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Descent
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
Descent

"Haurnja calls where he will, and all men answer."—Northman proverb


~~~

Pelargir, spring of 1431 of the Third Age.


"Get the carters!"

"Lines are down—she's in, she's in!"

There was a rush of activity, as carters and dockworkers and a pair of men from the harbormaster swarmed about the newly docked ship.

"King's ship," said a fair-haired boy as he sat atop a pier post on an unused slip. Gulls shrieked overhead and dove as his swart companion tossed a morsel of bread out into the water.

"Run a lot of trade these days, King's ships. Valacar's not takin' any chances since he started losin' 'em off Umbar," he replied, with native facility. And he frowned, his nose wrinkling, as he grumbled, "Stinkin' king's why my father's not on the docks anymore."

"Might not they not let him back soon, R'hadrahan?" his friend asked, ending in a flat, nasal drawl R'hadrahan always found amusing.

"Dunno. They say the Captain's friendly with Umbar, got nothin' 'gainst 'em. But law's the law, and it's law going on a six month now: no Umbarians at dock."

"The Captain is why my da is not on dock neither."

R'hadrahan grunted, then sighed, staring at the fish darting about in the cool green depths below. Times were hard in Pelargir lately, especially for the denizens of Outwall Town, down in the depths of the Mariner's Row. The Row, as it was called—home to the many who worked Pelargir's great docks and ship halls, to all the crafters and merchants that a port city needed to keep its harbor in good repair and its goods on the move, and to the taverns and brothels that landed sailors inevitably sought out. Residents of the Row were wont to boast that anything traded in Gondor could be found in their markets—for the right price.

Anything, that is, except work for certain of its inhabitants. For Pelargir was also the place where East and West, North and South, met and mingled. Outwall Town boasted whole streets where one heard Haradric more than Westron; there were many of the old fisherfolk clans out of Anduin's vales from before the coming of the Númenoreans who lived there, and Outwallers liked to boast that when a barfight erupted, the streets flowed with Dorwinion Red, for there were a number of wine merchants of that land who had opened shop down in Outwall Town. There were even a few dwarven merchants.

And lately, ever since Valacar had married his outland wife, Northmen in ever greater numbers had begun to trickle south, and they ended where so many foreigners did: down in the Row.

That was how Andafriths and his family had come to Pelargir: being poor and having few horses, they had sold those they owned and followed rumor of work and profit south. It was three years since they had arrived, and found themselves, as chance would have it, living right on the edge of Rath Tirin, more popularly known as Southron Street. R'hadrahan, whose home was above the baker's on Rath Tirin, had met Andafriths in the shop below, struggling to buy bread from Nharemi, R'hadrahan's mother. R'hadrahan, whose Common was better than either of his parents', had been pressed into service to try to translate the other boy's heavily accented Westron, and his assistance had got Nharemi a few coins and won him a loyal friend in Andafriths.

For a time, matters had seemed well enough. The two boys had been pleased to work together under their fathers at dock, doing the lighter tasks that boys could do, and Andafriths' father, Andabairhts, had been pleased his son had found a friend who could also help him learn to speak properly and guide him in the strange, and occasionally dangerous, ways of their new home. For there were always complaints and hardships to be borne—R'hadrahan knew that not everyone welcomed newcomers.

Indeed, for all he had been born in Pelargir, he knew to stay out of the wealthier tavern districts after dark, for Umbarrim were not trusted, which was to say that Haradrim were not trusted, for it was harder to tell the Umbarian Dúnedain from their more northerly cousins. Haradrim, though, were easily recognized, and R'hadrahan had long ago accepted this as simply the way things were. His Northman friend was equally an easy mark, with his bright golden hair and thick accent, and the Northmen were new to Gondor as Haradrim were not. Of course, they suffered some suspicion and occasionally worse, though their reputation as a loutishly fierce people kept most of that sort of trouble at bay.

But with rumor these past two years that Valacar's health was steadily failing, and that his half-Northman son might well inherit the throne, fortune was taking a turn for the worse, it seemed. With Captain Castamir wed to the Lord of Pelargir's daughter, it seemed likely Eldacar would not rule in Osgiliath without a challenge, and it seemed Umbar was with him. Edicts from Osgiliath banished Umbarians from the docks when ships began to vanish with their cargo, and in return, Castamir and the Lord of Pelargir banned Northmen from the docks and all shipping trades. Valacar raised taxes on Umbarian shipping, and Pelargir refused to recognize Northmen in the guilds. Tempers were rising, and "incidents" with them. The next strike was yet to come, but Outwallers were bracing themselves for it.

So while their fathers sought other work and their mothers worried, the boys sat upon the pylons and watched the bustle, fed the birds and wondered where it all would lead.

"Think you it might be war?" Andafriths asked suddenly.

"Dunno. Maybe. Lot of warships bein' built, that's certain," R'hadrahan muttered.

Andafriths grunted, eyes growing distant as he said, "In Rhovanion, when sons of great families quarrel, there is war, Father says." A pause, then: "Think you might not go, if it is war?"

"Me? I'm twelve, what would I do?"

"Thirteen is a man," Andafriths replied, and shrugged.

"Not in Gondor it isn't."

"At home it is," his friend said, simply. "Da says we might go to Osgiliath if it is becoming worse. He wishes to stand with the king if it is war."

"Well that's right stupid of him!" R'hadrahan exclaimed. "Everyone knows there's more who'd go with Castamir than Eldacar!"

"Valacar is our king," Andafriths informed him, a little stiffly. "The same clan as us."

"He's Gondorian."

"No." Andafriths shook his head, then explained: "He has married Vidumavi. He becomes a brother so—Mahtabairhts. And Vinitharya is his son, our prince."

"Would you fight for him?" R'hadrahan demanded, curious.

"I do not know. Maybe," his friend replied. He bit his lip. "But I do not want to fight you."

"Well, you won't have to worry about that," R'hadrahan grunted. "I'm no warrior."

Andafriths considered this a moment, then said, slowly, "The Captain has not married one of your people, or any Umbarian. So he would not be your kin, I guess."

"Wouldn't matter if he had. He could marry the daughter of the hrenda'in of my father's town, I still wouldn't be a soldier for him," he declared.

"You would be a coward?" Andafriths demanded, frowning.

"Here, now, no call for that!" R'hadrahan replied, a little indignantly. "It's just I know what I'm not. I'll be fishmonger or a weaver or... or a tanner first, but I am not a warrior, Andika."

Andafriths did not reply, and they fell to watching the docks once more. King's marines-turned-merchants were unloading cargo from the holds, passing it to carters, while the first mate stood talking with the men from the harbormaster. And at some point, a terce of Pelargir's guardsmen had joined them, standing gloweringly just behind the harbormaster's men. Andafriths made a face at them, then suddenly sang softly under his breath:

"Hey lads, the Hunter's come, come to the south seeking the Sun.
Hey lads, Sun's been seen, the Hunter's a-watching from the White Tree!
"

"Keep it quiet, will you, Andika?" R'hadrahan hissed, alarmed. "Anybody hears you, it's trouble and you know it!"

"Be trouble anyway. Da's right: when two sons of great families quarrel, it's war, and Haurnja will come," Andafriths replied, sliding off of his perch to land on the docks again, and he reached to steady his shorter friend as R'hadrahan followed suit.

"Don't take it wrong if I hope he doesn't," R'hadrahan sighed.

"He will. He always does, and we go to him," Andafriths replied, sublimely confident. But then he touched R'hadrahan's shoulder, and he said, "And if you will stay and be a fishmonger, then that is good, for I can go to him and not worry that I will ever meet you in battle." R'hadrahan stared uncomprehendingly at him. Northmen—they really are all half mad, he thought, dismayed.

But mad or not, Andafriths was his friend, and in truth, it was not as if the Haradrim had not their own peculiar ferocity, even in a place so far removed from their home as Pelargir. So he answered, "Just don't get yourself killed, eh?"

"Haurnja calls where he will," his friend replied, fatalistically. Then he smiled suddenly. "But I will try not to!"

"Good," R'hadrahan replied. "Now, on to important matters: my mother said she would be making date cakes for the Greening Days—if we go now, we should arrive in time to test them. Shall we?"

Grinning, Andafriths nodded, and the two boys darted down the pier, racing their way back up the hill to the city.


One of the guardsmen that they had observed, in a bored moment, noticed their sudden flight, and nudged one of his fellows. "Row rats," he murmured, with evident distaste. "Northman and Southron."

His fellow snorted, eyeing the fleeing pair. "Nothing but trouble, Balamar, nothing but trouble." He shook his head, but then added, "But don't worry—it'll all be righted one day. Just you watch: once the Captain has his way, everything will be righted."

Balamar chuckled, and the two of them settled back to dull escort duty. And when the harbormaster's men were done, they took their leave, and walked their rounds, while two boys lay upon a sun-warmed roof and laughed and ate their cakes, and in the South, a prince watched his star ascend, while in the North, another girt himself to stand against the fall of his sky.

For in the City of the Fortress of Stars, a king was dying.

For Haurnja calls where he will, and in the trouble of their hearts, men answer with war.

~~~

Andafriths, Andabairhts, Mahtabairhts, Haurnja, Vinitharya: Tolkien used Gothic names for the Northmen of this period, though he used a modified spelling (as in Vinitharya, Eldacar's name among the Northmen). I haven't attempted to alter any names for this story, since I wouldn't know how to do so, not being familiar with the transliteration schema.

The Gothic names I've used have been pieced together from this site:

http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Salon/2385/gothnames.html

Andabairhts=bright spirit
Andafriths=peaceful spirit
Mahtabairths=mighty + bright--> I was aiming for something like "Great Light" to go with what I think "Valacar" is supposed to mean.

"Haurnja" 'means horn-blower', and is a translation of 'Béma', since the Northmen are either ancestors or a related people to the Éothéod: http://www.oe.eclipse.co.uk/nom/letters.htm


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