Grief of the North Kingdom (a novel)

by Apr 5, 2010Stories

* Cast of Main Characters:

Ithilmo/Vilthavia – wandering young man of mixed Dunedain and Rhovanion parentage, primary protagonist of story
Calime – Dunedan daughter of Iliandor and one of four protagonists of story
Skylan – friend of Ithilmo, hunter of mixed northman parentage and one of four protagonists of story
Ciradhan -esquire to prince Eledhil of Arthedain and one of four protagonists of story

Rathmir – exiled Arthedainian bodyguard and one of several antagonists of story
Derufin – youngest of the seven princes of Cardolan, lord of Dol Andrath
Calimendil – second son to Tarandil
Vorondil – eldest son of Tarandil and heir to the crown of Cardolan
Tarandil – King of Cardolan
Elwenna – herbalist/healer from Tharbad
Amariel – niece to King Malvegil of Arthedain, wife of Calimendil
Ermegil – illegitimate son of King Denethil of Rhudaur and one of several antagonists of story
Berandil – twin son to Calimendil
Bregardil – twin son to Calimendil
Hunthor – Dunedan father of Ithilmo
Broggha – leader of the Hillmen and usurper of Cameth Brin, one of several antagonists of story
Orodril – one of the seven princes of Cardolan
Odhil – steward and companion to Calimendil
Echormoth – captain of the gaurd of Dol Calantir
Vidui – a Rhovanion mercenary
Eledhil – a prince of Arthedain, lord of Dol Eitheldun
Denethil – King of Rhudaur, lord of Cameth Brin
Celedor – son of Denethil
Lindir – Sindarin mystic/sage and tutor of young Ciradhan
Elendis – younger sister of Calime
Yavinia – Rhovanion mother of Ithilmo/Vilthavia

PART ONE

CHAPTER ONE

{Misty Mountains. T.A. 1323}

The closed eyelids of the young sleeper were restless in their slumber. Back and forth went the veiled pupils as they bore witness to the mental images that were unfolding before them in the midst of sleep. The unconsious mind of the young man dreamt uneasily as he lay tightly rolled up in his blanket while his various traveling companions lounged about the campsite at the breaking of the dawn. Not all of the men still slept; some had already risen and were striking their shabby wayworn tents or stuffing their packs with as many wild mushrooms and potatoes as they could find before their chieftain would make the announcement for another morning’s departure. Those that had tried to forbear rousing themselves in order to achieve a few extra minutes of sleep were either summarily rolled out of their blankets by force or were doused with cold water to their unsuspecting faces. It was time to rise up and present themselves for the morning head count while the two cooks prepared a hasty meal.

In all, over seventy-five men and half as many women-folk had set out on the long trek from the wildlands in eastern Rhovanion to the pleasant and fertile vales nigh the great river Anduin, west of the forest of Mirkwood. After nearly three weeks of casual travel by horse, foot and wagon through some of the most open and vast expanses of high grass and treeless hills that Middle-earth could offer to either elf, man or dwarf, the Rhovanion convoy had at last come into the rolling fields and little valleys that ran down into the very river itself. Their reasons for doing so were as varied as the men and women themselves: some desired to join the ranks of the Dunedain of the three sister-kingdoms across the mountains, others sought to make profits by trade, some sought employment as mercenaries, while others simply desired to live out their lives in new lands unfamilar to them save in legends.

In the case of Vilthavia, our young sleeper who presently dreamt of home and did not hear the voices of the men around him in camp, his excuse for leaving the house of his beloved mother at the tender age of thirteen with the assembled company was unique: he eagerly wished to learn tidings of his Dunedan father whom he had not seen in many years now. Word had it that he had ventured back over the mountains to his homeland of Rhudaur, though even this was nothing to be certain of anymore. His parents had never been joined in an official wedlock, which meant that he was reckoned an illegitimate child in the eyes of both the people of his father and his mother. Indeed, there had never been any deep abiding love between Hunthor and Yavinia, Vilthavia’s father and mother. Yet nor were they entirely estranged after the birth of their son. In Vilthavia’s earliest youth, Hunthor would venture out upon some traveling errand either here or there in the lands of the east and would stop and rest a while in the village where mother and son resided. He possessed a deep and genuine fondness for the young Vilthavia, despite his mother firmly insisting on a native Rhovanion name for the child. Had he possessed the final say in the matter his father would have given his son a name more familiar to his own people back in Eriador. But Hunthor was not one for setting down roots in any one place for long, and before the frost had had time to melt into the wild grasses of Rhovanion in early spring after the celebrated ninth birthday of Vilthavia he took his young son aside in a wide field upon the plains where the father was wont to instruct the son in the art’s of archery. Here he told him that he would again be departing for Arnor.

“Why must you always leave here so soon after your arrival, father?” asked the birthday-boy sadly. “Mother has arranged a feast to celebrate the early arrival of spring. The day after tomorrow is when it is to take place.”

“I cannot stay any longer, son,” said Hunthor solemnly. “Word has reached me here that I am needed in Rhudaur. I must meet others of my kin at the crossing village on the outskirts of the great forest in three day’s time from now. From there we must make for the high passes that cross the mountains. Once again, I am sorry, my son. But do not fear overmuch. I shall return again as soon as fortune allows it.”

“Why must you go? Will you not tell me the reason this time?”

“You are too young to understand it all yet, Vilthavia,” replied his father, shaking his head with a tender smile.

“Take me with you this time, father,” blurted out Vilthavia suddenly. “I wish to see Rhudaur with you, for it is part of me as it is with you!” He was surprised to hear himself say such a thing. He loved his mother and his homeland, but he was suddely filled with a great anxiety at the imminent departure of his wandering father. Again, Hunthor shook his head.

“Nay, my son. Not yet, anyway. Someday soon, perhaps, but not yet. You are young and in the blossom of your boyhood. This is your true home. Your mother needs you here. You must look after her, seeing as how she has no other man to do so.”

At this Vilthavia always later recalled, that his father got a distracted, almost wrathful gleem in his eye when he would make mention of Yavinia’s lack of desire to have a man permanently by her side in matrimonial wedlock. In his later years, well after his comming into manhood, Vilthavia would come to realize that his father had secretly desired to wed his mother for some time but had always been rebuffed. This was the probable reason, Vilthavia assumed, for the nearly constant wanderings of his father thereafter.

“Yet this also will I say to you, my boy,” added Hunthor, squatting to his knees to lay his hands on the lad’s shoulders. “The Dunedain, by which you are indeed joined by blood, though to perhaps a lesser degree, are bound for dark times ahead. There is no way to avoid it now. You are better off remaining among your mother’s kin for now. The united Arnor of old is gone, and the allied North-kingdom has already begun to fade. The old heroic tales and legends that I have recited to you in the past will not repeat themselves in the years ahead, as I foresee it now. Arnor is not broken yet, but it is ever weakening. There is a darkness ahead for my people – I can feel it. I do not say this to you just to frighten you, but to guide you and the choices you shall have to make in the years ahead. If I can I will return soon and shall bring you all the tidings of Arnor that you may wish to hear. Yet pray do not attempt to follow me before that time, I beg you, son. The way is long and can be perilous.”

“How soon will you return?” Vilthavia asked him with a frown.

“Soon, Vilthavia; just soon. I’ll say no more about it.”

He left the little Rhovanion village before dawn on the second day after his speech to Vilthavia. He made no announcement of his leaving to anyone; not even Yavinia, who was well accustomed to Hunthor’s sudden arrivals and depratures by then. Vilthavia slept little that night and made sure to be awake when his father left the village early in the morning. He crept silently up to a corner of the palisaded gate of the village under the faint orange glow of the eastern sun and watched the guards open the gates for his father and nod their heads to him in ackowledgement. Then Hunthor, Dunedan from Rhudaur, walked slowly out of sight in the shadow of the western horizon. It was the last time Vilthavia would see his father for a long time, for whatever the reason, Hunthor had yet to return to Rhovanion since that day, just as Vilthavia had reached his ninth year.

Now he was a lad of thirteen. His life progressed as normallay as any youth might have wished back home over the last four years. He lived alone with his mother in their insignificant village among the grassy wind-swept plains of Rhovanion and engaged himself in the usual activities of routine boyhood. He never forgot his father, of course, but the impact of his sudden departure gradually faded and instead he looked after his mother, their two young servants and the usual household pets. Yavinia and Vilthavia loved one another dearly and had always enjoyed their life together back home. For the most part it was peaceful, reliably safe and genuinely as family oriented as any life could have been in those days. Vilthavia would always think of Rhovanion as his only true home. Yet he also gradually grew to find it more and more routinely dull as the years went by and he longed to experience the life of a traveler. As he grew older he listened eagerly to every scrap of new tidings he could get from the travelers whenever they passed through his village, and always he would ask if any of them had heard tidings of his father – to which the answer would invariably be ‘no’, or ‘never heard of him’.

Vilthavia turned over in his sleep as he dreamt on. Visions of his mother and his old house back home consumed his his unconscious thought. He saw his mother crying in his dream; weeping bitterly and shouting at him as he insisted to her that he would accompany the gathered men and women of the convoy on their expedition to the Anduin vales. As his mother and guardian she had obstinately refused to allow him to go when he had first broached the subject with her. “You are too young, Vilthavia, for such a long journey! You will fall into evil circumstances ere you are aware of it! You must remain here!” Her words irked Vilthavia to the core. He took pride in himself as being a young man of Dunedain lineage and wished to prove his worth not only to his mother and his few friends he had back home, but especially to himself. He desired to follow in the footsteps of his ever absent father. He did not divulge this latter thought to his mother, for he knew what her reaction might be once the name of Hunthor was tossed into the mix, but Vilthavia wondered if she had not already guessed at it. Yet he felt that fate had already begun to pull at his collar by then, urging him on to exploration of the world around him. It was decided. He would go without his mother’s blessing.

“Get up, lad!” exclaimed one of the company leaders as he approached the sleeping form of Vilthavia amid the grass. “Get up, I say! You will hold up the entire team. The dawn was not created to accomodate lazy late-risers!”

The man seized a small tin mug of cold water and made his way over to the boy in order to toss the contents over his sleeping face but was intercepted by another man.

“Hold your hand, Vinya!” said another of the younger men of the company, though older than Vilthavia. “I shall take that mug and rouse the boy myself. He needs nothing more to add to his present elevation sickness. He has traveled far for a lad of his tender age. Show him a bit of compassion, will you not?”

“Compassion is not a prerequsite for crossing the Misty Mountains, Vidui,” said the man woodenly. “Compassion will get him nowhere up here, where wind and weather have the final say in all that transpires herein. The Misties are an unforgiving place where the only virtues of worth are courage, constituion and commitment – the three “C’s” of mountaineering, as it is said.”

“Nevertheless,” stated Vidui seriously, “I will not allow you to compound his ills with a smack of cold water to the face. I shall rouse him presently.”

“The boy is too timid for this expedition,” retorted Vinya callously. “He should have remained back down in the vales with the women.”

Vidui, though younger by several years to the man, was every bit as tall and intimidating as Vinya. He reached out a hand to receive the mug from him, and Vinya complied with a frown.

“Get him up now, Vidui,” he said. “We leave in twenty minutes, regardless.”

Vidui crouched down beside Vilthavia and was about to gently shake the boy’s arm but there was no need. Vilthavia was already awake. He lay there unmoving as he stared blankly down into the grass. Vidui then spoke to Vilthavia, asking the obvious question whether or not he was awake yet.

“Yes,” answered Vilthavia, his voice scratchy and pale. “I am awake – though I wish I were not.”

“How do you feel this morning? Better than the last, I should hope.”

Vilthavia rolled over onto his back and squinted as he beheld the greyness of daybreak. The sky was covered with thick clouds – clouds that seemed much nearer now. There would be no sunshine today, alas. He slowly sat upright and looked about him. He seemed to be the last one to rise this morning. He was not the only member of the company to suffer from the altitude sickness – three others, all grown men – had grown ill as well, but they had already risen. He saw Wildaria, the company’s chieftain, walking about the little field they had encamped upon. Two others were beside him, talking with him in earnest, though they were not close enough for Vilthavia to hear their speech. They seemed to offering their advice on some unknown subject, judging by their occassional gesticulations and animated tone. Others were nearly finished striking their portable tents or standing idly by chatting softly as they ate their morning morsels and drank tea. The sound of the horses stomping their hooves to the ground and snorting through their bridles could be heard behind him.

“I feel as if I have been kicked in the stomach by one of them,” said Vilthavia to Vidui, nodding towards the horses. “Yet perhaps not as bad as I felt last night.”

“It usually feels worse at night for some reason or another,” replied Vidui. “If you can stand I would recommend that you do so now. Here, let me help you.”

Vidui assisted his young friend to his feet and made him drink some tea. Vilthavia thanked him and nursed the tin cup in small sips. He turned down any suggestion of food as unthinkable in his present state.

“Later you must try and eat something, Vilthavia, or else you will grow weaker. If your legs and stomach fail you once we are up in the highest of the mountain passes the men will become wroth and will lose patience with you. Yet I will you as I may. Also, Wildaria seems to be fond of you well enough.”

“He does?” asked Vilthavia in surprise.

“Yes. I heard him say as much to your uncle yesterday, while you were away fetching more water from the stream down in the foothills.”

“What did my uncle have to say to that?” asked Vilthavia, who had never had anything close to a warm relationship with his uncle Urlavia, his mother’s younger brother.

“Nothing really. He nodded indifferently before changing the subject,” replied Vidui. “He’s a callous man, your uncle.”

“Aye, he is. His only genuine concern in life is gold or silver; that and whatever profit he can come by through trade.”

Vilthavia covered his mouth to stifle a yawn. One of the short-haired scouts that had joined the group back in the Anduin vales saw him yawning as he happened to be walking by and could not refrain from making a comment on it.

“Are we interrupting your slumber with all of our noise, boy?” he said with a snort. “If the chieftain sees you yawning like that after being the last man of the camp to rise he will assign you to a double shift on the night watch tonight after we halt again.” The man did not stop and went on about his business.

Vidui knew this to be true so he went out of his way to assist Vilthavia in the boy’s morning preparations and making sure he had everything stored away and ready to go in his pack. The burden that was slung onto his back felt heavier than ever this morning, and Vilthavia screwed up his eyes and shook his head as he adjusted the shoulder straps with a sigh.

“Feels like a sack of iron horse shoes, doesn’t it?” asked Vidui with a grim smile as noticed Vilthavia’s reaction. “It will only feel heavier the higher up we get up this pass, I’m afraid. It is because of the altitude, you see. Drink every last drop of that brew there, Vilthavia. It won’t cure your sickness completely, but the crushed leaves will lessen the effect enough for you to tolerate it up here.”

“Thank you, my friend,” replied Vilthavia, wrapping his coat tightly around himself as they walked towards the others. “Will it keep out the cold as well?

“Not in the least,” Vidui smiled. “You must find something else to wrap around you to keep you warm. Or else another pair of arms to hold you – like, perhaps, that pretty little lass over there!”

Vidui pointed discreetly over to their right where a young fair-haired girl a couple of years older than Vilthavia sat upon a pair of leather packing cases looking tired and most unhappy. She wore long-legged pants like a man that were rolled up down by the ankle to prevent the over-sized garment from dragging in the dirt as she walked. Likewise, her grey coat obviously did not originally belong to her, it being borrowed, and was too large. On her head she wore a white linen shawl that contrasted oddly with her drab body-clothing. Her long blonde locks hung lazily out from beneath the back of the shawl, indicating that she possessed a fine, thick head of hair beneath the fabric. She sat alone for the time being, saying nothing but greedily devouring a portion of dry biscuit that had just been given to her by a stocky grey bearded man. He spoke a few more brief words to her and offered her a quick smile before leaving her alone again. Vilthavia knew very little about the girl, other than the fact that she had joined the convoy of travelers when they had reached their primary destination of the scattered settlements of northmen and mixed Rhovanions that dwelt along the banks of the Anduin, just south of the great east-west road. She had been seen embracing an older woman as she said her farewells before presenting herself to Wildaria, the chieftain of the present expedition. The girl happened to be the only female member of the present company – a distinction that afforded her with an extra protection among the mountaineers, some of whom seemed to dote on her and lavish excessive praise upon her bravery for undertaking such a toilsome excursion. She had not failed to turn the head of Vilthavia either. It was not that he was dumb-struck by her beauty, though he did find her pleasant enough to look at, but rather it was out of extreme curiosity. He could not fathom any girl of her age desiring to tread the high passes of the Misty Mountains alone.

“Who is she?” he asked Vidui plainly.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to meet her yet. She keeps well within arm’s reach of two of the men that accompanied her from the village down in the vales. Doesn’t say much, either. Yet I believe her name is Elendis. She’s one of the fair folk of Eriador.”

“”Fair folk’?” asked Vilthavia, not being acquainted with the term.

“Yes,” replied Vidui as he motioned for Vilthavia to follow him. “She is of the Dunedain folk – from Rhudaur. Their numbers dwindle ever more with each year, tis’ said. Some say that Rhudaur is slowly giving way to the native men of the region since they outnumber the fair folk more than three to one now.”

Vilthavia joined his friend as the two of them left the grassy knoll area that many of the men had slept on during the night. They walked together as their path would lead them right by the young lady in question. Vilthavia thought about Vidui’s words and frowned.

“You know that my father is from Rhudaur,” said Vilthavia. Vidui nodded.

“Yes, you did mention that. That is why you left your homeland, correct? You desire to find him again, or else seek tidings of him.” Vilthavia nodded in agreement.

“Yes, I do want to find him again.”

“Rhudaur is a big land, Vilthavia. Unless you have some sort of diffinate idea of where he might be in such a wide realm I would advise you not to cling to tightly to hope of success.”

“Have you been in Rhudaur before, Vidui?”

“Me? No indeed. I have never crossed the Great Fence before,” answered Vidui, referring to the surname used to describe the Misty Mountains. “But others among this company have and they describe, not only Rhudaur, but much of Eriador as a vast land of many wonders to behold. My heart gladdens at the thought that I will soon behold such a place!”

“I cannot imagine any place as wondrous as Rhovanion, no matter what the tales say,” said Vilthavia. “I feel little joy at the thought of leaving it, alas.”

“That is plain enough to see – which is why,” remarked Vidui, “I marvel that you ever left it in the first place. Now pray, do not take this amiss, Vilthavia, my young friend, but I wonder if your former convictions in obtaining knowledge of your father’s whereabouts might have led you astray in your decision to leave Rhovanion. Your feelings of regret seem to trump your eagerness to wander across Rhudaur in your search for your missing father. If it is so, do not fear to make a change of course. It is not too late for you to retrace your steps back down through the foothills and back to the vales by the river. Yet if you choose to do so you must act at once, for every step you take from this little glade up into the mountains before us shall make it that much more difficult to get back down the mountainside. I am confidant that Wildaria would grant you one man to escort you back to the vales – your uncle, perhaps?”

Then, seeing as how Vilthavia had halted in his tracks at these words, and seeing the look of consternation on the young man’s face, Vidui turned to confront him.

“I will not turn back now, Vidui,” said Vilthavia crossly. Vidui frowned and placed his hands squarely upon the lad’s shoulders, as a father might do to his son before doling out some much needed advice.

“Do not suffer the brash cravings for adventure to usurp the wisdom that lies in your heart, Vilthavia! If your heart bids you caution – take heed of it, I beg you! If your inner voice councils you to halt and return to Rhovanion – hold your head up high and do it now, ere it is too late. There is no shame in such a choice. The passes that lay ahead have been trodden by many feet ere you or I set foot upon them, to be sure, and not all of them have emerged unscathed, for such is the way with mountain travel, I fear. Many dangers exist up here. Therefore, I would council you to find a quiet place around here where you can sit and think alone for a short while and pause for a few moments of reflection. We still have several more minutes before we set out again. What say you, my friend?”

Vilthavia looked directly into the eyes of his companion in silence. His initial impulse was to blurt out nonsensical and defiant half-truths, such as, ‘I am as strong as any man here’, or ‘if a young girl will tread the passes of the mountains than so also can I’, or even, ‘my father did not raise me to flinch in the face of adversity’. But he knew it would amount to little more than empty rhetoric; a verbal shield against the sense of encroaching fear that had begun to plague him ever since the company began to tread the mountain passes two days ago. Vilthavia had always feared that he was susceptible to cowardice ever since he was a young boy. But now he was an ‘old’ lad of thriteen and he ought to be past such weaknesses, or so he often chastised himself.

Vilthavia was not like many other youths of his age, most of whom were taught to accept and eagerly embrace all manners of warcraft and feats of bravery and strength. Most Rhovanion males were expected to have mastered the basic principles of riding, lance-bearing and sword-wielding by their early teen years. To be sure, Vilthavia enjoyed horses and even knew how to ride competantly at a moderate gallop. But he found no joy at all in combat or melee situations. He had gone through all requisite early training, certainly, but he had never excelled in it. Nor did he care much. In this, things might have been otherwise had his father been present to instruct and encourage him personally from an early age. But Hunthor, the Dunedan was rarely present for more than a few days or weeks at a time, if even that. Only in archery did the young Vilthavia find any joy when it came to matters dealing with war. Many times he was wont to spend days away from home at a time in the company of the hunters. This would sometimes put him at odds with his young friends and companions for, though fully necessary, archers were regarded with mediocre and even reserved respect, for archers had the luxury of remaining in relative safety behind their men-at-arms and riders; men who risked their bodies and very lives in close combat with the enemy. Knowing this fact it served to increaseVilthavia’s insecurity and cowardice.

Yet little of this weighed on Vilthavia’s mind at the moment. It was his innate fear of high places that held him now – this and his increasing longing for his mother and their old home, which was now far away in the east. He began to feel the regret of the hastiness of his youth and the harsh words exchanged between himself and his mother the day before his ultimate departure. Yavinia scolded her son for desiring to leave their home so abruptly to go chasing after the fleeting shadow of his absent father – especially shortly before the autumn harvest was to begin. He now told Vidui of all this and confessed to having frequent regrets about his decision to leave home. Vidui sighed and looked carefully at his young friend.

“Much of this I began to guess at ever since we left the Anduin vales,” said Vidui compassionately. “Yet I certainly knew nothing about your fear of high places. The passes of the mountains are no place for you right now, Vilthavia – not until you find the strength to conquer such fears. If you seek my advice in this – “

“I have not openly asked for it, mind you,” interrupted Vilthavia, still trying to maintain an air of confidence.

“Nonetheless,” continued Vidui seriously, “I will give it to you; for your own good: I advise you to return back to the vales while you still can. If you like, I can speak privately with Wildaria and tell him something about what we have discussed here. He can be quite understanding an compassionate in matters like this. I am sure that he would assign someone to escort you back down the mountainside.”

“What about you, Vidui?” asked Vilthavia quickly. “Come with me! Would you not also consider turning back? What is it that makes you so eager to see Eriador anyway?”

Vidui looked about him at this and let out a deep breath. Few men were about them now, for most of them had nearly completed their preleminary departure routines and had now made their way to the rest of the group where Wildaria the chieftain was about to conduct the daily head-count to make sre none were absent before setting out again.

“Nay, my friend,” replied Vidui resolutely. “I have no wish to turn back now. I, for one, love mountains. Aye, you may wince at such a proclamation, I know, but I have turned my back on Rhovanion – at least for a while; perhaps a long while even. My mother and father have both openly professed their willingness to allow me to go abroad now, nay – even urge me to go! Where you possess a liking for open fields and meadows, I bear an eagerness for mountains and wild streams that course through ancient lands; forests that are home to trees as old and lofty as the mountains themselves.”

“We already have such forests that you speak of, Vidui!” argued Vilthavia rather lamely.

“What forests? Mirkwood? Bah! Thank you, but no. Tis true it is vast in size, but it is also heavy with shadow and gloom. I crave fresher venues for a while. Besides, I do have official business to attend to while I am in Eriador, to be truthful about it.”

Vilthavia looked at his friend in confusion but did not say anything. Vidui answered his confused look by explaining that he had already received, at least by way of word of mouth, an assurance of employment from a certain prince Ermegil of Rhudaur as an official horse-tamer to the prince. Vidui was something of a prodigy back home when it came to horses; not merely the sport of riding them, but also of finding and selecting wild mares suitable for training.

“Who is ‘Ermegil’?” asked Vilthavia.

“One of the royal princes to the King of Rhudaur, of course.”

“King Denethil?”

“Is there any other king of Rhudaur?” asked Vidui as if the answer was plain enough without asking.

“I have never even heard of this – ‘Ermegil’ that you speak of, and my father taught me all the names of the Rhudauran princes several years ago.”

Vilthavia may never have acquired the higher skills of combat or warfare, but he had just about the keenest memory of any youth that then thrived in the Rhovanion plainlands. This was evidenced by his ability to recall memories from his earliest childhood years that far exceeded the norm. He could commit to memory, in proper sequence, some of the most obscure and arcane lines of decent among the ancient kings and queens of Numenor (a far removed land of bygone ages that few among his folk had even heard of), of Gondor and his own native Rhovanion. He could aso speak three different languages as well as various dialects of the Northmen and was already, thanks to the teaching of his father, an accomplished player at the game of Chess, which was known by the name of ‘Kings’ in his own land. In light of all this, Vilthavia went on to quickly recite the names to Vidui of the various princes to the ever-dwindling royal line in the realm Rhudaur. The name of Ermegil was unknown to Vilthavia.

“I have never heard of most of those princes either, for that matter,” replied Vidui firmly. “Yet there is no doubt among anyone that Ermegil is an acknowledged prince of the royal Rhudauran line – though, admittedly, not of the ruling line, perhaps.”

“You are sure of this?” asked Vilthavia with a raised brow. Vidui began to bristle at this line of interrogation.

“Just so. If you doubt me go and ask your ucle. He knows of Ermegil. Or better yet, ask that man over there.” Vidui pointed over to a dark-haired man who was talking to a companion as they presented themselves for the roll call. “His name is Einion and he dwells most of the time in upper Rhudaur with the prince Ermegil. It was he who sought me out and asked if I would be interested in such a post, knowing of my love and skill with horses.”

“So you have received confirmation already of an appointment with this prince?” inquired Vilthavia, risking Vidui’s irritation.

“Yes! The word the prince by proxy through the said Einion is such a confirmation. Ask me no more about it now. I am more concerned with your immediate plight, not mine.”

“I must think about it.”

“I see that you are in great doubt,” said Vidui heavily. “I understand your need to find your father again after so long an absence, Vilthavia. Yet I think that you still do not realize the potential dangers that may await you as you wander alone through eastern Eriador. Have you even thought about that?”
Vilthavia looked annoyed.

“Yes, yes,” he replied shortly. “I know well enough. I am young, but not a fool, Vidui.”

“I have never said or implied that you are; far from it, in fact! If you must know, I would match your wit against many of these tom-fools with scarcely a second thought,” Vidui made a gesture towards the group of men now gathered hap-hazardly before Wildaria, who had already begun to call out names. “One might easily assume that your uncle will be your constant companion once our fellowship here breaks up and goes this way and that. Yet you seem to think that it will not be so. I cannot speak for your uncle Urlavia, but I wonder if you do not judge him too harshly in this. He is your mother’s brother and, from what you have told me, he is obligated to watch over you while you are away.”

“He does not love me,” said Vilthavia stiffly, “nor I him.”

“Perhaps,” replied Vidui, “but, unless your mother and her brother are already estranged, I doubt that he will renege on his word to her, whatever his feelings towards you. But if your suspicions are right about him than all the more reason for you to abandon this quest now and go home while there is still a chance for you to do so.”

“I would almost think, by your demeanor, Vidui, that you wish to be rid of my company,”

Vilthavia let out a wry laugh that he cut short with a sudden cough. Vidui sighed heavily again and shook his head with a crooked smile.

“You know that to be false. Frankly, I prefer your companionship to any of these men. I have known you off and on for a few years now, Vilthavia, and I esteem you highly; more so than you probably realize. You have a tremendous future ahead of you.”

“I do?” asked Vilthavia in surprise after a short pause for reflection.

“Aye, I truly believe it. I feel a sudden foresight has come upon me in this. You have that rare quality of insightful intelligence and penetrating wit that men twice your age still lack in themselves. You only lack that worldly sense of wisdom that comes with age and experience. You shall attain that as well in time – but not if you fall into ruin on a doomed quest to come into Eriador in haste and without proper guidance. I urge you to beware and take caution for yourself.”

Vilthavia looked hard at Vidui for a moment after these last words. The word, ‘doom’ had put him off a bit. Why had he chosen to frame his concerns for his well-being with such a fell word as that? Seeing the queer look in his young friend’s eyes in the brief moment of ensuing silence, Vidui checked himself and amended his few words.”

“I mean, rather, that your errand to locate your father again in the wilds of Eriador would be doomed – nothing more.”

They both turned their heads when Vidui’s name was finally called by the chieftain. Vidui raised his hand and gave the requisite, “present!”. One of the bodyguards then ordered for him and Vilthavia to refrain from talking during the roll-call and to join the rest of the men immediately.

“Come, Vilthavia,” said Vidui. “We shall be fully reprimanded if we tarry any longer here. Let us join the others. But you must make a choice within the next few minutes, I fear, for then the company will continue up the passes and will be unable to turn around safely.”

They hastened up to join the gathered company of fellow Northmen and Rhovanion that stood attentively around Wildaria as the chieftain concluded his head count and begun to quickly summarize what they might all expect over the next two days of their hike. In two day’s successful travel they would be at the saddlepoint; that is the highest elevations that their particular pass would traverse between three tall mountain peaks before at last leading them downwards again towards the western foothills, which in turn led out to the western borders of Eriador – or Rhudaur proper, in their case. Thus far their weather had been fair enough with temperatures reasonably comfortable for this time of year. Yet, as Wildaria voiced aloud, this luxury could not be expected to last much longer. Crossing wide and windy plateaus covered with snow and ice could hardly be avoided this high up.

Vilthavia’s attention wandered as he turned his head to the direction that Wildaria gestured at further up the mountain. He could only follow the direction of their present path for perhaps a half mile or so with his eyes before it made a turn to the left and plunged between two rock walls of shadow. Yet the higher up he turned his gaze the more signs of cold whiteness he saw. Vilthavia had no great liking for snow anymore than he did for lofty mountains. Indeed, he had seen little of the stuff through the years during his life back out on the Rhovanion plains, which was more prone to hard chilly rains in winter than heavy snowfall. Yet occassionally the flakes would fall long enough for a few inches to accumulate. When this happened it was a notable event for the folk back home, especially for the children, who enjoyed to frolick in it. The only advantage Vilthavia saw in snow at all was when it came to hunting, as it allowed easy tracking of wild game while engaged in the hunt. But here on the grim heights of the mountains, as Vilthavia esteemed them, the scattered fields of high and distant whiteness made him uneasy. He wondered how cold it would actually get up there. Would he be able to endure it? He was glad winter was still a few months away.

He then turned his head in the opposite direction to when the young woman wearing the white shawl was standing, next to the man who had offered her the dried buscuit earlier. She was not looking at him presently, and was instead looking towards the ground, making a lazy attempt to scrape away some of the mud from the side of one of her leather boots with her other foot. Vilthavia stared at her in silence for a while. She could only barely even be called a ‘woman’, really. She did not look a day older than, perhaps, fourteen or fifteen at most. Why would she be on such an expedition as harsh as this one? Was she really that eager to come into Eriador? Or was there more to her than meets the eye? Or perhaps there was just less in himself than he thought and as a result he found it hard to relate to the courage in others. Yes, he thought to himself. That must be nearer the truth. My heart is less stout than necessary for this errand. I shall never make it all the way across these wretched mountains. What courage I do possess is no match for the Misties. Vidui is right. I should just go home. My life there was not prone to excitement and adventure but at least it was secure and familiar. My mother will need me with the passing years. If my father never comes back than so be it. I will endure life without a father and so much the better.

Vilthavia felt his inner voice urging him to yield to Vidui’s council. At last he gave in to it. He gently nudged his friend, who in turn looked at the young man in silence. When Vilthavia, after a short delay, nodded and uttered the words, “I’ll go,” Vidui sighed and returned the nodd, whispering, “Very well. I shall speak with Wildaria for you. You have just become a wiser young man, my friend. You shall live to be glad of it in later days.”

After Wildaria finished his speach on hiking procedures in the upper elevations and the dangers of straying off of the main path, Vidui smiled at Vilthavia and left to speak privately with the chieftain on his friend’s behalf. Vilthavia watched some of the men begin to turn about and make ready for the morning departure. He knew very few of them and had only engaged in conversation with two or three of them at most since he left the Anduin vales by the river. The demeanor exhibited by the men were as varied as their faces and mannerisms. The bulk of the group consisted of mixed northmen and Rhovanions, the latter of whom seemed less excited about the next stage of their journey as did their northmen companions. The northmen, being less skilled with horses than the expert Rhovanions, tended to think primarily of themselves and their own bodily safety before they gave much heed to their beasts of burden. That was one of the primary characteristics that set the typical Rhovanion, in Vilthavia’s opinion, high above that of his northman counterpart: the desire and ability to recognize, not only the practical uses of horses, but more importantly, the almost unearthly divineness and unique honesty of such fair beasts. He could easily make such a judgement based on the way some of the northmen treated their beasts. To most of them their horses were their four-legged servants and little more. To the Rhovanions, himself included, horses were their much loved and trusted friends – friends that knew nothing of selfishness and greed or of deceit and lies. He had often heard Vidui describe horses in such terms and Vilthavia agreed with him whole-heartedly. They were the favorite of all earth-bound beings of Orome the Hunter in the early ages of the world before time began and they transcended the mortal flaws of men.

Vilthavia turned his attention to Vidui’s own loyal steed, a fine and mature black-coated mare named, comically enough, ‘Nightmare’. It was a play upon words that Vidui found ammusing. To be sure, she was a beauty by any standard and Vilthavia was only too happy to be entrusted to feed, water and brush her down each morning since leaving the communities nigh the Anduin down below. He made the final checks on the animal as a matter of course: making sure she had been securely shoed and fitted with her tight-fitting body coat for warmth – something they would all need very shortly up in the higher altitudes, and making sure the packs were fastened snuggly to the beast’s flanks. Vilthavia smiled at her sadly, regretting that he would most likely soon be leaving her company for good. He stroked her black mane as she stared wanly out across the lower foothills below, her tail swishing behind her in the light breeze.

Vilthavia heard the voice of Elendis again. She was standing next to her male companion’s own steed, or he assumed that it must be, and was talking softly with the older man, who was busily stuffing one of his saddlebags full with mushrooms. Vilthavia bit softly on his lip as he continued to gaze at the young woman, who looked cold and tired. He found her curious and deemed her quite the anomoly among the various men of the company. The more he stared at her the prettier he found her to be. Probably, he told himself, because she was presently the sole representative of her sex among the group of some fifty or so wayworn traveling men, most of whom were quite fagged out by now with sore feet and weary backs. In was only natural that she would draw attention and curious looks to her.

Vilthavia had only in the last couple of years begun to take notice of the pleasant and enticing qualities of the fairer sex. As a young boy he found their company rather tedious and irksome. He thought of most girls as something that must be endured; an unpleasant and noisy distraction that interfered with the more serious chores and exercises of men’s daily lives in the plainlands of Rhovanion. Yet recently he had come to reconsider his former opinions as unecessarily intolerant and even juvenile. On what grounds did he make such assumptions? His tender youth and propensity to indulge in solitude coupled with periodical moroseness was, no doubt, partly to blame. Yet there was something else as well, though he was loath to admit it to himself. He was slowly coming to the realization that part of his former scorn and impatience with girls stemmed from his inner fear and intimidation of them. Now that he had entered his early manhood years (albeit, just barely) he could look back and recognize this weakness. It was something that unsettled him, as it represented yet one more personal obstacle he needed to overcome in order to achieve that secure type of adulthood that he yearned for. Vilthavia was well aware of his weaknesses and flaws and he hated them – especially of his embarrasing fear of heights, which he was always at pains to conceal from others.

Three years ago he found himself unable to traverse some of the lower foothills of the mountains nigh the sea of Rhun while among a company of other youths who had been brought there by their elders to be schooled in the lands that surrounded their homelands. It was a particularly painful episode, and Vilthavia never forgot it, for the other boys either laughed at him or ridiculed him among themselves. The memory had left its scars upon him that had not healed. Even now he thought about it and the shame he felt on that expedition. And here I am now, he said to himself, in one of the cruelest and least hospitable places in Middle-earth: the Misty Mountains! I don’t belong here. No decent folk live in such deceitful areas as ‘mountains’. One day I hope to conquer this weakness of mine, but not today. Vidui is right. I shall return home. Yet I will speak with this young lass ere I depart.

Once he had been sure that Nightmare was ready and fit for the next stage of their hike (she would not be ridden, of course, but walked through the upper elevations) Vilthavia began to stroll casually over to where Elendis was standing next to her male companion and their grey and brown-maned stallion, who snorted audibly at the approach of a newcomer. Noticing this alarm Elendis turned round and looked at Vilthavia with indifference at first glance, then a little more curiously as the boy approached them. The older man, seeing that Elendis had been distracted and was no longer listening to him, completed his packing of the horse’s bags and frowned wearily at the youth. The look on the man’s face, which Vilthavia mistook for irritability, made him check himself and he halted several paces away from them. He could not think of something to say right away – that’s one mistake already even before I have begun, he rebuked himself silently – so he instead he meekly smiled at them and nodded his chin as a token of greeting. Elendis stared at him curiously.

“What do you need, lad?” asked the bearded man at last, seeing as how Vilthavia hadn’t spoken yet. “You look lost.”

Vilthavia shook his head.

“No,” he said softly. He cleared his throat and tried again, saying, “No, not at all, really. I am Vilthavia.” Then, remembering the formal procedure of introducing one’s self, as most men indulged in by announcing their parentage he added, “Vilthavia – son of Hunthor.”

“Who?”

“Hunthor,” answered Vilthavia. “He is my father. He is from Rhudaur.”

“Ah,” replied the man without much interest. “Never heard of him. Is there something that you want? If so, pray make it quick, as we are getting ready to depart.”

Vilthavia shuffled his feet slightly out of nervousness as he looked back at Elendis, who in turn was still observing him.

“Nothing really. I, er,” again he amost stammered, unsure of what to say, “I just thought I would introduce myself to Elendis and bid her a farewell and the blessings of the Valar on the next stage of her journey.”

Elendis squinted slightly as she heard him say her name. She looked confused and was about to speak at last, but the older man spoke first.

“You sound as if you are going away!” said the man as he leaned fondly against his horse.

“Well, I am – I think so, anyway,” replied Vilthavia. “I must turn back, alas, and return to the vales.”

“The vales? Down by the river? Why so?”

Vilthavia felt himself hesitate again. He should have prepared answers beforehand for these sort of questions and he knew it. He shrugged his shoulders.

“I am too ill to continue on this expedition. The leechers think I might get worse if I go further up the mountain.”

“But how will you get back down again, boy?” The man inquired incredulously.

“I shall manage it, thank you.”

“Ha! Sure you can!” The man’s tone was sarcastic. “Might as well go over there to that ledge,” he gestured to a rocky outcropping several dozen yards away that overlooked a sizable drop, “and take a leap into oblivion now and get it over with, son, for both are a sure route to a quick death.”

The man smirked at his own gest but Vilthavia found no humor in it.

“I will be escorted by one of the seniors among the company. Perhaps others that are too ill shall join us as well.”

“Our company’s personel is too thin as it is, if you ask me. So this has already been approved by Wildaria?”

Vilthavia replied nothing to this question and the man took his silence as an affirmative. He sighed in disapproval as he shook his head. He then asked Vilthavia sharply when he was to part company with them. Vilthavia could not hide annoyance and frowned in turn.

“Actually, sir, I just came over here to speak with Elendis before the company sets out again.”

Elendis again began to speak but her gaurdian unconsciously interrupted her once more.

“Did you? Can’t say that I am surprised; you and several other bucks here as well. You’ve all been gawking at her for the last couple of days.” He smiled knowingly at the shocked and insulted look upon Vilthavia’s face at these words, untrue as they were. The man went on quickly, saying, “Ah! Yes, I am not blind, lad. I see how you lads look at the young lass here. I am not saying that you ought to be blamed for it, of course, but I am here to tell you as I did the others before we left the vales that I am the young lady’s protector and I must approve of you before you are to be allowed to become acquainted with her. Is that not right, lady Elendis?”

“Please, Cernan!” said Elendis to the man. She was fond of old Cernan but his zeal in the carrying out of her safety was too much for her to endure sometimes. “I possess a mouth of my own, thank you. Let me speak for myself!”

“Aye, my lady. But I have been charged by your mother and father to deliver you back home again in safety. I may indulge a bit excessively in this undertaking, but it is ultimately in your best interests in the end.”

“Do you deem Vil…” she paused as she looked back at Vilthavia as she struggled to recall his name. He repeated it again to her and she went on. “…’Vilthavia’ to be a threat to me? For soothe, my good Cernan! You worry over much.”

“Perhaps, perhaps,” Cernan placated her. “I am only doing what I have been entrusted with. Vilthavia here is the fourth or fifth young buck to try his luck with you, that is all. Yet – as you will, young folk. But I will be near at hand and shall have an eye upon you. But be swift about it. We are getting ready to leave soon.”

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Found in Home 5 Reading Room 5 Stories 5 Grief of the North Kingdom (a novel)

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