Politics of Arda
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Rangers of the North: 5. Isildur's Heir
Armegil, two attendant Rangers, Hawkeye and his
nephews on borrowed horses and, to Hurin's surprise,
the girl Laebeth.
Cutting Northeast from Gwathlad they soon
encountered the grass grown remains of a stone road
winding its way between the downs. They followed this
for the rest of the day coming at dusk to a gap
between two hills guarded by tall stone pillars carved
in the form of helmed and cloaked knights with swords set
upright before them. Passing between these they
entered a narrow way between high earthen walls, its end
guarded by a second pair of statues in the form of
maidens holding the welcome cup.
A wide valley opened before them, hemmed in by
steep cliffs to the south and east, the long slopes of
the downs to the north and west clothed by trees. The
different hues and shapes of their leaves showed like
kinds planted in orderly rows, orchards rather than
The floor of the valley, like the vale of Gwathlad,
provided pasturage for cattle and sheep and many
horses but the fragmentary remains of stone pavements,
foundations, statues and fountains showed it had once,
long ago, been a garden. And overlooking it from the
top of a northern hill was the stronghold itself.
Percipitious slopes rose to grassy dikes topped by
stone battlements and above this a second massive
wall, smooth as glass and built of gigantic blocks of
pale stone, circled the hill crest like a silver crown
on the head of a king.
A horn sounded from the hills behind them and an
answer came like an echo from the walls of the
fortress. The great iron bound gates of the lower
circle stood open by the time they reached them.
Inside a cobbled way ran between two rows of half
timbered buildings, stables and storehouses,
workshops and barracks. The air sounded with the
rhythmic ring of a smith's hammer and carried an
aroma that reminded Hurin of the inn at Bree.
There were a number of Men in evidence. Tall, dark
haired, keen eyed Dunedain in worn Ranger dress moving
briskly about their business or resting on benches
under overhanging eaves. Hurin was struck first by
their silence. There was no loud talk or laughter,
none of the cheerful boisterousness he remembered from
his own experience of military encampments. Secondly by
their watchfulness, every eye seemed fixed bright and
unblinking on the little cavalcade. And finally by the
fact that many of them seemed to be breathing smoke.
Almost all the seated Men had between their teeth a
long stem of wood or bone with a bowl at the end and
were surrounded by drifting clouds of pleasantly
scented grey-white smoke. Hurin had seen other Men in
Bree and along the South Road similiarly occupied but
it gave him a faint shock to see Men of his own kind
engaged in so odd and barbaric a practice.
The party dismounted. Men came forward to take the
horses and Rumil made as if to follow them but
Cemendur shook his head and the groom fell reluctantly
in beside Hurin. The two Rangers who'd accompanied
Armegil melted away among their fellows so only seven
Men and one Woman climbed the long curving stone stair
to the upper gate.
Suddenly Hurin caught at the Councillor's arm with
a hissed, "Look!"
The keystone of the arch was carved with seven
small stars above one larger with many rays, the
emblem of Elendil and the Northern Kingdom, and below
them four tengwar letters R*N*R*TH.
"Aranarth." Cemendur breathed.
The others must have heard but said nothing.
They passed through a short, dark tunnel to emerge
into a different world. Instead of the monolithic
stone keep and outbuildings Hurin had expected he saw
a rambling country villa built on terraced levels
around garden courts lit by crystal lamps, sweet
scented with flowers and sounding with the music of
fountains. Only the frowning walls and a stumpy
watchtower savored of the fortress. The main block of
the building was directly in front of them, golden
light streaming from the open double doors.
The three Gondor Men exchanged slightly dazed looks
then followed their hosts into a candlelit great hall,
its walls covered with frescoes of flowering orchards
and sunny gardens. Floored with colored marbles inlaid
in intricate, interacing designs reflected by the
traceries of the vaulted ceiling high overhead.
A long table of some burnished, red-golden wood
stood on the dais at the far end of the hall
surrounded by high backed chairs. Men clad in grey and
white were taking down trestle tables and benches and
carrying them away.
Laebeth vanished silently through one of the
several doors opening off the hall. Hawkeye and his
nephews through another. Armegil took a lit taper from
a nearby candle stand and opened a third door. He led
them a short way down a dark, colonaded walkway to a
spacious guest chamber and would have lit the candles
for them but Rumil took the taper firmly from his hand
and did it instead.
Armegil's eyes glinted with amusement but all he
said was; "The evening meal is over as you saw, I will
have food brought. If you need anything else you have
but to ask. Good night."
Scarcely had the door closed behind him when Hurin
turned to the Councillor in a bedazzlement of awe.
"Cemendur he's -"
"Yes." the old man sank into a chair looking every
one of his one hundred and three years. "It would seem
an Heir of Isildur still lives."
"And what are we to do about it?" Rumil wondered.
but neither of his lords could give him an answer.
"Bringing them here was a mistake." the man Hurin
knew as Hawkeye said bluntly as the Chief of the
Rangers entered the small room he used as office and
Armegil sat down in the high backed chair behind
his writing table and looked across it at his sister's
son. "They've already seen and guessed too much. Our
only choice now is to make them understand why we have
chosen this path and why we must be allowed to
continue on it."
"Showing yourself to them was a mistake if you
like." offered the third man in the room. "Once they
laid eyes on you, Belecthor, the truth was as good as
"I know, Borondir." wearily he rubbed his eyes.
"But it was either that or let them walk into Gwathlad
for Dame Bronwen to deal with."
"It's a pity it wasn't some of my men they met. We
could have turned them around right enough and none
Armegil and Belecthor nodded rueful agreement.
Borondir and his people were not Dunedain but Men of
Rhudaur, descendants of those Hill-Men who'd sworn
fealty to the Kings and held true to that oath for
nearly three thousand years. Tall Men, like the
Dunedain, but broad and burly in build. Dark of hair
and eye with swarthy skins.
"If we'd had some warning, a chance to prepare a
reception for them." Belecthor said helplessly.
"It worries me that we did not." Borondir frowned.
"Surely the Dunadan would have tried to get word to
"If he knew of it, which I doubt." Armegil replied,
leaning back in his chair as he filled his pipe. "This
is Ecthelion's doing, though why this sudden
curiousity about 'Thorongil's' origins after nineteen
years in Gondor's service..."
"Could Ecthelion suspect the truth?" Belecthor
"If he does not, then his Lord Cemendur surely does
- now." Armegil returned grimly.
A moment's silence broken by Borondir. "Is the
Dunadan in danger?"
"Not from Ecthelion, if I read his men aright." the
Chief Ranger said thoughtfully. "But from others -
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