Part Thirty Three
To the Ash Mountains
“We’ll need as many wool cloaks as you can spare, and see if you can line at least fifty of them with something, silk if you have it-“
“Analsiel,” sighed Aragorn. “We have what you need and whatever we don’t have we can get before you leave. So give the poor man the exact figures and we’ll move on.”
It had been only a few weeks since Analsiel had officially been a noble, but she had insisted on preparing for her command in the Ered Lithui as soon as possible. Aragorn had been teaching her what would be needed for a campaign in one of the coldest regions of Middle-earth. Previously, when Mordor had been Sauron’s home, the climate in the Ash Mountains had indeed been ashy and smoky and hot, but after his fall, a quirk of weather had caused the Ash Mountains to experience much colder and snowier weather than anywhere else. And yet, it still snowed in the color of ash sometimes.
Analsiel had been nit-picking the Royal Library in the City for any information that could be found. There wasn’t much, and what there was was almost entirely useless. She had also indulged in two new dresses made from some of the satins she had found while searching for her livery colors, and had been unexpectedly pinched by the cost. So she was in a very frugal mood, just when the King wanted her to feel as if the Royal Treasury was hers.
“I’m sorry,” she said resignedly to the frustrated shopkeeper. “I would like 200 pairs of leather boots,” she looked at Aragorn for approval, as she was ordering twice as many boots as she would have men. He nodded.
“And 110 good wool cloaks, with at least fifty lined, and-“
And at this point, Analsiel was forced to draw out her list and begin the recitation. The shopkeeper groaned.
Analsiel got very little sleep these days. She got up before dawn to join the regular army (even though she was no longer a part of it) in their morning exercise so she would remain in fighting trim. Then she exercised Carandae by running him through the waters of the lake near the castle where he was up past his knees to get him fit for moving through the snow on the mountains. Then she ran him around the Pelennor for simple exercise. Then he had to be brought home and fed and cleaned. After that, she went to the library to refine her command of the version of Gondorian speech used in the mountains. Then the worst part of the day. She had to sit for almost two hours while a scholar droned at her about how to take accurate notes, measurements, and samples of everything she saw so that she could bring back all her knowledge and record with the City scholars. Then for a few days she had been going over the reports Quelleanon sent of Lómaelin. It seemed that a large gold mine had been discovered on the eastern bank of the lake. And that some families and miners from nearby areas had been asking to come and make new starts in Lómaelin. Analsiel’s only direction to Quelleanon was not to let in criminals or orcs.
Then after she could no longer escape to her letters, she had to go to social gatherings. She had no idea that there was a feast almost every night given by some lady or lord, and suddenly she was invited to all of them. She only went to two or three a week, as she mostly found to be much like the gatherings her mother used to have. But she made a few new friends among the court, and that was always good.
But after the feasting, she settled down at her room to work on her plans. She hadn’t realized just how much had to be prepared for when you were planning for a battle that could last indefinitely, and could happen anywhere in an enormous mountain range. But now, she was beginning to appreciate the genius of every human ever to lead another. And she was almost frightened by the responsibility that now rested on her shoulders.
“I’ve made my decisions,” Analsiel announced to Aragorn as she walked briskly into his library.
“Decisions on what?” he asked calmly.
“On who I’m taking with me to the Ash Mountains,” she said excitedly. She had been working on this list mentally since she first read the letter Arwen had sent her, and now she was finally through with it.
“Well, let’s hear it then,” Aragorn said, smiling.
“I’ll be taking Mena and Carneth as my seconds, Lhunidil, yes, her, Astianen, Nori, and Herdil as my captains, and then some of those in the army that’s going with me anyway,” Analsiel said quickly.
Aragorn nodded his approval. “Not too many taken from the city, and not too few. And all with different strengths. Mena and Carneth, experience, Lhunidil and Herdil, quick thinking, Astianen, strong will, Norinel, her devotion and courage. Yes, I think you made excellent choices.”
Analsiel blushed. “I’m glad you approved. I’ll just go and tell them and then we’ll get ready and set a date to leave and they can go over the supplies and…and add whatever they need and…”
“Analsiel!’ Aragorn laughed. “Calm down! Now go!”
She went, smiling.
It was Midsummer. Analsiel remembered how just a year ago, she had only lately been made one of Arwen’s ladies, and she was untried and so innocent. Half a year ago, she was weak as a baby from a battle to the death with a wild Warg. And now, in two days time, she would be setting out on command of a unit in the most dangerous region of Middle-Earth belonging to Gondor. (The Ered Lithui had been claimed by Gondor after the War of the Ring.)
Somehow she felt very small. She didn’t really want to go to the Midsummer Party and be on display as she had done last year. She had found out that six new men were planning to ask for her, and all eight from the year before were planning to renew their courtship. They could certainly ask permission of Aragorn anyway, but Analsiel didn’t really want to be there. She didn’t feel the girlish happiness she had the year before at the thought of being the belle of the court. What she really wanted was to get moving on her journey and do something. She had been sitting in the castle planning for almost two months and even though she only had two more days to wait, she wanted to be on the road now. Everything she was bringing was already packed, and that included her harp, her favorite books, and her chess set, so she didn’t even have anything to amuse herself. And she didn’t want to overwork Carandae by riding him too much just before a long journey. Besides, she had been working him every day for all this time, and he deserved a rest.
Analsiel looked gloomily at the dress she was supposed to wear. It was one of Quelleanon’s old ones, since it was too hot to wear either of her new ones. It was pretty, in a beautiful ice blue satin trimmed with silver beads on the square neck and hem, and a silver kirtle underneath. But she really didn’t want to get dressed up tonight.
Restlessly, she got up and started pacing her room, fiddling with the silver leaf about her neck. She wanted to hide somewhere quiet for a while, at least until she was in less of a gloomy mood. But she didn’t want to leave the castle in case someone saw her and brought her out to the party. And her room was as dull as a tomb now that she had been there for four hours on end.
She dropped onto her bed to think. She had been running non-stop for three days planning the final stages of her departure, and now she had nothing to do and it felt wrong. She needed something to do. Something that wasn’t’…something that wasn’t hard, or needed to much moving around…something that involved…sleeping…
When Nori found her three hours later after the party, she was sound asleep.
Arwen found herself again watching sadly out from a distance as one of those she loved most in the world rode away. The Queen watched Analsiel climb gracefully onto her horse and raise her sword in salute to Aragorn who stood beside her on the balcony. Analsiel looked radiant, in her exquisite Lómaelin livery, with a silver brooch holding on her purple cloak. Arwen had given the cloak to her the night before, telling her that just because she was a lady of the realm did not mean she was no longer one of the Queen’s select handmaidens. The girl was like family to her anyway, as she was to Aragorn. Both their daughters had died young, and Arwen missed them desperately. But Analsiel looked like them, and Arwen had been touched by her sweetness and cleverness, and so in her heart she had taken her as a daughter. Now Arwen watched proudly and smiled as her lady rode away at the head of a column of soldiers her black hair caught in the breeze, blowing like a banner and the sun glinting off her naked sword.
It was an elegant departure, but it was the most elegant thing about the whole trip so far, thought Analsiel as the second rain of that day began to fall. Her warm purple cloak was still warm, but it was thoroughly wet as well, and she was depressed by this gloomy beginning to her first command. She hoped no one thought it was an ill omen.
She turned around to see how her men were holding up. She would have to stop when it got dark, or people would get sick, but she was reluctant to anyway. If she had been on her own, the rain would have kept her going all night, simply because it would be too much work to get off the horse. But with over 100 men under her charge, she had to be more conservative of their energy.
When she looked back, she saw Lhunidil’s gloomy face staring at her and the patient exhaustion on Astianen’s face closest. These two she had paired together at the front of the column, with her first group of thirty, so that she could keep an eye on Lhunidil and keep her from complaining her ears off about the conditions. And Astianen was the only person she could think of with the patience to deal with Lhunidil in a foul mood.
Behind these two, were Nori, Carneth, and Mena, in command of her largest group of 50. And then, Herdil in command of her rear guard of 20 men. She had been counseled by all her senior officers to arrange her troops on such a way, and had thought the idea plausible, so she had done it. But as she looked back, she noticed just how much mud there was on the ground, and how not all the soldiers were riding horses, and how wet her cloak actually was.
A cheer went up when she gave the command to halt, and stay for the night.
But Analsiel knew that this was only the beginning. The journey had just begun.