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14
The Dragon Lord

As in all my stories, the formidable Lord Orchaldor is played by the one and only Sean Connery. Imagine him as he appeared in the first “Highlander” movie – just less flashy.


~~~

CHAPTER 14 – THE DRAGON LORD

Having taken his leave from Madenn, Herumor left the ladies’ wing in the Castle to look after his horses. Not that he needed to do so – Lord Forlong’s horse-master hailed from Rohan, after all, which meant that any horse in the stables would get the most thorough care. And Rohirrim understood more about horses than anyone else in Middle-earth, with the possible exception of Elves – although not even that could be said for certain.

So yea, Herumor knew that his horses were in the best possible hands. Yet the Swan Knights, from the lowest esquire to the mightiest Captain, were taught to take care of their own steeds. And while Herumor willingly indulged himself in some lash behaviour – like allowing his uncle’s grooms to do the mucking and other tasks that involved dirt – he would go to see the good beasts at least once a day.. several times, if he could do so.

Like all young knights, Herumor had brought two horses with him: a red roan destrier – a well-trained war stallion – with a reddish-brown coat and almost blond mane and tail, and a strong, lean, hot-blooded courser with a Haradric desert steed or two among its ancestors. This one was a blood bay, with dark red hair and a black mane, tail and lower legs.

Unlike most knights, who preferred palfreys when on a longer journey, Herumor liked faster, fierier horses. As he was a lightly built, slender young man himself, he could ride a fast horse easily, without slowing down its speed. And while he valued his great war stallion, the slim, fiery Cealaigh was his favourite, whose ancestors had been brought from Pelargir to Halabor by Master Suanach, the old mercer, and probably descended from the famous Haradric courier horses.

He gave both steeds some wrinkled apples that he had pilfered from the kitchens (being beloved by his uncle’s cooks came handy sometimes) and was about to take out Cealaigh for his daily ride, when a groom came in running, out of breath with excitement.

“Master Herumor, Master Herumor!” the boy cried. “The messenger of your father has arrived! Lord Orchaldor will be here within the hour!”

Herumor all but forgot about his horses at that news. Let the horse-master move them around, he decided at once. He had not seen his father for four years, due to the long distance between Dol Amroth and Halabor. He had left his home as a fourteen-year-old youth (a spoiled brat, as Master Andrahar, the Prince’s new armsmaster liked to point out) and would now return in his father’s company as a grown man – and a Swan Knight.

He hurried back to his chambers to put on his surcoat. Running around in a shirt was accepted in his uncle’s home. His father had more formal demands, even more so in public, where their underlings could see them. And even though the people here were, technically, his uncle’s subjects, Herumor wanted to make a good first impression as a grown man.

He wanted to make his father proud.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Having given the news of the expected arrival of one of his oldest, most faithful vassals, Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth descended from the guest chambers to the great, stone-paved courtyard of Lord Forlong’s Castle in his own royal person. Small and insignificant the honour(1) of the House of Erellont now might be, once they had held extensive lands in South Ithilien – which was where the alliance to the Princes of Dol Amroth hailed from – and their ancestors had sailed with Anárion from the sinking Númenor. Very few families – aside from that of the Stewards and the Princes of Dol Amroth – could say that… and what was more, prove a clear line of descent from father to father.

Besides, the Lords of Halabor had always been valiant and faithful, in the grand days of their town as well as now, when it had long since faded into insignificance. Thus Prince Adrahil felt it only proper to great in person the man who not only was a steadfast ally but had also been his friend, since their training as Swan Knights. And even though Adrahil himself never earned his white belt, due to his weakened health, they had remained in touch, exchanging messages whenever they could. Lord Orchaldor faithfully provided the Prince with tidings about Rohan, Anórien, the moves of the Dunlendings and the Hill-men as well as the raids of the Khimmer jarls of Rhûn, and from time to time, he sent promising youths from his court to Dol Amroth to be trained as Swan Knights.

His only son was just the latest of those promising younglings.

And just like his father, young Herumor turned out a fine young man, who will bring honour upon his House, the Prince thought with proprietary pride.

Said fine young man was already waiting in the courtyard when the Prince got down, freshly groomed and wearing his best surcoat. Adrahil suppressed a smile. Cleanliness had always been a special trait of the Swan Knights, and it seemed that Lord Orchaldor had embraced and cultivated that special virtue in his own house thoroughly.

The children, too, had returned from the fair with Lord Húrin and Boromir, and with them was young Lady Achren, looking radiant yet pensive. Even Madenn came down from the women’s wing; like everyone in Forlong’s House, she loved and respected Lord Orchaldor dearly and was happy to see him again, after such long absence.

Leaving Faramir to the tender graces of his cousins and friends, Boromir strolled over to Herumor, who seemed torn between joy and anxiety. Boromir wondered whether Lord Orchaldor, of whom his own father had spoken in unusually respectful tones, would be a stern and demanding man. He decided to risk asking the somewhat… sensitive question.

To his relief, Herumor shook his head, laughing.

“Nay, he is not,” he replied, “at least not to me. Ask your grandsire or Master Andrahar, if you have the chance. They will tell you that I was spoiled rotten when I arrived in Dol Amroth, four years ago – the worst thing a doting father could make of an only child.”

“Oh, come on!” Boromir gave him an amused glance. “You could not have been that bad!”

“Nay – I was worse than bad,” Herumor laughed. “I was… well, I was spoiled. I honestly expected the servants to hop around me all the time, like at home, the bath being brought to my room each evening… and when I was first sentenced to kitchen duty for some minor trespassing, I almost bolted.”

“Not from stable duty?” asked Boromir, grinning.

“Well, that, too,” Herumor admitted. “Although as a child I used to love being underfoot when the grooms were mucking out the stables. One could get so gloriously filthy, and the serving ladies always screamed so wonderfully in outrage.”

“That must have been a first for the Swan Knights,” said Boromir. “A lordling who actually loves muck.”

“Not when I had to clean it out of the stalls, I did not,” replied Herumor. “Getting dirty in person because I was ordered to do so offended me greatly. To tell you the truth, stable duty is one of the very few things from Swan Knight training I am not going to miss when I go home.”

The sound of the silver trumpets interrupted their laughter, signalling the arrival of Lord Orchaldor and his company. Herumor fell silent at once; his eyes, now almost grey in the stray light, all but glued to the road. His hands clenched with a force that made his knuckles stand out white from his tanned skin.

Just a few moments later, a company of about twenty mounted men rode up to the Castle. Leading them was a standard bearer, with the ancient coat-of-arms of the House of Erellont: a black shield with a rampant, winged silver dragon upon it; on top of the shield, there was a silver band with three lily-white gladden flowers.(2)

“Silver and black?” asked Boromir in surprise. “I thought only the Kings and Stewards wore those colours; and a dragon in a fairly unusual heraldic beast.”

“Well, they say silver and black are the colours of Westernesse,” replied Herumor, and thus they were worn by my forefather, Erellont, the founder of our House, who sailed with Anárion himself, after the Fall of Númenor. As we have descended from him in an unbroken line, we are entitled to wear the colours.”

“That still does not explain the dragon, though,” said Boromir.

Herumor shrugged. “The first father of our line was supposedly killed by one of the winged dragons in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, defending his liege heroically ‘til his last breath. At least according to family legend; no-one can tell for sure whether it is true or not, for truly, who but the most ancient of Elves still lingering in Middle-earth could remember things that happened two Ages ago? ‘Tis said, however, that his descendants were brought to Númenor as a reward for his sacrifice; and it is true that Erellont of Andúnië and his forefather before him had always worn the dragon upon their shields, for unknown generations.”

“Yours must be one of the most ancient families in Gondor,” said Boromir. “What about the gladden flower, though?”

“Oh, that is a somewhat better-founded family tradition,” laughed Herumor. “According to ancient records, Erellont’s two younger brothers and his second-born son were among the men who accompanied Isildur in the Battle of the Gladden Fields. They were all slain, as you may guess, and we have been wearing those three flowers upon our shield to honour them ever since. There should be some dusty old scroll in the Hidden Archives of Minas Tirith that proves it.”

Boromir nodded, still a little amazed that such a small, half-forgotten House could have such long and proud history, but then attention shifted back to the small company of men approaching them. There were half a dozen knights, wearing divided colours and emblems: those of their lord on one side, those of their own House on the other one. And ahead of the company, right behind the standard bearer, rode the Lord of Halabor himself, Orchaldor son of Oromendil, Herumor’s father.

This was the first time ever that Boromir got to see him in the flesh, and he could not help but being impressed. Compared with the scions of other ancient families, whose bloodlines showed definite signs of decline, Lord Orchaldor radiated power and self-confidence. ‘Twas never easy to guess the true age of someone with such a pure streak of Dúnadan blood, but knowing that he was a few years older than Denethor, Boromir thought him to be around sixty, give or take a year or two. He was tall and broadly built – like Boromir himself – yet wiry and agile, his angular face deeply lined, the angles only softened by a neatly trimmed grey beard. His long hair was greying, too – not the silver of truly high age but the iron grey of a man beyond his first youth yet still in his prime – and tied back from his face in a tight ponytail. His was a stern and powerful face; there could be no doubt that Herumor had inherited his softer features and more slender build from his mother.

The Lord of Halabor was clad in a deep purple surcoat that was almost of the same hue as the cunningly embroidered emblem of his House upon his breast, outlined only by a thin silver rimming. He rode a big, black palfrey with a white star between its eyes. It was a beautiful beast, very obviously a Rohirric breed, with a silver-adorned bridle and saddle. Lord Orchaldor rode it with the easy confidence of a man who had practically grown up in the saddle. His dark grey eyes seemed almost black in the light of the late afternoon, and they made the impression as if they could pierce through flesh and bone, even from such distance.

‘Twas hard to imagine this man, who even wore the white belt of a Swan Knight, as the lord of a small, unimportant fishing town and some modest lands and woods around it. Any warlord of fallen Númenórë would have paled, compared with him. In this family, the blood of Westernesse was certainly not declining yet.

On his right, a young knight in his thirties rode: a hawk-faced, raven-haired, handsome young man, with a pointed beard. He, too, seemed of solid Dúnadan stock.

“That is Lord Peredur,” explained Herumor at Boromir’s question; “the son of Father’s bailiff and estate steward. They say, one day he will be even better than his father. In any case, his House is the ranking vassal of ours; and he is a Swan Knight, too. He and Father are the only ones in Anórien, as far as I know. I shall be the third, soon,” he added with well-deserved pride.

The company rode up to the Castle with respectable speed, considering that they had travelled more than a hundred and twenty miles in a mere two or three days. There Lord Orchaldor swung from the saddle and bent his knee before Prince Adrahil, touching his sword-hand to his brow, his lips and his heart, in the time-honoured gesture of deep respect, and spoke the words of greeting in a somewhat accented yet otherwise flawless Sindarin.

Boromir was beyond impressed. Although the Grey Tongue was still widely spoken among the nobles of Gondor, above all in Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith, the smaller nobles had mostly discarded it in favour of the local dialect of Westron. Of course, a Swan Knight would have had to learn it properly, but one needed constant use of a language to keep it at such a passable level. Small wonder that the Steward had found Lord Orchaldor a worthy counsellor; the Lord of Halabor seemed to have some bookish interests, too.

Young Lord Peredur followed the example of his liege, paying their overlord, the old Prince, due respect. Adrahil embraced them both, giving them the customary brotherly kiss. Only then turned the Lord of Halabor to the side to look around for his son.

Their greeting was strangely subdued, considering how long they had not seen each other, but Lord Orchaldor probably was not the man to show his feelings publicly. ‘Twas an attitude Boromir knew all too well from his own family. Father and son clasped forearms in warrior fashion, before a brief, tight embrace, after which the traditional fatherly kiss was delivered. But the deep eyes of the old Lord were shining with love and pride. Subdued he might be, yet there could be no doubt about his feelings.

After that, the members of Lord Orchaldor’s company got the chance to greet their young Lord, which they did with an almost exuberant joy – Herumor must have been well-loved among his father’s subjects. Then the grooms of the Castle came and led their horses away, and the Lord and his knights were escorted up to the Great Hall to meet their host.

‘Twas a loud and happy reunion, for the Lord Forlong was not a man to hold back, and there were bear hugs and booming exclamations of happiness, and one could see that there was genuine love and friendship between these two kinsmen, rarely though they got to see each other. Lord Orchaldor loosened up considerably in the company of his late wife’s family. He joked with Forlong, embraced and kissed his nieces in a fatherly manner and held on his knees little Tarannon, who was showed the guests for the first time.

Forlong’s Heir was a small, black-haired, grey-eyed boy, pretty and merry, who looked very much like his mother in colours. But he had nothing of the coldness of the Lady Almaren in him, it seemed, and looked up to his big, loud, good-natured father with adoration… a feeling that was apparently mutual.

Even old Lady Achren showed the first genuine smile Boromir had seen from her so far. She obviously loved her only grandson dearly, but admired and respected Lord Orchaldor a lot more than she did her own son. She seemed to be one of those blood-obsessed Dúnadan ladies, no matter how thin the trail of Númenórean blood in her own veins might have been.

Thus they spent the late afternoon in merry conversation and friendly banter, ‘til they sat down to the Lord’s table and had another one of those lavish evening meals customary in Forlong’s house. ‘Twas a delightful event, and they stayed together late in the night, after he ladies retired and the children had been sent to their rooms, sharing the tidings from the various provinces of the realm.

When the talk turned to more personal matters, Boromir excused himself; he was not family, and those things were of little interest for him. Taking a short detour to make sure Faramir was sleeping peacefully, he went over to the chambers and the Rohirrim and spent half the night in the company of Erkenbrand and Théodred, listening to the songs of the Mark and sharing the excellent ale the Riders had brought with them for this very purpose.

He had always felt a strange kinship to these joyous warriors who cared little for books and lore but had such a simple, honest view on the world. Despite being under constant threat from the Dunlending and lately from Isengard, the Riders of Rohan had somehow managed to keep their joy in life, good music, good ale, heroic sagas and fiery women untouched by sorrow, unlike the Men of Gondor. Boromir sometimes envied them but always enjoyed their company. And the Rohirrim liked him, too, welcoming him among themselves whenever he sought them out.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Although sent back to his room with the other children, Liahan had gone straight into Prince Adrahil’s bedchamber instead. He was the old Prince’s only page here; the other children could do as they pleased, but he had duties. It was his task to disrobe his Lord, bring him a nightshirt and the mantle to keep him warm then bring him to the brazier to comb his head before going to bed.

The servants had already spread the linens over the bed and laid the head sheet and the pillows. All Liahan had to do was to draw the curtains, once the old Prince was in bed, as the basin and the chamber pot had, too, been discretely places to their usual places.

The boy climbed onto the large armchair at the window to wait for his Lord. ‘Twas almost completely dark in the room, save from the embers glowing in the brazier, but he had good night eyes. He could see enough to find his way around in Adrahil’s bedchamber * or to make out small objects in the dim glow.

He opened the soft leather pouch hanging from his belt and strayed its contents into his palm to admire them again. Small items those were and few in number: a nicely carved comb he had bought for his sister and a broche made of some transparent, amber-hued stone, in the middle of which a small insect was trapped forever. He had got that one for his mother, and had bargained and argued and begged for it, as his coin had not been enough to buy it.

The gemstone trader had remained hard, though, and Liahan would have had to leave the broche behind, had little Lady Morwen not simply dumped all her coins into his hands, deciding cheerfully that she did not need them; and besides, she always could get more from her father. Thus Liahan had been able to buy the broche for his mother, after all, and the comb for his sister. Even so, he could not buy gifts for his other siblings – fortunately, those were all older and did not expect him to do so – and he could not even dream of buying the little toy Fountain Guard for himself.

But that was all right. He was too old to play with toys anymore, was he not? He served the Prince of Dol Amroth now and had important duties. And what if his heart still ached sometimes for small things he could not have? Those things never truly mattered.

When Prince Adrahil returned to his bedchamber, late in the night, he found Liahan asleep in the big chair, still clutching his precious gifts in his hand. The old Prince shook his head fondly, carefully lifted the small, pliant body of the boy from the chair and carried him to bed, without waking him up.

Mayhap his daughter Ivriniel had been right. Liahan was too duty-bound for his tender age.

~~~

End notes:
(1) Honour also meant the lands and other goods of a nobleman in the Middle Ages.
(2) Under gladden flowers you should actually understand the heraldic fleurs-de-lis, iris flowers, which still are widely used in modern heraldry. I chose them to make a connection between Lord Orchaldor’s family and some great historic events of Middle-earth.


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