In which Aerin sets up practise in Pelargir, finding that her clientele will probably be fellow non-Gondorians; Brand and Ragnor uncover worrying information in the House of the Faithful; this strange group, fast becoming friends, return to the Ethir for various purposes but chilling possibilities emerge once the extent of the recovered treasure becomes apparent.
While Aerin is unpacking in her new home, Ragnor reports to his father, Olthador: they discuss his findings and whether Neithan has recovered the majority of the treasure. Ragnor thinks it necessary to return to the Ethir to assess how much of the treasure has been recovered and to oversee its final despatch to Umbar.
Olthador believes two things need to be established: where the leak came from that tipped off the pirates and exactly what the connection between the pirates and the Pelargir nobility might be. He suggests that it might prove fruitful for Brand to search through the records of the Loremasters regarding pirate activities over the last decade. Since it will take a day or two to make the Maid of Hyarpende ready for another voyage, Ragnor undertakes to supervise this search.
Ragnor believes it less likely that the leak came from within House Hyarmenost than that it came from within the Queen's own organisation or from those few in Pelargir aware of the shipment. However, Ragnor mentions his concerns regarding the implications of the shipment having always been intended to be captured by the pirates. Olthador deems it unlikely but bears it in mind. Ragnor also wonders if King Castamir didn't know about it from the start.
On hearing of Ragnor's
intention to use a visit to the ruined
That evening, Aerin is invited to dinner with Ragnor and his family. As well as Ragnor, his father, grandmother Silmarien, elder sister Arien and elder brother, Dorondil, are present. Ragnor wears a sapphire broach in a silver setting of a rayed star, which is a symbol of Serni, the house of origin of Silmariel (his grandmother, to whom he seems particularly close).
Over dinner, there's some discussion again over Ragnor's future but little politics, possibly thanks to the major-domo being Khoradûr, Queen Murabeth's obsequious chief steward. Aerin's presence and no doubt a précis of the conversation will get back to Her Majesty. Olthador gets a chance to assess Aerin and to probe her background and Aerin makes her first contacts with the Pelargir nobility. She states that she wishes to set up practise in her new lodgings, apparently in competition with the Houses of Healing.
The next morning, Ragnor and Brand visit the House of the Faithful to search through documents held regarding recent reports on the Ethir pirates: it seems they are a comparatively recent phenomenon, first reported in 1435, just six years ago, but after a spate of attacks, there was a lull in which factions appeared among the outlaws, some of which developed loose links with Pelargir.
Then in 1436 there was an official complaint about the pirates from the Ethir fisher-folk, concluding with a request that something be done about them, which led to the creation of the post of Captain of the Ethir in command of a squadron sent to quell them.
Perhaps these measures proved
effective as piracy declined sharply later in 1436. However, as the Kinstrife civil-war opened, the pirates reappeared in the
After the conclusion of the war, the pirates returned to the Ethir and one of Castamir's first acts was to move the centre of administration for the Ethir to Linhir, away from Fenuilond, which effectively became the centre of pirate operations. Piracy continued but in a more restrained manner than 1435 and remains so to today, until the taking of the Queen's Treasure.
Ragnor reports this to Olthador, with the recommendation that further investigations are abandoned as it seems clear that the pirates are closely tied to the King or someone very close to the throne, such as Castamir's uncle, Morlaen. Olthador agrees that it's time to move the focus back to the Ethir, and make every effort to get the treasure on its way; once delivered to Telemnar, it will cease to be the responsibility of House Hyarmenost.
Meanwhile, while researching Benish Armon, Brand meets Iriel, a strikingly tall and attractive loremistress, both a native of the Ethir and sister to Neithan's lieutenant, Colfen. She volunteers to be our guide.
That afternoon, Aerin receives her first visitor, a Southron called Morsûl. He expresses delight to see a newcomer from his own part of the world and welcomes her to Pelargir while asking for news from the Raj. He explains how things have been tough for the non-Gondorians in recent years, with possessions and fleets impounded but advises Aerin that her half-Dunedain bloodline will protect her in law. She should keep her half-blood as discrete as possible but if she should have trouble finding clientele among the bigoted Gondorians, she can rest assured that the small but significant population of non-Gondorians will be only too pleased to have their own healer, away from the Houses of Healing.
Later Aerin receives word to be on the Maid of Hyarpende at dawn to sail with Ragnor and Brand to the Ethir.
The next morning, all three arrive on board shortly after dawn, Brand introducing Iriel. They set sail within the hour, reaching the Ethir Garrison without mishap on March 23rd.
While journeying, Iriel proves pleasant company and consoles Ragnor in his difficulties in learning Quenya with the advice that 'court' Quenya is far simpler than the 'classical' Quenya of the ancient lays of Beleriand, which is what Brand has been teaching.
Meeting Neithan, Ragnor requests a private meeting to convey news, choosing a spot on the battlements, well isolated from eavesdroppers to reveal the likelihood of links between the pirates and the royal court. He also offers his theory of the treasure having always intended to have been stolen, as some sort of payment to the pirates by Castamir, or as part of some money transfer to a third party. Neithan considers the theory unlikely, believing it more likely that it is to be used to finance Telemnar's political domination of Umbar and points south.
Ragnor then commences his inventory of the treasure and finds most of it intact. However, the sheer quantity of it (seven chests, each of about two cubic feet; five to seven tons of metal) makes him doubt his own theory. It's simply too much to buy off a bunch of pirates.
However, meanwhile, despite his own doubts, Neithan does mention the theory to Aerin in a separate interview, stating that if it is true, it must imply the commencement of a major operation of some kind. If it goes to Telemnar, it would finance an action against the Southrons, perhaps?
Finishing the manifest, Ragnor concludes that whatever the intended destination, the purpose of the shipment must be to finance a major military operation. If Telemnar is the true destination, then presumably he will be mounting an aggressive military expedition against some adjacent non-Gondorian state?
If true, it might indicate that the mind behind the piracy is Morlaen as his influence at court is based upon his grasp of politics in Umbar, Queen Murabeth's home, and there is considerable antagonism between the two. If Castamir's policy is focused on Telemnar and points south, Morlaen's primacy in his council is threatened. Morlaen would not want the treasure to reach the Queen's father.
Nothing further can be accomplished until Olthador's ship arrives to carry the treasure to sea so Aerin, Brand, Iriel and Ragnor look forward to loading up a couple of rowing boats (hopefully complete with rowers), supplies, lanterns (as Iriel mentioned something about Benish Armon extending below ground, even in the marsh), some sort of anti-ghost repellent (if there is such a thing) and tents. Ragnor will make sure all are armed as somehow he feels mundane violence from the living might be just as much a threat as old ghosts.
But as he turns to his bed that night, Ragnor worries about what all that gold is supposed to be financing and whether it really should go to Umbar at all. Neithan appears to want to be rid of it and believes it can only invite an eventual counter-assault from the pirates if it remains under lock within the garrison; but if it doesn't go to Telemnar, then to whom?
It's a conundrum: how could the Queen raise all those 'donations' without the King knowing? Yet if the King knew, how was it that the pirates, who are apparently in his pocket, intercepted the cargo? Now it seems the King does know but appears unconcerned that his Queen has been plotting a major offensive behind his back or that her Uncle, a very senior councillor, is counterplotting.
Yet if he really wanted to launch a southern offensive, why doesn't he do so openly, like many times previously - it worked for Hyarmendacil?
Perhaps Castamir is really a much weaker king than he appears; if the pirates are controlled by another of his courtiers then effectively two hands of the royal throne wouldn't know what each other were doing, leading to some confusion.
Furthermore, it must be widely known among the nobility that the 'donations' recognised a sizable return and many of them must have wondered as to what use it would be put. There must be those who, once its destination became apparent, would rather not see their money finance war against an erstwhile trading partner.
Or worse: it's not beyond possibility that the money is to hire troops from Harad for use in Gondor against Gondorians! Such troops would be willing to do things that native troops would not. Such a move would be unprecedented but from a usurper's point of view, they might be more reliable and Castamir has already shown ample evidence of his distrust of his people.
Perhaps it would be best if the gold were to be 'lost at sea'?