Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 2. Fornost Erain
The ruinous mound of Fornost Erain, Norbury of the Kings, onetime fortress and capital of the Lost Realm looked very familiar to the eyes of the the Men from Minas Tirith. Like their own city it had been built in a series of circles terracing up the sides of a mountainous hill to the stump of a mighty tower at the crest. There were but five circles, for the hill of Fornost was lower and less steep than the the knee of Mindolluin, yet as he followed Cemendur up the switchback road to the top between walls of crumbling stone Hurin found it all to easy to imagine Minas Tirith similarly thrown down and her people scattered or dead.
Unpleasant thoughts and he spoke quickly to dispell them. "Cemendur, don't the annals of King Earnil's time say anything about the fate of our northern kin?"
"Oh yes. They say the Last King and his following were lost in the icy seas of the north, but his sons and the greater part of their folk took refuge with the Grey Elves of the Havens. After the fall of Angmar Earnur, Earnil's son, offered to take the surviving Dunedain with him to Gondor. Aranarth, the Heir of Isildur and king of a ruined realm, thanked him and said any of his folk who wished might go with his blessing but as for himself he would stay in his own land. For though Angmar was fallen its evil lingered and his sword would be needed in defense of his peoples."
"And his men stayed with him." Hurin guessed.
Cemendur smiled faintly. "It is written not one man or woman or child of the Northern Dunedain sailed south with the returning army." sobered. "Many years later, after King Earnur was lost, Aranarth sent a letter to Mardil the Steward asserting again the claims of the Heirs of Isildur and his rights as the son of Firiel, daughter of King Ondoher. But both message and messenger were dismissed with scant courtesy. And no further word has come from the North from that day to this."
"Nine hundred years."
They reached the great court before the doors of the ruined tower, now little more than a pile of masonry. Hurin looked down on the descending circles of the city, a maze of roofless walls cloaked in greenery. There were trees everywhere, from knarled old giants thrusting aside the crumbling stonework with their great limbs, to sleander saplings springing up between the stones. And among the familiar birch and beech and oak and elm Hurin saw other trees, never seen outside of protected gardens in Gondor, brought long ago from lost Numenor: Oiolaire, nessamelda, vardarianna, yavannamire and the golden flowered laurinque. And there were elanor and niprhedel and lissuin blooming among the wildflowers in the long, golden summer grass.
"They never came back here." he said softly. "But the Witch King didn't hold their city long enough to taint it with his evil."
"They did not return." Cemendur agreed, pointing, "but they may have lingered near."
Hurin followed the direction of his hand to a thread of pale smoke rising between the hills in the west. *********************************************
"There is a light there." Rumil agreed, staring intently. "And not just a campfire, pale lamplight. A house, maybe more than one."
The hint of pallor reflected off the distant hillside would have been invisible to any but Elvish eyes, or the keen sighted Men of Westerness. "Master Butterbur said there were no settlements north of the road." Hurin reminded his companion.
Rumil snorted gently. "As my Lord says, the innkeeper was not the best informed of men."
And a third voice, soft but carrying, said quietly behind them; "It would be wise to keep a sharper watch. There are many dangers in the Wild."
They spun, swords sweeping from scabbards, to see Cemendur standing straight and still beside their fire and beyond him, at the edge of the light, a Man. Very tall, dressed in worn, dark green leathers with a gigantic bow slung over his shoulder. A tangle of unkempt dark hair framed a face that might have graced a statue in the Hall of the Kings, set with clear grey eyes that held a piercing light.
It was Cemendur who got his breath back first. "Welcome and well met. I am Cemendur son of Nardil, this is Hurin, Beren's son, and Rumil son of Rhudan. We come from Gondor seeking our long lost kindred of the North."
"I am called Hawkeye." the stranger replied, "My nephews are known as the Padfoot Brothers." And Hurin saw there were indeed two other men behind and to either side of him, still as the shadows that cloaked them. "But there are no Men like you here in the Wild. Only the farmers of Bree and the Angle, and Rangers."
Even Cemendur could only stare at this Man, clearly Dunedain and of High Blood, coolly denying his own existence.
"They lived in the ruined city long ago." Hurin managed.
"Deadmen's Dike? That's haunted land, we don't go there. The folk who built are long dead and gone. We know nothing about them."
"It was the city of the Kings of Old." Cemendur told him.
Hawkeye shook his head decisively. "I never heard of any king. This is the Wild."
Hurin and Rumil exchanged an appalled look. Was it really possible for Dunedain to fall so low as to forget their own origins? Perhaps, if they'd been decimated and interbred with lesser Men.
Back home in Gondor Hurin had seen families of mostly Northman or Mountain blood occasionally produce a child of the pure Dunedain type. Could this Hawkeye be such a one? With the blood of Westerness in his veins but none of its Lore?
"Go home, Master Cemendur," the Ranger said firmly, almost commandingly. "you'll find none of your kinfolk here."
"You are certain of that?"
"I am a Ranger, we know the Wild and all its dwellers. There are no Kings or fine lords such as yourselves in the North."
"Yet there is a houseplace west of here." Rumil said suddenly. "We saw its smoke this afternoon and now there's lamplight on the hills in the same direction."
"Some other Ranger's cabin." Hawkeye said dismissively. "To close to haunted ground for my taste. As is this camp of yours. You should move."
"We are strangers in this land and ready to be guided." Cemendur returned.
"That would be wise." the Ranger said with emphasis. "But late." the shadowy figure on Hawkeye's right said suddenly. "Ware, Sergollim!"
What? The answer sprang into the firelight, a stocky dwarvish figure clothed in stiff garments the color of old blood, beardless and hairless with iron teeth gleaming in its head and long iron talons tipping boney claws. The creature fell, a long black arrow in its chest, but was follwed by a rush of similar creatures. Three more were dropped by the Rangers' arrows but then they were upon them and it was hand to hand.
The creatures fought with teeth and talons making Hurin grateful for his good mail coat, but he'd battled Orcs and worse on the Marches of Mordor and was inured to horrors.
There were a few moments of hideous confusion; knashing iron fangs, grasping iron claws and black blood fountaining beneath his blade. Then, as suddenly as it had begun it was over with dozens of the creatures lying in headless, handless heaps around the six Men, back to back in a circle with the sinking fire at its center.
Hurin's experienced eye noted the swords in the Rangers' hands, similar in kind to those of the Gondor, with long fluted double edged blades, but slimmer and lighter. Definitely not hunters' weapons.
"They will come again and in greater numbers." Hawkeye snapped. "Make for the city, they cannot enter there." "The horses!" Rumil cried, as if he'd just remembered them.
"They'll be all right," one of the Padfoot Brothers reassured him. "Sergollim have no interest in beasts. It's Mens' blood they thirst for. And it's not the time of year for wolves."
"Forget the animals," the other Brother said sharply, "and run!"
They had almost reached the walls of Fornost when one of the Padfoot Brothers again cried "Ware!"
Hurin checked and turned to see Sergollim pouring over the hill crest behind like blood from an open wound.
"Keep moving!" Hawkeye ordered, unslinging his great bow. Still hesitating, reluctant to leave one man to face that hord alone, Hurin saw how the pale starlight slid over the bow like water and realized it was made of steel not wood. One of the legendary Numenorean War Bows, seldom used these days for lack of men with the height and strength to draw them.
Hawkeye had both, and no little skill. Hurin and the other two Gondor Men watched in awe as he fired an almost continuous stream of black arrows into the oncoming host, supported by his nephews using short hunting bows. The Sergollim faltered and, stumbling over their own dead, began to retreat back over the hill. Hurin remembered the foes of Numenor had feared the great bowmen even more than the knights with their bright swords.
"I said go!" Hawkeye repeated with an angry sideways flash of those bright eyes.
One of the Padfoot Brothers slung his bow and seized Hurin by the arm with one hand, Cemendur with the other. "Do as he says."
Hurin risked one last look behind, to assure himself the creatures were truly in retreat, and obeyed. Running the last few dozens of yards and climbing a slide of stones to pass through a gap in the lowest curtain wall.
You're sure they can't enter the city?" He asked the Padfoot Brother who'd herded them.
The other nodded. "Certain. Though we're not sure why. Perhaps some virtue of the Elven trees. They say not even the Witch King himself dared pass the gates of Fornost. He sent in his Hill Men to burn and loot while he camped outside, well away from even the shadow of its walls.
Looking through the gap Hurin saw the other two Rangers retreating at a measured pace, backwards, their faces still towards the hill behind which the last living Sergollim had vanished.
"They'll come pouring out again the minute Uncle's back is turned." the Brother explained, "But not while he's facing them with Belthronding in his hand!"
It wasn't until Hurin'd joined his companions, sitting on a carpet of sweet scented golden petals beneath a mighty laurinque tree, that it struck him. "Cemendur, Hawkeye claimed to know nothing of the history of Fornost yet his nephew there was just telling me tales of its fall."
He couldn't see the Councillor's smile but heard it in his voice. "Hawkeye was lying, Hurinya, and not very well. But then I doubt he's had much practice."
"I noticed those swords, and that bow." Rumil put in.
Cemendur nodded. "And I noticed despite his rustic accent Hawkeye pronounced my name in the Elvish fashion - and his nephew used a Sindarin word for those creatures."
"But why try to decieve us?" Hurin asked, bewildered.
"That we must discover." said the Councillor.
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