"Father, I don't understand…"
The general of Gondor sighed and paused a moment to say goodbye to his young son. "I have to go to the north," he said, kneeling to look his son in the eye.
"The king's daughter is being married to Araphant's son. I'm escorting her." The general winced. "King Araphant," he corrected himself.
"Yes. His father died a while ago. To celebrate his coronation, he's been arranging to have his son marry Princess Firiel."
The general heaved an exasperated sigh. His young son was far too inquisitive. "King Araphant wants to reunite the kingdoms of Gondor and lost Arnor. He thinks it will make us stronger against mutual enemies."
His son frowned. "What does 'mutual' mean?"
"Enemies we have in common. Like the orcs," the general muttered. "I have to go now. Be good."
The general tried not to look at his son's face as he left. He knew the sight would break his heart.
"What is it?"
"Will I ever be king someday?"
The general chuckled and shook his head. "Don't cause your mother too much grief while I'm gone Earnur," he said.
The rest of the procession was waiting for him. Impatiently, in the case of Princess Firiel, who rode a horse like a man. It was considered quite scandalous in Gondor, but upon being told of it, neither Arvedui nor his father could understand the scandal of it.
"Are you ready now, General Earnil?" Firiel asked. Her voice was a little too deep, her skin a little too sallow, her eyes were rather sunken, but her hair was like spun gold. It shone in the sunlight like a field of wheat.
"Yes, Princess," Earnil said, mounting his horse. "I had to say farewell to my son."
Firiel nodded. "Young Earnur. He's a very happy child, isn't he?"
Earnil frowned. His son was happy, curious, and so many other things besides. He had his good points though. "He'll be a good general in his time."
"With the Wainriders defeated, how much longer will we need a general?"
Earnil chuckled. Trust a woman to ask that. "The Haradrim are massing in the south. Something's got them all riled up. And the Easterlings are stirring again. No, I'm afraid you'll still be needing a general for some time to come."
Firiel nodded. She was frowning now, and Earnil suspected she'd caught the meaning of his chuckle. "It will be a long journey to Arthedain, will it not be?"
"Yes, quite long. Several months, I should say."
The iciness was palpable. "Have you met young Arvedui?" No, stupid question. Of course she hasn't.
"I hear he's the spitting image of his father," Earnill said. "Apparently a seer named him. Malbeth. Never heard of him before."
"It means 'last king'," Firiel said. Her frowned deepened. "I don't like the sound of that."
"Ah, seers. They speak in riddles. He probably meant 'last king of Arthedain' or something. Perhaps Arnor will be rebuilt in his time."
Firiel cast Earnil a pitying glance. "No," she said.
"Something's changed here," Metima said, gingerly touching a clump of moss. It gave off a noxious smell.
"Shut up," Yanta snapped. "Keep moving. Valar!" she muttered to herself. "It looks like the whole place up and died!"
"I think we're supposed to be in Arthedain."
"Doesn't matter. Aica's got that covered. Besides, we're getting information ourselves."
Metima frowned. "I don't think this is the kind of information Morion wants."
"Screw Morion. Anyway, we're going to follow that fancy procession. When I'm done."
"What are we looking for anyway?"
"I'll know it when I…ah, there it is." Yanta pointed toward a roughly-hewn entrance in the mountain.
"Are those skulls?" Metima asked as they approached.
"Don't be an idiot." Yeah, they're skulls. Great. Just great. Why are we putting skulls up as decorations all of a sudden?
"There's something strange about this place," Metima said, looking around nervously.
"You're a ringbearer, dammit! Act like it!"
"Don't go in there," Metima said as Yanta approached the door.
"It's the entrance to my people's home!" Yanta snapped. "Of course I'm going to go in! Want to see how they're doing."
"I don't think they're doing very good, judging by the looks of the place."
No, they're probably all dead, Yanta thought. But I want to make sure.
Yanta took a step into the passage. It was colder here, and it was a cold that she felt in her bones. Yes, there was something wrong here. Something very wrong indeed.
A skeletal face appeared a few inches away from her. It was transparent, slightly green, and the eyes were filled with anguish.
"Agh! Ghosts!" Yanta screamed and spun around, sprinting down the path.
"Ghosts?" Metima gasped. She looked around frantically but didn't see anything. Still, she didn't want to be left alone in this cursed place. She followed her friend.
"Ghosts! My people! Ghosts!" Yanta muttered as she paced outside the mountain.
"I didn't expect that," Metima said. "Although that mountain does have an evil feel to it."
"Harrowdale!" Yanta groaned. "Cursed! Oh, this is terrible! How did it happen?"
"Are we going to follow that procession?"
"It must've been those damn Numenoreans! Of course it was them! They're behind everything!"
"We've got an excellent opportunity with that procession."
"They built logging camps! They stole my people's land! Not that we liked to live outside the mountain, but still! And those bastards had the nerve – the damn nerve! – to curse them!"
"They're passing by right now."
"What?" Yanta asked, glancing up.
"The procession." Metima pointed toward a line of horses. There were soldiers in shining armor, and ladies in beautiful silk dresses.
"The procession," Yanta muttered. She grinned. "Yes, we're following that. Aica mumbled something about the princess what's-her-face getting married. That's probably her."
Metima frowned as they both mounted their horses. "How does Aica know all this?"
Yanta shrugged. "No idea. I suppose she's got a bunch of spies all over the place. Doesn't matter though, does it? Her information's always good."
"You don't suppose she could be spying on us right now?"
"What's the point?" Yanta asked. "There isn't one."
"Are we just going to spy on the princess?"
Yanta considered this. It was a big procession, which was a problem. If it had been smaller she'd have thought an 'orc raid' might've been in order. But it would be difficult for the two of them to slaughter an entire party like this.
"Yeah, we're just going to spy," she said.
"Good," Metima said.
"Why's it good that we're just spying?"
"Oh…I don't know. We've got a war on with Arthedain's and Gondor's kings. I don't see it extending to their princesses."
Yanta snorted. "Got a soft spot for the little bride on her wedding march? I bet she isn't so thrilled about it. Arranged marriage and all. She might even thank us if we were to cause some trouble."
"No," Metima said. "I don't think she would."
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.