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21
The Tournament - Day Five

It is established in canon by the Professor himself that the men-at-arms of Lossarnach preferred battle-axes, but there is no actual description of their weapons. For the knights of Lossarnach, I opted for the pole-axe, as it seemed the more elegant weapon, while I assumed that the common-born men-at-arms of the Old Folk (both in Halabor and Lossarnach) used the double axe in battle.

The description of the pole-axe is a short amalgam of whatever I found while searching the ‘Net for background information. I could not point out any specific website as a source.


~~~

CHAPTER 21 – THE TOURNAMENT, DAY FIVE

The flower of Gondor’s youth having done its best to prove their knightly skills and thus entertain the townsfolk, the rest of the tournament now belonged to the brave men of lesser birth. Meaning the men-at-arms in lord Forlong’s service, or adventurous young craftsmen or farmers from the town itself or the neighbourhood. Their weapon of choice was the battle-axe, which had come naturally from the simple household tool they used in their daily life.

Unlike in other provinces of Gondor, the men-at-arms of Lossarnach used the double-axe as their primary weapon at war, and were frighteningly good at it, the custom having a history of many hundred years among them. Even the sons of lesser noblemen got a thorough training in this traditional fighting style, and they usually wielded it well, not considering it inferior to the sword or the spear.

‘Twas not surprising therefore, that the fifth day of the tournament would be dedicated to axe-fighting, much to the delight of the townsfolk. It was held in two rounds: in the morning, young noblemen could measure their strength against each other, while the afternoon belonged to the common folk entirely. Lord Forlong had made it his duty to appear on both events, showing his respect and appreciation towards the brave sons of lesser vassals as well as for the good, reliable common folk. Those were the people who kept Gondor safe, after all. The higher nobility might have the nobler weapons, but these had the numbers, and at war, numbers often have a decisive role.

The lesser nobles used the more elegant pole-axe, both for such mock fights and for real battle. The kind of pole-axe commonly used in Lossarnach generally had a hammer head balanced by a spike or a curved fluke, rather than an axe blade that the Dunlendings preferred. The top of the head ended in a long metal spike that was either rectangular in section, or shaped like a spear-head or dagger blade. The bottom end of the shaft, the butt, was protected by a metal cap, which was also often sharpened into a spike.

The head was fixed to the shaft by metal bolts. These bolts, triangular in shape, would project so far out as to be considered spikes in their own right. Most axes were fitted with long steel bands or strips, called languets. These ran down the shaft from the head on either two or four sides and strengthened the wooden shaft to help protect it from damage.

Often a was fitted to these languets, roughly a third to half way down the shaft, with sometimes a second one fitted a little way up from the bottom of the shaft. These were meant to give the hands some extra protection, which are very exposed when the axe was being used. Some were fitted with a leather strap or ring to prevent the weapon from slipping through the hands when being wielded and made it easier to recover the weapon if knocked from the hand.

Despite being considered somewhat more… refined, it was a wicked weapon, capable of causing great harm, and for that reason, only blunted weapons were allowed during the tournament, as Herumor explained to a very curious Liahan right after first meal.

Liahan, previously unfamiliar with the art of axe-play, had begged for permission to go down to the combat field and watch the competition. At first, Prince Adrahil was hesitant to let him go, but when it turned out that Lord Orchaldor, too, would be going there with his son, he gave in.

“Dol Amroth might have no need for good axe-men,” said the Lord of Halabor, “but the weapon is very popular among the Old Folk. They had used it long before our ancestors crossed the Sea, and the Wardens – the guards I have established to watch the walls of our town and to patrol its streets at night – always carry a battle-axe with them and use them with great still and success against raiders.”

“Who teaches them how to wield it?” asked the Prince. “’Tis an art of its own, or so I am told.”

“They have a renegade Dunlending among them, by the name of Mogh,” explained Lord Orchaldor. “He had to leave his people because of some old blood-feud that had gone out of control, when barely of age. He had already brought the skills with him, and after working for Master Smith Ludgvan for years as an apprentice, he became the weapons master of the Wardens.”

“Can you trust him?” asked the Prince, remembering how many times he had been asked the same thing about Andrahar.

Lord Orchaldor nodded. “He has proven his faithfulness many times. And he had trained my Wardens well.”

“Where did you get those Wardens in the first place?” asked the Prince. “It surprises me that any hale and able men-at-arms would seek out such service instead of going to war.”

“Alas, they are less than hale, most of them,” said Lord Orchaldor grimly, “and they have already had their fair share of war. I usually employ sorted-out veterans, crippled in battle too much for regular service. Well,” he amended with a smile, “’tis the Town Council that employs them, I just pick out the right ones for them. Those veterans, the ones with years of service under their belts, are those who serve full-time. The others, mostly young shepherds, fishermen or craftsmen, go home to their flocks or trade after duty.” He sighed. “I cannot afford to keep a small army all the time, but Halabor has been built on an endangered spot. The townspeople and the folk in the scattered farmsteads around town need protection.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thus at the third hour(1) Lords Forlong and Orchaldor rode down to the lists again, to watch the axe-fighting of the lesser nobles, and with them went Madenn and Herumor. This time, all the galleries but that of the Lord himself were given free for the townsfolk to occupy, and thus Madenn remained with her father, keeping Liahan on her side, as none of the other children had come with them.

Some of the more venerable local noblemen were allowed to join their overlord on his gallery, among them Lord Benniget of Gwenter. This good knight seemed supremely content as one of the few not defeated in the mêlée on the previous day – even though it had been Lord Forlong’s warder that saved him from being vanquished by Lord Peredur. He had come wearing his best garment, in the company of a sturdy, confident woman who seemed a good few years older than him, but in full rosy bloom. Her dark green dress was of sombre elegance, made of good fabric and proudly worn, her head-dress taller and boarder than usual and seamed with gold string.

And while she was not tall, she carried himself so erect that she could pass as tall in any other company than that of a Lord of Dúnadan blood like Herumor’s father. Her round face, with wide, pale blue eyes, broad cheeks and a strong chin, revealed her as a daughter of the Old Folk, but her easy confidence spoke of someone of considerable wealth. Someone who was used to giving orders and being obeyed.

“My wife, the Lady Marcharid,” Benniget introduced her to Lord Orchaldor, and she curtseyed properly, rustling her ample skirts. “The lad is her eldest, Herveig. He has come to try his axe today.”

The lad Herveig, perchance a son of a previous husband rather than a by-blow, based on his fine clothes and confident behaviour, could be of twenty summers, brown-haired and dark of eye, with his mother’s board cheekbones and stubborn jaw. He wore a padded gambeson over his clothes and was carrying a finely made pole-axe on his shoulder.

“But where is Benead?” asked Liahan quietly, as he could no-where see his apple-sticking opponent.

“On his way home, to Gwenter,” replied Lord Benniget grimly. “I am still most ashamed of his deeds and thus sent him home to think about his actions, long and hard.”

The lad Herveig perked up his ears and grinned down at Liahan.

“So, you are the little boy who beat him in good and honest fight?” he asked, obviously pleased about his favoured half-brother’s defeat. “Well, good for him – mayhap that would teach him some modesty, at last. You can cheer me on instead.”

“I will,” promised Liahan, for he liked the lad instantly; Herveig reminded him of his second-oldest brother. “Though I fear I would be a poor substitute for a brother.”

“Oh, I do have a little lady here who will be helpful as family support,” laughed the youngling and pulled a richly-clad girl of some nine years forth from where she had been hiding behind the bountiful skirts of her mother. “Come on, Haude, be not so shy! He will not bite.”

“I would never harm a lady,” declared Liahan earnestly, although the girl Haude – an amazingly accurate copy of her mother, just in a smaller version and with dark eyes – did not seem particularly frightened. On the contrary, those dark little eyes were sparkling with mischief, and she giggled. A merry little thing she was, and thus Liahan accepted to be stuck with her on the gallery the whole morning. ‘Twas not so as he had any more children to choose from.

“You should be going now, son,” Lady Marcharid urged her firstborn, “or else you shall be late.”

That was only true, thus Herveig made a deep obeisance to their overlord and his kinsman, then shouldered his axe again and went down to the pavilions that had been vacated by the knights for the axe-fighters the night before.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“The good thing in not being a knight is that you cannot lose all your gear when you get defeated,” commented Herumor thoughtfully, watching appellants and defendants greeting each other down on the combat field, and then beginning the axe-play with a good and valorous countenance.

He had to admit that it was an impressive sight of its own value. The dance of an axe-fight seemed to have a different rhythm than sword fighting – a constant swinging motion rather than a series of moves. The opponents gave each other wide, swinging blows, picking up the blow of each other with the shaft of their axes, and then bearing downward with the same single movement, trying to make the axe of their opponent fall to the ground. From there, they stepped forward, running the same shaft through their other hand and giving their opponent a jab with it, aimed to the face; or they stepped back, trying another swinging blow. This went on for quite some time, ‘til one of the combatants was forced to the knee and unable to get to his feet again, in which case he was declared vanquished.

“Nonetheless, they give a good performance,” said Madenn, as if answering to Herumor’s previous comment. “And Lord Benniget’s foster son shows some considerable skill, even as men of Lossarnach go.”

“Do you know him?” asked Herumor, watching the young lad’s graceful movements with a critical eye. Herveig was good at the axe-play indeed.

Madenn nodded. “He has had a bit of misfortune,” she said with detached compassion for someone well known but not truly close, “being born in and out of the wedlock at the same time. His father was Herve of Glanwenap, the lord of three fine manors near Gwenter; yet he had died ere Herveig was born, and could thus not acknowledge the boy according to old custom. Therefore the manors went to the Lady Marcharid first, by the right due to a widow, and with her to Lord Benniget, leaving Herveig empty-handed, as Benead would inherit one day that which should be his, had his father lived but a few weeks longer.”

“Ow,” Herumor flinched in sympathy. “That is hard. And unjust, somehow.”

“As life often is,” Madenn shrugged. “He bears it well enough, though. Has had near twenty years to get used to it, after all.”

“I wonder why has he not sought out service elsewhere yet,” said Herumor. “Sooner or later, he will have to make his own fortune, as if he were a younger son. And one as skilled with the axe as he is can always find a place in some nobleman’s household.”

“As a man-at-arm, perchance; yet he is not of common birth, and it would be hard for him to serve as one, I deem,” said Madenn. “He is treated as a son in Lord Benniget’s house, used to give orders, not to receive them.”

“Still, ‘twould be a waste to have him lazing around his mother’s skirts,” replied Herumor. “I shall ask Father whether we have need of another household knight. If his foster father is willing to provide him with the barest necessities, we might find a place for him in Halabor.”

“I would think Lord Benniget would find it a small price to provide a simple armour for Herveig, if it means having him out of Benead’s way,” said Madenn. “Nor would he ask if the lad truly wished to leave his home and go away with strangers to another province. You are right, though. The lad would have it good in Uncle’s house.”

They were silent for a while, watching the skilled axe-play with renewed interest. Heads and heirs of noble Houses often visited such tournaments to pick up their men-at-arms from the rows of promising combatants, as no-where else would a man show his true skills, save in war itself. Herumor was fairly pleased to find such a candidate.

“Speaking of stray sons,” Madenn said after a while, and a hidden smile could be felt behind her voice, “you were gone early last night and late to come to first meal, looking as one who had but little sleep. I wonder what labours had kept you from your well-earned rest after such a splendid fight you have fought yesterday.”

Herumor gave no answer, aside from blushing furiously, and Madenn laughed.

“Oh, be not such a babe,” she said with genuine fondness. “You cannot truly believe that the dogged pursuit of the minstrel’s wild little girl has gone unnoticed? There was a great deal of guessing when she would finally make her move… Achren expected her to wait, but I knew she would grab you as soon as she got half a chance.”

“You knew it?” repeated Herumor incredulously. “And you never warned me?”

“Why should I have?” asked Madenn. “You are a man grown, and I am not your nursemaid. Or are you trying to make me believe that you have all lived in chastity in Dol Amroth, for years?”

“Nay, we have not,” Herumor was getting mildly annoyed. “There was the Fairweather and other pleasure houses, and the Prince made it abundantly clear that those were the places where we should… have our needs taken care of.”

“So you do know how to give a girl a good time,” she said with a shrug. “Why would you fret so, then?”

“I… I would prefer to share myself with someone I care for,” replied Herumor after a lengthy pause, avoiding her eyes.

“You did not care for the wicked little songbird, then?” asked Madenn with a smile. Herumor shook his head.

“She pursued me and captured me and bewitched me, and there was pleasure, I would not deny that,” he said slowly. “But it has been what she wanted, not something I would have gone for.”

Madenn nodded in understanding. “In your heart, you are a faithful sort of man,” she said. “There is nothing wrong with that. Next time you will know how to avoid such traps.”

“I will?” asked Herumor doubtfully. Madenn laughed.

“Of course you will. She caught you by surprise; you will be better prepared next time. But worry not,” she added, seeing his troubled face, “she will make no further demands. She has already had what she wanted and is on the hunt for new prey by now, I deem. I know her kind. Besides, the minstrel would never let her go, not as long as she can sing like a lark. You are safe enough – from her, at the very least.”

“And what about you?” asked Herumor. “It seems to me that Achren will be asked for, soon enough. Lord Húrin has that determined look upon his face. Are you packing your bags already?”

Madenn shook her head.

“Achren has not made up her mind yet,” she said, “Though they have talked indeed, she and Lord Húrin.”

“The decision might not be left in her hands alone,” warned Herumor soberly.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
How very right he had been turned out shortly after midday meal, when Lord Forlong called the whole family to his Great Chamber – a room that served both as his library and his study, aye, even as his private dining room sometimes. Being fairly close kin, Herumor and his father, too, had been invited to witness.

The presence of old Lady Achren and that of the Lady Almaren at the same time would have been enough to alarm anyone in the Castle. The fact that – for the first time since Almaren had come to Carvossonn – they seemed to be in league, was more than frightening. At least to Achren, as she entered her father’s chamber, arm in arm with Madenn for support.

“Daughter,” greeted her Lord Forlong with a nod, “come and sit with us. We have your future to discuss, it seems.”

Properly warned now, Achren released her sister and sat down, stiffly and with her back every bit as erect as her grandmother’s. She could guess what had happened but was not willing to give in just yet.

“I cannot see what there might be to discuss, Father,” she replied with cold politeness, “Be it as you wish, though.”

“Lady Almaren tells me that Lord Húrin has asked you to become his wife,” her father, never being a man to sneak around a problem, told her bluntly.

“What Lord Húrin and I have discussed is our own business,” replied Achren icily. “Would Lady Almaren not always send out that wicked old wench of hers to spy on us, she would not be burdened with things that do not concern her.”

‘Twas rare for a daughter as well-bred and well-mannered as Achren usually was to become this personal, almost rude, but the Lady Almaren’s thinly veiled efforts to get rid of her had been irritated her beyond endurance for quite some time by now.

“Is it true?” her father insisted. “Has he proposed?”

“Aye, he has,” replied Achren simply. “He was being very honest about what would await me in Minas Tirith, should I accept his offer, and I am grateful for that,”

“I am told you have not given him any answer yet,” said Lord Forlong, “neither aye nor nay. Is that true as well?”

Achren nodded. “Indeed it is, Father. I wish to give his offer some earnest thought first.”

“What is there to think about?” interfered her grandmother imperiously. “Lord Húrin is the second-ranking official of Minas Tirith, right after the Steward himself. Besides, he is rich, still fairly young and comely, too. What could you wish for more?”

If I am going to wed him I shall wed his person, not his lands or his office,” answered Achren coldly. “And if I want to take my time to think about it, what business of yours is that? I am no burden for Father; the lands of my mother are my own, and my estate steward takes good care of them – there is no need to sell me off to the best bidder.”

“Or mayhap you have your eyes on someone even better?” interjected the Lady Almaren with sickening sweetness. “Young Lord Boromir is certainly a handsome man, and one who will rule the whole of Gondor one day.”

“For which reason the Lord Steward would never give his blessing to such a union,” said Lord Orchaldor quietly. “He would find a lady of pure Dúnadan stock for his firstborn. Either that, or a Princess of Rohan, should there be any of suitable age in Théoden-King’s family, to bind his strongest ally even tighter to his throne.”

“I know that,” said Achren, “and truly, I have no designs on Lord Boromir at all. He is too young for me, and he is married to his sword anyway. I would always be just a convenience for a man like him – that is not what I want.”

“What do you want, then?” asked her father.

“I want to be a wife who shares her husband’s duties and burdens, but also has his love and respect,” replied Achren simply.

“You can have all that, should you choose to wed Lord Húrin,” said Lord Orchaldor. “He is a good, honourable man, and a faithful one at that.”

“And I like him well enough to consider him a suitable match,” replied Achren. “I am not adverse to wed him at all. But I shall not wed him in haste, just so that Grandmother can fulfil her ambitions or that Lady Almaren can have me out of her way. I am not a pawn in anyone’s petty power play.”

“Of course, inheriting the first wife’s spoiled brat would not make a marriage any easier,” said the Lady Almaren with false sympathy. Achren turned to her, addressing her directly for the first time.

You of all people would know, of course,” she said coldly. “You have hated us – both of us – since the moment you first set foot in this house. You did all you could to make our lives miserable.”

“You were two spoiled, spiteful little brats,” replied the Lady dismissively. “Should have been married off years ago, would your father’s indulgence…”

“Enough!” Lord Forlong’s booming voice interrupted. “I shall not allow you to speak to any daughter of mine in that manner, woman!”

“My Lord!” the Lady Almaren rose, her face cold and white like ice, her jewelled eyes glittering. “You seem to forget that I am your wife!”

“And that is all you are,” Forlong dismissed him. “They are, however, my blood!”

“So is your son, my Lord,” hissed Almaren. “A son I gave you, after all your previous wenches had failed to do so.”

“And I duly appreciate that,” Forlong nodded. “But that gives you no right to mistreat my daughters or to try to chase them away from here. This had been their home, long before you came, and if you cannot live under this roof with them in peace, I can always find you a far-away little manor where you can spin your web of intrigues as you please. Our son is old enough; he would not miss your continued presence in my Castle. So think about the risks you are willing to take, and be quiet, for this one time!”

His red face and blazing eyes made it abundantly clear that he meant every word. And the Lady Almaren snapped her mouth shut, for the Lord of Lossarnach, good-natured though he might be most of the time, was fearsome in his wrath. Should she raise his ire too much, he would make his threat true and banish her to one of the small, forgotten manors, without her son – the only soul that meant anything to her in this place.

“As for you, Mother,” Lord Forlong turned to the matron sitting stiff and erect on his right, “I have asked you not to meddle with the lives of my daughters the way you always did with mine. They have no obligation to continue our line as a son would, so leave them alone. Achren is right – she has lands on her own that can support her lifelong. The time she takes to think about Lord Húrin’s offer is her own.”

“And if she thinks too long about it and Lord Húrin changes his mind?” asked the old lady accusingly.

Forlong shrugged, “’Tis her own risk to take, too.”

“He will not,” said Lord Orchaldor. “Not for a long time yet. He took a liking to Achren at first sight, and he is not the man who gives up easily. Besides, little Morwen seems to support the idea, if what I heard from the boy Liahan, who heard it from Prince Elphir, is true.”

They all laughed, knowing that children often told each other things they would never share with adults. Then Lord Forlong rose from his seat with a groan.

“Well, I need to get back to the lists and watch the competition of the commoners. Are you coming with me, kinsman?” Lord Orchaldor nodded.

“I hope to find some masterless axe-men who would be willing to settle in our town,” he said. “They need not to be very young; we have more than enough widows looking for a decent husband, and the Wardens could use reinforcements.”

“There are some veterans, sorted out from the fighting troops recently,” said Forlong. “I shall send for them if you wish, but now we must be going, lest we shall be late.”

“I am going with you, Uncle,” Herumor sprang to his feet. “There is something – well, more like someone – I need to speak with Father about.”

“Certainly, you can join us,” replied Forlong amiably, already on his way out. “The common folk fights with double axes, which is a somewhat brutal sight at times, even though they will be using wooden ones today, so that I expect naught worse than a few broken heads. But you can see what our people are capable of with the ancient weapon of the Old Folk, and choose from the ones who would be willing to follow you to Anórien.”

With that, he rushed out with a speed that belied his bulk. Lord Orchaldor and his son followed him without looking back.

After a long moment of frosty silence, the Lady Almaren gathered the heavy folds of her black gown around herself to make an imperious exit.

“This is not over yet,” she said to Achren warningly.

“On the contrary,” replied Achren with eerie calm. “It is over… and so is your power in this house.”

She took Madenn by the arm again and left with her, right before the Lady Almaren’s nose, ruining her grand exit completely and with full intention.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“That,” declared Madenn, bending with barely restrained laugher, as soon as they were out of earshot, “was evil. I have never seen Almaren in such outrage.”

“Then my work for today is well done,” replied Achren with a very un-ladylike grin. Madenn shook her head in fond exasperation.

“You have certainly stirred up the hornets’ nest,” she said. “Methinks it would be indeed better for you to wed Lord Húrin and leave Grandmother and Almaren to their plotting and petty fights.”

“Mayhap so,” Achren allowed. “But I am loath to leave Father behind, torn between those two dragonesses. For if I go, you shall go, too – and whom will Father then turn to for a little peace and good care?”

“He will always have Tynellas,” replied Madenn simply. “Almaren may have separated them for a while, but in the end, Almaren will be gone, shut away in the women’s wing, or back to her own people if she cannot bear our life any longer… but Tynellas will still be there.”

“And that should make me feel better?” asked Achren, who could never warm up to their father’s former mistress. To be just to her, she had good reason for that – Tynellas was not the most pleasant or kind woman. Not to her, anyway.

“There is no need for that,” answered Madenn with a shrug. “’Tis enough when she makes Father feel better. And she does that. She is better for him than Almaren could ever become. She always has been.”

Everyone would be better for Father than Almaren,” said Achren with a snort.

“I agree,” said Madenn, “yet it is not our task to meddle with his life. You should consider your own choices… and do so carefully.”

~~~

(1) Nine p.m.


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