5. A Tall Ship
Dusk was only just falling as Gildinwen crossed the Sirith, and rode up to the gate of Pelargir. It was shut tightly. Using the pommel of her sword she hammered on it impatiently.
“Go away!” shouted an angry voice from inside. “We’ve no room here. You’ll have to carry on West. Find somewhere else.”
“I’ve just come from the West,” snapped Gildinwen, “I’ve been on the road for twelve days.”
“What do you want?” subdued but still suspicious.
“A ship for the North, is there still one?”
“Aye, they’re loading the last one now.”
“I need to be on it.”
“It’s for the battlefield, what business have you there?”
“I’m a healer.”
Silence for a moment, then a heavy wooden shutter was drawn back and a bearded face peered out.
She held up her bag, “These are my medicines.” She gestured about her, “I am alone as you can see.”
The doors opened reluctantly with a great groan, just enough to let Loreglin squeeze past. He gave the gatekeeper a nip for the inconvenience.
The streets were largely deserted, and the hooves sounded loud on the wet cobbles. Cracks of light from behind tightly shuttered windows were the only sign of the inhabitants. Despite this, the docks proved easy enough to find. Not only did the road lead right down to them but the whole quayside was ablaze with light, and alive with noise. Several tall ships were docked, but only one was loading. Soldiers and horses waited restlessly on the quay for their turn to board, a lean grey-haired sergeant in charge. Nearby, a small group of well-dressed young men lounged with a bored air, a dozen or so archers had already embarked and were busy choosing the best spots on deck.
Gildinwen dismounted and made her way towards the sergeant.
She looked round uncertainly at the soldiers, mostly young, fresh-faced lads, with one or two seasoned fellows, and felt her heart begin to quail. ‘Come on,’ she told herself, ‘Just do it, without thinking.’
“I’m a healer. I’m going North to the battle. May I travel with your company?”
The sergeant looked at her, taking in her travel-grimed appearance, and sweat stained horse.
“How far have you come?”
He nodded, “We are without a healer, so your skills would be welcome.” He smiled wryly, “And you seem used enough to hardships already.”
‘More than you know.’ thought Gildinwen sadly.
He stuck out his hand, “I’m Bregor Gillow.”
The sergeant frowned slightly, as if about to speak, but they were interrupted by a cheery shout.
“Hurry up now, Sergeant! The tide won’t wait while you chatter. Get your men on board.”
“Aye, aye, Mate!” Gillow replied with a grin. “Come on then, lads.”
They boarded quickly, and Gildinwen tethered Loreglin beside the other horses. She removed the saddle and gave him a good rub down, and soon he was munching happily on some scrounged hay.
She had just found a spot to stow her belongings when there was a sound of hoof-beats from the dockside, and a superb horse galloped into view, the magnificence of its trappings surpassed only by the splendour of the rider. This arrival was greeted by shouts of welcome from the young nobles Gildinwen had noticed earlier, and the horseman guided his mount expertly up the gangway to join them.
“Falcred, you rogue! You always keep us waiting!”
The rider dismounted, a young man, though older than his fellows, with a soft fall of blond hair, and a ready smile. “Ah but I’m always worth waiting for, Ragnor!” he laughed, slapping his friend heartily on the back.
Sergeant Gillow approached the group, and made a short bow to the newcomer. “That’s all the company loaded, my Lord.”
“And we have a new addition.” He pointed down the vessel to where Gildinwen was arranging her few possessions. “A healer, my Lord.”
“Excellent, sergeant, I’ll have a word with her later, but first,” he interlocked his fingers and stretched his arms above his head so the knuckles cracked, “I must have a rest and something to eat. Get someone to take care of my horse will you?”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Stand by to shove off!”
There was a flurry of activity, both on deck and in the rigging. Gildinwen moved over to the rail to watch as the ship moved ponderously out into the river. Behind her she heard a loud flapping and snapping, and turned to watch as the great sails, proud with the colours of Gondor, were lowered to catch the wind. As they filled, the ship shuddered and plunged, and then began to gain speed against the current, cutting swiftly through the dark waters. The banks faded into shadow on either side. A sailor sat astride the very prow of the ship wielding a lead and line to fathom the depth and ensure the ship kept to the centre of the channel.
“Hello there.” A tentative voice sounded at her elbow.
She turned to see a lanky, fresh faced young lad, with a shock of dark hair, so like Argilin that her breath caught.
“Hey, what’s the matter?”
“I’m sorry.” She apologised, “You reminded me of someone for a minute.”
“Someone nice, I hope.”
She smiled, “Yes, my brother.”
“Ah.” He grinned, “Anyway, my friends and I were about to have something to eat and we wondered if you might like to join us.”
Gildinwen’s stomach rumbled a loud acceptance, at which they both laughed.
“I’m Tom, by the way.”
“Gil.” They shook hands solemnly. “Let me just fetch my blanket and I’ll be right with you.”
Gildinwen un-strapped the blanket from her saddle and flung it, still rolled, over her shoulder. After a moment’s thought she also unfastened the package containing the Banner, and improvising a strap, hung it from her shoulder.
Tom and his friends had managed to rustle up a very respectable stew, with dumplings, and they all tucked in with great relish.
“That,” said Gildinwen, sitting back with a groan afterwards, “was absolutely the best meal I’ve ever had.”
“It wasn’t too bad, was it?” replied Will, who was the cook.
“Alright now, lads?” Sergeant Gillow appeared out of the gloom and squatted beside them. “Had a good feed?”
“Yes, Sergeant.” They chorused.
“Good. Any questions for me?”
“How long till we get there?” asked Tom.
“If the wind keeps up, we’ll make Minas Anor by daybreak.”
“Will we stop there?”, this from a worried looking lad who went by the name of Rufus.
“No, lad. We’re to carry on up past Cair Andros, and head straight for the battlefield. Once we disembark, it’ll be about two days hard march to Dagorlad.” He looked worried, “Besides, the landings at Osgiliath are no longer secure. We’ll need to be on our lookout at we pass them.” He paused and looked round him at the circle of faces, all young, all frightened to one degree or another. He took a flask from his pocket and passed it around. “Here lads, this’ll help a little.”
When they had drank, he offered it to Gildinwen. She sipped cautiously, the liquid was fiery and blazed a hot path down her throat. “Thanks,” she coughed, “I think.” and everyone laughed.
“Right, boys. You should all try and get some sleep, I’ve set the watch, and you’ll be wakened if we need you.”
As the young men shrugged gratefully under their blankets, Bregor touched Gildinwen lightly on the shoulder, and said softly, “May I have a word with you, Gil.”
They made their way over to the gunwale, away from the huddles of sleeping bodies. It was quiet, besides the sough of the water and the creaking of the rigging, the only noise was the occasional splash of the depth-sounding from the prow.
Gildinwen leaned over the rail, taking a deep breath of the damp air, before turning to face her companion.
“So, Bregor, what did you want to talk to me about?”
The sergeant looked at her intently for a long while before he spoke.
“You said your family name was Amarnon?”
“Yes.” Gil’s voice was guarded.
“That name is not unfamiliar to me.”
He reached out a hand and lightly tapped the package hanging from her shoulder. “Is this what I think it might be?”
Gildinwen took a step back, suddenly nervous. He knew! But was that a good thing, or a bad?
“Please.” Gillow held up his hands. “I mean you no harm, indeed the opposite. If you are indeed of the House of Amarnon, then I am at your service.”
Gildinwen relaxed a little, “Yes, sergeant. I am Gildinwen, daughter of the House of Amarnon.”
“Is it the Banner of Prophecy that you carry?”
She met his eyes, they were blue and guileless. “Yes, it is.”
“My Lady.” He would have knelt but she stopped him.
“Please, Bregor, there’s no need for anything like that. I’m no great lady. All I own is on this ship.”
“It matters not,” his voice was alive with hope, “you have brought the Banner. Will you carry it in the battle?”
“To be honest,” Gildinwen answered, “I had not thought that far ahead. My only goal was to take it to Gil-galad.”
He nodded, then added, “Had you no brother to bring it?”
Gildinwen looked out at the dark water, “That was my father’s wish, but my brother died before he could carry it out.”
“And your father?”
“He died on the way here, he was an old man and the journey was too much for him.”
“I’m sorry.” He squeezed her lightly on the arm. “So you are the last of your house?”
She turned her gaze towards him again, her forehead creased. “Yes.”
“And you are the firstborn?”
Her eyes widened with realisation.
“Yes, I am.”
He nodded solemnly, “Then the prophecy refers to you. If you carry the standard into battle then we cannot be beaten.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“I do. And I know that there are others who do also.”
“But what if I’m not the one?”
Gillow leaned forward and grasped her hands. “On a battlefield men need something to believe in, you can give them that. If they believe they cannot be beaten then they will not be.”
“Yes, I think I see, it doesn’t matter whether the prophecy is true or not, if I believe in it, then they will believe in me, and it will come true.”
“Yes.” The Sergeant smiled at her, “Then you will carry the Banner into battle?”
She nodded, reluctantly resolute.
“We will ride with you, and see you safe to Gil-galad’s side.”
Gildinwen grinned, “Don’t you need Lord Falcred’s permission for that?”
“That young whippersnapper?” growled Bregor “I was fighting in battles while he was still in swaddling clothes!” He paused, “No, you’re right, it would be better if he were on our side. I’ll speak to him tonight.” He glanced at the sky. “It’s getting late, you should get some rest, my lady. Who knows what the dawn will bring.”
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.