I must admit that Lord Forlong has been my favourite Gondorian nobleman since I first read The Books, back in the 1970s. He is the – astronomically rare – proof that a fat character does not need to be stupid, cowardly, clumsy or the token comic relief, regardless what the modern media tries to make us believe. That one does not have to be young, slim and pretty to be a hero. I always imagined Forlong a Falstaff-like figure (at least in peacetime); one who is open-minded, generous and great fun to be with. Imagine him as played by Brian Blessed.
CHAPTER FIVE – THE LORD OF LOSSARNACH
Up close, the Castle of the Lord of Lossarnach seemed even huger, more forbidding than it had from the distance. It was hard to believe that any foe might break these immense walls or these towers that seemed to have grown from solid rock entirely on their own. High up on the square gate tower, the banners of Lord Forlong flattered: black shields on a green flag, the shield divided by a triangular green band, much paler in colour than the flag itself, with a silver boar’s head in the middle that seemed to glare at the onlooker threateningly. Small silver images of the Rose of Lossarnach framed the black shields.
The same coat-of-arms could be seen embedded in the huge wings of the gate, in the size of grown men; also, the guards wore it upon their shields and the breast of their surcoats. The mail shirts of the guards were made of polished steel, and their weapons very apparently came from the forge of an excellent weaponsmith. There could be no doubt that the Lord of the Castle was a wealthy and important person.
As soon as the company of Prince Adrahil reached the Gate, the sound of silver trumpets greeted them, announcing their arrival to the Lord of the Castle that way. The guards bowed deeply, their broad, bearded faces splitting into delighted smiles, and they tossed the heavy oak gate wings open, without being asked or ordered to do so. Everyone in Gondor recognized the blue banner with the white swanship; and besides, they had been expected and joyfully awaited.
On the courtyard, the seneschal of the Castle came with a small army of grooms and servants to greet them and to take care of them. Their horses were led away to the stables, and the seneschal, a richly clad, bearded man in his early forties, led them up to the keep, where the chambers of his Lord could be found, mentioning in passing that the guest quarters had already been prepared for them and that their bags would be taken there in a moments. First, however, the Lord and the Lady wished to meet them and to have the welcoming cup with them.
Thus they were led to the Great Hall of the Castle; a place where the Lord had the meals with his household and held council with his vassals. It was also the place where he could welcome such large groups of honoured guests. ‘Twas a very large hall and a very old one, but kept surprisingly clean – mayhap due to the fact that the great hearth in the middle was heated from the adjoining kitchens and the smoke left through a thick chimney in the samesome kitchens, instead of spreading all over the hall.
As it was near sunset already, the long tables had been laid shortly before, waiting for the dinner to be served. The Lord and the Lady of Lossarnach entered through the back door that led to their private chambers, at the same time as the guest were led through the front door by the usher.
Forlong son of Forlyn, the current Lord of Lossarnach, was not very different from the rest of his people. He was a man of wide shoulders and enormous girth, with a round, bearded face and large, twinkling brown eyes. His dark brown locks were shorn over his shoulder, in true warrior fashion, and his neatly trimmed beard, too, was shot with grey – he had just passed his forty-fifth year last winter, but not being of Dúnadan blood, his age clearly showed. Yet the small wrinkles in the corner of his eye revealed that he laughed often and easily in all these years, and a slight smile that never left his lips – well, almost never – spoke of contentment and a fulfilled life.
Accordingly to his rank and status – he was third among the most powerful men in Gondor, after the Steward and the Prince of Dol Amroth – Forlong wore a calf-length, pleated tunic of dark blue cotton damask, edged with the finest, reddish-brown squirrel fur. The tunic had bag sleeves, slit from the elbow to the shoulder, so that he could put his arms through the richly embroidered vertical slits rather than through the narrow wrist openings, without wrinkling the equally bag-shaped sleeves of his fine, white shirt. Tiny silver mounts decorated the left sleeve of the tunic, scattered across the blue cloth like tiny stars on the night sky. The dark leather belt that miraculously held the tunic under his impressive belly, was adorned with small, oval silver plates, each featuring the Rose of Lossarnach. Matching breeches and silver-embroidered shoes that he only wore indoors fulfilled the picture of wealth and dignity that he offered his companions.
Other Gondorian nobles, especially those of Minas Tirith who fancied themselves pure-blooded Dúnedain, often made the mistake to see naught but an unhewn soldier in Forlong, based that foolish judgement on his appearance only. They thought that just as his features lacked the chiselled elegance of Dúnadan origins, his mind would be dull as well. They more or less expected him to be uncomfortable in fine clothes and to prefer the rough garb of a common soldier.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Forlong greatly enjoyed all the pleasantries that his status and his considerable wealth could offer. He loved good food, strong wine, loud music and nicely shaped women, that much was certainly true. But he also had a shrewd mind, which made him a very successful negotiator, an avid interest for strategy and economy; he collected old maps and spoke four languages aside from Westron, including the most common Haradric tongue and the peculiar dialect of the Dunlendings, which came handy at times. He also knew a lot about herbal lore and played reasonably well a kind of cornet also known as the "serpent".
His other favourite pastimes contained hunting, both with falcons and hawks, gambling (he preferred the Rohirric board game hnefatafl), sparring with his guards and even dancing. He spent a considerable amount of his time with his children, especially with his only son who just reached his second year.
Unlike her husband, the Lady Almaren came not from the Old Folk. She hailed from Pelargir and was of Dúnadan blood, mayhap even with some Haradric ancestors somewhere up her family tree, if her jewelled black eyes and bluish black hair were any indication. She was related to the Ciryatur, the Harbour Master of Pelargir, and she was Forlong’s third wife; fifteen years his junior. She had born the Heir to the Lord of Lossarnach a mere two years ago, after having waited and hoped fruitlessly for many long years. She was clad in black and silver, in the fashion of the nobles in Pelargir, her hair hidden under a cap of silver lace, adorned with small, white jewels. Although slim and lovely, there could be no doubt that she would be her husband’s equal in every thing that mattered.
Two other, even younger women followed the Lord and the Lady, both in their early twenties. One of them had golden hair and blue eyes, possibly doe to some Rohirric blood in her veins, a round, pretty face and an easy smile. The other one was somewhat shorter and more slender, dark-haired and grey-eyed, but otherwise with the usual traits of the Old Folk. Both wore rich clothes, one in dark blue, one in mauve, and a distinct similarity between them showed that they had to be related somehow.
“My Lord Prince!” Forlong said, extending a beefy arm to Adrahil for a warrior’s greeting. “Welcome to Carvossonn! Your presence honours my humble home.”
“The honour is all mine,” replied the Prince, and he meant it. The most important representative of the local nobility, Forlong was a force to be considered; and his unwavering loyalty had earned him the respect of every other nobleman in Gondor. “I assume you remember my daughter, the Lady Ivriniel?”
“Who could forget a lady of her wisdom and fortitude?” Forlong kissed her hand gallantly. “I trust that you and my wife shall find many things of mutual interest to discuss.”
“Oh, we certainly shall,” said Princess Ivriniel, smiling. “As well as with the young ladies here… your daughters, I presume?”
“Indeed, they are,” replied the Lord of Lossarnach with paternal pride. “My eldest, Madenn, whom we call Malinalda(1), for she is the first golden-haired child ever born to our family; and Achren, my second-born, named after my mother.”
Adrahil knew that Forlong had a daughter, born out of the wedlock, and one born within, from his late second wife who had come from the local nobility, too. Now, seeing the golden beauty of Madenn, ‘twas easy to guess which was which – and which one was the apple of Forlong’s eye. Some men tended to privilegize their love children, more so if they were pretty, which Madenn most definitely was.
And yet the eyes of young Lord Húrin rested upon the face of Achren a little longer; not too obviously, but with genuine interest. And a good thing it was, Adrahil decided. Húrin had grieved long enough; the house of the Warden needed a new lady, little Morwen needed someone to take over that tasks of her mother – and Húrin himself was still too young to live the lonely life of a widower. Perchance this tournament would bring more than just the making of a new Swan Knight.
“And how is old Lady Achren doing?” asked the Prince, missing the resolute mother of Forlong from the picture.
The Lord of Lossarnach shrugged. “She is getting old – yet her wit is just as sharp as it has always been.”
“So is her tongue,” added the Lady Almaren sweetly, but her jewel-like eyes glittered.
Forlong shrugged again, apparently not particularly worried about the domestic struggles among the ladies of his House.
“’Tis the privilege of the old to seek – and find – failure in the young,” he said good-naturedly. “In the end, ‘tis I who has the last word in household matters anyhow.”
“’Tis hard to believe sometimes, seeing how often my Lord gives in to her,” said the Lady Almaren primly, and the two daughters exchanged agreeing looks behind their father’s broad back. Whatever they might think about their foster mother, they very obviously agreed with her when it came to their grandmother.
Lord Forlong himself, however, was an old-fashioned man who still followed the ways of the Old Folk. Including the custom tat considered the oldest matron of the clan as the highest authority. Albeit sometimes tired of his mother’s meddling with his life, he would never think of disregarding her opinion or refusing to listen to her.
“When you are old enough to become the matron of your clan, you may terrorise the young ones of the family, too,” he replied to his wife and daughters. “Mayhap then you shall understand my mother a little better. Now,” he added, turning to the Prince again, “let us sit down to evening meal, my most honoured guests. You have a long way behind you and need to eat and to rest. My chatelaine,” he glanced at a plain, brown-haired woman in the background, “will see that bathtubs will be brought to your chambers ere you retire for the night.”
The Prince thanked for the offer, and they sat down to the Lord’s table indeed. The household of the Castle filled in and took their places at the long tables, further down in the Hall. Musicians came to entertain the guests during the evening meal, which was every bit as rich and refined as the Prince’s own table, back Dol Amroth. It contained four courses and such delicacies as cameline meat brevet, broth of Rohan, roasted capon with mixed fruits, venison roasted with bacon, beef and chicken pie, sprouts of life and honey cakes in rose petal sauce. There were also selected wines and tasty ale and hot cider to drink, and red and white grape juice for the children who were too young to drink wine yet.
Unlike in the formal halls of Minas Tirith, the Lord, his family and his household ate with healthy appetites. Well, with the exception of the Lady Almaren who did seem a bit uncomfortable, truth be told – apparently, the long years spent in this very Castle as Forlong’s spouse had not been enough to get her used to the table manners that were accepted here. Seeing the others’ careless manners, after some initial hesitation Faramir and Morwen followed their example, digging into the food with gusto.
Liahan, who was freed from his duty to serve the Prince on this evening, sat with them – and with little Prince Elphir – watching his surroundings with big, serious eyes, trying to brand as many details as possible into his memory. Oh, how would the other pages in Dol Amroth envy him! Not only had he got to travel with the old Prince, whom everyone loved and admired at court, he was also allowed to sit at the table of Lord Forlong, as if he were a member of the Prince’s family! He was so focused that he almost forgot to eat.
A hand touched his shoulder lightly, and he looked up, right into the smiling face and the cornflower-blue eyes of the golden-haired Madenn.
“Eat and rest well, my little knight,” she said, laughing, “for in the morn I shall wake you early; you and all the others. We are going to visit the summer fair, ere all those grim Lords with their big warhorses would trample down everything in their way.”
Liahan shot the old Prince a begging look, not certain that he would be allowed to go with the other children. He was a page, after all, he had duties. But Adrahil had mercy with him, seeing the longing upon his much too serious little face.
“She is right, you know,” the Prince said. “The fair is much better to explore in good company. Your duty will be to keep an eye on Prince Elphir for me, as I am too old already for such bold adventures.”
Liahan’s heart was so full of love and gratitude that he could not utter a word; else he would have burst into tears. Instead he kissed the hand of the old Prince thankfully, his shining eyes speaking clearly of his feelings.
(1) Malinalda = Golden Tree
(2) Sprouts of Life are actually Brussel sprouts
(1) Malinalda = Golden Tree
(2) Sprouts of Life are actually Brussel sprouts