Politics of Arda
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Rangers of the North: 18. Out of the Pass
The Chief Griffon led them up above the snow line by narrow twisting trails that they had to tread single file, leading the tired horses.
Culuros had a slightly glazed look in his eye, as if he couldn't quite believe this was happening to him. Cemendur sympathized wholeheartedly. A Warg attack was nothing out of the ordinary but rescue by mythical winged beasts most definitely was.
The Chief Griffon padded softly along just in front of the Lady Beruthiel who headed their little column. But several of his subjects, hippogriffs and wyverns, were in advance of him, and several more trailed behind Ereinion at the end of the column and wingborn griffons passed and repassed overhead silhouetted against the stars.
"Ah, as I thought we are heading for the Hallow." Ellenion said suddenly in the peculiarly quiet yet carrying tones characteristic of Rangers.
"Hallow?" Rumil echoed uncertainly.
"Built by my ancestors when they first came to Middle Earth and dedicated to Manwe, Ancala (1) and Varda." he explained. "We'll be safe from Wargs or any other creature of the Shadow there." The narrow twisting way brought them at last to a broad ascending stair, its low wide steps dusted with windblown snow and guarded at intervals by winged statues modelled on their curious guides, leading up to a row of massive stone pillars.
They passed between these and the cold wind that had chilled them throughout the ascent cut off as if blocked by solid walls. Within the outer file of cyclopean columns was a second row of shorter, slimmer bluestone pillars crowned by capitals in the form of roosting eagles beyond which stretched a vast oblong of intricately patterned tesserae. The stars and new moon shone bright and clear overhead and the air seemed perceptibly warmer.
"Let's get some rest." Beruthiel said crisply. Her sons and the Elven twins promptly began spreading their blankets, and after a moment the Gondor Men followed suit.
As he settled himself on yet another hard stone floor Cemendur saw a griffon fold itself down nearby, paws curled catlike beneath it, and tuck its eagle's head under a wing. He closed his own eyes taking that last vision with him into sleep. ***
He woke some hours later to the morning sun shining between two pillars at the eastern end of the Hallow. The griffons, hippogriffs and wyverns were still there, in fact there seemed to be more of them than last night all looking attentively at the Lady Beruthiel as she stood talking seriously with the Great Eagle looming over her.
"I would offer to carry your party to the foot of the pass, Little Sister," it was saying, "but I don't think your horses would enjoy the journey."
"Indeed they would not." the Lady agreed. "We'll be all right, Gwaihir, the Eldest of Manwe's Children has agreed to lead us over the mountains by the paths his folk use."
"I just hope they know we Men and our horses are not quite so surefooted as they." Ereinion put in mildly.
The Eagle managed somehow to frown worriedly. "I will see that they do." and turned his head to address a series of harsh cries to the Chief Griffon.
The asperity of the creature's answer required no translation.
"He knows." Beruthiel said, eyes glinting amusement.
"So he says." Gwaihir agreed ruefully. Cemendur certainly hoped so. He looke curiously around at their unexpected refuge. The mosaic floor was patterned with the stars and constellations of Varda, a raised hearth cold and empty in its center. Double rows of columns closed the long north and south sides while a single curved line of the sleander bluestone inner columns fenced the eastern and western ends of this roofless hall, joined by balustrades carved from the same stone.
Suddenly an obscure bit of ancient lore read before he left on this journey surfaced. "This is Menelmar," he whispered awed, "the Hall of Heaven. Built by Soronumen last Lord of Ondosto in Numenor and first Prince of Egladil in Middle Earth."
"That's right." Ellenion, Soronumen's direct descendant, looked at him interestedly. "I wouldn't have thought our Southern kin would still remember so much about us." But Cemendur shook his head. "Nor do we. I saw the name written in a loremaster's list long buried in the archives of the White Tower."
The young prince shrugged, unperturbed. "We remember little lore about the Southern Kingdom either. It is only to be expected, we went our seperate ways long ago."
And Gondor, Cemendur was becoming more and more convinced, had gone the wrong way. The question now became could that error be amended, or had the Southern Kingdom fallen so far as to be unable to ever rise again? ***
The remainder of their journey over the mountains was bone chilling in more than one sense. The snowy heights were bitter cold and they had no fuel for fires, but their road also led along narrow ways above dizzying drops, including one appalling transit of a narrow ridge with great gulfs yawning on either side.
On the fourth day they finally began to descend, passing from the eternal winter of the high peaks to the warmth of summer in the lands below. The Chief Griffon and his followers left them just above the treeline, the Lady Beruthiel thanking them like the queen she was by right, in formal Quenya, before they bowed their eagle heads to her and turned to climb back to their icy eyries in the distant heights. The weary party of Men and Half-Elves watched them go for a moment then continued down the wooded slopes to the town of Oldford at the crossing of the Anduin. ***
The town was divided by the great river, the two halves made up of tall, narrow wooden houses crowded within a defensive drystone wall with battlements and towers of undressed logs. A wide wooden bridge on stone piles joined the two parts of the town. A large hall, also of wood, stood on its north side with clusters of gable roofed chambers clinging to its walls. This was the home of Grimbeorn son of Beorn, chief of the Men of the Anduin Vale.
He was a big Man, tall and broad and swarthy skinned like the Men of Old Rhudaur on the other side of the mountains, with thick black hair and a heavy black beard. He greeted the three Rangers and their Half-Elven kin like old friends and frowned darkly over their account of the Warg attack.
"I certainly hope they were after Elladan and Elrohir." he said when the story ended.
"Thank you very much." Elladan said drily.
"I mean," the Man explained patiently, "that we are all in serious trouble if the mountain Wargs are going to make a regular practice of attacking parties in the Pass."
"Well there are a good many less of them then there were. Hopefully they've learned their lesson." Elrohir said cheerfully.
"That party of Dwarves got through safely enough," the Lady added reassuringly, "I doubt it will happen again."
"Let us hope so!" said Grimbeorn with emphasis. They spent the night in his hall, on wooden floors this time softened by mattresses stuffed with straw. Their party split up early the next morning, the Elven twins continuing eastward towards Mirkwood and the Lonely Mountain beyond; the Gondor Men and the Mortal twins turning south to follow the western bank of the great river to the borders of Rohan. But the Lady Beruthiel remained in Oldford to continue her talks with Grimbeorn and his chief men.
"Now, Berya," Elladan told her seriously as they made their farewells at the door of the hall, "I want you to promise me you will not venture into the Pass alone."
She gave him an innocent look that would have done credit to Cemendur's five year old great granddaughter. "Why, Elladan, do you really think me so reckless?"
"Yes!" answered the two Half-Elves and her sons emphatically and in chorus.
The Lady laughed. "Truly I'm not so mad as all that. Very well, Elladan, you have my promise. But I still think you and your brother were the Warg's intended prey, not me." looked thoughtful. "Though I don't supposed they'd have minded getting me as well. I'll recruit a few of our Watchers to accompany me back, just in case."
All four Men breathed sighs of relief.
"I remember Prince Armegil telling us of the strong wills of the Isildurieni." Cemendur observed to Ellenion as they rode out the western gate of the town and turned south.
"My uncle has a gift for understatement." the young Man replied drily. "Willful and stubborn as Isildur's sons undoubtedly are, his daughters are much, much worse."
Remembering the little Princess Niphredil and her formidable grandmother the Lady Ellemir, Cemendur found himself inclined to agree.
1. Ancala the Bright is the sister of Manwe and Melkor, her domain is Fire and for a time the destructive side of her nature dominated and she followed Melkor but she repented. She is keeper of the Flame of Anar, (Gandalf's Flame of Anor, the purifying fire before which evil and falsehood wither). Don't bother to look her up in the Sil or HoME, she is my own invention.
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