Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 20. The Golden Wood
Entering the Golden Wood was like diving into a deep pool, leaving the familiar element of air for the alien one of water. Lorien too felt alien, like another world and one not meant for Men.
The twins seemed quite unaffected by the eerie atmosphere of the wood with its still, gold tinged air and listening silence, and Cemendur did his best to seem as unperturbed, but he feared with little success. Rumil didn't even try to affect calm, starting nervously at every leaf fall.
"This is the Rangers' accustomed path." Ellenion told him kindly, clearly trying to reassure. "We're not likely to see any of the Elves - we usually don't."
Cemendur found himself wondering why and how frequently Rangers of the North passed through the Golden Wood. "Your people often come this way?"
"We used to," Ellenion answered readily enough, "to keep watch on the borders of Mordor but Aragorn's new Ithilien Rangers have relieved us of that task."
"And well that they did," said his brother, "we were spread far to thinly."
"How long -" Cemendur began.
"Since the time of the Morgul Wars." Ereinion smiled grimly. "We have a particular interest in the Witch King. But now that Sauron has returned a proper watch would take far more Men than we can spare."
"The Watchers always came by the same road we did, over the High Pass then down the west bank of the Anduin." Ellenion explained. "We thought the Rohirrim far too likely to recognize us for what we were if they saw our Men passing regularly through their lands."
"So it's not just the country folk of Eriador you guard in secret." Cemendur said quietly.
"We hinder the designs of the Enemy wherever and whenever we may." Ereinion answered. ***
They crossed the Celebrant over a bridge of intricately carved ivory hued wood. Rumil breathing an audible sigh of relief when they reached the other bank, forcing Cemendur to supress a smile.
Yet he too felt relieved. Though the forest on this side of the river looked identical to the eye with its rows of tall mallorn trees the eerie gold tinted silence, like crystalized honey, had vanished. They were back in their own Middle Earth again for which Cemendur was deeply grateful.
He saw the young princes had percieved the Gondor Men's relief and were gently amused by it. Either custom or their Elven blood had clearly inured them against the eerie strangness of the wood.
Ellenion caught his eye and smiled. "There's a Ranger shelter just off the path, we'll sleep there tonight."
The shelter was a sort of bower woven from the interlacing boughs of three living trees its floor of springy turf lumpy with roots. But Cemendur was so exhausted from the strain of bearing Lorien's eerie atmosphere that he fell right asleep regardless.
Only to awaken some hours later to find the two princes had disappeared. Rumil, blinked awake at almost the same moment and they exchanged a look of bewildered consternation.
Crawling out of the shelter for a look around Cemendur controlled a start as a tall fair haired form clad in soft greens and greys materialized at the edge of the glade.
"Greetings -" it began. Then the dark shadows under the trees formed themselves into a Man cloaked in glimmering night, the long gleaming blade in his hand touching the Elf's throat.
"Greetings, Haldir." Ereinion said softly, chiding: "You should know better than to surprise a Ranger my friend."
"I am not alone." the Elf said, visibly nettled, and four more Elves materialized around them, arrows nocked.
"Nor am I." smiled Ereinion nodding towards the Gondor Men or rather the shelter behind them. Turning Cemendur saw Ellenion kneeling on its roof, his own bow drawn.
He laughed gently. "We win this encounter, friend." jumped down and walked towards the Elves. "What brings you outside the bounds, Haldir?"
"I was sent by your aunt," the Elf replied, still looking a trifle ruffled, "she is angered you tried to pass through Lorien without paying your respects."
"Since we had strangers with us we thought it better not to intrude upon your dwellings." said Ereinion.
"If our dear aunt wanted to see us she might easily have come herself." Ellenion pointed out.
"Must be in one of her grand moods." his twin remarked.
Haldir's mouth twitched in what might have been a quickly surpressed smile. "She is, as I said, most indignant."
"And consquently standing on her dignity." said Ellenion.
"If we wanted to be difficult we might decide to stand on ours, and our right of free passage through the realm." Ereinion observed, smiled. "But we will spare you that."
"For which I thank you heartily!" said the Elf with emphasis.
Both princes laughed. "And our companions?" asked Ellenion.
"Will come with you of course."
Cemendur winced, he'd been afraid of that. *** The seat of the Lord and Lady of Lorien was a city of trees, giant mallorns tall as the towers of Minas Tirith, all aglitter with the same soft blue lights Cemendur had seen illuminating the garth of Cristhoron. Grassy tracks wound their way between great silver-gray tree boles hung with fragile hanging stairs spiraling upward into the canopy.
To Cemendur's relief their guides ignored these, leading them instead through a lacily fretted gate and down a flight of weathered steps into a green dell lit by ordinary yellow lamps with chairs and couches woven of sleander withies set among banks of white and golden flowers beside a sparkling brook singing softly to itself as it tumbled over polished stones.
A lady was pacing restlessly beside the little stream, an Elven lady with night black hair hanging down her back and glimmering blue skirts swishing angrily about her feet. She whirled to glare fiercely at the twins and Cemendur caught his breath. Her face with its flashing dark blue eyes was fairer than that of a Mortal Woman, yet it reminded him forcibly of another he had seen and recently at that. Then he had it; the little Lady Niphredil, she might look very like this someday.
"You little fiends! What are you hiding that you try to sneak past me?" the Elven lady demanded. You're going to Gondor, you must be. Has something happened to Aragorn -"
"Don't talk nonsense, Aunt." Ereinion interupted sharply. "If something happened to him we'd tell you, not try to hide it."
"All is well with Uncle Aragorn so far as we know." Ellenion said more gently. "So calm yourself, Aunt dear, a lady of your advanced years shouldn't allow herself to get so worked up."
The lady laughed weakly. "No she shouldn't. I'm showing my Mortal side, as your mother would say, aren't I?" she sat down on one of the couches and Cemendur could see she was trembling slightly. "I'm sorry, but when I heard you had passed through Lorien without coming to see me I got so frightened - it was foolish of me."
"It was. When have we ever tried to hide bad news from you?" Ellenion sat down next to her on the couch, put an arm around her. "We passed through without visiting you because we were not alone, and because we had no sure news yet to give you."
"You *are* going to see Aragorn aren't you?"
"We are. This is Lord Cemendur of Gondor, and his man Rumil. They and another companion were sent by the Steward to find Aragorn's people. As you see they succeeded." to Cemendur: "This is Aragorn's betrothed wife, Arwen daughter of Elrond Half-Elven."
So they were to have an Elven, or rather Half-Elven Queen, and what would their children be like? Cemendur bowed to the lady and explained. "It was the Steward's wish that we find and make alliance with the people of the Lord Aragorn, who is known in our land as Thorongil, we had no suspicion he was Isildur's Heir - and to some the rightful King of Gondor."
"To some -!" she began angrily, again Ereinion interupted her.
"Spare Lord Cemendur your displeasure, Aunt. He supports Aragorn's claim - but he cannot say what the Steward or the Council will do."
Cemendur blinked. Did he support the Lord Aragorn's claim? and realized with a kind of surprise that indeed he did. Gondor needed her King. Only by righting the ancient wrong done to the Heirs of Elendil could she hope to regain her lost glory - or even to survive. "The decision whether or not to make his claim before the Lords of Gondor is Aragorn's alone," said Ellenion, "but he does not yet know he must make it."
"And won't until we bring him word of it." Ereinion shrugged. "So, as I said, we have no real news for you - yet."
Arwen quirked her lips wryly. "The fact that the Gondorim are now aware of Aragorn's existence and some among them would support his claim seems like news to me."
"But nothing is decided yet." Ellenion warned.
"So don't get your hopes up, Aunt, the matter is far from settled." Ereinion agreed. ***
Cemendur had been frightened by whispered tales of the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood in his nursery, but never until he was presented to them the next morning had he heard their names and was stunned to find them familiar: Celeborn of Doriath and Galadriel, sister of Finrod Felagund, both listed in the annals of Gondor among the Elven leaders of the Last Alliance - which meant those frightful nursery tales could not possibly be true. He mentally shook his head, the wisdom of the Men of the West had declined indeed for such stories to be repeated and believed about two of their ancient allies. Eldritch and eerie the Golden Wood was, and not meant for Men, but there was no malice or evil sorcery for them to fear.
Indeed the infamous Lady of the Wood had had proved the most perfect of hostesses welcoming her unexpected guests with a smile, an apology for their interupted journey and a mild word of admonishment directed at her granddaughter, the Lady Arwen. Rumil was clearly dazzled, his fears quite forgotten.
"You must forgive her, Aunt, you know how impulsive the Half-Elven can be." Ellenion answered, blue-grey eyes glinting with amusement.
"I have known full Elves as quick tempered." the silver haired Lord of Lorien said mildly, with a sidelong look at his wife.
She looked right back at him. "As have I, my Lord, among my kin by marriage."
"Myself I always thought it came from the Mortal side of the family." said the Lady Arwen.
"Oh no," that was Prince Ereinion, "in the histories of the Elder Days it's always the Elves who let their tempers lead them into folly."
"All too true." said the Lady Galadriel, a little grimly.
"What of Turin?" Arwen challenged.
"He was the exception." answered her nephew.
The travellers then joined the Lord and Lady of Lorien and their granddaughter for a breakfast of wafers of golden bread and fruits both strange and familiar.
"And if Aragorn makes good his claim what then?" the Lord Celeborn asked. "Sauron's reaction to an Heir of Isildur on the throne of Gondor is like to be violent."
The princes nodded grim agreement. "Elrond thinks that may work in our favor," Ellenion explained, "oft the hasty stroke goes astray, and the Enemy has not yet had time to fully rebuild his power."
"That is true," said the Lady Galadriel, "but it is still very great. His Orcs grow in number and the Dark Men of the South and East are quick return to their old allegiance."
"Indeed." said Ereinion. "Armegil fears he is already to strong for us to match him in the field."
"But Elrond disagrees," continued his brother, "he hopes with Aragorn to rally the Men of the West to the cause they may, in alliance with the Eldar, defeat the Dark Lord by attacking before he is secure in his power."
"A great gamble." the Lord Celeborn frowned. "I fear my son-in-law forgets we would be fighting not on a single front - as in the War of the Last Alliance -but on two."
"Three," Ereinion corrected, "Mordor, Dol Guldur *and* Angmar."
Celeborn nodded, accepting the correction. "Three fronts then, we will be spread very thin."
"At least Smaug is dead and there are now kingdoms of Men and Dwarves to guard the northeast." Ellenion offered.
"That is true, at least Thranduil need not fear attack from the north but there is still Dol Guldur." the Lord of Lorien frowned. "The Men of the River Vales will stand with us whether there is a High King in Gondor or not, but even so we will be hard pressed between the Nazgul in Dol Guldur and the Orcs and Wargs in the mountains. My fear is Men and Elves alike will be fully engaged on their seperate fronts and unable to give aid to each other."
"That is Armegil's belief as well." Ereinion agreed.
"Yet the Dark Lord will only grow stronger," the Lady Arwen pointed out, "time is not on our side."
Her grandfather shook his head. "Now or later I fear this is a war we cannot win, Little One."
"Yet there is a way Sauron may be defeated," Ereinion said with calm conviction, "we have not yet seen it - but we will."
"Elrond believes the Return of the King and the union of the power of Men with that of the Elves is the answer." said his brother. "Armegil thinks differently. He forsees, dimly, the rise of some new power or unexpected ally."
Galadriel's white brow knit in a slight frown. "I too have seen strange things in the Mirror. It may be well to wait, all has not yet been revealed."
"And yet a strong Gondor and renewed Arnor would be a great strength to the Free Peoples." Cemendur ventured.
"Indeed," Celeborn agreed, "if it can be achieved without bringing Sauron's wrath down upon us all." ***********************************************
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