21. Royal Marriage
"I don't understand why you are so insistent on such an alliance between Arnor and Gondor!" argued Saruman.
"Because neither is strong enough of itself to completely stand on its own," Gandalf explained patiently one more time. "Each has need of the other. When Araphant came south to serve in Gondor's forces it strengthened both kingdoms. Calimehtar and his son and nephew realized that those in Arnor do care and will aid as they can; and Araphant learned first-hand just what threats the Enemy will throw at Gondor."
"Well, I don't understand where this Malbeth the Seer has come from! The Man is uncanny!"
Gandalf paused in their progress up through the levels of the White City to the White Tower and Citadel at the top built by Calimehtar and gave his fellow an intensive examination, his lips parted slightly in surprise and amusement. "Considering what we are and our origins," he said in quiet Quenya, "you would think to find a mere Man with I'll admit extraordinarily strong Dúnedain foresight uncanny? I am surprised at you, Curumo!"
Saruman stopped also, and found himself shivering at the again almost-forgotten name to which he'd once answered. He shrugged to shake off the feeling of unease. The Grey Wizard turned away to resume the journey to the top of the city. What had possessed Anárion to build his city here on the steep slopes of a mountain root? Saruman wondered once more as he hurried to follow, then hated himself for appearing to allow Gandalf to take precedence. He resumed his place at his fellow's side and matched his pace.
Years previous Araphant had managed to marry a princess from Númenor vi Ennorath, a suit that had taken all by surprise, particularly as it had been engineered so quietly that Calimehtar and Ondoher weren't aware it had been finalized until the young woman was on her way northward on a ship said to belong to the Northern Dúnedain. The bride was one Captain Gilorhael had first met when she was yet little more than a child and whom he'd watched mature into a beautiful and capable young woman. The marriage was brokered by one of the northern mercenaries who'd remained behind when his captain returned northwards. Calimehtar had sent messages to Annúminas reminding the King of Arnor that it was his duty as King of Gondor to ratify matches involving the high lords and ladies of his realm, although the protest was more for formality's sake than because he felt it a bad one. In truth the only ones who opposed the match proved to be the Lord Steward Beren and his son Pelendur, who was yet a youth; all others felt it could only serve to increase ties between the two realms to the benefit of all, and this was as true of Calimehtar and his son and cousin as it was of the Prince of Númenor vi Ennorath and the officials of the Northern Kingdom.
Ondoher had married the daughter of the lord of Pelargir, one of almost pure Dúnedain blood herself and whose mother had also come from Númenor vi Ennorath; together they'd had three children--sons merely a year apart in age, and a daughter some five years younger. Artamir and Faramir were as close in spirit and brotherly love as they were in age. Fíriel displayed both the beauty and the intelligence of her lineage, and already in her early twenties many lords of the realm clustered about her, hoping to ally themselves with the King's house. But so far she'd shown no response to any, which spoke to the good for Gandalf's cause.
"And this Malbeth has indicated the two kingdoms should ally through marriage?" Saruman continued.
"So he spake: In division have the issue of Elendil done ill; let their progeny know reconciliation if they will. The lineage of the Kings falters unless all the houses of the Mariner willingly wed in faithfulness.He was present as one of the witnesses at the birth of the son of Araphant and gave the infant the name he bears--Arvedui, declaring he will indeed be the last king Arthedain and Arnor shall know until the realm of Elendil is renewed under a single lord--and either Arvedui himself will once again rule both the north and south kingdoms in the fullness of time when the rule of Gondor shall fall into contention, or until Gondor in humility shall accept the heir of Isildur as the rightful bearer of both the Wingèd Crown as well as the Sceptre of Annúminas to the downfall of the Shadow."
"All of the houses of the Mariner....An odd phrasing."
"And now we, who you have ever declared should stand aloof of the marriage market, seek to broker a further alliance between Arnor and Gondor to see that this odd prophecy might be fulfilled?"
"In a word, yes."
"And you are certain that Arvedui is willing to accept the daughter of Ondoher to wife, sight unseen?"
"Not precisely unseen. Even now does Arvedui sail southward on one of the trading vessels of Arnor to meet with Ondoher himself and bring his father's wishes for reconciliation between the lines of Valandil and Meneldil, and offering what support Arnor can provide to Gondor's needs in the fight both realms know against the Shadow that reaches westward both to the south and north from Dol Guldur. Araphant and Ondoher have both seen that it is from Dol Guldur and its alliance with the dark forces again growing within the walls of Mordor and further eastward that both realms and Rhovanion are all threatened. Again do the Kings of the West, the descendants of Elros, call for all to come together to recognize that the Necromancer orchestrates the assaults on all--on the lands and peoples of Men, Elves, and Dwarves and on all others who are considered the Children of Ilúvatar."
"So, they would summon the White Council to meet yet once again?"
"Only if all the Free Peoples unite in common cause will all stand a chance of defeating the Shadow once and for all."
"And would you bring to this Council not only representatives from Mithlond, Lindor, Laurelindórenan, Imladris, and Amroth's havens west of the Mouths of the Sea, Men of Gondor and Rhovanion, and Dwarves from Khazad-dûm and the other Dwarf halls, but also Ents from the depths of Fangorn, Iarwain, the horse lords of the Éothéod, and the Halflings of the northlands as well?"
"Are not all equally threatened, Saruman? Do not all need to do their part in the defense of all the West?"
"And what defense can the farmers of the Periannathor the shepherds of the trees of the Onodrim or Iarwain offer any other peoples? Would you command even Manwë's Eagles to cooperate in fighting the abominations descended from the spawn of Morgoth?"
"Once they knew all others were united in common cause, do you think that the great Eagles would stand aloof? It has ever been that when all together fight the Shadow of Evil that Súlimohas given them leave to join in the fray as they see fit. And remember--not only are sentient beings threatened by a victory by the Shadow, but also trees and plants and beasts and the earth itself. Those who nurture growth have as much to offer in the defense of all and the protection and renewal of balance as those who wield the weapons of war."
Saruman was not so certain of that as his fellow, but for now he gave over the argument as they started up the ramp to the level of the Citadel of Minas Tirith.
Those who dwelt within Minas Tirith and upon the Pelennor followed the coming of the ship from the north kingdom with great interest. All watched as it arrived at the Harlond, driven up the river by a great wind blowing from the Mouths of the Sea. From the main mast hung a great banner, silver with seven great stars set in a circle with a representation of the Sceptre of Annúminas in the center. On the deck stood a tall figure cloaked in grey, his face proud and clear, the Ring of Barahir upon his right hand, a silver circlet upon his brow, a great sword at his hip, fully a descendant of the Sea Kings of old. By him stood his companions, some as young as he himself; a few much older, all of them clearly as much of Dúnedain descent as the northern Prince himself--all save two, two who in spite of the similarity of dark hair and sea-grey eyes and the build of warriors born and bred it was plain were notMen of Arnor--not Men at all, in fact, considering the warrior's braids caught behind pointed ears and the light of the Eldar in their eyes.
Saruman, as one of those who attended upon Ondoher, almost did not recognize the sons of Elrond, so long had it been since he'd last seen them. Gandalf, on the other hand, clearly not only recognized them but appeared surprised and somewhat pleased to see them arrive upon the ship with their mortal kinsman.
The eyes of the ladies present were caught by the tall Men and the two Peredhil upon the deck of the ship, and the eyes of many became fixed on the one who stood at the center of all. But one pair of eyes watched with particular fascination, and it was not lost upon Beren and Pelendur that the breath of Ondoher's daughter Fíriel caught at the sight of the Prince of Arnor, and that she first paled and then flushed at the look of him.
For Pelendur of the House of Húrin, heir to the Steward of Gondor, was one of those many lords whose hope it had become to take Fíriel, daughter of the King, to wife; and it had long been his venerable father Beren's ambition to see these two ancient lines blended once more. To see the Princess's heart at last stirred by a stranger from the north raised Pelendur's envy and Beren's suspicions on the intent of this one he saw as rival to Artamir as well as his son.
The feast hall built alongside the new Citadel by Calimehtar rang to the sound of laughter and music as the Princes of Gondor and their cousin Eärnil son of Siriondil rejoiced to find in this Prince of Arnor a merry and noble spirit the equal of their own, and as Ondoher and his cousin Siriondil recognized in the young Man seated at board with them much they had seen and honored in the Captain Gilorhael who had once served Calimehtar in the fight against the Wainriders. Within days all felt as if Arvedui was one they'd known and loved since his childhood; within a month it was plain that he and the Lady Fíriel had come to love one another with a deep and abiding adoration and respect. Before he left Minas Tirith and the south kingdom at the end of two months the Prince of Arnor was betrothed to the Princess of Gondor, with the promise he would come for his bride in eight months' time.
None could fault the articles of alliance forged between Arnor and Gondor, in which Artamir and Eärnil had labored alongside Arvedui, Ondoher, Siriondil, and Gondor's Steward and his son as well as the older advisers accompanying Arnor's Prince and the Prince of Númenor vi Ennorath. To all this Elladan and Elrohir Elrondionnath stood witness alongside the White and Grey Wizards, and much discussion took place between all parties regarding the nature of the evil that maneuvered so many threads of malice against all of the West.
Saruman and Gandalf stood one day at sunset behind the guest house in which they were housed within the Sixth Circle, watching the glory reflected above them. "Well, Gandalf, it appears our purpose here has been met."
"Yes--north and south are at last bound in a full alliance such as has not been seen between them since the death of Isildur, and soon the royal families of both shall be joined in the marriage of Arvedui and Fíriel. However, the Shadow won't be pleased, and will do its best to destroy the alliance however it can."
"Ondoher's Steward does not appear best pleased."
"Nor is he, for Beren desired Ondoher's daughter for his own son. However, considering the power of the alliance that has been forged and that will be guaranteed once the marriage is made he will do all he can to see it a success."
"But you have said that the crown of Gondor shall fall into contention, at which time Arvedui may seek to claim it?"
"So foresees Malbeth."
"But you have no idea as to what the circumstances might be?"
"Correct--we have no idea."
Eight months later two ships came up the Anduin to the Harlond, one of them equipped to carry horses. A great company came off of them of Men and women of the Dúnedain of Arnor, and a smaller company of Elves, including Elrond and his wife and one of his sons, Glorfindel, Galdor of the Havens of Mithlond, Gildor Inglorion and his son Glorinlas, and a few from the trains of each.
But for the people of Gondor gathered to the White City and the Pelennor the greatest curiosity lay in seeing with their own eyes the family of the bridegroom as they calmed their mounts brought out of the hold of the second ship and at last mounted them. He who had been known to them as Captain Gilorhael rode a great piebald stallion; his wife, sister to the Prince of Númenor vi Ennorath, rode a fine roan mare; their daughter rode a chestnut gelding; and the bridegroom a stallion the same color as his sister's mount. And beside King Araphant rode two others many recognized as having been among those who'd come to Gondor with "Captain" Gilorhael who also had served their nation. As for the Elves with their gaily caparisoned steeds of as remarkable grace as the Elves themselves--all watched them with curiosity and a degree of awe, for save for the folk of Númenor vi Ennorath few of those in Gondor had ever had the chance to see Elves of any sort.
It was a marvelous company that rode up the way across the Pelennor from the quays of the Harlond to the great gates of the city in company with Ondoher and his sons and the Prince of Númenor vi Ennorath, come with his son and grandchildren to greet his sister and her family.
"Mithrandir, I would have you and your fellow both witness the ratification of the treaty we have arranged with Arnor, as well as Lord Elrond and Lord Glorfindel at the least," Ondoher said to Gandalf during the dancing that followed the feast of welcome for the guests come for the marriage.
"You would have Curunír and myself as witnesses? Why is this?"
Ondoher shrugged as if the answer were most obvious. "Neither of you as Istari are Men, no matter how you resemble us," he pointed out, "unless you have been of a lineage of individuals who all appear exactly alike and have managed to pass your knowledge intact across the generations. The records of the city and the realm are full of your names and words of counsel. That you appear to know the same sort of immortality as do the Elves is--shall I say, obvious? Therefore you, as is true of Lord Elrond, can stand witness over time to the fact of the treaty and its terms, in case one of my successors should question it in the future."
"I, at least, am honored and humbled by your trust in me as a witness," the Wizard answered him. "I do ask, however, my Lord, whether or not you are pleased and satisfied with this match?"
The King sighed. "How can I be truly happy when my daughter must go so far away, and the chances are I shall not see her again in this life? But I have seen her eyes come alive for Arvedui as they have not for any other Man, and have seen how the Man softens for her as for no other. I have seen how very happy Alassielis, after having been married all these years to Araphant, and how much love and pleasure there is between them as husband and wife; with such an example, how can Arvedui fail but to do as well by my daughter as has his father by his mother?
"My grandchildren will, I hope, rule both kingdoms and will have that tie to hopefully bring Gondor and Arnor back in the end under joint rule. We cannot go on as we have, each isolated, for together we can achieve far more than we can separately. And certainly it was never intended to be thus, for Elendil, Isildur, and Anárion ruled the two lands jointly, and thus Isildur proposed to do with Meneldil. Had Valandil not been as young as he was, perhaps Meneldil would have continued that situation instead of allowing himself to be persuaded to break away from the interests of Arnor.
"I have a memory of a talk between Gilorhael and my troop of recruits shortly after I began my military training. The question was raised as to why all troops on the borders of the realm included officers and some Men from the capital--why some members of the army here were sent to Númenor vi Ennorath, the fortresses at the crossings of the Poros, Pelargir, even to the uplands of the Morthond valley near Erech. He said that he would answer the question the next day, and that each of us should bring with us a stick the thickness of our little fingers and of about a span in length.
"We did so, and he placed them before himself, and while we examined the history of the assaults by the Wainriders he took the sticks and bound them together into one bundle. We saw he had already three bundles there of other sticks, more slender than the sticks we had gathered that he had set by him. When the day's lessons were completed he handed the bundle of sticks to the one of us closest to himself and asked him to break the bundle. Of course, he could not; he was instructed to hand the bundle to the next, and so it went throughout the room, until each of us in turn had tried and failed to break the bundle. Siriondil laughed and said that if we were to take the bundle apart it ought to be possible to break each stick easily by itself, and Gilorhael nodded his agreement.
"'Yes,' he told us, 'singly the sticks can be easily broken; together they support one another, and the bundle in the end survives the stresses intended to destroy. To destroy all one must first destroy that which binds them together that the bundle might fall apart, then fall on each stick separately or in numbers of little more than two or three.'
"Then he held up the three bundles he had already, and asked, 'If I were to seek to destroy these bound together into a single mass, how easy do you think it would be to break it?' Of course we agreed that a single mass of them would be impossible to destroy. He continued, 'Then let me tell you the story of the north kingdom. Once, although its resources were fewer than those in Gondor, yet it had more people; and as long as they remained united Arnor maintained its integrity.
"'Eärendur, however, fell victim to the idea that his great kingdom had grown to the extent that it should be able to withstand the forces of the Enemy even if it should be divided further. He loved each of his three sons equally and saw the strengths of each, but not the weaknesses of each; and he would not see any of them having to bow to the will of one of the others. So he created of the realm of Arnor three smaller kingdoms and gave one portion to each of his sons to rule; but as I stated each had weaknesses. Together they might have accomplished great things-- separate, the Shadow had but one strand to destroy to break the binding of each bundle, and then it was a matter of merely falling on each twig as it fell loose.' At that point Gilorhael twisted a single twig on the edge of one of the bundles, and the thread binding it together snapped, allowing the twigs it contained to scatter over the table before him; then he did likewise to the second. 'Thus fell Cardolan and Rhudaur, and thus might Arthedain have fallen also, save most of those who survived the fall of the lesser kingdoms joined themselves to Arthedain to its strengthening.'
"Then he told us, 'The bindings are the formalities that make the kingdom what it is. That involves the laws, customs, traditions, and most important of all, its leadership. Here in Gondor the bindings have been greater, and this has in part been because, since the deposition of Castamir, among the leadership of all its forces are those who have trained in Minas Tirith itself, who know the same generals, who have spoken with the King and his Steward and who have listened to his counselors and who have seen the same battlefields and the same enemies and heard the same reports. When such people are within all your forces it becomes easier for understanding to be reached between different troops.
"In the north kingdom the Dúnedain have been driven further and further north and eastward, and so its forces tend to train together and coordinate together easily--now; but it was not so during the time of the three kingdoms when the Enemy found it simple to send false counselors to the three courts to spread dissension and distrust between them, and to lead Rhudaur and Cardolan to fight over control of the Weather Hills and the Palantír of Amon Sûl. And so in the end those two kingdoms were weakened and fell easy prey to Angmar. Only now does the land of Arnor finally begin to prosper once again; but if Angmar should again send his armies south, particularly if they are again preceded by plague and contagion, the results could be devastating.'
"It was a most sobering talk, Mithrandir."
Gandalf was most impressed by this understanding by Ondoher of the situation. He only prayed that this new alliance between the north and the south should not have come too late, for those with the gift of foresight, from Galadriel to Elrond to Malbeth to Araphant himself, had all foreseen renewal of enemy assaults being released, probably soon. If only Tarondor or even Telumehtar had worked toward the renewed joint rule of Gondor and Arnor perhaps both kingdoms would have more easily withstood the assaults on their lands of the past few centuries.
The wedding was marked by an elegant simplicity that was most intimate in its nature, and was followed by six days of merry making throughout the realm. There were many gifts made the new husband and wife that were now readied for shipment to the north, and others that were given into the keeping of Prince Faramir that he might see to their upkeep until decisions could be made as to how to deal with them properly. Three more horses had been presented to Fíriel, two of which she didn't truly wish to take with her; various properties were given into their possession by certain lords; a small sailing vessel was presented to bride and groom by the lord of Belfalas.
All too soon, or so Ondoher admitted to Mithrandir, the bridal party was preparing to leave the city for the Harlond for the return journey to Arnor. Ondoher had already sent small warships ahead to see to it that no vessels from Umbar, Harad, or other possible enemies might be lingering in such a manner to offer a threat to the northern ships as they emerged from the Mouths of the Sea, and another ship was to run escort to them as they traveled down the river. "We ourselves have two ships waiting for us to serve as escorts as we go northward," Galdor of Mithlond explained to Ondoher. "At no time do we intend to leave your daughter unprotected as she journeys to her new home."
"You will pardon me as a father if I, too, seek to offer what protection as I can to my daughter?" the Man returned.
Galdor bowed his head gracefully and respectfully. "Of course, Lord Ondoher. Then our sailors will rejoice to know your added protections."
The day came when the King of Gondor and the King of Arnor, together with their witnesses, signed the new treaty, embraced one another in fellowship, and began the long walk down the high wayof the city, the folk of the city joining with visitors to offer all concerned blossoms and sprays of greenery; and the people of Minas Tirith gave their beloved Princess and her new Lord Husband their farewells.
As he himself joined them for the return journey to the north, Gandalf saw no regrets of any sort in the eyes of Fíriel--only joy to stand by the side of the one she'd joined in marriage. As the ship pulled away from the quays of the Harlond she stood at the rail, her husband beside her with his arm protectively about her shoulders, the eyes of both alight with delight and anticipation as they looked forward to their coming future. Only after the ship was well down the river upon the current did Gandalf see any sign of sadness, and then only when she no longer could look back and see her father and brothers. Quietly she stood there twisting the ring upon her finger--not the ring she'd accepted as her marriage token, but the lady's signet she'd accepted that morning from her father that she wore upon her other hand. Then as her new husband's hand squeezed her shoulder in comfort she smiled up at him. "Your father gave you that?" Arvedui asked.
She nodded. "It is the symbol of my dower lands," she explained.
He laughed. "We will have little enough access to the account that receives your rents, I fear; but it is good to know that they will accrue to the needs of our children and our children's children."
She smiled more fully. "Yes," she murmured, "there is that to think on. Now, my beloved husband, let you tell me how our house is to be ordered, and what the reactions of those who will serve us are likely to be."
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