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44. Reaching Osgiliath
Travelling along a well-kept, large road proved a lot faster than riding in the Brown Lands or the rough terrain of the Emyn Muil. Normally they could cover ten or eleven leagues at the most, but here they would make closer to sixteen or seventeen a day, which Wynne easily measured by counting the big, square leaguestones along the way.
The scenery was varied and interesting. To the east she mainly saw farmlands at first, but soon they encountered expansive animal pastures with cows, sheep and even horses grazing in large herds. No Mearas, of course, those would hardly have consented to stay behind fences.
To the west, the Anduin became so wide they could not see the other shore. According to the map, however, the land of Anórien was situated there, a northern region of Gondor nowadays.
They stayed in roadside inns during the three nights spent on the Osgiliath Road. Since no innkeeper was likely to accomodate an uruk-hai under his roof, Nugu wore his hood up to cover his face and carried the kids tucked in under his cloak every time they checked in at these establishments. But he almost did not need the disguise – with the elves around, all eyes were continuously drawn to them. Still, just in case, Thranduil made sure nobody was allowed to enter Nugu’s and Sidra’s room, even servants.
With time, hopefully the peace treaty would be signed, and maybe it would ensure that orcs could move freely in the world of men. But it would probably take a long time before the prejudices against that race were entirely gone – if ever.
Wynne slept luxuriously well in the hostels, in her own room, no less! It was a blessing to finally have a real bed, nice meals, even a hot bath for a few extra coins that Thranduil generously provided. Meanwhiles, the horses were fed strong, nourishing fodder and groomed by able stablehands.
The last inn they visited was located near Cair Andros, a wood-clad island in the middle of the river, which Legolas told them had played a part in the War of the Ring. Here an army of orcs had hindered the Rohan riders who came to aid Gondor. But the clever Rohirrim, led by the mighty King Théoden, had taken an old, secret path through the mountains and thus made it in time to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
When they neared Osgiliath, the traffic in the road grew, and the bypasser’s stares really began to grate on everybody’s nerves. They increased their pace even more, eager to finally be among people who knew who they were and why they had come.
There were more buildings here, and Wynne watched them with curiosity. She saw farmsteads, two-storey houses, finer villas with pretty gardens, workshops and stalls where peddlars tried to sell their goods. Wynne was used to the open plains of northeastern Rohan, and the closest to a city she had been in before, was the local marketplace.
Word of their arrival must have preceded them. Before they had reached the outer wall of Osgiliath, a group of city guards came to escort them the rest of the way. The men were elegantly dressed in tabards with a pattern of white stars evenly scattered over the blue fabric, and in their scabbards hung long, straight swords.
A tall, black-haired man with a neat beard, bowed eloquently to the Elvenking. “Welcome to Osgiliath, Your Majesty. I am Beregond, Captain of the White Company. Prince Faramir awaits your arrival, and has prepared rooms for you in his residence.”
Legolas, who had been riding last in line, slid off his horse and came forward, a hand across his heart in greeting.
“Beregond! It is very good to see you.”
“Prince Legolas!” He bowed again, a wide recognizing smile on his lips.
“You look well, Captain. Tell me, how are your wife and sons?”
“All good, all good. Bergil is serving down south, in the prince’s country estate in Emyn Arnen, but Borlas still lives home with us. He’s talking of becoming a guard like his brother and I, but we’ll see. His mother thinks he should take up trade. But here I babble away, let us get going. There will be a grand feast waiting for you when we arrive!”
With the guards walking on foot, the last part of the journey took over an hour, but Wynne did not really mind; the sights, smells and sounds of the city fascinated her. Vatna’s hooves clattered loudly on the paved street, the echo amplifying between the walls. Most of the buildings were constructed in stone, save a few wooden ones painted in light colors. The houses were high enough to shadow the streets in an almost eerie way, forcing Wynne to crane her neck to see the roofs with their multitude of pointed turrets and pinnacles. Everything was clean and fresh, it looked brand new.
Wynne realized then, it really was brand new. Osgiliath had been wiped to the ground by Sauron’s forces not eleven years ago. It seemed near impossible that all this had been rebuilt so soon!
She marvelled at all the people too, there were so many of them, more than she had met in her life before – gathered here, in one place. It was a bit intimidating and made her feel small and insignificant. It did not help that they too, like the people on the road, only had eyes for the elves.
The crowd consisted of humans for the most part, but farther into the city they encountered more and more dwarves.
Wynne had imagined dwarves to be very short, like children, but this proved not to be the case. These looked to be her own height, some even taller. And with their broad shoulders, strong hands, big feet and rough features they appeared larger still. Every one of them had a beard, and not just any whiskers either, their facial hair was impressive. Long and wide, intricately braided and richly decorated with jewels. Their clothes were a sight as well, made of expensive materials and trimmed with fur and gems. Some dwarves were obviously warriors or guards, carrying armour and big axes, but most toiled in various workshops along the street.
“The Lord Gimli’s people have been exceedingly helpful to rebuild our city,” said the Captain, noticing Wynne’s curious looks. “Those you see in this street are blacksmiths and tool craftsmen, but in other parts of the city there are carpenters, masons, painters, furniture builders, tailors and even toymakers.”
Thranduil snorted rather rudely at that, and his icy glares told clearly of his contempt for the race in question. This feeling was obviously reciprocated, judging by the dwarves’ badly hidden hostility as they watched the elves ride by.
Prince Faramir’s residence turned out to be a white, elaborately crafted mansion with pointed windows, pillared arcades and a semicircular set of stairs leading up to double oak gates. It was located in the central part of the city, surrounded by an open plaza with a fountain. A statue stood on a dais in the clear water, carved to the likeness of two handsome men. One was straddling a prancing warhorse, a sword in one hand and a horn in the other. Beneath him, the other grasped his leg in a comradely gesture and held a rod of office in his free hand.
“Boromir.” Legolas gazed up at the rider, his face melancholy again.
“Indeed.” Captain Beregond had followed him. “The prince’s beloved brother, and beside him, his father.”
“I cannot see why he would elevate Denethor thus.” Legolas frowned at the other sculpture. Then he turned to the captain with a smile. “Thanks to you, he survived that man’s madness. It should be you up there.”
The captain laughed and shook his head. “No, Your Highness, the steward was a good ruler until he lost his mind, he deserves his son’s love and remembrance. And I did only what any loyal guard would.”
Before Legolas could answer, a roar made them turn back to the mansion. Down the stairs came a dwarf running, two steps at a time despite his short stature. Legolas, for his part, jumped off Stelpa and covered the ground between them in easy strides. They met just below the stairs in an embrace that had Legolas’ feet lift off the ground, and he seemed dangerously close to getting his ribcage cracked.
“Laddie!” The dwarf put the elf down and held him at an arm’s length, observing his fair face. “Ah, ‘tis good to see ye! Still a strapping fella, ain’t ye. Nae aged one bit.”
Legolas for his part, seemed so engrossed with emotion he was unable to speak. He just stood there, smiling, eyes blank, while he listened to the warm, rumbling voice of his friend.
“I missed ye, ma lad. Been far too long.” Gimli kissed Legolas soundly on both cheeks and ruffled his hair, disarraying the neat braids. “Glad ye came ere I left, I’ll be going back to ma home in a few weeks. Ye remember the Glittering Caves, ‘m sure, I knew ye liked ‘em too.” The dwarf then turned to Thranduil, who still wore the scornful sneer he had kept the entire way through the city. “So, this must be yer pa, then. Aye, I can see where ye get yer good looks from.”
“Master Gimli.” The king indicated his head so slightly it was barely noticeable.
The dwarf’s hearty countenance instantly turned frosty and his chest swelled in indignation. “Ah, but to ye, ‘tis Lord Gimli,” he huffed.
Their interaction roused Legolas.
“Father, Gimli, please. Both of you. None of this.”
The dwarf and the elf looked like they each fought an internal battle, until finally Thranduil yielded.
“My Lord Gimli, it is a pleasure to meet my son’s friend.” Somehow he even managed a thin smile.
“The pleasure’s all mine, sire.” The dwarf bowed. Stiffly, but properly.
The double doors of the mansion opened again, this time to let out a middle-aged man and a gorgeous woman of thirty or so. The woman's golden curls cascaded down to her shapely bottom, and on her arm a little boy shyly hid his face in the ample bosom.
“Welcome! Do come in,” invited the woman in a melodious voice. Even her smile was lovely, the lips full and pink. Wynne could almost feel her face turn green with jealousy.
“Prince Faramir. Lady Éowyn.” Legolas bowed.
Wynne’s jaw dropped. So this stunning apparition was her childhood hero! Slayer of the Witch-King, Shieldmaiden of Rohan. She certainly did not look anything like Wynne had imagined.
“She is beautiful !” There was awe in Sidra’s whisper. ”And such a sweet child. Do you think he and Muzadi can be friends?”
”Yes…” Nugu’s brown eyes were fixed on Lady Éowyn too, his mouth slightly open.
”Stop that,” his wife snapped, giving him an annoyed shove. He started guiltily, his hood falling back.
The captain gasped, eyes widening in recognition. In less than a second his sword was drawn, tip pointing straight at the uruk’s throat.
”How dare you bring an orc here!” Beregond’s voice was contorted with anger.
I think there is a word for women who are both beautiful, kind and badass fighters, such as Éowyn. ;) I bet Tolkien didn't know that, though.
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