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Posted: Nov 13 2011, 10:41 PM
At Journey's End
Member No.: 2
Joined: 11-July 08
Title: Night Under The Sun
Genre: Action/Adventure, General
Characters: Aragorn, original characters. In Prologue only: Pippin, Legolas, Gimli, Elboron, Faramir, Éowyn, Eldarion
Summary: Two thieves and foster-brothers from Minas Anor get a job of their lives when they are told to steal the legendary Heart of Rhûn. The story starts at 1304 Third Age.
Warnings: Some horror themes, violence.
Disclaimer: I own nothing whatsoever J.R.R. Tolkien wrote and make no profit with this story. All characters recognizable from Tolkien's published works are the property of Tolkien Estates, as is the setting of Middle-Earth. I own only the plot of this particular story and the original characters I have myself created for the purposes of the story.
Author's Note: I have completely rewritten the story to add more background and plot, and have also made changes to the timeline. The basic premise and much of the plot remains the same, though. I thank Ragnelle of ffnet for pointing out some serious problems with the first version and for exchanging ideas as how to fix them.
You can review HERE.
A horn-call echoed in the woods, loud and deep. The sound vibrated amongst the trees so vigorously that it almost seemed as if it would tear the last reddening leaves to the ground. To the two listeners who stood on a small glade a good distance away, it sounded like it came from behind the nearest tree.
“'Tis Elboron's horn,” said a tall, slender elf who was standing beside a stocky dwarf with a mass of reddish-brown hair and beard.
“Yes, Legolas, only he has the lungs to make it bray like that. He resembles Boromir, or maybe poor Denethor, quite as much as he resembles his parents.”
“Mostly in body only, however. But shall we go, Gimli, and see? He must have downed some quarry.”
Gimli shook his head and looked over his shoulder.
“No, let us wait for Peregrin first, as we promised. The old wool-toe really takes his time to join us.”
An amused voice spoke from Gimli's right:
“What, do I hear you speaking ill of me behind my back? That's not so nice a thing for a friend to do.”
Gimli started a little and turned to face Pippin, who now rode on the glade on a small, grey pony. Legolas, who had heard the animal coming from far away, only waved his hand in greeting.
“Stating simple facts was not speaking ill the last time I heard,” Gimli said with a smile. “So, where were you? We have been up and about for a few hours already.”
“Do you really think I'd pass my second breakfast? I am not so young as I used to be and old hobbits need their regular meals. I learned that much from Bilbo, if nothing else.”
Gimli let out a little laugh as he looked at the hobbit. True, Pippin had some grey strands in his curly hair and a few inches more girth than during the War, but he still looked very hale and hearty in his miniature hunting attire of a Gondorian knight. His way of moving, moreover, was as lively as ever when he dismounted the pony and walked to his friends. Smiling, Legolas remarked:
“I daresay it will be some years still before you turn into a frail old man. Come now, you can admit to us you just might have been a little lazy.”
“Why shouldn't I confess as much? It's no great shame,” Pippin said, laughing. “I enjoy game on the plate well enough, but it's a real bother to go and fetch it from the woods.”
Legolas's smile widened.
“You poor thing, so burdened with toil! But come, let us go and see what Elboron has caught.”
When they arrived at another glade a quarter of a mile away they saw that the rest of the hunting party had already gathered there. In the middle of the group lied a large buck with a handsome set of antlers. Elboron was standing beside it, with Faramir, Eldarion and Aragorn looking at the cadaver with admiring attention. Eldarion was just speaking when the latecomers entered the scene.
“'Twas a fine shot, lord Elboron, cleanly through the throat! If it pleases you, could you teach me some archery during this visit of ours? I have some trouble with aiming still.”
Elboron, a tall, muscular man of about thirty who had the blond hair of his mother and the grey eyes of his father, bowed a little.
“Thank you for the compliment, my prince. I will be delighted to give you some advice. But if I may say this, please leave the ´lord´ away.” He glanced at Faramir and Aragorn before continuing: “Our families being so close, I do not think it is necessary for you to use titles when speaking to your subjects.”
“Good friends, rather,” Aragorn corrected, with a friendly nod. “He is right, son. Remember, we came to Emyn Arnen to have a few weeks of rest from all the court formalities. But the no-titles policy applies to you, too, Elboron, if you please.”
Eldarion looked at Aragorn with an expression of grave respect and replied:
“As you say, father.”
But then, him being a lad of sixteen after all, his mood changed to one of youthful enthusiasm again. He stepped closer to Elboron, offering his hand to the older man.
“So, Elboron, congratulations again for a fine kill! And if you have time, I would like to go shooting at targets tomorrow.”
Elboron took his hand and shook it heartily.
“Tomorrow suits fine, pr– I mean, Eldarion. Let us meet after breakfast at the range.”
The two fathers looked on with expressions of approval. Aragorn would have spoken, but then he noticed his three friends in the corner of his eye. Turning to face them, he said:
“So, there you sluggards finally are! I should convict you of wasting your King's time, but let it drop now. But only if you have a good explanation.”
Not taking the jesting threat too seriously, Gimli answered in the same tone:
“Forgive us, o most merciful majesty! We would have come earlier, but a fierce battle Peregrin got into delayed us.”
“Yes, our brave hobbit versus his mortal foe – his appetite.”
Pippin wasn't too amused, but the rest of the company laughed heartily. After a short conversation it was decided that the day's hunt was over; in addition to Elboron's buck, Aragorn had also felled a fine deer. Faramir, being the host, now summoned the attendant servants and ordered them to clean the game and carry it home. Elboron, however, insisted on gutting his own kill as was his custom. After he had finished, he cut a branch from an evergreen bush and put it between the buck's mouth after the ancient tradition of hunters. Then he wiped his hands and joined the others who were already mounted, Gimli and Pippin on ponies, and only waiting for him.
While riding towards Faramir's palace, the king and the steward stalled a little behind the others to briefly speak of the affairs of state. The thirty-fourth year of King Elessar's reign had been fine this far, however, so to the two men's relief there were very few problems to solve. A warm spring had been followed by an equally pleasant summer with enough rain and sun both. The harvest had been phenomenal. Also, there was peace both inside the realm and along the borders. Thus, Aragorn had decided he could afford a vacation of a month. Hearing this, Faramir had invited him to Emyn Arnen, an invitation Aragorn had eagerly accepted. He, Arwen and their son had instantly made preparations for the journey and there they were now, a week later. The royal couple's two daughters had also been invited, but neither of them or their husbands had the opportunity to leave their estates at the moment.
As planned in the morning, the hunting party ate a simple lunch halfway back. The weather was wonderful for mid-Narbeleth; there was a light veil of clouds covering the sky, but otherwise it was dry. The air was cool and crisp and the trees almost seemed to be aflame with their plumes of red and yellow leaves, thus giving some refreshing colour to the landscape.
After eating the company resumed their ride at a leisure pace. It was mid-afternoon when they finally reached the grounds of Faramir's palace, a tall and spacious building of white and red marble. They left their steeds at the gates of the surrounding wall and paced through the tastefully arranged garden in front of the main building. At length they reached the wide pavement before the double doors leading inside. Obeying a small sign from Faramir the servants swung the doors open. The company entered, chattering pleasantly. But they had not taken many steps in the entrance hall, before they stopped at the sight of two ladies descending a great staircase at the far end of the hall.
“Ah, Éowyn!” exclaimed Faramir. “How was your day?”
Then he paused, making a deferential greeting at the other one of the women.
“Begging your pardon, Queen Arwen.”
“No reason to be sorry,” Arwen replied. “Whom should a man greet first if not his own wife?”
“Yes, his poor wife whom he has been neglecting all day,” Éowyn said in a playful tone.
The women stepped down from the last step and embraced their husbands. Éowyn and Faramir made a rather curious pair nowadays: The dúnadan husband was still looking quite young, the black of his hair intact and his posture as upright as ever. But Éowyn's age was already showing. There were many wrinkles around her eyes and on her forehead. Besides, the gold of her hair had dimmed somewhat into a shade reminiscent of a pale primula flower. Her eyes, though, had retained their brightness and her form had not gained much weight during the years. In short, she was quite well preserved for a woman of almost sixty, but there was no question of that she was nearing her old age.
Still, it was with a warm affection and love that Faramir embraced her wife, giving her a long kiss while he did so. For him she would always be the fair maiden he had first seen in the garden of the Houses of Healing.
Meanwhile, Aragorn also hugged his wife and spoke:
“So, I hope you have had a nice day? I have been somewhat fearful that you would find our little vacation horribly boring, with only you and Èowyn keeping the household together while we are away.”
“Oh, have no worries, dear. She has been wonderful company,” was the smiling reply. “You cannot imagine the amount of talking we have been doing today alone. It is long since we have had a real chance to sit down and have a long, good conversation.”
That being settled, the company took off to their separate ways. They spent the rest of the afternoon doing whatever amused the person in question most. For instance, Faramir and Éowyn were both avid readers and settled on chairs in their well-stocked library, now and then trading comments about the books they were reading. Pippin joined Gimli to smoke a nice pipeful, after which they went with Legolas to have a game of bowling. The others, too, easily found activities to while the hours away.
The evening came and with it the dinnertime. The company had a sumptuous meal in the smaller of the dining halls of the palace. After that they gathered in a neighbouring sitting room, in which a group of comfortable chairs and couches practically invited the diners to sink themselves amidst the soft cushions and green velvet covers. A wine rack filled with bottles spread over one of the walls, and a small chest next to it held silver cups. Faramir took it upon himself to hand the cups to his guests and fill them with white wine. Meanwhile, a servant lit the fire into a great fireplace that dominated one of the walls of the room. It was adorned with oakleaf motifs and the Steward's coat of arms which was affixed above the mantelpiece. The servant then lit some candles in the room and retired, leaving the company alone.
During the dinner they had talked of recent things, but now their talk drifted farther into the past the older generation present had shared. Helm's Deep was fought again from the safety of soft armchairs, as well as the battle on the Pelennor. Elboron and Eldarion listened to the talk intently, the latter especially making eager questions now and then.
When the conversation finally reached Morannon, Pippin, who was sitting in a shade a little separated from the others, suddenly shuddered.
“I would rather that we did not speak of it. I still have nightmares about that scuffle.”
“About the big troll?” asked Gimli in a sympathetic tone.
“It, and Mouth of Sauron. The memory of the moment he showed us Frodo's mithril shirt still chills my spine when I think about it. That man must have been the most evil thing I've ever seen, only excepting my peek into the palantír.”
Aragorn, who had been silent for a moment, now spoke in a thoughtful tone:
“Yes, he was indeed evil to see but if this comforts you, I think I have seen worse. What would you say about a whole troop of his kindred, one of them even more fearsome than he in a way?”
The rest of the company, except Arwen, looked at him in surprise. Pippin exclaimed:
“You are pulling our collective legs, Strider. Where on Arda have you met such people?”
“Oh, it was quite a few years ago and quite a few leagues away. I think I was thirty-six at the time. Yes, I was, now that I think about it. It all started about a month after my birthday. ”
Arwen now broke into the conversation:
“This is about your first journey to the south, is it not? You have told me part of it, but I would like to hear the whole story.”
“I would like to fill the gaps now, but I fear the story is rather grim for Eldarion to hear.”
“I am not a child anymore, father,” the prince protested, then continued with eyes shining from eager curiosity: “Please tell us the whole tale. I would love to hear of your adventures when you were young.”
The others supported Eldarion, expressing also a wish to hear more. Finally Aragorn laughed, throwing his hands into air.
“Very well, how can I refuse when you badger me so? Only do not blame me if you are tired tomorrow. The tale is rather long, and we shall sit here long into the night.”
Meanwhile, Pippin had leaned back on the couch he was sitting on. He put his hands into his pockets, but frowned. His fingers touched a notebook. He had forgotten it, and a graphite pen, there in the morning after he had done some calculations about the harvest on his family estates. A moment of thought, and he drew the things out and opened the notebook.
“Well, why not. I might as well imitate Bilbo a little,” he thought. A little embarrassed, he glanced around to see if anyone had noticed the book. But everyone's attention was fixed to Aragorn.
Pippin put the notebook on his knee and took the pen in his hand. Then he started to write, being anxious not to miss a word as Aragorn began his story.
As there is very little known of Eldarion, I have assumed that he was born in 18 FO. This is just a convenient device for this story, not founded on anything else. That the royal pair had two daughters is just an assumption as well.
As for Elboron, for obvious reasons I have assumed he was born only a few years after the War of the Ring.
"Ha! Wonnige Glut! Leuchtender Glanz!
Strahlend nun offen steht mir die Straße.
Im Feuer mich baden!" - Siegfried, Act Three, Scene Two.
Posted: Nov 14 2011, 05:55 PM
At Journey's End
Member No.: 2
Joined: 11-July 08
Disclaimer: See Prologue.
Chapter 1: Lieutenant Thorongil
Aragorn yawned widely, stretching his limbs as he rose from his bed. He rubbed the remains of sleep from his eyes and stepped in front of the window across the small room. The shutters were already wide open because of the warm weather. Aragorn leaned on the windowsill with his elbows, taking deep breaths of the spring air. In front of him spread a small slice of southern Gondor in the afternoon sunlight. Nearest to the window he could see the westernmost houses of Thôngobel and beyond them rolling hills on which grew the numerous pines that had given the town its name. A slight wind blew from the northwest, carrying the scents of windflower, sea lavender and of various other flowers. For a moment Aragorn felt like he had awakened only to another dream, only this one being brighter and more vivid than the previous.
There was no sound except for the constant sigh of the Sea. It felt like even the birds had fallen asleep in the soothing warmth. Suddenly, however, Aragorn raised his head a little. A sound like the faint echo of a braying horn had come to his ears. The sound was repeated, and Aragorn nodded to himself, thinking:
"The attack signal. It seems like captain Baraon is keeping the new lads busy. Oh, well, that does them only good."
He stood by the window a few minutes more, listening. He heard only the distant alarm cries of some birds that had been disturbed by the horn. It was no wonder, though, that nothing more could be heard, since Baraon had led the two companies of fresh recruits some miles away into a flat, open valley among the hills. The place was perfect for unit training, and that was just what the captain had in his mind. In his absence he had left Aragorn and another lieutenant named Faelthîr in charge of the rest of his battalion.
"I hope the men learn fast," Aragorn thought. "Times are bad enough without us having to throw unskilled sword fodder into battle."
His worry went away, however, when he remembered how the recruits had looked like when they had arrived. They had had an eager look on their faces and most had seemed to be strong of limb. And what was most important, the way they spoke and responded to discipline had told of a serious will to learn to defend their homeland. As long as Gondor had men like these it still had hope left. And if the enemy should eventually prevail, it would do so only after grievous losses.
Aragorn was jolted out from these lofty thoughts by the grumbling of his stomach. Heading for a cupboard standing in a corner, he thought:
"I might as well dress and get something to eat before I go."
Then he added, smiling dryly:
"If I tarry, Faelthîr will be late to see his sweetheart. And that would simply not do, now would it?"
Since he had napped half-dressed, he only had to find his uniform tunic, belt and boots to complete his outfit. It took only some moments. After Aragorn was ready he strode out from the room, only slowing down to take his black cap and sword from a coat rack. His mailshirt and the rest of his armour was downstairs in the hall. In the short, narrow corridor beyond the door he turned right and, boots stamping against the wooden stairs, descended to the ground floor.
Soon he was in a small kitchen and instantly headed for the pantry. While he was still looking at its contents, a voice spoke behind him:
"Are you hungry, lieutenant?"
Aragorn wheeled around to see the wife of the craftsman whose house he was boarding at.
"I am sorry to raid your kitchen, mistress Tuiwiel," he said a little sheepishly. "I only wanted to have a bite before going to duty."
Tuiwiel laughed merrily and answered:
"No reason to show such a shamed face, master Thorongil! You could have asked me if you wanted something."
"Oh, I did not want to bother you."
"It's no trouble at all," Tuiwiel replied, making a dismissive gesture with her work-hardened hand. "Please go to the parlour, and I will bring you something. My husband will come home any minute now, so you can eat together if you wish. Would bread and butter with olives and cutlets suffice? With a glass of wine, of course."
"That sounds excellent," Aragorn said with a smile. "I fear, though, that feeding me is rather expensive for you."
"On the contrary," Tuiwiel said. "With the tax cuts and all, we actually save a good coin. My husband always says that he hopes they never finish repairing the fort so that we could keep you here."
"I agree with him," Aragorn said, flashing a small grin. "It will be a sorry day indeed when I have to move out. For one thing, the quality of food I get will drop dramatically. But, I will stop bothering you now and do as you said."
He walked out of the kitchen and opened a door directly across, entering the parlour. It was a spacious room with a floor built of pine planks varnished light brown and walls panelled with darker wood. Two high windows provided the parlour with ample sunlight and fresh air. The furniture of the room was simple, but well made and durable. A few woodcuts and tapestries adorned the walls, completing the picture of modest affluence the room was.
Aragorn sat onto a chair with a green cloth cover and pulled a stack of thin wax tablets that were bound together into a notebook of sorts from his tunic pocket. Then, with stylus in hand, he put the book on a small table in front of him and went over the things he should pay attention to during his shift. The list was rather short, mainly consisting of briefing his company about the new patrol schedule.
"It will be a boring night yet again," Aragorn sighed as he slapped the notebook shut. He was not greatly annoyed, though, knowing full well that for a soldier excitement was the same as trouble.
The door opened just when he was putting the book away, and a man tidily clad in a dark-green doublet and breeches entered.
"Ah, Rosmir!" Aragorn said. "How has your day been?"
"Very busy, lieutenant," was the reply. "But I see you, too, have dressed for duty."
"Yes, I shall leave soon. By the way, your wife promised to bring us a little repast shortly."
"Perfect timing from her, since I have to go back as soon as I have eaten," Rosmir said as he sat down across the table from Aragorn.
At that moment Tuiwiel entered, carrying a tray full of various foods in her hands. She lowered it on the table and addressed her husband with a worried tone:
"I heard what you said. Is there still so much work left? I fear you will soon tire yourself out if you go on like this."
Rosmir took her hand into his own and caressed it, saying:
"I am still behind the schedule, my love. The navy changed its order at the worst possible moment, you know, and I'm rather pressed to fulfil it. But don't worry, just a few days more and we're done."
"But can't your journeymen do it by themselves? They are good workers, after all."
Rosmir smiled ruefully.
"I fear they can't. I have to be there to see that everything is done correctly. If the navy finds faults with the parts I deliver them, it is me who is blamed."
"I know that," Tuiwiel said with a rueful nod. "But all this work can't be good for you."
While speaking, she ran her fingers through Rosmir's brown hair. Suddenly, she stopped and added:
"In fact, you seem to have a few grey hairs already."
Rosmir sat up and raised his eyebrows.
"What? There weren't any when I looked in the mirror this morning."
Tuiwiel's brow furrowed and she leaned closer, saying:
"But now there are, here and here."
Then, however, a thoughtful look crossed her face. She drew her hand back and turned it over to look at her palm. There were grey stains on it and on her fingertips.
"It seems your hands are greying, too. Maybe out of sympathy for my poor hair," Rosmir remarked calmly.
Tuiwiel just looked at him blandly for a few moments. But then she let out a hearty laugh to which Rosmir and even Aragorn joined.
"Dust! Oh, you old slob!" Tuiwiel said, wiping her hands on her apron and trying to restrain her mirth. "When do you learn to brush your hair, too, before leaving work?"
"I usually do, I swear," Rosmir said, still laughing. "It just somehow eluded me today."
"Oh, I'm sure of that," Tuiwiel replied, shaking her head. "Not that I care much about that. But I do care about spending more time with you, dusty or not."
Rosmir took her hand again, smiling resignedly.
"I like this as little as you do. But once this fuss is done with, what would you say about me taking a week off? We can afford it, since I have my stock full of parts the navy didn't want. I can sell them to nearby shipbuilders."
"I would love that," Tuiwiel said, giving Rosmir's hand a gentle squeeze. Then she wagged her finger at him. "But only if you promise not to talk about business for the whole week."
"No fear of that! I have had so much of that during the last months that I'm heartily sick of ledgers and letters," Rosmir replied.
Tuiwiel smiled at him tenderly, but checked herself and turned to face Aragorn.
"I am sorry, lieutenant. It must be awfully boring for you to watch us two playing lovebirds."
"Do not mind me," Aragorn replied in a polite tone. "I am but your guest."
"And a friend also, if I may say so," Rosmir chimed in, to which Aragorn responded with a nod of assent.
"But you have forgotten about the food! Besides, I have much to do so I'll take my leave now," Tuiwiel said to the men, clapping her hands together. "Have a good appetite!"
The men thanked her and she went out, leaving them to plunder the tray.
Tuiwiel had done more than she had promised; in addition to the fare she had mentioned earlier, she had loaded the tray with preserved eggs spiced with salt and pepper and slices of cold fish pie, as well as with chopped vegetables. Two small rhubarb tarts were reserved for dessert, as well as a decanter of white wine to wash the food down.
The two men set to eat with gusto, and after less than half an hour the tray was already empty. When they were finished, Rosmir rubbed his stomach and let out a deep, contented breath. Then he picked the decanter up and poured wine to two tin goblets, one of which he offered to Aragorn. They sipped the wine for a few moments in silence, but at length Aragorn remarked:
"I think I have said this often before, but Tuiwiel is an excellent cook."
"Yes, and an excellent wife all around. I was lucky to find her, and even more lucky that she thinks likewise of me," Rosmir said.
To this, Aragorn replied:
"Yes, one can see what you mean. But to speak of other matters, I have been curious about something. Forgive me if I seem nosy, but why have you apprenticed both of your sons away? It would look like one or two pairs of hands more would be of help, especially during times like this."
"There's no secret to that," Rosmir said. "As for Culfin, well, I can't split the manufactory in two for them both to inherit. Better that I pay for his education and give him his share in money so that he can make his own fortune. It sounds a little harsh, maybe, but that's no different from the lot of every other younger son in this land. My own father started that way. With Malfin, however, I thought of other things. It is better that he gets his education from a master less prone to pamper him than I and his mother. Besides, this way they both get to see new ways to do things and new places."
Rosmir's expression was a little sad when he went on:
"My own parents, may they rest in peace, wanted to do likewise with me but could not afford it. So it was only them, me and hard work before father finally managed to make his fortune."
He glanced at a coloured woodcut hanging from the wall, and Aragorn followed his gaze with his eyes. In the picture, a middle-aged man with a stern expression and serious eyes looked directly at the viewer. At his side stood a woman, not pretty but with features that spoke of patience and quiet intelligence. The picture was not a work of a great master, but it seemed like the artist had managed to capture the personalities of his models.
After a short silence Rosmir looked away from the picture and stood up, saying:
"Well, it is time for me to get back to work if I want to get home before morning. It will be nigh midnight in any case before I'm done."
Aragorn emptied his goblet and followed Rosmir, as the latter strode out.
Aragorn, now in full armour except for his helm he had tied to hang from his belt, waited at the front gate of the house as Rosmir took his leave of Tuiwiel. As the craftsman kissed her wife, standing on the doorstep, Aragorn could not help thinking about the gossip he had heard about how those two had got married. He had never asked them, but he had heard the other townsfolk speaking of them meeting during a town festival when Rosmir had been only nineteen and Tuiwiel seventeen. Apparently they had instantly fell in love. A series of stormy quarrels with both sets of parents had followed until the pair had finally got the permission to marry. Malfin, now a lad of sixteen, had been born a year after the wedding and Culfin four years later.
Aragorn directed his gaze away out of courtesy, but also to banish a stealthy twinge of melancholy that had crept into his mind when he remembered how far from him his own beloved was. He steeled himself by reminding himself that he had duty awaiting him. There would be plenty of time to dream later. Besides, it was a comforting thought that by fulfilling his duties he would also help the day come nearer when he could ask for Arwen's hand. That day might still be shrouded in the mists of the future, but it would come if it depended on Aragorn at all.
Rosmir interrupted his train of thought by stepping next to him and asking:
"Shall we go?"
Aragorn nodded and they walked down the street. They had the same direction for part of the way so they walked abreast for quite a while. As they went they talked of inconsequential things, like acquaintances or friends usually do in absence of better topics. Rosmir had not been wrong when he had called Aragorn a friend; during the year Aragorn had lived with the couple he had grown very fond of them. There was something so open and warm in how both Rosmir and Tuiwiel treated others that it was hard not to like them.
At length the men came to a corner where Aragorn had to turn onto a street leading towards the garrison. He exchanged goodbyes with Rosmir and went his way, admiring his surroundings as he went. Thôngobel was a small town and consequently was not as tightly built as bigger cities. Thus, most of the houses were surrounded by small gardens and stonewalls. The town was very colourful with all the flowers and vines that grew amidst the blossoming trees in the gardens. Many of the houses were built of wood and were painted in a variety of colours, with dark green and red being the most popular ones. In contrast, the buildings that were made of stone were whitewashed, looking bright and cheerful in the afternoon light.
At last Aragorn passed the outermost houses and was nearing the garrison. It consisted of ten wooden barracks standing near the foot of a steep hill a little way east of the town. On the hill stood the fortress Tuiwiel had mentioned. Built during the aftermath of the Kin-strife to ward off attacks of Castamir the Usurper's sons, and later abandoned, the fort was now in a sorry state. The baron who ruled over the region had undertaken to repair it after Sauron had returned to Mordor, but was too strapped of money to finish the project. His immediate liege being also unable to help, a contract had been made with Ecthelion. In return of a portion of Thôngobel's tax revenue the Steward had sent a battalion of his own troops to guard the town, as well as paid for a crew of masons and carpenters to finish the repairs. Ecthelion might otherwise have left this remote area on its own, being rather short on resources himself, but Thôngobel had a few important manufactories that had contracts with the navy and the army, as well as a boatbuilder who supplied yawls for coastal patrol units.
That had happened two years earlier, but the fort was still uninhabitable. Consequently, the men had to be housed in the temporary barracks. As for the officers and NCOs, the burgher council of the town had scented a chance to profit. It had sent Ecthelion a proposal that the higher ranks should be allowed to board at the houses of the residents, in return of tax benefits and bigger orders from the navy, of course. Ecthelion had replied that he approved of the arrangement. No one had anything to complain, since the officers themselves welcomed the contract.
This kind of housing led to closer contacts with the civilians, of course. In the case of some officers maybe even too close. At least that was what Aragorn suspected when he finally entered one of the barracks, only to almost bump against lieutenant Faelthîr who was pacing restlessly to and fro. When the latter saw Aragorn, he said in an acerbic tone:
"Finally, Thorongil! I thought you would never come."
"You are in quite a hurry, I see. As far as I know, I am a quarter of an hour before my time," Aragorn said, biting back the dry smile that was creeping on his lips.
"Is that so? I could have sworn you were late," was the reply. "In any case, I have something to do and have to run now, if it suits you."
Aragorn kept his face neutral, but Faelthîr continued:
"Oh, do not give me that kind of look! Listen now–“
“I am not your keeper,” Aragorn said calmly. “Go if you have to. I only expect you will relieve me from duty in time.”
“That I will do,” Faelthîr said, mollified by the other's response. “But listen. I would not want to quarrel with you. I know you are an older man than me, but you surely can understand why I am a little jittery.”
“Maybe I can, maybe I cannot,” Aragorn said, in a manner that was still calm but also firm. “As I said, I have nothing to complain as long as you do your duty.”
Then he gave Faelthîr a faint smile.
“Oh, well, have a good evening then. Can I find you in your quarters if you are needed?”
“I think not, at least not before the midnight or so. Try the public garden on the north side,” Faelthîr said slowly, obviously loath to tell. “I do hope, however, that no disaster strikes tonight.”
“Who does?” Aragorn asked, giving a careless salute to the younger man as a goodbye.
Faelthîr answered the gesture and sprang out of the door, not bothering to even close it behind himself. Aragorn looked after him as he quickly walked towards the town. Faelthîr had many qualities that made a fine officer, but he was only twenty-one and had a fiery nature that could lead him to all kinds of trouble.
Aragorn shook his head slightly and walked out. Deciding not to waste time, he went to the barrack where his company slept. When he entered, the corporal on duty leaped up from the bench he had sat on, saluting Aragorn. The latter returned the salute, saying:
“Wake the men up and tell them to gather in front of the barrack. Tell them to dress for patrol duty.”
“As you order, sir!” the corporal said, turning towards an inner door.
Aragorn returned outside as the corporal threw the door open and began to yell orders. He walked to a low, level stone that jutted up from the grass and stepped up onto it. Turning to face the barrack and listening to the hurried noise inside, he then started to wait.
In less than ten minutes the men stood in front of Aragorn, fully armed and covered by armour from head to toe. Before speaking, Aragorn let his eyes briefly run over the company to see if anyone had forgotten anything. There were sixty-four men in the company not counting non-commissioned officers, divided in four troops each of which was led by a sergeant. These were further divided in halves that were headed by corporals.
Seeing that everything was in order, Aragorn proceeded to address his men. First, he outlined in a brief and precise manner which area of the town and the beaches near it each half-troop should attend to. Then he briefed the men about new orders as how to deal with soldiers who were on evening leave and who might be unruly or drunk, and other such mundane matters. Finally, he said:
“And, if you happen to hear the alarm bell, drop everything else and head directly for the marketplace in front of the town hall. When there, wait for me to arrive if the situation permits. Otherwise, the one with the highest rank shall take the command and take appropriate action. Is that clear? Good. Corporals, take your men and go.”
He was instantly obeyed and in a minute the company had marched off, except for a half-troop Aragorn intended to lead himself. Instead of remaining at the garrison as he could have done, he often accompanied his men on patrol, especially when on night duty. After giving the corporal on duty some directions, Aragorn was ready to leave and gave the men a signal to follow him.
The sun was already setting when Aragorn reached the small harbour of Thôngobel with his squad. There had been some reports of corsair attacks from elsewhere, and consequently all coastal battalions had been ordered to be especially alert. Granted, the raids had been mainly directed against towns and villages much further to the east, but Aragorn knew it was better to be safe than sorry. Thus, he had taken the patrolling of the harbour and a few nearby streets on himself again.
During the first hours of the night, however, it seemed to Aragorn like he was wasting his energy. The harbour was dark and still. Only a slight wind played in the tack of the fishing boats that were fastened to the wharves. At this time of the month the moon would rise late, so only the stars faintly illuminated the docks and reflected from the polished armour of the soldiers as they trod to and fro.
At length, Aragorn ordered the patrol to pause and rest their legs. The men gladly sat down on coils of rope and stacks of planks. Speaking quietly with each other, they unfastened their canteens from their belts and refreshed themselves with cool water.
Meanwhile Aragorn stood a little away from the men, facing the sea. He saw the waves coming towards the harbour as an endless series, as well as the glitter of the stars on their foamy heads. Further off the coast small islands loomed against the horizon, resembling wisps of cloud in the darkness. It was a peaceful sight, and on a night like this it was easy to forget that far beyond the sleeping islands and the dim horizon was the land of the enemy.
After a moment Aragorn yawned widely and stretched his arms. He was about to order his men to stand up and resume circling the harbour, when something caught his eye. It looked like three black dots had been split from the shadow of the nearest island. Squinting his eyes a little, Aragorn straightened his back and looked more carefully. He had not seen incorrectly – if anything, the dots seemed to come nearer the harbour by the minute.
The corporal of the half-troop looked at Aragorn and asked:
“Is there something wrong, lieutenant?”
“Look! Are those not ships?” Aragorn said, pointing towards the dark shapes.
The corporal looked hard for a moment, before he said:
“It's rather hard to say from this far, but what else they could be?”
He added after a moment of thought:
“Maybe they are naval guard ships?”
“I do not think so,” Aragorn said. “They passed through only a few days ago. The only reason I could think of them returning this soon is that they have suffered some kind of damage and are seeking for a safe anchorage.”
“There has not been a storm for two months, though, and we would have got a report about a battle,” the corporal replied. “How about merchantmen?”
“Unlikely but possible,” Aragorn replied and was about to add something, but the words stuck to his throat. The approaching things could now be definitely identified as ships, and to his shock Aragorn could distinguish the distinctive shape of lateen sails.
"Ha! Wonnige Glut! Leuchtender Glanz!
Strahlend nun offen steht mir die Straße.
Im Feuer mich baden!" - Siegfried, Act Three, Scene Two.
Posted: Nov 27 2011, 07:15 PM
At Journey's End
Member No.: 2
Joined: 11-July 08
Disclaimer: See Prologue.
Chapter 2: The Battle Of Thôngobel
Aragorn recovered from his shock in a heartbeat. He turned towards his men and started to deal out orders:
“Aras, run to the garrison and alert the men there. Tell sergeant Authon to lead them to guard the manufactories. Head for the town square when you are done. The rest of you, follow me!”
Aras took instantly to his heels, while Aragorn started to another direction. Followed by the remaining three men-at-arms and the corporal, he ran down the wharves until he reached a wide gap between the walls of two warehouses. For a fleeting moment he considered if he should order his squad to barricade it in order to delay the attackers. He decided it would be useless, however, knowing that there were two other gaps in the line of the houses skirting the harbour. Time was of essence, and the small half-troop could not build any serious obstacle before the corsairs would be on them.
Therefore, he ran straight through the arc, heading for the main street that began a few street corners to the northwest. They reached it in two minutes or so. Boots banging against the cobblestones, Aragorn and the four soldiers dashed down the street, towards the town hall at the northern end. At Aragorn's order, the corporal winded his horn now and then as they went. The noise they generated made a few startled soldiers who were enjoying their evening leave to rush out of a tavern along the street.
“We are under attack!” Aragorn yelled at them before they could ask anything. “To the garrison, quickly! Get your weapons and follow sergeant Authon!”
“Right away, sir!” one of them said with a startled voice.
The soldiers disappeared down a side street, hollering towards the shuttered windows as they went:
“Corsairs! Wake up, people! Corsairs!”
Lights were lit behind many windows, and faces appeared in between opened shutters.
“Flee for the woods!” Aragorn called out to them. “It is a raid!”
A chaos of voices erupted, asking questions or uttering exclamations of horror. Aragorn, however, did not have time to elaborate. He resumed running, the patrol close behind him.
They reached the town square in a few minutes, and Aragorn saw maybe two dozen of his men who had already gathered there after hearing the noise, or were running towards the place from the side streets. By now many of the civilians living along the main street and nearby were, too, streaming outside in various states of dress. Empty-handed or carrying some of their valuables with them, they headed fast for the shelter of the wooded hills. Looking at them, Aragorn guessed that although the people were obviously scared and confused after being jolted out of their sleep, there was no immediate danger of panic. Relieved at having one worry less, Aragorn signed at a soldier and said:
“Sound the alarm bell, the louder the better.”
Then he turned towards another man-at-arms.
“You, run to alert the captain. Tell him to make all haste, for we are facing three ships full of corsairs.”
The well-trained men obeyed him without a pause. Aragorn turned on his heels and followed the soldier he had ordered to sound the bell. The night watchman of the town hall had already woken up due to the noise and was just opening the doors from inside when Aragorn and the soldier reached the steps in front of them. As soon as the way was open, Aragorn leaped inside passing the startled old watchman.
“What is it, sir?” the old man asked. “Not an attack, I hope?”
“Unfortunately it is,” Aragorn answered. “You should go with the other townsfolk.”
The old man swallowed hard, but then ran out of the door with all the speed he could muster. Aragorn, for his part, saw in a flickering light of a lantern a staircase that stood against the side wall of the wide entrance hall he was in. He sprang towards the stairs, closely followed by the soldier. They ascended three flights of steps without pausing, until they had reached the topmost floor. There, the man-at-arms opened a narrow door and disappeared down a corridor behind it.
Aragorn, however, opened another door and stepped on a balcony. Leaning against the carved stone railing, he let his eyes run over the town spreading in front of him. The town hall being the tallest building in Thôngobel, he had an excellent view. The moon was now rising, and in its soft light Aragorn could see the corsair ships when he looked towards the south. They had now come much nearer the harbour and were seemingly anchored a little way off the wharves. Smaller, slim shapes separated from them, evidently rowing boats.
Even from afar, Aragorn saw faintly the movement of the oars as the corsairs briskly rowed towards the wharves. The boats seemed to be divided in two groups. The bigger one, maybe eight strong, was headed for the central part of the harbour, while six others seemed to have the easternmost wharves as their goal.
“Anything from one hundred and fifty men to two hundred,” Aragorn thought with a worried frown. “I hope we can fight them off until the captain arrives.”
Then he looked eastwards to see if the rest of the garrison had been alerted. The messenger seemed to have already carried out his orders, since Aragorn could see bright little flames – obviously men carrying torches – moving to and fro against the looming shadow of the hillside. It could easily be a half an hour, however, before Authon would have gathered the men and marched to the ordered station.
His anxious gaze shifted towards the southwest, sweeping over the town's four manufactories which formed a block near the row of the warehouses next to the harbour. From behind the houses in between, only their low roofs could be seen so Aragorn could not even discern if there were lights burning inside them or not.
“Hopefully Rosmir is already home,” Aragorn thought, worry nagging at his mind. He brushed the feeling aside, however, thinking that the craftsman must have already finished at so late an hour.
Looking towards the harbour again, Aragorn could see that the boats were nearing their goal. In a few minutes they would disappear behind the roofs of the warehouses, and not long after that the corsairs would land. Aragorn turned around and returned inside even as the alarm bell started to clang with a deafening noise in an open turret perched on the roof. His mind was already forming a battle plan.
When Aragorn stepped on the town square a little later, he saw feverish action in the surrounding streets. Alerted by the bell, the rest of the townsfolk were now rushing on the streets and heading towards the northern edge of the town. Amongst the crowd Aragorn could see the familiar faces of Tuiwiel's parents, whom he had twice met briefly. Tuiwiel's father, too, saw Aragorn and greeted him with a nod before continuing onwards.
Aragorn nodded back in as reassuring a way he could, and faced his men. By now forty of them had gathered on the square, standing around Aragorn and waiting for orders. Aragorn, however, only ordered them to form a four-deep line in front of him. Knowing that he still had a narrow margin of time and not wanting to prematurely stop the alarm from sounding, he waited for maybe ten minutes for more men to come even though by now he was burning from impatience. His face still looked calm, but he tapped at the hilt of his sword and shifted his weight from one foot to another as he waited. During this time the stream of civilians on the streams grew less, until it seemed like all of the inhabitants of the town's southern half had passed the square. When half a dozen more soldiers had arrived, Aragorn at last pointed at the man nearest to him, whom he knew to have sharp eyes.
“Go and tell Glinron to stop sounding the bell,” he yelled over the din. “Then get on the balcony, both of you. I need you as lookouts. Call out as soon as you see the enemy.”
The soldier did as he was told, and in a minute or two the bell ceased to ring. Looking upwards a moment later, Aragorn saw two helmed heads appearing over the railing of the balcony. Now that the men could hear, Aragorn rapidly spoke:
“Men, we will attack the raiders shortly. Troops one and two, follow me. We will tackle the enemy from the front. Troop three, your mission is to go around the western flank of the enemy. Troop four, you will take the eastern side. You shall secure our flanks and attack the enemy from the side and rear as soon as you hear my horn. Is that clear?”
A series of “Yes, sirs!” came from the sergeants' mouths and Aragorn nodded.
“Good. Now, spread out to the ordered formation. Onwards at my sign.”
Aragorn knew that his plan was risky, almost foolhardy, but he had no other option. The corsairs had to be kept busy until Baraon's arrival, unless the whole town and any civilians that might remain was to be left for them to plunder at will. While the men rapidly executed his order, Aragorn looked up and shouted to the lookouts:
“No, lieutenant,” Glinron replied but was silenced by a nudge in the side by the other soldier, who now yelled:
“I see them! The first of them have just come around a corner. They're coming in two columns, along the Inn Lane and the Tailors' Street!”
When Aragorn heard this, his impatience went away. In its stead came the grim determination he always felt just before a battle. Behind it, of course, ran a small strand of fear, but Aragorn had long ago learned how to ignore it. He again dealt out orders with a steady, carrying voice:
“Troop three, march down the Cobblers' Lane. Troop four, to the Carpenter Street. Troop two, spread across the Tailor's Street and march down it until you meet the enemy. The rest, form a two-deep line and follow me! Move!”
The troops quickly took their positions and started to march, many men still carrying the flaming torches they had used during patrolling.
In less than five minutes Aragorn and the troop of eleven men he was leading turned around the corner to the Inn Lane. Four of the men were carrying torches and thus illuminated their way. It was not hard to find the corsairs, since their hollering and the crash of breaking doors and shutters was heard from afar as the enemy broke into the houses. Aragorn could see a group of maybe forty swarthy men armoured with cuirboulli and bronze moving towards his troop, carrying a few flickering torches. The raiders were some fifty yards away. The moment he and the others ran onto the street, the movement ceased and the enemy suddenly fell silent, maybe from the surprise to see Gondorian soldiers so soon.
However, a tall Haradian, whose rich armour and weapons marked him as a leader, quickly recovered and barked out an order. His men surged forwards, swords and spears aloft and yelling a harsh war cry. Aragorn was not scared by this, since he had expected the battle beginning with an assault from the corsairs, whose tactics depended on quick, crippling blows. Standing in the middle of the line of his men, he shouted:
“Raise your spears!”
The men poised the light spears they were carrying in a throwing position as quickly as they could. All the while, the screaming mob came nearer. Aragorn waited until the last possible moment before he spoke.
The men, as nervous as they obviously were, kept their calm and threw their weapons simultaneously. At the distance of fifteen yards, the steel spears had a terrible effect: Eight enemies fell onto the cobblestones, dead or mortally wounded. Some of them fell backwards, hindering the movement of their comrades on the narrow street.
Having lost their momentum, the corsairs retreated a few paces. Aragorn, however, did not wait for another charge he knew was coming. Drawing his sword, he yelled:
“Throw the torches! Aim for their faces!”
After an eye blink of hesitation, he was obeyed. The four torches spun towards the enemy, hurled by strong hands. Surprised by the flaming projectiles, some of the foremost corsairs dropped their swords, shielding their eyes with their hands. Others stepped back, eyes wide from fright.
The soldiers had aimed well; all of the torches hit the enemies. One of them was hit directly against his face. Blinded and hollering from pain, he reeled against his comrades, almost toppling a few of them over. The other targets, too, created confusion amongst the ranks of the enemy by bumping against those behind them while trying to evade the improvised weapons.
Even as the torches dropped to ground and were extinguished by the blood of the slain, Aragorn seized his chance.
“Charge!” he cried, dashing forwards. “For Gondor!
His men followed him, bared swords in hands as they joined the war-cry. In a second they were on the corsairs, stabbing and hacking at them without mercy. Aragorn was the foremost, quickly dispatching an enemy and instantly charging at another. This man was a better swordsman than Aragorn's first victim, but not good enough. Aragorn parried the violent slash of the corsair's scimitar with his shield, throwing the opponent off balance. He struck with his sword under the enemy's guard, the strong blade cutting flesh through armour and cloth. The corsair's guts spilled out, and the man left out a piercing cry that rang even over the din of the battle. Grimacing, Aragorn directed a swift stab at the corsair's throat. Blood flowed freely on the street, as the enemy rolled on the ground.
Wiping red stains from his face, Aragorn took a few steps back until he stood a yard behind his men. After taking a deep breath he quickly assessed the situation. From his left he could hear the clash of swords and cries of the combatants, coming obviously from the men on the Tailor's Street who had met the other column of the corsairs. Through a short lane, dark forms could be seen moving to and fro. There was no way to tell which side was prevailing, and at the moment Aragorn could not leave to see. It was sure, however, that the superior numbers of the corsairs would soon prove fatal if the combat was allowed to drag on like this much longer. Deeming the time ripe for springing the trap, Aragorn untied his horn from his belt and raised it on his lips. He blew a high, long call that echoed all over the street. Then, seeing one of his men fall and the others being on the verge of being pushed back, he rejoined the fray.
“Hold fast! We shall get help in a moment!” he called out, raising his sword again and taking the fallen man's place.
He had not spoken in vain; soon many voices crying “Gondor! Gondor!” could be heard from their right, as well as the familiar clash of metal as the third troop rushed to their aid. Hauberks and helms faintly reflecting the moonlight, the first half-troop rushed out of a side-street against the enemy's flank. Further down the street, war-cries and groans of the wounded and dying told Aragorn that the rest of the troop had attacked the hindmost corsairs.
Realizing to their horror that they were surrounded, the corsairs packed together into a tight circle. With over a dozen of them already dead, the scales were much more even when the Gondorians attacked the raiders again. A horrible slaughter followed as Aragorn and his men hacked at the circle of enemies, cleaving heads and bodies with their sharp blades. In a few minutes, ten more corsair bodies littered the street while only two Gondorians had fallen. Finally, Aragorn grew sick of the butchery. His feet were almost slipping on the blood and spilled brains that lied reeking on the stones. Also, he did not know how the men defending the manufactories were doing, so he wished to end the fight as soon as possible in order to march to their aid. Thus, as soon as there was a momentary lull in the fighting, Aragorn called out to the remaining corsairs:
“Surrender! You have the word of an officer of Gondor that you will be spared!”
For a moment the enemy seemed to hesitate, but then a deep, guttural voice replied in bad westron:
“The word of a Gondorian is the word of a dog!”
The ranks of the corsairs opened, letting a tall, muscular man to stride through. Even in the moonlight Aragorn could see the corsair was wearing a long hauberk of bronze scalemail and a high helm which had a crest formed in the shape of a wingless dragon. In his right hand he was holding a long, heavy sword.
“I, captain Qushar of Umbar, shall not leave me or my men in your mercy!”
Angered by the corsair's slur, Aragorn replied:
“Then fight us, if you can! Look around you and tell me if you have any hope of victory.”
Just when he had finished, a loud shout rang from behind him:
Turning half around, Aragorn saw one of his men staggering from the shadow of a lane leading to the Tailor's Street. The soldier lacked his helm, and a stream of blood ran down his face from a wound at his hair line. His left arm hung limply. He spoke again, in a voice tinged with pain:
“Lieutenant, you have to come to our help! Sergeant Côlnor has fallen, and five others also. We are still fighting, but are being pushed back. The corporal asks you to send even a few men to our aid, otherwise we are done for!”
Aragorn opened his mouth to answer, but instead wheeled to face the corsairs again. For as soon as the enemy captain had heard the messenger's words, he raised a war-cry and charged towards Aragorn. The other corsairs, too, fell again upon the Gondorians in a desperate hurl. Having no time for anything else, Aragorn raised his shield in front of him and gripped his sword more tightly.
Standing his ground, he stared straight at his assailant's eyes that burned wildly under the evil face of the bronze dragon.
"Ha! Wonnige Glut! Leuchtender Glanz!
Strahlend nun offen steht mir die Straße.
Im Feuer mich baden!" - Siegfried, Act Three, Scene Two.
Posted: Dec 2 2011, 08:39 PM
At Journey's End
Member No.: 2
Joined: 11-July 08
Disclaimer: See Prologue.
Chapter 3: Too Late
Gripping his sword with both hands, the corsair directed a mighty blow at Aragorn. The latter managed to raise his shield in time, and the heavy blade descended on it with crushing power. Sparks and pieces of wood flew when the shield shattered as if it was had been made of glass. Aragorn was thrown out of balance and fell on his back, feeling searing pain in his left forearm.
Seeing Aragorn fall, Qushar let out a yell of triumph and raised his sword to deliver a killing blow. But Aragorn was not as stunned as the corsair thought. He rolled out of the way, and the enemy's weapon struck the cobblestones mere inches from his head. Ignoring the pain on his arm, Aragorn then rose to his feet in a rapid motion. He wheeled to face the corsair, swinging his sword in a deadly arc. It struck Qushar's armoured side with a loud crash.
The corsair's hauberk was well made, however, and the blow only managed to sever some of the metal scales and barely penetrate the leather beneath. Still, it was enough to make Qushar reel from pain. Aragorn struck again furiously, this time at the corsair's head. The enemy ducked just in time, however, and the blade only brushed against the dragon figurine before glancing away harmlessly.
Having failed to end the duel fast, Aragorn took a step back to get a better avenue of attack. This gave him an opportunity to glance at his arm, which was still throbbing with pain. To his relief he saw that while a few rings of the mail sleeve had been broken, there was no blood. There was no time to assess any other injuries, however. The corsair rushed again at Aragorn.
This time the Umbarian captain attempted a swift stab at Aragorn's chest, using the advantage of his greater reach. Aragorn was not one to be surprised, and quickly leaped aside when he saw the move. Continuing the motion, he stepped inside the corsair's guard. Aiming for the damaged part of the opponent's armour, he delivered a stab of his own.
The sharp blade hit the unprotected spot squarely, sinking deep into the flesh. Twisting the weapon in the wound, Aragorn stepped back to wait for Qushar to fall. But the corsair was tough; remaining on his feet, he merely groaned from pain and tore himself away from the sword. Aragorn had apparently punctured one of his lungs, since red foam rose on his lips with every breath he took. Still, he had enough strength in him to raise his weapon for a counter-attack.
In his fury, though, the corsair neglected his guard. Even as the great sword rose, Aragorn struck at Qushar's exposed left armpit. The tip of the sword slid from between the bronze scales from beneath, severing them and penetrating deep into the corsair's body. Putting all his strength behind it, Aragorn pushed his sword until it was through all the way the corsair's shoulder.
Crying out in anguish, Qushar dropped his weapon and fell backwards. He toppled onto the street with a loud crash, blood gushing forth from cut arteries. He twitched feebly twice, and lied still. Stooping, Aragorn saw that he was dead. After a fleeting moment of thought, Aragorn cut the chinstrap of the dead man's helm. Raising the helm high in his hand, he stood up and yelled over the noise of the battle:
“Southrons, your captain has fallen! Throw down your weapons!”
This did not have quite the effect Aragorn had been hoping for; instead of giving up, the remaining enemies dashed towards the harbour after barely a moment of hesitation. Their attempt to fight their way through to safety nearly succeeded, since their first desperate assault threw the Gondorians back until it seemed like their thin line would break.
Still, the men held their ground for the first crucial moments. This gave Aragorn and his men time to recover from the surprise.
“At them!” Aragorn shouted. “Spare all who surrender!”
Throwing the helm down from his hands, he leaped in the middle of the fray followed by the soldiers.
The fight was soon over, with all the enemies lying on the ground dead or dying. Not one of them had surrendered, despite their hopeless situation. Aragorn did not rest on his laurels, though. As soon as he saw his men had won, he dealt orders:
“Troop three, run two street corners to the south and turn onto Tailor's Street! Attack the enemy from rear. Do not allow them to retreat to their boats, whatever the cost. The rest will follow me!”
Winding a loud call from his horn, he then ran towards the nearest lane leading east. In a minute he was already at the Tailor's Street, where a grim sight met his eyes. His men were still fighting the corsairs, but were reduced to merely defending themselves. The street was wider than the Inn Lane, so the enemies could use their superior numbers more freely. Besides, the group that had come down the street was stronger than the one Aragorn had just defeated, having maybe fifty men still alive. It was obvious that Aragorn had come at the latest possible moment, since even as he looked on, the corsairs raised a triumphant cry and attacked the tired Gondorians opposing them.
Whirling his sword above his head, Aragorn shouted:
“Gondor! To victory!”
He charged against the corsairs' flank with the men following him formed in a narrow column. They cleaved their way through the throng in front of them until the mass of enemies was cut in two. Seeing their commander, the Gondorians raised a cheerful shout “Thorongil! Thorongil to victory!” and assaulted the corsairs with all the remainder of their strength. Meanwhile, shouts and the clash of weapons coming from the southern end of the street told that the enemies' way to their ships had been cut.
The corsairs were thrown in disarray for a moment, and in the confusion many of them were cut down. Still, as the minutes wore on they started to fight more orderly. Even though they were now isolated in two separate bodies, they still outnumbered Aragorn's company that had already sustained losses.
The combat went on for quite a while without either side gaining a definite advantage. Without a shield now, it was harder for Aragorn both defend himself and deliver blows. Also, he could see that his men were on the verge of exhaustion. The tenacity of the enemy was wearing them down. But there was not yet a sign of captain Baraon. Aragorn already seriously considered opening a way for the corsairs to escape. The objective of the action had already been fulfilled – the town's inhabitants were safe and the corsairs had not managed to plunder much or inflict any serious damage. However cowardly letting them go would seem, continuing the battle could be just waste of men.
Aragorn was still undecided, when he heard the noise of rapidly marching men from the direction of the town square. Hope flared in his mind. He struck down the opponent he was facing and leaped on a flight of stairs, peering over the heads of the combatants. His hope was not in vain; soldiers wearing the black and silvery colours of Gondor were already turning the corner in a wide wedge formation. The torches they were carrying lit the street, and Aragorn could see that the foremost man was broad-shouldered, sturdy man with a greying beard. On his side strode a soldier wearing a bearskin on his shoulders and over his helm, and carrying a flag.
“Captain!” Aragorn cried, saluting the bearded man with his sword. “Men, captain has come to our aid! Make way, make way!”
The tired men quickly stepped aside on side lanes, letting the column of the new arrivals through. The new-comers raised a deafening shout and charged at the corsairs like an avalanche of hard steel. Their advance was irresistible, and the first ranks of the enemy were decimated or thrown aside in a few short moments. Seeing how that the tide had turned, a few corsairs even threw away their weapons, begging for mercy. Before others could follow their example, however, some Umbarian officers stepped forth. A few scimitar slashes from behind and the surrendering men fell down, dead.
This brought the rest in line again. Still, the corsairs were weary by now also, and were no match for Baraon's fresher men. Aided by Aragorn's company, the captain made short work of the enemies. Most fought to death again. Aragorn, who had not battled the corsairs before, was appalled by the tenacity the Umbarians showed. They had not the furious abandon of Orcs, but they seemed to possess the same degree of hatred and fear towards the Free Peoples. Also, it was obvious they had received strict orders not to surrender; in the last stage of the battle a few of their wounded even killed themselves rather than do that. The result was a fearful carnage. Of the sixty corsairs who had originally belonged to that group, only five survived and even they only with severe wounds that rendered them unconscious or immobilized.
The battle was finally over, and in the silence that followed Aragorn heard his ears ringing. He took a few deep breaths, straightened his back and strode towards the captain who was preparing to give directions to his sergeants.
“Lieutenant Thorongil reports, sir!” he said when he reached Baraon. “What are your orders?”
“I will march towards the manufactories shortly with this company,” was the reply. “Do you know how many corsairs are there?”
“About eighty, captain. I have ordered sergeant Authon to defend the block with lieutenant Faelthîr's company.”
“And I ordered the second company to go there,” Baraon mused. “With any luck we can get the raiders in a similar trap as here.”
“I will order my company into a formation and follow your company shortly, sir,” Aragorn said. Baraon looked at him, shaking his head.
“No, I need you and your men here. Secure the harbour and kill or catch any corsairs that may flee that way.”
Aragorn wanted to protest, but bit his words back. His worry for Rosmir had returned, and he wanted to accompany the captain to see if the craftsman was safe. But his self-discipline and common sense prevented him from arguing. His presence would not change anything, not now that so much time had elapsed. He would know soon enough. Therefore, he clicked his heels together and struck his breast with his mailed fist as a formal salute.
“As you order, sir. By your leave I shall gather my men and go right away.”
“Do that, lieutenant.”
Aragorn turned away to give the appropriate orders.
It took longer to reach the harbour than he would have liked. The men were so exhausted that any attempt at more than a steady walking pace was futile. Still, Aragorn hurried them on as well as he could. Orders were orders, and the last thing Aragorn wanted was to be untrustworthy.
When they were at last nearing the goal, Aragorn suddenly raised his head to listen. Over the sound of the marching boots he could hear some other noise. A very bad feeling came over him. Looking at his men over his shoulder, he shouted:
He instantly took to his heels, setting the example and the men hobbled tiredly behind him. A few street corners later they finally reached the gateway leading to the harbour. Far in advance of his men, Aragorn reached the wharves in a few bounds. The sight that spread before him there, confirmed his fears. Four of the corsairs' boats were just leaving the docks, carrying around forty men in them. In one of the boats Aragorn's sharp eyes could see six men who were not armoured, but were sitting with bowed heads. One of them raised his hands a little in an awkward fashion.
“His hands are bound, so those men must be prisoners,” Aragorn thought. Cold sweat suddenly glistened on his forehead. “Oh, no! Rosmir and his journeymen!”
By now Aragorn's company had caught up with him, and he turned to face them. Rapid orders poured from his lips:
“Man the nearest boats! The corsairs have taken prisoners, and we must pursue them!”
The corsairs had sunk the yawls that were in the harbour, but their own boats were still tied to the wharves. In a minute Aragorn's men had taken possession of two of the biggest ones, and started to row. Aragorn's feverish energy was contagious, and they put the last bit of their strength in the arms working the oars.
The corsairs had some lead, but the efforts of the Gondorians lessened it bit by bit. Standing in the bow of the foremost boat, Aragorn was delighted to see that he might catch the corsairs before they would reach their ship that was anchored a few hundred yards away. Shouting encouragements to his men, he peered towards the enemy boats to discern the best way to attack them. He decided to try to cut across their course, thus separating them from the ship.
Giving orders to that effect to the man at the helm, Aragorn resumed looking at the fleeing enemies. Their boats came nearer and nearer, until Aragorn's tiny fleet was rowing parallel to them with only a few dozens of yards separating the opponents. Now he could see the captives' faces clearer, especially as the six men were all eagerly staring at the pursuing ships. In the moonlight Rosmir's face could be clearly identified.
“A little more, boys, and we get them!” Aragorn shouted, now a bit cheered. The corsair ship was now only a hundred and fifty yards away, but the Gondorians were winning the race.
His good mood evaporated shortly. A loud twang accompanied by a clap rang through the air. It was like a giant crossbow had been shot. Aragorn watched in surprise as something flew towards his boat from the direction of the ship, faster than an arrow. In a fleeting glimpse Aragorn realized that the missile looked like a giant quarrel. The projectile hit the water half a dozen yards away from the boat, sending water flying to all directions.
“A ballista,” Aragorn murmured, wiping salty foam from his brow.
He faced now an awful choice – to let the corsairs escape with the captives, or to risk an almost certain death of all his men. The choice would have been hard even if the captives were unknown to him, but now it was almost agonizing. Rosmir suffering the cruelties of enslavement, Tuiwiel broken with sorrow, the couple's two boys without a father... It was a horrible thought. Yet, the thirty odd men that followed Aragorn had families also, and they were needed in Gondor's defence. And now that the corsairs had the means to send those men to the bottom of the sea with two well-aimed shots, Aragorn did not know if he could take the responsibility of continuing the chase.
Aragorn's internal struggle lasted only for a few seconds, intense as it was. Making his decision, he turned towards the helmsman.
“Turn around! Quickly, before they can reload!”
The man obeyed, and the boat turned towards the harbour in a tight arc, closely followed by the other. Aragorn cast a last look at the captives, whose features he could still faintly see. Their faces exhibited a mixture of dismay and bitter disappointment. Aragorn looked straight at Rosmir and shook his head mournfully. He could not know if his friend had recognized his face under his helm, but in any case Rosmir replied by bowing his head in a gesture of grief.
Sighing heavily, Aragorn turned away and gazed grimly towards the harbour. On the wharves burned a multitude of torches, evidently carried by Gondorian soldiers. Aragorn realized that Baraon must have defeated the rest of the corsairs. The battle was won. Nonetheless, Aragorn felt anything but triumphant. He took his heavy helm off and rested his weary head on his hands.
Strahlend nun offen steht mir die Straße.
Im Feuer mich baden!" - Siegfried, Act Three, Scene Two.
Posted: Apr 5 2012, 06:35 PM
At Journey's End
Member No.: 2
Joined: 11-July 08
Disclaimer: See Prologue.
Chapter 4: Ill Tidings
As the tired men slowly rowed onwards, Aragorn remained in his dejected posture. Grief and regret alternated in his mind, when he remembered Rosmir's sad expression. He dared not think of what would happen to the craftsman; the Corsairs were not kind to their captives, and very few of those were ever heard of again in Gondor. And Tuiwiel – how would she react? Aragorn sighed when he thought of that. Tuiwiel was a sweet and kind woman, maybe too much so for these evil times. Aragorn already dreaded the moment he would have to break the awful news for her.
He was shaken out of his thoughts by the sound of the alarm bell. It was ringing again, but this time slowly, two strikes at a time to indicate that the danger was over. Its clear voice seemed not to fit at all in the gloom of the late hour and Aragorn's own mood.
He straightened his back and looked again towards the harbour. The wharves were indeed bustling with soldiers, most of whom looked at the approaching boats or at the two ships the corsairs had left behind, which loomed as somewhat distant, dark shades over the water. In a minute or two the captured boats arrived at the harbour and were tied securely on the posts of the wharves. Aragorn stood up and disembarked his boat with his men.
He was scarcely halfway up the stairs leading on the wharves when the bell ceased to ring. Its voice, however, was replaced by the din of questions and exclamations the soldiers on the shore now hurled at Aragorn's men. Ignoring everyone else, Aragorn strode through the crowd in search of the captain. He soon found Baraon, who was sitting on the head of a wooden post and talking to some sergeants that were gathered around him. Aragorn halted beside the group, waiting for the captain to finish the briefing so that he could give his report. Baraon saw him immediately and nodded to him while still speaking. In a moment he was done and dismissed the subordinates. Then the old man turned towards Aragorn.
“Well, lieutenant? I see you pursued the enemy. Why did you turn back?”
“They had a ballista in the ship, captain. I deemed it too dangerous to press on,” Aragorn replied.
“I guessed it might have been something like that. We could only see there was some kind of commotion going on out there,” Baraon said, adding: “Did the enemy have any captives?”
“Yes, captain, six of them. That was the chief reason I chose to pursue them.”
The captain frowned darkly and looked at the ground.
“That is what I feared. The men fighting the corsairs at the manufactories thought they saw the enemy dragging some prisoners away during their retreat, but in the darkness could not be sure. Are you positive it is so?”
“Yes, I saw them so close that there was no room for doubt. It was Rosmir the craftsman and his journeymen who were taken.”
At this, Baraon raised his eyes.
“Rosmir? Was he not your– ?”
“Yes, sir, he was my host,” Aragorn replied with a voice that quavered a little.
Baraon stood up and looked at Aragorn with sympathy.
“I have gathered that you were in good terms with the family,” he said.
Aragorn only nodded by the way of a reply. The captain fell into a silent thought for a moment, also, before speaking:
“I can see this has rattled you, lieutenant, and no wonder. Go and tell Rosmir's wife what has happened. Take your time. I have already given orders about sorting the rest of this mess out, and have no need for you at the moment.”
Aragorn sighed and said:
“Thank you, sir. Yet I think this duty will prove to be a hard one.”
“I know,” Baraon replied. “But I think she had better hear it from a friend rather than a stranger. Now, go. Report back to me before noon.”
Aragorn saluted and strode away, with a heavy step and even heavier heart.
He walked through the streets, and saw that the soldiers were indeed already busy with gathering the bodies and equipment strewn around. He absent-mindedly answered the salutes of the men as he went. When he reached the end of the Inn Lane, he saw that the populace was already returning to their homes. Aragorn saw faces that were relieved to see their homes were not burned into ground, and many that were anxiously looking for loved ones in the crowd.
In the corner of the marketplace he paused briefly to think of where he could find Tuiwiel. She might be with her parents, but she could have gone home as well to wait for Rosmir. Deeming the latter option more probable, he took a street that led northwest. His going was slow, not only because of the stream of people on the streets, but also because he needed time to think of how to deliver the evil tidings as gently as possible. Also, he felt a twinge of guilt which made him none too eager to confront Tuiwiel. He felt that he had failed Rosmir, that he had given up the chase too easily. It was a senseless thing to think, and Aragorn had to admit that if given the chance he could not alter his decision to retreat in good conscience. Still, he could not help the nagging regret.
At length he turned on the street that ran by Rosmir's home. In a few minutes he already stood in the garden, facing the door of the house. There was the glimmer of a lamp in the curtained parlour window, and as Aragorn stepped nearer, a shadow flitted across the square of light. The curtains were drawn aside, and Aragorn saw the dark outline of a woman looking out of the window. Then, the form disappeared from the window as suddenly as it had appeared.
A second later, the door burst out and Tuiwiel ran out of it. Even in the gloom Aragorn could see the distress in her eyes as she said:
“Have you seen Rosmir? Where is he?”
In a voice that was hoarse and dull even in his own ears, Aragorn could only utter:
It took a few moments before Tuiwiel could grasp the full import of the word. But then it hit home, and she slowly sat down on the moist grass.
“It cannot be,” she said flatly, raising her face towards Aragorn, as if hoping she had heard wrong. The dúnadan only looked in her eyes, even though the intense look of shock in them pained him.
“How do you know? It might have been someone else, and Rosmir is safe,” she continued in a frantic voice. Aragorn bit his lips and replied:
“I saw his face clearly. He and his workers were dragged onto boats before my very eyes. I– “
Tuiwiel cut him off, screaming in a sudden spark of anger so unlike her that it was frightening:
“You saw it, yet did nothing to save him? You, who have slept under our roof and eaten at our table! You, who called him a friend! Is this how you treat your friends?”
Aragorn took this tirade looking at the ground, every word hitting him like a knife made of ice. He said in a quiet voice:
“I cannot say anything to my defense but this: I did try to save him but could not. I was too late.”
Tuiwiel's face twitched with fury, and it seemed like she was about to speak again. But suddenly, a shudder ran through her body. She took a great breath, as if fighting tears back. But it was in vain, and she started to weep. Aragorn raised his eyes, and saw Tuiwiel's parents coming out of the door. They had apparently heard the conversation outside, since they uttered no question as they stooped to gently help their daughter on her feet. She did not resist, but did not help either, so deep she was in her grief.
Assisted by Aragorn, they helped Tuiwiel inside and to her and Rosmir's bedroom. There they helped her down on a cushioned chair. Her mother knelt beside her, while the two men in the room looked on with grave expressions. It took some time and many soothing words from her mother for Tuiwiel to calm down enough to speak. Wiping her eyes, she sobbed:
“Oh, my love! What will they do to him? And how will our boys bear this? They love him so.”
“All may still turn to good,” his father said, stepping closer and hugging her tight. “He is alive, after all, and may yet return. Maybe there will be an exchange of prisoners or he may be ransomed.”
Tuiwiel did not reply but only pressed her father closer. Aragorn, even though slightly fearing a new outburst, came closer and said:
“Yes, not all hope is yet lost. Rosmir is a master craftsman and so may well be given better treatment until he may be ransomed back.”
Tuiwiel looked at them and said:
“But it is only a faint hope you speak of, isn't it?”
To that the men had no answer, but she spoke on through tears that were again flowing down her face:
“Still, as long as I have not got a word of his death I want to believe I will see him again. I– I have to.”
Her mother smiled at her.
“Yes, dear, and while you wait his return we will help you in whatever way we can. But come, you need rest.”
She helped Tuiwiel up from the chair and walked arm in arm with her towards the bed. Aragorn sensed this was his cue to leave, and murmured a goodbye. But when he was turning away, Tuiwiel stopped him by saying:
“Master Thorongil, please do not leave yet! I have to say something to you.”
Aragorn faced her, waiting. Tuiwiel, who had now sat on her bed, said:
“I am sorry that I spoke you like that earlier. It was just – well, when you came and told me, all went black for a moment. I do not truly accuse you. If anyone, it is those accursed corsairs that are to blame.”
“I thank you, but you have nothing to apologize for. I would be a fool to count words born of such grief against you. And perhaps I am not wholly blameless. If I had been a few minutes earlier in the harbour... But that cannot be helped now. I wish you good rest, and may morning bring you new hope or at least comfort!”
Tuiwiel answered only by a tired nod and a sad half-smile. Aragorn left the room with Tuiwiel's father, while her mother remained behind for a while. The men walked downstairs with soft steps and entered the parlour. While Aragorn stripped his blood-stained armour and set it carefully in a corner, he suddenly felt very worn and tired. He sat down, while Tuiwiel's father took a decanter of wine from a shelf and poured them drinks. Offering a goblet to Aragorn, he said:
“I think we both need something strengthening after this awful night. Or what do you say, master Thorongil? By the looks of you, you must have had a rough time.”
“You are not mistaken, master Athedîr. But it is not only the fight that makes me feel so wretched now. I fear gravely for Rosmir.”
He took a deep draught of wine and said:
“Whatever we might have said to Tuiwiel, I deem there is practically no possibility that Rosmir might return.”
The older man took a seat and sighed, staring into the fire that blazed in the fireplace.
“It would have been different ten years ago or so. Then the corsairs still often accepted ransom. But now that they are allied with the Nameless... No, if Rosmir doesn't by some miracle escape, we shall not see him again.”
“I hate to say this,” replied Aragorn with a frown,”but even if he does return he may not be the same man anymore. I have seen former slaves of the Orcs. Some of them had had every spark of joy and hope beaten out of them. Even after freed they remained only shades of men, afraid of a falling leaf, ever unable to even smile. Judging from what I have heard many corsairs and Southrons may not be any better masters than Orcs are.”
Athedîr looked at him, shaking his head.
“Now it is my turn to dislike my words, but perhaps death would be better for a man like Rosmir than a fate like that. He always knew how to make my daughter and their children laugh, and how to comfort them when they were sad. And he always was so calm and cheerful. That such a man would be reduced to a wretch like you described... It would devastate Tuiwiel.”
Aragorn shook his head mournfully.
“I wish we could do something.”
“So do I,” was the reply. “But at the moment the best I and my wife can do is to comfort Tuiwiel and the boys and look after them. Truth to be told, I worry for my daughter. She may appear calm now, but that is only because she is still stunned by the blow. If I know her at all, there are many black days in store for her. She loves Rosmir almost to a fault.”
He paused to drink and went on:
“As for the boys, I shall write to their masters and ask that they be sent home for a time. That would do good for both them and Tuiwiel.”
Aragorn nodded, and they fell into silent thought.
Rays of sunlight pouring from the open window made Aragorn to awaken. He sat up with a start, looking around the room with his still drowsy eyes. He saw that he was still in the parlour, sitting in the same chair as during his conversation with Athedîr. Rebuking himself for falling asleep, he stood up and rubbed his eyes. Hoping that he was not late for his meeting with the captain, he started to gather his armour and weapons. While he still was thus employed, the door opened and Tuiwiel's mother entered.
“Good morning! Or, as good as it can be. Are you in a hurry?” she said.
“The truth is that I do not know, mistress Meldis,” Aragorn replied. “What time is it?”
“The fourth hour is drawing to its end, I think.”
Relieved, Aragorn said:
“Good, I am not late. Still, I think I should be going. I must be in the garrison by noon. By your leave I shall take a quick breakfast and be on my way.”
Starting to draw his hauberk on, he asked:
“How is Tuiwiel?”
“Still sleeping, and no wonder,” Meldis sighed.
“The rest will surely do her good,” Aragorn said. “Please give her a warm greeting from me, too, when she wakes up. I do not know when I will come back, and I do not wish to burden her or you, so I will see to my meals and such myself today.”
“As you wish, lieutenant,” Meldis said.
Aragorn gave her a polite bow and went to the kitchen. He had no appetite to speak of, but forced a good-sized meal down anyway, knowing his body needed it after the night's exertions. While he ate, he now and then looked towards the door even though he knew not why. Then it dawned on him: He had waited for Rosmir to come to have breakfast him, as had been their custom. A chill crept up from Aragorn's stomach until it gripped his throat. It was a feeling that Aragorn hated, yet all too familiar to him.
Even in his young age, Aragorn had already lost friends and comrades in arms. And every time it had been the same: There had been a period of shock and disbelief, but then something, some small detail or another had made it all awfully real. So it was now, too. Rosmir would not come through that door this morning, or ever again. He was lost. Aragorn bowed his head when a spasm of sorrow came. Even though he knew by now that the mourning would ease in time, it did not make it easier to bear. It was a thing that one could not get used to. The only thing one could do was to press on with his tasks, since the world didn't wait for anyone.
But then he shook his head. What was he doing? He was already mourning Rosmir like the man was dead. But he still lived. Aragorn stood up and drained his cup of water while a wild, foolish thought invaded his mind:
“What if he were saved and brought back?”
Strahlend nun offen steht mir die Straße.
Im Feuer mich baden!" - Siegfried, Act Three, Scene Two.
Posted: Apr 7 2012, 09:52 AM
At Journey's End
Member No.: 2
Joined: 11-July 08
Disclaimer: See Prologue.
Chapter 5: Farewell To Thôngobel
Aragorn's mind cooled down considerably when he strode towards the garrison. He knew that saving Rosmir was out of question. First, how could a lone man without any aid penetrate the enemy territory? Well, that might perhaps be done, but what then? From whatever angle Aragorn thought about it, the more difficult such a quest seemed. Besides, at the moment he was not his own master. He could not possibly go and seek one man, even a friend of his, while he was pledged to Gondor's service. That would be nothing short of desertion.
Therefore, Aragorn dismissed the idea and turned his mind elsewhere. Something about the raid the night before bothered him. The corsairs' behaviour had been strange, but Aragorn could not yet pinpoint how exactly. They had been fierce in the battle, but judging from all accounts Aragorn had heard that was only normal. It was their movements and the way they had apparently behaved outside the fighting that seemed a little odd.
He was still mulling over this when he arrived at the garrison. Looking at the sun above, he saw that it was already nigh midday. Therefore, he headed straight for the barrack where the captain had his office. He paused at the door and knocked. A man-at-arms opened almost instantly and led him to the back of the building, and through a door to Baraon's office.
From the doorway Aragorn saw the captain sitting behind his desk, writing something on a piece of papyrus and periodically pausing to check something from the notebook that lay open next to his elbow. At the sound of the door, Baraon looked up.
“So you have come, lieutenant. Good. Take a seat.”
Aragorn saluted, drew a chair for himself and sat down opposite the captain. The latter spoke again:
“As a summary before we speak further, the men have already counted and gathered the bodies. The enemy suffered one hundred and fifty-eight dead and four wounded who fell into our hands. As for the latter, they are in too bad a shape to be interrogated and will most likely die soon. Besides, we captured two of their ships and a good amount of weapons and armour. Our own casualties amount to eleven dead and fourteen wounded.”
“Those are quite heavy losses, sir,” Aragorn said. “But 'tis no wonder. We were heavily outnumbered during the first phase of the battle, after all.”
“Quite so,” was the reply. “Still, we managed to defend the town. I must say you put up a good fight, lieutenant. You managed to buy enough time, and for that I commend you.”
“Thank you, sir,” Aragorn said.
“Well, that being said, let us proceed,” Baraon said. “Now, I want you to report on your own part in the battle. Start from the beginning.”
Aragorn obeyed, and recounted every phase of the fight as he had seen it from the wharves until the end of his failed chase of the corsairs. Baraon listened attentively and took notes as Aragorn spoke. After the latter had finished, the captain compared his notes with some other documents that were spread on the table. At length he spoke:
“Yes, that fits with the reports of the other soldiers. Did you notice anything odd about the corsairs, by any chance?”
“Yes, I did, but I cannot yet say what exactly,” Aragorn answered. “Let me think about it, sir.”
He ran what he had just told Baraon through his head. Suddenly, the answer dawned on him; putting his experience into words had apparently arranged his thoughts better.
“Now that I look back,” he said, “it seems like they were oddly disinterested in looting. I saw the enemy breaking doors on the Inn Lane when I first encountered them. Still, although they had already invaded some houses, none of them was carrying any loot. Besides, had they been intent on robbing the whole group would most probably have headed for the centre of the town and spread from there to pillage. But now it looked like the enemy was searching for something other than loot.”
“True,” Baraon replied. “Besides, the corsairs had no means of carrying any sizeable amount of spoil with them. They had not even bags or sacks. But their officers carried ropes and a few pairs of wrist irons.”
“Looks like a raid for slaves, then,” Aragorn said. “Maybe combined with an intent to test our defences.”
Baraon nodded, drumming the table with his fingers.
“That was my thought also. But there is something queer in that, too. If they came to take prisoners, why did they pass by a good opportunity?”
“What do you mean, captain?” Aragorn said.
“The group that came along the Tailor's Street broke into some houses. Well, it happened that not all civilians had left when the bell began to toll. Mistress Rustiel, the widow of a merchant, did not want to leave without her valuables. Perhaps you know the name?”
Aragorn answered in the affirmative. He was not acquainted with the woman personally, but had heard her name mentioned in the town gossip and passed her on the street on occasion.
“Then you know she was still young and rather beautiful. In any case, she ordered her maid, a girl of fourteen, to grab her jewels, money and most expensive clothes and put them into a bag. The girl obeyed and her mistress waited in the hall. That was a bad decision. The maid had just stepped down from the stairs when the corsairs arrived and burst the door open. Mistress Rustiel, so startled maybe that she could not move, still stood in front of the doorway. But the corsairs did not pause to seize her, but struck her down with a sword and walked over her body. The maid shrieked and collapsed in the hall corner.”
“I am sorry to interrupt, sir, but may I ask how do you know so well what happened?” Aragorn said.
“I get to that in a moment, lieutenant,” Baraon said, continuing: “The corsairs saw the maid but ignored her. A few of them rushed upstairs, but came back down in an instant. Then the whole troop left, having grabbed only such loot that was small in size and conveniently at hand. A minute or so later, the maid heard the clash of weapons as your men arrived on the scene and attacked. Understandably, she was very panicked and dared not to move from where she was. It was only when she heard our men speaking on the street when they were cleaning up that she got up and ran to them. The men who found her entered the house and saw the dead woman. One of them led the maid to me and she told me her story between her sobs, poor girl. I then ordered a soldier to escort her to her mother.”
Aragorn pondered on the captain's words and said at length:
“It is queer indeed. One would imagine that a well-bred woman and a young girl could have netted a tidy profit in the slave market of Umbar. But they killed the mistress just because she was in their way, I deem, and let the maid be. Yet the other corsairs captured master Rosmir and his workers. It looks like the enemy was after a specific kind of captives, namely adult men or males in general.”
“Precisely,” the captain replied. “But we do not know what was their purpose in this. Maybe they were seeking to weaken our manpower and labour force? But if so, why did they risk the captives slowing their escape down or being retaken instead of just killing them on the spot?”
Aragorn shook his head.
“I have to admit, sir, that I do not have the slightest idea. But if this is some new tactic of the enemy, it is well worth looking into.”
“Which is why I intend to make a special note of it in my report for lord Steward. He has given an order that every corsair raid shall be reported directly to him. That, by the way, also means I have orders for you.”
“Begging your pardon?” Aragorn said.
“You, lieutenant, will be the messenger who takes my report to Minas Tirith,” Baraon said. “It is evident that lord Ecthelion is worried about the raids, so I think he will want to hear every possible detail. Since you were in the battle from start to finish and your actions were instrumental in securing the victory, I will send you to bear the message. You will start tomorrow dawn.”
Aragorn was surprised, but did not show it. Instead, he only said:
“As you order, sir. Have you any other orders?”
“No. You may leave.”
Aragorn rose from his seat, saluted the captain and strode out.
He ate his luncheon in the common soldiers' mess and headed for his company's barrack. After leaving his armour in the care of the corporal in duty and changing into a clean uniform tunic he walked out, taking the path towards the town. It was a beautiful, soothingly warm spring afternoon, but Aragorn scarcely noticed the chirping of the birds or the dazzling sunlight. Instead, he thought of his assignment. Oddly, he was both pleased and displeased about it. On the other hand, it could be good to get away from Thôngobel for a while. Living in Rosmir's house would only remind him of the disaster that had happened. On a less selfish note, Aragorn felt that he would be more of a hindrance than a help to Tuiwiel. There was very little he could do or say to comfort her, and his presence in the house would mean extra work for her and Meldis. It was perhaps better if he was out of the way until Tuiwiel could recover a little.
Then again, he had grown fond of the house and the whole little town. He looked around him, scanning with his eyes the narrow streets and colourful houses he was passing by. A dog barked lazily in a backyard, woken from its afternoon sleep by Aragorn's footsteps. On another yard, a mother hen guarded over chicken that searched for worms amidst a blooming flowerbed. From an open window, the delicious scent of cooking food wafted. Yes, Thôngobel was a homely place, more so than Aragorn had seen anywhere after he had left Rivendell. Also, it was the place where he had first learned to know the common folk of Gondor, a people he now respected, even loved.
Still in these and similar thoughts, he came to the familiar garden gate sooner than he expected. He entered the hall, where he was greeted by Meldis who was just emerging from the parlour. They exchanged subdued greetings, after which Meldis said with a sigh:
“Tuiwiel is in a bad shape. She awoke only a few hours ago and has just wept since. I tried to get her to eat, but she refused. She doesn't want to see anyone, not even me.”
“I am sorry to hear that. But I am sure she will get better in time.”
“I really hope so. For the moment it is best if I let her grieve in peace, I think. Luckily Athedîr should be coming back soon. He went to tell the bad news to the families of the other taken men.”
“Mistress Tuiwiel is lucky to have you here on her side,” Aragorn said.
“We do what we can,” Meldis replied. “But it will be hard for all of us.”
Aragorn nodded sympathetically and they fell silent. After a moment Aragorn said:
“By the way, I actually came here now to say my farewells. I just received orders that mean I will be away for a while.”
“Oh, you soldiers really have a poor lot,” Meldis remarked. “Take you now: You have just been in a big fight, and they send you the Valar know where without so much as a moment to catch your breath!”
“Every profession has its inconveniences,” Aragorn said. “And it luckily is a simple errand. I will sleep in the garrison this night, but will remain here until evening.”
“Very well, lieutenant,” Meldis said and entered the kitchen, whereas Aragorn walked upstairs as silently as he could so as not to disturb Tuiwiel.
After he had selected and packed the things he would need on his trip, Aragorn tiptoed back downstairs. Athedîr had returned in the meanwhile, but had to immediately busy himself writing letters to Culfin and Malfin's masters, as well as to Minas Tirith to the officials who were in charge of navy purchases to explain that their order could not be fulfilled completely. When Athedîr told Aragorn this, the latter frowned worriedly. He realized only now that the loss of Rosmir would spell hard times for the family in more ways than one. When he made a remark on this, Athedîr shook his head gravely:
“It is not like Tuiwiel or the boys will be forced to beg for their living. Still, they have to run a much tighter ship than before with the money. Fortunately the boys' education at least is paid in advance.”
Aragorn left the old man to his work and settled on a chair in the parlour. For a while he sat there brooding. He was frustrated and angry at himself. Now he blamed himself for not coming earlier into the harbour. Perhaps he should have pressed his men more. He had relaxed too early, assuming the fight was practically over. He would not make that mistake again. But he was still very tired and could not go on like that for long. Soon he found himself dozing. He let go of his gloomy thoughts and drifted into a dream that was haunted by Rosmir's desperate face.
He awoke late, and ate a cold meal in the kitchen. The sun was low, and the sky was gradually changing into the colours of sunset. When he had eaten, Aragorn slowly cleaned the table and returned to the parlour to have a quiet moment before heading for the garrison.
He stood at a window, gazing quietly at the creeping dusk, when he heard the door behind his back to open. He turned and saw Tuiwiel, who walked inside with uncertain steps. She was calm but deathly pale, and her eyes were dark. Aragorn went to her and taking her arm escorted her to a sofa. She sat down, carefully arranging her hands on her knees like they were fragile.
“How are you?” Aragorn said.
“A little better,” she answered in a quiet, small voice. “At least I have no more tears for now. But I still can't believe he is gone.”
“Who could?” Aragorn sighed. “It is like an evil dream.”
“Yes. It was only yesterday he sat in this room, planning a holiday with me. But now he's going to Umbar,”– she spoke the word like it was a curse – “and what they will do to him there I don't want to even imagine.”
She pressed her eyes close, heaved a halting breath and fell silent. For a while neither spoke, but then Aragorn said:
“I have something to say. As much as I dislike having to tell you this so abruptly, I have to leave now. I have been sent on an errand that will take at least a week and must depart tomorrow.”
He stepped closer and laid his hand on Tuiwiel's shoulder.
“So, farewell for now. Be assured that you and Rosmir shall be in my thoughts whether I was here or not. And do not despair! Few can see what the future holds, and even the Valar do not know everything that will happen. Perhaps a new spark of hope will kindle soon.”
Tuiwiel opened her eyes and looked into those of Aragorn. She said:
“Farewell. And thank you for your kind words.”
Aragorn smiled reassuringly at her and left the room.
The first light of morning found Aragorn on horseback, riding along the road that ran north from Thôngobel. The stars had scarcely begun to dim in the east when he had already been awake. In the twilight he had stood beside the horse assigned to him and listened to Baraon giving him the final instructions:
“Ride with all speed, lieutenant, and do not spare your steed. There are relays of horses at every inn and troop station along the way. When you arrive at Minas Tirith, the guards should take you straight to lord Ecthelion as soon as you explain your business to them. Remember, the express orders are that the report is to be given personally to the Steward.”
Aragorn had taken the leather case Baraon offered him, saying:
“Do not worry, captain, I shall do as you say.”
He had instantly mounted and ridden away with good speed. In fact, the sun was only just rising but Aragorn had already reached the chain of hills north of the town. Spurring his horse onwards, he quickly crested the southernmost ridge. When on the top, he reined his horse in to allow it to catch its breath and dismounted. Turning southwards he had a good view of Thôngobel. The town slumbered peacefully in the soft morning light. Dew glistened on the trees and the green grass of the meadow extending to the base of the ridge, like a floor of emeralds. Beyond the gabled roofs, the waves of the Sea slowly rose and sank, until they merged with the blue horizon in the distance. All was silent, so silent that Aragorn could hear his own breathing. He stood there for a while, taking in the beautiful sight. Then he turned away and mounted again. After raising his beret towards the town in a gesture of farewell he dug his spurs on the sides of his horse and galloped down the road, towards the distant Minas Tirith.
Strahlend nun offen steht mir die Straße.
Im Feuer mich baden!" - Siegfried, Act Three, Scene Two.