Omens and Dreams
Before they left the priests’ quarters, the high priest of Amon spoke quietly with the King of Gondor. “I would speak with you privately, An’Elessar--where we spoke the last time you came, at dawn.”
“If you will,” Aragorn had returned, bowing respectfully.
Legolas came to the Farozi’s house not long before the evening meal, ate lightly, and disappeared again after speaking quietly with Aragorn. Gimli stood looking out the doorway for a time, then returned to the central court, lit his pipe and smoked it quietly, watching the King of Gondor intently. Aragorn studiously ignored him, going over one of the remaining documents from the dispatch bag with Berevrion while the others, apparently busy about their own activities, watched him obliquely. After a time he rose and went out with his wife and followed by Mablung, again in search of music. They returned after a time, having listened some to one of the gatherings, staying on the outskirts of it. But those in the group had felt constrained by the presence of the great King of the Northern lands and had held back, and King and Queen felt somewhat disheartened and went to their quarters early.
Aragorn rose before dawn, and followed by a yawning Hobbit whose duty it was that morning, went out of the Farozi’s house and across the Valley until they approached the gates to the grounds of the temple of Neryet.
Inside the court, near the pool, a simple chair had been placed, and on it the priest sat waiting, the young priest who’d summoned them yesterday sitting again at his feet. Nearby stood Sa’Amonri, peering down into the waters of the pool, his face thoughtful. The three looked up together as the King of Gondor, clad in white pilgrim’s robes and with the Elessar stone fastening them at the neck, entered through the gate, a small figure as guard of honor following behind him. Three steps in Aragorn took, then stopped and waited. At that moment the Sun lifted itself above the Eastern horizon, casting even more of a glow about the figure of the one who’d just arrived.
The high priest started to rise, and instantly the one sitting at his feet was upon his own, supporting his master and aiding him to step forward. “You have come in good time,” the elderly priest commented in Haradri.
The King did not speak, gave a single nod, and continued his waiting.
“Did your brothers come indeed at the appointed time?”
“Yes.” The voice was quiet.
“And you knew them when they came?”
“Not at first, but I came to recognize them.”
“You are upset.”
“Yes.” For a time the priest let the silence stand, and at last the King continued. “To learn that there are those in Harad who would resurrect the worship of Sauron is disturbing to us, and dangerous to the peace of your land.”
“I met yesterday one who would bring that to be if he can.”
“You know of this one with the heart of a fanatic?”
“Yes. What you said countered his arguments in the hearts of most who had wavered to his persuasion.”
“Perhaps most, but not all.”
The priest sighed. “No, not all. Never all. Seti still speaks within the hearts of those who fear and those who envy and those who would seek power for its own sake.”
The King nodded, his face remaining grave.
“You recognized that which was worn by Merdirion.”
“As I have recognized similar worn by Maruset and two others.”
“That you destroyed it is good, for it cannot come to such as Setra’amun.”
“Who knows how many more there may yet remain in Middle Earth, though?”
The priest remained silent.
Finally An’Elessar continued, “When he is older, I will teach Eldarion to recognize them as I was taught, and tell him also the way of disposing of them. He is Elrond’s grandson as well as being descended from Elros Tar-Minyatar--he will probably hold even more power to counter their evil than I.”
The priest gave a slow nod. Finally he turned to look at the pool, then smiled. The lilies that grew there were beginning to open in the growing light of day. He raised his eyes to the face of the Man facing him. “Again, three, seven, nine, and one.”
“Yes, I see.”
“What do these numbers signify to your people?”
“The first thought that comes to mind is the number of the Rings of Power--Three for Elves, Seven for Dwarves, Nine for Men, One for Sauron himself.”
“Yet such power cannot come here.”
“So you told me before.”
“I believe they symbolize that all has been put back in balance, and that all the peoples who received those rings rejoice this is so, and grant you the honor you deserve for your forebearance in rejecting that thing; and that the One who stands above and beyond all rejoices that you have fulfilled your promise. The Death Eater sought to put himself in the place of the Creator in the hearts of His children, you know.”
“Yes, I know this.”
“The last time you came here one of the great Eagles of the Northern lands came here also.”
“What do your people believe of them?”
“That they are the messengers of Manwë, the greatest of the Valar, to the Children of Iluvatar, and that they signify the aid of the Creator Himself. But they are not dumb creatures, those who live in the heights of the Misty Mountains--they are sentient and can both understand us and be understood by us. The lesser eagles are but great and majestic birds from what we can tell, but the great Eagles are among the Children of Iluvatar.”
The priest smiled as if gratified to learn of this. “You have spoken with them?”
“Yes, when they rescued Frodo and Sam. They are often seen overhead, but seldom descend to speak with us save at greatest need.”
A number of white doves flew from the direction of the temple of Amon and settled in the court of the temple of Neryet. For some time the two Men remained quiet, watching as the birds found remnants of the grain scattered the preceding day. Then, at some signal only they could see they rose into the air, circling three times again about Aragorn. He looked up to watch them as they circled, and followed their flight northwest. “When we came to release doves brought with us from Thetos the other day, they circled me thrice, but did not appear to wish an end to circling my beloved wife,” he commented at length.
“She also is of Elven descent?”
“She is, as I said, the daughter of Elrond Half-Elven.”
“Did they circle others?”
“Several within the company, including the Farozi and Éomer, Ankhrabi, one of his sons--I believe Ma’osiri, and even Pippin here.”
The priest looked at the Hobbit guard with interest. “How many times did they circle him?”
“Three times the first time, twice the second.”
“Twice often signals one of great responsibility,” the priest said thoughtfully.
“Had Frodo come here, I wonder what the birds would have made of him?”
The priest noted the tone in the Man’s voice. “You grieve he has left Middle Earth?”
“Of course. All of us who came to know him well tended to come to love him and to bind ourselves to him. I rejoice he was given this for his relief, but grieve I cannot have him, at least from time to time, beside me.”
“I see. He is one whose wisdom you respected?”
Aragorn smiled. “His name in both Westron and in Sindarin means Wise One. But it is not only his wisdom I treasure, but his humor, his gentleness, his compassion, his endurance, his Light, his intelligence and curiosity--his presence. I even miss his impatience.”
“Considering what he came to, it is likely they should have circled him at least twice, or perhaps would, as with your wife, not have known when to have left off.” Both now smiled and laughed briefly. Then the priest sighed as his smile at last gave way to thoughtfulness. “I would have you tell me your dreams for the last two nights, An’Elessar.”
“Yes. The dreams of several have known some disturbance, but I would know how yours have run before I burden you with those shared with me.”
“I cannot remember all of them.”
“That is common.”
The King went still, his eyes somewhat unfocussed as he looked at the hillside where he had once seen the vulture fall to the hawk, trying to bring his dreams clearly to mind. “I dreamt myself as I was as a child, playing in the gardens of Imladris, my brothers beside me, questing through the flowers and trees in search of Imogen, my white cat, for we pretended she was a great hunting cat from the grasslands south of Harad. I could see Anorahil’s hair, dark gold as is that of my daughter Melian, crouching ahead of me to the left, Gilgaladrion’s dark curls over to my right, and saw him looking over at me in question, for the prey lay hidden beyond the next copse--and then we were not children but Men grown, and as he peered at me from the left I could see the serious concern in Anorahil’s eyes. We both knew that Gil-galadrion would seek to go first, offering himself as decoy to draw the creature out of hiding, but that with his wounds he was not as fast as he once had been. This was why he would seek to go first, that we have the chance with our greater speed and skill to kill it and thus go free ourselves and save those with us who depended on our protection.
“I saw him rise up, tall, too slender, his almost Elven beauty shining in the filtered light, saw him limp slowly and apparently unwarily into the open, saw that there were at least two wargs that lay in wait for him, knew we were unlikely to bring both down before one struck him. Then he was a child again, pushing past Ankhrabi, causing the Farozi’s son to fall backwards and lifting up his head, offering his throat to the lions that now lay in wait to save the Haradri.”
“These two brothers were the sons of Elrond?”
“No--they were the brothers of imagination I often dreamt of having, the brothers I now know once my mother bore but who were lost before the proper times for their births.”
After a time of thought, the priest gave a sigh. “I will tell you the dream of Harpelamun here. He saw Annubi enter the presence of Osiri, bearing gently in his hands a broken ankh, one of great worth, and he lay it in the pan of the balance. Osiri lifted the Feather of Truth to lay it in the other pan, but another feather of its sort lay there already, but wounded, balancing already the worth of the ankh. He then saw what he described as a great grey hawk crowned by stars standing nearby, saw that it must draw from one of the pans what lay there that Osiri might weigh the other, and he awoke with the knowledge of great loss, no matter which it should choose.”
There was the cry of a hunting falcon from above them, and they looked up to see one of the golden falcons of Horubin plummeting apparently toward the King of Gondor, save it struck a vulture they’d not seen previously, and that fell between the two of them, almost at the King’s feet.
The great bird’s neck was clearly broken, as was one wing, yet its eye seemed to glare at Aragorn as it lay there before at last death caused it to glaze. The falcon circled overhead, giving its shrill hunting cry before it flew off westward where it landed where the vulture had fallen before. A number of doves and small birds rose from the hillside and flew into the valley, circling in a cloud three times about the King before dispersing in all directions. The younger priest and Pippin both watched the circling of the mixed flock with their mouths open in amazement.
Slowly the King stepped sideways away from the vulture’s body, and looked up to meet the eyes of the elderly priest. His face was white, but was also determined. “I do not know what this may presage,” said Aragorn son of Arathorn, “but clearly death is this time to almost land in my arms, should I reach out to catch its fall.”
Unwilling to allow himself to speak, the priest of Amon nodded mutely.
Once Aragorn was far enough away, the falcon gave another cry, flew into the courtyard and landed upon the body of the vulture. The falcon was about the length, from head to tail, of the King’s forearm, and the vulture was far bigger than itself; yet it fixed its talons about the broken body of the larger bird and strained upwards, managed to lift it from the ground, then bore it away westward, out into the desert and out of sight. Two feathers now lay as mute testimony to the violent drama which had just occured. Harpelamun reached down and reverently lifted them up, offered them to his master, who signed they were to be given to the Northerner.
At last the priest spoke. “You must return to your own land soon. I would have you take with you Harpelamun here, keep him by you in your own land for a month’s time, then send him back again to me. He is meant, I think, to learn something from you and your companions.
“His father was one of the younger sons of An’Horubi; his mother the daughter of a cousin to Lord Afraim, a girl who’d thought once to enter the temple of Avreth but who thought better of it.
“The folk of the Death Eater captured his father and took him to the red temple while she was yet pregnant; the mother fled here to the Valley of the Sun and gave birth to twin sons--twin sons who were yet very different from one another. Ere they came to manhood his brother left the care of those who have ever seen to the needs of such children. Now and then he returns to the Valley, but he will not accept correction or training, seems to desire only to question all known and believed by others. At first the questioning was useful, for it exposed many fallacies; but now it has become, it seems, merely questioning for the sake of questioning, seeking no longer to illuminate but to simply tear at what others believe without thought to what truth there might be.”
The elderly priest did not answer; the younger one became stiff. Sa'Amonri's expression remained considering.
“Will you take him?” the high priest of Amon finally asked.
“I am not certain what I can teach him. Our ways are far different than yours, and our perceptions of the Valar will seem laughable to him, as will his to us.”
“It will not be in what you would seek to teach but in what you and your companions are that he will learn what it is needful he should know from you.”
“I see,” said the King. He looked to the young Man. “Will you come with us then?” he asked.
“As my master has seen it should be.”
“He will join you ere you leave on the morrow. One other thing,” said the high priest. “Did the sacrifice of the star work to the good?”
“Yes, it did.”
“Another star has been restored to you in place of the one you gave willingly, to stand by you.”
The King smiled, his face suddenly illuminated. “Yes, so it has proven--Benai of Camaloa.”
“Part of what has been sundered is now joined together again. Reach now into the pool--reach but once; and what you draw up take and deliver to him.”
An’Elessar gave the priest a long look, then bowed briefly. He went to the pool and knelt down on its verge, reached into it near where the Ranger’s star he’d once offered here had disappeared. His hand reached into the muck at the bottom, and found something; but it was not a cloak brooch he brought up, but a sword, one that was long and straight, almost that of Gondor or Arnor in design, a sword of the Dúnedain, a star set into its hilt at the crosspiece of the guard. His face lit again, smiling. “Yes, a fitting gift for Benai,” he said. He rose, bowed deeply once more, turned and left.
Sa'Amonri bowed to the high priest, then followed after at a distance.