59. Gilfileg Son of Gilthor
Gilfileg son of Gilthor
Gilfileg son of Gilthor rode along the way to the South easily. He was in no hurry, after all. He watched the approaching carriage and the company that surrounded it with interest, the youth and the child with dog trotting behind that rode alongside the three slight men, all speaking through the open window to those who rode within. He pulled to the side under the shade of a tree to let them pass, then realized what he was seeing. His jaw dropped in sheer shock when he realized one of the children was no child at all, but a Hobbit. A Hobbit of the Shire, here in the south of Gondor? What in Middle Earth? And the three slight Men were not of Gondor, but of Rhun. He'd seen enough of the swarthy skin, the dark hair with its loose curl, the shape of their swords, their silhouettes as they rode their horses, in his life to recognize those of Rhun. Yet all these rode easily, as if in familiar company, the young coachman on the box who was definitely of Gondor, the youth on the dun mare with the dog at its heels, also definitely of Gondor, the Hobbit, and the Easterlings. Intrigued beyond telling, he turned his horse to watch after.
Then he saw it, the familiar flicker. This coach was being followed, and by an Elf who was deliberately testing whether or not he, Gilfileg, was aware of that fact. He knew only one reason why an Elf would do such a thing, and that reason rode now himself to Rhun, ready to fight alongside the people of Rhun against the Wainriders of the far East. Gilfileg decided to follow this mixed party for the sake of that reason, and noting no other traffic on the road dismounted, drew out of his saddlebags a grey cloak, drew it around him and fastened the silver star at his shoulder, drew up the hood. He mounted again, urged his horse off the road, and it began traveling in an accustomed mode, on patrol through the trees.
He'd not alerted Aragorn he'd finally reentered Gondor. In fact, he'd not seen his father's Lord Cousin's Lord Son in almost seven years, since shortly before that one had ridden back to the Shire to meet the Ringbearer and accompany him to Rivendell. Gilfileg had been on patrol on the northern borders of the Ettenmoors then, and Aragorn had made only a brief stop at his position, checking on the defense of their lands before he left.
"The time comes when the Lost must go forth, Cousin," Aragorn had said. "But we cannot leave our own lands defenseless."
"They will welcome Thorongil back to fight for them in Gondor, I suppose," Gilfileg had commented, "but they would not recognize my own abilities as do our kin here."
Aragorn had nodded. "Stand support for Halbarad, then. He will need your keen eye."
Gilfileg had nodded in return, and Aragorn had ridden south and west, heading for his destiny.
Then came the summons for Aragorn's kin to join him, as many as could be gathered, and this time it was Halbarad who wished for Gilfileg to remain in Eriador. "If all goes ill, you are the closest in line for the leadership of what remains of the Dúnedain, North and South," he'd said.
"You are closer in blood to Aragorn."
"So I am his mother's nephew? But my brothers and I are five generations removed from the line of Kings, and you are only three removed; plus as great grandson to a Prince of Dol Amroth you can offer leadership there, also."
"They would not recognize Arvedui's claim, and his wife was the only remaining child of the King of Gondor. Do you truly think that I, with both claims through the distaff side, will be accepted in the South? And then there is this--" and he held up his maimed right hand. "Gondor is not likely to accept leadership from one it sees as disfigured."
"You and I both know that your hand has never mattered."
"Few in the north care one way or another--there have been too few to quibble over whether a man fights left-handed or right-handed. But I assure you, Halbarad, it is different in Gondor, far different."
Halbarad sighed and shrugged helplessly. "I only know that if all goes ill, there will be a need for someone of the line of Kings to take the chieftain's place. You are the best we have after Aragorn himself--plus you are a skilled warrior, and your ability to extricate yourself and those with you from great difficulties is becoming legendary. You should remain here as the Steward in my place until we return."
Gilfileg had stayed and fought in the north, and had remained there for the last six years. But now things were more peaceful. Most of the Orcs and trolls were destroyed or hiding in the depths of the Misty Mountains, no longer driven by the will of the Enemy. The great Wargs had also become diminished, more like to normal wolves, no longer the threat they'd posed. Without the Dark Lord, evils diminished, became more the evils done by Men, although the Valar knew that could be evil enough.
He'd made his mother a promise, to take a flower from her grave to Dol Amroth where she had been born; to see the family of the Prince of Dol Amroth, and tell them what had become of her, the daughter of the family who had gone willful missing. He felt it was time to do this, and with the agreement of Halladan before the Steward had ridden South to the birthing he'd prepared to do just that. Aragorn had married Arwen; they'd just produced their first child together; and he hoped on his way back to stop in Minas Anor and see them. But he would not remain in the north any longer, now that relative peace had at last come there. He would see the land that had seen his mother's birth.
And now he was delaying that journey for the sake of a Perian and an Elf. Well, he supposed his mother, married as long as she had been to a Ranger of Eriador and mother to a second, would understand. He certainly hoped so, at least.
The coach finally turned off the highway and up a country lane. It meandered here and there, but those directing it apparently knew where they were going. At last it approached open gates where it was obviously awaited, where the steward of the place stood at the gate with what appeared to be the master and at least half the staff, calling their welcome to those inside the coach and riding alongside. Gilfileg nodded as the party entered, as the gate was closed behind them. Well, they were safely to their destination. Would there be any more need for his guard, he wondered?
He decided to wait now. If the Elf was guarding the place, he'd come soon enough to find out who else had joined the guard--this he knew; and if Gilfileg wished to know what was so important about this party he'd need the cooperation of the Elf. It was past sunset when he realized he was no longer alone, but when he turned to look into the eyes of the archer who now had his arrow aimed at Gilfileg's heart, he was surprised to find not an Elf but another Dúnadan as was himself.
The voice was low and spoke in Adunaic. "If you are of us, put back your hood."
Gilfileg slowly and deliberately did just that, shaking out his dark hair, in the same tongue suggesting, "Courtesy would dictate that you do the same."
The other laughed and placed his arrow back in his quiver and shouldered his bow, pulling back his own hood. "And what brings you this far south, then, Cousin?"
"My promise to my mother, Hardorn, with your brother's permission. And what takes you so far from the side of our Lord Cousin?"
Hardorn's face became quickly grim. "The need to keep the peace with the folk of Rhun and to find the source of the desire to kill the ambassador sent by the Shkatha. Someone wishes him dead and the treaty destroyed, and we wish to find out who is the one who has made this decision. It appears to have become personal by now. Orophin saw you earlier, saw you stop and take out your cloak and don it and slip into the trees, and wished to find out who you are."
"I do not recognize the name."
"One of the former border wardens of Lothlorien. He came south with his Lord and his brothers to attend the birth of Aragorn and Arwen's first child, and agreed to serve as rear guard in this matter."
"I saw an Perian in the riding."
"There were two--one stayed in Belfalas to learn sculpting of clay, and the other will bide here to serve the father of his bride."
This was a bit much to accept. "Hobbits have taken up sculpting, and one has married a daughter of Men?" He looked with shock into the eyes of his cousin. "But he is of the Shire--I recognize the design of his pony's gear. How did a Hobbit of the Shire meet a daughter of Men? I haven't seen such a one in Bree in years."
"You haven't been in Bree yourself in years," Hardorn said dryly.
Gilfileg shrugged. "True, I suppose. But have things changed that much in the Shire since Sauron fell?"
"A gardener now holds Bag End, and its Baggins masters have sailed to the Undying Lands with the Lords Elrond and Erestor and Gildor Inglorion and the Lady Galadriel and many of their folk. I would say much has changed in the Shire."
This last was not exactly news, for the word the Ringbearer and his kinsman had been granted the grace to sail to Elvenhome had made the rounds in the North far more quickly than it had become known in the South. But the news that not even a Baggins now held Bag End was more a surprise.
"Then the Ringbearer left no legitimate heir?"
"Samwise Gamgee is legitimate enough. But as with Bilbo, Frodo made no marriage. Apparently it was one of the effects of carrying that cursed thing."
Gilfileg took this in, thought on it, sighed. "As a Hobbit that would be a hard thing indeed." He shook his head, looked into the eyes of his cousin. "Then I will join myself to your cause for now. Have you seen any following the party?"
"No, but a watcher was seen slipping away south after the coach passed just before you joined the escort. Orin follows him now."
"A Dwarf of Erebor."
"A Dwarf?" This was becoming more and more unlikely.
Hardorn laughed. "You have not seen the capital, Gilfileg. For love of Aragorn many enmities have been forgiven and forgotten. He is a most remarkable one, you must admit. His throne name is most apt."
"And a treaty between Gondor and Rhun...."
"And one between Gondor and Harad as well. That between Gondor and Umbar, however, will most like prove less binding. There are too many descended from the Black Númenoreans remaining there, I fear."
This was much to think of. Gilfileg found a place out of the way to set his horse to graze, and settled down to join the watch and ponder.
It was two days before those who intended evil approached the farm. The Elf, Hardorn, and Gilfileg had made a point of rotating their positions over the past two days, and they'd found the small camp from which those of the enemy set to watch the property were keeping up their observations. They appeared similar to the majority of the Men of Gondor, although in the few times they spoke their accent was distinctly not that of the land. There were two of them, and they were good at concealment. The second day one of them went forth to travel down the lane that the coach had traveled, and Orophin followed after while the two Rangers kept watch on the small camp.
Three hours later Hardorn and Gilfileg were rejoined by Orophin, who had seen the one from the camp before them meeting a riding of six more individuals armed with bows--Rhunish bows--and swords.
Hardorn's expression was grim. "The assault in the city itself was by Rhunish agents, but armed with Gondorian swords and knives. Do these appear to be Rhunim?"
Orophin said in Sindarin, "Three are similar in build to the Rhunim, the slightness, the slenderness, the pronounced bridge to the nose, the hair. But the other three are taller, their hair longer and more similar to that of the people of Gondor, with short beards similar to that of the small sculptor. The bows are carried by those who appear to be Rhunim and are the same as the bows carried by the Rhunim of the Embassy; but the arrows they carry have the fletching of the arrows of the Rangers of Gondor."
Hardorn looked deeply into the eyes of both his companions. "So, again it appears they seek to blame the attack on the people of Gondor. Is Orin still following them?"
"Yes, the Dwarf follows them very carefully. He is very skillful, for a Dwarf."
Again they set themselves to watching. The six new folk and the agent who had greeted them approached the small camp through the fields opposite. The one who'd been watching the coach approaching was identified by Orophin as one of the Men who appeared to be of Gondor, somewhat shorter than the rest.
The eight of them met quietly and shared their news and orders, and then the six newcomers laid out bedrolls. Apparently the assault was to take place after dark.
Well, if these were prepared to rest themselves to be fresh for the assault, then Orophin's suggestion was that Hardorn and Gilfileg do the same. The Elf went quietly to find the Dwarf and indicated the place where the Men were prepared to sleep, and he nodded his understanding and settled himself to wait for night in a spot from which he could watch a different part of the estate.
At sunset the four of them met, then separated, each to watch a different part of the estate, the areas where those outside were most likely to seek to enter. Gilfileg could see the encampment from his position, and watched with interest as the six woke and made a meal, checked their weapons, discussed quietly what would be their strategy. Three hours after sunset they separated, going in pairs to different positions about the estate's walls and fences. Sure enough, their choices echoed the sites the four guards had seen as most vulnerable. They all waited, although for what signal was yet to be seen.
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