“To many the lands west of the Anduin were akin to a small island. It was enveloped by the sea to the west across which no man would venture and Elves vanished into. To the east were the dark lands, Mordor, Harem and Umbar festering with ancient hate for the blood of my kindred. Even now we have never ventured beyond the known lands and waters. It is little wonder the Enemy stoked such fear at it’s approach. Facing strange and endless foes, we were all of us trapped and with no escape.”
– Benjimir of Belfalas, “The Analects”
On the quarterdeck Benjimir and Aubreen took counsel through the watches. The Entulesse and her unexpected floatilla reached the island citadel of Tolfalas at the mouth of the Anduin river. The island guarded the entrance to the river and the surrounding villages. So long as it stood, little could travel the surrounding waters unannounced. The island itself retained a garrison and was patrolled. Against a determined effort the sentinel isle would fall and such would compel the fief’s defenders closer to port. For the time being however the cape was carefully guarded on the water. Even in the moonlight Benjimir watched as ships cruised in threesomes, giving challenge to ships before breaking off to resume their patrol routes.
The myriad of vessels slowly went about their own courses as the Entulesse sailed around the cape of Belfalas atop of which the white walls of Dol Amroth seemed to gleam even moonlight. The anchorages surrounding the cape were crowded with displaced vessels. Despite the dangers at sea and coast any who could reach the cape sought to draw near to the sense of security the fortress city engendered.
A hour short of dawn the Entulesse paused at a buoy marking the pilots anchorage outside of Dol Amroth’s main port until a tender delivered a pilot to her. The port lay at the foot of the promontory hill leeward of the cape. As the Entulesse lay briefly at rest taking aboard the pilot Benjimir took a moment to look out on the Bay of Andustie. Not a proper name, it took it’s common title from the prevalence of Thursby Company vessels and commerce that was found within it. Within site of Dol Amroth was home. The island on which an age prior Tonderia Hall, matron of the kinship had set the families hall on.
Benjimir left the conning duties to Bondermir. As he had the full of journey from Harlond Benjimir continued speaking with Aubreen. His attention restored she resumed where she had left some moments prior.
"You have spent your life preparing for "A" fight." Aubreen said as an instructor might. "The enemy has spent two ages preparing for "THIS" fight." she continued. Benjimir nodded respectfully.
"Aye ma'am. If it were a simple manner of seeing an army, or fleet but that does not appear the way of this. Where do you expect to make your fight when it comes? Will you take a ship into the west instead?" Benjimir asked.
Aubreen and Benjimir knew each other's minds well. She was valued councillor to Benjimir's family and his chief instructor in matters of nautical warfare and history of Middle-earth. He was an apt pupil and she a surrogate after the death of his mother decades prior. Now they were trusted friends at the start of uncertain times as Entulesse sailed along the edge of the Dol Amroth promontory to it's port.
Aubreen shook her head and lean forward on the gunwale. She looked over the rise of hill and over the citadel tower. "I will not leave these shores for the west. And I will make my fight with a sword in hand or in heart." she said. Benjimir leaned along the gunwale beside her and they spoke no more.
At reduced sale and oars unracked the Entulesse directed by the pilot to a reserved slip at the quay. Unlike Harlond the port was busy with all sort of vessels. Under sail were numerous ships of war. Two flanked Entulesse until she neared the quays, harbor patrols Benjimir thought. Elsewhere merchant vessels flying the banner of House Thursby were loading and unloading dry goods.
Benjimir gazed at the Harbor Masters tower. As if taking its cue from that, a figure took to the tower steps and moved swiftly down. “Entulesse, arriving.” The bosmen called out as the ships bell rang. By the time the gangway was set in place the figure was now clearly a courier. Gatewood approached from the quarterdeck, a cabin attendant pulling a short haversack with him.
"Ahoy aboard, is Captain Thursby present?" the courier cried out as lines were being secured. Benjimir, still in his formal Mariners hauberk turned to Gatewood standing beside him and asked, "Did we not just do this?"
Gatewood chuckled. "I earnestly hope not. I believe I will make my retreat before a fate worse than yesterday besets me. Good hunting and Valar speed Captain Thursby." Gatewood said and the men shook arms. With that he about his business with the Harbor Master to gather a reckoning of what ships had come from the squadrons and complete his final orders.
Benjimir beckoned the courier aboard and took his message. Again he was to proceed in haste to a meeting. With whom the courier would not say.
Deck officers were set and orders to re-provision the ship after debarking passengers and surplus given. The courier led Benjimir to Mariners Hall. There Aubreen took her own leave to sup with her kinsmen at a nearby hall more to the liking of the Fair Folk.
Mariners Hall was Inn, Public Room and the harbor pilots Guild Hall. It was crossroads to mariners, merchant's, passengers and travelers. The first level features high ceilings and white stone walls on which black metal braizers with neat flames glowed. The tall windows allowed generous natural light to shine into the massive foyer Benjimir was led through. Many an occasion he had broken bread in the common rooms and slept peaceful nights here during his youth. Now as then he took liberty of a small baked trifle from a silver tray on the front desk as courier led him past. They proceeded down a hall to the last and largest of the private dinning halls. There two guards in the Prince's livery stood guard.
Benjimir checked over his hauberk for powdered sugar and nodded to the courier to open the door.
Within, at the far reach of the hall, before a generous fire were three chairs. In two of these sat the Prince Imrahil. Beside him Benjimir's father Tenefalas.
"Master Thursby, welcome." the Prince Imrahil spoke warmly evenly from his chair.
"My Lord." Benjimir said making a formal salute. In his mind Benjimir had assumed whomever he was summoned too would carry message or orders, news of some importance. At once the past hours and observations came into keen focus. The ill reasoned orders from the Steward, the negligent disbandment of defenses, the intense guard over which local waters now lay, and his own recall home. Upon seeing the Prince, Benjimir realized there was higher and urgent purpose at least to his return.
From the second chair, around the corner of the high back came a second voice.
"Welcome my son." Tenefalas said, in soft tones as he delicately form leaned about to greet his eldest son. He wore simple but luminous white robe befitting his long years.
"Father." Benjimir said bowing slightly, now in at least the slightest way beginning to feel unnerved. The unexpected presence of Imrahill caught him off guard less than seeing how time had aged his father.
"Come captain, I would have what news I may before haste requires I depart. Council with your farther was not an opportunity to miss." Imrahil told Benjimir, gesturing to his father.
Benjimir sat in the open chair. A server brought a tray of wine and cups and the three sorted through the more banal matters which from his bearing were not foremost among the Prince's care. "Tell me of the state of the things with the enemy son." Tenefalas asked. The mood grew more somber immediately.
"The enemy holds all of South Gondor from the River Pores and along the coast. Haradrim patrol the coast and roads north, Faithless keep watch south along shore the to the cape of Umbar. Coarsair raiders have pressed Tolfalas but as yet not pressed into the Anduin." Benjimir took a sip of wine and continued.
"They, the Coarsairs, are making sorties ever deeper into the Bay of Belfalas." Benjimir said. The Prince looked thoughtfully into his cup. "They could become a risk to safe passage around Point Anafalas." He posed. Benjimir nodded. It was an exercise in etiquette, much was already known to Tenefalas and Imrahil which Benjimir knew. But these were the forms followed among people of rank or privilege.
"What constitutes the Fleet that is being massed here? What may we expect to marshall from Gondor?" Imrahil asked.
"The surviving units of the Home Fleet, a squadron of ships. The Anafalas squadron. Silver Swan ships." Benjimir said. He nodded toward his father in deference. "The White Fleet of course." Benjimir noted.
"How does the enemy strength rate?" Tenefalas asked.
"Before taking commands ashore, the admiralty insisted to Lord Denethor the Enemy was well assessed and checked." Benjimir said, making little effort to mask a hint of disdain.
"They had no idea." Tenefalas snorted.
"They had no idea." Benjimir affirmed. And lifted his glass half mockingly. "Our numbers are too few to keep proper watch in blue waters. If we kept watch over Tolfalas and the Anduin delta, we found the enemy coming unseen at patrols in open waters. If we patrolled in force at sea, raiders assailed Tolfalas." Benjimir detailed.
"Corsairs aren't blue water raiders." Imrahill said rhetorically to Tenefalas who nodded.
Benjimir continued, "All the same they are making the effort to draw us out. And employing newly built ships. Larger, unwieldy, wide beam and shallow drafts. Not blue water raiders." Benjimir said as the Prince nodded grimmly.
"Somber news captain." The Prince met Tenefalas' eyes and they exchanged nods. "We are on the precipice of great and terrible times captain. Your father and I have spoken of this. Such I leave his care to discuss with you. I must away." The Prince rose and did Benjimir in-turn. Turning to Tenefalas the Prince placed his hand to his chest, heart and lips and bowed. He nodded to Benjimir and left the hall.
Benjimir turn his head to his father and flared his brow as he sat again, drawing his chair near to the old patriarch. "How may I serve father?"
Tenefalas looked at his son and after a long gave and silence spoke softly. "For the last time as my son and first as the heir of our House." From bedside him in his chair Tenefalas lifted a scarab holding a curved blade and unsheathed it. A dim sheen grew from it. Benjimir recognized it immediately as the the Dagger of Warding, His father sheathed the Dagger and extended it to his son.
Benjimir looked at the blade and stiffened his posture. As he leaned toward his father's hand to take the Dagger. His hand gripped the Dagger and paused. "Father, is all, are you well?" He asked.
Tenefalas relaxed his hand and withdrew it. Benjimir instinctively worked to afix the blade to his belt. "Well enough for the moment. Sit. You cannot linger long."
Benjimir sat. "Why the haste, your journey from Tonderia, the Prince, the fleet. Well enough seems as chaos." Tenefalas nodded his head in understanding.
"For some time I have counciled the Prince to press the Steward to prepare for Gondor's many enemies from places unseen or expected. Yet he has remained fixated with only one foe and stronghold. Against Mordor alone is where he wills all his effort toward." Tenefalas said.
"No eyes to the sea or north. He no longer takes council from you?" Benjimir asked.
"Not for several years. Not even so much of a reply to my letters. He sees word of troubles in distant places and our family advocating for the fleet as for the interest of our own trade. His decision to disband the fleet was given seed by the Prince though." Tenefalas said, leaning back and sipping his wine as Benjimir's eyes flared in confusion.
"The Prince believed that a credible force could still be marshaled to turn back the Enemy from Belfalas but wasted if allowed to sink and rot. He was able to gain the Stewards permission to lay claim over what vessels remain." Tenefalas said. A knock on the door and Bondermir entered at his call. "Have his sea chest left here lieutenant." Tenefalas said and swiftly Bondermir lay his captains chest inside the room and left.
"The Prince does not wish to act against the will of Lord Denethor and create a rift between them. Thus he cannot in honor provision or commission any to act in his stead. However he would have knowledge and benefit of commerce from the north lands." Tenefalas explained.
Benjimir began to see the threads connecting events and intentions together. His father and he drew long drinks. The exposition was about to finally give way to his purpose to come.
"This night you will sail to Mithlond. Your task is to travel to all Thursby Company interests. Openly, you are to see to matters of ledger and coin. Improve affairs in the north. " Tenefalas said and gestured toward the door. "What I want you to do is seek for the signs of Enemy. If you find them, use the company trade and usual communiques to return news to me." Tenefalas finished.
"Then I am not to….." Benjimir began but his father interjected.
"I sent word Denethor for your release back to the service of the family which not coincidentally came as orders recalling the fleet were being sent. Thus all else being true, you are serving on my commission, none other. This war of our age is over for you at sea son. If Gondor is assailed without warning or challenge it would be ruinous for us all. And no force of arms can be spared to the north so we must move unannounced and unseen. Our House will stand and it will serve as it always has, led now by its heir." Tenefals said and gestured at Benjimir's waist and continued.
"The Relics." Benjimir said.
"The Dagger…….for now the Beacon will remain with me at Tonderia for now. I do not feel it is done there yet. Or with me at least." Tenefalas said wistfully at the end.
Benjimir felt relief at his father retaining the Beacon of Anduste. The Relics, gifts from the Fare Folk ages ago, were kept by the leader of House Thursby. The Beacon, not a seeing stone in the fashion of the highest forms of the craft, instead gifted dreams portending important considerations. The Dagger of Warding was an Elvish blade which akin to the Beacon gave warning.
Benjimir's relief was short lived. "The Beacon will come to you on this journey Benjimir. Either if the war goes ill in the south or when my time as spent." Tenefalas paused looking at his son. Sentiment was never effusively spent between them, what might have been said was known all the same.
"A vessel from a friend will bear you north. Now I recommend a change to common appearance. Speed of the Valar to you Benjimir." Tenefalas said. Benjimir rose and stepped toward his father and taking a knee before Tenefalas. He spoke no words but clasped his shoulder, then turned to leave. As he stepped away Tenefalas offered a final thought.
"Son, always bare in mind that the Enemy harbors more hate, for all existence, than any of us have the capacity to love. His hate comes from fear. His fear comes from the memory and knowledge that he can lose all to what he hates most. Numenor Prevails."
Benjimir looked back and nodded thoughtfully and said, "Numenor Prevails."