Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 8. Common Folk of the Lost Realm
They'd left the downs behind, though the land still had a gentle roll to it, and entered thick woodlands. Not even Rangers willingly camped in the open so far north, and the twins were prepared to go somewhat out of their way to find shelter for the night, especially with two children in their charge. With evening coming on the party turned off the old road onto a narrow forest track that, after an hour or so, ended in a large clearing.
A drystone wall, about three ranga high (1), with toadflax, ivy, stonecrop and selfheal growing in its crannies stood a bowshot distance from the verges of the forest with the long roof of a house and tops of orchard trees showing above it. The heavy wooden gate stood open and the party rode in unchallenged, but only because they had been spotted by watchers long before and were expected.
The inner side of the wall had a low wooden platform for defenders to stand on, and enclosed a grassy yard with fruit trees shading a kitchen garden on one side and the house and a number of small outbuildings on the other.
Three Men approached the party, greeting the young princes familiarly by name and, to Hurin's surprise, in the Elvish tongue. Ellenion, doubtless out of courtesy to the southern visitors, answered in the Common speech.
"Once again we impose ourselves upon you, Master Hallorn," he said dismounting, "and this time with a sizeable company I fear." turned to lift the little princess down. "My cousin Niphredil, and her friend Erien, and Erien's mother Muinith. And these," he continued, "are kinsmen of ours from the Southern Kingdom, on their way home. The Lord Cemendur, Lord Hurin and their Man Rumil."
Three pairs of keen, green-grey eyes surveyed the Gondor Men with piercing interest. Nor did they seem to mind being studied as intently in return. They shared a strong family resemblance and were clearly close kin.
"Master Hallorn is the head of this holding." Ellenion continued. "His son Hallas, and grandson Morlas."
Hurin blinked. All three Men seemed in their prime, showing little sign of the difference in their ages. Nor could he make any guess as to exactly how old they were save that Morlas, the youngest, must be several years his senior. The house was built of age darkened wood on an undercroft of stone, eaves and window and door frames richly carved with the entwined figures of beasts and birds. A tall green gowned woman stood in the open doorway to greet them, her honey colored skin and dark eyes suggesting some share of Hill-Men blood in her veins. Hallorn presented her as his wife, Miril, the mistress of the holding.
Inside was a modest hall panelled in many colored woods and decorated with quaint carven grotesqueries. Three children, two well grown boys between twelve and eight years of age and a much younger girl, were playing with a large and varied collection of nuts on the slate hearthstone. A grey haired woman sat in a highbacked chair nearby and the guests were led over to her to pay their respects. This was Dame Serin, Hallorn's mother, which together with her visible signs of age (2) meant she must be nearing her hundreth year.
Two younger women, Lindel and Aewenor wives to Hallas and Morlas, laid a table at the opposite end of the hall near the door to the kitchen, and soon all were seated round it, partaking of roasted game birds and venison pies and nut breads spread with honey.
Hallorn's house reminded Hurin more than a little of hunting lodges belonging to his own family and he suspected it, like the villa of Arnost, was a survival from a more gracious time. His host readily acknowledged that he was right.
"Eryn Lossen (3) was once a chase belonging to the High Kings at Fornost." he explained. "My ancestors were their foresters, in a sense we still are."
"Deep woods are favored dwelling places for the dark things surviving from Angmar and the Elder Days." Ereinion put in. "Many of our forests here in the North are so haunted. Hallorn and his fellows have kept that from happening here at least."
"Not entirely." Hallas contradicted. "We've still got a few White Wolves, left over from the Fell Winter, hiding in the more distant glens."
"That was a terrible year." his mother remembered with a shiver. "Wolves howling right outside the wall day and night, and my garden froze solid in that awful cold. I had to replant everything when spring finally came, even the fruit trees."
Cemendur frowned at her. "Surely, mistress, you're not old enough to remember the winter of 2911?"
She laughed. "Indeed I am. Why that was the year my daughter Gwenlas was born."
The Gondor Men exchanged stunned looks. Cemendur cleared his throat. "Then we must be much of an age I think. I am a hundred and three, quite old by the measure of the Dunedain of the South."
Now it was their hosts turn to look surprised. "Miril is one hundred and two," Dame Serin said, "my son is a dozen years her elder. And I am begining to feel the weight of my years at one hundred and forty-four." Hurin, Cemendur and Rumil tried, unsuccessfully, to hide their awe. It had been nigh on six centuries since any Man or Woman of Gondor had reached such an age. These days their span was little longer than that of Lesser Men.
"We do not dwell cheek by jowl with Mordor." Ereinion observed after a brief silence. "The nearness of the Dark land has doubtless taken a sore toll upon our Southern kin."
Possibly. Yet the precipitous decline in life span had begun well before the Morgul Wars and long before Sauron's return to Mordor as Hurin recalled. But very soon after Gondor had rejected the Heir of Isildur as their king.
After supper the little princess and her companion played happily with the children of the house, all five seemingly unconscious of the difference in their rank. And the adults seemed almost as unaware. Yet Hallorn and his kin clearly knew perfectly well their guests were royalty and their manner could not be called disrespectful or even overfamiliar - just unceremonious.
'There are no kings or lords here in the North.' Belecthor had said, and it seemed the Rangers lived as if that were literally true. *****************************************************
(1) A 'ranga' is equivalent to three feet and two inches in English measurments, (Unfinished Tales).
(2) Dunedain don't develop grey hair and wrinkles til very near the end of their span. Hurin is assuming the Dunedain of the North live about as long as those of Gondor, he's wrong.
(3) tr.: The Snowy Wood
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