Fields of Fornost, T.A. 1324
“Foreman, how goes the construction?” Third Marshal Forvengil of the Army of Arthedain shielded his eyes from the midday sun.
The foreman, Narangol, looked over at the project, an as-of-yet incomplete stone stronghold with scaffolding clinging to the walls like ivy. “Smoothly so far, sir.” He looked down at the blueprints again. “We’re waiting on a new shipment of the stone from the masons, but that should arrive from the quarries tomorrow. Then we can complete the southern fortifications and begin work on the tower.”
Forvengil nodded. “And how is the old master holding up?”
Narangol grinned. “You can ask him yourself. He’s on his way here. I can hear his complaining getting closer.”
“Is that the Marshal?” came an old, cantankerous voice. “Tell the youngling that the staging of the western wall is all wrong! The foundations are too close to the edge of the cliffs!”
Forvengil sighed. “The ‘youngling’ is here, Master Thavron.”
“Master Thavron indeed!” The owner of the name climbed the steps to the foreman’s overlook which surveyed the build site. “Once upon a time I was Grandmaster Thavron, elder of the First Circle of Annúminas, Arthedain’s foremost expert on architectural design and engineering, and the author of several well-circulated treatises on the topic. Why, the old stiffnecks of the Gondorian schools even use them, and they don’t even like to read anything they haven’t written themselves!”
“Which is exactly why you were sent here,” replied Forvengil, attempting to smooth the old lore-master’s ruffled feathers. “We wanted to be certain there was an expert overseeing its construction.”
“Pah!” Thavron exclaimed. “Any idiot who played with wooden blocks as a child could oversee the construction of a fortress. Especially this one. It is already located at a strategic location. The gorge provides a natural defense. And at any rate, Fornost is not so far away.”
“Did the king tell you anything about why we’re building all of the new fortresses?” Narangol asked. “The engineering corps was tasked with almost a dozen new fortresses. They sent me here because I’m new and as the master said, Fornost is not so far away.”
“They didn’t send you,” snorted the old man. “I requested you. Precisely because you are younger and haven’t yet had your head filled with the nonsense they let pass for instruction these days.”
“Also,” Forvengil said gravely, “The king wishes for greater guard up here in the north. We are not alone anymore.”
“The native Hill-men?” Thavron asked. “They are no threat. Not only is their weaponcraft much less advanced than ours, but they are peaceful. They have integrated well with our brethren in Rhudaur.”
“Not the Hill-men. To the north. Our outriders reported new cities being built beyond the mountains. Númenorean cities.” The Marshal paused to let that sink in. “King Malvegil did not send any expedition north, nor did Rhudaur or Cardolan. They came from the East.”
“The exiles?” Narangol asked. “They were banished years ago for dabbling in sorcery, were they not?”
“They weren’t very good at it,” chortled Thavron. “I remember them. One of their member was also part of the First Circle. They finally attracted attention when they accidentally torched the building where they had their perfumed bonfire. Good riddance to them, I say.”
“It may be those very exiles, but it may be even worse.” Forvengil sighed and passed a hand over his forehead. The noon sun was beating down strongly. “The king fears that their leader was one of those Men given a Ring of Power.”
The three men stood in contemplative silence for some time. A long time ago, before the North-kingdom had been founded, let alone divided, there had been several Rings of Power forged by a malevolent evil bent on dominating Middle-earth. Nine men, some of whom were Men of Westernesse, had been gifted these Rings. The Rings granted them longer life-spans than usual, and leadership and power beyond measure, but had ultimately betrayed them to the Enemy who had ensnared their hearts.
They now existed as wraiths, their spirits bound to the world in service of the evil One who had forged the Rings. The Enemy was defeated, and so the current Age of the World had begun, but there were still whispers that He would someday return, and be heralded by the return of these wraiths. If their new neighbor was one of these Nine…
“Officially, there has not been a realm to recognize yet,” Forvengil said at length. “but unofficially the First Marshals are calling them ‘Gûldor’, since we all expect it is the exiles who have settled there.”
“The Land of Sorcery?” scoffed Thavron. “Save that name for when there are actual, credible accounts of dark powers at play. Not these amateurs.”
Narangol was more thoughtful. “If it really is a wraith behind the new settlements, then Fornost must surely be on his mind. That’s why the king wants these new defenses, isn’t it?”
Forvengil nodded. “I do not wish to put words in his mouth, but I suspect so, yes. If Fornost should fall, we will need other defenses to protect the farmers on the southern fields. There is talk of establishing a town across the gorge.”
“Redundancy? How inefficient,” Thavron grumbled, but conceded the point. “I will get back to the foundations and make sure your engineers do not cause further harm to the integrity of my walls.”
“And I must check in with my own superior,” Forvengil said. “It looks as though the project is progressing smoothly here. You will have my commendation, Foreman.”
“Thank you,” replied Narangol. He remained studying the map of the north long after the other two had departed. Thavron was right. The gorges and rivers cutting through the landscape put the cliffs of Nan Wathren on an effective island. It worked both ways, though: if danger struck, it would take a long time for people to seek refuge within. Also, any protracted siege would be particularly dangerous for anyone holed up inside.
There had been stories of the wraith from the old days. “Witch-king,” he had been called. If he had come to the north…no fortress would stand against his shadow. He despised the Dúnedain, and had allied with the disgusting orc-breeds of the Misty Mountains. How could he have followers among Men?
Narangol looked back at the build site. They would have to do better. He already imagined a few adjustments to the design which would improve its integrity and allow for better responses to movement on the fields. Maybe they could install secret passages, tunnels drilled through the rock. He’d have to run these ideas by Master Thavron.
This stronghold would last, he hoped. But if it did someday collapse in the wearing on of time, what might become of its ruins? After a thousand years, strangers might meet among crumbled stone walls. Would they become friends? Or would they be bitter foes still at war? Narangol could only imagine…