Star of the North; by Linda Hoyland
Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
Summary; Aragorn receives an urgent summons from Gimli.
With thanks to Raksha and Deandra.
Orthanc towered impressively over the plain. It was a sight that never failed to cause Aragorn to catch his breath and reminded him to marvel anew at the skills of his ancient forebears.
"Soon we shall learn what secrets the tower still holds," said Aragorn, reining in Roheryn. Faramir did likewise on his own mount, Iavas, a feisty chestnut mare.
Once the repairs in Minas Tirith were complete, Aragorn had decided it was time that Orthanc was restored and thoroughly cleansed of Saruman's presence. To that end, he had despatched a team of workmen with Gimli at their head. The Dwarf had begged the commission for Orthanc was stuffed with all manner of unique and beautifully crafted treasures that his kind delighted in unearthing.
It was proving a lengthy and time- consuming task, which was constantly interrupted by Gimli's many other commitments, both to his own people and to Legolas.
Gimli sent Aragorn long letters detailing his progress and everything he had found at Orthanc. He had unearthed many beautiful swords, buckles, and helmets decorated with horse emblems, as well as beautiful jewels. Aragorn had suggested that Éomer should first see these artefacts, which the young King has identified as heirlooms of the House of Eorl stolen by Grima Wormtongue from King Théoden. Éomer had also identified many treasures stolen from the burial mounds of his forefathers.
Just over a week ago, though, a very different letter had been delivered into Aragorn's hands by a trusted courier. Unlike the others, it was brief and to the point. 'I have discovered a hidden doorway in the White Wizard's private chambers," Gimli had written. "There is writing on it in a tongue that neither I nor my workmen understand. I ask you to come. You have travelled further than any man living and might understand what the words mean. I feel there might be something of great importance behind the door, but am loth to open it unless the words are deciphered, lest it conceal some devilry of Saruman's best left untouched .'
Aragorn's curiosity had been piqued. He was also concerned that some threat to his realm lay hidden behind the door. Therefore, he decided to depart for Isengard at once, accompanied by a small detachment of guards.
Faramir had pleaded to go with him, reminding Aragorn that it was his ancestor, Beren, who had granted Orthanc to Saruman to dwell in.
"Much mischief could have been avoided had Beren refused the Wizard's request," said Faramir as he gazed upon the lofty tower.
"No doubt at the time, he felt honoured than one so mighty would grace Gondor with his presence," said Aragorn. "Saruman managed to conceal his true designs even from Gandalf."
Consoled by the King's words, Faramir changed the subject. "I wonder how our ladies are faring in our absence?" he said. "Éowyn hardly noticed my departure. She was excited that one of her mares was about to foal." He laughed.
"I expect Arwen is ruling wisely and well in our absence," said Aragorn. "I suspect she rather enjoys holding the reins of power sometimes. Her wisdom far exceeds mine."
"I hope only that this mystery of Gimli's poses no threat to our beloved land," said Faramir when they approached the gates of Orthanc.
"If it is some cunning weapon we can destroy it," said Aragorn. He looked around him approvingly. Where, a few years before had been utter devastation, was now a fair park of young trees, given to Aragorn by the Ents and lovingly tended by them. "The sooner we find out the better." He urged his horse forward. Faramir did likewise.
Gimli was waiting for them at the top of the steps, which led into the tower. "I saw you coming from afar," he said after greeting them warmly. "One of the few things this infernal tower has in its favour is that you can see for miles around from the top."
Aragorn looked around him approvingly. Gimli and his workmen had made good progress since his last visit and few traces of Saruman remained.
"We cleared the vile chambers where the confounded wizard bred his Uruk Hai first," said Gimli. "Then last month, we started emptying the Saruman's private rooms. The walls of an inner chamber were covered with tapestries showing him as lord of Middle-earth. We tore them down and burned them. It was then it struck me how ill proportioned the room was. We found an extra wall had been added to one side, which we decided to demolish. It was then we found a concealed door. I will show you as soon as you have refreshed yourselves after your long journey. One of the men here will tend your horses." He ushered Aragorn and Faramir inside and showed them the bathing chamber and a sleeping chamber that had been prepared for the guests.
Aragorn and Faramir quickly performed their ablutions, but did not change out of their travelling clothes. A few minutes later, the two friends followed Gimli up a long winding stairway to the rooms that had been Saruman's private chambers.
The room was clean and bare. At the far side was a doorway decorated with elaborate carved letters.
"It is all gibberish to me," said Gimli. "It is certainly not in my tongue or any of the common tongues of Men."
Aragorn and Faramir stepped forward and studied it closely. "It is Adûnaic," Aragorn said at last.
"The old tongue of Númenor, which fell into disuse after Ar-Pharazôn caused her destruction," Faramir added.
"That's all very interesting," said Gimli, "but do you know what it means?"
"Greater than the Simarils are the treasures of the cunning mind," said Aragorn. "But look, the words have been altered, there and there. Saruman named the tower 'Orthanc', which means 'Cunning Mind' in the tongue of Rohan. It was called 'Angrenost', which means' iron fortress' before he dwelt in it. I think the inscription once read, "Greater than the Simarils are the treasures of the iron will."
"The White Wizard speaks with a forked tongue as ever," said Faramir.
"Indeed!" Aragorn replied.
"The door has no handle," said Faramir. "How can we learn what is inside?"
"It might well have been built to house the palantír," said Aragorn. "It could be empty now."
"We will soon find out," said Gimli. "There is no door impassable to a stout Dwarf!" He reached for the bag of tools, which he carried slung over his shoulder and set to work.
Aragorn and Faramir could only watch as the Dwarf selected a variety of implements and started work.
"This could take some time," said Gimli.
"Is there nothing we can do to help?" asked Aragorn.
"You can help me best by going to take food and drink," the Dwarf replied. "I work best unobserved.
Aragorn and Faramir forced themselves to restrain their curiosity and follow the servant that Gimli summoned. The ale they were served tasted good, but the rabbit stew was bland and unappetising and the apples small and sour. The culinary arts were obviously not one of the talents of Gimli's workforce.
Aragorn and Faramir had eaten far worse in their Ranger days, though, and they were hungry after their ride.
They had only just finished eating when Gimli burst into the chamber beaming. "The door is open," he announced. "I will leave the honour of looking inside to you."
The King and Steward hurried back to Saruman's chamber. Gimli had wedged the door open with a block of wood. Aragorn opened it wide. It opened into a narrow corridor, on the far side of which was a steel closet. The King made to go inside.
Faramir gripped Aragorn's arm. "No, mellon nîn," he said. "There could be concealed perils. I should go first."
"I do not fear a dead wizard," said Aragorn, trying to free himself from Faramir's grasp.
"Please, ada, it would help make right my ancestor's folly!" said Faramir.
Aragorn sighed. "Very well, ion nîn, but if I thought any real peril awaited you, I would not let you take risks on my behalf."
Faramir stepped forward through the doorway.
"We should get torches," said Aragorn.
"It quite light here," the Steward replied. "I will- Argh!" The ground suddenly gave way beneath his feet and he vanished into a black void.
For an instant Aragorn was frozen to the spot. Then he noticed Faramir's fingers, frantically clutching at the edge of the void. He dropped to his knees, crying "Hang on!" and reached down to grab hold of Faramir's wrists. Once he had a hold, he lay down to better spread his Steward's weight. He felt as if his arms would be wrenched from their sockets. Faramir was a slender man, but he was tall and muscular.
"I will fetch a rope," Gimli cried.
"Do not let go, ion nîn!" Aragorn called into the blackness. "I have you. Gimli is bringing a rope."
"May he be swift!" said Faramir. "I cannot hold on for much longer."
"I shall not let you fall," said Aragorn. He spoke no further word as he concentrated on keeping Faramir from falling into the abyss. Curse Saruman! Whatever priceless treasures he might have squirrelled away; they were not worth Faramir's life.
Moments passed, feeling like hours. Aragorn's hands started to grow numb. He willed himself to hold on. He would not, could not let the friend who had become dear as a son to him fall. He shouted out "Gimli, hurry!"
The Dwarf raced into the room with a coil of rope, which he tied around Faramir's wrists while Aragorn continued to grip the Steward's hands. Then the stout Dwarf heaved and tugged until Faramir was able to scramble out of the chasm.
Faramir collapsed on the floor where he lay ashen faced and panting. Aragorn knelt beside him in scarcely better condition. He felt as if he had just run forty leagues with a hoard of Orcs in pursuit. "Thank you, my friend," he told the Dwarf.
Gimli looked around the room and espied a plank leaning against the wall, left there by the workmen. He threw it across the gaping hole in the ground, and before Aragorn could collect himself, was walking across it with surprising agility for his build.
"What are you doing?" asked Aragorn. "Be careful!"
"I'm putting a stop to the confounded Wizard's tricks," said the Dwarf. "He shall give up his secrets now." He took a file from his tool bag and forced open the door of the cabinet. It was almost empty apart from a casket on a high shelf. Gimli snatched it up and cautiously made his way back across the plank.
"Let us see what is inside," he said. "Most likely some foul thing!"
"Faramir is hurt," said Aragorn. "Saruman's treasures can wait."
"I should like to see," said Faramir. "I have just pulled some muscles in my shoulder I think." The Steward had regained his breath, but still looked pale.
"Very well." Aragorn cautiously opened the casket. Within it, two things were laid.
One was a small case of gold, attached to a fine chain; it was empty, and bore no letter or token. Next to it lay a treasure without price, a white star of Elvish crystal upon a fillet of mithril. Never before had they beheld a jewel so fair. The very radiance of the stars seemed to be contained within the gem.
"It reminds me of Frodo's star glass," said Faramir. "So fair a thing I have never before beheld!"
"It is the Elendilmir itself," Aragorn exclaimed in awe as he took it reverently in his hands. "This jewel is descended from Silmarien to Elendil, and was last seen when Isildur took it as the token of royalty to the North Kingdom. It was believed lost with him. The one I have been wearing was made by Elven-smiths in Imladris for Valandil Isildur's son, it has neither the ancientry nor potency of the one that was thought lost forever."
"A priceless treasure indeed!" said Faramir in amazement. "That is surely the most precious jewel you have discovered in Gondor!"
"All save one," said Aragorn smiling. "More precious still is the jewel I discovered in the grip of the Black Breath after the battle of Pelennor Fields. No jewel can compare with a true and trusty friend."
A/n. Some lines are taken directly from Tolkien's Unfinished Tales.
This story was written for the Teitho "Jewels" challenge where it was placed 2nd.