Before The Trial
An Introduction to a Second Age Campaign
Pete Clark: University College Oxford OX1 4BH, England
It is the year 2217 of the Second Age. In Númenor, the king, Tar-Atanamir, once the strongest of his line, is failing into weak-willed dotage as he clings to life. Repercussions are inevitable: in Númenor, in western Middle-earth, and in the distant lands of Rhûn and Harad of which only dark rumor comes over the sea into the West. The Wars of the Jewels are long gone. The War of the Rings also is over, with Sauron’s heavy defeat and expulsion from Eriador at the turn of the eighteenth century — or is it? Who will uphold and who will betray the principles of peace and law in a changing world?
“But we must stop this man! Bring him to Númenor and we shall have him before the council! We shall show him, however big he may be in those jungles and what-have-you,” the florid Lord Erildar waved his beringed hand in the direction of Middle-earth, far across the dark seas from Armenelos. “He cannot just ignore the King’s Government — impudent upstart.”
Berenor cringed inside. The Councilor from the Forostar was not an effective politician and clearly knew nothing of the legal issues involved in the case. For his master to involve Erildar at this stage was rash, and he personally had argued against it. He turned to Silmarion, the aging Lord of Andúnië, who settled back into his velvet armchair.
“That is the problem, Erildar,” he said calmly. “How do we get the Government to call him back? It would be the Steward’s decision, and he gave the man a Governorship in the first place. How do we encourage our honored friend to admit that he has made a mistake
“Denounce him in council, Andúnië! We’ll soon get him out of office. If he appointed a man like this, the fool should be put away as well as dis missed.” Erildar was incensed at the reports from the Harad, and Berenor knew enough of his reputation to see that he wouldn’t let the issue lie.
Silmarion turned to Berenor, and the lawyer tried to smooth his own nerves. “My Lord,” he said, as soberly as he could, to Erildar. “The legal position of the Lord Governor Herucarnë is still very much in doubt. The news Lord Silmarion has received of events in Middle-earth is troubling, certainly, but because those who relayed the news cannot safely be revealed, there is little proof against the Governor which could stand in the Royal Court.”
Lord Erildar snorted and scratched his broad chin. “Isn’t there … damn. So, are we to let this scoundrel get away with banditry, and butchering the natives, and murdering poor Elendir…?”
“That has not been proven, Lord Erildar,” Berenor interrupted desperately, “The word was his death was suspicious, but Lord Herucarnë was reported to be in his own haven of Carnalondë. And the Haradrim are not Númenórean citizens, and therefore” — Erildar turned the full force of his glare on the lawyer.
Berenor cringed, but Silmarion saved him from rebuttal: “We are going to move, Erildar, but not in public, not yet The Steward is the key. He’s Edrathor’s man, so the First Herald will want to see him out of office. But remember the movements of bullion — I think our noble friend is being paid handsomely to Herucarnë in office, via several different associations. If we can prove that, then we can get him out, whatever First Lord Edrathor say about it.
“But we can’t move too quickly. Times have changed, my friend.” The Lord of Andúnië gazed out the window of the appointed townhouse. The streets of Armenelos were thronged with afternoon crowds. Far off over the roofs the golden spires of the palace, and the surrounding government buildings, rose against the distant shadow of Meneltarma.
“Aye,” said Erildar. His gruff voice was pensive now. “What’s the King doing in all this? There was the time, not long ago, he would’ve been to the bottom of this and never mind who was paying or which minister was friends with which. Always liked to know was going on, the King. But what is he now?” The land owner shook his head his drooping mustache followed the motion. “He’s hanging on, Silmarion. King’ll be seventeen and four hundred by the winter, that’s many more than many of his fathers have seen. Ought to go now, or at least give up scepter. He’s not been able to concentrate for years now, and his mind wanders. He’ll go soon whether he wants to or not.”
Berenor found the Councilor’s company suddenly even more uncomfortable. To induce the King to pass on his scepter — or to give up his life! That was treason, and the strict reprisals practiced by Tar-Atanamir in his more vigorous days were now under the control of others.
“‘The Heir’s no better, my friend,” said Silmarion. “He thinks of nothing but his treasury, and how to expand it without working for it. It’s a time for the likes of Edrathor, and Imrazôn, and now this Herucarnë — unless we stop them.”
Erildar reached for his decanter. “Here’s spit in Edrathor’s eye,” he said. “You’ll stay to dinner, won’t you, Andúnië?”
When Erildar had left the room, Silmarion took the moment for a private word with his lawyer.
“He is a useful contact, Berenor. He was close to Atanamir once, but he’s no King’s Man. We shall need him when this comes before the Council.”
“But, my Lord, if he mentions this to one Edrathor’s party…”
The Lord of Andúnië looked up from his chair. Berenor saw plainly his great age and his weariness. “We’ll need his support now. He has friends in Elenion’s Company and they’ll be watching him less than our merchants. I want to get more men to Vinyalondë before the year is out. This will be a long case, Berenor, but we will bring this man before the Council.”
Berenor bowed, and pulled his cloak closer around him.
“When do we go home?” he thought; but the Westlands were far away, and they both had further tasks in Armenelos.
He turned to Silmarion. “I will visit the Academy library while I am here. But evidence is the key. If you are to put the Governor on trial, there must be proof — witnesses. We will send more agents to Middle-earth, and ask for advice. I have more friends in Eriador than my captains and grain buyers! The Harad is the key, and remember the rumors: there are troubles beyond the Sea of Rhûn. You cannot suspect…”
Silmarion smiled, and his proud features softened. “I suspect every shadow, Berenor. I am fearful and old; you are young, and are not subject to paranoia. So go! Apply your youthful ingenuity.”
Berenor bowed and left, smiling slightly. But when he glanced behind, the laughter was gone from the old lord’s face, and there was pain in his eyes as he stared into the flickering fire.
The lawyer walked back towards his apartment through the crowded streets. He was hungry, and wished that Erildar had been more expansive with his hospitality. There was time to eat before an evening in the library.
The carriage of a nobleman clattered past, and looking up he saw the devices of Lord Imrazôn, the First Herald himself. His heart quailed that he might have to face that man across the Hall of the Scepter before many months were over-he was not a Royal Court lawyer! But Lord Silmarion bad been unwilling to engage a professional advocate in Armenelos, and so his legal adviser and assistant magistrate had been plucked from the estates in Andúnië and given a case of national importance.
It was a good life in Andúnië for a young man with no great ambition. The Lord and his household were generous, there was a pleasant apartment, the chance of a family in a few years — and there were the Eldar. They came seldom to Númenor in these days, and mostly to the lords in the west. Marvelous folk! He remembered the clear voices and dancing images of the Elven minstrels’ song, and the great tales of Beleriand and Valinor.
The country estates and heather-crowned mountains of the Andustar were far from tile noise and bustle of the Mittalmar, of Armenelos and Rómenna. The great fleets, the dominions and colonies, the trade, the growing problems of administration seemed to require more and more men and more and more offices from year to year, and the cities grew— “progress.”
But here was a problem which required more than administration. Berenor had never left the Yôzâyan, but the tales of the forests and mountains of Middle-earth, the clear images of the elf-lands and the mansions of the Dwarves, were dear to him. The thought of this man and his greed spreading war and murder in those distant lands left a bitter taste in his mouth. But what could be done by a small man such as himself? He remembered the thunder of the hoofs of Rochallor, and the glitter of Ringil, in the clear tones of Elven-song, as Fingolfin rode to the gates of Angband. But those days were gone.
“Berenor! Is it really you?” The lawyer was pulled from his wandering droughts.
He was greeted by a tall, thin man of about his own age, richly dressed, with oiled black hair curled about his shoulders. His face was familiar, but it took the lawyer a few moments to remember his name. “Valandur?”
For a moment the smiling, welcoming face seemed to suppress a scowl. “Oh, that was just a nickname. Call me Harekthor.” The awkward moment seemed to pass. “It’s strange to see you in the city.”
“Yes,” Berenor said, still slightly puzzled by the other man’s manner. “I’m only here for a few days — on business.”
Harekthor shook his head in mock bemusement. “The country is no place for a man like you. Look, you must come back with me for dinner this evening. We have so much to catch up.” The man’s manner was so earnest that Berenor found it hard to refuse outright.
“Look… Harekthor… I have to visit the College. There are some texts I need to look over today.”
“Fine. Come along later, about sunset. Here’s the address.” Berenor found himself handed a card. He was sure that Harekthor had been toying with the slip of paper in his pocket.
Berenor glanced at the card. “Is this your house?”
“No!” The other man laughed. “One of my friends lives there. He’ll be pleased to meet you! Don’t be too late.” The two shook hands and Harekthor plunged away into the crowd.
As he trudged on towards the academy, his scrollcase tucked under one arm, Berenor tried remember if he had ever said more than “Good morning” to Valandur in all their years together at the Royal College of Law. He shrugged. The ways of the city had always been a little strange to him.
The statutes regulating the establishment of the Protectorate Dominions in Middle-earth were as obscure as ever, despite their superficially tight wording. The colonies belonged to the King, and the Númenórean and native landholders were his tenants; they were answerable to the Steward of the Royal Estates as much as any other property-holders. But the Governor exercised the Steward’s power there across the sea, and there was little which could be done to impeach a Governor who was also the major tenant in the dominion.
That was an abuse of the statutes which could be traced back to the Steward. But the Steward was the King’s appointee, and the present incumbent was the protégé of the First Lord of the Council. Berenor shook his head. This was a difficult matter. He just wished Lord Silmarion could have found a sharper agent than himself to attack the problem.
He replaced the volume on the shelf and gathered up his papers. Wandering back through the library corridors, he was affected by a certain nostalgia for his years of study. He strolled quietly down one line of shelves into an alcove where he had spent too much of his youth. The desk was still there, but when he checked the shelves the well-worn scrolls of the lays of Beleriand were gone. Instead there were thick leather-bound volumes of collected Númenórean philosophy labeled in plain Adûnaic.
Berenor signed and turned away. For a moment, he thought he caught a glimpse through the shelves of a shadowed face, watching him. Then the student — or maybe it was an irritable librarian — moved silently away.
The house to which Harekthor had directed him was in an impressive terrace of fine apartments south of the royal district. Here there were no people as evening fell, and he walked the wide street, among its marble pillars, alone. Over the roofs he glimpsed the topmost spire of the Hall of the Scepter, and shivered. The Hall reached for him like the shadow of distant doom, awaiting the day when he would confront the advocates of the First Lord before the entire Council.
He found the building. A servant opened tile door, and led him into a corridor paneled with fine hardwoods from the forests of the Harad. The servant was of Middle-earth, but not of the Haradrim, though black men were brought to Númenor by some wealthy house holds. He was a stocky man with cropped black hair and a strange cast to his features. Berenor thought he was a native of the Westlands. His Adûnaic was slightly accented. “This way, Sir. Dinner has been laid.”
Harekthor was dining with a party of men and women who were introduced to Berenor swiftly as he entered the room. The names escaped him with equal swiftness, but most seemed to be either figures from one of the Rómenna trading companies, or mid-rank servants of the Crown in the offices of the Herald and the Steward. The owner of the house was a portly man named Hador, who had bleached his hair to a shade nearer white than golden. Several of the men wore Venturer collars, and one of the merchants bore the insignia of high rank within the Guild.
The food was abundant, rich and well-prepared. Berenor ate well and exchanged small conversation with Harekthor and an attractive young woman sitting opposite them. He was warming to Harekthor and his rather threadbare College reminiscences. This was a far more pleasant evening than the one he would have spent in his apartment, alone.
Then his companions fell silent, and be realized that they were listening to a young man who was holding forth beyond Harekthor.
“Imrazôn is right in principle,” he was stating in a self-important tone. “There is no question about that. The balance of power is the key. Our interests will always be served by ensuring that no other power becomes dominant in Middle-earth. But his application of principle is flawed. Seriously flawed.”
Berenor leant forward to catch a glimpse of the speaker. He was dressed in black silks, and he was thin with very sharp features. He made his points with sharp, downward cuts of his right hand, and rested his elbows calmly on the table, when speaking more evenly. Berenor was surprised to see the man dart a glance in his direction while he continued.
“To support the Dwarves is clearly wrong. Who is stronger than the King of Khazad-dûm? And he is dangerously close to Tharbad and Vinyalondë. He could cut off our supplies of grain if he wished to expand. At the moment, there is trouble brewing in Inner Harad. If the princes there become aggressive, we need an ally in the North, and that has to be either Belkhan and Rhûn, or Mordor.”
“I think that Lindon is still a viable ally,” said the young woman sitting opposite Berenor. “The Elves have reason to be grateful, and there’s no danger of them becoming too powerful.” A few diners on either side laughed t that. “What do you think, Berenor?”
He glanced around. Most of the surrounding men and women seemed to be staring at him. He cleared his throat. “We should always think about their intentions,” he said cautiously, trying to match the confidence of the other speakers. What would he say? That Ereinion Gil-galad was the rightful High King in Middle-earth? That Sauron of Mordor was a demon?
“Mordor has proved treacherous in the past,” he said at last.
“But its interests are clear,” said the sharp-faced man in black, glancing over at him now. “Lindon will turn against the Dwarves anyway — they are natural enemies — but Mordor might well ally with them, unless we offer Mordor enough to side against Khazad-dûm and against the princes of Inner Harad.”
Berenor didn’t have the will, or the nerve, to fight. He made a nonchalant gesture, “There could be trouble, yes.”
The man turned away to answer another question. Berenor relaxed and took a draught of wine, but the woman across the table caught Berenor’s eye as he turned back. “I think the Lord of Andúnië puts a useful line,” she said.
“He’s a very wise man,” he replied, beginning to forget caution.
“How is life in Andúnië?” Harekthor asked; and sipping at his wine, Berenor answered their questions about the hills and the remaining woodlands of the west.
It was only later when he realized that he had been coaxed onto dangerous ground. “There are problems in the Harad,” he was saying.
“Oh?” asked the woman. “Are the natives causing trouble again?”
“No,” he said. “Not the natives.” For a moment he was silent, and then he said, “Do we not provoke the Haradrim? Our lords and governors subjugate more and more of Middle-earth — not merely the old ports, but always new plantations and new slaves to work them.”
The woman shrugged. “We need food.” “Not slaves,” Harekthor added.
Berenor shook his head. “But Vinyalondë and Eriador provide enough to feed us.”
“For the moment,” said a voice, and once again Berenor saw the man in black looking in his direction. “But we are vulnerable unless we control enough of Middle-earth to be secure. Lindon, or Moria, or Mordor could sweep away the farms in Eriador. And if our sources of wood are cut off, then ships of Endor could threaten the Yôzâyan.”
“And there is other wealth than food,” burst in the merchant, Hador. “What of the spices that come out of Rhûn? What of gold out of the South, silver out of the East? What of the precious woods, or the fine stone for our tombs? We need to hold the Harad as well as Eriador, and we should not be deterred from the greatest venture of all” — he pointed east in a dramatic gesture — ” deep Rhûn, and the lands of the Sioni. If we could control the source and trade by sea,” the man slapped the table with his hand, “no power would have a hold on us.”
The man in black glanced at Hador with annoyance. Why? But Berenor could not collect his thoughts. He turned away and lifted his goblet. Conversation resumed around him.
The young woman looked at him in sympathy. “These merchants do become overexcited at the prospect of wealth, do they not? But there must be restraint. This Lord Governor, now, what can be done about him?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Without more evidence, he cannot be recalled. Or the Steward might be pressured. Or the First Lord.” He took a deep draught of wine. “I think my Lord knows more than he tells me. He has a plan … send to Middle-earth, go to friends in Vinyalondë… Lindon … the only way.”
“Who will be sent, do you think?”
But Berenor’s thoughts had begun to wander. “We are like the Lords of the Noldor,” he said. “We think that we have defeated the shadow. We think that our power is everything and that none stand before us. But we have lost the jewels that once were ours, and all our strength cannot recover them. And so we begin to fight, to fight amongst ourselves… I am tired.” The lawyer folded his arms on the table and lay down his head.
Other guests were advanced in drink and did not notice. But the woman’s fair face scowled in anger. “Who will Silmarion send?” she asked softly, brushing Berenor’s brow. But he did not move. Her eyes met those of the sharp-faced man in the black shirt, and then she turned to Harekthor. “Have him taken home,” she whispered. “He is not yet to be harmed. Go to Rómenna and report.”
Sounds of revelry continued all around.
“Now?” Harekthor protested. He glanced towards a certain man, a man dressed in blue cloth farther along the table, and saw that the man’s eyes were staring coldly into his own. He quickly glanced away. “Of course,” he said, and went for the servant.
The man in blue gazed at Berenor, without expression. He was toying with a plain gold ring which hung from a fine chain around his wrist. He did not put it on his finger.
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