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The King's Revels

Tags: Ar-Gimilkhor,  Alphros,  Alkhaszor,  Mikkan,  Varian,  Umar,  Azradi,  Eruphel,  Layla,  Niriel Ar-Minalomi,  Lindare,  Elusul,  Arashen,  Niphredil,  Calenloth,  Conalmir,  Lominzil,  Cristion Tarikhor

Short Summary: Ar-Gimilkhor gets hitched. Party ensues.
Date (real-life): 2011-10-28
Scene Location: Tolcrist, Gondor
 
The Hall of the Sun they call it -- a great west-facing edifice that looks over the sea towards the memory of Numenor. This evening the curtains are drawn back so that the myriad stars can be admired; and below, in imitation of them, what might seem to be a hundred thousand torches have been set upon the hills of Tolcrist. Occasionally their countless lights glint upon the mail of the many warriors set to guard this much-anticipated or much-derided night of matrimony.

If the Tarikhori of old preferred solemnity, their ways have been swept aside by the new; tables are set out for all the robed and masked cadres of Royalists, some writ with merriness, others soured by silence or tension. Unmasked Southrons sit at others: Ar-Gimilkhor's own King's Men, the Corsairs of Seaward, and the companions of Umar of Black Tower. The players are in one corner, and their lilting Umbarean dance-musics fill the hall. The finest of the King-Claimant's own warriors stand on guard duty, resplendent in mail.

So it is that those gathered here await the arrival of the bride and groom, who have been wed in a secret place, or so it is said. Their places sit empty at the greatest table of all, elevated above the others at the far western end of the chamber, the glory of the stars above and below shining behind them. Many other places at the table are empty too, awaiting members of the wedding party, but others are not necessarily: here is a place for Umar of Black Tower, there for Lady Eruphel, here for the chief of the masked Royalists: lords in the likenesses of an Owl, a Vulture, and a Zephyr. And, of course, the guests of honour; those of Gondor who were uninvited and unwilling, but were made to come nonetheless.

The hall buzzes with music and chatter, but there is anticipation too; the hour of arrival draws nigh.


 
In a fresh tabard adorned with tree and heron, Alkhaszor awaits the table being filled, scanning the room with eyes that never stop moving. He is, perhaps oddly, wearing his helm. A heron mask is held in one hand.

 
Elusul Isilrim, knight-admiral of Dol Amroth, captain of the now-destroyed Gaergwing, his face wearing an expression of calm as he looks out over the gathered assembly from his place at the high table.

Wearing the cleaned and mended finery he wore at his arrival on the island to meet Cristion some time ago, the knight is not at all out of place in this setting, though his weakened state is apparent as is his armlessness on his left side.

 Conalmir is looking vaguely uncomfortable; perhaps because he is not in his squire's uniform, perhaps because he is sitting bolt upright - or perhaps because his nose is swollen. He sits beside Sir Elusul.
 
Lominzil sits beside his fellow Squire, relaxed form clad in black. His eyes, lazy-lidded, watch the door, but flicker occasionally to his unwilling Gondorian compatriots.

 
Arashen sits with his companions, swirling a bit of wine in his silver chalice. Gone is the stained shirt worn for so many weeks and in its place a fine tunic of dark blue silk, cut in Southron fashion. He glances at Alkhazsor as he passes him, his lips pressed in a thin line, but offers him a grudging nod. He shifts his regard to the Admiral and his squire. "The day of judgment come at last," he comments.

 
Silent, the young lady Calenloth assembles with her own; her long hair gathered to drape loosely over the bare shoulder of her gifted gown. She is serene, but disinterested, absently picking at her plate while she observes first the men of her party, then moves to consider the various masks.
 
And then...as if by some signal, Alkhaszor leaves the room.

 
In his time mending, Elusul has put much effort into learning to eat with one hand only. He cuts his meat slowly and then spears a piece with his cutting knife and puts it in his mouth. He chews slowly as he watches Alkhaszor leave. Glancing over at Arashen, he nods once.

 
"Your thoughts, lady?" asks Arashen, glancing to the Nimothain woman seated beside him. He follows her gaze for a moment, study the flock assembled for the Pretender's nuptials.

 
"I wonder the reason behind this exercise," Calenloth returns softly to the Telpekhor knight. "Why we must beat witness to this celebration, rather than idle away in our quarters?" She resumes vigil, expressionless again.

 
There comes the sound of marching feet from beyond; silence ripples through the seated Southrons and Royalists, in turn giving way to the scraping of a hundred benches and chairs as they rise to their feet to greet those who have now arrived through the great doors.

"All Hail the King!" comes the cry from the servants and most enthusiastic allies of he named Ar-Gimilkhor, and it is taken up by the others till all Lond Annun resounds; "All Hail the Queen!"

The groom is resplendent as a great Lord of the Dunedain of old -- those of the latter days of Numenor who served fell latter Kings. His fine raiment is of black, gold, and white, and a jewel glimmers upon his brow. Most of those he passes by bow deeply, and he greets them sternly but as kin.

And what of the bride? She walks beside him, hand-in-hand and veiled in the same colours as her husband. Two young handmaidens, also veiled, walk behind her, bearing the immense train of her silken dress.

Behind them comes the remainder of the wedding party. The King's mother and a dozen other men and women who are his closest companions or honoured guests. An even older lady and three acolytes in black and purple, touched by something dread and intangible. And three splendidly terrible warriors: the King's own Knights, clad in finest armour and helmed not as the swans of Dol Amroth but some other creature of flight... a Crow, a Heron, and a Black Eagle.

 
"Vanity?" offers the Telpekhor Knight. He shrugs, takes a draught of his wine and signals a servant for more. "Or more likely a demonstration - unwilling subjects are still subjects..." He trails off as the bride and groom are announced.

He tarries in his seat until the last moment, but reluctantly rises to his feet. No cheer escapes Arashen's lips nor does he bow.

 
Lominzil rises, as one might for a great and terrible man.

But while the hall resounds with praise, he remains silent and steady-eyed on the wedding party.

 "Judgment?" Conalmir repeats. But his attention is drawn away by the applause, and he too rises, to stand. His stern expression seems at odds with the swollen, broken nose - almost it might be comical save for the implacable set of his mouth.

 
A southron comes along behind the dowager queen of Gondor. The man is dressed in the usual colors of his house, but even more resplendently white are they and the slash of black trimmed with crimson is even more impressive, brocaded as it is with red serpents writhing around each other. At the crown of his white turban is a great sapphire, the distinctive mark of Umar ibn Sharif al-Razuli.


Elusul watches this entrance with interest. He rises unsteadily, his eyes flitting over the wedding party until they reach the elder lady amongst them. Isilrim eyes narrow.

 
"Perhaps I should join you in that," Calenloth grimaces, waving towards the empty glass of wine. "Though perhaps I should keep a firm grasp upon my inhibitions this eve."

 
The Heron is agleam in new armour and helm, polished to a mirrored surface. His eyes skim the rumor, settling on one guest after another, pausing longer on the men and women of Gondor, helm not hiding his scowl at Conalmir. But his gaze continues and rests for a moment on a young boy, tended by a nursemaid, scrubbed and clad in black heron and tree tabard, heron mask on his face.

 
Niphredil stands with her table.

But says nothing. The older woman walking close to the bride and groom is observed -- closely -- but not for long. Her eyes are soon for the ceiling, a mask of unreadable thoughts, and then the table-top before her. Her food has been moved about her plate some -- and her wine has been stirred in its cup -- but neither has been properly enjoyed.
 
Clinging to Bessa's hand, Adariel surveys the procession solemnly, a very long and colorful scarf wrapped again and again around her neck.

 
A Lord and Lady in the mimickry of Blackbirds step forth as the wedding party, now halfway to the great table, passes by them. They bow before King and Queen, and the Lady can be heard to say: "You have promised, Ar-Gimilkhor, and so we deliver -- we are yours." And then there is a flash of something silvery, and when the Lord and Lady Blackbird step back, they have cut themselves upon the hand and sworn an oath to the Black Heron in the White Tree.

Now they have reached the foot of the elevated platform in the west, and thus they ascend -- bride and groom first, followed by the elder ladies, then the others. They move to their appointed places, with King and Queen at the very centre, the Queen Mother by his side, Umar by the bride's, and the others spread about. The acolytes in purple and black attend to a great brazier in one corner, murmuring to themselves and scattering incense upon the flames. The eldest lady does not yet sit, though she meets Elusul's eyes. The Crow and Falcon knights take appointed places of guardianship at the back near the windows.

 Findulian stands on the other side of her youngest sister, next to their mother, and her thin face is entirely blank.

 
Ar-Gimilkhor does not yet sit, and so all others remain standing; his eyes go first to those at his table, and he marks them each with his stern gaze, one by one, till at last looking over the hall. It seems that he will speak.

 
Arashen watches the Blackbirds swear their oaths with disapproval. "Or you may need more wine to stomach the rest of these preceedings," he says to Calenloth, his voice low.

The Telpekhor glances at Niphredil, then to her hardly touched food. "Or perhaps food and wine will turn the stomach even more," he adds, addressing both ladies.

He meets Ar-Gimilkhor's gaze when it is brought to bear on him, his expression impassive.


Lominzil's eyes flicker once to Niphredil.

 
Calenloth says nothing in reply but stands beside Arashen, blank and unyielding, though she cannot help but let her eyes wander to the door.

 
Umar takes his appointed place beside the bride. The merchant-prince of Black Tower, mogul of Umbarean commerce, looks out over the assembly and then turns his eyes to look over those maskless guests of Gondor present. He smiles, his brilliant white teeth catching something of the light and shining in contrast to his darker skin.


Elusul wavers as the pretender's gaze passes by.

 Conalmir allows himself one expressionless glance at his sisters, and then lifts his chin to meet Ar-Gimilkhor's eyes. Umar, he ignores.

Adariel fidgets.

 
One hand on the hilt of his sword--whether it is held there ceremoniously or not, Alkhaszor scans the room and does not speak. He seems particularly attentive to what the captives are saying.

 
Niphredil looks to Arashen when his voice bends her way; and as he speaks, her stare regards him closely.

And then she glances away -- her eyes drawn first to Ar-Gimilkhor as he surveys the table, second to the smiling Umar, lastly to Lominzil. When she exhales now, it seems a tired -- troubled, even -- sigh.

 
 From his perch by his nursemaid, the Heron-boy breaks free and scatters across the room, wiggling his way toward the table. And, of course, Calenloth.
 
 
A lifting of the hand stills the murmurings that brood in the hall below, but it is not the King's hand but that of the eldest lady upon the platform. She steps forward to address those gathered, and her voice, though cracked with age, is writ with pride and bitterness, and something far more dread.

"Let it be known that on this Seventeenth Day of the Fourth Month, here upon Tolcrist, he who is named Ar-Gimilkhor, born Alphros anAzulada, scion of the blood of Ar-Salkathor of Numenor and King Tarannon Falastur of Gondor, was wed to Niriel, daughter of Tarlanc of House Tarikhor and Mirewen of House Bragollach, henceforth named Ar-Minalomi, Queen of Gondor, Arnor, and Numenor. May their union last till the Breaking of the World and outshine all others!"

And so an exultant cry rises from the hall; a wonderful sound to those who welcome it, but strange and unsettling for others. It does not last overlong, however, for now the King stills it with a gesture, and his words are simple and he looks to his bride occasionally as he speaks, and his mother too:

"Friends, this is but the first whispers of a great enterprise; one with which we shall outshine Elendil and Umbardacil, outdo all the deeds of heretics, and fulfill the failings of those righteous who went before us." He punctuates this with a glass. "Let us bandy words about no more; they have all been spent. For now, drink and eat, and tomorrow, let us do what we will, and all who oppose us tremble."

And thus he sits, and with a gesture, signals for the players to begin their playing anew.

 
Food is brought out anew by the servants; the cuisine takes on an increasingly celebratory taste, as does the quality of the wine.

 
The Telpekhor Knight's impassivity is broken by surprise. He turns to Elusul, his voice quiet, "Our intelligence was not entirely correct, it seems. Right family, wrong bride."

 
A roast swan, trimmed with lace, is set down before the unmasked Gondorians.

 
Elusul looks over to Arashen, "We suspected the daughter of Lindare according to the intelligence of the knight-herald, correct?" The admiral sits and begins eating again, his expression one of pain.

 
Again, Niphredil's gaze rises to the ceiling. She leans away from Arashen on her chair, as though interested in a conversation in the opposite direction. Her jaw tenses and her arms cross before her chest -- defensively.

 
"We did," confirms the Telpekhor. "It would worry me save that the other was correct."

 
Umar takes his place and looks over to the bride. He raises his cup and then takes a drink before sitting and beginning to eat what is provided.

 
A resounding boom resonates through the Great Hall as someone bangs on the massive double doors with something heavy. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

 
"Wine, please," Calenloth decides, choosing her glass as the platter is presented. She raises the glass to her lips but not in toast, her attention is given completely to the squirming child approaching.

 Conalmir's gaze moves to the ladies near the pretender, lingering on the veiled bride a moment. Then he looks away, face stony. The arrival of the swan only hardens his expression still more; and Findulian, who has been pressed down into her seat by her mother, watches him with alarm.

 
Though the thundering startles many, two of the King's Men move two fling them open; for who could have come hither through the many sentries and guards set against the night without raising an alarm?

 
Lominzil is served swan, but it sits untouched on his plate. As the commotion at the door begins, his hand shifts on the fork, grasping it for action.

Adariel clutches her eldest sister's hand.

 Bessa bends her head murmuring something to the young girl beside her. The elder girl's eyes are frightened, but her posture is one of pride and dignity - and if she keeps her hands in her lap (and holding Adariel), none can see if they tremble.


Azradi comes into the castle from the island outside.
Azradi has arrived.

 
They swing inward with a groan of sturdy wood and iron, revealing a knot of grim corsairs, swarthy soldiers and raven-helmed Knights standing upon the threshold. At their fore is a tall woman bearing a striking resemblance to the groom, naked scimitar in hand:

Azradi anAzulada. And she is girt for war.

The lady of Farside's gray-eyed gaze sweeps the room. A ghost of a smile lights upon her lips and she settles her eyes on the King of Gondor. She sheathes her blade. "My dear brother. Am I late?"

 
Umar picks up a piece of swan-meat, greasy and hot, and plops it into his mouth with his ringed fingers. The southron sees who has arrived and smiles before he starts licking his fingers.


As the thundering sounds on the door, Alkhaszor glances to the king first and then to the doors again, hand on sword hilt. He rests as the King's sister enters, then frown half hidden behind his helm, he makes his way to the King, bending to whisper in the seated man's ear. "... ......it ... ... ... ... ... ... sister ... ..., ... ... she, ..., is ... ... ... ... ... ... ...."

 
Squirming his way through the guest, Mikkan pushes in next to Calenloth, heedless of any disturbance he might cause or drink he might spill. He points to the roasted swans and makes a face. "EW!!! You're going to EAT that?"

 
"Did you become a heron, little one?" Calenloth asks with surprise. Her glass is shattered upon the table at the boy's entrance, but empty, only shards of glass spill upon the table. "I shall not," she answers his question.

 
Elusul looks at the swan and pushes the nearest platter of it aside. He turns then to roast beef and carves off a slice. His eyes divert though to the bride and Lindare down the way, his near kinfolk now so far.

 
"Ulmo's tears," murmurs Lominzil, his voice completely without expression. "All of Umbar's here."

 
Ar-Gimilkhor's head slowly nods at the words whispered into his ear by Alkhaszor; a slight frown is on his face. "Why are you here?" he demands of his sister, evidently displeased by something. "You have flown straight through the nets of Gondor when instead you would be needed upon the other side to close our own upon them--"

It is, however, his new wife who interrupts him to play the peacemaker. Though having never met her sister-in-law, she who was named Niriel and is now Ar-Minalomi has evidently been schooled in these matters. "Lady Azradi," she greets, her face still hidden behind the black veil, not rising from her chair, though perhaps due to the immensity of her dress.

 
Niphredil reaches for her cup.

Quietly -- ever quietly, the lady seems not eager to say a word -- she begins to drink her wine.

 
One seat at the table yet remains empty; Lindare's, for the old woman does not seem to take it. She remains by herself, observing the entrance of the Lady of Farside and other such events, and looking occasionally to her son-in-law, Elusul.

 
"I am!" Mikkan answers, looking up in wide-eyed wonder upon Azradi's entrance. His smile brightens. "For today," he continues to Calenloth, then stretches up to try to poke a finger at the swan on the table, likely not reaching. "Will it swim?"


Alkhaszor remains standing near to the King, eyes behind his helm impassive. He bows to Azradi's entrance.

 
"It will not swim, but it will float," Calenloth's reply is nervous, though the company is welcome. A wave for more wine, she reaches for the boy's fingers, smiling as she pulls them away from the meal. "Who is that?" she asks him softly as he beams to the woman's entrance.

 
Umar seems to note well the king's displeasure, but the merchant is for the moment content to let the king keep it 'in the family'. He takes up his wine and tips it back, gulping down the fluid with abandon. A belch comes forth as he shows his appreciation for Ar-Gimilkhor's table.

 
"Take ease, brother," replies Azradi striding towards the high table and wearing an expression of irritation. "The combined fleets of Seaward and Farside flew here with little information. I ran the blockade to see what awaited us here. If I had found the waters thick with more ships and you besieged, I would..." She glances at the unmasked Gondorians. "Well, the details can be discussed in private."

She arrives at the table, looking down at her brother with a suspiciously sweet smile. "And you are welcome, brother. I was happy to leave my newborn son to come to your aid."

It is then she looks up at the veiled lady. The smile she offers the young woman is genuine. "And you must be my new sister. Welcome to our family. I fear I was never told your name..."

 
"Azradi!!" Mikkan answers the query from Calenloth. Only the boy manages to shout the name across the room, laughing as he does so. "But her baby isn't here."

 
"If you resent the abandonment of your child so much, you have my leave to depart," Ar-Gimilkhor broods, but he is abruptly distracted by the approach of a Lyrebird and his five cloaked armsmen, who comes bearing a gift of a golden conch horn and a promise of fealty.

"Niriel," the bride answers carefully, using the name of her birth. "Please be seated, my Lady, and be at ease..." her eyes wander down to the empty space left by Lindare, on the other side of Ar-Gimilkhor from her, right in the midst of the Gondorian captives.

 
The music hums anew; dances in the Southern style, lascivious by the measure of Gondorian sensitivities, are played and sung by the Umbarean performers in the corner. Some of the more inebriated or celebratory-minded Southrons respond, as do many of a particularly large and merry band of Royalists clad in the mimicry of Flamingos.

Upon the opposite side of the hall, there is a loud murmuring, and then laughter; an immense cake is wheeled in upon a platform -- a baked likeness of the Steward Denethor, his face twisted in the dementedly cheerful expression of a halfwit, wearing a crown too big for his head and clutching his Rod between his legs in a not-so-subtle euphemism.

One of the female Flamingos detaches herself to approach the high table, where she looks over the Gondorian captives in seach of a potential partner... Her gazes pauses on Elusul and his missing arm, Conalmir and his broken nose, and Lominzil and his bruised face. Then she sees the belching Umar, clearly a wealthy man, and approaches him.

"A dance, my lord?" the Flamingo demures.

 
The name means little to Calenloth, but the swirling birds draw a raised eyebrow. She sighs, taking a second wineglass.

 
Another Flamingo -- a middle-aged lady as wide as she is tall -- practically flings herself upon the Telpekhor Knight Arashen. "My lord!" she crows, giving him little choice in the matter. "Dance!"

 
Umar throws down a leg of a bird and smiles at this Flamingo. He bows to her from his seat on the dais of the high table and salutes her with his trademark hand to breast, mouth, and brow. "It is my pleasure." Rising, he comes around and down from the table and joins the Flamingo for a dance.

 
"I'm going back home with her," Mikkan explains. "Gondor is too nasty and I don't have to go."

 
"Gondor is my home, Mikkan," Calenloth replies gently. "I wish you would not speak so unkindly."

Yet despite herself she speaks still. "I shall miss you, certainly."
 
 
His food uneaten, Lominzil sets down his fork and smiles at Niphredil Hlorithain, though it doesn't reach his eyes.

"Though I carried your favor for a time," he says gently, "I don't think we ever danced."

 
Cristion Tarikhor looks down the table at his grandson Conalmir, then to his liege and his new wife, then Azradi. He seems troubled by something, picking at his food. After a moment, he rises and wanders to one of the great western windows, peering out across the sea of lights and darknesses.

 
"Then come with me!" Mikkan says, reaching to try to tug Calenloth by the hand. "The King can take you on his ship or Azradi...and Azradi has a baby now you can play with, too. He can wear my eagle mask. I still have it," he says, holding up the old mask, which he has been holding all this time in one scrunched up fist. "Ask the King!!!" He's loud.

 
Elusul looks up from his wine in horror as Calenloth is being seduced away from his own children by the son of the herald.

 
And Alkhaszor, eyes still roaming restlessly, now drifts over toward the Gondorians, heading toward Lominzil and Conalmir, in fact. "How nice of you to come," he says as he approaches. "And even to adorn your faces in such lovely manners."


'I would,' hisses Azradi to her brother, 'but I intend deliverance to be your wedding gift. Perhaps your bride will appreciate it more than you and you can stay here.' Despite her anger, the lady leans closer to Ar-Gimilkhor and whatever she whispers is offered in their native language and her expression more earnest. "(Adunaic) ... ****** ... ... ... ... ***** ... ... **** ... **** ... ... ... .... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... **** .... ... ...."

Again she smiles at the bride, 'Niriel,' she says softly, 'A pretty name. Thank you for your hospitality.' She turns to leave, pausing to speak quietly with her mother for a moment and offer her a kiss on the cheek.

Then she approaches her seat and the Gondorians.

 Conalmir's gaze follows his grandfather's movements, and his mask of hardness cracks a moment to reveal a deep sorrow. But he glances away, up to Alkhaszor, as the man approaches - with a flicker of eyes towards Azradi, and then back. "We could do no less," he says after a moment; and refuses to look at his fellow squire.

 
The gulp of Niphredil's most recent mouthful of wine is not as graceful as she might like.

She catches the invitation thrown her way; that much is evident when one of the girl's hands near-fumbles with the goblet, and her second raises her palm to her lips to quench a cough. And then she is still. Wide-eyed. A deer before a spear.

A nervous look goes to the throng of dancers and back again. "... Really?"

 
"Mikkan, I cannot," Calenloth replies, panic striking her face as Mikkan's voice grows louder. "Tis not my home... I must return home."

 
A little bemused, Arashen glances to Calenloth and Mikkan before smiling at the Flamingo. "Of course my lady," he says, flashing the woman a polite smile. He bows slightly and leads her off to the dance floor.

 
Whatever Azradi says evidently has some effect upon Ar-Gimilkhor; his dourness does not abate, and he does not offer apology for his unkind greeting, but his head rises and falls in a single slow nod. He half-turns, and the dread Crow-Knight answers his gaze by marching swiftly from the hall.

Niriel Ar-Minalomi herself does not add anything further to the converse; indeed, those are the only words she has uttered thus far, and its eems they will be the only she will speak all night. Her silence does not seem to be the silence of the oppressed or fearful or timid, however, but rather of one who prefers the secrecy of thoughts to the sharing of words.

The sun flashes brightly on the horizon. Night gives way to morning.
 
Lominzil turns to the Herald. He says cheerfully, "Conalmir is a macaw, but he did a poor job with mine. A poor, drab bird am I."

He scans the table, commenting in a low voice to Niphredil, "It's true. Though it is poor music, for a dance. Can we waltz despite the rhythm, do you think?"

 
One of the women in Ar-Gimilkhor's party -- a young lady named Layla -- leans in to speak to Niphredil, for Lominzil's benefit, her opinion entirely unsolicited: "Please dance! You will find the music of the South very... alluring." There is something mischievous, even dangerous, in her words, but then she is more foreign than most here, having the darker skin of the Haradrim.


The Lord Zephyr now joins the King's side from his place further down the table, and he speaks quickly and softly into Ar-Gimilkhor's ear.

 
"A lovely gift to the King and Queen. But tell me," Alkhaszor says, "how is it that such beauty marks came about on two such lovely men of Gondor? One would almost think that you had been fighting. But I am certain the King will repay your gifts in kind. Oh yes, quite certain."


Mikkan looks disappointed, but tries to tug again at Calenloth. "Then ask Azradi. If you're too 'fraid to ask the King. She's his sister."

 Conalmir glances sideways at Calenloth and her youthful importuner. "The lady has other children to care for," he says, almost gently. Back to Alkhaszor, he says, his voice clipped as in anger, "He hit me."

 
Niphredil shuffles uncomfortably on her seat, and her gaze lowers as the young woman adds her support to Lominzil's request -- but all this serves to mould her into a picture of surrender. She places her cup down and -- slowly -- she rises from her chair with a slow, perhaps calming, intake of breath.

Could they waltz despite the rhythm? "Only one way to find out, I suppose."

 
"She is?" Surprise joins the panic upon Calenloth's face. "I could not, Mikkan, I..." A hard swallow seems to bring the beginning of tears to her eyes as Conalmir intercedes upon her behalf.

 
Umar and the Flamingo begin their dance. The man from Black Tower is southron of ancient and noble extraction, his line extending back to bygone days when the ancestors of Razuli the Corsair roamed the desert. This song is known to him and he immediately launches into it with great vigor despite his advanced age.

The dance /is/ alluring. The heat of the desert has been brought to Tolcrist this night.

 
The Princess of Gondor takes her seat, armor clinking as she does so. She beckons to a servant and then settles her gaze on the collection of wounded and wildly dressed Gondorians. "And why are you lot unmasked?"

Her own question is quickly interrupted when her survey of her immediate neighbors rests on Calenloth and the child seated on her lap. "Mikkan, love!" she cries, a joyful smile lighting her face.

 
"Flatterer. And he hit me back," offers Lominzil, smiling again. "It's a regular occurrence."

He rises, and gives no more attention to Alkhaszor, but his hand is extended to take that of Niphredil's.

 
Elusul answers Azradi, seemingly less daunted by the pretender's sister. "My lady, we represent this island's native population and its rightful liage-lords."

 
"Azradi!" Mikkan, not aware of Calenloth's near-tears, tugs at her hand, then breaks away to run to the armored woman for a hug. "Calenloth says she can't come home with us. But daddy said I can go home with you and that Gondor is too mean for me to be there yet."

 
"Creative, yes," Alkhaszor says, laughng at the exchange between the Squires. He turns away, walking toward the King to hear whatever news it is that is being spoken of there.

 
"Truly?" Azradi replies to Elusul, her face lighting with interest. "You are Tarikhor, then? Then we are kin!"

"Now which of my uncle's do you claim as ancestor? Athlenion, Cristion or Gondion?" Her eyes twinkle with mischief, "Oh, I know! The bastard. I've forgotten his name." The Queen Mother frowns at her daughter.

The Princess laughs when the little boy launches himself at her. She wraps her arms around him, warning as she does, "Careful Mikkan, I'm armored. You know how you hate that."

 
Niphredil takes the hand that is offered her and her gaze travels to the nearby Alkhaszor. Her expression gives little suggestion of what her thoughts are on the matter of Conalmir and Lominzil's supposed scuffles; however, despite the reluctance she may have displayed at the prospect of dancing beforehand, she seems willing to get it over with as soon as possible now. Her steps backward are quite prompt, as is the tug that beckons the squire away.

 
Another glass finds her hand as the boy slips to his aunt; Calenloth looks to Conalmir in shock. "What should I do?" she whispers, a tone of defeat.

 Left alone, Conal's attention turns to the conversation between his knight and Azradi. His sisters, across from him, listen but are silent. "Cristion is my grandfather," he offers the conversation. "And theirs." He nods to the three girls, sitting beside his mother.

To Calenloth, he says simply, "Go home."
 
"Finnu," Adariel says to her sister, leaning dejectedly on the arm of her mother. "The music is too loud."

Tugged along by Niphredil, Lominzil has barely time to execute the usual courtly bow, ere he must needs jog to follow.

 
Elusul nods at Conalmir's words and then adds for his own part, "My wife is the twin sister of the lord of the Tarikhori." He glances in the direction of Lindare and adds, "The elder lady down the table is my wife's mother."

 
Mikkan pounds a fist on Azradi's armor. "Daddy got a bird helm and I got a mask," he says, pulling at his own Heron mask. He glances back to Calenloth. "And she has a bird mask, too. But not now."

 
Niphredil does not barrel into the heart of dancing birds, but rather leads her companion across the floor until she is able to locate the closest area with only a few dancing couples scattered about. It is there that she stops, turns and glances downward as she goes about the initial preparation; she is quite daunted -- shy, even -- as she places her free hand upon Lominzil's shoulder. Her head cants to the side a fraction -- the music makes her frown.

Or is it the bruises on the squire's face, which she can now study freely? The Hlorithain's sharp gaze and silence offers no answer.


The Zephyr's converse is long but quick: "... King, ... ... not ... ... ... ... ... ... ... your ... but ... ... ... ... things ... ... ... ... -- ... ... ... ... ... little prepared, ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ..., the ... ... ... ..., the ... Lords, ... ... withhold ... swords out ... a mother's ... ... ... .... ... ... not ... ... ... will ... ... heartlessness ... ... her ... son ... ..., ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .... ... you wish, we ... ... ... to declare ourselves ... ..., and ... begin ... ... ... ... ... ... .... ... Tolcrist ... ..., ... ... ... soon ... ... ...."

Ar-Gimilkhor nods, but says naught in return, yet he seems more pleased now, for his mien lightens. His wife has listened to all this, too, and though her face is hidden, once gets the distinct sense that she too locks away this information. Their whispered congress is interrupted by another Royalist, a Pelican, who bows low before the royal party before loudly presenting them with a gift in a fine wooden box wrapped in silk. When unwrapped, it would appear to be a matching set of eating utensils made of bone (with the addition of silver and black gold where necessary), wrought with truly fine skill. A pair of long knifes, four forks, and two spoons.


"A gift from myself, my King," explains the Pelican with a smile. "And from the Knight-Admiral."

 
Elusul is distracted by talking to Azradi and misses the gift.

 
"I would advise, my liege, sooner rather than later on this matter," Alkhaszor says to the King, of what little he has heard or perhaps knows.

 
"Oh," laughs Azradi, "You have lost me already, Sir Knight."

"I am afraid I know only my uncle's names. My mother has told me stories. But she was gone before they had their own children. I cannot keep the cousins apart; I must rely on my brother for such things."

"Now our relationship I can understand," she says, turning to look at Conalmir. "Your mother or father must be my first cousin, and you a cousin once removed. Does my Uncle still live?"

"Oh and it is a fine mask!" Lady Farside exclaims to the boy. She glances at Calenloth. "And is she your new friend?"

 
Fully now, Calenloth's eyes fixate upon the door. "Home," she repeats softly. "But how?" The question cast to the air, she sinks further in her seat, willing herself invisible.
 
Lominzil is perhaps as reluctant as his dancing-partner, for after a beat his hand hovers at Niphredil's waist, and then there rests.

His gaze far away, the squire hums a soft tune in triple-time, one more suited to the marble floors of Imrahil than the torrid crowd gathered.

 
"Yes," Mikkan nods emphatically, sounding proud as he speaks. "She's a friend and she can fly. And draw. She's going to make me a picture, too."

 
Arashen, meanwhile, is making a good go at politeness and graciousness with his, unfortunately, loquacious dance partner. It doesn't look like the Telpekhor Knight has gotten a word in edgewise since accepting his portly flamingos invitation to dance.

 
Elusul clarifies. "My wife's father is Athlenion, the namesake of my child, no doubt born by now, should he prove to be a boy, and her mother is Lindare, the Lady Erech-Bragollach." A small smile comes to Elusul at the mention of his newest child despite this bandying about of familial relationships with the pretender's sister.

 
The young Southron woman named Layla, who seems of some special close relation to Ar-Gimilkhor, interrupts Elusul and Azradi to grant the latter a very Southern kiss and the former a deadly smile. "It appears you do the King the honour of lending him a hand, my Lord," she deadpans with a dangerous smile.

 
Elusul looks over at this Layla. "Oh, how have I gained the privilege of lending him a hand?"

 
Layla tilts her head towards the bone cutlery upon the table in front of Ar-Gimilkhor.

 "My grandfather is there," Conal says, his voice even, and nods towards Cristion.

 
Elusul is already pale, but he pales further as his eyes fall upon the cutlery and he registers them. The eyes move up to look at Ar-Gimilkhor's and the knight-admiral turns away, his face troubled, pained.

 
"Well she has surpassed me!" exclaims Azradi to Mikkan, her eyes widening. "I can only draw! Has she taken you flying, my little heron?"

She turns to answer Elusul when the dusky Southron girl approaches and kisses her. "Hello, Sweet. I did not know Alphros had brought you here as well. Though I suppose I should have." The King's sister falls silent, then watching the interaction between the girl and the Admiral.

 
Though interested in the Knight's reaction to the set of cutlery, Azradi does turn to look where Conalmir indicates. "Over there? The man brooding out the window?"

 
"Yes!" Mikkan says eagerly. "And maybe we can fly again before we leave. When are we leaving?" he asks. "This place is cold."

 
With her usual escort of personal Serpent Guard detail, Eruphel, Lady of Seaward and Lord of Umbar emerges at last into the room, resplendent in her gray and blue dress with golden trim, her hair coiffed with glittering gems and her white ghostly makeup freshly redone, with red lining around the eyes to match the red dabbed onto her lips. She takes a few moments to gather in the surroundings, paying especial attention to where Ar-Gimilkhor sits with his new bride. Once adjusted to the room, the Lady proceeds to the seat that has been reserved for her. Behind her, among the retinue, is two of her lady companions, each carrying a package wrapped in gold and azure silk and ribbon.

 
Umar returns to his seat at the table beside the bride. The man looks flushed after his dance with the young, shapely Flamingo and he pulls up his cup of wine for a refreshing drink. Looking over to the queen, he smiles and takes another drink.

 
Layla casts a twinkling glance at Azradi, another at Elusul, then she turns and moves away to find a Gondorian dancing partner to shock with her unbelievably flexible hips. She is replaced by a presence as grim as she was mischievous; Lindare.

"My son," she greets her son-in-law, though she looks over to the Lady Eruphel's arrival.

 "Yes," Conal answers, shortly. His gaze, somewhat confused has gone between his knight and the pretender, and then understanding dawns slowly. There is a swift flash of revulsion, and then all expression is locked away once more behind uncompromising resolution.

 
Elusul looks up at Lindare, his expression one of sadness and fear trying to firm up to something more manly. He nods to her and gulps down the horrid taste brought on by seeing the cutlery.

 
"Aye," Ar-Gimilkhor answers Alkhaszor, "Though let us begin the preparations immediately." He nods to the Zephyr-Lord, who turns to leave. "And having your son send over the Lady he speaks with; I would have a word with her while I can." Thus dismissed, he sips from his goblet, eating nothing. With a glance he marks Eruphel's approach.

 
The humming serves to soften the Hlorithain's demeanour some.

Not entirely -- but some.

And then she begins to dance. Some concentration does seem to be required at first -- perhaps it is not in the lady's nature to follow? -- but, despite her expressed dislike of the ritual, her footsteps are light and well-practiced and what she lacks in enthusiasm is not met with an equal lack of rhythm or grace. Eventually, her hand releases the squire's shoulder, is wrung at her side, and is reapplied; from this moment on, the appendage seems more comfortable on its perch.

 
The new woman captivates Azradi's attention. She smiles at Lindare and greets, "Lady Priestess." But stays any further words so this one too might torment the poor armless Admiral. She does not yet notice Eruphel's entrance.

 
"Mikkan!" Alkhaszor calls, striding toward his son after a bow to acknowledge the King's command. "The King wishes you to bring the Lady Calenloth to him. Remember your manners, and I will see you later." His instructions brief, he makes his way through the reception, disappearing.

 
Lindare does not smile back, but then her face has never known smiles. She dips hear head to Azradi in a sign of respect among kin both of the blood and the soul, before glancing across at Conalmir, then to Cristion by the window. She frowns deeply, and mayhap Cristion senses the expression; he glances over, and the turns and slips from the hall on Alkhaszor's heels.

The Lady of the Erech Bragollach looks back. "Faithful Servant," she addresses Azradi, though the title is clearly an honorific rather than demeaning.

 
Eruphel stops by her seat, facing the wedding couple, and she bows her head in respect to each, smiling her painted smile. "Ar-Gimilkhor, and Ar-Minalomi, my congratulations to you both, and my wish goes out to you for long life, and happiness together. May your winters be short, and your separations shorter." Again she bows in a stately manner, then takes her seat.

 Conal half-rises, but sinks back into his seat as his grandfather leaves. And it is Findulian who watches after the old man.

 
It is strange that the owl has been, so far, but an empty seat. Yet there he is in the corner, surrounded by a flock of his fellow birds. His voice has taken a velvetine smoothness and is unencumbered by the tittering laughs for which he is known. And there is the mask of course, but for the occasion it is seen to be a gilded and glittering gold. He saunters away from his company and crosses the room to at last bask in the glory of the King of Gondor.

But it is the King's sister who first catches his attention and leads him to fan his face with a hand, "My, lady. Mine own heart, tis aflutter."

 
Ar-Gimilkhor inclines his head to Eruphel, as does black-veiled and immensley-dressed Niriel Ar-Minalomi by his side. "You do us honour, Lady Eruphel," he answers on both their behalf, ere she has gone to take her seat. He glances to the burdened lady-attendants who followed her.

 
"Me?" Her eyes flutter open, finding herself still among the guests. Calenloth straightens in her seat, again flickering her gaze towards the door, wildly calculating retreat. But the crowds overwhelm any path she might dart and so like a puppet, the arms jerk upwards first, calling the rest with them as she stands to follow direction, pushing her chair backwards to follow her command.

 
Ar-Gimilkhor's unsympathetic gaze shifts from Eruphel's attendants to Calenloth, and he regards the Gondorian woman silently for a moment, as does his speechless Queen.

"Lady Calenloth, yes?" he says simply, and for a moment his eyes twinkle with a strange wisdom that seems reflected in the jewel upon his brow.

 
Lominzil dances, to the tune that is off-rhythm with the music of the Haradrim.

Once, his eyes flare with a cold flame as they observe, gaze situated beyond Niphredil's shoulder, yet his step does not falter, nor his humming wane.

 
Eruphel smiles. "Furthermore," she adds, settling in to her seat, while her ladies instead approach the wedding party, each placing her package in front of the bride and the groom. Only then do they retreat to stand hear the Seaward personal guard. "I have for you presents. Well, my greatest present will be revealed in the next few days or months, but I desired to give you someting more...tangible. You always gave such exotic and elaborate gifts. Mine are less impressive, I fear. But, I hope they are considered just as thoughtful."

 
The new woman captivates Azradi's attention. She smiles at Lindare and greets, "Lady Priestess." But stays any further words so this one too might torment the poor armless Admiral. She does not yet notice Eruphel's entrance.

 
The view beyond Niphredil's shoulder is suddenly blocked by the figure of Layla, who studies the two dancing Gondorians like a leopard studying an oliphaunt.

"By the Great Lord, white ones," she admonishes them in her thickly accented speech, "This is not a funeral!" And so she makes to apply pressure to the small of each of their backs, so they the immediacy of their hips might be greatly increased.

 
"Sir," the reply cordial but demur, as Calenloth turns her grey eyes towards the floor. The curtsey follows, habitual and polite, yet not with fluidity, she rises slowly, the fabric of her corsair gown lacking the give of her normal attire. "I am she," the voice soft, the wine granting more confidence than the girl might have.

 
Azradi bows her head respectfully for just the right amount of time seemly for one of her rank among these of the shared Old Faith.

Just moments after Mikkan runs off to obey his father's orders, a smooth voice sounds beside the King's sister. She turns, regarding the masked man curiously. "Perhaps it is the wine," she replies, smiling slightly. "I am told it can quicken a heart."


And, passing on his way through the crowded reception, the Heron Knight Alkhaszor stops, whispered words put into Eruphel's ear. "... Crow, .... ... ... King ... the ... to ... ...--ere ... gives all ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .... ... oath upon his .... ... must away--... ... word ... trouble I ... ... ...."

 Findulian's small, thin face is pale, but she watches everyone - and everything - she can. Perhaps in this one thing, she is like her cousin who sits veiled beside Ar-Gimilkhor: she prefers to keep her own counsel. Her mother says gently, apropos of nothing at all, "I do hope the beds were aired."
 
 
"Conal," coaxes a little voice. "Say ahh." It's Adariel from across the table, holding a morsel of dinner.

 
The confidence of the owl is held for a moment, stern and proud as a sunken isle; but then, like a tide washing over that isle, his presence is reduced to the playful giggling of a young girl. On that laughter's heels, he says, "Oh, I must have a lock of your hair!" before looking to the armored woman. "Surely, somewhere amidst that collection of metal you have a knife!"

 
Ar-Gimilkhor glances at Calenloth again, and then turns to answer Eruphel as she speaks from her seat. "You are kind, Lady," he says, a little formally. His eyes stray to the packages, and one eyebrow archs. "May you do the honour of explaining what lies within?"

The Gondorian woman he summoned is not excluded from this, though she is now addressed by one of the Royalist Lords from the far end of the table; he who wears the mask of the Vulture. "You are to be entrusted with a task of utmost importance, Lady Calenloth," he says in a dour, aged voice, eyes going to the Seaward Lady's gifts out of curiosity even as he continues speaking over the general hubbub. "For though you are of noble blood, you are not to be held as a hostage for the King, being of less immediate... strategic value?" He says this apologetically. "Rather, as a capable woman of high birth, you are to be entrusted with bargaining for their lives."

 
Besides Calenloth--having tagged along and stayed there--Mikkan looks up at the king. "Does that mean she can stay longer and we can go fly again?"

 Conalmir looks at his little sister - for the 2nd time this evening. His eyes remain hard, but he opens his mouth obediently.

 
Lominzil's expression is noted, and Niphredil's face instinctively turns to see what it is his attention is fixed on -- but finds only Layla. Her brows rise, as in a wordless plea, as she is nudged forward. Her cheeks flush, but her jaw tightens -- and she is more irritated teenager than wilting damsel. "We apologise, my lady," she says, politely enough, though there is little gratitute in her eyes.

She waits a moment -- giving her an opportunity to leave, if she is satisfied with her work. "Is that all?"

 
"Bargaining?" The girl's wariness dissolves quickly to confusion, insecurity... but altogether overwhelming, for she blinks as the lights seem to swell and the crowds suddenly seem to move closer. A shaking step backward, she catches herself with her hand on the back of a chair, breathing quietly as the air clears and her vision sharpens.

"Then tell me, Sir," Calenloth's voice goes stronger as she settles upon her feet, growing braver in her words. "How would you expect me to barter for the lives of my people?"

 
Anger flashes in Azradi's eyes. She stands to her full height, her armor clinking and shifting beneath her silk robes. She stands as tall as many a Gondorian man and taller than many Southrons. "That is a presumptuous request to make of me," she says. "A lover's token? From your King's sister?"

 
A smile plays on Eruphel's lips, and she sits back in her chair, making herself more comfortable. presently a server arrives to fill a goblet for her, but she ignores her. "Certainly, my lord, though you needn't worry, the boxes are safe, and exactly what I say they are. You will find within two identical boxes of polished wood, and inside, a working similar to your Orrery, except it plays music only. Not only that, but you will find each of your boxes play a different tune." She pauses for a moment to let it all sink in. "And I hope you take your boxes with you, to think of the other. However, you will find that when you start them together, their melodies mingle and compliment each other, as I am sure you each will compliment each other, together or separate."

 
Umar, now well fed and not quite sober, but still on his toes, looks up from his seat as he watches from beside the queen the talk of Calenloth going to bargain. He is working now on dainties and he plops one in his mouth and calls, "With your tongue, of course."

 
Lindare remains silent, as she had since the Owl's approach; she watches his discourse with Azradi with great interest, however. Almost equal is the attention she pays to her other kinsman-in-law, Conalmir, over whom she was once Lady as husband to Lord Athelnion.

"You make a fine match, my Lord and Lady," the Priestess of Morgoth comments to the Owl and the Lady of Farside, "Were you not already married," she adds. Lindare turns back to Conalmir. "And you..."

 
Lominzil's breath stops as he is shoved a little closer, muscles taut and resisting, the foot arrested in its graceful pace.

He begins again, though without the music, leaning into the space between them to whisper, "We should go back."

 
Something very Isilrim has sprung to life in the recesses of Elusul with Lindare so near. He watches her with fatalistic fascination.

 
Azradi certainly stands taller than the owl. It is at precisely that moment she stands that he makes a face and turns away to Lindare. "Now, you I know. Lady Lindare," he says, offering the Priestess his bejeweled hand.

 
"Aaaah," Adariel provides the obliging sound, popping a sweetmeat into her eldest sibling's maw. "You're not wearing your scarf," she says disapprovingly.

 
Lindare takes the Owl's hand, but she reverses the grip so that he might be the one to kiss her.

"Why, my Lord," she answers, not smiling, but certainly looking... Please. Or amused. Or predatory. "Were it not for my advanced age and tendency to kill my husbands, I would wed you myself."

 "I am sorry," Conal says gravely to his sister. "I was afraid I would drop food on it and dirty it." He looks up at Lindare. "Yes?"

 
Lindare's suggestion of a fine match breaks Azradi's anger, only to replace it with incredulity. She stares at the old Priestess a moment, then laughs loudly when the other woman speaks to the Owl. "One need not negate the other, lady."

 
Ar-Gimilkhor regards the boxes, and though he does not seem to be one to squeal over boxes, he appears to be pleased. "I shall admire them in private," he answers Eruphel, "When there is no noise such as this to overpower their musics. You are gracious and generous, Lady." He looks at her, and smiles briefly. Ar-Minalomi is silent.

But his attention drifts back to Calenloth behind, where the Vulture is now answering her query: "You will negotiate with them, of course, on our behalf, knowing truly that any failure to meet our demands shall result in the suffering of your friends. But you shall know that, by our King's own oath, if they agree then our friends shall remain unharmed, as befitting the proper rules for the treatment of the nobility. I think," he says, most carrion-like, "That your love for them will translate into a most marvelous diplomatic ability."

 
"Advanced age? Why, I can hardly see the wrinkles," says the owl, looking down at the woman's hand, now offered to him. He leans down to kiss it, ignoring all else but the task at.................................hand.

 
Layla gives a roll of her eyes. "You people of the North are stiffer than spears," she admonishes them both. And so she turns about and wanders back through the crowd towards the great table.

 
"Perhaps," Lindare answers Azradi as the Owl kisses her hand, "But it seems I should be teaching -you- that fine art, for your own matrimony has much displeased your brother the King, and we too of the faithful of Gondor."

She flashes Varian a glance that might be flirty were it not so... evil. Though it is appreciative. Lindare looks down at Conalmir. "But this is all banter. It is you of youth who are the true riddle."

 
The Hlorithain does a decent enough job at following her dance-partner until he speaks of returning to the table. The girl gives no resistance -- however, as she is not able to see her feet at such proximities, her foot does bumble against his boot before she is able to step to a stop. As if she were not embarrassed already, this instance of clumsiness paints her red and has her arms becoming limp in their joints when Layla's parting words are caught by her over-keen ears.

Niphredil aims for nonchalance; she nods her head and glances back toward the table -- and shrugs her shoulders. "If you want." But she is already angry -- angry at what? -- and gesturing for the squire to lead the way. "Go."

 
"Then you would explain to me, so that I am not mistaken," Calenloth replies delicately, to both Vulture and Claimant, "How is it that I am bargaining when solely I present your demands? Would that not make me a courier, rather than a diplomat?"

Perhaps the wine speaks, but the woman stands firmly. "But ask me to negotiate, Sir, and I can grant you discourse that will be heard by my people. But solely as a vessel of your wishes, I cannot guarantee you an audience, for you must forgive my less than strategic value."

 The Tarikhor squire chews and swallows. "Indeed?" he replies politely.

 
Elusul rises from the table. He comes out around and stands in front of the king, his eyes lingering on the boney implements.

 
Eruphel smiles and nods once, hoping perhaps for more enthusiasm, or perhaps just a chance to show off her gift. But the moment is passed, and the deed is done. She reaches for her goblet and takes a few sips, noticing Azradi now over the rim of her cup. She puts it down and rises right away, backing out of her seat so she can go join her.

 
Lindare's suggestion of a fine match breaks Azradi's anger, only to replace it with incredulity. She stares at the old Priestess a moment, then laughs loudly when the other woman speaks to the Owl. "One need not negate the other, lady."

 
The woman's rank within the Faith preserves her from Azradi's ire, or even an expression of irritation. "Of my brother's disappointment, I am aware. He made his feelings clear when I announced my intentions."

"But why would the Faithful of Gondor have a concern? My husband is of our Faith. We were wed in the great Temple of Aglarrama - what is left of it. And though I understand this may be difficult for those of this land to understand, I have married in accordance with the expectations of my people. I have wed a Corsair Lord of high standing and reputation."

 
"We ought not to scatter," says Lominzil matter-of-factly, turning, leading the Hlorithain back to their table.

Pushing through the close crowd, he pauses a little, seeing the owl.

 
The Vulture bows his head. "You know our wishes, my Lady, and you know of the price to be paid if they are not yet met -- if you are able to reach a suitable agreement with Gondor that is satisfying for us, we shall agree to the terms that you have reached. But it is important that you do not mistake the severity of what we demand, and come thinking we will free your friends for a chest of gold and a nice letter from the Prince or the Steward. Blood may not weigh much, but it is very heavy indeed."

The Vulture glances across at Niphredil in the crowd, and Arashen too. "Your Telpekhor Knight and Lady of the Hlorithain in particular, given their immediate relations. You will find the lives of your other friends are more easily bought by pure virtue of the fact that they are fortunate to not be the children of regnant Ladies and Knight-Marshalls. But those two, I'm afraid, shall be kept in special care."

 
Ar-Gimilkhor, who has been peering at the boxes, half-tempted to reach across and open them, now lifts his gaze to Elusul. He raises a brow in silent question, and perhaps in invitation to speak.

 
Elusul watches Ar-Gimilkhor, Isilrim cold-hardness coming to the fore for the first time since their initial meeting. Then he goes.

 
The Telpekhor, ignorant that his fate is being discussed, is facing the torture with his Flamingo that he dodged at the beginning of his captivity. Still she speaks on and on; at the moment about a small lap dog she had when she was twelve.

 
"Your wishes being our subservience, our recognition of the status you claim?" The questions do not cease, as Calenloth does not yield, standing proudly in her unease of dress and candor.

 
Niphredil, however irritated she may be, remains attentive to what direction the squire's attention swings in.

When he notices the owl, her head is quick to turn -- and her eyes are similarly quick to narrow, then flutter forward, to the squire's outline. Suddenly, the girl looks pale and her expression is turned blank and doe-eyed. Her step forward is quicker than her previous, and her arm wraps around the squire's middle from behind with all the ease and speed that was absent while they were dancing. She holds him to her -- bars him? -- for a calming beat.

And then begins to gently nudge him toward the table.

 
Umar has pushed back his chair and is reclining, taking his ease as he half-listens to the conversation between Lord Vulture and the one known as Calenloth. He sips an after-dinner drink made from camel's milk.


Ar-Gimilkhor watches Elusul depart in silence; no King's Man waylays the Knight-Admiral as he takes his leave. But Layla has wandered back behind him during this exchange; she shares a smile with her adoptive father as she sashays past, and an appreciative glance at Umar. The King-Claimant watches her go off in search of entertainment elsewhere, where Eruphel's Seaward Corsairs carouse, before turning to the reclining milk-sipping Umar, something thoughtful in his eyes.

"... ... of ... ... ... ... Layla, though ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ..., ... ... ... ... ... ... ..., ... ... ... ... ward." The King pauses. "... ... ... should progress ..., ... ... ..., ... ... ... of age ... ... ... ... ... ... ... unwelcome, ... ... ... ... to ... your ... ... ...."

 
Lifting himself from Lindare's hand, the golden-masked owl squares two golden irises upon Azradi. If he convulses in his customary tittering laughter, it is only to himself; for his words are like a fine liquor, smooth but harsh.

"What is another Corsair to he who lords over the Gimilzaini?" laughs the owl, his eyes twinkling. "Do your King a favor. Suppress your feminine simplicity and choose that which will benefit him." He pauses, then says, "Not I, though."

 
Umar watches Layla pass by, an appreciating glance given to her retreating figure. Turning back to the king on the other side of the queen, he nods, sitting up. "Such a favorable match allowed by Your Magnificence would be a great honor."

 
Eruphel arrives next to Azradi, gliding quiet as a ghost, enough to startle the woman possibly, depending. "Azradi! How glad I am to see you!" she says, holding out her arms to embrace the Tower Lady. "I am sorry, I've been talking to your brother, and his bride. Though, she doesn't say much, I've noticed. But you are a sight for sore eyes."

 
Lindare's silent agreement with the Owl is clear; she still lingers by Conalmir as she says to him directly, but everyone by proxy: "Indeed. See what games we make of our lives, whilst yours are writ in secrets not revealed. My, how your grandfather weeps when alone in his room, of things you perhaps shall never know, over choices yet to be made."

The High Priestess lifts her gaze, to look between Owl and Farside Lady, but whatever she was going to say is amended by the interruption of the Lady of Seaward.

She drifts away, to where her acolytes are gathered about the brazier; they cower ceremonially.

 
Another tensed breath, held as he is held: Niphredil may well be pushing about a wooden statue, for all the inertia Lominzil lends the pair. Very slowly, he half-turns his head back, speaking in a low voice to the girl:

"They are going to watch you. I do not wish..."


Adariel mutters angrily, "Grandfather is not bad. He is just friends with the b ... King."

 
"We are not fools, Lady Calenloth," the Vulture answers with a devilish half-smile. "We know that no Lord, nor Prince, nor Steward, shall give us the keys to the Kingdom for any single life, nor any hundred, nor any thousand. But some things may be bought by those who hold love for those who are lost. I shall see that you are provided with the documents making everything clear in appropriate legal terms."

The Vulture straightens. "May your wits be strong and your will sharp." And with that, he turns and walks back to join his Royalist kin.

 "If my grandfather weeps over his choices, it is only fitting," Conalmir answers. His face remains the same - hard and unyielding - though grief darkens his eyes. He glances down and across the table at Adariel. "Some things, Adariel, are worth all that you are able to give them, to life and beyond."

 
"I have already chosen!" Azradi snaps at the Owl, her eyes flashing. "In Gondor, a brother or father may decide who their daughters and sisters marry but that is not the way of the South!"

"I am loyal to my brother because he is my blood and he benefits from my strong arm and the power I command. It is enough."

Eruphel's arrival brings obvious relief to the Farside lady. "Perhaps Lady Seaward can explain it to you better," she says, managing a smile for her friend. She enters the other Corsair woman's embrace and returns it. "A strange night, Eruphel. I did not expect a wedding, but a siege. I ran the blockade to investigate before committing to a plan."

 
"That," Calenloth returns, her tone steady and a smile filling her face. "That I can promise." And as the picker of carcasses retreats, her hands grip to fists, then release as she falls to calmness. But a swallow calls her eyes wide for a moment with the weight of her tasks striking her soul.

 
The owl almost yawns, "You have chosen poorly."

"Which," he continues, "Is why men make the decisions in Gondor."

 
Ar-Gimilkhor's nod grants Umar his assent. They then flick back to Calenloth; some part of his mind has clearly marked the entire exchange.

"Share your fond words with the Lady Niphredil and Knight Arashen, Lady Calenloth," the King adds over his shoulder, though he looks ahead at the music boxes once more. "Tonight they shall be moved from my mother's care to stay amongst my immediate kin, and you may not see them for some time."

 
"Stop worrying about it."

Niphredil does not dismiss the squire's words, but she lathers over them as a mother would the anxieties of a child -- though she is hardly rich in maternal qualities. Her voice is more thoughtful than soft, her stare more contemplative than adoring. There is an obvious attempt at gentleness, though, as her free hand wraps about his forearm. Again, she attempts to make him step forward, arm locked around his stomach.

Quietly, she hums, "Please."

 
Umar considers this promised arrangement. As the king speaks, he listens attentively. The southron watches Calenloth with a regretful eye as if watching a favored animal about to be uncaged and sent beyond his grasp.

 
"Explain what?" Eruphel asks, looking now at Varian, furrowing her brow slightly at his casual retort, and tilting her head just a little. "Perhaps you could elaborate for a moment, Lord Owl." she adds.

 
Azradi's reaction to Owl is less calm and less verbal. She backhands him hard and growls. "Insolence!"

 
The words of the man draw no shock from the woman; Calenloth shakes her head slowly as her eyes bore to the back of his turned head. "I knew his words to be false," she murmurs, turning upon heel to retreat.

Her steps bring her quickly to Niphredil, the waivering, "Forgive me," uttered; she finds her path towards the door clear and there she bolts.

 
Azradi's impatience perhaps forgets to remind her of the gilded mask upon the owl's face. She hits solid metal, with the owl saying only, "Oww."

 Conalmir's sisters and mother edge away from Azradi. The squire catches their eyes and nods slightly towards the door, and Bessa takes her mother by one hand and Findulian by the other towards it, doing her best to remain calm and dignified. The eldest sister looks over her shoulder at Adariel with a clear command in her eyes.

 
Umar has his back mostly turned to the Gondorian areas where Azradi is interacting with Lord Owl. His attention is directed toward Calenloth; he follows her movements from the high table all the way to the hall's door and then she gone. He shrugs and then finds something just as sweet to place in his mouth.

 
The altercation between Azradi and the Owl hardly draws a glance from the Southrons in the hall below, being an everyday sort of thing, but some of the Royalists below silence and turn to watch.

Ar-Gimilkhor himself turns sharply, and he rises from his chair; a gesture that forces many of those present (and paying attention) to rise from theirs also. Ar-Minalomi does not.

"Stay your hands further!" he thunders. "There shall be no violence this eve."

 
"Remember," Adariel whispers quickly to Conalmir, "We love you very much." And she scurries.


Lominzil's tension collapses as quickly as it has come, like a man in a fit. His free hand curls about the Hlorithain's restraining one, giving it a quick squeeze.

"Duty," he murmurs once, and then leads her silently back to the table.


 Conalmir's eyes follow his sisters and mother. Then he turns away.

His sea-grey eyes, steady now and unwavering, watch the small drama unfolding not far away - glancing from Eruphel to Azradi to the Owl. Lominzil's return catches his eye for a moment, but not long. In keeping with squabbling squires, he gives no sign of friendship or welcome.

 
The only sign that the strike caused Azradi pain is evinced in a tightening around her eyes. Her fist bleeds from small cuts and scrapes, but she ignores it. "Then get this insolent man out of my sight," she answers, turning to face her brother with flashing eyes. "He dares to insert himself in business that is not his and insult me for it. An insult to me in your hall is an insult to you, brother. Do I need to remind you of that?"

 
Eruphel winces slightly as Azradi lashes out at Lord Owl, though his flippant protest of pain wins him no sympathy from her. She's about to answer when Ar-Gimilkhor stays any further progression. She sighs and mutters under her breath, "Now that's a shame." But then she speaks up, addressing Ar-Gimilkhor. "Indeed, my Lord, such differences should be laid to rest between your sword liege man and your dear sibling, at least for this night, for this is a celebration of your wedding." She pauses for a moment then looks at Lord Owl, her eyes narrowing slightly. "He /is/ your sworn man, correct?"

 
Ar-Gimilkhor's eyes flicker between Azradi and the Owl, and Eruphel, who also seems placed in this conundrum. He shakes his head slowly, and his words are very carefully chosen.

"This is my hall alone, and you are both my guests; if you have each wounded the other in some way, then I am insulted twice over, but then blood has been drawn is equal in measure and your debts to each other are paid." A sharper glance goes to Eruphel, perhaps suggesting that is not a matter to be spoken of further.

"My Lord, the Owl, is for now an honoured ally," he pronounces. "As are you. And my sister."


Umar leans close to the queen, "... ..., ... see how ... .... ... ... will ... ... do much to ... our two worlds .... ... ... to wish you ... ... ... new ... and know ... ... ... ... ... the ... ... ... ... at ... ... ... that ... ... ... the ... of ...."

 
"Honoured ally," mimicks the owl, shaking his head...

"Let us be more than that!" he suddenly calls out across the hall, "Bring..."

"The gift."

 
Niphredil's posture loosens with relief as the journey to the table resumes; she pauses only briefly, releasing her arm from the squire's middle, and using the hand that had once been clasped by his to adjust the fall of her skirt and train. The exotic silks continue to give the girl a bit of trouble, and she slows their pace until everything seems to fall as it should. It is then that Calenloth passes her by -- and her calm seems short-lived, for now the Hlorithain is gazing after her tear-striken friend with confusion.

"Forgive you? -- Calenloth!" she calls after the girl, but she is gone. Shrewdly, Niphredil's head whips in the opposite direction, focusing on where the girl had been before her sprint; and her features seem to alight with slow understanding. Ah. Forgive you.

When she stands over the table again, Niphredil looks down at it for a long moment. And then reaches for the nearest wine-bottle.

 
The King's sister looks her brother's owlish ally over as if sizing him up for a gibbet. Then she turns her back on him and moves closer to Eruphel. "I will enjoy conquering this land when the time comes," she confides in her friend, her voice low.

 
Ar-Minalomi's head tilts ever so slightly towards Umar, and though she does not speak, does a smile briefly transfix her lips? Her brow inclines to the Black Tower merchant prince, appearing to agree with his words.

 
Umar rises to his feet and salutes the queen, hand to breast, to mouth, and then to brow, before sitting again.

 
Lominzil sits, possessed with a perfect equanimity.

 
Thereupon his words and nothing else do a pair of young boys appear, masked as owlets, clad all in gold and hefting heavy chests towards the esteemed's table. The owl seems pleased watching the procession.

The chests are opened, the boys stepping aside to reveal the treasures within.

The owl yawns and says, "I did not expect the prologue to be so boring.

 
Eruphel folds her arms across her chest, changing the lean of her hips as she narrows her eyes, giving Ar-Gimilkhor a look back that suggests it is a matter that should be spoken of later. But she says nothing of it at the moment, turning instead toward Azradi. "Indeed. But, I am sorry to say, this one will be on the side of your brother, and therefore you must leave him safe and unharmed. But fear not, there are many others, and you can put whatever face you wish on them." Then she turns to Lord Owl. "Would you care to dance?"

 
Looking here and there, the owl whispers to Eruphel, "I am busy."

Continuing on, the masked man says, "Forgive me if I was unclear."

"There is more."

 
Already standing, Ar-Gimilkhor wanders around the table so as to better inspect the chests; there is less of the would-be King in his gate now and more of the Corsair, come to exult in the spoils of war. He dips a hand into the myriad treasures and holds it there, as if measuring some secret metaphysical weight; then he retracts it and turns back to the owl.

"Oh?" is all the King-Claimant says.

 
Niphredil watches the owlets emerge.

As she pops the cork out of the bottle and pours herself a glass so healthy that a timid drinker would drink from the bottle. She sits down and drinks it all.


Disinterested eyes fall upon the chest of riches and Azradi leans towards the Seaward lady. 'He'd forgive me.' Her brother catches her eye and she smiles slightly at the change in is demeaner. Even so, she continue's speaking to Eruphel, her voice lowering even more. "... ... ... ... try ... run ... ... again ... and return to ... .... ... ... ... to join ..., ... ... ... ... here ... ... with ... ...?"

 
The owl snaps his fingers and it is but a moment later before one last owlet graces the King's court. He is smaller than the rest and has the smallest box, but is greatest most enthusiastically by the owl. He ruffles the boy's hair.

And then the owl has the box within his grasp, whereupon he raises his eyes to the crowd at large, "My Lord and Ladies, let us waste little time in crowning our King." He turns to Ar-Gimilkhor, "Wings I give you, wings of gold."

And the box is opened and there is a crown in the fashion of the Winged Crown, equally as beautiful and resplendent with gems but gold and not silver."

 
Umar ho-ho-hos at what he sees; such wealth, such craftmanship. The corsair-turned-merchant glances at the queen and then the king.

 
"I will stay, Azradi." Eruphel murmurs. "Though the Heroes only know why." Eruphel eyes the chests of gold and other finery, and lastly the winged crown. She purses her lips together as she stares at the thing with no love or fawning. Then she looks up at Ar-Gimilkhor to gauge his reaction.

 
Lominzil uncorks a bottle of wine and pours. One for himself, and one for Conalmir.

 
This last treasure does impress Azradi. Her face softens with the admiration of it. She nods absently to Eruphel and then, following her curiosity, she approaches and stands beside her brother, staring at it. "Oh brother, it is beautiful."

 
Others in the hall are caught by the tableau, including the portly Flamingo dancing with Arashen. She stops to watch, falling silent for once. The Telpekhor makes good on his chance to escape and returns to his companions to stand silently among them.

 Conalmir drinks. After a moment, he rises and leaves the room.

 
"Wings of gold."

This is belatedly murmured under Niphredil's breath quietly -- perhaps in reverence or incredulity or something less impressed, it is hard to say -- as she breaks from a gulp so deep that the most of her cup has been depleted. Softly, she sighs -- in wonder? -- before kicking her glass up and draining the lot. She reaches for the bottle again. Her cup is refilled and shot back with a solid swig. She finishes it clean; not a drop tumbles over her chin.

Her eyes mist over from the effort, but she replenishes her cup once more with the nearest bottle. She sniffs.

 
Ar-Gimilkhor pauses, and surprise is writ briefly upon his face. He reaches out with one hand, to briefly touch the tip of one of the wings. "A splendid gift indeed," he says, barely audibly as he retracts his hand. "You have outdone yourself, My Lord. It is not a crown for a King who must make war; it is one I must aspire to achieve."

"But let not the Restoration of our Kingdom be done at such a time, in the witching hour of the night when half are sick with ale. Let it be upon three morrows hence, when we shall gather anew to lay bare our plans for war upon the treacherous, in the Chamber of Oath-making. I shall leave the arrangements of the affair to your capable hands."


The King then leans in closer and adds in a whisper: "... ... admit I ... ... ... affections, ... ..., ... ... is ... ... you have not ... ... that ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...... ... ... ... ... ... the ... of ...-making ... ... ... ... ... ... Amroth ... the ... swearings of the ...; ..., ... better ... ... ... ... ... of ... ... ... ... oath ..., ..., the ... of ...?"

 
Ar-Gimilkhor then turns about. To Azradi: "I shall see that you are well tended to this evening, sister; may you fly safely." Then with a smiling glance in Eruphel's direction, he ascends the platform once more, taking his bride's hand so that she might rise from her seat.

"My Queen and I shall retire," he announces, "But to each of you who have taken oath this evening or in an evening past I have granted a boon to mark your Royal favour and my loyalty as liege." And thus the affair is concluded; the Queen Mother, the Falcon-Knight, the Queen's handmaidens, and a cadre of splendid King's Men form upon the dias and proceed from the hall to the Tower of Bahlrion.


Lominzil, not known to drink, matches glass for glass with the girl down the table.

 
"Prince!" the owl calls out at Ar-Gimilkhor, departing.

"I would be a Prince..."

Yet the King is gone and the owl can but sigh. He drifts away after that.

 
Eruphel sighs, and turns awayonce Ar-Gimilkhor and his bride disappear into the tower. "I know that look well. Come, Azradi, I'll see you to your boat myself," she offers. "Gives us a chance to catch up."

 
Umar ibn Sharif al-Razuli has been wined and dined as well here as any sheik's tent in the desert. He slowly gets to his feet, adjusts his sash, and follows in the wake of the great king and queen of Gondor, the blue sapphire of his house riding high in his turban. There is revelry to be enjoyed still this night before he assumes his station outside the bedchamber of the king. Looking around to the royalists, he calls, "Men, let us cast lots to choose who will inspect the bedsheets in the morning."

 
Azradi laughs derisively at the Owl, "Not through me, you won't!" She shakes her head and watches the royal procession leave for a moment, then approaches Eruphel. "I would have liked to speak to his wife, I wonder if he intends to bring her back with him now that he's been discovered here." She sighs. "It is to sea again, for me, my friend. And then war - If can make it through. And I would enjoy your company - and orders to pass to your Captains, if any. A few Seawarders accompanied me as well."

"Bedsheets?" Niphredil catches onto this word with some confusion, lips parting briefly from her cup. Her mouth is already stained from the red wine -- as are her cheeks, and the near-syrupy quality of her voice seems slightly changed to. "Why would they need to check the..."

"Oh." Understanding hits Niphredil across the face. She scowls, as one might after sucking on a lemon.

And then she finishes her glass. Her free hand reaches and pats Lominzil affectionately on the head.


Holding his drink well, though his eyes glitter with unwelcomed moisture, Lominzil allows his head to be patted, like a dog's.


Outwards from the isle of Tolcrist, a pair of eyes gaze out from the sea. Were these eyes to fall downwards they would find two hands, gripped taut upon the rails of a ship. Yet it is the eyes that seek to command.

The man would bend Lond Annun, its King and all within to his will were a look sufficient, but it is not. In the distance, Calardan sees but cannot touch.


Date added: 2011-10-30 12:36:33    Hits: 65
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