“ Knowledge is the anvil over which we shape destiny with the hammer of wisdom.”
– Karilon Thursby
"A Farewell Homecoming."
Bondermir had in fact teased the news of the Fleets demise from longshoremen hours earlier. On his initiative, the crew had disbursed to the store houses which held supplies specific to Entulesse as well as her late sister ships. There would be no return they knew. As that was the case, the crew saw to taking most any Fleet assets to be found with them. Tellingly several longshoremen presented themselves at the gangway with their families in-tow as preparations to sail neared completion.
"The young ones settled below?" Benjimir asked his first mate Bondermir.
"Aye sir. Our bounty of cargo is lashed down. If we see action along the way home, we will have a crowded deck." Bondermir replied, Benjimir nodded, his gaze intent on the glow of lights about Minas Tirith and the Pelennor fields in the distance. The setting sun still illuminated the sky but the east facing mountain from which the city was carved, cast an early shadow across it and the fields this time of year.
"How fitting." Benjimir mutter in a muted voice. His eyes fell to the Harlond gate where a single cloaked rider was passing with no urgency at all. Bondermir turn to Benjimir.
"Say again Captain?" He said.
Benjimir said nothing but shook his head curtly. He turned around and leaned back on the rail and looking out towards Osgilith and the mountains beyond. The city was more garrison now than anything else. However little of Gondors might ventured in numbers outside if it. Beyond the crest of the mountains the sky was dark ahead of the hour. He shook his head again, this time slow and ruefully.
"I don't expect action on this voyage. The watch towers at Tolfalas and enough of the fleet remains on patrol. I would be more leery of the the eastern shores. Our passengers speak of the fell folk pressing the last free villagers to the western shores. They seem to fear for future." Benjimir said.
Bondermir nodded and lifted his head in gesture to the fore and aft of Entulesse.
"They do not stand alone." He said. At the quays about Harlond a smattering of vessels could be seen making hasty preparations to sail. Fishing boats, a pair of merchant vessels, none of any guild or Lord. All loaded to gunwales. "This started shortly after we began to move stores aboard. And sir I doubt there is a water worthy boat north of Harlond that has not already passed down river." Bondermir said. Benjimir crossed his arms and locked eyes with his friend for a moment and shook his head and pursed his lips. The men turned as a bosun approached, Gatewood as well several strides behind. The gloaming had drawn the lamp wrights out and the pier was now lit by braziers and post lamps.
"Sir. Stores are secure, the ship is ready to depart on your word sir." the bosun reported.
"Very well. Single up lines and prepare to cast off." Benjimir said and returned the bosun's obedience as he turned to carry out his orders.
As the officers exchanged greetings Benjimir's eyes fixed on the line rider who was nearing the gangway. "Courier?" Gatewood suggested?
"Negligently slacking if so." Bondermir said as Benjimir lead the three to the gangway. In the lamp lights he considered the approaching rider. The rider's cloak was of a fine cloth, seemingly different shades of blue depending on how the light struck it. It's grieves had not the customary White Tree of Gondor's navy but uplifted wings if a Gull which almost shimmered in the light. He began to smirk before calling out to the rider.
"Where away commodore?" Benjimir called out, causing Bondermir and Gatewood to straighten the postures and exchange sideway glances.
Halting The rider lifted a leg up and over the mount and slid to the ground. The hooded rider looked up as it walked to the foot of the gangway. The voice which replied was a higher register than the any save Benjimir expected. It seemed to cut through the sounds of accelerating preparations to cast off and into their ears with a rich tone. "Permission to come onboard and for passage to your destination captain." the rider said.
"Granted with thanks for our journey being graced by your sailing with it.” Benjimir said as the commodore turned toward the mount and whispered to it. The mount dipped it's head, turned and trotted casually toward the gate.
The commodore climbed the gangway and slipped the hood. Revealed was a woman with a mane of deep gold hued hair drawn back into a thick single braid, keen blue eyes set amidst a face of flawless light skin, keen but soft features and the distinctive ears of the Fair Folk.
"Golodh." Benjimir said pressing his right hand to his heart and bowing his head slightly. He smiled warmly.
"Ionneg." the commodore said, returning the smile and touch of his arm.
“Gentlemen, Commodore Aubreen Tsubaki, commanding the home squadron. Commodore, my first mate Bondermir Exedines and commander Lucien Gatewood.” Benjimir introduced the officers to Aubreen. They bowed and were acknowledged in turn.
“We were not informed you would be joining us, is the remainder of the admiralty relocating to Dol Amoroth?” Benjimir asked.
“The admiralty is no more. The admirals have accepted assignments in the sister services or taken to their retirement. The home squadron has this day been sent orders to depart immediately for Dol Amoroth as you have been.” the commodore said. Benjimir checked his reaction but not his first officer could not.
“If the couriers are as swift the squadron will be leaving its stations within the day.” Bondermir said. Benjimir nodded but addressed the commodore first.
“Of yourself though, commodore? Are you to serve under the prince?” asked Benjimir.
“No. My council was also deemed unrequired to the steward and with my squadron disbanded I am released back to the service of my Lord in Mithlond. Lacking an active command you may by all means address me in the familiar also.” Aubreen said as Benjimir, brooking no emotion, considered the developments.
“Very well.” he said with a nod. The bosun returned and reported the ship was ready to depart. Benjimir looked to Bondermir. “Those orders could have been sent with the Entulesse. As it is, sending them courier means the secure waters we expecting will be open to the enemy well before we are able to pass.” he said. Aubreen curled the edge of her mouth and tipped her head slightly. A discreet and lamenting agreement he knew.
“Mister Bondermir, drop all lines, make for the fast water and get us under sail for Dol Amoroth.” Benjimir said finally. Bondermir nodded and turn toward the bosun. “And Bondy, unrack the oars, call for volunteers. We need to move with haste.” Benjimir added. Bondermir nodded and began calling out orders.
History and pride not withstanding Benjimir knew a navy was a situational necessity most of Gondor’s history after Numenor was lost. As Gondor became more inwardly focused under Denethor, punitive raids, ale hall fancying of retaking Umbar, fell by the wayside. Outwardly the protection of village, fisherman and merchant vessel were the Navy's mandate. More practically if less obvious was the need to guard the numerous rivers which wound their way to sea from the Ered Nirais. An enemy free to navigate at will would be able to portion and consume Gondor like a pie.
Benjimir walked to the quarterdeck with Aubreen as Gatewood retired below deck. A bell rang twice followed by Bondermir. "Entulesse departing." A handful of longshoremen watched as the dark water grew wider between Entulesse and pier. "Not unlike the gap between Gondor and it." Benjimir thought.
"Bosun, case the colors. Raise the Prince's pennant." Benjimir ordered. Swiftly the banner of the White Tree was lowered and stowed. In its place rose the standard of Prince Imrahil. A silver swan. Before long the oars reached out from the lower decks and bit into the water. About the Entulesse fore to aft the boats and merchant's vessels set sail and oar, anxious not to venture the Anduin far from the last warship in Gondor.