We rode gently through the next couple of days, leaving after dawn and camping early, to be certain that all were fully recovered.
Arriving where the Hosts had camped on their way back from the Battle at the Black Gates, we found that some supplies had been brought for our use by a small party from the city who had traveled directly there, and they had erected tents and pavilions. Cooking aromas greeted us as we rode up, after we had passed sentries.
Our Sagath friends looked apprehensive at first, and Captain Beregond sought to reassure them through me. “I sent pigeons to our King about you,” he said. “Be not afraid!”
He, Dalf, Akesh, Rhûk, Legolas and I went to the center of the encampment, where we found their commander, a tall man in the black-and-silver of the army, his helmet laid aside, directing the placement of seats on a rug in front of his large pavilion. The flag of the Reunited Realm, White Tree and Seven Stars, stirred in the breeze next to his personal banner of a three-piered bridge. Bowing, he introduced himself as Lord Angon Herenyand, which explained why he looked vaguely familiar to me; I had known his sisters years ago. “Prince Dalfinor, Prince Legolas, Lady Cormallen, welcome! I am rejoiced to see you here safely! We feared the worst when we heard of some of your adventures.”
It seemed so strange to hear that title—my title!—from a scion of such an important Gondorian family! I replied, “My lord Captain, may I present to you Akesh Kûs, Hûrdriak of the Sederi, and his uncle, Rhûk of Iderii.”
He bowed deeply, hands wide in their fashion of showing they were empty of weapons. “Be welcome, my lords, you and your men! I have for you a letter from King Elessar, which he asked me to give to Lady Cormallen, that she may translate it for you; is that acceptable?”
“That most acceptable, Lord Captain,” Akesh said gravely.
At his gesture, we all sat, and they examined the letter, written in ciriths and sealed with the One Tree before Akesh handed it to me. I broke the seal carefully and opened it.
8 Lothron, 3019
To Akesh Kûs, Hûrdriak of the Sederi, from Elessar Ervinyatar Telcontar, King
of the Reunited Realm of Arnor and Gondor:
We greet and welcome you as you pass through Our realm, and invite you to visit Our court, or send an Ambassador empowered by you to discuss matters of interest to both our peoples, including possible alliances and trade agreements.
It is Our earnest hope, now that the Dark Lord has been vanquished, that the Kindreds of Arda may grow together in the ways of peace and better understanding of our varied countries and cultures, engaging in an exchange of
goods and knowledge to our mutual benefit.
May the Lord of Light shine upon you on all your journeys!
--Elessar Ervinyatar Telcontar
The Citadel, Minas Anor
The Reunited Realm of Gondor & Arnor
Akesh spoke with his uncle too quickly for me to follow, and then bowed to me and to Lord Captain Herenyard. “I am minded,” he said in a careful mixture of both languages, “if I may be so bold, to send one of my men north and east to my people, to tell them that I live, and am delaying my return to meet with your King. Would that be suitable at this time?”
“The lady has been kind and skilled, but if my nephew could be seen by one of your Healers?” added Rhûk. Akesh looked at me anxiously, worried that I might be offended.
“That would be a relief to me as well,” I said before I translated.
“That would be most acceptable; the King asked me to extend a less formal invitation in that regard, for you and your men. Lady Cormallen is too modest about her abilities, but you shall have the best we can offer,” Lord Captain Herenyand assured them. "The King himself, who is a Healer as well as a warrior, shall look to your hurts."
“Then we come,” said Akesh.
“Excellent! And we will of course share our provisions with your messenger,” he said.
“If you excuse, we rest now,” said Rhûk laboriously, and with more courtesies, they were shown to their tent.
Trying not to look impatient, I told Herenyand in more detail about the abduction, and Beregond, Dalf and I reported to him about Minas Morgul.
“We have prepared a pavilion for you and your maid, my lady, and Lady Ornamir sent some things for you, that it not be too rough for you. Will you not refresh yourself before we eat?” Herenyand asked so courteously I could not refuse. He escorted me to it, next to his own, and with a bow, withdrew.
Sighing, I opened the flap and went within. It was quite large, divided by a cloth partition into two chambers. The outer one was furnished with folding chairs, tables, and a few stand-lamps, all lit, with rugs from Belfalas and Khand carpeting the floor.
Rhylla was holding aside the flap to the inner room, her face alight with pleasure. “Come see, m’lady!” she said happily.
Within was a cot with a mattress and soft coverings; another chair and table set up as a vanity table with a small mirror, my brush and comb, etc.; a low cot for Rhylla; two stools; three chests –and what drew my eye immediately, a bathtub from which steam rose in a sweet-scented cloud.
“Have I time?” I asked.
She was already helping with my laces. “Aye, m'lady, I asked the Lord Captain’s servin’-man. They’ve 'ad the water 'ot for the past three hours, a-waitin’ for us. Lady Silwen sent four different scents; was I right to choose the lavender?”
“Oh, yes!” I said. It had been days since I had been able to bathe, other than a skimpy laving of face and hands. “It will be so nice not to stink of old sweat!”
“Lady Silwen says that horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies guh-loooooow,” she laughed.
“Lady Silwen has never been abducted by orcs nor been to Minas Morgul, thank the Valar,” I retorted.
Easing into the hot water, almost too hot, every bruise and cut stung and smarted, every ache was apparent, but soon they were soothed, and I sighed with bliss. I longed to wash my hair, but we agreed that it would take too long to dry. However, my dear Bein-Nana had thought of that, and after I emerged from the tub and sat wrapped in a dressing-gown, Rhylla handed me a packet and a folded letter.
“She left a message I wasn’t t’ give it you ‘til after your bath, Lady Silma,” she explained.
8 Lothron, 3019
The House of Hammer & Axe, Sixth Circle
Minas Anor, Gondor
To Lindisilma Kuranya, Lady Cormallen, from Silwen, Lady Ornamir
Dear Little One:
King Elessar came to the House last night to tell me himself that you have been having adventures in your travels. I already knew that—I had little difficulty in getting the truth out of those two boys Prince Dalf
sent back. Pray tell him, and Caic, that they are mending at the Houses of Healing.
Abducted by orcs and Southrons! Oh, very well, orcs and Easterlings--although why that should make me any easier about it is more than I can tell, that a different bunch of barbarians made off with you. They are stillbarbarians!
But he tells me that you are now reunited with your own party, and unharmed; I hope for his sake that he is telling me the truth about that, or I shall have a few words to say to him, King or not! I already have a few for Prince Legolas and Dalfinor and Captain Beregond, for not keeping you safe! At least you have had Rhylla’s company, but this Househas been more like the Houses of the Dead than an embassy for the past few days. Such weepings from the maids, such sighs from the men, even including Lord Gimli.
One good result of that is that I was able to meet the Halflings, for all four of them came to try to comfort Lord Gimli. As you already know, Captain Peregrin and Ser Meriadoc are rogues, particularly Ser Merry, whilst Lord Samwise impressed me with his quiet dignity, and Lord Frodois so fine I think he must have some Elvish blood in his line somewhere. What kind folk they are! Lord Frodo (I simply cannot call him Master Baggins or Frodo) made a sketch of you that I shall treasure all my days, and Lord Samwise brought me a kind of cake he calls crumpets, baked with his own hands. Mistress Samno and all four of them were soon exchanging receipts in the kitchen; apparently cookery is a valued art among them, practiced by both sexes. What a pity that Lord Frodo is so unwell; Master Kinfinning tells me that he may never entirely recover.
I send you a few items which I hope that you can use, including a kind of waterless hair-soap, made up by Lily, which she tells me you perfected years ago when your spouse Master Clerk was bedfast. I know how hard it is to keep oneself adequately clean in your present circum-
stances, and your hair is so pretty and unusual a shade it would be a shame not to show it to advantage.
I am anxious to see you once again, dearling, and hope that you are not too disappointed in the state of the place that was your home. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that you always have a home with me.
Please give my best regards to Prince Dalfinor, Prince Legolas, your Rhylla, and the others.
I read this aloud to Rhylla as she dusted the grainy hair-soap over my hair and began to brush it out. “I am sorry that they were worried about us; I should have asked Tamperion to send a pigeon to them as soon as we arrived here,” I said regretfully.
“Already tooken care o', m’lady,” she assured me. “As soon’s you was off for your meetin’, I asked Lord ‘Erenyand’s manservant could we do ‘at, an’ ‘e said aye. I writ a quick note on some o’ Tam’s paper, an’ ‘e writ one to Lord ‘Úrin, so they should know by now or soon ‘at we fare well here. I ‘ope as I didn’t overstep.”
“That was a kind thought! No, far from it! Thank you!” I exclaimed.
“There,” she said presently. “The gloss ain’t quite restored to it, but ‘tis better’n ‘twas. Will you wear the green gown or the blue?”
”They both seem a bit too formal,” I objected.
She fixed me with a stern glance. “You’re dinin’ with two princes an’ a ‘Ūrdriak an’ his uncle, an’ a Lord Captain of the army, my lady! Shouldn’t we be a-showin’ ‘em as you know wot’s wot?”
I turned to look up at her angrily. “I think you are becoming too enamored of your role!”
“’Enamored’?” she repeated
“Big-headed!” I snapped. “I am not a fine lady, Rhylla! I have no money, no great household, no vast retinue, nor am I like to! If I am very lucky, perhaps someday I can afford to build a small cottage here. Fine feathers are just that, and will not change the facts—I have little money! If Lady Silwen goes to Rohan as Erragol’s wife, Lord Gimli will no doubt replace her with a Dwarvish housekeeper or a buhdelier, with no need for me! I doubt I would get much of a stipend for the work the King wishes me to do, especially once the soldiers are discharged back to their own families. You have no security, working for me, and soon I will have to fend for myself. There is no security!”
“But Master Tuor an’ his box—“
“Most likely filled with debts of my brother’s that I will be slaving for years to pay!” I said bitterly. “The only thing I can think of, looking at all these borrowed things, is that at least I may be able to sell the clothes for something plainer when I need to—and I will need to! Valar, but I have spent so many years stretching every tin piece! I will soon be alone again!”
She knelt by my chair and threw her arms around me. “Oh, m’lady, don’t cry!” she whispered, and I was horrified to find myself sobbing.
“Rhylla, I’m sorry! You aren’t big-headed!”
“Don’t you worry ‘bout ‘at.”
“I didn’t mean to be angry and hurt your feelings—“
“You didn’t,” she lied, rocking me a little. “You jus’ cry it all out, m’lady. You been under a strain for a long time. But you ain’t alone, Lady Silma! You keep forgettin’ as you ‘ave friends, an’ Lady Silwen loves you so much, she’ll see you right. Don’t you worry none! You been so busy a-takin’ care of everybody, you’re all tired out. Now you lie down with a cold cloth over your eyes for a few minutes—“
“We can’t keep them waiting!” I wailed, wringing my hands. “Rhylla, I c-can’t stop!”
“That’s ‘cos you been storin’ up all your feelin’s too long. Mistress Samno says as ‘ow when her da died, she cried for weeks. She’d think she’d be all done with the grievin’, an’ ‘nen suddenly something ’ud remind her an’ she’d start t’ bawl again. An’ she didn’t feel’s if she dassn’t take the time to cry, neither! You been through a lot, so o’ course you need to cry now’n again! An’ these dratted men c’n just wait!” She steered me to the bed, sat me down, swung my legs up onto the mattress, took off my slippers, covered me with a blanket, and put a cold wet cloth over my eyes, almost all in one motion. “You jus’ stay quiet an’ rest for a bit!”
“But I want to see the lake,” I protested faintly.
“You will! Jus’ not right now. You don’t want Lord Dalf to see you with your eyes all red, do you?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Then you just lie there an’ rest a minute.” She was stroking my hair, and sleep rolled over me in a wave.
I changed into fresh clothing, sent by Gimli (well, most likely on Lady Silwen's orders), after a quick bath in the bath-tent, combed out my beard and hair, and returned with the others to the sitting area in front of Herenyand's tent. The scent of roasting meat and new bread made my mouth water as I accepted a tankard of ale.
Rhylla, neat in her embroidered blue bodice and skirt, walked briskly out of Lady Silma's pavilion and over to us. I looked in vain for her mistress behind her.
She dropped a curtsey. “Pardon, my lords, but c’n the meal be put back for a bit?”
“Why?” I blurted, alarmed.
“Lady Silma is restin’.”
“Is she ill? What's wrong?”
“Does she require my Healer?” Herenyand asked.
“Nay, my lord. She needs t’ rest, is all.”
“As eager as she is to see the lake? I don't believe it!” I said. “Rhylla, is she ill?”
“No, Lord Dalf, she's restin’, like I said. I got her t’ lie down, an’ she went right t' sleep; couldn't ‘elp it.”
“Mistress Rhylla,” Legolas asked quietly, “is there aught we should know?”
“Jus’ ‘at you all need t’ ‘member she ain't—isn't--neither an Elf, or not all Elf, nor a Dwarf. She's tuckered herself out, is all. She needed t’ rest, an’ I got her to. If you'd think for a minute ‘bout all she's ‘ad ‘appen t’ her this past two months, why, you'd be tired too. Makes me tired just a- thinkin’ 'bout it!”
“Rhylla, girl, go easy,” Tamperion said with a grin.
She whirled on him, hands on her hips. “Go easy? ‘Twouldn't do any of you men ‘arm to think on ‘ow much she's did! Workin' at the Houses with all ‘em ‘igh-born snippin' at her, an’ pullin' that cart with her man in it through a shower o' severed heads a-rollin' under 'er feet, an’ ‘en more work at the ‘Ouses, an’ findin' 'is body bein' dishonoured, an’ more work for m’ brother an’ all them Rohir warriors, an’ all she went through with them orcses an’ that sword an’ the tunnels, an’ us thinkin' this ’ud be a holiday for her, like, only t' be kidnapped by orcses an' fightin’, an’ whatever awful things you found at Minas Morgul—an’ she wasn't as sick as some o’ you big men, on the outside. O’ course she's tired! Makes me tired t’ think on ‘ow tired she must be! An’ don't you be placatin' me, Tamperion, or a-tryin' t' quiet me down!”
“We have been remiss in not expecting that Lady Cormallen would need to rest,” said Lord Herenyand. “I shall tell my cook we will await her convenience.”
“Thank you, my lord,” she said more calmly.
“She is well served by your care of her, Mistress,” he smiled.
“She took m’ brother an’ me in, my lord, when we ‘ad nowheres else t' go, m’lady did, an’ us strangers to her. Master Tuor!”
He jumped nervously. “Mistress Rhylla?” he asked warily.
“Might I ‘ave a word with you, please?”
He rose and went a few feet away with her, and while Herenyand and the others chatted, I strained my ears to hear. If it involved Silma, I would eavesdrop shamelessly.
“You're a man o’ law,” she said.
“Erm, aye,” he agreed cautiously.
“An’ a man of numbers?”
“I must be, in my position.”
'At box o’ yourn--”
“It's a bag,” he said glumly. “I have not been able to retrieve the box, and what my superior will say to me, losing a government box--”
Her hand twitched. “Forget the box! You blather on about it anymore, an’ I'll slap you. I don't care ‘bout your box! ‘Tis the papers you brought inside it as I want t’ talk t’ you ‘bout.”
“That is a private matter involving Lady Cormallen.”
“Can you cast up an account of it?” she asked.
“C'n you cast up a brief account o’ ‘ow much money she 'as, so she can read it quick-like? She’s a-feared she’s poor.”
He laughed. “Poor? She’s one of the wealthiest women in Gondor, and probably Arnor as well! Whatever gave her the idea she was poor?”
“Mayhap bein’ poor for years, a-takin’ care o’ her spouse!” she retorted in a tone that wiped the humor off his face. “She’s been a-stretchin’ every tin piece thinner’n a Dwarf could since afore that—I doubt her first 'usband let her have much, all o' his coin goin’ for drugs an’ pleasure an’ ‘at, so she ‘ad little t’ take away with her. I can’t ‘magine the Goldtrader give her nothin’ neither, bein’ so set on controllin’, an’ tight purse-strings’s one way t’ do ‘at. ‘Sides, she’s so soft-‘earted, likely she give away ‘most as much’s she ever got. Why in Middle-earth didn’t you tell her ‘at fact, ‘stead of lettin’ her fret herself ‘most t’ death?”
“But she’s a lady,” he protested, and got a withering look in return.
“Not all ladies is rich, nor all gentles o’ any kind,” she said. “Master Tuor, wot you need is t’ get out o’ your narrow little rut an’ see some livin’! Only real difference ‘tween a rut and a grave is a grave has ends to it an' dirt over top! ‘Ow long’ll it take you t’cast up ‘at account?”
“Well, I suppose I could put together a rough estimate of credits and debits, outstanding debts and a list of permanent incomes,” he said thoughtfully.
She pointed at a fallen log nearby. “Then set an’ cast up!” she commanded. “I’ll bring you whatever you need. D’ you want some ale?”
“I never drink when I work!” he said in a shocked tone.
“Glad t’ 'ear it. D’ you eat?”
“I wouldn’t want to spill anything on the parchment.”
“No worry—you was born tidy. I’ll fetch you a tray.”
Looking dazed, he sat down where she had pointed and opened his bag for his tools: penholder, nib, ink-bottle, blotting-sand, fresh parchment, and a small slate, besides other papers. With a satisfied nod, Rhylla sped away.
I had never thought about Silma’s financial situation, although of course I had marked her broken shoes and thin shabby cloak when we first met. Since her appearance had improved after Lady Silwen had come back, I had (foolishly) assumed that she was at least comfortably well-off now that the War was over. No wonder she had made a wistful comment about a cottage somewhere! Blinking away a haze in front of my eyes, I was suddenly aware of someone poking my chest.
Rhylla was standing almost on my toes, glaring. “I never think ‘bout them pointy ears under all that ‘air!” she said in vexation. “’Ow much did you ‘ear?”
“So I 'spose you plan t’ go tell 'er you’ll give 'er a fortune?”
Since I had been thinking something very similar, I flushed.
“But, Rhylla—“ I began.
She jabbed me again. “Don’t you do no such thing, Lord Dalf! ‘Twould shame her! She may’ve been poor but she’s proud, see? She’s already been thinkin’ as you’re much 'igher in rank’n she is, bein’ a prince an' all.”
“But that hardly matters! It’s being a good craftsman or warrior that’s important!”
“Mayhap in the Dwarf cities, but not in Gondor, ‘specially the ‘igher up the ‘Ouses are.”
“Not t’ them. Don’t you worry, Lord Dalf. All’ll sort out.”
I thanked her and wandered away, revising what I planned to say to Silma the next day.
I woke feeling ravenous, close to sunset. Rhylla came in as I sat up, deftly inserted me into the blue dress, humming to herself as she laced it and put up my hair. I sighed for the simplicity of a single plait, but did not protest. Languor possessed me; I could easily have slept through the night, were I not so hungry.
Outside Lord Herenyand’s pavilion, a trestle table, covered by a fine cloth, was set for our meal, and it was truly delectable. In the center was a fine porcelain vase holding a spray of the Culumalda blossoms; noting my smile when I saw it and my involuntarily deeper inhalation, Lord Herenyand said, “I wish you to know, my lady, that my men were all cautioned by Prince Legolas when he brought these not to pick or cut any flowers nor otherwise damage your trees. Is it true that they grow nowhere else?”
“My grandmother told me that there were a few in Hollin, long ago, and there may be some in Lothlórien and Imladris, and of course in Valinor, but I believe these are the only ones in the lands of Men,” I answered.
“These wished to grace the table for you,” Legolas said.
One of Herenyand’s young officers muttered something about talking to plants; what was next, talking to trees?
I had spoken little, feeling very quiet, almost dazed. Mischieviously, I asked the Elf about the Onodrim.
“Pippin and Merry could tell you more than I,” he replied. “For they traveled with—perhaps I should also say, on, since he carried them part of the way—Treebeard. They are the only younglings I know who have actually witnessed part of an Entmoot. Wondrous beings, the Shepherds of Trees, and older than almost any living creature in Middle-Earth saving Iarwain and perhaps some of the Elder folk. I shall never forget how amazed Sam was when we met at Isengard at how much taller Pippin and Merry had become! He kept measuring them against himself, and scratching his head.”
“But how could they become taller?” asked Beregond. “Captain Peregin might be reckoned still underage by his folk since he is less than thirty-three, but how could they grow at that age?”
“It must have been the Ent draughts they drank, lacking other food after their ordeal with the orcs who captured them at Amon Hen,” Legolas told him. “I shall long remember walking in Taur Fangorn. Old, old, it is.”
“I met an Ent once,” I said slowly. “I had lost my way in a storm, and strayed into Fangorn without meaning to—although I know that the shelter the trees gave me helped save my life.”
“Please, tell us about it, lady,” Lord Herenyand said, leaning forward.
“I had been floundering through the snow for what seemed like a long time—those storms can blow up suddenly, out there on the edge of the Wold and Rohan. I was completely lost, and while I had a compass, it did little good in the midst of swirling snow that obscured any landmarks or path. I hollowed out a little place for myself under the edge of a fallen tree, scraped out some of the inner bark for tinder, and broke off some of the smaller branches for my kindling. It took me several tries to set it alight, but very shortly there was a tiny flame for me to warm my hands and feet, at least. It wasn’t long after that I heard a great deep voice booming, ‘Son of Man! How dare you start a fire here? Put it out at once or you die!’ I was very frightened, as you may imagine.
“A dark figure approached, and stomped on my fire with huge root-like feet. I don’t know what possessed me, but I kicked it.” I paused to sip my wine.
“You kicked an Ent?” gasped Legolas.
“I was tired, cold, wet, and scared; it came out as anger. I yelled up at the being, since I didn’t know for certain what it was at that point, ‘I have been struggling to survive, and I don’t want to die! How dare you try to murder me? And I’m not a Man! Can’t you tell I’m female? What and who are you to threaten one who means no harm?’
“I heard a Hoom, hoom sound, and then it picked me up and held me closer—they aren’t very bendable, you see, in their trunk part—and I looked into eyes that were brown and green and gold together, deep as the wells of time. But seeing all of him by now, including the branchlike arms and the lichen and moss on his head, I knew what he was. ‘You’re a Shepherd of Trees, one of the Ents, one of the Onodrim?’ I asked in Sindaran. “Forgive me! I had not realized I had wandered so far. Truly, I meant no danger to the trees. It’s just that it’s too cold for me without a fire and shelter, in this wind.’
“His name was Freshleaf, and he said he was very young, for an Ent—only four thousand years old! He carried me to a cave, and put me between two big boulders to help cut the wind. Once he realized that I had only used deadfall, and scraped down to rock, he was much kinder. A short time later, he brought me a rabbit that had frozen to death, poor thing, and sat in front of the boulders to help keep the wind at bay while I lit another small blaze to roast the rabbit. He watched over me the entire time I was there, three more days, and then carried me close to the nearest village. I got a chance to learn a few phrases of Entish.”
“Only a few phrases?” Dalf inquired. “You already speak more languages than anyone else I know!”
“To learn Entish would take at least one Elvish lifetime,” I said, and Legolas nodded. “They are so old, they have all the time in the world, and that is reflected in their language,” I explained. Seeing blank looks of total incomprehension, and not wanting to see that polite eye-glazing which indicates no one is actually listening, I stifled my sigh of regret and took pity on them. “But he was very kind to me, and I have been careful of what wood I use in my fires ever since. Not all Ents live in Fangorn, and they are very protective of their forests. It was a great wonder to actually meet one. I hope he survived the assault on Isengard?”
“I don’t know, cousin, but the Hobbits may,” Legolas told me.
I blushed at his using that term to me again, even as I saw the surprise on some of the young officers’ faces.
“Did he mention Entwives to you?” the Elf asked me.
I nodded. “He sang me a very sad song of how much he missed them.”
Master Tuor rose from his seat and bowed to the rest. “My lady, might I have a word with you?” he asked.
I sighed inwardly, but really could not come up with an excuse to delay it further. “Certainly, Master Tuor. Pray excuse us, gentlemen,” rose to my feet, and led the way to my tent. Rhylla had looped back the front flap, for propriety’s sake, and I motioned him to a chair at the table as I seated myself.
“Master Tuor, I have been remiss in not meeting with you sooner,” I said contritely, “and I do apologize. I hope that your prolonged absence from your office will not greatly inconvenience you, and I hope your superior will accept my apology as well.”
A slight smile lightened his rather long face. “It is very gracious of your ladyship to apologize, and of course it was far from onerous to await your convenience,” he replied. “In fact, I used part of the time to cast up a summary of your affairs, insofar as I know them, and I beg that you will peruse it now.”
There was no help for it; I took the sheet of parchment and bent my gaze upon its neat rows of notations and figures.
I read it three times before I looked at him.
“But—but—is this correct?” I stuttered. “I beg your pardon, Master Tuor! I don’t mean to disparage your skill or probity, but I had not expected anything like this!”
“Unless you have large debts of which I am unaware, my lady, you are one of the wealthiest people in Arnor and Gondor,” he told me. “In fact, you could, to put it crudely, buy and sell most of those highborn who have disparaged you. This is after the amount confiscated to the Crown, and payment of all debts and fines incurred by the Goldtrader. His Majesty instructed us to present to you the remainder, without any liens or other encumbrances. I have a list of all your properties and their tenants and rents, as well as all deeds and other documents pertaining to them, their conditions, projected repairs, et cetera. You own a vast diversity of businesses or are a silent partner in many ventures, you own what amounts to a small fleet of ships and another of carts, you have an entire information network, and your holdings extend from Khand to Lossoth, from the Ered Luin to the Emyn Angrin and beyond.”
“This is—your pardon, but I am trying to take it in,” I said wonderingly.
“Take your time, my lady.”
“To think of all the good I can do with this!” I said presently.
He coughed dryly. “Erm, if your ladyship would permit me to advise you…”
“Please do,” I said cordially.
“Were I you, I would consider hiring a man of business, a steward to handle most of these matters for you under your supervision. The Goldtrader dealt with it himself, but I believe that he had more of a background in such things than you do, and while he tended to the extreme of penuriousness in amassing the total of his net worth, it would not be to your advantage to go to the other extreme, however laudatory a trait generosity is considered to be.”
I sorted through the formal verbiage, thought about it, and nodded. “That is an excellent suggestion, Master Tuor. Thank you. Could you please tell me about the matters you deem most pressing?’
“Yes, my lady,” he said, handing me several large parchments.
I borrowed some blank sheets from him, taking out my own pen, inkwell and sand-jar, and we settled to a discussion that lasted until Rhylla cleared her throat outside, scratched on the flap, and came in. “Your pardon, Lady Silma,” she said formally, “but ‘tis late. Did you want to work all night?” She had been in earlier, lighting lamps.
I yawned, hurriedly covering my mouth. “Excuse me!”
He was already gathering his documents together into a leather folder. “We can resume at another time, my lady. You have made a good beginning, if I may say so.”
“You certainly may, but your explanations were very clear and detailed, Master Tuor. Thank you for bearing with my ignorance.”
“It was no trouble, my lady.’
“Erm, sleep well, my lady,” he mumbled, and ducked out past her.
“A glutton for work, that one,” Rhylla said.
I jumped up and hugged her. “Rhylla, I’m not poor!”
“Well, I knew that, m’lady. Will there be ‘nough for you to have your own home?”
“Yes! And perhaps more than a cottage or a room somewhere,” I said blissfully.
“Now, that’s somethin’ nice to go to sleep on,” she smiled.