4 - In Umbar
Michael continued down the road and passed through the gate into the city proper of Umbar. He slowed his walk and looked around, wide-eyed and mouth agape. He appeared to have entered a market place of some sort or another. It was not much different from the market place at home, but it was much larger and the variety of goods and services being sold was mind-boggling.
There were jugglers, men and women doing tricks with fire, men and women working with trained animals, magicians, and scantily clad young girls doing exotic dances. In addition, clothing, meats, fishes, vegetables, and all sorts of spices were being sold. As Michael slowly walked down the main thoroughfare, he saw everything and anything for sale, with both men and women haggling and bargaining with the vendors over price. He was certain he could get new boots, a new set of clothes, and the spices he needed to replenish his supply. But first he had to fine the inn.
Michael walked slowly, came to the fountain, and turned left, as the sergeant had instructed. As he entered the side street, he saw more vendor stalls. As he continued down the street, the vendors thinned out and were replaced by small inns and cafes. Finally he came to a large wooden building, with a sign over the main door. The sign had a painting of a beach, complete with black sand. This must be the inn. Michael kicked the mud from his boots, opened the door, and headed inside.
Inside was a tavern, with men and women eating and drinking. There was a bar at the rear, with an opening to a kitchen. A wide variety of fish smells assaulted Michael's nostrils. He stopped for a moment, inhaled, and walked to the bar.
"Are you Samel?" he asked the man behind the bar. The man appeared to be about mid-forties in age, average height, with reddish-brown hair and a matching beard. He was starting to go bald, and showed the beginnings of a belly. "I am Michael, and the Sergeant Javid of the Guard told me that I could find lodging here."
The man turned as he was addressed and took the measure of the outdoorsman who was addressing him. He broke into a warm smile, drew a mug of ale and passed it to Michael, and then turned away and hollered into the back.
"Deborah! We have a lodger here! Javid sent him! Oh, the ale is free. You look thirsty."
Michael watched as a thin woman, with olive-tinted skin, and smiling dark eyes entered and approached him. She had raven hair, very long, and wore it tied back. She was pretty, and a few years younger than Samel. She stood behind the bar and smiled at Michael.
"You will need a room and a bath. Do you have any pack animals? We have a stable out back. How will you pay?"
"I need a room and bath, as well as food, for a few days," said Michael, smiling back at the couple. "I've no pack animals, but I do plan to purchase one or two ponies. I also need to replenish my supplies, and buy some clothing and a spare pair of boots. Will this do?" asked Michael, as he reached into a bag and withdrew three of the gold coins he had taken from Minas Morgul.
The couple looked at the coins and frowned. Then Deborah brightened. "Follow me, please."
Deborah led Michael upstairs to his room and told him that his possessions would be safe. She showed him the bath, and told him that dinner was served promptly at sunset. He could get breakfast up until midday. Then she smiled again and left Michael before he could ask any questions.
Michael washed a bit, stowed his packs, and took his short sword and bag of gold back downstairs. He smiled and nodded at the patrons and headed out to do some shopping.
Michael had wandered around the market, looking at all of the vendors. He finally found a cobbler, and, after much haggling, purchased a fine new set of boots. He paid with the gold from Mordor. He also found a merchant who sold clothes, and got two sets of linen trousers and blouses, as well as a fine cape. Once again, he paid with his gold. He wandered about and found a spice merchant, but that could wait until the day he left. He found a barber and had his beard and hair trimmed. He looked like a new man.
Michael had found a merchant who was going to head north with a caravan of silks and woolens in a few days, and had an excess of pack animals that he wanted to sell. Michael had noticed two ponies, not in the best of shape, but with a bit a care they would become fine pack ponies. Michael haggled and argued with the merchant, but he would not budge on price. Michael decided he would try again in a few days, if the merchant had not left by that time. He was headed back to "The Black Sand" when Sergeant Javid approached him.
"Come, my friend," said Sergeant Javid in a very low and somber tone, and Michael knew it was not a request but a command, "let us have an ale together. You will not be sleeping at the inn tonight if you value your life. I will tell you why over an ale."
The two men headed almost completely across the marketplace, away from the inn. Sergeant Javid had found a small tavern, and had Michael sit with him. He filled his pipe with pipe weed after offering Michael some, took a sip of his ale, and leaned back in his chair. His manner was one of deadly seriousness. Michael relaxed and refused the pipe weed; he did not smoke.
"You," said Sergeant Javid, between puffs on his pipe, "have been paying in gold. And the gold has come from Mordor, the Black Land, a place of great evil. That gold has tremendous value both in Umbar and Gondor, and if you stay at the inn there are those who will cut your throat for it. Now, tell me how you came to own that gold."
Michael sipped his ale and proceeded to tell his story, leaving out the part concerning the elfish bow and his search for elves. He did not believe that he had crossed Mordor. At any rate, he could sense no evil in the land. He related the tale of exploring the tower, finding the gold, and only taking two bags. He told the Sergeant that there were many more bags in that chamber.
"Well," said Sergeant Javid, tapping out his pipe and sipping more ale, "you are both brave and naÃ¯ve, Michael. I have been up to the tower, but have never had the courage to enter. Most people here believe there is still great evil there, even though Sauron is long gone and no one has ever seen an orc. And you do speak strangely, so your tale of coming from Illyria makes sense."
"I had no idea I was in Mordor," said Michael. "I thought the tower was built by the men of Gondor."
"It was," said Sergeant Javid, "many, many ages ago. It was built to keep a watch on Mordor. When Sauron arose in the second age, he captured it and turned it to his own use. A king from Gondor whose name I forget was lured to it and engaged in single combat with the Lord of the Nazgul. That king was never heard from again. At that time, Gondor and Umbar were enemies. After Sauron was destroyed, it was to the benefit of Umbar to become an ally of Gondor, and we are to this day."
"Do you believe the old histories?" asked Michael.
"Yes," answered Sergeant Javid. "I have been to the tower several times, although I have never had the courage to cross the bridge. I have also seen the remnants of the Great Gate. Once again, I have never had the courage to enter Mordor itself. That, friend Michael, makes you much braver than I!"
Michael smiled and thanked the Sergeant.
"Now, friend Michael," continued the Sergeant, for he now knew just how brave and naÃ¯ve Michael was, "I have found a safe place for you to stay. You will stay there as long as you are in Umbar. But my advice, my friend, is to finish your business here and get on the road as quickly as possible. I have no doubt you would be a formidable opponent in the field or woods with that bow, but in the city it would be only too easy to slip a blade into your ribs. Finish your ale and I will take you to your new residence. Your things have already been moved there by Samel and Deborah."
Michael finished his ale and Sergeant Javid paid the bartender. He then led Michael to a lovely stone building near the wall. Over the elaborate door was a white sign with a single red rose. Sergeant Javid knocked, and a pretty but very plump redhead smiled and bade he and Michael to enter.
"Welcome, traveler," said the woman, smiling. "Enjoy your stay here. You will find no evil from Mordor crosses this threshold, although you have already encountered it. Or so I have been told."
"What sort of inn is this?" asked Michael.
The woman giggled and the Sergeant Javid smiled.
"It's a house of prostitution, Michael," said the sergeant. "The best in all of Umbar. There is an unwritten law that no violence takes place in these houses nor are the women to be harmed. You are safe here. Enjoy your stay!"
Michael turned a very bright red and followed the plump woman up to his room.