The Road to Linhir
The column wended through the narrow defiles of Tarlang's Neck, the pass between the valleys of the Morthond and the Kiril. High crow-haunted cliffs rose close on either hand so that only a ribbon of sky could be seen above. The men were uneasy. An army could lie hidden in those bleak crags and deal destruction with impunity on those below. They marched in silence, their eyes ever alert for the slightest movement in the rocks above, their ears straining for the sound of sliding rocks or twanging bow strings. But except for the occasional hoarse croak of a raven, they heard only their own sounds: the creak of leather harness, the clink of mail, their boots and hooves thudding on the rocky ground.
Ohtar walked beside Isildur's horse, his fingers entwined in the horse's bridle, for the great charger that would plunge through ranks of howling enemies was now skittish and uneasy. Once, as they rounded a shoulder and yet another vista of close confining canyon opened before them, the horse reared, tearing from Ohtar's hand, and gave voice to his fear. The sudden shrill sound reverberated again and again in the close ways, startling the entire company. Isildur quickly brought him under control and Ohtar stroked his velvet nose soothingly.
"It would seem Fleetfoot likes not these pressing walls, Ohtar," said Isildur. "He comes from the wide plains of Calenardhon, where a horse may run a hundred miles with never an obstacle to his speed. Such a steed takes joy in open plains and long flowing grass. He finds naught to comfort him in this close and dreary place."
"Nor is it to my liking, my liege. I would give much to walk again in the green hills of our Ithilien." The king's eyes grew distant at this and Ohtar knew his thoughts flew far to the east, to their homeland, even now being trampled beneath the coarse boots of orcs.
"Aye," Isildur said at last, "remember you, Ohtar old friend, how we would stand of a summer's eve on the parapet of the Moon Tower and gaze out to the west? The sun would finally hide her blushing face behind blue Mindolluin and cast the city into shadow, though the peaks above us glowed red still, as though lit by a fire within."
Ohtar nodded, smiling. "Then would the lights be kindled one by one in the cottages of the Ithil Vale far below, until the night mists rose from the stream to blur the lights, turning them into glowing haloes in the twilight. And the cattle would come lowing and clanking to their fold, led by barefoot girls with wildflowers twined in their hair. Often as not, one would tarry overlong and return after the gates were shut and we could hear the door warden laughing and bargaining for a kiss to let her in."
The king laughed softly. "And then one of my boys would come out to call us to our meat -- the proud and strutting Elendur, or the musician Aratan, lute in hand. Sometimes all would come together, even little Ciryon in his mother's..." He stopped then and the soft light went from his eyes. Ohtar turned his face then and attended to his footing. No more was said between them, but before them both hovered the figure of Isildur's dark and beautiful queen Vorondomë who would never again stand with them on the walls of Minas Ithil. After being driven in terror from her home by the hideous orcs, she had sworn never to return to her defiled home. With their young son Valandil, she waited for Isildur now in Imladris, the hidden refuge of the Elves in the north. Of all of Sauron's crimes which Isildur had sworn to avenge, not least was this: his beloved Vorondomë a sad, frightened, and broken creature, who once had been so fair, so proud.
At long last the frowning cliffs fell back and there before them lay the highland meadows of Lamedon, crossed here and there by icy snow-fed freshets tumbling through the long grass to join the chill river Kiril, far below to their right. Beyond, two great peaks reared their purple heads in the east, forming another arm of the Ered Nimrais, like to the one they had just passed through. The valley was hemmed by steep mountains on three sides, but to the south it fell away to lush green fields washed with the gold and blue of wildflowers. The company's hearts were lifted by the sight and they pressed forward, knowing the road would be easier now.
They camped that night in the heather of Lamedon and in the morning began the long descent. All that day they marched and on the second day they came nigh to the Kiril, chuckling and tumbling in its rocky bed. They began seeing tended fields and an occasional cottage huddled under a stand of trees in a protected dale. The road then bore off to the east and descended steeply to the ancient Ford of Calembel. On the far side, the citadel of Calembel perched on a hill overlooking the fords. It was only a small town, but strongly fortified, with walls of grey stone ringing a cluster of roofs tiled with blue-grey slate. From the highest turret fluttered a green banner crossed with a silver stream. Armed men stood motionless on the walls and watched as the column splashed into the river. Before the van reached the far shore, however, a deep drum sounded from the battlements and a man called down to them.
"Hold there! I am charged with the guarding of this ford, and it is decreed that no armed host shall cross this river without the permission of the king. Who are you and what is your purpose in this land?"
Ohtar stepped forward to unfurl the standard and herald the king, but Isildur bade him hold. Instead, Isildur rose in his stirrups and called up to the walls.
"Can you not count spears, guardian? I have a score of men to each of yours. I could seize this pretty little town of yours and level it before dark. Think again, I beg you. Will you not let us pass?"
The guardian swept out his sword and held it aloft, shining in the sun.
"You may indeed take Calembel this day, Outlander. But you must needs slay every man of this garrison first, and you would not have so many bright spears to count when you rode on. If you seek death, stranger, step from the river and your wish shall be granted."
"You speak boldly, guardian. Who is this distant king you would serve so valiantly?"
"We are liege men of Isildur, King of Gondor, and you would do well to speak no ill of him."
Then did Isildur throw back his head and his great laugh rang out.
"I will indeed speak no ill of your king, faithful guardian. Be you at your ease, for in sooth I am Isildur Elendilson, and these are the men of Gondor you would die to protect." Then at his sign Ohtar and the standard bearers stood forth and broke the banners of the hosts, and foremost among them, snapping in the wind, the White Tree of Gondor, surmounted by the Silver Crown and stars of the house of Elros.
When the men on the walls saw this they gave a shout of joy and fell on their knees. The guardian, recovering from his surprise, turned and shouted to those within the walls.
"It is Isildur himself! The king is come to Calembel! Throw open the gates! Strike ye the drum!" Then the drum rolled again in the tower and the hills resounded. A great shout rent the air and they turned in surprise and lo, the ridge behind them was lined with mounted and armed men. They shook their lances and hailed their king. Isildur laughed again.
"So, Ohtar, it would seem our guardian is not only valiant but also canny in the ways of war. You see he did not let us see all of his forces until he knew our purpose. We have a valuable ally here." Then he turned and rode toward the city, the water spraying up like diamonds about Fleetfoot's prancing hooves. The guardian, breathless from his hurried dash from the parapet, met them at the gates and fell to his knees before the king, presenting his sword.
"Hail, Isildur King," he said. "I am Ingold, master of Calembel and your humble servant. I do beseech your pardon at my uncivil greeting, my liege, but these are troubled times and we knew you not."
Isildur dismounted and bade him rise, saying, "You were not meant to know me, good master Ingold, until I was sure of your allegiance. These are indeed unquiet times, and old fealties may no longer be honored. In truth, you could not have given me a greeting more welcome to my ears."
"The men of Calembel are your faithful servants, my liege, and so it has been since you first brought peace to this land in the time of my father's father's father. You need fear no enemy while you abide in the land of Lamedon."
Isildur clasped his arms. "'Tis good to be again amongst friends, Ingold. May you and your people prosper." Ingold bowed and ushered them into his humble court where red wine and meat and good goat cheese was set before them. As they supped, Ingold asked of their errand.
"What brings you to our poor corner of the kingdom, Sire? And whence came you, if you will forgive my curiosity? It is rare indeed that any traveller comes to us from the north, still less when the king himself appears with an army at his back. And I see standards and faces from many lands among your folk. You say they are the men of Gondor, but not all are from Ithilien or Anórien, I would wager."
"You would win the wager. They are men of many lands, but all sworn to the defense of the realm. From Erech we come now, though our journey began many months ago and far away in the east, yea, even from the black plains of Mordor itself." As he spoke the fell name, the hall fell silent and the people glanced uneasily at each other.
"The Dark Tower is encircled and constantly besieged. But think not that its master is at bay. He has vast forces still at his command, and powers yet untested. Even now he weaves his dark webs about us. My own city, Minas Ithil, is still despoiled by orcs and ruled by wights yet more fearsome -- hideous undead things that were once great kings of men. No land is safe while the Enemy yet rules. All our efforts are bent on breaking his power.
"We have fought to a stalemate in Mordor, but we have so far been unable to break the Barad-dûr. Now a new stroke is planned. But much help is needed. Thus far the people of the western provinces have been spared the horrors of the war. But now I am come to seek your help. We have great need of every man who can and will fight. I ask you now, Ingold, before your men and your chief citizens: will the men of Lamedon march with me to lift this shadow of evil from our land and the world?"
When the king had spoken, the hall grew still and it was as if a chill vapor out of the east had filled the chamber. Ingold drew his cloak about his shoulders and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Please do not misunderstand my hesitation, Sire," he said finally. "It is not that we shrink from a fight, or from helping our friends. But we heard years ago that the Alliance had broken the Morannon and encircled the Dark Tower. We rejoiced at your triumphs and looked daily for messengers flying up from the lowlands with the news of your final victory. But that is more than six years ago now. If the mighty armies of the Elves and the Dúnedain are unable to force him out, what can this small army hope to accomplish? In truth, Sire, is victory still possible against so mighty a foe?"
Isildur studied Ingold closely. Ohtar again saw that dark glint of suspicion in Isildur's eyes. He leaned forward. "He is strong beyond your dreams," he said. "He is neither Man nor Elf. If truth, we do not even know if it is possible for him to be slain. But we too have our powers. The mighty magic and ancient strength of the Elves is at our side. Gil-galad of the Elves bears his mighty spear Aeglos, Snowpoint the Bright, forged in Gondolin an age ago, doomed by great spells to be Sauron's Bane. And beside Gil-galad stands my father Elendil the Tall, High King of the Realms in Exile and he wields Narsil Flameheart, the blade that none may withstand. They lead the warriors of Gondor and Arnor and the Elves of Lindon, and our friends of many other lands beside. If there be any in Middle-earth in these later days who might best the Dark Lord, these be they.
"And yet the balance is close. It is our hope that a cunning stroke, unlooked for, might yet carry the day. To this end the Kings have sent me throughout the provinces to seek out brave men wherever they can be found who will aid us in this our hour of greatest need."
Ingold stroked his beard thoughtfully. "You say you have come from Erech in the land of Romach. They are a strong and bold people, yet I do not see the banner of the Eredrim in your host. Did you not meet with Romach?"
The king's eyes searched those of Ingold intently. He did not like this hesitation. Perhaps the men of Calembel too would prove unwilling. He spoke sternly. "The Eredrim swore allegiance to me a century ago when first I came to this land. Now when I call them to fulfill their oath, they refuse. They have become willing tools of the Enemy. I have laid a doom upon them, and they are lost both to us and to hope. I urge you to have no further dealings with them. But enough of the faithless Eredrim. Now what of the men of Lamedon? Are you allies of Elendil or of Sauron?"
Ingold met the king's gaze levelly. Then he suddenly rose to his feet and swept out his sword with a ringing clang. Ohtar started and his hand dropped beneath the table to his hilt, but the king made no move. Then Ingold turned the sword in his hand and offered the hilt to Isildur.
"Isildur King," he cried in a loud voice, "we are your subjects and your friends! The men of Lamedon shall ride with you wheresoever you lead, yea, even unto death!" At this the men of Lamedon rose as one and raised their swords. "For Isildur!" they cried, "For Isildur and Gondor."
Then Isildur rose too and smiled at them. "You are brave men and loyal friends. Glad will I be to have you at my side." He raised his cup in salute to the soldiers. "But I pray that I lead you not to death, but to victory. But for now, it will be neither. We are bound now only to Linhir and thence to Pelargir. My folk must ride as soon as they are fed and rested. Ingold, I would have you muster as many men as you can spare and join us in Linhir three days hence. But I pray you, leave a capable garrison at Tarlang's Neck, for Romach is no longer to be trusted. I doubt that he will attack, but this Lamedon of yours is a fair land and I would not have it fall into evil hands."
"Nor I, Sire," answered Ingold. "It shall be done as you command. Messengers shall be dispatched to every corner of Lamedon this very hour. And the ancient watchtowers above the Neck shall be manned again, as has not been since the dark days ere you Dúnedain brought peace to the southern shores. But the time is short and we are not a numerous people. I fear we cannot raise more than a few hundreds."
"I have seen this day an example of the valor of your people. If all are as these in Calembel, your hundreds shall be worth thousands of the enemy. To Linhir, then, and may success crown our alliance." Isildur turned to depart, but Ingold spoke again.
"A moment more, Sire, if you please. If haste is required, perhaps I can be of some further help. Your army is afoot and travels but slowly. The men of Ringlo away in the south are our brothers. In the great green valley of the Gilrain too live many stout folk who bear no love for Sauron's orcs. It would take you days to travel to all the settlements. Let me send riders to Ethring and to the hill men who live nigh to the sources of the Ringlo. We can ask them to join us in Linhir."
The king clapped his hand on Ingold's shoulder. "I see you have more than your courage and strong right arm to offer us. Let it be done as you suggest. We shall wait in Linhir for two days to gather our new forces. My thanks to you, Ingold of Calembel. Now, Ohtar, let us ride."
Within the hour the army was assembled without the walls. As they set out, horsemen thundered from the gate and galloped past the column and down the long hill toward Ethring. Others wheeled as they left the gates and spurred their mounts up the steep slopes to the north and east. The great drum of Calembel boomed and rolled in the hollows of the hills, and from the high meadows came back, shrill and faint, the horns of shepherds and cotsmen. As they topped a rise, Isildur turned in his saddle and looked back at the great tilted green bowl of Lamedon with little Calembel nestled at its lip.
"A pleasant place, is it not, Ohtar?" he said as they rode on. "Oftimes I think I might have been a happier man had I been born a goatherd in such a place as this. Then would many-towered Osgiliath be but a fair name in travellers' tales, and the Enemy but a shadow with which to frighten unruly children. I would tend my goats and raise my family in peace, and let the world and its cares pass by unmarked on the road below. It would not be a bad life."
"But Sire," objected Ohtar. "If you were not a king then you would not have your faithful squire at your side. Would you have me go back to scratching at the unforgiving rocks of the Emyn Arnen for a living?"
Isildur gave his great laugh. "No, no, that would never do. I fear we must all fulfill whatever is our doom."
At that moment they spied a very large man hurrying down a precipitous path to the road before them. He wore the hides of a herdsman and his matted beard and bristling brows jutted from beneath a close-fitting goatskin cap pulled down over his ears. In one calloused hand he bore a massive spear, its wooden point blackened by fire. He scrambled down the bank in a slither of rock and stood blocking the road. A fierce and determined barbarian he looked, with his bare legs spread wide beneath his tunic of stained skins. As the van of the column approached he called out in a booming voice.
"Stand! The drums of war call in Calembel and I answer to find armed strangers in the land. Tell me quickly: are you friends or foes of Lamedon?"
Isildur raised his hand, halting the column. The men stared at the man in some astonishment, but the king answered him civilly enough. "We are friends of this land and its people. We have just come from an interview with your Master Ingold," he said.
The giant stood unmoving in the road and his gaze took in the king from helm to hoof. At last he grunted. "Aye," he said. "I believe you. You may pass." He stood aside.
"We thank you, yeoman, for your trust," said the king, spurring Fleetfoot forward. The line marched forward again. "And the drums call the men of Lamedon to war against the powers of the east. We go now to fight the Enemy."
The herdsman looked up the road toward Calembel. "I will go then," he said. "They may need my help." He strode off up the road with never a glance at the long column of armed men marching past.
Isildur turned to Ohtar and answered his grin with his own. "Stalwart men, these herdsmen of Lamedon. I wonder what he would have done if I had said we were foes. Did you see the size of him? He is nearly a giant."
"Have I not told you, Sire, never to underestimate us hill folk?"
"Aye, have you not, endlessly," he sighed.
The road slanted down across the wide shoulder of the mountains. Now and again it dipped into a dell where a rocky stream tumbled noisily beneath pine and aspen. At one especially deep chasm the road leaped across on a high stone bridge of many arches. On the parapet crouched misshapen stone figures covered in orange and green lichen, rounded by ages of weather. They were stubby fat seated figures with crossed legs and hands. They seemed human and yet undefinably alien, and they were ancient. They were hewn by a folk who had disappeared so long ago that they were forgotten even to legend, save as a single word: Púkel. They were gone without a trace, save for a handful of huge bridges, causeways, and viaducts scattered about in the higher, more remote valleys. And all were sound yet, most in daily use. What was their world like, that they should expend such energies building excellent roads in an age when all other ways in Middle-earth were but animal trails. But the Púkel-men had disappeared before ever the fathers of the Edain had come to the shores of Middle-earth. What manner of folk they were, whence they had come and whither gone, none could guess. Perhaps even the silent stones had forgotten.
On the second day from Calembel they descended with many turnings into the valley of the Ringlo. On the banks of that river they came to Ethring, a small settlement consisting of only a few rough dwellings clustered at the fords. As they entered the town, a small crowd gathered and cheered their progress. Noticing that most were women and children, Isildur stopped and beckoned an old farmwife holding a child by the hand.
They both came shyly forward to stand beside the huge black charger, clearly in awe of the stern dark man towering above them. The toddler stared up wide-eyed. But the king smiled kindly down.
"Good people, be not afraid of us. We will neither harm you nor rob you."
Her wrinkled face broke into a smile.
"Oh, I know that, Sire. A rider from Calembel dashed through yesterday, and now all the menfolk are riding about the hills, spreading the alarm. He said you were coming, and I wanted the boy to see you." She bent down to the boy now examining the mailed foot in a jeweled stirrup just above his head.
"Uri, this is a real king." The boy looked up and for the first time met the eyes of the knight on the horse.
"My name is Isildur," said the king. The boy only stared, and the woman laughed.
"Welcome to Ethring, my lord," she said. "Tomorrow midday should see two hundred ready to ride to Linhir, if you please, sir."
"My thanks and long life to you, good woman," Isildur replied. "It does please me indeed. The heralds of Calembel have done their work well, it would seem. My blessing and my thanks to the town of Ethring," he called, and the people cheered and called out good wishes as they passed.
From Ethring the road turned south and climbed a steep ridge. It was the last rolling outlier of the mighty Ered Nimrais, now gleaming white in the north far behind them. Their peaks were lost in caps of grey cloud.
The army camped that night in the saddle between two rounded peaks. As they broke camp in the morning, the sun rose out of a haze in the east and cast long rays across the broad land of Lebennin at their feet. It was a land of undulating hills and green fields, with copses of oak and vanella. Streams meandered among cottonwoods as the land gradually flattened until, away to the south, they fell away to meet the distant gleam of the sea. Here and there thin columns of smoke rose vertically in the still air, marking isolated cottages hidden in the folds of the land. The road broadened as it descended from the hills, and the land became more settled. The men marched now between hedgerows. People rushed across the fields to stare and wave as they passed.
They pressed on and covered many leagues on the good road. At dusk they camped on a greensward by a homestead whose folk were most kind and helpful. When the men woke in the morning, crying gulls were circling above, heralding the sea at last. They hurried on, spirits rising as they saw on every hand the signs of many men preparing to join them. Just before evening, they came to Linhir near the mouth of the Gilrain.
It was a sizable town with no wall, but large earthworks had been thrown up around it. The triple ramparts were arranged in the shape of a star, so that a foe assaulting one part of the wall must expose his back to another. The mounds were not overly high, but very steep on the outer side, and their crests hid trenches for the defenders. Their inner sides were gently sloped so that if one rampart were taken its defenders could fall back to the next. Within the inmost rampart lay a wide moat with but a single bridge cunningly devised so it could be turned by a great windlass. These defenses had been thrown up but a few years before against the pirates who had started again to raid the coast.
The Gilrain at this point was wide and swift but not deep, easily crossed at many points near the town. But at the spring flood tides a sizable bore rushes up the river and well past the town to the confluence of the Serni, and woe then to any traveller caught in the fords.
On this day the people of Linhir were lining the ramparts to greet their king. The column clattered across the wooden bridge and entered the city, and women leaned from upper windows to throw garlands to the king. One caught on the wing of his helmet and he laughed and threw it back up at the giggling girl who had dropped it.
In the center of the town they came to a large open court, and there they were met by an old gray-bearded man in a long blue robe, wearing a massive silver medallion about his neck.
"Greetings, Isildur King!" he cried in a loud but quavering voice. "I am Guthmar, Elder of Linhir and keeper of the Ethir Anduin. We have had already tidings out of Lamedon and we know your errand. Know you that for two days the men have been gathering for your muster. The people of Lebennin are with you, Sire, and all our resources are at your disposal. Welcome to Linhir."
Isildur dismounted and clasped his hand. "A fair speech and a fair city, Elder Guthmar. It is long indeed since last I visited Linhir and it is a joy to find it as fair, and as loyal, as I recalled it. May you and yours prosper forever."
Guthmar bowed his head and led them into his hall, a long stone room with a high arched ceiling and columned galleries on either side. They looked about them with wonder, for the walls above the galleries were lined with immense tapestries. The hangings were wondrous to look upon, alive with gulls and rocky coastlines and the colors of sea and sky. All were beautiful, but Ohtar's eye was caught by the largest, which hung at the far end of the hall behind a great carved oak table set with many candles.
The huge tapestry was also blue and grey, but it was shot with many glistening gold threads too, and it showed a towering city on a rugged precipice high above an azure bay. Pines lined the cliffs and from the shapely towers pennants fluttered in a stiff sea breeze. Ohtar turned to Guthmar in amazement.
"What a magnificent scene! Can that be a mortal place, Elder, or is it some artist's dream of deathless Avallónë?" Guthmar smiled and opened his mouth to reply, but to their surprise it was Isildur instead who answered.
"That place was all too mortal, Ohtar. It is Rómenna, a great haven of Númenor that is no more. Mark you that shady strand there beneath the leaning trees? It is said that Elros Peredhil, founder of Númenor and of my line, first set foot on the island of Elenna at that place when the New Age was young.
"Ah, Rómenna, fairest of the cities of Men, would I could walk your fair broad streets again. But now only the octopus treads those stones and schools of fish dart through the open windows of those towers. O city that gave me birth, would that I could return the gift and bring you again to life. But alas, even Osgiliath, that I tried to build in your image, is fair no more, but despoiled. But not for ever, I swear it." His eyes roamed from detail to detail of the vast image, but they were filled with sadness.
Guthmar clapped for his servants. "My lord, I am sorry, I did not think... I will have it covered." But Isildur waved away the pages who were hurrying forward. "No, Guthmar, it is not necessary. It brings me pain, it is true, but it is a sweet pang indeed to see Rómenna again, as I thought I never should. But how comes it here?"
"The work was done long ago by Fornen, our city's greatest artisan. Linhir was founded by Númenórean mariners, as were Pelargir and Anglond, and even Umbar far to the south, though the last has fallen from her former glory. Though there are few here now with pure Dúnadan blood, still we look with pride to our Númenórean heritage. Fornen lived in Rómenna before he emigrated here. In his old age he created this tapestry, working solely from memory."
"From memory?" exclaimed Isildur. "I dwelt in that city for thirty years and I could not recall all those towers, yet I swear they were just as the artist depicted them. This image must be old indeed, for it shows only two quays in the harbor, yet a third was twice an hundred years old when I was a boy there. This tapestry of yours is priceless, Guthmar. Protect it well."
"It is guarded both day and night, Sire, for it is our most prized heirloom. It is said that while it endures the kingdom will be safe."
"Then may your guards never sleep, good Elder, for we have need of every help in these troubled times."
Then they went to table and food was set before them. When they had supped, Guthmar asked after their journey. He was dismayed to learn of the Corsairs' attack upon Anglond, for Linhir lived always in fear of their raids, and Anglond was a far stronger city, though further from the protection of the fleet of Gondor at Pelargir.
"And so Anglond feared to send its men with you, my king?" he exclaimed. "I can little blame them, for our watchmen, too, are always watching for the black sails at the horizon. Still, we will offer you what men we can spare. But tell me, Sire, did the men of Anfalas not rise to your banner?"
Isildur shook his head sadly. "Alas, no. And that is the most dire news of all, Elder Guthmar. On the second day of Nórui, we departed Anglond, bound south over the hills of the Pinnath Gelin. In the afternoon of the third day we reached the long deep-cleft valley of Nanbrethil, where the road crests the hills and begins to fall away to Anfalas. There we spied coming toward us a ragged band of people, men and women, young and old. They were afoot and plodded slowly, though they bore no baggage. Then one of the women raised her eyes, saw us, and gave a shriek of terror. The others saw us and scattered, the women clambering into the rocks on either side of the road, the men drawing their swords and forming a line across the road. There was grim determination in their eyes, but not a glimmer of hope. We moved forward cautiously, making no hostile sign. They stood their ground against our much greater numbers, their knuckles white on their sword hilts. We halted at a small distance. I raised my arm in greeting, but at the same moment one of the strangers cried out.
"'The White Tree!' He turned to a large man beside him, clutching his shoulder and pointing. 'Look, Turgon! See you their banner? They bear the Tree of Gondor!'
"And I called out, 'You see before you both Gondor's Tree and her King, for I am Isildur Elendilson, and if you be friends of that land you have nothing to fear from us.'
"Then the men sheathed their swords and called their women forth. They seemed greatly relieved but I saw no smiles nor signs of gladness at our meeting. I spoke to the large man, who was wearing rich clothes, though much torn and stained. 'You are called Turgon?' I asked. 'Of what city are you?'
"He gave me a hard look. 'Of no city, my lord,' he answered grimly, and one of the women turned away with a stifled sob.
"I was much puzzled by this answer. 'You are not dressed as country folk. Surely you come from Ethir Lefnui or some other city in these parts.'
"Turgon replied tight-lipped. 'We are the people of Ethir Lefnui, but there is no city of that name.'
"Those of my people standing near cried out. 'No Ethir Lefnui? Is he mad?'
"A young man beside Turgon fell to his knees, his sword fallen unheeded into the dust. 'Turgon speaks true,' he wailed. 'They have destroyed our city. Ethir Lefnui is dead. Its gardens are desert, its fields burned, its very walls thrown down. They have murdered our lord, they have slain our friends and families, they have destroyed our temples and holy places. We are homeless, we are penniless, we are dead!' He pressed his face to the ground and sobbed into the dust.
"We gazed at him in pity and horror, but his companions looked on with eyes devoid of emotion as the boy sobbed out his anguish. Turgon looked at me.
"'He saw his father, mother, and two sisters slaughtered, He was not discovered and they died relatively swift deaths. Others here were not so fortunate.' I looked from face to face and read the horrors writ there by a cruel hand.
"'Lefnui gone?' I cried. 'But your walls were high and your people numerous and valiant. Surely there are not orcs enough in all the Ered Nimrais to cast down so great a city.'
"'Orcs, my lord?' said a tall man, stepping forward angrily. 'It was not orcs that did this, but Men. Men of high lineage and claiming brave Elros as their Sire. Dúnedain, my lord, like unto yourself!' His eyes flashed as he spat out these words and I thought for a moment he was going to strike at me, but Turgon caught his arm.
"'Forgive him, my lord. He is nearly out of his mind with grief, he knows not what he says. It was the Corsairs, my lord, the men of Umbar, may they rot for the deed.'
"Then I cast back my cloak and dismounted before them. 'Do I look a pirate to you, yeoman? The Corsairs are indeed Dúnedain, but my line was severed from theirs a long age ago. My ancestors, the Faithful lords of Andúnië, came among you thousands of years ago and founded Pelargir on Anduin. That city has always been your friend and ally. They brought peace and prosperity to a land that had never known them in all the deeps of time before. Why, it was we Faithful who helped you to raise Ethir Lefnui in the Dark Years when all the rest of Middle-earth was but a wilderness peopled by roving bands of barbarians.
"'Aye, the Corsairs are Dúnedain as you say, but they were touched long ago by the hand and mind of the Enemy, and they have been turned to evil. They have done little for the Uialedain of Middle-earth but raid and pillage and enslave you. The rape of Ethir Lefnui is not due to Númenórean blood, but to the evil designs of Sauron.
"'But still I say I am proud of my heritage. My family has brought unity and many years of peace to all the lands of the West. We have long been friends and allies to the Uialedain. Let us not allow our common enemies to divide us now, when our need is greatest.'
"The man stared open-mouthed, then stepped back a pace and stammered, 'Forgive me, my lord. I... I....'
"'I know. You have lost much and borne much. I know what it is to lose your homeland utterly. I know what it is to see your loved ones slain. You are sorely wronged and you wish to strike back against those who have done this to you. But turn that rage upon the proper enemy. Let Sauron feel your vengeance, not we who share your pain. Ride with me now and together we will return the blows he has dealt us.'
"The man bent his head. 'My lord,' he said through clenched teeth. 'I will serve you to the end.' Then Turgon held aloft his sword and cried, 'And I, my king.' And his fellows followed him, making a brave but pitiable sight.
"I called Turgon to me then. 'We had planned to go next to Lefnui and thence to Ringlond. Might there not be others of your people still at Lefnui? Did you search the city thoroughly?' But he shook his head grimly. 'Naught lives there now, save the lizards and the rats. The thrice-cursed pirates leveled the city until stone no longer stood upon stone. That which was Ethir Lefnui is dead. Even the memory of the city is poisoned for us. If we ever rebuild it shall be in some other place and it shall bear another name.'
"I nodded, understanding his feelings. 'So be it then,' I said. "Thus passes a fair city of Men.' Turning then to my esquire, I said, 'We shall not take the South Road then, but bear away to the east immediately and follow the skirts of the mountains to Erech in the valley of the Morthond. Our journey will thereby be shortened by near a hundred leagues and we may yet come to Osgiliath by the appointed time. Curse the Umbardrim for traitors! I had thought to have gathered a mighty army by this time, but we have but few more than we started with two months ago.'
"This is grim tidings indeed, Sire," said Guthmar. "The people of Anfalas, and especially the weavers of Ethir Lefnui, have long been our friends. It is hard to believe that they are gone."
"Nonetheless," said Isildur, "all that remain of that people are in my camp without your walls."
"I will see that my people give them special care and attention," said Guthmar, and he gave such orders at once. He and Isildur sat late and talked of olden times and the deeds of mighty folk of the past. Guthmar was an avid student of the lore of the elder days. His knowledge was great, and Isildur loved nothing better than to share his interest in the past.
They told each other tales of the heros of old: of Tuor and Barahir and Eärendil the Mariner. They talked of famous lovers: of Beren One-hand and Lúthien Tinúviel; of Idril and Tuor. There was much ale and laughter too, in which Ohtar took more interest, though he stayed close to Isildur. He noticed that as Guthmar spoke, the king's eyes strayed back to the magnificent tapestry above them. It was late before all were abed and the city quiet at last.
They passed the following morning in leisure, walking in Guthmar's rich orchards and watching parties of men riding into Linhir from all directions. They came in small groups, rarely numbering more than a score or two; hunters from the highlands of the Gilrain, bird-snarers from the marshes of the Ethir Anduin, and tillers and husbandmen from Dor-en-Ernil and the broad open lands about the river Serni. Then in the afternoon a larger column of horsemen rode in from the north, led by Ingold of Calembel, and Isildur went to meet him.
"So you have come as promised, brave Ingold," he called as the men dismounted and were led to their place in the large camp before the city gates.
"Aye, my lord, but I could find but five hundreds all told between Lamedon and here, and none are seasoned warriors, I fear. Many of our abler men mustered to the earlier call of your father and are with him yet in Gorgoroth. Too many of these new men are beardless youths, who were too young to follow Elendil in '30. They are as like as not to trip over their own swords. But they are strong and eager and will fight when the time comes."
"You have done very well, Ingold. Courage and strength will stand a man in good stead in a battle, be it his first or his last. There are many more like them already in this camp, and more arriving each hour. Go you among them after you have encamped, and form them into companies according to the provinces from which they came. Have each company elect a leader to lead them in battle, one they will follow and who can keep his head when tumult is all around. Hopefully there is at least one experienced warrior in each company, and if the men know their lives will depend on him, we can trust their choice.
"Then have each company make a standard for their province if they have not one, so they can march beneath the colors of their homeland. A trusted commander and a fluttering banner they can see will lend strength and resolve that may surprise the lads. A man fights the harder when he fights alongside his neighbors under the banner of his homeland. The sight reminds him of his home and loved ones for whom he fights. When all this is done, have each company commander come to the square in the center of the city in the twelfth hour tonight. I would address them.
"Ohtar, you will take charge of the armaments. Speak to Guthmar and see if he can find arms enough for all the men. I see too many carrying hoes and pitchforks when swords or spears would serve them better. And pass the word to our own companies. The twelfth hour for the council."
That evening, as the sun turned the towers of Linhir a rose pink, Isildur met with his new lieutenants in the great square of Linhir. He wore the high helm of the Kings of the Realms in Exile, and Ohtar stood by his side bearing aloft the great standard of Gondor. When they appeared with Guthmar from the doors of his court, the assembled host gave a great cheer, for it seemed to them that they saw before them one of the great sea-kings of old. Isildur raised his hand to still the cheering and cried out loudly, his voice ringing across the square.
"Men of the Southlands! Cheer not for me. All praise and honor should go unto you. I fight to recover my own country and to avenge wrongs done to me personally. But you, who are leaving your peaceful homes and your loved ones to fight with me in my cause, I salute you!" Again the court resounded with cheers.
"You all know whom we strive against. I would have you know more clearly why. The Dark Lord has been an enemy to Men since he was but a servant of Morgoth the Damned, source of all the evil in Middle-earth. With all the strength and powers of all the free peoples of the West, and with great and irreparable loss, Morgoth was at last overthrown and the Elder Days of the world came to an end. The people of those times thought that evil was destroyed forever, root and branch, and they declared that a New Age had begun, free of the woes of the Old. It was a New Age, bright with hope and promise of peace, but it was also sadder, less innocent. All knew then that the Elves, the Firstborn that created so much beauty in the world, would be passing from it anon, that the wonders of the world were but passing, mortal things. Still, they did have peace, and the world was green and joyous again, as had not been for many a long year while Morgoth ruled. And yet a shadow remained, unmarked and unknown to all but the Wise.
"Yes, Morgoth was cast out, but his servant Sauron had escaped the ruin of Thangorodrim. He fled into exile in the East and lay there long, nursing his hatred and his resentment, plotting his revenge. He perfected the arts taught him by his master of old, and he dabbled in things only the Valar should attempt. He created races that never walked in the songs of the Valar at the Beginning: the orcs, and the trolls, and other wights that should never have been.
"When he deemed that his strength was sufficient, he arose again, and openly made war on the West. He attacked and destroyed Eregion, fairest of all the Elf-kingdoms; he despoiled the fair cities of Rhûn; he conquered the Uialedain kingdoms of men and enslaved their kings to his will, and he drew Harad into his realm. He seduced the mighty kings of Númenor and brought about the downfall of that great land, causing the deaths of untold thousands.
"He is a mighty foe. We do not even know what manner of wight he is. He is neither Man nor Elf, but a creature wholly evil, intent on the destruction of all that is good and free and fair. He does not die, but he can be crushed and his power broken, or so the Wise tell us. The armed might of Gondor and Arnor, with the aid of our Elvish brothers, has succeeded in invading the Black Land and even encircling him there in his fortress of Barad-dûr. But his reach is yet long. The Corsairs of Umbar serve his purposes, and the cruel Haradrim work his will when they attack their neighbors. His evil is at work even here in the Southlands, for your neighbors of the mountains have become his pawns. The Eredrim have turned their backs on their friends of old and refused us their aid."
An angry murmur arose. Most had not heard these tidings yet. One captain standing nearby called out. "But did they not swear fealty to you and yours at Erech long years ago? For such is the tale that is told."
Isildur nodded grimly. "Aye, they swore, but their word is as dust in the wind. They have sold their honor to the Dark Lord."
Then many men cried out in anger. "They are traitors. We should not leave them at our backs. Let us assail them in their mountain fastnesses before we set out. They dishonor all of us in the south. We shall teach them the price of treachery!"
"No!" cried Isildur, and his voice was strong and commanding, echoing from the walls and drowning out all other voices. "Heed not the Eredrim. They serve us not, but they shall do us no more harm. They will hide in their deep places and never again come forth to trouble our councils, unless it be to fulfill their oath at last. I have laid a doom upon them that may not be broken. They are lost to themselves and the world!"
Then did the men look with wonder on the king, for they saw that his eyes pierced regions unknown to lesser men, and he wielded weapons beyond their ken, powers learned in far lands that are now no more. Many shuddered at the cold, unforgiving tone in his voice, and counted themselves fortunate they had willingly answered his call.
"No, we march not north against the Eredrim," he shouted, "but east, against the very source of the evil that threatens us. First we go to Pelargir to join with other allies there, then on to Osgiliath, where yet more friends will join us. There, on Midyear's Day, will be held a great council of many peoples." He swept out his blade and held it ringing above his head.
"There shall an army be assembled that will shake even the Black Throne itself. Nay, we shall even throw it down and crush it into dust!"
And the men brandished their weapons and roared their approval. "Isildur!" they cried, "Isildur, for Gondor and the South!"
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[Glossary]; Colophon (Still unavailable.)
This story was inspired by Tolkien's work.
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