Standard Bearer, The
Gildinwen found the day particularly exhausting as her father was getting worse. He was constantly coughing, and obviously in great discomfort. Many times she tried to get him to stop and rest but he would not have it.
“You heard the Herald,” he rasped, “The Alliance is at Emyn Muil. The battle will soon be joined. I must be there. I must…..” his voice was lost in a fit of coughing.
“Alright, Father but when we get to Linhir, I’m going to find you a proper lodging.”
It was nightfall by the time they reached the town, and the weather had worsened. It took a great deal of persistence on the part of Gildinwen, and most of the rest of their money but she finally found a fisherman who allowed them to stay in his drying shed, and even threw some firewood into the bargain.
“It smells.” complained Amarnon.
“I know, Father,” sighed Gildinwen “but we’re lucky to find anything. At least it’s warm and dry.”
She prepared a nourishing broth for him, and gave him some more tea to sooth his cough. Soon he was sleeping fitfully, while Gildinwen listened wakefully to the wind howling outside.
‘What am I doing here?’ She thought.
The next morning, despite a storm starting to blow in from the Sea, her father insisted they go on.
“Please Father! Let us just rest here until the storm blows over, there will be few places to stop between here and Pelagir.”
“No, my child. I must get to the battlefield. Gil-galad awaits me.”
“But you need to rest! Just one more day, then you’ll be stronger and we’ll make better time.”
“No! I am going and that’s an end to it.” Amarnon pulled his cloak tightly about him and started off down the road, leaving Gildinwen to hastily repack their belongings and saddle the horse.
“Come on, Loreglin,” she said, taking the reluctant animal by the bridle and leading him up the road. The horse pushed his head miserably against her side, and she smiled sadly at him, “at least you’ve enough sense to know this is not weather to be travelling in.”
The wind blew against them all day, and every step was a struggle. Their hair and clothes whipped about them, their cheeks rubbed raw and their lips chapped. The road was nearly deserted now, and apart from the odd traveller they met no one. Amarnon’s cough worsened until he could hardly draw breath, but he would not allow Gildinwen to stop before nightfall. As she had predicted the wide coastal grasslands of Lebennin provided little in the way of shelter, and the best she could find was a hollow in the lee of some rocks.”
“We’ll stop here, Father, I can’t find anywhere better.”
She reached up to help him dismount and he fell exhausted into her arms, unable even to bear his own weight upright. Biting down her fear, she helped him to sit with his back against the rocks while she got a fire going. His skin was scalding to the touch, his face flushed.
“Come on Father, lie here beside the fire. I’ll make something to eat.”
He mumbled something incoherently.
“I’m sorry, Father?”
“The Banner.” he croaked, “Where is it?”
“It’s right here,” she indicated the bags.
“Bring it to me.”
She brought him the tightly rolled package, and feeling it safely under his hands he relaxed a little. Hastily she made some hot tea, and coaxed him to drink a little, but she could not get him to take any food.
“Gildinwen?” his voice was dry and hoarse.
“Yes, Father. I’m here.”
“Where’s Argilin? Isn’t he home yet?”
Tears gathered in Gildinwen’s eyes, and she swallowed hard, “He’ll be along in a bit.”
“But I need to see him, I have something very important….” His voice trailed off fitfully.
“Hush now, Father. Try to get some sleep.”
Amarnon was quiet for a time, but his breathing soon became harsh again, and he woke restlessly.
He looked up at Gildinwen confusion in his over-bright eyes, “Argilin? Is that you? What kept you?”
“I’m here, Father.” Her throat was thick.
“Good,” he sighed, “Everything will be alright now.” He pushed the thick package containing the Banner towards her. “This is yours now, Argilin. You must take it to Gil-galad.”
The tears spilled silently down Gildinwen’s face. “Father.” She whispered.
“Promise me.” His voice was weak but urgent.
He fumbled inside his clothing and brought out another package. “Take this, my son. Open it, open it.”
She did so, inside lay a finely wrought band of an unfamiliar silver-grey metal.
“It is the Mithril band, put it on.”
“But Father, it is too small to fit, only a child could wear it.”
“Do as I say!”
Slowly she lifted the band and brought it up to her head. As she did so she felt it move ever so gently in her hands, almost as though it were alive, and when she placed it on her head it fitted perfectly.
“Let me see.”
She bent her head, and her father reached up his hand. “It fits! You are the one! I always knew it would be you, Argilin.” He fell back, exhausted.
Suddenly the band shone brightly, and it seemed to Gildinwen that the light was somehow inside her head. A great whirling and rushing came over her, and it was as if all the histories of time, both past and present, and all the lands of the World, were spread out beneath her as she flew at great speed over them. She glimpsed the lands over the Sea; the fall of Numenor; the great hall of the House of Amarnon; Gil-galad’s bright army; the dark tower of Mordor; an odd group of nine companions; the steep, green valleys of Imladris.
As she came back to herself with a jolt, the light in her father’s eyes was fading, tears were drying on his cheeks but a look of joy and peace was on his face.
“Father,” she whispered, and laying her head down beside him, she wept many tears until at last she slept.
The cold light of the next morning found Gildinwen awake. Sitting on the rocks above the campsite she watched as dawn split the dark sky in the East. Inside, she felt empty, hollowed out. She was alone now, homeless and friendless. Part of her just wanted to crawl back under her blanket and stay there, but she knew she could not.
‘A promise is a promise.’ She told herself, ‘I have to do this.’ Besides what other choice had she? There was nowhere else to go, no other path before her. She stood up, taking a deep breath of the new day, fanning the spark of her resolution. She would go on, she would take the Banner to Gil-galad, as her father wished. But first, Amarnon must be laid to rest.
She carried him onto the crest of a small hill, where the clean wind from the sea blew unhindered. Carefully she dressed him in his armour, wrapped him in his cloak, and placed his great sword in his hands. She placed food and drink beside him, and the last of the money that he might have the price of the Journey. Lacking the tools to dig, she gathered the white stones and raised a cairn over him. Then she cried aloud to the wind and the sea:
“Here lies the Last Son of the House of Amarnon, guard him well, and see him safe on his way.”
Back at camp, she surveyed the rest of the baggage. If she hurried she might just catch up with the army, but she would have to ride fast, and that meant light. She discarded all the cooking utensils and most of the food, keeping just enough for a couple of days. As an afterthought she tucked in some apples for Loreglin, he deserved them. She strapped one blanket to the back of the saddle, the banner to the side and slung her bag of medicinal herbs over her back. She flung her cloak around her shoulders and wrapped a scarf tightly about her head.
“Right, Loreglin. I think we’re ready.” The horse put his ears back nastily as she tightened the girth. “You grouch.” she admonished fondly.
She mounted, and stood for a long minute looking up at Amarnon’s last resting place.
“Well, Father, I’m going.” She smiled tearfully, “Exactly where, and into what, I don’t know. But I said I’d go, so going I am. Sleep well!” and unable to bear it any longer she urged the chestnut into a canter.
The road now turned east and in the distance on her right she could see the great river Anduin as it widened towards the sea. The wind was still cold, but it remained dry and the going was good underfoot. Ahead of her Gildinwen could see the road stretching out for many miles, raised on a causeway above the rich green of the floodplain. They made good speed all day, but by nightfall it still remained ominously empty.
As the next day drew on, however, she noticed a great cloud of dust, signs of a large group on the move. The gap between them closed quickly, and it became apparent within a couple of hours that it was a great host travelling west. Gildinwen slowed to a walk as they approached - not soldiers but ordinary people. These were not cheery folk such as those she had travelled with, instead their faces were hard and grim. They hurried along, their desperation palpable. Mothers clutched infants, fathers dragged children along by the hand. Belongings and possessions were piled haphazardly onto carts and barrows. Mules and oxen, hauled by bridles and goaded with sticks, laboured to move their unwieldy loads. Some of the refugees had only what they could carry, many of them bore signs of injury, they were dirty and their faces hunted. Terrible sounds of grief, fear and loss were their only songs, as the tide of misery flowed West.
Gildinwen’s face must have shown her shock as she realised that these were the inhabitants of Minas Ithil - the fortunate ones. This tattered column was all that remained of that great city.
“What news?” she called to a middle-aged man, somewhat better dressed than his neighbours.
“News?” he spat, “What news do you need to hear? Can you not see it for yourself?”
“What of the army?”
“The last of the army is embarking at Pelargir. We have no more young men to give.” he replied bitterly.
“What of the Alliance? Are Gil-galad and Elendil not bringing an army from the West?”
“Alliance! The Elves promise help but we see nothing of it. Anyway it is too late for us.” He shook his head heavily, and moved on.
‘I must hurry’, Gildinwen thought to herself, ‘If I do not catch a ship at Pelargir, then it is hopeless.’
She tried to urge her horse forward to a trot but it was next to impossible against the flow of people. Even Loreglin’s best attempts to bite people in his path did not make much difference.
“Excuse me,” she said, manoeuvring her way between carts.
“Watch where you’re going!”
“Sorry. Please, get out of the way.” Coming up against another burdened family.
“You’re going the wrong way, you fool.”
“Thank you, sorry.”
This wasn’t working, she’d be here till nightfall. Frustrated, she pulled her sword out, kicked Loreglin forward and yelled at the top of her voice. “Make way! Let me pass in the name of the King!” Using the flat of the sword she swiped at the nearest pedestrians who quickly vacated the middle of the road. “Move! Move!” she commanded, her voice strong. A path formed and she cantered forward, shouting as she went.
“Make way, make way!” the shout carried back down the line, “ A messenger of the King” and the crowd parted before her.
After an hour or two of this, the crowds began to thin noticeably. Those less able were bringing up the rear, and a pitiful sight it was. The elderly hobbling along, the injured dragging themselves on sticks, pregnant women sobbing as they wondered what future awaited the unborn, lost children wailing desolately as they vainly tried to keep up with the crowd, hoping against hope that they might be reunited with their parents. Behind this river of tragedy was strewn a litter of discarded belongings. Books, musical instruments, clothing – items once precious, now an unbearable burden, flung down to be forgotten in the dust. Forcing her eyes towards the east, and gritting her teeth against her tears, Gildinwen urged Loreglin faster. Now was not the time to mourn, she could do nothing for these people.
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.