Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 16. In High Pass
The trail cut into the mountain's flank was so narrow they had to ride single file, the Lady leading with the Elven twins behind her, then Cemendur and Rumil and finally Ellenion and Ereinion bringing up the rear. The ground rose steeply on one side and fell away to a narrow wooded valley far below on the other.
"M'Lord," Rumil said suddenly. "is that a road down there?"
Looking into the valley Cemendur could indeed descry a pale streak appearing here and there between the treetops.
"Your eyes are not decieving you," Ellenion assured them from behind Rumil. "it is indeed a road, built by the High King Tarcil some two and a half thousand years ago through the high valleys and tunnels delved beneath the mountains."
"Unfortunately it's been unuseable since the days of the Witch Wars when our Enemy called evil things from the Dark Years out of their hiding places beneath the mountains to infest the valleys and tunnels." Elladan put in over his shoulder. "I remember how proud Tarcil was of it," he continued sadly, "and rightly so. Broad enough for cart and carriage it was, paved with hard white stone from the quarries beneath Mount Gram, and every valley held a way house with fair gardens for the refreshment of travellers."
"And the Dwarves who helped carve out the tunnels lit them with crystal lamps. And Lady Isfin painted the walls and vaults with frescoes of forest and open sky so one almost felt oneself still above the ground." Ellenion continued, in the tone of one who has heard all this many times before.
Elladan twisted in his saddle to shoot a reproachful look over the Gondor Men's heads at his young relative. "It was a great achievement, a thing both useful and beautiful."
The Lady Beruthiel's voice floated back to them. "It was, and sorry we are to leave Tarcil's road to the Enemy, but we simply cannot afford the Men it would take to clear and guard it. Were Tarcil here he would say the same."
"I don't doubt but he would." Elladan agreed, mouth twisting in a grimace Cemendur couldn't quite interpret. "The Isildurioni have always valued their people above their works." ***
"It is hard for our Uncle and his children," Beruthiel told Cemendur some hours later when the road had widened enough for two to ride abreast, her voice pitched Ranger fashion to reach no further than his ears. "they remember Arnor in its splendor, and saw the pride and joy our ancestors took in its building. It saddens them that those Kings' heirs should seem to care so little for what has been lost." she shrugged. "But one cannot miss what one has never known, nor grieve overmuch for what one has never seen save in books or through another's memories. The World changes and it is the nature of Men to change with it. And we Isildurioni are Men not Elves, for all our Eldarin ancestry."
Cemendur nodded wordlessly. He had occasionally seen a touch of sadness in the Northern Dunedain when they spoke of their Lost Realm but the never the intense longing for ancient glory that gnawed at the hearts of the Gondorim. The Isildurioni and their people remembered the past but did not cling to it. Perhaps because they had chosen to give up their state, while the glory of Gondor had been reft away by main force very much against the will of her people. Though their own folly had played no small role in their losses.
The Lady looked ahead at the backs of her sons glimmering in their black velvet cloaks and smiled a little sadly. "You were quite right about Uncle trying to force Aragorn's hand, or at the least send a forcible message as to the decision he should make. This Age, the Third Age, is drawing to its end and with it our Uncle's days in Middle Earth." a gentle sigh. "His Mortal kin are very dear to Elrond, all he has left of his brother, and he doesn't want to leave us like this; living in hiding defending a people who no longer know us." There didn't seem to be anything Cemendur could say to that either.
The Lady's head turned sharply and a moment later Cemendur caught it too, a rank animal scent. "Warg." she said grimly.
Almost at the same moment Ereinion fell back to join them. "Mother -"
"I know. We're being shadowed."
"We are surrounded," her son corrected, "look."
And sure enough sharp Dunedain eyes could just pick out brindled grey shapes slipping through the rocky slope ahead and behind and alongside.
The travellers had automatically moved closer together. The Gondor horses were begining to snort their alarm and twitch anxiously beneath their riders. The Ranger horses remained steady but a rim of white showed around their eyes.
"Have you or your Man had any experience of wolf fighting?" the Lady asked Cemendur softly.
"I have." he replied grimly. "The winter of 2911 was hard for us in the South as well. Wargs from the Misty Mountains took advantage of the freeze to try and colonize the White Mountains. I took part in the great wolf hunts that spring. Rumil?"
"Some of the Orc bands prowling Ithilien these days ride on Wargs." the Man replied. "I have fought them with my Lord Hurin."
"Good," said the Lady, "then we all know what to expect."
"These are greater numbers than Eilif reported." Elrohir observed quietly from behind Cemendur.
Beruthiel nodded. "Yes. They have mustered a strong force to face us."
"They know who we are." Ereinion said quite calmly.
His mother's smile sent a chill down Cemedur's back. "Perhaps, and perhaps they need a reminder." she unslung the great bow, nocked and drew, selected a target on the mountainside and loosed. A massive brindled body rolled down the slope, a long steel shafted arrow piercing its skull, then across the road in front of them to fall silently over the edge into the valley far below.
The shadowing shapes melted away as the Lady laughed softly. "That's better. Keep your distance my friends, and think again whether you wish to chance such foes."
"We needn't fear attack by day, I think." Elrohir remarked. "Not with so many bows between us, and one of them Berya's. But it's like to be a busy night."
"That I do not doubt." smiled the Lady.
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