1. Chapter 1 - To the Weather Hills
The young man entered a corridor lit with the soft glow of oil lamps, and walked the length of the richly carpeted floor. The small shelves and pedestals that lined the cherry wood panelling held gold statuettes, gem-encrusted medallions, silver figurines and other items of great worth. He strode the length of the hallway, ignoring the opulence, and stopped before a small picture next to a large oak door. He traced a hand over the frame of the family portrait hanging outside his father's study and stared at the picture for a few minutes.
The young man sighed and knocked on the door. "Father, it's Erigost."
"Come," a muffled voice called from the other side of the door.
Erigost entered the room and closed the door behind him. He stopped to inspect himself in the full-length mirror hanging on the inside of the door, and took a moment to straighten the tunic above his chain mail hauberk. He peered down at the weapon at his waist and grimaced. His weapons' training was as complete as the wealthy nobleman's father could afford, but he still was not used to carrying a sword. "How do I look?" he asked as he turned to his father, Maeglun.
Maeglun was seated at a desk filling in the ledger containing the details of his many business transactions. He did not look up from his work, and continued to write even as he spoke. "Your appearance will matter little where you're going."
Erigost grinned, his blue eyes glinting mischievously. "But father, you've always said how important it is to make a good first impression."
His father frowned and gave Erigost a piercing glare, then he closed his ledger and walked across the room to join his son. "Your posting is not something to jest about."
The young Dúnedain's smile vanished, and he shrugged. "It is an honour to receive a posting at Weather Hills, but I doubt I will be in danger."
Maeglun arched an eyebrow at his son. "I wouldn't be so sure of that, Erigost. The Hillmen of Rhudaur are a barbaric, vicious folk. They do not take kindly to King Argeleb's claim of suzerainty over them."
"Why should they?" Erigost demanded. "There are many who agree that he has overstepped his authority. If there is to be any conflict along the eastern border, it is the king's arrogance that has caused it!"
His father slapped his face.
Silence hung on the air for a few moments. "What did you do that for?" Erigost asked as he rubbed his chin.
"You are not thinking, son." Maeglun sighed and walked over to an open window that looked out over a quiet, cobbled street. "Rhudaur is a leaderless kingdom, and its people have long been in disarray. Argeleb seeks only to unite them under his rule to bring them prosperity and peace. Unfortunately, the blood of Númenor runs through the veins of too few of their people. They have become wayward and lawless." He shook his hand waved a hand in dismissal. "It matters little."
"But it does matter, father. Argeleb has breached the trust between the Dúnedain and the Hillmen. Some of what you say is true – the people of Rhudaur are in disarray, and we do not share a similar ancestry." He stepped closer to his father and gazed into his father's piercing stare. "But the Hillmen do have a leader whom they have accepted as their king. Andor's right to rule his kingdom should be respected."
His father shook his head and placed a hand on Erigost's shoulder. "Argeleb does not wish to revoke their right to self-rule, he merely wishes to create a unified voice when dealing with neighbouring countries. The King of Rhudaur does not possess the tact nor the intelligence to negotiate on international policy." He paused a moment. "You've been speaking with Pelnarth about this, haven't you?"
Erigost pulled away from his father. "And what if I have? He has spent many years in study, and knows much more about the eastern kingdom than I."
"Oh, Pelnarth thinks he knows." Maeglun threw his hands up in the air. "And if he were in power, I suppose he would accede to Rhudaur's demands to hand over the tower of Amon Sûl and the palantír as well." He pointed a finger at his son. "That is all the Hillmen's king desires and nothing more. You would do well to remember that."
"He is still their king!"
Maeglun shook his head and smiled acidly. "You put such faith in your friend's judgement. Do not forget that Rhudaur's king has publicly stated he would overthrow our monarchy and see every Dúnedain in chains if he could."
"Those are just words spoken in anger, father. His people were subjugated for years, and only recently won sovereignty."
"And does it mean nothing to you that the princes of Cardolan have agreed to Argeleb's claim? They fear they will suffer the same fate as the Dúnedain of Rhudaur."
Erigost's face clouded over at that, but he shrugged. "The Cardolani are a weakened people, but still Dúnedain. They will be treated as equals by Argeleb rather than as inferiors."
"I see I cannot change your mind," Maeglun said with a sigh. "Will you at least say nothing of this to your mother before you leave?"
"I will, father. I know it would upset her," he admitted.
Maeglun nodded. "Let's go then. Your squadron will meet at daybreak."
The two of them exited the study and made their way to his mother's waiting room. Maeglun patted his son and the shoulder. "Let me speak with her a moment," he said and then entered. He returned a few minutes later and nodded at Erigost.
Erigost walked into the dimly lit room. He found her in bed propped up on a pile of down-filled pillows. Her face looked pallid, and the skin around her eyes was sunken and blackened. The young Dúnedain kneeled down beside her and took her hand. "Mother," he whispered.
She opened her eyes and smiled up at him. "Good morning, Erigost," she rasped. Her breathing sounded uneven. She coughed and spat up blood, which Erigost wiped away with the hem of his tunic. "You are leaving now, aren't you son?"
Erigost swallowed hard and could not speak. A tear rolled down his cheek; he did not expect to see his mother again.
"Dear boy," she said as she wiped his cheek. "Try not to worry yourself over me. I've been fighting this illness so many years, but at least I am no longer in pain." She closed her eyes and fell into a light sleep.
Erigost looked over at his father, whose face showed the pain he was feeling. His mother, Linfel, had been ill many years with a fading illness even the Elven healers had been unable to cure. Erigost felt some regret for leaving his father right now, though he suspected Maeglun would cope with Linfel's death with the same calm stoicism he had dealt with her illness for nearly ten years.
The young Dúnedain kissed his mother's forehead and laid her hand on her chest. He rose and approached his father. "I have to leave now," he said shortly, still angry at his father's insensitivity toward the plight of the Hillmen.
Maeglun nodded. "Keep safe, Erigost."
* * *
To the east, the sun had just risen above the horizon, throwing long shadows from the barracks over Fornost's southern courtyard. The courtyard opened into a wide avenue that led through the city's southern gates and joined with the North South Road. A southerly breeze whipped the pennants atop the city walls. Erigost's troop stood amongst clusters of similarly sized groups of soldiers in the courtyard – in total two thousand Men awaited their orders. Erigost stood attentively listening to their troop commander, a grizzled sergeant named Cooregon who stood a full foot above even the tallest Men.
"Soldiers, you've probably heard the rumors that we're being sent to fortify the eastern defenses. We'll be sent to one of the new strongpoints in the Weather Hills. Our mission is to observe and respond, if necessary to Rhudaur's movements on the eastern border." He scowled at his troop and scratched the bridge of his aquiline nose. "The Hillmen have been spotted massing north of the Trollshaws. Any questions?"
There was silence around Erigost. Rhudaur and Arthedain had been living in an uneasy peace for several years since the end of Earendur's line in Rhudaur. The Hillmen's antipathy of the Dúnedain had recently degenerated into a systemic removal of any family with Numenorean blood in Rhudaur. In an attempt to bring stability to the North, Argeleb had claimed suzerainty over Rhudaur and Cardolan. Instead, the slayings had escalated to civil warfare and now it seemed that peace had come to an end.
Cooregon scowled at his troops. "We leave within the hour. You may stand easy men, but we are to keep our place here on the square. The army will leave the city as a single unit."
As the soldiers began to disperse, Erigost looked to the man standing next to him and smirked. "Well, Pelnarth. It looks like you're going to get your chance to become famous."
His friend shook his head. "I'm sure you'll find some way to become the center of attention, Erigost."
Erigost punched his friend on the shoulder. "You'd better not stand too close to the edge of the wall we'll be fighting on."
Before Pelnarth could respond, two of the other young members of their troop interrupted. The taller of the two, Celgrond, a blonde-haired Man from the north of Arthedain clapped them both on the back. "Malael and I here have a wager on which of you two is going to be the first to stop talking for more than a minute." He winked at Erigost. "I've put my bet on you, Erigost."
Malael laughed quietly at his friend's jest. "It's good to see you both again. How is your mother, Erigost?"
"Not well." Erigost shook his head and exhaled. "She is still lucid, but I think she is too tired to fight anymore."
"And what of your father?" Pelnarth asked. "Does he still cling to his prejudices regarding Arthedain's intended eastern subjects?"
Erigost shook his head. "No, but at least he won't be coming with us."
Celgrond clicked his tongue. "We are all entitled to our opinions – that is the privilege of living in our civil society." He then grabbed Pelnarth's arm and leaned close. "But just because we are entitled to those opinions does not mean that it is wise to disclose them to so publicly," he hissed into Pelnarth's ear.
Pelnarth nodded, though he tore his arm from Celgrond's grasp. "It is an unfortunate statement that even in this civil society we must hold our tongues lest we speak the truth."
Erigost stepped between the two friends. "That's enough, both of you. No matter what or how we feel, we still fight for Arthedain." He looked at Celgrond and Pelnarth until each acknowledged his point. "Understood?"
Celgrond looked at him first. "Your father would be pleased to know you are quick to defend Arthedain's need for unity with her neighbours."
"It's ironic that you have entered into a wager to see who will be first to stop speaking," Erigost started. "Were you the subject of said wager, I would expect none to bet on you."
The large Dúnedain laughed and clapped Erigost on the shoulder. "Well spoken, my friend." He winked at Pelnarth, who smiled, and then looked over at Malael. "I should have bet on Pelnarth."
"I think King Argeleb is fortunate to have soldiers such as you in his army," Malael interjected. "All we shall have to do is point you at the Hillmen and let you speak your opinions. Your words are keener and more accurate than your skill with the bow."
"Oh, and what of you, Malael? Even though we hardly hear a peep out of you, you seem to have become quite adept at sarcasm." Pelnarth asked.
Malael shrugged. "I will allow my sword fighting to speak for me."
Their massive troop commander stepped up behind the four young Dúnedain. "That's good to hear." He spoke quietly in his gravelly voice. "This will be your first experience in pitched battle." He looked at Celgrond. "I hope all of you will be as careful as young Malael here." Then he looked at Pelnarth and lowered his voice even more. "And you remember to keep your opinions about the cause of this war to yourself. You know less about Rhudaur than you claim, and I will make life difficult for you if I hear anything to upset the morale of my troop."
Cooregon started to step away from the group, but he stopped and looked at Erigost. "And you would do well to think for yourself." The black-haired Dúnedain then walked away to join another troop commander.
Erigost looked about the massive City Square at the throng of soldiers awaiting their order to march eastward. He chewed his lip as he considered the size of the army. "How many do you think will go to the western border?" he asked his friends.
Pelnarth, who was strangely quiet and engrossed with some other thoughts, did not answer, while Celgrond shrugged and shook his head. Malael however, probed the square.
"I'd guess the King is sending 10 squadrons – some two thousand men plus the squad leaders and squadron commanders. It's been rumoured that Dirindel will be leading the army."
Erigost whistled. Dirinidel was one of Argeleb's cousins, and had overseen large military operations in the past. He was respected by both the aristocracy for his noble blood line, and by men with many years of service in the army for his willingness to lead into battle. "Argeleb is serious, then. He must really think the Hillmen have a chance to get past the western defenses and lay siege to Fornost."
"Maybe the Hillmen aren't his primary concern." Malael shrugged.
Erigost peered dubiously at his friend. "You can't seriously think that the Witch King is planning to attack the city? He's been holed up in Carn Dûm for nearly fifty years."
"That's enough time to build up quite an army. Perhaps Argeleb's spies in Angmar have learned what most of us have not wanted to consider since the Witch King's arrival."
Erigost quietly digested that possibility for a moment. "It is terrifying that we could face such an enemy as did our ancestors during the siege of Barad-dûr," he said quietly. "I wonder if it is the reason Argeleb has called for unification of Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur."
Pelnarth snorted. "Our king has no such vision, nor does he expect an attack from the Witch King. Remember Erigost," he added quietly, but his eyes gleaming intensely, "this is just for personal gain. Or are your eyes blind to all this?" He asked as he gestured to the activity around them. "Why would Argeleb send troops west if he wasn't planning to annex Rhudaur?"
Celgrond shook his head and even Malael looked away from his friends, as his face turned bright red. Erigost nodded though. "I know, Pelnarth, you're right. Forgive me for doubting you." He held a hand out, which Pelnarth shook.
Pelnarth then clapped Erigost on the back. "Do not worry, my friend. Argeleb's mad for power and nothing else. He thinks to reclaim the glory of Arnor, but he is blind to the state of the world. The only way for him to gain control of Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur is extermination of the Hillmen – and this army is his tool."
Erigost's attention was drawn away from their conversation as Cooregon began to shout orders to his troops. Within minutes, his squadron along with the rest of Argeleb's army was marching through the gates of Fornost onto the North South Road. Erigost looked back at his home one last time, wondering if he would see his family or the city again. As he turned back to the road before him, he caught Cooregon's eye. He silently cursed himself for speaking his opinion so loudly, as the sergeant's icy glare was fixed on him for a few seconds before the grizzled veteran looked away.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.