Summary: And if victory is a woman, embrace her.
Characters: Fíriel of Gondor, Arvedui, Aranarth, Eärnil, Eärnur
Warnings: Historical revisionism.
Notes: Squeezed this out after hours. Woot! *resubmerges*
The Fall of Arnor
Petrology: Land of Stone, Land of Kings
They had sent her north to be a living bond: she would wed Arvedui, and bind North to South.
The north, some say, is a cold hard place – a land where one can feel the old factions like cracked stone.
In her father’s council, some say Arnor will not long survive, sundered from Gondor. She sees farther: without north, there is no south.
For shadows rise in the East, and Angmar hovers over Gondor and Arnor, like a sickle set to reap. Between enemies, Gondor cannot survive.
The north is a cold, hard place – and here, her die is cast.
Chalk: The brittle forge
The towers of Annúminas are not unlike the spires of her home – two white cities, glimmering in the light. Arvedui is not less kingly than her father, as he takes her hand before the people assembled, the rings upon their fingers glittering. His grip is iron – he has some strength in him, who shall hold fractured Arnor together.
Yet one man’s strength cannot balance weak treasuries, nor the narrowed visions of peoples bound to parts more than the whole. When the hammer of Angmar falls, it will strike chalk.
From that blow, what spark shall rise then to save them?
Marble: Setting the compass
The prince and princess process throughout their kingdom, that the people may see them, that the noble families may know: they will draw the kingdoms together.
From earth-work forts to marbled halls, Fíriel watches, gauges doubt in hesitations, gauges fear in grips, and – more worrisome – ambition. Some fear losing prestige should the kingdoms unite. Others… others would be happy to see less of Arvedui.
How many of them would be so happy as to open doors to Angmar?
Fíriel watches peasants wrest their bread from rocky soil – with such bounty, they cannot long withstand siege.
Thus she turns to study.
Granite: On the war-path
A woman in war is unseemly, men say – so she bans them from her study, unless they will bend. Her study fills with maps, with treatises and tomes of warfare, in every tongue she reads.
Elendil’s line is foresighted – sometimes. She knows only the urgency of one who sees too well the trap ahead, and so studies: tactics, strategy, history.
She finds captains who will hear her, and train men in arts of war less often taught. She’ll be the granite that whets Arnor’s steel.
Some say such arts are womanish.
If victory is a woman, Fíriel retorts, embrace her!
Obsidian: In a mirror, darkly
In time, she bears a child – gives her peoples a son. Arnor rejoices; Gondor… would rather she bore girls. It makes marriage less fraught for southern crowns, though law bars cousins from each other.
But the blind seer, who named Arvedui, lays hands upon her son, and proclaims: Child of kings, thou shalt rule crownless, or fall beneath one and break the land beneath thee.
And Fíriel glimpses, as in the black-glass stone of far-off lands, the shape of things to come: bitter vindication!
Victory is a woman of strange ways – but Fíriel is resolved: the Dúnedain shall know her.
Marble: In the breaches
Aranarth soon has a brother – insurance, against that shadowed vision, and the raids from the north.
Angmar is moving, all along the northeastern front – driving a wedge between Arnor and allies. In Fornost, Captain-General and Princess-Consort pore over maps and reports, strategize and plot. Fíriel briefs captains daily, sends her husband forth with plans she has crafted.
And both wait fearfully on missives from Gondor, which also suffers – the Wainriders run unchecked. Fíriel moves marble markers, reads force and form, warns:
Poor strategy to field fight on the enemy’s picked ground! Retreat – to forest, fen, or hills.
To no avail.
Yet none foresees the day when southern war wipes the royal slate blank.
No one knows, even, until much later.
Then Fíriel feels her black-glass fears take flesh – her father’s and brothers’.
In the east and north, the enemy rises. Elendil’s kingdoms cannot survive sundered.
Thus Arvedui wars with words and law. His final letter goes with Fíriel, who lays father and brothers to rest, but will not pass the scepter: she forces Eärnil to take it himself.
Arnor can muster no greater force, for Isildur’s line cannot press claim without weakening the whole.
But we shall remember, Fíriel warns.
Marble: Hark, the winter whitening
Time bleeds steadily away, as do Arnor’s companies: pale as marble, her soldiers lie in their grey graves, and war wears on Araphant, leaches strength, until he takes Mandos’s hand one night.
The crown is cold, the scepter heavier than the sword – Aranarth must replace her as Arvedui’s captain-counselor. She must hold Annúminas, leaving border wars to them.
But she creates the Queen’s Companies, writes treatises on war-time rule, and keeps her glaive handy.
Eärnil writes of rebuilding, of patience – he is yet unready to send help.
And if help is a whore, she writes a frustrated Aranarth, spurn her.
Chalk: 1974: Ar-vedui
When the hammer falls, war-master, she cannot fault the blow: Angmar sweeps from the North with winter storms. His armies are nearly their own couriers – her sons’ messenger arrives in Annúminas, massacre and mayhem spilling from lips blue with cold, with smoke rising in the distance.
All Arnor lies before Fíriel in mind’s eye – its lines blurr and run away, like chalk in the rain, like a child’s whimsy: Tharbad, cut off… Breeland, open… Fornost…
Fornost is gone.
The heart of the kingdom is cut out, its head cut off likely – what of the dismembered rest?
That falls to her.
Slate: The art of division
Her couriers are out the gates within the hour, riding for Mithlond, and from the Queen’s Companies she chooses her hardiest scouts – she slates them the task of finding a way back to Rivendell and Gondor, by way of Tharbad.
For the bulk of their strength lies east – scattered forces must be gathered, and allies gained to prevail.
But she does not know Eärnil’s strength, if he will lend it finally – so she will not bet all upon Gondor.
Two fronts, she commands, and orders Aranarth east to command there.
What of Annúminas? Aranarth asks.
I rule here, she answers.
But her sons contest, arguing: Arnor needs her wisdom in war; she must command the weaker western front. She must live.
And so she gives her younger Annúminas and his last blessing, then departs: for the western army cannot match force for force; hers must be the side-strike, swift gone as come.
Womanish ways – the survivor’s way – and harder than granite.
Annúminas held, she heard later, until spring, hunger, and attrition broke the gates. She remembers that defense with the sword, harrying Angmar’s flanks like a cloud of horseflies – drawing blood draught by draught.
Thus she works her patient revenge.
Marble: And victory be her justice
Revenge alone is not enough, however: it is not great enough for governance. Fíriel is queen, and so in the hills of Arthedain, the clearings of the Shireland, between battles, she tends to the kingdom’s affairs: to villagers, she brings healers, counsel, and her men bring game from the forests and fields.
And she hears complaints – at her decree, barren winter trees bear a different, gangly, ghastly sort of fruit. The queen’s justice is swift, her branded hanged-men warning to enemies and traitors that the House of Elendil’s not made of marble, but flesh and bone, and lives ever watchful…
Granite: By no living man defeated
And one day, Círdan sends word: come to Mithlond! For there are ships come to harbor.
There are ships: they fill the bay, disgorging men under Gondor’s flag, shining resplendent…
Eärnur lacks his father’s statecraft, Fíriel finds, but he’s Gondor’s champion, serves well enough as such. Plans long laid-in unfold: the Elves and Dúnedain descend upon the enemy from Evendim’s hills like an avalanche.
Two fronts, she had ordered, and they close upon Angmar like wolf’s jaws.
But the Witch-king has his hour: Eärnur’s horse flees, maddened – leaving one alone to bear his fury.
The scepter falls finally to earth.
Obsidian: The long road laid
The king is dead, long live the king, Eärnur proclaims.
Too late. Starvation walks a land bereft, haunted by Angmar’s shadows – obsidian shards, lingering in Arnor’s flesh.
Her cities ruined, her people harrowed, Aranarth takes the bloodied scepter only to suspend it.
Outrage. Confusion. Eärnur offers aid and advisers, and he sees in some eyes despair threatening…
We had a queen, Aranarth tells Eärnur. And, son of his mother, well-versed in war, when his chief counselor would accept Gondor’s offers, Aranarth casts him out, saying:
Let Gondor keep you, then – we keep our sovereignty, that the high king come again.