Many Guises and Many Names
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Lesser Ring: 49. Impressions of Gondor
Impressions of Gondor
"Mamari," whispered Amon'osiri into his mother's ear, "Kitling has had her babies. Come see!"
She sat up in her bed and looked on him. It was just before dawn, but she could tell how excited he was. "One moment," she sighed. "Let me don a robe." He smiled and went outside the room she shared with Ankhrabi, and she rose and stretched, feeling the growing roundness of her stomach where the new one grew. Her husband looked up at her with question. "It's the King's cat--she's had her kits, and he wishes to have us see."
Soon both were clad in loose robes and following the boy to the room he shared with his brother. Ma'osiri knelt near the niche the King had indeed shown them where spies might once have hidden, his face alight with wonder. There in a nest formed of towels lay the white cat, purring so loudly it could be heard throughout the room, five small wriggling kittens about her, one as white as she.
After breakfast the King himself, followed by Melian and his hound Caravel, came to see the new additions to the royal household, and Kitling continued to purr and clean her babes, tolerating even the questing nose of the hound as he examined the new brood. Carefully the tall Man lifted and examined each kitten, his expression doting as he crooned to them. When he lifted the white one, however, his face was especially tender, and when it nuzzled at his palm he smiled with sheer delight. "I think this one will be my own when she is older," he murmured, lifting it to his face.
Prince Legolas took his leave that day, wishing all well, saying he must get back to his folk in Ithilien. The grief of the others to see him go was clearly visible, particularly on the faces of the King and Dwarf. That night Ankhrabi and Nefiramonrani and their children ate with the King and Queen, Melian, and Hasturnerini in their own chambers, a meal cooked by the King's own hand, and their hosts spoke of Imladris and Lothlorien, and how the power of the rings of the Lord of the one and the Lady of the other had kept them hidden and safe, enclaves yet of the power of the Great Elves from the Eldar days, and in the case of Lorien a reflection of the Undying Lands from which the Lady Galadriel had come. Aragorn sang a song of Lorien, sad and gentle, partly in Westron and partly in Quenya.
"Who wrote that?" Nefiramonrani asked.
The Queen smiled. "Estel did, long ago, when we met the second time and I realized my heart was stirred by him. He had been dressed by my daernaneth in the garb of an Elven prince, and he had walked out of Caras Galadhon to Cerin Amroth where he stood and sang that song, looking back at the city across the valley between with great longing. The song was so different from those to which I was accustomed, the sorrow of it different, longing to be part of our world, and yet at the same time content to accept mortality, content to be a guest only. Raised by my adar and brothers, he is perhaps the closest among mortals to the Firstborn."
"He sang even then?" asked Ankhrabi.
"Ah, yes. He was singing the first time we met as well, singing the Lay of Lúthien, and then he saw me and stopped stock still. Then he called out to me, calling me Tinúviel as if I were she and he Beren himself."
Aragorn looked on her, the love he felt for her clear in his eyes. "Certainly the Lady Galadriel has told me how much you favor our foremother Lúthien, and I do not believe I love you any less than Beren loved her. And had I been required to lose a hand as he did to have you, I'd have given it freely enough."
"And instead you offered up sixty years of longing, and your freedom as a Ranger of Eriador to tie yourself here."
"I do not regret the price."
The look between them was deep and intimate, full of things not spoken aloud. Ankhrabi found his own hand clinging to that of his own wife, felt the love expressed in her grasp.
The remainder of the visit in Minas Anor was a fascinating time. Ankhrabi and Sa'Harpelamun spent much time alongside the Lord King An'Elessar, accompanying him frequently to the Houses of Healing and occasionally elsewhere as well; attending audiences and both open Council meetings and smaller meetings with one or two, entertaining trade missions and groups who wished the King's sanctions or cooperation in this enterprise or that.
Often Rustovrid, Gebsohrabi, and Ankhrabi joined in the weapons practice offered daily on either the level of the Citadel or down near the Guards' quarters in the Sixth Circle. He often sparred with this one or that, and more and more appreciated just why the troops Sauron had put into the field had repeatedly failed in their assaults on the armies of Gondor. One day he sparred against Captain Peregrin and truly appreciated just how skilled the Hobbit was. Twice each week the King would take out his bows and practice with them, and together he and Ankhrabi worked on his skills with the bird bow he'd received. The day Lord Hildigor allowed him to try his Elven bow Ankhrabi was thrilled. Afterward he tried each of the other bows owned by An'Elessar, then watched the King himself drawing them. No, he was not as skilled with a bow as his cousin Hardorn, but he was an excellent archer nonetheless and, according to all reports, a superb hunter.
The freed slaves from the Grey Gull recovered fairly quickly, and their transformations were fascinating to watch. The four from Gondor themselves were soon on their way home to their families, and one of the guardships was sent to Umbar to retrieve a fifth, a girl who'd been particularly beautiful who'd been given by Empenor to one in the city who'd ever helped him to evade the restrictions of Umbar. The sixth, who had been her brother, had been killed trying to protect her, and his body had been thrown from the ship into the Sea.
A week after the ship left it returned, bringing on it the girl. Her parents were already on their way to the capitol, arrangements for their journey having been made by the King to bring them to be reunited with their daughter. The King and Queen looked on the shattered girl and held her close, both shielding her with their healing gifts. The girl went into the house within the Houses of Healing where those troubled in their spirits were allowed to remain as they came back to fullness, and the King or Queen or both visited her daily.
Ten days after those who'd been freed from the Grey Gull came to the capitol, the four who'd run the enterprise were brought before the King for trial and judgment, followed by the crew of the ship. Those who'd been imprisoned on the ship told what they'd seen and experienced, including the kidnapping of the six young people seen swimming from the shore in Anfalas, the rape of the one girl and the killing of her brother, the gift of the girl to one in Umbar, the beating of several by this or that member of the crew for no real reason, the abuse of one small boy simply because he was vulnerable....
Three of the four were sentenced to be hung; the fourth to ten years labor on the roads of Arnor. He was told that afterward he would be closely monitored to make certain he did not return to illegal activities, and Ankhrabi and Lord Wasnior let him know that if he was seen in either of their realms he'd be summarily executed.
Of the crew of seven from the ship, two also were condemned, three given seven years on the roads in Arnor, all in separate work gangs, and the remaining two sent to work in the quarries of Casistir for two years each. The ship was given to those from Camaloa to aid their people in their fight against slavers and in assisting in fishing and trading. The personal goods of the slavers and the crew were given to those freed from the ship to assist them in establishing new lives. As this also consisted of the money they'd amassed as the result of their trading, all found themselves better able to choose between the options open to them.
It was obvious the following morning that the King was indeed aware of the executions of the five who were hung that day, but he made a point of attending a puppet show given for those in the Houses of Healing and holding a small freed child on his lap, rejoicing to hear the boy laugh with delight.
A few days before the trial they ate dinner again with the King and Queen in their own chambers, joined by Sa'Harpelamun, Ankhsarani, Lord Amonpelrabi, Pippin, Isumbard and Gimli, Master Ruvemir and Mistress Elise as well as Master Faralion. The meal included dishes from Rhun, Harad, and the Shire, including Shire seed cakes, as well as from Gondor, Eriador, and Imladris. Tonight the talk was of journeys made, and An'Elessar was prevailed upon to describe the many lands he'd visited throughout Middle Earth.
He spoke of the gentle beauty of the Shire, the green of the Angle where his own people had dwelt for thousands of years, of the greyness of the land of Angmar, the bee skeps of the Beornings, the grandeur of the Halls of Erebor, the wonder of the cavern halls of Thranduil's keep, the rolling sea of grass of Rohan backed on all sides by the vista of steep mountains crowned by snowfields, of the fertile valleys of Lebennin, the wild beauty and lonely ruins of Ithilien, the desolation of the slave-tilled lands Southeast of Rhun, of the wonders of oases come upon suddenly in Rhun and much of Harad, the contrasts between manor lands and freehold lands within Umbar, the horrors of the Morgul Vale, the images of faces lying beneath the surface of the pools of the Dead Marshes....
"Don't forget Lorien, Aragorn," admonished Peregrin Took. "Sam wanted so to return there."
"Sing the song you made of that land you sang the other night," begged the Lady Nefiramonrani. "It was so beautiful."
Aragorn sang it, and all sat still to hear, Pippin and Gimli closing their eyes as they listened as if doing so allowed them to remember the land's beauty the better. When he was at last done, the Dwarf reluctantly reopened his eyes and wiped them with the back of his hand. "Ah, yes, the beauty of the Lady's land, which captured her own glory in terms of sunlight and starlight and shone it on all with an eye for delight."
"Long Lorien housed the most beautiful among womankind in all of Middle Earth since the first age--the Lady Nimrodel, the Lady Galadriel, the Lady Celebrían, the Lady Arwen Undomiel," Aragorn said, smiling at his wife.
Ruvemir looked at the King with interest. "You wrote that, beloved Lord?"
His Lord looked at him suspiciously. "Yes, I wrote it, long ago when first I was admitted into Lothlorien, after my return from Harad and then a fierce fight with Orcs on my way back North as I came up the east side of the Misty Mountains seeking the road to the Redhorn Pass. Why do you ask?"
"I knew you had assisted Master Bilbo a time or two with his poetry and songs, and certainly your brothers have spoken well of your own poems."
"It's long enough ago I wrote anything I'd willingly share with others. And the last time Bilbo asked my help I think I contributed only the insistence he speak of Eärendil wearing a green stone, which he decided was an emerald."
"So he told Lord Frodo and Lord Samwise," Ruvemir said.
"So, you've read his Red Book?"
"When I was there in the Shire the first time, my Lord. I read it straight through the first night after Lord Samwise gave it into my hands, reading Master Bilbo's own tale and to the description of the great party. I'd have loved to have been there to see the faces of the guests when Bilbo disappeared just as Gandalf's last firework exploded."
Aragorn grinned. "I, too, would have loved to see that."
"It was a marvel," Pippin said. "I'd never seen Bilbo at a loss for words before, and suddenly he was mumbling, then looked right at Lobelia as he said 'The time has come--I'm going now.' Then he looked last at Frodo, trying to tell him goodbye with his eyes, I thought."
"Ferumbras and Lobelia both took it all personally, you know. The Thain was so upset he forgot to insist the rest of us Tooks from the Great Smial go with him as he stamped out of the pavilion and set off back to Tuckborough," Isumbard sighed, his eyes distant with the memory. "It was so strange--one moment he was there under the Party Tree, and then that flash and bang, and he was gone. Frodo wasn't amused, though--he looked so sad."
"How old were you then, Pippin?"
"I was almost eleven, just a little lad, you know. Bilbo told us just slightly ahead of time and set us to help in the tagging of his special gifts. I was doing my best not to break out in tears, and I remember Sam pressing handkerchiefs on me for all the sniffling I was doing. I was most insulted, if I remember correctly. And when Mum and Da took me off to the inn for the night with them I was even more upset. But Frodo didn't even want Sam there that night."
"And you, Isumbard?"
"I was born just a few years before Frodo--I was thirty-five. It was so odd--Bilbo had never seemed to age, and now Frodo just kept looking like a newly adult Hobbit while I kept growing older. He'd come to the Great Smial for Pippin's birthday and Yule, and he'd appear to be no older than Merry, for all there were fourteen years between them. Then finally Pippin was growing up--nominally, that is--and he appeared to be almost the same age as Frodo. No one could understand why. Of course, no one knew about the Ring, or what It was doing to him. When he came back--to see the change in him was such a shock."
Pippin said solemnly, "He was still the most responsible Hobbit in the whole of the Shire, though."
"Yes, he was ever that. Will was so upset when Frodo stood up to give his speech at the Free Fair, and instead of campaigning for himself he said how he wished to give the office of Mayor back to Will. Will had been going around to everybody convincing them that it was time to make Frodo Mayor properly, and pointing out how much he'd managed to accomplish, and then Frodo says, 'No one asked me what I want...'."
Pippin said quietly, "They were all grumbling so loudly about how ungrateful he was that hardly anyone heard him say he didn't think he'd be able to last a full term."
Isumbard looked surprised. "Did he really?" At Pippin's nod, he continued, "Well, I couldn't hear him."
"Like I said, hardly anyone could hear him. Odo Proudfoot himself almost drowned him out."
The King's expression was quite serious, the Hobbits' markedly solemn.
At last Faralion asked, "The words for the song you sang, my Lord--may I have a copy of them? I'd like to sing it myself and keep alive the beauty of the realm of Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn."
After thinking on it for a time the King slowly nodded, went to a desk and took from a shelf a folder of heavy paper, thumbed through it and finally withdrew several sheets of parchment. He took another folder from a drawer, slipped the sheets within it, and presented them to the minstrel. Faralion examined them solemnly. "You kept a copy for yourself, did you not, my Lord?"
Aragorn nodded. "Yes, I have the original copy. Had Frodo remained in Middle Earth, I'd planned to send that to him--not, I suppose, that he would have lived long enough to receive it. He was fading swiftly at the end."
Isumbard and Pippin both nodded, their faces still showing the grief they'd felt.
The second day after the trial all rode to Osgiliath. While Prince Faramir and his family and guards went ahead back to their own home, the rest remained, exploring the reshaped city and staying in the guest house there. The day following they rode beyond it to the Field of Cormallen, where they saw the place the army encamped after the victory against Sauron. The King sat on his horse Harthad as he described the long watch over the Ringbearers, the feast that followed it. Then they rode south to Emyn Arnen and the home of Prince Faramir and Princess Éowyn and their son, where they spent the night in great enjoyment, visited by Legolas from the Elven colony nearby.
The next day they rode back through Osgiliath and to the Crown land where Asa and the keepers for the property were establishing the young camels along with a herd of large sheep to keep them company, before returning to the city near sunset.
The next day those from Rohan and the Hobbits, accompanied by a troop heading for duty in Arnor, left the city, and Ankhrabi rode alongside the King on his horse Roheryn as a squadron from the city saw them to the north gate of the Rammas Echor. There at last the King embraced his departing kinsmen, Éomer and Lothiriel of Rohan, Lord Gimli, and Peregrin and Isumbard Took, watching after with sadness as they rode north into Anorion.
The day after, Prince Imrahil and his family headed South again to Dol Amroth, and Ankhrabi began to appreciate how the King of Gondor and Arnor might indeed come to feel at times isolated and in need of occasions to slip out of the Citadel to find himself again.
The following day King and Queen and their personal guards, followed by the loping shape of the hound Caravel, took their guests on a ride west along the feet of the White Mountains to one of the places of refuge where a spectacular mountain valley had protected many of the women and children of the lands surrounding the capitol during the War of the Ring. They spent the day exploring the valley, swimming in a pool at the foot of a waterfall (far colder than the pool in which they'd gone swimming at the Western Palace), eating, and talking of the trivial things they'd loved doing when growing up.
Nefiramonrani often joined the Lady Arwen in her weaving room where she and many of her maids of honor worked on looms and crafts of many kinds. Here Hasturnerini, Nefirnerini, and the daughters of Rustovrid began to appreciate the industry of the Queen of Gondor as she presented them with small hand looms and began to teach them how to weave cloth.
"Several of the great looms here were brought South to me from Lothlorien after my grandmother left Middle Earth with the rest of the Ringbearers. I used to weave by her side, and it is probable that part of the cloth used in the cloaks given to those of the Fellowship of the Ring came from my loom. I continue to weave the same patterns, but not the colors of the place, as that does not seem fitting."
She gave to the children of Ankhrabi and Nefiramonrani cloaks she had woven and sewn of a soft turquoise, similar in shape to those worn by those who had been in the Fellowship. The Lady Nefiramonrani and Lady Ankhsarani she gave cloaks also, but of a more elegant design, one done in midnight blue with silver trim, one in bright red. She also sewed for Nefiramonrani a loose dress to wear during her pregnancy, combining somehow both Haradri and Gondorian elements; and when she tried it on the Haradri princess found herself loving it for its elegance and comfort both. Finally the Queen finished three more cloaks, one in blue and silver for Ankhrabi to match that of Nefiramonrani, one in a deep wine color for the Farozi, and one in shades of green for Lord Amonrabi.
At the same time the Queen was embroidering uniforms for Benai and Nicoli, who also had declared his allegiance to the Lord Elessar as the heir to Lendil and Isildur. The sword smith from Far Harad who had wrought Merry's blade looked up with some surprise as two black Men dressed in a uniform that resembled that of the Guards of the Citadel and the Dúnedain of Arnor (save that it was blue and silver and the seven stars were in a different configuration) entered his shop accompanied by the King and Lord Hardorn one day. He was more surprised when he was requested to craft a sword of the Dúnedain fit for the younger one's use. He took measurments on the younger Man and examined the one borne by the older one as a pattern, and promised to have one ready in three days. On the third he came up to the Citadel carrying a long bundle wrapped in cloth, and with respect presented it to the younger Man in the King's presence, and was rewarded with a brilliant smile as the recipient, with permission from the King, tried its weight and balance and length. Seven gems were set into the pommel in the same configuration as the seven stars embroidered on his surcoat, and the young Man examined them with every indication of appreciation.
Seeing the approval in the King's eyes, the sword smith smiled himself. More custom came to him because of the King's patronage, but for him the crafting of the swords for those who served the King was an act of love. Under Lord Denethor he wrought mostly cutlery for the homes of Minas Tirith and a few short swords and daggers for younger sons; under the King his skills as one of the greatest of the smiths trained in Ephir were recognized, and now many came to him for repairs as well as to purchase new weapons for all their sons, and he was able to take apprentices worthy of his teaching. When the King insisted on paying for the sword over his protests, the smith added one more item to the equipage of the young black Man--a finely balanced dagger as fit for throwing as for use in the hand. Again the recipient expressed his delight and appreciation, and soon they were all out on the practice field where the smith drew his own blade to give the young, new Guard the chance to try his.
Ankhrabi, who had been amazed to see the smith obviously from Far Harad, now watched as he sparred with Nicoli of Camaloa, saw the smile as he recognized the skill shown by the younger Man, the quickness that spoke of much practice himself. Together Nicoli and the smith made a striking sight--in more senses than one as blades clashed and rang.
Then the young Man drew the new dagger and sighted on a log of soft wood often used by the Men of the Guard for practice with throwing knives; a flick of the wrist, and the blade was buried deep in the center of the side toward him. His satisfied smile showed he was highly pleased with his new weapons as well as skilled already in their use.
"I thank you," Nicoli said in careful Westron.
"It is a pleasure to create weapons for those truly worthy of them," the smith returned. "The runes upon the blades speak of the hidden being revealed and found of full worth, and seek to bring the protection of those who guide us to your side while you wield sword and knife."
Another flashing smile of appreciation, and the two clasped hands. Then the smith was examining the sword worn by Benai, appreciating the workmanship of it, noting that the leather grip was recently redone and the skill of the wrapping.
"Lord Gimli redid the grip, after cleaning and carefully honing the blade," the King explained.
"Was this under water?" asked the smith.
"Yes, for some nine years or slightly more."
"In this case the water had thick weeds at the bottom which must have protected the steel in some way," the smith noted, turning it to appreciate the runes. "The runes are similar to those on the blades of your Northern kinsmen, my Lord King."
"Yes--they proclaim the name of the blade Lit by Stars, and call down upon the wielder the assistance of Lord Manwë, the guidance of the Lady Elbereth, and the strength of Aüle."
The Southron smiled. "Good runes to hold." He returned it to its lord. "It has been a delight to serve you my Lord King, Lord Nicoli." With a bow, he left, well pleased with his work.
Most of those who had come on the slave ship chose to remain in Gondor, including all from Umbar. The five children were soon happy in the House of Children, and two families were speaking of taking between them three of the children. As the King examined them to see if they would be fitting guardians, the children visited with them and grew in health and confidence.
All of those from Camaloa were planning on returning to their homeland, and the two Men and Benai between them saw to the refitting of the Grey Gull, which they now rechristened the Wanderer Returned. Several weapons, most of them fine ones, were contributed to the Southern Dúnedain for the assistance of their people, and Ankhrabi found himself promising to set his folk to watching the weapons coming into the marketplaces of Thetos, Risenmouthe, Asual, and Peresual to see if any weapons identifiable as being of Dúnedain manufacture were being traded, and that they would be sent South to Camaloa as they were found.
Three of the Northern Dúnedain begged for permission to sail with the Wanderer Returned to sojourn for a time among the folk of Camaloa, and two from Gondor whose families had been sea traders asked for the same privilege, as did Armanthol. After questioning them and their families when appropriate, Aragorn agreed, and the ship was readied for the trip South and West. It appeared that Camaloa was going to have canny aid, Ankhrabi realized, in dealing with the folk of G'bani.
During the last week of their visit, Ankhsarani, who'd indeed moved into the Haradri embassy in the Sixth Circle, spoke privately with her sister's husband on an evening the Haradrim royalty had come down to eat with Rustovrid and his folk.
"I do not wish to return to Harad with you," she said quietly. "I wish to remain in Gondor."
"Why is this?"
"In Harad I would remain always in the eyes of the other lords the former wife of Sherfiramun. Here I am the sister to the wife of the future Farozi and am treated with respect. And, here there is Amonpelrabi, who looks on me with pleasure and honor, and whom I've come to respect in turn. And often there returns here the Harthad uin Dun, and I would explore whether the honor shown me by its captain was given out of simple respect or attraction. His wife has been gone for ten years, he told me, and as he is full Dúnedain, if he and I should find ourselves drawn to one another I could expect to live with him as wife for many years yet. Whether in the end I find my happiness with one or the other--or another still--yet here I can hope to find such, but not so readily in Harad."
Ankhrabi agreed to speak with Rustovrid.
Rustovrid had already given thought to the very subject, and both he and Ghansaret were pleased to accept Ankhsarani into the household. However, they had another subject they wished to discuss.
"Lord Benai has come frequently to visit with Nera," Lady Ghansaret said with her direct attitude toward life, "and there is no question they are drawn one to the other most strongly. Would it disturb your father, do you think, to have them accept marriage with one another? It would add one more tie between Harad and Camaloa."
Ankhrabi laughed. "My father was watching them together in the palace in Thetos. No, he would not be in the least upset--indeed expressed hope that the attraction would lead to them coming together one day. But are you willing to lose your daughter to the jungles of the West coast of our continent?"
"My wife has convinced me that it would be to the best interests of all," said Rustovrid with still-reluctant acceptance. "And, if it will both add to the security of our lands as well as helping the Dúnedain of Camaloa to improve their lot, I will accept that. Plus, it will place her under the protection of the Lord of Gondor and Arnor, which we have seen is a worthy and secure place to settle."
"Have they spoken for one another as yet?"
"No, not yet, my Lord; I suspect that Lord Benai will not speak until he is more ready to return to his own folk. And I do not believe that he will take her as bride until the matter of the G'bani slavers is dealt with."
"I suspect fully that you are right, Rustovrid."
"I would send two of my own folk with the Camaloans, my Lord. Will you speak with Lord Benai and Lord An'Elessar to see if this is acceptable?"
"Gladly, my friend."
As they returned up to the Citadel after the meal was over, Gebsohrabi was singing a wedding song, and when Ankhrabi turned to look at him, they shared knowing winks. Nefiramonrani laughed as she pulled her sons closer to her and answered her daughter's knowing smile.
The evening spent at the Rhunish embassy was equally enlightening. Lord Ifram proved to be intelligent and quite sensible, and with a wry sense of humor. Six years had he served here, and his respect for the King of Gondor and those closest to him was palpable.
The Haradrim listened with interest as Ifram described the battle before the Black Gate, how his brother had realized that all would likely perish needlessly if they joined in the fight, and then the moments of confusion when suddenly the attention of the Eye had been drawn away when at the last the Ring had claimed the Ringbearer, the terror of not understanding the meaning at the moment, and then the feeling of being on a point of balance as Ringbearer struggled with the former slave to the Ring for Its possession, and the moment of awe-filled delight when the Ring was taken, and Gollum fell with It into the heart of the Mountain and the Ring at last was destroyed.
When he described watching the fall of the Tower of Barad-dur and how the earth itself opened up to swallow most of Mordor's armies, the Towers of the Teeth and the Gates and the distant ruins of Sauron's great fortress, Ankhrabi could see that the Rhunish lord still felt the enormity of the moment. "Never has such ever been seen by my people, although the King and some among the Great Elves have sung for us the tale of the fall of Angband, and it must have been ever the greater.
"To see the orcs and trolls and wargs of Mordor suddenly lose direction and run hither and yon was something I'd never thought to see. But many of our own folk and those of Harad held steady, more desperate, possibly, because no longer did Sauron direct them. So strongly did they believe the word of Mordor that Gondor would seek to destroy and control all, they fought the more viciously--until my brother ran down the hill carrying a flag of truce he'd fashioned. When they saw that the Lord of Gondor gave orders to allow our folk to remain unmolested as long as we remained on our hill, others began to realize that what we'd been told by Sauron's folks was not true, and finally first this party and then that began to give place, even those who came from the far North from Angmar."
"Why did your brother believe in the honor of Gondor when so many others did not?" asked Nefiramonrani, fascinated by the tale.
Ifram laughed. "Because of Staravion, whom you've met as the Lord Gilfileg." He described how many years previously one known as StarEagle had entered Rhun and remained with the d'Bouti clan for a time, hosted by his own grandfather; then how a wounded Ranger of Ithilien had been found many years later, and how his grandfather took him as a slave and set him to the care and education of his grandsons.
"When we had seen the faithfulness of Staravion, how could Moritum or I believe that most of Gondor would rather see us enslaved and tortured and our women and children ravished and carried away into captivity as the Mouth had told us? No, we knew better. And now we learn that Gilfileg was at the time second in lineage only to the Lord Aragorn himself, and that had the King Elessar fallen at the Gates, Gilfileg, for all he misses two fingers on his right hand, would have assumed the chieftainship of the Northern Dúnedain for want of any better. A great warrior he is, and a better administrator, I think."
"When did your people release him from slavery?" asked Nefiramonrani.
"We never did. He had been told by his Lord Cousin that if he should be given the care for children he was to remain until they chose the warrior's way. When Moritum and I entered training as warriors, he left one night to return to his own people. We'd hoped he'd won free, and were delighted once we knew our hope had been fulfilled."
"He appeared most comfortable sitting with you at the feast."
"He is, and we each honor the other deeply. This is the second time he has returned to Gondor to his Lord Cousin's side, and there is much love between the two of them. But he will not stay much longer, I suspect. His heart is of the North, and I am told his wife nears the time for her confinement. He married not long after the King went North to a conference in Imladris some four years past."
They spent much of the last week in Minas Anor exploring the city, guided part of the time by Prince Faramir, who had returned to the capitol four days before they were to leave after seeing to the needs of his own lands. He also gave them a more thorough tour of the Citadel itself, showing where he and his brother used to hide as children, telling tales of strict tutors and indulgent cooks, of planning raids on the dessert tables before feasts, of playing at heroes in the gardens of the Citadel, of spying on those who walked in the gardens of the Houses of Healing.
One more time they ate in the King and Queen's quarters, Melian and Hasturnerini absent this time, spending the night with Master Ruvemir and Mistress Elise where the younger girl could play with little Samwise and Gwyneth. They spoke of the future, of the hopes of Ankhsarani, of the health of the Farozi, of the plans of Ankhrabi and Nefiramonrani for their sons regarding their training and education.
Nefirnerini ran her fingers again and again over the great bowl which stood in the center of the table, which was kept filled with fruit. "This is so beautiful," she said when she realized that the Queen, who now sat with the Princess Melian's cat Glorien in her lap, was looking at her.
"It was a gift for our wedding. It is made with the ashes from Orodruin."
"Where was it made?"
"Here in the city, in the Third Circle by a glassblower. Frodo gifted us with it."
"I'd like to have a ewer made like this."
"If you would like I will take you down to the glassblower's workshop tomorrow so you may get one, if he has any made.
Amon'osiri asked, "You both loved the Lord Frodo, did you not?"
The King nodded as he reached down to scratch Caravel's ears. "Yes, very much so, stubborn Baggins that he was."
"Did Master Ruvemir ever make a figure for you of him?"
The tall Man smiled gently. "Oh, yes, he did, several years ago, and gave it to me on his return from his first visit to the Shire." He rose and walked to a shelf on the wall behind the boy with the hound following him, and took down two figures that sat there, while the Lady Arwen slipped out of the room into an adjacent one, bringing back a still another. The King set the two he held down in front of the twins, one of Frodo seated on a bench, looking as if down a hill, his face alight with a smile, a pipe in his hand. The other was the one of Sam just gifted to him since their return from Harad.
Amon'osiri examined each carefully, then looked up as he set them before his brother. "Are they as short as Captain Peregrin?"
The King smiled as his wife set the figure she carried before the boy, a figure of An'Elessar himself seated on a chair, his head slightly cocked to one side, his hands relaxed on his knees, the White Tree embossed on the surcoat he wore. "Frodo was slightly taller than the average Hobbit, but not especially so. He was perhaps an inch or two taller than is his cousin Isumbard Took. Captain Peregrin and Sir Meriadoc were both shorter than he when we began our journey, but not after we were separated at Amon Hen. They were carried away then by the Uruk-hai of the fallen wizard Saruman and brought by them to the eaves of Fangorn Forest. There they escaped and met Treebeard of the Ents, one of the shepherds of the trees. Treebeard gave them an Ent draught, a drink which the Ents brew from the waters that flow through Fangorn, and when we finally saw them again they had grown at least three inches taller than Frodo was. Poor Pippin had to have all new clothing made, for almost none he'd brought with him fit him any more."
"Then Pippin is tall for a Hobbit?"
"Yes, he and Merry are now the tallest Hobbits probably in the history of the Shire."
There was a knock at the door, and Caravel, who'd laid down at his master's feet, lifted up his head and gave a single woof. The King turned toward it. "Enter," he said.
A guard came in. "It is Master Ruvemir, my Lord. He has brought gifts for your guests."
After looking to his guests for their agreement, the King smiled at the guard. "Let him come in, then," he said with pleasure.
A few minutes later Ruvemir and Owain entered the room carrying several boxes between them. Aragorn rose to meet them and took several from the sculptor's hands and laid them on the table. Ruvemir and Owain both bowed.
"I'd thought to bring these to the farewell feast, but decided to bring them tonight instead, if this is acceptable. My father has asked us to come down to Lebennin and go with him to the fair in Dol Amroth with him and Ririon. Miriel has agreed to attend herself, but only if I will go with them. We will leave just after the sailing of your guests, but for the next few days Elise and I will be very busy packing once more."
The boxes were distributed, and Owain looked at his master, and at a significant nod he went back out again.
The gift for Nefiramonrani was a figure of her husband dressed formally, much as he had looked when Ruvemir had first seen him on the dock at Risenmouthe. For Ankhrabi was a figure of his wife seated, nursing an infant, her eyes tender and a slight smile on her face as she looked down at the babe in her arms. "I had to imagine how you will look when your child is born, my lady, and I hope this pleases you."
"Oh, yes, she looked much like this when Nefirnerini was first born," Ankhrabi said smiling. "Thank you so very much."
For Nefirnerini was a figure of Isiri based on several he'd seen in Harad; for Amon'osiri he'd done a figure of Osiri as he was usually figured in Harad, but for Ma'osiri he'd done quite a different figure, one of a person who seemed both an Elf and a Man at the same time, wearing a circlet on which was set a great gem. The boy examined the figure closely, then looked up at the King and examined him as well. "He looks very much like you, my Lord An'Elessar."
The King reached a hand down and touched it gently. "It is a figure of Eärendil the Mariner, father to my ancestor Elros Tar-Minyatar and to Elrond, father to my wife, who was as a father to myself while I was growing up. This is how we believe he appears, he who sails the Seas of Night as the Evening Star."
For Sa'Harpelamun was a figure of the high priest of Amon from the Valley of the Sun. "He is ancient of years now," the artist said as Owain slipped back into the room with a large flat package in his arms and set it standing up against the wall. "I thought that you would appreciate having his image to comfort you when he must at last leave this world."
The priest smiled gently, and bowed his thanks. "Yes, it will comfort me greatly. He is a great Man, and a gentle and wise one."
"I gave a figure already to your lord father, Lord Ankhrabi, but wished to send this to Lord Amonrabi."
Ankhrabi opened the box and looked at the figure packed therein, and smiled. It was a figure of Osiri holding in one hand an ankh and in the other the Feather of Truth. "It will mean a great deal to him, Master Ruvemir. I thank you now for him."
Aragorn looked at the package which Owain had left against the wall. "What is that? Are our guests to take that back with them?"
Ruvemir colored slightly. "No, my beloved Lord, this is for you and your wife, a belated birthing gift. I'd not finished it when our Prince Eldarion was born, and I hadn't had much time to do much with it while preparing for the trip to Harad. I finished it last night, and while I was gone Ririon sent up the frame I'd asked of him. It arrived two days ago. I hope you don't find it too presumptuous."
Aragorn and Arwen looked to one another, and carefully Owain brought the package forward and set it between them. Together they began removing the paper which wrapped the package as the artist spoke.
"I rarely do paintings, for it is not exactly my best medium. And, with my height and the short reach of my arms my strokes cannot be as even as I'd wish." The King nodded.
"You will remember that after I returned from Eriador I spent a couple days discussing the imaginary brothers you had when you were a child, for I'd thought to do a grouping of the three of you. But when I went to sculpt the model for the first one, it turned out a figure of Sir Meriadoc instead.
"Exactly why I decided to paint this I cannot say, save that when I went down to the shop where I now buy most of my artist's supplies I saw this prepared canvas and simply purchased it and some prepared paints. And as I painted, this was what came out. I hope you appreciate it."
At that moment the last piece of paper was removed, and the King and Queen had to turn the painting to make it upright.
It was a picture of three young Men, smiling one at the other. In the center stood Aragorn himself as he must have looked when younger; his right hand reached out to the shoulder of one as tall as himself, long curls framing his face, which was pale where that of Aragorn was darkly tanned, beardless compared to the short beard worn by the central figure, eyes alight with humor and intelligence. They were both looking to their left to one whose hair was dark gold rather than ebon as were theirs, his face clean shaven, his eyes a golden brown rather than grey as Aragorn's or blue as the other one's, his chest broader than that of the others, although the shoulders were no broader than either.
All three were equally tall, and all were equally royal.
"You set it in Imladris," murmured the Queen, "in the gardens there."
"Yes," the sculptor said.
Tears of pleasure were forming in the King's eyes. "Gil-galadrion, Anorahil, and myself," he said quietly, gently touching each figure, "as we would have looked when I was about twenty-seven."
"I don't understand," Nefirnerini said.
"I hated being an only child when I was young, for there were no other children in Imladris, and certainly no other children of Men there. I often felt extraordinarily lonely. I frequently dreamed of having brothers, and those were the names I gave them, Gil-galadrion and Anorahil.
"Then, a few years back when we went to Imladris for a conference of the peoples of Arnor, our Elven brothers gave me my mother's journal, and I learned that she had borne two other children besides me, a twin brother who yet did not look greatly like me and a younger one. Both she lost before the time for them to have been born properly. She was often sad when I was growing up, and always I had thought it was due to her grief that my father died untimely, slain by orcs. And she often told me how much she had hoped to have had more than just the one child. But I didn't realize that there would have been two brothers for me.
"Foresight is one of the gifts of the descendants of Eärendil and Elwing, and she had known several dreams and visions in which she saw them, both before I was born and later after they were lost. To learn she had seen them as I had dreamed of the brothers I had so desired was--unsettling--unsettling and yet comforting as well. She had intended to name them Gilorhael--" he touched the one with dark curls, "--and Anorhael." He gently touched the other figure, the one with dark gold hair, hair like that of the Princess Melian.
He looked at the girl and smiled gently. "It was then foreseen by several, including my mother herself, that the two lost ones would be born anyway, but not to her and not to our people. And all believed that one day we would meet, somehow, and together restore the united kingdom of Gondor and Arnor."
"Did it happen?" asked Amon'osiri.
The King smiled sadly. "Oh, yes, it did."
"Where are they, the ones who were almost your brothers?"
"He who would have been Anorhael lives in the North, has married and has several children now. Gilorhael----" He stopped speaking, looking again at the painted figure.
Ma'osiri's face lit with understanding. "Gilorhael was born Frodo Baggins."
Not looking away from the painting, the King slowly nodded.
Nefirnerini asked, "Was Anorhael born Lord Samwise Gamgee?"
Again the King nodded. "Yes," he said softly. "So I believe, at least."
Arwen set her hand on her husband's shoulder. "Adar believed the same, Beloved. So he told me after all of you left Imladris."
He looked up into her eyes, his face alight with question, then smiled. "Yes, that is as it ought to be."
Sa'Harpelamun cleared his throat. "The night Lord Benai found your star in the pool of Neryet----"
An'Elessar looked at him.
"When you turned away from us as you were instructed, we could all see the Light of Stars gathered about you, and realized you were seeing another the rest of us could not perceive."
Slowly the King nodded. "Yes," he finally said. "I was granted a vision then."
"Who was it of? He was as tall as yourself was all I could tell, and as surrounded by starlight as yourself."
"You saw him as tall as I was?"
"Yes. Did he seem different to you?"
The King searched the eyes of the young priest, then suddenly he smiled that very rare, sweet smile he'd seen only once before on the King's face. "I saw Frodo--Frodo and a great, shining butterfly. He held it on his hands, held it out for me to see, and it flew from his palms to my finger, then flew upwards."
"We watched you look upwards as if you followed the flight of a spark from a fire."
"It was flying up, and then back over my head, toward Eärendil. Then the vision of him faded away. He was in a glade surrounded by mallorn trees, and flickering lights surrounded him."
For some moments King and priest merely looked at one another, and finally Sa'Harpelamun gave a single nod. "I see. Do you have such visions often?"
"Rarely, very rarely."
"You believe he is yet alive?"
The King Elessar slowly nodded. "Yes, I believe he is indeed still alive, alive and healed again. I rarely have visions of him, although at times I dream of him--not prescient dreams, usually--at least not that I am aware of. But sometimes when I approach the White Tree to honor it I am aware of him there, as if he stood beneath the bows of its ancestor on Tol Eressëa. Several who knew him have had similar experiences."
Ruvemir smiled and nodded. "Yes, we all felt it after the unveiling of the memorial."
The priest examined the dwarfling closely. "You knew him ere he left Middle Earth?"
"No, I know him only through what I've been told by others; but Elise and I were with them that evening when Master Ferdibrand said he sensed the reflection of Frodo beneath the White Tree, and each of us in turn went to touch it, and to wish him well. All of us felt him there."
"And on the New Year," the King added, "Master Ferdibrand again sensed him there, dancing at the same time that those who'd come for the celebrations danced the Husbandmen's Dance before the memorial."
The priest was obviously thinking deeply. "How wonderful that he has been allowed this grace."
"Yes," the King smiled. He looked back to the picture. "It is, Ruvemir, much as I'd imagined when I was a child we would look one day--if they'd been real and by me and not just products of my imagination. I'm not sad I met them finally as they were born and grew; but I still find myself wishing we could have been together so when we were younger." He turned to the artist. "Thank you; thank you so very much."
The Lady Arwen, seeing the pleasure in her husband's face, was glowing gently as she leaned down and kissed the forehead of the sculptor. "Perhaps you should think of doing more paintings one day. This is the first I've seen from you."
"Sculpture is what I do best. This is the first painting I've ever done I was truly proud of. But I think it was meant for the two of you." He sighed. "Owain and I will leave now, for we have much to do before we can head for Lebennin."
So saying, sculptor and apprentice bowed deeply, and accompanied by the King and his dog went to the door, then out.
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