77. Chapter 76
I returned to the dormitory hall that had housed my company, and found the remnants of my men there, and they seemed so pitifully few in that previously crowded space. The bundle of food was received with gratitude, and they listened with great interest to my account of being brought before the King. I did not however speak of the Princess, but lay afterwards quietly on my pallet full of gratitude and happiness, for what I had desired so much for so long and had almost lost was suddenly and unexpectedly within my reach again. I also pondered on my meeting with the King, and was deeply touched that he had remembered my father, and felt pity for his suffering for he did seem to be a good man even if terrible deeds had been done in his name. My thoughts soon trailed off however and I had the best night's sleep that I had experienced for a very long time.
I remained in the dormitory chamber resting with my men the following day, longing for a pretext to return to the Citadel, but unable to think of one. Idhrethil was a wife in mourning, so it would have been inappropriate for her to receive me as a visitor, and certainly not a lone one. On the other hand I began to fear that inaction on my part might be seen as a sign of disinterest, and I wondered whether I ought to try and seek her out regardless, even if it resulted in a polite rebuff for the sake of good form. My agony of indecision continued until a messenger arrived in the hall, asking for me by name, and my heart leapt with joy. However it was shortlived, for I discovered that I was summoned once again to see the King and his counsellors, but notwithstanding that the possibility of seeing Idhrethil again afterwards remained. I made myself as presentable as I could and followed the messenger back to the Citadel.
This time I was taken to a chamber near the throne room, and when I entered the room the King was sat at the head of a table with others seated by him, including Barachon and Berthedir. There were the remains of a meal on it, and piles of documents. I bowed and stood at the foot of the table, but it was Barachon the old spider who spoke to me this time, rather than the King himself, who remained slumped in his chair, although I thought I caught a look of kindness in his sad eyes when he beheld me. "Esteldir son of Galdirion, Captain of Northford, I hope that we now find you refreshed and rested. However I regret that a task of the utmost importance and urgency has arisen which means we must demand that you once again ready yourself for duty. We need to send an embassy to Amon Sul to discover the fate of the Prince and plead to have his mortal remains returned to us for honourable burial. We also wish to discover who our foes hold as prisoner and on what terms they would be prepared to ransom them. You will lead this embassy and will hand pick half a dozen of your best men to accompany you, and you will be given horses and equipped accordingly. If you succeed in this task, great honour will be yours, so be sure you do not fail us. Time is of the essence, so I have already set the preparations in motion. You will leave at dawn tomorrow. What say you?"
What could I say but that I was honoured to be chosen? But I knew already that they held little hope of my succeeding or they would have chosen someone of higher rank and status for the task, and that if I were cut down somewhere in the wild by a patrol or taken prisoner when I arrived at the tower then it would be of little consequence, for this was a desperate throw of the dice on their part. I felt a little angry that I had not been allowed to rest and recover properly from my ordeal, and wondered how much of a hand Berthedir had played in my selection. I suspect that I did not hide my true feelings very well and Barachon quickly dismissed me. "Now you must go and select your companions and report to the armoury and quartermasters. May the Valar watch over you and protect you". I did as I was bid, full of anger and bitterness at this entirely unexpected twist of fate, for once again I was being torn away from Idhrethil and sent into great peril, just when I could have hoped to spend some time with her and it seemed there were no more obstacles in our path.
I returned to our dormitory and told my men what was happening. I had thought that they would have scorned the chance to accompany me on this latest quest with derision, but to my dismay and immense gratitude I found I had more names offered me than I actually needed. They told me in their plain manner that I had been true to my word and guided them to safety, and that they owed as a result, and I laughed with them and called them damnable fools. I selected half a dozen of those I could most rely on andWe went along to the armoury and stores where we were expected. We were equipped with new gear and weapons of the finest quality, and I was given a gilded steel breastplate like those that some of the lords and senior captains wore. It felt stiff and surprisingly heavy on me and I did not know if I would like to wear it in battle, but we looked quite the part when we were all done, and the levity of my companions at our apparent elevation in the world made up a little for the seriousness of what lay ahead for us all.
I ate the evening meal with them, and noted with satisfaction that the servings were more generous and of better quality than normal, for it was the least they were due. Afterwards I had orders to return to the Citadel and report to Barachon, but my thoughts were only of how I might contrive to see Idhrethil afterwards. I did not know how I would achieve this, but hoped that the Princess, who must by now have learned of my fate, might come to our aid. I was shown to Barachon's private apartments, and found him sat by the fire, looking distinctly cadaverous in a black fur lined robe. He instructed me to be seated and asked his manservant to bring me a jug of ale, and then sat quietly staring at me over steepled fingers.
"You realise of course why you have been chosen for this task?" He began. "I would not wish you to have any illusions as to your true status and importance in this matter. We do not even know if an embassy will be acknowledged, though it might have been once in better days, so you go forth into grave peril. We are shorn of many good men of standing as a result of this adventure, and I will not hazard those we have left. However you are fair of speech, and cultured, and do not lack for courage, so we have chosen you for this task. If you are not slain or taken prisoner, then you must demand to speak to the Lord of Amon Sul, or whoever commands there. Your first task as you know is to determine the fate of Prince Eldir and bring his body home if you can. Secondly, if indeed took prisoners then you must find out what fate befell them and return with a list of any of name or rank and the sums they will consider for ransom, should they be so minded. Lastly learn all you can of what passes in the other Kingdoms, how they are disposed and what they tell of the machinations of Angmar. As you well know our foe in the north has been uncommonly quiet since we defeated him after the siege of Northford, but I do not believe he can possibly be done with us yet. However old age wearies us all, and he was already a man of mature years when we beheld him at the Battle of the Northern Plain where the King received the wounds that have agued him so much since. Even one of pure Numenorean race, which he undoubtedly is, would be growing old now, but we still know almost nothing of him, or even if he has a son waiting to succeed him. Indeed it has always been a mystery to us why such as he would choose to install himself in such a bleak and inhospitable place, far from the lands of civilised men".
I sipped my ale, surprised by his frankness but nonetheless flattered that he had chosen to speak so freely to me and though he was a cruel and merciless man who might well be sending me to my death I could not but help be impressed by his evident intellect. A little emboldened, and by his own admission with little to lose, I decided to ask a question of him and rather blurted out "why did we march on Amon Sul?" He did not betray any surprise at my impertinence, but rather considered that it had a bearing on the task I was to undertake. "Amon Sul is ours as of right, for it lies within the ancient borders of our land, but we have long disputed it with Cardolan, and occasionally Arthedain too throughout our history, though they more often than not have been in league. The seeing stone that is held in that tower would be a great aid in the defence of our Kingdom. Lately our reports have been that the Kingdom of Cardolan had been greatly weakened by incursions by the forces of Angmar, and the secession of Tharbad. The King has long desired to right these ancient wrongs so we sent scouts along the East Road to spy out their defences and found them apparently weak and undermanned. And yet, when we were ready to strike we met their full might, and I fear we were given another lesson as to why the seeing stone would be of so much value to us, for there is too little commerce between our realms for us to suspect treachery, and it was not made generally known exactly what we purposed until the very last moment". I remembered the words of the soldier the night before we had marched when I had broken the news of where we were to go, and thought to myself that the humble can often see things more clearly than the great and the wise.
With that I found that the interview was concluded and he rose and signalled for the servant to enter. I was disappointed as I had half hoped to ask him about Northford and the Hillmen too, but I had clearly already said enough. He received a sealed scroll from his servant and handed it to me. "This letter carries the seal of the King Of Rhudaur, and it states that you, the bearer are authorised to speak in his name. These are your credentials should you succeed in reaching the tower and making your plaint to whoever commands there. He then politely wished me good fortune with my task and reminded me of the importance of doing my duty even when the odds were against me. I bit my tongue at this, and thought sourly that I had been doing little else for the previous nine years. I knew very well however that he was not a man to be crossed, and if by some chance I did actually manage to return from Amon Sul whole and hale then saying so would have been most unwise.
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.