Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 15. Departure
Cemendur had been impressed from the begining by the dispatch with which the Northern Dunedain managed their affairs. Like soldiers in the field they made a decision and acted on it at once. Still he was more than a little surprised to discover the Lady Beruthiel fully prepared to ride out with them the very next morning, contary to his lifetime's experience of the fair sex.
The Lady was dressed in the usual Ranger leathers, but in shades of grey rather than green, with her long hair braided. Unlike Laebeth and Muinith she wore a sword, and like her brother carried one of the great steel Numenorean warbows. Men with the strength to draw a great bow had grown scarce in Gondor and Cemendur had never heard of a Woman able to do so. No doubt he stared.
"Yes she can draw it." Ellenion said in his ear, a note of amusement clearly audible in his voice.
"And match our uncle arrow for arrow in speed and accuracy." added Ereinion from the other side.
"It's in the blood, our father was a great bowman as were all his fathers before him." their mother said blithly, having clearly overheard both remarks, "The warbow my brother carries was a reward for valor given by Tar-Minastir to our ancestor Cubeleg the Archer."
Cemendur was hard put to maintain his usual urbanity. "Your father was a common bowman?" he asked, trying not to sound shocked.
"Most uncommon." the Lady corrected. "But no, he was of the Isildurioni, his forefather having married the daughter of a past Chieftain." glanced at him sidelong. "We make little account of rank these days. We are all Rangers now."
Her brother, the Lord Belecthor, had said much the same. And certainly the manner of the common folk towards their Royal House was notable for its lack of ceremony. Yet the idea of a simple bowman, however old and distinguished his family, marrying a princess of the blood royal was so far contrary to the law and custom of Gondor as to leave Cemendur speechless. The Kings of the Line of Anarion, in their pride, had disowned sons and daughters who made matches unworthy of their high estate.
Clearly law and custom were quite otherwise here in the North, for Beruthiel had said her father was accounted royal by right of his descent from one of the Isildurieni. And why not? Judging by the result the bowman's blood was as worthy to mingle with the blood royal as that of the noblest House in Gondor - if not more so.
Cemendur continued to brood as the party rode out of the garth and down the steep rock cut path to the river valley below. Gondor had always been obsessed with perserving the purity of the Numenorean blood, above all that of the Royal House, and enacted many laws designed to do so. But with what result? the Line of the Southern Kings was extinct. Any number of Noble Houses had been fatally weakened by debilitating inbreeding. And commoners of pure descent were not to be found outside the Circles of Minas Tirith or the haven of Dol Amroth. And for all their efforts the dwindling of lifespan, hardihood, and wisdom continued unabated, even in those of provably 'pure' descent.
Yet here in the North the ancient Numenorean strain remained strong in the face of terrible adversity. Certainly they had taken no great care to keep their blood pure, Cemendur had in his journey across the Lost Realm encountered several Rangers of mixed heritage. Could it be that 'purity of blood' was unimportant? he frowned troubled by the renegade thought but it would not go away. Were the Dunedain of Gondor failing for some other, less tangible reason? ***
They forded the Bruinen, shallow but very fast here near its source, and rejoined the Great Road which rose steeply, overshadowed by gigantic ancient pines clinging grimly to the rocky slopes. By mid-afternoon they had climbed above the tree line and the air was perceptibly colder.
The Rangers had built a traveller's rest house of drystone roofed with slate on a terrace cut into the barren slope below the entrance to the pass proper. Trickles of smoke rose from the louver indicating another party was already in residence.
It proved to be a company of Dwarves. Though reticent about the business that had brought them over the mountains in the first place they were more than willing to talk about their adventures in the Passes.
"We could smell Warg from the second day on," their leader, Eilif, told Beruthiel, "But they didn't get up the nerve to try their luck until the night of the fifth day." showed teeth in a savage grin. "We killed three of them, bloodied as many others and they fled squealing."
"I take that's when Brynold was wounded?" said Ellenion, looking up from the Dwarf he was tending.
Elilif nodded. "After that they shadowed us and made a few fients by night but no more real attacks."
"Though there might have been if we'd dropped our guard for so much as a moment." put in another of the Dwarf company.
His leader nodded. "Keep a sharp watch, especially at night, and you should be all right."
Beruthiel looked out the open door at the long shadows cast by the westerning sun. "We will stay here tonight." she decided. "and start at daybreak tomorrow. No need to spend any more nights than we must in the mountains."
Her sons and even the Half-Elven twins accepted this without comment. Clearly the Lady was in command, another astonishing reversal of Gondorian custom but Cemendur was becoming used to that by now.
He was more interested in the easy familiarity existing between the Three Kindreds here in the North. While Elladan and Elrohir's mission proved relations were not always amicable even the quarrels seemed like those between close neighbors rather than strangers. In Gondor both the Elder races had receeded into tale and legend for neither Dwarf nor Elf had been seen there since the days of the Kings.
Strange stories were whispered about the Golden Wood on the borders of Rohan but it had been long since any Man had tried to learn the truth of them. And only the vaguest rumors of the Dwarf realms of Erebor and the Iron Hills had reached the White City, though there had been some trade with Moria before its destruction. Gondor's dealings had always been chiefly with other Men, perhaps to their loss.
Cemendur settled into his blankets, resigning himself to yet another night on hard stone - and at his age too! How had Ecthelion talked him into this? Smiled wryly to himself. By appealing to his curiousity that's how. The smile faded. Certainly neither of them had expected the answers he had found, or the dilemma he was bringing home to Gondor in the persons of two princes of the ancient Kingly House
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