Hating to be parted, Beruthiel spent much of the night by Uldis’ bedside. Uldis still did not feel well, but they sat and remembered all the things that had happened over the last few years. ‘I cannot believe it has been so long!’ Uldis exclaimed. ‘What if I had not been taking down the laundry when you jumped in the river? Who else would you have found to herd all these cats?’
Beruthiel laughed. ‘I probably would have had to enslave one of my ladies-in-waiting or a random citizen. But you were getting the laundry and you have been an excellent Mistress of the Cats.’ Her laughter faded away. ‘I am sorry it has come to this, Uldis. If only I had known…’ her voice trailed off.
‘You would have done exactly the same thing, my lady,’ Uldis lapsed into the old formality. ‘If it hadn’t been the divorce case, it would have been another one or something else entirely. You know that. The people need someone to blame.’
‘I suppose. If only Falastur would return, even if it is only so I can say good-bye and explain everything. It seems so… so unresolved leaving like this.’
Uldis covered Beruthiel’s hand with hers. ‘He will understand; I will make him understand.’
As the dawn light seeped through the curtains, Beruthiel helped Uldis get dressed. ‘You do not have to do this. You can stay in bed with your head under the covers if you want!’
‘How am I to tell your story if I do not witness this part? I have to be there!’ Lord Galden had arranged for Uldis to watch the exile from another boat near the queen’s, but he had insisted that she be in position long before the appointed hour.
‘Then let me thank you for the thousandth time, Uldis. If I had met someone like you early in my life, maybe I would have been a different person. I have truly enjoyed our time together, and I will miss you!’ Tears began to fall down her face.
‘Oh please don’t cry! I cannot bear this!’ Uldis cried.
Beruthiel ran her hands over her face and wiped away the tears. ‘You are quite right. I must not let them see me this way.’ The woman who had ridden the wagon out of Osgiliath took over from the one whose heart was breaking. ‘There that’s better. Now where were we?’
All was ready. Uldis had gone to her station, the cats were on the boat, and Beruthiel stood before the desk in the salon. All the letters had been written and given to Uldis and Lord Galden for Falastur.
Sighing she turned and took one last look around the room. She had always liked this house better than the King’s House in Osgiliath. She and Falastur had spent so many happy hours here. ‘It is time, your majesty,’ Lord Galden said from the doorway. ‘The carriage is waiting.’
‘We will still perform our little play, Lord Galden?’
‘I believe it is for the best. If the people think this is what you want, they might try to interfere even more than I expect.’ He paused a moment and then asked, ‘This is what you want isn’t it?’
Beruthiel reached deep inside for the words. ‘I would not say it is what I want, rather what must be.’ Seeing the look on his face she added, ‘It is for the best, Lord Galden. If I knew for certain that the king would return some day, I would stay. But that may never happen and the unrest is growing too much. By this simple act, I can give him something to return to!’
Lord Galden nodded. ‘I am sorry to have to agree. You still wish me to remove your name from the Book of Kings? It isn’t necessary.’
‘Yes, it is. Although I have had no contact with them, I do not want my actions to affect the lives of my brothers. I told my father I would not disgrace the family name, and this is one way of limiting any damage. Let me fade into official history unnoticed and unremembered. It will not affect me in the least.’
‘It will be done, your majesty. Allow me to assist you this one last time. I cannot at the dock. The soldiers there have no idea this is all a sham, and I do not know how they will behave.’ He offered her his arm and she took it.
‘I promise you it will be a good show, Lord Galden, Steward of Gondor. It is my last act and I will not disappoint!’
Noldin, of the queen’s guard, escorted Uldis onto the deck of the boat and seated her in a chair. ‘Do you need anything else, Mistress?’ he asked.
‘Would you, can you stay with me, Noldin? I don’t think I can face this alone.’ She took hold of his hand and pulled gently, ‘and please call me Uldis.’
Noldin hesitated. His orders had been to get Uldis to this boat, but after that they were a bit vague. For some reason, none of the queen’s household guard was to be anywhere near the dock when Beruthiel arrived. ‘I suppose that would be alright. I was going to return to the barracks, but I am not under orders to do so.’ He took the chair next to the former Mistress of the Cats.
‘What will you do when the queen is gone, Noldin? Do you have another assignment?’
‘Not yet, Mistress, I believe I will probably stay here in Pelargir for a time. I have been with the queen’s household since I enlisted.’
‘Yes, Beruthiel told me how you refused to save the kittens!’
‘That’s no fair! I didn’t know how to swim, Mistress! Although after that day, I learned how just in case she ever asked me again,’ Noldin confessed.
‘Call me Uldis, Noldin. I am no longer mistress of anything,’ she said again. ‘The queen said I may live in the house until I decide what to do, but I really have no idea. Not many will have a need for a cat wrangler!’ she said with a rueful laugh, ‘and I never finished my apprenticeship as a baker.’
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a large crowd of rough-looking men. ‘They must be from Osgiliath,’ Noldin observed. ‘Lord Galden had hoped to have the queen gone before any managed to arrive.’
Uldis stood to get a better look. ‘It looks like they have no rotten food with them. That is fortunate. I would hate to see Beruthiel pelted like before.’
‘Lord Galden issued orders that anyone entering the town today not be allowed any baggage. They had to leave everything at the town gate. It was probably a wise move. These men appear intent on causing mischief as it is.’
‘Shouldn’t you go and join the other soldiers? Maybe you can help,’ Uldis urged.
‘That is the one thing I cannot do. Lord Galden does not want any of Queen Beruthiel’s personal attendants on the dock. We are to stay away no matter what.’
Uldis thought she knew the reason. Beruthiel had told her of the plan to fool the rioters into thinking she did not want to board the ship. The steward was most likely afraid that the queen’s guard would not tolerate her being roughly handled. Seeing no harm in it now, she told Noldin what was going to happen.
Even as she finished, they heard the wheels of a carriage crunching over the gravel of the road and heard the first deep yells from the crowd. ‘Oh, here she comes, Noldin! I don’t think I can watch.’
But watch she did as the coach came to a halt at the end of the gangway to the ship. Lord Galden had posted guards all along the route and Beruthiel would only have a few steps to take to reach the safety of the deck. But first she had one last horrible scene to perform.
Her heart pounded against her chest as the carriage rolled toward the harbor. ‘How I wish Uldis was here, Galden. I know it is the right thing to do, but this will be much harder without her support!’ Beruthiel swallowed and tried to calm her sudden fears.
‘It will only last a few minutes at most, your majesty. As soon as I have read the proclamation, get on board. There are several sailors already stationed that will sail the ship out into the current and then return to shore. They know to treat you with the respect you deserve unlike the guards at the gangplank. I am not sure how those will behave, and they may be a bit rough. If it looks like they are going to be too hard on you I will speak, but I prefer that this be as realistic as possible.’
‘As long as they do not try to hurt the cats, they can do anything they wish to me, Galden. I just want this over and done with.’
The horses pulled the carriage through the roaring crowd. ‘I had hoped there would be fewer than this, but it can’t be helped. The guards will keep them back,’ Galden promised.
‘Well, this is where we say our fond farewells, Galden,’ Beruthiel said. ‘I hope Falastur appreciates all your efforts.’
‘And I hope he does not take off my head, your majesty. This might all be rather difficult to explain.’
‘I am only Beruthiel now, Lord Galden, and I wish you all the best. Even though you did not impress the cats, I think in the end this was one time they were wrong! Thank you.’ She placed her hands over one of his and squeezed quickly before letting go.
‘You will always be Queen to me, your majesty. Your cats probably sensed that I was more of a dog person. I am only sorry that I could not do more.’
‘I will have gained my freedom; more than that I cannot wish for unless it was to see the king one last time. I can see it now: the ship will be one day out of Pelargir and he will come sailing in fit and hale. Wouldn’t that be something?’
‘Do not even say that in jest, your majesty! It is my worst fear!’
At last they reached the ship. Beruthiel was pleased to see her remaining cats lounging on various parts of the deck. Mithril and two others were sitting on the rail where she would enter. She looked over at her steward, ‘Show time, Lord Galden.’
‘Yes, show time, your majesty. Best of luck.’ The door was opened and Lord Galden exited.
The jeers and insults of the crowd crashed in on her ears and a soldier stuck his head through the door. ‘Get on out now, yer majesty,’ he sneered. He put out a hand as if to grab her.
‘Do not touch me!’ Beruthiel cried, ‘I will get out without your foul hands touching me!’
‘Just doin’ my duty, yer queenship, but if you don’t get your fanny out of there I will drag you. We don’t need yer kind here any longer than necessary.’
Hearing the man’s crude words awakened Beruthiel’s spirit like no words of the steward could have done. She quickly pushed her way out of the carriage elbowing the guard as she did so. ‘Out of my way!’ she cried, ‘out of my way, you cretin!’
The guard gave her a mock bow as she straightened out her black gown and turned to walk toward the ship. ‘Not so fast, woman,’ the offended guard dropped any pretense of courtesy. ‘You must hear yer judgment before you go.’
Without answering, Beruthiel looked to where Lord Galden stood. The howling crowd pushed against the barriers that had been erected and the guards fought to keep them back. ‘Whore, cheater, childless witch!’ were some of the milder curses hurled at her. Thankfully there was no rotten fruit or eggs tossed her way. They stood only feet away and would not have missed.
Lord Galden began to speak and amazingly the crowd grew quiet enough for at least some of his words to be heard. ‘We come today to see justice administered to this wayward woman. Beruthiel, former Queen of Gondor, you stand convicted of witchcraft, cruelty, abuse of the populace and misuse of power. Your marriage to Falastur Tarannon, King of Gondor has been annulled. You have been stripped of all titles and property and removed from the Book of Kings. Now you are to be cast adrift upon the sea so that Ulmo may punish you as I may not. Go now and let Gondor be rid of your foul presence!’ He pointed his arm towards the waiting vessel.
‘She’s an adulterer and a whore! Where is that charge?’ a man in the crowd howled. ‘She brought fever on us and killed our children. She’s a murderer!’ he added.
The others standing beside him took up the chant: ‘Murderer, whore, murderer, whore!’ they yelled.
‘What do you have to say, whore?’ the man screamed.
Up to that point, Beruthiel had done her best to ignore the crowd as she had done in Osgiliath, but hearing her accused of adultery and murder was more than she could tolerate. They were the two charges she had absolutely not allowed Galden to use since they were patently untrue. ‘What I say is this: I only wish I had the power to destroy you and all your kind! I had nothing to do with this fever. You bring all this down upon yourselves by the way you live cheek by jowl in dirty hovels. I curse you; I curse your miserable filthy lives and the lives of all your kin. When I am gone, you will continue to die like the vermin you are. And I say yes! The fewer of you there are the better! Die like rats!’
She would have continued her rant, but Lord Galden, recognizing that the crowd was about to explode through the barriers grabbed her arm and hustled her aboard. To loud cheers, he roughly shoved her on board. With a quick wink, he said, ‘Perhaps a little too much at the end, but good job, your majesty!’ He then stepped back on shore.
As soon as her feet touched the deck and Galden was clear, the guards removed the gangway. Others used poles to shove the ship further into the water. Hearing the queen’s final taunt, the crowd broke through the line of barricades but they were too late. The ship had been pushed far enough away from the pier that there was no way for anyone to board her. Beruthiel stood by the rail, stroking the head of Mithril and glaring at the crowd with a self-satisfied sneer on her face.
It was all Uldis could do to stand and listen as the crowd verbally assaulted her friend. Her hands gripped the railing and she yelled at them to stop, but her voice was easily lost in the tumult below. ‘Do not draw attention to us, Mistress,’ Noldin warned. ‘If they cannot get to the queen, they may look elsewhere for a victim.’
‘I do not care! She is my friend and is not guilty. I should be there with her not hiding over here.’ She moved toward the ramp down to the dock.
Noldin put his hands on her shoulders and stopped her. ‘I cannot let you do this, Mistress; Uldis. They will tear you to pieces if they know you support the queen.’
Knowing he spoke the truth, Uldis watched as Beruthiel shouted back at the crowd. ‘I wish I could hear,’ she cried.
‘Probably not,’ Noldin said. ‘Her words do not seem to be pleasing the crowd any too much.’
They watched as Beruthiel gained the deck of the ship and it began its slow retreat into the broad waters of the harbor. They could see the queen standing motionless on board with Mithril, and Uldis began waving frantically. ‘Goodbye, Beruthiel, good luck! Take care of the cats for me! Goodbye!’ It might have been her imagination, but she thought she heard one last, ‘Goodbye, Mistress’ echo in her head. It was only when it was well out of range that she could bring herself to stop. ‘Oh, Noldin, she’s gone, she’s gone. Part of me never really believed that she would go. I kept thinking there would be some miracle and this would never happen, but she’s gone.’ The tears poured down her face and she had a hard time speaking.
Noldin took her in his arms and tried to comfort her. ‘It is better this way, Mistress. You saw what the crowd was like. And you told me she hoped to be free. That is something to hold on to. Just think of her being free.’
Uldis managed to take a shaky breath and say, ‘Yes, you are right. I will hold onto that hope. It is what she wanted. She is finally free.’