"Then Osgiliath, which in the waning of the people had long been deserted, became a place of ruins and a city of ghosts." -- The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age," p. 297
A furrow creased the slaver's brow, a warning sparking in his eyes. With a shrug, he casually tossed off the boy's remarks. "Then my life is safe, lad, for I will not break my word. But a bit of advice - never make threats that you cannot carry through. Now go and play," the slaver motioned towards the ruins.
"He is mocking me!" Fródwine thought. "We both know that there is naught that I could actually do to him. One shout from his mouth and his guards will set upon me! I must hold my temper, for the sake of Mother and the sake of the escape attempt." Close to crying in rage and frustration, Fródwine struggled to control his emotions, his fists clenching and unclenching. Uncurling his fingers, he forced his hands to hang loosely at his sides.
"I will be watching you, so make sure that you keep your word!" Turning on his heel, Fródwine stalked away, calling for his brothers to follow him.
Goldwyn looked down into the frightened eyes of the younger boys. "Go, sons; I am in no danger," she directed them, her words a little too brave. She certainly did not feel courageous. Everything about the slaver intimidated her.
The two younger boys looked questioningly to her mother. With a nod from her, they followed their brother. Goldwyn forced herself to smile reassuringly as she watched the boys walk towards the ruined columns, slanting girders, and crumbling towers. Exhaling, her shoulders relaxed slightly. At least there had not been any trouble.
She looked to the side, seeing Esarhaddon's face in profile. He was grinning, an appealing grin - if it had been on the face of any other man. She had to admit that he was outrageously handsome, even in spite of his tawny features and his strange clothing. He was not so tall as a Rohir, but he was well-built and muscular with a broad chest, his strength apparent in his strong grip on her arm. He smelled of horse, dust, some exotic Eastern spice, and permeating it all, a deep scent of masculinity.
She quickly turned her eyes away from his, forcing them to stare into the deep shadows gathering under toppled statues and slanting columns. A most peculiar thought slowly began to worm its way into her consciousness. She was sure that she saw a set of pale white eyes peering out from the gloomy darkness beneath a collapsed roof. The glowing orbs seemed to be following her movements intently, watching her with a feral, hungry gleam, like some wild beast that was starving. In spite of the warm afternoon sun, Goldwyn felt chilled to the marrow. She dared glance into the murk again, but she saw nothing. Shivering, she tried to brush the strange, unreasonable dread from her mind.
"It is just my imagination!" she told herself. "There was never anything there!" The imposing presence of the slaver had set her nerves on a raw edge, and that was all there was to it!
"Are you cold, Madame?"
"Aye, I was chilled to the core at the thought that you and my son might come to blows."
"Your elder son is a brave lad, lady, but recklessly foolish. Fear not, though. If he behaves himself, he will come to no harm." Abruptly, he asked, "Are you a widow?"
"Yes, I think so," Goldwyn murmured softly. She let her fingers trail along a fallen, moss and lichen encrusted pillar, reminded of the ghastly piles of bones upon the fields of Pelennor. "This place has the memory of death about it," she mused to herself, "the musty smell that seeps from an old barrow which has just been reopened."
"Then I suppose your husband died in the usual fashion... noble, brave, unyielding, refusing to surrender. Of course he would!" Esarhaddon exclaimed in mild sarcasm. "Could he do anything less?" he asked as he led her around a pile of rubble.
"That was uncalled for, sir," she snapped in indignation. "He would neither surrender nor flee." She would show this callous villain no visible signs of the grief she felt whenever she thought of Fasthelm, her husband.
"Truly, it was poor manners on my part to say that." He patted her hand conciliatorily.
"Sir, what is your purpose in insisting that we take this walk with you?" Goldwyn turned and looked him in the face.
Esarhaddon smiled. "To enjoy the company of a beautiful woman, Madame."
"You do not even know me!"
"I will," he chuckled as he pulled her forward.
Up ahead of the slaver and Goldwyn, the brothers' attention had been captured by the toppled life-sized statue of a cavalryman and his horse. During some long past catastrophe, the rider had been toppled from his steed. The statue's once proud marble neck had shattered upon striking the ground, the head rolling some distance away. The tall riderless horse tilted bizarrely. The wreckage would have been far too high for the boys to climb, had it not been that the rider had landed conveniently close. Fródwine hoisted Frumgár and Fritha upon its back and then scrambled up behind them.
"The Southron does not seem so terrible," Frumgár whispered to Fródwine.
"You are so trusting, little brother!" he muttered dourly. "Just you wait! He will show his true colors soon enough!"
Since the death of his father, Fródwine, the elder at eleven years, had felt a great responsibility for his mother and brothers. Fródwine had no idea why the hated slaver had singled out his mother, his brothers and him to torment. Certainly nothing such as this had happened to them on the journey south. "Just go away, you bastard, and let us depart in peace!" he thought angrily.
While his brothers played on the horse, pretending they were riders of the Mark, Fródwine watched the slaver lead his mother towards them. His blue eyes flashing in cold fury, he vowed that if the slaver tried to harm her, he would pick up a shard of marble and bash in his brains.
Esarhaddon and Goldwyn passed by the statue of the horse, their words just out of the range of hearing. Apprehensive, Fródwine whispered to his brothers that they should catch up with them. He slid off the horse first and helped them down.
Frumgár and Fritha, both very small among the towering stone giants, were frightened of their formidable surroundings. "Fródwine, I do not like this place!" Frumgár declared. "It would make a good hiding place for orcs!"
"I am afraid of the ghosts!" Fritha whined, sucking his thumb.
"Fritha," chided Fródwine, "you see dragons and monsters everywhere! Do not be such a baby!"
"I do not see them everywhere!" Fritha retorted, stomping his foot.
Esarhaddon and Goldwyn halted at the carven feet of what had once been a great statue of a warrior clad in full battle array. Without giving her the opportunity to protest, Esarhaddon lifted Goldwyn up and perched her atop a leg of the image. Fródwine gave him a disapproving look but remained quiet. The slaver beamed a smile to the three boys as they climbed up the stone leg and sat beside their mother.
"Madame and your fine lads, perhaps you would be interested in knowing that here, long ago in the year of 3320 of what is called the Second Age, the realm of Gondor was formed. That was a very long time ago, and now sages and scribes in the West reckon that the world is in the declining years of the Third Age. Time is dated differently in the South and East, usually beginning at the end of the first year of the reign of a king, or some other great event.
"Soon a new age will dawn and be unlike any that has ever been seen before! The men of the South and East will have much to do with the instrumentation of this new era of peace and abundance. We will no longer be ridiculed by the Gondorian imperialists and called 'lesser men!' Our voices will never again go unheard!"
Bristling, Fródwine challenged the man. "Sir, how can you make such extravagant claims!"
"Because they are true," the slaver stated flatly.
"No, they are not true!"
"Boy, the courses of Destiny have changed in the favor of others. Accept what has been ordained. You can do naught about it." Esarhaddon's voice was patronizing, which only irked the boy more.
Fródwine was about to give an irate reply, but Frumgár interrupted him with a question. "What toppled these great statues?"
Although Fródwine fumed silently, Goldwyn sighed, relieved that he had not brought doom down upon himself. She gave her eldest son a warning glance, which he caught but looked away.
"Perhaps this one fell in the year 1437 of this present age during the Gondorian Civil War, or Kins-strife, as the Gondorians call it, when King Eldacar of Gondor was besieged here by rebels. The king's son, Ornendil, was slain during the fighting. The once great Tower of the Stone of Osgiliath fell, and the magic seeing stone that was kept there was lost in the River." Esarhaddon leaned against the plinth which once had held the statue of a young Gondorian prince. He applauded himself that he could remember enough of the infidels' history to impress his reluctant guests.
"Bad, bad men!" His eyes wide, Fritha exclaimed the few words of Common Speech that he knew.
"Bad men?" questioned Esarhaddon. "You judge too quickly. His own subjects were probably pressed too far by the tyrannical King Eldacar and in anger rose up against him. A man named Castamir took over the kingdom and ruled from Pelargir for ten years before Eldacar defeated him."
Caught up in the slaver's tales of daring deeds, Frumgár asked excitedly, "Then what happened? Was there a great battle where many men were killed?"
"A great plague and many battles, but there is no time to go into all that if we wish to return before darkness falls," Esarhaddon replied. "While the dead city is silent in the daytime, it is told that when the shadows of night thicken, the city becomes alive once again with the ghosts of its former occupants. Of course, I do not believe such tales, and I would advise none of you to believe in them either." Reaching out his arms to help Goldwyn down from the statue, the slaver looked disappointed when she rebuffed him and slid to the ground. She did not escape him for long, for he soon reclaimed her arm. Smirking, he led her away from the monument to the fallen hero.
Next stopping before the ruined columns of what had once been a great house, Esarhaddon's eyes skimmed over the fading graffiti which had been written there in times unknown. He laughed when he read, scrawled in rude speech:
The women of Gondor are all whores.
His laughter was even more robust when he read the rude letters on another column:
King Tarondor has more bastards than legitimate offspring.
"Sir, what does it say?" Frumgár asked politely.
"The first legend states that the women of Gondor are the most generous in the world when it comes to loving all mankind. The second states that King Tarondor, who moved the capitol from Osgiliath to Minas Tirith in 1640, sired a great number of children by women who were not his wife."
"Does it say anything about more battles?" Frumgár asked, disappointed.
"Not here, lad, but I can tell you what happened. Great warriors from across the River fought here in 2475, but they were defeated and ruthlessly slaughtered. The old bridge that once spanned the River was destroyed, but it was later rebuilt, and in its turn, that bridge passed into history. Stroll on with me, good lady and your sons."
He nudged Goldwyn's elbow and then strolled on around a set of great steps, which were flanked on either side by ruined statues. Guiding them around more rubble, he beckoned them to look down as he kicked aside a few broken chips of marble. Beneath their feet, they could see a great expanse covered with many colorful mosaics and tiles. Along a shattered wall were other mosaics, the blues and greens and subtle pastels still visible, though their now muted hue was covered with layers of dirt and debris. Winding their way around piles of rubble, he led them on through the ruined building. Judging by the many supporting columns that still stood, tilting precariously from age and destruction, the structure had once been an immense and beautiful palace.
Walking on, they passed beneath a broken archway. They entered a space that once must have been a garden, for here and there amidst the discolored marble, a few blighted acacias and oleanders still struggled to grow.
"Over there," Esarhaddon pointed to an indentation in the ground, "appears to be what was a large pool. See the elevated place in the center?" The others looked and saw what appeared to be the broken form of a woman of marble. Though the torso was missing, the long lines of the skirt were still marked by the impressions of graceful legs ending in a set of sandaled feet.
"When the city was young, this statue was probably a great marvel of the sculptor's art. The figure might have been of a beautiful maiden or goddess holding a pitcher, plumbed so that water would gush forth from the spout. The Gondorians lived well in their early days, but their culture has fallen as have their statues and cities." The slaver's upper lip curled contemptuously.
"There is still some water in the basin beneath the statue," Frumgár commented as he went over to look. There before him, he saw a small murky pool covered with some sort of greenish scum. "It does not smell very good!" he exclaimed, wrinkling his nose.
"The workmen who once tended this garden have faded beyond memory. Where once were great houses and gardens, columned processional ways, perhaps even statues of the Western Gods - and certainly of the kings of these people - there is nothing but decay. Here in their great halls and palaces, there must have been many feasts and dances held long ago. Perhaps at night, the ghosts of minstrels and bards still sing and tell tales before courts now dead and forgotten. This was once a great city of beauty, but it was destined to crumble into dust. That is about all there is to tell. It is a city of dead memory now." Esarhaddon stroked his beard thoughtfully.
The slaver led them on through more columned wreckage and great, silent halls and gardens until they drew near to the Great River. Down below them, along the tree-lined banks of the River, remains of old quays and docks, their foundations long abandoned, clung to the shore. Before them, spanning the Anduin, stood the jutting piers and remains of the bridge which had been destroyed in 3018, the year before. Clearly, the glory of Gondor had waned into its decline.
Goldwyn, her arm still held captive by that of the Southron, stood resentful and resigned beside him. "Oh, please, let this be over soon!" she prayed. The boys walked down the bank and gazed at the water, watching the fish that leapt out of the depths in pursuit of insects that hovered over the surface. Fritha exclaimed in excitement as a large silvery shape cut the placid surface and splashed down again, a captured dragonfly caught firmly in its mouth.
"When the rays of the sun slant down upon the waters, the River seems almost red, like blood, but still the scene is a peaceful one and quite lovely. Do you not agree, Northern lady?"
"I suppose," she nodded and then fell silent, refusing to become involved in a conversation with the man.
"Not too friendly, are you?" Esarhaddon smiled lazily at her and slid his arm about her waist.
"What are your plans for my sons?" Goldwyn demanded, turning to gaze into his dark eyes. If she angered this powerful man, what might he do to her sons? Would he demand her favors to ensure their safety?
"I had assumed that you would be more interested in my plans for you," he laughed. "Do you know how the declining rays of the sun turn your hair into burnished gold?"
Goldwyn did not appreciate the slaver's impudent hand as it came to rest on her buttocks. He was taking far too many liberties with her. She would slap his arrogant face, except she feared he might take out his rage on her sons. Turning her face away from him, she stared at the Great River. "My beloved husband said the same about my hair, back in the days before the war."
"Then your husband was a discerning man, but he is not here to pay you the compliments that you deserve." Esarhaddon looked towards the River, pulling her so close to him that she could feel the warmth of his body through her garments. "Dine with me tonight, you and your sons. You know you cannot refuse me."
"I fear to say no," she gritted her teeth, hating the way that she was being compromised.
He pressed his face closer to hers, his beard touching her cheek, his breath smelling of mint. "You will be my guest."
"Your prisoner," she thought with loathing.