Standard Bearer, The
2. A Journey Begins
Gildinwen was only halfway home when a very strange feeling came over her. She hadn’t experienced anything like it since the day her mother had died.
“Father!” was her only thought as she discarded the heavy bag of herbs and roots she was carrying and raced for home.
Arriving back at the homestead she found her father to be in good health, but something terrible was happening – a large wagon was pulled up in the yard and two hearty men were busily throwing possessions into it.
“Father!” she gasped, breathless, “What’s happening? Is it Argilin? What has my brother done now?”
“My child! My daughter!” Her father rushed towards her his face flushed with pleasure and excitement. “Don’t be alarmed! It is good news! Great news!”
“But Father! Our things!”
“Forget them, they’re not important any longer.”
Behind him the men started carrying out books and papers.
“NO!! Not the books!” cried Gildinwen as she tried to push past her father to stop the ransack.
“I said ‘Forget them!’” her father commanded, his voice strong despite his bent and weakened frame, and Gildinwen stood in mute acceptance, with only an anguished look to betray her loss.
“Right Master Amarnon, we’re done now. Here’s the money, exactly as we agreed.” The man looked doubtfully at Gildinwen’s stricken face, then shaking his head slightly, mounted the wagon beside his companion, and they were off.
In a stunned and unbelieving silence, Gildinwen walked into the house, bare now save for a few sticks of rough furniture. The shelves along the back wall, that had held her father’s precious library, were empty now of all but dust. Running her hands over her dark hair in despair, she turned to see her father entering the doorway, the setting sun red behind him.
“Today I have had the news that I have waited my whole lifetime to hear.”
Gildinwen’s expression was suspicious.
“A new Alliance! Of Men and Elves! Gil-galad has sent forth his messengers to call for a force to fight the Darkness that approaches us.”
“A messenger came here?!”
“Well, no, admittedly, but I heard it in the village.”
“A messenger was in the village?” Gildinwen’s face remained sceptical.
“No….I heard it from Bramar at the forge, and he heard it from a traveller who stopped to have his horse shod.”
“You sold our library, because of some gossip you heard at the forge!”
“Look, it doesn’t matter how I heard. It’s true! I know it’s true! The time has come, our family will rise again. We will once more ride with the great Elf Lords. And perhaps,” he grinned, “ we might find someone that thinks you’re worth marrying before you turn into an old maid!”
“Oh father,” Gildinwen replied sadly, shaking her head, “Don’t you think that perhaps these rumours seem so true, because you desperately want them to be?”
“No! It is the time, we are going to join with the army.” He eyes glowed with anticipation. “My son Argilin will carry the Banner. He will ride at the side of Gil-galad, proud and strong. He will distinguish himself in battle, and the House of Amarnon will be restored to glory.” His excitement rose, “I have money here for the journey, and enough to buy a warhorse and armour. Argilin’s accoutrements must be those of a great Warrior.”
“Even if that’s the only part of him that is.” muttered Gildinwen under her breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothing Father. Oh look, here comes the epitome of warriorhood now.”
A tall, shock-haired young man, lurched unsteadily in through the doorway and stopped in surprise. “Yaah! What’s happened here? Have we been burgled?”
Gildinwen got up to light the lamps, discovering as she did so that there was only one left. “Oh no, Father’s been investing in your future.”
“Gildinwen! That’s enough! Now fetch us some food, we have much to discuss.”
“Yes, Father.” She began to fetch some bread and placed it on the table along with a wine jug.
“My future!” Argilin sat down and pulled the jug towards him. “Get some more of this will you Gil, I have a powerful thirst.”
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough already?” she admonished him in a low voice.
“Oh stop preaching, why must I be cursed with such an earnest older sister?”
“So Father,” continued Argilin, “you’ve finally got the dowry money, so I can marry Lily Wotherspoon?”
“No, no my son. You can forget all that now. I mean your real future.” Master Amarnon leaned forward, his eyes bright. “You’re going to take your place with the Elf Lords, among the great men of the land.”
“The Banner, Argilin! The time has come, the Elf-Lord Gil-galad has sounded the cry for the arm of Man.”
“The banner? You mean the stories about that old rag are really true?”
“Haven’t I been telling you about them all your life?”
“Well, yes, but I didn’t think they were real.”
“Oh they are, my son. They are! And now the time has come. You! You will be the one.” His rheumy eyes filled with tears of pride. “My son, Argilin, will ride into battle with the Great Lords and restore us to our place.”
“Tomorrow, we will buy everything you will need. A good warhorse for you, and mules. And armour, the finest armour, crafted to fit you perfectly. The sword of my forefathers will be yours, and the Banner, of course.” He took a breath as if to add something, but stopped. “Then as soon as we are ready we will be off.”
“And what am I to do, Father?” asked Gildinwen quietly.
Her father looked surprised, “Why you must come also, my child. How could we two manage without you to look after us? And we will need you to speak for us, we haven’t your knowledge of the Elvish tongue.”
“I doubt half the Elves have her learning of the Elvish tongue, the amount of time she spent poring over your old books.” smirked Argilin.
Her father leaned forward smiling happily, “I would see you take your place among the great ladies of the land. Besides you have healing skills, and they are always much in demand in a battle.”
Gildinwen was mollified, and felt her heart warm with love for her father, and even Argilin. It might work, perhaps this was what he needed, and once he was away from the stultifying atmosphere of the village, seeing the world, he would grow strong and brave.
“Well!” said Argilin, pushing back his chair, and rising from the table. “If I’ve all that to do tomorrow, I’d better get an early night.” He looked round, “ I hope you put the money in a safe place, Father, we don’t want to be robbed.”
“I have safely locked it in the wall cupboard, Argilin, don’t worry. Sleep well, tomorrow a new life begins for us.”
Midnight had only just come and gone when Gildinwen was woken by a loud banging on the door. She fought her way out from under the covers and hastily dragged a cloak over her night clothes. Her father was already up.
“Who is it? Who’s there? What do you want?” His voice was querulous, and a little fearful.
“It’s Bramar, Master Amarnon, and Greeson from the Horseman’s Rest.”
“What do you want at this time of night?”
“It’s your son, sir.”
“My son? What about him?”
“He’s,..he’s been injured, Master Amarnon.”
“What? Nonsense! My son’s safely asleep in his bed.”
Her heart suddenly misgiving her, Gildinwen pushed open the door of her brother’s chamber - his bed was empty and not slept in. “Father!” she cried.
Her father hurried to unlock the door. Outside there were half a dozen men with lanterns and a wagon.
“Where is he? Where’s my son? What’s happened?”
There was a silence, then Bramar took Amarnon by the arm and led him to over the wagon – the still form of Argilin lay inside.
“I’m so sorry.”
“What? What do you mean?! How is he injured?” Amarnon grasped Argilin by the arms. “Argilin? Argilin!”
“He’s dead, Master Amarnon.”
“No! No. He can’t be! Argilin!”
Gildinwen stood by the cart clutching the cloak around herself, as her mind filled with realisation, and her heart with grief. She turned to Greeson the innkeeper. “What happened?”
He looked at his feet, “There was a fight. Argil was drunk, he had a lot of money from somewhere, and had been buying for the house all night. Then some soldier started talking to Lily, and Argil didn’t like it,” the man shrugged, “he started going on about being a warrior, and how he’d take ‘em on.” He looked over at Amarnon, his face twisted, “I told ‘em to take it outside, and they did. Next thing here’s young Argil with a knife in his chest.”
“Oh my son! My son!” Amarnon was clutching the young man to his chest, tears pouring down his face.
Gildinwen dragged a hand over her eyes. “Thank you for bringing him home, Master Greeson, please could you bring him inside for us.”
“It’d be the least we could do, miss.”
After the men had gone, Gildinwen sat in the kitchen weeping silently. The sound of her father’s grief from the other room tore further at her wounded heart. She did not even need to ask how it had happened, the broken lock on the wall cupboard told everything. Why had she not suspected when he went to bed so quietly? Oh Argil! My weak, foolish, little brother! All he ever wanted was to marry Lily Wotherspoon, work in the inn and have lots of fat children. All this talk of Elves and battles was just too much for him.
“Father.” She stood and they embraced for a long while. “Sit down, I’ll make something to eat.”
“No. I’m not hungry.”
“At least have some tea.”
“Alright.” He nodded, taking a seat. “I’ve been thinking about what we’re going to do.”
“Master Bramar said that he’d return later with some men from the village to…..take care of things.”
“Yes. I’d like him buried on the south side of the house, beside his mother.”
Gildinwen set two steaming mugs on the table and sat down beside her father. “Oh Father! I’m so sorry!”
“I know, my child, I know.” He drew his mug towards himself, cradling its warmth in his hands. “I have decided that we will still leave as planned. Since Argilin can no longer go, then I must carry the Banner to Gil-galad myself.”
Gildinwen put her hands out and wrapped them around her father’s, looking deep into his eyes. She nodded agreement, there was nothing here for either of them now. Whatever happened, wherever they ended up going, it was time to leave.
“If only Argilin hadn’t taken all the money,” sighed her father.
Gildinwen reached behind her neck and loosened the silver chain that hung there. “Here Father,” she pressed it into his hand, “Use this.”
“No! I can’t. It is the last of the Amarnon jewels.”
“Then what better use for it.”
Her father still looked dubious.
She smiled, “We can always buy it back again when we’re rich.”
The night before they left her father brought out the Banner and spread it on the kitchen table. It was only the second time she had ever been allowed to see it. The blue and silver colours seemed as rich and alive as the day they had been sewn, although the banner itself showed many marks of battle. The figures and beasts were sewn with such skill that they seemed almost alive. So strange to think that for many hundreds of years, this same banner had been touched by the hands of her forebears. Carried by them in legendary battles. In the centre of the standard the words of the prophecy had been embroidered. She traced them lightly with her finger, carefully making out the Elvish letters. When she had last seen them she had been too little to read. Beneath them was the motto of their House: ‘Faithful to the Last’. Her father attached the Banner to its heavy staff, ingeniously designed in sections for easy transport, then carefully rolled it up, fastening the tapes to keep it furled.
Dawn was only just scratching the sky as Gildinwen and Amarnon stood ready to leave. They were both wrapped in warm cloaks against the chill autumn morning, Gildinwen dressed in some of her brother’s clothing, her father holding a lighted torch. Gildinwen’s horse Loreglin, a sturdy chestnut with a reputation for bad temper, was already loaded with their baggage. On one side of his saddle her father’s sword was strapped, and on the other side was the Banner, well wrapped in oilcloth.
Their leave taking had all been done the previous day, Amarnon spending many hours beside the graves of his wife and son, Gildinwen walking her favourite haunts for the last time.
“Are you ready, my daughter?”
Amarnon cast the torch high onto the thatch of the house, where it rapidly took hold. “There will be no returning.”
They turned quickly away and, Gildinwen gripping the horse by the bridle, walked resolutely up the path to the road, their shadows flickering blackly before them in the red light.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.