"When Numenor fell the Undying Lands were removed from Middle-earth. Thus the ban of the Valar similarly fell to ruin. Nothing kept men from sailing far into the distant waters. Even so, few of my kindred nor any of the Middle-men ventured terribly far to the west. Stories of seeing the fabled top of Meneltarma would regale ale infused company in many a common room in Gondor. However there existed an unspoken dread that kept virtually all from seeking for fish or fortune where the lost isle was charted to be. It was the lingering memory of the great Powers, vague and without form. The awe of the departed Valar which once filled the hearts of free people had fallen to simple fear and supplication to power. The Enemy knew this well and did not fail to play upon it."
– Benjimir Thursby, "The Analects."
The commander and captain rode through the white roads of Minas Tirith in no obvious haste. The manner and detail of the summons coming at the end of long and costly sortie compounded the sense of foreboding the swift dismissal brought. All the same, the wafting of kitchen smells, the sound of laughing and children provided a measure of comfort. It was not until they passed the sculpted mithril doors of the main gate that Commander Gatewood broke the silent journey.
“Any thought as to the cause of your summons home?” Gatewood asked Benjimir.
Benjimir was drawn out of his silent thought and shook his head. “None, but that reminds me…” he replied and slipped his hand into his hauberk and withdrew the scroll he was given.
Taking advantage of the long and straight path along the causeway to the outer wall near Harlond, Benjimir allowed his mount to guide itself. Breaking the seal and opening the courier case containing the scroll he noted it was that of the House of Thursby, not the Prince Inrahil nor of the Admiralty.
The first curiosity was addressed by finding a second scroll kept within the first. Of fine white paper rich with cotton. Orders of discharge he knew before reading the separation terms. He reviewed and then slipped the orders behind his father’s scroll. With flared brows Benjimir absorbed the letter of discharge from the Admiralty.
“It would appear that I am being absconded to the service of the Prince at which point I will be considered released from service to Gondor as an officer of the fleet. My final order is to con the Entullesse to Dol Amoroth where it is being released to the service of the Prince in defense of the fief.” Benjimir reported as he more carefully read through the message from his father Tenefalas Thursby.
Gatewood’s mood turned grim but his face brooked no surprise at the news.
“Losing the Entullesse will be sorely felt but I will be surprised if there is not more to know about that development. What of your father?” Gatewood asked. As eldest son of the patriarch of House Thursby, Benjimir held title and duty outside his oath to defend Gondor. The summons and his final order could only be part of the same development.
Benjimir finished reading and returned the scrolls to the case. Taking a breath he gathered the words to summarize his father's communique.
“Formal to excess but such is our way. I would be offering supposition to say what the cause for the discharge to the Prince’s services is but it seems certain that is a means to an end. My brothers have already been recalled home and Tenefalas will hold council with us as soon as I arrive. The Entulesse is to prepare to sail while that is taking place.” Benjimir finished.
Gatewood nodded. The officers had served about and beside each other for over a decade. They kept to the forms and rank and formality were honored. However a genuine bond of friendship had become the most valued and trusted quality the men shared.
“Tenefalas is not one for fatherly sentiment is he?” Gatewood asked. Benjamin smiled.
“In his fashion he is. Ours has not always been a warm relationship but not for lack of love. We share the common loss of my mother and our roles in the House hierarchy tends to lead to tension.” Benjimir explained.
“Your mother was revered well beyond Belfalas, I don’t think you have spoken of her before.” Gatewood offered.
“I am my mother’s ghost.” Benjimir said. “Tenefalas is, in a sense, a steward of the leadership of the House of Thursby, as Denethor is Steward of the throne of Gondor. Here, because the relics of our House are Passed down the line through my mother as he married into the family.” Benjimir said. The implications were not lost on Gatewood.
“By right then you ought to be lord of your house then?” Gatewood asked genuinely curious despite being ordinarily uninterested in heraldry and kin strifes.
“I think he might have found that to his liking. However in the tradition of our House I traveled abroad, trained in the service of the Steward which until these orders, save for leaves of absence to tend to the needs of our Kin.” Benjimir said as the White City began to fall further behind him.
Gatewood nodded. “So this is not the first the Steward has been asked to give you leave?” he asked. They stopped at a small grotto with a water trough for mounts. The Pellenor Fields were lush at this time in the spring. Small farms, paths for walking, surrounded the main road along undulating land. The beauty was not conducive to urgent travel.
Benjimir smirked. “Asked. Or told. I am not unknown to the Steward, my sur name ensured that. My enthusiasm for council he was not aligned with surely has not been forgotten either.” Benjimir said as a courier raced by toward Harlond.
“What was the council?” Benjimir was asked.
“As much whom it was given too and by as what.” Benjimir said. “A traveler, Thorongil, who had the favor of the Steward gave council that malcontents and raiders near Umbar were a seed of danger. After much debate, most of which Denethor opposed, the Steward agreed and a squadron from the Home Fleet was detached to Thorongil’s command.” Benjimir explained.
“Wait, if he opposed it why did he agree?” Gatewood said, confusion growing obvious in his gaze.
“Ecthelion, not Denethor. Denethor was jealous I think of Thorongil having favor beyond his own with his father. My own possibly overstepping why position by endorsing the raid also incurred his wrath. He ensured I was detached from my year of duty within the Tower Guard and to Thorongil’s charge with the Home Fleet. Youthful over exuberance maybe.” Benjimir responded, leaving Gatewood’s expression adding awe to still greater confusion.
“The Umbar raid, I know it, we still demonstrate it as the naval war conclaves. But that was 2980, going on neigh thirty years. I was only a small child, how old were you, are you, to have been sent into battle? I never placed you as more than three score as the years pass.” Gatewood asked, the confusion being replaced by simple awe.
“It is the leagues not the years. I was just of age at the time. Thorongil we think was equal to Denethor’s years. More the reason for him to resent his father giving heed to an another.” Said Benjimir.
“A custom he has carried forth in deriding the young lord in favor of his brother. Regrettable.” Gatewood lamented as they remounted and continued for Harlond, now in view beyond the gates of the outer wall surrounding the fields.
“Very much so, he favors deeds and action, if rash, over council and making the long fight. Which is why I think he holds the Fleet is such low regard. Which we may all regret in the future.” Benjimir said, his tone turning lower. “Oh?” Gatewood responded in curiosity.
“Denethor lost the argument but much as he had command enough to assign me to the fleet, he ensured only a squadron was given. A token of what laid at anchor or quay at the time. It was council from the Prince Imrahill, who had only newly assumed the lordship from his Father that sent the squadron to the bay of Ciryaturs. A mix of vessels assembled there from the Prince’s own home fleet and those of the House of Thursby.” Benjimir paused to draw water from the saddle bag. Gatewood drew a smaller metal bottle from his own and drank. Benjimir declined the bottle as Gatewood extended it towards him.
“The combined fleet departed over several nights in differing directions, assembled again in blue water before moving to Umbar. There, on a moonless night, the fleet disbursed. Some effected landings on the cape of Umbar and cut-off the watch towers from raising the alarm as we entered the bay. I accompanied a landing of men with Thorongil on the quays as another force landed to assail the harbor’s gates from the outside as a distraction. For my part, I gained some note for having crafted a device, balls of tarred rope set aflame and flung with sling shots at sails. It helped for its part in setting much of the of the fleet aflame before the rebels could respond in force.” Benjimir remembered, gazing ahead as his mind wandered back to the memories of the raid.
“The rebel vessels were aflame, the ships at anchor were hotly engaged with the fleet and our men on the cape and outside the gates were fleeing back to their boats when the harbor master, or maybe the chieftain of Umbar himself attacked. We were between two burning raiders, covering the last of our party boarding skiffs. I watched as Thorongil defeated him with my own eyes. He leapt aboard the launch and we made good our own escape as the fleet withdrew.” Benjimir drank again shanking his head as he recalled the sights. Gatewood took a long draw and emptied his flask as they approached the gate to Harlond.
“What came of Thorongil, until you mentioned him I knew nothing of there being such a person. The written accounts speak to the Steward sending the fleet, the rest was assumed to have been his plan.” Gatewood said, as his mind processed a different truth than the one he had accepted many years before.
Benjimir shrugged. “The fleet returned to Belfalas. There was much rejoicing. I accompanied the Home Fleet to Harlond, the reception was at best muted. Few reports were taken beyond Thorongil’s, Denethor’s doing. Not long after Thorongil left without announcement or comment. Ecthelion died a few years later and Denethor assumed the seat of the Steward. From that point forward keep of the Fleet fell into decline. Draw your own conclusions as to why.” Benjimir concluded as his mount neared the port stables.
Gatewood shook his head and dismounted. “Enlightening as it is unnerving. But thank you for the tale. I would not have known.” He said as the officers pulled their saddle bags off their mounts and walked toward the Entulesse. There they found a dispirited courier sitting at the top of the gangway. It was the same that streaked past them hours before as their mounts watered. At their approach his head rose and he swiftly walked down the gangplank. Bondermir approached the side of the ship watching the courier depart.
“Commander Gatewood?” the courier asked.
“Aye, where away lad?” Gatewood replied.
“Orders sir” the courier extended a message pouch to Gatewood, who accepted it. The courier gave his obedience and hurried to the stable. Gatewood opened the package and reviewed the orders, inscribed on a pristine white sheet akin to that on which Benjimir’s discharge had been written on.
“Lords.” Gatewood cursed, shaking his head and biting back a look of disgust. He paused a moment before looking to Benjimir with a look of resignation.
“It is the Steward’s pleasure that the Home Fleet join all surviving vessels at the bay of Belfalas and be given over to the command and service of the Prince or whomever they were absconded to served from. But not before offloading weapons and marines. The war at sea is over for Gondor. Too, it seems is my own service. I am to return to Gondor after the fleet disbands for commission into the Guard of the Tower, or whomever ever else sees fit for my service.” Gatewood unceremoniously pushed the message back into its case and the case into his saddle bag. His face betrayed a deep sense of disappointment and sadness.
Benjimir looked to the Entulesse and Bondermir, who nodded slightly, surely knowing by now, through whatever means, what Gatewood had just learned. “Maybe for the best. Gondor not presenting a battle pennant against men who would see it razed to the ground does leave a bitter taste in my mouth. We did not have terribly much to offer in opposition however. Where would you go after this final order?” He asked.
Gatewood seemed unsure. “Standing watch at a door doesn’t suite me, but I never contemplated needing to seek one until retirement.” he said.
Benjimir smiled and patted his friend and fellow officer on the back. “Sail with us then. If nothing else it will save you a horse ride. And maybe the Thursby Company can find work suiting a man of your qualifications.” This drew a smile from Gatewood and the men boarded the Entulesse.