Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 14. A Family Party
Cemendur opened his eyes. He must have been asleep for some hours as the guest chamber was quite dark though a soft bluish-silver light, like moonlight, welled through the lower panes of the window embrasure. Looking out he saw no moon but the trees far below sparkled with points of silver-blue light illuminating the garth and rivalling the stars just emerging in the grey twilight skies.
Even more startling however was the homely golden light of candle and lamp shining from the windows in the cliff faces overlooking the garth. Cemendur had assumed the city of the Eagles was empty, abandoned like Fornost and the lesser towns they had passed on their journey. Once again he'd been wrong.
The door behind him opened. "How long have I been asleep, Rumil?"
"Nigh on five hours, m'Lord." his Man replied, setting a tray with gently steaming basin and ewer on the table.
"As long as that?" Cemendur walked towards him, unbuttoning his tunic.
"It *was* a hard ride, m'Lord. And you're not as young as you were." Rumil offered, taking the garment from his master.
There was an understatement for you. At one hundred and three Cemendur was accustomed to thinking of himself as very old. It had been a shock to discover Dunedain here in the North ordinarily passed their hundreth year in full vigor, living twice as long as lesser Men, and and fifty or more years longer than their Southern kin.
Cemendur dried his face and hands and turned to inspect the clothes Rumil had laid out on the bed. "I take it I am expected somewhere?"
"In my Lady's solar for a late supper, m'Lord." ***
The outer wall of the Lady Beruthiel's solar was a curved arcade of sleander white colums, their capitals carved in the form of eagles, opening onto a hanging terrace paved with colored marbles. The lady was sitting out under the stars talking to two shadowy Men Cemendur took to be her sons. Her head turned as he entered and she rose and came into the lamplit room to welcome him.
The Lady Beruthiel was the tallest Woman Cemendur had ever seen, at least a handspan taller than himself (1), robed in azure and silver with her black hair coiled into a silver net held in place by a thin fillet with a tiny adamant star upon her brow. Like her brother, the Lord Belecthor, she resembled the statues of the ancient Kings and Queens to an almost alarming degree with her fine, high boned features and clear grey eyes.
"Welcome to the Keep of Cristhoron, my Lord Cemendur. I apologize for my sons, they should have known better than to force a guest to climb all those stairs."
"But this house of yours is nothing but stairs, Beruthiel," a voice protested humorously, "your guests cannot escape them."
"Yet they shouldn't be required to climb from garth to eyrie upon arrival, especially after a day's ride over the fells." she returned as lightly, over her shoulder.
Twins but not Beruthiel's sons, or Mortal Men. Yet they bore sufficient likeness to their hostess in coloring and feature for Cemendur not to be altogether surprised when they were introduced as the sons of Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir. These family resemblances were a little unnerving, a sharp reminder that the Kings of the Kings of Men were more than Man.
Was that the real reason the Council of Gondor had rejected Isildur's Heirs, Cemendur wondered suddenly, fear of their strangness? Of the Elven light in their eyes and semi-divine Maiar strain in their blood? That same blood had run thin in the line of Anarion long before it failed. Accustomed to Kings who were no more than Men had the Councillors been unwilling to accept one who was something more?
The door behind him opened and the other, Mortal twins entered still attired in the black and silver splendor their Elvish uncle had given them garnering their cousins' full attention.
Elladan, circling the two: "Landroval was right, very impressive indeed."
Elrohir, also circling widdershins: "I always said if they'd just comb their hair and wash their faces they'd be quite presentable."
Beruthiel, eyebrows rising: "Merely presentable?"
Elrohir, over his shoulder: "I have not a mother's bias."
"Of course getting a Ranger to *wash* is an almost impossible task." from Elladan.
"Nearly as impossible as distracting certain Half-Elves from their grooming rituals." Ellenion riposted easily.
"Fortunately they don't have to sleep any more than their Elven kin." Ereinion explained to Cemendur. "and so can spend half the night combing and braiding their long locks."
"And the other half smoothing scented lotions into their hands and faces." said Ellenion.(2)
"While Rangers, on the other hand, refuse to spend even a moment or two on ablutions with plain water." Elrohir retorted.
"I have gathered the unkempt look of our Northern kin is quite deliberate," Cemendur observed mildly, "a form of disguise perhaps?"
"Something like that." Ellenion conceeded. To his cousins; "We certainly don't want to be taken for Elven Princes."
"Well you're not like to be taken for anything less dressed like that." Elladan pointed out.
"Which no doubt is your father's intention." said the Lady Beruthiel.
"I fear the Lord Elrond may be trying to force Lord Aragorn's hand." Cemendur admitted ruefully.
Beruthiel made wide, innocent eyes. "Oh no! Our Uncle would never dream of doing such a thing."
Elladan gave a gentle snort as the Mortal twins grinned appreciation of their mother's sally. "You'd think Father would know better than to even try, given that the Isildurioni are the most stubborn and contrary of all Mortal Men."
Elrohir nodded emphatically. "To urge a course of action upon them is the surest way to get them to do the exact opposit!"
"Not always." said Ereinion.
"Only when certain elder relatives try to push us into doing things we don't want to." finished his brother.
The Lady Beruthiel's supper was served on a round table before a fireplace guarded by gilt-bronze eagles. Upon chalcedony plates carved in a pattern of spread and furled wings each feather rendered in exquisite detail. With goblets of colored glass chased in mithril and gold and heavy silver tableware embossed with the Eagle and the Star. However the food was as plain and substantial as that Cemendur had eaten at other, lesser holdings.
"You come at an opportune time," the Lady Beruthiel was saying, "as both Elrond's twins and I have errands on the other side of the Mountains. We can travel together."
"A nice little family party." Ellenion agreed, glanced sidelong at Elladan. "Another mission to Thranduil?"
His cousin nodded ruefully. "He knows the Woodland Realm cannot stand alone but it's a constant struggle against his, and his people's, instinctive dislike of outsiders."
"He's not objecting to the Ranger watch on Dol Guldur is he?" Ereinion frowned.
"No. Your Men have worked hard at being accepted and succeeded. The Dunedain's familiarity with the Elven tongue and Elven ways has served them well." Elladan answered. "It's another quarrel with the Dwarves I'm afraid. Something about them building way stations along the Forest Road."
Both Men sighed. "The extra-terratoriality question again." said Ellenion resignedly.
Elrohir drily: "Isn't it always?"
"I don't know how well acquainted you are with the Northlands, my Lord Cemendur," Lady Beruthiel explained politely to her guest, "but there is an ancient Dwarf road across the Mirkwood. It fell into ruin after the Dragon Smaug destroyed the Kingdom under the Mountain. However the realm of Erebor was restored some thirty years ago and the new King had the road rebuilt and put back into use. And he and King Thranduil have been arguing about who has jurisdiction over it ever since." turned to her Elven kinsmen. "I presume the problem is Dain's new guard stations?"
Elladan blew out a sigh. "Of course your Rangers would have known all about it long before Thranduil did. Why didn't they say something?"
The Lady shrugged. "We were hoping the Elves wouldn't notice."
"We know how unreasonable the Elder Races can be." Ellenion put in, eyes glinting.
"I would argue with you if I could," Elrohir said ruefully, "but I must agree. Neither Elves nor Dwarves have ever been particularly reasonable about the other."
"Which is why a delegation of Dalesmen will be negotiating on behalf of the Dwarves." added Elladan.
Ellenion laughed out loud. "Pity the poor Men! caught in the middle as usual."
"Spare some sympathy for the poor Half-Elven as well." said Elladan.
"Oh I do." Ereinion assured him. "I wish you luck. Cousin, you're going to need it."
"And don't we know it!" Elrohir sighed, turned to the Lady. "What is your errand over the mountains, Beruthiel?"
"I want to talk to Grimbeorn about increasing his patrols."
All four men suddenly looked much more serious. "Orc trouble?" Ellenion asked.
"Not yet. But their numbers are begining to increase again." his mother answered. "It's only a matter of time. We're going to have to keep a close watch if we're to avoid unpleasant surprises like the 'Front Door'".
Cemendur was unable to follow much of this but one point caught his attention. "You have dealings with the Valesmen?" for certainly Gondor had heard no word of their Northern kin from that quarter.
"We do. But only as Rangers, wanders and hunters of the Wild." Beruthiel answered. "The Beornings have secrets of their own. They ask no questions."
"So who does know your secret," he asked, "The Elves of Rivendell -?"
"And of Lindon, our ancient allies." Ellenion admitted.
"And the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains and of Erebor who are also allies from of old." added his brother.
"So it is just your fellow Men whom you distrust." Cememdur observed pointedly.
Beruthiel and her sons exchanged looks. "It is not so simple as that." said the Lady.
"Lindon and Rivendell are guarded realms, guarded by powers that know the Dark Lord and reject him utterly." Ellenion explained.
"The Dwarves also keep to themselves, and while many know the Rangers only their princes know that our Chief is Isildur's Heir." added his brother.
"The continued existence of Isildur's Line is a closely guarded secret." Elladan assured Cemendur. "Not shared even with all of the Wise."
"But the remaining Noldor do not forget that the blood of their Kings runs in the veins of the Isildurioni." Elrohir continued quietly. "And the Sindar will risk much for Luthien's Children, in memory of her whom they loved."
"And Dwarves always pay their debts." said Ereinion.
"And Men?" Cemendur prompted.
"Men change." said Beruthiel flatly. "It is their nature, the nature of Middle Earth. Old loyalties fade and are forgotten. It has been more than a dozen lives of ordinary Men, since there was a King in the North. We are become the stuff of childrens' tales."
"Gondor remembers." Cemendur objected.
"Gondor rejected Isildur's Heirs, not once but many times." Elladan answered, with an edge to his voice. "Can you blame them if they now take you at your word?"
"Elladan!" Beruthiel said sharply. Turned to Cemendur. "We do not forget our duty to our people or our kin. That is why Aragorn went to Gondor in the first place. We work in secret but we do what we can."
*And have learned to expect nothing in return.* the Councillor thought bleakly. *Not even gratitude.* **********************************************
1. Cemendur is just over six feet, normal male height for Southern Dunedain, but Beruthiel is 'man-high', six foot four, just a hair shorter than her sons.
2. This is not entirely a joke. Elladan and Elrohir, and other Elves, do use lotions to protect their skin from weathering when convenient. How else can Legolas keep that porcelin complexion? :D
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