Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 33.1

The Gondorian's Tale

Mersday, 12th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Last Homely House, Rivendell
The Dagger of Ohtar Turma
It has been three days now since we returned triumphant from the bitter heights of the Misty Mountains. Our welcome was quite an event, let me tell you, for our Company played a significant part in the thwarting of the goblins' attack on the Valley of the Elves as well as the rescue of two long-lost members of Elrond's household. I've since discovered it is now the evening of the third day (one tends to lose track of time when reposing here), and I am sad to report that we will be setting out in the morning -- leaving Rivendell again and, this time, perhaps never to return.

The past three days were mostly spent resting, eating, drinking, singing, and (when I could not avoid it in favor of more pleasant things) preparing for the next phase of our journey. From the others I got the vague notion we were to head back west, but I must admit I wasn't paying too much attention to all their talk of marching, camping, and questing. If someone had told me then and there that I could never leave that house again for the rest of my life I probably would have danced for joy.

Instead of that, what I got was a long tale of dread and sadness. This morning the Company assembled just beyond the doors of the Last Homely House, across a swift stream and upward on a small lawn where there are a few stone benches. We were all in a merry mood -- all except Lagodir. There was something about his demeanor which made me guess (rightly) that we had been gathered to hear what Elrond had to say to him shortly after our return to the valley from our adventures in Goblin-town three days earlier. After sharing greetings and some of our usual banter, we turned our attention to the Man, who sat with downcast eyes.

"No doubt you are all wondering why Elrond called me to him so quickly once we had come back down from the mountains," he began. "A letter had arrived from Calenglad, the Ranger-captain on the island of Tinnudir. It was addressed to Aragorn, who I understand is the leader of these Northmen, but Elrond has taken it upon himself to share its contents with me."

"Some great need must have driven Calenglad to trust to a written message," said Gaelira with raised eyebrows. "I would hate to think what might have happened if it had fallen into the wrong hands."

"You perceive aright the great need of Calenglad and his folk, for things have taken a bad turn in Annuminas," said Lagodir. "It seems the occupation of that place has been doubled since our little foray there many days ago, and now the Dunedain are in danger of losing their foothold within the city. The leader of Angmar's thralls is named Balhest, who is thought to be one of the Black Numenoreans out of Carn Dum, but chief among his captains is a foul wraith of Mordor."

"I know this wraith, this Guloth," Lagodir said as his eyes became piercing and hard. "Many years ago, I led an expedition into the Morgul Vale. My Lord Denethor had become desperate for tidings of our Enemy and his doings away in the Black Land, for the rumours were that he had returned to his Dark Tower. We began to fear he was gathering strength and meant to make war upon us, and so small parties of spies were sent to scout various points on the edges of his realm. It was my lot to lead the group which would cast its unwilling eyes upon Minas Ithil of old, now twisted and perverse under the influence of the servants of the Nameless." Lagodir paused; his eyes seemed to see things far away from us and his fingers worked. We all waited patiently.

"We encountered no resistance until we neared the gates of that accursed tower," he continued in a hushed voice. "But as we went to cross the bridge which spans the Morgulduin, we became ensnared by some dark sorcery. To me, it seemed to emanate from two statues of hideous design which stood like sentries on either side of that bridge. A fell cry went up and before we knew what was happening we were surrounded. A blackness fell upon my company then and we were slaughtered like sheep -- all save myself. I was taken prisoner and brought to the lowest dungeons under that hellish City. For three years I anguished beneath that Tower; the very place where my forebears had fought and died for Elendil, but now was become a pit of utter despair and torment. I do not think any living thing, fair or foul, resides there except against its own will. Any living thing, say I, for there are other things which haunt the passes of Morgul Vale, yet I deem they live not. One such was Guloth: my host and chief torturer. Many long hours did I spend in his company."

He paused in his tale. The rest of us were quiet and tense. The Sun itself seemed to have dimmed as we five walked the vile passageways on the Tower of the Black Wraiths in our collective minds.

"Guloth," said Lagodir again. "He flayed my flesh and withered my mind and soul. I felt I was nearing the end of my life, but then a strange thing happened: I saw -- not dreamed, but saw -- in shadowy form the ghosts of my ancestors, the spirits of the House of Turma, long dead. They spoke to me of the doom of Gondor and the ruination of all lands, but my will hardened and I would not be cowed. Then, one day, I discovered a tunnel which led out of my cell through the walls and beneath the earth. It must have been a secret way made by the city's original architects before it fell to the Enemy more than a thousand years ago. I followed it, and found myself outside of the Morgul Vale, free at last. After much hunger and wandering, I was rescued by two Rangers of Ithilien who recognized me by my uniform, tattered and dishevelled as it was. I was returned to Minas Tirith and slowly nursed back to health, but I had not the strength to wield blade again. The Lord Denethor questioned me relentlessly for two days on what I had learned during my captivity. Finally, satisfied that I had told him everything, I was dismissed from the army and permitted to go where I would. It was some time later when I decided to make my journey to the North and our paths crossed. And now I see clearly the path I must follow next: I will return to Annuminas. I will find Guloth. And I will destroy him forever. I do not ask any of you to come with me."

There was a silence. The roar of the Falls went on and on, unbroken by any of our voices for many minutes. Finally, Gaelira spoke.

"You have a great claim on my companionship after everything that has passed between us since we first met," she said quietly. "I shall accompany you. But how do you propose to defeat this terrible servant of evil?"

Here, the Gondorian drew forth a dagger with a cleverly carven handle and a long, bright blade.

"Now at last I keep my promise to you, Padryc," he said to me with a smile, "For here is the dagger of Ohtar Turma, which Elrond gifted to me upon our arrival to Rivendell some days ago. It is the work of Westernesse, but older far even than the Sword of Ringdor which you bear, Nephyn. This blade, unassuming though it may be in appearance, shall be the end of the wraith Guloth. And I shall be the one to strike that blow. Whether or not you choose to journey with me I must go. I shall be grateful for your friendship, Gaelira, but I lay no claim upon any of you."

"For my part," I said thoughtfully, "It seems clear that our earlier excursion into Annuminas has put those Ranger chaps in a rather bad spot. So it's only fitting that we should do our part to help them out of it. You can count me in." I hoped I sounded braver than I felt.

"And I am with the Company," said Nephyn with a smile. "Whether you will it or not."

"As for me," said Drodie with a shrug, "I am up for a good battle and it sounds like Annuminas is just the place to find one. Besides, by my count we still owe two of Angmar's champions there a good thumping."

The rest of the day was spent in preparation for our early departure on the morrow. I had the opportunity to say farewell to Mr. Bilbo. He told me to bring him back some descriptions of Annuminas and advised me to stay clear of the Seekers of the Seven Stars (apparently forgetting that he had already done so), but wished us all the very best. I spent another long time alongside him in the Hall of Fire earlier this evening, and afterward I found the Company loitering about the main courtyard of the house. They were all crowded around something I could not see, so after helping Mr. Baggins reach his room I hurried back to see what all the excitement was about.

It turned out to be none other than Thorgest the Dwarf. He was down on leave from his watchpost high up in the Misty Mountains, and he also brought us a bit of news. The goblins had all retreated back to Goblin-town where it appeared the Great Goblin was desperately trying to hold onto his throne, for the sounds of battle under the earth could be heard at most times of the day and night. He also mentioned Gloin's regrets that he was called away on his errand to King Dain with such urgency, but the venerable Dwarf had left us his undying thanks for our services along with a not unsubstantial sum of money. This proved providential, for our Company had been running dreadfully short on coin for some days and we had all been concerned about where we might pick up more for the purchasing of necessities: a life on the move, I have discovered, is not a cheap enterprise to maintain. Of course we expressed our supreme thanks to Thorgest and, after many bows and sweeping of hats or hoods, we all retired for the night.

Even now that I have written down all of today's events I am having trouble getting to sleep. I'd be happy to never leave this peaceful valley ever again, but at the same time I know that I must. I feel certain the Company still has an important part to play in these times, even if I still can't see clearly my own part in it all. Also, something about Lagodir and his account of the Morgul Vale has me feeling a bit on edge. I think I shall mention it, quiet-like, to Gaelira whenever I should happen to get the chance.

Highday, 13th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The High Moor, Somewhere in the Trollshaws

This morning was a solemn affair. Elrond and select members of his household bid us farewell on the steps of the Last Homely House under the pall of a cloudy sky. There was no particular reason for me to feel so gloomy after our recent successes, I suppose, and yet I could not help it in light of our departure from that happy valley. I reclined against a tree some ways off from the rest of the Company where I was unable to overhear the conversation between the master of Rivendell and my companions; I was in no mood for whatever ominous warnings and dark prophecies were probably being thrown around at that hour.

Instead, I cast my mind over the contents of my pack, now newly replenished with equipment suitable for a life on the Road. Best that at least one of us keep a clear head about such things, I thought to myself. Far more practical than giving a mind to all of this gloomy talk about wraiths, armies, and the rest of it. Imagine listening to such nonsense at your age! I had stocked up on balms and medicines, trail food, tea leaves, cram, and of course pipe-weed (But not enough to last us more than a fortnight, I shouldn't wonder). My desire for adventure was at its lowest ebb since our journey began.

Once the traditional exchange of courtesies had been made and we had thanked Elrond many, many times for his hospitality, we did finally leave Rivendell in earnest. The long, dull climb out of the valley began as we headed southward. Our intent was to return to the High Moor, taking it fairly easy, and make camp somewhere near to the Ford of Bruinen, which we would cross first thing on the morrow. As we trudged up the winding path which led away from Imladris, I cast my eye about me. It was still winter, of course, but at that time and in that valley you would scarcely have known it if it weren't for the depressing cloud cover on that particular morning. The pine-trees were swaying in the breeze, insects were buzzing about their business, and even the grass was full and fragrant. Then, looking skyward, I saw a large bird circling directly above us. I tugged at Gaelira's sleeve, as she was nearest to me.

"See that?" I asked as I pointed. "That must be the first bird of prey I've seen in all the days we've spent in Rivendell. Odd that I never noticed it before."

"Not at all odd," Gaelira answered, not even bothering to look up at the object of my attention. "The wind currents down in this narrow valley are too treacherous for most large birds to navigate safely, and there is game aplenty roaming the High Moor in any case. No, that bird has a particular interest in us." I looked at her.

"Oh?" I asked, genuinely intrigued. "And what might that be? Is Drodie walking around with raw meat in his satchel again?" The Elf chuckled.

"No, at least not that I know of," she said. "But I see you did not hear our counsels before we departed this morning, so I shall enlighten you. You should know that Hremm, our trusty raven-friend, will no longer be accompanying us on our journey. He followed us all the way here, but now he has found a mate and will not leave again. However, it seems word of our exploits against the goblins of the Misty Mountains have reached the ears of Gwaihir the Windlord, the Lord of all Eagles, and he has pledged one of his people to our service. The feud between the Eagles and the goblins is a bitter one, and so we have earned ourselves another valuable ally."

"You don't say!" I exclaimed as I tried to get a better look at our new companion. "What, will he fight for us and claw at the eyes of our enemies then?"

"Perhaps, if the need is very great," came Gaelira's reply. "But the way of the Eagles typically is to interfere as little as may be in the activities of those that go on two legs. Also, this is not one of the enormous Great Eagles: he is of a lesser strain, though still somewhat larger than your average preying bird, so we won't be riding him anywhere like your good Mr. Baggins did once, long ago. His name is Malkan, and he is a rather quiet sort, but he is brave and absolutely loyal to his liege-lord Gwaihir. More importantly --" and here Gaelira did finally look to the sky and shielded her eyes with her long, white hand, "I suspect his company is also a mutually agreed-upon arrangement between Gwaihir and the Lord Elrond." I pondered this last for a moment.

"You mean, so he can keep an eye on us?"

"On me, more likely," she said with a mischievous grin. I smiled in response, but then I realized that, in our talk, the two of us had lagged somewhat behind the others. Now was the perfect moment for me to ask Gaelira about something which had been on my mind without the others overhearing.

"I was wondering, you know," I began a bit clumsily, for it was an uncomfortable subject to broach, "About Lagodir. Or, well, about what he told us yesterday." I could hear Gaelira take a deep breath, almost a sigh, and then I went on. "Does anything seem at all, erm, odd to you about his story? I mean, I wouldn't dream of saying he's being untruthful --"

"No, I do not think so either," Gaelira said, cutting me off (for which I was grateful). "But your insight serves you well -- the idea that someone, anyone, could so easily fly from Imlad Morgul on their own is not possible. The only conclusion, therefore, is that he was permitted to leave. I certainly believe that Lagodir believes he managed his own escape, but I know too well the wiles of the Enemy and his delight in destroying the minds and wills of his prisoners to think his version of events is the full truth. The real question is: why did the Enemy release him?"

"You don't think... you don't suppose he would betray us, do you?" I asked in a quavering voice.

"I think we need not fear treachery," Gaelira answered in little more than a whisper. "There are some things even the sorceries of the Enemy cannot break, though he can sow doubt, mistrust, and loathing in others. I doubt not that our friend is wholly loyal to us and harbours no thoughts of evil intent, but if the long lives of the Eldar has taught us anything it is that even good intent can turn to evil when the fire of passion is not cooled by rational thought." We walked for a few moments in silence.

"Lagodir must have been a mighty champion among his people indeed, if he is now only a shadow of his former strength as he says," I observed. "I shudder to think what he could do if really roused to anger."

"As do I," the she-Elf said. "What might a Man do to regain what he sees as his lost honour? And what also for vengeance? I am no Man, so I cannot say, but it shall be our duty, I think, to care for our friend and intercede for him if events go ill. Yet I know not what form such a thing may take, if it comes, so I beg you to say naught of what we have discussed -- neither to Lagodir nor even to the others. We know nothing for certain and have seen before what even the appearance of mistrust can do among the Company. But come, Padryc, the others are getting far ahead of us."

This seemed like sound counsel to me, so I agreed to it. We two quickened our pace to catch up to our friends, then joined Drodie and Nephyn's ongoing conversation about the merits of coffee versus tea when on a journey. But it was also then I noticed for the first time today that Lagodir was walking at a very brisk pace and had gotten well ahead of the rest of us.

Once we reached the plateau of the High Moor we struck westward, picking our way among the trees, bushes, and boulders of the forest floor toward the Ford of Bruinen. We encountered no difficulty all day and eventually settled down to a campsite which was within a stone's throw of the river. As night fell over the Trollshaws and I lay writing in this journal by the light of a small fire, I can see the Gondorian seated some distance away and with his back to us, staring out into the West. I thought about his long captivity and torment at the hands of the Dark Lord's minions and wondered what sort of toll that must have taken on him. I also remember how, when we had first encountered him, he had refused to say why he had left Gondor and was seeking out Elrond of Rivendell, greatest lore-master and healer still alive in the World today. But I suspect I can now guess the reason.

I'm pretty sure I just heard thunder coming up from behind us. I certainly hope our first full day out of Rivendell is not going to be a wet one.

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