It was much later than I wished by the time we broke camp, but I knew that once all three had mastered those chores and the correct way of performing them, it would go faster. By the time we rode out, the site looking untouched, I had three copies of a report ready.
Mid-morning found us approaching Taur Drúadan. Where the path branched off into the wood and up towards Eilenach beacon, a squat figure sat. I dismounted and bowed to it, speaking slowly. “Hail to the Pûkel-folk of the wood. Dúnedan I am, seeking only to briefly speak with another atop the hill. Those with me will do no harm to the wood, and we will leave before sunset.”
“What are you doing? My lord,” asked Rihan.
“This is a statue of the Pûkel-men, for whom this wood is named,” I said. “Some of them are enchanted. It never hurts to be courteous. I learned a few phrases of their language a long time ago. If any of them come, tell them that we shall leave without harming the wood, and will be out of here by sunset unless we are detained at the beacon tower. Touch nothing, do you hear me? If you feel a need to relieve yourself, dig a hole and make sure to cover it up after.—My apologies for such indelicacy, Mistress Alta.”
“No offense taken, my lord.”
“Mark me on this! Our lives may depend upon your following my instructions exactly. You may give the horses and mules a bait of grain, but do not leave the trail. Don’t take any wood nor pick anything. Make no hasty movements. And say nothing rude to anyone, including this statue. Hear me? If any of them come, ask them civilly to wait for me. Keep in mind that we are intruding in their domain, and that they can and do use darts and blowpipes. I don’t expect to be long. Captain Maldréd, Dirúvel, with me, please.”
I turned Islilta onto the beacon path, followed by Tambaro on Lump and the boy on Jitters, with Swift loping ahead until I called him to heel. Up and up we wound, emerging from trees onto the bald top of the hill. I knew that the beacons had been updated earlier in the age, but this one was almost derelict, walls crumbling except for the central tower, the outlying gates broken and open, the courtyards, even the smaller inner one, given over to burgeoning weeds. “Hello the tower!” bellowed Tam after I looked it over with my look-far and stowed it away.
Someone looked over the edge at the top. “Who calls?”
“We’re from Minas Tirith. Who’s in charge?”
“Nah, c’mon up. I’ll drop down the key. Catch!”
Dir scrambled down and handed me a large key from where it fell into a dusty clump of grass. I dismounted again, followed by Tambaro. “Dir, tie the horses over there,” I said, nodding to a ring embedded in the wall. “If we are not back within half a glass, go down and tell Captain Rihan.”
“Why wouldn’t you--?” he began.
“I don’t know, but it’s always best to have a plan,” I said. “Tam, with me.”
As we entered the door into the bottom level, obviously used as (neglected) stabling for two horses, one of which was visible, Tam asked me quietly, “Should we have split up from the others?”
“Don’t know, but something’s not right,” I answered softly.
“Aye, that. We could be anyone unworthy of trust!”
“Did you not notice that the beacon’s pulley-beam for hauling up more fuel seems incomplete?” I asked softly as we ascended a narrow spiral stair, passing a noisome privy and dank-scented well before coming to the second level.
“Clearly, there has been little discipline here,” said Tam, wrinkling his nose at a stench compounded of rotting food, stale sweat, spilled ale, and unemptied chamber-pots. We mounted a ladder leading up to the trap-door in the roof, pushing it aside to go out.
“Over here,” said a voice, and we turned to see a corpulent figure sprawled to one side, under a scrap of shade cast by an awning.
I swept one assessing glance around me, taking in the partially-dismantled frame of the pulley, the ash-choked fire-cage in the center, a nearby brazier filled with cold ashes, the depleted pile of fuel, and lastly, the Man who’d given us the key.
“Name and rank?” I rapped out.
He squinted at me. “I should ask you that first, seein’s ‘ow you come up ‘ere uninvited,” he said insolently.
“On your feet, soldier!” growled Tambaro, striding over to effortlessly hoist him to his feet. Unwisely, he tried to swing at my captain, and found his wrist deftly caught and his arm twisted up behind his back. “That is, if you are a soldier, and not an impostor.”
“Oh, he is,” I said coldly. “A sorry specimen, to be sure, but that is a Gondorian uniform for the Tiromen (1). Which tier of the Tower-Watchers are you?”
“First,” he gasped.
“First what?” demanded Tambaro, applying a bit more pressure. “Is that how you address your betters?”
“First, ser,” he mumbled sulkily.
“I don’t think so,” I said, looking at the stained, shabby black surcoat straining over his paunch, its silver trim tarnished, straggly greasy hair and beard and scuffed boots. “Your belt shows no indications that you have ever worn hangers for a sword, as all of them have, nor does the wear on your tunic reflect its being worn under mail, only a breastplate, and while that cloak is the proper red for a First, it is clearly too long for you. What is your name?”
“Where are the others detailed here?”
“Killed by orcses, stripped away on Denethor’s orders, or left when their time was up.”
“Who else is here?” Tam asked.
“Halvador,” he grunted. “Stupid youngling!”
“And where is he?”
“I dunno. Sloped off a while ago. ‘At’s why there’s only one ‘oss ‘ere, mine.”
“A while. Couple o’ days, a week.”
“Where’d he go?”
“Dunno. Didn’ tell me. Jus’ left. I woke up one day an’ he was gone. Made me mad, ‘cos I hurt m’ leg, and ‘e’d ought ‘a ‘elped me.”
“Let him down, Captain,” I said. That resentment at least seemed genuine, but I was still deeply suspicious. “How did you injure your leg?”
“’E pushed me on the steps, the barstard! –Valar, what’s ‘at?”
Swift had followed us, and now came up beside me, sniffing. He wrinkled his long nose and sneezed; I stifled my amusement—and then forgot it as the dog roamed the small space, putting his forepaws up on the parapet to look over the edge. On the east side, he began barking. “What is it, boy?” I asked, coming to look over his furry shoulder. It was not until I took out and scanned through my lookfar that I saw it: a patch of royal-blue in one of the partially-roofed ruins below. “Bring him, Captain,” I said curtly. “Swift, find!”
He set off quickly, and I hurried after him. In the courtyard, he hesitated, then set off eastwards, leading me to an outbuilding. It took but a moment to remove the bar locking it and throw it open.
Entering, I found a huddled form in one corner; the Man groaned faintly when I lifted him and trickled a few drops of water into his mouth. “Where are you hurt?” I asked.
“My arm. Haven’t eaten in days.”
“Hold on; I’m going to lift you up and get you out of here,” I said.”
“Thanks….” He stifled a groan as I slid an arm under his shoulders and got him up.
“Lean on me, and take it slowly.”
Outside, I let him slide down against the wall. Seen in better light, he was a young, husky Man of some twenty years of age, with dark hair and grey eyes. Clad in a brown tunic and trews, over them he wore the royal-blue cloak I’d seen, clasped with a silver brooch bearing the tower and flame insignia of the Tiromin. His belt showed wear where the belt-pouch and weapon-hangers had been recently removed. “Dir!” I called, and the boy hurried over, eyes widening as he surveyed the Man.
“What ails him?”
“I’m not a qualified Healer,” he reminded me, with a nervous glance at Tambaro and Gronden.
“We don’t have a qualified Healer. This Man needs help. Help him.”
Dirúvel dropped to one knee, looked keenly into his eyes, felt his wrist’s life-beat, and began gently feeling over his head, neck, right shoulder and arm as it rested across his chest. “His right shoulder is injured, my lord. How did you do this, ser?”
“I was pushed down the stairs and landed badly.”
“I was pushed,” he said clearly.
“There is a large lump on his skull, my lord—feel. He’s slightly concussed, judging from the way his eyes look.”
“I’ll take your word for it, Dir. Swift, guard that Man,” I said. Tambaro had brought down Gronden, and had deposited him in a corner of that same wall. He froze from beginning to edge away, staring wide-eyed at the dog, who focused on him and bared his large teeth. Gronden began to sweat.
“I’d stay still, if I were you,” Tam said menacingly. “Very still!”
“What can we do about his shoulder?” I asked.
“I never diagnosed—I never worked independently—I didn’t study—“
The Man opened his eyes. “Your name is Dir?”
“I’m Halvador of Belfalas. Anything you can do will be of help, and I thank you for your efforts.”
Dir blinked, then nodded. “It may be painful,” he warned.
“’Tis painful now.”
“He needs some fluids, and some food, first.”
“I’ll fetch some from my saddlebag,” Tam said.
“What do you need?” I asked.
Dir frowned, but I realized it was in thought. “If we try to remove his tunic and shirt, it may harm him more. We could cut it off, but still might cause more damage.”
“Pity you can’t see through the cloth,” I said.
He raised his head, eyes widening as he looked at me, then asked, “Did Lady Cormallen say how she did them, those Elvish techniques?”
“She didn’t see through cloth!”
“But she saw through skin; this is merely two more layers. Let me try,” he was suddenly pleading. Barely waiting for my nod, he put one hand around Halvador’s upper arm, the other barely touching the oddly-squared shoulder. Closing his own eyes, he concentrated. Gradually, I saw his hands begin to emit a greenish glow visible even in the sunlight. One hand gently turned the arm outward slightly, the other massaging the muscle between elbow and shoulder for several minutes. “Your shoulder is dislocated—that is, the upper arm bone is out of the shoulder socket.”
“Can it be fixed?” the Man asked.
“Yes, although I must tell you I’ve never done this procedure before. Now, can you sit forward from the wall, if we wad up our cloaks and yours to support your lower back? Good….Now, my lord, if you will grasp his wrist and hold the arm outward and parallel to the ground, pulling just this much, while setting your other hand steady on the long bone of his shoulder; don’t exert more or less force. I will get behind you, Halvador, and find the edges of your shoulder-blade with my hands. I will try to manipulate it back into proper position, and while I do so, Lord Marpol will slightly, slowly bend your arm to a right angle. I will be listening as well as feeling for things to go back into the correct position. Do you understand?”
Halvador tried to smile. “I’ll try to be quiet, so you can hear.”
“Take slow, deep breaths. Ready?”
“Ready,” I said. Halvador nodded.
Dir moved his hands on the back of Halvador’s shoulder while I maintained a steady pull. To my astonishment, I heard a faint clunk, and Halvaldor gasped in relief. He raised his head, wonder filling his face.
“The pain is much less!”
“Do you feel any numbness or tingling in your fingers?” Dirúvel asked intently.
Dir put the hand not supporting his patient’s back to his own waist, then looked rueful. “My lord, do we have an extra belt, scarf, or long strip of cloth?”
“Tam! Look in my left saddlebag for my extra shirt!”
Tam brought it over along with some bread and cheese, and Dir improvised a sling for Halvaldor’s arm. “You should keep it supported for the next four to six weeks, and make sure to have a proper Healer look at it within the next fortnight, to be sure that the muscles are healing well and without further trouble.”
The soldier nodded. “I understand.”
Dir knotted the sleeves behind his neck. “Is that more comfortable?”
“Much! My deepest thanks, Master Dirúvel,” the young soldier said, dipping his head respectfully.
Dir flushed, speechless. I saw his jaw clench, and knew he was willing his eyes not to well with tears. Something important was happening here….
“Do you feel able to tell us what happened?” I asked his patient.
“Certainly, but may I know your names so I can thank you properly for my life?”
“My name is Marpol Lord Tintehlë. This is Captain Tambaro Malréd; he and I are formerly of the Company of Star & Shield. This is Dirúvel. Lord King Elessar appointed me to be his Warden of Roads, in charge of helping to knit the realms of Gondor and Arnor together by means of roads in good repair, well-maintained and signed, the better to facilitate trade, settlement, and travel. We, and the rest of our party awaiting us below, are making an initial survey. After leaving Minas Tirith yesterday, we were attacked by brigands last night. I wished to report it to whomever is in authority here.”
“Not Amon Dîn?”
“This is somewhat the closer to where the attack took place.”
He nodded. “Then I suppose—that would be I. A few days ago, I was newly promoted to the Second Tiromin, and was assigned here by Captain Falastir in Calenhad. He was very uneasy about the lack of communication from this beacon. I was to proceed immediately here and investigate. I obeyed. To my surprise, I found Gronden, drunk and surly, the only one here in this—squalor when I arrived around sunset. All the Tiromin have suffered neglect and attrition during the War, my lord, but this is the worst. I was shocked by the conditions I saw. As I sought to question him, he was insolent, blustering, contradictory, and sullen, refusing to explain why he was the sole inhabitant.
“Because it was so late in the day, I reluctantly shared the midden he called his quarters that night, rising early to tend my horse and inspect the entire area while he still snored. I—“
“How many horses were here?” I interrupted.
“One, sorely neglected, poor beast, a dun with a blaze. Why?”
“We saw only one, a black with a white sock on his off hind.”
“That’s my horse. Has he been fed? His stall mucked out?” He half-rose, only to be pressed down by Dir’s hand on his good shoulder.
“It will be seen to,” he assured him. “You need to stay here and rest while you tell us your story.”
“I’m not—“ began Dir, and subsided at my gesture.
“I thought it best to commence at the top, since the beacon is vital!”
“I was stationed at two early in my career,” I nodded. “The norhtern beacons summoned aid from Rohan just in time to prevent the fall of the White City.”
“Have you been up there?” he asked, and at my nod, continued, “Then you can understand my horror and fury at what I found! How could he be so derelict in his duty? I emptied a water-jug over his head, and ordered his to go up at once and begin cleaning out those ashes while I went downstairs to continue my inspection.” He sighed. “That was my undoing, for when I turned my back to go down, he shoved me hard. I fell and ‘twas then I must have injured my shoulder and struck my head.”
“Eight out of ten such injuries are done when a patient tries to catch himself from falling,” Dir said, and looked surprised at his own knowledge.
“So? The next I knew, he was dragging me, and later I roused somewhat, to find myself pent where you found me. At times I …drifted, for there would be light coming from that hole in the roof, or it would be dark. I shouted myself hoarse in vain. At least once he mocked me, telling me there was no one else to hear, all were gone or dead, that he ruled the tower, that a demon had promised him riches. I think he’s mad.”
“Look out!” cried Dirúvel, just as Gronden threw something at me—and Swift leaped at him, as Tambaro shouted, “Marpol!”
“I’m all right,” I answered, picking up the knife that had missed me by a wide margin as I rose and moved towards the wretch. “He can’t even throw straight. Poorly maintained, of course, barely sharp enough to cut warm butter!”
Swift had knocked him down, his furry head obstructing my view of Gronden’s face. He wasn’t dead, because I could hear him whimpering over the dog’s low growl.
“Lie absolutely still, or he’ll tear your throat out,” I advised, adding in Quenya, “Swift, back.”
The hound retreated one step, forefeet still planted firmly on the prisoner’s chest, gradually stepping back until he sat down about three feet away.
Gronden had soiled himself in his terror. Allowed to sit up, he began babbling about a demon, trailing off at last into incoherence. Tambaro swiftly searched him, trussed him securely, and put him in the space where he’d imprisoned Halvador, while Dir made his patient a bit more comfortable in a patch of shade. I moved back to look down at them.
“How is he?”
“In need of rest, drink, and food, my lord,” Dir told me promptly, holding his water-bottle to his lips. “He should be in bed, a clean bed, somewhere.”
“Soon, I hope.” I glanced at the sun to gauge the time. Intending to send the lad down to the others with the note I had just written, I changed my mind. “Tend to him, please. Tam, a word, please.”
Out of earshot of the others, Tambaro asked quietly, “Orders?”
“This is bad,” I said bluntly. “Clearly, we cannot simply go our way, and time is passing.”
“You could send the boy down to the others with that message you wrote.”
“I could, but I’ve changed my mind. He needs to be exactly where he is at the moment. Keep a close eye on them, but be on the alert. I’ll be back shortly.”
“I could go down.”
“Aye, but I’d prefer it if you stay here.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Ah.”
“One of your famous hunches, Thoronhen.”
I shrugged. “I’ll bring them back. I know you’ll be tempted to poke around a bit, but don’t until there are more of us. I don’t want any more surprises.”
I swung up on Islilta, called Swift to heel, and rode out through the half-ruined arch. I’m not a Ranger myself, but I’ve spent time with some, and know woods-life well. The forest was quiet, with an air of waiting. As I rode down the path, knowing I was being watched by unseen eyes, I kept my hands visible, the back of my neck prickling.
Rihan stood at the intersection of path and road, bow strung but no arrow nocked. That was deceptive; I knew how fast he could nock, draw and loose. Cardin too was standing, as was Alta, but both were gazing attentively at the pûkel.
“Trouble?” asked Rihan.
“As you say. Are you three all right?”
“An oddity, my lord!” Cardin said breathlessly. “The statue moved!”
“It—he—moved,” seconded Mistress Alta. “His arms were folded, before. Now they aren’t. Are Captain Tambaro and Dirúvel not with you?”
“I left them at the beacon, where we shall join them. Things are more than odd there,” I said grimly.
“Are they hurt?”
“No, although we found one Man injured and another may be mad. He’s confined. Rihan, take them and the mules on up. I’ll follow shortly.”
“You’re not coming too?”
“Not yet.” I dismounted, walked nearer the pûkel, and sat down cross-legged on the ground in front. “Go. Now, please.”
“But—“ Alta began in protest, before Rihan shushed her.
Even after their hoof-beats died away and normal sounds resumed, I sat quietly. A fly buzzed past my ear. A caterpillar inched across my boot.
I waited patiently, staring at the pûkel.
“Stone-man outsit Drúg?” asked an amused, gravelly voice behind me.
Unhurriedly standing and turning, I bowed my head in respect to the six Drúadain standing in an arc just off the trail. “The Dúnedain are as grass before the roots of the Drúadain.” Slowly I reached inside the neck of my shirt, lifting a braided cord over my head and holding out on my palm its pendant: a very small, highly polished stone incised with ancient symbols I had never deciphered.
“Show,” rumbled a deeper voice behind me, and I turned again, and dropped it into the broad palm of the one most of us had thought was a statue. He turned it thoughtfully, then looked up at me from those small, deep-set dark eyes. “Sit and talk. How are you called by us? Where did you get this?”
“From one of your people, Bhân-duri-Bhân, whom I met in Pinneth Gelen when I was a child,” I told him. “I used to sit with him. Everyone else thought it was just an old statue in a clump of bushes, but I had seen his eyes glow red when an older boy was tormenting me, and how the boy jumped and rubbed his rump before running away. When I looked in the grass, I found a small dart. The conclusion was obvious. So I sat and waited until I had to go to my home. I came back whenever I could. After a month, he spoke to me. I learned a little of your customs and language over the next three years before I had to leave my home.”
“What have you become? Why are you here?”
I paused before replying. “This tale is both long and short, but I will be brief. Long and long ago, the Great Enemy had a minion, the Deceiver Sauron, who crafted a Ring. Into It he put part of his essence. Because all the Kindreds stood together and helped each other, as you aided the Rohir to aid Minas Tirith, we were able to destroy him. Two Hobbits carried the Ring to Mount Doom and saw It destroyed, so he is now disembodied and cannot come back and do further harm. Of the two Rohirric leaders you spoke with and guided through this wood and the Stonewain Vale, the elder, Theóden son of Thengel fell in the battle; his sister’s son is now Éomer King. Aragorn son of Arathorn, also called Thorongil and Strider, Chief of the Northern Dúnedain, is now Elessar Telcontar, King of Gondor and Arnor and my lord. I am—I was a warrior. The King has given me an old title, Lord Tintehlë, which means ‘wayfarer’ in Sindarin, after he gave me charge of the roads between the two domains, that they can become one great realm. That is why my party left Minas Tirith, to see their condition. Many have been neglected, and need to be repaired or widened.”
“Some are horse-roads, some are for wagons, some are footpaths.”
“Horse-lord pledged to us this place ours forever and Drógu never hunted by Strawheads again. You say he is dead. Will young chief keep this pledge? Will this Stonehead chief?”
“I cannot put words in their mouths for them,” I said slowly. “But both are Men of honour. I believe that Éomer King will honour his uncle’s pledge. I know that he is presently at the White City with my Lord King. I will send them a message, asking that they come to you when they can and discuss this with you.”
“When will they come?”
“I do not know. I am bound on my journey, but I will send a message by pigeon to them. There is much to be done since the War, so it may be some time. They may not be able to come themselves; would it be acceptable if others come in their place, to speak in their names?”
“If you are one of those voices. Where do you go after this?”
I saw no reason to lie. “First, to Amon Dîn. There is evil atop this beacon, and it must be rooted out and more brought to man it. My party and I will have to be here at least overnight, if not longer, I’m afraid.”
“Forest ours. Hill-fort evil.”
“There has been evil and madness there, yes, but we will cleanse it. The beacon tower at the top of the hill here in the wood is important to Gondor’s safety. This road is an important link between Gondor and Rohan.”
“To Horse-folk and Stone-folk, not us.”
“You fought orcs and wargs.”
“Always. Most bad!”
“As all good Kindreds agree and also fight them. More, and worse, have been defeated by all of us outside the wood, so they will never come here. There is more strength in allies than in enemies.”
Ghân-buri-Ghân took something from a leather pouch at the waist of his grass kilt, and held it up so I could see it: several sticks tied together with leather thongs. “You know this?”
“Bhân-guri-Bhân showed me.”
“You show chiefs.” He tossed it to me, and I stowed it in my belt-pouch.
“Men get rid of evil there—we cleanse down sun-rising from there after you see. Not disturb beacon until talk with chiefs. Where you go then?”
“Then through Rohan to Arnor. At some point, I have been invited to stop at Rivendell. Ultimately, I hope to go to Annúminas on Lake Evendim.”
“In Arnor, near Fornost, you will meet one of us. Tell him when you come back. We will meet again, Thoronhen Waygoer. Ghân will meet with these Chiefs.”
I bowed. “I will tell them your words, Ghân-buri- Ghân.”
“Bad storm by sun-going. Travel well, Waygoer.” He tossed back the pendant after adding something to it, and I put it on, leaving it outside my clothing, bowed, and rose. By the time I mounted, they had vanished into the forest, and I rode back up, finding Rihan waiting around the first bend of the trail.
“I know, but Mistress Alta was concerned for you,” he said, as I opened my mouth to blister him for disobeying my orders.
“There are more of them than of us; if you had been hasty, we all could have died. That’s a recruit’s mistake, Captain!”
”Agreed, Marpol, but ‘twas the only way I could get her to go on. She feels—protective of you, for some reason.”
I glared at him. “If you had had a weapon out, I would be sending you back now in disgrace.”
“Precisely why I didn’t. This was an important thing you did, my lord,” he said seriously. “If you aren’t careful, you will become a diplomat.”
“Then I will be very careful, for I am not suited for negotiations,” I said with a shiver.
He grinned. “Faldi is right, we’ll get a deal of entertainment, amusement and diversion from your noble, distinguished and lofty endeavours.”
I snorted, and rode ahead, ignoring his muffled laughter.
At the beacon, as I had expected, the horses and pack-mules were picketed to one side of the bailey, their packs piled neatly nearby. Alta was stirring something over a fire kindled in a large brazier. Cardin had led Halvador’s horse out of the stable, and was examining its hooves, scowling. Dir was busily grinding something in a small pestle as the Tiromen soldier slept. Tambaro lowered his bow, saluting. “All quiet, my lord.”
I nodded my thanks and dismounted, unsaddling Islilta and hobbling her with the others. “Rihan, you’re on guard here; Dir can bring you up to date. Tambaro, you and I are going to explore the rest of these outbuildings and eastward outside the walls.”
In one of the outbuildings, we found the remains of several Tiromen soldiers, evidently murdered, some mutilated. In another, we found a sort of shrine with an orc’s decorated skull atop it, rife with flies replete on a blood-smeared stone altar. Swallowing bile, I slammed that door and barricaded it as Tam gagged. We would need a priest to conduct rites; I sensed a malevolent presence in that room.
Taking deep breaths, arrows nocked, we ventured down-slope in a spiral on the eastern side of the hill, and soon saw why Ghân had mentioned it to me. In a hollow lay the remains of several mounts, most recently a neglected, emaciated dun with a blaze, who lay awkwardly, two of his legs broken from evidently being driven over the edge above. Animals had been at the bodies, despite their tack, probably both before and after they had died of their injuries. Silently, we contemplated the signs of their slow, tortured deaths as we took off the saddles and bridles, carrying them up to the beacon.
Tambaro’s eyes were blazing. “That is just vile!”
“I agree. Make a diagram of how they lay. If there’s a record of which Man had which mount, it may help us understand when they died as well as the horses. We will not discuss this in detail.”
“Aye, but what do we do with their remains? Good mounts deserve more than to be carrion!”
“That will be dealt with by the Drúadain,” I said, finally understanding what had been meant. “As we shall deal with the situation up here.”
He saluted, and we headed to the stable with our last loads. I deposited mine over the edge of a stall, and went up the stairs, where I found Alta standing just within the room, foot tapping as she looked around in the light of a torch in a nearby bracket. “Dir says that Halvador would be better indoors, my lord, and I agree, but cleaning this pigsty must come first before bringing him within. I have told Cardin to bring some water from the well in the court, but how we can bring that poor Man up those narrow stairs safely—“
“No, no, that isn’t necessary,” I began.
“But it’s filthy!” she protested. “To bring an injured man into filth is begging for complications and infection!”
“I meant carting water pail by pail and manhandling the Tiromen guard up the stairs,” I said quickly. “Come with me.”
She followed me up onto the roof, shaking her head at the ash-choked fire-cage and brazier. I went over to the remains of the pulley-frame and examined it. “Ah!” I said, pleased. “Mistress, only wait a candle-mark, and you shall have more than enough water for scrubbing, I promise you, with less effort on all our parts. Come downstairs with me, if you will. It is time for us to all make plans.”
Outside, I had everyone to join me near Halvador and repeated that statement.
“The beacon must be ready for need,” said Halvador weakly. “That is my first duty.”
“We all share in a duty to the realm,” I agreed. “I began my service at Tir Felin (2), and later was stationed at Barad Gaeros (3), so I know a bit about beacon-towers. And part of what I know are methods used in building and repairing them. Do you see that wheeled cart over there? And that big cauldron?” Heads swiveled to look at them under a nearby lean-to. “Now, after we move the cauldron into the stable level, we’ll harness two of the mules to the cart, so they can draw it close to the well. We’ll line the cart-bed with buckets, some of us are going to fill them and then take them over to that big cauldron in the stable. Meanwhile, some of us will be hoving chains I saw in the nearest shed around the cauldron, and then connect it via the pulley on top of the tower. When it was operable, the pulley up there had a movable base that allowed materials to be raised from the ground.”
“But the cauldron will be inside, not outside,” Cardin objected.
“Aye, but the floors of both the middle level and the top are of wood, and they are designed to allow for things to be moved up when necessary. This is why the fire-cages are not in the exact center of the top level. You noticed the torch brackets on the middle level?”
Nods from Rihan and Tam, blank looks from Alta, Dir, and Cardin. I explained, “Each of the four biggest are equidistant from the other three. When we look closer at the floor and ceiling, we shall see that above and below in the center are four big doors, slightly overlapping. Each can be raised to create an open space between levels. Through that we can raise the cauldron high enough to reach the middle level—and once the area is cleansed and a bed made up, we can raise a hurdle on which Halvador lies and swing him over to the bed. Then we can replace most of the panels.”
“Why not all?” asked Alta.
“We shall leave it open in order to bring up more supplies, and to be sure that there is enough fuel on top for the beacon before we close it.”
Halvador was staring at me. “That’s brilliant! I didn’t know any of the beacons were constructed like that!”
“Oh, yes, all of them, I believe.”
“But, my lord, that knowledge has been lost!”
“It has been lost! In all the time I spent stationed at Calenhad, which included seeing Halifirien, Min-Rimmon and Erelas as well, none of those stationed at those know of this, I am certain, for why would they set us to carry things up the stairs, and not tell us?”
“Sweet Valar, the inefficiency! What a waste of hours, effort, and energy!” I cried.
Tambaro and Rihan both laughed, and I glared. “What is so funny?” I demanded.
“Ah, it’s good to know that that hasn’t changed about you!” said Tam.
Rihan added, “The number of candle-marks we have spent listening to him fume, inveigh and scold about such waste!”
“Well, someone must, or nothing will change for the better!” snapped Mistress Alta. “Or would you prefer carrying buckets, even with a yoke, up all those steps?”
“No, no, his fuming is a good thing—even when it gets us into trouble,” Tam assured her hastily.
Rihan was grinning. “The stories, tales, and anecdotes we could tell of those episodes, incidents and happenings!”
“Later,” I said firmly. “There’s going to be a big storm tonight, and we need to get going. First, I need to rig that pulley properly. Cardin, I will want your help for that. The rest of you, please portion out your share of the tasks.”
Halvador said, “I could help—“ but was glared into trailing off by Dir, who shook his head.
“Not when you’re still recovering from that concussion, no.”
“If I promise to stay still, and call out if I feel worse, then could you not help them?” the guard asked.
I left them to work that out, and hurried upstairs, carrying with me the pack containing some of my tools.
As I had thought, the shaft of the pulley was movable; I freed it from its outward position, and after some basic—and overdue—maintenance was able to swing it inward. Part of the frame had been removed, and so had the movable wood-and-leather frames to protect the brazier and fire-cage from being extinguished by gusts of wind, but they were not immediately essential. Rigging a simple block and tackle, then managing to raise each of the floor-panels and fasten them out of the way, I dropped down the rope and swung down it into the middle level. Once the floor-panels there were out of the way, I slid down the rope again to the stable. Outside in yet another outbuilding, I found a stock of cured wood spars, and chose the ones suitable to replace in the pulley frame. Moving them into the stable with Rihan’s help, I attached them to the rope and went up to draw them in, and with Cardin’s aid, shifted them into position and fastened them. Once the new ropes were added, we were ready.
By sunset, the sky was obscured by huge dark clouds, the wind was rising, and we hurried to secure the floor-panels and trapdoor. Halvador was resting in his bedroll on a clean mattress stuffed with straw on a bedstead to one side, and Mistress Alta was chopping vegetables at the newly-scoured table. The fireplace had been raked out and a fire built, where Dir was overseeing a pot of stew, and the walls nearest Halvador showed by their dampness that they too had been scrubbed. The air smelled much more wholesome. Much of the ashes had been brought down from the highest level in closed boxes, and a fire laid, with three fire-strikers put carefully nearby in a waxed pouch inside the tightest box we had in a small cupboard built into one of the parapets.
As the rest listened to the rolling thunder overhead and blinked at the flashes of lightning before going to our rest that evening, I scowled at the report I was writing, making three copies. Cardin was scribbling notes in his own notebook, asking me occasional questions about the mathematics. Mistress Alta was sewing; Tambaro and Rihan were playing stones on the small set that was as much a part of Rihan as his sword; and Dir was writing in a small booklet I had shown him how to make of folded sheets of paper when he wasn’t writing the report Halvador was dictating between naps.
1. Tiromen – a beacon tower, pl. Tiromin. The soldiers serving in them were of three ranks, with differently coloured mantels designating their rank. (ICE, MERP modules) Tolkien mentioned the seven of the White Mountains; there was also a chain of them in southern part of Gondor.
2. Tir Felin – one of the beacon towers in the south of Gondor, in Anfalas.
3. Barad Gaeros – another southern beacon tower, close to the Sea.
2. Tir Felin – one of the beacon towers in the south of Gondor, in Anfalas.
3. Barad Gaeros – another southern beacon tower, close to the Sea.