The Eagle of the Star
The Eagle of the Star
'What do your eyes make of it Amloth?'
Meril of Evendim looked upon her son, now grown full into the early years of manhood, and so had the years kissed her gently, and her grey eyes that were shot with green in the light of day now shimmered in wisdom. Amloth was now broad of shoulder, and of arm length, and his height was of note. Yet his countenance and posture was hindered by his habit of slouching; for even then did Amloth wander far afield, burdened by the weariness, though his love for the wild grew no less.
But they were not now in the foothills of the north, and Amloth knew not the sight before him. 'Have these ancient boughs stolen your voice, dearest Amloth?' asked Meril. Still did he offer no response, and his grey eyes, much like to his father's, danced over the vista before him. All about them the hills rose and fell in great swathes, covered in the blanket of many trees, most predominantly of fir, and of beech and birch; and yet the ground was damp to the touch, and wild bracken grew unchecked where the slopes gave way before his feet to the gnawing of the rivers below.
It seemed to Amloth that a great shadow lay upon these parts, for he descried from afar the fracturing of the remote Hithaeglir, and he looked upon them in fear and in wonder. 'I fear to speak, for my voice might be claimed by those jagged teeth. Are they, truly, the Misty Mountains I have so long heard of, mother?' And he turned to look at her, and though he was nineteen winters passed, his face was now that of a boy enthused by exploration, though still marred by his crooked features from ill-deeds past. ''And of these waters that dampen the land: from whence are they born?'' And Meril replied, 'From the Mitheithel, and the Bruinen that flows freely through the vale of Elrond Half-elven, in the shadow of the Misty Mountains.'
And with that he looked now clearly at the water, for it rushed with vigour and haste, and it was met by another current, more subdued in its meander; and it was here that he witnessed indeed the meeting of the rivers Mitheithel, or the Hoarwell with the Bruinen flow, known as the Loudwater in the common.
This was the Angle; a strip of land protected by the crossing of these waters, and of the great wall of the Misty Mountains to the east, and of the vigil of Imladris to the north; and it is said here a hidden folk did reside in the fastness of the wild, and were the watchers of Eriador and of old Arnor. 'Come, Amloth. Our people await.' And with that Meril, in her seasoned age, navigated her way through the untamed foliage. Amloth at last tore himself from the spell of the clashing rivers that wove on to become the Gwalthló; his heavy slouch was eased and he lead his horse onwards by the bridle.
They were not alone in company, however, and had travelled many leagues with two hardy and silent companions: Rangers they were, and their skill lay in the knowledge of the wild. They both flanked and followed, and it seemed to Amloth that their familiar grimness ebbed away with each stride until at last a new sight befell the company, and all movement was halted once more.
The cover of trees receded, and yielded a nest of slopes that appeared sparce and devoid of any settlement, were it not for the clear wisps of smoke that spewed forth from hidden places. To Amloth, and perhaps his mother, this was a perplexing sight; but the Rangers were not deceived and knew what lay ahead. They urged them to press on, and soon the riddle was answered. As with a spark in Amloth's mind did he suddenly realise: all about him there were many huts, and dwellings, of stone and of wood, lost wholly into the natural hues of the land about them; and they were humble in their design, each offering a wisp of smoke and the fragrant smell of brazen hearths lingered in the air. And as they passed, Amloth heard behind the stirring of many folk, and as he looked he saw them: hidden wardens crept forth from the shadow of the trees. They were armed with spear and shield, and some bore a silvered token upon their breast. They did not approach and simply watched, and offered brief nods to their accompanied Rangers.
It was then that suddenly the dour-handed guides broke their company with swift words to Meril, and soon Amloth and his mother were bade free roam of the settlements before them. Up and along the make-shift road did they wander, and they passed several folk: women and children, chief among them, and though they played and laughed, they were subdued, as though they wished not their voices to be heard by any other ears. Amloth felt the disquiet, and followed in tow behind his mother, leading their burdened steed.
Soon, he saw several colours that collided with the natural hues about him, and from the brow of a looming hill-rise there could be seen several banners that were fine in make; they bore the designs of the seven stars, and of others that he did not know; and they were crests, doubtless, of family lines, each represented in a different hue. It seemed clear to Amloth that here dwelt the most noble of their kin who's lineage could be traced to more loftier days; and yet still were their dwellings humble of make, and none of grandeur.
'Fairest lady of Nenuial, you have come at last! Welcome, welcome!' spoke a voice, instantly familiar to Amloth. Up the path a man strode, elderly in visage, yet he was sprightly. He was clad in a whitened robe, though dulled over the years, and around his shoulders was his brown wrap and hood; and there was no ornamentation upon him of any kind, save his brooch, shaped in that of an Owl with its pinion wings spread wide. This was Haeredir, his mentor and father figure of many years. 'Your timing is fortunate, lady Meril, for our kindred are blessed with the presence of Him: our lord and Chief. I trust your journey was without event?' And with that he glanced at Amloth, and his many lines creased with a warm smile.
Ever did he look upon him as his own son, and so too did Amloth grow fond of him. ''Not without event, friend Haeredir, for my son has been busy with our wandering guides, and has learned many things of the wild; of herbs and of tracking.'' And they both eyed him in endearment, and Amloth inclined his head, though he resented their scrutiny, and he became suddenly aware of the scars upon his face. 'You walk the path of a Ranger then, Amlarad-son?' said Haeredir, his gaze keen and thoughtful. 'It is well. And perhaps more so, for your cousin resides hither and she has missed you.' And with that Amloth discarded his sullen face with a look of surprise, and he said, 'Ciryawen? That is good, indeed. Long have I missed our banter, and my besting of her with pranks.' And his mother looked upon him, inscrutable, and he could do little to hide his youthful smirk.
Haeredir lead them toward the great parade of banners that now fluttered in the mild wind, and he spoke of many things to Meril who remained silent and listened, and Amloth seemed content to observe the familiar and the unfamiliar; there were more of the dour wardens in place, and they seemed as statues of old, unmoved with the passage of time; and there were other men too, not bound by such duty, who talked freely, and sang, and were merry or grim. Amloth listened to many things, for he was keen of sight and hearing, and the ringing of the smithy's hammer, and of raucous poultry ensnared his senses; for it was of these things, the rustic ways and the simple, that he remembered most in his dwelling to the north. His sense of smell was apparent also; beyond the cloud of hearth-smoke he discerned the labour of many woodsmen and cutters, merely by the scent of their felled trees.
Soon, they were lead away from the cluster of huts that were ever lined with banners, and at last came to the stables; and to Amloth's surprise they were not poor in conception or of make, and were as noble a dwelling for any steed of the West-men. Meril took delight in doting over each mount that was housed. Some were arrayed in stars and were proud in manner, and others were humble and unassuming, much akin to their simple saddles; and all horses were kept here, both lord's and pilgrim's alike, for all Men were equal in the Angle in privilege, and yet honoured the hierarchy of their blood.
Amloth then looked upon one horse that was stilled, and he was reminded of the wardens, for it seemed as proud yet unmoved as all the horses here, and it did not flinch or yearn for the touch of Meril. Haeredir watched thoughtfully, and spoke: 'The steed of our Chief. A worthy mount, is he not? But come! Now is not the time to dally in stables, for your timing remains yet fortunate, as our Great Feast is to be had! Let us eat, and you may witness the rider of this horse.' With a mysterious yet knowing look he he hurried Meril and Amloth, and they stabled their own, and then made their way back to the summit of the dwellings.
The day was now waning swiftly, for the sun had dropped behind the line of trees. They were brought forth to the largest hut yet seen, and it was made in the likeness of a hall, bearing the only designs of nobility thus far; and there were as many people as could be gathered. Amloth noted few women and children, and fewer Men; and then one approached, and she was as dark of hair and grey of eyes as he, and she caught him swiftly on his arm.'I knew it!', cried Ciryawen, 'Amloth, plague of the north! You are here at last!' and they embraced.
Meril and Haeredir were lead onwards through the doors, and Amloth and Ciraywen strayed behind only a little; and they talked and laughed, only to be silenced by the graveness of the door-wardens. Upon passing the threshold, they were beset by the warmth and glow of many fires, and people were hushed at the sight of a large and well-crafted table, and there a great line of food was laid before them upon many lesser tables and benches, yielded by the labour of the Rangers and their skill in the hunt; and yet all heads were craned in the direction of the greatest, oak-whittled and inlaid with the stars of their kin; but no sight of the Chieftain could be seen or heard.
An hour had passed of subdued merriment, and before the food was eaten in earnest, all those present fell quiet and gave thought and silent thanks to the West, as was the custom; and afterwards Amloth and Ciryawen ever peered at the larger table, musing. There, the greater of their kin were sat, and some were grave, and spoke amongst themselves, perhaps of deeds too great for them to understand or of matters concerning greater lands; and yet still the Chieftain did not grace them with his presence.
And then one entered, and all heads were turned, and Amloth then thought he had seen him, but it was not so. Amid the bows of respect, and the swift murmers, a man meandered past the procession of tables towards the greatest, and there he was greeted by those who sat, and Amloth knew him by face. This man was Halbarad, freshly named the Captain of Rangers, and he whispered to the nearest of his kinsmen. And so it was that the evening wore on without event, and the folk turned their attention to lesser matters of idle talk, and Amloth and Ciryawen resumed their endless banter. 'I yearn for the evening air. Will you come, lest I torment you with my boundless wit?' taunted Amloth, and Ciryawen merely regarded him with amusement. 'Oh but I recall the time when-' and Amloth scowled and interjected, 'Nevermind about such things. Must you always remember?', and with that Ciryawen laughed and was lead from the gathering to the door. There Amloth nodded to the ever watchful door-wardens, and passed the threshhold with his cousin in tow.
The cool night air repelled the smothering warmth from the feast, and Amloth set his sights to the star-strewn heavens. Ciryawen pondered thoughtfully at her younger cousin, mingled pity and fondness arising at the sight of his crooked features. 'You were handsome once, dear Amloth. And now your nose rivals the hook of those distant mountains!' And yet she rested her gentle hand upon his shoulder to lessen the sting, and he smiled in good humour. 'All the better to be recognised, lest I should be lost among so many dark haired and stone-eyed men.' And with that he sighed wearily, and she flickered a smile at the familiar habit.
'You are not yet old enough to gain the privilege of sighing, cousin; not until your years have waned, and you are as grim as those door-men should you do so.' Amloth simply ignored as he pondered the stars, and he spoke: 'I had hoped He would be here. Alas, I have long desired this day.' And with that Ciryawen frowned and answered: 'Do not worry so! He is here, perhaps on errand before arrival at the feast, and glorious will his coming be.' And Amloth in turn frowned, this time in confusion. 'Forgive me, I meant not Him, but rather him: my father, whom sought my coming to this place.' And her pity was renewed and she fell silent, and for a while they simply stared at the stars, and admired the works of Elbereth, until at last Amloth broke free from his reverie.
''I have lost all thought of food and banter, Ciryawen. I will take my leave.'' And with that he left, and she did not stay him, for she knew that his cousin would do as he wished, and his fey mood had taken him; and his strides bore him in the dark without thought to the stables ahead.
At last the stirrings of the housed steeds could be heard as he approached, and the stables were unmanned. The darkness was thick, yet the starlight shon down into the hay-scattered pen, and Amloth beheld many eyes upon him, and all the horses gazed upon the grave young man. And it was that he whiled away the time, tending to each horse in turn, and he fathomed and reckoned them each, guessing shrewdly as to their master's trade, until at last he came upon the greatest, and most silent and still. It was then that a voice broke the quiet, and Amloth shrunk back, for to him the horse had spoke: ' Why do you tarry here among steeds, when their masters feast freely?' And as he stepped back he collided with something greater and immovable, and he then turned and saw a towering man; he was shaded and lit by shadow and starlight in equal measure.
'Who are you, and why do you sneak upon hapless wanderers?' retorted Amloth, and it was clear the fright had irked him. And with that the towering man moved only a little, and his face was revealed: Amloth saw a mane of shaggy hair, and two keen eyes, doubtless of his kin, and though he deemed him to be no more than a score ahead in years, there was wisdom there that he had not yet seen in the eyes of any man; and he felt quelled by the stare, and the Tall man answered: 'One who repays such an act by answering swift questions, and forgiving those who are deaf to mine.'
Amloth looked down, and he was abashed, and felt compelled then to answer his, but the Tall man halted him with but a raise of his hand, and he felt those eyes of wisdom scrutinise him. 'You seem ill at ease here, in the company of great companions; and I would not have it so, for the count of many lives and great deeds may be remembered by horses.' And the Tall Man stepped forth toward the housed steeds, and Amloth was ensnared by a shimmer of stark silver upon his shoulder, undimmed as a true star. 'I am unused to this place, and seek one whom has not revealed himself. But I doubt not the honour of these horses, least of all the silent one.' replied Amloth, and with that he gestured to the greatest, and the Tall man moved near and hearkened to it.
The steed lowered its head and permitted his presence where before he had allowed none, and Amloth spoke on: 'Do you not desire to see our Chieftain and Lord at the feast, if he should appear? Or has a fey mood taken you also, my lord?' The Tall man turned his head, considering, and he answered: 'I know the Chieftain well, and of his mind, and have become too familiar with him. However, as is my wont, I will venture forth into that hall before I am to depart southwards.' And with that Amloth frowned, for he did not understand, and then the Tall man turned to him swiftly, and his silvered star blinded Amloth for a moment, and he spoke: 'But go now, and enjoy the company of kin and family; and forget not the joys of food and song, and perhaps those that choose not to reveal themselves will at last be seen proper, and you will be the better for it.' And as he uttered those final words, it seemed as though Amloth was commanded, and he heeded the stranger without question, as if compelled by some other will, and departed wordlessly. And it was that he never again spoke with the Tall man and his silvered star for the remainder of his life, but that image never left his mind; of Sea-king eyes, and of the brightened star, so alike to many Rangers, yet greater and more potent.
Amloth strode with purpose towards the feast, as if sent as a Lord's messenger, and there finding his cousin absent, he passed the threshold and found his place among the roused table. Haeredir caught his eye, and there was caution, and yet no words were exchanged and the merriment ensued; and then at last the doors opened and one entered, and all Men arose from their benches. So it was that their Chieftain had arrived, and Amloth was struck first at the sight of the silvered star, and at the last those Sea-king eyes.