ESCAPE FROM THE MISTY MOUNTAINS

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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu Oct 09, 2014 12:15 pm

II....

"There! You see now that all is well," said one of them to the company of prisoners, most of whom were far from mollified by this. "We must cross over without further delay, for dusk comes early in the mountains of mist and we still have far to go ere we reach our end."

It was here, he recalls in his mind’s eye, that the leader among the spearmen, an exceedingly hairy brute of a fellow, though the top of his pate was running to baldness, seized him by his feeble arm and pulled him aside privately so that they were against the looming cliff above their heads on the other side of the trail.

“"You like these men, eh? Eh?" He had grinned wolfishly at him, jabbing a finger in his chest in a taunting manner, repeating, "What do you say, Dunadan? Eh? You like these pitiful people? They are your friends? You have fought among them against us! Friends of the Dunedain, indeed! They are inbred pigs. But you like nonetheless, I see. One piggish race of men to another. The Dunedain are swine as well! Okay, swineherd of the north! I grant you this gift. Choose one! Look upon their dirty faces and select one pig, and only one, mind! Choose one of those swine that you like above all others.”

“What if I do?” he remembered asking him suddenly. “What of it? Of what consequence shall my choice become?”

“A defeated prisoner may ask nothing of their conquerors!” he retorted. “You shall learn all in time. But I know that you are no fool and thus I will confide to you here that most of you are going to die ere the coming of dusk. But not all! Certainly not you at the least, for you shall have the pleasure of my company for some time, it seems. Apparently your head is not so worthless to you after all! They place some value in it up north. But hear you this! Accidents can and often do happen out in the wild! It is a dangerous place up here. It would be a mistake for you to deem yourself beyond disposal by us! But enough banter! Choose one of these pathetic creatures that you like above the others or I shall rescind my gift and make sure they know that you refused to cooperate with us to their own detriment!”

For better or for worse he knew he must select one of those poor prisoners lest he miss his one chance to preserve at least one of their lives; one life was better than none at all, surely! As he looked past his interlocutor to the others behind he saw that most of the guards were watching them with a look of anticipation. Not wanting to antagonize the foreman he made his choice without further delay. He indicated with a silent gesture of his head the youngest looking lad whom had been weeping openly during the last arm of their march. The foreman turned his head to make note of his choice and showed his opinion of it with an audible chortle.

“The bloom of youth wins the day!” This was to his comrades-in-arms, who all seemed to have made secret wagers in regards to Hunthor’s mercy choice. Many were pleased with the selection and some were not, they obviously having lost the bet. The man in charge indicated that the young dark-haired Guant should be excluded from walking the bridge, and it was done. The young man was terrified at being pried apart from his companions but was urged to comply with their wishes by is senior tribesmen, nearly all of whom had begun to see that the end was near and could not be postponed for long.

The remaining twelve or so prisoners began their wobbly march down into the slackened mid-section of the rope bridge, a harrowing slip-shod of a construction at best which shook in a menacing manner as each man gripped tightly the slender railing while their weary feet sought desperately to maintain a solid reliable place among the unstable wooden planking. Hunthor mournfully watched them trudge along in their labor, most of them unable to refrain from looking over the edge down into the vastness of the misty void below. It almost seemed to him then that the very chasm itself took on the imaginary form of a giant gaping mouth of some invisible monster, its jaws wide open and eager to devour its dangling prey above.

Hatred for these men overwhelmed him then. Here he recalls turning towards the foreman of the guards and cursing at him, calling ever-lasting darkness upon him for what was surely about to happen. The guard said nothing in return, indeed he probably understood little of what Hunthor had said to him, but instead merely looked at him and broke into a wide grin; a wicked mocking smile that Hunthor longed to strike out at in retaliation. The man spat at his feet as if to serve as an exclamation point.

The battle for survival seemed lost then. Those pitiful tribesmen of a peaceable people, whose only crime had been to resist the forced subjugation of Broggha’s ruthless lust for power, would perish in a few passing moments of time. How many others had already died thus? How many more innocents would die an agonizing death under Broggha’s uncontested domination of the mountains? An alliance with Angmar would mean the ruin of Rhudaur, which would be the next in line to fall. Then what? Cardolan? Arthedain even? The Dunedain of the North Kingdom would never regain the mastery of the north if Arthedain fell. What amount of wisdom that yet remained in him seemed to whisper in his ear that the West would soon fall and the Edain with it. Then only death or thralldom would remain in Middle-earth for men such as he. Better to perish now than to relive the fate of ancient Beleriand all over again. Men and elves would gradually fall away into oblivion. Aye! Choose my own ending for my nightmare, he recalled thinking just then. After enduring all of the trials since his initial capture he could struggle no more. Let it be so! I cannot gainsay my appointed destiny! May Mandos judge me fairly!

Here his memory of what happened next was clear, despite the physical trauma that came afterwards for him. He recalls being possessed with the will, nay – an obsession, rather, to reach the opposite end of the chasm. He would fight his way to the other side or die trying. At the least he would join his fellow prisoners out on the rope bridge in order to share the honor of sharing their fate and dying alongside them, for they were brave men. Somehow he had managed to seize one of the spears and wrench it free of the hands of one of the guards and spring out upon the bridge. Before he knew it he was standing half-way across the length of the wooden death-row contraption nigh his fellows who looked on in wonder. The harsh voice of foreman could be heard screaming out to him in great wrath, ordering him to return to them at once or else he would rescind his previous gift of sparing the young Hillmen’s life and consequently hurl the young man over the edge and into the deep defile. He must have ignored the man for the next thing he remembers is making his way past his stunned companions, rubbing shoulders with them as he sped on his way to the opposite end of the bridge, which was now in motion as it swung under the combined weight of the men.

Was his prayer to Varda answered just then? Perhaps; for if not how then did he manage to muster the courage to go on? He had suddenly found himself armed with a fresh spear and as such felt the gift of battle lust surge within him! His only thought then was to reach the far end of the bridge and to spill the blood of the two villains who stood alone as they watched him begin to draw near them where they stood. Once more he could hear the leader of the spearmen commanding him to return to them or the young man whom he had selected to preserve would die forthwith. But there could be no turning back then. Hunthor knew he must reach the far end of the bridge or else perish in the attempt.

With a great effort of will and body he began to make his approach to the other side of the open defile. The two guards must have been in a state of bewilderment for they did not act at once. The next thing he remembers happening was a verbal warning (in the common tongue for his benefit, evidently) from his companions from behind him on the bridge. When he craned his head back to ascertain the reason for the commotion. two men with axes were hacking away at the rope cords fastened to the former end of the chasm. They were intent on sending their end of the bridge into the abyss; that was clear. The spearmen were shouting instructions back and forth across the defile at each other with their hands cupped around their mouths for more volume.

“They will cut down their own end of the bridge! They have abandoned any hope of retrieving you now! They are committed to your death as well as ours!” This had been from one of the men standing close to him. He recalls telling the same fellow to follow close behind him and to urge his friends to do similarly.

Chop, chop went the sound of iron blades on wood and rope from behind as they continued to cut away at the thick cordage. Hunthor knew he could reach his opponents in time. The pair of guards had at last begun to take him as a serious threat, for the spirit of a fighting Dunedain in the heat of rage had finally begun to shine out from within his demoralized soul. As he got within twenty feet of the far end of the ropes one of the two spearmen began to plant himself firmly in place where the bridge fastened itself to the edge of the cliff face. The man had decided to make a stand for himself then while his companion imitated his comrades on the other side by hacking at the knotted ropes with an axe. In a few seconds either one, or indeed both ends of the bridge, would be cut by their blades and they all necessarily plummet to their deaths.

He knew then that there was not a moment to lose. He readied the spear in his hands, steadied his gaze hastily upon the guard who was busily hacking away at the ropes, and hurled the weapon with all the strength in him at the unwary victim. Twas not a hit mighty enough to slay the man but nevertheless the blade took a deep gash out of the man’s thigh, which was evidenced by a spray of blood from the wound leg. The fellow let out a deep cry of agony as he swung about, away from the ledge and rolled backwards, dropping into the snowy ground. At least the immediate danger of the bridge capsizing all at once was removed.

There was a new peril for them to reckon with then. The first of the arrows began to fly at them, for two of the guardsmen were archers and they pulled back their bowstrings and loosed their shafts at the prisoners clustered together in the center of the bridge, all of whom made easy targets for them. The first arrow was too low and was deflected off the wooden planking before falling down through the air below. The aim of second arrow proved to be true, alas, and it found its mark near enough when it ripped through one of the men’s shoulders before bouncing away into the chasm. The poor victim cried aloud, grabbed his bloody wound with his hand, fell to his knees and made an undesirable obstacle for his companions who still lingered behind him and eagerly wished to go forward. Soon afterwards two more arrows hissed through the air towards them. Again the first found only empty air, yet the second shaft was aimed with skill. It would certainly have buried itself in the chest of another man had not the victim raised up his arms in the last possible moment to protect his head from it. The end result had proved equally as dreadful, however, for the dart ricocheted off the mans’ forearm in a spray of blood causing the prisoner to lose his balance, teeter against the feeble roped railing before tumbling over the side and plummeting to his untimely demise. Yet before he had completely given way into the abyss he had made an involuntary grasp of desperation for the side of the bridge. This he did but only for a moment before beginning his death-fall. But the weight of his momentary grasp had caused the delicate bridge to shake and nearly roll over. This unfortunate side effect of the man’s fall proved to be the death knell for two more of his nearest companions, one of whom was the kneeling victim of the first arrow. Neither he nor his fellow tribesman beside him had the slightest of chances to regain their foothold on the wooden floor of the bridge. Once the structure had begun to shake and coil over both men were cast over the side like a pair of stones.

Hunthor had not seen any of this, however, and had only been told about it after the event; for he had been occupied with the armed spearman who had by then taken a full five steps out onto the bridge in order to skewer his opponent, for the man’s rage was up at this unlooked for turn of events. Hunthor was without a weapon to hand when the guard made no less than five ineffectual jabs with the pole arm at his unshielded torso. A sixth jab by his opponent managed to draw blood when it pierced Hunthor’s abdomen, yet the delivery of the blow had run out of thrusting room and only slightly punctured the skin.

The spearman had grown weary by then, for as soon as the bridge suffered its twisting rocking effects from the afore-mentioned Hillmen who had sought in vain to save himself the guard was forced to grab hold of the side ropes with his free hand to prevent his own fall. Thus for the brief few seconds that his limbs were disturbed from their concentrated attack Hunthor saw the opening he had been looking for and he acted upon it at once.

He found his footing in advance of his adversary and because of this he leaped forward and grabbed hold of the man’s hand that still somehow was able to maintain a hold of the pole arm. The man cursed in anger as he attempted his counter-maneuver by releasing his hold with his free hand upon the side ropes in order to lay hold of Hunthor’s neck with the intent of choking him; and thus they struggled for a few passing moments while behind them in the center of the bridge men were struggling or dying, or both at once.

Hunthor began to gasp then and even recalled feeling a fleeting sensation of panic as the man’s fingers increased their stranglehold upon his neck. A renewed sense of desperation gnawed away at his valor as it had before. But his nearest neighbor behind him at that moment, one of the Guant prisoners, was no craven or weakling himself, and he found his way beneath the two men’s upraised entangled arms and performed his own attack on the spearman in question by lunging at the fellow’s face, which was now entirely vulnerable. He succeeded in this and immediately began to gouge out the man’s eyes with his dirty fingernails.

Between facing two vengeful opponents with a taste for his blood and the peril of falling over the side of the bridge the guard knew he must retreat. He could not win that battle. Hunthor remembered feeling the man’s hands release his neck and with that very same hand ward off the Guantman’s probing fingers into his eye sockets. He still would not let go of his weapon, however, and seeing this, Hunthor managed to reach forward and grab hold of the wooden shaft to prevent the man using it again once he had cleared some space between them.

It was at that very moment in time when everyone’s life, those involved in the drama upon the bridge, nearly came to an abrupt end. The far end of the bridge collapsed at last! Both of the ropes that suspended each end of the bridge on the far side of the canyon had at last been cut through by the axes of Broggha’s Hillmen. With the brief sound of a twang as the rope was severed the entire span of the bridge began to fall downwards into nothingness until the ropes went taught again, whereupon the remaining span began its arced swing over to the opposing rock wall of the cliff. In this way more men met their death. Though all were in fear of just such a calamity befalling them none were ready for the physical effects of the instant sensation of freefalling. Two of the prisoners fell at once, their voices echoing across the open space of the mountains as they went down and down until they disappeared. Another man further up in line had the wit to grab hold of the side rope as the bridge collapsed and might very well have saved himself had not the man in front of him tumbled backwards and fell on top of the former causing them both to spill into the chasm, their bodies spinning in the misty air as they fell.

Everyone still alive and well enough to formulate enough thought to grab hold of the closest lifeline did so immediately. This included not only Hunthor and his enemy before him but also the Guant tribesman who had aided Hunthor as well as five other prisoners, all of whom clung for their very lives. They all braced for the imminent impact of their bodies against the adjacent cliff wall as the bridge, like the arc of a pendulum, swung speedily across. Those who were lower down on the loose end of the contraption could expect the impact to be the most severe.

The collision between man and rock; the sudden cessation of the swing; the dilapidated state of the bridge – all were factors in the deaths of three more men, all of whom were quite incapable of holding on under such conditions and henceforth plummeted down the near vertical mountain slope, their bodies bouncing off rock and stone as they went. The only aspect of that horrendous situation for Hunthor and his fellow prisoners was the fact that the swinging motion of the flailing bridge had caused the latter’s opponent to lose his balance, fall forward and join the crowd of the dead victims at the bottom of the foggy defile. Had he simply released his stubborn grasp of his spear that Hunthor still held against him he might have been able to save himself by retreating back up what was left of his end of the bridge. But it was not to be and thus he perished; an utterly forgotten man in the midst of a mountainous nowhere.

Hunthor and his few remaining companions held on for their very lives. Three brave Hillmen of the Guant tribe and one lone Dunadan; four weary spiders clinging to their dangling strands of webs above an unfathomable abyss at a towering height. A more unenviable predicament could hardly be envisioned. The remaining pair of rope cables could snap at any moment, for they were all that were suspending the bridge in the air by then. One of those two cables had already suffered damage by the initial blows of the remaining guard above, who was still reeling from Hunthor’s spear wound. He had not forgotten about the man above but had not the luxury of taking further action against him just then.

He looked down beneath his hanging feet to ascertain the severity of their plight. It was a mistake. The sight of all that empty air below him nearly made his head swim with dizziness. He was closest to the top and the only one with any hope at all of climbing up what was now a veritable wood-planked ladder tied together by ropes of coils. Just below his feet was the man who had rushed to his aid in the fight against the slain guardsman. That fellow seemed in relatively good standing at the moment as he had managed to brace himself from the full impact of the collision against the stones of the mountain side by kicking off with his sore feet. Yet the two who were down further still on the length of the hanging ladder-bridge seemed unable to hang on much longer, as both men had suffered cruelly when their bodies had slammed into the rocks on the downward swing of the bridge. Hunthor saw the nearer man look up at his companion, he being the fellow closest to Hunthor. He called up to his friend in a tired and painful voice, “The ropes of the bridge shall fail us in another moment or two, Frumgard,” Hunthor had heard him say to the other, his name now revealed to him. “They cannot hold all our weight for long!”

“We shan’t give up now!” replied Frumgard without much conviction. “Don’t let go, Waldafa! Wait a little more! Try to climb up to me!” The wooden floorboard that Frumgard’s companion still clung to was beginning to show signs of wear under the strain of his body weight. One other prisoner there was as well who hung below the former man from the dangling rope ends. Being unable to manage an upwards climb in his weakened state he began to kick backwards and forwards in order to cause the ropes to swing once more. So great was his panic that he had decided to attempt to restart the swinging motion again so that he might be able to grab hold with his feet upon some unseen purchase upon the face of the slope. The length of the bridge-turned-ladder began to swing again.

“Stop that, Boras!” cried Frumgard from further up the hanging bridge. “Cease that commotion at once! You’ll send us all down into the abyss! Boras! Do you hear?”

They heard the distant twang of the bowstrings of their enemies across the chasm. The hissing of the flying arrows, the clang of their iron-tips thudding into the rock of the mountainside. The volley was unsuccessful and another one was quickly sent their way. A scream of agony from Boras below. There was a feathered shaft lodged into the man’s thigh. His controlled swinging of the legs became an erratic convulsion of pain. Still he would not let go of his hold on the ropes. He seemed unwilling to give up. The sound of something cracking and tearing could be heard by them all then. The bridge could not hold them; that at least was now plain to them all. It was a mere question of timing by then...
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Celebrimbor32
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 10:52 pm

III.

More arrows hissed towards them. None connected with their intended targets this time around. Without informing either Hunthor or Frumgard what his purpose was Waldafa began to climb – downwards! When he reached the point where Boras still clung without hope to the lifeline he hesitated. He looked at Boras with sympathy, said to him in an apologetic tone, “I am sorry, my friend.” Though his body was rent with the pain of the arrow through his leg Boras looked with alarm into the eyes of Wildafa, who climbed down the last length of the hanging bridge and onto the same rope as his companion before reaching down to lay hold of the man’s coat collar, then finally his shoulders. Then to their great surprise and horror, lo! Wildafa let go of the rope, allowing himself to fall into the abyss below, dragging Boras with him to their mutual deaths.

The tension on the rope immediately lessened. Hunthor and Frumgard were the lone survivors of the group. They had no time to marvel at what they had just seen, for they too seemed likely to share the fate as their former companions unless they made it to the top of the ledge once again. Sensing this threy both began to scale up the wooden ladder in utmost haste. Fear of assault from the previously injured guard above them still seemed possible but they had to go on regardless. Their was no choice for it save for giving up and become more victims of the void.

Arrows whistled over their heads twice more. One was deflected away when it slapped off of a wooden plank near his head where he climbed. At length, and following tremendous physical toil, both men at last regained the safety of the upper ledge and the evel ground of the mountainside. Their had been no one their to accost them. The man had gone, though they knew not whither. The only trace of his presence was the hand axe that he had left behind in the snow which Frumgard quickly took possession of.

Hunthor stood still, stunned in disbelief. He had defied death once more! How many more times might he stave it off? Something in the back of his consciousness suggested that he had been designated for some greater purpose, an unknown errand he was expected to fulfill in the future perhaps; to dedicate his days to rescuing his son from the enemy. What other reason could there be for his preservasion amid such turmoil? For the moment he only knew that he was exhilarated and glad indeed to live another day. The thought of Vilthavia was at the foremost of his mind then and all material concerns of the moment shoved into the background. His dear and only son!

He turned round, looked back across the empty defile where their foes still lingered in doubt and defeat. They had been robbed of a Dunedain prisoner, a valuable prize for the likes of such rabble, he thought to himself. Their loss of him would rankle with them for some time; probably they would commence with the hunt immediately. He could see the foreman of the guards standing upon the brink, his hands firmly upon his hips in token of frustration. With their rope bridge now being demolished and hanging limply on the opposite end of the chasm they had effectively cut themselves off from their prey. In a burst of spontaneous enthusiasm Hunthor raised up his extended arm in token of defiance and had shouted aloud, “Vilthavia! For Vilthavia!”

Fortifying themselves for what lay ahead of them both men turned away from that high place and began their retreat into the mountains of mist. Together they followed a path that led downwards towards the south where they hoped they would strike lower ground and the severity of the cold air lessened, for they were still garbed in modest clothing. They had not gotten far when Hunthor’s companion saw that there were footprints in the snow flecked with red that looked to follow the same course as the one they had chosen. They lapsed into uneasy silence like a pair of wild hunters stalking a wounded stag that had gone into hiding.

Their search was a short one.

There he was, the villain! The previous guard whom they had battled up on the lip of the gorge was laying on his side nestled between two tall boulders on a wooded hillside. They approached him warily, saw that he was by then in a very bad way indeed. The leg that had suffered the wound from Hunthor’s spear thrust up on the bridge had torn cloth wrapped around it, probably from the man’s own pantleg, in order to curb the flowing of blood loss. He was growing weaker with every passing minute, the fellow’s face now as pale as the snow that he lay in.

When he realized that he had been found out at last by his pursuers he flinched and tried to scramble backwards further into the shadows. Frumgard was filled with a renewed rage at the sight of him and made to approach him with his new-found axe in hand but Hunthor stayed him by the shoulder, for he desired speech with their common enemy.

“It is no use hiding now,” he had told him in the dialect of the Gaunt Hillmen, it being the only one he was semi-fluent in. “You cannot get up to flee with that bad leg of yours. Therefore you must aid us in our escape from here. If you do so we shall leave you alone and will not slay you as you well deserve. But first tell us whither this path leads and if it will avail us to follow it or not.”

The wounded guard said nothing at first, his eyes darting from Huntor to Frumgard , the latter of whom he seemed to fear the most. But so intense was his hatred of all the Dunedain that he directed his reply to Frumgard in is own northern tongue so that Hunthor may not comprehend his words.

“I will not speak with this man, here,” he hissed, indicating Hunthor with a nod of his head. “An eternal shame upon you Gaunts for your alliance with these wicked folk! You betray your own kin by taking up arms against us in their company!”

“You are no kin to me!” snarled Frumgar. “Stay that foul tongue of yours with that talk or I shall cut it off before I slay you; and slay you I certainly shall if you refuse to aid us now!”

“You are a Gaunt, and thus you lie! Say rather that you will kill me whether I aid you or no! I am no fool.”

“Tell him,” said Hunthor to his companion, “that we will leave him in peace if he aids us by telling us whither this path leads. Tell him also that I will apply a more suitable bandage for his injury with the fabric of my own coat to stay his bleeding! Then he might live long enough for his friends to find him and save his pitiful life. Go on and tell him this.”

This was done. The man seemed unwilling to look Hunthor in the eye so great was his fear and loathing of him. Yet at length he revealed to them that the path they were on would lead them far away to the south for many’ miles before branching off in two directions at the foot of a tall barren cliff face. If they made it that far they were to choose the right-hand fork, which would lead them westwards towards lower ground and eventually out of the mountains. When Frumgard asked where the other fork of the path led the man seemed uncertain.

“I have not been as far down the other way,” he replied with an air of distraction, for the pain in his leg was very great. “Yet they tell me that it eventually becomes wider and leads up to a narrow ravine with high cliff walls on either side. There are folk laboring that way – they are building a new road up there.”

“Is there a means for your comrades on the other side of the chasm to collect you on this side?” Hunthor asked him by way of Frumgard. The man affirmed that indeed there was but the journey on foot, should they choose to do so, would take no less than half a day’s march. Yet it was the man’s opinion that they would not bother to conduct such a laborious errand simply to save a lone spearman’s life. Most likely they had assumed him dead by now. But Hunthor privately disagreed with him. Surely they might not bother to retrieve this pitiful fellow, he told himself inwardly then, but they would certainly come to fetch their escaped Dunadan back to them, for he seemed to possess some worth to them. Probably Broggha received some manner of ‘reward’ or special favors from Angmar for every Dunadan prisoner they could capture and send north to them.

“Ask him about my son,” Hunthor had said to him at last, for it was the one other question most dear to his heart. “Ask this man if he has any information regarding Vilthavia that may aid me. But do not reveal to him that I am his father, for it might tempt him to fabricate a lie.”

He was becoming more restless with the throbbing pain in his bloody leg by then and found it difficult to reply at first. Yet after some time he admitted he knew little of the boy save that he still lived and seemed to profit from favoritism by Ermegil, the renegade prince from Rhudaur and the young woman who was to become wed to him. Beyond that he knew nothing.

“We cannot linger here,” said Frumgard to Hunthor at last, pulling him aside. “Let us dispatch this villain quickly and take his clothes, for we shall need all we can get before we venture into the wilderness of the mountains. He and I are about the same height and girth and I badly need my own pair of boots if I am to make it out of here. What is more he has a knife which you may have, for I have already this axe. Come, Hunthor! Time runs on swiftly!”

There was little else to be done. Frumgar, he knew, was right. If they wished to survive as free men and be not captured once again they must leave immediately, despite their weariness. This spearman of Broggha’s court could not be permitted to live, for if he was found alive by his comrades it would only be a matter of time before they would be on their heels in hot pursuit.

“Aye,” said Hunthor at last, “he must die, that is plain. It is what he deserves, at any rate. We will take what we need from him and then proceed down this pathway, for I see no other way for us. Yet at the first chance we must leave that path and strike out on our own upon a new course.”

Both men grit themselves for the impending execution of the wounded Hillman but when they began to approach the man’s little dugout between the boulders they suddenly heard the hollow sound of a wooden horn being blown by the man! It was not exceedingly voluminous, for the man had little air left in him to wind the instrument, but it might very well be loud enough for any of his companions to hear should any be lurking nearby at unawares. Even as they hurried back to him the echoes of the sound could be heard returning back to them from afar.

It had been enough to incense Frumgard and straightaway he rushed back to the guard with his axe raised on high and slew the man on sight. Still cursing aloud he called to Hunthor to aid him in stripping the man of his essentials. Yet no sooner had they begun to lay hands on their victim they stopped short upon hearing an answering call from a similar horn off in the distance.

An ominous circumstance now presented itself to them. Ere long the man’s companions would fall upon the immediate scene and undertake to track them both down in the wild. They must both flee at once or else suffer the consequences. There was no time to strip the man of his clothing, and this was greatly lamented by Frumgard especially, for he had little to protect himself from the harsh environment they would soon be facing together save his flimsy clothing he had worn since his time as a prisoner and a pair of ragged shoes. These, at least, he had determined to replace, and he violently tugged at the dead man’s boots as he removed them and slipped his own sore feet inside them.

Taking the man’s knife and sheath Hunthor quickly led the way down the steep path that wound around the circumference of that imposing mountainside. The path twisted this way and that with a high wall of jagged rocks and here and there a patch of evergreen glades whose treetops began to grow dimmer in the increasing mist that seemed to grow ever thicker the further downwards they went. Finally both men had agreed that they must strike out upon a self-made trail of their own, for they feared an impending encounter with a patrol from Dol Agwarth at any moment.

At Hunthor’s urging both men quickly lapsed into silence as they went on, only daring to communicate with one another with hand signals or by imitating the quick poignant chirps of bird calls whenever the distance between them had lengthened during their march of subterfuge. They had soon found it tough going without a definite path to follow, for they had gone on for less than an hour when the trees had nearly failed altogether leaving them entirely exposed not only to the elements but to the eyes of potential spies. They were still traversing a descending slope of varying degrees and angles and their course was erratic. Yet they had been going downwards and that was good. With their shock and delight at their escape from the ruined bridge finally giving way their attention was sharpened and their wits ever more clear the further down they went. The immediate sense of worry for them then was the cold. Hunthor seemed unable to stop shivering, he recalled. The wind was not strong at that point for they seemed to have made their way in between a pair of towering mountaintops that acted as a sort of wind-screen for them, and that too was good. Yet the mist seemed to deepen the further downwards they went until at last Hunthor, who was ever in the lead, motioned to Frumgard that they must needs call a halt to their march as the way before seemed unclear and excessively foggy.

“Nay, let us go on and clear away from here,” he had said to Hunthor as he swept his gaze far out and abroad in an attempt to pierce the heavy mists that hung in the air. “We are still too close to where we escaped and I fear the presence of our enemies. Now that I have proper boots on my bleeding feet I wish to be away whatsoever the risk.”

“We are still high up, Frumgard,” he replied to him then. “I can still feel the height of the altitude in my head, for I am weary indeed. Dusk falls upon the mountains soon and I fear what may happen should we make a misstep in this fog – especially so for me as I am bereft one good eye to see by! The Misty Mountains are worthy of their namesake and demand one’s respect.”

“Aye, I hear you, and I sympathize with your handicap. But these mountains are home to wolves and bears, to say nothing of our pursuers, mind you. I, too, am weary but the mere thought of capture and a return to the dungeons of Broggha and his minions are incentive enough for me to forge ahead a while longer. Let us rest for a brief spell than go on again, I beg.”

“I hold it an ill council, my friend,” he rejoined, “and I am loath to imagine what may happen if we stumble in the fog at the wrong moment. See here? Do you feel that westerly draft against your face? There is a vast open expanse of air that way; I can feel it; probably another chasm. Let us rest our feet a while here then we may finish our descent down this open hillside until we reach that little grove of pinewood down there where we might hide ourselves til morning.”

Frumgard glanced down in the direction Hunthor had been pointing at; shrugged his shoulders and instead maintained his objection by informing his companion that the aforementioned grove of trees lay to the north, not to the west or south where they purposed to go.

“The labor of going so far out of the way is unwise,” he reasoned. “Our strength has waned since the drama up on the bridge and shall continue to do so the longer we remain up here. We have no food for sustenance – in case you have forgotten it.”

“You need not remind me of it, Frumgard! Yet I deem that one more full day’s march shall bring us to lower altitudes where we might the more easily uncover a mountain spring that is fed by some of this run-off snow. Then we may slake our thirst and perhaps even our hunger as well if we happen to catch some fish or hunt down a wild hare or other such animal.”

“We have no bow or arrows for that,” objected Frumgard.

“We may make our own spears then!” he had returned stubbornly then. “We must be resourceful if we hope to survive this ordeal.”

“My heart warns me against it, Hunthor. We will do better to persevere now while our strength holds and depart at once. I hate these mountains and hope never again to see them up close! You have your coat and trousers, I have these new boots. Let us utilize our good fortune and get on with meeting our destiny, whatever it may be!”

“I believe one chooses one’s own destiny; or at the least may wield influence on it before the end. Those boots of yours shall not save you in the end, for warm feet upon a dead man is about as much use as a leaky barge is to a waterman.”

“I might as easily proclaim that the cock who seeks to roost outside the wolf’s lair cannot expect to live long enough to announce the dawn,” said Frumgard. “But come, come! Let us not linger here in debate. We have survived too many trials thus far, you and I, to risk recapture now. By all rights we should be dead right now, our lifeless and broken bodies laying down in the distant bottom of that abyss alongside our companions. Yet we live on – almost as if we were meant to by the Gods of the West! What other purpose might there be for our unlikely survival thus far? Surely you can see my view of it! We are still too close to our enemies here... Nay, I fear I must insist that we press on with one more march for the evening. Then we shall rest.”

Hunthor did not reply at once but took a moment to observe his surroundings then. To their backs, eastwards, there was the mountainside they had just traversed. To the south the land looked to tumble downwards in uneven rocky steps that were still partially covered with patches of snow here and there. He could see in that direction as far as perhaps one mile as the crow flies, whereupon the succeeding terrain visible to him became obstructed by another mountainside dotted with forests of evergreen; always more evergreens! Firs, pine, larch and spruce. They were still too high up for the more common sycamores, elms and oaks that they would have preferred to see. It was their wish to head west at the speediest opportunity yet the way forward looked well-nigh impassable, it being marked by a long and jagged ridge that rose up like a giant rocky wall. The way to the north seemed the most plausible to him as he took in the vast expanse of open scenery. It sloped downwards rather steeply but presented many slender trees and wild bushes upon its slope one might use as hand-holds to steady their footsteps on their decent. It was also the direction of the woods that he, Hunthor, wished to make for. In the end he reluctantly yielded to Frumgard’s will. They gathered themselves up once more and began another pathless push forward towards the south...
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Mon Dec 29, 2014 10:15 am

IV.
The mist seemed to increase with every step they took then. Seeing Hunthor’s doggedness Frumgard passed his companion by and assumed the lead, patting Hunthor on the shoulder for encouragement as he did so. Their visibility lessened considerably by the time they succeeded in reaching the bottom of what turned out to be another defile, though not as deep as the one they had escaped from before. This achievement alone, as Hunthor reckoned it afterwards, was worthy of the highest merit, for the mist had become considerably thick and ere long neither man could see the other.

Upon finally reaching the floor of the ravine Hunthor offered up a silent prayer of thanks to the Valar for their deliverance, as they had been forced to go on much farther than they had foreseen before setting out.

There was little or no wind at all at the bottom and the very air itself seemed thick and heavy in the fog and it made both men uncomfortable and nervous. By then dusk was nearly upon them and Hunthor at last refused to go on much longer, insisting that they begin a search for an appropriate campsite. They were in a rugged valley of some sort; of that they were sure. The ground beneath their feet seemed more stable now, it consisting of patches of frost-covered turf-grass and high bushes. Loose stones of considerable size and girth sat strewn about at random, some nearly twice as tall as a man giving the impression that it may have very well been that they had once, at some distant time in the past, fallen from a very great height.

“Look at all of this, will you!” remarked Frumgard in wonder, his head craning back and forth “It is like some kind of giant rock garden – a Garden of the Gods, if you will!”

“Yes,” replied Huthor almost in a whisper, for the voice of his companion seemed to be magnified considerably in that eerie place. “I have never seen it’s like before. But pray hold your voice down, I beg!”

But Frumgard seemed preoccupied with his wonderment to take much heed of his warning.

“Oi! Look here, Hunthor! Hunthor! Hey, there you are! Stay close!”

“Silence, fool!” The sudden use of his name cried aloud sent a rush of anger down his back then, for his name was now well known among all their enemies back at Broggha’s castle. If there were any spies of any kind nearby, whether man or beast, they would surely know him by it.

“Do not say that again! Hold that tongue of yours!”

The urgency in his companion’s voice made Frumgard spin around to confront him. After a momentary pause he asked him in a hoarse whisper what it was that he was so worried about.

“Need I even say?” demanded Hunthor angrily. “Speak not each other’s name aloud in such a place! Do not forget that we are still being pursued by foes.”

“But you must look over yonder!”

He remembers vividly the unfolding scene. Following the direction his companion had been pointing at Hunthor turned his head to the east (or was it north? Or perhaps west? They could scarcely tell by then). They could both see through a momentary lapse in the fog, or a brief pocket of open air, what looked to be a giant square-shaped block of well-sculptured stone not more than a few dozen yards away from where they stood. It seemed highly unusual that such an object would be present here in a remote place such as the one they were in then. Both the travelers were consumed with a strange curiosity at the sight of it and when they drew closer to the square stone, lo! It was in fact the base of what appeared to be a tall stone obelisk that was laying on its side.

“God’s folly!” exclaimed Frumgard, already forgetting to maintain a low voice. “I should not have expected this!”

“Quiet, I say!” snarled Hunthor, instinctively looking over both shoulders for eavesdroppers in the dark. Unable to hold his tongue, Frumgard again spoke in a whisper.

“It looks like a large obelisk of some kind that has fallen to the ground!”

“Or else has been toppled deliberately,” observed Hunthor astutely as he waved away the floating mist in his face. “Look at the base of it. The masonry is utterly crumbled and shorn apart. No weather pattern could have sent this sturdy monument to the valley floor.”

“Deterioration perhaps?”

“Not likely. I think it was cast to the ground by some unknown force. See there! The ground rises upwards in the direction it has fallen. If the natural deterioration of time had caused it to fall it would have done so in the opposite direction. Besides that this particular structure is not as old as the other stones around us; nor is cut from the same rock as the rest. I believe that it was brought here to this valley at a much later date. Nay, I think it was toppled over by intent – or else pulled down by many hostile hands.”

“We can only but wonder why,” said Frumgard in a hushed voice. “A heavy thing indeed to pull to the ground.”

“A team of thirty or forty strong-armed men pulling on a rope tied to its peak might achieve it easily enough.”

“Broghha!”

“It would be my guess as well,” said Hunthor wistfully. “Perhaps during one of his many marches of conquest through these mountains. Yet all the same there are no signs of defacement anywhere that I can see in this half-light. The smooth face of the monument was left undamaged.”

“I hear you,” replied Frumgar. “But that man is no more than a wicked beast. It would irk him to know that there was a monument such as this one here standing tall and proud that was not erected to pay homage to him alone. He would want it cast to the ground.”

Both men stood close together as they huddled over the giant limestone monument. Neither spoke for some time as they began to move about both sides of it in a last gasp of inspection before the creeping dusk made it too dark to for closer scrutiny.

“At last!” hissed Hunthor, who had dared to climb on top of the smooth stone surface of the obelisk for closer observation. He had not lost his sense of caution, nor had his shivering subsided any with his cold, but his innate sense of curiosity would not let him leave without making a brief attempt at unravelling this mystery. “There are markings here,” he observed aloud, then repeated himself when Frumgard could not hear him. “I see an inscription in the face of the stone! I cannot read the runes well in this gloom but they look to be in an ancient script used by the high men of old; certainly of Westernesse judging by the manner of its symbols.”

“What sort of ‘high men’ do you mean?”

“The Dunedain, naturally; my kin of old.”

“I see not why they must be regarded as ‘high men’, as you say,” objected Frumgard, though not unkindly. “Unless one refers to their physical stature. They were taller than most, if that is what you mean. Otherwise they were not very different from we Hillmen.”

He had no wish to argue with Frumgard then and instead dismissed the matter with an errant wave of his hand, preferring instead to concentrate on the inscriptions in the stone.

“I wish that I might read them but alas I cannot,” said Hunthor. “But wait a moment! I see names inscribed here. Aye! Here in the old Adunaic tongue; these are names of men long gone! Perhaps they were the architects and masons who erected this monument so long ago. Curse this murky half-light! I desire to unravel the mystery of this place but cannot – not right now.”

He leaped gently back down to the ground and continued his inspection of the great stone, hoping to learn anything that might be of interest to him or aid them in their plight. Upon closer inspection he felt reasonably sure that the frontispiece of the mighty pillar was that side currently laying downwards into the dust of the ground, making it mostly impossible to read any runes or inscriptions thereupon.

“Many of these smaller stones look like standing stones arrayed together in a pattern,” said Frumgard as quietly as his noisome voice would allow. “Yes. There are inscriptions on these smaller stones as well. I think we have wandered into an old graveyard.”

“No, I think not,” answered Hunthor from atop the obelisk. “The ground is too rocky and the soil too hard and shallow for the burials of the dead, nor do I see any signs of ancient cairns.”

“Then what could its purpose be?”

“If I knew the answer to that I would have told you already. I know not its purpose nor who exactly made it. Yet whoever the people were who put these here I am sure that it was a very long time ago, for it looks very ancient; perhaps from the previous age of our world or even the one before that.”

“Eh? What age would that be?” asked Frumgard, who was probably ignorant of Middle-earth’s long history. But Hunthor offered him no explanation then as he climbed back down from the structure.

Squinting his remaining eye he strode slowly over to one of the rows of standing stones. Most were no more than chest high and he chose one at random and squatted down to bring his eye close up to it, for the combination of the heavy fog and growing dusk made everything exceedingly difficult to see. Like the great limestone obelisk most of the smaller stones were also of a sedimentary origin, yet they were mostly of a whitish appearance. The sound of a wolf’s high-pitched rising call could be heard piercing the remote wilderness somewhere far off in a direction that neither man could be sure of then. The beast’s howl rose to a fevered note than quickly wavered between two intervals before dying away. To hear that dreaded call anywhere in the wild landsof Middle-earth would send a chill down many a traveler’s spine. Yet to hear it then, in such a hallowed distant region, seemingly forgotten by all that go about on two legs, was enough to root both men to the ground where they stood.

“That sounded closer than I should like it,” remarked Frumgard.

“The beast cannot be very close really. Not less than a good eight to ten miles as the crow flies, I would guess.” He was aware by then that Frumgard seemed to be especially fearful of wolves, for the man had mentioned the peril of them more than once since they had left the path to forge a new one of their own.

“You don’t really know that for sure,” said the Hillman nervously. “These mountains play tricks on the ears with their echoes. If the beast is not alone we may be scented by them at length, for the wolf is a cunning creature and may detect the presence of…”

Another cry from somewhere in the wild similar to the first interrupted him, though. It was certainly a wolf yet not the same one as before, for the call came from a different location. Frumgard at once felt compelled to point this out to him despite it being plainly obvious.

“Calm yourself, my friend,” he tried to reassure him. “Those calls were certainly from two different animals, I admit, but both are far away. You must accustom yourself to such sounds out here, for we are still, as I said earlier, high up and have a way to go ere we tread the ways of the habitations of men. I myself am far more worried by this accursed mist. See how heavy and thick it is, Frumgard! I have never beheld it’s like before!”

He waved his hand back and forth in the air slowly and watched the mist succumb to the motion of his movement as if it were a sort of solid form, parting for an instant between his hands only to immediately rejoin itself. He had experienced heavy fogs before in many places of the western world during his long travels but none had surpassed that heavy floating vapor. He recalls most keenly the way the very fog itself seemed to take on a sort of determined, almost menacing existence as it wafted about the valley floor. It had surely begun to increase in its density in the last several minutes since their arrival to that strange and silent place. It had begun to dawn on him then that it was not a natural occurrence. It was almost as if it were being drawn to the area by their very presence.

“Hunthor! Are you here? Where have you gone?”

“I am still here,” he answered with forced reassurance.

“You are right, the mist is changing! It becomes as thick as smoke in places!”

“Keep your voice low, I said!”

“We are as intruders here,” said Frumgard. “We would do well to leave at once!”

“No. That would be unwise! The mist is too thick.”

“This is a haunted place, Hunthor! The men of old have cursed it. We should not be here!”

“Nonsense.”

Certainly he himself wished to escape from the clutches of the Misty Mountains and to be nearly anywhere else just then would have been preferable to wandering lost in that wilderness. But he had felt his initial anxiety of that place beginning to lift away from his heart. It began to puzzle him extremely, and he began to marvel at the strange arrangement of ancient boulders lying about. He no longer had any lingering doubt that they had all been set in their positions with purpose by an unknown host of masons at some point in the remote past of the world.

It was then that he noticed a yellowish point of light begin to materialize in the air, seemingly out of nowhere, just off to his right no more than a couple dozen yards distant. Curiosity, more so than fear, compelled him to investigate it closer, for the longer he stared at it the more refined and clear it revealed itself to him to be coming from a tall standing stone. Something out of the ordinary was occurring then, of that there could be no doubt. He knew he had to ascertain the origins of the glow and, with a brief word to Frumgard to remain where he was, Hunthor began to pace slowly over to the mysterious entity.

He waved away what fog he could from his sight and strode warily towards the light source. Ten
feet, then only five; he found himself transfixed by the glow emanating from the stone now a mere three feet away from him. He felt the exigency of his curiosity and the wonder of such a happenstance in so a remote location get the best of him; turning away from it by then was impossible.

At last he knew.

As if obeying some unspoken command the mist began to part and give away around him and him alone. He gazed at a tall standing stone nearly as tall as an elf-lord, its sides upon its vertical length merged to a pointed edge from bottom to top where the latter culminated in a common point in the manner of a serpent’s fang. Upon its face Hunthor could see a multitude of runes and indecipherable inscriptions laid out in straight rows, all of which swelled randomly with their yellowish lights that were inlaid into the boring of the epigraphic writing.

He was transfixed by it and could say nothing for some time to his companion that still waited for him to reappear back in the heavy fog. It was then that Hunthor finally noticed that the sky above his head was now visible to him and he turned his sight upwards at once. To his amazement the stars were visible again along with a shining moon, its bright light shining down from the east into the very valley that the two wanderers roamed in then. The moonbeams were in perfect accordance with the proximity of the headstone that Hunthor had been marveling at, the light from old Tilion in the sky prompting the ancient stones to give off their illumination.

He had been in the right place at precisely the right time for once!
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Mon Feb 23, 2015 12:35 pm

V.

Hunthor remained in that foggy valley of stones for two days and two nights and did not feel the need for food or drink. Even the mountain cold seemed unable to effect him. Therefore the notion of departing, of fleeing for his life, had never entered into his mind. He simply felt no need for it, to run off into the wildness of the Misty Mountains at the first sign of any trouble; of roaming wolves that might track him down by scent to tear him apart, or that the heavy fog that had rolled into the valley would be anything other than a benign natural occurrence of nature. When the numerous standing stones around him began to shimmer and glow with a strange yellow light he somehow knew that he need not fear them, and that both the stones and the mysterious glowing lights were inextricably linked to the mists that had begun to blanket the valley. They were there to aid him, not accost him.

Why had Frumgard not believed him? He had tried to warn the man, to assuage his nerves and calm him so that even he, a simple Hillman of the highlands, could reap some benefit from the healing vapors of the valley. He had even given the place a name in the elven tongue: ‘Imraith Nestadren’, the ‘Valley of Healing.’ He had called out to his companion, to inform him of the name he had chosen but the man was gone; simply vanished! To leave the valley in order to conduct a search for the man was out of the question. He would not throw his own life away in order to save a fool.

On the eve of the third night in that hallowed place it finally came into Hunthor’s mind to grid himself for what he hoped would be the last stage of his flight from the mountains. It took every ounce of his self-discipline to convince his spirit that he must leave Imraith Nestraden and begin the long trek on foot that would ultimately lead to his prolonged life - or death.

It had not taken very long for Hunthor to feel the difference from being in the valley and making his exit from it. The coolness of the mountain air on his face upon entering the first of several clearings made his wrap his old coat tight about him. It was the first time he had felt a stiff wind on his face in nearly four days, and he found that he did not miss the sensation at all.

The second harbinger that tough times were in store for him then was the sensation beneath his very feet. Looking down at them as he walked along an open field that was lined with shallow pockets of snow he noticed that small holes were developing along the seams of the leather stitching. They were but meager prison shoes that had been given him by his cruel captors during the days of his confinement in Dol Agwarth. He knew his feet would last longer than his footwear, yet there was nothing to be done about it. He must make the best of what he had. Therefore, to compensate for the worn soles, Hunthor seized a handful of what grass he could find around him and stuffed it inside both shoes so as to provide him with greater comfort before going on.

Lastly was his concern for the possibility of becoming hopelessly lost. That, he knew, was where the main danger lay. Any real chance of ultimate escape from the Misty Mountains lay upon his ability to maintain his firm cognizance of direction in the wild. Indeed it may be that his entire life of living day in and day out in the great open spaces of Middle-earth, of his many collected days of traveling abroad, chiefly alone, have culminated in leading up to this very moment; in his knowledge and ability to remain calm and rational in the face of the great burden that lay on his shoulders. As great as the torment had been at the hands of Broggha and his men while being tortured in their dark dungeons, it would not be so great as what he would suffer now if he made ill choices.

His thoughts turned back to Frumgard again as he traversed another mild slope along a descending ridge. Guilt of his abandonment began to weigh on him. Ought he to have tried looking for him before departing the area surrounding the valley? How could he have conducted such a search anyway? He had checked the ground for his companion’s footprints, found nothing of any use and knew not else what to do. He had pleaded with the Hillman to remain in Imraith Nestraden but Frumgard had chosen flight instead. It had been Frumgard whom had abandoned Hunthor, not the opposite. He forced the memory to the back of his consciousness and directed his attention back to his hike.

His memory of the next two days quickly grew dim and faded in his mind soon afterwards. Little of anything had happened to him as he walked and walked, all the while growing steadily weary. He blessed the good fortune that had brought him to that valley of healing, for without reaping the benefits from it he could not have come this far. Indeed, considering how he had felt before the discovery of Imraith Nestraden, his present physical state was far from bad. True, he had begun to feel the first pangs of hunger by then, but at least there were the occasional mountain springs to slake his thirst. What was more the wound he had sustained in his abdomen from the bridge guard’s spear thrust was healing well, and his empty eye socket, which had plagued him with incessant throbbing beforehand, seldom bothered him now.

On the third day of his descending walk he began to notice that his pace was slowing. His feet, always a bother to him by then, began to grow ever more colder forcing him to rest often in order to remove his shoes and message his aching toes. What was more he could no longer deny to himself that he had begun to enter into a kind of half-starving condition of the body that turned his thoughts ever more to finding food. He had kept the feeling at bay for many days now but at last it could no longer be ignored either by the body or the mind. He must redirect his thoughts for the foraging of food soon or else risk the opportunity that his strength would fail him ere he ever reach the lower foothills of the mountains.

The evening of the fourth day the weather, which had been kind to him since his departure from Imraith Nestraden, at last turned inclement. He remembered walking through sparse strands of evergreens and using them for temporary shelter while a cold misty rain shower made its way slowly across the region, gradually soaking his tattered coat and pants. His shoes he was forced to remove and hide them in the folds of his coat while he rested there and rubbed his feet, for if his shoes were allowed to become wet they would only hasten the effects of the encroaching frostbite he began to fear so much in the back of his mind. Without the ability to walk he was finished; it really was that simple. He was utterly alone in that remote region of the world. There would be no one around to rescue him this time.

The morning of the fifth day brought about the first sign of wild game that he had seen in a while. He had wakened from a fitful slumber in the relative shelter of the pinewoods just as a gray dawn fell over the mountains when he heard a kind of guttural clucking noise from just out beyond the edge of the wood. Peering outwards he saw a small cluster of wild turkeys foraging for food in a small field of shrubs and turf-grass. The sight of them in his famished plight made tears spring to his one remaining eye. They were not tears of joy but rather of frustrated anguish. Of what use was such a gift from the Valar to him? He had no bow, no arrows or javelins to slay them with. He was physically weakened after nearly seven days alone in the mountains. True, he still had his long knife that he had taken from the slain guard the week before up on the bridge but what of it? The creatures would hear his approach and immediately take to flight! He crouched down and stared helplessly at them through the cover of the trees. He tried to imagine the taste of their meat in his mouth and the feeling of joy and relief he would experience knowing that his belly was not wholly empty. In a fit of rage and despair he emerged from the wood and charged the flock of turkeys with a battle cry, his dagger held aloft tightly in his hand.

To his surprise not all of them flew off in a panic. There were a select few who merely squawked aloud as they flapped their wings in an evasive manner, fleeing by way of their thin little legs. These few Hunthor wasted no time in pursuing, his dagger held outwards for the kill. In another day or place he might very well have succeeded in snatching up one of the birds by way of such a weapon and in such a manner. But he had grown too weak. If any other folk had been present to bear witness to him then they might have laughed or else shaken their heads in pity. Round in circles he went, slashing at the air with his knife as the turkeys evaded his blows on foot for several minutes before at last relying on the safety of the air to put the miserable man well out of their reach. Then they were gone.

Around mid-afternoon on the following day, it being the seventh of his torturous adventure, Hunthor descried the first sizable mountain stream he had seen up to that point. It ran quick and heavy downwards around jutting rocks in mid-stream and went in a westerly direction – the way he had purposed to go! His thirst being very great he had been determined to drink from it. Yet he was looking downwards upon it from a significant height. He stood along a rocky slope with small brown leafless trees poking out from the side of the cliff half way down. To his best estimate the bottom of the ravine lay below him no less than one hundred and fifty feet, perhaps a little more. If he were in a state of prime physical fitness, such as he had been only six month ago, he would be more than capable of making the climb downwards, despite its steep grade. Yet the case was altered considerably on that occasion. He doubted his legs were capable of taking him down the slope without collapsing on the way, the result of which would be a nasty tumble and fall. It might very well finish him off.

He decided in the end to wait a while; perhaps one more day would be all he needed for his spirit to refresh itself and conjure up the strength he knew he would need in order to make the necessary climb down into the ravine. The risk would be less that way. What was more he needed time to sit and think about his next course of direction. His heart yearned to go ever west towards the lands of his old home in Rhudaur. Yet there could be no way for certain that the stream below would lead him to a navigable exit down into the lower elevations that he sought. Quite the contrary, perhaps. Following such an unknown mountain stream might very well be treacherous and lead him to disaster.

As he stood standing at the lip of the ridge lost in contemplation he noticed a high-flying bird of prey gliding in concentric circles directly overhead in the company of another larger bird that could hardly be mistaken for anything but a vulture of some kind. It did not take him more than a moment or two to ascertain that he himself was their concentrated axis. He had taken notice of them the day before towards the end of his daily march but had not placed any importance on them. Now, however, the case was altered. Their continued presence over his head was a clear indication not just to the wild beasts that roam the valleys and hilltops of the mountains in search of prey but also would send an indication to his two-legged foes, should any exist in the wild, that something out of the ordinary was afoot and required further investigation.

Hunthor cursed aloud, branding them as a pair of miserable spies. Had they opted to fly over him at a lower altitude he would have seized a stone and hurled it at them out of revenge but they were too high. The gesture would be useless. Therefore he chose to remove himself from their field of vision by burrowing himself in between a fallen spruce tree and a pair of half submerged boulders that lay just within the edge of another patch of tall thin pine trees with bare trunks until the two carrion birds might see fit to abandon their surveillance of him. There he sat in a low crouched position, his coat closed tightly around him as he shivered with cold and occupied his weary mind with thoughts of his son Vilthavia and where he might be at the moment. He would have given his one remaining eye to know that Vilthavia was alive and well and being looked after well enough by that turncoat uncle of his, Urlavia, Broggha’s latest addition to his personnel. He hated the man, to be sure, but he did not believe that Urlavia had any true evil in him; that is to say a natural inclination to do harm. Instead he regarded him as a lowly rogue and villain who cared only for his own interests and well-being. Yet all the same that was not to say that Urlavia should escape punishment. The man had, ultimately, looked him square in the eye and denied his association and kinship with him in order to ingratiate himself to Broggha, setting into motion a chain of subsequent events that led to his own confinement and torture. What was worse is that he bore the responsibility for refusing Vilthavia an escort back down the eastern side of the Misty Mountains after his son had pleaded with him for a guide to lead him back down to safety. If it were not for him, his own former brother-in-law, Vilthavia might very well be back home in Rhovanion right now in the company of his mother. Aye! For that reason alone the man deserved to die. He swore to himself over and over again that should he somehow manage to escape the clutches of the Misties he would make it his life’s unceasing errand to find his son again and ultimately see to it that Urlavia was given what he rightly deserved.
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Wed Mar 04, 2015 11:14 am

VI.

There were voices in his head; harsh voices that were calling to him from afar. He had fallen asleep, that much was certain. He could not recall when he did so, for he had been at the point of exhaustion, his mind unable to form or process a coherent thought without interrupting itself. He might still be asleep still if it were not for the voice shouting at him from within. What were they trying to say to him? He could not understand them, either because they were too distant or else were employing a foreign tongue that he did not know.

Then his dreams blended into reality, the voices becoming a living dream. Hunthor opened his eyes as he sat up from where he had been resting against a dead tree trunk and a pair of partially submerged boulders embedded into the side of the wooded slope that he had been using for shelter. All around him was a world of dim and gray shadows. It was nearly dark. He felt confused and disoriented as one may be when the body has reached a level of fatigue that persists in clinging to the healing properties of sleep, refusing the commands from one’s head to awaken.

It took him a long moment to recall to mind that he was somewhere in the Misty Mountains, locked in a struggle with life itself against the merciless hands of the wild. There was no longer any way for him to know where he was in proximity to where he had already been. A sensation of temporary panic seized him and he was uncertain of what to do.

More voices in the gloom, voices whose nature he couldn’t ascertain. Who were they and of what racial origin? Their voices were masculine, that much was certain, almost bestial in their primal inflections, but how many were they? At least two, maybe more. The tone of their voices were deep and guttural, more like wild beasts that spoke with words than actual men, if men they were. One thing he felt sure of, beyond all doubt, especially in that dark environment of strange places, was that whoever it was they could not be any manner of folk he wished to meet up with. His instincts told him to stay out of sight and wait for them to depart.

Thus despite the uncomfortable cold of the ground and sense of confinement he felt then he burrowed back down between the fallen trunk of the dead tree and the stones around it as he fought off the fear that hung over his spirit. Feeling that his hair and coat were wet he extended his open palm outwards and quickly learned, much to his disappointment that it had begun to snow – perhaps for the first time in the last several days. It only intensified his misery, for now he would leave a trail of footprints in his wake wherever he went.

Hunthor would never again take the mountains for granted! It was a lonely place to be without companionship. He regretted the loss of Frumgard extremely, his temporary friend of two days. He had never felt so alone in his life, not even in the dungeons of Broggha had he been so lonely. He waited, he listened and he shivered with cold - always the cold! It never left him by then - was his constant source of companionship. It was also like a great weight on his blackening mood, threatening to pull him down into a deep well of despair that, once in the bottom of it depths, would prove impossible to climb out of again. His hands and feet had not been warm in days by then and his nose and ears reddened with the first signs of frostbite. How much longer could he endure it all? His life was ebbing away from him, of that he could deny no longer. He remembers thinking at that time that he almost wished he were back in Dol Agwarth as a prisoner confined to his cell. At least then he had a roof over his head, food twice a day (pathetic though it had been) and most of all he had been in close proximity with Vilthavia, his devoted son. May the Valar watch over the boy!

He had been close to drifting off into an unintentional sleep again when the noise of the strangers again reappeared in the distance after having fallen silent for some time. He listened intently for several moments, determining at length that, whoever it may be, they were busy occupying themselves by cutting down tree limbs.

They were down at the bottom of the ravine! Aye, he was sure of it! For the moment he was safe since he remembered that he had taken note before dusk had settled in that the bottom of the defile was no less than sixty or seventy feet below where he had laid hidden. He needed to catch a glimpse of who these folk might be in order to make a well-informed decision as to what to do after he had regained a little of his strength.

So he emerged from his hiding place into the black world of the Misty Mountains at night. He did not dare to risk walking about in the darkness upon that high path above the drop-off that he knew was close by so instead he lay on his belly and crawled like a serpent in the snow and grass until he reached what he felt to be the upper rim of the cliff. He felt his body grow colder as he proceeded in this manner but there was nothing else for it. It was the only safe method of making progress in the middle of the night in so high a place. He forced himself to go on. At last he made it! He had crawled to the edge of the cliff and was able at last to discern who his uninvited guests were.

Trolls!

There could be no doubt about it. Only once before in his life had he beheld such creatures as these and immediately the memory of that previous time unfolded before his mind as he lay there staring down at them in horror and disgust. It had been at least a half dozen years beforehand when he descried a single lone troll lumbering along in a wood at what seemed to be a great pace – almost as if he were in the middle of a hunt for his prey; perhaps a deer or wild stag that he had marked while on his way to wherever it was he had wanted to go. That time he had been in the company of a pair of his fellow Rangers that had accompanied him on a journey through the southern confines of his native Rhudaur. That particular troll he had seen from half a mile away and as such at no great risk of crossing paths with the monster. This time, however, the situation was markedly different. He was utterly alone and his body cold and fatigued like no other time in recent memory. He had no possessions remaining to him save his long knife, his coat and the clothes on his back. He could not possibly hope to survive in any ensuing melee with these brutes should he find himself unfortunate enough to be engaged in one.

They were hideous to look upon. He was close enough this time around to actually make out their physical features. There were three trolls in total. He knew little of these foul creatures save what he had read and heard about them from books and tales he had heard either in Rhudaur or in Cardolan. There were three basic races of trolls in the western world – the forest troll, the hill troll and the cave troll. He had always heard that the cave dwelling variety had enjoyed the reputation of being the most evil-natured and violent of the three. Yet to encounter any manner of troll at any given time was to be considered a great misfortune. Trolls were to be avoided at all times whenever possible unless in the company of well-armed and experienced warriors in large numbers who knew how to deal with such foul folk.

Hunthor felt unable to take his eye off the scene that unfolded below him down in the ravine. Indeed, despite his revulsion at their presence so close by he was almost transfixed with them, all of whom were busily engaged in breaking apart assorted tree limbs to use as kindling for a fire alongside the bank of the river stream. None of them spoke to each other while they worked so intent were they in their task of creating fire for warmth.

It must have lasted no less than three quarters of an hour before they finally completed their task of breaking all the wood down into smaller pieces and, ultimately, after another long interim of time, succeeded in producing a flame by the antiquated method of friction – the rapid and constant rubbing of two shaven branches together until a spark had been produced and thus a flame! The creatures were more intelligent than he had surmised, that at least was certain. He marveled to find that he actually caught himself envying those wicked beasts and their little bonfire by the water. The sight of actual fire to him then was like a dagger in the belly! How he longed to feel the warmth of its orange flickering tongues close to his skin!

They were the ugliest beings he had ever set eyes upon. They had various twisted oddities about their facial features that reminded him of a man afflicted with the pox or a victim of the plague. They seemed to bear smallish black holes for eyes, neither were necessarily set evenly apart upon their large faces, while the tops of their pates were mostly devoid of hair. Their noses were mostly wide and flat while their mouths were disproportionately large for their heads. They seemed to possess little if any lips at all and their skin was mostly a sullen gray or a pale offshoot of it. They had large corpuscles that resembled infected warts or open sores that might very well be the result of battle-wounds. None of the three of them could have stood any less than eight feet tall, perhaps a little more. Their teeth were mostly hidden inside their mouths until Hunthor descried one of them yawn, by which he could then see that the creature bore a mouthful of pointed projectiles that would be most useful in the tearing apart of the flesh from wild game.

They began to speak to each other on occasion, though they were mainly silent as they sat around the fire and watched the flames steadily grow higher and stronger. Unlike most orcs this trio of trolls, all of whom he suspected to be of the hill-troll breed, were patient and content to sit and wait for the fire to reach whatever level they desired it to be. Their heads were seldom in idleness, for he could see them ever at watch and aware of the world around them. They would turn their heads this way and that while they sniffed the mountain air and, doubtless, tried to catch whatever scent they could grab hold of in order to assure themselves of their solitude. They reminded Hunthor of the great brown bears of the mountains that behaved in a similar manner so that none may creep up on them at unawares.

Then one of them rose up from his seated position on a rock and began to sweep his gaze full across the cliff face that Hunthor presently spied upon them as he lay on his stomach. Hunthor had been laying partially entwined in a barren thicket for extra cover but suddenly felt very naked and exposed as he beheld the creature looking very nearly at his exact spot of hiding! He could see the troll’s nostrils flaring rapidly before he dusked his head down as quickly as he could. How could the creature have spotted him from down there? Could he have caught his scent from so far a distance? To be sure there was a slight breeze about the air but not enough to betray his presence from such a vantage point. He lay flat in the snow along the dirt track atop the slope and held his breath.

When he could stand it no longer, for despite his worry of being detected by them he could no longer ignore the numbing coldness spreading through his limbs as he lay there with the snow falling down upon him, he raised his head upwards to take up his surveillance again. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the troll had gone back to his seat upon the boulder again. Yet this time around he noticed that one of his companions was missing. Hunthor immediately tried to look about the area in every direction down in the little ravine in hopes of locating the absent savage as quickly as possible.

One minute went by, then two more. Still another couple minutes elapsed without the third troll reappearing in the little clearing. He listened to see if perhaps the creature went out to scout for more wood but he could hear no such sounds. It dawned on him then that maybe the former troll had spotted him after all, or at least suspected that there might be suspicious activity taking place up on the very cliff he now lay upon! The troll might very well being advancing upon him that very moment by means of some invisible footpath that they alone possessed knowledge of! His life would be in imminent peril should any of the three of them discover his presence nearby.

He must flee. The time had come. He had lingered in one place for too long, and he cursed himself for it. He was just about to begin his retreat from the lip of the ridge when he suddenly heard one of the two trolls remaining by the fire begin to speak to his companion. Hunthor paused again. He looked back down at them and saw one of the two trolls stand slowly up again as he listened to his companion mutter unintelligible words of a queer and rasping nature – a deep and evil-natured throaty chatter that made him cringe to listen to it. The second troll muttered something in the affirmative before turning round to perform what the former creature had requested of him. The submissive troll stalked out of the firelight for a moment leaving only one other remaining before the fire. This surly brute began making gurgling noises in his throat as if trying to clear it before scooping up handfuls of snow at his feet, which he began to lap up with his long tongue and slender lips. A cacophonous belch from the abyss of the creature’s belly quickly followed.

He was just on the point of abandoning the scene when the second troll reappeared into the glow of the firelight dragging a burden behind him through the snow. Hunthor watched them closely upon seeing this, his curiosity getting the better of him. The troll brought his burden into the firelight so that there could be no longer any doubt as to what it may be. He watched the troll lift up his package and lo! It was the body of a man! The poor victim looked to be nearly frozen and rigid, as if he had been laying in the snow for some time after his death. Did Hunthor detect something familiar about the corpse? Yes, certainly he did. Another moment of careful scrutiny and it suddenly dawned upon him!

It was the dead body of Frumgard, his lost companion!
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu Apr 09, 2015 10:24 am

VII

The sight and sound of it disgusted Hunthor, though it did not surprise him overmuch. He had supposed somehow that Frumgard would come to a bad end eventually for the man had been hasty in temperament and stubborn as an mule. If only he had heeded his advice to remain with him in his company back in Imraith Nestraden, the Valley of Mists! Yet all the same he felt deeply saddened by the sight of his former companion’s dead body at the mercy of such villainous beasts.

How he loathed such creatures! He hated the monsters for no other reason than their raucous presence in the world and the repugnant violence that they stood for since the dawn of time. Like orcs there could be no ethical reason or basis for their existence in Middle-earth. They served no purpose and must, like a pestilence that kills with wanton abandon, be exterminated from the world whenever possible. In a different time or place and if he were in better health in the company of a friend he would nor shrink away from doing battle with these trolls if for no other reason than to rescue the body of his former companion. But he could not entertain such fantasies now, not in the condition his body was in. He knew that any sort of confrontation with them then would result in his own death and nothing more.

Something in the air had changed then. He could sense it rather than actually feel its alteration. The snow still fell about the world of the mountains at night - that at least he could still make out. No it was something else; it was the wind that had changed! It was swooping down upon him from over the treetops of the hillside behind him. That meant it placed him upwind from the three trolls down in the defile below. It wasn’t a strong breeze, admittedly, but it would not take much of a blow for his scent to be detected by such creatures as these, for though trolls were ever in want of keen eyesight and even intelligence, they were exceptionally well-endowed with powers of smell and hearing.

Why had not the first troll reappeared into the firelight after so long an absence? Where was the brute? His train of thought was interrupted, however, by the sound of a resurgence in the force of the flames of the campfire. They had suddenly begun to crackle aloud as if being freshly stoked. Hunthor redirected his gaze in that direction and saw the reason for it. They had thrown the slain body of Frumgard into the flames where it laid face downwards, its arms extended outwards, its legs bent unnaturally in the wrong directions. As the fames grew in height the body quickly began to burn away, the clothing already being singed off in an appalling manner. Hunthor began to detect the rising smell of cooked flesh in the air, which disgusted him but delighted the hungry trolls, both of whom now stood around close to the flames while watching their intended meat roast slowly in the fire. A few inaudible words from one to the other resulted in the latter producing a long spear from somewhere behind him. The last thing Hunthor recalled witnessing before turning away was the weapon being thrust violently in and out of the burning corpse in an attempt to shear off one of its limbs to hasten its cooking.

He would not watch that. He had stayed there for long enough – probably too long. He could not witness another moment of such a scene. The shifting of the wind meant he was now in danger of being hunted down. He knew he must flee, but whither to? That was the immediate dilemma that needed solved. He must go at once despite the darkness and falling snow that would easily mark the direction of his flight by way of visible footprints. But that could not be helped.

It would be the most important retreat of his life, and the most perilous by far. It must be done quickly, aye, but it must also be done right! There was no margin for error, no second chances this time. He would either outwit these stupid vile beasts and live to see the dawn or else become just another one of their victims, a burning corpse to feed their bonfire in the valley.

Rising on his hands and knees, both of which were quickly growing numb from laying in the snow, Hunthor crawled back from the ledge and stood up again as he leaned against the trunk of a tall spruce that stood up from the bottom of the hill. The hillside above him was filled with such trees. Great pity that they were not clustered together as dense as he might have wished, for if they had been thus he could use them for a suitable hiding place, to say nothing of their use for shelter from the elements.

The snow was falling steady by then. He thought briefly of daring to hike down the further course of the rocky ledge that ran in a descending line above the valley below. It seemed to slant backwards and away from the location of the trolls and their campsite. But he had not ventured that way yet and could not be certain that the path would not empty out into the ravine, for he could tell that the way forward was a descending grade of a considerably degree. But no, it would not do, alas. If it was merely a sort of ramp down into the valley with no other outlet then of what use was it? He would be trapped down there with the three trolls free to approach him unimpeded. What was worse if the missing troll had already begun to ascend the trail a sudden confrontation might be the result. He would have to turn and flee back the way he had come, an uphill retreat in the dark and falling snow.

He immediately ruled that out and pondered his second option, to run back up the way he had originally come. It might permit him an access way out of the rim of the defile, of this he remembered well, but ultimately he would be forced to endure a long climb back up the steep wooded hillside in the dark. Did he have the strength for that? The climb would not be an easy one for him. If his enemies were to catch his scent as he climbed they would doubtless pursue him in the same manner. His strength was on the wane, however, while theirs might very well be fresh enough for them to catch him up, especially if their bellies were empty.

Panic and indecision gripped him, held him in check. How terrible it had been! All his options seemed hopeless; to flee one way or the other? Climb down into the valley by stealth and sneak past them? Impossible and absurd! Surely he would be caught and strung up by his heels at the end of a rope from the nearest tree branch. There was no time; no time to ponder on the matter! The absent creature was on the prowl, coming up the pathway to capture its mysterious prey. Admittedly he heard nothing, saw nothing of the brute just then but surely he was on his way up the slope – how could he not be? He must make a move or perish!

So Hunthor did; he ran. His wits being dulled by weeks and months of various torments he could not resist the impulse to flee regardless of the resulting implications. Sheer panic had won out within him and he heeded the urgent call of his feet. There was little doubt of the direction. Go back! Fly, you fool!

It was dark and it was cold; indeed it was getting worse by the hour. The air was growing colder as the snow fell - as the night sped onwards towards dawn. Would that it were morning soon! He swore he would never take the blessings of dawn and sunlight for granted ever again - if he could just survive this night.

Groping his extended arms outwards he felt his way to the edge of the tree line where the slope’s bottom joined the ledge of the ravine. From there he began to jog; not at a great speed, for though he had come this way once he had paid little heed to the bends and curves of the path and could not be sure now whither they went. A wrong turn in the dark, a misstep or stumble might very well send him over the side. He just needed to get away from there, away from the vicinity of the trolls.

He had tried to make a much haste as he dared but he way back proved very difficult without the benefit of light. Twice he had been sure of the sounds of pursuit. The creak of the tree limbs from behind, the sound of some winged nocturnal mountain bird taking to the air all of the sudden. To Hunthor they were sure signs that he was being hunted down like a beast in the wild.

It went on and on in this manner. Such interminable suffering! His legs were weary, his feet growing numb with cold, his sight seriously impaired by darkness and blowing snow. The worst was the thought of being caught. He could almost imagine in his mind’s eye the feeling of cold brute hands of steel seizing him by the neck from behind him, being forcibly thrown to the ground, his face buried in the snow, his arms being twisted backwards until they broke. He would be helplessly incapacitated at utterly at the mercy of his brutal enemies – in short it would be the end, and a slow and painful one at that.

He slowed down to a walk, then finally came to a halt, his breath coming in short hard gasps. He listened. There was nothing save the wind blowing in the treetops, the limbs groaning here and there in objection to being disturbed by the breeze. Turning round he strained his eye back the way he came. Nothing. He remembers the sensation of an invisible weight being lifted from his heart. Something had changed. He had somehow wandered away from the ledge and onto a wife and open hillside, the ground beneath his feet gradually descending.

The faint glow of a campfire light could be seen far off to his left. Shielding his face against the slant of the snowfall in the wind he saw the trolls again. It occurred to him then that he had run in something of a semi-circle amid his flight from his pursuers. Then he noticed the distant figures of the trolls still sitting around the fire – three figures there were, not two. Three! How could it be so, he wondered? He had sworn that the third troll had disappeared earlier. He had felt absolutely certain that the creature had turned round, lifted its ugly head upwards and spotted him laying covertly in the snow upon the edge of the cliff.

It was then that he had been sure that the bestial villain had left his companions to pursue him. Yet now it seemed that it was not so. The cursed troll had never left the area of the campfire! He felt a fool. He had fled that place and risked his life stumbling about in the dark for nothing. It had all been a miserable waste of life and limb. Now he was lost. He had managed to unintentionally leave the ascending wooded slope behind, the one place that might offer him enough shelter from the inclement weather for one ore night. Instead he was somewhere in the midst of an open field, probably the top of some steep hill, and completely exposed to the cold and snowfall.

His heart felt empty, his mind and limbs utterly exhausted. It was over. He had played the game and lost. Better to have remained a prisoner of Broggha’s Hillmen in the cells of Dol Agwarth. At least then he would have been close to Vilthavia, perhaps even been reunited with his son somehow. Why had he not understood that before? It was too late now. He should have realized it long ago. A bitter jest indeed! He cursed the benefit of hindsight then, for it served only to torment him, and immediately followed it with another curse upon the grand design of the Gods in the West. Of what use were the Valar to men anymore? Fortuity and happenstance were better guides to put one’s trust in. He had thought he had found his freedom again but it was not so. In exchange for his former captivity in a dark dungeon he had found in its place a different kind of bondage: imprisonment within the immeasurable vastness of the Misty Mountains, a perpetual prison that proffered no escape to those foolish enough to challenge its haunting mysticism and beguiling enchantments.

His life having nearly reached its ruinous culmination Hunthor abandoned all caution. Looking back once more at the scene of the distant trolls around their campfire down in the gulley by the stream, sitting there partaking of their nocturnal feast of human flesh, Hunthor cried aloud to them in a furious rant, cursing their miserable existence and the chance that brought them presently into his life like an insurmountable obstacle. He heard the echoes of his cries waft over the air of the great windy valley and cared nothing for it. Without doubt the three trolls must have heard him, though he did not bother to find out as much. He had determined to let the end come as it would; death by exposure to the winter weather, lingering starvation or a midnight plunge over some invisible ledge. The ignominy of his final moments would never be known to anyone save him – a cold comfort indeed. He turned his back on the world at night and began to walk.

He no longer cared for the biting cold, the unequal terrain or whither he went. A fleeting thought entered into his mind to try and make his way back to the healing valley of stones that he had named Imraith Nestraden but he quickly abandoned the idea. To make such an attempt would imply that he still held out hope for his survival when, in truth, he did not. He had been in a fey mood then and wished only for the bittersweet release of death.

How long had he walked on in that manner upon that descending hilltop before he stumbled and fell? He never could say; perhaps a few minutes? A quarter of an hour? He did not know. Yet fell he did! He was almost glad of it, despite the pain. He slid downwards first upon his backside, brushing against small trees and stones as his body sped down and down at an increasing rate. He could not halt his progress by then even had he a mind to do so.

His body struck something hard and solid in the dark and a sudden pain stabbed through his upper shoulder like a dagger. Not even this was enough to stop his body from its inexorable plummet down the mountainside, however, and he felt himself spinning round and round as gravity seized him in its iron grip.

Then there was the free fall. He was in the air with no firm ground beneath him! Despite the beating he had taken from the rough tumble down the steep grade of the hillside he was still awake, still conscious enough to know it. The final moments of one’s life and the horrific realization that death had come to take him away from the world forever. The sensation was indescribably terrifying and exhilarating at once; he would never forget it!

Impact!


~~

When Hunthor slowly opened his eyes a world of hazy fog and cloud enveloped him. At first he could see nothing but white and gray mist. That he had fallen to his death and perished there could be no doubt. He must now be in those remote regions of the heavens, in the purgatorial Halls of Mandos where go the souls of the Edain after death. It was not at all what he had imagined it would be. Was it supposed to be so cold while he awaited judgment from the Master of Doom? It felt as if his entire body was encompassed in a tomb of ice.

The sound of an eagle’s call somewhere in the far heavens stirred him, roused him from his lethargy. He tried to move his arms but could not do so at first. When he at last managed it the pain in his shoulder came back to him like a forgotten nightmare! He turned his head an inch, then another. Something was in his mouth, something cold and yielding. It was snow.

“Breath of the Gods!” said Hunthor aloud in a labored whisper. “I am not dead! I am not dead! How is it so?”

He abandoned the notion of speech, it being far too painful. He tasted blood in his mouth. His tongue hurt him whenever he moved it inside his oral cavity. Perhaps he had broken a few bones as well. His body pained him considerably, but the overwhelming sense of amazement that he had managed to cheat death once more by surviving his fall from the cliff above, wherever it was, was a feat so astounding to him that his realization that he still lived was the more remarkable.

Yet even so, what of it? He had failed again, had failed to accomplish a swift and hasty end for himself. Now he would linger in slow pain on the side of the mountain until he gradually froze to death. It was the stuff of black humor and he found that he was actually laughing silently to himself.

And thus there he was – Hunthor the Dunedain, homeless wanderer, ever absent father, the indecisive spy and Ranger in the employ of a foreign Cardolani prince who had quite forgotten him and the service he had provided at the risk of his own life. Nothing was as it seemed, all was an illusion somehow. Even the calls of the eagles he had just heard high above him was false, for he could just make out the all too familiar form of carrion birds gliding overhead.

Hunthor had come to terms with his inevitable fate and decided to lay still, reflect in silence upon the memories of all that had befallen him since his escape from Dol Agwarth, and let death come to him as it would. He regretted the absence of a formal epitaph for his corpse once the snow-sleep had taken him for good but there was nothing for it, or as his father had always liked to say when he himself was a boy, “Do not fight it, my son; that is the world for you!”

When he heard the sound of men’s voices somewhere off behind his head further down the slope he knew he must be nearing the last few moments of his mortal existence. In all likelihood the servants of Mandos were coming for him, would seize him up and take him to the Halls of Judgment. He welcomed the notion and even attempted to cry out to them so they could locate his body the faster.

When he opened his eyes he beheld the faces of two men looking down upon him where he lay in the snow. They were a queer folk with roundish almost squat faces bearing small thick-nostriled noses that rested above a thick double-columned moustaches, that in turn hung down low past their heavily bearded chins. They both wore woolen hats that failed to contain their long dark folds of hair, most of which blew loosely in the wind. They spoke to each other in a brief halting tongue that he failed to understand as they looked back and forth to one another. It was if they were unsure as what to do next. Surely there had been some kind of mistake! Had he been sent in error to the Chambers of Aulë where go the dwarves of Middle-earth after death?

He felt rough cold hands upon him, dragging him painfully from his deathbed of snow and rock. More strangers similar to the pair he had just seen had come up to assist in the labor at hand. He was being dragged away down the hillside upon a sled! He listened to the sound of their harsh voices, took a distracted note of the way they marched down the slope in a singular mechanical way, almost in a sort of rhythmical exercise that they were well-practiced in.

A torrent of mixed emotions overwhelmed him then despite his physical pain. He wanted to weep then, though out of joy or sadness he could not decide. Instead he cried aloud in the tongue of the Dunedain the only word he could manage then and repeated it over many times so that his bearded rescuers were perplexed as to his meaning.

“Vilthavia! Vilthavia! Vilthavia!”

fin…
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Tue May 19, 2015 12:36 pm

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO (cont.)

Part three – The Fate of Elendis

I.

The morning dawned grey and dull over the mountaintops in the east. The rays of the sun would not be seen at all today. Thick clouds heavy with the threat of a late autumn rain were on the march from the west promising to unload their burdens upon the nearby ranges of the Misty Mountains. Would it be rain or would it become snow? A mix of both perhaps? That it would be one or the other could not be doubted. Winter was on its way again, that much was certain. Already snow had come even to the lower elevations indicating the season would be long and cold – and perilous.

Elendis stood upon a small balcony looking both north and westwards over a rising ridges that ascended gradually at first before making a steep climb skywards the further her glance strayed in those directions. The highest sections of those steep wooded hilltops were beginning to become invisible under thin slow-moving columns of mist. She felt reasonably sure that she had seen a narrow plateau running parallel with those same ridges tucked down in between the under the loom of their shadows. She had not paid it much heed a few minutes ago when she first espied it. Now the mists completely obscured it.

It was the first time she had ever come onto that particular balcony, it overlooking a direction of the mountains she had little desire to see. Yet somehow she felt distantly interested in that way this morning. She had no idea why, as it led nowhere to her mind. Perhaps it was due to the isolation of the balcony, it being located in a section of the old tower that was yet to receive the attention of Broggha’s masons, those burly Hillmen responsible for the reinforcement and repairs of the keep itself. Most of their time thus far had been occupied in improving the integrity of the outer walls. It was quiet here, though, and she welcomed the opportunity for solitude. She needed time to think about the important day before her; and it was indeed important. Today would be one of both joy and sorrow for her. She would lose the company of a dear friend, would likely never see him again, alas, but would also take comfort in the knowledge that he would be free of the dangers and hardships that would prove to be too great a burden on him should he remain at Dol Agwarth under the unwelcome care of the Hillmen.

She thought often about Vilthavia, had wondered what he would do once he was free from the clutches of the enemy Hillmen. Just to know that he would be gone from that terrible place, to be able to breathe the easier knowing he was on his long road home! It should provide her with some solace yet somehow she still feared for him. Certainly he was not her responsibility and she need not feel any guilt for their ultimate separation. Yet all the same she could not shake the burden of shame she felt for deceiving him, or at least filling his heart with false hope of their future relationship someday in the future after all of this evil was put behind them. Vilthavia loved her, of that she did not doubt, yet it was the love expressed by a thirteen-year old boy, not that of a man come of age. He was nearly three years her junior – indeed more than that considering she possessed a more purer degree of Dunedain blood in her veins than did he. ‘But what of that?’ she wondered inwardly. ‘Vilthavia is the son of a man half Dunedain by blood. Therefore he is not wholly without kinship to my own people, though the ties are faint, admittedly.’

Elendis stared absently out into the wide expanse of wilderness beyond the balcony. Being now well-dressed in attire more appropriate for the colder weather, she wrapped herself deeper into the folds of her woolen coat as she looked back into her recent past, recalling the events of the last six weeks since her capture back in the ice cave, the very place that she had very nearly frozen to death in that remote scene where Vilthavia had openly declared his love for her. How well she remembered it, the way he had wrapped his arms around her as they both lay on the floor in the rear of the cave, struggling to keep awake long enough for the ray of the morning sun to provide them with a trace of warmth. She had been on the grips of a deep despair at the time and was unable to express her deep gratitude to him then like she ought to have done. Already she seemed to have forgotten the words that passed between them – except where Vilthavia had proclaimed his love her, had wanted nothing more than to rescue her from the mountains so that they could wed after they arrived safely into Eriador. She, too, had told him that she loved him then. She had regretted saying that to him afterwards, for she feared to lead him on to false hopes. Yet now that he was destined to depart Dol Agwarth this very morning she began to convince herself that what she had said to him on that bitterly cold morning was a genuine reflection of her inner heart: that she did indeed love Viltahvia, son of Hunthor. The fact that in less than two hours’ time she might not ever see him again made her feel a great emptiness inside her. ‘What else could I do? What choice was there? If I did not agree to wed with the prince Ermegil Vilthavia would be doomed to a worse fate! He would perish in Broggha’s dungeons or else be sold into slavery and taken far away to spend his youth away in hard labor! I could never bear such a thing to come about! He is too dear to me!’

Elendis broke away from her private soliloquy with a sudden sense of panic. A queer sensation of urgency washed over her like a torrent of unchecked floodwaters bursting forth through a dam. She felt that she was no longer alone, that some unidentifiable presence was closing in on her. She told herself that she had been espied while standing out upon the ledge. She had been too careless, she knew afterwards, but had merely assumed that the predawn gloom would have hidden her from prying eyes. Get out! She knew she must get out of immediate area or risk bodily harm. She hastily abandoned the old stone balcony and made to retrace her steps into the adjoining chamber that led back into the corridor where all was still dark and would hide her retreat. Yet it was not so, for lo! A dim glow of light could be seen creeping in through the doorway – the opened doorway!

Several things happened at once. Elendis had progressed no further than half way across the empty room before she felt hostile hands grab her, seizing her by her shoulders and a little ways to her left. She became terrified and gasped aloud, her reflex naturally making her swivel around in an attempt to free herself before the invisible grip of the intruder became steadfast upon her - Success! She felt the grip fall away, the hands thrashing wildly, trying to regain their purchase on her - But no! Her head was snapped backwards suddenly as her long hair was grabbed and pulled hard to prevent her escape, her body going backwards, nearly falling to the floor. She did not gasp this time but managed to scream aloud as she felt the invisible hands regain their grasp on her shoulders.

Terror gripped her, forced her wits into full retreat. Then there was sound of footsteps! Another enemy was in her presence and closing in on her! The hands that had seized her tried to push her downwards to the floor – she resisted at first, felt the intruder’s legs behind her and she instinctively began to claw at them with her nails to little avail. A muffled cry of anger and pain from her accoster was the result.

Then came the first blow. It was not a severe one, it being an ineffectual attempt to her lower back. Yet it was enough to make her let go of the man’s legs, for she knew the intruder was indeed a man – how could it be otherwise? Her hair was still in his grip; being pulled and yanked from side to side as he in order to subdue her, prevent her struggles. The pain of it was intense but she did not give up, would not relent in her endeavor to free herself.

She had nearly succeeded in rising to her feet again, was just calling out for help in vain when the second blow fell upon her. Unlike the first one this blow was no glancing strike but a direct hit to her upper back. She was struck from behind by whomever had come in to assist in her molestation. She felt the concussive impact from behind her like the weight of some wall falling down on her. The pain could not be ignored, however, and she felt herself go limp for a moment. Then another blow from a man’s heavy boots kicked her a second time, the blow making contact with her hip.

A voice inside her head, somewhere in the back of her consciousness told her to resist no more, to give in to the inevitability of death. Had she not longed for the release of death only a few weeks before when she had climbed to the rooftops of the keep in order to fling herself from its lofty heights? The thought passed into her – then was quickly tossed aside. Her pride and the fierce need to show resistance stemming from her Dunedain lineage made her abandon such fleeting thoughts nearly as quickly as they had come. She must resist or perish in the attempt.

The fear that she felt had not left Elendis but neither had her strength – not yet, and she rolled quickly to her right and briefly managed to evade her assailers! She was on her knees again – then she was on her feet somehow, the pain in her back thrust aside momentarily out of desperation. Footsteps and muffled curses pursued her, however, and she faced the glow of the light from beyond the doorway and made for it hoping to gain her exit from the chamber, whatsoever the source of that light may be.

It was not to be, alas. A dark silhouette stood before her like a foreboding shadow of death. From what little light there was she could see the figure of a man, not excessively tall but broad in the shoulders. His face was hidden, enshrouded in a long black mask with holes for the eyes and mouth, a veil that extended from the top of his head down to the nape of his neck. Only then, with the way out entirely barred to her, did she really understand that all was lost in those harrowing moments. She was, after all, a member of the Dunedain race, the enemies of Broggha and his people. Her very presence in the same castle as their lord would be enough of a pretext for resentment, even hatred among them. In those few brief rushing-forward moments in time she realized she would be murdered in cold blood. The brutal realization of this fact sped through her like a bolt of lightning. At any moment she expected to feel the razor-sharp edge of a knife plunge into her flesh and drain the lifeblood from her body. In short - it was the end.

What she experienced instead was something much different. The dark figure before her raised something up in his hands high above her head, brought it down atop her in one quick motion. She was enmeshed entirely in a world of black. Elendis knew her upper body had been encased within the folds of some kind of sack or large blanket of some kind. She tried to free herself, tore desperately and the stiff unyielding fabric of her encasement but before she could get far in her endeavor a pair of strong arms came up behind her and enfolded her within their iron-clad embrace. This time she could not free herself. Her enemy was just too strong for her.

She felt herself flung to the floor, her head striking someone’s foot in the process. More muffled voices, she thought she heard three of them, all masculine. They were trying to remain quiet, one man had even hissed at the other two men for being too loud. She thought they were speaking the common tongue, which indicated to her that they were each of mixed origin. One man in particular sounded vaguely familiar, though in her sorry state she could hardly be sure of anything.

Moments passed as she lay there, panting for breath beneath the stifling folds of the sack over her head. She began to feel as if she would black out for want of air. Her captors must have realized this very fact as she felt more hands upon her moving up towards her face. The danger of smothering to death was eased as the sack was removed temporarily from her head long enough for a band of cloth to be tied securely around her head and mouth to prevent her from crying aloud for help. During that brief spell of relief she had seen the light grow brighter in the old abandoned room with the entrance of the third attacker. There were certainly three men involved in the assault. She could not make out any of their features except for the fact that one of the men seemed taller than the other two.

Then she was somehow back inside the body-length sack, only this time holes was cut out for her nose and mouth in order to facilitate breathing. This fact alone told Elendis that she need not fear death any longer – not for the present, at any rate, for she was being kidnapped! That much seemed plain to her now. The idea was quickly reinforced when she felt herself being carried bodily away, one man holding her over his shoulders face downwards as if she were a bag of rocks. Her hands were now tied together and hanging down in front of her face. She briefly entertained the idea of trying to seize the man’s sheathed knife that she felt upon his belt but knew it would be a pointless gesture and would only get her beaten more severely. So she did only what she knew she could do – allow herself to be taken alive…
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Mon Jul 06, 2015 9:02 am

Part Three - The Fate of Elendis

II.

The hunt for Elendis had begun in earnest within a quarter of an hour after her disappearance had been proclaimed to lord Broggha by prince Ermegil just after dawn, the latter of whom had been decreed by the former as the girl’s official betrothed lord and protector. All able-bodied men and women (though there were few enough of these among the population of Dol Agwarth) were commanded to remain alert and do what they could to assist in the seeking out of the young Dunedain maiden throughout the old castle. Any suspicious anomalies or aberrations regarding the daily goings on around the grounds were to be reported at once. Anyone providing insight on the girl’s disappearance would receive a generous reward from both the prince and lord Broggha, the type and manner of which were to be decided upon proof of her safety and return.

Broggha ordered both the front and rear gates closed and barred until further notice, yet most realized that a determined escapee would have little difficulty in scaling the ruined walls that made up the eastern rear compound of the keep, for the engineers who labored in their upkeep of the castle had yet to complete their repairs of the old stone wall. Therefore the watch upon the eastern end of the fortress was kept under constant surveillance by the sentinels of the Hillmen. To the west, where the newly constructed front gates barred the way in or out to any who did not come or go with the good graces of Broggha’s captains, there could be no hope of escape without being discovered.

Meanwhile the abductors of Elendis had not been idle during the commotion. After having secured the immobilization of their hostage by way of ropes and bonds she had been carried away in a large sack of woven hessian through the darkened passages of the north end of the keep, encountering no one along the way, and finally delivered to their prearranged hiding place in a small rough-hewn kitchen seldom made use of as of yet by the keep’s new Hillmen occupants.

The three cloaked men scrambled in through the low archway and entered the little chamber. There was a soft glow of a burning taper set in a bracket upon the wall. Inside the room there was a woman stooping over a stove set into the wall where inside it, upon small burning faggots, a pair of cooking pots were simmering atop the heat of the fire. A peculiar aroma could be smelled through the chamber, an odor not at all unpleasant to hungry folk in full anticipation of their next meal.

Seeing the three men hurry into the chamber the woman stood up quickly with a start, evidently fearing the arrival of folk other than the three she had expected.

“Don’t glower so, woman!” hissed one of the men as he approached her. “You have a look of guilt in your eyes that is easy to read!”

The other two men came in afterwards carrying the burden of their enmeshed prisoner, one holding her by her heels the other by her shoulders. Only her mouth and nose were visible through the holes cut in the fabric for her breathing. They set her down, none too gently, in the corner of the room before turning towards the warmth of the stove. Both men drew back their hoods to allow their face to breath a few moments thereby revealing their identities to the woman. The taller of the pair was no Hillman by nature, but a man of eastern origins with, as he was wont to herald proudly in his youth, a few drops of Dunedan blood in his veins. She recognized him by the derisive name of ‘The Vagabond’, as the man many among the castle were calling him. She did not know that his true name was Urlavia, horse merchant of the Anduin vales, unhappy uncle to the boy-captive known as Vilthavia.

The second man who stood before them with his hood drawn back was not a man she would have dreamt to be a part of this secret and highly illegal scheme they had concocted amongst themselves. Shorter and stouter than the Vagabond, he was more powerfully built by a warrior’s standards and had the battle scars across his forehead and the broken nose to show for it. He was the disgruntled son of the Lord Broggha, he that was called Rhugga, or ‘the Boar’ as he was often called for his outbursts of rage during battle. He seldom ever smiled and made no exception to that rule as he strode into the kitchen, past the woman and over to the stove. His hair was cropped uncommonly short in comparison to his fellow wild-haired Hillmen and his ears and nose were pierced with small golden rings. He took the liberty of removing one of the saucepans from the stove by way of the handle and sniffed at it.

“When shall it be ready, woman?” he demanded to know in a low cold voice. “You’ve had ample time to prepare it by now.”

“Do not breath it in too deeply, Rhugga!” said the woman urgently. Her tone smacked of reprimand. “You shall be on the floor in a heavy dream in such a case. What use shall you be then?”

He turned his head askance to glare at her.

“Silence!” he snarled in return. “I will brook no insolence from an ignorant woman like yourself! Don’t forget who you are speaking to!”

The third kidnapper, he whom had first entered the room and approached her, made no motion to remove his hood, evidently preferring to retain that air of anonymity. Only his thick whiskered goatee and heavy lips could plainly be seen from within the shadows of the hooded cloak. He flashed a look of stern disapproval at Rhugga for his stinging insult to her but the intent went unobserved by the latter, who turned his attention back to the boiling pots by seizing hold of the wooden spoon to stir the contents of them.

“How are things proceeding with you down here?” asked the hooded man to the woman in a gentler tone. “You have fared well with the brew I hope, Hilda?”

“Well enough,” she replied, her demeanor still sour from the rebuke. “It will suffice to bring about her deep sleep long enough for you to steal her away from the castle…So – that is her in the sack?”

They both turned to look in the corner at the lumpish figure inside the hessian bag that covered her entirely. The prisoner was far from comfortable in her current restrictive capacity and could be seen moving about occasionally inside the sack as well as emitting a labored grunt or moan here and there. The woman called Hilda went over beside her where she lay on the floor and looked on her with obvious pity in her eyes.

“She cannot remain in these restraints much longer,” said Hilda. “It will be the end of her! Just look at the poor wretch! She cannot breath well at all!”

Without any announcement Hilda raised up the sack from the form of their young detainee and removed it, taking off the blindfold from her eyes and the gag from her mouth. It was the first time Hilda had beheld Elendis up close, having only seen her from afar once before now.

“She seems so young, Wulfcarl!” said Hilda glancing back at her lord who also looked on curiously at the young Dunedain lass. “A pity she has been cast such an unlucky lot by the Gods in all this.”

“What are you doing there!” exclaimed Rhugga suddenly turning round from his place aside the stove to ascertain the situation. “Who said you could unleash our prize, you fool-of-a-wench! Put those back on her at once before the girl cries out and betrays us! Out of my way, Vagabond, curse you!”

Shoving Urlavia aside with his muscled arms (through ill-luck the fellow always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time!) he strode forward and came to stand immediately before the Hilda and the crouching Elendis, the latter of which had fresh tears smeared across her face, her hair wildly astray, and was gasping for air with her gag finally removed.

“Let her gain her breath awhile, Rhugga!” interjected Urlavia looking over at them. “She must be allowed a few moments of air! Then we shall gag her again!”

Rhugga took no heed of the Vagabond’s input and instead took up the discarded cloth they had used to gag her mouth. He found his access to the girl barred, however, by Wulfcarl, who rose up his outward palm to stay him.

“Listen to us, Rhugga! The girl must breath unencumbered, through her mouth for a few moments. She will die otherwise!”

Rhugga shot his comrade a venomous glare for one halting moment of tension between them. Wulfcarl was the taller between the pair, yet leaner, for he was by nature an archer, whereas Rhugga was broad and preferred the honor that went hand-in-hand with physical combat, such as the spear and the sword. He was not cowed by Wulfcarl’s bold interference and tossed aside the latter’s open palm with a brush off by way of his own hand.

“Stand aside, brother,” hissed Rhugga coldly. “I am lord here among us, for whereas you may be a captain of my father’s guards I am his son! I am your general and overlord. I would advise you not to impede our plan regarding the maiden! She is not dead, nor is she dying! Just look at her! She breathes! She weeps! She moves about! She lives! She shall not suffer overmuch that our dead kinsmen with their severed heads upon the pikes of our Dunedain foes will chastise us for her tears!”

“She has become frail, lord Rhugga!” said Hilda, coming up to put a hand of support upon the shoulder of Wulfcarl. “She belongs to the folk of our enemies, tis’ true, yet she is still entitled to life until her case can be judged accordingly.”

Rhugga shook his head scornfully, looking upon them both with utmost distaste.

“Truly, woman, you were born and bred a genuine fool,” said Rhugga. “You too, Wulfcarl, and at that I am amazed, for I knew your father, lord Wulfborn, to be a sensible man in his day. You think this little brat here,” with this he gestured towards the ailing Elendis, “will be given a trial? You think that there is even the slightest chance that she will be set free pending some obscure acquittal from my father? Ha! What rot! Dunedain prisoners receive no such boons here, I assure you. They are all guilty by way of their history towards our people and their association to one another as accomplices of their heredity ancestors! They are destined for one one of three choices under my father’s lordship: indefinite incarceration, execution following interrogation, or else transport to the cold northern regions where dwells…” His voice broke off suddenly, fearing to name aloud that haunted and reviled realm in the northern Misty Mountains, a place soon to be known far and wide as Angmar. He stammered a moment then finished his thought, “…where dwells the dark kingdom. That is where this girl is going, I do assure you. In which case she is utterly useless to us now. Yet, we have preserved her from that dark fate by taking her away by force. She ought to thank us for our actions this morning! We shall give her a fourth option – to live under the lordship of a new master in the east.”

“As a thrall, you mean to say,” quipped Hilda. Rhugga shrugged indifferently at this observation.

“If that is her fate,” he replied, “than let it be so. It is only fitting for the transgressions her people has committed against us over the years. At least she will be alive, which is probably more than she deserves.”

“I do not doubt that the girl is an enemy of our folk,” said Hilda, “and I bear her no love. Yet I was led to believe that she was going to be ransomed over to an accomplice of that prince from Rhudaur, the one residing here and who calls himself an ally of Broggha!”

“It was the original plan, my dear,” answered Wulfcarl affectionately to Hilda, “but it has been decided among us that the man Ermegil cannot be trusted to merely hand over a sum of coinage or some other method payment to meet our demands for her safe return to him. He would almost certainly betray us.”

“Your man is correct,” added Urlavia coming closer to where Elendis lay. She appeared to be well-nigh insensible in her present state of suffering but in truth she had more than half an ear open to what was being discussed among her assailants. “Prince Ermegil is a wretched man! An untrustworthy b astard-born scrub that would think nothing at all to renege on a deal between us, whatever his desire for this girl may be. I have known him for many a year now and can vouch for his previous villainy.”

“Therefore,” continued Wulfcarl after Urlavia fell silent, “we shall trade her over to one of the foreign merchants that has arrived here for the slave auction tomorrow. It is the only way forward for us now. I fear the results of any other course.”

“You ‘fear’, Wulfcarl?” observed Rhugga immediately upon hearing Wulfcarl’s words, “Listen to yourself! What do you fear about any of this? It seems my father erred when he appointed you one of his captains. Shame upon you for a coward!”

Hilda disliked Rhugga, as many others did, and was outraged for his insult to Wulfcarl, a man she admired and cared for deeply. Before Wulfcarl could stop her she angrily replied to Rhugga by insulting him, comparing him the next-best thing to a swineherd. It was too much for the son of Brhoggha to bear, however, and just as Wulfcarl began to reproach Hilda for her offensive words Rhuggha had already swung his large and powerful open palm to the woman’s cheek, sending her backwards where she stumbled and fell down with a shriek right at the feet of Elendis, whose eyes flickered down at her through the tangled combs of her long hair.

Wulfcarl quickly knelt at her side, offering a brief spell of comforting words to her before standing back up to face off with Rhugga.

“You dare strike a defenseless woman!” he exclaimed, his voice trembling with fury. “Broggha was wise indeed to exclude you from his privy meetings during the council, for you are fell and your deeds brash!”

“I’ll do the same to you, brother, if you tarry in our business here any longer! I am not afraid of you or any man, for that matter! I am the son of Broggha, the next king of Rhudaur!” Then turning swiftly to Urlavia again, he cried, “Vagabond! Get that hood and bag back on top of her! Do it now, I say! Our time runs short. The Easterling merchants have already arrived and await us!”

Urlavia frowned for a brief passing moment, perhaps sensing that their plan was not what it might have been with more thought for preparation. Then he moved to where Elendis lay in order to physically maneuver her body back into the large sack they had used earlier to transport her weight from the upper stories of the keep down to the lower larders. Their eyes made contact with one another just then almost unwillingly, unintentionally, for each disliked the other. As for Urlavia, he found most people irksome, disliked the company of all those who could not in some way benefit his own circumstances in life – a life he had tried to find some manner of solace in ever since his coming of age back in the days when he was an eager youth living in the wide open plains of western Rhovanion, nigh the eaves of southern Mirkwood. But he had largely failed to acquire any peace of mind in all those years because of his restless nature, his innate greed and his lack of any proper parentage (he had been orphaned at the tender age of eight). He had never wed a woman properly but had at least two illegitimate sons running about in the world at large that he had not seen in years now, knew nothing of their present whereabouts, and as such his bitterness was magnified. He became an irascible and petulant man who blamed the whole wide world for his misfortunes instead of himself. No, he was not wholly cruel, as it were, and indeed he possessed a soft tenderness for beasts and birds that he rarely exhibited – yet was merely out to wreak vengeance on the fate that had cast him so poor a lot in life and salvage what years he had left to him.

It was far different for Elendis. Being still young and impressionable in accordance to her high lineage she was inclined to intemperate extremes, being overwhelmingly kind and considerate on any given occasion, whereas the next she might become wan and melancholic, even frantic and hopeless on the next. She had always been easily given to bouts of spontaneous joy whenever she came across examples of human kindness and generosity – the act of sacrifice has always especially warmed her heart. Yet, much like her Dunadan father, Mardon of Rhudaur, she could not abide an informer. Treachery instilled in her such a feeling of disgust and even hatred that whenever she encountered it in anyone she met she immediately reckoned them a villain and wished to have nothing more to do with them. It was treachery more than anything else, or so her father had always told her and her sister Calimë, that had led to the present deterioration of the three sister-kingdoms of old Arnor. Thus, because of his callousness and rough handling of his nephew Vilthavia since their first coming into the Misty Mountains and because of his greed and willingness to turn traitor against their original company in order to preserve his own selfish skin, to say nothing of the evil part he played in her forced engagement to the prince Ermegil, Elendis quickly grew to despise Urlavia the Vagabond.

The two of them gazed into the eyes of the other for a brief span while the voice of Rhugga could be heard bickering with that of Wulfcarl in the background. She knew he was aware of her own fear, indeed she could sense her own lips trembling, yet she could think of nothing worthwhile to say to the man then amid her pain and worry. Urlavia seemed to sense that Elendis wished to say something to him then before he replaced the gag and hood back over her head, and for once he let a moment of compassion get the better of him by whispering to her, apologizing awkwardly for her present plight. Was there anything she wished to ask of him now, before the restraints must be placed back upon her?

A moment or two passed before she whimpered once more, inhaled a deep breath - and let out a desperate and horrific scream for help...
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Tue Aug 25, 2015 3:46 pm

Part Three - The Fate of Elendis

III.

Elendis felt as if she were floating in mid air as her mind had at last achieved something resembling a state of utter stupefaction. She was not asleep or unconscious but quite awake inside her own head. She could not move her body in any way, indeed felt no inclination to even try. It would not stand to reason because to do so would be to disrupt her newfound sense of tranquility and pervasive state of serenity that she had not known for a very long while. She simply desired to remain as she was: a formless spirit drifting aimlessly upon a river in the high heavens of the world where she could lay back and contemplate the stars above.

Elendis saw nothing at all inside the concealment of the hessian sack that encompassed her entire form, still less was she aware that she was being carried away upon the shoulders of her captors to some untold destination. There was only black, like being lost in a pool of ink. She was only generally aware of this, however, for her mind’s eye, being prompted by the industrious activity in her head, formed its own mental pictures of what it felt it wanted to display to her without the need of ocular vision. It arrested her whole being and made her temporarily forget that she was part of the world around her.

She saw her mother a she looked when Elendis was but an infant, a babe in her mother’s arms. Aged memories that had been formally lost to her (and a few that she had never possessed!) entered into her mind and unfolded before her like a wildflower in the bloom of Spring. Such a fair-faced lady, her mother! How she had missed the sight of her! So good to see her again! The sight of her father, Mardon, gave her less joy, however. He sat there in their old country farmhouse at a table in the sitting room with a solemn air about him while he drew maps; lots and lots of maps of many locations across old Arnor. His skill as a cartographer had always been in demand by the merchants and learned men of the old Rhudauran royal court under the kingship of the former monarch, king Boradil. Elendis felt an enormous wave of warmth flood over her as she watched herself as an infant being suckled by her mother. Her sister Calimë was there as well, though she was barely four years old. Yet her older sibling seemed intent on prying open the back door of the house where she was fond of playing with the family hound dogs in the safety of the fenced yard.

It was but a fleeting image inside her head, alas. It withered away almost as quickly as it came to her and was supplanted by that of the men in her life that had come and gone like a summer breeze. Her father, whether dead or alive she knew not; Cernan, her father’s oldest and most trusted friend as well as her formal protector who died under an avalanche of snow in the mountains; Wildaria, her betrothed! A short-lived wedlock cut tragically short in the very same avalanche. He had been a kind man, and had treated her well during their brief time together in the east lands of Wilderland, though she did not truly love him as a wife ought to love her husband. Both men deserved to live longer and amid her dream she felt that she mourned their passing.

Then there was a new man before her half-closed eyelids. She thought she beheld a dark-haired man in his early years of manhood, dashing and bold in appearance though grim and beset with an invisible weight dragging upon his shoulders causing him to seem weary and angry at the same time. He wore a vest of chain under a hooded cape that was ragged and stained with the effects of the weather. His eyes were dark and brooding, his face and whiskered chin giving his prominent jawline an even bolder appearance. He faded in and out of her ethereal vision despite her mental effort to keep him in view, almost as if she were trying to anchor his presence in her mind but he seemed unable to find the necessary purchase to remain there before her. She saw this man wandering at first alone in a wooded hillside, then suddenly in the company of five or six other men in similar traveling attire. Most of the men wore hoods and thus their faces obscured in shadow. But in their hands were various short spears or javelins and small hunting bows. What it may be they were searching for she could not tell but she somehow knew their search would end in failure. She simply knew out of clairvoyant thought.

Elendis suddenly felt that the dark-haired wanderer was in peril. The men had come to the edge of a tall rocky cliff outside where the tree line had failed. Whereas the dream had seemed to suggest that all of the men were in league together amid their mysterious hunt it was now revealed to her that the man in focus was about to suffer a betrayal. She could see two of the men in the company make secret gestures of acknowledgment as if to signal to one another that the time had come to perform their true errand. Her man of attention was about to die. They were gathering around him, were prepared to push their unsuspecting victim over the precipice to his death. She wanted to warn him somehow, tried even to call out to him so that he may be alerted to the creeping danger behind him, but her lips barely quivered in her incapacitated state.

Too late! The scenes floating in her head were changing too quickly now. She could hardly keep track of them in her inner eye. There was her mother again! She was laughing, then coughing violently over a sink. She was dead, laying in her open grave, hands across her breast! Her father flashed before her, was tearing violently at his own hair amid his tears while he sat upon the edge of his empty bed. Her sister Calimë was there now, all grown up! Her brown hair flowing behind her in the wind while an urban gentleman from the Rhudauran court at Cameth Brin stood beside her whispering something alluringly pleasant, tantalizing and sweet perhaps in her ear. Calimë giggled in her childish way and quickly covered her mouth with her hand. She was in love with the stranger. In an instant she vanished and was replaced with the fading form of Vilthavia! Vilthavia! He was trying to find her amid a foggy night outside of some kind of open and treeless valley. He called her name aloud. Elendis! Elendis! She quickly saw herself laying face downwards in a stagnant bog of murky cold water! She was drowning slowly. Only he could save her for she was unconscious. At last he saw her form in the deep shadows of the lake and he splashed into it and touched her, rolling her over so that he could look into her eyes. He began to shake her over and over again as he called out her name in an urgent and despondent way…

~~

Then it was all over. The effects of the drug had worn off and released her subconscious from its hold on her. She was its captive no more. Elendis opened her eyes with a start and gasped desperately for air as she felt the freedom of movement return to her. Yes! It was true. Her arms and legs were free of any restraints! Her mouth no longer felt the dry bitterness of the gag that had been so securely tied around her head and had prevented her from speaking. What was more was that she discovered that she was now lying comfortably in an actual bed with a pillow of sorts and an actual blanket of wool! She had not seen such a luxury for months. Where was she? She turned her head from side to side where she lay and could tell that she was in a room, a plain darkened chamber lit by a lone flickering candle in a brass holder upon the wall opposite her. Elsewhere in the room she saw it possessed many of the usual creature comforts one might wish to surround themselves in order to make them feel more at home in an abode that was obviously anything but that. There was two oak tables with a pair of chairs, a stone wash basin in the far corner, two shelves hanging from the wall with various books and tomes standing upright with their spines facing outwards for easy reference. Across from these she saw a large wooden chest with an iron lock closed tightly and a small closet without a door that betrayed the presence of various accoutrements of the male persuasion. She could see that it was a private chamber belonging to someone who must have enjoyed a fair measure of favor in the eyes of Broggha and his elite court of Hillmen at Dol Agwarth, for she knew by instinct alone that she was still in the same miserable and forsaken castle of her enemies.

Elendis sat up in her bed and felt her head swimming in confusion. She had no memory of how she may have gotten there. The last thing she remembered was screaming for help as that reprehensible rogue, Urlavia, momentarily freed her mouth from the gag restraint. Immediately afterwards she felt the rough angry hands of her accosters upon her; not only Urlavia but a strangely scary and lumpish brute of a man with scars on his face and a small ring through his nose. In addition to them she saw a man dressed as a sentinel of the Hillmen and a woman who assisted them in their task of shoving some sort of bitter-tasting soup – or witches brew – into her mouth and down her throat! It was a thin sort of gruel, almost like water but potent in its medicinal acuity. She struggled to resist their efforts to force her consumption of it but was too weak to resist by then, to say nothing of her thirst for water at the time. So she yielded and drank the broth – and her world faded into a blur and fog.

She had no further memory of what transpired afterwards. Sitting up in her bed Elendis tried to reach out with her arm to seize hold of a nightstand beside her. Her head still in a daze her grab succeeded in only in knocking over a drinking vessel filled with water, probably placed there for her own benefit. The noise of it falling to the floor alerted a young woman whom she recognized as prince Ermegil’s servant, Helgha. She came quickly but quietly into the room through the door and looked with wide eyes at Elendis.

“You are awake at last! That is very good! Very good! But you must not rise from your bed too soon!”

“Where am I, Helgha?” asked Elendis wearily.

“In the private quarters of our lord, prince Ermegil, of course!”

Elendis opened her mouth to speak, to ask her what she meant by ‘our lord’, then closed it again as she remembered her reluctant agreement of wedlock with Ermegil. That, at least, she could recall easily enough.

“How long have I been sleeping?”

“Nearly three days! Two and a half at the least! You nearly awoke yesterday – your moaning became louder and even frightened the prince. He feared they may have given you a dose strong enough to send you into a stupor so bad that you might never awaken again! He cares for you very much already my dear! I can see it in his eyes when he looks at you.”

‘Then you must exchange your eyes for those of a blind woman’, thought Elendis inwardly, ‘for even a woman without sight can see that I am little more than a useful tool to the man.”

“What happened to me?” asked Elendis aloud. “I can’t seem to recall anything about the time following my abduction. But, according to what you have said, that must have been three or four days ago!”

“It was. Yet I have been told not to reveal anything of the events of the last two days to you until I alert our lord of your recovery! He is not far, just up on the ramparts with the masons. I was told to come and find him the moment you awoke! I must go! Lay down and rest some more. Do not leave the chamber until we return, I beg you, dear girl!”

~~

Elendis had very nearly fallen back into a sleepy doze when she heard the wooden door to her room give a slight creaking noise as it slowly opened. There was the soft glow of a burning taper beginning to filter through the doorway as she felt rather than heard the bearer of the light approach. Whomever it was seemed reluctant to enter as they lingered in the dark corridor. She said nothing as she watched and waited, a feeling of foreboding beginning to creep over her. If it were Ermegil he would have simply strode into the room to see her. Who could it be then?

“Who is there?” she asked softly, desiring to end the mystery at once.

The form of a hooded man appeared in the doorway. He wore a cloak that went down to his knees and a sword could be seen hanging at his belt that was partially revealed underneath the garment. In his hand was a waxen candle, its wick burning steadily with a firm clear flame. The contours of his whiskered chin, the only facial feature visible at the moment, revealed that the man had hair more fair than that of her lord Ermegil.

“Lady Elendis?” the man said in a low soft voice that was immediately warmer sounding than that of Ermegil’s. She responded in the affirmative before he went on, “The urgency of the situation demands that I speak with you at once.”

“Who are you, sir?” she asked him as she rose up a little to her elbows as she lay on her back in the bed.

“Your deliverer, I hope – or at least a messenger of truth, if nothing else.”

The man did not wait to be invited inside but instead crossed the threshold before closing the door behind him. He turned to face her before pulling his hood back to reveal his face to her. She recognized him at once, though the expression on her face revealed one rather of shock and confusion rather than of joy.

“I know you…Vidui? You are alive? But - how is it so? It was said that they hanged you from the old tree out in the courtyard! That must have been weeks ago now!”

“I am no ghost, m’lady. I escaped the noose before the end. Behold!”

Vidui raised his chin up as he lowered the collar of his shirt beneath the cloak to reveal the scar of the rope burn around his neck.

“It is a scar that I shall bear to the end of my days.”

Elendis gazed at the reddish marking around the nape of his neck as she tried to remember those awful days after they had all been brought to Dol Agwarth, after their company of mountaineers had been devastated by avalanche and by cold.

“But how…Where?”

“There is no time for any of that now,” said Vidui in a hushed and quickened tone. “In time, perhaps, you will learn more of the tale. Your betrothed, that rogue of a man you are plighted to by troth will be here soon.”

He closed the distance between them, told her not to rise but remain in her bed while he spoke.

“First tell me this –“ she interrupted him hurriedly. “Where is Vilthavia? Have you seen him at all? What has happened in the three days I have been asleep? I fear I may have missed his departure. I was supposed to see him one last time before his escort was to see him safely out of the mountains.”

“Is that what your prince told you? Humph! You must learn not to be so trusting of people around here, Elendis!”

“Why? What do you know of Vilthavia? They did not---did not..,” she could not bring herself to finish her question.

“…Kill him? No, of course not! But he is gone from here now. I fear you did indeed miss him while you were unconscious in recovery…I’m sorry.”

Elendis said nothing. She averted her eyes momentarily then felt the tears well up in her eyes. Then it was true; Vilthavia was gone at last. She had dearly desired to see him one last time, to make their final farewell a proper one they could both look back on with a little joy, despite it tasting bittersweet. But at least he was away from here, from this horrible place of cold and death. She wished in her heart that she were with him now, that she could be at his side while they both found their way westwards into a better world in Arnor where folk would welcome them. She turned back to Vidui and said as much to him now, though why she felt the need to confide in him she could not really tell.

“I’m afraid you do not know the reality of it all,” said Vidui. Then more gravely he added, “Listen to me now: Vilthavia is indeed gone from here, for I am a witness to that fact. Yet he did not depart under an escort arranged by your Ermegil and brought into the green valleys in the foothills, whatever he may tell you. Vilthavia was handed over to a slave exchange merchant who does business with Broggha’s allies in both Rhudaur and Angmar in the north. Ermegil made a deal with this fellow, a certain, Calcarn - a foul stumped figure of a man who has become rich over the years by working closely with cruel men such as Broggha nad his northern allies from Angmar.”

“Then…Vilthavia is now a slave!” asked Elendis in a panic.

“Perhaps so,” he replied after a pause. “Or will be soon after he is delivered to his host, though where that may be is unknown for sure. Most likely he will be taken north, to Angmar where his usefulness to this new evil alliance will be evaluated. If he is deemed unfit for the more strenuous labor required by the prisoners there he will either be sent on to do service in some new lord’s abode in Rhudaur as a thrall in chains or else be passed on to the dealers in the east where he may fetch a higher price.”

“What you tell me is horrible, Vidui! Horrible! How could it have come to this?” She buried her head in her hands as she struggled to maintain her composure. “Alas! O Nienna above! Grant me the tears I need now to assuage this grief! It is my fault! All my fault!Alas!”

“Calm yourself, Elendis! Do not give in to despair or you will quickly fade and fall into darkness! That will do nothing to help you or him! Dry your tears, I beg you! I have more information to impart to you now!”

Elendis cuffed at the tears cascading down her cheeks. She took a deep breath and forced herself to make eye contact with the man before her beside her bed. She swallowed hard then asked him what had happened to her during her long spell if unconsciousness.

“All I remember,” she explained, “is being forced to drink some kind of noxious soup at the hands of that foul villain Urlavia and his accomplices after I was kidnapped.”

“All of that you will learn from your lord Ermegil soon.”

“He is not my ‘lord’!” she exclaimed angrily. “I have never wanted him. He is nothing to me but a miserable swine!”

“Do not shout!” he hushed her down with a motion of his hands “These walls have ears of their own! Nay, all of that you will soon be told in full. I have another pressing need at this moment. You need not be that man’s personal concubine by wedlock if you heed my council now. There is a way out of this, I assure you. But it will not be easy and is rife with danger along the way.”

“What? Are you saying there is a way to escape from here?”

“Just so, m’lady! I will explain it to you. But you must listen without interrupting me, for if the prince Ermegil learns of it he will hunt us both down mercilessly, for you are an important element in his grand scheme of manipulation and deception of his rivals, including myself.”

~~

They were rival claimants to the crown of Rhudaur. Two princes from the same kingdom yet with dissimilar backgrounds: Ermegil b astard son of king Denethil, and Vidui, whose true name was Odhil, son of the king’s late brother, Faracil, who was slain by the archers of Denethil after the latter had usurped the throne of Rhudaur the year before after their father, king Boradil, died. Though Ermegil was the only living son of Denethil by blood (for he had only one other son who succumbed to illness while still young and a daughter whom most deemed ineligible to inherit the throne) his claim to the succession was closest by bloodline alone. Yet he was illegitimate by birth. Odhil was the last surviving son of Faracil, who by right should have been king following the death of Boradil, his father. But he had gone into a secret exile into the lands in the east seven years ago, in the year 1329 taking the stock alias of ‘Vidiu’ and telling no one of his existence. Those few who possessed knowledge of him held their tongues as they bided their time, awaiting a day in the future when Odhil would return with the necessary strength to drive out his uncle Denethil from his hold on power. But those few folk had no way then of knowing of the rising might of Broggha and his budding alliance with the black nemesis in the frozen north, and by now, more than likely, were either long dead or else have fled away out of Rhudaur. They would be of little help to Odhil now.

Thus Odhil was a clandestine heir to the throne of Rhudaur and no knowledge of it was known to Broggha or of Ermegil, both of whom would have had him quickly dispatched should they suddenly become aware that Faracil’s only surviving son was presently in their midst and plotting various schemes that were to undermine Broggha’s ambitions in Rhudaur. Furthermore, he had come to know all about Ermegil and his history, though Ermegil knew nothing at all of Odhil, save by name alone.

Elendis, of course, knew even less of Odhil, for she was but a young girl at the time of the violent upheavals of those days of the 1320’s. She only knew now that the man she had known as Vidui had suddenly appeared before her now out of the shadows to offer her his aid as her rescuer from evil. It was a thin straw of hope to grasp at, no doubt, but what choice did she have? The alternative was to remain in her state of mute compliance with the fancies of a mistrustful liar, a man who had blackmailed her into a position of wedlock and then reneged on his promise to free Vilthavia from his plight. Poor Vilthavia! Her heart bled for him whenever she thought of him and her harsh and callous words to him at their last meeting. If Vidui could be believed her dear young friend was far away by now, likely in chains or under the cruel supervision of some villainous rogue who might use him cruelly.

“It is to Arthedain that you and I must flee!” said Vidui. “King Malvegil is not so hard-hearted a king that he will deny us sanctuary. The road is a long one and fraught with peril along the way, I shan’t lie to you. Yet if we can just get past the dark expanse of the woodlands that lay between us here in the mountains from the Last Bridge that spans the river Hoarwell we will have passed the worst of our road. From there it is little more than three or four days to those highlands that men call the Weather Hills which marks the boundary between the three sister-kingdoms.”

“It sounds like a very long way,” said Elendis, “and I wonder how you and I shall fare over so long a road in the open wild with no provisions save the clothes we wear on our backs.”

“It will not be like that. I am not so ignorant a man to expect you to risk your life escaping from this place only to have you die in the wilderness. Having already pretended to cast my lot in with Broggha and his allies in the north I have been granted a limited amount of freedom to move about as I would here. I can get access to extra clothing and rations that will last us for perhaps a fortnight on the open road. Yet Broggha is no fool and since this latest attempt to abduct you has come about he will have you watched carefully lest anyone else make the attempt again.”

“Now you bring up a matter that I long to discover more about,” interrupted Elendis. “I have no clear notion as to what happened to me after I was waylaid and forced to consume that brew that caused my stupor for so long. If you know I beg you to tell me: what happened to me and how is it that my accosters failed in their attempt?”

“You promised not to interrupt me, daughter of Mardon!”

Elendis stared with wide eyes at his obvious knowledge of her father. She was about to speak again but he waved her to silence.

“There is no time now! No time at all for any of that! You shall learn all you wish to know after – if – we managed to escape from here together. Suffice it for now to know that Urlavia and Rhugga, the king’s son, have been apprehended by the guards and are awaiting punishment. You and I must now reach an agreement.

“Yes, I will come with you if I can,” said Elendis. “Yet if Broggha shall indeed have me placed under guard following my attempted abduction how can you possibly manage to get me out unnoticed?”

“Ordinarily I would say that it would be impossible, for Ermegil also will want you to remain hidden for a good while. But hear me Elendis! For now I come to the main point of my visit to you! In two day’s time Broggha shall lead his spearmen into yet another battle against the last remaining tribes of Hillmen of the mountains, a group of loosely allied peoples north of here who have refused to swear fealty to him and have sworn to welcome death rather than serve such a master. Though I feel pity for them now, for they will almost certainly be defeated by Broggha and his allies, I also welcome the opportunity it provides for you and me.”

“You mean to sneak us both out while his head is turned, do you not?”

Vidui looked at her in a moment of grave silence before nodding in assent.

“You are becoming more prudent with every passing moment,” he replied. “That is good, for you shall need all your wits in tact when the time comes for you and I to make our escape. It is the only way for us now, Elendis. Note that I say ‘us’, for I too cannot remain here any longer as I agreed to under the conditions of my parole to Broggha after I was discovered to be among the race of the Dunedain – like yourself!”

Elendis held his gaze steadily as she scrutinized him and his words. Yes, she decided inwardly then. There is more to this young man than meets the eye. He is indeed a Dunadan, though I would not have supposed it in the early days of our acquaintance. Yet his knowledge of my father is more proof of his claim.

“Then we must indeed make the attempt at flight,” she said in a tone of resignation. “We shall go together, you and I – or else die in the attempt.”

“My thoughts coincide with yours, my dear!” replied Vidui with the ghost of a smile. “In two days time in the hour before dawn we shall see the host of Broggha muster together before gates of this old castle as eh addresses his warriors before their march. That is the hour in which you and I must take our leave of this place for good.”

Elendis let her eyes fall down as she contemplated the scenario he had laid out before her. This would be the last gasp for her. She simply knew somehow that hitching her destiny to that of Vidui, this rather strange and aloof man whom she had only first met two months before in the vales of the Anduin before the intended slow march over the Misty Mountains that went so pitifully awry. She felt the enormous weight of guilt over Vilthavia and his fate but knew also that to fret over it indefinitely would not avail him now. Better to live to fight another day so that she may beg for the help she would need from Malvegil of Arthedain in order to rescue, somehow – in some way, her dear Vilthavia. It was a slender thread of hope to walk upon but it was better than walking blindly into thin air.

“I am with you, Vidui,” she said in a steely tone. “Let us make one last gasp for freedom ere the end.”

“So be it.”
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Celebrimbor32
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Wed Oct 28, 2015 5:04 pm

Part four - The Fate of Elendis

IV.

“Men of the spear and shield! Faithful women of the highlands! All good and honorable folk of the mountain tribes; from the snow-covered heights in the northern Ettenmoors to the southern forests upon the steep crags of Dunland where so many of you have honored me with your pledges of fealty from so far away. Lift up your voices to the empty heavens where the gods in the distant west have all but forgotten us! We shall brook their ignoble haughtiness no longer! It is enough, after so may long years of the world. Let your cries of contempt and malice for their injustice be heard by them now so that they may not mistake our intent to rise up in defiance against them and their privileged favorites – the Dunedain – for some petty grab for a few hectares of worthless land! Say not so, for we are filled with a righteous wrath in our hearts so mighty and terrible that no power left in Middle-earth will avail against us! Not man, dwarf or elf shall dare stand in our path to victory over the allies of the evil in the west! The Misties are ours now! We have conquered them at last! Our blood stains the snow and rock of these lofty lands! Next comes the woodlands of Rhudaur, the lands of your kin! The same lush lands that yours and mine own ancestors were forcibly evicted from so many ages of the world before at the malicious hands of the so-called ‘high men of the west’ – the Dunedain! I say to them here and now – beware the vengeance of a Hillman! We do not forget! We are coming at last! Do you hear me, my beloved subjects? Let your voices be heard! We are coming! We are coming! Huzzah! Huzzah! We are coming!”

Thus spake Broggha, Lord of the Hillmen.

A tremendous clamor arose with these words so that Elendis flinched at the sound of such voluminous noise. She had to fight back the urge to cover her ears with her hands to lessen the sound of it all, for she feared what all her neighbors standing round her in the courtyard might think of her if she were to be seen by any of them trying to block out the words of their revered overlord, Broggha, ‘Champion of Men’. She swiveled her head back and forth as she looked upon the people of Dol Agwarth who roared their approval at their lord’s fell words of impending war and victory over all the Dunedain. Standing alongside her was her betrothed, the prince Ermegil, illegitimate son of Denethil, the present king of Rhudaur. She looked up at him swiftly as she heard him applaud the madman’s speech in accordance with all the rest of the crowd. She did not choose to do likewise, however.

“Clap your hands, Elendis!” commanded the prince as he noticed her complacency. “Go on, I say! Beat your hands together so that they will not suspect you more than they already do for an unrepentant and ungrateful enemy!”

Elendis did as she was told and clapped her hands together. It was growing increasingly cold and windy outside on the main courtyard, and at least her applause, however insincere it may be, would keep her blood pumping in the cold. She looked back out across the open area where so many people were assembled and repeated Broggha’s last words in a rhythmic chant: ‘We are coming! We are coming! We are coming!’

Broggha stood fully erect in his posture upon the heights of one of the old roofless barbicans that made up part of the outer wall of the aged castle. In this way all those assembled in the courtyard could see and hear him clearly. Elendis felt her eyes drawn towards him and his horrific splendor quite against her will. The man was dressed up for full-scale war in his long-sleeved chain shirt, metal breastplate and leather arm greaves. Upon his large head he wore his favored war helm, which he claimed had saved his life on numerous occasions in the midst of battle. Made of finely polished bronze and steel both sides of it extended downwards along both cheeks for protection leaving space enough for the wearer’s mouth to be seen. The mask, its eye slits long and narrow to give the appearance of a permanent scowl, protected his dark eyes. Only his mouth and bearded chin were left naked. Yet most remarkable of all was the plume of long hair attached to the top that fell down behind the head of the wearer. These, it was said, were the many strands of hair from his vanquished foes that he had killed in battle. In either of his hands was his personal spear and shield, the former he would raise up on high whenever he was intent on pressing his rhetorical points home with his audience in order to give his words emphasis.

“Think not, my dear subjects,” continued Broggha in the same manner, “that we have come so far together after so much toil and hardship by mere chance, or by any random complacency among our enemies! It was the inexorable decree of our injustice! Of the undeniable rights of our ancestors that have brought us so far together! We have earned our right to exist as a free people here in this Middle-earth! No longer shall we be subject to the tyranny, the cruel and malevolent treatment performed upon us by our proud and condescending neighbors to the west! It is enough, I say!! Enough!!”

More raucous applause from the crowd below the feet of Broggha. Feeling a growing sense of alarm and anxiety welling up inside her Elendis avoided the eyes of all those around her. Knowing that any refusal to clap her hands would be met with a swift rebuke from Ermegil who stood close beside her – almost protectively, she banged her hands together once more as she turned her vision upwards to the skies. The clouds of a grey heaven hung low in the air above, threatening to unload a healthy dusting of snow upon the Misty Mountains. Autumn was waning fast now. Winter came early in the mountains of the mists; she knew this well enough by now. She tried to block out the noise around her and force her troubled mind to think of the next few days ahead of her. They would not be easy on her – nor on Vidiu, for together they would flee out into the wild and make their escape together or else perish in the attempt. Only a few more days and she might very well be free of this terrible place infested with terrible folk she desired to see never again. Her thoughts were interrupted as the applause died away and Broggha continued his fell speech.

“When our fathers stood against the realms of the Dunedain, the three sister-kingdoms of old, they had no such resources as we have now! Indeed, they abandoned even what little they had, and then it was by wisdom rather than by good fortune, by daring rather than physical power that they resisted the so-called ‘high men of the west’! We must now live up to the standards set by our kin of old; we must resist our enemies in every way we can muster! There must be no room in our ranks for whimperers or cowards, for panic-stricken cravens and deserters! We noble Hillmen must no know fear in battle and must selflessly commit ourselves in both body and mind in our war against oppression. Shall we live on forever as thralls penned up here in the mountains? I say we shall not! The issue is one of life or death for us all! Shall we live on in freedom or live on in thralldom? It is enough, I say! What say you, my noble people? Let me hear your voices!”

The crowd of several hundreds, if not a thousand or more, began to cry aloud in unison: “It is enough! It is enough!” and “Death to the Dunedain!” though this last utterance, despite the vehemence in tone, was only half as loud as the previous chant.

“Hear me in this also!” cried Broggha in a manner that suggested conciliation. “Do not forget, good people, that we fight not alone but with friends who join with us arm in arm! The realm of Angmar in the north will be with us in our battles against the tyrants of the west! I say to you again – Angmar is with you! Together the two of us shall divide and conquer our enemies like wheat in a field under the force of the plowman! First we shall march upon the last holdouts among the Gaunts and their few allies who think that their meager numbers will avail the armies of Denethil in Cameth Brin in battle. It is an error that will prove their undoing! We shall crush these pathetic folk and then turn our feet due west – to the tower of Cameth Brin itself where Denethil hides himself and his family away in idleness. Once there we shall cast him off the steep crags of that high hill and watch his broken body smite the rooftops of Tanoth Brin far below! Then Rhudaur shall be ours once more, as it was predestined in the early ages of this Middle-earth!”

“Down with Rhudaur! Death to Denethil!” shouted the multitudes of onlookers in the courtyard. It was repeated over and over again, so much so that Elendis could no longer resist the urge to stop up her ears with her fingers. More and more chants were being hurled aloud among the people gathered there as they smiled and clapped one another on their backs in their great hopes and expectations.

“Death to all the Dunedain! Let them all be slain or driven into thralldom!” This was the call of only a few voices as the clamor began to die down once more. Yet it was heard by most of those gathered there, including Broggha himself who, surprisingly enough, waved down the men who spoke these sentiments.

“Nay, nay! Say not so, men of the spear!” said Broggha derisively without singling out the men who had spoken. “We must not imitate the policies of our foes! I will not implement the very same immoral laws of injustice that those same Dunedain forced upon us through the ages. Nay! My court will be one of just laws carried out un due process! There are still common folk among the populace of Rhudaur and as such shall be given the fair chance to bend the knee to us and acquiesce to my decrees once I wear the crown of that realm. If they comply with the new law of the land after their fealty is sworn to me then they will be granted their liberty to live out their lives as they see fit – so long as they obey me. Only those that resist shall suffer the consequences thereafter! Not all those people of the west are wicked folk!”

“Nay, lord!” cried a voice from the crowd. “Surely the Dunedain are a race of vile people filled with hatred in their hearts! They hate us and we hate them! Let them die by the sword one and all!”

Not a few others in the anonymity of the crowd voiced their agreement with whomever had spoken, but Broggha shook his head.

“Tis’ true, I confess,” he replied, “that within the breast of every Dunadan there beats the heart of a pig! We all know that well enough! But even the filthiest of swine may be trained to embrace a new way of thought! Indeed! I shall offer you proof of my testimony here and now! Where among this great assembly of folk is the Dunadan prince? Ermegil, b astard son of Denethil! Where are you down there among so many? Present yourself to these good people now and back up my claim on your behalf!”

Elendis felt the princes’ hand; the very one she had been forced to hold during the entirety of Broggha’s speech, to tighten around hers at the mention of his name being called repeatedly by the ‘Champion of Men’. Immediately Elendis felt the eyes of many men and women turning in their direction. At length she felt the full brunt of their stares upon them both as they stood there in the midst of a throng of hostility and resentment.

“I am here, my liege! Here!” cried Ermegil dutifully, releasing his hold upon her hand so quickly that one would have sworn it was all aflame. Elendis was glad of this at the least, for his grip had begun to hurt her. “I hear your testimony and thank you for it! For you are my liege-lord now! I renounced my kinship to the king or Rhudaur long ago – as all know well enough!”

“Come forward, prince Ermegil of Rhudaur, son of Denethil! The people cannot hear you! Come forward and join me upon this bastion!”

A pause in movement and speech. Ermegil cast an uneasy look around him before turning to whisper to Elendis, “I must go. Stay here! Do you hear? Do not move from here until I return.”

Suddenly Elendis felt the strange reluctance to be parted with him then. Though she bore him little love, even disgust and loathing at times, especially for his deception over her final meeting with Vilthavia that never transpired as he had promised, she did not welcome the opportunity to be alone then amid so great a crowd of folk who bore her no love at all. Against her will she felt her feet begin to follow him through the crowd, but he turned and waved her away. She stopped dead in her tracks as she took notice of the strange and malicious glares of the strangers about her as a chill went through her heart.

At length, as the people made way for him to approach the stone barbican where Broggha and his two bodyguards looked down on him from their stoop, Ermegil ducked beneath the low archway and disappeared in the darkness to take the winding stair. In another moment he appeared atop the structure alongside his liege-lord looking more uneasy and nervous than he had appeared in a long while.

“Behold our residential Dunadan,” said Broggha to his people. “Lo and behold how a man may be bound by blood to another yet feel no sense of familial bond to them for their shameful crimes of the past! We all know the prince Ermegil by now; we know him to be true to our cause and our long road to liberation from the oppressive powers in the west! Yet nor is he alone in my example. Two more of their race is among us as well! Where is the man named Vidui? Where are you down there? Or should we use your true name now? Prince Odhil, son of the former Rhudauran king, Boradil! Come forth, Odhil!”

“Yes, I am here,” answered a plaintive voice in reply. Elendis turned her head to follow the gazes of the crowd as they took notice of the form of Vidui who had just emerged from his place of anonymity in the crowd. He had not been far away from her, though she had not noticed his presence before. “Make way, I beg you! Make way as I come to our king!” The people murmured and made random comments to one another as they let him pass through their numbers. As he came close to Elendis on his way forward the two of them exchanged nervous glances with each other, as if to say, ‘This does not bode well, I fear! What will come of this?’

“There you are, our long lost princeling!” said Broggha as he watched Vidui’s approach. “Did you fear I had forgotten you? Ascend the stairway therein and join us up here!”

In the passing of a few more moments both of the exiled princes of Rhudaur, Ermegil and Odhil were together with their new liege-lord atop the barbican before the upturned faces of so many Hillmen from different places along the lengths of the highlands and lowlands alike. Folk who formerly bore one another small little liking, at times downright animosity, had been brought together under the leadership of one mighty man, who was in turn under the sway of a power in the north far greater than even he could have known then.

Vidui stood uneasily alongside Ermegil, his princely counterpart and theoretical rival for the future crown of Rhudaur. Vidui cast a precursory glance out at the crowd below before turning his head to look silently at Ermegil, who seemed unwilling to make eye contact with him then.

“Good people!” cried Broggha again. “Behold the two princes! Doubtless they have both long entertained dreams of wearing the crown of Rhudaur themselves! And for that I blame them not! Yet,” here he turned to appraise them both as he spoke aloud, “I fear they shall have to content themselves with appointments of generals or perhaps even of privy councilors to myself, for I alone shall wear Denethil’s crown once we dethrone him!”

A mighty cheer from the crowd at these words, followed with the improvisational chant of, ‘King Broggha! King, Broggha!’

“One more there is among you, my subjects! One more residential Dunadan remains in your presence! Not a prince but rather a golden-haired princess; the daughter of a former Rhudauran captain, a disgruntled archer who once befriended Denethil long ago while he was still a prince! Where art thou, young lass? Elendis, daughter of Mardon! Ah! There you are! Come forth and join us upon this lofty perch of ours!”

All eyes spun round to observe Elendis. She stared back at them all with wide eyes that were filled with a newborn terror. She could hardly speak and as such could only shake her head in great doubt.

“Come forward, daughter of Mardon,” cried Broggha again. “Come forward and show me how much you appreciate our hospitality over these many weeks!”

“No! No, lord! Pray do not involve the girl in this!”

It was the voice of Vidui, who spoke urgently on her behalf. Broggha turned to face him with a countenance on his face that betrayed his gloating pleasure in the triumphant display he was engaged in with them all.

“She will certainly be involved!” replied Broggha. “We are all bound together in this not merely by blood and kinship but by honor and fealty! None that reside within my walls here shall be exempt in this long effort to reclaim our lost dignity from the hands of the Dunedain, from the people like her and like you!”

He turned back to the faces of his people and urged them to usher the girl forward, for they could see that Elendis had not been willing to move from her place among the crowd. Elendis could not hide the look of trepidation she felt then and she turned around to look upon the faces of a small group of shouting women whose voices she could distinguish by their tone from the throngs of men around her. They were much older than herself and seemed to scowl at her as they condemned her for her timidity and lack of zeal for the cause of war against the west. Seeing her turn about to face the women and mistaking her sudden curiosity of them for cowardice several of the men in the crowd laid hands upon Elendis, at first pulling her forward by her coat sleeves, then going so far as to hoist her bodily into the air on high so as to carry her forward. She screamed at the unexpected display of force and made an attempt to resist but quickly abandoned the effort as useless. Despite the protests of both Vidui and Ermegil who watched it all from their perch upon the top of the barbican Elendis was forced into the darkness of the stairwell below before quickly finding herself beside Broggha above.

“So do even the women of your people march forth to war – like lambs to slaughter?” asked Vidui incredulously.

“Not as lambs,” replied Broggha derisively, “but as champions of justice! Unlike your folk in the west, where the women crawl under their rocks for safety while the men go out to war the women of the Hill-folk share in the perils of war with their men!”

“But my liege,” said Ermegil in a tone more reasonable than that of Vidui’s, “the girl is too young and frail, too inexperienced with either a sword or spear to go into battle against an enemy line comprised of battle-hardened men with a taste for blood! It would be like sending her to her execution!”

“She will go to war,” said Broggha coldly.

“Lord, may I humbly remind you of a compact that exists between you and I,” Ermegil went on, “regarding my right of troth to her – the wedlock that her and I have already agreed upon per your solemn word of honor. That was our agreement, if I do not mistake! I have agreed to assist in the storming of my father’s dwelling at Cameth Brin in return for my right to wed with the lady Elendis!”

She was up with them now standing alongside Vidui. Here the prince Ermegil cast a sideward glance at Elendis to gauge her reaction to his words but she had already taken a place against the turret of the barbican and seemed to be looking out over the embrasure to the crowd of baying men and women below.

“Behold, my good people!” cried Broggha again. “Behold the three redeemers! They will march into battle with us! These two men and their woman shall represent their own Dunedain race, not only as a symbols of loyalty to us – but as symbols of redemption; of repudiation for the countless evil deeds done by their own people against the tribes of the Hillmen! They go to war now to fight the tyranny of Denethil and his wicked court! Let these three valiant people hear your approval!’

More applause and cheers from the crowd, some of it less than flattering. Elendis looked on them, those many upturned faces, not with loathing or hatred, but with a growing sense of indifference and resignation. Was she beginning already to lose her fear of them? No, she didn’t think so. She had instead begun to accept the fate that destiny had arranged for her. One thing was clearly apparent now: there would be no secret flight from Dol Agwarth now, no desperate scramble into the wild with Vidui at her side as the two of them risked their lives to escape the mountains to come into Rhudaur again. It was not to be and was futile to resist her appointed destiny. Instead she would march off to war, into the snow-covered mountains to fight – to take up arms against yet another tribe of HIllmen first; then, if she survived that first trial, to go on to fight unwillingly against her own folk, the Dunedain people of Rhudaur.

Broggha watched his people below him as they cheered on the fates of the three Dunedain ‘guests’. While he waited for their voices to die away he turned back to the three of them. Prince Ermegil made to speak again but Broggha waved him away to silence. He looked past the prince and beckoned to Elendis.

“Come here, girl!” he said in a tone that would not brook denial. “Come over here and stand beside me now. Before we end this display of exultation I have one last gift for you before we make our preparations for our long battle march.”

Elendis looked at Broggha for a moment, hesitated, than did as she had been told. As she went up next to him he suddenly reached for her and, seizing her by the arm, drew her into him so that his arm was about her shoulders. She felt the cold of his chain vest hard against her side as he extended his pointed index finger outwards towards the bulk of the castle before them.

“Think not that your service now to me and my people shall go unrewarded, for behold!”

Elendis squinted her eyes as she saw the men and women in the crowd part as they made way for a quartet of armed spearmen emerge from the shadows of the archway as they bore with them four prisoners, this being obvious seeing as how each had their hands tied up behind their backs and wore dark hoods that covered their face and head entirely so that they could see nothing. They were dressed in gray dirty robes that were exceedingly loose and poorly fitted for them. Their identities could not be ascertained. A sense of dread began to fall upon her troubled mind once more as she looked on with her mouth agape.

“Say not that I have refused you your right to justice, dear lady!” said Broggha as he held her tight. “Against my own laws were you abducted by force and mishandled by these four traitors to our cause.” Then turning to four guards below he nodded to them to commence with their purpose. Elendis saw that two more men came forward bearing a large flat wooden board whose length they placed atop the large round opening in the old stone well so that the board spanned across the dark chasm from one side to the other. This being done the four prisoners were led like blind men as they were lifted upwards and forced to shuffle on their knees in single file so that all four men were atop the wooden plank where they waited like blind and deaf mutes for their fate to be decided. One of them tried to call aloud for mercy but was immediately rebuked by a guard with the butt end of his spear to the prisoner’s stomach.

Elendis let her eyes shut as she shook her head in mute disbelief. She could almost guess the identity of least one of those miserably prisoners and could not help but feel sympathy for him. Of the other three she was unsure.

“Let it begin!” shouted Broggha to the spearmen below. One of those guards announced aloud to the four condemned men that they had been found guilty of high treason against the United Alliance of Hillmen by Lord Broggha following the detailed report of the intended kidnapping of one of Broggha’s ‘official guests’ by his privy councilors. “Therefore!” continued the guard in a wooden flat tone, “you all shall suffer the fate of execution forthwith! May the afterlife prove merciful to your souls following the death of your mortal bodies!”

“My good men of the purse!” called Broggha to a small group of men standing atop one of the adjacent walls of the courtyard. Elendis could see that two or three of them were obviously foreigners, most likely merchants or traders judging by their attire. “My good fellow! Have you collected all the coinage from those who are wagering on the executions?”

“Aye! We are ready, lord Broggha!”

“It is time then, lady Elendis,” said Broggha turning back to her. “All four of these individuals have been found guilty by my courts of attempting to kidnap you and smuggle you out of my abode in secret in order to use you as their hostage. They desired to blackmail both myself and your betrothed prince by threatening to sell you to Arthedain; to reveal all my purposes and private councils to my enemies unless I paid their ransom. Fortunately for you and for me they were apprehended before they could succeed. Now they shall pay for their treachery. However, to show you that I am not without mercy – I shall allow you to choose one prisoner from the four of them. The one that you choose shall be spared the penalty of death.”

“No.” It was barely audible but unmistakable. Elendis shook her head in horror, then repeated her refusal. “No! I cannot! I cannot do such a thing!”

“You must choose one!” Then turning to face the crowd, he repeated himself in a louder voice. “You cannot refuse! The little lady must make a choice, I say! Otherwise all four shall die!”

Many nods and cries of approval from his audience at these words. Many of the men in the crowd had placed a wager on which prisoner would be spared the deadly plunge into the deep stone well and insisted that a choice be made by her.

“Do you hear them now?” asked Broghha to Elendis. “They will not brook a refusal from you! You must choose one of the four prisoners, else all of them will die. Is that what you want, lady?”

“But I cannot see their faces! Let their hoods be removed before I make such a dreadful choice. That must I insist upon!”

“You cannot make demands from me, you worthless thing!”

In a sudden surge of anger Broggha removed one of his gloves, seized her by the shoulders and slapped her hard across the face with the back of his hand, causing her to fall backwards to the flow of the barbican with a cry of pain. Both Ermegil and Vidui made to run to her aid – but only Vidui followed through with his intention after Broggha’s bodyguards stepped forward to hinder their progress. He had barely lifted her up again by her shoulders before the guards laid rough hands on him, rendering him immobilized. They brought him before their lord who scowled angrily at him through the visor on his helmet. With both his arms held back behind him by force Broggha drew forth his sword from the scabbard on his belt and poised its sharp point directly at the throat of Vidui who stared at it through labored breathing. Then Broggha looked back at Elendis who now supported herself by leaning against the stonework, nursing her bloody nose with her free hand.

“You will make a choice now, lady Dunadan,” snarled Broggha in a rage, “or I will run this man through with my blade! Do you hear me!”

Elendis paused through her tears, looking frightfully at all the men around her: the megalomaniacal Broggha, his two stone-faced bodyguards who pinioned the arms of the mysterious Vidui, who was also apparently the owner of the name of Odhil; and finally the dubious prince Ermegil, he whom she was forced into wedlock with upon false promises. The first of these she feared and shunned like death itself, including his guards, the second she found mystifying and self-serving – confusing even; the last she mistrusted almost as much as she disliked for his deception regarding poor Vilthavia and his departure. She looked on the whole lot of them now with abhorrence. Why, oh why, she asked herself uselessly then, had she not been killed in the avalanche? It would have been so much simpler, so very much less painful!

“Very well,” she said with a shaky voice, avoiding the looks of Broggha who glared wrathfully at her. “I will make a choice. I will do it…just please do not kill this man, I beg! I will do your bidding.” Elendis swallowed another impending sob that threatened to escape her lips. She did not want to encourage the jeering of the onlookers anymore than she already had. “I choose the man on the far left.”

Broggha let his sword tip fall away from Vidui’s throat as he looked back out at the prisoners lined up on their knees upon the flat wooden plank across the opening of the well. He shook his head in agreement, called out in a loud voice to the four guards whom among the four they were to spare. The guards nodded comprehendingly, stepped up and onto the long plank and assisted the heavily cloaked prisoner off the board by explaining to him that he had been given a last second reprieve by the lord Broggha. Some of the men in the throng about the courtyard cried out in glee, indicating that they had wagered on the correct victim to be spared and thus would soon be the wealthier. Many more voiced their audible disappointment at the result.

“The lady Elendis has made her choice!” cried Broggha to his people below. “Let the hoods be removed from all four of the prisoners now so that we may see the identity of this fortunate man and those doomed to die!”

Two of the guards stepped up to the platform and removed the hoods, cloaks and masks from all four of the men. Elendis stared down at the scene upon the old well with wide horrific eyes. Just as she had suspected all four prisoners were those that had participated in her abduction: Urlavia, Vilthavia’s crooked uncle; Rhugga, lord Broggha’s own son; Wulfcarl, one of the captains of the guards and his lover, Hilda, she whom had showed the ailing Elendis a small bit of kindness and sympathy when she had removed the stifling gag around her mouth that night down in the old kitchen. But Elendis felt her eyes lock onto the form of the prisoner she had randomly and unwittingly chosen to preserve from death.

It was Urlavia – the Vagabond.

Elendis gasped loudly at the sight of that unsavory man being freed from his bonds and the gag upon his mouth by Broggha’s spearmen. The Vagabond! She saw him breathing heavily, his hands cupped across his bearded chin as one who attempts to regain their composure after an ordeal. There was no doubt that he looked extremely relieved not to be cast into the deep well to his death. Men and women around him were hissing and voicing their disapproval at the turn of events, for they did not like to see three of their own folk, a woman and two men – one of them being the son of the king, no less – being sent to their deaths at the choice of a Dunedain maiden.

“No! No, I wish to make another choice!” cried Elendis to Broggha, the latter being obviously disappointed at the outcome. “Bind them all up once more and let me try again, I beg you!”

“Nay, lady!” replied Broggha gravely. “It shall not be so. Your choice was a blind one and without prejudice. It cannot be changed.”

“Please, lord Broggha! Take pity, I beg! At least spare the woman! Hilda played no part in the scheme!”

“It was she, little woman, who concocted the plan for your kidnapping. It was her idea!”

“I do not believe it!”

“It is true enough, I say!”

“Let her go! Show your own folk a tiny shred of mercy by setting her free!”

“Do you then place the value of a woman over that of a man?”

“Aye! I do! She is defenseless, like myself!”

“You are a pathetic fool, lass!” he turned to face Ermegil, adding, “I hope you teach this girl a bit of wisdom after you are joined in wedlock with her, prince!”

“I certainly shall, lord,” said Ermegil dutifully.

“I beseech you, lord!” cried Elendis.

“Silence, wench!”

Broggha waved her away and took no further notice of her sobs and pleas, nor of the entreaties of Vidui who joined Elendis in her objections then. Calling out to the spearmen below to carry out the executions, Broggha signaled to his guards to follow him back down the stairway. He paused before leaving, however, commanding Vidui, Ermegil and Elendis to be ready to march to war by the dawn on the morrow. Then he left and went out into the crowd of his people below.

The three Dunedain exchanged brief nervous glances before turning to observe the three remaining prisoners, Wulfcarl, Hilda and Rhugga, Broggha’s own flesh and blood, kneeling in a line upon the plank of doom. All three were native Hillmen and would die forthwith. Broggha did not even pause in his stride to take one last look upon his son before the sentence was carried out. He walked quickly past them and disappeared into the back archway with his bodyguards.

Hilda wept openly, her words drowned by the commotion of the onlookers. Yet it was plain enough to see that she was begging for mercy to the guards. Wulfcarl, her beloved, tried to offer her words of comfort but found that he too was weeping. Oddly enough Rhugga was stonily silent and said nothing at all. He simply stared out into nothingness as if he were half asleep.

The guards took places on either end of the long plank across the opening chasm of the well and began to pull it back across to the opposite end. Urlavia had not left the scene but merely stood rooted in place, looking on with terrified wonder while his fellow conspirators prepared for death.

It came to them.

As the board began to be drawn across the well the three victims shook violently before falling into the blackness of their eternity. Rhugga fell first, not even offering resistance. As the board lost its purchase upon the outer stone ring of the well he toppled sideways and plunged headfirst. Hilda offered one last piercing cry of terror, grasped at Wulfcarl who returned her hold before the two of them felt the open air below them locked in their final embrace – and they immediately vanished from sight.

Elendis wept bitterly at the sight. Vidui came to her side at once and offered her solace by wrapping his arms around her and attempting to bury her face into his chest. Ermegil, being outraged by this gross violation of propriety, stepped forward and seized Vidui by the shoulder. He swung him around by force before burying his fist into the latter’s stomach. Vidui was not prepared for this assault from behind and quickly crumpled to the ground with a gasp of pain. Ermegil looked down at him in disgust for a moment then offered Vidui a harsh kick in the ribs – but lo! Vidui grabbed hold of his leg and tripped Ermegil up so that he fell to the stone floor of the barbican alongside him.

Elendis stepped backwards, felt the wall behind her and let herself slide down its length to her knees where she wept as one who has just lost a loved one. She looked on helplessly while the two rival princes engaged in a melee of fisticuffs. She didn’t care. She thought only of herself at that moment. She felt lonely and miserable and longed only to die, for nothing else in the world seemed to make a difference anymore. Tomorrow morning she knew she might very well have her wishes realized – for come dawn’s forst light she would join the fighting forces of Broggha and his armies of Hillmen and march forth to a battle she felt in her heart would be her first and her last. ~
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Celebrimbor32
Ranger of the North
 
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Re: GRIEF OF THE NORTH KINGDOM

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Thu Feb 04, 2016 11:08 am

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

part one - Vilthavia's Escape

Amid the encampment of slaves Vilthavia lay back against a wall of bracken and moss, his chin nodding to his chest with the heaviness of sleep upon him. Nearly three and a half days of marching through a deep rocky defile in the heart of the mountains had driven him almost to his breaking point. Had he been forced to make the very same journey on foot up in the windy highlands and mountaintops he might have dropped dead from either exposure or fatigue by the second day. But the slave drivers who guided him and his fellow twenty prisoners knew their intended route well, had prepared accordingly for the possibility of rough weather by garbing all of their slaves with heavy clothing and thick leather shoes designed for winter travel. Doubtless they would be stripped of such accommodating accoutrements after they had been delivered to wherever their final destinations may be, but for the time being they were as well dressed as the lords who temporarily governed them by the sword and whip.

Vilthavia had not wanted to sleep under such trying conditions but knew that once he sat down he could not resist the lure of it. He made sure he was alone, however, before he allowed himself to drift off. At once he was plunged into a dream, or more than one, that betrayed his inner melancholia and longing for home.

Visions of Elendis unfolded before his inner eye, of her walking through a pathless grove of mighty oak and elm trees in a green land. Several yards in front of her walked a man wearing a hooded cloak whose identity Vilthavia was unable to make out. They did not speak as they went along, and the further they went into the wood the more brown their environment became until at last all the tall trees were dead and withered whose limbs cracked and fell to the ground after the two travelers had passed them by. Immediately the dream floated away and he saw himself walking alone over a vast plain of tall grass blowing in the wind. Not a soul existed anywhere nearby for many leagues on end. It was himself alone in a wilderness of hills and treeless fields. He knew he was thirsty and was aware that he must find a river or stream soon if he did not want to perish of thirst alone in the wild. He went on and on until he had nearly despaired. Just as the last sunset of his life began to fade over the western horizon he caught a glimpse of a farmstead in the distance just past a low depression in the terrain. It was his childhood home, the house of his mother Yavinya. The sight of it looked strange to him, almost unfamiliar, but he knew he longed for it, wanted nothing more than to reach the front doorstep to greet his mother and begin the difficult task of making his amends to her for running away in secret on a fool’s errand. He stopped short, however, upon nearly falling head first into a deep rocky cutting in the ground before him. He never known it to be there before and he stood at the rim of the cliff and gazed down into a dark nothingness – an abyss whose bottom he could not make out. His path forward was cut off and he was hopelessly stranded. His heart filled with sorrow at the realization of his predicament.

He was wrenched out of his dreams only slowly then. An external noise intruding upon his unconsciousness brought him back to the world of the living, and as his eyes slowly rolled back down from inside his head he opened them and saw before him one of his fellow prisoners laying on his back with his arms raised across his face as if to ward off a blow from an attacker. He had grunted in pain as one of the slave lords had kicked him in the ribs, the latter of whom still stood above his victim as he watched him squirm upon the ground. Vilthavia looked up at the guard who in turn looked directly at him. He resembled something like a man who was more than half a beast. Though not exceptionally tall the man was broad and hairy. His face, also covered in hair, was squat and sported long whiskers that grew even above his cheekbones, making his complexion difficult to ascertain at first glance. He wore no hood but sported a thick brown and greenish woolen coat that made it easy for him to blend into his natural surroundings. His eyes were cruel, his speech course and brazen. Vilthavia held the man’s gaze only for a couple passing moments before he knew he must avert his eyes elsewhere or else risk incurring the man’s wrath.

“Get up!” the man shouted aloud, his accent thick and heavy. No one moved at first. Vilthavia forced himself to look back over at the man again. “Get. Up!” Vilthavia immediately felt the mental cobwebs of slumber melt away as he began to realize that the guard was addressing him personally, and not the poor man laying crumpled on the ground.

“Are you a half-wit? I shan’t say again!. Get. Up!”

Vilthavia slowly rose to his feet from his place against the wall of the cliff face, his hands beginning to shake from fear. Why had he been singled out by this brute? What had he done that had offended him? Before he could do anything more he saw the man whom had been laying on the ground roll over and slowly begin to rise up on his knees. This angered the guard considerably and he turned his cruel eyes upon the man.

“Not you, curse it! Get back down!”

He aimed a savage kick at the poor fellow’s ribs causing the man grunt in pain before falling back down in a fetal position. The guard stepped past him and came closer to Vilthavia whom tried to inch backwards and away from the man but had nowhere to go with the wall of the cliff behind him. He halted a mere four feet away and looked down with disgust at him. In his hands he held a pair of leather shoes that Vilthavia slowly recognized as his own. He felt his eyes involuntarily dart down to his feet and was startled to see that he was now barefoot, the cold of the ground beneath them only then beginning to become uncomfortable.

“What are these here, eh? Eh?” the man asked him tauntingly. “You lose these here? Did you?”

Vilthavia looked dumbfounded at the sight of his own shoes in the man’s hand, could not possibly understand how he had lost them. He surely had them on his feet when he fell asleep! Indeed! How could he not? He tried to mumble a few halting words of explanation but fell silent at length. The man shook his head in disapproval at him, then let out a brief guffaw before hurling the shoes with great force at him causing Vilthavia to ward off the pair of projectiles with his hands. The shoes bounced off the wall behind him and fell harmlessly to the ground.

“Little Fool! You should walk with bare feet from here! Serve you right! But you must walk a great while more so you need those. Put them on now!”

Vilthavia did as he was told and immediately put his shoes back on his cold feet. The guard sniffed with mute satisfaction and turned his attention back to the man on the ground still nursing his bruised ribs. He strode up beside him and looked down, his eyes boring invisible holes into the poor fellow’s head.

“You cost me two bags of snuff, interfering arseling! I have nothing else to smoke now!”

The area fell silent around them. Vilthavia swept his gaze around their encampment where the other twenty odd slaves, or prisoners who would soon become slaves after their new masters came to call on them, were mostly sitting here and there on the ground or on small rocks that lay strewn randomly about the narrow defile they had been following for he last three days. A few others were gathering what dry wood they could find for the fire that would soon be made. Most of those nearby were observing the scene at hand with little interest, preferring instead to wrap themselves up in their coats and hoods as they stared vacantly out before them, their misery obvious to all but the most unobservant.

“I ought to gut you…like a fish! What do you say for that?” the guard demanded to know from his victim. “Repeat for me the slave’s maxim!”

The man swallowed hard as he slowly met the gaze of his accoster. His breathing was labored but rhythmic as he regained mastery over his physical pain. He coughed twice before speaking aloud in a restrained tone what the guard wanted to hear from him.

“I am…a humble slave, and therefore I am…worthless. I exist only to serve my lord.”

“Again! Do not whisper to me, curse you!”

The man repeated the debasing phrase once more but with hardly any more volume in his tone. It struck Vilthavia that the man’s voice was by nature a fair one, or else it would be so under more favorable circumstances. As he continued to stare at the man he felt an odd sense of familiarity with him, though they were entirely unacquainted with each other. Something about his appearance, the way he held himself up during the long march. He had noticed the man before, of course – indeed all of the enslaved marchers were at least familiar with one another by sight alone, but there was another aspect about this particular fellow that caught Vilthavia’s attention then.

The harsh voice of the guard intruded upon his thoughts then as the prisoner was commanded to beg forgiveness from his overlord for interfering in some unknown event that Vilthavia could not understand just then, his wits only just having recovered from the dumbness of interrupted sleep. Yet before the bruised victim could reply another of the slave drivers, a thin wiry man skilled in the arts of subterfuge, suddenly called out from the far end of the encampment to the large brute looming over the stricken slave still on the ground before his feet. The guard looked over at his companion from on far, called back to him in a strange tongue that Vilthavia had never heard before, and listened attentively to the reply that was offered him. The guard at hand seemed dissatisfied with something, his head shaking in disapproval at whatever he had just been told, and strode away towards his companion.

Vilthavia watched the victim of the guard’s beating as the man continued to remain on his knees in silence. He felt like he ought to speak to him, inquire to his physical condition or perhaps offer him some sort of assistance. But he lacked the courage then to do so, perhaps fearing some kind of physical reprimand from the same hairy brute that had beat the poor fellow before him.

At length the man upon his knees coughed again, then looked up to meet Vilthavia’s gaze. It was the first time that the two of them had met one another’s eye, the first occasion of mutual regard for the other during the last three days. Vilthavia felt as if he was gazing directly into a mirror. The man looked a lot like himself, or what he might appear to look like in another fifteen or twenty years from then, should he be fortunate enough to live that long. The fellow had the same long dark hair, thick and curly, the same gray eyes set into slightly slanted lids and a high forehead that gave him a countenance of shrewdness and high wit. Their noses were not exact imitations of each other, Vilthavia’s being thicker around the bulb and the nostrils wider. Yet the fullness of their lips, the angular frame of their jawline could indeed be said to have been cut from the very same mold. Their complexions were the only obvious difference between them, with Vilthavia’s being more of a tanned olive color.

The man looked away for a moment, grimaced at the pain of standing upright and limped over close to Vilthavia, making the latter step backwards with intimidation.

“I shan’t harm you, lad,” he said softly in the common tongue. “Indeed, though you know it not, I may have just saved your life a little while ago.”

Vilthavia looked queerly at him not knowing what to say.

“Your shoes, boy!” he said again. “One of our fellow slaves stole the shoes right off your feet while you slept! Then where would you be, eh!”

The man walked up beside him and sat down with his back against the same rock wall that Vilthavia had been sleeping against. Seeing nothing else he could do he sat down beside him, said nothing for a few passing moments as he watched some of the other slaves sitting and laying about the canyon floor lost and contemplative amidst their fatigue and misery.

“Did you really do something to foil the theft of my shoes?” said Vilthavia at last.

“I did. That little sneak over there sitting beside that withered tree stump – do you see him? The short one wearing the brown coat. Nay, not the tall one – I refer to the little man on his left. He possesses eyes like little beads of stone, a low forehead, hair like a wispy willow. Do you see him? Aye, aye! That is him! He is the little would-be-thief that would have made off with your shoes had I not prevented him from doing so.”

Vilthavia scrutinized the slave that his companion had just identified for him. The man looked did look more than half like a villain for his dark eyes under a low forehead, a shifting glance of suspicious nature. The man was indeed short despite his full maturity; probably a local Hillman or common Northman of Eriador who got caught up in the petty wars of the various tribes – by Broggha’s spearmen who were ever victorious these days. Though the man sat no less than thirty strides distant from Vilthavia he seemed to sense that they were staring at him and he turned his skinny neck sideways to look directly at them both. His eyes were dark shadows under his low forehead but the man’s bearded mouth was set in a deep and angry frown as they exchanged eye contact over the distance between them.

“Look how the fellow skulks!” said the dark-haired man sitting beside him. “He is a pathetic craven, a lowly burglar from the lowlands. We locked many men such as he away in the prisons of Cameth Brin over the years. Do not let him cower you, lad! Return his wrathful gaze with stoic determination. Make him be the one who looks away first!”

Vilthavia did as his companion instructed, continued to stare blankly over at the villain but became distracted by what the man had just told him. Cameth Brin? The lofty abode of King Denethil of Rhudaur? Vilthavia felt the need to turn his head to look at this man who just revealed to him a hint of familiarity with the tower of the king’s seat in Rhudaur.

“Did you say ‘Cameth Brin’?” he asked him slowly. The man nodded in the affirmative without turning to look at him. Vilthavia went on, adding, “Were you a soldier in the king’s service?”

“Aye, I was.” The little man in the distance had looked away at last, turning his attention to the empty valley beyond. Vilthavia’s new companion turned to look at him now. “I ought to be one still. I should be standing at my post as a sentry upon the walls of the tower at this very moment! But I was wronged by my enemies there – by jealous men who envied me my…”

His words trailed off suddenly as if he was reluctant to say anymore. He shrugged slightly, adding that it made no difference now.

“Anyway,” he went on at length, “I am here now, not there. But for how long, I wonder? Well – as for that, we shall see!”

Vilthavia said nothing for several moments, waited for his companion to say more but both were silent, sitting with their backs against the wall, looking out at the cold and lonely landscape of the narrow canyon they had come to. There were six guards, or slave drivers to lead the team of captives along whatever secret course they had chosen to follow through the heart of the Misty Mountains. All were large burly men of unknown origin, though Vilthavia supposed they were Hillmen of one kind or another. All were cruelly insensitive to the pleas and entreaties of their slaves that they urged on by the lash of the whip and threat of the spear. The leader of the spearmen was a man who had, as Vilthavia eventually learned, been hired to lead the team of newly bought slaves through the mountains and to some unknown destination where they would once again be auctioned off to some new lords that awaited their arrival. He watched them even now, the leader of the band of ruffians consulting with his subordinates along the bank of a dry riverbed that, at one time in the past, must have cut through the present defile long ago. It seemed to him that, judging by their rapid glances in various directions up and down the length of the canyon, and by the occasional shaking of their heads whenever one of their companions spoke, that a general disagreement or confusion existed among them in regards to their current location.

“They have gotten us lost,” said his companion to him quietly. “I can see it in their eyes. Idiots.”

Vilthavia looked at him for a moment then looked back out at the little conference that had sprung up between their captors in the distance.

“What will happen, I wonder?” said Vilthavia more to himself than to his neighbor.

“We will either be forced to turn about and retrace out steps,” the man said aloud, “which I doubt they will do, or else forge ahead upon some ludicrous path that they have selected in their foolish haste. The sooner they deliver us up to their clients the sooner will they be paid…In either instance it will go ill for us, I fear. Look at them! They cannot agree upon anything!”

“Can you read their lips?” asked Vilthavia.

“No. I do not need to. I know the look of men who are lost.”

His companion shifted in his seated posture, grimacing with the pain of moving. He put a hand on his bruised side, nursing it gently with his fingers.

“I think the damnable villain broke one of my ribs with his savage kicking,” he said through clenched teeth.

“I am sorry to hear it!” replied Vilthavia with concern. “A broken rib as recompense for an act of…of kindness, and on my account, I regret to say.”

“Well…It is not the first broken bone I have suffered in my day – and likely not the last.”

“May I learn your name, sir? It would help me express the appreciation I feel in acknowledging your generosity on my behalf.”

“I am called Ithilmo, lieutenant of the Royal Guard of Cameth Brin.”

Vilthavia nodded, once more expressing his appreciation for his bravery, then revealed his own name to his new friend.

“Very well then, Vilthavia,” said Ithilmo with a nod. “Well met, I am sure.”

“Why did the guardsman, the thick hairy brute, say that you caused him to lose his bags of snuff?”

“Because he had wagered upon that little sneak-thief to succeed in stealing your shoes off your feet while you slept. He lost his wager to his companion because of my interference, you see.”

“Ah…Good.”

The two of them sat on together against the rock face and discussed their prospective misfortunes and how each of them had come to be in such a sorry state of affairs. After Vilthavia gave his account of his travels through the mountains and his capture by Broggha and imprisonment in Dol Agwarth Ithilmo briefly reciprocated the gesture of trust by describing to Vilthavia how he had been born in the southern country within Rhudaur that men called in the common speech, the Angle, a fertile tract of mainly open countryside wedged between the rivers Metheithel and Bruinen, littered here and there with tall green hills and small rural communities that guarded their privacy jealously. He had joined into the service of king Denethil most willingly after he had reached his thirty-second year, for he rejoiced in martial displays and the idea of being paid in actual silver coinage to do what he loved: namely to live in camaraderie with other men of the guard who served the king and to go about the lands of the realm upon horseback.

“All was well with me for the first two years of my service,” Ithilmo went on after a pause when he suspected that the guards were eyeing them from afar. “We must speak softly, Vilthavia, for they will surely separate us if they suspect us of collusion…Anyway, when I reached my third year of service in king’s army I was offered the opportunity of joining his cavalry units, which I eagerly accepted, being weary of the daily life of sentinel duty and door warden in Cameth Brin. How I would welcome such monotonous chores now! I tell you, my friend, there is much to be said about regular routine in a man’s life. Do not take such trivialities for granted as you grow older, I beg you! Adventure is a fine thing in one’s life, to be sure, but it is a double-edged sword that can ruin you if you run to embrace it blindly.”

Vilthavia listened carefully to Ithilmo, sitting in silence as he stared vacantly at the ground before his feet. The words he spoke were good council, words that he wished he would have taken up into consideration in his youthful heart before running away from home all those many months ago. It seemed like years already since he had been back or had seen the face of his mother. He was indeed fool, probably always had been since he had learned to speak. Would that he had been born lame or blind! At least then he would not be as he was then – lost in the wilderness and bound up in captivity with certain thralldom in his future. A bitter fortune indeed!

“No doubt,” Ithilmo added as an aside to his companion, “you find something a bit too familiar in what I say in that, eh?”

Vilthavia did not turn to look at him but simply nodded in agreement. Ithilmo studied his face for a moment then shrugged.

“Every man is a fool at heart in some degree. Do not judge yourself harshly in that, though I cannot embrace the same advice for myself, alas.”

Vilthavia looked over at him at last and waited for Ithilmo to go on.

“I say that because I regret little of my choices after I left the Angle. I still believe I made the right choice in opting to serve my king in his army. I was right to leave home, though I might have waited another year or two until I matured a little more…Nonetheless, my career was on a path that was straight and true until our commander died of illness I to my third year as a soldier, my first as a horseman in the cavalry. Denethil quickly appointed a new man by the name of Drachan, a strange man of queer origin, a man both vindictive and spiteful in his nature. Many suspected him of hailing from the far northern regions nigh the Forodwaith or else in the great Angmarian plains. He may well have been too! I do not know or care. All I know is that he disliked me from the start and that he betrayed me. He was wont to send many of those that he disliked and that were under his authority, such as myself, out into the worst areas of the kingdom on patrols, often areas that were dangerously cold or prone to be infested with strange wandering creatures that roamed the woods and hills at night, such as rogue Hillmen from the foothills of the mountains or even trolls!”

“Trolls?” asked Vilthavia inquisitively. “Did you really see such a creature?”

“Aye, I did once – from a distance. Believe me when I say that they are all too real. We tracked one of them to a lair in the woods just south of the Ettenmoors but did not have the force in numbers to make an assault at the time, which was all the same to me.”

“Were you sent to hunt this troll you speak of?”

“Nay, we were not so advised then. This Drachan I speak of assigned me to a team of conscription officers at that time. It was our duty to make sure that the men of the northern regions of Rhudaur and their sons above the age of thirteen were not shirking their duty to serve their mandatory term in the king’s army. Denethil was ever hungry for more and more men to swell the ranks of his thousands of soldiers. Thus we pressed many men by force into our king’s service, some few, I now admit, were below the age required by law.

“And that brings me to how I got here – how I managed to find myself captured by enemies I did not know I had at the time. I was betrayed by my fellow spearmen; men who were preferred by this Drachan villain I have mentioned. How it burns my heart to even recall it in memory! Such treachery! Deceitful scoundrels! I shall never forget…”

“Get up! Get up! On your feet, you miserable skulking vermin! Damnable thralls! Arise and take notice!”

Ithilmo was unable to finish his thoughts. These were the words exclaimed aloud by the slave lords who seemed all in a panic in so short a time. They were rousing the resting slaves from their laxity and complacency. More than a few had already fallen asleep where they lay on the ground – an observation Vilthavia had made while listening to Ithilmo’s story, for he too was exceedingly tired and desired the luxury of sleep. But that was impossible now. Something was amiss among the collective attitudes of the guards, who were going about the lounging slaves kicking them and prodding them with the butts of their spears.

“Get up! Rise to your feet, you dogs! We must away at once!”

“But it will be dark soon, oh lord!” cried some in great anxiety. “How can we walk in the mountains at night?”

“We shall do what we can! Then we shall see! You shall do as we command or you will be beaten something cruel!”

Vilthavia rose up and assisted Ithilmo in doing likewise. The two of them exchanged worried glances as they looked about them.

“What is it?” asked Vilthavia. “What do you suppose is the matter?”

“I don’t know. They seem very put out all of the sudden. Probably has something to do with the return of their scouts.”

“Scouts?”

“Aye! Did you not see a pair of servants hike up the opposite wall of the defile when we halted our march? No? Then you must learn to be more observant if you want to survive out here, Vilthavia! Open your eyes! My guess is that they discovered something while out and about that has alarmed our captors. We shall soon see!”

The assumption was a correct one. The scouts had returned to their masters to report that a sizable force of orcs were approaching them from the north, further up the length of the empty canyon they had been following. It was also the path that the slave lords had purposed to follow in order to make their intended rendezvous with the group of armed merchants that was scheduled to purchase the group of new slaves brought out of Dol Agwarth.

“It is not good, I fear,” remarked Ithilmo. “I heard them mention something about orcs.”

“What? Orcs?”

“Aye, ‘tis true, alas. Do not worry overmuch, lad! I think they are still several leagues away.”

“But they are coming for us? How can I not worry!”

“I did not say that! But it would seem we are on a converging course with them if we keep on as we are. I would expect our overlords to opt for a new course!”

“Then we must exit this defile at once!” observed Vilthavia astutely. “We must either turn back and retrace our steps to Broggha’s old castle or climb out! Both choices are black for us!”

“You speak truly, I fear,” replied Ithilmo as he massaged his broken ribs.

What he neglected to add aloud for fear of alarming his new young companion was that it was highly likely that the orcs espied by the scouts from on far were more than probably sent out from Gundabad on an errand to collect or intercept the company of newly acquired slaves sent out by Broggha from Dol Agwarth. What he could not figure out was ‘why’? Why would Broggha go to the trouble of arranging the sale of so many prisoners to his merchant clients only to have them slaughtered by orcs in the wild? What would he gain from such a scheme? Once the associates of those very slain merchants would learn of the treachery of Broggha they would order an immediate halt to all such business transactions with him, leaving him short of the much needed revenue he must have to continue his wars upon the Edain of Eriador, in particular king Denethil whom he was so eager to overthrow and replace with himself as the new ruler of Rhudaur.

It was a riddle Ithimo had no time to ponder on, however, for they were already on the march again. Vilthavia was a few paces before him with two other slaves separating them as they trotted along at a modest jog. Questions were asked aloud to the slave drivers but no answers were offered other than a new campsite must be found at once in order to hide from spies in the air.

“Then do the very birds of the sky observed our movements?” asked a random voice from the crowd of running slaves.

“Silence, fools!” was the inevitable reply. “Remain quiet or we shall cut the tongues from your mouths!”

Vilthavia found the going forward only moderately difficult at first, for there was still a bit of early dusk light to see by then. But in an hour or less it would soon be dark – utter darkness of the Misty Mountains would prevail. He even welcomed such a predicament for he knew the darkness would cloak them all in further secrecy and perhaps foil their detection from the orcs. Yet what Vilthavia was woefully unaware of was the fact that orcs could hunt their prey down just as easily in the dark by scent alone. Thus was he once more betrayed by his youthful ignorance of the world around him, lured, as it were, into a false sense of security that was nothing more than a product of his own imagination…
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Celebrimbor32
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Re: ESCAPE FROM THE MISTY MOUNTAINS

Postby Celebrimbor32 » Sat Mar 19, 2016 11:22 am

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

part two - Vilthavia's Escape

Dusk was short-lived in the deep valleys and ravines of the Misty Mountains. This was especially true in the waning days of autumn when the very darkness itself was like an intruder intent on stealing away the last dregs of courage and perseverance from the unwary traveler who dared defy it. The slave lords who drove their company of thralls before them with so urgent a need, whose concern over the approach of a company of orcs was becoming evident to some of the more astute of the soon-to-be slaves not already burdened under a weight of hopelessness and depression.

Vilthavia could see it in the eyes of his overlords, the anxiety and unease of being forced to share the same road through the same mountain ravine. The burly men leading the company through the wild could be seen looking up as they went on, craning their necks back and forth from one crest of the defile from the other in a suspicious way. Vilthavia had a momentary vision of a host of enemies suddenly emerging from beyond their field of vision up above. He almost expected to behold a line of orcs looking down on them with their bows in their claws setting their venomous arrows to flight as the darts rained down on them from the sky. He was moving forward with the rest of his fellow prisoners but began to fall behind as his preoccupation with the thought of orcs served as an unfortunate distraction to him.

Vilthavia felt the impact with the cold hard surface of the stony ground knock him nearly senseless as he tripped on an exposed root of some brown and withered shrubbery. Like all such stumbles it seemed to happen in a sort of slow time, as if he were watching it from outside himself. He felt the sting of the blow, a concussive thump to his chest and a knock to his right cheek near the eye, and heard himself utter a muffled cry as a result.

“Get that little excrement back on his feet at once! At once, I say!”

It was the harsh voice of the lead captor of the company barking his orders to his fellows. Vilthavia grimaced at the rush of pain in his head, the corner of his eye sure to begin swelling soon as the wound began to manifest itself. He rolled over on his side and began to push himself up with his arms as he tried to get up and rejoin the host of marchers. Before he had accomplished it he felt the heavy grip of one of the overlords seize the hood of his coat and begin dragging him across the ground on his back. He cried aloud to be let up again but his words seemed to go unheeded by the man. The pain of being dragged on his back over such rough terrain began to intensify, the countless little stones underneath grating against his buttocks and legs, his pants beginning to tear open.

“Let me up! Let me up, I beg!”

The man stopped short in his wrathful retribution, let Vilthavia fall back to the ground as he looked down on him, shouting obscenities at him in a foreign tongue.

“Get up and rejoin the group, runt! No more delays or you will be given to the orcs as a wergild!”

Vilthavia opened his mouth to speak but quickly thought better of it. Scrambling up to his feet he turned and ran with difficulty back up to the rear of the company, his buttocks and calves burning painfully from the chaffing effects of the gravel he had been dragged across. He could see Ithilmo up in the middle of the group, those fellow prisoners alongside him jostling one another for a position further in the middle where they doubtless thought they would be safer from the prospective arrows of the orcs.

Ithilmo slowed his pace in order to let others take up his position and so that he could come within speaking distance to Vilthavia. Seeing that his new young companion was struggling he swerved in order to come up next to him in the back.

“Are you alright?” he asked him.

Vilthavia cast him a weary exhausted look but did not reply knowing that his voice would be too soft to be heard. He simply shook his head, his eyes watching his own feet carefully as he trotted along the floor of the defile so as not to stumble and fall again.

“If you feel that your feet may fail you let me know! I can carry you for a while on my back. I do not think they will object overmuch…They want all of us to make progress in any manner possible!”

Vilthavia nodded without speaking, for he feared the feel the crack of the overlord’s whip at his ears. He felt the beating of his heart quicken the longer they went forward. How long would they be forced to endure such a trot through the wild, he wondered? Surely they could not expect them all to run in the dark! The evening dusk was already fading fast, the cooling of the air around them becoming colder accordingly. As for light he knew the moon would be partially visible tonight if the clouds would relent but a little more. It might be just enough for them to see by, but would also benefit the orc host up ahead. Perhaps it would suit them better for the cloud cover to increase. But that might also mean more snow!

Vilthavia tried to keep his mind off of his weariness and the prospect of a clash with the orcs in the dark by thinking about the pleasures of his life so far; his life back in Rhovanion with his mother, their house and their little plot of farmland, the friends he had made in nearby villages, the leisurely hikes they had made together along the streams of the prairies – but these visions came into his head reluctantly, as if they had already begun to fade away, and he felt a stab of frustration wash over him.

He tried to think of his father as he recalled him at their last meeting back in Rhovanion – how many years ago now? Four? Five? It was primarily because of his longing to be with him that he was locked into his current woeful predicament. Why on earth had he fled from the peaceful life of his mother’s house simply to follow his absent father across the perilous wilds of Middle-earth? It seemed incredibly absurd to him then. What a miserable fool he had grown into! But some of the blame must be thrust onto the shoulders of Hunthor, his father, he decided. He felt a new sense of hostility towards his father now; a feeling that alarmed him but also seemed justifiable under the present circumstances.

He had just steered his thoughts in a new direction, of the more immediate past during his brief but joyful acquaintance with Elendis, of their short time together and the warmth of their mutual fondness for each other – but also of the sorrow of their final parting and the treachery of Ermegil, her villainous betrothed, when the company was at last called to a halt.

Vilthavia breathed in deep the fresh coolness of the mountain air as he came to a stop and massaged his sore legs, his eyes blinking away the moisture of tears that had begun to well up in his eyes with the image of his final farewell to Elendis still lingering in his mind as a slow torment to him. He was catching his breath again as he looked about him in the gloom. The steep walls of rock and earth on either side of them seemed to grow ever taller as they went. The company had marched into an even lower area, a depression in the terrain that seemed to intersect the coarse of the ravine they had been following northwards now for the last few days. Though they could see but little of the landscape before them most among the group could easily tell that they had come out into a wide open space where the ravine widened, the ground sloped more steeply downwards towards the sound of running water and more and more trees, mostly a mix of tall spruces and northern cedars, made up a kind of natural tree farm that grew apace the closer they progressed towards the sound of water ahead.

His study of the terrain was interrupted by the feeling of someone laying their hand upon his shoulder from behind. Vithavia turned sharply around to see Ithilmo standing close beside him, the hood of his coat falling away from his head in order to reveal his identity to Vilthavia.

“It is only I, Ithilmo! How are you holding up?”

Vilthavia was still breathing hard, his pulse still beating fast as he felt himself join the intermittent chorus of coughs and sniffles among the other prisoners. He replied that he was still alive and well but might soon prefer the painless death of the ‘snow-sleep’ if they could not hope to avoid an encounter with the band of orcs ahead of them.

“Do not speak like that!” hissed Ithilmo. “There is still hope of survival for you and me!”

“It is too dark for me to see that now.”

“Nonetheless, you must train your mind to think so, Vilthavia! I have already begun to ponder over a short list of choices for you and I.”

“What? What are you talking about, Ithilmo?” Vilthavia did not bother to mask his derisiveness of his words. “We are trapped out here in the wilderness of the mountains with malicious overlords at our heels and orcs on our horizon! What is it that these slave drivers think they will do once our course converges with that of the orcs? Will they make friends with them somehow? Do orcs and men join together in friendship these days?”

“In some instances they do,” replied Ithilmo flatly. “Believe me, but ‘tis true in these evil days. I know it for a fact. Yet, in my opinion, this will not be one of those occasions, I hope to say.”

“You hope? And what does that mean? Do you wish to see a battle take place between us and them out here in this strange valley?”

“Indeed, that is exactly what I am hoping for!”

“Then you want to die soon?”

“Wake up out of your stupor, my friend! I said no such thing! Yet if a battle is imminent between us and them it might be our best hope for escape!”

“You still think of making an escape?”

“Hold your voice down!”

Ithilmo took Vilthavia by the arm gently and led him several paces away from the nearest fellow slave then urged him to sit down upon a large tree stump so as not to seem conspicuous. They could just make out that many of the trees in the area had been felled both recently and in the more recent past leaving numerous stumps scattered here and there among the still living trees. Many of their fellow prisoners had already begun to use them as benches while they sat and rested from their forced march. They could hear many murmuring voices lost in their solitary miseries and verbal exchanges between one another in foreign tongues unknown to Vilthavia. The one thing they all had in common was their mutual weariness and anxiety of what was to come next.

“If there is indeed a battle,” Ithilmo remarked in a hoarse whisper, “if we are enjoined into combat with these orcs…then you and I must attempt to flee if at all possible. I cannot be sure yet but it seems that we will be vastly outnumbered by them. Any thought of emerging victorious in such a melee – especially in the dark – is nearly impossible, I fear.”

Vilthavia heard his words but they did not hit home with him yet. Part of his mind had already begun to succumb to despair, and in his mind he saw visions of orcs in great numbers descending the sides of the valley, their faces twisted in hideous grins with sharp yellow teeth protruding from wide devious mouths, their limbs disproportionately long with flaking gray skin and yellow eyes with black slits as pupils, like that of some feline beast. He saw them already as an inevitable reality come to surround their small feeble party of tired and helpless prisoners in the remote wilderness and cut them down by blade, arrow and dart until their blood stained the floor of the mountain valley where it would drain into the stream and cause it to turn from aqua blue to bloody crimson.

“You are listening to me, Vilthavia?”

He turned his head to cast a glance at Ithilmo, who had been trying to assuage his growing fears of the slowly approaching tribe of orcs. He sighed aloud, rubbed his eyes and replied evasively, saying that he did not think he had the strength or the will to make another flight into the uncharted wilds of the Misty Mountains. Ithilmo made to speak again but stopped short at the sight of a tall silhouette coming in their direction. Instead he lowered his head and, to give himself a countenance, bent over and assimilated the motion of clearing the dirt away from the soles of his shoes.

It was one of the guards. The man slowed his casual pace as he came alongside them, then halted completely. Vilthavia had his head lowered as well, could see the dark form of the man’s boots only a few feet away. He could almost feel the cruel rogue looking down upon them from above, disapproving of what he saw. Vilthavia had begun to feel paranoid about the new companionship between himself and Ithilmo, who was, after all, still little more than a stranger to him, albeit a kind one thus far. He suspected their overlords had noticed it as well and would soon make sure they were separated from each other.
He began to feel most uncomfortable as the silence grew and the guard remained rooted in his places along side them. Moments passed and still he refused to look up at the man, would not give the rogue the satisfaction of recognition. At length he could see the dark shadowy feet walk slowly away and come up next to Ithilmo, who also seemed unwilling to break the silence. They could hear the sounds of the other guards off on the other side of the group, their voices little more than murmurs. The stream was also audible, its course apparently a fairly rapid one judging by the sound of the waters smiting the rocky riverbed beneath its course.

“You there!” It was the voice of the guardsman. But was he addressing himself or Ithimo. He diecided to risk a glance upwards in case the address was meant for himself. It was not.

“What is your name, thrall?”

Vilthavia could sense rather than actually see Ithilmo looking up at the man. There was a slight pause followed by Ithilmo’s reply.

“What does it matter what my name is?”

“Because I ask you – that is sufficient enough.”

“I am called Ithilmo.”

A pause for thought. Nothing happened between the two for a passing moment or two.

“Very well, ‘Ithilmo’,” the guard reiterated with a trace of mockery. “You will come with me – and,” he hurried on anticipating Ithilmo’s demand for an explanation, “you will ask no questions! Time is short for all of us, leaving none for idle speech!”

Vilthavia turned his head to watch the Ithilmo rise up from his stump and, without turning to look in his direction, walked away towards the other guards on the far side of the group. Vilthavia felt a touch of fear for Ithilmo then, realizing that he had already begun to develop an affinity for this newcomer whom had, or so he claimed, aided him most kindly as he slept by defending him against the theft of his shoes from one of the other prisoners. Having little else to do at the moment, and still smarting from the bruise around his eye, Vilthavia slunk his weight down to the ground, rested his back against his own tree stump and almost immediately nodded off in exhaustion, his chin drooping to his chest, his care of the world around him entirely nonexistent...
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Celebrimbor32
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