Quenta Roqueni, Book One
THE THIEVES OF METRAITH
An Adventure in Middle-earth*
Chapter XVII: Blue Oak Diversions
The seven companions rode back towards the Blue Oak through pleasantly cool night air amid alternating pools of lamplight and shadow. Jiff and Phillip, relieved to be out of the oppressive stone fortress, kept the others laughing with tales of wild exploits. At the Blue Oak they found a welcoming committee, a pair of guardsmen sent to hold their rooms and remind them about the morning carriage. The groom and his boys collected their horses with much bowing and chattering about the lords important business at the Thalion while the pot-bellied innkeeper greeted them from the front porch. Once inside, the companions sat down to a late dinner while Mariah the cook and her serving girls fussed over them. While the meal might have been cold dregs now compared to earlier, it was still very good; Mariahs talents were obvious.
Soon thereafter, Carangil rose and smiled. "Good night, gentlemen. If you plan to stay up longer, enjoy your entertainment. I think a good nights rest will sharpen my mind for the morning. Oh, I think we should dress as formally as possible; I will wear my good surcoat and mail."
"Ah ... ." Jiff looked worried. "I dont really have any smart clothes ... . I might need to borrow some, or else go shopping!"
"I fear you and I are not the same size," Carangil grinned. "Neither are any of the rest of us. Fear not; I will speak to the innkeeper on your behalf. Gentlemen, may the Stars guard your rest and the rising Sun kiss you awake."
The others laughed and returned Carangils farewell in their own fashions. He spoke to the innkeeper, then went upstairs; they sought their own diversions. Kirdan and Elenárion hoisted mulled wines and soon sat enthralled by Aeglorias tales of the Greenwood. Berek raided the kitchens firewood bin for a suitable log, then sat down again, happily carving and adding occasional detail to Aeglorias tales. Phillip preferred another diversion. He wasted no time in chatting up the minstrels pretty assistant, and cheered her good but not perfect performances loudly. Jiff was torn for a moment between joining his cousin or the older men, but soon fascination with Bereks skilled carving and Aeglorias stories won him over. Soon the innkeepers pleasingly plump wife (who was not Mistress Mariah, they noted, though maybe her sister or cousin) bustled over to the table. She fussed over measuring Jiff, promising something suitable for the "great lords young friend" by morning, but her work slowed as she too fell under the spell of Aeglorias enchanting voice.
Bereks knife caressed the wood. Jiff soon saw a little scene appear on the side of the log. In the hollow created by the knife two blocks stood out, one small, one big. Gradually the blocks became figures, bent over and somehow in motion. Putting aside his knife, Berek pulled out a small, slim tool Jiff had never seen before. At its very end was a keen but small blade that Berek used to chip off very small pieces of wood, reaching in and out of the now hollowed portion of the log. Soon the scene became clear: Two figures were running, one small in front, and one big following. With an outstretched hand, the big figure was already touching the small one, holding it and stopping its flight. Although the figures did not really have faces, it was clear to Jiff that this scene was Kirdan chasing down Frolo in the streets. Laying away his tool for a short rest, Berek looked up. "Hmmm, friend Jiff, what do you thinksomething to remind young Frolo of the arm of Justice?" Taking up his knife again, Berek continued to decorate the log.
Phillip entered the Inn once more and looked around, smiling. His evening was going well. Sharrë, the young minstrel, and he had got along so well that she had asked him to escort her home, albeit under the distantly watchful eye of her mentor. The honeyed taste of a feathery kiss lingered on his lips even now, and her words held interesting promises for the future, but ... . He passed Elenárion and Kirdan heading upstairs and waved, then saw Jiff, Berek, and Aeglorias still sitting at their table, with Berek still carving. He went to the bar and ordered Butterbur Stout, a fine, heady dark ale from Bree for which he had a certain fondness. As he sighed with the pure pleasure of it all, he looked around to notice two very beautiful "ladies" nearby staring at him and smiling.
Now thats more like it, Phillip thought. He walked over to the "ladies" and introduced himself. After several minutes of talking, Phillip glanced back towards the tables and thought that Jiff looked bored. (In fact, he had fallen into a waking dream of Elves, bears, and the vast forest.) Phillip told the "ladies" about his cousin. The blonde looked over. "Hes kinda cute. You sure hes of age?" she giggled. Phillip laughed, waved to get Jiffs attention, and motioned for him to come over.
Jiff "awoke" with a start and saw Phillips wave. He smiled and thought, Oh, dear ... . What is my cousin playing at? I suppose I should go and check ... I wouldve thought hed learned his lesson with the young ladies in that inn back home a while ago!
As Jiff closed on his cousin and the two "ladies," he noticed the hungry look on the blondes face, and he felt a trickle of cold sweat on his back. My, my, how does Phillip manage to look so cool? I suppose it comes with habit ... .
In his corner, Berek smiled at Jiffs awkward movements towards the "ladies." Was there something familiar about them? Hmmm ... I suppose he has to learn for himself about that...
Phillip introduced Jiff. "Ladies, this is my cousin, Jiff. Jiff, this is Amanda," he waved to the brunette, "and Rachel," he waved to the blonde. "I was telling these ladies how we got here and they wanted to meet you." Phillip winked at Jiff, then said, "What say you we take a walk? Its a beautiful night and and a walk tonight with you two ladies would just add to the beauty." Phillip stood and held his hand out to Amanda . In answer, the "lady" giggled and let her hand "fall" into Phillips ... . Rachel had to be more assertive, for Jiff was less at ease. They then rose to leave the inn, Jiff with an uneasy air, Phillip with the quiet confidence of one accustomed to such situations. As they were walking out, Phillip noticed Berek still sitting and turned to Amanda, "You wouldnt have another friend, would you? Hmmm . Never mind." Phillip mumbled something to himself and waved to Berek as they left.
* * *
After the others left, Berek put away his carving and addressed Aeglorias. "Hmmm, Master Aeglorias, now that the amulet is recovered and tomorrow Mich will be accused on its theft as well... hmm ... is there anything you can tell me about it, apart that it comes from the Elven Rangers of Greenwood?"
Aeglorias smiled at the big man, and looked thoughtful for some time. After a while, he said, "Berek, I think your family has a long history of friendship with my people, even though you apparently have forgotten it. You probably dont know it, but some of our friendships with Mannish lines go back to the First Age, when Elves and Mortals fought against the Great Enemy... Anyway, you know that your people descend from the first Edain to meet the Elves then, and that your ancestors were allied with us at that time. I cannot tell you for sure, Berek, but I would not be surprised to learn that the Elf that your grandfather saved had been connected to your family for a long time. But this is mere speculation, Berek, and you will have to find answers for yourself!" Aeglorias paused to collect his thoughts, and then added, "Your amulet is of Elven make, as you know, and it was forged long ago by our smiths to help our Rangers in their tasks. It has many properties . One of them is to calm foes, as you know; another one would signal you to our sentinels in Greenwood. But if you want to learn more, you should come to my Kings court, for I am a mere Ranger, no master of arcane lore ..."
"Hmmm ..." Berek seemed lost in thought, then replied. "I would like to learn more, Master Aeglorias, for if there is a bond it should not be forgotten..." Then Bereks face darkened. "Nor should the fact that my people failed to stand against the enemy, turning our backs in times of need from our alli... Our shame is still deep, our sorrow even deeper... But then we turned back to the righteous path, and our leaders received a blessing unique to us, the Beijabar, the people of the Bear." His voice became both deep and proud. "It is a constant reminder to our leaders to fight the enemy and to live in harmony with nature. But, hmmm a blessing can be a curse, as the wise often say and I do know."
Aeglorias looked somewhat uneasy when Berek reminded him of the failing of the House of Bëor. Obviously, the Elf considered himself guilty of having awakened the recollections in Berek's memory. "We will speak again," he whispered under his breath, and then, in a rare move, patted the distracted Beijabar's hand. Downing his near-full mug, Berek seemed unaware of his environment as he silently grumbled to himself.
Chapter XVIII: Judgement Day
For once, the night passed as well as Phillip and Jiff could wish... no late-night encounters with an unfriendly knife, no bad surprises with the "ladies". On the other hand, when they heard Kirdans voice through the door the next morning, they found it quite hard to leave the cozy, warm beds they had slept in so briefly.
From Jiffs perspective, things quickly went from bad to worse (though it was just another challenge to Phillip), as the pleasingly plump innkeepers wife and her two daughters bustled into the room bearing Jiffs freshly tailored clothes. "Good morning, good Master Jiff," she grinned broadly. "As promised, something suitable for your meeting with great lords. Come, come, up you go; times wasting." For a moment Jiff even forgot to be embarrassed as she displayed a new tunic in rich mustard and a jacket in brown velvet trimmed in gold, embroidered on the breast with the half-sun rising from water in gold thread.
Recovering from his shock, Jiff quickly turned a brighter crimson than the blouse worn by the innkeepers youngest daughter... Looking again at the marvelous clothing, he began, "Mistress . From whom do you bring such fine clothing?"
"Why, the Lord Carangil, of course," she replied, gazing at the foursome in open disapproval.
"Mistress... I thank you for bringing me such marvelous clothes, and I must remember to thank Carangil for arranging them on such short notice! If you will leave now, I will dress. Will you please inform our companions that my cousin and I will be joining them shortlywont we, Cousin?"
"Who? What?" Phillip said while sitting up, barely able to open his eyes.
"As you wish, but please hurry, Masters," the matron said with a hint of frost, then glared at her giggling daughters and ushered them out of the room. "The carriage will come soon."
Turning once more to look at the bed to which he felt compelled to return, Jiff apologized to Rachel, "Its important for me and my cousin to be present for the trials conclusion today." She nodded and stretched luxuriously, and Jiff had to turn away quickly or forget his purpose once more. He made quick use of the basin of water and soap provided in the corner of the room and dressed in the fine clothing brought to him, bundling his usual clothes into his bag, before urging Phillip once more, "Get a wriggle on, Phillip!" He left to meet with the others downstairs.
"Im comin, Im comin" Phillip grumbled.
It did not take long for the remaining companions to hear about the commotion raised by the landladys entrance into the room occupied by Phillip, Jiff, and their two lady-friends; they alternated between chuckling over their breakfasts and light-hearted disapproval. A few minutes later Jiff descended the stairway into the dining room dressed in the fine suit which, although not wholly tailor-made for him, fitted rather well. In stark contrast to this marvelous sight were the shoes Jiff woreyears out of fashion and extremely scuffed.
When he saw the young Jiff so fashionably clothed, Berek hmmmed in an approving way, then abruptly stopped when he saw the shoes. Hmmm, he thought, the shirt does suit young Jiff, no doubt, but the shoes . Why did he keep the old ones? Perhaps they fit him even better. He smiled silently. The Beijabar himself had changed, too; he was not wearing the woolen shirt but a leather vest instead. Additionally, he was wearing a black and sparsely ornamented leather thong around his head to hold back his hair. He had left behind his axe and leaned upon his spear, waiting for the company to leave.
Jiff joined the others hearty breakfast, but he was quieter than normal, as if he were present in little more than body only. "I thank you, Lord Carangil, for the clothing. To what sum am I now indebted to you?"
Carangil replied, "You are welcome, Jiff. As to the money, Kirdan has the records, but do not worry about it now. I see Mistress Hannah has served you wellbut did she forget the new boots?"
"Thank you, Sir!" Jiff replied. "I will be sure to repay you as soon as you so desire. As for the boots, they were indeed a marvelous pair, but I am reluctant to wear any boots but thesethey were a gift to me many years ago from a very special person. I am extremely reluctant to wear anything else, but please do not take this as a sign of ingratitude. I am indebted to you for arranging what I myself forgot to!"
"I see," Carangil replied with a strange smile. Actually, I do nothow could a pair of boots have such sentimental value? Jewelry, now, or a ladys favor . I suppose they could be that. "Well, then, we still have a few minutes, so why dont we see what Mistress Hannah can do with your favorite pair? Kirdan can keep the new pair for later."
"As you wish, sire," the young squire took the boots and packed them neatly in his pack, having to remove and repack some of the other items inside.
"Maybe one day, sirs, the real value of these boots will demonstrate itself, but until then all I have is a story, which very few people tend to hear and believe to be true!" Jiff grinned.
"Really?" Carangil looked intrigued. "Well, then, it will make a good story for the road north."
"Indeed it will, Sir, if you and our companions will hear it with an open mind, I will gladly tell the tale," Jiff replied.
And so, as Carangil and Kirdan laughed and shared a last sweet pastry (a local specialty new to them), a pretty maid did her best to revive Jiffs favorite boots. She did well, for several years hard use appeared to fade away under her care; Jiff was suitably impressed.
As the yawning Phillip meandered down the stairs, a cold gust of wind from the front door shocked him fully awake (for the moment). Two guardsmen in dripping cloaks bustled toward the dining room past the innkeeper and a groom who struggled to shut the door against the wind. "We have come for the Roquen Elenárion and his companions," a gruff voice boomed.
"And we thank you for your timely arrival in such inclement weather, Guardsman," Carangil replied for Elenárion. "Coming, gentlemen?" Carangil scooped up several more pastries and handed them to a startled Phillip before donning his cloak to face the rain. The seven companions did not have to face it long, however, unlike the guards. Lieutenant Gailen had sent a covered coach, so the companions were crowded but dry.
* * *
Back in the Blue Oak Inn, Amanda and Rachel shared a secret smile. Using the distraction provided by the companions departure, they crept away in concealing cloaks. Once out of sight, they made their way to a large house Berek and Aeglorias would have recognized immediately. "We did what you asked, Zeuga," Amanda whispered to her eagerly waiting mistress once inside. "Those two boys sang like nightingales once convinced. The hunters trail went straight to Mich, all right, but from there it seems to have wandered off towards Tharbad - into thin air."
"Youve done well, my daughters," Zeuga grinned broadly, though the smile did not reach her eyes. "That fool Mich should've known better than to try to keep Elf-magic. Oh well, we can always find another fool - they're plentiful." Feminine laughter rang out into the rain.
* * *
The Thalion loomed forbiddingly under the grey, weeping skies, but Lieutenant Gailens welcome was warm. His attire, however, caught the companions off-guard, for he was not wearing the officers uniform of the previous day. Instead, he wore a surcoat in black relieved only by the badge of Ostoher of Cardolan in silver, and a black mantle trimmed in ermine. He also carried in the crook of his left arm a sceptre-like black rod topped by the same silver badge. "Whats all this, Gailen?" Carangil asked while clasping Gailens wrist.
"The uniform of the day," he smiled wryly. Upon seeing Carangils quizzical expression, he explained, "My full title is Lieutenant of Metraith; I am the principal governor for this district. I do command the Thalion garrison, true, but I am also prefect and magistrate."
"I see," said Carangil, obviously surprised. "So are the trials then just formalities? You already know all the details."
"Not all, but most, I hope," Gailen nodded. "The trials are necessary formalities. Frolo must be tried first, for his testimony damns Mich and Merta, who will be tried together as their crimes are linked. I know you still have questions for Mich, and you will be able to ask them."
"You have been more than kind, my Lord Lieutenant of Metraith," Carangil smiled.
"Thank you," Gailen replied. "Are you still inclined to take Frolo into your service?"
"I am," Carangil nodded. "Most of my companions are in favor, and even Sir Elenárion is not opposed."
Elenárion shrugged and said gruffly, "Well, Carangil, if youre really of a mind to take this underage Halfling along, I suppose thats your problem. Do what you will with him."
Berek shook his head slowly and said gruffly, "I still do not think we offer him a, hmmm good choice . He should stay with his family and not go questing. His quest should be to find honesty by honest work, and self-respect by respecting the towns laws he has violated. But you town-people are strange to me in your justice, so I will not speak of it further." He crossed his arms and was clearly not willing to discuss the topic again.
Carangil bowed his head briefly in acknowledgement, then said, "That brings us back to letting him choose which master to serve. Friend Berek, I understand your concerns, and I will make sure Frolo understands them too before he makes his decision."
"Very well, this boy at least will learn the meaning of the word justice," Gailen replied, while smiling at the two knights of the group. "He will not pay for the crimes of others, and thats all I could hope for." Then the Lieutenant smiled a frank smile that recalled his own young age. As Carangil and Elenárion looked at him very seriously, he recomposed his face and bearings. "Very well," he said once more, "let us proceed." The sergeant from the previous day opened the door for Gailen, who, flanked by a squad of guardsmen, led the procession to the Thalions courtroom.
"Hear ye, hear ye, all rise!" bellowed the massive Dúnadan who stood beside the door. He was armed from head to toe in black-lacquered mail and bore a greatsword with its black blade bared. "The Court of the Thalion is now in session! Executing justice in the name of His Royal Highness, Ostoher Minalcarion, Sovereign Lord of Cardolan, presides His Excellency, Gailen Galdúnion, Lieutenant of Metraith." By the time the swordsman finished, Gailen had reached his high seat and the companions had been escorted to seats near the front of the gallery. Glancing around, Carangil spotted a contingent of half a dozen Dunmen led by Drukha and Rogda, Karnouk and his sons, and a few servants from the Fattened Ewe among the soldiers and officials from the Thalion.
"You may be seated," Gailen commanded, his presence amplified by the setting. "The Court now pleases to hear the case of Frolo son of Karlo." The rear door opened and Frolo walked in, flanked by a single guard. He swore the oath of truth by Ilúvatar and the Valar, then proceeded to tell his story for the record. When he was finished, Gailen intoned, "Frolo son of Karlo, you have confessed to several counts of forced entry, grand theft, and conspiracy upon at least three occasions, and one count of evading arrest. Nevertheless, this Court finds mitigation in the circumstances of your youth and the facts that you acted under threat of extortion, then co-operated with the criminal investigation. The Court chooses to defer sentencing until a later hour, so for the time being, seat the defendant with his family.
"The Court now pleases to hear the cases of Michar Mich Lûcharion and his wife, Merta Carnelien." The rear door opened again, and Mich and Merta entered; although not restrained, fully half a dozen guards flanked them. "Michar Mich Lûcharion, you stand confessed of a host of crimes, the most serious of which include multiple counts of solicitation of criminal activity by extortion, receiving stolen property, the corruption of a minor, and conspiracy. Merta Carnelien, you stand confessed of multiple counts of aiding and abetting criminal activity. The scribe will now read the interrogation record." At Gailens instruction, the scribe (a thin, balding Man of indeterminate ancestry with permanently ink-stained fingers) read from a scroll; most of the details were familiar to the companions from Michs arrest.
"The Court now recognizes Hir Carangil Anrohirion Dácilion of Gondor, representing the parties wronged." Gailen gestured with his rod.
Carangil rose and gave Gailen a small bow, his left hand on his sword hilt and his right across his chest. "I thank the Court," he replied and moved to face Mich. "I still have questions for you to answer, Mich. To begin, why did you steal, or have someone else steal for you, in the first place?"
"The money," he said in a broken tone, glancing sideways at Merta.
"Overreaching greed," Carangil mused. "Why did you make Frolo steal for you?"
Mich shrugged. "He seemed like hed make a good thief, and he knew I could throw his uncle out in the street."
"Did you make anyone else steal for you?" Mich shook his head no.
"Frolo testified to two other thefts. How many thefts have you committed, or made someone else commit?"
"Just the three," Mich moaned.
"How did you choose your targets?" Carangil continued.
"I picked out the ones who looked filthy rich, and were foreigners. I thought theyd be less likely to cause trouble. I guessed wrong on you people," he said bitterly. "I was afraid to send Frolo after you because of your Elf, but I figured those other two big oafs were safe targets. How was I to know youd join forces?" he wailed.
Berek smiled very slowly, turned towards Carangil, then raised his left hand. The audience was stunned for a moment, waiting for a comment, but Berek simply closed his hand, finger by finger, and lowered it again.
"Id think twice about insulting Master Berek, Mich," Carangil warned sternly, "unless you want to hear what he wanted your punishment to be. Now, then, we found some of the items stolen from Sir Elenárion and Master Berek in the hidden drawer of your desk. What happened to the rest of the gold Frolo stole from them?"
"Its gone," Mich sighed.
"Too bad for you," Carangil said dryly. "I have one last question: To whom did you sell your stolen goods? Or in plainer terms, whos your fence?"
"I know some ... people ... in Tharbad. I took the stuff there on one of my monthly trips."
"Tharbad," Carangil echoed, then turned to Gailen. "I am sure that interests the Court. I thank Your Excellency." He saluted and returned to his seat.
"Yes, it does interest this Court," Gailen replied sternly, "and I am sure you will have ample time to tell it of your associates. Mich, your guilt is manifest. In the name of Our Sovereign Lord Ostoher, this Court herewith orders the seizure and confiscation of all your worldly goods. You are further remanded into the custody of the Sceptres Warden of Criminals for a period of one years servitude at hard labour. Furthermore, at the end of that servitude, you will be branded and exiled from the realm of Cardolan for the rest of your natural life. Lastly, as punishment for your attempt to inflame hatred between the Dúnedain and Dunlendings of Metraith, Chief Rogda has pronounced a blood curse upon youenter any Dunnish land, and the hand of any man may strike you without penalty. May the One and the Powers have mercy on your soul, should they see fit.
"Merta, your guilt is also manifest but less direct. In the name of Our Sovereign Lord Ostoher, this Court herewith orders the seizure and confiscation of all your worldly goods save those few personal items the Sceptres Warden of Criminals shall deem you worthy to retain. You are also sentenced to branding and exile from the realm of Cardolan for the rest of your natural life. However, this Court will give you the choice of leaving now or serving the Sceptre for the term of your husbands labor and leaving with him. May the One and the Powers have mercy on your soul, should they see fit."
As the somber tones of Gailens judgement resonated throughout the courtroom, the ashen-faced Mich and Merta were escorted out at spear-point. "Rise, Frolo son of Karlo! It now pleases the court to address the matter of your sentence," Gailen said in tones much less harsh than those used against Mich and Merta. "In the name of Our Sovereign Lord Ostoher, for the purpose of your rehabilitation, this Court herewith orders you to enter a period of service. The nature and duration of this service shall be determined by your choice of two alternatives.
"First, should you choose to serve the Sceptre, you will fulfil such duties as are commensurate to your age and abilities here at the Thalion, for a period no less than five years. Second, should you so choose, Hir Carangil Dácilion has offered to accept your oath of fealty to serve him as ward and page, and perform other duties commensurate to your age and abilities. Such fealty would last until your lord should release you. Both of these alternatives offer opportunities for advancement once your superior deems you rehabilitated, and this Court will give you the space of half an hour to ask questions and make your decision. Choose wisely."
"I will, Your Excellency," Frolo gulped wide-eyed, turning from Gailen to Carangil and back to Karnouk.
"Then this Court stands in recess for half an hour," Gailen intoned, rising; so did everyone else at the swordsmans command. "Master Karnouk, a moment," Gailen said while approaching. "The Sceptre now finds itself in possession of a somewhat disreputable inn and a number of private dwellings. Sirs Carangil and Elenárion have suggested that you might be a fitting tenant to take charge of them for the Sceptre, and I find I concur. What say you?"
"Ah, Master, this is a most generous offer, but I am poor and I could not buy all this property from the Sceptre."
Gailen smiled once more, and then spoke again. "Master Karnouk, the Elders of the Halfling community have spoken well of you, and hinted that some of them could loan you the money you would need to buy the Inn. The Sceptre is also considering the opportunity to allow you to pay what might remain over some time. The interest would be fair," Gailen added as Karnouk looked somewhat uneasy, "for you as well as for the Sceptre."
"My Lord Lieutenant, I will then consult the Halfling Elders, and I hope I will indeed find it possible to take your most generous offer. And, if I dare, I want to thank you for the fair and kind judgement you pronounced towards my nephew ."
Gailen smiled, obviously happy at the prospect of having helped the aging Halfling. "Though I have the utmost respect for the Blue Oak Inn, I am sure Metraith will fare all the better with another fair inn. I am sure you will find the necessary funds, and then you will be able to live a better life." He then turned to go back to his office and said to those near, "This Court is closed. It will open again to hear the decision of Frolo son of Karlo."
While the companions, the Dunmen, and most of the others present relaxed over punch and pastries (unfortunately, not Blue Oak quality), Karnouks family and some other Halflings withdrew to their own consultations. Frolo later came back to the Court in company of his uncle. He looked both excited and contrite, but Carangil and Kirdan exchanged a look that meant that they had understood the boys decision. "We will need some more clothes, Im afraid, my good Kirdan," whispered the young lord.
Kirdan nodded, amused and preoccupied at the same time. Was there not some wisdom in Bereks words? Anyway, he would do his best to serve his master, as always. He nodded silently at his masters face, and then looked thoughtful.
Carangil added, "Things will work out for the best either way."
As Gailen moved to the formal seat, the fully armed bailiff called the room to order once more. Karnouk spoke first, "My Lord, we come back to tell you what my young nephew decided. I only hope he chose wisely and that he will learn and take profit from his choice." He then nodded to Frolo, who spoke in a somewhat frail voice.
"My Lord Lieutenant, I ask you to let me serve Lord Carangil. My uncle, who is wiser than I am and was, tells me I should explain this choice. I am young and sometimes too quick at deciding what to do, but for my own sake, my uncle and me, and the Halfling Elders, though we want to thank you for your generosity and kindness towards me, decided to accept Lord Carangils offer of service."
Karnouk then spoke once more, "Lord Lieutenant, I dont want you to believe we are unfair towards you. It would have been most honorable for Frolo to serve you here, but the Elders pointed that some here in Metraith would find the punishment too light. It is the Elders understanding that Rogda and Drukha also find it most appropriate ."
Gailen looked at both Halflings and then answered, "My Lord Carangil, Masters Rogda and Drukha, Frolo son of Karlo, the Court approves of your decision. So, be it known that Frolo son of Karlo enters the service of Hir Carangil Dácilion this day."
Though he did not utter a word, Bereks face showed clear signs of disapproval. Hmmm he thought, it was not much of a choice for a child a brightly colored box full of promises unspoken weighed against living at his fathers place, sweets against bread May Fate be merciful to you, Frolo, and make Carangil not regret his offer.
Carangil rose, gave Gailen a slight bow, and moved to stand beside Frolo in the dock. "I thank the Court, and pledge to it that I shall not fail in my duties as overlord. Before we continue, Frolo, you must understand that an oath of fealty is a thing of the utmost seriousness, and once taken is almost never released, even unto succeeding generations. Neither is such an oath lightly broken; a man forsworn would find scant mercy in any of the lands of the Free Peoples. Do you understand that?"
Frolo took on a very serious air, obviously not feigned. "I understand, my Lord."
"Very well," Carangil replied. "Let us kneel." He then clasped Frolos hands between his own. "I, Carangil Anrohirion Dácilion of House Dácilion of Gondor, do take this man, Frolo son of Karlo, as vassal, and swear by Ilúvatar, the Valar of Aman, and the memory of Westernesse, to fulfil the duties of liege lord, rewarding valor with honour, faithfulness with friendship, faithlessness with death.
"Now, Frolo, follow me in your oath..."
"I, Frolo son of Karlo, do pledge fealty to Carangil Anrohirion Dácilion, and pledge to deliver faithful and true service for as long as my liege lord shall require. So do I swear by Ilúvatar, the Valar of Aman, and the memory of Westernesse," Frolo said haltingly at Carangils prompting, then smiled timidly up at the far taller man.
Unnoticed by most of the company, Berek slightly shook his head and lowered his eyes. Making a child swear by Ilúvatar himself over a thing he cannot understand...
"Well, young Frolo, our fates are bound now," Carangil said. He led Frolo to his seat beside Kirdan and lowered his voice so as not to interfere with Gailen, who proceeded to some other minor legal matters. "I should think you already know Sir Kirdan. As his family has long served mine, so he now serves me as squire. As you are now my page and ward, you will obey Sir Kirdan as you do me." Carangil smiled to soften that blow. "We shall have a great deal to talk about. Are you happy your uncle decided to take Lieutenant Gailens offer of managing the inn?"
"Most definitely, my Lord," he exclaimed happily, then softened his voice with a sheepish smile. "Im so glad the Ancients loaned him enough money. I dont think he wouldve accepted money from anybody else, you know. This gives him the opportunity to settle his sons. Hes aging, but still young enough to make sure the inn runs well when he gives it to my cousins. Ah I suppose it is too late or too early for me to settle, now!"
Jiff piped up softly, "Frolo, are you having second thoughts regarding your oath already? Or just thinking aloud?"
"N... no," Frolo stuttered, his newly gained confidence and pride vanishing in a moment. "Oh, no! Of course not," he said with an anxious glance towards his liege. "But I think my cousins are lucky but adventure, travel? How many times havent I dreamed of those ." He leaned away a little, his face reddening, and said, "No, Sir, I surely would not I Sir Hir Carangil, I did not want to offend you ." He glanced around like a fugitive until released by Carangil.
"No offence taken, Frolo, this has been a busy and stressful day for all of us. When the Lieutenant adjourns the court, why dont you go back home with your family for tonight. You will need to take your leave from them, for tomorrow we will continue our journey northward. And remember, although this is your last evening at home, it is also your first day in service to House Dácilion." The weight of Carangils whispered words showed clearly in Frolos eyes, but it faded as his liege lord turned to Kirdan. "Kirdan, can you see to the preparation for our departure as well as to the proper outfitting of page Frolo? Mistress Hannah should be able to serve us there once more. Dácilion black with my badge of four red stars on white should do well for livery."
Nodding, Kirdan replied, "Yes, my Lord, I will take care of both. Frolo, I will pick you up at your uncles house in the early morning, so you can help me with the preparations and I can introduce you in the duties of your position."
"Before you go, youngster," Bereks whisper buzzed like a bumblebee, "I have a hmmm gift for you." He presented the carved scene he had made the previous night. "Welcome to your new life, but let this be a reminder of crime, punishment, and mercy."
Frolo accepted the gift with wide eyes and an uncertain "Thank you... Master Berek," then left with his family.
After settling the last legal details, Lieutenant Gailen thanked the witnesses and declared the trial of Frolo and the court session adjourned. He rose and approached the travelers as they bid farewell to the Dunmen. "Gentlemen, I suppose you will be leaving us soon, but if would care to join me for a farewell lunch, I would value your company."
So once more the companions enjoyed the simple but fair food of a Dúnadan officer, except perhaps Jiff, who missed the sweet pastries of the Blue Oak. They chatted of travel plans, comparisons of life in the three remaining Dúnadan realms, and family adventures. As the meal ended, Gailen said, "I hope, then, your memories of Metraith will be more fair than foul."
"I think they will, friend Gailen," Carangil smiled warmly. "I think we took far more from the thieves of Metraith than they did from us! After all, we recovered everything Berek and Elenárion had lost and we all made new friends!"
"To your travels, then," Gailen raised his goblet. "May you find fair weather and good fortune, and return as Fate allows. To luck and life!"
"To luck and life!" they replied to the clinking of goblets, and took their leave. The road north was calling .
Thus ends Book One of Quenta Roqueni. I hope you have enjoyed the series so far, as have I! Book Two is currently in production, so be sure to watch for it in upcoming issues of The Guild Companion. Please post your comments on this story on the Middle-earth or the Fiction Discussion Boards.