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13
Epilogue: In the Service of the Swan-lord

April 2980

The docks of Dol Amroth were often busy: the city rarely lacked for visitors come spring, as merchants of all stripes sought access to the markets of Gondor's preeminent port. But the weather had not yet turned—not quite. Few were so bold as to dare the long leagues of a sea journey yet. The quays were thus relatively quiet, with but few men upon them: mostly dockhands repairing the wharf, and though the air rang with their industry, it was not yet the bustling commotion of trading season.

Nevertheless, safely out of the way of the dock-workers there stood a trio of figures: a man, a woman, and a little girl who, bored by the soft chatter of the adults, had plopped herself down at their feet to play with her rag-doll, recently become the dread pirate queen Roskandel of Umbar.

"Might it really be today, do you think?" the woman asked her companion.

"So we heard—today, if nothing goes amiss between Pelargir and Dol Amroth," the man replied, and then added quickly, "And to hear the weather-wise talk of it, despite the season, there's naught to tell of trouble on the wind."

"I hope not," she said anxiously, eyes fixed upon the southern horizon, whence any ship out of Pelargir should come. "But do you really believe—?" She sighed and stopped herself, shaking her head as she darted an apologetic look at him. "Here I am going on, asking you such questions! Every time he's away like this, I'm like to lose my wits and natter! Me!" Her disgusted tone made it abundantly clear that this was a failing of the first order.

Her companion smiled gently and reached over to pat her arm. "For my part," he assured her, "I have never known you to natter."

The woman shook her head once more, but said only, as she took up her vigil again, "I only hope he's well…"

"So do we all," the other murmured.

For a time, they did not speak, just watched the seas and listened absently to the girl's chatter as she played, happily oblivious to the concern of the grown-ups. But:

"Mammy?" she asked eventually.

"Aye, Calya, what is it?"

"He coming yet?"

"I don't know, sweeting."

"You said he was coming today!" the little girl said plaintively, and her mother laid a hand atop her head, stroking soothingly.

"I said he might come today, sweeting. We don't know yet," she replied. "Why don't you play with Roskandel some more?"

"Don't wanna," Calya replied, a sulk clearly threatening.

"Why do you call her 'Roskandel?'" her mother's companion asked, attempting preemption. Calya gave him a disdainful look.

"Because," she said, in a tone that suggested it ought to be obvious, "she's from Umbar."

"Mmm, is she? Do you know what her name means in Haradric?"

This gave Calya pause, and she glanced uncertainly up at her mother a moment before she replied, "Yes!" And when the other simply made a noise in the back of his throat and nodded, she asked, suspiciously, "Do you?"

"Well, I am sure you know better."

"You know something!" Calya declared upon hearing this.

"Do I?"

"Yes!"

"You think so?"

"Aye! Tell me!" came the by now eager command, and Calya's mother gave her companion a grateful look. Soon enough, her friend was expounding on possible meanings of possible words, squatting to draw pictures of Haradric letters in the dirt with a dagger, and acceding to ever increasing demands for explanations as fascination set in. "Roskandel," it seemed, was nonsense of the most fertile sort.

But after a time, a cry went up from a lookout: "Ships ahoy! Ships comin' in!"

At that, all eyes turned squinting to the south, as with bated breath everyone scanned the horizon. Whoever had cried out had either eagle eyes or a spyglass, for it was some time before a second voice confirmed the sighting. "Aye, right up from Pelargir, lads! More than one—and flying our colors. Let's get those docks clear!"

"Have they come, do you think?" the woman asked hopefully.

"We shall see," her companion replied, scooping up Calya and Roskandel. "Let us go and wait a little further down..."

And so they hurried south, where the lead ships ought to put into berth, excusing themselves occasionally to dock-workers and the like. By the time they arrived, the sighting had been confirmed yet again, and counts were beginning to come in: first five ships, then ten, and now it looked to be thirteen.

"Two short," the man murmured under his breath, and frowned. The woman put her hands over her mouth and closed her eyes a moment.

"It has to be them, though," she said fiercely. "So many in this season? Can't be any others!"

"No, indeed."

And so they waited, hope giving way to anticipation of another sort. Time slid slowly by, with Calya growing ever more impatient and restless as the tension in the air waxed. "Which one? Where is he?" she demanded at last, as the great warships loomed over the docks, and was answered, after a few more moments:

"There—Prince Galador. This way!" So they ran, making for a berth about ten slips farther down the dock, where men were assembling to receive the ship. There, Calya was deposited once more upon the ground, though her mother made haste to grab her when the girl made to dash out onto the pier.

"No, love, stay with me here," she murmured, kneeling to embrace the girl and hold her close as the three of them waited, rigid with anticipation, watching as ropes were thrown and orders shouted as the ship was gentled into the berth.

"Here they come," her companion murmured, as the gangplank was thrown down and blue-clad forms began to descend…


Prince Galador's deck was awash with blue tabards. It was no surprise—after so long a voyage, and on rough seas nearly all the way, no one wanted to remain below-decks. Especially not so close to home, Peloren thought, as he sat with his back to one of the rails, his sea-bag between up-raised knees in a effort to make himself as small as he could, so as not to be in the way of the sailors or anyone else. Space was limited, despite the fact that Prince Galador was rightly considered spacious for a warship—certainly, she was larger than any of the coastguard ships Peloren had served on in the past four years since his elevation to knighthood.

Still, that did not make her comfortable, and Peloren would be glad to get back to the sort of duty he knew best—on land, preferably on a horse's back. He did not deny the usefulness of making Swan Knights a part of the coastguard's complement, thus freeing up marines to man those ships that had farther to fare, and it did enable them to discharge their duty by the people of Belfalas. And he had definitely learned something about how to transport horses by ship that he might otherwise not have known, but he was quite certain that he had never been meant to be a sailor or a marine. It had been a vaguely queasy journey all the way down to Umbar and back, and he was looking forward to being able to relish the thought of eating again.

But it was worth it, Peloren thought, and felt a sort of visceral, vengeful satisfaction wash through his afflicted intestines. Four years since he had become a knight—four years since Calardin, where, in a sense, it had all begun, and in those four years, he had seen more than enough pirates to last him a lifetime. For if Calardin were singular in that the Corsairs had actually made landfall north of Dol Amroth, it had been only the beginning of the terrorizing of the coasts that had led to redoubling the coastguard, to say nothing of establishing more and more far-flung garrisons as lords in Belfalas and beyond it begged for Dol Amroth's help in protecting their people.

And the Prince had granted it, where he could, even as the tale of Calardin made its way speedily north, to the council halls of Minas Tirith, where it had touched off a firestorm that season, pitting the Captain-General against Captain Thorongil. There had even been a few requests from the Steward for an account of the matter from Peloren and Andrahar, Imrahil and Ornendil, and for a time, rumor had gone around that the council might even wish to speak with them in person. Happily, that had not come to pass, and even Andrahar had shown signs of being relieved about that reprieve. But ever since, the argument had been annual and hotly contested, pursued relentlessly by partisans on either side, and while Peloren knew which side he preferred to support, the upheaval in Gondor's highest court left him both shocked and somewhat dismayed.

But all things came to an end, eventually, and the news that Captain Thorongil had finally succeeded in convincing the Steward and council to accept his plan, despite its risks, had been received most eagerly among Dol Amroth's beleaguered forces. And given what they had faced, that they had come home from the raid on Hurrhabi's shipyards and harbor having lost so few ships—only two from Dol Amroth's contribution of fifteen—was a stroke of pure good fortune as well as a tribute to those who had planned the whole affair. And we ought to be free of Corsairs for a good long while, Peloren thought with satisfaction…

A shadow fell across him, and he looked up just as another sea-bag was dropped beside him. "Thought I saw you here," Aldan said, and sat down next to him.

"I needed some air," Peloren replied.

"Stomach?"

"This swan does not sail," Peloren informed him, and wrinkled his nose when Aldan only chuckled.

"Be glad you are not Andrahar, then," Aldan advised.

"Oh I am—haven't envied him a bit for some time now!"

"Our lieutenant's right pleased, though. Like a cat in the cream," Aldan drawled, raising his voice a little, and Peloren looked up to see Imrahil approaching, looking verily like a cat licking its whiskers. And just behind him, followed Andrahar, constant as a star in its path, though he glowered rather than glowed.

As Peloren and Aldan started to rise, Imrahil waved a hand. "No need to stand on ceremony—or at all, Pel," Imrahil said, quickly reaching out to steady Peloren when the deck tilted a bit.

"My thanks," Peloren grunted, sitting back down heavily. "Valar, are we near to docking yet?" he demanded.

This time it was Imrahil's turn to chuckle. "You're worse than Andra, Pel, you know that?" the Heir asked, grinning.

"Course I'm worse," Peloren retorted. "I've been swallowing bile the past few weeks! Which," he added, giving Andrahar a baleful look, "is hardly fair. You don't even like to swim."

"You haven't thrown up," came the unsympathetic reply.

"No," Peloren conceded. "But I tire of wishing I could! Fair seas are one thing, but this—!"

"Have a heart, Andra! It has been a hard voyage," Imrahil admonished, and got a grunt and a shrug for his trouble. Rolling his eyes slightly, the Heir said, in a false whisper: "You'll have to excuse him. He's always like this aboard ships."

"And you still want to put him on one?" Aldan asked, sceptically. But then he added, "I suppose there's little doubt, my lord, that your father will get a favorable report of you from the commander, and maybe even Captain Thorongil, if he sent word."

"Aye," Peloren chimed in. "'Twas well done, Imri, getting Captain Thorongil and us out of Hurrhabi, even if it does mean we'll be needing another lieutenant again." For Imrahil had risen swiftly to command—men of his rank often did, but he had been helped along by the death in battle two years ago of the lieutenant in command of Peloren's and Aldan's separate squads. Yet despite this advance, he had continued to yearn for the sea and a chance to captain a ship.

The Prince had been reluctant to grant that wish—no doubt Adrahil could all too easily envision the havoc his son could wreak unfettered upon the ocean—but Imrahil had persisted in his pleas. He had also successfully integrated his Swan Knights into marine companies more swiftly and with far fewer difficulties than other commanders, and shown himself still to be apt and a willing hand on deck—something which pleased the captains of the ships he served upon.

Therefore, at last, Adrahil had compromised: if Imrahil returned from this venture with a good report from his captain, then Adrahil would see him to command at sea. Hence the Heir's current elation. For given that Imrahil had not only taken over command of Prince Galador when her captain had been killed and first mate badly wounded, but had, at great peril, rescued Captain Thorongil's party from the quays and got everyone safely out of port and back into the Gondorian line of battle, it hardly seemed likely Imrahil would receive anything but the highest praise for his actions. Which meant he would almost certainly be putting out to sea as captain of his own ship in the next year.

And so of course, he would be taking Andrahar with him as part of the escort due him as his father's heir, which no doubt contributed to the Southron's rather more dour than usual mood.

Imrahil, however, could manage cheer enough for two men, fortunately, and he grinned broadly at their words. "My thanks, though who would have done otherwise? I do hope though that Father will agree with you—I think he shall. And if he does, of course, I'd happily release Andra to duty on the shore—"

"You would not, and even if you would, your father has better sense," Andrahar growlingly interrupted. "Besides," he added fiercely, glaring at his lord, "I'd not allow it."

Imrahil only laughed again, and clapped a hand upon Andrahar's shoulder, with the other giving him a friendly jab in the arm ere moving to a swift, light embrace. "I know, and you are right, on all counts—forgive me, Andra?"

Andrahar, for his part, stared unhappily up at his young lord, who gazed down upon him with that deadly combination of mirth and affection and ridiculous (serious) pleading, and Peloren didn't even make it to the count of three before Andrahar gave in. He sighed heavily, still evidently disgruntled at the prospect of a career at sea. Nevertheless:

"Aye, my lord," he replied simply. "Always." And there was no doubting his sincerity, not when his expression softened as it did, though he was quick to mask it after but a moment.

Imrahil gave him a beatific smile in return, then glanced over his head, and said: "We're coming up fast on shore."

At that, Peloren and Aldan rose, and the four of them squeezed in at the railing between others who were gathering to watch and await docking. Dol Amroth's towers loomed over the bay, and in the early spring sunshine, seemed to gleam. Excitement began to build, and as more and more men joined them, the railing grew crowded indeed.

"Shouldn't you be overseeing our arrival?" Peloren asked Imrahil in an undertone, but got a shake of the head.

"I surrendered the watch to Commander Helparin an hour ago. He may be walking wounded, but between himself and the second mate, they make a whole man, so he shall sail his ship home, as is proper," the Heir replied, seeming well satisfied. "Which makes me once more but a lieutenant of the Swan Knights." Peloren made a soft noise of absent-minded acknowledgment, but assured nothing was amiss, otherwise paid Imrahil no mind, intent upon watching the shore.

Behind him, sailors scrambled, trimming sail and readying ropes, as the helmsman started to angle them toward the berth that matched their place in the line of battle. At length, chain rattled and screeched, and there came a splash to aft. Peloren clenched his teeth as the ship shuddered and lurched a bit when the anchor grated upon the seabed.

"Clear the way—stand clear of the gangway!" the third mate ordered, and there was a ripple in the ranks of the Swan Knights as men obediently made way.

After what seemed an interminable time, the ship came to a halt, or at least, slowed enough Peloren could not tell the difference, and lines were tossed down, shouts going back and forth between the sailors on deck and the dock-workers, some of whom were struggling to get the gangplank into place.

Almost as soon as they had done so, bodies began to stream off the ship—officers not of the deck crew first, as was required, but Imrahil, who might have gone first of the assorted lieutenants, nevertheless hung back until all others had preceded him. Then: "Come on!" he beckoned his friends, and led the way down, Andrahar but a step behind him, and Peloren following eagerly.

He staggered a bit as he stepped off the plank, struggling, as he usually did, against rubbery knees after a stay upon the sea, and he felt Aldan grab him. "Thanks," he muttered, as he breathed in deeply, feeling, despite a slight sense of being off-balance, a great relief.

Aldan began to reply, but was cut off by a young voice screaming ecstatically: "Papa! Papa!"

"Caliel!" Aldan's face lit up, and he abandoned Peloren in an instant, cutting across the paths of a few other knights, who looked on with tolerant amusement as he stooped and swept his daughter up into his arms, swinging her about before settling her on his hip with a kiss. "There's my lass!" he exclaimed, grinning, and then he grunted as he shifted her a bit. "Ach, you're getting heavy! Where's your mother?"

"Here, love!" Naleth called, as she threaded her way forward in Caliel's wake, escorted by another familiar face.

"Elya!" Peloren cried, and Elethil raised his hand, waving a greeting, though he waited 'til he had seen Naleth to her husband's side before he moved to join Peloren.

"Pel," he replied, holding out his hands, and the two of them clasped arms, then Peloren pulled his friend into a brief, crushing embrace. And: "You're all right," Elethil sighed into his ear, relieved. "Everyone is all right."

"More or less, aye," Peloren replied as he drew back. Then he frowned slightly, and asked, "How came you here?"

"Pelargir sent word to the Prince as soon as the fleet put into harbor," Elethil replied. "We received it just the other day, and with clear sailing, we thought you might be here this afternoon." He shrugged, then smiled. "I had part of the day to myself, so I thought I should bring Naleth and Caliel, just in case." Then: "How did it go?" he asked, anxiously, looking from Peloren to Imrahil and Andrahar. "My lord?"

"Honestly, Elethil, you can call me 'Imri'," Imrahil said, shaking his head, though he grinned as he said it. "Just because you are now on Father's staff does not mean you cannot!"

"Well," Elethil replied modestly, "I should practice—you know how careful the Haradrim are about such things, and I should not like to forget in their presence!"

This garnered him some stares. Aldan, frowning, said, "I thought you more or less knew the Haradrim in South Docks by now—after four years, surely they do not mind a slip so much! They tolerate it from the rest of us, it seems, or I have rarely heard any complaint in all the years I've lived there."

"Oh, aye, we know each other now," Elethil assured him, a slow, pleased smile spreading over his face, as his companions digested this. It was Imrahil who first understood, and then he moved to grip Elethil's shoulders tightly, as he exclaimed:

"Do not tell me you will be going to Harad, Elya!"

"Aye."

"And with the Dol Amroth contingent? With Lord Denethor?"

And when Elethil nodded, the Heir gave a whoop! of delight and embraced him, as the others crowded around close. There was a brief, joyous huddle, and much slapping of backs and arms and congratulations. Naleth even stood on her toes to give Elethil a kiss on the cheek and a loud scolding for not having told her all that afternoon. Caliel declared that Roskandel would welcome him, at least, which garnered much laughter.

When, at length, Elethil emerged from all of it, much buffeted and touseled from the attention, he was blushing furiously, though also clearly pleased. Imrahil shook his head and draped an arm about him, declaring: "'Tis well-deserved, after all your efforts! Not that I envy you my brother-in-law's company, or the task of helping him clean up after the mess we made in Umbar, but nevertheless!" He smiled broadly. "'Tis all in the hands of the ambassadors, now—we have done our part. See to it we haven't got to do it again for a bit!"

"Thank you. I shall try to, though 'tis hard even for me to believe I am going," Elethil admitted. "Who would have imagined it, after all?" At which, Andrahar grunted, shook his head.

"I'll say I never would have," he replied. But he lifted his chin, and there was a gleam of satisfaction in his dark eyes as he wished him: "Sa doshtir!"

"Lhaliva bhredina mhur." Elethil paused, then glanced at his friends, and lowered his voice to ask: "Speaking of cleaning up, though, is it true? Captain Thorongil did not come back with you, but only sent a letter?"

At that, everyone did sober a bit. Peloren said nothing, deferring to Imrahil, who at least knew the man somewhat. "Aye, 'tis true," Imrahil replied.

"What happened?"

"'Tis a strange bit of business," the Heir replied, and then glancing around at the throng of uniforms, came to a decision. "Why do we not meet again for supper?" he suggested. "Somewhere quiet—we can talk then, and give each other all the news…"

This suggestion was received enthusiastically by all, and as sea-bags were hoisted and they began the trek back up into the City, Peloren looked about at his companions. At Imrahil, poised upon the brink of his own command at last, yet shamelessly spinning yarns of their journey for the amusement of his friends; at Aldan with Caliel in one arm and the other snug about his wife's waist; Andrahar, intent as always but no more such a stranger as once he had been; and at Elethil

At Elethil, who had never stood to receive his white belt, who, in a painful decision, had put away his sword and given up his place among the esquires, only to come into his own at long last in the unlikeliest way imaginable, given all his troubles with Haradrim. Suddenly Peloren was reminded once more of standing before Adrahil with his peers four years ago, all of them newly knighted, listening to the Prince's concluding speech.

"My lords and ladies," the Prince had said that sunlit morning; "Gentlemen, goodwives, honored guests. We called you here to witness the oath-taking of these, your sons, brothers, husbands, and dear friends. It is a solemn duty that they have taken up—the duty of a knight of Gondor, of a Swan Knight of Dol Amroth. They have struggled, they have suffered, they have been tested in body and in mind and in spirit—more so, perhaps, this year than any other I have known."

Adrahil had paused then, and his gaze had weighed upon the new-made knights they all had been, as he had continued, solemnly: "Not all of those who began this journey have ended it with us today. Nor shall it be the last time that loss must be endured. Therefore, on this day, we remember our brothers, who have gone before us in death, or who have gone beyond us to other duties, other joys and griefs. We wish them well, and pray that all may abide in that courage that enables men to face loss in the hope that they shall pass through it, and emerge a little wiser, and in the conviction that righteousness shall prevail. For from loss there is no escape, but if there is to be hope for the future, then there shall be need of such valor in the days to come."

It had been hard that day, four years ago, to believe either that they had finally come through that most trying of years, or that hope should prevail. Everything had seemed so very uncertain then, and missing Elethil at his side, struck with a sense of the perversity of fate, he had felt bereft—not at all triumphant or accomplished, but simply exhausted, disheartened, and the more so for the hope that had grown up in him after the Prince's judgment upon them all that had seemed so promising where his friend had been concerned.

It had been a long journey from that day, when it had seemed impossible to hope for anything. True, the Dark Lord had not been overthrown, and war would be with them still for many a year, as far as any could see. Nevertheless, slowly, the world had seemed to right itself. He had settled into his company and the duties attendant upon it. Elethil, seeking to make himself more than merely a serviceable scribe to the Prince of Dol Amroth, had begun to find his feet among the Haradrim of Dol Amroth, into whose midst he made at first tentative, then increasingly less fearful forays. The upheaval in the ranks of the Swan Knights that had come of the Prince's judgment had slowly begun to settle.

Thus today, fresh from victory at Hurrhabi, and against all odds finding himself among companions who, if still not friends in some cases, were, in any events, something more important perhaps, Peloren could taste it sharp upon his tongue: the startling taste of conviction:

Aye, we are well, and we will be well—there's hope for us yet, Valar be praised!

"Pel?" Peloren blinked, and saw Elethil looking quizzically at him. "What is it?" his friend asked, seeming on the one hand perplexed, on the other amused, but in any case not anxious. Indeed, the good news out and assured his friends were well after their risky venture South, his manner was easier than Peloren had ever known it to be—this despite the enormity of the task still ahead of him. He was struck then by the realization that his dearest friend, after living so long in doubt and fear, after anxious, arduous years of attempting to find himself in Adrahil's service, was flourishing at last! It was at that point, too, that he realized he was grinning like an idiot.

"I'll tell you later," he promised, draping an arm about Elethil's shoulders. "For now—'tis a day to celebrate, Elya! For we've come home—we all came home, just as we wanted."

Elethil cocked his head, and perhaps, being his friend, he heard more in that than the words might say of themselves. For after a moment, he nodded slowly, and Peloren felt his hand press upon his back, as Elethil replied, in a low, glad, and grateful voice:

"Aye, we finally did!"



The End


~~~

Author's Notes: Prince Galador is named after the first ruling prince of Dol Amroth.

I'd like to reiterate my thanks to three people in particular: this Tolkien fanfic could not have come to be without the assistance of Altariel, Isabeau, and Lyllyn. Altariel and Isabeau graciously read chapter drafts, enduring both the flurries of activity and the long periods of silence since I first began writing this story in the summer of 2006. Thank you for your suggestions and for sticking with me through a general rewrite after nine rather lengthy chapters had already been drafted.

Isabeau, of course, generously furnished me with many a character from out of her stories and permission to do with them as I would: Andrahar, Peloren, Elethil, all of the masters, Kendrion, Olwen, and Tarondor are her creations and I've tried not to break them (too badly). Beyond that, she put up with me writing a story that overlapped with one of her WiPs, which made for interesting challenges to continuity. Story lines in the work sometimes contradicted each other, and had to bend to accommodate each other, sometimes even retroactively. Many thanks for your patience and good humor throughout, Isabeau!

Last but not least, I would like to thank Lyllyn, who took time out of her busy schedule to beta-read a couple of chapters and who kept me from going too far wrong when it came to things medical.

Finally, thank you to the several readers who have encouraged me with notes and feedback and questions—it has been great fun! A special note of thanks to Denise, for pointing out a continuity error early on that neither Isabeau nor I caught, but which we shall work out. I hope all of you have enjoyed the story.


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