The Lords of the Ring

A Shadowy Siege

Several squads of cavalry began streaming from the Palace doors and across the bridge into the besieging army. Thranduil charged into the rear of the throng, his swords and Moose’s antlers clearing foul creatures from their path. He rode hard to intercept the head of his cavalry, to join them in their charge.

As he moved alongside the front rank he shouted commandingly “Onyë!”

He was proud – his army retained its focus and discipline as ever. Not a word or exclamation at his sudden arrival was uttered, though he could sense their surprise and exhilaration. That he had appeared in this dark hour to fight alongside them once again was a sign.

He called, in Sindar, to one of the Elves in the last squad to leave the palace, “Amros, I want archers and their sword-guard along the front of the Palace.”

As the rider wheeled round on the bridge and headed back into the closing Palace doors with his orders, Thranduil led the cavalry through the enemy forces, trying to cause as much disruption and chaos in their ranks as possible. He drew them on, swords flashing, in and out of the hoards, trampling the filthy creatures beneath their hooves, determination and disgust etched like stone across his ageless face.

The great doors of the palace opened briefly once again, releasing several units of archers and their sword-guard out before the facade of the palace. Forming up, the archers began firing arrows into the furthest reaches of the besieging forces, which the cavalry had yet to breach. The arrows found their marks over and over, while with perfect synchronisation, the sword-guards kept them covered whenever the enemy attempted to retaliate.

Ahead of Thranduil there was a cluster of giant spiders, much like the ones that had tried to waylay him and his companions on the road. Now it was time to take some vengeance on those foul creatures that had been polluting his forest. Reforming the cavalry line once again, he shouted, “Togo hain dad!” and charged. The elves slashed and hacked at the spiders, a foe they had long reviled. Their assault damaged their hated foe, but some still remained. Turning the riders round, Thranduil pushed them on, bursting though a nearby group of goblins to strike again at the spiders. The goblins fell before the Elven onslaught, but the spiders were wily and tried to dodge their attackers. The Elves were determined however and soon they had reduced the group to twitching bodies.

Scanning the battlefield to determine his next tactical action, he spotted the familiar figure of Voronwe putting the finishing touches to one of the foul black serpents that had crossed their path earlier. Frowning, he scanned the area – no, the others weren’t to be seen. He hoped they had been sensible and were heading from the forest. This was no place for those without battle experience.

Satisfied that Voronwe was holding his own, Thranduil reassembled his cavalry squads. They had taken a few casualties, but were still in fighting form. He could see figures in the distance who looked to be co-ordinating the enemy forces, but they were unreachable at present. He had a uncomfortable suspicion as to who they were. If he were right, then the Dark Lord was targeting him and his kingdom. Either as revenge for his assault on the Witch King on the Dimrill Stair, because his army was still great in number…..or because he had an inkling of what Thranduil and his disparate travelling companions were up to. Whilst none of these options were ideal, he really hoped it wasn’t the latter – that could be disastrous.

They needed to try to breach a path to the commanders of this army, to try to stop them. “Herio!” he ordered and the riders galloped into the fray, trying to trample the opposition beneath them. A black serpent slowed their progress, ripping a rider from his horse. Thranduil and several of his soldiers hacked at the beast, spilling its insides across the grass, sadly too late to save their comrade.

Further into the throng they fought, until Thranduil confirmed his prediction. There were four Nazgul directing this siege and from what he could see of the fell beasts they were riding, his cavalry would be hard pressed to take them down. They would need more assistance. Preparing to extract his squads from the orc regiment they were fighting, he signalled for one of the riders to blow the cavalry horn. He hoped that his son would be ready to respond, hoped that his lessons in battlefield tactics had been understood.

Moments after the horn sounded, the great doors of the palace opened once more, a blur of cavalry rushing out with Legolas at it’s head. Thranduil was heartened. His son was there, well and in fighting spirit. Shouting commands, he turned his riders to get them into formation, to create a pincer movement with the fresh squads led by Legolas. As the two spurs of cavalry hit the army, creatures began dropping from the sky. Bats! He hadn’t seen them in long years and certainly not in the forest.

“Leithio i philinn!” he hollered, unsure if he would be heard above the battle. A cloud of arrows peppered the sky….perhaps at his call or the initiative of his officers. They caught many of the bats as they dived, but not all. He saw one dodge the missiles and plunge at a soldier, fangs barred. Too late he realised it was Voronwe, riding in Legolas’s company.

He shouted at the nearest officer to continue the charge and drove Moose across the battlefield, blades a blur as he cut down anything in his path. As he closed in, Voronwe was on the ground, all but hidden by the bat attacking him. Leaping from the elk, Thranduil slashed across the creature’s back and wings. A final strike severed its spine, but it’s deathy convulsions didn’t loosen its grip on the Gondorian. Thranduil slid it’s fangs from where they had pierced Voronwe’s body, the blood still flowing from the wound. It would be mere moments before the nearest orcs attacked and his ability to help his friend was curtailed. Voronwe wouldn’t last long after that. There was only one course of action. He hefted Voronwe’s limp and lifeless body onto Moose.

“Bardh!” he instructed, before turning to face the next onslaught of attackers, swords drawn and eyes ablaze.

As instructed, Moose ran as quickly as he could to the palace without dislodging his load. At the closed doors he paused, while a couple of archers ran over to see who was slumped on his back. If they were surprised to find a Gondorian on their King’s mount, they didn’t show it. Calling for the doors to be opened, they ushered the Elk inside and handed the wounded figure over to the healers hovering inside.

Thranduil was surrounded on all sides, but he didn’t care. He span and whirled, his blades a blur, ripping through the flesh of those around him. As in the battles he’d fought before, time had slowed, his senses alive to every movement of his enemies. And then, they became more hesitant in their actions, more defensive than offensive. He heard the discordant note of the enemy horns and then they were retreating. In the sky he could see the Nazgul, spiraling upwards and then flying towards the south. He saw the cavalry slashing down the strays and was satisfied the siege had been broken.

He turned from the battlefield and headed back towards the Palace, stopping only to check the injured Elven soldiers he encountered, waving over others to help carry them back. The oppressive shadow he’d felt on entering the forest was receding, leaving just the decaying darkness that had been a feature for the last few thousand years. As he crossed the threshold of the palace, his home, he realised how much he’d missed it. The amber glow, the high ceilings, the security of his fortress. He had barely taken a step when two of his aides fell in beside him.

“My Lord, welcome back.” one began, before falling silent to wait for instruction.

“There was a Gondorian in the battle. Moose brought him in when he was injured. How is he?” Thranduil enquired.

“He is with Elenwë. His injuries are substantial, but she is certain he will survive.”

Thranduil thought for a moment. “I want to see him, but I need you to organise some things for me. As soon as he is able to travel, we will have to leave once more” he explained. “I will also need to speak to my son when he returns from routing our enemies.”

“Yes, my Lord,” the aides confirmed.

Heading towards his private quarters he continued, “I need Moose checked over and fed. We’ll need a horse for Captain Voronwe of Gondor to ride if his own can’t be found and a couple of pack horses. I want fresh supplies, as much as they can manage, to be put on the them, as we have some way to travel, plus a horse grooming kit. In addition – tell the healers I want a selection of plants and herbs that can be used in treating wounds and burns parceled up. I want a couple of the artisans to look over the creatures we killed on the battlefield – anything that they judge might be useful to an eccentric tinkerer or artisan they are to carefully retrieve, parcel up and put on the horses. I’m thinking of claws, fangs, wings….they’re to use their judgement. Grab two quivers of arrows from the armoury and one of the hard wood training clubs. Then lastly – nip down to the kitchens and get one of the iron sauteing pans.”

“Yes, my Lord,” the aides agreed, a little puzzled, before disappearing to do their King’s bidding.

In his chambers, Thranduil pulled off his armour and his travelling robes. They wouldn’t have long before they’d have to leave again, but he might as well get cleaned up while he had the chance. Slipping into the rainwater pool, he let the icy chill of the water soothe his tired muscles and bruises. He quickly washed, cleaning out some cuts and the spider bite from several days earlier. There was no time to enjoy the water this day, so he climbed back out and started yo dry himself off. A knock alerted him to company – Elenwë.

“Lord – the Gondorian will soon wake. I have done what i can to ease his injuries and pain. With a few more days I could do more….” she explained.

“Elenwë,” he interrupted. “The Captain and I will have to leave as soon as he is able. Sadly there will be no time for him to rest and recuperate.”

“As you wish,” she nodded. “My Lord, I see you also have need of my care. If you will sit a moment, I can tend to those injuries.”

Thranduil nodded his consent and moved to s chair to sit. Elenwë moved to his shoulder and examined the wound where the giant spider had sunk its fangs. Content in her assessment, she reached into a pouch at her belt and extracted some herbs and a tincture. She dripped a few drops of the liquid onto the herbs and rubbed them together in her palm. When it was ready she patted the herbs into the wound and placed her hands on his still damp skin and whispered “Lasto beth nîn, menno o nin na hon i eliad annen annin”.

He felt the power of her gift as it touched him, his eyes closing in reverence. The beautiful sensation as the poison was finally driven from his body, as the ache of his muscles became the tingle of skin regrowing. He pushed away the ancient memory of scorching pain being healed before it could resurface and let her do her work. Within moments she was finished, his skin seemingly unblemished.

He opened his eyes to see his son waiting by the door. “Hannon le, Elenwë! Your skill is unparalleled.”

She smiled in acknowledgement and with a quick farewell, headed back to her other patients.

“Adar!” Legolas smiled sadly. “I am glad you have returned, but I wish it had not been to such a welcome.”

“Legolas,” Thranduil replied warmly. “I want you to recount all that has happened in my absence and how the borders of our Kingdom have been so breached, but I must tell you that my time here is brief. As soon as the Gondorian Captain can travel we must be on our way.”

“So soon!”

“It has to be. I will tell you what I can as I make ready, but as you are certainly now aware – the forces of the Dark Lord are moving,” he added somberly.

Grabbing clean travelling clothes, he dressed and told his son of his journey, in particular where they had encountered dark forces and those who had been swayed by darkness. As he donned his armour once more he continued.

“News of the Beornings, the forces that are amassing on our borders and this siege must be sent to Lady Galadriel. She will get word to Lord Elrond. They must be alerted to these happenings, so that they too can prepare themselves.”

“I will send word,” Legolas agreed.

“We also owe a debt to a Halfling settlement on the Anduin. They lent us a coracle, which I had hoped we would be able to return. This isn’t going to be possible for the present, not least due to the Orcs, but if any of our people are out that way and can assist them, then I would wish it be so,” he added. “Now – what of our kingdom?”

Leaving his chambers, they made their way along walkways to the room where Voronwe was being cared for.

“For some time after you left things were much the same.” Legolas recounted. “Then the Orc incursions became bolder. I sent our patrols, but no matter how many we dispatched, more appeared. Many of our people chose to move into the palace to escape the raids and so that we could co-ordinate our efforts at pushing them back. The last week or so it was like a shadow had fallen on the kingdom. No matter what I tried I couldn’t expel it or reduce its effects. It had everyone on edge and I’m concerned that some of the hunting parties that were further afield might have been overcome.The spiders became more irascible and then the siege started. A couple of hunting parties had spotted them coming and were able to warn us, but we couldn’t fight them off till today. We decided that today we would have to make a stand!”

“And so you did! You fought well. Darkness is coming and we must do what we can to stop it. I would stay and fight with you if I could, but my path leads elsewhere for a time. If Eru wishes I will return to defend our realm, but till then, you must be strong.”

Reaching Voronwe’s room, they could see that the soldier was still unconscious.

“This is a brave man, my son. He could’ve travelled on with the rest of our companions, but he chose to stay, to help us. We owe him a debt. He will be ever welcome in these halls.”

As he moved closer, Thranduil could see Vorowe’s eyelids flickering. He was waking and so it would soon be time for them to depart. Again he would have to say farewell to this kingdom, his home.

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Flow

Now this. This she knew how to do.

Aoife ducked beneath the nearest spider and slashed at its abdomen with one of her daggers. It opened at the touch, showered her in warm ichor. Not a wound that would kill it, but perhaps one that would slow it for a moment or two. For long enough that one of her blades would find its mark.

She felt the battle-rush, and the calm came upon her again, taking her away from the world at large, and placing her in one singular moment. The constant chatter in her mind – whatifshouldhavedonewhynotyouWHYNOTYOU – receded and the world slowed. Time stood still here. Here there were no regrets, no anguish.

The spider moved slowly in the gap of her perception and between two of its legs she saw one of her companions surrounded by more of the giants. Then she rolled, easily and safely, avoiding another of its legs as it attempted to crush or skewer her.

The view cleared again for a moment. A different spider sank its venom-laced fangs into whoever-it-was, but they were obscured from vision and the moment was gone.

She heard her every breath, felt her heart drum slowly inside her, every beat an eternity to plan and execute her next attack. She could see the monster’s movements before it made them, perhaps even before it knew itself what it was going to do. Her body moved of its own accord, rising to its feet in front of the spider.

It hissed and opened its mouthparts wide, then attacked again. Aoife sidestepped easily, turning its fangs with her twin blades.

There was nothing but the battle.

Aoife’s heart sang to her, and she placed her blades in time with the music, caught up in the moment. Her mind was empty of fears and regrets and weakness and the darkness, and even as she fought she longed for the encounter to hold for longer, so that she could stay here, caught in the moment where everything was well and nothing was wrong.

Aoife danced.

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A Web of Darkness

The new shadow over the forest, the boldness of the spiders and their barely repelled attack – there was nothing coincidental about this. His kingdom was certainly not how he left it and all was far from well.

Thranduil was more tense than he’d been in centuries. Even when the orc incursions had started, he had not been this worried….but then the forest had not been as anxious then either. It’s distress was palpable to him and it was getting harder for him to hide that from his companions. He was certain they could sense his anger already, but that was an entirely appropriate response for a King given the circumstances.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have left. Should’ve sent Legolas to Imladris as his representative. But that could’ve been fatal to the cause they now followed. While he had every confidence in his son and his ability to hold his own in a fight, he had not as much experience outside of this realm as would likely be required.

And this realm, his home – had his leaving reduced the strength of its borders? Legolas knew what to do – he had taught him the old ways as he had learnt them long ago, but perhaps he was yet too young to fully use the talents Eru granted them. Whilst the times of the Elves might be passing and the call of the sea growing stronger, he still had all his natural abilities and he expected Legolas would be no less able.

Thranduil swallowed a weary sigh and ruffled the hair on Moose’s neck. He was sure his son had done all within his power to protect their kingdom. He trusted him and if there was an error, then it was his own, for he had ultimate responsibility. He just had to hope that his people were still well and that the forest could recover, whatever had been happening. They should soon be within sight of the palace – there there would be answers and hopefully some respite before they travelled onward.

He was feeling unusually morose, though the usual forest tricks couldn’t touch him as they did others. If only he could tell what time of day it was, it would be less unnerving. It was like his senses were being muffled or maybe overwhelmed by the deluge of distress from the forest. The after effects of the spider’s bites were certainly not helping. Ridding the forest of those foul creatures could not happen soon enough!

Suddenly a large, black serpent snaked through the trees, across the path and disappeared. He started, horrified. No such creature had been seen here before. His ire raised, he moved Moose forward more keenly. As the path curved round to give him the first glimpse of his palace in many months he halted dismayed – the palace was besieged by an army of foul creatures. A familiar signal sounded and from the doors streamed some of his cavalry. Enough was enough…!

Face taught, he turned to his companions, pointed along the path forking off away from the palace and urged commandingly, “That is the way out of the forest. Follow it and don’t leave the path!”

Turning back to the palace he spurred Moose on, charging towards the fray and his Elven warriors. This was his kingdom, he was responsible for it and he would defend it to the death if Eru wished. He certainly wasn’t going to let it fall without a hell of a fight!

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Firelight

He was blond.

Aoife sharpened her dagger with the stone and looked across at the sleeping form of Théodred across from her. His family – nay, his father – had ordered the destruction of her village and her people. All of them.

She tested the blade against her thumb, swiping against it so that she could feel its sharpness without cutting herself.

Théodred rolled over. He was facing her now., eyes closed, chest rising and falling in the firelight. His neck and face were limned with red from the fire behind it, bringing out the gold in his beard. Such as it was.

She smiled to herself.

That neck. So close. Just a few short steps away. Varonwe was on watch, had moved a few steps away from the fire to check out a noise. He faced away.

Aoife could cut the sleeping man’s throat in a second, and be gone before Varonwe even knew that she had moved.

She could vanish into the night, no-one would see her. The rest of the Free Company could continue on their pointless quest, but Théoden, Théoden… he would hear the news of the death of his child. He would have the pain that came when his closest kin were taken from him, destroyed at the will of another. He would fall to his knees and scream into the night that his son was dead and that there was nothing that he could do to bring them back. He would scream into the void until his throat was raw and the tears would not come any longer.

Then, eventually, he would sleep.

And in the morning he would realise what had been torn from him in such a short moment, and would begin to scream again.

A sudden pain. She looked down, saw the blood running from her dagger where she was testing it. Careless. A scratch, but – careless.

She looked again across the fire at the man’s sleeping form. His neck was smooth, where he had shaved in an attempt to make his beard look more manly, more proper, more pretty than than the shaggy neckbeards that the wizards thought was right

She looked at his face, his blond hair shining in the firelight. Then there was a sound. A step upon the earth.

Varonwe had returned from his circuit of the camp, and sat down beside the fire, opening his hands and arms to cup its warmth. He nodded briefly to her as he arrived, then paid her no more attention.

A small nod in response. It was enough. Varonwe turned back to the fire. The moment had passed.

Aoife wiped her dagger clean with a cloth and absent-mindedly sucked the blood from her thumb as she marvelled at the strange colour of his hair, so different from her own, her family’s.

He was fair.

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A Disappointing Blow

As they rode swiftly towards the Old Ford, Thranduil released a silent sigh. It had saddened him to have to fight the Beornings, a people who had been so valiant and brave in times past. He could only guess at what had possessed them to allow darkness into their hearts. How their leader Grimbeorn the Old had perished, the Beornings only knew, but somehow he doubted the betrayal had started there. Grimbeorn and his father had been ever honourable, keeping both the High Pass and the roads to Mirkwood safe for travellers. They had had Thranduil’s every respect for their efforts. He hoped those that remained would see how they had been manipulated by the darkness and reject it now, but regardless – messages would have to be sent to Lorien and Imladris to ensure that they knew to be wary of those they once called friends.

The one question that remained, that he wished they knew the answer to, was – had the Beornings been told to stop them specifically or were they just stopping any travellers that passed by? Or that had not been picked off by the orcs amassing on the banks of the Anduin? He doubted they would find out anytime soon, but maybe the mystery would be revealed before it was too late for them to act. For now they would have to forge on and try to complete the mission they had taken on, with every hope that it hadn’t been discovered by the enemy. Whatever – it wasn’t worth worrying about right now.

For him – he now felt the call of home. All along the Anduin he had felt it just within reach, almost like it was calling out for him. There was nothing like the sensation of being under the trees, their familiarity and friendship. He very much doubted any of the others, bar Radagast, would be able to sense anything, but despite the decay brought by the darkness, he could still feel the life pulsing throughout. When they reached the eaves of the forest where the main Elven path emerged, he intended to take a moment to listen and take in the atmosphere. To find out what the forest wanted to share with him or perhaps warn him of.

Soon, soon they would be there if all went well. He made a mental note to reiterate the rules of the forest to his companions before they entered, as he doubted they had remembered them with all they’d had to contend with. This might be his realm, but it was wild and dangerous to outsiders. Whilst he would have the darkness banished from his boarders instantly if he could, he would not tame this land and turn it into some farmer’s orchard. Eru meant it to grow free and he would fight to keep it that way. It was his responsibility.

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A Detestable Ambush

Thranduil sat back against his elk and considered the expert workmanship of the sword before him. He turned it in his hands admiringly. Despite it’s watery home, it appeared none the worse for wear. In fact – it looked as it would’ve when it’s owner had last held it. An owner he had probably seen, if not met. Certainly they had shared battlefields together, shared losses and survived…for a time.

As his eyes drifted to the river and beyond he remembered that day long past when the runners, triggered by Ohtar and his companion reaching the forest, informed him that Isildur’s army had been ambushed. He had immediately gathered the portion of his army sited in the western glens of Emyn Duir and headed at full speed through the forest to Gladden Fields, unsure what they would find.

The scene that confronted them was nothing but carnage. It seemed all of Isildur’s company of Dúnedain had been slaughtered, along with three of his sons. The local woodmen and elves that had been alerted by Ohtar had rushed to the scene, but only in time to prevent the Orcs from mutilating the bodies. They had found but one survivor – Estelmo, Elendur’s esquire, who had been unconscious under his master’s body.

Sending the majority of his company to search the area for signs of the Orcs, he ordered the rest to begin readying the fallen knights for burial. He wished it was within his power to transport them to their families in Arnor for the burials they would have wanted, but that could not be. Here he could give them honourable soldiers burials, where they would no longer be threatened by Orcs. It was the least he could do and more than many had had in the recent War. So many deaths…too many and yet here there were still more. Would it never be over?

Before the melancholy in his heart could distract him, he went to find Estelmo. The local woodmen had been unable to part him from his master’s lifeless form and when Thranduil found him he was cradling Elendur’s head like a precious object. He resisted the temptation to offer to heal Estelmo’s injuries, knowing that it would be rejected for now. His injuries were his only anchor to what had happened and were all that was preventing his guilt for surviving his master from drowning him. In time the fallacy of that feeling would reduce, leaving just the pain of loss, but not yet.

Sitting by the young man, he placed a companionable hand on his back and carefully coaxed details of the ambush from him, hoping to hear news of Isildur, for they had only found the bodies of his sons. He slowly learnt that the party had left Lorien in high spirits, with hope that they would soon be back in Imladris. They had been about a mile down river from this spot when the orcs had ambushed (and Ohtar dispatched for help), but despite being horribly outnumbered, they had adroitly repelled the attack. Isildur had hoped that the orc withdrawal was an opportunity to escape to better terrain and perhaps no further incursions, but as they reached this location, they were circled and attacked again. After Ciryon’s death and Aratan’s fatal wounding, Isildur’s other son Elendur had pleaded with his father to escape with “his burden”. Somehow Estelmo had missed Isildur’s leaving…he’d seemingly vanished to be replaced briefly by a frightening blazing red star. Without Isildur and the Elendilmir on his brow, the Orc army lost any remaining fear of their enemy and renewed their brutal efforts. For Estelmo all had suddenly gone black until he was found, he had not even seen Elendur fall.

After comforting the distraught esquire as well as he could, Thranduil left him in the capable hands of a couple of his guards. He searched the area for any signs of Isildur’s passing, but the ground was so overturned that even he could not track him. Reports from his soldiers revealed that the orcs had scattered throughout the area, which meant they could only take down the stragglers. Then, when he’d feared they would never know what happened to Isildur, a couple of his Elves returned having discovered the King’s armour, shield and sword upstream. He had taken a search party to that spot and swept all of the surrounding area, but of Isildur and the Elendilmir they could find nothing. Concluding that the river had taken him, they returned to the site of the battle and finished burying the bodies, his Elven soldiers performing the warrior’s rites. When they finished they realised they were shy of the complete number of Isildur’s force, the missing likely also taken by the fast flow of the Anduin. Not one of them would have allowed themselves to be taken alive by Orcs.

Damn Orcs! They must’ve been somewhere near when he’d brought his army back from the War, but the cowardly filth had waited till Isildur’s far smaller force had approached before attacking. Even as exhausted as they were, he and his Elves would’ve gladly taken them on to prevent them attacking others. When he arrived back home, he would arrange some extra patrols to make sure they didn’t try this again.

But first there were people who would have to know of these events. Picking out some of his fastest riders, he sent messages to Lorien and Imladris to inform them of events. Then, with Estelmo, he led his soldiers back home, picking Ohtar and his companion up on the way. He promised that once all three were recovered sufficiently to travel, an armed escort would help them conclude their journey to Imladris. There they would be with Isildur’s kin and their own, and where they could properly grieve. Himself – he could only grieve in private. His people expected strength and a certain amount of stoicism in their new King.

Thranduil blinked as a glimmer of light sparkled on the surface of the Anduin. He had given his people the King they wanted and needed, but the ache of loss still rent his heart. They had hoped that that War had been the end of Sauron, that all those lives lost weren’t lost in vain, but the indications were that it was all happening over again. Could he bear to take his army into battle again, for the inevitable losses, for the hope that this time they might finally defeat Sauron once and for all? Could he? For all those who went before and those that would come after?

Gripping the ancient sword of Númenór firmly in his hands he knew. He would fight. Sauron must be defeated no matter how many thousands of years it took. Eru would expect nothing more.

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A Glimpse of Starlight

Fading from the noisy presence of his companions and their Elven hosts, Thranduil made his way quietly along paths he had not trod in some time. It felt good, as always, to be back in Lorien – the Lady Galadriel’s influence was ever strong within her realm. Disconcertingly so for some.

The forest was a familiar friend. The years he and his father had spent here had been restful compared to the bustle and noise of Amon Lanc, despite the sadness that came with leaving the city for the last time. And afterwards, whenever he had returned to this place, he found himself moved by how little it had changed, though time moved ever forward. There were of course some things that changed – new faces, new shrubs and seedlings….but it remained blessedly untouched by the darkness that had crept unbidden into his own realm.

His feet led him easily to his destination. No – not enough had changed for him to get lost here. Sweeping between branches and boughs he emerged high in the trees on a platform bathed in starlight. He stood for a moment, eyes closed and enjoyed the feel of the pure crystal light caressing his skin. The muffled sounds of the forest barely registered as he took a deep relaxing breath and thought of home.

For a moment he was there, stood on an outcrop of stone looking out over his forest towards Erebor, the Long Lake glistening in the moonlight. A slight breeze played among the leaves, but otherwise all was quiet and still. He wanted to feel reassured by that, but the creeping dark decay that had been working up from the southern borders of the forest was still worrying him. They had not been able to stop it, nor find its cause. He had built this place as a refuge for his people in case the darkness could not be stopped, but he had determined that it would be a forest for all that it was a stone fortress. He was reminded of his childhood home, that glorious kingdom, and so his hand turned to emanate it’s lightness. He would not have his people feel trapped under the earth.

A muffled noise broke his train of thought. His eyebrows furrowed as he turned from the starlit view and listened. A sharp cry? The baby – he must’ve woken up again!

Thranduil opened his eyes to see the treetops of Lorien before him, the thought of his son breaking the memory. He allowed himself a private moment of parental longing – while it was not done for Kings, or Elves for that matter, to pour out their emotions, they were there deep and insistent in their souls! He was proud of the Elf his son had become, but he wished he was with him. He had been away on this journey for but a short time in his already long life, but it felt like a millennium apart. Children and patience were not easy companions.

Taking a slow breath he stared out across the forest and let it centre him once more. This might not be his woodland, but out there in the dark he could feel the edges of his realm calling to him. The darkness might have infected it from the wound of Gol Dulgur, but it was still his and one day it would be free of the decay. One day he or his kin would return to it’s full beauty and majesty – a Greatwood once more.

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An Audience at Orthanc

‘My Lord Saruman.’ Héorl dropped to his knees before the wizard’s throne.

Saruman gestured for him to rise.

Around them, the tower of Orthanc rose, black stone into the night. What Héorl thought of as the throne room was filled with Men and Orcs – and some of this new breed, too, the Half-orcs that Saruman had used his wizardry to bring into the world.

What must it be like, thought Héorl, to have power enough to bring a new race into the world?

Saruman spoke, and the words filled Héorl with pride that such a man as Saruman would listen to him – to him!

‘How goes the work?’ Saruman asked.

Héorl rose at last, and stepped forward into a pool of light cast from the torches set into the walls of Saruman’s tower. ‘The men of the Dunlending fear us.’

‘As they should,’ said Saruman, and the moment Héorl heard it he knew it to be true. Why had he not seen it before? Were the Riders of the Mark not the bravest of all? If only Théoden would rouse himself from his lethargy and lead them to war, as he should! At least Éomer was out on the plains.

‘Does something pain you, my friend?’ asked the wizard, stepping forward into the light himself.

‘I… it would do no good to speak of it, my Lord,’ Heorl responded.

‘Please, set your mind at rest. There is nothing that you cannot speak of with me.’

‘I wish… Sometimes I wish that my King would ride to war again.’

Saruman sighed deeply. ‘His illness… his age… it cannot but be expected.’

‘Of course. Yet sometimes I wish that all could be as it was.’

‘A most excellent response. Most excellent.’ Héorl felt his breast swell with the thought, as Saruman walked down the steps towards him. ‘But I fear it is not to be, and that I must ask, even, for you to do more. With the King indisposed and Éomer busy in the East, it will fall to you to pacify the Dunlending.’

Héorl’s blond eyebrows pulled together slightly in his confusion.

‘But, my Lord… most of their villages are gone already. What else should I do?’

Saruman put an arm around his shoulder. Héorl turned with him and they walked towards the exit from Orthanc. ‘They must know of the power of the Rohirrim,’ Saruman said. Of course, thought Héorl. They were a savage people. Perhaps even the burning of their villages would not suffice.

Then they were at the door to the tower. Saruman’s orcs pulled the doors aside to reveal the great circle of Isengard, and Héorl once again was overcome by the sight.

Great towers of marble, copper, and iron linked together by heavy chains marked out the borders of each road crossing the deep bowl a mile across. Between the roads, great domes of stone were lit in red, blue, and green. As Héorl watched, steam vented from one of the domes.

He thought it quite the most beautiful thing that he had ever seen.

‘The Dunlending require a little more, before they will be willing to do what needs be done.’

‘To surrender, my Lord?’

Saruman smiled. ‘Indeed. To surrender utterly. They are almost there, I think.’

Héorl stood straighter, set his blue eyes to Saruman’s own. ‘Then tell me what I must do.’

‘They must know that the Riders of the Mark are a force to be reckoned with. To be feared. Double your attacks.’

‘My Lord, I have but a few men, the rest are with Éomer…’

‘It matters not,’ Saruman replied, cutting him off. ‘It will be enough. Things will unfold as I have foreseen. The Dunlending, so useless until now, will finally see what they must see. Double your attacks.’

‘Of course, my Lord. And any captives? Would you have them here, to aid in your great works?’

Saruman paused for a moment, staff in hand, and observed his domain. The sound of hammers and wheels, turning deep beneath the earth. The Orcs and Men, and those that contained a little of both practicing in formation. The carts bringing in fuel and raw materials.

Saruman turned to him, and Héorl knew that what he said would be true and right.

‘Burn them,’ said Saruman. ‘Burn them alive.’

Héorl bowed, and left to do his will.

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A Cold Reminder

As the arrows fell beneath Thranduil’s swords and pinged off his armour, he took a moment to survey the scene to see where the threats remained. His eyes were immediately drawn to the sight of the Witch King of Angmar moving in on Radagast. From what Thranduil could see he was holding off the Witch King’s attacks, but could he hold on….they couldn’t risk anything happening to their wizard!

Aiwendil (or Radagast as Thranduil was learning to call him) was important – he loved the Greenwood as much as Thranduil and his people did. He’d cared for it’s creatures for over 2000 years and watched over the Western eaves of the forest. And whilst all wizards could be….excitable…they had whiled away many a pleasant evening together when their paths had crossed. He had to be protected!

The decision made itself. As he urged his elk over the orc bodies strewn about them, he spotted his hobbit friend trying to take a swipe at the Witch King. Halflings were truly brave if this youngster was anything to go by, but a frying pan would not be enough to stop a Nazgul. Flanking the group, he raced up behind the corrupt Witch King and with all the force he could muster, he thrust his swords into it’s back.

The effect was instantaneous. Whether the dark creature had imploded or exploded, Thranduil couldn’t say, distracted as he was by the intense cold spreading up his arm and the sight of his beautiful swords melting from the blast. The chill touch of darkness….a reflection of it’s creep into his realm…..was painful, but a numb pain and nothing….nothing like the agony of loss or the searing pain of fire. Fire so hot that even being near it burnt. So hot that skin melted away in a malodorous vapor. So hot that after thousands of years you could still feel the memory of it.

Thranduil took a slow breath and pushed the memory away, giving his numb arm a shake in annoyance. Ignoring the tattered, polluted robes of the expelled Nazgul, he rode over to the exhausted wizard and pulled him up behind him onto the elk. Before a word was uttered, Thranduil felt the cold numbness receding from his arm, leaving just the feeling of the wizard’s friendly grip on his elbow. He smiled – yes Radagast cared for them and they needed to keep him safe.

“Le fael, Aiwendil” he offered over his shoulder, his hand briefly clasping Radagast’s own where it held his elbow. He shouted to the rest of the group, “We need to leave this place now and head to Lorien”. Lorien, where the fair Lady dwelt and where he hoped he would find the small cache of weapons his father had left there in the 2nd Age.

Riding over to his hobbit friend, he grabbed his arm and pulled him up into his lap. The hobbit had fought well, but being smaller than the rest, he was at risk of falling behind if they weren’t careful. And they must get away now, before the Witch King returned or the other Nazgul appeared.

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The Toy Maker and the Elves.

It felt to be good to be heading east. He had been a long way from home for a very long time, and even though his time amongst the dwarves of the West had felt like a home-away-from-home after half a lifetime living amongst humans, he yearned to return to Dale.

Not, he realised, that much reason remained for him to call the river town home… The passing of his mother 9 months earlier had spurred him to make his deathbed promise to her to take his toys to all the races of the world. She had given him the confidence to travel the farthest he had ever been from his workshop’s front door.

He couldn’t complain either, his pack, easily the same size as he was, was now stuffed with parts, demonstration toys, prototypes, and even a few intriguing inventions from the race’s he’d visited, but it was the full coin purse he did not begrudge weighing him down. People liked his toys, Mama was right, they really did!

For the dwarves it had been wooded figures of the heroes in the songs, wooden axes and hammers and shields, not mere practice weapons but fine replicas of Orcrist and its like.

The Hobbit lands had filled him with joy, it wasn’t just hobbit children that loved toys but their parents as well! Dolls, of course dolls sold well, but puzzles! They had bought every puzzle and skill toy he had carried, the yo-yo especially fascinated, and by the time he’d left their Shire, they could do more tricks with it in short months than he could in the years he’d been making them. Their biggest delight however, were fireworks! He had only made crude paper bangers before, but always one to follow the local market, boy had he learned to amaze and delight with colour and fire and explosion, and quickly too! He had a bag full of some of the powders he’d developed in waterproof skins.

He had not been surprised that the sons and daughters of the Men of the west liked his toys as much as the children of the towns around Dale had. For them it was his articulated wooden toy warriors, kings, queens, and dragons, everyone secretly loved having their very own dragon!

Which had only left the Elves. Never had he met an elf, but he knew they were beautiful and wise, appreciating fine craftsmanship. Long lived too, that meant long childhoods filled with many more years of toys than mortal men. That had been the way his logic had run anyway.

He couldn’t convince the locals at the Inn in Bree he’d stayed at however, they had laughed at him, saying no elf would ever find anything dwarvish to be beautiful or clever. They had laughed, yes, but he had found as the nights had worn on, that they didn’t hold their drink well, and once he’d dodged the ones that became violent, he could question those who became his ‘best friends’.

Indeed, they had even told him where he might find elves. East, the last patch of forest before the mountains… where a river runs through.

Well they had seemed amused enough about the prospect, but as he drew up to the outskirts of this daunting ancient forest, Kivi found he was not. He clutched the articulated wooden elf-doll in hand like it were some blessed holy artefact, and peered through the mist and shadows, split apart as they were here and there by slowly shifting rays of brilliant silver.

He dropped two lenses in place in his engraver’s eyepiece, ideally it made the near-but-small much larger… he had found however, with the right combination, it made the large but far, much nearer.

So with one eye on the horizon, and the other on the here and now, he pressed forward.
It had been half a day’s travel before he had any cause for alarm, he’d resigned the elf-toy from protective embrace to loosely held at his side, and he idly snapped one of his yoyo’s in graceful arcs and sudden lashes. That is, until the whistle of bow-shot severed the line and pinned his other arm by the sleeve to a tree.

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“I’m very sorry sir, or, o’course madam, I cannie tell am afraid, not that am, I mean, what ah mean ta’ say is: I’m no after any trouble, am just a toy maker! Ah mek toys! Fur tha wee ones!”

He went to show the doll to the shadowy figures that now crept from the darkness of the treeline, but that arm was pinned. He reached back to pull another doll from his pack, but found his hand lighting on the hilt of the two wicked-sharp crafting knives he kept in his belt.

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“I dunnie ken yer language friend, but let me start: I’m Kivi, I sell Kilison Toys, I’m nay a threat here, ah just mek things.”

At this a flash of silver described it’s arc towards the young drawf’s throat, but as quickly as it had come it was halted, the merest chime of blade on blade.

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“That name, speak it again!”

“whut? Kivi? That’s me aye”

“Not that name, the other, who are you, of what line?”

“Ohh ye mean Kilison Toys? Have yeh heard of me…. Or… had yeh heard of me pappy? That’s it isn’t it? I’m Kivi, Son of Kili who followed Thorin Oakenshield to great adventure…”
The young dwarf had meant for the end of that declaration to sound proud and defiant, but his heart had betrayed him and It had sounded sad and defeated instead.

To his surprise the elf gave a sudden chuckle, slapped his kin on the arm and joked:

“had you been a few inches to the left you would have shot the very man we were sent to find!”

“That’s no man!”

“It’s no elf either, but we shan’t hold that against him…. Master dwarf! Do keep up, it’s only the Lord of Rivendell himself that seeks your audience after all!”

The tall lean pair turned and took an easy stroll away up the leafy path, it was all the son of Kili could do to wrench the arrow free and trot after them.

He stowed the arrow, well, it was good reference, and… you never did know.

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