Bellakar and the Kin-Strife
Copyright Eric Dubourg ©2001
Edited by Joe Mandala and Chris Seeman for The Guild Companion
Since the days of King Narmacil of Gondor, the glory and prosperity that the Tumakveh had reaped under the Ship-kings had come to depend on the Captain of Ships in Pelargir. Like his son and grandson after him, Calimehtar used his position to foster Gondor's maritime interests and allies in the South. The political rift born in 1240 by Narmacil's separation of Gondor's naval and land forces was never healed, however, and instead produced a civil war: the Kin-strife. The Tumakveh took no part in this conflict, but they were not indifferent to its outcome.
In 1250 (two years after his great victory over the Easterlings that won him the sobriquet Rómendacil) Minalcar, nephew of King Narmacil and now Karma-kundo (Regent of the Realm), sent his son Valacar as an ambassador to the court of Vidugavia, his Northman ally in Rhovanion. Valacar's mission was to strengthen ties between his father and the Northmen as a counterbalance to the Captain of Ships' solicitations among the powers of the South. Valacar went far beyond his father's intentions, sealing Vidugavia's friendship by marrying his daughter, Vidumavi.
Rómendacil "gave his consent to the marriage. He could not forbid it or refuse to recognize it without earning the enmity of Vidugavia. Indeed all the Northmen would have been angered, and those in his service would have been no longer to be trusted (HoMe XII.260)." All the same, it was a bold move on the Karma-kundo's part, demonstrating how far he was willing to escalate his rivalry with Calimehtar his brother. As yet there was no criticism of the union in Gondor, though it was a novelty for a member of the royal house (and one who was destined to wear the Winged Crown and bear sons to succeed him) to wed one of lesser and alien race.
The propaganda value of this act became a weapon in the hands of Rómendacil's critics when, after he himself had become king, his son's wife died of old age, leaving him vulnerable to the charge of weakening the blood of Anárion's line in the service of political expediency. This became the rallying cry of Pelargir during the reign of Valacar, who endeavored to weaken the Captain of Ships' power in Lebennin by supplanting local governing and military authorities with Northmen loyal to the crown. This provoked rioting and popular unrest throughout Gondor's seaward provinces.
The King of Bellakar at this time was Êruhil the Virtuous, son of Urshuzîr (who perished in the First Tulwang Campaign thirty-three years earlier). Êruhil had succeeded his grandfather, Sakalthôr, to the Tumakveh throne in 1422 at the age of 34, just two years before the last benighted attempt of the Thôn an-Khârlôkh to capture Tulwang. Since that time, Êruhil had enjoyed nearly a decade of peaceful rule.
Like all Tumakveh rulers in recent memory, Êruhil was well informed of developments in Gondor due to the regular movement of merchants and other northern travelers through Bellakarian waters (in addition to the normal round of diplomatic exchanges). The escalation of tensions between the Gondorian king and the Captain of Ships in the last years of Valacar's reign caused Êruhil to take a more active interest in events in the North. If civil war were to break out in Gondor between Bellakar's patrons and a monarchy that was increasingly cold-shouldered towards Gondor's maritime allies, the outcome could have serious ramifications - either positive or negative - for Bellakar's hegemony in the South.
When Valacar died in 1432, Castamir, the Captain of Ships, banded together with other members of the royal house to demand the abdication of Valacar's half-Northman son, Eldacar (hoping thereby to seize the kingship for the descendants of Calimehtar): "'Vinitharya is his right name,' they said. 'Let him go back to the land where it belongs!' (HoMe XII.261)." But Eldacar was defiant; the confederates who opposed him responded by gathering an army and marching against him.
So began the Kin-strife. Hostilities commenced in spring of the following year and concluded with the expulsion of Eldacar from Osgiliath late in 1437. Eldacar and his remaining supporters fled into exile in Rhovanion, and before the end of the year the victorious confederates proclaimed Castamir the 22nd King of Gondor. Many in Bellakar breathed a sigh of relief at this news. With the Winged Crown borne upon the brow of Calimehtar's grandson, the Tumakveh's hard-won alliance with the Ship-kings would remain strong and secure. A delegation led by the Asapthubêth of Korlea was sent to Gondor the next year to confirm this.
As the years passed, however, it gradually came to the notice of the Bellakarâni that Castamir's victory had not been complete. Although well loved by the people of the coasts and of Pelargir and Umbar, Castamir's harsh treatment of Eldacar's former supporters succeeded only in further alienating the northern reaches of his realm. By 1443, discontent had found inroads even in the King's home province of Lebennin.
Most of these rabble-rousers were rounded up by Castamir's mercenaries, with the help of his secret police, the Cornaran. A few made a rather narrow escape on a swift vessel owned by Caldir, a nobleman from Belfalas (one of the ringleaders of the disturbance), but their egress was espied by the Cornaran and the king's coastal patrol ships were dispatched to hunt them down. Before Castamir's men could capture the fugitives, however, they came across another vessel, a Bellakarian merchant ship whose captain, Azrubêl, offered to take them under his protection. Grateful for this unlooked-for kindness, the desperate men entrusted their lives to Azrubêl, abandoning Caldir's ship to the waves.
Faithful to his word, Azrubêl concealed the Gondorians in his ship's hold, so that when Castamir's naval patrol boarded him to search for the stowaways they found no one. When the danger was past, the fugitives asked Azrubêl why he had offered to save them (anticipating that he would demand payment). The merchant answered: "The price of your lives is that you must accompany me to a far country and unburden your grief to a stranger."
For several years now Azrubêl had been one of King Êruhil's chief sources of intelligence on Gondorian affairs. He often sojourned in Pelargir during the storm season and was concerned that the Tumakveh be accurately informed about the (eroding) stability of Castamir's reign. Who better to testify to this than its chief instigators?
To their great surprise, a month later Caldir and his companions found themselves standing before the Tumakveh king in Nîlûlondê. Êruhil bade them speak candidly to him of the strength of the resistance against Castamir, and of Eldacar's chances of winning back the throne. Then Caldir spoke at length of the oppressiveness of Castamir's rule, and of the spread of dissidence, and of their hopes for their true King's return. But of Eldacar himself Caldir of Belfalas would reveal nothing, either because in truth he knew nothing certain, or because he was sworn to an oath of secrecy, as were many of Eldacar's loyalists.
"But why do you question us, Tumakveh King?" asked Caldir. "Do you purpose now to hand us over to your mighty ally as proof of your faith with him, or do you merely hope to appear wise and benevolent against the day of Eldacar's return?"
The other Gondorian fugitives were taken aback by the frankness of Caldir's challenge and feared that his words would anger the King, but Êruhil answered with equal candor: "A wise king will seek knowledge of all that passes in the realm of Gondor, whether in war or in peace. As for Castamir, there has been friendship between the Tumakveh and the House of Calimehtar for two hundred years. The Captain of Ships has always remembered our alliance with Gondor while its kings became forgetful. But we did not make Castamir your king, nor have we ever perpetrated upon a Gondorian the things you say Castamir has done. As for Eldacar, we know him not. But if the Elendili choose him as their king, we shall not speak against it. The Winged Crown of Anárion is not for the Tumakveh to give or to take away from any man, just as it is not the place of the sons of Anárion to judge who among the Tumakveh should rule in Bellakar. But if ever you behold this Eldacar for whom you hope, you shall say this to him: 'By the Tumakveh alone are Gondor's sea-lanes defended against the Shadow in the South. If you would preserve your realm, forget not the swords of the Bellakarâni.'"
Then the king turned to Azrubêl: "We thank you for being ever watchful of our interests. If you would earn still more gratitude, we pray you return our allies to their homeland, if they will, so that they might continue their struggle. And if you or any of my subjects sojourning in the North should see fit to act on their behalf, they may do so."
Looking back at this policy from the tumultuous time that would follow after, many called Êruhil's words courageous. Others regarded them as a betrayal of the Tumakveh Clan's honor. But whatever judgment hindsight might pass, this much was undeniable: the King's response to Caldir embraced all of the contradictions and uncertainties that would plague Bellakar in the years to come.