Sterday, 23rd of Afteryule, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Island of Tinnudir, Evendim
Alone among us, Gaelira appeared undeterred by the trials of yesterday as well as the sour turn in clime. I could see her at the edge of the hill upon which we had our little camp in counsel with Torogethir the Ranger. They were both staring westward, which I knew was the direction in which we would be continuing our journey. Since sleep was impossible anyway, I got up, wrapped a blanket tightly around me, and walked to join these two as they looked out over the plains of Parth Aduial.
I saw firs and pines swaying in the harsh winds while leaves and twigs bounded across the landscape. The expanse below us looked empty and quiet, but it seemed to me more the quiet of expectancy rather than peace. It felt as though there were unseen enemies lurking behind every crumbled tower, fallen ruin, and clump of foliage I could see before me.
"If all goes well we should reach Tinnudir by sunset," I heard Gaelira saying to the Ranger. Torogethir nodded, then pointed away to the northwest.
"Yonder lies Ost Forod. It is something of a settlement, but it is peopled mainly by ruffians and tomb-robbers now; a most unsavory folk. If you have need of a waypoint betwixt here and the island you may stop there and recover yourselves, but I would do so only at need; for the inhabitants do not trust outsiders. Moreover, that place lies high up in the rocks. The going there is difficult, and it lies well to the north of your intended road."
Following Torogethir's arm, I could see a cluster of ruins nestled on the side of a tall hill -- or what one might almost describe as a low mountain. In the dim morning light, I thought I could see the distant glow of multiple campfires.
"Thank you, my friend," Gaelira said to him, "But we should not have need to turn aside from the path unless we require shelter from this weather." As if in answer to her words, a terrific spurt of wind suddenly struck us and very nearly bowled me over. Gaelira shot out an arm and saved me from tumbling into the gravel.
"There is some gale forming away to the far North, in Forochel," said Torogethir as he looked that direction. "Lothrandir, my kinsman, has journeyed there for many years, but I have never been."
"Nor I," came Gaelira's reply, "And I hope to never do so -- 'tis said to be a barren and frozen waste, the last vestiges of Dark Enemy's realm of long, long ago." I shivered, but I was glad we would not be going that way!
"And yet 'tis also said the Snow-folk, the Lossoth, have learned to thrive in that land, after a fashion," said Torogethir. "It may sound strange, but those tales give me hope. For, if the children of Men are able to subdue, in some measure, such a wild and untamed country, can there be any region of Middle-earth which cannot be conquered?"
"I know not what the children of Men may eventually do or not do," Gaelira answered. "For my part, I would see less of conquest and more habitation. Still, if this Third Age of the World is not first secured, then it may well be that your question shall have no need of an answer." Torogethir was silent.
I think the others were as depressed by the foul weather as I was because we packed up and moved out in short order. We said farewell to Torogethir with promises to deliver his report to Calenglad, then made our way slowly down the side of the hill. Everyone remained quiet as we struck the road and continued our westward journey. The path was paved, but it was heavily intruded upon by weeds and grasses, and in many places the once-well laid masonry was cracked and broken. Ever and anon the wind would kick up again, and then we would hear howls and whistles as it played mournfully among the stones. More than once we heard the crack of falling rock or some brick would be shaken loose from its perch, but aside from these sounds our trek was as uneventful as it was uncomfortable.
After several hours we came to a meeting-way of four roads. At the very centre there rose a towering figure of stone: a dour and ancient king with a greatsword between his knees. The mighty king stared southward, to our left, where the road ran up a slope amidst several ruined structures while to the right it wound up into the hills toward Ost Forod. But we followed the way ahead of us, which led to the west and gently fell down, down, down toward a rocky shoreline. Then I looked up and gasped.
At the end of the road I saw a massive bridge of stone which ran out to a large island, that could only be Tinnudir. There were many ruins on the island, and even from this distance I could see Men going to and fro on it, consumed with their business. On the far end rose a huge building of stone: it must have been two hundred feet high. It was white and majestic; in its own time and under the light of a full Sun it must have once glimmered with radiant beauty. On this day its alabaster walls were dimmed due to the heavy cloud cover, but it was still an impressive sight. But it was the lake itself which took my breath away: Even under the grey skies it covered nearly all of my field of vision, though I could see mountains encircling the lake in the far distance. It was truly a magnificent view, one could even call it an inland sea! I longed for the Sun to reveal herself so that I could see her light playing on the gentle waters below me. Nearby, the others also stood staring in admiration.
"Alas that Vasa is shrouded behind this pall," said Gaelira, "Otherwise our eyes would be dazzled by the brilliance of Lake Nenuial. Perhaps tomorrow we will be more fortunate."
"I can see why the Kings of Men would raise the seat of their reign in such a place," Lagodir said with reverence. "It even rivals the beauty of Ithilien, Garden of Gondor, and I know no higher praise to give." Nephyn said nothing, but I could see in her eyes she was greatly impressed. Drodie did not seem to care one way or the other.
We descended by way of the road and soon crossed the bridge which led out to Tinnudir. The arches of the bridge were fallen so that only the bottom portions of the pillars remained; these jutted upward like the jagged teeth in the jaw of some enormous fish of prey. But the walkway itself was solid and strong -- there were no signs of crumbling that I could see anywhere. Perhaps it had been well maintained by the Rangers which made their chief camp on the far side, but this bridge struck me as almost a symbol for the rest of the land here: clear signs of decay and ancientry, but with a lingering dignity and majesty that was not yet completely extinguished.
Once across the bridge, we found ourselves welcomed by the Rangers who were eager to hear the tale of our travels from Esteldin. Not only did they wish to hear of their kinsmen and their ongoing struggle in the North Downs, but they marvelled at the swiftness of our journey: it was now just approaching dusk of the second day since we set out from the Valley of Hope yet we had covered one hundred and twenty miles in that time. As if in response to that reminder, my feet began to ache and smart with a vengeance. I think it was the greatest sustained physical exertion of my entire life up to that point.
Yet we were not permitted to rest: we were led quickly to Calenglad to deliver our reports from Halbarad and Torogethir. The Ranger-captain listened intently to our tales and thanked us many times for them. He was a grim-faced fellow, this Calenglad, and struck me as one who had known much sorrow and trial. I supposed that leading a desperate resistance comprised of the dwindling people from a ruined kingdom against the ever-advancing armies of a tyrant would have that effect on a Man. He was bald and his beard was short, but everywhere his face was creased with worry; his brow was heavy and wrinkled.
"Glad am I to meet you all, and my distant kinsman from the South not least," he said to us in a voice that was both soft and strong, but deep as the Sea. "And it lifts my heart to hear that the battles against the forces encamped at Dol Dinen go well, for if my people had failed there, then little hope would have remained for all the North. You have my gratitude for the part your Company has played in that as well. But the Enemy is relentless: even now my scouts report that an army of dark Men out of Angmar are flooding into the ruins of Annuminas -- the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Arnor -- and that with them are trolls and other creatures more foul. My Rangers cannot hold them out of the city and already we have been reduced to a small and shrinking patch of land there. It may not be long before the entire city is captured, and once that happens it will only be a matter of time before they find us here. This island could be defended well and long against many, but we have not the numbers to do so. I am not certain what will become of us if the Enemy gains the city."
We listened to Calenglad's many worries, but there was little we could do to aid him against an army from Carn Dum and we had our own mission at hand to consider. Regarding this, the Ranger had more hopeful news.
"You say you seek an Elf? That is most curious, for several arrived here just this morning asking for quarter from which to conduct their business. They were an odd sort: my people have dealings with the Eldar folk from time to time, but I have never seen anything like these Elves. All in armour, as if headed to war, they were, and their leader was very tall with a head of gold and peculiar garments. I granted them their boon, permitting that they establish their camp within the Tinnudir Keep, there, within the tower." Here, Calenglad pointed to the enormous structure on the far side of the island. "They said they had come to learn of the invasion of Annuminas and to lend us what aid they could, which certainly sounded hopeful, but they were a small troop, so I am not sure what they meant. I have neither seen nor heard from them since then in any case, but you are free to hold counsel with them if that is your wish. Aragorn, my chieftain, has always instructed us to deal well with their kind and that they mean us no harm, so I hope I have not done ill."
After Gaelira assured him that the Elves were indeed there to help, we thanked Calenglad for his welcome and made our way to the Tinnudir Keep. The huge iron doors creaked loudly as Lagodir and Drodie swung them back on their hinges. Inside it was dim and dusty, with piles of fallen stone everywhere. On the floor I could see carpets of red and gold which must have been fair and luxurious years ago, but now they were faded and caked in mud or dirt. A bit further inside we came to another door, but this one was guarded by an Elf in grey armour. He carried a spear, a shield, and had a long sword at his belt, all of curious make. Nary a word did he speak, but upon our approach he immediately seized the door-handle and opened it for us. We stepped inside and the door clanged into place behind me.
The only light in this room came from large, stately fireplace at the far end and the six candles lit upon a long table of dark wood before us. Seated at this table was an Elf. As we entered, he looked up and rose in greeting. He was quite tall and his hair was long and golden -- so golden it seemed nearly white -- and his raiment was strange indeed. He was dressed all in black robes, but they were embellished everywhere with minute and fine designs of vines and flowers in blossom. He wore armoured pauldrons of some black metal on his shoulders and forearms, and there was a cord of crimson about his waist. But it was his eyes which gave me pause: his eyes were very different from the carefree faces of most Elves I had known, nor did they carry the tint of mourning I had always come to find there. Rather, the eyes of this Elf were hard like an icy, blue steel and they seemed to penetrate everything they looked upon. When he spoke his voice was also very unlike any other Elf I had met, for it was piercingly clear (though not loud) and smooth as silk. Yet it was also much deeper than I expected. It was the voice of a visionary: the kind of being who could sway the hearts of others to doing great -- or terrible -- things.
"Welcome to you, who call yourselves Elladan's Outriders," he said as he bowed his head slightly toward us. "I am Mallacai."