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Story Notes:
This story is a direct continuation of “The Shadow over Rhudaur. Part I Runnings”. and "Part II. Intrigues and Sorcery". All canon characters, settings, conceptions and plotlines used in our story belong to JRR Tolkien and his heirs. We are only borrowing them for our own enjoyment – not for profit. We have used some wonderful ICE-MERP maps as well, so some non-canon names of places (i.e. Cameth Brin, Nothva Rhaglaw etc.) are borrowed from there.
Please, have a look at the "Shadow over Rhudaur Part I" (chapter 2) for the story timeline.
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Hurgon's room in Cameth Brin Palace, October 25, 1347.
Written by Serenoli and Gordis
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Early morning sunshine slanted onto the piece of canvas currently holding a half-finished portrait of the Princess Tarniel. Hurgon the Royal painter had sketched her features, and had done a preliminary coloring of her clothes, but he had left her face untouched.

Sitting in bed, moodily sipping wine from a goblet, he had an excellent view of the portrait. He didn't like it. Once he had finished painting it, he knew it would be realistic. It had the right amount of noses and ears and eyes, and of the right shape, and the right distance from each other... but something was missing. He felt it in his bones. Something was missing, which made his potrait a picture of Tarniel's face, but not Tarniel herself.

He pulled his palette - a wooden board with little cup-shaped dents, made specially for him by the town's carpenter - towards him, and started mixing the colours up. He had mostly brown and red earth shades to go with, for they were the easiest and cheapest to obtain, but packed in little precious containers in a desk he kept locked were the rarer hues - an ultramarine blue obtained by crushing the precious lapis lazuli, green from the malachite, and a bright crimson cinnabar red, and a white lead that had chalk undertones. He had spent considerable time and money to obtain these, and used them only sparingly. But today he would use them all, for he was determined to get Tarniel's expression just right.

A dab right there, and maybe a bold stroke there... he worked carefully, concentrated on achieving what he wanted, his arms flying, and occasionally throwing himself on the ground to rest and take long sips of his wine (which was fast dwindling) and then getting up again, fighting the weariness that crept up into his arms, intent on finishing the vision in his mind. He placed colours where, in reality, you would never see them. He put straight lines where Tarniel's face held curves; he put, hands trembling, red and blue in her hair, mingling them well, and in the end, despite being throroughly frightened of actually side-stepping reality and going for 'expression' (as he put it to himself) he was done.

It was sunset now. He flopped onto the bed, and gazed dreamily at the potrait of Tarniel, which had become quite unrecognizable, but which gave him a curious warm feeling in the pit of his stomach. A moment later, he realized the feeling was simply one of hunger... he had survived on a bottle of wine all day. But a wide, elated smile broke out over his face as he surveyed what he was certain was his masterpiece. And to think, he could paint countless other pictures with this new technique he had discovered... and never again feel that his paintings lacked that 'something' that troubled him so much. Hurgon had discovered abstract art....


***

"By Eru! What is it?"

The rich cadence of Gimilbeth's voice filled the small room, waking its ruffled owner. Hurgon Fernik dropped the empty bottle he clutched to his bosom and sat upright, peering owlishly around. He found himself sitting on his bed, fully dressed - even his paint-smeared boots were on. Two of Gimilbeth's immaculate pages watched him, shamelessly grinning. The lady herself, however, paid him no heed; her gaze was riveted to the freshly-finished portrait.

"What have you done, Hurgon?" continued Gimilbeth, as if in a trance. "Where have you seen blue hair? Purple hair? Green patches on human skin? It is completely crazy, the work of a lunatic... and yet... it is so incredibly, so wondrously good! I have never seen a painting like that..."

Hurgon, who was at first shocked by the Witch's visit and by her apparent disapproval, blushed to the roots of his hair hearing the last words.

"The Crown will buy this portrait, I will see to it", continued Gimilbeth. "It will look quite appropriate in the Gallery downstairs, in a place of honor. I hope you will make a matching portrait of myself, once we return from Amon Sul. I will pay you handsomely."

With that she turned and looked at Hurgon for the first time. The painter was trembling. Did he hear it right?

"W-We return?" he stammered. "Why 'we'?"

"Because you are coming with me, of course," replied Gimilbeth levelly. "This portrait is too good to give away to Malvegil or to his grandson, whatever his name may be. And anyway, this masterpiece does not render Tarniel's likeness as it should. We need a classic formal portrait - and, as I can't wait for you to finish another one, there is no other option but to take you, your paints and your canvas with me to Amon Sul. The journey will take at least a fortnight. You will come in a wagon and paint on the way."

"But..."

"Hurgon, Amon Sul is a beautiful place. Every Dunadan should see it at least once in his life. You will draw sunsets and sunrises there."

Hurgon's mouth hung open. Gimilbeth nodded to him and left.

Descending the stairs, Gimilbeth decided not to postpone her errand to Amon Sul anymore. She had to carry Nauremir’s coffin to his family’s crypt in Brochenridge, and she was worried, lest Nauremir awakened while still in Cameth Brin. Also, she was in danger. Belzagar the traitor made no move, but who knows if he would decide to eliminate Gimilbeth later?

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Cameth Brin, evening of October 27, 1347.
Written by Gordis and Angmar
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"The Jarl will see you now" announced a scarred dangerous-looking brigand who guarded Broggha's doors. The cut-throat looked incongruous in furs and velvets - the newly acquired finery of the Jarl's new court.

Algeirr nodded and stepped into the dimly lit room. The hour was late and the Jarl obviously had more than his share of strong drinks - he sat slumped in a high-backed chair near the fire, Maleneth on his lap. But the blue eyes that met Algeirr's were as sharp as ever.

"Greetings, My Jarl," said Algeirr, his dark face unreadable.

The Jarl grunted a greeting and waived to a chair across the table. "There is some wine left. Help yourself. What is it you want?"

"I have important news. But that is for your ears only." Algeirr looked pointedly at the Jarl's mistress.

The Jarl scowled, then pushed Maleneth from his lap. "Go to bed, wench, and wait for me," he barked.

Maleneth scurried away. Broggha pulled his furs closer around his giant frame and fixed Algeirr with a steely gaze. Algeirr understood that his hopes to get the Jarl drunk and not so sharp as usual were wistful thinking. Still he had to get through with his plan.

"I think you have heard that Gimilbeth the Witch is leaving Cameth Brin in three days time?" asked Algeirr.

It was impossible to tell whether that came as a surprise for the Jarl or not. He simply grunted and inquired "So... where is she bound?"

"Amon Sul. The Witch is going to use the Palantir there - a fabled magic device of the Tarks, which enables them to see far and to talk to each other over great distances. Also she is going to propose Princess's Tarniel's hand in marriage to Malvegil's grandson."

The Jarl's eyes narrowed. "Where have you learned such news?"

"Gudhrun, my ..." Algeirr chuckled slightly "...well, let us say "my betrothed" is keeping an inn in Tanoth Brin. The king's guards frequent it. Strong ale makes even the tarks' tongues loose."

Algeirr downed his goblet and continued. "But that is not all. The guards say that Gimilbeth is going to ask Malvegil for armed assistance against the rebel Hillmen. With the Arthedain's army at his back, they say, King Tarnendur is going to show the accursed barbarians their proper place."

Broggha crashed his fist on the table so suddenly that Algeirr dropped his goblet and paled. "Treachery! Treachery again!" roared the Jarl. "The Tarks are plotting behind my back!"

"Quite so, my Jarl" Algeirr nodded, satisfied by the effect his news had on Broggha. He waited patiently until Broggha's angry pacing subsided and the curses he muttered died out. When the Jarl finally sat down again, Algeirr continued, trying to get closer to his own secret goal.

"Gimilbeth is taking inordinately large company with her. Hundred and twenty Dunedain guards - a third of what they have in the fortress. The garrison here will be much depleted. She is afraid of an ambush, they say." Algeirr waited, allowing his words to sink down.

"But there is some good news as well. The King has ordered the guards to accompany Gimilbeth till Brochenridge, but no further. Then most will return back, and only about twenty knights will accompany her to Amon Sul. The great Road is safe, they think."

The Jarl's eyes glittered and a cruel smile crept to his lips. He was obviously planning something. The interview was going much as Algeirr hoped it would.

"Can we send some spies with Gimilbeth's company?" asked the Jarl.

"No Hillmen is allowed to ride with the Witch, on the King's express orders. Not only they don't trust us, but they also have Nauremir's body to dispose of. If the wretch is indeed not dead, it would be awkward to let one of us see him resurrected, would it not?"

"You are the head of my spies, Algeirr". The Jarl's voice took a dangerous edge to it. "You must find a way to send one of our men with Gimilbeth."

"I have already done it, Jarl." Algeirr allowed himself a smile. "Captain Merendil himself has promised to take me along. There is very little that the King's guards can refuse to my Gudhrun, Jarl."

Unfortunately, the Jarl immediately became suspicious. "Why would this woman want to send you away, Algeirr?"

Here, Algeirr came to the most difficult point in the conversation. He had to tell a lie and not let Brogga detect it.

"My Gudhrun is from Fennas Drunin, Jarl. Gudhrun plans to move to her native town, as she thinks Tanoth Brin has become not a safe place to live. She wants me to go there, take a good look around and probably find a good inn for sale. Then I have to go back to report to her. That's why she asked the guards to take me along as it is unsafe to travel alone. I accepted, so I could be your eyes and your ears in Gimilbeth's company, at least as far as the Great Road."

In reality, Algeirr craved to go not to Fennas Drunin, but much farther - to Tharbad. Tharbad in southern Cardolan on the banks of the great river Gwathlo was the richest city of Arnor. From the moment when Algeirr stole the wondrous emerald necklace, he knew he had to go somewhere far away to sell it. Heirlooms of the kingly Tark house of Dauremir were no trinkets that one could sell anywhere in Rhudaur without any explanations - if one wanted to get good money for them. No, he had to go somewhere out of the country. The best place to go was, of course, Gondor. But the Southern Kingdom was far and the road was long and perilous. Tharbad was the second best choice. Immense riches changed hands daily in this city of merchants, sailors and thieves, and no awkward questions were asked.

"If I sell the necklace for a fair price, I shall settle in Tharbad and never see you again, my Jarl," thought Algeirr. "If something goes wrong, I shall return to you and to my Gudhrun and none will be the wiser. I may even get a promotion after fulfilling a difficult mission." Algeirr looked into the Jarl's piercing eyes and waited for the other's reply, trembling inwardly from fear and excitement.

"Algeirr, I had come to expect anything out of the witch, but this time she outdoes even herself. Princess Tarniel betrothed to Malvegil's grandson! The army of Arthedain giving Rhudaur aid! Aye," he said, stroking his thick, red beard, "Gimilbeth thinks she is very clever, but she will find that she is attempting to match wits with someone far more clever and with far more power.

"Now here is what you are to do, and perhaps there might be an extra profit for you - if you are successful. But much depends upon how successful you are in achieving the 'if,'" he emphasized. "I do not like failures." The Jarl's icy blue eyes glittered. "But then does anyone?"

He studied Algeirr's face to see the other man's reaction, and Broggha was pleased when he saw the distinctive look of fear in the other man's eyes.

"No, Lord Broggha, of course not, but I will not fail you," Algeirr exclaimed. "What is it that you want me to do?"

"A very simple task. Nothing complicated. As you know, our friends in the North have provided aid for me to use, forces whom no one would suspect. The orcs under the leadership of Pizbur Ashuk are planning an ambush. They are waiting in the Trollshaws - you will get there on the second evening of your journey. When you think it is the right time for the orcs to attack, you will organize a distraction. You are to rein in your horse and take it to the side of the road. Give the excuse that one of your mount's shoes is loose. Dismount and make a show of inspecting the horse's hoof. Then say that you are not satisfied and must pull the shoe and replace it with another. This will be the signal for Pizbur Ashuk to attack. Princess Gimilbeth must be captured alive, for her presence is requested in the North. If possible, capture the officers, and any who might prove valuable for questioning. But the rest - kill them all." Broggha laughed loudly. "Perhaps the orcs will be allowed a little treat for their success in accomplishing the task. When it is all over, they can dine upon Nauremir's body - if the miserable coward does not sicken even an orc!"

Even Algeirr was disgusted at this idea, but he allowed no emotion to show in his eyes. The two men rose to their feet and as they faced each other, Broggha slapped Algeirr over the shoulders. "Remember, there are rewards in success, but failure often has very unpleasant consequences."
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