Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 40.1

Ruse and Recovery

Mersday, 2nd of Rethe, Year 1418 Shire-reckoning
Thorin's Hall, Ered Luin
Malkan the Eagle
The four of us drew our weapons and stood back-to-back. Try as I might, I could see almost nothing, for full night had fallen. The sounds of our quickened breathing rent the air like a massive bellows.

"That voice!" I whispered, "It's Wenhair! But where is she? I can't see a thing."

"Stand your ground," Gaelira whispered back, "Let her come to us." My heart pounded in my chest so hard I would not have been surprised if the others could hear its pattering. We made no forward movement, but then the voice spoke again.

"You are too late, my heroes -- the ritual is complete! Guloth, arise once more!"

The was a shuffling sound from the direction of where we had just seen Lagodir's body. Then came a low groan and another voice spoke. It was the voice of a Man, and it sounded like Lagodir, but there was something different about it.

"I live once more," it said in a slow and strained way. "Who has called me back from beyond the Void?"

"It was I, master!" came Wenhair's answer. It was very nearly a squeal of impish delight. "Wenhair, your loyal servant!"

"Excellent. And who are these interlopers before me?" said the strange voice that sounded like Lagodir's.

"Companions of the one who serves now as your host," replied Wenhair in the blackness. "I shall gladly dispatch them for you, my lord."

"Nay," Lagodir's cracked voice answered. "Their lives I claim as mine own, for I am newly awakened and still weak: their blood shall serve to strengthen this body."

"But, my lord --" Wenhair cut in.

"Silence, slave!" the voice roared. "Thinkest thou to command me?! Begone, ere I sup on thy blood as well this night! Go! Bring thy mother and meet me in the appointed place." There was a brief silence.

"As you command, master," came Wenhair's reply, and we heard footsteps quickly receding somewhere in the distance.

"Now then," the voice said slowly. "Let us see who you are."

During much of this, I had been quietly fishing in my pack with one hand until finally I found what I wanted: some flint and a torch. By now I had retrieved them both, and after a couple of sparks we at last had some light. There, just a short distance in front of us was the frame of a Man, and it certainly looked like Lagodir's size and build, but he was dressed in outlandish ceremonial robes of blood crimson with a deep cowl over it all. The figure began slowly walking toward us. I held my breath. The apparition seemed a bit unsteady, almost as if it was struggling to stay upright. It stopped just a few paces in front of us. No one said a word.

Suddenly, he collapsed into the snow! It was as if every last ounce of strength had gone out of that figure. I cried out in surprise, and then a weak voice came from within the pile of robes.

"Help... Fire... so cold..." It was Lagodir's voice. We rushed forward, full of concern but also caution.

"Lagodir?" Nephyn said, full of worry. "Is that you?"

"Yes, Nephyn, it is I," came Lagodir's answer. "Please... fire." We wrapped Lagodir in every blanket and fur we had while Drodie set about building a fire at once using a few dead branches and some pine-needles he found lying nearby. In moments we had a bright blaze going and all of us were glad of the warmth. The figure in crimson robes crawled itself near to the fire and huddled over it, shivering pitifully.

"Ah, that is better," he said after another minute or two. "I cannot remember ever having felt so spent -- not since the dungeons beneath Minas Morgul."

"What just happened?" I asked, incredulous. "Where is Wenhair? Are we still in danger?"

"She is gone, I hope, at least for the moment," Lagodir replied. "It seems my little bit of play-acting fooled her."

"An act?" Drodie echoed. "Do you mean to say you were pretending to be Guloth resurrected just now?"

"Yes, I tried to change my voice some, though I don't think it sounded much of anything like the real Guloth, as you all must remember," said Lagodir. "But it was the only thing I could think to do, and it appears to have worked. Seems I fooled you all as well!"

"You certainly fooled me!" I laughed. "And as the fool, I wouldn't mind you telling me what on earth we just witnessed."

"All in good time, Padryc," he said. "Just now I feel as though I've been trampled by a mumak. Have you any water?" At this point we gave him a full waterskin and offered him food as well. He took the water but would not eat the food saying his stomach was feeling rather off. A few moments later, looking somewhat refreshed, he proceeded to explain what had occurred.

"As near as I can discern," Lagodir began, "Wenhair, her mother, and this mysterious priestess of theirs are allies of the Iron Crown and have served under Guloth in especial. I know not how or why, but they seem quite devoted to him. I am not certain you are aware, but she managed to pierce my neck with a drugged dart back in Sarnur which caused me to lose my senses for quite a while. I suppose she must have carried me on her shoulders to this place from Sarnur."

"We had guessed at the use of unwholesome medicines to subdue you in the caverns," Gaelira said. "Still, she must be much stronger than she outwardly appears to have transported you all this distance."

"Yes, I would say that is so," said Lagodir. "It seems they believed they would be able to return Guloth's spirit to this world through some foul necromantic ritual. I do not know why it failed, but I am glad of it all the same."

"I may be able to hazard a guess at that," said Gaelira. "I had not told you this, Lagodir, but that weapon of your ancestor, the dagger you used to fell Guloth, was woven about with runes and spells calling for the destruction of Sauron's evil wraith-thralls, though perhaps your eyes could not see them. Were the circumstances different perhaps they would have succeeded -- who can say? But their efforts came to naught, for Guloth is utterly undone and will never again taint the mortal lands." Lagodir bowed his head at this, and I wondered what the news must have meant to him.

"Well, hurrah: there's one less creepy creep creeping about," said Drodie, ever the pragmatist. "More importantly: what now? This campfire is certainly welcome, but if I had my way we'd not be spending our time out-of-doors half-buried in snow! Surely we can seek some better accommodations? No doubt Lagodir would appreciate it."

"You bring us back to practical matters, as ever, Master Dwarf," laughed Nephyn. "Isn't the city of Thorin's Hall supposed to be near here?"

"It is just north of our current position," said Gaelira. "Let us go there for food and rest. Lagodir, can you manage?"

"Yes, I think so," came his reply. "I was still feeling the after-effects of whatever drug Wenhair had used on me, but it is passing. It took every last bit of strength I could muster to play my little part, as you saw, but if I could just get some sleep I suspect I will be much better for it."

"There is still one thing I wish to know," I said as we prepared to head north. "You told Wenhair to meet 'you' with her mother at the appointed place. How did you know they had such an arrangement? We found a parchment she had dropped in Sarnur which mentioned a place called Malenhad."

"I knew nothing of that," Lagodir answered. "It was the greatest risk I took in the whole gambit and, fortunately, luck did not fail me. But where is this Malenhad of which the letter spake?"

None of us knew, but for the moment we were more concerned with getting Lagodir to a place where he (and all of us) could have a proper rest. It was not a great distance to Thorin's Halls, although the darkness made the journey feel like it took much longer than it did. I suspect it was shortly after midnight when we finally came to the massive iron doors of the Dwarf-city, high up in the Blue Mountains. The guards could see we were no enemies and that one of our party was in dire need of aid, so they offered us no challenge at the gates and readily admitted us. We were escorted to an area set-aside for guests with beds and then we were brought victuals and medicines of all kinds. It was as good a place for recovery as one could ask for, especially in that part of the world.

If you have never been to Thorin's Halls, I can tell you that it is a wondrous city. There are Dwarves everywhere (mostly kind and well-mannered Longbeards), and the passages beneath the mountains are spacious, well-lit, and very impressive. Even at this late hour I can hear the clinking of hammers and tongs echoing off the walls and the store-houses and armouries are marvellously well-kept. I admit I have gotten rather lost among all of the unusual names they have here, for each and every hall has its own moniker. But, generally speaking, I have had no issues finding my way about because the floor-plan is quite sensible; which most Dwarvish things tend to be, as a rule. My only real concern is whether I will be able to get to sleep with all of the ambient noise which floats around in here due to all of this stone-work. On second thought, after all I've been through over the past couple of days, I don't think it will be a problem.

Oh! I nearly forgot: while we were preparing to bed down, we overheard some of our hosts discussing a large bird which had come to the gates not long after we had arrived and would not leave. From their description it sounded to us like Malkan, so Gaelira went out to see what was going on. When she returned she informed us that it was indeed Malkan the eagle and that he had made contact with Mallacai, who was now encamped in Angmar. We had a short discussion among ourselves about this and decided we would set out to find him on the morrow. I felt a quick thrill as I realized that we had, finally, accomplished everything we had been sent to do: the dress of Narhuel, the armour of the champions of Annuminas, the fangs of the spider-queen in the Trollshaws, and the hide of Brullug. Only the crown of the Great Goblin had evaded us, but we had (indirectly) left his dark kingdom in disarray and rescued two long-lost Elves in the process. It's hard to believe all of the great deeds Elladan's Outriders have achieved!

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