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Logs

Dealings with the Dark

Tags: Alkhaszor,  Arashen,  Ar-Gimlikhor,  Calardan,  Calenloth,  Laeraelin,  Lominzil,  Niphredil

Short Summary: The King-Claimant makes his demands for release of the Gondorian hostages.
Date (real-life): 2011-11-04
Scene Location: Meneltarma
Time of Day: Evening

Meneltarma

The isle is small--just the tip of a great mountain thrust above the waves. You stand some 50 feet above the surf, on a platform cut into the mountainside. Ruined pillars lay about you, and the remains of once beautiful statues litter the ground. A huge black seat, carved from sparkling, faceted gabbro lays on the ground nearby in two jagged pieces. A tiny pinpoint of light can be seen far to the east.

An ancient isle is this; bards claim that once it was a shard of Numenor, thrown east during the terrible downfall of that great land. Whatever the case it remains a lonely and melancholic place, so far west of the mainland as to be out of easy reach of the fleets of either North or South. Only lone vessels, guided by those still possessed of the lore of the ancient Dunedain mariners, might find it.

A path has been hewn across its rocky, copse-strewn flanks, demarcated by torches set every ten paces. They lead up from the shores to the summit of the hill, where a wide flat area has been selected for the negotiations. Ancient chairs of black wood have been brought hither, and a long narrow table too. The latter is placed in the middle, while there are three of the former: one chair for Ar-Gimilkhor, and opposite him one each for Calardan and Laeraelin.

Two chairs are placed further back behind the King, one for each of the respective captives.

Ar-Gimilkhor is already seated, waiting, with Alkhaszor at his side. A servant pours a cup of wine, and he studies parchments set out upon the table before him. A cadre of King's Men linger at the far side of the space, and at their fore are the Crow-Knight and Falcon-Knight.

A shadow lies anchored to the south: the Beruthiel's Cat. Already the sun has began its slow descend towards night.

Arashen sits in his assigned chair, arms crossed against his chest. He gazes pensively down at the second ship anchored; a large armed merchant ship flying the navy, white and sable banner of the Azrabari.

And beside Arashen, a girl in lime-green.

She looks to the ships, too, beneath a frown that renders the shadow around her eyes a deeper shade. And then, after a brief search, her stare lowers down to her hands in her lap.

Slowly, Niphredil sighs.

Besides Ar-Gimilkhor, the helmed Herald and Heron-Knight twists about, looking to Arashen and Niphredil in silence before turning back again. He says nothing.

Ar-Gimilkhor sips from his goblet as he glances up at Alkhaszor. A further twist of his head casts his gaze in the direction of the hostages:

"I shall get what I want," he confirms to his chief lieutenant, before returning to his study of the document before him.

The latest party to arrive climbs to the crown of the hill, lead by a woman clad in a silk gown of Telpekhor blue. Her dark curly hair is piled atop her head but wind-blown and jewels glitter from within. She is accompanied by a young Squire of Dol Amroth, the Lady Calenloth with a young boy, a young man liveried in Telpekhiri colors and the agreed upon number of men-at-arms, all clad in the livery of House Azrabar.

The hill gained, Laeraelin crosses to the table. She glides across the uneven ground with grace and aplomb, as if she traversed the marble-halls of Imrahil's palace. Storm-gray eyes fall upon the King-Claimant as she approaches, weighing and measuring - betraying no hint of her thoughts save for a spark of intelligence. Her eyes do not yet seek her son.

"Good evening," she says to Ar-Gimilkhor, coming to stand across the table from him, standing perfectly straight. "I am Lady Laeraelin Azrabar."

The young Squire: a Girithlin.

With Telpekhiri. How curious.

Unarmored, Lominzil stands a step behind Azrabar's Lady. He doesn't look.

"Of that I will have no doubt, Sire," Alkhaszor says quietly, though as the Stonelanders arrive, his eyes first seek out the young boy--who in turn gives a shriek of joy and lunges forward, no doubt held by someone from the Gondorian party.

The Telpekhor Knight watches his mother approach, his arms yet crossed over his chest. He slumps, stretching his long legs before him and leans closer to Niphredil, speaking in a low voice. "This is going to be interesting," he says to her, a slightly amused expression on his sun-browned countenance. He glances to his fellow captive and watches her for a moment, his expression sobering. "He will come," he assures, softly.

Might Calenloth too look at home among the Telpekhiri clan - her own cloak fastened with the distinctive star of this house. Yet she follows the lead of the Lady Laeraelin, her gaze raised proudly, thoughtfully, to the faces of the other. But her demeanor is not cold, for as the focus of her attention falls to the gleeful child, she does not move to keep him.

Ar-Gimilkhor studies the Gondorians as they approach, apportioning the weight of his gaze to each in turn. Finally, he looks to Laeraelin and gives her a simple nod, ere gesturing to one of the two seats opposite him.

"Hir Calardan is not yet here," he comments, surprised. Then he glances towards the Nimothan Lady. "I trust Lady Calenloth delivered the terms, and that you have studied them at your leisure."

"I have studied them, yes," Laeraelin answers, her tone neutral. The young man clad in Telpekhiri livery moves forward to pull out her chair. She takes her seat, carefully arranging her skirts about her. She glances between the young man and Ar-Gimilkhor. "You deal with Lady Azrabar this day, but since your terms involved Pinnath Gelin and my maiden House, my kinsman is here to bear witness of the negotiations and report to my father, Lord Telpekhor," she explains.

A slight pause, perfect in its timing follows, then she speaks again. "When we rounded Tolfalas, we saw a storm brewing in the north. It is likely that Lord Calardan is delayed."

She holds out her white hand and the young Telpekhor places a scroll in it; the terms.

Three servants come forth: two bearing goblets and one bearing a great pitcher. They pour wine for Laeraelin, and also for the absent Calardan, and then it is offered to the other men and women of rank: Niphredil and Arashen, Calenloth and Lominzil. As if to demonstrate that it is not poisoned, one servant is also granted a glass of wine, which he drinks from before retreating.

Lominzil takes a glass.

He lifts it to his lips; the semblance of a sip.

Mikkan barrels toward his father, who, still seated, manages to pick up the boy and set him on his lap--or at least briefly so, for once greeted, ht heeds whatever it is Alkhaszor has whispered to him, and clambers back down to stand quietly next to the man. A look of pure delight is sent toward Calenloth.

"I see," notes Ar-Gimilkhor. He sips from the renewed depths of his own goblet, and then traces the edge of the parchment before him with a finger. He seems about to speak, but his eyes are drawn to the son of his Herald, who charges across the intervening space to his father. Incredulity shines in his eyes for the briefest of moments.

"Well, let us not waste time, lest the same storm waylay you upon your return." The King-Claimant's regard is principally for Laeraelin, but he also seems to include Calenloth in his attentions, being as she was the agent of this meeting. "What have you to say?"

Niphredil does not seem to share her companion's ease, but her eyes shift sideways when his words travel to her; and she regards him, with that glint of amusement in his expression, for a moment, before studying the Lady Azrabar. Her response to whatever has been murmured to her is a belated -- uncertain? -- hum in agreement.

She looks away from the negotiations of the Claimant and Lady only once. Subtly -- or so the girl is likely to hope -- she sinks into her chair, and tugs on the silks she has been permitted to wear, as though embarrassed by it.

But then she is watching the Lady -- in time to observe her answer. Her features are solemn and the arm closest to Arashen -- tenses.

Wistfully, Calenloth speaks no words as Mikkan rejoins his father, even the semblance of a smile crosses her face as the child bounces yet heeds his orders without argument.

"You asked for a token of good faith," she speaks, her voice soft but clear. "I believe we have just granted your wish."

Perhaps catching the look in his Lord's eyes, Alkhaszor puts one arm around his son's shoulders. "I thank you for my son, Lady Calenloth." The 6-year-old, though, has gone rather shy suddenly, and hides in the crook of Alkhaszor's arm.

Laeraelin holds the scroll loosely in one hand and picks up her wine in the other; every move she makes, from the tilt of her head to the lift of her goblet, is a study in poise and grace.

She takes a draught of her wine, smiling politely as she sets it down on the table once more. "A delightful selection," she declares. "Now, let us look at your terms." She unrolls the scroll and scan it.

"I do not have the power to open the gates of Pinnath Gelin, regardless if you refer to my family's keep or that of my lord Hirluin," she says, her eyes scanning down to the next term. "I have the power to disarm the Azrabari and, I suppose, to surrender the fleet - but my brother-in-law would have me committed to a mad house if I tried. And if I succeeded, the Steward would seize the Azrabari lands and our shipyards, so it would be a fruitless victory for you." She reads the third term and frowns slightly. She looks up to meet Ar-Gimilkhor's eyes. "Even my father is not so presumptuous."

Lady Azrabar glances down briefly to the addendum, then back to the King Claimant. "I do not understand how you will benefit from my retirement." A pause. "And I confess, I find the prospect of substituting another hostage for my son distasteful."

Perhaps not familiar with the terms and the discussion following it, Lominzil stirs a little, his eyes on the King.

Ar-Gimilkhor stares at Calenloth for a moment; then he nods. Silently, he turns back to Laeraelin and listens as she debates his initial terms; but then it is but a game, is it not? He seems only to stir when she speaks of his latter, alternative offer.

"Truly, my Lady," he answers, swishing his goblet around slightly, "I do not require that you understand the reasons for my terms. As for what you find distasteful," he purses his lips into a frown, "I am sure that you find the thought far less distasteful than your son's lifeblood consecrating the sacred stones of the new temple being raised upon Tolcrist."

He half-smiles in an apologetic manner. "Of course, any such hostage granted in the stead of your son would be accepted under the oath-bound promise of their good care. Your son, and Lady Niphredil," he casts a glance, "Can confirm that they have been well-treated and kept in comfort."

Only the mention of a dark temple pierces Laeraelin's studied poise. Her jaw tightens. But she listens to the rest of the King Claimant's words. It is then that she glances to Arashen for the first time since her arrival. His nod of affirmation is met with a slight one of her own. She places the scroll on the table. "Very well. You leave me no choice."

Lady Azrabar reaches for her wine. Calmly, she says: "I will marry this prominent Royalist of yours."

She takes a sip, watching Ar-Gimilkhor over the rim of her goblet.

Ar-Gimilkhor's brows arch.

"Indeed, but if you are not agreeing to any of my other primary terms, how would such a marriage function? No Royalist would be mad enough to give their true allegiances away and marry you openly, not since your companions," his eyes move to include the other Gondorians, "Are aware of this. Unless of course you mean that you are to be the hostage you will exchange for your son, remaining here on this island until such a time as your lands are reclaimed through force."

"Your thanks may be premature, Herald," Calenloth returns smoothly, though her tone dips sadly. "Hir Calardan has yet to arrive." Regretfully, she glances toward Mikkan.

"He is an accomplished mariner," says Lominzil, his gaze neutral. "He will arrive. I would ask that no decisions are made without his presence."

"... ... the Lady ... ... use ... ... in ..., ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...," Alkhaszor says, having leaned toward the King to whisper a suggestion in his ear.

He looks toward Calenloth, and now draws Mikkan onto his lap, the boy curling up there, thumb in his mouth, sleepy-eyed. 'But, Lady, it would be rude for a gift, once given, to be demanded back. Poor manners, indeed, and would spoil the good nature of the negotiations.'

I see four terms," Laeraelin replies, setting her goblet down. She leans back in her chair, loosely clasping her hands before her. "Two I am unable to fulfill; one that I am unwilling to fulfill. That leaves the marriage."

"As for the difficulties you just mentioned, I suppose you should have sorted it out before you set it forth as a term. I am willing to marry a prominent Royalist of your choosing. If you wish, you can name any child born of that union as the heir of the Telpekhor and the Azrabari."

"I suppose you will have to find a way to keep his identity a secret," she finishes, smiling, "For I wish to continue as I have in Gondor - with my son alive and free."

And once more, studying Laeraelin now, Alkhaszor leans to speak to Ar-Gimilkhor. "... ... ... her. ... ... fear ... ... ... ... ... ... my ... ... ... ... ... .... ..., ... do ... ... ..., ... my son ... ... ..., ... his ... ... ... cousin."

Ar-Gimilkhor's eyes flicker towards Lominzil, but he speaks on, flatly: "You see incorrectly. You see one set of three terms, and if declined, a second set of terms. You cannot pick and choose at leisure those which are -worthless- to me in the absence of the others."

The King-Claimant smiles slightly. "See, even now my Herald offers himself as the husband; but then he is already legally married to a Gondorian lady." Again his eyes flicker to Lominzil.

"So I say: no. You should be glad I do give you back a piece of your son now for the insulting way in which you assume my utter stupidity. Grant me either yourself as a hostage, to be married to the man of my choosing; or grant me a hostage to replace your son and the surrender of the Azrabari to a regent; or some something else that is worth the blood of Arashen Telpekhor."

"I would never," Calenloth returns, pointedly, indignant at the eloquent accusation of the Herald. "But the return of your son is not a gift and should not require terms and negotiation, solely demanded by honor. And I would ask that you consider this."

Lominzil returns Ar-Gimilkhor's regard, his pale eyes chilled with the necessity of professionalism. Then he leans forward to speak in the seated Azrabari's ear: ".... ... ... ... ... ... ...."

Arashen now listens avidly to the discussion between his mother and Ar-Gimilkhor, frowning in disapproval. When the Herald's offer is mentioned, he offers the back of Alkhazsor's head a hard look.

Eyes in the back of his head, perhaps, or a chill upon his neck, but babe in hand still, Alkhaszor turns, hissing to Arashen. "Do ... ... ... fool. ... ... ... ... ... where ... could, ... ... ... ... ... ... ...."

'And still, Lady,' he then says, turning back to Calenloth, the night is yet young.'

Laeraelin's gaze wanders to the Herald as his lord speaks, settling speculatively on him for a moment ere Ar-Gimilkhor reclaims her attention.

Lightenings flash in her eyes and her alabaster skin flushes with ire. "The offer was valid!" she snaps, leaning forward, her form tense. "And do not speak to me of foolery! You do this only to send a message to Gondor. There is no strategic difference if I serve as Regent or another does."

"Your little game has swept up my son and I; what did you expect me to do? Fall crying at your feet and begging your mercy? Keep your threats to yourself!"

She leans back in her chair, glaring at King Claimant. "I will not send another in my place or my son's. I will be your damn hostage."

Ar-Gimilkhor is silent in the face of Laeraelin's anger.

"I said it once, my Lady, and I shall say it again: do not presume to understand the why or how of my demands. You do not fully seem to grasp that I now hold the cards, your having given up the one bargaining chip that might sway my mind." He glances at Calenloth. "I do not wish for crying, or begging. Only the completion of these negotiations."

He pauses. "I have changed my mind; neither yourself as a hostage nor your hand in marriage will do. No. I demand another."

"Or..."

Ar-Gimilkhor considers.

"I shall offer you that which I will offer Hir Calardan. Though I am less accepting of the word of the Houses Telpekhor and Azrabar, and may require a small additional token of good faith."

A gloved hand is laid on the back of Laeraelin's chair. "Wait," Lominzil says smoothly. "Wait for the Marshall."

In her seat, Niphredil's posture wanes.

Elbow sits upon armrest; fist settles before unsmiling mouth. Frowning -- but silent -- the girl watches the exchange of Lady and Claimant with a growing anxiety. At one thought or another, she shakes her head -- just once.

Laeraelin pales and seems about to speak when Lominzil suggests she waits. She looks back to Ar-Gimilkhor, "The word of the Telpekhor and the Azrabari is good. Did you think, once offered, I would do anything other than go with you and marry?"

"How am I to trust your word when you demand that of me and when I accept, you change your mind?"

She glances up to the Squire. "Has he arrived?"

Lominzil says only, "Hold."

"Bargaining chip." A shake of her head, disgust across Calenloth's face. "The night is young, Herald," she offers, scorn in her voice. "But by the end of it, my people will still be noble."

"And yet not so noble that they refrain from resorting to seizing a 6 year old child as a hostage. We are cut of the same cloth, my lady," Alkhaszor says. "Your high standards and noble bearing are a pretense."

"You must," is all Ar-Gimilkhor says, though he too pauses, and his eyes go to the path lit with torches; perhaps a memory of the ancient prescience of Numenor glimmers in their grim depths.

Lominzil looks at Alkhaszor calmly, and one might guess of the bitterness in his heart, which does not show in his voice.

"My cousin is noble; slight her, and you may answer to me."

Storms have tossed A Prince's Resolve here and there; and though the dromond is helmed by the Knight-Marshall, this Knight is no mariner and hath not the skill of the seaman of the Azrabari. When he arrives, it is well into the proceedings and upon a simple rowboat crewed by two of his Order.

As the boat approaches, a banner of blue and white comes visible. The Ship and The Swan, held firmly in the hand of Calardan Hlorithain.

The rowers bringing them ashore, the Knight-Marshall steps over the prow and onto solid ground. One step then two, then three and four and then more bring the man up to the hill. He surveys the gathering before planting the Imrazori banner into the earth and stepping forth, his eyes moving between all present; all, that is, except for his daughter. To her, he does not yet dare a glance.

"And you comforted him in a time of chaos and fear?" Calenloth returns, quickly. "Save your retorts, Herald. He ran to me, your son, while you took to your own affairs of hostages and murder. And here I stand, willingly, at risk to myself and my own, returning him to you, free of demands or price. Yet still, you wrong me with your accusations against my intentions."

"Enough!" Ar-Gimilkhor interjects. "I shall endure your petty scorn without reparation, so long as it does not waylay the dealings for which we have met."

The King-Claimant looks now upon Calardan, and his greeting for the Knight-Marshall is as perfunctory as that for the Silver Lady. "The storm has delivered the Willow unto us; come now, Hir Calardan," he rises from his chair, as if standing shall somehow make quick the words passing here, "So that we can all be away from this place."

"Then ... ...," replies Laeraelin to Ar-Gimilkhor, her voice quiet and her brow troubled. She twists in her chair, resting her arm upon the dark-wood table. 'Welcome, Knight-Marshall. I see the storm only delayed you a short while.' These polite greetings are offered in a voice tinged with fatigue.

Answer the Herald might have made, but it is not to be, for as his King rises, so does Alkhaszor. Mikkan is left, sleeping, the chair from which the Heron-Knight has risen.

A new ship in port --

Niphredil's head turns -- followed by her shoulders, and the rest of her. A pounce almost brings her off her chair -- though her father does not look in her direction, her instinct seems, at first, to do all she can to attract his attention -- but then the moment passes, and she forces herself back down.

Her expression, a myriad of relief -- and adoration and dread -- is trained into a mask of plain solemnity. But not immediately.

"Shall I sit?" asks the Knight-Marshall of Ar-Gimilkhor. There is a brief softening of his face as his eyes tilt aside to Laeraelin, but it is soon lost.

Lominzil's attention flickers briefly to the involuntary movement of Niphredil.

He errs then, to allow this: if a blow is struck upon an anvil, the iron holds firm, yet the rumor of the strike resounds long and clear. So his will, frozen, does not falter, nor does his gaze. Yet one hand tightens upon another, and with Calardan's arrival, the squire exhales deeply, as if all his emotions were leached out into that breath.

Ar-Gimilkhor's attention broods on Laeraelin a moment, then he shakes his head at Calardan.

"No," he grates, clearly irritated at the general proceedings. "Since the Lady beside you deems her son's life worth less than a minor hostage and the Regency of the Azrabari, I have chosen, as token of -my- good faith," he shoots a fell glance at Calenloth, "To offer her that which I offer you."

The King of Gondor straightens, and whatever trifling exacerbation plagues his demeanor now seems lessened by a greater heavy darkness borne of Black Numenorean potency. He speaks to them both, but also all present: "What I ask of you immaterial, though binding. No oaths shall I demand you to forsake, nor honour upend, nor any such part of your soul forsake, whether prudential," he looks at Laeraelin, "Or sacred," to Calardan. "But once given what I ask cannot be retracted."

Calardan drifts away from his chair to the ornate table. He is a man without servants and pours his own wine. It marks the cup blood-red, halfway filled.

Then, and only then, do his eyes turn to Niphredil. He winks.

The cup is lifted into his hand and the Hlorithain returns aside Laeraelin.

And just as brief is a bleakness in Laeraelin's eyes, shown only for the Knight-Marshall. Then she turns back in her seat to look at Ar-Gimilkhor. His assessment of her negotiation causes her to throw her hands up in the air and look up at the sky. "Instead I offered a more valuable hostage and the marriage - all of which amounted to me giving up the Regency," she mutters, shaking her head. She sighs heavily, then returns her focus on the Pretender, listening to hear the new proposal - her expression skeptical.

Alkhaszor is yet standing, one hand upon the chair where Mikkan sleeps.

A wink.

A simple gesture, and a short-lived one, but a messenger of reassurance too; Niphredil breathes in as she registers the small flicker of her father's eye and the corner of her lips pucker into a smile. A fleeting smile, but a smile.

"You are of no use to me trapped on my Isle, wed to an Owl, and beyond the ability to influence your kin," Ar-Gimilkhor answers Laeraelin. Then he looks at Calardan and frowns.

"No more wine," he snaps, and a servant moves to relinquish the goblets.

"I shall return your children to you, unspoilt and unharmed. But in return I ask only that at some point, when we meet again, you grant me the boon that I ask at that time, wholly and without hesitance. What I ask shall not shatter oaths, nor obliterate honour, nor betray your loved ones, nor any other thing that you would not agree to in this very moment."

"Of course," he adds, holding up a hand, "I cannot have you and yours sail away from here, thinking the King of Gondor is so easily parlayed with, so easily fooled. What I ask shall be sealed by no common oath, but a method of my choosing, and you shall submit to it in this very moment or else it is I who shall turn about and leave, and you shall never see your beloved ones again."

"This agreement must be bound," he looks to Calardan and Laeraelin, "Upon you, but also your children," he half-turns to look at Niphredil and Arashen, "And she who brokered this moment," he now looks to Calenloth, "And one to complete the circle..."

His gaze goes last of all to Lominzil.

There is dire humor in the Knight-Marshall's eyes at Ar-Gimilkhor's outburst. He takes a long drink of the wine and says, "You ask so little."

"How glad I am to be included," says Lominzil tonelessly, passing off his untouched cup. "State your terms."

"My ...," Alkhaszor says in a harsh whisper, "... ... certain ... ... honor this? ... ... ... ... boon ... you ... ... you ... ... ... ... ... ...?"

Laeraelin's gaze flickers regretfully from Ar-Gimilkhor to her goblet, now being born away. If there is relief to be read in her features, it is balanced with suspicion. "You want us merely to be in your debt?"

She looks to Calardan, a silent consultation.

The gaze of the Claimant is met and returned, but Calenloth's face holds perhaps the hint of an amused smile.

Ar-Gimilkhor's gaze speaks volumes to Alkhaszor and those others who would seek to measure his decision from it; he will not be moved from this course.

"I ask more than you can comprehend." He steps forth and draws his scimitar, cutting a wide circle in the ancient dirt. At six points he slashes a mark, and at the seventh a triangle with three quick thrusts. Then he sheathes his blade.

"Take your place at each point," he commands Calardan and Niphredil, Laeraelin and Arashen, Calenloth and Lominzil. "Father beside daughter, mother beside son, and cousin beside cousin. Hesitate but once, and all deals are annulled."

Lady Azrabar rises from her seat, assembling her composure around her like a shawl. With a rustle of silken skirts, she takes her place to the right of the triangle, gesturing for her son to join us.

Then with Arashen at her side, she looks questioningly at Ar-Gimilkhor.

"Your pardon, sire," Alkhaszor says quickly. "It was not my place to ask so." He follows the others, not taking a place on the circle, but watching.

Lominzil holds out a hand to Calenloth as he approaches this figure.

If motion is not agreement, Calenloth accepts the hand offered, warily standing besides Lominzil. An eyebrow arches, she watches the others take their steps.

Simple enough instructions.

Yet Niphredil is frowning as she rises from her chair, suspiciously studying the Claimant -- and, for a moment, his scimitar -- as she begins a slow stride to the patch of marked hearth. To the last unoccupied point, her slippered feet step to a stop; and then her arm reaches out, gesturing with an onward wave for the Knight Marshall to approach.

The word is spoken with crackling affection, though she does her best to restrain it some: "Pa."

It is at long last that the Knight-Marshall joins himself to his daughter's side. It is no idle gesture; here he confirms, by deference alone, is the spirit to which Imrahil's youngest was bound. He grants her a calloused hand and is grateful for the touch. He squeezes Niphredil's own tightly.

A shadow seems to come over the island; though the sun is drooping very low upon the horizon now, it seems somehow colder. But there is a new light, also, brighter than that of the torches that mark the hillside; a great bowl borne hither by a Priest robed in purple, coals smoldering in its basin.

 

"They have given themselves willingly to the ritual," Ar-Gimilkhor intones, and his eyes flash to Alkhaszor. "Slay any who seek to withdraw, lest the powers be displeased at their insolence and punish us all."

The Priest is within the circle, now, but it is the King of Gondor who leads the ritual, and his words are writ with a potency not only of meaning, but of doing. He lifts a hand, and from it falls gold; coins and rings that now bubble and melt upon the fearsome heat of the bowl. An arm of each of the six Gondorians about the circle is guided above it: they are made to clasp each others hands if they do not already -- in each of their three pairs, Calardan and Niphredil, Laeraelin and Arashen, Calenloth and Lominzil -- but it is their forearms that bear the heat of the brazier.

"Gold for the Great Lord," Ar-Gimilkhor intones again, "Gold the sacred metal, into which he, Mulkher, Lord of All, poured his power and his might."

The King of Gondor draws an ornate dagger, wickedly curved, but clearly ceremonial; it too is wrought of gilded black. He lifts it high.

Ar-Gimilkhor says in Adunaic, "*** **** be ******!"

The dagger slashes; the bowl seems to explode with a terrible brightness.

Darkness overcomes all.

"Do not watch, Niphredil," says Hir Calardan, turning his own eyes downwards as the ritual takes place. Still, he does not move.

Unbidden, Laeraelin seeks her son's hand when the Priest enters the circle. She watches, and her son as well - bearing an expression that is a mixture of dread and fascination. She does not resist when she is guided, but cries out when heat sears her forearm.

She flings up her free arm to shield her eyes when the sudden brightness flares. R

Arashen's expression is more guarded throughout the ritual, save when the heat sears him - but even then, his concern is given to his mother.

 

Ere the light swells, Lominzil's eyes blaze.

One hand holds her father's -- her other, as darkness descends upon the circle, wraps about his wrist.

And despite the horrors she may have already witnessed, catching Ar-Gimilkhor's proclamation in Adunaic, Niphredil turns her face away at the elder Hlorithain's coaching. But now -- somehow inflicted by an unnatural pain on her arm, she cringes and, with her lips peeling back, a hiss is expelled from between her grinding teeth.

The darkness lifts, and slowly the stars twinkle in answer, for surely it has just transpired at the very moment of twilight.

Where fell the King's dagger is now made clear: his own left arm bleeds heavily, and redness mingles with the dirt at his feet. And where struck the gilded dagger, at the base of the forearm's underside, now each of those six who gathered are marked: a strange and fell symbol that seems both black and gold. The Priest, whom fell to his knees, rises slowly. The bowl remains at the circle's middle; it has cracked asunder of its own accord, and its ashen-and-gold contents are spilt across the ground.

Ar-Gimilkhor casts them a gaze that looks as if he has not slept in a hundred nights. "When once this isle was a part of Numenor, the faithful of Ar-Pharazon raised a shrine here in honour of the temple upon the peak. The Great Lord's power lives still within this soil."

"And so you are marked, and such a mark will hold you to our agreement. One day you may wish you had spat upon the names of your Lords and thrown open your houses to me." A pause. "But now you may go."

And he too turns and walks away, slowly, down the hill towards the Beruthiel's Cat.

Laeraelin clutches her arm, holding it close to her as it throbs in pain. She is speechless saying naught until the Pretender departs. Only then does she turn her arm over and look at what it now bears. She makes an inarticulate sound, expressing her horror at what she sees and what she has participated in. She looks up, sweeping the others with her gray-eyes, settling at last on Calardan. "We...cannot speak of this."

"On the contrary, Lady," Lominzil interjects. "Gondor must know of this. We are ourselves expendable: valuable, perhaps, but nothing, in the face of the greater good of Gondor. It must be known that -- that this man /cannot/ become our King."

His eyes weary, glittering with unshed moisture and the coolness of the impending twilight, flicker to Calenloth. "We should leave. This island belongs to the Enemy's thoughts."

Darkness falls into her own eyes, she peers curiously back at Lominzil, her eyebrow arching and falling in hesitance. "I cannot hide this forever," Calenloth returns, tracing her fingers over the inside of her arm. Quickly, she flips her gaze back to Lominzil, startled, her mouth partly dropped open, before she forces herself to look away.

"Come," says Calardan to Niphredil, not agreeing nor disagreeing with the Squire, "You will return with me." Then his voice amplifies and he commands, "And the rest, you are to Amroth as well. Think not of what has transpired."

"Are we, Squire?" counters Laeraelin, glancing sharply to him. "The moment Gondor finds out what Calardan and I are bound to, we will no longer be trusted. We have already had one Knight-Marshall under suspicion, who will replace Calardan? We, here, know that Calardan is not a Royalist. He is not expendable, Squire. And nor am I. Do you wish to risk a secret enemy replacing me and controlling the largest ship yard in Pelargir?"

"Most in Gondor already know this man cannot become King. We gain nothing from revealing this and lose much."

To the Knight-Marshall, she says. "I must return to Pelargir, but will come to Dol Amroth when I am able." She hesitates, looking at her son, her next words coming reluctantly. "Take Arashen with you."

Niphredil's gaze is for the ground -- and the bare arm she wraps fretfully around her stomach. Emotion unidentified is shaken from her pores, and the girl's hands tremble of their own accord, but her features remain solemn -- unafraid once the King Claimant has retreated to his ship. His leave renders the youngest Hlorithain a tireder version of herself -- her eyelids seem half-open, such is her sudden exhaustion.

With Calardan's words, the girl moves as though to take an obedient step away, but then the Lady Azrabar speaks -- speaks of her father, speaks of trust -- and her stare snaps to the woman's face as an arrow to a target.

Slowly, Niphredil's eyes move to study the faces of the gathered -- here and there, it lingers -- before rising to gage her father's expression.

Sweat sheens the Girithlin's face, but his expression is calm. His eyes move, clear and thoughtful, to Niphredil, and relief causes, finally, the frown-pleated skin about his eyes to relax.

But it is to Calenloth that he turns. "Come," he says, giving her his hand. "It will be all right."

"Will it?" Calenloth's voice is pensive, still contemplating the mark with her glance. "Or shall we fight to make it so?" But her words are left behind as she falls besides Lominzil.

The Knight-Marshall gestures to Arashen to follow and departs from the isle to the rowboat and with his companions, from the rowboat to his ship.

 


Date added: 2011-11-20 20:57:49    Hits: 179
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