The Last King
18 Urimë – I am once more maintaining an infrequent journal upon my road, so that I do not overlook small details. My Lady has seen fit to impose upon me a great responsibility, and with it, a great honor: I am to walk into the very stronghold of tyranny and observe, though doubtless without their permission, the proceedings of this ‘Council of Gondor’ that will be choosing a new pretender to the throne of Númenor. I am, however, not to disrupt matters at all. With any luck, they will pass over the obvious choice in favor of one that curries more favor among the simpering fools that pass for nobility.
28 Urimë – Entering the city was not easy, but I have managed it. The token that my Lady presented to me might have given me away at the gate – they are rumored to be able to sniff out Power there, and I had no wish to test that. Scaling Mindolluin, though arduous, was the far better option. I wonder, though, what these pretenders would think if they knew the very tombs of their Kings were an avenue for spies?
Hah! As if any but the most daring, most bold, most ingenious of Men would even think to do such a thing.
I have met with the locksmith as I was bidden. He is a craven man, and answers only to his own avarice. Umbar is better served without fools of his ilk, I deem, but among our foes, his weakness and self-serving nature can only be of aid. He has given me two keys, both to the same lock, and suggests that I only carry the one that is mislabeled, in case I am taken. As if any in this misguided land could hope to apprehend Al-Marial! The very thought is worth laughing at. Besides, I suspect the imbecile has given me the wrong key – the two are visibly different. But what else is to be expected of a people descended from rebels and traitors to the Crown? I find myself surprised that they do not still ask the permission of the elves before squatting in the bushes, like the Arnorians still do. Regardless, I have rented the room legitimately for two nights. Beyond that… we shall see.
30 Urimë – The room is mine, for however long I need. The serving girl… a true pleasure to know. Sweet, informative, helpful… and lonely, very lonely. Though for now she thinks only that she is helping a poor traveler who cannot afford a room, I think that her solitude may be the key to enlightening her and turning her to the service of the rightful rulers of Middle-Earth. Time will tell.
3 Yavannië – I have learned that this night, a new player has entered upon the stage. And the Council has not even met yet! The lovely Princess Firiel has returned from her sojourn in the barbarous North. I suppose she has tired of the rustic charm of Fornost at last. More interesting still, it seems her escort includes none other than those braying donkeys who had me expelled from my mission there, and stood before the throne of Ard Once-Vain to lie about their purpose. Sanctimonious fools. Some vigiliance there, I think, is in order as well.
4 Yavannië – Ah, they are indeed here. And two of them, the hothead who challenged me, and the Princess’ chirurgeon, appear to have brought their lovely wives with them. I believe the hothead needs some lesson in manners, but nothing too direct, nothing too mean and common. Perhaps I shall offer my own welcome… as a representative of the Princess’ humble vassal, Ard Once-Vain. Hah! I wonder if that will throw the Council into a bit of a tizzy. These pretenders are such dainty hothouse flowers, it takes next to nothing to upset them.
5 Yavannië – Well, I have had my little fun, and yet I fear it may have come at a higher price than was intended. The leader of the barbarian envoy, Leithian, I think it was – though his pronunciation of the elvish tongue is commendably poor, his accent does make it difficult, sometimes, to understand what the poor clod is attempting to get at – challenged me to a duel. I deferred, of course, and offered instead to meet with him today. Alas! As I was on my way to keep our appointment, I received urgent word of weightier concerns that demanded my attention. A matter of some paint, I believe it was, being applied to a wall and desperately in need to supervision while it dried.
Unfortunately, my cleverness may have cost me an alibi – Cairadan has gotten himself murdered. By all accounts, the killer climbed in the window of his chambers, knifed the old sailor in the back with one of his own daggers, and stole a number of charts and maps. I cannot imagine the charts were anything he would not have kept copies of at his anchorage, and certainly nothing that is not duplicated on at least two ships of the fleet. The man was far, far too thorough and worthy a foe to have taken critical information where the men of the fleet could not get to it quickly, after all.
No, I suspect the paperwork that was taken may have been either an attempt to shift the blame toward me, after my… memorable… entrance at the reception, or the beginnings of something much, much worse, both for Gondor and for Umbar. A weak ruler on the throne of Gondor is a blessing. A strong ruler on the throne an annoyance. A civil war, mobilizing the great armies and populace as has not been done since the days of Castamir… that would leave the victor diminished, but surer of his power, and without the fetters of a strong nobility that feels he owes them for the crown. A ruthless man, such as the victor would have to be, might well use that unfettered power to raze Umbar to the ground, sink many great ships at the mouth of the bay, and destroy much, simply from the knowledge that he cannot hope to claim it for his own.
The assassin must be found. Perhaps I can turn these northerners to my advantage in that.
6 Yavannië – I was right, of course. The Steward has declared that I am the assassin, and must be caught at all cost. Fool. I would suspect him of the murder as a means to overturn the politics of the matter and be done with it, save that I suspect he has not the wit to think of such a course.
My own suspicions in this run toward Beregond of Anfalas, and that idiot who rules over the Green Hills, Techeron. Neither has ever had anything good to say about Cairadan, and Beregond, at the very least, has had his own eyes turned toward the Admiralty for some time, if the gossip in the servants’ quarters is to be believed.
And it is. The bickering between the minions of these out-country imbeciles and their high-and-mighty counterparts from with Minas Anor is… entertaining, to say the least. And it is most certainly not contrived for my benefit.
I suspect, though, that Cairadan’s allegiances may also have played a role in this: he is fiercely loyal to the Line of Elendil, and from what the serving girl has passed along to me after she took one of his guardsmen drinking the night of the reception, he favors the ascension of the victorious general over that of the vale-lands ruffian.
I, of course, hold out secret hope that the noble and beautiful princess will carry the day, but then, as my Lady Adûnaphel well knows, I have a certain softness for women of grace and dignity, and she retained that, even in the face of my… unexpected… welcome at her reception. And the elf-woman with her… I shall definitely need to investigate that one further.
I believe I shall make contact with one of her escort tomorrow. Leithian, perhaps. He seems the sort for a cold fury, and less rash than the other dim-witted swordsman. A word to the wise: when attempting to manipulate with words, do not attempt to confound the learned – they may see deeper than you like. Stay with the simple men, the direct men, the men of arms. Not only are they used to being weapons ready to the hand of those of more wisdom… they also tend to be more easily relied upon to trust to foolish honor. This Leithian will surely not attack an unarmed man under a flag of truce.