63. Chapter 62
I regained my composure and continued my tale, telling of how I had finally become a soldier on the day Angon was relieved of his position, and had very shortly afterwards found myself involved in the first battle at Northford. I did not speak of the fight with the Silver Captain, but Angon interrupted me and told the tale, and I saw with some small satisfaction that Idhrethil looked impressed. But her face grew more and more solemn as I told of the hard fighting and heavy losses we had suffered trying to stem the tide of foes from the north in the years afterwards, and then the march on High Burgh and the battle of Greenhow that followed. I spared her the detail, saying only that some of our men had not acted honourably and then repeated the tale I had told to Angon earlier in the day of my adventures in the Shaws, my eventual return to Northford, and finally the most recent events there. Tears ran down her cheeks when I described the burning of the town, the suffering of the townsfolk during the siege and the death of Lord Berenion, who she had known and liked very much.
She took hold of my hand in hers where it lay on the table and held it gently. I remember noticing immediately how very soft her skin was. "You have lived through so much for one so young" she said quietly. "What do you think will happen now?" I closed my other hand on hers in turn and shook my head. "I do not know, but I fear that Northford will be abandoned and left in ruins, and that we will pull our defences back to Bearcliffe. Despite all our victories we are spent, and without support from the Shaws we do not have the men or means to defend the north any more". Angon concurred and added "and it is in the Shaws that our greatest peril now lies I fear, and may prove our undoing, for if we have driven the Hill Folk to take up with Angmar then all is lost. I do not believe this new Chieftain is as loyal as he pretends, or that Ulfred, son of the man he replaced is as friendless as we might wish to believe".
We sat in a thoughtful and rather gloomy silence for a few long moments, during which Idhrethil let go of my hand and gave me a sad smile as I freed hers in turn. It was Angon who spoke first afterwards, thanking us both for our company and the wonderful day we had spent together, but regretting that his years wearied him and that he would regretfully have to leave us and retire for the night. I was filled with a pang of sadness, as I knew this would be a farewell, and I did not know when I would next have the opportunity to visit him. We embraced, and he implored me to remain safe and sound and return soon, and I struggled to hold back the tears that welled in my eyes, for he seemed suddenly so diminished and frail and I feared in my heart we would not meet again. I thanked him once more for everything he had done for me, and then withdrew while Idhrethil also bade him good night. When all was done we stepped out of his apartments into the corridor and close the door behind us.
"My Lady" I said, screwing up my courage and determined to seize the moment "the hour is not yet late. If it does not inconvenience you greatly would you do me the honour of walking with me for a short while and showing me some of the sights of the Citadel?" She gave me a sweet smile and laughed. "You have a most courteous tongue for one who claims to be no more than a rustic soldier from the North! It would be my pleasure, and a simple question would have been quite sufficient. There is a waxing moon and I often walk the walls on such nights. Come!" She tucked her arm in mine and we set off at a gentle pace, and I could not have been happier. For the next hour or so we passed happily through various halls and courtyards, galleries and walled gardens full of statues lit with silvery moonlight that she told me about as we passed. The place was very grand indeed, more vast than I could ever have imagined and the moonlight and darkness added to the air of enchantment and mystery.
Eventually we made our way up onto the battlements and stood in companionable silence looking out westward over a moonlit vista. Directly below us lay the battlements of the fortress, and the tower where I had stood with Daeron, and beyond that the rooftops and spires of Lastbridge, illuminated by the occasional lantern or flickering torch. Beyond lay the rolling hills of the west bank where Idhrethil had once dwelt. She still held my arm gently as we stood there in silence, and I ached to take her in my arms instead, but my courage failed me in the matter. My good manners held me back, for if unwelcome my advances would have been a gross breach of etiquette, and I dared not risk bringing what had thus far been a wonderful evening in her company to an unhappy conclusion. So I continued to stand quietly at her side as the air grew chill and the moon began to dip down towards the distant hills of Western Rhudaur. I debated with myself countless times afterward whether I should have been bolder at that moment, and whether events might have taken a different turn afterwards, but it is not possible to change the past and inevitably fruitless to dwell on it over much.
Once again it was the chime of the hour bell that broke the spell and she stirred, her low voice full of regret. "I fear that it is time for us to descend and go to our rest, for duty calls us both early on the morrow. Come, I will escort you to the gate, for I fear you will lose your way otherwise and remain here wandering until the morning!" She loosed my arm and turned away and I followed, and all to soon we reached our destination and it was time to part. "Fare well brave Esteldir. It was a joy to meet one I have heard Angon speak of so often, and a joy too to see the happiness your unexpected arrival brought him. Look for us when you next return south". I wanted to say so much, but could not think of the right words. "My lady, I will, and I thank you too, from the bottom of my heart". I clasped her hands and bowed, then turned away a little embarrassed, and strode off through the gate, not daring to look back until I had cleared it, but she was still there, immobile, watching me go.
Sleep was slow to come that night as I lay in the hall, alternating between elation and despair as I replayed the night's events over and over in my mind. One moment I was sure my affections were returned, and then I would think of something, a moment or a gesture that filled me with sudden doubt and sent me plunging into despair. If this was love, then it was a torment indeed.
I rose with the others in the cold grey light of dawn, and it was not long before we were tramping across the courtyard, heading for out meeting with the supply train down in the town. Over on my left hand the rising sun cast a rosy glow over the grim grey walls of the citadel, and I thought with a pang that somewhere within Idhrethil too was rising and preparing to face a new day. Was it possible that she could be thinking of me at this very moment? The very idea was enough to send my spirits soaring again before the inevitable crash back to earth. For I was twelve years her junior, with few prospects and leading a life full of mortal peril. Why should such as she even entertain the idea of a match with such as I when she moved in such exalted circles?
With that last thought I hefted my pack, told myself to cease thinking such thoughts and tried to throw myself into the immediate task in hand, something which often gave me solace when I was troubled. But whatever I did it was never long before the gnawing thoughts began again. We passed down into the town, the streets already busy despite the early hour, for it was a market day and finding our wagons outside the North Gate, we formed up and we set off. Not being an official part of the detail meant I was free to trail along at the back and keep my own counsel, for I had much to ponder even without the Lady, and did not wish to spend time idly chattering with my companions. My sombre mood was matched by the weather, which had turned autumnal, the wind had risen and whipped at our cloaks and a lowering sky promised rain. This journey north promised to be a miserable affair, and there would be little to look forward to once I arrived back there. I felt as if I had briefly lived in another better world, and now mine felt mean and shabby and worthless.
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.