Many Guises and Many Names
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Thorongil: 3. Chapter 3
turned into a smile. "Thorongil! I thank you for coming so swiftly."
"My lord Steward," Aragorn said, crossing the room and bowing his head
towards Ecthelion and then towards his son. "My lord Denethor."
Denethor made no reply, merely pursing his lips and turning back to the
map. "I feel, father, that in this plan lies folly. We do not know that we
can rout the Orcs."
"Battle plans are not made by feelings, my son," Ecthelion responded. "This
is our best hope. Thorongil?"
Aragorn came and stood around the map spread out on a table, some of the
other advisors standing back to make way for him. Looking at the plan, he
saw it was of North Ithilien, the land nearest to the Land of Shadow,
still, but barely, under Gondor's control.
"Orcs," Ecthelion said. "Last night, they invaded the woods and have caught
my men unawares. I intend to send reinforcements today and engage them in
battle till they are gone." He pointed with his fingers. "We can attack
from here, and here. Will you go?"
Aragorn gazed at the map. "How many men are there already?" he asked.
"A hundred, perhaps."
"And how many are you proposing to send, my lord?"
"Another fifty, or maybe a hundred. As many as we can horse."
Aragorn frowned, and bent closer to the map. "This is forest?"
"Deciduous," one of the advisors said. "Quite dense."
"Then I would send fewer men," Aragorn said, "and choose those with some
experience of warfare in the wild. Your hope, my lord steward, is to catch
the Orcs without them being aware of our presence. Archers, but men capable
of wielding a sword too. I would come upon them from this direction, and
from this one," he pointed out the areas on the map.
"Father, this is ridiculous!" Denethor burst out. "Strength in numbers is
our hope. We should crush the Orcs. Even then I doubt we can completely do
this, but more chance lies in sending as many men as possible."
Ecthelion eyed Aragorn. "You have experience on horseback, Thorongil, we
know that; but what of your knowledge of forested land?"
"My lord, I was raised in the North," Aragorn said. "The Northern people,"
he continued, choosing his words carefully, "are skilled in hunting in
woodland, and I have some of that skill. And I know Orcs do not. They
delight in crushing all life, but we must work with the forest and not
"It is settled then," Ecthelion said. "I will select the men to travel with
you, and you will leave as soon as the horses and provisions are ready."
"When you near Ithilien," an advisor said, "send a runner to our forces
Ecthelion grasped Aragorn's hand. "Fare well, and may the luck of the Valar
go with you. Return swiftly."
Aragorn assented with a nod, and then bowed. "My lords."
Once in his chambers, he began to pack the small amount of things he would
need. Before long the order came to see to the horses, and a short while
after that the other twenty men selected by Ecthelion arrived at the
stables. Some of them were clad in the green and brown favoured by those
who served in Ithilien, but a small number had come in the silver and sable
of the Tower, and Aragorn sent them away to change into duller clothing
that would blend into the countryside. The others he set to checking the
horses, and before long, the company had set out.
The Steward had sent a number of men knowledgeable of Ithilien, and as they
rode, Aragorn talked to these and before nightfall he felt that he had a
workable battle plan in his mind. That night they slept by Anduin, taking
it in turns to watch.
They rose early and were riding before sunrise, and before the sun was high
in the sky had reached the beginnings of the forested part of North
Ithilien. Aragorn halted the company and bade them tether their steeds in a
sheltered, hidden clearing, where he set two men to guard them. The rest he
told to leave the heavy items of their packs, keeping only essential food
and water, and take their weapons, and briefly he outlined the route they
would take and their means of attack.
In the forest, the temperature was cool and moist, and birdsong filled the
air. It was a peaceful place, and as Aragorn softly led the way he
reflected that the woods of Ithilien resembled more than anything else the
green valleys around Imladris. But he pushed the pang of nostalgia away and
centred his mind and his senses on the environment around him.
After a short distance, he came upon tracks, and signalled for the company
to stop. They did so, immediately and silently, and he bent to the earth to
examine the prints. There were several, large, heavy, and the branches
around were broken and bent. Some had been slashed at by a blade. Aragorn
narrowed his eyes at the evidence; Orcs had been this way. He beckoned to
his men and softly they followed him as he tracked the prints onwards
through the wood.
They walked for perhaps an hour, not one man speaking a word, until Aragorn
thought he heard voices ahead. He halted the group again and crept on,
gliding as noiselessly as he could through the trees, using all his skill.
Peering through branches, he saw an encampment of Orcs. The trees had been
hacked to pieces for fuel, and they were burning the wood and roasting some
meat. Aragorn did not pause to wonder what their food was, but counted the
number and then turned and made his way back to his company.
The attack was simpler than he had hoped. He and his company formed a
circle around the Orcs, keeping downwind of them as long as possible, and
then silently, with a gesture, Aragorn ordered the assault and a rain of
arrows met the Orcs from above. About half of them fell; the others,
startled, jumped up and looked around, speaking in their harsh variation of
the Common Tongue. Aragorn ordered another volley of arrows and another ten
of the Orcs fell, reducing their group to only a score. Taking a deep
breath, Aragorn swept out his sword from the sheath.
"Now!" he cried, and taking no more heed for stealth, he ran down the
slight slope into the clearing and set to. Behind him, he felt rather than
saw his men follow him, and the battle was now joined. Man and Orc fought,
the Orcs with their curved blades and the Gondorian forces with their long
broadswords, metal hitting metal. Aragorn ducked a slicing blow and
countered it with one of his own, taking off the Orc's head, and now
getting into the rhythm of the fight. He heard a scream in the clear voice
of a Man, and grimaced, but did not let the sound stop his own fight.
In a short while, though it seemed an Age, the fight was over. Looking
around, Aragorn saw that all the Orcs were dead, and that two of his men
lay still on the ground. Another four or so appeared to be badly injured.
He wiped his sword on his coat and sheathed it, before crossing to the
injured men and bending to tend their wounds. His companions who were
unscathed moved around the clearing piling the Orc corpses into a heap and
collecting weapons and arrows.
He sent two men back to the encampment with the four badly injured men,
leaving him a group of a dozen, and after they had eaten and drunk, they
continued through the forest.
As the afternoon wore on, Aragorn found more tracks indicating the presence
of Orcs, and they shot five of the creatures, unwary and alone, before
darkness fell. That night they made camp in a clearing, and took it in
turns to watch. Aragorn's hour passed slowly and uneventfully, as he sat
with his legs stretched out, gazing into the darkness.
In the morning they pressed onwards, and caught another trail leading to a
group of twelve or thirteen Orcs ahead of them. Knowing his company's
weaknesses now, Aragorn set five of them to circle ahead of the enemy, and
kept the other six with him, tracking noiselessly behind. When he judged
they were close enough to the Orcs, who made a racket as they pressed on,
he ordered the attack with a whistle.
The five men ahead let loose a volley of arrows and Aragorn's rearguard did
the same, and several of the Orcs lay dead. The others turned, snarling,
and with a cry of "Elendil!" Aragorn rushed them.
This second battle was briefer and kinder than the first, slaying the Orcs
and leaving no men dead. Mixed with the tiredness on his company's faces,
Aragorn saw elation, and he used the adrenalin to keep the group going. He
had lost one of the men who had served before in Ithilien during the first
attack, but now he walked close by another and ascertained their route
onwards. They joined a stream running gently and musically down a slope,
and after a while came upon a narrow but distinct track.
After an hour's walking, they paused, and the Ithilien veteran hooted twice
like an owl. "Wait!" he said, with a grin at Aragorn, and shortly two men
clad in green appeared.
"Amrath!" one of them said, softly but with a note of pleasure in his
voice, and he came forwards to clasp hands with Amrath. "We received the
message you were coming only yesterday, captain," he continued, turning to
Aragorn. "How goes it?"
"Good," Aragorn said. "By my count, we've killed about forty Orcs and wind
of our arrival should have spread amongst the others. But we are in need of
rest and refreshment, if you can provide that."
The other nodded. "Our refuge is not far. You are sure you are not being
"Absolutely," Aragorn said.
The men in green led Aragorn and his company through a closely grown
thicket of trees, and thence down a narrow and barely-discernible path. In
the sky the sun was westering, and their guide glanced up at it and hurried
them on. And even as the sun began to set, sending rays of golden light
over the forest. The company passed down steps, and rounded a corner, and
then the men stood still in amazement and wonder.
Aragorn gazed, his eyes filled with beauty such as he had never seen
before: a curtain of silver threads, lit by the sun into a rainbow of
"The Window on the West," breathed Amrath. "I have indeed missed this
Aragorn said nothing, watching as the sun sank below the distant horizon,
her light dying. Before turning to follow his company into the cave beyond,
he murmured a brief thanks to the Lords of the West.
Inside a fire was lit and the table was being laid for the evening meal.
The cave bustled with activity, men all going about their individual
businesses and clearly at ease in each other's presence. Their guide showed
Aragorn's company to a corner and distributed bedding, before turning to
"Captain, our captain here would like to speak with you."
"Lead the way!" Aragorn said, throwing down his pack and following the
guide to a recessed alcove with two chairs and a small table, and pen and
ink lying on the table. Behind it sat a middle-aged but fit looking man
wearing the green of Ithilien, a frown on his face. He glanced up as
Aragorn and his guide approached. "Ah, Bor. Is the party from Minas Tirith
"Aye, captain. This is their captain."
The other's eyes fell on Aragorn and he smiled. "Welcome to Henneth Annûn.
I am Saeros, captain here."
"Thorongil," Aragorn introduced himself with a brief bow. "We are glad to
be here. it has been a weary day."
"But successful, I trust?" Saeros said, pouring a goblet of wine for
"My thanks," Aragorn said, taking the drink. "We destroyed three companies
of Orcs. But I believe that is not the half of it. Yesterday I lost two
men. Some of the others are with our steeds, away south of the forest. We
are a dozen, but they are stout men, and one, Amrath, has served here
"Three companies of Orcs is a mighty prize," Saeros returned. "Today we
broke up one other company, but some of the beasts escaped. How well do you
know Ithilien, Thorongil?"
"Not well," Aragorn admitted. "Indeed I would not be here save for the
grace of the lord Ecthelion, who had confidence in my woodcraft. But Amrath
has counselled me well on our route, and we have been lucky."
Saeros nodded. "Woodcraft can account for much. But in truth I do not
remember you from the last time I was in the White City, my friend. Which
company do you serve in?"
"I am in the Third Company," Aragorn said. "Though I have been in Minas
Tirith only a year or so. Before that I served in Rohan under Thengel King,
until he by his grace gave me leave to move on."
"Precious lack of forests in Rohan!" laughed Saeros. "Where did you ."
There was a tinkling of a bell and they were called to table, Aragorn saved
from having to explain his origins to the captain. After the Standing
Silence, they sat and began to eat. The food was simple but plentiful and
Aragorn's company started to relax, discussing the city with those who had
been long in Ithilien. Saeros asked no more awkward questions and the two
captains commenced planning the forays for the next few days.
With the combined forces of the guard of Ithilien and Aragorn's company,
and the renewed optimism that the arrival of the latter had brought to the
beleaguered foresters, the Orc invasion was reduced by the day. In under a
week Saeros declared himself satisfied that his men would be able to
tighten guard on the borders of the land, and that should another invasion
happen, he would immediately send to the City for help. Aragorn bade him
farewell, and led his dozen men back south.
They found the encampment where the injured men and those guarding the
horses were; untouched despite one brief altercation with three marauding
Orcs who had been dealt with. One horse had escaped, but the others were in
good health. The injured were faring better, and Aragorn looked at their
wounds as the rest of the company saddled the horses.
It took them two days of riding to reach the city, and the weary group were
greeted with smiles and waves from those going home after a day's work.
Leaving the horses at the stables to be tended by the stablehands, the
company climbed the remaining streets to the tower, where the men dispersed
to their respective lodgings. Aragorn, stretching his limbs and longing for
sleep, turned in the direction of Ecthelion's chambers.
The Steward looked weary, bent over papers and heatedly discussing
something with an advisor. But he broke off as Aragorn was announced, and
managed a smile when he heard the tidings from Ithilien. Much to Aragorn's
relief, he was not asked to stay long or give much news, instead sent to
his rooms where he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
* * *
Author's notes: Naturally I owe a debt to Tolkien's magnificent description
of the Window on the West in the chapter of the same name in Book 4 of 'The
"It faced westward. The level shafts of the setting sun behind beat upon
it, and the red light was broken into many flickering beams of ever-
changing colour. It was as if they stood at the window of some elven-tower,
curtained with threaded jewels of silver and gold, and ruby, sapphire and
amethyst, all kindled with an unconsuming fire."
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