8. Lost Part IV
Lost Part IV
Seeing no point in hanging around a scene of butchery, Aragorn and Amal led their men away from the dead horses, gratefully leaving behind the noisome smell and the sound of tearing beaks.
But Amal glanced back thoughtfully. 'You know, I have just realised that the horses have been stripped of saddles and tack, everything in fact. Amroth would have been struggling anyway, why carry extra weight?'
'I am not sure; it certainly does not make any sense.' They crested the next rise and Aragorn stopped – there it was again.
'What can you see?' Amal asked, shading his eyes. He looked in the same direction as Aragorn – towards a passage between two high dunes, as yet still in shadow.
'I'm not sure I can see anything,' Aragorn replied. 'I thought I did earlier, but then wondered if it was a trick of the wind and sand but...' he stared into the distance, gasping when he saw the unmistakeable shape of a camel emerging into the sunlight.
'You were right first time,' Amal murmured, 'we've got company.'
Aragorn's hand immediately went to his sword. 'Friend or foe, I wonder.' He could see more camels now, a long line of them, probably roped together.
'I can't believe enemies would be coming this way,' Amal answered. 'Traders maybe, although I find that unlikely with the fighting barely over.' He shouted something to Hassim; the scout had moved forward and was staring intently at the line of camels.
Aragorn waited to see if Hassim could make out the identities of the travellers. Maybe Amal was right, but he didn't completely trust that they were not enemies and signalled to the Captain of his escort to be ready. But soon he could see that there were riders only on top of some of the camels, although the distance was too great to discern who they were. The rest of the beasts looked to be pack animals only.
Suddenly Hassim turned back to his prince and let forth a tirade of words with much gesticulating, too fast for Aragorn to make out. He saw Amal frown and look hard at the camels which were getting ever closer.
'What is it?' Aragorn prompted.
Amal rubbed his chin. 'Hassim says that those that ride the camels are not men of the desert. They do not move in unison with their animals.' He chuckled. 'In fact they ride very much like your men ...'
'Are you saying that they are Gondorians ... Amrothos even?'
The Prince shrugged. 'Maybe. But soon we shall see. They must have spotted us, and perceived that we are a superior force – and yet they are still heading in our direction with no show of wariness.' He smiled. 'So let us ride to meet them.'
Could it be Amroth? Had he somehow managed to catch up with those raiders – overpowered them with only himself and a few others? It seemed highly improbable, but then, on the other hand, he was Imrahil's son, so anything was possible. But if that had happened why hadn't he returned days ago? Realising that conjecture was useless, and very soon now he would be given the answers, Aragorn rode quietly and thought instead of going home and seeing his wife again. Something that couldn't happen soon enough. If Amroth had not gone missing he would be on his way now, because besides missing Arwen, he'd told Éomer he would meet him in Minas Tirith for a few days' relaxation and conversation. Hopefully his friend would wait, but perhaps he would want to get back to Edoras and Lothíriel...
'Merciful One!' Amal suddenly exclaimed, abruptly breaking into Aragorn's reverie. 'It is Amroth.'
Aragorn stared at the lead camel. Was that Amroth on its back? Difficult to tell with the headdress, but then the rider raised his hand, and at the same time Aragorn indentified the outline of boots and breeches, not robes. Unbelievable! Amroth had survived! Thank the Valar that there would be no watching Imrahil's proud face crumple with grief.
Tingling with relief, Aragorn allowed himself a smile. 'A story here, I think.'
'It seems so,' Amal agreed, his eyes twinkling. 'Do you see that on the third camel there are three children? Girls, by the look of them.'
'So there are,' Aragorn nodded. About a dozen camels, all laden, three girls probably rescued from the raiders, and the missing men. He had a hard job not to laugh out loud – far from being in danger it looked as if Amroth had pulled off a remarkable victory. Although as they got closer, Aragorn realised that the man on the second camel was having some trouble, injured by the look of it. A few moments later he could see that the injured man was Gidon, Amroth's captain, and he mentally went through the healing remedies he had with him – not many, although he always carried the basics.
The two groups met, Amroth drawing his camel to a halt right in front of Aragorn and Amal. Gidon seemed to heave a sigh of relief, the three girls gazed wide-eyed at Prince Amal, nudging each other and whispering under their breath. Amroth looked thinner, days of scraggly beard growth marred his handsome face, but his black eyes glittered with amusement. He bowed his head to his King and the Prince of Harad. 'Salaam alaykum'.
Peace be with you, the traditional greeting of the desert. Aragorn shook his head in amazement, not able to stop laughter spilling from his lips. 'Never underestimate a prince from Dol Amroth,' he said when he'd stopped chuckling. 'This is certainly a story I am looking forward to hearing, but first I see that Captain Gidon needs help.'
Amroth nodded. 'Poisoned arrow. We found the antidote on one of the raiders and it seems to have stopped him from getting any worse, but he's far from recovered.'
'I may have something that will help.' Aragorn pulled a satchel from behind him and ordered his camel down. He slid off its back and went to Gidon's side, calling to one of his men. 'Help me get the Captain off his camel.'
Already Aragorn had fixed his mind on his patient, and Amroth knew that Gidon now had the best chance possible of making a full recovery. He turned to the Prince.
'I am glad to see you. I'm not entirely sure of the way back, although I think I would have found the waterhole eventually.'
'I am sure you would have, Amroth, you have certainly surprised me.' Amal's eyes flicked over him to the girls and to the shuffling line of camels. 'Not only have you rescued yourself and your men, but brought back three of my subjects. I am grateful. And the camels, they look fine beasts.'
'I have given most of them to the girls as a reward for helping us,' Amroth cut in quickly. He wanted that said right from the beginning. Already the Harad men were assessing their worth, whilst the Gondorians ignored the camels and were clustering around Borinon and Galor wanting to hear how they had managed to capture them. 'Three apiece for the girls, and one for each of my men,' Amroth announced, having given the matter considerable thought over the previous days. As much as he wanted to ensure a future for Soraya, Najiyah and Barika, he couldn't forget that soldiers were entitled to a bit of prize money. 'I do not know if the girls are orphans, but it seems likely. If that is so I don't want them to struggle, but be able to live comfortably and make their own decisions about their future life.'
Amal raised his black brows and gave Amroth a stony stare. 'I would not let them starve, Amroth. They will be looked after.'
'I know that.' Amroth smiled to show he had meant no offence. 'But with camels as a dowry they will have a say in who they marry. And for Soraya, the eldest, the time for choosing is not far off. This will ensure that she does have a choice.' Amroth knew that most Harad girls were promised at twelve, although Amal had assured Lothíriel, during his own private apology for Umar's behaviour, that they did not live as a wife until nature said they were ready. Amroth would have liked something different for them, but reluctantly recognised that to alienate them from their culture would do no good at all.
He fixed his eyes on Amal. 'You will let them select their own husbands. Not give them away for favour or reward.'
Amal laughed. 'What is it about your family? You have the knack of bringing out the best in me. I will take a special interest in their future and give you my word that they will be well cared for until it is time for them to marry. The camels will be enough to pay for a good living and allow them to make a fine match to whom they wish. Is that good enough for you?'
Amroth relaxed. 'Of course your word is good enough. It's just that having rescued them I feel responsible.'
'Then don't any longer. I will ensure that any relatives are sought out, but if there are none, or they are unsuitable, then your protégées will be fostered to a good family. And with such a dowry they will likely be a first wife to a young man.' Amal flicked his reins and moved his camel over to the three girls. Amroth wasn't sure what he said to them, but whatever, their awed expressions lasted for no more than a few moments. Amroth saw grief cloud their faces, but then open-mouthed wonder and he guessed that Amal was outlining their future.
With that settled there was one more thing to face. 'Did you find our horses?' Amroth asked Amal when he had finished talking to the girls.
'Yes, we could not work out quite what had happened. Surely you didn't carry the saddles and tack with you, and I can hardly wait to know how you managed to attack and overpower the men who rode those camels.'
'Well, first of all we didn't carry our saddles anywhere. We took them off the horses and made a pile about one hundred yards away, over the next dune.' Because he knew he wouldn't want to do it once the horses had been attacked by the vultures.
'Strange, we didn't see that, but they are probably covered by a layer of sand by now. And then Aragorn spotted your dust, so our attention was taken.'
'Understandable,' Amroth agreed. 'But as much as I don't want to go near the horses, I need to recover our stuff on the way back.' He hated the thought of going anywhere near Aero's remains, knowing it would be easier to put the horse's cruel death from his mind if he didn't see its mutilated body.
Amal shook his head. 'There is no need for you to do that; I'll send someone to collect your things.'
Slightly embarrassed by the surge of relief that flooded through him, Amroth didn't say anything but met Amal's eyes and nodded. Luckily Aragorn came back over to join them at that moment.
'How's Gidon?' Amroth asked quickly.
'Gidon is a lucky man,' Aragorn replied. 'Had you not found that antidote, there would have been no hope for him. I am still not sure he will ever be as strong as he was. Those kinds of poisons are virulent and may leave him with some muscle weakness. Not enough to stop him enjoying life, but I doubt he will be going to war with you again.'
'At least I will be taking him home with me, and he will still be valued. There are plenty of young soldiers who will benefit from his tuition. And I doubt his wife will complain if he never has to leave Dol Amroth again.' Home! Suddenly Amroth felt very tired. Home sounded wonderful.
Imrahil wished he'd never had to tell Devoran that Amroth was missing. And would never have done so had he not thought she would have heard the whispers anyway – the wounded soldiers who had come home being unlikely to have kept the knowledge to themselves. Even had he given orders, nothing much remained a secret in Dol Amroth. Not that the information had been much, only a garbled account of Amroth's pursuit into the desert. Now the trader that had brought the men and the news had long gone – leaving spices, dates and despair – with no other ship arriving from Harad since. Devoran tried to keep cheerful for Elenna's sake, but Imrahil couldn't miss the desolation in her eyes. He'd do anything to put back the joy; to see her sparkle and laugh as she had done so readily since her marriage to Amroth.
'Devoran, you must eat.' Imrahil heard Calaerdis say in her soft persuasive voice. 'You must not starve yourself or your unborn child will suffer.'
'I know, I'm sorry. It won't seem to go down.' Devoran put the piece of bread aside and picked up a date, nibbling the end of the sweetmeat.
'Eat some cheese with it.' Calaerdis passed her a plate of diced goat cheese. 'It goes well with dates.'
Obediently Devoran popped a piece of cheese in her mouth and smiled. 'You are right: the tastes complement one another.'
She seemed to gather herself and ate some more, encouraging Elenna to try the unusual mixture. Imrahil knew that Devoran was strong, she had to be, having lost her family in such awful circumstances, but he wondered how she would react if the news was bad. No doubt she would hold herself together for Elenna's sake, but whether she would be resilient enough to go through the coming legal battle with her cousin Alhael and confront him face to face if Amroth wasn't there to support her. He hoped she would, as she deserved her inheritance. It had taken long enough for the City archivists to look back through the ancient records to find and prove that the Blackroot had only been ceded to the Lords of Morthond. Then even longer for the City Elders to agree that there was a precedent that legacies could be overturned and that land and titles could go to a female in direct line. But Alhael was not giving up without a fight, and it still remained for the case to be heard in person before the King. But Aragorn had gone off to war before the judgement, and now all the work might be wasted. Imrahil hoped not, such a crud as Alhael didn't deserve to be Lord of Morthond, following in the footsteps of such a brave man as Duinhir.
The door opened, breaking into Imrahil's reverie. He looked up to see his Steward, Ephrem, shuffling towards him. Really the man should have long retired, but it would break his heart – a whole life devoted to serving the Princes of Dol Amroth couldn't be set aside easily.
'My lord,' Ephrem whispered, 'there is a ship in sight. The word is that it comes from Harad.'
But Ephrem hadn't spoken quietly enough; Devoran made a strangled sound in her throat and stood up. Calaerdis immediately clutched at her arm. 'It may be nothing, another trader only. Stay here until we find out.'
Devoran shook her head. 'No, I've got to go and see.'
'I think Elenna might like to come with me and see the new litter of kittens in the kitchen outhouse.' Meren wiped Eldir's mouth; her youngest had smeared his face with jam. 'Cook said they opened their eyes this morning.' Meren lifted Eldir down and ushered the other children to the door. All except Alphros, who shrugged disdainfully at the invitation to join his younger brothers and cousin.
'I'm going to the wall to see the ship. It might be Uncle Amroth coming home.' Elenna swung her head back round, but Meren distracted her with the promise she could hold a kitten.
'Well, done Alphros.' Elphir glared at his son.
'Devoran, don't get your hopes up, at the best it will probably only be news.' What news, Imrahil wondered – good or ill.
A gentle breeze greeted those who made their way to the battlements, the hazy blue sky promising another warm day. The family, from long habit, clustered at the foot of the watch tower, eyes looking seaward to where a three-master had rounded the point. Imrahil schooled himself to remain where he was and not climb up the tower – the lookout had younger eyes and would tell him anything he needed to know.
'Is it a Harad ship?' Imrahil called up.
'Yes, lord, you can tell by the shape of her sails,' the Captain of the Watch answered. 'But she's too far away for me to see which one.'
'It's Desert Wind, Prince Amal's own ship. I'd recognise her at twice the distance.' A breathless voice came from Imrahil's left.
Imrahil turned and smiled at Oríon who had just run up the steps. Desert Wind had been built in their own shipyard, to Oríon's plans. 'I expect you would. But who is she carrying, can you see.'
Oríon stared for a moment. 'Not with my naked eye, but I might be able to see more...' From an inner pocket he took a rolled tube of leather and two glass lenses. Imrahil watched fascinated as he fitted one lens each end of the leather tube.
'It makes things appear nearer,' Oríon explained. 'Mithrandir told me all about them at Lothíriel's wedding, but it's taken me years to get the shape of the lenses just right.' He put the tube up to his eye, and trained it on the incoming ship.
'I'm pretty sure she's flying a Dol Amroth standard as well as her Harad device. But I won't be able to make out whose it is yet.' With a quick nod Oríon put his foot on the first rung of the ladder that went up to the watchtower. 'I'll see better from up there.' He quickly climbed up and disappeared.
'Did he say the ship has one of our standards flying?' Devoran asked in a trembling voice that betrayed her hope.
Imrahil put his arm around her, feeling her shoulders shake. 'It could be Erchirion coming home.'
She looked up quickly, big honey eyes glistening. 'But he wouldn't come back without Amroth, would he?'
He would if there was no hope, but Imrahil kept the thought to himself and squeezed her comfortingly. 'Let's wait and see.'
'It's definitely a Dol Amroth standard,' Oríon called down. 'But I can't make out the device yet.'
Imrahil screwed his eyes, and stared at the ship. He could hardly make out the standard, let alone work out if it carried Erchirion's Crossed Swords or Amrothos' Snorting Horse. They would just have to be patient.
Devoran shivered, although the sun was already warming the grey stone around them. Imrahil pulled her closer, dreading what would happen if the news was bad. He caught Calaerdis' eye, and she smiled reassuringly. Then, fortunately, Luineth, Oríon's wife, appeared on Devoran's other side, took her hand, and gave Imrahil a tight smile.
'I will be fine, you know.' Devoran said, her voice steadier this time. 'Whatever the news, you don't have to worry that I will collapse from grief or shock. I have my daughter...,' she rubbed her stomach gazing at the ship that was getting ever larger, '... my children to consider.'
Before Imrahil could say that he would never expect her to behave other than with dignity, a shout came from above.
'It's Amroth. Its Amroth's standard.'
Devoran swayed, a tear splashed on her cheek, and she took great gulps of air.
Dol Amroth seemed to rise out of the very cliff on which it stood – its foundations moulded into the grey stone, its walls towering above the surrounding landscape. A myriad of windows stared out to sea. In the evening they glowed with the fire of the setting sun, but the morning shadows would cloak them for a few hours yet.
Amroth loved this view of his home, loved sailing in on the tide and seeing the detail of harbour, palace and city becoming ever more discernible as the water changed from deep blue to aquamarine. A warm flush of satisfaction and relief washed over him: it hadn't been long ago when he'd thought he might never see Dol Amroth again. Admitting how glad he was to be alive was surely normal. At one time it hadn't seemed to matter too much whether he survived a battle or not, but now, with a beautiful wife and child waiting for him, life was precious. He could see that there were figures on the battlements, and wondered if Devoran was amongst them. Probably, he couldn't imagine she'd come down to the harbour to meet him. Far too public.
But he guessed someone would be there; they would recognise Desert Wind and possibly indentify his standard, so should send a welcome party. As he thought, just as they passed the breakwater and the sails came down he saw his brother on the quayside. Amroth leaned over the rail to wave.
Elphir returned his wave, grinning from ear to ear. But had to rein back out of the way as the heavy mooring ropes snaked down onto the quay. Spare horses, Amroth could see spare horses amongst the escort, and a couple of carts. Of course, they hadn't known what to expect. 'Are you going to be all right to ride?' he asked Gidon.
'I'll manage. I'm not letting the wife see me lying on a cart. She'll fuss like an old nanny.'
Amroth laughed, not that he minded if Devoran fussed a tiny bit.
'Thought we'd got rid of you,' was Elphir's first greeting. He made a few comments about bad pennies always turning up, but the warmth in his eyes told another story.
'How's Devoran?' Amroth asked as soon as he was mounted on one of the horses his brother had brought with him. He pushed aside the twinge of grief – a good horse, but it would take a while before he found another like Aero. Perhaps sensing what had happened, Elphir hadn't mentioned him.
'Relieved. She has been holding her feelings in check since we heard you were missing. But I imagine you might get a tearful reception.'
It wouldn't surprise him. Amroth knew full well that Devoran always kept strong through a crisis and only gave way when it was over. 'I wish that you had never found out. There was no need for messages to be sent.'
'Not a lot of choice, really,' Elphir replied. 'Men came home, they had heard about your patrol getting lost and were hardly going to keep quiet about it.'
'No, I suppose not.'
'So, are you going to tell me what happened? And why hasn't Erchi come back with you?'
Amroth didn't want to answer that. At least not at the moment. 'I will, tonight at dinner. It will save me repeating myself.' Right now all he could think about was seeing his wife and child.
She was waiting just where he thought she'd be – on the steps outside the Palace. His father too, and the others – Sergion, Oríon, Meren, the children, with Alphros standing slightly apart. But Amroth only had eyes for his wife. Devoran had Elenna in her arms, his daughter's dark hair and complexion contrasting against her mother's chestnut tresses and fair skin. As he swept through the gate Devoran left the steps and started walking across the courtyard, her steps getting faster as she got nearer. Amroth rode right up to her. He jumped off his horse and let go the reins, relying on someone to grab them.
A moment later his arms were full of woman and child; he hugged them against him tightly until a small voice protested.
'Papa, you're squashing me.'
Laughing, Amroth took Elenna from Devoran and hoisted her to shoulder height looking down at his wife. She was smiling, but her big eyes were wet with tears. So beautiful, so loved. His eyes raked over her only to stop abruptly in the vicinity of her stomach. Devoran's face turned a pale pink.
Amroth reached out a hand and placed it on her rounded belly. 'Devoran, is there something of mine in there?'
To be continued.
Original Characters appearing in this chapter.
Devoran Daughter of Duinhir of Morthond – married to Prince Amrothos.
Meren Married to Prince Elphir.
Eldir Third son of Elphir and Meren
Elenna First daughter of Amrothos and Devoran.
Lady Calaerdis From Sirith in Lebennin. A rich widow, mistress to Imrahil of Dol Amroth.
Gidon Amroth's Captain
Borinon & Galor Two Dol Amroth soldiers.
Soraya, Najiyah and Barika Three young Harad girls rescued from raiders by Amroth.
Prince Amal Ruler of Near Harad.
Hassim A Harad scout
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.