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Marpol the Builder
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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29
Along the Gwathlo

Somewhat groggily, I woke to an Elf’s call and rose. “I need to complete my packing,” I said.

“Nay, my lord, already accomplished. Much was done yesterday by your staff, and we had directions from Lord Elrond,” he replied. “I brought a tray, should you wish to break your fast, and here are clothes for you to wear. Lord Gwaeroval advises you to dress in layers, for it is often cold aloft, despite the warmth of this season.”

Uncertain of my stomach—what would it be like to be carried through the sky? All my nerves and muscles tensed at the thought—I satisfied myself with some nut-bread and honey, and a cup of herbal tisane. Perhaps a mark before dawn, the Elf and I carried my two packs through the outer door into the small courtyard. Through the stable door, I saw Alta, her hair tightly braided and coiled, closing a pack, while several Elves went out, laden with a large harness for Gwaeroval. Lord Elrond appeared from the House, followed by two elleth bearing grey cloth. “You will find it cold aloft, despite the time of year,” he said, “so we have these cloaks for you.”

“Elven-cloaks? We are deeply obliged, my lord!” I said with some awe; I had heard much of their virtues from the Hobbits, especially Lord Panhael.

“Slightly modified from our usual cloaks,” one of the elleth said. “These are cut more on a Lossoth (1) design, with armholes, and a thick but lightweight lining that can be unbuttoned and folded away when you are in warmer climes. But the cloth is ours, so will afford you some concealment in some places. May they be useful to you!”

“Our thanks,” I said. “Good morrow, my lady,” as Alta came out to me. She smiled and slipped one hand into mine; her fingers were icy.

Gwaeroval shook himself, requested that one strap be adjusted, shook himself again, and the Elves quickly buckled on the baggage, all stowed in large panniers. Swift stood beside me, whining anxiously.

I went to one knee to gaze into his eyes. “Good dog, Swift! But you cannot come with us. Stay and obey Cardin and the Captains, until we return.”

:We have explained. He understands, but wishes you to hurry back,: ‘Gift told me quietly. He and Islilta came out of the meadow to bid us farewell. None of my staff were awake, so I left messages for each of them, as well as a letter to be sent to Minas Tirith.

Bidding Lords Elrond and Glorfindel and the other Elves farewell, I clambered up onto the saddle-like pad on Gwaeroval’s shoulders and gripped the pommel. A creaking announced Alta’s arriving and taking her place just behind me. There were belts to fasten ourselves to the harness, which we fastened and checked.

:Ready?:

:Ready,: I thought, and “heard” the echo of Alta’s :Ready, thank you.:

Gwaeroval waddled through a gate, bending his head, and along a path to a drop-off. For the first time, I really saw how deep the valley was where Lord Elrond had made his home. And as the Eagle casually stepped off the edge, we fell, hurtling down towards the Bruinen purling over rocks below. My heart was in my throat; Alta’s arms were wrapped around my waist.

Then Gwaeroval snapped out his wings, and with several powerful beats, began surging upward.

What is it like to ride an Eagle?

That first time is still vivid in my mind! It was, at first, terrifying, for I had no idea of whether he could avoid the steep sides of the cleft, and it seemed as if they rushed towards us. Each wingbeat bore us higher—but each wingbeat caused us to be thrown back against the high padded backs of the saddles, and there would be a brief, disorienting, dip between wingbeats. I swallowed, grateful I had eaten so lightly and wondering if I should have abstained altogether…

Suddenly, we were sailing smoothly, effortlessly, with an occasional wingbeat.

:I was land-bound too long! How wonderful to be in the air again!: Gwaeroval exulted.

:Oh, that is better!: Alta sighed behind me, slackening her grip slightly.

I put my hand over her clasped ones. We both were gloved, but even this contact made my heart thrill with joy.

:That is because I found a thermal.:

:What is a thermal?: I wondered.

:Anor (2) does not heat the earth evenly, so in some places, there is a column of air that is warmer than that surrounding it. It goes upwards, something similar to a current in the water, and most birds of prey can ride it with little effort of flying, as a ship coasts on it, impelled by wind and wave.:

:How high do they go, these thermals?: I asked.

:That varies with the terrain. As soon as the air is all the same temperature, we must begin flying—but now that we are in the sky, that will be minimal compared to getting into the air. Now I am going to turn in a circle, so you can see Imladris and the surrounding area. Then I will go higher. Oh, and thank you for moving with me, unlike those lumps of Dwarves, who sat like bags of ore.:

:Dwarves?: I thought, confused by the reference, although he was right; I was adjusting my weight to his movements without thinking, as any horseman would, and presumably Alta was as well. ‘Gift and Islilta had taught us much about riding, and the skill carried over to this very different kind of mount—but I deemed it impolite to say so!

:When we Eagles helped them escape from the wargs on their quest to regain Erebor. I almost scorched my tail-feathers when the fattest one fell out of a burning tree onto my back, and then two others.:

I recalled that Master Baggins had mentioned being on that quest, some seventy years before. :I had the impression that you are reckoned as young by your Kindred.:

:So I am. I was barely fledged, and very proud to be allowed to join that flight, instead of being left back at the aerie with my younger sibs. Now, look down to the right, and do not fear falling.:

He slowly dipped his right wing, so that we were coasting on an angle. Spread out beneath us were Rivendell and the surrounding area. Elrond’s cleft valley was a tiny, exquisite white and silver sculpture, touched with green, especially in contrast with the rolling carpet of low hills and scrub vegetation around it. To the north and west were the scattered woods and ridges of the Pinneth Tereg; he turned and flew somewhat west and south, taking us over the Angle between the Bruinen and Mitheithel rivers, then over the Enedhwaith to either side of the Gwathló. I could see why those grassy lands were called the “Middle Region,” historically inhabited by a mixture of peoples, from the Dunnish to a few Dwarves, to some Hobbits and Dúnedain, although mostly uninhabited since the time of the Witch-King.

As Gwaeroval went higher, I understood why Elrond and his folk had insisted on the layers of clothing we wore, for the air grew colder. It was soon also damp, for the Eagle flew up through clouds overhead, breaking through onto a wide expanse seemingly floored with drifts of white feathery snow, now and again broken by glimpses of the ground—and after a while, I loosened my cloak, for I grew too warm in the unobstructed sunlight!

:I wished you to see this; now I will descend to a better height for you to see below. Might Lady Alta be better in front of you, Thorenhen, so that you can both see?:

:A very kind thought, Gwaeroval. Would you like that, Alta?:

Her arms were about my waist. :Can we switch places safely up here? We are so high!: Her mental “voice” was higher in pitch than usual, quivering slightly.

:Forgive me! I forgot that you are mostly land-based. You must let me know at once if you are uncomfortable. I do know that I can fly much higher, in thinner air, than most mortals—or even the Elder—can easily abide, but I don’t mean to be inconsiderate,: he said contritely.

:You are most thoughtful,: she assured him. :My mother will be astonished that I have had the privilege of being conveyed by a messenger of the Valar!:

:Then I shall descend, not too steeply.:

He did so, in a wide spiral,

:Which river is that?: she asked.

:The Gwathló, I think,: I replied, awed by the amount of ground we had covered in just a few hours!

:Correct. Do you know what this is?: He began to glide lower, in a wide spiral, and I swallowed; my ears popped. :Or mayhap I should ask when.:

I could see that we seemed to be over an extensive ruin, now grass-covered by the centuries, but with a few visible indications from above of where walls and buildings had once been. From its size—and the unusual geometric forms—I deduced, swallowed, and as my ears popped again, thought, :Is that Ost-in-Edhil (2)?:

:It is. I am going to hunt and will be back in a short time, if you wish to dismount and explore a bit.:

:That would be very good. Alta?:

:Lord Elrond’s cooks packed us a morsel. I did not eat very much before we left. This will do very well, my lords.:

He backwinged into a surprisingly gentle landing, and after unbuckling ourselves, I helped her slide down to the ground, tossed down the pack which she directed me to loose, and jumped down myself. It felt good to stretch my legs as we walked through the small grassy knolls which covered most of the ruins, and by a section of wall, I spread a blanket while she set out meat pies, cheese, pickles, small pastries, and a stone jug of some light wine.

As we sat down, I noticed that Alta was shaking her head and putting her hands over her ears.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My head feels odd,” she said, shaking it again.

“Your head, or your ears?”

“Mostly my ears. You sound…foggy. I sound foggy.”

“Ah, I can fix that, or rather, show you how to fix it yourself,” I told her, setting down the cup she had handed me. “Now, turn your head to the right until your chin touches your shoulder. Hold your nose, close your mouth, and swallow hard until your left ear pops. Now, turn your head to the left and do the same thing, until your right ear pops. Better?”

“Oh, yes!” She sighed with relief. “What causes that?”

“Air pressure. To put it simply, the air gets heavier nearer the earth. You can tell the difference if you climb a very high mountain, for instance. I had wondered if this was the case with riding an Eagle, so I asked Master Baggins. He told me that the Dwarves especially complained about it, and one, of them, I think his name was Óin, was most miserable. Apparently, he was so deaf he had to use an ear trumpet, and whatever caused that condition made it harder for him to equalize the pressure.”

“But how can the air heavier in one place than another?” she asked.

“I think it isn’t so much place as it is the level and temperature of the air in that place, in relation to the earth. See, here is the air as we’re used to it on the ground where we live.” I patted the blanket we sat upon, then set the end of my spoon on it, holding it by the bowl perpendicular to the cloth. “But if I go higher, the air grows thinner the higher above the earth in that spot I go. You know how heavy the air seems right before a storm? And how thin the air seems when it is extremely cold? As air warms, it rises. When it cools, it sinks. The temperature change produces movement. That’s what Gwaeroval meant about the thermals he rides. Somehow birds can detect them; I’ve seen hawks and falcons, and yes, owls, do the same thing. Conversely, the deeper below the earth you go, the heavier the air seems too. Prince Dalfinor told me that in some places in the mines, they use candles to see if the air is breathable or if some vapour has rendered the area dangerous.”

She laughed suddenly. “How old are you?”

I blinked at the change of subject. “Thirty-four, why?”

“And as one of the Dúnedain, you will probably live another century and a half at least,” she smiled. “I’ve learned so much in just the short time I’ve known you—think how much more I will know by the time I’m old! We will both be wise, although you already are. And we will never be bored!”

“I am happy to facilitate your education and entertainment,” I said dryly over the lump in my throat, and she laughed again. “But you are wise too, in your own knowledge, and considerably more beautiful to look at than I!”

“Oh, no, I’m quite plain!”

“Dear my lady, you are far from that!”

“If I am, ‘tis only in your eyes.” Suddenly her gaze sharpened, going beyond me. “What is that?”

“What?” My hand went to my sword-hilt.

“I thought I saw a glint of something in the wall behind you, right—there!”

“Really?” I turned and regarded the stones. “It might be a flake of mica, but somehow I doubt it. Don’t move, Alta. Here?”

“Move your hand a little to the left. No, a bit higher. Too high; just a little lower. There!”

Marking the spot with a finger, I took out my belt-knife and began prying at the surface, gradually picking out the ancient mortar, enough to scrape and insert the tip of my blade. “Put your hand underneath,” I directed, and eased the item out enough to fall into her palm.

“What is it?”

I took it into my cupped palm, spilled a little water from my water-bottle over it, polished the bit on my sleeve, and held it out to her. “Well! That’s a pretty for you!”

“What is it?” she asked again with a gasp.

“A gift from the Mírdain(3) , the great Elven jewel-smiths,” I replied. “Mayhap one of them intended it for his lady. Here you are. You can probably have it set into a pendant or a ring later.”

She touched the triangular bit of gold, perhaps the size of my thumbnail, and incised with a flower, a tiny pearl as its center. “It’s beautiful! Imagine it being here for so long, and our finding it! I wonder why no one did before.”

“Probably because of erosion and weather gradually uncovering it, and I doubt many folk come here to even notice. Quite probably, if you had sat an inch or two to one side or the other, or if the sun had not been shining, you would not. This must be a sad place for the Elves, and most others might fear it.”

“Fear a ghost or ghosts, you mean?”

I thought of an entity I had encountered once, and tried not to shiver. And I did not want her to be afraid. “Avoiding it could be from custom and habit,” I said instead. “But it seems fair enough now, and I don’t think the Eagle would’ve left us somewhere dangerous without at least a warning. Have I made you uneasy?”

“I am too happy to be uneasy. Thank you for this!”

“You found it.”

“You retrieved it. I meant for this trip, and today, and last night, and all of it,” she gestured widely.

I drew her closer and kissed her. “Thank you for enriching my life,” I said softly.


We were almost asleep in the warmth against the wall when we heard Gwaeroval calling, and hurriedly packed up the remnants of our noon meal before walking out to greet him and remount.

It was better with her in front of me; why should she only be able to see by leaning sideways or stare at my back? And I won’t deny that I enjoyed the feel of my hands on her waist as we surged higher and higher, swallowing and yawning to equalize the air pressure as we rose.
Glaeroval continued our flight along the river, passing to the south side of Tharbad. I asked him to circle. :May we go a bit closer? I would like to see the town better, and the crossing.:

:As you wish.:

I pointed out to Alta, :See, there are the remains of the bridge. A difficult crossing, now and before it was built. We will have to restore it, someday.:

:I never thought of it as more than a ruin, until I heard that Lord Boromir lost a horse there. Does anyone live here? And what is that smell?:
she asked.

:The marshes. I believe a few folk still do live here. You can see where they had a system of canals within the walls.:

:How can you tell? More than half of it is water!:

:See how the ruins go? They show the layout of the canals. You can see where the Men Hyarmen runs south towards Edoras.:


:Do you wish me to follow it?:

:No, thank you, Glaeroval,: I replied. :It is well-documented, although I would like to see the crossing more closely at some point later. For now, would you please continue to follow the river?:

:Certainly.:

As the afternoon progressed, I pointed out Sudúri on the left, telling Alta that we had left Cardolan and were now seeing the Minhirith on the right, and more of the Enedwriath to the left.

The sun was close to setting when I thought I detected a tang of salt, and pointed to a glimpse of blue in the distance. :Look!:

Her hands clasped mine more tightly. I could “hear” her excitement. :Is that the Sea?:

:It is. Have you never seen it?:
:Never!:
:Easily remedied, but first, let me land by the river below.:

I was awed by the amount of ground we had covered in just one day!

:Do you know what this is?: He began to glide lower, in a wide spiral, and I swallowed; my ears popped. :Or mayhap I should ask when.:

:Lond Daer?: I asked, using a name that Alta might recognize.

:All that is left of Vinyalondë, after so long,: he affirmed. :No one lives here, so you should be safe tonight—but be very careful if you swim. There are stinging creatures near the islets, and assangar2 by that sandbar.:

:Be assured we will—I saw a comrade fall to a marsh ironmouth’s jaws once.: I told him with a shudder as we began the descent.


Again, it was good to stretch our legs once we had unloaded and unharnessed him and he took off again. Laden with packs, we wandered through the low grassy mounds that were all that remained of the first landfall of Alarion and the Company of Venturers an Age ago. I could readily understand why it had been chosen as an outpost, situated as it was on a vast harbour.

“Do you want to swim?” I asked her.

“After what he said, I’m not sure. Do you think it’s safe to wade?” she asked.

“Probably, if we don’t stray in too deep,” I said. Pulling up a branch from a shrub, I probed the edge. “No sink-holes right here, and only a few finger-lengths deep. Have you really never seen the Sea before?”

“Father was born near Belfalas, so for him the sea was not the source of good memories; my grandsire perished in a storm while fishing,” she said, sitting down and taking off her shoes. For the first time, I realized that she was wearing breeches under her skirts as she bent down to roll up the legs and kilted up the skirts.

“Why are you dressed like that?” I asked, fascinated.

“Oh, because wearing breeches seemed so strange, and I thought it’d be warmer. The ellith all told me that Lady Arwen often does so, without the skirt, when riding or traveling, but it seemed to me that if we met anyone, they would be pleasanter if I don’t shock them with manly attire.”

“With it just being the both of us, surely you can take off the skirt. After all, you’re otherwise covered, and that way you won’t draggle your hem in the water,” I suggested as I rolled up my own pantlegs and shed my tunic, boots and hose. It was warm enough that I rolled up the sleeves of my shirt and loosened the laces at its neck.

“Turn your back, please,” she requested modestly. I did so, and soon we were hand in hand, walking and splashing in the shallows. She was interested in everything in the tidal pools and along the coast, but the water was chill, and presently we were back ashore, drying our feet and legs on her skirt before preparing our campsite.

“I’m surprised that you didn’t want to set the camp up right away and inspect it,” she teased as I came from digging a jakes trench in the twilight.

“It’s not often that I’m alone with you,” I pointed out, “and besides, I promised myself I’d woo you properly. I haven’t, really, and you deserve that—although you’ll probably have to tell me how to do it.”

Her lips curved. “You’re doing well so far, or I would not have said yes to your proposal.”

I said seriously, “Altáriël, I want to be sure that we are suited to each other beforehand.”

“You’re thinking of your brother?”

“And my father. I do not have the experience of a happy family behind me.”

“But you want one.”

“I do!”

“You build it around you, have been building it ever since I met you. And before that, according to Vorondor. Rest assured, I do have such a family behind me, although none is ever completely without care. Shall I tell you Mother’s advice?”

“Please do.”

“She said that one should seek friendship first. ‘Mark you, there’s many are handsome on the surface, or wealthy in goods, or have the charm of an Elf-lord. But ‘tis only a few who will want to know you to your depths, valuing your very self, and befriend you enough for honesty. Those are the ones to seek!’”

She wagged her head emphatically, and I chuckled. “I can imagine her saying just that. A wise woman, your mother.”

“That is the only flaw in our journey, Marpol; I dread going back to find that she has died alone.”

“I have instructed Vorondor to send us word immediately if her condition worsens, and I will see to it that you go home to her at once. But she was doing well when we left, and her doctor—and the King!—were hopeful of her doing well on this new treatment.”

“I know. The King was kind enough to tell me exactly how well she was responding when he met us at the tower. I just worry about her!”

“Of course you do! So do I.”

“You adopted us the moment you met her, didn’t you?”

I grinned. “I’d say it was more all three of us acting together! What is that I smell?”

“Oh, no, the bread-rolls!” She fairly flew to the small fire, just as we heard: “Hallo, the fire!”

Grabbing up a cloth, she snatched up the thin metal sheet of rolls in one hand, as she drew her knife with the other; I also drew my sword, although I held it low.

Two Men materialized within the fire’s light. “By what right do you camp here?” the younger one demanded. He held a bow, arrow already nocked.

“The day’s greeting, Feryth (5),” I said pleasantly. “My understanding is that this ruin does not belong to anyone. We do no harm. You are welcome to join us.”

“Few use that term; what does it mean?” asked the older one.

“When I see two Men, both wearing green cloaks with the eresselin (6), what would I think but that two of the Rangers of the North were here? And you, ser, have something of the look of my cousin.”

“Who’s that?”

“He has many names. You might know him as Strider. I know him now as Aragorn, although at first I called him King Elessar, and the Elves of Rivendell call him Estel.”

“Have you seen him? Is he well?” asked the younger one eagerly.

His senior sighed. “Anyone can say they know him, Galdor,” he chided, then to me, “Have you any proof that you even do? For I know his family, and I do not know you.”

“I am a distant relation from Gondor,” I replied. “In fact, I only became aware of the connection when he and Lord Halladan told me of it some days ago. But I have something with me that you might accept. Come sit by the fire; I accord you guest-right this night.”

“A loremaster who looks like a soldier? And who is an Elf-friend?” As they came forward, his eyes were on my cloak, which I had laid aside.

“Because of his foster-son, Lord Elrond named me kinsman,” I said. “Will you share food and drink?”

:I come!:

All of us rose to our feet, and abruptly, the darkness moved, as Gwaeroval landed nearby (creating a small storm of sand) and waddled closer. :I hunted again, and thought you might like some of this.: He deposited a large object near the fire, bowed his head, gap-grinned with his beak and added, :I will come back for you in the morning, Thoronhen and Lady. Farewell, Rangers!: before vanishing with an upward leap and another blast of sandy air as he winged aloft.

“My thanks!” I called after him, and meant it.

Not too many people will dispute the probity of those who are friends of a messenger of Manwë….

Even the elder was hard-pressed not to stare. “We’ll clean the fish,” he said in a strangled tone.

“Nay, I should do that, as temporary host,” I replied, leaning down to pick it up, a large section of a huge fish, wrapped in seaweed. “How courteous! Already cleaned, and ready for cooking. What spices do you have, my dear? But forgive my rudeness; this is my betrothed lady, Altáriël Nénharma, and I am Marpol Thorenhen Tintehlë, at your service and your family’s.”

“Eldien Foros,” he said, “and my grandson, Galdor. But you do not have the look of any of the House of the Eagle.”

I took my wallet of papers from my pouch and handed it to him, as Alta brought my folding lantern from my pack, and lit its candle. “Mayhap this will answer a few of your questions. You are far from your lands, my lord.”

“We don’t set much store with titles in the North,” he said austerely after reading them while I tended the fish; I had wrapped it in the seaweed again, after seasoning it and basting it with some honey, laying it on a griddle over the coals to which the fire had burned. “And our Chieftain tarries in the South, instead of returning home where he belongs.”

“Your Chieftain is our King Returned,” Alta spoke up; she was deftly shaping loaves for baking in the morning, after making a salat of vegetables. “Having been gone for a thousand years, he can’t order Gondor with a snap of his fingers. You’ve had a deal more of his attention than we have, so it’s only reasonable that it may take him a while to organize things as he wishes. Let me tell you, there are enough sticks stuck in the mud of centuries of ‘but this is how we’ve always done things,’”—she put a convincing whine in her voice for that phrase before reverting to a more normal tone – “to keep him busy for a while. His heritage includes both realms, and so he has claimed both, and while you may think one has naught to do with the other, you are mistaken. Marpol is one who is helping with that. The question is, my lord Foros, will you hinder or help?”

“Do you hide behind a woman’s skirts?” he asked me provacatively.

I grinned at him amiably. “I see no skirts at the moment, but I had heard that the women of the North were as strong as the men, and certainly my betrothed is no weak reed. Does your lady wear a bridle upon her speech?”

Galdor laughed, and Eldien reluctantly smiled. “No. She’d hand me my own head if I dared try reining her in in any way. I beg both your pardons; that was uncalled for.”

“If you will pardon me for any awkwardness,” I said, and Alta added, “May we start again? My lord Foros, this is Marpol Thornhen Lord Tintehlë, and I have the honour to be his betrothed and his housekeeper, Altáriël Nénharma.”

“At your service and your family’s,” he replied with a bow, and I bowed in return. Alta rose to curtsey, and said vexedly, “Oh, bother!” as she managed quite a credible bow instead.

“I think the fish is ready,” I announced.

All of us remained on our feet for the Standing Silence before sitting down again, and a few moments were spent eating. At length, Eldien wiped his mouth and said, “That was definitely the best fish I have ever tasted. My thanks! Galdor, get the spice-cakes from my pack, if you would. My wife’s baking.”

They were delicious, and we said so, Alta hoping for the recipe. Eldien stretched out his long legs and took out his pipe and pouch. “Do you mind if I smoke?”

“I am newly introduced to it myself,” I said, taking out mine. Galdor gave both of us a light, before his grandfather sent him to patrol the perimeter of our camp after washing up.

“You asked, with reason, why we are here,” Eldien said seriously. “We have not been a plenteous people for many years, and it was a shame to us that we could send only thirty warriors under Halbarad’s leadership to assist The Dúnedan. But he understood that we dared not strip our defenses bare, stretched thin as we have ever been. Aye,” he added, seeing my movement at mention of that Ranger, “we know that Halbarad fell. He foresaw it, I think. You need not break that sad news. We have, and will, mourn him and others as is proper. He was a fine Man, Halbarad.”

“If his brothers are any indication, I can well believe it,” I said sincerely. “I am sorry for your loss, my lord—and it is mine as well, for he too would have been one of my newly-discovered kinsmen.”

He nodded acknowledgement, and we smoked for a time in silence. “I will confess that I was following a hunch. Word was that the Beffraen have been seen in this area, and I wondered why.”

“Who are they?” asked Alta, coming to sit beside me with some knitting in her hands.

“A nomadic folk, very few now, said to be related to the Woses. They’ve hated the Númenóreans time out of mind, for ruining the land, and ‘tis said they sometimes indulge in animal and human sacrifice. Villagers near here reported seeing lights and the remains of such a sacrifice, although no tamed animals nor people are known to be missing. We are on a long patrol, since this is Galdor’s first one since attaining his Star, so I thought to see.”

“We saw nothing of the kind,” I replied, “but neither were we looking for such indications, and did not seek widely in this area, as no doubt you could see from our tracks.”

“Umph. And I have ever been fascinated by these ruins,” he admitted. “Well, we shall venture along the coast tomorrow, and see what develops. Meanwhile, may we camp with you tonight? Four may fare better than two, if attacked. I’ll take the first watch.”

I thanked him and agreed, after a glance at and a nod from Alta. He rose and I scooted closer to her. “I’m afraid you’ll have little privacy.”

Even in the firelight, I thought I could see her blush, but her tone was equable. “That’s all right, my lord; it won’t be the first time I’ve had no tent when camping. I’ll just slip off my shoes and loosen my clothing, once I plait my hair for the night.”

“Need you plait it?” I asked, thinking of how like black silk it looked.

She laughed at me. “You don’t want to hear me swear like a sailor, trying to get the tangles out of it in the morning! I remember I complained to Mother once, when I was about thirteen, how I hated taking the time. She didn’t argue, just said that I might do as I chose, so long as I understood how grieved Father would be if I had to cut it. I went one night with it unbound, after a day of it loose. Brushing out all the tangles took nearly an entire morning, with her help, and it would be worse now, being longer! I never neglected it again, nor will I.”

“May I help?” I inquired.

“Mayhap—when we’re alone.”

“I do have a bone to pick with you,” I said, as she got out a brush and began drawing it into her hair after she had undone it. “What is this ‘my lord’ business?”

“I don’t hear you calling me by my first name,” she pointed pertly.

“I shall need to practice,” I said. All foolishness, of course, but a pleasant foolishness!

I watched, hands behind my head as I lay on my bedroll near hers (yet at a decorous distance), until the repetitive motion made my eyelids lower, until I slept.

~~~

1) the Lossoth – Mannish people of the Far North.
Anor – the Sun.

2) Ost-in-Edhil (S. “Fortress of the Elves”) – ruined Elvish city in Eregion, founded in SA 230 by Celeborn and Galadriel; its smith-halls were the famed workshops of the Gwaith-i-Mirdain, the jewelsmiths whose leader, Celebrimbor, forged rings of power under the cozening of Annatar /Sauron.

3) Mírdan (S.) – jewelsmith (pl. mírdain). The Elvish jewelsmiths were famous, especially those of Eregion.

4) Assangar (W. “Crocodile”, S./Noldor “Carachadil”) – a species of archaic lizard-creatures distantly akin to the Fell-beasts, also sometimes wrongly linked to Dragon-kind. Kinds include Alligators, Crocodiles of Greater Harad, Sea-Crocodiles, Gelinencai, Swamp Dragons (some varieties of those being nicknamed “ironmouths”).

5) Feryth -- Feryth Formen (S. “Rangers of the North”), also more formally, Heren a Govannas in Faradrim Forod (S. “Order and Fellowship of the Rangers of the North”), founded by Crown-Prince Aranarth in early TA 1976. They pledged to dedicate themselves to complete the work that Ardvedui and their forefathers had left undone, to protect the land that had been Arnor and all of its peoples, until all oaths had been kept and the few hopeful prophecies were made true. Their symbol was the eresselin. Aranarth bonded his old Ranger-command to the officers of the armies and the masters of the religious orders who had shown their quality in the war. Aranarth decided that their primary purpose was the continuation of the royal Dúnedain line, so non-Dúnedain could not be part of the inner, higher ranks and were also excluded from their havens and villages; additionally, the eresselin was given with the premise that it be returned on the bearer’s death. Also, restrictions applied to marriages; all children supported by the fellowship retain the purity of Dúnedain bloodlines. Rangers’ homes were separated from lesser Men, contributing to their small number, with their hold on the North tenuous. Aranarth’s vision included his belief that his people needed the physical and mental heritage of Númenor as a priceless advantage was followed by his heirs for 15 generations. A selfless discipline like that of the Faithful of old was taught to every child of the order, and the loneliness of the Ranger’s life was compensated by the surety of loyal comrades on any journey and a friendly home and hearth at the end of it. Secrecy and tight discipline is their hallmark; few know of them.
6) the eresselin – the six-pointed star symbol worn by the Heren a Govannas in Faradrim Forod (Order and Fellowship of the Rangers of the North). Made of Elvish silver by the senior silversmith of the Fornost guild. Traditionally it must be earned by years of service, and by full vote of his peers, even if royalty. Long the most coveted award in all of Arthdain. Could be awarded to non-Dúnadain members, but with proviso that must be returned to Order on death of wearer. All of the Ranger leadership must have been awarded the star. Worn on left shoulder of grey cloak, or the left shoulder of the formal grey uniform tunic. Had also been worn by the older Faradrim Aran (Royal Rangers) before the fall of Arthedain.


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