Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 13. Cristhoron
Cemendur had expected Cristhoron to be yet a another holding tucked away in a deep riven glen, like the three they had guested at on the journey from Imladris. He was wrong.
Like the Kings' villa at Arnost the stronghold of the Sorondili was a relic of the Ancient Days. From a distance it seemed a natural formation, a tall spire of grey stone rising from an outlying spur of the Misty Mountains. It was only as they drew closer Cemendur saw it had been worked by Men's hands with spiral galleries, hanging terraces, and many tall windows carved out of the living rock. Behind the tower a deep cleft opened between two peaks, veiled by the glistening mist of a towering waterfall, a streak of silver and crystal against the weathered stone.
They followed a winding path up the side of the mountain spur coming at last to a gate carved into the rock, its stone doors engraved with the Eagle and the Star of the Sorondili. They parted, the heavy slabs swinging ponderously outward, and the party rode into a tunnel that sloped gently upward to a second archway closed by a grill of black iron adorned with golden eagles spiralling inward to a great mithril star.
This was opened for them by a Ranger in green, whose eyebrows rose expressively at the sight of the twin's finery but the habitual silence of the Northern Dunedain was not broken by questions or explanations.
They dismounted in a green garth at least as large as the Citadel of Minas Tirith. Silvery streams fanned out from the base of the great keep to cascade down carven steps and fill pools and watercourses where red and golden carp swam. Horses, cattle and sheep grazed peacefully upon the sward, shaded by the evergreen boughs of Elven trees. Doors and windows, stairs, balconies, oriels and turrets had been carved out of the cliff walls surrounding the garth giving it the look of a city park.
As they climbed the long straight stair to the great doors of the Keep Cemendur saw an eagle, larger than a Man, spiral downward to land somewhere near the peak of the tower.
"We've chosen our time well." Ellenion commented. "That will be Gwahir's messenger with the latest news."
The tall doors, emblazoned like the gates with the Eagle and Star, opened onto an aisled hall its rows of pale grey stone pillars fancifully carved with strange beasts who combined the head and wings of an eagle with the limbs and tails of lion or horse or clawed serpent. The twins led their guests through a great arch framed by a frieze of knights and ladies riding upon great eagles, then up a broad stair past many landings until Cemendur's legs ached and his breath came hard.
Finally the stair ended in an open archway leading to the first of a succession of curving, tapestry hung halls and chambers each a short flight of steps above the other, lit by tall windows inset with the devices of ancient kings and heroes in jewel colored glass.
The series of antechambers, watching chambers and reception halls finally ended in a circular council chamber taking up the entire top floor of the keep. Great oriel windows looked north, south, east and west. Paintings depicting the mighty Deeds of the Eagles of Manwe; the rescue of Maedhros, of the body of Fingolfin, of Hurin and Huor, and of Beren and Luthien, hung on the walls between the window embrasures. The domed ceiling glistened a sapphirine blue with a great golden sun spreading its glittering rays from the apex.
A massive carved onyx table stood at the center of the chamber, its polished surface inlaid with a many pointed star of mithril and nacre, surrounded by a number of high backed chairs emblazoned with the Eagle and star in gold. Otherwise the room was entirely empty.
Cemendur and Rumil had barely time to exchange a bewildered look before the twins headed purposefully towards the western window embrasure. Following them the Gondor Men passed through a narrow door tucked into a corner of the oriel and onto a tiny open gallery threading its way up the outer wall of the Keep. It ended in sort of chamber, roofed but open on all sides, hewn out of the pinacle of the stone spur that made up the Keep. Most of the rough stone floor was taken up by a tangle of old tree limbs, an eagle's eyrie, overlaid by a layer of fresh, spicily scented, green boughs from the Elven trees far below.
The great Eagle was settled comfortably in the nest with a Woman perched on the heaped branches near him, both turned piercing, unblinking eyes upon the intruders. The Eagle's blue as the skies of Manwe, the Woman's grey with the by now familiar quicksilver gleam.
Then the great curved beak opened and a harsh voice said, in perfectly comprehensible Westron: "You two are very fine."
Rumil's mouth dropped open and even Cemendur blinked. Of course they knew the Eagles of Manwe spoke to the heroes in the old tales, but that was quite a different thing from hearing it with their own ears under the bright sun.
"This is our uncle's idea of suitable garb for princes of the Isildurioni on an embassage to the Steward of Gondor." Ereinion replied, an undertone of amusement audible in his voice. "And these are the Lord Ecthelion's Men, sent to discover the origins of a certain mysterious captain in his service."
"Ah." the Woman's eyebrows lifted in a way that made her look startlingly like the Lord Elrond. "I sense an interesting story." her penetrating gaze passed over the two tired Men from the South. "But our guests must be allowed to rest while I hear it. What were you thinking to drag them all the way up here after a long day's ride, Ereinion? Ellenion, show them to nearest guest chambers and see hot water and whatever else they need is brought to them."
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