Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 6. Arnost, Fortress of the Kings
The villa lost its dreamlike quality when seen by
daylight. The merciless morning sun showed the tracks
worn by generations of feet into tesselated floors
with many missing tiles and the faded, cracked
frescoes on the walls. Elegant furnishings of earlier
times, crafted of fine woods and inlaid with precious
stones and metals, mingled with later pieces of
humbler provenance though still shapely and well made.
The gardens though filled with rare trees and flowers,
were overgrown and untended. The statues and many
fountains chipped and broken.
It reminded Hurin of the down at heel villas that
could still be found in Anorien and Lebennin but on a
grander scale for this had been the home of Kings -
and was still home to those Kings' descendants. The
massive walls and the presence of the silent, watchful
Rangers bespoke a people under seige. As was Gondor.
"Remember what Hawkeye said about our common blood
and common foe. Surely there's some way we can help
each other." Hurin argued as he and Cemendur walked
together in the garden.
"It would be easier if their Chief were not of the
blood of the Kings." the Councillor replied grimly.
"The Heirs of Isildur can scarcely be expected to
serve under Men of lesser lineage."
"Thorongil does." Hurin countered. "He must be
close kin to Armegil, perhaps even his son, yet he has
sworn himself to Lord Ecthelion...." his voice trailed
off as the irony of it registered.
Cemendur nodded. "You see? even if they are willing
to forgo their rights - and why should they be? - how
can we ever forget who they are?"
Hurin swallowed, the Councillor was right. The mere
presence of an Heir to the Kings, whether he pressed
his claim or not, would be a constant rub to the
conscience of Gondor. A reproach to her people and
especially to the House of the Stewards. Yet to accept
the Heir of Isildur as king would mean that Pelendur
and Mardil had been wrong to withold the crown from
Arvedui and Aranarth and that the Ruling Stewards, who
included many great and noble men, had been nothing
more than usurpers.
Hurin was himself of the line of Mardil son of
Emeldir, Ecthelion's elder daughter, and third in line
after Denethor and his small son Boromir for the
Stewards' chair. His ancestors had ruled Gondor
honorably and well for nearly a thousand years. To put
such a shame upon them was unthinkable, and yet...
"What are we going to do?"
"I do not know, Hurinya, I do not know."
They were sitting in an arbor, turned into a green
cave by the vines and brambles that covered and almost
overwhelmed it, when Hawkeye found them. he had
managed to look notably royal in rough Ranger garb
well begrimed with travel but now, dressed in black
velvet surcoat over a forest green tunic patterned
with leaves of gold, he was a veritable vision of
the majesty of the Kings of Men, bringing Hurin
and Cemendur to their feet staring.
The looks on their faces made him laugh out loud,
softening and warming that grim, sculpted countenance
in a way that reminded Hurin sharply of Thorongil and
the startling effect of his rare smile. The Gondor Men
recollected themselves enough to bow and that seemed
to amuse the Ranger too.
"The Chief will speak to you now if you will."
Wordless Cemendur indicated assent.
Hawkeye led them back into the Hall and opened the
door Laebeth had gone through the night before. They
followed him through a square antechamber, lined with doors
and carved stone benches, into what was clearly a throne
room. Though one less like the chilling splendours of the
Hall of the Kings back home could scarcely be imagined.
It was about half the size of the Great Hall, its
long walls decorated with frescoes of the rolling seas
both in sunlight and in storm. The floor and high
vaulted ceiling were covered with the same intricate
richly hued traceries as adorned the Hall. A shaft of
light fell through a high window upon a star set above
the throne, flanked by two lower seats for the Consort
and the Heir, all three of ivory inlaid with silver
like the star. But no, common silver never sparkled
so, it must be true silver - mithril.
Hawkeye walked briskly the length of the room to a
discrete door behind the dais. As he passed the
thrones Hurin saw they were thick with dust, unused
for years, perhaps centuries.
Armegil awaited them in a small, plain workaday
room with maps pinned to the walls and light
streaming through a many paned window embrasure.
The Chief Ranger stood behind a littered writing
table looking stunningly like Thorongil in grey
and silver, the hues the Captain usually wore. The
colors, Hurin suddenly remembered, of the Kings of
Beside Armegil was a swarthy, bearlike Man clad in
brown surcoat over scarlet tunic who glowered at the
Gondor Men from beneath beetled brows. Definately not
Dunedain, nor very friendly.
The Chief acknowledged their bows and sat in his
high backed chair gesturing for them to take the low
seats before his table. The bearlike Man settled
himself on the bench under the window.
"There were things you wished to say to me, Lord
Cemendur. I am prepared to listen."
"Hurin and I have already said something of these
matters to -" Cemendur hesitated, turned to Hawkeye,
"Forgive me, my Lord, I know not what to call you."
"He is Belecthor son of Belegorn," Armegil answered
with a hint of a smile. "My sister-son and Captain of
the South." nodded towards the large, frowning Man in
the window bay. "And this is Borondir son of
Borthandir, Lord of the Marches of Rhudaur and Captain
of the East."
"And you are Isildur's Heir." it was not a
But Armegil shook his head. "No. I am but the next
in blood, his chief lieutenant and Captain of the
North. Aragorn, son of my brother Arathorn, is the
Heir of Isildur. I stand in his place in his absence.
Cemendur's face went blank with shock.
A shiver went down Hurin's spine. Thorongil, it had
to be, but why in the name of all the Valar would
Isildur's Heir come to Gondor in disguise to take
service as a common soldier?
There was a soft rap on the door and it opened to
admit a little girl, perhaps seven or eight years old,
with long black hair falling straight down her back
over a soft grey gown. She held carefully in both
hands a large silver tray with five matching goblets.
The sunlight reflected off the metal casting a bright
light onto her small, serious, delicate face with
great grey eyes that shone brighter than the silver.
'Fair as a Elven child.' Hurin had heard a city
matron say once about his younger sister. It was a
common compliment but now he was seeing the reality.
For a moment he wondered wildly if perhaps she *was*
an Elf but Armegil quickly disabused him of that idea.
"My daughter Niphredil."
The child placed her burden on the table before her
father and the woman at her heels stepped forward, a
tall silver wine pitcher in her hands.
It took Hurin a startled second glance to recognize
Laebeth, hair unbraided and rippling down her back,
dressed in a pale blue gown that matched her eyes. She
caught him staring and nodded politely with just a
hint of a dimple.
The little girl gazed fixedly first at Hurin and
then at Cemendur as Laebeth poured the wine and passed
it round. Then she took the child firmly by the
shoulders, turned her around and steered her out of
"She is very beautiful." Cemendur said sincerely
after the door had shut behind them.
"And very willful." was the father's rueful answer.
"The two tend to go together in our House."
"Indeed they do!" fervently from Belecthor.
Borondir laughed heartily and a quick smile flashed
across Armegil's face like a sunburst before it
settled again into the grim lines etched by hardship
"Forgive the interuption, my Lord. You were
The Councillor swallowed and forged on. "I told the
Lord Belecthor how a great Captain had come to us out
of Rohan but clearly was one of our own people though
not of Gondor. We called him Thorongil but he ever
refused to give us either his own true name or that of
"For good reason." quietly from Armegil.
"For reasons that seemed good to him." Cemendur
conceeded. "My lord, Gondor is hard pressed. The Lord
Aragorn was proof other Men of our kind still dwelt
somewhere in Middle Earth. The Lost Realm was the
obvious place to look for them."
"And now you have found us." said Armegil
"And seen you are also in peril." Hurin broke in,
stomping all over Cemendur's careful diplomacy.
"Hawkeye - my Lord Belecthor - has told us why you
hide yourselves. True a few thousands cannot challenge
the might of Mordor but allied with such strength as
we still have in Gondor surely together we can
accomplish what neither can alone!"
Again Armegil shook his head. "The time when our
people could overcome the Shadow by force of arms is
long passed. Even united we can no longer match the
numbers of his vassals."
"Do you bid us despair then, Lord?" flatly from
Cemendur as Hurin bit his lip.
"Never that!" his answer came quick and emphatic.
"Our part is to hold doom at bay as long as we may.
But it is by other, smaller hands, Sauron will be
"I - do not understand, my Lord." Cemendur said
Another brief, flashing smile. "Nor do I. And what
I guess I may not speak of." turned the subject. "You
are somewhat mistaken, my Lord Hurin, we were not
driven to this life, we chose it." he took a sip of
his wine and continued. "You know of course of the
last war in which Angmar was overthrown with the aid
of Gondor. But that was not the first time the Witch
King had been defeated. Twice before we broke his
power and drove him from the North, at great cost,
only to see him rise again in even greater strength as
our own diminished."
Hurin shivered again. Gondor was only to well
acquainted with such profitless victories.
"It was King Araphant who discovered who our enemy
in truth was; the Chief of the Nazgul greatest of
Sauron's servants. And realized the Dark Lord himself
was behind our troubles, and yours in Gondor as well.
So he made an alliance with King Ondoher, sealed by
the marriage of our Prince Arvedui to your Princess
Firiel, against the evil day when Angmar would rise
again. With what result you know."
Indeed they did.
"We might have rebuilt after that last victory, as
after the two before it." Armegil went on. "But
Aranarth realized to do so would be to invite another
attack, and another, and another, until at last we
were utterly destroyed." A smile, this time a grim one
with an edge of steel. "Sauron does not forget the
hand that cut the Ring from his finger and Isildur's
Heirs account his enmity our greatest glory.
"Thus Aranarth chose to let the Witch King
believe he had succeeded in the task his Master had
set him. He built this fastness, and others, and our
people went into hiding becoming Rangers of the Wild,
hunting the servants of the Enemy and standing guard
over the simple folk of the North."
He took another sip of wine, resumed quietly. "It
is a hard life and our numbers dwindle as the years
lengthen, yet for all that we are still far more than
a few thousands. But to declare ourselves openly would
only bring ruin upon us and those whom we guard. And
an alliance with Gondor would call the full fury of
Mordor down upon us both. This we will not risk but we
do not forget our kinship or our duty under the treaty
Araphant made. Aragorn is not the first Heir of
Isildur to serve Gondor."
Hurin and Cemendur could only stare at him.
"Arangil, brother of Aranarth, led a company of
Rangers south when the Nazgul attacked Minas Ithil.
And later Arminas, son of our Seventh Chieftain,
served Denethor and Boromir in the Morgul wars. But
since his time we have been too hard pressed ourselves
to send aid to Gondor. Until Aragorn chose to go alone
more than twenty years ago."
"Your generosity shames us." Cemendur said heavily.
Armegil shook his head. "We but keep our sworn
word, as did King Earnil. In return we ask that you
keep our secret, for all our sakes."
The Councillor bowed his head. "As you wish."
Borondir grunted. "That may be all the Dunedain ask
but the Men of Rhudaur would ask one more thing; send
us back our Chieftain! He has been away from his
people long enough and too long."
"I do not doubt Aragorn will return when he may."
Armegil told him. Glanced at Cemendur. "I trust no rub
will be put in his way?"
"We must tell our Lord what we have learned." the
Councillor replied. "But I promise you he will do the
Lord Aragorn no harm, nor seek to stay him when he
choses to leave us."
Armegil and Belecthor accepted that assurance but
Borondir looked openly skeptical. Hurin would have
been insulted, had he not had to admit to himself that
the Man's doubts were justified. The Stewards' had not
dealt justly with the Heirs of Isildur and they all
Armegil rose and the others with him.
Cemendur essayed a pallid smile. "It seems we have
come a long way to little purpose."
Armegil looked at him straight, the light in his
eyes very bright. "We are matched against a foe beyond
our strength, but such has ever been the fate of Men.
So fight on, and hold to hope, and remember you do not
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