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29 March 2008 @ 10:13 am
Kin-Strife: Part 15  
All Diary Entries

In which we return to Minas Ithil; Aerin puts in some time at the Houses of Healing in the shanty-town, only to find herself embroiled in a clash between the refugees and a crony of the local governor; meanwhile, Ragnor and Brand read Lasbelorn's notes, discovering that there's a(nother) secret vault hidden in the walls of the Tower of Moon, approximately where to find it and how to open it; returning to the Moonswan, Ragnor finds himself invited to observe the torture of little girls, meet with a possible Black Numenorean and is invited to breakfast with a civil servant; breakfast with the civil servant proves pleasant, informative and (for Pimm) possibly lucrative; a day in the library confirms Ragnor's worst fears regarding the Karma of Aldarion, where to find it and why he needs to; finally Aerin pleads for Ragnor to intercede, which he refuses.


April 28th 1441

We pass an uneventful night; we breakfast early and are on the road within an hour of dawn, collecting Al-han and the cart on the way.

We arrive in Minas-Ithil late afternoon. Pimm vanishes almost immediately, muttering something about having to see to his uncle's affairs, taking Ilvrin with him. Despite his earlier claims, he deems it reasonable to split the recovered treasure equally so our first port of call is to return to the Moonswan to take back our old rooms and dump the loot in the inn's secure storage.

Aerin, feeling some sort of duty due to her devotion, elects to pass the evening at the Houses of Healing outside the walls within the shanty town. Meanwhile, Brand and I have a meeting with Gwillith. It seems we are in luck, the Guild of Engineers has decided we are worthy and Gwillith directs us to Ondoher, the Guild's 'Keeper of Secrets'.

Ondoher is a short, elderly engineer, retired from active pursuit of his profession to become the Guild's archivist. He advises that he has heard that Celebrindor has asked to see the documents we are here to read and even applied to join the Guild several times but so far the Guild hierarchy has resisted.

It is known 'officially' that he left Pelargir years ago as a journeyman engineer to 'seek his fortune' in Umbar but there is no record of him in Umbar. Unofficially, many within the Guild unofficially believe his time abroad fits to closely with recent rumours of a dark Numenorean in Near Harad. However, Celebrindor has his supporters and sooner or later he will be accepted as his engineering prowess is beyond dispute.

Bearing all this in mind, Ondoher allows us access to the fifteen tomes of Lasbelorn's notes on our swearing an oath not to reveal their contents to Celebrindor, which neither of us has any trouble with. Celebrindor seems to be becoming part of a puzzle slowly taking shape.

We haven't the time to read everything (I was hoping for just one or two volumes but it seems Lasbelorn was a prolific writer for an engineer). Brand and I skim through the notes seeking mention of Minas Ithil and her sewers.

Once we realise the amount of work involved, I send for Aerin to join us but the runner returns with the news that there's some sort of dust-up between Heruvorn's security forces and the denizens of the shanty-town and entry in to the Houses of Healing are not possible for the time being (something about a petty thief taking refuge inside). The last time something like this happened, it provoked a riot. Oh well, Aerin should be safe enough in the Houses of Healing but she won't be joining us before morning.

After some hours, Brand uncovers mention of a 'secret chamber' in the walls of the Tower of the Moon to keep important documents and treasure safe. Part of this document is in code so I set about trying to crack it while Brand continues his search.

It proves to be a simple letter substitution cypher (may the Valar bless a liberal education) revealing the location and manner of opening of the secret chamber.

"The easiest choice is to place the room in the void as the staircase moves to the outer wall. I will design and build a secret door to be pressure operated. To avoid accidental discovery I will place the opening mechanism high upon the wall. To disguise the presence of the door there will be frequent 'way points' on the staircase. Platforms where the climber may rest. The door can be concealed on the way point outside the secret door."

But by this time it is two of the clock in the morning and Brand and I are exhausted. He can't find anything on Minas Ithil's sewer system and we both begin to think that something as spiritually important as the Calvolului would probably be kept in this secret vault in the walls of the Tower of the Moon. We have spent hours in the saddle (or in his case, on the cart) and we've been reading for hours in poor light. I've got a splitting headache. So we take our notes and make our back to the Moonswan.

Unbelievably, there we find a flunky from someone called Hargen, a captain of mercenaries under Heruvorn, asking my presence at an interrogation of that petty thief they've run to ground in the Houses of Healing. I'm too tired to even think about it so I give him short shrift and tell him to come back after breakfast, late in the morning.

April 29th 1441

Suddenly Society cannot exist without me: not only is Hargen's flunky still waiting on me, but the landlord passes me a request from Celebrindor for a meeting and a civil servant named Ranmes, an old friend of father's, arrived at this very inn late last night and invites me to break our fast together.

I put Celebrindor's letter in my pocket and tell the flunky to wait on my breakfast, choosing Ranmes as the most pleasant of all options, though what is breakfast for me is more like an early lunch for her.

In fact our meal is very pleasant indeed. She brings news of home, though no more than a week later than my own; nonetheless, Doronil shows no change, which is not exactly bad news, especially if Aerin's dragul root proves effective.

On the other hand, she reports father has lost two ships! So much for the blessing of Uinen! She is unable to confirm as to whether any ships have reached port since my dream of the loss of the Queen's treasure and the curse upon our house. If it means our ships suffer as any other (rather than being immune to the vagaries of the sea) then it may be a while before father's prestige suffers.

But if any House Hyarmenost ship founders on setting out, then the consequences will become very serious very quickly. Father's position depends on his stature as a merchant prince. If no merchant will ship cargo with him, then his influence would be negated and could no longer maintain his position at court, nor could we maintain ourselves. At a stroke we would become at best minor nobility.

I hear in my head the words of the mariner: "May they fear the sea as we now do until the Karma of Aldarion is found". Of course this is a common enough saying, along the lines of 'next year in Numenor' or 'when come the Lords of the West' but suddenly this clichéd form of words strikes me as having hidden meaning. It appears that my family's wellbeing, perhaps even their individual survival (especially in the case of my eldest brother, Olthandil) may depend on my unearthing the Karma of Aldarion from its hiding place – as I tell Brand in an aside, I just know this means opening Fuinur's Well.

On a happier note, Ranmes confides that she is in need of a personal assistant. She travels a lot so he would need to be at home in the saddle, well-versed with Gondor's highways, literate and numerate. Thinking of Pimm, I say I might know someone, a literate road-warden willing to better himself. I just hope Pimm will not disappoint either of us.

Ranmes means to stay in Minas Ithil for a few days (though it's not clear exactly what her job is – obviously she works for the King and she has to ride all over Gondor). I mention my desire to return home immediately with a possible cure for Doronil but she points out that this is dangerous country, especially for those close to the King, which she thinks is the case and I suppose I am.

She says she will be returning to Pelargir in a few days and offers to include my entourage in her caravan. She makes a good point and Brand reminds me that we needed Noruinivien's troops coming here, so I accept her gracious offer. It will also allow her to assess Pimm's suitability for her purposes.

In the mean time, she intends to see some of the sights of the city and, on hearing of Brand's curiosity regarding the Palantir (not to mention our need to find that secret room) she offers to arrange a guided tour of the Tower of the Moon.

Breakfast over, I cannot put off the flunky any longer. It seems my presence is needed as a 'neutral' observer at the interrogation of a young girl accused of petty theft who is hiding within the Houses of Healing. (Still no sign of Aerin; now we know why.) It seems my name was suggested by the Healers and is acceptable to Hargen once my connection with the Royal family was made clear to him.

In my experience, no one ever wants a 'neutral' observer. What everyone really wants is someone who, while possessing all the appearance of neutrality, actually leans toward their side, to one extent or another. Now who do we know in the Houses of Healing might think a cousin of the Queen could possibly be neutral? Of course, Hargen thinks anyone of the Royal family will turn a blind eye to removing a petty thief's fingernails.

Both sides will expect me to be on 'their' side and both will be disappointed if I don't live up to their expectations. Brand advises that nothing good can come of my involvement and I thoroughly agree with him. I politely decline Hargen's offer to neutrally observe his torture of little girls.

Feeling that Hargen may not take no for an answer, Brand and I make good our escape to the library before the flunky can come back. Brand to research the Tower of the Moon, I to uncover anything I can find on the Karma of Aldarion.

The most cogent information I can find is an excerpt from the Uinendilantë, 'the Downfall of the Venturers': it is just as I recalled, the Karma of Aldarion was given to him by Uinen herself as token of her blessing upon him and Numenor's Guild of Venturers. The Karma took the form of a sea-helm, forged of mother-of-pearl and encrusted with precious stones. (Not exactly tasteful but nonetheless impressive.)

Meanwhile Brand has had no luck with the Tower of the Moon but hands me a potted biography of Fuinur with the words, 'looks like you were right' and, unfortunately, it seems I am.

Fuinur was a nasty piece of work. He and his brother, Herumor, rebelled against their father, Edhelion, first Prince of Belfalas, defecting to Umbar. Fuinur was seen as a major threat because he stole the Karma of Aldarion, which was a mystical symbol of Uinen's pact with Tar-Aldarion. It was thought he could use the veneration of the Karma to gain support among the Dunedain of the Pelargirean League. As it happened, the threat did not materialise but Fuinur and Herumor both fought on Sauron's side in the War of the Last Alliance against their own countrymen. The miserable traitors!

Legends of Fuinur's end abound. The oldest (and apparently the least credible, according to the historians) tell that Fuinur departed Umbar with his followers and the Karma and commanded unclean spirits to build him a place of refuge, 'where he may not taste death'. He is believed to have continued to rule Haradwaith from his refuge until year 12 of the Third Age, after which all rumour of him and the Karma ceases.

But of course we know better. We're now pretty sure that Fuinur's Well exists and that Fuinur is in it with his step-daughter and her daughter. We also know that there are people who want to open this well for dark reasons of their own. These people may or may not be one with those who would bring back Adunaphel.

Until now, I had thought the best tack to take with respect to Fuinur and his Well was to leave well alone. But in the light of our family's curse, it seems I have little option but to open Fuinur's Well and retrieve the Karma of Aldarion if I am to save them from my own curse.

While mulling all this over in the late afternoon, Aerin arrives, hot-foot from the shanty town, advising that Hargen offers me substantial remuneration should I make his situation work out to his satisfaction, since the girl is believed to have knowledge of rebels. What an interesting buffoon? He honestly thinks a cousin of the Queen can be bought for mere cash!

Obviously I refuse and Aerin berates me for a lack of moral fibre. How insightful? Evidently she thinks my presence would in some way thwart Hargen's intentions toward the poor wretch. She claims if I don't get involved there will be a riot and no doubt many innocent people will get hurt. Well possibly; though in my experience the number of innocent people in Middle Earth can be counted on the thumbs of two hands.

I tell her that nothing I can do could possibly change the situation. Brand then patiently explains how bad it would be for me to get involved.

Aerin is clearly tortured inwardly by the possible fate of this girl so I suggest a possible out. Whatever she may or may not know of rebels, she's of no interest to Hargen dead. I ask if it would be possible for Aerin to drug the girl to appear dead (Brand reminds her that she has some klyten root); with a few bloody but superficial wounds to her wrists, it will seem she has taken her life out of despair.

If Aerin also quietly makes it clear to Hargen's mercenaries that they will be at the back of the queue when it comes to post-skirmish medical treatment, then no doubt he and they will lose interest in provoking a fight. Especially as apparently his men are heavily outnumbered and he has failed to call for reinforcements from the garrison, despite having had all night to do so.

Aerin calms down and departs with this new 'plan to save everyone' but it seems strange that Hargen has so few men with him. I wonder if he isn't in fact trying to provoke a fight and reinforcements will duly appear to take any rioters in the rear.

In the silence that follows, Brand suggests we reward Lonnya and her assistant by taking them to dinner. I wonder out loud if perhaps we could all dine with Celebrindor? I wonder if I'm serious?