Many Guises and Many Names
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Thorongil: 9. Chapter 9
on the writing of battles. I hope this one rings true.
"Two, six, heave!" the cry came, and with grunts and shouts, the sails were
lifted, and the ship began slowly to move out of port. Standing at the bow,
Aragorn could see to his left two other ships getting underway, sailors
moving swiftly about the decks. He turned to the group of men around him.
"I will not keep you long," he said, "for I know you all wish to get back
to your own ships. Yet I delayed my briefing until now for specific
reasons, and I would ask you all to keep our course and our aim a secret
until we are in open ocean, past Pelargir.
"As I think you know, we have recently come under attack from the Corsairs
issuing from Umbar. They are growing ever stronger, and the lord Ecthelion
has decided that this must be halted soon, else the pirates gain supremacy
over us. You and your men were selected as being the best Gondor has, and I
trust you will repay the Steward's faith in you."
The five men glanced at each other, and nodded.
"We are to make our way down river to the Sea, and thence set our course
southwards towards Umbar. We drop anchor close by, and only set sail for
Umbar itself once night has fallen on the evening of our arrival. Then, we
land, and attack."
Aragorn's listeners exchanged further glances, and one of them let out a
"Forgive me asking, Captain, but what exactly do you intend to do once we
have landed? Attack is a broad term."
"We are a force of one hundred, if we leave each of our ships manned with
enough sailors to retreat swiftly," Aragorn said. "Thirty of the men under
my command will attack any Umbarians on the quays - with sword and bow. The
rest, in two groups, will set about destroying any ships in harbour. Set
them alight, or hole them. They must not be allowed to set sail again. The
group under Captain Barahir will target those ships at the east of the
harbour, and the group under Captain Pharon the west."
"And we'll remain on board, for the retreat?" one of the three sea captains
confirmed. Aragorn nodded.
"Correct. This is to remain secret from the men, for now. Keep them fit and
keep them happy. Morale is of the utmost importance. I trust the supplies
will be sufficient?"
The oldest of the mariners nodded. "We took on board enough for two months
at sea, as we were ordered."
"Good. Then I will not keep you any longer, gentlemen. Return to your
vessels, and may Ulmo protect us all until we come to Umbar."
"When it'll be out of his hands," Barahir, a man of some fifty years
muttered. "We'll send a boat if we have problems, Captain Thorongil, yes?"
The other captains acknowledged this with nods. Aragorn and Minastir, the
captain of his ship, watched them as they clambered down the rope ladder
hung over the side of the vessel to regain the small rowing boat bobbing
alongside. Shortly they saw the boat pause beside the other two ships, and
the passengers climb aboard.
"It's quite a mission we have been set," Minastir said, turning to Aragorn.
"But not an impossible one," Aragorn returned.
"I hope not." Minastir shaded his blue eyes with a tanned hand and looked
up at the sails. "Tsk, look at the set of the foresail! I must go and get
that remedied. You need for nothing?"
"Not at all, my friend. Do not let me keep you from the running of your
Minastir grinned, and hurried off to bellow orders at his crew. Aragorn,
picking his way round ropes and barrels, went to stand at the stern, and
catch his last glimpse of Minas Tirith. The Sun was beginning to lower, and
on this early summer's day, the last remaining snows on Mindolluin, the
small clouds floating in the sky, and the White Tower glistening made
Aragorn's eyes smart with the brightness. He leant on the rail, the wind
whipping his hair backwards, and watched as gradually the Tower grew
smaller and the Sun set, sending rays of golden-red across the City. For a
moment, he thought he could hear the sound of the trumpets calling people
to their evening meal. He kept on looking backwards until someone came up
behind him and coughed. "Captain, we are called to table."
Aragorn turned to see one of his men. "Good. I'm hungry. Will you show me
After they had eaten, the soldiers went to the section of the hold assigned
as their cabin, hung with hammocks, and the sailors not on watch did
likewise. For a little while, Aragorn sat reading in the cabin which he had
been given, the lantern hanging from the ceiling casting strange shadows in
the corner. But he quickly gave up, and shutting off the lantern, he pulled
the blanket off the narrow bunk and went up on deck.
Above the sails the stars were bright, and Aragorn settled himself on a
coil of rope, the blanket wrapped around him, and lay back to gaze upwards.
The constellations rocked gently backwards and forwards with the movement
of the ship upon the estuary, and he spent some time naming them in his
mind and relearning the ones he had forgotten - the strange stars of the
South. At last, his mind growing weary, Aragorn fixed his eyes on the
brightest star in the heavens, and murmured a brief prayer to his ancestor,
before drifting off to sleep.
He was woken early by Minastir, who stood over him grinning widely.
"You slept on deck, Captain?"
"I did." Aragorn sat up, and pushed his hair away from his face. "The cabin
was too stuffy."
Minastir acknowledged this with a knowing look. "You're not one born to be
cooped up inside, I can see that. Though should the weather turn, you'll be
glad of that warm, dry space."
"I have slept outside in many weathers," Aragorn laughed, standing up and
stretching, "and I would still choose that over that box, any day. How are
"Not bad," Minastir said, leading the way forwards. "As you see, we are
still sailing as a fleet," he gestured to where the two other ships were
visible, to port side and slightly astern of the flagship, "and we expect
to arrive at Pelargir tomorrow morning. The wind is strong and to our
favour." He paused, and spoke a few words to the man at the helm, and then
turned again to Aragorn. "Thorongil - if I may call you Thorongil?"
"Do you think we will succeed in this venture?"
"I do." Aragorn leaned against the rail and faced the sailor. "This might
be the first campaign I have led from the sea, Minastir, but it is by no
means the first campaign I have ever led."
"I did not mean ." Minastir began.
"I know you did not. And I know it sounds a foolhardy and possibly suicidal
venture, and that we risk losing many men. But I know the Umbarians, and I
know the way they fight. They are a brave and proud people, but they are
disorganised compared to Gondor, and their men do not have the unity ours
"No leader to follow?" Minastir asked.
"Not as such. They have captains, certainly, but no Steward to guide them
and be their figurehead. Our men know that they are fighting for Gondor,
and I hope that will give them the extra courage and strength they will
need." Aragorn shrugged. "I hope also that they are better trained and that
I have chosen them well."
Minastir turned, and called an order to the helmsman, and then faced
Aragorn again. "So do I. I hope we can return to Gondor in triumph,
Thorongil, and not with bad news for the City."
Aragorn nodded in agreement, and smiled, and the captain returned the smile
and then hurried away to order a change in the setting of the sails.
Turning, Aragorn looked out at the wide river and the banks slipping by,
and wondered when he would return to Minas Tirith - and how.
The waters foamed under the keels of the ships that day, and the night -
which Aragorn again spent on deck - and by the time the Sun was high
overhead, they had passed Pelargir. Some of the soldiers expressed
irritation that they were not allowed to go ashore, but Aragorn promised
explanations, and they fell silent and turned back to their card games.
By late afternoon, the ships had turned south out of the mouth of the
Anduin, and were rocking a little on a gentle swell. Aragorn called his men
on deck, and asked Minastir to gather the sailors not currently needed to
keep the ship on course.
"I apologise for not allowing you to leave the ship for a time at
Pelargir," Aragorn began, looking down at the men from his perch against
the foremast. "I trust you will forgive me when I explain our mission, for
which you were all especially chosen. Some of you I know well, the rest of
you were recommended to me by your captains, and your participation in this
operation was ultimately approved by the lord Steward himself. I trust the
significance of that is not lost on anyone." He glanced at the men and saw
he had their attention. "In a few days' time we will cross from the waters
controlled by Gondor into those ruled by Umbar. You all know that our two
countries have for a long time maintained an uneasy peace; recently that
peace has been broken and our Steward will no longer countenance the
violence which the Umbarian fleets have been practising in Gondor's seas.
"We are therefore going to attack Umbar, at her heart, and destroy her
capacity for piracy."
There was silence, broken only by the murmur of the helmsman as he adjusted
the ship's course, and the breath of wind in the sails.
"You will be with me for the attack, and will be in close combat with any
of the Umbarians on the quayside. You have all fought like this before, but
remember that in Umbar they use curved blades rather than our straight
ones. I'm not going to pretend this will be easy, gentlemen. The companies
from the other two ships will be targeting the Corsairs, and destroying
them. Mariners will remain on board our ships, ready for instant retreat
should that be a necessity; and your captain will remain with you. This
will be a night attack, and therefore I would ask that you remove or dull
any bright parts of your armour. Are there any questions?"
"What happens if it all goes wrong, captain?" someone asked, frankly.
Aragorn smiled and hoped it was reassuring. "It will not go wrong. But you
all swore, when you joined the Guards, or your company of Rangers, that you
would give your life for Gondor. If it goes wrong, that may be an oath
brought to fulfilment. If any of you have doubts, you may remain on board
ship and aid the sailors."
"Is this your plan or the Steward's, sir?" another man called.
"The details are mine, Daeron," Aragorn returned. "The blessing is the lord
Steward's. I hope that suffices?"
"Aye, captain!" Daeron said, cheerfully. Indeed, Aragorn noticed that the
men seemed to be happier with the idea of attacking Umbar now they knew
Ecthelion had not formulated the plan. He stored this fact away to reflect
"I believe we will arrive off the coast of Umbar in a few days - Captain
Minastir nodded. "Maybe four days, five if we're unlucky with the wind. We
anchor and go in at night."
"We will spend the days until then in readying ourselves for the attack,"
Aragorn added. "As the water is calm now, I thought we could begin with
some sword practice. Go and fetch your weapons, unless there are any other
The men glanced at each other, and shook their heads, and then several of
them stood up and disappeared below decks to fetch their swords. The
sailors cleared a space on the afterdeck, making sure ropes were looped up
out of reach and that barrels were not blocking the movement. Several of
them found places to watch, and even Minastir stood a little further astern
than he strictly needed to.
As the ship beat her way southwards, and evening lengthened, Aragorn took
his men through their paces in pairs, six men at a time, rotating through
until all of them had sparred with at least one other. They ended the
practice as the bell rang for the evening meal, and Aragorn noted with
pleasure that the mood of the company seemed to have risen.
Morale stayed high as they hurried southwards, the sailors working
throughout the day to ensure that the ship was moving as fast as possible.
The other two ships in the fleet were just within sight during the day. The
men kept busy with more weapons practice, games, and songs and stories,
exchanging battle-songs with the sea-shanties of the mariners. For the most
part, Aragorn stayed silent and watched, but he oversaw the practices and
offered a few songs in Elvish, which always received loud applause.
At noon on the fourth day after passing Pelargir, Minastir guided the ship
into a sheltered, lonely cove and dropped anchor, and they waited for the
rest of the fleet to join them. The sails were lowered, and the men were
ordered to keep quiet below decks until nightfall. Aragorn sat in his
cabin, recalling the quays at Umbar as he had once seen them.
By evening, the companies and the ships were ready, and silently they
hoisted sail and slipped out again to sea, prepared for battle. The men
waited tense and silent on deck as the sailors hurried about their
business, Minastir giving brief orders in a gruff whisper. The coast slid
by, dark against the night sky, and Aragorn at the rail heard little but
the rush of water under the keel.
As the ships altered course to turn into the harbour, Minastir came to
Aragorn and tapped him on the arm. "Good luck," he murmured. "We'll be
ready to leave as soon as maybe."
Aragorn nodded, and the captain turned back to his ship. Up ahead, there
were a few lights on the quayside, and the bulk of several Corsairs moored.
Aragorn glanced round at the shadowy mass of his own company, and raised a
hand. As one, they stood up. The ship was close to the quayside now, and a
voice hailed them in Umbarian from the shore. Stepping up on the rail,
hanging on to a shroud, Aragorn drew his sword and leapt, calling,
"Gondor!" as he did so. Behind him there was a roar from the men as they
followed, but Aragorn had little time to think about this as he came upon
the first of the Umbarians. The man was taken by surprise, but had his
sword half-drawn, and Aragorn swiftly ran him through with a twist of his
The houses by the quayside were awake now, and men were beginning to
emerge, clad in loose robes and wielding their curved swords. Aragorn let
himself slip into the rhythm of fighting, the noise around him swelling as
the battle was truly joined. Away to the left, a crackle and a yell alerted
him to the fact that the first of the Corsairs was alight.
He fought on, suffering a blow to his left arm, a cut to his leg, a slash
on his temple. Despite the cool night air, sweat was rolling down his face
and moistening his hands as he turned and twisted his sword in the air, in
flesh. He dodged an uppercut blow from an opponent, barely heeding the
cries around him, people shouting "Fire!" in Umbarian, other people
shouting, "Gondor!" He slashed at the man he was fighting, and left a
bloody gash across his stomach. The Umbarian fell.
For a moment, Aragorn stood still, nobody by to aid or to fight. Then there
was a roar, and looking up he saw a huge Umbarian warrior, fully dressed in
red and black armour ornamented with gold, braids tied back behind his
head. He carried a long curved blade shining with care in the light of the
"Scum of Gondor," the man growled. "For this night's work you will surely
Aragorn adjusted his grip on his sword and summoned his rusty Umbarian.
"For the piracy on our ships, you will pay."
The Umbarian attacked, quicker than Aragorn would have expected for a man
of his size, and he only just had time to dodge the assault and spin to
bring his sword up through the air. It missed, and he followed the move
through sideways, connecting with his opponent's left arm. Now their blades
clashed, steel ringing on steel, and Aragorn changed to a double-handed
grip and gritted his teeth. The Umbarian moved gracefully, and brought his
blows down with crushing force, but his weight was evidently a burden to
They fought on, each man breathing hard, blade clashing on blade, sharp
edges sinking into flesh. Aragorn had stopped registering the other noises
around him, the light from the flames, and was wholly concentrated on the
duel. This was no combat for a prize, this was a real, deadly battle - to
He ducked a slashing sideways blow and returned it with an upwards one that
somehow connected. There was the ring as the other man's sword hit the
ground, and a cry from the Umbarian. Suddenly Aragorn realised that this
was his moment, and he swept his arm back and around.
The body collapsed to the quayside, and Aragorn followed it into blissful
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