Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 19. The Gladden Fields
The vales of the Anduin were well peopled with both Men of the swarthy Easterling type and the fair haired descendants of the Northmen, living in pallisaded villages surrounded by a patchwork of fields, pastureland and little woods. It was a country tolerably familiar to Gondor, whose merchants regulary passed through on their way to the distant northern kingdom of Dale.
But the young princes, rather startlingly, knew it firsthand having, Ellenion said, escorted an aged aunt on journeys over the mountains. Cemendur was less surprised than he might have been. Judging by the Lady Ellemir elderly ladies of the Northern Dunedain were very different from their southern counterparts.
On the third day they came to the Gladden marshes green with rush and reed, and golden with the yellow iris that had earned both marsh and the river that fed it the name of Ninglor, the Golden.
Ereinion and Ellenion rode right into the treacherous bogland, apparently unconcerned. Cemendur and Rumil exchanged resigned looks and followed trusting their Ranger companions, as usual, knew what they were doing. And apparently they did for they led the Gondor Men along a winding track of solid ground, little different to the inexperienced eye from the reed and rush choked pools that lay around it.
The path led them close to the edge of the broad swift moving stream of the Anduin, cutting through the marsh. Suddenly Ereinion raised a hand to halt them, then beckoned Cemendur forward.
"There," he said quietly, pointing, "across the river."
The eastern bank was fringed with reeds but the ground rose above it in long slopes to the dark edge of the Mirkwood. And there, between river and wood, stood a smooth grass covered mound so perfectly circular it could not be natural with a white standing stone on its flat top. Cemendur knew at once what it must be. "Isildur's How."
"So called though he himself does not lie there," Isildur's descendant agreed, "only the Men of his escort, and his three elder sons."
"Far from their own folk," Cemendur said sadly, "forgotten and neglected."
"Not at all." said Ellenion. "The How marks the southern limit of the Beorning's land east of the River. They say no Orc dares to pass it, and every Midwinter Eve they light the sunfire beneath the standing stone and watch out the night beside it."
"And of course we Rangers pay our respects from time to time as well." Ereinion turned his horse's head back into the Marsh. "Come, we have a little ways more to go."
Go where? Cemendur wondered as he obeyed.
Ereinion disappeared around a clump of alders, followed by Ellenion, then Cemendur himself rounded the trees and reined to a halt so abrupt that Rumil's horse nearly collided with Culuros' rump.
There, on the other side of a strip of sparkling water, was a cobbled market square fringed by a semi-circle of child sized buildings with whitewashed walls, humped reed thatched roofs and round doors and windows. Cottages of the same small size stood on nearby islets, just right for the Little People poling their flat bottomed boats along the channels of slow moving water between.
Cemendur remembered to close his mouth. Saw the twins had dismounted and followed suit. A boat shot towards them, circling round the large island with the cobbled square, bumped gently against the moist ground and a Little Man jumped out. The squint wrinkles round his eyes and stubbly beard made it clear this was no child and he was too short for a Dwarf, dressed all in bright rush green but with unshod and outsized, hairy feet.(1)
"Greetings Carloman." Ellenion said pleasantly.
The Little Man frowned up at him. "So it *is* you Padfoot, what're you got up as?"
Both princes laughed. "People keep asking us that." Ereinion complained.
"I shouldn't wonder, foolish gear for hard travelling that is."
"We are on an embassage and must do our folk credit." explained Ellenion.
The Little Man shrugged, "whatever you say." glanced behind them. "Brought those big horses of yours again I see. Staying the night?"
"If we may."
"Of course, you can sleep in the Alehouse as always. Mind you'll be expected to pay the usual fee!" ***
The Alehouse turned out to be the largest of the buildings off the market square. Beams of bent alderwood formed a ceiling high enough for the Men to stand upright in the long common room with its rush strewn clay floor, trestle tables, and benches that filled with Little Folk as the setting sun sent the long shadows of the mountains streaming eastward to darken the lands below.
The 'fee' it turned out was news from the world outside the marshes. Sitting crosslegged on the rushes Ellenion began with an account of their battle against the mountain Wargs. The Little Ones listened wide eyed but when he finished an elderly man sitting close to the fire burning on the central hearth gave a little snort.
"Well that's the sort of thing you've got to expect if you insist on stravaging about the Wild instead of staying home where you belong."
"True enough, grandfather," Ellenion replied courteously. "but at least there will be fewer Wargs now to trouble you folk east of the mountains." The old man grunted, unconvinced, and Ellenion went on recount his mother's concerns about the growing Orc population to much sober shaking of heads among his audience. And then the latest quarrel of the Wood Elves and Mountain Dwarves over the Forest road, eliciting much rolling of eyes and a few chuckles.
"No doubt Elrond's sons will smooth things over as usual," said Carloman, "but why those people have to make trouble over every little thing -!"
"Which people?" Ereinion asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"Both of them!" was the robust answer. "Could use a little good Hobbit sense they could!"
"I agree," said Ellenion, "and so I suspect would Elladan and Elrohir." *** The next morning the Little People produced a pair of rafts large enough to carry two horses apiece with four of their own to help pole them through the winding waterways past a second village, islets planted with grain fields and vegetable gardens and a perfect half-sized mill beside a swift running channel, to the semi-solid ground on the other side of the Gladden mouth. After bidding farewell to their Halfling ferrymen the four travellers mounted their horses and continued southward.
"My Lord," Cemendur said quietly to Ereinion, glancing over his shoulder to be sure Rumil was out of earshot. "being on the west bank of the Anduin as we are, will we not have to pass through the Wood of Lothlorien?"
"Indeed we will." the prince glanced sidelong at Cemendur, read the dismay on his face and smiled. "Don't worry, we Rangers have the permission of the Lord of Lorien to pass through his country at need."
That was all very well but what about the Sorcerous Lady of Lorien? would even the protection of her Lord be sufficient safeguard against her wiles? *******************************************
1. He is, of course, a Hobbit - of pure Stoorish stock - undoubtedly descended from that remnant of Smeagol's people who took refuge in the marshes for safety after the rise of Dol Guldur.
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