Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 21.2

Luean's Riddle Solved

Highday, 22nd of Afteryule, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Ranger-camp of Esteldin, Somewhere in the North Downs
Finally! Luean's hiding-place!
The moment had come and I could barely contain my excitement: I had finally reasoned out the starting point of Luean's riddle! Moreover, luck was with me for Gaelira was off in council with Halbarad, Lagodir and Drodie were being tended in the Rangers' infirmary, and Nephyn was sound asleep in front of me -- now was my chance.

After taking a couple of minutes to steel my nerves for what I was about to do, I wrapped my cloak about me and stole away into the night. Using more than hobbit care, I managed to sneak past the Ranger sentries, out the west-gate, and into the plains of the North Downs. Fate must truly have been with me for the Moon was high and bright that night, and so I would have plenty of light with which to hunt for Luean's elusive message.

Excitedly, I whipped out his letter and read once again the cryptic phrases.

Begin where three rivers meet.
Aure entuluva!
Mount the steed before you
And turn it about.
Behold the bones;
Three high and six across,
Just south of the crescent moon.

I couldn't believe I didn't have it memorized by now, but I started at the top.

Begin where three rivers meet. Old Mad Baggins was credited as saying once that the Road is like a river and every door is its tributary. I felt positive the "three rivers" were the three roads I now saw before me: one running away south to Lin Giliath, the second heading north to Othrikar, and the third flowing westward toward the Greenway. I trotted merrily across the grass, quite content with myself for finally solving the first and most crucial bit of the riddle.

Once I reached the crossroads I looked at the letter again. I remembered that Aure entuluva meant The day shall come again, and must be some sort of instruction on where to go next. I looked around but nothing suggested itself. Then I started to talk quietly to myself, the better to help myself think.

"'The day shall come again,'" I mused. "Well, the Sun rises in the East, so perhaps I should go that way?" I turned that way, but that way led back to Esteldin. I frowned and looked down at the parchment again. Did Luean hide something inside of Esteldin? That didn't make sense: why lead me out here then? Besides, if he had been inside the Rangers' camp we surely would have heard about it from the Rangers themselves. My head jerked up with recognition: if the day will come again, then wouldn't the Sun still be in the sky? The setting Sun, perhaps? Besides, Luean had known the Company was making for Esteldin, so he had left me directions heading due west from there. I set my jaw and started walking on the road leading west, confident I had made the right choice.

I continued in this direction for a bit, all the while looking to my left and right to spy anything unusual, but all I saw were the dreary, abandoned farmhouses and their empty fields. Despite the bright Moon, they looked ghostly and foreboding in the darkness. I fumbled with the letter and searched for the next phrase to distract myself from my fears.

Mount the steed before you. I looked ahead, but the road just ran on. Was I about to find a pony tied up and waiting for me? I certainly hoped not, but something told me that wasn't what the line meant. Just as I was thinking this, the small hill I had passed two days earlier as the Company made its way toward the Fields of Fornost loomed up in front of me. I halted and gasped: of course! I broke into a dead run toward the hill and scaled it breathlessly. I could feel this mystery was finally coming to a close.

Turn it about. I turned around and looked in every direction, but I saw nothing of interest. I turned around again, but this time, down in an obscure little hollow just to the northeast I saw a dell. In the dark of night, I could just make out the form of ancient ruins; walls and archways of some Arnorian building, long since fallen.

Behold the bones! That's it! The ruins! I scampered down the hill. I was so excited I fell and cut my knees, but I picked myself up and ran on. My body seemed to not even need air but to be functioning solely off the thrill of the chase. I reached the ruins at last, and my courage shriveled inside me: the pale, grey walls and yawning, broken arches had looked so much smaller -- almost toy-like -- from atop the hill. Here, among them and in the dead of night, they had a haunted and nightmarish feel. I gulped and my hands shook, but I forced myself to carry on. Soon, so soon I would have the answers I craved!

Three high and six across, just south of the crescent moon. What could this mean? I looked around me, studying the ruins. The walls were built of solid stone, well laid and stacked upon each other. Free from fear and with something to concentrate on, my mind realized that three high and six across could very well refer to a particular stone that Luean wanted me to find. I was getting so close!

But which stone was it? The combination in the riddle could point to any number of stones in this place. I read the text again. Just south of the crescent moon. I looked up at the Moon. She seemed to be watching me patiently. I looked down again. No, that couldn't possibly be what Luean meant. What was his crescent moon? Then I noticed the arches, which looked very much like upside-down crescent moons. My eyes darted wildly, and then I saw it: there was only one wall which ran north-south, and there in its very center was a perfectly formed archway. My eyes and my feet sprinted to the stones on the section of wall just to the south of this arch. I felt with my hands, which were sweating with fatigue and excitement. My breath smoked on the cold night air as I felt and felt at the stones, but nothing happened. I started to get frustrated, but I forced myself to calm down and think.

Three high and six across. I stepped back from the wall and counted the stones, three up from the ground and six across from the far end. My eyes locked like darts onto their target. I reached out my hands, using my fingernails to probe the edges of the stone. I held my breath.

The stone moved! I seized it with my fingertips and pulled with all my might. The stone grated as it came free, and I tumbled backward onto the ground as it fell. Lying there on my back I stared up at a square recess in the wall. As if in recognition of my victory, the Moon cast her light into that hole, and there I saw it: an envelope.

I flew at the secret compartment and grabbed it. There, on the outer cover, was written one word:


I had done it.

Luean's riddle was solved and his message to me was revealed at last! I tore open the envelope and proceeded to read these words:

Dear Padryc,

If you have found this then you must have solved my riddle. Well done! I do apologize for any confusion or inconvenience it may have caused. As you will see, it was my only available course of action. In this letter I will explain much, but it will be up to you to decide what to do with the knowledge I now impart to you. I write here my story, so far as it has gone, and may it grant you wisdom.

I first met Gaelira near the end of this last autumn (Year 1417 by Shire-reckoning), though I had known her for many years before that by reputation. Her exploits against the forces of the Enemy have a long and storied history, and few, I deem, know the full reach of her adventures in the cause of the Free Peoples. Imagine my surprise when this same she-Elf invited -- nay, begged! -- me to join her on a quest of dire importance. A quest which had the blessing of no less than Elladan, son of Lord Elrond himself! Moreover, our mission would take us by paths seldom trod and into ruins plumbed by few; it was an offer no true scholar could refuse.

And so I joined her without question. We left very shortly thereafter for Bree where, she told me, we would assemble the remainder of our Company and our quest would have its true beginning. Elladan's instruction to us, she said, was to disrupt the Enemy's plans and sow confusion among the servants of evil. This seemed a worthy cause to me, and to others, for you know how our Company was formed that fateful day in the Prancing Pony. A shadow fell upon my heart then, though I knew no reason for it. I spent the nights toiling in thought, trying to work out what it was that gnawed relentlessly at my conscience. 

The adventures we had together you know about already, of course, but then we arrived in Lin Giliath where we met someone neither Gaelira nor I ever expected: Gildor Inglorion, just come from the valley of Rivendell! I know you saw the contention between our she-Elf and Gildor, but I happen to know its origins. Those two have ever been at odds over whether to remain in Middle-earth and resist the spreading of the Shadow or to forsake the mortal lands and sail into the Uttermost West, leaving the war against Sauron to others. Gildor believed flight to be the wiser course while Gaelira held to the former argument. They never did reconcile their differences and bitter words have been spoken between them throughout many harsh winters.

None of this was news to me, and yet, as you know, I left the Company the very next morning after we met Gildor. It was what he told me in the night that caused me to do so. As I mentioned, Gildor had just arrived from Rivendell on a mission from Elrond to study the reports of corruption spreading in the Northern lands, but when I told him Lord Elrond himself had sanctioned our quest as well, Gildor looked at me with confusion.

"How can that be," he said to me, "When not two weeks ago he told me he wondered greatly why Gaelira had taken you with her into the Wild, unannounced and with no explanation?"

I felt a wild rush of amazement: this was what had me unsettled about our Company and our quest from the start! Gaelira had lied about our mission being commissioned by Elladan all along! She must have chosen Elrond's son because he is often afield (as, indeed, he was when I set out with her toward Bree), and would not be available to question about the matter!

"Why? Why would she do such a thing?" I finally managed to ask Gildor, but he only shook his head.

"I cannot say," he replied, "But anything begun with a falsehood will not end well."

"That is often seen," I said. "And yet the Company's mission is a noble one with a high purpose; already we have brought much destruction to the servants of the Enemy, and we grow stronger by the day."

"I doubt it not, since you say it is so," Gildor said to me. "And yet, what is to be Gaelira's ultimate purpose? Does she drive these Free Folk with her lies to certain death in Angmar? For it is clear to me her goal is to reach that dark place, although I cannot imagine why. I suspect it is some personal errand she has long harboured in her heart. You know as well as I this rag-tag band of would-be heroes has no hope to prevail against the hordes of Carn Dum! Least of all that Halfling -- I think it is beyond cruel to include the little one in her elaborate deceptions, no matter how well-meaning they might be."

I had no answer for him. Although I always had (and still have) a great deal of faith in you and the others, I remembered how narrow were our victories in the Old Forest and the Great Barrow. My heart faltered and I hung my head.

"You must decide what is to be done about this, Luean," Gildor continued. "And this is not all: loathe am I to reveal this to you in light of the burden you now bear, but I am duty-bound to do so."

Gildor proceeded to explain to me that, as he led his fellows out from Rivendell, he visited with some of the few people who still make their homes in that wooded land west of Imladris most know as the Trollshaws. He did this to inquire as to the state of the land and he learned much that was of value to him on his quest to understand and help heal its hurts. One day, he happened across a fisherman named Gabert and his wife who live along the banks of the Bruinen. These two both swore that, just days earlier, they had seen an ancient, gnarled old woman emerge from the ruins on the far side of the river. Gildor spoke words of calm to them, but his heart was greatly alarmed. Those ruins are known as Delossad and they cannot be entered from without, for powerful spells of concealment lie upon them. It is a sad place which is associated with a long, sad tale I cannot recount to you here, but it has to do with Angmar and the fall of the North Kingdom of Arnor in the Year 1974 of the Third Age (374 by Shire-reckoning). There was an old woman in that story called Sara Oakheart, but she was of mortal kind and must have passed from this world many, many years ago. Her sudden re-emergence seemed impossible, but the fisherman and his wife were certain of what they had seen. Gildor was not free to investigate the matter further, for he had his own task to see to and it was not known whither the old woman had gone. 

"This I must entrust to you, Luean," Gildor finally said to me. "There is not time to send word back to Elrond, nor do I think he would have any of his own house to spare on such a wild goose chase. Yet this is a matter of the gravest import, for no mortal could possibly have lived this long: there is something evil afoot in it for certain, and it is crucial that we discover what."

"I understand," I said, remorsefully. "I will do your will, my lord, and whatever I learn will reach your ears or the ears of Lord Elrond only, by whatever means I can contrive."

So ended my council with Gildor, but I was greatly conflicted in my mind. There was no question that Gaelira was now proven to be false, but what was her true intent? Why would she weave such contorted webs of deceit? Were I to remain with the Company, perhaps I could eventually divine her purposes, but now I was being called away to look into the apparent resurrection of Sara Oakheart, as ridiculous as that sounded. Since I did not wish to falsely accuse Gaelira but I could not remain with the Company, I decided to put my trust in the most trustworthy member of Elladan's Outriders: you.

I knew I had to explain everything to you, but I could not do so in confidence as I was called to leave you all immediately. Nor could I risk placing this message in your pack on the chance that someone else might happen to find it. Therefore, I dreamed up that riddle as quickly as I could and slipped it into your pack when we said our goodbyes as the morning rain fell on Lin Giliath. I was worried Nephyn might happen to find it first and solve it, but the likelihood seemed remote to me. Of the Dwarf and Gondorian I had no fear, for (let us face the facts!) neither of them have the patience or capacity to go riddle-solving. Gaelira certainly had the ability to understand my words, but I saw no reason for her to go through your pack since it is full of herbs and balms and she is of immortal kind. No, I had total confidence that you would find the riddle, solve it, and locate this message. I hope you managed to do so with haste -- I chose a spot that was near enough for you to reach quickly yet obscure enough to be an effective hiding-place. I am sorry that I was forced to warn you to trust no one in the Company, but I am not certain whether Gaelira has recruited any of the others to her cause. I do not even know what it is she is planning but, as Gildor said, when the basis for anything is a deception then nothing good will come of it. I have no idea how deep her lies run. I think now about how she claimed there were no signs Nephyn had been taken captive and dragged into the Blackwold Headquarters in the Chetwood, and yet clearly she had been. I think about how she was always driving us to make for Angmar by the swiftest way. I think too about how the Enemy somehow learned of us and our movements with such ease. Perhaps she was using the raven Hremm to communicate with some agent of darkness? I have never known any raven to be ignoble, but they can be deceived like anyone else. The swamp of Gaelira's falsehoods is deep and murky, my friend, and I regret more than anything that I cannot be there to help you through this.

And so I must entrust my confidence to you, dear Padryc: find out what you can about Gaelira's plans by whatever means you think best. You may be able to play along with her until her true purposes are revealed, but will that be in time? You may attempt to confront her with what you now know, but I cannot say how she might react, and it could be dangerous for you. I must leave this to your good judgment, little Shire-hobbit, but I have faith that you will make the best choice.

I am heartily sorry to lay this upon you and even more so that I cannot be there for you. I hope very much that our paths may cross again. If this business with Sara Oakheart turns out to have any truth in it, that may very well happen. Until then, Padryc, may the stars shine upon your path!



As I finished reading, I realized my mouth was hanging open, soundlessly. I shut it then read the whole thing again. Gaelira had lied to us! A hot flame had been kindled behind my eyes that was starting to grow into a raging fire. All of us had left our lives and our homes, and for what? To follow this false Elf on some unfathomable mission of death? What was she using us for?

Then I started to calm down a bit. What indeed? According to this message, neither Luean nor Gildor knew what Gaelira was planning and they had even left open the possibility that she might have good intentions. Since Luean was entrusting me with this mystery, I thought, it seemed fitting that I should act as he would if he were here, and vengeance didn't seem to fit into that mould. Still, whatever the she-Elf might have up her sleeve she was deceiving us all and we had a right to know why.

About this time, I decided I should return to Esteldin: I didn't want to run the risk of being missed. I carefully folded Luean's letter back up and stowed it securely in my pocket as I began the trek back to camp. As I walked, I thought about what to do next. Luean was right: this was a thorny dilemma and no mistake! Despite the distance, I was no nearer a decision when I saw the entrance to Esteldin loom up in front of me.

I snuck carefully back into the encampment and returned to my blanket. My companions had not stirred and Gaelira had not returned. Though it felt like an eternity, in truth only a little while had passed. I wrapped myself up and lay down, exhausted, yet in no mood for sleep. How would this end? Would she attack me if I confronted her with her lies? She didn't seem capable of murder, but Luean had hinted that exposing her could prove dangerous. Should I tell the others? But what if one of them was on her side? They might tip her off ahead of me, and that could prove ruinous. I worried my little head for what seemed hours, until suddenly someone sat down beside me at the campfire.

It was Gaelira! Instinctively, I jumped and shrank away from her. The she-Elf looked at me.

"Padryc!" she said, but she smiled and her eyes were kindly. "I hope I did not wake you. Or were you visited by one of Nephyn's ominous dreams?"

I found no words to say. The little flame behind my eyes returned and I could feel the blood pounding in my ears. I had trusted her, followed her, through darkling woods and evil barrows, into orc-infested camps and haunted cities -- all for a lie. We all had.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I thought you were talking to Halbarad." I tried to sound normal, but I'm certain there was a cold edge to my voice, for Gaelira gave me a curious look.

"She was," said Halbarad quietly as he walked up to join us. "But while the Elves may have no need of sleep, my old bones do. As do, it would seem, those of your companions. Is there no sleep in you tonight, Master Hobbit?"

"No," I said simply, and my eyes never left Gaelira. I felt a nauseating churn in my stomach: this could not go on. Suddenly, I had an inspiration; a way to get what I needed without involving the others, at least not yet. It would require putting myself in some danger, but out of necessity I had hatched a simple yet effective plan.

"Halbarad," I asked, turning to the Ranger, "Do you think I could use your quarters for a private conversation with Gaelira? It is dreadfully important and should not take long at all."

"Most certainly," the Ranger replied. "I was eager to sleep, but your Company has earned much more than a few lost winks on my account. I will lead you thither."

I had never seen Gaelira confused before, but the look on her face couldn't have been anything else. She and I followed Halbarad back to his small room where we had first met the Dunedain captain. I looked carefully as we approached and it was obvious there was only the one door in and out of that space.

"It is not well lit at night, I am afraid," Halbarad said as we reached his quarters. "Pray, take as much time as you need."

"I do not think this will take long," I said casually. Then I bowed to Gaelira.

"After you."

The she-Elf raised her eyebrows at me, but shrugged her shoulders and went inside. Immediately, I turned to Halbarad.

"Listen here, my friend," I said in a quiet whisper, "Make sure no one comes in until we come out. And if I call for help, please, in the name of all blazes, come in and save me!"

Halbarad looked at me in surprise, but he was a grisled old war-veteran who now understood his assignment. He nodded briskly, then I went into his rooms and closed the door behind me.

The space was dimly lit, as Halbarad had warned us, but from the light of the two torches on the walls I could see well enough. There was Gaelira, her arms crossed, staring at me, but a smirk was playing on her lips. I swallowed hard.

"Well?" she asked, but she was grinning with amusement. I reached into my pocket, pulled out Luean's letter, and handed it to her. She took it from me, opened it, and read the contents. Her smile vanished. She looked at me with something akin to wonder, then continued reading the letter. When she had reached the end she folded it up again, but she did not hand it back to me. Her eyes met mine, and for a moment I felt as though I was a mouse trapped in the deadly stare of a swamp adder. Seconds passed like ages. My throat was parched. I was ready at any instant to cry to Halbarad for aid. Slowly, Gaelira's lips parted. The only sound was the soft crackling of the torches in the half-light.

"I see," she said.

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