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Or Perchance, When the Last Little Star  by Larner

An Embassy from Rhovanion

            Over the next few weeks Lynessë found herself settling into life in the Citadel.  Now and then she would find herself inexplicably homesick for her parents or Pinnath Gelin in general; but she found a feeling of rightness in serving as the Steward’s Chatelaine she’d never expected.  She found the staff respected her, and it was easy with most guests to be courteous and helpful without worrying too much for her dignity or theirs.  During her weekly dinners with the Lord Steward she found herself increasingly appreciating Lord Húrin’s assurance that indeed Denethor son of Ecthelion did have a sense of humor, although it was constantly taking her by surprise.  Once one of his subtle witticisms managed to penetrate sufficiently to draw out an unexpected laugh he had a certain smile of satisfaction he would show, and she found she enjoyed seeing that smile a good deal.

            One day she was brought to a waiting room to speak to a delegation newly come from the northern land of Dale.  She had not heard of Dale before, and knew not what to expect, save that she’d been told hastily that he who led the delegation might be young yet, but was recognized as an eminent person from his land who sought housing within the Citadel while he and his companions worked at winning his people a trade agreement that might be profitable to both sides.

            “My lord?” she said as she was led into his presence.  “I am Lynessë of Pinnath Gelin, Lord Denethor’s Chatelaine.  You have come, I understand, on a mission to promote trade?”

            He bowed.  “I am Bard son of Brand, Lord of Dale,” he explained.

            “I must confess,” she said, “that I am unacquainted with the name of your land.”

            “Our land is actually ancient, but we were driven into exile several generations ago when the last of the Dragons came out of the north to destroy the Kingdom under the Mountain.  Since the return of the proper Lords under the Mountain and the destruction of the Dragon at my grandsire’s hands we have reentered our ancestral lands and rebuilt our city and farms.  We are a land mostly of artisans, my lady, and between us and the Lords under the Mountain and the King of the Woodland Realm we have good relationships, as is true with those among whom we dwelt for the years of our exile in Esgaroth, also known as Laketown.  We would expand our trade, however, with those from the south, and so my father has sent me here with Lord Blyn in an attempt to establish better trade with Gondor.”

            “And how many are there within your party?”

            “In all, six, my lady.”

            “How many of them servants?”

            He shrugged.  “We have but one servant with us, Master Dresser who was my governor when I was yet a child and youth, for he would not see me travel unattended.”

            “And men at arms?”

            “But one, my lady.”

            She was surprised.  “But one?”

            He indicated the serviceable blade he wore.  “We do not have enough dedicated warriors to send out of our lands on missions such at this, my lady.  We are not far enough from Dol Guldur to allow our lands to be guarded by a force lessened by taking away our greatest fighting men, and each of us is trained as a warrior as well.”  He smiled grimly at her expression.  “We are a land under threat of war, my Lady Lynessë.  We are too few to command a great standing army, so all must be willing to fight to protect our homes and people.”

            “I see,” she said slowly.  “I believe that there is a suitable suite of rooms available.  Have your credentials been given the heralds that you might be properly presented before the Lord Steward Denethor?”

            “Yes--we have done that already.  King Thranduil had advised us as to the proper protocol before we left our own lands, trusting, apparently, that it would not have changed significantly since his own emissaries last visited Gondor.  Although I am advised that was quite some time ago.”

            She found herself examining him, a young man perhaps much of an age with herself, not so tall or slender as most of the nobles of Gondor but with an inborn nobility that marked him as one born to authority.  She decided she quite liked him.  “Well, my Lord Bard, I shall then lead you to the visitors’ wing and show you the suite where you might dwell, and make certain that it pleases you and meets your needs.  If you will come this way?”

            She nodded to the footman belonging to the Citadel, who carefully gathered the plates and cups about the room and the tray of refreshments, then turned to lead the party out of the chamber and back to the wide hallway beyond the Hall of Kings off which led the residential wings.

*******

            The snow had not lingered, melting away with the rain that fell late the afternoon after the snow battle in which the Steward’s sons and nephew and Lynessë had all taken part.  The weather began to warm rapidly.  Already green tips began to be seen in the gardens, while twigs were turning pink and yellow as the sap began to flow.  Lynessë began to walk out daily, and to ride out of the city when the weather was fine enough.  And she found that Lord Bard often seemed to be in the stables seeing to his own horse when she arrived to return her mare Silversheen.  They spoke as they saw their horses groomed and returned to the Citadel together, or when they met near the rose arbor behind the residential wings.

            The Steward and his Council--and his Warden of the Keys--were seldom free, it seemed.  Now that the Steward’s sons were abroad with their men, seeing to the defense of the realm, Lord Húrin seldom lingered within the Citadel when all was done, leaving to go down to his own house usually as soon as the Steward retired to his own quarters.  Council meetings were frequent, as it seemed each day there would be reports of orc incursions along the northern borders of Anórien or sights of the black sails of Umbari slavers along the coastlines.  Lord Boromir returned with news of having fought alongside his brother’s Rangers a group of trolls that had come out of the Morgul Vale; the Rangers had then turned northward to follow rumors of a large company of orcs who’d been savaging foresters harvesting trees for use in building ships in Pelargir, while Boromir’s men had returned to their quarters in the ruins of Osgiliath and he returned to the City to make his report.  Two days later he rode north and west toward Rohan, leading reinforcements requested by Théoden King against a party of marauders come down into the Mark from Dunland.

            Early in March Faramir returned home, much thinner and sterner than she remembered him, and that night she was asked to join him and his father for the evening meal.

            “We have done well enough, Father, and thanks in good part to the help of Boromir and his men.  However, they tell me he did not return to Osgiliath, but has gone instead to Rohan.”

            “Yes--there is trouble there, and Théoden requested our aid.  With you so far away within Ithilien, it made the most sense to send a different commander to Osgiliath for now, and your brother with a picked group of men to Rohan.”

            “Then he may well not return in time for the spring tournament.  He will not thank you if Daerdion retains the golden spurs.”

            Denethor gave a decided smile.  “Ah, but Daerdion will not retain them should your brother not return in time.  You see, I sent him with your brother.”

            For the first time that evening Lynessë saw a smile on Faramir’s face to match that on his father’s.  The smile widened, and he at last leaned back and laughed aloud.  “Thank you, Father!” he finally managed.  “Otherwise there would be no means of bearing with Boromir’s complaints.”

            After the meal was over the Steward asked, “And what of the man Tervain?  Does he do well, there in Ithilien?”

            Faramir wiped his mouth with his napkin and set it beside his plate.  “He does well enough, I must suppose, for one with little skill with weapons.  As he knows he will not survive if he does not cooperate with the others, he has learned to guard his tongue and do as he is told.  I have found one of my men, Ingbold of Anorien, to be a steady soul, and he watches over Tervain most of the time and has done much to improve his skill with sword and bow.  None particularly like him, but neither do they hate him outright--which disturbs him mightily.  To be considered to be of little account offends his pride, I deem.”

            After a few moments’ thought he continued, “I visited the ruins of Emyn Arnen.  To see the keep and the city there reduced to rubble as it is makes my heart wroth.  No foes dwell there, and for that I am glad; I must suppose they found it filled with too much light for them to feel any ease or comfort.  I found myself going about the place, imagining how the keep and city might be restored to its former glory.  It is a beautiful place, Ithilien.  I could be happy, dwelling there and seeing my children grow there.  Ah, to see it once again the Garden of Gondor!”

            “Yet that may not be as long as Mordor holds the western slopes of the Emyn Muil, my son.”

            “That I accept, Father.  But I intend to do what I can to see it otherwise.”

            Denethor looked away, his expression momentarily bleak.  “Do not break your heart, Faramir, seeking to break the might of the Enemy.  That is beyond the power of any one man.  Yours is to keep his forces east of the road--that is all Gondor asks of you.”

            “I will do my best, Father.”  He turned to Lynessë.  “And you, Mistress--has any managed to equal Master Fendril for outrageous behavior?”

            She laughed.  “Thankfully, no!  But I must confess I have much difficulty understanding how anyone could become convinced that by using a water closet he can somehow manage to be unmanned.”

            Faramir shrugged as he took a sip from his goblet.  “There are many within Anórien who are descended more from the folk of Dunland and Rohan than from the Dúnedain,” he said as he placed the goblet once more on the table.  “More of the villages and keeps have no sewer systems or cesspits, relying instead on middens and occasional open latrines as is done within most of those other lands.  They look with suspicion on the practices of the southern realm, and have developed superstitions to excuse their own customs and ways.  If a child is infected by exposure to filth, they are certain that someone capable of magic has laid a curse on it rather than seeking to keep the land more healthfully.  The same if a man suffers from the grippe from eating tainted meats--it is not because the meat has begun to turn or has been visited by flies and other vermin, but because of the ill will of a supposed witch.

            “It seems most are convinced there are evil spirits on all sides at the same time they publicly deny such things even exist.  Few speak Sindarin, and fewer will admit to speaking any language but Westron as many are convinced that to speak Sindarin is to call upon evil spirits and demons of several kinds, while those who speak other tongues are often taken for spies.”

            Lynessë was surprised such things could be so anywhere within the realm, but then remembered some of the superstitions she had seen practiced in more protected villages near Pinnath Gelin, where chains of flowers were often hung from so-called “Mother Trees” when a girl sought to meet the one who would be her husband, and where blue-colored stones were left near a particular tree along a waterway if a woman desired a son, and green ones should she desire a daughter, and white ones if she merely desired any child as long as it was healthy and would thrive.

            But somehow those superstitions seemed a good deal more--pleasant and hopeful--than thinking one could be unmanned by using a water closet or thinking that there were evil spirits on all sides waiting to assault one!

            After the dinner Faramir walked her back to her rooms.  “Have you seen much of Húrin since I must be gone?” he asked.

            She shook her head.  “Not as much as I had--expected.  He is often busy on the Steward’s business, and I am told he is often called upon to deal with some of the more difficult of the lords who would see their own projects favored at the expense of the rest of the realm.  It appears he is better able to coax compromises from others than is Lord Denethor, and so our Lord Steward uses him to more gently effect his own will.  Most evenings he seems to hurry out of the Citadel to his own home in the Sixth Circle so as to make it more difficult for him to be called upon.”

            Faramir sighed.  “Alas, for it appears that Father has begun to use him again more frequently since I left to take up my duties in Ithilien.  And I assure you it can be very trying to bring certain lords of the realm out of the defenses they have erected to protect their own interests to see that such walls too oft send the dangers off to prey on their neighbors.”

            She nodded her understanding.

            “At least,” he added, “Father appears to be allowing him time away from duty once he leaves the Citadel and its grounds.  I suppose I must be grateful for that.”

            They had reached her own rooms, and she invited him in to share a mug of an herbal drink intended to aid rest.  Cireth was yet awake, reading the small storybook, and scurried off to set water to boil and prepare cups and a tray, and left the volume upon the table.  He smiled as he sat down upon the padded settle, reaching out to pick up the volume and examine it.  “It is good to see others enjoying this as I did once,” he said, having checked to see which tale the girl had been reading, then carefully replacing it where it had been left.  “Mithrandir was certain I would appreciate this one--he said that the tales had been set down by a friend of his, and bound at the request of another.  He said they came from a small land somewhere to the north.  I tried to imagine the folk who must dwell in that land, which appears from the nature of the tales to be given mostly to farming.” 

            Spotting the shelf of books, he rose to approach it, examining the others there.  “Aha--the books of pictures!  I remember those from my own childhood.  They used to be among Boromir’s favorites, although when he left to begin his serious training with the army he requested they be returned to the store room where extra books are kept that others might enjoy them.”  He pulled out one and leafed through it, then replaced it, and paused, his attention drawn by the other book bound as was his old book of tales.  “And what is this?”

            He drew it out also, opening it and looking at the inscription.  “Quenya!” he breathed.  “Not Sindarin, but Quenya.  To my younger son.  May you never doubt my love for you, although what you desire most must seem as unreachable to you as the love sought by Beren.” He examined it thoughtfully, then closed the book and turned it within his hands.  “The same binding as the other!  Then it, too, must originally have come from the north.  The Lay of Leithien.  And perhaps the finest copy of that epic that I have yet seen.  But how came it here?”  He looked up to search her face.

            “I found it among the books in the storehouses when I was furnishing my rooms,” she admitted.  “And as the binding matched that of the other book....”

            He turned to look down on the volume that lay upon the table, and she could see his jaw clench.  “I see.  Left, perhaps, by one of those from among the Lost who have served among our folk?”

            Cireth returned with a tray on which lay the two cups filled with a steaming beverage.  He returned the book in his hands to the shelf.  “And have you read it?” he asked.

            “I have picked it up but once.  I am reading another book suggested by Lord Bard from Dale.  He found it a few days ago at a bookseller’s stall in the market in the Fourth Circle, and felt I would appreciate it.  A book of tales of dragons.”

            “Ah,” he said as he resumed his seat and accepted his cup.  “Then tell me of this Lord Bard, and of what he says of Dale.”

            He did not stay much longer, but she grieved as she watched him go, for she suspected he had been able to reason out how it was that the book of childish tales had managed to “fall” out of his luggage so long ago.  What a grievous thing to think on!

 *******

            Three more days did Faramir remain within Minas Tirith, and the last night she was invited by Lord Húrin to dine at his home alongside the Steward and his younger son.  As she was walking toward the side entrance to the Citadel most often used by its residents, she was intercepted by Lord Bard.

            “My Lady Lynessë--it is a pleasure!  But, does this mean you will not be dining with us tonight?”

            She smiled.  “Lord Bard?  Ah, but I fear you are correct.  I shall be dining with others down in the Sixth Circle this evening.  Although I almost hate the thought of eating elsewhere, as I have been told there shall be roast pork tonight, and the cooks appear to do particularly well with that.”

            She heard the tapping of approaching heels on the marble flags, and turned to see her intended companions approaching, followed by a pair of Guardsmen.  “Mistress Lynessë?” said the Steward.  “Very good--you are ready in good time, then.  My Lord Bard--and how did your meetings go today with the Guild of Merchant Adventurers?”

            “Very well indeed, my Lord Denethor.  My father will be well pleased, and I believe so will the King under the Mountain.”

            “You have not spoken much about the lord of your lands.”

            “No, I must suppose not.  But then our lands are not extensive, and I suspect you would find our halls rather rustic in comparison to your own.”

            “We have had but little chance as yet to speak informally.  Wait--I have it!  You shall accompany us tonight and join us, that we might speak more of matters of home and hearth rather than trade and state.”

            Lynessë was surprised by his suggestion, then noted the sideways glance he gave her, and the small smile that accompanied it.  He is doing this on purpose, because of what I suggested regarding Lord Húrin, she realized.  I do believe he enjoys seeing others somewhat wrongfooted at times!

            “I am not certain that this would be proper,” Bard began to protest, but the Steward overrode him.

            “Nonsense.  This is an informal dinner, and a perfect chance for us to come to know more about your lands and folk and their history.”

            Realizing that he would not be allowed to beg off, at last Bard agreed, calling to a page who had been heading for his own dinner and sending him off to his suite to fetch his cloak.  Within a few minutes the elderly companion he had identified to Lynessë as having been his governor when he was younger arrived carrying a cloak over his arm, followed by the one man at arms who’d accompanied the party from Rhovanion.

            “Here, Master Bard--your cloak.  And you will use your hood, will you not?  There is a heavy mist tonight.  Your mother will not thank me if I were to allow you to take a chill.”

            Bard flushed slightly as he settled the cloak over his shoulders.  “I promise, Master Dresser.  My mother shall have no reason to chide you for your care for me.”

            She caught the shared look of affection between the two men, and then Master Dresser was indicating that the guard should follow his master as the Steward turned to lead the way toward the door.  Faramir, she realized, was eyeing his father as if weighing the Steward’s motives, although he spoke pleasantly to their new companion.

            The individual who opened to their knock was Húrin’s aide Leonid.  “My Lords?  Mistress Lynessë?  Welcome!  And--Lord Bard--welcome!  I shall advise Lord Húrin of your arrival.”  So saying, he led them into a dayroom that appeared to be equally elegant and comfortable, indicating they should seat themselves.  A servitor who appeared to be much of an age with the Steward hastily added another cup to his tray and came to offer each a choice of a particularly nice cider or mulled wine.

            They heard a clattering on the stair, and Húrin joined them, accompanied by Leonid.  “Ah, Uncle--I understand you have increased the party by one.  Lord Bard?  Leonid, please take my lord’s man at arms to the servant’s hall that he might be comfortable while he awaits his master.  And who accompanied you tonight, Uncle?  Anglor and Lessardion?  Certainly both do not need to stand without!  Let one accompany Lord Bard’s man, and he will be better set to serve later in the evening.  With this heavy mist, standing guard will be miserable work, I fear.  Here--let me take your cloaks.  Ah, fine weaving, this, Lord Bard.  Is it the product of your own folk, then?  The color is most pleasing, and it appears both warm and comfortable.”

            The servant, having set his tray upon a side table, now came to relieve his master’s arm of the cloaks laid across it and to bear them away.  In moments they were all seated, and Lynessë could hear the quiet voice of the servant informing someone that it would be needful to set another place at table.

            Húrin continued, “It is as well that Rienstra baked two sturgeon, then.  You do not mind being served fish, do you, my Lord Bard?”

            Had the young lord from Dale felt uncomfortable, that did not last in the face of Húrin’s welcome.

            “Tell us of Dale,” suggested Faramir once the meal was well begun.

            “What can I say?  We have but one city, that of Dale at the foot of the Lonely Mountain.  It is built within a ring of stone standing out from the roots of the mountain itself.  All has been rebuilt from the days of the Dragon, for Smaug had reduced most of it to rubble, I fear.  But the King under the Mountain helped in the rebuilding, and all is stouter than it was before.  And our allies from the woodland realm to our west have helped us restore the ancient groves of trees that the Dragon had reduced to charred stumps, while we have again begun cultivating our fields, orchards, and vineyards.  We ever raised sheep and goats as much for their wool as for their meat and the milk they give, and we have woodsmen who help manage the forestlands from which we take the wood for our boxes, toys, and crafts.

            “We have nearly returned to the numbers we knew before the coming of the Dragon, and there are many from Esgaroth who have joined us as well, as well as some of the woodsmen and horsefolk from further north.  We even have a few of the Beornings among us as of three years past--they came with their hives and honey and their fine baking.  We are honored they would choose to settle among us!

            “The pride of Dale, however, was restored the day our bells were returned to us, found in the midst of the mass of treasure taken by Smaug to form his couch!  We have finally finished the carillon once more, and merry are the bells when our ringers set them to chiming the tunes of our people and those of the folk of the Mountain!”

            “Bells?” asked Lynessë.

            “Indeed.  We were ever famous for our bells.  There are thirty-five of them, each tuned.  Not all of the bells were found, I will admit--three of the smallest were lost.  Whether the Dragon swallowed them or they formed part of the armor that protected his belly we do not know.  However, the folk of the Mountain have helped us replace those that were lost, and worked alongside our own folk in the rebuilding of the carillon.  And the folk of the Wood brought us wood for the framework, and fine ropes to use in the stringing of it.  We are fortunate in our alliances, we find.”

            “And there was a live dragon there, there in your part of the world?” asked Faramir, his attention fixed on the tale the foreign lord was telling.

            “Yes--Smaug is said to have been the last of the Dragons.  Long ago he came out of the north, from Angmar itself, it is said.  It has been told us that the Dark Lord himself called him to the Lonely Mountain, promising him the treasures of Dale and the Mountain for his own, and the bodies of all he could catch to consume.  Many died there, including our Lord King and most who dwelt before and under the Mountain itself.  But the son of our King escaped and was accepted in exile by the folk of the Long Lake.  A valiant man was he.  As for the King under the Mountain and his people, the few who survived went north to the Iron Hills or west across the Misty Mountains to the Blue Mountains, and we saw them not for several generations.

            “One day there was a stir within Laketown, and it was told abroad that the King under the Mountain had returned--not he who had been last King, but he who was his heir, and certain of his kindred, and they went accompanied by a small person from among the peoples west of the Misty Mountains to the Mountain itself to seek out a way to regain the lands and fortunes Smaug had stolen from them.  They awoke the Dragon, who being convinced the folk of Laketown were behind this assault on his stolen realm, came forth to take vengeance.  Only my grandsire slew him, and he fell with ruin upon the last of Laketown and lies now as he has this seventy years since, deep in the waters of the Long Lake.

            “Esgaroth has also been rebuilt upon piers sunk into the lake’s bed, and on its original site, although now there are almost as many buildings along the lake’s shore as there are over its waters.  It is a land of traders and fishermen, and their prosperity has flourished also since the Dragon died.”

            He sighed.  “If it were not for the continued presence of evil within Dol Guldur all would be well with us.  Although the Necromancer fled years ago, yet his creatures remain and continue the spread of evil and fear as they can.  Orcs, wargs, the great bats that thrive on blood--they are ever a bane to us.  And it is said that once more the great spiders begin to breed within the forest realm, troubling those who dwell there and trapping those who must travel the woodland roads as their prey.  It is said that Khamûl is lord of the evil keep now, ever a name to spread terror.”

            There was quiet for a time.  At last Lynessë ventured, “I had no idea that any Dragons remained within Middle Earth.”

            “As I told you, it is believed Smaug was the last of his kind, unless there remain a few yet to the far north, beyond the borders of Angmar.  The Witch-king may not dwell in those lands any longer, but as with Dol Guldur it remains a place of evil men and creatures, or so those who come from further north tell us, and that this is true on both sides of the Misty Mountains.  Perhaps it was on the word of the Witch-king that the Enemy knew to draw the dragon south to Erebor.  It was feared that as the Dark Lord reached his former strength at last he would use the dragon against the armies of those who would withstand him, and that he would send it possibly here, here to Gondor, to wreak what havoc he could.”  He turned to meet the Steward’s eyes.  “I suspect, Lord Denethor, that your people owe my grandsire a debt of gratitude for seeing to it that Smaug was destroyed and so could not be loosed against you.”

            Denethor nodded, somewhat reluctantly, Lynessë judged.  “Indeed, so it would appear.  But would he use such a creature against other lands?”

            “Why would he not?  It is told among us that he has in the past used great grey beasts from the south and east against his enemies, creatures as large as buildings and with what appears a strange arm hanging from their heads and great spears from their jaws.”

            Faramir gave his father a troubled look.  “Mûmakil?” he asked.

            “Most probably,” the Steward answered.

            There had been growing a sound of voices outside the house, and suddenly there was a great knocking at the doors.  Leonid went to answer, and they heard a low discourse before he returned.  “My Lord Denethor--I regret I must interrupt your evening, but a messenger comes from Dol Amroth.  Three Umbari raiders engaged one of our warships.  The messenger was sent at speed by Lord Imrahil with details and what information was wrested from the captives.”

            “Then our ship was victorious?”

            “So it would seem.”

            “I see.  Then I fear, my beloved nephew, that I must return to the Citadel immediately so as to judge the news that is brought.  Faramir--would you please attend me?”

            Leonid was calling for the cloaks of the Steward and his son, and Bard said, “I shall accompany the lady back to the Citadel, then, and see her safe to her quarters.”

            Denethor gave him a look, and at last gave a slow nod.  “Yes--please do that, Lord Bard.”  As the servant came forth with the desired cloaks he accepted his own and drew it over his shoulders, fastening it even as he strode to the door with Faramir at his heels.

            “I will follow, my lord uncle, to see to it the doors to the armories are opened to you if it is found necessary.”  Húrin sighed, turning to his remaining guests.  “I am so very sorry.”

            “Nonsense,” Lynessë assured him.  “We do understand that you must be ready to meet the needs of our Lord Steward and Gondor when such troubles arise.”

            She arose also, finding Bard had risen to draw back her chair.  She thanked him absently, and prepared to return to the Citadel herself.

            But she did notice that Húrin appeared disturbed by the fact that she walked with her arm upon that of Bard of Dale.  For some reason she found herself feeling lighter of heart at that.

 





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