My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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The Commander of Gondor: 8. The Star of Eagles
Commander Thorongil successfully arranged to be most busy with overseeing the activities of the City Guards for the week the Dol Amroth guests had been in the city. In contrast, he had granted his captain liberal leave to attend the visitors. Sometimes, the commander decided as he sat at his desk watching a flurry of snow outside, it was pleasant to be out of the action, enjoying the quiet of his office. He was turning to add more charcoal to the corner brazier when Quillion slammed in with a blast of cold air, cheeks as red as the scarf that swathed his head and neck.
"My lord!" Quillion had been accompanying Fallon to the guesthouse regularly. Since his acquaintance with the Lady Finduilas, he had decided he preferred that title for his commander and used it indiscriminately and frequently, to the annoyance of Thorongil who constantly reminded him he was no lord. "I have the list of required Yule events for your attendance! May I go with you to them? Please!" the boy begged.
"Perhaps," Thorongil said, eyeing the extensive list. The door opened again admitting Fallon and Imrahil. Both were dressed for riding in knee-length, suede coats and heavy cloaks.
"Oh, and…." Quillion grinned sheepishly, " I was to tell you the captain and His Highness are on their way!" Thorongil grimaced at his squire's flightiness.
"But you were sidetracked, delayed, and then forgot." Quillion nodded without guilt.
The prince and Fallon were riding out to inspect the defensesat the Rammos Wall and Ecthelion desired his commander to go also. The weather had warmed a bit, the snow was light, and Dagor had been stabled for a week. Thorongil accepted his self-imposed hibernation had ended, ordered the stallion saddled, and pulled on his riding coat.
"We've missed you at dinner," the prince said amicably as they trotted across the Pelennor. Thorongil negotiated with the restive black stallion to keep to the controlled gait of the prince's mount. "Finduilas expects you to dine with us tomorrow." They reined in on the rise of the field and the prince looked beyond the wall far to the east to the grey peaks of Ephel Dúath. A shadow seemed to darken his face. He pointed with his whip in the direction of Osgiliath and to the northeast.
"They will come from there and there. They will first get a foothold on the eastern shore and attack the river bridge." Thorongil did not need to ask of whom he was speaking. "It will be a vast horde, intent not on conquering but on death and destruction. I've seen it." Imrahil shook his head sadly. "I've seen it so many times in my dreams." He seemed to remember himself and eyed Thorongil warily. "You must think me daft."
"No, I've seen such in dreams also, my lord prince," Thorongil announced.
"I can blame my visions on my Elvish ancestors," the prince jested. "What excuse have you for such troubled sleep?"
"My ancestors are to blame also," Thorongil stated enigmatically. That statement left Imrahil puzzled but as he looked up to question the commander, he noticed the man's attention was drawn to the far pair of riders skirting the Rammas. Fallon cantered along it with one of the guards to check for a perceived weakness. Thorongil watched the flame red stallion prance along beside the lesser horse. He turned back to the prince.
"I knew your father and was sorry to hear of his passing. He was kind and generous to me when I was sore in need of help."
"I regret I missed that adventure." Imrahil smiled. "My sister was quite infatuated with her pirate lord until she met Captain Fallon." He gestured in the direction of the two riders.
"Is there hope for their union?" Thorongil asked. "He is my second in command, a man of integrity and valor, and I do have a soft spot for your sister. I believe they would suit as a couple."
"Father sanctioned it and I am not opposed. I would have Finduilas wed happy and he makes her so. However, I would have her wed well also. She is a princess of Dol Amroth. The Steward recognizes Fallon as his son. He has distinguished himself as a soldier and his father aims to reward him with lands and a title for his service. Now that the mourning period is over, the Steward and I can continue marriage negotiations. I see no reason why we should not be toasting the couple at this time next year." At that moment, Fallon rode up and they turned their mounts back toward the city.
"Where is the lady?" Fallon asked. "I can't imagine she'd prefer the indoors when she could attend a ride in the open air?"
"Lord Denethor has been quite solicitous," Imrahil imparted. "He has put himself at Finduilas' disposal. He wanted to show her the archives; he's been very entertaining." A look passed from Fallon to Thorongil over Imrahil's head as if to question how his battle-hardened brother could ever entertain a lady.
Later that evening, Thorongil sat at a quiet side table at The Laughing Dwarf. The inn was bustling with local soldiers on furlough for winter and he watched as Molly, the serving wench, glided agilely between tables, avoiding both spilling her tankards and overly friendly hands. He listened to the conversations around him for a bit, thought perhaps Fallon might happen by, but finally, his tea finished, he rose to leave. The door opened with a cold blast and Denethor entered. He looked over the room quickly, and seeing Thorongil, came to his table.
"I was hoping to come upon you here. Have a drink with me, Commander." Thorongil settled back into his seat. Nell settled a glass of amber brandy before Denethor and a new pot of steaming tea before the commander.
"You spent some time in Dol Amroth. I've never had that pleasure," Denethor began.
"Yes, the family was most kind to me. Prince Adrahil was wise and learned. His passing will be sorely felt by the people of Belfalas."
"Aye, so Father says. The son is a true military leader, not the diplomat his father was." Denethor seemed to drink for courage. "What of Finduilas?"
"She is quite young, but has been raised a princess. She has a kind heart." Thorongil studied Denethor closely, intrigued by his interest.
"She seems given to fancy. The lady lives in a dream."
"But it is a pleasant dream."
"She is quite lovely," said Denethor.
"A true beauty." Thorongil agreed.
"A match with the House of the Steward will bring strength and prestige to a waning house." Thorongil did not comment on what he believed was a pompous statement by Denethor. The Steward's son drained his glass and rose.
"Good night, Commander."
"Good night, my lord." Denethor left Thorongil sitting at the table much later than was his wont, wondering at their enigmatic conversation.
Snow fell gently the next evening when Fallon appeared to collect Thorongil and Quillion for dinner. In spite of his protests, Fallon herded the commander out of the office, up through the city, and across the broad walkway of the Citadel guesthouse. A pair of sentries in the blue livery of Dol Amroth swung open the doors. The prince's seneschal was waiting. He sneered down his nose at the soldiers, especially the scapegrace boy. With haughtiness worthy of a son of Fëanor, he ushered them into the main salon, Quillion trailing behind, stared at most everything, his manners long forgotten. The boy's eyes were already big from taking in the snobbish properness and impeccable formality of the princess's servants. The Yule festivities with their finery, food, and elegance could prove overwhelming to the youngster, Thorongil mused, making a mental note to find Quillion quiet activities away from the pageantry to balance out the excitement of the week.
The door reopened quickly and Finduilas rushed in. She went straight to Fallon. Dressed in a jeweled lavender dinner gown, she looked quite changed from the young girl Thorongil remembered. She carried herself with elegance, every bit a princess. Her body was that of a woman now, but she remained quite petite, her head barely reaching Fallon's shoulder. She caught Fallon's hands and their shared look made Thorongil clear his throat before he witnessed something he ought not. The lady blushed prettily.
"Oh, my lord! I am so glad you could come! And Sir Quillion, welcome!" she exclaimed, taking the boy's hand. The door opened admitting the prince. He guided a tall, ebony-haired woman, his arm possessively through hers. Thorongil had forgotten about the betrothal between Dol Amroth and Lossernach. The prince's fiancée, Lady Calarinda, was a noblewoman of the southern Dúnedain. At first acquaintance, this branch of the descendents of Numenor seemed to be unassuming vassals of Gondor, holding fiefs in the Steward's name, but they were as secretive in their activities against the threat from Mordor as their Northern kin was. Thorongil avoided meeting them whenever he could since they zealously recognized the chieftain of the Dúnedain as the true king of Gondor. In his few encounters with them, he had discovered they had an uncanny ability to divine who he really was.
Thorongil hoped he would pass her notice He bowed over the lady's hand and she casually glanced at him. But, he had forgotten the star of eagles pin on the left breast of his dress uniform. Her grey eyes widened and suddenly she dropped into a magnificently deep curtsy.
"Aranya i Nunatani!*" she breathed in awe and somehow she was pressing her lips to his hand.
"Why, no, my lady. You mistake me for another." Embarrassed, Thorongil all but hauled her forcibly to her feet. This was a most inopportune time for the lady to pay him homage. The prince was staring in astonishment at his lady, sure she had suddenly gone daft. Fallon had one brow raised in question to him, but the beatific smiles of Finduilas and Quillion showed they felt he had just gotten his rightful respect. The lady read his expression and recovered quickly.
"I am terribly sorry for my faux pas, Commander. I mistook you for another---kin of mine from the North." Her cheeks were dusky and she begged everyone's pardon for her silliness.
They went in to dinner. It was a glittering affair with several courses. Although Finduilas had a place set for him, Quillion took up his self-appointed post behind the commander's chair. Thorongil long ago gave up trying to get him to go to the kitchens at these formal dinners and eat there. Tonight, Thorongil could almost hear his squire's stomach growl as each course was set and removed. As the servant brought around the fruit and sweets, Thorongil whispered to her to have a plate made up for Quillion. She bobbed a curtsey and nodded, saying it would be the cook's pleasure for Master Quillion.
Thorongil was sure it would. Quillion had charmed most of the Steward's household staff and never failed to stop at the kitchens for a sweet when he went on an errand to the Citadel.
The dinner ended with small confections molded to look like walnuts and acorns. Quillion gasped at their sugary beauty. Thorongil surreptitiously swept one off his plate and handed it to the boy. He immediately popped it in his mouth and his eyes filled with ecstasy.
"Do you get used to that?" Imrahil gestured to Quillion, speaking in a way some adults had as if the boy was beneath their notice. Thorongil ordered his squire off to the kitchens and since Quillion felt his duties as protector had ended with desert, he scampered off to visit the kindly cook and her staff.
"I humor him. He thinks he is my personal guard, sworn to keep me safe."
"It seems a bother to me," said the prince. Thorongil laughed.
"Did you not ever dream you were Gil-galad's page when you were his age?" Thorongil asked, thinking of his own childhood fantasies. He had spent much of his boyhood pretending he was Elrohir's squire and that elf-lord good-naturedly had humored him.
"By Ulmo, no! The elves were Finduilas' fantasy. Since I had to learn to rule, I never had time to imagine I was anything else but prince of the realm," the pragmatic Imrahil admitted.
Later they all sat in the comfortable main room of the guesthouse, sharing pleasantries. Thorongil hoped the group had forgotten the awkward, before-dinner incident but he had caught the Lady Calarinda several times at dinner staring at him. As the group fell into story telling, as most evening gatherings did for entertainment, she returned to the topic of his identity.
"Commander," she began from her seat to his right. "Forgive me again for my mistake. But your brooch---"
"----is a family heirloom," he revealed, his eyes meeting hers.
"Of course." She was quiet and then she asked them all. "Since I have been so foolish this evening, I should ask if you know the story of our last Dúnedain chieftain?" She turned to the entire group. "I see the commander carries the blood of the Numenoreans by his looks and his token, but not even all of my kinsmen know the tale." Imrahil groaned softly. Finduilas glanced threateningly at him and quickly encouraged her to tell the tale, her eyes sparkling. Thorongil could but smile and shake his head. "My mother's oldest cousin, Lady Gilraen, wed Arathorn, who was the last recognized Northern chieftain, many years ago. Both traced their lineage directly to Isildur and it was foretold their son would be the king that is to come again. However, one day while hunting orcs, Lord Arathorn was killed in the forests south of Amon Sul. Gilraen and her babe---their son---disappeared that same day. That must have been nearly fifty years ago. No one knows what happened to them. Some say they were spirited away by the Eldar to the long-lost city of Gondolin; some say they were carried away by raiding orcs deep into the mountains to the stronghold of Gundabad and suffered terrible deaths. The mystery of the child and his mother remains today. So it seemed the line of Isildur ended, the Dúnedain were without a leader, and Gondor would never again see a king upon the throne." She paused for dramatic effect. "But, over the years, there have been stories that the Dúnadan is alive: a young man returned to Fornost, a warrior riding against the orcs, a healer haunting the greenwood with our Eldar brethren. If this be true, legend says the Dúnadan will appear again when we need him most. He will ride into Minas Tirith at the head of a vast army finally to defeat our enemies. He will possess the ability to command the undying loyalty of the troops and he will possess the hands of a healer. The Dark Lord will be overthrown and there will be peace in all the lands." Calarinda told her story well and the spellbound room was silent. Then the prince snorted softly.
"My dearest, it is a lovely tale, one fit for elven-halls. But, it is almost definite knowledge that the boy and his mother were killed by orcs. I remember my father telling of the messenger who brought the news. The line of Isildur has indeed died out," Imrahil said with some impatience, "except in my lovely lady's mind." He raised her hand to his lips. "My dear, you've told that story many times…"
"I have never heard this tale," Fallon interrupted. The captain bore a puzzled frown. "Legend says the Dúnadan, the chieftain of the North, is the returning King? The King of Gondor?" Calarinda nodded. "So, in truth," Fallon continued, unwilling to give up his unanswered question, "if the child died, there will never be a king to sit the throne in Minas Tirith?"
"There will never be another king in Gondor," Imrahil flippantly replied, "unless your brother decides to crown himself." Fallon was shaking his head in disbelief. Calarinda and Finduilas looked hurt at such blasphemy. Returned from the kitchens and perched on a stool at Thorongil's side, Quillion's eyes were the size of Gondorian coins, staring in fascination at the lady.
"There has never been evidence the child died," Thorongil said softly, hearing an undertone of something akin to panic in Fallon's voice and meaning to salve his captain's fears. "Have hope. The King will come again."
"Soon?" Quillion piped up from his seat, taking any word uttered by his master as absolute. "Will he come soon?"
"Not soon enough for Calarinda," Imrahil jested. "Though if he came, I'd welcome him: then we'd finally be done with the tale. Its popularity in my house is only shadowed by the one of Finduilas and the pirate, though begging your pardon, Commander, that one was at least real."
"How will he be recognized?" Fallon asked doggedly. He seemed obsessed with the idea. "How again will anyone know he is the king, Calarinda?"
The lady warmed to her new audience and Thorongil groaned again at her wealth of information. She, indeed, must be a cousin. "He, of course, will be tall and dark, grey-eyed as are all the descendents of the West---as the Steward's house mostly is, and Dol Amroth also. His gaze will command all who behold it; its power will demand immediate fealty. He will be a healer, learned in lore and legend, comfortable with both men and Elves. He will bear the blade Narsil, Elendil's sword, reforged, and wear the serpent ring of Barahir, a silver circle with a fiery green stone." Quillion sucked in his breath suddenly and inhaled the cider Finduilas had poured for him.
The coughing fit and Finduila's helpful back-thumping that followed broke the spell of Calarinda's story-telling. When he was able to breathe once more, Thorongil caught Quillion staring at him. His squire was trustworthy and loyal to a fault, but had all the curiosity of the young. He suspected his squire had made careful study of the contents in the chests in his rooms and knew exactly where that particular ring could be found. Before Quillion could recover fully and blurt out something untoward, the conversation moved to safer topics.
Later, Thorongil walked with Imrahil along the garden gallery, preparing to leave. Finduilas and Fallon had stolen away for a few minutes alone, and Calarinda had bid him good night earlier. Quillion, stuffed with food by the kitchen staff, plopped on the steps leading down to the gardens, now dead in the winter cold, to wait.
"My lord," began the prince directly, "what do you think of the Steward's son, Denethor? If I might be so blunt." They paced along together, breath silver vapor in the moonlight.
"He is a fine commander. He will be a fine Steward when the time comes," Thorongil replied honestly.
"I rode with him some years ago when we were both in training. He has become very grim since then. The man needs a focus other than defense of this city---a family perhaps." Imrahil leaned against the terrace wall. "My sister would make a fine wife for any man." Thorongil raised a brow, curious at the track this conversation was taking.
"She is beautiful and accomplished," he agreed hearing echoes of his responses to Denethor the night before.
"She needs a husband who is strong. She needs guidance. Father was always a steadying influence on her."
"She needs a husband who loves her," Thorongil advised. Imrahil stood for a moment, made as if to speak again, and then bid Thorongil good night. The commander watched the prince go inside, pondering his words.
"My lord?" He turned at the sound. It was Lady Calarinda in a hooded cloak. She stepped forward out of the shadow. "Before you leave…my story of the Dúnadan…I apologize for any insult my fiancé may have unknowingly given. Imrahil doesn't do well with fancy or legend but he is a good man and a fine leader." She looked chagrined. "I also apologize for myself, if my enthusiasm in the telling in any way caused you…" she trailed off.
"There was no offense taken, lady. We all can be mistaken in our perceptions. And," he smiled down at her, "some of us cannot always be who those around us would have us be."
"May Varda light your way, Aranya!" She whispered and in the starlight, he saw the awe gleam in her eyes. He turned away without answering, and collecting a tired Quillion, started down the stairs to the walkway below. Fallon met them at the bottom. He was silent for much of the walk home. As they near the tunnel on the fourth level, he finally spoke and his voice held a note of hopelessness.
"What if Lady Calarinda's story is true? Then we fight on without purpose, dwindling slowly under the evil of the Enemy until the last Gondorian is killed! There will never again be a king in Minas Tirith, there will never be an overthrow of the Darkness." Thorongil stopped abruptly and caught his shoulder, turning to face him, their eyes meeting in the starlight. Fallon felt great power in the commander's gaze, and comfort also.
"We fight for Gondor, king or no king. We fight to keep the White City and all of Middle Earth free from the dark powers of Sauron. Captain, we fight with a purpose. There will be an overthrow of darkness and freedom for our people." Most, even brave soldiers, did not dare whisper the name of the dark lord even in broad daylight, and a shiver ran through Fallon's body. He heard the power and purpose in his commander's voice and, as if governed by those silver eyes, nodded his agreement. As they continued toward home, he felt his spirits lift. Fallon decided, with a smile on his face, he rued the day the dark lord might face Thorongil; he rued it for the dark lord.
*My king of the Dunedain
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