Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 7. The Lost Realm
"Prince Armegil has advised us to return by way of the High Pass over the Misty Mountains rather than the southern way by which we came." Hurin told his companion as they strolled along one of the villa's many cloistered walks.
The other, the more talkative of the two Padfoot Brothers, nodded. "That would be wise. The Old South Road is becoming dangerous. Nobody patrols the Enedwaith anymore and the Dunlendings are notoriously unfriendly to Dunedain." a quick smile. "Not that our ancestors didn't give them reason enough to be so." glanced sidelong at Hurin. "But no doubt you noticed all this yourself."
"The journey was not uneventful." he conceeded drily. "We nearly lost Rumil at the fording of the Gwathlo, but after that the going became easier."
"After that you had entered Ranger territory. The Red Lands of Cardolan *are* patrolled. You were under our eye and our guard from the moment you crossed at Tharbad."
Hurin blinked. "We saw nothing."
His companion smiled a little smugly. "Nothing is what you may expect to see when Rangers are tracking you. But you travelled too quickly for our people to send word ahead of your coming. Uncle was taken quite by surprise when you walked into the Pony."
"And you ran away from us." Hurin remembered. "By the way, what is your real name?"
"I am Ellenion, my brother is Ereinion."
'Son of the Eldar' and 'Son of Kings' appropriate names for Isildurioni. Like his uncle, Ellenion was now dressed suitably for his rank in black and deep blue, and on his finger he wore a ring of silver in the form of an eagle with a small adamant stone set like a star between its upraised wings. The device seemed familiar to Hurin but he couldn't place it.
The walk became a gallery above a sanded court sounding to the the ring of steel on steel. Looking down Hurin was startled to see a number of Women and girls practicing with sword and halberd. A flash of silver-fair hair proclaimed the Lady Gilmith, Armegil's wife, was among them.
"Do your Women also take up arms?" he asked, trying not to sound shocked.
"Sometimes, when there is no Man left to do so." a shadow passed over Ellenion's face. "It is becoming more common. We have many widows and orphans these days."
"I can see you're hard pressed." Hurin offered in awkward sympathy.
"We are losing." the Ranger answered quietly. Looked at him with those strange, light filled eyes. "We have been losing ground for more than a hundred years now, since the time of my great grandfather, and are likely to lose all before the end."
"Gondor too. Yet Prince Armegil bids us to have hope."
Surprisingly Ellenion laughed. "Indeed we still have Hope." they had been speaking in the Common Tongue but he used the Elven word 'Estel' with an emphasis that drew a questioning look from Hurin.
"Estel is one one of the names of my cousin Aragorn." he explained. "He was called so for a prophecy that predicts he will bring down the Dark Lord and restore the Kingdoms."
"If any Man can do so it will be Thorongil." Hurin said with the simple faith all Gondor had in the great captain.
"You know him better than I." said Ellenion. "Indeed, I do not know him at all for all we are near kin. My brother and I were babes in arms when he left the North."
"Which would make them a little younger than Hurin himself. "Gondor will be sorry to lose him, but I see he is needed here too." ***********************************************
The Lord Belecthor, transformed again into the Ranger Hawkeye, left Arnost early the next morning with the three horses to be returned to Gwathlad. He would then continue on foot back to his wardenship in the south. But if the Gondor Men were a little dismayed to see him disappear alone into the Wild, it was clear none of their Northern kin were at all bothered by the thought of a prince of the Isildurioni walking unattended and unguarded all the long leagues back to Old Cardolan.
But they had little time to think about that as their party too was preparing to depart. The two young princes, Ereinion and Ellenion, were to guide them on the first part of their journey across the Wild and over the High Pass. And, as their road led past the mythical Rivendell home of Elrond Half-Elven, the little Lady Niphredil would accompany them as well.
It was, Princess Gilmith had explained, customary for the children of the Isildurioni to be fostered and educated by their kinsman Elrond. And at nine Niprhedil was judged by her parents old enough to begin her formal training. Hurin had been a little dismayed to hear this. In his experience little girls of rank traveled in curtained horse-litters with large trains of pack horses, guards, servants and attendant gentlewomen. Of course he should have known the thing would be done differently here in the North.
Niphredil entered the stableyard in the lower ward of the stronghold accompanied by her mother and father, a Woman dressed in green leathers and armed with bow and knife as Laebeth had been, and a pretty little girl of her own years with light brown curls and blue eyes.
Three of the shaggy Ranger horses stood next to the Gondor Men's mounts and it was clear from the saddles on two of them that the little girls were intended to ride pillion, which did not please the Lady Niphredil at all.
"Why can't we have horses too?" she demanded, lower lip protruding in a way that made Hurin suddenly and unexpectedly homesick for his younger sisters. "Erien and I can ride!"
"So you can." Armegil agreed calmly. "But I cannot spare a brace of horses to carry little girls."
"We could share a horse." the daughter suggested hopefully.
"No." said the father with warning emphasis.
Which his daughter ignored opening her mouth for further argument, but her cousin Ereinion leant down from his horse to abruptly end the debate by swinging her up behind him.
Armegil turned to Cemendur. "This is Muinith daughter of Morred, Niphredil's nurse." he said, introducing the Woman. "and her daughter Erien, whose task it is to show *my* daughter how a good little girl behaves."
"I'm not always good." the child piped up, almost defensively. "It was my idea to put holly berries into the soap and to keep cream in the tower basement and lots of other things too."
"I stand corrected." the Prince said, amused. "Still compared to Niphredil, our Erien is *relatively* good."
"Relatively." Muinith agreed drily.
"I begin to feel sorry for our Uncle." Ellenion grinned, reaching down a hand to help Erien up behind him.
"So do I." Armegil agreed. "No doubt he will survive, and Rivendell too, I hope!" *********************************************
They did not head back towards Fornost and the old North Road but southwest on a path that wound between the downs. Their way was littered with the ruins of what had once been good stone built manor houses and farmsteads. Once again Hurin was reminded of his home, of the abandoned lands along the Great River.
Shortly after noon they came upon the remains of a sizeable town. The crumbling shells of what must once have been splendid market and guild halls rose above the grass grown ruins of houses and shops and the tumbedown wreckage of once formidable defensive walls. Circling the ruins they found a crossing of ancient roads, one running due south and the other northeast.
"The eastern track is the old Rhudaur Road," Ellenion told the Men from Gondor, "that ran from Fornost to Minvorn Erain, the eastern capital at the foot of Gram Mountain. We will take the southern way, along the Weather Hills to the great East-West Road."
"The town was called Rhufen." the Woman, Muinith, added, seeing Hurin's eyes straying back to the ruins. "My husband's family lived there, long ago."
"In a stone house with a tower just off the big market square," Erien piped up suddenly, "with running horses carved above the front door."
"It sounds like a very fine house." Hurin offered, a little awkwardly.
"Our people gave up a great deal to follow their King into hiding." Ereinion told him quietly. "They do not grudge their losses, but they do not forget them either."
That was another difference between the Northern and Southern Dunedain, Hurin thought grimly. *His* people did grudge their losses, every one of them. Perhaps all the more because they knew in their hearts they had only themselves to blame.
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