60. Night Assault
"If you hear any noise tonight," Folco told the estate workers at the evening meal, "you need to get inside and stay away from windows. Do not go outside where you might be vulnerable." He looked to his wife's father. "I am glad you chose to roof your buildings with slate and tile--it will make them less apt to fire. But Moropin and Lairon have both seen folk coming up the lane and taking refuge in the fields opposite the gates; we must remember that Ifram has been targeted before, and is likely to be a target again by those who desire to destroy the peace between Gondor and Rhun. So, if you hear things, don't make yourselves targets as well."
The farm folk agreed, reluctantly in the case of Lairon and Berenion. The rest went to their beds, and Folco, Ifram, and Ben'harin set themselves on guard.
Toward midnight Ruvemir came out to check on them, and found Folco watching toward the distant field where the herd bull waited. They could hear him, obviously feeling disturbed, as he paced back and forth along the wall. Ruvemir peered through the darkness. "You think they might try to enter there, then?"
"The wall is relatively low and easy to scale there, Berenion tells me. I think it likely."
"We have three allies out there, the King has told me. Try not to hurt any of them."
Folco smiled. "They will most like come after. They aren't likely to do anything until the other party actually attempts the wall or the gate. Now, you'd best get back inside. I suspect they'll try something fairly soon."
Ruvemir nodded and retreated back inside. He had seen that Folco had worn a picking bag from the stores for the small orchard his father had planted for his mother's delight, and saw that it was full, most likely of stones. He sincerely hoped his sister's husband would not be hurt in whatever might happen. He watched from a darkened window, and waited to see what might happen.
Gilfileg sat quite still, watching for the sign those apparently targeting the farm were finally ready to start the assault. How often he'd done this over the years, in Eriador, around Lake Evendim and the ruins of Annúminas, in the Ettenmoors, in Ithilien, on the margins of what had once been Angmar, in the passes above Rivendell. Often it had been in company with his Lord Cousin Aragorn himself, and most often with Hardorn as well.
Aragorn and Hardorn had often worked in concert. Gilfileg had been told that when Aragorn, at age twenty, had finally been released from his fostering in Rivendell, he'd sought out his uncle Halbaleg who was steward in his name, and had indicated he wished to join the Rangers of Eriador and Arnor immediately. He'd been placed in one of the companies that patrolled the borders of what had been Angmar, a company in which his cousin Halbarad, oldest of the three sons of his mother's brother, was already a member. Halbarad, who was three years the elder, served as Aragorn's mentor in many ways, the first young person near his age that Aragorn had met since before his mother fled with him to Imladris. The two had become close friends, particularly after Aragorn saved Halbarad's life in the first major battle the troupe entertained since the coming of Aragorn to join it. Certainly they had much in common, both having a bookish bent and an interest in other people. It was only natural that they would become friends and close confidants, Gilfileg supposed, and that when Halbarad's father was killed Aragorn would place him in the Steward's position.
Halladan had a nose for politics, and was one of the most keen to discern when he was being lied to that Gilfileg had ever seen. Hardorn, however, had been born to be a warrior; and after he'd joined the company that Aragorn now led four years after he entered the Rangers himself, it did not take long for Aragorn to make a decision regarding this, the youngest of the three brothers--he would send him to Imladris, to his foster brothers Elladan and Elrohir, to have the warrior capabilities in him trained as fully as possible.
Five years Hardorn spent with Elrond's sons, and he came back honed into a weapon fit for his cousin's hand. The four cousins became closer still, and Hardorn became Aragorn's second in command and often his bodyguard, the primary role he saw for himself to this day. That he would consent to be separated from Aragorn spoke to two things--the seriousness of the threat toward the security of the two kingdoms Aragorn ruled, and the fact that, when it came to battle, Aragorn truly needed none to guard his back, for he was the most consummate warrior any had seen. In battle he would always seem to find one place to look at the battle from, then would move into it, apparently having become aware of where each enemy was and which way he would be most likely to move during the course of the fight. Gilfileg himself had seen it again and again--one moment Aragorn would be dispatching three Orcs facing him, and then, almost casually, he would take a backwards stroke with his sword, a stroke Gilfileg could not begin to duplicate, to take care of the one enemy trying to take him from the rear while he was otherwise engaged, and then he'd be moving sideways to protect one of those fighting alongside him.
Gilfileg himself was younger than Aragorn and the sons of Halbaleg. He was the son of Gilthor, grandson to Argonui through his daughter Nienoreth. Five children had Argonui and his beloved Elanoreth given life to, only two of whom lived to adulthood, Arador, the eldest, and Nienoreth, the youngest. Gilthor had been one of those who sought service in Gondor, and while he was under the command of the Prince Anorahil of Dol Amroth, father to Adrahil, he'd fallen in love with the Prince's niece, Arien. Arien had seen the tall officer from unknown climes and had quickly become enamored of him. However, when her uncle refused to grant his permission for her to marry one of unknown origins and ordered Gilthor back to Minas Tirith, Arien had simply walked out of Dol Amroth and followed after. Gilthor had finally found her, and sending a letter to Ecthelion indicating he was resigning his commission to return to his own people, he set her on his saddlebow and headed into Eriador. When their son was born it had been suggested that Gilthor and Arien name the infant for his father.
"He's too small to be an eagle," Arien had said, laughing. "No, he's but a small bird, this one," and so he'd been given the name Gilfileg. He'd always planned to go to Dol Amroth to see where his mother had been born, but somehow it had not happened as yet.
Suddenly he saw a movement, realized those he watched were getting ready to assault the estate. One moved toward the gate itself while another began to scale the wall nearby. Immediately the barking of a dog could be heard, one of the small dogs with jaws like steel, judging by the bark. Gilfileg smiled--it appeared that those attempting the assault were not going to get inside the wall as easily as they'd planned. He moved forward to take them--if possible, Hardorn wanted them alive, as many as possible. He looked up to see the one atop the wall, and knew this one was now silhouetted against the moon, just a couple days past its full. He saw the Man suddenly sit up straight, just before he toppled outward toward the lane. The other swarmed over the gate and immediately was pinned against it by two dogs--no, three, the small dog, a big wolfhound, and the one which had trotted after the youth on the horse when he'd first begun following the party. He thought he saw the glint of a sword being drawn, heard a clank, then a thud and a cry of pain, then a second thud and could see nothing more.
He was already approaching the one who'd fallen off the wall, saw the Man start to sit up, shaking his head. He came up and set his sword to the Man's throat. In a low voice in the Common Tongue he advised, "If I were you, I'd drop my weapons. I suggest you do so now." The Man reached for his sword and Gilfileg struck his shoulder, a blow he knew would incapacitate but not kill, as long as he was treated fairly quickly, at least. The other snatched his hand back, clamped it reflexively to the wounded shoulder. Gilfileg came forward and with his maimed right hand still managed to undo the sword belt. Not the knot over the buckle common to the soldier of Gondor--a shorter belt with simpler buckle, easily undone. The belt fell away. Gilfileg already had lengths of rope ready, quickly caught the Man's hands behind him and tied them securely--he'd become surprisingly proficient at doing this quickly. Shoving a rolled kerchief into the Man's mouth, he gagged him, then turned to see what was going on inside the gate. Far off he heard an angry bellow, the bellow of a large animal. Inside the gate a small figure with a club struck the side of the head of the person pinned against the gate, then looked outside. "You are a Dúnedain Ranger? Glad to see it. Wish to help me with this one, then?" He called off the dogs, moved to open the gate. Gilfileg pulled his prisoner inside, then seeing a use for the gates untied the Man and set him with his hands pulled through the bars, and with the assistance of the person within the gate tied him hands together securely. Then they did the same with the other, and again together they gagged this one before he came back to full consciousness. Well, they had two of the eight secured now.
He looked at the small individual with whom he'd been working, and realized it was the Perian. "Well done, Sir Hobbit," he said. "Shall we assist in the capture of the others?"
The Hobbit nodded, gave the word to the big dog to guard, and together they went to the next closest position. Across the field could be heard the continued bellowing of the angry animal. "Rupter is apparently unhappy to find his field being entered by way of the wall," smiled the Hobbit. "Wonder if the fellow will make it out of there?"
"And Rupter is?"
"A most unhappy herd bull. First he is separated from his cows, and then he is kept upset most of the day by smells of Men he doesn't know, and finally someone disrupts his rest by coming over his wall near his head. I doubt he's being a genial host."
Gilfileg laughed quietly. "No, I suppose not."
By the time they made it to the area watched by Ben'harin, he'd managed to kill one of the two who'd come over the wall there, and had the other pinned against the stonework. Gilfileg saw another form show itself atop the wall. "We have them, Orophin," he said in Sindarin. A nod, and the Elf slipped down alongside them, gracefully slipped an arrow out of his quiver, and covered the Man with his bow. The figure this time was slight. In Rhunic Gilfileg suggested, "Slowly, turn around and put your hands against the wall and lean on them, or he will shoot you. I assure you, he will not kill you, but you will wish he had if he looses the arrow."
It was one of the envoys from Rhun who had been guarding the inside of the wall here, he realized, so he addressed his next suggestion to him. "You know where he is most likely to have his weapons secreted--search him and search him well, if you don't want him to cut himself loose and assault us again later in the night."
"Oh, indeed I will search him," the Easterling said through gritted teeth. He did his job efficiently and neatly, and had found six weapons before he was done. He removed the belt sash and checked it, removed something that he let fall to the ground, and finally used the sash to tie the Man's wrists. Gilfileg unfastened the belt sash from the other body, again managed to fix a gag to this prisoner.
"How many are there?" asked the Easterling. It was the voice of a middle aged Man, probably a warrior of fair experience.
"There were eight altogether. The Perian and I took care of the first two together, with the assistance of the dogs."
"Then we have subdued half of them."
Together they headed for Rupter's field. In the moonlight they saw that one figure stood against the wall--the surface of the wall here was much smoother than the outer side was; a second form lay motionless nearby. A head looked over the top of the wall, and a gruff voice asked, "Do you have them, then?"
The Hobbit straightened. "Orin, is that you?"
"Yes, Folco. Do you have them?"
"Rupter appears to have gored one--he is on the ground; and he has the second against the wall. We will have to be careful if we don't wish to join them."
"And who is Rupter?"
"An angry bull."
"A bull. You guarded this portion of the wall with a bull?"
"Well, it worked."
The Dwarf laughed. He clambered atop the wall and looked down. He picked something up, looked down, took aim, and let it fall. The Man against the wall fell.
Orophin looked at the animal. "I think I could calm it," he said in Sindarin, and he slipped over the rails to the gate into the field, approached the bull with quiet words. Slowly the animal lowered its head, blew plaintively at the ground, then walked quietly up to the Elf and nudged his shoulder with its head. The Elf rubbed between its ears, and the bull began to nudge him again, then put its head down, obviously in pleasure. Finally the Dwarf carefully dropped down into the enclosure as Folco clambered between the bars of the gate, followed by Gilfileg. They went first to the one lying still.
Gilfileg felt for the pulse on the Man's neck. "Still alive, but badly hurt, I fear." Together Man and Dwarf carried the stranger out of the enclosure where Ben'harin stood watch over him as they went back. The second Man was shaking his head and trying to push himself up from the ground.
The Dwarf placed a heavy boot on the side of the Man's head. "I wouldn't move quickly if I were you," he advised. The Man lay still. Folco tied his hands behind him. Gilfileg drew him to his feet and out of the field, then searched him expertly. Having dropped the two knives he found on the ground, he unfastened the hands, had the man sit down against the gate to the small field where Rupter was housed, thrust his hands through the rails, and tied him much as the others were tied to the main gates.
"What surprise do you have at the other likely site for entry?" asked the Dwarf as Orophin finally came out to join them.
"Most of the farm's herd of cattle, including a number of cows with calf. They, too, are not likely to appreciate strangers dropping into their midst."
"Very clever," Gilfileg said.
Folco looked to the Elf. "Mae govannen," he said carefully, "and hannon lei. I hope I said that right." Orophin smiled and nodded in acknowledgment.
Hardorn and Ifram between them had managed to subdue the two who'd entered here, and once again they were disarmed and tied. Finally all were led to the workshop.
"I have some sturdy support pillars in the workshop we can secure them to for the night," Mardil decided as he looked at those who'd come over the walls. "We'll have to put the dead Man into the cool cellar." A blanket was brought to wrap the body in, and it was secured with thongs before being consigned to the cellar. The one who'd been gored was treated as best Hardorn, Gilfileg and Orophin could manage, and was laid on a hastily prepared pallet on the floor in Mardil's secure room where he usually kept his store of most expensive woods and tools and those of his projects he'd finished and had ready for transport to patrons or fairs, which had been cleaned out the preceding evening in case it would be needed. Once he was secured, they had each of the others sit by one of the support pillars and tied their hands around the pillars behind their backs. They could rest, but it would not be comfortable. Ben'harin and the Elf indicated they would keep watch on the prisoners for the rest of the night, Lairon said he and the dogs would walk the perimeter of the estate till after dawn, and the others went to the house to refresh themselves.
Ruvemir looked at the three who'd come into the dining hall with interest as he served them each a glass of wine. "Lord Hardorn? This is a surprise and an honor, I must say. And Orin, it is a pleasure to see you here. I had no idea there was a Dwarf in the King's party. I am sorry, sir, but I fear I don't know you and don't remember seeing you in Minas Anor. Did the King change his mind, then, and send four?"
"I have not been to the capital in many years," Gilfileg said with a slight shrug. "I am new come from Eriador, on the way to Dol Amroth, and saw your party while I was on my way south. I am sorry if I stare--I've not met a mannikin personally before, I fear."
"That is quite all right. Your service, then, has been in the North?"
Shefti had awakened at the sound of trouble outside, and had followed the others to the house once all appeared quiet again. He recognized the Dwarf easily enough, having seen him at the work site; and he recognized the Lord Hardorn, of course. But he felt he recognized the third as well, and could not think where or under what circumstances.
Ruvemir continued, "How did you come to join the watch, then?"
"Your party passed me the other day, and I saw there was a Hobbit of the Shire riding a pony and leading a second and was quite taken by surprise. It is a shock to see such in Gondor."
"I can imagine."
Miriel came through the door carrying a sleepy Lanril in her arms. "Folco, is all well with you, my love?"
Gilfileg saw the Hobbit smile at the mannikin woman, and felt even more wonder. "I am well enough, Miriel. Did the noise waken the babe, then?"
"I am not certain what disturbed him--perhaps it was the noise Rupter's been making."
"We believe we have all of them now."
"That is good. How many were there, then?"
"Eight," the Dwarf said.
"Eight? Were they intending again to make it look the work of Gondor's people?"
"Yes, it appears they were," Hardorn affirmed.
"My Lord Hardorn, Master Orin, sir, it is a pleasure and an honor. Sir?"
"I am Gilfileg son of Gilthor," the Ranger said with a bow.
"Master Gilfileg, welcome to our father's home, then. Is Ben'harin watching the prisoners alone, then?"
"No," Folco said. "Orophin of the Galadhrim is with him."
"Then the King sent four to guard Ifram and Shefti?"
Gilfileg felt the names as if they were a blow aimed at the pit of his gut. Involuntarily he looked to them, recognized them in spite of ten years' worth of changes. Shefti was looking at him intently, then suddenly went very still with recognition. He started to smile in spite of himself. "Staravion?"
Ifram looked up in surprise, searched the face of the second Ranger, looked at the gloved right hand lying on the table. Gilfileg looked at it, then back at those he'd served so long ago, carefully removed the glove. "Two of the fingers are stuffed to make them appear to be full," he explained as he showed them his hand. "So, you are the envoys sent by the Shkatha? Who is Shkatha now, then?"
Ifram smiled. "Staravion--Gilfileg?" He shook his head in wonder. "So we have indeed found you. But you were not in Gondor, then?"
"No, after I escaped the Lord Denethor would not allow me to fight for Gondor any more--didn't feel I could handle a sword any more."
Hardorn laughed. "He didn't recognize the significance of the reversed hangers for your sword, then?"
"No one except for the Lord Boromir seems to have appreciated it, I fear. Nor," he said to the two Easterlings, "did your grandfather."
"I do not understand," Ifram said, shaking his head.
Shefti began to laugh. "Then, does it mean that your natural hand to use is the left one?"
Gilfileg nodded, smiling. "Yes. But you have yet to tell me--who is Shkatha now?"
"Our brother, Moritum," explained Shefti.
"Moritum? I see."
"Gilthor means Star Eagle, does it not?" asked Ifram. At Gilfileg's agreement, he thought some more. "And avion means what?"
"Star Bird, son of Star Eagle. And the King went by the name Thorongil here, which means Eagle of the Star, and we knew him as StarEagle."
"Yes, he said he accepted the names Thorongil and StarEagle in part in honor of my father."
"So you are another of his clan, then?"
"My father's mother was younger sister to his father's father."
He looked at Lord Hardorn. "And your relationship to the King?"
"My father was his mother's older brother, although I am related to his father as well. My brothers and I are five generations descended from one of the line of Kings, while Gilfileg here is only three removed."
"You are then a Lord also among your people?"
Gilfileg shrugged and smiled. "In the North, almost all who are Dúnedain are related to the King in one manner or another, and all carry some degree of royal blood. I fear that we have become so few we have become very interbred. But I am a captain among the Rangers." He took a sip of his drink, looking at the two brothers thoughtfully over the rim of the goblet. "Why did you hope to find me?" he asked at length. "I will tell you now I will not again submit to slavery or any such service to those outside my own people."
Ifram shook his head. "We do not wish it or ask it of you. We wished to simply see that all was well with you, and to thank you."
"Thank me?" Gilfileg straightened somewhat.
"Yes, thank you, for teaching us that we do not need to fight all battles with swords."
The smile started in Gilfileg's eyes, then filled his entire visage.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.