For Tari and Fey Nim and all who have birthdays in the summer.
They were up early, Andred’s landlady having brought them a light meal. As simple as it was, however, Andred still could not choke any of it down. She managed to drink a cup of the herbal drink laced with honey, and they were out within half a mark to begin the walk up through the city. Before they’d made it through the Third Circle, however, they met a pony cart coming down the way, accompanied by Guardsman Bergil.
“Mistress Andred? The King has sent this cart to convey you and your mother up to the Citadel, as she is not as yet accustomed to walking so far uphill. If it pleases the two of you, of course.”
Lanriel was glad enough to accept the ride, and Andred had to admit, once she was seated within the cart, that it was a relief after all not to have to walk so far after not having eaten much since early yesterday. A basket was provided for them that proved to contain light pastries and a firkin of juice of the orange fruit. Soon both felt much better as the pony drew them steadily up through the White City, with Lanriel marveling at the statuary and monuments to be seen on every side, and the beautiful flowers that grew in almost every window.
“It was not always thus,” the driver commented. “Since the King and Queen have come to us, accompanied by Elves, Dwarves, and the Pheriannath, it has become the norm for people to wish to brighten the way. Trees now grow in the squares and wherever there is room for them, and all are happier to have the stonework softened in such a manner.”
Often as they rode they would hear singing: sometimes of children at play, sometimes of women as they swept the ways in front of their homes; occasionally of Men as they carried shared burdens from one building to another; as they entered the Sixth Circle that of Elves laboring within the gardens of the Houses of Healing; and as they arrived finally at the Court of Gathering at the top of the City they heard maidens singing as they sat about the White Tree of Gondor, its leaves glowing green and silver, white buds swelling, promises of the blooms to come.
“How beautiful!” Lanriel breathed, her eyes alight as she gazed about her, at last turning to look out across the Pelennor below the outer walls of the city, and then across at the mountains that rose, still dark but now brushed with streaks of green where at last trees began to grow upon the Ephel Dúath. “And now the Enemy no longer dwells behind those walls, and instead of fear we first see the hope of the rising Sun!”
Andred felt her own hope rising within her at her mother’s words. “Indeed, Nana,” she said, putting her arms about her mother’s shoulders and hugging her close. “It is good to again know that hope.”
Flowers were stood in vases all about the memorial to the Pheriannath, and somehow the statue of Frodo Baggins did not appear so challenging this morning, but instead his expression in the morning light seemed softened. “He has a fair face,” commented Lanriel.
“Oh, yes,” said a soft voice, and Lanriel and Andred were surprised to find themselves surrounded by a party of Pheriannath, both male and female. A woman of the folk, one who barely met the height of Andred’s waist, was looking at the sculpture with a look of longing on her face. “Frodo Baggins was the most handsome of Hobbits of our generation, I believe.” She leaned forward to settle a bunch of white narcissus flowers upon the curb next to a vase already there, and straightened to examine the face. “Most of us lasses were secretly in love with him.”
A taller Hobbit gave a laugh. “And some of you were not so secretly in love with him as perhaps you thought, Narcissa.”
She shrugged, watching as two young Hobbits, a boy and a girl who seemed much of an age, perhaps not so far from adulthood themselves, stepped forward to lay single stems beside her white ones, his a coral rose and hers a spray of cherry blossoms. “I never sought to hide my heart from him, although that mattered not a whit when he’d natter on and on about Pearl and how marvelous she was. The day I realized she’d thrown him over I could have shaken her till her teeth rattled for the way she hurt him.”
“He recovered well enough—then, at least,” the tall Hobbit noted wryly.
“As did Narcissa, Fredegar,” responded another Hobbit, who put his arm about her familiarly, looking up at the taller Hobbit with a challenging stare.
“And I think that Frodo himself had something to do with the two of you finding one another. Although I do believe that had he felt in better health he would have courted you himself,” the one called Fredegar said, shifting his gaze to the woman’s.
“Not after that,” the shorter Hobbit said, indicating the ring lying in the sculpted Frodo’s palm. “That Ring hollowed him out so deeply.”
“It aged him so,” Narcissa said. “The Ring and the journey aged him so. He was always so youthful before he left the Shire. He came back with streaks of silver in his hair, and that crease between his brows. And he was thin again, only painfully thin this time.”
“At least he left in time,” another Hobbit commented. “I do believe he has found healing there.”
To that statement there were decided nods and murmurs of agreement.
Lanriel, her head cocked, asked, “Are you of his kindred, then?”
Fredegar, the taller Hobbit, laughed. “A good half the Shire is kindred to Frodo to one degree or another, and half the remainder is related by marriage. Part of being a Baggins.”
The one who’d commented on Frodo finding healing added, “I’m probably the only one in the party who isn’t at least a third cousin two or three times removed. Even my wife is related to Frodo by way of the Goolds.”
“You know not what peril into which you put yourself,” a Man’s voice said, and all turned to see the young Guardsman Bergil approaching. “You do not wish to be caught up in a discussion of a Hobbit’s genealogy. You could be still standing here tomorrow morning! If nothing else, Pippin Took has taught me that much.”
All laughed, and even Narcissa’s face lightened. Fredegar quipped, “But our King Elessar can be similarly caught up in describing his family tree.”
“But it is simpler with him,” Bergil pointed out. “All he has to say is that he is descended, father to son, all of the way back to Elros Tar-Minyatur and his father, Eärendil, and he has it covered.”
Narcissa laughed. “While all our Lady Arwen needs to say is that Eärendil is her grandfather on her father’s side. She at least has far fewer generations to consider to get to the same point.”
“Indeed,” Bergil conceded. He turned to Andred. “Mistress Andred, I was asked to come out to summon you to the Citadel to introduce you to our Lord’s Herald that he be able to call you into the audience at the proper time. If you are ready?”
At once Andred felt her stomach tighten again as she turned obediently to follow the Guardsman back to the Citadel, her mother trailing the two of them. Once inside the Citadel they took a hallway to the left somewhat short of impressive doors that must lead into the Hall of Kings, down which they proceeded to an office. There two Men awaited their arrival, one tall and slender, garbed in an elongated tabard similar to that worn by the Guards of the Citadel, but that fell to his knees; the other clearly a warrior who had come to serve as a functionary for the King. A veritable arsenal hung from his walls, each weapon ready to be grasped and used at a moment’s notice.
The warrior gave a polite bow. “I am Hardorn son of Halbaleg, Captain of the King’s personal Guard and second to Lord Captain Gilmaros, the Captain of the Guard of the Citadel. This is Master Halboron, Chief Herald to my Lord Kinsman. He will bring you to where you may watch the doings of the court most likely unnoted by your brother and son until you are needed within the Hall of Kings itself. Mistress Andred, Mistress Lanriel, I bid you welcome as you observe and know the King’s justice.”
With that he inclined his head to Master Halboron, who bowed deeply and led them from the room and further down the hallway to a stair leading upwards, and up it and by various small hallways until they were shown through an arch onto a gallery that looked down into the Hall of Kings. He leaned down and murmured in Andred’s ear, “When it is time to come down, young Ingbold here will bring you at my signal.” With that he left them looking at the boy, a child of about twelve summers dressed as a page, his hair fair and cut close to his scalp, who nodded and turned his attention back to the room below.
The Hall of Kings was large and imposing, with the throne on its dais at the far end almost even with the level of the gallery on which Andred and her mother waited. Two chairs were brought forward for the women to sit upon near to the rail, and they could see that the room was rapidly filling with those come to either take part or to observe the King’s audience. Their gallery was also filling, although the garb primarily to be seen here was of greys of various shades indicating that almost all who watched from here were servitors within the Citadel, most watching with curiosity the interests of the outer world represented below. Two tall chairs stood upon the lowest step of the dais, one of black and one of grey. A third was being brought out and set midway between the other two, this one of silver wood with a swan carved upon its back.
“The Prince of Dol Amroth is here!” Lanriel whispered to her daughter.
Andred nodded her acknowledgment and watched as a tall Man in garb of silver grey, a silver cloak about him caught with a silver star upon his left shoulder, came from one side, accompanied by Hardorn son of Halbaleg and a small fellow in the greens and gold of Rohan. They paused, conversing for a moment, before Hardorn and the small fellow bowed to one another, Hardorn passing behind the throne while the small fellow crossed the hall to join a number of smaller folk not far from the black seat of the Steward, and Andred realized that these were all Pheriannath. Hardorn was followed by the unmistakable form of Prince Imrahil, heading for the silver chair. The Prince stopped, however, when a Man with long, black hair held back by a circlet set with a large moonstone appeared from behind the throne carrying a small boy upon his shoulder. He and Imrahil changed their paths to meet and embrace, the Prince of Dol Amroth taking the child into his arms and speaking briefly to him before returning his attention to the child’s father. “That is our Prince Steward Faramir,” Andred whispered to her mother. “And that must be Prince Elboron.”
“And that,” added another voice from her other side, “is our Lady of the Shield-arm, our Princess Éowyn.” Norien had arrived to join them, and was indicating the woman wearing a long, single golden braid down her back and a circlet of garnets about her brow who was emerging from behind the throne. Andred recognized her from the King’s Meal she’d attended.
Norien was accompanied by a tall, slender youth with dark brown hair, who was engaged in bringing a chair to set to Andred’s right for their newly arrived companion. Once Norien was seated, he took a place by the rail to watch for the signal to bring his charge down before the court.
Princess Éowyn had joined her husband and his kinsman, speaking with them before reaching out her arms to take her son. She exchanged a kiss with Prince Faramir before setting the child upon his feet. When the boy started away from the two Men she gave a gentle word of reprimand, and he turned and gave a proper bow to the Prince, then took her hand and allowed her to lead him away, turning back to give a final wave and smile ere they took their place amidst the Pheriannath, the young mother seating herself upon an elaborately carved chair that awaited her there and taking her son upon her lap. Two more chairs sat beside her. There was a single note of a bell, and all went quiet, most within the hall who had been seated now rising to their feet and all turning toward the throne.
The King was now entering the Hall as had the others, preceded by what appeared a youth in the garb of the Guard of the Citadel, a sword naked in his hand, resting against his other shoulder.
“A child? Oh, but no—Captain Peregrin!” She recognized the unruly auburn curls, the clear green gaze now examining all for any threat to his King, humor now set aside as he did his duty as one who saw to the personal safety of his Lord. She found herself smiling in appreciation for the dedication that the Hobbit displayed.
Behind the King walked two more, one of them Captain Hardorn. Beside the King on one side walked his wife, their daughter Melian between them; on the other side a Man with a mane of dark blond hair, a more familiar woman with dark auburn hair beyond him, her arm on the shoulder of a small boy whose hair was a golden brown, sun streaked and barely answering to what must have been a vigorous attempt to tame its wildness.
“Princess Lothiriel!” whispered Lanriel. “She looks well by her new Lord Husband! And that is their son?”
All bowed to the Kings of Gondor and Rohan as they paused at the base of the high dais on which sat the Throne of Gondor and Arnor.
The Herald’s staff rang. “Our Lord King Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, Lord of Gondor and Arnor, descendant and heir to Isildur, Valandil, and Arvedui of Arnor and Anárion and Ondoher of Gondor by Ondoher’s daughter Fíriel, and thus heir on both sides from Elendil, in his time High King over both the realms founded by the heirs of Elros Tar-Minyatur of Númenor. And our guest, Éomer King of Rohan, who has graciously agreed to observe the King’s justice this day.”
The small figure that had been in conversation with the grey-clad Man now associated with the grey chair came forward, bowing to the Rohirric King and falling in behind him. “Then that must be Sir Meriadoc,” Norien hazarded in a whisper. “I do not know if I have seen him before save at a distance. Both he and Captain Peregrin are known to be among the King’s Friends.”
All within the Hall of Kings were bowing in respect, as were those surrounding them in the gallery above. Andred sensed nothing but respect among those surrounding her—respect and pride. These royal individuals were not feared by those who labored within the Citadel, but instead were loved and honored. She felt glad to know this. She had her arm about her mother’s shoulders as they joined that bow.
The King paused at the foot of the throne and inclined his head in response to the respect he received, leaned down to kiss his daughter’s hair, and smiled into his wife’s face as she left him, her own eyes shining before she went to the opposite side of the room where simple, comfortable chairs awaited her and her daughter. The King and Éomer King shared a warrior’s clasp before the Rohirric King led his wife and son to join his sister, Éomer taking his son onto his lap once he was seated.
All of the resident royals were now seated as the King mounted the steps to the throne, throwing his white mantle aside to remove his sword’s sheath from its hangers and set it across the arms of the throne as he sat.
“Our Lord King bids those who have complaints and grievances to come before him that he might determine how justice might be done for them. He bids those who have taken advantage of others to consider what they have done and how it might be made right. He bids those who have done well by others to come forward that they might be rewarded in accordance with what they have wrought. And he bids those who grieve for what they have done to others to come forward that they might find what they can do to make amends.” Herald Halboron’s voice rang through the room.
Now, this invitation, with two chances offered for those who had done ill by others to come forward to straighten out what they had done wrongly Andred found most interesting. Obviously both her brother and the husband to Norien’s sister were each being offered a chance to set things right, if they would. But would they do so voluntarily, or only because they were compelled? Well, that remained to be seen. She so hoped that Indrahil would do so without having to be forced.
All went quiet, and Halboron called forward the youth Cryon son of Devumir to stand before the King. He proved to be an older boy of perhaps fifteen years of age, one growing rapidly who was not yet comfortable with the new length of legs and arms he was now experiencing. He was dressed in clothes that were clean and seemly enough, but in no way rich, much less new. The trews he wore were too short for his frame, and the sleeves to the shirt he wore did not quite reach his wrists. He appeared uncomfortable to find himself in the eye of so many.
Behind him walked a woman, a goodwife of the city by appearance, who was fairly beaming with pleasure as she followed him, a small boy of perhaps a year and a half in age in her arms, the child apparently clutching a wooden toy to his chest.
“And what is the tale regarding young Master Cryon here that brings him before this court?” asked the King.
“Mistress Lindwen here has asked to be allowed to tell it, my Lord,” explained Halboron.
At the King’s nod, the woman stepped forward but a little more, held the child a bit closer to her bosom, and explained, “I am Lindwen wife of Arthad, a tinsmith of the Second Circle, my Lord Elessar. This is our younger son, Amdir, and the apple of our eye. He has two summers and is most willful.”
Laughs of recognition broke out around the chamber: many there had been parents of children of that age. Lindwen gave an expressive shrug. “For the past several months his favorite activity has been to throw his toy horse for others to fetch back to him. Ten days past he was doing this, keeping our older son Ladril quite busy. When I needed to send him to the market to fetch a firkin of milk, Ladril was all too glad to go so as to be relieved of having to repeatedly bring the toy back to him. It was a warm day, so the door into our front courtyard was open. But when Ladril went through the gate into the street, he did not pause to make certain that the latch for the gate caught.”
“And Amdir here made to follow his older brother?” the King asked.
The woman nodded. “Indeed, although at first he did not go further than the gate. We have told him, again and again, that he must not go outside the gate without one of the rest of us to hold his hand. He was calling Ladril’s name again and again, and even threw his toy horse out into the street for Ladril to bring back to him. Only Ladril was gone and did not hear him, being well on his way to the gate to the Third Circle and the market there.”
“And how is it that you know this?” asked the King.
The woman looked at Cryon, who flushed and ducked his head. He said in a low voice, “I had to tell her this, my Lord. She was not where she could hear.”
The woman nodded her head to confirm the youth’s words. “Even so, sir.”
“So,” the King began slowly, “You saw what happened from when Ladril left his home.”
“Yes, my Lord.” The boy’s face was very earnest. “He ran out of the door and through the courtyard, slamming the gate behind him. Only it did not catch—instead it bounced open again and stopped half way. Amdir came after him, calling his name, carrying his toy horse.”
“The one he carries now?”
But Cryon was shaking his head. “No, this is a new one. That one he carried with both hands. He called Ladril’s name, but could not see him for all of those walking along the way. He called again, and threw the horse into the road. Those walking along glanced his way, but kept on their way, stepping over or around the horse. No one stopped to pick it up or to seek to return it. His lip began to quiver, and he began calling, ‘Horse! Horse!’ But still no one would stop. I was smoothing the wood used to repair our door’s frame, and I did not dare stop, not at first. Suddenly those walking along the way began to move to one side or the other as the pony cart that brings those who are elderly or infirm up and down through the city came down from the gate to the Third Circle. As no one would return his horse, I could tell that Amdir was contemplating going to fetch it in himself, and I dropped my sanding stone and went to our gate and called out for him to stay where he was. He looked up at me and frowned, and started out to fetch in his horse. The pony cart was almost upon us, and I ran out in front of the pony and threw myself upon the child, rolling us both into the gutter on his side of the road. He was crying out in anger and perhaps some pain, for I am certain that he hit part of his head against the pavement. I am so sorry, for I was seeking only to save him from being hurt by the pony or the cart. But I heard a crunch as the cart went past us. The carter wisely did not seek to stop completely once he realized I had caught the boy out of danger, and the wheels of the cart rolled over the toy horse and crushed it. But the child darted out so fast and unexpectedly that there was no way that the carter could have stopped the cart in time to spare the child—he certainly could not avoid hitting the toy horse, which he would not have been able to see until the last possible moment, what with the movement of those who were pulling to the side to allow him to go through.”
“And such was the report given us by the carter, your Majesty,” said a Guardsman in the livery of the City Guard who had unobtrusively followed Mistress Lindwen and Cryon into the center of the audience. “He had no idea who was the child or the youth who so suddenly rolled the child to safety, but he prayed that we should identify the youth to be brought before you to be honored as he deserved. That was in the report forwarded to you last week.”
“And I remember it. Who was it who identified young Cryon here?”
“It was I, my Lord,” Mistress Lindwen explained. “I had to make it up to him once I realized he had not deliberately hurt my son, but instead had saved him from the fate that had befallen his toy horse. Some of those who had been walking by explained what he had done, and why, and someone handed me what remained of his toy. It was utterly crushed and broken, and could not be made right again. But at first I berated Cryon for pushing my son into the gutter, and I fear I abused him terribly.”
“It was nothing, Mistress Lindwen. You could not know how close he came to being hurt far worse.” Cryon reached out to touch her arm in reassurance.
The King rose from his seat and automatically reseated his sword to his sword belt. “I see.” All watched as the King descended from the throne, passing around Prince Imrahil’s seat to stand before the woman, the child, Cryon, and the Guardsman. “May I examine your son, Mistress Lindwen?” he asked. “I am, first and foremost, a healer, having begun such training even before I was taught the use of a blade.” He leaned down and accepted Amdir from his mother’s arms. “So,” he said, addressing the little boy, “You had quite an adventure last week, did you?”
Amdir nodded, his mouth open as he looked into the King’s eyes. “My horse broke,” he said. “Wheel broke it.”
“The pony cart’s wheel broke it, did it? I am so sorry. May I feel your head?” He felt the child’s scalp carefully, examined a place near the back of the head that attracted his attention, and nodded. “There was a bump here, but it was never anything to worry about. It is almost gone now. And I note a scrape here on the back of the elbow that I suspect was due to the roll he took across the pavement. Again, it is almost healed, and was apparently properly dealt with at the time.” He looked seriously into the child’s face. “You have been a very lucky little boy, and are most fortunate that young Master Cryon was in a place to see how much danger you were in and to save you from it. Have you thanked him for helping you?”
The boy looked sideways down at Cryon, who was flushing violently. “Thank you, Cryon,” he said carefully. He then waved the wooden figure he held in his arms. “And thank you for horsey!”
“Oh, did Cryon give you this?” asked the King. “May I see it?”
Amdir nodded and let the King take it as he returned to his mother’s embrace. The King examined it carefully. “And did you obtain it from the marketplace to replace the one that was destroyed,” he asked Cryon.
Cryon shook his head. “Oh, no,” he answered. “We could not afford to buy such a thing. I made it from some of the wood in the wood pile. It appeared the best piece of wood for a horse, so I carved it with my knife.”
“You carved it yourself?” asked the King.
“Yes, I like carving, although my mother despairs of me doing things of more use to the family.”
The King smiled, and turned to the company of smaller folk that stood together near the seats for Éomer King, his wife, and his sister. “Ruvemir, will you please come look at this?”
A small person came forth from among the Pheriannath, one who was clearly not a Pherian himself, but rather a mannikin, a neat beard decorating his chin, his legs and torso not of a size with his hands or head. “Oh,” Norien whispered, “but that is the King’s sculptor! He is a mannikin from Lebennin.”
Ruvemir walked with a rather rolling gait, using a cane shod with silver to balance himself. He reached out to take the toy from the King, smiling broadly as he took it into his hands and turned it. At last he looked up to his patron, saying in his warm voice, “Well wrought, my Lord. Well wrought indeed. My father would be most impressed.”
The King nodded, received the toy back from the mannikin and returned it to Amdir. “Here it is, child, and may it bring you years of joy.” He now addressed the boy’s mother. “You did well to admit that you first abused Cryon, only understanding later what service he’d done for your child and your family. I am gladdened that you admit your mistake freely and without shame, and now seek to make it right. Our nation is better for those who can and will admit a wrong and who then do what they can to see that proper praise is given to those who have earned it. I bless you and your family, and rejoice with you that your son took so little hurt.” The woman colored prettily, and accepted her dismissal with a widened smile. “Is Cryon’s family here?” he asked.
Another, taller woman came forward, followed by two young Men and a girl perhaps three years younger than Cryon. These were Cryon’s mother, older brothers, and little sister. All were appropriately dressed, but it was obvious that the clothing, although sound, was well worn, many pieces of an older style, none of the colors rich or vibrant.
“Your husband?” asked the King, although he had to have guessed the reason the Man was not there.
“He died before the Black Gate, my Lord King. He went with the Men of the City.”
“And you have no other means of support than the widow’s pension granted you?”
She shook her head. “It is true that we have had little other recourse, particularly as Bëor here was sickly when younger, although he has recovered wonderfully since you became King and he was invited to take part in treatments offered by the Houses of Healing for those who have had problems with weak lungs. He has been offered a place by a merchant who sells greens in the market in the Third Circle. And Ceorl here has accepted a job on a farm upon the Pelennor. They have agreed to give us food as part of his pay. They are good people.”
“And Cryon here—has there been any thought given to finding an apprenticeship for him?”
“And what skills does he have?”
With a nod toward where the King’s sculptor had rejoined the Hobbits, the King suggested, “You heard, did you not, that Master Ruvemir believes his father would be well pleased with Cryon’s carving ability? Master Mardil is a master carver in his own right, and has told me recently he believes he would agree to one more apprentice ere he retires for good. I would be willing to speak for Cryon with him.”
Cryon’s mother looked confused. “You mean that there are those who would train my son to carve more? I had thought perhaps to apprentice him to a woodwright, such as the one who oversaw the replacement of our doorway, which had been blighted by woodworm. But I am uncertain how I should pay his apprenticeship fees.”
The King merely smiled and turned to Cryon himself. “Tell me, my friend, what work you should like to pursue, were it given to you? Would you like to work as a woodwright, or as a carver of wood? Or,” he added, obviously struck with another idea, “would you like to become a crafter of toys? You did a marvelous job upon the toy horse you carved for Amdir. Or is there another craft you might wish to follow?”
Cryon appeared overwhelmed by the question. “An apprenticeship to make toys? There is such a thing?”
“Oh, indeed! Master Blyn, one of the advisors to the King of Dale, is to arrive perhaps this evening or tomorrow morning, accompanying the embassy expected from King Thorin Stronghelm of Erebor and the Iron Hills. The toys crafted in Dale and Erebor are considered amongst the finest within Middle Earth. If you should wish such an apprenticeship I suspect that the horse you carved for Amdir will earn you the interest of both Dwarvish and Mannish craftsmen. And there would be no reason for your family to worry about apprenticeship fees in such a case.” The King straightened to full height. “Think upon this, and discuss it with your mother. If you would wish to accept any of these apprenticeships, all you need do is approach the captain for any of the gates to the city and send word by way of him, and I shall arrange for you to meet with a master craftsman for any of these fields. In the meantime, know that your swift timing that saved a small child has been made known, and you are honored for it.”
The King removed a scrip from his belt and placed it in the boy’s hands, and with that blessed the youth and dismissed him and his family, Amdir and his mother following after as they left the Hall of Kings.
The next case to come before the King was that of another youth, this one of about nineteen summers, who had recently managed to retrieve the coin purse of a matron who’d had the purse cut from her waist while she was in the market place in the Third Circle. The details of this achievement were related by one of the market place guards, who proudly proclaimed that the youth in question had become well beloved by those who saw to the orderliness of the market, as this was the thirteenth time this particular young Man had managed to return a stolen purse or scrip to its rightful owner. Unfortunately, only one time had the one who had actually committed the crime been apprehended, although he’d already hidden his ill-gotten gains so as not to be found with stolen money or goods upon his person.
Andred was not certain what to think about this youth, so different from the boy who’d come before. He was dressed in bright, almost jarring colors, in a style intended to draw eyes to himself. As for his expression----
“A self-satisfied lout if ever I saw one,” commented her mother in very low tones.
Andred and Norien were both nodding their agreement to this assessment.
The King had questions to ask as well from his tall throne, to which he’d returned after the departure of Cryon’s party. It was quickly obvious that the questions had not been anticipated by the young Man, who found himself swiftly upon the defensive as his veracity was under scrutiny, while the guardsman who’d accompanied the youth grew increasingly uncertain.
A Mistress Lyoneth was called before the King’s Majesty, and all waited as she was brought forward from elsewhere within the Citadel.
“You are newly come to this chamber?” asked the King.
“Even so, my Lord King,” she answered.
“And where have you waited?”
“I have been in the lesser audience chamber that opens upon the hall that divides the front chambers of the Citadel from the wings in which those who dwell within the Citadel live.”
“And why did you wait there?”
“That when I tell my story it should not be tainted by what others might have said earlier.”
“I ask you to tell those gathered here why you were in the market place in the Third Circle ten days past.”
She nodded. “I am one of the housekeepers who work in the guesthouses in the Sixth Circle. My sister is married to one of the innkeepers of the Second Circle, and often must go into the market place in the Third Circle to choose produce and meats for the kitchens of the inn. Two months past she was accosted by a young Man in a bright costume who asked her questions, insisting that she pay attention to his questions even though he impeded her in her errands. Suddenly she realized that the purse of coin she’d carried in her apron pocket had been taken, and the young Man exclaimed that he’d just seen someone fleeing away. He left her with the admonition that she not move, and ran after the fleeing figure. A market guardsman arrived to find out why she was crying out, and she told him the story. Soon the young Man in bright dress returned, carrying with him her purse. Half of the money it had held was missing. He said that he’d seen the fleeing figure withdrawing some of its contents and stuffing it inside his own clothing. But when he realized he was under pursuit, the figure threw down the purse, and the young Man had picked it up and brought it back to return to her, saying he was sorry that he was not able to return all of her money as well.
“Only she did not believe that the young Man stopped her randomly, but that he did so as to distract her so that the other could more easily take her purse undetected. When the guardsman praised the youth for his willingness to go after the thief and his diligence in returning her purse and half her money, she tried to tell him he was mistaken, but the guardsman would not listen. After he announced he would bring the young Man to the attention of the King as one who cared deeply for the welfare of those who frequented the market, the youth left, and the guard told her that this was the eleventh time this young Man had heroically chased after a cutpurse and had returned the missing item, although it appeared that every time he did so some of the money the purse or scrip had contained had come up missing.
“My sister could not stop thinking that the youth’s approach to her was deliberate, and I brought her to meet with you as King, and you listened to her without interruption, and finally agreed to put the young Man to the test. You asked if I would serve as a decoy that he might be drawn to, and set one of your personal Guardsmen to work with me to perfect the plan.”
“Please tell us of your experience.”
She told it succinctly, how she had visited the market and examined all of the stalls, stopping to purchase a bun from a baker and later late cherries from a greengrocer. She had purposely left her purse hanging from her belt, and eventually realized that the young Man in the bright shirt was watching her. When another youth came suddenly close and cut her purse from her belt she was sufficiently surprised that she did not cry out at first, but she saw that those assigned to watch for such a situation were each in place so as to keep the cutpurse in view. She was not surprised when the young Man in the bright shirt took off after the thief, nor that when he brought back her purse it was half empty. It was after he had received praise from the market guard named Cotsedain and he’d left the market for his home that she went to the guardhouse at the gate to the Second Circle and the cutpurse was brought there along with what little he’d received from his theft, and he admitted he was one of those who occasionally worked with Maridorn in stealing from those who visited the market there in the Third Circle of the White City.
“I thank you for what you have told us,” the King said. He asked that another person be brought to the Hall of Kings from his personal office, and soon a Man in his early twenties was led in. He named himself Cardonol son of Hedron, who provided the White City with most of the poultry and much of the eggs consumed within its walls. His father had been ill for some months with a wasting disease affecting his left leg, and had been treated within the Houses of Healing in the last month. Hedron would not be able to return to work within the market for at least three more months, so Cardonol and his next younger brother had been assisting their mother Mirideth within the market while their father regained the strength of his leg.
“Have you seen anyone within the room before today?” the King asked.
“Yes, that young Man,” Cardonol said, indicating the youth wearing the brightly colored shirt. “With clothing like this, it is hard to ignore him. It was near to the market where my parents have their stall, and he was with another near in age to him, tall and too thin, long legged, with long, fair hair that needed barbering desperately, with a portion on the back of the head that sought in spite of its length to stand up from the scalp. They were speaking together and casting frequent glances at my mother. At last they appeared to have settled something together, and the long-legged one went off. But Bright-shirt here stayed, circling the market place, always complimenting Guardsman Cotsedain here while avoiding most of the rest of the market guards. I could only imagine the other guards do not think as highly of him as does Cotsedain.”
“Is this true?” the King asked of Cotsedain.
The guard flushed. “Most think Maridorn is shallow, my Lord King. They do not know him as I do.”
The King examined Maridorn’s face for a moment before indicating Cardonol should continue with his tale.
As evening approached, Cardonol had spotted Maridorn at more frequent intervals, obviously spying on the poulterers’ stall. Cardonol’s brother had brought more birds from the farm twice, but they ran out of stock almost a full mark before sunset, and their mother had indicated they would simply close up early. When he saw them beginning to close down the stall, Maridorn had hurried away, and Cardonol had seen him near the workers’ benches speaking with the straw-haired youth again before he returned to where he could watch the poulterers once more.
“My mother left first. She was carrying the cash box and a number of trays she’d commissioned from a woodwright to hold eggs. As she left the area of our market stall, Bright-shirt there made a shrill whistle. As she went by a shop at the edge of the market, Long-legs suddenly stepped out from behind it, running directly into her and knocking her down. The cash box and the trays spilled from her arms. At first Long-legs pretended to be helping her, all apologies. I left my brother to finish closing down the stall and went to assist them. Seeing me approaching, Long-legs shook his head, and suddenly grabbed for the chain on which my mother wears the promise ring her own mother used to wear and pulled it from her neck, scooped up the cash box and Nana’s belt purse that had fallen loose, and fled back behind the shop again. I ran after him, only as I ran out into the walk on the other side of the shop someone tripped me. I cannot be certain, but I believe it was Bright-shirt who did this. Certainly he had begun running after Long-legs by that time—I could see that shirt of his disappearing behind a storage shed as I arose. But by the time I reached the storage shed, I could see neither of them.
“Then I heard a pounding of something against metal, and I followed the sound as best I could. Back in the dooryard of an empty house I could see Long-leg’s head beyond the gate. He was lifting what appeared to be broken masonry and pounding upon something that I could not see. I was about to go forward when someone spoke, so I stayed out of sight.
“ ‘You had best give it up,” the voice said, and Bright-shirt appeared out of the shadows. ‘I must go back if I am to remain the unofficial guardian of the market place. Let me have the box and the necklace, and you may have the belt purse and whatever is within it.’ And so it was done. Bright-shirt left with the box in his hands and the chain and Daernana’s ring upon it shoved inside his shirt. Once I was certain he was gone, I went forward quietly and found Long-legs crouching down, examining what he had poured out upon the ground from the purse. I leapt over the fence and was upon him, holding my hand over his mouth so that he could not cry out, and in moments I had made him my prisoner. I used his own rope belt to bind him, and gathered up my mother’s things and put them back into the purse, then forced him down to the gate to the Second Circle, where I begged an audience with Lieutenant Rivros so as to give the thief into his hands and to tell him my story. He took the purse as well, and with me as witness, he had the division’s scribe come to take down a full record of what I had seen and done, and then to make a full inventory of what was found within the purse. He was interested when I told him of the interchange between Bright-shirt and Long-legs, and indicated he would see this information forwarded to the Citadel.”
The King indicated that this was enough from Cardonol. Turning to the market guard once more, he asked if Maridorn had returned anything belonging to Mistress Mirideth.
“He brought back the cash box, but nothing else. He stated that the thief must already have hidden what else he’d taken.” Cotsedain’s face was flushed, although whether it was with shame at realizing he’d been cozened or some other reason was not clear.
“And you did not learn that Mistress Mirideth’s own son had regained his mother’s belt purse?”
“This is the first time I have heard of this,” the guard answered, glaring at Cardonol.
The cash box was produced by an unnamed Guardsman from the City Guard, along with the belt purse and its contents and the report made by Lieutenant Rivros of the gate between the Second and Third Circles of the city.
Finally two prisoners were produced by the Warden of the prison for the Citadel, and all could see that Cardonol had described the young Man who’d robbed his mother accurately. The other, the one who’d cut the purse from Mistress Lyoneth’s belt, was younger, with a sour expression on his square face. When each admitted that he and Maridorn had been working together for some time on such thefts, it was plain that Maridorn would joining his fellow thieves immediately. When the King indicated these three would remain within the prison for ten days, that on the fifth day they would be branded as thieves, and that on the eleventh day they would be transferred to the marble quarries where they would all labor for ten years, no one was surprised.
Nor was anyone surprised when the Captain of the City Guard appeared on one side of Cotsedain while the head of the Market Guards approached from the other side. Andred found herself smiling as she watched him being marched off, his face now white and perspiring.