The Hounds at Bay - Part 1

Gareth, the Sword of Anarion, known to foes (many) and friends (few) as Steel-heart, ran a bare hand through his close cropped black hair and took up his quill again. One more and then this torturous duty would be over. A precise touch to the ink well, not too much lest the ink smear, not too little lest the nib cut the parchment. Then a slow, sweeping signature along the base of the last of the formal reports.

He sighed, leaning back in the chair, and passed the completed form to the slender man across the desk from him. Stannis, Gareth’s second in command and Executor in the Hounds of Anarion, reviewed the contents once more with the practiced, precise eye of a man once trained for the law before taking up the sword...and then dripped blood red wax under Gareth’s signature before pressing the official signet of the company decisively into the warm sealing wax. He paused for a moment, appraising his Captain’s signature again, the firm lines showing military training and command, the flowing swirls denoting a noble’s education and culture, the curt brevity denoting the stern, relentless character of the man.

Stannis gathered the pile of parchments into a tidy bundle with quick, expert hands and wrapped them in a silken cord. “That is the last of them, my Captain. Each report signed and sealed for proper documentation in a dozen different repositories of the City. This unfortunate affair is now officially OVER.”

Gareth did not more from his chair, simply raising one heavy boot to rest on the edge of the gracefully carved table. He raised a hand silently, and the serving girl scurried forward and curtsied, placing a goblet in his lifted hand and then disappearing again as if she had never been there. Steel-heart drank deep, letting the Dorwinion vintage sooth his aching bones and looked at his Exec from under his brow. “Do you truly believe it is over?”

Rising to place the gathered parchment in the hands of Raen, an eager young messenger no more than 10 years of age but thrilled to be serving the heroes of Gondor, Stannis laughed demurely. “Not even slightly…too many loose ends and strange coincidences, and that doesn’t even start on the outright lies. The OFFICIAL part is over, but if I know you my Captain, the real work is just beginning…”

Gareth rose and began to pace, his cobalt blue cloak snapping behind him and brushing the fine marble floors of their Company lounge. By virtue of the exalted status and long history of the Hounds of Anarion, their lounge was unusually large and well-appointed, located in the Master’s Tier, the envy of lessor companies. “The entire matter is damn irregular. It is bad enough our prisoner died, we failed in our duty…but the circumstances make no sense. There is no way that two bit racketeer could have known of our ruse. Only you, I, Taril and Horin knew that we had placed a decoy in the wagon before we rode out, and they are beyond suspicion.”

Stannis nodded and returned to his seat. “And I suspected them none the less…they passed the questioning with flying colors. They were not the source of the information, I would stake my name and honor on it.”

The Captain turned and slammed his fist into the tabletop, causing his goblet to drop to the floor and smash. “Then WHO! HOW! The Hounds of Anarion do not fail due to chance or misfortune!”

The seated Exec did not seem to react to the sudden violence, and soundlessly the serving girl returned, cleaned up the goblet and replaced it. Gareth picked up the replacement without question and sipped it, sighing again as Stannis leaned forward, his voice dropping. “SilverWand’s Slut is continuing to ask questions and we both know how she functions. Xandilif, the Champion of the Azure Faithful knows many who will happily listen to her rebuke of the Hounds if she is not satisfied with our responses. I have spoken to Ashe and our revered Lord Commander of the Office of Deployment saw fit to show me his copy of the Edict of Arrest, to put my concerns to rest. A clear Edict to detain one Gwaelion of Ost Lontir, known as Hawke of Bree in the Distant Provinces, for Questioning on a matter of Heraldry, specifically as to the whereabouts and mortal state of the Princess Merileth of Ost Lontir, Blood Royal of the Twilight, reputed to be his Dame of the Twilight….and that was the extent of it. The date and time he passed that command to Raen, our messenger, is duly logged on the filed Edict as well as the Tome of Deployment and our Company Ledger.”

Gareth sipped wine more slowly, listening to the wall of formal Gondorian jargon and euphemism. Gondor, and especially Minas Tirith lived and breathed its bureaucracy. The military even more so. The Empire of Men had survived all these long centuries under siege only by keeping precise records, some would seem to think. However, the longer Stannis spoke, the more alarmed Gareth became until he rose, forgetting his goblet on the table altogether.

“Those are not the charges I read forth from the Edict. What of Treason, of MURDER? What of the accusation of conspiracy to spill the Blood Royal? The record only lists questioning on a matter of Heraldry? Concerning a lost princess of the twilight beyond hope of ascension? QUESTIONING???? ABSURD!” Gareth thundered, pacing more swiftly to the table. Seeing his intention, Stannis lifted his Captain’s goblet just before his hammering fist on the table top would have destroyed it as it did the first. Stannis, after all, was responsible for things like goblets and wine casks in the stores.

Stannis shrugged. “Clearly between the time the edict was handed to Raen and was passed to me…something was changed, Steel-heart. That would have required a person of no little skill and sophistication as well as knowledge. Who, and why is the question we just find answers for…or someone else will, and it will likely cast a grave light on the Hounds.”

Nodding, the Captain ran a hand through his hair again. “This is going to go from bad to worse….”

Raen stepped timidly into the chamber and cleared his young throat. “My lords, Xandilif of the First Born, Champion of the Azure Faithful and Knight Extraordinary unto Princess Lothiriel of the Azure Sea, Blood Royal, begs leave to attend upon you with matters concerning the safety of the Realm and the will of her Princess.”

Stannis grinned and passed Gareth his goblet again. “Bad, worse..and now worst has arrived at our doorstep on official business.”

Gareth nodded and arranged his cloak, then took a long sip of his returned goblet beforn turning to the messenger boy. “Have the esteemed Champion of Dol Amroth and Heroine of the Sovereign Realm of Gondor shown in…and bring more wine. We will have a lot to discuss, it seems.”