After the earthquakes
In the weeks before the autmunal equinox, the orphanage had become quiet and empty. In his role at the citadel, Findegil had removed all the able scholars and scribes, including Tinnuben, into lodgings in the sixth circle, to aid him in his immense tasks.
The mood in the city had quietened since the earthquakes, though there was much consternation at the lack of action and co-ordination from the authorities. Many complaints were made that the city guard were moving workers on, prioritising the repairs on wealthy and influential families’ properties over the majority, and over infrastructure and public order. At times things would get ugly, though no-one had reported any instances of the “orc-horde” vandalism and hooliganry that had plagued the city the previous year.
People were quietly annoyed. With the king, the senate, the army. Simple pamphlets had begun to appear, often carrying a headline of “Voice of Gondor” – decrying the state of affairs, demanding the egality in the society at this time of crisis. Who was instructing the city guard to prioritise rebuilding efforts? What was the senate doing? Where was the king? Although the latter question had been asked by many for many years.
As autumn approached, the city guard began to crack down on sedition and open dissent, filling the city’s jails and dungeons ever fuller with those who had been caught with the audacity to speak out. And many more who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, listening to the wrong people.
One casualty of the crackdown was Master Gerion, who had been arrested as part of a peaceful afternoon debating group in Pellanor Square. It had been three nights before word reached Master Boromir in the orphanage, who stormed into the night to address the injustice himself. He was unsuccessful, and turned away by guardsman who branded him an “interferer.” Boromir vowed he would help his childhood teacher.
Car-ohin was scattering; Rosh’ann and his son Arothel had used the money from the sale of their boatyard business to purchase and crew a seafaring vessel; they had sailed for the South as soon as the weather let them. Master Renmir had left for his mission to the lost land with the elf. With Master Findegil in the citadel, and most other masters busy with their own concerns, Master Tommin had taken a reluctant responsibility for the whole of Carohin. Master Aethorod was still absent without word, and Woden had not been seen by anyone since Vorongil had seen him in Pelargir.
Having missed the opportunity to visit the Stone Clock at the time of the vernal equinox, Elder Bergil insisted that he could not miss his observations this autumn. With a lack of experienced personnel (and himself due to travel to Pelargir to “repair” matters after the killing of the flase Lonsil) Master Tommin had politely asked Romon to take charge of the trip, and had organised a dozen off-duty city guardsmen as mercenary help. It was an honour for one so young; and a great responsibility.
It was a couple of days before the journey, and Thenchanar, Romon and Ninimdor had been running errands all day, sourcing wood shafts and planks for planned stockades when they got to Ithilien. They were eager and apprehensive in equal measure. The last few weeks at the orphanage had been tiring; without the others, they had more chores and fewer chances to train and further their own aims.
As they returned to the orphanage, it was mysteriously quiet; they could smell the distinct odour of rotting leaves – as if the Bear had been here. But more interestingly, Master Findegil was here; discussing something in urgent yet hushed tones with several of the other masters of Car-ohin.
It was Tommin who first spied them, “Ah, boys!” he said, “are you up for a bit of crime?”
Findegil explained the problem: It had come to his attention that the pamphlets being distributed by the dissenters were actually being stamp-printed on apparatus he had designed some years before. He explained the “stamp-press” system to everyone – a framework into which one placed metal lettered keys, and a compression lever that brought the paper against the template, once inked. He had made three of the presses; with the aid of Vord’s dwarven craftsman who had fashioned the intricate metal lettering.
And this was the problem; If one of the presses was being used to print the seditious material, it would quickly lead back to Findegil – leaving him (and the orphanage) in an uncomfortable political position, especially with the grant of sovereignty so recent. The fact that Findegil had learned of these developments through discrete contacts in the city guard, meant they were not far from making the connection. He needed to recover (or destroy) the presses, and he needed to act quickly. There wasn’t time to steal everything, but he hoped that retrieving the dwarven letters would be enough to give him at least some deniability. If someone with his presses was behind the seditious literature, they would not report the theft to the guard, and would have to destroy everything else themselves.
With the youngster’s help, it might be possible. Findegil and Boromir would deal with one press, to the southeast of the city, Tommin and kHam’ed would take another near the southern gate, leaving Thenchanar, Romon and Ninimdor to recover the metal stamps from Brevik’s Wood and Pulp, a woodshop and carpenters a couple of miles north along the Avenue of the Rohirrim.
To Brevik’s Wood and Pulp
There wasn’t much time to lose. They grabbed horses, sacks, and discrete weaponry, and headed to the location as the sun was cresting behind the mountains. It was two roads west of the Avenue, nestled alongside a cascading mountain stream which drove a waterwheel powering the saws and other machinery. The property was in three sections: the southernmost a two-storey building, in the middle a large covered open area with a small building at the rear, and on the right an open yard with a horse-wheel at the back, connected by immense greased cogs to the same machinery that drove the woodshop. At this early hour of the evening, the business was still working, and a number of men could be seen going about their work in the buildings and in the covered area in the middle.
They huddled closely and discussed the plan. It was likely that the press would have to be kept away from the sawdust in the main shed; so their best bet would be the smaller building at the back in the centre. But workmen were between them, they would need a distraction. It was all too obvious: Fire. Thenchanar would sneak behind the buildings and start a fire, and they would use the distraction to retrieve what they have come for. Suddenly, Romon saw a company of city guard approaching them from the south. They were too late!
Don’t panic – they thought. It’s not unheard of for a City Guard company to patrol back streets; their routes were deliberately random. But they knew about the presses! They were here to grab it, and Findegil would be lost. Could they lead them astray? Possibly. Could they fight them? No chance. They could only hope. Quickly, they composed themselves as the company approached.
But the City Guard marched past, with a couple of casual nods to the three travellers taking a rest on the corner. It was just a regular patrol. But they must act now, they would not be as lucky with the next patrol.
Their plan was put into action. Thenchanar took a lit torch and made his way alongside the open yard to the right, ducking below the low wall that surrounded the property. He hadn’t been seen as he scrambled on to the rocky slope behind the buildings. Here he noticed the horizontal slats of the main woodshop building and an idea struck him. Carefully prising apart one of the slats, he slipped through a small lit wick, and left as quietly as he had come.
The cries of “Fire” erupted just as Thenchanar joined the others. The men in the yard ran to their coworkers’ aid; noticing the three teenagers on the street and yelling at them to help, “get the pails and fetch us water!” The three of them moved sluggishly – showing some heed to their need, but little urgency.
The last of the workmen paused for a moment, yelling at Ninimdor to get the pails and fetch water with him, but after a few seconds ran to aid the others. Thenchanar and Romon rushed to the building at the back, leaving Ninmdor to keep watch on the distraction as it developed. The door to the back building was unlocked.
Inside, there was just one room; on the left, a few cabinets with bowls and cups beside a door which led through to the main woodshed, and ahead of them stood two presses like Findegil had described. On the right-hand wall stood a pair of deep bookcases, upon the shelves of which were many wooden trays containing the metal letter stamps Findegil needed to make disappear. They took a sack each and started tipping the trays in – spilling a few of the stamps onto the floor in their haste.
Outside, as he rushed to get more water, the same workman who had shouted to Ninimdor earlier saw him again. “Why aren’t you helping? Grab a pail and follow me!” Ninimdor did so. The workmen were ferrying pails of water from the small millpond outside and to the left of the building and into the woodshed where the fire had started. Ninimdor could see that it was getting under control; the others wouldn’t have long.
Romon and Thenchanar had finished tipping the trays into the sacks; and scrambled to pick up as many of the letters that had spilled on to the floor as they could. They could hear the workmen’s voices through the door. The fire was out. They had to leave.
The workman clapped Ninimdor on the shoulder. “That was exciting! Thanks for your help. Do you want a drink?” he asked, and without waiting for an answer headed to the adjoining door to fetch extra cups. Ninimdor stepped quickly and stealthily away.
He joined Romon and Thenchanar as they lugged the heavy sack on to their horses. It was only a moment later that new shouts could be heard from the building at the back – their exploits had been discovered! Romon spotted another company of City Guard in the distance to the south.
They headed straight back to the Avenue, and returned to the orphanage as quickly as they could without being seen to hurrying.
A Long Delay
The three of them were the first party to return. Master Findebras took the horses, and they put the sacks of recovered metal letters out of sight. Thenchanar went to sit in silence in the Temple of the Lady. The other two argued about a great many things? Did Findegil need to recover the letters, or have we just stolen them for him? If they’re made by the dwarves then they must be valuable! Can we melt them them down and make superior weapons?
A few moments after nightly curfew was sounded, Tommin and kHam’ed returned, in a similar manner as they had: two sacks of recovered letters slung over the necks of two horses. kHam’ed was covered in blood, and Tommin – if anything – just looked a little shocked. He didn’t explain much beyond the fact they had been discovered, and had “dealt” with the situation. kHam’ed was actually unhurt.
But no sign of Findegil and Boromir. Everyone retired to sleep and hoped for the best.
In the morning, a horse-drawn cart clattered into the orphanage courtyard, with Findegil at the helm. On the back were a perfect and complete selection of trays of dwarven-made letter stamps. Findegil organised the crating up of all the “evidence” and questioned the others on what had been left behind. The two other groups – the lads, and Tommin and kHam’ed – admitted they probably dropped a few of the stamps. Findegil hoped it would be enough, and after thanking everyone for their efforts, disappeared back to his work in the citadel.
No doubt there were going to be repercussions. Three almost identical, synchronised robberies of almost the same items across three locations in the city on the same night? It was bound to raise eyebrows. Romon and the gang would be happy to be away. In a few days, they would be out of the city; and yet they were headed to Ithilien. Anything could happen.