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In the Court of the High King  by Dreamflower

Chapter 19

Clodio watched with a sinking stomach as he watched Dago being led away. He couldn't say he was even on good terms with the Bracegirdle, but at least they had been two hobbits together in the same predicament. He stared at the figure of his companion (for surely they at least had been that) being led through a door that shut behind him. A hand descended on his shoulder, and he gave a start.

"Master Banks, if you will follow me?" Clodio looked up into the eyes of the Man into whose hands his fate had been placed, and turned to follow. Master? What was his name? Amrod? No...Amdir.

"Where are we going, Master...Amdir?" he ventured.

Apparently he had got it right, because the Man answered. "We are going to my domain: the Archives." He led him back the way they had come, and out, through a pleasant courtyard--Clodio could see at a distance a young tree and a fountain--and then towards a low building that seemed to stand alone. It was tall, in the way all of the buildings seemed tall to a hobbit, but it was low in comparison to the huge tower of the King. Perhaps it was about two stories tall? There was a many pillared portico running all the way around it, and seven wide stairs led up to the portico.

"Many people think the Archives, the feast hall of Merethrond and the Guards barracks and a few other outlying structures are separate buildings. From here it appears so. But none of them are truly separate--all are a part of the Citadel, and are connected below by many passages and tunnels--or above by covered walks."

The steps were not steep, thankfully, and Clodio followed Master Amdir up to the massive door. From his belt the old Man took a ring of what seemed to be perfectly huge keys, and turned the largest of them in the lock. He pushed open the door with ease--Clodio wondered how something so big and heavy could move so smoothly and quietly. After they went in, the Man gave it barely a push, and it swung shut behind them with a snick. Clodio stared at the door--it seemed almost magical. Then he turned and looked at the immense room before him, and felt dizzy as he realized the building was truly only one story and the ceiling was probably between twenty and thirty feet above their heads. While the ceiling in the throne room had probably been higher, it had not felt like it; or perhaps he had simply been too worried about his fate to notice.

The upper part of the room was surrounded on all four sides by high narrow windows. They were shuttered, but the room was not dark, for in the center of the ceiling was a skylight. The glass was frosted, and let in light but not glare. Clodio thought that was quite clever. Below the windows on the two sides of the room were bookshelves against the walls, filled with volumes. The room was broken by many more tall bookshelves in rows across the room, wide tables with chairs were in the aisles between the shelves. At the far end, he could see there were doors at the back of the room. To his right were many cabinets which appeared to be closed and locked, and to his left was a long counter; there were some chairs and shelves behind the counter, but the shelves only had a few items upon them. By the wall next to the door on the right was a tall pole with a hook on one end and some sort of leather handle on the other. Master Amdir took the pole and began to go around the room with it, using it to open the shutters as he went. He used the hook on the end of the pole to push a bar that would tilt open the louvres of each shutter. Clodio stared in amazement. The room was now filled with light.

To make the circuit of the room took Master Amdir several minutes. When he returned to where Clodio waited, and leaned the pole back in its place, he took a deep breath of satisfaction. He walked behind the counter, where there were a couple of tall stools, and an even higher chair that resembled to Clodio's eyes a baby's high chair. "That chair is yours, Master Banks," said Master Amdir. "The King had it sent down yesterday."

Clodio was very surprised that the King would have thought of such a thing. But clearly he had. He noticed that the rungs on the legs were set in such a way as to make it easy for him to climb into, and that in addition, one of them at the front jutted out enough for him to rest his feet, so that his legs would not be dangling down.  He would be at just the right height to sit at the counter.

He followed Master Amdir as the Man showed him about the place. The locked cabinets were where many of the legal documents of the Kingdom were stored so as to be at hand if needed, but were not allowed into the hands of just anyone.

"Anyone who cares to may come here to the Archives to read from the documents on the shelves, though they must read them here at one of the tables. I show them where they may find some of those things, but my most important work is back here." Clodio followed his new Master. "The door on the right leads outside to the jakes. We do not have a water closet here. The center door leads down to the old tunnels and passages that go back towards the main part of the Citadel." Clodio was surprised to see his guide blush fiercely and look embarrassed. "It was there I accidentally locked the Ringbearer and his cousin Sir Peregrin in one night! I had no idea they had gone in. They had gone straight down the stairs to the old rooms, and missed the passage altogether. The King and the Steward were most upset. But it had been so long since I had any visitors here—I quite forgot to notice they had not left!"

Clodio gaped at him in astonishment, and the Man gave a chuckle. "I have truly learned my lesson about that. I make sure now that there are no others here when I lock up at night!" He sighed. "In a way, it was a good thing it happened. There were a great many neglected documents down there and things had deteriorated to a very sad state! There were even rats! That problem has been solved, and the rooms are in the process of being cleaned.  I am hoping to begin the process of organizing the documents later this year."

He gestured to the door on the left. "There is my workroom." He led the way and opened the door. Inside were shelves filled not with books or scrolls, as in the outer rooms, but with scribal tools—pens, penknives, parchment and paper, quills and ink, rulers and piercing tools, pigments and paints and many other things Clodio could not begin to recognise.

"It's important to copy the oldest documents before they deteriorate, and to repair damage to newer ones."

Clodio nodded. One of his tasks as Family Head had been to see to the re-copying of the Family Books before they grew to old or faded to do so.

"The King tells me you are literate; do you read or speak any tongues other than Westron."

"No." He'd begun to understand that the language he had always taken for granted was not everywhere spoken, and was sometimes spoken differently than he was accustomed to. Was he going to have to learn any of them in order to please his new Master?

"It is just as well. Your help among the stacks and in the outer room will free me to take more care of things here. I am hoping very much to find an apprentice soon. My last one went for a soldier ten years ago and never returned." Master Amdir looked quite sad as he said this.

"Well, Master Banks, we shall get no work done today. I must take you to my home and help you settle in. And I think perhaps you may be ready to have luncheon."

Clodio was most certainly ready for a meal! He had grown used to not complaining of his hunger around the Men with whom he'd travelled, nor with the guards who were set upon him. He knew he was fed more than Men eat, but they had not understood the frequency of hobbit meals; or perhaps it was that when it came to prisoners, they did not care. But he was still hungry at mealtimes, and he wondered if he'd ever have six proper meals a day again.

Amdir led him back across the courtyard across which they had come, and then partway around the perimeter of the wall that enclosed the Seventh Circle. There was the tunnel-like gate, through which they had arrived that first night.

Master Amdir spoke to the Guardsman on duty there.

"One moment, Master Amdir. Captain Beleg left this for your companion." He held up a long grey bag, pulled closed at one end by a drawstring.

"Thank you," said Master Amdir. He handed it to Clodio, who took it, wondering what on earth it could contain. "I believe, Master Banks, that it is your clothing and possessions."

"Ah," he said, hefting the bag over his back and keeping one hand through the drawstring, he followed his new Master.

They entered the Sixth Circle (passing, if only Clodio had known, right by the guest house in which the rest of the hobbits had made the embassy) and then turned down a quiet lane. These houses were smaller and not quite so imposing as the other houses closer he had seen closer to the Citadel, though they were still quite large to hobbit eyes. None of them were more than two stories, and they appeared to all be built to one of two or three similar plans. All had low stone walls in front--though they were high enough that Clodio could not see over; perhaps a few inches above his head. And all the walls had ornate iron gates.

"These are houses where senior officials at the Citadel who have families, and who choose not to live within the Citadel itself, live," said Master Amdir. He stopped at one of the iron gates and lifted the latch, and led Clodio within. The house was built of the same white marble as nearly all the rest of the city. They entered a tidy paved courtyard with a very small fountain in the center. Immense pots were placed all around the courtyard, planted with herbs and other plants that Clodio could not identify, though a couple of the pots appeared to hold small trees. The main part of the house faced them, with a wide veranda supported by round marble columns; it was two stories high, but was flanked on both sides by wings of one story. The roof was of grey slate tiles, and the windows all had grey shutters on them.

"Right now the inhabitants of my home are myself, my widowed daughter Glinis and my grandson Hethuvir. My granddaughter Hithuiwen is recently wed, and dwells in the home of her husband. My wife died many years past, and both my sons were slain by the Enemy. The elder was killed upon the Pelennor, the younger was lost a few years before in Ithilien. I have two other grandsons, sons of my elder son, but they do not live in the City. They live south of Minas Tirith in Lebennin with their mother; but sometimes they come to visit me in the fall."

Clodio shuddered. His wife and sons were lost to him--not to death, but to his own folly.

Amdir led him into the house, and called out: "Glinis, my dear! We are home!"

A voice called out: "I am in the kitchen, Father!"

Clodio followed Master Amdir to a corridor that led to the wing on the left side of the house. His nose told him quite clearly that was the way to the kitchen.

Mistress Glinis was presiding over the hearth, where something that smelled delicious bubbled. A soup or stew of some sort, if his nose was right, with beans and garlic and onions and parsley; perhaps summer savory and thyme, and bay. There was a platter of hot flat breads already upon the table. He noticed that one of the chairs had two cushions upon it, so clearly they had planned for him.

"Master Banks, this is my daughter Glinis, widow of Hithmir. Glinis, this is Clodio Banks, whom the King has given into our keeping."

Clodio bowed politely and said, "At your service." Then he looked up to study the mistress of the house. She was taller than her father, he was surprised to see, and her black hair had a few threads of grey. Her eyes were also grey, as seemed true of most of these Southern people he had seen--but in spite of that, there was something about her that reminded him sharply of his sister. He could easily imagine that same expression on Eglantine's face: skepticism, yet also willing to give him the courtesy of a doubt.

So this was his new home. He hoped very much that he could erase that skepticism, and prove to her that he could do his part--whatever that part might be.


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