My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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The Commander of Gondor: 7. The Princess of Dol Amroth
First, they attended to a long-needed meeting with the garrison commander and the newest captain of the Rangers, Algarath, a young Dúnedain from the North, sent with the highest recommendation by Halbarad. Thorongil hadn't recognized his name, but Algarath would have been only a youth during his five years in Fornost. In awe, the young captain bowed to the heir of the fabled Stewards of Gondor, babbling his admiration to the bemused Denethor, but when Thorongil stepped into the room after pausing to greet one of his old comrades, Algarath was struck mute. Forgetting Halbarad's warning, he sucked in his breath and all but collapsed in obeisance when he caught sight of the star brooch Thorongil wore on his uniform. The commander discreetly waved off the captain's deference before it came to Denethor's notice.
After the meeting, the two, with Algarath in tow, had forded the Anduin and rode east toward the crossroads. Grey-blue clouds hung in low rows and there was a portent of snow in the air. On the brown verge along the old road lay the fallen statues of ancient kings, pulled down and desecrated by orcs. Water trickled from ruined causeways and the fire-blackened pillars of noble houses pushed up out of the concealing brush. The last of the brown leaves crackled on the branches and the dry grass whispered its rattling death. Winter tightened its hold on this forsaken land, and whatever birds and animals remained, sought their burrows.
Although the land was abandoned, a pervading evilness, felt even by Denethor rolled from the Morgul Valley like a noxious, invisible fog. The age-old ache starting behind Thorongil's eyes, and Algarath looked terrified, ready to bolt. The Steward's son reined in, stared in the direction of the lost Minas Ithil, visibly shivered, felt the fast-approaching dusk, and suggested they ride back across the river. Leaving Algarath with his men in Osgiliath, the pair galloped into the city on very tired mounts as the horns sounded the evening locking of the gates
Ecthelion met them in Denethor's Citadel office and questioned the pair for nearly two hours on the details of what they had seen. They spent most of dinner discussing reinforcing the troops on the east bank and guarding the south road. Over the years, his father, and grudgingly, Denethor had come to respect Thorongil's opinions on the defense of Gondor and found he was usually dead on regarding Ithilien. Denethor even viewed the commander as a trusted companion and, almost, as a friend.
Now, after a sumptuous dinner, he sat in the opposite chair, booted ankle on left knee, casually playing with his spur buckle, appearing not to watch Thorongil but observing him closely. Thorongil noted his companion had been silent for some time and recognized the covert assessment of those calculating, smoky eyes. The Steward's son finally cleared his throat.
"We once talked of your background, Thorongil. I'm still curious. That new Ranger captain looked at you as if you were a Maia newly arrived from Valinor. I swear he recognized you from somewhere."
"Maybe it was family resemblance; perhaps he knows my brother. He is from the North," Thorongil said amicably.
"Your background has long remained quite secretive." Denethor held up his hand as Thorongil began to protest. "I know the story: younger son…older brother a minor land owner in the north. I begin to think that is a fine creation of yours and perhaps your friend, Mithrandir? You know, the likeness between us has been noted." Denethor slowly poured another glass and smiled. "Are you sure you aren't another of my father's indiscretions?"
"I'm quite sure of my parentage and can assure you my father was not the Steward of Gondor." Thorongil sought to distract Denethor's line of thinking. "Do you really desire another brother?" he smiled.
Denethor laughed ruefully. "I already have one I'm not sure what to do with."
"Fallon's birth is not his fault. He is a good man and a fine officer, loyal to Gondor and his family," Thorongil pointed out.
Denethor sighed and nodded. "My respect for his abilities grows, and I think we could become allies, if not friends, but Father may soon remove Fallon from my consideration anyway."
"How so, if I may ask? After all, he is my second." He and Fallon had developed a deep friendship and he wasn't sure he would enjoy commanding the Guards quite as much without the rakish captain riding at his side.
"He is negotiating a betrothal with Dol Amroth, though now that Adrahil has passed suddenly, it requires Imrahil's approval. Marriage to the prince's youngest sister would be quite a coup for Fallon. Not only would he be wedding into a noble family, he would become a landed lord. Father holds some properties in Lossernach and Lebennin through his mother. With his new bride, Fallon would go there. He would be a vassal of Minas Tirith, his lady would be close to her home, and I can always use more levied soldiers."
"Does Fallon know of this? Has he met the princess?" Thorongil secretly chuckled at the thought of a match between his captain and the lovely Finduilas, but he knew Fallon's nature well enough to know the man would balk at taking a bride not of his choosing, even one as charming as the princess.
"He brought the idea to Father. He and the lady became close when he was a lieutenant at the garrison there. Adrahil was quite taken with him, no matter what his birth, but Imrahil is different. The prince is ambitious; he might disdain such a match for his sister, though the opportunity to wed into the Steward's house could let him overlook Fallon's birth." So, Finduilas was the beautiful Dol Amroth lady that had captured Fallon's heart when he had been stationed there. By Thorongil's reckoning, they had missed each other in Belfalas by a few short months. Denethor yawned and stretched.
"I'm for bed, Commander. Oh, Thorongil, I know how much you enjoy escorting diplomats. The Dol Amroth nobility is coming to Minas Tirith for the first time in many years for Father's Yule and Yester Eve celebrations. Your company has volunteered as the escort to ride out to Arnach and meet them." He saw the protest in Thorongil's eyes and held up his hand. "It was Fallon's request." He handed Thorongil the official orders from the side table. "To leave on Thursday next."
At the door, the commander pulled on his cloak preparing to step into the cold night. "Don't be too harsh on Fallon; like many foolish things, 'twas done for love, an emotion I understand that can move one to do foolhardy deeds, but fortunately, one to which you and I aren't beholden." Denethor clapped the commander on the back and his laugh followed Thorongil out into the night.
The commander sat in his office the next morning, waiting for his captain to make his appearance. The orders lay open in front of him. Ecthelion directed full diplomatic honors including armor for the entire company of troopers and dress uniforms for the officers. In December, a fifty-mile ride and return in full armor would be painfully cold for his men. He hoped at least for clear weather since the ride would prove pure misery in sleet.
"Fallon!" Thorongil thundered as soon as his captain's auburn head appeared. "Did you volunteer us for a diplomatic escort?" he shouted in mock anger.
Fallon looked stunned. "Yes, sir!" He snapped out at full attention. "Well, we are the City Guards…" Thorongil shook his head.
"One day I'll break you to lieutenant for these "volunteer" missions you send us on, and" the commander continued, "we'll see how pleased your lady will be about that!" He grinned at the captain then.
"You know my reason!" Fallon smiled almost shyly. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about Finduilas sooner. I never believed she and I could wed, but her father was a good man, who saw to his daughter's happiness." He spent the rest of the morning regaling Thorongil with stories of Finduilas and her family. The tales evoked many memories for Thorongil and many times, he wanted to announce he knew the lady well, but he was unwilling to spoil his rakish captain's enthusiasm for Dol Amroth and his obvious infatuation with the princess and his plans for introducing her to his commander.
On Wednesday, the selected troopers rolled out of their barracks at dawn: duty assignments were posted, mounts declared fit, armor assembled and polished, and instructions for bivouac at Erui sent ahead. In the commander's office, Quillion's brush swished over Thorongil's dress jacket. The boy had the officers' best boots lined up for polishing next. The young squire sniffed occasionally, revealing his wounded heart. He was feeling particularly sorry for himself since he was to be left behind, and begging to go had earned him a sharp set-down from his idol, the commander. There was silence in the room except for Quillion's brush and the crackling of the fire in the brazier. The boy stole secretive glances at Fallon, who sat wool gathering, and at Thorongil, who sat working, willing them to change their minds.
A knock on the door heralded the tailor's boy with a large package for the commander. He signed the acceptance with a flourish, and both Fallon and Quillion looked on expectantly to see what the frugal commander had purchased.
To his surprise, Thorongil handed the package to Quillion. "An early Yule gift." He stood back, and with pleasure, watched the boy's eyes grow wide as he unwrapped a black cloak, edges finely embroidered, lined with red and clasped by a silver dragon. It was the exact match of the officers' ones.
"Oh, sir!" he breathed in awe, fastening the clasp at his neck and letting the soft wool folds drape to his ankles.
"You'll need the warmth tomorrow on the Harlond Road, Quillion." Thorongil watched as the boy nearly burst with excitement as he realized what the commander meant. He seemed about to hug the commander but Fallon's stern look of warning brought a proper salute instead. "Go see to your mount." Thorongil advised. "We can polish our own boots." Fallon shook his head at the commander's weakness for the boy, but graciously picked up both pairs and took them along with the polish to his desk, as the boy flew out in a whirl of cloak and shrieks of joy.
The next day dawned dry. Dagor snorted great puffs of dragon-smoke as he curveted in the morning air, for it was frigid cold. Fallon had Quillion buttoned up to the chin in his black uniform jacket. The new cloak was snugged around him, and tucked between his knees and the saddle as Fallon had shown him, to keep it from flying back uselessly as they galloped. The boy's riding lessons had improved his skill and he handled the sweet-tempered Elendi quite neatly. At least, Thorongil thought, he was no longer in constant danger of falling off. They trotted up the flagged streets to rendezvous with the troopers at the Citadel.
Usually the last to gallop up as the troop assembled for a sortie, Fallon had been waiting impatiently in the grey dawn. He looked polished and gallant in his dress coat and cape atop his chestnut stallion, Hafur. Both Fallon and Quillion seemed unaffected by the biting cold but Thorongil cast a sympathetic eye over his steel-clad troopers. They made a fine picture: armor glinting in the morning sun and banners unfurling in the breeze, horses stamping impatiently. With a salute to Ecthelion, who had come down to see them off, Thorongil led the troop, standards flying, out of Minas Tirith to the Harlond Road.
Very quickly, cold sapped any joy out of the ride. The afternoon wore on long and cold, and the first night's bivouac at the Ford of Erui was miserable. The night was so cold, Thorongil abandoned his tent for the warmth of the fire. He had made a shivering Quillion, wrapped in both of their blankets, as comfortable as possible before it, and sat up most of the night, huddled in his cloak and wearing two pairs of gloves, smoking. Fallon swore his feet were frozen and finally went off to the picket line where he made Hafur lie down, and slept leaning against the stallion's warm side. The hot-blooded Dagor rolled an accusatory eye at Thorongil in the freezing dawn and laid back his ears even at his master's soothing Elvish coaxing.
By late afternoon, Arnach was a welcomed sight. They trotted through the town to the inn. The large sandstone building's adjoining storehouses had been converted to barracks for the troopers. Thorongil made sure his men were warm and well fed before be went in for his own dinner. In the private dining room, he threw his gloves on the table and took off his cloak. He was cold to the bone and wondered how the Lady Finduilas fared riding in this frigid weather. Fallon was ready with a warm drink and Quillion had the fire blazing. The commander chose to have his dinner sitting before it, his feet propped on the raised hearth. Quillion seemed to have survived the cold; his only concession was apple-red cheeks. He chattered on through the meal, mouth full or empty, about what he had seen that day. Fallon ate little, obviously fed by an inner glow. Just as they were finishing a delicious, preserve-filled cobbler brought in by the innkeeper's proud wife, a messenger in Belfalas blue arrived saying the prince's party was at Minas Brethil and would reach the River Sirith by mid-morning tomorrow. Thorongil shook his head when he considered the distance to be covered in so few hours, but who was he to gainsay a prince?
The next morning in blackness, the troop was up and saddling their mounts. Even the troop farrier's iron arms wielding an ax could not break the ice on the troughs, so water had to be hauled from the relatively warm pump house for the horses. The troopers swung into their saddles as the eastern edge of the star-littered sky grew golden for a two hour, bitterly cold ride up the river to the Kelos Wood where they would meet the prince's party. Thorongil's men reined in there at mid-morning. The woodland was silent and deserted, except for branches creaking in the rising breeze. After standing for nearly an hour in the keen wind, Thorongil could almost hear the men's armor rattling from their shivers. Fallon finally had the horses walked to keep them warm. With no sign that the prince's party would appear soon, Thorongil ordered the men to collect windfall branches for fires.
An hour after noon, the commander's scout clattered across the bridge with the announcement that the Dol Amroth party was approaching. Thorongil ordered his troop to mount, and soon they were saluting smartly as the prince, flanked by his captain led the party, including several Swan Knights, down the woodland road. Finduilas cantered alongside her brother, wrapped in white furs. While Imrahil wheeled his horse before Thorongil, saluting the commander of the escort, she had eyes only for Fallon.
"I regret our delay, Commander." the dark-hair prince began, "Finduilas' ladies chose the baggage wagons instead of the frigid air this morning so we traveled at a slower pace." Several creaking, covered wains were already lumbering down the road.
"Shall we then to Harlond?" Thorongil suggested. Imrahil agreed and urged his grey up to the long-striding Dagor, who though tired still fought the snail's pace at which they traveled. Thorongil found the prince a pleasant companion. They spoke of the threat from the east and the unusually cold weather, defense works for both cities, and incursions from the sea. As the afternoon wore on, the pace seemed to slacken and the wind grew sharper. At one point, Thorongil noticed Quillion silently ambling beside them, his teeth chattering and his lips blue. The commander reined in and ordered Lieutenant Landaral to set the boy up before him on Dagor. He tugged his own cloak around him, and warmed by Thorongil, Quillion forgot all discretion and fell asleep.
"Your son?" Imrahil asked, amused at the dark-haired lad's ease with the stern officer.
"My squire." The prince's raised brows let Thorongil know Dol Amroth squires did not nest against their commanders on long rides, though the insightful prince recognized what the act said about the true nature of this grim soldier. However, the cold was not just affecting the young; the temperature drop numbed the hardiest among them, so the prince suggested they rest the night at Arnach and continue the half-day journey to the encampment the following morning.
In the yard of the inn, Thorongil set Quillion down. He ordered Fallon to see to the guests and busied himself with his troopers. While they untacked their mounts and divested themselves of the armor, he walked among them, making sure they and their horses were properly housed and fed. The men nodded after him. They were grateful to serve this commander who saw to their welfare before his own. The barracks were dry and warm; the food plentiful. The men owned the travel was cold but they agreed it was better to be herding the finery around than facing Harad arrows in Ithilien.
It was full dark when Thorongil finally entered the inn. The private dining room Fallon had bespoken for them the previous night glittered with Finduilas' ladies and the Swan Knights. Quillion was making himself useful serving drinks, but seeing his commander, he set down his tray. Wearily, Thorongil handed him his cloak and sword. The evening would probably prove long. Diplomatic escorts always took twice the time to get anywhere and the charges must be entertained at the end of each day. He pasted on a polite smile as Fallon came up with a warm cup and Finduilas in tow.
"Commander, I'm not sure you met Lady Finduilas earlier." Finduilas, truly a lady grown after seven years, her auburn curls caught up in a braid, politely extended her hand for his kiss, but when she looked up at him, recognition dawned in her violet eyes. Before he could take her hand and make his bow, she threw her arms around his neck, to the sputtering astonishment of Fallon. All his memories of the girl who had saved him half-drown from the hurricane came rushing back and Thorongil's deep laughter warmed the room.
"My lord pirate!" she exclaimed, stepping back but holding both his hands still. "Lord Thorongil! You look well and prosperous."
"My lady." He bowed low to her. "Have the seas presented any unusual finds of late?"
"None near as wondrous as you, Lord Thorongil," she teased coquettishly. Fallon stood beside the pair, his mouth agape, at a loss. For once, he had thought to steal a march on his commander and present the royal princess of Dol Amroth to him. But, Thorongil already seemed on intimate terms with the lady! Realization dawned on Fallon's face as the teasing words of their greeting struck him.
"You're the pirate?" he gasped astonished. "I might have known! Oh, I know the story well. When I asked her to give me her heart, she cruelly claimed it was already given to a pirate lord washed up on her shores!" Finduilas blushed scarlet.
"Fallon! I was jesting!" she protested. At that moment Imrahil entered the room. He had changed into a formal military jacket, its blue facings embroidered with the white swan ship. He was a handsome man, but unlike Finduilas in coloring, with his father's dark hair and grey eyes, standing near as tall as Thorongil. Finduilas caught his hand and led him to the commander.
"Brother, you did not say you had met my pirate!" Imrahil assessed Thorongil with a new eye and the commander felt his worth was being judged by the prince.
"I suspected it when I first heard your name," Imrahil admitted. "But Findulas' description of a suave pirate lord didn't fit your demeanor at all."
"Of that I am sure I'm grateful," Thorongil admitted. Imrahil laughed easily and inquired after his men, returning the conversation to the mundane.
With the prince's appearance, the party moved on to dinner. The conversation proved as warm and plentiful as the food. Finduilas' ladies were fascinated when they discovered Thorongil was her legendary pirate. The Gondorian was also handsome, pleasant, and well situated as a commander of the White City. Although his family was a mystery, his position made him quite eligible and they vied for his attention all evening, but the reserved officer maintained a polite distance. Finally, the last fluttered away disappointed, and Finduilas and the prince went wearily off to their beds.
As on the evening before, Thorongil and Fallon again shared chairs before the fire. Quillion was already napping on the hearthrug. Thorongil tossed a blanket over him.
"I suppose I shall have to carry him to his bed," Thorongil commented. Fallon raised a brow.
"That is his bed, unless you'd have it for your own."
"I'm sleeping here?" There was no amusement in the commander's voice.
"We are sleeping here. By time the ladies and the knights were all settled, there were no rooms left for us," said Fallon. Thorongil wearily dragged off his boots. Removing his coat, he pulled another blanket from the stack and wrapped himself in it.
"If I'd have known this excursion would take longer than a month, I would have brought more clean linen." Thorongil exaggerated. For many long minutes, the room was silent except for the cracking of the fire logs.
"Thorongil---" Fallon blurted out suddenly. The commander mumbled half-asleep. "What is Finduilas to you?" Fallon asked hesitantly. Thorongil heard the dread in his captain's voice.
"I made passionate love to her on the beaches of Dol Amroth," he said without opening his eyes. By Fallon's sharp uptake of breath, he knew his captain had not sensed the humor in the statement. He sat upright and looked directly at Fallon. "You truly do not know me well after the years we have served together." His eyes glowed like coals in the firelight. "She was a young girl. I was nearly dead. She treated me as her brother and I have never considered her as aught but a sister and I will always be beholden to her for saving me. I could refuse her little. Does that answer you?" he asked sternly. Fallon could only nod. "Now, I have a question for you, my captain. After all of our time together, I do know you well and I would not have her hurt. As I told you, I am indebted to her for my life, and would protect her as an older brother. You are a notorious rakehell---"
"Not with Finduilas!" Fallon interrupted. "You need not worry. I would never compromise her honor. I love her! I would bring her to Minas Tirith as my bride!" He was silent for a moment. "Does that reassure you?"
"Only in that I won't have to kill you soon, unless…" Thorongil added, wrapping himself in the blanket again and stretching out his legs to the fire. "…I find myself on another winter diplomatic escort of your making." He had slept in many worse places and soon drifted off.
"Isn't that charming!" The morning still was shattered by a loud feminine voice. "They sat up all night guarding us! How gallant!" Thorongil peered into the pale morning light at Finduilas' brassiest lady trailed by a bevy of others. He rose, begged their pardon, and left the more gallant Fallon to his fate. Thorongil sought a private place to wash, shave, and make himself presentable.
"I hate diplomatic escorts!" Thorongil groused to the mirror. Quillion, at the ready with shaving kit and towel, grinned.
After a prolonged breakfast, a long wait standing in the courtyard while the ladies made ready, and a cold and painfully slow two-day ride to Minas Tirith with the freshening wind from the north smelling more of snow by the hour, Thorongil gladly relinquished his charges to Ecthelion and Denethor at the Citadel guesthouse. Amid the first swirl of flakes, he dismounted at his own house, sent the horses to off with Sedeth, his groom, and guided a tottering, exhausted Quillion inside. He sent his squire to his room, and then collapsed on his own bed, only taking time to remove his coat and boots.
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