Sterday, 23rd of Astron, Year 1417 Shire-reckoning
The Last Homely House, Rivendell
|Lagodir's bed in the Room of Rest|
I am always inclined to write glowingly about the Valley of the Elves (all the more so when we're fortunate enough to be guests here), but I shall have to forego that ritual this time as quite a lot happened today. I had only been up and about for a few hours -- having been treated to a fine meal and hobnobbed plenty with my companions -- when we were approached by a tall Elf with a very melodious voice. He introduced himself as Lindir, a member of Elrond's household, and he informed us that the Lord Elrond wished to see us in his study regarding a most important matter. My friends were all relieved to hear this for (so they told me) Elrond had disappeared shortly after we entered Imladris and no one had seen him since. Gaelira was clearly becoming worried that we had somehow offended him or that he was wroth with our Company's shortcomings in Angmar, but it turned out to not be the case at all.
Elrond's "study" could easily pass for a full-sized building in its own right, stuffed as it was from floor to ceiling with lore of all sorts. I stared at the towering shelves of ancient texts -- wondering what sorts of exciting tales they might contain -- as the five of us approached the elf-lord. Gaelira did him a courtesy and spoke on behalf of us all, as she was wont to do in that place.
"Hail, Lord Elrond!" she said with only the slightest waver of the voice betraying her nervousness. "You summoned us and we have come to you. How may we serve you in repayment of your most excellent hospitality?" Elrond waved his hand.
"You are welcome in my house always, brave adventurers," he said, "Including this newest companion who travels with you. A Noldor, unless I am much mistaken, and a most unusual travelling companion. Still, such things are to be expected when one wanders the wide world, as you have done. All that you have accomplished is already known to me, my friends, and I ask that you be at peace concerning the results of your efforts -- not all is as dark as it may seem. Truly, much good is often done in tandem with our own actions, though we may know it not."
"But our actions and efforts have failed," said Drodie unexpectedly. "We were not able to recover the palantir, and succeeded only in supplanting one would-be tyrant with another."
"And yet Angmar is at the least momentarily divided and confused, but of these matters we shall speak soon enough," said Elrond with a kind smile. "First, I should tell you something that will bring you great happiness: your friend, Lagodir of Gondor, is here and in my keeping."
All of us were overcome with joy at this news and of course we all wished to see him that instant, but Elrond waited patiently and calmed us in our exuberance.
"You shall see him as soon as may be," he said, "But not just yet. He is extremely weak -- even now I am allowing myself only a few brief moments with you before I minister to him again -- but rest is what he needs most. Indeed, in his current state I am not certain he would even recognize you. He was found on the borders of this land not two days past. I am told he was wayward and not in his right mind, so my servants subdued him and brought him here. I, of course, was otherwise occupied in the Ettenmoors at the time, but that is another curious subject of which we have no time to speak just now."
"Then what can you tell us of him?" begged Nephyn. "Surely we, who hunted him all across the length and breadth of Eriador are deserving of some explanation!" She quickly blushed at her own effrontery, but Elrond took no offence at her words, for he knew they were borne of concern for her companion.
"Of course," he said, "I shall tell you what I know and what haste permits. As some among you know already, the Enemy has long infused the corpses of the dead with malevolent spirits which animate those forms and give them the appearance of the Dead returned. These, of course, are only counterfeits, but this matters little to mortals who have the misfortune to behold them. In this way did Sauron earn himself the name of necromancer in days gone by. But Guloth, an undead wraith in the Dark Lord's service, sought instead to inhabit the body of one still living, a blasphemy so foul I do not believe I have ever heard the like of it before. And in so doing, both Guloth and Lagodir found themselves confronted with... challenges, the like of which I think no others have ever contended."
"What do you mean?" I asked. "What is it Guloth was trying to do to him?"
"I am not certain Guloth intended to possess Lagodir's body to do anything to him. At least, not if by that you mean the wraith's sole purpose was to harm Lagodir in especial. No, from what I have learned of Guloth in the time I have spent in his company through your friend, I see his was an ambition of immense proportions. I believe his purpose was to possess the body of a living soul with the aim of supplanting that soul and taking command of the body with the ultimate objective of worming himself free of Sauron's domination. These undead who walk beneath the Sun are thralls to their Master's will, but some may, I think, seek to free themselves from it. There were rumours in years long past that the Witch-king himself once pursued this very end, though he failed. It may be that Guloth, so enamored of his own power over the living, sought to separate himself from Sauron's oppression then become a Power in his own right. And it may be that he saw possession of a strong soul such as Lagodir to be the key in achieving his dream, but things clearly did not go according to plan."
"No, indeed!" said Drodie. "We saw what happened when Guloth tried to strike down Padryc in Angmar -- we believe it was Lagodir who stopped him from landing his stroke. But what exactly happened within Lagodir? How can two minds occupy the same body at the same time?"
"This phenomenon is, as far as I can recall, unique in my experience," Elrond answered, "And so I could not tell you. For what it is worth, my own belief is that such a perversion would not be permitted to continue for long, and perhaps that is how Lagodir came to partially subdue his tormentor. Whether it was Lagodir or Guloth who made his feet carry them to this valley and whether they had any clear purpose in mind I cannot say, but at some point one would have overcome the other. The physical and mental toll of this, however, would have eventually either slain Lagodir's body or overthrown his mind."
"But will live?" asked Nephyn eagerly.
"I have hope that he will," said Elrond, "Though I am unsure as to his state, for things are still very precariously balanced; there is much more I must do for him even now. Therefore, I ask that you be patient during the treatment. You are welcome to do as you will in my house in the meantime, and I shall send for you when he awakens."
Elrond quickly left us and we five returned to the main courtyard since we had very clearly been dismissed. The hours from that point were slow and dreadful, for we always expected someone to come running and tell us that Lagodir had breathed his last. But the day drag on into the night and we heard no news.
Sunday, 24th of Astron, Year 1417 Shire-reckoning
The Last Homely House, Rivendell
This morning was much the same as yesterday with the interminable waiting and long hours. I made it a point to see Old Mr. Bilbo again, though the conversation wasn't as lively as before since I was on pins and needles about Lagodir the whole time. But then, just as the old hobbit was regaling me with the story about how he had first discovered Sting (for the second time), Drodie's bearded face popped through the door to tell me that Lagodir was awake and Elrond had called for us! I jumped up and nearly forgot to take proper leave of the venerable Mr. Baggins, but he merely waved me out the door.
"No point in standing on ceremony, lad," he said, "Just you off and do what Master Elrond wants, and be quick about it!"
We were all quick about it, and very soon Elrond's grave face was looking us over once more from within his study. It occurred to me briefly that he was looking for something among us, but just as I became aware of the feeling he spoke.
"Your patience has been rewarded, my friends. Lagodir is going to live."
We all cheered with relief, but Elrond held up his hand.
"He will live," he said again, "But I am not certain in what manner. I was able to suppress the spirit of Guloth such that the Gondorian is once again in control of his faculties, but as I have said before now this malady is one with which I have had no direct experience. I cannot say whether Guloth might be able to re-surface again, although I think it will be some time before he might be able to try. The fact that he could, at any time in the future, is a cause for great concern. The wraith's power is greatly lessened, yet his will does remain."
"Then what can we do for him?" I asked, crestfallen.
"I have given this much thought," came Elrond's answer. "And there may yet be hope. Like you, I would see Guloth destroyed and removed from the world altogether, but to do so would require the use of certain artefacts which have not resided in Rivendell for many, many centuries."
"Name them!" Nephyn exclaimed, her eyes bright with defiance.
"They are called the gondath, the shadow-stones, and they have always been quite rare objects. At some forgotten time in ages past, Elven-smiths discovered how to imbue suitable gems with certain properties which enabled them to attract and hold the essences of unseen things. It was a distant glimmer of the ancient Feanorian craft which brought so much sorrow to the world, but perhaps their time has finally come to aid the Free Peoples and not harm them. I believe that, if you could somehow recover one of these artefacts and bring it to me, then I should be able to destroy Guloth forever."
I could sense the spines of everyone in the Company stiffen. I myself felt like a cornered hound ready to fight to the last end of my strength.
"Unfortunately," Elrond continued with a sigh, "I cannot say where you might find such a rare object, nor even where to begin looking. But you have proven yourselves to be clever and resourceful, and so I will leave it in your capable hands."
"We will do as you ask," said Gaelira. "Will Lagodir be required to remain here while we journey abroad?"
"The Man must rest for now, but once he has recovered he may be fit enough to accompany you on this new quest," the elf-lord replied. "Although I should caution he is not likely to be in fighting form: this trial very nearly extinguished his spirit. But now we must discuss other matters. Gaelira has already told me how the palantir which Guloth stole from Mordirith was not found on Lagodir when you overtook him in Angmar. We both hope the Seeing-stone was lost in the Rift when that cavern collapsed in the ruin of Thaurlach, but I fear that is not what happened. I understand that you tracked Guloth to Barad Gularan at one point, but it was clear he did not enter that place. Instead, he treated with a small person which had unshod feet. I fear this was none other than Sara Oakheart -- or, more exactly, the one who now possesses Sara Oakheart's deceased body. Amarthiel has returned."
"Furthermore," Elrond continued, "I believe that Guloth had realized by this time that his attempts to overcome Lagodir's will were not going as planned, and so he may have surrendered the palantir to Amarthiel at Barad Gularan."
"This may be assuming a bit too much," said Minasse, and I was surprised at the High Elf's forthrightness.
"Perhaps," said Elrond cooly, "But recent events bear out my suspicion. Consider: how did the Orcs of Ongbishuk know to attack Gabilshathur on the very evening of your arrival there, and how did they know to rescue Lagodir who, by all outward appearances, was nothing but a Man and an enemy to them? Also, how was it the trolls of the Ettenmoors came to assault Rivendell -- drawing me away from here -- while another force led by Ningrat suddenly appeared to attack the Ford of Bruinen?"
I hadn't thought about these three events as being linked before, but now that he had laid it all out like that I had to admit is was rather curious.
"These are not accidents," said Elrond. "No, I believe that Amarthiel now holds the palantir and is using it to coordinate her attacks on us. Unless we can find some way to end her or to recover the orb from her, then our danger is increased manifold. But perhaps it will not fall to you to do these things. In any case, there is now a short period of doubt and confusion that we must use to maximum effect. Like Guloth, Amarthiel cannot hope to command all the hordes of Angmar at once -- she will need time to consolidate her position. But there is something she could use which would help her considerably to do so: in years gone by, Amarthiel was the keeper of one of the lesser Rings of Power; Narchuil, the Ring of Truth. If she has indeed returned to trouble Eriador, then she will certainly seek to recover her old Ring. And therein lies our chance: if we can intercept Narchuil before Amarthiel does, her ability to command the Enemy's forces in the North will be greatly diminished."
"And where might we find this Ring?" asked Gaelira.
"Sadly, none know where it now lies," said Elrond, "But my best lore indicates it may be hidden among the Elf-ruins of Eregion, many leagues south of here. It was for this reason I sent your friend Luean thither to begin the search. With any luck, we may discover Narchuil before Amarthiel does, and that would be a great victory for us. If you are agreeable, I would ask that you journey south to Eregion, find Luean, and help him in any way that you can. Eregion is also a logical place to begin your search for the gondath, since their makers once inhabited that land, and in this way you will be fulfilling two purposes with one journey. You have already done much, my friends, but our safety and our freedom demand more. Many stand in awe of your deeds already, for they have been mighty. Though the outcome may seem dark now, do not despair! Even the very Wise cannot see all ends, but noble and courageous actions such as yours do not go unrewarded -- of that you may be certain."
"We will of course consider what you ask," said Nephyn, "But could we possibly see Lagodir now?"
"Indeed you may," Elrond said with a smile. "He has been awake only a short time, but he is recovering. You will find him in the Room of Rest, on the far side of my house across the courtyard."
We thanked Lord Elrond many times before making our way to the infirmary. Within, we found our friend lying abed. He was himself, to the point he spoke defiantly about remaining bed-ridden for long, which made us all laugh because he was so obviously in such a weakened state. At one point he declared that a midnight stroll would do him good and he even rose as if to make for the door, but he quickly collapsed and had to be helped back into bed. Nephyn scolded him firmly for his obstinance while I wondered if maybe we could compromise by loading Lagodir up on Drodie like a backpack and have him cart the Man around for an hour or so in the fresh air, but of course I wasn't serious.
I can't rightly remember everything that was said that night -- only that it felt wonderful to be a whole Company again. We spoke with Lagodir about many things that day until the hours wandered further and further into the night. More than once we were obliged to let him rest, but always he seemed eager to tell us more and we always had more to ask of him. I will not write here what he told me concerning "sharing" a body with the horrors of Guloth because I don't feel I could really do the experience justice. Even Lagodir had great difficulty describing how it felt and none of us were eager to make him relive those awful times. Suffice it to say our friend was in his right mind again and we were all greatly relieved to see it. It was a joyous meeting, for we had risked much to save him, but I always felt just a bit on edge knowing that Guloth was not yet completely defeated.
Eventually everyone did actually retire, finally leaving Lagodir to get the rest he desperately needed (as we were continually reminded by one especially fussy Elf-nurse). Despite my tiredness I am having a hard time dropping off; it feels like today was the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, but at the same time it feels like the previous chapter isn't really over for good and all... not just yet, anyway.