Gandalf sighed as he heard Saruman’s report. “And these come from the far east, beyond Rhûn, do they?”
“Yes--riding in wains, and fighting from them and chariots. They have swept through Rhûn, fighting those along the eastern borders, although most of those who populated central Rhûn merely gave way before them, going north or south, allowing them free passage westward.”
“And did you suggest to Narmacil that he build up the forces in Ithilien as was suggested?”
“With what Men? His father put all his energies into rebuilding Gondor’s navy to such effect he retook Umbar for Gondor----”
“For the moment, at least,” grunted the Grey Wizard. “I very much fear that Umbar won’t be held more than a few lifetimes of Men.”
Saruman lifted one brow expressively. “So it has proven in the past.”
“What has Arciryas been doing while his brother and nephew have focused on the navies and the governing of Umbar and the warding of the borders with Dunland? Has he been given no part in the protection of his land? As I remember he was an excellent hunter. He could have done much in the deployment of the nation’s Rangers throughout Ithilien and about the Black Gate.”
“Arciryas has spent most of his time rebuilding ties between the crown and the southern provinces. He married a maiden from Dor-en-ernil some years ago, the daughter of the lord of the province, and spends much time in her father’s court and in rebuilding the defenses in the Ringlo Vale and near Erech.”
“But the greatest threat to Gondor has ever been to the east, and not the southwest,” Gandalf pointed out. “We spoke of this during Telumehtar’s early reign. If these Wainriders reach the wasted lands before the Black Gates they could sweep through and both north into Rhovanion and south into Ithilien, causing much in the way of death and destruction along the way. The King must protect the land.”
Narmacil greeted the two Wizards to his court, although he’d seen little enough of either since his own accession. “We have given thanks for the intelligence regarding the folk of the Brown Lands,” he said to the Grey Wizard. “We have sought to treat with them, but they will not agree to help guard our borders in return for recognition and grants of land. I have had to sent Calimehtar there to Calenardhon to keep the peace, and I am loth to call him back as he alone appears to strike--well, if not fear at least caution into their hearts. But this news from the east causes me great distress. Tell me of these Wainriders.”
But what Saruman was able to share was not enough for Narmacil to appreciate just how he might best face this new foe. “We can easily hold the river with our ships,” he said.
“These do not fight from ships,” the White Wizard pointed out. “They travel with great wains, and fight from them and upon the flats.”
“It has been Arciryas who has the better knowledge of the lands of Ithilien and before the Black Gate,” Gandalf said, his attention on the maps. “He and those closest to him could do the most to use the terrain to their advantage. That area is not wholly flat and could be a death trap to those who come in horse-drawn wagons and chariots if ambushes are properly set. If the Wainriders manage to invade and hold Rhovanion it could endanger the integrity of the rule of Gondor.”
Narmacil was plainly frustrated. “And how long have the two of you warned my ancestors not to ignore the concerns of those in the southern provinces?” he demanded. “Was it not due to that failing that Castimir was able to find support for his revolts?”
“That was over four hundred years since,” Gandalf noted.
“But with my father’s focus ever on the building of a navy sufficient to deter the threat of Umbar and to retake that land for Gondor, those of the southwest had begun to question whether or not we of the capital continued to hold any interest in their concerns. So I set my brother Arciryas to see to it their worries are recognized and dealt with.”
After a pause, the Grey Wizard said quietly, “I apologize for underestimating your appreciation for the humors of the nation, Lord Narmacil. However, that leaves you undermanned here and now, when you particularly need forces to meet the current threat. That the folk of Rhûn have, after a brief defense of their eastern borders, merely moved their populations far enough north and south to allow these to move through their lands, funneling them toward Gondor and Rhovanion, is especially troubling, and speaks of the probability that the Wainriders have been encouraged to do as they do now.”
Continuing to consider the maps with the indications given by the few Ranger scouts to bring word of the movement of the trains of invaders, Gandalf tapped his finger thoughtfully against his nose. “At the moment Araval knows a degree of stability there in Arnor. You might think to send to him for assistance.”
“Does he have transport for troops to send so far, think you?” Narmacil asked. “There has never been much in the way of threat along their coastlines as is true here in Gondor, for few of those from Umbar, Harad, or beyond would think to go so far north. Nay, not since the coming of Elendil’s own ships there have the folk of the northern kingdom put much thought into the building of a navy, for such has not been needed by them, as their worst threats are from the south and north, and from the creatures of the Enemy who have ever sheltered in the dark places in the Mountains of Mist. To build transports to bring aid that far would take more time than we can spare, I fear.”
The King straightened, turning his attention to Saruman. “Tell me, Curunír, how it is that the Wainriders use these chariots of which you speak? How fast do such things move, and how are they best met in battle?”
What forces could be spared were placed east of Osgiliath in an arc along the borders of Rhûn; but having the starkness of the Morannon and the treacherous ground of the Marshes behind them did not serve the defenders well. Ever since the days of Telemnar there had continued to occur outbreaks of the chills and fevers from time to time; now did Narmacil give thanks for those long-ago explorers who’d brought the quinine plant from that far-away continent, for now it became almost a staple in the supplies sent with the armies of defense.
After three years of holding the Wainriders east of the Morannon the defenders found the morale of their troops in the field was suddenly plummeting. Dark presences began being noticed, and the more isolated scouts would either return precipitously, almost overwhelmed by the Black Breath, or would disappear completely, their gear often found abandoned along the path of their expected routes with little if any sign to indicate what might have happened to the Men who’d carried it. Then came word that the Wainriders now had allies in the form of Rhûnim and battalions of orcs....
Narmacil sighed as he and Gandalf listened to the reports of message riders sent west of the river by his commanders in the field. “I will need to go myself if the Men are not to lose heart,” he said. “At least we have knowledge of how to deal with orcs, and they do not usually fight during the daylight hours.”
“But with the Wainriders to fight under the light of the Sun and the orcs to harry your own troops at night your Men will know little rest. I like this not at all, Narmacil, for it shows clearly that Dol Guldur indeed is allied against you alongside the eastern folk, and according to the reports you just heard even some of Rhûn’s own warriors now fight alongside the Wainriders. At least Arciryas has been able to send more battalions from Dor-en-ernil, while Calimehtar has been able to release some of his own Men to your needs here near the capital.”
“I can ride forth and leave Minas Tirith properly defended,” Narmacil said thoughtfully.
He would not be swayed. Three weeks later he set out eastward with what cavalry he could command. It was not a great number, for the greatest force of mounted knights had ever been fielded by Númenor vi Ennorath; and the southwestern coastline was being harried by ships from Harad augmented by those of the Corsairs who’d fled before Telumehtar’s navy. With the beginnings of unrest making itself known in Umbar the situation was growing dangerous across the realm.
Mithrandir watched him go, aware that the King would not return. When the word came a few months later that the King had fallen before the Morannon and that the forces of the Wainriders were sweeping northwards into southern Rhovanion and southwards into Ithilien while the remnants of Gondor’s main army fled westward over the bridges of Osgiliath he stood by the side of Calimehtar, newly returned from a victory at Calenhardon, and grieved as the refugees managed to carry the body of Narmacil back to the White City for proper burial.
Calimehtar’s cousin Calimmacil wept as he presented his uncle’s remains and that of others of the fallen before the new King. “We could not hold them longer, my Lord Cousin,” he proclaimed. “The greater part of our armies were set upon by orcs in the hours before dawn, and when Anor rose into the sky we found a great wave of the Wainriders falling upon us--greater numbers than we’d seen yet. Your father and twelve others were cut off from the rest of us. Only two survived of that number when we fought our way through the press. We brought back their bodies. But so many were lost I had not choice but to order a retreat.”
Arciryas had arrived in Minas Tirith three days earlier with his son’s wife and children, and attending on Calimmacil’s wife was her younger sister Thalien, newly come from her father’s estate in Belfalas to be presented at court. Calimehtar found his attention caught by the young noblewoman; and somehow Gandalf was not surprised to find that within a matter of a few months the two were betrothed.
After five years in Gondor Mithrandir took his leave to creep into Rhovanion. It was with assistance from border wardens of Laurelindórenan he was able to locate some of the royal house of the land in hiding a few leagues north of the hidden Elven enclave. There they were being aided by their distant kinsmen among the horsemen of the Éothéod.
“We have regular word from our own people,” he was told. “Most are unhappy with the coming of these folk from afar, for their ways are strange to us, and they are often cruel. But it appears that they are poorly adapted to life in our lands, for our plants are strange to them and many have difficulty digesting them, and they often appear to become seriously ill of those diseases that we consider to be mere nuisances. The way in which they treat women and children makes them many enemies. They will not agree for the most part to learn our language, and when they seek to occupy our homes they have no idea how to do the most basic of tasks.
“We ought to have heeded the warnings sent by Narmacil; but how could we believe the might of Gondor would fail as it did? However, we now wait and build our strength, and in time we will return and take back our own land once more.”
Thranduil’s people reported more activity from Dol Guldur, but most of its production of troops was being sent southward toward Rhovanion and Gondor. Rhosgobel was empty, Radagast having gone up onto the eastern flanks of the Misty Mountains to encourage renewal of forests in the wake of a series of wildfires that appeared to have been started by the actions of orcs and dragons.
There was no question in his heart that the number of Dwarves in the world could be no more than two-thirds what he’d found when first he came to Middle Earth--so many of the smaller kingdoms were no more; and as he approached the gates of what had been one of the more active mining communities east of the mountains he found it sheltered a number of mountain trolls. As he crossed at the pass above Imladris he found the number of mountain giants had also increased alarmingly, and they appeared to be bent on filling the pass with boulders. More than once he was required to use words of Power to clear his path, and twice he found himself putting spells on some of the creatures to send them into the deep sleep that was their most normal state of being. Their most usual activity when awake was constant battles amongst themselves; to find their attentions fixed on himself as he traveled through the pass indicated to the Grey Wizard that there was mischief from orcs and other sources causing them to give their attention to those who walked closer to the ground.
On his way down the westward slopes he came upon a large party of Dwarves battling orcs, and he joined the fray almost with relief. He’d been carrying one of his fireworks he’d prepared in hopes of entertaining any of the Hobbit folk he might come upon, although he’d located none of their smials as he’d gone through the valley of the Anduin; this he now set off, aiming it at the orcs themselves, sending the survivors scurrying for cover. It took little for the Dwarves now to subdue their foes, and no more than three or four could have escaped, the Wizard decided as he and his new companions began examining themselves and one another for wounds.
“Our thanks to you, Master,” said the one of the Dwarves who appeared to be their leader. “Nori Glóin’s son am I. We had been east to seek word of our kin in Borodelf, but found none remaining. We took our vengeance on those goblins who’d taken our halls for their own, but these have harried us all along our return road. I think that from here we will continue unmolested.”
“Such is my hope, also. I’ve seen few enough orcs on this sweep along the eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains, but three more of your folk’s holdings are now empty of Aulë’s children from what I could tell.”
Nori’s expression had hardened. “So we have found as well. We begin to dwindle, Dúrin’s people. If things continue on as they do now I fear that in the end we must fail--and failing due to the actions of the Shadow’s spawn is not the fate any of us wish to know.” Nori gave him a sidelong examination. “You are the Wizard Tharkûn?” he asked. “We’ve heard of you, of course, but none I’ve known have seen aught of you for well over half a century.”
“I visited the halls of Dúrin under Malin’s rule not that long ago; but he appears to think that as long as Khazad-dûm itself still stands there is insufficient reason to cooperate with the other Free Peoples against the darkness stretching out now from Dol Guldur.”
“Shortsighted of him,” grunted Nori. “We have heard the tales of how once there were villages of the Hobbit folks about Borodelf with whom our folk traded for foodstuffs; now there remain none throughout the lands that we are aware of.”
“Oh, Hobbits are not gone totally from Middle Earth,” Gandalf assured him as he turned to resume his journey westward. “I suspect a few still remain in the valley of the Anduin--mostly of Stoor blood, though, not the Harfoots your people dealt with the most. Most, however, have removed far to the west, this side of the Blue Mountains where the Kings of Arthedain granted them land to call their own.”
“Are they still canny farmers?” Nori asked, keeping up easily with the pace set by the Wizard, the remainder of his folk following behind.
“That they are--as sensitive to the song of cultivated earth as are your people to the resonance of earth and stone or the Elves to the calls of trees and wilderlands.”
“My grandsire would tell me tales of them when I was yet a child,” Nori said reminiscently. “He went westward eventually, but spoke often of those he’d once known, there when he was himself a child. I’d hoped to hear word of my mother’s brother in Borodelf, although all of us had kin of one kind or another there, from whom we’ve heard nothing for at least twenty years.” He went silent for a time.
At last they came to a more open area where they might stop for a time and eat. Now the rest of his company--a party of seventeen, presented and introduced themselves to the Wizard. One of the younger Dwarves started a small fire, and Gandalf made his own generous contributions to the swiftly prepared meal and accepted his share with a show of graciousness that won the approval of the group in general. As they set themselves to enjoying the repast Nori continued. “It is good to know that there remain yet Hobbits in Middle Earth, for I’d thought them now but the stuff of legends. Perhaps there is hope for my own people as well.”
“Indeed,” Gandalf agreed. “A much poorer world it would be if we were to see the loss of such folk as you and Hobbits.”
“But now it is Men who breed the fastest,” Nori continued. “We trade easily enough with the Men of Arthedain and the Elves of Imladris, but we are treated with distrust by most others; and the hillmen of the Brown Lands treat us with rank contempt.”
Gandalf sighed as he took his tin plate to wash it at a nearby freshet. “I fear that this tends to be their attitude toward all--certainly it is not true only of their treatment of Dwarves. Calimehtar of Gondor spent decades trying to deal with them, offering them treaties, even land, if they would agree to become allies instead of sending ever raiders into the lands his people hold north of the Ered Nimrais, but they wouldn’t agree. No, they, who can barely rule themselves, would be seen as rulers--or rather, exploiters--of all rather than allies.”
“What has become of the other Wizard?” Nori asked.
“Radagast from the valley of the Anduin?”
“No--not the brown one--the white one, the one who has his own attitude. Tales of him have been also handed down to us from those who have attended councils involving him in the past. The brown one we hear tell of from time to time from those of our own who come through the passes. We came upon him not far from the doors of Borodelf, encouraging a stand of pine to grow once more. He seems busy enough about his business. But my grandsire was told by his grandsire that it is best to keep an eye upon the Wizard in white, for he has little respect for Dwarves--or most others, or so it is said.”
Gandalf was surprised to find himself unsurprised by this assessment of Saruman. “Yet he seeks to meet the purpose for which we were sent,” he said in excuse.
Nori merely shrugged; and a short time later, their fire extinguished and all signs of it carefully hidden, they headed west once more.
He found Araval and his son Araphant both guests of Elrond on his arrival in Rivendell, having taken his leave of Nori’s party a half-day’sjourney northwards, where the Dwarves now found their hidden ways back to their own caverns.
“No, no communication have we had from Gondor,” Araval told him. “Angmar remains quiet for the most part--at least for the moment. So badly did the plague of the pox hit those lands that it has taken a good long time for them to build up a sufficient population to trouble us again, although in the past five years we have again begun to know some incursions. The sealing of their border failed, and we have been able to follow a few of their raiding parties back northward, and have driven most of their troops well over a day’s ride north of our lands. We hold our own--at least for now. I fear, however, that Araphant will know far more trouble from them than I do.”
“And what of those from southern Rhudaur and Dunland?”
“We have sufficient troops stationed to the south to keep them under control. Nay, it has ever been the orcs and great wolves of the mountains that have plagued us in my time, more than Angmar and Rhudaur.”
“And there have been no more sweeps of sickness through your lands?”
“Again, not since the great pox. Once Dol Guldur becomes aware of other diseases that might diminish us, however, I suspect he will seek to visit them upon us once more. He has done so with so many plagues so far.”
Nor did Elrond have aught to report regarding further attempts to decimate the northern Dúnedain via plagues and illnesses. Both listened to the tales of the assaults by the Wainriders with interest. “And where is Saruman now?” Elrond asked.
“He went southward to examine the situation within Umbar. Namarcil had lost the lands taken by his father before he went eastwards--battalions from Harad invaded Umbar, assisted by a small but effective fleet of Corsairs as well as some of their own ships. I hope Saruman will return soon with word as to what the folk of Harad and Khand intend next. If they were to ally themselves with the Wainriders it could allow two gateways into Gondor’s lands, and it is possible that the south kingdom could then fail.”
“But what has become of Gondor’s great navy as built by Telumehtar?” asked young Araphant. “How is it they failed to hold Umbar against the Corsairs and Haradrim?”
“Narmacil failed to replace ships on a timely basis, and focused instead on building relationships with the southwestern provinces and protecting the northwestern borders. Perhaps the folk of Dunland and the lawless ones of southern Rhudaur might now seek once again for a greater foothold this way, as Calimehtar has driven them further away from his own borders when they refused to treat with Gondor.”
“We thank you for the warning,” Araval sighed, “I think.”
But it was obvious that sending reinforcements to assist Calimehtar would be difficult, if not impossible. “Narmacil was right in saying it would not be possible for us to build a large enough fleet of transports in a timely manner; and our allies along the Lhûn do not have so many ships they might lend to such purpose. Certainly we do not have enough in the way of cavalry we might send. It appears our own horsemen outnumber those of Calimehtar; but it is with those we have held the raiders from Angmar at bay for the last three centuries. As for going south and past Orthanc--we would have to pass the forces of Dunland and the lawless ones who have settled within southern Rhudaur. Not only would they most likely attack our armies as we passed, but they would realize those remaining to guard our own lands would be depleted. As soon as our troops were too far to recall we would find ourselves once more under vicious siege.”
Three days later Gandalf accepted a horse from Elrond to ride west in company with the King and his son and Glorfindel. Many villages had again begun to grow in the lands firmly under Araval’s protection, and he saw great fields of wheat and barley, and herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats, rich farmlands properly cultivated. “Do you trade much with the Pheriannath of the Shire?” he asked.
“Some. They brew fine ales and beer, and their produce is finer than those grown by Men. All praise their woolens and linens--we have some shepherds who sell bales of wool to those within the Shire who will spin and weave it into far finer cloth than most of our folk have the ability to craft, although their rolls of cloth tend to be not as wide as those woven by our people. However, their dyes are superb, and the quality of the cloth and threads they produce has no equal in all of our lands.”
Gandalf found himself wondering how the folk of the Shire would do if they were to be presented with bales of cotton from southern Gondor or Harad. Lamedon and portions of Dor-en-ernil were known to produce excellent quality cotton. If the spinners and weavers of the Shire did so well with woolens and linens, what they might do with other fibers might bring even more trade to them.
Annúminas appeared to have closed in on itself from what he remembered from his last visit; and he saw that the fortifications of Fornost had been well reinforced. Nowhere did he see signs that the relative peace of the last fifty years or so had led to carelessness. Indeed, although the King and his son were hailed freely by those they passed, yet folk gave the Wizard and Elf a more wary eye, and children were hastily called out of their path as they approached.
Gandalf took leave of Araval a half-day’s ride south of Fornost, and with Glorfindel they rode on to the Breelands and at last across the Brandywine Bridge and into the Shire. There was no question that the Hobbits of the Shire had indeed prospered. Villages had sprung up, and there were now inns along the Road to offer refreshment to those who traveled there, many of them built to accommodate the King’s Men who passed on the King’s business. Even here, however, he saw signs that caution was being taken. Most Hobbits they saw on their own carried bows and quivers appropriate to their size, while the Hobbitesses and children they saw were almost never abroad alone.
Where Hobbits excavated their holes or built their low houses they still surrounded them with flowers and shrubs for the most part, less now to hide their doorways and windows than to delight the senses, however. Everywhere they looked they saw abundance and order and beauty. “Each time I must pass through this land now,” Glorfindel said quietly as they rode, “I rejoice the more. So long since the rule of Cardolan began to fail the land itself knew grief; now it is alive and fulfilled and rejoices. Worthier stewards for this place Argeleb could not have found.”
“Indeed,” the Wizard smiled. “And I foresee that those who dwell here will serve as few yet understand. Yes, worthy stewards they prove, and even more so will they prove in time to come.”
They stopped and purchased a meal at an inn where two ways met, listening to the talk from their seat in the corner. This inn was rough, perhaps, but scrupulously clean, the food plain but well prepared and delightfully seasoned, the ale served them excellent, even to the Elf’s palate. As they completed their meal talk nearer the bar grew louder, and it proved one of the Hobbits there was being begged to sing.
“Come on, Forodo,” called a patron, “You know all the older songs. Sing us something!”
A taller Hobbit with hair of an unusual ashen color finally rose up, and one of his companions reached down and lifted up a lute and handed to the taller one. Forodo checked the tuning of his instrument, then began to play, allowing his fingers to wander over the strings for a few minutes before he settled to a particular rhythm and tune, then began to sing. Elf and Wizard listened in wonder, for neither would have believed such a voice could come from one so small. His voice was a pleasant and remarkably rich tenor, and as he sang Gandalf found himself transported back across the Misty Mountains to the valley of the Anduin, there where the folk of the Éothéod followed their horse herds and sang their chants beneath the clear light of distant stars. An ancient song; perhaps one, Gandalf judged, once sung by the Stoors, learned from the Men alongside whom they lived. The name of Bema was repeated often, but many of the other words no longer held meaning and were sung not now to tell a story but merely to stir the feelings the tune had been written to evoke.
At last the song was over, and all sat, still bespelled by it even as the strings of the lute went silent. Gandalf looked into the eyes of the singer and found them reminiscent of the eyes of Bilbiolo of the village of Baggers, but also reminiscent of Bilbiolo’s nephew Merlin he’d known then. There was also something about the chin that reminded him of Modoc, while the clever fingers reminded him of Blanco of the Tooks. A descendant of all of them, perhaps?
One of those who’d listened at last lifted his mug and drank from it, then set it down on the rough table with a distinct thunk. That appeared to set the rest blinking, taking their own sips, and resuming their talk and laughter, and one of the others called out, “Well done, Baggers. Now--a song all can join in!”
“Yes, Forodo,” called another, “a drinking song!”
Forodo smiled, a smile that seemed to light the room. “If you will,” he said. He tightened a string and tried a chord, then began:
“Raise the cup and sing out gladly,
glad the work of the day is done.
Even if all the rest went badly
now’s our time of joy begun!
"A cup! A cup!
All drink up!”
The song went on, becoming increasingly rollicking as it progressed, more and more voices joining with every verse. Something of this Forodo’s gift appeared to be shared with those who joined him in the singing, as the voices were truer than one might expect from so many and the hearts of all were lifted as the song progressed.
When at last the song was done Gandalf murmured, “Now, that one has inherited the fullness of Fallohide charm if anyone has,” to which Glorfindel smiled in answer.
All laughed when the song was over, and another round was served out to all. Yet none appeared to drink too deeply or become maudlin or too raucous. This Forodo set the tone for the evening, and none exceeded his lead. Gandalf found himself fascinated.
Ten days later he and Glorfindel rode again past the small inn, having consulted with Círdan and Galdor. Gandalf was tempted to stop and perhaps see this Forodo again, but his duty led him onward. With a sigh and a second glance back he led the way, back toward the Brandywine Bridge and Bree, where he took leave of his companion and turned back southward, going as swiftly as he could as he returned to Gondor to carry word to Calimehtar that, unfortunately, he could count on little aid from other realms in this fight.
Much of the next few decades Mithrandir spent by the side of Calimehtar, who found his counsel sound. Many times the Wizard would slip through to consult with the rulers of Rhovanion in their exile and with the leadership of those who’d remained behind who worked to confound their new lords, then return to Gondor to help coordinate plans.
Some aid came to them from elsewhere. Six individuals came to them cloaked in grey, their cloaks held closed with great brooches in the shape of silver stars. They were clearly of Dúnedain blood with their tall stature and eyes of clear grey and command of Sindarin and even Quenya. Calimehtar accepted their service and the names they gave, although he and his uncle and cousin privately agreed that it was likely their true names were other than those given, particularly the leader of the six, whose star brooch was slightly different from those of the others. Yet none of these asked for or accepted greater honor than any other who fought for the security of Gondor, and they followed all orders given them, even when they went counter to their own counsel.
Seven years did they serve before somehow word came to them, and the leader and two of the others at last asked for an audience with the King.
Calimehtar, the Winged Crown on his head, met them in a lesser audience chamber, seated on a highly carved chair, the Grey Wizard standing by him, his right hand on the back of the King’s seat. “You asked for this audience?” he said.
“A message has reached us,” began the leader, whom they’d addressed for the past seven years as Gilorhael. “I must return to my own people, and these two would return with me. The other three of our fellows, however, have requested permission to remain here until this fight is won, and it has been granted to them.”
“Your father fails, then?” asked Calimehtar. “And what reward can I offer you for what you have done for this people not your own?”
Grey Dúnedain eyes met his own. “And who says that your people are not mine also? Are we not all of the blood of Númenor? Was this nation not ruled equally by Elendil and both of his sons? Nay, I ask no reward beyond what has been given me already--a soldier’s pay for a soldier’s labor. But the Shadow’s creatures threaten all equally, and there are other battlefields on which they must be fought as well as those here in Gondor. I am called now to continue the fight where I am now needed.”
“And my thanks go with you, both for what you yourself have done and for the loan of these your Men. And perhaps one day Gondor may return the favor.”
The one who’d been called Gilorhael gave his smile--one that would start as a grim one, but which would then lighten his soldier’s face and lift the hearts of all who stood in his presence. “We will look forward to that happening, then, Lord King Calimehtar.”
“So may it be, my Lord Prince,” Calimehtar returned, rising and stepping forward to clasp the departing captain’s wrist in the warrior’s grip. “And may the Valar smile upon your sword.”
“May we both be able to know peace one day during our time,” Gilorhael said simply, “although I doubt either of us will fully know that blessing, not while the Enemy remains in Middle Earth. Fight well, brother.” So saying he withdrew his grasp, stepped back, and bowed deeply before turning to leave the presence of the King of Gondor, pausing to reach down to the King’s young cousin Siriondil where he stood by his father Calimmicil, laying his hand briefly on the youth’s head. Siriondil looked up into the eyes of the departing captain, his own eyes bright with hero worship.
Then, just before he reached the door he found himself confronted by Calimehtar’s son Ondoher, standing tall and defiant. “You must leave us?” the young Man asked.
“Too long have I absented myself from my primary responsibilities, although to fight the armies of the Enemy is our duty no matter where we find them.”
“So may we all do,” the youth responded.
“So may we all do,” agreed the foreign captain. “The Valar be gracious to you and all your family.”
“Gondor will miss you.”
“As I will miss Gondor. But I may no longer linger.”
“Perhaps we may meet again.”
“Mayhap. Until that day might come, young Lord Prince.” He again bowed, and Ondoher bowed in return, as deeply as he himself did. He again turned away, and was gone from Minas Tirith within the hour, never to return.
But a bond had been forged from that day. Only one felt relief at the leaving of the captain from the north--the King’s Steward Beren of the House of Húrin, who feared to see the rule of Gondor perhaps leave the House of Anárion.
The day came when the leadership of Rhovanion sent word that all was in readiness--that the secret arming of the people of Rhovanion was complete and they were now ready to throw the hated Wainriders out of their long-held supremacy. Carefully Calimehtar prepared his own troops, including the cavalry he’d been patiently building over the past forty years. To coordinate the attacks was important. Forces were moved into western Osgiliath, and Rangers slipped across to target the Wainrider’s sentries. Small boats carried more soldiers across the river in the dark of the night to take up positions where they might keep reinforcements away from reaching the buildings in which the commanders of the Wainrider’s forces had made their headquarters. Engineers were also ferried across the river at several sites to arrange for the digging of strategic pits and the camouflaging of them, with carefully placed black and white stones to indicate the safe routes for the King’s cavalry.
When all was in readiness they waited the final signs. At last one dawn three pigeons landed at their cote on the edge of western Osgiliath; once the word was given the King the troops began to move in earnest. With his son leading the forces to approach from the south in which the three Northerners would fight and his nephews those from the north, Calimehtar prepared to lead those from the center of Osgiliath.
The fighting lasted for six days, but by the end of the first it was obvious that Gondor once more was in possession of the east bank of the Anduin. Another month’s fighting cleared Ithilien of the remaining Wainriders who’d moved into it; but no horses would now agree to go more than a few leagues eastward of the statue of Atanatar enthroned that stood at the Crossroads; and those scouts who braved the road to the bridge told that the statues of Anárion and Isildur that had guarded it had been cast down, and that the abandoned city of Minas Ithil no longer shown pure and white, but with a sickly glow that caused their hackles to rise.
Isildur’s once proud city was now in the hands of the Ringwraiths; and with them guarding the western entrance to Mordor, how long might it be before their fell Master followed after them?