Highday, 26th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
On the Road to Ered Luin
|The Caverns of Sarnur|
"Whose bright idea was it to sample every ale, mead, cider, wine, lager, porter, and stout offered by all the taverns in the Shire?" I asked as I cracked open one bleary eyeball. "Drodie, would you be so kind as to stop ramming your shield into my forehead?" There was a groan from somewhere nearby, but no one answered me.
"It seems the only thing more stout than our Dwarf is stout itself," came Lagodir's voice. Normally I would have been inclined to laugh at this jest, but I restrained myself due to fear of what laughing was likely to do for my headache. It was a wise decision: I heard Lagodir give a soft chuckle at his own joke, but then he quickly moaned and fell silent.
"We should not tarry here any longer than needed," said Gaelira as she strode up to the rest of us. "It is still another two days' march before we cross the River Lune, and the leagues remain long from there to the gates of Sarnur where Brullug awaits us."
"Not so loud, if you please," mumbled Nephyn. I wondered how it was that Gaelira was the only one of us who appeared unaffected by our Shire-wide imbibing from the past two days.
It was some time before our Company had collected itself, eaten, washed, and finally set out once more upon the westward road. We passed slowly over a couple of impressive stone bridges I had never seen before (having had no reason to come this far beyond Needlehole even as a Bounder) which were obviously of Dwarf-make. I wondered when the Dwarves had built them and why, but either Drodie didn't know or he was still feeling too poorly from yesterday to bother answering me. Eventually, we passed through the Rushock Gate at the very western edge of the Shire and left my homeland behind us. I had an odd sensation as I did so: almost as if I was no longer really from there, but was merely passing through; like the rest of my friends.
The scenery today was rather unremarkable: it was smooth grass in every direction with only the occasional copse of trees to break the monotony. What really held our attention was the horizon: there, not terribly distant and always growing closer, were the Blue Mountains. We trudged on well into the evening with the landscape not changing at all. Finally, we settled down in a small grove of ash trees for dinner and a sleep.
There had been rather little conversation among ourselves all day and I could sense everyone was eager for another rest, so there is not much to tell about today as a whole. The air tonight is cool but not too chilly and the stars are out like I have rarely seen them before. There are no clouds, for one thing, but more than that: they almost seem like they're closer to the earth than normal. As I lay on my back I feel I could stretch out my hand and snatch one (if I were quick enough!), then hold it gently and watch it flicker as it danced on my palm.
I don't expect that makes any sense, so I will leave well enough alone for tonight.
Sterday, 27th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Elf-haven of Duillond, Ered Luin
This morning was quite different from yesterday: the Company was up early and talkative -- energized and ready for another day of travel. We had a good deal of laughs at everything we had done while in the Shire; some of us started comparing our pub-crawl to various enemies we had encountered during our time together and wondered which of them had done us the more lasting harm. After a solid breakfast of eggs, ham, and toast we set off again. Gaelira said she expected us to reach a place called Duillond before sundown.
Our surroundings didn't change much all day until after dusk. Just when I was beginning to think we would have to wait another day before reaching Ered Luin, I began to hear the sound of rushing water. Then we came to a remarkable bridge of stone (once again clearly of Dwarf-make) which spanned a swift and noisy river. Gaelira informed us this was the River Lune, and we were indeed crossing into the region of Ered Luin at that time.
As we walked across the bridge, I peeped over the edge and saw white foams cascading over smooth rocks and tumbling away southward to our left. The Lune then widened and calmed and stretched all the way to the edge of my sight, where it must have eventually met the Sea. The light was quickly fading, but I thought I could see -- far off in the distance -- the elegant sails of an Elven ship gliding along the water. Normally I might have felt rather giddy at that sight for we were somewhat elevated by then (we had been gently climbing with the land over the past two days as we drew nearer to the mountains, but I hadn't noticed it for the incline was so gradual), but thanks to the sturdy parapets of the Dwarf-bridge I was able to enjoy the view comfortably.
"Are those the Grey Havens?" I asked Gaelira as I pointed. "I've heard of them in more tales than one! Never thought I'd be seeing them myself one day."
"Yes, yonder lie the Havens," Gaelira answered, but she did not share the view with me; her eyes and her feet remained pointed toward the west. "Our road lies not that way. Not yet." I looked after her.
The she-Elf's voice didn't sound angry to me, or even annoyed. I left my perch and followed after her. As we walked, I thought about everything I had heard regarding the Havens. I began to wager I could guess why she did not wish to discuss them -- and I did not mention them again.Very soon after this I spied lights twinkling in the rocks above us and the faint sound of singing floated down to cover us like a cloud.
"Those are Elvish voices!" said Lagodir. "Were I blind and forgetful of our road together, I might have thought I was once again wandering into the Valley of Rivendell."
I won't deny the thought had occurred to me as well. Duillond proved to be a delightful place, full of food, song, and cheer. It was very much like a small town (only much older, as one could easily see from the tall and beautiful towers and carven walls which rose all around us) and apparently we had arrived in the middle of some sort of festival or gathering. We were invited to stop, rest, and feast with the inhabitants, and what a curious lot they were!
There were Elves of every kind -- some taller and fairer than others (although everyone was taller than me, of course); some with golden hair like the Sun on a wheat field, and others with dark hair, black as a raven's wing. There were also some rather haughty and lordly types which were introduced to us as "High Elves." I have some limited understanding of what was meant by this, but much of what was said in that place went clean over my head. The fact that I was exhausted from a hard day's march and now quite comfortably full from ample and sumptuous foods did not help matters.
What I did gather from all the discussions was that the goblins of Ered Luin had become a nuisance once again, only this time they appeared to be forming an alliance with the Dourhand Dwarves. The Dourhands, you may remember, are not unknown to me as the Bounders have had issues with them on the borders of the Shire recently, but I had never heard of anything like this about them working together with goblins! The very thought nearly took my appetite away (nearly).
A good while later we were given comfortable lodgings and permitted to rest before taking up our road again in the morning. Gaelira remained outside talking with the other Elves while the rest of us chatted among ourselves. We all found Duillond to be a capital place and its citizens to be a very respectable people. Drodie, true to fashion, merely grunted and said nothing.
As I lay myself down for sleep, I wonder whether we will see Sarnur tomorrow and what sort of plans Gaelira and the others have devised for conquering that place. I admit I'm starting to get a little nervous about it.
Sunday, 28th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Fortress of Gondamon, Ered Luin
I awoke feeling most refreshed and ready for another day of travel. The Elves of Duillond seemed rather different toward us this morning than they had last night. Not in any disrespectful way or anything like that, but they seemed more somber and brooding. I suspect Gaelira had filled some of them in on (at least parts of) our mission, and so there was a good deal of advice-giving going on, as is typical with Elves.
They advised us to not go directly to Sarnur but instead to stop in at some place called Gondamon first. There, we would be able to consult with the Dwarves and gather news about the doings of the Dourhands and the goblins; this way it was hoped that we would learn about them before running into them and so avoid a few unneeded complications. This seemed like sound advice, so after many fare-thee-wells and at-your-services, we were off.
We returned to the main road and struck northward. The way was well paved and obviously cared for by someone, so we made very good time. I was able to take in some of the countryside as we walked. There were tall firs and prickly pines aplenty, but the mountains themselves always held my awe above the rest. We were practically among them now, though still about the knees. With their heads hidden high in the clouds, I wondered just how tall they were. As I was staring upward contemplating this, I felt something cold but soft strike my face.
"Well, look at that!" I exclaimed. "Snow! I had no idea we were so high up already."
"We have been slowly climbing upward for some time now," said Lagodir as he squinted at the distant mountain-peaks. "Since not long after our departure from your Shire, unless I am mistaken."
"Quite right," came a voice, which I was surprised to realize was Drodie's. The Dwarf was usually quiet, but he had been downright mute since our epic pub-crawl.
"Do you think we will reach Sarnur today then?" I asked. I tried to sound casual, but I really was starting to hope we might somehow find a way to avoid this whole stage of the adventure.
"The Elves of Duillond recommended we gather our strength in a place called Gondamon before attempting to enter Sarnur," said Nephyn from behind me. "Although I could not tell you where that place might be, for I have never been in this land."
"It is a funny name!" I said with a laugh. "Who came up with it, I wonder? It sounds to me like a gonging bell: GOND-a-monnnnnnnnnnn..." I amused my friends by imitating the sound.
"The Elves named it, of course," said Gaelira with a laugh, "As they did most places in these lands, for my kindred lived here long before the Dwarves settled it. But, Padryc, I thought by now you had learned at least enough Elvish to know Gond-amon. That is: Stone-hill, or Hill-of-stone, if you prefer, and a most appropriate name too: for it is a stone-height which commands an excellent view of the surrounding country."
"Pah!" spat Drodie unexpectedly. "Gondamon may have been nothing more than a pile of rock when last you skipped your little fairy-feet over these lands, Gaelira, but today it is a fortress, and one to be proud of! Many centuries ago we Longbeards raised a bastion of stone atop that hill, and now it is one of the strongest fortifications you are likely to find west of the Misty Mountains. The Dwarves took your little knoll and transformed it into an impassable citadel."
"You will hear no argument from me on that count, my friend," the Elf replied, "Your folk have indeed created an impressive work there, as we should see ere this day be past us. And you are right also on the first count: the Gondamon I knew was indeed little more than a hill of stone, for the centuries in which the current fortress has stood are but small count in the years of my life."
"You will get one argument from me though, Master Dwarf," said Lagodir grimly. "But only this: that there be no such thing as an impassable citadel."
"Truly spoken," came Gaelira's reply. "Time was when Ered Luin was nothing more than the easternmost reaches of the great realm of Beleriand, which boasted the mighty citadels of Gondolin and Nargothrond. Menegroth there was also, where my people lived upon a time in bliss -- yet none of those places survived the wrath of the Great Enemy. Impregnable we deemed them all, and now they lie beneath the waves." No one spoke again for a long while after that.
We saw nothing too interesting for the rest of that day except a lonely wolf and a few foxes. Around the time when the sky turned orange we saw the tips of the spires of the fortress at Gondamon. Even from a distance I could see that Drodie's description of the place was not off the mark: it was a strong fortification -- built of solid stone -- the like of which would be the pride of many lesser kings or vassals in Middle-earth to occupy and command from. I felt very safe knowing we would be spending the night there.
A while later, just after sunset, we arrived at Gondamon. The Dwarves welcomed us eagerly, especially Drodie, (although I think some of them had an eye on Gaelira), for they understood from our talk that we had come to explore the depths of Sarnur. The reports were that Dourhands had been using that place as a sort of barracks and fall-back position, and that meant any effort by us to enter it would mean fighting through the Dourhands, and that meant we'd be aiding the Longbeards in their mission to eliminate them and the goblins from the surrounding areas. Dwarves, whatever else they may be, are a very practical people.
There was a good deal more talking and reporting and planning and strategizing that night, but I paid it all no mind. I was much more concerned about the prospect of walking headlong into the main encampment of a bunch of surly Dwarves who were, for all intents and purposes, at open war with a bunch of other surly Dwarves. Here I am, trying to calm down for some decent sleep, and I have to be thinking about this?
You know, it occurs to me that nearly all of Mallacai's tasks seem to have taken us straight into spots which were on the brink of armed conflict...
Monday, 29th of Solmath, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
The Caverns of Sarnur, Somewhere in Ered Luin
It was mostly cloudy this morning as we breakfasted with the Dwarves of Gondamon keep. I was surprised to find several Elves milling about as well (I suppose I had missed them during the previous evening due to the failing light), but we did not linger there long. The Dwarves saw us off as we trotted out the west-gate, then followed the road as it turned north, then west again. The snow starting falling lightly once more and the woods around us became strangely quiet.
By noon we had passed under a water-course and saw another Dwarf-bridge spanning a small river to our left. Finally, we came upon another small outpost of Longbeards at a place called Noglond. From the sentries we learned that the entrance to Sarnur was not far at all: it was across the Vale of Thrain and on the far side of an old Dwarf-ruin called Orodost. The only problem was the fact that Orodost was now infested with goblins while the Dourhands were holed up in Sarnur itself. It looked like either some sneaking or some fighting was going to be in order.
We initially elected to try sneaking, but that proved impossible. For one thing there were far too many goblins to sneak around. Couple this with the single entryway which ran up a narrow staircase, and stealth was clearly not an option. However, fighting proved to be a perfectly acceptable alternative as the goblins were a weak breed and mostly just fled from us when we came upon them in wrath. We all marvelled at the ease with which we cut them down and made our way further and further into Orodost.
"These must be a decidedly less tough strain of the little beasts than the ones we faced in the Misty Mountains," said Nephyn with a laugh. "May all our battles go so easily! I have always known goblins to be craven cowards, but this lot is the worst I ever heard of."
"It is not the goblins that are different," said Gaelira as she wiped her sword clean of goblin-blood in the snow. "It is you, and all of us, that are different. We are stronger for what we have faced over the past three months -- both individually and as a Company." I hadn't thought about it that way.
A short while later we had penetrated deep into Orodost. That ruin was comprised chiefly of stairways and landings which climbed higher and higher up the mountain-side. At long last, we found ourselves looking at a cavernous opening in the rock. We had fought many goblins, but none of us were tired. Rather, we hesitated a moment at what felt to me like a cloud of uncertainty or fear that was emanating from that yawning crevice.
"Sarnur," said Drodie, simply. "Just another of my people's works which the traitorous Dourhands have defiled with their presence."
Together, we walked under the shadow of the mountain-wall and into Sarnur. The light was quickly swallowed up and our eyes took some time to adjust to the dimness. A ways further in, we came to a large door of iron. It looked incredibly heavy and I was wondering whether we'd even be able to open it, but Drodie and Lagodir were able to haul each panel back with relative ease. As we passed within, I was surprised to find the place was not at all what I had been picturing in my mind.
"Dear me!" I said as I looked overhead. "I was expecting something more along the lines of Goblin-town -- all close and stuffy with no light at all. This is quite different; just look at how high those ceilings rise!"
"This is no goblin-hole, Padryc," said Drodie from just ahead of me. "It is a proper Dwarf-keep which has known light, feasting, laughter, and music. Besides, while goblins may love the darkness and the Dourhands ally themselves with it, no Dwarf would deign to live crawling around dank tunnels in blackness like vermin: if they are using this place as a bivouac, we can expect there to be light within these caverns -- along with drink and victuals."
"What a pity!" I replied. "It's a bit grandiose for my tastes, but I wouldn't have minded exploring the place back when it was as you say, Drodie. But from the look of things, it must have been a very long time ago indeed since anyone has walked here."
"A very long time ago?" asked Nephyn. "Then how would you explain them?"