Well, ‘letter’ since there isn’t a lot of literacy in that bunch.
To Lady Birghiva, Nihtseld, From Iestyn, son of Aldred, Lord of Wulfmunt, Greetings.
I am sure your family has informed you of our activities by channels more secure than this. I do not speak of them. Rather, I find myself in need of your wisdom in a matter beyond my present ability, namely in securing for Wulfmunt a Lady and heirs. It is an art in which you have had not a little success, and so I appeal to your excellent judgment and resourcefulness.
I and my personal preferences should be factored into this decision only insofar as it would affect what is best for Wulfmunt. Me, you know. I leave it to you to remove from consideration those who would be unable to work in respectful partnership with such a man for a husband. I also have no use or need of those for whom wealth and its trappings hold a fascination, save that she will have charge over vast fiscal resources and must be able and willing to deal with wealth on a daily basis without sneering at it. She will be expected to wear the work of our hall and sponsor those who make it. They are proud of their work, and she should be able to appreciate it without having her head turned by it. Likewise, I would rather not acquire additional burdens of relatives seeking position or treasuries if it can be helped at all. While I am not averse to an alliance of equals with appropriate levels of reciprocal trade, Wulfmunt can ill afford entanglements that will further strain strained resources.
It is my hope — nay, my purpose — to have my wife consider Wulfmunt her first love and priority, and I a distant second. To that end, I will describe it as best I may. I am sure you know mountain holds well enough that I need not describe the crags and peaks whipped by sighing winds and chilled with sleet and snow well into the Spring. Wulfmunt is the oldest, which brings advantage and disadvantage. It has excellent towers from which one might gaze upon the stars and buildings of great antiquity, and the central hold itself is recently restored with fountains, walkways, gardens, and the like. I hope to continue sponsorship of art and music, though with a more local focus than my father had. Perhaps it would not be too out of place that my wife have an ear and an eye, though I do not require it.
So much for the advantages. The abuses of the past years have left a people who have little trust in me, yet still less trust for those who now rule. Within their own ranks they are suspicious, resentful, and beaten down by poverty, hunger, and hard labor without adequate reward. It is my earnest desire to repair the damage, but I know that my abilities to win personal confidence from anyone are rudimentary still. In short, I need a partner who can understand the world in which miners, smelters, forgemen, jewelers, and laborers move. I need her to be able to win their confidence and act as their advocate and champion. She must also be of a flexible and creative mind, impeccable personal honor, and a heart for reconciling parties long at odds. She must also be free from the kind of pride that mistakes noble blood and right for superiority, instead wishing to use her power to effect the changes that the poor cannot.
Many of my people have been complicit in the exploitation of their peers, and still more were silent from fear of reprisal. I must perforce give such persons a fair opportunity to redeem themselves, and I must have a partner who would be forgiving enough to work with them, but canny enough to spot future abuses early. I plan only to execute those in the highest offices, which means that the new lords will be unused to command. Also, they will inherit a staff that was allowed to prosper under corrupt leadership; I cannot replace everyone without chaos. Therefore, we will need to be dedicated to close and direct supervision of our holdings over the course of many years. Gold is no object, but we will be in sore need of adequate food supply and will also be supervising extensive construction projects.
That, then, is the dire part. A few words about my people, such as they are. I admit I myself am among those in need of forebearance while I strive to do better than before. I was not often among my people when I was heir, and when I ruled, I did so ineptly. Now that I have had opportunities to make comparisons to the folk of other halls, I presume to make some general comparisons. You may wish to spend some time with the bearer of this message, who is a guard of Sturmheit and will have his own impressions. He is, so far as I can tell, the most representative of his peers. He has no idea what this message is about.
Any road, we are mountain-born and bred, used to weathering harsh conditions for extended periods. Though there is much wealth, it is all the sort of wealth that one cannot eat; my late Uncle was expert at using this fact to extract a horde for himself while using hunger to force obedience. They labor in the dark, going into danger as much as warriors do, but without the same praise or dignity in song. Many work themselves into pained old age with little enjoyment of their labor’s fruits. This makes for a closed-mouthed people who offer trust as a precious gift after long deliberation. They plan cautiously, then act cautiously, else the shafts will claim them. When they return to the surface with treasure, they refine it with fire and tongs to create the best metalwork in Rohan, if not Arda. The product of their craft is no tame artist’s exercise, but sweat and risk lovingly worked with exquisite taste. These are no baubles to them, but trophies of war.
Once trust is given, it is absolute. Consider the man who goes beside you into the earth’s bowels where darkness presses close as Ungoliant’s breath. His rope holds you up if you stumble off a cliff or your platform breaks. His hands find yours when the lights go out. Should rock fall on you, he can either abandon you, or find you aid. Should the mine take you, he will find food for your widow and children so they need not go to labor in your place. Should molten iron burn your hand into uselessness, they will allow you other work and a share in what profits come back to them. That is trust to them, and that is the way they understand risk and relationships. That is the life they lead so that we in power can wield steel and wear gold, and that is the life we must honor even as we move to support them more fairly and give them greater control over their working conditions. My people will always risk much in the dark.
That is the best way I can find at present to explain the men of Wulfmunt, whom I only begin to understand myself. A woman who cannot love, honor, and support them is worse than useless to me. A woman who can help me to do better by them would be worth her weight in… grain. For here, grain is to us what gold is to others.
Do what you can, as swiftly as you can. I have not the luxury of time in this matter. Tell the Lady Lefthryth
that I nothing at all I will let her alone I miss her counsel I hope she is well Lord Raedwalt is unhurt and will likely visit soon. Do not include her or her sisters in your list of prospective wives, for that alliance is sufficiently secure without further measures.
I give my respectful thanks in presumption of your aid in this matter.