The Lords of the Ring

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"More Wine Sir?"

“A little more wine sir?” Dolen enquired of the figure in the heavy grey cloak.
“No, I shouldn’t think so…. Although, if the lord of the house has any more pipeweed I could stand to some, my bowl appears to have gone out.”

The indescript servant simple nodded into a small bow and turned away. In truth that was the best he could force himself to offer. He didn’t like the man… no, that wasn’t accurate and the inaccurate use of words could do far more harm than many in this age knew.

No it wasn’t that he didn’t like the man, in truth he had little emotion either way about the being that came and went as he pleased in the shape of an eccentric old mortal. It was more that he distrusted his nature, the Wizard simply was, he had not had to become, by training or teaching, research or craft, and when one could be that just by the nature of things, it made everything else cheapened somehow. The nasty little voice in the back of his mind asked if a mortal man felt like to look upon the Eldarin…? he ignored that voice as he often had to do.

Of course in this instance the grey shrouded figure made a most interesting case, one that even the rumour of it’s presenting had sent whisper out to one or two of the well paid ears Dolen kept in his employ (or his debt at least). The rumours were that the Storm Crow had come to a conclusion that the White Council did not agree with or approve of. Oh to be a fly on the wall of that meeting.

Not that he could become a fly of course…

He could become a man though.

So several days earlier the one they had once named Edlenor had paid a local trader not for his wares but what he wore. That evening at the correct and proper time and place he had spoken the words in the vulgar dialects of the mountain kin

“brak thrond”

Precisely nothing had happened. Just as it should, he ad fancied he heard a whisper, like the echos down deep stone halls, but it had passed.

Now he came and went about the meeting point, overlooked by all as a simple servant passing wine and refreshments while great lords and ladies held their court and discussed the fate of the lands.

“For your pipe sir?” he announced, offering the small silver plate with the dirty brown torn up herb on it. Thankfully the smoker simply gave a pleased snort, and, looking down began to tear up the fibers and pack them into the bowl of his pipe – all the better Dolen would not have to touch the stuff. He was convinced it addled the mind.

Then there was a moment. The scruffy greying figure regarded his server reflected in the platter. Dolen had been waiting impatiently, but not he froze and tried to calm himself, to give away nothing to peek this observers interests in him. Regardless, the older of the two gents looked up at the younger, from under greying brows and held the gaze for what felt like an age…

“Indeed?” he said finally, cocking one of those bushy grey brows and smiling quizzically. One breath, two, and he turned to address the group that now was duly assembled and refreshed and ready to begin business.

“If a small party, with the services of a burglar where to move on the south gate of Dul Guldur I believe it passible… there is a…”

“My old friend, must we do this again? I have given the council my assurances that the rumours are false and we have nothing to fear from the Bald Hill”

“Please, gentlemen, Mithrandir must be permitted to speak, as all hear assembled must”

“My thanks… Don’t treat the threat so glibly as to dismiss it as a mere hillock from Oropher’s age, I have been to the place and seen…”

“My friend I submitted my research to the White Council a few weeks past and they accept them, did you not believe them?”

“Forgive me, that was not my intention I merely wish to highlight…”

Dolen settled into a corner, his earlier worries passing, he was confident he was overlooked, and could overhear at his leisure.

Last Call at the Prancing Pony, Part 1

The fire was low, and Nob was shuffling around with a bucket and a mop. Barliman had poured himself an ale (“well, why not, it’s been a long old day”) and was trading stories with the stragglers: some Breelanders, staving off leaving the warmth of the inn; most travellers, keen for some moss for their stones.

Here was Bill Ferny, telling a peculiar tale of the disappearence of his ponies not two weeks back, and only with slight embellishment on this telling; nodding along was the old gate-keeper Harry, a quiet man from the south with leathery skin and a dwarf from the west whose names escaped Barliman’s mind, and a Mister Underhill from the Shire, a dark expression on his round ruddy face.

The fire was low, and a bitter wind blew in the east, and the uncanny light over the forest chilled Butterbur to the core. “Nothing proper never made any light of that sort” he muttered to nobody in particular. And when Nob nor Bob’s chirpy response never came (for that was generally who “nobody in particular” meant), he drew his cloak tighter around his shoulders and silently sobbed.

No longer the rotund figure that had tended bar in Bree, weeks of hard travel and meagre rations had taken its toll on Barliman. His face was gaunt and showed the wrinkles that good food and good ale had long ago smoothed away. Where usually he sported a neat, bushy mustache was a thick, matted beard. The twinkle in his eyes was now a distant sadness.

The wind howled in the streets as Butterbur bade farewells and goodnights to the departing Breelanders, and ushered guests towards their bedrooms. He paused at the round door to the hobbit-room that Mr. Underhill had taken up in, for it was ajar, and he happened to notice the hobbit sat on the edge of the bed, staring into the dark. He knocked on the door-frame and cleared his throat.

“I don’t mean to pry, Mr. Underhill, only…” he said, pausing to gather his thoughts, “Only, I noticed you weren’t all that taken to conversation this evening. ‘Rather queer for a hobbit of the Shire’, I says to myself, so I thought I’d come check on you”. In the candlelight and moonlight, he could see tears welling up in the hobbit’s eyes. “They killed them all. The black riders”, he whimpered, “Merry and Pippin, and Samwise, and, and even Frodo Baggins!”.

At the mention of “Baggins”, something stirred in the innkeeper’s memory.

The wind howled through the distant trees. At times, Barliman was almost convinced he could hear words in the howling, the groan of the ancient wood lending them a menacing quality. He rolled to face away from the sickly light, trying to avoid its gaze, but still it played in his mind.

“It had been mine”, he thought, “I found it, and it had been mine”. He absent-mindedly stroked where it had sat on his left hand. He recalled the clarity it had given his vision, and his mind. The purpose. And then the wizard had taken it, and now it was gone forever.

“I couldn’t defend myself against that poor creature in the mountain.” he mourned, “I might have held on to it otherwise.” He drew the knife that Aoife had given him and turned it over in his hands. Seeming to make up his mind about something, he sheathed it, and tried to sleep.

A Road To Recovery

Thranduil felt utterly exhausted. He’d never experienced anything like it before. It was a strange feeling. It was incidentally almost the only thing he could feel right now. He certainly couldn’t feel his body, which was oddly relieving. His recollection of agony ripping through what seemed like every particle of his being was still fresh and not something he wanted to think about. He doubted that he would be that lucky. He didn’t know what had been done to give him this respite, but it was unlikely to last.

The temptation to try to move was strong, to try to see the extent of his injuries, but he couldn’t muster the energy. Everything was so wispy and indistinct. Besides – he wouldn’t be able to feel if his body was obeying. An odd notion when he thought about it. Lots of things seemed odd right now. Like the peculiar smell pervading the room……somehow pleasant and unnerving. It reminded him of something…….now what was it? Flowers? Burning?

Suddenly he was back there, in the heat of battle. Heat..? Leaping tirelessly into the fray yet again. Battling the dark forces of Morgoth, as they had for years now. Sweeping through the repulsive ranks of darkness, cutting them down. Then hearing the roar of wind and cracks of lightening that had become horrifyingly familiar recently. Ancalagon the Black and his kin were moving in to inflame the land yet again. A sign to be vigilant to the threat from above. But….but then he’d seen Ancalagon fall. Managed to keep his feet as the shockwave of the impact shook the land. His attention diverted for but a mere moment then……!

He cried out as he remembered the searing pain of fire vapourising his skin. That new danger diving across the sky spotted too late. His leap away from the jet of flame not quick or far enough to be entirely out of its reach. The impact of the ground as he rolled adding agony on agony. The malodorous smell of his flesh burning, his armour fusing to his body. The excruciating torture of consciousness, until all went black.

He gasped frantically for air, trying to fight the memory. Wanting to move, but unable to will it, the sensation now sinister instead of comforting.

A face appeared in his vision, clouded with concern. A familiar face from Doriath, but only by sight. She placed a hand on his cheek and calmly reassured him all would be fine. His breathing calmed, but the now remembered memory lurked on the edge of his mind.

He had been unconscious for some days, Elenwë explained soothingly. They’d made sure of that. They had hidden his pain so he could rest, but it would return. His healing had begun and they were doing all they could, but it would take time and it would hurt. Even with some of Estë’s maids guiding them. The damage had been extreme, though less extensive than they’d feared. He would recover….eventually.

And he was not to worry about the War. The tide of the battle had turned when Ancalagon had fell. More decisively than before. There was hope it would soon be over.

Her tone shifted, more serene now, but somehow intense. “Lle ume quel maethor! Avo psar. Anya lûr, meldir”, she whispered. A new tranquility drifted through his mind, like a soft breeze, compelling him to rest, to sleep. Who was he to argue.

A Break From The Wind.

Dolen settled in between the routes of the trees at the base of a small hill. It wasn’t exactly safe, but it was at least a break from the wind. East of his position was lousy with Orks, west of his position suffered the same fate. Here he was stuck in Eryn Lasgalen like a dagger to each cheek and one to his back. The irony was he might slip by the orks, only to be shot by one of the woodland-kin.

He pulled a scroll out of his pack, notes scribbled straight-up copied from the carvings he’d seen on his last endeavour. He didn’t understand the language yet, he’d had to copy the symbols blind, but he had patients, and time, he would come to know these secrets.

The Moriquendë frowned, in this wood, at this time of night, even he couldn’t see well enough to begin translation. He looked about himself, the forest was quiet… this of course could mean it was at it’s most dangerous. He would risk it…

Leaning down to the page Dolen spoke a word and settled back. Now the script on the page shimmered with the faintest of silver glows. Better. He could at least use his time in this accursed wood to study, even if he didn’t find the lost city.

Dolen screwed up his face. A foul air blew in from the west. Fire, smoke, the Orcs where burning Laketown. This age… It could only go one way, and those with the power to change it’s course where labouring on their ignorance, given they didn’t know a fraction of the histories he could recall.

This evil that had risen before was about in the land again. It was getting harder and harder to find it’s secrets and turn them against it. He may have to head south.

At that point the night sky lit up with a display off to the south east Dolen had seen only once before. He had not been in the time or place to learn the secrets of the forgings then, he would not be now, perhaps there was no way he could. But why would Dulgul dor be alive with activity now, it wasn’t like the dark forces had acquired a new ring of power?

A Fortress of Light

He dreamt of Amon Lanc.

They had dwelt there for much of the Second Age and it had been blissful. The beautiful fortress city, for that was what it had been, was unlike any other Elven settlement. He could see it clearly, bathed in the pure light of his dream. His father had been insistent as they traveled, that when they settled once again, they would not be defenceless. The betrayal of the Dwarves that had destroyed their home in Doriath, the horror and desolation of the War of Wrath – his father wanted to give them, all of them, security. The scars had run deep.

Thranduil winced in his sleep as ancient memories flared, searing his mind.

But that had been before. He was whole when his father had built his city. Built! It had not looked like it had been built. Grown would have been a better description, for somehow his father had created a fortress that felt light and open. Settled on the peak of the hill, it was as if the stone had grown plant-like into the required structures. He had made it strong and defensive, yet light streamed into the palatial halls by day and night. No, no Dwarf mason had touched that place. It was all Elf.

And their people had been no less at home within its walls than they were in the realm of forests or within the Greenwood. It was a place of joy and hope. Morgoth was gone, forever, his darkness with him. Oropher had led them to this place and they could live in peace.

They relaxed in their new home. Life was simple. They feasted under the stars. They found love.

For a time they had serenity and elation.

Till Sauron returned to Middle Earth, defiling everything he touched.

Still Amon Lanc had stood. Even after his father had led them into the mountains to a new fortress. Even after his father’s death – still it had remained.

Thranduil tried to keep the joyous memories in his mind, but it was too late. The sight of their abandoned home had been almost too much to bear as he’d returned from the war with the remnants of his army. His loss too raw to even consider resting there on the way back north. Later, when Isildur had gone missing, he’d avoided it once again.

Avoided it……effectively allowed its fall to darkness. Could he have stopped it? By all accounts there was nothing of Amon Lanc remaining….nothing but memories.

A Rustle of Leaves

They were unhappy. They almost couldn’t remember the last time a breeze cooled the stifling, rancid air. Worse was the damp. It certainly never used to be this damp, they mused. They could feel decay spreading all around. The fungus thriving. It wasn’t right. Someone should do something about it.

And as for the spiders – where had they come from. They weren’t like the tiny spiders you used to get that were no trouble to anyone. These were HUGE. They clambered everywhere with no regard, leaving messy, sticky webs everywhere. It was putting off visitors.

Only the Elves spent any time under the boughs now, but even they were seeming disconsulate about how things were changing round here. They were trying their best, but it was uncanny how the dank decay was spreading. Nothing seemed to stop it.

If it weren’t for the way their highest branches escaped to touch the sun and moonlight, and the leaves up there rustled in the clean, cool air, they’d have lost all hope by now.

As it was the Greatwood was incredibly unhappy. Where were the Ents when they were needed.

A Pitiful Sight

Even before Thrandiul touched the pale, crumpled body he knew that he would find no life there. His hand touched the cold throat before him anyway, just to make sure. Whatever thin thread had been keeping this frail shadow of a creature alive had snapped most finally. It probably hadn’t taken much, but the tragedy remained.

He glanced at the pitiful body. It was barely recognisable as the Dwarf he had once met. He had become used to observing the changes in the young races as they aged, but this was different. This was more unnatural somehow. Like his life had been stretched further than it would otherwise have been. But that also seemed wrong. He hadn’t been an old Dwarf when Thranduil had last met him and too few years had passed to make him so. It also wouldn’t account for how pale and wasted he had become, though being trapped in a mountain with a dragon couldn’t have helped. No – his appearance was too reminiscent of that pitiful creature Gollum.

They would never know the truth of what happened in the intervening years, but Thranduil could guess and it did not bode well. But no time to think on it or the past right now. The argument behind him was heating up and showed signs of straying into lies and even violence. It was time for the truth and some focus. Besides – Kivi needed to know. He knew himself how hard it was to lose a parent, particularly to violence and darkness. He could not guess how much harder that would be when that parent had been a revered stranger, drained of all life and semblance of who he’d once been. Poor Kivi!

A New Life

A small hand slid softly into Thranduil’s large palm, as they walked towards the palace doors. A mere glimmer of a smile ghosted across his lips, yet inside his heart was an inferno. He gently gripped the tiny hand, leading him out into the warm summer morning. They weren’t going far into the forest, no need for accompaniment, but for the small figure beside him it would be a mini adventure. Thranduil took a deep breath of the familiar scented air. It was an important day.

They strolled without speaking. Thranduil knew that later there would be a flurry of questions demanding urgent answers, but for now there was a expectant breathlessness beside him. He allowed himself a brief, heartfelt smile of contentment, knowing they were not watched. If Eru willed, he would spend thousands of peaceful days with this delicate hand in his.

Turning from the visible path, they moved deeper into the trees. An unwise move unless you were an Elf and could hear the ancient voice of the forest and see the secret ways. The small figure beside him had yet to learn how to interpret the forest, but in time it would come. Today would be another step on that journey.

A deep bellow sounded ahead of them causing the grip on Thranduil’s hand to tighten slightly. Pushing on through the trees, they suddenly came out into a sunlit clearing. Ahead was the owner of the bellow – his favourite giant Elk, making clear that incursions into this space were only with his permission. On the ground was a pure white Elk, mewing in bursts, as her labour proceeded.

It was almost time.

Thranduil raised his hands and gestured respectfully to the Elk, assuring them of his regard and non-interference. His signal, accepted with a brief nod and bark. He sensed movement behind him as the small figure peeked round his hip, small hands gripping his thigh and robe with a slight tremble. He moved a protective hand to the delicate shoulder to provide reassurance. Whilst some might think his son was too young to witness this, he disagreed. It was important he witnessed the wonder and precariousness of life. Appreciated the balance that was for them to nurture and maintain. Understood their place in this world.

As the white Elk strained with her burden, her antlered companion kept keen watch, dipping his head to her own in reassurance. Thranduil knew a couple of Elves lurked at the treeline, poised to assist if there were any signs of distress, but all seemed to be progressing well. As the calf’s head appeared, he heard an awed gasp from near his hip. In mere moments the rest of a little spotted body emerged onto the grass. The white Elk got to it’s feet and turned, licking her baby all over, encouraging it to move. A high pitched squeal emanated from the newborn to it’s mother’s delight. A rustle in the trees signaled the rest of the herd moving closer, keen to meet their new member. A few nudges later and the calf had wobbled to it’s feet and was feeding for the first time.

He felt the sign of movement under his hand and tightened it, stopping his son in place. His curiousity was understandable, but respect must be maintained. It would be discourteous and dangerous to intrude before welcomed. Slowly shifting to a crouch he took in the wide eyed look of awe in his son’s face. Yes – he was beginning to understand.

“Utinu,” he whispered softly, his arm encircling small shoulders. “There will be time to meet the calf later, but now is time for his family. We will return tomorrow – lle rangwa?”

“Uma, adar,” he replied in solemnly hushed tones.

Taking his child in his arms, Thranduil stood, the Elk herd all around them now. Small arms circled his neck loosely, certain of security. The Elk parted seamlessly before him, as he moved back out of the clearing, away from the newborn. Through the trees they went, back towards the Palace. He could sense the bubbling excitement from his son, knew it wouldn’t be long till he found his voice again.

“Legolas,” he started thoughtfully. “This calf is the firstborn of that mother and as such will need a fine name to accompany him through his life. Would you like the honour of naming him?”

“Uma – yes!” He exclaimed eagerly, his face scrunching up with intense thought. After a few moments, with a finger grandiosely waggled in the air, he proclaimed loudly “Moose!”

The long walk

The ground around the Lonely Mountain had been burned.

A great conflagration had passed through. Here and there the heartwood of a tree still stood after its bark and leaves had burned off. Where a stream burbled across the plain, grass and moss made a half-hearted attempt to re-seed themselves.

The company mostly kept silent as they walked across the ruined plain, the grand shape of the mountain growing above them as they walked. Everyone seemed lost in their own thoughts, and she didn’t want to challenge or question them.

They walked in silence, hour after hour through a dead landscape. Twice they crossed a group of burned corpses. And once a fresh one, its corpse in the process of being picked clean by the carrion birds.

Are we walking to our own death? Aoife wondered. What if the dragon is awake, if it chooses to leave its hiding place now?

It would see them in moments. There was nothing to take them from its sight. Nowhere to hide. It would come out of the great crack in the mountain, and see them. And then it would fly towards them, beating its mighty wings.

Perhaps they would try to scatter. It might not get them all with its first blast. While half of them lay dying, it would fly past. Then it would turn, and fly towards them again.

The company trudged forth silently, leaving footprints in the dust that once was living flesh, wood, plant.

She wondered if she would face it as it came.

She wondered if she would see the fire come up from its belly through its throat, filling its mouth before disgorging at her. At them.

She wondered if the mystical arrow that never failed to strike true would be enough to kill a dragon in flight. Or if it would just be a pinprick.

Perhaps it wouldn’t even notice.

They continued to walk, each lost in their own thoughts, saying nothing. She wondered if any of them thought that they could slay this beast if it attacked. Save themselves.

But everywhere Aoife looked, all she could see was ash.


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