfalas,” he said. “We have been examining the records of your father’s lordship in the Pinnath Gelin these past fifty years. We know his reputation, for we also enquired of his people. It is fortunate that he fell in battle, for mayhap the manner of his passing redeemed him; it is a fact that he was a most despotic lord to those unlucky enough to be under his sway. Had he lived, I should be hard-pressed to know what to do with him, for it would be awkward to have him labouring on the roads under his other son. However, that is not the case. Be it known, though, that I would have condemned instead of confirmed him.”

Hirgon bowed his head, but I did not.

King Elessar continued, “How shall I judge you? For you were in no position of authority, nor have you been taught how to discharge the responsibilities of the rank to which you aspire. I will have no lord in my realm who does not live with honour, service, nobility and humility. Golasgil, you have been remiss. Why did you not seek to know your grandsons? Why did you not more stringently oversee their father? I have already confirmed you, and I shall not take back what was given, but I say to you that your House is in disorder and disarray. Therefore, I judge that it is for you to have your grandson properly instructed and maintained, and Hirgon of Pinnath Gelin be helped in caring for his people for the next three years. At the end of that time, return hither, and we shall recognize if you are meet to be styled the heir of Anfalas as well as the Lord of Pinnath Gelin. And Golasgil, you will provide what he and his people need.”

“Quite right, my lord King, I will,” Golasgil said. “Truth was, I couldn’t stand Hirluin, and figured ‘twasn’t worth the bother o’ knowin’ the sons; apples fall close to their tree, after all.”

“Not if the parent stock is twisted and bitter, and they have the wit to see it and resolve to be as different as possible. Will you and Lords Tintehlë and Lamedon stand with him as witnesses?”

We assented, and Elessar rose to his feet, lifting Andúril. “Hirgon, kneel before me and swear fealty to me!” The Flame of the West touched his head and both shoulders after the oath, and the King confirmed him in his honours and titles upon the stated conditions, raising him to his feet afterwards. “My Lord Pinneth Gelin, you have in you the seeds of honour, service, nobility and humility. Look to the examples of those who have stood with you in developing them further in service to your lands and people. Gentlemen, you may withdraw.”

We all bowed to him and obeyed.

“Will you come stay in my townhouse? Ugly old place, but ours,” said our grandfather. “I’ll have a good dinner sent in from an inn—“

“Thank you, my lord, but we must decline,” Angbor replied. “I must remain here; the King has requested that my son and I meet with Prince Faramir after the audience.”

“I think you could go if you wish, Father,” his son put in with a friendly glance at us.

“No, we are both bidden, Angthorn. I do not like to seem rude—I can be courteous when I’m not almost beside myself with unvented choler,” he added with a glance at me.

Hirgon looked worried, and Angbor clapped him on the shoulder. “I have sent for my daughter, and will let you know when she has arrived.”

“Daughter?” repeated Golasgil. “Am I a great-grandsire?”

“No, my lord,” I said quickly. “Not as yet. I’m in hopes of being an uncle yet, however. May Hirgon and I come and have the day-meal with you this evening, or would you prefer to dine with us at House Tintehlë? You would be welcome there, and you as well, my lords,” I added to the others.

Angthorn smiled faintly. “I think you three should dine alone this time.”

“Quite,” his father agreed. Bowing, they left us.

Thus it was I sent a hasty note to Mistress Nénharma, and after we three spent some time at a nearby tavern, I returned to my own home alone, while our grandsire and Hirgon began discussing the state of Pinnath Gelin.

It was a relief to have Finwarin’s aid in divesting myself of the heavy robe I had had to wear, for the day was warm, and I gladly descended to the library to find my three staff engaged in arguing the merits of different methods of keeping track of records and supplies. We worked until the noon morsel, and all afternoon, with Cardin taking notes, until Finwarin tapped on the door. “Your pardon for interrupting, my lord, but it is time for you to change for your meal with Lord Anfalas. Orophin is assisting Lord Pinnath Gelin, after my tutelage.”

Tambaro smirked. “Going to wash his back, for him, Finwarin?”

“As you well know of your own experience, Hír Maldréd, a lord only has his back washed for him if he is below adulthood or is incapacitated by wounds or age. Lord Tintehlë wished to try out a waterfall apparatus that has been devised in his absence today, and I need to explain its workings, as well as assisting him into the tub, or would you prefer that he risk puncturing a lung with yet another broken rib? Lady Silwen sent over a different kind of strapping with her compliments, which may be dispensed with while bathing, and he will need assistance to don it correctly.”

I rose to my feet, the others standing as well. “It seems I am called away, gentlemen. I suggest we call it a day, and I bid you a pleasant evening.”

To my surprise, Tambaro’s ears were red, and he bowed with the rest. I inclined my head and followed Finwarin out and up to my chamber.

“Did you spend any time in the army, Finwarin?”

“No, my lord.”

“I have heard that biting undertone used by particularly effective serjents.”

He permitted himself a slight smile—really, the man seemed to emulate a stone carving most of the time, for all his expression seemed to change; I would have to learn to read minute shadings of his voice and movements—and he bent to take off my boot. “My uncle was a serjent in Harad for a few years before serving as a body-servant for a legate, my lord.”

“Which one?”

“The Legate of Pelargir, back in ’78.”

I almost laughed. “Who was one Lord Amanserul Maldéd, Tamparo’s great-uncle, I believe.”

“Was he, my lord? I had forgotten.”

“Of course you did. Now, what’s this about some new kind of bath?”

He helped me out of my tunic and shirt, and began unwinding the strapping around my torso. “Here are a robe and slippers, my lord. You can just drop your pants on the floor; I’ll get them. If you will come this way?”

Inside the necessary-room next to my bedroom were a basin and tub—and inside the tub was a hanging pipe like a silver lantern, pierced by many tiny holes, within the area that would be covered by a curved rod from which hung a oiled canvas cloth. I sat on the rim of the tub, and Finwarin steadied me as I got my legs in and stood up on a sort of spongy mat. “What’s this?”

“It is specially made, not to slip underfoot when the tub’s surface is wet. Prince Dalfinor devised two of these showerfalls for the House of Hammer & Forge, and Lord Gimli very kindly sent two of his Dwarves to replicate it here. Master Borgan asked me to tell you that he was glad to be of service. He thought you knew his father, who requested that he do any service for you possible.”

“Bomgan was very kind to me when I was a boy,” I said as Finwarin drew the curtain around me; it was so arranged as to be at arm’s length, and prevent spattering the entire room with water. Small wheels protruding from the wall controlled the stream and temperature of the water emitted by the lantern-like fixture, and it drained away through a plug-hole in the bottom of the tub. Most ingenious! The valet’s arm appeared around the edge of the curtain, holding a tray with a folded washing-cloth, a long-handled brush, and two balls of soap.

“May I recommend the green soap, my lord? It is scented with pine. The other is scented with eranith.”

I chose the pine. “Where did the brush come from?”

“With Lady Silwen’s compliments, my lord. She is hoping that you will try this design by Rill Holdfast and report on its efficiency in easily reaching areas difficult for the injured. It was also her suggestion to install handholds in the wall above the tub, for added safety, and a soap-dish.”

It was a novel and most enjoyable experience, and I was surprised upon turning off the water and pushing the curtain aside, to find that the process had taken less time than a bath. Finwarin provided me with warmed towels, assisted me out, and gave me the robe and slippers again, after assisting me into the new bandaging. This consisted of a sort of wide buckled belt of thick linen lining a sturdy canvas outer layer, with straps that adjusted over the shoulders. He deftly trimmed my hair and beard as I sat on a stool, pointing out that the hot water from the showerfall had softened my beard.

“Knowing that you do not wish your pants handed to you, my lord, I took the liberty of selecting some clothing for you,” he said blandly, indicating the garments spread out on my bed.

“Thank you, Finwarin,” I said humbly.

Some moments later, passing his inspection, I stepped out into the hall, where I found Hirgon waiting for me. Already he was standing straighter, with a brighter gleam in his eyes. “Shall we go?” I asked. “I’m glad you spent the afternoon with Grandsire, because it occurs to me now that I haven’t the least idea where it is!”

“Down in the Fifth Circle, near House Elena,” Hirgon replied as we went downstairs. “I’ll show you. He was almost pathetically glad to welcome me there.”

I paused in fastening the cloak a footman held for me. “Thank you. –Do you want to move there? Does he want you to? Would it be better?”

“He invited me, but I declined.”

We walked through the courtyard, and a man in what I realized with a shock was my livery (since all the footmen I’d seen about the house were wearing the same dark green and lighter blue, with an eagle and mountain crest on the front left breast) opened the outer gate for us with a bow. I thanked him and we went along the street.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I will be with him for the next few years, and I want to spend some time with you before we go east and south.”

“You do?”

“Of course I do! You’ve done so much for me—“

“Hirgon!” I protested.

“Yes, I know, we’re brothers! And that’s why, because we are. Besides, the King told me to. You’re to be an exemplar to me, after all.”

“Cheeky brat!” I growled, and we both laughed.

“Oh!” His voice caught. “I didn’t know I’d ever laugh again,” he said softly. “I’m so grateful!”

“Then thank the Valar, and make us proud,” I said gruffly. “Now, if it’s in the Fifth Circle, we need to go down a level. Then where?”

“Left, of course, on the Ephel Dúath side. I may be almost blind, but I do know how to count steps and turns, Marpol. I won’t lead you astray.”

“I don’t doubt you. Did you have a good talk with Lord Golasgil?”

“Grandfather—and he wants both of us to call him so, he says--“

“Ah, Lord Tintehlë! How are you this evening?”

We paused and bowed as Prince Imrahil and two Swan Knights came up the ramp to the upper landing of the rambarad. “I am well, thank you, my lord. Prince Imrahil, may I present my brother, Lord Hirgon of Pinnath Gelin?”

“At your service,” murmured Hirgon with a bow.

“And I am at yours, my lord. May I present two of my officers? Ser Thorontil and Ser Portun, Lords Tintehlë, the Warden of Roads, and his younger brother, Lord Pinneth Gelin. I was happy to hear of your confirmation, Lord Hirgon, and apologize for being absent from it on other business for the King.”

Of course! I had forgotten that as the lord of Belfalas, Imrahil was Golasgil’s liege lord, and therefore Hirgon’s; ordinarily, my brother would have sworn fealty to him as well. I could only suppose that that would be remedied at some later date, perhaps at Dol Amroth.

The Prince went on cordially, “I hope to hear from my son Elphir that you will accompany Golasgil to Midsummer Court in Dol Amroth, if you have both returned to Belfalas by then.”

“Are you not going to be there yourself, my lord?” I asked.

“The King has appointed me to his High Council, so I may not be,” Imrahil replied.

Hirgon said, “I don’t know our grandsire's plans as yet, my lord.”

“Of course not; it’s early days yet for you to be apprised of all you will need to know.” He smiled at us. “I am very glad to see you both on such good terms with each other.”

I raised a brow. “We have no reason not to be.” Realizing that sounded rather curt, I added, “Any differences I might have had with Pinnath Gelin died with our father, if not longer ago when I joined the army. It is a great pleasure to be able to spend time together now.”

“Then we shall not delay you further,” he smiled. “Thank you for hosting that excellent and most interesting luncheon yesterday.”

“You are most welcome.”

“Erm--may I ask you a question?”

Hirgon was talking with the knights, and Imrahil and I withdrew a few steps. “Of course.”

“Lady Ornamir,” He frowned. “Do you know her well?”

“I am better acquainted with her daughter-in-love, Lady Cormallen,” I said truthfully. “Her late husband, Master Jehan Clerk, was a close friend of mine, and so is she.”

“There is something very familiar about Lady Ornamir,” he said.

“I believe she is originally from Dol Amroth, but I seem to recall being told that she spent many years living in seclusion on her estates in Arnach, until she returned to the city after the Siege. That manor was destroyed by brigands, including her home and all her dogs,” I told him.

“For some reason, she seems to dislike me,” he said in a baffled tone that caused me to stifle a grin. Having been Imrahil the Handsome for most of his life, a lady indifferent to his charms—and the Prince was as famous for his charm as he was for his extensive wardrobe and prowess on both land and sea as a warrior—must be a disconcerting novelty!

Still, the lady was noble and could no doubt fend for herself (or Gimli or perhaps Lord Erragol could on her behalf, with Prince Dalfinor out of the city), and I had no objection whatever in Imrahil turning his attentions in her direction—although I doubted he would get very far in any amorous pursuit. “I saw no indication of that,” I said innocently.

“No? I thought I detected a distinctly frosty tone a few times, directed only towards me. My daughter also noticed it. I cannot account for it.”

“Mayhap she’s shy,” I suggested.

He snorted. “Somehow she does not impress me as bashful. However, no doubt it is a trifling matter. I shall have to ask her about it sometime. Still, we are delaying you. Have a pleasant evening, my lords.”

After a parting exchange of polite farewells and bows, we made our way the rest of the way home. Home! I had not had a home for so many years, the word was an amazing one for me to use! But I very much liked the feeling it aroused in me, and cleared my throat as we went within the gate. “Would you like a game of Shatranj, or are you weary and wish to rest?”

Hirgon grinned at me. “I don’t know how to play, but if you don’t mind teaching me, mayhap we could begin with the different moves of the various pieces?”

“I’m sorry, I used the Southron name for it; you probably know it better as chess,” I told him.

“By either name, I’m ignorant of how to play,” he answered.

Cardin opened the front door as I reached for the latch. “Good evening, my lords.”

“Cardin, do we by any chance have a chessboard?” I asked.

“Aye, my lord, we do. Shall I set it up for you?”

“Thank you, no, I shall. Just tell me where it is kept.”


1) Requain --captain
2) degir --a unit in the Gondorian army. Tir Ferin was a beacon tower in Anfalas; Barad Gaeros was a larger guard post, where Marpol had more opporutities for advanacement.
3) a beacon tower in Anfalas.


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