Many Guises and Many Names
Playlist Navigation Bar
House Divided, A: 1. Destiny
The king's drunken growl roared in my ears as I stormed down the corridor to my room, slamming the heavy wooden door behind me. For a moment in my rage I contemplated bolting it shut, then decided that no matter the circumstances, I would never hold myself captive within my own home. I did want to throw something, however, but as I quickly turned, my eyes scouring every surface, nothing seemed appropriate. Then I saw my desk. The ink pot. From within the fury, my more calm self knew I would regret this, but emotions won. It went flying through the room and shattered. Inky rivulets slowly coursed down the surface, joining small shards of glass on the floor, the juxtaposition of clear and black capturing my attention. Despite the thick walls of Meduseld, no doubt someone would be along soon, having heard the slammed door. Though my hasty exits from the dinner board were more common than not, many in the Golden Hall shared my displeasure of the King’s activities. Displeasure which verged on loathing.
In that moment I decided that as soon as I was of age, only a half-year from then, I would leave him. I had been riding with the marshals of the Mark for a couple of years, spending as much time with them as I could to stay away from my liege. That evening, I began making plans. Over the next months, I had to take my older sisters into confidence, and though they were loath for me to leave, they concurred that for all concerned, it was probably the only course of action.
On the eve of my turning eighteen, I stood at the board and calmly told my father, the King, that I would be leaving for Gondor in the morn. He grew livid, his face red with fury and the several tankards of ale he had drunk rapidly through the short dinner. He made as though to strike me, but I caught his hand.
‘This is not behaviour which suits a King of the Mark, Father,’ I said through clenched teeth, then released him. Still furious, he waved at the guards to escort me from the room while he added to his already full platter. I knew from the looks on their faces that they did not wish to follow his commands, and I left so quickly that they did not need to take me by force.
In the morning, with my squire Fultwine, I began the journey south to Mundburg, to serve the Steward Turgon, if he would have me.
Anyone with gumption and a sharp mind will take the measure of two things: what’s said and what’s done.
~Beowulf, translation by Seamus Heaney
Most of the contents of my basket had scattered on the ground, soon to be crushed by horses’ feet or stolen by quick-fingered boys. 'Swine's swill, Morwen!' I swore at myself under my breath as I began scurrying to salvage what I could, and it took me a moment to look up and see what it was that I had collided with to cause my recently-bartered goods to fall to the stoneway.
I caught my breath. It was a "him," not an "it." And he was clad in the livery of Minas Tirith.
Green-hazel eyes met mine as he crouched down, joining me as I now attempted very quickly to retrieve my foodstuffs and make as dignified of a departure as I could. I lowered my gaze back to the ground and said hurriedly, 'You may leave me to this. It is nothing.'
Our hands brushed as he returned a rogue yam to my basket, and I bit down on my lower lip to try and stop a shudder of delight. He continued to rescue my acquisitions, even as he spoke in a surprisingly melodious baritone, 'Ah, but it is I who managed to run into you, and for that, my assistance is yours until your belongings have been saved.'
I chanced another fleeting look at his face, and saw that he had surprisingly long dark gold hair with a few strands of grey, though his beard was a reddish colour. He looked… foreign. Hastily reverting my eyes back to my basket, I replied, 'Thank you, my lord. I have close enough to what I should have to be able to return home without reprimand.'
I made a last glance around me, then slowly rose.
He still stood there. Apparently, he was not aware that his fellows were watching him, grins on their patrol-weary faces, and I was embarrassed for him. I was certainly abashed and I wished for him to go and join his comrades.
'May I be so bold as to ask your name, she of the heavy basket?'
I stood as regally as I could, given the circumstances, the familiar noises and scents of the marketplace giving me security. I had listened carefully this time, and knew that I heard the slightest undercurrent of an accent to his voice as he asked the question. Intrigued, I answered.
As he smiled, I brazenly asked, 'And you, Ranger of Ithilien?'
He stared almost confusedly for a few moments, then ran his hand through his straight hair.
From the corner of my eye I could see that the other Rangers had given up on their comrade in arms and were moving on to their intended destination, an often-visited public house a few roads away.
I tore my gaze away from him and looked down the busy cobbled way. 'You shall lose your fellows in a moment. I do thank you for your aid. You have been most generous in your attentions, but you will want to join the other Rangers.' I pointed to the group, their swords and quivers making them stand out among the more commonly-dressed citizens of Lossarnach.
He nodded slowly, then said, as though it would matter to me, 'I do not care for ale. But their company is indeed welcome.' Then he looked keenly at me. 'I am most pleased to have made your acquaintance, Morwen.'
He took my left hand, and kissed it.
There was nothing I could say in response, and so I stood, mute.
I watched him break into a jog to reach the other Rangers, and almost dropped my basket for a second time that day.
The seasons continued on, as they always did; autumn, through mild winter, to oppressively warm spring. I grew a little older, and I thought of the odd red-bearded Ranger on occasion. I experienced some of the pleasures that life had to offer, though I was always careful. I did not think much of the future yet, as I was only partway through my nineteenth year, but my father had a constant eye out for a beneficial match for me. Or for himself. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. Other corps of the defenders of Gondor came through our area to the southwest of Minas Tirith, but I didn’t see the older foreigner in their ranks.
I knew the qualities which I possessed that were most of value: beauty (quite accidental) and common sense (another stroke of luck). I could not feign naivete that I did not have, but neither was I overly optimistic. So, in short, I carried on as I always had. The eldest of four siblings, my hands were never lacking in responsible pursuits, yet my mother also suggested that I try and use my looks to secure some appearances at the lower levels of the court in the White City. Father was a respected merchant, after all, and he was able to send some strategic correspondence to the right people which did indeed allow us entry to some of the occasional dances held in Minas Tirith.
And I, well, I was not so indifferent as not to glean a fair amount of satisfaction from the attentions I did receive at these events. 'Some hold out for love,' my father would whisper as we dutifully followed the choreographed dance set out for us in the hierarchy of such a regimented and insular society, holding stalwartly onto tradition. 'The wise hold out for diamonds.'
He would wink, and I would smirk, and ask as I always did, 'So what do you hold out in your hands?'
I hated asking the question, but it was as old a ritual as we had. I knew the answer, which bruised my heart every time I heard it, because somehow even from early youth I knew that I would be denied the inexplicably profound, complex, and yet tantalizingly unattainable simple joy that he and my mother shared.
'Dear daughter, I hold both.'
I resented them for it, even as I was literally swept away in his strong arms, the fruits of his labours clothing me in an almond-brown dress, the better to set off my eyes.
Which I invariably closed.
I found myself again in the streets of Lossarnach. Now that I was serving as the captain of our group of archers, I had been dispensed to this region for training for the next several months. Despite myself, I looked for the keen-eyed Morwen. She was not there, of course. Neither her nor her basket of yams.
Our entourage was in need of winter clothing, and from my predecessor, I knew of a particular woolen merchant who would do well by us, given the need to stretch funds as far as they could. Though we all wore vambraces bearing the white tree, we were many, and in several companies. Especially in more rustic areas away from the White City, coin and purse spoke much more loudly than livery depicting a dead plant in Minas Tirith.
As nonchalantly as I could, I dispensed with Tarangil and Dallben. Under normal circumstances they were very persuasive escorts, and, if I were true to myself, the two whose company I truly enjoyed beyond the usual banter. With a bit of coaxing, however, I sent them on their way to one of the more often-frequented public houses, knowing that they would not be lacking for entertainment.
Wandering the inner convoluted paths of Lossarnach, I shook my head, marveling at the years of serving with Ecthelion which now brought me to this place. He was only a few years my senior, and since my arrival on a blustery day nearly two decades ago, he had become a trusted companion and confidant. The line of Stewards remained strong and powerful, Turgon an honourable man worthy of serving, the realm worth protecting. It was not that I wished for ill to come to Rohan, nor her borders breached, but as long as my father continued to be held in the sway of his vices, he and the marshals would remain at odds. Thanks to my father, the prior generations of stability were quickly eroding.
I had sworn, time and time again, that I would never return to my homeland. The words that I had uttered to Turgon, in fact, often came to me as I paced on long marches: Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Prince Thengel son of King Fengel of Rohan. Yet, for some reason I could not fathom, both Turgon and Ecthelion seemed to think that when it came to it, I would in fact leave Gondor, forswear my oath and take my place as King of Rohan. My words of denial met on deaf ears, year after year. And so, I found myself a captain, chasing down cloth.
I had now lived in Gondor and her surrounds for nigh on seventeen years. While I had gained the respect of those with whom I served, I knew that they still found me different. I was more direct in my speech, though I had picked up on and then adopted many of their word-plays and subtleties in commentary. I now spoke Westron almost without accent, though on those rare occasions when I did hear Rohirric around me, my head snapped in that direction. Usually I managed to recover myself quickly enough, but the instinct was still there, and I hated it.
Gondor suited me. It was a land of rules, of understandings, both explicit and implicit, and I knew them all. Valour and integrity checked me, and in this I did not find myself lacking. I was skilled enough with sword and bow, and showed promise in regards to being the kind of leader of men whom they willingly will follow, and moved rapidly through the ranks to be a captain. On occasion there were comments made about my heritage, that I was a “Ranger Prince,” but I dissuaded such talk. One particularly dismal night spent in the pouring rain while on patrol near the Anduin, Tarangil asked, ‘So! When will you go to reclaim your throne - before or after you turn to rust with the rest of us?’
I had found myself in particularly dark humour, both with the weather and because I honestly had not wanted to confront such a topic. Thankfully my wits rescued me from what would certainly have been a rather unpleasant interchange.
‘There is a saying in Rohan,’ I said, surprised by myself, as I usually tried to suppress all references of my former home. ‘"You will know the harvest by the birds.”’
Tarangil looked puzzled. Shaking my head to rid myself temporarily of the water that had clustered in my eyebrows and beard, I smiled.
‘Until there is a sign, my friend, Rohan is as far away to me as the isles on the Western Sea to whom we turn and reverence at evening meals. If you are trying to rid yourself of my company, you had best speak to Turgon, for I am rather content here.’
He shook his head, and despite the constant downpour, there was a hint of mirth in his eyes.
‘Thengel,’ he said quite seriously. ‘You are mad.’
I had shrugged, and kept walking.
‘You do not know the madness that I left,’ I said quietly, under my breath.
For a fleeting moment, however, I thought perhaps that he had a point.
Brought back to the present, I continued to walk. The sounds of children playing in the streets sounded melodious to my ears, the sun shone, and birds sang. My feet felt secure on the road. I was smugly content in my adopted land, which led to the inevitable.
Moments later, I bashed my head against a rather low-hanging awning. Stumbling backward, by instinct I both rubbed above my eyebrow and swore something most foul in Rohirric. The children stopped their playing, stared at me, then resumed their activities. For a moment I stood, dazed, then with a start realised that I was at the doorfront of the wool merchant that I was supposed to find. I shook my head, then immediately wished that I hadn’t.
I readjusted my leather vest and ran my fingers through my hair and tried to look as presentable as possible, having just collided with a building. There was a rather ostentatious brass knocker on the door, which I held and then solidly knocked three times, as brazenly as seemed warranted. Then I stood back, and rubbed the growing knot on my forehead.
A child answered the door, and I caught my breath. She could have been the bright-eyed Morwen’s twin, yet far younger. For a split second I wondered if all those in Lossarnach looked like her, but then I came to my senses. The youngling stood, unblinking and unafraid.
‘Can I help you sir?’ she asked.
I blinked. ‘Yes, young maid. I am here to find a wool-merchant who has done a great service to the defenders of Gondor, located at this residence, I believe.’
She continued to stare, so I continued to babble.
‘The captain who served before me had been here many times, and now that he has retired to his family, I am here in his place, and hope that I may do business here.’
Relinquishing her gaze, she turned and yelled behind her, ‘There is a man here from the white palace who needs to speak with Father!’
I chuckled. Palace, indeed!
She turned back around, and with great aplomb, lowered her hand and head and said, ‘Please come in.’
I raised an eyebrow, but entered nonetheless. I had never had such an entreaty for entry, and certainly not by one who could not have been more than nine years old. I carefully eyed the doorframe, and ducked slightly to ensure that I returned to my barracks with only one memento of the day’s activities. She escorted me down a short wooden corridor and was about to turn me down another when I heard the rustle of skirts and an oddly familiar voice say, ‘Ask him if he would like some brandy, Brianna.’
A small hand tugged at mine, and before she could get the words out, I shook my head in the negative to the already-asked question.
‘Please thank your host, but I am not in need of refreshment.’
The child, Brianna, apparently, looked crestfallen.
‘But you must be thirsty!’
She gazed intently at me as a slight shiver ran down my spine in anticipation of the approach of the other speaker.
‘Brianna, why- '
Even without moving, I knew it was her. I turned nonetheless. Morwen stood in the doorway at the foot of some stairs, her face slowly losing colour.
She had forgotten my name. I was a fool to have continued to entertain the hope that she might have been as affected by our initial meeting as I had. I was too old, and now the headache that had been building since I ran into their storefront came raging forth. I looked at the young girl who had bid me entry.
‘Brianna, is it?’ I queried.
She nodded, then grinned, a wide mouth full of teeth now exposed.
‘I think I will accept your kind offer of brandy after all.’
There was no further for her smile to go, and yet it did. She was gone in an instant.
‘Thengel, how did you… why are you…’
Now it was my turn to lose face. She had remembered my name. I was still a fool. I was still too old.
‘Are you here to buy something?’
Just at that moment, when I was ready to explain that yes, indeed, I was there to purchase several hundred yards of their densest cloth to be made into cloaks for the long-suffering archers of one of the companies of the Rangers, her father came bursting into the room.
In a few steps he was standing purposefully before me, pumping my hand, then saying that I must have heard about him from the captain of the archers who always came there to buy his cloth (the best in all of Gondor, always had been, I was very wise to visit him)… I nodded. Then Brianna reappeared, and I gratefully accepted the small glass, raised it to Morwen’s father, and drained the contents.
An hour or so later when I left the home of Briagond, leagues of cloth were scheduled to be sent to the seamstresses at Minas Tirith, Brianna was loath to see me leave, and my injury now throbbed, but at least Morwen saw me to the door.
Feeling as though perhaps not all hope was lost in getting to spend more time with her, I said, ‘There is yet another insufferable gathering on the Great Lawn at the eastern side of the Third Level in a fortnight. Would it be agreeable to you if we went together? I could arrange to have you taken there.’
She looked searchingly at me, and paused.
Nicely done. I could have beaten myself. You sound like one of the pompous lords you try to avoid when in councils.
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘As long as the company is not insufferable.’
I was about to say something when she continued, ‘You had best put some chilled water or herbs to that knot. It will be sore for days by the look of it.’
I opened my mouth to thank her.
‘Thengel is not a name heard in this area. You speak like one of Gondor, but that is not your heritage, is it?’
I shut my mouth, then slowly shook my head.
She raised her left hand and with a gentle thumb, caressed the large bump above my eyebrow.
‘I look forward to seeing you again. You are most surprising.’
Then she was gone. The door was shut, my head ached, and my heart sang.
Thengel’s quote is from Return of the King, “Minas Tirith,” and are the words that Denethor bids Pippin say back to him as he pledges himself to Gondor.
Playlist Navigation Bar