“My lord Halladan? I am Faldi Vorondor, Second to my Lord Tintehlë, in charge here while he is away. I have news for the King and Steward-Prince Faramir from my lord, and I am charged to put his two reports in their hands without delay. Do you know where I might find them at this hour?”
The Steward of the North rose from his desk. “Come with me, Captain. How did they come?”
“By pigeon, my lord. Captain Rihan, one of those with him, has a special gift with birds, and took cages of several kinds with him in order to send messages back and forth. I received these two hours ago; it took that long for me to decipher and make fair copies—one for the King, one for each of you Stewards, and one of the second report for the King of Rohan, so I will need to see him also.”
“They were in code?”
Vorondor coughed. “Codes and ciphers are an interest of mine; I devised several, and the four of us—Lord Marpol, Captains Rihan and Tam—I mean, Malréd—and I commonly have used them for many years. This is the most complex and therefore the most difficult to crack, so I knew as soon as I read the first words of the cover letter that he assigned great importance to it.”
“And having read it?” Halladan asked as they walked briskly along a corridor.
“Indeed, my lord Steward, it is of the most vital gravity for the realm’s defenses,” Vorondor said seriously.
They stopped in front of carved double doors and after a brief word with one of the two guards, one leaf was opened and they stepped through it and through an anteroom occupied by pages and scribes, to a large office in which the King and Prince sat poring over stacks of documents with their secretaries.
“The day’s greeting, Cousin! Is that one of my Warden of Roads’ captains with you?” asked Elessar.
“Captain Faldi Vorondor, Second to Lord Tintehlë, my Lord Kinsman, here with urgent news from him, sent in cipher.”
The royal eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Is not Lord Tintehlë on his way to the North?”
“He left the day before yesterday, my lord King,” said Vorondor with a deep bow. “We had arranged to stay in touch by means of pigeon during his absence, and he sent two pigeons to me which arrived two candle-marks ago.”
“Surely a one-sided correspondence,” Faramir commented.
“Nay, my lord Steward. Our birds are spelled and specially bred by Captain Rihan, one of his captains. All four of us have a token to which the birds will come, so we are not restricted by the birds’ being bred to go to their own home roost only.”
“Brilliant!” cried one of the secretaries, and blushed scarlet at having spoken.
“Gentlemen, if you wouldn’t mind starting on those drafts, and if you would see to sending in something for our guests’ refreshment during this meeting?” the King asked.
The two bowed, gathered up papers, and took themselves out. Vorondor and Halladan were gestured to chairs, and the captain found himself scrutinized by the other three Men as he opened the scrip he had brought with him.
“I have here copies of the cover letter and the reports themselves, my lords,” he said, after explaining about the ciphers. “The originals are written on a special, very thin paper with a special ink. My lord has a very clear small hand. Here also are the copies—three of the entire report, and one of the second part only, meant for the King of Rohan.”
“For Éomer? Why? Tintehlë cannot have gotten to Rohan yet; are they not in Anórien still?”
“He wrote this from Eilenach Beacon, my lord, and was bound to Amon Dîn today or tomorrow,” Vorondor said.
“Why is he going to beacon-towers?” Halladan wondered aloud.
“Captain, if you would read it aloud, please, and then we will look at our copies and discuss it further,” the King directed, as a page knocked and entered with a tray bearing cups of chilled juices and a plate of small pastries. His errand done and thanked, the youth bowed and withdrew.
To my Lord King, Elessar Enyinatar Telcontar, King of Gondor and Arnor, Prince Faramir, Steward of Gondor, and Lord Halladan, Steward of Arnor, from Marpol Lord Tintehlë, Warden of Roads, greetings.
18 Lótessë 3019
As your graces know, my party and I left Minas Tirith yesterday, bound on a survey of the roads between the Realms and Rohan. The first day was uneventful until we made camp in Anórien, near the road, but we were attacked by brigands after dark. We slew five, all apparently deserters and broken Men by their clothing and gear. If there were more, they escaped during the fighting.
Wishing to report this to the nearest authority, I deemed it meet today to detour to Eilanach Beacon as we made our way through Taur Drúadain, seeing no village nor manor nearby. Encountering a pûkel-statue at the intersection of the way to the beacon-hill and the road, I cautioned my party to be alert, to stay on the road, not to draw weapons, and remain quiet but vigilant, while Captain Malréd, Dirúvel of Minas Tirith and I ascended.
My lords King and Stewards, are you aware of how badly neglected the system of Beacon towers in the Ered Nimrais are? That is one of the two occasions of these reports to you. Gaining the summit, we found the walls and outbuildings cast down or in great disrepair. Entering the tower itself, we found only one horse almost up to its hocks in ordure, showing signs of recent neglect. The living-quarters on the middle level more resembled a midden than anything else. Atop the tower, we found the fire-cage and brazier choked with ashes; I deemed neither had been tended since the alarm went forth summoning aid from Theóden King, Also, the pulley system and protective screens were partially dismantled and in disarray. The tower was untenanted save for one drunken soldier who styled himself Gronden, Ruler of the Tower, supposedly one of the First Tiromen, by default the Captain. Due to my prior service at such beacons in Anfalas and Belfalas, I suspected this was untrue, that at most he was of the Third and was lying, for his (filthy) tunic was of that rank, and his red cloak was too big for him.
We found one other in the complex—Halvador of Belfalas, recently promotedto the First Tiromen by Captain Falstred of Calenhad, who had sent him there shortly before. Arriving alone, he had been attacked from behind by Gronden, who had pushed him down the tower stair; he awoke to find himself injured and imprisoned in an outbuilding.
Dirúvel saw that he had a slight concussion and a dislocated shoulder, as well as suffering from a lack of food and water. My young assistant has some medical training, and tended him most capably, abducting the shoulder (so he tells me is the correct Healer’s term), although recommending strongly that Halvador be seen by a Healer as soon as may be. He has also scribed Halvador’s dictated a report, of which I append a copy. We found Gronden to be mad, and confined him in the same secure place in which he had immured his captive—although he shall receive better treatment than he himself meted out. We also found a place rife with Evil—a kind of blood altar, centered around what appeared to be an ornamented orc’s skull, piled about with many human remains and bones. Gronden’s ravings refer to a great demon. We also found the place without the walls where several horses had been driven over a cliff to die, and brought back the tack. If there be sigils on the harness, mayhap they may lead to identifying some of those poor vanished souls who rode them, although Halvador tells me that some may have been transferred during the War, some died battling orcs, and some may have deserted, but I greatly fear some were victims of Gronden’s frenzy. My lords, this place needs not only cleaning, refurbishment, and restaffing, but cleansing by a priest, as soon as possible. I shall also report this to Lord Daerloth’s Steward and the Captain at Amon Dîn.
We have made a start on such that can be quickly done: the fire-pit and brazier have been cleared, and the pulley-system and screens repaired. I was astonished to discover from Halvador that knowledge of the removable floors and pivoting the pulley to bring up materials inside the tower has apparently been lost to those of the Ered Nimrais Tiromin. If there is a copy of Herrodel’s Notes on Building & Maintaining Magickal Beacons in the Archives or Libraries, there are clear
diagrams and more detailed information; I read a copy while stationed at Barad Gaeros many years ago.
Tomorrow I shall leave the rest of my party here while I journey with my aide Cardin Forlong to Amon Dîn, hoping to bring back aid for Halvador ere we resume our own journey. My lords King and Stewards, I enclose another report of great importance, which also involves the security of the Realm, and I beg that you will share this one with Éomer King of Rohan.
Here Vorondor looked up. “My lords, he charged me to pause here for questions from you ere I continue. I can tell you that the report from Halvador bears out the facts Lord Tintehlë detailed in what I have just read.”
The King sat back. “Faramir, do you know aught of the condition of the beacons?”
“I know that there were rumours that they were understaffed and that supplies were mysteriously short; I know that they did much in patrolling and fighting orcs throughout the regions around them. There were many shortages near the end of the War, of Men, weapons, supplies of all kinds. I know that I had a hard time procuring all that my Rangers needed in Ithilien.”
“Would Lord Daerloth be able to shed any light on this? As Lord of Amon Dîn and Anórien, this would be of interest for him,” Halladan said.
“I believe he is currently in Amon Dîn,” the King replied. “Captain, when next you send to Lord Tintehlë, give him my thanks for his assessment. He is certainly correct; this is of vital importance to the Realm! I thank you both for bringing it to my attention.”
“You are most welcome, my lord King. The next report has to do also with the King of Rohan.”
Faramir went to the door and spoke to someone outside before returning. “The page will ask him to join us.”
“Thank you, ion nîn,” the King nodded.
In the interim, they ate a more substantial meal fetched by the servants. Presently, Éomer arrived, and was told about Marpol’s going to the wood and leaving part of his group waiting while he went to the beacon.
“Ah, I recall that place, although we did not go up the hill to the beacon,” Éomer said.
“Would you continue reading, and then give us our copies, please, Captain?” Elessar asked.
When I rejoined my party below, they told me that the pûkel-statue had moved. Because I had seen such before as a boy, I knew what it portended.Sending them up to the beacon, I moved a pendant normally worn inside my shirt outside my clothing, sat on the ground, in front of the statue and waited. My patience was at last rewarded by the appearance of six Drúadain behind me—and by this statue proving not be a statue at all, but their Chieftain, Ghân-buri-Ghân. Due to my friendship with Bhân-guri-Bhân in Pinneth Gelin, whence I learned some of their language and customs, the Chief spoke with me. He said that he had met with Theóden King and then-Marshall Éomer as they led the Muster of Rohan to Gondor’s rescue, that Theóden had sworn that the Rohirrim would cease hunting them forever, that the Wood they claim would also be theirs inviolate—although I believe that it is Gondorian territory. Thus the Drúadain led the Riders by swift and secret paths to the Stonewain Vale, that they were enabled to come in time to the White City’s aid.
These, in Westron, are the words of Ghân-buri-Ghân, as I promised I would relay them to you, my lords King Elessar, and Éomer King:
“Know, O Chief of the North and the Stone-land, and Chief of the Horse-People, that if you will keep faith with us, we shall keep faith with you. I send a token by
the hands of the Wayfarer, that you may know and judge its ancient truth.
“Let us live, mighty Chiefs, here where we belong, undisturbed. Let your peoples journey on the horse-road already made through it, touching and despoiling nothing, in peace. Let the beacon on the fire-hill remain as it has been—but they shall not hew down the trees, nor hunt the creatures within it, nor those of the air, the streams, or in the ground, but bargain with us for deadfall and such provender as they need. We shall fight orcs and fell beasts with them.
“Some of us live elsewhere in your lands. We hear them. They hear us. If news of danger threatens far away, where we know of it, we shall warn and fight with you.
“You are many, and we are few. Our wisdom is as different from yours as the way we look. But the Shining Ones long ago Sang us into being. We are a part of Arda as you are, and we ask that you consider the token. Come here to our place, talk and listen, make with us a treaty. In hope we await you. Thus speaks Ghân-buri-Ghân.”
My lords, I shall send you the token by means of a messenger as soon as I find one to whom I may safely entrust it. Meanwhile, I will describe it to you, for small as it is, yet it is too heavy for a bird to bear it hence. The token is a number of sticks, in this case, three, each a finger thick, in length from the tip of a middle finger to the bend of an elbow, bound tightly together by means of vines twisted into plaited thongs. This kind of token was first made by a dying Man, worried that two of his three sons quarreled over their inheritance while he yet lived. He asked each to bring him one stick. Bound together, he bade each son in turn to break them. None of them could do so. Given back to him, he unbound them. “Each of you, take one.” They did so. “Now break the stick”’ Each was easily snapped in twain. The father said, “Each of you is as your stick. Together, youare stronger than you are alone.”
My lords, I know that Éomer King will bring Theóoden’s body back to Edoras for burial with his fathers and his son. Could you not accompany him, my lord King, and the two of you meet with Ghân-buri-Ghân, as I by my honour hope you will? Have not the Drúadain earned a homeland with their aid, as surely as the Onodrim brought their Huorns to Isengard, and the other Kindreds contributed as they could to our victory over the Great Deceiver? And as farther back in our history, the Rohirrim were given Calnhardhon for their aid to Gondor in the time
of Steward Cirion?
With respect and service to your lordships,
—Marpol, Lord Tintehlë, Warden of Roads.
“My uncle did so state that we would no longer hunt them,” Éomer said thoughtfully. “In all honour, I must be bound by his oath to the Wose Chieftain. Of course, I have no right to say aught about the Wood itself, for that is not in Rohan, but in Gondor.”
Elessar rubbed his chin. “I am minded to meet this Man,” he remarked. “Captain, are you able to send a message to Lord Tintehlë?”
“I am, my lord.”
“Tell him that we have received his reports, and he has my gratitude. Ask him to tell his friend that we will come. I am not sure when, but we shall come, and listen, and talk.”
“I shall do so as soon as I return to the House, Sire.”
“Our thanks to you!”
“Did he mention how the horses suit him thus far?” Éomer asked.
“No, my lord, but he asked me to tell you that he believes the Tiromin, the beacon-guards, may require mounts, and you should contact Amon Dîn’s captain.”
“My thanks! I shall do so.”
Taking his leave of them, Vorondor left the Citadel.