40. Chapter 39
'Few now remember them,' Tom murmured, 'yet still some go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless.'
FOTR: Fog on the Barrow-Downs
Ara-gost, Ara-vorn, Ara-had," my son laboriously recites, checking over his work, for I have set him to putting to memory the lines of the Kings of the Northkingdom and the Chieftains of the Dúnedain.
We sit together after the evening meal, my lord's table lit by candles, he with his lessons and I with my journal. For it has rained all through the day and looks to continue through the night. My child has been restless. He played upon the floor about the hearth, lining his carved figures into battles and I was much pressed to pay no heed to his harsh yells and the clatter of his toys. When that no longer held his mind, he donned the rough quilted tunic I had made for him, its folds filled with river-sand to accustom his young limbs to the weight, and took up his wooden sword.
There he dashed about the hearth and thrust and feinted at shadows until he had tripped over the bench and startled Elesinda at her work one too many times and then finally knocked into the chest, setting the crockery to jangling. At that, I sent him up to the solar, where he might beat upon the mattress and the fur that covered it to no great harm. And for much of the hour after, the boards groaned beneath his light feet and the bed took much abuse. But even that only held his mind so long, and soon he wandered about the hall, listless in his lack of occupation, and came to hang upon my arm.
"Onya," I said, "do not pull on me so." For, upon Elesinda's leaving and the end of preparations for the day to come, I have sat myself down with my ledgers and begun the day's accounting. Should he tug on my arm, soon I would smear ink o'er the page and I greatly hoped not to be forced to do work again I completed the once.
My son's head came to lean upon my shoulder and I was forced to look upon him, for he peered most intently up at me. His eyes were deep, piteous wells of grief and apprehension.
I sighed. "Very well," I said. "Go find your father's chest."
His face brightened instantly and he leapt from my side. I laughed, though I kept it silent to spare my son's pride. It was not long until he sat snuggled up against my side upon the bench, a small chest opened before him. My lord, I think, had tired of finding his things in disarray upon his return, for we could not keep his child's curious fingers out of his father's belongings.
I would enter the hall only to find my son starting with guilt and pulling his hand from out his father's pack or slamming the door of the tall chest closed. The chest was not my son's to disturb, for the scrolls and bound books were not for a child's fingers. And I know not what my lord kept in his pack, but it was of enough peril or import that, upon learning of it, he was greatly dismayed. It was Halbarad who lit upon the idea of keeping a chest of small, castoff things of my lord's. And it was my lord's thought to add things atimes to it and allow his son to open it seldom, so it remained fresh and distracted the child's mind from those things he could not have.
"Ammë," he said, pulling a worn fragment of woven leather from the chest. It was a bit of gear from some horse long gone, whether part of bridle or strap or what, I knew not. "What is this?"
"Thou knowst what it is," I said, for my lord had told him the tale of it in my hearing.
"I know, Ammë, but I want you to tell me," he said and then added in a rush when he saw my look, "If it please you, amminya."
I think it might have pleased me better to be done with my work. But, still, I took the strap from him and ran my fingers along its fine work, for the leather was evenly cut and braided into an intricate pattern. I had liked it so much upon first seeing it I snuck into my lord's chest of myself one night in the hall when my son was asleep, and added a sketch of its twining to my mother's journals.
"Well, onya," I said. "I know not its full tale, for that you must ask your father. But, I know it was once his when he traveled far from this house and far from the house of his childhood, there in hidden valley of the Elves. He was a young man. Not so young as Ranger Gelir, Lothel's father-brother. Nor so old as her grandsire, Master Maurus."
My son snorted in sudden mirth. "No one is as old as Master Maurus!'
"And who says so?" I asked, but I thought my son could tell the mischief I would make, for I was sure it shone in my eyes when I looked upon him.
"All the Angle knows that, Ammë!"
"Indeed?" I said and my son gave me a look of great weariness. "Then they are mistaken, onya. For your father is the elder of the two. Did you not know that?"
His look was doubtful, but he did not protest, but looked up at me with wide eyes. True it is, my lord is not the elder by more than a season, but I thought then it mattered little. Should I tell my son his father could grow wings and fly about the air above the Misty Mountains as do the Great Eagles, he would believe it.
"Your father is of the line of Elendil, undiminished,onya. With it comes long life. He will not grow old for many years."
My son's face was then blank and wide open with awe. I could laugh for it, were it not also true my son most like would share of his father's years.
"Shall I finish my story, then?" He nodded vigorously.
"Very well. And being young, your father wished to know more of the world and travel far from the lands his father knew. But 'tis great peril for any son of Isildur to walk upon the lands of Arda and his name be known. For the Nameless One is restless and loves not the men of the West. And the name Elendil and Isildur are heard by him with much wrath. Ever has he plotted for their Houses to fall. He sent of his lieutenant, the Witch-King of whom you know, and our cities were taken from us. He sends armies of fell creatures to darken the lands of Gondor, and they have lost of the wild beauties of Ithilien, their capitol, Osgiliath, and the last of their kings. And so your father took another name and guise, and set his feet on unknown paths.
"But do not think, my child, that peril comes ever from without, for we, the men of Westernesse, gave aid unwitting to our Enemy. It was our foolishness and pride, too, that cost us the kingdom of Arnor and kings of the South. Had we stood as one in the North and had the kings of Gondor seen to their House's need for heirs and made not foolish vows, we might have them yet."
"Is that why atarinya went first to the land of the Horse-Masters?" my son said, taking the strap from me and twisting it about. Both eyes and hands were tender upon it.
"Perhaps," I said. "Many good lessons could be learned of the Rohirrim. For though they have strife amongst them, they have ever stood firm as one. Perhaps, though they be all separate threads, they bind one tother as tight as this weaving." He looked at its knots with new eyes, traveling the tale of its complex winding, for no one thread repeated its journey and none were like the other, but, together, they were the stronger for it. And there I left my story, for it seemed its lesson was well-taken, and set my son to the lesson of his own kind.
"Ara-," my son now recites and halts, for having told the tale of his father's things, we have set them aside. He draws in a deep breath, squeezing his eyes shut, resolute in his determination to master the names without reading them from the page before him. "Ara-Ara-ssuil," he says then with rising certainty and opens his eyes quickly to check.
A breeze, chill and wet, comes upon us through the shutters and we work to the music of the patter of drops striking the ground and the snap of the fire. Ah, bless the rain. 'Tis the first we have had this season and the ground is thirsty.
"Ammë?" he asks, looking up from the ragged and much scraped hide. I hope, though it seems a vain one, my son shall settle and I be allowed to complete my work. "Did you name me?"
"No, onya. Your atto did, as did his father before him. Why do you ask?"
"All the names of the chieftains begin with 'ara-'," says he, his eyes moving about the column of words he has just written, "but my name does not."
I blink at my son, stunned, unable to speak though he looks to me for an answer. 'Tis true, this thing my son says. With the word of the Elves, each chieftain bore kingliness in his name, but for my son.
"I know not why," say I. "You must ask your father when he returns."
This seems to satisfy him and his head bows again over the page. I do not so readily return to mine. Verily, I shall ask his father myself. What could my lord have meant by it? Had it been the foreshadowing of his heart or the reason of the mind that drove him to his choice?
"Ammë," my son says, "Atto said 'twas Arnath decided we were not to be kings."
"Aranarth," say I, gently correcting him and he scrunches his face up for the effort of hearing the difference.
"Arvedui, his father," I go on when he has pronounced the son's name correctly, "was the last to claim kingship, but he is still the father of fathers of the chieftains of Arnor."
"Atto said Aranarth was a wise and strong man," my son proclaims. "He kept the Dúnedain of the North alive when the Witch-King wished to kill them all. Did you know that, Ammë?"
"Aye," say I, but my son goes on as if I had not spoken.
"Atto said it was a hard choice to keep the Men of Westernesse hidden and not be king. Atto said a man who can be humble and give up his hopes for the good of others should be remembered with honor, even if he is not a king." "I remember him," says he proudly.
At this, I give up all pretense of writing in my journal. I had not thought to gain insight into my lord's heart through my son, but there it is. Tears prick at my eyes.
"And so I hope you remember your father when he has passed and you carry his name, onya," I say and hope the smile I turn upon my son is fond.
His gaze lowers at the kiss I press to his hair, though he says naught and submits willingly, and now I truly smile for my son's newfound modesty. There was a time when he would have giggled and lifted his cheek for more.
Aye! To keep the folk of the Dúnedain of the North. 'Tis the charge my lord left me, though I am unsure how well I shall fulfill it. For the skies do not seem to look upon us with much kindness. Of the winter, it was cold and it seemed the constant biting wind blew all hope of rain from the skies. Then, when the wind relented and the sun emerged the stronger, the spring wheat and flowers of the fruiting trees were burned, not by its rays, but by an untimely and bitter frost. Until last even, when the clouds gathered upon the far horizon and stained the sky with their pinks and grays, we had seen naught of rain this spring. Aye, we delayed not the planting. Wheat, lentils and beans lay upon their earthen beds beneath a thin blanket of soil, but there has been naught of water to coax them rise from the ground. 'Tis already late in the season for their growing. I have little heart for the tale of my journal, but it must be told.
But, not all goes ill, for soon upon my lord's leaving I found his attentions had taken root and I bear him yet another child. The swell beneath my skirts is a fond reminder of the days of late summer when the sun was a blessing and its heat ripened all things.
"Yes, onya?" I am beginning to wonder if my son should ever settle into his lessons.
"Could Atto be king if he wished it?"
"The Dúnedain of the North no longer have a kingdom, my pet," I say, leaning still over my figures. "Do you not remember? It was divided and then broken, long ago."
"But Atto said the House of Elendil ruled all the Dúnedain, in the Southkingdom, too. Gondor does not have a king and it has a kingdom."
I think to explain the vagaries of the descent from the House of Isildur, son of Elendil, and the convoluted politics of pride and kinstrife in Gondor, but think better of it. "Ah, well, Arvedui, the last king, attempted to claim the throne of Gondor through the rights of his wife, daughter to the king of the Dúnedain of the South, but they would not recognize the claim of a woman to the throne."
"But, Ammë, Atto said it was because we come from Isildur, not his brother, Anárion."
For a moment I know not what to say, but return my son's stare. How is it my lord can give half-answers and his son is satisfied with them, where he, instead, pesters me to the very brink of madness?
"Cannot both things be true?"
"But Atto said –"
"Aye, I know what your father said, but, onya, you will find your mother and father are not always of the same mind."
"But amminya, you and Atto never argue," he asserts with the certainty of the young, "not like Mistress Pelara and Elder Maurus."
"'Tis because your father is a wise man, and is careful to ne'er says things with which his wife would disagree." "Now, onya! No more, for be assured I shall not argue with your father should he find fault with your lessons upon his return," say I and tap at the table beside his scrap of parchment.
He starts guiltily and bows his head over his work with an eager will. Would I could so easily command my son's obedience.
Having won a short space of time in which to work my figures, I find I have little taste for it and wonder if I had set my son beside me because of it, only wishing to be interrupted so I may not need to see them too closely. Ai! If we have not more days of rain than just this one, and soon, we shall have little to harvest. I stare at the numbers. Aye, that is their tale. Perhaps it would be best simply to plan for it, and urge the rationing of last winter's grains so we may make up for the lack. Ai! And shall the Council agree?
The clack of the latch startles my son so badly a pool of ink spreads from where he now copies the names of the chieftains of the Watchful Peace. I am the more lucky and had lifted my quill, but am no less startled, for the rain had masked any warning of footstep we may have received. Only two may enter the house without sending a greeting beforehand, and though it be far too early for the return of the one, I could not keep my heart from sinking at the sight of the other.
"Halbarad!" my son cries and swiftly climbs over the bench, abandoning parchment and quill.
The man is soaked for the rain and his look grave upon his entering, but his face lights at my son's greeting and quickly he throws off his pack.
"Hold now, Master Edainion," he commands when the child would fling himself about his legs. "I am wet through and will only make you so, too." He tugs at the ties of his cloak with stiff fingers.
I set aside my quill and rescue my son's from making a greater mess, and rise, though more slowly than my son, burdened as I am. For my lord's kinsman looks much chilled and could no doubt use some warming.
Once he has hung his cloak upon the peg, Halbarad drops to his knee and then welcomes his lord's son's embrace.
"It gladdens my heart to see thee, young master."
"Did you kill trolls while you gone, Halbarad?" my son asks once he is released and his kinsman rises. I cluck my tongue at the thoughtlessness of his query from where I pour water into a pot and place it upon the grate.
"No, I did not," Halbarad says, coming to the hearth. "I found none and was glad for it. And so should you be, Master Edainion."
There I await and he takes up the linen I had pulled from a chest. He scrubs at his hair and face with it while my son hangs upon the man's belt. Little effect does his chastisement seem to have had, for the child tugs at the tall man's purse strings.
"What do you, young master?" he says and the child stills, tilting his chin so he might peer up into his kin's face high above him. Though the words may speak of censure, my son hears it not, for they were delivered with much fondness. The boy grins broadly at his kin.
"Did you not make me aught?" the child asks.
"I was certainly gone long enough. I suppose I had the time to put to good use. In truth, I had little else to occupy my time other than the tracking of our enemies, the care of your father's Rangers and the safety of all the lands of Eriador from the Misty Mountains to the Gulf of Lune."
My son hangs upon the man's belt, turning upon him the look of weary forbearance he had directed to his mother earlier. He suffers so for the dimness of thought of both mother and kin. Halbarad laughs for it, his voice deep and merry.
"Aye, how could I not?" he says and sits upon a bench before the fire. Laying aside the linen, he opens his pouch beneath my son's intent gaze. For the boy has come to his side and leans against his shoulder.
"There it is," Halbarad says and my son can barely contain his glee. Yet he glances from the small toy in his hand to his mother, for he holds a fair copy of a warg carved in wood and doubts if I approve. "Now, add it to your others, young master." He nods at the figures littered about the floor by the hearth. "And, if it please you, gather them up, for I think it comes soon upon your time for sleep."
"Ammë?" my son pleads, and I think him much dismayed he shall have little of the man's time tonight.
"Aye, onya, 'tis time," say I and smooth my son's hair upon his neck for the fallen look that comes over his face. "But you shall see Halbarad upon the morrow."
"Will you teach me my lessons with my sword, Halbarad?" he asks, finding at least one promise of hope.
"Aye, after we have eaten and I have had the chance to see to the folk of the Angle," comes his muffled reply. The man has leaned over to pull off his boots, for they are much soaked and muddied.
"I have been practicing as you told me."
"We shall see, then, shall we not?" Halbarad says, his eyes alighting upon the lad and pleasure coming upon my son's face at the smile he finds there.
The boy then sets to clearing the floor of his toys with a good will and I lay a thick blanket beside Halbarad.
"Sit you down, my lady," Halbarad says when I fuss with pot, for it seems not over a good portion of the fire and shall take all night to boil. "I shall see to that."
Off comes the boot and he wipes his hand upon his breeches before offering it to me to aid me in settling beside him. Slow am I to move, shuffling about the hall in these the last weeks of my confinement, and timid am I to lower myself down. Halbarad busies himself with setting himself to rights while my son stuffs the toys he had wrought for him in a sack. Its sides bulge and I smile, for I think I shall need fashion him another pouch of greater size should his kinsman continue to indulge him so. When my son has finished and gazes upon us, his look seems uncertain, for I am sure he finds the quiet on our bench and the fondness of our mutual regard upon him a little unnerving.
"Come, onya," I say, "bid Halbarad good night and I shall soon follow."
My son comes to his kinsman's side and their parting is without words, for the boy lays his head upon the tall man's breast and wraps his arms about his middle as far as he can reach. Fond and warm is the embrace that is returned.
"What say you to your kin for his kindness?" I ask when my son has turned away and makes to leave the hall.
He turns about and bows, but does not linger. "My thanks to you, Ranger Halbarad."
"Shall you come and tell me a story?" Edainion asks me, his hand linger upon the frame of the door to the solar.
"Aye," I say, though I would have thought my son had his fill of stories. "Get yourself ready." And he disappears up the stairs and leaves us to the quiet of the hall.
"And what did you find north of the Road, Halbarad, if not trolls?" I ask at length, for the look Halbarad had given me over my son's head when they first embraced had been grim.
"Orc," he says. "But only what they left behind."
And before I may ask, he rises from the bench and takes up a fold of linen so he may move the pot, for the water has taken to galloping therein. It is awkward work, for the blanket swings from his shoulders and threatens to catch in the fire, and I wonder at his inattention. When I offer the small bundle of dried mint and apple he prefers I leave him be. His look is bleak.
It is not until he has settled with his chilled fingers wrapped around a warming cup sweetened with honey he speaks.
"'Twas Gelir," he says and blows upon the tea.
My heart sinks, for 'tis Pelara's son, youngest of the brothers.
"You have seen them?"
"Aye, I have just come from there. We brought him home," he says after taking a cautious sip.
Rising in my mind is the sight of his kin preparing him for their vigil. Ah, but they shall have little sleep this night.
"A curious thing it was," Halbarad says, halting my attempt to push myself from the bench. "He had not a mark on him but the blow that overthrew him."
A chill comes upon my heart, for I have learned much living in my lord's house. I ask, though fain I know the answer. "What do you make of it?"
"They had not the time to linger for their sport. Some secret purpose drives them. I know it not," he says, but by the clenching his jaw he is sure to discover it. He rolls the cup between his broad palms, lost in fierce thought.
Sighing, I rise from the bench. "They shall bury him upon the morrow?"
"Aye, so they said, should the rain let up." He downs the last of the tea in his cup and rises for more.
I nod and leave him to it, ascending the stairs slowly so I may attend upon my son. There is little I can say to ease the heart of the Ranger who stays below. He will not find rest for his grief until he has exacted his price upon those who caused it.
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