"When the seas become rough, gulls will fly inland seeking shelter, often many miles beyond the sight of water. It was a telling oman to my crew that the gulls were fleeing to high seas on an easterly wind as we put into port." - Benjimir Thursby, The Analects.
"Couriers and Recalls.”
The approach to the quay was quite. Little in the way of command was required as the crew was well versed in hoisting and taking in sail. Harlond was located south of Minas Tirith along the shore of the Anduin river. The approach required sailing into both wind and the flow of the river. Oars were manned to allow the vessel to turn back downriver, as to port with her bow facing downstream. The work was eased by the addition of the crew from her sister vessels which were lost during the sortie. The commander of the three vessels that set out months before joined Captain Benjimir on deck, looking out over the ruined city of Osgiliath to the north. Osgiliath was the last and chief defense against the ever festering Enemies to the east.
"To Port mister Bondermir and rack oars." Benjimir called out from the forecastle. The vessel began to make her turn to port, at last letting the wind and river work to her advantage.
Fishing and merchant vessels felt the first press of the enemy abroad before the first Orc had assailed Osgiliath. In years of escalating boldness, pirate fleets from Umbar, haven of the Faithless and their disciples, assailed ship and port alike. As with the guard of watch which the southern Kingdom of Gondor had maintained across the land, the boundaries of safe waters had rolled back to the shores of the coastal fiefdoms. The battle at sea was now some ten years in duration. What proper navy Gondor had once kept seaworthy was long since committed to the depths. The crews of the lost ships were scattered to what now passed for a fleet. Intense devotion and pride kept the fighting traditions alive among the mariners. They fought very differently as well as very different enemies than their countrymen ashore.
"Amidships, take-in sail and cast line." Benjimir called out. The fields of the Pelennor at harvestmath, white walls and gated levels of the fortress city of Gondor now rose above Benjimir.
The vessel putting into port this day had been among the first to put to sea and battle. Not war. No such declaration had been made against Umbar, nor even the pirates awash in Gondorian cargo and blood. Certainly no effort to provision Gondor with a navy were made. Such was the will of the Steward of Gondor. The strength of Gondor at sea came from Belfalas, Anafalas, and the fiefdoms to the south of Minas Tirith. That support had made it possible to hold a line in the water that kept the Enemy away from most of Gondor. Thus far, the distance from their home ports kept the threat from venturing further north than the Bay of Belfalas.
Past voyages had ended like this one. Others with with a measure of satisfaction. There were no longer cries to return to sea seeking to avenge losses nor any sense of shock at them. What held now was the most any at sea knew could be achieved. The Enemy had itself paid for what it took many fold. Yet no expectation of victory raised voices in song nor lifted spirits aboard ships such as Benjimir's. Only the desire to never permit defeat while any alive could put to sea.
"Drop anchor, linesmen stand too fore and aft. Mister Bondermir, prepare to hail our arrival." Benjimir ordered.
The quay had only a few small boats docked, none of size or lines of the approaching vessel. She was neither a ship of war nor a merchant vessel. Her hull was laid down within site of the castle of Dol Amoroth in Belfalas, built in a yard owned by Benjimir's own family. A main mast and smaller masts fore and aft could allow her to hoist more sail than merchant vessels or fishing boats. Her lines nearly suggested a ship of Umbar with sharp edges along the bow and castles fore and aft. Yet she road higher in the water than they did her decks sloped inward from the water line. She was fast as most any at sea, hard to board in combat and her crews came to feel it's name was both title and promise.
"Entulesse arriving!" Bondermir, the ship’s first officer cried out, ringing a bell mounted to the aft mast twice.
The linesmen threw ropes to the men waiting on the quay, one, dressed in a hauberk emblazoned with the White Tree crested with seven stars of Gondor was looking intently at the forecastle and the men there. He shouted up to Benjimir, “Ahoy aboard, is the ships master with you?”
“Aye,” Benjimir hailed back, “but master Gatewood of the Andustar is here too, he commands this mission.” Benjimir gestured to his commander.
“Verily, I come from the Citadel seeking the Entulesse and bearings dispatches. You are ordered henceforth to the Citadel with all possible haste Captain Thursby.” The courier called back.
“Have you no dispatches intended for the commander?” Benjimir asked, the Entulesse now squarely against the quay and being tied-off by the men ashore.
“Nay sir, but I should venture that the Lord will wish a report from commander Gatewood as well. I have mounts here at the stable waiting.” The courier answered, gesturing to the stable some ways from the ship. Benjimir nodded in acknowledgement and turned to commander Gatewood.
“Three months at sea, the loss of two ships, and we return to a courier asking for me and no obvious interest in speaking to you sir?” Benjimir posed to Gatewood who was still pondering the curious welcome himself.
“You have me at a loss mister Thursby.” with which Gatewood and Benjimir turn to walk to the quarters. Such a summons demanded immediate response and despite having to leave as soon as the gangway had been laid down, the Citadel demanded proper uniforms for whatever the visits purpose. “Mister Bondermir, see to the docking, we will be below.” Benjimir instructed and ducked through the passage entrance in the forecastle.
Some minutes later the gangplank was hoisted over the side of Entulesse and the master and commander strode down to the quay. Each now dressed in the black hauberk, crested with swan wings at the chest and white down the center. The mariners hauberk was little worn at sea and even less frequently seen ashore in these days. The wings recalled the ships that carried the faithful of Numenor to Middle-earth in a past age and were often associated with Befalas and the Prince Imrahill’s standard. The courier stiffened to attention as they approached, he led them to the stables where they mounted and began a swift ride to Minas Tirith.
As they rode commander Gatewood queried the courier as to the purpose of the summons. “Is the commodore not aware of the dispatch we sent when we entered the mouth of the Anduin? I cannot recall one of my captains being summoned in my stead.”
“I know word of your return was received m’lord, the couriers from the delta remain swift. All about Harlond know of the loss of Andustar and Rommena. There is a council underway at the Citadel. They likely as not will want you hear your report of your ships’ sortie. However I was only given orders to summon the captain as soon as he could debark his ship.” The courier explained.
“I have served my own stay in the Guard friend, I am sure you have some word as to the reason for my being urgently called on.” Benjimir asked. He had indeed begun his time in the service of Gondor as a guard in the Citadel. Several of his brothers had likewise served. The Guard was at once a common soldiers duty but considered high honor in Gondor. There was accordingly a pride among those who share such service and this was what Benjimir sought to cull information from the younger lad.
The courier glanced toward Benjimir as they rode. “A messenger from Belfalas arrived shortly before your vessel. What word he carried I do not know, but the Steward issued his summons for your shortly after. I would say it was that, not some notion of the Lord Denethor that brings you to the Citadel. More than that I do not know Captain.”
“Thank you.” Benjimir said sincerely.
The men continued their ride at a renewed pace, in silence save for giving passwords to challenges as they passed through each gate of the city. At the upper most level, their mounts were taken to the stables and the courier lead them to an anteroom adjacent to the hall of the King. A council of the cities commanding guards and actuaries was taking place. The Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor could be heard questioning several men. After nearly an hour of waiting a page took commander Gatewood to speak to the council. The gathering ended with the commander's report and he reappeared at the door to the anteroom seemingly relieved yet purplexed. Benjimir rose and moved to speak with him in the Hall. He had been in the Hall before, but the statues of the late Kings and throne set on high drew his eyes even as he spoke to Gatewood.
“Where away?” His eyes now seeing the Steward shielded by a variable wall of knights and attendants.
“They appear as uninterested in my report as their attention to my return suggested.” Gatewood said. “The only question of note was if you had survived and were in my company.” He continued.
Denethor’s eyes caught sight of Benjimir from across the hall. Then he gestured to him and asked dryly “Is this the one?” A knight at Denethor’s side nodded. The knight had a crest akin to Benjimir’s own, he was from Belfalas and in the service of the Prince. “Very well then, take and be gone with him. If his father thinks it wiser to secure commerce hither and yon over the shores of Gondor so be it.” Denethor said with crass disdain.
The council dispersed as the Steward turned and left by a passage to the rear of the Hall. The knight approached Benjimir and nodded respectfully. “Captain, you have been recalled to Belfalas at the request of your Father Tinafalas, by the grace of my lord and with leave of the Steward. You are to travel to Dol Amoroth and await the pleasure of Prince Imrahil.” The knight handed a scroll to Benjimir, affixed with the seal of his father.
“I am at the Prince’s service. I will depart at once.” And with that Benjimir bowed, turned and with commander Gatewood departed for the stables.