66. Chapter 65
As we had feared that winter was the harshest we had suffered for many years, the snow piled high within the walls and even higher outside,for many weeks at a time, blanketing the ruins and mercifully from sight for a while. We were trapped within for many weeks but had laid in stores for such an eventuality, so although we had exceedingly dull fare we did not starve. It was difficult to be penned in for so long and inactive, but it helped that we were so few in number in such a large place, and I found plenty of tasks to be found to keep the men busy. However the final thaw did come in the nick of time, Arahael had been on the verge of marching us all south with the small store of food that still remained to us when the road finally reopened and fresh supplies arrived. News came with it, and a summons for Arahael to Lastbridge to attend as a guest at the wedding of Princess Elien and Lord Berthedir. So this was the union that Idhrethil had spoken of, which would render her superfluous, and a fine union indeed it was for Berthedir and Barachon's faction, for it would put them right at the centre of things.
A wild fantasy involving my accompanying Arahael to Lastbridge and rescuing poor abandoned Idrethil and bringing her back north, perhaps just to Bearcliffe flashed through my mind, and I almost said something before I realised with a pang of dismay what his departure would mean, for I knew with certaintly that I would be forced to remain where I was and deputise until he returned. Ironically Arahael, who was a career soldier of relatively humble stock with little or no experience of Lordship and all it entailed, was equally filled with dismay at the prospect of being forced to mix with the ranks he had previously had good reason to disdain. He was orderderd to leave as soon as possible, and would not return for four or five weeks.
So it was that I found myself addressing the assembled company in the Great Hall to announce his departure and my temporary elevation as his stand in. If I had been speaking to them before a battle I would have had no difficulty at all, but this did not go nearly as well as I had hoped. Months of inactivity and confinement had rendered them surly and restive, and my announcement was met with a murmur whose meaning could not be mistaken. I caught one or two of the lieutenants and sergeants exchanging glances and realised with a sickening jolt that the respect I had taken for granted was far from universally shared. Shaken by this unexpected turn of events, I continued, realising that showing any sign of weakness at that moment would be a disaster. I let myself grow angry instead, and warned the men that I would brook no dissent and that anyone disobeying orders would be punished severely. I concluded and dismissed them, hoping that my sudden outburst had had the desired effect on them.
On the whole it did, but the lesson I had learned was a hard one, for it was clear that my authority was derived from my association with Arahael and it was he that they loved and respected, not I. I was known in rather derogatory fashion as the Lordling behind my back, and many of the men resented me for my youthful enthusiasm for drill and the strict observance of rule and regulation, which they naturally considered largely petty and unimportant. Worse still, it was of course widely known that I was of mixed hill and western blood like many of them and yet a blind eye had been turned to this because of my father's noble lineage and my good education . It was the custom that only those of largely Dunedain lineage would advance beyond the rank of sergeant in those days, and I had always taken it for granted as the natural order of things, but it was clear that this too was a source of resentment amongst the men, who were either of Hillman, part Hillman or of indeterminate heritage. I thought then too of Cenric, who had been every bit as much the soldier as my father, and a good friend of his, and the way he had seemed to treat me more harshly than the other boys. I suddenly saw his subsequent kindness towards me in a new light, for it must have been hard to know that however brave and skilful a soldier you were that you would never advance in rank, simply because of where you came from.
I was relieved to see Arahael return, but not nearly as relieved as he was to arrive back at the Keep. His sojourn in Lastbridge had been every bit as awkward as he had feared, for his plain speech and lack of fine manners had set him apart from the other Lords. However he had done his duty and taken his part in the ceremonies, and also learned much of what was going on elsewhere in the realm. He had also visited Angon, spent a good deal of time with him and reported him to be in reasonable health and good spirits. He said that he had asked after me and asked Arahael to pass on his best wishes, and was proud to hear that I had been left in command at the Keep. This news pleased me greatly, as did Arahael's promise that he would make sure he would find a pretext to send me south visit him in the near future. At this I could not resist asking if he had seen anything of the Lady Idrethil when he had visited Angon, as she was a friend of his, or whether he had any news of her. He looked a little surprised at the question, but to my delight said that indeed he did - the wedding had been a double ceremony, and that the lady in question had married one of Berthedir's captains, a certain Belegon the same day.
I tried to hide my shock and dismay at this news, but I am not sure I was completely successful, and Arahael looked even more surprised. My dismay soon turned to anger, anger that I had devoted myself to such a fickle creature and I cursed her, and then immediately afterwards in a rush of remorse turned my anger and shame on myself, for what right had I had to assume that she should owe me any loyalty? All the same, it was Belegon she had married. The man was a vicious brute, and perhaps I had greatly overestimated her after all. Arahael could easily have questioned me further, but he could see something about this news had troubled me greatly and he dismissed me instead, an act of kindness from a friend that I was later very grateful for.
I paced the empty corridors and stairways in a state of turmoil, filled with disappointment and eventually found my way to the gatehouse tower and climbed up to my customary viewpoint on the roof. The effort of the climb helped to calm me a little and by the time I reached the top I felt more sad rather than angry. I looked south, knowing now that my love would never be returned, and I broke down and wept, weeping for the happiness that had been taken from me, weeping at the bitter hand fate had dealt me, and eventually simply weeping for all the good friends I had lost and missed so keenly. I wept inconsolably for a long time, and I am glad that I was alone in that high place. I ran out of tears and remained where I was, slumped on the parapet exhausted by grief and sorrow as the new moon rose in the eastern sky, its weak light barely illuminating the rolling forested hills to the south. Foolish though it may have been, I knew my sudden passion for Idhrethil had been one of the few things that had kept me going and now that had been taken away from me I felt empty and lost.
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.