6 years ago
It was dawn. He had been up all night. Correction, he had been up several nights now. His eyes felt heavy as the greyish pinks and reds filtered through the heavy clouds. Somewhere in the city, a cock crowed to welcome the sun. A bell tolled in the city center, marking the hour. He yawned and moved from his seated position at the edge of the room. The stars, those still peeking through the holes in the clouds, began to slowly fade. He had no idea if the night’s ritual had been a success or not. He would not be able to tell for several weeks at the earliest if the ritual’s power had been directed to right person. He was exhausted now, beyond exhausted. He climbed down from the roof of his manse at a pace that suggested he was eager to climb into bed. After three days of wakefulness, Frost
felt as though he had earned at least a day’s rest. His crew were going to be unhappy, they were always unhappy when they had to be in port for too long, but their happiness wasn’t the first thing on his mind. The smell of saltwater assailed him. Despite his home being far inland, he could still smell the sea all around him. It was not a bad smell, no a bad smell would be the charred corpses of crew members that displeased or disobeyed Krakzun
. The sea was the smell of the unknown, the mists that obscured, the future. The salt smell clung to him as he reached the ground. He wiped his brow, it came away sticky. It had been a very hot night, and the ritual had been taxing. Rituals that took place during a black moon often were by their very nature. He was confident though that he had succeeded. There had been a feeling of release, of completion, as the sun’s first rays appeared against the underbelly of the clouds. He inhaled deeply, his lungs expanding and popping his ribs. He leaned against the stone edifice of his family home. The stone was cool to the touch, he sighed with relief, closing his eyes with a contented smile. It was an effort to open his eyes again. If he had allowed himself, he could have fallen asleep right there. It would not matter that he was still standing upright.
Darkness began to close in around him, wrap him up with the comforting arms of an old lover. He safe and secure in that familiar darkness. The sounds of the sea, the whistling of the wind, it all melted away as the abyss of sleep began to wash over him. For a heartbeat, in that briefest of moments between consciousness and unconsciousness, he could feel himself floating, weightless and free.
The harsh, raking sound of crunching gravel tore him back into the world of the waking. He half opened his deep blue eyes and glared at the manservant that approached. His vision was blurred so he couldn’t tell right away who it was. The harder he looked the more like a blob of candlewax the man looked. Once he was within a pace of Frost the man stopped. His voice was nasally and his accent was affected. Instantly, Frost
knew who it was, and groaned irritably.
, I bear a message from your mother,” the voice was reedy and thin, papery with age but loaded with pride.
eyes snapped open wide, the exhaustion and velvety darkness vanished. “My mother? Is here? In Umbar?” Frost’s
stomach turned in knots. Normally she was far in the east this time of year. What was she doing back? “What message does the Mistress of House Nûlukhô give to me?” He kept the apprehension from his voice. He was not going to give this particular servant the satisfaction of seeing him unnerved.
His name was Kalagir, he had been ancient when Frost
was a child. His face was covered in wrinkles and liver spots, his hair was the color of bleached bones; he wore it long as was the fashion, tied back in a thick, intricate braid. He was the oldest of his mother’s personal attendants, coming with her when she left House Castamir and joined House Nûlukhô, the house of Frost’s
father. There was a light in the man’s pale purple eyes that made Frost uneasy. He seemed to know things about Frost, about his inner thoughts the man had no business knowing. One of these days, he was going to be rid of Kalagir and he was going to revel in it.
“Mistress Zôrzimril Nûlukhô
wishes to speak to her son,” he said, though Frost
did not miss the hesitant distaste when the word “son” was spoken.
Pulling himself off the stone wall, Frost
approached. “What does my mother need to speak to me of?”
That light in the manservant’s eyes darkened ever so slightly. “Does she need a reason to speak to her son? She is the head of the House, you will see her. She is not a woman to be denied.”
If he had not been suffering from exhaustion from three days without sleep, Frost
would have had time to think before he acted. With reflexes as quick as a snake, his hand shot out and backhanded the ancient man across the face. The edges of Frost’s
vision blurred and reddened, he clenched his jaw hard, hard enough to hear the bones creaking. “And I am not a man to ordered about by the help, you slimy eel.” He spat at the man’s feet.
“Your mother will hear of this,” the old man wheezed violently. “I am sacrosanct.”
back handed him again, then grabbed the cuff of his shirt and lifted him bodily into the air to look him in the eyes. “Until my mother occupies this house, I
am the master. And when I am the master, you are far, far
from sacrosanct. You continue to exist now only because of my benevolence. Should I change my mind, should you outgrow your usefulness to my mother in my eyes, I will have to tied to the prow of my ship in place of the figurehead and I will ride your corpse until you are nothing but sea torn bones.” He released the man and pushed him away. “Tell my mother that, if you are so bold.”
Kalagir wiped a thin line of spittle and blood from his chin, made a horrifyingly sour face at Frost and turned to go. He was halfway gone through the courtyard when he turned back. “She will be at The House of the Cat
and will expect you to make obeisance to her in a timely manner.”
did not have a chance to respond before the man disappeared around the corner. His stomach was still wrapped up in knots. What was his mother doing here? Today of all days? She normally housed herself in the far east this time of years, spending time with supposedly distant relations, relations Frost had never met. When he was a child once, he asked about this far eastern members of the family. He received a very clear message that he was not to ask after them. Absently, he rubbed the white, faded scar on his elbow where the glass had cut him.
The world around him began to come to life. The faded, muted blues and greens woke as the sun climbed higher in the rim of the sky. Golden sunbeams cast strange purple shadows, things that twisted and groaned and stretched out ghostly fingers to grasp at passersby. Frost entered his house. He so dearly wanted to sleep, to fall into an oblivion and allow himself to rest. He entered his bed chambers with a snarl, slamming the doors before any of his own servants had a chance to see him. He stared at his bed, an ancient canopied thing his father had insisted upon. It was the only thing left of his father in the entire house, including his father’s remains, which he and his mother had dumped into the harbor as a curse upon his memory. Frost
kept the bed purely for nostalgic reasons.
He would need to change. He had been in these clothes for three days and they were beginning to ripen. He picked out a clean pair of trousers, black dyed wool inlaid with raven feather motifs. The cool fabric felt good on his skin. He selected a similarly patterned tunic, pulling it on over his head. Finally, he removed the silk dalmatica from his closet and pulled it on. He only wore the ornately austere thing when he was with his mother. She required the formality of it, even when their visits were of a familiar nature. On the breast was stitched the ancient symbol of the house, though updated and transformed by his mother: a raven, rampant against a deep red background, a silver chevron behind it. Dark, blood red rubies had been stitched with silver fabric into the great cuffs of the sleeves and collar, catching the glinting light or the rising sun. As he pulled it on, he could feel the weight not only of the fabric, but of the familial responsibility pulling him down. He rubbed his forearms, absently looking at the runic tattoos that ran up and down his arms in geometric patterns.
The journey to The House of the Cat
, one of the more luxuriant inns of Umbar was one made in silence. Frost paid little heed to the world around him as he brooded and vexed. The carriage came to a halt in front of the massive building, a graven image of Queen Berúthiel (formerly of Gondor) stood in the courtyard. Supposedly the place had housed the one time queen of Gondor in the days of her youth but Frost thought that unlikely. It was far more probable that the statue of the cat queen had been stolen or rediscovered and brought here. Still, place was massive, larger then the manse they lived in. His mother often stayed here, preferring the large meeting halls that she could hold court in over the plebian riffraff.
The voice was as quiet as a mouse, but in the great empty silence that was the entry way it could have been thunder. He turned and a saw a skinny, youthful serving girl, dressed in finery that almost seemed comical. He nodded to her.
“This way,” she dared not look him in the eyes, rather she seemed to look just passed him at a spot on the dark, rich wood that made up the interior.
She turned quickly and began scurrying across the foyer, her shoes making a “clickclickclick” sound that echoed ominously.
His mother, in all her rapacious glory, sat at the end of a massive dining table, resplendent in scarlet, black, and silver. Though she had passed into her second century of life, she looked as vivacious and cruelly keen as a woman half her age. She, like Frost, was of nearly pure Númenórean stock and that meant their lives were much longer than the commoner make their way on the streets outside. Her, despite not yet being of a great age, her hair was white, but it was not the same dull, bleached white of Kalagir, but a magnificent, shining, almost iridescent, shimmering white. Even from a distance away, Frost could see the snowy white sparkle of diamonds in her hair net.
“Mother,” he genuflected and bowed. “To what do I owe this unexpected visit? I had not expected you back until the turning of the leaves.”
, come give your mother a kiss,” her voice was strong, there was iron there, old, strong, and hard.
did as he was bid, wincing at the sound of his name. It was a pretentious, overly showy name that he had long since discarded for his less luxuriant, but still formidable pseudonym. He kissed his mother on the cheek and took a seat next to her.
“It is good to see you, my Lady.”
She scoffed. “Is it? The way you treated Kalagir might suggest otherwise, my darling black sword. He is quite upset with you.” There was a hint, just a hint, of a mocking smile at the corners of her lips. “You really shouldn’t treat him so roughly. He is very delicate.”
Frost sneered. “I think it’s time for you to get another attendant. That one is well passed his due date.”
Servants, mute and silent, brought out plates of food and goblets filled with a dark, ruby colored wine.
“You ought not to tell me what to do with my affairs, dear son,” Zôrzimril
said, sipping at the glass of wine. “You’ve made a mess of your own so much it’s shocking you’re still alive to carry on the Nûlukhô name at all. Really, Dôlguzagr
, you must be more careful.”
“I’m only going to be in Umbar for a fortnight, then I will be returning back East. I came to speak to you, darling boy. I need you to do a few things for me,” she began to cut daintily into the fish on her plate. “And before you even think it, yes I could have merely sent you a letter and told you what I needed but I wanted to see you. You’re so often away these past few years that I’ve hardly seen you at all. I’ve had to resort to more extreme methods of checking in on you.
“When is this corsairing of yours going to end? It’s beneath you, my son. It is time you took your place within the power structure of Umbar and began living up to your name.”
Taking a slow sip of the overly dry wine, Frost
sighed. “I do good work on The Grand Conjuration
. I’ve brought vast amounts of business for the family and increased our wealth and standing. You would just prefer I used a human crew.”
“Do not interrupt me, son. You may seventy years old now but I will not hesitate to discipline you,” the hard edge in her voice turned sharp. Frost closed his eyes, wishing for sleep. “As I was saying, it’s time for you to get involved in the political structure of Umbar. Your father was a failure in such matters, I blame him for your incessant need to galivant across the world. If he had taught you the importance of the political structure of Umbar, you wouldn’t have taken up such dangerous, foolhardy endeavors.”
remained silent. He took another sip of the wine (which had begun to go to his head already) and cut into his fish. It was juicy, aromatic, and flavorful, but he could hardly taste it. This was not the first time his mother had tried to dissuade him from his seaborne lifestyle. It would not be the last. There was something more though, something more pressing, he could sense it.
“Did you complete it?”
The question threw him off guard. He coughed. “What?”
“Don’t play coy with me Dôlguzagar
, I am very well aware of what has been going on the last few nights. I’m painfully aware of the astrological significance of the black moon, especially with your mystery cult.”
reddened, at a loss for words. “Yes…” he said after a moment’s recovery. “I did.”
“And?” she took a sip of wine.
“I believe I succeeded. I won’t know for certain for a few weeks but –”
“I do wish you would cease this dangerous tomfoolery of yours with the Iron folk.”
His mother did not often cut him off. She considered very rude and improper. Frost was stunned. He swallowed the lump in his throat. “Tomfoolery?”
“I don’t care what you call it, Frost
” she said that name with such disdain he thought she might actually spit. “They are dangerous and I love you.”
“The people in the East are dangerous as well mother,” he pointed out.
“Not in the same sense as your folk. Dark and cruel the East maybe, but they are nothing compared to horrors I know of the North.”
“I am careful, Mother,” he reached across the table and put his hand on hers.
“I can count nearly a dozen times you have not been careful,” she retorted.
“Only a dozen? Well then I think I’ve played it quite safe. I’ve only come away with a few scraps and bruises.” He smiled, genuinely, for the first time since he heard his mother was here. “What can I do for you mother?”
- - - -
Armed with his mother’s “shopping list”, Frost made his way through the busy streets of Umbar. The morning had burned away and in its wake was the turbulent, sometimes violent, often unscrupulous workings of Umbar. Frost felt more at ease here, in the rough streets where cutpurses and assassin children scuttled in the alleys than the ivory halls of leadership. He had returned home to change, gladly peeling off the formal wear and garbing himself in the normal black and browns and greys of his day to day life. His first stop was The Grand Conjuration
, making sure Rök
, his hulking uruk first mate, had everything in order and ready to depart again.
“Aye, we’re loaded up and ready to sail at your command. Any idea when that’ll be?” The uruk’s voice was thick and rough, like ancient millstones grinding against one another. “The crew is getting restless.”
“Any particular crew members?” Frost smiled snidely. Rök
dwarfed most of the people on the dock, but Frost
was able to look him nearly in the eye.
is raising a storm and Tagane
“Those two are always eager to be out of here,” he mused, watching the nameless crew crawling over his ship like ants. “Not that I blame them. And at least it’s Eldûrien
, she’s better at keeping her temper in check than Krakzun
.” As if summoned by the mentioning of his name, the burn scar on Frost’s arm pulsated and sent a bolt of pain of up his arm. “How long as she been around?”
“Nigh on a week now, the grew has been fortunate. Most of them anyway.”
“See that it stays that way, Rök
. I have a few things I need to do for my mother and we’ll be off again.”
here?” the uruk spoke her name with worshipful reverence. “It’s too early for her return from the East.”
shot his first mate a hard glance. “She is. You can try to get into The House of the Cat
if you want. That’s where she’s staying. I’m sure she’d enjoy a chat with you. I need to visit the slave markets.”